3 Startling Truths about the Early Church from the Pre-New Testament Texts

By Brian Chilton

Throughout the New Testament, one will find early creeds, formulations, and hymns that predate the New Testament itself. These texts are often called “proto-New Testament texts.” Proto-New Testament texts date back to the earliest church from those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus himself. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is perhaps the most popular of the proto-New Testament texts as it bears heavily on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Concerning 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner write,

Early church in Turkey attributed to St. Peter.

Paul had used the language of “receiving” and “passing on” traditions in 11:23 with respect to the Lord’s Supper. The information about the gospel had been passed on as being of first importance. While the expression could mean “at first” (and Paul undoubtedly shared this with the Corinthians very early on in his ministry among them), the nearly unanimous preference of English translations (first in importance) is probably correct.

The fact that he had received this information about Christ does not contradict his point in Galatians 1:12 that he received his gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.” While the basic gospel message was received by revelation from the Lord, the formulation he used in preaching the gospel included elements that had been passed on to him by those who were Christians before him, perhaps including the fact that Christ died for our sins and that it was according to the Scriptures, that his resurrection took place on the third day and that that was also according to the Scriptures, and the information about the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.[1]

So, what can we learn about the earliest church from the proto-New Testament texts? In the next two sections, I will provide a listing of the more popular—and generally accepted—proto-New Testament creeds and hymns. In the conclusion, I will examine the implications of these texts as it pertains to the beliefs of the earliest church.

Early Church Pre-New Testament

Creeds

  1. Romans 1:3-4 “concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.”[2]
  2. Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  3. 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.”
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”
  6. 1 Timothy 3:16 “And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
  7. 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and descended from David, according to my gospel.”
  8. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 “This saying is trustworthy: For if we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
  9. 1 John 4:2-3 “This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus is Lord has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.”

Hymns

  1. Philippians 2:5-11 “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
  2. Colossians 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

    (c) Telegraph. Archaeologists at possibly one of the oldest Christian churches in Jordan, possibly dating just past the time of Christ.

     

  3. Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
  4. 1 Peter 2:21-25 “For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Conclusion

What can one gather from the aforementioned proto-New Testament texts? In stark contrast to what many liberal theologians purport—that is, that the divinity and miracles of Jesus were late inventions, the following three observations are made. Frankly, it is startling how much emphasis the church placed on these three truths.

  1. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to have physically risen from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus comprised one of the more important aspects of the early church. There was no doubt in the earliest church that Jesus had in fact risen physically from the dead. The acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection was made as an essential aspect of a disciple’s faith in Jesus. Thus, the resurrection was not a late invention. Rather, it was an accepted and established fact by the earliest Christians.
  2. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to be the divine Son of God. Just as the resurrection was not a late invention, neither was the accepted divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. I was quite startled at the force behind the statements found in the hymns of Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-3. Even the statement “Jesus is Lord” points to the divine nature of Jesus. The Septuagint translated the personal name of God (“YHWH”) as the Greek equivalent to “adonai,” which was “kurios.” To proclaim “Iesous es kurion” (“Jesus is Lord”) was to equivocate Jesus’ identity with that of the Father. Jesus’ divine nature was not a late invention. It was one of the earliest accepted tenants of the church.
  3. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to be the exclusive way to salvation. The earliest church did not promote universalism—the idea that everyone would eventually be in heaven. Neither was the earliest church inclusivists—the idea that there are multiple ways to heaven. Rather, the earliest church accepted the fact that since Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God; then, he was the exclusive way to the Father.

Historians, apologists, theologians, and laity alike can learn a great deal from the proto-New Testament texts. This article has provided only a sample of the early texts found in the New Testament. The article has not even considered the great wealth of proto-New Testament texts found in the four canonical Gospels. Our New Testament is a trustworthy source for information about Jesus of Nazareth as its basis is found in the earliest church, whom had been given their message from Jesus himself.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mN1KRy


Unholy Benefits of Atheism

By

Examining atheism from the vantage point of Christianity motivates a Christian to ask two questions. First, “what would I gain if I convert to atheism?” Second, “is there any value to the benefits stockpiled from atheism?”

Unholy Benefits Atheims

What would I gain if I convert to atheism?

Thankfully, the “Creed” penned by the English poet and music journalist Steve Turner reflects the panoramic voice of an atheist whose godless worldview mandates an embrace of relativism:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin

We believe everything is OK

as long as you don’t hurt anyone

to the best of your definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.

We believe in the therapy of sin.

We believe that adultery is fun.

We believe that sodomy’s OK.

We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better

despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence must be investigated

And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes UFO’s and bent spoons.

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.

He was a good moral teacher though we think

His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same –

at least the one that we read was.

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing

Because when you ask the dead what happens

they say nothing.

If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all

excepting perhaps

Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson

What’s selected is average.

What’s average is normal.

What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.

We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.

Americans should beat their guns into tractors

and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.

It’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society.

Society is the fault of conditions.

Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that

is right for him.

Reality will adapt accordingly.

The universe will readjust.

History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth

excepting the truth

that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,

And the flowering of individual thought.

Postscript:

If chance be

the Father of all flesh,

disaster is his rainbow in the sky

and when you hear:

State of Emergency!

Sniper Kills Ten!

Troops on Rampage!

Whites go Looting!

It is but the sound of man

worshipping his maker.

The benefit an atheist accrues is predicated on an assumption that atheism sets him free.

If I’m an atheist, I’d be liberated from religious demands. I no longer need to love and worship God.

If I do not love God, I’d not be shackled to a morally pure life required by Christianity. As Friedrich Nietzsche thought, if God does not exist, everything is permitted. I am my own god.

Decisions abhorrent to a well meaning Christian would be desirable to an atheist. An atheist can abort his / her unborn child. Gaining wealth by hook or by crook cannot be condemned by moral relativism. Fraud and bribery are acceptable. If anyone impedes his pursuit, he can bulldoze them, figuratively and literally. Thanks to atheism.

Pleasure in all forms is acceptable to an atheist, for atheism is sufficiently undergirded by the relativistic paradigm. An atheist is free to practice adultery, polygamy, homosexuality, child sex and what not. Thanks to the power of subjective moral values.

This is not it.

An atheist could also live a depressing life, for he would suffer a constant existential struggle.

This metaphysical struggle is between moral relativism and the law of the land, which is fundamentally predicated on objective moral values (you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you cannot rape etc.).

Although moral relativism prescriptively allows an atheist to gain wealth through unholy means, the law of the land legislates various stipulations that stifles and could imprison him for gaining wealth through unholy means. So he should painfully ponder over the wisdom behind the law of the land not being predicated on moral relativism!!

Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial killer, expressed this struggle, “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…” (Jeffrey Dahmer, in an interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994.).

Is there any value to the benefits stockpiled from atheism?

Atheists who wholly experience the unholy pleasures of this material world is destined to become weary of pleasure so to doom themselves into the darkened dungeons of meaninglessness.

Edward Young, in his work “Night Thoughts” ridiculed pleasure, “Sure as night follows day, Death treads in Pleasure’s footsteps round the world, When Pleasure treads the paths which Reason shuns.” And wasn’t it G.K Chesterton who said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”?

The author of Ecclesiastes pronounced the meaninglessness of pleasure, “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards…I amassed silver and gold for myself…I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11, NIV).

So atheism does not set anyone free instead it imprisons its devotees to meaninglessness. Atheism offers perishable benefits, not enduring benefits.

What about those atheists who have lost faith in God because of the problem of evil and suffering? If you’re one of those atheists, please read the book of Habakkuk in the Bible.

The author of Habakkuk complains to God about evil, injustice and God’s apparent inactivity. But after hearing God’s response, he wholeheartedly proclaimed, “Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.  I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!” (Habakkuk 3: 17-19, MSG).

To conclude, yes, atheism offers a plethora of unholy benefits. But unholy benefits cannot enrich life.

There’s a God. HE desires that we love HIM. When we love God truly and wholly, we don’t gain pleasure from anything the material world has to offer. We find pleasure in enjoying God’s presence and the peace HE offers us through the good and the bad days of our lives. Because we love HIM, we long to be with HIM forever – even beyond this earthly life.

So let’s echo the words of the author of Ecclesiastes, who after having considered everything the material world has to offer, finds meaning in God alone, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14, NIV).

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2nxaiun


The Death of a Fetal Human is Different Than the Death of a Dying Human

While hosting the Stand to Reason Radio Show on Sunday, a caller asked me how to defend an objection related to abortion. A friend asked him how he could be comfortable ending the life of a person on life support, yet uncomfortable ending a life in the womb. He was asked to imagine the scenario of a dying man who (as the result of suffering a stroke or being involved in a car accident) had no recordable brain activity. Isn’t this person just like the fetal human in the earliest weeks of development? Neither has any observable brain activity; should either been seen as a living human? If we have the right to “un-plug” one (the dying human), why don’t we have the right to unplug the other (the fetal human)?

Fetus Dyng Human

Of course the biggest problem with this description of “living humans” is that it equates mental capacity with personhood. Can a person still be a person even if they lack a certain degree of measurable brain activity?  How much activity is required before one attains personhood? Am I less a “person” if I don’t have the mental capacity of someone who is smarter? What if I am in an induced coma? What if my diminished metal condition is temporary? See the problem? But there is an even bigger problem with the scenario offered by the caller. We simply cannot equate the of lack brain activity in the unborn with the lack of brain activity in the aging or injured. We must distinguish between these two groups:

“Not Yet” Adult Humans
Fetal humans may lack brainwave activity, but if left to their own devices (if we do nothing to intervene) they will eventually become fully functioning human beings. They are “not yet” adult humans, but if you simply leave them alone, they will become adults like you and me. Ever notice the bananas on sale at your local market? Most of them are green. Many are so green that you wouldn’t even imagine eating them for a week. But we buy them anyway. Why? Because they are “not yet” ripe bananas. If we buy them, put them on the shelf, simply leave them alone and do nothing to intervene, they will become the ripe bananas we all know and love. We don’t throw away green bananas; we wait patiently for them to ripen. We understand their value even though they are green.

“Never Again” Adult Humans
But we don’t feel the same way about over-ripe, black bananas. We recognize that bananas (like all living things) have a life cycle. There is a time when a banana’s life is over. Sadly, there are times when we must also admit the same is true for humans. At the end of one’s life, when we are sure that someone will “never again” be a living adult human being, it may be appropriate to allow life to run it’s course. Aging or injured humans are not like fetal humans. When someone is aging or injured we find ourselves asking, “Should I intervene to prolong life?” When considering the fate of the fetal human, we find ourselves asking, “Should I intervene to end life?” See the important difference?

As Christians, we are consistent in our approach in these two scenarios when we say we ought not intervene. We don’t want to intervene to end the life of a fetal human, because our intervention alters the course of someone who is developing into a living adult (this is the expected trajectory that God has for all of us as fetal humans). And we don’t want to intervene to extend the life of someone who is already brain dead, because our intervention alters the course of someone who will never again be a living adult (this is the expected trajectory that God has for all of us as aging humans).  Fetal humans ought to be allowed to live, even as dying humans ought to be allowed to die.


 

Where Social Justice and Apologetics Intersect

Last week I had the opportunity of leading 30+ high school students to live at the Urban Rescue Mission on Skid Row for 3 days. We helped serve meals, paint walls, play with kids, pray for people, and much more. To say the least, it was life changing. The trip reminded me of how important it is for apologists (and really all Christians) to be involved in serving people who are less fortunate. Below is an essay on the intersection of apologetics and social justice from my book A New Kind of Apologist. It is written by my friends Ken Wytsma and Rick Gerhardt. This blog is longer than my typical post, but the content is absolutely vital for believers today. I hope you will take the time to digest it and share it with others.

Social Justice Apologetics

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Where Social Justice and Apologetics Intersect

Ken Wytsma & Rick Gerhardt

We get apologetics. We understand the need for Christians to be able to give a reasoned formulation and winsome presentation of a rational defense of the Christian world-and-life-view. Whatever ministries we have helped to birth or nurture have been grounded in our conviction that Christianity provides a uniquely accurate understanding of the real world we all live in.

We have graduate degrees in philosophy and apologetics. We have devoured the arguments of C.S. Lewis and of older apologists like Augustine and Blaise Pascal, who describe the realities of human existence with stunning accuracy. We have conducted “skeptics’ balls,” opportunities for anyone—seekers, believers with doubts or questions, true skeptics—to interact with the claims of the Bible in raw, open honesty.

Eventually, Christ called us to plant a church in Bend, Oregon, in one of the most unchurched regions of the country. From its inception, Antioch has had an apologetics component. At any given time, we are offering a skeptics’ Sunday school series, a learning group centered on apologetics, or a full-semester apologetics course at Kilns College, the school we founded during Antioch’s first year of existence. The skeptics’ balls have since morphed into Redux, a question-and-answer service that we hold most Sundays after the regular worship service.

Enter “The Justice Conference”

But a funny thing happened on our way to an apologetically grounded local church and college.

We had hosted two successful citywide apologetic conferences through Kilns College. We brought in leading apologists from around the country, and together we offered a powerful defense of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, the historicity of the resurrection, the reconciliation of science and the Bible, and Christianity’s uniqueness in explaining reality and human experience.

But before we could begin planning a third such conference, another conviction took root. We were defending important aspects and truth claims central to historical Christianity, but the Lord urged us that contemporary evangelical Christianity was missing one central aspect for a true and authentic Christian witness.

One of the tasks of the Christian apologist is to accurately articulate what it is Christians believe, what the Bible teaches, and what God has revealed to us of himself. And the Lord was convicting us that our tribe had been failing to articulate—for at least most of the last hundred years—one of his essential, inseparable attributes: his concern for justice. In lieu of yet another conference offering a general apologetic for Christianity, the Lord called us to gather a wide variety of Christian scholars, teachers, pastors and leaders, NGOs, field workers, and lay people from every walk of life for a conversation about the theology and practice of social justice.

We partnered with World Relief to host the Justice Conference in Bend, Oregon, in February 2011, and we were awed and humbled by the response. In 2012, the Lord greatly multiplied the number of attendees and the overall impact as we moved the conference to Portland. Since then, there have been Justice Conferences in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. As we write this chapter, the run-ups to Chicago 2015, Melbourne, Australia, and a second Hong Kong Justice Conference are under way.

Along the way, we have met thousands of passionate followers of Christ, and many unbelievers who, while extending the practical compassion of Christ, had not yet acknowledged him as their redeemer. Many Christians we met were already involved in efforts to relieve poverty and suffering—the results of injustices—across the world. Others knew they were called to a life of selfless service to others, but found no encouragement from their Christian communities to follow that call to the brothels of Cambodia, the villages of northern Uganda, or the complex web of social injustices in the city centers of the United States.

Indeed, many experienced a disconnect between the discipleship the Lord was calling them to and an articulation of Christianity that had everything to do with saving souls and nothing to do with redeeming the whole person, much less the rest of creation. For the Christians involved, the overwhelming success of the Justice Conference is quite simply because the form of Christianity that acknowledges that God in Christ is establishing his justice “on earth as it is in heaven” is a more holistic, truer form of Christianity than the version that, in much of evangelicalism, had come to ignore this deeply biblical truth.

Lest You Missed It…

Justice in the social realm is a thread running through all of Scripture. Justice is at the very heart of God’s character and at the core of what he desires from his people.5 According to the psalmist, “The Lord is known by his acts of justice” and “a scepter of justice will be the scepter of [his] kingdom.” The Creator executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoner free, and watches over the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan.

The Lord says, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land,” and he ties the future of his people to their treatment of the oppressed, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow. What he wants from mankind is that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. When God’s people fail to act justly, they are disciplined or separated from him. In commending King Josiah, God equates knowledge of himself with defending the cause of the poor.

Jesus’s own mission statement incorporates healing and social justice, and his followers will be recognized by their feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, welcoming the immigrant, and visiting the sick and the prisoner. Whereas we evangelicals have sometimes made the good news all about an other-worldly heaven, Jesus’s own gospel was of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth. Paul’s understanding was that Christ’s redeeming work applied to all of this creation,18 and that his followers—those saved by grace—would be ambassadors of reconciliation,19 doing the works of justice to which he calls them.

Social Justice and Apologetics

Most of us would agree that the best apologetic is a life well lived. Our character and relationships with others have a greater capacity for attracting those around us to the Christian message than do our arguments or rhetoric.

We also know that many intellectual or academic objections to Christianity usually mask deeper reasons for rejecting Christ. You may have experienced this in your conversations with friends. One such common reason to reject Christianity is the hypocrisy of his followers—failure to live according to the teachings of Jesus and to the worldview we espouse. This is reflected in many of our personal interactions, and it’s also the conclusion of a 2007 poll designed to identify the most common perceptions of Christianity among young adults—in which 85 percent viewed Christians as being hypocritical.

Our experiences throughout the United States and around the world have led us to some clear conclusions about the generation now growing up and the reasons they are suspicious of Christianity and the church. Let’s look at three of these, because they have important implications for doing effective apologetics today.

First, young people are globally aware to a degree unimaginable just a few years ago. The Internet and social media have provided the tools for keeping on top of current events around the world. These include not just the high profile and political events and issues that would always have made headlines. They include the more hidden goings-on unearthed by the isolated fieldworker, the personal friend on vacation, or the unknown blogger.

Second, what provides purpose and meaning for many is a variety of ongoing critical problems in the way people are being treated by others. Slavery and human trafficking are occurring at a greater rate than at any time in human history, and young Westerners know this. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water, abuse and exploitation of women and children, denial of property rights, government corruption that leads to squalor and destitution—all of these are occurring in our messy fallen world and being made increasingly visible in the flat world of modern technology. Racism is alive and well, not just in twentieth-century Germany or South Africa, but today in our own cities and towns. Issues that rightly fall into the category of social justice—justice in the realm of social relationships—are at the center of the individual and corporate consciousness of young people today.

The Justice Conference has always been organized and hosted by passionately and overtly Christian people and organizations. Nonetheless, many who are not (or were not) followers of Christ have been drawn to that conversation and have attended those conferences. The reason is simple: all humans are made in the image of the one true God, who cares about justice. All people share with their Creator (at least to some degree) a sense of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness, justice and injustice. Therefore, given the knowledge of and ability to expose social injustices with global media, it is not at all surprising that many people today find their purpose in combatting what the God of creation detests.

Third, for most people, the truth of any worldview is logically linked to its practical applications. If Christianity is—as its apologists claim—the accurate understanding of reality, then it ought to result in practices that offer hope and solutions to the obvious brokenness of our world. If we want to remove the obstacles preventing people from following the One who cared about “the least of these” and commanded his disciples to do the same, we ought to be aligning our lives with that command.

Social Justice and a New Kind of Apologist

From an apologetics perspective, there are at least two reasons for a renewed commitment to social justice. On the positive side, justice is a fundamental attribute of God and an inseparable part of the gospel of Christ. If it is Christianity we defend, our arguments and lives must include the teaching and practice of the social justice that Christianity necessarily entails. As John Perkins has it, “Preaching a gospel absent of justice is preaching no gospel at all.”

On the negative side, inattention to social injustices and apathy toward God’s creation represent the sort of hypocrisy that prevents our defense of Christian truth from being heard.

Everything we are arguing on behalf of social justice could be urged on behalf of caring for the creation as well. As those who claim an intimate personal relationship with the Creator, we Christians—of all people—ought to respect, enjoy, and care for creation, to be concerned about and leading the conversation regarding environmental problems and potential solutions. Christ created all things, sustains all things, and died to reconcile and redeem all things, and works through his followers to actualize this ministry of reconciliation.

A new generation of Christian apologists will be able to relate to the newer generations in the language they speak and about the issues that motivate them. That means recognizing and living according to the truth that God cares deeply—and commands his people to care deeply—about justice in the social realm, about the flourishing (shalom) of whole people, communities, and nations, and all of his creation.

We have witnessed this in the lives of Christians pursuing justice all over the world, but let us share a single example, that of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) in Honduras. In some of the most dangerous neighborhoods on earth, AJS workers minister to and fight for justice on behalf of victims of violence and corruption. As they do so, they frequently watch those victims discover (or rediscover) a vibrant Christian faith.

As they work tirelessly to reform the systems that perpetrate injustice, AJS team members present to the UN representatives, government officials, and foreign ambassadors with whom they interact a truer, more Christlike Christianity than these folks have ever seen. And many of the young people who come to participate in such justice work—whose prior church experience has offered little to attract them—find a faith worthy of the dedication of their lives.

Though the founders and workers of AJS are merely living out the call of Christ on their lives, the result is that they are frequently asked for “the reason for the hope” that is in them.

For the younger generations (and increasingly for people of all ages), our best articulation of the cosmological argument for the existence of the Creator will not receive a hearing if our actions demonstrate a disregard for the creation itself.

Our most robust defense of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching will fall on deaf ears if we ignore his commands to plead the cause of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, and the prisoner.

Our clearest argument for the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection will sound hollow if we are not going forth in the promised power of that resurrection to establish his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

And our best theodicy—our most satisfactory defense of God’s goodness and power despite the pain and suffering in the world—will be seen as empty words if it doesn’t cause us to join with him in alleviating some of that pain and redressing the injustices from which that suffering results.

We believe and pray that the Lord is raising up a new generation of apologists whose rhetorical defense of Christian truth will be accompanied by just and compassionate living, and that as a result, a broken world might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.


Are Deathbed Conversions Fair?

By Brian Chilton

A church member approached me recently and asked a difficult question.  He told me of the story of a family member who had accepted Christ as Savior moments before he died.  While the church member was happy that his relative had made it to heaven, he still wondered how it was fair that he would work for the Lord his whole life, and his family member only lived for Christ moments before death, and they both went to the same heaven.  Are death bed conversions fair?

Deathbed Conversion

I researched this topic and oddly enough did not find anyone who has dealt with this issue.  So, to my knowledge, this is the first treatment of this particular topic.  Before we find an answer to this topic, we must cover a variety of issues that together will bring us to a reasonable answer.  We must examine the depth of sin, the importance of faith, the importance of repentance, the compassion of God, the call of God, Christian judgment, and the rewards of heaven.  First, the depth of sin must be examined.

The Depth of Sin

question2-724662

As we look at the fairness question of deathbed conversions, we must first look at the depth of sin itself.  In our culture, many possess a high sense of entitlement.  Those who possess this mentality feel that they deserve a living, deserve benefits, and deserve salvation.  Let the reader know that I am not insinuating that those who posed this question to me are in any way, shape, or form these kinds of people.  But, many in our culture do have a high sense of entitlement.  I am reminded of the word of my dad when I was young.  He used to say, “No one owes you anything.  You must work to earn a living.”  Even though there may be those who come to faith even having done some horrible things, we must ask this question, is it fair that any of us are saved?  Do any of us deserve salvation?  Have we been good enough to be saved from hell?  The answer is shocking because the answer is “no.”  None of us deserve salvation.  None of us can earn salvation.  None of us can be good enough.  This is a Scriptural fact.

Isaiah puts this in perspective as he wrote, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”[1]  So even at our best, we are not worthy of salvation.  Our very best is as a “filthy garment” to the holiness of God.  So if salvation is not by grace, it cannot be given at all, because we would have to be holy as God in order to earn salvation.  None of us are good enough to do so.  I know that is not encouraging, but it is truthful.  As the 80s band “The Human League” sang, “I’m only human…born to make mistakes.”[2]  So is anyone righteous at all?

The apostle Paul wrote to the Romans the following,

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”  “Their throat is an open grave, With their tongues they keep deceiving,” “The poison of asps is under their lips”; “Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness”; “Their feet are swift to shed blood, Destruction and misery are in their paths, And the path of peace they have not known.”  “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” [3]

As disturbing as it may be to confess, we all meet the qualities that Paul gave.  Even the very best of us are unworthy before God.  Think about the most holy, righteous person you know…if that person is me, then you need to meet more people.  That holy, righteous person is nothing compared to the goodness of God.  So how can anyone be saved?

The only way we can know God is by the Spirit of God working in our lives.  Just like I cannot know what you are thinking unless you tell me, we cannot know the mind of God or the qualities of God unless God reveals them to us.  We then have the opportunity to respond positively or negatively to the grace that He bestows to us.  So how then are we saved?  We must have faith.

The Importance of Faith

The writer of Hebrews writes, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[4]  What is faith?  The Greek term for “faith” is “pisteuo.”  The term represents a “trust” and “dependency” upon something or someone.  So, the biblical term for “faith” is trust.  Without this trust, it is impossible to please God.  Why?  I think the answer is because when we trust God, we realize that He has the power to help us where we do not.  Some would call this arrogance on God’s part, but that is not the case.

I understand this need for dependency upon God more as a parent.  My son is an independent soul.  He wants to do things himself and wants very little help.  But, there are some things that he cannot do for himself.  I am more than willing to help him and give him instruction if he is willing to listen and ask for help.  No matter how hard he tries or how much he climbs, he still cannot reach the top of the refrigerator.  If he wants something from on top of the refrigerator, I have to reach down to him.

I think the same is with God.  He has reached down to us to give us something that we cannot earn and do not deserve in salvation.  God is our Master and our Creator.  Without God, we would not be here.  We need His direction and His instruction.  So, I think that is part of the reason why faith is the only way we can please God.  Plus, dependency upon His work on the cross is the only thing that can save us from the penalty of our sins.  Is it fair for a person on his or her death bed to ask forgiveness?  It is no fairer than it is for any of us to ask for forgiveness.  But it is not about justice, because if God was about serving only justice we would all be in hell.  It is about love and grace.  But, isn’t there a need for repentance?  Yes, we will examine this aspect in the next section.

The Importance of Repentance

repent

Jesus is quoted in Luke’s gospel as saying, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”[5]  What does it mean to repent?  The Greek term for “repentance” is “metanoeo.”  Metanoeo means “to change one’s life, based on complete change of attitude and thought concerning sin and righteousness.”[6]  So if a person is truly repentant, he or she will admit their wrong and change from his or her lifestyle of sin.  This does not mean that he or she will never do anything wrong, but that the person has a complete transformation of mind, soul, and body.  As Paul writes, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”[7]

Therefore, if a conversion is authentic before death occurs, a transformation will take place.  The guilty person will seek to reconcile the best he or she can with that time the person has left.  Forgiveness requires repentance and repentance requires reconciliation to the best of one’s ability.  Jesus said, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.”[8]  So, the person should be a changed person and not simply looking for a quick fix.  None of us know that when we come to know the Lord that we will not be taken shortly afterwards.  Faith comes first, then repentance, and finally repentance brings the responsibility of reconciliation to the best of one’s ability.

When I taught a discipleship course, the Holy Spirit worked in my life and brought up reconciliation that needed to happen between one of the members of the church and myself.  The Holy Spirit would not let me rest until I at least attempted to make reconciliation.  So, I spoke to the member and we worked things out.  As a matter of fact, I believe my relationship with that member of the church is stronger now than it was before.  One other element must be remembered as we discuss death bed conversions: the compassion of God Himself.

The Compassion of God

compassion of God

Simon Peter writes in his second letter, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”[9]  The issue that Peter presents is clear-cut.  God does not desire that anyone goes to hell but that all come to repentance and faith which would lead to heaven.  So, heaven rejoices when a person, even an evil person, comes to faith because a life has been saved from eternal death.  When we think of hell, we sometimes forget the horrible eternal state that one would endure.  But, what about a person who has been very bad?  Doesn’t such a person deserve hell?  Yes, but again, all of us do.

We must remember that Jesus endured the most horrible death that anyone could suffer while bearing upon His back the sins of the world.  Luke records the following, “But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.”[10]  Jesus was able to forgive the very persons who were torturing Him while they were torturing Him.  How is that possible?

I must confess that I do not have the power to forgive like that myself, but only through the power of God.  I have had some bad things done to me in my past, but nothing like that which Christ suffered.  Yet, I have found the power to forgive through the presence of God.  It would be very difficult for me to forgive someone who harmed my family.  Honestly, I know that I do not have the power to do so alone.  But, forgiveness does not claim that something that was wrongfully committed was okay, or that something bad was right.  Forgiveness simply hands the case over to God.  Forgiveness puts the situation in God’s hands knowing that He will bring about reconciliation and/or justice in the end.  As the writer of Hebrews states, “For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.”  It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”[11]

How can there be justice for someone in the body of Christ?  Doesn’t this give a clear slate to everyone in the church?  Does this give Christians the clearance to do wrong?  Heaven forbid.  There is still a judgment for Christians as we will see later.  But before we do, let us examine the Christian’s responsibility.  You may ask, “How does this affect deathbed conversion?”  Hang tight; we will bring it all together in the conclusion.  Let us examine the responsibilities of the Christian, or rather the “Call of God.”

The Call of God

Take-the-Call

Before we examine our final segment and move towards the conclusion, let us examine the call of God for the Christian.  As we read earlier, it is not God’s will that anyone should perish but that all come to repentance.  It may be asked why some are allowed in the kingdom towards the end of a person’s life.  God does not desire for anyone to perish even if the decision is made only moments before one dies.  To exemplify this point, Jesus gave a parable about a landowner.  To understand this parable correctly, one must understand that the workers were desperate and needed money to feed their family.  It is set in a time that was similar to the times of the Great Depression where displaced workers depended on day to day work to provide for their families.  Keep this in mind in addition to the need for salvation as you read Jesus’ parable.  Jesus said,

       For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  “When he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard.  “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the market place; and to those he said, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ And so they went.  “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did the same thing.  “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day long?’  “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’  “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last group to the first.’  “When those hired about the eleventh hour came, each one received a denarius.  “When those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more; but each of them also received a denarius.  “When they received it, they grumbled at the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the scorching heat of the day.’  “But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius?          ‘Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.  ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’  “So the last shall be first, and the first last.[12]

 

From this parable, we find two great principles.  First, we find that salvation is a gift that God gives.  Like the landowner who gave money to those in need, God gives salvation to all those who receive the grace freely given.  Second, the gift offer is available until this life is over.  The only time when grace is no longer available is when the last breath of a person is taken from an unrepentant sinner.  God shows no partiality.  He loves us all the same.  But, does this mean that there is no justice to the deeds done on earth?  Does this mean that the Christian can get away with anything?  No.  The Christian will face judgment, but will be justified.  The deeds done as a Christian do matter as we will see in our final section.

The Christian Judgment: Grace Is Not a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

get out of jail free card

In Hasbro’s famous board game Monopoly, a card exists that gets the board game player out of jail in the event that the player lands on the “Go to Jail” slot.  The card is called the “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  Christians have been charged for viewing salvation in this regard.  In other words, some believe that Christians can do anything they want without a penalty for their actions.  In fact, some Christians do view salvation in this regard.  Who is to blame for this viewpoint?  Well, to be honest, we preachers are guilty to some degree.  Preachers want to stress the forgiveness found in salvation.  While it is true that our sins are forgiven judicially, this does not give us permission to do anything we desire without repercussion.  In fact, numerous Scriptural references show that even though the Christian is forgiven, he or she will still have to stand before judgment.

One example can be seen in Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus said, “For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds.”[13]  Jesus shows that everyone will be judged for his or her deeds.  But, this does not mean that the Christian is no less forgiven.  Judicially the Christian has been forgiven.  But relationally, the Christian will still have to give an account for the deeds done while in the body of Christ.  We also see this in the book of Acts.

Peter, who had walked and learned from Jesus for three and a half years, told Cornelius the following at Caesarea, “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead.  “Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.”[14]  Notice that Peter refers to God as the Judge of all.  Everyone who trusts in Him receives forgiveness, but that does not indicate that the person will not stand before God the Judge.  Paul gives us a lot of information concerning the judgment of all men, and especially that of the Christian judgment.

Paul gives information concerning judgment in his epic theological book to the Romans.  Paul writes,

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. [15]

 Paul continues as he writes about the judgment that we all must face.  Paul writes,

But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.  For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.  Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.[16]

 Is this judgment the same as what the unbeliever faces?  No.  Paul explains what is judged in the Christian’s life.  Paul explains this as he writes to the Corinthians,

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it.  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. [17]

 Paul shows that this judgment is called the Judgment Seat of Christ.  He continues this thought in his second letter to the Corinthians as he writes,

          Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.  Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.[18]

 Paul shows the importance of working for the Lord as these works will be offered as rewards and the bad things will be exposed, confronted, and removed.  Paul shows that this work is important for everyone regardless of their position.  He writes the following to the church of Ephesus,

With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.  And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him. [19]

The writer of Hebrews even shows God as the Judge of all when he writes,

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel. [20]

 The obvious objection that many will pose has to do with references that our sins will be removed and remembered no more.  The question to ask is when the writers are referring to this removal and lack of remembrance.  Paul indicates that salvation is a process.  Paul writes, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.”[21]  So in other words, we are saved at the moment of repentance, we are being saved as we are being forgiven, and will be saved when we are finally justified at the Day of Judgment.  God’s promises are sure.  So, even though we will face the Judgment Seat of Christ, we have the promise that we will be forgiven by the blood of the Lamb.  On the final day of salvation…when we are justified or declared “innocent”…our sins will be remembered no more.  So, in actuality, the promises of God are sure so it is a sure thing that our sins have been removed.  But, this does not give any Christian the license to sin.  Actually, salvation brings the responsibility to keep the commands of Christ.  Jesus tells us, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”[22]  Salvation brings us security so that we can pay attention to serving Christ and working for the Kingdom.  This is something that one who comes to Christ before death will not have the opportunity to do.  The issue of deathbed conversions comes full-circle when we understand the importance of the Judgment Seat of Christ: issuing rewards.

The Rewards of Heaven

Rewards in heaven

Jesus said, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[23]  Many Christians take the position of the gospel-bluegrass song titled Lord Build Me a Cabin in the Corner of Gloryland.  In other words, the position is, “As long as I make it to heaven; that is all I am worried about.”  But really, that position is extremely arrogant.  Where is the appreciation?  Where is the Christian responsibility?  Jesus expects us to work for Him.  He gave His all to save us.  The least we can do is to work for Him.  Does Jesus show the previously mentioned lazy Christian mentality as acceptable?

Jesus did not present a lazy type of Christianity in an acceptable light.  The following is a parable that He gave that shows the importance in working for the Lord:

“For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.  “To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.  “Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.  “In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.  “But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.  “Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.  “The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’    “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  “Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’  “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’  “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.  ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’  “But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.  ‘Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.  ‘Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’  “For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.  “Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.[24]

Some do not like the idea of rewards in heaven or the exposure of bad deeds.  But, those who oppose this idea either are not actively working for God as they need to, or they have something in their lives that they know they shouldn’t.  It cannot be said what the rewards are or what they represent.  But, the fact that rewards are given and the stress that Jesus places on Christian service shows that they are important for the Christian.  The fact that they are important to Jesus should make it important for the disciple of Christ.  Could the rewards represent a status in heaven?  Could the rewards represent special privileges, positions, or jobs in heaven?  Only God knows for sure.  But these rewards are more important than we give them credit especially in lieu of the emphasis of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents.  Let’s bring this all together.

Conclusion:

joyful-girl1

So, is it fair for people to be saved moments before death?  It is just as fair as it is for anyone else who is saved.  Everyone is under the curse of sin.  No one is worthy of salvation.  Even the best among us is as a filthy rag compared to the holiness of God.  Salvation is a gift given by God.  God can save anyone at any stage in life who truly comes to God in trust and repentantance.  But, there is a price that comes with a person who comes to salvation late in his or her life.

The Bible gives several references to the fact that every person will stand before God in judgment.  The Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  The problem with one who comes to Christ late in life is that the person will not have any opportunities to offer any work for Christ to be rewarded.  Remember, the works that are rewarded are done in the body of Christ.   Bottom line is that the works done for Christ during a lifetime will be rewarded.  So, the one who comes to faith moments before death will enter heaven but will have little to show for his or her life in Christ.

When people graduate from college, both thograduationse on the honor roll and those who barely scraped by will graduate.  But, those who graduate with honors have special recognition.  The same is true with the one who has worked a lifetime for Christ compared to one who was saved moments before entering heaven.  The one who worked a lifetime for Christ could be equated to the student graduating with honors whereas the person who was saved on their deathbeds are comparable to those who graduated by the skin of their teeth.  Some have honors and some do not, but they all graduate.


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Isaiah 64:6.

[2] The Human League, “Human,” Crash (Virgin Records, February 1986.)  All rights reserved.

[3] Romans 3:9–18.

 [4] Hebrews 11:6.

[5] Luke 13:3–5.

[6] James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

 [7] Romans 12:2.

[8] Matthew 5:23–24.

[9] 2 Peter 3:9.

[10] Luke 23:34.

[11] Hebrews 10:30–31.

[12] Matthew 20:1–16.

[13] Matthew 16:27.

 [14] Acts 10:42–43.

 [15] Romans 2:14–16.

 [16] Romans 14:10–13.

 [17] 1 Corinthians 3:10–15.

 [18] 2 Corinthians 5:6–10.

 [19] Ephesians 6:7–9.

 [20] Hebrews 12:22–24.

 [21] Romans 5:8–9.

[22] John 14:15.

[23] Matthew 5:12.

[24] Matthew 25:14–30.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2o2mlgJ


God, The Shack, and the Christian Mind

By Adam Tucker

Unless you live under a rock, you’re no doubt familiar with the New York Times bestselling book The Shack by William P. Young that has also recently been released as a big-budget feature film. Much has been said and will continue to be said, regarding the alleged merits of The Shack as well as its reported theological (and perhaps even heretical) shortcomings. The reader can avail himself of these two articles HERE and HERE as examples of the controversy surrounding this work of “Christian fiction.” For now, I’m not interested in whether or not Christians should read The Shack or whether or not it teaches ideas contrary to historic Christianity. Rather, I want to discuss a trend that is very troubling to me which I see surrounding this debate amongst my own Christian friends.

God Shack Christians

For many years now emotion has trumped the intellect for both Christian and non-Christian alike. Christian stories/testimonies that elicit particular emotions are used over and over to draw out particular responses in people (not that that is necessarily always a bad thing). Sadly, it is often only when these emotions are stirred that someone thinks God is actually working through a particular missionary, ministry, or church. Our feelings have become the arbiter of truth, and more times than not, it is the missionary, ministry, or church that makes the most emotional impact that gets the most encouragement and support (whether verbal, prayer, or financial support). Make no mistake, we are emotional beings, but we are not merely emotional beings. We are in fact rational beings with intellects and wills, and this, I would argue, is what it means to be made in the image of God. The trend about which I am concerned is the way otherwise discerning and grounded believers, who obviously love God and desire to see others come to Christ, so easily celebrate emotionalism at the expense of the necessary, and biblical, art and science of critical thinking. The reactions I am seeing to The Shack simply serve to illustrate this point. After all, it was Jesus Himself who commanded us to love God with all of our minds (Matt. 22:37). Yet it seems too many Christians ignore this part of Jesus’ imperative.

Afraid to Grow Up

In a 2014 INTERVIEW at a church in England, The Shack author Young relayed his past life struggles, sins, and restorations. It was a very moving testimony, and no doubt God has used his past experiences for His glory and has done a work in Young’s life. But Young went on to say, “Do I understand [the success of] The Shack…this is all God’s sense of humor as far as I’m concerned. I don’t understand the purposes of God, and I don’t want to know. It took me 50 years to become a child. I’m not going back to being an adult. It’s too much work.” This is a case-in-point regarding the above mentioned trend of emotionalism. Millions upon millions of people have read The Shack and have been impacted. Because the author is a professing Christian who also has an emotionally moving testimony many Christians simply assume that this is a work of God, and that God is using The Shack in a major way for His glory. Even Young admits this when he says it’s “all God’s sense of humor.” But millions upon millions have been impacted by many other popular books that most Christians would likely classify as heresy, unorthodox, or worse. How does Young, or anyone else, know that The Shack’s success is a work of God rather than something being used by the enemy to weaken the life of believers and confuse unbelievers? Well, according to Young, he doesn’t know that because He says he doesn’t want to “understand the purposes of God.” He claims to be a “child” because it’s too much work to be an adult.

Here’s the problem. According to the Apostle Paul, we are not to be children in our thinking. We are certainly to be children when it comes to our complete dependence upon God for salvation (Matt. 18:3), but Paul says when he became a man he put aside childish thinking (1 Cor. 13:11). In fact, in 1 Cor. 14:20 he says, “Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking.” Neither success, emotional impact, nor even God’s ability to use something for His glory are adequate tests for truth. The fact is, everyone has a testimony, and God even used adultery in the life of King David to bring about the Messiah (and surely no Christian would advocate committing adultery because God can use it for His glory)! There are countless Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, New Age gurus, and even atheists who could share, and have shared, life-changing and emotionally wrenching testimonies about how their beliefs have positively impacted their lives. But virtually no orthodox Christian would claim these belief systems are true simply because their followers have a testimony. Why are these same Christians so quick to believe and celebrate most any emotionally charged thing a Christian says just because he claims God is the source? We are commanded to test the spirits (1 These. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). Lest we forget, “For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).

The Necessity of Doctrine

How do we “test the spirits” as it were? How do we know whether any successful and emotionally charged story/testimony or circumstance is actually from God? Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:16, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching [i.e. doctrine]; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In other words, if a teaching/doctrine does not line up with the teaching of the Bible then it must be abandoned. When one is led by emotionalism, however, his ability to discern right doctrine becomes clouded.

For instance, in the blog linked above, My Response to Those in the Church Boycotting the Shack, author Michele Perry, a former missionary, says, “You see the Gospel isn’t a doctrine. The right doctrine alone will not get you saved.…The Gospel is a Person and it is a relationship with that Person.” While it is true that doctrine alone will not save, it is false that “the Gospel isn’t a doctrine.” The Gospel is not a Person [Jesus]. The Gospel is about Jesus and our trust in His death and resurrection as payment for our sin as Paul lays out in 1 Cor. 15:1-8. The Gospel is most certainly a doctrine! Believing the Gospel entails one having further doctrines correct. For instance, is Paul referring to the Jesus of Mormonism, the Jesus of Arianism (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses), or the Jesus of historic Christianity? If he’s referring to Jesus as God (i.e. the Jesus of Christianity), are we to hold to modalism, tri-theism, partialism, or the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity? Why does any of that matter and what does that mean for the nature of God? All of these questions are of extreme importance and we ignore these doctrines to our own detriment. To once again quote Jesus, “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Who is He? The answer to that is a doctrinal issue.

We cannot feel or emote our way through these issues. We must actually think about them. That requires intense study and work. One has to actually think and act like an adult in order to wrestle with these questions. In other words, we must do just as Paul says and “[hold] to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I would encourage readers to also ponder Eph. 4:13-14; 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 4 among other scriptures.

Yet Michele goes on to say, “To imply we can know God through an intellectual doctrine apart from experience, that my friends is a blasphemy far greater than a parable that seeks to make His heart, goodness and love known to those who have ears and hearts able to receive it.” Once again, if she means to “know” God in the salvific sense then I agree. Being in right relationship with God is much more than knowing “an intellectual doctrine,” but it is not less than that. We cannot know God in any sense if we do not believe the right things about Him in the first place! And what exactly are we supposed to “experience” beyond this knowledge of God? There is zero scriptural support for this experiential emotionalism. How do we know our “experience” isn’t demonic influence or simply the result of the tacos we ate last night? Why does my experience supersede the experience of the Mormon, etc.?

We’re right back to the absolutely essential need of thinking rightly about God. That just IS a doctrinal issue that requires much work, study, and critical thinking. And if experience is so important, why are my own experiences ignored or dismissed when I talk about how amazing thinking deeply about the nature of God can be? Digging into philosophical issues regarding the divine nature and attributes of God that we’re able to know via human reason (Rom. 1:20) is astoundingly eye-opening. It has enriched my worship and devotional life. It has helped my struggles with sin. And it is vital to our ability to properly understand the Scriptures.

On What Will Our Focus Be?

Why aren’t we celebrating the early church fathers and defenders of the faith? Why aren’t we writing blogs about the merits of the work of the early creed writers that helped us think more clearly about God? Why is someone like Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most brilliant Christian thinker to ever live besides Jesus and the inspired biblical authors, not a household name? Why aren’t Christians more often making modern day Christian philosophers and theologians New York Times bestsellers? Why aren’t churches celebrating and encouraging their bright minded congregants to pursue further study at seminary and welcoming with open arms what these bright minds can offer to the local body of believers? Why are the emotionally driven ministries the ones who receive 90% of the financial support as opposed to the seminaries and other institutions who are supposedly training the next generation of Christian leaders and influencing the intellectual life of the church? Why do we focus on pet doctrines like the age of the earth (which is a recent debate compared to most of church history) and then celebrate emotionalism elsewhere? Why can we pack out auditoriums when a Christian music group entertains us, a popular fiction writer shares his story, or a man recalls his moving testimony of his alleged visit to heaven, but we struggle to get more than a handful of believers to show up for evangelism training (that involves more than sharing your testimony) or a conference on defending the faith? Why are so many Christians afraid to be adults and think?

I know, I know. Those things don’t pull at the heart strings and they require effort to think about. Those things are for others to deal with in their ivory towers and don’t affect you. That’s not your grandma’s Christianity, and that’s not what your pastor or favorite Christian fiction author said to focus on. That’s fine. You’re free to continue to “feel” your way through the Christian life, but don’t pretend like you are doing the body of Christ any favors or offering God the worship He is due. Will you continue to withhold your mind from the whole-being worship Jesus commanded? What we feel should be judged in light of what we know and measured in the context of reality. Our will should follow our intellect, not the other way around. God is the one who said, “Come now let us reason together…” (Is. 1:18). Do with that invitation what you will.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2nkzaWx


 

10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

By Natasha Crain

[NOTE: This post is 4 years old but continues to receive a large number of visitors from Google searches on teaching kids about faith. A lot has happened here on the blog since I wrote this–including having the opportunity to write a book that was released in March 2016 by Harvest House Publishers: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith! If you’re here because you’re looking for resources to help you effectively raise your kids to follow Jesus in the midst of this secular world, please take a moment to check it out!] 

Yesterday, my 3-year-old daughter asked about the word “faith” after hearing it in the devotional book she received for Christmas. I told her that faith means we believe in God even though we can’t see Him, hear Him or touch Him. Hearing myself say that out loud, I realized for the first time just how difficult the concept of faith can be. My definition was true in a simple sense, but as my kids grow I want them to understand the greater richness of the word as used in the Bible.

This inspired me to study the different instances of the word translated as “faith” in the New Testament. Based on my (digital) study Bible, there are 245 such instances. I read each of the passages and categorized them into 10 key insights on faith that I hope to teach my children as they grow.

Children Faith God

10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

1. Faith is what saves. Amongst the many verses that attest to this, Ephesians 2:8 clearly states, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Our children first and foremost need to learn that faith in Jesus is the only thing that results in salvation of our souls.

2. Faith can grow. Since the Bible clearly establishes faith as the requirement for salvation, it is natural to think of it as something we either have or don’t have. While that is true for saving faith, many verses make it clear that the faith of (saved) Christians can and should continue to grow (e.g., Romans 4:20, 2 Corinthians 10:15, Philippians 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Romans 14:1). Our children need to understand that growing faith is a life-time process that starts with saving faith.

3. Faith can fail. In Luke 22:31-34, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. In verse 32 Jesus says, “…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Our faith can fail due to our circumstances. When facing such circumstances, our children need to know they can pray for their faith to remain firm.

4. Faith is a gift. Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:9 tell us that faith is a spiritual gift from God and therefore it varies by person.  When it first registered for me last year that strength of faith is actually a gift, I honestly felt a sense of relief; I had always thought something was wrong with my faith because it’s been more of a struggle for me to believe than for many other Christians I know.  Our children should understand that faith DOES vary amongst believers and that comparisons are fruitless. What matters is our personal faith growth.

5. Faith can move mountains.  Jesus says in Matthew 17:20 and 21:22 that if you do not doubt, your faith can move mountains; note He didn’t say that “medium” faith will move hills! Our children need to understand that the power of prayer lies in full conviction.

6. Faith means to trust. The book of Matthew quotes Jesus saying “O you of little faith” on five occasions. On all but one of those occasions, He was addressing the disciples regarding their fear or worry (6:30, 8:26, 14:31, and 16:8). If little faith results in worry, that implies great faith results in trust. When our children are worried or scared, we should help them pray specifically for God to grow their faith; faith that results in trust is the remedy for fear.

7. Faith is protective. There are two New Testament verses that use faith as a metaphor for spiritually protective armor (the “shield of faith” in Ephesians 6:16 and the “breastplate of faith” in 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Our children need to be aware of the need for spiritual protection in their daily lives, and that faith is the basis for that protection.

8. Faith results in action. Hebrews chapter 11 recalls many of the most faithful people of the Old Testament. Each verse starts with the pattern, “By faith (person) (did something)”.  It wasn’t enough for the author to point out that each of these people HAD faith; the focus was on what that faith produced. Our children need to understand that authentic faith results in action.

9. (Great) Faith is believing before you experience.  In almost every instance where Jesus acknowledged someone for having great faith, it was in the context of believing in Him prior to experiencing healing (e.g., see Matthew 8 for the “greatest” faith of the Centurion). Our children need to know that faith doesn’t require waiting for signs or experiences that lead to the “conviction of things not seen”; Jesus acknowledged great faith as first believing in Him.

10. Faith is a decision everyone makes. Even if a person does not have faith in God, he or she must have faith in another “unproven” alternative about the afterlife (even if it’s that nothing exists). Our children need to realize that faith is a decision everyone makes, not just Christians.

Original Blog Source:  http://bit.ly/2n1hiOs


5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

By Natasha Crain

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

Children Faith Science

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mouGKB


 

Biblical Faith VS. Blind Faith

By Evan Minton

Many Christians when asked by unbelievers why they should believe anything The Bible says, the most common response is “Just have faith!”. And this “just have faith” line is pretty much the answer to every single objection one could possibly raise against the Christian.

Blind Faith

Far too often people are turned away because of intellectual doubts that plague them. “If God is all loving and all powerful, why does He let so much suffering go on in the world?” “How could a loving God send people to an eternal Hell?” “How do I know Yahweh is the one true God instead of these thousands of other gods in these other religions that contradict Christianity? How do I know The Bible is true and not The Koran or the Hindu Scriptures?” And when a Christian or a pastor responds with “Just have faith” that translates in the mind of the unbeliever as “in order to be a Christian, you need to commit intellectual suicide.” This blind faith approach is so, so, so very unbiblical. Many places in The Bible command us to tell others WHY Christianity is true.

“Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have, but do so with gentleness and respect.” – 1 Peter 3:15

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 10:5

In Jude 1:3, Jude urges his readers to DEFEND the faith (that’s what we call “Christian Apologetics”).

In Phillipians 1:16, Paul says that he was appointed to DEFEND the good news (i.e do Christian Apologetics).

“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” – Colossians 4:5-6

In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says he gave the Corinthians PROOF that he was indeed an apostle from God because he performed many signs and wonders when he was with them. If God really wanted us to have blind faith, why would Paul give evidence for his credibility?

In 2 Corinthians 13:3 Paul says he is willing to offer the Corinthians PROOF that Christ speaks through him. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa whoa! Hold the phone, Paul! Paul, buddy! Don’t you know that if you offer the Corinthians proof that Christ speaks through you that they won’t have legitimate faith? Why would you deprive them they opportunity of having faith, Paul? Maybe faith isn’t what people think it is.

Objection: If you need evidence, you don’t have faith.

This is an objection often proposed by Christians (as well as atheists) who think that the word “faith” means to believe something without any reason to and/or even to believe something in the face of reasons to not believe it. This distortion of the meaning of the word “faith” has had very bad consequences on the church because it makes a person think that Christianity requires you to be an undiscerning airhead who doesn’t like reason.

Here is a Bible verse that gives an example of a person placing their faith in God in spite of having evidence for His existence. I tell ya, reading The Bible is like going into a spiritual gold mine and mining all the good stuff you find. BUT you gotta dig for it. Usually, I’m not looking for stuff like this, I just happen to stumble across it while reading through the verses. I found this one night when reading through Exodus. I think it does a good job of arguing against Christians who think that apologetics is wrong because you’re supposed to have blind, undiscerning belief.

“When the Israelites saw the mighty power that The Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before Him. THEY PUT THEIR FAITH IN HIM and His servant Moses.” – Exodus 14:31

Clearly, the Israelites had evidence that God existed and was helping them escape Egypt and yet the text says they put their faith in Him anyway (for a little while at least. we all know they lost faith a bunch of times after this). They ESPECIALLY had evidence that MOSES existed and the text says they placed their faith in him as well. So given this piece of scriptural evidence we know that a Christian can still base his belief THAT Christianity is true on the basis of evidence and still be able to have faith in God. You see, faith means the same thing as the word “trust”. Or as I’ve said before “Faith is when someone is holding you over a ledge and knowing in your heart that not only will they not let you fall, they’ll pull you up to safety”. You know that the person holding onto you exists. You have very powerful evidence that that person exists, yet all the evidence in the world is not going to make you trust that that person will help save your life. This is the real definition of the word “faith”.

I like using an analogy. Let’s say you discovered you had heart disease, and need a risky surgery. You have sufficient resources, so you research doctors, anesthesiologists, etc. until you have the best team possible assembled. You now have a group of people that you believe will give you the best chance of survival. Even though you have researched extensively, you still show your faith in this team when you allow yourself to be put under. Faith does not mean not researching and exploring the truth. Jesus even says as much when he tells us to love God with our heart, soul, *MIND* and strength.

http://bible.cc/exodus/14-31.htm <– Here you can look at other translations of Exodus 14:31 to see all the different words that are used other than “faith”. The NLT uses “faith”, the NIV used “trust”, the KJV uses “believed” that is; they believed IN God and His promises even though they had just witnessed good evidence THAT He existed and was helping them. This is the difference between belief THAT God exists, THAT Jesus rose from the dead and belief IN His character and His promises to you.

We are never told to have a blind faith. Paul commended those in Berea for checking the Scriptures daily to see if what he was telling them was so. Jesus showed Himself alive to make sure those believed on Him, especially Thomas (John 20:28)

Paul also said to “Test everything, hold onto the good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21

1 Thessalonians 5:21 seems to be telling us to have just the exact opposite of blind faith.

Objection: “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly” – Hebrews 11:6

I agree with this. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But then again, it’s impossible to please ANYONE without faith. It is not possible to have a good relationship with any human being without faith. What is faith? Remember, the word “faith” is synonymous with “trust”. If you’re constantly distrusting God, you’re not going to have a very good relationship with Him just as you wouldn’t have a very good relationship with your wife/husband if you were always distrusting her/him. If you’re constantly suspecting your wife of cheating on you, I “suspect” that it’s not going to be very long before she hands you the divorce papers telling you “I can’t live with someone who distrusts me so severely”. Although sometimes that kind of suspicion is warranted.

I walk by faith, not by sight. This doesn’t mean I believe God exists without any evidence or reason. It means I trust in Him even when I don’t know what He’s up to. Sometimes our circumstances can have deceitful appearances. Sometimes it looks like God has abandoned us when He really hasn’t. Sometimes it looks like God won’t keep His promises. Sometimes we think our suffering has no good purpose to it. It is in times like these that we have to have faith in (i.e to place our TRUST in) God. That His plans are for ours or someone else’s ultimate good.

Having evidence for God’s existence does not mean you’re not walking by faith. Faith is placing one’s trust in a person. Just because you have EVIDENCE for that person’s existence does not mean you don’t trust them. Moses had PLENTY of evidence for God’s existence, but He still had to trust that God was going to lead Him and the Jews where He said they were going to. Many times it looked like Yahweh was leading them on a wild goose chase, but Moses continued to have FAITH in the God which he had plenty of proof existed. Although many of the people did lose faith. They got impatient and started worshipping false idols, and constantly complained.

Objection: Do Apologists forget the work of The Holy Spirit?

Anyone who does apologetics knows the Holy Spirit has to play an integral part of the entire process. As Ergun Caner says, “It is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer.” (2) No mature apologist forgets that the Bible stresses that humans are blinded by sin. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13; 2 Cor. 4:4). How people respond to God’s revelation depends on several factors such as his/her personal history (both past and present). People can be hardened towards God; sin certainly dampens an individual’s ability to being receptive to God’s invitation to them. The Holy Spirit works through apologetics just as He works through preaching.

Objection: Shouldn’t we just preach the gospel?

This is true. By all means, “Preach the Gospel!” But guess what? What do you do when you try to open the Bible and use it with someone who doesn’t think the Bible is an authoritative or inspired book? This happens all the time to Christians. And did you know Muslims and other people think their holy book is just as inspired and authoritative as the Bible? The Hindus think their scriptures are inspired. The Buddhists think their holy scriptures are inspired. If you keep trying to quote the Bible, you would be “begging the question.”

“Begging the question” is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place. In some cases, you may be able to go quote the Bible to many people without any objections, like when you’re trying to witness to Mormons and Jehova’s Witnesses. If you’re witnessing to Jews, you can show them all the messianic prophesies and how Jesus fulfilled all of the prophesies. But in other cases (like when witnessing to atheists and agnostics), you would need to show the individual the Bible is a reliable historical document before trying to use it as an authoritative text in these types of conversations.

Avoiding Apologetics can have dire consequences.
Christianity is under a severe attack in this day and age. In fact, I’ve never seen the Christian faith under attack more than I have in the 21st century. “The New Atheist” movement has set a goal to eliminate religious belief from the face of the Earth. High School teachers and College professors endorse Darwinian evolution and try to convince your kids that a Creator was not needed for advanced life to come into being.

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig concurs. He said “In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian worldview coupled with an overwhelming relativism. If parents are not intellectually engaged with their faith and do not have sound arguments for Christian theism and good answers to their children’s questions, then we are in real danger of losing our youth. It’s no longer enough to simply teach our children Bible stories; they need doctrine and apologetics. It’s hard to understand how people today can risk parenthood without having studied apologetics.”

If Jesus wants us to have blind faith, then why did He have to fulfill so many ancient prophesies? 
If God required us to have blind faith, then why did Jesus have to fulfill so many prophesies to PROVE to the Jews that He was the true messiah? Why couldn’t Jesus just come onto the scene and say “Hey, I’m the Messiah, follow me!” Maybe because so many other people were claiming to be the Messiah at the time period and they were NOT the messiah. The Jews needed the ability to tell truth from falsehood. The Jews needed the ability to tell the difference between the TRUE messiah and a phony. Blind Faith can’t give you that. God gave the Jews a test for the real messiah to take and if He was able to get a perfect score, then their conclusion would be that He was and is the messiah. Lee Strobel calls this “The Fingerprint Evidence” in his book “The Case For Christ”. Jesus had to fulfill each and every one of the messianic prophesies. If He did, then that proved He was the genuine article.
 
Blind Faith can actually be dangerous!
Blind Faith can actually be dangerous. How are you going to “beware of false prophets” like Jesus said if you don’t exercise some discernment? Back in ancient Judaism, the way to tell if a prophet was truly from God was if he gave evidence that he came from God. How’s that? Well, if his prophesies came true then he was truly from The Lord but if his prophesies were false then everyone knew he was a false prophet and they had him stoned. 1 John 4:1 says “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Yet another verse telling us that blind faith is wrong. This verse is telling us that we should “test the spirits” to see if they give evidence that they are indeed from God.

NOTEWORTHY QUOTES:
“I do not feel obliged to believe that same God who endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect had intended for us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

“As I speak around the country, I often encounter devoted, committed Christians who are hesitant to embrace an evidential faith. In many Christian circles, faith that requires evidential support is seen as weak and inferior. For many, blind faith (a faith that simply trusts without question) is the truest, most sincere, and most valuable form of faith that we can offer God. Yet Jesus seemed to have a high regard for evidence. In John 14:11, He told those watching Him to examine ‘the evidence of miracles’ (NIV) if they did not believe what He said about His identity. Even after the resurrection, Jesus stayed with His disciples for an additional forty days and provided them with ‘many convincing proofs’ that He was resurrected and was who He claimed to be (Acts 1:2-3 NIV). Jesus understood the role and value of evidence and the importance of developing an evidential faith. It’s time for all of us, as Christians, to develop a similarly reasonable faith’.” —J. Warner Wallace

“The “I just take Christianity on (blind) faith” attitude can’t be the right approach. It leaves the Bible without defense, yet Peter directs us to make a defense for the hope that is in us. Also, the biblical word for faith, pistis, doesn’t mean wishing. It means active trust. And trust cannot be conjured up or manufactured. It must be earned. You can’t exercise the kind of faith the Bible has in mind unless you’re reasonably sure that some particular things are true. In fact, I suggest you completely ban the phrase “leap of faith” from your vocabulary. Biblical faith is based on knowledge, not wishing or blind leaps. Knowledge builds confidence and confidence leads to trust. The kind of faith God is interested in is not wishing. It’s trust based on knowing, a sure confidence grounded in evidence.’ – Greg Koukl


Any and every other belief you hold, about anything whatsoever, if it is to be taken seriously, if it is to be of any value or worth anyone’s consideration, it must have in its favor more than your emotions, personal history or external circumstantial factors. It must have reasons.” —Clint Roberts (from the article, Believing for No Reason)
 
 “Question with boldness. Question even if the very existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” – Thomas Jefferson

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mzdohl


How Not Letting Your Children Ask a Question Leads Them to Atheism

By Michael C. Sherrard

Time and time again, I hear the story of one who has left their belief in God in the bin of their childhood memories alongside Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny. And more often than not, I’m given one reason that is quite strange. Well, its not strange to me anymore because of how often I’m given this answer. Too often, I have people tell me that the reason they do not believe in God anymore is because no one ever let them ask a question.

Untitled design

Just recently a friend of mine had an old college friend who is an atheist find him on Facebook. The old college buddy sent my friend a nice message that said, “I know we had our differences, but I’ve always admired you and appreciated the respectful conversations we had.”

“It was strange to the get the note,” my friend told me. “Too random to not consider that maybe the Lord was orchestrating something here.”

So my friend kept the conversation going and at one point he asked him, “What is your biggest objection to the existence of God today?”

His friend’s answer is a sad indictment on the state of many churches. He said, “No one would let me ask a question.”

The friend went on to explain how in High School he started to have some questions, and so he brought them to his pastor and other church leaders. And rather than acceptance and a healthy conversation he was practically shown the door. He was told on more than one occasion that believers don’t ask these questions. They just trust God and have faith. He concluded that his questions didn’t have answers and that Christianity is a fable.

This is not a unique story. I hear this all the time.

How many of you have heard or even said yourself, “If we had answers then we wouldn’t need to have faith.” But Jesus welcomed skeptics and questioners and gave them answers and so should we. If we do not, we will affirm the doubts that cause questions and send our children to atheism.

But we are on the side of truth and have nothing to fear. We need to encourage questions and welcome the questioner. So what can we do to encourage and allow teenagers to ask questions so that they don’t have to just ask siri or google, or worse, decide that there are no answers to their questions and abandon their belief in God?

There are three things we can do to create an environment that allows teenagers to ask questions.

First, we build relationships. Many articles and surveys are showing that the younger generations want community. They want relationships with adults. And it is our responsibility create them. It is the burden of the older generations to build bridges to the younger ones. We need to de-segregate the generations in the church. Teenagers need to know people that have answers and they need to trust them enough to be able to ask a question.

Second, respond to the questioner, not just the question. Teenagers, and all people for that matter, use questions for purposes other than getting an answer. Sometimes they ask a question to rattle you. Sometimes they ask a question to get to know you. Sometimes they ask a question to test the waters so to speak. Your response will often tell them more than your answer. So control your facial expressions, anticipate as many scenarios as you can, and get in the habit of affirming questions by saying things like, “That’s a great question”, “I’ve wondered that myself” or “That is the right question to be asking.”

Third, ask questions yourself. Get teenagers thinking about important things while they are in a safe environment. Don’t let the first time they hear a question regarding the reliability of scripture be in the classroom of professor who wants to convert your child to naturalism. My goal is to ask my children the questions I know they will have before they have them. And I make it a point to tell my children to never stop asking questions. “The important thing is to never stop questioning” is probably what my kids are going put on my grave marker.

I had such a proud moment the other day. My six year old daughter was jumping on the trampoline and we were talking about taking care of other people. Something happened at school that day and it was a natural opportunity to talk about protecting the weak and how we always need to be nice and invite other kids to play.

At one point I said, “Sherrard’s always…” and I waited for her to finish. I was expecting her to say, “take care of those weaker than us.” But she blurted out, “Ask Questions!” I smiled very big and slept very good that night.

There does not exist a question for which there is not a good answer. So welcome the questioner and find an answer to their question. Do not be afraid of not knowing everything and being asked a question that you can’t answer. There are countless books and resources. And there are organizations like Ratio Christi that can help train you and point you to the resources that can help you along the way. And there is always me. Always feel free to reach out for guidance or support. I like to do more than write.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2nc5F63


The Difference Between Christian Grace and Mormon Grace

Words matter. Ideas have consequences. In the years that I have been engaging Mormons about matters of faith, I’ve learned to define terms very carefully. Christians and Mormons use many of the same terms: “grace”, “heaven”, “Jesus”, “God”, “salvation” and many more. But when the definitions of these terms are examined, it’s apparent that we are talking about extremely different ideas. These differences matter. They separate Mormons and Christians and demonstrate that we are not worshipping the same God.

Christian Mormon Grace

As an example, I’ve been in conversations with Mormons and have talked about the nature of grace and salvation. Maybe you’ve had similar conversations:

You: “As a Christian, I believe that we are saved by faith alone.”

Your Mormon Friend: “As a Mormon, I agree!”

You: “Huh?”

Your Mormon Friend: “Mormons know that ‘salvation’ as you put it, is a gift from God.”

You: “OK, but we believe that Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and that He alone saves us.”

Your Mormon Friend: “We agree! We believe that Jesus died for us and that without His gift of salvation, none of us would be ‘saved’ as you are calling it.

You: “OK, but Christians believe that Jesus’ work ALONE saves us; we don’t believe that our own efforts can save us at all.”

Your Mormon Friend: “We feel the same way! We know that Jesus alone makes it possible for us to be reunited with Heavenly Father; we don’t believe that ‘salvation’, can be achieved with our good works.”

Wow, it sure sounds like your Mormon friend holds a Christian view of salvation through faith alone, doesn’t it? I’ve had many conversations that are very similar to this one. The Mormon doctrine of salvation is NOT the same as the Christian doctrine, but unless you take the time to ask good questions and sift through the answers, you may not see the distinctions clearly.

What Do We Mean When We Use the Term, “Heaven”?
Let me try to describe the difference between “Christian grace” and “Mormon grace” with an illustration that I’ve used hundreds of times training Christians to discuss their faith with Mormons. Before we begin, however, we need to define a foundational term: “heaven”. Christians sometimes ask their Mormon friends, “If you died today, would you be in heaven?” or “What do you have to do to go to heaven?” Unless we define the term “heaven” this approach will not help us understand the differences between the two faith systems. I never use the term “heaven” when talking to my Mormon friends and family. Instead, I focus on “the greatest gift that God can offer us after death”. For Christians, this is, in fact, heaven; the realm of god we will share for all eternity. But the Mormon heaven is divided into three levels and virtually everyone is going to get into one of these levels. Any of these heavenly “ranks” could accurately be called “heaven”. So we need to be more specific with our Mormon friends; for them, the “the greatest gift that God can offer us after death” is not just “heaven”, it’s exaltation in Celestial Kingdom. This exaltation results in deity for the Mormon believer. They become Gods just like Heavenly Father.

Is Grace A Ladder or a Lifeline?
So, the real question is, “What must you do to be exalted in Celestial Kingdom with Heavenly Father?” Now, with this question clarified, we can talk about grace and the contribution that Jesus makes to this process. So, here is the illustration that I typically use: imagine that you are a Mormon who wants “the greatest gift that God can offer after death” (heaven). How can you achieve exaltation in Celestial Kingdom? For the Mormon, Jesus makes this journey possible because he visits us here on earth and, in essence, provides us with a ladder we can climb to heaven. This ladder is a free gift. It is given as an act of “grace” according to our Mormon friends. But here is the problem: the Mormon has to climb the ladder on his or her own. This climbing is done through a lifelong series of good works. Jesus may give you the ladder, but he doesn’t climb it for you.

This is an important distinction to understand. Mormons will tell us that they cannot get to “Celestial Kingdom” without the free gift offered by Jesus. That’s true. Without the free ladder, you can’t begin to climb. Mormons will also say that Jesus alone makes it possible for them to attain the “greatest gift that God offers us after death”. That’s true. Only Jesus has the ladder. Mormons will also say that they could never ascend to Celestial Kingdom on the basis of their own good works. That’s also true; “climbing” isn’t possible unless there’s a ladder to climb. Mormons can’t get to Celestial Kingdom with their own good works alone; they need that ladder.

So, What’s the Difference Between Mormon Grace and Christian Grace?
The Christian view of grace doesn’t involve a ladder of any kind; in Christian theology, Jesus doesn’t bring us a ladder to climb. Instead, Jesus drops us a lifeline, a rope He climbs down and ties to each of us. Jesus then pulls us up on his own, in spite of our own inability. It doesn’t matter how heavy we are or where we are in our journey toward sanctification. We simply have to trust him to tie the lifeline. Mormonism is a works based religion, like many other world religions. In fact, in this one regard, Mormonism is like every other world religion. Christianity stands alone as the only religion that offers true “grace” to its adherents. Salvation is not the result of anything we do. God offers it as a free gift; not a free opportunity to work hard for our salvation, but a truly free gift that needs no additional contribution on our part. This distinction is critical and it separates Mormonism from Christianity, not as a separate denomination, but as a completely separate notion about the nature and saving work of God.


J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

How Do I Motivate Students Who Don’t Seem to Care?

One of the most common—and frankly one of the toughest—questions I receive is how to motivate students who are apathetic. How do you make students care? If you are expecting an easy answer, then you might as well click away now. Students are not robots and so we can’t force them to care about anything! But there are a few things I have learned from my experience and research that may help you motivate students who don’t seem to care about spiritual issues:

Students Apologetics Motivation

  1. Build a relationship with students. When students sense that an adult really cares, they are much more likely to listen. When I taught high school full time, I especially focused on building relationships with the students who seemed apathetic. I took time to listen to them, encourage them, and go to various events they found important (school plays, dances, sporting events, etc.). I wanted them to know that I genuinely cared. I knew that was a key ingredient in motivating them to care about spiritual issues. If you want students to care about spiritual things, they need to first know that you care about them.
  2. Take students out of their normal environment. One of the reason camps can be so powerful is that it gets kids out of their everyday routine. Sometimes kids need to be away from their daily lives to consider spiritual truths in a fresh way. It’s amazing how open students’ hearts often are when they just slow down and step outside their normal environment. But it doesn’t just have to be at camp. Some of my best conversations with students have been on car rides to sporting events, at barbeques, on mission trips, and over coffee.
  3. Use pop culture illustrations in your teaching. Students love movies. They love social media. That’s the air they breathe! In my experience, students seem to come alive when I teach biblical truth with examples from pop culture. That’s why I used to teach an entire worldview unit through the lens of film (my favorite text was Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa). To be motivated to care about spiritual things, students need to see the connection between the secular and sacred worlds. Teaching biblical truth through film is one great way to do this.
  4. Challenge students. Many students are unmotivated because church (and by extension God) bores them. Yet, I have found many students respond when they are challenged and provided a practical way to make a difference. You can do this in three ways:
    1. Challenge students to serve: One year I took some students to visit a veteran’s hospital. The hospital requested DVDs, and so we did a DVD drive for the veterans. Once the students saw that they could practically make a difference, many stepped up and served.
    2. Challenge students to have spiritual conversations. Consider taking students on to a college campus, or to visit another religious site, to have spiritual conversations with people of different faiths. Just prep your students carefully, and use these surveys by Brett Kunkle at Stand to Reason to start conversations.
    3. Challenge students to defend their faith. I love to role-play with students. They tend to come alive when I role-play an atheist, Muslim, pro-choicer, or a host of other positions. I force them to think, put them on the defensive, and provide no easy answers. You can also consider bringing in someone of a different faith to engage your students, but just use wisdom if doing so.
  5. Ask questions rather than give simple answers. Jesus asked a lot of questions, even when he knew the answers. Why? He wanted to elicit faith in people. We do a disservice to students when we give simple answers rather than asking deep questions. In fact, when ministering to students, questions are almost always better than answers. I want students to gain a love for wisdom, and to learn how to think, which only comes when we refuse to give simple answers. Asking timely and thoughtful questions can often help elicit spiritual interest in students who are otherwise apathetic.
  6. Have a long-term perspective. Often times youth leaders beat themselves up for “failing” to motivate certain students. But here’s the reality: there may be nothing you can do to motivate certain students whose hearts are not open to spiritual things. I had a student who graduated from my class who went to the local JC. His goal in my class was to get the minimal passing grade (If I remember correctly, he got a C-). And yet the year after graduation he came back to sit in my class and to encourage other students to pay attention. Why? He was challenged in his faith by professors and started taking his beliefs more seriously than ever. I asked him what I could have done differently to motivate him in high school, and I will never forget what he said: “Nothing. I wasn’t ready spiritually. But I did learn more than you probably realized.” Even if a student seems apathetic, you might be surprised how much he or she is actually learning. Don’t give up!

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 


 

Three M’s That Naturalism Can’t Provide

 

Everyone has a worldview; all of us experience and interpret the world through a collection of beliefs that guide our understanding. As an atheist, I accounted for my experiences through the lens of naturalism. I believed everything I experienced and observed could be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. I never thought deeply about the inconsistencies in my view of the world, or the fact that my naturalism failed to explain three characteristics of my daily experience:

Naturalism Provide

Mind
If naturalism is true, some form of physicalism or materialism must rule the day. The “problem of mind” (as philosophers and researchers commonly describe it) is only a “problem” because the material limitations of naturalism strain to account for immaterial consciousness. Naturalism can explain the existence of the brain, but little more. Our “minds” are an illusion created by the physical processes that are occurring in our material brains. But if this is the case, our thoughts are merely the result of a series of physical causes (and resulting effects). You might believe you are thinking freely about what you just read, but in reality your “thoughts” are simply the consequences of neural “dominoes” falling, one against the next. In a world of strict causal physicalism, free will (and freely reasoned thoughts) are simply an illusion.

Morality
If naturalism is true, morality is nothing more than a matter of opinion. All of us, as humans, have simply come to embrace those cultural or personal mores that best promote the survival of the species. There is no transcendent, objective moral truth. Instead, cultures merely embrace the values and moral principles that “work” for them and have resulted in the flourishing of their particular people group. If this is the case, one group of evolved humans has no business trying to tell another evolved group what is truly right or wrong from a moral perspective. After all, each group has successfully arrived at their particular level of development by embracing their own accepted moral standards. Arguments over which moral truths provide for greater human flourishing are simply subjective disagreements; there is no transcendent, objective standard that can adjudicate such disagreements from a naturalistic perspective.

Meaning
If naturalism is true, life’s meaning and purpose are simply in the eye of the beholder. If your son tells you that he thinks meaning is found in playing video games ten hours a day, there is little you can offer as an objective rebuttal. After all, if there is no transcendent author of life, each of us gets to write our own script. While you may believe your son has missed the point of his existence and has forfeited the opportunity to experience life fully, you really don’t have any objective authority upon which to ground an alternative. As a naturalist, you are inventing your own meaning as well; purpose and significance (from a purely naturalistic perspective) are nothing more than opinion and personal preference.

As an atheist, I chose to cling to naturalism, in spite of the fact that I lived each day as though I was capable of using my mind to make moral choices based on more than my own opinion. In addition, I sought meaning and purpose beyond my own hedonistic preferences, as though meaning was to be discovered, rather than created. I called myself a naturalist while embracing three characteristics of reality that simply cannot be explained by naturalism. As a Christian, I’m now able to acknowledge the “grounding” for these features of reality. My philosophical worldview is consistent with my practical experience of the world.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

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9 Truths about Sex and Marriage from Genesis 1-2

Critics have sometimes claimed that marriage is not that important to God. But interestingly, the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. In fact, marriage is the defining metaphor God uses to illustrate His love for the Church, His “bride.”

sex marriage genesis

The natural place to begin an investigation into what God thinks about marriage (and sex) is in Genesis 1 and 2, where scripture describes God’s creation of the world and everything in it. Here are nine truths about sex and marriage from the first two chapters in Genesis:

1. Sex and marriage are a creation of God. Sex is not the result of a blind, evolutionary process that lacks meaning and merely exists to propagate the species. Rather, God is the one who created sex with a purpose for how it is to be expressed and experienced. The first explicit attribute we learn about God in the Bible is that He is the Creator (Gen 1:1), which implies there is a purpose for what He creates, including sex.

2. People are created as gendered beings. Gender is not accidental to the creation story. Rather, God intentionally made human beings male and female (1:27-28) so they could populate the earth. The creation story emphasizes distinctions between day and night, land and sea, as well as male and female. Gender is fundamental to what it means to be human.

3. The biblical design for marriage is monogamy. The pattern in Genesis 2:24 is that a man leaves his household, which consists of his father and his mother, and then “clings” to his wife. When God called Adam to name the animals, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (2:20b). The clear implication is that Adam was looking for one partner. Populating the earth only requires one man and one woman. Although many biblical leaders embraced polygamy, the clear design for marriage is monogamy.

4. The two sexes are equal in value. Even though there is contrast between Adam and Eve (male and female), there is no hint of ontological superiority for the male. Both are equal image bearers of the divine (1:27). While egalitarians and complementarians differ over the roles of men and women in the family and church, both agree that men and women have equal value.

5. Marriage is an exclusive relationship. Genesis 2:24 says a man shall leave his father and mother. The Hebrew term for “leave” is a strong term that is often translated as “abandon” or “forsake,” and is sometimes used to indicate that Israel has forsaken the God of Israel for false gods (e.g. Deut 28:20). Richard Davidson explains: “This leaving also implies the exclusiveness of the relationship: husband and wife, and no other interfering party, are bone of each other’s bones, flesh of each other’s flesh.”[1]

6. Marriage is meant to be permanent. According to Genesis 2:24, man will “hold fast” to his wife. The language of this same verse, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” expresses a marriage covenant vow. Holding fast and the one-flesh union indicate permanence in the relationship. Jesus affirmed the intended permanence for marriage (See Matt. 19:3-4).

7. Marriage is heterosexual. Both Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that marriage is gendered. The man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. While marriage entails much more than gender differences, it entails no less. Paul affirms that marriage is gendered (See Eph. 5:22-33).

8. One of the primary purposes of sex and marriage is procreation. After indicating that males and females are made in God’s image, Genesis indicates that they are to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Thus, one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. Not all couples can have children, for a variety of reasons, but part of the divine design for sex and marriage is procreation.

9. Sex is good and beautiful. Over and over again the author of Genesis 1 makes it clear that creation is good: “And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). Sex is part of God’s original good creation. Sex is only bad when we abuse God’s intended design. But in the marriage relationship of one man and one woman, sex is meant to be experienced without fear, shame, or regret and is both good and beautiful.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 


[1] Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA Hendricksen, 2007), 44.

 


 

The Power of “Nice” and the Importance of “Good”

“Why are you always involved in these missions trips to other religious groups?” Claire’s mother stopped me after a Sunday youth service and pulled me aside. I’ll never forget our conversation. Her question was more accusatory than inquisitive. “I’m not letting Claire go on this trip. I know lots of Mormons. We have several really good friends who are Mormon. They are incredibly nice people. Why would you want to challenge what they believe when they are so nice?” I received many similar complaints and questions from parents when I first began taking students on trips to Salt Lake City. Why would we want to challenge and upset people who are that nice?

nice good

“Niceness” is a persuasive apologetic. Several years ago, on a missions trip to the University of California at Berkeley, I observed the power of “nice” firsthand. An atheist student from SANE (Students Advocating a Non-religious Ethos) impacted our group more powerfully than any of the other atheists we encountered. This student was young, attractive and incredibly “nice”. His demeanor made his worldview attractive, even before he opened his mouth to try to defend it. “Nice” can be incredibly powerful.

But “nice” is not the same as “good”, even though we often confuse the two. “Nice” is an adjective that means “pleasant,” “agreeable,” or “satisfactory”; we might use it to say, “We had a nice time”. It can also be used to describe someone who is “pleasant in manner” or “kind”. In this sense “niceness” describes an appearance based on outward performance. The young man from SANE behaved in a way that was observably pleasant and kind. He was a nice young man. Why would anyone try to persuade someone to change his or her beliefs when their worldview has clearly resulted in such a nice disposition? His behavior was a commanding advertisement for his worldview and our students were powerfully impacted by his presentation.

That’s where the question of “niceness” vs. “goodness” becomes important. “Good” can also be used as an adjective, as when it is used to describe something “to be desired or approved of”, but it can also be used as a noun: “That which is morally right; righteousness”. “Goodness” is a moral evaluation. It seeks to describe the unseen motives that drive our visible behaviors. It’s quite possible to be pleasant and kind for an underlying evil purpose; people can be pleasant and kind to accomplish something vile. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly as a homicide detective.

“Niceness” is determined by one’s personal experience. We typically declare an experience or person to be “pleasant” if we experienced personal enjoyment. Your “pleasant” might be different than my “pleasant”. It is subjective. But “goodness” is grounded in something bigger than both of us. I can have a subjective opinion about what or who pleases me, but deciding if this thing or person is “righteous” is another matter altogether. Righteousness is a standard that transcends my personal opinion; it’s not subjective, it’s objective. To be “righteous” is to “act in accord with divine or moral law.” That’s a law that transcends our personal opinion. I’ve known committed gang members who were able to be “nice” to one another or in order to fool a victim. “Niceness” is one thing, “righteousness” is another.

When we behave “nicely” because we hope to achieve something for ourselves, even when the reward is our spiritual salvation, the moral value of our actions is compromised. If I give you $10.00 because I know it will result in my receiving $100.00, my actions can hardly be called “good”, even though you might think it was “nice” at the time. I wasn’t trying to be “nice” at all; I was just trying to accomplish a selfish goal of increased income. People who are outwardly “nice” because they are convinced this behavior will earn them salvation are in a similar situation. That’s why “work-based” theological systems can produce “nice” people who aren’t necessarily “good”.

That’s also why we take the time to share the Christian truth about grace with people who are still working hard to earn their salvation (like Mormons) or who reject the transcendent source of “good” altogether (like atheists). We interact with people who seem incredibly “nice” because we understand the difference between “nice” and “good”.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Are Questions Better Than Answers? No Question About It!

Although it might surprise you, given that I grew up with a famous apologist father, my parents asked me more questions than they gave me answers. My parents did not want me to believe something simply on authority, but because I had good reasons for believing it was true. They certainly wanted me to become a Christian, but they were also deeply interested in helping me learn how to think critically for myself and to confidently arrive at truth.

questions better

Jesus also asked dozens of questions even though he knew the answers. Why? While there could be other reasons, it seems to me that he wanted to elicit faith in people and to help them arrive at a personal knowledge of the truth. When it comes to helping people arrive at a biblical worldview, Jesus knew questions were often far more powerful than statements. In fact, he knew the most important question of all is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

As I look back on my life, it was often the people who asked me the most timely and insightful questions who have had the greatest impact on my life. For instance, as a grad student in philosophy, I read a ton of books on postmodernism and, to be honest, was quite confused about the nature of truth. I remember thinking: How can I ever know the nature of truth if I can’t step outside my own perspective and examine it firsthand?

I asked for guidance from one of my philosophy teachers at Talbot, Dr. Garrett Deweese, and he simply asked me a question back: “Is it possible you’re confusing the metaphysical and epistemological issues related to truth? Ponder that for awhile and let me know what you think.” Boom! His question got me thinking on a whole new level and opened up clarification in my worldview between the nature of truth (metaphysics) and how we know truth (epistemology). This distinction continues to serve me well to this day.

The Question Explosion

Even though information is expanding rapidly, people are asking questions at an even greater rate. Every year humans ask the Internet 2 trillion questions. On average, American adults asked four questions per day online. But most of these questions are for a place to eat, sports facts, or how to fix something that is broken. Most are factual questions that have easy answers.

But there are other kinds of questions that lead to life change. What is the key to asking transformative questions? This is a question I have been thinking about for some time. Becoming a better question-asker is one of my ongoing goals as a teacher, parent, coach, apologist, and follower of Christ. If you want to genuinely influence other people, a key skill to develop is the art and science of asking good questions.

What Makes a Transformative Question?

I was recently reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. If you’re interested in future technological and cultural trends, this is a must-read book. Towards the end of the book Kelly has an entire chapter titled, “Questioning,” in which he talks about how culture is moving from the rigid order of hierarchy to a state of flux where new possibilities will be opened up for those who ask the right questions. Kelly got me thinking, “How can I be confident that I am asking the right questions?” How confident are you?

Kelly lists fourteen marks of a good question. Here is my top seven:

  1. A good question cannot be answered immediately.
  2. A good question challenges existing answers.
  3. A good question creates new territory of thinking.
  4. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
  5. A good question cannot be predicted.
  6. A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
  7. A good question is what humans are for.

Take a minute and reflect on these points. End by asking yourself a few questions for reflection:

What is the most significant question someone has ever asked you? What made it so significant? What is the best question you have asked someone else? Do you tend to make statements or ask questions? Why? How can you become a better question-asker?

If you want to make a lasting difference in the lives of people, these are critical questions to ask.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

8 Major Worldviews (Part 2)

By Bryan Chilton

In our last article, we presented the first four of the eight major worldviews. As we noted, this is a revision to a previous article that only listed six. The first article in this series presented the worldviews known as atheism/naturalism, agnosticism, pantheism, and panentheism. This article will provide the last four. To keep from confusion, the last four worldviews will be listed as #1-4 in this article even though they represent #5-8 on our list.

Major Worldviews

  1. (#5) Polytheism: Several Gods Exist.

The term “polytheism” comes from two Greek terms: “polu” meaning “many” and “theos” as we have already defined as the term for God. In the polytheistic worldview, it is held that many gods and/or goddesses exist. Certainly, aspects of Hinduism meet the worldview. But, Hindus hold that the universal God manifests in various avatars. Polytheism is better represented in pagan religions, Greek and Roman mythologies, as well as Mormonism.[1]

The trouble with polytheism is found in necessary beings. Even if it is possible that there are many universes populated by Mormon men and women, one would be forced to push their existence back to a Prime Necessary Being. As noted earlier, all material, physical universes must hold a starting point. The universe demands an explanation for its existence. According to the BVG theorem, there cannot exist eternal material universes. Therefore, even if there are multiple universes populated by multiple gods and goddesses, those universes and beings become contingent upon the necessity of a transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being we know as God. Because of the concept of Ockham’s Razor,[2] polytheism fails as gods and goddesses are not necessary beings, whereas God is. The Christian apologist will need to use the issue of necessary and contingent beings among other areas as a starting point with polytheists.

  1. (#6) Dualism: God and the Physical World are Irreparably Separated.

Dualism is the belief that the spiritual and physical realms are irreconcilably separated. One must not confuse the dualist worldview with the dual nature of mankind (soul/body). A form of dualism in the human person can be demonstrated biblically.[3] However, the dualist worldview takes the distinction between the soul and body to extreme measures. Dualists will claim that the spiritual dimension is good and the physical dimension is bad. Thus, resurrection is not accepted nor is recreation of the new heaven and new earth presented in Revelation 21. Ancient Gnosticism, Platonism, and New Age philosophies often fit within the dualist paradigm.

The trouble with dualism is twofold. On the one hand, not all spiritual beings are good. Angels are considered spiritual beings. However, Satan and his demonic cohort are certainly not good. Rather, they are the epitome of evil. So, dualism fails to account for the fact that not all spiritual entities are good. On the other hand, dualism fails to account for the historicity of Jesus’ literal bodily resurrection. God, who is Spirit (John 4:24), created the physical world. The grand theme of Scripture is God’s restoration of the world and humanity. This includes the physical world. The Christian apologist will need to describe these distinctions and will want to provide the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection to the dualist.

  1. (#7) Deism: God as a Deadbeat Dad.

Deism is unique in that it takes its name from a Latin word rather than Greek. The Latin term “deus” is the word for “God.” Deism holds much in common with theism. Deists generally accept the existence of a transcendent God who is worthy of worship. The deist also accepts that this God is worthy of praise. The key distinction comes in God’s current involvement with creation. Deists reject the idea that God is immanent. They hold that God created everything at the outset but does not interject or intervene in creation since that time. Think of a wind-up toy. A person winds up the toy and releases it. The toy continues until it winds down without any involvement from the one who wound it. God is presented much like a deadbeat dad—that is, a dad who is uninvolved with his child’s life. Thus, deists reject the miraculous, revelations in any form except for reason, and personal relationships with the divine. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Locke are among the more famed deists.

Deism fails if one miraculous claim can be proven. If one miracle can be demonstrated, then deism fails because the miracle serves as evidence of God’s involvement in creation. Craig S. Keener’s two-volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts will help the Christian apologist defeat deist claims. Also, the apologist will want to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus’ bodily resurrection as evidence of God’s involvement.

  1. (#8) Monotheism/Theism: God is Omnipotent, Transcendent, and Personal.

Finally, we come to the final worldview. The last worldview is monotheism or theism. Theists hold that one God exists. God is both transcendent (separate from creation) and immanent (works within creation). Thus, God is omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing). But, God is also omnibenevolent (all-loving) and omnipresent (in all places). God is beyond the scope of the universe and is not constrained by the laws of nature. Yet, God is also personal and reveals himself to humanity. The three classic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are considered theistic in scope.

Theism triumphs in many ways. Theism best explains the necessity of God’s being, the creation of the universe, the miraculous, personal revelation, and the substance dualism of humanity. However, one must note that while all Christians are theists, not all theists are Christian. The Christian apologist will want do demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament, then illustrate the reliability of the Old Testament, in addition to providing evidence for the life and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In doing so, the Christian apologist will show that God has ultimately revealed himself in Jesus.

Conclusion

Everyone has a worldview of some sort. The first step in presenting the gospel message comes by understanding where the person’s worldview currently resides. Understanding a person’s worldview comes by listening. Apologetics and evangelism are not a quick process. As Douglas Groothius claims, the Christian worldview is argued as the best hypothesis “carefully, slowly, and piece by piece…this means paying close attention to the components and implications of the Christian worldview, with an eye for detecting false stereotypes and caricatures.”[4] The process takes time, but if a person comes to faith in Christ, it’s worth every moment spent.

  Notes

[1] Mormons hold that God the Father is wed to a divine mother. Jesus is believed to have been the first spirit child. Mormon theology also holds that Mormon men and Mormon women wed in Mormon temples are able to become gods and goddesses of their own celestial universe and will produce their own spirit children.

[2] That is, the simpler explanation is preferred.

[3] See the works of J.P. Moreland, especially his book The Soul, for more information on substance dualism.

[4] Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove; Nottingham, UK: IVP Academic; Apollos), 50.

© 2017. Bellator Christi.

 


Resources for Greater Impact

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I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Paperback)

IDHEFTBAA workbooks set

Why I Still Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Set)

The Story of Reality: Apologist Greg Koukl Discusses His New Book

Although I first heard of Greg Koukl as an undergrad at Biola University in the mid 90s, we became good friends in the early 2000s as students in the M.A. Philosophy program at Talbot. Greg is one of the leading apologists of our day and has had a huge impact on my personal and professional life.

He gave me the honor of endorsing his recent book The Story of Reality, and I can honestly say that it’s fantastic. In the words of Tim Challies:

“Koukl promises to tell the story of reality. He does, and he does it beautifully. You’ll benefit by reading his telling of how the world began, how it will end, and all the important stuff that happens in between.”

the story of reality

Greg was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his new book. Check out his answers and then think about getting a copy of The Story of Reality. It is perfect for a believer who wants to go deeper in his or her faith, a small group, or for a seeker genuinely exploring the Christian faith. Enjoy!

SEAN MCDOWELL: Greg, what motivated you, in particular, to write The Story of Reality?

GREG KOUKL: Two important things come to mind immediately. First, I wanted to offer a kind of primer on Christianity’s basics—each of the critical, essential elements at the very foundation of our worldview—the kinds of things that are so important, if you took any one out you wouldn’t have Christianity anymore, but something else.

But I didn’t want to write another theological textbook. Rather, I wanted to show how the important pieces fit together in a fascinating drama. I wanted to give a wide-angle view so Christians—and others—would never get lost in the details again.

Second, I wanted to continually press the point that what I describe in the book is not my personal spiritual fantasy, my religious wishful thinking, or my make-believe-to-make-me-feel-happy kind of story. The Story doesn’t start out “Once upon a time” for a reason. It doesn’t mean to be telling a fairy tale. Rather, I wanted the reader to understand that the things the Story describes actually exist and the events in the Story really happened (or, in some places, are yet to happen). It is an accounting of the way the world actually is.

Nowadays, people have a habit of relativizing religion, reducing it “your truth” versus “my truth” versus “their truth,” and that’s the end of it. But as I say in the book, “If the Story is not accurate to reality, it’s not any kind of truth at all. So it can never be ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth,’ even though we may believe it. It can only be our delusion or our mistake or our error, but it can never be our ‘truth.”” (32) I want people to see that Christianity claims to be true in the deep sense, and if it isn’t, then it solves nothing at all.

MCDOWELL: What was the writing process like for this book?

KOUKL: I wanted to engage my reader in a way that was memorable and accessible. The structure is simple. The book is built around five words that tell the most important details of Christian Story in the order they took place: God, man, Jesus, cross, and (the final) resurrection—beginning to end.

I also wanted the reader to enjoy the journey, so I adopted a storytelling “voice” for the narrative. I wanted anyone who picked up the book to feel I was talking directly with them, that I was personally walking them through the account of how the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.

MCDOWELL: What makes this book unique?

KOUKL: The Story of Reality is a kind of Mere Christianity for a new generation, if the comparison doesn’t seem to bold. It’s a wide-angle look at the Christian view of the world and the meaning of the drama of human history, in a voice that’s conversational and not religious, with what I call “soft apologetics” mixed in—thoughtful reflections that are friendly appeals to common-sense insights we all have about the world that point to the truthfulness of the Christian take on reality—without being overly argumentative.

I also wanted readers (especially Christian readers) to see that the two biggest objections to Christianity—the problem of evil and Jesus being the only way—are not the problems for us that people think they are, that a proper understanding of the Story shows how these two fit together perfectly, complementing each other in a remarkable way. One of our deepest concerns about the world is, “What went wrong?” The Story answers that question, and gives the singular solution, God’s rescuer. Indeed, the problem of evil is what our Story is all about—and the Story is not over yet.

MCDOWELL: You title the book The Story of Reality? I can imagine people thinking, “How arrogant. This guy thinks he has the corner on reality.” How would you respond?

KOUKL: This is a popular challenge nowadays, but it’s an odd one when you think about it. Everyone has their own take on reality, it seems, and everyone thinks his or her own view true, right? So I don’t see why I should be faulted for offering my perspective, especially when I’m careful to give my reasons for it. As I say in the book,

It has always struck me as odd when some have been faulted simply for thinking their views correct. They’ve even been labeled intolerant or bigoted for doing so. But what is the alternative? The person objecting thinks his own views correct as well, which is why he’s objecting. Both parties in the conversation think they’re right and the other wrong. Why, then, is only the religious person (usually) branded a bigot for doing so? (24)

MCDOWELL: How do you hope people will use, or benefit from, this book?

KOUKL: Every writer would like to say his book is for everybody, but in this case I think that’s not too far off.

Most Christians who have been around for a while have their Story in bits and pieces, but have never seen how powerful it really is when assembled as a whole. This book is for them. Many are young Christians just putting it all together for the first time, so this book is for them, too, to help them get a solid start. Some older Christians know the Story, but don’t know how to tell it succinctly and memorably for their congregations, their Bible study groups, their youth groups, or their own disciples. This book is for them, too.

On the other hand, many non-Christians don’t take the Story seriously because, for one, they’ve never seen how well it fits together and how it offers tremendous explanatory power regarding the world as we actually find it. That’s why every time I sat down to write, my chief thought was reaching out to the moderately-interested skeptic in a way that would not offend him with condescension and empty slogans, would hold his interest and get him thinking, and would help him see that a chief reason for taking the Christian Story seriously is that it simply is—as I often say—“the best explanation for the way things are.”

MCDOWELL: Any final thoughts?

KOUKL: I think The Story of Reality will help many readers understand Christianity in a way they never have before. They will see how it all fits together, how it resolves the problem of evil, and why God’s solution is the only solution. Even better, though, they’ll see why they can be confident that Christianity is actually “true Truth,” as Francis Schaeffer used to put it—that is, God really does exist, Heaven actually is real (along with Hell), Jesus really did exist and did the things the historical records—the Gospels—say He did, the resurrection of Christ really happened, and there really is hope each of us can count on for “the kind of perfect world our hearts have always longed for.” (83)

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


Resources for Greater Impact

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The Story of Reality (Paperback)


8 Major Worldviews (Part 1)

By: Brian Chilton

Before the website transferred from pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com to bellatorchristi.com, I had written an article on the major worldviews across the globe. I presented six major worldviews at the time. While I still think the previous article treated the most major of worldviews, I have come to realize after reading Douglas Groothius’ book, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, that other major worldviews exist that should be discussed and incorporated into the list.[1] So, let’s revisit the major worldviews in this article. The goal of the article will be to notify the reader of each belief and will show how Christian theism triumphs. In addition, the Christian apologist will need to understand the starting points that must be taken with each worldview.

Worldviews

  1. Atheism/Naturalism: Rejection of God’s Existence, Only the Physical World Exists.

The term “atheist” is taken from the Greek term “a” meaning “no” and “theos” meaning “God.” Placed together, the term means “no God.” The atheist, therefore, is one who does not believe in the existence of God. Atheists are often termed “naturalists” as they only accept the existence of the natural/physical world, thereby rejecting the existence of things like God, spirits, the human soul, angels, and demons. Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss are good examples of atheism.

Atheism holds a problem as it pertains to the immaterial world. Naturalism cannot explain the existence of human consciousness. Even if the consciousness could be shown to derive from material means, naturalism (or materialism) faces a great problem as the human consciousness is a non-material thing. A scanner can see brainwaves, but not mental thoughts and the like. Naturalism holds two additional problems. On the one hand, naturalism cannot answer why anything exists. It has been mathematically demonstrated by the theorem of Borg, Vilenkin, and Guth (i.e., the BVG Theorem) that there cannot be an infinite regress of material worlds. Every material world must have a beginning point. On the other hand, naturalism fails to account for the mounting evidence of near death experiences.[2] Atheism and naturalism hold great problems serving as a cohesive worldview. The Christian apologist will need to demonstrate the reasonability of God’s existence and the means by which naturalism fails.

  1. Agnosticism: God’s Existence is Unknowable.

Agnosticism comes from two terms: “a” the Greek term meaning “no” and “gnosis” the Greek term meaning “knowledge.” The agnostic does not necessarily reject belief in God. The agnostic claims no knowledge on the issue. There are at least two forms of agnosticism. Atheistic agnostics incline to reject belief in God, but are open to the possibility of God’s existence. The atheistic agnostic claims that it is impossible to know whether God exists or not. Bart Ehrman and Neil deGrasse Tyson are examples of atheistic agnostics.

Theistic agnostics are individuals who are inclined to believe in God’s existence. However, they are doubtful whether individuals can know anything about God. The theistic agnostic may either reject divine revelation altogether and claim that no religion is correct, or the theistic agnostic may reject exclusive revelation and will claim that all religions are correct. When I stumbled into my time of personal doubt, I became more of the theistic agnostic (one who claimed to be spiritual but not religious). The Ba’hai religion and Morgan Freeman may be considered examples of theistic agnosticism.

The trouble with agnosticism is with divine revelation. If God can truly be shown to exist, then atheistic agnosticism begins to wane. If one can demonstrate that God has revealed himself to humanity (particularly through Jesus of Nazareth), then theistic agnosticism begins to fade. The Christian apologist will need to understand, first, that agnosticism can cover a wide variety of flavors. Second, the Christian apologist will need to describe the evidence for Jesus of Nazareth’s life, miracles, and resurrection.

  1. Pantheism: The Force is With You.

Pantheism comes from two Greek terms: “pan” meaning “all” and “theos” meaning “God.” Pantheism may look quite a bit like panentheism and even theistic agnosticism. However, generally speaking, pantheism is the belief that God is an impersonal force. Buddhism is the greatest example of pantheism. The Star Wars idea of the “force” is another example of pantheism. Buddhists claim to be agnostic concerning God’s existence. Yet, the Buddhist believes in impersonal forces (i.e., the force behind reincarnation). The goal of such a worldview is to become nothing. In fact, the Buddhist concept of Nirvana means that one has become so enlightened that he or she escapes the wheel of reincarnation and becomes nothing.

The trouble with pantheism is diverse. On the one hand, the pantheist will speak of such forces in such a way that intelligence is necessary. For example, why is there a wheel of reincarnation? Why is it that good behavior elevates one to a higher level and vice versa? On the other hand, pantheists have great trouble in explaining why anything exists at all. Much more could be said on this issue as it pertains to the trouble of pantheism. The Christian apologist will need to describe the internal inconsistencies of pantheism as a starting point as well as note the personal nature of the divine.

  1. Panentheism: Everything is God.

Panentheism comes from three Greek terms: “pan” meaning “all,” “en” meaning “in,” and “theos” meaning “God.” Therefore, panentheism is literally defined as “all in God.” Panentheists hold that God penetrates everything. While the Christian may initially be inclined to agree, one must understand that panentheists believe that everything is God. Thus, the panentheist would agree that Jesus of Nazareth is God. But, the panentheist would also agree that you are God, he is God, everyone is God, and even your kitchen sink is God. The panentheist does not distinguish between the personal God and the physical creation. Hinduism is the greatest example of panentheism.

Panentheism, however, holds issues as it pertains to the world. If the world is God, then why is there so much evil? God is certainly good. So, if everyone is God, then wouldn’t everything be perfect? To accept such a claim, one must have a flawed idea of God’s nature. With the panentheist, the Christian apologist will need to begin by teaching the distinction between the personal divine being of God and the physical, material creation that is the world.

We have investigated the first four of the eight major worldviews. In our next article, we will describe the final four: polytheism, dualism, deism, and monotheism/theism.

Notes

[1] See Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011), 50.

[2] Here, I do not mean heavenly or hellish experiences. I am addressing the scientific verification of such events in this world. For instance, if one were to see something that could not have been otherwise seen after one’s death, then this would serve as a verification of the soul’s survival past death. Soul survival discredits naturalism.

© 2017. Bellator Christi.


Resources for Greater Impact

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I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Paperback)

IDHEFTBAA workbooks set

Why I Still Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Set)


The Verse the Culture Misquotes Most Regularly in an Effort to Quiet Christians

As a Christian, I’m often at odds with the culture around me. As our society embraces a growing number of unbiblical behaviors and attitudes, I find myself becoming more and more vocal in my opposition. I’m not alone; many other conservative Christians are also taking a stand for what the Bible teaches, particularly when it comes to moral behavior. Maybe that’s why I seem to hear Matthew 7:1 tossed around so frequently by those who want Christians to quiet down:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

do not judge

Whenever we, as Christians, speak out against something in the culture, one of two labels is immediately employed in an effort to silence us: we are either branded “intolerant” or “judgmental”. To make matters worse, the second label is often attached to the teaching of Jesus Himself. Are we Christians defying the words of our Master when we speak against the behaviors, attitudes or worldviews affirmed by others? Did Jesus command us to be silently non-judgmental?

This selective use of scripture by the opposition is perhaps the finest example of what we at Stand to Reason are addressing when we caution people to “never read a Bible verse.” Matthew 7:1, when read in isolation from the larger context of the Sermon on the Mount, may seem to command a form of silent acceptance and tolerance advocated by the culture, but a closer examination of the verse reveals Jesus’ true intent. If Jesus was advocating some form of quiet tolerance, how do we explain the following statements?

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (verse 6)

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (verses 13 and 14)

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (verse 15)

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (verses 21, 22 and 23)

Wow, Jesus seems vocally judgmental in these passages. Some people are dogs and swine, unworthy of our efforts. Some people are wrong about the path they choose. Some people are false prophets. Some people are true disciples and some are not. Jesus sure seems comfortable making judgmental statements about people in these passages. How could Jesus say such things when he began this part of the sermon by saying, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged”? Maybe we should revisit the first verses of Matthew 7:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

It turns out that Jesus is not prohibiting vocal discernment in these passages, but is cautioning against a certain kind of unbecoming behavior: hypocritical judgmentalism.  We are called to live differently so that we can effectively identify and address unbiblical behavior in our culture. I cannot be a practicing thief and effectively caution against thievery. I cannot be an active adulterer and effectively advocate monogamy. I’m going to have to “first” stop and assess my own behavior (take out my own “log”) before I can “then” caution others about their behavior (help them take the “speck” out of their eye). This is a “first / then” commandment. Both sides of the directive are important; Jesus is commanding two equally critical actions. First, we must change our behavior; become people of God who are above reproach. Second, we must actively engage others about their behavior. Some ideas are good and some are bad. Some prophets are true and some are false. Some people are right, some people are wrong. We are called to make statements about such things after we eliminate hypocrisy in these areas of our own lives. We, as Christians, are called to (1) live righteously, and (2) speak out about unrighteousness. We are less likely to do this, however, if we allow folks misquote Jesus in an effort to silence us.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Book Review: The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl

By Timothy Fox

I’ve waited for this book for a long time. I’ve been listening to Greg Koukl – one of my personal apologetics heroes – on the Stand to Reason podcast for years and he would occasionally mention this book he was working on, The Story of Reality (originally entitled Credo). I had been (not so) patiently waiting for it ever since.

In a sense, I felt like I’ve read the book before since it contains ideas Greg weaves throughout all of his podcasts and talks. But now we have a full survey of the Christian worldview in one location. And it’s fantastic.

Story of Reality Koukl

Content

The Story of Reality is obviously about a story. But not just any story, the Story, with a capital S. Greg argues that Christianity is not just a mere religion; it is a complete understanding of all reality. And as any story is comprised of four major components – introduction, crisis, resolution, and ending – so does the Story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. If any of those pieces are missing from your understanding of the Story, you have an incomplete view of Christianity.

So what is the Christian Story? Greg explains it through the five parts of his book: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection. The Story begins with God because He is the main character, the creator of all things. This part explores competing explanations of what reality is composed of, Matter-ism (materialism) and Mind-ism (pantheism).

Part 2 tells how God crafts man in His own image, which makes humans beautiful and valuable. But man disobeys God, triggering the crisis of the Story and bringing pain and suffering into the world. So now mankind is both beautiful and broken. This explains what every human knows about reality: there is something deeply wrong.

Part 3 introduces us to the Hero, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who came to fix what mankind broke. It answers two important questions: Who is Jesus? and What did Jesus come to do? Greg also briefly discusses a common modern objection that Jesus never existed as an actual person of history.

Cross teaches how the Hero saves us, by sacrificing Himself through a brutal crucifixion. Jesus bears the punishment we deserve by making a divine trade with the Father. All we do is place our trust in Him and accept God’s saving grace.

In Part 5, Greg uses what is known as the minimal facts approach to show that Jesus’ resurrection is a true historical event. The resolution of the Story shows mankind’s two alternatives: perfect mercy or perfect justice. We can either accept God’s offer of salvation or face his wrath as a just God.

Assessment

In my opinion, The Story of Reality offers the best way of explaining Christianity: as a complete Story or worldview. You cannot take the parts you like and leave the ones you don’t. Similarly, there may be aspects of reality that are difficult to understand but best fit within the Christian Story and not into others, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Greg tells the Christian Story simply and thoroughly, packing a ton of truth in under 200 pages. Every part is divided into multiple chapters which span only a few pages each. If you have ever listened to Stand to Reason, you know how skilled Greg is at explaining complex topics, which also applies to this book, making it very readable. This book is appropriate for Christian and seeker alike, so buy a copy for yourself and your unbelieving friend.

Conclusion

Greg has created a hard decision for me. Whenever anyone asked for a recommendation for an apologetics book, my number one choice without hesitation was always his previous book, Tactics. That is the book to learn how to navigate any conversation with ease and grace. But now I’m torn because The Story of Reality is so foundational. It surveys the entire Christian worldview simply and thoroughly while handling common objections.

Maybe next time some asks for my number one apologetics resource, I’ll just flip a coin. But either way, the top honor belongs to Greg Koukl.

―Tim Fox (FreeThinkingMinistires.com)


To purchase “The Story of Reality” visit STR.org

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