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


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


 

The Necessity of God’s Existence: Ontological Arguments Worth Considering

By Brian Chilton

One of the more difficult of the apologetics arguments to understand is that known as the ontological argument. The ontological argument finds root in Anselm of Canterbury’s famed declaration, “God is that, than which noting greater can be conceived.”[1] This is the say, God is the greatest of all possible beings. God, properly understood, is maximally great. Nothing could be greater than God. Thus, Anselm argues that if it is possible to conceive of the greatest possible beings, then that greatest possible being must exist. There is much to unpack in this argument. However, I would like to focus on arguments that provide reasons to believe that God is a necessary being.

Ontological Argument God

Before we look at some arguments for the necessity of God’s existence, we must first define a necessary being. A necessary being is a being whose existence is mandatory due to a result of that being’s existence (i.e., contingency). For example, I exist only because of the necessity of my parents’ existence. My existence is contingent (based upon) the necessity of their existence. My parents’ existence is contingent (based upon) the necessity of their parents’ existence (my grandparents). The logical line of necessity continues until one finds the necessity of a maximally great being—a being that is transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. We know that maximally great being as God. Let’s look at three or four modern ontological arguments that make the case for the necessity of God’s existence.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Logical Necessity.

As we already unpacked the argument from necessity, we have found that God’s existence is mandatory. However, the logical necessity of God’s existence is found in the following argument presented by Douglas Grootius:

  1. God is defined as a maximally great or Perfect Being.

  2. The existence of a Perfect Being is either impossible or necessary (since it cannot be contingent).

  3. The concept of a Perfect Being is not impossible, since it is neither non-sensical nor self-contradictory.

  4. Therefore (a) a Perfect Being is necessary.

  5. Therefore (b) a Perfect Being exists.[2]

The first premise notes that God is defined as a maximally great being, or Perfect Being. Premises 2 and 3 demonstrate the logical necessity that a Perfect Being is either an impossibility or a necessity. Since the existence of a Perfect Being is neither impossible, nonsensical, nor self-contradictory, the existence of a Perfect Being is shown to be a necessary concept. The atheist would need to demonstrate that God’s existence is impossible (which itself is impossible), nonsensical (which is actually found in a worldview that postulates that things magically pop into existence without any cause), or self-contradictory. The only means that the non-believer has to disprove the necessity of God’s existence in my humble opinion is to show that there is a self-contradiction in God’s existence. Yet, it appears to me that there are greater self-contradictions in viewing the universe without the existence of God, thereby strengthening the necessity of a Perfect Being. The former is an impossible task, the middle is a task that some have attempted…and failed, and the third is inherently flawed.

Looking at this model from a different perspective, consider Alvin Plantinga’s take on Norman Malcolm’s argument, presented by Norman Geisler:

  1. If God does not exist, his existence is logically impossible.

  2. If God does exist, his existence is logically necessary.

  3. Hence, either God’s existence is logically impossible or else it is logically necessary.

  4. If God’s existence is logically impossible, the concept of God is contradictory.

  5. The concept of God is not contradictory.

  6. Therefore, God’s existence is logically necessary.[3]

Let’s unpack this argument. If God did not existence, his existence would be a logical impossibility like the existence of magical unicorns. If God does exist, then his existence would be a logical necessity—like the example of my parents’ existence as given above. Thus, God’s existence would be logically necessary if he exists or logically impossible if he does not exist. If God’s existence is impossible, then the idea of God is contradictory. God’s existence is not a contradiction; therefore, God is a logical necessity.

I personally like these arguments as I find the existence of God an absolute necessity. Non-theistic arguments often lead to bizarre absurdities which are at times irreconcilable. Christian theism is the most coherent of all worldview, thus the existence of the Christian God is a logical necessity. There is another take to this argument that demands consideration: the necessity of God found in possible worlds.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Possible Worlds.

A possible world is a hypothetical scenario that describes the various ways that the world could be. We live in the actual world, however the would could have been much different. With that in mind, consider Alvin Plantinga’s ontological argument from possible worlds.

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world. That is, God’s existence is not impossible (logically contradictory), so we can conceive of a world in which God does exist.

  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. (Otherwise, it would not be maximally great.)

  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.[4]

Let’s unpack Plantinga’s difficult argument. Nearly everyone would agree that it is at least possible that a maximally great being exists—that is, God. Since God’s existence is not impossible, then it is conceivable that God exists in some possible world. If it is possible that God exists in one possible world, then it is possible that he exists in every possible world including the actual world in which we live. Some will argue, “But yeah, it is possible that magical unicorns exist in some possible world. So, does that mean that magical unicorns must exist in this world?” Absolutely not! The existence of the magical unicorn is not a necessity. Since I am a contingent being, it is necessary in all possible worlds that I have a reason for my existence (by my parents or another set of parents). If God, being a necessary being, is possible in some possible world, he is possible in all possible worlds and is in fact found in the actual world. Confusing? Yes. But logically coherent? Absolutely!

Let’s now look at the last ontological argument of God’s necessity as it pertains to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy increases as time progresses. Entropy is the disorder that occurs over time. Think of a wind-up toy. The wind-up toy is wound up and allowed to wind itself down. The winding down of the toy is the state of entropy. The same occurs with heat. Over time, heat cools until all heat is lost (i.e., heat death). The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is losing energy as it continues to exist. This will ultimately lead to a complete loss of heat unless there is an intervention from outside the universe. The following modus Tollens argument, presented by Groothius, notes how the Second Law of Thermodynamics argues for the finite nature of the universe and the necessity of God’s existence.

  1. If the universe were eternal and its amount of energy finite, it would have reached heat death by now.

  2. The universe has not reached heat death (since there is still energy available for use).

  3. Therefore, (a) the universe is not eternal.

  4. Therefore, (b) the universe had a beginning.

  5. Therefore, (c) the universe was created by a first cause (God).[5]

Let’s unpack this argument. If it were possible that the universe is eternal with finite energy (which is observable), then the universe would have reached a heat death already. However, that has not occurred. Due to the absence of such an event, this proves that the universe is finite and had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, the cause is most plausible to have been attributed to God. “Wait!” the skeptic may say. “Isn’t it possible that a multiverse gave birth to the universe?” Yes, it is possible. However, it has been shown in the BVG Theorem (named by its discoverers Borg, Vilenkin, and Guth) that all physical universes must have a finite past and an absolute beginning. So, the skeptic does nothing by arguing for a multiverse outside of pushing the necessity of God’s existence back a step or two.

Conclusion

It is true that these arguments are quite complex. But if one takes the time to evaluate and understand these versions of the ontological argument, I think one will find the necessity of God’s existence is rooted in a wealth of logical and philosophical certitude. Logically speaking, God’s existence is a necessity as it is demanded by logic and the data of causal relations in the actual world.

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


What the Bible Does (and Doesn’t) Say About the Life (or Death) of the Soul

As Christians, we believe humans are more than merely physical creatures. We are also “soulish” beings; living souls who also possess physical bodies. As a result, the vast majority of Christians believe our souls are unaffected by our physical death. We are eternal beings, even though our earthly bodies eventually die. Other groups, also using the Bible as their source of information about the soul, have argued souls die along with the body, entering what is sometimes called “soul sleep”. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Christadelphians all hold this position. Part of the problem is simply a matter of terminology. When we use the term “soul” as we have been using it in this post, we are referring to the existence of our immaterial being. But when Bible translators translate the original Hebrew and Greek words used by the Biblical authors, they are actually translating words typically used to describe something else:

Bible LIfe and Death

The Old Testament word, “nephesh” (neh’-fesh)
This word has been translated as “soul” on occasion in the Old Testament, but that’s not how the ancient Israelites understood the word. They used it throughout the Old Testament to describe any breathing creature or animal, and it is more often translated as “appetite”, “beast”, “body”, “breath”, “creature”, “dead”, “lust”, “man”, “mind”, “person”, or “life”, than it is translated as “soul”.

The New Testament word, “psuche” (psoo-khay’)
Like “nephesh”, this word has been translated as “soul” as well, but literally means “breath” and can accurately be translated as “heart”, “life”, “mind”, “us”, or “you” in addition to the connotation we would understand as “soul”.

How, then, are we to know exactly how the original writers of Scripture were using these words? How do we know whether they were using the words to describe some aspect of our temporal life or whether they were using the words to describe the soul? Let’s take, for example, Ezekiel 18:4, a passage often cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to make the case we, as living souls, die or sleep when our bodies die:

Ezekiel 18:4
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

From a simple reading of this passage, it sure sounds like souls die. But the word being used as “soul” is “nephesh” and we know it is more often used to describe living physical beings (creatures). So this passage could just as easily (and may more accurately) be translated in this way:

“Behold, all lives are Mine; the life of the father as well as the life of the son is Mine. The person (life) who sins will die.”

See the problem here? We really can’t make the case for the mortality of the soul from a simple word study in the Old or New Testament. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones who have to be careful. Those who try to prove the soul is immortal from a simple word study also fall into this same trap. Let’s take one example:

Psalms 84:2
“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Those arguing for the immortality of the soul use this passage to demonstrate the soul is clearly defined as something different than the heart and the flesh of the body. But once again we have to remember the word used for “soul” (“nephesh”) is most often translated in a different way. This could just as easily be what the psalmist intended:

“My entire being yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

What the Bible Says About the Everlasting Nature of the Soul
Word studies
simply don’t help us understand the nature of the soul in regard to its immortality. There is a better way to examine the Biblical evidence without relying on any interpretation of “nephesh” or “psuche”. Let’s simply study examples in the Scripture where people are described as living beyond their physical bodies. If we see instances of “living disembodiment”, it is fair to conclude we are immaterial beings who live beyond our physical existence:

Luke 23:39-43
And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Even though both Jesus and the thief were about to experience physical death, Jesus clearly said something about our eternal life. He said our lives would continue and extend right from the point of death: “today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word Paul used to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise.”) The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life here (what we would describe as the “soul”), even though it is not given a name. From this passage it is obvious the soul lives beyond the death of the body. Here is another important passage:

Luke 16:19-31
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

In this passage, the dead are repeatedly described as performing actions characteristic of the living. But that’s not all. How can this be? This is only possible if the physically dead are still immaterially alive. That’s why as Christians, we recognize we are living souls and immortal by nature:

Matthew 17:1-3
And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

In this scene, Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. They obviously died long before Jesus was born, so how could this scene be true unless they still existed as immortal souls (and not simply as physical bodies)? We have another example of disembodied life after death, something possible only if we exist as living, immortal souls.

Matthew 22:31-32
“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alive at the time of this statement? No. How, then, could they be described as living? This could only be true if they are actually immortal souls alive after death (and prior to their physical resurrection in the future). If they are immortal souls (immaterial beings), the passage begins to make sense.

1 Kings 17:19-23
And he said to her, “Give me your son.” Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. And he called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, “O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him.” And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.”

This passage describes Elijah’s reviving of the widow’s son. The “life” of the child is said to “return to him”. The word used here is “shuwb” (shoob) and it really means “to turn back”, as if to retreat. But to turn back from where? Where is the “life” prior to being “returned”? The passage affirms the notion our true lives exist beyond death. God has the ability to return this “true” life to the body. This is consistent with what has been described elsewhere about the nature of the disembodied soul.

Ecclesiastes 12:5-7
Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

This passage also describes life beyond the grave. After our death, while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God who created us. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving. We all know that our bodies will someday die. We don’t need to make a case from the Bible for this; we get to see it (unfortunately) every day. The real question is: “Do we live beyond the grave, beyond the physical life?” The scriptures seem to answer that question in a straightforward manner:

John 11:17-26
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha therefore said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

John 8:51
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

We have a powerful promise here. When we place our trust in Christ we will never see death. Our bodies may cease to function, but there will never be a time when we could be considered dead. There is no soul sleep, even though the body dies. Once we understand what the Bible does (and doesn’t) say about the life (or death) of the soul, we can have confidence we will be reunited to God and in His presence the moment we leave this temporal life.


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.

 


 

How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues.

students theology

First, use stories. We all love stories. Students do too. As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, “Human minds yield hopelessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, not matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jesus told stories for a few reasons. People remember them. We relate to them. And lessons are best learned through stories. Jesus was asked who qualifies as a neighbor, and he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was asked how many times we should forgive people and he told the story of the Unmerciful Servant. Teach theological doctrines, but whenever possible, tell a story.

Second, use cultural examples. Students today are engrossed with the prevailing culture. The movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the technology they use are all influenced by our wider culture. Sometimes we need to critique culture and other times we need to show how Christ is within culture. But using cultural examples of theology not only makes theology interesting to students, it also helps them make connections from their theology to the “real” world. For instance, recently I was talking with my students about the biblical view of sex. And so I used an example from the movie Passengers, which I wrote about here.

Third, ask good questions. In my experience, good questions are far better than answers. As I wrote in a recent post, my teachers who asked me good questions had a far greater impact on my life than those who simply gave me answers. Isn’t that true for you too? Students today have access to endless information. Simply giving kids theological truths has some value, but far more important is helping kids think theologically. We simply can’t cover every conceivable theological issue in our classrooms, ministries, or conversations. But we can give students a template for how to think theologically. And even if we did cover every issue of today, new issues will inevitably arise. Thus, the most important educational task today is teaching students how to think, how to arrive at truth. And one of the best ways to do this is to ask good questions and guide students through how to discover reasonable answers.

Fourth, connect theology to practical life. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion [1] students today tend to compartmentalize their spiritual faith. In other words, they tend to believe that science, math and history are matters of objective truth, but spiritual beliefs are merely a matter of preference that helps give their lives meaning. As a result, few students are able (or interested) to translate theology to their practical lives. In other words, few students can show how their beliefs about God practically shape how they live. If we don’t connect theology to how kids actually live, what’s the point? While there are many ways to do this (such as through stories, experiences, and personal examples), one simple step is to always ask, after teaching a theological truth: How should this affect the way we actually live?

Students need to see that believing God created the world should influence how we treat the environment. They need to connect belief in the resurrection to how we handle death. And they need to see how belief we are made in the image of God shapes the way we think about abortion, pornography, bullying, racism, eating disorders and many other issues. Theological teaching is not complete until students connect truth to their daily lives.

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] This study is admittedly dated. But my experience and subsequent research confirms that this point is still largely true among today’s youth.

 


Why Being “Blessed” is Better than Being “Happy”

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. From the movies we watch, the purchases we make, and our obsessive use of technology and social media, it is clear that many people today live for happiness.

You might be thinking, “So what? Isn’t happiness a good thing?” Well, that depends on what is meant by happiness. In his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager argues that the common definition of happiness today is H = nF. In other words, happiness is equivalent to the number (n) of fun (F) experiences we can accumulate in a lifetime. The more fun experiences, the happier we are. To be happy is to feel good and have fun.

blessed better happy

Prager explains, “Most people believe that happiness and fun are virtually identical. Ask them, for example, to imagine a scene of happy people. Most people will immediately conjure up a picture of people having fun (e.g. laughing, playing games, drinking at a party).”[1]

Pleasure is certainly not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God designed us as embodied beings to experience remarkable pleasure. But can pleasure-seeking in itself ultimately bring a meaningful life?

The Futility of a Pleasure-Seeking Life

King Solomon, who had all the pleasures the world could possibly offer, wrote millennia ago about the emptiness that comes from seeking pleasure as the purpose of life:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine…till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, 9-11).

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman notes that there was a tenfold increase in depression among Baby Boomers over any previous generation. Why? According to his analysis, it is because Boomers were the first generation to focus on their own pleasure as the goal of life. According to Seligman, lasting happiness occurs when people outgrow their obsessive concern with personal feelings and live for something beyond themselves.

The paradox of happiness is that if we seek it, we won’t find it. True happiness comes when we stop focusing our own feelings, and lovingly seek the best for others. This is (partly) why Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek yourself first, and your life will be empty. Seek God first, and you will have a meaningful life filled with genuine happiness—whether you feel good or not.

Blessedness

The Bible has a different view of the goal of human life. Rather than living for happiness (understood as having certain feelings and experiences), Scripture teaches that the goal of life is to love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-34). When we do love God, and seek His glory, we are “blessed” regardless of how we feel.

Consider Psalms 1, which opens the book with these words: “Blessed is the man.” If you read Psalm 1 closely, you will notice that it is not about feelings, but about being right with God. The “blessed man” is not the one who has amassed endless material gain, has a fun job, has become a YouTube star, or accumulated endless fun experiences. Rather, the blessed man is the one who “delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

The Psalmist compares the blessed man, who prospers in all he does, to a healthy tree, planted by streams of water (v. 3). But the wicked man is driven away by the wind and ultimately perishes (v. 4-5). In his commentary on Psalms, Willem VanGemeren explains what blessedness means in this passage:

The formula “Blessed is the man” evokes joy and gratitude, as man may live in fellowship with his God. Blessedness is not deserved; it is a gift of God. God declares sinners to be righteous and freely grants them newness of life in which he protects them from the full effects of the world under judgment (Gen 3:15–19). Outside of God’s blessing, man is “cursed” and ultimately leads a meaningless life (Eccl 1:2). The word “happy” is a good rendition of “blessed,” provided one keeps in mind that the condition of “bliss” is not merely a feeling. Even when the righteous do not feel happy, they are still considered “blessed” from God’s perspective. He bestows this gift on them. Neither negative feelings nor adverse conditions can take his blessing away.[2]

Amen.

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] Dennis Prager, Happiness is a Serious Problem (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 44.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; vol. 5; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 553.

 


 

Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

Studies continually show that most Americans—including many Christians—have poor theology. There is a lot of confusion about the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the attributes of God.

And yet there is one particular doctrine that has pressing implications for so much of Christian theology, which in my experience, seems to have been forgotten in the church and the wider culture—the sinfulness of man. Do we really grasp how deeply human nature has been corrupted by sin? Failing to grasp the nuances and depth of human sinfulness has massive implications for one’s theology and for all of life.

Sin Doctrine

The consistent biblical teaching is that mankind is made in God’s image with inestimable worth, but has been deeply flawed by sin (Mark 7:21-23; John 2:24-25; Romans 3:9-20). How can I claim human sinfulness has been lost? Let me share two stories.

The Problem of Hell

Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell: How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth.

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin. An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith.

Niceness vs. Goodness

Each year I take a group of high school students on an apologetics or worldview mission trip. The goal is to train our students how to lovingly defend their faith by having conversations and interactions with people who hold very different faiths. Inspired by my friend Brett Kunkle, we started taking teenagers on trips to Berkeley to interact with students at UC Berkeley and also with leading atheists and agnostics from the Bay area. Both students and parents loved the trips, and I never received any critical feedback about the nature of the trip.

But then we decided to take students to Salt Lake City to interact with Mormon students at BYU. While most students and parents were supportive, one girl who chose not to go on the trip made a statement that expressed the thinking of a number of people: “Why are we going to SLC to beat up on Mormons?” It was strange she talked about beating up anybody, because we are very relational and gracious in our approach on all our mission trips.

But it also puzzled me that she was particularly defensive about reaching out to members of the LDS Church. And then I put my finger on it—she had trouble reaching out to Mormons because they are such nice people.[1] And they are! I have many friends who are Mormons and they are remarkably nice and hard working.

But we must not confuse niceness with goodness. Jesus taught that no one is truly good. That’s right, no one (Luke 18:19). That includes you and me. And it includes people of every faith or no faith (Romans 3:23).

We can respond to our sinfulness in different ways. One way, like the prodigal son, is to indulge our passions and ignore restraint. Another way, like the older son in the same parable (Luke 15:11-32), is to try to earn our righteousness by doing good works and following the law. What is interesting about this parable is that both sons were separated from the father and failed to understand what he desired from them—the younger son who rebelled, and the older son who was dutiful.

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

The doctrine of human sinfulness is offensive. No one likes being told that his or her own heart is fallen and in desperate need of transformation (myself included). We would much rather embrace the New Age idea that we are one with God. And yet the Christian story makes no sense without it. If humans were not “desperately wicked,” as the Bible teaches, then Hell would be total overkill. And there’s no need to reach out to people who are dutiful and nice.

But if human sinfulness is real, then the Christian story makes sense. We can at least begin to understand the reality of Hell and the need to reach all people with God’s grace. There are many doctrines we should be concerned about properly teaching the next generation. But in my experience, when people grasp their own sinfulness (and the converse, that God is holy), the rest begin to fall in place.

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] Which is doubly strange, since Mormons send out missionaries to knock on the doors of strangers to spread their version of the gospel. I don’t fault them for this. In fact, I respect their efforts.

 


 

The Case for the Pre-Existence of Christ: The Birthday that was Not the Beginning

By Brian Chilton

Recently, we celebrated my wife’s birthday. As we reach a certain age, we remember the date, but the year begins to become foggy (intentionally, of course). When one celebrates a person’s birthday, the person’s life is being celebrated. The birthday celebration acknowledges the importance of the person’s existence. A person’s birth represents the person’s beginning of existence (also included are the nine months prior in the womb as this writer believes that life begins at conception). So, when we celebrate my wife’s birth, we celebrate her existence and the blessings we have in knowing her.

Pre-Existence Christ

As Christmas approaches, many ask questions concerning the origin and the date of the celebration. Christmas is supposed to represent the birth of Jesus Christ. Did the celebration of Christmas have pagan origins? Do we even celebrate the correct day when celebrating the birthday of Jesus? These questions are intriguing. There does seem to be some pagan influences in the Christmas celebration. It may be that Jesus was born in the spring. However, there are ancient traditions that place the wise men’s visit of the Messiah around December 25th to January 6th (see article “Is Christmas Celebrated on the Correct Day?”). This does not necessarily designate the period of time as the birthdate of Jesus as this occurred two years after the fact.

In the end, it really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because the birthday of Jesus does not mark the beginning of Jesus. The Bible presents some interesting information about the Messiah. The Messiah existed before He was born. This is called pre-existence. Jesus’ pre-existence is discovered in four different ways.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Suggested in the Prophets

Isaiah wrote,

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. The Lord has sent a message against Jacob; it will fall on Israel” (Isaiah 9:6-8).

The text of Isaiah is a popular passage of Scripture that is read in many Christmas plays. Most scholars would accept that the passage of Scripture is referring to the future Messiah. The titles represent various characteristics about the coming Messiah. Wonderful Counselor refers to the compassion and authority of the coming Messiah. Mighty God refers to the fact that the Messiah would in fact be God in the flesh. The Everlasting Father is especially intriguing. John Martin explains, “the title “Everlasting Father” is an idiom used to describe the Messiah’s relationship to time, not His relationship to the other Members of the Trinity (Martin 1985, 1053). This reference shows that the Messiah would be eternal. So does the prophecy given in Daniel’s writing.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

Although not as explicit as Isaiah, Daniel shows that the Son of Man (which was Jesus’ favorite designation for Himself) would have the ability to approach the Ancient of Days (God the Father). It appears that the Son of Man would have many of the characteristics of the Ancient of Days such as having authority, glory, and sovereign power…everlasting dominion.Therefore, it appears that the Messiah was in fact eternal and existed before He would be born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Proclaimed by the Apostles

 One of the greatest evidences of the Messiah’s pre-existence is found in the opening paragraph of John’s gospel. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”(John 1:1-5). The Word (or logos) represents the Messiah. The Word is designated as being different from God (the Father) but essentially the same. This has connotations of the doctrine of the Trinity of God. If the Word was in the beginning with God, then the Word must have existed before the physical birth on earth. Therefore, the Messiah existed before He was born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Referenced in History

 In the history of the nation of Israel, especially in the book of Genesis, there are occasions where a theophany occurred. A theophany is a visible manifestation of God. Some of these theophanies occurred as christophanies. A christophany is a pre-existent visible manifestation of Christ. Many of these occurrences took place by the mystical appearance of the angel of the Lord. This is contrasted against an appearance of an angel. The angel has certain characteristics that are linked with God Himself. Some of these appearances include an appearance to Hagar. The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:7-8). In verse 13, Hagar said, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me”(Genesis 16:13).

There also is the occurrence with Abraham when the Lord appeared with two angels before destroying Sodom and Gomorrah. “When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:16-17). Notice that one of the men was referenced as the LORD. This was a physical manifestation of God. It would appear that since the Messiah is the physical manifestation of God that this would have been a pre-incarnate Jesus.

Also, there is the occasion where Jacob wrestled with the angel all night. After the bout was over, the following was written, So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (Genesis 32:30). Note that Jacob realized that He had wrestled with God Himself and was freed. This angel must have been an incarnation of God for this to hold true. Therefore, it would seem that it was the pre-incarnate Christ with whom Jacob wrestled. These instances would seem to indicate that the Messiah existed before He was born.

The Messiah’s Pre-Existence was Preached by the Messiah

 The Savior Himself would indicate His pre-existence. When addressing His identity, Jesus said the following:

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds”(John 8:56-59).

There are many dimensions in the previous passage. For one, Jesus noted that He had seen Abraham to which the religious leaders thought to have been a vision. They did not believe that one could have a vision unless they were around 50 years of age or older. Jesus indicated that He existed before Abraham. In addition, Jesus used the phrase I am. The statement was rooted in the personal name of God. The name YHWH is defined as “I AM WHAT I AM.” So Jesus also identified Himself with God. This is why the leaders wanted to stone Jesus.

Conclusion

Why does the pre-existence of Christ matter? It matters for two reasons. One, it matters because a proper understanding of the person of Jesus is essential in knowing Him and the mission for which He was sent. Also, it matters to obtain a proper perspective on Christmas. It matters not whether Jesus was actually born on December 25th, April 17th, or any other date on the calendar. The early Christians focused more on the end events than the beginning events of Jesus. It is because of this that scholars have narrowed down the dates of Jesus’ crucifixion to Friday, April 7th, 30AD or Friday, April 3rd, 33AD with the resurrection occurring on either Sunday, April 9th, 30AD or Sunday April 5th, 33AD. The early Christians did not focus on the birthdate because they realized that Jesus’ birth was not the origin of the Messiah. Jesus had existed far before He was born. However, it is still important for all Christians to set aside a time to celebrate the incarnation of Christ…the time when God became flesh. This is why Christmas is celebrated. Do not lose the true meaning of Christmas this Christmas season.

Remembering that Jesus is the reason for the season,

Pastor Brian

 


Resources for Greater Impact

Cold Case Christianity Book angled pages

Cold-Case Christianity (Paperback)


Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.

Martin, John A. “Isaiah.” In The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

 


 

Faith: ‘wishful thinking’?

By Steve Wilkinson

I often hear people talk about faith as if it is ‘wishful thinking’. This is especially true in the ‘science vs. religion’ debates. “I have my reason…. you have your faith…” is the general sentiment. I have even heard Christians use a similar way of speaking. In some circles, there seems to be an attitude that you should ‘just believe’ and not question anything.

These views of ‘faith’ are a misunderstanding of epistemology (how we know what we know… what separates a justified belief from simple opinion) on one side, and what the Bible teaches on the other. The assumption from non-believers is that faith has no foundation. The assumption from some Christians is that the Bible teaches us to ‘just believe’ and that searching for reinforcement of our beliefs is some kind of sinful doubting.

Faith wishful thinking

Faith, though… whether in religion or secular… is a very similar thing. If I decide to fly to Chicago tomorrow, I’d go to an airport and travel in a jet. I don’t know for certain that gravity will work the same way tomorrow, and the jet will get to its destination (baring other things which could go wrong). However, I am reasonably confident in what science has discovered about the nature of gravity and its consistency. I am also reasonably confident in flight safety records. My chances of a safe flight are extremely good. If this were not the case, I wouldn’t have so much ‘faith’ in the whole process and would walk or drive.

In this use of ‘faith’, everyone can see what I mean. It is a trust or confidence in what I do know, even if I might have fears, doubts, and lets face it… in this case, some uncertainty. There is no full guarantee or promise that I will absolutely get there; nor can I prove it before I leave! It is, a leap of faith.

Christian faith is similar in many ways. I can’t put it all in a set of test-tubes and beakers in a lab and test it. I can’t, in some complete way, prove it to you. But what, when you think about it, can you ultimately do this with? The set of things is pretty limited. I can’t prove my senses are 100% accurate, though without them, life would be incredibly uncertain. I can’t prove my wife loves me in a ‘naturalistic scientific’ way. There is no lab test for that kind of thing…. any such tests would depend on things we already suppose we know about the way things work.

Christian faith is based on trust in what God has done for us, and will do for us. This is based on our relationship with God, God’s revelation to us, history, science (yes, I said science… more on this in another post), and experience. It may or may not be something I can ‘prove’ to you (depending on what prove means to you), but it is certainly NOT wishful thinking.

Faith is essentially trust. We trust things based on many criteria. Just like the factors involved in my jet flight, or my wife’s love for me, some of these criteria can be ‘proven’ to various degrees, and some are harder to measure. We do this all the time, every day of our lives. Christian faith is really no different. How faith differs from belief, is that we are confident enough in it to put it into action. I might reasonably believe the jet will get me to my destination safely, but until I climb aboard, it doesn’t really become faith. Christians believe in the promises of God in Christ, and then exercise faith by putting their lives (and souls) in Christ’s hands.

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This article was first published at TilledSoil.org. Copyright © 2013 TilledSoil.org. All rights reserved.


Resources for Greater Impact

FF Box and DVD Lead

Fearless Faith Seminar (DVD)

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Book)

 


 

Why Do Kids Leave the Church? Don’t Forget Bad Theology!

There has been a lot of talk recently about why kids leave the church, including this recent post by Bishop Robert Barron, and books such as You Lost Me (Kinnaman) and Sticky Faith (Kara Powell and Chap Clark). These authors, and many others, rightly point out that issues are complex and can involve a number of different factors (moral, volitional, emotional, relational, intellectual, etc.).

Bad Theology Kids

And yet there is a component often left out of these discussions—the influence of theology—that is so often at the heart of why kids leave the church. In my experience, there is often a faulty theological view driving why kids disengage the church (and many times their faith). Consider three examples:

1. Misunderstanding the nature of man: Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell:How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth (and by the way, most of my apologetics points were borrowed from C.S. Lewis!).

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin (See Romans 3:9-18; John 2:24; Mark 7:14-23). An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith.

2. Misunderstanding the character of God. Some time ago I was having a conversation with a former youth minister who had rejected his faith. We discussed both his story and the apologetic question of what best explains the origin of the universe. After I shared that I believe the beginning of the universe is one piece of evidence in support of the cosmological argument for the existence of God, he raised the standard response: Who made God?

I am not surprised to hear this objection from non-believers. In fact, philosopher Bertrand Russell raised it in his 1927 book, Why I Am Not a Christian. But I was surprised to hear it from a former youth minister. Why? Simple: The objection assumes a faulty view of the nature of God. It assumes that God is an object within the universe, such as water, a rock, or a cloud. If God were this kind of object, then He would clearly need a cause. But the biblical view of God, which has been held long before this objection was raised, is that God is the eternal, self-existent, all-powerful, and personal creator of the universe. By definition, God cannot be made or caused. If such a being had a cause, then it would not be God.

Although many issues were likely involved, a faulty view of the nature and character of God was at the heart of why this former youth pastor rejected his faith.

3. Misunderstanding the nature and purpose of sex. This one is possibly the biggest. After all, our culture is immersed in sex and sexuality. Recently I was listening to a podcast about people who had deconverted from the faith, and at the heart of each of their stories, was their belief that the Bible has a negative view of sex. They all agreed that the Bible teaches that sex is bad, and that when people imbibe such a view, it leads to unmitigated harm.

My heart broke that these young people had been taught such a harmful view. If I thought that the Bible taught sex was bad, I would probably disengage the church too! But the Bible has a very different view about sex and relationships. The abuse of sex is certainly bad, but sex itself is good. In fact, the biblical view is that sex is a beautiful gift from God, but is to be experienced within certain guidelines, which are meant to protect us and provide for us (Gen 2:24; Song of Solomon, Proverbs 5:15-23, 1 Cor 7). Rejecting these guidelines is what so often brings hurt, pain, and regret.

There are many more examples I could share. And yet the larger point is that bad theology lies at the heart of why so many young people disengage the church (and the faith). If we are going to help kids develop a vibrant faith, we must unequivocally help them develop deep and balanced theological convictions.

My point is not to argue that theology is the only issue. After all, even the demons have perfect theology (James 2:19)! But in our postmodern world, many people downplay theology at the expense of community and relationships. The reality is that we need both the gospel (and the theological understanding of how it relates to all of life), and healthy relationships. The Apostle Paul said it best: “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

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:

 

Why Andy Stanley is Right About the Foundation of Christianity and How to Defend It

Dr. Russell Moore expressed several disagreements with pastor Andy Stanley at a recent conference for Southern Baptists. Dr. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Andy Stanley is the Founding Pastor of the Northpoint series of churches in and around Atlanta, which collectively have over 40,000 weekly attendees.

Moore was supposed to be interviewing Stanley about his approach to engaging the culture through preaching. Andy and his Northpoint team are known for creating a church environment that attracts unbelievers with the goal of making them disciples of Christ. Andy’s obvious success at engaging unbelievers made him the perfect subject for Dr. Moore’s interview. Unfortunately, the interview turned out to be more of an interrogation than a quest for knowledge.

After Andy read a letter from an atheist who had attended Northpoint the previous two Sundays and was moving toward Christ because of her experience there, Dr. Moore immediately took issue with Andy’s approach despite its obvious success in reaching just the kind of person the conference was convened to help reach. The tension level rose as Dr. Moore continued to disagree with Andy’s approach on several fronts. (I saw this interview from a private link which we originally had on this site and had to remove.  If you would like to see this interview for yourself, please contact the ERLC and ask them to post it.  It is their property and they originally said they would post it. UPDATE:  the interview video is now up here.)

Though he controlled the questions and the direction of the interview, Dr. Moore later said on his podcast that he didn’t want it to go the way it did. In fact, he spent his entire 22-minute podcast (which he recorded a few days later) explaining his differences with Andy’s culture-engaging approach. Based on the interview and that podcast (which you’ll have to hear to get a fuller understanding of what I’m about to say), I think Dr. Moore gets a few tactical issues right, but he gets the more substantial theological points wrong.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a friend of Andy Stanley, and he’s used and recommended my book in his current apologetics sermon series. I do not personally know Russell Moore but do appreciate much of his work. I’ve tried to be fair in the following assessment. I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’ve succeeded.

Since Dr. Moore was the one initiating the disagreements, I’ll address his points.

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Right

Dr. Moore is certainly correct when he states that churches have to strike the right balance between evangelism and discipleship. Russell Moore CLEARUnlike some in his reformed camp, he admits that the church is not solely for believers and that unbelievers will attend. In fact, he observed that the church at Corinth had unbelievers attending, and that pastors today must be sure to conduct worship services in an orderly and explainable way so that unbelievers don’t think “you are out of your mind” (1 Cor. 14:22-40).

Dr. Moore believes that Northpoint is out of balance—that it is weighted too much toward evangelism. I actually can’t verify if he’s right about that, but he could be. The many messages of Andy’s that I’ve seen are nearly always biblical, insightful and extremely practical. But whether or not Northpoint actually is successful at making disciples, I honestly cannot say. I’m not there, and discipleship is very difficult to measure at any church, especially a church of over 40,000. While there certainly is room in the body of Christ for churches that lean one way or the other, every church must “feed the sheep” to some extent. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not mere believers.

I think Dr. Moore is also correct that all pastors, particularly a pastor of Andy’s influence, must qualify statements such as Andy’s, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible.” A comment like that, without proper explanation, can lead down a dangerous path as Dr. Moore observed, and it’s certainly going to cause some Christians to run for their pitch forks (just google “Russell Moore and Andy Stanley” to see the pitch forks for yourself). Andy must go out of his way to explain exactly what he does and doesn’t mean.

In Andy’s defense, the context of that comment was made at a conference designed to reach a culture of unbelievers, and the more complete quote was, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection. Because the issue for us is, ’who is Jesus?’ Did he rise from the Dead?”

As I’ll argue below, that comment can be defended in context. But extreme clarity is critical, especially when you’re talking about something as important at the Bible. Without that clarity, Dr. Moore is right to raise a red flag. (Other similarly provocative statements by Andy Stanley have raised evangelical eyebrows, including my own, at least until I better understood the context. Please understand that I don’t always agree with Andy. I agree with about 95% of what he says—I don’t even agree with myself that much!).

I also think Dr. Moore is correct about the need for pastors to address controversial moral issues from the pulpit. Although he’s protested at abortion clinics, Andy stated that he has never preached a message on abortion, preferring that and topics such as same-sex marriage are left to small groups within the church.

Why would a pastor of unparalleled communication skills (Dr. Moore called them “amazing”) leave such delicate and important issues to small groups—issues that are literally life and death and cut to the heart of what people perceive to be road blocks to Christianity? I’m convinced that so many people stay away from Christianity, and often destroy their lives, because pastors fail to tactfully present the truth on these issues (not to mention the damage our silence is doing to the nation and religious freedom). If anyone can present tactfully and compassionately it is Andy Stanley. Andy should take the lead on those issues instead of relying on less skilled and informed group leaders. Paul stated that he “did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). Neither should Andy nor any other pastor.

Those are the tactical issues that I think Dr. Moore gets right. Now, let’s take a look at the more foundational theological issues that Dr. Moore gets wrong (and Andy gets right).

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Wrong

Quoting the Bible is the only way to reach unbelievers

I think Dr. Moore is mistaken for suggesting that the only way to engage unbelievers is by quoting Scripture. He argued that Andy’s apologetic approach is not Biblical because Jesus quoted Scripture to people and said “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

It is true that Jesus did quote Scripture with folks who already accepted the authority of the Old Testament. But when He spoke to unbelievers (the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Pilate, and the thief on the cross), Jesus wasn’t firing Bible verses at them while assuming the authority of Scripture. Likewise, Paul didn’t assume the authority of Scripture or quote from it when speaking to the Athenians (Acts 17), but attempted to find common ground with them, even quoting their own poets and recognizing their “unknown God” beliefs, in order to connect them with the true God and the truth of the Resurrection.

I agree with Dr. Moore that quoting Scripture is effective to bring some unbelievers to Christ (with the work of the Holy Spirit of course), just that it’s not the only way. Some unbelievers have intellectual objections and often resist the Spirit until they get answers.

In fact, if preaching Scripture alone is the sole means through which everyone can be converted, why doesn’t Dr. Moore merely read Scripture on his podcast? If the Scriptures are all “sufficient” for evangelism, then why is he wasting his time organizing a conference where he seeks Andy Stanley’s insights on how to better preach to the culture? If merely saying “thus sayeth the Lord” is sufficient, then evangelists should forgo the hours of message preparation and simply read the Bible!

It seems to me that a preacher can do three things with regard to the Scriptures:

  1. He can read the Scriptures;
  2. He can explain the Scriptures so they are understood and applied (exposition);
  3. He can support their veracity with evidence (apologetics).

Why wouldn’t a wise pastor do all three? Pastors will reach and disciple a lot more people by using every tool available to them. Indeed, God makes his appeal through us, and it’s a deeper and wider appeal when we engage in evangelism, exposition, and apologetics.

 

Presupposing the Bible is true rather than showing it’s true

Dr. Moore’s stance on quoting the Bible to unbelievers seems to be the result of a presuppositional approach to apologetics, which just presupposes the Bible is true. In doing so, he is confusing knowing that the Bible is our authority with showing the Bible is our authority.

This is also a failure to distinguish between the ends and the means. Dr. Moore and Andy agree on the ends—that the Bible is God’s primary revelation and authority to mankind. However, the means of showing that are not presupposing it’s true (that’s circular), but the classical approach to apologetics that Andy advocates, which cites evidence for the events in the Bible, and the reliability of the biblical documents, from philosophy, science and history.

Getting evidence for the New Testament events and documents is not circular—we are not presupposing the Bible is true as the presuppositionalists do. We are gathering evidence to find out what really happened and to see if the New Testament documents can be trusted, which is what historians do when they investigate any set of historical documents or events. (For more on problems with presuppositionalism and the merits of the classical approach, listen to my recent interview with Dr. Richard G. Howe).

In fact, the Bible actually commands us to use reason and evidence in worship and in our defense of Christianity. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind.” God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Come now, let us reason together.” Peter urges us to “always be prepared to give an answer.” Paul commands us to “destroy arguments” that are opposed to the truth of Christianity, and he declares that Christianity is false unless the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. He even names the living eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, in effect daring his readers to fact-check him by asking them. He did not say, “Believe that Jesus rose from the dead because I’m writing the Bible and the Bible is the authority!”

Of course, not everything in the Scripture can be supported with evidence. But as Andy and classical apologists maintain, once we’ve established that Jesus actually rose from the dead and is therefore God, then whatever Jesus says and teaches is true. Since the evidence shows that the New Testament documents are reliable, then we know Jesus taught that the Old Testament is God’s Word (as is the coming New Testament). It is on the Risen Savior’s authority that we believe all of the Scriptures are true—even those events in Scripture that we can’t independently verify.

 

Failing to acknowledge the indispensable role of God’s other “book”

Dr. Moore seems not to acknowledge the indispensable role of natural revelation in understanding God’s special revelation to us. (I keep saying “seems” about Dr. Moore’s beliefs because I’m basing all of this on an interview and his 22-minute podcast—I may not be understanding his beliefs completely or accurately). God has actually written two books: the Bible (special revelation, see 2 Tim. 3:14-16) and the “book” of nature (natural revelation, see Ps. 19, Rom. 1:18-20, 2:14-15). Both are necessary in the life of the believer.

Unfortunately, when some Protestants today talk about the “sufficiency of Scripture” or “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), they often make it sound like we have no need for any truths outside the Bible. That’s not true for several reasons. Here are just two.

First, one can’t even understand the Bible (or any communication) without first understanding truths from outside the Bible—aspects of the natural revelation such as philosophy, logic, and consistent cause and effect. In other words, in order to get anything out of the Bible, you need principles or keys of interpretation from outside the Bible to access it, much like you need your keys to unlock your house to get anything out of it. Without keys of interpretation from the outside, we would never be able to unlock the Bible to learn what’s in it. While we often take those keys of interpretation for granted, we get them from the book of nature and the principles of human communication including language and grammar.

Sometimes we even use what we learn from nature or philosophy to overrule what appears to be the clear reading of Scripture. The rotation of the earth around the sun is one such example. Another is the immaterial nature of God. We use the book of nature and the principles of human communication to realize that the Bible uses observational language to describe nature (sun rising and setting) and metaphors to describe God’s attributes (He has eyes, arms, legs, etc.).

While the Bible does say “God is Spirit,” the only way to resolve the apparent contradiction with several other verses that suggest God has body parts is through philosophy. (Before you object to the use of philosophy, the Apostle Paul never prohibited its proper use. That would be a philosophy to not use philosophy which would be self-defeating. The “vain philosophy” to which Paul was referring in Col. 2:8 was legalism infecting the church). While one can use bad philosophy to interpret the Bible, it’s impossible to use no philosophy.

In his new series “Who Needs God,” Andy highlighted a second reason that truths outside the Bible are critical: Truths outside of the Bible got Christianity started! Before the New Testament was ever written, thousands of Jews and pagans understood the truth of Resurrection Christianity. While those early believers didn’t have as much information as we’re privileged to have now, they knew enough to transform the Roman empire.

how needs god and andy

Andy’s point in reaching unbelievers today is that unbelievers in the mid-first century were never asked to become Christians through blind faith in an authoritative New Testament that didn’t exist, but on the reality of God and the historical fact of the Resurrection. Contrary to what some skeptics assert, the New Testament writers did not create the Resurrection; the Resurrection created the New Testament writers!  So Christianity would still be true if every Bible and manuscript in the world were destroyed.

Let me sum up this important point in another way. The ontological foundation of Christianity is not a collection of ancient writings we call the Bible. The ontological foundation of Christianity is the reality of God and the historicity of the biblical events including the Resurrection of Christ. (In fact, the New Testament wouldn’t exist unless the Resurrection occurred.) So while we need all of the Bible to more fully understand God and live the Christian life, we don’t need all the Bible to understand its most important message—the Gospel.

That was Andy’s reason for saying, “Let’s get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection.” Not for believers, but for unbelievers. Namely, when unbelievers doubt certain stories in the Bible (such as Noah or Jonah), focus on the evidence that the Resurrection actually occurred so they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the Gospel.

That’s Andy’s approach because many in our culture believe that if you doubt one story in the Bible you can’t believe any of it. Andy’s apologetic approach defuses that erroneous belief and for good reason. Believing in Noah and Jonah are not essential to your salvation, but believing in the Resurrection is!

Andy Stanley does not deny the Scripture or the historicity of stories such as Noah and Jonah. In fact, he went on to affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible (watch the interview). However, his point is that the way to bring unbelievers into Christianity with the fewest potential obstacles is to focus on the historicity of Jesus and His Resurrection.

This aspect of historical reliability is unique to Christianity among world religions. The fact that Christians tend to ignore the unique verifiability of their belief system and insist people just take it on “faith” like other religions do makes little sense, and it ignores Jesus’ directive to examine the evidence. He said to his disciples, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves (John 14:11).” Since Jesus cited evidence shouldn’t we?

 

Using an incorrect definition of Sola Scriptura

This final mistake is related to the last. Dr. Moore and several reformed internet critics seem to be charging Andy with denying “sola Scriptura.” But Andy doesn’t deny sola Scriptura. What he denies is their erroneous definition of that doctrine.

Sola Scriptura was cited by the reformers to correct abuses by the Roman Catholic church. It means that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of a believer, as opposed to the Scripture plus church tradition, plus church councils, plus the statements of the Pope, and so forth. Andy’s critics seem to think that Sola Scriptura denies the role of natural revelation, including reason, in theology. But, as we have seen, such a position would make understanding the Bible impossible. Without natural revelation we couldn’t understand the Bible or anything else about reality! Even Martin Luther realized this point. He didn’t dismiss reason. He said he would only recant if he could be proven wrong by Scripture or reason.

It’s ironic that a tradition has arisen in reformed Christianity that distorts the original meaning of sola Scriptura—the very doctrine intended to correct the erroneous traditions that had arisen in the Roman Catholic church. Roman Catholics may nullify the Word of God when they add traditions to God’s revelation. But some Protestants are nullifying it when they subtract from God’s revelation. We shouldn’t add church tradition to God’s special revelation, but we also shouldn’t subtract natural revelation either. It’s from God just as much as the Bible!

 

Conclusion

You may disagree with some of Andy’s tactics (leaning too far toward evangelism, provocative statements, leaving some moral issues to small groups), but there’s nothing wrong with his theology, especially on the issues Dr. Moore brought up.

Ironically, it turns out that in several important ways Andy Stanley is more in line with all of God’s revelation than Russell Moore. So if anyone needs to make substantive corrections to his theology, apologetic method and approach to unbelievers, it’s not Andy Stanley—it’s Russell Moore.

I don’t expect our pitch-fork-bearing brethren on the Internet to agree with me. While classical apologists defend Christianity, presuppositionalists defend presuppositionalism (as you’re likely to see in the comments of this post). They and others seem hell bent on labeling Andy Stanley a heretic by taking his statements out of context. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to be open to correction by Scripture or reason (but I pray that I’m wrong about that).


Resources for Greater Impact:

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

Deep and Wide Andy laying down

DEEP & WIDE

onward-cvr3d

ONWARD

SFG angled book

STEALING FROM GOD

Cold Case Christianity Book angled pages

COLD CASE CHRISTIANITY

IDHEFTBAA DVD angled CLEAR

WHY I STILL DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

How to Talk to Your Kids About Hell

By Natasha Crain

The other day, I received the following comment on an old blog post about hell:

 

The belief in hell is sown into the hearts of many children which this blog advocates and this belief can reap major consequences. Children grow into adults. Millions of adults are on the edge of a belief in [G]od [and] needlessly suffer with the shadow of hell.  They live [in] fear…What a waste…a tragedy. 

Hell is one of the bedrocks of the Christian faith. I absolutely reject Christ.  I work and pay taxes. I am charitable. I am [a] good father and husband. I am kind, forgiving. I like looking at the stars. Yet, without a doubt under the rules of Christianity I am doomed to be tortured for millions…billions of years. In fact, trillion[s of] years of endless agonizing pain wrap[ped] around for trillions of more years.  What is my misstep?  I reasoned that earth was old and books suggesting otherwise unfounded.

 

There are a lot of misunderstandings about Christianity and hell embedded in this comment—and those misunderstandings are quite common. Because there are so many wrong ideas about hell floating around, we as Christian parents must proactively ensure that our kids gain an accurate understanding of this difficult topic. When young people lack that understanding, they’re often quick to dismiss hell based on simple “gut reaction.” But hell is too serious a topic to leave to the discretion of our kids’ feelings. We need to guide their understanding from a biblical perspective.

In chapter 4 of my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, I explain that people often unknowingly roll three layers of questions into one big objection about hell. We can help our kids understand hell much more meaningfully when we address those questions individually and sequentially:

 

1. Why does God need to punish anyone?

2. Who should be punished?

3. What should the nature of punishment be?

 

Like many people, the commenter above implicitly has objections to hell from each of these categories. In this post, we’ll look at answers to the questions using his concerns. For anonymity, we’ll call him Mr. C.

 

Why Does God Need to Punish Anyone?

When Mr. C says, “Millions of adults are on the edge of a belief in God and needlessly suffer with the shadow of hell,” he is assuming that Christianity isn’t true. If Christianity is true, then people should be warned about the reality of hell and have an appropriate level of concern about it. But Mr. C seems to believe that the whole idea of hell can’t possibly make sense.

A major reason he can’t make sense of hell, however, is because he misunderstands why God would need to punish someone. He believes that, in his case, it would be because he “reasoned the earth was old and books suggesting otherwise [are] unfounded.”

Rejecting the Bible is not why God punishes people. (And, as an aside, plenty of Christians believe the Earth is old.)

God punishes people because of sin.

It’s critical that our kids understand this! As I explained in chapter 4:

“The reality and seriousness of sin is ignored when we suggest there’s no need for God to punish people. To see why that’s such a problem, we need to better understand what sin is. The Bible tells us that God is perfectly good, and that He has written His moral laws on the human heart (Psalm 18:30; 1 John 1:5; Romans 2:14-15). Sin is a transgression against those laws. If God didn’t exist, there would be no sin, because there would be no moral laws to sin against. But if a perfectly good God exists, and humans violate His moral laws, we have to ask, What should God do about it? We expect a penalty for breaking human laws, so why wouldn’t we expect a penalty for breaking divine laws?”

Furthermore, God is both perfectly loving and perfectly just (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 9:7-8; Psalm 33:5; Isaiah 61:8). Justness is the quality of fairly conferring deserved rewards and punishments against a standard of right and wrong. God’s justness and lovingness go hand-in-hand. Just as an earthly judge wouldn’t be loving for setting free those who break human laws, God as a heavenly judge wouldn’t be loving for setting free those who break divine laws.

If sin is real, and God is just, there must be some kind of penalty for that sin.

 

Who Should Be Punished?

If we’re honest, most of us can get our heads around this idea of necessary punishment—for really bad people. But garden-variety sinners? People who lie, lose their temper, and live more selfishly than they should? We think these people deserve something more like an extended time-out, not hell. In other words, it’s not that we don’t think God should punish people, but that we don’t think He should punish people like us.

Mr. C certainly feels this way, as he listed his qualifications for escaping God’s judgment: “I work and pay taxes. I am charitable. I am [a] good father and husband. I am kind, forgiving. I like looking at the stars.”

Interestingly, many murderers could even fit this description (yes, even a murderer can have moments of kindness and forgiveness—where do you draw the line?). But pretty much everyone agrees murderers deserve punishment (see point 1). So it’s clear we have to take a more objective look at who should be punished.

Romans 3:23 answers that question: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

All.

Not one human is morally worthy of being in God’s presence. Romans 6:23 goes on to say that God has set the penalty for sin as death—which, as the law giver, He has the right to do. The combined picture of these verses is really quite simple, even if we don’t like it: Every single person is guilty of breaking God’s moral laws and He has set the penalty as death.

That’s true even if you like looking at the stars like Mr. C.

 

What Should the Nature of Punishment Be?

If hell only involved 100 years in jail, we’d spend a lot less time talking about it. But the traditional view that hell is an eternity spent suffering in flames? That’s where many people draw their line of “reasonableness.” In fact, most people have never thought through the logic of the first two questions in this post (why God would need to punish anyone and who should be punished) because they jump straight to the assumed nature of punishment. Those first two questions, however, are critical to understand before you can even consider the nature of hell.

The problem is, our human idea of what’s reasonable has no necessary bearing on what’s true. We simply do not have God’s perspective (Isaiah 55:8). We do know, however, that God is perfect, so His punishment is necessarily completely fair—even if we don’t have the full perspective to understand it. Because we can’t use our own idea of what’s reasonable to determine what’s true about hell, we have to look at what God has revealed about it in the Bible.

Jesus referred to hell as a terrible place to be avoided at all costs (Mark 9:48-49; Matthew 8:12; 10:28; 22:13; 13:42). The severity of hell is something all Christians agree on. There are different views, however, on what exactly the nature of hell is and how long it will last:

  • Those who hold the literal view believe hell is a place of actual fire where those who reject Jesus will spend eternity. This is what Mr. C referenced in his comment.
  • Those who hold the metaphorical view believe hell is an everlasting punishment of some kind, but not a literal fire. They say fire is a biblical symbol for judgment.
  • Those who hold the conditionalist view believe those who reject Jesus will cease to exist. They say the many biblical references to eternal punishment refer to the punishment’sfinality, not duration.

For more on the varied Christian views of hell, I recommend the book, Four Views on Hell.

 

The Often Overlooked Ending

Breaking our discussions about hell into these three component questions gives kids an important framework for understanding logical and biblical connections. But we can’t overlook the critically important ending to the story—God has made a way for people to avoid hell if we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sins! That’s the crucial other half of the picture. (For help with the rest of this conversation, see chapter 20: Why did Jesus need to die on the cross for our sins?)

As author C.S. Lewis famously said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”

Visit Natasha’s Blog @ ChristianMomThoughts.com


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Can God Create A Rock So Heavy That He Cannot Lift It?

By Evan Minton

Many times when talking with non-believers, they will appeal to some sort of one-liner or meme to render their unbelief a more credible position than the reality of an omnipotent God. Nevertheless, although these one-liners seem credible to the untrained mind, they actually don’t work as arguments. The same goes with this riddle, which basically attempts to pit God against himself in asking, “Can God create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?”

This question reminds me of when the religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in a no-win situation by asking “Should we pay taxes to the Romans?” If Jesus said yes, then that would mean that He was siding with Rome, the people hated Rome and wanted their Messiah when he came to overthrow the Romans and destroy them. Answering yes would turn the Jewish people against Him. They might even stone him or something! On the other hand, if Jesus said no then he’d get in trouble with the Romans. It’d be treason. No matter which answer Jesus gave, it seemed, He would get Himself in trouble. We all know what happened next and how Jesus brilliantly wiggled out their trap. (Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:21-25)

The Christian Apologist seems to be in the same position. “Can God Create A Rock So big he cannot lift it?” If we say yes, then we concede that there is something God can’t do because God would then create a rock which He couldn’t lift. The thing God couldn’t do would be to lift the rock. On the other hand, if we say no, then we also concede that there’s something God cannot do. Namely, create a rock which He can’t lift. Either way, our answer will affirm that God is not omnipotent, or so it seems.

I think this attempt to stump the theist and get him to admit that God is finite is a pretty bad one. For it misunderstands the definition of omnipotence. When we Christians say “God can do anything” we don’t mean literally everything. When we say that God can do the impossible, we don’t mean he can do the logicallyimpossible. By impossible, we mean things like creating things out of nothing, keeping people in a fire from burning, having a guy walk on water, or make a 90 year old woman get pregnant and give birth to a healthy son, and things like that. We don’t mean God can do absolutely everything. We mean only what is logically possible (that is to say, things that are not contradictory concepts).

There are some things God cannot do simply because He is omnipotent. If God is infinitely powerful than it’s impossible to create a rock so large He cannot lift it. For if there was anything He couldn’t lift, that would prove Him a being of finite strength. But a being of infinite power could create a rock of infinite size and infinite weight and still be able to move it. It is because God is infinitely powerful (i.e omnipotent) that He cannot create a rock too hard for Him to move.

This little riddle is akin to asking “Can God’s infinite power overwhelm His infinite power?” Or it’s like asking “Can God beat Himself in a fist fight” or “Can God think up a mathematical equation too difficult for Him to solve”. It’s sheer nonsense. C.S Lewis once said “Nonsense is still nonsense even when we speak it about God.”You’re basically asking if a Being of unlimited power can produce something to limit Him. But His unlimited power, by definition, rules out that possibility. An unlimited being cannot create limits for Himself.

The definition of omnipotence does not mean being able to do the logically impossible (to do something logically contradictory). God cannot create square circles, married bachelors, one ended sticks etc. God can do anything that’s logically possible, that is; not logically contradictory. God can create out of nothing, God can make ax heads float in water, He can make animals speak in a human tongue, He can cause a virgin to be pregnant, but He can’t make something exist and not exist at the same time, He can’t cause an animal to speak in a human tongue and be silent at the same time, and He can’t make a woman both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time. Nowhere in The Bible does it say that God can do the logically impossible. That is not the definition of Omnipotence.

There are other things God cannot do. Not just logically impossible things. He can’t commit sin. He cannot do evil acts because God is sinless and holy (Psalm 23:6, Psalm 25:8; Psalm 34;8; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.) and so to do those things would be to contradict His own morally perfect nature. Titus 1:2 says that it’s impossible for God to lie. It’s not that God merely chooses not to lie, but that He’s literally incapable of it. Why? Because lying is a sin and sin goes against God’s morally perfect nature. God can no more do evil then fire can cause things to freeze.

Richard Bushey of “ThereforeGodExists.com also wrote about this question. And he said in the article “This is not to say that logic is some sort of force that transcends God that he is a slave to. But rather it is to say that logical consistency is founded in the person of God himself.” Indeed. Logical Consistency is a character trait of God like holiness, love, justice, etc. Indeed. God is a rational Being. Even if God’s power did allow him to do the logically impossible, at the very least, His nature would prevent Him from doing so.

Can God do anything? Yes. So long as it’s both logically possible and in accord with His morally perfect character.

Visit Evan’s Blog @ CerebralFaith.Blogspot.com


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7 Questions from “Who is God”

By Brian Chilton

This past Sunday, the third episode of Morgan Freeman’s show The Story of God as aired on the National Geographic Channel. The third episode dealt with how God is understood to be in various cultures and religions. Again, I am profoundly surprised at how well this show has been made. The show has not attacked any particular worldview, as I feared that it would. Rather, the show has taken a fairly neutral position while evaluating some major topics. This episode was no different. The third episode dealt with the issue “Who is God?” This article will seek to answer 7 questions that were raised during the show from a Christian perspective.

 

  1. Is there one God or several gods?

By sheer necessity, there is only one ultimate uncaused cause. If there were several gods or goddesses, one would have to ask “How did such a number of gods arise?” It seems to me that one would be forced to accept a first uncaused cause. While it is possible to accept a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, it makes better sense to accept that only one God exists. Why? Well, I think Thomas Aquinas answers this well. Aquinas states,

 “When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause’s existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we make take for the middle term the meaning of the word ‘God.’”[1]

From sheer necessity, only one God must exist. Thus, God could manifest himself in several ways, but in the end there is but only one God.

 

  1. How does one connect to God?

If by connecting, one means relating to God, then one can connect with God in various ways. Morgan Freeman is right when he notes that it is sometimes difficult to relate to a transcendent God. However, God has given us means to relate to him. One way people connect with God is through prayer. Prayer is a means by which we can communicate with God and a way that God communicates with us.[2] Another way a person connects to God is through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to all humanity. A third way a person can connect with God is through the intellect. A person can connect with God by learning more about God. Fourth, a person can connect with God through nature. As the psalmist notes, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).[3] Lastly, a person can ultimately connect with God through a relationship with Christ. When one receives Christ, the Bible tells us that the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:15ff).

 

  1. Has God revealed himself to several people throughout the world?

There is but only one ultimate truth. However, this is not to say that God has not been trying to reveal himself to various peoples throughout the world. Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, I am not saying that all religions are the same. Such is not logically possible. However, I feel it is quite possible that God has been trying to reveal himself throughout all of history. Ultimately, the full revelation came through Jesus of Nazareth, the “only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16).

 

  1. How do we know what’s divine?

Only God is truly divine in the purest sense. However, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, human beings bear the mark of divinity (although we are not divine). But in fact, all things bear the mark of God in reality because “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). So, only one person is truly divine (God), yet all things bear the imprint of the divine as God created all things.

 

  1. Can we imagine God?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I think Norman Geisler puts it best. Geisler notes that “Although God can be apprehended, He cannot be comprehended.[4] Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Thus, we cannot say that we know everything about God. If we could, we would be God.

 

  1. Does God indwell us?

We all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, God indwells each person who receives Christ as Savior. This person is known as the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Can we experience God?

Yes! Absolutely we can! We experience the blessings of God every day. However, the only way to fully experience God is through a relationship with Christ Jesus. See also the answer to the second question.[5]

 

Much more could be said about God. In reality, the third episode of Freeman’s documentary as well as this article has focused more upon how humanity knows God. Such a knowledge of God is called revelation. God has revealed himself both through natural revelation (available to all) and special revelation (delivered to those of faith). If a person has not experienced God, it is highly advised that the person seek God and ask God to reveal himself.

 For more articles like 7 Questions from “Who is God” visit Brian’s website at BellatorChristi.com

© April 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.


 

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.2.2., in Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft, ed., Fathers of the Dominican Province, trans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 59.

[2] Some individuals have argued that God does not communicate with a person through prayer. With all due respect, I have found such arguments greatly lacking. God has spoken to a vast array of individuals in the Bible through the means of prayer (e.g. Habakkuk, Job, Elijah, Isaiah, and so on). To claim that God cannot speak to a person in prayer discredits the power and personal nature of God. However, I agree that one should always “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to ensure that one is truly hearing from God.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

[5] Also, check out the discipleship program Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.

The Law of Identity & the Human Soul

By Tim Stratton

Do humans survive the death of their bodies? As a pastor, I have officiated several funerals over the past few years and I have attended many recently. This topic is always sure to come up while talking to the surviving relatives. Questions such as these are regularly asked: Will we see our loved one again? Although the body of our loved one has died, does their soul continue to exist?

The vast majority of humanity has believed in the soul throughout the centuries; however, many advocates of scientism (the presupposition that science is the only way to know reality) have caused much doubt regarding the existence of the soul today. It is important to remember that if the human soul does exist, it is something that, like God, cannot be discovered by science. The scientific method is only applicable to things in the natural universe, and science is impotent to test, discover, or explain things such as the laws of logic, mathematics, self-introspection, objective morality, the order of science itself, and anything outside of or transcending the natural universe. [1] These kinds of things would be other than nature and this is what philosophers refer to as “supernatural.”

I have come to the conclusion that after examining all of the data, we can confidently proclaim the human soul does exist. In fact, The Freethinking Argument deductively proves that not only do humans possess libertarian free will and that naturalism is false, but it also proves that the human soul does exist! This counts as evidence demonstrating the existence of the soul; however, I am often asked for more, and independent, evidence.

The Logical Law of Identity

There are other reasons to think we are more than just bodies and brains. JP Moreland provides a powerful philosophical case regarding the logical law of identity. He says, “If I have the property of being possibly disembodied, but my body does not have the property of being possibly disembodied, it logically follows that I am not my body.”[2]  That is to say, if it is not logically incoherent to conceive of the idea that I could exist apart from my body, then it logically follows that I am something other than my body.

According to the laws of logic, there is a property that I have that my body does not, and therefore, my body and I are not identical. My body and I are not the same thing. That is to say, I am not my body.[3]   This thing that I call, “I,” is something other than my body (or brain) and it is what I refer to as the soul.

To illustrate, think about this: suppose water is H2O and they are identical. Is there anything that could possibly happen to water that could not happen to H2O? No. Whatever temperature forces water to boil, will necessarily force H2O to boil, because they are identical.[4]

Here is the point: even if life after death is false, I am at least possibly the kind of thing that logically could exist after my body dies. It is not a logically incoherent concept. Therefore, if I am the kind of thing that could (at least possibly) exist disembodied, then, logically, I cannot be my brain or body.

Moreover, I am possibly disembrainable (after all, near-death experiences could possibly be true), but my brain is not possibly disembrainable. This proves I am not my brain because there is something true of me which is not true of my brain. Namely, I am the sort of thing that could survive death (even if I do not), but the brain cannot logically survive its destruction. Moreland provides a deductive syllogism to summarize his case:[5]   

  1. The law of identity is true: If x is identical to y, then whatever is true of x is true of y and vice versa.
  2. I can strongly conceive of myself as existing disembodied.
  3. If I can strongly conceive of some state of affairs S that S possibly obtains, then I have good grounds for believing that S is possible.
  4. Therefore, I have good grounds for believing of myself that it is possible for me to exist and be disembodied.
  5. If some entity x is such that it is possible for x to exist without y, then (i) x is not identical to y, and (ii) y is not essential to x.
  6. My body (or brain) is not such that it is possible to exist disembodied, i.e., my body (or brain) is essentially physical.
  7. Therefore, I have good grounds for believing of myself that I am not identical to my body (or brain) and that my physical body is not essential to me.

Conclusion

It makes sense to conclude, along with the Nobel Prize winning neurologist, Sir John Eccles, that I am a soul who uses a body and brain. This argument for the existence of the soul, along with the Freethinking Argument (and others), provides good reason to conclude that the Apostle Paul knew what he was talking about: “…  we are confident and satisfied to be out of the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). 

Do we survive the death of our bodies? You better believe it!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton


For more articles like The Law of Identity & the Human Soul visit Tim’s website Freethinkingministries.com


NOTES

[1] William Lane Craig in debate vs. Peter Atkins, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U_NS9WsJ08 (Accessed 9-11-12)

[2] JP Moreland “In Defense of the Soul,” Biola University lecture on CD

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] J.P. Moreland’s syllogism is found in, The Soul: How We Know It’s Real and Why It Matters (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2014), 125-26

Randy Everist provides a detailed defense of this argument here and here. Be sure to check it out!

Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids

By Natasha Crain

Lately, my two daughters (ages 6 and 4) have been arguing incessantly every morning. It’s the first thing I hear every day, echoing from down the hall:

“Stop staring at me!”

“Then leave my room!”

“You’re so mean!”

“No, you’re the meanest in the world!”

The other morning, my older daughter ran into my room, crying, “Mommy! Sister pushed me to the ground! I got hurt!”

In utter fatigue and frustration, I just looked at her blankly and replied, “I just don’t care anymore. I don’t know what to tell you.”

She burst into tears. “It’s NOT FAIR! Why don’t you care she did something bad?”

I shrugged and said, “I should. I’m just too tired of all this fighting to do anything anymore.”

I ushered my wailing daughter out of the room and finished getting ready, feeling like a total failure.

Little did I know my failure would serve as a great lesson about God’s love and justice only a few hours later.

 

Explaining God’s Love and Justice to Kids

That evening, when I was tucking my daughter into bed, she said, “I don’t totally understand who goes to heaven and hell.”

We had talked about this topic on many occasions before, but of course it’s something hard for kids to understand. At that moment, God placed it on my heart to use the example from the morning to explain the concepts in a more tangible way. I saw the lights really go on in her eyes through our conversation, so I want to share it with you today in dialogue form. I hope it will help you have this discussion with your own kids (you can use your own similar failure, or set one up as a lesson!).

Me: “That’s a really important question and I’m so glad you asked it. When you were younger and couldn’t understand a lot yet, we simply explained to you that if you love Jesus, you’ll be with Him forever in heaven. But you’re big enough now to understand much more. I want to start by answering your question with an example. Do you remember this morning when you came to my room because your sister had done something bad to you? How did I respond?”

My daughter: “That you didn’t care. That it didn’t matter. That you weren’t going to do anything about it.”

Me: “Right. How did that make you feel?”

My daughter: “Sad. I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to do something about her pushing me. It was unfair.”

Me: “So was that loving or not loving of mommy?”

My daughter: “I didn’t think it was loving at all.”

Me: “I don’t think it was either. I shouldn’t have responded that way. I’m sorry. The most loving thing for me to do would have been to give your sister a fair consequence. Can you see how part of being a loving mommy is being a fair mommy too?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK, so now think of what it’s like for God. As we’ve talked about, God has taught us His perfect rules of what is right and wrong in our hearts and in the Bible—just like mommy has rules about pushing that your sister broke. Everyone knows that God is more loving than we can ever imagine, but a lot of people don’t understand that means He is also perfectly fair. He could never just ignore that we sin and break His beautiful, perfect laws of what is right. If He just said, “Whatever! I don’t care anymore!” like mommy did this morning, He wouldn’t be loving, just like mommy wasn’t loving. So God has to do something about our sins because He is so loving. The big question is, what should He do?”

My daughter: “We would, like, have to die or something because breaking God’s rules is BAD.”

Me (laughing in surprise): “Wow, that’s an amazing guess, because the Bible actually tells us that the consequence of our sin is death. We all die. But God loves us tons and doesn’t want us to be separated from Him forever. So He has made a way to forgive us without ignoring our sin. He sent Jesus—His own Son—to be punished for our sin instead of us. That’s what it means that “Jesus died for our sins.” If you understand that, then I’m ready to answer your question about heaven and hell.”

My daughter: “I do, but we’re still punished. You punish us.”

Me: “Great question. We do experience consequences in this life for breaking rules. If you break mommy’s rules about hitting, you’ll go to your room, for example. If you break the rules at school, you’ll stay in from recess. If you break the rules of our government, you can go to jail. What we’re talking about right now is what happens when we breakGod’s rules our whole lives. We will never, ever be perfect, so we will sin against God’s rules until we die. We’re talking about what God should do about His rules being broken. Does that make sense?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “OK! So let’s answer your question now. The Bible says we will be with God forever if we accept the gift He gave us of being forgiven when Jesus died on the cross…”

My daughter: “What does it mean to accept?”

Me: [I took her stuffed animal and pushed it toward her.] Take the animal and hug it tight. You’ve accepted what I was giving you. [I took it back and pushed it toward her again.] Now push it away. You’ve rejected what I was giving you. When we accept the gift of forgiveness  that God is offering to us, it means to hang on tight to it our whole lives, like your animal right now. It means saying, “Yes! I know I’m breaking your laws and will never be perfect. Thank you so much for taking my punishment through Jesus. I accept your gift and will live my life for you in response.” Living our life for Jesus means making Him our highest priority…spending our lives getting to know Him through prayer and Bible study…wanting what He wants…and not sinning just because we know we’ll be forgiven. I want you to understand one thing really clearly: that means we don’t get to be with God just by being good or doing good things. We can never be good enough. When people do not accept God’s gift of forgiveness, they cannot be with Him when they die no matter how many good things they’ve done in their life on Earth. They still need His forgiveness for all the bad things they’ve done…and if they don’t accept God’s gift of forgiveness through Jesus, they are choosing to take the punishment themselves. That means every person chooses whether they go to heaven with God or if they are separated from God forever in hell.”

My daughter: “What if someone has never heard about Jesus?”

Me: “Great question! A lot of adults ask that too. The Bible doesn’t tell us for sure, so Christians have different ideas about it. But what we do know is that God is perfectly fair and perfectly good, so however it works, we can know that God will handle it the right way. He’ll never sin like mommy this morning and just say He doesn’t care.”

With that, we ended our conversation and said goodnight. And I was a wee bit grateful for messing up that morning.

For more articles like: Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids visit Natasha’s site at ChristianMomThoughts.com

Heaven and Hell: How to Explain God’s Love AND Justice to Kids

What Are Some Of The Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology?

By Jonathan Thompson

“I only need the Bible, not man’s philosophy!”, “We don’t need to use philosophy since we have the Holy Spirit!”, “My beliefs are exegetically driven, yours are philosophical!” Many statements like the ones just mentioned sound reverential and benign to the religious ear, but these statements need to be refined. Often when one presses these types of statements for technical precision one will find in them the pervasive attitude of anti-intellectualism, more specifically, the unconscious implication that one can engage in good theological practices having divorced any antecedent philosophical commitments, or else, having no need to understand the underlying philosophical assumptions or implications that these religious doctrines are imbued with.

What the proponents of these “Philosophy-Free” views primarily fail to grasp is that philosophy is an indispensable feature underpinning virtually all rational practice. The cosmologist, for example, won’t be able to infer an era of inflation without making certain philosophical assumptions (e.g., that the world is a rational place susceptible to discovery, that our best cosmogonic theories actually approximate reality, etc.) . Similarly, the theologian simply cannot make any type of rational theological inferences without being first committed to certain ancillary beliefs which enable them to do theology in the first place. At least five difficulties with the “Philosophy-Free” view immediately come to mind:

What Are Some Of The Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology? – Five Difficulties

1. “Philosophy-Free” theology is self-refuting. What “Philosophy-Free” proponents fail to realize is that the belief that one can engage in theological practice having divorced all of their philosophical presuppositions is itself a philosophical presupposition, namely, an interpretive philosophy. How is it, that we know, for example, that when we see God saying “Let there be light” that the author isn’t teaching that, lay aside the incarnation, God is actually a biological organism? It is through a philosophy of interpretation through which these conclusions are to be arrived at. In short, without philosophy it is simply impossible to come to these types of theological conclusions.

2. “Philosophy-Free” theology is, by definition, irrational. This becomes most evident when one realizes that the word“philosophy” is just an academic locution for reasoning. To say that we should do our theology without philosophy, really just is to say that we should interpret scripture without reasoning about it or else having not reasoned about how we are to apply the interpretation ascribed to it. But to do theology without thinking about it just is, by definition, to give oneself to irrationality. Instead, the relevant question before us which needs to be addressed is this: what is the criteria to which we can determine the truth-value of a given theological proposition?

3. “Philosophy-Free” theology cannot help to adjudicate between competing theological viewpoints. If we are aiming at truth, then it won’t be enough to just point to a set of teachings that are, in fact, exemplified in scripture and automatically assume their truth by virtue of them being in the Bible – that only begs the question. Rather, if truth is our end goal, we still need to exercise our God-given cognitive abilities to determine whether or not these various theological teachings are, in fact, coherent. Look at it this way, if our reasoning tells us that a particular doctrine taught in scripture is actually false, we shouldn’t jettison our reasoning in favor scripture since, that is, by definition, to prefer irrationality – surely that isn’t God-honoring! Instead, if such were the case, as uncomfortable as it might make some of us, we should actually derelict our own views with respect to inerrancy, at least so far as we are to remain rational. That in mind, given the preclusion of philosophy that the “Philosophy-Free” view assumes, there simply remains no other resources available to the theologian, inferential or otherwise, that can be used to evaluate the truth-value of a theological claim since any resource given to the theologian will be, at it’s root, philosophical. So even if it were the case that one could exegete a text divorced from any type of philosophical presuppositions, it would still be the case that you couldn’t derive any theological truths, much less adjudicate between competing theories.

4. “Philosophy-Free” theology leaves one apt to be fooled by false doctrines. William Lane Craig has, I think, quite rightly pointed out that “the man who claims to have no need for philosophy is the one most apt to be fooled by it”.[1] Given this, it’s not surprising then that we will often find these introspectively callow ilk being drawn in to false beliefs themselves or else objecting to other viewpoints in such a way that suggests that they don’t even really understand the the view that they’re criticizing. Quite simply, it is through reflection upon the antecedent philosophical commitments underpinning a doctrine that helps serve to weigh its plausibility. To do theology without this feature leaves one at an epistemic standoff, that is, it leaves a symmetry of ignorance regarding competing viewpoints. For the interlocutor this means preferring one doctrine over another, not as a result of rational reflection, but of subjective feelings or perhaps, even blind faith. Thus, the individual that is sensitive to their own presuppositions has a considerable advantage over the person who does not, with respect to coming to true beliefs.

5. “Philosophy-Free” theology further perpetuates the stereotype that Christians are uncritical of their own beliefs. American culture has already become post-Christian. In media it’s not uncommon to see Christians caricatured as intellectually uninformed persons who believe what they do blindly. Now, you may ask yourself, why can’t we Christians just ignore what the culture believes about us at large? The answer is, because a culture that sees Christians as a group of intellectually thoughtful people, sensitive to their own assumptions, will be open to their beliefs in such a way that a culture influenced by stereotypes will not be. If Christians exemplified more thoughtfulness in their beliefs in terms of being able to recognize ones own presuppositions, the cultural perception of them will change.

What Are Some of the Problems With “Philosophy-Free” Theology? – Informing Christians may help ameliorate their hostility towards philosophy

So why do so many Christians seem to make statements implying they believe in “Philosophy-Free” theology? One possibility, which, perhaps, is the most charitable is that these Christians really are just speaking colloquially, lacking in technical precision and as a result of this they inevitably end up making statements that entail beliefs they don’t actually hold to. In cases like these we should simply gently press these folks for technical precision. Another possible explanation is that these Christians simply lack the appropriate philosophical training necessary for them to realize the implications of what they are actually saying; phrases like “I only need the Holy Spirit”, “I don’t need man’s philosophy”, “I’m a Bible guy”, and so forth sound like pious statements, have rhetorical force, and so are uncritically espoused to by otherwise well-meaning people. The solution? Inform them about the ubiquity of philosophy and hope they will eventually come to embrace it.

Visit Jonathan’s Website: FreeThinkingMinistries.com

 

NOTES


[1] http://www.reasonablefaith.org/hawking-and-mlodinow-philosophical-undertakers

 

The Top Five Reasons Faith is Not What You Think It Is

By Richard Eng

The Bible’s definition of faith is simple, easy, and straightforward. But there are influences both inside and outside the church that confuse the biblical definition. Imagine the biblical definition as the ingredients to a fruit smoothie and the bad influences are chocolate, salt and pepper, and fish. When you blend it all together the once delicious drink is now a goopy mess, not exactly appetizing; a definition that the world laughs at. The sneaky part about the smoothie illustration is this: the false information that gets blended in with the definition of faith looks appealing, but it ultimately leads to a definition so unlike the original that it changes the meaning. Christians cannot allow false teachers and the world to define our terms. When we lose our definitions, we lose our control of the conversation. Atheistic professors, youtube personalities, and zealous social media commenters devour unsuspecting christians when they ask, “so you are saying that you believe in a god without evidence? And that’s what faith is? Why don’t you believe in somethingbased on evidence??”

But is faith a belief without evidence? Is it something else? Here are The Top Five Reasons Faith is Not What You Think It Is.

Faith is not Blind

I really believe that this misunderstanding comes from a bad interpretation of a familiar bible passage. 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (ESV) People then take this passage to mean that faith is sightless or blind. As if to be a christian is to walk around with your eyes closed. The best advice I’ve heard about reading the bible is this, never read a bible verse. Meaning, do not read only one verse- always check the context.

Even from just a quick glance of the context, the apostle Paul is talking about how this world is not our home. His point in 5:7 is for believers to not be so focused on this world that they forget that they are not in their true home. In other words, don’t get so caught up with this world that you forget about the next – the next one that we yet do not see.

Faith is not “Belief Without Evidence”

We at FreeThinking Ministries often quote atheists to see from the horse’s mouth what is being said about Christianity. Here is Richard Dawkins, “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” (footnote 1) Surely that is the straw man that Dawkins would like to raise, and even Christians will take this definition and run with it! But is it really the definition of the Bible?

Alan Shlemon, a contributor for Stand to Reason, writes,

“But this definition is foreign to the Bible. The Greek word for faith, pistis, is derived from the verb pisteuo, which means “to convince by argument.” Hebrews 11:1 explains that faith is “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Some translations replace “conviction” with “evidence.” Faith, then, is being convinced that the things we can’t see (e.g. God, heaven, the resurrection, etc.) are real.” (Link to rest of article)

Shlemon points out that when the author of Hebrews says, “conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) he means that we simply do not yet see those things! He does not mean that we cannot see them, or that the only way to know they are real is by seeing. It’s a rhetorical question, “Do you see Jesus in front of you? No? Then it’s a conviction in him who we can’t yet see.”

Faith is not a Leap

Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th century philosopher, coined or is at least attributed the phrase, “the leap of faith.” This builds off our previous points, because Kierkegaard has shaped our understanding of faith in the west so substantially. Kierkegaard’s understanding of belief was much like ours; the belief must be justified and be true. But Kierkegaard divorced faith with evidence, and made faith out to be more experiential than a proposition about reality. He said that faith must be met with intense self-reflection, and the life of faith is ultimately submitting yourself to something that cannot be known in any real sense. To Kierkegaard, faith is closing your eyes and jumping out of a plane. Maybe Jesus will show up and give you a parachute halfway down? But it is not certain. But on Kierkegaard’s view, faith is a flip of a coin kind of leap – maybe you make it, and maybe you do not. But our faith is confident because Jesus is who he says he is, and he does what he says he does. 

Faith is not All or Nothing

Preachers and pastors either explicitly or imply that if you are not 100% all in than you do not believe at all. But the Bible teaches a different story.

Mark 9:23-25 

23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”24 Immediately the father of the child cried out[a] and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

If we are honest, all of us can identify with this man. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a perfect summary of the internal struggle that every Christian experiences. It’s like reaching for Jesus to pull you out of the water when you have a weight tied to your ankle. In that moment you are focused on the weights keeping you under, but your heart is yearning to look up! So look to Jesus! The point of this passage is this: even if you are only 51% sure that Jesus will do what he says, He can work with that. Here’s the thing, the only things that you know with 100% certainty is that you exist, because you are a thinking thing, and logical and mathematical laws like “1+1=2.” Other than that we need to be ok living in the tension of doubt and unanswered questions. Jesus never promises to answer all of our questions. Most of the time he says something like, “Trust me and let me work.” Do not be afraid of doubt or unanswered questions, because God meets you there. Our beliefs need to have reasons behind them, and they must best correspond to reality. But if your expectation is that Christianity will bring you to a place of 100% certainty, the flesh will do a lot of damage to you when you never get there.

Faith is not a Substance

This one will sting, because I see church-goers eating this stuff up. The sad thing is, I do not blame them! It is trendy, “spiritual,” and you find more of this false teaching in book stores than Bibles! This is the word-faith movement, or word-of-faith movement. I will write more about this later, but like a window-seat passenger on a flight home they can look out the window and notice some key landmarks.

The most effective false teachers in the church will use the same vocabulary but use a different dictionary. In other words, they use the same words to make it sound like they are preaching orthodox church doctrine when in fact they are sneaking in ideas that are bad philosophy.

Let me paint a picture:

Your son is sick in the hospital. You have been praying faithfully for months for a cure… you know that it is life threatening. Your prayers are fervent and continuous, but by his hospital bed you are at the end of your rope. Just then, you see your pastor walk in the room. He embraces you in the midst of hopelessness, and you begin to explain the situation. After he hears it all, he offers this advice, “Well it seems to me that God wants to heal your son through your prayers… but you don’t have enough faith. If you had enough faith God would heal him.”

Have you ever heard that? “You don’t have enough faith?” Have you even thought that? Let me be clear, nowhere in scripture is there even a hint of this idea. Faith is confidence! Assurance! Trust in a trustworthy person! Faith is not a substance or thing, it is the sure road to Jesus. Jesus says clearly, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20) It’s not about the amount of your faith, it’s about the object of your faith. God created mountains, if he wants to move them he can!

So What Is Faith?

Faith, in it’s purist definition is near indistinguishable from the word belief, except for one key component: if faith is 51% or more, trust makes up the difference. Faith is confidence, assuredness, and sturdy, but knowledge can never bring us to 100% certainty. There is always a healthy dose of unanswered questions that every person deals with. The difference is that Christianity offers a person, Jesus Christ, in whom we place our trust in the unanswered questions. The God of Christianity is a maximally great being, he cannot lie, he cannot sin, he is faithful, he is good, he is just, he is loving, etc. The unanswered questions find rest in God’s character. Do not be afraid to doubt, but bring those doubts to the foot of the cross. May your faith be characterized by the man who in full and utter vulnerability from his heart cries, “I believe… help my unbelief!”

Richard Eng

Visit Richard’s site: Free Thinking Ministries


 

Footnotes:

1. A lecture by Richard Dawkins extracted from The Nullifidian (Dec 94),

2. http://www.str.org/articles/is-faith-blind#.VrTQzDYrJmA (accessed 2/5/16)

8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

By Brian Chilton 

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 Click here to see the source site of this article

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).