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.


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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).


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STEALING FROM GOD

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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).

You Don’t Understand the Old Testament

 

By Timothy Fox

Unbelievers rip its verses out of textual and historical context. Christians use expired laws as bludgeons and others’ promises as life-verses. Just admit it: You don’t understand the Old Testament.

And that’s okay. The OT writings are thousands of years old. They consist of various literary genres like history, poetry, and prophecy. And what about all of those weird laws? Why do Christians like to cite restrictions against homosexuality but ignore the ones against eating shellfish and wear polyester? (You’ve never heard that before, right?)

That is specifically what this article hopes to clear up: the OT rules. Maybe all of them are still kosher (see what I did there?). Maybe it’s all obsolete. Perhaps it’s somewhere in between. But then how do we know which rules are still valid and binding and which ones aren’t? Let’s get a quick primer on OT law (from now on referred to as the Law, with a capital L).

First, let me cut right to the chase: We are no longer bound to the Law. But that doesn’t mean it’s all useless. Read on and I’ll explain.

  1. What is the Law? The Law was a covenant, or treaty, between God and the Israelites after He freed them from Egypt. It marked them as His special people. He would continue to care for and bless them as long as they kept it and bad things would happen if they broke it. Which they did. A lot.
  2. Is the Law permanent? No, and it was never intended to be. The OT prophets made it clear that a new, better, eternal covenant was coming to replace the original one (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 16:59-63; Hos. 2:18).
  3. When did the old covenant end? In Matthew 5:17-19, Jesus claims He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it, that the least part of it would not disappear until “all is accomplished.” All of what is accomplished? His perfect life and sacrificial death. It puts His last words on the cross into greater perspective: “It is finished” (John 19:30). Paul confirms this in Romans 7:4, that we “died to the Law through the body of Christ” and 10:4, that “Christ is the end of the Law.” Christ’s death signaled the end of the old covenant.
  4. So we’re free from the Law now? Yes and no. We’re free from the Law as a set of rules and regulations but we are bound to Christ. Let me explain.
    • Bound to Christ. In his writings, Paul makes the point over and over again that we are no longer under the Law. For example in Romans 6:14-15 he says we are no longer “under Law but under grace.” In 1 Corinthians 9:21 he says he is “under the law of Christ.” So we are no longer under OT Law but we are bound to Christ. Now to the next question:
    • What is the law of Christ? When the Pharisees asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was, He responded to love God and your neighbor (Matt. 22:36-39). He followed with a significant statement that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (v. 40). In Matthew 23:23, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for (among many other things) strict adherence to the letter of the Law while neglecting the “weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.” From these two examples it is clear that beyond the specific rules of the Law were deeper, more important principles. So Jesus came to fulfill the particular rules and expose the universal principles within that apply to everyone at all times. This is the law of Christ.
  5. How do we fulfill the law of Christ? Note the specific word I used there: fulfill. In Galatians 6:2, Paul says “Bear one another’s burdens, and sofulfill the law of Christ.” He does not use words like do or follow, which are common to the Law, but instead says fulfill. Christ’s law is not a set of rules to follow but principles grounded in love. Hence, the law is fulfilled in Christ.
  6. Do any of the OT commands still apply? Yes, the universals. And how do we know these universals? The New Testament (NT) writers tell us. Many of them reapply portions of the OT in a new context, like when Paul reminds his readers that the entire law is fulfilled in loving your neighbor (Gal. 5:14). Nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed. (And I know what you’re thinking: Which one isn’t? The command to honor the Sabbath. It was a specific sign of the old covenant that is no longer binding since it has been fulfilled.) Paul loves his lists showing what behaviors are sinful (Rom. 1:29-31; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21, and so on). So the principles for good, Christian living are all there for us to find in the NT.

Hopefully, the OT makes more sense now. When reading through all the various laws, look for the universals. Is there a deeper purpose for this law or section of laws? Now, some rules are just plain weird and we may never understand them through modern, Western eyes. But we have plenty of guidance through the NT to determine what the law of Christ is and what is sinful.

So please stop abusing the OT. Christians, I’m looking at you first. If you’re seeking evidence that something is wrong, start with the NT and go from there. And we can’t steal ancient Israel’s promises for ourselves (coughJeremiah 29:11). Non-Christians, if you haven’t studied the OT, please stop quoting it against us. There’s a lot going on literally, culturally, and historically. That’s why people go to seminary for years to study it. I’m not claiming to be an expert myself, just someone who has given it some thought and reflection. And I still have a lot to learn.

One thing that’s certain is that we all need to study our Bible more and be more careful when we use it. Because it isn’t just some book; it’s “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). God’s word is powerful and not to be taken lightly. Please handle it with care.

 

Visit Tim’s site here: FreeThinking Ministries.

Click here to visit the original source of this article.

The Universal Problem We Don’t Want to Admit

How do we fix a world filled with murder, rape, betrayal, adultery, fraud, theft, sexual exploitation, pornography, bullying, abortion, terrorism, cheating, lying, child abuse, racism, assault, drugs, robbery, and countless other evils?

There will be no solutions unless we are honest about their underlying causes. Although we don’t want to admit it, the truth is that every one of those world problems can be traced back to a problem with the human heart.

No one knows that better than an honest cop. My friend Jim Wallace is a cold-case homicide detective in California. He’s been featured four times on Dateline for solving crimes that are decades old. He’s noticed that every crime he has ever solved can be traced back to one or more of these three motives: financial greed, relational lust, or the pursuit of power (money, sex and power). We want these things so much that we are willing to use immoral means to get them.

In other words, the sick condition of our world is preceded and caused by the sick condition of our hearts.  That’s why we won’t improve the external world until we first improve our internal worlds.

You might think that this doesn’t really apply to you. After all, you may be congratulating yourself because you haven’t committed any of the crimes listed at the top of this column.

“Well, not most of them anyway,” you say. “Who hasn’t lied or stolen something?   But I’m better than most people!”

Maybe so. But your very act of self-justification proves the point—instead of admitting our faults, our natural inclination is to minimize them or cover them up while claiming moral superiority.

We don’t want to admit this because it hurts our pride, which is also a heart issue. “Don’t tell me I’m wrong! You’re offending me! You’re hurting my feelings!”

It’s no wonder free speech is under attack in the culture and on campus. To channel Jack Nicholson, we “can’t handle the truth” because the truth exposes the fact that we are not really as good as we claim we are. We can’t bear the fact that we are broken, narcissistic creatures who find it much easier and more natural to be selfish rather than selfless.

This affects even people who deny real right and wrong. For example, leading atheist Richard Dawkins has declared, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. . . . DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.”

But Dawkins doesn’t act like he actually believes that. He recently insisted that a woman has the right to choose an abortion and asserted that it would be “immoral” to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome. According to Dawkins, the “right to choose” is a good thing and giving birth to Down syndrome children is a bad thing.

Well, which is it? Is there really good and evil, or are we just moist robots dancing to the music of our DNA? If there is no objective morality, then there is no “right” to anything, whether it is abortion or the right to life.

And if there is no objective morality, then why does everyone, including atheists, try to justify their own immoral behavior? As C.S. Lewis observed, “If we do not believe in decent behavior, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule or Law pressing on us so— that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility.”

Ironically, when we try to shift the responsibility for our immoral actions, we often appeal to other moral principles to justify ourselves:

  • I used my expense account for personal items because I work harder than what they pay me, and it’s unjust that my boss makes so much more than me.
  • I ran off with my assistant because she really loves me, unlike my wife who doesn’t give me the attention I deserve.
  • I don’t have time for my kids because I’m too busy working hard to provide for their future.
  • I had an abortion because it’s immoral to give birth to a Down syndrome child.

Even our excuses show that we really, deep down, believe in objective morality. We often deceive ourselves into believing that something immoral is really moral (like abortion), but, as Thomas Jefferson famously declared, certain universal moral truths are “self evident.” All rational people know this. Unfortunately, our tendency for moral self-deception is also universal. We know what’s right, but we make excuses for doing wrong by trying to appeal to what is right!

Where does all this leave us?

There is hope. Regardless of what you believe about the Bible, what can’t be denied is that the Bible nails the truth about human nature and our deceptive human hearts. The book of Genesis admits that “every intent of the thoughts of [mankind’s] heart was only evil continually.” Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful and wicked, who can know it?” Jesus declared, that people “love darkness rather than light.” And Paul observed that we “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” in order to continue in our sins.

But the Bible doesn’t just accurately state the problem; it also reveals the only possible solution. Because of our moral failings, God’s infinite love compelled Him to add humanity over his Deity and come to earth in the person of Jesus that first Christmas. The incarnation was necessary because an infinitely just Being cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Instead of punishing us, God found in Jesus an innocent human substitute to voluntarily take the punishment for us.

Our pride tells us that we can rescue ourselves, but we can’t. No matter how much we try to justify ourselves or pledge to do better in the future, we can’t escape the fact that we’re guilty for what we’ve already done.

So it’s important to ask this Christmas season, “Have you accepted the pardon Jesus came to offer you? And have you asked Him into your life to help heal your self-centered heart?” If not, why not? He’s the only true solution to the world’s evils and the heart problem that afflicts each one of us.

Should You Do Your Job or Obey Your Conscience?

Should Christians ever disobey their government? Some say no. But Kim Davis sides with Martin Luther King and thinks civil disobedience is justified. Ms. Davis is the Rowan County Kentucky clerk who spent five days in jail for refusing to put her name on same sex marriage licenses. Claiming to be a new Christian, Ms. Davis is also a long-time Democrat.

In court last week, Judge David Bunning told Davis: “The court cannot condone the willful disobedience of its lawfully issued order.” He said that “if you give people the opportunity to choose which orders they follow, that’s what potentially causes problems.”

Judge Bunning is absolutely right. This is the kind of chaos that results when people do not respect the law. But I’m not referring to Kim Davis—I’m referring to the United States Supreme Court. As I’ve written before, and the multiple dissents state more eloquently, there is no justification in the Constitution for judicially imposing genderless marriage on every state in the union. Five unelected justices simply imposed their own law on 330 million people.

But does that justify civil disobedience? Where do you draw the line?

Certainly, there is a line somewhere. After all, we laud those behind the Underground Railroad who freed slaves and those who protected Jews in Nazi Germany. While bad marriage laws are obviously not as serious, consider a more equivalent scenario: Suppose the Supreme Court decided to drop the age of consent in every state to twelve years old (a position Ruth Bader Ginsberg supported before she became a Supreme Court Justice). Would you think that Kim Davis should be forced to endorse the marriage of a 75 year-old man who brought a twelve year-old girl into her office? I hope you can see that there is a line and it’s not far from Kim Davis.

Liberals believe in civil disobedience—when it suits their causes. Despite chanting, “Do your job!” outside Kim Davis’s office, liberals were rejoicing when San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom ordered clerks to violate California law and issue marriage licenses to same sex couples in 2004. They certainly were not chanting “Do your job” outside of Attorney General Eric Holder’s office when he told the states last year to ignore their own laws that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. And liberals were not asking a federal judge to throw President Obama in jail when he refused to do his job by defending the Defense of Marriage Act in Court.

So just ten minutes ago liberals believed that defying marriage laws was heroic! Now their blatant double standard is all too obvious—they laud civil disobedience when it’s used to advance the religion of sex and denounce it when it’s used to protect Christian or natural law beliefs.

But on what authority does one defy the government? One man who wanted a same-sex marriage license asked Kim Davis on “what authority” was she not issuing licenses. She cited God.

Yet, the question needs to be asked of both sides. By what authority did Newsom, Holder, Obama and other liberal politicians defy the law? They certainly weren’t citing God or the Creator cited in our Declaration of Independence who gives us unalienable rights. But without an authority beyond man’s law, there is no authority for their actions nor is there any objective standard to ground unalienable rights. Without God, every right claim is merely a human opinion. At least Kim Davis, agree with her or not, is citing an authority beyond herself.

Civil disobedience has rich precedent in the United States. In fact, our country was founded on it largely to secure religious freedom. Civil disobedience also has precedent in the Bible. When Pharaoh ordered Hebrew midwives to murder all Hebrew boys, they disobeyed and even lied to the authorities (Exodus 1). And Daniel and his friends peacefully defied laws that contracted God’s commands. Likewise, when the Jewish authorities told John and Peter to stop telling people the good news that Jesus paid for your sins and rose from the dead, they disobeyed saying that they would obey God rather than men (Acts 4).

Therefore, the principle for Christians is this: civil disobedience is necessary when a government compels you to sin or prevents you from doing something God commands you to do. You don’t disobey the government merely because it permits others to sin—only when it compels you to do so. Kim Davis thinks that line has been crossed.

It’s actually not hard to avoid crossing the line. Both parties can be accommodated as Judge Bunning finally figured out when he released Davis yesterday. In North Carolina, we passed a law to allow people like Kim Davis to opt out of endorsing relationships that violated their religious or moral beliefs. Since other government employees are more than happy to issue licenses, no one is inconvenienced or forced to violate conscience. We do this for far more serious issues than weddings. For example, even during a time of war when we draft people to defend the country, we allow for conscientious objectors to opt out. If we can allow exemptions for government employees involved in protecting the very existence of our nation, we can certainly allow exemptions for government employees involved in weddings!

Will the Kentucky legislature act when it returns in January to pass such a law? Unfortunately, I doubt the activists who are always demanding tolerance will tolerate such reasonableness. It seems that some people just can’t live and let live. They will not rest until all opposition is crushed and everyone is forced to celebrate what they are doing.

If that’s your position, I have a question for you: Why would you want anyone who disagrees with your wedding to have anything to do with it? Go to another clerk, another florist, another photographer. Why force people to violate their conscience when there are so many other people willing to help you and celebrate with you?  After all, isn’t this supposed to be a time when “love wins?”

Apparently not. For some liberals “love wins” as long as everyone agrees with them. Those that disagree will not like the kind of “love” some liberals dish out. Are the same people who are chanting “love wins” some of the same people who issued death threats to Kim Davis? It’s certainly wasn’t the Christians.

The truth is Kim Davis and other victims of “tolerance” don’t want a holy war. Davis just doesn’t want her signature on the license. She suggested other government officials sign, and Judge Bunning finally agreed. But a law needs to be passed to prevent future problems.

North Carolina has led the way. It remains to be seen if liberals in Kentucky will accept that way. If their recent history is a guide, I’m afraid they will demand that every knee bow and every tongue confess the dogma of their secular religion.

(This column also appears at Townhall.com) and Stream.org 

God’s Crime Scene

It’s about 2 a.m. on an August morning in 1979. A beautiful young nurse by the name of Lynne Knight is living in a bungalow behind a larger house in Torrance, California. As two police officers approach her door, they notice a chair overturned in the entryway and bloody footsteps leading back to the rear bedroom. Each officer has his gun drawn, not sure what to expect.

When they switch on the light, they witness the worst murder scene of their careers. Ms. Knight is lying on her bed, undressed. Her throat is deeply severed, and her lifeless body, which had been stabbed repeatedly, is covered in blood.

Under her body is 18 inches of twisted wire strung between two small pieces of wood that had been sawed off from an old broomstick. Although they’ve never seen one in person before, the officers immediately know it’s a garrote—a homemade weapon used to strangle someone in order to commit a murder quietly.

The killer tried to murder Lynne with the garrote, but couldn’t complete the evil act because she fought back. So the killer stabbed her to death and left the garrote behind in a panic.

Could the garrote lead the cops to this monster? Not soon enough. For nearly three decades the case went cold until cold case homicide detectives J. Warner Wallace and Rick Glass got involved in 2007. They dusted off the evidence left in a box at the Torrance PD, and Wallace made it his personal mission to analyze every aspect of the garrote. It turned out to be the key to the murder trial that took place last summer in the same LA courtroom where O.J. Simpson was tried. And there was familiar face in this trial. The defendant, Doug Bradford, hired O.J. lawyer Robert Shapiro to be his defense attorney.

While Bradford was a former lover of Knight, there was no eyewitness or DNA evidence to link Bradford to the murder. And there were several other suspects in the case, some of whom had since died. Wallace, Glass, and LA District Attorney John Lewin had an uphill battle to convince a jury of twelve that Bradford had indeed committed the crime. There would be no conviction unless all twelve agreed.

But Wallace, Glass and Lewin had been down this road before. They earned convictions on every cold case they had brought to trial so far. Three of those cases were so intriguing that NBC’s Dateline featured them. This case was no different: Keith Morrison and his Dateline crew were filming the case in an episode they called “The Wire.”

Although Dateline didn’t know it going in, their confidence was rewarded: on August 14, 2014, this LA jury returned a guilty verdict. Robert Shapiro, perhaps aware he had been out argued, didn’t even show up for the verdict. Doug Bradford is now serving a life sentence after being free for 35 years.

How did they get the conviction?

They began by asking the question all detectives ask at a death scene: can this death be explained by staying inside the room, or does it require us to look outside the room? Obviously, this death was a murder and required a suspect outside the room. Had this been a suicide, natural death or accidental death, the event could be explained by staying inside the room.

Then Detective Wallace used some very ingenious methods to link the garrote back to Bradford. (You can watch the entire Dateline explanation here.) He linked the effect (the garrote) back to the cause (Bradford).

Now Wallace is employing the same investigative principles he uses to solve cold case murders to eight of the greatest questions we ponder as human beings. He does this in his insightful new book, God’s Crime Scene. In the book Wallace seeks to discover if we can stay inside the room (the natural world) or must go outside the room (the supernatural world) for the causes of the following effects:

  • The origin of the universe
  • The fine-tuning of the universe
  • The origin of life
  • The origin of new life forms and biological machines
  • Consciousness
  • Free will
  • Objective Moral Values
  • Evil

Each of the eight chapters starts with the details of a real criminal case and then applies the principles to the question at hand (the Lynne Knight case is in Chapter 4).

Wallace was a committed atheist until age 35. Now he is a highly skilled author and speaker who presents a unique case for the Christian worldview across the country. Columnist Mike Adams and I have recently teamed with J. to equip Christian youth and their parents with the case for Christianity through a dynamic new College Prep program. I can tell you that audiences are captivated by the way he applies forensic principles to build the case for Christianity.

But don’t think Wallace just tows the party line. Since he is a cold case homicide detective, Wallace presents you with the evidence pro and con, and then leaves you to draw your own conclusions. He does a masterful job of laying out the evidence and even illustrates that evidence with over one hundred of his own drawings, which clarify and summarize some potentially difficult subject matter. (Who said a serious book can’t have pictures?)

God’s Crime Scene is an engaging and very readable work that investigates some of life’s most important questions. I highly recommend you get it regardless of your religious viewpoint. I can’t guarantee you’ll be convicted, but your thinking will be challenged.

A Tale of Two Kings – Part 2 King Jesus

The Legacy of Herod & the Impact of Jesus in History

Part 2

King Jesus

In my previous article “A Take of Two Kings: Part 1 – King Herod,” I presented an overview of the life and legacy of Herod I, (also known as Herod the Great.) Herod was declared King of Judea by the Roman senate in 40 B.C. He left behind a legacy of violence, bloodshed, great political ambition, as well as the archaeological ruins of some truly remarkable buildings still visible today.

When one thinks of Herod, he is usually remembered as a king, even if he was a very bad king, yet Jesus of Nazareth was also a king. When most people think of Jesus today, however, they usually don’t think of Him as a king. Not only was Jesus of Nazareth a king, He was THE King of all kings and Lord of all lords.

As in the previous article on Herod, we will explore some very important questions about one of the most influential lives to ever walk the earth – the life and impact of Jesus since His birth, death and resurrection.

What exactly was the lineage of Jesus, and why does it matter? If Jesus was a king, then where did He get His authority? Did the Bible predict His coming thousands of years before He was born? How did Jesus impact history, and why does His life continue to affect millions around the world to this day? Does the Bible predict that Jesus will return to earth to reign as King over the nations?

Background of Jesus’ Early Life and Times

Herod the Great is remembered today as an accomplished builder. Jesus was also a builder – a carpenter. Having been reared by Joseph as an apprentice carpenter, it is very likely that Jesus could have even been a stone mason. A couple of reasons why this was so, was because of the abundance of limestone which was used as a primary building material in the first-century, and the fact that just outside of Nazareth archaeologists have uncovered the fascinating city of Sepphoris.

In 3 B.C., Herod Antipas (Herod’s son) made Sepphoris the site of his new capital of the Galilee region. At its height, Sepphoris reached a population of thirty thousand people! Jesus, along with Mary & Joseph, grew up right near this thriving city. It is very likely then, that Joseph & Jesus would have worked as stone-cutters or builders for the many construction projects that were certainly happening in Sepphoris.[1]

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

Cardo (road) at Sepphoris

The discovery of Sepphoris by archaeologists has given scholars an interesting insight into the boyhood, youth and profession of Jesus.

In addition, New Testament scholar, Craig Evans writes:

The proximity of this city to the village of Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, and the presence of a number of highways, cautions against the assumption that Jesus and His fellow Galileans were placebound and unacquaninted with the larger world.[2]

Even though archaeologists have not excavated any physical buildings or structures that Jesus built, they have discovered many of the places, people and structures that Jesus visited and conducted His ministry. One of the most interesting of these is the small village of Capernaum located on the Sea of Galilee.

Capernaum was just a small fishing village in Jesus’ day, yet it served as the base of His ministry in the Galilee region (Matthew 4:12-17 & Mark 2:1). In Matthew 9:1 He even called it His, “own city.”

At the site today are the remains of two archaeologically and historically significant structures. One is the floor of a first-century Jewish synagogue in which Jesus walked, taught, and performed miracles (see Mark 1:21ff).

The ruins of the first-century synagogue today are covered by the ruins of a 4th Century synagogue built on top of the floor of the earlier one (see image below)

Synagogue at Capernaum

Synagogue at Capernaum

The other structure at Capernaum is a group of edifices that cover something called the Insula Sacra (a Latin phrase which refers to a group of homes around a central courtyard).

Based on archaeological and historical evidence, including pottery, coins and inscriptions found on site, Franciscan archaeologists believe they have found the home of Simon Peter, the fisherman who became a disciple of Christ and one of the main leaders of the early church along with James, Jesus’ half-brother.[3]

Over the ruins of Peter’s house is an octagonal shaped structure – a basilica which dates to the middle of the fifth century A.D.

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum - built over the house of St. Peter

Ruins of the 5th Cent. Basilica at Capernaum – built over the house of St. Peter

According to archaeologist, Jack Finegan:

There is little doubt that it is the church of which the Anonymous of Piacenza reported in A.D. 570: ‘We came to Capernaum into the house of St. Peter, which is a basilica.’[4]

These remains, as well as many others, illuminate the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and provide independent confirmation, apart from the Gospels themselves of the authenticity and trustworthiness of the New Testament.[5]

Jesus’ Authority & Lineage as Israel’s King

Herod’s rise to political power ultimately came from imperial Rome. But unlike Herod’s lineage as rightful king of Judah, Jesus’ lineage and authority, can be traced back before the foundations of time and history itself.

The Micah 5:2 passage, which is oft quoted during the Christmas season, gives insight into this.

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet our of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from old, from everlasting

In the garden of Eden, Eve was promised by God, “[a Son] who would crush the head of the serpent” (Gen. 3:15b). This is the very first mention of the Gospel (evangelion – good news) in the Bible. Theologians often call this the proto-evangelion (or first Gospel). The reason why it was good news is because of the episode with the serpent in Genesis 3 which brought sin and death to the world. God told Adam and Eve that essentially He would not leave them in that state of affairs (i.e. in a fallen state), but would restore them and destroy the works of the serpent through someone (Jesus) who would come from body the woman.

For thousands of years, the history of Old Testament Israel was filled with prophecies, foreshadowings, images, and metaphors of Israel’s coming king, and anointed One (Messiah). During those intervening years before Jesus came, two pictures emerged of Messiah from the Law, the Prophets and the Writings: one was a Suffering Servant, and the other, a conquering King. When Jesus came the people of Israel paid attention only to the Old Testament passages which referred to their coming King as a great conquerer and warrior – like King David. They paid little or no attention to the passages which speak of their King coming to suffer and bear the sins of the world.

The Son of David

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew traces Jesus’ genealogy back to Abraham and David (Matthew 1:1-17). Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and embodies all of Israel’s hopes, ideals and future (Genesis 12; 15; 22). Without the connection to Abraham,  Jesus would have been an imposter. Abraham is foundational.

Jesus’ lineage is also traced back to the Old Testament king David. Why David? Because nearly 1000 years before Jesus was born a promise (a covenant) was given to David that one of his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem and that the Kingdom would never come to an end (2 Samuel 7:12-16).

To David God said:

When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. …and your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you, Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam. 7:12-13, 16)

Since that original promise to David in about 1000 B.C., the promise has echoed down through the Old Testament prophets and saints pointing to a future ruler and king who would one day be born. These prophecies would contain detailed information on what the king would do, and what he would be like. In the 8th Century B.C. (700’s) the prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of a son who would have the characteristics that only God has:

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be on His shoulder, and His named will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Perhaps one of the most remarkable passages in the Old Testament which was written 700 years before Christ was born was Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 speaks of a certain person who would be stricken down and endure great suffering. The reason for the suffering? Verse 5 gives the reason:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed.

The passage goes on to describe that this suffering servant of God would be buried in a rich man’s grave.

And they made His grave with the wicked – but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth (v. 9)

When Jesus was crucified and buried these verses as well as many other prophecies were literally fulfilled – including the Micah 5:2 prophecy predicting where Israel’s promised King would be born – in Bethlehem.

The Resurrection of Jesus

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry He directly and indirectly made the claim that He indeed was the One true King, who was promised and predicted in the Old Testament. Early in the ministry of Jesus, John the Baptist sent word to Jesus asking,

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me’ (Matthew 11:3-6).

When he heard these words, John the Baptist would have immediately understood that Jesus was indeed the promised One, because all of the things Jesus mentioned were predicted by the Old Testament centuries earlier.

Throughout His life Jesus’ words and works were a strong testimony to who He claimed to be – namely God, yet the one thing that provided the stamp of authenticity on His identity was His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ Legacy

According to Acts 1:9-11 Jesus ascended into heaven after appearing to His disciples as well as many others.

Before He departed, He told His disciples:

But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8)

One of the most lasting and enduring legacies of Jesus Christ – apart from securing eternal salvation from sin – was and still is His people – the Church.

To the church was given Christ’s message of good-news that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

That message was preached and lived by the early Christians in such a way that in about three centuries nearly the entire Roman world had access to the Gospel.

It would be difficult to measure the full impact of Christ’s life since He walked the earth. Perhaps that impact can somewhat be measured by the devotion of His followers to be salt and light in the world as they were commanded by Christ Himself (Matthew 5:13-16).

Paul Copan has documented some of the achievements of Christ’s followers in the two millennia since He lived:

  • The Eradication of Slavery (from the Roman period until now)
  • Opposition of Infanticide (common in Greece & Rome)
  • The Elimination of gladiatorial games (outlawed in the 4th Cent.)
  • The Building of Hospitals and Hospices
  • The Elevation of Women’s Rights & Status
  • Founded Europe & North America’s great universities
  • The Writing of Extraordinary works of literature (Dante, Milton, etc…)
  • Creation of beautiful artistic masterpieces (Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Gothic cathedrals, etc..)
  • Established modern science (from the notion that the world was created by a rational, orderly God)
  • Composition of brilliant musical works (Bach, Handel, Hayden, etc…)
  • Advocating human rights (concern for the poor, human dignity rooted in the truth that people are made in God’s image)[6]

Indeed as Copan summarizes here:

It’s difficult to exaggerate the impact that Jesus of Nazareth has had on history and the countless lives impacted by this one man’s life and teaching – indeed, the transforming power of the cross and resurrection. The historian Jaroslav Pelikan remarked that by changing the calendar (to BC and AD according to the “Year of our Lord”) and other ways, “everyone is compelled to acknowledge that because of Jesus of Nazareth history will never be the same.[7]

 

[1] For more on this, see Craig Evans, Jesus and His World: The Archaeological Evidence (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), pp. 13-37.

[2] Ibid.

[3] for detailed information on this see, Jack Finegan’s, The Archaeology of the New Testament: The Life of Jesus and the Beginnings of the Early Church (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), pp. 107-11.

[4] See Finegan, pp. 110-11.

[5] For additional information see John McRay’s, Archaeology & the New Testament

 

[6] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), pp. 218-19.

[7] Ibid., 219.