Wisdom in Evangelism

By Ryan Pauly

I recently had the opportunity to attend the AMP Conference here in Southern California hosted by Reasons to Believe. It was a wonderful weekend with presentations from Jeff Vines, Sarah Sumner, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross, Mary Jo Sharp, Abdu Murray, John Njoroge, and Mark Mittelberg. Each of the speakers approached the weekend’s theme from a unique way with topics including: conversations that count, intolerance, the science of Genesis, the problem of evil, Islam, and reaching people in a secular world.

The thing that immediately caught my attention was that the speakers were preparing the audience to have wisdom in evangelism, yet they were teaching apologetics. It is the same reason that J. Warner Wallace says, “In this day and age, evangelism is spelled A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C-S.” Our culture is at a point where we have to take a different tactic in the way we approach evangelism. People are being exposed to different religions today like never before, and this is causing people to ask questions. I was talking to my dad over the weekend and I asked him how much he knew about other religions while growing up. He grew up in a very small town where everyone he spent time with went to the same church and the same school. He said that he grew up in a bubble where he wasn’t exposed to other world religions and different belief systems. There was no reason to question his beliefs.

As much as we want to protect the youth today and keep them in a bubble as long as we can, it has become an impossible task. Young people are being exposed to materialistic philosophy, the sexual culture, and every worldview you can think of whether it is from TV shows or social media. This is causing them to ask questions, and to be effective in reaching them we need to have answers. We as Christians have to be open to use different ways to reach our culture. It is possible that someone only needs a simple Gospel presentation to see the truth of Christianity, maybe your testimony will help them see the Gospel, or maybe you will have to discuss philosophy and science in order to break down the walls. I’m not saying that apologetics is the only answer, and apologetics doesn’t save anyone. It is only one of many tools that the Holy Spirit can use to bring people to God. I believe that in order to be prepared, we need to know the answers. We need to have every tool ready and know how to use each one so the next time we are in a conversation the Holy Spirit can use anything necessary to help the person see the Gospel.

The problem for many Christians is that they know the Gospel message and they know their testimony, but many don’t know how to answer some of the difficult questions. Are you ready to respond when someone says they won’t believe in a God approves of slavery, genocide, and the oppression of women? Do you have an answer when someone says that Muslims are going to heaven because they worship the same God as Christians? Can you explain why a student should believe in creation after their teacher has lectured on the “truth” of Darwinian evolution? What do you say when your son or daughter comes home from college and tells you how the resurrection is a myth created by the early church based on pagan gods?

These are the questions being asked by people today; especially the youth. In order to do evangelism well and be wise in our interaction with non-Christians, we need to be prepared to use whatever is needed to help them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that includes knowing the answers to the tough questions.

Ryan Pauly is a CrossExamined Instructor Academy Graduate and a student at BIOLA University.

For more articles like: Wisdom in Evangelism visit Ryan’s site at CoffeeHouseQuestions.com


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20 replies
  1. Tom Rafferty says:

    “As much as we want to protect the youth today and keep them in a bubble as long as we can, it has become an impossible task.”

    First of all, the above action is child abuse. Religious indoctrination is such. Let critical thinking have free reign. If Christianity is true, then that belief will come to the top. If you don’t agree, then you really don’t believe what you are evangelizing about. Think about it.

    Reply
    • Danny Welch says:

      Well Tom you’re correct: If Christianity is “false” then doing whatever it takes to keep our youth in a bubble for as long as we can ” is ” in fact child abuse if their is no proof and no reason to believe that such a God exists.

      But here’s where it’s not.

      Religious doctrines are not child abuse, if it is the ” Absolute Truth.”

      Now I f Christianity is ” true” then of course we should start telling our youth ” why” Christianity is true and not just telling them it is. Show them the evidence and the reason they should believe it. So keeping them in that bubble until they understand the evidence exists and preparing them for the objectivisim in the world will save them and give them the knowledge to defend themselves when their Faith is being challenged with Atheisim and Evolution.

      So If Christianity is ” Absolutly True” ( and it is ) then shouldn’t it be crucial for our children and youth to know that Christianity and the Bible is historically, scientifically and philosophically true?

      The reason it is impossible to keep our youth in a bubble is because most are just brought up just to believe in God and don’t know why they believe in God. Because no one has told them why. No one has shown them the evidence so they are blindly believing and then when faced by college professors and their Faith is challenged they don’t know how to defend what they believe to be true because they were never taught it. So they bow down and except Evolution and Atheism and has excepted the materialists world view that nothing exists outside of itself and that is ” wrong”. That is ” Child abuse.”

      Reply
        • Josef Kauzlarich says:

          Christian’s passing on their beliefs to their children isn’t child abuse.

          First, its impossible to really accomplish an “equal and perfectly fair” representation of all world views to children. No matter what world view we as parents hold, our children will pick up on it by our words and actions. I go to Church, I pray, I read God’s Word. How could my children not pick up on this? Similarly, an atheist doesn’t do these things. Isn’t it abuse of a child to not take a child to experience every religion by your logic? They should have a fair chance of choosing all world views under your argument.

          Second, I plan to present Islam, Atheism, Hinduism, Mormonism and other world views to my children, but it will always contain an element of why these other world views are wrong and Christianity is right. I won’t be able to help it. Even if I could remove this bias, my children will still ask me, “which one is true and why?” Besides, teachers and celebrities certainly can’t keep their mouths shut when it comes to projecting their own life view on others, so why should I not do it as a parent? What qualifies other people to raise my kids?

          Third, I think it’s important for Christians to teach their children what we believe is true, why it is true, and why they should believe it because this is the caring thing to do. If I believe my one world view is right and the others are wrong, it would be horrible of me not to pass this on to my kids in any way possible. “Hey kids, I know that Jesus is Lord and sin is destructive for your lives and I could save you a lot of trouble and heartache, but don’t worry. I won’t tell you the specifics so I don’t abuse your mind.” This is ridiculous thinking. Would it make sense for me to tell complete strangers that Jesus is Lord because I believe He can save them (can save you Tom) and not impress this message on my own children? This isn’t child abuse. From my world view it is guiding them to the One who can rescue them. To hold this back from them would be the real abuse.

          Fourth, when you ask for absolute evidence of Christianity what do you mean by “absolute?” From your link, it looks like you mean observable science. I agree observable science can never prove that a transcendent God exists. This is because observable science can’t answer philisophical questions so you would never arrive at any god or anything else that isn’t composed of the matter in this universe if all you rely on is observable science. You by default are completely closed off to God if He does exist because of the way He has chosen to reveal Himself. Because you can’t see and touch the intelligent designer of the universe, you would never admit he exists. Your way of thinking could never arrive at God no matter what. Good job if that was your aim 🙂 I hope it comforts you as you live the life you defined for yourself, but personally, I hope and pray you open your mind and truly start to think deeper about these things.

          That being said, I believe the preponderance of observable facts point to a God that is consistent with Christian doctrine. Point to…not prove without doubt…point to. This isn’t “god of the gaps.” God is a philosophical question that science can’t answer as I just talked about. We don’t say “Jesus is Lord” based on observable evidence alone because this is impossible. We say it based on our experience and God’s revelation to us through His Word. The evidence simply supports these things (or if you can’t accept that, I have yet to see solid evidence against the Christian worldview). You might disagree, but that is a philosophical disagreement. Your philosophy says the evidence tells me nothing conclusive except Christianity isn’t true. Mine says, the evidence supports my worldview.

          I must also add, your link leading to “scientific falsification” of verses of the Bible only demonstrates an elementary understanding of the verses presented. You are presenting a version of Christianity suitable for a six year old (the same thing Christopher Hitchens did in every debate I have listened to, and every other famous atheist I listen to). This preys on people who don’t do proper interpretation or don’t remotely understand the Bible. Try putting that article in front of Tom Wright and he will show how elementary your thinking on those verses is. I think you should stand clear of theological interpretation of the Christian Bible because you clearly don’t understand how to do it without committing major fallacies. At least present a verse alongside Christian interpretation of the verse and attack that (perhaps you have but need to point me to it). There are valid interpretations for every one of those verses. If you’d like to see one, bring one specific one up and we can discuss it.

          Overall point, there is good reason to believe that observable evidence supports Christianity so I feel no guilt impressing these views on my children. This is not child abuse.

          Reply
          • Tom Rafferty says:

            You use philosophy to support YOUR opinion on the truth of Christianity. How is that different from any other religion’s claim on the truth? If philosophy were the answer, then it would be like science: after a length of time, if a hypothesis is probably true, then a consensus of expert opinion would develop. Where is the consensus in philosophy, much less in religion, when there are tens of thousands of perspectives on Christianity alone, let alone religions outside of Christianity?

            When you indoctrinate your children into any religion, you are telling them dogma without objective support. You are creating a delusion that is hard to break away from. Why not JUST “expose” them to your beliefs AND other beliefs, without forcing them to say rote belief statement and being baptized?

            Regarding the Bible passages quoted to show how they are claims that have been falsified, please honestly tell me how else one interprets several passages that say in essence, “If you are my followers, you will do the same miraculous acts as me?” Then, show me one scientifically verified miracle done by anyone.

    • George Neeson says:

      In this day of Twitter and Facebook, there is no bubble. They need to be taught reasonable supportable Christian faith. When I was very young the scientists taught a steady state universe that had always been here. Now they teach the Singularity Big Bang cosmology which is the Biblical report. The scriptures reveal the nature, mind and being of God. We need to read Scripture with humility and hear the Voice. Young people need to know the Book is reliable but not some of those allegedly teaching it. The “Biblical experts so called” caused my faith real havoc early in my study of science, but again and again the Book has proven reliable not merely human teaching about from merely human traditions, rather than being interpreted to us by the Spirit of the living God.

      Reply
    • Tom Rafferty says:

      No, I simply mean that all miracle claims by the religious have never met the high bar of evidence that would make it more probable that the result is from an action that solidly break the known laws of classical physics and biology than the result of a natural occurrence. Look at the New Testament. It is full of the miraculous. Look around you today. Where are the Christians doing what Jesus promised in the quoted passages? In addition, there have been scientific experiments studying intercessory prayer: all have failed to show an effect. Our minds are pattern-seekers and cannot be relied on to give us accurate information. Add confirmation biases in support of one’s particular religion and so many coincidences and normal effects look like miracles.

      Reply
      • Josef Kauzlarich says:

        “Where is the consensus in philosophy, much less in religion, when there are tens of thousands of perspectives on Christianity alone, let alone religions outside of Christianity?”

        The Christian world view expects to see any number of philosophies so this is actually in agreement with Christianity (Romans 1:21-22). The basic problem with man Christianity lays out is that each man is defining good, evil, and the way to live on his own, rejecting God’s way for his life. In other words, man invents his own philosophy on life apart from God. Of course this would result in countless philosophies because there are so many people. Christianity says we are created in God’s image with authority over the world. If every man has such authority, free will, and free choice, then we would expect to see any number of philosophies. I say this only to express that the large number of different philosophies isn’t surprising and is consistent with the Christian worldview. But please note, this large number of philosophies doesn’t change that there is one right way and uncountable wrong ways. For example, I believe the Christian view to be right and all others wrong and that the observable evidence supports this position. Moreover, I think slightly different Christian world views demonstrates that it is its own worst critic and is truly seeking truth. But, Christianity is much more united than you are presenting it. Most of what has divided the Christian Church are minor doctrines and we are much more united than the secular world gives us credit for. Read C.S Lewis’s Mere Christianity and you will see just how united we are, for he focused on things we ALL believe. I think you will find a lot of unity there.

        “When you indoctrinate your children into any religion, you are telling them dogma without objective support. You are creating a delusion that is hard to break away from. Why not JUST “expose” them to your beliefs AND other beliefs, without forcing them to say rote belief statement and being baptized?”

        First, I find it a little humorous that you consider the above as child abuse or rather wrong. Why is it wrong? Have you observed it to be wrong in a lab or by some method? Are they somehow disadvantaged in life? Actually, Christian kids seem to do pretty well by comparison or at least just as well. Isn’t this simply your philosophy that is unvalidated by science? Well I guess since we don’t have perfect evidence that it really hurts kids, I’ll just take a note from your book and reject your abuse philosophy entirely.

        Second, without objective support? I just explained that I review objective science and find it to support and not contradict the Christian view. It points to the Christian world view. Can I not present this objective evidence? I will say all belief systems can find some sense of support from observable evidence. Therefore, evidence that contradicts a belief system is more important to determining its credibility. But again, I have seen no such convincing evidence or even argument that discredits Christianity.

        Third, it sounds as if you think I would take away my children’s choice. First, my world view says this is impossible. They have their own free will. Second, I shouldn’t do this and won’t. Attempting this would create a superficial faith. Instead, I will explain to them every other religion and why I believe they are false. I won’t go as far as sending them to a mosque for six months (what I would consider an adequate exposure). I doubt you would go so far as sending your kids to a church for six months.

        “Regarding the Bible passages quoted to show how they are claims that have been falsified, please honestly tell me how else one interprets several passages that say in essence, “If you are my followers, you will do the same miraculous acts as me?” Then, show me one scientifically verified miracle done by anyone.”

        Give me a verse! Context matters in interpretation! The Bible doesn’t give that message! You are attacking a message that is primarily used by false prosperity doctrine teachers. A misinterpreted version of John 14:12 might come close to that message but I will discuss it when you give it. Give me a verse.

        Thank you for the interesting conversation.

        Reply
        • Tom Rafferty says:

          I will not go around and around any longer. One either accepts reality or not. Science is the best way to do so, and has invalidated the entire Abrahamic religion triad by shattering its foundation: Original Sin via a single couple. Oh, do not go there: “Genesis was a metaphor.” http://understandrealitythroughscience.blogspot.com/2016/03/miracles-in-bible-historical.html

          I have laid out clearly why Christianity is just one of many religions and that none of them have passed scientific muster. Indoctrination of children into a particular religion is child abuse because it gives credence to the false idea that faith is a virtue. If you implant that idea, the world is going to be looked at with less than a critical thinking mind, to its demise.

          You all may have any last words. I am done.

          Reply
          • toby says:

            Third, it sounds as if you think I would take away my children’s choice. First, my world view says this is impossible. They have their own free will.
            It’s a bit naive to dismiss how deeply rooted in a child’s psychology these things can become. So much so that they never overcome them. Think of simple things. Like a child that watched his/her mother throw salt over her shoulder because she spilled it and the child carried on doing that all their life. If children truly do have an “age of reason” then I think all religious teachings need to be delayed until that time. Because if your or other religions are not true, then children have been implanted with ideas, sometimes unshakeable, that will effect their whole lives.

          • Josef Kauzlarich says:

            Thanks for the conversation Tom. I’m happy to give closing thoughts and sum it up.
            “Science is the best way to do so, and has invalidated the entire Abrahamic religion triad by shattering its foundation: Original Sin via a single couple.”

            You again present a very bold statement without reference to any verse that I can defend or any evidence supporting such a bold statement that I can attack. I HIGHLY disagree that Genesis has been shattered by any means. This a highly contentious issue and I think theologians and apologists have given the best explanations. I have said multiple times that I believe observable science to be consistent with the Christian worldview, including Genesis. Give a piece of specific evidence that we can discuss.

            “I have laid out clearly why Christianity is just one of many religions and that none of them have passed scientific muster. Indoctrination of children into a particular religion is child abuse because it gives credence to the false idea that faith is a virtue. If you implant that idea, the world is going to be looked at with less than a critical thinking mind, to its demise.”

            First, you have laid out nothing clearly here. You have made astounding claims with no presentation of evidence. Second, I disagree entirely that faith somehow damages critical thinking. Some of the greatest scientists in the whole world have been and currently are from the Christian faith. It hasn’t hindered their ability to think critically about the world at all. Moreover, you have faith of your own. Faith in the scientific method. Is your faith going to damage critical thinking?

            Nice talking with you. I hope you continue and answer my questions. Specifically:

            – I’d like you to choose a verse from the Bible that presents this concept of “all of Jesus’ believers doing the same miraculous signs as he did.” You have not done so and have presented a position that the Bible doesn’t present. You are attacking a straw-man.

            – I’d like you to provide some evidence that children are in fact negatively impacted by religion. You said, “religion is child abuse because it gives credence to the false idea that faith is a virtue. If you implant that idea, the world is going to be looked at with less than a critical thinking mind, to its demise” Please give some evidence that Christianity has damaged critical thinking or has led to some other negative outcome.

            – It’d be nice to see this evidence that has “shattered” Christianity. Please present even one argument so we can discuss it.

            Perhaps it’s a lot of work for a minor discussion thread such as this, but it begs the question, why are you even here posting things if you don’t want to have a full discussion? People are following this discussion (perhaps only a small few but they are).

            Finally, Jesus loves you and wants you to use your intellect for His purposes and not your own. You have obviously spent a lot of time “discrediting” Christianity and other religions. You have such faith in the scientific method that it is only way you can interpret the world. This will always preclude you from ever arriving at any God that transcends our universe (which saddens me that you close yourself off in such a manner). Until He shows himself (and Christians believe He will), you won’t believe because you can’t see, hear, or touch Him. I urge you to open your mind to other possibilities, because at that point it will be to late. Christians believe the Bible to be true. In spite of your unsupported claims that science has invalidated it, it still stands as God’s revelation to man. I urge you to explore it more and start opening yourself to the answers given.

  2. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    Toby,

    ” It’s a bit naive to dismiss how deeply rooted in a child’s psychology these things can become…Because if your or other religions are not true, then children have been implanted with ideas, sometimes unshakeable, that will effect their whole lives.”

    I did not dismiss anything by my statement. I agree and am happy that I will be one of the most influential persons in my children’s life. Praise God! But why is this negative in the first place?

    Again I ask for an explanation of why this is a bad thing? What makes this bad or wrong or negative? Don’t elementary school teachers, college professors and celebrities have the same effect on children? Why should they get to decide the ideas my children get exposed to? Why should the State decide? Tom called it abuse. What makes it abuse? Show me the scientific evidence that this is somehow a bad thing for children or has been tied to negative outcomes. I’ll help you…you should probably start with Islam (the violent portions). So after you define your negative outcomes and establish that they occur because of religion, then show me if these outcomes also appear among Christian kids. That way we can decide if those outcomes you present are truly negative things and thus abuse of those children. All I’m reading is a personal preference that kids don’t get indoctrinated with a religion by their parents. This doesn’t make it wrong. I’d like to know what objective moral compass you are using anyway. Evolutionary morals? While I reject this concept, let’s go with it. How does indoctrinating Christian religion in our children hurt the survival of our species? Christians seem to be procreating just fine and living to ripe old ages. Give me an argument. All I’ve seen is subjective opinion.

    Reply
  3. Luke says:

    Hi Josef,

    I’m going to answer some of your questions, for no other reason than I’m a bit bored, and it seems (from what you say) that Tom doesn’t want to.

    I’m not offering to or claiming to speak for Tom, but I like questions and thinking, so why not? 🙂

    Jozef asked: I’d like you to choose a verse from the Bible that presents this concept of “all of Jesus’ believers doing the same miraculous signs as he did.” You have not done so and have presented a position that the Bible doesn’t present. You are attacking a straw-man.

    I’d guess that Tom was referring to John 14:12. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

    It doesn’t say that the believer “can do” or “might do” but will do. I don’t think Tom’s interpretation is wildly inappropriate, and is actually very straightforward (which doesn’t make it correct).

    Jozef asked: “I’d like you to provide some evidence that children are in fact negatively impacted by religion. You said, “religion is child abuse because it gives credence to the false idea that faith is a virtue. If you implant that idea, the world is going to be looked at with less than a critical thinking mind, to its demise” Please give some evidence that Christianity has damaged critical thinking or has led to some other negative outcome.”

    There were a couple of recent studies of kindergartners that could serve as evidence (not proof, but evidence) of this. It looks like the paper was titled: “Judgments About Fact and Fiction by Children From Religious and Nonreligious Backgrounds”. (Though I think Tom would have to answer for many studies that show slightly better mental well-being for children raised in religious households — though all of these studies, and I include the Boston ones that Tom could cite, aren’t perfect and can be undermined or dismissed.) Still, the bottom line is there is some evidence for a reduction in critical thinking.

    (I should say, I would not say that in general religious instruction is child abuse — it rarely is — but I think it should be acknowledged that there are cases where that term might come properly into the discussion.)

    Jozef asked: “It’d be nice to see this evidence that has “shattered” Christianity. Please present even one argument so we can discuss it.”

    Starting at the beginning, many people find Genesis 1:6-8 problematic given what we know of the earth and the universe. Back in the KJV, it talked of the firmament, though more modern translations tell us of the expanse (which G-d called heaven or sky), which separate the waters below from the waters above. This concept is repeated in other places (such as Psalm 148, or Genesis 7 when the windows of the sky were opened – seemingly letting the water from above in). As best as we can tell, there is no other sea of water encircling the earth in outer space, though it could simply be too far for us to detect (thought the functioning of the opened windows becomes more difficult to explain in that case).

    I hope that helps a bit. Like I said, I can’t speak for Tom, nor am I claiming to, but you seemed to want some things to discuss, so there you go. 🙂

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
    • Josef Kauzlarich says:

      “It doesn’t say that the believer “can do” or “might do” but will do. I don’t think Tom’s interpretation is wildly inappropriate, and is actually very straightforward (which doesn’t make it correct).”

      Thanks Luke! Let’s get into it then one question at a time. Here is the whole passage of John 14 related to these verses (NLT):

      14 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.[a] If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.[c] From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

      I haven’t gone to seminary so this explanation is coming from a layman. I will point you to theological commentary links on these verses at the end, and you should trust them more than my own explanation. But, hopefully I will present a version of this passage that is an appropriate object of attack, rather than a strawman developed for the sole purpose of trying to prove the Bible wrong.

      First, I’ll point out that Jesus’ overall purpose is to comfort His disciples. He had been telling them, “hey guys pretty soon I’m going to be killed for the sin of the world.” The disciples didn’t understand and were likely distraught because the Messiah they expected was a warlord who would establish an earthly kingdom, not a guy who would shamefully get nailed to a cross. So Jesus was saying all these things to bring comfort to them in the context of knowing He would be leaving them. Why is this important? Because He was assuring them they wouldn’t be lost without Him, that they could and would carry on His work on Earth, and that in the same way God was in Jesus, so God would be inside of us (Jesus elaborates on this by explaining the coming of the Holy Spirit in the verses beyond this passage). In John 14:12, he wasn’t delivering the message, “You guys are going to be super powerful and do awesome miracles in your own power.” That would directly contradict other things he said. So any interpretation that presents this message must be theologically rejected. Hence, I reject Tom’s interpretation of this verse (as does nearly every theologian). He was attacking a straw-man.

      Second, the word “miracles” isn’t used so I’m unsure why people derive this concept from these verses. Yes, miracles were a part of Jesus’ work. However, they are a mere shadow of His larger work of redemption and restoration. People seem to put so much stock in the miracles Jesus did in His earthly time here. Why do they do this? His miracles (notice I said His not all) were temporary acts to demonstrate Jesus’ authority and power while here on earth. For example, the Bible claims Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Well guess what? As far as we know, Lazarus still died later. What was the point of raising him? To demonstrate the power of Jesus over death. I’ll also add that if we could sit Lazarus down and ask him if he thought his resurrection from the dead or his redemption in Jesus Christ was the greater miracle, I’d put all my money that he would say, “my redemption.” Why? Because it has eternal impact and consequences. Jesus’ miracles, while they are powerful signs of who He was, pale in comparison to the greater work that has been accomplished by Jesus, through the believer, since His death. Why are we to think that when Jesus references “works” he is referencing His miracles? I don’t know about others, but when I read the gospels, Jesus seems to express almost a frustration that He has to use miracles to convince us that He is Lord. My conclusion is that He isn’t referencing His miracle work. He is referencing his ability to forgive sins and set us right with the Father.

      Third, if Jesus is referencing his larger work of redemption, than I must conclude that the “greater works” Jesus is referring to is the larger redemptive work of the Christian Church that each Christian following after His name is participating in. In this sense, Jesus’s followers (acting as instruments) have accomplished a greater work than Jesus was able to do in His three years of ministry. His miracles? His miracles are child’s play compared to His larger work to redeem the world. I’m just happy He uses me in this work.

      Finally, I’ll quickly comment on the verses that directly follow this one (thought they require more elaboration). These verses are often touted by false prosperity teachers that all you have to do is tack, “in Jesus name,” at the end of a prayer and God will do it. Magic formula! How preposterous and trust me, no one is madder than Christian believers who know something about this topic over this abuse of Jesus’ words. We must consider the context! Jesus says this in light of his work! To put it simply, when we ask Jesus to come and do His redemptive work in and through us, He will see it done. The purpose of prayer in general is to invite God’s will into our life and world (Matthew 6:10). Not to get stuff! However, my purpose isn’t to present this verse so I will let you read the helpful links below to get an idea.

      Helpful links on this passage.
      https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-76-doing-greater-works-jesus-john-1412-14
      John 14:12 (Greek): http://biblehub.com/text/john/14-12.htm
      http://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/14-12.htm

      Reply
  4. Josef Kauzlarich says:

    Note: I posted this yesterday but it didn’t seem to work. I have edited this slightly removing some unnecessary language. I could remove more but I’m short on time 🙂

    “It doesn’t say that the believer “can do” or “might do” but will do. I don’t think Tom’s interpretation is wildly inappropriate, and is actually very straightforward (which doesn’t make it correct).”

    Thanks Luke! Let’s get into it then one question at a time. Here is the whole passage of John 14 related to these verses (NLT):

    14 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home.[a] If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?[b] 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”5 “No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. 7 If you had really known me, you would know who my Father is.[c] From now on, you do know him and have seen him!”8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”9 Jesus replied, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don’t know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. 11 Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.12 “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!

    I haven’t gone to seminary so this explanation is coming from a layman. I will point you to theological commentary links on these verses at the end, and you should trust them more than my own explanation. But, hopefully I will present a version of this passage that is an appropriate object of attack, rather than a strawman developed for the sole purpose of trying to prove the Bible wrong.

    First, I’ll point out that Jesus’ overall purpose here is to comfort His disciples. He had been telling them, “hey guys pretty soon I’m going to be killed for the sin of the world.” The disciples didn’t understand and were likely distraught because the Messiah they expected was a warlord who would establish an earthly kingdom, not a guy who would shamefully get nailed to a cross. Jesus was saying all these things to bring comfort to them in the context of knowing He would be leaving them. Why is this important? Because He was assuring them they wouldn’t be lost without Him, that they could and would carry on His work on earth, and that in the same way God was in Jesus, so God would be inside of us (Jesus elaborates on this by explaining the coming of the Holy Spirit in the verses beyond this passage). That being said, in John 14:12, he wasn’t delivering the message, “hey guys just wait…you are going to be super powerful and do awesome miracles in your own power that are even greater than mine so you can impress everyone and bring glory to the Father.” That would directly contradict other things he said. So any interpretation that presents this message must be theologically rejected. Hence, I reject Tom’s interpretation of this verse (as does nearly every theologian). He was attacking a strawman.

    Second, the word “miracles” isn’t even used (not even in the Greek) so I’m unsure why people make this the focus of these verses. Yes, miracles were a part of Jesus’ work. However, they are a mere shadow of His larger work of redemption. People put so much stock in the miracles Jesus did in His earthly time here. Why do they do this? His miracles (notice I said His not all) were temporary acts to demonstrate Jesus’ authority and power while here on earth. For example, the Bible claims Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Well as far as we know, Lazarus still died later. What was the point of raising him? It was to demonstrate the power and authority of Jesus over death. I’ll also add that if we could sit Lazarus down and ask him if he thought his resurrection from the dead or his redemption in Jesus Christ was the greater miracle, I’d put all my money that he would say, “my redemption.” Why? Because it has eternal implications. Jesus’ miracles, while they are powerful signs of who He was, pale in comparison to the greater work that has been accomplished by Jesus, through the believer and thus the Church, since His death. Why are we to think that when Jesus references “works” he is referencing only His miracles? I don’t know about others, but when I read the gospels, Jesus seems to express almost a frustration that He has to use miracles to convince us that He is Lord. My conclusion is that He isn’t referencing His miracle work. He is referencing his ability to forgive sins and set us right with the Father.

    Third, if Jesus is referencing his larger work of redemption, than I must conclude that the “greater works” Jesus is referring to is the larger redemptive work of the Christian Church that each Christian following after Him is participating in. In this sense, Jesus’s followers (acting as instruments) have accomplished a greater work than Jesus was able to do in His three years of ministry (for the simple reason there are more of us and we have had much more time).

    Finally, I’ll quickly comment on the verses that directly follow this one (though they require more elaboration). These verses are often touted by false prosperity teachers that all you have to do is tack, “in Jesus name,” at the end of a prayer and God will do it. Magic formula! How preposterous! We must consider the context. Jesus says this in the context of his larger work of redemption. To put it simply, when we ask Jesus to come and do His redemptive work in and through us, He will see it done. The purpose of prayer in general is to invite God’s will into our life and world (Matthew 6:10). Not to get stuff or our own way! It’s to get Jesus’ way. That’s all I’ll say on that for the time being.

    Helpful links on this passage.
    https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-76-doing-greater-works-jesus-john-1412-14
    John 14:12 (Greek): http://biblehub.com/text/john/14-12.htm
    http://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/14-12.htm

    Reply
  5. Luke says:

    Josef,

    (I’m sorry I misspelled your name earlier. Due to weird spelling rules in my native language and my being used to reading said language without accent marks, this is the way your name appears in my mind. I apologize, and especially apologize if I make the mistake again — as I just did above, before realizing it.)

    You give the context around the passage I mentioned in John. Let me give the context of this conversation too.

    You seemed to imply that nowhere did the Bible say anything about the followers of Jesus performing miracles. You said that making such a claim was a straw man.

    I pointed to this verse in John. You replied with a long explanation, which you urged me not to put too much trust into (“this explanation is coming from a layman. I will point you to theological commentary.. and you should trust [that] more than my own explanation.”) This seems to me to implicitly admit that it’s not that easy to explain this verse and the problem Tom brought up. The links you posted also admit that this verse is “problematic” and not very easy to explain. (The second link is to commentaries, most of which assert, without argument, that this is what is meant.)

    I point this out to say that saying “that’s a silly straw man” and “that’s actually a really problematic thing that is so difficult for me to explain that maybe my own explanation may not be good” is saying very different things. This doesn’t mean Tom is right, or that the explanations you posted are wrong. This simply says that he raised a valid and difficult point. Being a valid and admittedly difficult point, it should not have been dismissed as a straw man.

    I say all of that just to say that reading and understanding is in some ways subjective. You and Tom don’t have to agree on what a verse means exactly, but still say “that’s a reasonable understanding of the written words; I can see why you’d read it that way”.

    You go on to raise a argument that since the word miracles isn’t used, it’s wrong to derive that meaning. You may be right! But it’s not as if there is no reason at all to reach the “miracles” conclusion. (Some translations do use the word miracle, by the way; though the Greek does not really carry that connotation.) So why do some translators and readers read miracle?

    Well, look at the context you posted. Jesus says: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.” He is saying… even if you’re not inclined to believe me, just look at the the stuff you’ve seen me do. And we know Jesus used miracles to prove himself! (It’s logical, then, to assume this is what He means here. It fits within what we know of His behavior. We don’t need to develop yet another mode of action for Him.) I’ll use a translation note of these verses from the NET to help explain: “In the context of a proof or basis of belief, Jesus is referring to the miraculous deeds (signs) he has performed in the presence of his disciples”. (I’m not quoting to use their authority; I just thought the reasoning was clearly laid out.) It doesn’t make much sense that He is referring to the work of redemption, because the redemption hadn’t yet been accomplished, and forgiveness of sin is a bit too metaphysical to make sense here (the disciples can’t see that sin is forgiven, they can only believe it). Miracles are really the only thing that make good sense for that verse. So just before you have Jesus remarking that He should be believed due to the “works” He has done in front of disciples. Again, we know that Jesus did miracles to prove His power, and that our other options don’t really fit for that verse. Then in the very next sentence He says, you will do even greater things. It follows naturally, since it only makes sense that He was talking about miracles in verse 11, that He is also talking about them in verse 12.. If you assign redemptive work to the Greek word ‘ergon’, then the verse before the verse we’re discussing sound odd, to say the least. Does this prove that Jesus meant ‘miracles’? No. Is another reading possible? Sure! But the miracles reading is also very plausible, and is honestly the one that requires the least textual gymnastics.

    Look, part of this is subjective understanding, but you dismiss this idea (Jesus said his followers would do miracles) as if there were no textual or contextual support for such a reading, but there clearly is. In fact, the evidence you’ve presented even admits this is problematic.

    (Not to mention that Jesus in other cases told His followers they would be able to do things that are clearly miracles. “Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will happen.” Moving a mountain would be a miracle, no doubt about that! Now, Jesus may have meant this figuratively, but if we accept that He was being figurative in Matthew while clearly talking about a miracle, then it doesn’t seem crazy to say He also meant it figuratively in John, while accepting that He was referencing miracles in John. It even makes the job of defending the Bible easier, in my view, as you only need one explanation, instead of two.)

    Thanks,

    Luke

    Reply
    • Josef Kauzlarich says:

      Thanks Luke. Appreciate it. While I agree that this passage isn’t simple to interpret, I disagree that Tom wasn’t attacking a strawman. I didn’t read any commentary on this passage that agreed with what he was presenting. When you go as far as he did, claiming the Bible has been falsified by science based on this verse, it begs the question, “why do intelligent people still believe in it then?” My point was he was attacking a version of Christianity suitable for a young child. Show me that the majority of biblical christian theologins believe that Jesus was referencing his miracles here and I will agree he wasn’t attacking a strawman. He was attacking an argument that he created for Christianity, hence, a strawman. Now if he admitted that science falsifies his personal interpretation of these verses, admitted that Christianity has different interpretations, and he fairly represented the Christian interpretations, then I’d have no problem. But he dismisses the entirety of the Bible based on his own personal interpretation of a book he doesn’t know much about (assumption). Not very scientific if you ask me.

      I might agree with you on the “works” meaning “miracles” word portion if nearly every theologian I read didn’t disagree with this.

      Thanks again.

      Reply
      • Luke says:

        Hi Josef,

        I see it differently, but I don’t think it’s worth a long post to explain why (it’s a pretty minor detail). I’ll give you a super short summary.

        A straw man argument takes the form of “X says 1”, when in reality “X does not say 1”. Tom says “X (the Bible) says 1”, and your reply is: “Y (theologians) does not say 1”. Tom isn’t making an argument based on what theologians say. He is making an argument based on what the Bible says and the truth is he can point to a Bible that says exactly what he says it does. (The New English Translation is one I mentioned before, which can not only make good arguments for why it’s one of the very best translations out there, but is also the best tool, in my opinion to look at the Greek and translations in context.) So not only is your response about “Y does not say 1” misaligned (since Tom’s claim is that “X says 1”); Tom can also point to a Bible (granted not every Bible) and say “see it says exactly what I’m saying it says”.

        (You can of course make an argument as to why that translation is wrong — I in fact made an argument as to why it is right — but you can’t just dismiss it and claim it is not worthy of a refutation. That’s just my opinion obviously.)

        I’ll be glad to let you take the last word. I already wrote more on this than I wanted.

        Thanks,

        Luke

        Reply
        • Josef Kauzlarich says:

          Thanks again.

          Once again, I must disagree. Anyone can cherry pick any number of verses and claim the Bible says something it really doesn’t say when you ignore the context in which it is being said. Interpretation matters. This applies to everything beyond the Bible. Politicians attack their opponents over things they have said all the time. They twist their opponent’s words to their own advantage. This is the same thing happening here. There are such things as incorrect interpretations. Moreover, why rely on only your own interpretation? Why not consider the interpretations of other men and make those the object of your attack, especially when attempting to falsify a book that has withstood the test of time

          Take another example…Jesus said, “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” Matthew‬ ‭7:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬ or if you prefer “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew‬ ‭7:1‬ ‭NET‬‬. This is commonly interpreted as, “do not pass judgement over anyone ever.” I see this interpretation used all the time usually followed up by the word “bigot.” But the people who use this ridiculous interpretation pass judgement on others every time they compliment someone. Are we to say the Bible doesn’t support giving compliments? After all, they are passing judgement on a person which Jesus said not to do right? No. Anyone who uses this verse and says, “the Bible tells us not to pass judgement” is presenting an argument the Bible never presents. It is the same here with this verse.

          I will also point out that even if the explicit word “miracles” is what Jesus meant, my argument still stands. God’s redemptive power in our life is the greatest miracle or work achieved by Jesus and it is still being achieved to a greater degree today by Christ through the Church.

          That being said, the gospels present Jesus’ supernatural miracles as a subset of His work in other places. Consider Matthew 9:35-38:

          “Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields.””
          ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭9:35-38‬ ‭NLT‬‬

          It says Jesus was teaching, announcing the good news, healing, having compassion, and shepherding. Only one of these is considered “miraculous” by the common usage of the word. But how much more valuable are the other things? Infinitely more! They build God’s Kingdom and share His love. Jesus’ miracles (healings, resurrections of others, calming of the storm, walking on water) are almost negligible when compared to His greater work since then accomplished through us. But I’ve already said all this once.

          Point is you are telling me Tom’s interpretation is legitimate. It is not. It makes the Bible say something it doesn’t really say. Hence it builds a straw man. He has falsified nothing but a version of the Bible he prefers.

          Thanks for the conversation.

          Reply

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