Was There A Time When The Son Was Not?

son was not 1Was there a time when the Son was not? This is the view was represented at the Council of Nicaea by Eusebius of Nicomedia. It was regarded as so disdainful by the presiding theologians that they interrupted his speech, robbed him of the manuscript for his lecture and tore it to pieces. For he was advocating the view that Jesus was merely a creature of God’s. He was suggesting that Jesus was not YHWH. He was suggest that there was a time when the Son was not.

son was not 2This belief erupted within the first few centuries of church history, spawning the Council of Nicaea. Many who do not study church history have a bit of a skewed conception of the proceedings of Nicaea. They think that the doctrine of the trinity was formulated, that the deity of Christ was conjured up by a few theologians. But, much like how the canon was developed in response to the Marcionist controversy, so also was the deity of Christ established in response to the Arian controversy. It was not that people did not believe in it prior to that point. But rather, it was formulated and made official church doctrine in response to the uprising of Arianism. But what is true? Was there a time when the Son was not?

son was not 3Divine Aseity. There are certain attributes or properties which are ascribed to God in both Perfect Being Theology (the philosophical musings that determine what it mean to be a perfect being) and in the Bible. One of these attributes is what is known as divine aseity. Divine aseity entails non-contingency. God is not dependent upon anything or anyone for his existence. He exists in and of himself, by the necessity of his own nature. This would contrast with the Mormon belief that God was once a man, who worshipped another being who he called God. But the Bible declares God to be self-existent. He exists by the necessity of his own nature.

son was not 4Recall Moses pressing God to reveal his divine name. God tells him, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.'” (Exodus 3:14). This is usually thought to be an expression of divine aseity as well as the proper name of God. It is quite interesting to note that Jesus applied this name to himself on a few occasions. Perhaps the clearest is John 8:58, wherein he tells the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I Am.” Again in John 8:24, he says, “Unless you believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” Since Jesus was referring to the Septuagint, it is worth noting that the Greek term found in Exodus 3:14 was ego eimi was exactly what John attributed to Jesus. Was there a time when the Son was not? Well, it seems to me that Jesus claimed to be YHWH by attributing to himself God’s name and the property of divine aseity.

Jesus is the Creator. Who created the universe? Was it God? Man seems to have a grasp of who God is based on the created order. This is what is known as general revelation. We can perceive the existence of God through the existing universe. Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Paul argues that by perceiving the natural world, we can come to know about our Creator. In perceiving the natural world, we can know that the Creator has invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature. If Jesus is the Creator, then it follows that Jesus has invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature.

Yet the biblical data abundantly reveals that Jesus was, in fact, the Creator of all. Perhaps the most profound among these declarations is what we find in Hebrews 1:10. The author quotes Psalm 102:25, and says that this is an example of the Father talking to the Son. The text reads, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.” In context, this psalm is clearly referring to YHWH (v. 1). But the author suggest that this psalm is referring to Jesus. He said that it is an example of the Father communicating with the Son. It is the Father who say to the Son, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” But just so the reader will understand his theological meaning, the author of Hebrews adds the word, LORD (taken to indicate YHWH) into the sentence so as to underline the point. It reads, “You, LORD, In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth.” Was there a time when the Son was not? That seems inconceivable. The author of Hebrews clearly applied this creation psalm intended for YHWH to the Son, and even added the word YHWH so that there would be no misunderstandings.

In response, one might be inclined to suggest that Jesus was God’s instrument in creating the world. Well, first of all, that would not account for the author of Hebrews referring to Jesus as YHWH and applying this creation psalm to him. Second, it does not seem like a biblical proposition to suggest that the Father had an assistant in creation. God says in Isaiah 44:24, “I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself.” If YHWH created by himself, then Jesus did not assist him if he is not YHWH.

God does not share his glory. The unitarian will often try to reconcile the verses that clearly diagnose Jesus as God. They will suggest that Jesus is a god . So when John directly calls him God (John 1:1, 1:18), what he intends to relay is that Jesus is a demigod. But if Jesus is a demigod, that would imply that some sort of polytheism was true. Polytheism is the view that there are multiple gods. Yet in the Shema (which is the proverbial thesis statement on the paper of Judaism) we see that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). The little gods that we are aware of are often referred to as gods for colloquial purposes, but it is clarified that these gods are actually idols (Psalm 86:5), they are deaf and dumb (Isaiah 44:19). But they are not worthy of our worship nor are they worthy of our following them.

If we are allowing the word god to be so flexible so as to include idols and demons, that is fine. But we have to make some distinctions clear. God does not share his glory with created things. He said explicitly “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8). Yet Jesus does share the glory of God. He says in John 17:5, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” Was there a time when the Son was not? Jesus claimed to share the glory of the Father. If Jesus and the Father are not of the same substance, then he was a liar and a blasphemer. We are led to the conclusion, then, that the trinitarian model, which proposes that there is one God, eternally present in three persons, is more plausible.

Jesus is eternal. In 1919, observations were made during a solar eclipse which demonstrated that gravity bends light. This established Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. General Relativity assumes the space, time, and matter are interdependent. They came into existence together. There was not time before all things. This leads us to stunning theological implications. Paul writes of Jesus, “all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Was there a time when the Son was not? Well if Jesus created all things, and he is before all things, it follows that he must be eternally existent. For time is a feature of the universe. Jesus must have been time-less, or eternal, and uncaused.

Jesus reveals the Father. How may we contemplate the character of God? Where can we see it in its’ fullest expression? John tells us in John 1:18, “No one can see God at any time, but the only begotten God, in the bosom of the Father, he has explained him.” Jesus is the full expression of God. He is the explanation of who God is. If we want to know who God is, if we want to contemplate the character of God, we need to look to the person of Jesus.

Yet even after years of ministry, even Jesus’s disciples did not comprehend this. In chapter fourteen, Jesus tells his disciples, “if you had known me, you would have known my Father also, from now on, you do know him, and you have seen him.” The disciples must have been looking around at each other, confused (as they often did not understand a word that Jesus said). They probably whispered to each other, “we’ve seen God? Where?” They did not understand what he was saying to them. So Philip posed the challenge, “Show us the Father, Lord, and we will be satisfied.”

The text does not tell us how the Master felt when Philip said this to him. Perhaps he looked at him as a teacher looks to an eager student. Perhaps he looked to him as a friend to another. Perhaps he looked to him as a father looks to a son. Perhaps he was angry that Philip did not understand him. Perhaps he was hurt that Philip had not recognized him and could understand what he was revealing to him. Jesus said what we find in verse nine, “Have I been with you for so long, and yet you have not come to know me, Philip? He who has seen me, has seen the Father.” Was there a time when the Son was not? Jesus was making a claim that nobody who was only a human being could make. He was claiming that in his character, in everything he demonstrated, in everything he did, he revealed who the Father was. In the person of Jesus, we see an explanation of who God is and how God interacts with the world. In this way, the disciples do not need to see the Father because they have seen, as Hebrews 1:3 says, “the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature,” or as Colossians 1:15 says, “He is the image of the invisible God.”

Where is the church? It seems to me that if you want to suggest that there was a time when the Son was not, you would have to suggest that the church has underwent a great apostasy. For the supermajority of Christians have been taken in by the doctrine of the trinity. But that is not a slight divergence over the course of a few hundred years. It has been the doctrine of the church for the last two thousand years of its’ existence. The apostles failed to edify their disciples, for they began preaching what is the worship of a created thing.

The Holy Spirit did not sustain the church. He did not guide the church into all truth. He just let it slide into idolatry and heresy and fade into irrelevancy for two thousand years. He allowed generations upon generations of Christian theologians to give worship to a created being. Will Christ come back for these idolatrous people? Will he redeem them? That seems unthinkable. There would have to be a call to repentance and true faith in the unitarian God. But if that were the case, then, again, there is no church today. There may be a few minor sects scattered throughout the world, but in general, there is no church. Where is the church?

Concerning the biblical data, however, it seems to me that there is no question. Was there a time when the Son was not? Of course not. There is not even a crack through which doubt can seep through.

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How Many Authors Wrote Isaiah?

authors isaiah 1As biblical scholarship unveils mysteries within biblical history, many find themselves opposed, or discomforted by these revelations, for they contrast their traditional interpretations or seem to remove the divine from the Bible. When Christians encounter a development that explains what we previously regarded as a miracle with natural phenomenon, we tend to view this as pure anti-supernatural bias. We view it as liberal scholarship. We view it as men who do not think that God can work miracles. In this way, we repudiate these developments. While I view this movement as being motivated by piety, and in many cases, is a proper and biblical stance on truth, I do not think that we need to maintain it universally. For there really are some things that are natural phenomenon. One of the mysteries in biblical history that has been unveiled is the author of the book of Isaiah. How many authors wrote Isaiah?

authors isaiah 2It is traditionally maintained that an individual man, the prophet Isaiah, composed his entire book, from beginning to end. But in the 19th century, scholarship developed what is known as the multiple authorship theory, which suggests that Isaiah was written over a period of about a century by several different authors. Typically, conservative scholarship prefers the singular authorship theory. But what is the proper biblical stance? How many authors wrote the book of Isaiah?

authors isaiah 3The change in context. During the first 39 chapters of the book of Isaiah, what we see is the message typical of the prophetic books in the Old Testament. God indicts his people with abominable sin and relays through his prophet the message that his wrath is imminent. But, if they repent, they will be restored and will avert disaster. Hence, throughout the first 39 chapters, God not only threatens his people and tells them that they have sinned against him, but also promises restoration and offers a vision of the idealized Israel that is reigned by truth and justice. This is what could be theirs if they turned to God in repentance. But as we voyage into chapter 40, a dramatic change in the tone and the context seems to appear. The statements of condemnation against Israel are lighter and scarcer. God is no longer offering them repentance and the opportunity to avert disaster. There are eschatological visions of hope. There are promises of restoration. But he is no longer threatening Israel. For in chapter 48:20, Isaiah says, “Go forth from Babylon! Flee!” Hence, the shift from a city under siege to a people in captivity renders apparent. This means that after chapter 40, the book of Isaiah is being recorded during the captivity of Israel.

authors isaiah 4This change of context has led to a dispute in Christian circles about how many authors composed the book of Isaiah. Throughout church history, Christians have traditionally maintained that only one man, namely, the prophet Isaiah, wrote his scroll. But by the very nature of the breed of writing, we would not expect everything to be the same. For the scrolls of the Major Prophets are compilations of oracles, sermons, narrative event events, visions, et cetera. They are grouped together by broad themes. It may be tempting for us to think of the composition of Isaiah as akin to the composition of Romans, where Paul just wrote a letter. But that is not how it was written. Isaiah was given a number of different revelations, and he wrote them in different literary styles to convey different messages. So we should not think that chapters 1-39 are all of a singular literary style, and chapter 40-66 are of a different literary style. Rather, we should think that the book of Isaiah is composed of several literary styles. When the message of Isaiah changes from a promise of destruction, to a reflection on the destruction already endured, that should not necessarily lead us to think that there were multiple authors. Rather that there could have been one author who was writing in a variety of different circumstances. How many authors wrote Isaiah? I am not compelled to think that the change of context should induce the multiple authorship theory.

That is not to say, however, that the multiple authorship theory is wrong. It is just to say that it seems unwarranted if all we have to consider is the literary differences. However, that is not necessarily all that we have to consider. The multiple authorship theory would make sense in the historical context. If during captivity, the prophet Isaiah were to perish, the Israelites would read his scroll and see what it was incomplete, and hence, finish it. It is neither completely unthinkable nor unprecedented, for that is what we also see in the Book of Kings. The Israelites had a running record of the kings of Israel, and the designated historian of the next generation would record the actions of the king. Obviously, we are not compelled to think that the entire book of Kings was prophetic. Rather, it was just an ongoing written record of the kings of Israel. This would seem to set a precedent, then, for establishing the multiple authorship theory of the book of Isaiah. However, this precedent by itself is not evidence that Isaiah was, in fact, written by multiple authors.

The appearance of Cyrus. The multiple authorship theory would seem to draw support from the 45th chapter of Isaiah, where God calls Cyrus, the one who was to free Israel from its’ captivity, by name. He says that Cyrus is his chosen instrument. Since the Babylonian Captivity lasted for 70 years, and Isaiah was clearly an adult before the captivity, he was most likely dead by that point. If we are to account for the fact that Cyrus was named as God’s chosen instrument, we would need to say that there were multiple authors who composed Isaiah. Multiple authorship theory, then, seems to be strongly implied by the naming of Cyrus.

However, it is usually charged against the multiple authorship theory that it is maintaining an anti-supernatural bias. For God could prophecy Cyrus in advance. He could have given this as a prophecy to prove to the people of Israel that he is who he says he is. So the reason that we see Cyrus foretold is not that there were multiple authors, one of who was a contemporary of Cyrus. Rather, Isaiah, living years before Cyrus, foretold what was going to happen as a prophecy. By assuming that there must have been multiple authors, we are then assuming that God cannot prophecy and cannot work miracles. This would seem to shut down the argument based on the appearance of Cyrus. Indeed, one might be inclined to think that the appearance of Cyrus is a proof of divinity. After all, if Isaiah were written long before Israel was freed by Cyrus, then this would be a legitimate long-term prophecy.

Still, though, it is possible to interpret this within a multiple authorship paradigm. That is not an untenable approach to the text. In fact, a secular historian might suggest that as a tenet of history, they cannot invoke the supernatural to explain the text. They have to be scientific and adopt methodological naturalism. However, as committed Christians, we view Isaiah as a theological record of God’s interactions with his people. This would mean that we have no restrictions against the supernatural. At the same time, though, the committed Christian need not think it an act of piety to suggest that God is speaking at the beginning of the captivity as opposed to the end of the captivity. How many authors wrote Isaiah? It would seem to me that the naming of Cyrus is not conclusive evidence for the multiple authorship theory, even though it is possible for a committed Christian to interpret it within that paradigm.

What was the traditional interpretation? But how did the Jews approach this issue? Is there any indication in history? Do the Jews ever tell us where there was one author or multiple authors? Many suggest that in the 20th century, there was a discovery that resolved this issue. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, we found that there were preserved a number of ancient books of the Old Testament, dating from between 250 BC and 135 AD. Among them was the book of Isaiah. Most advocates of multiple authorship assumed that the scroll would only contain the first forty chapters of Isaiah. When it was revealed that the entire book was there, most thought of this as a victory for the single authorship theory. But I am not inclined to think that. After all, there was almost three hundred years to catalog the Isaiah text into one scroll. Further, the completion of the Isaiah scroll could serve to only indicate that the Jews viewed the second half as part of the same story. I do not think that the Dead Sea Scrolls resolve this issue.

However, there are still traces of Jewish tradition that might be able to help us to understand this controversy. The main and most authoritative one would be the New Testament. Jesus spoke of the prophet Isaiah and his work, so is there anything relevant there that be contributed to this discussion? Well, in John 12:40-41, Jesus quotes the book of Isaiah, one from the beginning of Isaiah, and the other from the end of Isaiah. Of this, he says, “This same Isaiah said…” Many suggest that Jesus is saying that the same prophet, the man, Isaiah, made both of these statements. But the multiple authorship theory would imply that Jesus was speaking of the scroll of Isaiah. This same book of Isaiah said both of these things.

The committed Christian, then, could take a decisive stance on which of these interpretations is more plausible and resolve this issue. I, personally, think that both interpretations are equally as likely. How many authors wrote Isaiah? Well, the tradition of the Jews in the Dead Scrolls does not offer the insight that many attribute to it. On the other hand, the New Testament might offer some insight, depending on your interpretation.

How many authors wrote Isaiah? With this overview of these competing theories, we seem to be left in a deadlock with both of these two theories being possible alternatives. Perhaps Isaiah made a long-term prophecy and named Cyrus. Perhaps Isaiah died, and somebody picked up where he left off, much like the chronicles of the kings of Israel. There is no reason to be dogmatic about either theory. Both theories are consistent with the tenets of biblical inspiration. There is no reason that a book with multiple authors could not be inspired. Other examples of books with multiple authors include 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Samuel, Deuteronomy, Numbers, and others. We just do not have enough historical data to determine which theory of authorship is true. But whether it is the prophet Isaiah, or a member of the Jewish community, it is still inspired text and we can still derive truth from it.

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Is God Evil If Calvinism Is True?

calvinism evil 1Is God a moral monster? Is God evil in the Bible? This is a question that is often raised by atheists and other non-Christians who labor to bring forward a case against the biblical model of God. Since God is necessarily righteous, they cannot be believers, for the biblical presentation of God is one that does not measure up. It does not adequately reflect the holiness and righteousness that one would expect from God. This is an atheistic argument that Christians encounter when interacting with the non-believers. Yet, shockingly, and absurdly, there are Christians who mount the same arguments against other Christian conceptions of God. Arminians will often say that if Calvinism is true, then God is a moral monster. They go as far as to say that if the Calvinistic interpretation of the Bible is true, they would forfeit their Christian faith and resign themselves to unbelief and disobedience. Is this reaction warranted? Is God evil is Calvinism is true?

calvinism evil 2Many reading might be wondering what these terms are that I am using. In the narrowest and most concise sense, Calvinism is an expansion of monergism. Monergism is the view that God alone brings salvation in the human heart. It is the view that when a person has faith, it is because God has saved them already. God actively pursues them and makes them new creatures so that they can turn to him in faith and repentance. I represented this view in my article “Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation?” There are certainly a few moral tones in this doctrine and questions that have to be answered. But rather than engaging the text, some have chosen to change their interpretation of the text based on these moral tones. Hence, we have Arminianism, which is to be taken as an expansion of synergism. Synergism is the view that God is actively pursuing everybody, yet fails in most cases, and only those who respond to him in faith and repentance are saved. Many Arminians (synergists) look at Calvinism (monergism) and raise several moral objections, a few of which you may be shuffling through as you read this. I will address them through the course of this article.

calvinism evil 3Who is deciding what righteousness is? If a police officer were to take off his badge and doff his blue uniform, get in an unmarked car, and try to pull somebody over, the citizen would not respect the authority of the off-duty cop. But if he is wearing his uniform with his badge, in a marked car with sirens, then the citizen will pull their car over. It is an issue of the authority of the officer. Similarly, when the atheist looks at the Bible and sees him taking a life, what they are seeing is not God’s judgment, but a manifestation of the wicked hearts of man. They have removed God’s authority from Scripture. God can take a life, for he is the one who gave life in the first place. He can send somebody to Hell if he wishes and even bring destruction upon a city. He is God and he is more righteous and more loving than we are. Just consider all of the times that people have made snap judgments and then, when they learned more of the details and context, they repented of their judgment. God’s wisdom and knowledge supersedes our own, and we just do not know enough to make these judgments.

calvinism evil 4This is something that the Arminian will acknowledge when discussing moral issues with atheists. Yet it seems that they fail to apply that standard to their own theology when they indict God with immorality. For if one is to say that God is behaving in a way that is evil, that is not only blasphemous, but it is a statement born out of ignorance. Indeed, it is precisely the lesson that Job had to learn. When he lost his family, his home and everything that he owned, he questioned God and claimed his own righteousness. He made the same indictment against God that we see Arminians making. The divine response that we see is, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2). The Arminian who claims that God is being evil is darkening counsel by words without knowledge. They are assuming to know more than God knows.

calvinism evil 5After all, this is a discussion about the Bible. The question about whether monergism is true is one that is answered by Scripture. When we exegete Scripture, we need to be honest with the text and not contort it to our own liking. If we find something in Scripture that we disagree with, we need to ensure that we conform our beliefs to Scripture, and not Scripture to our beliefs. For if we conform Scripture to our beliefs, then we are constructing God in our own image. We are creating an idol for ourselves. Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Even if we do not understand why God would do certain things, we have to remember that he is more righteous and more holy than we are, and we just do not know all of the facts. The Bible is God’s word and we need to just conform ourselves to it.

calvinism evil 6Why did God save one person, and not another? Calvinists are often posed this challenge. If God has it within his ability to freely save everybody, then why does he not freely save everybody? Something interesting that should be remembered is that this is a question that everybody has to deal with. Unless you deny that God knows the future, then you are committed to the belief that God knows who will be saved and who will not be saved. The Arminian answer to this quagmire is that God elects individuals on the basis of their free choice. However, if everybody has an equal opportunity, then the question remains: why did one person choose God, and not another? It cannot be that they were more wise or more righteous, for if that were the case, then we would have a model of works-righteousness. The only resolution to this problem is to say that God provides more grace to the individual so that they may freely choose him, which would lead us back to monergism.

So I am inclined to think that the Arminian has the greater logical quagmire. After all, even if I do not know why God chooses one person and not another, there is nothing that logically compels me to think that therefore, these people have the freedom to choose God. Rather, I am biblically compelled to think that it is simply by the counsel of God’s will. I do not know the answer to this problem. I do not know why God chose one person and not another. But I do know that God is more righteous and holy and I am, and he is in a position to make these decisions. I also know that there really is no logical alternative, for the Arminian resolution leads to a logical problem that only monergism can resolve.

It should also be noted that when presenting this doctrine, Paul anticipated this question and answered it. He writes, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?'” (Romans 9:19). Notice that this is exactly the moral dilemma that the Arminian is raising. Nobody can resist God’s will. How can he possibly still blame us if he is the one who is choosing to save us? Like the rest of us, Paul does not know the answer to this question. It is a logical problem that is left to God to know the answer. He calls us to just put our trust in him, that he is more righteous and loving than we are. He writes, “On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” (Romans 9:20).

In response to this, you might be inclined to suggest that Paul was not talking about individuals, but about nations. Well, first of all, in verse 16, he switches from talking about nations to individuals. But secondly, if Paul were talking about nations, then why did he not provide the logical answer to this problem? The logical question that Arminian exegesis suggests that Paul is answering is, why is God expanding his salvation to include the Gentiles? So, why did he not just say, “God loves Gentiles, too,” or “God is saving the Gentiles so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” But he does not say those things. Why does he not answer the rhetorical questions? There are very simple answers to that question. Instead, he calls man into obedience to God. He calls man to trust in God’s righteousness. Perhaps the question is more difficult than Arminian exegesis suggests. Perhaps the question is, “why does God save one person, and not another?” Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?

How can you fellowship with such a person? If somebody thinks that the God you believe in is evil, how can you join hands and sing hymns with them? The person with whom you are singing thinks that you believe in a God that is evil. Oh, you do not realize that the conception of God that you maintain is evil, but nonetheless, they think that you believe in an evil God. If somebody thinks that you believe in an evil God, how is it that they would think that you were saved? Those two concepts are just utterly incompatible.

Further, how is it that the Calvinist can think that the Arminian who thinks that God is evil, is saved? After all, they are maintaining that the God of the Bible is evil. The Arminian should try to put themselves in the Calvinists’ shoes. The Calvinist believes that this is the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible unconditionally elects people based on his good and sovereign will. The Arminian is looking at the God of the Bible and saying that he is repugnant, unworthy of worship. What sort of fellowship can be had with such a person? Is God evil if Calvinism is true? Well, to maintain such a thing seems to be a disconnect between Arminian and Calvinist fellowship.

Finally, and critically, if it were the case that Calvinism were true, then the Arminian would essentially be blaspheming God. I am not saying that the Arminian who says such a thing is not saved. But I will say that I would not want to answer for such a thing. I would not want to have to explain to God why I called him evil. In response, the Arminian might say that they would stand the judgment seat of God and ask, “so why did you not save those other people?” Suppose, though, that God provided the answer. He told this Arminian the answer to that question at his judgment seat, and it satisfied all of their moral qualms. Would it then not be the case that God could say, again, “Who is it that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

Evan Minton of CerebralFaith challenged this article. Click here to see his response!

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What Does Acts 2:38 Teach About Baptism?

acts 238When does God justify a person? Is it only after they have endured a few religious rites? Is it only after he regenerates them? Is it in response to their turning to him in faith? These different models of salvation pervade throughout the contemporary church and we see them as we gaze through the corridors of church history. Throughout the ages, Christians have maintained different stances on salvation and justification. Particularly in this article, I will zoom in on one nuance, namely, the issue of water baptism. Is a person justified by the religious ceremony and ritual of water baptism? Does water baptism wash away sins? What about some of the compelling proof-texts, such as Acts 2:38? What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism?

acts 238 2For many, Acts 2:38 is the end of the debate. For it reads, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” A surface reading of this verse, in a vacuum, may lead someone to believe that water baptism washed sins away. However, this soteriological heresy is corrected by Paul’s didactic teaching on what it means for a person to be saved, for he says that faith is credited as righteousness (Romans 4:5). I labored to underline this point in my series on Justification By Faith Alone. It is important that we allow the Bible to present a consistent and adequate model of salvation, rather than just pointing to individual snippets that we can recite as one-liners. If we are all just reciting our favorite one-liner, I can say, “faith is credited as righteousness,” and you can say, “Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins,” which essentially amounts to two people talking passed each other and not interacting with the text or what other people are saying. I think that it is important to understand Acts 2:38 in the context in which it was written. Only then will we understand how it fits into Paul’s paradigm of justification by faith alone.

acts 238 3Stories Vs Letters. Reading the Bible often requires a certain measure of discernment. It might be tempting for us to just appeal to the verse that sounds good and seems to represent and prove the core of our theology, but that is not a sound approach to summoning the theological truths forth from the Bible. In fact, that is precisely how Satan manipulated the Bible, when he took verses out of context in a futile attempt to persuade Jesus to bow down and worship him (Matthew 4:1-11). He appealed to little one-liners, verses that he favored, that seemed to support his theology. I am afraid that this is what many Christians are guilty of as well in establishing their doctrine. Many pay little mind to the intention of the author and the literary genre. There are several different genres of literature throughout the Bible, but for our purposes, I will only mention two.

acts 238 4Historical narratives where the author is telling us a story about a certain individual or event and didactic epistles where the author is usually writing to a group of people about something that is going on in their community, and this always has theological overtones, so the apostles will, in turn, teach theology. In some cases, we even have theological treatises on certain issues. That is what we see in the book of Romans, where Paul offers us a theological treatise on what salvation is. He moves from the sinful state of man to justification by faith alone (Romans 3-5). We can see that by the language that Paul is using, he is prescribing the manner of justification.

However, in contrast, in a historical narrative, what we often see are statements that are descriptive of what is going on around them. When Jesus tells Judas, “What you are going to do, do quickly,” that is descriptive of what Jesus told Judas, but not prescriptive for our behavior. In contrast, when he said, “Unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” (John 3:3) this is prescriptive, for it applies to everybody. However, many of passages are less clear than John 3:3, and it is more difficult to discern what is descriptive and what is prescriptive. That is not to say that we should just throw up our hands in despair and ignorance, but a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation is that we should always use the passages that are more clear to interpret passages that are less clear. Since Romans is a didactic teaching on what salvation is, the primary discussion needs to be had there, and interpret everything else through that lens. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Well, we need to understand it primarily through the lens of Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Is baptism for the remission of sins? If a person is advocating that water baptism washes away sins, they will often misquote this text. They will say, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins.” If it did say that, then this would be a very powerful proof-text for their view, and adherents to Pauline soteriology would have to deal with it. The text does not say that, though. The difference is subtle, and as is often the case, it alters the meaning of the sentence. It says, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins…” Each of you be baptized. Peter is switching from plural to singular, and back to plural. This would seem to grammatically disconnect repentance and baptism, while grammatically connecting repentance and the remission of sins. Hence, a proper interpretation of this text would be to read, “Each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, and repent for the remission of sins.” Of course, it should be noted that this is not a novel rendering of the Greek text. I am not advocating that the text of Acts 2:38 be changed. I am saying that the grammar leads us to this interpretation. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Repentance is for the remission of sins. But they should also be water baptized as a rite of initiation into the Christian church.

It is quite interesting that this term “remission of sins,” appears in a few other places as well. After Jesus rose from the dead, he opened the disciples mind to understand the Scripture, and told them that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem,” (Luke 24:47). Repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That message begins, where? In Jerusalem. We see the fulfillment of this at Pentecost, in Acts 2:38, further confirming the Pauline interpretation of this verse. Jesus said that it is repentance that is for the forgiveness of sins. Further, in Peter’s second speech, he cut water baptism out of his message. In Acts 3:19, he says, “Repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away…” The consistent message is that repentance leads to the remission of sins. The one time that water baptism happens to be mentioned in the same sentence does not lead us to think that it washes away sins. We need to be consistent in our understanding.

One might be inclined to ask why it is that we would not just put all of these salvation texts together. In Luke 24:47 and Acts 3:19, we have repentance for the remission of sins. In Romans 4:5, we have faith being credited as righteousness. In Acts 2:38, we have water baptism for the remission of sins. Why not just put them all together and create a checklist model of salvation? We do not do that because that is not what the author intended for us to do. Luke wanted to communicate, in both the gospel named after him and in Acts that repentance leads to the forgiveness of sins. Paul wanted to communicate that faith is credited as righteousness. It would not be treating the text fairly to create a checklist.

Something glaring that you might be inclined to ask is how is it that repentance and faith can both be taken by themselves if they are both necessary for salvation. Is it not true that I am also creating a checklist, albeit, a shorter one? Not at all. For repentance is something that happens internally. Repentance is not a work that one performs. Rather, repentance is to change your mind about sin and to change your mind about Jesus. It might be thought of as an expansive definition of faith. What does Acts 2:38 teach about baptism? Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, then, succeeds even in the face of the oft misinterpreted Acts 2:38.

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Does Islam Allow Sex Slavery?

islam rape 1It is tempting for us to be sympathetic with our Islamic friends who want to disassociate themselves from the renegade terrorists who blow themselves and kidnap young children, taking them as sex slaves. Muslims who grew up in the west (and perhaps many even in countries where Islam is the majority religion) think that the uprising of jihad is a stain on Islam. It is like if somebody stole my car and then used it to evade the police after robbing the bank. You would not blame me for their crimes. They stole my car. Likewise, contemporary Muslims contest that these renegades have hijacked Islam. They stole Islam. They are committing the wicked deeds of their heart and sprinkling it with Islamic language. Is that the case, when examining of the most vile practices of these men? Does Islam allow sex slavery?

islam rape 2We are told that no real Muslim would condone such behavior. Practicing Muslims who adhere to Qur’anic values are peaceful people who want to live in harmony with folks of other religions in society. It is akin to skeletons in the closet of the history of Christian church. Church history is marked with iniquities such as the Inquisitions and the Crusades. Just as Christians are viewed as peaceful people and their doctrine is peaceful, so also Muslims are peaceful people with peaceful doctrine that has been abused by a group of wicked men. This is the model that we have been presented of Islam. Of course, it cannot be denied that there are a lot of nice and peaceful Muslims. The question is, what does their doctrine teach? Does Islam allow sex slavery?

Spoils of War. As we reflect upon the barbaric armies of history, it is difficult to understand how men could demonstrate such depravity, and how rulers could just shrug their shoulders and suggest that it is just part of the paradigm of war. For when an army is defeated, and a city is conquered, the residents of that city who were not participating in the war were just bystanders. They were not fighting. They are waiting for their husbands and sons to return from the battle. They and their children are crouched down in dark corners of their home as they listen to howl of screaming men and the constant clamor of steel against iron. These children, who have never been away from their father for more than a day, are wondering if they will ever see him again. They hope that they can just fall asleep, so that when the sun breaks across the horizon, their loved one will return and their incessant weeping will be undone. Many of these mothers knew that if they had been freshly widowed, the conquering army would take them as spoils. They would not only lose their loved ones, but they would kidnapped and repeatedly molested, and those with daughters knew that their daughters would suffer the same fate. This is the reward that men would take for themselves when they won a battle.

Yet anybody with the slightest inkling of a moral intuition knows that such a behavior is unworthy of the people of God. God could never prescribe such a behavior. It would be contrary to his character and his nature to allow his creatures to command such a behavior. Yet this is what we see in the Qur’an. When the renegades would win a war, they would take females as sex slaves. After one particular battle, the renegades wanted to force themselves on these women, but they were afraid that they would get them pregnant. But Muhammad, offering what must have been seen as brilliant theological insight, said, “It is better for you not to [ejaculate outside of the vagina], for if any soul till the Day of Resurrection is predestined to exist, it will exist.” (Bukhari 5:59:459) Likewise, when married women were captured, the renegades were told that they were permitted to have sexual access to these women. While married women are forbidden in a normative context, they were not forbidden when they were captives of war (Qur’an 4:24). So even while their husbands were still alive, perhaps even watching, these Muslims men took these women and had sex with them. Does Islam allow sex slavery? Well, the question is, do you really think that any of these captives of war were willing to have sex with them, after their husbands and sons just fell in battle? What of those whose husbands were still alive?

One might be inclined to think that this is just a critics’ view of Islam. I am just a critic, on the outside, looking in, making accusations because I am a mean person. But, astonishingly, this is conceded, by one of the most reputable and well-known Islamic scholars of the day. He acknowledges everything that I said in the above paragraph, and he proposes it as a morally acceptable view. In explaining why Boko Haram was wrong to kidnap schools girls, Doctor Shabir Ally pointed out that they distorted Islamic law. Islamic law does not teach that one can just invade any place they want and just take anyone. Rather, according to Doctor Ally, “It is traditional Islamic Law that if the result of the war would be that if Muslims are victorious, they would pick up the spoils of war… women were taken as captives and then allotted to the male soldiers or sold on the open market. If they were allotted to a male soldier, it was taken for granted that the male soldier would have access to her sexually, as though she were a wife, but the difference is that she was not free to leave.” (Start the video to the left at 4:03 to hear the quote.)

Even the most conservative Islamic scholars, who are revered as intellectuals, who oppose radicalism, are forced to concede that in Islamic law, women can be taken as sex slaves during a time of war.

Was the Islamic system superior to the surrounding civilizations of that time? Of course, one could appeal to a cultural understanding of the renegades’ behavior. That was just, as it were, the way of war. Since everybody else is doing it, we can understand that the renegades would adopt it, for it was a custom of that day. We can understand the cultural system in which they were living. Well, I am inclined to first point out the theological problems with this. Muhammad is said to have received these suras from God himself. God told Muhammad to allow these men to force themselves on married women, and to ensure that they ejaculate inside of the vagina because what is predestined to happen, will happen anyway, so our actions do not really matter (my fingers are itching as I deny myself the space to point out the logical error in Muhammad’s reasoning). If God is giving these commands, then clearly it is insufficient to appeal to the cultural standard. Is it not possible for God to have provided a system that was not morally repugnant? Could God have provided a system that was morally praiseworthy? One that does not reflect the wicked desires of the human heart?

In fact, that is precisely what God did, and it shuts down the argument from cultural comparison. For there was another society that even within a culture of evil behavior in times of warfare, made allotment to treat captives of war and prisoners with respect. What we see the Jewish Torah is a model of treating captives of war with civility, in a way that far exceeds Shari’ah. There is no rape, for rape is strictly condemned (Deuteronomy 22:25-27), and sex outside of marriage was condemned (Deuteronomy 22:28-29). Men are not given “sexual access” to a woman “as if she were a wife.” This may be taken, then, as an assurance that women are not forced into sex slavery.

They are taken as wives, but only after a month of mourning for their families. (Deuteronomy 21:10-11). Men do not charge into the homes of women who just lost their husbands or sons and molest them. Yet there was no prison system, so what are we to do with them? They are taken as wives. The men are instructed, “It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.” The men are commanded to treat their new wives with respect. Further if they are neglected by their husband or divorced, they are freed. If they are divorced, they are also freed (Exodus 21:10-11). These laws may be taken as an expansion of Numbers 31:18, which reads, “But all the girls who have not known man intimately, spare for yourselves.” It may be tempting to read sexual slavery into that verse, but considering the host of laws that forbid it, that interpretation is nullified.

Does Islam allow sex slavery? According to the conservative scholar, Doctor Shabir Ally, who has a doctorate in Qur’anic exegesis, it absolutely does. It is insufficient to appeal to the culture around them because [1] according to the Qur’an, God gave these renegades direct permission to rape these women and [2] there are societal models cut from the same mold that are morally praiseworthy.

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Does William Lane Craig Have An Orthodox Christology?

wlc 1Gossip is a feature of the world from which Christians are called to abstain. For we cannot spread rumors about people, attribute statements to them, and misrepresent them, especially without knowledge and behind their back. When we do that, we are guilty not only of our own sin, but of enticing others to do it as well, because they heard the information from you, and now they are spreading it to other people. You acquired your information in the same way that they did, by hearing someone else spread it, but nobody checked the information to see if it was accurate. People just gleefully continue to gossip about this individual. Doctor William Lane Craig has been victimized by this flawed approach to research. Abuzz in the schoolyard and the hallways are Doctor Craig’s Christological positions. Many are asking the question, “does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology?” But, without consulting Doctor Craig’s work, they answer “no,” purely for the sake of gossip.

wlc 2Most will base their research on a quick google search, prompted by something that somebody else said. Upon hearing that Doctor Craig is an advocate of Neo-Apollinarianism, they will do a google search of Neo-Apollinarianism, quickly see the flaws therein and the reasons that it was rejected as heresy, and apply these views to Doctor Craig. Many folks (particularly of the reformed camp) are eager to call Doctor Craig a heretic. They are eager to accuse him of denying the incarnation, or denying that Jesus had an actual human body, or anything else that they can think of. The internet has rendered this form of malevolent gossip especially potent, for in a matter of seconds, hundreds of people can see false accusations being made against the brethren, based on information that does not appeal to Doctor Craig’s primary work on this subject. Throughout this article, I will provide information that should acquit Doctor Craig of all of the charges of heresy, citing his volume Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview (all page numbers will be taken from that).

wlc 3William Lane Craig affirms the full deity and humanity of Jesus. Doctor Craig has not retreated to self-autonomy, deciding what doctrines he likes and what he dislikes. He is not spoiling the Christian faith by denying the incarnation of Jesus. He is not denying the classical creeds nor the ancient Council of Chalcedon. Rather, in Philosophical Foundation For A Christian Worldview, he begins his chapter titled “The Incarnation” by saying “The New Testament affirms both the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ,” (page 597). He expounds upon this by appealing to the great Council of Chalcedon, not to critique it, but to establish its’ theological outline as the boundaries within which he is developing his Christological model. He writes, “[The Chalcedonian formula] does not seek to explain the Incarnation but sets up as it were, channel markers for legitimate christological speculation. Any theology of Christ’s person must be one in which the distinctness of both natures is preserved and both meet in one person, one Son, in Christ.” (page 601).

wlc 4Critics, then, are left squirming to determine where it is that Doctor Craig could be considered to maintain Christological heresies. After all, he is working within the confines of the orthodox confession of faith. Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? His Christology begins with the full deity and humanity of Jesus. However, if a person were to charge him with heresy, they would probably appeal to what they call Apollinarianism.

William Lane Craig has the same reservations and criticisms of Apollinarianism. People who seek to charge Doctor Craig with heresy will, as I said, do a google search of Apollinarianism and then apply the inherent shortcomings to Doctor Craig. This is a very simplistic and unsympathetic approach, for Doctor Craig is not aligning himself with Apollinarianism in an identical manner. Indeed, anybody who reads his published work (his critics do not read it), will discover that he affirms the criticism that the church has of this Christology.

He writes, “Nevertheless, Apollinarianism was inadequate as it stood. Two deficiencies of Apollinarian Christology seemed especially serious. First, a body without a mind is a truncation of human nature… Second, if Christ lacked a human mind, then he did not redeem the human mind.” (Page 599) He goes on to empower this criticism, writing, “Unfortunately, Apollinarianism was radically defective as it stood. For a complete human nature involves more than a hominid body, so that on Apollinarianism’s view of the Incarnation was really a matter of the Logos’s assuming, not humanity, but mere animality…. [His] opponents rightly charged that such a view undercuts Christ’s work as well as his person, since Christ did not have a truly human nature, but only an animal nature, and so, could not have redeemed humanity.”

Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? Well, Doctor Craig, seems to present parallel misgivings to Gregory of Nazianzus. His criticisms of this Christological view are probably surprising to the Calvinists who attributed it to him. That is why it is important to ensure that you read the original source of the person who you are criticizing. As faithful Christians, we cannot just say things and hope that they are true. We need to give people a fair hearing.

William Lane Craig is combatting Nestorianism. Throughout his treatment on the Incarnation, Doctor Craig is concerned that many of the views that are outlined imply or logically precede Nestorianism. Nestorianism is the view that within Jesus Christ, there are two persons, one being the Logos, his spiritual nature, and the other being the human being. If there are two natures, one being divine, and the other being human, how is it that there could not be two persons? He writes, “The church seems in danger of dividing the person of Christ,” (page 602). Of course, this logical quagmire does not cause Doctor Craig to retreat to the position that there are two persons. He is outlining some of the logical tension that Christians have to deal with. It is not intellectually satisfying to just throw up our hands and say that it is a mystery. If we do that, then, when somebody comes along and proposes Nestorianism, our non-solution of appealing to mystery will quickly unravel. If an Arian were critiquing the Incarnation, by saying that it logically entails Nestorianism, our non-solution and anti-intellectualism will be exposed.

While many do resign themselves to this form of anti-intellectualism, surely they will not condemn people who continue to explore this. These are legitimate philosophical questions. How is that two natures does not entail two persons? Moreover, how is that two wills do not entail two persons? After all, if there is one almighty will (the Logos), and one human will, how would that not entail two persons? Indeed, that notion seems to force us to depart to a form of modalism, where the Father is identical to the Logos, and he possesses the almighty will, while the Son is merely a human being, and he possesses the human will. As you can see, we are teetering on the borders of heresy. The question is, how can we remain soundly within the confines of the Chalcedon Council, and provide good answers to these questions?

Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? His work on this issue seems to be driven by the agenda to provide orthodoxy with good answers to these questions. It would be unacceptable to resign ourselves to mystery or to heresy. Doctor Craig is laboring to that end.

William Lane Craig provides a possible Christological model. His work is precisely meant to resolve the tension related to Nestorianism outlined above. He wants to explain how it is that there could be two natures, and not two persons. While Apollinarius tried to solve this problem, Doctor Craig rejects this explanation for the same reason that historic Christianity rejected it. But, appreciating the intellectual fervor and the unique, compelling resolution offered by Apollinarius, he asks, “Can we appropriate Apollinarius’s insight without falling into his errors? Let us see.” So, Craig’s model is not strict or classical Apollinarianism. It is a revised form of Apollinarianism. In fact, Craig seems to imply the possibility that Apollinarius’s opponents misunderstood him, and so, the criticisms lodged against this view are based on a faulty understanding.

He writes, “Apollinarius may have been misunderstood when his critics charged him with giving Christ a truncated human nature. When Apollinarius argued that the Logos was not only the image of God but also the archetypal man, and in this latter sense, already possessed human nature in his preexistent form, his opponents, like Gregory of Nazianzus understood him to mean that the flesh of Christ was pre-existent. Apollinarius may have been more subtle than this. What he may have meant is that the Logos contained perfect human personhood archetypically in his own nature. The result was in assuming a hominid body the Logos brought to Christ’s animal nature just those properties that would serve to make it a complete human nature. … This draws support from the doctrine of man as created in the image of God. Human beings do not bear God’s image in virtue of their animal bodies, which they have in common with other members of the biosphere. Rather, in being persons, they uniquely reflect God’s nature. God is personal, and inasmuch as are persons we resemble him. The Logos already possessed in his preincarnate state all of the properties necessary for being a human self. In assuming a hominid body, he brought to it all that was necessary for a complete human nature.” (page 608-09).

In response, someone might be inclined to say that this model suggests that the mind of Jesus was not actually human, for the Logos is omniscient. To this, Craig replies, “We suggest what William James called the “subliminal self,” is the primary locus of the superhuman elements in the consciousness of the incarnate Logos. Thus Jesus possessed a normal human consciousness, but it was underlain, as it were, by a divine consciousness. This understanding of Christ’s personal experience draws on the insight of depth psychology that there is vastly more to a person than waking conscious. The project of psychoanalysis is based on the conviction that some of our behaviors have deep springs of action of which are only dimly aware, if at all. … Similarly, the incarnation, at least during his state of humiliation, the Logos allowed only those facets of his person to be part of his waking consciousness which were compatible with the typical human experience, while the bulk his knowledge and other cognitive perfections, like an iceberg beneath the water’s surface, lay submerged in his subconscious. On the model we propose, Christ is thus one person, but in that person, conscious and subconscious elements are differentiated in a theologically significant way,” (page 610-11).

While Apollinarius’s original model suffered from the detrimental flaw of removing human personhood from the human mind, Craig’s revised version submits that the Logos did have a perfect human mind. Doctor Craig points out that this “nullifies the traditional objections lodged against Apollinarius’s formulation,” (page 609).

How should William Lane Craig’s critics react? Those who accuse Doctor Craig of the same Christological heresy as common critics of Apollinarius render will find this information to be foreign. As I said, many of those who criticize Craig have never read his work on the incarnation. In response to this new information, you may find yourself disagreeing with Craig’s revised version or understanding of Apollinarianism. But, this model cannot be indicted with the same heresy as the original understanding of Apollinarianism has suffered from. Indeed, it asserts that the human person, Jesus of Nazareth, does have a complete human mind. If you think that logically, this model entails that he does not, remember that Craig is asserting that he does. This means that you can accuse him being inconsistent (as a result of the logical entailments of his view), but not heretical, (for he does not follow those alleged logical entailments to their conclusions). Does William Lane Craig have an orthodox Christology? He falls right in line with the ancient Council of Chalcedon. His model does not suffer from the same flaws as what most call Apollinarianism. If we are going to accuse someone of heresy, and start gossiping about it, we need to ensure that we have good information.

Christians who have not heeded wisdom, and slandered Craig in this way, should employ self-reflection and begin to ask what they want their future role in ministry to be. They need to aim to develop maturity, and to repent of this behavior. If they have publicly called Craig a heretic for this reason, I would call them to publicly repudiate their comments and repent.

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Did Paul Think That Jesus Was An Actual Human Being?

paul jesus history 1There is a gap of a couple of decades between the death of Jesus and the earliest biography of his life that we have. The leaves might raise a question about what the earliest Christians thought about Jesus. Did they think the same things that we do? Was their worship akin to our worship? Was their devotion to Jesus as a divine person, the only begotten God, at the Father’s side (John 1:18)? Was he thought of as an actual human being, planted in human history of just a few years passed? Were there people who were connected with him, and knew him, in real life, as another human being? Orthodoxy affirms that indeed, Jesus was an actual human being, as the gospel accounts display him that way. But some have suggested that Paul took a different view. Some suggest that for Paul, the existence of Jesus of Nazareth was not rooted in human history. What, then, did Paul think? Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being?

paul jesus history 2I cannot underline the significance of this question enough. For the attacks upon the Christian faith that we see today are unique and vociferous. Even when they are refuted, they remain afloat on popular blogs on the internet. Popular bloggers often do not care about how others respond to their view. They have some rhetoric that they want to spew forth, they will do it even in the absence of scholarly consensus or logical justifiability. Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? It is Paul’s letters that are the basis for the scholarly consensus that Jesus of Nazareth really did exist.

paul jesus history 3He clearly made reference to Jesus. It is difficult for the skeptic to avoid the reality that Paul made reference to events that occurred during the lifetime of Jesus. He believed the account of the Christians, which seemed to have been rooted in history. He spoke of Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). He believed that Jesus initiated the ceremony of communion, after which he was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). He even said that if Jesus had not physically and bodily rose from the dead, then our faith is futile (1 Corinthians 15:17). For Paul, these events actually occurred.

paul jesus history 4However, some suggest that perhaps Paul was proposing not a picture of human history, but a cosmic scheme, a celestial location, with heavenly figures and events. This celestial platform was the place in which the death, betrayal, and resurrection of Jesus occurred. That would mean that when Jesus appeared on Resurrection Sunday, he was transported from one world to another, from the celestial platform to the earth, and then revealed to the masses all of the events that had transpired in this other world. When Paul refers to these events, then, he is not referring to human history. On this theory, Paul would not have to view Jesus as an actual historical figure to speak meaningfully about the events that occurred in his lifetime.

There are several problem with this theory, and the first is that it is pure conjecture. There is nowhere that Paul outlines this celestial platform. There is no place in Paul’s letters that he says that the events in the life of Jesus took place in another realm. This interpretation is molded intentionally to avoid the historical assumptions that Paul makes. But nobody reading Paul’s letters would come to that conclusion. It is ad hoc, meaning that it is constructed specifically for the purpose of avoiding a particular conclusion. There is no reason for us to think that this is what Paul really meant. It is an interpretation not based on evidence, but meant to circumvent the evidence.

However, even in that, it fails, for Paul often recounts the events of Jesus’s life in a way that necessarily corresponds to the actual earth. He writes, “…the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8). Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? Absolutely. He recognized that the rulers of this age crucified the Lord of Glory.

He was acquainted with the brother of the Lord. When historians want to determine if an author is telling the truth about a certain event, there are certain criterion that they will measure the authors’ writings against. We do not have to resign to throwing our hands in the air, saying that we cannot know. Rather, historians look for hints in their writings to determine whether he was telling the truth. A writer is unlikely to fabricate details that are embarrassing to him. Likewise, if a writer says something as a side detail, if he makes a disinterested statement, we can be sure that he was probably telling the truth, because he was not really interested in it. This is the criterion that I am focusing on.

In Galatians 1:18, Paul recounts his trip to Jerusalem, wherein he stayed with the apostles. He came to know Cepheus, and “James, the brother of the Lord.” He was not saying this to make a theological point. He was not constructing some sort of argument on the basis of the unique relationship that James had with the Lord. He just sort of said it. James is the brother of the Lord. Doctor Bart Ehrman, the skeptical New Testament scholar tells us, “If Jesus didn’t exist, you would think his brother would know about it, so I think Paul is probably pretty good evidence that Jesus at least existed.” Hence, we can know that Paul did not view Jesus’s life as taking place on a celestial platform, because Paul believed that he was acquainted with the very brother of the Lord.

Born of a woman, born under the Law. The Law was central to the Jewish religion and worship. It was the revelation of God, the mark of his covenant, and to keep the Law was to be a practicing Jew. The Jews revered the Law. David says of it, “The Law of the Lord is perfect.” (Psalm 19:7). If a person is born under the Law, then they are born into a system of religion wherein they are required to keep the Law. They are born into human history with a specific religious undergirding. Yet these are precisely that characteristics that Paul applied to Jesus. He writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.” (Galatians 4:4). There are a few interesting things worth note. First, Paul tells us that the Law was like a guardian, watching over his people (Galatians 3:24). This is actual history. Then, the Son comes, born under the Law, to redeem his people and free them from the curse of the Law (Galatians 4:5). It is pure eisegesis to say that one of these is historical, and the other is not.

Further, Paul makes a very interesting claim. He says that Jesus was “born of a woman.” If he was born of a woman, then clearly he was an actual human being. If you want to say that this was a woman in another realm, under another Law, then you are taking a view of history that is alien to anything that a historian would do. Secondly, if Jesus was born under a different Law than the Torah of Israel, then Paul would be guilty of a simple equivocal fallacy when he says that Jesus redeemed his people from the curse of the Law. For why should we think that the Law on this celestial platform has any relevance to the Law of Israel? What do we know about the Law on this celestial platform? What do we know about anything about this celestial platform? Nothing, because Paul tells us nothing about it. He never even mentions it. Isn’t that strange?

Yet not only was Jesus born of a woman, born under the Law, he was also “…a descendant of David according to the flesh…” (Romans 1:3). David is rooted in human history. The Jews believe that David was an actual person, who wrote the Psalms and whose life we have an account of in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles. He did not exist on a celestial platform. Paul was clearly establishing Jesus as an ethnic Jew and a direct descendent of David. Unless one wants to speculate that there was another David, who existed on this celestial platform. And why not? Since it is pure conjecture, you can say anything you want about it. Yet we must not find ourselves guilty of naivety as we desperately contort the evidence to fit our presuppositions. Did Paul believe that Jesus was an actual human being? If we allow Paul to speak for himself, it becomes evident that he views Jesus as one who was a descendant of David according to the flesh, born of a woman, under the Law.

The Resurrection There were several theological errors that had crept into the Corinthian church. Not the least of which were their views on the resurrection. Some of them had actually come to adopt the view that there was no resurrection from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:12). Paul addresses this view in appealing to the resurrection of Jesus. He reasons that if there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised (1 Corinthians 15:13). But, why should that follow? After all, if Paul is presupposing that the resurrection of Jesus took place on a celestial platform, then why is the resurrection of Jesus relevant to general earthly principle that people do not rise from the dead? His resurrection simply would not apply to that rule.

It is significant also that Paul is drawing a comparison between the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the believer. Just as we “fall asleep” (an idiom for death) in Christ, so also Christ was the firstfruits of those who fell asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20). But how could Christ be the firstfruits of those who had fallen asleep, if had fallen asleep in another realm? He writes that the body is sown a natural body and raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). He continues, The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly. (1 Corinthians 15:47-49). Since the resurrection of Jesus is the firstfruit of the resurrection of all, he corresponds to this pattern. Therefore, Jesus once had an earthly body.

Did Paul think that Jesus was an actual human being? It seems unmistakable. His discourse about the resurrection, the comparison to our resurrection, his remarks about the family of Jesus, the birth of Jesus, the lineage of Jesus, the flesh of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus in “this age,” all point invariably to Paul’s belief that Jesus of Nazareth is rooted in human history.

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Is The NIV Bible Corrupt?

niv 1The ceremony of book burning has prevailed as one of the great tactics meant to silence those with whom certain groups disagree. It has prevailed as the tactic of the coward, lest their enemies have a voice to refute them. Of course, in the event of burning religious text, the motivation is a bit different. Angry religious people burn texts held as sacred by other religious groups purely as a testimony against that particular faith group. We see radical Christian parishioners dedicating the Qur’an to destruction, setting it aflame, as a testimony against the Qur’an, Islam, and everything it represents. Likewise, there are Christian groups, primarily (and probably exclusively) King James Onlyists who burn the New International Version of the Bible (NIV). They do this as a testimony against the NIV and an affirmation of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV). This ceremony will usually be hosted after a presentation of alleged corrupt within the NIV. Many Christians have been taken in by this presentation of corruption. The question is, is the NIV Bible corrupt?

niv 2There are very heavy charges that KJV Onlyinsts lodge against the NIV. They will accuse the NIV translators of intentionally and maliciously removing words from the Bible, so as to inspire doubt. The NIV is accused of adding little contradictions into the Bible so that people will lose faith in testimony of Scripture. They are accused of subtracting complete verses from the Bible, little one-liners that are inconsistent with their theology. The NIV is accused of loading their theology into the translation, so that sins such as homosexuality as more tolerable in the NIV. Even Zondervan Publishing is indicted for being owned by Harper Collins.

niv 3Does Harper Collins Control The NIV? In rendering criticism against the NIV, many will point to Harper Collins, who owns Zondervan Publishing. For Harper Collins also published gems like The Satanic Bible and The Joy Of Gay Sex. It is suggested that because of this, we cannot trust the NIV, as it will be loaded with the worldview and morality of the publisher. Well, I am afraid that this is just not how publishing works. Harper Collins is a publishing house, and they publish all sorts of material. That is not to say that they control all of the material that they publish. (Also, if there were some LGBT agenda, the indictments in the NIV against same sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle would not be so evident and I will address that later.) Rather, the NIV has godly and devout men working on the translation committee who are smeared by KJV Onlyists.

niv 4There are men such as Doctor Douglas Moo, who taught for twenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for two decades. His commentary on the book of Romans has been particularly helpful to me, personally, and he offers brilliant insight into the condemnation of sinful lifestyle. Men such as Craig Blomberg, who has labored in defending the Christian faith from the most vociferous attacks that people will render today. He defends the Christian faith and the gospels in his book The Historical Reliability of the Gospels and Making Sense of the New Testament. To suggest that either of these men are trying to inspire doubt by inserting contradictions into the gospels is nothing short of absurd. To suggest that they are laboring to justify sin in their translation is ridiculous. This is a smear campaign against godly men who have dedicated their lives to exposing sin and strengthening faith.

The-King-James-Only-Controversy-Can-You-Trust-Modern-Translations-James-White-669x1024Further, to indict Zondervan Publishing for being owned by Harper Collins is to indict a collage of books written by more godly men. Books that have edified the masses and tried to develop a culture in which Christians can have a thoughtful faith as well as a loving relationship with Christ. Men such as Nabeel Qureshi, John Lennox, Ravi Zacharias, NT Wright, JP Moreland, JI Packer, Lee Strobel, RC Sproul, Arthur Gerstner, and Josh McDowell, are just a few names of men who have published with Zondervan. Is the NIV Bible Corrupt? Well, to indict the NIV for publishing with Zondervan, who is owned by Harper Collins for the reason that the theological and moral stances of Harper Collins are being loaded into these works is nothing short of ridiculous.

What about all of the missing words? Your mouth may drop agape as a KJV Onlyist tells you that there are 64,575 words removed from the NIV. That is to say that these words were in the King James Version, and they are not in the NIV. The only explanation for this is that the NIV translation committee maliciously and intentionally removed these words to further the grand conspiracy. I can just imagine them, sitting around a table, crowing wicked laughter as they cry out, “Yes, yes, remove the word ‘Lord’ from this sentence!” Similarly, when they scribble out words like, “Jehovah,” or “omnipotent,” or “Holy Ghost,” these conspirators are probably sitting in smug satisfaction as they think that nobody would notice, as they precipitously remove God from the Bible and construct a rendition of the God that they prefer, maliciously destroying the faith in the “omnipotence” of God. Now, the NIV presents a God who is not omnipotent, and where the Holy Ghost does not exist. Finally, the conspiracy is complete.

However, it seems like this conspiracy must be quite universal and inclusive. Everybody must be in on the scheme, for all of the modern translations made these same adjustments. For instance, the one place in the KJV where the word “omnipotent” appears is Revelation 19:6, which reads, “for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” All of the modern translations replace “omnipotent” with “almighty.” Well, first of all, that is a bizarre conspiracy. If you want to inspire doubt in the power of God, you would not call him “Almighty.” “Almighty” communicates the very same message as “omnipotent.” It almost seems like these evil conspirators might just be bland translators who want to honestly communicate what the Greek manuscripts say.

What does the Greek say? The Greek word translated into “almighty,” and “omnipotent,” is pantokratōr. By using the concordance, we see how the KJV translators handled this word in other instances. In Revelation 1:8, the KJV says, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” The word translated into “almighty,” is the very same word that the NIV translated into “almighty” in Revelation 19:6. Why is it acceptable for the KJV to render this word in this way, and not acceptable for the NIV? Is the NIV Bible corrupt? Only if you use utterly inconsistent standards.

The problem with saying that “64,575 words have been removed,” is that it makes the KJV the standard. It assumes that the NIV is taking the KJV and just rewriting it. But that is not the case. The NIV committee went to the Greek manuscripts and translated them. It is overwhelmingly unsympathetic to expect every single word to be the same, and to count every single word against NIV translators.

Entire verses in the NIV are missing! You may find yourself aghast as you learn that the NIV removed 45 entire verses of the Bible. Clearly, this is an indication that they are just picking and choosing what they like and dislike. They want to remove certain concepts from the Bible that display the glory of God. John 5:4, in the NIV and in most modern translations, is missing. This apparently means that there is a cross-translation conspiracy, where all of the translators, all of the committees, agreed that removing John 5:4 would align with all their wicked agenda. Likewise, when Mark 7:16 was removed, all of the conspirators across all of the Bible translation committees emitted a wicked villains’ laugh while twisting their handlebar mustache.

However, it is quite strange that while the content of Mark 7:16 was “removed,” the very same content is in other accounts. The conspirators removed a verse from Mark, but did not remove it from Luke. Could it be that this is because they are basing their translation on the manuscripts in their possession, and they are not conspiring to destroy the faith of the masses? Consider the parallel accounts of stories that we see in the gospel records. Mark and Luke tell the same stories, but they sometimes include different details. When an ancient scribe was copying Luke, they would see that this detail was not there. Out of the same misguided concern of the KJV Onlyist today, they would insert that verse into Mark, when it really belongs exclusively in Luke. The KJV published the scribal error, while the modern translations, working with earlier manuscript data, noticed what the scribe did, and removed it.

Mark 7:16 is one of the alleged “removed verses,” It says, “If any man has ears, let him hear.” But, we see the same thing in Luke 8:8. The NIV has that same verse in another gospel account. “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear,” is in Luke 8:8. So, if there were some sort of conspiracy, why cut it out of one account, and not another? Is the NIV Bible corrupt? All of the removed verses can be attributed to scribal errors through the history of copying the manuscripts of the New Testament. There is no need for a conspiracy theory.

Is the NIV sympathetic to the LGBT agenda? While Doctor Douglas Moo condemns homosexuality in no uncertain terms in his commentaries, KJV Onlyists want you to believe that he softened the condemnation in the translation of the NIV. However, as one peruses the NIV, one realizes that it is hardly compatible with the homosexual lifestyle. A person who engages in homosexual behavior could hardly find solace in the words of the NIV.

Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads in the NIV, “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” The NIV unequivocally condemns men who have sex with men. Compare this with the KJV, which reads, “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. It seems to me that the KJV is less clear than the NIV. The NIV clearly condemns homosexuality, while the KJV’s archaic language makes it more difficult.

For this reason, should we accuse the KJV of a conspiracy to permit homosexual behavior? The KJV Onlyist would absolutely do this if the translations were reversed. We need to be balanced. We cannot assume that every unclear verse is a conspiracy. Is the NIV Bible corrupt? Certainly not. There is no LGBT agenda hidden in the NIV.

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Is The Story Of Noah Literal?

noah literal 1It is often said that the nineteenth century was a bad era for biblical scholars. During that time, there erupted a number of archeological discoveries from the ancient near east that have severely challenged Christians. Secular scholars have painted the issue as one of science and high learning against the Bible. Thus, Christian belief is associated with anti-intellectualism. Many Christians have participated in the rigged game, taking a stance against scientific endeavor in favor of the Bible. However, I am not persuaded that this dichotomy is legitimate. Christians need not choose between anti-intellectualism and apostasy. Rather, as Christians, we should be open to following the evidence and biblical data where it leads. We must ask the question, is the story of Noah literal?

noah literal 2The way that we process this question should not strike Christians as strange. After all, the Bible is full of metaphorical accounts of particular events. Jesus always had parables in his mouth meant to edify the masses. The significance was not whether the stories actually occurred, but rather, their theological themes were what he was trying to convey. He was teaching us about God, and not about history. The historicity of a parable is just not a significant question. Likewise, John Calvin suspected that the story of Job might also be a parable. If we are going to read the Bible, we need to be receptive to this understanding. It is permeated throughout the entire warp and scope of the Bible.

Did God wipe out all of mankind? If we read the story of Noah literally, it is hard to avoid the notion of a global flood that wipes out every living thing on the earth (however, many faithful Christians have maintained such a view. Evan Minton spelled out the local flood interpretation here). But I am not convinced that these statements of absolute and global catastrophe can be taken literally. There is a precedent for interpreting statements of absolute catastrophe as indicators for how earth-shattering this particular event is. Rather than saying that the entire earth was literally being destroyed, the author was probably expressing that for those who are affected, it would seem so devastating and earth-shattering that it can only be adequately described as utterly destroying the entire world. That is just a way of expressing the fury of the destruction, but not necessarily something that we are to take literally.

The same sort of language is used when the Assyrians destroyed Israel. It is expressed that the entire world is being left in ruin. Isaiah 13:9 expresses that God will make the land desolate. The word translated into “land,” is literally “earth,” the same word in the first chapter of Genesis wherein it says that God created the heavens and the earth. More significantly, Isaiah 24:1 says, “Behold, the LORD lays the earth waste, devastates it, distorts its surface and scatters its inhabitants.” God is using language that seems to express that he will destroy the entire earth. David used the same sort of language when he was express gratitude for God and trust in him to bring him salvation from his enemies. In 2 Samuel 22:16, David says. “Then the channels of the sea appeared, The foundations of the world were laid bare By the rebuke of the LORD, At the blast of the breath of His nostrils.”

The should not strike us as unfamiliar. Isaiah 13:10 reads, “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.” The events that are occurring as so earth-shattering that it seems as though these things were happening. Jesus said the very same thing when teaching about eschatology. But there is no reason to be dogmatic about the literal dissolving of stars. What about the story of Noah, then? Is the story of Noah literal? There is just no reason to be dogmatic about the literal global flood of the story of Noah. There probably was a flood, but not necessarily a flood that wipes out all of mankind, nor a flood that destroys the entire earth. The flood is more akin to God laying the earth waste in Isaiah.

There are parallel accounts of the flood. The historical-grammatical method of interpreting the Bible states that we need to understand the individual books of the Bible within the cultural milieu that they were written. It would be anachronistic for us to read modern science into a book of the Bible, because they were not intended to express modern science. Rather, we need to understand them within the cultural framework that they were written. Alongside the Genesis narrative, there are other religious texts that express stories that are very similar to those revealed in Genesis. There are parallel, Pagan accounts to the flood of Noah.

That is not to say that the story of Noah is plagiarized from Pagan sources. There is no evidence of dependency available. What we see is that these cultural stories were told by different groups of people, meant to express different things. The story of Noah comes from a culture that told flood stories. What is significant, then, is not the literal recounting of the flood narrative. The significance is rather in the theological overtones. It is parable meant to educate us in theological matters. It teaches us about the sinful nature of mankind (Genesis 6:5) and about the wrath of a just and holy God. It also teaches us about the mercy of God to those who will repent of their sins and turn to him in faith. These realities emerge even if we do not take the story literally.

Is the story of Noah literal? The parallel accounts make that interpretation much less tenable. It seems more likely that it was meant as a Jewish parable. The Jews were telling their culture stories with Jewish theology.

The impossibility of a literal account. As I said, there are different interpretations of the account of the flood that we find in Genesis. Some think that the flood was local. But in my personal opinion, if I were to take the story literally, I would conclude that there was a global flood that destroyed every living creature on the entire earth. But if I were to believe that, I would have to find it in myself to glare absurdity unflinchingly in the face and accept it.

We are led to believe that Noah had in his possession, one of every kind of animal, who traversed the terrain of the world, from the jungles in South Africa, to the Australian outback. They all set sail in a variety of different circumstances and were brought to the middle east, where they escaped their owners and sprang into Noah’s grasp. This happened not to one or two animals, but every kind of animal in existence. (I wonder how he kept them from eating each other.) In an effort to dull the blade of this reality, defenders of the global flood will usually say that there were fewer animals on the ark than is being suggested. There was one pair of dogs, and these dogs evolved into the variety of dogs that we have today. Well, the typical young earth model puts the flood around 4000 years ago. If we are to think that every species in existence evolved from that cluster of animals 4000 years ago, that would make for quite a rapid presentation of evolution, beyond anything that has ever been observed. Are young earth creationists really prepared to believe in a model of evolution that is beyond any scientific observation? Multiple testimony seems to indicate not.

Further, and critically, after the ark ported, and the animals went ashore, this is something that we should see in the scientific record. We should see the animals of the world spreading from one local area. Instead, we see kangaroos in Australia. How in the world did the kangaroos get there? Did they convoy across a massive ice bridge? In fact, that is what the leading young earth creationist organization, Answers In Genesis, argues for. They suggest that the kangaroos walked across the ocean on a massive ice bridge, migrating to Australia. Of course, this begs the question of why they would begin such a voyage and how they survived the journey.

You might be inclined to think that these absurdities are just miracles. But the idea that God supernaturally transported kangaroos from the middle east to Australia, or that he orchestrated the rapid evolution of animals, is akin to saying that God scattered fossils throughout the world to test us. Why think that God would do that? Is it possible? Yes, I concede it. It is possible. But there is no reason to think that God would do that. Indeed, if he did not scatter the animals, we would have definitive evidence that all of the animals in the world were gathered into one local area! But instead he tampered with the evidence? He hid it from us? Why would we think that? The only possible reason for us to think that is because we have already assumed that the story must be literal. Hence, it is just an ad hoc explanation. It is meant solely to preserve the belief that the account of Noah is literal.

Is the story of Noah literal? It seems much less intellectually strenuous to say that it is just a parable.

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Do We Have The Free Will To Choose Salvation?

free will salvation 1If I carefully examine the evidence and data of a certain proposition, I will reach a conclusion regarding the truth value of that proposition. On the basis of that my conclusion, I will take an action. If I had reached an alternative conclusion, I would have taken a different course of action. Humans routinely examine data and react to evidence in a way that they otherwise would not have. For this reason, we seem to have developed this notion of freedom of the will. I can choose to do anything that I want to do in the natural world. The fundamental distinction between man and animals is, in fact, our ability to make choices that are based upon more than just instinct. If our instinct is telling us to do something, we begin to analyze that thing. We ask, not only, “do I want this?” (the instinctual question), but also questions of practicality and morality. We exceed and overpower our instinct in many situations. The question is, does this freedom of the will extend to the religious quarters? Do we have the free will to choose salvation?

free will salvation 2We might be keen to think that of course we can. If we have free will in every other area of life, then why not also the free will for us to choose our salvation? But I would like to suggest that we do not have the free will to choose our salvation. Our salvation must be decreed and offered to us by God himself. Only God can bring about our salvation, and there is nothing that we may contribute to it. This is the long-standing dispute between monergism and synergism. Monergism is the view that God alone is responsible for our salvation. Synergism is the view that God and man are working in synergy to bring about salvation. God makes it possible, and man, by his freedom of the will, accepts it. Do we have the free will to choose salvation? I would like to suggest that this view is both biblically and logically untenable.

We are enemies of God. If you find the absence of freedom of the will in matters of salvation to be a repellant, then I would call you to maintain it. You are welcome to the view that anybody can freely choose God. However, this comes with the caveat that, while you have that option available to you, you would never choose it. Freedom of the will involves choosing what you want, what is prudent, and what is intelligent. But the autonomous individual will always find reasons to choose unrighteousness. They will never choose God because they hate him. Man always wants to do anything that he wants. The unregenerate sees God as oppressive, locking him into a legalistic cage.

Hence, the Bible says of mans’ natural state that “There is nobody righteous, no, not one. There are none who understand. There are none who seek after God.” (Romans 3:10-11). Again, Genesis 6:5 tells us that man is “only evil continually.” Jeremiah 17:19 reminds us that “the heart of man is deceitful and wicked above all things.” Jesus tells us that what comes from within a persons’ very own heart is what defiles them (Mark 7:20). This serves to establish what is known as total depravity. Man is completely unable and unwilling to turn to God in faith and repentance. We just never would on our own. Do we have the free will to choose salvation? It does not really matter, does it? Even if we do, we never would.

In response to this, many people will appeal to a doctrine known as prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is the view that while man is totally depraved, unable to come to God, God offers a little bit of grace to everyone, thus activating the faith center of their heart and allowing them to turn to God. But there are a few problems with this. First of all, if God were to offer prevenient grace to everybody, then why is it that everybody does not turn to him in faith? Is it that one person is more righteous than another? Is one person more wise than another? Obviously not, because salvation is not a matter of how righteous we are, lest we be guilty of salvation by works. We are left to think, then, that God grants more prevenient grace to one person than he does to another. But this leaves us with monergism, rather than synergism. Secondly, if God grants prevenient grace, and they respond to it, then they would essentially be working alongside God to bring about their salvation. But Romans 11:6 tells us that if there are any works in grace, then it is no longer grace. Would prevenient grace even be grace, given the testimony of the apostle?

We are either slaves of sin or slaves of righteousness. If I am a slave of somebody, then I cannot choose to be free. That is fundamental to slavery. If I sell myself into slavery, then I enter into a contract wherein I cannot choose to be free until the end of that contract. The person who is a slave has an autonomy with a very limited scope. They might be able to freely choose some things, but only things within the confines of their slavery. They cannot choose their freedom. Likewise, the person who has not been born again is a slave of their sinful nature. The younger man might be a slave to partying, drinking, smoking, and lust. The older man might be a slave to money, wealth, power, and comfort. Either way, they are entrapped by that system, and in many ways, have developed a love for their chains.

This is the model of our relationship with sin that the Bible describes. Jesus tells us, “the person who commits sin is a slave to sin.” (John 8:34). Paul likewise describes the unregenerate as slaves to sin (Romans 6:20). In his masterpiece, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan illustrated this reality. Faithful told his companion Christian that a man was trying to lure him into a city called Deceit. The man spoke eloquently of the many delights within that city. But, Faithful recounted his wisdom, saying, “…and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house he would sell me for a slave.” The person who commits sin is a slave of sin. How is it that a slave of sin can do righteousness? Do we have the free will to choose salvation? I think not. The unregenerate is a slave of sin.

Now this might bring us back to the issue of prevenient grace. But it is quite curious that the Bible can even use language, such as “slave of sin,” if it is the case that we have this prevenient grace that has enabled us to choose God. While that might be our natural state of affairs, it is just not a prudent description, because it is not what we actually stand as today. Today, we allegedly stand as people activated by prevenient grace. So when we are called slaves of sin, or unwilling to choose God, that does not really describe what we actually are. In this way, it seems to me that prevenient grace strikes closely to abandoning the doctrine of original sin. How is it that we can even speak of original sin as a relevant theme? How is it relevant? How is our depravity relevant?

Does God fail? If we have the freedom of the will to choose our salvation, that means that God is actively laboring to save each and every one of us. The person who drew their last breath, cursing God, in hatred of him, was, in fact, the recipient of God’s effort. God desperately tried to save that person, but alas, their free will overpowered him. This happens on a drastic scale. God tries to save everybody, and the majority of humanity turns their back on him. The majority of humanity enjoys the pleasure of sin more than they enjoy the pleasure of God. If we look at this as a battle between God and Satan, then Satan is luring all of these people into his presence, while God is able to lure just a few to him. But most of the world prefers Satan. Both God and Satan are vying for the souls of the masses, and in the grand scheme of things, Satan comes out with many more souls in his grasp than God does.

Yet this seems unthinkable when we reflect on the grand claims of God’s power and sovereignty in the Bible. Nebuchadnezzar said of God in Daniel 4:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth, and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’” The very same God who alters the will of men, so that what they intend for evil, he intends for good (Genesis 50:20). Do we have the free will to choose salvation? It is unthinkable that God would collapse before the free will of man. He can surely overpower our will, and draw us to himself. He is more powerful than Satan, more powerful than the nations, and more powerful than the individual. Thus, when Jesus calls, his sheep hear his voice (John 10:27).

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What Would A Universe Without God Look Like?

universe god 1People often have the impression that it is difficult to know whether God exists. We have to take the natural world as it is, and desperately look for clues of God under every rock, peeking into the deep crevices of the earth, hoping that there might be some evidence of God’s existence. With such an untenable plight, many are left to appeal only to their own personal emotions with regard to God’s existence. Hence, people have a tendency to just assume that the natural world could look exactly as it does today, even if God did not exist. Atheistic naturalism could produce a world precisely like this one, and so if we want to believe in God, we are forced to recede to blind faith. Is this the case? What would a universe without God look like?

universe god 2Atheists usually contest that if we were to predict what the universe without God would look like, we have precisely what we would expect. As Richard Dawkins so eloquently philosophized, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Is Dawkins right? Is the universe that we observe, the universe that we would predict if there were no cosmic mind behind it?

There would be no intelligent life. In the last few generations, scientists have discovered that the universes’ capacity for the existence of intelligent life is breathtakingly narrow. Intelligent life is contingent upon a range of anthropic constants. An anthropic constant is an element of the cosmos which, if altered, then life would not exist. Just imagine that there were giant dials in the outer echelons of the universe, and for life to exist, they all have to point to the correct number on each respective dial. There are 122 of these dials. If every single dial were pointing to the right number, that would be very compelling evidence that somebody pointed them to the right number. In this way, this argument is not centered exclusively on complexity. There are many elements of the universe the are complex but do not show traces of design. But if there is complexity with a corresponding pattern, that is a sign of design. If I were to go to the DMV and get a license plate, and when they issue it to me, it has my full name written on it, I would be justified in thinking that a friend of mine was working at the DMV. Indeed, it would be unthinkable for me to assume that it was just the product of chance. The corresponding pattern excludes that interpretation. Thus as the astronomer Doctor Fred Hoyle put it, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super-intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces at work.” What would the universe look like if God did not exist? Well, it is highly unlikely that there would be any sign of intelligent life.

There are two common responses to this. Many atheists will indicate that we adapted to the dials, and intelligent life would come to be, independent of what the dials were. The problem with this is that the dials are not exclusively anthropocentric. Consider the force of gravity. Imagine that there were a tape measure stretching across the entire known universe. Gravity rests on a particular inch mark (note: gravity is not measured in inches, it is just an illustration). If gravity were moved to any other inch mark, then planets would not be able to form. The face of these constants is not the allowance of human life, but rather, the allowance of any intelligent life.

Secondly, many atheists think that this is just an appeal to ignorance. We do not know the explanation of this remarkable fine-tuning, and therefore, it must be God. Well, this is not an argument about ignorance, as much as it is an argument regarding data. It is an argument from what we do know, not from what we do not know. We recognize patterns corresponding to complexity all of the time, and it is not an appeal to ignorance. It is an appeal to knowledge.

Human evolution would not be possible. There are certain levels of design and engineering that we find increasingly impressive. If an engineer is about to construct a robot that builds other robots, that would be quite impressive. However, if an engineer would be able to construct a robot that assembles itself, from scattered parts throughout the world, that would be immeasurably impressive. Such a man would be championed as a genius and would win the Nobel Prize. He would be hailed as a hero and would be the face of nanotechnology. This level of design is beyond what human knowledge has achieved to this point. Yet this is what we see in the case of abiogenesis and human evolution. That is theistic evolution, and it seems like it is a much more sophisticated interpretation of the facts than atheistic naturalism.

But that is just a word about the origins of evolution with abiogenesis. From the process of human evolution, there erupts a mathematical model that is just not consistent with what we see in the natural world. The amount of time that evolution demands is much greater than the history of the earth. This problem has manifested among scientists to the extent that the number of scientific papers containing the words “accelerated evolution,” has precipitously increased in the last few decades. As the RNA biochemist Doctor Patricia Fanning said in her article, Becoming Human – Fast!, “By definition, there’s enough time because the evolutionary rate is calculated by determining the number of changes between the common ancestor of humans and chimps and then dividing that number by 6 million years—the amount of time that has elapsed since the divergence of humans and chimps. To put it another way, “the deck is rigged.” So, of course, there’s enough time (from the evolutionary perspective) for humans to have evolved from chimps. Or is there? Perhaps not always, even when using a rigged deck.”

What would a universe without God look like? It would make for a much less plausible interpretation of the fact of evolution. It would also demand that the earth was much older than a merely 4.54 billion years. Notice also that this is not an argument against science. It is not contesting that evolution and abiogenesis did not occur. Rather, it assumes that they did occur, and that atheistic naturalism offers us an implausible interpretation of them.

Human cognitive faculties would probably not be functional. Human evolution is not contingent upon knowing what the truth is. Rather, it is contingent upon our survival as a species. Human beings evolved to survive the Sahara Desert, but not to do quantum mechanics. We evolved to know how to eat and reproduce, and there is really no reason for us to know what accurately reflects reality. If I think I am eating something just because it tastes good, that is because throughout the course of my evolution, my body has told me that lie so that I would enjoy the process of eating. But in truth, I am eating because it keeps me alive. However, there is no reason for me to know the truth of why I am eating. I eat because it tastes good, and that keeps me alive. Likewise, a man may pursue a woman, not because he wants to reproduce, but because of sexual lust. Sexual lust is the incentive that the course of human evolution has given him, and he believes that lie even though the true purpose is reproduction. There is no reason for him to actually know what the truth is. In this way, truth and survivability do not need to correspond. So, why should we think that they do?

Now, you might be inclined to say, “they just do! End of story!” Well, that would be to assume your conclusion and interpret the fact in light of it. The problem is that there truly is no reason for you to think that your cognitive faculties are functional on atheistic naturalism. What would a universe without God look like? It would be unlikely that our cognitive faculties would be functional.

So, are they functional? It is true that we commonly make logical errors and scientific blunders and are forced into a system of checks and balances. But, the flourishing of scientific naturalism is indicative that the cognitive faculties of human beings are functional. We have overcome our evolutionary survivability and indulged in truth. Therefore, our cognitive faculties are functional in the very sense in which that would be unlikely in a universe without God.

The universe would not exist. Often, when people want to expound upon why they believe in God’s existence, they will appeal to the abundance of the natural world. Whether a lay theist or a sophisticated philosopher, we know that God exists because the evidence is all around us. We can see plainly that God exists because creation requires a Creator. The natural world must have had an explanation. Everything that exists requires an explanation, whether in the necessity of its’ own nature, or in an external cause. In response to this, you might be keen to say that the universe is necessary in its’ existence, that is, it cannot be otherwise. It must exist.

But in contrast with what the atheist blogosphere will put out, that is contradicted by the general consensus of contemporary cosmologists. Most scientists agree with Doctor PCW Davies, who said, “The universe can’t have existed forever. We know that there must have been an absolute beginning a finite time ago.” Or Doctor Alexander Vilenkin, who said, “It is said that an argument is what is takes to convince reasonable men, and a proof is what it takes to convince unreasonable men. With the proof now in place, cosmologists can no longer hide behind the idea of a past-eternal universe. They have to face the problem of a cosmic beginning.” Or Doctor Stephen Hawking, who said, “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, has an absolute beginning.” Or Doctor Laurence Krauss, who said, “If I had to guess, I would say that the universe is not eternal.” Thus, modern cosmologists agree that the universe is not eternal.

This means that the universe is not necessary in its’ existence, since it has not always existed. Therefore, the universe must have an explanation beyond itself. By the very nature of the case, the explanation of the universe must be beyond time, as it is, itself, the explanation of time. Thus, it is eternal, and uncaused. It is beyond space, matter, energy, and all physical material, as it is, itself, the explanation of these things. It must also be supernatural, as it is, itself, the explanation of nature.

What would a universe without God look like? Well, there is literally no universe worth speaking of.

If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!




What Is Christianity?

what is christianity 1Throughout their lives, people have different experiences of Christianity, and these experiences tend to paint their interpretation of what Christianity is. Whether it was represented properly or not, people carry around images of Christian belief that do not necessarily represent historic or biblical Christian belief. People will reject a Christianity that is foreign to the Bible. They will reject a Christianity that was represented to them by men who, themselves, did not know what Christianity was. I want to represent Christianity as it truly is for people who have never received proper instruction on what it is. So, what is Christianity?

what is christianity 2Now it occurs to me that some may find this very proposition offensive. I am insinuating that the Christianity that people have rejected was not “true” Christianity. But that is not always the case. Some people see true Christianity and find it appalling. As the apostle Paul tells us, “the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. But to those who believe, it is the power of God.” Some people do see Christianity, as it truly is, and reject it anyway. Some people hear the gospel and flee from it. Some people see the light and take shelter in the darkness. But there are others who have either never heard a proper outline or summary of Christianity, or they have been given an improper version of Christian theology. For those people, I write about the question, “What is Christianity?”

What Is Christianity? – Jesus is God The Son and the Son of God. This is something the many people struggle with and raises a few philosophical quagmires. But Jesus has existed forever, in the form of God (Philippians 2:6), alongside the Father (John 1:18). Hence, Jesus is God, but he is not the Father, nor is he the Holy Spirit. He is God the Son. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have existed in perfect unity from eternity. But they are not distinct beings. There is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4). But this one God is eternally presented in three persons, or three centers of consciousness.

God the Son transferred his consciousness into the womb of Mary, thus incarnating and becoming a man, and living on earth. Thus the words, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). This is quite difficult for us to conceive us, that God could become man; the infinite could become finite; the transcendent could become local. The way that I conceive of this is that it is as though God were an author, and he wrote himself into his own story. I expound further upon this in my article, How Could Jesus Be Both God And Man?

What is Christianity? The words marking the beginning of the prologue of John’s Gospel nicely summarize this. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

What is Christianity? We have separated ourselves from God. If a father establishes rules for his children, he is not doing that to be arbitrary (we can hope), nor is he laboring to be oppressive, or to show off how powerful he is to rule over them. Rather, his rules for his children are a demonstration of his love for them. He wants them to live proper lives so that they might be safe from harm and for their own betterment. But when the children break those rules, it is an offense to the father because the children do not trust him. They trust themselves more. Likewise, when a wife cheats on her spouse, the husband will become angry because of his love for her. He has a special relationship with his wife that is harmed by this betrayal.

Similarly, when we sin, we show disdain for God and separate ourselves from him. Unlike a human father or husband, God cannot have sin in his sight. He is righteous, and in his righteousness, he must punish sin. If a father did not punish his children, he would not love them. If a judge did not punish guilty criminals, he would be a corrupt and immoral judge. Just the same, God must punish sin. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), and it informs us that, “the wage of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ.” (Romans 6:23).

What Is Christianity? – There is nothing we can do to merit eternal life. There are no works that we can offer to God that might justify us. If you stopped sinning right now, from today, until the day that you died, living in absolute holiness and morality, you will still die under God’s wrath. It does not matter if your good deeds weigh more than your evil deeds. God cannot have any sin in his sight. The only way for you to merit eternal life is if you lived in absolute holiness, with not a single sin or blemish or spot, from the time you are born until the time you die. Jesus actually encountered a man who claimed to have attained this level of righteousness and said that the salvation for which he was laboring was like pushing a camel through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24).

Think of it in the sense of a judge and a criminal. The criminal could promise the judge that he was reformed. He could promise that he would never sin again. He could even say that he had done more good deeds than evil deeds. He would still be sentenced to prison because he must be punished for his crime. In the same way, we must be punished for our crime because of the sin we have committed.

What Is Christianity? – Jesus died in our place. We are guilty criminals in God’s sight. Yet God has allowed sin to go unpunished throughout the generations. God has allowed guilty sinners to live despite that every thought that they have and everything that they do is only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). He has allowed rapists, liars, thieves, and you, to continue living. He has withheld his hand. He has not crushed you under the heavy weight of his wrath. But the question is, how can God do that? How can a righteous God know what you did yesterday, and not crush you today? How can he still be righteous when he allows someone with an evil heart to exist?

The answer emerges in the cross of Christ. When God the Son became a man, all of the wrath of God the Father that his people deserve was poured out upon him (Isaiah 53:10). He became a propitiation, to demonstrate God’s righteousness, even considering the past forbearance over sins (Romans 3:25). The unrighteousness of man was laid on Christ and nailed to the cross, destroying it. Now the righteousness of the perfect Son of God can be given to his people. The sins of the past are obliterated, cast as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), because Jesus Christ stepped in and paid our fine. He absorbed the wrath of his Father.

Three days after he died, he rose from the dead, proving that he was who he claimed to be. Jesus died “under the curse of God,” because the Law says that anyone who dies in that way, is accursed. But then he rose from the dead, thus vindicating Jesus. Paul informs us that Jesus was, truly, under God’s curse, because “he became a curse for us.” (Galatians 3:13). Further, the physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a model for our future resurrection. Thus, Jesus died under the curse of God, so that we would not have to, and rose again, so that we could rise with him.

What Is Christianity? – Justification By Faith Alone. So Jesus died in our place. He died the death that we deserve. He died for our sins. Does that imply universalism? Does that mean that everybody in the world is right with God? Well, not exactly. It means that God offers us a free gift, and we must receive it. The apostle Paul tells us, “to the one who does not work, but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). Faith is credited as righteousness. Likewise, Jesus told a woman who had faith that “your faith has saved you,” (Luke 7:50). In this way, God justifies the person who has faith in him.

When I say faith, though, I do not merely mean mental assent. I do not merely mean that we must believes a series of propositional truths. I mean that we trust in the sacrifice that Christ made. We trust that God alone has saved us. But faith is granted solely by the Holy spirit. If you are feeling drawn to faith in Christ, it is because the Spirit is drawing you. So I implore you to draw near to him. Draw near to him, and he will grant you faith, and give you the free gift of eternal life.

What Is Christianity? – Delight in righteousness. Salvation comes by faith alone. That is how we are saved, by our faith, and nothing else. Water baptism does not save. Good works do not justify. Only the work of Christ on the cross justify us. But, the faith that we have is complimented by a righteous lifestyle and a joy in doing God’s will. If we do not have that, then we can be sure that we do not have faith.

The righteousness that a Christian has is not a forced and legalistic righteousness. It is not an oppressive list of rules that forces us to do things that we hate. Rather, it is a righteousness that we love. It is a righteousness that we delight in because we delight to do the will of our Father. As Psalm 37:4 reads, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

This delight is not forced. It is not a matter of manufacturing emotions. It is a matter of being made a new creature by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian is one who is “born again.” (John 3:5). Paul informs us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). This means that the Christian is literally a transformed and new creature. They have been born again and delight in doing the will of the Father.

What Is Christianity? There are more elements to Christianity that could be considered, and you may feel free to browse this blog to learn more. However, the essential and fundamental tenets of faith are outlined here. God is a trinity. We are born in sin, separate from God and cannot earn our salvation. But Jesus died in our place, then he rose from the dead. Now he offers us the free gift of eternal life, making us new creatures and filling our capacity for delight by living lives dedicated to the righteousness of the Father.

If you would like to get in on the discussion about this, join my Theology Discussion Group!




Is Same Sex Marriage Bad For Homosexuals?

hurt hom 1Is same-sex marriage bad for homosexuals? This is one of the most difficult topics that there is to discuss. I am afraid that many believers, conservatives, and fourteen year olds are incapable of broaching the topic of homosexuality without being almost intentionally offensive. We all interpret reality through the lens of our experiences. But if I have one experience, and a friend of mine has another, which experience is correct? Is it the one that is loaded with the most emotion, that has the greatest appeal to the sympathies of the masses? While emotions are valuable tools, they are tools that lead us to truth. They are not truth in and of themselves. They are helpful guides. Indeed, they are times wherein our emotions lead us astray.

hurt hom 2As we ponder our principle question, “is same-sex marriage bad for homosexuals?” while we do not want to dismiss emotions are utterly irrelevant aspects of life, they should be wielded in an appropriate manner. Emotions should not determine truth, but rather they should function as tools that can guide us to truth. This means that as we present and consider this material, it is not something disconnected from our emotional core. We need to be able to relate to our homosexual friends. To that end, before proceeding, I would encourage you to read my two articles How Should Christians React To The Legalization Of Same-Sex Marriage? and Christians: Imagine You Were A Homosexual.

41sfTkoUVALSame-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by creating a society of fatherless individuals. Many people think that sex before marriage is a drain on the individual because it arbitrarily and oppressively restrains them from that which is natural. It is just an old religious exercise that no longer has any bearing on the individual and especially not on society. However, I would like to suggest that free sexuality leads us into a very compromising position. When a worthless man has sex with a girl to whom he is not committed, it often results in unplanned pregnancies. This particular worthless man has the option to flee for his life and leave this girl to raise the child on their own. This creates the situation of a fatherless home. Children who grow up in fatherless or motherless homes are often a drain on society. Children who come from fatherless homes represent the majority of the countries suicides, rapists, dropouts, inmate, and teenage pregnancy (thus initiating the cycle again). A society of children who grow up without fathers is not a society that is beneficial to homosexuals.

fatherless-america-confronting-our-most-urgent-social-problemBut by endorsing and promoting same sex marriage, the government is endorsing and promoting a system of marriage that necessarily produces children that grow up without father or a mother. The effort to normalize same sex marriage, in turn, normalizes fatherless homes. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? It creates a society of individuals who were raised without one parent. The government needs to endorse properly functioning families because properly functioning families produce properly functioning individuals, and properly functioning individuals produce a properly functioning society.

This is something that is conceded even by thoughtful members of the LGBT community. David Blakenhorn is a liberal democrat who changed his position on same sex marriage precisely because the adverse impact that it has on children. He enunciates this view in his book Fatherless America. Dawn Stefanowicz likewise changed her position about homosexual parenting, as she explained in her book Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by compromising their societal function. Since the legalization of same-sex marriage, a flood of Christians have questioned the legitimacy of any governmental role in marriage. They suggest that people can make a marital commitment to one another without the government intervening. While that is true, that is not to say that the government should have no role in the institution of marriage. The institution of marriage is fundamentally an issue of social order. Marriage can lengthen the lifespan of men and women. It will lure men into being productive in society as opposed to be a drain on society. It protects women from uncommitted boyfriends, and protects mothers from violent crime. It can even lower the cost of welfare. The reason that the government is involved in marriage is that the institution of marriage is the foundation for society. We need a properly functioning system of marriage to have a properly functioning society.

Therefore, the government involves itself in marriage by rewarding those who get married. They are showered with benefits precisely because marriage is central to society. But if the government begins to reward all forms of coupling, as though they were equal to marriage, then the marriage that sustains society is no longer exclusively endorsed. The government, therefore, is rid of all incentive to reward marriage, because they are essentially just rewarding people for becoming a couple. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? Well it creates a society for homosexuals to live wherein the government no longer has any basis for rewarding marriage. Hence, the society in which the homosexual abides will become weaker because the central foundation for society is not being promoted.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by normalizing harmful behavior. If I have a friend who is engaging in behavior that is harmful, I will want to warn them about it. If he is smoking cigarettes, he should be encouraged to quit smoking, lest he die. If a friend is engaging in alcoholism or drug abuse, there would be powerful demonstrations of love for that individual by imploring them to leave that life behind. The obvious difference between these behavior and homosexual behavior is that at some point, somebody chose to pick up a heroin needle. They were not born with an inclination toward heroin. However, some people are born with inclinations toward addictive behavior. Some people have an addictive personality. Some people are born with a pre-inclination toward rage. But when you begin to indulge in that behavior, then the harmful effects manifest themselves.

That is what we see with homosexual behavior. While there are no adverse effects to the mere inclination, there are adverse effects that result from homosexual behavior. The Center For Disease Control reports that more than 82 percent of all sexually transmitted diseases come as a consequence of same sex relations. This, along with other health factors has shortened the average lifespan of the practicing homosexual by ten to twenty years. Of course, this does not exclusively affect homosexuals. The CDC also reports thousands of people who contract AIDS from blood transfusion.

In response to this, you might be inclined to indicate that same sex marriage will commit men to their partner, so that there will no longer be outbursts of lust, hence reducing cases of AIDS among homosexuals and throughout the United States. But as the Journal of Family Psychology points out, “the practice of sexual non-monogamy among some gay couples is one variable that differentiates them from heterosexual couples.” Surveys reveal that men who are in long term homosexual relationships still engage in intercourse with other men. The Sex In America survey that was published by the University of Chicago revealed that there is only a correlation between marital monogamy and sexual monogamy among only 2 percent of those involved in homosexual marriage.

Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? It is horrible for them. By legalizing same sex marriage, we normalize the most potent production of sexually transmitted diseases in the United States.

Same-sex marriage hurts homosexuals by separating him from his Creator. This is a debate that is not inherently about religion. Religion is not a factor in the impact that homosexuality has on society. I am not saying that we should outlaw same sex marriage because it is sinful. If I were to say that, I would advocate the outlawing of every sin. The social adversities that we see are purely social adversities. Same sex marriage puts children in a compromising position, impales the foundation of our society and normalizes behavior that is harmful to homosexuals. These are religiously neutral facts.

Yet, if I am to expound upon why same sex marriage is harmful, I would say that it separates man from his Creator. That is not to say that the practicing homosexual is a greater sinner than I. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came to save sinners, of whom, I am the worst.” (1 Timothy 1:15). But a fundamental aspect of being a Christian is acknowledging your sin. It is changing your mind about sin, and about Christ. That is what repentance means. It is not a matter of oppressing yourself, creating a legalistic rule to keep yourself from homosexual lust. That is not what it means to follow Christ. What it means to follow Christ is that we are laboring for righteousness with joy. We abstain from sin not because we have arbitrarily set rules for ourselves, but in our love for Christ, who died for us, in our place. While we were enemies of God, while we were dead in our sins, Christ saved us. We were not so righteous that God would choose us. Rather, we were unrighteous and helpless, and Christ came to save us.

This is to say that in Christianity, we are not earning our place with God. It is impossible to do that (Luke 18:27). Christ already did the work for us. When he died, all of God’s punishment that we deserve went out upon him. Then he made us new creatures and justified us as a free gift. As an overflow of the joy that we have, we want to share it with others. Christians labor to bring others to know Christ so that they might feel the ultimate fulfillment of their desires.

I am afraid that worldly folks are just too easily satisfied. The person who would rather indulge in fleshly lusts are just too easily satisfied. Christ created us with this immense capacity for joy. This is one that only he can fill himself. Is same sex marriage bad for homosexuals? Yes, it leads them to turn away from their Creator and put all of their hope in the lust of the flesh.

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What Is A “Jesus Only” Church?

jesus only 1Ancient diversions from orthodoxy seem to sprout up throughout the generations of church history. Christians have classically maintained strict trinitarianism. Any departure from this has been looked upon by the historic church as a heresy. A non-trinitarian model of God would hence be seen as idolatry. Nonetheless, there are some Christian groups who maintain a form of unitarianism. While a trinitarian is a person who believes that there is one God, eternally presented in three persons, a unitarian is one who believes that there is one God, who is one person. This position has manifested itself in several very unique and distinct ways, which often do not have many areas of overlap. Islam is a unitarian system. Jehovah’s Witnesses are essentially Arians, who believe that Jesus is not God. Jesus Only churches are likewise unitarian. But they are very different from other unitarians. A Islamic unitarian or an Arian unitarian would find the Jesus Only form of unitarianism to be quite displeasing. So then, what is the Jesus Only form of unitarianism? Further, what is a “Jesus Only” church?

jesus only 2The Jesus Only churches have some very unique beliefs, apart from merely unitarianism. They have also departed from historical Christianity in their beliefs about water baptism, the use and application of tongues, and the Holy Spirit. However, it might be argued that all of these beliefs are centralized by their unitarianism. Many adherents to the Jesus Only movement will style themselves Oneness Pentecostals. I will labor to present the Oneness Pentecostal positions as fairly as I can, yet also being concise and explaining why I do not think they are a proper representation of the biblical model. Anyone interested in a further discussion may pursue my series of articles that I titled Oneness Pentecostal Heresy.

jesus only 3The “Oneness” View of God. The Jesus Only movement usually does not use the title “unitarianism.” Rather, they prefer to refer to the “oneness” conception of God. Many adherents to the oneness conception of God mistakenly think that the trinity teaches that there are three gods, which is in opposition to strict biblical monotheism that we see throughout the Law and the Prophets and the New Testament. So in an effort to refute the trinity, many will appeal to verses such as Deuteronomy 6:4, which, of course says that there is only one God. I am afraid that many just have been provided with a poor representation of what the doctrine of the trinity teaches. The trinity does not teach that there are three gods. The trinity teaches that there is one God who is eternally present in three persons.

jesus only 4In contrast, the Jesus Only conception of unitarianism maintains that there is one God, and one person, and the name of that one person is Jesus. In this way, Jesus would be the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They would just be different manifestations that Jesus takes. At the incarnation, we see the Father becoming a man. That man is the Son. The typical explanation of this that the Jesus Only adherent will give is that the Son is just the human nature of Jesus, while the Father is the spiritual nature of Jesus. The Son is not God in this sense. Rather, the Son is the human nature that Jesus takes on. Indeed, we are all “sons” of God. So when the Son is communicating with the Father, that is just his human nature speaking with his spiritual nature.

This is contradicted by the plain claims to divinity that the Son has. In Hebrews 1:8, the Father says to the Son, “Your throne, O God, is everlasting.” In Luke 23:46, as Jesus is dying, he cries out, “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.” Since Jesus is committing his “spiritual nature” to the Father, this indicates that his spiritual nature is not the Father. Since Jesus is not the Father, neither in his spiritual nature, nor in his human nature (if indeed we could separate such things), it follows that this form of unitarianism is not true. What is a “Jesus Only” Church? They maintain this view of God that is historically known as modalism, which is patently contradicted by the scriptural testimony.

Baptism In The Name of Jesus. If somebody were to be baptized into the Jesus Only Church, they would undergo a baptism that explicitly endorses unitarianism. Matthew 28:19 offers the prescriptive baptismal formula that the church has applied throughout the generations. The trinitarian baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Only Church maintains that since the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is Jesus, it is thus appropriate to baptize exclusively in the name of Jesus. What is a “Jesus Only” Church? They are marked very particularly by their insistence upon water baptism with their baptismal formula. The trinitarian baptism is illegitimate. Only those who are hear the words “in the name of Jesus,” as they are being water baptized, are saved.

They draw support from the baptisms throughout the book of Acts, wherein the apostles are routinely said to have baptized in the name of Jesus. Their signature text is Acts 2:38, wherein Peter declares, “Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Oneness Pentecostals routinely appeal to Acts 2:38 to justify their entire theology. To them, it is a confirmation of modalism (since it proves that the “name” of the Father, Son, and Spirit, is Jesus) and their baptismal formula.

There are two elements of this that are worthy of being challenged. First is the issue of baptismal regeneration. The suggestion that water baptism is necessary for salvation is utterly foreign to Scripture. Paul taught salvation by faith alone (click here to read more). Jesus taught salvation by faith alone (click here to read more). The idea that Acts, a historical narrative, has the capacity to undermine a didactic letter is absurd (click here to read more). In these articles, you will find surgical defenses of the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Second criticism: when one acts “in the name of” something, they are not speaking of reciting those words. If I act in the name of a king, I am acting in his authority. It does not matter if I recite the name of the king. I could merely say, “the name of the king,” and still be acting in his name. We see this idiomatic usage of the term in Acts 4:7, wherein it is inquired of Peter and John, “by what power, or in what name do you do that?” Name is an idiom for power and authority, not necessarily an indication that we have to recite the name of the individual.

The necessity of tongues. For the Jesus Only Church, once you have been water baptized with the recitation of the word “Jesus,” then you are almost there. You have almost made it to salvation. The last thing that you have to do is be filled with the Holy Spirit, that is necessarily evidenced by speaking with ecstatic tongues. If you do not speak with ecstatic tongues, then it follows that you do not have the Holy Spirit. The Jesus Only Church insists that tongues are a necessary evidence of the Holy Spirit. Of course, most Christians believe that the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. That is what it means to be “born again,” to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, made a new creature by the power of God and given the free gift of eternal life. However, for the Oneness Pentecostal, the outward indicator of being filled with the Spirit is that the believer will begin to speak with tongues.

They would draw support from the book of Acts, wherein people are filled with the Holy Spirit, being complimented by speaking with other tongues. The problem is that there is no reason to think that speaking with other tongues is normative, or a necessary indicator of salvation. Indeed, there are instances in Acts where people are filled with the Spirit and do not speak with tongues (Acts 8:17). For a critical examination of this belief, please see my article Are Tongues Necessary For Salvation?

What is a “Jesus Only” church? They are a group who align themselves with Christianity, yet deny the trinity, and ensure that their members declare their denial of the trinity through an explicitly non-trinitarian baptism. This baptism is seen as an essential element of one’s salvation, and piled upon that are tongues, which are also necessary for salvation. This is fundamentally what a Jesus Only Church is.

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Christians: Imagine You Were A Homosexual

imagine gay 1The flames of emotion were ignited a few days ago and their smoke perennially drifts amidst the atmosphere. Many think that this legalization has marked the end of the debate over same sex marriage. But the ongoing struggle over abortion seems to suggest that the debate over same sex marriage probably will not fade into irrelevancy just because it is legal now. There will continue to be people who oppose it and people who advocate it. However, I am afraid that the flames of emotion can be quite scorching. People are more interested in making declarations of pride in their respective stances than they are communicating with one another. I am afraid that we almost need a diplomat to barter between both sides so that we may have effective communication. The problem is that many Christians just do not understand the homosexual position. Thus, I have a challenge for you. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual.

imagine gay 2It is quite regrettable that throughout history, people have been unable to sympathize with those who were slightly different from them. We have been unable to diplomatically understand what those with whom we disagree are saying, and for this reason, communication becomes impossible. It becomes the case that we are merely laboring to shout each other down, and the person who shouts loudest, wins. The person who uses the most emotionally loaded names, wins. Of course, emotions can be a good thing when they encourage discussion. But throughout this discourse, emotions stifle discussion. They become a smokescreen. The emotions make it impossible for thinking citizens to scrutinize the relevant issues. In this way, all I am faced with are the emotions of the other party, and my own emotions. If we are going to communicate with one another, then we need to understand one another. This initiates my challenge. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual.

imagine gay 3You have been bullied from your youth. Adolescence are often far too immature to handle people who are different from them. Homosexual adolescence are typically cast as outcast, foreigners, and victims. When a homosexual youth “comes out,” and reveals their homosexuality, the wind of betrayal begins to whistle through their world. Their friends begin to snub them, or they treat them very differently. In many cases, we will see boys who are bullied, beaten up by other young boys. The schoolyard becomes hazardous, the mundane cafeteria becomes atwitter with deriding snickers, scowls of disgust and hateful taunting. The people who once deemed you their friends have abruptly cut you off. The bonds of friendship that you once thought were strong enough to endure are cut.

imagine gay 4Then you venture to the place wherein you think that you have solace. You reveal your deep emotional turmoil to your parents with the knowledge that while the rest of the world will wrinkle their nose in disgust of you, certainly, your parents will maintain steadfast love and support. But alas, the boy reveals to his parents that he is a homosexual, and he sees his fathers’ face go pale. A tear streams his mothers’ cheeks, and perhaps one of them (probably the father) gets up from the table, not saying a word in response. The child is left totally alone to think that they have some sort of deformity. When their parents’ finally do come to them wielding advice, they tell their child, that “it is a choice,” suggesting that their child just choose to not be a homosexual. The child offers the heavy retort, “if it were a choice, why would I choose to put myself through all of this?” But their parents do not understand. Nobody understands.

Finally, they encounter somebody who does understand. Some older advocate of same-sex marriage, and he begins to educate the boy. He tells him of the pride in being a homosexual, and the bigotry of the outside world. He draws comparisons to racism and slavery, and the child understands that it is not he who is deformed, but rather, that the outside world is bigoted. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. You have been through all of this. Now, any time somebody approaches you with a disagreeable opinion, you filter it through all of your past experiences. You filter it through the bigotry and hatred that you have endured throughout your entire life. It becomes the case that anybody who speaks a disagreeable opinion is, in fact, committing bigotry. You just cannot see passed that. Everything is interpreted in light of that established reality. You have made the assumption that any dissent is equal to schoolyard bullying and parental shunning. Even the most loving person, who thinks that homosexuality is harmful behavior, is categorically assumed to be a bigot by fiat.

Religious people have been hateful toward you. Now that you are an adult, you are expressing and publicly embracing the same-sex lifestyle. You are doing this to solidify homosexuality as normative, so that nobody has to endure what you endured as a teenager. But as you do this, you realize that there are many people who are so thoroughly appalled at your lifestyle, and it seems to be a consequence of their religious beliefs. The religious people around you cite the Bible as a means of controlling your life, and many of them truly are being bigoted and nasty toward you. These people really do not understand who you are and what you have been through. They really do not understand your past, and they really have no intention of doing so. The only thing that they want to do is spout their opinions, without an inkling of compassion for you as another human being. The religious folks are keen on using emotionally loaded and offensive words, like, “abomination,” or threatening you with hellfire.

As far as you can tell, they are taking a stance of superiority over you. They are claiming that you are some sort of second-class citizen. They are claiming that you are an abomination. The reason for this precisely something that they could never control. The reason that they are better than you is that they have heterosexual inclinations, and you have homosexual inclinations. As far as you can tell, these are amoral consequences of ones’ genetics. As far as you can remember, you never chose to be a homosexual (why would you?) and they never chose to be a heterosexual. If neither of you made this choice, it seems utterly unreasonable for them to stand in judgment over you. This is how people are interpreting Christians when they are standing on the street corner shouting, holding signs, or even writing in all capital letters on social networking sites.

As a consequence of this, you begin to develop the assumption that the entire debate is related to religion. People only condemn same-sex marriage because their religion condemns it. When people begin to speak about the societal drains that same-sex marriage may cause, you interpret what they are saying as an inherently religious statement, even if they are not making a religious statement. Communication becomes impossible because everything that is related to politics that they are saying becomes a matter of religion. So if somebody says, “I think the government should exclusively endorse traditional marriage as opposed to same-sex marriage,” you only interpret this as a religious statement. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. Even while the debate is not an inherently religious one, it becomes a religious debate precisely because you have made it one. Christians have made this into a religious debate, and this has distorted our ability to communicate properly. This is not a religious debate. The reasons for opposing government-endorsed same-sex marriage should not be religious. This would be a societal debate, rather than a religious one.

You are in love with a person of the same sex. As you begin to develop as an adult and hone your identity as a homosexual individual in society, you find that your attractions to people of the same sex far exceed mere sexual attraction (of course). You find that you are quite keen toward individuals. You begin to develop feelings for somebody, and they for you. You come to think that this individual is the person with whom you want to spend your life. In this way, the issue of same-sex marriage becomes more than just an abstract societal concept to you. It becomes more than a proposition worthy of defending in open debate. It has developed into more than a cause for protest. Same-sex marriage becomes precious to you because of the commitment and the rich history that it chauffeurs with it.

Now, when people begin to call you an abomination, the offense is deepened. You are stricken with anger, because not only are they denying you, not only are they being offensive toward you, but they are calling this love that you have an abomination. Yet it feels like the most pure substance that you have ever drank. For them to call it an abomination leaves you to wonder how anybody could be so cold. You would never approach them and tell them that their marriages and their relationships with their precious loved ones were abominations. Yet that is the treatment that you are receiving.

This social issue becomes more than a social issue. It becomes personal. It becomes beloved, and now, when people refuse your rights, it becomes deeply personal. It becomes a matter of love. The opponents typically just do not address that, or if they do, they are rather indifferent to the suffering of other people. The conservative refuses to communicate that they are not laboring to muffle the love you they have. As a purely societal question, there can be no objections to the coupling of members of the same-sex, nor their long-term commitment. That is simply nobody’s business. But, conservatives have neglected to express that the debate is not over whether people can have private marriage. Of course people of the same-sex can have love for one another without social objection from the opponent of the LGBT movement. Rather, the issue is one of government-endorsed marriage and commitment. The reason anybody would oppose that is purely for societal reasons. But that is not to say that they cannot love one another or continue in a loving relationship until death. They are free to do that. The opponents are merely expressing that they do not think the government should endorse it. Conservatives have failed to communicate this point. I labored to outline the societal issues in my article Is Same Sex Marriage Bad For Homosexuals?

Should we continue to shout each other down? The reason that people will not budge on these issues is not just that they are stubborn. It is not that they hate you or want to argue. The reason is that they are real people, with a real past. If the Christian really wants to communicate with the proponent of the LGBT movement, then they need to acknowledge the emotional baggage that comes with it. They need to labor to express self-sacrificial love for that person, and allowing their love to be their seat at the table. Then, in the confines of a trusting friendship, real progress can be made. Christians: imagine you were a homosexual. Then you will be able to communicate this is not an issue over religion, nor is it that you hate them or want to bully them. This is purely a social question with real social implications. We are all struggling to develop a properly functioning society of thinking men and women. To that end, we need to listen to one another, sympathize with the past and burdens and emotions, and share ideas freely.

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How Should Christians React To The Legalization Of Same Sex Marriage?

ssm 1The internet has displayed a flood of reactions to the legalization of same sex marriage. There is rejoicing and great joy. Homosexuals find that they can finally live in open union with their loved one, receiving the same governmental additives as a heterosexual conjugation. The proverbial and literal flag of the homosexual movement waves highly and proudly today. From that esteemed angle, they may find it proper to look down upon all of those who have (and still) oppose them. The Christians have begun claiming that today, we enter into the “last days.” Such a perilous movement for humanity is surely going to usher in the end of times. Perhaps this is just a way of saying, “I am quite displeased with this turn of events.” I am not sure. However, I would like to help Christians to formulate their thoughts. For this reason, I ask and labor to answer the question, how should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage?

ssm 2Every time this sort of debate is ignited, it is exceedingly hostile. We will see smoke emitting from the ears of people who are otherwise often quite kind-hearted. Charges of bigotry and inequality will arise. People have it ingrained in their minds that marriage equality is akin to slavery, women’s rights, and other issues pertaining to human rights. People think of it as a violation of human rights. They are imposing their beliefs upon others. They are controlling the lives of others. That is why it is so difficult to have a conversation. But Christians should know how to have a conversation. Christians have to react properly to this turn of events. How can we do that? How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage?

ssm 3We need to educate ourselves. When people apply both ignorance and arrogance, it is quite a deadly combination. It seems that many people, both Christian and non-Christian, liberal and conservative, are very emotionally charged about this issue. However, when that emotion merges with ignorance, it is very difficult to communicate. When both parties are speaking in emotional ignorance, then it becomes just impossible. I am afraid that this characterization is not far from the truth. Many Christians are just completely uneducated about the relevant issues that pertain to same sex marriage and marriage equality. They just have no idea.

ssm 4They do not know how to speak to a liberal or understand their language or way of thinking. They do not know how to approach this issue purely from a social standpoint. While the Bible is the sole infallible rule of authority for the church, it is not the authority that the secular world accepts for themselves (otherwise they would not be the secular world). The reason that conservative scholars oppose same sex marriage may be ultimately driven by their belief in the bible, but if it is a belief that truly is for the betterment for society, then we should be able to articulate why society would be better in the absence of same sex marriage. Many Christian academics have undertaken such a project. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? Well, the social justification for denying same sex marriage needs to be understood.

ssm 5When we have a conversation with our liberal friends, we need to be able to properly enunciate what we believe and why we believe it. We may appeal to the Bible if we would like. But our respectful friend would say something like, “Okay, that works for you. But I do not believe in the Bible. While I am thrilled for you that your faith has given you purpose in life, it is just not what I am interested in at this particular point. With that in mind, I do not think that I should be forced to follow the rules of your faith.” In this way, if we are going to have a conversation with people, if we are really going to represent the biblical position, then we need to be intelligent and educated. If the conservative party had a proper representative, the debate would not be easily won. Seek out good books on the topic. Doctor Frank Turek’s Correct, Not Politically Correct: How Same Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone labors to outline the relevant issues.

ssm 6Allow your love to be your seat at the table. Perhaps an argument could be made that this subsection should have been first. But I do not place them based on importance. The love that Christians demonstrate needs to be our seat at the table. People are willing to listen to us not because we scream louder than they do. They are willing to listen to us not only because we are educated and intelligent. They are willing to listen to us not because we can articulate our points effectively or refute everything that they are saying. People do not listen to that. The reason that they listen to us is that we are willing to show love to them, and hence, we have gained their respect and honor. People want to hear the moral opinion expressed by those who have a proven worthy moral opinion. If Charles Manson wanted to explain to me how one behaves as a decent person in society, most of us would not hold his opinion in high esteem. But if Mother Teresa were to outline that for us, then that is a person of worthy repute that we could listen to.

If a Christian wants to be able to communicate with other people, if we want to make ourselves known, then we need our love for them to be the foundation upon which we stand. I want to emphasize that I am not talking about fuzzy, warm feelings or butterflies in the stomach. I am not talking about a generic concept. I am talking about something very specific. Consider the Golden Rule. Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. This means that to the degree that we attend to our own needs, so also we should tend to the needs of our fellow man. If you can be self-sacrificial, if you can give something to your friends, then seek to do that. If you have a few hours that you would normally spend on yourself, give it to your neighbor. When they see that you are sacrificing yourself, that you truly care about them, then your moral opinion is elevated. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? Allow your love to be your seat at the table.

There are so many people who align themselves with Christianity that just want to shout others down. They just want to make their voices heard, and pretend that they are doing a service to Christ and a service to their cause. But what they are contributing is not the love that I see revealed in Christ, as he said, “You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemy, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Do not compromise biblical principles. The way this debate is framed makes it very challenging to the Christian faith. It is not so much that we are debating the truth value of a certain proposition. Rather, we are debating human value, so it seems. The LGBT movement often seems to portray the debate as akin to the debate over interracial marriage, or slavery, or something historic that has emerged with obvious moral overtones. The debate over same sex marriage has extreme moral overtones. If you enunciate a view that contradicts the common wisdom of the day regarding this issue, you are hastily labeled a bigot. You become the center of controversy. People are out to stomp on you. Christians do not want that. Nobody wants that.

As a consequence, many people will neglect to take a stance on this issue. Christians will remain on the fence, and make only vague remarks regarding their stance of same sex marriage. They will say that they are studying as much as they can to come to a proper conclusion on the issue. But what they are truly doing is acting in fear of what the general public will think of they align with conservative Christianity. If they repudiate same sex marriage, then they are labeled a bigot. If they embrace same sex marriage, they are labeled unfaithful. I think most of us can understand the impulse to remain “on the fence,” or try to find a position that seems to appease everybody, or at least one that does not make everybody angry.

While I understand the desire to make that effort, I am not just convinced that this is what Christians are called to do. Christians are called to stand by the principles of the word of God, because it is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church. It is authoritative in the revealed doctrines and practices, and it is God’s word. It seems that if this is God’s word, then we need only to embrace it without allowing the practices of the world to corrupt it. How should Christians react to the legalization of same sex marriage? We must not reinterpret the Bible to satisfy the demands of the culture. We have to read the culture through the lens of the biblical worldview.

We need to help other Christians to stop compromising. This is a practice that is done with the caveats outlined earlier. We have to do it in love and do it intelligently. We need to call our fellow Christians into obedience to the word of God. If we are losing ground on every front, even in the church, then the American church will be lost. It will slide utterly into secularism within just a few decades, and in the United States, the only thing that we will see is liberal theology. The only thing that we will see are people who have a vague notion of God, who believe that Jesus was a nice guy who suffered an unfortunate death, and that the Bible has a grain of truth amidst a beach of error.

The implications for the church in the United States could not be more dire. We need to love the Bible and obey it. We need to help our fellow Christians to obey it. Of course, I do believe that God will, and does, preserve his church. I am not saying that the universal Church will fall. I am saying that the church in the United States will collapse. There will be revitalization somewhere else, in the future, but the United States will lose what Christianity is has left. Where are the men and women who are willing to stand for biblical truth? Who are willing to help their friends to understand what the Bible says? We are going to lose this culture to secularism. How should Christians react to the legalizations of same sex marriage? It begins with an act of courage from the individual Christian. If you know a Christian who is on the fence, or who outrightly believes in it, try to lovingly and intelligently draw them to obey the truth. A good resource on the biblical data concerning same sex marriage is the book The Same Sex Controversy by Doctor James White.

Remember that you, too, are a sinner. People are often repelled from the Christian faith because of how judgmental and bigoted Christians are. They are not willing to give a hearing to a word that the Christian says. Rather than allowing their love to be their seat at the table, their hatred becomes a repellent for everybody around them. They are judgmental and mean. They will become angry when a homosexual joins their company, and it becomes apparent that they have a distaste for that individual, on the basis of their homosexuality. They define that person as a homosexual, and cannot see passed it. Of course, the lady or gentlemen might maintain homosexuality as part of their identity, but it is not meant to be slanderous as the bigoted Christian is using it.

So rather than being hateful, judgmental and bigoted, the Christian who has truly been born again will see another reality emerge. This is a worthy saying: Christ came to save sinners, of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). We do not come to God because we are so much better than homosexuals. In and of ourselves, we are much worse than these people. We need to remember that while we were still enemies of God, while we were unrighteous, while we were unbelievers, God made us alive through Christ Jesus. He gave us new life, on the merits of the Son of God, who died in the place of his people. He took on the death that we deserve and then he rose from the dead. Just as he died and rose again, so also the old man dies and rises again a new creature. “Even when we were dead in our transgressions, God made us alive together with Christ.” Ephesians 2:5

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Did Jesus Teach Salvation By Faith Alone?

jesus faith alone 1The person of Christ is often smeared by the non-believer (whether intentionally or not) to put salvation by works in his mouth. Some will suggest that while Paul taught that salvation comes by faith alone apart from the works of the Law, he departed from the teachings of Jesus. Paul said that “To the one who does not work, but believe in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:5). This would be in contrast with Jesus, so the argument goes. Jesus maintained salvation by accordance to the Torah and to the righteousness revealed therein. In this way, one would be saved by works and by their righteousness, rather than by faith. But what did Jesus teach? Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone?

jesus faith alone 2It is important to point out that this is not a denial of the letters of Paul. Paul’s letters were Scripture. Rather, this is an answer to the question that the unbelievers will pose as they labor to pit Paul’s letters against what Jesus said. Further, some people who claim to align themselves with historic Christianity think that both Paul and Jesus taught that salvation comes by works, and they will appeal to Jesus quite frequently, since he had a lot to say about living a righteous lifestyle. But the question is not whether he wanted us to live a righteous lifestyle. Rather, the question is whether that righteous lifestyle would merit our salvation.

jesus faith alone 3It is finished. In John 19:30, Jesus cried out, “it is finished,” and then he died. Most people believe that Jesus was saying that the debt for sin had been paid. He made a sacrifice on our behalf, because God could never forgive guilty sinners. It is like if a judge had a guilty criminal in a courtroom. He could not just let him go, lest he be a corrupt and an immoral judge. Since God is not corrupt or immoral, a debt must be paid. He must do justice. He must pour out his wrath. When Christ died, all of the wrath that we deserve was poured out on him. He paid our fine. He died in our place, as a propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2, 4:10). That is the theology of John, and these are the words that we see Jesus saying in John’s gospel. Jesus died with the declaration that the debt for sins had been paid. Then he rose from the dead, proving that he was who he claimed to be.

jesus faith alone 4If the debt for sin had been paid, if Jesus did die for the sins of the world, then there is nothing more that needs to be done to add to that sacrifice. Jesus already paid our fine. For the person to try to earn their salvation is an utter rejection of the payment that Christ already made. Christ did the work for us on the cross. He already died the death that we deserve. He already took away the sins of his people. He did that precisely because we could never do it ourselves. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? Of course he did. He taught that his work on the cross was the end of the atonement to be made for sins.

jesus faith alone 5His sheep hear his voice. When Jesus calls, his sheep hear his voice. Those who have been predetermined as God’s elect will come to him. But there is no way for somebody to become righteous enough to be God’s elect. It is determined solely by the sovereign decree of God. This decree determines the distinction between the sheep and the goats. The sheep are God’s elect people. They follow him, and he knows them. Those who believe in Christ hold that disposition because they are God’s sheep. Those who do not believe in Christ hold that disposition because they are not God’s sheep. To that effect, Jesus says, “But you do not believe me, because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:26). The reason that they do not believe him is precisely that they are not his sheep.

jesus faith alone 6Those who are his sheep hear his voice (John 10:27), and they follow him upon hearing his voice. In this way, salvation is provided to those who answer the voice of the Son of God. Those who answer his call are his sheep, and they are given eternal life. The causal determinant of their following Jesus is that they are his sheep. He gives them eternal life. They do not earn it, because the only reason that they are following him in the first place is that he called them and preserved them, as the text says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:28).

The reason that the Son possesses the sheep is that the Father gave them over to him. He says, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,” (John 10:29). The Father sovereignly decreed who the sheep were and handed them over to the Son. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He taught that one is saved solely by the sovereign decree and choosing of God. Thus, it is impossible for a person to work for or earn that salvation.

It is impossible to keep the commandments. A rich man approached Jesus and asked how it is that he could attain eternal life. But the way that he phrased his question triggered a very interesting response. He asked, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Now I will say that I do not think that Jesus was claiming to be a bad guy, and I did expound upon the Christological implications of this statement in my article Is Jesus God In The Gospel of Mark?)

Jesus called this man to consider the words that he used. He told him that nobody was good. If nobody is good, then nobody can merit eternal life with God. Then he listed the commandments. Perhaps this can be taken as a challenge to this man. Have you met this standard of righteousness and holiness? Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie, do not defraud, honor your father and mother (v. 19). This man claimed righteousness. He claimed to be precisely what Jesus just said that no man is. He claimed to be good (v. 20). But Jesus knew that he was lying, or deceiving himself. So he said that he still lacks perfection and told him to sell all of his possessions and give the money to the poor. He said this to show the man that he was unrighteous. He said this to expose sin to this man so that sin might become exceedingly sinful. This man wanted to know how to earn eternal life. Jesus told him that he must keep all of the commandments, be perfectly righteous, every day, from the time he is born, until the time he dies. He must never sin.

After the man left, Jesus declared to the people, “How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (v. 24-25). This astonished the disciples, because they viewed the rich as people who were blessed of God. If they cannot be saved, who can? If it is that hard to be saved, “Who, then, can be saved?” (v. 26). Who can be saved if you have to live in absolute perfection for all of your days? Who can be saved if it is harder than pushing a camel through the eye of a needle? Who can be saved? Jesus answers them, “With people it is impossible. But not with God. All things are possible with God.” (v. 27). Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He taught that the only way that a person can be saved is by trusting in God for their salvation, and not in themselves. So, yes.

Your faith has saved you. Luke 7:36 records that the professors of theology invited Jesus to come and dine with them, perhaps so that they might challenge him, or get to know his doctrine and understanding. As Jesus was in the professor’s house, an immoral woman approached and anointed him and kissed his feet. Offended, the professor thought that if Jesus really were a prophet, he would know that this woman was an immoral woman (v. 39).

Knowing what he was thinking, Jesus turned to his disciple Simon and told him the parable of the two debtors. One man owes a large debt, the other a small debt. The man to whom both were indebted decided that he would forgive their debt. Of this, Jesus posed the question to Simon, “which of them will love the moneylender more?” and Simon answered obviously that the man who has the larger debt will love him more.

In this way, the woman who had sinned so much was forgiven of her sins, and that was why she loved Jesus so much. Jesus forgave her sins. Jesus was like the moneylender, and she was the debtor, and Jesus forgave her sins. Her forgave her sins on the basis of her faith. Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.” (v. 50). Jesus knew that she had saving faith because of the love that she showed (v. 47). So Jesus did not think that works saved her. Rather, works were a demonstration of her faith. She loved much because she had been forgiven. As a result of the forgiveness that she received, she had love.

He offered people salvation immediately. Upon a model of works-righteousness, one is saved only after they achieve a measure of righteousness. They labor vigorously until they reach a point where they are holy enough for God to allow them into their presence. Thus, for somebody to be saved in an instant would be unthinkable. Nobody can be saved in an instant. Salvation is a process that takes a long time and a lot of hard work.

Yet Jesus offered salvation in an instant to wicked people who would turn to him. When he encountered the woman at the well, he told her, “If you knew the gift of God, and it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). The living water to which he refers is the Holy Spirit. He told this woman that if she would have just asked him, he would have given her salvation, and it would have been a gift. That is the precise word that he uses. It is a gift of God. A gift is not something that one can earn. If it were, it would be a wage; something that was due to them. A gift is something that God gives freely. Thus Jesus told this woman that if she would have asked him, he would have given her the gift of God, the living water. Yet this woman had not been laboring in righteousness. She followed a religious system that denied much of the Old Testament, and she was sexually immoral (v. 18). Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He offered salvation freely to people in an instant.

We see this again in the thief on the cross (Luke 23:32-43). Jesus is nailed to a cross between two thieves, and one of them begins to repent of his sins. Of course, there are no good works that he can do. It is strictly internal. He changes his mind about his sin. He changes his mind about Christ. He changes his mind about God. He saw the mercy of Jesus. He saw that Jesus prayed for the very men who were persecuting him. So he cried out to the other thief, “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (v. 41). Then he pleaded with Jesus, “When you come into your kingdom, remember me!” (v. 42) He knew that there was nothing good in himself that could bring him to that kingdom. He knew that he was dead in his sins, worthy only of condemnation. He asks only that Jesus remember him. But Jesus replied, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Did Jesus teach salvation by faith alone? He offers mercy, freely, to the greatest of sinners. He tells them that today they are being offered eternal life. As unbelievers, as enemies of God, they are offered new life. They are born again, made new creatures, and repent of their sins. They are transformed instantly from a state of condemnation to a state of justification. Praise Christ for offering us this salvation that we could never earn.

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Do Our Experiences Of God Give Us Reason To Believe In Him?

experiences 1It is often difficult for people to articulate why they believe in the existence of God. This may not be because they are stupid or uneducated, but rather that they have never thought about it from that angle. So they as they ponder this question, they may reveal answer that are either inadequate, or they are unable to defend. They believe in God because of the Bible, or because of the risen Savior, or because of the abundance of the natural world, or because of their relationship with Christ. These are all good answers for why a person believes in the existence of God. But people often find that they are just unable to defend the thesis that God exists upon rigorous scrutiny, and this is just because they have never had the need to engage in any form of apologetics. So when atheists think that they are intellectual elitists, asking trivial questions, like Who Created God? the good Christian might not know how to answer these questions. But what they do know is that they have a relationship with Christ. Does this relationship give them reason to believe? Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him?experience 2

You have been born again. Those who truly know Christ have been born again. They were spiritually dead, lost in their sins and enemies of God. They hated righteousness. Any time they tried to do righteousness, it was always as though they were locking themselves in a legalistic cage. That is why when somebody who is not born again tries to live a Christian life, they grow to hate it, and they develop a deep hatred for God and all of his restrictions, because that is all they are to the unregenerate. They are arbitrary restrictions. Hence, the one who is not born again will leave the Christian faith and have a sense of freedom.experiences 3

Thus for someone to believe in Christ, for someone to give their life to him is a miracle. For someone to have their heart of flesh replaced with a heart of stone is a miracle. Such a person does not hate righteousness, but rather they love to do the will of their Father, and labor with joy for him and for his glory. They have been born again. They have seen the changes that God has wrought in their heart and they know that such a thing could never happen by the power of the flesh. They interact with God daily, and know his presence and recognize him. They hear the voice of the Son of God and they follow him.

experiences 4In this way, their relationship with Christ is akin to a relationship with another person. Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Well that seems like asking if our experiences of our neighbor give us reason to believe that we really have a neighbor. Of course it does. The Christian can stand firmly in their knowledge of him because they know him, and he knows them.

What if we are just hallucinating? Well, that is certainly possible, as with anything. I could be hallucinating the external world. I could be hallucinating my entire life. I could be in a coma somewhere, dreaming that all of this is happening. I could be a peasant from the middle east in the tenth century, who walks around barefoot all day eating stale bread, hallucinating the 21st century. I could be in a mental institution, imagining this life. These things are possible. I cannot disprove them. They are logically possible.

In the same way, I could be hallucinating the people around me. I could have manufactured my neighbor. They could just be a product of my imagination. You could have manufactured your wife. Perhaps you were so desperate to find someone that you invented your wife and now you live blissfully in that delusion. These things are possible.

So in the same way, the atheist might point out the possibility that we are just hallucinating God. But I am not sure if that is a proper approach for us to take in reality. If you are going to say that I am hallucinating something, then there had better be a really good reason for it. You had better be able to provide some evidence to substantiate the claim that I am hallucinating. In other words, you will need to provide evidence that God does not exist, if I am going to believe that I am hallucinating. If you are unable to do that, then the default position is to trust what I see plainly. It is a properly basic belief in this way. Do our experiences of God give us reasons to believe in him? We do not question the existence of that which we can see plainly in the absence of evidence.

What about other faith groups who see things plainly? The existence of somebody who sees something plainly that is not really there does not undermine belief in the external world, or people or cars or plants or food. I can believe that I am eating a turkey sandwich, even if the person across the table thinks that they are praying to a religious figure that I do not believe in. There is nothing there to compromises that properly basic belief. In fact, as I said, in the absence of a defeater, we can probably say that they are justified (at least from a logical angle) in that belief.

However, I would suggest that in the case of the world religions aside from Christianity, there are overriding defeaters. They hold to a conception of God that is not maximally great, though many of them claim to be. Many of the world religions believe that God does not punish sin. A God who does not punish sin is like a court judge who lets a guilty criminal walk out of the courtroom a free man. He is a corrupt and immoral judge. If God is maximally great, then he is good, and righteous, and holy, and so he must punish sin. He must do justice. The world religions labor to solve this problem, and tend to either deny that evil exists, or put man into a legalistic cage, and suggest that he must earn his favor with God. He must do good works to wipe away the bad ones. But upon that model, God is still not righteous. He is still overlooking the sin that man commits, and letting him walk free. But if a guilty criminal standing before a court judge were to say that he has committed more good deeds than evil deeds, he would still be found guilty, because the evil that he committed deserves to be punished. Hence, the world religions are found lacking, because they do not solve this logical quagmire.

This is one of the greatest logical problems in all of history. It is the problem that all of the world religions have tried to answer. God provided an answer for us in Romans 3:23-26. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Christ died in our place, as our substitute. He paid for our sins. He absorbed the wrath of God in full on the cross, and then he rose from the dead, in vindication and glory.

Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Yes, and that is not undermined by the experiences of other faith groups, because there is a powerful overriding defeater of that belief. If there were an overriding defeater of Christianity, then likewise, Christianity would be proven to be false. If it could be shown that Jesus did not rise from the dead, then that would serve as an overriding defeater. The atheist has his work cut out for him.

What about unfalsifiable beliefs? If somebody holds to a belief in the almighty square circle (as most of the world religions do), then we would point out that there is an overriding defeater of their experiences of the almighty square circle, namely that a square has four corners and a circle does not have any. This conception of religion is mostly to what I am referring when I am speaking about overriding defeaters.

But suppose a person has a belief that is both irrational and unfalsifiable. Something for which there just is no overriding defeater. A person is claiming to have a conversation with an invisible unicorn. If I try to touch, it moves away and I cannot feel it. I inquire as to why I cannot hear it or detect it in any way, and the person has a reason. There is no overriding defeater of this belief. Does that make it reasonable? I do not think so.

For someone to believe in an invisible unicorn that is totally undetectable by the outside world is absolutely unprecedented. It is not something that even Christians propose. Our testimony is, “seek, and you will find. If you draw near to God, he will draw near to you.” Salvation is a free gift offered to all men, everywhere. It is also something that many people experience. It has a precedent. Billions of people alive today and throughout the world claim to experience God. In contrast, there are probably 0, or 1, or 2 people who see and interact with undetectable unicorns. Thus it is just not something for us to take seriously.

Is this a blind belief in something that we do not know or understand? I am not advocating that sort of belief. You are reading from a website called thereforegodexists.com. I believe in apologetics. I believe in evidence. I think there is good evidence that God exists in the natural world, in science, and in history. But even if the Christian has no access to these disciplines, they still have reason to believe that God exists, on the basis of their personal experiences of him.

But that is not a blind belief. When I say a blind belief, I mean something that we believe in despite that we have no reasons to believe. But our experiences of a person are reasons to believe. I have no evidence that I am not hallucinating my neighbor. It is strictly an unprovable assumption. But I still know that he exists on the basis of my experience of him, and it would be unreasonable to deny it. In the same way, we know that God exists on the basis of our experiences of him. That is not a blind faith any more than belief in my neighbor is a blind faith. Do our experiences of God give us reason to believe in him? Yes, they do, and this belief is warranted, and not blind.

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How Do I Know If I Am Saved?

how saved 1People are fond of misrepresenting their opponents. They will quickly and eagerly find opportunities to slander those with whom they disagree, or take their writings out of context to make it seem as though they were saying something that they were not. Many people accuse Martin Luther of denying the inspiration of the book of James. They will also charge he and other reformers with antinomianism. This is a position that suggests that Christians have no moral duties, that they can live however they want, indulging in every manner of sin as a freedom in Christ. The apostle Paul seemed to have been charged with the same thing when he defended his thesis of justification by faith alone. Though, the thinking man can see the intellectual quarry that is raised by Paul’s thesis. On the one hand, he argues that a person is justified the moment they have faith in Jesus (Romans 4:5). On the other, he says that people have to live a certain way to be counted among the brethren (Romans 2:13). In this way, there are people out there who think that they have faith and think that they have been born again, when in fact they have not. So, we may ask, how do I know if I am saved?

how saved 2The distinction that is being raised is the distinction between the visible church and the invisible church. The visible church are members of the Christian church who have an orthodox confession of faith and attend church regularly. They believe that Jesus is God and that they cannot do anything to merit or sustain their salvation. But among these, there are people who have not really been born again. They have not been made new by the power of God. They are still in the flesh. How do you know if you are one of them? How do I know if I am saved? How do I know if I have been born again?

You hate the sin in your life. For someone to be born again is to be made new by the power of God and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. They are literally new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). Such a person will be molded into the image of the Son. They will struggle and they will fall. They will still sin (1 John 1:8). But they will have a new relationship with sin such that it appalls them. It is an affront to them and to the glory of the character of God. It is offensive to them and they do everything that they can to flee from it. Foolish preachers will say things like, “Sin is fun.” But sin is not fun. Sin is appalling. How do I know if I am saved? This is the testimony of the person who has been born again. They hate sin.

Now I want to very carefully nuance this discourse. Believers can lock themselves in legalistic cages. They can put up fleshly rules that restrict themselves against sin. But in their hearts, they still want it. They still desire it. They stay up, night after night longing for their love affair with sin. Their relationship with God becomes confining, and seems oppressive to them. They cannot live with the rules that they are imposing upon themselves. When they think about what it would be like to leave their religion, they have a sensation of freedom. What keeps them in their religion is not their love of Christ but their relationships that would be broken or other reasons. But if they have an opportunity to abandon their religion, they seize it and do so with joy. That is why many ex-Christians will say that they were happy that they could leave Christianity.

The person who truly hates their sin will labor against it for their love of Christ and the knowledge that greater joy comes by obedience to his word (Psalm 37:4). The person who is held back from sin by a legalistic cage, is not in Christ. They have a heart of stone.

You love God. Men are naturally opposed to God (Romans 8:7). We are born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). We are born without faith and without regard for God. We are born radically depraved and God hating (Psalm 51:5, Romans 3:10). If anyone in the flesh claims to love God, then what they really love is an idol that they have made for themselves. They have constructed an image of God that is not really God, and substituted it because it is pleasing to them. But for someone to really love God is a supernatural work. Yet love for God is the greatest of all commandments (Matthew 22:38).

The man who loves God will seek him in prayer. As CS Lewis put it, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time- waking and sleeping.” They deeply desire to commune with their Father. They follow the model of prayer that Christ had, who would slip away, praying all night (Luke 6:12), seeking the Father and desiring to bring glory to his name. The man who loves God will feast on the word of God, having their sustenance in it, bringing to life John 4:34, which says, “my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Further, the man who loves God will desire the Scripture to be a lamp at their feet (Psalm 119:105). They will seek God’s word in every decision, and every day will desire to know what the Bible says. How do I know if I am saved? If I stab you, you would bleed the Bible and praise of God.

However, I caution again that it is possible to manifest these traits in a legalistic manner. A person could force prayer and reading of the Bible upon themselves, and they would not get anything out of it. They might become frustrated that their time is being consumed by these activities. But they are not doing it out of love.

You delight in your salvation and in the gospel. Everybody has low points wherein their hearts are dull. But throughout the general course of your life, you have a thanksgiving to God for everything that he has done for you. You see the amazing grace of the gospel. You see that a holy and righteous God must punish guilty sinners. We condemn judges who let guilty men walk free. We condemn judges who take bribes. They are corrupt and immoral judges. God is not a corrupt or immoral judge. He must punish the guilty. But as you reflect on your sin, you realize that your entire life has been marked by iniquity that you have covered up, fled to, hid in, preserved with all of your might. You see that a just judge must punish you. But instead, he poured out his wrath on his Son. His Son drank the cup of wrath and gave you a cup of mercy. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that all who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

I have heard men give this testimony and weep. You see the power of God in your life. You cannot understand how God could save someone as sinful as you, but you know that on the basis of the merits of Jesus Christ and him crucified, you have security. You have been adopted into God’s family because if the Son sets you free from your sin, you will be free indeed (John 8:36). This is your heart’s delight. This is everything to you.

Maybe right now you are reading this and you are trying to manufacture emotions so that you can convince yourself that you really do love the gospel. Sometimes people have dull hearts. How can we know the difference? How do I know if I am saved? Answer this question. Do you, through the course of your life, love the gospel? Do you rejoice in it? Is your cup overflowing (Psalm 23:5)? Or does Christ mean nothing to you? Is he merely a propositional truth? Something that you give mental assent to?

Apologists are often concerned with mental assent. I am an apologist. You are reading from a website titled thereforegodexists.com. Apologetics is one of the most important endeavors within evangelism for bringing westerners to Christ in the 21st century. I also acknowledge that many Christian apologists are so concerned with the philosophical strength of the Christian worldview and the truth value therein that they are not concerned with living out their faith. We need to be able to nuance our apologetics and our faith. Our faith is not fulfilled in our apologetics. We cannot spend all of our time reading apologetics and neglecting prayer, and neglecting our reading of the Bible.

I am afraid that many of my friends who are concerned with the academic side of faith and proving that Christianity is reasonable have congregated into a Christianity that is unreasonable. It possesses a Christ that one merely believes in, and acknowledges that he exists. But even the demons know that he exists (James 2:19). We need a Christ who lives. I do not mean one who we can prove that lives. I mean a Christ that we know, and who knows us, and with whom we commune and give everything we have to. The testimony of the apologist should not be, “how do I know if I am saved?” They should be standing firm in the faith, not only ready to give an answer to those that ask, but ready to kneel before Christ and yield their lives to him, saying with Paul, “in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).

Which side am I on? I do not know, my friend. I would be inclined to say that if you passed these challenges, then you are saved. If you hate your sin, if you love God, if you delight in the gospel, then you are a child of God. That is true. But, at the same time, you may be reading this article and manufacturing feelings or forcing yourself to pass the challenges even if you failed at every single point. Do not play games with this. This is your life. This is your eternity. This is everything. Hear the voice of God. Seek him in prayer. If you failed at the points of these challenges, then an evaluation of your spiritual life is warranted.

John Piper’s book Desiring God is available as a free PDF (with permission from the publisher). Just hover your cursor over the title of the book in the last sentence, as it is a hyperlink. His insight on the love of God in the Christian life is supreme.

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Is The Gospel of John Reliable?

gospel john 1Christians who indulge in liberal scholarship will hear the testimony that the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are somewhat reliable, while the Gospel of John is not reliable as a historical document. It will be testified that the Gospel of John contains embellished and later details of the Lord Jesus, or that it was written too late to be reliable, or that it was not written by eye-witnesses. The Gospel of John was a theological narrative, of theological reflection, not a historical narrative (so the argument goes). In this way, the author could put words into the mouth of Jesus at will, not because they are what he said, but because it is what the author believed Jesus said. Where does that leave our Bible? Is the Gospel of John reliable? Is it God’s word?

gospel john 2Since the Gospel of John so powerfully attests to the deity of Christ, any Christological system which seeks to undermine that reality, will have to contend with the Gospel of John. So they will attack the credibility of the gospel, as the opening words speak volumes. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Anyone who denies that Jesus claimed to be God will have to either severely compromise this text or deny the authenticity altogether. However, I would like to suggest that the debate about the deity of Christ must be held on exegetical grounds, as the Gospel of John seems to have the tracings of historical reliability.

gospel john 3Is the Gospel of John objective? When I ask this question, I am speaking about the bias that the author brings to the text. Is he writing with utter disinterest, or does he have an opinion about the matter in question, and do those opinions shine through? Well, I suppose that would raise a few other questions. I would scarcely expect to find a historical document wherein the author did not care about the subject of which they are writing. If they did not care about the subject, then I would have to wonder why they were writing about it in the first place. Of course John cared about what he was writing, and of course he had his view of Jesus. But that is not to say that his views compromised his integrity. I would extend that further and say that precisely because John cared about the words of Jesus, that made his testimony more reliable because he wanted to accurately represent the Lord.

gospel john 4All history has some sort of bias. Our records of the Civil War written by northmen who oppose slavery are not unreliable documents just because the author had an opinion or a bias. The bias must be taken into account, as with any historical document. Is the Gospel of John Reliable? I am not inclined to think that as a consequence of his bias, we can charge him with unreliability. I am keen to think just the opposite, that because of his bias in favor of documenting the words of Jesus with precision, he would be unlikely to load the mouth of Jesus with his theological biases. Further, it may be the case that his theological biases were directed by the words of Jesus rather than vice versa. I will look more closely at this soon.

gospel john 5Why does the Gospel of John sound different from the other gospels? In the synoptics gospels, Jesus always has parables on his lips and offers very short and condensed speeches. But in the Gospel of John, he offers no parables and full speeches. Well, I have two thoughts about this. First, the Gospel of John has an outlined purpose. He writes, “These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31). John’s gospel looks different from the others because he had a very precise purpose. The other gospels were just compiling sayings and actions of Jesus in the form of ancient biography. But John wanted his audience to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Son of God, and have eternal life. So he selected the sayings of Jesus that were most appropriate to achieve that end.

gospel john 6Secondly, the synoptic gospels seemed to have some commonality among them probably because they used similar sources. That is not to say that there was dependence upon one another, nor that there was a Q document (an earliest source that we have lost which they all appealed to). It is just to suggest that the authors used the same collection of sources. John probably did not use these sources. Rather, as John 21:24 says, “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things, and we know that his testimony is true.” John wrote his gospel, basing his stories on his own experiences.

gospel john 7This is also why there are expansive speeches in the Gospel of John. The promise of the Holy Spirit, the High Priestly prayer, et cetera, appear only in the gospel of John. When the other gospels record these events, they give condensed version of the events and skip over these. John included them, creating for us a fuller picture of the voice of Jesus. Is the Gospel of John reliable? Since the gospel has fuller speeches, it gives us a more clear picture of who Jesus was and the way he spoke, than the other gospels. As Doctor Craig Blomberg pointed out, the longer speeches in John’s gospel seem to mirror the rabbinic form of preaching, which suggests that Jesus actually spoke that way. Jesus obviously did not go around reciting single proverbs and then walk off. The synoptics record fragments of longer speeches. In John, we see some of the full speeches.

gospel john 8Why is it dated so late? Most scholars (including conservative scholars) will date the Gospel of John to the late first century, and in some cases, even the mid-second century. However, Doctor Gregory Boyd has suggested that this may be outdated scholarship. The reason that people date it so late is that the literary style that is found in John’s gospel seems to be influenced by gnostic literature and culture. If the author of John was influenced by them (not in theology, but in literature and style of writing), then this would suggest that his letter was composed much later, perhaps even one hundred years after the events that it records.

But as I said, this seems to be outdated scholarship. The Dead Sea Scrolls had writings that adopted the literary style which we find in the Gospel of John. That would indicate that we do not necessarily need a late date to account for this literary style. Is the Gospel of John reliable? If we are going to suggest that the late date of John would render it unreliable (which would be an unthinkable approach to history as there are many documents that we deem reliable which come even hundreds of years later), then we are faced with the challenge that the Gospel of John might not be as late as we once thought.

Why is John’s voice exactly the same as Jesus’s voice? Sometimes it is difficult for us to know exactly where Jesus stops and John begins. In John 3:16, was it Jesus or John who uttered the phrase, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that those who believe in him shall never perish but have eternal life.”? Who said it? The voice of the narrator seems to be identical to the voice of the character. We do not know who is speaking. Some have suggested that this is suggestive of a manufactured Jesus. John was clearly putting his words into Jesus’s mouth.

However, I would like to suggest that a paraphrase is not a manufactured statement. In John 3:5, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” That is the NASB. The NLT says, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.” These are identical statements insofar as content is concerned. But they are different insofar as his exact words are concerned. In the same way, John could have paraphrased Jesus, expressing exactly what Jesus meant, just in John’s words. Is the Gospel of John reliable? I think the voice of the narrator and the character gives us no reason for concern. John was simply paraphrasing.

John included statements that would have been embarrassing. Historians use a principle known as the criterion of embarrassment. If an author is manufacturing a story, it is unlikely that he would include a detail that was embarrassing to him, or in this case, to Jesus, unless they actually occurred. If he were in the business of embellishing details or stretching the truth, then he would simply remove the embarrassing details. Thus, if there are embarrassing details, we can suspect that the author is recording actual history. In the Gospel of John, there are statements that seem like they would have been difficult to accept or embarrassing.

There is a great emphasis in contemporary academic theology on the historical-grammatical method. We need to venture back to that time and understand what was going on. Well, the disciples were there. The disciples were literally in the historical-grammatical context. Yet they still did not understand. They are repeatedly told about the resurrection (John 2:18-22) and still doubted or did not understand. They behaved foolishly. But if they were embellishing the details, then surely, they would have excluded such details.

Further, Jesus is displayed very unfavorably, regarded by the crowd as something like an over-zealous street preacher. He held the very image that many of us fear so much when we come in public. As Doctor Frank Turek pointed out, his own brothers did not believe in him (John 7:5). He was called a deceiver (John 7:12). Many of his followers abandoned him (John 6:66). The Jews who believed in him decided to stone him (John 8:30-31, 59), and he is called a madman (John 10:20). If there are any categories that the contemporary Christian labors vigorously to avoid have applied to themselves, it is surely these. If they were inventing a story, they would not allow the public (his own followers and family!) to perceive Jesus in this way.

But even more critically is the center of the Christian faith. Jesus died on the cross. He absorbed the wrath of God. He paid the penalty that we deserve. We are sinners, and since God is just, he cannot let us go free. He would be a corrupt judge who pardons the guilty. But mercy upon mercy, God came as a man. The Son absorbed the penalty that we deserve. He paid our fine in full in his death on the cross, and then he rose from the dead. But that is not how the Jews perceived the crucifixion. The Jews saw a man under the curse of God, because anyone who hangs on a tree is under the curse of God, according to the Law (Deuteronomy 21:23). Hence, all false Messiahs were hanged on a tree. This exposed them as liars and blasphemers. If Jesus was the Messiah, then in the eyes of the first century Jew, he could not be hanged on a tree. But he was. The Jews did not understand that he became a curse for us, in our place (Galatians 3:13). They only saw a man under the curse of God. If a story was being invented, the crucifixion would have been excluded. Is the Gospel of John reliable? There are just too many details that the disciples would not have included if they were inventing a story.

There are no extravagant details in John’s gospel. Even the miracle stories are just a pale recounting of the events that happened. They are not dressed up. They just lay them out there. This is in contrast with the apocryphal Gospel of Peter, wherein we see large crowds of people coming to celebrate the resurrection. We see a large cross in the sky and we see heads of men stretching into heaven. If you are only concerned with telling theology, then why not offer a story like this? If John were not concerned with history, then he would have embellished the details.

His account of the empty tomb and the crucifixion is even more pale than Matthew’s account. Matthew tells us of the saints of old rising from the dead, coming out of their grave to mark the death of the Messiah. He tells us of a great earthquake, angels descending whose appearance was like lightning. John has angels in his account, but it is much less dramatic. It is more pale. It is unembellished by the extravagant details. Is the Gospel of John reliable? If he were making up a story, why not embellish the details? Why not compete with Matthew, or even the Gospel of Peter?

How did Jesus avoid being stoned? The skeptical New Testament scholar, Doctor Bart Ehrman points out that in the Gospel of John, Jesus publicly claimed to be God, and still continued in his public ministry. In John 8:58, he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” Then he escaped before being stoned. But, Ehrman argues, how did he avoid being stoned? If Jesus claimed to be God, as the Gospel of John says, then he should have been stoned to death. Since he was not, and since he was able to maintain his public ministry, this suggests that he never claimed to be God.

However, I would like to suggest that Doctor Ehrman is begging the question. He has assumed his conclusion, and read it back into the history. He assumed that Jesus was not God. If Jesus was God, then the explanation that the Gospel of John gives is that he was always able to hide and escape, because it was not yet his time. God did not allow his Son to be executed until the proper time. Is the Gospel of John reliable? It is only unreliable if you assume that Jesus was not telling the truth.

But the problem becomes even greater when we realize that Jesus claimed to be God in all of the early Christian sources. He claimed to be God in the Gospel of Mark (as I argued in my article Is Jesus God In The Gospel of Mark?) Mark identifies him as God, the one for whom Elijah would prepare the way (Mark 1:2-3). He forgave sins (Mark 2:5). He is the bridegroom of Israel (Mark 2:19-20), and he called himself the Son of Man, who would receive dominion and power and worship over all the earth (Mark 14:62). Further, the letters of Paul establish that the early Christians thought that Jesus was God, as Paul himself directly identifies Jesus as God (Romans 9:5). He even cited a creed, that preceded him, which identified Jesus as God (Philippians 2:5-8).

This means that our earliest records indicate that Jesus claimed to be God. So, I would turn the question around on Doctor Ehrman. If Jesus was not God, how did he avoid being stoned?

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