Posts Tagged With: jesus

Jesus on Homosexuality

One of the most frequently-asked questions I got when dealing with issues of human sexuality- including homosexuality- is why I dealt so little with the New Testament. My Christian friends wondered why I barely hinted at Paul’s writings on the subject, and my liberal friends wanted to know why I failed to bring up Jesus. Today I’m going to attempt to answer for myself on both counts.

No doubt my liberal friends perceived a weakness in my logic. Why- if I am a Christian- didn’t I bring up Christ? They suppose that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, and so they believe that they have a good counter-argument. This belief is nonsense, as is the belief held by many Christians that Christianity should have very little interest in the Old Testament. Just a small rant here: but the New Testament is set very firmly in the history and theology of the Old. As I am learning, everything in the Old Testament- while powerful and pertinent in its own context- provided for everything we in the Church believe and know and hold to in the much larger context of the Gospel and God’s unfolding revelation of Himself. In short, you cannot have the Church without Israel first. You cannot have the message of Christ without the Law. “Christ the Savior is born” is of no meaning unless we better understand vicarious atonement, sin, sacrifice, and Law. Grace cannot be divorced from Truth, nor Justice from Mercy, and it is very wrong of us to ignore the larger portion of Scripture. It isn’t just about “Bible stories” in Sunday School, you know…..those narratives are only the beginning of something much, much grander.

So, on to the subject at hand. How exactly does Jesus weigh in on the issue of homosexuality? Consider the following with me for a moment:

  1. Jesus spoke in Matthew 19 of the Genesis account of creation: God created male and female as the model for marriage. That is the only paradigm that Jesus ever uses. He doesn’t even remotely leave the door open on the subject of marriage.
  2. Jesus tells us in John 5:19: “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Sondoes likewise.” How significant it is, then, that Jesus’ first miracle- His first act as an adult that reveals His true nature-  is at a wedding in Cana. Like the Father, He blesses the wedding. I understand that Jesus helped avoid a serious issue for the bride’s family in performing the miracle, but remember- that was Mary’s concern in running out of wine. Jesus never claimed the miracle occurred to avoid shame and a scandal. I also understand that the water-to-wine miracle had certain theological and Messianic implications. However, we must admit that Jesus’ choice of settings for a first miracle was not insignificant. There were other places and people that would have been just as significant.
  3. In the Matthew 19 passage, Jesus mentions three types of “eunuchs”: born eunuchs, man-made eunuchs, and eunuchs for the Kingdom. There are people who do not marry or at the very least are not fully functional with regard to biological sexuality. There are those who have been made eunuchs for political purposes (the normal sense of the word “eunuch”.) Finally, there are those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy instead of the gift of marriage. Any attempt to make one of these three categories of eunuch inclusive of homosexuals is reading something into the biblical text that simply isn’t there. At the very best case, the third type of eunuch could refer to a person who experiences same-sex attraction but chooses to give up those desires for the purpose of obeying God. This person is forgoing the sexual intimacy they desire for the sake of following Christ. This is an example of taking up the cross for the purpose of discipleship.
  4. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus expands upon the commandment against adultery to include looking on someone to lust after them. Yes, I know it is dealing specifically with a man lusting after a woman, but Jesus is emphasizing the sin of lust, not the gender of the people involved. Reading through the Old Testament Law reveals that this is common practice. So “simple” lust is a sin, not just acting on that desire.
  5. It’s common sense that Points 1 and 4 above create an air-tight case against homosexuality from Jesus’ perspective. IF marriage is to include only male and female and IF lust toward someone outside of marriage is sin, THEN it is impossible for a man or woman to lust after (much less sleep with) someone of the same sex and not sin. Jesus does not have to give special mention to homosexuality because He has emphasized the boundaries for marriage and designated everything outside those boundaries as sinful. Frankly, Jesus doesn’t have to mention pedophilia or bestiality for those same reasons. There is a great wall around marriage, and there is only one door by which we may enter.
  6. My final point is, in many ways, the culmination of the discussion I’ve been having with my readers. We’ve seen the biblical evidence against homosexuality time and time again with respect to the Old Testament. We’ve even demonstrated that the commands against homosexuality have specific implications outside the Mosaic Law. It isn’t just a Jewish theocracy that needed to adhere to a moral code– it’s every person in every nation. Jesus had a few things to say about the Law, though. For starters, His first public message made it very clear that He didn’t intend to destroy it. Jesus didn’t think the Law was wrong or immoral. He is, after all, God in flesh. We call it the “Mosaic Law”- the code of Moses, but it was really God Who had spoken.

Jesus- God in flesh- was the Author and Fulfillment of the Law. Jesus accepted the burden that came with the Law, paid the penalty for atonement demanded by the Law, and offers grace, mercy, and love in many ways because of the Law. He couldn’t do any of that without a proper foundation. The Law is not the enemy of grace; it is its basis. Sin meets its Atoner, Death meets its Conqueror at the Cross only because God had explicitly revealed Death and Life, Sin and Holiness through the Law and the Old Testament narrative. So, yes, Jesus weighed in on homosexuality, but then again He weighed in on a lot of sins. He lifted up the Woman Caught in Adultery and found her free of condemnation, but He was also loving enough to tell her to stop her sin. Believers have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins…..and reading Paul’s epistles make it very obvious that “believers” can include people who have experienced- and acted upon- same-sex attraction. That’s the whole Gospel, folks- not just the parts we like to hear.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible, Bible Study, christianity, Contemporary Issues, Politics | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Your Own Historical Jesus- Writings

We’ve seen how biblical creeds and archeological finds are both types of proof for the Gospel message. In this last section,  we turn to ancient writings by secular historians and their Christian counterparts. This will reveal the most clear details of early Christian belief and also provide further evidence for the historicity of Jesus Christ. The Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote of the reign of Nero and the infamous fire that burned Rome during his reign, records the following in his Annals, written in AD 115:

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.” (Tacitus, 15.44)

From this we can confirm the biblical message that Christians were named after Christ, who was sentenced to death under Pilate during the reign of emperor Tiberius. The execution ended the “superstition” of belief in Him for awhile, but the claims of Christ and His followers reasserted themselves shortly thereafter. This agrees completely with Matthew through Acts in the Bible. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, another Roman historian who was also the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian with access to imperial records, writes that Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they “caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Christus.” (Suetonius, Claudius, 25) Of Nero’s time in power, Tranquillas wrote: “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.” (Nero, 16)

Josephus mentions James “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” in his Antiquities. Many are also familiar with a much-debated passage in Josephus’ Antiquities which seems to state that Jesus resurrected the third day and appeared to many. In this passage, Josephus makes use of quite a bit of Christian language, which is unusual since Josephus, a Jew, was stated to not be a believer by the church father Origen. While as a Christian I would love to believe Josephus actually wrote these words, I have to look at things as they are. Most likely this is a Christian interpolation, as there are translations of the Antiquities into other ancient languages that do not include the subject of the resurrection. However, even after removing the interpolation and evaluating the remaining words for grammatical and historical consistencies, one can look at Professor Schlomo Pines’ translation and commentary on an ancient Arabic edition of the Antiquities which reads:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Quoted in Charlesworth’s Jesus Within Judaism, p 95)

Not too bad, Joe! We can turn also to Julius Africanus’ mention of Thallus’ writings concerning (super)natural events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion. Thallus wrote around AD 50, before the New Testament had been penned. Africanus tells us:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

Africanus accepts Thallus’ history, but rejects his rationale that the darkness was caused by the sun. It’s interesting that secular history can provide so much verification for the Scriptures. In my last post on this subject, I’ll look at what Christian historians have said.

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Your Own Historical Jesus- Archeology

In the last post, we talked about the historical church creeds recorded in the Bible. Now we turn to further evidence for the historical Jesus. First, let’s take a look at the birth of Christ. Luke gives  us a historical account of Jesus’ birth, and he includes a number of clues that are helpful in approximating when the first Christmas took place. In Luke 2:1-5 we read:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

Did people really return to their hometown to be taxed? Was Cyrenius (also spelled “Quirinius”) really govern in Syria during a taxation in Israel? We’ll have to look to historians and archeology for some of these answers. It turns out that the Titulus Venetus, an ancient Latin inscription, explains that a census did in fact take place in Israel and Syria around AD 5-6, and that it was fairly normal for such censuses to take place during the reign of Augustus up until the third century. In his book Christian Origins, Bruce notes that a papyrus dating to around AD 104 records that people were required to return to their hometown for the purposes of taxation and census-taking. What about the subject of Cyrenius? Did he govern Syria when a census took place? It turns out Cyrenius did govern Syria at two separate times. In his book Tells, Tombs, and Treasure, Robert Boyd gives evidence that he governed during an early taxation in 10-4 BC, and he also governed in Syria around AD 6. So we now have a few dates that could legitimately be chosen for the year of Christ’s birth. Historically speaking, Luke builds a very solid foundation for acceptance of the details of Christ’s birth.

Next, let us turn to the subject of Jesus’ crucifixion. Can we establish Pilate’s reign in Israel? Are the details of the crucifixion consistent with what we know from archeology? Is there anything in archeology to indicate that Rome had to deal with the rumors of a resurrection? Boyd’s book notes that coins have been discovered which were minted to commemorate the inception of Pilate’s rule around AD 31. Outside of the Bible, Tacitus and Josephus both record Pilate’s involvement in the crucifixion of Christ. Of course, biblically speaking, the question of who killed Jesus is much more complex.

At this point, I’d like to introduce you to Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol. Well, I would introduce you to him, but, sadly, he is quite dead. His skeleton was found in a stone ossuary about a mile from the Damascus Gate in 1968. Archeologists believe he was killed in AD 70 during the Jewish uprising against Rome. It’s the manner of his death that interests us today, though. According to Dr. N. Haas, a pathologists at Hebrew University, Yohanan (whose name was inscribed on his ossuary) was crucified. He still had a seven-inch-long nail pierced though his heel bones, since apparently Roman soldiers twisted a prisoner’s legs to nail them to the cross. Small pieces of olive wood from the cross were still attached to the nail, which was bent backward to keep the victim in place. Nails had also been driven between the radius and ulna bones in the lower arm. The radius bone was scratched and worn smooth at this point due to the Yohanan’s repeated attempts to pull himself upward to breathe. His lower leg bones were broken, the tibia and fibula bones crushed by a common blow. This sounds stunningly familiar, does it not?

I want to turn to one final piece of evidence which I will risk speculating on. In 1878, a marble slab was discovered in Nazareth. It was an ordinance of Caesar which scholars generally agree was issued by Claudius around AD 41-54. It is translated in its entirety in P. Maier’s First Easter:

Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed for those who have made them for the cults of their ancestors or children or members of their house. If, however, anyone charges that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing on other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In case of violation I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charges of violation of sepulchre.” (emphasis mine)

Maier notes that all previous Roman indictments against grave-robbing prescribe only a fine. Why the sudden jump to capital punishment? In AD 49, he expelled the Jews from Rome, and Suetonius remarks that the reason behind the expulsion was because of Christ (see Suetonius’ Claudius for more information, and cross-reference with Acts 17-18, for example.) If Claudius had indeed investigated the beliefs of Christians, he would have quickly discovered the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection due to the tomb being empty in spite of it being sealed. Jewish leaders, of course, tried to explain the event by saying that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body, an event Claudius would have no doubt also uncovered.

So we’ve given a few examples of archeological evidence for the trustworthiness of the Gospels. Do secular historians provide corroborating evidence?

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Your Own Historical Jesus- Writings

We’ve seen how biblical creeds and archeological finds are both types of proof for the Gospel message. In this last section,  we turn to ancient writings by secular historians and their Christian counterparts. This will reveal the most clear details of early Christian belief and also provide further evidence for the historicity of Jesus Christ. The Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote of the reign of Nero and the infamous fire that burned Rome during his reign, records the following in his Annals, written in AD 115:

“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome.” (Tacitus, 15.44)

From this we can confirm the biblical message that Christians were named after Christ, who was sentenced to death under Pilate during the reign of emperor Tiberius. The execution ended the “superstition” of belief in Him for awhile, but the claims of Christ and His followers reasserted themselves shortly thereafter. This agrees completely with Matthew through Acts in the Bible. Gaius Suetonius Tranquillas, another Roman historian who was also the chief secretary of Emperor Hadrian with access to imperial records, writes that Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome because they “caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Christus.” (Suetonius, Claudius, 25) Of Nero’s time in power, Tranquillas wrote: “Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief.” (Nero, 16)

Josephus mentions James “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ” in his Antiquities. Many are also familiar with a much-debated passage in Josephus’ Antiquities which seems to state that Jesus resurrected the third day and appeared to many. In this passage, Josephus makes use of quite a bit of Christian language, which is unusual since Josephus, a Jew, was stated to not be a believer by the church father Origen. While as a Christian I would love to believe Josephus actually wrote these words, I have to look at things as they are. Most likely this is a Christian interpolation, as there are translations of the Antiquities into other ancient languages that do not include the subject of the resurrection. However, even after removing the interpolation and evaluating the remaining words for grammatical and historical consistencies, one can look at Professor Schlomo Pines’ translation and commentary on an ancient Arabic edition of the Antiquities which reads:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Quoted in Charlesworth’s Jesus Within Judaism, p 95)

Not too bad, Joe! We can turn also to Julius Africanus’ mention of Thallus’ writings concerning (super)natural events surrounding Christ’s crucifixion. Thallus wrote around AD 50, before the New Testament had been penned. Africanus tells us:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.”

Africanus accepts Thallus’ history, but rejects his rationale that the darkness was caused by the sun. It’s interesting that secular history can provide so much verification for the Scriptures. In my last post on this subject, I’ll look at what Christian historians have said.

Categories: Bible | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Your Own Historical Jesus- Archeology

In the last post, we talked about the historical church creeds recorded in the Bible. Now we turn to further evidence for the historical Jesus. First, let’s take a look at the birth of Christ. Luke gives  us a historical account of Jesus’ birth, and he includes a number of clues that are helpful in approximating when the first Christmas took place. In Luke 2:1-5 we read:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.”

Did people really return to their hometown to be taxed? Was Cyrenius (also spelled “Quirinius”) really govern in Syria during a taxation in Israel? We’ll have to look to historians and archeology for some of these answers. It turns out that the Titulus Venetus, an ancient Latin inscription, explains that a census did in fact take place in Israel and Syria around AD 5-6, and that it was fairly normal for such censuses to take place during the reign of Augustus up until the third century. In his book Christian Origins, Bruce notes that a papyrus dating to around AD 104 records that people were required to return to their hometown for the purposes of taxation and census-taking. What about the subject of Cyrenius? Did he govern Syria when a census took place? It turns out Cyrenius did govern Syria at two separate times. In his book Tells, Tombs, and Treasure, Robert Boyd gives evidence that he governed during an early taxation in 10-4 BC, and he also governed in Syria around AD 6. So we now have a few dates that could legitimately be chosen for the year of Christ’s birth. Historically speaking, Luke builds a very solid foundation for acceptance of the details of Christ’s birth.

Next, let us turn to the subject of Jesus’ crucifixion. Can we establish Pilate’s reign in Israel? Are the details of the crucifixion consistent with what we know from archeology? Is there anything in archeology to indicate that Rome had to deal with the rumors of a resurrection? Boyd’s book notes that coins have been discovered which were minted to commemorate the inception of Pilate’s rule around AD 31. Outside of the Bible, Tacitus and Josephus both record Pilate’s involvement in the crucifixion of Christ. Of course, biblically speaking, the question of who killed Jesus is much more complex.

At this point, I’d like to introduce you to Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol. Well, I would introduce you to him, but, sadly, he is quite dead. His skeleton was found in a stone ossuary about a mile from the Damascus Gate in 1968. Archeologists believe he was killed in AD 70 during the Jewish uprising against Rome. It’s the manner of his death that interests us today, though. According to Dr. N. Haas, a pathologists at Hebrew University, Yohanan (whose name was inscribed on his ossuary) was crucified. He still had a seven-inch-long nail pierced though his heel bones, since apparently Roman soldiers twisted a prisoner’s legs to nail them to the cross. Small pieces of olive wood from the cross were still attached to the nail, which was bent backward to keep the victim in place. Nails had also been driven between the radius and ulna bones in the lower arm. The radius bone was scratched and worn smooth at this point due to the Yohanan’s repeated attempts to pull himself upward to breathe. His lower leg bones were broken, the tibia and fibula bones crushed by a common blow. This sounds stunningly familiar, does it not?

I want to turn to one final piece of evidence which I will risk speculating on. In 1878, a marble slab was discovered in Nazareth. It was an ordinance of Caesar which scholars generally agree was issued by Claudius around AD 41-54. It is translated in its entirety in P. Maier’s First Easter:

Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed for those who have made them for the cults of their ancestors or children or members of their house. If, however, anyone charges that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing on other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In case of violation I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charges of violation of sepulchre.” (emphasis mine)

Maier notes that all previous Roman indictments against grave-robbing prescribe only a fine. Why the sudden jump to capital punishment? In AD 49, he expelled the Jews from Rome, and Suetonius remarks that the reason behind the expulsion was because of Christ (see Suetonius’ Claudius for more information, and cross-reference with Acts 17-18, for example.) If Claudius had indeed investigated the beliefs of Christians, he would have quickly discovered the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection due to the tomb being empty in spite of it being sealed. Jewish leaders, of course, tried to explain the event by saying that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body, an event Claudius would have no doubt also uncovered.

So we’ve given a few examples of archeological evidence for the trustworthiness of the Gospels. Do secular historians provide corroborating evidence?

Categories: Bible | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Your Own Historical Jesus- Creeds

You’ve probably run across someone who challenged your belief in Jesus Christ on the grounds that He is a made-up figure in a religious text. If they’ve been mildly open-minded, they may have asked you for some historical proof that He was real. That’s not easy for believers to do when we’re used to trusting in the Bible as our sole authority for faith and practice. Hmmmm…..where have I heard that before: “sole authority for faith and practice”? Well, there’s no singular answer since that statement is found in numerous statements of faith, confessions, and…..creeds. Let’s check out a few of those creeds.

How about “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh“? Sound familiar? Oscar Cullmann, author of a classic on early creeds entitled The Earliest Christian Confessions, identifies this statement as a concise creed on the subject of Christ’s deity and nature. That’s what most creeds were about, happily. It is creeds, therefore, that offer us some of the best evidence for the existence of Christ. The reason for this is that even though they are included in the New Testament, creeds like the one I just mentioned existed before the books of the New Testament were written. The various human penmen of the New Testament quoted these creeds on occasion to summarize doctrine, but they didn’t create them.

Here’s another creed that may sound familiar, though it is somewhat more complex.

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

This creed should found familiar to most believers, since it is written out for us in Philippians 2. It is identified as a creed not only by Cullmann, but also Bultmann, Neufeld, and Fuller. Ironically, these scholars, who are not exactly conservative, point out this creed in particular as proof to a very early belief in Christ. If Christ’s death and resurrection did take place around AD 33, and the various books of the Bible did not begin to be written until AD 50 or so, then the creeds became standardized less than 17 years after the events actually happened. Obviously, this is significant because that means the very people who popularized the creeds were those who had witnessed events in the life of Christ. They know of Whom they spoke!

Another early confessional creed is found in 1 Timothy 3:16:

“And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifest in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit, seen of angels,

Preached unto the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up into glory.”

Moule points out that the early date of this creed (before Paul’s ministry) plus the rhyme-pattern that is made clear through a study of Greek literature are evidence of this creed’s use in pre-Pauline hymns. When we read this passage, we are given a glimpse of ancient Christian worship!

The two passages most clearly identified as creeds by the majority of New Testament scholars are 1 Corinthians 11:23-24 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. Paul essentially declares them to be creedal in nature by using the terms “delivered” and “received”, both of which are technical terms for the passing on of Scripture in the rabbinical tradition. Do a quick word search of the New Testament. They aren’t used by Paul or anyone to describe simple communication. Paul is passing along information from another source, a source which uses parallelism through the “and that” of Hebrew narrative tradition and Peter’s Aramaic name (“Cephas”) in the place of his Greek name. We can therefore easily surmise at this point that this creed originates in Israel. This is significant since this means that the people who created the creed were very near the events of the gospels in terms of time (less than two decades) and space (Israel as opposed to somewhere else in the Roman Empire.) Because of this we must take the following statements, at least, to be factual:

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion
  2. Jesus was buried
  3. Jesus’ death caused despair on the part of His disciples
  4. Jesus’ tomb was found empty
  5. The disciples believed they had seen Him alive and well
  6. The disciples were transformed from faithless doubters to bold witnesses
  7. This message was the center of the early church, which was founded in Jerusalem
  8. The early church was born and grew
  9. James, who had been a skeptic, converted
  10. Paul, another skeptic, also was converted

That’s the minimum any thinking skeptic would have to accept. A number of creeds believed by hundreds, perhaps thousands, so geographically and chronologically close to the events of the Gospels make it hard to believe that at least these items are not true. Whatever else your conclusion, you have to deal with all of these items somehow. Hopefully an honest skeptic will realize that there is something else going on here and eventually embrace the full message of the Gospel by faith grounded in reason.

But is there more evidence from other sources? Glad you asked….

Categories: atheism, Bible | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Rob Bell’s Fractured Fairy Tales

On at least two occasions that I am aware of, Rob Bell has made some very telling blunders when dealing with history.

In the first case, he often interprets what Jesus says in light of the rabbinical writings known as the Talmud and the Mishna. The problem with this is that neither set of writings were codified until around 200 years after Jesus’ birth. In other words, Jesus didn’t say anything in light of either set of writings, and the attitude of the rabbis had most likely changed significantly after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Moreover, neither document is known for being historically accurate concerning the 1st century or the Old Testament. Bell’s misunderstanding of history taints his understanding of Scripture, which is dangerous.

Secondly, and perhaps more seriously, Bell twists the facts- intentionally, in my opinion- in one of his videos. Here’s a Youtube clip of the video in question:

I take special issue with Bell’s explanation of Caesar Augustus’ claim at deity. Most people doubt he actually thought he was a god. Furthermore, I’ve never read that Augustus himself called his birthday celebration “Advent.” Well, I should say that I’ve never heard that said by anybody who wasn’t quoting Bell. It was Virgil that referred to the celebration as adventus, which simply means “coming.” Virgil believed that Augustus would usher in a golden era for the Roman empire. The celebration wasn’t so much about Caesar’s birth as it was about his reign. As for Christianity, Christians didn’t start formally celebrating Advent until the 4th Century. It seems to me that makes all of this a moot point.

Here’s what Ethelbert Stauffer, whom Bell is referencing, says in his book Christ and Caesar concerning two coins in honor of Caesar:

The symbolic meaning is clear: a new day is dawning for the world. The divine saviour-king, born in the historical hour ordained by the stars, has come to power on land and sea, and inaugurates the cosmic era of salvation. Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus, and there is no other name given to me in which they can be saved.

Notice Stauffer says this writing as a 20th-century believer. He isn’t saying that people believed that and would say that in precisely those words. That’s his explanation of the inscriptions on two coins. To say that Christ and Caesar had this much in common is either a terrible error or twisting the facts to make a point. Bell spins a yarn at the cost of the truth, which is never a good thing.

Categories: Bible, Doctrine, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Fence Me In

Just turn me loose,
Let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western sky.
On my cayuse,
Let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise.
I want to ride to the ridge
Where the west commences,
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses,
Can’t look at hobbles and I can’t stand fences,
Don’t fence me in.

My grandparents and parents both listened to old cowboy songs when I was a kid, and while I didn’t really like most of them, this one really stuck out to me. It’s about not wanting boundaries, a concept I think most of us can appreciate. Of course, there are some boundaries that are good. We live our lives safely because of them. Unfortunately, some postmodern believers are of the opinion that fences aren’t very good for faith. In other words, some of those Bible teachings aren’t as big of a deal as we make them out to be.

Rob Bell makes it obvious that he’s of this persuasion in Velvet Elvis, where he makes the following assertion:

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births? But what if, as you study the origin of the word ‘virgin’ you discover that the word ‘virgin’ in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah, and then you find out that in the Hebrew language at that time, the word ‘virgin’ could mean several things. And what if you discover that in the first century being ‘born of a virgin’ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? What if that spring were seriously questioned? Could a person keep on jumping? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?…If the whole faith falls apart when we reexamine and rethink one spring, then it wasn’t that strong in the first place, was it?”

While Bell also affirms that he does believe in the virgin birth, he makes it obvious that the virgin birth really isn’t essential to the Christian faith as far as he is concerned. Then there’s Tony Jones, who makes his position very clear. He’s the “theologian-in-residence” of Solomon’s Porch and an outspoken writer for the Emergent Church movement. In an interview with Relevant magazine, Tony said:

Statements of faith are about drawing borders, which means you have to load your weapons and place soldiers at those borders. you have to check people’s passports when they pass those borders. It becomes an obsession- guarding the borders….I don’t want to spend it [his life] guarding borders. I’d like to spend it inviting people into the kingdom. Statements of faith don’t do that.

In that same interview, Jones went on to say that he doesn’t see a reason why a lesbian pastor and a conservative couldn’t get along in the same church. I beg to differ, Tony.

Fences do more than create borders to defend. They protect from attack. God’s Truth and God’s people should be defended from attack. Christianity as a faith and Christians as individuals called to holy living don’t exist without fences. There’s another way of looking at this, though, and I wish Tony would take a step back to consider it. Perhaps it isn’t that Christians are choosing to fence themselves in as if they were in a zoo. Perhaps Christians are instead called to the wide world of orthodoxy (right faith) and orthopraxy (right practice.) The fences exist to separate the evil on small reserves outside of the wide world of the Christian faith. We are on the outside, and evil and error are fenced in.

God’s Truth as revealed in His Word must be revered and defended if necessary. Paul insisted that there was a difference between right belief and wrong belief, even if wrong belief is appealing, when he wrote Galatians 1:8: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” He instructed pastors to be well-trained in Scripture so that they could defend the faith in Titus 1:9: “Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.”

Christianity isn’t simply a way of life. It is a way of life that is founded on faith in the Truths of God’s Word. Anything that is precious and unique and special is worth protecting and preserving. As J. Gresham Machen wrote nearly a century ago:

When men talk thus about propogating Christianity without defending it, the thing that we are propagating is pretty sure not to be Christianity at all. They are propagating anti-intellectualistic, nondoctrinal Modernism; and the reason why it requires no defense is simply that it is so completely in accord with the current of the age.

If we don’t take our Christianity seriously and consider it worthy of protecting, maybe our faith isn’t really Christianity at all. The faith once delivered to the saints needs to be protected so that it doesn’t spoil, but it’s not about fencing it in. It’s about fencing evil  and error in so that we are truly free.

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Tell Me a Story

When I was in college, the experimental theater class would occasionally put on small productions entitled “Tell Me a Story.” They didn’t have a huge budget, but they would dress in costumes generally and spend an evening performing short dramas, usually around a particular theme. After a night titled “Tell Me a SCARY Story”, I remember watching my fellow students dart to their dorms in groups thanks to the night’s fare and thinking to myself about how drama is such a powerful method of communication.

In fact, anything involving the use of narrative seems to exert a good deal of influence over us. Perhaps that’s why so much of the Bible is made up of narrative. Some Christians believe that the Bible should be understood strictly as narrative, especially since our postmodern society leans heavily in this direction. I don’t have anything personal against my brothers in Christ, but I definitely have a problem with limiting God’s Word to a narrative whose story must be consistently reinterpreted.

On this subject, Rob Bell said in a 2004 interview in Christianity Today that he and his wife were in the process of “discovering the Bible as a human product.” In his view, the Bible is more like a member of his church community with stories to share about a variety of topics. Bell’s desire is to avoid the mistake of placing the Bible on the dissection table and forgetting to look into and be changed by “the Perfect Law of Liberty.” Brian McLaren is even more transparent when he writes:

When we theological conservatives seek to understand the Bible, we generally analyze it. We break it down into chapters, paragraphs, verses, sentences, clauses, phrases, words, prefixes, roots, suffixes, jots, and tittles. Now we understand it, we tell ourselves. Now we have conquered to text, captured the meaning, removed all mystery, stuffed it and preserved it for posterity, like a taxidermist with a deer head.”

It’s a tragedy that people would analyze God’s Word without it applying to themselves, and it happens all too often. I suspect that the emergent church is more of a reaction against modernism than it is a return to right thinking. McLaren would tell us that intensive Bible studies are the result of the Enlightenment, I would ask him to peer further back into the past. In doing so, he would see the Bereans, apostles, church fathers, Reformers, Puritans, Methodists, and Baptists all involved in this very sort of Bible study. Christians have always believed that the Word of God is worth studying by whatever means necessary.

It’s true that the Bible includes a good deal of narrative. However, the Bible is also almost entirely made of propositional statements. In his book The Post-Evangelical, Tomlinson ironically states: “Post-evangelicals are less inclined to look for truth in propositional statements and old moral certitudes and more likely to seek it in symbols, ambiguities, and situational judgments.”

One has to wonder where the animosity toward propositional statements came from. After all, we make use of them every day. Every time we state a fact, we are making a proposition. We don’t have to be right about the fact we are stating, but a proposition is made nonetheless. “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain.” “I love artichoke hearts.” “My cat’s name is Olivia.” Whether it’s an account of David vs. Goliath or Jesus’ assertion that He is Way, Truth, and Life or Paul’s teaching on salvation being by grace instead of works, propositional statements are all over the Bible. To be honest, I have no idea why emergent church leaders even bother writing about this. After all, their own claims and assertions are themselves propositional statements!

It seems the postmodern believers are quite fond of the “good fences make good neighbors” mantra. You must either adhere to one extreme or the other, and never the twain shall  meet. It’s either propositions or narratives, being informed or being transformed, knowing what to believe or knowing the Lord of those beliefs. The Bible doesn’t put such burdens on us, fortunately. We can boldly proclaim the truths of Scripture when they are stated outright, and we can also enjoy and learn from the narrative of Scripture.

So go ahead. Tell me a story. Just make sure you get your facts right, and make sure there’s a point to it all.

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Faith: Nebula or Mystery?

The new Star Trek movie has revived the sci-fi lover in me. It’s been so long since I’ve seen anything Trek that I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. I guess I’m a nerd, but that’s not really a shock to anyone. Anyway, I remember growing up thinking how cool it would be to fly a spaceship through the universe and see all of those heavenly bodies up close. I also remember thinking how dangerous it would be to fly blind through a nebula. Picard and company always seemed to have a hard time with that. Nebulae were dark, mysterious lonely places where it was easy to get lost and you never knew what new danger the crew of the Enterprise would find.

My other passion involves a good mystery. I enjoy a whodunnit?, conspiracy theory, or whatever. Anything with an excellent plot is sure to make me happy. I think that’s key, though. There’s got to be a good plot, a train of thought or order of events I’m supposed to follow.

It seems to me that there is some tension in modern Christianity as to whether or not we’re supposed to treat our faith- propositional truths and experiential reality- more like a nebula than like a good mystery novel. Mysteries can be understood and followed. They serve a purpose. Nebulae, well, at least Gene Roddenberry‘s conception of nebulae- seem to be unsolvable and ultimately unknowable. That just doesn’t seem to be the kind of faith Jesus wants us to have, yet such a perspective persists.

Some in Christianity have taken on a post-modern perspective on faith and emphasized the journey over the destination. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is something of a journey involved in Christianity, and it’s one to be enjoyed. My point is that the journey must have purpose. There must be progress made. There must be a sense of compulsion to move onward, and, while a humble expression of humility is refreshing, to simply say “I don’t know, but let’s talk about it” ad infinitum just doesn’t seem to be what Christianity is all about.

This perspective effects every area of the postmodern (some say “emergent”) Christianity.

  1. Evangelism- According to Dave Tomlinson’s book The Post-Evangelical, “Evangelism should be seen as an opportunity to ‘fund’ people’s spiritual journeys, drawing on the highly relevant resources of ‘little pieces’ of truth contained in the Christian narrative.” (Which pieces of the Bible aren’t truth? Do people ever reach the destination of their spiritual journey?)
  2. The Bible- Tomlinson also writes in the same book: “To say Scripture is the Word of God is to employ a metaphor. God cannot be thought of as literally speaking words, since they are entirely a human phenomenon that could never prove adequate as a medium for the speech of an infinite God.” (Funny. That’s not what Jesus means when He says “My words shall not pass away.”)
  3. Salvation- In his book How (Not) to Speak of God, Peter Rollins says that “we need to be evangelized as much, if not more than those around us.” (So we never finish being evangelized? When can a person be defined as a Christian?”
  4. Apologetics- Rob Bell says in his popular book Velvet Elvis: “You rarely defend the things you love. You enjoy them and tell others about them and invite others to enjoy them with you.” (This is just plain ridiculous. I don’t know that it’s within the scope of this post to talk about Bell’s statement, but I thought it was too crazy to pass up. Who doesn’t defend someone or something they truly love when it’s necessary?)

And that’s just a start!

In the postmodern (emergent) view, God ceases to be knowable, because you have emphasized the nebulousness of faith and even God and de-emphasized the point of the journey. God’s infinity swallows up His knowability. Salvation must be pieced together, and we may never fully arrive. This isn’t the way Paul spoke though. On Mars’ Hill he said: “For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.” It sounds like a mystery worth solving to me!

Mystery does not remove human responsibility or the importance of theology and knowing God. Didn’t Paul chide the Jews for having zeal without knowledge in Romans 10:2? Didn’t Jesus chide the disciples for being of little faith in Matthew 14:31? Doubt may be a part of the Christian life, but it isn’t the emphasis of the Christian life. Uncertainty is not proof of humility.

In the end, such postmodern believers insist that the Christian life is all about examining ourselves more and more deeply and not so much about examining the details of doctrine. I would say that postmodern believers simply need to grow up. Yes, there is value in finding our own weaknesses and being honest about failures and hurts. Maturity, however, requires us to stop being so fragile. Spiritual maturity demands growing in grace and in wisdom, laying aside weights and sin, and making Christ our everything. Love covers sin, and we would do well to fall so in love with Jesus that we don’t fall into the temptation of glorifying past failures.

What our world needs is authentic Christians (not transparent Christians) who are willing to – as a friend of mine says- enter the Mystery and abandon themselves to God. But the Mystery need not be nebulous.

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The Art of Discipleship

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” -Jesus, Matthew 16:24-26

Are Jesus’ words simply a command? Oh, I have no doubt that He is telling us what we ought to do. It’s just that it seems to me He is also describing reality for us. He’s stating a fact. He tells us that self-denial is required if you and I want to experience the abundant life. It’s like me telling my students that they have to learn their vocabulary and grammar lessons well in order to become an effective communicator or to master the English language. I’m not simply commanding them to work. I’m explaining to them “how to get there from here.”

We can either live our lives for contemporary happiness (pleasurable feelings) or classic happiness, a life of righteousness, wisdom, peace, and goodness. Philosophers call this “the good life.” Jesus says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” He calls this very same sense of classic happiness “the abundant life.” A pleasurable life is completely dependent on external factors- health, wealth, success, money, power, fame, beauty- while true happiness is the result of the internal working of God’s Word and God’s Spirit in a person’s life. It’s the result of a life of conformity to the way God meant life to be lived. This is why Jesus said that those who live out the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 will be “blessed.” That word we translate as “blessed” is the same word that is elsewhere translated “happy.”

How much better is the life of a disciple than the life of a person who is addicted to themselves? If pleasure is the holy grail, then you and I have no choice but to run forever, chasing the next adrenaline rush, the next calorie-filled binge, the next romance, the next purchase, the next sexual encounter….maybe even the next inspiring or energy-filled church service. Since none of these things work well as ends in themselves, we end up like T. S. Eliot’s Hollow Men.

Discipleship, in contrast to narcissism, brings true satisfaction with life, because life gains a whole new sense of meaning and purpose. We have real freedom to do what is right, to live a life of intimacy with God. This life of discipleship and self-denial does not mean living without desire or without anything that brings pleasure. God does not call us to the monastery but to live life in the world but not of the world.

Living the life of the disciple, rather than being a difficult one, is actually quite liberating. There’s no stress from being constantly consumed with the need to feel happy. There’s no need to be in control. There’s no need to keep up with the Jones’ when it comes to possessions, or to mask feelings of emptiness by living vicariously through celebrities. Where would our twisted form of capitalism be without Americans’ codependence on material things and spiritually-bankrupt celebrities? Gary Sinise notwithstanding, that is.

Jesus said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Is it possible that self-sacrifice, self-discipline, and yielding to Christ is actually easier than the path most people take? Perhaps God intended for us to live this way, and the initial difficulty in being a true disciple of Christ is merely the same difficulty with forming any good habit. Perhaps it is that a life is discipleship is something you and I can actually get “good” at, a skill that we can learn.

Maybe just as one gets better at soccer, singing, or math, we can get better at the art of discipleship, the art of self-denial.

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My Addiction

If you know anything about ABC’s sitcom Scrubs, then you know that narcissism is a major theme of the show. I don’t necessarily endorse the show, but check out the list of episodes and see if a pattern doesn’t emerge. Besides the pattern of the episode titles, there’s the name of the lead character itself- John Dorian. His name is a reference to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I won’t spoil the whole novel for you, but suffice it to say that Wilde attempts to show what selfishness and pleasure-seeking will do to a person. In Wilde’s novel, the picture of Dorian is an outward reflection of his inward destruction caused by narcissism. Such selfishness and pleasure-seeking are the two primary characteristics of a narcissistic individual, and it is just such an individual that is becoming predominant in today’s society. Most of our culture has taken on the temperament of an adolescent- no, an infant.

While individuality is a good thing, the sort of individualism seen today is something to be astonished at. We make decisions based on life goals and personal interests as though we weren’t responsible for the well-being of the community at large. We are superficial; we objectify people and are driven only by self-interest. We are passive so long as we are entertained, but we hate boredom. That is the chief evil, since pleasure is the greatest good to be achieved. We define our level of happiness according to how often our cravings for food, entertainment, clothing, and goods are met. We’re concerned with sex, outer beauty, and feeling good. Since these cravings can never bring ultimate satisfaction, they merely form an addiction that will never end.

“Take up your cross and follow Me.”

“Forget it,” our culture says.

Now it’s all about self-gratification. Pain, suffering, enduring difficulty, hard work, and self-denial are so far removed from us, the words of Christ seem foreign. Jesus knows better, though. Suffering brings gain, and losing your life means you will have abundant life.

More on this thought later.

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Worldviews: Big Macs vs. Slyders

Great as a Burger, Bad as a Worldview

Who can forget the famous old-school commercial for Mcdonalds’ Big Mac, advertising “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun”? I love Big Macs, but then I also have an addiction to White Castle’s Slyders. They’re little guys, but they’re this perfect little blend of a thin slice of beef, cheese, grilled onions, and a bun. Maybe it’s my penchant for anything dealing with food, but I like to relate worldviews to food. There are basically two different kinds of worldviews you and I could study, and they have radically different implications. There are Slyder worldviews and Big Mac worldviews.

Slyder worldviews are palatable to some, but they lack substance in a very real way. In such worldviews, there is no meaning or purpose. There is no objective sense of right or wrong or a means of assigning value to a person or thing. There is no God, no Heaven or Hell, no ultimate justice. There is just the physical world, and death simply ends being and consciousness. In such a view, our world just simply exists. Everything is one big accident. Bertrand Russell asserted that our world was a Slyder world in his Philosophical Essays:

“That man is the product of causes which have no prevision of the end they are achieving: that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried underneath the debris of a universe in ruins. Only on the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation be safely built.”

The problem is that, like the White Castle menu item, a Slyder worldview doesn’t describe reality very well. It doesn’t explain how humans function. It’s all good and well to say that monogamy is just a social invention, but that doesn’t explain why the promiscuous are rarely truly satisfied. June Vanderkam, a 2001 graduate of Princeton knows that well: “Hookups do satisfy biology, but the emotional detachment doesn’t satisfy the soul. And that’s the real problem — not the promiscuity, but the lack of meaning.” We all hunger for meaning, and a Slyder worldview does nothing to truly satisfy that hunger. The Slyder worldview robs life of meaning, and fails to replace it with anything, well, meaningful. In our world filled with “reality” TV, celebrity gossip, pornography, drugs and alcoholism, movies, music, video games, and professional sports, one wonders if all of this hype is really just a feeble attempt to stave off society’s craving for real meaning and purpose.

Only Big Mac worldviews can satisfy this craving. Big Mac worldviews attempt to answer questions concerning meaning and purpose.  There is a strong sense of objective right and wrong, and people and things have intrinsic value. God, Heaven, Hell, and ultimate Justice all exist, and God is active in His creation. Everything happens for a purpose, and all of life carries meaning. Compared with Slyder worldviews, a Big Mac worldview is significantly more satisfying, more palatable, and more fulfilling. In a very real way, such a worldview really is what we crave.



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The Pursuit of Happiness

In 2006, the biographical drama The Pursuit of Happyness graced the silver screen with a heart-warming message of hope. That hope, we are told, is one in which you and I can be truly happy if we can just succeed. We can succeed in our jobs, in our families, and in our various other goals, and if we have success (however we define it) we will be truly happy. Such is the lie of a sensate, spiritually-bankrupt culture. Reality tells a much different story.

The truth is that happiness itself cannot be experienced when it is the ultimate goal. In fact, you will see happy people in Western mansions and developing countries, in homes and orphanages, and in hospitals and gymnasiums. Happiness is not something that can be captured through seeking. It is something that must be experienced through the fulfillment of other purposes. To be honest, I’m not so sure that humans are even capable of being happy with “mere” happiness.

This is what many philosophers and poets refer to as the “paradox of hedonism.” As William Bennett once said: “”Happiness is like a cat, If you try to coax it or call it, it will avoid you; it will never come. But if you pay not attention to it and go about your business, you’ll find it rubbing against your legs and jumping into your lap.” If you and I live by a modern, hedonistic interpretation of The Pursuit of Happiness, we’ll interpret everything according to that paradigm. Jobs, spouses, churches, children….even God Himself will wax or wane in importance to us based on how well they help us achieve this goal of happiness. It’s the new geocentric theory: the universe revolves around 6.5 billion individuals simultaneously!

The truth is that people must live for something bigger than themselves to even remotely experience this Happiness we all crave. We must take up some Cause, some Belief, some Purpose that we deem worthy of ourselves. Comedian Jeff Allen (Yes, I’ve quoted a comedian and a politician in the same post. It’s an off day…) once said that a man needs something he’s willing to die for to feel complete. He’s absolutely right. We need a sense of true purpose, to know that what we accomplish in life matters. We need to know what the standard for success and failure is. We need a finish line to press toward.

In a culture incapable of creating a sense of enduring worth and any sense of real absolutes, we have produced several generations of what psychologists call “empty selves.” Philip Cushman defines the empty self as: “filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists…. experience a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning….a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.” What an accurate depiction of life in these United States!

And what is the result? Martin Seligmann’s research in 1988 states that the Baby Boom generation increased tenfold in levels of depression relative to previous generations. Seligmann states that this was because Baby Boomers started living for self and not for a cause (God, family, country) bigger than they were. They forgot the Eternal in favor of the Immediate. They lost the art of becoming a wise, virtuous person. In seeking pleasure and happiness, they lost both.

Happiness is not an achievement. It is a byproduct of living the good life. Any worldview that is worth its salt must accurately describe the good life, and it must have true happiness as its byproduct. Christianity accurately describes a good life- the life of discipleship- that yields ultimate happiness and satisfaction. The lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Daniel, the Disciples, Paul, and even Jesus Himself speak of a life that may require sacrifice and choosing hard roads, but will result in ultimate joy, ultimate satisfaction, and the promise of eternal reward in the bliss of Heaven. This is the abundant life that Jesus gives. It isn’t just about length of life. It’s about the ultimate quality of that life.

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With My Body, I Thee Worship

I want to suggest here in this post that worship is the greatest need of any human who has walked the face of this earth. That isn’t to say that you and I don’t have other needs that are important. However, the need to worship is what we feel most strongly. The reality is that worship is what makes the world go round. I mean that both in the most positive and most negative way possible. Of course faith is important to people, and many good things have been done in the name of Christianity. Many evil things are done because of worship as well. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis says: “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

Ravi Zacharias defines worship as “a posture of life that takes as its primary purpose the understanding of what it really meant to love and revere God. It is the most sacred intimacy of all.” In other words, when Jesus said that He was the Bread of Life and that He offered Living Water capable of quenching any hunger and any thirst, He intended His words to be far more meaningful than most of us take it. When He said that the greatest commandment was: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, He was referring to a life of worship. He was referring to a relationship that blends together both the physical and spiritual, reverence and passion, intense celebration and deep commitment.

Perhaps this is why Jesus speaks in terms of food and water. Yes, they are needs that must be fulfilled. However, we do not merely eat to satisfy a need. We also eat and drink because it is pleasurable. We enjoy eating, drinking, and being merry. Worship also is pleasurable to us, and it brings a sort of satisfaction and joy that is more celestial than terrestial. Partaking in food and drink are also times of fellowship. Any Christian knows that fellowship and food are virtually synonymous in a church setting. Outside the church, the relationship between relationship-building and food is strong. We meet and eat for business, romance, as a stress-relief, and even as a way of showing sympathy. Worship is also a time of fellowship. It is in worship that we have true fellowship with the Creator, the God Who came near. (Is there a significance in Communion being a time of people partaking of food and drink together? I think so.)

In short, worship is about far more than music. It is about prayer, Bible study, evangelism, discipleship, child rearing, engineering, teaching, construction, rest, travel, and, yes, even meals. Worship is about the whole Being. Notice that Ravi Zacharias says that worship is a “posture of life.” It isn’t about an hour on Sunday, or even several hours every day. It is about every moment of every day being Sacred. It is about doing all to the glory of God. It is about a reverential love for the Creator and Savior.

Thomas Cranmer knew that the English word “Love” didn’t do justice to the reality it was meant to describe. Though it has gone out of practice, Cranmer changed the marriage rite in 1662 to include the line: “With my body I thee worship and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” It was later changed to “with this ring I thee wed.” I personally like Cranmer’s version better. How much better is that line than crassly describing the consummation of marriage as “having sex”? How much more accurate is it to describe the intimacy of marriage as a type of worship, an image of the worship of God that should be a part of every believer’s life.

If it isn’t a part of our lives, we very quickly move on to worshipping something else, for we cannot restrain ourselves from doing so. We may worship power, wealth, fame, relationships, pleasure, false gods, or- ultimately- ourselves. That simply means that we haven’t looked beyond ourselves to see that there is Someone truly worthy of all that attention. If God is the only Thing in this world that can bring true happiness, doesn’t it make sense that we pursue Him with all of our Being? If experiencing Him brings the greatest fulfillment of all human experiences, what aspect of devotion can be deemed unnecessary? We must learn the Truth of Who He is, and we must experience that truth. We must seek the purity of heart He described. We must be willing to make sacrifices for Him because of Who He has sacrificed for us. We must enthusiastically revere the One Who is the chief end of Man.

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Contemporary Christian Music

I came from a slice of Christianity that loved to point out everything that is wrong with the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) movement. I grew up believing that drums and Christianity don’t go together. I believed that combining worldly music with Christian words made you sort of a Frankenstein. I believed that anyone involved in this sort of movement didn’t really love God, that they simply wanted to hang on to their liberal lifestyle. Then I did some studying in the realm of music, history, theology, and world cultures. I also met a number of people who did enjoy CCM, and I actually started listening to a few samples of this music. What I found out didn’t really jive with what I’d been told to believe.

Now, in defense of those that hold to such a belief system, there are any number of examples of poor Christian musicians, lyrics, and music. I know that there are some people who listen to and enjoy CCM that are flat out worldly. I also know that there are some who stand to make a profit off of music that is Christian. I also believe that believing that CCM is wrong or worldly doesn’t make you a bad person.

Here’s the thing: music standards aren’t on the list of things that I’d die for. Sorry if that bothers you. Yes, I’ll die for being a believer, protecting my family, or defending my country. I just don’t think music standards are something worth bickering over. Any Bible concordance will tell you that the Bible never directly addresses music standards, and I have a hard time shouting when the Bible is silent. In fact, I think we ought to be very careful when doing so. The Pharisees (“separated ones”) did that, and Jesus wasn’t too thrilled with them when He walked the earth. An otherwise good movement wound up doing significant damage to the Kingdom because they insisted on following their own traditions.

I’ve seen a number of arguments against CCM music. They can involve anything from application of Scripture (in which case I don’t mind if that’s your personal standard if it’s done honestly) to racism and what can truly be described as a eurocentrism. I’ve heard it said that CCM is evil because the beats and instruments come from the heathen in Africa. The last time I checked, most cultures, if not all of them, have included stringed, brass, woodwind, and, yes, even percussion instruments. A quick perusal of the Psalms will let you know that the worship of Jehovah is no stranger to instruments of all types, and Jewish worship music is filled with many styles of music. Beyond all of this, I would argue that there is a difference between using the music of a culture as an expression of worship and purposefully watering down worship so that it is more appealing to unbelievers.

There is no such thing as sacred music in terms of musical notes and rhythms. It is the text of the lyrics enhanced by the mood of the music that makes music Christian. We can all point to songs that are supposed to be “Christian” that just don’t work. Listen to almost any “Plus One” song, and you’ll see a perfect example of how watered-down lyrics can devalue and denigrate worship. It’s also true that the mood conveyed by melodies, harmonies, and rhythms can either add to or detract from a song’s usefulness in terms of worship. However, upbeat music, syncopated rhythms, and varied styles do not immediately eliminate the sacredness of music.

There are at least five words for worship used in the Psalms. They vary in intensity from quiet and meditative to boisterous celebration. Music of all sorts should be present in church. There are times for peaceful music and times for celebration. Some music may bring a tear to the eye and other music may make you want to clap your hands or tap your toes. I’ve heard arguments levied against CCM because it causes the congregation to “become emotional.” What, I must ask, is wrong with experiencing emotion? Perhaps that’s really the big reason some people don’t like CCM. It’s easy to stay in control if you’ve become dull of hearing to the message and music of a particular hymn. CCM brings new music into a church service, and it isn’t as easy to steel yourself to the awesomeness of Who God is and what He has done.

Then, of course, some folks dislike the “showbiz” environment of CCM. I would suggest that not all people get involved in CCM because they want to get rich. To be sure, there are some. However, in some cases the songs produced are  still very good, and it is possible to enjoy the music without partaking in the faddishness of the modern movement. (There’s more spiritual meat in one CD of Casting Crowns music than whole hymnals in some cases.) Furthermore, I would point out that many of the authors of Christian music and even famous evangelists of the past enjoyed celebrity status in their day. (George Whitefield was so idolized that people robbed his grave in the hopes of keeping something the man actually owned or wore.) I would also point out that even fundamentalist Christian circles are not without their pastoral and musical prima donnas. Just because some people in a movement desire fame, wealth, or power doesn’t mean that the movement as a whole is evil.

I think it’s time that we all realize that there is a difference between obeying a particular Bible command (avoiding worldliness) and having a particular preference. Honestly, I prefer hymns. I love the chord structure, the doctrine that is so eloquently stated, and the nostalgia that comes from singing a song that I’ve sung so many times before. I also love Southern Gospel music. I love how plainly the truths of the Bible are stated. I love the style because it has energy and passion, and because it states truth very clearly. I also enjoy many styles of CCM. It has a much more personalized view of God that is a nice contrast to the impersonal nature of most corporate worship. Of course, I recognize that there are good and bad examples of all three categories. There are hymns in the hymnal that I’d rather not sing because of doctrinal error. There are hymns in the hymnal that I think are plain stupid. (“Joy Bells”, anyone?) We all know of good and bad modern Christian music. It just takes some discernment to weed out the bad stuff. Time has a wonderful way of doing that anyway.

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Is Vicarious Atonement Immoral?

Christopher Hitchens has made the assertion in a debate with Dinesh D’souza that Christianity should not be accepted because Jesus’ death on the Cross is immoral. He says that we cannot be atoned by the death of another:

“I cannot say you are guiltless of this sin….The promise to do that is an immoral promise. The promise to do it by human sacrifice is immoral.”

Hitchens’ point is well taken. Even if you paid my monetary debt, did time in prison, or even went to the electric chair for me, you could not declare me to be righteous. No human could rightly make that claim. God, however, as the Creator and Judge of All the Earth can declare a person to be righteous. He’s the only one in a position to make that sort of declaration.

Hitchens also misunderstands Christianity on a few points. Justification does not mean that the believer has never sinned. Justification means that God declares a believer to be righteous because Christ’s righteousness is applied to his “account.” Atonement, on the other hand, comes from a Hebrew word which deals with cleansing or covering sin. Jesus’ death atones for sin because it pays the debts charged to the believers’ “account.” Is it immoral for God to require the death of His Son to make justification and atonement possible? No. Jesus did this willingly, and as the Creator and Judge, God is fully right in stating what will and will not be sin and stating what the punishment for committing sin will be. When God said that the wages of sin is death, He was fully right in doing so. Jesus received this punishment in our place and God applied Jesus’ righteousness to our account. This is all very “moral”; it is all very above-board.

Further on, Hitchens says:

“This is the worst kind of primitive, barbaric, Bronze-Age, Palestinian sadomasichism. In what sense is this the way, the truth, or the life? It is instead a worship of death.”

He only tells half the story, though. Having paid for our sins, Jesus returned to life. It is this Resurrection that Christians revere. It is the Resurrection, not simply His Death, that makes all of Christianity valid. As Paul said in 1Corinthians 15:

” Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.  But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.”

As Paul says just a little further along:

” O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

Christianity is not a religion that glories in torture and death, but in peace, grace, and life. He offers us Justification, Atonement, and eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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Where’s God In Hard Times?

Those of you who regularly read my blog have probably noticed that this latest posting is coming out a little later than usual. This past weekend I lost a very good friend to a tragic accident. While he was driving to preach as part of a prison ministry a few hours away, he lost control of his vehicle when he hit a wet patch of pavement, struck a tree, and found himself in Heaven just moments later. Travis is a well-respected man in our community. He loved (and still loves) his wife and son. He was a respected police officer who was responsible for many acts of heroism and had even saved lives. I could sit and listen to his stories- some funny, some sobering- for hours on end. He was heavily involved in the school I teach at. He worked security for school events, he was a faithful coach and fan of our sports teams (nobody could heckle quite as well as he could), he spoke in student chapel, and he was a leader in our school in many other ways. He was involved in his church, and he had a heart to minister to those in prison. That last part was his passion. He loved to see people come to Christ. He’d talk excitedly about the times he had preaching in prison. The times I loved most were when we’d talk about some of the things we’d read in the Bible. He always had an interesting thought or question.

When I found out, I was devastated. Many of us are deeply saddened by the loss of a truly amazing man. It would be easy to question God in the face of tragedy like this. I can’t say I would blame anyone who told me they had at some point during the grieving process. How was this good? Did He care? Where was He?

To answer the first question, God doesn’t ever claim that everything that happens is good. Some days in the Bible are described as “evil.” Various Psalm writers talk about tragedy and difficult times. The Bible doesn’t ask us to wear rose-colored glasses, because life isn’t that way. Our world is filled with death, disease, chaos, war, and evil courtesy of the Fall. On days like Saturday, I’d love to backhand Adam and Eve across the room. “This is my Father’s world”, but this isn’t the world my Father intended.

All of this doesn’t mean that God Himself isn’t good. He’s good because He is God. He is called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. He’s called the God of All Comfort. He loves and cares for His own. He’s good because He does good things for us. Offering salvation springs readily to mind. He intervenes directly and providentially in our world according to His will. The truth is, we may never know on earth why God allows some things to end tragically and chooses intervene in other areas. Our view is so limited. How can we make sense of things when we can’t see the whole picture that’s being painted? As my former music pastor once wrote after experiencing some significant tragedies in his life, including the death of twin children:

“Though I don’t always understand

All the ways of God with Man

Still I’ll hold my Savior’s hand

His Way is Perfect.”

Regardless of what may come- life or death, wealth or poverty, health or disease, good or evil- God does care. God cares when loved ones pass away. How profound is the shortest verse in the whole Bible: “Jesus wept.” The God of all reality cried at the death of a friend. The Psalmist writes: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Psalm 116:15) He cares for sparrows when they fall from the air, and He never even claims to be their Father! (Your Father, Jesus says when speaking of God’s care for lilies and sparrows.)

The skeptic may ask where the proof of all this is. How can we know that He cares or loves for anything in this world? Why doesn’t He do something about it if He is all-powerful? Why not remove pain? Remember that pain can be helpful. It tells us that something is wrong, and something is definitely wrong with our world. Pain can be necessary. Any dentist can tell you that. How often is pain the thing that drives us to God? God would still be just in leaving the world that humans have destroyed to its own wretched end. That’s not what He did though. God the Son stepped off of His throne, wrapped Himself in human flesh, and was born into this wretched, pitiful, sin-cursed world. He came from a lowly place, lived a relatively ignoble life, and died a terrible death. He experienced the worst of what this world had to offer. And think of the Father in Heaven. He knows what it is like to lose a Son. The union we call the Trinity had experienced fellowship and relationship for eternity stretching backward. It was cut off in one horrible moment on the Cross. Not to minimize human loss, but God was cut off from something far deeply intimate than we can even imagine. For the believer, Heaven is waiting, and God promises to create a new universe for believers to inhabit. One day sin, sorrow, death,  and disease will be banished forever.

So we come back to our original question. Where is God in hard times? He is right where He’s been all along: right there. He’s with us throughout our times of agony. We come not before one of the icons or idols of religion. We come before the Savior Who Weeps, the God Who Comforts.

PS- Travis, you were an inspiration and a true friend to me. You taught me what it meant to stand up for what I believe in. You helped me see things in Scripture that I’d never imagined were there. Thank you for that. You will be greatly missed, but I know that you’re enjoying time with the Father, getting those questions answered (and finding out that you were right, I’m sure), rejoicing over those who come to Christ through your life and passing, and no doubt eating some of the best southern cooking ever. Save a leg for me!

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Atheism: Light or Heat?

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve made it a point to do a lot of reading on the subject of Christianity. I’ve read many books by Christians and Atheists to get their respective points, and it has occurred to me that works from both worldviews claim to be illuminating on the subjects of eternity, purpose, reality, and human nature. Christianity affirms inherent worth, describes our purpose, and reveals the nature of reality and, ultimately, eternity.What is also abundantly clear is that Atheism denies that a vast portion of reality even exists, and instead of reason uses sarcasm, intense emotionalism, and a fervent indignation toward those who espouse any faith. Hitchens’ major complaint is that he can’t see why anyone would want to serve a deity. Dawkins thinks that Christianity is a foolish relic of a distant age. Harris belittles anyone who believes in any god. There may be some justification for some of these thoughts, but they aren’t proper justification for a worldview. Atheism promises light, but only provides heat. It has the appearance of substance, but fails to deliver.

To be certain, there are people on both sides that are passionate. Heck, I’m passionate. There are even believers who are the epitome of “zeal without knowledge”; they are the results of soapbox preaching and topical Bible studies. They roam the internet and do some stupid if not deceitful things in the name of Christ. This isn’t exactly Christian, though. Christ wanted us to be above-board in our dealings with others, and we are admonished to grow in our faith and in our love for God- heart, soul, and mind.

Atheism, on the other hand, lays no such requirements on its adherents. I was recently at an event in which Christopher Hitchens spoke. After the event, I was talking with him and he said that he needed to get to the book signing because he’s needed to “move product.” Later, I talked with him again in the book signing line (hey, if I’m going to buy the book I might as well get it signed), and he told me that even though I didn’t agree with him he didn’t care because anyone who bought his product was a friend of his. The man is obviously in it for the money. Why not, though? If this life is all there is, and you can get rich in this life by selling what you believe, go for it! Christians who are in it for the money, on the other hand, ought to be kicked out of their ministries. They are an anomaly, not representive of Christianity. They may be leaders of megachurches, but they are not leaders in Christian thought or practice. In contrast, Atheists like Hitchens are leaders in atheistic thought and practice. They are heralded as revolutionaries.

Another such revolutionary was philosopher Michel Foucault. Foucault wanted to experience life free of inhibitions after the death of God. This led him to try LSD in the wilderness and experiment sexually in ways that range from normative to the grotesque. As a result he died of AIDS. “To die for the love of boys,” he once told a friend, “what could be more beautiful?” Foucault lived out the natural result of an atheistic worldview. There was passion and fervency in his life and in his works, but there was no substance. It was heat without light. Like Stephen Jay Gould and a host of other atheists, Foucault believed that there were no answers.

Finally I turn to Sam Harris, whose Letter to a Christian Nation is the incarnation of the vitriol contained within the New Atheism. He asks where God is when children are raped (page 51) and when New Orleans was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina (page 52). His illustrations are intended to tug at the heart’s strings, and they certainly do so. I hope to deal with the problem of pain at a later date, but for now I’d like to focus on Harris’ assertion that Atheism is nonviolent in nature. Again, I would point out that unrestrained fervency in the last 100 years has been unleashed by those who espouse atheism.

It isn’t that Christians have not had cause to respond violently. The film adaption of The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988, Serrano’s “artistic” rendering of a crucifix in urine, The DaVinci Code, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, and almost any episode of Family Guy are all blasphemous enough to enrage most of the Christian population, but no rioting occurred. There were no deaths. No one was “roughed up” because of these blasphemies. They were decried, but there was no violent action taken or encouraged. Contrast this with what transpired after Proposition 8, the California proposition that defined marriage as occurring exclusively between a man and a woman, passed. The vast majority of homosexuals are atheistic and anti-religious, so it is not a leap to conclude that the reaction is largely the result of an atheistic worldview. Of course, I don’t have time to talk about the affects of Nietzsche’s atheistic writings on Hitler, who in turn passed them on to Mussolini and Stalin. Perhaps we should be reminded of the words of Hitler, inscribed over one of the gas ovens in Auschwitz: “I want to raise a generation of young people devoid of conscience, imperious, relentless, and cruel.” Fervency? Of course. Light? Nothing worth mentioning.

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What I’ve Done

“In this farewell there’s no blood,
There’s no alibi.
‘Cause I’ve drawn regret from the truth
Of a thousand lies.
So let mercy come and wash away…
What I’ve done.”

So begins Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done.” That’s one way you could view the Judgment Seat of Christ, and perhaps the unfaithful or disobedient Christian would do well to consider these words  as they may very accurately reflect his attitude on that day. However, I would like to add that there’s a very different view one could take if he continues in faith, nothing wavering, and if he lives a life that is obedient to the Master’s call. What does the Judgment Seat hold for such a believer?

I’ve listed the basis of judgment in a previous post as well as given Old Testament and New Testament perspectives on the Judgment Seat. Now let us turn to the rewards for those who are obedient and faithful.

  1. Those who are humble will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, not merely enter into it. (Matthew 5:3)
  2. Those who experience godly sorrow over life’s circumstances, poor health, or personal tragedy in this life will receive great comfort in the Age to Come. This is a specific sort of comfort received at the hands of the God of all Comfort. (Matthew 5:4)
  3. Those who are meek will inherit their portion of the physical earth. This refers to possession and authority. (Matthew 5:5)
  4. Those who crave righteousness above everything else will experience the great satisfaction of becoming righteous progressively on earth and ultimately in Heaven. (Matthew 5:6)
  5. Those who are merciful will receive mercy at the Judgment Seat. (Matthew 5:7)
  6. Those who are pure in heart will be able to perceive and know the Godhead in a deeper, fuller, richer manner. (Matthew 5:8)
  7. Those who are peacemakers receive the unique title: “Child of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
  8. Those who are persecuted for being righteous will inherit the Kingdom and receive a great reward that Jesus leaves undefined. (Matthew 5:10-12)
  9. Those who lead others to Christ are given a Crown of Rejoicing. (Philippians 4:1 and 1 Thessalonians 2:19)
  10. Those who teach, guide, care for, and disciple others are given a Crown of Glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
  11. Those who live righteous lives and long for Christ to return receive a Crown of Righteousness. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  12. Those who do not lose their love for Christ or return to Christ as their first love will be allowed to eat of the Tree of Life. (Revelation 2:1-7) What humans have been denied for thousands of years will be permitted to those who love Christ.
  13. Those who are killed for their faith receive a Crown of Life, an eternal reward for faithfulness resulting in a tragic end. This most likely also is an allusion to a unique degree of enjoyment of the eternal life Christ has given us. See my discussion on Philippians 3 in my previous posts (Revelation 2:8-11)
  14. Those who do not deny their faith receive several rewards. They receive the hidden manna, which is probably a reference to the messianic feast, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. This will be a tremendous time of celebration and honor. They will also receive a “white stone”, which is probably a reference to a stone of victory given at Grecian victory games. Finally the believer is told he will receive a new name, which is probably a reference to the Jewish custom of renaming a person based on what kind of life they have lived. (Revelation 2:12-17)
  15. Those who abstain from religious and personal fornication and idolatry receive authority over the nations. Paul speaks of this when he tells Timothy that there are some who will reign with Christ. (Revelation 2:18-29)
  16. Those who live pure lives are given white robes. They are called worthy because of personal holiness. Finally, they are commended before God the Father and the angels in Heaven. The Person Who speaks so highly of such a believer is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. (Revelation 3:1-6)
  17. Those who are faithful witnesses in the face of persecution of all sorts will share a unique, intimate relationship with God. (Revelation 3:7-13)
  18. Those who refuse to conform to the spirit of the age in which they dwell will be permitted to sit in the Father’s throne, a position of honor and authority. (Revelation 3:14-22)

How much better is it to enter the Kingdom with the rewards of faithful service rather than enter the Kingdom “so as by fire.” How much better it is to enter into the joy of the Lord without regret, to not simply being reliant on God to wipe away “What I’ve Done”!

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Work Out Your Salvation: Success, Failure, and the Results at the Judgment Seat

I’ve written two other posts on the types of inheritance in Scripture, one based on the Old Testament and the other based on the New Testament. I should state what will be quite obvious to some: I’ve only scratched the surface of what there is to be said concerning inheriting and suffering loss in the Kingdom. I hope this will help open doors for those interested in the subject. The most serious and practical aspect of this study is what success and failure mean for the believer in the future- a very, very real future that we are only moments away from at any given moment. Christ could come back, and you and I would stand before the Judge of all the Earth. Who will be judged at this event, what will this judgment be based on, and what will the results be?

Without question, those who are judged at this event are the believers. The unbelievers will be judged at the Great White Throne judgment mentioned near the end of Revelations. The dead unbelievers will stand before Christ, will be judged based on their works, and will receive their portion in the Lake of Fire. The believers, too, will be judged based on their works. Works, however, are only a portion of what this judgment will be based on.

We will be judged based on the following criteria:

  1. Actions- 1Corinthians 3:13, 2Corinthians 5:10, Revelations 3:23
  2. Words- Matthew 12:36-37, Luke 12:2-3
  3. Thoughts- Hebrews 4:12
  4. Motivations- Matthew 6:4
  5. Faithfulness- Matthew 24:45, Matthew 25:23, 1 Corinthians 4:2

There are three important things one can do to take care of past mistakes:

  1. Confession of Sin- 1 John 1:9 (which, it must be remembered, was written to believers)
  2. Show Mercy to Others- Matthew 5:7 (This was written to believers and has future rewards in mind. More on this in a future post.)
  3. Judge Ourselves- 1 Corinthians 11:31

The wicked, lazy, or unrighteous believer may partake in one of three consequences of running the race of the Christian life poorly. Keep in mind that none of these consequences affect eternal security or our acceptance by God. They don’t affect our presence in the Eternal State and are not permanent in nature. The worst-case scenario is that they last for the duration of the Millennial Kingdom.

  1. A rebuke from Christ Himself: “Thou wicked and slothful servant!”- Matthew 25:26
  2. Exclusion from the Marriage Supper of the Lamb due to sinfulness- Matthew 22:11-13
  3. Denial of inheritance- Matthew 10:33, 2 Timothy 2:12

If this all seems a bit heavy-handed, allow me to add some comfort from Scripture. It should first be pointed out that those who receive such hash judgments are those who are stubborn in their carnality or laziness. This is not about the day-to-day struggle with sin. This is not about our personal failures when we give into sin. This is about blatant rebellion. In fact, those who struggle with sin do not fall into this category at all! This is, after all, about righteousness, and Proverbs 24:16 tells us that a righteous person is one who gets up when he falls. No, the stern warning in Scripture is toward those who fall and do not care.

There are rewards, though, and Scripture has much to say on this subject. There are crowns, the rewards of those who overcome which are mentioned in Revelation 2-3, the out-resurrection mentioned by Paul in Philippians, treasures in Heaven, and the prospect of reigning with Christ and even being praised by Him before the angelic and believing hosts!  To those who are faithful disciples of Christ, there is a great inheritance waiting indeed!

God is concerned primarily with our hearts and with our faithfulness. Can we stand firm when God seems distant or absent? Can we trust Him when He waits until the eleventh hour to work? Think about it: the Israelites in the wilderness really didn’t struggle with doing right most of the time. They struggled with believing God, and that led to huge problems for them. Consider also David, who was a man after God’s own heart, even when he sinned with Bathsheba! The “degree” of sin doesn’t determine success or failure at the Judgment Seat. Furthermore, Christ is a High Priest who understands the weaknesses of the human flesh. He understands the struggles necessary to overcome a poor family life or background, stress, anxiety, peer pressure, and the weaknesses in our own personalities and genetic make up! These aren’t excuses that we use to talk God into lightening up on us; they are things God as a faithful and loving Father will surely take into account.

More on the inheritance to come!

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Salvation: Two Inheritances, Part 2

Most believers are convinced that salvation in all of its forms is strictly a free gift of God. I fully believe that justification, sanctification, and glorification are all free gifts of God. However, I also believe that there is more to the story than meets the eye. We will see in the following verses that inheritance may be gained or lost, and that eternal life is something that we are sometimes told to work for. Certain habitual sins, according to several passages of Scripture,  preclude a person from inheriting the Kingdom. How is salvation free if it must also be worked for? How is salvation secure if one can lose their inheritance?

  • He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. -John 12:25
  • To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life.- Romans 2:7
  • Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? 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.- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
  • For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.- Galatians 6:8
  • For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.- Ephesians 5:5
  • Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.- 1 Timothy 6:12

Such verses are cause for deep concern for the believer, since warnings against sin and exhortations to gain eternal life would not exist unless there were a very real possibility to fail. As in the last post, I would like to suggest that the Bible is speaking of two types of inheritance or two aspects of salvation. In one sense, we have God as our inheritance and Heaven as our final home. This occurs at salvation because of faith. However, there is a second inheritance that we can enjoy that is by obedience, obtainable only by sanctified living. Our salvation is indeed secure, but there is a lot concerning our experience in the Kingdom that can change considerably.

I want to write an article that will discuss what this inheritance will consist of, but for now I’d like to focus on an aspect of what I’m saying that is likely to cause some consternation on the part of believers. What is this business of working for eternal life? How can a person be a believer but lose eternal life?

In John 10:10, Jesus says: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Interestingly enough, John begins his gospel by saying that life originates in Christ. Paul echoes this thought when he writes that it is in Him we live, and move, and have our being. The implication is that eternal life in Scripture is intimately tied to an active, dynamic relationship with Christ. In other words, eternal life isn’t something you and I simply get at salvation and hang onto until we die; it is something that can grow and develop or whither away in the present. An eternal home in Heaven is secure, of course, but Jesus came not to simply give us an infinitely long life, but an abundant quality of life. Enjoying a life of fullness and fulfilledness, one in which times with God can truly be described as “sweet”, can only occur when we are living for Him and desiring to know Him more. We all have access to eternal life, but our experience in that life will differ from individual to individual.

The reward for living out this life eternal in the here and now will have some bearing on the rewards we receive in the future. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 2:11 where he states that he has rejected the elements of his past to know Christ, the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering so that he could attain a resurrection. What’s interesting is that this word isn’t the usual Greek word for resurrection (anastasis). Instead, Paul uses the word exanastasis- separation from out of the resurrected. Of those who are believers and enter into eternal life, there will be some set apart because they sought to win Christ. They alone of all believers will receive the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

God is faithful enough to reward believers based on their actions and attitudes. All believers will have eternal life, a home in Heaven, and forgiveness of sins. However, the vastness of that eternal life, the joys of that heavenly home, and the rewards in the Kingdom will be experienced by each of us to different degrees and in different ways.

More on that subject in the near future!

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Salvation: Two Inheritances, Part 1

Canaan During the Time of Joshua

Israel During Joshua's Time

What happens when a person who claims Christ rejects his faith or lives a blatantly immoral lifestyle with no sign of remorse? That’s a question that the theologians have been batting around for ages. Some believe that such a person loses their salvation, an idea that requires some exegetical acrobatics when it comes to verses such as Romans 8:1 and John 10:28-29. Others believe that that person was never truly saved in the first place, and I believe that there are some people who definitely fall into this category. However, I do believe that it is possible for a genuine believer to fail the grace of God. What happens then? He suffers loss.

The Old Testament frequently refers to the term “inheritance.” In fact, the Old Testament uses the term 185 times, while the New Testament uses it only 18 times! We normally think of an inheritance as something one gets the moment a parent dies. However, in Old Testament times, two things are true of inheritances:

  1. In order for an heir to receive an inheritance, the parent does not have to die. Psalm 28 and 33 at least speak of Israel being Jehovah’s inheritance. At the risk of being crass, who has to die to make Him God? The story of the prodigal son in the New Testament also bears witness to this fact.
  2. If a parent, Divine or otherwise, put stipulations or prerequisites on the inheritance, there was a potential for a person to lose that inheritance.

This second point is of utmost importance when we consider what we received when we got saved. We certainly received Heaven and were rescued from a destiny in Hell, but there is so much more to it than that. There are two types of inheritances, even in the Old Testament. Believing Israelites as a result of faith had Jehovah as their inheritance, but on top of that, they could receive a secondary inheritance as the result of obedience. This secondary inheritance was a possession in Canaan, and there is a difference between living in Canaan and owning Canaan.

Contrary to many songs sung in churches today and many Bible lessons I have heard, Canaan doesn’t represent Heaven. That makes no sense whatsoever. Canaan had to be worked for, while Heaven is free. Canaan was never free from enemies, Heaven will certainly not be that way. While they are actual historical events, the journey in the Wilderness and Canaan itself are pictures of the possibility for success and failure in the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10).

Here’s some additional examples of the inheritance loss/gain factor:

  • Abraham received God as an inheritance when he believed Him and left the land of his fathers, but when he obeyed, God promised him the nations and the land of Canaan through the Abrahamic covenant. (Genesis 22:15-18)
  • Caleb and Joshua alone of the Israelites involved in the Exodus actually received the inheritance of Canaan. Even Moses failed to receive an inheritance there because of disobedience. This wasn’t because they weren’t believers, but because they weren’t “obeyers.” (1Corinthans 10:4-5, Hebrews 11:29-30)
  • Lamentations 5:2 makes it clear that the Israelites again lost their inheritance due to disobedience.

Israelites and others might enter Canaan but not be able to inherit/possess it. Those who dwelt in Israel when it was established but were not Jewish did not have the same rights as landowners did. They did not have the same rights or access to the same privileges. Some of the Israelites remained in Israel when Babylon conquered, but they did not have all the rights that they had had before. They had lost their possession.

What does this mean for the believer? We’ll look at the New Testament in the next post, but let me tell you what I believe to be true based on what we have seen:

  1. All believers have God as their inheritance. They will be with Him for all of eternity. (Psalm 16, 73, 142)
  2. Some believers will inherit the Kingdom, while others will not. There will be some who are residents of the Kingdom, and there will be others that enter AND truly possess the Kingdom.This is something additional to being in Heaven.
  3. The difference between “enterors” and inheritors is obedience. (Joshua 14:8-9, Genesis 22:15-18)

All believers will enter into the Kingdom of Christ in the Millennial Kingdom and the Eternal State, but not all will be co-heirs with Christ when we are there.

Continue on to Part 2 for a discussion on the New Testament concept of a multi-dimensional salvation!

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The End of Faith?

It’s been quite a week for American Christians. President Barack Obama has made several underhanded comments against conservative Christianity, particularly in labeling it an “ideology” in his decision to allow the unborn to be murdered in the name of scientific advancement. Trinity College also released it’s 2008 ARIS report, detailing a decline (variously labeled “slight” and “staggering” by different commentators) in the number of people who either claim Christianity at all or say that their faith makes any difference in their lives. We can argue over statistical accuracy all day, but the reality is that secularlism in America is on the rise and evangelical Christianity is on a decline. This has been true for years now. This has many thinkers in America- atheist, Christian, and otherwise- discussing what the reason for it is. I recently came across Michael Spencer’s blog and really liked what he had to say. He’s taken some flak for stating his case, but I think he is right on target. What follows is his perspective on American Evangelicalism. You can read the whole article on his site.

Here are Spencer’s primary predictions:

  1. Within ten years, the beginning of a Great Collapse will take place, resulting in only half of Evangelical Christians still attending church.
  2. Public policy (and the public that makes up the policy) will become quite anti-Christian, seeing Christianity as a roadblock to freedom.
  3. Christians will “abandon ship” and not look back.

Spencer says that this will happen for a number of reasons, some of which are listed here:

  1. Christians have come to believe in a political or moral Cause more than the Faith.
  2. Christian youth ministries have failed to instill an orthodox Christian faith in young people.
  3. Many churches are either consumer-driven or dying.
  4. Christian education isn’t nearly as educational as public education.

Spencer’s outlook isn’t hopeless, though. He believes that what remains will be a Church that returns to itsoriginal purpose and goals. I for one hope that his prediction is correct. American Christianity is soft. We’ve spoken boisterously where the Bible is silent. We’ve made politics the main thing when the Church was not meant to be a political power. We’ve entertained people instead of instructing them. We’ve promised education and provided seclusion. Frankly, in light of all of this, Spencer’s predictions aren’t really predictions at all. They’re more like a cause-and-effect analysis.

You can check out Michael Spencer’s blog here.

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God IS Great: Christopher Hitchens, Metaphysics, and Teleology

The fifth and sixth chapters of Hitchens’ book God is not Great are an attempt to undermine belief in God as the Uncaused Cause of the universe. Originally, I had intended to treat chapter five’s dealings with metaphysics as a separate article from chapter six’s dealings with argument from design. However, once I read the chapter on metaphysics, I was faced with a serious problem. Hitchens only deals directly with metaphysics in one paragraph of the whole chapter!

I’ve begun to see the beauty of journalism. You can write articles and whole books based on anecdotes and sarcasm alone! Now, I’m a huge fan of both when used with real support, but if Hitchens wants to discuss such a serious issue as the origin of the universe, he had better have more to bring to the table than baseless claims and gross sarcasm. Perhaps he’d be better off as a White House spokesman. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one.)

Hitchens fails miserably at proving the metaphysical claims of Christians to be false. He mocks them, uses some straw men here and there, takes some quotes out of context, etc. He doesn’t ever deal with real issues. He never quotes Christian apologists of the 21st century. This is, perhaps, the poorest chapter of his book.

Strangely, he also spends very little time dealing with atheistic metaphysics. Every belief system has metaphysical elements. We all must have answers to questions that are non-scientific in nature. After a shoddy attempt to pull the rug out from under Christian metaphysics, Hitchens does little if anything to explain his perspective on the issue of metaphysics.

Hitchens’ only real attempt at metaphysics is one that could have easily been placed in his chapter on arguments from design. He says that because every cause must have a cause, theistic explanations for God are weak. Hitchens makes a categorical mistake here. Christian metaphysics state that whatever comes into being must have a cause. There is a great distinction between the two statements. If God never came into being but simply always is (which, by the way, is the actual claim of Christianity since God is the “I Am”, the high and lofty one that inhabits eternity), then He has no need of an external force or intelligence to bring Him about. Christians simply don’t believe in a created God, for created gods really are a delusion. What really is a tragedy is when intelligent people have no problem believing an infinite regression of causes, such as those who espouse Darwinism.

Hitchens also makes the assertion that the universe could not have been created because there is imperfection in the universe. This seems to be quite the leap to me, and one that ignores the clear marks of design in our world. One of his evidences of the imperfection of the universe is the state of the universe itself. The explosions of stars seems to be evidence of violence to Hitchens, something far more random than a created universe should have. I think it strange that just a few chapters ago, Hitchens talked about the wonder and majesty of the cosmos. Surely he can see that beauty and awe can come from even the explosion of suns! We see very little of the “big picture” in the cosmos so that an argument of this source is really an argument from ignorance. He mocks those who lived centuries ago for their superstitions and false beliefs. Doesn’t he know that people will one day look back on even the likes of Einstein and chuckle to themselves? To argue from lack of knowledge seems foolish.

Secondly, Hitchens makes the assumption that the God of the Bible is a pragmatist. He thinks that because humans see organs or portions of DNA as unnecessary that we couldn’t have been designed that way. Why did God create things as He did? Why did He not do things differently? I suppose there are many different ways God could have done things. The point is that He did them in this way for purposes that we do not know. Rather than assume that we have all knowledge, why not simply admit that we lack true understanding? Isn’t that part of the wonder of God’s universe, to be able to explore, experience, and discover?

Thirdly, Hitchens assumes that because things are unpleasant that they are therefore imperfect. Ears that need cleaning, for instance, are evidence of imperfection in the created order. Seriously? Nowhere in the Bible does God claim to have made a sterile world. Nowhere in the Bible does God claim to have made a world in which there will be minimal to no effort required on our part. God gave us things to do and the means to accomplish those tasks. How is ear wax proof of a world that lacks a Designer? (One could, by the way, make the argument that the existence of earwax is miraculous in itself. Maybe someday…)

Finally, Hitchens completely ignores the Biblical account of the Fall. Things aren’t perfect, and we’d be fools to claim they were. However, assuming that this world is precisely what God intended is equally foolish. Paul speaks in Romans 8 about how the entire creation groans under the crushing weight of human sin. “Man marks the earth with ruin”, as Lord Byron says, and his control no longer stops with the shore. Violence, destruction, and failure to properly care for our Father’s world have ravaged this planet. The results of both Fall and Flood are great and tragic. Everything in this world was thrown about because of man’s fall, and we won’t see a perfect world as God intended it until the Eternal State begins.

On the whole, Hitchens fails miserably to deal seriously with Christian thought and practice. Rather than deal with Christian belief within the Bible itself, he is quite content to deal with historical, marginal Christianity bereft of context. Such a straw man may be easy to knock down, but one is left to wonder how Hitchens would do if he ever came across the genuine artifact.

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God IS Great: The Arrogance of Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

“As I write these words, and as you read them, people of faith are in their different ways planning your and my destruction, and the destruction of all the hard-won human attainments that I have touched upon. Religion poisons everything.” That’s how Christopher Hitchens ends the first chapter of his best-selling book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Frankly, Hitchens’ book- cover to cover-  is nothing more than a rant. It stirs the emotions of the reader, to be sure. It has some facts scattered throughout. It doesn’t have much substance, though. In fact, the thought strikes me that his book is basically nothing more than a 307-page opinion piece gone horribly wrong.

I’d read this book when it first came out, but I thought I’d read it again since I am going to hear him speak soon. I got it used, so as not to contribute in driving up sales. One of the first things that leapt out at me was the incredible arrogance of the book. Now, he hasn’t gone so far as some atheists (who want to refer to themselves as “brights”), but he is incredibly arrogant, nonetheless.

A Proud Look

Wasting no time in flaunting his presumptuousness, on page 7 of his book he says:  “How much self-respect must be sacrificed in order that one may squirm continually in awareness of one’s own sin?” Throughout the first few chapters, Hitchens asserts that Christianity is incapable of producing anything “intelligible or noble or inspiring” since the rise of science. He speaks of the wonder, majesty, and mystery of Hawking’s description of event horizon of a black hole and the symmetry of the double helix while he says of Jehovah: “Why, if god was the creator of all things, were we supposed to ‘praise’ him so incessantly for doing what came to him naturally? This seemed servile, apart from anything else.”

One has to wonder where Hitchens thinks the wonder, majesty, and mystery of nature came from in the first place. Art and music do not leap into existence on their own; it takes the will, power, and skill of a creator- a creator with passion and imagination- to form them. If we wonder at the creation, how much more should we wonder at the Creator? Hitchens would do better to be like his colleague Richard Dawkins, who at least admits the desire to feel grateful when he beholds the heavens.

Semi-intelligent Design

From Hitchens’ initial error in being arrogant a host of other problems come forth. For starters, he has espoused a Darwinistic/Atheistic worldview. He says of those that think like him: “We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than scientific factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.” This truism is not espoused solely by the Darwinistic and Atheistic faithful, however. It is accepted by Christians as well. As I’ve said many times before, Christianity was foundational and not incidental to the modern scientific movement in the West, and I can think of no Christian today that denies the importance of science and reason.

Rather, Christians have exercised reason and interpreted scientific findings (something we all must do) in concluding that there is a flaw in the atheistic and Darwinistic worldviews. “Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could,” sang Maria Von Trapp, and she was quite right. Ironically, while Hitchens doesn’t believe in a Creator with a will and an intellect, he cannot avoid projecting those qualities on a theoretical blind process: “Evolution has meant that our prefontal lobes are too small, our adrenal glands are too big, and our reproductive organs apparently designed by committee.”

Standardless Morality

Hitchens also believes that a moral life can be lived apart from God. However, I would ask where Hitchens got the idea that morality and immorality exist. I wonder why he thinks that the moral path is better than the immoral path. If you can get to the top by cheating and swindling and never suffer the consequences you most fear, why not do it? There is no judgment coming in the atheistic worldview. If no one finds out about it, why not go for it?

Humans know that there is a difference between right and wrong, and things such as character and guilt prevent the vast majority of us from doing terrible things. This conscience tells us that there is a “better” and a “worse” in us, and I would say that if there is a “better”, then it is reasonable to assume at some point there is absolute Perfection. If there is absolute perfection, would not this Perfection be the standard for all? A perfect Being is one of the major aspects of the Judeo-Christian God. Hitchens denies the existence of Evil, preferring rather to blame man’s actions on an evolutionary hiccup that has resulted in humans being only partially rational. If this is true, where did the impulse to be good come from? Furthermore, how can I know anything about morality at all if my bodily organs are in control?

Religiosity vs. Relationship

This isn’t to say that Hitchens doesn’t have some leverage in his war against religion. In a sense, religion as we have come to call it does poison everything. Violence done in the name of a god or Eastern religion is tragic. Violence done in the name of Jehovah God is both tragic and grossly hypocritical. Jesus made it quite clear that His Kingdom was not of this world, and Paul said specifically that our weapons are spiritual, not physical. Our Enemy is Satan, not flesh and blood. If humans are made in God’s image and are potential temples for the Holy Spirit, why would any human exercise physical might in the name of God? They wouldn’t.They might have used His name in their crusade, but they have employed nothing of His character and obeyed none of His commands.

While Hitchens may find scientific discoveries “more awe-inspiring than the rantings of the godly”, I would conclude by saying that Christians are not followers of a religion, but partakers of a Relationship with the Divine. Every scientific discovery we make reminds us that “This is My Father’s World.” Every moment we live we are conscious of the fact that it is in Him that we live, and move, and have our being. Every aspect of our lives is a gift from the Creator and Sustainer of life, and we are moved by gratitude to worship and obedience. It is love and awe that is to be the supreme motivator in the Christian life, not fear or lust for power and control.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Way, Truth, and Life

The latter part of John 6 tells of a fascinating event in the life of Christ. The crowd is following Jesus, hoping to see another miracle, to taste again of the bread supplied by a miracle.

“If you want life, you must eat my flesh and drink my blood,” said Jesus.

“This is a difficult saying. How can we accept it?”, said the unbelieving multitude. They hadn’t expected this. They had been looking for a free meal. The miracles had become the point of their time with Christ, and Christ Himself had become the means of their “bread and circuses.” Jesus had been trying to get them to focus on their spiritual need but the unbelievers couldn’t see it. They only wanted more of the same. They wanted to have their desires fulfilled without having to deal with God. Of course, Jesus knew that one more meal wasn’t going to bring true happiness. C. S. Lewis once wrote: “All that we call human history–money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery–[is] the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

God has not designed the universe to work in this way. He has designed human beings in such a way that the ultimate and deepest satisfaction you and I can partake of is in Himself. There may be other delights in this world, but they are mere hints and whispers of a far greater joy. If we choose to reject God as our ultimate joy, to paraphrase Lewis, we have no choice but to starve.

Life must be about more than consumption and reproduction. Those motives that are supreme in the Darwinian worldview don’t provide lasting satisfaction and fulfillment. Perhaps that is why, in a recent study, only around 40% of Americans admitted to buying into the lie of evolution. There seems to be something instinctive within the human psyche that drives them to seek satisfaction outside of those basic physical needs. Humans want expression and knowledge, love and passion, acceptance and significance. They want Truth in all areas. They want the Sacred.

“I am the Bread. I am the Way. I am the Life. I am the Door. I am the Vine. I am the Light. I am the Shepherd. I am the Resurrection…..I am the Truth.” Jesus makes statements throughout the book of John which tell us of His ability to meet our needs. It is this last claim, the claim to BE Truth, which is so profound and so unique that it distinguishes Jesus forever from any other god that may be raised up in the temple of the mind.

In every other world religion, there is a distinction between the source of the truth claim and the truth claim itself. Krishna offers philosophy and mysticism, but he is not the philosophy itself. Mohammed points to the Koran, but Mohammed the person is not the vaunted truth. The Muslim does not turn to Mohammed himself in worship and obedience. Buddha speaks of a “Noble Path”, but he himself is not that Path. Buddha is the teacher, not the supposed reality behind the teachings. At their very best (the points at which these religions make some accurate statements regarding morality and reality), these religions are like an HIV test. The test reveals the problem, but cannot treat the disease.

Jesus, in contrast, was both the Message and the Messenger. He did not merely teach truth. He is Truth. He did not show a way. He is the Way. (Deepak Chopra recognizes the unique union of Message and Messenger and must make up some pretty weird ideas to get around it.) Life in Christ, in contrast to materialism, is not merely about consumption and reproduction. It is about who we are (our natures) as humans made in the image of God, our new position and relationship as children of God, and our destiny as believers. Our greatest hunger is to be filled with awe and love, to experience celebration, and to commit ourselves to Him. Our greatest hunger is fulfilled in living a life of Sacred Worship.

Hinduism says that I must nurture the god within because I am part of the divine universe. Islam says that I am so different from Allah that I will never really even get close to him. Jesus says that the God- Who is distinct from His creation and from Whom humanity was estranged- has come near. Instead of union with the universe or separation from Allah, God offers us communion through Jesus Christ His Son.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: Signs and Wonders

Herods Temple

Herod's Temple

Last week I began by talking about the eternality of Jesus Christ as a support for the uniqueness of Christianity. This week I want to talk a bit about Jesus’ next unique claim.

We begin in John 2. Jesus performed the miracle at the wedding in Cana, and He moved with purpose to Jerusalem. In the Temple, He drove out the moneychangers. Enraged, the Jews said: “What is the basis of your authority? Show us a sign!”

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

John tells us that Jesus spoke of the temple of His body. Why did He give them a sign that they wouldn’t be able to see for years? The answer is that Jesus knew the heart of the particular Jews that asked Him the question. They weren’t skeptics searching for answers. They were skeptics who thought they already knew the answers. In fact, it is interesting to note that every time someone in Scripture asked for a sign of Jesus’ power and authority, Jesus had recently finished performing a great miracle! The miraculous propelled the faithful into greater faith but drove the unbelievers to further skepticism. It is no different today. The skeptics that question whether or not God exists do so with the mind given them by God’s creative power: a miracle. The skeptics that scoff at the idea of Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loves of bread and two fish forget that Jesus created the materials that make up the bread. It isn’t the lack of evidence for Who Jesus is that troubles skeptics, but it’s the implications of the evidence that makes them uncomfortable.

Consider some other miracles of reality, called to mind by Ravi Zacharias:

  • The statistical probability of forming a single enzyme, the building block of the gene, is 1 in 1040,000. That’s a larger number than all of the atoms in the stars in the known universe.
  • A human DNA double helix has enough information to cover 600,000 pages of information, supposedly originating from nothing and no one.

Who, I wonder, has more faith: The believer or the materialist?

Yet the materialist who considers Scripture says with David Hume: “Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames, for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” The problem is that Hume’s test doesn’t pass its own test; it is neither mathematical nor scientific. Such is the nature of materialistic claims.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

What greater proof is there of Jesus’ authority than His resurrection?  He predicts a bodily resurrection within a specific time frame, and does so quite accurately. The soldiers guarding the tomb knew it happened, as did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. That’s why the Pharisees in their extrabiblical writings refer to Jesus as a sorcerer instead of a liar. They couldn’t disprove the resurrection. Hundreds, in fact, saw Jesus after His resurrection.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

There’s something else to Jesus’ words than a “simple” reference to His Own resurrection. Notice the use of “temple” as a metaphor for “body.” Jesus reminds the listener that the physical body is sacred. It is sacred because it is a part of God’s special creation. Human rights, the sacredness of marriage, sexuality, and the command to love each other as we love ourselves all come from our bodies being a temple (at salvation) for God Himself. This is the distinction between Christianity and other religions.

In every other classic world religion there is a difference between the body and the place of worship. The body must perform specific deeds, say certain things, etc. in order to enter so-called holy places for worship. The human body must at least face in the direction of the place of worship in Islam if the worshiper is absent. Hindus, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews have engaged in violence toward one another over their sacred places. During Thaipusam, some Hindu devotees pierce their bodies in preparation for their journey to the temple of Lord Murugan. Indira Gandhi was murdered because she sent the military into a Sikh temple to obtain weapons. It is true that people have performed violence in the name of Christ, but Jesus was quite clear when He said that His kingdom was not of this world. It is not of weapons to do violence. We are His temple. How much suffering could have been avoided had we all simply listened to the claims of Christ?

The body is exalted because of Jesus’ conception, His unique expression of the Godhead, His physical sacrifice on the Cross, and His bodily resurrection. What greater sign or wonder is there than these?

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up in three days.”

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“God Did It So Shut Up”

My final (brief) post on Nitwit Nastik‘s article is a summation of his fifth problem with Christian’s responses. Basically, he hates it when Christians dismiss the question or argument because some Christians will say that the question is unreasonable. Nitwit has a good point. Do children like it when you say “because I said so”? No! Do you like it when your boss pulls rank? No! What makes anyone think that saying “Your question doesn’t matter” is a good response?! We are commanded to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” I would think that Nitwit was making up this last one, but I’ve seen Christian do this to other Christians. Shameful!

Now, Nitwit also seems to have a problem with an appeal to those who are professional students of the Scripture. I’m afraid that I must disagree with him on this point. We ask doctors questions on medicine. We want to know what scientists think on matters of science. We want to know what economists and politicians think about the state of the world these days. Why would we not go to the pastors and theologians when we have questions concerning their professional area of study?

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Jesus Isn’t “Nice”

We’ve all seen the pictures. He’s got long hair, feminine features, soft eyes, and maybe a big, cheesy grin. That’s Him. Your friendly, neighborhood Savior. Marketing Christianity sure has gotten easy these days, hasn’t it? We’ve gotten rid of the Stone the Builders Rejected and replaced Him with a “nice” sculpture to admire. The problem is, in getting rid of the original, we’ve committed idolatry.

Jesus isn’t “nice.” To be sure, He is loving, gracious, and merciful. He is the Savior Who mourned the loss of a friend, grieved over His rejection by Jerusalem, and beckoned children to His side. But that isn’t all He is. He drove the money-changers from the Temple. He didn’t give a rip when the Pharisees got offended by His teachings and miracles. He was so rugged He could endure 40 days in the wilderness, surrounded by wild animals, and not eat. He endured tremendous persecution, betrayal, and an excruciating execution. He sits today at the right hand of the Father, and we will all bow before Him one day, declaring Him to be Lord. He will judge both Living and Dead, saved and lost.

Because Christians have feminized Jesus, both believers and unbelievers have gotten entirely too comfortable with Him. He’s regularly mocked by satirical shows such as Family Guy, blasphemed by the creator of the “Sweet Lord Jesus” statue (made entirely out of chocolate), and taken for granted by many Christians today.

We’d best be careful, though. He isn’t called the “Lion of Judah” for nothing.

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The Uniqueness of Jesus Christ: His Dwelling

Coexist?

Coexist: Blind Leading the Blind?

“Christianity is no different than every other religion.” That’s what some of my friends will tell me if we’re ever discussing religion. “They all teach the importance of morality, the existence of eternity, and give people some comfort as well as a reason to be good.” Fair enough. Christianity does have some things in common with most of the major religions. In fact, I would suggest that any religion worth having a look at should at least provide this much information and motivation. I would also suggest, however, that Christianity is very different from mere religion. Christianity is unique because of the Person of Jesus Christ.

Where are you from?

If you read John 1:38-51, an interesting story (which I’m going to paraphrase for the sake of space) unfolds.

“Rabbi, where are you from?”, the disciple asks.

“Come and see.”

We don’t know where exactly Jesus spent the night, but we do know that He and His disciples rarely stayed in houses. We can also hear the incredulity in Nathanael’s voice a few verses later when he asks: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

In the Eastern parts of the world, I am told, one of the most important things about a person is where they are from. In fact, in some areas, where you are from and what your family heritage is like is more important than your own personal credentials. In the West, of course, we are interested in where you are from, but we are more interested in what you can do. If you are dividing the world strictly into East and West, then ancient Israel is very much an Eastern land. That is why the disciples are originally very much interested in where Jesus is from, and that is why Nathanael has difficulty with Jesus’ hometown. Nazareth wasn’t much to look at.

But Jesus wasn’t from Nazareth. Not really, anyway.

Jacob’s Ladder

“You will see greater things, for soon you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” said Jesus.

Jacob. He escaped his brother’s wrath after tricking his father into giving him the blessing. In the middle of the desert, he slept with a rock for his pillow and dreamed of angels descending and ascending into Heaven on a ladder. When he woke up, he knew that He was in Beth-el (“the house of God.”)

In effect, Jesus had said: “I AM Beth-el. I AM the House of God.” Jesus’ dwelling place was identical to the dwelling place of Jehovah, the “High and Lofty One that inhabiteth eternity.” All of reality is His domain, but His throne is in Heaven.

The Visitation

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3) to ask Him some questions. Jesus’ teachings astounded him, for He spoke of a new birth, eternal life, and the “lifting up” of Himself. As part of His claim to authority, Jesus speaks of coming down from Heaven, not ascending into Heaven. This is not Enlightenment. This is not Revelation to Jesus from God. This is a Visitation of the eternal, transcendent God.

This truth about Jesus’ origin (if you can call it that) separates Christianity from other world religions. Islam claims that Mohammed was taken to Heaven on a particular night to see what It was like. Heaven was foreign and unknown to Mohammed. Not so with Jesus. He knows all there is to know about reality.

Mohammed, Buddha, and Krishna (assuming his historicity) were born of natural means (sexual union). Not so with Jesus. He is eternal, and His birth was supernatural. Prophecy predicts it; Gabriel announced it; Mary and Joseph proclaimed it in spite of ostracism; Elizabeth and Zacharias  backed it in spite of the fact that their son had to serve the younger Cousin; the disciples preached and risked death for it; and even the Koran affirms it.

Jesus, as the eternal God from Heaven, is holy perfection. Not so with Buddha, Krishna, and Mohammed. One only has to read the scriptures of these other religions to see that. Surahs 47, 48 speak of sins committed by Mohammed that need forgiving. Mohammed struggled with the supposed command to receive revelation, but Jesus knew exactly why He was there. The tale of Krishna’s immorality with the Gopi is an embarrassment to many Hindu scholars, and Buddha had to endure countless reincarnations to achieve perfection and enlightenment.

He didn’t come to teach morality. He didn’t come to teach enlightenment. He came from eternal Heaven into His temporal creation to die for lost humanity and give us abundant life.

“Rabbi, where are you from?”, the disciple asks.

“Come and see.”

Categories: atheism, Bible, Doctrine, Islam, pantheism, Philosophical Christianity | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Eternal Truths or Cultural Command?

The third complaint of my friend Nitwit Nastik is that some things in the Bible cannot be eternal since there are some obvious cultural instructions. If there are specific cultural instructions, how can we say that the Bible is an eternal Book with eternal truths? How can something be both eternal and local? This is an interesting and complex problem which I won’t attempt to treat entirely in this posting.

It is correct that the Bible is both eternal and true. It contains the words of Almighty God. God, in His wisdom, had men write down the words of Scripture for several purposes. Paul lists those purposes in 2Timothy 3:16:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

There are doctrinal reasons and practical (moral) reasons for the existence of Scripture. We learn Who God is and what He is like through Scripture. We know of Heaven, Hell, angels, demons, eternity, and Salvation through the Bible. We also get to see how God has worked to bring about His plans through the narrative of both Testaments. As history plays out on the pages of Scripture, we encounter both eternal commands (Thou shalt not commit adultery) and local commands (But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.) Eternal commands never change because they are true in all ages, but local commands do change according to the culture. However, local commands are based on eternal principles.

Nitwit brings up 1Corinthians 11:4-10, which is the command concerning women wearing head coverings. There are believers who are of the opinion that women must wear head coverings while attending church services. Others believe that this was a cultural command to a specific church in history and does not have to be followed today. Those who take this second view believe that there is an eternal principle behind the cultural command. I am not in this post going to explain my view on the subject. Both views must be defended against the allegations that such a command (whether local or eternal in nature) is sexist and prejudiced.

Remembering that Scripture must be compared with Scripture to determine a proper interpretation, let us look at what the Bible says about the status and role of women is. That same passage in 1 Corinthians also tells us that in terms of value, men and women are completely equal. Men owe their existence to women because of natural birth, but women owe their existence to man because Eve came from Adam. Galatians 3:28 echoes this idea:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

Proverbs 31 also explains that women are just as capable of productivity and efficiency in every area of life. Therefore, it cannot be said that 1 Corinthians 11 is an example of prejudice or sexism. There must be another explanation. The Bible does assert that women and men have different roles in the home and in society. This only makes sense. Our brains are distinct, our bodies are distinct, and our needs and emotions are distinct. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are like waffles; women are like spaghetti. (Google it if you don’t get it.) God planned for each gender to be uniquely made in His image, but we reflect different aspects of Himself.

God tells us that we must maintain this distinction between genders in every area, including dress. This is the eternal principle underlying the local command given in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul is instructing the Corinthian church to be sure to maintain the distinction according to society’s standards. For them, this means that men’s hair is short and women’s hair is long. This is not sexism. If anything, it maintains that women are unique and special and therefore should be treated as such.

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Literary Aspects of the Bible

In this post I’ll be directly replying to Nitwit Nastik’s blog article “Errors, Inconsistencies, and Contradictions in the Bible.” (Nitwit and I have a fairly cordial friendship going, so please don’t see this as my attempt to tear him to shreds. You’ll have to read through both our blogs to see that we have had a number of conversations concerning faith.) His basic assumption in this article is that the Bible contains a number of “contradictions and factual or scientific errors.” I call this an assumption because he doesn’t actually list any errors, but rather critiques the responses of Christians when confronted with these so-called errors.

The first response by Christians that he critiques is the use of literary techniques to explain verses in the Bible. Apparently, the use of metaphor and symbolism in Scripture is problematic for Nitwit, who seems to prefer a more “literal” interpretation of Scripture. He goes so far, in fact, as to describe an appeal to the poetic nature of Scripture as “deceptive.”

In order to understand Scripture, we must understand that it is a book of ancient literature. As such, it makes use of a variety of literary types such as proverb, saying, chronicle, lament psalm, oracle, apocalypse, parable, song, epistle, and many others. (For those interested, I highly recommend Leland Ryken’s books How to Read the Bible as Literature and The Complete Literary Guide to the Bible.) On the subject of literary technique, Ryken writes:

“Virtually every page of the Bible is replete with literary technique, and to possess the individual texts fully, we need to read the Bible as literature, just as we need to read it theologically and (in the narrative parts) historically.

“The importance of genre to biblical interpretation is that genres have their own methods of procedure and rules of interpretation. An awareness of genre should alert us to what we can expect to find in a text. Additionally, considerations of genre should govern the terms in which we interact with a text. With narrative, e.g., we are on the right track if we pay attention to plot, setting, and character. If the text before us is a satire, we need to think in terms of object of attack, the satiric vehicle in which the attack is couched, and satiric norm (stated or implied standard by which the criticism is being conducted).

“In view of how many literary genres are present in the Bible, it is obvious that the overall literary form of the Bible is the anthology, as even the word Bible (Gk. biblia, “books”) hints. As an anthology, the Bible possesses the same kinds of unity that other anthologies exhibit: multiple authorship (approximately three dozen authors), diverse genres, a rationale for collecting these particular materials (a unifying religious viewpoint and story of salvation history), comprehensiveness, and an identifiable strategy of organization (a combination of historical chronology and groupings by genre).”

One would expect literary complexity in the Word of God. One would expect literary complexity in any religious book. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that parallelism, foreshadowing, metaphor, simile, symbolism, etc. should appear throughout the Bible. It is the logical result of a Creative Mind guiding other creative minds to write.

Now, I must be clear here. Biblical Christianity has always believed in a literal, grammatical, historical interpretation of Scripture. We do believe in a literal interpretation of Scripture. That means that we believe that some Scripture literally makes use of literary techniques. We also believe in comparing Scripture with Scripture to determine Its true meaning. These principles are both practical and logical.

Nitwit correctly asserts that anything can be given a metaphorical meaning, and he uses The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings as examples. I would like to make a few statements as a way of wrapping up the post:

  1. I find it a bit ironic that The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings themselves both make use of allusion, metaphor, and symbolism throughout, frequently in referencing Christianity. The Matrix references Christianity (Zion, Trinity, etc.) throughout, and Tolkien himself explained that Eru is a fictionalized version of God.
  2. If modern books and movies use literary techniques, why is it so difficult to believe that the Bible would?
  3. In the works mentioned above, we can turn to either the author or the author’s works to figure out what the literary techniques used are meant to represent. When we read the Bible, we do the same thing. We turn to the Author in prayer and further study His Word to determine the correct interpretation.

1 Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”

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Entertainment, Bible Narrative, and The Power of Shared Experience

Those of us who grew up in the 1980’s remember the popular slogan for Music Television: “I Want My MTV!” There were commercials, t-shirts, and a host of other paraphernalia on which the slogan was emblazoned. I came from a fairly conservative background and wasn’t allowed to watch MTV (not that we could, since the cable company STILL has yet to actually run cable to my parents’ house), but I was keenly aware of the mania that surrounded the cultural phenomenon that is still a fixture today.

For a number of years I’ve wondered what it is about entertainment (broadly defined in this article as reading material, music, movies, television, video games, and even the sin of pornography) that is so powerful. With the possible exception of reading, each of these forms of entertainment have a certain addictive quality. Of course, when I was a teenager I thought that the content of my entertainment was irrelevant. As I’ve gotten a little older, I’ve come to realize that there is a strange power in entertainment. I think I’m finally ready to take a “stab” at what that power is.

The power of entertainment is the power of a shared experience. When I read a book, watch a movie, or play a video game with a decent plot, I am involved in the experience. My heart races during the intense parts. I may like or dislike certain characters. I am emotionally and cognitively involved with the protagonist of every “story” I am told. Such is the power of narrative. It doesn’t matter whether or not the characters are real, I respond to them as if I knew them personally. Music seems to be even more powerful because melody, harmony, and rhythm blend together with the narrative of the lyrics. The musical elements reinforce the power of the experience.

This is what makes entertainment so wonderful….and so perilous. A protagonist that overcomes tragedy can strengthen us. A family in a movie that rallies during a time of difficulty can inspire us. Music that glorifies real love (as opposed to the whimsical, fickle sort) can draw us closer to a spouse. Entertainment that glorifies an immoral protagonist and emphasizes sensual “love” causes us to experience reality as the author sees it, sometimes quite graphically. We may be able to label actions, attitudes, and thoughts as “wrong”, but we cannot escape the experience. This is why we must be so careful what we allow our souls to imbibe.

I’ve also thought about the nature of sharing experience as it relates to the Bible. Perhaps the reason why God shared so much of His Truths through Old Testament narrative is that experience is so powerful. Most of the Bible, after all, is a narrative of one sort or another. There’s really very little in the Bible that doesn’t take the form of a narrative.

Perhaps God wants us to experience the lives of the men and women of the Bible. We can bask in the wonder of the Shekinah with Moses on Mount Sinai, slay the giant Goliath with David, stand boldly before the king with Esther, and sense the wonder of John as he writes: “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father.” Experience is often a better teacher than men. How much better is it to experience life from those who have gone before, to learn the wisdom of the ages vicariously, than to have to learn everything the hard way?

Whether we consider the power of entertainment or the power of the Scriptural narrative, we cannot ignore or deny the hold that a “story” has on us. We must be careful to abhor evil, to cling to that which is good. Because it isn’t just a movie. It isn’t just the Bible. It’s an experience that, once shared, will be a part of us forever. If MTV is what I choose to watch, it really is “my” MTV.

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It’s Just Bible Class…

The Problem

Bible teachers hear it all the time, it seems. A student wants permission to go to the bathroom, make a phone call in the school office, or go to their locker. You tell them that they need to wait until the end of class since that is school policy. They sigh, turn around to return to their seat, and you hear them mutter: “It’s just Bible class…”

A parent needs to schedule a doctor’s appointment for their child or a class sponsor needs help with a fundraiser. “It’s just Bible class…”

Now, I’m no heartless, embittered teacher. I think most of my students would agree that I enjoy what I do and I enjoy teaching them. I’m also admittedly guilty of being something of a pushover at times. I know doctor’s appointments are difficult to work into a schedule. I understand that there will be times when school activities overshadow my class or any other class. What I don’t understand is the apathy toward Bible study amongst Christians. Maybe the reason the world doesn’t “buy into” Christianity is that the Christians barely seem to believe in Christianity themselves. Maybe we are guilty of taking a privilege for granted in our Christians schools. If Bible class is “just” Bible class, perhaps we should all pack up and go home. There’s plenty of free education out there.

No, what I don’t buy into is the idea that Bible class should be treated like an elective thrown in at the last minute to fill a student’s schedule. I don’t buy into the idea that Bible should be an easy class so that students don’t get frustrated with the subject and reject their own faith. A quick look at the statistics will tell you that our apathetic attitude toward serious Bible study in church has already done plenty of damage. In our attempt to entertain people into the Kingdom, we’ve turned them off to Truth. Many students will attend a secular university and reject their faith primarily because it has no depth.

The problem is that Bible classes in our Christian schools are very much like glorified Sunday School classes. We do short little studies of Bible characters, positive character qualities (something you could find in any government school, by the way), and half-hearted outlines of books of the Bible in the upper levels. Then we spend most of our time applying Scripture to our own lives.

Maybe that’s it. Maybe time in God’s Word suddenly became about us instead of about Him. Maybe we don’t want to do the study necessary to come up with real Bible lessons. Maybe we are so focused on “discovering what this verse means to me” that we don’t know what to make of it in its own context. Maybe “personal application” is just another way of saying “I need a crutch.”

I’m not saying Bible can’t be fun, exciting, and have times of application. I am just saying that we have gone so far in the wrong direction concerning styles of Bible teaching that I can’t even find a decent Bible curriculum to use.

An Apologetic for the Academic

Yes, Bible classes in a Christian school- particularly in middle and high school- should be academically challenging. We believe that the Bible is our sole authority in faith and practice. How can we know what to believe, how can we know what to do, say, think, and feel, without knowing what the Bible says? If the Bible is truly a “love letter from God”, a special revelation of the Divine, should it not be treated as such? If we have access to the mind of God Himself, should we not feel burdened with the necessity of serious study?

What sort of message does it send to students if they have to work for decent grades in math, science, history, and English, but Bible is “an easy A.” Of course that’s going to give them the impression that “it’s just Bible.” It seems ironic that elementary school teachers often will teach Bible lessons and have students memorize verses (academic pursuits), but the standard levels off or even drops as students approach graduation from high school! Just when science becomes physics, math becomes trigonometry, and english becomes American literature, Bible class becomes a glorified youth group meeting! We have told them to be good, but we have failed to tell them why. No wonder students stop seeing the importance of the class period!

We also want to teach Scripture to students so that they are exposed to the whole counsel of God. We want them to know what God is actually saying. By their senior year, students should have an idea of what is in every book of the Bible- Genesis to Revelation. If they are given an idea of what is in the Bible, it will cause them to want to study it themselves. When they do study it themselves, their Bible classes will give them a context for what they read so that they aren’t lost. Who knows how many students have left a Christian school without having a clear idea of what the gospel message is all about?

Finally, Bible classes are necessarily academic because students must know the Bible in order to be considered educated as far as the Western world is concerned. Art, music, history, science, and literature are all touched in some way by God’s Word. Each of these areas alludes to the Bible in some way, whether through paintings, symphonies, the rise and fall of nations, various discoveries about our natural world, or the English classics. If students do not know what the Bible says, they lack the ability to understand the very world around them.

Only when students are given a proper Biblical context will they stay strong in their faith when they are no longer in a Christian environment. Students must learn to think for themselves. We must teach our students the theology, literature, and history of the Bible if we are to accurately label our schools as “Christian.” We have an obligation to parents, students, and the Lord to do so. If we fail to develop an academic Bible curriculum, we are guilty of false advertising, and- far worse- we are guilty of setting souls adrift in this world.

Again, I’m not opposed to having fun in Bible. Bible teachers had better have a love for their “jobs”, students, and subject matter. They must be enthusiastic about what they do. Serious academic study doesn’t require that the mood of class be serious. It takes the efforts of the entire school: administrators, teachers, and parents to create the right atmosphere.

At the school I currently teach at, high school students take courses in the Life and Teachings of Jesus, Old Testament Survey, New Testament Survey, and Christian Philosophy and Apologetics. You won’t hear many of them complaining (until test time, that is.) What you will hear are things like the following quotes, which were written by students in course evaluations last year:

  • “I learned more about the Bible in a fun way. The discussions we had in class helped me see other people’s views on things.”
  • “Your Bible class has helped me a lot this year. I have always gone to church, and I’ve been a Christian for a few years, but I never knew why I was or what it meant. I can put into words what I believe and why. I’m not afraid to stand up for my beliefs anymore because I know how to explain it and back it up with Scripture.”
  • I have not always agreed with what you say, but I have learned from that. I have really enjoyed this class. I have learned so much, and this class has helped me stay strong in my faith.”
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Logos: The Incarnate Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.- John 1:1-5

These verses are perhaps the most profound in all of Scripture. They tell us of the Word Incarnate, Jesus, Who has come to be the ultimate revelation of the Father in Heaven. The Word came to reveal the glory and personality of the Godhead in a tangible form. By coming in human form, we could relate to Him and He could relate to us. We could see God for the first time, and He could experience the suffering that sin had created.

Kant tells us that reason is limited because we don’t know what it is like to BE anything but human. Though we may gain a perspective on a thing, we can never know what it is to be something other than human. Jesus cannot be said to be limited in His understanding of humanity because He is human. That’s the easy part, though.

“In the beginning was the Word…”

By way of introduction, John tells us that Jesus existed before the Creation. When the Beginning (Genesis 1) took place, Jesus already was. He is the uncreated Creator. Paul writes in Colossians 1:15-17:

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature, for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him. And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

Jesus is unique because He not only existed prior to the created universe (matter, energy, time, etc.), but because He is eternal just as the Father is eternal. This is necessary because He is the ultimate self-disclosure of the Father. The Godhead is revealed in Jesus’ words, emotions, actions, and attitudes. If Jesus were merely pre-existent but not eternal (as some cults believe), He would be unable to speak for God adequately. In order for Jesus to speak for a God Who is infinite in all of His attributes (love, holiness, justice, mercy, grace, power, etc.) He must be eternal because only the eternal can truly understand Infinity. This is where we fall so short. We categorize God using systematic theologies (which are admittedly very helpful), but He is above all categorization. We are accustomed to things having beginnings because we had a beginning, but God never began. He simply is. His very name, “I AM” tells us of His ever-present nature. Unlike us, Christ has missed nothing of God. He also always is.

“The Word was with God…”

If the Word was with God, then He is not the same person as the Father. “With” also implies a unique relationship with the Father. For all of eternity the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had enjoyed unbroken, perfect communion with each other. They understood one another and basked in each Other’s glory and love. God didn’t need a creation to be complete. He was complete in and of Himself. For all of eternity, God loves, glorifies, and communes with Himself, but not in the narcissistic sense we think of when speaking of humans. As a tri-unity (trinity), the Father loves and glorifies the Son and Spirit, the Son loves and glorifies the Father and Spirit, and the Spirit loves and glorifies the Father and Son. So the Persons of the Godhead love and glorify each other infinitely and eternally. So it should be, for God alone is worthy of infinite love and glory.

“…and the Word WAS God…”

John asserts that Jesus was Divine in all aspects. He has the same essence, nature, character, and quality of God. He is no less Divine than the Father is. Though He takes the position of Son for Himself, He is no less than God Himself.

“In Him was Life…”

Jesus came to give us life. This does not just mean that He intends for us to merely have eternal life, but also He intends for us to have abundant life. (John 15) Consider John’s words in the following verses:

  • John 20:31—“But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through His name.”
  • (quoting Jesus) John 10:10—“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Spiritual (zoe as opposed to bios) life is referenced 36 times in John’s gospel. That’s more than the other three Gospels combined. John emphasizes that Jesus’ life is not just about quantity; it’s about quality. No, I’m not talking about a “health and wealth” gospel. I’m talking about something eternal and intangible that comes our way as a result of faith in Him. He came to give us something unbelievable and indescribable. God stepped into the mess that humans had made and ministered with compassion, healed in love, and spoke truth to all who would listen. Some people didn’t like it though…

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”

Light. God’s emblem for Himself. It’s the first thing He made, and it’s how He reveals Himself: burning bushes, the Shekinah glory, the Mount of Transfiguration. Hebrews 1:1-3 begins:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person…”

I don’t think it’s incidental that Jesus is called the brightness of His glory in Hebrews and the Light in John. There was darkness as a result of Adam’s fall and now Jesus, acting as the light now points the way back to God. Light symbolizes His holiness, perfection, etc. Darkness, however, is not simply absence of light in John’s gospel. It is a moral category. It is characterized by a hatred of light, evil, and general hostility toward God. Light, however, is able to pierce the Darkness and overtake Evil’s territory. Evil itself is overwhelmed by the “invasion” of God’s Light.

Darkness cannot comprehend the Light. “Comprehend” here does not mean mere understanding. It speaks of overwhelming, destroying, and seizing with hostile intent. Jesus came to give Light, but fallen humanity didn’t like the light they saw. Light is never simply ignored. Darkness attempted to destroy the Light on the Cross. Why? Light reveals Truth even when it is not palatable. Light reveals God for Who He is, and people hate Him for it.

The story doesn’t end there, though. The greatest miracle of all took place three days later. The Father resurrected the Son, and after being seen by hundreds of people, He ascended into Heaven and is seated at the Father’s side.

The Light won.

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