August 13, 2019 § Leave a comment
Hillsong music writer Marty Sampson revealed on Instagram that he is “genuinely losing” his Christian faith. Below is Sampson’s full post, since deleted:
Time for some real talk. I’m genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn’t bother me. Like, what bothers me now is nothing. I am so happy now, so at peace with the world. It’s crazy.
This is a soapbox moment so here I go … How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it. How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it. Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it. How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it. Christians can be the most judgmental people on the planet—they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people. But it’s not for me.
I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the “I just believe it” kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God. Got so much more to say, but for me, I keeping it real. Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.
All I know is what’s true to me right now, and Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point. I could go on, but I won’t. Love and forgive absolutely. Be kind absolutely. Be generous and do good to others absolutely. Some things are good no matter what you believe. Let the rain fall, the sun will come up tomorrow.
We’ve seen similar statements or renouncements from famous authors, pastors, preachers, or musicians, and it’s a sad kind of declaration to watch become more commonplace. As we wrestle with the reasons people seem to have such a tremendous change of heart about Jesus and what the causes might be, I will suggest real answers in the field of apologetics. Let’s look at Sampson’s specific questions.
Sampson: “How many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it.”
Many talk about it, including Canadian pastor Carey Nieuwof.(1) He offers five reasons a pastor might fail morally, and what to watch for in your own life: Choosing isolation over community, ceasing to confess sin, ignorance of consequences, thinking the rules don’t apply to one’s own situation, and seeing failure as the best escape.
Scripture talks about it. From Paul’s warning to believers—likely including preachers—who have “fallen away” because they were “trying to be justified by the law.” (Galatians 5). There are of course many reasons we can fall. We can face temptation toward our own selfish desires (James 1:13-18), sexual desires (Proverbs 7, 1 Corinthians 7:2), quarreling (James 4:1-4), money (1 Timothy 6:9), weakness (Job 4:4), doubts (Proverbs 3:23), hubris (Daniel 11) heresy and idolatry (Jeremiah 18:15).
Sampson: “How many miracles happen? Not many. No one talks about it.”
Many talk about miracles, which are by definition rare occurrences, so we should expect to see “not many.”
CS Lewis shows the shortcomings of naturalism(2), the basis of most arguments against the miraculous. Other inexcusably famous and accessible apologetic works defending miracles include William Paley’s, whose argument against David Hume’s assumption that natural order is unchangeable is outlined by Dr. Mark Pickering and Peter Saunders: “It stands to reason that if God exists he would want to reveal himself, and use the miraculous to do it. If he used certain miracles to authenticate his revelation (eg at the inauguration of Christianity), this would be quite consistent with us not seeing the same miracles today, as they were for a particular purpose at a particular time.”(3)
The Bible also points to an over-reliance on miracles as a lack of faith, even in a time where we might say they were more common. Before healing the son of a Roman official, Jesus lamented that “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” (John 4:48) In Jesus’ parable in Luke 16, a rich man, now in eternal torment, is convinced that if his brothers witness a miracle, they will believe. On the contrary, Abraham tells him that “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (verse 31).
Sampson: “Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it.”
Many talk about ALLEGED contradictions. Sampson presents what is called a “loaded” or “complex” question—one that assumes something unjustified when it is asked. If he would have honestly pursued the subject, he would have found the Bible to be without true contradictions. I talk about alleged contradictions in this post (“ISO: Actual Bible Contradictions)(4) but plenty of others have answered the Biblical contradiction question more comprehensively, explaining the difference between a contradiction and a textual variant(5), and many that analyze specific examples skeptics have offered as contradictions. One might start at ComeReason.org(6) or AlwaysBeReady.com(7).
Sampson: “How can God be love yet send four billion people to a place, all ‘coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.”
I’m not sure how Sampson estimates the number of people going to “a place” (presumably hell) at 4 billion, but suffice it to say that lots of people talk about God’s justice, the crux of this issue. As with the other questions posed, resources are abundant.
You can read Christian apologist Dr. William Lane Craig’s debate with atheist Dr. Ray Bradley over the question “Can a loving God send people to hell?” at ReasonableFaith.org (8). A shorter treatise by J. Warner Wallace is on his site, ColdCaseChristianity.com(9). Wallace: “God doesn’t send good people to Hell. In order to consider ourselves ‘good’, we typically have to overlook much of what we think about and a lot of what we have done.”
Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” A foggy view of our own sin can easily lead to the notion that God’s justice is unfair, and so can a foggy view of God’s glory.
Sampson: “Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.”
I assume this is about what some see as a disparity or conflict between science and the Christian faith, which actually disappears with a proper understanding of both. I blog about that here(10), and other resources are easily had(11).
Sampson has other questions too, about the reality of sickness and disease, that he says “remain in the too hard basket.”(12) None of them should be in the “too hard basket” unless he wants to keep them there. (For answers to the “if God, why suffering?” question, read this excellent RZIM article by Vince Vitale.(13))
Note that Sampson’s complaint is not that he doesn’t like or agree with the answers, but that they apparently aren’t offered. As we can see, to base a departure from Christianity on a lack of conversation about these subjects is plainly unfounded. A wealth of scholarly material, books, and widely available online resources geared for all kinds of skeptics designed to deal with all kinds of challenges to Christianity leaves nobody cause to say “No one talks about it.” Apologists talk about it all the time!
‘GENUINELY LOSING MY FAITH’?
What kind of faith makes someone presumably so in reach of sincere apologetic answers so ignorant of them? Maybe an insincere faith? I think it can be said that not many people talk about making judgments about the genuine salvation of others. A repenting sinner’s relationship with God through true faith in Jesus Christ is supposed to be between God and the sinner. But recent faith renouncements by Sampson, author Joshua Harris(14), and others make me question the taboo of assessing another’s standing before God. At least in the context of discerning truth coming from teachers and preachers, Matthew 7:16 tells us “You will know them by their fruits.” It seems we are then expected to “know” something critical about the genuineness of their faith based on the evidence in their life.
Is all fruit easy to discern? Some folks aren’t very surprised at Sampson’s Instagrammed apostasy, judging from previous observations of soft theology from Sampson(15) or in Hillsong’s music in general(16). Progressive or otherwise heretical leanings are often easy to spot. But it’s not so easy to observe a person’s approach to the harder questions of faith occurring introspectively that may lead to the softening or derailment of our theology.
Some are afraid to ask hard questions for fear that they may look like they don’t have all the answers, or come across less spiritually mature as their celebrity might indicate. An emphasis on emotivism or experimentalism in Christianity tends to steer people away from the pursuit of intellectual confidence. Maybe it’s simply the case that only the people closest to us really know our struggles, conclusions, and the true depth of our faith—and we are not close enough to Sampson to know his.
God’s word tells us that we cannot, as Eric Metaxas wrote on Twitter, “un-meet” Jesus (17). Once a person has put their faith solely in Christ for salvation, that person is permanently and eternally saved. Jesus promises “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:29). Since a believer does not save himself, he can’t “unsave” himself (Galatians 2:8-9). The Christians Paul was writing about in Galatians 5:4 who had “fallen away from grace” did not fall out of salvation. I don’t think Sampson has lost or is in the process of losing his salvation, but rather that he has never obtained it. Jesus said, “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you…’” (Matthew 7:22-23b). Note that Jesus did not say that they once knew Him, or that He once knew them, but that He NEVER knew them. If you were ever saved, you are now; if you’re not now, you never were. Sometimes that kind of fruit is hard to discern too, especially from way out here.
LETS TALK ABOUT IT!
What’s clear enough is that the stumbling blocks that have pushed Marty Sampson away from God, the ones “no one talks about,” actually have been and are continually talked about, and are at his very fingertips. I don’t think he wants those answers, but something else. The truth that Sampson says he is pursuing is never “what’s true to me right now.” It’s true for everyone at all times. That truth is that God is real and His love hasn’t gone away. His salvation through Christ and a confident faith is available to everyone, even Marty Sampson. We should pray he truly finds it.
[Related post: Big Questions Unanswered Leads to Atheism]
March 10, 2018 § Leave a comment
Since the Enlightenment, many have tried to position science and the Christian faith (or Theistic religion in general) as two mutually exclusive worldviews. Many thought, and still think today, that advancements in science have replaced our need for God or His miracles. How should Christians think about science? Are science and faith in God at odds?
Sometimes categories are just convenient ways of maligning one idea and exalting another. The truth is, science done scientifically is good and true just as teaching the Bible Biblically is good and true. Both can be distorted and misapplied. To understand both better, including their compatibility, we should first look at what both science and the Bible say about themselves.
RESPECTING THE BOUNDARIES
How do we do science scientifically? Science is a systematic process by which we explore the natural universe through observation and experimentation. The Scientific Method pioneered by Sir Francis Bacon (a man of both science and Christian faith) in the 17th century, involves making observations, asking questions, forming a hypothesis, testing it through experimentation, and coming to a conclusion, or repeating and refining as necessary.
Can science explain God? No. Science can’t explain God because of its self-imposed limitation to inquiry about the natural and physical world. God falls in the category of supernatural, which means outside of nature. Science by definition is not qualified to examine God.
Can science explain science? No. It can’t provide an adequate explanation for itself because the foundations of science are not scientific but philosophical. Science deals with how, not why. So when we ask why do science in the first place, we can’t offer scientific evidence or reasons to support it.
J. Warner Wallace, a Christian apologist and retired homicide detective, applies his investigative experience by following the evidence “outside the room”, as described in the premise of his book, ‘God’s Crime Scene’: “Can everything we see in the universe be explained solely from causes found within the natural realm, or is there evidence of an outside ‘intruder’? Is the universe a ‘scene’ that can be explained by natural ‘internal’ forces, or is an external ‘intruder’ a better explanation?”(1) Just as nature itself can’t explain nature, science, the limits of which is nature, points to something “outside the room.”
Can God explain science? Yes. God’s word in fact lays the foundations for scientific endeavor and the natural universe we explore with it. Among other realities, the Bible accounts for the origins of nature, the laws of nature, and the exploration of nature.
The origins of nature are explained in the Genesis creation account. When we observe our world and consider its possible beginnings, the evidence points “outside the room.” As the Kalam Cosmological Argument for Classical Theism presents: Everything that began to exist has a cause, and since the universe began to exist, the universe has a cause. Logically, the first cause of the universe must be uncaused, and the eternal, personal, all-powerful Creator God of the Bible is a sufficient cause.
The laws of nature broadly encompass physical/scientific laws (like gravity and uniformity), natural law (morality and human rights), and the basic rules that govern logic (like the law of non-contradiction). These are called “laws” because they are consistent and reliable observed patterns in nature (including human nature and how we think) that are not conceived or established by us, but thought to be inherent or transcendent. In other words, they come to us from “outside the room.” The Bible accounts for these laws with accounts of God establishing order and uniformity in nature (Genesis 8:22)(2), writing moral law on our hearts (Romans 2:15)(3) and creating us in His image as beings who also think morally and employ logic (Isaiah 1:18)(4).
The exploration of nature is a fundamental part of human flourishing since the beginning, or at least since God scattered the nations at Babel (Genesis 11). Our scientific endeavor is fueled by a hunger to expand our territory and a thirst for knowledge about ourselves and our world. But why do science? Why do we spend billions launching exploratory spacecraft and searching for signals from aliens on the outside chance that we might not be alone in the universe?(5)
We can deduce from Scripture that we are made to ultimately encounter God through scientific exploration. Paul, in Acts 17:24-27, told the intellectuals of his day: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and… gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man He made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him…”. And in Romans 1:20, Paul makes it clear that we are “without excuse” for atheism and ought to logically infer a Creator, as most do, by observing creation.(6)
TRANSCENDING THE BOUNDARIES
If we take science “outside the room” to assess the supernatural, we are giving it a scope and authority it is not meant to have. Granting science such ultimate authority is one of the tenets of a religion called Scientism.
While science can’t transcend the boundaries of nature and the physical universe, God is by nature transcendent. God is infinite and limitless in His presence, power, knowledge and love, so boundaries are nothing to Him.
Nature can’t logically create itself. God transcended nature, first, when He created it (Genesis 1:1). As Deism would suggest, God could have created the universe and then left us alone, but Colossians 1:17 puts Him “in all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The so-dubbed “strong forces” that hold atomic particles together are interactions that physicists don’t fully understand). God could have left His creation to perish completely in their sin, but instead God loves us, cares for us, and is active in and author of our story.
This love led Him to absolutely transcend our world in the sending of His Son (John 3:16-17)(7). Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, living a perfectly sinless life as fully man, but died as an atonement for our sins, a payment He could only make if He was also fully God(8). After defeating sin and death on the cross and through His resurrection from the dead, Jesus ascended back to the Father, leaving us His Holy Spirit.
Our sin cemented a barrier between man and God. Through Christ, God, who is no respecter of barriers, broke it down. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes (or transcends) to the Father except by Me.” (John 14:6) If not for God’s transcendence into our world, especially through Christ, we could never realize transcendence into His—but that’s exactly what He offers through faith in Christ alone. Jesus is the only “Way” we can truly get “outside the room.”
SCIENCE AND FAITH
Some claim that “science says” this or that. But outside of the definition and parameters we’ve given it, does science itself actually say things? Or is it more accurate to say that science is a process by which scientists say things? Scientists are people with individual worldviews and the choice to either use science correctly or make it do things it’s not supposed to do when they say things.
Does “science say” that our universe created itself, or that life originated from non-living matter, was seeded on earth from another part of the universe, or diversified by natural and undirected processes over billions of years? Actually, people with Naturalistic or Materialistic worldviews come to such conclusions in the name of science (or Scientism)—without observation, without testing, and without the aid of actual science. They are starting with a certain assumption dictated by their worldview and working to prove it using science.
If we prop up science with worldview assumptions or take it outside its self-imposed limitations, we are anti-science. If we assume that God is only a conceptual crutch to explain natural phenomena until science replaces Him, we are anti-theology. People who consider themselves Christians should evaluate science on the basis of what science teaches about itself. Likewise, people who consider themselves scientifically minded should evaluate Christianity on the basis of what Christianity teaches about itself.
In another act of transcendence, God has given us His word, and the Bible understood Biblically does not contradict science understood scientifically, but instead supports and even explains science. When we see, do, and define both science and the Christian faith correctly and honestly, the two are in harmony.
1) God’s Crime Scene: a Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, by J. Warner Wallace, David C Cook, 2015, p. 23.
2) “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (NIV)
3) “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (NIV)
4) “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (ESV)
5) “The Cost of SETI: Infographic.” Bad Astronomy, 1 May 2011, blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2011/05/01/the-cost-of-seti-infographic
6) “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (NIV)
7) “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (NIV)
8) My post: “God and Man Collide: Why the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Matters” (https://godneighbor.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/god-and-man-collide-why-the-hypostatic-union-of-jesus-matters/)
July 14, 2017 § 2 Comments
Toward the end of a bike trail in Colorado Springs, I came upon an unexpected hill. During the exhausting climb, I noticed two women had set up a table displaying free Jehovah’s Witness material partway up the hill. I took the opportunity to stop and have a wonderful, Gospel-centered conversation with them—in my head 2 minutes after I rode past. I have also had great evangelical encounters with various atheists and agnostics, unfortunately many more in my head than in real life.
I’m not an extrovert, so a witnessing encounter (and robust social engagement in general) is not always easy for me. I recently have defended the deity of Christ in real-life conversation with some JWs at my house, so I had no particular fear of the two ladies on the hill—I just wasn’t about to stop in the middle of a hill (note to evangelists in public parks: set up at the top), and on top of that I had been-there-done-that with Watchtower propaganda. Maybe I should have at least stopped and said hello.
Have you ever had great talks with non-believers about Jesus in your head after you part company? Whether it’s because of nerves, or fear of rejection, or lack of confidence in your own knowledge of your faith, I think it’s probably a pretty common thing to pass up on these opportunities.
While we (and I mean ‘I’) need to set aside fear and rely on the Spirit of God to help in such situations, the mental conversations later (often occurring in the shower, for some odd reason) can serve as valuable training ground for the next real-life opportunity.
Here’s another conversation you didn’t have, but Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop near Denver, CO, did have with hosts on The View recently. On the spot, Jack actually did a very good job of defending his much-maligned decision not to design and create a wedding cake for a gay couple, a case that the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear. Jack says that everyone is welcome in his store, but he won’t make a cake for every event. He calmly and consistently defended the Biblical view of marriage and his Constitutional right to live out his faith in the public square. He was joined by his lawyer, Kristen Waggoner, who also does a great job of clarifying the case and its implications for every American.
Since we can learn from this conversation, imagine if you were in that hotseat surrounded by liberal talkshow hosts-turned-theologians, under the lights and cameras and studio audience cued to applaud after each progressive talking point. If you could freeze frame life for a few minutes to think about your answer (in lieu of thinking about it after the show), how would you respond to these questions?
Relax, you’re not in Jack’s spotlight, but one day you may be in a different one with your family, neighbor, boss, or a judge. Take some time to watch the segment yourself here. Below are the main questions thrown at Jack, and while his answers were good for on-the-spot responses, I’ll offer answers from an apologetic perspective, being safely out of the spotlight with plenty of time to process.
WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?
The theologian on the far right (her chair, not her political position) asked Jack: “If it violates your religious freedom to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple… do you then, when a straight couple comes in, do you ask them if they’ve had a child out of wedlock, if they’ve had premarital sex? Where do you draw the line, because those all could be deemed ‘sinful’ (she throws up her air quotes) to someone who’s religious as well.”
The only reason anyone talks about Jesus was because “sin” is a real thing and the whole reason He came. Jesus died to redeem us from sin by sacrificing Himself on the cross.
But the issue here is not the sins of the couple, but that Jack is being forced to in effect join in the artistic celebration of something against his religious beliefs and stamp his name on the entire project. The line is drawn exactly where he drew it. Jack’s concern is not over whether a couple is sinning in some way, but the consequences of compromising his beliefs by his participation in a same-sex wedding ceremony. If anything, the marriage of a man and woman who are already having sex has a redemptive aspect to it in that the couple would no longer be sinning sexually, and would be providing a stronger foundation for any child that resulted. But the reason Jack refused is because he objects to the event in question.
WHO ARE YOU TO JUDGE?
The theologian in the chair to the left (our left) of the first theologian: “One thing that’s always confused me about this is that in the Bible it says many things if you read it, and I was raised in the church, and it says, you know, ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman,’ but also says, ‘Don’t judge others.’ We’re not the final judgment. It also says ‘love thy neighbor.’ There are a lot of messages in there. How do you reconcile in your own spirituality, which ones to go with? Because in my mind, whether you believe it or not, and you should definitely not marry a man… but if someone else does, it’s not my place to judge them because God will…”
“The Bible says not to judge” is a frequent declaration by cherry-pickers. It’s found in Matthew 7:1-5: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (NIV)
In context, Jesus is condemning hypocrisy (don’t point the finger of judgment at others if you’re doing the same thing yourself), not the discernment between right and wrong behavior. We know there is a correct way to judge, because Jesus tells a group of Pharisees in John 7:24 to “stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”
So to the question, “How do you reconcile which message to ‘go with’?”, the answer is study. Approach the Bible as you would any other book you want to understand and practice sound exegesis rather than pulling bits of verses out of context. Read, rather than read into. When we do, well see that Jesus was both love and truth, and there is no contradiction between “judge rightly” and “love your neighbor.”
WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?
The theologian to Jack’s right says, “I know that you’re a Christ-follower, and Jesus was even criticized by some of His followers for hanging out with the lowest of the low and the tax collectors and the sinners. Did you ever ask yourself, what would Jesus do in this particular situation? Instead of denying them, do you think Jesus would have said, ‘I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway?’ Do you think that would have had a more powerful testimony?” To which the theologian on the far left adds with conviction, “Jesus would have baked the cake!”
Jack rightly responds that Jesus would not bake the cake. We don’t have to guess what Jesus would say and do when we can read what He said and did. We know Jesus’ view of marriage from Matthew 19:4 and Mark 10:6, where He affirms God’s design for marriage from Genesis 1:27: “‘Haven’t you read… that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.'” (Mat. 19:4-6)
Supposing Jesus would have said, “I don’t accept this, but I’m going to love you anyway” assumes that love doesn’t mean we tell others the truth. We, made in God’s image, often try to remake Jesus in our own image and imagine God as love but not truth (at least the truth we find inconvenient). But as Jesus displayed, He is both. Jesus indeed did share a table with sinners, and as Jack proves, you can sit at a table with those who believe very differently without them hating or suing each other. But by compromising our beliefs and joining in the celebration of an event that defies God’s design for marriage, we are not loving anyone, but rather propagating a lie. That is actually hateful.
JUST BAKE THE CAKE!
The conversation turns from theological to legal at this point, with Kristen politely shooting down a slippery slope argument and clarifying that an assault on Jack’s religious liberty affects everyone regardless of their belief. But not before the theologian 2nd from the left puts this challenge to Jack: “Lower courts have found that you’ve discriminated against this couple, but you’re taking this fight to the Supreme Court. Why not just bake the cake?”
It’s always easier for those without a certain deeply held conviction to suggest those who do simply give it up when the going gets rough. But that’s not how Christianity has ever worked. Still, it’s an appropriate question to consider while we aren’t on the spot, can we compromise on this front while loving God and neighbor? Are we prepared to answer, while we can have the conversation safely in our heads, before we will eventually be asked, “Why not just bake the cake?”
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful…” (Hebrews 10:23)
January 9, 2017 § Leave a comment
The New York Times ran a story about Bart Campolo, son of evangelical icon Tony Campolo, headlined The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing(1). Sadly, both men have gone off the theological rails, to different degrees. But noted in this article focused on Bart’s journey away from faith, both father and son preached an emphasis on what they considered the teachings of Jesus over the rest of God’s word. Bart preaches atheism these days, but back when he claimed to be a believer, his ministry had this in common with his dad’s. From the article:
“Bart’s father, Tony Campolo… founder of the ‘red-letter Christians’ movement, an effort to refocus evangelicals away from politics and back to the teachings (about poverty, love, charity) of Jesus, whose words are printed in red in many Bibles.”
“(Bart Campolo) was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings.”
There’s an increasingly popular idea that Christians engaging in culture wars, particularly about the issues mentioned above, have strayed from true Christian teaching. Theological liberals have suggested lesser credence be assigned to the Old Testament and the pastoral epistles, and a higher authority given to the words of Jesus in the four gospels. In essence, this invalidates the vast majority of scripture. If Jesus didnt say it, it doesn’t matter what the rest of scripture says about issues of homosexuality or the unborn.
So how should Christians think about contemporary issues in light of Scripture? First, are the words of Jesus in the Bible the most important parts of Scripture? Second, were “Jesus’ original teachings” unconcerned with issues like abortion or homosexuality?
Considering that Jesus often quoted many parts of the Old Testamant, and that “all scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), there is no cause to give the recorded dialog of Jesus greater authority than the rest of the Bible. Jesus didn’t, so we shouldn’t either. God didn’t put Jesus’ words in red; Louis Klopsch did in 1899 with the first printed red letter edition New Testament. To be clear, we haven’t actually printed the exact words spoken by Jesus. We have the gospel-writers’ inspired accounts of what Jesus said, which, in accordance with the practice of paraphrasing in the ancient world, vary in exact wording (yet are unified in the truth being spoken). So what red-letter Bibles are highlighting are not the exact words of Jesus anyway.
Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament scriptures and the truth of 2 Timothy 3:16 helps to answer the 2nd question: Are we right to think that Jesus didn’t condemn same-sex relationships or abortion, but His teachings were somehow different than the rest of the Bible?
In the first place, abortion and homosexuality were not in the cultural spotlight when Jesus engaged in ministry, so we shouldn’t expect to find Jesus dealing directly with those issues that Christians find themselves having to respond to today. But we know what Jesus thought about the value of human life and God’s plan for marriage because of what He affirmed from other scriptures.
In Matthew 19:4, Jesus uses Genesis 2:24 to affirm “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” Jesus’ affirmation of how God’s design for human sexual relationships (one man and one women given in marriage) simply leaves no room for other types of sexual relationships.
Jesus didn’t speak specifically of abortion either—or at least we don’t have a record of it. But we know His position on it. If asked, Jesus might have again referred back to Genesis, perhaps 1:27-28, words that would have carried as much authority as His own: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth…'” Other scriptures that teach of the value and personhood of the unborn (Exodus 21:22-23; Psalm 127:3,139:13-15, Jeremiah 1:5) would also have been regarded by Jesus as authoritative.
But don’t miss that we see from Scripture that God’s plan was for children to be born, not killed in the womb. God’s plan for marriage in Genesis 1 and 2 included the bearing and raising of children by a mother and father. God created us and He also created our fruitfulness, and neither should be destroyed. If we follow God’s plan for sexuality and parenting, then abortion should be a moot point. And God does desire us to follow that plan, which Jesus affirmed by continually doing His Father’s will (John 6:38).
There is no rational distinction or contradiction between “the original teachings of Jesus” and the rest of the Bible, whether printed in red or in black, because Jesus Himself stood firm on the scriptures written before Him.
1) Caserez, Damon. “The Evangelical Scion Who Stopped Believing” New York Times. The New York Times Company, 29 Dec, 2016 (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/magazine/the-evangelical-scion-who-stopped-believing.html)
September 14, 2016 § 1 Comment
How many pages does your Bible have? Tim Kaine’s is apparently missing a few, specifically everything after the first chapter. From CBS News:
“Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine touted the importance of LGBTQ equality as a campaign issue and recounted his own struggle to reconcile his support for gay rights with his Catholic faith. … The Virginia senator said that while Catholic doctrine is at odds with marriage equality, his interpretation of the Bible celebrates diversity. ‘My church also teaches me about a creator in the first chapter of Genesis who surveys the entire world, including mankind, and said it is very good,’ said Kaine. … ‘Who am I to challenge God for the beautiful diversity of the human family? I think we’re supposed to celebrate it, not challenge it.’”(1)
In Genesis 1:31, God does indeed survey His creation and call it “very good.” In chapter 2, however, we find the clear distinction of male and female and God defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman. In chapter 3, the “very good” creation from chapter 1 is corrupted by sin’s entrance into the world through man’s disobedience to God. We no longer live in the “very good” world that God created, but a world deviated from God’s very good plan for, among many things, marriage and human relationships, a world that seeks sexual autonomy above just about everything else. As Genesis 2 might have revealed to Tim Kaine if he’d gotten that far, God’s “very good” creation was never intended to include homosexuality and gay marriage. A short-sighted view of Genesis 1 and our current reality of a sinful Genesis 3 world is what Tim Kaine is actually seeking to celebrate in LGBTQ “diversity”.
“Did God REALLY say…?” (Satan, Genesis 3:1)
But thank God there’s more to the story. The chapters that follow Genesis 3, in fact the rest of the Bible, lay out God’s plan to redeem the world from sin, culminating in the sending if His one and only Son to buy us back from our slavery to sin. What we know from considering the whole of Scripture, not just the first chapter, is that He will one day restore all things to “very good.” Until then, we should be a part of redeeming a lost world, not celebrating it.
1) Brown, Erica. “Tim Kaine opens up on reconciling LGBTQ equality, religious faith.” CBS News, 11 Sep. 2016. Web 14 Sep. 2016 (Link: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tim-kaine-opens-up-on-reconciling-lgbtq-equality-catholic-faith-campaign-2016/)
August 15, 2016 § Leave a comment
Our culture is clearly trending transgender. But it’s interesting how society seems itchy to remake itself by blurring gender distinctions in other ways, specifically science and religion, to conform to the demands of the transgender revolution.
IN NEUROSCIENCE: “Eminent brain expert Professor Gina Rippon said the pop-psychology theory that the sexes are as different as alien races – Men from Mars and Women from Venus – is a delusion driven by sexist prejudice.” (From this Daily Mail article)
Despite scientific consensus that indicates boys and girls’ brains are different from birth, Professor Rippon argues such studies “are ‘neurotrash’ which simply reflect the bias of researchers.” Rather, boys and girls change their thinking by how they are raised, she says.
It’s certainly fine to challenge scientific consensus, as long as you do so scientifically (this article doesn’t describe her research enough to know if she does), and it’s certainly true that bias plays a part in our conclusions. But she also must challenge our common experience as parents, where we can observe boys and girls interacting with other kids a certain way, or playing a certain way, long before parents have a chance to buy them G.I. Joes or Barbie dolls or otherwise nurture them into a particular gender role. She must also challenge the Word of God, which explains that men and women are distinct and complimentary creatures with equal value but differing roles. We can’t expect a secular movement to regard Scripture, but it’s Scripture that corresponds with what we experience and what we’ve discovered through science, that is, up until the transgender revolution.
IN RELIGION: Here comes the question from a Rabbi, who claims to have figured out what we’ve all mistakenly thought for millennia, happily coinciding with the transgender revolution: Is God transgender? (From The New York Times)
Rabbi Mark Sameth explains that “the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender.” The term YHWH, he says, “was Hebrew for ‘He/She.’ Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”
God refers to Himself as “Father” and refers to the second Person of the Trinity as His Son. However, God is spirit and therefore has no biological sex, and we can’t apply gender to Him the same way either. Scott Eric Alt provides a good response to Rabbi Sameth’s claim at Patheos:
“Not dual-gendered, Rabbi Sameth: non-gendered. God is not both male and female; he is neither male nor female. Pronouns, of course, do have gender—for gender, properly, is a grammatical construct—but it behooves us to not get excited and jiggly and read our agendas into the fact that some pronoun needs to be applied to God. That a pronoun has gender should not lead us to suspect that God has a gender, or multiple genders, or is transgendered, or is gender fluid, or whatever else your agenda compels you to want to say about God. God is transcendent.”
Alt also counters Sameth’s view of certain passages that to Sameth seem to support a transgender view. Alt’s post is a good apologetics resource, so read the whole thing.
IN THE END: Pandering to the transgender revolution means both scientists and religious leaders must abandon sound reasoning and long-held doctrine to do it, resulting in new definitions and a radical understanding of sex and gender (like this one from Slate, claiming that “there’s no such thing as a ‘male body’.”).
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (1 Timothy 4:3,4)
I think we’re there.
January 25, 2016 § Leave a comment
A video attempting to address the Problem of Evil(1) prompted a Facebook comment from an atheist I’ve encountered before. Below is a brief conversation that followed.
He looks so proud of coming up with such a bad argument!
Cheesy video, and maybe an unfair dig against hippie hairstyles, but a good illustration. Whether the problem is “too much” evil and suffering (as the barber complains) or any evil and suffering at all, neither is evidence against the God described in the Bible.
First, objective evil (the only kind worth complaining about) only makes sense in light of objective good, which doesn’t make sense on atheism. Second, a good God creating humans with freedom to choose could not prevent our sin (the root cause of the world’s evil and suffering) without preventing our freedom to choose, and nobody’s okay with that idea.
And even if the world’s evil and suffering were a tiny fraction of what it is, the barber would still complain(2). God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ includes making all things new, so one day evil and suffering will be gone. The days the barber chooses to spend complaining and disbelieving are days that a good God has graciously given him as more time to come to repentance and faith (2 Peter 3:9).
You’re not going to be able to dismiss the Problem of Evil that easily…even the most prominent Christian apologists can[‘t] explain it away. As C.S. Lewis conceded, it’s the most powerful argument against the Christian god.
The problem of evil is not “easy”. That’s why it’s a “problem.” But a problem is something to think about and work through, not to discard because it’s a problem (like this list of unsolved problems in all types of fields of study(3)).
There are no “easy” answers because we’re the ones who see and often experience evil and suffering. C.S. Lewis knew it wasn’t easy but knew the logic behind it was sound, that freedom to love requires the freedom to do evil, which he summarized very effectively in The Case for Christianity:
“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free. Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”
Even though it makes perfect sense why there is such things wrong with the world, it’s a problem because we don’t know why “we” or why “they” suffer the particular way that they do. It’s personal, so of course we don’t like it. But it also makes sense that we wouldn’t be able to fully know the mind of God and His ultimate plan for eternal good that can involve our temporary pain (like the pain of surgery in light of a better life afterwards).
God has an answer in redeeming evil through His Son, because He is a personal God that knows and loves us, desiring to save us from what are in the end the consequences of our own sin.
Most arguments for atheism based on the problem of evil assume a God who is not personal (deism) and just doesn’t care to intervene, or that He is just plain mean. Neither fit the description of the God of the Bible.
Have a great day!
I’ll counter with two words that have nothing to do with personal choice or ‘sin’: bacteria and earthquakes. Yet cause unmeasurable pain and suffering.
Actually, they are linked to sin. After their disobedience, God told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you.” (Gen. 3:17) and Paul writes that “the whole creation has been groaning” as a result of man’s sin and “waits eagerly” for redemption (Rom. 8:19-22). The corruptive effects of sin reach everywhere in nature, which God created “good” to begin with (Gen. 1:31). Ninety percent of all bacteria are still good, non-pathogenic and necessary, but some became harmful to humans after the Fall. Likewise, most earthquakes are still harmless and too small to be detected without sophisticated seismography, and they were likely a non-issue before a cursed creation. We shouldn’t expect to know why God allows certain things to happen and how He works natural disasters or disease for ultimate good. But how much less natural disaster or disease would satisfy? And how do we know God hasn’t prevented many more disasters and disease? It seems He’s kept harmful bacteria at a mere 10% and stabilized the earth’s crust sufficiently that most earthquakes are non-destructive.
Well, I guess if you believe that all the problems in the world are the result of one bite of a fruit, then we are just going to have to disagree. There’s not much more I can say if you are just going to suspend reason like that.
That is a pretty common sentiment among atheists, but atheism is the cause of that sentiment, not the result. If there is no God, the only law we can break is our own, and “small” sins are no big deal because the foundation for authority is relatively small. If I were to, say, tell a lie to an infant, there would be virtually no consequences for me. If I tell a lie to my older child, I may lose his trust. If I lie to my wife, I may lose her trust and get banished to the couch. If I lie to my boss, I may get fired. If I lie to the government, I could face fines or prison. If God exists, He is infinitely higher in authority than any power on earth. Even a “small” sin like eating of the one tree God commanded Adam and Eve not to, a decision actually rooted in pride, arrogance and disobedience, is severe when all sin is an offense against an infinite Creator who wrote moral law on our hearts (and without whom all moral assessment is arbitrary and meaningless anyway). It’s not about the size of the sin, but the sovereignty of who we are sinning against. Sin is sin to God, and “all have sinned and fall short.”
But thank you for the discussion, I always learn something and appreciate you taking the time. I hope you have a good week.
(Related post: Too Much Evil and Suffering in the World?)