Category Archives: Theology

The Three Tenses of Salvation, by Andy Woods

As believers, we use the word “salvation” so frequently, yet what does this word actually mean? Most think that salvation simply relates to how someone becomes a Christian. We probably think this way since we are living in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The reformers spent most of their energy defending and explaining what one must do in order to become a Christian. However, the biblical and Pauline use of the term “salvation” is much broader. Salvation actually has at least three phases.

To read the remainder of Dr. Andy Woods’ article on three phases of salvation, please click BibleProphecyBlog.com.

[A sharing of one post at Bible Prophecy Blog is not an endorsement of all blog posts.]

Enhanced by Zemanta
Advertisements

Is it ever OK to lie or deceive? Biblical considerations

Judah and Tamar, of the Rembrandt School (Public domain).
Judah and Tamar, of the Rembrandt School (mid-1600s; Public domain).

A sermon of a well-known evangelist was being broadcast one day, and I just can’t forget him talking about how we should never lie.  A little white lie?  No, we should never go there.   Well, Ok, but what about lying to save someone’s life?  There are Christians who think it is wrong to lie in order to save someone’s life.   But is this stance biblical?  Is it always wrong to tell “a” lie, or is it only wrong to be a liar?

Exodus 20:16 (the 9th commandment) states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”  Does this command somehow imply that if your neighbor is evil and is about to rape your wife or daughter, that you can’t deceive the neighbor somehow in order to save your loved ones?  When faced with evil and/or murderous intent, we cannot defend ourselves with words?  A person in this situation could defend themselves or others physically and not be questioned, yet there are Christians who will deny the use of words in self-defense.  The motive of one’s heart is what God sees and knows.

There are many verses in the bible indicating that God hates a deceitful heart, a person who deceives for fraudulent or exorbitant gain.  Proverbs 11:1, Proverbs 20:23, Hosea 12:7, and Amos 8:5 all show that God hates “dishonest scales” and “false weights,” used by those who boost prices and cheat; Micah 6:11 states, “Shall I acquit a man with dishonest scales, with a bag of false weights?”  Merchants like this are stealing (commandment 8, “You shall not steal”) through deception.  There are other verses about usury and excessive interest as well:  “He lends at usury and takes excessive interest. Will such a man live? He will not!  Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head” (Ezekiel 18:13).  Other relevant verses are:  Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37; Deuteronomy 23:19; Nehemiah 5:7, 10, 11; Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 28:8; Ezekiel 18:8, 17, 22:12.

People who bear false witness, and people who deceive innocents as a way of life in order to take their money and resources, are liars.  God is against those who hurt innocent people.  There are a number of instances in the bible where persons have lied in order to save innocent life, especially in time of war, or to right an injustice that no one else had stepped in to right.  For instance, in Exodus 1:15-21, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew midwives to kill newborn boys, but not girls.  The midwives did not comply and when called before Pharaoh, they lied to him, because “they feared God.”  God was then kind to the midwives and gave them families of their own.  In this situation, the midwives did what they had to do in order to save their own lives and the lives of others; the situation was evil and not the midwives, who, “fearing God,” would not think of lying generally in life.  We live in a corrupt world, not in heaven, where there will be no necessity to defend life in this way.

Before continuing our look at whether or not it is OK to ever lie, let’s look at what “sin” and “repentance” mean.  Sin means “to miss the mark,” to miss the target of God’s law.  Sin can be committed against God’s law, or sin can come from not doing what God commanded, like not loving your neighbor.  Also, there are greater sins and lesser sins; thus a gradation of sins (see Matthew 11:20-24) is acknowledged by God.  Repentance means to undergo a change of mind.  When a person comes to faith in God, they undergo a change of direction in their lives, away from sin and toward Christ.  Also, the will and power to repent for individual sins by the believer is assisted by the Holy Spirit.

A problem (for some) with situations like the midwives in Egypt and with the following stories, is that persons lied or deceived, yet did not repent.  However, the situations required deception in order for a greater good to result, or a wrong to be righted.  Some theologians view the lies in these cases as common sense morality that any child would know to be “right,” while some say that the persons must have repented of the deception in order to have been blessed or saved by God  (and they were, as recorded in the Bible), and that the repentance simply was not recorded.  It should be noted that in other stories of the bible where deception was committed for selfish ends, but by a person declared righteous or blessed, repentance is recorded (as with David’s adultery and murder, for example).

Tamar and Judah (Genesis, Chapter 38)

This event is placed within the story of Joseph, which may seem incongruous.  However, it was this event created by Tamar that exposed Judah’s “callous hypocrisy” and is the beginning of Judah’s personal transformation that leads to his thoughtfulness shown in the rest of the story (Dunn p. 65).  Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law.  She was married to Judah’s eldest son, who died, and then to the next son, as was the custom, but he also died.  Judah promised his youngest son to Tamar, following the custom again; she was to live with her own family until the son was old enough to marry.  However, Judah did not keep his word.  At a time when Tamar knew that Judah was coming to her area, she dressed as a prostitute.   Judah voluntarily came to this “prostitute” and Tamar became pregnant.  Later, when it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant but did not have a husband, Judah declared that she should be burned to death.  Being brought before Judah, Tamar presented items that Judah had left with the prostitute.  At that the shamed Judah declared, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.”  Judah did not sleep with Tamar again.  Jesus’ genealogy includes Tamar.

Rahab and the spies (Joshua, Chapter 2) 

In following the command and gift of God, the Israelites were entering the promised land after their long trek from Egypt.  Joshua, Moses’ successor, sent two spies to Jericho to obtain information about the city.  The spies, perhaps questionably, went to the house of a prostitute, Rahab.  Amazingly, they found a confession of faith and loyalty to the God of Israel there, in the person of Rahab.  Somehow the king of Jericho knew there were spies in the city, and that they had gone to see her.  Because of Rahab’s faith, she hid the spies and deceived the city guards into thinking that the spies had already left.  She assisted the spies in escaping and asked that they give protection to her and her family when Israel attacked Jericho.  This they did, and Rahab and her family became a part of Israel.  Jesus’ genealogy includes Rahab, and her faith is commended in Hebrews 11:31.  As something to consider, it seems that there was no other way for Rahab to respond in this situation.  Without her deceit, it seems certain that the spies would have been goners; also, it can be seen that it was because of her faith and loyalty to God that she lied to the guards.  If she did not want to protect God’s people, she would not have had any reason to lie.

Jael and Sisera (Judges, Chapters 4 and 5) 

The story of Jael and Sisera is as astonishing as it is gruesome.  A short description does not do the tale or context justice and it is recommended to the reader to study a few commentaries on Judges 4 and 5 (such as the Eerdman’s reference given below).  The event takes place while Israel was under the jurisdiction of Canaan, and a woman prophet, Deborah, was leading her people in this state.  Through God’s word, Deborah told Barak to ready men so that Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, could be given to him.  Barak showed a lack of confidence, so Deborah prophesied that Sisera would be delivered into the hands of a woman instead.  Barak, along with Deborah, attacked Sisera and his men.  After intense battle, Sisera fled, but Barak followed the rest of the troops and defeated them.  In the meantime, Sisera entered the tent of Jael, a member of a clan friendly to the Canaanite king.  Jael, however, was loyal to Israel (and maybe she was angry since from the wording in Judges 5, she may have been raped by Sisera).  She pretended to be friendly with Sisera and encouraged him to rest, but after he fell to sleep she hammered a tent peg through his temple, killing him.  Jael is called “most blessed of women” in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5).

Other instances of deception in the Bible

We covered the stories of some interesting ladies of the bible, like Tamar who deceived in order to obtain what was rightfully hers (after it was clear that the other party was not honoring an agreement), and Rahab, a foreign prostitute who turned to God and lied in order to save Israelites, and Jael, a female who, through deception, defeated the powerful commander of Canaan who had attacked Israel.  The reader should not get the impression that the Bible shows only females deceiving when necessary, however.

King David, before he was king and running from murderous King Saul, went to live in Philistine territory, though the Philistines were Israel’s enemy.  Since David wasn’t alone but had 600 of his men with him, and their families, they needed a large area to stay in.  King Achish of Gath agreed that David and his men could live there.  While David lived there he went and raided towns outside of Israel, toward Egypt, and killed all who lived there so that there would be no witnesses.  This was necessary for David’s deception, since he told King Achish that he was raiding Israelite towns.  The king was led to believe that David was loyal to him and that Israel surely despised David.  The king eventually called on David and his men to join in attacking Israel, and he had to agree.  However, when the King’s commanders insisted that David and his men might turn on them and so shouldn’t fight, David went out of his way to show loyalty to the Philistine king (1 Samuel 27; 29:1-11).

Lest anyone should think that David was rewarded by God for his violent deeds here and elsewhere, he was not.  David loved God, but committed sins; his later life was full of the consequences of these, and in addition, God forbade David from building His temple because of his bloodshed (1 Chronicles 22:8).  Another example of a man lying in the Bible, though not anywhere near as fully and heinously as David, is in Jeremiah the prophet.  In Jeremiah 38:24-27, Jeremiah is consulted by King Zedekiah, who was appointed to that position by the King of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar.  Zedekiah was surrounded by scheming men and simply asked Jeremiah to not tell these men of a private conversation they had regarding Nebuchadnezzar’s impending invasion.  Jeremiah obeyed and was not truthful about the conversation when asked.  This simple act of deception appears to be in line with God’s wish to spare Zedekiah’s life (Jeremiah 38:20-23).

So, was it OK or even desirable that the midwives in Egypt, Tamar, Rahab, Jael, and Jeremiah, were deceptive?  What does your moral common sense say?  Is it alright to lie in order to save someone else’s life (or right a wrong that no one else can, or will, do)?  Is it still “evil” when one does so?  If Rahab saved lives by lying, was it something she needed to repent of?

Theological and New Testament considerations

Peter Kreeft, a Christian and a philosophy professor, wrote an easily accessible essay on this issue in response to criticisms over an abortion-related “sting” operation (Kreeft 2011).  His stance is that it was good that the persons conducted this sting operation, despite the deceptions involved.  When faced with a great evil in this corrupt world, deception – while in other types of situations is wrong – can be right.  Were those who hid Jews and lied to the Nazis about it, wrong?  No, what they did was right.  Was it wrong to use spies to help stop the Nazis from using nuclear weapons?  Is it wrong for the police to conduct undercover work and sting operations?  No, these activities that involve deception are not wrong, but right, Kreeft argues.

Why do so many people these days take an absolutist stance and argue for the wrongness of these works by people who are only trying to save life?  Kreeft says, “I think they are so (rightly) afraid of moral relativism that they have (wrongly) fallen into moral legalism.”  He says that there is moral truth and moral reality, but that people in this age have become like computers, not listening to their moral intuition.  They deal with abstractions and not with people.  For those who cannot or will not acknowledge that saving Jews from the Nazis using deception was right and good, Kreeft says, “If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms:  relativism and legalism.  Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.”  He concludes that perhaps, as Jesus called us to become like children, He meant “for us to remember our more simple and innocent moral wisdom.”

We have looked into some Old Testament people who lied in order that good may result, and how God commands against bearing false witness and using deceptive means for personal gain.  Does the New Testament convey anything different?  No, but it does perhaps convey more.  In Acts 5:1-11, a married couple who had tried to deceive fellow Christians found that they were in fact lying to God.  Ananias and Sapphira had sold some property in order to donate it to fellow believers, but for some unknown reason, they secretly decided to hold some back for themselves.  God had not demanded that the couple, or anyone, give at all.  All donations were voluntary and Ananias and Sapphira simply needed to be honest about what they wanted to do.  Instead, they collapsed in death in front of Peter and other witnesses.  The message seems pretty clear:  God was with the new church and God knows people’s hearts.

Revelation 22:15 states, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”  Who will go to hell?  Everyone who loves and practices falsehood.   Those who practice being deceptive, who walk in that way of life, will end up separated from God.  Ultimately, why is this the case?  Because liars will never accept the truth.  This dovetails with how John defines “liar:”  “Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.  Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).  “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony [God’s, not man’s] in his heart.  Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.  And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (1 John 5:10-11).

Further, the author of Romans talks of those who suppress the truth:  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  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 men are without excuse” (3:18-20).  God’s qualities are clearly seen and all men know it, according to these verses; men are without excuse . . . period.  This is why in the next group of verses (3:21-22) it states:   “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools . . . .”  Men know God but some choose to deny Him, and then fall deeper into darkness.

So we can see that there are those people who walk in a way of life that is against God, and those who walk in the way of God.  Those who walk away from God can still show kindness in life (Luke 11:11-13), and those who walk with God can still sin at times in various ways.  What matters is the way (which path) in which one is walking.  “If we claim to have fellowship with him [God] yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 5:6-7).  Through Jesus we become righteous and are purified, even if we stumble here and there (1 John 1:8-10).

Based on these things, and what has been presented earlier, can we tell if it always wrong to deceive?  Can anyone really claim that lying to murderers, like the Nazis, in order to keep innocents from death, is wrong?  Could Jesus have had something similar in mind when he said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd [or sly] as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16)?  After all, we know “that the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19b).  Will not all of our choices in some situations, then, be evil (if you consider any deception at all evil)?  Do we not have free will in order to choose what seems best, while lacking the power to create other choices (change reality)?  Should we not choose “the lesser of two evils” instead of doing nothing?  In the case of persons lying to the Nazis in order to save lives, wouldn’t greater evil have resulted from doing nothing?  This seems very much like common sense, common moral sense as Kreeft is shown to have pointed out.  What we are not to do is “be” liars who:  (1) bear false testimony against someone, (2) deceive for personal profit and gain, and (3) deny and suppress the truth about God.

Sources

Anonymous. “Question / Comment – Is it ever ok to lie?” Jesus Plus Nothing. http://www.jesusplusnothing.com/questions/LyingOk.htm (accessed March 2012).

Dunn, James, General Editor. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003.

Kaiser Jr, Walter, et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Kreeft, Peter. “Why Live Action did right and why we all should know that.” CatholicVote.org. February 2011. http://www.catholicvote.org/discuss/index.php?p=14306 (accessed March 2012; follow hyperlink for newer url, accessed April 2014).

MacDonald, William. “Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” In Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, xviii-xxiii. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

Palmer, Ken. “Recorded Women.” Life of Christ. November 2010. http://www.lifeofchrist.com/life/genealogy/women.asp (accessed March 2012).

Sproul, R.C. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992.

_____

A very slightly different version of this article was posted (by me) at Examiner.com in 2011, and then edited and posted at my website in 2012.  Thanks so much for reading!

The Parable of the 10 Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13): Confusion and Understanding

Light your lamp (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/848608).
Light your lamp (http://www.sxc.hu/photo/848608).

Prior to my pastor’s recent sermon on having faith that you’re saved even when you feel inadequate and have doubts, I was wondering about the meaning of what Jesus said in the “Parable of the 10 Virgins” in Matthew (25:1-13).  Whenever this parable was brought to my attention, it bothered me, and it was on my mind prior to that sermon.  Maybe God was trying to tell me that my concerns about the parable were not applicable to me, and followers of Christ like me, and that there was another meaning to it that I simply wasn’t grasping.  In my 19 years of having been a Christian, I had not come to terms with this parable, which seems kind-of pathetic and embarrassing.  I want to dig deeper into this parable—car to come along?  Here is the parable (NIV):

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.  “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’  “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’  “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’  10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet.   And the door was shut.  11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’  12 “But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’  13 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

The concluding verse exhorts us to keep watch always.  And that is good and necessary, and is repeated elsewhere:  “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40; see also Matt 24:42, 44; Mark 13:35).  The problem is, the young ladies weren’t keeping watch in an ordinary New Testament sense.  The five that got into heaven fell asleep just like the five that didn’t get into heaven.  The difference was in the oil–in their preparedness–not in their actual watchfulness (being awake, having one’s eyes open, looking toward Christ, etc.).

And the problem with this, the oil issue, is at least twofold.  One, oil is commonly known to be symbolic of the Holy Spirit, which we receive from God (we don’t take it or buy it).  Related to this is, (2) how much of our own work do we need to do to be saved?  First, one must read and understand the parable correctly.  Depending on the version I had read in the past, it wasn’t always clear to me that the five foolish virgins didn’t have any oil at all.  This needs to be clear:  five of the virgins brought lamps with them that were . . . empty!  Who does that!?  These were the foolish virgins, we’re told, but it still took a lot of time for my mind to register that someone would bother to bring lamps that didn’t have any oil.  (Truly, what is the point?  It’s like pushing your gasless car somewhere, expecting to drive it off later without filling it up.)   For a long time I thought that the virgins in question had oil in their lamps when they left their homes, and that they didn’t bother bringing extra and thus ran out (this is the take on it that Kaiser et al present, too).  But that’s not what the parable says.  In any case, let’s look at the oil issues I mentioned.

If oil represents the Holy Spirit in this parable, as it does elsewhere in the Bible, then the foolish virgins didn’t have the Holy Spirit.  They wanted into heaven, but they didn’t really accept God (God’s spirit); they weren’t true believers.  If you are sincere in wanting to be with God, God will give you His Holy Spirit; if you just want the goodies of heaven without acknowledging God’s will, your heart is in the wrong place.  So, the only work necessary is to actually believe in God and His son’s work:  “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent (John 6:29).  And according to the parable, if you have God and His Holy Spirit you will be saved even if you get drowsy waiting.  This is quite comforting, and the opposite meaning of what I had originally thought regarding this parable.

One reason why I had a bit of a hard time with this parable is that it didn’t seem logically cohesive.  What I mean by that is, we believers are the church, which is referred to as Christ’s bride in the New Testament.  So, why would the ten virgins (and thus the message) refer to believers, who are already behind the door in the parable (as the bride)?  The virgins are attendants, not the bride; the Syriac and Vulgate versions of the New Testament make this clearer by adding in verse 10 that Christ came with his bride.

We know that the context of the parable is eschatological, that is, regarding the end times.  Only two of the commentaries I have here address the actual relevance of this issue, and they appear to disagree:  Enns 2008, which mentions the theological stance that the wedding takes place in heaven, while the banquet takes place on earth after Christ’s second coming, and MacDonald 1995, which seems to place the wedding and the banquet together (in heaven).  The time is during the tribulation, so the virgins represent true believers and those who aren’t true.  But, why use the term virgin, instead of just person?  Since Christ’s bride – the church – is already in heaven (behind the door), then why are the people in the parable referred to as virgins?  It makes me think Jesus is talking about the Jews during the tribulation period.  Certainly his audience at the time was made up of Jews, and MacDonald (1297) refers to them as those with messianic hope.

Israel is specifically called out in Revelation 7, where during the time of the opening of the Sixth Seal a certain number of Jews will be marked as saved; that is, sealed.  In the New Testament, God seals us with, and gives us, the Holy Spirit (2 Cor.s 1:22; Eph.s 1:13, 4:30).  But whether or not the “virgins” refer to Jews alone, or the wedding feast takes place in heaven or on earth (or even if that has any relevance), people will indeed be saved during the tribulation and the mark of this is the seal of the Holy Spirit, just as it is prior to the tribulation.  The admonition to always be ready and waiting for the Lord’s return is true at all times prior to the actual wedding banquet, announced in Revelation 19, which happens after all the seals are opened, all the bowls of judgment are emptied, and all the trumpets sounded, but before the final battle and binding of Satan (this order is according to the literal reading of Revelation).

The message to walk away with is, don’t be foolish but wise and receive the Holy Spirit, and after that keep vigilant in waiting for the king’s return.  However, we can take comfort that Jesus “knew” the five virgins who did in fact drift off to sleep, but who had held on to God’s seal.

_____

Sources

Dunn, James, and Rogerson, John. Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub Co, 2003. Print.

Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008. Print.

Kaiser, Jr., Walter C., et al. Hard Sayings of the Bible. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Print.

MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub.s, 1995. Print.

Plummer, Robert L. 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2010. Print.

 

The Repentant Criminal on the Cross, Luke 23:39-43

Image from Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (1903; CC Flikr), modified by author.
Image from Chora Church, Istanbul, Turkey (1903; CC Flikr), modified by author.

Jesus Christ was crucified along with two other men, criminals, who, according to Matthew and Mark, insulted or mocked Him (Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32).  But Luke provides for us a different picture–that one of these criminals was redeemed–and today I was very pleasantly surprised by a new insight on this.  Luke 23:39-43 reads:

 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?”  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This has always been an inspiring passage, one of hope.  It also teaches, directly from the words of our Lord, that people go straight to heaven when they die (as does 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 and 1 Philippians 1:22-24, though some try to teach otherwise).  I basically hadn’t thought about it much otherwise, but then I realized today what a drastic measure of faith and spiritual knowledge the criminal showed by him when he asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

How did the criminal know about Jesus’ kingdom, and that He would be coming into it?  Obviously the criminal knew it was spiritual, not just physical, since they were all dying.  How did he know that?  Most of the disciples didn’t even understand all this, and for the most part, they weren’t even with the people at the crucifixion (Luke 23:49, but also see John 19:25-27).  The disciples displayed their lack of understanding after the crucifixion, so they wouldn’t have been good witnesses during the event in any case.

On the road to Emmaus they grumbled about Jesus not fulfilling what they thought He was supposed to do, until the post-Resurrection Jesus met up with them and “interpreted for them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27b).  The women, too, had to try and convince Peter and the others that the Lord was resurrected . . . not dead.

Yet the criminal (can I call him something . . . Bob?) came to an astonishing understanding of Jesus’ purpose during his last hours on earth, without having been a disciple.

Of course, it was the Holy Spirit’s doing, but did the Spirit just simply give this man the spiritual knowledge all of a sudden?  How much did Criminal Bob talk with Jesus on the cross before this?  My bible note suggests that Jesus talked with  Criminal Bob.  Certainly He could have, but they couldn’t have talked much, since when a person is crucified it’s very hard to breath.  In fact, that’s the idea of crucifixion–you are caused to have excruciating pain while you force your body in a position to allow breathing.  [I do have problems with the explanation of crucifixions that claim these extreme symptoms, at least when applied to Jesus and the two criminals, simply because they are said to have talked so much!  Perhaps they had a foot support or the nail didn’t go through the medial nerve . . . I don’t know.]

However Criminal Bob came to his understanding doesn’t actually matter.  What matters is that he was a blind criminal, then he came to see before it was too late.  There is hope for anyone.  Hope and grace are continually present and active!

“Against Calvinism,” a counterpoint book by Roger E. Olson

Against CalvinismI believe someone needs finally to stand up and in love firmly say “No!” to egregious statements about God’s sovereignty often made by Calvinists.  Taken to their logical conclusion, that even hell and all who will suffer there eternally are foreordained by God, God is thereby rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst.  I have gone so far as to say that this kind of Calvinism, which attributes everything to God’s will and control, makes it difficult (at least for me) to see the difference between God and the devil” (p 23).

I’m not one to go out of my way to either belittle or cause a fight between Christians, but the fact that I bought and read this book is a testament to the harsh treatment I’ve received from (at least some) Calvinists.  From my understanding of God and scripture, the “new Calvinist” belittling of other Christians and fighting with them publicly is not of Christ.  The author of Against Calvinism is like minded, but has had even worse unChrist-like jewels thrown at him than I have, presumably because he is a professor.  He had students, anonymously and not, tell him he wasn’t a Christian and that he was going to hell – simply for not believing their interpretation of scripture.  Whenever I come across this behavior – insulting people personally instead of addressing the parts of scripture they point to for consideration – it raises a big . . . red . . . flag.  (And, of course, it’s a very bad witness for Christ.)

I’ve encountered this with the proponents of post-tribulation rapture as well, and after looking into the scriptural arguments for pre- mid- and post-tribulation raptures, the post-tribs seem to have the least going for them in my view.  And so they make personal attacks, saying that those who don’t go along with them are just wimps who can’t stomach the idea of going through the tribulation.   Me: “rolls eyes and is reminded of cults.”  But “new Calvinists” do the same thing.  Instead of making an effort to understand where non-Calvinists are coming from, they make incredibly insulting claims towards them that are very far from the truth.   They even have the audacity to call everyone who doesn’t agree with them Arminians (and the name calling has had the impact of turning that theology into a bad label), even though it’s obvious that they don’t understand that theology, and the additional audacity to make it seem that if you are Reformed, you are Calvinist.   This whole scenario should make anyone wonder how (or how well) they assimilate their own theology.

I have no interest in man-centered theology; I am intensely interested in worshiping a God who is truly good and above reproach for the Holocaust  and all other evils too numerous to mention.  Too many Calvinist authors misrepresent non-Calvinist theologies as if they are all man-centered, humanistic, less-than-God-honoring, and even unbiblical without ever acknowledging the problems of their own theology.  Too many young, impressionable followers have not yet figured out what those problems are.  I write this to help them (p 24).

I will argue throughout this book that high Calvinism is not the only or the best way of interpreting Scripture.  It is one possible interpretation of isolated texts, but in light of the whole witness of Scripture it is not viable.  Furthermore, I will argue that high Calvinism stands in tension with the ancient faith of the Christian church and much of the heritage of evangelical faith.  Some of its crucial tenets cannot be found before the church father Augustine in the fifth century, and others cannot be found before a heretic named Gottschalk (d. circa 867) or from him until Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza (p 24).

As a note, it’s good to keep in mind that both Calvinism and Arminianism are theologies that do not fully reflect their namesakes – they both were altered some after Calvin and Arminius died.  Olson doesn’t cover all the aspects of this in his book, as they are not all necessary, but he does show clear evidence that Calvin did not write about, believe in, or adhere to “limited atonement.”  This is the “L” in “TULIP,” the acrostic for the five points of modern high Calvinism:  Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance.  “Four point” Calvinists do not adhere to limited atonement, but as limited atonement logically follows from the other four points and would be needed for the whole theological scheme to work, four point Calvinists are criticized both by high Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike for being inconsistent.

As I’ve seen in other written works, Olson points out that many persons who call themselves Calvinists are not actually Calvinists; in particular, many Baptists churches maintain traditional orthodox doctrine that is not Calvinist, yet they still seem to want to call themselves that.  There aren’t even any Baptist churches represented in the international organization, World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).  It’s good, then, to see that another book I have here, which I’ll write about later (God willing), is written by a Baptist (C. Gordon Olson):  Getting the Gospel Right: A Balanced View of Salvation Truth (the cover shows a balanced scale with Arminianism on one side and Calvinism on the other).  A small book published by the Calvary Church group also presents a middle-ground approach, which that semi-denomination adheres to:  The Five Points of Calvinism: “Weighed and Found Wanting” (George L. Bryson).  Many of the books that Roger Olson uses and recommends are listed at the end of this post.  Three links for further reading now are also provided.

In the title of this post I wrote that Against Calvinism is a counterpoint book.  I used that term because Zondervan published For Calvinism first, and this book is the good or evil twin of that one – but Zondervan doesn’t appear to have a name for these related books (like a counterpoint series or something along those lines).  Olson calls his book little, but it’s not, really.  It has fairly small print and lots of details, though it is smaller compared with the other Olson book mentioned above (Getting the Gospel Right appears to cover more verses, passages, and various interpretations more specifically).

The point is, it has a lot in it, and it’s been hard to decide what to include in this post.   First, I’ll do the obvious thing and briefly outline the main points of high Calvinism, together with counterpoints.   Second, I’ll provide statements and/or questions that typical “new Calvinists” make, with Olson’s responses (some truncated).   And lastly, I’ll include Olson’s mini instructive scenarios that illustrate the different views of salvation grace as they are found in Semi-Pelagianism (it’s a person’s choice), Monergism (Calvinism – it’s all God’s choice), and Evangelical Synergism (Protestant Arminianism – it’s both a person’s choice and God’s choice).  Of course, for the detailed information with all the technical terms, read Olson’s book.

Main Points of High Calvinism with Counterpoints, Briefly Stated

T = Total Depravity.  This refers to humans’ total spiritual depravity, or their spiritual deadness.  Since we are spiritually dead, God needs to intervene in order for us to be regenerated.  Non-Calvinists don’t have much argument with this in general – it is the method and timing of regeneration that is at issue (see the other letters in the TULIP).

U = Unconditional Election.  This refers to being elected by God to salvation, and the believer being predestined.  All Christians believe in election, but not all believe that God chooses people and passes over other people only because God decided specifically.  Calvinists believe people have nothing at all to do with it – they don’t respond to the Gospel themselves – and that it is only God’s choice.  This logically leads to the doctrine of double predestination: there are people chosen by God to go to heaven and the others are chosen to go to hell.  This abrogates human responsibility and so is deemed immoral by non-Calvinists.

L = Limited Atonement (or particular redemption).  Non-Calvinists and some Calvinists (four-pointers) reject the idea of limited atonement outright as being unbiblical.  It denies the plain and supported meanings of  verses like 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10, and others, that convey that Christ’s blood was and is enough for all (if the whole world accepted Christ’s work and God’s gift, Christ’s sacrifice would be enough to cover everyone).  Calvinists of course use other verses to support their theology, and try to explain away verses that say that Christ died for all.  They claim that God intended Christ’s blood for the elect only; as such, they cannot preach to an open crowd that “Christ died for your sins.”  Olson goes into detail about this (in chapter six).  As Olson wrote, “To paraphrase John Wesley, this seems to be such a love and compassion as makes the blood run cold” (p 49).

I = Irresistible Grace (or effectual or efficacious grace, or Monergism).  This seems to be the most flagrantly or glaringly contradictory claim of the lot.  While Calvinists say that God draws the elect – only – and they cannot resist it (it’s irresistible), they also claim (somehow) that it’s not forced on those chosen.  Huh?  Well yes, in Calvinism it is forced on them.  God changes their hearts without their permission; it’s only after God does this that they respond to him, in fact.   Since people are dead spiritually and can’t respond in any case, in Calvinism, it is all God’s doing.  In non-Calvinistic theologies, God has provided a type of grace that draws all people first – some accept this draw and some reject it.  “The ordinary message of the gospel for most evangelical Christians is ‘believe and be saved,’ based on Scripture passages such as John 3:1-21, in which Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again and that belief in him will accomplish that (v. 14).  There is really no way to reconcile this passage with belief that regeneration precedes faith” (p 52).

P = Perseverance.  This doctrine is the least controversial and is not really discussed much by Olson.  He points out that Lutherans and Free Will Baptists reject it, but that Arminius hadn’t made up his mind about it.

Excerpts from “Responses to Calvinist Claims” (pp 188 – 192)

“1.  Any other view of God’s sovereignty than Calvinism diminishes the glory of God; only ‘the doctrines of grace’ fully honor and uphold God’s glory.  It all depends on what “God’s glory” means.  If it means power, then perhaps this is correct.  But power isn’t glorious except when guided by goodness and love.  Hitler was powerful but obviously not glorious.  Jesus Christ revealed God as ‘our Father’ and therefore as good and loving.  In fact, high Calvinism (TULIP), wrongly labeled ‘the doctrines of grace’ by Calvinists, diminishes God’s glory by depicting him as malicious and arbitrary.  Furthermore, if Calvinism is correct, nothing can ‘diminish the glory of God’ [including real or perceived views of him] because God foreordained everything for his glory.”

“2.  Non-Calvinist theologies of salvation, such as Arminianism, make salvation dependent on good works because the sinner’s decision to accept Christ is made the decisive factor in his or her salvation.  It seems more the case that Calvinism makes salvation dependent on good works or something good about person elected to salvation, or else how does God choose them out of the mass of people destined for hell?  It’s either something God sees in them, or else God’s choice of them is arbitrary and capricious.  Furthermore, Arminian theology does not make salvation dependent on good works; all the ‘work’ of salvation is God’s.  The sinner is enabled to repent and believe by God’s prevenient grace and the bare decision to accept God’s salvation is not a good work; it is simply accepting the gift of grace. . . . ”

“5. Only Calvinism can account for God’s sovereignty over nature and history; unless God foreordains and controls every event, down to the smallest puff of existence and down to every thought and intention of the mind and heart, God cannot be sovereign.  This is not what ‘sovereignty’ means in any human context.  A human sovereign is in charge but not in control of what goes on in his or her realm.  God can steer the course of nature and history toward his intended goal and assure that they reach it without controlling everything.  God is like the master chess player who knows how to respond to every move his opponent makes.  There is no danger of God’s ultimate will not being done.  In fact, Calvinism cannot explain the Lord’s Prayer that teaches us to pray, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,’ which implies that God’s will is not already being done on earth.  According to Calvinism, it is!”

“7. Reformed theology, Calvinism, is the only solid foundation for conservative, biblical Christian theology.  All other approaches, such as Arminianism, a man-centered theology, inevitably lead to liberal theology.  Arminianism is not a ‘man-centered theology’ but a God-centered theology.  It is driven entirely and exclusively by a vision of God’s unconditional goodness and love.  The one main reason Arminians and other non-Calvinists believe in free will is to preserve and protect Cod’s goodness so as not to make him the author of sin and evil.  Calvinism makes it difficult to recognize the difference between God and the devil except that the devil wants everyone go to hell and God wants many to go to hell.  Arminian theology does not lead into liberal theology.  If anything, Calvinism does that.  Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern liberal theology, was a Calvinist!  He never even considered Arminianism; he moved right from conservative, high Calvinism to universalism while holding onto God’s meticulous providence even over evil.  Most of the nineteenth-century liberal theologians were former Calvinists who came to abhor its vision of God and developed liberal theology without any help from classical Arminianism. . . . ”

8. God has a right to do whatever he wants to with his creatures and especially with sinners who all deserve damnation.  His goodness is shown in his merciful rescue of some sinners; he owes nothing to anyone.  Those he passes over deserve hell.  While it may be true that everyone deserves hell, although even many Calvinists hesitate to say that about children, God is a God of love who genuinely desires all people to be saved, as the New Testament clearly testifies in 1 Timothy 2:4 ‘who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’  There is no way to get around the fact that ‘all people’ means every single person without exception.  The issue is not fairness but love.  A God who could save everyone because he always saves unconditionally but chooses only some would  not be a good or loving God.  He would certainly not be the God of 1 Timothy 2:4 and similar passages.’

“11. Non-Calvinist theologies such as Arminianism believe in something that is impossible: libertarian free will–belief that free decisions and actions simply come from nowhere.  Calvinism and some other theologies, as well as many philosophers, know that ‘free will’ simply means doing what you want to do and people are always controlled by their strongest motives, so being able to do otherwise–libertarian free will-is an illusion.” [Apparently, these people never make tough decisions based on multiple choices, like over which house or car or whatever to buy, where to go to college, which job to take, etc. etc.]   “If ‘free will’ only means doing what you want to do even though you couldn’t do otherwise, how is anyone responsible for what they do?  If a murderer, for example, could not have done otherwise than murder, then a judge or jury should find him not guilty–perhaps by reason of insanity.  Moral responsibility, accountability, and guilt depend on ability to do otherwise–libertarian freedom.  The Calvinist view of ‘free will’ isn’t really free will at all. . . .”

Mini Scenarios that Illustrate Different Views of Saving Grace (pp 172 -173)

First, imagine a deep pit with steep, slippery sides.  Several people are lying broken and wounded, utterly helpless [reflecting our fallen and depraved nature], at the bottom of the pit.

  • Semi-Pelagianism says that God comes along and throws a rope down to the bottom of the pit and waits for a person to start pulling on it.  Once he does, God responds by yelling, “Grab it tight and wrap it around yourself.  Together we’ll get you out.”  The problem is, the person is too hurt to do that, the rope is too weak, and God is too good to wait for the person to initiate the process.
  • Monergism says God comes along, throws a rope down into the pit, and climbs down it, wrapping it around some of the people and then goes back out of the pit and pulls them to safety without any cooperation.  The problem is that the God of Jesus Christ is too good and loving to rescue only some of the helpless people.
  • Evangelical synergism says that God comes along and throws a rope down and yells, “Grab onto it and pull and together we’ll get you out!”  Nobody moves.  They are too wounded.  In fact, for all practical purposes they are “dead” because they are utterly helpless.  So God pours water into the pit and yells, “Relax and let the water lift you out!”  In other words, “Float!”  All a person in the pit has to do to be rescued is let the water lift him or her out of the pit.  It takes a decision, but not an effort.  The water, of course, is prevenient grace.

*       *       *

Thanks for reading, and let me leave you with some verses worth considering.

“My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13).

““My [Jesus’] prayer is not for them alone [those living at that time]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, emphasis added).

With how divisive and divided Christ’s church is today, how can those looking in from the outside see that God sent Christ?  Can our lack of unity, and sometimes vicious acts toward one another, actually imply that God cannot accomplish what Jesus prayed for (so they are basically false)?  I don’t know the answer for sure, since it’s all too obvious that Christians have chosen men to be leaders in the faith over Christ as the head; I don’t know how that can change in actual application.  And, considering what Paul had said (in the quote above), it seems it may be true that the great apostasy already had started in the early church.  Pray for more unity as well as guidance from the Holy Spirit for all.

*       *       *

For further reading on this subject right now, go to Molinism vs Calvinism, at Reasonable Faith (if you read this to the end then know, too, that some Calvinists have altered Molinism to fit into Calvinism more, and Olson has a small section on this in his book),  Confessions of an Arminian Evangelical, and Calvin’s Comeback? The Irresistible Reformer (in The Christian Century – you need to register to read it).

*       *       *

Recommended readings from “Against Calvinism” (in alphabetical order by title, excluding The and A):

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Roger Olson, InterVarsity Press 2006).

The Doors of the Sea: Where was God in the Tsunami? (David Bentley Hart, Eerdmans 2005).

The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit (James Daane, Eerdmans 1973).

God’s Universal Salvific Grace (Vernon C Grounds, Bethany 1975).

The Great Debate: Calvinism, Arminianism, and Salvation (Alan PF Sell, Baker 1982).

Is God to Blame? (Gregory A Boyd, InterVarsity Press 2003).

A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God (E Frank Tupper, Mercer Univ. Press 1995).

The Transforming Power of Grace (Thomas Oden, Abingdon Press 1993).

What the Bible says about God the Ruler (Jack Cottrell, Eerdmans 1991).

Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism (DL Allen and SW Lemke, editors, Broadman & Holman 2010).

Why I Am Not a Calvinist (J Walls and J Dongell, InterVarsity Press 2004).

Funniest or Weirdest Searches to My Blog in 2012

The dark side of Hello Kitty?  (Author photo)
The dark side of Hello Kitty? (Author photo)

I don’t know about you, but one of my little enjoyable pastimes is to read the searches that have led people to my blog.  Most are pretty straightforward and it’s obvious why the person decided to check one of my posts out.  Others are just unexpected and funny, and still others seem too general or off-the-subject; of the latter, I’m glad the person visited.  I wish very much that these people (anyone who visits here, really) would leave comments or questions – that would be fun!

“the samarathon woman”  She probably was in good enough shape to run a marathon after constantly lugging around jugs full of water in the middle of hot desert days.

“stormcloak officer armor revealing”  Really?!

“adam lanza christian fanatic”  Why not “adam lanza muslim fanatic”?  Just wondering . . .

“christian poem on the tongue”  (No comment . . . ha ha, perhaps they’re referring to James chapter 3, which has some very harsh words regarding the use of our tongue in conveying lies, evil and hurt.)

“butter my heart three person’d god”  This has made me laugh out loud more than once.  Of course, it’s supposed to be “batter” my heart, not butter my heart . . . makes me feel like a turkey being prepared for God’s oven.

“hellokitty skyrim”  I wonder what they’re looking for?  Knowing Sanrio, they’re working to contract something with Bethesda, surely.

“skyrim 1800s”  ?!??!  Seriously?

“evil bible king’s famous instrument for telling time”  If anyone can explain this one to me, I’d be grateful.

“can christians play skyrim” (“skyrim seems like a bad game for christians”)  CAN they?  Do they need permission from some pastor?  You know what’s bad for Christians?  Living in this world with so much evil in it!  I’m not questioning God’s motive for having us live in this world, I’m only making a point.  Skyrim is a game, and by today’s standards, a quite clean one that actually enjoys playing around with religious ideas and culture, and the complexities of people and politics.

“how women should play skyrim”  =D  Well, they could ask . . .

“god is evil quotes”  Just weird and sad; glad they stopped by, though.  But then again, maybe they were simply doing some research.

“what do christians think of hello kitty story”  Is there a story?  If I knew the story, I could form an opinion.  As far as I know, Hello Kitty is simply a very successful product venture.  There are some unsavory HK products out there, but if some people want to abuse the cute feline, that’s their business.

“short intellectual quotes”  Out of all the pages the searcher must have gotten from this search, I’m surprised they found my page url . . . and actually stopped by.

“religious poems for dads that died”  I know it’s perhaps morbid to call out this one, but it still made me laugh a bit.  How can you give a poem to a dead person?  Did they want poems about dads that died, or a poem for the children whose dads died?  My dad died when I was young and it was completely devastating; I never thought of writing any type of poem about it.

“unthink christmas card”  Not sure about this one . . . but please, don’t unthink Christmas, unless it’s the commercial aspect of today’s holiday.

There’s a search that, even though it’s from more than a year ago, I still remember and consider the oddest one to lead someone to my blog (my old blog, which DID have a recipe for a great sandwich on it), so I just wanted to share it, though it’s adult material (sort of!):  “Is there a good sandwich that can make up for bad sex?”  Well, a pile of McDonald’s fish filets (with some fries on the side) just might do it for me.

Thoughts on Singing and Evolution

Cover from the “Voice of the Blood” cd, Hildegard of Bingen (from Amazon.com).

In church last weekend the thought came to me that the beauty of human singing is an example of a God given gift or virtue.  How can singing, beautiful singing, be considered a trait that evolved?  Our voices are so varied to begin with that it’s hard to think that somehow that variety evolved, but then there is also singing.  Can you imagine a chimp or ape singing?  The thought is laughable.

The theory of evolution is based on the survival of the fittest.  Surely that works at a basic level in any environment with any species.  But there are many problems with the time frame for species to actually diverge and develop (despite what basic level text books say . . . they make it sound like all is fact when it is not); and it can easily be shown that there has not been enough time for humans to have developed to their present state from their nearest assumed ancestor (for more on this, see “Science and Human Origins” Informational Review).

So besides all the other differences between us and the very small and very ape-like ancestor of ours, singing had to develop somehow, right?  As already mentioned, environment plays a factor in who lives and who does not.  But a biggy that evolutionists use is sexual selection.  I’m not writing a scientific discourse here, but am going by my past studies (I have a degree in anthropology with an emphasis on human evolution and archaeology).

Here’s an example.  Why are human female breasts so big (usually, and compared to other primates)?  Well, you can imagine the answer:  males had more sex with females with bigger breasts, producing more big-breasted females.  And you might reflect on how that answer just doesn’t seem valid based on human sexuality, that while many men find large breasts attractive, most men wouldn’t care about that when it came to the chance for sex.  And if you imagine it from a purely scientific, non-Christian viewpoint, “evolving” men probably cared even less and raped more.  At any rate, scientists may try to argue that human singing is a result of not survival of the fittest in the environment, but survival of the most reproduced based on attraction, just like the breast example.

Do you think that could be so, really?   A good singer (or any other charismatic person, for that matter), may have more sex partners – which in the past would result in more offspring.  But, considering how beautiful good singing is, wouldn’t we all be great singers by now?  Or, wouldn’t some populations have a very high per cent of great singers by now, and some have mostly lousy singers?  And, of course, this type of argument can’t account for the amazing nuances/differences of the human voice itself.

No, we were created with these traits.  Singing is often, if not always, associated with the spiritual.  I don’t mean that singing is always spiritual, but that is has always been used in spiritual contexts as far as I’m aware.  Singing is emotional, it’s often spiritual, it can induce or promote thoughts of love.   We as humans think musically and mathematically, with thoughts of the music of the spheres and the singing of angels.  This all coming from the survival of the fittest?  I don’t think so.  When we see human aggression and greed, the survival of the fittest makes sense, but when it comes to beauty like human singing, it does not.

[Edited on December 23, 2014]

Parousia, Shamoosia, Who Needs Christ’s Second Coming?

The Second Coming of Christ window at St. Matt...

Honestly, I never thought it would be so difficult to find a good summary of the various theological views on Christ’s second coming, or what is more technically called parousia.  By this I mean a summary of the liberal view, and who promoted it and why, that proclaimed that Christ’s second coming was a misinterpretation of scripture – that despite the incredible amount and quality of verses to affirm that Christ and Paul and everyone else actually meant what they said – but that really Christ’s parousia is only His presence with us (so they tried to claim).  So, that means, basically, I guess, that there’s no rapture (no glorified bodies, ever . . . .?), no hope that Christ will actually reign amongst humans, that we can build up His kingdom now and that’s about it, etc.

When I look around, when I experience my daily life with other people, when I read history, I suuuurrrre don’t see that Christ’s kingdom is blooming, growing, and all that.  It seems to me that the opposite is true, that the great apostasy is upon us.  “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) (kind-of sounds like the liberal theology teachers themselves).  Not to say that Christ isn’t among us doing His work, and we with Him.  The Lord is indeed showing His love and Himself to many in many ways.

So what is my point?  Well, I am doing some research for an extensive blog article that involves (it is not at all the main topic) this liberal, anti-parousia, “we can usher Christ’s kingdom in ourselves since that’s all the New Testament says anyway,” idea, and it’s just sad and difficult dealing with it.  But the main thing is that I wanted to pass on some reading materials to show what is actually in the New Testament, and that our hope is not in man and what he obviously can’t do– that our hope is not misplaced in an elaborate myth (what some “Christian theologians” insist the New Testament is).  The number one source is the Bible itself.  Read the entire New Testament a few times and tell me if you really think it’s basically “made up.”   Here is a good short but information packed essay on Christ’s second coming:  Second Coming of Christ.  This is a short, easy read on it:  What is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?   And, I don’t necessarily agree with all that is in this article – maybe I just don’t know the right Christians – but it’s contents are worth considering:  The Theology of the End and the End of Theology.

Christ is the suffering servant and the King, as outlined in the Old Testament.  He was the suffering servant during His time on earth, and when He returns it will be in His role as King.  Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).  “Men of Galilee . . . why do you stand here looking into the sky?  This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Act 1:10-11; see also Matthew 24:29-30).  “And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28; see also John 3:3).

Is it Rational to be a Christian? (1 of 2)

Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San...
Good Shepherd fresco from the Catacombs of San Callisto under the care of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below is half of a relatively long (but actually concise) treatment of evidences or evidential steps for the view that the Christian faith is rational, and even desirable, to hold.  Thanks for reading, and may the God of all creation bless you.

______________

For the person who wants to know that there is reason to believe a holy book–that there is evidence to back it up–different areas of apologetics have those answers.  In fact, there is more evidence for the truthfulness of the Bible today than ever before, excepting when the events actually occurred.  This essay assumes that the person searching for a legitimate holy book already believes that there is a deity of some sort; it does not cover arguments for the existence of God.  What this essay does cover, in concise form, are the issues of reliability of the Old and New Testaments, fulfilled prophecies, miracles, and Christ’s resurrection.

Old Testament Reliability

How was the Old Testament written and copied? What we Christians refer to as the Old Testament is the same as the Jewish Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures, called the Tanakh. The content of the Tanakh and the Septuagint is the same, but the two are formatted differently. The Old Testament follows the same formatting as the Septuagint. The Septuagint was translated from about 250 BC to 150 or 100 BC and was used by the scattered Jews of the diaspora.

The Tanakh itself was written from about 1400-400 BC. Moses and other prophets were believed to possess the word of God because of the signs (miracles) they did, coupled with their openness (“transparency”). Moses was obviously literate, and because of his high upbringing, may have been literate in three languages. He no doubt, along with the people in general, knew the stories of other cultures and had copies of various source documents. Moses’ telling and retelling of events was considered God inspired.

At the time of Christ, the books of the Tanakh were established and accepted as canon. Those who copied the Tanakh beginning AD 70 (after the destruction of the temple) were called Talmudists. They had very specific rules for transmitting the Tanakh. Because damaged copies of the Tanakh were purposefully destroyed, very old copies do not exist. The Massoretes (or Masoretes) were the copyists for the Tanakh from AD 500 – 900. They, too, had very specific rules for copying, and any imperfect copies were destroyed. They are noted for adding marks to the text that represent vowels, as Hebrew did not have vowels and concern was growing over the continued pronunciation of the language. Whoever the copyists were through time, they all took God’s command in Deuteronomy 12:32 very seriously: “See that you do all I command you; do not add to it or take away from it.”

There have been archaeological finds in recent centuries to confirm the historicity of the Old Testament, and the Dead Sea scrolls additionally confirm accurate copy transmission.   With the 200+ scrolls that date from approximately 250 BC to AD 125, we have the oldest copies of scripture, and these tell us that the accuracy of transmission is nearly 100%. A Qumran copy of Isaiah 53 has only three truly variant letters from the more recent Massoretic text, and these three letters do not change the text meaning in any real way.

There are many archaeological finds that corroborate the OT, with these representing only a sample:

  • The Moabite Stone. Mentions “Yahweh” and events in 2 Kings 3.
  • The Taylor Prism. From Nineveh, it describes the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib an corresponds to 2 Kings 18-19, 2 Chronicles 37, and Isaiah 36-37.
  • The Cyrus Cylinder. After Cyrus began ruling Babylon (539 BC), he ordered that Babylonian captives could return home. This is told of in Ezra 1:1-3 and 6:3 (see also 2 Chronicles 36:23 and Isaiah 44:28).
  • The Tel Dan Stele. This is an Aramaic inscription found in Israel. It is about Hazael’s victory over Ramoth Gilead, as in 2 Kings 8:28-29, and conveys that David’s dynasty ruled in Jerusalem.
  • The Gilgamesh Epic. Found in the great library of Nineveh, it in part describes a flood not unlike that in Genesis 7-8.

New Testament Reliability

There has been a plethora of interest in “lost gospels,” which leads some to doubt the manner in which the New Testament (NT) was put together.  Then there are those who also question the accurate transmission of the words in the NT, saying that parts were added or taken away at later times.  All these issues are really non-issues, promulgated by detractors of the faith and sometimes believed by neutral parties who simply don’t take the time to look into these matters further.  Concerning when the books of the NT were written and how they became canon, providing a chronological order seems like it would be clearest, and that is provided below.  As for the accuracy of textual transmission, however, here is a good summary:

“A simple comparison of the text of the Bible with the text of other religious, historical, and philosophical documents from the ancient past proves the vast superiority of the biblical record.  Less than one tenth of one percent of the biblical text is in question, whereas no such accuracy of transmission exists for the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, or the Iliad.  Some ancient records such as Caesar’s Gallic Wars of Tactitus’ Annals, exist in less than ten copies, and these copies date from 1,000 years after their originals.  By contrast, over 5,000 copies of the New Testament exist, the vast majority of them dating less than 200 years after the original text and some fragments less than 50 years after the original text.  No book from ancient history has been transmitted over the centuries with greater clarity and accuracy than the Bible” (Geisler and Hindson p 100).

So when was the New Testament written?  The books that were considered canon and that make up the New Testament were written not all that long after Christ’s death and resurrection, by those who were Christ’s disciples/apostles or associates of the apostles.   In other words, by close eye witnesses of Jesus, or persons who learned directly from those eye witnesses.  Jesus lived from about 4 BC to AD 33.  The book considered earliest in the NT is James, written around AD 45-48, and the most recent book is Revelation, written by AD 100.  In light of the prior quote regarding biblical transmission, it is known that the copies that now exist reflect the originals very reliably.  That is, what is used for our bible translations today can very confidently be considered “original.”

But how do we know that the books of the NT are the ones that the early church read and thought reliable (had divine inspiration), and that important books weren’t left out?  The books of the NT had been circulated and read amongst the widespread churches (in Europe and the greater Middle East of today), and certainly not in the region of Rome only!  Books considered scripture had apostolic authority, which was important very early on because of the rapid development of false teachings.  So, we know that the books were all written by AD 100, and that they were widely circulated (and copied); there are codices of the gospels and of the letters of Paul from the early 2nd century.

Partly as a result of some influential persons (such as Marcion) trying to redefine and delete parts of scripture, “lists of canon” began to be written down.   The first generally accepted one dates to the late 2nd century and is known as the Muratorian Canon; it had excluded Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, and 3 John.  The early church father Tertullian (c. 150 – c. 229) had quoted 23 of the 27 books that became the NT.  Those excluded or disputed on some lists were done so for various reasons, but not because some churches thought they were inauthentic; often it was because a heretical group happened to like the book, so then some questioned it.  The Eastern and Western churches differed early on and this is reflected in the books supported or unsupported at different times (examples are Hebrews and Revelation).  Later, most believers accepted James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude, yet some did not want to accept these.  However, the Eastern church accepted an official list in 367 which includes all the books of the present NT.  In 393 and 397, councils of the western church also accepted the NT canon as it is today.

What of some books that weren’t included in canon?  From the church father Eusebius, who had investigated possible canonical books, we know of some old “spurious” books.  The Didache had instruction in it and was used by the early church, but it faded from use and its authorship was in severe doubt.  The Acts of Paul had been written by an overzealous admirer, not Paul.  The Epistle of Barnabas was read and admired, but it was not written by Paul’s partner Barnabas.  The Shepherd of Hermas was widely read and may be all true, but it was written in the early 2nd century by someone other than an apostle or an apostle’s associate.  The Apocalypse of Peter was written in the first half of the 2nd century, so Peter the Apostle was not the author.  Other books that some critics like to bring up, like the Gospel of Thomas, were written far later and were never considered apostolic whatsoever; they are simply made up, forgeries, etc.

Now, are there historical or archaeological evidences that corroborate the NT?  While not everything can be corroborated, there are outside sources that confirm aspects of NT writings.  These help to show that the texts are indeed historical and not made up later.  Written sources for Jesus and Christians are (1) the Roman historian Tacitus (55-117) in his Annals (15.44); (2) Pliny the Younger, a Roman Governor, in a letter to the Emperor in about 112; (3) Josephus, a 1st century Jewish historian (some of his writing or copies of it are questioned, but others are not; there is definite reference to Jesus in Josephus’ writings); (4) Jewish Rabbinical writings called the Babylonian Talmud; and (5), the 2nd century Greek satirist Lucian.

Archaeological finds also corroborate the NT, and they continue to grow in number.  Here is a small sample:

  • The ossuary of Caiaphas (Luke 3:2 and others), discovered in 1990.
  • The Pilate Stone, discovered in 1961, has Pontius Pilate’s name on it and where he governed.
  • The Gallio (or Delphi) inscription (dated to about 52) speaks of Gallio, the same being mentioned in Acts 18:12; discovered in 1905.
  • Sergius Paulus inscriptions (there is more than one inscription bearing that name) confirm the proconsul of Cypress, as is mentioned in Acts 13:7.
  • The Pool of Siloam, excavated in 2004. As recorded in John 9:1-11, Jesus did a miracle there.

Fulfilled Prophecies

When considering the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled by Christ, it is exciting to simply read over an annotated list of them. There are different lists, however, with the highest number of fulfilled prophecies going up to 400. The listed number of “major” fulfilled prophecies varies as well, ranging from about 61 to 121.   In MacDonald’s list of chronologically ordered fulfilled prophecies, he presents 44 (he does not say that these are the only ones he considers “major,” however) (MacDonald 1995). Here is one list just for your quick online reference: Prophecies that Jesus Christ Fulfilled.

One of my favorite lists is by D. James Kennedy – not because of the list itself, but because of the story around it. He had spoken to a highly educated man, a writer, who thought that the bible was simply written by man; he had no knowledge of the evidences for the validity of the scriptures. So Kennedy asked the man to tell him who it was he had read about, after reciting many verses to him.  The man said that the verses clearly referred to Jesus Christ. But the man was completely surprised when Kennedy told him that all the verses he read were from the OT, the last book of which was written 400 years before Christ. He went on to tell him, “No critic, no atheist, no agnostic has ever once claimed that any one of those writings was written after His birth. In fact, they were translated from Hebrew into Greek in Alexandria some 150 years before He was born.”

So it is that verses such as (1) Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem, Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,” (2) Isaiah 53:3, “He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him. He was despised, and we did not esteem Him,” (3) Psalm 22:16, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” (4) Psalm 22:18, “They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing,” and (5) Psalm 34:20, “He protects all his bones; not one of them is broken,” refer to Jesus though written centuries before His birth.

One of the most fascinating prophecies of the Messiah is found in Daniel 9:24-27, and it concerns the timing of His coming. It is not in some of the basic lists, no doubt because it is not easily deciphered or shown in a few words. To put it very briefly, this prophecy provides a window of time as to when the Messiah would be around. When the Hebraic terms are taken into account, and then taking into account which possible scripture(s) is meant by the rebuilding of Jerusalem, and then also taking into account the different calendars (ancient calendars kept 360-day years), a time frame emerges that encompasses the time that Jesus lived (and was crucified) (Powell 2006).

There is so much more that can be known concerning the fulfilled prophecies of Christ that cannot be easily shown in a list, such as Christ in the meanings and symbols of things, like the lamb and shepherd, and symbols and events related to the feast days of Israel. Unique among religious faiths is the fulfillment of prophecies found in the Old and New Testaments.  “You will find no predictive prophecies whatsoever in the writings of Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Lao-Tse, or Hinduism. Yet in the Scripture there are well over two thousand prophecies, most of which have already been fulfilled” (Kennedy xxix).

Please also see Is it Rational to be a Christian? (2 of 2)

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is a modified and edited version of a series of articles published by the author at Examiner.com, 2011)

________________

Bibliography and Recommended Reading (for both article parts)

Anonymous. “Why should I believe in Christ’s Resurrection?” GotQuestions.org. http://www.gotquestions.org/why-believe-resurrection.html (accessed March 2012).

Arlandson, James. “Do Miracles Happen Today?” American Thinker. January 13, 2007. http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/01/do_miracles_happen_today.html (accessed March 2012).

Chong, Timothy. “Bible, Canonicity.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hinson, 101-102. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011.

Dowley, Tim, Editor. Eerdman’s Handbook to The History of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977.

Garrett, Duane A, General Editor. NIV Archaeological Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Geisler, Norman, and Ed Hindson. “Bible, Alleged Errors.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, by Ergun Caner Ed Hindson, 97-100. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

Gleghorn, Michael. “Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources.” bethinking.org. 2001. http://www.bethinking.org/bible-jesus/intermediate/ancient-evidence-for-jesus-from-non-christian.htm (accessed March 2012).

Hart, David Bentley. Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009.

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Dutton, 2008.

Kennedy, D. James. “Christ: The Fulfillment of Prophecy.” In The Apologetics Study Bible, by Ted, General Editor Cabal, xxviii-xxix. Nashville: Holman, 2007.

MacDonald, William. “Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.” In Believer’s Bible Commentary, by William MacDonald, xviii-xxiii. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995 (1989).

Nappa, Mike. True Stories of Answered Prayer. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1999.

Powell, Doug. Holman QuickSource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Nashville: Holman Reference, 2006.

Ricci, Carla. Mary Magdalene and Many Others: Women Who Followed Jesus . Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1994.

Sailhamer, John H. Biblical Prophecy. Grand Rapids: ZondervanPublishingHouse, 1998.

Yates, Gary E. “Bible, Transmission of.” In The Popular Encycolopedia of Apologetics, by Ed, and Ergun Caner Hindson, 107-110. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers, 2008.

C.S. Lewis’s Conversions: Atheist to Theist, Theist to Christian

Rare early picture of CS Lewis, on the cover of “All My Road Before Me” — from his early and agnostic or atheistic days.A Christian Conversion Experience:  C.S. Lewis

Contemporary apologetics so often focus on the issues of biblical reliability and understanding in relation to science, and on the question of evil, as these are the currently contested concerns.  One apologetic that points towards the existence of God, however, is one that is generally not “scientific” enough, and that is a changed life.  Not a temporary change, which can indicate a simple excitement of a person’s will, but a permanent change evidenced by the long term.   So let’s look at the conversion experience of a well-known person, C.S. (Jack) Lewis.  Lewis was an Oxford and Cambridge Professor (English and Philosophy) and the well-known author of both fictional works like The Chronicles of Narnia and of highly valued scholarly works.

To anyone who comes in contact with atheistic thought, what Lewis wrote to his best friend in 1916 (below) will seem quite familiar.  What made him come to that conclusion, and what made him change his mind?

“I believe in no religion.  There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best.  All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention” (Hooper p. 9).

Lewis, or Jack, was brilliant from early age, having been tutored at home until he was nine, when his mother died.  As if this great sorrow was not enough, Lewis’ dad sent him away to school, from their home in Ireland to England.  Lewis’ older brother, Warnie, attended the very small school with him, but Jack hated it, and with good reason.  The headmaster, a Reverend, was abusive and eventually deemed insane.  At his next school, Lewis experienced an occultist head matron.

One can see the progression of Lewis’ road to apostasy from his parents’ Anglican faith:  God did not heal his mother, one school leader was a cruel and crazy believer, and the other was a non-believing occultist.  By the time Lewis attended his third school, he was an atheist.  Hating this school as well, Lewis’ father sent him to learn under a distinguished tutor, who happened to be an atheist also.  Lewis was superb at languages and translating.  As his tutor wrote, Jack had “a sort of genius for translating . . . .  He is the most brilliant translator of Greek plays I have ever met” (Gromley p. 36).

He went on to learn and teach at Oxford, with WWI service (and related injury and recovery) sandwiched in.  After the war he lived with his adopted family, a much older atheist woman and her daughter.

So what would cause Lewis to stray from his atheism?  A couple of strongly held ideas played their parts.  One was the concept and experience of what Lewis termed “joy” – a pang of intense bliss and longing, followed by a strong desire to experience it again.  The other was his concern, from an early age, that if Christianity were true it could be shown that paganism prefigured it, or that Christianity fulfilled paganism.  Indeed, Lewis felt his pangs of “joy” when reading the northern pagan mythologies that he loved so much.

Jack Lewis wanted to be his own man; he did not want to acknowledge a power or diety that demanded loyalty.  Through the years, however, seeking truth and being drawn to authors and friends who helped him with answers to his search for “joy” as well as his concern over God’s communication with the pagan world, Lewis’ heart and mind opened enough to hear God give him a choice.

“. . . a fact about myself was somehow presented to me.  I became aware that I was holding something at bay, of shutting something out. . . .  I felt myself being, there and then, given a free choice. . . .  I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. . . .  The choice appeared to be momentous but it was also strangely unemotional.  I was moved by no desires or fears.  In a sense I was not moved by anything.  I chose to open . . . .  Then came the repercussion on the imaginative level.  I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt.  The melting was starting in my back – drip-drip and presently trickle-trickle.  I rather disliked the feeling” (Lewis p. 123).

This experience of Lewis’ happened in 1929, and it was “conversion” to belief in God, not in an afterlife or in Jesus Christ.  Lewis still thought that parts of Christianity were a kind of myth, yet he wanted to know the truth and to live truth.  God gave Lewis many nudges, even via an ardent atheist who thought that it really did seem as though God made the pagan myths come true through Jesus Christ.  This atheist’s admission shocked Lewis.  Jack’s good friend J.R.R. Tolkien helped him with this issue, too, as did Hugo Dyson, on a pivotal walk in September 1931:

“Tolkien was convinced that myth, such as the Norse myth of the death of Balder, or the Greek myth of Psyche and Eros, was not the opposite of fact.  These stories were a way of expressing truths deeper than fact. . . .  [Tolkien declared that] not only did the truth in myths come from God, but a writer of myths could be doing God’s work in the world.1 As Tolkien talked, there was a sudden rush of wind out of nowhere, as if to underline the message.  The three men held their breath, feeling the importance of the moment” (Gormley p. 95).

Later that month Lewis had a second, more subtle, conversion experience.

“As I drew near the conclusion, I felt a resistance almost as strong as my previous resistance to Theism. . . .  Every step I had taken, from the Absolute to ‘Spirit’ and from ‘Spirit’ to ‘God,’ had been a step toward the more concrete, the more imminent, the more compulsive.  At each step one had less chance ‘to call one’s soul one’s own.’ . . .  I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken.  I was driven to Whipsnade [Zoo] one sunny morning.  When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did.  Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought.  Nor in great emotion. . . .  It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Lewis pp. 129-130).

So, finally, Lewis found that myth had become fact (that is, Jesus was “the god that died”) and that the pangs of “joy” had been sign posts to God.

As Lewis had written in Surprised by Joy, “all” is required of a person who acknowledges and worships his maker, and Lewis gave his all.  He is considered to be the greatest apologist of the 20th century, having written Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, and more.  In addition, he was a very popular layman preacher in Oxford.  As a “secular” scholar and author, he wrote poetry, the highly regarded “A Preface to Paradise Lost,” The Discarded Image, and others.   Lewis was the president of Oxford’s Socratic Club from 1942-1955; this was a philosophy group that delved into the pros and cons of the Christian faith.

As if the schedule demanded by all that was not enough2 – don’t forget that he taught as well – Lewis was kind enough to answer all his letters (as he became “popular” he had the help of his brother, and then his wife).  He always helped those in need–in a very personal way when the opportunity arose–and in a more general way through significant monetary giving.  His apologetics show a concern and love for the common man, being theological and philosophical explanations open and accessible to all.   Jack’s life was one humanly lived and beautifully lived.

_____________

Notes

  1. Indeed, as probably all of you readers know, J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the great “modern myth,” The Lord of the Rings.   It’s likely that many fewer are aware of Lewis’ re-told myth of Psyche and Cupid (or Eros) in Till We Have Faces.
  2. Lewis had a truly unbelievable photographic memory, easily quoting pages from books that someone happened to mention.  This gift was obviously a very great help to his studies, writing, lectures, etc.

____________

Sources

Gormley, Beatrice. C.S. Lewis: Christian and Storyteller. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 1998.

Hooper, Wlater. C.S. Lewis: A Complete Guide to His Life & Works. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. “Surprised by Joy.” In The Inspirational Writings of C.S. Lewis, by C.S. Lewis, 1-130. New York: Inspirational Press, 1994 (1955).

© Vicki Priest 2012 (this is an edited version of my article at Examiner.com, published 2011)