A Primer on Basic Christian Theology, Part 2

Basic Christian Theology 2

In this second part of the series on Basic Christian Theology, we look to that from which all knowledge and life springs, that is God. As such, God must be defined for the Christian context.

The word “god” is defined by Webster’s dictionary as,

a being or object believed to have more than natural attributes and powers and to require human worship

It seems like a rather straightforward definition, but as Christians, we operate not merely upon “belief” but upon revelation, something that we will discuss in the next post in greater depth, since it is the Christian assertion that God has made himself known. But just how has God revealed himself to be?

God has revealed himself to be, first of all, triune. We often use the singular pronoun when speaking of what is considered to be the Godhead, or express Being of God, to express the unity of the Persons that inhabit, or share, that essence. To that end, there are seven characteristics that can be derived from what has been made known to us.

1. God is One.

God is revealed in three, distinct personalities: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. As Father, which is in itself off-putting for some, is the name which Jesus instructed us to call the First Person of the Trinity, but the word Father, is sort of lost in its propriety; in Greek the word is Abba, which is equal to our endearing word daddy; but it is not to be used flippantly. When we speak of Jesus as God’s Son, we do not mean that he was created. The Second Person of the Trinity is of the same substance as the First, that is what the word begat means, and apart from God there is no Jesus, and vice versa; Jesus is the eternal God, and we will deal more with Him later. The Holy Spirit is eternal and coexistent with the other two; he is the agent of prophetic power in the Old Testament and the renewing force of the New.

2. God is Spirit.

God is revealed in Scripture as Spirit, and in John 4:24, Jesus told the woman at the well not only that fact, but that He “must [be worshipped] in spirit and truth.” In Exodus 20:4, the second commandment, displays this by instructing, “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” Christians generally believe that any aid to worship such as saints, statues or relics limit our concept of God because we see God as too great to be depicted. The only depiction that we have is that of Jesus, God incarnate. Even in Christian circles imagery depicting God and Jesus are limited to finite terms: God with an angry eye and Jesus with effete features. Such have their place in art, but not in worship. While God is described in Scripture with human, or anthropomorphic, terms, these are poetic or picturesque ways of describing God.

3. God is Person.

He has a distinct personality with distinct characteristic and behaviors. He is conscious, exercises thoughts and feelings, makes decisions, and relates to us in a personal way. We are created in His image, so if we are persons, the He must be a person. God has several names: Elohim, which is simply translated God (Gen. 1:1); names also describe characteristics, such as El Shaddai meaning God Almighty, El Elyon meaning Most High God, El Olam meaning Everlasting God among others, but as I have previously said, God names Himself distinctively by calling Himself Yahweh, meaning I AM.

4. God is Infinite.

This is described in five words: eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. We see God as eternal, always existing; that there has never been a time when there was not a time that He did not exist. He is immutable, He does not change. Several instances in the Old Testament seem to prove that he does because it mentions that He repented; simply it means that he change the operational plan, not the destinational plan. Being omnipresent simply means that God is everywhere, all the time (Psalm 139:7-10). Being omniscient means that he knows everything, not only about the operations of nature, but about you and me. His omnipotence simply means that He is all-powerful; He has all the power, all the time and only allows Satan and evil rulers to have power as He allows it. As the disciples watched Jesus ascend to heaven, and later dealt with persecution, Jesus’ word recorded in Matt. 28:18 began to ring in their ears, “All authority in heaven and on earth is given to Me.”

5. God is perfect.

When considering this we tend to stray into what theologians call moral attributes: holiness, righteousness, truth and love. When we speak of holiness, we put a sort of sterile meaning to it, but biblically, it deals with the whole nature. In Lev. 19:1, we are told, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy”, and it comes after a variety of commands dealing not only with issues of worship, but social issues and personal sins. Our lives reflect what we believe, who we truly are. Righteousness means that God affirms what is right and opposes what is wrong. In His righteousness God must punish unrepentant evil and injustice; but that righteousness also has an edge of redemption to it so that a righteous God could provide a way for an unrighteous people to be made righteous, which is only through the blood of Christ. He is not only the source of all truth, but also ultimate Truth which is unchanging and absolute, something which evades fallen man. Through God’s leadership, truths which seem conflicting can and will be resolved. He is love, but not love for himself exclusively, but for the benefit of those He loves. The Bible presents picture after picture (Hosea and his harlot wife Gomer, the prodigal son, etc). God rejoices in salvation of His beloved, this is seen in the crucifixion of Jesus, whom he loved and raised from the dead.

6. God is creator.

God spoke, and there was, thus creating all there is and will ever be, out of nothing. Doing so made Him separate from creation, which enables him to act upon it. He had a reason for creation which is tied to two of his attributes: love and glory. God created because he wanted to share his love and his glory, he didn’t need it to complete Himself, but that we could enjoy him. The Westminster Confession asks begins its question with, “What is the chief end of man?” Its answer is simple and stunning, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.” It is only done when people willing glorify their Creator, and in doing so the new heaven and earth will be culminated and ultimate fulfillment found. To that end God sustains his creation there is a broad element confined in this thought, but to make it brief, God acts upon creation, and creation responds in kind: when natural laws are suspended, a miracle occurs; otherwise creation moves in its predetermined course. Over this issue of God’s providence, or planned destiny, the issues of predestination and freewill emerge; but in that Christians find two truths: God will overcome all opposition and bring this world to its planned conclusion and that the believer has a place in working with God to that end.

7. God is sovereign.

Simply it means that God is in control, His hand is always on the wheel. Again, this stirs the debate of predestination. The priesthood of believers is a natural outgrowth of God’s sovereignty in that he does not delegate it to a particular person or organization; He relates to every person that he saves. So, if God is absolutely sovereign, why doesn’t he just make the world like he wants, and just be done with it? Quite simply, if He did it would short-circuit his creation and the reason for creating people. He is Sovereign over the universe and orders every function of every created being; every power that exists does so because He allows; and He is sovereign over every lovingly obedient believer.

In our next post, we will look more into the Persons that are God.

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A Primer on Basic Christian Theology

Given the amount of misrepresentation made about Christian beliefs, even though a person can access many resources freely over the internet, I thought that it might be a good idea to line out some thoughts that would explain what can be said about historic Christian doctrines and theology so that my readers would not only have a sense of where I am coming from, but perhaps understand about the faith in general.

I realize that many of my readers may not be of the same religious tradition (Southern Baptist) as me, so I will try to speak as broadly and directly as possible in these regards. This, of necessity, means that we must define some terms and set out a course of study that will direct the series.

Our study will cover:

The Being of God

The Nature of Revelation

The Nature of Man

The Work of God

The Nature and Purpose of the Church

Last Things

As I conclude this introductory post, I think that it is prudent to discuss why such a study is necessary.

I have been a believer for more than 30 years. So much of that time has been spent fumbling along with what it is that Christians believe. I have watched, almost helplessly, as strong theology has been replaced by watered down, man-centered, self-help theology that is destroying the church and Christian belief, at least in the west. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I was utterly shocked at the number of people in my church that were essentially modalistic in their doctrine of God. I would never go so far to say that they were necessarily heretical in their beliefs, but I would say that they were compromised and subject to being deceived by someone who was heretical.

It is important that we have a sound and consistent understanding of historic Christian theology so that we do not stray into error, and not be, “[…]tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14, ESV).”

One last, personal, note: this series is an answer to my son who asked, why such was important? My answer was that I wanted to know who God is, to know him well and rightly, and to worship him in every aspect of my life, and the only way that it seemed that I could do so was to study both Scripture and theology and bring them into line.

My hope, and my prayer, is that, as you go through this series, that your knowledge of God and your love and desire for his knowledge will increase and help you as you live your life for Him, by Him, and through Him.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 12

Ok, we’re in the home stretch of this series of responses to the article by J.H. McKenna. And here we go.

The question ‘Who gave you a conscience?’ means about as much as ‘Who gave you a nose?’ The answer to both is ‘nature.’ A dog and a cat have a conscience, as does a monkey, and even some birds. These animals know when they have done wrong and feel guilt and demonstrate guilt when caught. A ‘conscience’ is no proof of a God.

Has he asked a dog or cat about their “conscience”? The last time a dog got into my trash, or my cat pooped on my floor, I doubt that they were mindful of how I felt or were necessarily concerned about the rightness or wrongness of their actions when confronted. There’s a number of fallacies running through this objection, from the anthropomorphic fallacy , to jumping to a conclusion (conscience is no proof), to a category error (conscience=nose?). It’s simply absurd.

Theists have fought fellow theists to the death for thousands of years. And yet it is inconceivable that an army of chemists should kill botanists or astronomers kill geologists.

So, what? Men have been killing men for millennia, for various reasons, the fact that many of them have been theists means nothing. If someone can cite a single instance where an atheist has fought another atheist, the entire objection is refuted. So, non sequitur.

Unbelief is a false crime, and belief is not meritorious. God could neither be injured by the one nor boosted by the other.

There’s just enough truth to this to be a dangerous and deceitful lie. While it is true that our belief or unbelief has no effect on God, it has a direct and immediate effect on us in the here and now. If one believes what God has said, there will be justice and harmony. It is unbelief in God that stirs up discord and strife.

The Psalmist who said ‘Only a fool says in his heart there is no God’ meant to say ‘Only a fool is afraid to announce his unbelief to the wide world and keep it a secret in his heart.’

Actually what the Psalmist said was,

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”

Immediately after that profound title, he says,

They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

Point being, that the person who denies the existence of God is intending to do evil, to truly sin with what the Bible calls a “high hand”. It is the immoral, evil, villainous person who denies the existence of God, who is truly a “fool“. The point of the Psalmist is to contrast with the person who vocally denies the existence of God, like the average atheist, but continues to live in accordance with the reality of a just and righteous God, a God who judges and punishes men for their sin and rebellion, to the one who follows the logical conclusion of the profession and fully engages in rebellion. It is not, “keeping it a secret“, rather it is living that belief out that makes one a “fool” according to the psalmist because the “heart” that is being referred to is the seat of the intellect and will. Evil acted out is the demonstration of the declaration in one’s heart that one is truly a fool.

And that’s it. No more in this series.

As I said, my posts may become irregular while school is in. I’ll probably be sharing thoughts as I work through various classes and continue doing research on my book and other projects but, you never know.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 11

Continuing in this series of responses to J.H. McKenna’s post, we look at these jewels,

The heavenly Father is like an earthy father who continually watches over his toddler children and allows them to handle sharp knives and then blames them and not himself when they cut themselves and each other.

So, this is the “God-is-a-wreckless-parent” objection. It needs to be contrasted with the “God-is-the-overbearing-parent” objection. It is basically that God, having made positive revelation of his desires for his creatures, doesn’t step in and constantly pull his rebellious children apart and take them to task. Let’s take this apart: God told us who we are, what we’re supposed to do, and when we don’t believe and we rebel, God is at fault. Two words: yeah and right. Am I being a bit dismissive? Hell yeah I’m being dismissive because it’s a nonsensical analogy.

When a miracle is advanced as proof of the soundness of a religion, this says the religion cannot be believed as a matter of normal persuasion.

I’m sorry, it appears as if there’s a missing premise What is “normal persuasion”? I do notice one thing, and I’ve seen it commonly advanced, and it’s a common confusion of the term “religion”. Islam and Mormonism will often put forward miracle claims to say that one should be a Muslim or a Mormon, and I’m not equating these two, but this fundamentally causes a confusion of categories. Let me chase a momentary rabbit.

Historically, Christianity was first seen as a sect of Judaism, the Jewish religion, and it was not until there was a meaningful break sometime around the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century that Christianity, even though it still appealed to Jewish beliefs, it was seen as distinct. There’s a great deal of differentiation that took place in the 2nd century to make Judaism and Christianity appear as separate entities, and indeed they are. But you cannot point to Christianity and call it a religion, we can call religions “Christian” and we can call Christians “religious” but it’s hard to call Christianity itself a religion. Christianity is built on a miracle: the miracle of a man being raised from the dead as a positive justification of his claims, claims that he was God.

People don’t believe it as a matter of “normal persuasion”. Okay, so what? The Christian assertion is that whatever “normal persuasion” is, it doesn’t work. It takes a supernatural act to believe.

Geography is fate where religion is concerned. Almost no one chooses a religion but merely absorbs the local religion on offer in a geographic area at a given moment in history. As such, most people who have ever lived have never been Christians and the message of Christianity never reached them.

Yeah, so what? It doesn’t matter if Christ rose from the grave, which means that the Bible is true and why geography matters, and why  proclamation of Christ is so important. Abraham wasn’t a “Christian”. David wasn’t a “Christian”. It has nothing to do with “being a Christian” and all about man’s rebellion and God’s justice.

Without indoctrinating children, few people would have religion. Children are not ‘born believers’ anywhere.

Well, I’ve written briefly about the issue of indoctrination, but let’s employ a change of subject. Without teaching children to ride bicycles, there would be fewer bicycle riders. Justin Barrett, in his book Born Believers, which refutes that assertion, makes that parallel saying

[We] get some abilities through special training, instruction, using special tools, and lots and lots of practice. Consider riding  a bike. Once you’ve mastered riding a bicycle, your body seems to  just know how to do it. You don’t have to think about it—to consciously remember how to balance, steer, and control a bicycle’s  speed. You just do it.

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Barrett goes on to say that this training gives the person who is taught a structure where they can operate in a variety of ways, that bicycle riding itself is not natural, but rather it serves to hone innate skills that we already have and give them a more specialized application. He calls this “nature vs expertise”, comparing the inherent religious nature of human beings to the difference between speaking and reading. You learn to speak by being around people who speak and being spoken to, but reading takes skill, and being able to understand what one reads is an entirely other skill. Religion operates in a similar fashion. The point being people are going to be religious; the question is, what are they going to be religious about?

I think this quote from chapter 8 of Barrett’s book is a sufficient refutation of the assertion though,

Foremost, cultural anthropologists, religious studies scholars, and  people raised in religious communities find the indoctrination hypothesis a caricature of what typically happens in religious communities. Rather than coerce, threaten, and bully children into belief,  adults simply believe in the forest spirits, ancestors, witches, or God  and act accordingly. They conduct the appropriate rituals, say prayers,  discuss the meaning of life events, wonder about the activities of  gods, and go about life as if gods were just as natural, normal, and certain as air, gravity, or germs. Ethnographies of religious belief and  practice in traditional societies often stress the commonness of religious discourse and how it is neatly woven into daily life. Not until  the past couple of hundred years, and only still in a minority of the  world’s societies, has religious thought or belief been treated as  something extra or added on to regular day-to-day thought and practice. (emphasis added)
Hmmm. Very interesting.
Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

 

Hard Questions or Bad Objections? Part 10

As we continue in this series of responses to J.H. McKenna’s article, we look at at this “little thing”,

Why are Judas and Pilate not counted as saints since they were the direct cause of Jesus’s saving death? Why are there no statues of Judas and Pilate?

I’m just spit-balling here but I’m guessing that it has something to do with the fact that they rejected Christ, and that the actual cause of Christ’s death was his self-giving not what was done to him. Next.

Upon close inspection, none of the purported ‘prophecies’ predicting aspects of Jesus’s life in the Old Testament have anything to do with Jesus in the original Old Testament passages.

Yeah, that’s kinda the point: God was not about to tip his hand to those who had pitted themselves against him in their rebellion, so the prophecies had to be purposefully obscure or have an indirect fulfillment. There was obviously something that was clear because there was an inherent expectation in the 2nd temple period that the appearance of the Messiah was imminent, namely a careful reading of the prophesies of Daniel and Ezekiel. There also seems to be a tendency to ignore the fact that Christ had to spend 40 days following his resurrection opening the scriptures to them.

Christianity says there was a war in heaven between the angels of Satan and the angels of Michael. A ‘war’ between supernatural beings who cannot be injured or bleed?

Whoever said that supernatural beings could not be injured? We don’t understand the difference between the physical and immaterial realms of existence, that’s something that Scripture simply doesn’t address and Christians shouldn’t concern themselves with because all that we’re told is that there was a war in heaven and that there was a celestial fallout. That’s it, no elaboration. I’m satisfied with the question, but it’s not something that I worry about.

If angels in heaven could sin, as Satan and his rebel angels did, what guarantee do we have that humans won’t sin after they arrive in heaven? Or, if saved humans in heaven will not be able to sin, couldn’t God have made such impeccable humans on earth to begin with?

These are actually good questions, questions that have long bothered theologians. What can be derived from Scripture is that whatever it is in man that causes us to sin will be removed and we will no longer desire to rebel from God, we will be free to sin but not have the desire to do so. I think that I have said this before that, in the beginning, man was free to sin, after the fall man could do nothing but sin, and after being saved man can choose not to sin. What will cause that is the redeemed’s proximity to his God. God made man to reflect his image, which included the ability to choose. The first man chose to sin and the last man chose to please God. If you are saved, you are given the life of the last man and are made like him to please God.

Hard Questions or Bad Objections? Part 9

The next set of objections from J.H. McKenna’s article that make up this series of responses deals with issues in the gospels.

And what happened to all those people who rose from their graves when Jesus rose from his grave? Did they return to their former occupations and to their their former (and remarried) husbands and wives? How is it that no one got their names and their stories?

This is addressed to these verses in Matthew 27:52-53 that reads,

The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. (ESV)

These two verses have posed a definite quandary for Christians because they are parenthetically inserted into a flowing narrative, and are not qualified or mentioned in the other gospels or any other extant writing. Dr. Mike Licona has written a rather controversial paper that downplays apparent problems with the verse as a historic event in favor of a apocalyptic motif common to Jewish writers such as Ezekiel. I, at one time, had found a source that argued that the verses were an early interpolation and may have been the reason for the Apostle Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15 discourse as it seems to be responding to an early heretical movement, but I cannot find it at the moment. This paper addresses certain textual issues within the text itself, but does nothing to state whether or not it is original to Matthew, but does point out that there is an early variant that acts as a clarifier. And this very brief discussion seems to support Licona’s view. So, how do I respond to it?

Simply put, it’s an argument from silence. No other source but Matthew records it. Since Matthew isn’t here to defend what he wrote, and the earliest witnesses to Matthew possess some form of the pericope I have to assume that it is original to Matthew. But since there is no contradicting account I am left to either see it as a historical event or a figurative event. Let me explain.

If it is a historical event, that means that certain saints were raised to testify about what the Jews had done. If it’s figurative, then it’s pointing to the events at Pentecost. If it’s historical, we aren’t told what happened to them, meaning that they could have ascended with Christ. If it’s figurative, meaning it was the apostolic proclamation at Pentecost, then most went on to die as martyrs. Simply put, there’s just not enough information to draw an informed conclusion. I’m willing to let Matthew be Matthew and simply shrug at it rather than engage in speculation. I’m willing to allow some questions to go unanswered than die on a particular hill at this point.

The second that I want to look at is this one,

Joseph was deflected from jealousy because Mary convinced him a ghost impregnated her?

Simply put, no. Mary didn’t convince Joseph of anything. Turning to Matthew’s gospel, which gives us Joseph’s side of the story,

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (1:18b-21, ESV, emphasis added)

It was a visionary experience that caused Joseph to change his mind, Mary had nothing to do with it. In fact, the best thing for Mary to do, in her culture, was to be silent and not try to convince anyone of anything. Joseph, as her betrothed husband was the one who had been wronged by Mart’s pregnancy, but his acceptance of it allowed both to save face. People would know that Joseph was not the father, but that also meant that no one else could come forward and make a claim against his adoption of Jesus as his own son, which would make Jesus a person who could legitimately make a claim to throne of David. This objection just ignores what the text clearly says.

In the end, both of these objections simply fail because they ask the wrong questions in light of the facts reported by one author, Matthew.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 8

Continuing in this series of responses to the article by J.H. McKenna, the next “little thing that makes an atheist” is this,

Many discrepancies between the gospels cannot be reconciled, as for instance their distinct stories of the Jesus’s resurrection. Who all went to the tomb? How many angels were there? What were the angels doing? Who saw Jesus first? When did Jesus first appear to his disciples? Where did Jesus first appear to his disciples? Where did Jesus ascend into heaven? All the information is different in the four gospels.

If I were to take each question as it’s presented to the gospels themselves, without a doubt, one could come up with a satisfying answer for each. But let’s take the summary objection, “All the information is different in the four gospels,” and respond to it.

Yes. They’re different. Why are they different? They are different because four different people wrote them and that means that each author had a point that they wanted to make and crafted their narrative to that end.

The last point often bothers people because, even though we naturally do this ourselves, we accuse others of lying or manipulating the “facts” when they do so themselves. But, if you’ve ever read two biographies on a famous person, you instantly realize that those authors are doing the same thing.

I often reflect on two biographies of legendary actor John Wayne that I read in high school. In one biography, which was short, focused upon his rise to stardom and his film career and how spent very little time on his personal life other than touching on his turbulent marriages that punctuated it. It was very short, 200 pages at the most. The second was one written by his daughter that was very personal, spending a whole series of chapters discussing her father’s personal struggles with his failed marriages and his intense love for his children. One would almost think that those were written about two different people, but reading the shorter one made me want to know more about the man that essentially characterized the way a man was supposed to be: loud, proud, courageous, and caring for friends, family, and the underdog, a man of few words, and with a carefully honed moral compass.

While those were different, I could harmonize them and make sense of both. Seeing the personal side of John Wayne made me see why his career was so strong and varied across the years: he let his dissatisfaction with life drive him to do bigger and different things, and he didn’t let his failures define him. The difference made the difference.

Former atheist and retired homicide detective J. Warner Wallace deals with the differences between the gospels in his first book, Cold Case Christianity, saying,

If there’s one thing my experience as a detective has revealed, however, it’s that witnesses often make conflicting and inconsistent statements when describing what they saw at a crime scene. They frequently disagree with one another and either fail to see something obvious or describe the same event in a number of conflicting ways. The more witnesses involved in a case, the more likely there will be points of disagreement. (p.74)

The fact that the four gospels were written by four different people naturally means that there were four different perspectives brought to bear on the life of Jesus. These four different perspectives means that they are going to have different priorities and are going to pick and choose different things that they want to discuss.

Wallace continues, speaking on his experience as a detective,

I learned many years ago the importance of separating witnesses. If eyewitnesses are quickly separated from one another, they are far more likely to provide an uninfluenced, pure account of what they saw. Yes, their accounts will inevitably differ from the accounts of others who witnessed the same event, but that is the natural result of a witness’s past experience, perspective, and worldview. I can deal with the inconsistencies; I expect them….I would far rather have three messy, apparently contradictory versions of the event than one harmonized version that has eliminated some important detail. I know in the end I’ll be able to determine the truth of the matter by examining all three stories. The apparent contradictions are usually easy to explain once I learn something about the witnesses and their perspectives (both visually and personally) at the time of the crime.(p.75)

Wallace continues,

Growing up as a skeptic, I never thought of the biblical narrative as an eyewitness account. Instead, I saw it as something more akin to religious mythology—a series of stories designed to make a point. But when I read through the Gospels (and then the letters that followed them), it appeared clear that the writers of Scripture identified themselves as eyewitnesses and viewed their writings as testimony. Peter identified himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet. 5:1) and as one of many “eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Pet. 1:16–17). The apostle John claimed that he was writing as an eyewitness when he described the life and death of Jesus. He identified himself as “the disciple who is testifying to these things and wrote these things” (John 21:24), and said that he was reporting “what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 John 1:1). (p.78)

Wallace’s ultimate conclusion, speaking as a former atheist and a trained police detective, is that he was forced to conclude that the gospels were truly eyewitness statements and that they, in spite of any differences, could be meaningfully harmonized by carefully reading the individual texts and allowing the authors to present the facts that they chose to include or not include. This is something that we do naturally and regularly in any other situation, so why should we treat the gospels any differently? I’m guessing that it’s because of a desire to not believe, rather than to be reasonable.

Such objections/questions are often leveled against Christian doctrines of Scripture such as inspiration and inerrancy. Skeptics cannot wrap their brains around the fact that God can work through human beings, giving them freedom to express themselves, using their own experiences and vocabulary and forms of expression. I would argue that it’s the power of God to authorize their work to express his truth. Truly it demonstrates that the foolishness of God is wiser than man would ever hope to be.

(Note: All quotes from J. Warner Wallace’s book are from the Kindle edition.)

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 7

So in this 7th part of this series of responses to J.H. McKenna’s post, we look at the next series that he puts forward.

An eternal tormenting punishment without rehabilitation for the offenders is perhaps the most immoral idea anyone ever conjured. And yet Jesus preached hell. It would be better for all of us to be eternally annihilated than for one child to writhe forever in hell.

Um, just where does he get this idea that punishing offenders for eternity is immoral? As for a time for “rehabilitation“, that is the time to repent and seek after God, is now. Seek Him now, while he is near and may be found. There’s a saying that has stuck with me for years, and I forget where I heard it, but it is true: there will be no one in heaven who deserves to be there, and there will be no one in hell who doesn’t. Jesus preached hell because he didn’t want people to go there.

Since most people who ever lived have never been Christians, most people are going to hell—and the devil wins the cosmic battle.

How do I break this one? Um, no.

The devil wanted to condemn all mankind and if God had done that then the demonic forces who rebelled against God would have won. But God had other plans, namely to redeem some of mankind and displace those rebellious divine beings from their places of authority with a group of resolutely loyal human beings. And it’s not about being “Christian”, it’s about those who have believed and God has counted them as righteous. All of them will have been saved because of Christ.

God must have known millions of years before he created humanity that the vast majority of the humans would end up in the everlasting and hopeless misery of hell, even with his ‘plan’ of salvation.

Yes. And as I previously stated, there will be no one in hell who does not deserve to be there. 

A plan of salvation that manages to save only a tiny fraction of the human race is not a ‘successful’ rescue plan.

It is if the ones who are saved do not deserve to be saved and that the salvation that they receive fully accomplishes what it set out to do.

Each of the above objections hang on the question of whether or not God is just for pouring out his wrath on sinners? The fundamental point that is overlooked, or outright ignored, is that for God to be just he must punish sin and those who sin. Sin cannot go unanswered or unpunished before a holy God.  But God has, in Christ, made a way to extend mercy and grace to those who deserve to be punished because he is also merciful, and desires to demonstrate his mercy. The fact that few are saved, in comparison to the whole, is a testimony to the whole display of God’s attributes. And in that, I praise him because he didn’t have to save anyone, at all.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 6

Continuing in this series, we look at a few more of the issues raised by J.H. McKenna.

It took only six days for God to make the universe, but God could not save humanity all at once in an instant in one day? Thousands of years preceded Jesus and thousands of years have followed Jesus—and still most people have not been saved.

This objection assumes two things: 1) that God was not saving people before Jesus came and 2)how many God intends to save. The reality is that God was saving people before Christ came and has been saving people ever since Christ came, and they were all saved by the same manner at the same time: through Christ’s self-giving at Calvary. This seems like a broken record to me to say this again, but it was not about “saving humanity” but about saving a people dedicated to Christ. The time that it took was simply irrelevant to how God desired to accomplish it.

If Jesus had intended to start a new religious system he would have written it down himself during his lifetime, like dozens of previous Jewish prophets.

Jesus never intended to “start a new religious system“. Reading the gospels, one cannot help but note that Jesus was working inside a system that had developed hundreds of years before his birth, in the synagogue system, and the early church was modeled after it, using its liturgical materials and offices. It was one reason why it was the confession of Christ as Lord over and against Caesar became the defining means during the periods of persecution because, from the outside, there was no real way to tell Christians from Jews. The division only became more apparent as Jews differentiated themselves from Christians.

Why would anyone assume that Jesus would have “written it down during his lifetime“? Jesus was busy, constantly moving, a wanted man, he barely had time to eat. Further more…well, let’s just take a look at this excerpt from the Lexham Bible Dictionary,

[The] designation “writing prophets” does not mean that the prophets themselves were literate (though they may have been), only that their sayings have been preserved in volumes attributed to them. Jeremiah 51:60 does record that the prophet Jeremiah “wrote on a scroll all the disasters that would befall Babylon,” but this may mean that he instructed a scribe to write the sayings (see Jer 51:59). Aside from the book of Jeremiah, little is known about the writing process of the prophetic books.

Redditt, Paul. “Prophets, the.” Ed. John D. Barry et al. The Lexham Bible Dictionary 2016 : n. pag. Print. (emphasis added)

In fact there’s arguments as to whether or not there was a formal training school in ancient Israel for training young men to serve in such a capacity. Needless to say, it simply doesn’t follow that Jesus, since he did not intend to start a “new religion” but pointed to what he considered and insisted to be authoritative (the Law and the Prophets).

Jesus is depicted in the gospels as disrespecting his mother when he was twelve years old and when he was a grown man.

Actually, no, Jesus was not “disrespectful“, but was perfectly respectful in accordance to the time and culture in which he lived.

Jesus did not practice his own rule: he did not love his enemies but berated them with unwarranted bitterness.

He called them to repentance, which is the highest form of love as a Torah observant Jew.

Okay, so those last two, weren’t arguments as much as accusations, but they’re common and based upon ignorance. So until next time.

Hard Questions or Bad Arguments? Part 5

Continuing in our series of responses to the arguments/questions presented by J.H. McKenna in his post over at Humanist Plus. This post will deal with two arguments that he gives that are rather similar in the argument that they present. He presents them thusly,

  • If Jesus came to earth in order ‘to suffer’ for our sins, then he should have lived a very long life: he should have endured a crippling decades-long disease; he should have seen his own children predecease him and his wife; he should have contracted dementia to debilitate and hobble his old age; he should have died in mental and physical anguish at age 93 not age 33. As it was, Jesus died in his prime after suffering for three hours on a Friday afternoon and then he hurried back to the paradise from which he came. Many millions of people have suffered more than Jesus did. And many millions would undertake to die in their prime if they knew they could come back to life three days later to report on the afterlife.

  • If Jesus’s purpose was ‘to die’ for humanity, it would have made no difference how he died. He could have died of smallpox or a fever or from slipping on ice.

Both objections put forward the same premise: if Christ had to die for sins, it doesn’t matter how Christ died be it by accident or incident. Both, however, misunderstand the necessity of Christ to die judicially, as a man condemned, in order for his life to have atoning value for those that he intends to save.

Christ was sinless. Human death, whatever its cause whether by disease or accident, is a result of human sin. In Genesis 2, God linked disobedience to his command to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the punishment of death, that is that man would be cut off from the ultimate source of life, and his existence would be limited in scope. If God had not extended such mercy, the effect of sin would never cease. Indeed, for some, namely the unrepentant rebels who are under God’s just wrath for sin, will always and forevermore experience the effect of sin and the wrath of God against sin. Christ being supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary, though fully human, was unaffected and uncontaminated by human sin, namely the high-handed sin of Adam in eating the fruit. It could be argued that, for all intents and purposes, Jesus was immune to the condemnation of a natural death, but this is highly speculative and otherwise unaddressed  in Scripture. It is for that reason that Paul could argue that Christ was the New Adam and so, unlike the First Adam who failed, could stand before God as our federal head and live a life truly pleasing to God. If Christ had died naturally, by disease or accident, then his death would have had no effect on the state of man before God. Christ’s death, therefore, had to be one of a judicial nature.

Christ had to die on the cross, which was the means of judicial punishment for the Roman empire, a kingdom which stretched over the limits of the known world at the time. It was a death reserved for a common criminals. Jesus was declared innocent by the legal authority, thus had done nothing criminal, and so was unworthy of the death of a criminal. To demonstrate this, the legal authority presented one truly worthy of death, a hardened criminal, and the crowds demanded the life of a murder in place of the life of an innocent man. Jesus went without complaint, willingly, knowing that he would face a greater judge, a judge who had already settled his case, the judge of all men. However, his willingly taking the place of one rightfully condemned under a judicial punishment would allow his death to act in a substitutionary manner for all he intended to save, allowing the Apostle Peter to say in his epistle,

 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,… and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:18-22, ESV)

Christ had to die a judicial punishment because it was the only means by which his innocent blood could pay for the sins of those who are rightfully condemned.