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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label salvation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label salvation. Show all posts

Friday, January 08, 2016

Using Ultimate Evil to Answer the Problem of Evil

Why would an all-good, all loving God allow so much evil in the world? This question, what is known as the Problem of Evil, has been one that both believers and non-believers have wrestled with for much of Christian history. Christians have appealed to God's desire for mankind to have free will as the primary reason evil can exist at all.

Still, atheists will object to the fact that any God that would allow so much evil or certain acts that we recognize as so tremendously evil would be inconsistent with the God defined in Christianity whose primary attribute is love. Is the belief in an all-loving God incompatible with horrendously evil acts in the world? In order to better understand God's relationship to evil, I think it is helpful to look at what we can think of as the most extreme example of evil and see if the belief in the Christian God makes any sense.

What Would Count as Incredibly Evil?

To figure out what counts as a heinously evil act, let's narrow our choices a bit. First, I would argue that intentional evil is worse than accidental or natural evil. For example a person contracts cancer and suffers to degree X. If the cancer was natural we would look upon that suffering as bad. If the cancer was from negligence, we would hold the perpetrator in a certain level of contempt. But if the cancer was intentionally caused, that holds a higher level of seriousness. Intentional evil is a greater evil than unintentional evil.

Even within intentional acts there are degrees of evil. We rightly look upon murder as an evil act. As a though experiment, think of a 35 year old female victim who was murdered by a gunshot to the head. The killer is apprehended and placed on trial. If this was an indiscriminate act, such as a drive by shooting, one would rightly demand a certain level of punishment for the crime. However, if it was found that the victim was kept alive for several hours so the killer could enjoy himself torturing her, our view of the crime would change. It is more evil to torture and kill a person, especially for pleasure, than to simply kill them and walk away.

Secondly, I would argue murder is probably the most evil act one can perpetrate upon another because it robs an individual of one's most valuable asset, which is life itself. By taking a life, a perpetrator has robbed his victim of a future and the victim's friends and family of an irreplaceable asset. If one doesn't see human beings as intrinsically valuable, then the problem of evil is a functional one .Human beings are simply resources like the rest of the planet and cancer can be compared to any other natural resource. The problem of evil goes away at that point. But if human beings are intrinsically valuable, then they are different from the rest of the natural world. Their value rests in their existence. Therefore, to take away their existence is to do something uniquely evil, something more evil than any other act.

The Suffering of the Innocent Compounds Evil

Thirdly, the suffering of the innocent is held as more tragic than the suffering of the non-innocent. Suffering as a consequent to wrong actions is many times seen as "just desserts" in people's eyes. But causing the suffering of a child who may be considered ignorant of the world's workings is considered more heinous. This concept seems to be behind the questions I receive about God allowing young children to have cancer or other diseases. They appeal to children to imply the innocence of the one who is suffering.

Innocence is also important as we are talking about an all-knowing God. What if God allows a certain amount of evil or suffering in the life of a sinful person to show that person the ramifications of sin? It may be that an all-knowing God would use a sinful person's suffering to draw his or her attention back to himself. But if an innocent person suffered, then one can legitimately question how God could ever allow such a thing to happen.

The Most Evil Act Demonstrates an All-Loving God

I could go into more detail on my points above, but I will leave them as they stand now for brevity's sake. I lay all this out in order to develop what could be considered one of the most evil acts in history and see if we can measure how such an act could be perpetrated and still be compatible with the belief in an all-loving God. As I've noted, an intentional crime of murder against the innocent there the innocent suffer prior to death for no reason other than the enjoyment of the perpetrator is probably the most evil act one can think of. If the Christian God would stop any kind of evil, certainly he would begin with this kind of evil. This is evil with a capital "E" and certainly deserves God's attention. Does it make sense to believe in a God who allows this kind of evil to happen?

Yes it does. In fact, we have a very real historical example of just such an evil being perpetrated and we find that God not only doesn't stop it, but he allows it for very specific purposes. In the person of Jesus of Nazareth we have the epitome of the innocent individual. Christians hold that Jesus was not merely one of God's creatures but God Himself incarnate. That places his value even above those of humanity. Christianity also holds that Jesus was completely innocent and free of sin. He not only was born innocent as a baby, but he accomplished what no other human being on earth could, he remained sin-free even as an adult.

However, God allowed the most innocent and most valuable person to even walk the earth to suffer the most hideous evil of which we can conceive. Why would God allow such hideous and blatant evil to happen? Christianity tells us it is because God wanted to reconcile all of humanity to himself. As John 3:16 says "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that if you believe on him you will have everlasting life." This means, given the free will of creatures, it is not inconsistent for an all-loving God to allow even hideous evil acts to occur. The crucifixion of Christ is the most evil act human beings could perpetrate and yet God allowed it to reconcile those very human beings back into a right relationship with him. Without that evil act, we would never have that opportunity. It is the cross that proves that God not only understands the problem of evil, but he's taken the brunt of it. He then answered it by rising again.

It isn't inconsistent that the God of Christianity allows evil to exist in this world. Rather, the cross proves God can leverage the evil of this world for his purposes, making the end result (reconciliation with God and redemption from hell) a better condition than if the evil itself never occurred.

Only Christianity holds the answer to the problem of evil.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Did God Make Life on Other Planets?

This month, the seventh Star Wars movie is set to debut. Fans are looking forward to seeing not only the action but the fantastic inhabitants of far off worlds, like those found in the now-famous cantina scene from A New Hope. The sheer number of diverse creatures from a host of worlds pictured there plays on our sense of wonder.

It also leads us to think about the real world and our place in it. Are we alone in the universe or could there be intelligent life found in some planet or galaxy far, far away? In our galaxy alone there exists some 200 billion stars1, many which have the potential for planetary systems, and ours is just one galaxy out of billions and billions. If God created such a vast universe, wouldn't it be likely that at least a few others would have life on them?

The Bible Doesn't Rule Out Life on Other Planets

First, it is quite possible that some kind of life could exist on other planets. There is nothing in the Bible that says God only created life for the earth. He could have created some kind of life elsewhere, too. Even on earth, when we travel to the harshest environments, such as volcanic vents in the ocean floor, we are surprised to find life in such unrelenting places.2 Microbes have even been found surviving in the stratosphere, miles above the earth. So to have some kind of an ecosystem found on another planet, even when that planet could not support human life is not as inconceivable as it may seem to be.

However, when this question is asked most of the time, people aren't asking about fungus, moss, or microbes. They want to know whether intelligent life—life capable of communication and abstract thought like humans are—is possible on other planets. I think the answer is such life is highly doubtful.

If advanced life were to exist on other planets, we begin to run into the same theological issues on free will and sin that have so frequently become a part of our conversations on evil and God's existence. In order to be truly free, alien beings must also be capable of sinning. However, if they were to sin, it would place them in a greater predicament.

The Need for a Redeemer Like Us

In the book of Hebrews, the writer explains why Jesus is greater than the angelic beings, who were held in high esteem by first century Jewish culture. He quotes Psalm 2, then explains that human beings, not the angels ae the beneficiaries of Jesus's salvific work on the cross:
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers...

For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Heb. 2:9-11, 16-17, ESV).
Later, the writer explains that Jesus's sacrifice was a singular event: "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself." (Heb. 7:27, ESV).

Therefore, if alien beings were advanced enough to make free choices for themselves, they would either need to be perfect throughout all eternity (which is highly unlikely) or irredeemable. Given the verses above, one can see why fallen angels cannot be redeemed and why God had to create Hell for them.

Thinking through the Presupposition

I've been asked this question many times, and I think it's a helpful one. It shows that human beings tend to think spatially about our world. If our planet takes up such a little place in the great big and vast universe that God created, certainly he would have placed life elsewhere, right? But God is an immaterial being. He doesn't value us on the basis of our mass. He values us because we bear his image. Therefore, I have no problem believing that God could have created the entire universe just to support life on one single planet, so he could have creatures who know and love him. That's true value.


1. Rayman, Marc. "How Many Solar Systems Are in Our Galaxy?" NASA. NASA, n.d. Web. 1 Dec. 2015.
2. "'Alien' Life Forms Discovered" NOAA. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2015.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why Doesn't God Just Make Everyone Love Him? (video)

One of the objections to the Christian message of salvation is that those who don't follow the Christian God are condemned to eternal torment. But, if God is all powerful, couldn't he just have created people who would automatically love him? in this short clip, Lenny answers that objection by demonstrating that any compulsion to love created by God wouldn't really be love at all.

Image courtesy sleepyrobot13 [by-nc-nd/3.0/]

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jesus Redeems Us from the Monsters

As we approach Easter Sunday, I think it's important for Christians to reflect on various aspects of our salvation. It's too easy to think of being saved as a promise for a happy life in heaven. There's so much more to the redemption than our happiness and I think we can appreciate Easter more fully if we thought a little harder on some of the less comfortable implications of salvation.

What It Means to Be Human

ISIS has been capturing headlines consistently in the news media and across social channels for nearly two years now. There's hardly a soul alive who doesn't know about the Islamic State's terror campaign across areas of the Middle East, with gruesome YouTube posts showing the savage beheadings of those they consider enemies, those of different faiths, or those with whom they simply disagree. The pillage of towns like Mosul where ISIS warriors brought back a version of the Nazi yellow badge to mark Christians and drove them from the place they called home for nearly 2,000 years. I think all sane people agree that those in ISIS demonstrate the worst in humanity.

But, the ISIS terrorists are not the exception when one asks what it means to be human. Their actions are neither new nor novel when we survey the annals of history. In fact, as Dr. Clay Jones put it, labeling ISIS as "monsters" or "inhuman" is our attempt to separate them from ourselves and perhaps provide a bit of comfort to our consciences. Yet, as Jones states, "these horrors are precisely human. They indict all of humankind in a particular way."1 Every single one of us has the capacity to become ISIS-enabled, holocaust-enabled, or 9/11 enabled. Being human means being broken to the point of the monstrous.

This isn't just my view. Just survey the wars of history. Whether it's the burning or beheading of children as a sacrifice like the ancients did or the brutal rape and machete-hacking dismemberment of the victims in Sierra Leone's civil war, history is replete with the carnage that humans continually accomplish. In his article written for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jones compiles statements from historians and psychologists as well as holocaust survivors like Elie Wesel who all say that evil is standard fare for humans. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet Gulag confirmed this when he wrote:
Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood?

It is our own.

And just so we don't go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: "If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?"

It is a dreadful question if one answers it honestly.
The capacity for unspeakable evil lies within every beating heart.

We Need Redemption from Our Own Nature

In Christian theology, this idea is nothing new. When Paul was writing to Titus, he said the natural man was "detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:16, ESV). Paul didn't even exclude himself from such a judgment, claiming "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom 7:18, ESV). As natural human beings, we are completely saturated with sin and rebellion, and there is no way for us to escape our own corruption.

But Jesus.

While it is impossible for us to escape the corruption of sin that would make us monsters, it is possible for God himself to provide a way of escape. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes it possible for us to move from the evil darkness of our lost state to one where we can actually be something different. Just after he states that there is nothing good residing within his flesh, Paul writes:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4, ESV)
This is why believers are told that they are "a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). We are remade in the Spirit and we await the day when we will be remade in our bodies. We are not saved merely from hell. Monsters deserve hell and given that all human beings are monster-enabled. But Jesus does to redeem us from our evil nature. He provides for us a new nature and he provides a way of escape. That's something to be thankful for this Easter.


1. Jones, Clay. "9/11: Are We All Moral Monsters?" Biola News. Biola University, 2 Sept. 2001. Web. 31 Mar. 2015.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

What is Middle Knowledge?

One of the more contentious issues within theology is the tension that exists between God's predestination of the saints and the individual's ability to freely choose to follow Jesus. The Bible recognizes both, and there have been many arguments as to how to reconcile these views. Some have suggested that man doesn't really have free will, but that God controls all aspects and choices of every life. However, there are problems with this position, most notably how it reduces human beings to puppets and makes God responsible for evil. Others believe that man has absolute freedom apart from God, but this view also presents difficulties. Some include the issue of God not being able to foresee the future or being a part of time as we know it. It also in no way answers the biblical fact that man is predestined by God.

It's easy to see why this debate has raged on for hundreds of years! Choosing to emphasize one side seems to contradict the other. However, there is another position that I feel more completely explains both God's predestination and man's libertarian freedom by showing both can be true and not in competition with one another. It is a theory first put forth by a Spanish monk named Luis de Molina in the 16th century called "middle knowledge" or Molinism. We'll base our outline on William Lane Craig's understanding of the doctrine found in his book The Only Wise God.

God Knows the World As It Actually Is

Craig explains that God holds different kinds of knowledge. God has what is termed necessary knowledge. This is knowledge that can never be false. It encompasses things like the laws of logic and the idea that 2+2=4. God also has free knowledge. Free knowledge is knowing creation as it actually is, including the past, present and future. Another way to state this is free knowledge is how God actually chooses to make the world. God was free to make any kind of world he desired (thus the "free" designation) and he chooses to make this specific world with all the events that go along with it.

The difference between free knowledge and necessary knowledge, though, is that "God could lack [specific free] knowledge and still be God. He must have this sort of knowledge to be God, but its content would be different. For if he would have created a different world, his free knowledge would be different." 1

Examples of God's free knowledge may be found in Isaiah 45, where God speaks directly to Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon 150 years before he was born. Craig also offers other examples of free knowledge. "God's knowledge seems to encompass future contingencies: God foreknows Nebuchadnezzer's divinations to determine his battle routes (Ezek. 21:21-23). Even more remarkably, just as God knows the thoughts that humans have, so he foreknows the very thoughts they will have."2 Psalm 139 also supports this idea.

So God knows all of the events of human history, past present and future. This includes every detail of the universe - the thoughts that we think, how lots will be cast, when cocks will crow, everything. God knows this to be true because it exists in reality. If reality were different, though, God's knowledge would be different. God only knows the truth to be true.

God Knows All Possibilities

Not only does God know exactly how the world really is, He also knows the way the world would be if events were different. A favorite example of may own is in Acts 27:21-32 where Paul is aboard a ship to Rome and a great storm arises. The ship's crew were terrified for their lives, but Paul delivers a prophecy given by God saying "there will be no loss of life among you , but only of the ship" (v. 23). However, some of the sailors still sought to escape by  lowering the life boat. Paul then warns them that "unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved" (v. 31). Paul knew that all aboard would be saved. But if events were different, he knew that the outcome would be different and the prophecy would be false.

Craig offers 1 Samuel 23:6-13 as another example. He writes "the story was understood to show that God knew that if David were to remain at Keilah, then Saul would come to get him, and that if Saul were to come to get David, then the men of the city would hand him over."3 

In either case, we have different outcomes for the same event if the choices of the individual involved were to be different. God knew both outcomes, yet he also know which choice the individuals would freely make. Thus God created a particular situation to achieve a particular end (delivering Paul to Rome or sparing David from Saul), not by controlling the choices of those involved, but by knowing which choices they would make when faced with that situation.

Middle Knowledge

The idea that God knows what would happen in any situation were that situation different is termed middle knowledge. Adherents to middle knowledge hold that God not only knows what is, but He knows what would be if something were different.

This is the key to solving the predestination and free will problem. God knows all aspects of every possible world he could create. It's part of his natural knowledge and is essential to him. His middle knowledge consists of "what every possible free creature would do under any possible set of circumstances and, hence, knowledge of those possible worlds which God could make actual."4 God then freely decides to create the actual world in which we live and knows every detail, past, present, and future, of how that world will be.

The ramifications of this idea go far and deep. God doesn't just "look ahead" into the future and predestine someone he knew would choose him. He decides to create a world in which that person will actually exists to choose him, knowing that he will choose that way given those circumstances. He personally decides to give life to everyone and every event in our world after looking at all possibilities and scenarios, in order to suit his purposes! It's a much bigger picture of God that still maintains the reality that our choices are freely made and significant.

Using the concept of middle knowledge, we can see how God can predestine each one of us to a saving grace in Him while at the same time preserving the idea of human freedom to choose. God loves you enough that his entire creation is ordered so you would choose to follow him. It's pretty amazing to think about.


1.Craig, William Lane The Only Wise God
Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub., 1999. 127-128.
2. Ibid. 32
3. Ibid. 132
4. Ibid. 131.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mormonism, Hell, and God's Holiness

This year, I took a group of students to Manti, Utah where they had the chance to talk with many people who were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. Most of these folks didn't even understand orthodox Christian doctrine. Part of the problem is that Mormons will use Christian terms but pour different meaning into them, such as the concept of salvation.

For a Christian, salvation means a person has recognized his sinfulness, knows that there is no way he can justify his sinful actions to a holy God, and places his trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross as atonement for those actions. In this way, Christians are seen as righteous in the sight of God and they may dwell with Him eternally. However, Mormon doctrine is very different. The LDS church teaches that "salvation is synonymous with immortality" 1 and all are saved except for those that apostatize against Mormonism. Thus, almost everyone will live in a heavenly terrestrial kingdom but only Mormons in good standing will live in the higher celestial kingdom.2

The Mormon view of salvation is attractive to many people because hell isn't necessarily an eternal punishment. Like a lot of others who are uncomfortable with the idea of "nice" people going to hell, this seems to be a more comfortable solution. However, while the idea may seem uncomfortable, part of our discomfort is in our fallen state we tend to diminish the heinousness of sin and misunderstand what holiness really is.

God is a Holy God

One of the differences between the Christian God and the Mormon one is that the Christian God is completely holy. He has never not been completely holy. He is eternally God, and therefore His holiness is essential to His nature as God. The God of Mormonism, however, was once a man like you and me. He didn't create us out of nothing, but we were his spirit children birthed from a heavenly mother, and if one practices proper Mormon rituals he may become a God himself.3

These competing views really affect how one understands holiness. I like to use the comparison of an old laundry detergent commercial to make this point. The camera would show one sock on a table. A second sock would fall on top of it with the voice-over narrating "Your old detergent may get your whites this clean." The sock was indeed markedly cleaner and whiter. People would perhaps buy the detergent if the commercial stopped there. But the commercial then shows a third sock falling atop both. This third sock is much whiter than even the second sock, and the narrator promised that his product can produce whites this much whiter than the competing brand.

The reason why the second sock appeared white is because the comparison was relative to only the first. In our sinful world, we have only other sinners by which to compare ourselves. Once we begin to understand true holiness, we begin to see all of humanity stained with the blackness of sin. A holy God cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. Every sin must be dealt with. Just as any amount of sewage left untreated will corrupt the purity of water, so any amount of sin left unpunished would corrupt the nature of a holy and just God, making Him something less.4

So, each person is offered a choice – you may accept the atonement Jesus provided for your sin and apply his righteousness (his "whiteness' as it were) to yourself, or you may choose to rely on your own level of righteousness. Sewage doesn't clean itself up, even after an eternity. Thus, you will forever be stained and forever be separated from God by your stain. It's what we would expect from a holy God.


1. McConkie, Bruce R. "Salvation". Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966. Print. 471.
2. McConkie, "Terrestrial Kingdom", 548.
3. As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of man's exaltation as it is called in Mormonism:
The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).
4. For more on this, see my article "How can a loving God NOT send people to hell?" at

Thursday, September 04, 2014

If You Ignore the Trinity, You Ignore the Gospel

Over at Patheos' Progressive Christian Channel, Presbyterian Church USA pastor Mark Sandlin posted an article entitled "No Trinity For Me, Please." Given Sandlin had previously written in the same space that he denies the deity of Jesus, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. However, in this article Sandlin argues in a way that may sound convincing even to evangelicals. He writes:
Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quelled some of the early Church's division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.

…I'm not saying the theory of Trinity is wrong. I'm just not saying it's definitively right, which is exactly what many of its adherents do when they say that if you don't believe in the Trinity, you can't be Christian.

Here's the thing, if the Trinity is that important, doesn't it seem like Jesus or the book of Acts or Paul or James or Peter or John would have talked more directly about it?

The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn't mentioned.

So, why do we make it so important?1
Many conservative Christians believe perhaps some of what Sandlin says above. They think that while the Trinity is a concept that helps theologians overcome certain obstacles in reconciling some snippets of scripture, it is more esoteric and "head knowledge" than the central message of the gospel, which is the message we should truly be sharing.

If you believe something like this, may I tell you in the kindest way possible that you are completely wrong? Because you are. As Dr. Fred Sanders wrote in his compelling book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, "the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself."2 Let's look at some aspects of the work of Christ's atonement on the cross to see just how dependent it is on the concept of the Trinity.

The Trinity Demonstrates God's Sacrifice is the Greatest

The Trinity is necessary for understanding the total sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Paul in Romans 5 puts it this way:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.3
Notice how Paul makes a distinction in the passage above with the words God and Christ. He argues that a person giving up his own life for a righteous man would be a great sacrifice; it would mean more that a person gave up his life for an unrighteous man. However, we have been "reconciled to God by the death of His Son." It's one thing to lay down one's own life, which Jesus did in following the will of the Father. It's a completely different level of sacrifice to lay down the life of your beloved son for the sake of an enemy! Without the concept of the Trinity, this level of sacrifice is missed.

The Trinity Allows Jesus to Atone for All Humanity

Jesus' offering of Himself to the Father reconciles us to God. But only the blood of the second person of the Trinity could possibly atone for the sins of all humanity. Anything less wouldn't have a universal effect. Romans 8:3-4 is very clear here: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." The writer to the Hebrews completes the thought:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

…So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Jesus needed to appear in the heavenly realms, in the true Holy of Holies to atone for sinful humanity. He couldn't be just a man, as a righteous man might be able to pay for the sins of an unrighteous man, but Jesus paid for the sins of all flesh.

The Trinity Makes Resurrection Possible

The atonement is not the full Gospel. Any presentation of the Gospel message must not stop at Christ's death, but also include His resurrection. We know that without the resurrection of the dead, "you are still in your sins."4 Jesus said that his resurrection was his own to do,5 and Paul tells us that our future resurrection from the dead depends on God's Holy Spirit, who also raised Jesus: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."6 Thus, without the Trinity, there would be no resurrection and no hope for us. We would be "of all people the most pitied."

The Trinity is necessary for the gospel. One cannot be separated from the other. Sanders sums it up nicely in his book:
Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father's love. Personal evangelism, conversational prayer, devotional Bible study, authoritative preaching, world missions, and assurance of salvation all presuppose that life in the gospel is life in communion with the Trinity. Forget the Trinity and you forget why we do what we do; you forget who we are as gospel Christians; you forget how we got to be like we are.7


1.Sandlin, Mark. "No Trinity For Me, Please." Patheos. Patheos, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2014.
2.Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, Kindle Edition, 2010. 9.
3. Romans 5:7-10,ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.
4. 1 Cor. 15:17.
5. John 2:21, John 10:18
6. Romans 8:11
7. Sanders, Ibid.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Why Didn't God Create a World Where Everyone Would Go to Heaven?

Christianity teaches that God is all powerful, all knowing, and all loving. However, it also teaches that salvation is exclusively through Jesus and God "is not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance"(2 Pet. 3:9). If God has all knowledge, He would know that certain people will choose not to follow Him. Yet he creates these people anyway, resulting in  many souls being lost. Why would He create such a world? Wouldn't He look through all possible worlds He could have created and chosen to create one where everyone is saved?

I have argued elsewhere that hell is a logical result of a person choosing not to follow Christ. So, the assertion shouldn't be stated "why does God send anyone to hell", but rather "why wouldn't God create a world where all people choose Him and are saved".

Now, we know that God created us with the freedom to choose His ways or our own ways1. People are condemned to hell because they reject the righteous ways of God and seek their own pleasures (ref: Rom. 3:12, Matt:7:14). William Lane Craig asserts this when he writes, "People who are damned are so because they willingly reject God's grace and ignore the solicitation of His Spirit."2

Logical Limitations of God

The assertion above, though, assumes that there could exist such a world where everyone is saved and that world would suit God's purposes. This isn't necessarily so.

God is omnipotent (all powerful), but it is well recognized that omnipotence does not include performing that which is logically contradictory. In other words, to ask if God can make a rock so big that He can't lift it is nonsense. It's not a lack of omnipotence.

Similarly, it may not be logically possible for God to create a world where a significant number of people exist, all people are given freedom of choice, and all people choose to be saved. Dr. Craig writes "For God's ability to actualize worlds containing free creatures will be limited by which counterfactuals of creaturely freedom are true in the moment logically prior to the divine decree."3 Since truly free people have the ability to reject God, there may be no possible world where everyone freely accepts Christ's atonement. If that is true, then it is illogical to demand that God make such a world that can't exist.

Choosing Between Possible Worlds

But, even if some world is possible where everyone chooses salvation, it is also possible that the total number of individuals is so small that an all-loving God would choose to create another. Craig continues:
Suppose that the only worlds feasible for God in which all persons receive Christ and are saved are worlds containing only a handful of persons. Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ? Not only does this seem to me possibly true, but I think that it probably is true. Why should the joy and blessedness of those who would receive God's grace and love be prevented on account of those who would freely spurn it? An omnibenevolent God might want as many creatures as possible to share salvation; but given certain true counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, God, in order to have a multitude in heaven, might have to accept a number in hell.4
Here Craig shows how it is not contradictory to believe that an all-loving and all powerful God could create a world where many people are not saved. As Craig points out, it is entirely possible that God would want to bestow His grace to as many as possible - not merely a handful. It is not out of the realm of possibility that certain free persons exist who—no matter what the circumstance—would simply never choose to follow Christ.

God, Salvation, And This World

Craig argues what God has done is bring into reality a world that maximizes the number of people who are saved while minimizing the number of people who are lost. He states "it is possible that God wants to maximize the number of the saved: He wants heaven to be as full as possible. Moreover, as a loving God, He wants to minimize the number of the lost: He wants hell to be as empty as possible. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more lost than is necessary to achieve a certain number of the saved. But it is possible that the balance between the saved and lost in the actual world is such an optimal balance.

"...It is possible that the terrible price of filling heaven is also filling hell and that any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost would be worse."5

Ultimate Ends

So, it is possible that if God were to create any world at all, the one in which we live contains an optimum balance between the saved and lost. An objector may counter "then God shouldn't have created anyone at all". However, this ignores the fact that people do choose their actions. It isn't reasonable to say that some shouldn't enjoy eternal life with God because others will willingly choose to rebel against Him. God is not responsible for those individuals rebelling, even if He knew they would before they were ever created.


1. See the article "Does Man Have Free Will?" at
2. Craig, William L. "Middle Knowledge and Christian Exclusivism." Sophia 34 (1995): 120-139.
3. Craig, William L. "'No Other Name': A Middle Knowledge Perspective on the Exclusivity of Salvation through Christ". Faith and Philosophy 6. (1989): 172-88.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Waiting Until You Feel Your Faith is Dangerous

It's no secret that we live in an age of instant gratification. Crave Mexican food? Restaurants are minutes away. Wondering what other films you've seen that celebrity has starred in? Simply pull out your phone and Google his name. How is your investment portfolio doing? You can log in anytime to check your stocks. I can even use the Internet to see how much electricity my house uses hour by the hour.

While there are clear advantages in living in an age where our wants can be met with ease, there are also dangers. Of course, many have written on the problem of distraction in our wired world, and how much more kids expect to attain a level of notoriety than in the past. But what concerns me more is the expectation of immediate satisfaction as the measure of truth. As our technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to having our desires accommodated immediately. We now expect to satisfy even the feelings of longing or relationship. Facebook provides the illusion of connection. So, what happens when someone seeking a relationship with God but doesn't feel him?

That is exactly the question I was asked a couple of days ago. One of the ministry opportunities I have is serving with the Harvest Crusade, a large evangelistic outreach that just wrapped up a three day event in Southern California. People watching the event online have the ability to request a chat with an online counselor. Some of those requests come to me and I will answer whatever questions or concerns they voice.

This last weekend, I was talking with a young viewer from Japan. He wrote that he was very disturbed because he felt his "troubled heart keeps me in dark" and that he couldn't see God or receive any good news. He basically explained that he couldn't know God because he couldn't feel Him. The idea that one must feel in order to believe is becoming more common; I'm hearing more of it all the time. But to limit one's understanding of truth to only that which one can feel is not only foolhardy, but dangerous! I may feel like I haven't spent much money this month, but if I go by my feelings, I'll soon be overdrawn.

As an illustration, I asked this young man if he was familiar with heat stroke. Heat stroke is a very dangerous condition that happens when people allow their bodies to overheat due to weather and activity. Mostly occurring during summer, folks will be busy participating in outdoor activities and forget to drink enough water or to cool down. They may not feel thirsty, but their body temperature rises to a point where their organs can be permanently damaged.Doctors will instruct athletes and others outdoors to drink plenty of water even if they don't feel thirsty. It isn't the feeling that matters; the body needs to cool down and consuming liquids is how it accomplishes that. Similarly, no one should rely only of feeling God's presence as a way to determine if they may be accepted by him. You can know that God cares for you because of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. We have the evidence to know that the resurrection is a real event in history. By looking at the facts that the Bible offers instead of your feelings, you can get a better picture of the truth.
Photo courtesy Markus Schoepke. Licenced by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts on Yom Kippur from the Book of Hebrews

"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. ... But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. ... He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."

 References: Heb 7:26-27, 8:6, 9:12
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