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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 theology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label theology. Show all posts

Monday, January 22, 2018

Reckless Love and Why Words Matter in Worship

In 1996 the alt-rock band Dishwalla became a one-hit wonder with their catchy “Counting Blue Cars." The song isn't well known by its title as much as its chorus:
We said, "Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'd really like to meet her.
And ask her why we're who we are."
Tell me all your thoughts on God
'Cause I'm on my way to see her
So tell me, am I very far,
Am I very far now?
When I first heard the song, I remember how it was a bit jarring having the singer refer to God as a woman. We know that God is a spirit; which means he doesn't have male or female chromosomes. In fact, there are many places in scripture that portray God as feminine or motherly. God says in Isaiah 66:13-14 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem." Hosea 11:3-4 paint a vivid picture of God as a mother cradling and feeding her children, and there are others as well. However, God has also in scripture consistently referred to himself exclusively through male pronouns. He explicitly uses the term father and it is clear that this is the proper way to refer to him. Christians don't write worship songs extolling Mother God.

Is God's Love Reckless?

I offer this example because of a recent trend in worship songwriting I've noticed. Many popular worship songs aren't very careful with their lyrics and how they portray God. One such song that has grown in popularity is the Cory Asbury song “Reckless Love," published by Bethel Music. A lot of people have bristled at the song's hook. Should we caricature God's love as reckless?

I know that other song have tied God's love to negative actions, such as equating it to the destructive power of a hurricane or one drowning in an ocean. I don't believe such word choices are an attempt to make God an evil force. I believe the writers are earnestly trying to describe a feeling of overwhelming awe about God's mercy and power in their lives, though they seem to lack the vocabulary to say it in that way. They cheat a bit and their analogies bring a picture of breaking apart rather than building up. Still, since those are analogies I don't protest too much.

However, when a worship song teaches that one the attributes of God is recklessness, then the issue is more important and we need to think through what this may mean. To be reckless, as it has been defined, is to be "utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution, careless." Can God be in any way unconcerned with consequences? Can a holy God be without caution? Can a God who has defined himself as the very essence of love be careless? To use the term brings the very defining features of how God has revealed himself to be under question. And given that the worship we sing is a form of teaching in the church, the words we choose in our worship songs fall under the same admonition of James 3:1 and require a greater strictness.

What about the Positive Aspects of Recklessness?

In discussing this with others some have offered a different take on the word reckless. One friend asked :
But what about these:
  • "Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
  • "Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action; without caution"
When taking the term "Reckless Love" and looking at it in the context of the rest of the lyrics, it's clearly used in the positive sense of the word.
I still don't think this works, and here's why. There is a type of giving that is utterly unconcerned about consequences, such as when someone gives an addict a $100 bill or when parents give their children whatever they ask. That is reckless giving because the consequences of those gifts will actually harm the recipient. In giving, Paul teaches us to be intentional (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) and also that the one who doesn't work shouldn't simply be given food (2 Thess. 3:10). So, it isn't careless giving but thoughtful giving. Similarly, one can serve recklessly. It may be as benign as finishing your child's homework or as dangerous as aiding them in covering a crime or enabling an abuser.

In each of the sentences above, the word that may be used is selfless, not reckless. Selflessness means we ourselves feel it when we give or serve yet value others more. But word matter. Recklessness is not selflessness. So my response is:
  • Giving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = spoiling
  • Serving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action = aiding and abetting
  • Loving, utterly unconcerned about the consequences of some action= dependency
So to describe God's love as reckless reduces God to at best fallible and at worst dependent. Again, I don't believe the writers or the people who sing the song are intending to this, but one cannot reconcile recklessness with a perfect God.

The Importance of Words and Their Meanings

Words are important. Christians recognize this when we discuss issues like homosexual unions. We recognize the word marriage has a specific meaning and that marriage at its core means the joining of a man and a woman. Christians balk at how popular culture seeks to redefine the term to fit their opinion. We would likewise balk at an attempt to label God as transgender simply because he has spoken off himself with motherly tendencies. The word reckless also has a real meaning. When we try to use that attribute of God, we are trying to pour a new meaning into the word, but it then affects the very idea of God to the listener.

I don't think anyone would cheer a worship song that extols God the Mother. Yet, there is more scriptural support for that phrase than there is for God being reckless in any aspect. Let's face it, entitling a song “Reckless Love" is a little bit of clickbait. The writers want people to ponder the incongruity of the phrase. Yet, this is exactly where caution should be exercised more. Accuracy over intrigue, especially when discussing something as central as God's character, is what is called for. Even if I'm wrong, the very fact that so many are concerned about its message should at least caution us to avoid the song for fear that the danger of misrepresentation is a real one (1 Cor. 8:7-13) .

I can sum up my argument in the following sentence: “Reckless Love" delivers reckless theology brought about by a reckless use of language. I don't think anyone can honestly read that sentence and believe that I've just given the song a compliment. And if that's true, perhaps it's time to rethink teaching that God's love is reckless to our congregations.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Reformation: A Great Schism or Necessary Change?

In this special edition of the Come Let Us Reason Together podcast, Lenny sits down with Reasons to Believe Senior Research Scholar Ken Samples to discuss the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. It was on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church. That act launched one of the most significant changes to western civilization humanity has ever seen.   

In this extended podcast, Ken and Lenny discuss the reasons for Luther’s grievances, why the Reformation made the impact it did, how the sharing of the Gospel was affected through the  Reformers, as well as some of the criticisms and problems that emerged from dividing the church.

Listen to the discussion below or download by clicking here. To subscribe to Come Reason's podcast, click on the buttons below:

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Jesus Didn't Become God; the Earliest Christians Believed Him to Be Divine

In his excellent new book, God Among Sages, Kenneth Samples has done a wonderful job in combining an apologetic showing the Gospel accounts reflect the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth and how the Jesus of the Gospels is markedly different from the founders of Eastern religions, such as Krishna, who was also thought to be a god taking on human form.

The comparison is interesting, especially considering the charge made by many modern skeptics that the Christian belief of Jesus as God incarnate was foreign to Jesus's first followers and only grew as a later addition to the new religion. Bart Ehrman's book How Jesus Became God is one such challenge. Samples answers it well when he writes:
But just what did the earliest Christians believe about the nature and person of Jesus Christ? A major textual breakthrough over the last couple of decades has al1owed scholars to see more dearly what the earliest Christians believed about Jesus Christ, particularly as expressed in their church services.

Biblical scholarship (in this case, a type of form criticism) has discovered primitive Jewish-Christian creeds, confessions, and hymns woven into Scripture. The early Christians in their worship services used these compact confessions of faith long before the New Testament was written. As New Testament scholar Ralph Martin explains, "The church of the New Testament is already a believing, preaching, and confessing community of men and women. This implies the existence and influence of a body of authoritative doctrine ... which was the given and shared possession of those who formed the nascent Christian communities in the world of the Roman Empire."1
I've written before on the creed found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 and how it shows the resurrection account existed as a foundational belief from the earliest moments of Christianity. Here, Samples is arguing that there are other early creeds recorded within the pages of the New Testament showing a very early belief in the divinity of Jesus. Some of these passages are actually central to the case of understanding Jesus as the God-man.

Philippians 2:6-11, a key passage discussing how Jesus existed in the form of God, but humbled himself and became man, is the first example. Because of differences in its language and its poetic approach separate it from the rest of the epistle lead scholars to believe this was an early Christian hymn.2 Paul wrote the epistle to the Philippians around AD 62, which means a hymn exalting the incarnation of God in the man of Jesus was well established within thirty years of Jesus's crucifixion.

Jesus Seen As God Very Early

Pointing to Craig Blomberg's work, Samples highlights two other passages (Colossians 1:15-20 and 1 Peter 3:18-22), also written around AD 62. He then notes "the hymnal and creedal portions of those letters date much earlier, possibly back to the Jewish expressions of Christianity in the 40s or even earlier in the 30s."3 These early dates make it impossible for the deity of Christ to be ascribed to either later legend or Gentile influence. It places the central theology of the Trinity at the very beginning of Christianity itself! This is all the more remarkable given that as Jesus first followers were Jews, they would've strongly resisted any claims to divinity that would impeach Yahweh as the one and only God. Remember, this is exactly why Paul sought to kill Christians to begin with.

The early creedal statements within the epistles written by both Peter and Paul—two key founders of the Christian church—show that the incarnation, like the resurrection, was a formative doctrine of Christianity. Jesus didn't "become God" as Ehrman puts it, but was always seen as God. What could have made such a scandalous claim seem palatable to the first Jewish Christians? Nothing other than a resurrection, I believe.

I highly recommend you grab a copy of God Among Sages for yourself. There are so many good things here Samples has given us, this being just one nugget. It's a fresh approach to the question of the historical Jesus and how he compares to other religions' founders.


1. Samples, Kenneth Richard. God Among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017. 71. Print.
2. Samples, 2017. 72.
3. Samples, 2017. 73.
Image courtesy Lawrence OP and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Maybe Our Churches Need More Comic Books

A lot of believers shy away from theology and worldview discussions. They all seem so heady and boring. A lot of people don't feel "smart enough" to engage in wrestling with issues of theology. Others feel the whole thing is too abstract. That's why it should come as no surprise how researchers from Ligonier Ministries and Lifeway Research found evangelical Christians hold to some heretical beliefs. In a recent study, 70% of those who would be defined as evangelical agreed with the statement that Jesus was the first and greatest creation of God.1 That's a heresy that separates Christians from non-Christian sects, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses.

So, yes, theology is a big deal. But sometimes it isn't the concept that's difficult or boring; I find a lot of people are interested once we're in a conversation about theological issues. It may be the presentation that's problematic. If we added a bit of fun into our question, it may become more engaging.

Would Nightcrawler be blue in Heaven?

As a recent example, I offer a question a friend asked me the other day on Twitter: "in his glorified body, would Marvel's Nightcrawler still be fuzzy & blue?" For those unfamiliar, Nightcrawler is a character from the Marvel X-Men franchise, all of which are defined as genetic mutants that give them super abilities. One byproduct of Nightcrawler's (his given name is Kurt Wagner) mutation is his decidedly unhuman-like appearance: blue fur, three digits on each hand, and a tail among other things.

Here's the thing, though. When we start thinking through the question, we begin to learn something about what it means to be made in the image of God. For example, if Kurt's mutation is a genetic defect, either natural like the skeletal dysplasia that causes dwarfism or environmental, like the damage thalidomide inflicted on developing babies, then one may assume it is a consequence of sin. When the heavens and earth are renewed (2 Peter 3:13, Rev. 21:1), those consequences will be removed (Rom. 8:21). I believe one can infer from these passages that thalidomide babies or those suffering from dwarfism will have perfectly healthy bodies as they would have been without their afflictions.

There's another possibility. What if this "mutation" is given to Kurt by design? In other words, what if it isn't a bug but a feature? For example, height doesn't run in my family. I'm only 5'6". I don't at all expect to be 6 feet tall in my resurrection body. My height has been given to me by God and it has contributed to the person I am today. If Kurt's blue, fuzzy appearance falls into that kind of category, then one would expect him to be blue and fuzzy for eternity!

Of course, one of the benefits of the new creation is that people won't be so shallow as to judge others by their physical appearance first. We will relate to one another in perfect relational love (John 17:20-21) and we will be "partakers in the divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). We will see one another much more like the way God sees us.
The question isn't as strange as it first appears. In the comics, Wagner is actually a Roman Catholic priest and holds to orthodox positions on salvation and redemption. Making the connection from Wagner reading "I am the Resurrection and the Life" to "what kind of resurrection body would this individual have if he really existed" is a small step.

What Does This Mean for Me?

These are the kinds of thoughtful discussions one can engage in even starting with a "silly" question. But we don't have to stop even there. Here are few more thoughts given the framework I've laid out above: how does something like plastic surgery fit into one's resurrected body? If surgeries are corrective, then they fall into the former category. That may not be the case if they're simply trying to fit some current standard of beauty, though. Just as I don't believe I'll be six foot tall in heaven, I find it hard to hold that someone's breast augmentation would become a permanent part of their anatomy. As I said, I don't think the physical will be the primary way we judge one another. But then, what does that say for tattoos?

I'll let the reader wrestle with those issues. I do want to encourage you to think about ways you might be able to make theology a bit more fun by asking "silly" questions. You might get a surprisingly good conversation out of it!


1. Lindgren, Caleb. "Evangelicals' Favorite Heresies Revisited by Researchers." Christianity Today. Christianity Today, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 3 Oct. 2016.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Say the Word "Cult"? (video)

Say the word "cult" and what comes to mind? Perhaps hooded figures keeping people against their will or a maniacal preacher fighting against the government. But the word cult has a religious as well as a sociological sense.

In this short video, Lenny adds a bit of clarity to the term cult, showing how certain belief systems would actually qualify as cults of an established faith.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (video)

If you were asked to choose the most intelligent person in history, who would it be? Einstein? Newton? Socrates? What about Jesus? Jesus valued the life of the mind and it showed as he confronted his critics.

Last month, I had the privilege to give two talks for the Speaking The Truth in Love Conference. Here's my talk entitled "Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived, "explaining  how Jesus wants to engage our minds as much as our hearts.

To watch the other video from the conference, click here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Five Reasons Why God's Hiddenness is a Good Thing

"If God exists, why doesn't he make himself more obvious?" I've heard this question countless times from atheists and skeptics of Christianity. They seem to think that what is known as the hiddenness of God is an argument against his existence. Many claim one should only accept what they have evidence to believe. Of course, you may then ask what evidence they've examined which proves that criteria is true, the lack of which highlights the arbitrariness of applying their own principle.

However, God's hiddenness is an important point to consider for even Christians struggle with God feeling distant at times causing believers to become unsure of what God's will could be for this or that particular situation. If God wants his faithful to follow him, why doesn't he make himself and his desires more obvious?

The hiddenness of God is actually important. God doesn't simply want us to believe he exists. James tells us even the demons believe and tremble. He wants us to trust him and form a deep bond with him. I can think of five ways God's hiddenness benefits us through trust:

1. In order for love to be real, one must have some trust in the beloved.

First, because we recognize that God is the creator of humanity, it doesn't do for humans to demand evidence from him. It would be as inappropriate for us, as children of God, to demand proof of God's actions as it would be a young child demanding proof that her parents are not torturing her because of their demand to have her eat her vegetables or to not cross the street alone. Such a child is self-centered and spoiled.

Human nature is such that disobedience will manifest itself in all children. Human beings in their fallen state naturally become selfish and demanding. Maturity may be measured in deferring one's current desires for a better outcome down the road. God knows trust must be practiced to become mature, and trusting God helps us develop that virtue.

2. Trust allows us to develop an honest relationship with God

Imagine a man who marries an attractive woman, one who seems to be hit upon by almost every man she meets. Right after marriage, he continually tracks her whereabouts via her cell phone's GPS, he places hidden cameras in her car and in the home, and makes her prove that she hasn't had an affair.

What kind of relationship would they have? Does such a man truly love this woman, or does he simply want to control her? Surely she can provide evidence to her husband that she hasn't been unfaithful, but that isn't a loving relationship. His love for her is better reflected I his trust that she is devoted to him. Similarly, trust is the key to faith for the Christian. It shows that we are committed to him in a loving relationship, one where he has made himself real through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in his written word, and in the witness of the Spirit in our hearts. As we devote ourselves to him, trusting him more and more, our relationship with him grows more deeply.

3. Trust allows us to survive the dark times

We live in a fallen world where each of us will face difficulties. The person who trusts God and his word has confidence that such difficulties are able to be overcome. A believer can more bravely face his trials knowing that God is sovereign over them and that "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Rom 8:18).

Without trust, one is faced with desperation and despair. Dark times test the trust one has in God and can steel their hearts to trust him.

4. Trust allows us to be more effective in our walk with God

Trust allows us to be effective Christians in the world. As a hockey fan, I know that a team needs trust to succeed. The forwards must trust their defense in order to be aggressive enough to rush the net. The defense, in order to block the player coming down the center, must trust their goalie to stop the outside shots. Everyone on the team has to trust their training and coaching to execute plays properly.

Likewise, Christians who are the most effective for the kingdom are those who trust that God will help them with the tasks he has called them to do. They can take some risks, they can work through the difficult times with the hope of better days and they can see how much God has done for them to this point.

5. Trust allows us to be blessed by God's faithfulness

To look back over your life and see God's hand working through the tough times and the times of blessing draw us ever closer to our Lord. Jesus said as much to Thomas who, after missing the Lord's first appearing, wanted to see the evidence of his crucifixion before he would believe. Thomas asked for no evidence that Jesus hadn't already provided the other disciples. Yet, when Jesus then appeared again he drew a distinction between the demand for evidence and the exercise of faith: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

One final point: only those who trust God have the blessing of seeing their trust rewarded.

When God answers prayer, delivers one from a trial, or provides success in ministry, the one who trusted him can look back and glorify the God who keeps his promises. The blessing of seeing God work to the good of his people is impossible for someone who would never trust that God would make good on his word.

God's hiddenness allows each of us to trust him and grow as human beings. The atheist, like the insolent child, demands that evidence must be presented. But meeting that demand would stultify the person, lessening his ability to grow his relationship with God.

Image courtesy PiccoloNamek and licensed via the Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Value of the Human Body

What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.

First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.

Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.

How Does One Ascribe Value?

What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.

Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

Human Beings as Body and Soul

As human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings.  God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2
Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.

The Value of the Human Body

Given these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.

All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them.  Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.


1. I realize some Christians hold to a form of physicalism, whereby they see the soul as an attribute of the body instead of in distinction from it. However, even this belief doesn't damage my central argument.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Trying to Become More Relevant Makes Liberal Churches Less Relevant

There has been a lot of noise about the rise of the Nones in the U.S. As the 2014 Religious Landscape Study reported, more people are not identifying with any organized religious. That doesn't mean they are all atheists, though. According to the Pew organization that published the study, "the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the 'nones' are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith."1 The rise of the Nones mirror the decline in mainline Protestant denominations, while religious groups such as Evangelicals are holding steady or even growing slightly. Millennials are increasingly identifying as Nones.

None of this is surprising. Millennials take an increasingly subjective view of faith claims, just as the more mainline denominations had held and taught. I believe the problem stems from the shift that occurred in the theology of mainline seminaries and churches. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainline denominations became increasingly more theologically liberal, spiritualizing what had previously been understood as objective morality and a record of historic events. This was their fatal move, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in How Should We Then Live:
The new liberal theology, because it says that the Bible does not touch the cosmos or history, has no real basis for applying the Bible's values in a historic situation, in either morals or law. Everything religious is in the area of non-reason, and since reason has no place there, there is no room for discussion; there are only arbitrary pronouncements. Immanuel Kant could not bring together the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds, and the new theologian has no way logically to bring his personal arbitrary values into a historic situation. Or to say it another way: Sartre said that in an absurd world we can authenticate ourselves by an act of the will; but, as we saw, because reason has no place in this we can help people or hurt them. Similarly, because the pronouncements of these theologians about morals or law are arbitrary, in a different mood they, too, can be totally reversed.

The new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem the Hindu philosophers have; that is, they must say that finally everything that is is equally in God. In Hindu thought one of the manifestations of God is Kali, a feminine representation of God with fangs and skulls hanging about her neck. Why do Hindus picture God this way? Because to them everything that exists now is a part of what has always been, a part of that which the Hindus would call "God"—and therefore cruelty is equal to non-cruelty. Modern humanistic man in both his secular and his religious forms has come to the same awful place. Both have no final way to say what is right and what is wrong, and no final way to say why one should choose non-cruelty instead of cruelty.2
Because mainline denominations abdicated an objective standard of scripture for subjective one, they lost their claim to any real knowledge about the world. The Millennials have recognized this. If there is nothing liberal theology can provide and concrete and objective, then why bother with it at all? If one teaches an olly-olly-oxen-free approach to faith, then why would anyone need to bother with the inconvenience of waling up early to drive to some church building and sit in a pew so someone else can tell them what their understanding of spirituality is? The congregant has his or her own view, which is equally true, so why not skip the whole enterprise? And that's what they've been doing.

Ironically, many mainline churches have tried to recapture the interest of the Millennial generation by showing just how progressive and accepting of all viewpoints they rare. I see banners all the time hanging from Methodist or ELCA churches proclaiming their diversity and acceptance of views that have historically been anathema in Christianity. They don't seem to realize their stance makes their church less relevant in the mind of Millennials, not more so.


1. "U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
2 Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005. Print.177-178.
Image by Colin Babb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Big Deal Over Jesus' Birthday

Last week, I published a three-part series on why the date of Christmas is not based on Roman or pagan holidays. While the claim is popular, history argues differently. As I said there, some want to believe in the paganism aspect so they can hold onto the trappings of a secular Christmas without any charge of hypocrisy.

The reaction I received was surprising. I expected several atheists or skeptics to doubt the claim, but there were quite a lot of people who identify themselves as Christians who were deeply offended that Christmas wasn't pagan and simply didn't want to give up on the idea. They pointed to things like Christmas trees, even ripping Jeremiah 10:1-10 wholly out of context as a command not to have them! They just KNEW Christmas was pagan and they were better Christians than I was because they didn't celebrate it!

While people of the 21st century tend to reduce the celebration of an event such as Jesus's birth to "Jesus's Birthday," Christians of the fourth century had an entirely different motive. They weren't focused so much on marking a birthday as we would be, but marking a pivotal point of history: the day the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The early church wanted to celebrate the incarnation of God into man, which is precisely what Christmas was meant to do. They wanted to uphold the foundational teaching of Jesus as the God-man.

The Heresies Against Jesus's Humanity

People who are open to the evidence believe Jesus existed, even if they don't believe he was divine. Even strong critics of Christianity such as Bart Ehrman maintain that not only did Jesus exist; it is foolish to believe he was mythical. Ehrman even wrote that one shouldn't deny "what virtually every sane historian on the planet—Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you—has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed."1

The bigger problem the early church faced was not as much whether Jesus lived or if he was in some way divine, but whether he was truly God and truly man at the same time. Many Gnostics taught that Jesus wasn't a physical being at all. He was a spiritual entity that would appear as physical. This view is known as Docetism, coming from the Greek word meaning "to appear."2 Interestingly, Bishop Serapion of Antioch condemns this view in a letter that is dated right at the same time Hippolytus offers the December 25th date for the birth of Christ.

The importance of celebrating Christ's entrance into the world is to recognize that Jesus who existed as God really did humble himself "being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:7). Jesus was a real human being in every respect, and just like all humans, he entered this world by being born. Because Jesus was born, he is considered a kinsman of Adam, and thus the only one who could redeem all of Adam's offspring from sin, as Paul explains: "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead" (1 Cor. 15:21). The book of Hebrews agrees, stating ""Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. 2:17). Paul also tells Timothy "There is One God and one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). We celebrate Christmas because of the miracle of God becoming man. That's a much different concept than simply having a birthday party.

The Danger Facing Christmas Today

But even if it were true that December 25 was originally a pagan holiday, that doesn't taint the holiday. Taking the date from a pagan celebration doesn't mean those celebrations are pagan any more than it means I'm honoring the Norse god Thor by writing Thursday on my checks or honoring the Roman god Juno by calling the sixth month June. The names of June and Thursday have lost all pagan value and are simply common parlance.

The real danger Christmas faces today is a similar one. We've forgotten why it is absolutely crucial to our salvation that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. Those who can rail against the pagan origins of Christmas cannot seem to see the importance of underscoring Jesus's humanity. If we dismiss Christmas altogether, we are in danger of missing part of the story of our redemption. That's something I'm not willing to throw away.


1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 24 Dec. 2015.
2. González, Justo L., and Catherine Gunsalus. González. Heretics for Armchair Theologians. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008. Print. 37-38.
Image courtesy Plum leaves and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Throwing Out the Riches of Christian History

After the discovery of gold in California in 1849, the American west was bristling with gold fever. Prospectors were traveling to both California and Nevada seeking to strike it rich. By 1859, much of the surface gold had been retrieved from the area around the Carson River, but two prospectors, Patrick McLaughlin and Peter O'Riley, sought to mine deeper into the hillsides. 1

They used rockers to extract some gold from shallow deposits, but continued to be vexed by a bluish-black clay that kept clogging their mining equipment. This "annoying blue stuff" had been plaguing miners for over a year, as the equipment had to be continually cleaned of the heavy, sticky stuff so it could be discarded.2 What they didn't realize is they had been throwing away a fortune. When the clay was sent to an assay office in Grass Valley, CA. it was found that each ton of the material would yield $876 in gold, but it held nearly $3,000 in silver! 3 Because the miners only knew about gold, they had been throwing away a fortune.

I think Christians can sometimes suffer from the same problem. It is no doubt that all believers revere the Bible as God's word and it is the most valuable thing we have to know and learn from God. Yet, many Christians only focus on the Bible and they don't learn about the rich heritage of Christian history. Christians of past ages have studies, learned, and argued for their faith even as we do today. They have already worked through manty of the difficulties that we believe are modern in nature and they offer a wisdom and insight into the scriptures that shouldn't be overlooked.

 In fact, many of the supposed "new" arguments against God have been addressed centuries ago. For example, take the Richard Dawkins quote from his 2002 TED Talk: "We are all atheists in most of the gods humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further."4 This is merely rhetoric, and it isn't new.

 In the second century AD, the Christian Athenagoras wrote to the Emperor of Rome complaining about how Christians are being unfairly persecuted. One charge leveled against them was that Christians were atheists, because they didn't believe in the pantheon of Gods. Here's Athenagoras' reply:
As regards, first of all, the allegation that we are atheists—for I will meet the charges one by one, that we may not be ridiculed for having no answer to give to those who make them—with reason did the Athenians adjudge Diagoras guilty of atheism… [for he] openly declared that there was no God at all. But to us, who distinguish God from matter, and teach that matter is one thing and God another, and that they are separated by a wide interval (for that the Deity is uncreated and eternal, to be beheld by the understanding and reason alone, while matter is created and perishable), is it not absurd to apply the name of atheism? …since our doctrine acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all things by the Logos which is from Him, we are treated unreasonably in both respects, in that we are both defamed and persecuted.5
In his letter to the Emperor, Athenagoras rightly refutes the charge of atheism with respect to the Roman gods as absurd. The Christians do believe in an uncreated being who is the source of all other things. Therefore, Athenagoras demonstrates the ridiculousness of the argument that not believing in Roman gods would make one an atheist "among other gods." That isn't what atheism means. It means one believes in no god of any kind whatsoever. To claim that I am an atheist concerning "most of the gods" is as much an error as claiming Dawkins is a creationist because he believes most of our modern technology has been intelligently designed. Athenagoras refuted Dawkins' point before 190AD!

This is simply one example of the riches that await the Christian who seeks to study the history of Christian thought. While the Bible is spiritual gold, we ignore far too much silver simply because we don't take the time to dig in and see how valuable such studies can be. Don't make that mistake.


1. James, Ronald. "Comstock Mining District." Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Online Nevada Encyclopedia, 20 Apr. 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.
2. Speed, James. "Discovering the World's Greatest Silver Properties." The Magazine of Wall Street. Vol. 21. 13 Oct, 1917. 212. Web.
3. James, 2009.
4. Dawkins, Richard. "Militant Atheism." TEDTalks. TED Conferences, LLC, Feb. 2002. Web. 9 Dec. 2015.
5. Athenagoras of Athens. "A Plea for the Christians." New Advent. Kevin Knight, 2009. Web. 09 Dec. 2015.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Who is God? Infinite, Personal, Transcendent

In his masterful book The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, James Sire begins by explaining Christian theism, and there he starts with the basic attributes of God. As Sire notes, it used to be that everyone knew what the concept of God was within the western world, but that cannot be taken as true any more. People think they know what the concept of the Christian God entails, but they either misunderstand or leave out key characteristics. In the passage below, Sire offers a definition of the God of the Bible and then unpacks it:
Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good.

Let's break this proposition down into its parts.

God is infinite. This means that he is beyond scope, beyond measure, as far as we are concerned. No other being in the universe can challenge him in his nature. All else is secondary. He has no twin but is alone the be-all and end-all of existence. He is, in fact, the only self-existent being," as he spoke to Moses out of the burning bush: "I AM WHO I AM" (Ex 3:14). He is in a way that none else is. As Moses proclaimed, "Hear, 0 Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (Deut 6:4 KJV). SO God is the one prime existent, the one prime reality and, as will be discussed at some length later, the one source of all other reality.

God is personal. This means God is not mere force or energy or existent "substance." God is personal. Personality requires two basic characteristics: self-reflection and self-determination. In other words, God is personal in that he knows himself to be (he is self-conscious) and he possesses the characteristics of self-determination (he "thinks" and "acts").

One implication of the personality of God is that he is like us. In a way, this puts the cart before the horse. Actually, we are like him, but it is helpful to put it the other way around at least for a brief comment. He is like us. That means there is Someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession-personality. But more on this under proposition 3.

Another implication of the personality of God is that God is not a simple unity, an integer. He has attributes, characteristics. He is a unity, yes, but a unity of complexity.

Actually, in Christian theism (not Judaism or Islam) God is not only personal but triune. That is, "within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three 'persons' who are neither three gods on the one side, not three parts or modes of God on the other, but coequally and coeternally God." The Trinity is certainly a great mystery, and I cannot even begin to elucidate it now. What is important here is to note that the Trinity confirms the communal, "personal" nature of ultimate being. God is not only there-an actually existent being; he is personal and we can relate to him in a personal way. To know God, therefore, means knowing more than that he exists. It means knowing him as we know a brother or, better, our own father.

God is transcendent. This means God is beyond us and our world. He is otherly. Look at a stone: God is not it; God is beyond it Look at a man: God is not he; God is beyond him. Yet God is not so beyond that he bears no relation to us and our world. It is likewise true that God is immanent, and this means that he is with us. Look at a stone: God is present. Look at a person: God is present. Is this, then, a contradiction? Is theism nonsense at this point? I think not.

My daughter Carol, when she was five years old, taught me a lot here. She and her mother were in the kitchen, and her mother was teaching her about God's being everywhere. So Carol asked, "Is God in the living room?"

"Yes," her mother replied.

"Is he in the kitchen?"

God's goodness means then, first, that there is an absolute and personal standard of righteousness (it is found in God's character) and, second, that there is hope for humanity (because God is love and will not abandon his creation). These twin observations will become especially significant as we trace the results of rejecting the theistic worldview.1
One point that Sire makes in his summation at the top that he didn't draw out beneath is that God is the prime reality of all things. So many people today make the mistake of including God within some larger reality of existence. That's what fosters questions like "If God is the answer to 'who made the universe' then who made God?" That's a category error. God is the starting point. Without God, existence doesn't even make sense.

I highly recommend Sire's book. It's a great way to understand how worldviews affect not only how one views God, but how it changes the way one interprets all of reality.


Sire, James W. The Universe next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity, 1997. Print. 28-30.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Why Does God Remain Hidden? (podcast)

"If God is all-powerful, why didn't He create people who would all believe He exists?" It's a common question; one that stems from God's divine hiddenness. However, the freedom people have to deny God may be just as important as believing in Him. In this four part podcast series, Lenny explains why the nature of God demands that humans choose to follow Him freely.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

B.B. Warfield on Why Churches Need Apologetics

B.B. Warfield was one of the great theologians of the early 20th century. His writings are influential with many pastors even to this day. When Warfield was asked to write an introduction to a book of apologetics by Francis R. Beattie, he didn't take the standard route of providing a mini-book review. Instead, Warfield chose to answer a viewpoint within the church that had been growing in popularity, which is the idea that apologetics is an eccentric field of study, which is of little use to most Christians. Such a view was held by Warfield's peer Abraham Kuyper, as reflected in his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology.

I offer this snippet from Warfield's introduction because it reflects the mindset of many churches even today. Though Christians are bearing the burden of greater and greater assaults against their beliefs and their worldview, a majority of church leaders are reticent to provide their congregation with any type of apologetics training. Warfield's words are a good reminder as to just how important apologetics is to the task of evangelism.
The fact is, despite the richness of our apologetical literature, Apologetics has been treated very much like a stepchild in the theological household. The encyclopaedists have seemed scarcely to know what to do with it. They have with difficulty been persuaded to allow it a place among the theological disciplines at all. And, when forced to recognize it, they have been very prone to thrust it away into some odd corner, where it could hide its diminished head behind the skirts of some of its more esteemed sisters.

This widespread misprision of Apologetics has been greatly fostered by the influence of two opposite (if they be indeed opposite) tendencies of thought, which have very deeply affected the thinking even of theologians who are in principle antagonistic to them. I mean Rationalism and Mysticism. To Rationalism, of course, Apologetics is an inanity; to Mysticism, an impertinence. Wherever, therefore, rationalistic presuppositions have intruded, there proportionately the validity of Apologetics has been questioned. Wherever mystical sentiment has seeped in, there the utility of Apologetics has been more or less distrusted.

It is easy, of course, to say that a Christian man must take his standpoint not above the Scriptures, but in the Scriptures. He very certainly must. But surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. It is equally easy to say that Christianity is attained, not by demonstrations, but by a new birth. Nothing could be more true. But neither could anything be more unjustified than the inferences that are drawn from this truth for the discrediting of Apologetics. It certainly is not in the power of all the demonstrations in the world to make a Christian. Paul may plant and Apollos water; it is God alone who gives the increase. But it does not seem to follow that Paul would as well, therefore, not plant, and Apollos as well not water. Faith is the gift of God; but it does not in the least follow that the faith that God gives is an irrational faith, that is, a faith without grounds in right reason. It is beyond all question only the prepared heart that can fitly respond to the "reasons"; but how can even a prepared heart respond, when there are no "reasons" to draw out its action? One might as well say that photography is independent of light, because no light can make an impression unless the plate is prepared to receive it. The Holy Spirit does not work a blind, an ungrounded faith in the heart. What is supplied by his creative energy in working faith is not a ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new ability of the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the understanding. We believe in Christ because it is rational to believe in him, not though it be irrational. Accordingly, our Reformed fathers always posited in the production of faith the presence of the "argumentum propter quod credo," as well as the "principium seu causa efficiens a quo ad credendum adducor." That is to say, for the birth of faith in the soul, it is just as essential that grounds of faith should be present to the mind as that the Giver of faith should act creatively upon the heart.1


1. Edgar, William; K. Scott Oliphint. Christian Apologetics Past and Present (Volume 2, From 1500): A Primary Source Reader. Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2011. Kindle Edition.395, 398-99.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

To Draw Close to God You'll Need Theology (video)

Ever heard anyone say, "I don't need all that book-learning. Just give me Jesus and that's enough for me"? It's become common in the church to base our understanding of God on our feeling of him instead of our knowledge of him. In this short clip, Lenny  demonstrates from C.S. Lewis and from the Bible why the study of theology is crucial for the Christian to grow closer to the God we love.

Image courtesy Paul O'Rear and licensed via Creative Commons. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Defining What It Means To Be A Christian (video)

What does it mean to be a Christian? Just because someone claims to be a Christian, doesn't mean they are any more than claiming to be a superhero gives one super powers. Words matter and defining a Christian has become a more and more difficult thing. Listen to this short video—the second in our series on impostor Christianity—to learn more of why knowing what is required to be a Christian is crucial.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (podcast)

The Trinity is the central doctrine of Christianity and the one belief that separates the Christian view of God from all other faiths. This class will help believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the clam that it's a logical contradiction, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Identifying Impostor Christianity: The Danger Of Being Deceived (video)

What really defines Christianity? Mormons claim that they are Christians, simply another denomination. So do others who differ on Jesus' identity. What are the essentials of the Christian faith and how can we identify orthodox beliefs from heterodoxy or heresy?

In this short video, Lenny demonstrates why it's crucial for all Christians to be able to know what are the essential beliefs of Christianity and the dangers of being misled.

Watch part 2 here!

Image courtesy Canvas-rangeR and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Monday, August 17, 2015

What Makes the Persons of the Godhead Different from One Another?

Some claim the concept of three persons in a single being we call God is somehow contradictory. I've shown previously this isn't so. But how can we understand the difference within the Trinity? The first piece is to distinguish between personhood and being, as this article clarifies. Once that difference is understood, then one can begin to appreciate the persons within the Triune being of God. Yet, while there are three separate persons in the Father, Son, and Spirit, they share all the attributes and qualities of God while still remaining one.

In his wonderful book The History of Christian Thought, Jonathan Hill describes how the Cappadocian Fathers of the 4th century (Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their friend Gregory of Nazianzus) understood and clarified the doctrine of the Trinity. Their explanation shows that there is no distinction between any of the members, except for their relation to one another:
Basil invites us to consider the difference between, on the one hand, the word human and, on the other, the names Peter, Paul and Timothy. Human is a general term; it refers to a class of beings; the names pick out particular members of that class. In the same way, when we talk about "God," or the divine substance, we are using a general term. The three Persons are three separate manifestations of that substance, just as Peter, Paul and Timothy are three separate manifestations of human nature.

This seems pretty strange. If the three Persons of the Trinity are three in the same way that three people are three, then there are three Gods! It looks as if we have drifted away from monotheism altogether. But the situation is more complex than this. Gregory of Nyssa helps to explain it. He points out that when we have several different members of one class, there are usually certain ways to tell them apart: they may be different sizes, shapes or colors; and most fundamentally they must all be in different locations in space. But none of these things apply to the divine nature. God is incorporeal, a fact that Gregory, like Origen, is quite insistent on. So although the three Persons are different members of the one class, they cannot be distinguished from each other in the normal way.

In fact, there is only one difference between them: their mutual relations. This central idea was first articulated by Gregory of Nazianzus, in his famous Theological Orations. The Father has no characteristic that the Son lacks, and vice versa-because otherwise they would not be equally God. The only thing that is true of the Father but not the Son is that he is the Father of the Son; and similarly the Son is the Son of the Father. And the Spirit is the only one that proceeds from the Father. In every other respect except their mutual relations, the three are identical.

Gregory of Nyssa repeats the same idea and also points out that it is impossible to think of anyone Person without also thinking of the others. To talk of the Spirit is to think of the Son who sends him, and to talk of the Son is to think of the Father who begets him. Gregory likens the process to a chain: pull one end and the rest follows.
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