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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 www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
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.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
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 series, we will examine the clear lines separating true Christianity from its impostors.
Wednesday, May 11, 2016
One of the benefits of moving to a new home is my new address isn't "marked" by Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons and I get to engage with those who would knock on my front door. Today, I received my first call from two ladies representing the Jehovah's Witnesses. They began by asking if I believed people could live forever on earth. I replied that in a sense I did believe that, but I followed it up with one of my own, asking just who those are that qualify for such a blessing. The older lady responded by reading John 17:3, which is a standard verse the Witnesses use: "This means everlasting life, their coming to know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ" (NWT).
The verse led us to the nature of who Jesus is. If one is to know Jesus, then one must properly understand how the Bible portrays Him. It is very clear that over and over again, the Bible equates the person of Jesus of Nazareth with Jehovah God. One can clearly see this in how Jesus forgives sins in Mark 2:10, how the Father commands even the angels to worship him in Hebrews 1:6, and how he even ascribes the very names of God to himself in Revelation 22:13 – basically an outline of the HANDS argument. I also had them read John 1:3, and explained how Jesus cannot be a created being, but must be the eternal God.
The ladies directly asked if I believed in the Trinity, and one explained how she simply could not. She said passages like John 14:28 where Jesus states "The Father is greater than I"(ESV) show that Jesus could not be God. Other passages seem to reinforce this idea. 1 Corinthians 11:3 declares, "the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God" (ESV). These verses show Jesus's subordination to the Father.
My Witness friend offered this analogy:
You have a father, right? You may see your father as a really great man. Imagine if he is a really great man. You would listen to your father. You wouldn't consider yourself to be your father. You would follow your father's rules and would recognize his authority over you.I agreed that such a picture of authority properly reflects the passages. But I said that isn't the whole story:
Let's continue with your analogy. Imagine all is as you said and a thief broke into our house one evening to rob us. While inside, either my father or myself woke up and went to investigate. The thief shot and killed the investigator but was later apprehended. Now, let me ask you a question. Is the crime more severe if the man the thief shoots is my father and not me? Wouldn't the homicide be equally wrong no matter if it was my father or myself who was murdered? I think we can agree it would be. That's because the authority one recognizes is different than the inherent worth of the person. While I may choose to place myself under my father's authority, it doesn't make his humanity more human than mine. A general and a private are both equally valuable human beings, the only difference is one where a person chooses to recognize the authority of another.The ladies agreed that this was reasonable. I continued:
The Bible tells us that Jesus who was in the form of God did not see equality with God a thing to be grasped, but placed himself in submission to the Father (Phil. 2:6-8). So, passages where Jesus says the Father is greater are simply reflecting his submission to the Father's authority, not to some difference in their essence.Their first reply was "So, you believe in the Trinity," which I saw immediately closed them off to exploring the topic further. In their minds, the word Trinity was forbidden and they began immediately writing off whatever else I said on the topic, ultimately dismissing themselves. This was a shame, as they agreed with all I said up to that point.
I pray that our conversation will give these ladies more to think about. But they shouldn't have to think that because Jesus submits to the authority of the Father means Jesus is not fully God as well as fully man. His essence is divine, as it has been from all eternity. His relation to the Father is as the Son, which means he submits himself to the Father. The two concepts are different.
Monday, September 28, 2015
The Trinity is central to Christianity. If you deny the triune nature of God, then you've denied the historic Christian faith. Some like the Mormons deny there is only one God. Others like the Jehovah's Witnesses deny that Jesus was God at all. New Testament writers like Paul strove to describe the distinction between the Father and the Son while still honoring both as God, but those very passages can be taken out of context and twisted to carry a meaning the original author never intended.
One example of this is the phrase "firstborn" that Paul uses in Colossians 1:15-17. It reads:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.1In this passage, Paul is trying to stress how Jesus is creator, master, and lord over all of creation. This role has been traditionally understood as God's. The Bible even begins with the grand claim that "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Psalm 8 directly attributes the creation to Jehovah, stating "When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him?" Even we ourselves are the direct creation of God, as Psalm 100:3 admits, "Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his." As we see, over and over the Old Testament ties God to all of creation and uses it to show his rightful lordship over that creation.
Firstborn Doesn't Mean First CreatedDespite this, the Witnesses and others point to Colossians 1:15 to try and prove that Jesus was the first created being of God. To do this, they must redefine Paul's use of the word firstborn in that verse to mean first created. On its face, the mistake can be an easy one to make if you aren't paying attention. Western cultures no longer abide by traditional patriarchy and inheritance traditions where the first born son becomes the chief of the family.
So, when we hear the word firstborn, we simply think of "first-born," that is the order of coming into the world. But the Greek word it is ranslated from, prototokos, carries a much richer meaning than simply birth order. It more properly is understood in Colossians as "pre-eminent" or "primacy in rank."2Of course, many Witnesses have resisted this interpretation, claiming that we should take the word firstborn in its natural meaning. I can understand their desire; a more literal rendering of words is usually the first choice of translators unless the context shows otherwise.
Given that most people on both sides of this debate have not mastered Greek, how are we to show that the meaning of firstborn I've offered is to be preferred over the more literal rendering? In fact, it's very easy and context is the key. All we have to do is to keep reading Colossians 1, for in the next two verses we read "And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." Note verses 15-17 above and verses 18-19 here are both in the same paragraph. They are all one thought and the word firstborn appears not once, but twice! In the second instance, Paul claims that Jesus is "firstborn from the dead." If we are to use the natural rendering of this word, it would mean that dead people give birth! That doesn't make much sense at all. Jesus wasn't born from a dead person when he rose from the dead; that isn't a resurrection. In fact, Paul explicitly unpack the meaning of the word in verse 19, explaining that "in everything he might be preeminent." Paul is using prototokos to refer to Jesus's pre-eminence! He tells us that very plainly.
The big takeaway here is that it isn't necessary to have mastered a biblical language to answer folks like the JWs when they charge that the Bible makes Jesus out to be less than God. Many times, we just need to read the verses in context and carefully. The meaning can show itself in plain English.
2. "prototokos." Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged in One Volume. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdsmans, 1985. 968. Print.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Mormons claim to be Christians as do Jehovah's Witnesses. But each belief system contradicts the other as to what kind of being Christ is and both contradict historic Christianity. Is there some way to understand who is a Christian and who is not?
Looking back in history, the answer is yes. In this short video, Lenny reviews both the need for an objective standard that defines the minimal beliefs of a Christian as well as how the early church codified that standard.
Friday, September 04, 2015
Every person has many beliefs. Beliefs are central to our worldview and we can't function without them. Still, people don't understand what beliefs are and why we should hold them. They think beliefs are merely personal things, something that gives us comfort or assurance. The concept of belief has been twisted and contorted to a point where most assume they are preferences akin to ice cream flavors—which ever one you like, you should choose.
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a Jehovah's Witness that came to my door several years ago. Upon answering, I complimented him on his dedication to his faith. Here he was, not watching football on a Saturday morning, but trying to discuss his faith with others.
I then asked him, "Tell me, in going door to door, you must've heard a lot of reasons why people believe what they believe, right?This one conversation shows how much we've confused the motivations for why believe something with good reasons for believing. There is only one good reason to believe anything and that is if it is true. We may not be 100% certain of the truth, but we can still be reasonable in holding to one belief over another. Just don't confuse feeling s or desires for reasons. One supports a belief. The others don't.
"Oh, absolutely!" re responded.
I offered some examples: "Have you heard things like 'Well, This is the way I was raised' or 'I'm really comfortable in my beliefs' or 'I'm an American, so I have to be a Christian?'"
He smiled and said, "I've heard all those, and more, too!"
I replied, "Can we both agree that those are terrible reasons for believing in something? I mean, there's only one good reason to believe anything."
"What do you mean?" he asked inquisitively.
I explained: "The only good reason to believe anything is if it's true. Beliefs must be true, even if they are what some would call 'harmless' beliefs. Take the idea of Santa Claus for instance. It's a nice belief and it makes kids happy. And they have some reasons to hold to it, right? Their parents have told them about him. It benefits them since on Christmas morning there are presents and there's empirical evidence; the cookies are gone and the milk is drunk. It's a nice belief that doesn't hurt anyone."
He chuckled as I continued: "But what would you think of a 37 year old man who still believes in Santa Claus? Would you want to spend a five hour plane flight sitting next to him? Of course not! Not because his belief is dangerous, but because it isn't true. We should only believe what is true."
The man agreed with my foundation for belief and stated that the Jehovah's Witnesses have the truth of God. I went on to explain that I have also studied the Watchtower's history and its beliefs. For example, they held that Jesus was coming back many times, including 1881, 1914, 1918, 1925, 1942, and 1975."1
At this point he interrupted me. "You must realize that those dates are coming from men and men can be fallible."
"I agree with you," I said. "However, these same men also claimed that Jesus is not Jehovah God, but a lesser being created by God. What if in 100 years, they reverse themselves on this issue like they have with the prediction of His return? Now, we are talking about something that is crucial to the salvation of you and me. What happens then?"
He dismissed the idea quickly. "I don't think that would ever happen!"
"But what if it does?" I countered. "What if I could show you from the Bible right now how the Watchtower is wrong on this issue? Would you abandon your belief in the Jehovah's Witnesses?"
The man denied that it's possible, but I pressed again. "If I could conclusively show you that Jesus must be the eternal God, would you stop being a Witness?"
He thought a second and answered honestly. "You know, I've been a Witness for some seventeen years now. I've never found more meaning and satisfaction in my life except by being a Witness, so no, I don't think I would."
I looked right at him and said, "Wait a minute! Didn't we both agree that is a terrible reason for believing something?"
The words hung in the air as the man took a step back. His eyes worked back and forth as he tried to process the discussion. He seemed to think that I had played some kind of word trick on him, but he had no way of getting out of it. Finally, the man wished to go and I asked him to come back next week so we could continue our discussion. He never did.
Monday, May 18, 2015
The recent Pew Study showing the decline of Christians within the population of the U.S. has generated headlines across the country. Entitled "America's Changing Religious Landscape," the report reaffirms what had been known for years, young people are losing their faith at a faster rate than ever before.1 The reports cites a nearly 8% decrease in people who identify as Christians. It also notes "The percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated—describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or 'nothing in particular'—has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%.)" 2 That's a significant increase, and the movement away from all faiths, including Christianity is most prevalent in young people, aged 18-35. The fact is alarming, and I have both written about it and interviewed experts on the trend, including offering suggestions on how to stem the tide.
Jehovah's Witnesses Rely on Christians to SurviveYet, other facts emerge from the study to which we should also pay attention. One is the attraction and retention rates of other faiths. For example, the study shows that 65% of those who identify now as Jehovah's Witnesses were raised outside that tradition. That means two out of three Jehovah's Witnesses are converted to that faith. And a full 50% of those who are now JW came from either Protestantism or Catholicism.3
Because Jehovah's Witnesses hold to a strong belief in God's existence and the Bible being God's word, this sift is important to note. It isn't simply secularism or atheism that is drawing away people who were raised Christian, it is the search for definitive truth that is attractive, too. Imagine if Christians were so educated in theology that the heresies of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society would be completely unattractive to them. The organization would be crippled.
The Watchtower relies on converting Christians to survive; if that well were to dry up, the organization could not continue. Because the JWs have not increased in adherents, its new converts—those that make up two thirds of the sect—are replacing those who have walked away from the Watchtower. They can't retain their followers, yet they are still attracting new adherents. Churches need to do a better job here.
The LGBT in Your PewImportant insights on the religious beliefs of those who identify as homosexual or bisexual also should be noted. While the Pew survey shows that 4 out of 10 people who identify as unaffiliated, 48% identify as Christians. Even more importantly, a full 13% of those who stated they were either gay or bisexual identified themselves as not merely Christian but Evangelical Christian!4 So, how many churches have any type of ministry to these people? How many self-described LGBT have anyone they know that they can talk with about their struggles? How is the church lovingly evangelizing the person in the pew who is wrestling with their feelings?
These are just two of the interesting insights that paint a bigger picture of how crucial a new kind of evangelism and apologetics will become for the church. As kingdom-builders, we need to make sure we are not ignoring them. Apologetics and theology classes can keep Christians from believing the Watchtower's errors or the atheist's assertions. Offering ministry to those struggling with all kinds of sexual purity issues will play a more important role as the church faces an increasingly salacious society. Both can have the added benefit of stemming the loss of Millennials, who increasingly see the church as out of touch or irrelevant to today's problems. Let's not dwell on the one issue to the exclusion of others.
2. Pew Research Center, 3.
3. Pew Research Center, 43-44.
4. Pew Research Center, 87.
Image courtesy Achim Hering (Own work) CC BY 3.0
Friday, March 27, 2015
Jehovah's Witnesses have made a name for themselves by traveling door to door and converting people. But how can we defend our beliefs against their objections? What's the best way of discussing the Bible with them? In this latest podcast series, Lenny shows you how to dialogue with the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Sunday, March 01, 2015
The Jehovah's Witnesses claim that both the Bible we read and orthodox Christian theology has been some kind of trinitarian bias that unwittingly leads us to believe Jesus is God. However, when looking at the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witnesses and their sponsoring organization, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, it becomes clear that the only bias on display is their own.
Watch this short clip as Lenny explains how the JWs misunderstand the name of God, proper biblical interpretation, and how they deliberately change passages of Scripture to try and dodge the conclusion that Jesus is God.
Monday, February 02, 2015
Throughout the King James Bible, people "worship" many things. A slave worships his owner, the assembled of Satan worship an angel, and Roman soldiers mocking Jesus worship him. In each of these instances, the word does not mean "praise God's glory" or anything like that; instead, it means to bow or prostrate oneself. But English Bibles adopted later—the New International Bible, the New American Standard Bible, the Living Bible and so on—dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus.1He then claims that the change was intentionally misleading to support a view of Jesus' deity that would otherwise be absent for the scripture. He concludes, "In other words, with a little translational trickery, a fundamental tenet of Christianity—that Jesus is God—was reinforced in the Bible, even in places where it directly contradicts the rest of the verse." 2
Playing Fast and Loose with LanguageEichenwald is wrong on several counts. First, the fact that there is a single Greek word that can have more than one meaning doesn't meant the translators wouldn't be able to know when to translate it worship and when to translate it bow down. That's like saying one cannot tell if someone tells you "Sam is blue today" you couldn't tell if he was referring to his feelings or his color. Context is king and reading the context of the passage will give you the appropriate English word.
Secondly, it simply isn't true that translations like the NASB "dropped the word worship when it referenced anyone other than God or Jesus." In Matthew 4:9, Satan offers Jesus all the kingdoms in the world if he would just "fall down and worship" Satan. In Acts 10:25, it reads that "When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him" and in Revelation 13:15, the people are commanded to worship the image of the beast or be killed.
Similarly, there are people who fall down before Jesus where the word proskyneo is explicitly not translated worship. Matthew 8:2 reads, "And a leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.'" Matthew 15:25, in the story of the Canaanite woman who sought help for her daughter, reads that she "came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!'" The phrase "began to bow down" shows action and it's thus translated that way, even though the action is directed towards Jesus.
So, Eichenwald's claim that the word is somehow intentionally manipulated to get a result holds no water.
The Jehovah's Witnesses resistance to the word worshipI've had conversations with Jehovah's Witnesses who try to argue a similar point to Eichenwald's. They hold that the word proskyneo shouldn't be translated worship when applied to Jesus. But that argument actually begs the question. We know that the Jehovah's Witnesses would agree that God alone deserves worship. They would agree with us that Jesus even says so in Matthew 4:10 when he rebukes Satan's offer and quotes from "it is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD, AND SERVE HIM ONLY.'" Even a created angel should not be worshiped. In Revelation 19:10, John was so overwhelmed by the visions that he saw that he "fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God.'"
Here, we can see the context of the word implies worship, even when it is referring to an angel. We also see that in both instances, the command it to worship God alone. Hebrews 1:5- is therefore especially vexing because God the Father commands the angels worship the Son:
For to which of the angels did He ever say, "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again, "I will be a Father to Him And He shall be a Son to Me"? And when He again brings the firstborn into the world, He says, "And let all the angels of God worship Him."The word proskyneo is translated in Hebrews 1:6 as worship and it is clear, unlike Eichenwald's claim, that it isn't the word worship that implies Jesus is divine. It is verse 8 where we read, "But of the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.'" The Father calls the son God. We have a clear claim to Jesus' deity and a command that every created angel should proskyneo him. Given that context, the word worship is appropriate.
Both Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses claim that the New Testament translations are biased, yet neither of them offers the proper context for the word worship, acknowledges that the word's two meanings may be differentiates appropriately given the context of the passage, nor recognizes that there are clear texts that make the claim of Jesus's divinity elsewhere in the New Testament. The fact is that John 1:1 to 1:3 explicitly defines Jesus as Creator God. It seems to me that the charge of disingenuity doesn't fall on the translators of our bibles but on Eichenwald and the Jehovah's Witnesses themselves.
2. Eichenwald, 2014.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
Heresies — those deviations from essential Christian doctrine — were painstakingly refuted in the early years of the church. But today, some of those same heresies have reappeared, only using new labels or a different forms. Join us in this new podcast series where Lenny outlines how many of the "new religious movements" that crop up are actually regurgitations of old, deadly errors.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
In this video class, Lenny helps believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that it is logically contradictory, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand. Plus we look at common objections to the Trinity from Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
In past centuries, it was pretty easy to identify which people were Christians and which weren't. However, as sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons have appeared, differentiation has become more difficult. Recently, I was able to observe my friend Brett Kunkle pretend to be a Mormon elder in front of a group of nearly 800 Christians. In his Mormon persona, he said that many Christians would come up to him and other LDS and claim that they are not Christian. "So," he challenged, "can anyone provide me with a definition of a Christian?"
Several people in the audience tried. One said that it was trusting in Jesus for one's salvation. But the Mormon would say that he does trust in Jesus for his salvation. Another said it was believing in the God of the Bible. Kunkle again countered that Mormons do believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible is one of their four standard works. A few more tried to define God as being three in one, and Brett returned the volley by saying that the LDS church affirms that God is three in one, but it turns on what you mean by saying that God is three in one. Unfortunately, no one was equipped to provide a good definition of the Trinity nor did anyone spot Brett's LDS misrepresentation of the Trinity.
To me, this is tragic. Every Christian should know at least a basic working definition of what Christianity is. Imagine a biologist who has devoted his life to studying dogs. He has spent years in school earning a degree in veterinary medicine and biochemistry. He has years of research behind him, reading books and documentation on dogs and their inner workings. Dogs have been his life! Would you expect a person to be able to tell you how to identify an animal as a dog? Of course you would! And you wouldn't expect his to reply with a general description such as "a pet with four legs and a tail." That definition fails because it can apply to a mouse or a cat. In order for the definition of a dog to be functional, it would need to talk about things that are unique to dogs alone. They would need to be specific attributes, such as their sensitivity for scent, their specific shape, their teeth, and so on.
Similarly, Christians should be able to provide a working definition of what it means to be a Christian. It needs to be specific with identifiable attributes. In fact, the early Christian church was very concerned with this, as different groups kept appearing that claimed to be Christian. The early Church realized that the point of their uniqueness rests in two places: 1) in the proper understanding of God as one being comprised of three persons, including Jesus as the second person of the Trinity and 2) a trust in the work of Jesus alone in saving us from our sins.
The definition of Christianity became so important that the church even formulated a way to affirm that one holds to the foundational aspects of the faith. First shaped in 325 at the Council of Nicea, we know it today as the Nicean Creed. It basically reads:
We believe in one God,While there is some debate between Eastern Orthodox churches and those in the West as to whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son, the Creed serves as a really good definition of the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons would deny that Jesus is "one in being with the Father" and that means they cannot be defined as Christians as we use the word.
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.1
I'll look more specifically at the details of the Creed in upcoming posts, but I hope that you will at least take away the idea that there is a good working definition of what Christianity looks like. It is a set of believes about God, Jesus, and the one true faith that forgives sins. Anything else is simply a counterfeit.
Friday, May 09, 2014
Why should Christians learn how to defend their faith? Many people think that while specialists like professional apologists can argue for Christianity, it isn't necessary for the person in the pew to know all those things. Perhaps it's better to ignore the Jehovah's Witness or Mormons knocking on your door, rather than get into countless arguments. However, such an attitude may be more dangerous than you know, and we can lose church members because of it.
In this short video, I tell a story about one man who left the Baptist church to become a Jehovah's Witness because his pastor wouldn't help answer the objections they gave him. Apologetics can help keep Christians in the fold as well as provide reasons for those outside the faith.
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Celsus' criticism of the elevation of Jesus to divine status , however, had another dimension. By offering such adoration to Jesus, Christians make him a rival of the one high God, the God above the heeavens, as Celsus calls him. If Christians taught that "God is father of all and that we really ought to worship him alone" there would be no quarrel. But Christians make Jesus almost equal to God, "not because they are paying very great reverence to God but because they are exalting Jesus excessively" (c. Cels. 8.14)1So from its formative days, Christianity revered Jesus as divine. In their book, Putting Jesus in His Place: The Case for the Deity of Christ, Rob Bowman and Ed Komoszewski lay out a very tight case for why Jesus is properly recognized as God from the evidence of scripture. Using the mnemonic acronym of HANDS, they take you step by step through five different points recorded in the Bible:2
1. Jesus shares the HONORS due only to God.There are many honors due to dignitaries, but there are certain honors that are reserved for certain positions. The salutation "your Majesty" is reserved for a royal head of state, with princes or lesser positions of royalty being addressed as "your highness." Worship is an honor that is only reserved for God, yet Jesus received worship. Jesus even reinforced this idea when He said refused to worship Satan and instead quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only Him" (Matt. 4:10). Yet Jesus received worship Himself from Thomas (John 20:28) and the rest of the disciples prior to His Ascension ( Matt. 28:17). Thus, the early church was simply continuing to do that which Jesus allowed when He was with them.
Beyond worship Bowman and Komoszewski explain that the scripture documents people praying to Jesus, singing praise songs to Jesus, honoring and serving Him as God. Thus, Jesus holds all the honor of the Father.
2. Jesus shares the ATTRIBUTES of GodOne can identify a thing by its attributes. The attributes of a dog are different from the attributes of a pig, which allows us to distinguish between the two. One reason we can recognize Jesus as God is because He shares the very attributes of God. First, the Bible claims that Jesus is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form. Jesus claimed to have existed even before His birth in Bethlehem (John 8:56) and other passages reinforce this (Col. 1:15, Rom.8:3). Jesus is, in fact eternal, without beginning or end, and an uncreated being (John 1:3, Col. 1:15, Rev. 22:13). Jesus doesn't change, but He "is the same yesterday, to day, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). He's also shown to be omniscient, omnipotent, and in comprehensible.
3. Jesus shares the NAMES that are used of GodNames in ancient cultures were key. People took on certain monikers because it reflected some aspect of their position or character. Thus, Alexander of Macedon was called "the Great" after his whirlwind conquering of the known world. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus is called God, Lord, Savior, the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, Mighty God and more. Also, the early church was taught to baptize people in Jesus' name, pray in Jesus' name, and even find salvation in Jesus' name.
4. Jesus shares in the DEEDS that only God can do.The deeds of Jesus also match those deeds only attributable to God. Jesus is the creator of the world (John 1:3, Col. 1:16-17) and will judge all humanity (John 5:22-23). When Jesus forgave the paralytic's sins in Luke 5:20, the Pharisees rightly complained saying, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus answered their question by performing a miracle in order to prove that he had the power to forgive sins against God. Lastly, Jesus holds the power over life and death, including His own (John 10:18), a power reserved for only God alone (Ecc. 12:7).
5. Jesus shares the SEAT of God—that is Jesus sits on God's throne.In a courtroom, one can always expect to see the judge's bench raised higher than any other seat. That is to communicate the judge as the presiding authority in the courtroom. Seats and thrones are important symbols that communicate the respective authority of the holder and we will refer to them interchangeably. So when we speak of Jesus' seat or Jesus' throne, it also connotes the authority bestowed on Him. The Bible tells us that Jesus is exalted above even the heavenly creatures (Phil. 2:10, Heb. 1:6, Eph. 1:21). Jesus sits on the throne reserved for God alone (rev. 22:1, Matt. 25:31) and He shares ruling authority with the Father by sitting at His right hand (Heb. 8:1, Heb. 12:2).
While this is a very quick synopsis of their argument, I think Bowman and Komoszewski have done a great job in this book showing why Jehovah's Witnesses and others who claim that Jesus was something less than the creator God fail. The Christians have recognized Jesus as God from the time that He walked the earth; the scriptures leave us no other alternative.
Sunday, March 30, 2014
In this video, Lenny dispels those teachings by showing what the word firstborn really means and why Jesus must be more than someone who is created.
Image courtesy Emw and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Sunday, March 23, 2014
When defending or sharing your faith, many people ask "What's the one thing to say that will change someone's mind? What's the best argument to give?" Actually, the best thing is to ask a question, not preach a sermon. Many times Christians can forget that one is talking with a person, not an opponent. Here, in this short story, I share one encounter I had with a Jehovah's Witness and how asking a question made all the difference in the ensuing conversation.
Friday, January 31, 2014
However, I've also seen conversations where spewing all those answers and all that knowledge at another person had the opposite effect: it drove people away from the faith. It isn't because the answers weren't sound; it's simply because the Christian wasn't really listening to the other person. Sometimes it's better to ask a question and then shut up for a while and listen to what the other person has to say.
Ask for Their 'Testimony'Listening and seeking to understand the other person's feelings is a hard skill to learn. Many people have told me that they have been frustrated when talking about religious ideas because they felt that their questions were being ignored or not taken seriously. Even Christians who pride themselves on their ability to defend the faith can fall into this trap. In our conversations, we can get so caught up in planning our next response that we aren't even hearing what the other person is saying right now!
If we are going to be effective in sharing your faith, we as Christians need to slow down and really listen to what the other person is telling us. We need to hear not only their objection to a specific point, but to how they understand Christianity and belief as a whole. A good way to do this is to simply ask them for their testimony.
Let me give an example. I once invited a lady from the Jehovah's Witnesses who was going door to door inside to talk a bit. I asked her about her belief in who Jesus was and what the Watchtower said about him. She gave all the standard answers. We began discussing how about how Jesus could not be a created being and it looked like it was going to be a standard “You say , I say” type conversation.
However, I then asked, "Can you tell me what attracted you to the Jehovah's Witnesses?" She replied that she originally wasn't that religious. She had a brother who was mentally impaired. She loved her brother dearly, even though he used to do certain things—things which she deemed unspeakable and unforgivable. Because of his condition, her brother died at a relatively young age. She knew there was no way he was going to heaven, given his actions, but she couldn't bear the thought of him being in hell. So, she said she started on a religious journey and "searched out different faiths until I found the Jehovah's Witnesses."
Listening Changes ConversationsNow, we had been talking about the nature of Christ, but do you think arguing Hebrews 1:6 or Granville Sharp's rule will be effective in such a situation? I immediately switched to the orthodox ideas of grace, forgiveness, and God's mercy as well as His judgment.
I think that listening is a key element that is many times missing from our apologetic today. You don't see many apologetics books written about how to listen well. But asking some good questions like “How did you come to your beliefs/non-belief?” or “What is the most attractive thing for you about holding that position?” can give you great insight into the person with whom you're conversing and help you have a much more fruitful exchange. It also shows that you actually care about that person and what he or she thinks; you aren't just looking to put another notch on your Bible.
We need to remember that each encounter we have is with a person who is an individual with different motivations, background and feelings than our own. We should treat them as such and try to understand each individual before jumping too quickly into an answer. By listening, we will become more effective in defending our faith.
Friday, November 08, 2013
Last night, I had an engaging conversation with two gentlemen who are Jehovah's Witnesses. I had spoken with one previously, and they were now coming to discuss more deeply whether Jesus was God. I had offered them the John 1:3 argument in our previous meeting and now continued to show how Jesus does things only God can do, has attributes and powers that only God has, and claims titles reserved to God alone. We spoke about how Jesus Himself said that worship was reserved to God alone (Matt. 4:10) and even when John, being overwhelmed at the vision in the book of Revelation fell down at the angel's feet, the angel rebuked him and said that as a created being, he didn't deserve worship. Worship is reserved for God alone. (Rev 19:10). I then took them to Hebrews 1:5-6, which reads:
"For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you'? Or again, 'I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son'? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'"My guests had never heard about this passage before. They quickly turned to Hebrews in their New World Translation and breathed a momentary sigh of relief because Hebrews 1:6 reads a bit differently there: "And let all of God's angels do obeisance to him." They began to say how doing obeisance is a simple act of recognition. However, I happened to have a 1961 version of the NWT in my library. In that version, the Greek word proskyneō (προσκυνέω) is translated worship. Even the Jehovah's Witnesses' own scriptures said that God the Father commanded the worship of Jesus by the angels! I further explained that this Greek word is the same word that Jesus used in the Matthew passage and that the Revelation passage.
As the night went on, I offered other evidences, both biblically and logically. While there were many things that they had never considered before, they held fast to the theology of the Watchtower, even resorting to show that their good deeds proved the Watchtower was God's appointed organization.
But why? Why wouldn't these men, who truly were earnest in their time with me, want to change their beliefs when faced with so many arguments and even the proof of change verified by the two different approaches to Hebrews 1:6? The evidence that the Watchtower was changing the words of scripture to suit their purposes was there in black and white! The reason is this: not all beliefs are the same and people will not give up on those beliefs that are deeply held so easily.
Think about it for a moment. If someone was raised by his family in the faith of the Watchtower, then you are telling him that not only does he believe the wrong thing, but the faith to which he dedicated his entire life is a fraud. More than that, if he embraces the historic Christian faith, then he is acknowledging that all his family and friends are all going to hell! That's a lot to swallow in one sitting. Think about what you would have to give up if you were to renounce Christianity for, say, Islam. All your memories of childhood Christmases would be an exercise in wrong practice. Your children will not have that same experience. Your parents would be considered "infidels", committing the sin of Shirk by ascribing attributes to Jesus that are Allah's alone. You would have to give up your social time at your church and start again.
Add to all this the spiritual war that is also raging as the Devil seeks to keep every soul out of heaven and you can soon realize that there is no "magic bullet." There is no phrase or argument that will convert people. You can only be faithful to deliver the message as effectively as you can so God may use that faithfulness to His glory.
Sometimes I think Christians don't realize momentous an event it is when a lost soul comes to Christ. It takes a lot of work, a lot of prayer, and a true reliance on the Holy Spirit. That's why it's important to keep sharing. Continue to provide new information to that person and continue to show the contradictions that stem from their existing beliefs. Who knows what God would use to open the ears of one who is lost? We do know that God wants to use the exchange of ideas to reach the unsaved. Romans 10:14 tells us "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?"
I know it's hard work and sometimes it's easy to feel that you're wasting your time. I've felt that way, too. But take comfort in the words that Paul shared with the Christians in Galatia, "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."
Wednesday, November 06, 2013
Just how does one go about changing a belief, anyway? Realize that a belief is an idea a person takes to be true. In other words, if someone holds to the belief that Jesus was created by the Father, then that person thinks the statement "Jesus is a created being" is true. No person can be said to believe something that he consciously acknowledges is not true. If he knows it isn't true, then he doesn't believe it, even if he may continue to act as though the belief is true. The contradiction is between his belief and his action, not between the truth value he holds and the belief itself.
Two Ways to Change a BeliefThere are only two ways that I can think of to change a belief. You can either provide new information that the person hasn't yet considered, or you can show how their current beliefs are contradictory and therefore cannot both be true. Because beliefs reflect the truth value of a proposition, one cannot simply decide to hold different beliefs, to change statements from false to true. Beliefs don't work that way.
I've demonstrated this many times when I've spoken to groups in the past. I've asked "How many of you believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street from this building right now?" Consistently, my audience responds incredulously. I then modify my question. "How many of you would believe that there is a pink elephant in the parking lot across the street if I offered you a million dollars to believe it?" Of course, a few hands go up, but then I ask, "Do you really believe that's true or are you just assenting to the proposition to get the money, even though you don't believe it?" Everyone agrees that they are just acting out the agreement, but they don't really think there is a pink elephant in their vicinity.
1. Providing New InformationThe first way to change a belief is to provide new information to a person, or perhaps highlight information that they may know but have neglected to consider. Going back to my pink elephant example, I usually ask my audience, "Would your beliefs change if I told you that driving in today I saw a fleet of Ringling Bros. trucks also parked across the street?" They will nod in agreement that the new fact helps open them to the possibility of an elephant nearby. I follow with something like "What if I also told you that albino elephants will appear pink when wet; would that increase your ability to believe the statement?" Now, they have two new facts and the ability for them to believe the statement is increased. I can then continue to build my argument, but I've eliminated some of their resistance to the idea already. You can clearly see that additional information helps people believe things they may not have held before.
2. Showing a ContradictionThe second way one can change a belief is to demonstrate that the person's current belief isn't valid. Let's use "Jesus is a created being" as an example. Whenever I talk with Jehovah's Witnesses about the nature of Jesus, they always tell me they believe that the Bible is true and the Bible teaches that Jesus is a created being. I then ask, "What if I can show you where the Bible explicitly denies this idea? Would you still believe it?" Usually the reply is, "Well, it doesn't." But as I press, they usually relent, mostly because they think I will be quoting from John 1:1 or something like that.
I preface my remarks by asking if they agree that everything we know can be categorized into two compartments, that is placed in one of only two "buckets" if you will: there are things that began to exist and there are things that never began to exist. Everything you can think of falls into one of those two categories. There simply is no third choice. To this I've had no one disagree.
I then take them to the book of John, chapter one verse three. (I skip John 1:1 altogether). In the NWT the verse reads, "All things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence." I ask, "Is the 'him' in verse three referring to Jesus?" to which they answer "Yes." I then explain, "Here, in John, it says that every single thing that came into existence, it came into existence through Jesus. Jesus made every single thing that had a beginning. The NWT explicitly says, "apart from Jesus not even one thing came into existence." If that's true, then Jesus must exist before the very first thing that began to exist. Jesus put everything into the "came into existence" bucket. But that means that Jesus must be in that other bucket. Jesus must have existed eternally. He cannot be a created being because John 1:3 doesn't allow that option."
You can see the problem the Witnesses have here. If they hold to their belief that Jesus is a created being, then their own Bible, the thing that informs them about who Jesus is, is wrong. If they want to hold that the Bible is true, then they have to give up their belief that Jesus is created. They know they cannot believe a contradiction, but they don't know what to do at this point.
Tomorrow I will end my short series on beliefs by talking about how these techniques play out in the real world. In short, there is no magic bullet that is going to make someone believe But realize that these tools are necessary when we are engaging others in the battle of ideas. Let's not go into battle unarmed.
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