Sunday, August 31, 2014

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Eight: The Reason for Suffering

On page 163, Dr. Keller says, “According to Christian theology, suffering is not meaningless – neither in general nor in particular instances.  For God has purposed to defeat evil so exhaustively on the cross that all the ravages of evil will someday be undone and we, despite participating in it so deeply, will be saved.  God is accomplishing this not in spite of suffering, agony, and loss but through it – it is through the suffering of God that the suffering of humankind will eventually be overcome and undone.  While it is impossible not to wonder whether God could have done all this some other way – without allowing all the misery and grief – the cross assures us that, whatever the unfathomable counsels and purposes behind the course of history, they are motivated by love for us and absolute commitment to our joy and glory.  So suffering is at the very heart of the Christian faith…And that means that our suffering, despite its painfulness, is also filled with purpose and usefulness.”

In our modern world we no longer espouse any idea of the usefulness of suffering.  We understand that stress is generally bad for peoples health, yet we also find empirical support that shows we also need adversity and setbacks in order to achieve to our highest levels.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out three benefits of suffering.  The first is that by enduring, we become more resilient.  Second, it nurtures and strengthens relationships.  Third, and most significantly, it changes our priorities and philosophies.  Those who invest most of their energies into personal achievement and happiness find themselves most vulnerable to adversity.  For those whose priorities include relationships, religion or contributing to society find suffering enhances their efforts towards these.  Times of pain and suffering will often force us out of self-centered life agendas and move us into ones that are other-centered.

On page 167, Dr. Keller lays it out for us.  “According to all branches of Christian theology, the ultimate purpose of life is to glorify God.  That means that the first – but perhaps hardest to grasp – purpose for our suffering is the glory of God.”  It is unfortunate that many of today’s most popular churches teach that God is there for our personal benefit, to make us happy, healthy and prosperous.  As we have previously discussed, happiness is a western cultural idea of life’s purpose.  The church should know better.

There are also those who argue that one who needs constant reminder of his own glory is not one to be admired.  C. S. Lewis counters that when we notice “that a work of art is admirable, we don’t mean that it “deserves” praise in the way that a good student deserves a high mark.  Rather, we mean the artwork demands admiration because it is the only ‘adequate or appropriate response to it’ and that if we do not give it praise, we shall have missed something.”  Therefore, God directs us to do that which is simply right to do because we need to do it.  “[In] every action by which we treat him as glorious as he is, whether through prayer, singing, trusting, obeying, or hoping, we are at once giving God his due and fulfilling our own design.”

But what exactly is the glory of God that we should be giving him his due?  For one it is “his infinite beyondness”.  Again, this is one of those things that modern people dislike.  How can we believe in a God beyond our comprehension?  We don’t want to believe in a God who would do this thing we don’t like or who would judge people.  But would a god that we can figure out and completely understand really be God?

The glory of God is also “his supreme importance”.  “[When] the Bible says that God is glorious, it means he should matter, and does matter, more than anything else or anyone else.  And if anything matters to you more than God, you are not acknowledging his glory.  You are giving glory to something else.”

Thirdly, the glory of God is “his absolute splendor and beauty”.  This comes from the Greek word doxa used in the New Testament that means “praise and wonder; luminosity, brilliance, or beauty”.  As Dr. Keller states, “Glorifying God does not mean obeying him only because you have to.  It means to obey him because you want to – because you are attracted to him, because you delight in him.”

To illustrate what he has been saying, Dr. Keller describes the story No Graven Image by Elisabeth Elliot.  The point of the story is that a god who acts the way we think he should, who supports our plans, who makes everything go the way we think it should, is really a god of our own creation, a counterfeit.  He is only a projection of our own wisdom.  But when we expect God to serve our plans, we are not treating him as God.  We expect young children to trust adults they don’t understand, yet we are horrified at the idea of trusting a God we cannot understand.   Elisabeth Elliot would later write that “I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice…There is unbelief, there is even rebellion, in the attitude that says, God has no right to do this…”  So we can trust God’s wisdom in our suffering, even when we don’t understand, because we remember the glory and meaning of the cross.

While we can glorify God in our suffering, we can also glorify him to others as well.  How we handle suffering demonstrates the greatness of God to those around us.  As early Christian writers such as Ambrose, Cyprian, Ignatius, and Polycarp said, onlookers wondered where these dying Christians were getting this power to face their torture and pain.

A recent example we can look to is the Amish community’s response to the tragic school shooting in Lancaster, PA in October 2006.  The Amish response was considered by the media to be an example of “the best in us”, yet their ability to forgive has a basis on two things.  First, their ability to forgive is grounded in Christ forgiving his enemies and it is at the heart of their faith and practice.  Second, they understand that forgiveness involves self-renunciation – giving up the right to pay back.  But this is in direct opposition to our individualistic, consumeristic society that emphasizes self-assertion that is more likely to produce revenge.

Even the suffering that no one sees can be a testimony.  The secular world says there is no transcendent, no supernatural, only this world.  Yet the Bible teaches that angels are watching the church and rejoicing when sinners repent.  Job was watched by a great council of angels and the devil.  Knowing that all is seen and known brings great meaning and significance on the most insignificant thoughts and actions.  As Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about Denise Walters, a woman who spent 8 years alone in a hospital room dying of multiple sclerosis, “Angels and demons stood amazed as they watched her uncomplaining and patient spirit rising as a sweet smelling savor to God.”

“No suffering is for nothing…Jesus took away the only kind of suffering that can really destroy you: that is being cast away from God…Jesus Christ suffered, not so that we would never suffer but so that when we suffer we would be like him.  His suffering led to glory.  And you can see it in Paul…He is like Jesus now.  Because that is how Jesus did it.  And if you know that that glory is coming, you can handle suffering, too.”

Next week Chapter Nine: Learning to Walk

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, August 29, 2014

Are There Things God Can't Do?

In our family devotions we are studying God's omnipotence with the aid of William Lane Craig's excellent children's book God is All-Powerful.  "Omnipotence" comes from the Latin words omni (all) and potentia (power).

Since beginning this discussion with my girls (6 and 7 years old) they have learned that although God has all power, there are actually things He can't do!  As you can imagine, this was news to them!  As we've worked through the book they've learned that God cannot:

1. sin.

2. make a circle which is in the shape of square.

3. make a stone that is to heavy for Him to lift.  As Dr. Craig explains, that would be like asking if God can make something which can't be lifted by someone who can lift anything!

4. make someone freely decide to something.  If God makes you do something, then you don't do it freely.  If you do it freely, then God doesn't make you do it.

Does this somehow show that God's power is limited? [1]  Not at all.  Why?  As Dr. Craig explains:

"...these other things aren't really things at all.  There's no such thing as a square circle or a stone too heavy for God to lift.  They're just nonsense.  When we say God is all-powerful, we mean that God can do anything which it makes sense for Him to do."

It is important that Christians understand what exactly it means when the Bible says, "Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you" [Jeremiah 32:17].

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Fore more on this, see here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Video: Contradictions in the Bible? with Mike Licona

In this short video, scholar Mike Licona offers a concise answer to a potentially thorny question.

You can find more of Mike Licona's work here.

You can find more from Bobby Conway, "The One Minute Apologist," here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cross Examined.Org App Now Available for Your Mobile Devices

I recently discovered the CrossExamined.Org App and downloaded it to my mobile phone.  I would highly recommend it as a resource for your apologetic tool kit.  The best part of the app, in my opinion, is the "Quick Answers" that is broken into four categories: Truth, God, Bible, and the 4Es (Evolution/Creation, Evil, Ethics, and Eternity).

For more information, you can click here or search for it on Google Play, The Apple Store, or your Windows Phone.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Wishing it Were True

While investigating the validity of Christianity, Sheldon Vanauken corresponded with C.S. Lewis to discover how he went from agnosticism to faith. Within the correspondence Vanauken wrote:

And so I wish it were true and would accept any humbling, I think, for it to be true. The bad part of wishing it were true is that any impulse I feel towards belief is regarded with suspicion as stemming from the wish

Below is the response Lewis provided. Note that wd. is for would:

And now, another point about wishes. A wish may lead to false beliefs, granted. But what does the existence of the wish suggest? At one time I was much impressed by Arnold's line 'Nor does the being hungry prove that we have bread.' But surely, tho' it doesn't prove that one particular man will get food, it does prove that there is such a thing as food! i.e. if we were a species that didn't normally eat, weren't designed to eat, wd. we feel hungry? You say the materialist universe is 'ugly'. I wonder how you discovered that! If you are really a product of a materialistic universe, how is it you don't feel at home there? Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? Or if they did, would that fact itself not strongly suggest that they had not always been, or wd. not always be, purely aquatic creatures?Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time. ('How time flies! Fancy John being grown-up & married! I can hardly believe it!') In heaven's name, why? Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.

Feel free to give your thoughts on the response provided by Lewis.

Both quotations are taken from Vanauken's A Severe Mercy.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Seven: The Suffering of God

On page 147, Dr. Keller states, “…in teaching unique to the Christian Faith among the major religions, God also made himself vulnerable and subject to suffering.  The other side of the sovereignty of God is the suffering of God himself…the main reason that Christians insist that God can be trusted in the midst of suffering is that…God himself has firsthand experience of suffering.

We can’t overemphasize the importance of this…God is sovereign and uses suffering as part of his often inscrutable purposes.  Yes, he is Lord of history, but he is also the vulnerable one who entered that history and became subject to its darkest forces.  Yes, God often seems to be absent, but Jesus himself experienced the searing pain of that absence.”

So how does the sovereign God become the suffering God?  We understand that the more we love someone, the more their suffering affects us.  The Old Testament describes God as one who loves his creation such that it grieves him when we pursue our own way.  Genesis 6:5-6: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination and intention of all human thinking was only evil continually.  And the Lord regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved at heart.” (Amplified – 1965).  Other examples can be found in Hosea 11:8-9 and Jeremiah 31:20.  It is remarkable that the transcendent God loves us so much that his heart feels pain and grief.

But then there is Jesus.  He experienced the ordinary pressures, difficulties and pains as well as weariness, thirst, distress, and grief such that he often prayed with loud cries and tears.  He knew how it felt to be misunderstood by his friends, rejected by his family and hometown and to be tempted.  Don Carson is quoted that, “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.”

In the final week of his life, what we refer to as the Passion, Jesus was abandoned, denied and betrayed by his closest friends and forsaken on the cross by his father.  The ultimate suffering is the loss of love, the disruption and loss of family relationships.  And we see that “God knows what it is like to suffer, not just because he sees it in far greater clarity than we, but because he has personally suffered in the most severe way possible…the agony of loss by death, the separation from a beloved…[and] the disruption of his own family (the Trinity) by the immensity of his own wrath against sin.”

From the secular view, suffering is random and meaningless, it cannot be part of any plan, therefore there can be no God who is in control of history.  Yet if God has not suffered, how can we trust him?  “If God is no exception – if even he has suffered – then we cannot say he doesn’t understand, or that his sovereignty over suffering is being exercised in a cruel and unfeeling way, or that he is a cold king who let things happen without caring about what we are going through…Because suffering is both just and unjust, we can cry out and pour out our grief, yet without the toxic additive of bitterness.  Because God is both sovereign and suffering, we know our suffering always has meaning even though we cannot see it.  We can trust him without understanding it all.”  We understand why children need to trust their parents without understanding, why cannot we trust God when we don’t understand?  “We should trust him because he earned our trust on the cross.”

While Christianity does not offer a complete explanation for why God allows much evil and suffering, it does give a final answer for it.  The bible teaches that God will not suffer injustice forever, there will come a day when all will be judged with justice.  In Revelation, chapter 5, John describes God on his throne holding a sealed scroll that contains the meaning and purpose of history, his great plan.  When asked who can open the scroll, we see the one at whom every kind of evil was thrown, who was abandoned, betrayed, denied, tortured and killed.  A wounded lamb is hardly what we would imagine able to issue Gods decrees with strength and power, yet that is the whole point.  It is a wounded lamb that cannot just judge evil, but can also undo all the damage that evil has done.

Henri Blocher is quoted stating, “Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself.  He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin.  The manoeuvre is utterly unprecedented.  No more complete victory could be imagined.”  He also stated, “The requirement of [justice]…that evil be punished by death…permits our Brother and Head to intervene in love and take over the debt in place of the guilty party…At the cross, evil is conquered by the ultimate degree of love in the fulfillment of justice.”  The answer at the end of history will be completely satisfying and infinitely sufficient.  As Dostoevsky wrote, “something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.”

Revelation ends with the suffering of Jesus ending suffering.  No more evil, suffering, sin or pain.  Also, our future is not an immaterial bliss, but a new earth.  Christianity gives a hope like nothing else.  Secularism offers no future hope for good of any kind.  Other religions teach of a future paradise of consolation.  Christianity offers restoration.  “[Because] the joy will be even greater for all that evil, this means the final defeat of all those forces that would have destroyed the purpose of God in creation, namely, to live with his people in glory and delight forever.”

Next week Chapter Eight: The Reason for Suffering.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, August 22, 2014

Richard Dawkins says aborting babies with Down syndrome is the “moral and sensible” choice.

So, we know that Richard Dawkins is okay with "mild pedophilia." [1]  Now he is claiming that aborting babies with Down syndrome is the “moral and sensible” choice.

I for one agree with Live Action President Lila Rose who said:

"It's sick and twisted for anyone to advocate for the killing of children with disabilities...Dawkins's ignorant comments serve only to further stigmatize people with Down syndrome...w
hile many people with Down syndrome, their families, and advocacy groups are fighting discrimination on a daily basis, Dawkins calls for their murder before they are even born...those with Down syndrome are human beings, with innate human dignity, and they, along with the whole human family, deserve our respect and protection." [2]

Dawkins goes on to claim he is "morally based."  However, as argued here, his atheism leaves him with no moral foundation.  In the end, if God does not exist and atheism is true, it is just as Dawkins says:
"If the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies . . . are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention . . . . The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference." [3]
Thankfully, we have many good reasons to believe otherwise and that is what this blog is all about.

Courage and Godspeed,
Footnotes:1.  Just what is "mild" pedophilia?  All pedophilia is deplorable.  Anyone who thinks otherwise has something wrong with them.2. Dustin Siggins, Sick and twisted’: Down’s advocates, pro-life leaders slam Richard Dawkins’ abortion remarks, August 2014.3. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 133.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The One Minute Apologist Interviews Brett Kunkle on Mormonism

In these featured videos Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason explains how we can know if Mormons believe in the same Jesus as Christians and how to respond to a Mormon testimony.

For more from the One Minute Apologist, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Was the Apostle Paul Anti-Semitic?

Some have charged that the Apostle Paul was guilty of anti-Semitism because in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 he wrote:

"For you, brothers, became imitators of God's churches in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, since you have also suffered the same things from people of your own country, just as they did from the Jews.  They killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and persecuted us; they displease God, and are hostile to everyone, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.  As a result, they are always adding to the number of their sins, and wrath has overtaken them completely" [HCSB].

However, this accusation clearly misunderstands the text, as the study notes in the Apologetics Study Bible explain:

First of all, "Paul-a Jew himself-was not speaking of all Jews but only of the small minority in Judea involved in anti-Christian persecution.

Furthermore, logically Paul could not have meant "all Jews," because many of those who followed Jesus (including himself) were Jews.  Paul taught that our sins are the reason Jesus died; we all share responsibility in His death (Rm. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; 1 Tim 1:15)." [1]

This is a good lesson for both the Bible believer and the Bible critic- always read verses in their context using good reason!

Courage and Godspeed,

1. The Apologetics Study Bible, see study notes, p. 1791.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Future of Science

Will science keep its materialist foundation? In this podcast of Houston Baptist University, Dr. John Mark Reynolds spoke with Dr. Philip E. Johnson of the paradigm shifts occurring in science.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Six: The Sovereignty of God

The bible describes two foundational balances:
1.      Suffering is both just and unjust.
2.      God is both a sovereign and a suffering God.

On page 131, Dr. Keller tells us, “Human beings were not created to experience death, pain, grief, disappointment, ruptured relationships, disease, and natural disasters.  The world we were made to live in was not supposed to be like that.  A frustrated world is a broken world, in which things do not function as they should, and that is why there is evil and suffering.”  That is the theme of Genesis 1-3.  We now live in a world that falls short of its design.  Paul explains this in Romans 8:18-21.

So in this context, we understand that the Bible teaches that suffering is a form of justice.  Throughout history peoples and individuals have been rewarded or punished as natural consequences of their choices and actions.  Much of the suffering we see around us results from violating God’s moral law which has its consequences just as jumping off a building in an attempt to violate the law of gravity will have rather painful results.

Now some take this idea to the degree that every instance of suffering has a specific wrongdoing for which one is being punished.  We also recognize that suffering is not proportionate or fair.  Many bad people live very good lives while some of the best people have absolutely terrible lives.  Yet we can indeed cry out in our confusion.

The Bible reveals both of these ideas to us.  Proverbs shows how justice is related to suffering as the result of wrongdoing, that hard work leads to prosperity and laziness leads to want.  But Job and Ecclesiastes show that it doesn’t always work that way, that suffering is definitely not the result of wrongdoing, it is often unjust.  But the Bible also teaches that the world is the creative product of one all-powerful God for the sheer joy of creating and that there is a fabric of design or structure and a foundation of moral order.

Next we learn of suffering as the enemy of God.  It is an intrusion into creation.  The explanation of this is found the narrative of Jesus raising Lazarus from death.  When Jesus approached the tomb, the Greek word used describes that Jesus “bellowed with anger.”  Death is the object of his wrath it is that which he came into the world to destroy.  As we learned previously, evil is so rooted in the human heart that if Jesus had destroyed evil he would have destroyed us.  But instead he came in weakness and endured the cross to pay for our sins so he can wipe out evil in the future without ending us.

While philosophers (and non-philosophers) decry an all-powerful and all-good God, the Bible goes beyond these abstract ideas.  God is not just all-powerful he is sovereign over every event in history.  God is not just all-good he entered into this world and experienced greater evil, pain and suffering than any of us have experienced.  Sometimes this doctrine of sovereignty is called compatibilism.  He is in complete control of what happens yet exercises that control through the free choices and actions of human beings who are responsible.  His plan is worked out perfectly through our choices and willing actions, not despite them.  He never forces us to do anything, we always do what we want to do and our choices have consequences.

In the Book of Acts, Peter explains that Jesus was crucified according to God’s plan, yet it was lawless men who killed him.  Joseph, in Genesis, explains to his brothers that what they intended for evil, i.e. selling him into slavery, God intended for good, i.e. raising him up to save innumerable lives from famine.  In Exodus, the text describes that Pharaoh’s heart is hardened by God and by Pharaoh himself both equally.  So which is it?  Both.  So at the most practical level, we have “crucial assurance that even wickedness and tragedy, which we know was not part of God’s original design, is nonetheless being woven into a wise plan.  So the promise of Romans 8, ‘that all things work together for good,’ is an incomparable comfort to believers.”  (page 144)

Next week Chapter Seven: The Suffering of God.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, August 15, 2014

Peter Kreeft on How to Communicate

“An argument in apologetics, when actually used in dialogue, is an extension of the arguer. The arguer's tone, sincerity, care, concern, listening, and respect matter as much as his or her logic - probably more. The world was won for Christ not by arguments but by sanctity: 'What you are speaks so loud, I can hardly hear what you say.'' [1]

Courage and Godspeed,


1. Peter Kreeft, Pocket Handbook of Apologetics.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency

I recently came across this article published in 2012 by Timothy Keller:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t they just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it, as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12 that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that, (v. 12) persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God. As part of that sacrificial system there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them. (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

But the reason is made clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus name’, we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live. The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11.) If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Does that make sense to you?

Have a little hope on me!
You can find more articles by Dr. Keller and others at Redeemer Presbyterian Church here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Art of Listening

In conversations I am continually learning that what I don't say is sometimes just as important as what I do say.

James writes, "My dear friends, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" [James 1:19].

Further, the Book of Proverbs is full of such reminders.

However, this raises the imperative question, "How does one really learn to listen?"  It involves the following:
  • Taking genuine interest rather than planning your next move.
  • Communicating acceptance rather than passing judgment before the other person is finished.
  • Being patient rather than trying to close the conversation as quickly as possible.
  • Being courteous rather than repeatedly interrupting and fighting for the floor.
  • Valuing another's ideas rather than missing what he means and feels.
The way we listen will communicate whether we regard the other person as important and they are important to God and therefore should be important to us.

How do we put this into practice?

Here are six suggestions:
  • Listen for the expression of interests in the areas of personal background, family, vocation, recreation, and culture.  This is the key to friendship, because you are looking for areas of common ground.
  • Listen for the expression of felt needs.  What is this person willing to admit about himself?  This is the key to opportunities to tell about the only One who can meet our needs.
  • Listen for the expression of previous or present religious experience, without pressure or condescension.  This is the key to appreciating another's position.
  •  Listen for the expression of caricatures of Christianity.  This is the key to overcoming obstacles.
  • Ask clarifying and probing questions.  This is the key to understanding.
  • As inquiring, provocative, and challenging questions.  This is the key to helping people think their way to Christ. [1]
Remember, evangelism is a process [John 4].  

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Taken and modified from a handout given by Search Ministries at the 2012 Mt. Airy Bible Church "Defending Your Faith" Conference.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Responses that Stimulate Conversation

Here are some principles for participating in a discussion that will increase openness and decrease defensiveness.

1. When stating your position, you can preface your remarks with tentative statements.  You may be absolutely sure of your position, but when you preface a remark with a tentative statement, it promotes an atmosphere of openness and enhances the quality of the discussion.
  • I understand what you're saying, but let me tell you how I see it.
  • I'm just wondering, have you ever considered this _____________?
  • In my opinion...
  • How would you respond to this: ________?
  • Have you considered the evidence for __________?
  • Can I give you another option?
2. When you want another person in the group to say more you can respond this way:
  • I'm not sure I understand what you're saying, tell me more.
  • Is this what you're saying _______?
  • What do you mean by the term ________?
  • Can you explain (or illustrate) that?
  • How are you defining ________?
  • I'm not sure I see where the conflict is.
  • So essentially what you're saying is, ________.
  • It seems like you're saying, ________.
  • I understand what you are getting at.  You're saying _________.
3. When you want to express your disagreement...
  • What you're saying raises some red flags in my mind.
  • My perception of this issue is a little different.  Can I share it with you?
  • I'm not piecing together the facts in the same way.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I see a conflict between - and - .
  • That would make a lot of sense to me, but...
  • This doesn't seem to fit with what you've said before.
  • I appreciate that perspective.  However, let me tell you how I view it.
4. When you agree...
  • That's really good.  I've never heard it put that way before.
5. When you partially agree...
  • I agree with you (state what you agree with) but I'm not seeing eye-to-eye on this other issue.
6. When you want to stimulate discussion...
  • Wait.  I'd be interested in ________'s reaction to that....
  • How does what you're saying relate to this comment? [1]
The more I share my Christian convictions with others, the more I see how valuable it is to be able to maneuver through conversations is a thoughtful manner.  It is my hope that these responses will help you do just that.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. Taken from a handout given by Search Ministries at the 2012 Mt. Airy Bible Church "Defending Your Faith" Conference.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Epilogue:  A Worldview That Views the Whole World

We end our read through Abdu Murray’s book, Grand Central Question, with the epilogue. Here Murray ends by summing up that the Gospel not only affirms the questions that the secular humanist, the pantheist and the Muslim put forth effort to answer; it, more than any other worldview, answers them in a satisfactory manner for both our hearts and minds. It is a comprehensive worldview. He writes:

I like to think that it is no accident that the word crucifixion has as its root the Latin word crux, which means the place where things converge or have a turning point. Jesus’ crucifixion is the crux of history, theology and morality. It is the place where all our Grand Central Questions converge and all our doubts can have their turning point.

The cross tells humanists how much God values us by what he is willing to pay to redeem us. The cross is the instrument by which our suffering is dealt with, showing pantheists the true hope we have in resolving our pain. And the cross is the event in which the Greatest Possible Being expresses the greatest possible love in the greatest possible way in answer to Muslims’ quest to worship the truly great God.1

In this book, Murray did not try to prove everything by the Gospel but he did show it answers all of the Grand Central Questions. This leaves both the follower of Christ and those considering the validity of the Gospel with what he considers the Grand Central Question:  Does truth matter more than comfort? As Murray reflected in the prologue, will we count the cost the truth demands on an individual level and then accept the cost by acting accordingly?

If you have been following along with me through the book, thank you for your perservence and interest. Let us all take the time to answer and act upon this final question and ask of God, and of those around us in whom we trust, to give us accountability and aid to act. The truth of Christ and his work on the cross is worth it.

Thanks again to InterVarsity Press for providing the review copy.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 242.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

Part Two: Facing the Furnace

In Part One: Understanding the Furnace, Dr. Keller took us through how various cultures, religions and eras in history dealt with suffering.  We also explored the philosophical issue of the “problem of evil” and the responses that can be given for it.  Now in Part Two: Facing the Furnace, he will take us through what the Bible teaches about suffering that will enable us to walk through our afflictions with teaching that is profoundly realistic while at the same time astonishingly hopeful.

Chapter Five: The Challenge of Faith

The other gods were strong, but Thou was weak.
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne.
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds but Thou alone.
- Edward Shillito, from “Jesus of the Scars”

Dr. Keller proposes three themes in Christian teaching that can serve as reasons for the heart as opposed to abstract propositions.

The first are the doctrines of creation and fall.  The biblical account of Creation reveals that we were meant for something more than merely returning to dust, but that love was meant to last.  The Fall demonstrates that the original intent has been broken.  In the Garden, Adam was called to work.  Yet we see how hard work doesn’t always lead to prosperity, that sometimes injustice or disasters can wipe it away in an instant.  This reveals a nuanced understanding of suffering, that those who suffer more are not worse than those who suffer less.  The world is too fallen and deeply broken to divide people into neat patterns of good and bad.  The brokenness is inherited by all of us.

All of this can bring the relief of humility.  Most of us expect that it is God’s responsibility to create a world for our benefit.  But this entitlement mentality results in confusion when life goes inevitably wrong.  Perhaps we need to consider that the assumption that God owes us a good life is really unwarranted.  Could it be that the riddle of evil is not as we think it is, but really why, in light of our behavior, does God allow so much happiness?

The second theme is the doctrines of judgment and renewal.  But many object to a God who would judge and punish people.  But if there is no judgment, then what of all the injustice in the world?  The options without God are to lose hope or turn to vengeance.  Judgment warns us that we have neither the ability to know or understand which people deserve punishment nor the right to mete out punishment when we are sinners ourselves.  Thus judgment is not a gloomy concept, but one that enables us to live with hope and grace.

Resurrection means not just consolation, but restoration of life as it was meant to be, glorious, perfect, and rich in a renewed material world.  Consider the thought that having experienced a broken and lost world could produce a future world that brings far greater glory and joy than would be experienced without there having been evil.  Evil then becomes not an obstacle to future joy, but accomplishes the opposite of what it intended.  It makes the glory and joy that much better and is utterly defeated in the process.

The final theme is the doctrines of incarnation and atonement.  In the Old Testament book of Job, he is confronted by God with his own finitude, his inability to understand God’s purposes, and his status as a sinner in no position to make any demands of God.  This reveals a most difficult and severe truth about suffering, that ultimately, we are in no position to question God.  Yet this tension is met with “the essential Christian solution to the problem”, that God himself came into this world, suffered and experienced darkness, bore the curse of sin and death which we have earned, taking the punishment on himself not to justify himself, but to justify us, so he can one day end all evil without condemning us.

Only Christianity teaches that God became human in the person of Jesus Christ and was subject to suffering and death himself.  From this, we may not yet know the reason God allows evil and suffering, but we now know what the reason is not.  It is not that he does not care.  It is not that he does not love us.  He is so committed to us that he plunged into the greatest depths of suffering himself.  He has been there and he understands and he has a plan for us.  Consider the relationship of parents and children.  Little children don’t understand parent’s reasons for what they allow and disallow, but they can comprehend that their parents love them and they are able to trust their parents and live in security.   So the issue for us then is this, can we trust God?  He is really loving and just?

So why didn’t Jesus just do something when he came to earth?  Why didn’t he just put an end to injustice and evil?  Dr. Keller asks us to consider Tolkien’s dictum: “Always after a defeat and a respite…[evil] takes another shape and grows again.”  Think of the wonderful technological advances that we have today in health care, communication and energy.  Yet how easily can that technology be used to cause harm and destruction on greater and greater scales.  The reason is that to a great degree, the evil in the world comes from within us.  But we are so profoundly self-centered that we fail to see that we are the very source of the evil we condemn.  So what would have been left if Jesus put an end to injustice and evil?  It would have meant the end of humanity itself.  If you think that is not fair, then you have not taken an honest look at your own capabilities.

Jesus came not to bring justice, but to bear it.  God’s plan was not to overthrow the Roman oppression and do what we are capable of doing and should do ourselves.  His program was more radical.  He died on a cross, took the punishment we deserve and then rose from the dead creating a people whose hearts are transformed, diminishing the evil within.

“The bible says that Jesus is the light of the world.  If you know you are in his love, and that nothing can snatch you out of his hand, and that he is taking you to God’s house and God’s future – then he can be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out. His love for you now – and this infallible hope for the future – are indeed a light in the darkness, by which we can find our way.”

Next week Chapter Six: The Sovereignty of God.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his 
personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, August 08, 2014

Movie Trailer: LEFT BEHIND

I confess that I haven't read the Left Behind novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins; however, I realize the series is very popular.  Nic Cage is starting in a movie adaption of the first book that is due out on October 2, 2014.

William Lane Craig discusses the film and the theology represented in it here. presents a differing viewpoint here.

What about you?  What views do you hold in regard to the rapture?  Share your thoughts below!

Courage and Godspeed,

Note to readers: This post is by no means an endorsement of the film.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Rob Lundberg on Apologetics

"The truth is that every believer already, whether they realize it or not, does apologetics. The question now becomes, do they want to continue to do it poorly or do they want to do it well?  We all get questioned or challenged about our faith, whether it is a direct challenge or an indirect one. We can respond by saying, 'I just believe' or 'That's just the mystery of God,' but when we do we are essentially telling the one challenging and questioning us that their inquiry is not worth our time or our energy."

Courage and Godspeed,

 1. Rob Lundberg from Why Do Christians Need Apologetics?  [HT: The Poached Egg]

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Video: Finding Christ in Culture by John Mark Reynolds

This video features a talk given by philosopher John Mark Reynolds at Mt. Airy Bible Church.  If you haven't yet heard John Mark, I encourage you to take the time to listen to this talk and be challenged! Whether you agree with him or not, he will get you thinking!

Courage and Godspeed,