Is 1 Peter 3:15 Accurately Used as an Apologetic Text?

Often at BellatorChristi.com, I receive comments to which I try to respond as quickly as possible. This past weekend was no exception. For most comments, the responses I attempt to leave suffice for the question or comment presented. However, this weekend a commenter left a response that baffled me to my core. He challenged apologists in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a call to do apologetics. At face value, it has always appeared to me that 1 Peter 3:15 was an apologetic text. For heaven’s sake, if Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and other heavy hitters in the apologetics world used this text in support for the use of Christian apologetics, one would assume that the text holds some merit. Nevertheless, I have learned never to assume anything. Thus, I pose this question on today’s blog; are apologists using 1 Peter 3:15 contextually accurate as a call to do Christian apologetics?

While I was somewhat anxious scrutinizing the use of the text—does anyone really want to say that the entire apologetics world is wrong—my anxieties were quickly dispelled when reading the text of 1 Peter 3:15 in its appropriate context. I found quite speedily that the text has been used appropriately much to the chagrin of my opposing critic. Why? When one determines the meaning of a text in relation to the context of the passage, one needs to look at the text in relation to the message of the book it is in; the surrounding chapters, and the context of the statement itself. Before beginning the process, let’s first see what the text in question states. Peter writes, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).[1]

Context of the book argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

What is the message of 1 Peter as it pertains to 1 Peter 3:15? The apostle Simon Peter writes this letter to the provinces in Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1-2) during the 60s.[2] For the Christians in the area, the 60s were a time of great hostility. Not only did Jewish groups ostracize the early believers, the Roman imperial government was in the process of turning up the heat on them as they were thought to be “‘atheists’ (for rejecting the gods), ‘cannibals’ (for eating Jesus’ ‘body’ and drinking his ‘blood’) and incestuous (for statements like ‘I love you, brother’ or ‘I love you, sister’).”[3] Obviously, any casual student of the Bible, much more a serious one, will know that these accusations were ungrounded and rooted in a false understanding of the Christian faith. Thus, the ancient Christian would need to hold a good apologetic in order to defend his or her faith against the false indictments posed against them in popular society, both eccelesiastically (Jewish opposition in the synagogue) and governmentally (Roman opposition in the courts). Therefore, 1 Peter 3:15 holds an apologetic thrust when held against the context of the book. But what about 1 Peter chapter 3? Is it apologetic-oriented?

Context of the surrounding chapters argue for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

The first section of 1 Peter 3 continues the thought begun in 1 Peter 2:11. Peter instructs the churches to live godly lives in the pagan society in which they live. Peter notes that they are to “as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Living in the pagan culture as they were, the Christians were going to have more temptations than they would had they lived in Jerusalem or Capernaum. Peter argues that their very lifestyles were to be an apologetic argument for the faith. Peter notes that the believers were to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). 1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus, as will be examined in the next section. In 1 Peter 4, Peter again picks up the topic of living for God and the reality that the Christian would most likely suffer for their faith (1 Peter 4:12-19).

Context of the pericope argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus from living well in the face of pagan opposition (1 Peter 2:11-3:7) to suffering well in the midst of persecution; a topic picked up again in chapter 4. It is in this pericope that the text in question is found. Peter instructs the believers that in Asia Minor that they can anticipate threats. However, the believers were not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14). Why were they not to fear? They should not fear because they had truth on their side. Peter redirects the believer’s focus to the reason that they were believers in the first place—the truth of Christ. It is here that 1 Peter 3:15-16 is given. The believers could face opposition and give a well-reasoned and rational defense for their faith because of the truthfulness of the faith. However, the believers were to provide the reason (Gk “apologia,” also translated “defense” [ESV]) for their faith but with the previously instructed good behavior and gentleness. Barker and Kohlenberger note that “Christian hope is so real and distinctive that non-Christians are puzzled about it and ask for a ‘reason’ (Gk 3364). The type of questioning could be either official interrogations by the governmental authorities (cf. Ac 25:16; 26:2; 2 Ti 4:16) or informal questioning.”[4] The believers were to have orthodoxy (“right belief”) an orthopraxy (“right conduct”) as part of their apologetic argumentation.

Conclusion

From the three points observed (the context of the book, the surrounding chapters, and the text itself), one can safely say that apologists are correct in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a proof-text for the use of apologetics. Modern Christians find themselves in a similar situation as the recipients of Peter’s first letter in Asia Minor. For our brothers and sisters in places of great persecution, 1 Peter speaks to them to continue to stand strong despite the woes they face. The rewards will be greater in heaven for those who have suffered martyrdom than for those of us who do not have to live with the threat of physical harm. However, for Western Christians, 1 Peter has a lot to say, as well. Western Christians find that pressures against them for holding their Christian faith are increasing at an alarming rate. A society which once adhered to the principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly crumbling into an abysmal moral chaos. Like the believers of old, modern Christians must stand firm, honoring Christ as Lord, being quickly ready to provide a defense (an apologetic) for the hope that one holds. 1 Peter 3:15 strongly advocates the use of Christian apologetics. Modern Christians would do well to listen to Simon Peter’s appeal.

© October 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[2] I am a traditionalist in the sense that I hold to the early church’s understanding of who wrote the New Testament texts. I accept that John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel and the letters attributed to him. I, in turn, accept that Simon Peter wrote the letters that bear his name.

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2177-2178.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, New Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1053.

The Importance of Rest for the Impact of Your Ministry

Americans celebrate the holiday known as Labor Day on the first Monday of September each year. This day celebrates the hard working men and women on the labor force, offering for many a day of rest. One of the most important things Christian apologists and ministers can do to benefit their ministries is to take a necessary break.

On last week’s podcast, Nick Peters wisely warned that apologists can often become “married to their ministries.” Such is not only true of Christian apologists, the same is also true of pastors and church leaders. In fact, the danger is greater with Christian leaders actively involved in church ministry. Meetings here, study time there, and countless other tasks can drain the minister and lead to ministry failure if the minister does not take necessary time for rest and recuperation.

One of the most important classes I took during my Master of Divinity program at Liberty University was a class called Preventing Ministry Failure. The advice given in that class is invaluable. I would like to share some important truths that I learned in that class.

1. Set necessary boundaries.

It’s important to have boundaries in ministry. Michael Todd Wilson and Brad Hoffman note that “Personal boundaries help us prioritize our relationships…and focus on things consistent with our calling” (Wilson and Hoffman 2007, 140). It’s okay to say no to some ministerial offers. Many ministers think that the eleventh commandment should be, “Never say no.” However, it is often necessary to set time aside for oneself and one’s family.

2. “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.”

Dr. Kevin King of Liberty University once quipped, “If you don’t control your schedule, someone else will.” King is dead on the money. One of the things I am learning (and I am still a work in process) is the great importance of time management. The congregation and the minister must remember that the pastor is NOT omnipresent. He does not hold the ability to be in all places at all times. Scheduling helps gauge more important ministerial tasks from those of lesser importance.

3. Your first calling is to your family.

Somehow Paul’s admonition to church leaders is often forgotten. Paul notes that “if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church” (1 Timothy 3:5, ESV)? The minister’s first ministry is the ministry to his family. If this is forgotten, then it does not matter how many degrees he possesses, how expositionally sound his messages are, or how many individuals he has visited that week. The minister will have failed. To sustain his family, the man of God must take sufficient time with his wife and children.

4. Take time alone with God.

Mark’s Gospel documents a noteworthy aspect of Jesus’ ministry–His prayer life. Mark notes that Jesus rose “very early in the morning, while it was still dark…and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35, ESV). Simon Peter and the apostles could not find Jesus. Apparently, Jesus must have walked far into the wilderness to take time alone with His Father. If Jesus (the Son of God) needed time alone with the Heavenly Father, how much more do we? It is critical that the minister and apologist take appropriate amounts of time alone with God. The Christian ministry is a spiritual work. If the minister’s spiritual tank is empty, his ministry will be too.

Conclusion

Randy Kilby was the president of Fruitland Baptist Bible College when I attended the school in the late 90s. He used to say, “You must get under the spout, where the glory comes out. Then the glory you experience will flow out to others.” In addition to the numerous issues the church faces today, there is yet another problem that challenges the church. Many individuals in ministry are leaving. Wilson and Hoffman provide the following startling statistics:

“Of ministers in the United States: 25 percent have been forced out of or fired from their ministry at least once; 90 percent feel inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands; 80 percent believe that pastoral ministry affects their families negatively; 45 percent say they’ve experienced depression or burnout to the extent that they needed to take a leave of absence; 40 percent have serious conflict with a church member at least once a month; 20 percent admit to having an affair while in the ministry; 37 percent admit that Internet pornography is a current struggle; 70 percent do not have someone they consider a close friend” (Hoffman and Wilson 2007, 31).

The struggle in ministry is real. To make a long-term impact, the minister must realize that he is not Superman. He is not the Savior of the world. There is only one Savior–Jesus Christ. Understand your limitations and take the necessary rest that is needed. If the minister and apologist does so, then the impact of his ministry will grow exponentially.

(c) September 5th, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Wilson, Michael Todd and Brad Hoffman. Preventing Ministry Failure. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007.

Christianity and the Demise of Slavery

I have personally learned a lot this past week. I learned that having a flu in the summer time is not particularly enjoyable, as if it is fun any other time of the year. Having a 102-degree temperature while the heat index is 110 degrees outside is especially most dreadful (in case you were wondering). I also learned something of even greater value. I learned about the fascinating role Christianity has played in the demise of slavery. In fact, the Christian worldview should most certainly be accredited with the removal of the practice despite financial woes held by anti-Abolitionists. Many critics have claimed that the Christian Bible does not go far enough in speaking out against the horrible practices of human slavery. What I have found demonstrates quite the opposite. I have found two particularly interesting ways that Christianity led to the demise of slavery.

Christianity revolutionized the way slaves were viewed.

Critics often focus on the New Testament writer’s lack of reform as it pertained to the issue of slavery. Yet, how were the New Testament writers supposed to bring reform when most of them held no offices? For those Christians who knew people of notoriety, those individuals held positions in Jewish life. Jews were under the authority of the Roman Empire. So, exactly how were they to bring reform to the Roman Empire? Even if they by chance knew someone high in the Roman monarchy, how would the notion that all were equal in the eyes of God settle with a monarch who sought to keep people in check under his jurisdictional authority? They couldn’t.

Nevertheless, the message found in the New Testament was revolutionary in Greco-Roman times. The apostle Paul notes that “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13, ESV). Yes, it should be noted that slavery was much different in ancient times than it was in Colonial America. With this in mind, it is still inconceivable that Paul would exclaim that slaves held the same position as freedmen in the body of Christ. This was a revolutionary concept. God had saved a people that included individuals from all walks of life. For that reason, he could proclaim that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, ESV). Equipped with a mindset of love for every person, later Christians would be led to destroy the very practice of slavery.

Christianity brought about the elimination of slavery’s practice.

Historian Rodney Starks writes the following:

“Although it has been fashionable to deny it, anti-slavery doctrines began to appear in Christian theology soon after the decline of Rome and were accompanied by the eventual disappearance of slavery in all but the fringes of Christian Europe. When Europeans subsequently instituted slavery in the New World, they did so over strenuous papal opposition, a fact that was conveniently ‘lost’ from history until recently. Finally, the abolition of New World slavery was initiated and achieved by Christian activists” (Starks 2004, 291).

Timothy Keller adds, “When the abolitionists finally had British society poised to abolish slavery in their empire, planters in the colonies foretold that emancipation would cost investors enormous sums and the prices of commodities would skyrocket catastrophically. This did not deter the Abolitionists in the House of Commons” (Keller 2008, 65).

Thus, to answer the skeptics, while Christian Scriptures addressed the problem of slavery it its own way, it was in fact the ethics that flows out of the Christian worldview that led to the demise of the slave trade! Christianity also holds the answer to another kind of slavery: the slavery to sin. Freedom from that slavery can be found in the love and atonement offered by Christ Jesus.

© July 25, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York: Penguin, 2008.

Starks, Rodney. For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.

Resurrecting Classical Theology

Recently my family and I returned from our vacation at the beach. We stayed on a local island. Instead of staying at the coastal section of the island, we chose rather to stay at the side where the waterway was found. My wife noticed that many of the houses on the coastal side were in much worse shape than those on the waterway side. The waves of the ocean and the salt-enveloped wind had beaten the coastal homes. In stark contrast, the homes at the waterway were protected by the numerous trees in the area.

I used to live in the area for awhile. A friend of mine, who had lived at the coast for most of his life, told me that storms had previously not affected homes as much as they do now. Why? Many of the sand dunes and trees found on these islands were removed to allow for more residential and commercial areas. Thus, homes, even on the mainland, were more prone to the waves and the wind. In a similar fashion, the Christian Church has been subjected to great flaws due to the erosion of classical understandings of the faith.

Attacks on the Christian church from the outside have gathered a lot of attention. Persecution and financial pressures from outside groups often concern Christian leaders and laity alike. Yet, another threat ominously endangers the Church.[1] No, it is not a threat from any government, world religion, or terrorist organization. This threat comes from the Church itself. “What is this danger?” you may ask. It is the danger of losing classical theology. By classical theology, I do not mean any particular view found in a non-Calvinist or Calvinist tradition. Classical theology, as it is used here, refers to the core fundamentals of apostolic Christianity, or the teachings of the New Testament apostles.

Unfortunately, the fundamentals of Classical theology are eroding in many Western churches. Why? Theological liberalism along with secularism, New Age ideologies, and the desire for relevancy have begun to chip away at the underpinnings of Classical theology. Richard Howe made it clear in a session at Southern Evangelical Seminary’s “National Conference on Christian Apologetics” in 2015 that the Church must reclaim Classical theology. I wholeheartedly concur. But how do we resurrect Classical theology? I feel that focusing on four core fundamentals will help.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omniscience.

Divine omniscience is one particular attribute under attack. By divine omniscience, I mean, as Wayne Grudem defines, the ability of God to “fully know himself and all things actual and possible in one simple and eternal act.”[2] Worded another way, Ryrie states that “Omniscience means that God knows everything, things actual and possible, effortlessly and equally well.”[3]

Classical theology affirms that God knows all that there is to know. However, omniscience has been assaulted by New Age Christianity.[4] New Age Christianity often seeks to excuse God from the problem of evil by claiming that God did not know that a particular bad thing was about to occur.

Such reckoning wreaks havoc on the Church’s understanding of God. Why? If God cannot be trusted to know the future, then how can we trust God in His prophetic utterances? How can we know that history will be unfolded as the Book of Revelation proclaims?[5] How do we know that God will really hold the victory in the end? In reality, a person could not trust that God would, or even could, deliver in all that He has promised. Thus, the New Age Christian lacks the trust in God’s knowledge that the Classic Christian holds. As bad as the New Age Christian attacks God’s omniscience, it is even worse when one considers the assault on God’s omnipotence.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine omnipotence.

Theologically, omnipotence has been understood by classical theology as God’s ability “to do whatever is possible to do.”[6] That is to say, God can do anything that power can do. God has all-power to do all things that are logically possible. God’s omnipotence is a clear teaching of the Scriptures (e.g., 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8; 4:8, and etc.). Early Christian teachers accepted divine omnipotence. Augustine of Hippo teaches, “We call Him omnipotent, even though He is unable to die or be deceived. We call Him omnipotent because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer.”[7] So why does New Age Christianity seek to dismiss the omnipotence of God?

New Age Christianity, as it does with the omniscience of God, dismisses divine omnipotence in an effort to explain away the presence of evil. If one could say, “God would like to rid the world of evil, but He just can’t quite do it,” then the New Age Christian feels that God’s omnibenevolence (or all-loving nature) is spared. Some may seek to compromise divine omnipotence in an effort to explain the existence of unbelievers.

The New Age answer causes greater problems with it addresses. If God is incapable of doing all things, then is God truly God? God, properly understood, is the highest being in existence. If God were not all-powerful, then God would really not be God. If God were not all-powerful, then what assures the believer that God will ultimately triumph over evil?

Luckily, better answers are found in Classic Christianity. If one acknowledges human responsibility and the impartation of the human will,[8] then a person can find the answer to these conundrums without sacrificing God’s attributes. Here again, the Classic Christian answer provides a better basis than newer alternatives. In a similar sense, the Triune nature of God is diluted.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine trinitarianism.

One of the earliest heresies to face the Church dealt with the issue of the Triune nature of God. Christians since the days of the inception of the Church have accepted that God was One God, but in three persons. While most Christians accepted this truth, it was through a process that the doctrine known as the Trinity would be properly understood.

Let me say from the outset that the Trinity was not an invention of Constantine as some have claimed. The Scriptures demonstrate the divine nature of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. One of the clearest examples of the Triune nature of God is found in Christ’s baptism (Matt. 3:13-17). In the particular passage, one will find Jesus who “went up from the water” (Matt. 3:16);[9] the “Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Matt. 3:16); and the Father speaking out from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Why is it that modern versions of Christianity seek to demote the doctrine of God’s Triune nature?

Many New Age versions of Christianity have been influenced by heretical groups. Worldviews found outside of the classical Christian understanding[10] have promoted an idea of God that is antithetical to the classical view. Unfortunately, a severe lack of biblical training complemented with a woeful disregard for intellectual understandings of the faith have led to the inclusion of heresies that have been condemned since the 300s. The disregard for the Triune nature of God has also led to a weak view of Christ.

  1. Resurrecting the classical view of divine incarnation.

Finally, the person of Christ has been chipped away by modern ideologies. Some have taken the Gnostic understanding of Jesus. In this understanding, Jesus is seen as a mystical and spiritual person. Jesus’ humanity is ignored. Jesus is thus turned into a Marvel comic character. The opposite is also true. Others have sought to demonstrate Jesus’ humanity while neglecting and dismissing the divine nature of Christ. Individuals such as Rudolf Bultmann have sought to “de-mythologize” Christ. Therefore, any miraculous claim given by the Gospel narratives are bypassed as mere myth.

In either case, the Church is (to use a cliché) standing on thin ice when accepting either of the previous alternatives. Paul records an ancient confession saying that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). As Lord, one acknowledges the divine status of Christ.[11] The apostle John also notes that “every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God” (1 John 4:2). The Classic Christian view is that Jesus is both God and man in one person.

Conclusion

This article has been somewhat longer than most posts that I write. But it is longer for good reason. The church is at a crossroads in the Western world. Globally, Christianity is growing at a rapid rate. The Western church, however, has faced many problems. The problems of the Western church originate from increased secularization, decreased biblical knowledge, and an explosion of possible distractions—from technology to careers. The church in the Western world has sought to combat this decline by catering to the culture, all-the-while seeking to become relevant.

While I fully acknowledge that methodologies must change, it is a grave mistake to tamper with the fundamental doctrines that uphold the Christian worldview. By “watering-down” particular doctrines, the church essentially commits the same problem that many coastal areas have done. They take down the very things that buffer them from the storms of life. Houses can be rebuilt. But undermined theology can lead to erroneous doctrines which may hold eternal consequences. Let’s fix this problem by resurrecting and maintaining classical Christian theology.

 

© June 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] I use the capitalized term “Church” to reference the global community of Christ.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 190.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 47.

[4] In this article, I use the term “New Age Christianity” to denote a modern form of Christianity that is found to disassemble the fundamental core of Classical Christianity.

[5] I hold to a futurist understanding of the Book of Revelation.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 487.

[7] Augustine of Hippo, City of God 5.10.

[8] In varying degrees depending upon one’s view of salvation (soteriology).

[9] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[10] Such as the Jehovah Witness movement and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints.

[11] Also noted by Thomas in his response to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

7 Questions the Bible Answers about Miracles

On May 8th, 2016, the final episode of Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us aired on the National Geographic channel. The final episode of the series dealt with the issue of miracles. From the episode, 7 questions emerged. As we have done since the beginning of the show, we will examine these questions from a biblical perspective.

  1. Does God work miracles or is everything merely random?

Freeman frequently asked the question, “Is God providentially working or is life completely random?” Freeman poses an excellent question. The answer to the question depends on how one views God. Does God exist? If so, then the possibility of God working a miracle becomes at least possible. Does God care about the world? If so, then the probability of God working a miracle increases exponentially. The mere notion that everything is merely random stems from a naturalistic assumption that God is non-existent or is uninvolved.[1] The moment, however, that one miracle occurs disproves such a notion. That there are hundreds of miracles, if not thousands,[2] demonstrates that the world is not a sterile collection of random molecules in motion, but rather the world is a wondrous lush garden of divine providence.

  1. Why does God work miracles for some and not for others?

This question is more difficult to answer, mainly because we cannot know the mind of God. God can perform miracles for any person at any point in time. However, it is apparent that God intervenes in some cases but not in others. At the time I am writing this article, God worked a miracle in the life of my grandfather. He has severe COPD. He also suffered a blockage in his intestines which would have been fatal had his intestines ruptured. In addition, he suffers from other medical conditions that complicate any surgery. The doctors were unsure if he would make it through. God saw fit that he did. In addition, he was placed on a ventilator. The doctors were unsure if he would be able to come off. He came off the day I wrote this article. God performed numerous miracles with my grandfather. I told my mom, “Either Grandpa is Iron-Man or God still has some great things in store for him.”

But why does God not perform the same kind of miracles for everyone? Truthfully, I cannot answer this question. Neither can anyone. We can know that God has a plan for each person, especially for His children. Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).[3] The promise of Romans 8:28 does not presuppose that God will make every event in life good, but that everything will work together for good. Much more about this issue could be said, especially that each person has a date with death (Hebrews 9:27). However, we should probably leave this issue for now as it deserves deeper treatment.

  1. Can we understand the will of God to perform miracles?

No. We can know the will of God to save (Matthew 28:18-20). However, we cannot know how God is going to move or work. Faith is a vital element. Faith, biblically speaking, means trust. Thus, we must trust God to do what is right, even when we do not understand what God is doing.

  1. Does probability override the possibility of miracles?

No. On the episode, it was debated whether probability overrides the possibility of the miraculous. However, this cannot be the case. Why? Even if there is a 1 in 10 billion odds that a miracle could occur, when we discuss miraculous healings and divine intervention, the probability is zero percent if God does not exist. If God does exist, then it is impossible to gauge the odds in how much or how little God would act and respond in a miraculous fashion. God could defy the odds and perform a miracle every day of the week. Then again, it may be that God would choose not to perform a miraculous deed at any time in a given year. It seems to me that the idea of probability does little to settle anything as it pertains to miracles.

  1. Is life fatalistic or free?

When I say fatalistic, I mean to say that everything is predetermined. That is, everything is a matter of fate. How much is life predetermined and how much in life is free to choose? Such is a philosophical question that has resounded for ages. The Bible seems to suggest a congruence between God’s sovereignty and human freedom.[4] For instance, the book of Proverbs states that “We may throw the dice, but the LORD determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[5] The text demonstrates that humans have the freedom to choose certain options, but God’s sovereignty uses human decisions to direct and guide. Thus, human freedom and divine sovereignty are congruent. So, God can and does work in this work in miraculous ways while remaining sovereign over His creation.

  1. Does faith in miracles matter?

God can work miracles regardless of faith. However, it appears that faith (i.e., trust) does matter and makes a difference in the working of miracles. James notes that the “prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up…Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:15, 16b, HCSB).[6] Mark notes that in one particular instance that Jesus could “do no miracle…except that He laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He wondered at their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6a). Miracles come from God. However, it is important that the one asking for a miracle trust in God’s ability to perform the miracle. Even still, one should note that even those who had the greatest faith (i.e., Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc.) often suffered. So, no one should suppose that faith will cure every physical ailment. God may have a purpose behind a person’s suffering. Therefore, individuals who claim that a lack of healing stems from a lack of faith are greatly in error.

  1. Do miracles come from us or do miracles come from God?

While faith is vital, miracles stem from God. God can work in ways that we cannot. It is a common assumption to believe that if we have enough willpower, we can overcome any odds. Yet, a person cannot bring oneself back from the dead. A person cannot overcome cancer by just the sheer belief that he can overcome. Often, healing requires an outside force working in a person’s body. I believe God works through the implementation of medicine. Thank the Lord for those in the medical field who seek to help the sick and suffering. But, I also believe that God can heal a person in any way He chooses. God holds the copyright on our DNA and our being. God can and does choose to heal at His discretion.

Morgan Freeman’s series entitled The Story of God: The Story of Us was incredibly fascinating. Freeman brought forth some interesting and serious questions front and center. As we have engaged the issues, I have personally found great satisfaction in the answers found in the Bible, God’s Holy Word. We may, and in fact most certainly will, find more questions to add as we journey through this life. I have no doubts that the Bible will rise to the occasion to answer any further questions that we may possess, as well.

© May 9, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Deists accept God’s existence but deny God’s involvement in the world. Thus, they would, like the atheist, accept that life is merely random.

[2] See Craig Keener’s two-volume work Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2011).

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[4] As I have noted in previous articles, the harmony between divine sovereignty and human freedom is called “congrusim” as so termed by Millard J. Erickson in his book Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 385.

[5] Scriptures marked NLT come from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013).

[6] Scriptures marked HCSB come from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2003).

9 Questions the Bible Answers About Creation

Morgan Freeman and the National Geographic Channel presented the fourth installment of the series The Story of God: The Story of Us this past Sunday. The series investigates various issues from the perspective of a wide array of religious perspectives. The episode presented nine questions as it pertains to the biblical account of creation and creation in general. This article will seek to answer those nine questions.

  1. Did a historical Adam and Eve exist?

One of the questions presented in Freeman’s documentary pertained to the historicity of Adam and Eve. Were Adam and Eve simply allegorical individuals or did they literally exist in space-time? While I can appreciate this debate, I feel the answer is fairly straight-forward. Adam and Eve were historical individuals. Why? Well, I feel there are three reasons to accept their historicity.

One, Adam and Eve’s historicity is a logical necessity. From sheer necessity, a person should see the validity in accepting an original human couple. For instance, my existence is contingent upon the necessity of my mother and father’s existence. Their existence is contingent upon the necessity of my grandparents’ existence. Continue the pattern back far enough and you can deduce the necessity of the first two homo-sapiens.

Two, Adam and Eve’s historicity is a scientific discovery. By scientific discovery, I am not claiming that scientists have found the remains of Adam and Eve. Rather, I am claiming that studies of the human DNA have shown that acceptance of Adam and Eve’s historicity is a tenable or you could say valid. Biochemist Fazale Rana states the following,

“More recent work (published in 2002) highlights this unusual genetic unity. A comparison of 377 DNA regions for 1,056 individuals from 52 different population groups found that 93 to 95 percent of the (small) genetic variation occurs within all populations and only 3 to 5 percent of the genetic variability occurs between populations.

What do these finds indicate about humanity’s natural history? Molecular anthropologists pose what they sometimes call the ‘Garden-of-Eden-hypothesis’ to explain the limited genetic diversity. This model maintains that humanity had a recent origin in a single location and the original population size must have been quite small. From this one location, humanity expanded rapidly to occupy all the geographical regions of the planet (emphasis mine).”[1]

Sounds pretty familiar, huh?

Third, one should accept the historicity of Adam and Eve due to the biblical mandate. The Bible clearly teaches that Adam and Eve were historical individuals especially as it pertains to the entrance of sin into the human equation. Much more could be said about this matter. Perhaps we should depart from this issue at the moment and pick it up in a later article.

  1. When was the book of Genesis written?

 Morgan Freeman claimed that the book of Genesis was only 2,500 years old. This would place the Book of Genesis as having been written at about 500 B.C. Yet, it appears that Genesis is much older than Freeman’s date. Good reasons exist to believe that Moses wrote most, if not all, of Genesis. It is quite conceivable that “Moses probably wrote the Pentateuch during the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the wilderness (c. 1446-1406 BC), completing the literary work shortly before his death (see Deut. 33     :1). The dating of the Pentateuch is derived from dates mentioned in 1 Kings 6:1.”[2] Thus, the date of the work is tied to the author. While the work does not mention the author’s identity, early “and reliable tradition has ascribed the authorship to Moses; and it is a fact that throughout the Pentateuchal narratives it is Moses who is most closely associated with the writing of the material contained in the Pentateuch (Ex. 17:14; 20:1; cf. also Joshua 8:31-32).”[3] Thus, Genesis is much older than what the documentary purported.

  1. Was the Garden of Eden a metaphor or a literal place?

It only stands to reason that if Adam and Eve were literal people (see question 1) then Eden must have been a literal place, as well.

  1. Where was Eden?

This is a hot topic. Genesis indicates that Eden was somewhere in what is known as Mesopotamia. We read that the “LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed…Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden; and from there it divided and became four rivers” (Genesis 2:8, 10).[4] The text seems to indicate that Eden was somewhere around the Middle East. However, some studies indicate that humans may have originated out of Africa. Many scholars admit that the world has changed dramatically over the course of human history (i.e., the Flood, etc.). Thus, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact location of Eden. Even if Eden is demonstrated to be in Mesopotamia and if humanity is demonstrated to have come from Africa, there need not be a discrepancy since “Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. So humanity’s population growth began outside the garden’s confines.”[5] To be fair, we cannot say with certainty where Eden was located. The best we can do is speculate.

  1. Can science and the Bible find harmony as it pertains to creation?

Yes! I have argued this several times before on this website. There is no discrepancy between the creation account found in the Bible and the origins of the universe. One is not forced to choose between science OR the Bible, rather one can accept science AND the Bible. The words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) is completely harmonious with the idea that the universe came into existence.

  1. Does science negate belief in God?

Absolutely not! Science can never disprove God since God is a logical necessity for the existence of any thing.

  1. Does God need a creator?

Freeman said that he struggled with the idea of where God came from. Who created God? However, Freeman misunderstands the concept of God. Freeman is corrected by Father Tanzella Niti corrects Freeman in the documentary. God is the first mover. God is the uncaused cause. Thus, God needs no creator. Something must be eternal: either the universe or God. The universe cannot be eternal, thus there is a necessity for an eternal God. Worded another way, the kalam cosmological argument states 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 3) Therefore, the universe must have a cause. That cause must be eternal, conscious, all-powerful, all-knowing, and beyond the scope of space-time. Sounds a lot like God, huh?

  1. Was there one creation or a multitude of creations?

Has God created other things beyond the scope of humanity and the universe? Yes. God created angelic beings before creating the universe. However, as far as we can answer, there is only one created universe that we know about. Paul mentions being taken to a “third heaven” (2 Cor. 12:2). This third heaven represents a place beyond the universe and earth’s atmosphere. So, I feel that there are entities beyond the scope of this universe. However, I do not think that one can, at this time, accept the idea of a multiverse or a multiplicity of universes.

  1. Is creation ultimately beyond our understanding?

Yes. We can know certain things about our creation, but we cannot understand everything. Some things are indeed beyond our understanding. We cannot even understand everything there is to know about God. As Norman Geisler has noted, “we can apprehend God, but never comprehend God.”[6] Such is a good place to end our present inquiry. Luckily, we can know certain things about our creation and our Creator from the revealed truths given to us from the Creator.

 

© April 25, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Fazale Rana, Who Was Adam? A Creation Model Approach to the Origin of Humanity (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 63-64.

[2] Michael Rydelnik and Michael Vanlaningham, eds, The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago: Moody Bible Publishers, 2014), 26.

[3] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New American Standard Bible (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] Rana, Who was Adam?, 65.

[6] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

6 Questions about Death Answered by the Bible

On the National Geographic Channel, Morgan Freeman hosts a documentary called The Story of God: The Story of Us. I must say that I did not know what to expect going into this series. Would this documentary serve as an attack on the Christian faith? Would the documentary serve a hidden agenda? While I do believe that the documentary (like any documentary, show, book, or movie) does hold to a particular worldview that it holds in place, I was pleasantly surprised that the first installment of the show was well done and not confrontational towards the Christian faith. Over the next few weeks, I wish to evaluate the topics presented on the show from a Christian worldview.

The first episode of The Story of God confronted the idea of death. Freeman’s documentary brought six questions to mind. This article will provide those six questions and brief answers. For each of these questions, we could devote an entire article to each. Thus, to say that these answers are abbreviated is indeed an understatement.

Question 1: Why do people die?

Death is defined as the cessation of life. Human death (Heb. “mawet;” Gk. “Thanatos”) is a direct result of sin. Solomon writes, “The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death” (Proverbs 10:16).[1] The apostle Paul states more explicitly that the “wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Paul also states that “just as sin entered the world through one man (referring to Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12). The Bible also acknowledges two kinds of death: physical death (Romans 5:12) and spiritual death, or “second death” (Rev. 20:14). The second death refers to an eternal existence in an abode apart from the eternal presence of God (Rev. 20:14-15; Mark 9:47-48), otherwise known as hell.

Question 2: How did Jewish believers up to the time of Christ view life after death?

In Freeman’s documentary, it was noted that the Jews of Jesus’ day did not hold a clear perception of what happened after death. However, this is not necessarily true. Whereas Old Testament is not as explicit concerning the afterlife as is the New Testament, the lack of the OT’s explicit nature of the afterlife does not indicate the absence of any teachings on the matter. The OT describes the afterlife as a shadowy place called Sheol. It is not non-existence, but it is not the same as life on earth either. Many scholars hold that the Jewish people in the OT and of the time of Second Temple Judaism[2] held to a two-tiered view of Sheol. This is clearly seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). However, this view did not originate with Jesus. The commentators of the Faithlife Study Bible denote that “The ot more broadly contains definite hints of a hope beyond sheol for the righteous.”[3] Asaph notes in Psalm 73 that God will “guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me to glory” (Psalm 73:24). N. T. Wright also suggests that the Pharisees of the Second Temple Judaism period “held to a belief in resurrection in this period…had also developed regular ways of describing the intermediate state.[4] In that world, nobody supposed the dead were already raised; resurrection, as we have seen, describes new bodily life after a present mode of ‘life after death’.”[5]

It appears that there may have been an idea of a type of heavenly and hellish existence compartmentalized in the Sheol concept. Wayne Grudem states that “it seems likely that Old Testament believers also entered immediately into heaven and enjoyed a time of fellowship with God upon their death. However, it may well have been true that additional rich blessings and much greater rejoicing came to them when Christ returned to heaven at his ascension.”[6] In my estimation, while I do feel that the believers of the OT period entered into a paradise (a conscious existence with God), I do not feel that they had full access that would have been available until after Christ’s death.

Question 3: Does the Bible teach reincarnation?

No. Reincarnation finds its home in pantheistic (Buddhist) and panentheistic (Hinduism) worldviews. Reincarnation is the view that a soul passes from an earthly mode of existence to another mode of earthly existence until one becomes pure energy (like God). If a person lives a bad life, they may come back as a rodent in the next life. If someone lives a righteous life, they may continue to escalate the human experience until they exit the wheel of reincarnation and enter into the abode of God (pure energy). In stark contrast, the Bible teaches that “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27).

Question 4: What does the Bible teach will happen to a person after they die?

The NT expounds upon the base work given in the OT concerning the intermediate state and the resurrection. The Bible teaches that once a person dies he or she will be taken into the presence of God in what is called an intermediate state. Evidence of this doctrine is found in Jesus’ promise to the repentant crucified victim (Luke 23:43) as well as Paul’s teaching that one who leaves the body goes to the direct presence of God (2 Cor. 5:8). After the intermediate state, God will resurrect all people at the end of human history. Some will be resurrected to eternal life with God (Rev. 20:6) and some will be resurrected with bodies to face eternal punishment (Rev. 20:11-14).

Question 5: Does the Bible teach the doctrine of purgatory?

The issue of purgatory was not examined in Freeman’s documentary; however, purgatory is a doctrine held in some Christian denominations. Purgatory is the idea that righteous individuals will have to face a period of time in fire for unconfessed sins. Those in purgatory serve their time and then are ushered into heaven. But, is there any biblical evidence for such a view?

No. The only comparable teaching that is similar to the doctrine of purgatory is that of the Judgment Seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). While one’s deeds are tested by fire, it does not appear that the person is in the fire (1 Cor. 3:13), rather one’s deeds are tested. Good deeds are offered as rewards. Bad deeds are destroyed by the fire. Thus, one can assume that purgatory does not hold a biblical basis, whereas the Judgment Seat of Christ does.

Question 6: What is the resurrection and why is it necessary?

Resurrection is the final reunification of soul and body. The body will be a glorified body which will never more die (1 Cor. 15:35ff). While the Bible teaches a duality of soul and body, it is clear that both soul and body are meant to be unified in a holistic fashion.[7] Therefore, while the soul is saved and the mind transformed, the body will be the last to be redeemed. The body will be redeemed at the resurrection of the dead.

This article has examined some of the questions that arose from watching Morgan Freeman’s documentary The Story of God: The Story of Us. Each of these questions deserve greater examination which we may do in future articles.

 

(c) April 4, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture for this post comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

[2] The time leading up to the first century AD.

[3] John D. Barry et al., Faithlife Study Bible (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

[4] That is, the period between death and the final resurrection.

[5] N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 133.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 822.

[7] Norman Geisler calls this view “hylomorphism” which “holds that there is a form/matter unity between soul and body.” Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 736. This does not mean that there is not some form of dualism between soul and body and neither does it negate the existence of a conscious existence in the intermediate state. Rather, it holds that the soul and body are meant to be unified and will in its complete recreation.

Does Evil Exist?

Recently on ABC, I watched the 20/20 interview conducted by Diane Sawyers as she interviewed Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan Klebold—one of the teenage shooters in Columbine High School. The interview was interesting, heart wrenching, and disturbing at the same time. It was interesting as one was able to peer into the life of Dylan Klebold; heart wrenching as one could sense the pain of the mother; and disturbing to witness how a normal teenager’s heart could turn so cold.

Of particular interest was a conversation that Sawyer had with Klebold and Dr. Mary Ellen O’Toole, former FBI profiler. Sawyer asked Klebold, “Do you believe in evil?” Klebold responded, “I don’t think so. I don’t think I do.” The documentary then shifts to O’Toole who states, “Evil is a spiritual term. And it doesn’t have any legal or behavioral meaning. So I stay away from it.” Now earlier Sawyer asked Dr. O’Toole, “Did Dylan know right from wrong?” She replied, “Yes, but it did not preclude him from planning and going through with [the shooting.”[1]

My heart breaks for those involved in this tragedy. Yet I found myself pondering this question: in the face of such evil, how can one deny evil’s existence? Perhaps to accept the presence of evil, Klebold would have to accept that her son had been influenced by evil. Is evil only a spiritual term as O’Toole suggests? What exactly is evil anyway?

The term “evil” defined.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines evil as “1. morally reprehensible, arising from actual or imputed bad character or conduct; 2. Causing discomfort or repulsion; 3. Causing harm, marked by misfortune.”[2] Augustine offers a good definition of evil in that “evil is nothing but the removal of good until finally no good remains.”[3] Thomas Aquinas adds that

“since every nature desires its own being and its own perfection, it must be said also that the being and the perfection of any nature is good. Hence it cannot be that evil signifies being, or any form of nature. Therefore it must be said that by the name of evil is signified by the absence of good. And this is what is meant by saying that ‘evil is never a being nor a good.’ For since being, as such, is good, the absence of one implies the absence of the other.”[4]

Thus we find that evil has two constituent parts. First, it is the absence of good. In addition, one progressively finds that the more evil one accepts, the more evil one will become.

Evil is the absence of good.

I think Augustine and Aquinas do well in defining evil as the absence of good. The Bible demonstrates in several places the absolute goodness (or holiness) of God (Isaiah 6:3; Rev. 4:1-8). However, humanity has fallen into sin (or activities that oppose the holiness of God, which actions would inherently would be evil). Thus, human beings find one of two options: salvation in Christ (forgiveness so that one can live righteously) or rebellion (living and relishing in sin). Therefore, individuals have only one of two lifestyle choices that leads to one of two options: living a life of righteousness (choosing the good) or a lifestyle of rebellion (choosing the evil). The psalmist notes that “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).[5] Therefore, good is the absolute rule. Evil is a deviation from the good. Therefore Augustine and Aquinas are correct in asserting that evil is the absence of good.

Evil is progressive in its hold.

Aquinas adds that “Good and evil are not constitutive differences except in morals, which receive their species from the end, which is the object of the will, the source of all morality.”[6] In other words, a person is not born evil. Yes it is true that all of us are born into sin and that “none is righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). However, every person stands guilty before God meaning that people are responsible for choosing the evil over the good. Paul notes that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). Yet, evil is also progressive in its hold. This is the reason that many in the New Testament use the metaphor of light (representing good) and dark (representing evil). Paul notes that people who continue down the path of evil will become more and more depraved. Paul states that “since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28). I heard once from a person who stole that the first time a person steals, it is very difficult. But the more times a person steals and gets away with the theft, the easier it becomes. Evil is like a cancer that overtakes a person the more the person walks in darkness.

Conclusion

Sue Klebold, undoubtedly, carries an enormous weight upon her shoulders. However, she must realize that the evil that transpired in Columbine was not her doing. It was not her fault. She did everything in her power to raise her son right. While I am tremendously sympathetic to Sue Klebold and greatly appreciative to the work of Dr. O’Toole, I must respectfully, however, disagree with their take on evil. Good and evil are very much real. While goodness is an attribute of God (since he is the essence of goodness) and evil is the absence of good, it must be understood that good and evil stem from the actions and choices that one makes. If one is genuine in their faith and seeks the sovereignly good God, then a person has started down the path of goodness. But if one forgets the two great commandments (love God and love others) then one may very well traverse down the path of evil. Unfortunately, Dylan Klebold is an example of one who journeyed down the path of evil. The results of such evil speaks for itself.

 

© February 29, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Sources Cited

 Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: The Complete Edition. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014. Kindle.

Augustine of Hippo. Confessions. Translated by R. S. Pine-Coffin. New York; London: Penguin, 1961.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Accessed February 29, 2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

 

Notes

 [1] Sue Klebold, interview with Diane Sawyers, 20/20, YouTube video (February 12, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHRcF-pFGYI.

[2] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/evil.

[3] St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions III.7, R. S. Pine-Coffin, trans (New York; London: Penguin, 1961), 63.

[4] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, trans (New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014), Kindle.

[5] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[6] Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.48-49, Kindle.

Those Hypocritical Christians! 4 Ways that Theological Truth Transcends Bad Behavior

For those who do not know my testimony, I left the ministry for seven years due to great doubts pertaining to the truthfulness of Christianity. I nearly became an agnostic…in fact, I seriously teetered with the idea for some time. My agnosticism wasn’t that I didn’t think that God couldn’t exist, but rather that I wasn’t sure that one could know God completely. This doubt was fueled by the lack of answers I was given by Christian leaders against the skeptical claims of the Jesus Seminar.[1] However, another element intensified the doubts that I possessed—Christian hypocrisy; that is to say, Christians who claimed to be devout but dismissed Christian teachings when it was convenient for them. Could I devote myself to something that held so many that refused to take its claims seriously?

I am not alone. In fact, one of the top-5 excuses given by those who do not want to attend church pertains to “those hypocritical Christians!” To make matters worse, the truthfulness of Christianity is often gauged by the behavior of its adherents. But is this a legitimate? Is the truthfulness of a movement based upon the actions of its adherents? As God brought me back to a strong faith which led me back into the ministry by apologetics, I learned that truth is transcendent. That is, truth exists beyond the scope of human opinions and/or actions. The truthfulness of any movement is found in four realms. It is within these realms that Christianity should be tested and not the actions of some of its so-called adherents.

1. Truth is transcendent in its reality.

Truth is not something that works for one person and not for another. Norman Geisler defines truth as that which “can be understood both from what it is and from what it is not” (Geisler 1999, 741). I really like the Greek term aletheia. It is the term that is translated as “truth.” Louw and Nida define the term as the following: “ἀλήθεια, ας f: the content of that which is true and thus in accordance with what actually happened—‘truth.’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 672). In other words, truth is defined as that which is in accordance to reality. Jesus uses the term aletheia when saying the “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).[2] In this one simple teaching, Jesus notes that truth exists, truth is knowable, and that truth is transformative. It can be demonstrated that Jesus is a historical person and that the New Testament is reliable. It can be demonstrated that God’s existence is a necessity. Thus, certain truths presented in the Bible can be supported by evidence. The reality of these truths transcends the bad behaviors of those claiming to be a Christian.

As this pertains to bad behavior with some of a movement’s adherents, one should note that truth transcends bad behavior. Allow me to illustrate. I am a huge Green Bay Packers fan. I love the team, I love the family atmosphere, I love that the team is in a small town, and I love the great history with the franchise. Nevertheless, the team can have a few bad moments. For instance, on January 18, 2015, the Green Bay Packers led the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game 19-7 entering into the 4th quarter. However, disaster struck and the Packers ended up losing to the Seahawks 28-22 in overtime. The Seahawks would go on to the 49th Super Bowl and Packers fans were left wondering, “What happened?” But, does this one bad play negate the 13 championships that the Packers had previously won? Does the one bad play negate the history of the team beginning on August 11, 1919 in a “dingy second-floor editorial room of the old Green Bay Press-Gazette building, located on Cherry Street in downtown Green bay” (www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend) by the Indian Packing Company? The obvious answer is “no.” The history of the team transcends one bad game. The same is true for Christianity. The bad behaviors of some Christians do not discredit the historical reality of Christianity.

2. Truth is transcendent in its founder.

If one desires to know the truthfulness of a particular movement, one should evaluate the founder of the movement. For instance, if one desires to know why Protestantism began, then one needs to evaluate Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the early reformers. Why did they split from the Catholic Church? If one desires to know about Buddhism, then one should desire to know more about Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. The same is true with Christianity. If one desires to know about what Christianity stands for, look to its founder. What did Jesus say about himself? While space does not allow us to provide a full treatment of this issue, a person can tell a great deal about Jesus claim in saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you…I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:1-2, 6). Or, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).[3] Paul, a former enemy of Christ and later servant for Christ, wrote pertaining to Jesus that “he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Look to Jesus for the case for Christianity and not to the bad behavior of some who claim to be of Christ.

3. Truth is transcendent in its claims.

The truthfulness of any religion or philosophy must be held by the claims made by the particular belief system. Christianity holds to certain foundational tenets: 1) the truth is knowable, 2) God exists, 3) God created all, 4) humanity is fallen, 5) Jesus came to redeem humanity through his crucifixion and resurrection, 6) salvation is found in Jesus, and 7) God will judge the living and the dead. Do the claims of Christianity match with reality?

A full treatment of this topic is not possible within one article. However, to find the truthfulness in Christianity’s claims requires one to investigate the essence of truth. Is truth knowable? To claim that truth is unknowable is a self-refuting claim, thus one can assert that truth is a reality and knowable. Second, God’s existence is a necessity as the existence of anything would require a transcendent intelligence: this supports the 2nd and 3rd tenets. Third, it is a certainty that human beings are not perfect individuals and are capable of doing great evil; making the 4th tenet intelligible. Jesus of Nazareth is a person of history. Manuscript evidence as well as other historical methods demonstrate great reasonability to the 5th tenet. If the first 5 tenets are true, then this lends credence to the 6th and 7th. An investigation of such claims requires much more depth than what is allowable in this article. Nevertheless, one should note that the truthfulness of Christianity does not rest upon its adherents, but rather upon the truth claims presented by Jesus and the early church.

4. Truth is transcendent in its parameters.

As this article has addressed the issue of truth compared to the bad behaviors of particular adherents, it should be noted that truth itself provides parameters. If someone were to ask for a wooden pencil, certain parameters must be met. The thing must be a writing instrument. The instrument should contain lead. The instrument should be made from a wooden casing. These are the parameters that constitute what is commonly known as a pencil. It should be noted that certain things are expected from one who is considered to be a Christian.

Certain parameters exist for a person to be considered a “Christian.” The apostle John in his first letter provides certain parameters that a genuine Christian will possess. They are: holiness (1 John 3:9; 5:18); love for others (1 John 4:7); acceptance of the truth found in Jesus (1 John 5:1); perseverance in one’s faith (1 John 5:1); and the testimony of God through the Holy Spirit’s presence (1 John 5:9-10). These parameters help one to determine those who are truly from God and those who are not (Matthew 7:15-20).

Conclusion

Have you been hurt in church? Have you been hurt by a person who claims to be a Christian? There is a saying that says, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” When one dismisses Christianity due to the bad actions of those claiming to be of Christ, a person does precisely just that. They dismiss claims that are transcendent due to individuals who may or may not be of Christ, or may be those who have simply lost their way. Understand that God’s existence and the truthfulness of Christ are a reality. If you have been hurt, incline yourself to the healing hands of God. For it is Christ who says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). If you learn the transcendent truth found in Christ, you may find that you will be given the power to forgive those who have hurt you and help transform a bad situation into a much better one.

Sources Cited

 “Birth of a Team and a Legend.” Packers.com. Accessed September 21, 2015. http://www.packers.com/history/birth-of-a-team-and-a-legend.html.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Copyright September 21, 2015. Brian Chilton

[1] This is not meant to degrade anyone. Many of those leaders had not been met with such questions. This should, however, show the great need for apologetics in the modern church.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Some hold that the statement is that of the apostle John summarizing Jesus’ earlier statements in the chapter. Nonetheless, the words relate back to the teaching of Jesus so they are still genuine to the teachings of Christ.

Does Paul Condemn Philosophy in Colossians 2:8?

Philosophy is defined as the “the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence” (Soanes and Stevenson 2004). Advocates of Christian anti-intellectualism will criticize the use of philosophy within Christian circles due to Paul’s supposed admonition against philosophy. Such individuals charge that philosophy is antagonistic to the faith due to Paul’s so-called warning against philosophy in Colossians 2:8. But what exactly does the apostle claim? In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he warns the Colossians that they should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).[1] According to philosophical antagonists, Paul’s warning against philosophy should dissuade anyone from participating in a philosophical endeavor. However, one should ask, is Paul actually condemning the use of philosophy or is Paul using the term “philosophy” to address another issue?

A closer examination of the Colossians text affords one the opportunity to evaluate Paul’s actual intention. When one examines the text, one will find three reasons why Paul does not discredit philosophy as it is popularly understood in modern times. Rather, one will discover that Paul actually advocates the use of good philosophy.

Paul’s Intention Behind the Word “Philosophia.”

As I was preparing this article, I had the chance to discuss the issue of Colossians 2:8 with Dr. Leo Percer. Dr. Percer is a New Testament scholar who teaches Greek, Hermeneutics, and New Testament studies at Liberty University. Dr. Percer stated, “‘Philosophy’ in Colossians is probably a reference to religious ideas more than what we mean by the word today. If memory serves, Josephus uses the word to describe the various views of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and such” (Percer 2015). Is Dr. Percer correct? It appears so for two particular reasons.

First, Louw and Nida note that “φιλοσοφία (philosophia) may be rendered in some languages as ‘the way in which people are wise’ or ‘the way in which people understand things’ or ‘the manner in which people reason’” (Louw and Nida 1996, 384). Paul’s use of the term philosophia does not indicate that he is speaking of philosophy the way modern individuals understand the term. To understand what a writer is saying, one must not force the writer into one’s time-frame, but must rather examine the writer’s literary style during the period in which the author pens their work. This leads us into another defense for Percer’s claim.

Second, while looking into Percer’s claim pertaining to Josephus’ usage of the term “philosophy,” I discovered an example of what Dr. Percer was saying in Josephus’ writings. Josephus, in the first-century, writes, “The Jews had for a great while three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.11). Note that Josephus uses the term “philosophy” to describe the religious viewpoints of three religious groups: the Essenes, Sadducees, and the Pharisees. This is not the only time Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious ideas. Josephus also writes, “But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord” (Josephus, Antiquities to the Jews 18.23). Again, Josephus uses the term “philosophia” to describe a religious viewpoint. If this is the case, could it be that Paul uses the term “philosophia” to describe religious groups and religious ideas rather than philosophical concepts? To answer such a question, one will need to consider the theme of Colossians chapter 2.

Paul’s Theme in Colossians 2.

Paul’s letter to the church of Colossae was written to combat heretical viewpoints in the area. In chapter one, Paul presents what is normally recognized as an early Christian formulation denoting the incarnation of Christ (that the divine God had took on fleshly imbodiment) in writing that Christ 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. 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” (Colossians 1:15-18).

Paul then in Colossians 1:24-2:5 speaks of his persecutions and how through them God made his presence known to the Gentiles. In that passage, Paul writes that “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Note that Paul indicates the importance of teaching individuals the truth with wisdom. Philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Paul then turns his attention to the importance of one’s “knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ” (Colossians 2:2). Paul says that he notes this so that “no one may delude you with plausible arguments” (Colossians 2:4). How does one decipher plausible arguments from implausible arguments? It comes from knowing the truth (theology) and knowing how one can know the truth (philosophy).

It is after such a discussion that Paul then writes that the Colossians should “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Instead of warning the Colossians against philosophy, Paul is actually warning the Colossians against well-argued false doctrines. Ben Witherington argues that “In v. 8 Paul characterizes the false teaching not only as “philosophy,” which in itself would not be a problem, but as philosophy built on merely “human tradition” and on what Paul calls “empty deceit.” The verb sylalageō is rare, found only here in biblical Greek, and means “kidnap” or better “carry off as booty” (Witherington III 2007, 154). Douglas Moo would also agree as he notes that “The word ‘philosophy’ was applied to a wide range of belief systems in the ancient world, so it tells us little about the origin or nature of the teaching. It does suggest, however, that the teaching involved a somewhat coherent system” (Moo 2008, 50). Thus, Paul’s warning is not against philosophy. Rather, Paul’s warning is against cleverly argued false doctrines. Instead of negating philosophy, proper philosophy seems to be promoted by Paul due to the incredible way Paul argues in favor of the truth.

Paul’s Use of Philosophical Argumentation.

Paul was not only a master theologian; Paul was a master philosopher, as well. Paul was a master rhetorician. In fact, Douglas Moo writes, concerning Colossians 2:8 and following, that “This key paragraph begins with a warning about the false teachers (v. 8) but is then dominated by a theologically rich explanation of why the Colossians should reject this teaching (vv. 9–15)” (Moo 2008, 184). Witherington explains that

“Paul is speaking into a rhetorically and philosophically saturated environment. When someone puts those two things together and the philosophy is false, there is a grave danger to Christians who are prone to listen to such powerful persuasion and to be influenced by it. Paul therefore is in the awkward position of not being able to speak directly and in person to his audience, thus losing a good portion of the rhetorical arsenal (gestures, tone of voice, etc.). Yet still he must offer an even more powerful and philosophically substantive act of persuasion than is given by those who are beguiling the Colossians” (Witherington 2007, 154).

Thus, Paul is using philosophical methods to argue in favor of the truth despite being at a disadvantage as he is unable to physically deliver his well-argued and well-reasoned defense for the Christian faith. Paul is not dismissing philosophy. For it was Paul who was able to hold his own defending the Christian faith to the intellectuals at Athens. So what can we take from this study?

Conclusion

Does Paul condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8? The short answer is “no.” Paul does not demerit or condemn philosophy in Colossians 2:8. Rather, Paul eloquently warns the Colossians against false philosophical and false theological concepts. Such false concepts were considered by Paul to be teachings that “have indeed an appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:23). So what was the false philosophy being presented to the Colossians? It appears that the likely problem for the Colossians was a form of syncretistic doctrine, similar to the modern day New Age movement,that blended Christianity with Jewish mysticism and pagan religions into a systematized form of belief.  Instead of condemning philosophy in general, Paul instead argued that the Colossians needed a stronger Christian theological and philosophical construct to stand against the cleverly devised falsehoods being purported in their town. Such a warning needs to be heeded among modern Christians as well.

Sources Cited

Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987.

Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies, 1996.

Moo, Douglas J. The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008.

Percer, Leo. Interviewed by Brian Chilton. (Thursday, September 10, 2015). Online Interview. Information used with permission.

Soanes, Catherine, and Angus Stevenson, eds., Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Witherington III, Ben. The Letters to Philemon, the Colossians, and the Ephesians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Captivity Epistles. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.

© September 13, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Answers to Arian’s Agnosticism

Recently, Arian Foster, a running back for the Houston Texans and NFL star, exposed a secret that he had been hiding for quite some time. Foster admitted that he was an atheist. Actually in an interview with Openly Secular which can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk, Foster’s belief is far more in line with agnosticism—the confession that one does not know whether God exists—rather than atheism. From the outset, it must be acknowledged that Foster was very cordial and was not aggressively opposed to a person’s belief in God. In addition, Foster was still open to the belief that God could exist. Therefore, it is completely possible that Foster could change his mind. It is with that notion in mind that I would like to present four answers to Foster’s agnosticism.

Strong Scientism

In Foster’s interview, he seems to demonstrate a form of scientism. Scientism is the belief that science holds all the answers for life’s questions. Norman Geisler describes scientism as the “belief that the scientific method is the only method for discovering truth” (Geisler 1999, 702). However, one must inquire if science can truly answer all that scientists suppose that it can.

If one is truly devoted to find the truth of what is and what may exist, one must understand the limitations of science. Geisler notes that “Even empirical scientists recognize the limitations of the scientific method…since it can only deal with observable phenomena. It begs the question in favor of materialism to assume that there is nothing beyond the observable. Other aspects of reality cannot be captured by the scientific method…Some are known intuitively (see First Principles), others inferentially (see Causality, Principle of) or transcendentally (see Transcendental Argument), and some only by special revelation (see Revelation, Special)” (Geisler 1999, 702). Before one criticizes the notion of special revelation, one must understand that science may be able to read the brainwaves of a person thinking, but scientists cannot know the thoughts of a person unless the person reveals such thoughts to the scientist—yet another limitation of science.

 William Lane Craig answers Peter Atkin’s scientism by describing five areas that science cannot prove. The full video can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM. Craig notes that science cannot attest to the following: “1) logical and mathematical truths cannot be attested by science. Science presupposes logic and mathematics…2) Metaphysical truths like there are other minds other than my own and that the external world is real cannot be proven by the scientific method…3) Ethical beliefs cannot be proven by the scientific method…4) Aesthetic judgments cannot be proven by the scientific method…5) Science itself cannot be proven by the scientific method…For instance the Theory of Relativity hinges upon the assumption that the state of light is constant in one direction from point A to point B” (Craig, YouTube). Therefore, Foster and other adherents to scientism should understand that their beliefs are severely limited if one’s worldview only allows observable realities limited by the scientific method as the means to their understanding.

For further references on this issue, see William Lane Craig’s book Reasonable Faith and John Lennox’s book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

 wlc reasonable faith Lennox Gods Undertaker book

Victimized by Syncretism

Foster states in his interview that his father was a Muslim and his mother was a Catholic. Foster has read the Quran and the Bible extensively. Yet, Foster claimed that his father was a freethinker. This brings forth some questions. Did Foster’s father profess atheism while practicing Islam? Or was Foster’s father faithful and Foster remained confused? Only Mr. Foster could answer those questions. However, it does seem that Foster may be confused by the ideological and philosophical differences between various world religions. It may have been simpler for Foster to claim neutrality. Nevertheless, if Foster is truly committed to finding the truth, he must examine the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, examine the evidence for the resurrection of Christ, and the impact of the Christian message. If Jesus is who he proclaimed to be, then everything changes.

For further information on this issue, see Ravi Zacharias’ book Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message and Nabeel Qureshi’s autobiography Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, as well as Gary Habermas and Michael Licona’s book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, J. Warner Wallace’s book Cold-case Christianity, and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. 

Zacharias Jesus Among other Gods bookqureshi seeking allah finding jesus    the case for the resurrection of jesus book image   cold case christianity  Case for Christ

 

Hypocritical Behavior by Christians

Another issue that seems to have plagued Foster is the unChristlike behavior by those professing to be Christians. Hypocrisy is a classic excuse used by individuals who refuse to come to Christ or who refuse to attend church. However, while Christians can never act perfectly on earth, at times Christians harm their message by becoming “super-spiritual.” Some professing Christians live as if they could never associate with those who are unbelievers or those who live lifestyles outside their acceptable boundaries. Yet, the Christian must remember that Christ associated himself with sinners. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?’ When Jesus heard this, he said, ‘Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do…Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners’” (Matthew 9:10-13, NLT).[1] The apostle Paul notes several sins to the Corinthian church. Yet, he ends by saying, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11, ESV).[2]

What does this mean? To Mr. Foster and those who have avoided Christianity by the bad actions of those professing Christ, understand that truth is not determined by the actions of those professing truth. It could be that a person could speak the truth and act harshly and still be correct. Also, it could be that someone behaves kindly but professes a lie. The most important issue is to discover the truth.

To the Christian, this should be a reminder that people will not hear your message if your behavior does not back up your message. If you sing “Oh how I love Jesus” and behave like you should be singing “Oh how I love myself,” then do not be surprised if the skeptic does not take your claims seriously.

For further information on this issue, see Josh McDowell’s book The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict and Craig Groeschel’s book The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist.

Mcdowell New Evidence bookChristian atheist

One-sided Research to Search

Foster noted that he had conducted his own private research. However, he noted that he was inspired by individuals like Bill Maher, Penn and Teller, and Richard Dawkins. One must question how balanced Foster’s search for truth truly was. In Foster’s defense, he may have not known that other resources in defense of Christianity existed. It is for that reason that I have listed resources for further study in this article. A good case can be made for God’s existence. J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and cold-case investigator for the Los Angeles Police Department and current Christian apologist writes the following,

“I identified and listed four categories of evidence for consideration: 1. Cosmological Evidence, a. Our universe had a beginning, b. Our universe appears to be fine-tuned for human life; 2. Biological Evidence, a. Life in our universe emerged from non-life, b. Biological organisms appear to be designed; 3. Mental Evidence, a. Nonmaterial consciousness emerged from unconscious matter, b. As humans, we are ‘free agents’ in our otherwise ‘cause and effect’ universe; 4. Moral Evidence, a. Transcendent, objective moral truths exist in our universe, b. Evil and injustice continue to persist, in spite of our best efforts” (Wallace 2015, 24).

Good, strong reasons exist for one to believe in God. It is not a mere knowledge of the heart. It is a knowledge of the mind as well.

For more information on this issue, see J. Warner Wallace’s book God’s Crime Scene and Robert J. Spitzer’s book New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of Contemporary Physics and Philosophy.

J Warner Wallace Gods Crime Scene Spitzer

 Failure of Church to Engage in Apologetics

According to Foster’s interview and a report on ESPN, Foster had engaged Christians. However, no one could offer Foster a reason for the hope they held. No one. According to Foster, his mother was not allowed to ask questions as a Christian. No one in college could answer Foster’s objections. Instead of offering a defense for the faith that they held, many Christians would simply avoid engaging Foster on such issues. In this regard, Foster’s quest for truth hit the same kind of snag that I did. In the late 90s and early 2000s, I had asked individuals questions pertaining to the reliability to the Bible. No one could offer a defense. No one. For those of faith, we MUST remember that we are required to be ready “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

Conclusion

What if? What if Arian Foster had accessed Christian apologetic resources? What if Arian Foster had the opportunity to engage with Christian apologists? What if the church was prepared to answer such objections? Would Foster still remain a skeptic? Perhaps, but if Foster is open to seek the truth, then one must think that Foster may be willing to rethink the truth claims of Christianity. That is my prayer for Arian Foster. I was in the same position as Arian Foster is today. No, I did not have the notoriety and fame that Foster does. No, I do not possess the physical talent that Foster holds. However, I did hold some of the same questions that Foster has. I did have some of the annoyances towards those who professed Christ and did not live according to their beliefs. By the grace of God, I was led towards the reality that the truth was found in the Christian message. It is my prayer and hope that Foster will find the same. Instead of rebuking Foster for his doubts, I encourage others to pray that Foster will find the answers to life’s most pressing questions.

 Sources Cited:

Craig, William Lane, and Peter Atkins. “What Science Cannot Prove.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQL2YDY_LiM.

Foster, Arian. “Arian Foster—Openly Secular.” Video. YouTube. Accessed August 9, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LrLZkwMP8kk.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999.

Wallace, J. Warner. God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2015.


© August 9, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Scripture noted as NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

[2] Scripture noted as ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Would the Discovery of Alien Life Undermine Christian Theology?

On Thursday, July 23rd, 2015, NASA announced a major discovery. NASA announced that scientists had discovered another Earth-sized planet “orbiting a sun-like star brings us closer than ever to finding a twin of our own watery world” (Brennan 2015). Astronomers have named the planet Kepler-452b. What is especially interesting about the planet is that it is in the so-called “Goldilocks Zone” which is an area from the sun that is just right to allow water on the planet.  Too far away from the host star and any potential water would freeze. Too close to the star and any potential water would burn out.  NASA said nothing about alien life except that Kepler-452b receives “about 90 percent of the energy we get from the sun. That’s a point in favor of life, if the planet’s atmosphere is something like ours” (Brennan 2015). From the previous point, many sensationalist websites proclaimed that alien life had been found. But a further reading of NASA’s statement indicates that such an announcement is premature since “The planet’s true size and density remain unknown, however, which means it could still turn out to be a gas planet, hostile to like as we know it. And powerful magnetic fluxes also could mean periodic drop-offs in the amount of energy reaching the planet, by as much as 40 percent. These drop-offs could last for months” (Brennan 2015). In addition, the planet is around 500 light years away which would take us around 2,932,848,000,000,000 (2 quadrillion, 932 trillion, 848 billion) years to arrive at Kepler-452b. While life on Kepler-452b is highly unlikely, many have posed the question, “What if alien life is discovered in the universe? Would it affect or destroy Christian theology that holds that human life is made imagio dei (in the image of God)?” While it is highly unlikely that one would discover alien life in the universe, it is not impossible. Such a topic is, at least at the time of this writing, a theological exercise. But if alien life were to be discovered, obviously it would affect everyone—much as Columbus’ discovery of the New World sent shock waves to Europe. However, I do not think that the discovery of alien life would destroy Christianity or religion in general, for the following reasons.

God is a big God.

If there is one thing that the Bible notes, it is that God is a big God. John writes that “All things were created through Him, and without Him nothing was created that was created” (John 1:3, MEV).[1] John demonstrates that God is the source behind the existence of everything in existence. Therefore, God would be the creator of alien life in the universe, should such life exist. Thus, Christianity is not damaged by the existence of alien life should it exist.

The Bible mentions of other forms of life in existence.

Before going any farther on the topic, understand that other kinds of life exist on earth. All kinds of animals exist. Yet, one would rightly note, “Yes, but they are all on this planet.” Nevertheless, if alien life were on the same level as the beast of earth, the bird of air, or the fish of sea, then it would appear only that animal life exists on other planets. Perhaps there is a planet where dinosaurs roam. Perhaps animal life of exotic natures exists on other planets. If so, then it fails me to see how such species on the same level as animals could affect Christian theology.

In this realm, one may ask, “Yes, but what if sentient life is discovered?” Such a discovery would bring far more questions. Yet, it must be remembered that the Bible has already noted the existence of sentient life in the universe outside the boundaries of the homo sapien. Countless angels and demons are listed in the Bible. In fact, around the throne of God, the Bible mentions the existence of “twenty-four elders and the four living creatures” (Revelation 19:4, ESV).[2] Thus, the existence of sentient beings outside of earth would not destroy Christian theology.

The question of sin.

If alien life is discovered and the alien lives were animals, then nothing more is necessary in the theological exercise. However, if aliens were discovered and they were sentient beings, then there is the question of sin. Did the aliens rebel against God? Even if they did not, sin has infected the entire universe. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22, NIV).[3] In addition, all life will eventually be affected as God creates a “new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1, MEV). If the sentient aliens were to fall under the category of rebellious sentient beings, then another question pertaining to Christ must be posed.

The biggest question: how far does Christ’s sacrifice extend?

If sentient life were to be discovered on other planets, then another series of questions should be asked. Are these creatures made imagio dei? Have these creatures rebelled against God? If so, could God have allowed humans and the other sentient beings to meet to allow for their salvation? It would appear so. C. S. Lewis came with the same conclusions in the early 1900s. C. S. Lewis writes with Jonathan Merritt’s commentary, “How can we, without absurd arrogance, believe ourselves to have been uniquely favored?” If humans did find alien animal life (he believed discovering alien plant life would be theological insignificant), Lewis said, they would need to determine if these alien beings were rational, have “spiritual sense,” and are fallen like humans are” (Merritt 2014). To find more about Lewis’ writings on the issue, read his book The World’s Last Night. If alien life were to be spiritual, then they are most likely fallen. If they are fallen, then one would think that the sacrifice of Christ would extend even to the alien race. When it is said that God so loved the world in John 3:16, the term translated world is “cosmos” which can refer to the entire universe. Thus, it is entirely possible that alien exploration…if aliens are sentient beings…could turn into a missionary endeavor.

Conclusion

Some may read this article and think, “Wow, all of this is far-fetched.” It may very well be. However, what I have intended to demonstrate in this article is that the existence of alien life, should such be discovered, is not the death nail in the heart of Christianity that many antagonists suppose. It is not the garlic laden spike to the heart of the Christianity to the minds of those who suppose as much. In fact, Christianity realizes that God is a big God. God is the creator of all that is. Therefore, it may be time for Christians to realize that God is a very big God and for skeptics to realize the same.

Sources Cited

Brennan, Pat. “Finding Another Earth.” Edited by Tony Greicius. NASA.gov (July 27, 2015). Accessed July 27, 2015. http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/finding-another-earth.

Merritt, Jonathan. “What C. S. Lewis Thought about Space Exploration and Aliens.” RNS (November 25, 2014). Accessed July 27, 2015. http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/11/25/c-s-lewis-thought-space-exploration-aliens/#sthash.prJ19nfq.dpuf.

© July 27, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Scriptures marked MEV come from the Modern English Version (Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014).

[2] Scriptures marked ESV come from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[3] Scriptures marked NIV come from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011).

Did Christianity’s View on Hell Stem from Judaism or Zoroastrianism?

Recently in the Winston-Salem Journal, a columnist named Earl Crow wrote a piece entitled “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Crow argued for a Universalist understanding of hell, being that eventually everyone would be saved and that hell was not a true reality. No one likes the notion of hell save those who have a sadist complex. Let us be forthright in saying that some preachers preach on hell as if they had rather prefer that some people go there. In stark contrast, others, like Crow, are so put off by the notion of hell that they would rather deny its existence. To deny the merit of a place known as hell, Crow argues that the idea of hell is untenable to biblical understandings.

Crow argued his case by proclaiming the following: “Judaism had no doctrine of hell…The Christian concept of an eternal punishment may have been adopted from Zoroastrianism…Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning?…The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption…Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome…translations can render different interpretations” (Crow 2015). This argue will address the various arguments that Crow presents and will demonstrate that his arguments are unfounded and found lacking.

Crow’s First Argument: Does Judaism (OT) possess a doctrine of hell?

Crow first argues that Judaism did not possess a doctrine of hell. Is he correct? Well yes and no. The Old Testament does not present as complete a doctrine of hell as does the New Testament. The intermediate state of a heaven and hell was not clearly defined in the Old Testament as it is in the New Testament. The concept of Sheol (Hebrew for the place of the dead) was a place where all deceased individuals lived, both good and bad. Yet, as R. P. Lightner argues, “Jacob, at death, went down into Sheol (Gen. 37:35), but so did the wicked Korah and Dathan (Num. 16:30). Such teaching has led to the view that Sheol had two compartments—an upper and lower level. It is thought that Christ delivered the righteous in the upper level at the time of his resurrection (Eph. 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 3:19)” (Lightner 2001, 548). Lightner’s argument is supported by such statements as “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man full of years, and was gathered to his people” (Genesis 25:8).[1] The two compartment view of Sheol is supported by Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.

While the intermediate state of hell is not as explicit as such a doctrine is in the New Testament, the Old Testament is clear that at the resurrection some will experience an eternity of God’s curse. In fact Prophet Isaiah—and note there are good reasons for holding that one writer wrote the book although it may have been edited by redactors—writes a strong message pertaining to the existence of a hell in that after the judgment of God is delivered that “they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). Note that the phrases “worm shall not die” and “their fire shall not be quenched” denote an eternal state for such individuals. Therefore, the conclusion is simple: the doctrine of hell belongs in Old Testament Judaism every bit as much as it does in the New Testament. Jesus presented a thoroughly Jewish understanding pertaining to God, the afterlife, and the like. The Pharisees and Essenes held to the idea of the afterlife, resurrection, angels, and the like just as much as Jesus.

Crow’s Second Argument: Was the concept of hell borrowed from Zoroastrianism?

The previous section demonstrated that Christianity took its idea of heaven and hell from Judaism and not Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism was a Persian dualist religion which was most likely a state religion that Judaism could have encountered during the exile. Could Christianity have accepted tenets of Zoroastrianism in its doctrine? Not likely according to biblical scholar N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright, a New Testament scholar, former professor at Cambridge, and the former Bishop of Durham, notes that people have sought to link Christianity’s message pertaining to the resurrection to Zoroastrianism, just as Crow does for the concept of hell. But, Wright denotes, borrowing from John Day, that “since Daniel, the main biblical exponent of the doctrine, is clearly echoing not only Isaiah but also Hosea, this takes the stream of thought back behind any likely influence from Persia; and that, when Ezekiel speaks of the dead being raised from their graves, this cannot be related to Zoroastrianism, since the Persians exposed, rather than buried, their dead” (Wright 2003, 125). Some could even argue that an explicit reference to resurrection and an implicit reference to the afterlife are mentioned in Job 19:25. Job is thought by many to be the oldest book in the entire Bible.

Crow’s Third Argument: Can you fathom a God of love being vindictive?

While the first two arguments, as well as his fifth argument, deal with historical arguments against the belief in a place called hell, the third and fourth arguments are theological in nature. Crow queries, “Can you fathom a God so vindictive that he would relegate some of his children to eternal burning” (Crow 2015)? Crow even seems to oppose such a concept against the United States Constitution in saying that “Even the United States Constitution forbids cruel and unusual punishment” (Crow 2015).  I find it a bit odd that Crow would seemingly restrain God by a human document known as the United States Constitution. Before anyone claims, isn’t that what you are doing with the Bible, I would note that evangelical Christians hold that the Bible is God’s revelation to humanity—in other words, what God tells us about himself.

With that being said, it is a sad commentary to think that justice and holiness have been attributed to vindictiveness. I would answer such a charge with a question. Say a person has been charged with murdering his entire family. The man took the time to kill his spouse and kill his children. The evidence for such a crime was so strong that the husband killed his family in that the investigation was over almost before it started. The man is found guilty. Would the judge trying the man’s case be viewed as a good judge if the judge simply said, “Well, I love you. I am going to let you go free and kill again”? Of course not!!! God is not only a loving God, but God is also holy and just. If a person is unrepentant (meaning that the person is not sorry for his guilt), then what kind of God would God be if he simply allowed unrepentant sinners into his heaven? God’s heaven prepared for repentant would become hell for everyone if God simply allowed everyone—even those unrepentant—in his heaven. Remember, heaven is God’s to give. Pertaining to God’s children, Jesus says to his condemners, “He who is God hears God’s words. Therefore, you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47, MEV).[2]

Crow’s Fourth Argument: Can a retributive hell coexist with a redeeming Savior?

This argument is easy to dismantle. Crow writes that “The whole idea of hell is retributive while Christ is about redemption” (Crow 2015). If this is so, then what did Christ come to redeem humanity from? If Christ came to redeem humanity from sin, then what about those who refuse Christ’s forgiveness? John’s Gospel says it best in that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16, MEV).

Crow’s Fifth Argument: Was the idea of hell added to the biblical text by St. Jerome?

Crow’s fifth argument is so innately erroneous that it is surprising that it was published. Crow argues that “Some scholars note that the addition of hell as everlasting punishment for the wicked was added by St. Jerome, who in the fourth century was commissioned by Pope Damascus I to create a Latin translation” (Crow 2015). WHAT?!? St. Jerome was born around 347AD. It is true that Jerome did translate the Greek texts of his day into what is known as the Latin Vulgate. However, Jerome translated from previously known biblical Greek texts. The Vulgate was completed around 405AD. Here, one must understand that over 6,000 manuscripts of the New Testament have been discovered that have dated to within 3 centuries of the events they record. Perhaps some of the more intriguing finds are complete, or nearly complete, New Testament codices (ancient Greek books). The Codex Sinaiticus dating to 325-330AD, the Codex Alexandrinus dating to around 400AD, and the Codex Vaticanus dating to 300-325AD provide complete documentation for the New Testament with some nearly a century before Jerome’s Vulgate. Do these documents provide the concept of hell? Certainly!!! In fact, most modern translations (e.g. NIV, ESV) use these ancient texts for the basis of their translations. Thus, Crow’s argument is laughably in error.

Crow’s Sixth Argument: Do translations demerit the biblical doctrine of hell?

head on keyboard

At this point, you may hear the sound of my beating head against a keyboard. How is it that translations muffle clear teachings on hell? Revelation 20:15 provides a clear teaching on hell. The ESV reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). The NIV reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NIV).[3] Another translation reads, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, NASB).[4] An older translation reads, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, KJV).[5] One of the newest translations on the market reads, “Anyone whose name was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15, MEV). So tell me, how can a translation afford one the opportunity to dismiss the biblical teaching on hell?

Conclusion

Hell is not a pleasant topic. In fact, hell is so uncomfortable that many have turned the mere mention of hell into a curse word. Nevertheless, one must face the reality of hell. Many charge God with being unloving for allowing such an existence. However, it has been demonstrated that a holy God must allow for such a place due to the lack of repentance found in the hearts of many. Yet, let us turn this around for a moment. How loving is it for a person to deny the existence of a place that has been so clearly taught in Scripture? How loving is it for one to coerce others to live as if hell were not a reality? Jesus was the most loving and yet the strongest teacher ever to step foot on the planet. Jesus spoke on hell quite a bit. Why did Jesus teach about hell? Jesus did so because he loved people so much that he did not want to see them go there. But understand this: you don’t have to go to hell. Jesus loves you so much that he is willing to take you where you are, regardless of what you have done, and forgive you, change you, and mold you into a much better person while offering you the greatest gift in the entire world: redemption from hell and admittance into heaven. What will be your response to his offer?

Sources Cited

Crow, Earl. “Concept of hell as eternal punishment is retributive.” Winston-Salem Journal (July 18, 2015). Accessed July 26, 2015. http://www.journalnow.com/news/local/everyday-religious-questions-concept-of-hell-as-eternal-punishment-is/article_23d037c2-2cef-11e5-a98a-d70a1e5aab67.html.

Lightner, R. P. “Hell.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Wright, N. T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

© July 26, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Scriptures marked MEV come from the Modern English Version (Lake Mary, FL: Passio, 2014).

[3] Scripture marked NIV comes from The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).

[4] Scripture marked NASB comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

[5] Scripture marked KJV comes from The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009).

When God Shouts Through His Silence

Have you ever needed God, prayed, and sincerely sought after God, only to receive silence? We read of passages where God promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:8).[1] However, often when one shouts to the heavens, nothing is heard. No marvelous miracle. No storming voice of thunder. Nothing.

Some have taken the route to believe that since they have not heard from God, then either God does not exist, or God does not communicate to humanity directly. Yet, the honest seeker for truth will acknowledge the wealth of evidence leading one to consider the necessity for God’s existence. Likewise, one must acknowledge the great amount of historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth and the movement stemming from a literal resurrection. If one acknowledges the existence of God, then one must admit that God could communicate with humanity. If one acknowledges the revelation of the Bible, then one will concede that God has spoken to individuals in times past. For one who has entered a covenant relationship with Christ, such a one will admit that God moved in their life—in a since communicating with them.

Another Option

Another option that some have taken is to imagine that God is disinterested in their lives. However, the Bible demonstrates the great concern of God for human beings, as Peter denotes in saying that God is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In addition, God is demonstrated to be the Good Shepherd of his flock in the 23rd Psalm. Hence, another option must exist. That option is that just because God is silent, it does not mean that God is not actively working. As Krish Kandiah denoted in the June 2015 edition of Christianity Today, the book of Esther in the Bible describes the movement of God in a time when God seemed silent. Pertaining to Esther, Kandiah denotes “Esther is one of two women in the Bible to have a book named after her. Her story is strange. It’s full of sexual exploitation, personal vendettas, and a real threat of anti-Semitic ethnic cleansing…No one refers to the Scriptures, and no one explicitly prays…While murder is plotted, mass rape is legislated, and lives are ruined, God is on mute. Yet this book made it into Scripture, and despite his silence, God’s sovereignty rings out loud and clear” (Kandiah 2015, 52). Indeed, as Kandiah describes, Esther does provide some insights on the silence of God.

The Silence of God May be Used to Demonstrate Faith

Esther, a Jewess, married the Persian King Xerxes (otherwise known as Ahasuerus). Haman is the antagonist in the story of Esther as he seeks to exterminate the Jews because of the faith of a man named Mordecai, “the son of Jair, son of Shimei, son of Kish, a Benjaminite, who had been carried away from Jerusalem among the captives carried away with Jeconiah king of Judah, whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had carried away” (Esther 2:5-6). Haman had instructed everyone to bow down and pay homage to Haman. However, Mordecai, due to his great faith, refused for he only bowed to God and God alone. Nevertheless, Mordecai’s faith served as a catalyst which brought forth the antitheistic notions of Haman. It may have seemed as if God was silent. But, God was allowing the faith of Mordecai to speak for itself. Furthermore, God would use the faith of Mordecai as a means of bringing something far greater in the end.

This brings to mind another occasion when God was silent. When Christ was on the cross, God may not have thunderously spoken from the heavens—however, God was there. God was on the cross. This brings to mind a particular story from the Holocaust. The Nazis were executing many Jews on one particular day. The Nazis had hung a young boy from the gallows. However, the young boy was too light to enable his neck to immediately break when being dropped. So he lingered there writhing in pain for several minutes before finally dying. Someone yelled out, “Where is God? Where is God?” A wise man proclaimed while pointing to the young boy, “There he is. He is there with that young boy.” God was in the gas chambers. He was on the shooting line. He was with every person who had suffered. He was not with those doing great acts of evil. He was with those who had been oppressed, who had suffered, and who had died.

If the Bible is correct and God provides a heaven for his faithful, then the glorious promise of God is that the best is yet to come. When Jesus was on the cross, the Father was silent. But, the faith of Jesus would shine forth as Jesus was raised from the dead on the first Easter Sunday. Just because God is silent, it does not mean that God does not care. It may be that God is allowing momentary suffering to allow for something far greater in the end. As the apostle Paul reminds us “’What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10).

When God is Silent, God is Still Working

One will notice in the book of Esther that Mordecai just so happened to be in particular places at particular times. Coincidences? I think not. Mordecai was led to be in the places where Haman’s plots were devised. God was in the details. As Kandiah denotes, “While God never makes an appearance, his role in the story is hard to miss. Haman rolled dice to determine the day on which his despicable plan for genocide would take place. But his plan backfired, and he was hanged on the oversized gallows that he built for Mordecai” (Kandiah 2015, 52-53). As it is written in Proverbs, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33, NLT).[2] This is an important truth for those who travel to Las Vegas to remember. Nevertheless, God was working in the details. When one understands the power and providence of God, one will refuse to believe in so-called “coincidences.”

Evil is Temporarily Allowed Only to Be Ultimately Judged

When one experiences the silence of God, evil may or may not be the reason for concern. Nonetheless, for those who experience evil and do not experience the immediate judgment brought forth by God, understand that God will judge in his own due time. In the story of Esther, it appeared that evil was unrestrained and left without judgment. For those experiencing the evils of the Nazi concentration camp, that sentiment must have flooded the minds of those in the camps. However, judgment would come. Haman experienced how the silence of God will lead to the shout of God. For as Haman was about to kill Mordecai, God providentially worked particular details to bring about another end. In Esther, we read that news had gotten to the king about the workings of Haman. Then, one reads the following, Then Harbona, one of the king’s eunuchs, said, ‘Haman has set up a sharpened pole that stands seventy-five feet tall in his own courtyard. He intended to use it to impale Mordecai, the man who saved the king from assassination.’ ‘Then impale Haman on it!’ the king ordered. So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai, and the king’s anger subsided” (Esther 7:9-10, NLT). The silence of God will eventually lead to the shouting of God. In times of God’s silence, the faithful must remember that God is still at work and that their faith must remain steadfast.

The Example of God Shouting through Silence at Huntsville Baptist Church

The silence of God leads to the shouts of God. The story of Huntsville Baptist Church certainly demonstrates this truth. Several years back, the church engaged in a building program that left quite a substantial debt. Unfortunately, after the building project was complete, the church experienced internal strive which led to a division. This division left the church with a substantial debt without the funds to accomplish payments as quickly as formerly hoped. The church encountered such hardship that many discussed whether it was time to close the doors, not knowing how such a debt could be paid. It would seem that the church which had been established in the 1800s was set to close down completely. Hope seemed to be lost. Perhaps many asked during the time of hardship, “Where is God?” However, God was there as the church experienced a ray of hope. An annual golf tournament was established to help pay off the debt. Various fundraisers were employed. The church united through this time of hardship. A man of God, named George Steelman, especially had a passion for the work of God in his church. As George was diagnosed with cancer, preparing to enter the kingdom of God, he left as part of his will a substantial donation which, in combination with other funds raised by countless individuals, allowed the debt to be paid in full. This past Sunday, Huntsville Baptist Church celebrated this payoff with a note-burning service. Where was God? God was there. God was there as he inspired individuals to begin these new programs. God was there as he inspired individuals to give unselfishly. God was there as he inspired people to see the vision that he had laid before them. While some may have felt that God was silent, God was actually shouting through his perceived silence.

Tips When Experiencing God’s Silence:

  1. Evaluate your life to ensure that nothing is standing between you and God. While many–including Job, Paul, and Joseph–experience God’s silence when all was well with their lives, it remains an important task to evaluate one’s life during times of spiritual drought. This will ensure that such times do not originate with an unacknowledged sin.
  2. Get in the Word! Be sure to have regular devotions, inviting God to speak to you through his Spirit and through his Word. This also requires one to listen to God instead of telling God what you need. God knows your needs better than you do.
  3. Pray, pray, pray!!! Make sure you spend adequate time with God each day in prayer.
  4. Remain faithful. Keep doing what God has called you to do until you hear otherwise.
  5. Remember the promises of God. Study more about God. Study, learn, and remember the attributes of God. God does not change.

Sources Cited:

Kandiah, Krish. “Trusting the Great Director: Though unseen and unheard, God orchestrates the details of our lives—even when we are falling apart.” Christianity Today 59, 5 (June 2015): 50-54.

The featured photograph was taken by Emily Shaw on June 7th, 2015. All rights reserved.

© June 8, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013).

Responding to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Theodicy Inquisition and the 1755 Lisbon Earthquake

Recently, I watched a video which featured a recorded lecture by noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. A Catholic lady from the crowd asked Tyson if he believed in God. Tyson did not negate belief in God, but demonstrated a problem that he held with the Christian view of God’s goodness. Tyson told the story about the birth of the modern atheist movement. According to Tyson, the modern atheist movement stemmed from 1700’s philosopher Voltaire, who witnessed a massive earthquake on All Saints Day in 1755 in Lisbon, Portugal. The largest number of fatalities came from those worshiping in cathedrals which were, as Tyson noted, “the tallest, biggest buildings” (Tyson 2014, YouTube). Following the earthquake, a tsunami leveled the city, killing 80,000 people. Many theologians of the day purported that such an act was a display of God’s judgment. However, Voltaire and others noted that the sinful red light district of the city was largely untouched while the religious individuals of the town were killed. Responding to Christian philosopher Gottfried Leibniz–who postulated that we live in the best of all possible worlds–Voltaire proclaimed that this was not the best of all possible worlds indicating that either God was not all loving or God was not all good. In like manner, Tyson said that he “could not see the all goodness of God, seeing how everything in the universe wanted to wipe us out.” Tyson went on to say that he could not see how “God was all good…if we define good by being concerned with our health and longevity—which is how I would define good” (Tyson 2014, YouTube). So, how does a Christian respond to Tyson’s, as well as Voltaire’s, accusations? Note–by addressing Tyson, the article also responds to Voltaire’s claims.

1.     Creation is Fallen—it’s Good not Perfect.

First, Tyson assumes that for God to be good, the universe must be perfect. However, the Bible never states that the universe is perfect. The opening chapter of the Bible concludes with the words “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a).[1] One must understand that the universe is not perfect. It has been tainted by rebellion. First, it was tainted by the rebellion of Satan. Jesus said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). This fall is also accounted in Isaiah as the prophet proclaims, “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low” (Isaiah 14:12)! This fall led to the fall of humanity as accounted in the 3rd chapter of Genesis. The Adversary (Satan) must have been already fallen as he led humanity away from the personal presence of God. The apostle Paul denotes that this fall has led to the “whole creation…groaning together the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:22). The great news is that God is working to create a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 22) which will not host the trouble, death, and uncertainty that the present day creation holds. The modern creation is good…it is the best of all possible worlds which allows for freedom of the will. But it is not the best creation, for the best is yet to come.

2.     Eternity trumps Earthly Longevity.

Tyson holds a problem in his definition of “goodness.” If goodness only denotes a person’s present well-being, God’s goodness is shallow at best. As James denotes, life is but a “mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). If the Bible is correct in that Christians have the promise of eternity, then even great tragedies such as the one in Lisbon is somewhat justified in that the people of God will never be separated from the presence of God. The eternity they enjoy now far outweighs the momentary pains suffered in the earthquake. Therefore, if eternity in heaven exists, then God’s goodness is ultimately justified even in the midst of such tragedies. Let’s face it—everyone will have to walk through the passages of death at some point. How good would it be of God to leave us in this fallen world for several millennia? This is not to say that life on earth is not important. It truly is a blessed thing to be alive and well. Nevertheless, one should not lose the focus on the blessed hope that is found in an eternal existence with God in heaven.

3.     Humans Cannot Know All Intricate Details—but God Does.

Third, as one discovers in the book of Job, an individual cannot understand and know all that God does. Could it have been that great sin was found in the Lisbon of 1755? Possibly. Could God have delivered judgment to the city? Potentially. In such cases, an individual does not know the hearts and minds of the people in that day. However, it could have been that the city was a blessed city, filled with good, godly people, as well. If the people did nothing wrong, then why did God allow such a tragedy to occur? Consider Job. Job asked the same questions. Job was a man who was a “blameless and upright man, who fear[ed] God and turns away from evil” (Job 1:8). Job endured many hardships and wanted to take God to court in order to charge God with unfair dealing. However, God responded and asked Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding” (Job 38:4). In other words, God demonstrated that he knew all the intricate details and how ultimate good can come from what appears to be great tragedies in life.

 4.     Consider the Alternative.

Lastly, consider the alternative. What if a good God did not exist, what then? Such tragedies would be even worse. What would Tyson say to one who lost a loved one and had no hope of seeing that person again? “Too bad. That’s the way the cookie crumbles.” With the God of the Bible, tragedies have a light at the end of the tunnel; a light which is illuminated by the “Light of the world”—Jesus Christ. Even in the worst of circumstances, Christians have the hope found in the resurrection of Christ.

Therefore, I do not accept Tyson’s, nor Voltaire’s, claim that tragedies demerit the goodness of God. In fact, philosophers such as William Lane Craig have noted that the theodicy problem has been solved. Evil can exist in a world developed by a good and all powerful God if God holds good reasons for allowing the evil to take place, or has an ultimate good stemming from such an allowance.

Tyson, Neil deGrasse. “Neil deGrasse Tyson-‘Do You Believe in God?’ (Must Watch).” Atheist Digest Channel. YouTube (October 13, 2014). Accessed May 18, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocvIeycJrQ0.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Copyright May 2015. Brian Chilton.