Category: Apologetics

Turning From Worthless Things

Starting a recent study of the book of Romans, I saw how the Roman and Greek societies in New Testament times were quite modern compared to the Ancient Near East societies in the Old Testament. Both the Greeks and the Romans were more cosmopolitan, more advanced technologically, and had more developments in philosophy and political theory than the societies who lived in the times when the Hebrew Bible was written.

Yet what God told the Jews in their Bible has never been replaced by something “more modern”. This truth would not change: There is one God Yahweh who is ruler over all creation.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

In the more advanced Greek and Roman societies there remained pantheons of gods to worship. Only the Jews proclaimed worshiping the one true God.

And the apostle Paul, born a Jew,  loved showing how Jesus was the Messiah that  God had long ago promised in that very Bible, a Messiah not only to the Jews but also to the Greeks, Romans and all the peoples and tribes yet to come.

Here’s a good mind game:  Imagine what it would be like if the Apostle Paul were first writing now, in the 2020’s. He would not change the core of the gospel message of salvation through faith in the crucified and risen Christ that he presented 2000 years ago.

But, as he did in his own time, he would contextualize by explaining the unchanging message of following the one true God in a way that would persuade and convince 21st century people. Indeed, successful pastors today knows how to do that. Men like Tim Keller or my local pastor Dave Gustavsen do that well today.

When Barnabas and Paul visited Lystra the Lystrans wanted to worship them because they thought that they were the gods Zeus and Hermes come down to earth in human form.

But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. (Acts 14:14-15)

Nowadays we don’t have Zeus worship, but there are still plenty of worthless things that we “worship” today! Look at American greed and commercialism.

I had to laugh sadly as I read about a recent controversy in France. Businesses there usually shut down early on Sunday to allow people to rest. But one chain, Casino Group, attracted ire by wanting to keep their supermarkets open past the normal 1PM Sunday closing hour. And the criticism was that this chain wanted to turn France into a greedy commercial place like the US! Oh, the irony! The “Christian” country is greedy and the highly secular country has a more “Christian” view of Sunday!

But of course the real question, whether you live in France or the US or anywhere else, is not whether you close your shops on Sundays or not.  It’s this:  Do you want to follow the real God whose son is the resurrected Jesus?

Another Bogus Bill

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When you enter the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as your possession, and I put a spreading mold in a house in that land, the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ (Leviticus 14:33-35)

Putting a mold in a house? What is God up to? Is he is doing something evil?

We often hear “God is not the author of evil” as a blanket statement and ironclad rule. Today, let’s examine that.

We do know that Satan had to get God’s permission to afflict Job. So if the devil needs to ask permission, then obviously God could say “No.”  But then, why did God ever say “Yes”? Because doesn’t saying yes make God responsible for the evil?

Some try to solve this problem by backing off a bit and saying God “allows” evil…But that begs some additional questions ….

For example, does God “allow” stuff that is not part of his plan? If yes, then he is not omnipotent. But if no, then it means that evil is part of his plan. But if that’s true then, once again, it looks like God is the author of evil.

Here’s how I try to sort that out: God does ordain evil which can temporarily seem nothing but bad. But the key word is temporary. Because from a long term or eternal perspective God always uses that temporary evil to achieve something good in his long run plans. This means that God never ordains evil whose end result remains evil with nothing good coming out of it.

So God ordains evil as a passing step towards what will bring him even greater glory.

Now I can try to explain why God put the mold in the house. Because verse 35 says that the owner of the house must go and tell the priest, ‘I have seen something that looks like a defiling mold in my house.’ So, God has given a test for the owner —- he is tempted to cover it up because now the house is required to be torn down if the mold persists. Does the owner respond in obedience and report the mold?  Or disobey and keep quiet to nervously hold onto his property?

Now, an example from my own life. It’s when I receive a bill with a bogus charge on it. I have whined and whined when that happens. I am not proud of my history of being all ticked off about it and then yelling on the phone when the help desk refused to fix the error.

I had said I would never yell again, ever. But a few months ago it happened again! Why did I blow it? It’s because I did not see that somehow God did ordain it – allowing the phony charge to test me and to grow me. After all, God could have stopped the bill but he did not.

Reflecting on that, now I know ahead of time that I will again get a bogus bill and again get a help desk person who refuses to fix it. Will I yell or will I say OK Lord I know you have sent this evil as a test and this time I will pass the test to your glory?

Sure, getting fake charges on a bill is annoying. But just think of the biggest example of fake charges in history. God ordained that wicked people to crucify his only Son on fake charges!  But God ordained this wickedness to bring the greatest good in the history of the planet— a redeemed people called Christians who have eternal life and bring God’s good news to the world! And when he ordains that I get fake charges, God means it to shape me into being a better ambassador of his good news.

Screaming about the Bible

It’s easy to find people on the Internet screaming that the Bible is full of falsehoods. They’ll claim that the logic of science and modern critical scholarship makes it clear that the Bible is bogus.

But I think the skeptics’ objections to the Bible are less objective than they claim. Why? Consider this…. if the Bible is full of falsehoods about the events that it says really happened in history, then it must be full of falsehoods when it talks about what we are supposed to believe and to do. If the Bible is bogus then I can disregard the Bible any time it contradicts what I think and want.

Before the modern revolution in thinking took hold, people acknowledged that the decrees and details in the Bible were true, but they simply often just did not feel like obeying them. In the 21st century, though, when we hear the same question that Pilate uttered, “What is truth?” the modern answer is “The Bible does not matter. The only truth is what is true for me.”

So that brings me to my presupposition:

A presupposition is something I assume is true without proving it. My presupposition is that the Bible is true. I don’t claim that I can prove to you that the Bible is true. But I can argue that it is reasonable to believe the Bible is true. I am not making a blind leap of faith. Rather, you might call it a sighted step of faith.

Once I thought only lamebrains believed the Bible was true—but that all changed when, while I was at UConn, I met professors with PhDs who believed in the Bible’s truthfulness. They showed me that believing in Scripture’s truth does not freeze our mind — it renews it!

Before I came to believe that the Bible is true, I gave myself an excuse to do what I wanted. Hearing a Bible teacher who propounded a conservative sexual ethic, my attitude was, “How dare anyone say that what I am doing sexually is wrong !!” (Looking back I see I was so angered because I knew that the guy was speaking truth.)

If the Bible is true, then, its truth authority stands outside of me. Thus, Scripture can overrule or contradict my own feelings and thoughts and desires. The Bible has the power to say that some of what I believe and think and do is false.

You might think that coming under the authority of Scripture is restrictive and harsh. Quite the contrary! Instead, it leads to what Jesus calls the abundant life. Living under Scripture’s authority guides us to turn back from dead ends and to move forward to having life in the fullest.

Does God Give us a Theology Exam?

pass exam

Sometimes I hear someone skeptical about Christianity asking: “What is the minimum you have to believe to be a Christian?”

I have a problem with that question. It assumes that becoming a Christian is simply assenting to a list of propositional truths or facts or dogmas. But this is a misunderstanding of what it means to believe.

Why? Because in the Bible “to believe” has a much deeper, wider meaning than just saying that a list of facts is true. To start, let’s look at what Jesus said to Martha about faith. The regular NIV translation says:

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; (John 11:25)

That translation gets part of the meaning. But the Amplified Bible expresses the full meaning of the original Greek word:
Whoever believes in (adheres to, trusts in, relies on) Me [as Savior] will live even if he dies

So, an effective way to rephrase the skeptic’s question is: Who do you need to trust to be a Christian? And the simple short answer is Jesus.

But then the next question is: Who is this Jesus that I trust?

John’s gospel is especially helpful here:
 but these have been written so that you may believe [with a deep, abiding trust] that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed), the Son of God; and that by believing [and trusting in and relying on Him] you may have life in His name. (John 20:31AMP)

John’s whole Gospel explains why Jesus is worthy of deep, abiding trust. It explains who Jesus was, describes the miraculous things he did, expounds his commands to love, and shows how he gives eternal life to those who repent of their sins and trust him.

Taking all of this to heart, try to imagine what it would be like if you died and met God — would he give you a theology exam, asking “Which facts and propositions did you believe?”

Or would he say, “Did you live your life by fully relying on my Son Jesus?”