Why Should I Care?

Of all the questions that I encounter from both Christians and non-Christians alike, perhaps the most difficult one for me to answer is why the person should care about whatever it is I’m talking about. Hopefully, I can give you some grounds for motivation for both apologetics, and evangelism as elements of Christian living.

First, I would like to point out a very important point. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit to renew the heart, and actually save people. All our arguments and persuasion, our preaching and evangelizing doesn’t actually save people. However, that is not an excuse to engage in these activities.

Modern Americans have inherited a form of pragmatism from a number of sources in our past, but it doesn’t necessarily look like what it used to. Essentially, if we don’t see how something will effect our everyday life, we see no need for it. This can take the form of non-Christians not seeing their need for religion, God, Christianity, Jesus, etc. (If someone is entirely fine with their life, how would you convince them to look into the claims of Jesus?) but sadly, this attitude is not limited to non-Christians, as it has infiltrated the church as well. For example, why should a Christian care about theology or apologetics or learning about other worldviews? Isn’t it enough to have it just be you and Jesus? Why make things so complicated?

Well, it may seem strange when I say this, but the motivation for all of these things come from loving God, and loving your neighbor. Francis Schaeffer wrote that “Christianity demands that we have enough compassion to learn the questions of our generation.” and I find this to be very true. Also, notice that he says nothing about whether we have the same questions, or whether these questions have any relevance to our daily lives. I think one of the reasons that we don’t bother with things unless they directly effect us, is that it stretches us to do so, and we don’t like leaving our comfort zones. Let’s take a look at a passage from the Bible to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Do you best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

Yes, Paul is specifically writing to Timothy in this passage (2 Tim. 2:15), but I think it’s fairly obvious to see the application to all believers. So how do I connect this? Well, ask yourself whether or not you can rightly handle the word of truth. All of us, I think, have room for improvement. When a pair of Mormon missionaries come knocking on your door, you should “have no need to be ashamed”, and try to pretend to not be home. You should be able to answer their questions about how the Trinity is one in purpose, but not one in being, or that Jesus never claims to be God (Yahweh). Or what about the Jehovah’s Witness, who will say that Jesus was actually Michael the Archangel? An Atheist might tell you that the whole idea of the Trinity is a logical contradiction, and actually the word “Trinity” isn’t even in the Bible, so where did it come from? These are all questions from different worldviews that only require that we know how to handle the word of truth rightly.

What about things which require even more work? Well, the principle of loving our neighbors applies here, as well as the classic apologetics text (1 Pet. 3:15b-16a).

always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet doing it with gentleness and respect,

In short, why do you believe what you believe? And lest we are content to just sit back and wait for questions, the great commission tells us to go out to all people and share the gospel. It would be foolish of us to think that we won’t get questions about what we’re saying. So why should I study Islam? Because I love God, and love my neighbors, and I’m called to share the gospel with Muslims. The same can be said about any other worldview you substitute there. Obviously, it will be most beneficial to spend the most time on the worldviews which are prominent in your area (which may require work to figure out).

An important note of clarification is something that took me a while to learn. While learning about worldviews is important and helpful, it is crucial to not take that knowledge and import it onto someone who claims to be an adherent to a particular worldview. For example, when I talk to Mormon missionaries, I always add things like “I’ve heard that Mormons believe ___ , is this true?” because while you might know what the historic/orthodox position is, that individual person might not hold to it, and your goal isn’t to point them to the truth of the gospel, not essentially make them more un-Christian (though pointing out inconsistencies might help!). What I’m trying to say is that there is no cookie-cutter formula, because we’re all rather different, and each person requires their own approach. This can be a rather daunting task, especially if you’re not used to doing it. Two fairly new books that are very helpful with making the task more doable are these:

Hopefully these blogs have been helpful to you, and while I didn’t answer all the questions you’ll run into, I hope that this can be a decent source of information to help you be bold for Christ. Thank you all for your encouragement in this. SDG.

Yours in Christ,

– Jesse

Is Easter Based on Paganism?

It seems like every time Christians celebrate something, there are always people who try and point out how that celebration is something different. We looked at how people have tried to do this with Christmas a while back, and similar attempts have been made with Easter.

It’s important to remember that simply stating that Easter ripped off some earlier pagan celebration isn’t actually enough to make an argument, even though that’s usually all that is said. In order for it to be an argument, you would have to show direct links from how Christians celebrate Easter to whatever pagan festival supposedly predated it and show that what Christians are doing runs counter to Christianity. It’s a tall order, and it’s very rarely done on any of these sort of “gotcha” statements.

A lot of the discussion about the resurrection of Jesus (the whole point of Easter) was touched on when we dealt with the topic specifically here. That largely leaves the assertion that Easter is somehow based on the celebration of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar.

The weird thing about this one is that, to my knowledge, there never has been a formal celebration of Ishtar. Since she was the goddess of fertility, perhaps you could attempt to make the connection to Easter eggs as being a roundabout celebration of her, but the whole Easter eggs/bunny thing has nothing to do with how Christians celebrate Easter. Our celebration is centered on the resurrection of Jesus, whereas that bunny guy became a good marketing holiday in America. The only other connection that I’ve heard is that the name Easter is similar to the name Ishtar. This is true, but it doesn’t prove anything, nor is it an argument for anything. This is grasping at straws, but let’s suppose that the word Easter did come from the word Ishtar. Would this mean anything? Not really.

This is a logical fallacy known as the genetic fallacy, which says that something is wrong/irrelevant/bad due to its origin. It’s faulty logic because it doesn’t deal with a claim itself, but says that it should be discarded due to its origins. To use a more humorously obvious example, here is a helpful picture.

Obviously, drinking water doesn’t make you a Nazi, or in support of anything Hitler did. In the same way, even if the word Easter was of pagan origin, it doesn’t mean anything. Personally, I think this is merely a means of deflecting from having to deal with the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and we have good reasons for believing that He did so (discussed here).

So let’s put that “argument” to rest, and move on to the celebration of our Savior!

– Jesse

Should We Only Use The KJV?

Recently, both myself and some others have ran into various strains of the King James Only movement, so I figure it might be the right time to look into it. It’s important to point out that someone who prefers using the KJV for one reason or another doesn’t necessarily belong to this movement.

The KJV Only movement insists that anyone who speaks English should use the King James Version exclusively. Reasons for that vary in terms of strength (or wrongness, depending on your viewpoint). The relatively weak reasons are things like saying that it is the most accurate English translation we have, due to the fact that it’s the oldest English translation available, which means it’s closest to the original languages in terms of chronology.

The problem with this is that it is simply wrong. The King James Version was produced in 1611, with a few different printings which we’ll get into later. While that is definitely an old English translation, it is far from the first. While obviously including only modern English translations (as opposed to old English and middle English), it only receives fifth place on being the earliest. Tyndale’s Bible was not exactly a complete Bible, with the New Testament being completed in 1526 and roughly half the Old Testament being completed before he died, with most of that material showing up later in the Matthew Bible in 1537. The Great Bible was released in 1539 and, like the later King James, was an authorized version by a king (King Henry, in this case). Then we have the Bishops’ Bible of 1568 (which became the base text for the KJV) and perhaps the most important of the early translations, the Geneva Bible, arriving in full on 1576.

As well as being factually wrong, there is also another important assumption implicit in the assertion that the KJV is the most accurate because it’s the oldest. Supposing it was true, why would it be the most accurate due to its age? This assumes that the translation process is somewhat like the telephone game. As we know from the childhood game, the message which starts at the front of the line will be wildly different than what ends up at the end of the line, and therefore the closer you are to the front, the more accurate your statement is going to be. So in order to have the earlier age claim to mean anything, the translation process would have to be like the telephone game. This is hugely problematic, as that’s exactly what the Atheists will claim as a reason to not trust the Bible. After all, how do we know what we have in the KJV is what was in the original Greek and Hebrew, even if it was the first in English, especially since English was not the first language to translate from the Greek and Hebrew text? Thankfully, that is not how the Biblical copying process is done, and I wrote about that here.

So I consider that to be the weaker side of the KJV Only movement. It’s a lot less harmful, and is likely caused by pure ignorance. Unfortunately, there are more strident forms which can be more harmful. There are certainly those who say things like “if it was good enough for Jesus and the apostles, then it’s good enough for me!” but there doesn’t need to be any time spent on such silliness. However, there are some who attribute inerrancy in the KJV, and find anyone who reads any other version to be in error (if not sin) or worse. For example, I was recently directed to a church a couple friends of mine were considering attending, and this was found in their statement of faith:

We believe that the KJV 1611 Holy Bible was written by men supernaturally inspired and that it has truth without any admixture of error for its matter; and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the age, the only complete and final revelation of the will of God to man; the true center of Christian union and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

There’s a lot in this statement, and it’s a good example of just how far some of the people in this movement will go. It is also drastically different from what you will find in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which was a convening of nearly 300 evangelical scholars (people like R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, and Carl F.H. Henry) to hammer out issues surrounding Biblical inerrancy in 1978. You can find the full statement here, but I would like to highlight Article X in particular.

WE AFFIRM  that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

WE DENY  that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Notice that both quotes use similar language, but whereas one attributes it to the King James, the other attributes it to the originals (the autographic text). The burden of proof falls on the KJVO persons to support  the claim that the 1611 KJV was inspired. While the vast majority of orthodox Christians for the last 2000 years have all acknowledged the inspiration and inerrancy of the originals, it is a giant leap to say that a particular “modern” version carries the same weight. Also, if what they claim is true, then why are there so many different “versions” of the King James? I’m not talking about the NKJV here, but rather, why were there Oxford and Cambridge versions of the KJV? And why were those versions ever produced (in 1769 and 1886, respectively) at all, if the 1611 KJV is all we needed? There have also been a number of editions which changes spelling slightly, which isn’t a problem unless you claim inspiration and inerrancy.

To back off the technicality a bit, why did the translators for the KJV do their work in the first place? They wanted to have a version of God’s Word that the people of the late 16th century and early 17th century would be able to understand and read, and which was based on the most accurate manuscripts they had at the time. I do not believe they intended their text to be used the way this movement uses it today. Not only that, we no longer speak 16th/17th century English! Is it readable? Yes, but there are a number of words in there that even nerdy bookworms like me have no clue what they mean. Also, there have been discoveries made of earlier and more accurate manuscripts than those that the KJV translators had available to them at the time. If you had earlier and more accurate manuscripts, would you not want to incorporate them into your translation process?

Now all this does not mean that we should go to the opposite extreme and say that all the KJVs should be thrown out and never used. The Chicago Statement above applies to the 1611 KJV as much as it does to the ESV or NIV. I really don’t have a problem with people who prefer the KJV for one reason or another. The issue at hand is the KJV Only movement, and its dangers. This is only meant to serve as a primer to the controversy, but hopefully it’s helpful.

Further Resources:

A lengthy article

James White’s book: The King James Only Controversy

James White debate video!

– Jesse

Is There Hope in Other Religions?

One of the things about Christianity is that it offers hope, both for life here on this planet, but also for what happens when we die. It’s important to point out that it offers something that can legitimately help you in both areas. However, is it unique in its hope, or is just one of many options for people? For this post we’re going to examine a few of the other worldviews out there to see what they offer their adherents as far as hope is concerned. The worldviews in question are: Atheism, Agnosticism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Atheism

Atheism is often presented as the most brave worldview, when it comes to hope. It scoffs at religions offering an afterlife as simply wishful thinking, whereas they take the world as it really is. For an atheist, the universe is all that there is, and we are tremendously small and insignificant in comparison with all that there is. I have seen this foster humility in atheists, but I have also seen it used as an odd platform for pride in knowing how insignificant we are. However, the point here is whether the worldview offers any hope. If the universe is all there is, we’ve eliminated the category of hope for an afterlife. Regarding the universe, particularly in contrast with religion, Richard Dawkins offers the following observation:

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.

While this might be looked at as brave, I don’t think it can be confused with anything resembling hope. Especially since “hope” is essentially a word that signifies only an illusion, if ultimate reality is indifference. The best we can do is to have fun on this planet. Now there are plenty of atheists who are not simply hedonists, but attempt to make the world a better place for others, both now and in the future. However, the point is not whether atheists can do good or bad, but whether their worldview offers hope. Without diving too much into ethics, the worldview itself has no preference (remember, the universe is indifferent to us, and good and evil don’t exist) to whether we “do good” in the eyes of others or “do evil”. So essentially, while people may place their hope in certain things most deem good or worthy, according to atheism, it’s ultimately an illusion and useless in any sort of permanent way.

Agnosticism

Agnosticism is similar to Atheism, but is a bit more modest about whether their is or is not anything beyond the universe (like God). There are two main branches of Agnosticism, with the more common one being that the individual doesn’t know if God exists or not, and the stronger form being that it is impossible for anybody to know. This puts it in an awkward position in regards to hope. Agnosticism is a great place to start when launching a worldview investigation, but if the answer you currently have is “I don’t know”, then where do you get your hope? You have a lot of the same issues here that Atheism does, only with the addition of uncertainty. In other words, while agnostics can (and do) work towards doing good to others and the world, Agnosticism itself offers nothing by way of hope.

Hinduism

Radically different from the preceding two in almost every way, Hinduism takes a very different approach to hope. The afterlife in Hinduism is called Moksha, but it is a very different thing from, say, Heaven in Christianity. Meditation is a big deal in Hinduism, and it plays a very important role in how someone attains Moksha. There is a concept in Hinduism called Atman is Brahman. Atman is the self, while Brahman is ultimate reality. Through the practice of meditation, one is to ultimately realize that his/her self is not distinct from ultimate reality. There is no more individual, because all is swallowed up into ultimate reality. This would be characterized by perfect mental peace, and a detachment from worldly desires (which are the source of evil). As Christians, we will likely automatically import our understanding into the word “worldly”, but that would be a mistake. Worldly desires, quite literally covers all desires we have on this world.

So to summarize, you must meditate to detach yourself from worldly desires, and once you can do that completely (which, is probably not possible in this life, and will need reincarnation), you will achieve Moksha, which is the reality that you have no individual self, but rather, you are one with ultimate reality. I suppose that will hopefully bring peace, but there will be no “you” to enjoy the peace.

Buddhism

Buddhism and Hinduism are more closely related, and share many of the same concepts, albeit interpreted slightly differently. However, Buddhism has fairly recently been called an atheistic religion, which I suppose makes it related to all the things we’ve talked about previously. Two elements of Buddhism which are pertinent to our discussion are that of karma and reincarnation. Modern people use the word karma to essentially mean “what goes around, comes around” , which is a cheaper version of the Biblical idea of sewing and reaping. However, in Buddhism, karma isn’t exactly a great word. The fact that we are alive today means that we did something in a past life (or an incredible number of past lives) which needs to be atoned for. Basically, we start our lives in debt, and we need to pay off that debt.

There are 6 realms of existence which need to be gone through, and there is such a thing as going backwards.  The human realm is the only realm we have access to, and so the other realms are largely speculation, based on how well we lived our current life. The nice thing about the human realm is that it’s the best place to practice the dharma (meditation), as the highest realms are preoccupied with pleasure and the lower realms are preoccupied with pain. The whole point of karma, and the subsequent reincarnation that we need to have to get rid of our bad karma, is to escape the wheel of samsara. Basically, the goal is to be able to escape the cycle of reincarnation. Following the eightfold path is the best way to escape the cycle, and there are various interpretation of what that is in different branches of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama explains it this way:

To attain liberation from samsara one must perfect the three higher trainings: self-discipline, meditative concentration, and the wisdom of emptiness. In a sense, the most important of these is the wisdom of emptiness; for when we understand the empty, non-inherent nature of the self and phenomena, the endless forms of delusion that arise from grasping at true existence are directly eliminated. However, in order for the training in wisdom to mature and become strong, one must first develop meditative concentration; and in order to develop and support concentration one should cultivate the training in self-discipline, which calms the mind and provides an atmosphere conducive to meditation. When one practices all three of these higher trainings and takes them to perfection, liberation from samsara is definite.

If that sounds difficult, and a bit tenuous (perfection?), that’s because it is. Few can achieve any measure of certainty in this life, but the good news (good?) is that the better you are at it in this life, the better start you will have in the next. However, there’s no telling whether the “you” in the next life will do well or not. However, the problems don’t end there. While Hinduism’s version of “salvation” is realizing that you are one with the ultimate reality, Buddhism is much more plain about it. Nirvana is a cessation from being, you are extinguished. It’s popular in the west to call it “enlightenment” or “awakening” but that is simply putting a word with good connotation onto a concept that we are uncomfortable with. If you have escaped the wheel of samsara, then you have managed to perfectly repay your karma, and you have ceased to have desires, and ultimately, you have ceased to be.

Islam

It can be tricky navigating this topic though the divisions between Sunni and Shia, but actually the ideas are relatively the same while the names for things or the divisions are different. Following the five pillars is essential to salvation, and there is a large emphasis on working and sincerity. Allah gives grace to his people, but that grace is largely dependent on the actions of the people. There is a particular passage relating specifically to repentance that illustrates this idea clearly.

O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance: In the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow – Surah At-Tahrim

One cannot help but wonder the torment that Muslims must go through, trying to determine if their repentance was sincere enough. Islam does have an afterlife for the faithful, in paradise, but the issue is getting there. Have you followed the pillars closely enough? Have you repented sincerely enough? Have you believed truthfully enough? Have you done enough works to get Allah to give you grace? Even the much touted suicide-bombing guarantee isn’t actually a guarantee. Allah always has the prerogative to change his mind, for any reason, and there are actually verses in the Qur’an which contradict other ones, explained by the principle of abrogation. Confusing, isn’t it?

In summary, there is no ultimate guarantee of salvation, and your level of assurance will always have to be gauged by how much you did, and how sincere you were while doing

Judaism 

At first glance, Judaism has a lot going for it in the hope department. They have things to do on this earth, trying to live the life that God has told them to live, and they await a messiah who will usher them into eternity. However, there is one glaring question facing all Jews; was Jesus the messiah? If He was, as Christians believe, then all their waiting is for nothing, and their hope of salvation is as vapor. This article does a good job at showing that Jesus fulfilled a number of the prophecies about the messiah from the Old Testament. It’s an interesting and important thing to think through when it comes to Judaism. If Jesus (or anyone else so far) was not the messiah prophesied in the Old Testament, then they must keep looking, waiting, and hoping. However, if Jesus was the messiah, then they need to follow Him. It all hinges on Jesus, and if you’re tempted to think that Christians and Jews worship the same God, I offer you this webcomic as an easy intro to start thinking through that.

I will let you weigh all that in the scales, but if you ask me, I find the assurance of salvation in Christianity (in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone) to be infinitely more hopeful than the alternatives offered by the world.

– Jesse

What About Those Arminian Verses? Pt. 4

To finish this little exegetical series, we’ll be looking at 2 Peter 3:9 this week.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promises as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

This passage is similar in some ways to the passage in 1 Timothy, and so we’ll be touching on some of the same topics. The assertion is that there is something stopping God’s desire that everyone be saved, and that must be our free will, because otherwise patience wouldn’t be needed.

While we all agree that if God desires all to be saved, then there must be something higher than or more important than that will, since all are not saved, we disagree on what that thing is. I will again link to John Piper discussing the two wills of God, which is how reformed people have usually understood this idea. The article can be found here.

I think the idea that the word patience implies that God is waiting for us to exercise our free will doesn’t really make sense of the passage, if you look at the context. Back in verse 4, we see that the false teachers bring an accusation that since everything has been the same since they can remember, therefore Jesus is not coming back. Peter then spends the next several verses discussing why that accusation is wrong, including the idea that God is now slow to fulfill His promises as some might count slowness. Instead of being slow, Peter argues, the delay should be attributed to the fact that God is patient.

In order for the argument to stick, the Arminian would have to prove that this passage is addressing free will, and appealing to the word patience does not do the trick.

These have been four of the common verses appealed to when the topic of Calvinism comes up. Hopefully this can be a launching point for your own study, as it is in no way exhaustive, and that it will be helpful to you and fruitful in your conversations. An additional resource for three of these verses can be found here.

– Jesse