Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Hypothetical Faith

     “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’ …. After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized” (John 3:5, 22, 23).1 “Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). “‘And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’” (Acts 22:16). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27). “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 3:21).2

     What does God require in order to receive his gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation? Not one of the above scriptures discounts believing in Jesus, repenting of sins, or confessing faith. Why, then, do so many have trouble accepting baptism as a divine requisite? I’ve heard people retort, “But what about the person on his deathbed? If he accepts Jesus in his heart, surely the Lord will save him without baptism!” Or for a more emotionally stirring argument, “What about the soldier dying on the battlefield? If he can’t get baptized but says the sinners prayer, are you saying he won’t be saved?!” Maybe you’ve heard this one: “What if the person dies in a car wreck on the way to the baptistery? Is he going to burn in hell forever just because he wasn’t dunked in water?!!!!”

     What are we to make of these hypothetical scenarios? They certainly stir the emotions, but do they affirm the truth? Do they provide a solid foundation upon which to build one’s faith? Here are six points to consider.

1. Hypotheticals do not change what the Bible says. A deathbed experience won’t make Mark 16:16 say, “He who believes and is not baptized will be saved...” One might cherry pick verses emphasizing faith, but this won’t eliminate all the other passages that link saving faith to obedience.3

2. Hypotheticals do not overrule divine providence. If “God desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4), surely he will providentially ensure that everyone who is willing has the opportunity to learn and obey the truth. Did you notice that the truth-seeking Ethiopian official didn’t die in a chariot crash before he found a body of water as he learned the truth of the gospel? (Acts 8:26-39)

3. Hypotheticals do not eliminate personal responsibility. “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psa. 14:2; cf. Matt. 7:7; John 7:17; Acts 17:27). What has the ninety-year-old man on his deathbed been doing the past ninety years? When people dismiss God until the last moment or until it’s too late, neither God nor his inspired word is to be blamed (2 Cor. 6:2).

4. Hypotheticals do not support logical conclusions that can’t be consistently applied. What if the soldier on the battlefield dies before engendering faith in his heart? Does this tragic scenario eliminate faith from the salvation process? If not, why stop short of baptism? What about repentance, or anything else the Lord requires? 

5. Hypotheticals do not excuse those who aren’t in these situations. Even if I were convinced that God saves an incapacitated person without baptism, how does this affect what is required of me or anyone else who is fully capable of obeying the whole counsel of God?

6. Hypotheticals do not determine one’s eternal destiny. After death, it’s in God’s hands (Heb. 9:27). I’m happy to leave the final judgment to him. But as long as I have a beating heart in my chest and still have my mental faculties, I am compelled to study, learn, obey, teach, and defend the truth of God’s word.

     People are separated from God because of sin (Isa. 59:2; Rom. 3:23). Reconciliation is offered through God's Son, but an obedient response is required (2 Thess. 1:8; Heb. 5:9). Don’t just pick and choose what you want to accept from the Bible, while dismissing everything else. Don’t tenaciously cling to long-held preconceptions that may very well be misconceptions. Don’t substitute emotional arguments for biblical truth. And don’t build your faith on the shaky ground of hypotheticals.

--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 Scripture quotations are from the NKJV.
     2 See also Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12-13, 35-39; 9:18; 10:33, 48; 16:15, 33; 18:8; 19:5; Rom. 6:3-5, 17-18; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:5; Col. 2:12; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 10:22.
     3 See Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46; John 3:21; 7:17; 8:12, 51; 14:15, 21-24; 15:10-14; Rom. 1:5; 5:19; 6:16-18; 15:18; 16:19, 26; 2 Cor. 7:15; 10:5, 6; Gal. 5:6; 1 Thess. 1:8; Philem. 21; Heb. 5:8-9; Jas. 2:14-26; 1 John 2:3-5; cf. Rom. 10:16; Phil. 2:12.



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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

The Most Powerful Argument Against God?

     One of the greatest obstacles for many in accepting the reality of God is the problem of evil, pain, and suffering. The argument can be traced as far back as the Greek philosopher Epicurus ca. 300 BC. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? If he desires to take away evil from the world but cannot, he is not all-powerful. If he can take away evil but does not, he is not all-good. If he is neither willing nor capable, he is neither all-good nor all-powerful. If he is both willing and capable, why does evil exist?   
     On the surface this may sound like a compelling argument, but is it valid? If the logic is so incontrovertible, why have there been staunch theists long before, during, and ever since the time of Epicurus?

The Question is Reasonable, But is the Conclusion Reasonable?

     Do “bad things” necessarily disprove the existence of a supreme causal entity beyond our universe? Do “bad things” then prove that something does come from nothing, that lifeless matter does generate intelligent life, and that specified complexity (intelligent design) does happen randomly without a purposeful designer?1 Do our unanswered questions eliminate the answers we already have? Is human ignorance so powerful that it justifies the rejection of any supernatural creative force outside our universe and beyond our comprehension? If there is a problem we have difficulty understanding, might we be the problem? Is it possible that there is a purpose to the “bad” that we are not grasping, or perhaps the “bad” has a solution we are not looking for or not willing to accept?2

The Question No one Seems to be Asking …

     Why is there so much “good” in the world? Why isn’t anyone asking that question? If there is a black dot on an otherwise blank page, and passers-by are asked what they see, almost everyone will hone in on the black dot. Why? What about the rest of the page – the vast majority of the page – that surrounds the dot? We tend to be so focused on tiny abnormalities that we fail to see and appreciate everything else. The reality of evil, pain, and suffering grabs most of our attention because it’s not normal. With all the negativity in our newscasts and conversations, we seem oblivious to the plethoric beauty and decency in this less-than-perfect world. How do we explain love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If we are merely an evolutionary accident of amoral, unintentional, mindless forces directed by nothing and heading nowhere, there ought to be a whole lot more “bad” and a whole lot less “good” than there actually is.
     Maybe we’re asking the wrong question. To say – “Why is ‘evil’ in the world?” – presupposes: (a) knowledge of what constitutes “evil,” (b) knowledge (and appreciation) of what constitutes the contrasting “good,” and (c) an objective standard beyond oneself that determines what is “evil” and what is “good.” Is abortion evil or good? Is genocide evil or good? Who decides? You? Me? Adolf Hitler? Mother Teresa? Nazi Germany? ISIS? The society in which I live? Someone else’s society? Or is there an objective standard beyond any individual or social group? The question presupposes a higher authority (God?).3
     The irony is that evil and suffering exist, not because there is no God but because people reject God and then live accordingly. “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works …” (Psalm 14:1). While the basis of the world’s evil lies in a practical denial of God, this is frequently twisted around to serve as what appears to be one of the most powerful objections to God’s existence.

Starting with a False Premise  

     Those who reject the God of the Bible because of evil, pain, and suffering are actually rejecting a misconceived version of God. It is true that the God of the Bible is all-good and all-powerful,4 but it is not true that he is only all-good and all-powerful. There are other aspects of his nature that provide a fuller, more balanced image. To assert that the God of the Bible can do anything and always gets what he wants is a fallacy not based in scripture. There are some things he cannot do. He cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). He cannot do what is logically contradictory or impossible, like make a “square circle” or create a “married bachelor.” While the God of the Bible is sovereign,5 this doesn’t mean he always gets what he wants. Even though he desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4), not all are willing to accept his conditions of salvation (Matt. 7:21; 23:37; etc.). God cannot be understood apart from all his attributes: justice, holiness, love, mercy, forbearance, et al., which, by the way, are often left out of the conversation.

A Revised Premise

     In order to have the greatest state of goodness in the world, it is necessary for some specific goods to exist that entail the possibility of certain evils. Humans are designed with the ability to think and the freedom to choose. A God of love doesn’t force us to act against our wills but grants freedom. The blessing of freedom involves choice, and choice includes not only the possibility of making good decisions but also bad ones. It is impossible for God to have made us free moral agents and yet take away our capability of making wrong choices. Freedom without choice is a logical contradiction.     
     Now God has provided an instruction manual to guide us in the right direction (2 Tim. 3:16-17), but when people disregard divine directives and make bad decisions, pain and suffering often result. It is man, not God, who has created slavery, whips, bombs, death camps, liquor, pornography, pollution, environmental destruction, false religion, and so on. The gift of freedom, when misused, accounts for the majority of human misery.6

Is All Suffering Evil?

     Most consider something good if it brings pleasure and bad if it causes pain, but this is shallow and shortsighted. What about things such as courage, patience, resilience, and determination? The imperfections of this world serve a purpose in allowing us to grow and develop into mature, responsible beings in a way that would otherwise not be possible. The suffering we see in the lives of others provides opportunities for compassion and service. God’s desire for his creatures seems to be, not the suffering itself, but the positive and beneficial effects. “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom. 5:3-4 ESV).
     Hardships also help to create an acknowledgment of human weakness and the need for God in one’s life. Pride and arrogance are self-destructive traits (Prov. 16:18), but suffering has a way of helping put things in perspective. It is said that when a man is flat on his back, the only direction he can look is up. “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psa. 73:26).7

Conclusion

     The problem of evil, pain, and suffering may offer an excuse for rejecting God, but it provides no solid proof that God isn’t real. It’s okay to have questions, but it’s not okay to ignore answers that challenge unfounded preconceptions. Whether or not I’m contributing to making this world a better place, how is shaking my fist at the concept of God going to make any positive difference?

Endnotes:
     2 See Richard Parr, “Big Questions of Life: Is there a God?,” HubPages (23 Oct. 2015), <Link>.
     3 Listen to the thought-provoking exchange between atheist David Silverman and theist Frank Turek on this question, <Link>. Also Dennis Prager's commentary on Subjective vs. Objective Morality, <Link>.
     4 Psa. 18:30; 19:7; 136:1; 147:5; Jer. 32:17; etc.
     5 Isa. 46:9-10; Dan. 4:35; Psa. 115:3; 1 Tim. 6:15; etc.
     6 Even natural calamities are ultimately linked to human sin. From a biblical perspective, the earth’s environment today is significantly different than it was prior to the catastrophic global flood (Gen. 6–9). See Wayne Jackson’s “Why Do Natural Disasters Happen?” <Link>, where he observes: “No wickedness, no Flood. No Flood, no change of earth’s environment. No change of earth’s environment, no geological disasters. Thus, no wickedness, no geological disasters.”
    7 The last portion of this article is a revised version of the 8th June 2016 post, <If God is So Good ...>.

Related postsWhere's the Proof of God?


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Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Are You Sure About God? (Part 4)

     As noted in previous posts, everyone’s storehouse of knowledge relies on a combination of (a) personal observation and experience, (b) inductive reasoning, and (c) the testimony of others. In our search for the knowledge of God, we have considered these first two and introduced the third. Whether we realize it or not, the vast majority of our knowledge depends on this third source. Otherwise, history books, libraries, universities, and Google would be superfluous! As we consider the testimony of biblical authors claiming to be communicating the word of God, can they be trusted?

What the Bible claims for itself …

     The Bible claims to have come from God and to be all-sufficient to meet man’s spiritual needs (2 Tim. 3:14-17).1 This record of divine communications and supernatural activities was regarded and revered by early Jews and Christians as having been inspired by God’s Spirit (cf. Acts 1:16; 28:25; Heb. 3:7; 10:15-17). With human instrumentality understood, the heavenly throne is recognized as the ultimate source of biblical revelation (1 Cor. 2:7-13; Eph. 3:1-5; 2 Pet. 1:1-21). Although disclosed in various ways throughout history, the New Testament affirms that the divine will is now conveyed through God’s Son, Jesus the Christ (Heb. 1:1-4; 4:14).
     From the earliest days of the Christian movement, the teachings of Jesus were considered authoritative (Acts 11:16; 20:35; 1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-25; 1 Tim. 5:18; 1 John 1:1-4). The content of the preaching of Christ’s first-century representatives was not viewed as the “word of men” but rather the “word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13; 4:8). This spiritual message was reportedly not of human origin but came “through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12), was “received from the Lord” (1 Cor. 11:23), and constituted “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
     Granted, these affirmations, in and of themselves, are not absolute proof that the Bible is in fact what it contends to be. But the absence of such claims would be a strong argument against it. The fundamental question is whether or not the testimony of these biblical authors is credible.

The Bible’s verifiability …

     The information provided by biblical writers includes people, places, time periods, and events that can either be falsified or verified in the records of history. Other religions are built on claims of private encounters, or subjective ideas with no basis in any historic occasion, so there is no way to objectively investigate or historically test these assertions. Have you ever wondered why no other religions (or philosophical worldviews) engage in the same kind of reasoned apologetics that Christians do?2 Who else provides an intellectual and objective defense of their faith? The Christian movement and its sacred text stand on historically verifiable data.
     The Bible is not merely a single record; it is the compilation of sixty-six separate documents spanning multiple geographical locations and time periods (produced over sixteen centuries!), representing numerous independent sources that remarkably harmonize. The New Testament alone contains over 140 eyewitness details and references to more than thirty historical figures, confirmed by archaeological discoveries and non-Christian writings.3
     Michael Patton observes, “Christianity is the only viable worldview that is historically defensible. The central claims of the Bible demand historic inquiry, as they are based on public events that can be historically verified. In contrast, the central claims of all other religions cannot be historically tested and, therefore, are beyond falsifiability or inquiry. They just have to be believed with blind faith.”4 The Christian movement began and flourished, not in a vacuum, but among real people in the first century who could readily test its claims (cf. Acts 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:6).

The Bible’s veracity ...

     Until the mid-15th century (when the printing press was invented), biblical documents were copied by hand. While human error inevitably led to variations in the text, the science of textual criticism is committed to thoroughly addressing this issue. The process meticulously scrutinizes every variant reading to determine the precise wording of the biblical writings. Most textual variants involve relatively minor differences (e.g. spelling, reduplication, word order) that can readily be explained. No fundamental doctrine of the Bible is in doubt because of textual uncertainty.5
     The probability that the original text of the New Testament has been preserved is based on two significant factors: (1) the vast number of available manuscripts with which to work, and (2) the chronological proximity of these documents to the originals. Before consideration is given to the documentary evidence undergirding the books of the New Testament, what is available to corroborate other ancient literary works?
     The famous Iliad of Homer, after its initial oral transmission, was committed to writing sometime after Homer’s death in the 8th century BC and then edited to remove interpolations and copyist errors in the 6th century BC. The earliest extant fragments of this work date back to the 3rd century BC (about 500 years removed from the original), and the oldest complete copy is from the 10th century AD. In total there are 643 manuscripts of this epic poem (second only in attestation to the NT), with 764 disputed lines of text. Yet Homer’s Iliad is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest literary masterpieces of the western world.
     The Gallic Wars of Julius Caesar is preserved in only ten surviving manuscripts, the earliest of which is about nine centuries removed from the original. There are merely seven extant copies of Pliny’s Natural History, with a gap of around 750 years between the initial work and the oldest available manuscript. The History of Thucydides and the History of Herodotus are known from only eight copies each that are separated from the originals by approximately 1,300 years. And despite the scant textual evidence supporting these ancient works, one would be hard pressed to find a reputable historian, classicist, or even theologian who would dare question their historical value and credibility.  
     In comparison, the number of surviving manuscripts of the New Testament is exceedingly greater than that of any other ancient literary work. Not counting texts inscribed on potsherds and amulets, there are no less than 5,735 Greek New Testament manuscripts, the earliest of which date back to within decades of the originals. To this can be added the thousands of documents translated into Syriac, Latin, and other languages, plus plethoric quotations from early ecclesiastical writers. The unique challenge of New Testament textual criticism is not the scarcity of the documentary evidence but the unparalleled quantity! As the late F. F. Bruce has pointedly observed, “if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt” (New Testament Documents 10).

Conclusion:

     We attain knowledge of God the same way we attain knowledge of anything else. We begin by carefully observing the world around us, and then draw reasonable conclusions. If we are willing to look beyond the narrow confines of anti-theistic naturalism, we can easily concede a powerful, intelligent, creative force far greater than ourselves. If we are then open to the prospect of the Creator having communicated, and if we are willing to investigate (without prejudice) the one-volume collection of writings claiming to be from him, there is a wealth of knowledge we would miss out on otherwise.
--Kevin L. Moore

Endnotes:
     1 There are approximately 130 occurrences in the Old Testament of the expression (or one comparable to it), “The word of the Lord came to …” (Isa. 1:2; Joel 1:1; Micah 1:1; etc.).
     2 Note, for example, Apologetics Press <Link>, Apologia Institute <Link>, Focus Press <Link>, Warren Christian Apologetics Center <Link>. 
     3 For a non-exhaustive list, see N. Geisler and F. Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist 270-71.
     4 Michael Patton, “Christianity, the World’s Most Falsifiable Religion,” credohouse.org (07-08-2013), <Link>.
     5 See Changes in the Bible? Part 1 <Link>. With respect to the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), the most significant changes merely affect the order of the respective books and how they are classified. The Septuagint (LXX) is the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures produced in the 3rd–2nd centuries BC, and the Massoretic Text (MT) is the standard Hebrew canon revised, copied and distributed between the 7th and 10th centuries AD. With the discovery in 1947-1956 of nearly a thousand biblical manuscripts among the Dead Sea Scrolls, we can be confident that the text of the OT has been faithfully preserved.
--Kevin L. Moore



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