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Mar 202015
 

Existence of God part 3This is now the third week in our huge subject on the existence of God.

As I have mentioned previously, each argument builds upon each other, until we have a very compelling case for God’s existence.

We have already looked at the Cosmological argument (everything, including the universe has a cause). Then last week we looked at the argument for the existence of God based on the evidence of the amazing and intricate design of the universe and the things within it.

This week we will be looking at the argument of the existence of God from morality.

We are not looking at subjective morality (what individuals believe to be right or wrong) but objective morality. This is that there are absolute moral standards which exist outside our own personal opinions and beliefs.

This argument is stated as follows;

  • There exists an objective morality.
  • The best explanation for the existence of that objective morality is the existence of a moral law giver (we call God)

Some will try to argue with the first premise and say that there is no objective morality. They will say that different cultures have all sorts of different standards and I agree, yes they do. These are what we stated earlier as ‘subjective’ moral standards. But there are certain things in all cultures we know to be wrong from the very core of our being. Things such as; rape, murder, child abuse etc, these are ‘objective’ moral standards, universally accepted, which we automatically know to be wrong. If you don’t believe that these are inherent, just look at the reaction of even small children to things like; lying, cheating and unfairness. They know instinctively that these things are wrong.

Atheists seem to differ on whether there is an objective morality or not and they are in pretty deep trouble no matter which way they lean.

Those who do believe in an objective morality (i.e. admitting that some things are bad and some things are good) will have a hard time trying to justify an objective moral law without a moral lawgiver. You can’t have one without the other. If you admit that there is evil, you have to admit there is good. If there is good and evil, then there is an absolute and unchanging moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. Given an absolute moral law, there must be an absolute moral law giver, but that would be God – the one whom the atheist is trying to disprove.

There are atheists on the other side who don’t believe in objective morality at all, such as the famous Nihilist philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche who said “You have your way, I have my way. As for the right way, it does not exist “. Another leading modern atheist is Richard Dawkins who said “Humans have always wondered about the meaning of life…life has no higher purpose than to perpetuate the survival of DNA…life has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”

The problem with saying there is no good or evil and that everything is subjective, leads to justifying things like the holocaust. After all, Hitler was only trying to make sure the strongest survived; he wanted to annihilate what he (subjectively) considered the weakest part of society. Isn’t this the basis of evolution ‘the survival of the fittest?’ Taken to its logical conclusion, anybody can do anything and it is neither good nor evil. Really? We instinctively know that is not true.

You will find that people can be very hypocritical in this regard, because we all make moral judgements without even thinking about it. People will say one thing but act in a very different manner. Try doing something bad against someone who only believes in subjective morality and they will soon objectively judge you!

Click on this link to watch a short video which explains this argument really simply http://www.reasonablefaith.org/moral

We have now looked at 3 of the most common and compelling arguments for the existence of God. I will just finish with a few others, although there are many more.

The argument from miracles. People will try to tell you that these can all be explained away and that they don’t fit in with science. But you just can’t dismiss extraordinary well attested miracles. Miracles such as; whole limbs growing in front of people, eyes growing into empty sockets and people who have been dead and laid on the slab for many hours coming back to life.

The argument from consciousness. The fact that we are self aware, intelligent etc is a strong indication that God has put that awareness there. We live in a physical universe and it is really difficult to explain an immaterial ‘soul’ without referring to God.

The argument from personal experience. I know that God exists. I can’t necessarily explain it all to you and be able to convince you, but I know from all my experiences of walking with Him for 40+ years that He is real. His reality is as strong as anything else in my life.

The argument from desire There is a desire in us that nothing on earth satisfies, we can spend our life chasing after the things of this world, such as; money, sex and power, but ask rich famous people and many of them are still sad and dissatisfied. We all yearn for something to fill that void within us. As someone once said “We were born with a God shaped hole that only He can fill” In my experience, people who have ‘found’ God and walk with Him closely are the most satisfied and peaceful people I know.

I hope you have found this little series useful and it has caused you to think that actually there are some very convincing arguments for the existence of God. Of course, some people, with an agenda, will always find a reason or excuse not to believe. But I hope I have showed you that belief in God is very reasonable.

 March 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Mar 132015
 

universeLast week we looked at the cosmological argument for the existence of God and we simplified it by establishing the assertion of the following premises

  • The universe had a beginning
  • Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.
  • Therefore the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

As we saw last week, people are desperate to try and deny the belief in God, because admitting there is a God means that they have to submit to a higher authority and that of course is one of the main problems of mankind We always prefer to do our own thing! However, if we look at these arguments purely at face value and logically, we will see that these arguments are quite reasonable. They may seem a little complicated at first but don’t get too bogged down in the detail.

This week we are going to look at the argument from God’s existence based on the assumption that a designer (i.e. God) must exist since the universe contains countless evidences of design, in its very existence. From tiny atoms and DNA to living organisms and planets etc. Our world is full of order suggesting evidence of design by an intelligent source.

The most famous explanation of this is the “Watchmaker Analogy” given by William Paley in 1802. Paley stated that if you found a watch in an empty field, you would of course conclude that it was designed and didn’t just randomly form itself. In the same way, when we look at the universe and life, it is natural to conclude that there is a designer since we can see how precisely formed everything is.

This was the accepted belief until 57 years later when Charles Darwin produced “On the origin of species” which sought to explain the development of all life through natural selection. This groundbreaking work has since that time been the universally accepted theory by biologists, scientists and of course society in general.

Just about everyone acknowledges that many aspects of the universe and life have at least the appearance of design. Even the famous atheist Richard Dawkins implicitly acknowledged this when he said, “Biology is the study of complex things that appear to have been designed for a purpose.” (The blind watchmaker) The arguments debated over, are whether it is just an appearance of design or an actual design itself.

There is a growing movement now of scientists and others who are standing against Darwinianism. These scientists don’t specify who or what the intelligent agent is, but state that some features of the universe and of living things are better explained by an intelligent cause than by an undirected natural process. This is compatible with a Christian view, but is based entirely on scientific evidence rather than scripture. Intelligent Design refers to a scientific theory, not theology.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why people are convinced by the Intelligent design argument;

(1) Irreducible complexity

Irreducible complexity essentially states that there are biological structures that could not have evolved from a simpler state. A cell, for example, is composed of hundreds of complex molecular machines. Without any one of those machines, the cell would not work. So the cell is irreducibly complex: It couldn’t have evolved from a simpler state because it couldn’t have worked in a simpler state, and natural selection can only choose among traits that are already functioning.

The biochemist Michael Behe who devised this theory, offers the example of a mousetrap, which typically has five parts: a wooden base to support the contraption, a metal hammer to pound the mouse, a spring to power the hammer, a catch to release the spring and a metal bar that holds back the hammer. Without any one of these parts, the device is useless. Therefore, a mouse trap is irreducibly complex.

(2) Specified complexity

Specified complexity in a system means it could not have occurred by chance and it is not the result of any natural law that says it must be the way it is. A biological system exhibits specified complexity if it meets three criteria:

  • Its makeup is not merely the result of a natural law.
  • Its makeup is complex.
  • Its makeup reflects an “independently given pattern or specification.”

(3) Law of Conservation of Information

The Law of Conservation of Information was created by William Dembski and involves some very detailed and complex mathematical equations. At its most basic, Dembski’s law states that nature cannot create new information (as in information contained in DNA); it can only work with the information it already has. Therefore, a more complex species (one that contains more information) could not have evolved from a less complex species.

(4) Fine-Tuning of the Universe

Fine-tuning refers to the surprising precision of nature’s physical constants. To explain the present state of the universe, scientific theories require that constants like the strength of gravity have extremely precise values. If they varied in the slightest, the universe could not even host life. Again, even most atheists agree that the universe at least appears “finely tuned” for life.

If you want to see how amazingly fine tuned the universe needs to be, have a look at this page which lists 34 kinds of finely-tuned values and what would happen if they varied slightly.

I find it comforting to know that scientists who are prepared to be open minded and have not just dismissed obvious evidence of design, may not believe in the God of the bible, but at least they have followed the evidence to its logical conclusions. As with last week’s argument, this evidence does not necessarily point us to the God of the bible, but at least it provides a reasonable, rational and intelligent argument for God’s existence. I may be biased, but for me this argument is better than just believing that this remarkable and complex universe just happened for no reason.

 March 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Mar 062015
 

The existence of God part 1We are going to spend a few weeks on this very important question. It is one of the most fundamental questions that will be asked to those of us who believe in God. How do you know He exists? How can you prove it?

Have you ever been asked these sorts of questions? It’s important to consider how you would respond because if we just say we don’t know we will just appear a bit silly.

In this increasingly secular culture, the existence of God is becoming an ever more irrelevant issue. Until we tackle this issue, it can cause a stumbling block to belief in God.

Most people aren’t even aware that there are perfectly rational and logical explanations for the existence of God, but indeed there are a number of significant arguments that God exists and we will cover 3 of the main ones over the coming weeks.

I liken these different arguments to gathering evidence at a crime scene. Just one clue on its own is not very convincing, but if you gather eyewitness evidence, DNA, physical and forensic evidence it all adds up to a very strong case. That is what it is like with the existence of God. Each argument for the existence of God builds upon the other until I believe you have a very compelling case.

The three main arguments for the existence of God are the argument from creation (also called the cosmological argument) the argument from design (also called the teleological argument) and simply the moral argument.

This week we will look at the cosmological argument. Don’t be put off by the lofty sounding title, the basic premises of this argument are essentially very simple and can actually solidify and cement your own faith.

There are three main parts to this argument which are set out in statements using the logical principles we have covered in recent weeks. They can be adapted slightly but basically they are:

· The universe had a beginning.

· Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.

· Therefore the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

A very simple but powerful argument and one with huge implications if you can agree with each statement. As you can imagine people don’t agree with every statement, but there is a logical reason to agree with each of them, which we will now look at briefly.

(1) The universe had a beginning

It sounds like an obvious statement and something that is natural to our existence. Everything we see around us had a beginning, what we would call a ‘cause’. The trouble with people fully accepting this argument is they would either have to admit that the universe caused itself or that the universe had another cause, leading to the obvious assumption that the cause would have to be a higher power (God). This trying to wriggle out of admitting that there is a higher power has led to some very illogical conclusions, one of which being that the universe is eternal (A logical impossibility!).

The general consensus now from the majority of scientists and astronomers is that the universe did have a beginning. This was because in the 1920’s came the development of ever more powerful telescopes to look into the night sky and astronomers such as Edwin Hubble used these telescopes to discover galaxies beyond our own. He also discovered the fact that the universe is actually expanding (rather like spots on an inflating balloon). It was this discovery that birthed the now popular concept of the ‘big bang’ the fact that if the universe is expanding it must have expanded from one central point.

(2) Anything that had a beginning must have been caused by something else.

This would seem to be a straightforward argument too, but in order to try and disprove God some people have attempted to prove that things can just pop into existence out of nothing. They will use the example of subatomic particles (virtual particles) which appear to pop in and out of existence due to a fluctuation of energy contained in a vacuum. But clearly that is not ‘nothing’ the fact there is fluctuating energy shows that is something. We are talking about absolutely nothing (the absence of anything!) The question would be if the universe just suddenly popped into existence, why do we not see other things just randomly pop into existence? Almost everyone agrees that things with a beginning are caused by something or someone else.

(3) Therefore, the universe was caused by something else, which we call God.

So proceeding from the almost universally accepted scientific evidence that the universe had a beginning and the accepted fact that anything with a beginning is caused by something else, this leads us to the conclusion that the universe had to have been caused by something else.

So what was it that caused the universe? To use logic again we can come to quite a few conclusions to determine the thing that created the universe. Logic would dictate the following attributes:

· Personal (i.e. able to choose to create)

· uncaused (not having a cause of its own)

· Eternal (having no beginning or end)

· Unchanging

· Immaterial (not being made of any matter – spirit)

· Spaceless

· Infinitely powerful

· Infinitely intelligent.

That description sounds very much like the God of the bible!

Have you noticed the flaw yet that people will immediately raise as an objection?

So what caused God?

A derivative of the cosmological argument called the ‘Kalam cosmological argument’ asserts that this is not important. The argument does not say that everything needs a cause; it says that “everything that has a beginning needs a cause” Something without a beginning doesn’t require a cause it has always existed. God is the original “uncaused cause.”

Everything we have looked at in this post is a powerful argument for the existence of an uncaused first cause but it doesn’t necessarily point to the God of the bible, in fact the Kalam argument was originally developed by Muslims (Al-kindi in the 9thcentury AD)

But as I said at the beginning, it is just one foundation alongside many others that build together to form a strong argument for the existence of God. I have found this excellent short video which clearly demonstrates what I have been saying

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/kalam

Next week we will look at the argument for God’s existence from design.

 March 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Feb 272015
 

Jesus and apologeticsLast week we looked at the use of logic in apologetics. We have a reasonable faith and so therefore it should be understood using logic and reason. Just in case you are still not convinced I thought it would be fun to look at how Jesus, the most brilliant thinker in history, used logical arguments to refute His critics and establish the truth of His views. If Jesus used these methods, and we are followers of His, then logically we should do the same.

Jesus’ use of persuasive arguments demonstrates that He was both a philosopher and an apologist who rationally defended His worldview in discussions with some of the best thinkers of His day. This intellectual approach does not detract from His divine authority but enhances it. Jesus’ high estimation of rationality and His own application of arguments indicates that Christianity is not an anti-intellectual faith as opponents frequently portray.

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). Word translated here in Greek is Logos and it is from this word that the word logic derives.

As an apologist for God’s truth, He defended the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as His own teachings and actions.

Presenting Jesus as a worthy thinker can be a powerful apologetic tool to unbelievers who wrongly assume that Christian belief is a matter of blind faith or irrational belief.

Jesus didn’t use logic to win arguments, but so that his listeners would understand and gain insight. It wasn’t about scoring intellectual points, as many of the so-called intellectuals didn’t ‘get it’ and yet everyday people and even children did.

We see in the gospels a number of occasions where the religious authorities tried to trap Jesus and we are then treated to a masterful demonstration of Jesus defeating their arguments through logic. For example in Matthew 22:23-38

The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, hoping through their questions for Jesus to change His mind and admit that the resurrection was absurd. They tried to corner Him to admit that either there was no resurrection or that heaven allowed for monogamous marriages.

Jesus, using logic, showed they were basing their arguments on false premises. He then skilfully used their own beliefs to show them why they were wrong.

This is quite a common device used by opponents to Christianity. Their arguments will appear logical but will be based on false or misleading statements and premises.

Jesus was fond of using logical arguments which are called ‘a fortiori’ (Latin: “from the stronger”) The basic form of this argument is as follows

1. The truth of idea A is accepted.

2. Support for the truth of idea B (which is relevantly similar to idea A) is even stronger than that of idea A.

3. Therefore, if the truth of idea A must be accepted, then so must the truth of idea B.

Consider Jesus’ argument against the Pharisees concerning the rightness of His performing a healing miracle on the Sabbath:

Jesus answered them, “I did one work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath. If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?  Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:21–24)

Jesus’ argument can be laid out simply:

1. The Pharisees endorse circumcision, even when it is done on the Sabbath, the day of rest from work. This does not violate the Sabbath laws, because it is an act of goodness.

2. Healing the whole person is even more important and beneficial than circumcision, which affects only one aspect of the male.

3. Therefore, if circumcision on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath, neither is Jesus’ healing of a person on the Sabbath.

Jesus’ concluding comment, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment,” was a rebuke to their illogical inconsistency while applying their own moral and religious principles.

Jesus argued in a similar form in several other conversations regarding the meaning of the Sabbath. In Luke 13 after He healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler became indignant and said, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Jesus reminded him that one may lawfully untie one’s ox or donkey on the Sabbath and lead it to water. “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”

Jesus’ argument looks like this:

1. The Jews lawfully release animals from their confinement on the Sabbath out of concern for the animals’ well-being.

2. A woman’s well-being (deliverance from a chronic, debilitating illness) is far more important than watering an animal.

3. Therefore, if watering an animal on the Sabbath is not a Sabbath violation, then Jesus’ healing of the woman on the Sabbath is not a violation of the Sabbath.

Luke recorded that Jesus “As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.” (Luke 13:17).

A wise apologist will make good and repeated use of ‘a fortiori’ arguments. Here is an example from comparative religion: Many reject the Gospels because they are ancient documents that are supposedly historically unreliable. Many of these same people, however, trust ancient Buddhist and other Eastern religious documents, which have far fewer manuscripts

Jesus would often appeal to strong evidence to back up His teachings. When John the Baptist sent word from prison asking if Jesus really was the Messiah, Jesus answered him

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (John 11:4-6)

Jesus’ logic was as such:

1. If one does certain kinds of actions (according to the scriptures), then one is the Messiah.

2. I am doing those kinds of actions.

3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.

Let’s look at one more logical tool Jesus used in His arguments. He used a common tool used by Philosophers and other debaters calledreductio ad absurdum’ arguments. The term means “reduction to absurdity.” When used successfully, powerfully refutes an illogical position

Let’s see how Jesus used this argument in Matthew 22:41-46

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Jesus’ argument can be laid out as follows:

1. If the Christ is merely the human descendent of David, David could not have called him “Lord.”

2. David did call the Christ “Lord” in Psalm 110:1.

3. To believe Christ was David’s Lord and merely his human descendent (who could not be his Lord) is absurd.

4. Christ, therefore, is not merely the human descendent of David.

Jesus’ point was not to deny the Christ’s ancestral connection to David, since Jesus Himself is called “the Son of David” in the Gospels (Matthew 1:1), and Jesus accepted the title without objection (Matthew 20:30–31). Jesus rather showed that the Christ is not merely the Son of David. Christ is also Lord and was so at the time of David. By using this reductio ad absurdum argument, Jesus expanded His audience’s understanding of who the Christ is and that He himself is the Christ.

Jesus employed another reductio ad absurdum when the Pharisees accused Him of driving demons out by Satan himself in Matthew 12:22-32. In reply to them He said:

Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? (Matthew 12:25–27)

Let’s look at Jesus’ logic step by step:

1. If Satan were divided against himself, his kingdom would be ruined.

2. Satan’s kingdom, however, is not ruined (since demonic activity continues). To think otherwise is absurd.

3. Therefore, (a) Satan does not drive out Satan.

4. Therefore, (b) Jesus cannot free people from Satan by satanic power.

A bit of a longer blog today but I hope you have found it useful. Hopefully you will start to see how arguments are broken down into a set of statements and analysing these statements will show you where the errors occur (if any) Next time we will continue our look at apologetics and we will see some more examples of logic.

 February 27, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Feb 202015
 

Logic in apologeticsThe use of logic is very important when defending the faith. God has given us all logic and reason as a gift so that we can think straight. It originates from Him.

We can be very confident in what we believe in, but we should be able to explain why we believe what we do. And a good way of explaining ourselves is through logical arguments.

Logic is a system of reasoning, it is the principle of proper thinking used to arrive at correct conclusions.

It is worth bearing in mind that it is not logic that saves anybody and sometimes, people are so dead-set against Christianity that they are prepared to dispense and abandon reasoned logic.

Logic is used to remove intellectual barriers that hinder people coming to Christ. It can be used powerfully by Christians (and non-Christians) but it does have its limits.

Logic, as you might imagine has a number of principles and laws that govern the validity of its arguments.

  • The first law of logic is the law of identity. This simply states something is what it is and not what it is not. e.g. a dog is a dog, it is not a cat!
  • The second law of logic is the law of non-contradiction. This means that something cannot be both true and false at the same time (and in the same way) In other words, two contradictory statements cannot both be true. e.g. my only pet is a dog, my only pet is a cat.
  • The third law of logic is the law of excluded middle. This is simply that a statement is either true or false. e.g. My name is Adrian is a true statement, I am a girl is a false statement.

To be able to utilise these laws we need to take careful note on what people are saying to us, making sure we fully understand what they are saying and the arguments they use. Sometimes they argue from what is called a ‘false premise’ this is where they state something which isn’t actually true. we need to be aware of these because they are very common. It can help to repeat back to the person what we understand they are saying to avoid any amibiguity. When we are satisfied we have understood them, we can then respond with reasoned and rational comments.

As I cover a few tough questions over the coming weeks, you will see logic quite often comes into play.

Let me leave you with a problem some people try to trip Christians up with, which appears quite clever on the surface but actually breaches a fundamental law of logic. Have you ever heard the question: “Could God make a rock that is so big that He couldn’t lift it?” This is actually an absurd statement and contradicts the second law of logic, the law of non-contradiction. God by definition is infinite. In that statement you are also saying He is finite (limited). He cannot be infinite and finite at the same time. It is a logical fallacy and therefore an illogical statement. To put it simply you are saying that God is God and not God at the same time.

If you want to test how logically you think, here is a website you can test yourself on

http://www.think-logically.co.uk/lt.htm

Lastly as I was researching this subject I found a really engaging, funny and informative youtube video on logic and so I have posted it below

 February 20, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Feb 132015
 

Apologetics part 2Last week we started to look at the subject of Apologetics. We saw it was not an apology for Christianity but a defence of the faith. There were a number of verses charging all Christians to defend and contend for the faith. We should do it on the offensive (Offering positive reasons for the Christian faith) and the defensive (Refuting objections against the Christian faith) and we also saw that it was not just for ‘clever’ Christians but we could all do it; with the help of the Holy Spirit and through diligent study of the word. We shouldn’t be lazy.

There are 5 main reasons why we should do it:

(1) It strengthens the faith of Christian believers

(2) It removes obstacles to faith (for the seeker)

(3) Enables us to communicate the gospel to non-believers

(4) Challenges pre-suppositions and worldviews that need to be addressed

(5) It is commanded in scripture (1Peter 3:15, Jude 3, Titus 1:9)

How do we do it?

People have what is called ‘plausibility structures’ we need to get through. Whatever we say, they are processing in their mind whether it is plausible or not. These could be doubts like ‘Does God actually exist?’ or ‘Was Jesus really a historical person?’ etc. These structures can be built through various life experiences, education, evidence and influence from people such as parents, teachers etc. What this basically means is that people won’t believe you until you acknowledge and dismantle these structures. This can be done in a variety of ways such as using evidence, exposing false ideas and using logic.

When you preach the Gospel to people, they also have defeater beliefs. According to Tim Keller, there are 6 basic defeater beliefs pervasive in modern western culture:

1) Other religions – there can’t only be one true religion

2) The problem of evil and suffering

3) The Sacredness of Choice

4) The Record of Christians

5) The Angry God

6) The Unreliable Bible

Now I hesitated to say all that because all the theory and technical stuff can be a bit of a turn off. It all sounds very confusing. Maybe you are a bit nervous about doing it and perhaps a bit fearful that you will be tied up in knots by persuasive people. What I have found though is that God will help you, even when you stumble, get all tongue –tied and are lost for words. God just wants us to be open and prepared to speak. He will help our feeble efforts.

Hopefully my own testimony can give you some encouragement. I became a Christian at a young age but never really spoke about Jesus to anyone until I left home. I moved up to London just before my 18thbirthday to work at the Ritz hotel as a waiter. It was then, living away from home, that I would sink or swim in my Christian faith. Thank God that He was looking out for me. A fellow waiter found out I was a Christian and on a daily basis would ask me every tough question you could imagine about Christianity. I didn’t know the answer to any of the questions, but would go away and study and come back with an answer that I was satisfied with. This served two purposes; It strengthened my faith and after 3 years my friend became a Christian (despite my sometimes quite feeble responses!!). So Arthur, if you are reading this, thank you. You helped me in ways you will never know.

God used that friendship and those questions to strengthen my faith and grow as a Christian and He will help you too.

I will be covering this subject for a few more weeks, when we will be considering some more questions and problems people have with the Christian faith and how we might respond to those problems. If you have a difficult question posed and would like me to tackle it, why not leave a comment at the bottom of this post or contact me on the contacts page? More next week.

 February 13, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics, Evangelism No Responses »
Feb 062015
 

ApologeticsWe have been looking for a number of weeks now at bible difficulties and I have attempted to give an answer to many of the common objections people have to the bible and in fact the existence of God Himself. As you can imagine, opponents to Christianity are always trying to find fault and so it is important to bring a strong defence to what we believe.

This defence of the faith is called ‘apologetics’. It is not as the name might suggest apologising for the faith, but it is based on the Greek word ‘apologia’ which means ‘a verbal defence’. The term was used commonly in the Greek courtroom. In its essence a definition would be ‘A reasoned defence of the Christian faith against objections.

The 4 main bible verses that ‘apologists’ quote for using this form of defence are as follows;

always being prepared to make a defence 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)

contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3)

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5)

And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,  explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead (Acts 17:2-3)

It is important to mention though that these verses aren’t just for the elite few who are clever at debating. No, we should all know what we believe and give a reason for it. The trouble is, we live in a world where we see the church leader as professional. He is the one who will win all our arguments for us. If we could only get the people asking them to come to church.

I love the Alpha course, but one of its main drawbacks is we hand over our own responsibility of explaining the faith to our friends and relatives to the people who are running the course. Our culture has become used to being spoon fed information, and this can make us very lazy in studying for ourselves.

Apologetics can be defensive and offensive.

It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. (Philippians 1:7)

The 2 Corinthians 5:7 passage I quoted earlier gives an example of the offensive side. But it is not about winning arguments. An important aspect, mentioned in the 1 Peter passage above is the way we debate and talk to people who oppose us. It is so important that every conversation is respectful and gentle.

A gentle answer turns away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)

When we discuss things in a winsome way we leave the door open for further discussion. There is no point in winning an argument if the way we win it completely turns off the other person because we have been rude or aggressive.

Apologetics has many forms, including studying and debating subjects such as; philosophy, biology, evolution, and logic. But it can also consist of simply giving an answer to a question about your own faith and why you believe and you don’t have to read a ton of books to do that. You certainly don’t have to be highly intelligent to engage in apologetics. Remember, in the New Testament the majority of the key leaders are pretty uneducated. It is only really the Apostle Paul who was really clever. The key is being filled with the Holy Spirit and diligent studying of the bible. God will guide your words when you stand for Him. A bible verse that gives me great strength is in Matthew 10:19-20 speaking about what will happen when we are dragged before rulers and authorities

do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

Why not give it a try? See who you can start a conversation with this week?

Next week I will be looking at this subject a little further and giving my own testimony of how responding to a questioning friend helped me in my own faith.

 February 6, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jan 302015
 

Do babies go to hellA couple of weeks ago we looked at the question “How can a God of love send people to hell?” but we didn’t cover the aspect of what happens to the unborn, babies or small children if they die before ever having the ability to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. It’s a fair question because the bible says that it is only through Jesus that we are saved (Acts 4:12) It also says that we are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) so the assumption is that babies, small children are unsaved and heading for hell.

But that doesn’t sit right does it?

That answer is a bit black and white though, isn’t it? As in many areas of life there are no definitive answers in the bible and so we need to look at some general principles from the bible and form an opinion based on these.

I would always focus the attention firstly on the character of God. The bible reveals a lot about that.

First of all God is good

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

He is also trustworthy “All your commands are trustworthy” (Psalm 119:86)

He is also a righteous judge “He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice.” (Psalm 9:8)

There are so many attributes I could fill a book (a very big book!)

Basically because he is righteous and just and good and also knows all things, we can therefore trust him implicitly.

Let me ask you a question. Do you think a God like that would send little children or even the unborn to hell?

Let me change angle.

The bible states that we are all sinners by nature and choice;

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23)

There is no-one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

It even shows that we were sinful at or before birth;

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.” (Psalm 58:3)

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5)

This means that yes, young children and even the unborn are sinful. Being so young, they are unable to repent or believe, but how different is that to adults? We have all turned away from God. There is no-one who seeks after God

there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” (Romans 3:11)

Anyone who is a Christian is only a Christian because God has fore-ordained it because Salvation is from God alone and it is based solely on his grace.

who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” (2 Timothy 1:9)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:4-6)

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

God choosing us is called the doctrine of ‘Election’. Speaking about Jacob and Esau it says in Romans;

Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:11-13)

So the fact that anybodyis saved (Children or adult) is a miracle of God.

If God chooses and saves adults by his grace not because of anything they have done, will he not also save children by his grace as they have not even had a chance to do anything, good or bad?

There is evidence in the bible of God’s hand of grace on unborn children. Speaking of John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel it says..

for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth.” (Luke 1:15)

And King David says in the Psalms..

From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” (Psalm 22:10)

After the death of David’s child, David makes an interesting statement, which would certainly suggest that his newborn son has gone to heaven..

But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Samuel 12:23)

There are other clues in the bible if you look for them that suggest that young children or the unborn who die prematurely are at rest, which would certainly not be the description of hell. After Job has had all his family and possessions wiped out he mourns and curses the day of his birth. In Job 3:11–13 he says;

Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed? For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest

And in Ecclesiastes it makes a statement about a stillborn child;

A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” (Ecclesiastes 6:3)

Better off? In hell?

Another interesting point to note is that throughout the bible, whenever judgement is mentioned it is always in the context of works, for instance;

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had doneas recorded in the books.” (Revelation 20:11-12)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36)

Even though young children are born with a sin nature and are therefore sinful, they have no chance to follow or reject God, so how can they be judged?

And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.” (Deuteronomy 1:39)

In conclusion

If your view of God is of a cruel, nit picky and capricious God who stands at the gates of heaven with a clipboard and if you don’t tick all the boxes you don’t get in, then you will believe that God judges harshly with young children and the unborn and resigns them to hell because “those are the rules.”

But if your view of God is based on how God has revealed himself in the bible; a gracious, kind, patient, giving, forgiving, merciful, compassionate heavenly father, who lavishes his grace on us not because of anything we have done but because of his great mercy, then I suspect your view might be quite different.

Let’s leave the last words with Jesus which I believe is the clincher;

Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

 January 30, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Hell, Salvation 2 Responses »
Jan 232015
 

slaveryBefore we start, let’s establish what we mean by slavery. If you mention the word slavery to most people in our society they will immediately think of the slave trade of the 17th and 18th centuries where Africans were forcefully removed from their lands, transported on cramped ships and made to work on places like plantations in the Caribbean and the southern United States.

This is not what the bible means by slavery. In fact that practice of ‘man-stealing’ is clearly spoken against in the bible. For instance, in Exodus 21:16 it says that if anyone does that, then they should be put to death! It’s also clearly listed as a sin in 1 Timothy 1:8-10.

Slavery, however is mentioned many times in the bible. The Old Testament especially, mentions slaves frequently. It was a very common practice in ancient times, often resulting from the displacement of people due to war etc. Slaves were often treated really badly and thought of as no more than property to be treated how their master liked. In the Mosaic law God provided for slaves so they were treated respectfully and humanely. They were even to be released from their obligations after 6 years, unless they themselves chose to stay with their master (Exodus 21:2) These regulations that God provided for slaves, were really radical in ancient times. God cares for individuals but especially for the poor, destitute and marginalised.

As we are talking about slavery in the bible, let’s analyse why there was slavery in Israel. Without any form of social security it would have been easy for someone to fall upon hard times and selling yourself into slavery might be the only way you could provide for your family (Leviticus 25:39) A thief who was caught might have to go into slavery to pay off his debt (Exodus 22:3) people heavily in debt too could sell their children into slavery (2 Kings 4:1) This may sound cruel but it ensured their children were provided for.

In New Testament times slavery was still equally prevalent and universal. It was still a means for people to pay off debts and even survive if times were really hard. This is probably why slavery was not condemned outright in the bible. If Christians had somehow managed to get slavery banned, there would undoubtedly be more deaths, so you could say keeping slavery in that society was actually the humane thing to do! So rather than condemning slavery, Paul and the writers of the New Testament wrote some very counter cultural advice on how slaves and masters were to behave in a society where slavery was very normal. Their attitudes were to be radically different to the way the rest of society behaved, which is no different to how we should behave, as Christians, in our workplaces.

As long as there has been human sin and mankind’s inhumanity to his fellow man, there will always be a form of slavery. Don’t for one minute think that in our modern age that slavery has been eradicated, far from it. In a 2014 comprehensive study it was reckoned that there are currently 35.8 million slaves living in the world today! (http://www.walkfree.org/)

The bible knows that the human heart is in slave to sin and that while we walk in that sin, slavery will always be prevalent. But far from condoning slavery, the hope of the gospel is that everyone who puts their hope in Jesus will stand victoriously free, no longer in Physical slavery or spiritual slavery and that is something to look forward to.

 January 23, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Bible No Responses »
Jan 162015
 

Is the bible sexistWe have been looking at various bible difficulties over a number of weeks. Another difficulty people commonly raise with the bible is that it appears by many to be quite sexist. The Old Testament is mostly dominated by men and when true heroines do appear they still seem to be subservient to men (such as Esther).

When reading the Old Testament we should be mindful that it is a very ancient book. It records events as they were ‘warts and all’ it was written without intention to gloss over the nasty parts. When reading it, you must consider the culture at the time which treated women very badly and on many occasions as no more important that property. They were not allowed to contribute fully in society and were constantly subjugated, such as the draconian divorce laws which allowed for a man to hand his wife a written divorce paper for simply burning the dinner. Within all this injustice and inequality, if we read the bible carefully, we see a God who continually stepped in and gave women honour and dignity. God’s intention has always been that men and women are to work side by side, each with their own specific gifts and tasks to perform. There are some significant women in the bible such as Deborah who was one of Israel’s judges who Inspired Israel to victory when men weren’t up to the job (Judges 4&5). Other strong women in the Old Testament were Rahab, Esther and Ruth. Mary Magdalene was the first person to see Jesus resurrected after his crucifixion (John 20:15-18). There were also women at Pentecost who were filled with the Holy Spirit when He fell in power. It was a woman who truly grasped what Jesus was going to face before any of his disciples caught on in Mark 14:8. And it was almost exclusively women who stayed with him at the cross (John was the only exception)

In Galatians 3:28 it says There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are all equal before God. So how do we square this passage with for example 1 Timothy 2:12?

I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.

Do they not contradict each other? I don’t think so, because although we are equal and one in Christ, we have different roles assigned to us. God has made us and designed us to fulfill certain functions. There are of course always exceptions but in general He designed men; bigger and stronger to protect women and children and He gave women much more compassion and durability when it comes to child rearing etc. It has never ceased to amaze me how women cope with the demands of small children and the care and attention they provide 24/7. I have always maintained that infant mortality would increase dramatically if it were only men responsible for their upbringing! We are made in a certain way to fulfill roles that God has ordained that men and women should complete. These roles are not haphazard, they are part of His great design. He is certainly not being sexist!

We mustn’t take verses out of context though and it is important firstly to say that the translation ‘man’ in 1 Timothy 2 could equally be translated husband, which adds a whole new light to this verse. Also, this verse could conceivably be referring to one particularly domineering woman in Ephesus where Timothy was leading. But in other New Testament passages we also see women teaching. Women such as Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila taught Apollos (Acts 18:26) and Timothy himself was taught by his mother and his grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:15)

I believe the only office not available to women is that of an Elder. Unfortunately, some people seem to spend all their time debating this one prohibition when there are numerous other wonderful roles that God has provided to complete and fulfill women. Instead of complaining, we should be encouraging women to reach their full potential and thrive in everything He has given them to do. As the French say vive la difference!

 January 16, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Uncategorized No Responses »