Theology


Would you still be a Christian if there was a heaven, but no hell?

Imagine for a moment that God set up reality differently, such that people could be as bad as they wanted without any risk of eternal punishment.  When you die, you simply cease to exist.  However, if you follow Jesus, heaven still awaits you.  Would you still follow Jesus?  Be honest.  I encourage you to take five minutes to reflect on this question before reading on below.

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Evangelism is scary for many people, including myself.  Many Christians find it difficult to start a discussion on spiritual things.  Others fear that they’ll be pummeled with objections to the faith that they don’t know how to answer.  Many fear rejection.  As a result, we’ve invented new methods of “evangelism” that don’t require us to actually talk to anyone.  I’m thinking of “friendship evangelism” and “love evangelism” in particular.

The premise of friendship evangelism (also known as relationship evangelism or lifestyle evangelism) is that people will be attracted to your way of living (your holy behavior, your happiness, how you treat others, etc.), prompting them to ask you what your secret is, and predisposing them to become a Christian.  At that point, you share the gospel with them.

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We tend to define backsliding as a believer reverting to a life dominated by sin, but I think a better definition of backsliding is simply when we lose spiritual ground that we had achieved previously.

The resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith, but why does it matter?  Why think of it as just another of many miraculous/supernatural events?  Why not see it as a mere historical oddity?  Why does it matter so much to Christianity?  What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead?

Here are just a few reasons it is significant:

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The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was the central message of the early church and the basis of Christian hope.  But why should we believe that a man was raised from the dead 2000 years ago when we were not there to witness it, and when our uniform experience says that dead people always stay dead?  While many people think the resurrection of Jesus is something you either choose to believe or choose to reject based on your personal religious tastes, the fact of the matter is that there are good, objective, historical reasons to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Historians must do two things: establish the historical facts, and then find the best explanation for those facts.  When it comes to the life of Jesus, the primary source material for the historian is the New Testament (NT) gospels and Paul’s writings because they include the testimony of early disciples who witnessed the events in question or knew those who did, and they provide the most detail about Jesus’ life.

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While there is much discussion regarding the fidelity of the transmission of the NT text, very little attention is given to the OT.  I’ve long been looking for a good book dedicated to OT textual criticism, written from the perspective of a conservative text critic, so I was happy to come across John F. Brug’s Textual Criticism of the Old Testament

Brug does a great job of explaining the manuscript resources, how text critics go about establishing the original text, ancient and modern criticism of the text, and many examples of the variants with a fair assessment of which are original.  What I was particularly interested in is his explanation of the differences between the Greek translation and the Hebrew, as well as the differences in names and numbers in parallel passages such as Kings and Chronicles.

The book is under 200 pages, so it’s very digestible.  I would highly recommend this as an intermediate introduction to OT textual criticism.

I recently finished Everett Ferguson’s Baptism in the Early Church.  This massive tome of 860 pages thoroughly explores the theology and practice of baptism in the first five centuries of the church.  What follows is a brief summary of Ferguson’s main findings.

Origins

Baptism was a big deal to the early Christians.  It was modeled on John’s practice, as well as Jesus’ example and command.  Unlike Jewish and pagan precursors which saw ritual washings as related ritual purification, Christian baptism was intended for spiritual cleansing and moral transformation.

Ceremony

Great pomp and ceremony developed very early around the church’s practice of baptism. While traditions differed from region to region as well as over time, in general, baptism was performed in the nude, via triple immersion, with the laying on of hands, exorcisms, renunciation of the devil, anointing with oil, confession of the creed, post-baptismal eucharist, and the wearing of a white garment.  (more…)

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