Theology


You can always tell when someone believes something based on their emotions/will rather than their reason: They resort to name-calling, yelling, violence, shame, intimidation. They want to silence the opposition rather than respond to them. I heard it said that you know someone doesn’t have a good argument when they resort to hitting people with blunt objects to make their case.

Many Christians would disavow such things, but they have another way of responding to challenges to their ill-founded beliefs. When they don’t have good reasons to support their claims or to challenge your arguments, they trump you with spirituality. They will say the Holy Spirit told them that X is true, or that the only reason you believe X is because you are not spiritual. Don’t fall for the bait by shifting the focus to your own spirituality. Shift the focus back to the argument by responding, “Ok, so I’m carnal. Can you tell this carnal brother of yours why I should believe you are right (or conversely, why I should believe I am wrong)?”

Certainty is a state of mind. One who is certain is one who does not doubt that some X is true. Having certainty regarding X does not guarantee that X is true, but merely that one believes X is true and has no doubts regarding its truth. Someone who seeks certainty regarding some X, then, seeks to justify belief in X to such a degree that they no longer have doubts regarding the truth of X.

Many post-modern types decry the desire for certainty as an “Enlightenment ideal,” preferring questioning and doubt instead. This is wrong. The desire for certainty is a basic human desire that has manifested itself in every generation. Humans want to know that what they believe is true. While certainty is not required to have knowledge (and philosophically speaking, not possible for most things), and while certainty is not required for everything we believe, and while an inordinate desire for certainty can be bad, the desire for certainty is natural, good, and obtainable in some matters.

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People’s perception of Christianity is often shaped more by their church experience than by Scripture. If your experience of Christianity was in a Catholic church, you may think of Christianity as solemn and reverent, but ritualistic and largely irrelevant to daily life. If your experience of Christianity was in a Baptist church, you may think of Christianity in terms of moral behavior and Bible study. If your experience of Christianity was in a Pentecostal church, you may think of Christianity as wild and crazy, where emotions and the supernatural are top priority. Whatever your experience may have been, that is what you associate with “Christianity.” For you, that IS Christianity.

So when you invite a former Christian to rekindle their former Christian faith, they will naturally think you are trying to convert them back to the same church experience they had in the past. And for many people, it was their church experience that caused them to leave the faith. Why on earth would they ever want to go back?!

That’s why it’s a good idea to ask them about their church experience. What was their church community like? What did they believe? What were their negative experiences? It’s also good to ask them what they think Christianity is all about. In my experience, most people’s understanding of Christianity is very thin, if not warped. Once you know more about their view and experience of Christianity, the better you will be able to share with them the true gospel. Once they see the difference between what they came from and what you are inviting them to, they might be willing to give Christianity – the real Christianity – another shot.

Sometimes we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Let me give you two examples where Christians cannot seem to win with non-Christians.

Non-Christians will often complain that Christians are hypocrites, by which they mean we do not live up to our own moral codes. While we say people should do X, we ourselves fail to do X. And yet, these same people will complain when one Christian calls out another Christian for their immoral behavior. Now the complaint is “you shouldn’t judge” (not recognizing that they themselves are making a judgement when they say “you should not judge” – and thus being hypocritical themselves – and that they make a judgment when they say Christians are hypocrites). So let me get this straight. Christians are damned if they fail to live up to their own moral standards, and they are damned if they try to encourage each other to live up to their own moral standards. Can we win?

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Psalm 130:3-4 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.

Our eternal destination is not determined by our sin, but by our Savior. If no good work can earn salvation, then no evil work can forfeit our salvation. All Christians commit sin. We are saved, not because we stop sinning, but because we trust in the One who never sinned.

Many people, both Christian and non-Christian alike, define God in terms of just one attribute – love – to the neglect of all other attributes. And even then, they misunderstand love to mean unqualified acceptance and approval of our behaviors rather than God’s unqualified desire for our good as a person. As a result of this misunderstanding of God’s nature and His love, people question the existence of hell, the legitimacy of moral judgments, etc. Yes, God is love, but He is so much more. He is also just and holy.

A hypocrite is not one who fails to live up to his own ideals, but one who falsely proclaims to have such ideals in the first place.

 

See also “I’m not a Christian because there are too many hypocrites in the church

As Christians, we want to know and do God’s will, but many Christians struggle to hear God’s voice and know His will. They find the whole process frustrating and vague, and they are left feeling spiritually paralyzed. Could it be that the problem does not lie with God’s silence nor our inability to hear what God is saying, but with our conception of God’s will and the particular methods we use for discerning it? Could it be that our conception of God’s will and hearing His voice is not taught in the Bible? Perhaps we have over-complicated and over-spiritualized the will of God.

Many Christians think God’s will for their life is both extensive and detailed. In addition to God’s general will that we develop our moral character, He also has a more specific will for us concerning our education, our vocation, our residency, our spouse, where we congregate, and other matters big and small. Our job is to (1) discern God’s will in these matters using various methods such as a peace in our heart, open and closed doors, unbidden thoughts, impressions, signs, and fleeces, and then (2) make choices that match God’s will. The process is similar to navigating: God chooses our destination and the route we should take to get there, and our job is merely to discover the map and follow it turn-by-turn.

This sounds reasonable and perhaps even comforting, but is it Biblical? I assumed so, until I was forced to look at Scripture more carefully. Now, I’m convinced that this understanding of the will of God – while well-intentioned – errs in its assumptions about (1) the extent of God’s will and (2) the methods for discerning it. (more…)

Evangelism is one of the most important missions of the church. In evangelism, we are making an appeal to non-Christians to both believe and do something. What we ask them to believe and do ought to pattern what the first disciples asked non-Christians to believe and do. Does it? To answer that question, I recently examined what the early church preached to unbelievers, chronicling every detail of every message found in Acts (2:14-40; 3:12-26; 4:8-12,33;  5:29-32,42; 7:2-53; 8:5,12,35; 10:34-43; 11:20; 13:16-41; 14:15-17; 16:30-31; 17:2-3,6-7,18,22-31; 18:5,28; 19:2-4,8; 20:21,25; 22:1-21; 23:6,11; 24:10-21,24-25; 25:19; 26:1-23; 28:17-20,23,30).[1] What follows are my findings and analysis. (more…)

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…)

In the parting words of Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica, he admonished them with several imperatives, including “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17).

Many Christians have struggled to make sense of Paul’s admonition because it’s evident that we cannot literally pray without ceasing. At the very least, we would have to stop praying when we go to sleep at night. Even if Paul was only talking about our conscious hours, one cannot pray while they are talking to other people, concentrating on their work, etc. Many Christians, wanting to affirm the sense of “continual prayer,” have taken this verse to mean that we should continually be in “a spirit of prayer.” This is often construed along the lines of always having a prayerful attitude even when we are not praying to God (which should be a frequent affair throughout one’s day). What exactly a prayerful attitude is, is not entirely clear. Others take it to mean that we should pray about everything.

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Jesus said, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt 19:24; Mk 10:25; Lk 18:25). Jesus said this after the young rich ruler refused Jesus’ call to discipleship because he was unwilling to give away all of his riches.  Jesus’ point seems to be that people with wealth tend to trust in their wealth, making it difficult for them to place their trust in Christ.

This doesn’t make much sense on a Calvinistic view of salvation, and thus serves as evidence against Calvinism.

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We often speak of the need to “forgive yourself.”  While I understand what is meant by this phrase, it is unintelligible on the Christian worldview.  People speak of the need to forgive themselves in the context of feeling guilt for something they did (or failed to do).  They recognize the need to eliminate this guilt and get on with their life – to stop beating themselves up for their failure.

The problem with this notion is that it’s not possible to forgive oneself.  Forgiveness is something only a third party can grant to you.  You can no more forgive yourself than you can give something to yourself.  On the Christian worldview, the ultimate source of our forgiveness is God Himself.  We will never stop feeling guilt if we are looking to ourselves.  The solution for guilt is not self-forgiveness, but divine forgiveness.  If we continue feeling guilt after we have repented of our sin, that is evidence that we have not truly believed that God has forgiven us – because once God forgives and we believe He has forgiven, the conscience ought to be quieted (Heb 9).

In the past I offered a general Christian creed written from a Oneness perspective.  Here is another creed I wrote specifically articulating Oneness theology:

I believe in one God, eternal and almighty,
creator of heaven and earth;
Both one in essence and one in person;
Who for us became one of us, and yet remained God;
One person in two natures, both divine and human;
The eternal God who became temporal man.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God incarnate;
Son of God and son of Adam;
Who took on our nature to take away our sin;
Divine by identity and human by function,
he rescued us as one of us, dying in our stead;
Raised from death to die no more,
In whom we confidently wait for the same, amen.

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