If you're a Christian why do you worship the scriptures in the current Bible and not those that are left out? … [T]he Bible had a long history of changes before becoming the collection of books that Christians worship today. Entire books have been removed or added during the Bible's history and entire generations of Christians have devoted their faith and lives to earlier versions of the Bible which contained a various different collection of books and teachings. The Bible only became relatively consistent in its current form because of the 15th century invention of the printing press which mass produced copies of the current collection of books.
How would you respond to this challenge? Give us your answer in the comments below, and come back to the blog on Thursday to hear Tim’s answer.
By now, you’ve probably heard of Brock Turner, a Stanford student who sexually assaulted an unconscious girl and received a ridiculously light sentence. People aren’t happy with the judge:
A recall effort against a California judge was announced on Monday in a sexual assault case at Stanford University that ignited public outrage after the defendant was sentenced to a mere six months in jail and his father complained that his son’s life had been ruined for “20 minutes of action” fueled by alcohol and promiscuity.
When we see this kind of miscarriage of justice, we’re rightly appalled. A light sentence is a slap in the face to the victim. It denies the seriousness of the crime. It allows evil to win. Everyone can see this but Turner’s friends and family who argued on his behalf. Hearing their statements, I couldn’t help but notice a parallel between the arguments they made against jail time for Brock Turner and the arguments people make against Hell.
1. The crime only took 20 minutes.
Why, his father asked, should something that took only 20 minutes ruin the rest of his son’s life? But it’s obvious here that the seriousness of a crime and the length of its punishment are not determined by how long it took the person to commit it. The same is true for Hell.
2. All of his other accomplishments will even things out.
Turner argued that receiving probation rather than a jail sentence would enable him to do a lot of good by teaching others to avoid the “drinking and partying college lifestyle.” But neither his past accomplishments as a student and a swimmer, nor his future good deeds, erase the justice due for his evil act. The same is true for our actions.
3. It was the fault of his society.
Turner blamed the party culture that led to his drinking, but the fact that others influenced him to commit an evil act does not lessen the objective evil of the act and the punishment it requires. Neither will the excuse “everyone was doing it” serve to lessen our punishment.
4. The crime wasn’t bad enough to deserve a serious punishment.
Turner lost his scholarship, job opportunities, and his chance to swim in the Olympics. Wasn’t that enough? Turner’s friend wrote: “I think this is all a huge misunderstanding…. This is completely different from a woman getting kidnapped and raped as she is walking to her car in a parking lot. That is a rapist. These are not rapists. These are idiot boys and girls having too much to drink and not being aware of their surroundings and having clouded judgment.”
I think anyone looking at this impartially can see that what happened was a serious evil. Those close to Turner, however, are unable to see this. The same is true for our delusion about our own sins.
5. Turner isn’t really bad like the other people who are in jail.
The judge was concerned that “a prison sentence would have a severe impact on him,” implying that Turner, unlike others who commit sexual assault, doesn’t belong there. Again, Turner’s friend wrote, “Brock is such a sweetheart and a very smart kid…. It’s pretty frustrating to see the light that people are putting him in now. It used to be ‘swim star’ and now it’s like he is the face of rape on campuses. It’s such a false way to put it…. Brock is not a monster. He is the furthest thing from anything like that….”
Yet Turner did sexually assault someone. Ordinary people are capable of great evil, and evil actions come from bad people. The fact that a person is ordinary does nothing to mitigate the objective evil of his actions and the punishment those actions deserve. I suspect that those who know Brock Turner feared his receiving a level of punishment that would confirm the true seriousness of his crime because they know he’s ordinary. If he’s more like us than our image of a monster, then that means anyone can do evil—they can, you can, I can. And maybe that means we’re all bad.
People want this judge recalled because he’s not a good judge. He did not uphold justice. The arguments for leniency were not good ones, and now people are angry because Turner’s lack of punishment was an injustice and injustice is evil.
Why, then, do people make these same arguments against the rightness of Hell? It’s because we have as much interest in downplaying our sins as Turner does. Justice is so much easier to see when we’re talking about someone else—just look at the difference in reaction between those who know and care about Brock and those who are impartial. Could it be that we, like Turner’s family and friends, are not seeing things clearly when it comes to our own guilt and what it deserves?
Would God be a good Judge if He indulged our argument that Hell is unjust because our crimes took a short amount of time to commit, because we’ve also done good, because everyone else was doing it, because we’re not really all that bad? No, He would not. And the outrage over this story reveals that we all know it. There is nothing but mockery for these arguments out there. And in the end, they will not hold up for us either.
And here is where Christians should stand amazed, because our sins, down to the very last bit of objective evil that we won’t even allow ourselves to see, received full and complete justice through Jesus on the cross. He chose to take it for us. As frantically as we try to get out of our deserved punishment, He deliberately pressed into it. The thing we most fear, He walked right into. For us. Since we’re now joined to Him, everything He accomplished is credited to us. He stands in our place. We should stand amazed.
[We] were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:3–7)
Brock Turner’s reputation is ruined. His life as he’s known it is over. But he has the advantage over others of truly seeing the horror of his moral situation now, before it’s too late. I pray that his guilt and shattered life drives him to Christ, because unlike his previous judge, God is a good Judge, and in the end, there will be no protestations, no excuses, and no leniency. Christ, whose perfection requires no excuses or leniency, has volunteered to stand in our place, and He is our only hope.
This is the final post in a four-part series titled Answering Gosptacles. The last gosptacle—obstacle of the Gospel—I look at is the alleged Canaanite genocide in the Old Testament. How could God command the complete destruction of the Canaanites—every man, woman, and child? This is not an easy question to answer, but I hope that this talk will give you a place to start.
If you missed the first three parts of the Answering Gosptacles series, then click here, here, and here.
Yesterday, a Summit student asked me, “If Christianity is true, why do we need faith?” Mapping out the distinction between belief-that and belief-in provides a helpful way to answer this question.
The traditional conception of belief is reflected in the Scriptures by the concept of saving faith. The New Testament uses one particular word group to express the idea of faith. In the Greek, faith is conveyed by the noun pistis and the verb pisteuo. It is important to note that the New Testament writers make no distinction between “belief” over against “faith.” Indeed, they are both articulated by the pistis word group. Furthermore, when we examine the constructional variety of this Greek term we observe that pistis is used in conjunction with several prepositions (see chart below) that give us the full expression of faith, or what we refer to as saving faith.
pisteuo en / pisteuo eis
“believe in” / “believe into”
First, as the chart indicates, pisteuo is constructed with the Greek word hoti to express the phrase “believe that.” Hebrews 11:6 states that “he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who seek Him.” We see this construction again in Romans 10:9, when the apostle Paul instructs “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” According to these verses, one must (at the least) believe that God exists and that He raised Jesus from the dead for salvation. Additional passages throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 20:31, Acts 8:37 and 15:11, Romans 6:8, I Thessalonians 4:14) lend support to the idea that saving faith includes believing certain propositions to be true, or in other words, having certain beliefs-that.
Biblical saving faith is more than merely belief-that, however. Even if one believed the necessary true propositions about Christ, it does not follow that this belief would be sufficient for saving faith. The relevant biblical data reveal a second feature. In John 3:16, pisteuo is paired with the preposition eis and literally means “to believe into”: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
From these passages, as well as others (e.g. John 3:36 and 14:1, Romans 4:24 and 10:14), we discover that saving faith includes an affirming disposition toward, or trust in, the object (propositional content) of one’s belief. The kind of faith that saves is marked by an attitude of trust in, or belief-in, Christ for all that salvation means. Hebrews 11:1 seems to indicate this pro-attitude associated with saving faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
 It is important to note that one’s believing a certain set of true propositions is logically prior to one’s being disposed affirmingly toward that set of propositions. Thus, the strength of one’s beliefs-that has direct bearing on the strength of one’s correlating beliefs-in.
I wrote a brief post a couple of weeks ago making the point that ambassadors are sent to foreign countries. It’s increasingly clear that where we sit in our own country, where we have grown up and lived, is becoming foreign territory. We haven’t moved, but the territory around us is foreign. But that’s exactly where ambassadors belong. God is giving us a clearer mission field without moving us. It’s a fairly obvious point, but one that has more significance week by week. Culture is changing fast, and it’s becoming more of a challenge to speak effectively to others about Christianity, and it’s only going to get more difficult. But that is our job as ambassadors.
We’ve had the luxury for generations of speaking to non-Christians who generally shared much of our worldview, at least on a basic level. We were speaking the same language and could understand each other. Much of the western world has moved far from a worldview that provides us some common ground about specific issues and challenges. Modern culture is marked by radical individualism, practical atheism (if not outright atheism), and new definitions for rights and tolerance that have us speaking past each other much of the time. We talk about rights and respecting one another, but we mean very different things.
As ambassadors, I think we’re going to find it more necessary to engage non-Christians in conversations at a worldview level along with specific challenges and questions. We’ll continue to answer challenges about same-sex marriage, abortion, and why Jesus is the only way to reconcile with God. But I think much of the current conversations going on in the public square demonstrate that we’re talking past each other because the answers we give don’t even make sense to someone with a different worldview. A worldview that elevates personal autonomy and determination above almost everything else. A worldview where humans are merely a more evolved animal. A worldview that sees the world and our place in it as a result of random chance with no meaning other than what we choose to give it. A worldview that has no objective fixed points of truth and morality.
So answering specific questions and objections will often make no sense to the other person. It doesn’t mean we stop conversing about those things, it means we find more effective ways to converse about them. And I think that’ll mean going back to the basics and making a case for a Biblical worldview. Does God exist, and why do we think He exists? Did He create the world and humans with a purpose? Is there objective meaning, truth, and morality in the universe? Are we creations of a good God who has a design for us? Did Jesus exist, and is He God? Is it possible God has revealed Himself in a book we can trust?
To engage a conversation about transgender bathroom access assumes a view of human beings, a view of human purpose and sexuality, the nature of rights and respect for individuals in the public square – to say the least. The reason Christians are seen as bigots who want to deny other people their rights (in addition to the fact that name calling is an easy way to dismiss us) is that we’ve got a worldview that has a view of humans, sexuality, and rights that has radically different ideas than the people who disagree with us. We’re essentially talking different languages, and very often we never get back to those fundamental worldview beliefs that help us understand one another. At the very least, it’s our obligation as ambassadors to do our best to make ourselves understood.
It’s very hard to make our case for traditional marriage to people who don’t believe in any fundamental design to being male and female, in sexuality and marriage, who think individual autonomy is the ultimate basis for rights. Appealing to others to submit their lives to God and honor Jesus as their Lord is very odd when they don’t recognize any authority other than their own. The cases we make for these ideas make more sense in the context of a worldview that grounds them. Helping someone understand that God exists and has created us with a purpose gives them a basis for understanding the Gospel. They may want to challenge us on same-sex marriage or evolution, but what they need to understand is a different worldview from their own.
I’m sure this isn’t a newsflash to most of you who read STR’s blog on a regular basis. But I think it’s helpful to get a broader perspective now and then because we’re often engaged in dialog over the issues and can’t see the big picture. As a practical matter, I think we’re going to have to steer the conversation back to these fundamental questions of worldview. Answering specific questions and engaging individual issues may be more effective if we can go back to basics and make a case for our worldview. It may not be the specific question at hand, but answering that question won’t do much good unless we go a little deeper into our views of the world that ground all of those other issues.
This article from Public Discourse is a good example of understanding the very different ideas animating the specific views that are at odds. This is a philosophical analysis of the transgender bathroom disagreement. But it’s a worldview one, too, because the animating philosophies have to do with the nature of man and if God exists. It helps to understand where the other person’s ideas come from so that we can talk about those deeper beliefs. Sometimes it’s just ineffective to engage the individual challenges without going back to that starting point, the views and values that inform our thinking about everything.
We’re foreigners in this land. We speak a different language. We have a different perspective on the most fundamental ideas about the world. We haven’t changed, but the world has changed – a lot. And it’s changing faster than ever before. We’re going to have to explain those fundamentals to have any hope of showing the people we’ve been sent to that God exists and humans can only thrive and find true happiness when we are in relationship with Him through Jesus.
Kind of the good news in this is that you don’t always have to have the answers to 100 questions and challenges. You don’t have to feel ineffective when the issues get too wild you can’t even keep up. You can respond by asking someone, Have you thought about this? And move the conversation to one about God’s existence, or whether humans are designed for a purpose. You can master some good arguments for fundamental worldview issues and move the conversation to those. If someone objects that you’re changing the subject, you can tell them that this is really where the disagreement is, so it is relevant.
We are continuing our series on Answering Gosptacles with what might be the most pervasive gosptacle that we’ve looked at so far. The exclusivity of Christ as the only way of salvation is deeply offensive to our relativistic and pluralistic culture.
There are three ways that this view—Jesus is the only way—is being challenged. First, there are some who mistakenly think that Jesus can be true for them, but not for others. That is, He is the only way for some. This idea stems from a theological confusion. Simply put, they misunderstand the gospel. Second, there is the explicit teaching that there are many ways to God. This idea is called religious pluralism. Third, there is a view that tries to argue for both one way and many ways. In this view, Jesus is the only way of salvation. However, explicit faith in Christ is not required for salvation. This is referred to as Christian inclusivism.
In this talk, I evaluate each of these challenges and show that each is mistaken. You can watch the entire presentation here.
If you missed the first two parts of my Answering Gosptacles series, then click here and here.
So let me get this straight: the rules are that if people screw up, they have to brutally murder an innocent animal. God is omnipotent, so presumably these are his rules. But it’s been changed. Because a couple thousand years ago humans killed a man in one of the most savage manners imaginable it was enough sacrifice for everyone for all time. What I don’t understand is why a sacrifice was necessary at all. God is only in a forgiving mood when he smells fresh blood?
This is obviously a huge topic—sin, evil, God’s holiness, justice, and more are involved with this one. How would you go about responding to it? Tell us what you would say in the comments below, and Brett will be here on Thursday to respond to this challenge.