How certain can we be of what we believe?

Aristotle listed five different degrees of certainty. He listed them in order from highest degree to lowest degree. The strongest evidence we can have for believing something to be true is the knowledge that is self-evident. These are the truths that include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These truths are their own evidence and most objective of the five listed. This is why Aristotle recognized them as the only kind of knowledge that is really knowledge in the strictest sense of the world. The other four kinds are increasingly more subjective. They are based on evidence obtained from the well-established opinions of mathematics, the conclusions of scientific investigation, the philosophical opinions that are based on our common experience and common sense from philosophical reflection, and finally, the opinions of historians which can be supported by historical and scientific research.

With the exception of true atheists who are in denial, the majority of people on the planet accept the premise that a creator exists because of the logic of cause and effect. We experience this creation with our five senses, and logic tells us that someone or something caused that creation to happen. This truth is self-evident. The belief that our creator is personal to us, however, is not self-evident. When we Christians examine why we believe in the triune God of the Bible, we have to concede that the most appropriate class of certainty of the five listed that applies to us in our belief is the last one, the historical evidence presented in the Bible. Yes, God communicates to us through our conscience, but that is even more subjective evidence than the historical evidence.

Historical evidence is the most subjective of the five because so much of it is based on eye-witness accounts, and we recognize how unreliable witnesses can be. But we also know that the majority of what we think we know we’ve learned from reading what someone else has to say about whatever it is we think we know; in fact, most of what we know is based on the historical evidence, so we have no choice but to  give it much weight in our search for knowledge.  Yes, it has its limitations, but so do the other sources Aristotle listed.

Unbelievers of course concentrate their attack on Christianity by attacking the credibility of our historical evidence, the Bible. They claim their unbelief is better supported because they rely on reason and scientific evidence, a more objective source of knowledge than history. But reason has its limitations too. All belief systems have to utilize a certain degree of faith in their beliefs because we just don’t know all the answers. Life is a mystery to all of us, and it will remain so until the day we die. I might point out here that unbelievers don’t even concede to know the questions much less the answers. As atheist philosopher Albert Camus once said, “We don’t aim so high.”

The Bible is the most analyzed book in history. Even unbelievers concede there has never been a book written in the history of mankind like the Holy Bible. Much of its account of the early history of the Middle East has been supported by the archeological evidence. The 40 or so writers were inspired by God to tell His story of our salvation. The 66 books included in the canon present us with a consistency of message and purpose unlike any other books every written. C. S. Lewis concluded that if the authority of any other historical source of information were attacked in the same way people question the authority of the eye-witness accounts presented in the New Testament, we would have to be content to know nothing at all of this life. We have no choice but to accept historical evidence as fact when it has met the test of credibility as the Bible has, time and time again. But, just because we understand what we are reading doesn’t mean we believe it to be true. This is where the degree of certainty is appropriately applied.

Christians concede that our evidence for belief in the gospel is weaker and more subjective than the evidence for unbelief, but those of us who accept the Bible as the very Word of God have been enabled by our God through faith to believe what Scripture tells us. For us who possess the faith God gave us to believe in the Bible as truly His Word, we believe what this book tells us. We believe this book that Lewis tells us has a “mythical radiance” is the truth, the only truth. For us, our faith is the strongest, most reliable indication of the truth with the highest degree of certainty; and, even if that faith is as small as a mustard seed, it is sufficient for our salvation.

 

Advertisements

Are you “religious?”

When I tell people I’m a Christian, some will tell me they believe Jesus Christ was a good man and a good moral model, but they aren’t “religious”  as though being religious is not a good thing to be. When I ask them what they mean by using this term, they tell me they believe in God and consider themselves to be spiritual but do not subscribe to any organized religion. For them, “religious” has a negative connotation because they see religious people as being “churchy”, arrogant and judgmental “Bible-thumpers.”

I surprise them by telling them I agree with them. Being religious can have that connotation, and some people who claim to be Christians and go to church on a regular basis indeed act this way. This is why theologian Karl Barth once said that religious was not good in itself. If a person was just focused on being religious in acting out a belief which is disconnected from what God tells us in His Word, that is not a good thing. Barth even went so far as to conclude that indeed religion can be the enemy of faith because it can represent man’s attempt to enter into communion with God on his own terms.

What does God have to tell us about being religious? Here’s what the Apostle Paul had to say: “I urge you (religious people) to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-7.

When we understand that this is what being “religious” is supposed to be, we should be pleased to call ourselves religious, and we should encourage others who are being religious in the arrogant, judgmental way to examine their witness in light of God’s Word and make sure it is not acting like an enemy of faith. Only in our true witness of the Word can being “religious” be a very good thing. That’s the kind of “religious” person we all should want to be, and we can be pleased to identify with those religious people who use the Bible as a guide in living a life that represents the Christ within us. Only in this way will those who do not share our Christian belief understand that being “religious” can be a very good thing indeed.

What is justice?

Donald K. McKim, in his Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, defines justice as “the concept of each person receiving what is due. ” He relates justice to love and grace.

Science fiction author, Robert A. Heinlein, in his book Job: A Comedy of Justice, tells us that justice is not a divine concept; it is a human illusion.  “The very basis of the Judeo-Christian code is injustice, the scapegoat system. The scapegoat sacrifice runs through the Old Testament, then it reaches its height in the New Testament with the notion of the Martyred Redeemer. How can justice possibly be served by loading your sins on another? Whether it be a lamb having its throat cut ritually, or a Messiah nailed to a cross and ‘dying for your sins.” Somebody should tell all of Yahweh’s followers, Jews and Christians, that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe there is. Being in that catatonic condition called ‘grace’ at the exact moment of death, or at the Final Trump, will get you into Heaven. Right?  A long and wicked life followed by five minutes of perfect grace gets you into Heaven. An equally long life of decent living and good works followed by one outburst of taking the name of the Lord in vain, then have a heart attack at that moment and be damned for eternity…It’s God’s world, His rules, His doing. His rules are exact and anyone can follow them and reap the reward. But ‘just’ they are not.'”

In putting these words in the mouth of one of his characters in his book, Heinlein demonstrates that he has been fed a counterfeit gospel. He did know about the Old Testament sacrificial system as portrayed by Evangelicals, but he didn’t understand that a scapegoat wasn’t sacrificed; a scapegoat symbolically received the sins of the people of Israel and was driven into the wilderness to carry the sins away on the Jewish Day of Atonement. He did not know that blood sacrifice in the Old Testament represents cleansing or thanksgiving, but not payment for forgiveness of sin. He did understand the Evangelical teaching that Jesus’ death finally fulfilled the blood-for-sin paradigm upon which Penal-Substitutionary Atonement is based. But he did not apparently realize this theory of atonement is at best a small part of the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Heinlein is right when he implies we can’t avoid God’s justice by following his rules, but he cannot accept as fair how God’s grace works to save us while we are still sinners. Martin Luther marveled at how God does this, but Heinlein is frustrated by God bestowing his saving grace on a person who has sinned all his life and is seemingly saved at the last moment by God’s grace. Heinlein believes there should be no free lunch, and that implies he believes we should have to earn that grace by doing good. That’s the way man understands justice from our perspective; but, we need to understand justice from God’s perspective. As Heinlein says, “It’s God’s world, His rules, His doing.” God is determined to save those whom he has enabled to believe in his Son, Jesus Christ and his intentions cannot be thwarted.

So, what is justice like from God’s perspective? God tells us in his Word that he is just; that is one of his characteristics. Scripture also tells us we all have sinned, and God’s divine justice requires that all of us receive what’s coming to us: eternal condemnation for our sin. We know we cannot put ourselves in a right position with God to merit our salvation by doing good works.

Christians who have a true faith in Christ as our Savior know that God has determined to save us before we were even born. Extending his grace to us is not some whimsical act on his part. Yes, as Heinlein mocks, “Being in that catatonic condition called ‘grace’ at the exact moment of death, or at the Final Trump, will get you into Heaven, right?”  Yes, it will, but the thief on the cross wasn’t saved just before he died; he had been destined to be saved before he was born. Jesus merely connected God’s rendering of justice with his grace and love when he told the man he would be with him in paradise because of his faith.

Heinlein’s misunderstanding of the gospel should motivate us to think about how we  understand the gospel. Do we understand divine justice from God’s perspective? Do we understand the need for that justice to be met and how this has been done for those of us who believe in God’s grace which has been extended to us through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ?

The cost and reward of discipleship

“At first, Christianity is welcome to all who have no special reason for opposing it: at this stage he who is not against it is for it. What men notice is the difference from those aspects of the World which they already dislike. But, later on, as the real meaning of the Christian claim becomes apparent, its demand for total surrender, the sheer chasm between Nature and Supernature, men are increasingly offended. Dislike, terror, and finally hatred succeed: none who will not give it what it asks (and it asks all) can endure it: all who are not with are against it.” C. S. Lewis from Mere Christianity.

Christians are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ. McKim’s Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, defines the term as a person “who follows and learns from another as a pupil. It is used specifically for those who follow Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:1).”

Being a disciple of Christ means we are to put aside our instinctive focus on self and center our thoughts and actions on the person and teachings of a man who is like no other human being who ever walked this earth. Even unbelievers acknowledge Christ’s uniqueness of character and moral teaching. But, as Lewis said, when they recognize that we are to follow Christ in a way that we follow no one else, they turn away from Christianity.

Reverend Adriel Sanchez, the pastor of North Park Presbyterian Church in San Diego, states that “You cannot follow Jesus and be devoted to others in the same way you’re devoted to Him.  This type of exclusivity is especially difficult in societies like ours, where non-Christians are happy to include Jesus among the great religious teachers but not above them. Yet, Jesus won’t share the stage with anyone else, and He demands that our love for Him be unique.”

Jesus told his disciples that following him wouldn’t be easy. “The comfort and glory we often want for ourselves are antithetical to the cross.” John Calvin said that Christ’s followers “ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome and unquiet life crammed with very many and various kinds of evil.” This is why Jesus urges those he chose to follow him to seriously consider the cost of following him. But it’s important to also understand the reward of discipleship.  It’s critical we understand that while discipleship will cost us everything, what we gain is so much greater than what we think we lose.

Peter asked Jesus if there was a reward in forsaking everything to follow him. Jesus answer is recorded in Luke 18:29-30. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time…and in the age to come eternal life.”

Reverend Brad Waller, pastor of Grace Church of the Islands in Savannah, Georgia, states that “Discipleship is costly. Jesus promised persecutions. But the narrow way leads to expansive joys.” He quotes Jim Elliot, the missionary who was killed in Ecuador: “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Of course to believe what Elliot says is to connect with the supernatural element of Christianity.  We have to believe through faith that when we give up the bird in the hand by becoming a disciple of Christ’s and focusing solely on him instead of the world, through the grace of God, we will receive the two birds in the bush which is to enjoy unity with Christ in this world and in the world to come. We should therefore “rejoice and be glad for our reward is great.”

 

Good News, Bad News

By definition, the gospel means “good news.” Christians know to thank God for the good news that we have been saved through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, and the good news needs to be clearly preached with humility, boldness and love; and we constantly need to be reminded of what Christ has done for us in guaranteeing our salvation by bearing the burden of our sin before God. Knowing what Christ has done for us is truly the good news of the gospel. It is the reason we are to love God and love our neighbor. But. Reverend Steffen Mueller, pastor of Gospel Church Munich in Munich, Germany, brings up a good point when he tells us that there is also the bad news of the gospel; it has to do with the issue of sin.

It is obvious to believer and unbeliever that there is something very wrong with this world, and there is something very wrong about every one of us. “The bad news of the gospel is that every person (except Jesus Christ) is a depraved sinner and, apart from divine grace, will experience death because of his sin.”

Why is there sin in a world created by God to be perfect? We are not in a position to understand God’s will other than what he has told us in the Bible, but Mueller logically speculates that the good news of the gospel cannot be thoroughly understood without a thorough understanding of the bad news of the gospel. The opposite of good is evil and without evil, we would not understand good.

Pastors in Christian churches today are inclined to preach only on the good news of the gospel to pander to our natural human inclination to want to dwell only on the positive and ignore the negative; no person wants to hear about how we sin every day of our lives. Unbelievers, who seem to only identify with their belief that Jesus is all about love, ignore Christ’s purpose is not just to be a witness for loving people, but to save believers from our sin. His atoning sacrifice is THE example of God’s love for us, and why we should love Him.

In support of his statement about pastors’ preaching, Reverend Mueller mentions a 2015 survey analyzing the Easter sermons in Christian churches across the nation. Out of 24 evangelical churches, in 21 of the sermons, “the words ‘sin,’ ‘repentance,’ ‘death,’and ‘cross’ were not mentioned at all.”  Yes, we do need to hear about “love and peace, joy and how to lead life to the full, but we also need to talk about sin, the need to repent, and God’s grace and forgiveness.”

Unbelievers view sin as simply making a bad choice; they view sin from man’s perspective; we sin against other people when we do them wrong or disobey the law of the land. Christians view sin from God’s perspective and understand that God hates sin. We therefore know we should take sin very seriously. Of all the world’s religions,  Christianity is unique in its focus on the true implications of our sin. We recognize that our sin is an affront to a righteous and holy God and understand this is why we need to repent of our sin. We cannot truly know the meaning of what Christ did for us in atoning for our sin and the meaning of His resurrection in overcoming the consequence of sin (death) unless we clearly understand what He has saved us from. 

This is why the bad news of the gospel also needs to be preached in our churches. The problem of our sin and our need for repentance of our sin must be communicated to believers and unbelievers. We need to “Praise God that Jesus died on the cross so that sinners can be saved from their sin and enjoy eternal life with God.” We need to hear the bad news with the good in order to understand how good the good news really is.

 

An Inconvenient Truth

Atheist existentialist, Albert Camus, once told a group of Christians that it was not his purpose to tell them what they should believe because he wasn’t a Christian. Ignoring this sage advice from one of their own, supporters of LGBT nonetheless seem determined to tell us Christians what Christianity is supposed to be all about and how Christians are to love them as God loves them.

LGBT supporters tell us we are not judge them as sinners because we are all God’s children and he loves all of his children.  As a Christian, I agree. God is love and does love his creation; and we are not to judge them. We understand that only God is our judge. LGBT supporters tell us that God loves all sinners, and instruct us to emulate his love by accepting their LGBT lifestyle. Their focus on God’s love, mercy and how his grace covers a multitude of sins is their convenient truth. Christians understand the reality isn’t that simple. God’s love is for all; his grace is for believers.

So, what do believers believe? Christians, of course, acknowledge God is love, but we also know from his Word that he has other characteristics too. In their incomplete understanding of God’s Word, LGBT supporters focus only on God’s love and totally ignore those other characteristics which God expresses to us in his Word. In the Bible, God not only demonstrates his loving nature, but he also tells us he is perfect, holy, righteous and just, and this is exactly why he hates sin. Those Christians who know God’s Word believe the LGBT lifestyle is a sin, and, since we believe sin is much more than just making wrong choices, our motive in resisting the LGBT lifestyle is based on our concern that they are actually offending a holy, righteous and just God and there are consequences for offending him. We want them to know that, while God loves all of us, he hates our sin and takes it very seriously when we sin. We know that it is our sin that separates us from our Creator. The existence of sin and its dire consequence is an inconvenient truth. 

Christians know that, because God loves us, his desire is to be in fellowship with us. But his righteous, divine justice does not permit him to accept sinners. We needed a mediator to accept the punishment of our sin for us, and God demonstrated his love and his grace in sending his Son to the world to atone for our sin and thus enable us to reconnect with God the Father.

Christians agree with LGBT supporters when they tell us that Jesus came to bring the concept of grace, to free Jews from their obsessive concern with God’s rules. Christ did come into this world to give us a greater understanding of the purpose of God’s law and to make us aware of our inability to perfectly obey God’s rules and save ourselves. Christ actually came into this world to atone for the sins of those who understood his purpose and recognize they were to repent of their sins.  Repentance means change, and change can only occur when God enables us to recognize our sin and how we need to please him in repenting of that sin. In short, we need to get out of our focus on pleasing ourselves and change our ways to please him. As C. S. Lewis once said, this change requires “our total surrender to God”; it is the inconvenient truth of Christianity.

As unbelievers, LGBT supporters of course don’t recognize the Bible as the Word of God; they take what they need and leave the rest in focusing only on the convenient truth that God is indeed a God of love and presume this means he loves them in spite of their lifestyle choice. Since they aren’t connected with the God of the Bible, they see no need to repent. Only Christians understand that need. The chasm between believers and unbelievers is thus revealed. Nonetheless, Christians are to continue to love them, to refrain from judgment and discrimination. In short, Christians need to tolerate the LGBT lifestyle, communicate the inconvenient truth and pray for their eternal souls. That’s how real love is expressed.

Unfortunately, LGBT supporters are not satisfied with tolerance. They crave acceptance, they want their lifestyle to be condoned by everyone. Psychologists tell us that society’s acceptance helps them accept themselves. There is a big difference between toleration and acceptance. God is not the author of sin, but sin is in his plan of salvation, and we know he has always tolerated bad behavior. Old Testament history illustrates how God tolerated the practice of polygamy and slavery among his chosen people, the Jews. We know we are to follow his lead and tolerate LGBT supporters; but, for reasons I have discussed in this post, we must never forget that God does not accept sin, and neither should we (in ourselves or others). We know we are to follow God’s lead in not accepting or condoning LGBT behavior.

So then, fellow Christians, stay the course; do not let unbelievers define your belief for you, but never give them reason to doubt what Bible-believing Christians believe. Act in love towards LGBT supporters by continuing in our quest to reveal God’s inconvenient truth.

 

Atheism’s too simple

Theologian C. S. Lewis once said that atheism is too simple because it doesn’t stand for anything. In my many discussions with atheists, they have indeed illustrated Lewis’s point to me, but some of them recognize they should at least stand for something so they claim to follow a belief system called secular humanism which has its own doctrine stating what they actually stand for.

From the “Humanist Manifesto III as quoted in The Cabana Chronicles: Book One, and The Religions of Secular Humanism and Christianity: 1. Knowledge of the world is derived by the scientific method. It is derived by the observation and experimentation and rational analysis. This is called empiricism. It is our evidence. 2. Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. 3. Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. This is called naturalism. 4. Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of human ideals. 5. Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships. 6. Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

When I first read this Manifesto, the first thing that came to mind was it’s omission of any reference to God; and that certainly would be expected from an atheistic doctrine. But, as Lewis also once said, it’s hard to ignore God; He is all around us. In their lame attempt to ignore the existence of God, they are indeed arbitrarily making reality too simple. Existential philosopher Albert Camus once said that “We (atheists) don’t aim so high.” The correct statement should have been “we won’t aim so high.”

They have no excuse for their unbelief because the existence of a creator is logically inferred through his creation; and, since they claim to revere science, they should agree with Einstein when he said his Theory of Relativity relied on the consistency of design in the universe. Design logically implies a designer. Furthermore, the very existence of our concept of what is right and what is wrong, our “ethical values,” infers a God-given conscience in all of us. The fact we have a concept of what constitutes “human ideals” supports this concept of a conscience. The fact that we are motivated to work “to benefit society” supports the concept of a conscience.  Just as the creation and the design of that creation logically implies a creator, the existence of our conscience implies a creator.

Atheists who subscribe to the belief system of secular humanism also state they believe that man is merely “the result of an unguided evolutionary change.” They believe that our existence as human beings on earth is the result of some chance occurrence that began as a single cell and somehow over millions of years miraculously evolved into a human being.  Even though they revere the scientific method, it seems they don’t understand what that should mean; a theory remains a theory unless proved by evidence. Those who revere empiricism aren’t empiricists because, to date, no evidence has been found which supports the concept of how many evolved from a single cell. Evolution is therefore just another theory, not a scientific principle.

Christians understand the concept of evolution in a different way. In Mere Christianity, Lewis infers man is curious about the next step in evolution. What happens after us? Where do we go from here? He answers the question from a Christian perspective in stating that we believe evolution represents a change from being creatures of God to being sons of God. He tells us “The first instance (of the next step in evolution) appeared in Palestine two thousand years ago. In a sense, the change is not “evolution” at all, because it is not something arising out of the natural process of events but something coming into nature from outside”

Lewis is of course referring to the entrance of Jesus Christ into this world. He refers to Christ as not just the first instance of the new man, but the new man. “He is the origin and center and life of all the new men. He came into the universe of His own will, bringing with Him the new life.”

Atheists of course have not been influenced by what Lewis called Christ’s “good infection.” There is an empty void where Christ would be, and they are left with no recourse but to strike out on their own and attempt to define their beliefs. The simplicity of their Humanist Manifesto should be obvious, and I trust the reader will see the shortcomings of their postulations. Believers in Christ understand the truth can be known only through Him. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” We can be truly new men and women only in believing “No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.