Gender, Race, Religion and Peace on Earth

The miscarriage of justice in Furguson, St. Louis this Summer and Fall has sparked a deep, pre-existing unrest across the United States. From where I sit on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, it does not appear that the same systemic injustices that produced Ferguson exist here. But there are certainly different systemic injustices and different inequalities and different grievances in our society.Real movements don’t just make people walk in a march anymore; they literally make it onto the shoes. Photograph: Nate Billings/AP

Last night my family and I were treated to an evening out to hear the Victoria Soul Gospel Choir and its irrepressible leader, Checo Tohomaso. Having grown up in Florida, Hawaii and Japan, and having performed with many of the greats of the American music industry, he injects into his music a rich heritage of Soul, R&B, Motown, Blues and Gospel. Lots of Gospel. He said last night that all the greatest singers (particularly referring, I think, to these genres) were preachers’ kids. He led us to sing and pray for peace. And he suggested that this music, and its cry for peace, came from the Church. It makes me contemplate why the same Church is short on real solutions or even answers to the questions Ferguson raises.

Whether we are praying for the “peace of Jerusalem” or the peace of Ferguson, our prayers for peace result from a far deeper systemic pain than racism. A friend of mine shared an article on FaceBook this week about a gay man who was banned from an online “Gay Dads’ Group” for posting reflections on Ferguson. The pain goes deeper than race. As an LGBTQ activist himself, this dad knows the frustration of injustice. As the white father to a black child he knows his son will face not less pain and frustration, but more.

Four Christian children in Iraq were beheaded this week for refusing to renounce faith in Jesus. The BC Government revoked an earlier decision to allow the private, Christian, Trinity Western University to launch a law school. Religion. Gender. Sexual orientation. Race. I’m not saying these kinds of discrimination are equally unfair, or trying to equate one with another. I’m just saying these are all symptoms of a deep problem. Our prayers for peace cannot find answers with the passing of some new legislation or charter of rights, or a march on the White House, or a movement on FaceBook. The problems go deeper than politics.

And certainly movements like “No Gender December”, while well-intentioned, miss the point. Eradication of distinctiveness, of gender differences, can not solve the pain felt by victims of discrimination due to sexual orientation any more than it can solve the evil of racism. For the same reason that colonialism—the assimilation of one culture into another—cannot erase racism. Monochromatic solutions might sound like a good way to bring the world together, until we wake up to the insanity of refusing to appreciate our differences as well as what we have in common. Healing lies in the direction not of homogenous, bland, same-ness, but in the hope that it is possible to really celebrate diversity and not fear it. To not just tolerate each other’s differences, but love those differences. We must not merely combat hatred with cries for justice and fairness. As long as hatred exists in the human heart, laws cannot make us equal. We must fight hatred with love. But how?

The problems not new. In the Bible, the first racial conflict in the Christian Church came about when Greek women felt they were being poorly treated in comparison with Jewish women. Poor people often felt unfairly treated in comparison with rich people (James 2). Christian leaders advocated to Christian slave-owners for the freedom of Christian slaves (Philemon). The Christian Scriptures in the New Testament are not unfamiliar with all kinds of oppression, mistreatment, discrimination and injustice. The thing is, most of the time it was the Christians who were on the receiving end of injustice—even from within the Christian community. But from the beginning to the end of the New Testament, the message is clear that injustice would be the normal experience for Christians. Because the world that hated our Lord, we are told, will also hate us.

Why? Because I don’t think anything is quite so offensive to the secular-minded thinker than the claim of Jesus that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. That all of our division and discord is inherited from our spiritual condition—division and discord between each of us and our Creator. That the nature of the discord and division has to do with our sin. So pray for peace. But don’t think human effort or human legislation are going to change very much. These things are still worth pursuing, but know that the solutions achieved will only be partial and temporary.

The solution we are looking for is the Gospel, the Good News proclaimed by Jesus Christ, that through Him it is possible to be reconciled to God. Reconciliation at the most basic, deepest level of our human nature—reconciliation between the human individual and the Creator of humanity. Reconciliation that works itself out gradually through the affirmation of a new, reconciled identity and assurance of unconditional love, into new grace, tolerance, forgiveness and patience in our human relationships. This is the message of reconciliation announced in the Christian Scriptures of the New Testament. This is the message of reconciliation that confronted racism, slavery, sexism and poverty abuse. This is the message that offers a different and more permanent solution to the human problem. Not with a dream of homogeneity and so-called “equal” same-ness, but with a promise of everlasting celebration of reconciled diversity.

” There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28 ESV)

Better Stewards than Gondor Had

My least favourite scenes in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy are those involving Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. As Tolkien wrote his character in the original books, in the absence of a true King over the men of Gondor, stewards were given the task of ruling in their place until “the return of the king.” Denethor

But in the case of Denethor, the Steward serving when the heir of Isildur returned to claim the throne, he had long since forgotten what it meant to be a steward. Power corrupted him. Insanity destroyed him. The result was that he nearly destroyed the city and his own family in his mad neglect of his sacred duty to steward what belonged rightfully to his king.

In Church Elders: How to Shepherd God’s People Like Jesus, Jeramie Rinne observes that Jesus has granted just such a stewardship to men who serve in local churches as elders.

After his resurrection, Jesus passed on his teaching and proclamation ministry to the apostles (Matt. 28:19-2o). Just as Jesus’s teaching fills the Gospels, so the apostles’ teaching fills Acts and the Epistles. And as the apostles made disciples through their preaching and gathered those disciples into churches, they appointed elders for each church and entrusted them with the apostolic doctrine (Acts 14:23).
Take a moment to marvel at this. Jesus is alive. He reigns in heaven and he rules over your church. And he exerts that kingly authority in your church through the Scriptures. Jesus’s subjects obey him today by obeying those Scriptures. So if you are an elder, when you teach the Word faithfully, Jesus is sovereignty ministering to his subjects through your teaching.  41W2ugG0GuL._SL210_

This is a truly amazing charge we elders have been given. Considering the importance of this sacred trust, what should our ministries look like? Should our sermon preparation draw more from the Bible and less from other people’s opinions? Should our time in the Word be more saturated in prayer for the sake of stewarding our own faith first? Should we be much more in the Word than we are when busyness fills our week? I think the first punch that hit me when I read Rinne’s quote was that if I am to be a better steward than Denethor, I need to steel myself better with belief in the Gospel so that I am less concerned with whether my congregation liked my sermon than with doing everything in my power to ensure they have heard what their true King wanted them to hear from His Word. My people need a better Steward than Denethor. Gondor deserved better—but that was just fiction. Our charge as elders is not fiction. Your church deserves the best you have to offer. At the end of the story, our churches don’t belong to us at all.

Q4D #3: One God, Many Religions?

(This is part 3 of a 3 part series delivered at Beacon Communities on September 14, 21, and 28, 2014. The series was titled, “Q4D: Questions 4 Doubters”.)

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This is the third of three sermons in our series, Questions for Doubters. And today’s question–trying to give a voice to another serious objection to Christianity–is this: Don’t all religions lead to God in their own way? Aren’t all religious truth-claims equal?

Questions Doubters Ask

I think one reason this is a popular idea is that religious claims about truth and certainty invite a knee-jerk reaction: For many people, Christianity just seems arrogant, claiming Jesus is the only way to God, only the Bible is right about God, all other religions are wrong, only Christians go to Heaven, and so on.  Nice people who respect other people don’t like arrogance. While atheists are only about 2% of the world’s population, and non-religious people are only about 16%,[1] 88% of the people on Earth hold some kind of religious belief system–mostly in the big four: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. So how can one religion claim to have a better handle on truth, a better path to God?

Movies like Eat, Pray, Love reflect this popular, tolerant idea: Gandhi said “My position is that all the great religions are fundamentally equal.” Rama Krishna said “Truth is one; sages call it by various names.”[2] The belief that “all religions lead to god; they are basically the same and no religion can be wrong”[3] is called “religious pluralism”. It seems nice and tolerant, but if you think about it, it is the opposite. The problem is that if a devout, educated Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu and Buddhist walk into a bar (sounds like a joke, right?) and have a conversation, they will all hold core beliefs that contradict each other. If you try to harmonize those religions by stripping away the incompatible parts, what remains would no longer be recognizable to their own adherents as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism. Attempts to harmonize religions are not tolerance, they are censorship—those attempts do violence to the sincere beliefs of most people on Earth. R.C. Sproul said, “We must note the difference between equal toleration under the law and equal validity according to truth.”[4] Religions with contradictory truth claims can’t all be right. If there is such a thing as truth, then either, a) all religions are wrong, or b) one of them is right. We can, and should, be tolerant of the rights of all people to hold to their beliefs. But this doesn’t mean accepting them all as true. For to accept them all as true is to deny the truth of all religious convictions.

Moreover, our question, “Do all religions lead to the same God?” is exactly what Ghandi and Rama Krishna were saying. The idea itself actually is Hindu–on the surface, it appears to give respect to all religions, but in actuality, it elevates Hindu religion above all others. So, is Hinduism superior therefore to all other religions? And what about Islam and Buddhism, the other global religious heavy-weights? How should we evaluate religions? I agree with the former Hindu, Dr. Steve Kumar and scientist, Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, who point out, “There are three basic criteria we commonly employ to determine the validity and truthfulness of a worldview. These criteria affirm that in order for a religion to be true it must be: 1) Logically Consistent, 2) Factually Verifiable, 3) Existentially Liveable.”[5]

Questions for Doubters

What about Hinduism?

Is Hinduism “Logically Consistent”? The “mother of Eastern religions,” Hinduism is very old, dating to about the time Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Old Testament, but it isn’t really a single system of belief as much as a collection of theologies and practices: one Hindu scholar says, “… indeed Hinduism is a great storehouse of all kinds of religious experiments.”[6] Hinduism acknowledges over 300 million gods with room for more! One Hindu leader converted to Islam, then to Christianity for several days, and remained a Hindu[7]: all that matters is that you “accept the Hindu system of culture and life… what counts is conduct, not belief.”[8] Hinduism includes every belief and assimilates it into a hodgepodge of spiritual ideas held loosely together by an overarching view that ultimately what we call “God” or Brahman, is in everything and everything is in God. There is nothing else. Everything you think you know, whether by science or experience, is an illusion. This life is an illusion, a fantasy. Only God is totally real. But nothing can be known about God because God, Brahman, cannot be understood in human thought or put into human words–God is illogical in essence and unknowable. The human problem, in Hindu pantheism, (the idea that everything is God) is that we think of ourselves as selves. We need to let that go and become absorbed in the Universe by “detachment from all desires and emotions… by absorption in the divine.”[9] But if everything is God, then so is cruelty and evil. And if the murderer and victim are both God, then no harm done! there is no way to distinguish between hate and love. Hinduism says that nothing true can be said about Brahman–but then that statement is self-refuting because it is also a claim about something that is true of God. Hindus are taught not to think or look for a God above and beyond, but inside themselves to realize they are God and so is everything. To borrow a good quote, “…the Hindu belief system is very inadequate; to tell a man earnestly seeking God that he is God, is like telling a [hungry] beggar that he is food!”[10]

While preparing this sermon for posting on the blog this afternoon, I and the other patrons of the coffee shop I’m sitting in were startled by the hysterical outbursts of an obviously very upset woman near the front of the cafe. I went and sat with her to help her calm down and find out what the trouble was. She had every reason to be hysterical. Her world had just been turned upside down and she felt like she had just lost everything—including the security of knowing where her next meal might come from. I found out she was hungry. And she started weeping, “God, help me! God, help me.” Imagine if I’d said, “Don’t worry, you are God. The answer to your problems is within you.” Instead I bought her a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and when she calmed down she used my phone to call some friends for help. Hindu answers  seem woefully inadequate to the problems of real people.

What about Buddhism?

Is Buddhism “Existentially Liveable”? Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama about 500 years before Christ, as an offshoot of Hinduism. There are lots of schools of thought in Buddhism, in its two main branches today, but some reflection on the common tenets of Buddha’s thought will help us answer the question. My favourite quote from Buddha shows how illogical his thinking was: “I have not elucidated that the world is eternal, and I have not elucidated that the world is not eternal. I have not elucidated that the saint exists after death, I have not elucidated that the saint does not exist after death. I have not elucidated that the saint both exists and does not exist after death.”[11] Buddhism is an adaptation of Hindu belief developed in order to answer the problem of human suffering. It’s not really a philosophy of God at all, but of life: the author of The Path of Buddha, states, “In Buddhism, there is no such thing as belief in a Supreme Being, a creator of the universe, the reality of an immortal soul, a personal Saviour.”[12] Buddha taught his “Four Noble Truths”–the fact of suffering, its cause, its end, and the path to ending suffering–and a path of how to live the right way to achieve the ultimate goal of ending suffering. Buddhism teaches that the cause of suffering comes down to human desires. The more free you can become from desires, the better your next life will be, and repeat in life after life after life until you reach nothingness–Nirvana and a ceasing of all suffering. So Buddhism teaches its followers, “Those who love a hundred have a hundred woes. Those who love ten have ten woes. Those who love one have one woe. Those who love none have no woes.”[13] So the teaching of Jesus, “Love one another,” is not a solution to suffering: in Buddhism it is part of the cause of suffering. In fact, Buddhism is not liveable: every Buddhist strongly desires to be free from suffering, but desire is the very problem Buddhism tries to eliminate. Practically, as one book points out, “How one is supposed to be desireless without desiring to be desireless is a problem few have any time to answer.”[14] And statistically, countries where Buddhism is dominant remain some of the worst in terms of human suffering. G.K. Chesterton was right when he said, “We may call Buddhism a faith; though to us it seems more like a doubt.”[15]

What about Islam?

Is Islam “Factually Verifiable?” As we watch on TV (in 2014), images of the Islamic State executions and conquests in Syria and Iraq, we come face to face with a system of religious belief dating back to the self-proclaimed prophet, Muḥammad ibn `Abd Allāh, around 600 years after Jesus. It is a religion centred around Muhammad’s writings in a book called the Koran. Historians of religion note that Islam is really a Christian “heresy” since, as historian E.O. James said in History of Religion, “…[Muhammad] got most of his material from late forms of Judaism and Christianity, often curiously distorted and garbled.”[16] Muhammad taught that Jesus was “the Word of God”, the greatest prophet, that he was sinless, born of a virgin, and performed miracles (Sura 4:169; 3:36, 37 & 19:19).[17] But against the historical and manuscript evidence I talked about in my first post in this series, and in the second post, most Muslims still believe today, as they have been taught, that Jesus never died on the cross and was never resurrected, but was snatched away to Heaven by God.[18] Muhammad could not accept the historical reality of Jesus crucifixion because he believed that it would mean God had failed Jesus–and that’s the whole point of the religion of Islam, an Arabic word that means “surrender”,[19] that God, or Allah, always wins and all people must submit to God by submitting to Islam. Therefore, holy war is commanded in the Koran, in order to spread Islam. Muhammad planned 65 military campaigns and saw the expansion of his religious empire throughout the Arabian Peninsula. After his death, many of the the historic centres of the Christian faith, Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, North Africa–these became Muslim, not by the spread of beliefs and ideas but by war. After the crusades, Islam spread under the Turks to conquer the centre of world Christianity at that time, the Byzantine Empire, which has been Islamic, modern Turkey ever since. In the Koran, Sura 66:9 says, “O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites… Hell will be their home…”. Because of passages like this, historian Sir Steven Runciman wrote, “Unlike Christianity, which preached a peace that it never achieved, Islam unashamedly came with the sword.”[20] Drs. Kumar and Sarfati conclude, “So while atrocities committed in the name of Christ, such as during the Crusades, were inconsistent with the teachings of Christ, the atrocities committed by Muslims are consistent with Muhammad’s teachings and actions.”[21] You and I know most German citizens were not in favour of the extermination of 6 million Jews at the time of the Holocaust– and most Muslims today want peace not war. But the events unfolding in Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt and Libya today show that many Muslims follow Muhammad’s example. Other Islamic governments who seem moderate by comparison, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iran, UAE, etc., actually don’t disagree with the militant hopes of more violent groups—they essentially disagree with their methods!

Some will argue that the Bible promotes violence as well, but I would argue that’s a misinterpretation. For example, passages where war is commanded or violence narrated and at times condoned, are balanced with an explicit commandment, “thou shalt not kill”. (One of the most horrific stories in the Bible, in Judges 19, seems on the surface to condone brutal violence, not to mention mistreatment of women. But a closer reading reveals that the story is in reality a judgement, a condemnation of the disregard for human life and rampant immorality found at that time in the nation of Israel—which had suffered massive moral decline to the point that happenings in Israel were no better in places than had been the case in former times when the land was populated by the Canaanites, c.f. Judges 20:4-10. According to the biblical account, then, just as the immorality and abuse of human life rampant among Canaanites led to the condemnation and conquest of their nation, God condones holding people—even in Israel in Judges 19-20, responsible for their own immorality and abuse.) God requires justice for crimes of evil. But as the Bible’s story unfolds, and God’s plan is revealed in greater and greater detail, the later passages of the Bible reveal that love triumphs over justice: Jesus’ teachings call for love, peace, reconciliation and mercy. Contrary to much public opinion, from the beginning of the biblical storyline, God reveals that His will is for all people to love one another, respect life, protect the weak and vulnerable, and yes, enforce justice in the face of evil.

We celebrated Remembrance Day in Canada just a couple of weeks ago. On that day we remember the sacrifice of Canada’s men and women who served in various wars to see justice enforced and evil restrained. World War II is a prime example: no one would say the war was what civilized people wanted. But morality demanded that our nation and others take a stand to confront evil, stand in its way and say, “Stop!” The Bible shows God stepping into a messed up world to put a stop to evil. At first by providing a moral code, and judgement by force; in the end by changing hearts through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In contrast, Muslims are taught to reconcile apparent contradictions in the Koran by giving more weight to the later writings: these got more and more violent as Muhammad got older and more powerful.[22] His rantings become progressively more severe and in favour of violence and war against unbelievers. You would think that a divine call to war against infidels would have strong support in historically verifiable proofs that Muhammad was a true prophet of God. But Islam doesn’t have such proof. There is no evidence Muhammad’s scriptures came from God–and the writings attributed to him are not consistent with the teachings of the other prophets he said came before him, like Moses and Daniel and Jesus. So not only are Muhammad’s writings lacking verifiable historical proof, they are inconsistent with and contradictory to the writings of earlier prophets Muhammad himself claimed God had sent.

Maybe It’s Time to Doubt Your Doubts?

In their book, which I relied on a lot for this sermon, Kumar and Sarfati show Christianity is unique.

Christianity answers the questions of history, offers a solution to the problem of sin, removes the burden of guilt, releases from the fear of death, reverses despair into hope, and provides power to live a victorious life with God. [The conclusion] is therefore completely logical, ‘For the human sickness there is one specific remedy, and this is it. There is no other.’[23]

Every Sunday in this church we preach the Bible to show that Jesus is God’s Saviour and Solution to humanity’s deepest problems: to death, suffering, despair and sin. We preach the Gospel–that what the Bible records happened through Jesus in real history is “Good News,” hope in which God invites every human being to discover for themselves. But today let’s finish by putting Christianity to the test we used for other religions: Is it 1) Logically Consistent, 2) Factually Verifiable, 3) Existentially Liveable?

  • We saw two weeks ago, that the claims of Jesus Christ stand up to rational inquiry; that they are logical, that in fact if God exists, as the Bible gives every reason to believe, faith in Jesus is the most rational, logical, reasonable response possible. “[Logical] Absurdities which are expressed in Hinduism and Buddhism… are not found in Christianity.”[24]
  • We saw last week that the Bible is the most historically verifiable ancient book in the world. The text of our modern editions of the Bible are incredibly accurate to ancient copies dug up and discovered by archaeologists again and again. Thousands of ancient copies confirm it: There is no book like the Bible. The many historical events and details recorded in the Bible have been put to the test over and over again and found to be true. And even the hard-to-believe events, like the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead, is backed up with so much evidence, even from non-Christian sources, that it is no wonder that God invites skeptics to put the Bible to the test. The Bible does not call readers to put your trust in an abstract philosophy, or a dubious claim that “God told me to tell you this…”, but in an historical event– “the Christian faith is grounded and rooted in history.”[25]
  • But is Christianity “existentially liveable”–can you live it out in a real and authentic way?

The very concept of reality affirmed by Christianity is the concept everybody actually lives by anyway even if they don’t share the faith. This worldview fuelled Western civilization and democracy: there is right and wrong, good and evil, morality and immorality–genocide is evil; murdering children is evil; love and kindness are good; schools were built to teach literacy so that people could read the Bible; hospitals to love and care for the sick. These good things flourished in Western civilization because of Christianity and so did science. Peter Harrison, now the Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford, wrote,

It is commonly supposed that when in the early modern period individuals began to look at the world in a different way, they could no longer believe what they read in the Bible…the reverse is the case: …when in the sixteenth century people began to read the Bible in a different way, they found themselves forced to jettison traditional conceptions of the world.[26]

And again,

Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science… Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western science.[27]

“Literal interpretation” here does not mean wooden and naive, but according to rules of literary interpretation. Drs. Kumar and Sarfati agree: “scientists started to study nature in the same way they studied the Bible. Just as they studied what the Bible really said, rather than imposing outside philosophies and traditions upon it, they likewise studied how nature really did work, rather than accept philosophical ideas about how it should work…”[28]

Psalm 19 in the Bible explains that God reveals Himself in part through His Creation:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.  Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.”  (Psa 19:1-2 ESV)

The New Testament announces that God became a human, revealing Himself in a personal way, to reach out and show His love in real history, with a written record and eye-witnesses we can believe:

” And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known,and, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (Joh 1:14-18, 12).

There are many religions. But there is only one God. And Jesus Christ is how He invites us to know Him.

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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_atheism

[2] Christianity for Skeptics, Steve Kumar and Jonathan Sarfati (Creation Book Publishers, 2013), p 137.

[3] Ibid., p 138.

[4] Sproul, R.C., Objections Answered, G/L Publications, California, p. 40, 1978. Quoted in Ibid., p. 138.

[5] Kumar & Sarfati, p. 177.

[6] Sen, K.M., Hinduism, Penguin Books, Middlesex, p. 37, 1961. Quoted in Ibid., p 141.

[7] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramakrishna#Islam_and_Christianity

[8] Radhakrishnan, S. The Hindu View of LIfe, London, p. 38, 1931. Quoted in Ibid.

[9] Barbour, I., Issues in Science and Religion, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, p. 234, 1966. Quoted in Ibid., p. 144.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Quoted in Head, J. and Cranston, S.L. (Eds.), Reincarnation: The Phoenix Fire Mystery, Warner Books, New York, p. 61, 1977. Quoted in Ibid., p. 170-171.

[12] Morgan, K.W., (Ed.), The Path of Buddha, Ronald Press, New York, p. 71, 1956. Quoted in Ibid., p. 146.

[13] Ibid., 147.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Chesterton, G.K., The Everlasting Man, Hodder & Stoughton, London, p. 21, 1947. Quoted in Ibid.

[16] James, E.O, HIstory of Religions, English University Press, London, p. 190, 1956. Quoted in Ibid., p. 149.

[17] Ibid, p. 152.

[18] Neill, S., Crises of Belief, Hodder & Stoughton, London, pp. 81-82, 1984. Quoted in Ibid., p. 149.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Quoted in Lundstrom, ref. 454, p. 37. Quoted in Ibid., p. 152.

[21] Ibid., 152.

[22] http://creation.com/unfair-to-islam

[23] Ibid., p. 153.

[24] Ibid., p. 178.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Harrison, P. The Bible, Protestantism and the rise of natural science, Cambridge University Press, 2001. Quoted in Ibid., p. 132.

[27] Harrison, P. “The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23 (3):14-15, 2002. Quoted in Ibid.

[28] Ibid., p. 133.

Q4D #2: Only Idiots Believe the Bible?

(This is part 2 of a 3 part series delivered at Beacon Communities on September 14, 21, and 28, 2014. The series was titled, “Q4D: Questions 4 Doubters”.)

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Last time, I talked about the doubt whether belief in Jesus is on par with belief in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. Today I want to turn our attention to the Bible. The Bible was written over 1500 years by more than forty different authors of all kinds–generals and statesmen, shepherds, kings, a medical doctor, tax-collector, fishermen and scholars; in 3 languages–Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek; on 3 continents–Asia, Africa and Europe; in the desert, in palaces, dungeons, prisons and on the road; in war and peace; in the heights of joy and the depths of sorrow.[1] It’s safe to say no book rivals the Bible in its influence in Western Civilization or indeed on the affairs of the entire human race.

Questions Doubters Ask

But am I an idiot for believing the Bible is true? Is it blind, unreasoning faith and gullibility? Hasn’t the Bible been proven false over and over again? We don’t see miracles and resurrections happening today; we don’t hear God speaking out loud; He doesn’t send prophets anymore. Isn’t it naive to believe this stuff? Isn’t it circular reasoning to say we believe it because “the Bible tells me so”? Worse is when people say they believe the Bible because of how it makes them feel inside, or because of some rumour of a modern-day miracle, or because it’s popular, or that a celebrity believes it, or worse yet when someone is afraid some new discovery might finally prove the Bible is all a lie.[2] Serious doubters can’t understand how Christians can give intellectual assent to the idea God expects humanity to find Him in some book. So here’s the problem as I see it: we Christians believe the Bible is true, that it is God’s Word. If we believe this because the Bible says so, we don’t have a logical reason; it’s circular–our reason assumes the truth of our conclusion. Worse yet is when we believe because other people tell us to, or because a bunch of theologians have proved the Bible with evidence. That kind of faith can quickly become the kind that closes our eyes and plugs our ears against reasonable questions and new discoveries or evidence in the sciences and archaeology: It’s anti-intellectual. And then no wonder Dawkins and others like him think Christians are idiots for believing the Bible.

Questions for Doubters

But it doesn’t have to be that way: faith doesn’t have to be circular or anti-intellectual, blind or deaf. One can start by testing the Bible as a record of history. So I have two questions for  serious doubters: have you checked into the reliability of the Bible as history? And have you checked out the reliability of our copies of the Bible?

An archaeologist I read about the other day told a story about a famous mentor, I think, who once heard a younger colleague bashing the Bible while on a dig in the Canaanite city of Gezer. The older archaeologist rebuked him warning, “Well it just has a habit of proving to be right after all.”[3] To illustrate that point, he shared two other stories: one about an archaeologist named Nelson Glueck who specialized in places mentioned in the Bible and discovered 1500 sites that confirmed the Bible’s historical accuracy. Glueck once said in a lecture, “I have excavated for 30 years with a Bible in one hand and a trowel in the other, and in matters of historical perspective, I have never yet found the Bible to be in error.”[4] The second story was about archaeologist, Professor G. Ernest Wright of Harvard University, who for 30 years had taught that the Bible was wrong about Moses, the books we believe he wrote, and the time of the exodus of Israel from Egypt. Then after discoveries were made that confirmed the Bible was right after all, that Harvard professor confessed, “I’ve had to admit that I was wrong.”[5] Another scientist, Dr. Bryant Wood, has shown that likewise the city of Jericho appears to have fallen at about the time when the Bible says it did, which critics had long said was impossible.[6] Dr. Joseph Free, in Archaeology and Bible History, concludes: “Archaeology has confirmed countless passages which [were once] rejected by critics as unhistorical or contradictory to known facts.” There are a whole bunch of details in the Bible critics have long said were untrue, but many of those old doubts have been overturned and the Bible confirmed. Harvard archaeologist, Dr. William F. Albright says, “The excessive skepticism shown toward the Bible by important historical schools of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, certain phases of which still appear periodically [today], has been progressively discredited.”[7] One scholar, Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, set out to disprove the Bible with archaeology and ended up finding the Bible was accurate, and finally put his faith in Jesus.[8] 

So what about the reliability of our copies of the Bible? The authenticity of the New Testament is far greater than any other ancient manuscript. No one doubts, for example, that the version we have today of Plato’s writings are basically authentic. Yet we only have 7 ancient copies, no originals, and the oldest copy we have was made 1200 years after the original was written. Likewise with Caesar, Aristotle, Tacitus, Herodotus, Thucydides and so on: a few copies, at least a thousand years after the originals. But there exist today more than 5700 ancient copies of the New Testament documents in Greek (another 10,000 in Latin) that verify the authenticity of the one I’m holding.[9] And the oldest manuscripts are between 25-55 years after the originals! There are 10-15 copies within 100 years; 4 dozen within 200 years; 99 copies survive from before 400 AD, including a complete edition of the whole NT, the Codex Sinaiticus![10] With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946, we have copies of biblical books dating to only a few hundred years after some of the originals, giving us an amazing snapshot: taking the Hebrew Bible editions in use in the 20th century, like the Leningrad Codex, and comparing it with the Dead Sea Scroll manuscripts, we find that significant variations affect less than 1% of the text of my ESV Bible for example–and those are documented in the footnotes in these pages. And of even those variations, none of them change any point of doctrine at all.[11] If the Bible was any old secular book, no scholar would doubt it. As FF Bruce said, “…there are people who regard a ‘sacred book’ as ipso facto under suspicion, and demand much more corroborative evidence for such a work than they would for an ordinary secular or pagan writing.”[12] People don’t doubt the Bible because it’s unreliable, they doubt it because they don’t want to believe it might be true.

Maybe It’s Time to Doubt Your Doubts

Not just archaeologists like Sir Ramsay, but many people including investigative journalists and lawyers who set out to disprove or put the Bible to the test, have come away convinced it’s truly God’s Word.[13] The Bible has a way of convincing people not only that it’s trustworthy, not only that it is in fact God’s Word as it claims, but that Jesus is God in the flesh, the Divine Son of God born as a human baby to save sinners by dying the death we all deserve so that by trusting in Him we are forgiven and reconciled to our loving Creator. Once you let it speak, God’s Word tells a story from Creation to the Advent of Jesus Christ and the spread of the Christian Faith in the days of the Roman Empire that all together weaves a single story: God saves sinners through faith in Jesus Christ. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, once said, “I must confess to you that the majesty of the scriptures astonishes me; … if it had been the invention of man, the invention would have been greater than the greatest heroes.”[14] 

The Bible invites readers to test and see whether its prophecies come true and see what verdict we come to. Prophecy accounts for about ⅓ of the whole Bible. God actually dares skeptics in passages like Isaiah 41:21-23, and Isaiah 46:9-10… the Bible contains numerous prophecies of things that would happen, verified predictions that happened: Babylon destroying Jerusalem, the Jews returning later on to rebuild the city and temple, even the name of the king who would let them go (at least 100 years beforehand! e.g. Isa 6:13; 44:28). The rise and fall of four world empires, in order, with impossible details, fulfilled over a timeline of at least 1200 years after the prediction was made–the rise of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, and the breakup of Rome into the the present makeup of Europe (Dan 2, 7). These prophecies profoundly affected my faith when I first learned about them. Examining what was predicted and comparing them to history, I saw there could be no other explanation than that God revealed had the future.

But the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible are about Jesus, who was born in about 5BC, and include hundreds of prophecies given by God between 1500 and 400 years before they were fulfilled, e.g.:

  • Gen 3:15 predicted the Messiah as “the seed of the woman; the Messiah will be born into a human family, and with no human father.
  • Gen 12:1-3 predicted the Messiah will come from the line of Abraham.
  • Gen 49:9, 10 that the Messiah will come from the tribe of Judah.
  • 1 Chron 1:24 that the Messiah will come from the line of Shem.
  • Isaiah 11:1, 2, 10 the Messiah will come from the family of Jesse.
  • Isa 7:14, the Messiah will be born of a virgin.
  • Isa 9:6, 7; 16:5, the Messiah will be the heir of King David.
  • Micah 5:2, the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.
  • Psalm 22:14-18, the Messiah will be crucified.
  • Psalm 16:9-11, the Messiah will be raised from the dead.
  • Dan 9:24-27, the Messiah will fulfill prophecy, expand and confirm God’s covenant with Israel, make an atonement for sin, be killed and rejected by the Jews, specifically within 490 years from a decree of the Persian king Artaxerxes in 445BC. All these things came to pass and Jesus was crucified 484 years later, right on time.

Last week we took a hard look at whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, a mere legend or actually Lord and God, and we saw that even though it’s hard to believe, it’s harder to deny the evidence–it’s reasonable to believe Jesus was who He said He was, who the New Testament writers claimed He was. And when we look at what Jesus believed about the Bible itself, we see over and over again that He believed it is God’s Word–He even mentions as true events some of those events that are hardest for doubters to believe: the creation of Adam and Eve, Noah and the global flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s wife, Mannah in the wilderness, Moses and the bronze snake, Jonah and the whale, that Moses wrote Genesis through Deuteronomy, and that Daniel wrote his amazing book.[15] Cambridge scholar, FF Bruce, who taught at the Universities of Edinburgh, Leeds, Shefield and then Manchester, pointed out that though Jesus was critical of how the Jews had turned the true faith into a religion of rules, He agreed with them that the Bible is God’s Word.[16] 

If Jesus bears witness that the Bible is God’s Word, it’s not circular reasoning– if in fact there are good reasons to believe the Bible is a reliable historical record of what He said, and that the Bibles we have are reliable copies. It’s not circular to accept Matthew’s high view of Genesis (Mat 19:3-6), or Paul’s on Luke (1 Tim 5:18), or Peter’s on Paul (2 Pe 3:15-16). Once we move from accepting the Bible as reliable, we have to begin to wrestle with what the Bible openly reveals about who God is and what He has done. God has acted and spoken in history to make Himself known to humankind. And the Bible makes God known to us as we read and understand its message.

  • I know atheists who reject the Bible because they reject the possibility that God exists, even sometimes using circular reasoning without any evidence to shut God out. But if someone is not closed off to the possibility of God’s existence, then the things we read about in the Bible, like miracles and resurrection, are not only possible, they are inevitable.
  • If God exists, and if He cares about His creatures as the Bible shows, doesn’t it make sense that He would show Himself, reveal His power and love, intervene supernaturally in history, even come down to our level in human form, save us from our own rebellion against Him, and pave the way for a better future one day?

I can’t convince you to love the Bible as God’s Word like I do. I can’t change how you feel about it. But I do hope you’re beginning to see that Christian faith doesn’t have to be opposed to rational, thoughtful inquiry and learning. I’m even hopeful that perhaps you might question some of your doubts to see if they are as strong and convincing as are some of the reasons for accepting the Bible as a reliable witness of what God has said and done to make Himself known to us through Jesus.

51wFOjsnIXL._SL210_ NOTES

Steve Kumar and Jonathan Sarfati, Christianity for Skeptics, (Creation Book Publishers, 2013).

Jonathan Sarfati, “Presuppositionalism vs evidentialism, and is the human genome simple?”. Creation.com, [http://creation.com/presuppositionalism-vs-evidentialism-and-is-the-human-genome-simple] Accessed September 16, 2014.

Carl Wieland, “Archaeologist Confirms Creation and the Bible”. Creation.com, [http://creation.com/archaeologist-confirms-creation-and-the-bible] Accessed 9/18/14.

“The Number and Antiquity of NT Manuscripts Compared with Other Ancient Literature” in The ESV Study Bible (Crossway Books, 2008), 2587-2588.

“The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts” in The ESV Study Bible  (Crossway Books, 2008), 2585-2586.

Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Campus Crusade for Christ International, 1972).

Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Zondervan, 1998).

David Limbaugh, Jesus on Trial (Regnery Publishing, 2014).


[1] Kumar and Sarfati, Christianity for Skeptics, 112.

[2] Jonathan Sarfati, “Presuppositionalism vs evidentialism, and is the human genome simple?”.

[3] Dr. Clifford Wilson in “Archaeologist Confirms Creation and the Bible”, by Carl Wieland.

[4] Wieland, Ibid.

[5] Wieland, Ibid.

[6] Wieland, Ibid.

[7] Albright, W.F., The Archaeology of Palestine and the Bible, Revell, NY, p 127, 1935. Quoted in Kumar, 123.

[8] Kumar, 123.

[9] Kumar, 118. Also see “The Number and Antiquity of NT Manuscripts Compared with Other Ancient Literature” in The ESV Study Bible.

[10] See ESV Study Bible, Ibid.

[11] “The Reliability of the Old Testament Manuscripts”, ESV Study Bible.

[12] Kumar, Ibid., 118-119.

[13] e.g., McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict; Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ; David Limbaugh, Jesus on Trial.

[14] Dehoff, G.W., Why We Believe the Bible, Dehoff Publications, Murfreesboro, TN, p. 14, 1974. Quoted in Kumar, p. 111.

[15] Kumar, Ibid., 127-128.

[16] Ibid., 128.

Beating Up Hitler And Our Excuses for Sin

I shared this illustration recently with someone in my city in a conversation, and then again relayed the same illustration to some friends who are pastors. They told me it was a helpful approach to talking to people who excuse sin claiming to be “good people”. So I’m sharing it here on the blog in the hopes that it might be helpful to you.

This kind of conversation takes on a lot of complexity when the person we are talking with has himself been the victim of severe mistreatment. People who have suffered evil at the hands of evil-doers need our compassion, and the crimes against them cry out for justice. I believe that justice ultimately will be meted out by our holy God and Judge. But I also believe that our Holy God is a Loving Saviour who has, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, invited us to find forgiveness for our own sin. I think it was R.C. Sproul who once said, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.”

Here’s the illustration I shared with my friends:

Someone might say, “How can you say I’m a sinner and need to repent when I’m a good person?” And a little common sense shows that we’re only “good people” when we compare our goodness to someone else’s badness. What if we compared our goodness to God’s?

If you and I witness Adolph Hitler being beaten on the street by a gang of hoodlums, we would probably take pictures and cheer them on. Adolph Hitler is a bad person, so when someone treats him badly it doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

But if we then witness the same gang beating and molesting an innocent 5-year old girl, we would stop taking pictures and call the police or rush in to protect her. A 5-year old girl is certainly an innocent, good person, so when someone treats her badly it seems very bad indeed.

But what if we have mistreated God? If God is as holy, righteous and deserving of our whole worship and love forever, as the Bible claims, then even merely ignoring Him, much less, rebelling against Him and even hating Him, is infinitely worse than mistreating the most innocent child. Since God’s goodness is, according to the Bible, infinitely more good than even the most deserving of His creatures, crimes against God suddenly appear to be hideously evil–even when committed by people who compare favourably to other worse people.

7 Necessary Tactics to Beat Porn Addiction

How do you beat porn addiction? For the man or woman who has been fighting this battle for the long time, often its seems like there’s no hope in sight. When we want to change, what practical defenses can be put in place that make for lasting change?

This article is an excellent resource for fighting porn addiction. Click the links in each heading to read more about each strategy.

http://www.covenanteyes.com/2014/10/03/7-necessary-tactics-beat-porn-addiction/

When My Soul Feels Bleh

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.”  (Psa 42:5-6 ESV)

The verses above were not from my morning Scripture reading. I wouldn’t be writing this post if they had been. Because my morning reading was from Jeremiah 49-50 (following The Gospel Transformation Bible reading plan). Those chapters, full of pronouncements of judgement upon Ammon and Edom and Babylon, might be inspired but I didn’t find them very inspiring. So what do we do when our private times in God’s Word are not inspiring? Feeling “bleh” is not a new thing for Christians. Nor is it abnormal. That’s why I quoted from Psalm 42 above: it’s one of my favourite passage in which the Psalmist recognizes his soul feels bleh, or worse, despairing, and he turns back to God to fuel his joy. “My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you…”

This morning, as I struggled with feeling bleh, I was reminded of of something I had read from John Piper just a few days earlier. You see, Piper showed that we can find motivation to meditate on the Scripture when we acknowledge our desperate need for God, repenting of our sin. So, aware of my sin and my need, I sit down and open the Bible to study the words of life. Great. What then? If we leave it at that, we just end up with knowledgeable souls that still feel bleh. The next thing Piper mentioned we need to do is pray. Commune with God over what we read; meditate prayerfully on the promises we find centred in Christ throughout the Bible so that we hope in Him. But what I remembered about what I had read in Piper’s book was from the life of George Mueller, who had himself realized that Bible reading and prayer by themselves were not sufficient to cure his soul from spiritual boredom. When he discovered this, he made it his goal to have his soul “become happy in the Lord.”

Here’s the whole excerpt from John Piper’s book. The same book I quoted in my last post. The credit and source is at the bottom.

GEORGE MUELLER’S EXAMPLE
George Mueller is noteworthy for his great faith in the work of his orphanages. In his autobiography, he has a section entitled, “How to be Constantly Happy in the Lord.” He complains how for years he used to try to pray early in the morning and found that his mind wandered again and again. Then he made a discovery. He records it like this:

The point is this: I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord.

The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . Before this time my practice had been at least for ten years previously as a habitual thing to give myself to prayer after having dressed in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, while meditating, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord. I began, therefore, to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning.

The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord’s blessing upon his precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it; not for the sake of the public ministry of the word; not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon; but for the sake of obtaining food for my soul.

The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that after a very few minutes my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication; so that though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession or intercession or supplication or have given thanks, I go on to the next words or verse, turning all, as I go on, into prayer for myself or others, as the word may lead to it; but still continually keeping before me that food for my soul as the object of my meditation.

The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation and that my inner man almost invariably is almost sensibly nourished and strengthened and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful if not a happy state of heart.

Now that God has taught me this point, it is as plain to me as anything that the first thing the child of God has to do morning by morning is to obtain food for the inner man. As the outward man is not fit for work for any length of time, except we take food, and as this is one of the first things we do in the morning, so it should be with the inner man. We should take food for that, as everyone must allow. Now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and here again, not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.

By the blessing of God I ascribe to this mode the help and strength which I have had to pass in peace through deeper trials in various ways than I have ever had before; and after having now above forty years tried this way, I can most fully, in the fear of God, commend it. How different when the soul is refreshed and made happy early in the morning, from what it is when, without spiritual preparation, the service, the trials, and the temptations of the day come upon one!

From “The Marks of a Spiritual Leader“, by John Piper. (Desiring God, 2014.)

Four Steps to Spiritual Leadership

The older I get the more frustrated I am with my own spiritual immaturity. It is this immaturity which has been the cause of many mistakes in my ministries as a pastor, and much grief in my personal and family life. This immaturity grasps and strives for the things I want—to have it my way. God has been patiently revealing this weakness to me, and for a few years now He has been faithfully leading me to address the things that keep me from growing and maturing. But over the past few days, thanks to a now-retired, seasoned and mature Christian leader by the name of John Piper, I’m able to see more clearly than ever how to overcome my own spiritual immaturity and grow in the spiritual leadership I believe God has called me to exercise.

Last week, just before my family and I headed off for a week in the sun at Greenbay Bible Camp, I downloaded a new e-book by John Piper titled, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, and sent it to my Kindle to read by the lake. This is a wonderful little book! The first part of the book was very helpful to me especially because of the way Piper so clearly identifies “that sequence of events in the human soul that must happen if anyone is to take the first step in spiritual leadership.” He starts with the goal of spiritual leadership: that others will glorify God. Then he works backward from the goal to show how the spiritual leader becomes the kind of person through whom others come to glorify God.

I found it helped me take hold of these ideas by putting them in the reverse order: four steps, if you will, to becoming a person who helps others glorify God. In other words, and not to be too simplistic, “Four Steps to Spiritual Leadership”. (I recognize that a great deal more can and must be said about spiritual leadership. But as Piper puts it, these things are essentials that must be true of every spiritual leader, and should be true to some degree of every Christian.) So here are my “four steps”, taken from Piper. I hope you find these helpful as I do. If these are helpful to you, follow the link at the end to go and download Piper’s e-book for yourself and see what else he has to say about the outer qualities of a spiritual leader.

  1. Acknowledge your helplessness
    A spiritual leader, by acknowledging his helplessness and desperation, becomes motivated to spend time with and be open to the Word of God. “Once we are humbled to the point of desperation, we will be open to reading the doctor’s prescription.”
  2. Meditate on and pray over God’s Word
    A spiritual leader, by meditating on God’s Word, “especially the preaching of the person and work of Jesus, in whom all the promises of God have their yes,” is moved to trust God. As we experience God, through meditating on the Scripture, nourished in our souls by the insights He gives us into the Word, and led to respond in prayer, we are moved to put our confidence in Him through Jesus, and to repent of self-confidence and self-reliance.
  3. Love both friend and foe by trusting in God and hoping in His promises
    A spiritual leader has faith that leads to love. He has “strong confidence in the sovereign goodness of God to work everything together for his good. Otherwise he will inevitably fall into the trap of manipulating circumstances and exploiting people in order to secure for himself a happy future which he is not certain God will provide.” This person is then enabled to begin to love others in a genuine way. Not self-serving, but looking to the interests and needs of others.
  4. That others will glorify God
    A spiritual leader “brings other people to glorify God by being a person who loves both friend and foe.” When we are gripped by the reality of God’s promises to work everything together for our good, our hearts are protected from vulnerability to fear, greed, or pride and freed to show supernatural contentment and love. Spiritual leaders like this will be powerfully transformed in how they live their lives in service and love to others, and that transformation will be visible to people around them. “…Then the world will have to admit that the one who gives us hope and freedom must be real and glorious.”

Adapted from “The Marks of a Spiritual Leader“, by John Piper. (Desiring God, 2014.)