Categories
Ministry

How Should I Respond to My “Fact-Based” Friends?

It’s fairly common to talk with non-Christian friends who may, even in passing, say they struggle to believe any religion because they’re “fact-based” people (or something to that effect). Our friends may add that they “believe in” science or math because those disciplines are “fact-based.”

It puts us in a tough spot. Maybe your friend is being genuine. Maybe they are trying to push your buttons. What if they give you a chance to respond? We can’t just say, “Well, I just believe the Bible. That’s why it’s called faith, man!” That’s off-putting. It’s not compassionate. It’s also flat wrong.

So what can we say? It’s not as intimating as it seems. Start simple:

I totally agree with you! I want to—and do—believe in facts, too. 

That’s starts off the response with the right tone. If our friends already know we follow Jesus, chances are they’ll be blown away by that. But can we say more—something with depth that will get them thinking? Here’s a stab at it and something you might find helpful:

You know that I follow Jesus. But my belief in him is not based on blind faith. In fact, quite the opposite. Everything we know about Jesus happened in real time and real space, witnessed by hundreds and even thousands of people. In other words, Christianity is fact-based. Blind faith says, “Believe it because someone (maybe even God) says so.” But it doesn’t seem to me that God wants us to operate like that. Why? Because what we know about Jesus is recorded in the Bible, which is the most historically reliable ancient document in the entire world. The Bible itself, many, many times, points to the fact that it’s because of eyewitness testimony that we can believe Jesus is the God-Man, who came from outside our world to live, die, and rise again.

I’d encourage you to do some research—and I’d be happy to research with you—on every other religion out there. I’ve found that every other religion is actually not based in historical facts and events that happened in real time and space. Instead, they are products of a private vision or dream or a system created in someone’s own mind. It’s pretty amazing how consistently this is the case as we look at their origins. Yet, standing on the other side of every other religious system, is Jesus, the one who had flesh, blood, and bones; ate and drank; healed the sick; raised the dead; and died on a cross and rose from the dead. And it was all accomplished in public and written down for us. What I believe is totally fact-based. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. I completely agree with you.

Categories
Theology

Why should I believe Jesus rose from the dead?

What is the meaning of Easter and how was it understood by the early Christians? What are some reasons people should believe in the resurrection of Jesus? John Dickson, an Australian scholar, talks a bit about this:

 .

HT: Centre for Public Christianity

Categories
Theology

A Primer on Mormonism

This past week on NBC, Rock Center had an extensive story on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, popularly known as Mormonism. In that broadcast, the assertion was made that Mormons are Christians. I wrote this brief paper on Mormonism for an apologetics class this summer. It is not meant to be exhaustive by any means as I barely crack the surface on Mormon doctrine goes. This is a “bare bones” overview of Mormon belief, an evangelical critique of its main flaws, and a proposed method for sharing the gospel with Mormons.


Summary of Mormonism
Mormon doctrine begins before the earth existed, and teaches that “before we were born, we lived with God in heaven as spirits.”[1] God is a Heavenly Father, who once was a man, and is married to Heavenly Mother, and they have produced spirit children through procreation.[2] Jesus Christ, the first of these spirit children, was “brought into existence by a physical union between ‘heavenly father’ and his heavenly consort.”[3] Jesus Christ, in Mormon thought, is not eternally God, but “inherited powers of godhood and divinity from His Father.”[4]

When it comes to salvation, Mormonism teaches that redemption is found in Jesus Christ, but only “after all we can do” (2 Nephi 25:23).[5] Christ’s atonement is “fully effective” only after repentance, baptism, receiving the Holy Ghost, obeying God’s commands, receiving the sacred ordinances, and striving to be like Jesus.[6] The strongest emphasis is on obedience to God’s commandments (cf. Mosiah 2:41). Another significant aspect of Mormon soteriology is second chance salvation. Baptism can be performed for the dead so that those who rejected the Restored Gospel or never heard can be saved.[7] Everyone will eventually be saved and progress to one of the three levels of heaven. Only faithful Mormons, however, will achieve the state of godhead and become the heavenly fathers and mothers of new earths (cf. Doctrine & Covenants 132:20).[8]

Regarding holy books, the Mormons call their scriptures the “Standard Works.” They include the Bible (KJV), the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants (D&C), and the Pearl of Great Price.[9] Final authority does not rest in these works; instead “the direct revelation to a prophet or apostle is immediate and primary…the word of God in the purest sense.”[10]

Critique of Mormonism
There are numerous flaws with Mormon beliefs. Four are mentioned here.

Adapting Theology and Final Authority. Mormon doctrine is much more fluid than evangelical theology. One estimate states that important historical and doctrinal changes have been changed in the over four thousand alterations of the Book of Mormon.[11] One Mormon author admits that their doctrine must be “reincarnated, reformed, and retailored” in order to maintain its universality.[12] Though not the most powerful blow to Mormonism, it is significant. Evangelicals have strong evidence that though original manuscripts of the Christian Scriptures are not available, handwritten copies are reliable. Furthermore, not one major doctrine is at stake despite possible variants of these copies.[13] Also, as mentioned above, Mormonism holds that the prophet or apostle has final authority over Scripture. This violates what God’s word says about itself as the final authority (2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12-13; 2 Pet. 1:20-21, et al.)

The Nature of God. Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism, taught that God is not eternal and not immutable.[14] Smith taught that God once was man, and is finite, contingent, and that man may even become gods.[15] This contradicts God’s own decree that he is the only God (Isa. 43:10; cf. 1 Tim. 1:17) and has never been man (Num. 23:19). God is spirit, not flesh (John 4:24); he is immutable (Ps. 102:25-27; James 1:17), infinite (Job 36:36; Ps. 90:2), and omnipotent (Ps. 24:8; Isa. 37:16; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26). Furthermore, Mormonism teaches that “the members of the Godhead are three separate beings. The Father and the Son have tangible bodies of flesh and bones, and the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit” (D&C 130:22). The classic orthodox position, as expressed in the ecumenical creeds of the early church, is that God is trinitarian, that is, he is one essence, nature, and being, yet three in person and function (cf. Matt. 3:16-17; 28:19-20; 2 Cor. 13:14; 1 Pet. 1:2).

The Nature of Jesus. In saying that Jesus is a spirit-child of the Heavenly Father, Mormonism denies the divinity of Jesus and the Trinity as these doctrines have  historically been formulated in Christian orthodoxy.[16] As one critic writes, “The Mormon God equals a mortal man who assumed godhood…‘Jesus’ is merely a procreated being.”[17] Jesus’ divinity is thus merely derived from the Father. This contradicts countless passages that speak of Jesus as God himself (John 1:1-14; 5:18; Col. 1:15; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:1), and as eternally God with the Father who shares the same attributes (John 1:1-3; 8:58; cf. Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8).

Salvation. Finally, Mormonism denies salvation by grace through faith (John 3:15-16; Rom. 3:28; Eph. 2:8-9; Gal. 1:6). Mormon’s must make Christ’s atonement “fully effective” by adding works-righteousness to his work, thus neglecting the need for Christ in the first place (Gal. 2:21; 5:2). Essentially, the Mormon belief holds that Christ’s atonement is insufficient for man’s need.

Sharing the Gospel with Mormons
There are two ways to witness to Mormons: the apologetic way and the theological way.[18] The apologetic way may convince Mormons that Mormonism is false. This may not necessarily lead them to faith in Jesus, however. With this in mind, I propose a theological method of sharing the gospel with a Mormon, with three particular points to be stressed. This should be done with a great degree of humility, dependence on the Holy Spirit, and a sincere love for the Mormon who is made in God’s image. The greatest thing for a Mormon to hear, in their highly legalistic worldview, is that God’s grace liberates them from the burden of the law.

We are unable to perfectly keep God’s commandments. Though the Mormon gospel states that the atonement was given because of sin, it holds that in order to actually receive the atonement, we must not sin. This is an endless cycle of futility. If we are honest with ourselves, we will freely admit that we have sinned, even after confessing our need for Jesus and his work on the cross. Even the Apostle Paul admitted that he had not attained perfection after his conversion (Phil. 3:12). The law, then, was not given in order to achieve self-atonement. Rather, it was given to show us precisely that we cannot achieve salvation through works (Rom. 3:20). God’s commandments were given so that we might run to Christ (Gal. 3:24). To be certain, the law shows us what God approves of and what God disapproves of, but it was never meant to have saving power.

Christ’s righteousness becomes ours by faith. Now that we have established that we cannot keep God’s commandments perfectly, how do we get the righteousness required to be in God’s presence? Nowhere in the Bible are we told that salvation will come by works—in fact, we are told the opposite. When people approached Jesus to ask what they must be doing to do “the works of God,” he replied, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:28-29, emphasis added). Christ lived a life of obedience that sinful humans can never live (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 8:3). That is why Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus Christ is our righteousness when we have faith in him (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30; Rom. 1:17). We will progress in holiness as we mature in the Christian faith, but we will never obtain perfection. That is why Christ must be our perfection. When we trust and believe that his perfect record not only blots out our stained record but also replaces our record, we get his righteousness as our own (cf. Rom. 4:16; 22; Gal. 3:6). So much so that when God the Father looks at us, he sees Jesus, not us (Col. 3:1-4). This happens by faith alone.

Christ’s atonement is sufficient to forgive our sins. Christ’s life provides us with perfect righteousness before God, and his death on the cross provides us with the forgiveness we need to have our sins removed. Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession” (Titus 2:14). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet. 2:24). When we try to obtain perfection through our works, we essentially say to Jesus, “Your death was insufficient. It really didn’t matter. I have to complete what you lack.” Note Peter’s words: “By his wounds you have been healed.” When Christ cried, “It is finished” he gave us everything we needed to be reconciled to God. The burden of striving toward sinlessness is exhausting. Through the gospel, this burden has been lifted by Jesus who will give us the rest we have always wanted (Matt. 11:28-30).

 


[1] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Our Father’s Heavenly Plan,” http://www.lds.org/plan/ we-lived-with-god?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[2] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Exaltation,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/library/display/ 0,4945,11-1-13-59,00.html (accessed June 19, 2012); James Walker, “Mormonism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 360.
[3] Phil Roberts, “How Wide the Divide—Indeed,” Faith and Mission 17, no. 1 (Fall 1999): 41.
[4] Robert L. Millet, “What Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ,” Mormon Newsroom, http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/what-mormons-believe-about-jesus-christ (accessed August 24, 2012).
[5] Walker, “Mormonism,” 362.
[6] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Atonement,” in Gospel Principles, http://www.lds.org/manual/gospel-principles/chapter-12-the-atonement?lang=eng (accessed June 19, 2012).
[7] Walker, “Mormonism,” 361.
[8] Ibid., 361.
[9] Ibid., 357.
[10] Robert B Stewart. “Is Mormonism Christian? An Evangelical Critique of LDS Scholar Stephen E. Robinson’s Arguments For Recognizing Mormonism As Christian,” Journal of Christian Apologetics 1, no. 2 (Winter 1997): 19.
[11] Ibid., 358.
[12] Ibid., 358; Gail Turley Houston, “My Belief,” Dialogue 38, no. 4 (Winter 2005): 116.
[13] William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 122.
[14] Stewart, “Is Mormonism Christian?” 28.
[15] Roberts, “How Wide,” 40.
[16] Ibid., 41.
[17] Ibid., 39.
[18] Eli Brayley, “How to Witness to Mormons,” Credenda Blog, published on November 3, 2009, http://www.credenda.org/index.php/Theology/how-to-witness-to-mormons.html (accessed June 19, 2012).

Categories
Theology

At a Glance: Presuppositional Apologetics

Presuppositional apologetics is a method for defending the truths of the Christian faith. Presuppositional apologetics urges Christians “to presuppose the truth of Christianity and not to think they can or must arrive at Christian convictions at the end of a chain of secular reasoning.”[1] No one embarks on an investigation without any previous thinking (i.e. presuppositions), and this is certainly true for Christians who believe that God’s word is inerrant and authoritative.[2] Because of this, Christians should hold Christ as the ultimate authority not just at the end of an apologetic endeavor, but at the beginning.[3] A biblical worldview, therefore, is the foundation from which the Christian should build all opinions in apologetic debate.

Presuppositionalism is common among Reformed theologians and philosophers. Major proponents include Abraham Kuyper, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, Francis Schaeffer, Greg Bahnsen, John Frame, Vern Poythress, William Edgar, and Tim Keller.

There are five major themes of presuppositionalism.[4] First, traditional apologetics is futile because of man’s blindness to divine reality. Second, the skeptic presupposes God’s existence, even if he fails to admit it. Third, traditional apologetics foolishly honors the skeptic’s standards by not holding to the fact that belief in God is “basic.” Fourth, the burden of proof should fall on the skeptic. Fifth, apologetics should be done on a system level, so skeptics are required to defend their worldview on its own terms.

The advantages of presuppositionalism are many, but four are most significant. First, it takes into account what the Bible says about our obligation to presuppose 1) God’s revelation in all of life and 2) the unbeliever’s suppression of the truth.[5] Second, it takes seriously the fall of man and the unbeliever’s inability to reason his way to faith. Third, it understands the goal of apologetics as convincing people that God’s revelation is true and that it alone is the only basis for all reason, intelligence, and living.[6]

The major critique of the presuppositional method is the problem of circularity. With a closer look, this is not really a problem at all because the skeptic’s reasoning is circular as well. As Frame states, “It is part of the unbeliever’s depravity to suppress the truth about God, and that depravity governs their reasoning so that unbelief is their presupposition, which in turn governs their conclusion.”[7] Indeed, when arguing for an ultimate standard of truth, circular argument is unavoidable, whether one is a Christian or a skeptic.

In the final analysis, the presuppositional approach better accords with biblical doctrine than other positions.[8] The point of apologetics is to persuade someone to believe in the God of the Bible, and as Edgar notes, “Nothing else really matters. Ether God exists…or he doesn’t.”[9] For this reason, the Christian should let Christ have authority over his philosophy, reasoning, and argumentation—from beginning to end. For in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:3).


[1] Mark Coppenger, “Presuppositionalism,” in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, gen. eds. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 402.
[2] John Frame, “Presuppositional Apologetics,” in IVP Dictionary of Apologetics (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006) (accessed 6/1/2012).
[3] Greg Bahnsen, “Van Til’s Presuppositionalism,” Penpoint 6, no. 1. (January 1995)(accessed 6/12/2012).
[4] See Coppenger, “Presuppositionalism,” 402.
[5] Frame, “Presuppositional Apologetics,” (accessed 6/1/2012).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] William Edgar, “Without Apology: Why I Am a Presuppositionalist,” Westminster Theological Journal 58, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 19.
[9] Ibid.

Categories
Reviews Theology

The Reason for God (Chapter 2)

These are direct quotes from the book. If it is my paraphrase, it will marked by an asterisk (*) after the page number.

Chapter 2: How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?

Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be [a God]. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nosed skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties. If our minds can’t plumb the depths of the universe for good answers to suffering, well, then, there can’t be any! This is blind faith of a high order. (23-24)

If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know. Indeed, you can’t have it both ways. (25)

From C.S. Lewis:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?…What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?…Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies…Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. (26)

Therefore, though Christianity does not provide the reason for each experience of pain, it provides deep resources for actually facing suffering with hope and courage rather than bitterness and despair. (28)

Jesus, the God-man, underwent more evil and suffering than we could ever imagine, and he bore the agony of death on the cross. Therefore, we truly know God is Immanuel (God with us) even in our worst sufferings. (31*)

For the one who suffers, the Christian faith provides as a resource not just its teaching on the Cross but also the fact of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that the future is not an immaterial “paradise” but a new heaven and a new earth. In Revelation 21, we do not see human beings being taken out of this world into heaven, but rather heaven coming down and cleansing, renewing, and perfecting this material world….Embracing the Christian doctrines of the incarnation and the Cross brings profound consolation in the face of suffering. The doctrine of the resurrection can instill us with  a powerful hope. It promises that we will get the life we most longed for, but it will be an infinitely more glorious world than if there had never been the need for bravery, endurance, sacrifice, or salvation. (32, 33)

From C.S. Lewis:

They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. (34)