Calvary Chapel and the Southern Baptist Convention Make Historic Trade Involving Greg Laurie and Three Prospects

Phoenix, AZ – The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention was overshadowed by astonishing news of a trade between Southern Baptists and Calvary Chapel involving Harvest Crusader Greg Laurie. In exchange for the power hitting Greg Laurie, Calvary Chapel will receive the top three prospects from the graduating class of Southern Seminary in 2018. The three prospects will go straight from Southern Seminary into Calvary Chapel’s minor league training program where they will be taught the Calvary Distinctives involving end times, spiritual gifts, and verse-by-verse preaching.

Calvary Chapel Association pastor Raul Ries gave us his thoughts on the motives behind the trade saying, “Greg has been a tremendous asset to Calvary Chapel over the years and it was a tough decision to let him go. For us, it really had to do with where we are headed as an organization. We are looking for fresh, young talent that can be the future of the organization. We need guys that will take us up to the rapture since it seems to be a little further off due to the relative peace in Israel right now and no sign of the Antichrist.”

When asked about the fairness of the deal, Ries said, “They initially tried to offer us the top three graduates from Southwestern Seminary. We then countered the offer by trying to get a straight deal for David Platt. In the end, we settled on the top three graduates from Southern next year.”

The SBC handed the reigns over to Southern Seminary president Albert Mohler to work out the details of the deal. Mohler, clearly fatigued after not sleeping for over a month said, “I have put too much effort into practically saving the convention from its demise thirty-plus years ago, and I am going to do everything I can now to get us where we should be. Even though Greg is past his prime, we think he has a few years left to perform at a level that is adequate for what we need.”

With numbers waning in SBC membership, the convention saw that it was time to make a deal that would increase membership in the short and long term. As part of the deal, the Southern Baptist Convention will acquire the 15,000 members in Laurie’s congregation of Harvest Church in Riverside as well as 50% of the hands raised to receive Christ at every Harvest Crusade. Also, as part of the deal, the SBC will provide uniforms for Calvary Chapel pastors consisting of Tommy Bahama shirts and flip-flops until Laurie retires.

*Just in case it’s not clear, this article is meant to be satirical.

The Great Mormon Indictment: Part 2

“We believe in the Bible so far as it is translated correctly. The Bible has been corrupted by men over the years and cannot be trusted by itself as the Word of God.” This is the bold claim made by Mormons in an effort to subvert the reliability of the Bible and to prop up their claim that the Book of Mormon is the most correct book on earth and should be seen as the restoration of God’s Word to people. The problems with this claim are too numerous to tackle in one article, so I will do my best to restate some things I have said in conversations with Mormon missionaries. I will also include some information that I gave to the Mormons in order to show them that the Bible is reliable.

The first question I asked after the Mormons made the claim that the Bible was trustworthy insofar as it is translated correctly was, “How do you know which parts are translated correctly and which parts aren’t translated correctly?” I am not joking when I say that their reply was, “That’s a good question. We don’t really know.” I was stunned but also very appreciative of their honesty. I then said, “Okay, as far as I am concerned, if any part of the Bible is wrong, corrupted, or untrustworthy, then you have to throw the whole thing out.” The reality is that we should not trust anything as the Word of God if it has been corrupted or made untrustworthy. That would seem to indicate that God doesn’t have enough sovereignty over his Word in order to preserve it.

It is very common for those who get into conversations with Mormons on this matter to jump right to the contradictions and issues with the Book of Mormon. This has its place, but lets first address the claim that the Bible is corrupt. I am not an expert in biblical transmission, but I know enough to at least be convinced myself that the Bible is totally and completely reliable. And this is exactly where I took the Mormons to show them that the Bible is reliable. I am not going to get into every detail, but there is a brief and easy-to-read article here on Bible transmission from Bible.org.

As is relates to reliable manuscripts, there is no other document that even comes close to the Bible. The Bible has tens of thousands of manuscripts from various text types. You would think that with the number of manuscripts from a number of text types that it would surely lead to significant changes and variations within the biblical text, however, it has proven quite the opposite. No doubt there are variations within the text types, but nothing that has lead to or demanded a change in absolute doctrinal issues. These changes are often noted with some sort of indicator that would lead to a foot note that says something like, “some manuscripts read…”

These were the kinds of things relating to Bible transmission that I explained to the Mormons the first time we met, and by the time I was a ways into it they had to leave.  Before they left, they asked if I could explain more about the transmission of the Bible when they came back the next time. Thankfully, there was a next time and I decided to start with the scribal tradition of the Masoretes.  You can read about some of the rigorous requirements for copying the biblical text under the Masoretic scribal tradition in section B of the article linked above on Bible.org. Needless to say, I used to make my students do a project that required them to copy a Bible passage using just a few of the standards from the Masoretic scribal tradition, and it was a project that no student has ever forgotten.

Prior to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1948, the earliest Old Testament manuscripts in existence were from the Masoretes from around 900 A.D. When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, there were Old Testament texts found that date back to as early as 200 B.C. What they realized when they compared those early texts to those of the Masorets is that the texts were virtually the same in every way. This goes to show how careful the Masoretes were in copying the text and that their texts were completely reliable without the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. But, it sure is nice to have those scrolls.

In terms of the New Testament, some of the thousands of manuscripts we have date back to the beginning of the second century. The Rylands Library Papyrus P52 is the oldest manuscript fragment of the New Testament that contains a small portion of John’s Gospel and dates to 100-125 A.D. If the dating of of John’s Gospel is correct then that would put the fragment within five to thirty years of its original penning. While many of the early manuscripts of the New Testament are dated later than this, what shows their reliability is their consistency throughout the years of transmission.

If the biblical text has been tampered with, corrupted, or changed in any significant way from the originals, it would have had to be one of the greatest and most successful conspiracies of all time that only the Mormons have noticed. As it relates to the Mormon claim that the Bible is corrupted, I am taken back to the question of how they know which parts of the Bible have been corrupted, because if they are going to use the Bible at all and if it has been corrupted, they would have to know what parts have been tainted. My guess is that, according to them, any part of the Bible that conflicts with Mormon doctrine has been corrupted. This would be difficult for at least one reason. This would mean that the purpose of corrupting the Bible would be to undermine Mormon doctrine. It is hard to spot any hint of explicit Mormon doctrine prior to 1830 when the Mormon church was officially organized. None of the thousands of manuscript copies from the different text types hints at any of the alleged corruption. With the insurmountable manuscript evidence that shows the Bible is reliable, and considering the incredible conspiracy that would have to take place to replace Mormon doctrine in the Bible without anyone noticing until 1830 makes the Mormon claim that the Bible has been corrupted far too fantastic.

There is another significant problem with the Mormon claim that the Bible has been corrupted, especially as it relates to the BOM, that I will illustrate with part of the conversation I had with Mormon missionaries that also included a former Mormon bishop. I said, “In light of you claiming that the Bible has been corrupted despite the overwhelming manuscript evidence against the claim, the Book of Mormon claims to be the most correct book on earth, yet there is absolutely no manuscript support to show that it is the same or at least similar to the original source because the golden plates were taken back to heaven (as the story goes).” The former bishop’s response was, “I have an 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon if you would like to see it.” I said, “That’s great, but that is not what I am talking about. I may have a 1611 edition of the King James Bible, but that doesn’t prove that it is the same or similar to the original source texts.” My point is not is not to turn the focus to the BOM. My point is that it’s a pretty audacious thing to claim that the Bible is corrupt despite the manuscript evidence against the claim while at the same time having to come to terms with the fact that the BOM has absolutely no original source text to compare to in order to know that it is reliable.

What I have stated above is just a synopsis of the conversation I had with Mormon missionaries with just some of the evidence I showed to make the case that the Bible is reliable. In the end, I asked them plainly, “After showing you the support for the reliability of the Bible, do you trust that the Bible is actually reliable?” I was stunned when both of them shook their heads in affirmation that they indeed believed that the Bible was reliable. I can’t take credit for the progress because I was merely presenting evidence that God, in his sovereignty, displayed for us to know that his Word is trustworthy. From there, we encouraged the missionaries to read the Bible as if it can be fully trusted. Then, from there, I just prayed that the Holy Spirit would work.

If you are a Christian and are reading this, please understand that Mormons are just as lost as the rest of the world and need the true gospel that the Bible speaks of. We were only able to get to this point with the Mormon missionaries because we did our best to develop trust. We brought them into our home, fed them, and treated them as people who needed the real Jesus. As a result, our conversations with them happened on almost a weekly basis for close to a year. Being confrontational and staying on the offensive does not get anywhere. Knowing the flaws of Mormonism is helpful to a degree, but keep in mind that most people who come out of Mormonism become atheist or agnostic because they are told their whole lives that if Mormonism isn’t true then nothing is. We have to be ready to give them something instead.

If, by chance, you are Mormon and reading this, it is perfectly appropriate to seek out answers to know that something is true besides just praying about it. When we pray to God to know that something is true and evidence comes along that affirms or denies something being true, it is perfectly acceptable to look into it.  Having faith does not mean we accept something to be true despite the lack of evidence. We must consider the role that reason plays with faith. But, I also know what you are up against. I asked the Mormon missionaries what would happen if they rejected Mormonism. What they said was heart-breaking. They said they would lose their family, their friends, their community, and ultimately their sense of belonging with everything they have ever known. This is why I know it is so hard for you to think of what would happen if you began to ask questions that might display doubt. I can assure you that the Jesus of the Bible is infinitely worth every bit of loss that would you would incur for rejecting the Jesus of Mormonism. Paul says something like this in Philippians 3:8 where he says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order than I may gain Christ.”

The Great Mormon Indictment: Part 1

“We are the one true church. After all, look at how many different churches you Protestants have. How do you know which one is the correct one?” The foundation of Mormonism hangs on this question. As the story goes, Joseph Smith and his family lived in Palmyra, New York at a time of religious revival after the Second Great Awakening. There were a number of different Protestant denominations in the immediate area. Smith claims that he wanted to know which of the denominations he should join, and after coming across James 1:5, he prayed to God and asked which of the churches he should join. Smith then had a vision of God the Father and God the Son telling him that he shouldn’t join any of the churches because they were all wrong. Smith then claims to have had a series of visions over the course of the next decade that led to the establishment of the Mormon church.

It is of great benefit to read about the establishment of the Mormon church in more detail, but the purpose of this post will be to address the Mormon indictment that there are many Protestant denominations and, therefore, there can be no way to know which one is correct. Mormonism claims to solve the problem by being the “one true church”, and we have Joseph Smith to thank for being the prophet to establish the one true church. The claim I will make is that it was completely unnecessary for Joseph Smith to start his own church.

What I realized in the course of my conversations with Mormon missionaries is that the claim that it is impossible to know which Protestant denomination is correct comes from the Mormons’ lack of understanding in denominational history and formation. The helpful tool that I used to explain denominational differences is the classification of doctrine done in what Albert Mohler calls theological triage. You can read the article Mohler wrote about the issue here. This is not only helpful for Mormons but it also helpful for Protestant Christians to think through why we have denominational differences.

In short, theological triage employs the same practices the emergency room doctors and nurses do when sorting through the urgency of medical issues but with theological matters. When a person comes into an emergency room, someone with a gunshot wound to the chest is going to be treated with greater urgency than someone with a broken arm. And someone with a broken arm is going to be treated with greater urgency than someone with a migraine headache. With that idea in mind, Christians treat certain doctrines with greater importance than others. I call these different categories of importance: absolutes, convictions, and preferences. Absolutes are of first-level of importance and cannot be compromised on. Convictions are of second-level importance and depending on what it is, these things can be seen as less important than others. And the third-level of importance is preferences, which are still important, but of less importance than convictions or absolutes.

So, what kind of things belong in each of these theological categories of triage? Here is a helpful visual that would show what kinds of doctrines or theological issues we would put in each category:

theological triage

When we consider the importance of absolute or first-importance doctrine, none of the doctrines in the absolute category can be taken out. For example, if you take the deity of Christ as anything other than first-importance, then you don’t have it. Also, if you take anything that is of second or third-importance and put it in the category of first-importance, you don’t have it. In general, the things of second or third-importance stay in those categories, however, it is possible for some things to move up or down in second or third-importance.

Here’s where it matters. Typically, we see denominational differences occur in doctrines of second-importance. For example, Baptists and Presbyterians differ on the issue of who gets baptized. Baptists hold to believer’s baptism while Presbyterians will baptize infants. Both sides have good reasons for doing so, although, I side with the Baptist mode of baptism. However, I still call Presbyterians my brothers and sisters in Christ because we hold the same absolutes.

This is where the claim of the Mormon church to be the one true church fails. It was completely unnecessary for Joseph Smith to start his own church. While Protestants may have a number of denominations based on doctrinal convictions, Protestants are still one true church because of the absolutes we hold together. This is also why we cannot include our Mormon friends in our one true church because as you look at our theological triage model, there are a number of doctrines that Mormons take out of first-importance, and there are a number second-importance doctrines that they put as first importance.

How then do we answer their question of how we know which denomination is correct? The answer is that they all are correct in terms of absolutes. And while we may have more than warm debates about convictions, what makes us still one true church are the absolutes we hold in common. And as a side note, we can pose the same question back to Mormons which they must answer differently. They claim to have the one true church, but there are plenty of different off-shoots of the LDS church that practice different things, like polygamy in the RLDS church which boasts 250,000 members. How do we know with branch of Mormonism is true?

When I first explained theological triage to a couple of Mormon missionaries, they demanded to know more. The next time they came back I clarified some things, and they came to a greater understanding as to why Protestants have different denominations. I told them that having different denominations is really no problem at all when considering who has the one true church. Though we may differ on issue of second and third-importance, we still hold doctrines of first-importance together. We have seen things like this in the Bible where Paul and Barnabas hold different convictions on whether or not to take John Mark with them. Even after the disagreement and separation, both parties went on missionary journeys to proclaim the gospel.

As far as the great Mormon indictment regarding the Bible, that will come in part 2. For now, as far as I can tell, there was no need for Joseph Smith to start his own church. There is no indictment that can stand against Protestants having multiple denominations. The true gospel has always been proclaimed in these churches even if their methods, convictions, and preferences might be different. In the end, there’s not only a lesson for Mormons to learn, but there’s a lesson for all Christians to understand that having these differences is perfectly acceptable and should be discussed in the most cordial of fashions.

 

Worship Leaders, Please Stop

Let me be clear and say that not all worship leaders do the things that I’m writing about, but enough of them do to warrant another blog post on the issue. And let me qualify my term of worship to mean what almost everyone thinks of when they hear the word “worship” as the music portion of a church service. Of course, worship cannot be reduced down to just music, but for the sake of my post, that is what I will be referring to. Here is my list of “please stop” with some reasoning behind it:

1. Worship leaders, please stop choosing repetitive and theologically shallow songs

There is a reason why people love to sing hymns; they are overflowing with theological truth that people enjoy drinking from. The hymn writers often times wrote out of anguish because of trials or battles with sin. Go ahead and read the story behind the writing of the hymn It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford, and try to tell me that you weren’t on the verge of tears reading the lyrics after reading the story. It is often under the weight of sorrow, anguish, and guilt that church members are hobbling into church. They need to hear things that instruct them on who God is and what he has done. Don’t expect the whole church to come in on Sunday morning beaming and ready to launch into a concert rendition of Happy Day by Tim Hughes. While Christ’s work can and does make people excited, how can we take them to the excitement without going to the beginning of the story? More on that in number 6.

2. Worship leaders, please stop choosing songs that are theologically inaccurate

This is one of the major breakdowns in modern worship. Worship leaders, take a moment and think about your reasoning behind the songs you choose in your set? Does it relate to the sermon about to be preached? Does it follow a progression that will move people to respond in mind, heart, or action? Or is it simply because people like to sing that song, or that your musicians really shine when they belt it out? At this point we begin to compromise theology for showmanship. I’ll go after just two examples to keep it short. First, as much as people love her, Kari Jobe has gone off the shallow end theologically. See what I did there? Her song The More I Seek You is a classic example of a Jesus-is-my-boyfriend number. The lyrics are a little creepy, okay a lot creepy, and as a guy I can’t bring myself to sing it. It’s about Jesus’ love, but it does not at all relate to the way that Christ loved us. It paints a picture of romantic love that we experience when we cuddle with Jesus or an actual boyfriend. The Bible says that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (see Romans 5:8). Or John 3:16, “This is how God loved the world, that he gave his only son…”, or 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” It is clear in Scripture that Christ shows his love by dying, not by cuddling us. And no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to even speak of it that way metaphorically.

My second example is similar in the song You Won’t Relent by Misty Edwards. When you consider the inspiration for the lyrics of this song, an obvious issue presents itself. The song is based on Song of Songs 8:6 that says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” It doesn’t take difficult exegetical work to know what the book and this passage are about. Just reading the passage in context makes it clear. This is not the love of God being talked about here. It is the love between two people. Just consider v. 3, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me.” Yikes! It doesn’t take incredible imagination to understand what this means. And this is the song that we sing to God! I think I’ll stop here and address the issue of where this song comes from in Bethel Music.

3. Worship leaders, please stop choosing songs from Jesus Culture and Bethel Music

I’m going to come right out and say it, Jesus Culture and the place they come from, Bethel Church in Redding are the worst of modern heretics. There is plenty of material out there explaining the heresy coming from Bethel, Bill Johnson, and others in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), so I am not going to repeat a lot of it here. There are inherent flaws within the Christology that Johnson adheres to. One major heresy claimed by Johnson is that Jesus did his miracles as a mere man and not as God. His point is that we have the same authority and power as Jesus, we just have to realize it and exercise it like Jesus did. They also do weird things called “spirit toking” where they go to the graves of Christians who have died to try and soak up their anointing. You can also find plenty of videos on YouTube of “glory clouds” of glitter that have appeared in Bethel services, and the way people respond to it is not exactly similar to how people respond in the Bible to seeing God’s glory. In the Bible, when people see God’s glory, they do things like fall on their face in fear and terror (see Isaiah 6). But, at Bethel, people get their phones out and take pictures. Of course, you skeptics can also watch Bill Johnson’s response to the glory clouds here. On the other hand, you can get a more thorough analysis of what is going on at Bethel by watching Drunk in the Spirit from Wretched Radio.

You might say, “Well, Jesus Culture has some really good songs and the youth love to sing them.” First, I would encourage you to put their songs through the theology test. Second, people must realize that the vehicle for the theology/heresy of Bethel is through the music of Jesus Culture. Young people are going to the conferences and concerts by the thousands and being exposed to the preachers and propagators of the New Apostolic Reformation. Because of that, I would strongly encourage you to stop playing their music. Once people hear the song and like it, they will want to know who it’s by, and before you know it, they are listening to the “apostles” of the NAR. The slope really is that slippery.

4. Worship leaders, please stop over-spiritualizing worship

There really is nothing wrong with liturgy if liturgy is used properly. But, we have become so sensitive to legalism that our services have no rhyme, reason, or structure because we “want to let the Spirit lead.” The Spirit can still lead when we have a structured service. That is actually how the Spirit leads in a service. The worship service should essentially be a retelling of the gospel. See the model of service laid out by Bryan Chapell in his book Christ-Centered Worship. The Spirit leads by conviction in the way we structure our service after the story of the gospel. Having a Spirit-led service does not mean we just throw things to the wind and watch how it falls.

Worship pastors should realize that planing the music service should take almost as much time as it takes for a pastor to prepare a sermon. Coordinate with the pastor on the passage he will be preaching on and study it. Continually ask yourself why certain songs are being placed in the set. Also, understand that what you say in between songs is just as important as the songs that are sung. Too often worship leaders take the stage and immediately strike the first chord expecting peoples’ hearts to be ready for what they are about to do. Maybe do some sort of explanation of the chorus of the next song, or read a passage, or give the background story to the song, like It Is Well With My Soul mentioned above.

5. Worship leaders, please stop asking God to “fill this place with his Spirit”

I’ll be quick with this one. We have all heard people pray this in church services. What we have to remember is that God doesn’t dwell in a building, he hasn’t for thousands of years. What the Bible clearly tells us is that that Spirit dwells in God’s people (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3:16). So, if you want more of God’s Spirit in the service, just bring in more people.

6. Worship leaders, please stop fishing for outbursts of enthusiasm

One of the best pieces of analysis on this issue comes from Alistair Begg at a recent Ligonier conference. But, worship leaders need to stop getting their affirmation on whether or not they are doing a good job from how enthusiastic people are in service. Please stop accusing people of still being asleep and making them feel guilty for not screaming, shouting, and whistling like they would at a football game. Excitement is not the only reaction that people have when singing in worship. If that is the response that should happen, have you done anything to lead us there? Essentially, if you didn’t get a response that you thought should have happened, it’s probably your fault. People will give you an “amen” if you have given them something to shout “amen!” for.

One last thing on this issue, and this is critical. Just because someone is singing, dancing (not at a baptist church), shouting, and clapping their hands does not give any indication of where they are at spiritually. Much in the same way, just because someone is standing still in the service and not singing at all is no such indication on their spiritual state either. There are times when I sing loudly and clap my hands, but there are also times where I stand quietly and listen to the lyrics being sung.

If you have read this far, my challenge to you is to think biblically about worship service. If you are someone in the congregation, how do you assess what “good” worship is? If you are a worship leader, just because you do or have done the things I mentioned above does not mean you are a bad worship leader. My challenge to you, again, is to think biblically about where people need to be led in worship. In the end, people should be led through the gospel and to the cross. All of this is done by showing who God is and what he has done. That is also why theology matters in worship. I’ll finish on the importance of that with a quote by Joshua Harris where he says, “I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.”

What is the Gospel?

If I were to ask you what you are into as far as a hobby, or skill, or anything else you enjoy doing, what would that be? Would you be able to tell me with some detail as to why that thing is so great, or be able to tell me how I could do that thing? In recent years, I have become an avid ocean and wave photographer. Living in California, I have grown up with a love for the ocean. I have surfed for over ten years, and have been going to the beach for twice as long. A few years back, my in-laws got me a GoPro camera and immediately I realized I needed to start doing cool things. I decided I wanted to start taking pictures of waves in the water. In the time since then, I have sold some of my images, I picked up sponsorships from a few companies, my images have been featured on websites, and I have made my wife get out of bed hours before the sun comes up to go with me to shoot waves at sunrise to get the perfect lighting.

I wouldn’t say I am a professional or expert at ocean and wave photography, but I could easily sit for hours and tell you what spots to shoot waves at, what time of day to go, what conditions to look for, proper techniques for getting the perfect shot. I actually don’t know everything about ideal camera settings, but I could tell you enough about it to at least get started. The point is, I can’t tell you everything there is to know about wave photography, but I can tell you and show you enough that you could do it yourself. And if you are in southern California the offer is out there.

But, I say all this to say that it is very easy for us to talk about and explain things we are good at or we find important. We might not be able to explain everything, but we could, at the very least, tell people the most important or crucial things they would need to know in order to do it themselves or be decently informed.

I have to admit that for a long time after becoming a Christian, I could not tell you what the message of the gospel was. You might ask, “how do you know you were saved if you couldn’t explain what the gospel was?” Great question. I knew that I had repented of my sin, and placed my trust in Christ, but I could not tell you exactly why all that was necessary. Since that was the case, I was virtually no good for the kingdom because I didn’t know the gospel well enough to tell others.

In the last six or so years, I have taught the Bible in a number of different settings. There is always something that I love to press on those I am teaching, and that is their knowledge of the gospel. I don’t think there is anything more crucial in Christianity than a believer’s knowledge of the gospel. I typically pose the question something like this, “how many of you would agree that in order for a person to be saved, they have to believe the gospel message?” Sometimes the question needs some clarification, but I can get most people in a room to agree with me when I ask the question. Once that happens, I ask, “Then who can tell me what the gospel is?” I then get nothing but quietness and blank stares. After a few seconds of awkward silence, one person will sheepishly start raising their hand. I quickly jump to call on them and ask them to assume that I am not a Christian, and ask them to tell me what the gospel is. They usually say something like, “Jesus came and died on the cross for our sins so that we can go to heaven.” While this is absolutely true, a statement like this leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Who is Jesus? Why did he die? What are sins? It’s amusing to watch other people with a look on their face that shows their relief that they are not the one on the spot. This then leads into a wonderful discussion on what the gospel actually is.

I don’t do this for the sake of making people doubt their salvation, but I do want them to seriously consider it. If we truly believe that a person needs to believe the gospel message in order to be saved, then how do we know we are saved by it if we cannot properly articulate what the gospel is? Aside from that, how can we impact the kingdom at all if we don’t know the gospel well enough to tell others? After all, making disciples of all nations is what we are commissioned to do (See Matthew 28:19). Disciple-making begins with bringing people into obedience to Christ through proclamation of the gospel.

Think back to the story I told in the beginning about my hobby for wave photography. I may not be an expert or know everything, but I can definitely tell how to get started and even become decent at it. I could thoroughly explain and even demonstrate for hours, and do it happily. You could probably do the same with something you find important or enjoy doing. Why is it so different for Christians when it comes to something so important as the gospel? Hopefully, we can all get to the point where we might not know everything or consider ourselves an expert in theological matters, but we would be able to thoroughly explain for hours what it is to be a Christian, and do it happily. Is there any greater joy than being used by God to proclaim the good news about what he has done for us in Christ? In order to experience this joy, we must have a good understanding of what the good news is.

By now you are probably saying, “Okay, what do you say the gospel is?” First, let me give credit where it is due for the way I explain the gospel. It comes from a model set out by the book What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. I would imagine Gilbert wouldn’t want credit for this method for explaining the gospel because ultimately the credit belongs to God, but I am going to at least give Gilbert some credit. The method covers four crucial components: God, man, Jesus, and the response. My explanation of the gospel goes something like this:

There is a God who is creator of all things and is completely sovereign over his creation. God is also righteous and holy. This means that he always does what is right and just, and he is absolutely and morally pure. God created man in his image to be holy like him, however, man rebelled against God, and now all humanity is cursed with a sin nature. Since God is holy, he cannot be in right relationship with sinners or look favorably on sin. Since God is just, this demands him to respond to sin with his wrath and judgment. In other words, God must punish sin because he is a just judge. Humanity is sinful, but also depraved. This means that humans are not only sinful, but they have no ability to change or remedy their situation before God. In order for God to look favorably on sinners without punishing them, the price for sin has to be paid, and their sin has to be atoned for. God loves sinners so much, that he offered grace and mercy through Jesus coming and paying the price for sin that we owe. Christ suffered under God’s wrath on our behalf by dying on the cross. But, he resurrected as proof that the debt for sin has been paid. Christ paid the price for our sin, but he also gave us his righteousness. Now, if our response to this good news is to repent of our sin and place our trust in the finished work of Christ then we will be saved. However, if we reject God’s offer of grace and mercy we are still under his wrath because Christ’s atoning work does not apply to us and we will pay the price for sin.

This is just an outline I follow in explaining the gospel, and it would obviously look different in a conversation setting. Plus, I would want to point people to Scripture where it attests to these things. However, what I have written above can be explained to someone in a matter of minutes, and sometimes that is all we might have with a person who needs to hear the gospel.

Something I want to leave you to consider is: can you explain the gospel with the same effectiveness that you could with something you are good at or enjoy doing? If the gospel is as important as we say it is—probably the most important of all things—then we should be able to communicate it more clearly than anything we are good at or enjoy doing. Because as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”

The Atheist’s Problem of Evil

This is my write-up paper on a project I did for my theology class on the Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil has plagued scholars and Christians for centuries, and many attempts have been made to solve the problem in order to explain the existence of God in light of the existence of evil. The Problem of Evil can be stated as follows:

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and moral perfect. Since God is omniscient he knows when evil exists. Since God is morally perfect he should want to do away with evil. Since God is omnipotent, he has the power to do away with evil. Evil does exits. Therefore, either God doesn’t know when evil exists — making him not omniscient — or God does want to do away with evil — making him not morally perfect — or God does not have the power to do away with evil — making him not omnipotent. Therefore, God does not exist.

Since the Problem of Evil is somewhat simple in its form and the arguments in defense are complex in their form, many Christians resort to conclusions of the problem that are insubstantial. What we fail to realize is that the Problem of Evil creates just as great of a problem, if not more of a problem, for the atheist as it does the theist. There is no question as to whether the Christian believes that there is objective morality. However, what will determine the way an atheist must articulate the Problem of Evil will be whether or not they believe in objective morality.

CAN SCIENCE DETERMINE ABSOLUTE VALUES?

And this is the essential question when considering the Problem of Evil: is there objective or absolute truth in regards to morality? In order for a person to use the Problem of Evil as a proof that God does not exist, then they must believe in an objective standard for morality and what is good. If one does not believe in objective morality and that morals are relative and merely preference, they cannot be in the position to call anything evil. The person who holds to this stance can only state that they do not prefer the evil that they are observing, and even still, they cannot call it “evil.”

This is why I appreciate the effort of Sam Harris to make a case for objective moral values as an atheist, however, his method and route to arrive at his conclusion that moral values can be explained by science is lacking in the first step. In his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Harris says, “I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.”[1] What Harris fails to do is state how he knows what the best life possible is, or better yet, why living the best life possible is the standard for which absolute morality should exist as a guide.

In order to make assertions about human flourishing and living the best possible life, Harris hides behind his remarkable ability to appeal to emotion and pity. He frequently uses examples of tremendous human suffering to get his audience to agree that human flourishing is the best scenario versus human suffering and oppression. No one would disagree with Harris that human flourishing is good and human suffering is bad, but by what standard are we to measure human flourishing? The point is that Harris and others leap over the first hurdle to state what should be without giving a definition or standard to measure the way things should be. Science itself can never be a standard for morality since science must use rules and standards to arrive at conclusions. Therefore, science cannot make any claim on the way things ought to be when considering morals and values. If science is the tool that we use to gauge our morality and values, we should expect some very specific outcomes. Why are so many people divided on what is of value and moral? One of the goals of science is to weigh the facts and come to precise conclusions. If science is the tool we are to use to conclude what is moral and of value, then it is an unreliable tool because there is so much disagreement on what is of value. Plus, scientific conclusions are also based on how one interprets facts. A better explanation for the variety of positions on values is to say that there is a standard, but we as humans distort what we ought to do by our sin. Harris has a long up-hill battle if he truly desires all people to use science to determine their values.

MAKING JUDGMENTS ABOUT EVIL PROVES GOD EXISTS

In the atheist’s attempt to disprove God’s existence by using the Problem of Evil, they end up right back where they started by acknowledging that evil is not the way it is supposed to be. There is nothing that can suggest the way things ought to be besides one who ultimately says the way things ought to be. The atheist would have to explain where this feeling or compulsion of “oughtness” comes from. Harris tried to state that science is able to tell us what we ought to do, but once again, he fails to show where the compulsion of “ought” comes from. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes what he calls the “Law of Nature” as being the thing that gives us our sense of right and wrong. It is not so much what we say is right or wrong, but that we say anything is right or wrong. Regardless of what one calls right or wrong, there is still a sense of ought that a person cannot ignore. Even a relativist who would make moral judgments on whether another society’s values are better or worse are comparing the two systems to a standard, and in doing so, they are saying that one system conforms better to that standard than the other. One would not be able to call the values of Nazi Germany evil; they would only be able to call it a difference in preference.

Lewis is also helpful in addressing the objections a person could raise based on the injustice of the universe. A person who uses an argument like the Problem of Evil can’t see how God could exist because of the cruelty and injustice in the world. But, where does a person get the idea of something being unjust? They are comparing an evil event or idea to a standard that demands things to be a certain way. Being the master of analogy, Lewis says, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”[2] On the other hand, a person would not have anything to say in a situation where there is nothing to compare it to. In an analogy on this idea, Lewis says, “A man feels wet when he falls into water, because a man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.”[3] If there were no Law of Nature then we would not have anything to say in regards to evil, cruelty, and injustice. We would be like the fish swimming around in the ocean completely unaware of the fact that it is wet. But, we know the fish is wet because we have something to measure its wetness against, much in the same way we can make moral judgments on evil, cruelty, and injustice because we have the Law of Nature to measure it against. A person could say that they aren’t making any judgments based on any law but on their own ideas. If this is the case, Lewis says that their whole argument against God crumbles. On this he says,

“Of course I could have given up on 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 would collapse too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense.”[4]

What Lewis does here is drive home the point that the complaint against God in the Problem of Evil could not be made without a law to measure evil by, and in this way, God will be found to be the one who gives the law to measure evil by, and thus, showing that the Problem of Evil makes a case for God’s existence instead of against it.

HOW DO WE ANSWER THE PROBLEM?

There have been many attempts to solve the logical Problem of Evil at a great expense to the character and attributes of God. It is still possible to explain the existence of evil while still maintaining the integrity of God’s attributes. There have been responses made to the problem of evil in complex form by scholars like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and others. But for a more simple explanation I will go back to Lewis. He says,

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either right or wrong. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love goodness or joy worth having.”[5]

What this shows is that the existence of evil in the world is compatible with the existence of God. What we realize is that the atheist is sawing off the branch they are sitting on. They need God to exist in order to call anything evil while they are making the argument that he doesn’t exist using the Problem of Evil.

EXPLANATION OF PROJECT

For my project I created a series of photos using a technique called “forced perspective” where the creator uses optical illusions to make objects appear to be out of sync with reality. Often times it is done by scaling objects using different camera angles and vantage points. My desire was to create something where there is no standard or measurement that can be used to orient the reality of the photo. When looking at the photo, a person takes immediate issue with the objects in the photo because they get a sense that it is not supposed to be the way that it appears. When a person looks at the picture long enough, they use the standards for the objects that they already have in their minds to make sense of the picture. This is not a perfect example, but when you take away anything that would orient the objects in the optical illusion, it leaves a person searching for something to give them a frame of reference for how things are supposed to be in the picture. This goes to show that we can only make sense of the picture by bringing in things that we already know in order to orient the objects. In the same way, we can only know values and moral meaning when we bring in something (the Law of Nature) as a standard to orient us to the way that things are supposed to be.

sunmoon

 

[1]             Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print. 1.

[2]             Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. Print. 41.

[3]             Lewis, 41.

[4]             Ibid, 41.

[5]             Ibid, 49.

Who Should I Thank?

Imagine you are sitting in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter who is with you if anyone. You have just finished your three-course meal which involved pan-seared brussel sprouts with bacon bits; a main course of grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and vegetables; and a dessert of apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. That was me imagining myself there. When the server comes to pick up your plates, he or she sets down the bill and says, “Someone paid for your meal in full already, have a nice evening.” What comes to your mind immediately? You will probably insist that the server tell you who did it. If that’s the case, why would you insist that the server tell you who paid for your meal? It is more than likely because you feel compelled to express gratitude in thanking the person who paid for your nice dinner.

This is, of course, is a hypothetical situation, but we know this kind of thing happens all the time. It’s happened to me multiple times. I know that some might respond differently, but I could safely assume that most would respond the way I described above. I use this example to show the natural impulse in humans to be thankful. Not only do humans have a natural impulse to be thankful, but we have a desire to know what the object is to which our gratitude should be directed. The truth of the matter is that we cannot express gratitude and thankfulness unless there is someone that can receive it.

“there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve.”

I don’t want to deduce it down to semantics, but there’s a need to see the difference between being thankful for something and being thankful to someone. In keeping with tradition, there will be many families who go around the table and have each person state what they are thankful for. You can imagine the things that people will express thanks for: job, house, family, etc. If these are things to be thankful for, to whom should the thanks be given? Who can I give thanks to for these things that I do not deserve?

The main thrust of giving thanks comes from the idea in the last question. The Greek word for “thanksgiving” (eucharistia) contains the word for “grace” (charis). The most simplistic definition of grace is to get something that you don’t deserve. When we talk about giving thanks and getting what we don’t deserve, there is an element of being. What I mean by this is that there is a heart and mind behind the granting of such things that we don’t deserve. There’s also a moral thread that we need to be aware of in realizing that we are undeserving. If we felt like we truly deserve what we have, there’s really no sense in being thankful for it. Have you ever met a child are even adult that felt entitled to something? Are they very thankful?

From this, there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve. Okay, I’ll stop dancing around it. The reason why we have a sense of being undeserving is because we are. And the mind and heart behind that which is given to us is God. Even those who don’t believe in God or utterly reject him are still beneficiaries of his common grace. What’s interesting is that many people like this will gladly celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking about what they are actually doing.

What does it look like for them to take their worldview to its logical conclusion? I just read an article this morning from Forbes by Ethan Siegel called Be Thankful For the Universe That Created You. In the article, Siegel works his way through all of the things that we should be thankful for that make our existence possible. It is hard to ignore the tone of the article that clearly suggests that it is quite a miracle that we exist at all. The first sentence of the article says, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.” The reason why Siegel says this is because the scenario that he puts forth for our existence suggests that we really shouldn’t exist under it. And yet, here we are, we exist. But, why should we even be thankful we exist? Why is existence a good thing? That’s a topic for another post, but Siegel says we should be thankful for the various things in the universe that our existence is dependent upon, including gravitational forces, nuclear fusion, and molecular clouds. The last sentence of the article says, “Be thankful for the Universe that created you; it’s the one story we all have in common.” Well, I am thankful for the universe and its fine-tuning, but to whom should I be thankful for it? If there is no mind or heart behind my existence, why should I be thankful, especially if my existence is dependent upon randomness and chance?

The way I see it is that I shouldn’t exist, nor do I deserve to exist, and I should be thankful to the One that is the source of my existence. This is the only scenario that being thankful makes sense in. I also realize that I don’t deserve all that I have and that I should be thankful to the One that has granted to me all that I have. This is the only scenario that being thankful today makes sense in. Today means not only am I thankful for the common grace I have received, but also the grace I have received through Christ.

As you are sitting around the table today, think about the object of your gratitude. Giving thanks only makes sense when there is a heart and mind that has granted to you that which you are thankful for. Just like in the example I used in the first paragraph, you wouldn’t ask, “what paid for my meal?” you would ask, “who paid for my meal?” There is always a heart and mind behind a situation like this, and we shouldn’t think it’s any different when we offer thanks for what we have on a day like today. The heart and mind behind all we have is that of a good God who is gracious enough to even allow those who reject and despise him to benefit from his grace. And if God isn’t the object of your gratitude, then I would ask you to ponder who is the object of your gratitude.

We all know that it is important to make sure that people who deserve it are thanked, and that the gratitude goes to the right person. It’s easy to remember how it feels when we aren’t thanked or when someone else gets the gratitude for something we did. Is there anything that gets us more worked up than that? This is why I call to attention the need to be aware of the fact that gratitude, especially today, must be given and that it really matters who gets that gratitude. Lastly, if you are having trouble thinking of something to be thankful for, let me end with a quote from Ethan Siegel, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.”