Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What do I say to those who claim that religious people cause all the violence?

   Hey David!! I had a question about something I see come up a lot online when atheists and theists/religious believers debate the reasons why mass murders occur around the world. For example, with the Paris attacks, the murderers are clearly motivated by Islam, and this gives fuel for the atheists’ fire to say "See?!  Religion causes all the bad things in the world and all the wars!  Atheists are the superior beings, both morally and intellectually!"  And every time someone brings up the evil, murderous atheists that have existed throughout history (i.e. Stalin, Pol Pot, etc.), atheists ALWAYS say, "Well, those murders weren't done 'in the name of atheism.'"  So, apparently, they think this gets the atheism worldview out of being the cause of any wrongdoing among atheist murderers, but religion is bad because these other mass murders are done "in the name of (some religion)."  Even with Christianity, they will constantly point to the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, etc., to try to show that Christianity is bad too (while completely ignoring all the good Christianity has done for society or showing that any murders or evil done in Christ's name goes completely against the teachings of Christ Himself).
   Anyways, I think it's ridiculous, and it's probably something you've seen a lot of too, but what's a good way to respond to someone like that?  Or, what's a good way to think about that, whether or not I respond to people online about it?  It seems that many, if not most atheists get SO defensive about anything that could make atheism look bad, and will come up with any explanation possible to free atheism of being a motivator for any wrongdoing.  How would you approach someone like that?  I have my thoughts, but I'd like to hear what you'd have to say on it.  Thanks David!!  God bless!!

- Ryan –


Hey Ryan,

It’s great to hear from you. Those are great questions.

Just to keep my general audience in the loop, let me unpack that a bit.

Recently, I attended a scholars’ panel discussion of slavery in the Old Testament. Peter J. Williams, PhD, the Director of Tyndale House, Cambridge said correctly: While previous atheists had as their chief critique of Christianity that the Bible cannot be trusted, the so-called “New Atheists” have a new chief critique. Theirs is that Christianity is vile, immoral, and causes all the wars. Williams’s assessment is absolutely correct (and I averred it to him after the discussion). While atheists are purely rational, peace-loving, and moral people; religious people are driven by delusional, war-mongering, immoral commands from a pretend deity. As far as I can tell, this is a unique development among atheists in Western history. (I say more in my Preface in my book, A Skeptic Challenges a Christian and offer more reflections.)













Christopher Hitchens used to say (before he died of cancer) repeatedly how atheists are the “good guys” while it’s Christians who are the “bad guys” (you can watch any debate on YouTube or read his literature for this ubiquitous sentiment). Moreover, one also finds it Richard Dawkins’s corpora and debates, along with Sam Harris and other atheist authors (the picture above shows the most popular atheists in the media these days).

You’re right: it is a very common critique among atheists. In fact, several Christian authors have responded to such claims (e.g., Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Or Contending with Christianity’s Critics by Copan and Craig).

I have a slightly different view than William Lane Craig and others (like John Lennox). I don’t think the belief, “there is no god,” nor the belief, “I don’t think a god exists” entails doing violence. I think Dawkins and others have a point. My lack in the belief of the tooth fairy doesn’t mean I hurt someone.

Now, to the specific historical arguments of various leaders (e.g., Stalin, et al.), that is an historical question that is beyond my bailiwick. Stalin might have actually said, argued, and believed that atheism necessarily meant that he must murder people. But—and this is key—even if that’s what he thought, he would have been wrong. Murdering people is not, in any way whatsoever, the logical corollary to atheism.

Instead, I would suggest that while atheism doesn't promote violence, it certainly provides a worldview within which violence/murder is permitted (i.e., not prohibited). Why? For either or both of these reasons one might hold within atheism: (1) objective moral values don’t exist; (2) there is no higher power to judge the actions.

(Now, many atheists do believe in objective moral values. This is why so many atheists would never murder an innocent person even though they are atheists. Of course, I would debate this point: there is no reason whatsoever to ground morality in an atheistic worldview. “Morality” is simply “social etiquette”: a biological delusion to help us survive as a species. If we are merely evolved primates on a speck of dust in this infinite universe, what possible reason is there not to murder everyone who gets in the way of our survival? It happens all the time in the animal kingdom. As you know, I’ve recorded two podcasts on this issue.)

So, does the belief in atheism lead to violence or murdering people? No. Simultaneously, morally, there is no reason not to murder (e.g., if your culture doesn’t like you murdering, just go join another culture that does). Once again: atheism doesn’t cause violence, it just doesn’t prohibit it.

Does the belief in deism (= a creator God that doesn’t reveal him/her/itself to humans) lead to murdering people? No. Simultaneously, morally, there are powerful reasons not to murder. Deists believe that this creator God is the source of objective moral values and duties, which makes murder immoral. Moreover, one might also believe that this distant God might hold humans morally accountable at some point in the future.

Does the belief in a particular theism (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Zoroastrianism) or polytheism/monism (e.g., Hinduism, Daoism) lead to violence or murdering people? That depends on the religion. One must analyze the murderer’s claims and motivations and decide if the person’s motivations are a logical, accurate product of the religion’s claims.

So, for example, when a person claims that the KKK or the Spanish Inquisitors are excellent examples of how Christianity produces murderers, one can see quickly how this is nonsense. Not one teaching of the Jesus of Nazareth supports persecuting or killing non-whites (KKK) or converted Muslims or Jews (Inquisitions—though most people have a grossly inadequate understanding of the Inquisition). When a person claims that the Christian God wants them to harm someone, they are certainly wrong. How do we know? We can read the Gospels, at minimum.

This works both ways. I can just as easily say that when an atheist claims that his worldview leads to violence that he is mistaken. There is nothing morally stopping him from doing it, but there is also nothing leading him to commit violence.

To say it once again: The New Atheists are right in that religion is very often claimed to be the cause of violence. Absolutely. This is especially true of Muslims. However, the New Atheists’ claim isn’t sociological or psychological—viz.., a study of what violent people say led them to commit violence. Their claim is more than that: it’s that because so many people claim that their god told them to commit the violence, (a) that religion is immoral; and (b) false.

Once more, this works both ways. I can just as easily say that when an atheist claims that his worldview leads to violence that this proves that (a) atheism is immoral; and (b) false. So, this gets the atheist nowhere in argumentation.

Therefore, finally to answer your final question, I admit to atheists quickly that I concur with them:
(1)   I don’t think the belief in atheism necessarily leads to murdering or committing violence;
(2)   It is true that many people claim that their religious beliefs do lead to committing violence.

Then, I ask them what conclusions they draw from these statements. That is, “So what?” If they say, “Oh…I’m just making a sociological/psychological point about religious people.” Then, we’re cool. If they say, “See! Religious people are all immoral and their religions are false!” Then, I discuss all that I’ve put in this blog.

I would bring up several issues with the atheist:
·        Where did you get this notion of “morality?” In what is it grounded? (And I don’t move on from this until I’ve covered it in depth. I do my best to get him to see that while atheism doesn’t promote violence, it most certainly doesn’t prohibit violence.)
·        Do you grant that “religious people” do many moral things because their religion demands it? (Like giving billions of dollars each year for the poor, millions of hours of service, millions of orphans helped, millions of schools and hospitals built, etc.) If not, why not? (Christopher Hitchens would never, ever grant that religion can be the cause of a moral choice—only immoral ones! Thankfully, many other atheists, like Michael Shermer, disagree with him.)
·        Do you see that a person can claim something that is incorrect or correct according to the founder of the religion, and that it’s crucial to determine if the founder would concur with that behavior? (E.g., my own children often get my “commandments” wrong!) We must ask, Is that what Mohammed did or commanded? Is that what Jesus did or commanded? Etc.
·        Finally, are you really, honestly open-minded about learning more about this? If so, will you commit to reading even one book that addresses this issue? (If they are, I’d suggest that Christianity is true and then recommend a relevant book, like the ones I’ve mentioned already.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Did Jesus have to die?" A conversation with a Friend

Hi David, hope you are doing well...

Just listened to your latest podcast on the meaning behind Jesus dying for our sins. Very good stuff... I appreciated the historical explanations and context behind the various similes used in the NT.

Question for you, and this is something I've asked myself that I don't think was addressed in the podcast but, why was his death the means of atonement and not something else? Could something different have been done, like have Jesus stick a white flag in the ground and say "it is finished and it's cool now between you and God"? Why not $50 or some specific amount of money? I'm being silly here but I think you see my point.

Just wondering if there is an explanation in the Bible about why THE God-man’s death WAS the price? Thinking about it I could possibly say:

1) Since humans are "special" in that we have dominion over the Earth just like God has dominion over the universe nothing could possibly be more sacred in material form on this Earth, than God, as a man, giving up his life for everyone. IT is an ultimate sign of selfless love as far as we can currently grasp.

2) God was used to Jews sacrificing animals/first fruits of the season/etc. as a means of atonement. He knew they could relate and understand what that meant but also realized that it got out of hand so He decided to put an end to it by having one final sacrifice. The sacrifice of all sacrifices which would be part of Himself, the part that manifested Himself physically in this world.

If it sounds like I'm ignorantly riffing on this, I am. My OT knowledge lacks, (like most Christians) so any resource you could point me to would be great that talks about this. 

BTW, I've about finished your book and love it. I've been trying to get through it for a few months now but my reading time is pretty limited and let's face it, apologetics isn't always "lite reading" so thinking about it all at 9pm at night after getting 3 kids to bed... well the energy level isn't always there for deep thoughts :)

One more thought...

In my ridiculous examples and the fact that Jesus did die for our sins implies that some sort of transaction between God and man HAD to occur for the atonement. Why? As humans we have the ability to forgive debts without transactions. Couldn't have God done the same? Did He need to have a symbol to point to? It would seem He could have just said "you know guys, we are good" like when you buy your buddy lunch and never ask him to pay you back or treat you. If God had done that I'm guessing the gravity of the atonement would not have had an impact on us so perhaps He did it this way to get through to us.

Again... thinking out loud
Cody   


Hey Cody,

These are great questions and points.

Like I said in my podcast, I see no reason to suggest, assume, or argue that Jesus had to die in order for forgiveness to be offered. So, as you ask, could something else have been done? I see no reason not to say, “Yes.” (And the typical response here— “If there were another way, God would have done it”—is completely unconvincing.)

The problem with using the expression “Jesus had to die” (the past tense of the modal verb, "must") as it is always stated, implies some type of obligation or limitation upon God. Now, one might use that expression in various ways concerning God’s behavior. For example, “God had to tell the truth because His character is perfectly good.” In this sentence one might say that God’s behavior is “limited” to the perfection of His character. Yet, surely one can see that such an aspect of His character is not an ontological limitation; it is a limitation necessary to use that particular vocabulary term. The same is true when atheists say things like: God “can’t make mistakes,” or “God can’t invent information He didn’t know beforehand,” so God must not be omnipotent—limited in some way. But, as one can see quickly, this is nonsense. It’s just a logical absurdity thrust into a declarative English statement. They are confusing an ontological "limitation" (a limitation of someone's being or essence) with a semantic "limitation." (In case you didn't know, when you change the meaning of a term in an argument, it is called "equivocation." Equivocation is a paralogism.)

Let me unpack that more: Not making mistakes is precisely the definition of perfection. “Not able to make mistakes” is tantamount to saying “God is perfect.” “Not able to invent information not previously known” is tantamount to saying “God is omniscient.” "Not being single" is tantamount to saying, "Being married." Something is an ontological limitation when it is not complete or perfect. Thus, these so-called defeaters or paradoxes are really just equivocations on the term, "limitation." They use the term in a negative, ontological sense of "not complete or perfect," while, in reality, these "limitations" are just boundaries needed to define terms (like "not able to be single" = "married").

So, is it the same case here? Was God “limited” in some way by His character, attributes, or something else such that Jesus had to die in order for us to receive forgiveness? I see no reason to think so.

Christians typically get God’s character confused with God’s behavior. For example, God’s character is such that He is perfectly loving. Yet, this doesn’t mean that God extends grace and forgiveness at all times. God’s character is such that He is perfectly fair. Yet, this doesn’t mean that God extends punishment at all times. “Perfection” in an attribute of character does not mean “always extended” or “always actualized.” It just means that when it is actualized, it is perfect, unadulterated, untainted.

So, God is just. God is loving. It seems to me that God could have just written His message on the moon for all to see (e.g., “I hate all this sin; and you all deserve to be punished, but because of my love, I choose not to punish you and forgive you.”), or shaped mountains in Hebrew language to express His forgiveness, or sent Jesus to appear to all people at some age and tell them what salvation is, etc. There must be an infinite amount of ways for God to express His perfect character and His response to sin. I see no reason for Jesus’s death and resurrection to be the necessary way that had to happen.

(And the typical verse cited in response, Heb. 9:22, is within the context of a sacrificial system at a Temple that no longer exists; and it is concerning the imagery of Jesus’s death acting as a sacrifice for us [which is just one of several images in the NT!].)

Therefore, I don’t think God was limited in any way. He had the freedom to extend forgiveness in any way that He wanted.

This is why it seems much more fruitful to change the discussion from, “Did Jesus have to die?” to “Why did Jesus die?” That is, as I explore in my podcast, “What is the significance of the death of Jesus? What does it tell us? Why do we think God chose that form of expression of justice and love?”

A short comment I would add (in addition to my podcast) is that it seems to me that the death and resurrection of Jesus was an incredible, culturally-relevant event. Like you suggest, concerning how they could have related to sacrifices and whatnot, God chose to use Jesus’s death to suggest how heinous the crime was (that it would involve the death of the Messiah) and how deep His love was for us (that it would involve the sending of the Messiah). And as you said, I think the death of Jesus, among other things, demonstrates the enormous “gravity” of our situation. A simple, “we’re cool,” surely would have not done for humans what His death and resurrection have done.

And as I say in the podcast, His death actually did something for us. It was not just a symbol. And He chose Jesus’s death to speak volumes, especially to the immediate social and cultural contexts in which it occurred. The metaphors I explore in my podcast would have been immediately accessible to the first century audience.

For the King who gave Himself for us,

David

Monday, October 26, 2015

"What about those who have never heard the Gospel?" My response.

I was having a discussion with some friends the other day and it found its way around to discussing religion. One question was raised and I wasn't quite sure how to answer it. One of them asked, "If God is all powerful and all knowing, why does he let people (those who haven't heard the Word) die? They're given no chance be believe or not and are condemned to hell because of it."

It being very late when we were having this conversation and I was unable to come up with an adequate response so I'm curious what you would say to someone if they posed that question to you.

Thanks for your time

~Cheryl


Hey Cheryl!

That's a good question.

This is question is called the "fate of the unevangelized" in theology. I think you mean, "why does God allow them to go to hell" rather than "why does God allow them to die." I think you mean that, of course, because non-Christians die all the time. Physical death is the final event of (nearly) all humans.

To be clear: people aren't condemned to hell because they didn't hear the gospel. They are condemned to hell because they are sinners. It's like saying, if you don't mind the analogy: When people have a terrible illness (like cancer), they die because cancer killed them, not because they didn't take medicine. "Not taking medicine" doesn't kill someone. Similarly, "not hearing the gospel" doesn't kill someone. The "terrible illness" of sin is what "kills" a person. (I say more about this in my book on Amazon.com.)

To be clear: all Christians believe that the death of Jesus did something for other humans, something objective. His death has a “saving effect” for humans when it is applied to them. He didn't just set a good example. His death actually did something for us that we could not do for ourselves.

(I recorded a podcast on this that you might find helpful: http://traffic.libsyn.com/davidpendergrass/What_does_it_mean_that_Jesus_died_for_me.mp3 ).

So, Christians all agree that the saving benefit of Jesus’s death is applied; we disagree on what it takes for it to be applied. That is, what are the conditions necessary for Jesus’s death to help me? Do I need to hear something? Say something? Believe something?

There are three major views on this issue (and this is extremely brief!). So, what must a person do or believe before Jesus’s saving death will be applied to them?
1.      Exclusivism – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith (and for many, be baptized). If the person doesn’t hear in this life time then, in the end, the proper punishment for that person will be hell because of his/her sinning throughout life.
2.      Inclusivism – A person must repent to the degree that they can based on the amount of knowledge s/he has of God. If the person doesn’t live according to the Moral Law placed within him/her to the best of his/her ability, and repent of a life of selfishness, etc., then that person will deserve hell. Obviously, this view holds that God judges people according to a different standard than the first view, since each person has different capacities and opportunities (such as the mentally handicapped, children, those who never have access to the gospel, etc.).
3.      Molinism (or Middle Knowledge) – A person must hear/read the gospel and respond in faith. And…God knows exactly what a person would choose if presented with the gospel. So, if a person never hear/reads the gospel it means s/he would have not responded in faith even if s/he received the gospel. So, if the gospel doesn’t make it to them, it means that they would have said, “no,” anyway.

Another minor view is that after death, those who have never heard are presented the gospel and given a chance before judgment. Another view (very popular among Roman Catholics) is that people who go to hell will eventually be punished enough, be purified, and be allowed access to Heaven (the doctrine of Purgatory).

In short, I believe Inclusivism is the most compelling (for a variety of reasons, including biblical). Here is a good book on the issue: http://www.amazon.com/What-About-Those-Never-Heard/dp/0830816062/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1445907906&sr=8-2&keywords=fate+of+the+unevangelized

These are my thoughts! I hope you have fun reading!

David

Thursday, October 8, 2015

"Why doesn't the Spirit show up more in the Church?" A Conversation with a Friend

Hi David,

I really appreciate the time you took to answer my questions (and correcting me that it was Matthew not Mark that had the quote from Jesus about adultery in the heart) . I have so many questions it's ridiculous and have another one for you (just one for now ;) ). 

A funny side note - you were really fired up last week on the atheist and the ridiculous demands they place on the Bible and the whole morality podcast. Coincidentally, I was listening the WLC debate with Shelly Kagan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiJnCQuPiuo) so your diatribe was in context with other things in my week ;) I have more questions and comments about what Kagan said ...but that is for later.

So to my question... spurred on by Ravi Zacharias. He said the single apologetic that he wrestles with is that the seemingly lack of effect the Holy Spirit has on Christians. I'm not quoting him directly by my understanding of his point was that you would think the all powerful Holy Spirit would be more apparent in everyday Christian behavior. Or put another way, Christians are really bad at being Christians and I find that especially true in the US. Why do we get it so wrong so often? It definitely feeds the fire for non believers and nothing makes me shake my head more than when "evangelicals" warp scripture to something that doesn't look anything like something Jesus taught. I'm afraid I'll get to see this first hand later this month as I live just down the road from X Baptist Church; they are holding a presidential forum for all the candidates. I'm sure some strange things regarding the Bible will come out of their mouths. :(

Is it because we are inherently broken? Is our stubborn pride/free will denying the Spirit? Laziness in Christians to not learn their faith? Probably all of the above but what is your take?

Thanks, God Bless, keep podcasting! 

Cody


Hi Cody,

I’ve seen/heard that WLC and Kagan conversation a few times, too. WLC said at another place (perhaps one of his podcasts) that he was instructed NOT to make it a debate, but a simple conversation. Nevertheless, I kept being so frustrated that he was so…meh. He kept saying, “it just seems to me….” while Kagan kept sounding so much more compelling and right. I would have talked much more like a podcast I just recorded on morality. :)

That’s a great question concerning the effects of the Spirit. I had a similar conversation this last Sunday at a Bible study I lead. I’ve also struggled with that fact too. Of course, I’ve wondered about that fact often in my own life. I read of the amazing things done in the primitive Christian community, along with what is occurring in Christian communities around the globe, and I think, “Dern! I want that!”

I don’t have any profound reflections. Yet, I think a few things: (1) The Spirit acts in different ways in the NT, so I should expect that today. He might do something in me regarding teaching; He can move in someone else in healing. (2) The Spirit tends to do more “sensational” things among new believers/pagans, it seems to me. That also fits the NT, where it was to affirm the authority of the Church’s teaching.

Why don’t others (or myself) have more evidence of the Spirit? I think a few reasons: (1) I think a significant portion of people who think they’re Christian, are really not. I think that best explains why so many people seem to have little to no influence by the Spirit. I think this would also be exactly what Paul would say if asked. (2) I think our Christian communities are so secularized that the amount of Christian maturity and discipline that the earliest Christians possessed just rarely exists today. For centuries, Christians were abhorred by pagan behavior. How many churches today are FILLED with people having sex outside marriage? Addicted to everything and no one cares? Affairs? Gossips? Political agendas? Racism? Etc. And what kind of preaching is popular? “God wants to bless you. He loves you.” That preaching will never help the Bride of Christ. Moreover, churches beg for the Spirit now for a “breakthrough/blessing” not for guidance.

My point is, I think the American church is so overwhelmingly paganized that it affects the way the Spirit can/does move.

So, I do my best to get sin out of my life. I read my Bible, pray, and have moral accountability. I ask the Spirit to work/move/speak in and through me. And, if and when He wants to, I’m ready!

For the Kingdom,

David 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

"Can Christians be tormented by Evil? Can married couples watch pornography?" - A Friend Asks

Hi David!  I first just wanted to say I really enjoy your podcasts, and I will definitely be getting your book "A Skeptic Challenges a Christian."  That's always a very interesting topic to me, and I know you'll have very intelligent, insightful responses like you do in your podcasts. Thank you for all that you do for Christ and His Kingdom! Anyways, I do have a couple of questions for you that I'd love to get your thoughts on:

1)  First, do you believe that a Christian can be tormented by a demonic spirit, or have a demonic spirit indwelling within them?  I went to a Christian healing ministry in Livermore, CA a few weeks ago, and the leader there said that Christians who believe they can't have a demon are believing in a false theology.  I was always under the impression that a demonic spirit could not indwell a believer because we have the Holy Spirit in us. I guess maybe being tormented or tempted by a demonic spirit would make more sense, but to actually have one dwelling inside a believer and follower of Jesus Christ seems off to me, but I could definitely be wrong, and would love to know your thoughts on that.

2) Secondly, and I apologize if this is a bit too adult or mature of a topic, but do you believe that pornography is an objective moral evil, that is wrong to use no matter the circumstance or the person?  What about for married Christian couples who are looking for new ways to be intimate with each other, or to get each other "in the mood'? How about for a single Christian man who, for physiological reasons, needs to pass his "stuff" out on a regular basis so as to not develop prostate disorders, and using pornography helps him to quickly do so? For most of my life, growing up in a Christian school, pornography has always been presented as very evil, and I think most oftentimes it is, especially when people develop an addiction to it or use it to hurt or abuse others. Also, the fact that the actors in pornography are obviously having actual sex outside of marriage (unless it is a married couple, which is probably pretty rare) means you're watching a sinful act and more or less approving of it or permitting it. But I wonder if it is absolutely or objectively evil, in all circumstances, or if there are times when it might be more allowable? Based on Scripture, even though they didn't have actual pornography thousands of years ago, it would seem that the Biblical writers would most likely deem pornography to be a moral evil and therefore sinful and to be completely abstained from.

I also read, from a different email you responded to about horror movies, you generally try not to watch anything that you wouldn't feel comfortable with other people knowing about, so I assume pornography would be one of those things.  On the other hand, I suppose anything that's used to create more intimacy with one's spouse wouldn't necessarily be something the couple would feel comfortable with other people knowing, even if it is appropriate.

Anyways, sorry for rambling, but it would be really neat to hear your thoughts on those two questions. There's definitely no rush, either. I know you're very busy with other commitments, so I understand it will take time to respond.  Thanks again for all that you do!  Take care and God bless!  :-)

Regards,
Ryan

Hey Ryan,

Thank you so much for your kind words! I pray my book encourages and equips you in your discipleship. Here are my thoughts on your questions:

1) First, do you believe that a Christian can be tormented by a demonic spirit, or have a demonic spirit indwelling within them?  Yes. I think it’s possible. I’ve heard that they cannot all my life among church people. But, after asking multiple people for references, I’ve never received one. There is simply no reference in the New Testament that states or implies that “Christians can’t be possessed/tormented/indwelt” by an evil spirit.

Moreover, it seems to me that Paul deliberately helps Christians not be at least influenced by evil in Ephesians 6. If they can’t be influenced by evil spirits, then why tell them how to fight against it (12-18)? Paul doesn’t mention “torment/possession” specifically, so I don’t know precisely how Paul believes that evil can be such a “struggle.”

In 1 John 5:18-19 John the Elder says that if God is our Father, then the “evil one” cannot “touch” that person. This is probably an illusion to the book of Job, where God never granted The Accuser permission to “touch” Job himself (= kill him), just everything around him (see 1:11-12; 2:3-6). Even so, this is a difficult text to interpret. Does it mean that John the Elder believes that God never allows Satan permission to kill God’s people? I think so. This text certainly doesn’t mean that demonic spirits can’t influence or torment Christians. It says nothing about the subject. 

(Don't forget: Jesus believed that Satan can "snatch the word" that Christians received when preached to them. See Mark 4:15. If the Spirit "blocks" out all evil, then how can this happen?)

I think the main reason why people hold to the belief that demons can’t possess/influence a person is based on an assumption of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps they think “filled with the Holy Spirit” means something like, having a glass completely full of a liquid, for which there is no more room. I’m not sure. Yet, the phrase “filled with the Holy Spirit” (almost chiefly in Luke-Acts), means something like “enabled by God to do something.” I think the spatial language comes from the very long tradition within Judaism that God’s Spirit “filled the Temple” (esp. in 2 Chronicles and Ezekiel). Jews did seem to believe that our insides were like an empty living space, where the Spirit and/or evil spirits might dwell (e.g., Matt 12:43-45). What’s difficult to determine is whether or not they believed that, while you have access to God’s Spirit, one could not also be influenced by a demonic spirit. That is, I don’t know of any Scriptural evidence of an “either-or” proposition: either the Spirit is inside you or an evil spirit is (or can be) inside you.

So, I think it’s certainly possible. Why? (1) Because there is no Scriptural basis to deny it outright. (2) I don’t know why Paul is so adamant to fight against the influence of the evil powers of this age” if evil spirits aren't a real threat to us (using whatever language we want to express that).

2) Secondly, and I apologize if this is a bit too adult or mature of a topic, but do you believe that pornography is an objective moral evil, that is wrong to use no matter the circumstance or the person?  What about for married Christian couples who are looking for new ways to be intimate with each other, or to get each other "in the mood'? How about for a single Christian man who, for physiological reasons, needs to pass his "stuff" out on a regular basis so as to not develop prostate disorders, and using pornography helps him to quickly do so? 

I’ve thought about this question for quite some time. Here are some quick reflections:

Concerning sexual toys, I say: if your spouse is cool with it, try it at least once. I see no biblical reason to do otherwise.

Concerning pornography (images or video of people having sex or doing very sexually explicit things), I say:

On the one hand, I know of plenty of Christians who would immediately say, “No way!” Part of me finds this quite compelling for all the reasons you listed in your question. Moreover, I don’t think Jesus would do it if He were married. But, since I can’t imagine Jesus married, this imaginary “what if” doesn’t help me much.

To be pellucid as possible: I do know that if pornography causes someone to have an affair; helps to form, or does form, an addiction; affects the way a spouse sees the other spouse in some demeaning way; causes any type of emotional, physical, or mental damage; leads to a situation where you need that material in order to have a fulfilling sexual relationship; then it should be avoided. All these have in common: if it causes you to do something else that is sinful and/or unhealthy, then don’t do it. I get this criterion from Jesus, when He speaks of lust. Let me say a quick word about that.

Jesus makes the point that really wanting to have an affair is like having an affair (Matt 5:28). Jesus knew full well that actually having the affair was different (as is made clear in several OT texts). The point is, having an affair begins in the inner attitudes and desires of a person (just like anger, envy, etc. -- e.g., Mark 7:21-23). So, Jesus’s point is: don’t just be concerned with the act; be concerned with the person’s “heart” that leads to that act. 

But...notice this well! Jesus doesn’t say that lust is a “sin.” (Nor is lust ever considered a sin, in and of itself, at any other point.) And note that the term we use, "lust," is translating a Greek term for "to have a strong desire for" (this can be sexual or nonsexual). Jesus's point is that if something tempts you to sin that you should get rid of it immediately before you do sin (see Matt 5:29-30). The problem with lust is that it can be a “gateway drug.” Lust is dangerous; it can be a means to a sinful end. If/when it does, it’s time to get “pluckin’.” 

Moreover, Jesus is speaking specifically of the strong desire to have an affair with someone. What about those who are not married? Jesus’s statement here doesn’t concern them directly.

Yet, I do think that Jesus could’ve also said, “If you fantasize about having sex outside of marriage…” or “homoerotic behavior…” then stop dreaming about it before it happens. (Why? Because both of them are sinful acts.)

So, the question is: does pornography always lead to having affairs, having sex outside marriage, or homoerotic behavior? Or some other sinful act? I don’t see that this is the case. There is no reason to think that every strong desire we have necessarily leads to actually acting in the sin.

Therefore, I don’t know of any specific text that would tell me that it’s inherently evil/sinful to see pornography. That is, I don’t see why, if a human being even glances at pornography, that person has just sinned. What is sinful is what it can lead to that would be immoral (like marijuana or alcohol aren't inherently immoral, but can lead to sins). (And for those who place pornography under the broad category of "sexual immorality," I don't find that compelling based on the texts.)

So, while on the one hand I can see the merits of “No way! Run away from it!”; I can also see the merits of saying, “Well, that completely depends on the marriage.” Here’s why:

Seeing something pornographic will stimulate the brain’s sexual regions, like smelling onions will make you cry or smelling spices will make you sneeze. It’s a physiological response (and, of course, repeated exposure to it affects more than just the sexual portions of the brain).

So, is it possible for a married couple to use pornography simply as a tool to excite those regions of our brain without it causing further behavior that would be immoral? I don’t see why that’s not possible.

I’ve thought about this for years on and off because I haven’t come to closure. I still haven’t come to complete closure.

If you’re thinking, “But, David, why risk it?! That stuff is dangerous!” Part of me really concurs. Really. I know of many couples and individuals who have been just wrecked because of addictions to pornography, and sometimes, just repeated exposure to it (typically by the husband). So, it makes sense that certain people (including some who read this post), might be very upset about the slightest chance of including it in their marriage. To them, I say, "Amen."

But, if you’re thinking, “But, David, why can’t a responsible Christian couple make up their own minds concerning what they do in the privacy of their own homes, always checking themselves so that it doesn’t lead to anything sinful? If it doesn't violate that long list of things you mentioned in that paragraph way above, can it not be a small part of what we choose to do?” Part of me sees that possibility. I know of couples who use it from time to time and suffer no problems whatsoever in their marriage or personal life (of which they are conscious).

Do I encourage couples to use pornography as part of their sexual life? No. I don’t. I don’t encourage it because of the tendency for it to be addictive and/or affect the marriage in a deleterious way. It just seems like any benefit that comes from it for sex, for the average couple, is not a big enough benefit to outweigh the possible negative consequences that might arise from (repeated?) exposure to it.

And, concerning your question about pornography for single men to help them, I'd say almost all the same things. In addition, without strict accountability and very limited exposure, pornography is as addictive as cocaine (as several studies have shown). Repeated exposure to pornography has huge negative affects on a whole host of neurological, emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of a person. My default stance is: it's too dangerous to mess with.

Those are my thoughts, at least. J

In Christ,
DP


Resources concerning the Trinity


Hey David;


How have you been? I have been in discussion with some Mormon friends of mine on the topic of the Trinity. The more I research this topic the more I get confused. Apparently the bible never directly mentions the Trinity. The text I come across on the internet will reference the plural nature of Genesis's God and how Jesus referred to Himself as God (Basically) in John. The more I read I have discovered that the Trinity was term used by early Catholics. But there are several religions who do not believe in the Trinity as an all in one persona.

Anyway any help you could give would be great.

One last question, what is good place to start studying languages of the bible and their translations.. I did buy The New Interpreter’s Study Bible you recommended in one of your responses a while back. Good source for certain.



Mark 


Hey Mark,

Yes, the term “Trinity” is Latin, which means it’s not in the Bible. Proto-Trinitarian formulations are found in several places in the New Testament. But, the fuller sense of the term would not be unpacked until the fourth century. That is, the foundation of later Trinitarian formulations are to be found in the New Testament.

Today, there is no unified view on the Trinity. I find the “Social Trinity” view the most compelling. That’ll come out in the following literature. (I won't recommend too much that is highly technical; the following is more of an overview):


Then, here are some more reflections:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"My family is paranoid about the end times." A conversation with a Friend

Hi Dr. Pendergrass!

I've really learned a lot from reading your blog and listening to your podcasts. Thank you for all your hard work and the effort you put into making all of this available!

I have 2 items I'd like to get your input on.  First, I listened to one of your podcasts that mentioned getting the Translators Study Bible.  Is this something that would be beneficial for a layperson?  Do you have any other suggestions for materials for study purposes?

Next question is concerning my in-laws and their (what I perceive to be) obsession with prophecy and the apocalypse.  They read every John Hagee, Perry Stone and Jonathan Cahn book out there.  They are thoroughly convinced that a big event is coming this September and are even planning to spend $6,000 on a back-up generator.  Now, I know it's their business how they want to spend their money...but I just wonder if there's a way to get them to think about these things rather than just whole-heartedly believing them.  They did the same thing during y2k and at other times.  

Not sure if you have suggestions for ways to get into conversations with them that will make them think?

Thank you for any input you have to offer.  I really appreciate it!

Friend
Columbus, Ohio


Hi Friend,

Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m elated that you have learned from my efforts.

Here are some thoughts:

First, the Study Bible I recommend the most is The New Interpreter’s Study Bible. (Click here to buy it on Amazon). What makes it a great study Bible is the fact that the notes below the text and the short essays throughout are almost always exceptional. Moreover, the team of scholars who wrote the notes are from a broad spectrum of denominations and are fine scholars.

The translations I prefer, regardless of the Bible you purchase or the app you use, are the NET, ESV, and NRSV. (I use this app often.)

Also, I'd download the app by Logos (click here). It is AMAZING. It has several Bible dictionaries that are really great and respected (they start with the name, Dictionary of...); anything that starts with IVP is great; the Hard Sayings of the Bible is great; and a few others.


Second, that’s a great question about your family. I know people like them. I used to think “that’s just crazy.” And perhaps it is. But…now in my old age…I have more understanding. J I think a few things about this:

(1)    I don’t know why there is such foment about this for certain persons. I have several theories mostly having to do with psychological/emotional motivations in such persons. But, the best thing to do is to ask them. “Hey, I notice that you really like to think and talk about some final event. Why is that? Why do you think your interest in it is so much greater than almost all other people?” A follow up question might be: “What do you hope to accomplish by ‘being ready’?” And then, "Where in the Bible does it say to get ready like the way you're doing?"

I say this because I think it’s very helpful (and kind) to attempt to see it from their perspective. I know it helps me to be more empathetic when I can “get in their shoes.”

(2)    Concerning prophecy and the apocalypse, I might ask them, “What it is about Hagee’s interpretation that you find so compelling?” A follow up might be, “Have you ever read other authors besides them?”

These questions help you know their side. But, ultimately, of course, as adults it’s up to them to care about what they want to care about. If they want to spend $32,000 on survival tools, so be it. Yes, I think it’s a bit silly; but, it’s not my money.

What I find helpful when I speak to people who hold such views is, after I ask them the questions and listen carefully, is that they are usually open to having a conversation. If your family does that, then it’s your turn to give alternative views. Be sure to familiarize yourself with at least some minimum other views. For example:

Hagee's views are indicative of a view called "Dispensationalism." I haven't written on this topic yet online (though I've taught about it for over a decade). So, here are some quick references to it from a person I really respect: watch this Video and read this PowerPoint presentation.

Also, this overview might be helpful (click here).

I might say something like this to them: “Well, first, I really appreciate that you want to take the text seriously. I do too. We’re on the same page with that. It’s just that, the great majority of authors, and nearly every biblical specialist/scholar on the planet, doesn’t read the Bible the way they do. I’ve read a few books that give really good, compelling interpretations of those events. They put what Jesus and Paul and others said in their historical contexts and boy…it just comes to life. They also believe in the authority of Scripture. It’s just that their views are radically different than Hagee’s. I’d really encourage you to read what they have to say too.”

Of course, it means you need to have read them.  I’ve linked them so you can click to Amazon. I’d start with Craig Hill’s work.

Here are some suggestions, for what it’s worth:

These are specific books on the book of Revelation:
Ben Witherington, III, Revelation

And...if I'm wrong...can we stay with y'all in September? I don't own a generator. :)

David

Monday, July 13, 2015

"How do I know if it's God?" A conversation with a Friend

Hello Dr. Pendergrass,

I'm enjoying your tweets, articles and podcasts. Thank you! I have a question. How does one discern whether a happening is from God, fate, free choices/decisions, right time and place, etc. I know the assumption is whatever happens is God's will...but you go left..one thing happens...right the other thing happens. So sometimes it seems dependent on what one FEELS is right...? Ex:Was the chance meeting meant to be or just that...chance. I know we are to pray and trust and then things should seem clear but if they don't.... any suggestions?!


Hello Friend,

Thank you for the kind words! I'm so glad you're enjoying my material. I hope it helps you act like Jesus more.

This is a great question. I have a few reflections:

(1) The term, "fate," has gone through many changes in nuanced meaning throughout history. I assume you mean it in the sense of "destiny" or "predetermined actions or results." In the Christian worldview, this is both true and false. God is sovereign over all that occurs in that He causes some things, sustains some things, and allows some things (there is so much more here, but I'll limit my message :) ). So, in that sense, the universe has a "fate." However, God most certainly does not cause human actions. We are not bound to a "fate" that God chooses for us regardless of our will.

(2) Therefore, humans do have "free choices/decisions" to a large degree. (Of course, I'm not completely free--I'm not free to think like a woman or like a cheetah, or free to live on the moon right now, etc.). Within certain parameters, I make free choices every minute of consciousness. By that I mean, no one is making me use my will a certain way. I'm not really hooked up to a machine and am dreaming about typing this. My point is: you and I have genuine freedom to choose things within certain parameters. We must have this freedom or morality is a terrible illusion.

(3) This is why I don't ever say (though it's said ALL the time) anything like, "whatever happens is God's will." That would mean that God's will includes evil and sin. The Bible surely disagrees with that portrayal of God. God RESCUES humanity from sin; He is the not the author of it. So, I really don't think God is the cause of all things. He rules over all things; He does not cause all things.

(4) So....the really hard question is, How do I know if God is in the midst of this occurrence or is it just some chance thing? If it’s a clear miracle, then the answer is easy (Though I think Christians give credit to God too easily too often just because something is special or unexpected.). I know of multiple miracle stories (e.g., person’s eyes being given sight while praying for them, etc.)

But what about those not-so-clear cases? My short answer is, I don’t know. I’m not sure. And I don’t care always to know. I’m convinced what Christians are to do is to act like Jesus in any and all situations, regardless if God caused an event or not. That is, it’s easy to focus so much on “Did God cause this?” that we can miss our moral duty to behave like Him in the situation.

Having said that, there are two criteria that I use when attempting to determine if God orchestrated an occurrence. Now, this isn’t an exact science, but I still find this to be true, both for me and numerous devout Christians I know.

(1)    The Holy Spirit can tell us on the inside. There is just a strong sense that God was in this. And, usually the other person concurs. That is, Christians can have strong internal confirmation that the Spirit was involved. And remember, Christians are people who have access to the Holy Spirit, so it should never be a surprise that the Spirit will guide you with thoughts, intuitions, and insights that lead to situations that God wants. We should deliberately ask the Spirit to do just that!
(2)    There are times when the occurrence is so “coincidental,” with the added feeling of the Spirit’s presence, that I am compelled to say that God is orchestrating the event. When I find myself saying, “There’s just no way this could have happened like that without God,” then I’m on to something. Now, remember, this is crucial: whatever happened that seems so incredibly improbable must be something that Jesus would do. It must line up perfectly with the teachings of Jesus. If you’re convinced that God is telling you to go buy a private jet or that God wants you to be a millionaire so that you can buy an island, then you’re probably not being led by the Spirit.

That’s it. Again, it’s not a science. No relationship is a science. It’s about getting to know a person’s voice. Over time, you just get better at it (even with failures!). I find that if the Spirit's in it, it always feels like, what I call, a "peaceful compulsion." It just feels like the right thing to do. If you feel very restless or like there's some block on the inside, then I'd stay away from it.

And one last tip: give yourself time and grace. If God really wanted you to know that He caused some situation, then He'd send an angel or something. So, it's OK if you're not sure. Wait and see if that feeling of "God is in this" fades in a couple days. If not, maybe you're right!

Nevertheless, if I were to encourage you, I’d say…Move away from, “Did God cause this?” to “God, help me deny my will, pick up my cross, and follow you wherever you want” or “God, how can you shape my character in this situation?”


For the Kingdom,

David

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

"I don't believe in religions because they can't agree." A conversation with a Friend

Hi David,

I hope you had a great 4th of July :)

David, I don't know what to reply to this person: He Believes in God, but on the other hand he does not think that the Bible is the only source to establish a relationship with him.

For example: He does not believe in Hell afterlife. He is open to other religion ideas, like reincarnation. He believes that people (Adults) can still enter heaven without Jesus.
Do you have any sources or blogs that you may have written that would help me?
Here is his response to me below in blue. (I sent him a link to this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxiAikEk2vU  The moral argument)

Thanks for your help David.

"Hey Bro,  Whats up

Thanks for the video, I saw it already, but I think this video is about something else. Or maybe our talk was not so clear. This video talks about how moral values cannot be objective without God, and raises that argument for atheists. But I´m not atheist, I do believe God exists. I also agree that morals cannot be objective without God.

So in summary I agree with everything in the video. The argument we had, was more because we both have a different view of how we should behave or what we should be in order to be closer to God, or said differently, how Gods wants us to be or behave or what he expects from us. This is where all the problems come as different religions and different people have their own definitions and different views and no one can agree on a single one.

Even people within the same religion have different opinions! and different ways of seeing a same passage or a same commandment or ideology of God’s will, and that’s a fact.

Someone can say, hey well just look at the bible and that should be everyone’s guide, but we all can interpret it in different ways (especially where there is no clear instruction and it’s a story where each person tries to identify the morale or message of the story). A pastor or a priest can come and tell you, this is what this story means, and then another pastor or priest gives you a totally different definition (ok, maybe they’ll agree on a few things), so …who is right or who is wrong? I’ve experienced that, and if you start going to different churches even within the same religion you’ll see it too.

And that’s just for the people who believe the bible is THE BOOK, as you know there are other books out there similar to the bible (some even older).

I’ve heard some religious leaders say you have to pray to God to get the answers, and I’m ok with that, cause there the info comes from god himself and not a human saying his book is the one, or his interpretation of the book is the correct one. I guess my advice to anyone about this topic would be, get your info from God, the man himself, not anyone else, he lives within you (God is everywhere actually, I think we both agree on that one) and therefore God will guide you.

What say you?"


Hey Friend,

Thanks for the question. This is a very common response—and worthwhile consideration—before committing to a particular religion.

One of the great difficulties in responding to this is that your Friend doesn’t really make any arguments. That is, he’s not coming to many conclusions. He makes many assertions, which is fine. But, it’s tough to determine what his ultimate point is. So, I’ll just quote both you and him and make my responses under each comment.

He Believes in God, but on the other hand he does not think that the Bible is the only source to establish a relationship with him. My first question is, What “god” does he believe in? Based upon what source does he reach this conclusion? I certainly wouldn’t assume that you and he believe in the same God, especially when His view of God is not based upon Scripture.

For example: He does not believe in Hell afterlife. He is open to other religion ideas, like reincarnation. He believes that people (Adults) can still enter heaven without Jesus. Again, this just demonstrates that his view of God is quite different from the Christian view. This is fine; it’s just imperative to ask him why he believes what he believes. Remember, whoever makes the claim bears the burden of proof or argument. You don’t have to prove hell exists to him. Instead, I’d keep asking him, “Why do you believe that?” Or, “Why do you think that’s true?” or “So, how you do define ‘god’?”

Your Friend said:
…how Gods wants us to be or behave or what he expects from us. This is where all the problems come as different religions and different people have their own definitions and different views and no one can agree on a single one. Even people within the same religion have different opinions! and different ways of seeing a same passage or a same commandment or ideology of God’s will, and that’s a fact. I’m not sure what he means by “problems” here, but I think he means something like “problems in maintaining unity in interpretation.” If so, I concur. It just seems like his point here is simply that people disagree on how to interpret things. OK. This is a banal point. This is a great example of my not knowing what his ultimate point is.

If his implicit conclusion is, “Therefore, all religions are false or can’t be trusted,” then this is clearly false. In no way can this syllogism hold as valid:

Premise One: Only religions whose adherents have absolute unity on interpretation are true.
Premise Two: No religion has adherents who hold absolute unity on interpretation.
Conclusion: Therefore, no religion is true.

Premise One is clearly false.

If that premise were true, I could invalidate all fields of knowledge in the known world. No one concurs on all mathematics equations, therefore mathematics is false. No one concurs on how to cook all food, therefore culinary arts is false. No one concurs on the best form of nutrition, therefore no nutritionists are telling the truth. This could go on forever. And clearly, this is nonsense.

I can’t help but think that his statement here is being used like I’ve always heard it: an attempt to avoid making any commitment to a particular religion. This way, he doesn’t have to do anything. He just keeps his version of god as distant and benign. Later in his message, he corroborates my theory.

A pastor or a priest can come and tell you, this is what this story means, and then another pastor or priest gives you a totally different definition (ok, maybe they’ll agree on a few things), so …who is right or who is wrong? This is a great question. I have a few quick comments. (1) There is a reason why Christian ministers are supposed to receive formal training. It is to help them learn the tools necessary to come to proper interpretive conclusions. Then, they are supposed to train the people in the churches. Alas, this is rarely done these days (it was done for centuries in the church). (2) The differences in interpretations are not nearly as radical as it might seem. Churches around the globe have overwhelming unity on the non-negotiables of the Christian faith. Very few churches around the globe wouldn’t ascribe to the great Creeds of the faith. So yes, we disagree on all kinds of things. But no, we don’t disagree that much on the things that matter the most. (3) I would never let these different interpretations dissuade you from pursuing the biblical text. It rarely dissuades those within the Church to do so. In fact, it can be quite stimulating to learn the various ways people have interpreted the text. God can use multiple ways to reveal Himself to us.

And that’s just for the people who believe the bible is THE BOOK, as you know there are other books out there similar to the bible (some even older). Yes, some are older (really, only the Hindu Vedas). But, again, what’s the point? Is it that older = more trustworthy? (If that's his point, that's certainly false.) I’m not sure what his point is here, unless he’s just making the observation that some texts are older.

I’ve heard some religious leaders say you have to pray to God to get the answers, and I’m ok with that, cause there the info comes from god himself and not a human saying his book is the one, or his interpretation of the book is the correct one. I guess my advice to anyone about this topic would be, get your info from God, the man himself, not anyone else, he lives within you (God is everywhere actually, I think we both agree on that one) and therefore God will guide you. This is confused on a couple levels: (1) Which god do you pray to? (2) How do you know if you’ve received a message from that god if you don’t know what kind of god it is? (3) Why do you think god is a man? (4) Why do you think “he lives within you”? That is, how did you come to that conclusion? Did your god reveal that to you? Did you learn that from some text? (The same questions apply to believing that “God is everywhere.”)

There is just so much here that is not argued or demonstrated, just asserted. And this is crucial to make clear to him: this is his interpretation of the facts and these can be just as wrong as anyone else’s. He is not immune from being wrong in his interpretations. So, it’s important that you help him see that all humans have interpretations of things: the issue is to determine whether or not those interpretations are based on sound arguments or facts, not opinions.

Honestly, I don't think this is a rational objection. I think it's emotional/psychological. It just seems to me that this is the typical relativism that plagues the Western world: “I’m spiritual. I believe in god. But, that god lives in me and can lead me when I need. But, I’m not here to shove that down anyone else’s throat because…you know…who knows anyway? As long as I’m good to people and try not to hurt anyone…you know…that kind of god is cool. But, a God that demands something of me because He tells me there is a purpose to my life that He designed, well, that kind of God isn’t attractive. Then we have to bring up words like “sin” and “wrong and right” and “repent.” No one likes being judged—especially not I.”

In any case, keep being Christian and kind! Keep being an active listener. Keep asking what he believes and why (not just to get to the punch line and jump on him, but to really figure out what he believes). Then, of course, give him clear reasons for why what you believe is actually true, not just based on random opinions.

Keep up the great work!

David


And then his brother responded to me. His response is in blue, my response is in black.

What god? Well, there is only one God to me, so it would be the same one. You and I just have different points of view on certain topics pertaining  to God and what he expects from us, but I consider it’s the same God.
If someone said that they knew my wife, and described her as a human woman, really tall with long blonde hair and blue eyes with a low voice, would you say that the person knew my wife? Yes, my wife is a human woman, but there are numerous essential features to describing my wife that are false in this person’s description (she’s shorter, brown hair, high voice). One of us is wrong. We can’t both be right. The same is true with versions of God. The Christian’s view of God is thoroughly related to history: He is the God who formed covenants with the Jews, is seen fully in the ministry and life of Jesus of Nazareth, is experienced in the Holy Spirit (= Trinitarian), etc. etc. So, for what it’s worth, you can’t get rid of essential characteristics of God and think we are talking about the same God. This is not a subjective issue: it’s an issue of logic called the Law of Excluded Middle. Either we are BOTH wrong, or one of us is right; but we can’t both be right.

What source do I have to think that the bible is not the only way to establish a relationship with God? No book or document if that’s what is meant. All of my beliefs are based on my logic, my brain, my heart, which God gave me J, therefore I believe God has given me this knowledge and information. Hope I don’t sound too crazy with that statement :P. Here is the way I see it - Does a son need  a document, an instruction manual, or something like that to establish a relationship with his father? I think not. You and I didn’t with Dad. (1) He is talking about having immediate access to God via intuition, experience, and reason. In philosophy, we call this “properly basic belief.” The great philosopher, Alvin Plantiga, at Notre Dame, also firmly believes that knowledge of God is properly basic. I actually think there is great merit here. Of course, belief that God exists, along with minimal knowledge of Him, does not mean that a person knows God (again, not according to the truth claims of Christianity, which require a host of beliefs concerning Trinity, Jesus, etc.). (2) I like the analogy about your dad, it’s just that it’s a false analogy. You have direct knowledge of your Dad. That is, knowledge of your dad is both immediately perceived (by watching him in the world) and revealed (when he speaks to you directly and when others tell you about him indirectly). If your brother is saying that he has that kind of access to God, then that is amazing! I've never met a person who has that kind of access to the Father--only Jesus Himself claimed to have that kind of direct access to that degree. Christians believe that our “direct” knowledge of the Father and Son is only mediated through the Spirit after we’re baptized. We learn about God via intuition/reason and Scripture; we learn to know God via the Spirit.

Why I don’t believe in Hell? Same reason as above. Would a father let his son burn in hell for eternity even if he is good because he didn’t follow a certain rule? Let’s say that rule is reading the bible, No I don’t believe that, would you do that to your son? How would you feel if you did?  Or let say accepting Christ as the rule, say someone who was born in a country where Christianity is not the major religion and didn’t get to know much about Christ (again, as stated in my previous email, we are taking about trillions of people here), so for this person who had no fault in being born in that country, do I think God would let him burn in hell for ever, I do not. I don’t believe God being the creator of everything, would create a Hell for the purpose of having the majority of his sons burn, would you do that for your kids? …. I think you would spank them if not following your instructions or ground them, but that’s too different from giving them eternal pain and suffering. This is a huge topic, so I’ll have to cut out so much. But, the good news is, he doesn't have to struggle with this anymore! In his other email, he said that this was the one reason why he could never believe in the Christian God. This is great news, because if this is really the only reason, he’s one small step from heading toward Christianity! Listen, Christians have various ways of dealing with what scholars call, “the fate of the unevangelized.” While all Christians believe that salvation is through Jesus alone, what we disagree on is the way Jesus’s salvation is applied to people who have never received the gospel. The New Testament has verses that support different views. There are four major views (exclusivism, inclusivism, post-mortem experiences, and middle knowledge). I’d be happy to explain these views if needed.  Your brother is reacting terribly against the “exclusivist" view (or his version of it). In any case, I concur with your brother here on this point: I am convinced that people don't go to hell because of where they're born. In fact, people go to hell because they’re sinners. Can sinners be saved through Jesus without hearing/reading the gospel? As an “inclusivist,” my view is certainly yes! There is no reason whatsoever that your brother should dismiss the entire gospel story of Jesus as found in the Gospels just because he doesn't like the idea that “people go to hell because they haven't heard the gospel.” Instead, he can be a committed Christian and not be an exclusivist.

Is my conclusion that all religions are false and can’t be trusted? It’s not like that, for example your religion, I think it’s good in the sense that it helps people to be good and follow a good path and respect other people, be kind, etc. I’m happy that a religion like yours exists, I just don’t agree with all its beliefs.

Am I avoiding to make a commitment to a particular religion? I just don’t think I need to commit to a religion, nor God needs me to join a religion. I’m not saying these things to win (like a football fan would defend his team even if they aren’t the best), or because I want to do whatever I want and not be tied to consequences, or because I don’t want to go to Church early every Sunday. No, it is more like why tie myself to a religion when I God is with me all the time, will god get angry at me for not going to church? No . will god get angry at me for not joining the Christian religion or any other religion for that matter? No.  Again, I hope he’s right for His sake! If His god doesn’t require any commitment to the teachings of Jesus, then awesome. If the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is the actual God, then his beliefs here will have really horrible consequences. It is in absolute disagreement with the teachings of Jesus. Jesus certainly believed that not following Him and His teachings was wrong and would end in judgment. (Of course there's more to His teachings!)


About praying to god for answers –

Which god? The only one
How do I know if I received a message If I don’t know what kind of God he is? I do know what kind of God he is, as much as anyone can know, I mean….who can fully comprehend what God is like?  No one can but God. Since Jesus is really the God-Man, then He is the only person who can tell us accurately what it means to be God.
I don’t think God is a man, I call him “he” just cause
I think he lives within me because I believe he is everywhere, how did I come to that conclusion? Again no book or document, it’s the only way I can comprehend God.



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