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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