Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is Christ's Atonement Irrational?

I've been writing about the top ten reasons why people are not Christians as the direct result of a letter that I got and a man that I met who said "I want to talk about the reasons I will not embrace the Christian worldview."

Another reason this gentleman says he is not a believer and why, vicariously, a lot of other people say they are not believers, is that he finds the idea of humankind being tainted by one man's sin, and then redeemed by another man, Jesus Christ, irrational. This is not just wrong, in his view, it is irrational. To that I would respond, if one does not like being represented by the first man, Adam, because the idea of representation appears unfair, then perhaps that same person, in the interests of fairness, does not want to be represented by the second man, Jesus Christ.

There's nothing unfair about this. We fall in one man and we've ratified that fall. Every one of us, in the quietness of our own room, knows that we are sinners in need of a Savior. No one does right. The heart is desperately wicked. Therefore, we cannot be reconciled to an altogether loving and great God without the mediation of Jesus Christ, Who suffered more than any man, suffered more than the cumulative sufferings of all of mankind, so that we could be redeemed.

I sometimes feel as though we have diminished God and elevated man and do not see that chasm of sin that separates one from the other. Sometimes we fail to recognize that God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, and that Son was willing, as the one who spoke and the universe leapt into existence, to lie prostrate in the pool of His own blood before His creation so that we might be reconciled to Him for time and for eternity. Such love, perhaps, is irrational to our way of thinking, but that is how much God loved us. He didn't need us. The Godhead was fulfilled within itself and yet He loved us enough to reconcile us to Him for time and for eternity. That is inexplicable, but not irrational.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Alleged Contradictions In the Bible

As I mentioned in an earlier post (October 2), I want to deal with some of the issues that have been brought to my awareness by one of our listeners who wrote me a letter saying that he was a non-Christian for a number of reasons. In fact he gave me his top ten reasons for why he is not a Christian. Earlier I dealt with one of his reasons, the idea of hell. He found that to be horrendously cruel, primitive and just a horrible idea.

Today I want to deal with another reason he gave, namely that the Bible is full of contradictions and thus is not a divine work of God and has to be the ruminations of human beings rather than being uniquely inspired by God.

Many of the alleged contradictions in the Bible can be reverted back to what we find in the Gospels. For example, a frequently cited alleged contradiction involves the female discoverers of the empty tomb. According to Matthew the discoverers were Mary Magdalene and another Mary. If you go to the Gospel of Mark you'll read that they were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. Luke claims that it's Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and then others. If you read the Gospel of John he focuses solely on Mary Magdalene.

To provide a defensible argument against this kind of dogmatic assertion with respect to contradictions it's helpful to point out that Gospels are complimentary, not contradictory. If John, in the example I just cited, had stipulated that Mary Magdalene was the only female to discover the empty tomb while the other Gospels claimed that more than one woman was involved, we'd be faced with an obvious contradiction. But that's not what's going on. The complimentary details provided by the Gospel writers simply serve to flush out the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey likes to say.

Not only that, but credible scholars always look for a reliable core set of facts to validate historical accounts. In other words, they look for this reliable core, and in this case liberal and conservative scholars agree that the body of Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and as a member of the Jewish court that convicted Jesus Christ to death, he's unlikely to be Christian fiction.

When we consider the role of women in the first century, Jewish people were very, very clearly oriented to thinking that women were mere chattel. What's remarkable is that the empty tomb accounts would feature females as heroes of the story. This demonstrates that the Gospel writers recorded what happened, even if they felt it culturally embarrassing.

One other point, and that is, if each of the Gospel writers presented secondary details in exactly the same way, critics would dismiss the accounts in the Gospels on the basis of collusion. Instead, the Gospels provide unique, yet mutually consistent, perspectives on the events surrounding the empty tomb. So we can safely conclude that, far from being contradictory, the Gospel accounts are clearly complimentary. A consensus of credible scholarship considers the core set of facts presented by the Gospel writers to be authentic and thus reliable, and the unique perspectives provided by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John actually preclude the possibility of collusion.

In a court of law, someone is considered innocent until proven guilty. Sadly, when it comes to the Bible people often render a guilty verdict without considering all the evidence.

Why Mormonism Isn't Christian Part 2

Mormons do not believe that the Bible is the infallible repository for redemptive revelation. In their view it's the Book of Mormon that is the most correct of any book on earth. Not only so, but in Christianity Jesus is the self-existent Creator of all things while in Mormonism he is the spirit-brother of Lucifer who was conceived in heaven by a celestial mother and came in flesh as a result of the Father having sex with the virgin Mary.

Why Momonism Isn't Christian

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was birthed back in the 1800s by an alleged vision in which two celestial personages appeared to Joseph Smith and claimed that all existing churches were wrong, that all their creeds were an abomination and that all their professors were corrupt. According to this vision Smith was chosen to restore - not reform - a church that, in his view, had disappeared from the face of the earth.

The Mormon doctrines that evolved from this vision compromise, confuse, they contradict the nature of God, the authority of Scripture and the way of salvation. In fact, while Christians believe that they're going to stand before God dressed in the spotless robes of Christ's righteousness, Mormons contend that they're going to appear before heavenly Father dressed in fig leaf aprons holding good works in their hands. According to the Latter-Day Saints just about everybody qualifies for heaven. The world's vilest people will make it into what's called the telestial heaven; lukewarm Mormons, religious people, they're typically going to enter a terrestrial heaven, and temple Mormons are going to make it to a celestial heaven. Only those who are sealed in secret temple rituals will make it to the third level of the celestial kingdom and then become gods of their own planets.

These and many other doctrinal perversions are why we exclude Mormonism from rightly being called Christian.

Monday, October 8, 2007


Every Halloween we get so many questions about Halloween. People want to know whether they should participate in Halloween, accommodate Halloween, or whether we, as Christians, ought to vigorously denounce Halloween. To answer those questions it's always helpful to have a little history or perspective on Halloween. A lot of people don't even know where Halloween came from.If you look at the background of Halloween, it's rooted in the ancient Celtic feast of Samhain. The Druids believed that on the eve of Samhain the veil between the present world and the world beyond was pierced, releasing demons, witches, and hobgoblins en mass to harass the living. In order to make themselves immune from attack people would disguise themselves as witches, devils, and ghouls to attempt to ward off evil spirits. They would also carve grotesque-looking faces on gourds illuminated with candles, and they would try to placate the spirits with a variety of treats.I think we can also learn a lot from the early Christians and how they responded to Halloween, because on October 31st, the eve prior to All Saints Day, they would designate this day as a spiritually edifying holy day on which to proclaim the supremacy of the gospel over the superstition of ghosts. So, "all Hallows Eve," from which the word Halloween is derived, was an attempt, an overt attempt on the part of Christianity, to overwhelm the tradition of ghouls with the truth of the Gospel.Today Halloween is predominately pagan, but there still is a silver lining. Like our forefathers, we can choose to celebrate "all Hallows Eve" by focusing on heroes of the faith who were willing to stand for truth no matter what the cost. We might also use today as an occasion to introduce our children to great classics or to the quintessential victory over ghouls and demons and death which is found in 1 Corinthians 15, the great chapter on resurrection. You ought to read that chapter with your children before Halloween arrives, because in the end the trick is to treat Halloween as a strategic opportunity rather than seeing it as a time of Satanic oppression. If you want more information there's a Perspective I did. It's called "Halloween: Oppression or Opportunity."

Thursday, October 4, 2007

English Translations of the Bible

I would like to reinforce in your minds where we have come to at the beginning of the 21st century. Many of you are probably not all that aware of the fact that it wasn't all that long ago that we did not have an English Bible. Indeed, until the 16th century and the invention of moveable type, the only English translation of the Bible that was extant in the world stemmed from the work of John Wycliffe. He held that the Bible, not the pope, was the exemplar of Christianity, the sole authority for faith and practice. So his writings were condemned as heresy. In other words, it was not popular, it was heresy, to translate the Bible into the English language. As a result, this outrage was condemned by the church, and 44 years after Wycliffe died Pope Martin V had his bones unearthed, incinerated, and then the ashes were unceremoniously thrown to the wind.

As significant as Wycliffe’s contribution was, though, I think no single person made a greater contribution to the legacy of the English Bible than William Tyndale. He purposed to make the Bible available to the commoner so that a boy who drives the plough would be as familiar with the Bible as the Pope. After a lengthy imprisonment Tyndale, like Wycliffe before him, was tried for translating the Bible into the English language and was martyred. His body ablaze, he cried out "Oh Lord, open the eyes of England's king." Ironically, his prayer found an answer in King Henry VIII, who authorized an English translation of the greatest volume to be chained to every church pulpit in the land. People would come from far and wide and they would experience for the first time the reading of the Word of God.

A number of years later the Geneva Bible came along and added verse numbering to the Bible and italicized English words to enhance the literary flow of the text. That became the Bible aboard the Mayflower when it set sail for America in 1620. It was the Bible of choice for William Shakespeare and John Milton and John Bunyan, who wrote Pilgrim's Progress.

Then, of course, King James I of England commissioned an English translation of the Bible which was destined to become preeminent among English Bibles. For the next 400 years the King James Version, which was commissioned in 1604 and completed in 1611, became the most cherished Bible in the English speaking world. I think it's important to recognize that the translators themselves were the leading academicians of prestigious institutions like Oxford and Cambridge and Westminster. They had a stated mission: to deliver God's Word to God's people in a language that they could understand. They carried out that mission with linguistic artistry and stylistic majesty, and I think above all else enduring reverence for the divine Author.

This King James Version would likely have remained preeminent among English Bible translations if it were not for three principle factors: the evolution of language, progress in knowledge and understanding of original biblical languages, and the discovery of earlier and better manuscripts. Recognizing the need for faithfulness to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts, the advances in our understanding of biblical languages and changes in the meaning and spelling of biblical words, my good friend Sam Moore, who is the former president of Thomas Nelson, the leading publisher of Bibles in the world, commissioned a new English translation of the Bible in 1975 which came to be known as the New King James Version of the Bible.

This legacy of a common English Bible from Wycliffe to the New King James Version in 1975 is just one part of the story. The even greater legacy, to my mind, is God's faithfulness in preserving His Word from the time of the original writings to the present.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Existence of Hell

When I got done speaking and answering questions in Boston last week and started autographing books one man walked up to me. He immediately said I was a false prophet and that I was going to go straight to hell. The reason he gave was that I taught that we are saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. He said that prior to the Reformation no one ever taught such a thing. Not only that, but he said you're saved through the Roman Catholic Church and through the Roman Catholic Church alone. If you are not part of the Roman Catholic Church you are a false prophet and you're going to go to hell. That was my first encounter.

I also encountered a man who was very sincere, an unbeliever, who is a man who believes that there are many reasons why he cannot accept the historic Christian faith but is open to reason. That's what we're looking for; people who are sincerely open to reason. This gentleman has a number of questions that I'm going to be addressing with him personally, but I thought it would be instructive to take some of those questions and deal with them in the next several blog entries. These are issues that separate people from the historic Christian faith or Christian worldview. They say it's simply irrational. "There are these unanswered questions, they nag at me, they bother me and I can't become a Christian until they're resolved." That's a problem for him and I imagine it's a problem for many other people as well.

For example, he says that the Bible teaches hell and he thinks that's a horrendously primitive and cruel concept. Or, the Bible supports slavery, or the Bible is full of contradictions, or Jesus is not qualified to be God's representative because He was mistaken about the end times - a question I've got many, many different times as I've talked to skeptics throughout the years. "I find the Bible discriminates against Gay people." Another objection, "The Bible contradicts science." Yet another, "The Bible's prophecies are unimpressive" or "I find the Bible's answer to the problem of evil unsatisfying." So we have the top ten objections here, and again, let's deal with some of them.

The first of these objections is the objection which is often raised with respect to eternal, conscious torment in hell. Why do we, as Christians, believe in hell? I've outlined this in various places, including my book Resurrection and The Bible Answer Book, Volume 1.

The first reason I believe in hell's irrevocable reality is that Christ communicated that hell was real. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount alone He explicitly warned His followers about the dangers of hell a half a dozen or more times.

Secondly, I believe that the concept of choice demands that we believe in hell. Without hell there's no choice, and without choice heaven would not be heaven, heaven would be hell. The righteous would inherit a counterfeit heaven and the unrighteous would be incarcerated in heaven against their wills, which would be a torture worse than hell. Imagine spending a lifetime voluntarily distancing yourself from God only in the end to find yourself involuntarily dragged into His loving presence for all eternity! The alternative to hell is worse than hell itself in that it is taking humans who are made in the image of God and stripping them of freedom and forcing them to worship God against their wills.

So the first reason I believe in hell is Christ taught there was a hell and you can demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the one who spoke and the universe leapt into existence. The second reason I believe in hell is choice demands that there be a hell. Without hell there's no choice.

There's one other reason I should cite, and that is common sense dictates that there must be a hell. Without hell the wrongs of Hitler's holocaust are never going to be righted. Justice would be impugned if, after slaughtering 6 million Jews, Hitler would merely die in the comforting arms of his mistress with no eternal consequences. The ancients knew better than to think such a thing. David knew that for a time it might seem as though the wicked prosper in spite of their deeds but in the end justice would be served.

Common sense also dictates that without a hell there's no need for a Savior. Little needs to be said about the absurdity of suggesting that the Creator would suffer more than the cumulative sufferings of all of mankind if there's no hell to save us from. Without hell there's no need for salvation. Without salvation there's no need for a sacrifice, and without a sacrifice there's no need for a Savior.

As much as we might want to think that all will be saved, I think that common sense precludes the possibility. So I believe in hell first and foremost because Christ taught there was a hell. Secondly, because choice demands there be a hell. Thirdly, because common sense dictates there is a hell. I've outlined in a couple of different places: The Bible Answer Book, Volume 1 and Resurrection. We also did a feature article in the Christian Research Journal on hell.