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Think Christianly

Think Christianly: April 2011

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Article - Is it okay to have doubts?

Real Christians don’t doubt. Or at least that’s the unspoken message you’ll find in most churches today. Well, if that’s true then I guess I’m not a real Christian because I’ve had (and still have) my share of doubts. By the way, your parents and youth pastors have them too! As humans, we all have limitations. We all experience doubts simply because we cannot know everything about everything. So be encouraged, you are not alone. But in order to live with our doubts in a spiritually healthy and faith-building way, we need to be clear about what doubt is and isn’t.

First, as J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler point out, there is a difference between unbelief, doubt, and lack of belief.

  • Unbelief – someone willfully sets themselves against a biblical teaching (e.g., Jesus is not the Son of God).
  • Doubt – someone has an intellectual, emotional, or psychological barrier to a more secure confidence in a biblical teaching or in God Himself (e.g., I believe God is always there for me, but when bad stuff happens I struggle to believe this).
  • Lack of belief – someone doesn’t believe a biblical teaching or idea, but wants to (e.g., I need some help to believe).

Also, all doubts aren’t created equal; there are different flavors. The two most common are intellectual and emotional doubts. Given a Christian understanding of faith as “confidence or trust in what we have reason to believe is true”—as opposed to ‘blind faith’ or wishing—the recipe for overcoming your doubts is not to somehow dig deep and crank out more faith by holding your breath and concentrating really hard.

What you need to do is have the courage to “doubt your doubts.” Investigate. Seek the truth. Here’s a place to start: (1) be specific about what your doubts are—write them out and list reasons for / against (2) start your investigation by reading the articles in this study Bible (3) remind yourself that you are not the only one who has ever asked this question, and that 99.9% of the time a reasonable answer exists.

Sometimes emotional doubts look like intellectual ones. But the root cause turns out not to be unanswered questions at all. Some sources of emotional doubts: (1) experiencing disappointment, failure, pain, or loss (2) having unresolved conflict or wounds from our past that need to be addressed (3) letting unruly emotions carry us away for no good reason (4) being spiritually dry (5) fearing to really commit to someone.

Emotions are good and normal but they aren’t always right....(read the rest)

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Are Christians "stingy" for believing in the cross as a substitutionary atonement for our sins and the reality of hell? Dan Kimball says NO

I came across an interesting article by Dan Kimball in Outreach magazine. Here is a very perceptive excerpt in light of the recent cultural conversation regarding Love Wins by Rob Bell and its impact on evangelism:

Evangelism de-emphasized further. Another critical concern centers on the potential evangelistic ramifications of believing that all are saved (even through Jesus). Some have said that if we even resist the possibility that all are saved in the end, we have a “stingy” view of salvation. I find that comment almost offensive. As I said before, I would love to believe that all are saved in the end. But my personal convictions and years of studying Scripture and church history won’t allow that.

Believing in the cross as a substitutionary atonement for our sins and the reality of hell isn’t “stingy.” It would be if I delighted in the truth that all aren’t saved or became self-focused and didn’t do anything about it. But I and many others want to see God’s forgiveness shared so abundantly with other people that we have devoted ourselves to being on mission. We have started churches, taken risks and given our all to see people experience the grace, love and freedom found in Jesus in this life—and after we die.

Thinking about someone who will not experience being with God in heaven for all eternity grieves and horrifies us. And then motivates us to do something about it. That’s so much of what the church’s mission has been and is about. It’s what you see driving Jesus’ disciples in the book of Acts as they went out to speak about judgment, repentance, being “saved” and explained the Gospel as both kingdom now and future. How would Acts read if the disciples had believed everyone was eventually saved? We do need to study Jesus’ wise words on experiencing the kingdom in this life, but don’t forget that He also talked about judgment and afterlife, as did Peter, Paul, John and the writer of Hebrews. It seems that if the disciples had embraced a universal reconciliation view of everyone being saved, it would have totally taken the steam out of their message of urgency. How would Paul’s famous message at Mars Hill be different if he believed that all those worshipping other gods would eventually be saved in the end?
Read the rest of this article.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Why Can't We Just Let Jesus Be Jesus? - An Easter Sermon (Audio)

Last month I came across an article in the Washington Post by Martha Woodruff —the title caught my interest:

Why can't we just let Jesus be Jesus? I'm not close to being a Christian, but I am a person of faith who is quite the Jesus fan. Why? Because this guy, more than anyone I've ever known or heard of, fearlessly lived his relationship with God, the great Whatever….

She continues…

….So back to this Jesus, a knowable figure in history. Personally, I admire and wish to emulate him, without having any urge to deify him. It does seem to me Christianity's insistence that Jesus be god repels people who might otherwise happily trot along in his path. And that path trotting is, I would suggest, what Jesus, himself, calls us to do.”

Her bottom line is clear: why do you Christians have to mess up a perfectly good example of spirituality for the rest of us by making Jesus out to be God? Why can’t we just try to follow his example and leave it at that? (more from article)

And then you have people like Richard Dawkins—probably the most famous atheist in the world today—claiming that:

“There is no good historical evidence that he [Jesus] thought he was divine.”

Is that true?

And then there is the bizarre trend today that people think they get to recreate history according to their preferences or desires. But that is not the way history works, that is not the way truth works. And truth is what we are after because at the end of the day, it is the only solid foundation on which to build a life.

Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, but everyone is not entitled to their own truth. What we are after this is the truth. Who was Jesus? Was he the Son of God? Was Jesus divine? On Easter sunday I preached a message addressing this very important question (click here to listen). I also make the case here.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is Your Jesus Big Enough To Explain Easter?

Everyone has an opinion about Jesus. But one of the questions everyone has to answer-especially historians-is how one explains Jesus being worshipped as God within 20 years of his public and disgraceful crucifixion as the King of the Jews? You need a big enough cause to generate that effect! I think the resurrection would do it. Here is a link to the audio of a message I gave last Easter on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus.

"Students of Jesus today are faced with a multitude of options, ranging from the traditional Jesus who was Savior, Lord, and founder of the church, to a Jesus who was considerably different—a Jesus who was a sage, a religious genius or social revolutionary. These latter three portraits though clearly drawing their energies from live wires in the Gospels, leave us with a Jesus who is not big enough to explain his crucifixion, his following, or development of the Church. If we today are going to be honest about Jesus, we have to choose a Jesus who satisfies all the evidence historians have observed and who will also explain why it is that so many people have found him to be so wonderful that they attend churches every week to worship him."—Scot McKnight

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Should People Take the Bible Literally?

Maybe…how’s that for an answer? It really all depends on what someone means by the literally. But most often it has to do with the implications of what the plain or straightforward reading of a text or passage says. It isn’t a matter of understanding at all…it is just the implications we aren’t big fans of. Take one of Jesus’ statements in the Gospels as an example “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:47).

Now, is the basic thrust of this statement difficult to understand? Of course there was a cultural background in which Jesus spoke these words, but the meaning of the passage seems pretty clear (even though the implications are quite demanding and uncomfortable to put into practice!).

However, sometimes the question “Do you take the Bible literally?” comes up in conversation or on the news or in a magazine in a different sense. The idea here is usually something like this, I can understand “love thy neighbor” well enough, but when it comes to creation out of nothing, floods, really big fish, gender issues, sexuality, people rising from the dead, waters being parted, slavery, war, people walking on water, demons, talking bushes etc. that is just too incredible, or too outdated, or unscientific, or that makes me uncomfortable…

And if some of us are honest, we have probably all felt that at some point in our own faith journeys when reading some of these passages. So how should we think about this question of taking the Bible literally? Here are a couple of brief thoughts and then I will suggest some resources for further exploration.

First, I think this is not a very helpful way to ask or frame the question. I agree with Greg Koukl, of Stand to Reason ( , who deals with this quite a bit on his radio show; “When someone asks, Do you take the Bible literally?, I respond by saying that I try to take the Bible with the precision I think the writer intended.” This basically means, One should not be a slave to a woodenly literal interpretation.

To take just one example, this principle allows for estimation of numbers (like in 1 & 2 Chronicles and 1 & 2 Kings). Our newspapers use round numbers all the time and we don’t charge them with inaccuracies. Take the phrase, “Over a million people showed up at the presidential inauguration.” Let’s say the actual number was 1,233,017. But the writer in the Washington post was using the linguistic convention of estimation. So I can take her literally according to the precision she intended. Moreover, this is also helpful to remember when it comes to issues related to Science. The Bible is not a science textbook, but it does speak accurately about our world to the level of precision intended by the writers.

Second, when we come to the Bible, we need to remember to play by the rules. Every game has rules and the game of language is no different. It is fascinating how often people forget to do this. Really smart people who are critical of the Bible like New Atheist Christopher Hitchens (cf. God is not Great), may take great care to read Shakespeare, Harry Potter or the sports page according to the rules of that particular genre (e.g., poetry, fiction, narrative etc.), but then throw all that out the window when it comes to the Bible. Not good.

The Bible contains all sorts of linguistic conventions like poetry, historical narrative, figures of speech, hyperbole, metaphor, etc. People are certainly free to disagree with what the Biblical claim is at the end of the day, but let’s at least do our best to allow the text to speak for itself according to how the author intended. This will take some more work and time, but it is the only fair-minded way to proceed.

Third, I like Timothy Keller’s advice to both practicing Christians and those exploring Christianity for the first time, when they come across an offensive, troubling, or confusing text: “I counsel them…to slow down and try out several different perspectives on the issues that trouble them. That way they can continue to read, learn, and profit from the Bible even as they continue to wrestle with some of its concepts.” This is where a good bible commentary can help. But we need to be careful here as well. When the Bible is accurately understood, we ought to find Scripture troubling or even offensive to us at times precisely because we are in the process of conforming our lives to what is taught in the Bible, not the Bible to what we find comfortable in our lives. So if we read the Bible and never feel challenged to examine our hearts and actions, then odds are we are deceiving ourselves. The good news is that this learning process involves, grace, community, time, and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, sometimes the Bible does not teach what it appears to teach. A classic illustration of this pertains to the issue of Slavery.[1] God does not think slavery is a good thing. And as we grow in our understanding of the biblical text, cultural background, the reality of life in a messed-up world due to sin, as well as the trajectory from the times of the Old Testament to the present of slavery being challenged, reformed, and ultimately abolished by Christian teaching and principles, then we will see that the Bible does not endorse slavery as a good thing. But again, to see this takes effort and study to understand (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15). A 5-second skimming of a passage like Colossians 3:22 will not yield an accurate interpretation of this issue.

Fifthly and similar to the previous observation, the Bible does not necessarily endorse what it accurately records. The Bible records many things that it does not endorse—though it describes those situations accurately. One example of this is the fact that the Bible records people lying, but it does not endorse lying or think it is a good idea. Some things are prescribed in Scripture, while others are merely accurately described.

Finally, when you are having conversations with others or if you are wrestling with questions about the Bible yourself, be sure to keep the main point of the Bible in viewJesus. Maybe you have struggles concerning a giant whale swallowing Jonah for three days before vomiting him out again. The good news is about Jesus Christ—what he claimed and what he did for us (not that really big fish can eat people).[2] Investigate the Jesus issue first and then work your way out to less central issues. Because, “if Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to take his teaching seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible…If He is not who He says he is, why should we care what the Bible says about anything else?”[3] By the way, if it is at least possible that God exists, then it’s at least possible that miracles can happen. So you cannot rule miracles out a priori (i.e., before examining the evidence for the miracle in question). The Jonah incident or even raising someone from the dead is mere child’s play to a deity with the power to speak the universe into existence out of nothing.

There is no other book like the Bible. It is God’s Word to His people. But we will not automatically or fully understand it by magic. Howard Hendricks, who has taught people to study the Bible for over 50 years now, observes, “Scripture does not yield its fruit to the lazy. Like any other discipline of life, Bible study pays in proportion to how much of an investment you make. The greater investment, the greater the reward.” That is why the Apostle Paul gave his protégé Timothy—and by extension anyone who would become a Christ-follower in the centuries after—a charge to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 cf. 3:16-17). May we all take that challenge to heart.

Resources for Interpreting the Bible in its Cultural Context and Applying it in Today’s World:

[1] Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just a Human Invention : And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2010), 148-57.

[2] The point in Jonah is not that great big fish naturally swallows grown men for three days before regurgitating them. We shouldn’t be looking for whale in the ocean that can naturally do this. Rather, the point is that God can and does work supernaturally to bring about His purposes.

[3] Timothy J. Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Dutton, 2008), 113.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

The Point with John Stonestreet - engaging real-life issues in real time from a Christian worldview

Chuck Colson of Breakpoint recently introduced a new podcast and radio show you need to know about:

"From Facebook to Twitter, from college professors who mock the Christian faith to feel-good Christianity, from premarital relations to finding a job, let’s face it: it’s a tough, confusing world for Christian young people. It’s hardly a wonder that George Barna has found that six out of ten 20-somethings who were involved in church during their teen years are no longer spiritually active as young adults.

The problem’s compounded by the fact that we older Christians aren’t particularly adept at communicating our faith and our worldview to younger Christians. And I include myself in that criticism. After all, our experiences growing up were radically different than those of our young brethren and even our children. That’s one reason why for several years now I’ve been talking about how critical it is that we equip our youth with a solid, biblically based, orthodox worldview. And it’s why I’ve supported organizations like Summit Ministries, which operates courses and camps to teach worldview to young people.

And now I’m pleased to announce that we’ve added one of the truly fine, leading, young worldview thinkers and teachers to the BreakPoint fold. You may have heard me talk about him before. His name is John Stonestreet. And while he still serves with Summit Ministries, he has joined us to host his new worldview radio program called “The Point with John Stonestreet.”

In just one minute each day, John gives a thoroughly biblical perspective on topics that are part of everyday culture....(more from Chuck Colson)"

The Point is a radio minute and blog aimed at the the intersections of faith and life, of truth and decision, of Christ and culture, of heart and mind. You'll find commentary on news, media, entertainment and culture from a Christian perspective:

John Stonestreet has asked me to be a part of a team of bloggers at the point blog. What a great opportunity to rub shoulders with some very sharp people! Check it out!

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

New Testament Scholar Ben Witherington Reviews New Book by Bart Ehrman - Forged

Here is a careful review of Bart Ehrman's latest book attacking the reliability and integrity of the New Testament. One observation Witherington makes is telling: "I have already warned against Bart’s penchant to make global claims which cannot be substantiated by the evidence." (read more)

Be on the look out for New Testament Scholar Darrell Bock's review of Forged here.


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Sunday, April 3, 2011

C.S. Lewis, God, and Miracles

“If we admit God, must we admit Miracle? Indeed, indeed, you have no security against it. That is the bargain.”—C.S. Lewis

If it’s even possible that God exists, then we can’t rule out his intervention in the natural world before we consider the evidence.

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