Monday, September 27, 2010


On my previous post (TEN QUESTIONS) I wrote of “ten questions that every Christian must answer,” a video referred to in a comment on the post before that one.

I posted the questions and made some comments, but I did not answer the questions.  Here I will make an attempt to do so, though not in the order given.

First, I attempt to deal with what I previously referred to as “nonsense questions.”

Question #1.  Why won’t God heal amputees?

Apparently the interrogator feels that this is an extremely important question because this is what he named his website.  He tells us that because many, even doctors, believe in miraculous healings, it would seem that God should be able to restore severed members.  After all some species do regenerate.

While I referred to this before as a nonsense question, I guess it makes sense if there are many who claim to have witnessed miracles.

Perhaps part of the problem here is in the overuse of the word.  Many consider every answered prayer or healing a miracle.  I do not.  The word as used in the New Testament (Greek – DUNAMIS) describes a powerful work of God that can be seen but not explained.  By that definition most of us have not witnessed a miracle.  I haven’t!

True miracles are rare.  That’s why they’re miracles!  As I have often said, if everything is a miracle, then nothing is a miracle.

So perhaps God does heal amputees, perhaps not.  He is perfectly capable of doing so.  If He has, most of us probably would not have seen it happen.

Question #7.  Why didn’t any of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence?

I must confess that I don’t know what sort of evidence is expected.  Does he want videos of the healings?  Does he want to see petrified loaves and fishes?

We do have eyewitness accounts.  Are they not sufficient?  They’re sufficient for much of “secular history.”

Ah, but there is one miracle with continuing effects:  Jesus’ resurrection.  He is still alive, though it may be a while till we see Him, at His return.  Paul named over 500 witnesses, many of whom were still alive years after the event.  Unfortunately as Paul relates “some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:3-6).  (All have by now.)

Question #8.  How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you?

I guess I’d have to say that it’s because He’s not been in the habit of appearing to folks visibly since His ascension.  I really fail to see how this question is even relevant.

Question #9.  Why would Jesus want you to eat His body and drink His blood?

Assuming that our questioner is a rational, critical thinking, educated person, I would have thought he understood what a metaphor is.

In John’s gospel, chapter 6, verses 32, 33 and 34, Jesus claims to be the “Bread of Life” or something similar.  This is only one of His many “I am” claims.

It should be clear that “eating and drinking” in this context is a metaphor for appropriating Him by faith.  He uses the expressions “come to Me,” “believe in Me,” and “eat My flesh and drink my blood” interchangeably (John 76:32-58).  Later, in the other gospels, He inaugurates the memorial supper in which the participants partake of actual bread and wine as a symbol.  But we can’t expect our interrogator to understand.  After all even Jesus’ disciples said, “This is a hard statement.  Who can understand it?” (John 6:60)

Now for the legitimate, though slanted, questions:

Question #3.  Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?

This is one of the most difficult questions for the person of faith.  I do not have all the answers, though I have attempted to deal with it in a previous post, VIOLENCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT.

Question #4.  Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?

I would like to rephrase the question as “Why does the Bible seem to contradict much of modern scientific thinking?”

Again, I do not claim to have all of the answers, though I have attempted to deal with the questions in WHAT IS TRUTH? and OUR COUSIN THE FISHAPOD.

We also need to remember that the Bible was written to be read by “pre-scientific” readers.  It does not claim to be a book of science, though it is not “anti-scientific.”

Question #5.  Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery n the Bible?

I don’t find God at all a proponent of slavery in the Bible, even though there are laws concerning slavery in the Old Testament and exhortations concerning slavery in the New Testament. See RACE.

Now for the really tough ones, questions that still trouble me and other persons of faith.

Questions #2 and #6 are closely related.

Question #2.  Why are there so many starving people in our world?
Question #6.  Why do bad things happen to good people?

We see our world sometimes overcome with evil, both what we could call “moral evil” and what we could call “natural evil.”  The first refers to those evil acts that humans inflict on each other.  The latter refers to evils that seem to “just happen” – natural disasters, accidents.

The innocent suffer as much as the guilty.  Both moral and natural evils seem indiscriminate as to their victims.  We could look simply at the problem in #2, but there are other related problems.  An examination of the problem of starvation involves not just “natural evils,” as causes, but humankind’s cruelty to one another.

I have attempted to deal with these issues in a number of posts. See:
     JOB, GOD AND SUFFERING -- 7 posts

The more I have thought and written on these topics, the more I realize that I don’t know, so I’m still working on this one and will be till Jesus takes me home.

Finally, Question #10.  Why do Christians get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians?

Well, first of all, we live in a fallen world and have to deal with sinners.  Sometimes the problems, such a divorce, are caused by non-Christians, but sometimes they are not.

Secondly, it is apparent that Christians still carry their old fallen mature, or as Paul calls it “our old man.”  It is too easy to “be conformed to this age” (Romans 12:2), which is why we are exhorted to “present our bodies to God” (Romans 12:1).

Christianity is a religion of rescue. God saves sinners.  And we come to Christ as we are.  It takes a while for change to take place.  But we should note that there are differences in the way Christians live.  There should be.

Back to the divorce question. Our questioner quotes Jesus’ saying (Matthew 19:6 – KJV) “What God has joined together let not man put asunder,” as though it were a guarantee that the marriage would last.  “God has sealed the deal,” he says.  But apparently he hasn’t read closely.  It is a command, not a promise.  The fact that Jesus commands not to “put asunder,” would seem to indicate that man is capable of doing so.


Perhaps I’ve wasted a bit too much time in attempting to answer questions which the questioner believes cannot be answered.  Perhaps not.  But I felt compelled to take the challenge.

However, our questioner’s solution to real problems by resorting to denial just smacks of intellectual dishonesty.  He hasn’t really answered his own questions.  He has rather chosen to take a leap of faith.

The atheist needs to deal with these and similar questions himself.  He needs to answer questions of purpose and meaning.  If he believes that the world in which he lives has no meaning, then questions of morality, such as he asks, make no sense in a world that just “is.”


Friday, September 24, 2010


In a comment on my previous post (SCRIBES AND PHARISEES), I was referred to a video on YouTube “about religion” and was told that I might like to view it and see what I think. The comment said, “I thought it makes a lot of common sense, don’t you?”

Well, I viewed the video and found the questions interesting. It contained 10 questions that the speaker said “every intelligent Christian must answer.” Some of these I had asked or been asked before and I have personally wrestled with. I made the following comments:

“Interesting questions. Some are quite challenging. Most are answerable, but some are more difficult. However, the questioner seems to assume that anyone who attempts to answer them is either not intelligent or is simply rationalizing, so whatever answers one gives would have no weight with him.

I have personally wrestled with many of these as a believer. You may find some of my thoughts by browsing through this blog."

At first I thought that that was enough said, but as I pondered the video more and more, I felt I needed to put in my two cents. I reviewed it a few more times and checked out the website. The speaker on the video appears to be on some sort of vendetta against God, the Bible and Christians.

The questions are:
1. Why won’t God heal amputees?
2. Why are there so many starving people in our world?
3. Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?
4. Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?
5. Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?
6. Why do bad things happen to good people?
7. Why didn’t any of Jesus’ miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence?
8. How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you?
9. Why would Jesus want you to eat His body and drink His blood?
10. Why do Christians get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians?

This seems to be a mixed bag of questions. Some are questions that have troubled persons of faith and non-faith for years (#s 2, 3, 6 and 10); some, though legitimate, seem to be slanted toward the questioner’s viewpoint (#s 3, 4 and 5); others come close to being simply nonsense questions (#s 1, 7, 8 and 9).

The interrogator begins by flattering his viewers. He tells me that he assumes that I the viewer am a smart person and an educated person, probably a professional of some sort, one who knows how the world works and is able to think critically. I feel as I watch that he is trying to suck me in, into agreement with his claims.

But the flattery doesn’t last long. He makes it clear that anyone who gives answers with which he disagrees is rationalizing or making excuses. If anyone actually has an answer, it must be a rationalization or some way of making up excuses for God. There are in the speaker’s mind, no reasonable or sensible answers. (If there are, I’m afraid he wouldn’t even consider them, unless of course they agreed with his.)

And what are his answers to these questions? Simple. Just deny that God exists! The speaker takes us through the 10 questions twice, the first time to cause us to question our foolish beliefs, the second time to show how his answer is the only solution to all ten. Here is his solution:
-- “What if you instead assume that God is imaginary? The answers to every one of these questions make complete sense because God is imaginary.”
-- “If we assume God is imaginary our world makes complete sense.”
-- “People who believe in immortal beings are delusional.”
-- “The belief in any god is complete nonsense!”

There you have it! We need not be concerned about these and other questions. Just deny God’s existence. What is, is. That’s all there is to it! The world now for the first times makes sense!

Or does it? Does denying God really make sense of this world? Some of these same or similar questions are asked and pondered by non-believers. Don’t they know that they don’t have to worry anymore? (Of course realizing that the greater share of the people who inhabit this globe are “delusional” should seem to be a cause for worry for the atheist.)

But then, another solution to the dilemmas in these questions might be to deny the existence of the other entities, such as amputees, starving people, etc. Denial can work in this way as well. Denial is no solution. We cannot solve a dilemma merely by denying the existence of one of its “horns,” no matter how convenient that may be.

But I digress. As I said, a number of these appear to be simply nonsense questions. Our interrogator has come up with an image of God that doesn’t always agree with the picture we find in Scripture. His god (that he doesn’t believe in) is somehow expected to be answerable to man. His god is a magic god, sort of like a genie in a bottle to be called up at will to do one’s bidding, and the interrogator apparently believes that Christians share the same concept. This god doesn’t live up to what the interrogator thinks is believed about him, therefore he must be imaginary.

It’s the old “straw man” debater’s trick. Describe your opponent in terms that can be easily refuted. Only in this case our interrogator has created a “straw god,” one of his own design.

I’ll attempt to deal with the individual questions on my next post.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


In the previous post I quoted a warning from Jesus about the Pharisees. Later in that same post I mentioned Pharisaism and the Pharisees and drew a subtle (?) comparison between the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and the moralists of our day. Often one thought leads to another and I began to see more and more similarities.

But first, who were the Pharisees? Actually there were a number of religious parties that Jesus clashed with, but the Pharisees and the Scribes were two that were often lumped together and often overlapped.

The Scribes were probably originally just what the name implies: copyists of the Holy Scriptures (our Old Testament). This was in itself an honorable profession dating back at least to the time of Ezra (ca. 457 BC). Because of their writing skills and their knowledge of Scripture they were highly regarded as scholars, teachers and lawyers (Ezra 7:6, 10). They also became known as guardians of the Jewish tradition.

The Pharisees were a sect within Judaism whose origins are not clear. Some believe they were to be identified with the Hasidim who were connected with the Maccabean leaders of Israel (ca. 160 BC). The apostle Paul and the historian Josephus both claimed to have been Pharisees. This party was the traditionalist party, holding to a strict interpretation of the Scriptures and a strict observance of its rules as interpreted by them.

The two groups overlapped of course. Not all Scribes were of the Pharisaic party and not all Pharisees were Scribes, but they are often seen together in the Gospels (Matthew 5:20; 12:38). Sometimes we see references to “the Scribes of the Pharisees,” (Mark 2:16), apparently persons of this party who were also of this profession.

These people were apparently highly regarded among the common people and had an influence that went way beyond their numbers. They were a strong influence for morality in their day. Yet we find Jesus constantly warning others about them.

“Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees …” (Matthew 16:6; Mark 8:15; Luke 12:1).

“Watch out for the Scribes …” (Mark 12:38; Luke 20:46).

“The Scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in Moses’ seat. Everything they tell you, do and keep, but do not do according to their works …” (Matthew 23:2).

He acknowledges their “righteousness,” but holds His followers to a higher standard: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, there’s no way you’ll enter the Kingdom of the Heavens!” (Matthew 5:20).

He seems to be referring to them and holding them up as a bad example when He speaks of “the hypocrites” in Matthew 6:2, 5, 16.

He not only warns others about them; what is striking is His direct confrontations with them. There were many, although two of the most direct and harsh are found in Luke 11:37-52 and Matthew 23:13-29. Though there are similarities between these two diatribes, they are different, spoken at different times and places and probably to different groups.

In Luke’s report, Jesus says “Woe to you!” six times, sometimes aiming at the Pharisees, sometimes at the Scribes (Luke uses the word “lawyers”). Once He calls them “fools” (11:40).

In Matthew’s account, He says “Woe to you!” seven times. He calls them “hypocrites” six times. He calls them “blind guides” twice, “blind” three times, “stupid.” They are “the murderers of the prophets,” a “nest of snakes” (He apparently got that expression from John the Baptist, 3:7).

This doesn’t sound like “gentle Jesus meek and mild.” Jesus hung around with sinners, tax collectors, winos and whores, yet we never read of Him talking to them this way. What was it about these good religious people that aroused his ire?

Well, the most often mentioned fault is that mentioned above: hypocrisy.

“They say and they don’t do! They bind up heavy loads and put them on the peoples’ shoulders, but they don’t want to lift one finger” (Matthew 23:3, 4).

“You clean the outside of the cup and the dish while inside they’re full of greed and self indulgence” (Matthew 23:25).

“You’re like white washed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but inside full of dead men’s bones and all sorts of uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

They were concerned about an outward show of righteousness, but not with inward reality. They cared about appearances, about being recognized by others for their good deeds and piety. They liked to be honored as the religious leaders (they thought) they were. The root of hypocrisy is pride.

“They like to walk around in long robes and they love greetings at the market place and the best seats in the synagogues and the best couches at banquets” (Mark 12:38, 39; Luke 20:46).

And they were greedy. Luke tells us right out that the Pharisees were “money lovers” (16:14).

Jesus said they “devour widows houses” (Matthew 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). Widows were at the bottom of the socioeconomic order, the weakest of the weak. The Old Testament law commanded provision to be made for them. We’re not told how these religious con men swindled the widows out of everything they had, but apparently that’s what they did.

They had devised elaborate interpretations of the Law to allow them to be free of taking care of their aged parents (Matthew 7:9-13).

Pride. Greed. Hypocrisy. Many more incidents could be cited, but that’s enough. Yet these people were regarded as, and regarded themselves as, paragons of virtue. They wrung their hands over the sins of the common people. They were meticulous about the laws of purity, about tithing. They condemned sexual misbehavior and those involved in it. The stories in John 8:1-11 and Luke 7:36-50 bear this out.

And they were absolutely certain that they had a corner of God. Jesus tells the story of a Pharisee who “went up in the Temple to pray … and the Pharisee stood there and prayed to himself, ‘God I thank you that I’m not like other people, swindlers, unrighteous, adulterers … I fast twice a week, I tithe everything I get’” (Luke 18:11, 12).

Dare we compare these moralists of Jesus’ day with the moralists of our own? Are the self-appointed guardians of the morals of America the Pharisees of our day?

Are the televangelists who lament the sexual sins of our nation while asking “seed faith” money from their viewers so that they can live luxuriously?

What about the talking heads, secular, political and religious who constantly bemoan the moral morass of America? Those who constantly harp against homosexuality, abortion, illegal aliens, or whatever? It is not always clear whether they are attacking the sins or the sinners.

Why is greed seldom, if ever, mentioned by those who love to catalog the sins of their neighbors?

Perhaps it’s time for us to separate ourselves, not from ordinary sinners, but from the “righteous,” moralistic Pharisees of our day.

I did not relate the complete story that Jesus told as recorded in Luke 18:9-14, mentioned above.

“And He also told this parable to some who were confident in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.’” After relating how the Pharisee thanked God that he wasn’t sinful like others, he added “’or even like this tax collector.’” Then the story continues, “... but the tax collector stood at a distance and wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying ‘God be merciful to me the sinner!’ I tell you this one went to his house justified rather than the other. Because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Is it perhaps time that we stopped harping on the sins of others and recognized our own? Is it perhaps time that we who claim the name of Christ humbled ourselves?

Monday, September 6, 2010


“And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6).

On August 28, 2010, television talking head Glenn Beck delivered a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. It was 47 years to the day after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his well-known “I Have a Dream” speech on those same steps. Both were addressing huge rallies; King’s was a march on Washington, DC for Civil Rights; Beck’s was a “Restoring Honor” rally.

I have read Dr. King’s address a number of times and still find it moving. It is a call for justice and freedom for his people, a freedom and a justice that had been denied them. It is a message of hope, the “dream” that someday this justice and freedom will be realized for and by all the people of America.

I confess that I have not read Glenn Beck’s speech. I have listened to bits and pieces of it on YouTube and excerpts on TV news. I really don’t care to hear or read any more. I have heard enough of this man and his political scandal mongering.

Ah, but this speech is different. In it, I’m told, he’s left politics behind and has a new aim of “restoring honor” to our nation, of restoring America to the values it once had.

What happened? Was Mr. Beck “converted”? Has he turned over a new leaf? As far as I know, there’s been no change, except in the topics of his speech. He is still a Mormon (even though he has condemned churches that teach or practice “social justice”).

So why have so many evangelical leaders jumped on his bandwagon or “enlisted” in his new “Black Robe Regiment”? According to a recent news article (in The Oklahoman, pages 1d and 3d, September 4, 2010), a number have.

“Richard Land, Southern Baptist executive was pleased.”

“Bishop Harry Jackson, a black evangelical leader was pleasantly surprised” that Beck said things “some of my close friends could have written.”

“Liberty University President Jerry Falwell, Jr. was among the faith leaders to enlist …”

“ … some evangelical leaders say he sounded all the right religious notes.”

“Lou Engle, founder of The Call rallies across the country said Beck will get qualified support. ‘I think evangelicals will see him as a moral voice, not necessarily a spiritual voice.’”

Not all, of course, were so effusive in their praise. There were a number of voices of warning.

Probably the clearest summary of this unclear thinking was that of Stan Guthrie, editor-at-large for Christianity Today, “Most evangelicals are friendly toward the idea of Amercan civil religion, and I think Beck’s call sort of fit into that stream of history. I think that as long as he doesn’t get too specific about his Mormon faith … many people will be willing to get on board.”

And that to me appears to be the real problem here. A television talking head who has refashioned himself in the past, has refashioned himself once again, this time as a preacher of moral and religious revival in America. And it is a morality and religion of a generic sort. It is a selective morality. It is not an essentially Christian morality. It is not based on the morality of Jesus, the morality of the Bible. It is the morality of the small- g god of American civil religion, especially that held by the political right. It is more moralism than morality.

I fear that there is an element of Pharisaism in all of this. We should not forget that the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, were moralists too. For some reason, however, Jesus did not endorse them, even though, He would probably have agreed with some of their moral beliefs.

The Pharisees too, did not like the moral direction in which the people of their nation were going. They said of their own people, the Jews, “This crowd that doesn’t know the Law are cursed” (John 7:49). They “ … were confident in themselves that they were right and had contempt for the rest” (Luke 18:9).

I’m afraid we evangelicals have forgotten the meaning of the word “evangelical.” We are believers in and followers of, the “evangel”-- the gospel-- the good news of Jesus Christ, of His death and resurrection for the sins of humankind. We have forgotten our task, which is to love our neighbor and to seek his salvation in Christ. We are to BE moral, but we are not called upon to bring others under that morality, except through our example and the gospel.

“Let your light shine before people, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in the Heavens” (Matthew 5:16).

Friday, September 3, 2010


In America today, we are confronted with a plethora of “gospels,” often in disagreement with one another, sometimes overlapping one another, but all in competition with, and contradiction to the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All promise a “salvation” of sorts. Two strike me as prominent.

One is the “Gospel of Acceptance.” We recently heard and are hearing it proclaimed by many in politics and the news media in the fracas over the building of a Muslim community center near Ground Zero (see previous post). In reaction to the fear and bigotry of some, others were and are preaching a sappy gospel of tolerance that goes way beyond our first amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of religion. It is as though our Constitution declares that all religions are created equal. It seem to be implied by those who hold to this gospel that anyone who holds to the exclusivity of their faith (whether Christian, Muslim or whatever, but especially Christian) is a bigot.

This is a false gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ IS exclusive. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). To love my neighbor does not mean I am to accept his views of God. To love my neighbor means I am to accept him as a person and to seek what is best for him. This would include doing my best to point him to faith in Christ.

There is another “gospel” that seems to have penetrated the thinking of many Americans, including many evangelical Christians. I’ll call it the “Gospel of America.” What is sad to me is that while most evangelicals can see through the previously mentioned “gospel,” many swallow this one whole without even questioning its truth claims. They in no way find it incompatible with the gospel of Christ.

Though there are many variations, the message goes something like this: America was once a Christian Nation, founded by godly Christian men (and women). Our Constitution is an inspired document based on the Bible. But America has been (or is being) hijacked by evil men! Our Constitution has been reinterpreted by evil men! We, the people of God, must take back our nation and its Constitution and restore America to its former place of honor and glory, though we’re not always clearly told what the method of achieving that goal might be. Sometimes it is political activism. Sometimes it is presented as restoring morality or “family values.”

It even includes at times, evangelism. In the Gospel of America as it is held by some evangelicals, salvation is a national thing. If we get enough people “saved,” then we can save our country. Evangelism and the personal salvation of individuals is seen as simply a means to the achievement of this greater end.

This mythology of a past golden age from which we have fallen is a counterfeit of the biblical account of a perfect creation marred by the fall of man. The myth of restoration is a counterfeit of the restoration achieved through the work of Christ to be ultimately consummated through His return to reign in a New Heaven and Earth.

In fact, the “gospel” is usually more concerned with the bad news than the good news. There seems to be a preoccupation with what is wrong with America, or with those persons it opposes. It is fed by fear.

This is nothing new, however. It has been with us for a very long time. I can remember hearing warnings of the dangers of American’s fall for most of my Christian life. The “evil men” who have taken over or are taking over our nation, have been variously identified; in the fifties we were warmed of communists and modernists (liberal preachers); in the sixties it was hippies, integrationists, left-leaning judges. Today various other groups are pointed out, usually those with whom the preacher disagrees politically or religiously.

The Gospel of Acceptance is too broad. It seeks to be all-inclusive and attempts to eliminate the need for Christ’s sacrifice. The Gospel of America is, in one sense, too narrow. It excludes those of different political thinking.

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that “ … God … gave us the ministry of reconciliation, how that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. So then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God was exhorting through us, ‘We urge you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.’”