Sunday, September 6, 2009

Theodicy: the Question of Evil

There is an argument floating around out in the world that goes something like this: "If God is good, and God created everything, and God is omnipotent, why is there evil? God must have created evil, therefore God is not good. Or God is not omnipotent and cannot stop evil." This type of irrational thinking has led many people to deny God or deny the Christian concept of God.

"Irrational"? Why do I call that line of reasoning "irrational"? Basically, because it starts from a false premise: God created evil. Merriam-Webster defines "evil" as "the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing" or "something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity". In short, "evil" is merely the absence of good; evil is not a thing, and therefore not a created thing. [Another definition is "a cosmic evil force", but this falls under the line of reasoning that evil is an entity, and is therefore irrational. Strangely, Merriam-Webster violates a basic precept for this one and uses the very word inside its own definition.]

Let me explain with some examples. Is a hammer good or evil? A hammer is neither good nor evil. A hammer is a tool. I can use that hammer to drive a nail while building a house (good) or I can use it to assault somebody (evil). There are two created entities involved here: the hammer and me. The hammer merely exists, it has no will. I, however, have free will. God granted all human beings free will. I choose how to use the hammer.

OK, so God gave us free will. What does that prove? Couldn't God just eliminate evil by denying free will?

Yes, He could. But what good would that do? For most of us, the greatest possible "good" is "love". Without free will, there is no love. You will find many ways of defining love, but one thing that is important to bear in mind is that love is not an emotion. Love is a choice. Without the ability to choose, we cannot love. I am reminded of the movie, Clash of the Titans, which portrayed the Greek pantheon up on Mount Olympus moving people around as if they were chess pieces. What meaning would life have if we were mere pawns or automatons?

One more example: not all suffering is "evil". Think from the perspective of a parent. Do we not knowingly, intentionally allow our children to suffer in order that they gain a greater good? When an infant receives a vaccine shot, all the infant knows is that it hurts. The parent knows they are protecting their child from future illnesses.

Evil didn't come from God. Evil comes from those who disobey God. Everyone is guilty, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, NASB). Satan didn't crash planes into the Twin Towers and kill 2,993 people, 19 human beings did. Some "cosmic evil force" didn't reach inside a womb and kill a baby, a misguided human physician did. Little red demons with pointy tails didn't come pour excessive amounts of alcohol down my gullet for 20 years, I did it of my own free will.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What About the "Office" of "Pastor", Part II

For the most part, this blog is for the purpose of providing Christians with the tools to defend the faith when speaking to non-Christians. In this particular case, however, I am going to deviate a little in order to feed you some information you need to defend the faith from within Christianity, as there are some rather "unusual" ideas out there about how to "do church".

I recently read a claim that the word "pastor" only occurs in the Bible once, in Ephesians 4:11. This is a rather ingenious misapplication of research and language. This statement is true in that, in the English Bible, "pastor" only occurs once. However, the Bible wasn't written in English. The Bible was written primarily in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), with some bits of Aramaic thrown in here and there.

The Greek word "poimēn", translated into English as "shepherd" (16 times) or "pastor" (once), is scattered throughout the New Testament. It is found in all four Gospels, the letter to the Ephesians, the letter to the Hebrews, and Peter's first letter. (You can see for yourself. Go to Search "Eph 4:11". Click on the "C" to get the Greek lexicon. Click on the Strong's number G4166. [Yes, I could have just given you the direct link, but I want you to see how to do it for yourself - God's Word is for all, not just the elect])

Now, the argument being made is that the "office of pastor" is unbiblical because the word "pastor" only occurs the one time in a context explaining a calling (as if God has to repeat Himself over and over for us to take it as His Word). This is also rather presumptuous. Jesus Himself created the first "pastor" when he directed Peter to feed His lambs and take care of His sheep (John 21:15-19). Later, in Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders in Ephesus to "shepherd" (verb poimainō) the church. Peter also exhorts the elders of churches at large to shepherd (poimainō again) the flock of God.

I pray this helps explain this troublesome situation. I found all of this information using a hardcopy "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible", a "Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words", and Blue Letter Bible. These tools are available to the public at large, and are not written at the Ph.D. level for scholars alone. I encourage you all to "test the spirits" (I John 4:1) by going straight to the Word of God. Use whatever reference material available to get there, but don't simply trust a commentary. Reading books about the Bible is great, as is reading books about Christian living, but it is no substitute for standing on the Word.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Everybody Get in the Truck, We're Going Up to the Big House

There is a movement afoot called Universalism. Merriam-Webster tells us this word means "a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved". We see it applied at one level or another by many people who call themselves "Christian".

A common combination of Universalism and works-salvation philosophy goes something like this: "Well, he doesn't go to church, but he's a good person, so I'm sure he will go to Heaven." Another pseudo-theology that you might hear is "Ultimately, all religions are praying to the same god, so it doesn't matter if you're Christian or Buddhist or Hindu, just as long as you are faithful and are good to other people."

(Yes, I realize these are not strict Universalist doctrines, but they are individual philosophies that are influenced by the concepts that were injected into society by Universalism.)

Since these philosophies hold all points of view to be equally valid (see my older post on relativism), they hold Christianity to be just as valid as any other worldview. There is a logical fallacy in this, however. If we hold Jesus' words to be true, and He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NASB), then we have a conflict. To put it in modern parlance, "What part of 'The Way' don't you understand?"

"The" is a definite article. This means "designating an identified or immediately identifiable person or thing" (Merriam-Webster). In plain language, "the" indicates "the one and only". When "the" is used, there is only one. In this case, "the way" means there is only one way, and Jesus says that He is this "way". (Side note: prior to adopting the term "Christianity", the Jesus' disciples said they followed The Way. See Acts 9:2)

While some might argue ancient Greek semantics about definite articles and conjugations, Jesus does not only claim to be "the way, and the truth, and the life"(as if this were a small thing), but He follows the statement, in a case of classic Jewish parallel speech, "no one comes to the Father but through Me". There are no arguments about the meaning of "no one" (Greek: oudeis).

The only logical way to dismiss the unique, singular nature of "the way" is to claim the Bible is not accurate. Since this post is about Universalism, I think I'll leave the proofs of the veracity of our Scriptures for another day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are You Intolerant?

One things Christians are often accused of is intolerance. Though there are some intolerant people who claim to be Christians, most Christians are not intolerant. The basic problem lies in what the world has begun teaching as the definition of tolerance.

"Intolerant" means "unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters" or "unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights" (Merriam-Webster). So when you see somebody proposing legislation that restricts what pastors can say from the pulpit (e.g., ENDA), or regulations that prohibit students bringing Bibles to school or wearing faith-based T-shirts, you are seeing intolerant behavior.

Why, then, do we keep hearing that saying "homosexual behavior is sinful" or "promiscuity is a sin" is a form of intolerance? It is because they are trying to convince us to become indulgent. "Indulge" means "to treat with excessive leniency, generosity, or consideration" (Merriam-Webster), with the key word here being "excessive". Another word that describes how the world wants us to walk is "licentious" ("lacking legal or moral restraints ; especially: disregarding sexual restraints" or "marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness", Merriam-Webster).

Without delving into Scripture, we know that sexually promiscuous behavior leads to depression, diseases, and unplanned pregnancies. Paul warns us in his epistle to the church in Galatia against "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19b-21a, ESV). I will not take up too much space here by giving a laundry list of how each of these things is bad in a strictly secular sense, but I'm sure you can imagine on your own. Do you think it is "intolerant" to warn other people that these types of behaviors are dangerous?

Remember, intolerance tries to keep you from expressing your faith and warning others about the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Just be nice about it and let them know about the free gift, too.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Logos Bible Software Giveaway

I have been using Logos Bible Software since I got it for Christmas. I am very happy with this product. We use it on Monday nights for the teenage small group we host in our home.

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Why Won't They Believe?

In spite of the vast preponderance of evidence that the Bible is accurate, that Jesus is a real person, and that the Resurrection is factual, some people just won't believe. Why would anybody, when faced with the facts, deny them? It is rather frustrating to those who have a scientific nature or a intellectual bent. Logically, if I teach somebody something that can save their life, they will modify their behavior in such a fashion so as to preserve their existence. In practice, people do not do that which is in their own best interest. Why?

I recently read a book called, "The Sixty-Second Motivator." In it, physical therapist Jim Johnson did research to learn how to motivate his patients to reach the goals their physicians had set. Participation is critical to recovery, but some folks just wouldn't do what the doctor ordered. Johnson felt that if a doctor declared something to be important, that should make it important to the patient, but in practice certain personalities do not respond that way. Johnson learned that the goal must be made important to people in their own minds.

Mr. Johnson came up with two basic principles which he called "secrets". "Secret #1" is to "increase importance...Increasing the importance of changing a behavior creates more motivation. More motivation helps you move faster through the stages of change." C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel all felt it was very, very important to disprove Christianity. They all were initially atheists or agnostics. Mr. Strobel was dismayed when his wife became a Christian, and set out to prove Christians wrong and rescue her from the "dangerous cult." As you know, by the time they finished their investigations to discredit Jesus, they ended up as followers of Jesus and set themselves to sharing the Gospel. If an atheist or an agnostic claims Christianity is false, they should consider it important enough to disprove and do some research. Let them come to their own conclusions.

But what good are goals if people don't think they can reach them? "Secret #2" is to "Increase confidence...Increasing your confidence that you can change a behavior creates more motivation." Some people do not believe they have the intellectual capacity for research. In that case, I suggest reading something short like C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," Josh McDowell's "More Than a Carpenter," or Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Any of these books will give a starting place and get them to thinking. It will also show them how "average Joes" can wrap their heads around difficult concepts.

But back to the basic of why some people simply choose to disbelieve. When I was stationed in Turkey in the early 1990's, I read an article citing an interesting study of people who advocate gun control. It turns out they are motivated by fear. Those who do not trust themselves with firearms feel that, since they cannot be trusted, nobody can be trusted. Fear of God is what motivates the atheist and the agnostic as well, but not in the biblical sense. When confronted with the possibility that they are wrong, they would rather turn a blind eye than recognize the fact that they will be held accountable for their actions, as they have earned punishment.

Biblical fear of God is borne of respect, like respect for authority, not a timorous fear, like the fear of an armed rapist. Read the Gospels. God is not going to "smite" you. You can be forgiven. You are loved. It's safe to believe.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Did They Just Make It All Up?

There is such a preponderance of extra biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth that no rational non-Christian or anti-Christian denies his existence. Yet, they still continue to deny His existence. (Note the capitalization) This time, let's take a little time to explore the rationale behind the evidence for the deity of Jesus.

One of the most common claims is that Jesus was a great man, but that He was not God: Jesus was a really, really smart teacher (rabbi, rabboni), but not divine. Therefore, according to the doubters, there weren't any real miracles. They claim that like the legends of King Arthur, the legends of Jesus as Christ and miracle worker grew after His death.

In my eyes, the most compelling piece of proof lies in the reactions and behaviors of the Apostles and the other disciples. Did you know that all the surviving Apostles (remember that Judas hanged himself, and his rotten corpse fell down and burst) were killed for their faith, except for John? Were they killed in wars? Droughts or famines? Fires? Earthquakes? No, they were all martyred for their faith in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

"Martyr" is an interesting word. It comes from a Greek word which originally meant "witness", but now means someone who was killed for their faith (Merriam-Webster). Why did this word transform? During the first several years after the execution of Jesus, the Apostles (except John) and many of the disciples were killed by the Jewish religious leaders. They were killed for refusing to recant their stories of the Resurrection. They were killed for claiming Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself made man. These things were heresy to the ancient Jews, and the punishment for heresy was death.

So, how does this prove that Jesus is divine? Well, would you die for a lie? While there have been several cases of people falsely confessing to infamous crimes just to get attention, and actually being executed, these are pretty rare. In the question of Jesus, dozens of people refused to recant. What could be so powerful and compelling, except being witnesses ("martyrs") to the miraculous events documented in the books and letters now known as the Bible?

One or two people might be fooled or duped, and die for a lie, but the history of the use of torture in military applications shows that the vast majority of captives will say whatever the tormentor wants to hear in order to escape pain or death. The Apostles and other disciples simply would not have all stood their ground had they not solid, irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the everlasting God. And, manifestly, the Jewish religious leaders of the day would not have needed to execute so many people if their teachings were not credible. When so many hundreds and thousands of people heard the proof from the mouths of the disciples, they believed and turned away from the old, misguided ways.

Are you following old, misguided ways? It is never too late to turn away, and turn to Christ. If you don't believe my words, believe the transformation that took place in my own life.