Overcoming Deception

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

THERE IS A FUNNY LITTLE story about a man who went to the doctor for a checkup. After the doctor did a very thorough examination on him, the doctor asked the nurse to send in the man’s wife so that he could talk to her. The wife said, “Well, doctor, how is he?” And he replied, “I’m afraid it’s bad news. He might pass away, but I think there is a way we might be able to save him.” She looked hopeful and said, “Well, what can we do?” The doctor said, “You need to fix him three meals a day for the next three months and take care of all his needs—whatever that may be.” When the wife and her husband got in the car, her husband looked at her and said, “Well, what did the doctor say?” His wife looked at him with a straight face and said, “Honey, you’re going to die.”

Deception. Duplicity. Double-dealing. Fraud. Cheating. Trickery. Underhandedness. Lying. Pretense. Artifice. Slyness. Cunning. Deviousness. Bluffing.

Psychology Today published a recent article on Deception. In answer to the critical but important question What is deception, the article refers to any act—big or small, cruel or kind—that causes someone to believe something that is untrue. Even the most honest people practice deception. Some studies indicate that the average person lies several times a day. Some lies are big (“No, I have not been drinking!”), but more often they are so-called little white lies (“That dress looks fine.”) we use to avoid uncomfortable situations or spare someone’s feelings. I had an addictions counselor tell me (in group therapy) that the main reason we lie is to hide something we’ve done or how we feel about a situation.

Lying is a common human trait. Essentially, it is making an untrue statement with intent to deceive. Deception, however, isn’t always a bold-faced lie. There are also the lies people (including me) tell themselves for reasons ranging from fear to self-esteem issues. Some people lie due to serious delusions beyond their control. Researchers have long searched for methods of effectively detecting when a person is not telling the truth. An example would be the polygraph test. The good old “lie detector.” Not surprisingly, certain psychiatric disorders, such as depression, borderline personality disorder, substance use disorder, and antisocial personality disorder, feature deception.

Pathological lying is a contentious topic. This habit is characterized by a long history of frequent and repeated lying for which no apparent psychological motive or external benefit can be discerned. Pathological lying must be differentiated from other psychiatric orders associated with deception. Differential diagnosis can be tricky given that lying behaviors often mimic pathological lying in certain personality disorders. While ordinary lies are goal-directed and are told to obtain external benefit or to avoid punishment, pathological lies often appear purposeless. In some cases, they might be self-incriminating or damaging, which makes the behavior even more incomprehensible.

Do you practice deception?

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:21, “…envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (NASB) [italics mine]. The phrase in the King James Version is “…that they which do such things…” The Greek word used for “do” is prasso, a primary verb, meaning “to practice,” i.e. “perform repeatedly or habitually.”  According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, “do” in this instance means “to do, make, [or] perform in general, expressing an action as continued or not yet completed, what one does repeatedly, continually, habitually, like poieo, which we find in John 3:20 (‘everyone who does evil,’ NIV)” [italics mine].

The Dake Annotated Reference Bible notes that Galatians 5:21 is the “…first N.T. prophecy… no man who commits these sins will ever inherit the kingdom of God unless he confesses and puts them out of his life… lest any man claim that he can be saved and yet live in these sins and the judgment will decide whether he or Paul is right.” Relative to verse 21, to practice deception means to habitually deceive others. We can only get at the root of this type of persistent lying by examining ourselves. Paul is fairly blunt about this, saying we can only know if we’re in the faith by looking at our behavior. Not sure about you, but I don’t generally like examining myself. One of the worst walls I smacked up against during recovery from addiction was the dreaded Fourth Step: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Indeed, it takes a great deal of courage to honestly examine our behavior and our motives.

“Examine,” in the Greek, means “to prove or test under fire.”
What about me?

My father called me a “pathological liar” many times during my life. He said, “You lie so well you believe your own lies.” As we saw above, pathological lying is more accurately a psychological disorder and typically involves lying about everything; even things you don’t need to lie about. It is, essentially, a compulsion. Someone with the diagnosis cannot help but lie. About whatever. Thus, the label “pathological liar” was inaccurate. I will admit, however, that I (unfortunately) became an “accomplished” liar. I chose to use deception as a form of manipulation. I was basically adapting or changing the truth about a circumstance, person, or situation, and (at times) even facts and figures, to suit my purpose or advantage. Even if it was at the expense of someone’s feelings.

How do we overcome deception?

For me, the first step in overcoming deception is dealing with my poor self-image and a nearly chronic sense of fear—especially fear of rejection. The most likely underlying factor is pride. Whenever I “need help” from someone, even a family member, I typically hide the need or, worse, shoot from the hip and do whatever it takes to get out of the situation. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, It’s easier to apologize later than seek permission now. This has been a mantra of mine for decades. Trust me, it is not something to be proud of. As you might imagine, however, it is quite difficult to rewire your modus operandi. Like any habit, such deep-seated behaviors become rote.

Recent events in my life have allowed me to fully acknowledge my tendency to fib rather than fess up. This is not an easy confession. I’m a Christian in recovery who has been through numerous bouts of counseling—for addiction, emotional turmoil, and spiritual growth. I just completed my undergraduate degree in Psychology at Colorado Christian University in December, and I’m currently enrolled in their master’s degree in Biblical Studies and Theology. I found the undergraduate curriculum to be exceptional, and I expect nothing less from their graduate program. The emphasis was always on Christian worldview and doctrine—which was incorporated into every course whether it be psychology, statistics, ethics, church history, or mathematics. My academic work as an undergraduate at a Christian college has literally changed me. It’s made me a better man, and a better Christian.

About the Apostle Paul

It is fascinating to me that we can want to do good, yet fail to do so. In Romans 7:15-20, Paul says, “

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time (MSG).

I respond most strongly to the comment, “I obviously need help!” I realize that, like Paul, I don’t have what it takes. These words came from Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, who wrote thirteen books of the New Testament. The Dake Annotated Study Bible states in a footnote that verse 15 could be interpreted as Paul saying, “I do not approve of my slavery to sin.” Looking back to the sixth chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (6:20-22, NIV).

So now what?

There is only one answer to this dilemma. Whatever the habit, no matter the attitude, without any regard to the seriousness of the sin, we cannot stop being a slave to sin simply because we recited a prayer, joined a church, or underwent water baptism. Our freedom from the practice of sin comes only by going beyond Jesus the Messiah; we must recognize the Lordship of Jesus. Paul speaks of the Christian life as one of slavery. He notes that before we accepted Christ we were slaves to sin and the flesh. We had no truly effective “cure” for sinful behavior. It is, despite what atheists and humanists and pluralists say, impossible to change your character—your innate, sinful tendency—without becoming a slave to the righteousness of Christ. The claims of most atheists and humanists nothwithstanding, mankind does not possess the necessary tools to override the powerful lure of sin and the flesh.

Fortunately, at some point, maybe years later, you might make the decision to truly dedicate your life to Christ. That’s when things “get serious.” It involves recognizing Jesus as Lord of your life. At last, you finally submit your life to Him and only then become His slave. It’s simply a second work of grace; a new level of commitment to Jesus Christ. The moment you are converted to Christ, you are released from one slavery (sin and the flesh) and immediately transformed into a new slavery (that of being the slave of Jesus Christ and His Righteousness). When looking at Romans 6, verses 20 and 21 describe the slaves we once were, whereas verse 22 looks at our new life in Christ.

Looking once again at the concept of “examining ourselves,” (which in the Greek means “to prove or to test under fire”), we cannot shy away from the difficult questions. Our examination must be fearless and complete. We need to scrutinize our relationship with Jesus. Are we really close to Him? Are we growing spiritually? Do we still wrestle with habitual sin? How much time to we spend in the Scriptures? How is our prayer life? Whose interest do we serve first?  Paul tells us, “But if we were more discerning with regard to ourselves, we would not come under such judgment. Nevertheless, when we are judged in this way by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be finally condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:31, NIV).

Indeed, we must examine everything by the power of the Holy Spirit.

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It’s a Matter of Intent

At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, 2015, President Barack Obama brazenly criticized the “terrible deeds” committed in the name of Christ. “Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history,” Obama said, hinting that individuals often hijack religion for their own murderous ends. He continued: “And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”

Obama’s right. Terrible things have been done in the name of Christianity. Very few Christians who know church history will deny this. However, the Inquisition and the Crusades are not the indictment of Christianity Obama thinks they are. For starters, the Crusades—despite their terrible organized cruelties—were a defensive war.

We typically consider intent when evaluating behavior. The Crusades were a series of military campaigns coordinated by those in power in Christianity in order to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. They had desecrated and destroyed the holiest of Christian sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity. They harassed, robbed, kidnapped, or killed Christian pilgrims visiting such holy places.

There would be eight official Crusades between 1095 A.D. and 1270 A.D., and many more unofficial battles. Contrary to common belief, people didn’t join the Crusades for plunder or financial gain. Most nobles who went on crusade lost their fortunes and many were killed.

THE MUSLIM WARS

No other major faith has combined religion with politics—church and state—as Islam has done during the last 1,500 years. Moreover, no other religion has been promoted and spread primarily through the sword as Islam has been. Frankly, Muslims glorify their early futuhat (or conquests), claiming that they were accomplished with the approval of Allah, who gave them the right to bring mankind under their rule.

Imperialistic

Muslim wars of imperialist conquest have been waged against non-Muslim nations for nearly 1,500 years, over millions of square miles (significantly larger than the British Empire at its peak). The lust for Muslim imperialist conquest stretched from southern France to the Philippines, from Austria to Nigeria, and from central Asia to New Guinea. This is the classic definition of imperialism—”the policy and practice of seeking to dominate the economic and political affairs of weaker countries.”

Colonialist

Muslims were intent on establishing a central government (a caliphate), first at Damascus, and then at Baghdad—later at Cairo, and Istanbul. The local governors, judges, and other rulers were appointed by central imperial authorities for far off colonies. Sharia law was introduced as the supreme law, whether or not it was wanted by the indigenous people. Arabic was introduced as the official language, often wiping out the local language. Two classes of citizens were established: the native residents and the colonialist rulers.

WHERE JIHAD AND THE CRUSADES DIFFER

Comparing the Crusades with Islamic jihad can be somewhat tricky, mainly because of the historic context. Whereas the purpose of the Crusades was to regain and secure the Holy Land of Jerusalem—indeed, most activity took place in Jerusalem and the Levant—Islam has been waging jihad for over 1,500 years. Modern jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking indiscriminately at Western populations with a violence that is motivated by hatred, the need for retribution, and establishment of a worldwide Islamic caliphate. By contrast, the Crusades—no matter how terrible and regrettable they were—had as their objective the recovery and defense of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem, the most important holy place of Christianity, which had fallen into the hands of the Muslims in 637 A.D.

Here are several other notable differences between the Crusades and jihad.

  • jihad has been routinely practiced since the beginning of Islam
  • Jesus rejected—in word and in actions—all use of violence
  • jihad predates the so-called Christian Holy Wars
  • jihad was a matter of conquest
  • the Crusades were a matter of recovery and defense
  • jihad is intent on establishing Sharia in every territory it conquers
  • Christianity is predicated upon free will

Islamic atrocities were not provoked by the Crusaders’ own reprehensible acts, but preceded them. Islamic jihad was not triggered by the Crusades; it preceded them. Domination is written into Islamic scripture. Surah 9:29 says, “Fight against those who (1) believe not in Allah, (2) nor in the Last Day, (3) nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger (4) and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians), until they pay the Jizyah with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”

Subdued. That is the proper state, according to the Qur’an, for anyone who does not believe in Allah. Over the course of history, this process of “subduing” unbelievers has taken on a number of forms. Muslim armies were not above killing those they conquered who refused to “submit” to Islam. For example, Muhammad led his armies to slaughter hundreds of males of the Jewish Banu Qurayzah tribe in Medina. The men were beheaded and the women and children were taken into slavery. Millions of Hindus were massacred on the Indian subcontinent in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Muslims murdered 1.5 million Christian Armenians in 1915. According to Open Doors, USA, Muslims continue to murder Christians throughout the Middle East and North Africa today. Here is a link.

HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The extremist beliefs we’re seeing play out on the international stage today did not spring forth from a void, nor are these ideas merely the marginal opinions of a few fanatics. The principle dogma that they espouse—that Islam is the one true faith that will dominate the world; that Muslim rulers need to govern by Sharia law alone; that the Qur’an and Hadith contain the whole truth for determining the righteous life; that there is no separation between religion and the rest of life; and that Muslims are in a state of conflict with the unbelievers—have roots in discussions about Islamic law and theology that began soon after the death of Muhammad and that are supported by important segments of the clergy today.

Jihad is derived from the Arabic root for “struggle” and not from the usual word for war. This gives a clue to the significance that the Qur’an and the Hadith assign to it, for jihad was never meant to be warfare for the sake of national or personal gain, but rather struggle for the sake of God and on His path alone. Jihad thus has two basic meanings: the first deals with the internal struggle to follow God and do all that He has commanded. The second is to engage in an external struggle (fighting) with others to bring “the Truth” (Islam) to mankind. Jihad was never supposed to be about the forcible conversion of others to Islam—even though it came to that under some Islamic rulers—but rather about opening the doors to countries so that the oppressed people therein would be able to hear the Truth. Some scholars have said jihad is best translated “just war” rather than “holy war.”

The message of Islam is intricately intertwined with its messenger, Muhammad. Allegiance to one necessarily implies allegiance to the other. In fact, it is defined by it. According to Nabeel Qureshi, Muslims who question Allah—who might, for example, wonder about the interpretation of something said in the Qur’an in a study group—are usually tolerated by other Muslims, but questioning Muhammad is grounds for excommunication, or worse. Even though every Muslim would quickly admit that Muhammad is human, in theory fallible like any other man, they often revere him as flawless. Islam has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”

UNLIKE CHRISTIANITY, ISLAM DECLARED WAR ON SOCIETY AND CULTURE

Michael Youssef, in The Third Jihad, recounts growing up in a Christian home, third generation Protestant. His ancestors were Coptic (which means Egyptian) Christians who endured persecution and held on to their Christian beliefs despite the onslaught of Islam in the seventh century. Youssef said before the Muslim invasion, Christians accounted for nearly 85 percent of Egypt’s population. Today, there are only 10 million Christians in Egypt. The reason Coptic Christians went from being the dominant majority to an oppressed minority in Egypt is that the Muslim invaders from Arabia were Islamists.

Youssef noted, “They came to the people of Egypt and offered them a choice: either convert to Islam or be executed. Christians and Jews (whom the Koran [sic] calls People of the Book) were given a third option: They could choose to keep their original faith by paying the jizya tax—which is really a form of punishment for being a non-Muslim.” Paying the tax put such people under the protection of the Muslim state, but reduced them to second-class citizens in a condition of servitude.

As difficult as it may be for us to grasp, an Islamist envisions the perfect utopian society as a world ruled by a theocratic totalitarian state governed by the principles of the Qur’an. Of course, this would be a society so tightly controlled, so lacking in free will, that sin and vice would theoretically be impossible. This is why the Western concept of human freedom is so despised and considered decadent by Islamists. To provide some perspective, Youssef notes that CBS reporter Lara Logan, who has reported extensively from war zones in the Islamic world since 2002, once told an interviewer, “Islamic terrorists and jihadists that I have met over the years have all corrected me when I have said that Islam is a religion. They all tell me that Islam is a civilization. It’s not a religion.”

A HORRIFIC EXAMPLE

Few illustrations of Islamic jihad are more disturbing than the letters left by the leader of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. On September 28, 2001, the Washington Post published excerpts of a letter found in the luggage of Mohamed Atta, who was alleged to be the leader of the suicide bombers on 9/11.  Copies of the five-page handwritten letter, released by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, also were found in luggage of other members of the terrorist team.

Even if Islamic scholars and media consultants do not agree with the doctrine of jihad or would change its definition, they cannot argue that the attackers and their leaders were unequivocal about what jihad involves. Their actions were jihad, based on the fatwa put out by five Islamic caliphates on February 23, 1998 against the United States.

The letters found in the suitcases included the following wording:

Read the Chapter of Tobah from the Qur’an. Think about what God has promised the good believers and the martyrs. Remember the battle of the prophet… against the infidels, as he went on building the Islamic state. You should engage in such things, you should pray, you should fast. You should ask God for guidance, you should ask God for help… Continue to pray throughout this night. Continue to recite the Qur’an. Purify your heart and clean it from all earthly matters. The time of fin and waste has gone. The time of judgment has arrived. Hence we need to utilize those few hours to ask God for forgiveness. You have to be convinced that those few hours that are left you in your life are very few. From there you will begin to live the happy life, the infinite paradise. Be optimistic. The prophet was always optimistic. Say your rakats and blow your breath on yourself and on your belongings. Always remember the verses that you would wish  for death before you meet it if you only know what the reward after death will be. Everybody hates death, fears death. But only those, the believers who know the life after death and the reward after death, would be the ones who will be seeking death. Keep a very open mind, keep a very open heart of what you are to face. You will be entering paradise. You will be entering the happiest life, everlasting life. Keep in your mind that if you are plagued with a problem and how [you are] to get out of it. A believer is always plagued with problems… You will never enter paradise if you have not had a major problem. But only those who stood fast through it are the ones who will overcome it.

CHRISTIANITY VERSUS ISLAM

Some followers of Islam claim that the word Islam is Arabic for “peace.” How should we assess such a claim? Does Islam advocate world peace? Does it speak of unconditional love, inclusion, acceptance? Was its founder, Muhammad, a man of peace? Further, does Islam boast a history of peace, or is it riddled with a violent past? Admittedly, Christianity does not have a spotless past. What is important, however, is the Christian church has learned from its past. Additionally, Jesus condemned church-sponsored violence, admonishing Christians to love their enemies. There is no sermon in the Qur’an that compares to the words Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount.

In Christianity, we speak of surrendering our lives (our will and our hearts) to Jesus Christ. But there is a huge difference between the surrender that Christ calls us to and the surrender that Islam demands. When we surrender to Christ, He sets us free. We’re told in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (NIV). However, when a person converts—surrenders—to Islam, he becomes a slave to a vast array of rules, regulations, and religious laws, which must be kept to the letter. Amazingly, even absolute compliance with every single edict, which we know is humanly impossible, does not guarantee a Muslim will enter Paradise.

Islam actually means submission. Islam demands unconditional surrender and obedience. In addition, fundamentalist Islam demands that its followers bring the entire world into submission and surrender to Islam.

Christians who surrender their heart and their will to Jesus are eternally secure and free.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

We cannot give in to the temptation to lump all religious violence together. Certainly, there are many incidents throughout the history of the Christian church that include war and violence. I do take issue, however, with Obama’s comment that situations in our country such as slavery and Jim Crow were often justified “in the name of Christ” was given out of context.

The Crusades were a series of military campaigns designed to retake Jerusalem and the Holy Land from the Muslims. These were defensive actions. To the contrary, jihadists have adopted a policy of blind terror, striking violently at Western civilizations with hatred, intent on establishing a worldwide Islamic caliphate. It has been the intent if Islam since Muhammad first left Mecca for Medina.

 

 

The Other Texts

coexist-with-shadow-figures-at-sunset.jpg

EACH OF THE WORLD’S major religions have sacred texts that form the cornerstone of their belief. These tomes typically instill laws, morals, character, and spirituality in its followers. As with the Bible, a religious text might be considered the inerrant Word of God. Texts can be literal, metaphorical, or both. Christianity has combined the Jewish Old Testament with the New Testament, which Christians refer to collectively as the Holy Scriptures. These words are regarded by Christians as sacred.

SACRED TEXTS OF THE FIVE MAJOR RELIGIONS

  • Christianity. The Holy Bible.
  • Judaism. The Talmud, Tanach, Mishnah, and Midrash.
  • Islam. The Qur’an and the Hadith.
  • Buddhism. The Sutras.
  • Hinduism. The Vedas.

THE CANONIZED JUDEO-CHRISTIAN TEXTS

The Old Testament

Old Testament Scroll

The Old Testament was fixed by a synod of rabbis held at Yavneh, Palestine about 90 A.D. The “other” semi-sacred texts were labeled the Apocrypha (“hidden away”). There are, however, many non-canonical texts relative to Christianity. Where no religious body has provided sanction or authorization, sacred writings have had to stand on their own authority. This is the case with Islam. Muslims believe the Qur’an does this easily. The Qur’an is said to authenticate itself by its internal self-evidencing power—just what that means I have no idea. Muslims base this claim on their contention that the Qur’an is composed of the very words of Allah communicated to Muhammad and recited by him without addition or subtraction.

Biblical accuracy has repeatedly been confirmed by subsequent physical findings to be razor-sharp. The first two chapters of Genesis contain the divine record of how the universe and life began. Though it was written as 66 separate books over thirty-five centuries ago, there is not a syllable in the biblical account of creation that is at variance with any demonstrable fact of science. Here is something interesting to contemplate. The Genesis account affirms that all creation activity was concluded by the end of the sixth day (2:1-3). On this issue, science agrees. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics, nothing new is being created today. Additionally, Genesis 1 affirms that biological organisms replicate “after [their] kind.” It is noteworthy that modern pseudo-science (i.e., the theory of evolution) is dependent upon the notion that in the past organisms have reproduced after their non-kind. The biblical account, however, is in perfect harmony with the known laws of genetics.

The New Testament

The New Testament Cover Page

There are several ways we can demonstrate the reliability of the New Testament and the four Gospels. First, we can look at the number of manuscripts or fragments of manuscripts available around the globe for comparison. Second, we can examine existing manuscripts and fragments to see if they stand the test of time. Evaluation would include looking for serious contradictions, omissions, additions, errors, and the like. Third, we can compare original or older copies of manuscripts and fragments with copies we have today to determine if there have been recent archeological findings that challenge or change what has been told in the New Testament.

COMPARISON OF CHRISTIAN AND OTHER ANCIENT MANUSCRIPTS

Regarding the New Testament, we literally have thousands of complete manuscripts and multiple thousands more fragments of manuscripts available for comparison. More than 5,000 copies of the entire New Testament or extensive portions exist today. We also have several thousand more fragments or smaller portions of the New Testament. If these numbers don’t impress, consider this: Compared to other works of ancient history, the manuscript evidence and copies for the New Testament far outweigh that of any other ancient works. For instance, there are less than 700 copies of Homer’s Iliad and only a handful of copies of any one work of Aristotle.

As a comparison, let’s visualize how the number of available classic manuscripts and biblical manuscripts stack up against a New York City icon:

  1. Average Classic Writing. 4 feet.
  2. One World Trade Center. 1,776 feet.
  3. New Testament Copies and Fragments. 1 mile.
  4. Old Testament Copies and Fragments. 1.5 miles.
  5. The Bible. 2.5 miles.

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CHRISTIANITY AND HISTORY

In addition, Christianity and history get along well. McDowell and McDowell (2017), in Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth For a Skeptical World, note that the facts backing Christianity are not part of a special “religious truth.” They are the cognitive, informational facts upon which all historical, legal, and ordinary decisions are based. Luke, the Bible’s first-century historian, demonstrates the historical nature of Christianity in his introduction:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainly concerning the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4, ESV).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a bona fide historical event. Luke says the resurrection was validated by Jesus Himself through “many proofs” over a forty-day period before numerous documented witnesses (see Acts 1:3). Certainly, the Book of Acts records much church history as well. New Testament scholar Craig Keener says, “Acts is history, probably apologetic history in the form of a historical discourse, with a narrow focus on the expansion of the Gospel message from Jerusalem to Rome. Luke’s approach focuses on primary characters and their words and deeds, as was common in the history of his day.

LUTHER AND THE WORD OF GOD

Martin Luther sought to make the Word of God the starting point and final authority for his theology. A professor of Scripture, Luther felt the Bible was of paramount importance, and it was there that he found the answer to his anguished quest for righteousness and salvation. (See “Martin Luther and the Righteousness of God.”)

In its primary sense, the Word of God is literally God Himself. We see this in John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NIV). The Bible declares that, strictly speaking, the Word of God is none other than God the Son, the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Word who was made flesh and dwelt among us. Accordingly, when God speaks, it is not simply about imparting information; also, and above all, God acts through His very words. This is what is represented in Genesis, where we see the spoken word of God as a creating force: “God said…” and it was so.

THE BIBLE IS ALIVE!

What’s unique to the Bible is that in addition to telling us information we need to know about our religious doctrine, it also creates. This is true in the lives of believers and in all of Creation.

The Word of God is living and active because God is still moving through it today to speak to us, direct us, challenge us, inspire us. The Bible tells us that Jesus, the Word in the Flesh, came to dwell among us. To me, if anyone reads the Bible and somehow does not find Jesus in it, they have not truly encountered the Word of God. This notion of Jesus being the living Word allowed Luther to further counter objections raised by the Catholic church to his proposed doctrinal authority of Scripture above the church. Popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests argued that, since the church herself decided which books should be included in the canon of Scripture, the church had authority over the Bible. Luther said, “No way!” He believed it was neither the church that made the Bible, nor the Bible that made the church; rather, the Gospel—that is, Jesus Christ—made both the Bible and the church.

Hebrews 4:12a says, “For the Word of God is alive and active…” (NIV).

THE “OTHER” BIBLE

The word Bible ( from the Latin biblia) simply means “the books.” It appears to be from the root biblos, which is another word for papyrus or scroll. Because the Scriptures are believed to be inspired by God, the ancient Bible was considered to be a sacred tome. After completion of the Old Testament, and during the first centuries of the Common Era (C.E., also known as A.D., or “in the year of our Lord”), inspired authors continued to write sacred “scriptures.” These texts were written by Jews, Christians, Gnostics, and Pagans. Most are from the third century B.C. to the fourth and fifth centuries A.D.

The Jewish texts are in large part called pseudepigrapha, which includes the Dead Sea Scrolls; the Christian texts are called the Christian apocrypha; the Gnostic scriptures were considered by their orthodox rivals to be heretical. The phrase “The Other Bible” refers to holy texts that were not included in the official version of the Holy Bible. Of course, many people—believers and atheists alike—have wondered why certain Jewish and Christian texts failed to find a place in the Bible. Was it a question of divine authority or doctrine? Who made the decision to exclude these so-called “other” texts? God or man? Some have mistakenly concluded that Constantine simply made the decision of what to include when he commissioned 50 copies of the Bible for churches in his capitol city, Constantinople.

Because Judaism and Christianity canonized or authoritatively affirmed the Scriptures, the first Christians included seven books in the Old Testament that were not in the Jewish canon. The Old Testament and the Jewish scriptures were different until the Protestant Reformation, when reformers revised the Old Testament canon to agree with the Jewish canon. The Catholic Bible now refers to these seven books as deuterocanonical (as noted above, this translates to “belonging to the second canon”), while the Protestant Bible refers to them as apocryphal (or “outside the canon”). Some Protestants do not recognize them as having any kind of canonical status.

The canon wasn’t a quick decision by one man, but the product of centuries of reflection by the Church. 

Here is a listing of “other” texts that did not make it into the canonical text of today:

  • The Apocrypha. These are biblical writings that did not become part of the accepted canon of Scripture. Moreover, they are believed to not be inspired by God and only added by the Church. The apocryphal books include the following: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, I and II Maccabees and sections of Esther and Daniel.
  • Deuterocanonical Apocrypha. These are books which are included in some version of the canonical Bible, but which have been excluded at one time or another, for t0extual or doctrinal issues. These are called Deuterocanonical, which literally means the secondary canon.
  • The Forgotten Books of Eden. This is a collection of Old Testament pseudepigrapha. The list included such books as The First and Second Books of Adam and Eve, The Book of the Secrets of Enoch, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, The Testament of Joseph, The Odes of Solomon, and others.
  • The Lost Books of the Bible. A collection of New Testament apocrypha and pseudepigrapha.
  • The Biblical Antiquities of Philo. An alternative pseudepigraphal narrative of the Hebrew Bible from Genesis through 1 Samuel, written in the first century A.D.
  • The Gospel of Thomas. This is reportedly the writings of Thomas, the “doubting apostle.” This text contains a collection of the sayings of Jesus. Thomas was, of course, the twin brother of Jesus.
  • The Didache. A very early Christian apocryphal text.
  • The Sibylline Oracles. The Sibylline books were oracular Roman scrolls; these are the pseudo-Sibylline Oracles. There many similarities to early Christian writings, and they were quoted by the Church Fathers.
  • The Book of Enoch. This is one of the more critical and notable books of the apocrypha. Enoch introduced such concepts as fallen angels, the Messiah, the Resurrection, and others.
  • The Book of Enoch the Prophet. An earlier and very influential 19th century translation of Enoch 1.
  • The Book of Jubilees. A text from the 2nd century B.C. It covers much of the same ground as Genesis, with some interesting additional details. It may have been an intermediate form of Genesis which was incorporated into later versions.
  • The (Slavonic) Life of Adam and Eve. This apocryphal book (also known in its Greek version as the Apocalypse of Moses, is a Jewish apocryphal group of writings. It recounts the lives of Adam and Eve from after their expulsion from the Garden of Eden to their deaths. It provides more detail about the Fall, including Eve’s version of the story. Satan explains that he rebelled when God commanded him to bow down to Adam. After Adam dies, he and all his descendants are promised a resurrection.
  • The Books of Adam and Eve. This is the translation of the Books of Adam and Eve from the Oxford University Press Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha.
  • The Book of Jasher. The title of this book translates to The Book of the Upright One. It is included in the Latin Vulgate. It was likely a collection or compilation of ancient Hebrew songs and poems praising the heroes of Israel and their exploits during battle. Interestingly, the Book of Jasher is mentioned in Joshua 10:13: “So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day.”
  • Excerpts From the Gospel of Mary. This fragment, of disputed authenticity, puts the relationship between Mary Magdalen, Jesus and the Apostles in a radically different perspective than traditional beliefs.

IS THE APOCRYPHA WORTH STUDYING?

Early Christians of the second and third century found the apocryphal books to be helpful resources for studying alongside the books of the Jewish canon. It helped them with articulating their faith and for determining questions of ethics. The general attitude, however, was that these so-called apocryphal books should not be read in public worship as Scripture; rather, they should be “tucked away” for private use only. Jewish scribes did not believe the apocryphal books of the Old Testament were divinely inspired. This was a critical factor in evaluating these extra texts for inclusion in the canon.

According to an article by Don Stewart on blueletterbible.org, the Apocrypha contains different doctrines and practices than the Holy Scriptures. For example, these texts teach the doctrine of salvation through works and purgatory. However, the Bible says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3, NKJV).

The Apocrypha is not a well-defined unit. These books were rejected by a large number of biblical scholars up to the time of the Reformation. Protestants have always rejected the divine authority of the Apocrpyha, citing demonstrable historical errors. This hesitation is sometimes based on the presupposition that the church has weighed these books and found them to be without value, and therefore justifiably discarded and forgotten. This is often based on a belief that the writings included in this collection are full of false teachings that will jeopardize a reader’s grasp of sound truth.

When Martin Luther set about translating the Bible into German, he also translated the books of the Apocrypha. Although he took care to separate them out from the books of the Old Testament and to print them in a separate section—indicating they were not on a level equal to that of canonical Scripture—he still recommended in his preface to the translation that they’re “useful and good for reading.” The degree to which Luther valued these writings is reflected above all in the fact that he took the time and the trouble to produce a German translation of the Apocrypha. 

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Although most Christians agree that only those books included in the original Hebrew canon have “canonical” authority, here’s my takeaway. These books help us understand the Hebrew Bible. They give us insight into how the Old Testament may have been interpreted by first-century readers. These volumes provide many details pertaining to roughly four hundred years of history that transpired from the date when the last book of the Old Testament—the Book of Malachi—was written until the time of Christ. In addition, they help explain the cultural, political, and ideological milieu during the time just before Christ was born, which can only help aid our understanding of the Scriptures and the Christian doctrine.

It is important to note that the Roman Catholic Church has often stood on the deuterocanonical books to support certain doctrinal and theological points, including purgatory and praying for the dead, that are found nowhere in canonical Scripture. In short, during the Reformation, debates over doctrine were integrally tied to debates about which books were authoritative. Not only did the Protestants affirm that Scripture alone is the ultimate authority in faith and practice, but they were zealous to preserve the integrity of the canon, only recognizing the authority of those books affirmed throughout the history of the Christian church.

 

 

 

Evolution: Augmenting God?

Evolution must now be understood and explained at the molecular level.

Evolution is a rather malleable term. It can be used by me, for example, to mean something as simple as change over time. You might use it to mean the descent of all life forms from a common ancestor. In its full-on, biological sense, however, evolution means a process whereby life arose from non-living matter and ultimately culminated in an estimated 8.7 billion species on Earth. Approximately 1 to 2 million of those species are animals.

Not surprisingly, Darwinian evolution is being stretched to its limits by recent discoveries in biochemistry: the branch of science concerned with chemical and physiochemical processes and substances that occur within living organisms. This field looks at the molecules that make up our cells and tissues and those that catalyze the chemical reactions to digestion, photosynthesis, immunity, and more. Biochemists mainly study the structures and functions of enzymes, proteins, carbohydrates, fats, process of metabolism and the molecular basis of the action of genes.

EVOLUTION BY NATURAL SELECTION

When Darwin published On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. It is assumed by many that Darwin was the first to theorize evolution, natural selection, and the development of species. However, scientists were kicking around the idea of evolution before Darwin. Darwin’s contribution was specific to natural selection—organisms vary, and sometimes these variations can better suit individuals to their environment, thus boosting their chances of passing down these traits to future generations. Even if we assume, for the sake of discussion, that life did begin as a single cell [of course, I’d be of the belief that God created that original single cell], the chief defect of Darwin’s theory is that it throws no light on the origin of that primitive organism. 

Darwin’s theory is basically quite simple. He observed variations among species: some are bigger or taller; some are slow while others are fast; some live under water and some live deep in the Amazon. He reasoned that since food supplies are limited, the ones whose chance variation gave them an advantage in the struggle for life would tend to survive and reproduce, beating out others of their species. His theory, as taught in high schools across the country for decades, is a biological “explanation” of how creatures have supposedly evolved or developed progressively through natural selection and variation (now known as mutation) over eons of time from a tiny cell to the largest creatures on earth today.

What is taught in classrooms is not mere micro evolution—small changes within a species—but macro evolution, the change from one type of creature to another quite distinct life form. And it is being taught in most schools as the only plausible explanation for the origin of life itself.

John M. Wynne wrote in The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon,

“Given the historical consequences of Darwinism—namely, its foundational role in the ideologies leading to World War I, World War II, the spread of communism, the humanist takeover of public education and the judiciary, the legalization of abortion and the on-going culture of death, as well as much confused theology and various attacks on the family—continued belief in human evolution constitutes a tragedy of immeasurable proportions and is arguably the most harmful deception in the history of the world since the Fall of Adam and Eve.”

CHANCE—AN INTEGRAL PART

We can’t deny that chance is an integral part of the evolutionary process. Mutations—capable of leading to hereditary variations—often arise completely at random, independent of whether they are beneficial or harmful. This random process comes up against natural selection. Typically, the end result is preservation of those traits that prove useful and elimination of those that are harmful. There would be no evolution without mutation. Natural selection plays a key role in the mutation process—keeping things from becoming disorganized and out of hand, which can ultimately lead to mutations. Most mutations are disadvantageous. As a rule, they tend to degrade genetic material.

Chance variation did not originate with Darwin. William Paley (1809) argued in Natural Theology that living things and most everything about them are the products of design, not chance.

Paley wrote,

“What does chance ever do for us? In the human body, for instance, chance, i.e. the operation of causes without design, may produce a wen, a wart, a mole, a pimple, but never an eye. [Never was] an organized body of any kind, answering a valuable purpose by a complicated mechanism, the effect of chance. In no assignable instance hath such a thing existed without intention somewhere” (Paley, 1809, pp. 62-63).

Randomness remains the disturbing center of Darwin’s theory.

According to Curtis Johnson, political theorist at Lewis and Clark College, the central controversy in Darwin’s work is not the theory of natural selection itself, but Darwin’s staunch reliance on randomness to explain natural phenomena. Perhaps not wanting to “water down” his science, Darwin tried to cover up this issue by replacing the words “accident” and “chance” with terms like “spontaneous variation” in later editions of his work. Nevertheless, the change was a matter of semantics. Darwin would argue that chance stood in for unknown laws—consistent rules which were not yet known, but would [eventually] explain why individuals, both within and across species, were different. Amazingly, it is reported that in his more private and less guarded moments Darwin suggested that “the cause of at least some variations is unknowable, even in principle.”

Darwin put it this way,

“[Evolution by natural selection] absolutely depends on what we in our ignorance call spontaneous or accidental variation. Let an architect be compelled to build an edifice with uncut stones, fallen from a precipice. The shape of each fragment may be called accidental; yet the shape of each has been determined by the force of gravity, the nature of the rock, and the slope of the precipice—events and circumstances, all of which depend on natural laws; but there is no relation between these laws and the purpose for which each fragment is used by the builder. In the same manner the variations of each creature are determined by fixed and immutable laws; but these bear no relation to the living structure which is slowly built up through the power of selection, whether this be natural or artificial selection” (1875, 2:236).

Attributing variation to chance leads to a rather sticky theology. If God is all powerful, how can he roll the dice with each infant, doling out disadvantages and, at worst, crippling, painful, terminal birth defects? Please realize, I do not believe God is responsible for deformity, deficiency, weakness, flaw, or imperfection. I don’t hold the opinion that God gives birth defects to babies or causes the birth of albino deer or cats with two faces. Incidentally, Darwin had no answer for this issue, which led to his loss of faith in God. Some have suggested it is likely he kept his commitment to chance from his God-minded colleagues and the public. Eventually, Darwin adopted a full-blown materialistic determinism. Darwin concluded that because unknown laws of chance were responsible for individual character and appetites, there was no space left for free will. Matter determines.

There was a problem with Darwin’s theory of natural selection. He had no idea how it worked. Offspring had a mix of their parents’ features, sure. But how? What was the mechanism at work at the exact moment of conception? This was a huge hole in Darwin’s theory.

WHAT DARWIN DIDN’T KNOW

New aspects of evolution have come to light with the introduction of advanced technologies that didn’t exist during Darwin’s era.

What would it take for the accidental spark of a single living cell? Before you respond, remember even the most elementary form of life is more complicated than any man-made thing on earth. The entire workings of New York City are less complicated than the makeup of the simplest microscopic cell. Scientists say the structure of a single cell is unbelievably intricate. The chance for a proper combination of molecules into amino acids, and then into proteins with the properties of life, is entirely unrealistic. Charles Eugene Guye, a Swiss mathematician, computed the odds against such an occurrence at merely one chance in 10 to the 160th. That means 10 multiplied by itself 160 times—a number too large even to articulate.

Frank Allen, PhD, Cornell University Professor of Biophysics, expressed it this way,

“The amount of matter to be shaken together to produce a single molecule of protein would be millions of times greater than in the whole universe. For it to occur on earth alone would require many, almost endless, billions of years” (The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, p. 23).

Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection—which he tried to parlay into an explanation for the origin of all species—had been considered settled beyond challenge by the majority of biologists and other life scientists, as well as public school teachers and college professors, until recently. So what has changed?

Nathaniel T. Jeanson has claimed in Replacing Darwin: The New Origin of Species, “…the events of the last 130 years have rewritten the history of life on this planet” (pg. 9). Frankly, this was inevitable. We’ve come to see the substance of life as being made up of billions of interconnecting jigsaw puzzle pieces. I remember my first IMAX movie at the Air and Space Museum at the Smithsonian. It was called The Power of 10. The premise of the documentary was a look inward (inner space) then outward (outer space) by units of ten for as far as technology allows us to see. I was struck by how the molecular level of all matter—whether living or not (air, water, or solid)—is tenaciously yet remarkably cohesive.

This is true across all life. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, fish, starfish, sea urchins, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, worms of all sorts, shellfish, octopi, snails, corals, jellyfish, sponges, mosses, ferns, conifers, grasses, orchids, fruit trees, fungi, algae, bacteria, and all the other life forms on earth possess unique combinations of traits, which are stored at a molecular level. DNA is the code that allows us to read those combinations. Jeanson believes the question of the origin of species is rooted in the origin of traits. He writes, “If you want to know the origin of zebras, you need to discover the origin of stripes…” He says, for example, the origin of eagles goes hand in hand with the origin of white feathers. The origin of the rest of the species is found in the origin of the traits that define them.

It’s been said that since species are defined by their traits, the origin of traits constrains the picture of the origin of species. Any attempt to understand the origin of traits must include an explanation of how DNA controlled the behavior of traits. And if we got to the mystery of the how—if we cracked the code for the mechanism by which traits got coded or programmed—could we then learn to cause a complete shift in the program? Could we cause leopards to become whales, for instance? Is it possible to use CRISPR technology to create our own spotted whale? CRISPRs (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) are sections of DNA.

The point of all this conjecture is to spotlight the complexity of DNA and genetic traits. 

I Though Darwin Didn’t Know Genetics!

If Darwin had no background or understanding in genetics, how could he write a book he brazenly claimed to explain the origin of species? Moreover, if genetic data were absent from his thesis, then how could he have made any semblance of a scientific argument for the origin of species? It was agreed by most scientists of that time period that offspring did indeed get their physical characteristics from their parents, but how and in what ratios was unclear. This was one of the main arguments opponents of Darwin at the time had against his theory. He was unable to explain how inheritance happened. Sadly, because the field of genetics did not exist until the 1900s, scientists of Darwin’s time did not know to look for the molecule that carries genetic information from generation to generation.

Further, consider the weakness of the data available to him. Fossils don’t directly record genealogical relationships. What’s worse, fossils can only tell us about ancestry after a model of genetics has been assumed. Accordingly, any great insights into the question of traits and ancestry must follow the discovery of genetics. Of course, Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species before genetics was even a scientific field. Consequently, for Darwin fossils were unable to unilaterally answer the question of traits and ancestry, which he didn’t admit in his writings.

Darwin never addressed the concept of epigenetics: heritable changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. An epigenetic change can be caused by factors such as age, environment, lifestyle, or disease. Simply, epigenetics is the study of biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off.

Convergence

I am a proponent of the convergence of science and religion. Additionally, I am hoping to have an impact on aiding the integration of psychology and Christian theology. I believe truth is truth; further, all truth is God’s truth. We know truth—that which has been settled as verifiable fact—cannot contradict truth. Scientific and religious truths, by their very definition, are reconcilable. Moreover, science and faith can enrich each other. They tell the same story, albeit from different perspectives. This is not a problem. Believers and theologians need not adjust their thinking about God because of Darwin any more than they did after Copernicus disproved the church’s theory of a geocentric universe.

Interestingly, many Christians and followers of other religions have been enthusiastic about the advent of evolution. For example, immediately after On the Origin of Species was published, the learned Anglican priest and theologian Charles Kingsley publicly thanked Darwin for demonstrating how ingenious and creative evolution is, and how this exciting new picture of life had enlarged his understanding of the Creator. He said, “A God who can make a universe that can make itself by way of natural processes is much more impressive and worthy of worship than one who is always tinkering with the world or keeping it tied to divine puppet strings.” And where would the free will be in such a universe?

NATURAL SELECTION IS NOT EVOLUTION!

The fossil record gives no support to the idea of one species gradually changing into a completely distinct and other species. Ten times in the book of Genesis we read God’s decree concerning the reproduction of each of His creatures—”after its kind.” The word kind refers to species, or family. Each created family was to produce only its own kind. Natural selection cannot generate brand new genetic information. It simply doesn’t work that way. Instead, it filters information that already exists. Darwinian evolution holds the basic tenet that single-celled organisms gained new genetic information over millions and billions of years, and eventually arrived at higher life-forms such as man. For this whole “microbes-to-man” evolution to be true, evolutionists should be able to point to thousands of examples of information-gaining mutations, an uphill process, but they can’t.

Genetic variants may cause differences in survival, but that has nothing to do with explaining their design. What requires explanation is the origin of the biological apparatus with the ability to generate, save, and pass on variations in the first place. Darwin’s argument was circular: nature’s designer is nature itself. Attributing design to natural selection is also circular—but at a deeper level—making it harder to spot.

It is worth noting that God did not create all the varieties of dogs, cats, horses, insects, and other animals in the beginning. (Varieties of animals are different than kinds of animals.) For example, there were no Labradoodles in the Garden of Eden. There were male and female of each species, with many changes occurring over the centuries to produce a wide assortment of varieties within the family. But let’s be real: cats have always remained cats; dogs are still dogs; men are still men. Mutation has only been responsible for producing a new variety of the same species, but never originating a new species. In addition, selective breeding has brought tremendous improvements such as hornless cattle, white turkeys, adorable puppies, and seedless oranges. Regardless, all organisms continue to reproduce exactly as God decreed at Creation—after its kind.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I would be remiss if I did not admit that at the core of this argument between evolutionists and creationists lies a struggle between opposing worldviews. It’s not a matter of their facts versus ours. Actually, it has never been about the facts. As I’ve stated, all truth is God’s truth. All facts are available to scientists of both camps; all scientists have the same data available to them. The data is identical, but the “lens” through which it is viewed is not.

I agree with Phillips, Brown and Stonestreet (2008) that truth is absolute. If not, then nothing is true. They consider (p. 64), “If a worldview is true, we can expect to find at least some external corroborating evidence to support it. This does not mean that something is true because there is evidence for it, but rather evidence will be available because something is true.” [Italics mine.] It is critical to note that evidence is always subject to interpretation, and interpretation also can be subject to bias. As it’s been said many times, worldviews function somewhat like eyeglasses. When you put on your eyeglasses for the first time the rims can be quite distracting. In a short time you lose your awareness of the rims and even the lenses. It’s as if you forget you’re wearing glasses. A worldview is like that.

Regardless of dueling worldviews, according to standard evolutionary theory today, evolutionists look to mutations as being the process responsible for generating the new genetic information evolution requires, which is then acted upon through natural selection. When pressed over the years, evolutionists have been unable to give specific evidence of mutations that increase the information in the genome. Natural selection is essentially an observation about genetic variants and how they play a role in survival and nothing more.

As a tool for explaining design, natural selection is completely worthless. Darwin seems to distort the design process by falsely attributing power to the environment to “select” traits. In fact, the ability to generate traits is a property of living things enabling them to diversify, multiply, and fill environments. Whether or not these traits fit an environment is what determines survival. Darwin further failed to explain how the ability to generate traits in living things—the real source of information for design—originated. He simply said this capacity is simply assimilated into nature.

References

Monsma, J. (1958). The Evidence of God in An Expanding Universe. New York, NY: Putnam.

Paley, W. (1809). Natural Theology. Philadelphia, PA: John Morgan Publishers.

Phillips, W., Brown, W., and Stonestreet, J. (2008) Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview, 2nd ed. Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing.

Wynne, J. (n.d.). The Fossil Record and the Fall of Darwin’s Last Icon. Retrieved from: http://kolbecenter.org/fossil-record-and-fall-of-darwins-last-icon/

 

 

 

 

Can Science Explain Everything?

The current sentiment regarding science versus God is, “Surely, you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days!” It’s a viewpoint expressed by many people over the years. Others don’t even bother asking the question, stopped by their own doubts. After all, they say, science has given us such marvelous explanations for the universe. Why worry about theology when science can explain it all in pluralistic, naturalistic, a-moral, empirically-based conclusion? Belief in God, say the atheists, is so last-century. They claim we’ve come too far as a species to continue believing in a magical, omniscient, spiritual “creator.”

Stephen Hawking PicStephen Hawking, in the last book he published before his death titled Brief Answers to Big Questions, wrote, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”

Hawking further said, “Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine creator.” Hawking was, of course, burdened and blessed with the mind of a brilliant scientist—his IQ was 160. He had no room for conjecture or speculation regarding the origin of the universe, or whether God (and the ethereal world of the spirit) exists. His explanation for the origin of the universe began with quantum mechanics, which explains how subatomic particles behave. Hawking held the opinion that protons and neutrons seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stuck around for awhile, and then disappeared to a completely different location.

BigBang.jpgIn fact, Hawking said the universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature. Here’s the thing, though. Even if it were possible for subatomic particles to appear out of nowhere, that still doesn’t explain away the possibility that God created the proton-sized singularity that preceded the Big Bang, then flipped the quantum-mechanical switch that allowed it to pop! Of course, Hawking kinda put all his eggs in one basket. He held the scientific opinion that black holes hold the secret to the origin of the universe. Black holes are collapsed stars that are so dense nothing, including light, can escape their pull. These phenomena represent a dense singularity. Gravity is so strong in this ultra-packed point of mass that it distorts time, light and space.

Black Hole 2It was Hawking’s contention that time does not exist in the depths of a black hole. Accordingly, he held the opinion that there was no time before the Big Bang. Hawking wrote, “For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” This argument will do little to persuade those who believe in God. That was never Hawking’s intent. As a scientist with a near-religious devotion to understanding the cosmos, Hawking sought to know the mind of God by learning everything he could about the self-sufficient universe around us. While his view of the universe might render a divine creator and the laws of nature incompatible, it still leaves ample space for faith, hope, wonder and, especially, gratitude.

A COMMON VIEWPOINT

Many today say belief in God is “old-fashioned.” Some believe religion belongs to the days when no one really understood the universe. Several noted scientists have said it is considered lazy to simply say, “God did it.” Stephen Weinberg, theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, said,

The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].

I propose this: If science and God do not mix, why do we have so many Christian Nobel Prize winners? In fact, between 1900 and 2000 over 60 percent of Nobel Laureates were self-professed believers in God. There cannot be an essential conflict between science and God because all truth is God’s truth. God has revealed Himself in general revelation (science, physics, nature) and special revelation (the written Word of God).

Militant Atheist Logo.jpgThe conflict between militant atheists and theists is not a battle of facts; rather, it is about worldviews. We must remember that all scientists have assumptions, presuppositions, biases, convictions, values, and prejudices. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions. In fact, worldview can cause us to see, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.

Frankly, I think it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. This is what’s known as “scientism.” Some notion of “truth” and “justification” is ordinarily implied by “knowledge,” which makes the science versus religion argument rather cyclical. It lends support to the concept that the mere accumulation of facts indicates a grasp of truth itself. If science were the only way to truth, we’d have to discard half the faculty members in any school or university—history, literature, languages, arts and music, for a start. Indeed, we’d be cutting out all metaphysical disciplines, including philosophy. This would please Einstein because he believed scientists make poor philosophers. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant scientist, was not much of an accomplished thinker outside of the realm of science.

SAM HARRIS AND THE “ZERO-SUM” ARGUMENT

“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God, can you?” Well, why not? Oh, is it because science has given us such convincing, all-conclusive, accurate explanations of the universe—how it got started, where matter came from, who started the ball rolling—and demonstrates that God is no longer necessary? Today’s leading atheists tell us belief in God is “old fashioned” and lacking in vision. They think theology belongs in the past; the good old days when people lacked a “scientific” understanding of life and matter.

zero sum game winners and losers.jpgThere is an alleged inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is in this book that he addresses the idea of that there is a zero-sum battle between science and religion. Zero-sum relates to or denotes a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. In game theory and economic theory, a zerosum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the others. Examples of zero-sum games include “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Matching Pennies,” “Dictator Game,” and “Cake Cutting.” Harris believes we must decide either science is right or theology is, to the exclusion of the other. Both cannot be right.

To say that science and God are incompatible—that either science is right or God is right to the exclusion of the other—is to write off any chance of science proving God’s existence. As I noted in my blog post “God, Science or Both” (Jan. 10, 2019), science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom—the Middle Ages and Early Modern period during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power that was juxtaposed with both the pagan and Muslim world. Pope Benedict XVI has gone on record saying reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.

If science and God do not mix, there would be no Christian Nobel Prize winners. To the contrary, 60 percent of all Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2000 were Christians. It is not science that divides these men and women; rather, it is their worldviews. Science is science; truth is truth. Carl Sagan was noted for saying, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Of course, this is not a statement of science, to be put in the same category as the scientific statement that gravity obeys an inverse-square law. Sagan’s statement is merely an expression of his atheistic, naturalistic worldview.

SCIENTISM

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But is science the only way to truth? That idea, which even today is widespread, is a belief called “scientism.” The working definition of scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. From the standpoint of normal English word usage, any attempt to reduce knowledge to some variant of “justified true belief” is an artificial specification of what is considered knowledge, in which belief is planted within us—privileged creatures with a conscience, or consciousness, as knowledge-bearers. Science is certainly focused on the accumulation of knowledge vis-à-vis making observations, determining an explanation for conditions, and conducting experiments to prove the experimenter’s conclusions.

In other words, science should be the end-all regarding all questions. Okay, but how does that work? What exactly does science explain? For instance, what does the law of gravity explain? Surely, that’s obvious, right? The law of gravity explains gravity. You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t, actually! Rather, it gives us a proven mathematical way of calculating the effect of gravity so that we can work out the amount of thrust needed for a Boeing 737 to leave the ground, or do the calculations needed for a rocket to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. That’s it. The law does not tell us what gravity actually is. Only how it operates.

The laws of nature describe the universe; but they actually explain nothing. In fact, the very existence of the laws of nature and the mathematics of the universe is a mystery in itself. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, wrote,

…the fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.

Amazingly, the very fact those laws can be mathematically formulated was for Albert Einstein a constant source of amazement and pointed beyond the physical universe to some spirit “vastly superior to that of man.” Perhaps this should help promote the concept that a scientific explanation of something is not necessarily the only rational explanation that is possible. There can be multiple explanations that are equally true at the same time. Stephen Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain why the universe exists in the first place—why there is something rather than nothing. He believed science would provide all the answers. These so-called “laws” of nature are not capable of causing or creating anything, nor do they convincingly answer the pesky questions about life and the universe. They can only be applied to things that already exist.

C.S. Lewis understood this. He wrote,

They produce no events: they state the pattern to which every event… must conform, just as the rules of arithmetic state the pattern to which all transactions with money must conform—if only you can get hold of any money… For every law, in the last resort, says: “If you have A, then you will get B.” But first catch your A: the laws won’t do it for you.

WHAT IS SCIENCE?

Science is not very easy to define. Its roots rest firmly in the term “natural philosophy.” When most people hear the word scientific they deem it to be synonymous with rational. In other words, science and reason go hand-in-hand. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is erroneous to decide science is the only path to knowledge. All the disciplines listed above—history, literature, and so on—require the use of reason, as do most things in life. Actually, reason has a far larger scope than science. Linguistically, natural philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom about nature.” So at its base, science is a way of thinking about the natural world—making observations, looking for explanations, and doing experiments to test them. Aristotle, almost 2,500 years ago, was among the first believers in natural philosophy. He was famous for his observations of living things, with many regarding him as the father of the science of biology. Aristotle, like Plato, often preferred to reason about nature from philosophical principles rather than empirical observation. Curious, right?

Thinking philosophically about the observable realm can lead to erroneous conclusions. Plato, for example, is said to have believed that heavier objects (e.g., a canon ball) when dropped would reach the ground before lighter objects (e.g., a feather). When using natural philosophy to explain and predict nature, thereby giving less credence to the observable part of an experiment, results can certainly become skewed. We need to remember that science is a progressive human endeavor to explain the often inexplicable.

Scientific Method Chart 2

There is no science without systematic observation, measurement, and experiment. The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. The approach must be systematic and logical. Obviously, science concerns itself with numerous types of inquiries. Of course, the goal is always the same regardless of the category being studied. Not surprisingly, some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. The scientific method is critical to the development of scientific theories, which explain empirical laws in a scientifically rational manner.

The scientific method has four main steps:

  1. Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
  2. Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
  3. Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
  4. Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.

Experimental tests will lead either to the confirmation of the hypothesis, or to the ruling out of the hypothesis. An hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Science requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. No matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every branch of science, “experiment is supreme.” Experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary.

Experiments can be used to test the theory directly (by observation), or researchers may test for consequences of the theory using mathematics and logic. A theory must be testable. If not, it cannot qualify as scientific. Remember the old-school theory that our universe was geocentric? In other words, Earth was the center of the entire universe and everything revolved around it. This concept was overthrown by Copernicus when he determined the sun to be at the center (heliocentric) of the universe, featuring a series of concentric, circular planetary orbits. This theory was later modified to accommodate an elliptical rather than circular orbit of planets.

Common-Sense Rational Thinking in Scripture

It is fascinating to learn that common-sense rational thinking is found everywhere in the Bible. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, he said the first was to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Notice Jesus mentions “mind” in this list. God is not anti-reason. He specifically highlights use of our mind for evaluating the natural world. 

Francis Bacon Close up.jpgFrancis Bacon (1561-1626) believed that God has written two books, not just one. God provides us with special revelation (the Bible, or “Book One”) and general revelation (nature, or “Book Two”). Relative to general revelation Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” In other words, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator. A “watchmaker” if you prefer.

In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis,  tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes. In this way, hypotheses serve as tools by which scientists gather data. From that data and the many different scientific investigations undertaken to explore hypotheses, scientists are able to develop broad general explanations, or scientific theories.

Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. — James Tour, Nanoscientist

Does the Big Bang explanation contradict the Creation explanation? It does not. First, the Big Bang is not an explanation at all. It is more akin to a characterization; a conclusion that there was a beginning. It says nothing about how the universe came to exist in the first place. Scripture does provide the “why” of the universe. God created the universe: there was a beginning caused by God. So, Big Bang courtesy of God, perhaps? For me, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This is the so-called teleological explanation. The phrase derives from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”

The teleological argument states that the existence of God can be determined from the evidence of order and design in nature. The argument goes like this:

  • Every design has a designer
  • The universe has highly complex design
  • Ergo, the universe had a Designer

Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” It was William Paley (1743-1805) who proposed the argument that every watch requires a watchmaker. The argument goes like this:

Imagine you’re walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground. What do you conclude is the cause of that watch: The wind and the rain? Erosion? Some combination of natural forces? Of course not! There’s absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it there.

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Scientists are now coming to understand that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. It’s been said that the universe has been fine-tuned to enable life on Earth—a planet with countless of unlikely and interdependent life-supporting condition that make it a tiny oasis in an endless, vast, hostile universe. For example, the conditions necessary for life to be able to spring forth on Earth, include exactly the right recipe of Earth’s oxygen level (21 percent), atmospheric transparency (relative to solar radiation reaching the surface of the planet), and a precise gravitational interaction between Earth and the moon.

Donald Page, theoretical physicist, focuses on the study and explanation of quantum cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics. He was a doctoral student under Stephen Hawking in addition to publishing several journal articles with him. Page is  a Christian. He calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power—a number that exceeds all imagination. Moreover, there are about two thousand known enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is one in 10 to the power of 40,000. This is such an outrageously small probability that could not be met even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Additionally, there are questions regarding DNA—where it came from, or the transcription of DNA to RNA, which many scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS

In a 2008 article in The Guardian (UK), Richard Dawkins wrote in regard to teachers who believe creation is an alternative to evolution, “We are failing in our duty to children, if we staff our schools with teachers who are this ignorant—or this stupid.” The real battle is aligned with the fact that these people do not want to accept Christianity because they will not accept that there is a God to whom they are answerable.

The public has been misled relative to Darwinism, creationism, and the existence of the spiritual realm. Our children are taught in public schools that evolution is only scientific and belief in God is only religious. This pigeonholing has the effect of placing truth and knowledge squarely on the shoulders of science. Interestingly, Sam Harris’ zero-sum approach to the Bible versus science screams loudly that either science is right or Christianity is right. It leaves absolutely no room for science being able to prove the biblical account of creation, life’s meaning and origin, the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. Unfortunately, militant atheism and evolution is causing many people to stumble and not listen whenever a Christian wants to discuss the concept of a Divine Designer and a message of creation over evolution.

It’s important to note that secular evolutionists must oppose biblical creationists because if what Christians are saying is right—that God is the Creator and man is a sinner in need of salvation—then their entire philosophy is destroyed. The basis for their philosophy decrees there is no God and ultimately man is not accountable to anyone but himself. If evolution is not true, the only alternative is creation. That is why evolutionists will cling to the Darwinian philosophy even if the evidence is totally contradictory.

It is truly a spiritual question.

 

 

 

 

The Learned Humility of Paul

Sociological studies of the early Christian church indicate that the vast majority of Christians during the first three centuries belonged to the lower echelons of society, or at least did not fit well in the higher ranks. We know from the Gospels that Jesus spent most of His time with poor, ill, and despised people. Paul, who belonged to a higher class than most of the earliest disciples and church leaders, does say that the majority of Christians in Corinth were ignorant, powerless, and of obscure birth. He spoke of them in this manner not from a lofty position or attitude; rather, he wanted to point out the lack of social and cultural connections of common Christians in the first century.

Paul was aware that these “lesser” individuals placed a great deal of hope in the vision that Jesus would bring to the earth a Kingdom that would supplant the present Roman order—a New Jerusalem where God would wipe away the tears of those who were suffering under the social order of the Empire. Certainly, worship was one point at which Christians of all social standing could have a common experience as brothers.

“I am a Jew, from Tarsus.”

Paul was born and spent his earliest years in the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jews outside the borders of the Holy Land. As a Pharisee, Paul was a Jew From Tarsus in Cilicia—a citizen of no ordinary city (see Acts 21:39, NIV). Tarsus was a city of half-a-million citizens on the southeastern coast of Turkey (ancient Asia Minor). In addition to being near an abundantly flowing river, a great international highway, connecting the west coast of Asia Minor to Syria-Palestine and points east, ran through Tarsus. It was the most important city of Cilicia, which brought the influence of many cultures and languages. It was an important educational center in the ancient world.

A large part of the prosperity of Tarsus was partially based on the manufacture of a material woven from goat hair and known as cilicium—the name given to the province. Cilicium was used mainly in the manufacture of tents. Although Paul has been identified as a tent maker before turning to religious study and leadership, it is more likely he was a leathermaker. At some point before he was born, Paul’s family became Roman citizens. This likely occurred during the lifetime of his grandfather or great-grandfather. McRay (2003) notes in Paul: His Life and Teaching, posits that Paul’s ancestors may well have provided Mark Antony or Julius Caesar with tents for the Roman army, a service that might have been rewarded by a grant of citizenship.

In any event, it is clear that Paul’s father was a Roman citizen because Paul was “born a citizen” (see Acts 22:27-28). Luke affirms that Paul was not only a Roman citizen but also a citizen of Tarsus (see Acts 21:39). We know Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage on three occasions. The first of these was in Philippi where he and Silas were imprisoned unjustly (see Acts 16:37). He initially allowed himself to be beaten without revealing his citizenship, which would have prevented it, we do not know. I would suggest it had something to do with Paul’s humility as a servant of Jesus Christ. The second incident was in Jerusalem after the completion of his third missionary journey (see Acts 22:25-29). As Paul was about to undergo public whipping, he made his citizenship known, thus avoiding the beating. The final occasion when Paul asserted his citizenship was at Caesarea, when he stood before Festus stopped his extradition to stand before the Jews in Jerusalem.

Of greater importance than his Roman citizenship was Paul’s Jewish heritage. He mentions in Romans 11:1 and Philippians 3:5 that he was from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribes of Benjamin and Judah remained faithful to God after the death of Solomon, when other tribes broke away and began worshiping idols. King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin; this was considered a matter of pride. Paul remained humble following his conversion on the Road to Damascus. He called himself a “Hebrew born of Hebrews” (see Philippians 3:5). However, he was emphasizing the fact that he was Hebrew in the sense that he was a Jew who maintained the traditional Hebrew culture rather than being puffed up by his immersion in Diaspora Hellenization. Rather, he remained loyal to the Jewish faith and to being a servant of Jesus Christ rather than “modernized” by Greco-Roman culture. In other words, he remained a Jew rather than “made Greek.”

PAUL, A PHARISEE

Paul was likely born around the time of the birth of Jesus. We know this because he is described as “a young man” in Acts 7:58 at the time of the death of Stephen and shortly before his conversion. Most chronologies of Paul date his birth just prior to that of Jesus, at the same time, or shortly thereafter. Paul is said to have been a member of the Sanhedrin when Stephen was martyred. Accordingly, he would have met the minimum age requirement for membership in that religious body. The Talmud notes the minimum age as forty for ordination of a rabbi. Paul, as we know, was a rabbi who learned at the feet of Gamaliel in Jerusalem.

Traditionally, Paul would have learned to recite the Shema. From the age of five, he would have begun memorizing at least parts of the Hallel—the portion of the Psalms used at the Feast of Passover. When he was about six, he would have been sent to synagogue to learn reading and writing. At that time, the only textbook was the Scriptures, which the Jews believed contained everything one needed to know about the world, whether in the realm of science, religion, or law. Paul had a bar mitzvah or its ancient counterpart at age twelve or thirteen. He was now qualified to be one of the minyan of ten required to constitute a synagogue and made him accountable as an adult for violation of the Law of Moses. At age fifteen, Paul began studying the oral traditions that were later codified in the Talmud.

PAUL’S HUMILITY

Interestingly, Paul’s opponents at Corinth referred to his bodily presence as “weak” (see 2 Corinthians 10:10). The Greek word used here (asthenês) often means “weak,” “feeble,” or “without strength,” but can also mean “sickly,” referring mainly to bodily disability. Paul uses this same Greek word in Galatians 4:13 when he reminds the Galatians that it was because of a “weakness of the flesh” that he first preached to them. He is also quick to point out to the Galatians that “…you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me” (4:15). Paul may have chosen this particular imagery because there was actually something wrong with his eyesight. This gives some credibility to the idea that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was a physical disability.

And he saw Paul coming, a man of little stature, thin-haired upon the head, crooked in the legs, of good state of body, with eyebrows joining and nose somewhat hooked, full of grace: for sometimes he appeared like a man, and sometimes he had the face of an angel.—2 Timothy 4:19

In Romans 1:1, we read, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God” (NIV). Paul was noted for describing his converted life as the opportunity to live out, to incarnate, to speak, Christ into the lives of those he was called to reach. He arrived at this position or station in life with no regard for his life as a Roman citizen, a rabbi, a Pharisee who learned at the feet of the famed Gamaliel. He considered himself no more than a servant of Christ. He seeks to promote this very attitude in his ministry to the Gentiles. This is so different from our highly individualistic culture today. In America, competition is much more the norm, rather than cooperation. Everyone seems to feel compelled to stand out from the rest, to be different. This is unfortunately true even in the Christian church.

Paul indicates that he was from Tarsus, which we’ve learned was a city of importance. It was cosmopolitan in antiquity, and, as a melting pot, it was “the place” where the exchange of many diverse ideas commonly took place. Hellenization was alive and well in Tarsus. That Paul was exposed to views that arose beyond the borders of his own home town is something we can take virtually for granted. It is likely that Paul’s thinking was shaped to some degree by his great mentor Gamaliel. We know that Paul was immersed academically in the content of the Old Testament from a young age, as well as in the writings of the rabbinic scholars of his day. But to interpret Paul solely on the grounds of the teachings of the rabbinic scholars of antiquity would be to negate critical factors of influence in the development of Paul’s thought. It would seem to belie his humility.

Paul himself claims Jesus as the key influence in shaping his thought—not Gamaliel or the rabbinic scholars of antiquity. Obviously, when Paul writes his letters, he does not identify himself by saying, “Paul, a bond servant or slave of Gamaliel.” Instead, he says, “Paul, a bond slave of Jesus Christ.” It is the teaching of Jesus Christ—who revealed His perspective and His own mind to Paul—that stands as the very rock of the foundation for Paul’s theology. This is what makes Romans 6, 7, and 8 (the very crux of Christian doctrine) so powerful and so important. His words in these three chapters of Romans has absolutely nothing to do with Paul, or his rabbinical education, or the influence of a great teacher like Gamaliel. Moreover, Paul does not mention his Jewish heritage, or his bloodline (from the tribe of Benjamin) as qualifications for his ministry to the Gentiles.

ARE YOU HUMBLE?

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Are you modest? Are you sure? To fit the mold, you’d need to be meek and totally lacking in pride. You must be unassuming, humble, lacking in vanity. In other words, you’d have to hold a low view of your own importance. I’ve heard it said that if you think you have humility—if you’re convinced that you’re humble—then you might not be. Etymology of the word is of Latin origin, humilis. Paul would have used the Greek word which is equivalent to the English humble or modest. Certainly, humility is an important character quality in the Christian life. Although most of us know this, we also likely know that humility is one of the most difficult qualities to develop and consistently live out in our Christian walk.

We have a tendency as Americans to be envious, competitive, self-absorbed, prideful, and decidedly self-motivated. Much of this comes from today’s pluralistic, humanistic, morally relevant culture. Social media has taken this drive and given it a worldwide stage on which we can cultivate a meme we want to be known by. I’m guilty of trying to script my every move and explain my moral shortcomings in a light that hopefully makes me look less guilty of pride than I am. I truly have no human comprehension about humility. As a thirteen-year-old new Christian, I was hopeful that I would be used by God in a great way because, after all, wasn’t I great? I fell away from the Gospel shortly after high school graduation. The minute I discovered marijuana and Miller Genuine Draft, I lost all concept of selflessness, empathy, love, friendship, forgiveness, and putting others first. I became the most selfish, self-centered person I knew.

Highlighter Concepts from Luke.jpgAlthough this may sound like something you haven’t done since Sunday School, the Holy Spirit is ready to speak to us when we dive into God’s Word. There is so much we can glean from how Jesus taught and acted in the Gospels that can help us to cultivate humility. Pay attention to how He lived out his humanity in a humble way, even though He was fully God. The Gospel of Luke is rich with things we can learn and apply to our own lives—from studying how Jesus interacted with people and what and how he taught them. Jesus came not only to take on the sins of the world; He came to provide us with an example of how we should interact with others. He was God Himself, yet He described Himself as a servant. He said in John 13:15, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” He washed the disciples’ feet! (John 13:5-9). First John 2:6 says, “Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (NIV).

It is important to note that humility and submission go hand-in-hand. This is precisely why humility did not come easily to me. I was inspired and motivated as a new Christian in my teens, but when my family “fell away” from the church, I began to get my validation from other sources. I began to doubt the existence of God in my third semester of college when I started studying psychology and philosophy. God became a “magical being” (and just one of many “religious” roads to paradise) rather than the Creator and Sustainer of the world. The road back was blocked by active addiction and ego. The further I got from God, the more carnal I became. When we cater to our flesh—when we give in to our mind, will, and emotions—we cannot hear the voice of God. We cannot see  what we need to see. It’s like the line from Strawberry Fields. McCartney and Lennon wanted us to understand this critical precept: “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

I couldn’t help but wonder who is the most humble man in the Bible? According to Numbers 12:3 says, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (NIV). Paul is one of the most humble people in the New Testament. Something even he does not take credit for. He wrote in Philippians 3:3-7, “…though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ” (NIV).

10 Identifying Characteristics of a Humble Christian

  • Trust in the sovereignty of God
  • Thankfulness and Gratitude
  • In awe of God’s goodness and grace
  • Able to rejoice with others
  • Preference of seeing unity with others through salvation
  • No longer “wise in their own eyes”
  • Easily forgiving others because of what God has forgiven of them
  • Possessing a “teachable” spirit
  • Focused on building others up
  • Possessing the heart of a servant
There is nothing that will put you in your place, nothing that will correct your distorted view of yourself, nothing that will yank you out of your functional arrogance, or nothing that will take the winds out of the sails of your self-righteousness like standing, without defense, before the awesome glory of God.—Paul David Tripp

References

McRay, J. (2003). Paul: His Life and Teaching. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

The Angry Atheists

When Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked the caustic atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) for his reaction. Cooper said, “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?” Hitchens held nothing back. He took a deep breath, smirked, and said, “No. And I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” Cooper was taken aback. “What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?” Hitchens said, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.” Hitchens told Cooper he thought Falwell was “…a bully and a fraud” who was essentially a Bible-thumping huckster.

I was introduced to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza in my World Views class at Colorado Christian University. One of the weekly assignments included watching a debate between D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked at the amount of venomous, loaded, sarcastic language Hitchens kept throwing his opponent. Hitchens always came across as a bombastic bully better at delivering witty zingers than compelling arguments. D’Souza writes, “A group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice.” He notes a comment made by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, displaying Dawkins’ anger at God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infaticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In a Christianity Today article dated March 13, 2008, Tony Snow writes, “There are two types of Christian apologetics. One makes the positive case for faith; the other responds to critics. Dinesh D’Souza’s delightful book, What’s So Great About Christianity, falls into the second category. It sets out to rebut recent exuberant atheist tracts, such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.” Snow notes that these so-called militant atheists tend to combine argument with large doses of bitter biography. Hitchens has gone so far as to state, “…religion poisons everything.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his book I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, said, “When I write of the anger of the atheists, I am not primarily referring to the classic atheists such as Bertrand Russel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The atheists I am writing about are the ‘New Atheists.’ The term ‘new atheism’ was first used by Wired magazine in November 2006 to describe the atheism espoused in books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Victor Stenger’s The Comprehensible Cosmos, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great.

WHY ALL THIS ANGER?

How can people  be so angry with God if they do not even believe He exists? Moreover, why would those most indignant about God feel such compulsion to literally preach their anti-God religion with the type of zeal we typically see from evangelists? Do they consider atheism to be their religion? Today’s front line atheists have truly ramped up the volume of their objections. They once held private their personal opinion that God does not exist. Today, they find it necessary to go on talk shows and lecture circuits announcing their belief in loud, shrill, militant voices.

The Pew Research Center (2019) published an article indicating that in the United States the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism. Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years. The average age group when most people decide they do not believe in God is 18-29 (40%). Theodore Beale declared, “”…the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but and emotional one.” The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes, “It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child-like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish emotional reactions toward the idea of God.” It is likely some great trauma or loss has caused the young atheist to not only reject God but to be filled with anger and resentment.

Men such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are known for taking a look-back-in-anger, take-no-prisoners type of atheism. They, and most other active but not-so-famous atheists, reject the term “militant,” and refuse to explain their anger. Antony Flew, atheist-turned-believer and apologist, said, “What was significant about these [men’s] books was not their level of argument—which was modest, to put it mildly—but the level of visibility they received both as best sellers and as a ‘new’ story discovered by the media. The ‘story’ was helped even further by the fact that the authors were as voluble and colorful as their books were fiery.” Their delivery sounds a lot like hellfire-and-brimstone preachers warning us of dire retribution, even of apocalypse.

It’s obvious that atheists in the West today have become more outspoken and militant. The “average” atheist balks at the term militant, claiming it has no place in non-belief; only in radical, violent extremists like the Christians of the Crusades and Islamic terrorists. Fine. Let’s take a look at the meaning of militant: “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.” No, these new atheists do not seem to be violent, but you don’t have to be violent to be militant. They are surely combative and aggressive, often using rude, brutish, insulting confrontation in lieu of substantive comebacks. Dinesh D’Souza says what we are witnessing in America is atheist backlash. The atheists thought they were winning—after all, Western civilization has adopted pluralism and moral relativism—but now they realize that, far from dying quietly, Christianity is on the upswing. This is precisely why the new atheists are striking back, using all the vitriol they can command.

For example, consider the title of some of the books the new atheists have written:

  • The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
  • The End of Faith—Sam Harris
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis—Victor Stenger
  • God is Not Great—Christopher Hitchens

SOMETHING IS LACKING IN THIS NEW ATHEISM

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of whether God exists. None of them even address the central grounds for positing the reality of God. Flew notes Sam Harris makes absolutely no mention of whether it’s possible that God does exist. Moreover, these new atheists fail to address the pesky question Where did the matter come from that forms our universe? They don’t discuss rationality, consciousness, or conceptual thought. I’d love to know where they believe our intellectual capacity, as well as metacognition—thinking about thinking—and who we are and what life really means came from. Neither do they present a plausible  worldview that explains the existence of law-abiding, life-supporting, altruistic behavior. They have no plausible explanation for the development of ethics and truth.

Flew goes so far as to comment, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents. In fact, the ‘new atheists.” it might be said, do not even rise to logical positivism. Hold on. Let’s take a minute to look at positivism so we’re on the same page as Flew and his argument. Simply stated, it is a Western philosophy that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculation. It has also been known as empiricism and, later in the 20th century, analytic philosophy.

WHAT THEY WANT

For the militant atheists, the solution is to weaken the power of faith and religion worldwide and to drive religion completely from the public sphere so that it can no longer have an impact on academia or public policy. In their view, they believe a secular world would be a safer and more peaceful world without the concept of religious faith. D’Souza writes, “Philosopher Richard Rorty proclaimed religious belief ‘politically dangerous’ and declared atheism the only practical basis for a ‘pluralistic, democratic society.’ These ideas resonate quite broadly in Western culture today.”

Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?—Richard Dawkins

Dinesh D’Souza writes, “It seems that atheists are not content with committing cultural suicidethey want to take your children with them. The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.” In other words, militant atheists are more concerned with indoctrinating our young students against their parents’ religious influence through promoting an anti-religious agenda. It’s been said that Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Christopher Hitchens, who was an ardent Darwinist, wrote, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Hitchens accused religion of preying upon the uninformed and undefended minds of the young. He did not take kindly to Christian parochial schools. He boldly stated, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”  Sam Harris likened belief in Christianity to a form of slavery! Biologist E.O. Wilson recommended using science to eradicate religion by showing that the mind itself is a product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion.

Sam Harris goes further, saying atheism should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. Harris says, “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” Dawkins believes faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to small pox virus but harder to eradicate. He writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Sigmund Freud regarded religion as a illusion (rather than a delusion, which is a psychiatric term), but he was by no means militant, combatant or completely closed-minded on the subject. In fact, he often invited religious leaders to his home to discuss the merits of their faith. He at least seemed open-minded, albeit not convinced.

Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities are out to “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” It’s as if these atheist professors intend to discredit parents in the eyes of their children, trying to strip them of their fundamentalist beliefs, making such beliefs seem silly rather than worthy of discussion. D’Souza writes, “The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As children, we certainly spend a great amount of time in school. Basic psychology tells us early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between birth and age 8. A continuum of care—from preconception through the formative years—is needed to safeguard and maximize children’s developmental outcomes. Indeed, the first five years of a child’s life effect who a child will turn out to be. The beliefs, emotions, and action-tendencies represent the accumulated experiences people have had while trying to get their needs met, which plays a key role in personality development. Accordingly, personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals). Children of Christian parents who grow up in an environment that consistently presents and lives the Gospel enter public school with an understanding of Who and What God is. This is more pronounced if they attended a parochial school prior to entering college. Secular professors want to dismantle that belief system in the interest of empirical science and truth.

Militant atheists have come out of the shadows of private belief with the intention of attacking theism in general and Christianity in particular. They are no longer content with deciding for themselves that there is no God. They feel compelled to poison the minds of young college students, steering them away from their faith, by bombarding them with science, logical positivism, Darwinism, pluralism, and moral relativism and… well, whatever works. Just as long as they can convince the world that God is dead one college student at a time.

Praise God that He lives so that we may live.

References

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press.

Jeremiah, D. (2011). I Never Thought I’d See the Day! New York, NY: FaithWords.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Age and Distribution Among Atheists. Retrieved from: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/

Snow, T. (March 13, 2008). “New Atheists are Not So Great.” Christianity Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html

Unveiling Islam and Muhammad

For nearly 95 percent of the world’s population, conversion to Christianity often means disowning, disinheritance, expulsion, arrest, and even death. At this moment, for the sake of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:16-20), men and women are being whipped into submission, tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and banned from their families. Homes are being torched, entire families executed, so-called apostates stoned to death. This, of course, is nothing new. Christians have been persecuted and tortured since the first century because of their belief in Jesus. If you believe that these events are rare, or in the past, then you are sadly misinformed.

Despite the horrors of such persecution, Christianity cannot be snuffed out. Why? Because it is more than a religion. It is not merely a set of beliefs; a certain “sect” or denomination; it is not merely one of the many ways of “getting to God.” In this case, all roads do not lead to Rome! Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is the only means by which mankind can be saved and restored to a relationship with God the Father. Biblical Christianity assumes the very essence of truth. Truth implies the existence of error, and mutually exclusive claims of truth cannot both be correct.

Such is the case with Islam and Christianity. They cannot both be correct.

THE BASIS OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH ALLAH

A Muslim’s devotion is not an act of love, but of fear. I’ve learned this from talking to those who have come out from the darkness of Islam into the light of Christianity, as well as a missionary stationed in Northern Africa. I see this in biographies of men and women who were once Muslims but are now Christians. Every Muslim fears the scales of justice, which weigh his or her good deeds against their bad deeds. There is no grace; no forgiveness; no unconditional love. Moreover, there is no freedom to reject Allah. According to Hadith 9.57, those who leave the faith are to be killed.

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To the devout Muslim, “God loves you” is the brash claim of Christianity. No such statement can be found in the Qur’an. Whereas the Bible teaches that God hates sin but loves the sinner, Islamic scripture affirms that Allah hates sinners. Allah thinks even less of apostates—those who have abandoned their faith. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). The Qur’an says, “For Allah loves not transgressors” (Surah 2:190). Even if we take Islam at face value—as a religion that speaks of God—there is a major difference in the personal quality of Allah and God.

Islam teaches that Allah sent prophets and messengers to proclaim the truth. In Christianity, God the Father sent His Son to be Truth. Jesus came to teach the Good News, to die for our sins, and to reconcile men and women to God. In Islam, it is hoped that salvation is earned through one’s good works (Surah 3:31). One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return. In Christianity, God loved us first (Romans 5:8).

Quran day of judgment

There is no security for the believer of Islam. The follower of Allah is left wondering if it’s Allah’s will that they make it to Paradise. Good works can only give the hope of heaven, but never the guarantee. The question will not be answered until the Day of Judgment. For the Christian, judgment was satisfied at the cross. Of course, this is an event rejected by Muhammad and Allah. In fact, Surah 14:4 paints quite a dismal picture: “We sent not a messenger except [to teach] in the language of his people, that he may enlighten them. Then Allah leads astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. He is Almighty, All-Wise.” I’m shocked at the predetermination of this verse. Allah will decide who will enter Paradise. Faith has nothing to do with it.

In Islam, salvation is “awarded” by Allah arbitrarily to those he deems worthy. In fact, Muhammad questioned his own salvation, even though he was the greatest of prophets, supposedly appointed by Allah to “set the record straight.” According to Hadith 5.266, “Muhammad said: ‘By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me.'” Allah will send to heaven whomever he pleases, and send to hell whomever he pleases.

Christian sects often argue over the validity and meaning of Romans 8:29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (NIV). We’re told in Ephesians 1:4-5, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (NIV). In stark contrast to Allah, God had a plan for man’s salvation before He spoke the universe into existence. There are no works, special skills, incantations, indulgences, absolution, or actions to be undertaken in order to earn God’s love or to be forgiven and redeemed from our sins.

ISLAM AND POLITICS

Any religion built upon a foundation of salvation by personal righteousness—i.e., by works alone—is based on the individual loving and pleasing God before God will love them. Allah must be coaxed into loving the individual. In Chapter 4: The Daily Life of a Muslim Woman, it is stated, “Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was called on to furnish an example through following which mankind’s love for their Maker could find full expression and its highest fulfillment by enabling them to win the love of Allah” [Italics mine]. This is quite the opposite of unconditional love. It is, in fact, nothing resembling God’s agape love.

Here is the curious “other side of the coin” in this exchange of affection and devotion for Muslims. In return for showing love to Allah, Muslims expect reciprocity. Their obedience earns prosperity. Surah 24:54-56 says, “Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them, and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—then those are the defiantly disobedient.”

To the Muslim, the key is that prosperity is understood as integrating politics and religion. The Islamic theology of “prosperity for devotion to Allah” shows that religion and politics are inextricably connected. This is true solely for the purpose of hijrah. Islam intends to conquer and dominate all of mankind, thus forming a worldwide caliphate. How does this differ from the Great Commission of spreading the Gospel to all corners of the world? The most vital difference is Christianity does not intend to infiltrate politics in the same manner as Islam. Christianity is a religion that focuses on mankind’s relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Islam is a theocracy that intends to force everyone, everywhere, to believe and act in exactly the same manner. It’s akin to fascism; the individual does not matter. Only the state matters.

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN

Muhammad intended to conquer all of Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. He is known to have wiped out entire caravans of his own people in order to steal their gold, cash, and other property to fund his campaign. His prosperity depended upon the extent to which he and his fellow Muslims showed hatred toward the enemies of Allah. Interestingly, Muslims may not secretly or inwardly love the enemies of Allah even if they seemingly shun them or hate them outwardly. Surah 14:38 says, “Oh our Sustainer! Thou truly knowest all that we may hide [in our hearts] as well as all that we bring into the open: for nothing whatever, be it on earth or in heaven, remains hidden from God.”

Islam has insurmountable objections to Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular. This seems to be a fusion of their views of liberalism as the ultimate evil with medieval Islamic theories that divided the world into two hostile factions: the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-harb). The House of Islam included all territory under the rule of Islam, while the House of War was the rest of the world that refused to recognize the authority of Islam. The House of War is open to warfare or jihad. Thankfully, most Muslims today do not hold this view.

Dar al Harb.jpg

This is why it upsets me to hear someone completely disparage and dismiss all Muslims in reaction to 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole, and many other violent and cowardly attacks of militant extremists. To do so is to decide to hate those we should instead want to reach with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It amounts to choosing resentment of an entire culture of God’s children for the heinous acts of some. Remember, no one will go out of their way to help or witness to those they despise. It is only jihadis  who accept this dichotomous view of the world. They have a hatred (directed by Muhammad as outlined in the Qur’an) of anyone who is not Muslim. This hatred is the very cornerstone of their foreign policies.

For some jihadis it is not enough to assert that the conflict is a natural part of God’s order. To satisfy their reading of Islamic law, they must find some way to show that the current enemies of Islam are the aggressors. In fact, these jihadis claim it is the enemies of Islam—the infidels, specifically America and Israel—that started this war. They believe Christians and Jews are entirely responsible for the struggle between Islam and the unbelievers. In addition, these Islamic extremists identify leaders of the “liberal” West—men like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, or Donald Trump—as tyrants. The jihadis claim these men share the characteristics of the tyrants mentioned in the Qur’an. In an ironic twist, they accuse such leaders of wanting to take over the world.

Islamic extremists argue that the first representatives of unbelief were, of course, the Jews and the early Christians. They note that the Byzantine Empire took to the battlefield to destroy the Muslims, but they don’t admit that the Byzantines were merely attempting to stop Muhammad’s conquests. The Byzantine Army was not lying in wait, nor did they pursue the Arab Muslims.  Muhammad received intelligence that a Byzantine army was in North Saudi Arabia, so he called a jihad against the Byzantines. This was the first battle of Mu’tah in 629 A.D. The Islamic military then pushed in to Byzantine Syria and eventually destroyed the Empire. The Crusades were actually a plea for help from the Byzantine Emperor. Of course, the Islamic extremists see the Crusades as an attempt to wipe Islam off the face of the earth. In fact, they believe the Crusades never really ended. All interactions between European governments and America and the Muslim nations today are seen as a continuation of the “crusading spirit” of the Middle Ages.

Islam and Byzantine Empire Clashes

A CLOSER LOOK AT MUHAMMAD

Let’s take a close look at the life of Muhammad as recounted in Islamic tradition and as reflected in the Qur’an, with a focus on peace versus violence. Although there are many intractable problems that arise when studying Muhammad’s life, including questions about the historical reliability of the sources, discrepancies in archaeological findings, the reliability of the Qur’anic manuscripts, inconsistencies in geographic reports, foreign accounts of early Islam, and problematic merchant records, none of these detract from the aim to understand Muhammad according to Muslim tradition.

Prophet-Muhammad

Muhammad was born in 571 A.D. and experienced a very difficult childhood. His father died before he was born, and his grandfather passed away when he was young. In his young adulthood he became a merchant and was known for his integrity, wisdom, and skill. At the age of forty, Muhammad alleges to have received his call to become the prophet of Islam while meditating in a cave near Mecca. He said the angle Gabriel appeared to him in a revelation. Islam claims Allah sent his chief messenger, Muhammad, to guide people as the perfect exemplar. Unparalleled in wisdom, character, and spiritual devotion, Muhammad led the new Muslim community from ignorance, through oppression, and into glorious victory for the sake of Allah. These revelations resulted in the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, whom Muhammad considered to be a great prophet, but not divine.

Although some traditional Muslims claim Islam has always existed, and was the first true religion—claiming as some of its prophets Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus—Muhammad introduced Islam in 610 A.D. His first thirteen years as the prophet of Islam were spent proclaiming these Qur’anic revelations to the polytheists of Mecca. The Islamic teachings proclaimed, “There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his Prophet.” The mercantile economy of Mecca was bolstered by a steady pilgrimage of polytheists to their city, which was home to 360 idols. These businessmen opposed the preaching of Muhammad, which insisted there was only one God. Muhammad essentially founded the first Muslim community, in which worship, as well as civil and political life, followed the guidelines set out by him. Muslims considered him to be flawless despite being human. Islamic theology has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”

Far from perfection, Ibn Hisham states in the introduction of his translation of Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah, that he altered the story of Muhammad’s life. “Things which it is disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people, and such reports as [my teacher] told me he could not accept as trustworthy—all these things I have omitted.” You can read the biography at archive.org, but it is a tedious process given the site has photographed the book two pages at a time and posted it for our purview. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, writes, “I do not doubt that Ibn Hisham had noble intentions, but it does not change the fact that he altered Muhammad’s story to make it more palatable…”

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY AND POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

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Muhammad and his followers set out on a military and political campaign that eventually gave them control over Mecca. Part of his campaign included the destruction of all idols. Muhammad escaped Mecca on the night of an assassination attempt. Historians refer to these early years of Muhammad’s ministry as his Meccan years, and they are the only years Muhammad didn’t engage in raids or battles.

The next ten years were the last of Muhammad’s life. These were his emblematic years, often called the maghazi years by classical Muslim commentators. Maghazi means “raids,” which is an appropriate description. At the end of his first year in Medina, Muhammad started launching raids.  From the time Muhammad first obtained a following, he launched raids and battles every year until he died. 

The first successful raid that Muhammad ordered, the Nakhla raid, was controversial and remains so 1,400 years later. On Muhammad’s orders, raiders were sent to intercept a Meccan caravan quite some distance from the Muslim base of Medina. Whether by Muhammad’s intention or not, the interception occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, a time of truce between all Arabs. The Muslim raiders shaved their heads, making it appear that they were on a pilgrimage. Upon seeing that the Muslims were observing the holy month, the Meccans let down their guard and began setting up camp. That is when Muhammad’s men attacked, killing and capturing undefended Meccans during a sacred time of truce, a great sin in the eyes of most Arabs.

When news of this treacherous act reached Medina, even many Muslims were understandably indignant. But then came a rather “convenient” revelation from the Qur’an, defending Muhammad’s raiders against the inquiries of the dismayed: “They ask you about fighting in the holy months. Tell them, ‘Fighting in the holy months is a great sin, but a greater sin is to prevent mankind from following the way of Allah, to disbelieve in him’… [O]pression is worse than slaughter” (Surah 2:217). According to the Qur’an, the Meccan oppression of keeping people from Islam was worse than slaughtering them during a time of truce. This attack by the Muslims during Ramadan, not at all defensive but entirely offensive, was vindicated by the Qur’an.

hadith

While the primary source of Islamic doctrine is the Qur’an, the Qur’an is not biographical in nature, and it tells us practically nothing about Muhammad. Much of his life and sayings are contained in the Hadith. Muslims tend to focus solely on the good characteristics of their prophet, and to completely ignore less admirable qualities. We have already seen that Muhammad began robbing caravans after leaving Mecca. As a result, greed soon became one of the primary factors in people’s rapid conversion to Islam. Indeed, Muhammad deliberately used the spoils of war to lure people to Islam. When he was criticized for the way he distributed his newfound wealth, he replied, “Are you disturbed in mind because of the good things of this life by which I win over a people that they may become Muslims while I entrust you to your Islam?”

Although Muhammad patiently endured persecution in Mecca, his attitude quickly changed when his numbers grew in Medina. Soon he would tolerate no criticism whatsoever. According to our earliest biographical source, a man named Abu Afak—who was more than a hundred years old—wrote a poem criticizing people for converting to Islam. Muhammad demanded he be killed, and Abu Afak was murdered in his sleep.

Muhammad’s violence was directed toward groups as well. Muhammad once said to his followers, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.” The Jews of Qurayza resisted Muhammad and attempted to form an alliance against him. When the alliance faltered, Muhammad acted quickly. His armies surrounded them and besieged them for twenty-five nights until they were sore pressed and God cast terror into their hearts. Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina. Muhammad had trenches dug near the market in Medina, then sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. Every male who had reached puberty was killed. Muhammad divided the women, children, and property among his men, taking a fifth of the spoils for himself.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Muslims believe that Muhammad was morally perfect, and that an examination of his life proves he was a prophet. The evidence, however, shows that Muhammad was far from morally perfect, and that there’s no good reason to believe that he was sent by God. There is a world of difference between the Muhammad of history and the Muhammad of faith. In contrast, Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who performed miracles, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. A careful historical investigation confirms all of these beliefs. Apologetics has done a fine job of linking incontrovertible evidence from theological and secular sources to the truth of Jesus. Thus, while Christians have absolutely nothing to fear from an examination of early historical sources, history is a huge problem for Islam.

Christians Under Attack: Persecution & Martyrdom Through the Centuries

FROM ITS ONSET THE Christian message impacted culture and society, and culture and society impacted Christianity. Sometimes culture—to include the governing authorities—pushed back with much force, often oppressive and violent in nature. Not surprisingly, Jewish religious leaders, having publicly rejected Christ and His message by betraying Him to the Roman Empire for torture and crucifixion, also pushed back violently against the early Christian church. In fact, the earliest persecution of Christians came from the Jews.

Other key factors impacted the early Christian church during the first three centuries. No sooner had the Gospel reached the Gentiles, it came under attack from individuals who wanted to alter, modify or nullify it. Simon Magus founded the Gnostics. Although this was essentially a separate belief system, it began to infiltrate the Christian church. Gnostics believed in a great god that is good and perfect, but impersonal and unknowable. They thought the creator of the universe was actually a lesser deity—a cheap knock-off of the “one true God”—who wanted to create a flawless material universe but botched the job. Instead of having a utopia, we ended up with a world infected with pain, misery, and intellectual and spiritual blindness. The Gnostics did not believe man’s dilemma was based on the Fall. Instead, when this lesser deity created man, he accidentally imbued humanity with a spark of the “true” God’s spirit, making man an inherently good soul trapped in the confines of an evil, material body.

EARLY PERSECUTION

The early Christians were initially persecuted at the hands of Jewish leaders. These principles saw Christianity not as a “new religion,” but a sect within Judaism—a new heresy going from town to town tempting good Jews to become heretics. Fearing these apostates could once more bring the wrath of God upon the nation of Israel, Jewish leaders began persecuting Christians on a regular basis. Frankly, the Sadducees became jealous of the apostles as they performed healings and other signs and wonders. People began believing that Jesus was the Messiah. The Sadducees arrested the apostles and threw them into jail where they were severely beaten and told never to preach in the name of Jesus again.

King Herod arrested many early Christians on behalf of the Jewish leaders. Roman authorities systematically persecuted and murdered Christians beginning in 64 A.D. Paul and Peter were martyred in 65 A.D. by Emperor Nero. Roman general Titus (later Emperor) destroyed the temple at Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Emperor Domitian (younger brother of Titus) waged a campaign of persecution against Jews and Christians from 81 to 96 A.D. Polycarp was martyred in 155 A.D. Christians suffered widespread persecution under various emperors through 303 A.D.

The first wave of mass persecution began under Nero in A.D. 67. Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome and is remembered as the one who set Rome aflame and then blamed the Christians for the deaths and destruction caused by the fire. He had Christians sewn up in skins of wild beasts and thrown to the dogs. Others were dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate the grounds. Remarkably, rather than diminish the spirit of Christianity, this persecution increased the devotion and commitment to Christianity.

A second wave of persecution occurred under Domitian circa A.D. 81. Any negative events that happened—famine, pestilence, earthquakes, drought—Domitian blamed on Christians and put them to death. A third outbreak of persecution occurred under Trajan in A.D. 108. During this wave, Christians were beaten, beheaded, and devoured by wild beasts. Nearly ten thousand were put to death. The fourth cycle of persecution took place under Marcus Aurelius Antoninas in A.D. 162, followed by a fifth wave credited to Severus in A.D. 192. Christians were burned at the stake, doused in hot tar, beheaded, placed in boiling water, and ravaged by wild beasts.

The sixth upsurge of persecution took place under Maximus in A.D. 235. At this time, numerous Christians were slain without trial and buried indiscriminately in heaps (mass graves), sometimes fifty or sixty cast into a pit together. The seventh surge of persecution happened under Decius in A.D. 249. At this time, the principle person martyred was Fabian, the bishop of Rome, who was beheaded on January 20, A.D. 250. The eighth wave of persecution occurred under Valerian in A.D. 257. The ninth wave of persecution occurred under Aurelian in A.D. 274 when Felix, bishop of Rome was martyred. A tenth flood of persecution took place under Diocletian in A.D. 303, commonly called the Era of the Martyr’s. The manner of persecutions included horrific methods such as racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poisons, and famine.

MARTYRDOM TIMELINE

Stephen was the first known martyr. He was stoned to death in 36 A.D. for preaching the Gospel. Stephen’s death sparked a rash of persecutions against all who professed belief in Christ as the Messiah.

The fate of the Apostles and close disciples followed in succession.

  • James the Great, the elder brother of John the Apostle, was beheaded in A.D. 44.
  • James the Lesser, the brother of Jesus, served the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James. He suffered martyrdom in 44 A.D. at the age of ninety-four by beheading and stoning at the hands of the Jews.
  • Philip, who served in Upper Asia, was scourged in Phrygia, thrown into prison and later crucified in A.D. 54.
  • Matthew the tax collector served the Lord in Parthia and Ethiopia where he was slain with an axe-like cutting blade in the city of Nadabah in A.D. 60.
  • Andrew, the brother of Peter, preached the gospel throughout Asia. He was crucified on a cross at Edessa in 60 A.D.
  • Peter was martyred by Nero in 64 A.D. He was crucified with his head down and his feet up, because he thought himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus Christ.
  • Simon the Zealot, who spread the Gospel throughout Africa and Britain, was crucified in 65 A.D.
  • Paul was subjected to persecution numerous times during his ministry, including scourging, stoning, and, finally, beheaded by Nero in 67 A.D.
  • Mark was martyred in 68 A.D. in Alexandria when his persecutors placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.
  • Jude, the brother of James, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa in A.D. 72.
  • Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and crucified in 100 A.D.
  • Thomas, who seems to have riled the pagan priests with his preaching, was martyred in 72 A.D. by having a spear thrust into his abdomen.
  • Matthias, the man who was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, was stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem in 80 A.D.
  • Luke was reported to have been hanged from an olive tree by the idolatrous priests of Greece in 84 A.D.

MODERN-DAY PERSECUTION

Persecution of Christians actually began at the dawn of Christianity and has persisted in various forms ever since. Stoning, burning at the stake, imprisonment, family estrangement, beheading, crucifixion, scourging, being dragged to the death, drowning, and more. History is stained with the blood of martyrs and is augmented by the testimony of those who’ve endured hardship for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Despite this being the 21st century, which should suggest we ought to be well beyond religious bigotry and cultural xenophobia, modern-day Christian persecution is still prevalent. The Bible says that Jesus has called believers out from among the world. We’re told in John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” When Jesus sent His disciples into the world to preach the Gospel, He knew they would be attacked and persecuted for witnessing and sharing Jesus. In Mathew 10:16, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Anti-Christian discrimination occurs in a variety of contexts throughout our culture, from the public sector to the private sector, in mainstream media and in Hollywood, in the public education system and in our universities. Often discrimination comes from activist judges misinterpreting the law (the hostility toward Christian religious freedom infects our judiciary as much as other aspects of society); other times it comes from entities misapplying the law. It also comes from what today is referred to as political correctness. Discrimination against Christians mostly stems from a hostility toward Christianity itself, and from rampant misinformation about what the First Amendment actually means regarding so-called “separation of church and state.”

Unfortunately, anti-Christian discrimination in America is becoming more blatant and more widespread every day. The cultural assumptions of our society can actually cause adverse impact in how the law is applied; culture is moving against public expression of Christian beliefs. To complicate matters, secularism and moral relativism have driven a wedge between Christian belief and public expression. Forces are at work whose sole intent is to outlaw the voicing of Christian beliefs in any public forum.

Christian expression is treated as profanity and worse in many public schools and certain federal courts across the nation. According to an article by Michael Gryboski on Christianpost.com, dated October 12, 2018, a middle school in Virginia has banned songs mentioning Jesus from its annual Christmas concert as part of an effort to be more sensitive toward the increasingly diverse population of its student body. The critical language of the First Amendment relative to religion—”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—has been misinterpreted and misquoted in recent years. It is now being argued by many that the First Amendment grants freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. More troublesome than that, it’s now being argued by liberals and atheists that American citizens have a First Amendment right to freedom from Christianity. All other religions are tolerated in the interest of pluralism and inclusion.

David Limbaugh, in his seminal book Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, states the following:

Ideally, the schools should strive for neutrality on matters of religion—at least in expressing a preference for one over the other. But, in reality, our children are often being inculcated with values and attitudes that conflict with or are hostile to Christianity… There has been a systematic sweeping away of all things Christian from our public schools, combined with a sweeping in of secularism (p. 4).

THE MEDIA AND HOLLYWOOD

Mainstream media and Hollywood play very major roles in bias against Christians and Christianity in our modern culture. We’re told that it is unthinkable to ridicule (almost any) political, religious, cultural, or ethnic group, yet liberals routinely disparage Christians and anything related to Christianity.  This anti-Christian proclivity typically manifests itself in unflattering portrayals of Christians in Hollywood films and television shows. Additionally, liberal news outlets tend to demonize Christian conservatives. Christians are presented as bigoted, narrow-minded, unreasonable, old-fashioned, exclusionary, and elitist. Remarkably, while the media are usually very careful not to offend or slight other religions—lately, especially Islam—Christianity receives far less deference.

OPEN DOORS USA

Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Unfortunately, Christian torture remains an issue for believers throughout the world, including the risk of imprisonment, loss of home and assets, physical torture, beheading, rape and even death as a result of their faith. Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians. It would seem the most vulnerable are Christian women , who often face double persecution—based on faith and gender. Every day there are new reports of Christians who face threats, unjust imprisonment, harassment, beatings and even loss of family or life because of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Some Alarming Statistics

Every month:

  • 255 Christians are killed
  • 104 are abducted
  • 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
  • 66 churches are attacked
  • 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned

Every year, Open Doors USA releases the World Watch List—a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 26thyear of the Watch List and it remains the only annual in-depth survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian. Today, 215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List—essentially one in twelve Christians worldwide. North Korea is ranked #1 for the 17th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians. During the 2018 World Watch List reporting period 3,066 Christians were killed, 1,252 were abducted, 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed, and 793 churches were attacked. Islamic oppression fuels Christian persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries on the Watch List.

SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER

We have come to the point where the church sees liberalism and moral relativism for the threats they truly are. But where does that leave us? It seems that modern polarization into left and right—within both religion and politics—has been with us since after the period of the Enlightenment. It’s no secret that modernism and Protestant liberalism were shaken to their very foundation following the two world wars. The resulting postmodernism did nothing whatsoever to solve our dilemma. Christians wanted to share with the world their conviction that the Gospel was the answer to this quandary—that it was the absolute truth everyone had been looking for.

We are told in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NKJV). The Word of Christ is not merely a matter of doctrine; it is a way of authenticating life; it is morally regenerative spiritual power obtained through belief in Christ as the Messiah. It is life itself. This is why apologetics is vital. We are to preach the Good News to all nations. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV) [Italics mine].

Changing someone’s mind isn’t the only goal of apologetics. In fact, that’s unlikely to happen in the heat of the moment. Instead, we should think of any apologetic encounter as planting a seed that will come to fruition later. Or, even more, perhaps we’re simply helping prepare the soil so that someone else can do the planting. I don’t mean to imply that God cannot do big things when we practice apologetics. Just remember this: We often don’t get to see firsthand the unfolding of those big moments.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the idea of apologetics—the concepts and arguments. Apologetics, however, is actually a means to an end. It is a tool for helping us defend the Gospel, but it is not about getting defensive. Sometimes, talking about morality and religion can really get some people going—even to the point where you find it tough to get a word in edgewise. But allowing your skeptical friend to share their ideas or experiences is a key part of effectively navigating spiritual conversations. Unfortunately, some of us can get rather defensive and feel pressured to take on the weight of explaining the entirety of the Christian worldview when confronted with one simple objection to the faith.

Love the people you come into contact with. Ask questions and genuinely listen. Be gentle and humble.

Be like Jesus.

References

Limbaugh, D. (2004). Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

OpenDoors USA. (n.d.) Christian Persecution. Retrieved from: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

 

 

In Christ

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive. —1 Corinthians 15:22

It is important that we know how God sees us. This can be rather difficult given our tendency to think the worst of ourselves, or to define our lives through the lens of others. One of the richest passages about identity in Scripture is Ephesians 1:7-14:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

In this passage, Paul explains the many aspects of our new identity in Christ. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing; we have been chosen, adopted, redeemed, forgiven, lavished with grace; unconditionally loved and accepted; we are pure, blameless and forgiven; we have received the hope eternity with God. When we are in Christ, these aspects of our identity can never be altered by what we do.

Often, we feel the pressure to define ourselves through our jobs, financial status, successes, grades, appearance, what other people say about us and many other means.

As Christians, our true identity is in Christ. We are no longer who we were. Paul calls us saints, set apart by and for God, and invariably addresses us as those who are in Christ. He implores us to live our lives in Christ, as he also lives, saying, “I glory in Christ” (Romans 15:17). In his epistles he encourages us to be in Christ, in him, or in the Lord 160 times. What it means to be in Christ is exactly the opposite of what it means to be in ourselves. In other words, if we are not in Christ, we are only into us. It’s all about us and no one else.

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

So what does it mean to have our identity in Christ? It’s not just a matter of claiming Bible verses for ourselves, or starting our mornings reciting key Scripture. To have our identity in Christ means placing our confidence for life and eternity in Christ alone. To be in Christ involves being formed into the image of the Lord. It means wanting others to see Jesus when they look at us. Galatians 3:26-28 says, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV) [Italics mine].

To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation in Him. Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Prior to conversion, Paul knew “about” Christ merely as another man. At conversion, Paul became a new creation. The old passed away, indicating the definitive change that took place at regeneration. Paul adds, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21). Being in Christ means having His righteousness. This position is made available to us as a result of God’s grace. Because we have no righteousness of our own, this is of paramount importance in order to stand before God.

According to Scripture, we die in Adam but are born again in Christ (see 1 Corinthians 15:22). In Adam, there is condemnation; but in Christ, there is salvation. In Adam, we receive a sin nature; but in Christ, we receive a new nature. In Adam, we are cursed; but in Christ, we’re blessed. In Adam, there is wrath and death; but in Christ, there is love and life. It’s as if there are two teams in life. We each take to the field with one of them. The decisions made by the team captains affect the entire team, for better or worse. The first team is led by Adam, and the second by Jesus. We identify with Adam and share in his defeat, or we identify with Jesus and share in his victory. In other words, are we in Adam or are we in Christ?

OUR IDENTITY AS BELIEVERS

The main theme in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is identity formation. Union with Christ gives us a radically new identity. Ephesians 4:20-24 says, “That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (NIV).

The phrase “in Christ” literally changed the world and is the very essence of our identity as believers. In speaking of identity, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, NIV). When Paul talks about the new I is he talking about who he was before Christ in combination with who he now is in Christ, or is he referring only to the new creation in Christ? Considering the words of Jesus in John 15:5, it seems he might be speaking of both. We are re-created in Christ, but we are not able to exist as a new creation apart from Him.

Spiritual growth in the Christian life requires a relationship with Jesus Christ, who is the fountain of spiritual life—a relationship that brings a new seed or root of life. As in nature, unless there is some seed or root of life within an organism, no growth can occur. Likewise, unless there is a root of life within the believer (i.e., some core of spiritual life), growth is impossible. There is nothing to grow! This fits nicely with the analogy of vine and branches. Frankly, this is why Paul’s theology is based solely on our position in Christ. He was brilliantly able to point out the constant struggle within himself between doing that which he did not want to do and not being able to consistently do that which he wanted to do.

NEW HEART, NEW SPIRIT

We’re told in the Bible that the center of the person is the heart. Proverbs 4:23 identifies the heart as the “wellspring of life” (NIV). In our natural state of being, the heart is deceitful above all things (see Jeremiah 17:9). Born under sin, we are conditioned by the deceitfulness of a fallen world rather than by the truth of God’s Word. In Ezekiel 36:26 we read, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (NIV). From the moment we are born again we are grafted into the vine—sanctified and set apart as children of God.

We have to believe that our new identity is in the life of Christ and commit ourselves to grow accordingly.

We read in Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (NIV). Biblical scholar and author F.F. Bruce says, “…the new man who is created is the new personality that each believer becomes when he is reborn as a member of the new creation whose source of life is Christ.” But exactly what does it mean to be a new man? Does it mean every aspect of us is changed? After all, we still look the same physically. Our voice sounds the same. We still have many of the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Our DNA does not change when we become born again. Our past, although forgiven (and forgotten) by God, is still our past. We carry emotional baggage with us well into our future even as new believers.

The Natural Person

In our natural state, we must contend with flesh, mind, will, and emotions. First Corinthians 2:14 says, “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit” (NIV). The word flesh typically refers to the body, but theologically it can also refer to the learned independence that allows sin to reign in our lives. We struggle in the flesh with inferiority, insecurity, inadequacy, guilt, worry, and doubt. Our mind is the seat of obsessive, recurrent, distressing thoughts and images, which are often at the root of compulsive behavior, bad habits, and addiction. Our body is the situs for migraines, allergies, asthma, arthritis, heart problems, cancer, and other physical ailments. Our emotions include depression, anxiety, bitterness, anger, resentment, and many other sensitivities.

We are spiritually dead in our natural state—separated from God. Accordingly, we tend to sin as a matter of course. We have a soul, in that we can think, feel, and choose. Our mind, and subsequently our emotions and will, are directed by our flesh, which acts completely apart from God. In our natural state, we tend to believe we are free to choose our behavior. But because we live in the flesh, we invariably walk according to the flesh. Our choices reflect the “deeds of the flesh” we read about in Galatians 5:19-21. Our actions, reactions, habits, memories, and responses are all governed by the flesh.

The Spiritual Person

When we become renewed by the Spirit, we are able to crucify our flesh by recognizing we are now dead to sin. Our mind is transformed. Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2, NIV). As we present ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice, our body becomes a temple of God. Our soul reflects changes brought about by our spiritual rebirth. We start receiving the impetus for our behavior from the Spirit rather than from our flesh.

Remarkably, we are now free to choose not to walk according to the flesh, but to walk according to the Spirit. When we exercise our choice to live in the Spirit, our lives exhibit the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23). I refer to this as the dichotomy of true freedom. Additionally, our bodies have been transformed. We have become the dwelling place for the Holy Spirit. We can now choose daily to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is our reasonable service. Our flesh is conditioned to live independently from God under the old man. Unfortunately, our flesh is still present after we’ve been born again. The difference is we’ve been given the resources to crucify the flesh and its desires daily by recognizing who we are in Christ.

BEING IN CHRIST WILL CHANGE OUR WALK

Becoming a new believer does not anoint us with magical sin-defying powers. We are still spring-loaded toward fleshly behavior. A life of fleshly habits does not just vanish. We tend to go on living according to what we know, and we don’t know much about living a Spirit-filled life. As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. We occasionally make poor choices—we’re human after all. However, we are learning daily to crucify the flesh and walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. This walk is built on relationship, not subordination.

Freedom doesn’t just lie in the exercise of choice; it ultimately lies in the consequences of those choices.

Paul defines what it means to walk by the Spirit in Galatians 5:16-18: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (NIV). Paul is quick to note what walking in the Spirit is not a license to sin. License, in this regard, is contempt for rules and regulations constituting an abuse of privilege. Amazingly, some Christians wrongly assert that walking by the Spirit and living under grace means I can do whatever I want to do. On the contrary, walking by the Spirit means we are free (from the dominion of the flesh) to live a responsible, moral life—something we were incapable of doing when we were a bond servant of sin.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

I cannot overstate how important it is that we come to understand how God sees us. We must fight the tendency to define ourselves based on our past sins and transgressions, or through the lens of others. In Christ we have redemption; we have the forgiveness of sins. Additionally, we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. We are no longer who we were. We have become saints, set apart by and for God. To be in Christ is to be clothed in His righteousness. We are literally given a new identity in Christ. It is through walking in the Spirit that we are able to deny our flesh, but we must do this daily. This is only achievable when we recognize and operate in the truth of who we are as new Christians. 

As we grow and mature in Christ, we tend to lean toward the Spirit. This helps increase the odds that we make the right choices relative to behavior. Paul warns against the practice of sin. Because we still occupy a fleshly body, and still possess a mind, a will, and emotions—along with baggage and past experiences—we are prone to take the wide road rather than the harder, narrow road. Being in Christ is not merely about being forgiven and living under grace. It is not a license to sin. Rather, it is about living a responsible, moral life. It is about being free to choose righteousness over sin. It is about being in right relationship with God.