Has the Gospel Changed?

THE GOSPEL STORY ITSELF has not changed, but culture and society has. As a result, the Gospel is viewed against the backdrop of current culture. Culture typically evolves over time—changes in demographics, attitudes toward moral issues, drastic advancements in technology. Accordingly, the method by which we present the Gospel today needs to be such that we do not offend non-believers or appear to be holier-than-thou. Only then will people be willing to listen. It has been suggested by modern-day evangelists that when sharing the Gospel we start where and when God did—in the beginning.

ENGAGING AN EVER-CHANGING CULTURE

It is imperative that we refrain from being dragged along by culture. One of the greatest problems that has frustrated the church is the relation between knowledge and piety—between culture and Christianity. In other words, we don’t want to share a watered-down message. We must always be concerned with proclaiming the Gospel—the entire Gospel. Given the audacity of today’s militant atheists, we should expect increasing objection to the Gospel and challenges to the authenticity and inerrancy of the Bible. By using apologetics to give solid answers, we can help people listen and learn about the most important historical document of all—the whole Bible.

The Gospel should point us toward a time when we can see others—all others—truly as God sees us: as one blood, one flesh, as brothers and sisters. Remember that God truly is the Father of us all; that in Christ the division and the divisiveness between men and women, between different national groups, between different economic circumstances are done away with; that all are alike unto Him; and that even those who do not know Him are known and loved by Him.

CHRISTIANITY VERSUS CULTURE

It is common for believers and non-believers to see religion in Western society as Christianity versus culture—two opposing forces of influence. The church stands on one side of the line and culture on the other. Americans are taking notice that their country is becoming increasingly post-Christian, if not outright anti-Christian. They realize that their beliefs on certain theological and moral issues will increasingly be rejected and mocked by the political, cultural, and academic elite.

The bubble of legalism can’t keep sin out of the church, and it hides one of God’s most useful tools—us. 

If we take a literal us versus them stance, we risk turning the church into a “safe haven” where people seek refuge from the quagmire of unbelief and pluralism. Believers tend to unwittingly perpetuate this “sanctuary city” concept by trying to find the balance between immersing themselves in the world and isolating themselves in a sterile “bubble.” Christians who support this approach have good intentions—they want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing that the church is under attack and that believers need to hold fast to their faith. They understand that a great battle is being waged (Ephesians 6:11-18); a battle that plays out both visibly in the cultural realm and invisibly in the spiritual realm.

Here’s the thing: Taking this standoffish approach tends to externalize godlessness and treats it as something that can be kept out by man-made walls. Godlessness, however, is a disease of the soul that can never be walled out. Godlessness causes rotting from within. It is troublesome to realize that this mindset tends toward legalism, and it tries to restrict interactions between believers and society. In the immortal words of Dana Carvey’s SNL character Church Lady, “Who could be responsible for this? Is it… Satan?” While it is true that the Christian life involves war against the powers of darkness, it wrongly tries to wage that war by withdrawing from the world.

You can certainly find biblical support for a view that pits the church against culture. Believers with this mentality are clinging to the biblical principle of waging war against that which is evil. They rightly recognize that we must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), resist the devil (James 4:7), and cast down anything that exalts itself against God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Be aware, however, that this mindset still falls short—it’s too easy to see ourselves fighting against people instead of sin. God uses the church in his plan to rescue people, not destroy them. This is only a small part of God’s plan for restoration. Our social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers—but those unbelievers are not merely enemies of God; they are also drowning people in need of a lifeboat. The church is not only a base for soldiers, but also a hospital for the spiritually sick.

But consider this angle instead. It is actually culture that is beating people up. Left to their own devices without God, people will take blow after blow—perhaps without even realizing that it’s culture delivering the pain. False promises, questionable social norms, distorted morality, and unchecked sin present in cultures across the globe can all appear good to people without God.

CHRISTIANITY OF CULTURE

I must admit that cultural changes occurring outside the scope and influence of the church are not necessarily bad. God has enabled all people—believer and non-believer alike—to make good and valuable contributions to society. The abolition of slavery and the human rights movement brought about monumental positive changes. And a thorough and honest search of the records of history will show there were Christians on both sides of these issues. Some Christians sought to preserve the status quo of “free” labor from slaves, while others fought for complete emancipation of black slaves. It’s appropriate to state that Christians who took up arms against Lincoln and the Union in order to preserve slavery were morally wrong.

I don’t believe that culture alone can set the stage and lead us in the right direction. Granted, not all cultural tenets are wrong. But culture is not always right either. Today, in a postmodern world, especially in America, pluralism is the norm. Behavior is often analyzed through the lens of moral relativism. The relativist believes that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective or universal moral truths. Instead, such individuals make moral decisions relative to social, cultural, historical, or personal perspectives. Under this tenet, truth is subjective. Bottom line: moral relativists believe that moral or ethical judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (e.g., a specific cultural or historical setting), and that no worldview is uniquely privileged over all others. Not even Christianity.

The Body of Christ cannot simply mirror every decision reached at the cultural level in the hope of winning others to Christ. For example, without God in the picture, culture raises up idols in His place—professional sports stars, actors, politicians, the wealthy and powerful. We must ask, Can the church embrace culture without also embracing its idols? Much of Christian doctrine is black-and-white, whereas culture often speaks in “gray” terms. Believers who subscribe to the Christianity of culture mindset rightly recognize that God created and ordered the world in such a way that left room for mankind to make culture, and that said culture exhibits real aspects of truth, generosity, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality is misguided because it fails to sufficiently see the way in which every culture, indeed every nuance of culture, is corrupted and distorted due to human sin.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “At an early age I came to believe that the life of culture (that is, of intellectual and aesthetic activity) was very good for its own sake, or even that it was the good for man… I was awakened from this confused state of mind by finding that the friends of culture seemed to me to be exaggerating. In my reaction against what seemed exaggerated I was driven to the other extreme, and began, in my own mind, to belittle the claims of culture.” Lewis added, “I naturally turned first to the New Testament. Here I found, in the first place, a demand that whatever is most highly valued on the natural level is to be held, as it were, merely on sufferance, and to be abandoned without mercy the moment it conflicts with the service of God.”

ANTI-CHRISTIAN BIAS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

Solomon (1996) wrote, “At the close of the twentieth century American evangelicals find themselves in a diverse, pluralistic culture. Many ideas vie for attention and allegiance. These ideas, philosophies, or worldviews are the products of philosophical and cultural changes. Such changes have come to define our culture.” This begs the question, How is a Christian supposed to respond to such conditions?

According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) standards, “[I]t is clear that the dominant social, economic, cultural and scientific trends that have defined the western world for five centuries are rapidly leading in new directions.” The dominant trends that defined Western civilization are of course the Judeo-Christian worldview. So what does this mean for social studies classes in public schools? The NCSS explains, “The United States and its democracy are constantly evolving and in continuous need of citizens who can adapt… to meet changing circumstances. Meeting that need is the mission of social studies.”

Can it be any clearer? Rather than teach America’s true history and founding principles for the preservation of American liberty and Western civilization, the new mission of social studies is to prepare our children to accept the transformation of America. In fact, the NCSS are missionaries of a new religion operating in the field of American education. Unlike Christians, these particular missionaries have government backing, free reign with captive children, and operate under the guise of “education.” This is pluralism at work. It is a systematic tearing down of the “old” in order to make room for the “new.” It is nothing less than indoctrination with one purpose—to convince our children to reject out-of-hand biblical Christianity and to adopt a secular worldview.

Fiorazo (2012) writes, “Christianity is not the thriving , influential power it once was in America. With a majority of people claiming the Christian tradition, why does our godless culture barely reflect the light of Jesus Christ.” We’re living in sad times when professing Christians know less about the Bible than ever before. We live in a country glutted with biblical material, Christian books, radio and television evangelism, but many Christians are not moving on to spiritual maturity. Additionally, there is a degree of biblical illiteracy in America today. Although surveys indicate that a majority of households report having a Bible, not even 50 percent of those who own Bibles read them regularly. Only 1 percent of young Christians read Scriptures on a daily basis.

There are many whose ultimate goal is to completely eliminate Christianity from public life in America. Militant atheists shout from their lecterns that Christian parents are brainwashing their children; teaching them the “so-called truth” of the Judeo-Christian doctrine. The late Christopher Hitchens said Christian parents are committing a form of child abuse by “indoctrinating” their children with biblical principles. He likened belief in the Virgin birth and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. God’s Not Dead 2 tells the story of a teacher at a public school who comes under fire for answering a student’s question about Jesus. When the teacher refuses to apologize, the school board votes to suspend her and threatens to revoke her teaching certificate. Forced to stand trial to save her career, she hires a lawyer to defend her in court.

We’re faced with sentiment such as this:

“The battle for mankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as proselytizers of a new faith…. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.” (John Dunphy, 1983)

CHRISTIANITY UNDER ATTACK

Traditional American Christians have long been on the losing end of culture-war contests—on school prayer, same-sex marriage and other issues. But recent events, including the Supreme Court decision overruling Texas’ restrictions on abortion clinics and the mandate that employers provide access to contraception, have added to the sense that religious expression is under attack. According to recent Pew Research reports, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously affiliated has shrunk while the percentage describing themselves as unaffiliated has grown from 2007 to 2014. The percentage who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists fell to 63% from 71% during the same time period.

A new vigorous secularism has catapulted mockery of Christianity and other forms of religious traditionalism into the mainstream and set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs. In some precincts, the “faith of our fathers” is controversial as never before. Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed “war on women.”

Ravi Zacharias said, “The Bible is a controversial book that invokes both devotion and derision. It has inspired some of the greatest thinkers this world has ever known and attracted the hostility of others. It takes a central role in any study of Western civilization and touches the most unlikely of souls.” The current challenges to the Bible are for the most part launched from the postmodern worldview. By its very nature the postmodern worldview is difficult to define. It is an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture, and philosophy. A postmodern perspective is skeptical of any grounded theoretical perspectives. Ostensibly, a postmodern theorist believes there are no truly truthful truths. Postmodernism rejects most approaches to art, science, literature, philosophy, and religion. This worldview is about discontinuity, suspicion of motive, and an acceptance of logical incoherence. At the root of postmodernism is a strong denial of absolute authority. Ironically, the belief that there is no absolute truth cannot be true unless there is an absoluteness to the absence of absolute truth.

And we wonder why it’s so difficult to fight pluralism, moral relativism, and militant atheism.

References

Fiorazo, D. (2012). Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America. Abbotsford, WI: Life Sentence Publishing, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. (1940). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0040571X4004023702

Solomon, J. (1992). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/culture.html

 

 

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It’s a Thing Most Wonderful

Jesus Crucifixion

Newsweek Special Issues recently published “100 People Who Shaped Our World,” featuring individuals who changed our world, for better or worse, through their actions, inventions, and (at times) their mistakes. With insight from historians in the fields of science, religion and pop culture, the 100-page issue explores the impact of the world’s most iconic leaders—from Jesus Christ to Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the article did not show Jesus Christ in a good light. Interestingly, we are expected to be respectful in what we say about any other religion or revered religious leader—except Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, people feel free to malign, disfigure, and re-imagine Him as they choose.

The impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher whose teachings became the basis of one of the world’s most practiced religions, is irrefutable. Today there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world—this is nearly 31% of the total population. The nature of Christ has been debated time and time again as we view Him through the lenses of scholars. From a Christian perspective, the central contention set forth is that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. The Christian faith goes beyond simply declaring God exists—it claims that God became man in Christ Jesus, lived among us, and ultimately sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins. Three days after His death, He would rise again, proving that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world.

jesus preaching sermon

Christianity is the only religion that places the entire weight of its credibility on a singular event, the resurrection. If Christ had not been raised, then Christianity would be completely discredited and unworthy of even a moment’s consideration. As the apostle Paul stated, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV). Conviction about the reality of the resurrection is the only foundation that can withstand the onslaught of skepticism and unbelief. It is this fact that points to other critical truths, such as the authority of Scripture and the unique role of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

No one’s life or death in the history of the world has been studied, analyzed, debated, and heralded to the world as much as Jesus. It’s definitely a daunting task to respond to all the theories and claims made by critics. During my research and writing, I felt a great sense of drama and significance regarding what’s at stake when studying whether the story of Jesus is true—or, as skeptics assert, merely a collection of tales attempting to propagate the Christian faith.

Answering the Great Question

The collective task of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ has been called the Great Commission, a term coined by Christian theologians to describe the charge that Jesus gave His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In addition, the Great Commandment describes the premier commandment Jesus gave us to love one another (John 13:35). Jesus asked His disciples the Great Question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)—without a doubt, history’s greatest question, the answer to which affects everything. If we focus so heavily on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, shouldn’t we be giving equal attention to the Great Question?

defending the faith

Preparing believers to give the reasons for their faith—this is the very essence of apologetics—should be the highest priority of all the efforts of those engaged in Christian ministry (1 Peter 3:15). If the truth of the message is in doubt, the whole doctrine of Christianity is in jeopardy. Of all the human rights we should be fighting for, foremost should be the right of every living person to hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to know Jesus. While there is amazing work being done around the world by people of faith to help the needy and heal the hurting, we are falling dramatically short in preparing people to have faith that thrives in the media-saturated, anti-faith twenty-first century. People are flooded with messages suggesting faith in God is at best irrelevant.

The end result is a large number of Christians being dazed and confused about how crazy the world has become, and how their values and beliefs are not just out of touch with mainstream society but to some are framed as bigoted and ignorant. This helps explain why only 3 percent of churches in America are growing through evangelism.

Faith or History?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words. The specific criteria used by many of today’s leading scholars to verify the authenticity of Jesus have been so demanding that if applied to ancient history most of what is currently accepted would dissolve into oblivion. Imagine asserting, as skeptics do for the biblical records, that we could only know about ancient Rome from what we learn from non-Roman sources. In contrast, scholars who use trusted approaches fairly and consistently recognize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are solidly grounded in historical fact.

Historians use reliable criteria to establish the probability that an event happened in the past. For instance, claims are more likely true if they are reported by multiple, independent sources. By this standard, our knowledge about Jesus is superior to that of virtually every other ancient historical figure. Scholars have discovered more literary sources for the historical Jesus within the first hundred years after His life than all of the primary literary sources for Socrates, which, incidentally, are in far less agreement with each other than the Gospels.

When the historical process is arbitrary and inconsistent, the past becomes something people with a hidden agenda or bias can manipulate. This type of mindset leads to disregarding the miraculous accounts given by Jesus’ followers in the Gospels. Those accounts are replaced with historical profiles of what someone living at the time of Jesus would have probably been like. Others go so far as claiming that the followers of Jesus merely borrowed from the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. As for the miracles? Scoffers simply say they didn’t happen because everyone knows there’s no such thing as miracles.

The roots of this culture of skepticism can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This period—known as the “Enlightenment”—could better be described as the age of skepticism. The mindset of this era is best summed up by René Descartes. He said, “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” For Descartes, the foundation of reality is our own thoughts (albeit doubts) about the fact of our existence. The seeds that Descartes planted grew over the next century into the Enlightenment era, which promoted the concept that “reason replaced revelation” in terms of the source of the culture’s epistemology.

The Resurrection Changes Everything

The claim that Jesus was resurrected three days after His death is not just an article of faith, but a statement that can be examined historically. Of course, if Jesus was not really raised from the dead, then the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning. Christianity is based on this central claim and is thus open to critical historical inquiry. In the same way that Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection sought to establish the past history of living things through what he called inference to the best explanation, we can look at this event using the same process. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith would be false (1 Corinthians 15:14). Critics have long maintained that religious claims are simply statements of faith that have no basis in fact. Claims of science, they say, are more credible because they can be proven false. Yet this is exactly what Christianity declares. No other religion bases the entire weight of its credibility on a single event or miracle.

It was the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead that prompted the dedication and sacrifice of His followers. At the top of the list was Jesus’ command to love our enemies. It is highly unlikely that His followers would have remained faithful had Jesus’ life ended permanently at the cross with no resurrection. In fact, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out that none of the many self-proclaimed messiahs of the ancient world continued to have a following or influence once they died. It begs the question, What happened to make Jesus’ followers, from the very start, articulate such a claim and work out its implications? For us today, the desperate need is to recover the same conviction of the truth of the resurrection that the early disciples possessed.

Concluding Remarks

When it comes to the central issues of the Christian faith, the biggest dispute is not with the facts of history but with the presuppositions and worldviews of those who interpret those facts. As you hear and weigh the evidence, you will be able to know with confidence that He is the Son of God. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus was truly a man of history, who was crucified, died, and was buried, and then rose from the dead. The Gospels are reliable historical accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching.

Up until the last few years, the verdict of historians has been virtually unanimous that Jesus was a person of history. The rise of atheism in the last decade has seen the upsurge of prominent skeptics who simply assert their “doubts” that Jesus really existed without providing any credible evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and author of The God Delusion, is noted for saying, “Jesus, if He even existed…” It’s important to note that these men are not historians and simply assert this contention in apparent hopes that no one will challenge them because they are scientists. Dawkins, for example, is an evolutionary biologist. Incidentally, Dawkins has recanted and admits Jesus existed.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives authenticity to the Christian faith. Jesus remains the only figure in history who died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary event in human history. It is what sets humanity free from sin; it is what gives humanity daily victory over Satan to live above struggles of life and achieve their destinies and goals; it is what will finally usher humanity into heaven to live forever with Jesus in that glorious kingdom awaiting those who believe, despite “critics” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins. If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:13-19.

 

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Four)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

Born Again

What is Conversion?

The word conversion when used in a cultural sense typically means buying into acceptance of a religious dogma or belief system. The fundamental biblical meaning of conversion is “to turn” toward God. The key question always is Am I born again? Exactly when did I get converted? It is typical for new believers to assume conversion is an instantaneous event. Someone gave me a suggestion when they learned I was addressing conversion in my series on apologetics. They said, “Read all four Gospels and try to determine when Peter was converted. Was it when he was following Jesus? When he realized Jesus was the Messiah? When he was sent out to preach and heal? When Jesus forgave him for denying him?” Apparently, it’s just not that clear-cut.

Of course conversion is not simply a shift in our relationship with God. Justification is required before conversion can occur. Romans 1:17 reminds us that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. It is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Conversion, however, is a much larger reality in which our restored relationship with God begins to touch and change every area of our lives. Justification is not something visible. It is purely a work of the heart. The New Testament speaks of conversion as metanoia, which is literally a change of mind, but is not merely altering your opinion about God. Instead, it is a redirection of your fundamental outlook—what we might call mind-set or worldview. Because it involves a change in affection and will, the very core of self, it is not simply a matter of opinion.

The Bible tells us, “You must be born again” (John 3:7, NIV). Colossians 1:13 states, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (NIV).  Christian theology speaks of regeneration, which is the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the repentant sinner. This “in or out” language finally appears also in the terminology of contemporary sociology of conversion. But the complexity of this phraseology—of conversion, yes, but also of alteration, transference, renewal, affiliation, adhesion, and other terms for religious moves one might make—points to biblical and theological counterparts indicating there is more to conversion than just “getting it.”

What Are We Converted From and Transformed To?

The apostle Peter taught that one needs to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NKJV). Many believe conversion is just accepting Jesus into your heart or professing Jesus with your mouth. It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they met true reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced ultimate truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right.

Christian conversion is linked inextricably to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Of course, this statement is at the very heart of apologetics. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into a personal relationship with God Almighty, which leads to changes taking place in his life.

It is not a matter of self-improvement or cultural conditioning. Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective—the resurrection of Christ—there is also a universality of Christian conversion. Since the date of his death and resurrection, people from every conceivable background, culture, philosophy, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the Earth have become some of the most remarkable saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away by simple cultural conditioning. Christian experience is universal regardless of culture.

Concluding Remarks

God looks on the heart, the attitude, the intent. As long as one, in his heart, has a real desire to walk in God’s will—is deeply sorrowful for past sins and repents when he commits the occasional sin—and seeks to overcome sin and make God’s way his way, he will be forgiven. But if, following conversion, he is diligent in his Christian life, his occasional sinning will become less and less. He will make solid progress, maturing, overcoming, growing spiritually and in righteous godly character.

The experience of a new Christian —not just knowledge but experience—of who he is and what has happened to him, is profoundly determined by what he knows about the miracle of conversion. That knowledge is based upon Scripture. God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by His Word in the Bible. It important to note that God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. The fullness of conversion takes place when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

On a final note, to “convert” is to repent or “turn away from” one thing and toward something new. When one becomes a Christian, he is given the power to essentially do a 180 and go an entirely different way. Conversion is based solely on faith or belief. Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is a relationship with Christ. Christianity is God offering salvation to anyone who believes and trusts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Conversion is accepting the gift that God offers and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in the forgiveness of sins and eternity in heaven after death.

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Three)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

APOLOGETICS_3

One True Religion?

Many Americans believe, “All religions are good, so let us all just get along!” The problem is that neither Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam teach such inclusive ideas. Each claim to be the one true religion. The COEXIST symbol is merely portraying yet another religious view: All religions are equally valid. But is it logically possible for all religions to be true? Or is there only one true religion?

Do all religions lead to God? Think about the logic of this. Can I pick up my cell phone and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. This reminds me of a comedian (I cannot remember his name) who said, “Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the phone number of a friend or relative? You get close, but no cigar! I think if you get every number right but one you should at least get someone who knows the person you’re trying to reach!” Regarding religion, the truth is all roads don’t lead to Rome, and all religions don’t lead to God.

WAY_TRUTH_LIFE.001-608x342.jpg

The road to heaven is clear. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I’m betting my life and my salvation on the fact that He was right. I believe Jesus Christ was God incarnate, and I don’t think He would lie about the road to paradise. Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (NIV). The most unique attribute of God is His holiness and justice. His holiness is demonstrated by His being “set apart” from all of creation. “With whom then will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, NIV). God is pure and undefiled, separate from sinners. He is unable to fellowship or dwell with the wicked. Psalm 5:4-5 says, “For You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, wicked people are not welcome” (NIV).

When we try to figure out, explain, or define God by our own reasoning, we come dangerously close to creating an image or idol—an image of God that satisfies us from our innately limited point of view.  If God exists—and I believe He does—we certainly did not create Him. Today’s vocal atheists—some prefer to be called anti-theists—proclaim that those who believe in God have simply created Him in their mind. Any attempt on our part to define or explain God will be just that. An attempt.

I’ve heard it said, “No religion is the TRUE RELIGION because humans are behind each doctrine or belief. Religions only serve to divide people who might otherwise get along just fine. Instead, in the name of a god or supreme being, people judge, exclude, or persecute others based upon their religious beliefs.”

Militant Atheists

Most so-called “open-minded” people today tout the belief that no one religion can have a monopoly on truth. Atheists, of course, insist no religion is true because God does not exist. I have been studying apologetics for about a year, and have watched debates between the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens, or Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It is not unusual to see visceral, nasty attacks on Christians. Many of these anti-theists say believers are narrow-minded, exclusionary, bigoted, elitist, deluded, or just plain stupid.

militant-atheism dawkins

Many of the more visible atheists today are rather militant, showing hostility toward religion, who are bent on propagating atheism among the masses rather than just quietly, privately, refusing to believe in God. Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens propose that religion is harmful. Both have gone so far as stating that parents who force their faith on their unsuspecting children are pounding religion into their young minds, consequently giving them little-to-no chance of making their own decision about religion. Hitchens actually believes this is a form of child abuse. These militant atheists tend to form their comments from a base of emotions, subjectivity, and a cavalier treatment of subject matter better discussed with depth of thinking and an open mind.

These non-believers are fond of letting the sins of individuals who claim to be Christians discount or discolor the very image of God. Richard Dawkins is known for this tactic, blaming Christians for violent persecution and prosthelytizing during the Crusades. They typically exaggerate the number of people killed while ignoring the terrible murder, persecution, torture, and genocide of countless despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Hirohito, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Muammar Gaddafi, Edi Anim, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

What About The Presence of Evil?

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and others typically argue that the presence of evil and tragedy in the world is proof that God does not exist. They malign the Christian God by saying either God is omnipotent and able to stop evil but chooses not to— making him cold and callous—or He is unable to stop evil, indicating He lacks the power to stop evil. Of course, this is the most troubling accusation for a believer to answer. The best way to examine this issue is to look at God’s nature and His desire for mankind. God loves us and wants us to love Him back.

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But He gave us free will. We can choose to love Him in return, or we can turn our backs on His grace and goodness. Love is a choice. Martin Luther examined free will in his treatise The Bondage of the Will. Luther is actually responding to Erasmus who took issue with the necessity of free will. The following are passages from Luther’s response.

Section. 5. BUT this is still more intolerable, your enumerating this subject of “free-will” among those things that are “useless, and not necessary;” and drawing up for us, instead of it, a “form” of those things which you consider “necessary unto Christian piety.”
Section. 6. THE “form” of Christianity set forth by you, among other things, has this, “That we should strive with all our powers, have recourse to the remedy of repentance, and in all ways try to gain the mercy of God; without which, neither human will, nor endeavour, is effectual.” —Martin Luther

If love is a choice, evil actions are also a choice made by mankind and not Almighty God. If you have a choice, you have to be able to choose not to love, which is in itself the nature of evil. Evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, he gave us not only our greatest blessing, but he also gave us our greatest curse, because we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.

THEREFORE, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what “free-will” can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatever of Christian matters, and shall be far behind all People upon the earth. —Martin Luther

The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. The potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are the result of man making wrong choices. God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t.

Concluding Remarks

The Apostle Paul, a skillful debater who was happy to wrangle with rabbis and philosophers alike, recognized the perils of linking faith improperly with clever argument. Of course, this is exactly the approach taken by today’s militant atheists. Their rhetoric is steeped in emotions and conjecture. When engaging in apologetics, we must remain humble and respectful. We engage in apologetics because we are commanded to. We all have minds that need convincing and satisfying. Christianity meets all our needs. We need to communicate this fact to non-believers. If God has commissioned us to work with Him in testifying to the virtues of the Gospel, then we must do so with vigor and enthusiasm.

As a Christian, I do believe that God has given us the privilege of hearing and embracing the Good News, of receiving adoption into His family, and of joining the Body of Christ as a vital cog in the wheel of salvation. We do believe that we know some things that others do not know, but we do not know all there is to know. What human mind can fully grasp the reality of God Almighty? Above all, I know I have met Jesus Christ on my own road to Damascus. On the basis of what we know—indeed, what we have been shown—we offer to our neighbors through apologetics the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Savior.

What’s Next?

Next week, in Part Four, I will present the truth and the nature of conversion, including the definition of being “born again,” and how one comes to a decision regarding religion. I look forward to presenting the Christian doctrine to you.

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part One)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

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CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS SEEKS TO build bridges to unbelievers by presenting reasons and evidence that Christianity is true, rational and worthy of belief. Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath said, “…Christian apologetics represents the serious and sustained engagement with ‘ultimate questions’ raised by a culture, people, group or individual aiming to show how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers to such questions. Where is God in the suffering of the world? Is faith in God reasonable?” Agnostics and atheists are quick to conclude that either God is all-loving but not powerful enough to stop the evil that exists in the world, or He is all-powerful, but not willing to wipe out evil.

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Apologetics in a Post-Modern World

If everyone already belonged to one religion, apologetics might still be necessary as a way to provide believers with the best possible grounds for their faith. But clearly that is not the culture we live in. Modernism, which became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is rather difficult to pinpoint because it encompasses a variety of specific artistic and philosophic movements including symbolism, futurism, surrealism, dadaism, and others. Its basic tenet involves rejection of all religious and moral principles as the sole means of cultural progress. Consequently, it includes an extreme break with tradition. Specifically, modernism developed out of Romanticism’s revolt against the effects of the Industrial Revolution and bourgeois values.

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When modernism failed to cure the ills of society—war, famine, disease, exploitation, global environmental crises—postmodernism came on the scene. Postmodernists believe there is no such thing as absolute truth; rather, truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people in power to control others. Truth and error are synonymous. Facts are too limiting, changing erratically and often. Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Traditional authority is considered to be false and corrupt. Postmodernists wage intellectual battle against traditional truth and reality. They despise the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion.

We presently live in a deeply diverse world characterized by pluralism. Pluralism is a word we encounter all the time, but few truly understand what it implies. It has at least three primary definitions. Thoroughly exploring what we mean by pluralism will help us clarify a lot of what we encounter in contemporary society. And getting the definition clear is necessary for any apologist who wants to understand and address his or her audience accurately.

Pluralism as Mere Plurality.

The basic definition of pluralism means the state of being more than one. A rudimentary example would be choices of breakfast cereal in the grocery store. Sociologists suggest that such proliferation of choices in modern society—the characteristic of various goods, services, and ideologies—is a process they call pluralization. Although discussions about pluralism are not new, all the relevant questions need to be carefully considered. What is God like? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force of energy? If Christianity is true, does it necessarily follow that all other religions are wrong? Can so many be wrong, or are all religions at least partially or equally valid? The fact of a pluralistic world has required theologians to adopt positions regarding believers in other religions.

Today’s militant atheists are no longer satisfied with simply choosing to not believe in God. They’ve taken on the “mission” of attacking Christianity and its ardent followers as religious bigots who are elitist, narrow-minded, deluded, and exclusionary in their approach to God and heaven. Granted, worldviews are mutually exclusive of all other beliefs, but it does not mean holding a belief in one true God makes the believer an elitist. Christians do not think they are morally better than people in other religions. Because Christianity does not teach salvation through works but salvation by grace through faith, all boasting is excluded (see Romans 3:27).

Pluralism as Preference.

This second definition goes beyond mere recognition that there is more than one; rather, it affirms that it is good that there is more than one. Here pluralism moves from sociological description to ideological description. Rather than “what is,” there is “what ought to be.” Pluralism can be expressed even about ultimate questions of life and death. Someone might prefer there to be more than one philosophy, more than one ideology, more than one religion in a society because the presence of competing alternatives prevents any individual or any group from asserting unchallenged claims to truth, justice and power. Such pluralism, on this understanding, also can lead to mutual and complementary instruction from each particular point of view.

In this regard, we are all pluralists. But preferring plurality in some instances does not, of course, commit one to preferring it in all instances. Consider that some individuals prefer matrimonial pluralism (polygamy) over monogamy. Someone else might support private ownership of property while others might believe in communal ownership, or the rule of law to anarchy, and so on. We must resist the illusion that pluralism means everyone is right and no one is wrong. Pluralism is often touted on the campuses of our liberal colleges as the only way to believe. In reality, most of us are pluralistic in only some matters and definitely not pluralistic in others.

Pluralism as Relativism.

Someone might recognize a situation as pluralism: “There is more than one.” Someone else might actually prefer a situation to be pluralistic: “It’s good that there is more than one.” But this level of pluralism goes further, declaring that no single option among the available varieties in a pluralistic situation can be judged superior to the others. For example, consider the claim everything is beautiful. To hold the attitude that everything is beautiful is to see every option as good. But is this truly accurate? Even on the basic level of vanilla versus chocolate, we’re talking subjective preference not objective judgment. When it comes to flavors of ice cream, all have their merits and all should be affirmed.

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This is clearly not applicable to the bewildering variety of religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Native religion, Islam, Wicca—all are belief systems considered “good” by their adherents. All can be labeled as “spiritual paths.” This becomes a rather sticky situation, however, when lifelong believers of these various religions are convinced that his or her belief is in fact the best of all. Interestingly, many young college students, when pressed, tend to confess that they feel they shouldn’t think that way. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins believe parents should not be allowed to force-feed their doctrine on their children. In fact, he sees this as a form of child abuse, indicating it takes away the child’s freedom to think for himself or herself.

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Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, complains that most college students today believe that everything is relative. Some are religious, some are atheist; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism, and they take comfort in that unity. They believe relativism is vital to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, to which all primary and secondary education in America has dedicated itself for more than fifty years. Therefore, openness is the great insight of modern times. The true believer is the real danger. Interestingly, the obsession that one is right no matter what has led to persecution, slavery, xenophobia, racism, chauvinism, and exploitation—not openness. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right. Instead, it is said that to think you’re right in the first place is wrong. This is precisely what has led to the modern-day concept that there is no way to tell good from evil!

It’s Not About Saying You’re Sorry!

Apologetics has little to do with how we understand the word apology today. Rather, it is derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to make a reasoned defense. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance describes apologetics as “a speech in defense” or “intelligent reasoning.” Etymology indicates apologetics was originally the term for making a legal defense in ancient courts. Accordingly, as used in 1 Peter 3:15, it means “to make a defense to everyone” or “to give an answer to every man.” It is vital that we not ignore the second part of the verse, which admonishes us to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (NIV).

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The question is  How can believers both defend and commend their religion without needlessly offending their neighbors and exacerbating the tensions of their community? After all, apologetics can bless and apologetics can curse. When engaging in defense of the Christian faith, we must always look for the most loving approach. Peterson (2006) says in his translation The Message, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing… no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 7). It is vital that we show the ability to critique a position or argument without lambasting the other person.

Effective Apologists are Good Listeners!

Be prepared to actively listen to people with whom you are having a discussion. Seek to understand where they are coming from. Never presume to know their “character” simply because of what they’ve said or written about their religion or cultural beliefs. Let them have their say whenever they wish to speak. It is important to be wary of steamrollers, but be careful of not being one yourself. It’s better to allow them to speak too much than too little or you’ll be accused of cutting them off at the knees. Respond to what they actually said, not what you think they should have said. Try to keep them on point, however, which is not always easy.

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If you’re debating them about Scripture, ask them to stay within one passage and reach a conclusion with you on that passage before moving on to another. You might not realize it, but just because you disagree with someone does not mean there’s nothing you can learn from them! Every individual has unique experiences and ideas, and you never know when their thoughts might compliment yours. Remain teachable, even from those with whom you vehemently disagree. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. When someone points out an error or mistake on your part, do not try to cover it up. Admit to it, noting it was an honest mistake. If someone insists you’ve made a mistake when you are well-grounded in what you’ve stated, promise to check your sources and get back to them on it. It takes grace and humility to admit when you’re wrong, but people will respect you for it.

Don’t be baited by personal insults. Ad hominem attacks, which are by nature leveled against an individual rather than an argument, have unfortunately become quite common when discussing sensitive subjects such as religion. We should never repay insult with insult. Remember, Christ never retaliated against or mocked those who mocked Him. 

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will present a detailed look at the classical approach to Christian apologetics. What exactly does Christianity believe? Can truth be objectively known? What are the three main arguments for the existence of God? Are miracles possible in a physical universe? Is the New Testament historically accurate? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? We’ll also look at the hypocrisy of intolerant tolerance. For example, when our public schools shifted their policy from decidedly Christian to “neutral,” it did not take long for them to go from neutral to intolerance. Public schools have become “Christian-free zones” in the name of so-called separation of church and state. We’ve allowed our government leaders to interpret and enforce the First Amendment as freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Please join me next week for Part Two of Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #14- Why Do Some Christians Call God Allah?

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This is the fourteenth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 14 – WHY DO SOME CHRISTIANS CALL GOD ALLAH?

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IN JUNE OF 2014, hundreds of Malaysian Muslims rejoiced as their supreme court confirmed the illegality of Christians using the word Allah to refer to the Christian God. The Catholic Church had challenged the ban many times on the grounds that Malay Bibles had used the word Allah for centuries. Authorities argued in response that a Christian use of the term could cause confusion and entice Muslims to convert, a criminal act in twelve of its thirteen states.

For a time, the Church had succeeded in convincing the Malaysian government to lift the ban, but in response Muslims began firebombing churches, ultimately leading to a reinstatement of the ban in October 2013. Three months later, Muslim authorities confiscated hundreds of Bibles from Christians on the basis that they used the word Allah, and in June a seven-judge panel confirmed this hard line stance against Christians. Political pundits saw the ruling as a “vote-winner” for the government, appealing to Malay public with sentiments that are increasingly Islamic.

ALLAHU AKBAR

When the decision was announced, Muslims around the court started chanting “Allahu Akbar.” The phrase is called the takbir, and the Malaysians may have been reciting it simply in thanks to God and to give him praise. The slogan is versatile; it is used in daily prayers, upon hearing good news, during ceremonies, as an incantation before engaging in a difficult endeavor, or even in moments of general excitement. It is not primarily a war cry, as some believe.

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So the Malaysian Muslims around the courthouse may have been chanting the phrase in celebration as many Muslims do. But if they knew the literal meaning of the phrase, they may have meant something more. For example, many people think that Allahu Akbar means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” As a non-Arab Muslim, that is what Qureshi was taught the words meant. But the word akbar is actually in the comparative form, and the phrase ought to be translated “Allah is greater.” It implies that Allah is greater than something in particular. Some have speculated that the phrase was originally used to intimidate the enemies of Muslims in battle, by saying that Allah was a greater God than their alleged god. In his earliest biography, we find Muhammad reciting the phrase before attacking the Jews at Khybar. This etymology is not certain, though, as there is not enough evidence to support it.

What is clear is that many Malaysians see Allah as a proper name for the Islamic God, so when they started chanting “Allahu Akbar,” they could have meant that the Islamic God is greater than the Christian God. If they did, they might have been hearkening back to the original meaning of the term.

ALLAH: PROPER NAME OR GENERIC TERM?

Allah can indeed be used as the proper name for the God of Islam, but is also functions in most majority Muslim languages as the generic term for God. It is commonly believed that Christians used the term Allah to describe Yahweh even before the advent of Islam. Allah functions as a contraction of al-ilah, “the god.” So language and context matter when discussing the word Allah. When speaking in Urdu or Arabic, Qureshi tended to use Allah as a generic term, as do most speakers of those languages, but when speaking in English, he tended to use it as a proper name referring to the Islamic conception of God, as do most speakers in English. Qureshi said, “When it comes to suggestions for how others should use the term, I would simply enjoin them not to be quick to criticize.” The term can be used in multiple ways, and conversation is far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways.

CONCLUSION

Some Christians call God Allah because it is often the generic word for God in Muslim-majority languages. Qureshi sees some benefit to adopting this word or other Arabic terminology if it helps clarify matters or build bridges of discussion, so long as it is not perceived as deceptive or confusing. Language is a fluid tool designed to help people communicate, and we should not be overly critical when others do not use terms the way we do.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #13 – Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?

answering jihad

This is the thirteenth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 13 – DO MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?

IN QURESHI’S FIRST YEAR of medical school, a male physician from India approached him, offered the Muslim greeting of peace, and told Qureshi that he knew his mother. Qureshi returned the greeting, but he had a hunch the doctor was mistaken. Qureshi’s mother maintains purdah, the Islamic practice of wearing a burqa, and socializing outside the family only with other women. Qureshi thought it unlikely a strange man would know his mother or talk about her in such a casual manner.

On the other hand, he was a physician, he was from India, and he appeared to be part of the Muslim community. Perhaps he did know her? Upon asking further, he assured Qureshi that he did know Mrs. Qureshi. He said, “She lives here in Norfolk, and she is from Pakistan, is she not? I see her every now and again in the hospital. She is a smart, very kind woman.” Qureshi thought that did sound like his mother. She is very kind and smart, and she is from Pakistan. Also, she did come to Norfolk for medical treatment, but she primarily went to the naval hospital in Portsmouth. He was wrong about where she lived, though. The Qureshis lived in Virginia Beach, not Norfolk, but the two cities are right next to each other. Though he was wrong about a detail or two, Qureshi decided this man probably did know his mother.

But Qureshi was wrong. As the conversation progressed, the doctor told him that he had admitted some of Mrs. Qureshi’s patients from the emergency room. Apparently, he thought Qureshi’s mother was a colleague of his, but she was not a physician. Although the two were talking about the same role, that of a mother, they were not talking about the same woman. Qureshi said, “I later discovered there was a Dr. Qureshi in the emergency room at the children’s hospital, and from then on I was able to inform dozens of people that, no, she was not my mother.”

Qureshi notes intriguing similarities between that conversation and the one our nation is having about whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. The question is pressing because the national conversation has grown controversial in light of the growing refugee crisis and concerns about jihad.

THE WHEATON CONTROVERSY

Wheaton College, a flagship of evangelical educational institutions, placed one of its professors on administrative leave on December 15, 2015, for “theological statements that seemed inconsistent with [their] doctrinal convictions.” Five days prior, while donning a hijab and staking her position on a variety of controversial matters, Larycia Hawkins had written on Facebook, “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Wheaton’s decision to give Hawkins “more time to explore theological implications of her recent public statements” ignited a firestorm of controversy. One strong voice in the fray was Yale Professor Miroslav Volf, a theologian greatly respected for his contributions to Christian-Muslim dialogue, who wrote in the Washington Post, “There isn’t any theological justification for Hawkins’ forced administrative leave. Her suspension is not about theology and orthodoxy. It is about enmity toward Muslims, taking on a theological guise of concern for Christian orthodoxy.”

Such a dialogue-stifling judgment from a highly acclaimed Ivy League scholar was surprising, but it served to illustrate the enormous tensions in Christian-Muslim relations. As a former Muslim, Qureshi said, “I have many Muslim family members and friends I spend time with regularly, and I often encourage Christians to consider gestures of solidarity with the hope that, somehow, this affection will trickle down to the Muslims I know and love. I have even recommended that Christian women consider wearing the hijab in certain circumstances, as well as counseled Christian men to consider fasting with their Muslim neighbors during the month of Ramadan, as long as it is clear these gestures are out of Christian love and not submission to Islam.”

So without a shred of “enmity toward Muslims,” Qureshi stated that he disagrees with Hawkins and Volf. Qureshi’s position is that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, but given the complexity of the matter he believes we ought to stop demonizing those who disagree with us.

WHY MANY CONCLUDE THAT MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD

For years after leaving Islam and becoming a Christian, Qureshi believed that Muslims worshiped the same God as Christians, but were simply wrong about what he is like and what he has done. After all, Qureshi had been taught as a young Muslim to worship the God who created Adam and Eve, who rescued Noah from the flood, who promised Abraham a vast progeny, who helped Moses escape Egypt, who made the Virgin Mary great with child, who sent Jesus into the world, who helped the disciples overcome, and who is still sovereign today. Is that not the God of the Bible?

For that matter, the Qur’an asserts that the Torah and the Gospels are inspired scripture, and that Jews and Christians are people of the book. The Qur’an tells Muslims to say to Jews and Christians, “Our God and your God is One, and unto Him we surrender” (29:46). If the Qur’an asserts that Muslims worship the same God as Jews and Christians, does that not settle the matter? For years Qureshi thought it did, and the great overlap between Islam and Christianity meant we were talking about the same God. Just as when the Indian physician was right about many details and wrong about a few, leading Qureshi conclude they were both talking about his mother, so he used to think Muslims disagreed with Christians on a few details but they were talking about the same God.

Qureshi no longer believed that. At a certain point, the differences go beyond details to essential matters of identity, and it turns out he and the doctor were talking about different people. When the Indian physician said Qureshi’s mother lived in Norfolk, he was wrong about a minor detail, and yet they still could have been talking about the same woman. But when he said she was a doctor, it was not just a detail. He was wrong about an essential characteristic. It became clear that he was envisioning someone else. In the same way, the Muslim God is different in essential characteristics from the Christian God, which is why Qureshi came to the conclusion they are not the same God.

He said, “I do not condemn those who think Muslims and Christians worship the same God, because it is a complex issue. But the identity of the Muslim God is different from that of the Christian God in essential characteristics. The Qur’an seems to agree with this assessment. Though Muslims and Christians worship a God who fulfills the role of Creator, the persons they see occupying that role are quite different.

HOW THE CHRISTIAN GOD AND MUSLIM GOD DIFFER IN ESSENTIAL CHARACTERISTICS

Qureshi starts with the obvious. Christians believe Jesus is God, but the Qur’an is so opposed to this belief that it condemns Jesus worshipers to hell (5:72). For Christians Jesus is certainly God, and for Muslims Jesus is certainly not. For this reason alone, no one should argue as Volf has done that “there isn’t any theological justification” for believing Christians and Muslims worship different Gods. There is, and it is obvious when we consider the person of Jesus.

Another difference between the Islamic God and the Christian God is God’s fatherhood. According to Jesus, God is our Father, yet the Qur’an very specifically denies that Allah is a father (112:1-4). In 5:18, the Qur’an tells Muslims to rebuke Jews and Christians for calling God their loving Father, because humans are just beings that God has created. So the Christian God is a father, while the Muslim God is not.

Similarly, when we consider the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, Islam roundly condemns worship of the Trinity (5:73), establishing in contrast its own core principle of Tawhid, the absolute oneness of God. Tawhid emphatically denies the Trinity, so much so that it is safe to say the doctrine of God in Islam is antithetical to the doctrine of God in Christianity. Not just different but opposed. This difference is profound. The Trinity teaches that God is not a person, but three persons: Father, Son , and Spirit. To assert that the God of Islam is the same person as the God of Christianity becomes almost nonsensical at this point, as the Christian God is tri-personal, two persons of whom Islam specifically denies in the Qur’an.

There is more to be said about the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim God, especially in terms of character as it relates to jihad, but Qureshi addresses those issues in Questions 15 and 16. The point he is trying to make here is simply that the essential characteristics of God are different in Islam and Christianity. They are more different, in fact, than the woman the Indian physician had misidentified as Qureshi’s mother. In theory, his mother could have been a doctor, but the tri-personal Christian God cannot even in theory be the monadic Muslim God. The two are fundamentally incompatible. This is why, according to Islam, worshiping the Christian God is not just wrong; it sends you to hell.

WHY DO PEOPLE SAY MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS WORSHIP THE SAME GOD?

So how can people argue that Muslims and Christians worship the same God? Primarily by giving undue priority to the Islamic assertion that it is so. Even though the Qur’an says that worshiping Jesus or the Trinity will send Christians to hell, it somehow asserts that Muslims and Christians worship the same God (29:46). Though the logic is not clear, it is asserted as blunt fact that must be accepted. Ultimately, this is the reasoning of those who believe, as Qureshi once did, that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, and it is flawed.

The similarities between the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are superficial and at times merely semantic. Though Islam claims that the Muslim God has done some of the same things as the Christian God and sent some of the same people, these are minor overlaps and far less essential to the reality of who God is than fundamental characteristics of his nature and persons. [For me, however, I do not agree that Allah sent anyone, let alone persons sent by God Almighty.] Islam and Christianity overlap at points on the former, but they differ fundamental on the latter. So Volf’s rejoinder to this line of thinking is that Christians believe they worship the same God as Jews even though Jews do not worship the Trinity. How then can Christians say Muslims worship a different God without also saying the same of Jews? He argues that would be inconsistent or hypocritical.

Yet the response should be obvious to any who have studied the three Abrahamic faiths: the Trinity is an elaboration of Jewish theology, not a rejection. By contrast, Tawhid is a categorical rejection of the Trinity, Jesus deity, and the fatherhood of God, doctrines that are grounded in the pages of the New Testament and firmly established centuries before the advent of Islam. The earliest Christians were all Jews, incorporating their encounter with Jesus into their Jewish theology. Nothing of the sort is true of Muhammad, who was neither a Jew nor a Christian. Islam did not elaborate on the Trinity, but rejected and replaced it.

Additionally, Volf’s assumption that Jews did not in the past worship something like the Trinity is debatable. Many Jews held their monotheism in tension with a belief in multiple divine persons. [Especially those who believed the prophecies regarding the coming Advent of Jesus Christ.]  Though the term Trinity was coined in the second century AD [the term does not appear in Scripture], the underlying principles of the doctrine were hammered out on the anvil of pre-Christian Jewish belief. It was not until later, after Jews and Christians had parted ways, that Jews insisted on a monadic God. The charge of Christian hypocrisy is thus anachronistic.

CONCLUSION

Qureshi says the question of whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God is complex. Wheaton College made a reasonable decision in giving Hawkins time off to consider the implications of her statement. Whether or not she was aware of it, her statement allowed Islamic assertions to subvert the importance of essential Christian doctrine. Yet she ought not be faulted harshly, as these issues are murky. What is more dangerous is the path taken by Volf, accusing people of bigotry to shut down valid conversations. One can both love Muslims and insist that the God they worship is not the same as the Christian God.

Christians worship the triune God: a Father who love unconditionally, a Son who incarnates and who is willing to die for us so that we may be forgiven, and an immanent Holy Spirit who lives in us. This is not who the Muslim God is, and it is not what the Muslim God does. Truly, Tawhid is antithetical to the Trinity, fundamentally incompatible and only similar superficially semantically. Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.

 

 

 

Nabeel Qureshi (1983-2017)

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I’ve been presenting a weekly series that follows the book Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, by Nabeel Qureshi. (A new post each Friday.) I had entertained the thought of meeting Qureshi some day. I recently changed the direction of my life and ministry, deciding to earn a master’s degree in Biblical Studies rather than Professional Counseling. As is often the case, when we pray and seek God’s face relative to His plans for us, we find ourselves changing course.

My interest in biblical studies and Christian apologetics began in 2017 after completing a college course called World Views, which did a great job introducing the concept of worldviews, perspectives, culture, and the presuppositions we all have regarding the big questions of life: Who am I? How do I fit in? What is the purpose of my existence? Is God real?

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In order to better prepare me for defending the faith (See 1 Peter 3:15), I did an Internet search on the top books from today’s Christian apologists. It was through this that I found several posts regarding the death of Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi was a 34-year-old convert from Islam who, after scrutinizing the Qur’an, the hadith (written traditions handed down by Muhammad), and other seminal Islamic texts, and reflecting on the comments of Imams he studied under as a young man, he converted to Christianity.

Qureshi was diagnosed with stomach cancer last summer. He underwent months of aggressive treatment, including the removal of his stomach. He posted a video to Facebook on September 8 that doctors had “given up” on treating his cancer, and had resorted to palliative care. Naturally, Qureshi faced a multitude of questions, including whether he had the faith to be healed. He wondered if there was something he needed to do – did he need to perform in a particular way in order to be walking in faith? He said, “Honestly, I don’t think so. I think God understands where I am right now, and He comes alongside us in that He loves us and gives us the strength.”

Qureshi said God “…reached me through investigations, dreams, and visions and called me to prayer… It was there that I found Jesus. To follow Him means everything to me.” I discovered Qureshi while hard at work on my own walk with Christ. I’d spent so many decades walking in the flesh, then going to God in prayer, asking for forgiveness. What I have come to understand is that I was making a conscious decision to walk in the flesh. I’ve been given the power through the death and resurrection of Jesus to choose walking in the Spirit, but I was treating my salvation as “permission to sin.” After all, I was under grace, right? Truly, I was choosing to count the suffering and death of Jesus as though it meant nothing; that I was too far gone for His death to be a propitiation for my sins. What a slap in the face of my Lord!

Qureshi wrote three fine books before his death. Seeking Allah: Finding Jesus, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward, and No God But One: Allah or Jesus. Although he spent many years as a devout Muslim, defending Islam, he finally met his match when he entered into a years-long discussion with David Wood, a fellow student and practicing Christian, on the merits of Islam versus Christianity. Eventually, Qureshi realized his arguments for Islam crumbled under the evidence for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection, as well as the truth of His divinity. Qureshi faced severe disappointment and rejection from his parents after he told them of his conversion.

Qureshi made the announcement of his cancer in August of 2016. He posted the following comment on Facebook:

“This is an announcement that I never expected to make, but God in his infinite and sovereign wisdom has chosen me for this refining, and I pray he will be glorified through my body and my spirit. My family and I have received the news that I had advanced stomach cancer and the prognosis is quite grim.”

Some of you may already know of Qureshi’s passing, but it hit me between the eyes this morning. Regardless of the sadness, pain, and suffering Qureshi endured, he maintained a love and dedication to Christ. My pastor once said to me, relative to my chronic severe low back pain, “Have you ever considered that your pain provides you with the opportunity to understand and share in the pain Christ endured at Calvary?” Now that’s what I call a very provocative question.

Nabeel, my brother in Christ, rest in peace my friend. Thank you for sharing your story with the world. Your work has had a substantial impact on my walk with God, and has helped me to understand His plans for me.

Apologetics: Why We Believe What We Believe

Apologetics (from the Greek apologia) is a type of rhetorical writing in which the proponent of a tenet, theory or religious doctrine presents reasoned arguments or writings in justification of his or her belief. In the days of the Greeks, when someone was summoned to court to face a charge, he would present an “apology” or a defense. Specific to Christianity, apologetics is said to be “the defense and confirmation of the Gospel,” and includes putting forth basic principles that guide the believer in defending the faith. In other words, it involves expressing the truth of the biblical message. This could be described as proving Christianity. A better concept is that it involves persuading others.

Thinking Well

It is critical that an apologist learns to think well or logically. This is important for several reasons. Logic aids in putting together various pieces of the Christian faith to form a cohesive whole. The Bible does not always speak directly to a particular issue. Of paramount importance is learning to deduce true beliefs or proper courses of action from what is known of Scripture.  Sound, logical thinking is especially important for an apologist. On one hand, it helps prevent shoddy arguments. On the other hand, it helps evaluate the beliefs of the antagonist who is challenging Christianity. Too often believers stumble at criticisms leveled against Christianity simply because they sound solid as expressed by the opponent. On closer examination, the arugment stands on logically shaky legs.

An opponent might say, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” If that individual really thinks there is no absolute truth that is, truth that stands for all people for all time, that person at best can only say, “In my opinion, there’s no such thing as absolute truth.” To claim there is no such thing as absolute truth is to state an absolute; the statement actually refutes itself. It is faulty logic to conclude that no belief system can claim final truth simply because there are so many belief systems. Postmodernism is fond of saying that truth is relative rather than absolute. Truth, according to a postmodernist, is what the individual thinks it is. Really? What does the existence of many points of view have to do with the true value of any of them?

I’ve had someone say to me, “Look at all the terrible things Christians have done through the centuries!” How should I respond to such an objection? While it is true that what Christians do influences non-Christians’ responses to the Gospel, such actions have nothing to do with whether Christianity itself is true. If part of the Gospel message was that once a person becomes a Christian that person absolutely will never sin again, the non-believer would have grounds for questioning the truth of Christianity. But the Bible doesn’t say that.

Answering the Charge of Elitism

I recently watched a debate between Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza and the late Richard Hitchens, an anti-theist (as he liked to call himself). During the Q&A at the end of the debate, a young college student said the notion that Christians have the only truth is “elitist.” She believes that because there are so many different beliefs in the world, it is not possible for any one group of people to claim they have the only truth. She, and many others, consider such thinking to be arrogant. Non-believers across secular college campuses today are accusing Christians of being elitist and narrow-minded, if not backward and old-fashioned. It is considered intellectually “uncool” to believe in the supernatural in the 21st Century.

How should a Christian respond to this charge? First, note the name-calling. The real issue is passed over in favor of a put-down. This is just another example of how ideas and issues are dealt with in our society today. What is most important is that Christians not react in kind. Too often in our society battles over issues and ideas are fought with name-calling and throwing slogans at each other. Not only is this is unbecoming, it is unprofitable in apologetics and evangelism.

Making the Case for Christianity

Believers are being asked to prove that Christianity is true. It is important to realize that a determined will can ignore even the best of evidence. Since we’re not talking about mathematical proof, we have to remember that what constitutes proof varies among individuals. It has been said that a Christian worldview is a matter of the heart and not the head. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Admittedly, merely throwing this Scripture at a non-believer is not an effective means of practicing apologetics.

At first blush, this seems to relieve us of the pressure of establishing an argument that convinces everyone. In any event, we cannot rely on a “one-size-fits-all argument” in defense of Christianity. Belief, indeed faith, is an individual matter. Certainly, we believe that because God created the universe, there is plenty of evidence in what is called general revelation. That is, nature and the universe. In addition, God has given us special revelation in the form of Scripture.

Today, modern scientific methods are used to recover the remains of the past in order to achieve a better understanding of ancient people and their practices. The Middle East has been the subject of many archaeological excavations because of its continuous history. Josh McDowell said, “It is important to note that archaeology without history is meaningless. All that archaeology can tell us is a sequence of cultural development, not give us an exact chronology. History gives us the chronology, the events, people, places.”

Over the past 100 year, archaeology has been busy verifying some of the history contained in the Bible. For instance, for many years Sodom and Gomorrah was considered by non-believers to be mythological. Recent excavations at Tell Mardikh, now known to be the site of Ebla, uncovered about 15,000 tablets. Some of these writings mention Sodom and Gomorrah. Other archaeological confirmation includes proof that there was a ruler named Belshazzar, the Hittites existed and had a vast empire, King Sargon’s rule is fact, and events described in the Book of Acts are demonstrably accurate. Archaeological findings have verified, and in no case disputed, historical points of the biblical record.

In Conclusion

The key verse for Christian apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” (NASB) [Italics mine.] Eugene Peterson, in his translation, says it this way: “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (The Message) Every Christian should be able to give a reasonable accounting of his or her faith in Christ. Not every Christian needs to be an expert in apologetics; however, he or she should know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it with others, and how to defend it against lies and attacks.

There are two primary methods of Christian apologetics. The first, commonly known as classical apologetics, involves sharing proof and evidence that the Christian message is true. The second, commonly known as presuppositional apologetics, involves confronting the presuppositions (preconceived ideas and assumptions) behind anti-Christian positions. Christian apologetics is simply presenting a reasonable defense of the Christian faith to those who disagree. Apologetics is a necessary aspect of the Christian life. We are to be ready and equipped to proclaim the gospel and defend our faith.

Recommended Reading

D’Souza, Dinesh. (2007). What’s So Great About Christianity?
Strobel, Lee. (1998). The Case for Christ.
Zacharias, Ravi. (2008). The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists.

One Day – From the Journal of Katie Davis (September 2, 2008)

Until very recently, I had forgotten about God’s unconditional and undying love for mankind. For me specifically, and for every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth in general. I am reading a book I borrowed from an elder at my church called Kisses From Katie, written by a young woman who went from high school to Uganda at age 18 to care for and teach Ugandan children. The conditions in the villages are horrific and deplorable. Her love for the people blinded her to the filth and stench.

Katie Davis is a young woman who, at 18 years old, senior class president, and homecoming queen, left Nashville, Tennessee over Christmas break of her senior year for “a short mission trip” to Uganda. Her life was turned completely inside out. She found herself so moved by the people of Uganda and the needs she saw that she knew her calling was to return and care for them. And so she did after graduating from high school. Her book takes us on a journey that can only come from radical love. Katie chose to sleep on a tiny cot in an orphanage, delivering first aid to children who have lost their parents to HIV Aids, famine, and, too often, war and murder.

Katie stayed in Uganda for more than a year, where she moved off her cot and into a house large enough to start a small school and adopt nine orphaned children. Her ministry has grown into an NGO (non-government organization) that now operates a school program for hundreds of children.

In keeping with a promise she made to her parents, she returned to the United States in 2008 to start college. Almost immediately, she felt like a stranger in a strange land, longing to return to her adopted children and the ministry she started. The following is an entry from her journal, dated September 2, 2008, that brought me to tears and convicted me as to my life and my modicum of service to the Lord. It is a bit long, but well worth your time.

One Day – September 2, 2008

Ordinary people.

He chose Moses. He chose David. He chose Peter and Paul. He chose me. He chose you. Common people. Simple people. People with nothing special about them. Nothing special except they said “yes.” They obeyed. They took the task God assigned them and they did it. They didn’t always do it well, but they said “yes,” and with His help they did it anyway.

Extraordinary tasks.

Moses was a murderer, a shepherd just trying to mind his own business and move on with his life when he watched a bush catch fire and not burn up. God wanted to use him to lead His chosen people people out of Egypt. Moses was human and told God that He had the wrong guy. Moses wasn’t an eloquent speaker, and he was afraid. But he said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The Red Sea parted, bread fell from heaven, and people believed.

Jonah was an ordinary fisherman and God wanted to use him to set Nineveh free of its wicked ways. Jonah was human and quickly ran away, overwhelmed by the task God had given him. From the belly of a fish, he repented, he begged God for forgiveness. He said “yes,” and God used him anyway. The people of Nineveh believed in God, turned from their wicked ways, and were spared from destruction.

David was a shepherd boy, pretty much the runt of the litter, the very last thought in his father’s mind, and despised by his brothers. God wanted to use him to be the next great king of Israel. Though everyone doubted and watched in horror, David said “yes,” and God used him anyway. Little David used a stone to take down the giant Philistine. The Philistines  were defeated, and though David continued to make mistakes, God used him to make Israel a great nation and relay His words to many people.

Mary was a peasant girl, probably a teenager, getting ready to marry a local carpenter. God wanted to use her to carry His Son, hope for all mankind, into the world. She asked the angel, “Why me?” and “How?” Ultimately, though, she surrendered herself to His will. She said “yes,” and God used her anyway. A baby was born who transformed the world then, and still does today.

Paul was a young man who made it his goal to destroy Christianity, dragging believers to prison and even killing them. God wanted to use him to proclaim His name to Gentiles all over the world. Paul  had a violent history and initially other believers were afraid. But he said “yes,” he fearlessly proclaimed the Gospel, and God used him anyway. Paul performed and witnessed miracles, wrote close to half the Bible, and spread the Good News all over the world.

Sometimes, the everyday routine of my life feels so normal to me. At other times the idea of raising all these children seems like quite a daunting task. I realize that since I have chosen an unusual path it is easier for outsiders to look at my life and come to the conclusion that it is something extraordinary. That I am courageous. That I am strong. That I am special. But I am just a plain girl from Tennessee. Broken in many ways, sinful, and inadequate. Common and simple with nothing special about me. Nothing special except I choose to say “yes.” “Yes” to the things God asks of me and “yes” to the people He places in front of me. You can too. I am just an ordinary person. An ordinary person serving an extraordinary God.