8/31/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 6: Christianity Explains the Presence of Evil

A bridge in Minneapolis collapses. Nuclear weapons experimentation makes Kazakhstan home to people with awful disfigurement. A train wreck in Brazil kills eight and injures over 100. Civil war tears apart the hopes and dreams of children. Seemingly countless murders tear apart families. Evil, defined for this post as sin or injustice against another human being, is all around us.

I am not about to try to give a comprehensive explanation for how evil came to be. I do not claim to be the kind of person who can mount a theodicy of any consequence. God created men with the ability to sin and the ability not to sin, but I cannot reason beyond that. I do not know the “how”; I just know the “is.” I know that evil exists. I know evil is present. I know evil is real.

What must exist in order for evil and suffering to be truly wrong? Does not the existence of evil itself require a standard of good?

Should I just accept evil as a part of the way the universe works? Should I accept a view of evil based on social convention, or the DNA encoded in my cells? These things vary from one person to the next, but we do not find a definition of evil that changes greatly from person to person, place to place, or time to time. We always seem to have a notion of the way things ought to be.

I want a worldview that accounts for the reality of evil and suffering. I want it to be called evil, not just the absence of happiness that is a social construct of mere men. I know that this standard of good and evil must be real. Life makes no intuitive sense without it. The denial of it is impossible in view of the pain and suffering we see around us. I want cruelty to be profoundly wrong. For this, I need an absolute standard for what is right.

Christianity allows for this standard. It allows evil to be “evil.” Non-Christian views of the world do not allow for this. From Greg Bahnsen:

… it is crucial to the unbeliever's case against Christianity to be in a position to assert that there is evil in the world -- to point to something and have the right to evaluate it as an instance of evil … the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be
able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful -- which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.


Knowing that evil “is,” that it exists, is enough to convince me that there is a God. We cannot define evil without defining good. Evil is in some way good’s opposite, a falling short of the good. Knowing that evil “is” leads us relentlessly to a God who is the definition of the good. Without Him, we would not know evil when we saw it.

Of course, Christianity does not stop there. It also offers hope for deliverance from evil. In the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ we find ultimate deliverance from “the last enemy,” death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). In Christ, we find deliverance from the power of evil and the forces that bring it about (Colossians 2:8-15). I have found Christ to be my life and my hope in the face of real, tangible evil I find all around me.

8/29/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 5: Jesus is the Best Teacher and Example

There is no other religious leader like Jesus Christ.

I do not have a respect for authority in and of itself. In general, I don’t care what a person’s position is, I will respect them only if they are worthy of respect. Just because his title is “boss” doesn’t mean that I will blindly follow his directives or do what he says.

I do not care how many titles a person has, I will only listen to their teaching if I am convinced they are intelligent and trustworthy. That’s why Christ’s credentials as a teacher are so important to me.

What makes a good teacher? I submit the following:


  1. His teachings are true, and he can prove it.

  2. He follows his own teaching.

  3. He cares for those he teaches.

  4. His teachings make a difference in the world.


(Please note that I do not think a person must be male to be a good teacher. I use the masculine pronoun out of convention.)

We have an accurate set of historical documents that describe the events of Christ’s life. Christ showed up on earth claiming to be God, teaching people how to live their lives, and giving us facts about God. I can believe His teachings about Himself and about God because of His miracles. The fact that He did miracles proves that God placed a stamp of approval on His message.

Miracles are contrary to the normal operation of the universe. They cannot be explained by known natural laws. Only a God who is powerful enough to bring about the universe from nothing could possibly perform them. God would not perform miracles on behalf of a false teacher.

Jesus Christ, as both God and man, is the only completely true teacher. He can no more lie that God Himself could.

Christ follows his own teaching. No one, even His enemies, could accuse him of sin. He lived a perfect life, the only man ever to earn the rewards of heaven through His own efforts.

Now we get to the last issue for discussion in this post: did Christ care for those He taught? No teacher has ever done for His followers what Christ has done for us. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered God’s wrath for those sins when he didn’t deserve it. He rose from the dead to show His triumph over our greatest enemy: death itself. He makes it possible for those who have faith in Him to take credit for His perfect Life and have their sins paid for by His death.

Christ’s life, teachings, and love make Him the only teacher worth following without reservation. I thank God for what He accomplished for me in Christ each day.

Did Christ’s teaching make a difference in the world? That question is so significant that it deserves a post of its own.

8/24/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 4: God Makes Possible Logic, Rational Thought, and Science

Logic and Thought

Have you ever spent an afternoon thinking about thinking? Most people I know would quickly answer with a resounding “no.” Some would throw in an expletive. I am afraid I am the type of person who thinks about thinking, and I am grateful to know I am not alone.

One aspect of thinking is our ability to determine the internal consistency of ideas. We need to be able to know whether our thinking method itself is accurate. This is the realm of formal logic.

Formal logic has always fascinated me. The laws of logic shape the way we think. They are an open window to the Christian God’s world.

Take one for instance: the law of non-contradiction.

It says that something can not be both A and Non-A at the same time, in the same relationship, and in the same sense. This law cannot be denied. To deny it is to affirm it. If you say, “The law of non-contradiction does not apply,” you could mean, “The law of non-contradiction does indeed apply.” The meanings would be the same. Gordon H. Clark explains:

If the law of [non] contradiction is curbed, then a collection of letters, w-a-t-e-r, can mean not only sulfuric acid, but also at the same time and in the same sentence, tree, stone, Arcturus, the preposition because, and the cow jumped over the moon, ad infinitum…A word that means everything means nothing.
(as quoted here)


This law of logic, which leads us to all the others, is undeniable because to question it is to invoke it. That is the only way we can think.

How would an atheist account for these laws?

These abstract laws are not the result of observable behavior of objects or actions. We do not observe the laws of logic occurring in nature. They are not open for scientific exploration and study. We assume that logic’s laws work in order to evaluate scientific evidence. Using science to prove that logic works would be viciously circular.

They are not evolutionary in origin, either. Evolutionary processes governed by natural selection would not necessarily lead to the truth about our world. Natural selection would only encourage behavior that would lead to survival. We could not be certain our beliefs about the world were true, only that they let us live in any given situation.

Further, genetics change from person to person. Therefore, the laws of logic would change from one person to the next.

A Christian can account for the laws of logic by stating that they come from God. God has originated the laws of logic because He thinks logically. The laws of logic are a reflection of God’s mind. They do not change because the God whose thinking they reflect does not change. As Michael Butler puts it:

…the atheistic worldview does not comport with the principles of logic. If atheists were consistent with their worldview, they would give up on logic and rationality altogether. But since they do behave rationally (at least some
of the time) this shows that they are borrowing capital from another worldview…Christianity allows for abstract and universal laws. Abstract because the Christian worldview teaches that more things exist than material
objects. Thus it makes sense for there to be abstractions. Moreover, the universality of logic is possible because it is grounded in the character of God. God is by nature logical. And this all-powerful, all-knowing God orders all things…

I do not find an adequate explanation for logic and rational thought outside God. Literally, my thinking drives me inescapably to God’s existence.

Science

I have been employed as an industrial statistician for several years. I use statistical methods to determine the best way to set up manufacturing processes. The basic uniformity of nature, that things in the future will happen as they have in the past, is a requirement for any kind of knowledge based on probability or science. But how can I be sure my experiments will work?

I know the future will be basically consistent with the past with respect to physical laws because the God who upholds those laws does not change.

To return to Michael Butler:

That the uniformity of nature is compatible with the Christian worldview is easily proven ... God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to us that we can count on regularities in the natural world. The Bible teaches that God providentially causes the harvest to come in due season, for example. Because of this regularity, we can be assured that scientific endeavors will be fruitful. Thus, far from presupposing the falsity of Christianity, science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.

Once again my professional life leads me to belief in God. I’ll explore the Person and work of Jesus Christ in the next of my nine reasons.

8/18/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 3: God Has Done What He Has Done

God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end. This is foundational for a popular argument for God’s existence. Reason demonstrates that something in the past must have always existed.

It is not possible to count to the end of the series of real numbers. You can always count one more. It is, in one sense, an infinite series of discrete things. You can’t move to the end of a string like that. It has no end.

It is similarly impossible to through an infinite series of moments of time, if time is in fact a discrete series of real moments. For example, if time extends forward out to infinity then it is obvious it will never end. Reversing the process, if time extends infinitely into the past, time would never have arrived at this moment. (See note below on time.)
Similarly, we cannot expect that an infinite regress of finite causes exists either. That is, if we move backward from ourselves to the things that caused the things we perceive in our world now, then backward to the things that caused them and so on, we must find something that did not have a beginning. Otherwise, we would never have moved through the series of causes to get to ourselves.

The infinite regression cannot exist in reality. Whatever the first cause was, it must have always been and it must have the power and ability to bring about all we see in the universe.

There is another way to state this type of argument that has been made popular by Walter Martin and R. C. Sproul. The universe as it exists now is either self-created, uncreated / eternal, or created by someone or something that is eternal.

The universe cannot be self-created because then it would have to exist before it existed in order to create itself. That is manifestly illogical. (It’s so illogical that I get a headache reading the first sentence of this paragraph.)

The universe cannot be eternal because everything we see in the universe is changing with respect to its being. It is coming and going out of existence, so to speak. If it is changing with respect to its being, it cannot be eternal.

Also, as R. C. Sproul points out, if that unchanging thing is the universe, it would have to be a part of the universe that does not change and has always existed. We still have something eternal and powerful. This being exists beyond the universe in the most important sense. It is transcendent, or has a different form of existence than the perceivable universe. It goes beyond what we see.

We are left with: created by someone or something that is eternal.

There is another possibility that is more and more popular after the Matrix movies: the universe might be an illusion. Walter Martin said that if all of reality is some form of an illusion, you must account for the illusion. The illusion is either self-created, eternal, or created by an eternal being; and we are back to the discussion above.

With two lines of reasoning, we find the universe coming from something that has always existed. Something, or someone, has always been here. It was not caused to be by something that existed before it. It is self-existent; it has the power of being in itself.

J. P. Morland adds that nothing outside this first cause can cause it to either act or not act. There was a “time” when there was nothing outside it, so there was nothing to cause it’s actions. It has the power of choice. Only a person has the power of choice.

Now we have a personality that has always existed, is super-intelligent, is super-powerful, and displays intention. This fits the Christian notion of God quite well, but not perfectly.

There is another aspect of what God has done. The world around us is full of processes that move toward an organized purpose.

My area of professional expertise is industrial engineering, also called “process engineering.” I have spent most of my life in the pursuit of process improvement. I have professionally applied myself to manufacturing processes in several industries. I have looked at ways to improve equipment, organization of jobs, the way human beings interact with machines, and the way humans interact with each other.

The end, or purpose, of a manufacturing process is to produce quality products, when needed by customers, at minimal cost, in a safe manner. There is one thing I know: a process left to itself does not meet that end. Anytime we take our hands off the controls, neglect the equipment, or neglect the people, we get bad products, late shipments, high costs, and increased injuries. If we neglect the process completely, we get nothing whatsoever.

The teleological argument, which I am stating here, is not exactly about design. It is about purpose.

John Gerstner, in his book Reasons for Faith (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960, reprint 1995), uses this example on p. 34-35:


The dandelion sends up a little parachute to carry its seed along on the wind
and find a place to germinate. That certainly spells intention … we search
in vain to find anything in the dandelion that corresponds to our brain, the
brain that enables us to think up useful plans.

We find the location of that purpose in “the ultimate cause which we have seen lies behind everything that is.” This is not an argument based on probabilities. Evidence for any purpose whatsoever at any point in any process demonstrates the existence of an intelligence to set that purpose.

So now we have reasoned to a being that has always existed, has great power, has the power to chose, has intelligence, and has intention. Only persons show the power to chose, intelligence, and intention. This fits the general idea of the eternal, personal God of the Bible. I will address things that differentiate Christianity from other theistic world religions in a future post.

My next post will look at some abstract processes that also require explanation.

(Note: I am using the common understanding of time as an example. I do not want to tie this argument to time, since it is not necessary to do so. My intuition tells me that time may be an abstraction. After all, time is measured by physical changes in physical things. We will have to wait and see what science discovers.)

8/17/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 2: God is Who He Is

There are some problems that can be solved intuitively. As an engineering major I was often faced with complex problems in mathematics, chemistry, physics, and other engineering disciplines that required much thought to solve.

I was often guided by my intuition, a kind of problem-solving method best describe by the phrase “AH-HA, now I see it.” I was often able to see the answer without consciously thinking through the problem. Of course, I had to go back to the beginning, reason through my answer and provide that line of reasoning to get credit for the problem on an exam.

The “AH-HA method” guided me through many problems and exercises. It guides me through many decisions I make today as a manager and consultant. Of course, I have to go back to data and facts derived from observation to make my case. I must still justify my actions to others. Does this mean the “AH-HA method” is inferior? Yes, it does. Decisions should be made based on facts. We must explain the real world as we find it. But don’t tell me intuition has no place. Thousands of problems over the course of an undergraduate and a graduate degree in engineering tell me otherwise.

I freely admit that my initial solution to the question of God’s existence was fully intuitive. I just knew, from a big-picture assessment, that the Christian concept of God and salvation explained my world. The concept itself was convincing.

Of course, in a period of self-doubt and insecurity at about age 18, I reasoned through the problem. It was pure “AH-HA method” to being with, but I found many reasons to believe “AH-HA” solution was accurate.

I want to give you an overview of this concept of God that lead me to say “AH-HA.” The best short definition of God’s attributes, the things we can know about His being, is given by a quote from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom,
power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

God is a Spirit. His very being is not physical or tied to a physical component. His being is not divided. Any of His attributes can describe any other of them. His being can’t be split up into parts. Louis Berkhof puts it like this, “…He is not composed of various parts, such as the body and soul in man, and for that very reason is not subject to division.”

God is infinite. He is not limited by anything: not His physical universe, not His knowledge, not His location, not His situation (as if He were powerless over something). He can do anything He wants.

Is there anything God cannot do? Yes. He cannot do anything that He does not chose to do, and there are some things He will never chose. He will not lie, fail to be just, do something unrighteous, or do anything else inconsistent with who He is. His promises can be counted on.

God is eternal, or unlimited by time. He has always been there. He never came into being in any sense, and He never will come to be any other way that He is now. To go back to Berkhof, “For Him there is only an eternal present, and no past or future.”

God is unchangeable. His being cannot change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He has always been Who He is and never will be different. To quote Arthur W. Pink: “God is perpetually the same: subject to no change in His being, attributes, or determinations.”

The part about God not changing His determinations bothers some people. How then can it be said in the Bible that God “repents?” God will not change His reactions, so His reactions will be consistent with His own attributes. He chooses to react in a certain way toward another being when that being changes. He will forgive the repentant. He will turn His anger against the unrepentant. He does not choose to be either loving or just; He is both as appropriate. The changes are in us, not in Him. God is a being we can relate to.

Since these things are true about God, everything else about Him will be governed by these facts. God’s “being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth” are all “infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.”

God is not limited with respect to knowledge. He knows everything that has happened, everything that will happen, everything that might happen but will not, and everything that could have happened but did not. His knowledge means He will never be surprised by the problems we face, and that he knows the ultimate solutions to those problems. He knows how to communicate with creatures like us.

God is not limited with respect to His power. He can do anything He wants. Nothing or no one can stop Him. The standard way to say this is “God can do all His holy will.” Nothing can stop His wrath against sins. Nothing can stop His mercy and grace.

God is holy. R. C. Sproul uses the old children’s table blessing for this: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for this food.” God’s holiness is His greatness and His goodness. He is different from anyone or anything else. God is also good in and of Himself. He always does the right thing. “Good” in a particular situation is determined by what He would do in that situation. He is most worthy of worship.

God is just. He cannot do anything that is unjust to another. He cannot wrong someone. He must see that justice is done, and the ultimate judge of every sin or transgression of His moral law. He is the only perfect judge of all people, everywhere. This explains my conscience. God in His wisdom has placed within me an intuitive conviction that certain things are wrong. This leaves me with a problem.

God is good. There is another aspect to this. God shows mercy. He is gracious to His creatures. The just God who requires a penalty for sin provides the payment for that sin in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This gives a solution for the real guilt I feel, not just a solution to guilt feelings, but actual guilt for actual sins. There is mercy and grace in the face of justice and punishment for sin.

God is truth. He always tells the truth when the truth is due. He reveals Himself in His creation and in His revelation in the Bible. He reveals His will to me in His Word, the Bible, and the creation. I can count on the promise of salvation He makes.

By intuition, this idea of God can convincingly explain the world we live in. I’ll give arguments to back up this idea in future posts based on philosophy and history. Human reason, even though affected by sin, is capable of understanding truth, making philosophical arguments in favor of certain attributes valid. The historical arguments will be based on the person and work of Jesus Christ, the only teacher and example worth following. Only His teaching establishes all of these attributes.

This post is another example of why this blog is name “Fear and Trembling.” It is very easy for a layman like me to make mistakes in discussion of God’s attributes. I fear God and I tremble before Him as I write this.

My next post in this series will discuss what God has done in His creation.

[1/6/11: Please see the other posts in this series for clarification of this post.  The "argument from intuition" was never intended to be a stand-alone argument.]

8/15/2007

Nine Reasons Why Christianity is The Only True Religion, Part 1

I had promised a series of posts on this subject earlier. I have modified the outline somewhat.

This is the first of a series of posts outlining the reasons I have chosen to remain within the faith of my childhood. I was raised in a Christian home, by Christian parents. With the exception of several years in college, I have attended church my entire life.

Does this mean I am biased? Yes, but that does not mean I am wrong. The strength or weakness of an argument should be evaluated independent of the circumstances of the person giving the argument.

I am an intelligent, independent adult. I am not now a “product of my raising.” I am a Christian by choice, and my religion is my own. I have come to believe that God has changed my heart to allow me to believe in Him against my natural inclinations. I like the way Cornelius Van Till addresses those concerns here.

Here is a revised outline:

1. God is who He is.
2. He has done what He has done.
3. He makes possible logic, rational thought, and science.
4. Jesus is the best teacher and example.
5. Christianity explains the presence of evil.
6. It gives a certain promise of heaven.
7. It changes the world for the better.
8. It leads to joy.
9. It has changed my life.

The next post will be made soon.

8/11/2007

Christ The Hero

There are many pastors and teachers I could look up to as heros. I have benefited greatly from their ministries. To list a few:

John Piper

R. C. Sproul

Al Mohler

Norman Geisler

Michael S. Horton

and Rod Rosenbladt.

This is good. I have learned a lot from these men, especially Dr. Sproul. (I’ve heard and read so much of his teaching that there is a certain sense that even when I am disagreeing with him it is him I am disagreeing with.)

This is also bad. I could easily get to the point where I put them on a pedestal. I could begin to take what they say as authoritative in am inappropriate sense. (No man, no matter how smart or gifted, should get an implicit faith.) I could fail to check what they say against the Scriptures. I could fail to see their imperfections and shortcomings.

Al of this could be dangerous to my Christian life. If carried to far, hero worship can even ship-wreck a person’s faith. The moral failure of a pastor I had idealized as a youth was almost the undoing of me. The errors taught by these men could also become my errors.

I hope we never loose sight of the true hero, Jesus Christ. He is the faithful one. He is the one who earns our salvation. He is the only one worthy of our worship.

My “heros” would want nothing less.

8/10/2007

Intuition

I found an interesting article by Greg Koukl over at Stand to Reason. It’s an interesting discussion of intuition from a philosophical perspective. I’m a big fan of intuition, and I make many decisions based on it.

Here’s an excerpt:

I'm convinced that many of the things essential to a Christian world view are things all human beings already believe without being told: the idea that human beings are special, valuable, made in the image of God and have transcendent value; that there's purpose in life; that man is not only valuable, but twisted,
sinful, and guilty and deserves to be punished; that God is real and has made an
orderly universe and designed it for a purpose … Some of these things I mentioned are known through the faculty of intuition. When I say "intuition," I mean something very particular … I don't mean a hunch about something. I mean a way of knowing which is immediate and direct. It's knowledge you start with,
knowledge that's already built in. Our founding fathers called it "self-evident"
truth. This kind of truth isn't a result of reasoning to a conclusion, so intuitional knowledge doesn't require a defense. Some people are uncomfortable with this notion. It seems like cheating. Philosopher J.P. Moreland has pointed out, though, that if you can't know some things without knowing why you know them--if you don't have some things in place to begin with--you can't know anything at all. You can't even begin the task of discovery. Aristotle said that some things can't be proved, but without them you can't prove anything.


I be interested in your take on intuition and it’s validity in decision making.

8/07/2007

Some Good Stuff

I’ve been reading some helpful resources from the folks at World Harvest Mission. I wanted to recommend them. It’s good to be brought back down to earth so God can raise me up.

8/02/2007

Piper Sermon on Justification

I found a great sermon on justification by John Piper over at Desiring God. He takes a clear statement of Jesus on how a person is justified before God and expounds on it beautifully. It was great to be reminded that Jesus Himself taught on this subject in Luke 18:9-14. I keep finding people on the web who want me to think that only Paul taught justification by faith (see those sites or references to these people here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). The idea that Paul and Jesus contradict each other is wrong.

Even if they were right, they have in a sense excluded Paul’s writings from consideration. These are among the earliest writings of the New Testament. Paul was a contemporary of, and even personally acquainted with, the other Apostles, and he would have shared their common theology and approach.

It seems that many people, from many perspectives, want to showcase their own moral achievements instead of embracing a gospel that is outside of them.

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