11/29/2010

Responses to Some Common Questions on The Gospel

I find a particular set of questions show up when I share the gospel with atheists on the internet. I want to adapt some of those questions as given here and give my answer and / or explanation. The objections are boldface. My comments are regular script.



“God has no right to impose punishment on me because he is the one who made his laws so I could not follow them. The God who makes the laws, decides if you broke the law or not and determines the punishment.”


You assume that the law of God is arbitrary, that God could choose to make the law be whatever He wanted it to be.

God could no more make the moral law in a different way than he could make the laws of mathematics a different way. All of these abstract laws are an expression of His nature and character.

God’s character is the basis for good attitudes. God’s actions are the basis for good behavior. God’s character and morality cannot change because His being cannot change.

God’s knowledge is the basis for the laws of logic, and by consequence the laws of mathematics. He cannot learn or forget. His knowledge is unchanging, and everything He knows must fit together into a coherent account. Logic helps us spot inconsistencies in our own views, the places where our knowledge does not fit together coherently.

God could not make the laws of morality or the laws of logic differently than what they are. God, being who He is, must create as an expression of Himself.

Things being what they are, the laws of morality cannot be any different. We know this intuitively whether we admit it or not. We know some things are right and some things are wrong. That is the way the universe works. We know it full well.

“When a law is created that nobody can follow, it’s a bad law… Violating an impossible law incurs no debt and any punishment is unjustified... a tyrannical king.”

Your argument depends on something forcing you to behave in the way you do, to violate your freedom of choice.

No one or nothing can force you to make any choice. You always choose the very thing you desire most at the time you make a decision in the situation you find yourself in. Your choices in a given situation can be limited, but I cannot ultimately make you do anything.

You always do what you want to do. Your actions are freely chosen according to your most pressing desire at the time you make your choices.

There is nothing outside of us forcing us to sin against our will. It’s not that we cannot keep God’s law; it’s that we will not because we do not want to.

”A gift is something that is freely given with no obligation or conditions upon the recipient… When you put conditions like “faith” on your "gift" it's not one.”

I can buy you a brand new BMW 7 Series luxury car. I can make arrangements with an insurance company to pay the insurance for the next five years. I can make all of the appropriate car tax and licensing fees.

I can then present you the keys. If I hold the keys out in front of you, and you do not take them, you will never drive the car. The gift of the BMW must be received, but it is no less a gift.

Eternal life, unhindered fellowship with God in this life and the next, is a gift freely given. But any gift must be received to be of benefit. That’s the way a gift works.

”How does Christ’s sacrifice pay for my sins, what is it giving up to itself for the payment to have any meaning?”

Anytime someone sins against me, they owe me a debt. Anytime someone sins against me, they break a law and should be punished. It is that way in all human relationships because we are made in the image of God.

If you purposely drive your aforementioned BMW (if I can ever get you to take the keys to the darn thing) into my house, you will damage my house. You owe me for the damage (and probably for emotional suffering). You are ethically obligated to repair the damage to my home.

If I chose to forgive you freely and completely, I have to incur the costs of repairing my home. I must, in effect, pay the penalty for the damage.

If you did purposely drive your BWM into my house you have caused me pain. You should have to suffer yourself for the pain you have inflicted. Almost everyone who has been severely sinned against has felt the right to inflict punishment on the one who has offended him or her.

This right to vengeance is a real moral right. We are just when we require it.

If I choose to forgive you, I choose to experience this pain while giving up my right to vengeance. I suffer the pain your actions have caused me without requiring appropriate pain from you.

God must both pay sin’s penalty and suffer sin’s punishment. Our universe being the kind of universe it is there could be no other way. God just did it by suffering on the cross in the Person of Jesus Christ as a kind of object lesson.

There’s a book on this subject that I would like to recommend: The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. He does a much better job on this topic than me, and much of my answer is borrowed from him.


”Paying for a debt that wouldn't have been incurred had they not inflicted that debt on you in the first place is not a gift…”

Again, this line of thinking depends on the law of God being completely arbitrary and capricious. It assumes things could be different in this universe when those things cannot in fact be different.

It also indirectly assumes that we are not fully aware of this law as we violate it. A person is only responsible for what they know to do. While our awareness of the moral law is never perfect, we have not followed the morality we do in fact admit.

"The one that created the law, decides that it didn't break the law, and uses that decision to pay itself for the debt it claims that you incurred… It just paid itself for the debt/punishment it decided you owe it.”

The law is not arbitrary. It is an unchanging standard that finds its logical ground in the unchanging character of God.

“…the one that is throwing you the life preserver [paying for your sins] is the same one that caused you (and everyone) to start drowning and says you need faith to use it. I would say the person that put you in danger is morally obligated to save you. They have committed a crime...”

Again, nothing outside of us forces us to make any of the choices we make. We are fully and completely responsible for our own actions given the knowledge we have. God can send us all to the hell we so richly deserve and still be fair. He didn’t make us sin.

“Something created us, and you will have faith in it or you will suffer forever. This is motivation by fear.”

You have nothing to fear if you have not freely chosen to sin against God’s law, insofar as you know it to be. But I bet you have done things you know in your heart to be wrong. We all have.

You only have to fear God if you freely choose to reject the gift of salvation He offers you in Christ. No one or nothing can force your rejection. If you reject that offer, you have no one to blame but yourself.

The good news of the gospel destroys the basis for servile fear of God.

11/25/2010

Prayer changes things-including your mind.

I received some mass e-mail communication from The Colson Center today regarding a new book by Dr. Curt Thompson, a Psychiatrist who is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Thompson has an interesting hypothesis that he says is born out by experimentation: prayer and other spiritual disciplines affect the mind itself.

Here is an excerpt from Dr. Thompson's article over at the Colson Center:


…consider one of the features of the brain that neuroscientists call neuroplasticity. This refers to the capacity for the brain to do three things: (1) produce new neurons; (2) to increase the speed and efficiency of neurons by increasing their length and diameter and (3) increase or decrease the level of connections between neurons, depending on how often they are used—those neuron patterns that are fired more frequently make greater attachments, and those that are used less frequently are pruned away….

Current neuroscience supports the idea that spiritual disciplines line us up to allow God to change us in ways for which we hunger and thirst. As we meditate, pray (especially contemplatively), fast, seek proper solitude, confess, submit, study, and engage in other such disciplines, we create space for change. In this sense, when Paul writes in Romans 12:2 to no longer “be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect,” he’s not kidding. This transformation of which he speaks is not metaphor.

Although Paul was no neuroscientist, he wrote that which neuroscience would now confirm: that the transformation that God began with the resurrection of Jesus is now being extended and grounded in our very brains…
Seems Paul was right in Romans 12-1-2. We can be transformed by the renewing of our minds.


It also bears out the idea that prayer primarily changes us. Prayer is not about changing the situations we find ourselves in as it is about changing our response to those situations.

11/24/2010

N. T. Wright and the Evangelical Theological Society

The debate on justification between the New Perspective on Paul and the traditional reformation view at the recent Evangelical Theological Society meeting. My personal views are here and here.


Ligonier Ministries’ opinion is linked to here, with some more helpful links here.

The Heidelblog weighs in here.

Trevin Wax has some helpful links here.

Collin Hansen weighs in with a particularly helpful post here.

11/22/2010

I can’t believe anyone would do this – vote for birth?

A couple has placed their decision to birth or abort a baby up for vote on the internet.


I found this out from an atheist web site. It’s been making the rounds. They are talking about a very large swing in the voting toward pro-abortion since the posts on the atheist web.

I am hoping that this is some sort of stunt, and that they will not go through with it.

I would also think that, since most pro-choice people claim to be anti-abortion, that the votes would come out in favor of birth by the end.

Vote today.

11/13/2010

Christian Vocation - A Paper for my Management Ethics Class at Union University

Developing a mental model that enables an effective approach to work is one of the most important activities that a person can engage in. The approach taken is dependent on one’s overall thoughts about the world around him. My way of thinking about the world is distinctly Christian, and my faith informs my outlook on the work that I do. I am a Safety and Environmental Manager for a fireplace manufacturer. I see my work as a vocation, a distinct calling that God has extended to me. My work is not just a “job,” something I do to make money so I can support my true interests and enjoyments. Aside from the Bible itself, Martin Luther, a leader of church reform in the 16th Century, has done more to shape my approach than any other, and this paper will clearly reveal dependence on him.


The Bible exhorts us to work diligently. God’s original command to people is “fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over [it]” (Genesis 1:28, ESV). How could this be done without engaging in work of benefit to mankind? Work is elsewhere demanded in harsh tones: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10, ESV). Caring for one’s own family is directly commanded: “if anyone does not provide for his relatives … he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8, ESV). Paul and those who worked with him are given as examples of those who did not “eat anyone’s bread without paying for it … that [they] might not be a burden” (2Thes. 3:8 ESV).

Some Christians belittle work for profit, but this concept is utterly foreign to the Bible. Abraham is cited as an example of a rich man (Genesis 13:5). King Solomon, another hero, is rich enough to greatly impress another prominent queen (1 Kings 10:4-5). Jesus himself commended the accumulation of riches through entrepreneurial endeavors in two famous parables (Matthew 21:33-43, Luke 19:11-27). Of course, when we have done our best, we are exhorted to avoid greed and “be content with what we have” (Hebrews 13:5, ESV). We turn now to Luther.

Martin Luther’s approach destroys the distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘secular’ vocations. In the movement Luther led, “Every kind of work, including what had heretofore been looked down upon – the work of peasants and craftsmen – is an occasion for priesthood, for exercising a holy service to God and to one’s neighbor”(Vieth 2002). When secular vocation had begun to be treated as a mere job, Luther’s own words were “An official who governs well pleases God. A mother who cares for her children, a father who goes to work, and a student who studies diligently are all servants of God” (Luther 1998 November 11). Each and every morally upright activity engaged in is an honor of God through service to our fellow men, whether for profit or not.

Each act of work is engaged in for the benefit of other people. God does not need our help, so our service is to others (Psalm 50:12). As Gene Edward Vieth, a Lutheran author, says:

God healed me. I was not feeling well, so I went to the doctor…in no time I was a lot better. But it was still God who healed me. He did it through the medical vocations…God fed me…with what the teenager working at the fast-food joint gave me…God clothed and sheltered me, with the help of my employer. God protected me, though I wish the highway patrolman hadn’t pulled me over. God gave me pleasure, thanks to the talents He gave that musician playing on my new CD. (Vieth 2002)
God works through us to serve others, and all work done for the benefit of others can be for God’s glory and for his pleasure. Of course, business must be engaged in honestly (Leviticus 19:36).

God does not guaranteeing our success in business. Luther wrote: “God tells us to do the best we can and leave the rest to him. He didn’t promise that everything we do would be successful” (Luther 1998). God is not a vending machine who automatically delivers to us what we pay for. Our true benefits are guaranteed in the world to come, heaven (Matthew 25:40, 46).

As for me, my true calling is to support manufacturing operations in the role of a Safety and Environmental Manager. The night before my last final exam in industrial engineering I was praying about what I would do after earning my undergraduate degree. I was reading through 1 Corinthians 15 as part of my prayer and devotional time when I ran across verse 26: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” For the next few days, I could not get the verse out of my mind. How does an industrial engineer combat death?

I had taken and enjoyed a course in industrial safety in my undergraduate curriculum. I had been the financial means to go on to graduate school, and I took coursework in human factors engineering (ergonomics) to prepare for the role I felt called to. I have spent some time in the field of quality engineering, but my primary calling is safety and health.

To summarize my philosophy, we are to engage in honest work for the benefit of others and in obedience to God’s command. This honest, ordinary work is honored, and we are to be rewarded for our efforts. Profits earned through business that serves others are ours to enjoy. Meaningful work that benefits others is ours to pursue.


Reference List

Luther, M. (1998). In J. C. Galvin (Ed.) By faith alone: 365 devotional readings updated in today’s language (p. November 11, April 10).Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers.

Vieth, Jr. G. E. (2002). God at work: your Christian vocation in all of life, kindle edition (position 111, position 163-165). Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (ESV) (2001), Wheaton, Illinois: Good News Publishers.

11/02/2010

Election Day

Chuck Colson with some pointed words on today’s election:


So, have you voted yet? If so, well done. If not, as soon as this broadcast is over—or as soon as you’re off work—I want you to go and fulfill your Christian duty to be a good citizen and go vote.

And while you’re at it, call a few of your Christian friends. Find out if they have voted yet. If not, tell them you’re going, and you’ll be glad to stop by to pick them up…

And let me say this. The next time you hear someone tell you that Christians ought to take a vacation from politics, tell them to go fly a kite!

Listen, its our duty, as citizens of the Kingdom of God to be the best citizens in the society we live in. If your pastor no longer has the energy or courage to motivate his flock to speak out on public issues, maybe you can lovingly “buck him up.” Remind him or her that God’s people are to love their neighbors, to desire the best for them, to pursue the common good. And we can’t do that on the political sidelines.

And when a rabid secularist tells you to stop forcing your religion down his throat—simply correct him. You might say, “Excuse me, but who is suing the government to remove crosses from cemeteries? Who has filed lawsuits to remove ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegience? Who’s trying to tell doctors and nurses and pharmacists that they have to participate in medical procedures that violate their religious conscience? Who’s banning Bibles from schools?

In other words, who is forcing their point of view on whom?

Read the whole thing here. And go vote today! I just did.

11/01/2010

Reformation Day (One Day Late)

We celebrated Reformation Day yesterday at our church. Some helpful links:

Justin Taylor's take on the subject is here.

Ligonier Ministries offers some great free resources here.

Desiring God points to Luther’s First Thesis and very last words here.

John Piper offers lessons from Martin Luther’s life and labor here.

Scotty Smith offers up a great Reformation Day prayer for “the gospel plus nothing” here.

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