Thinking Christianly

Truth and reason for God's glory

Statement of Faith

The following is a statement of faith I wrote a few years ago. It’s fairly detailed and provides Scripture references for nearly every statement. While it’s personal in that it is what I believe, I think this is an accurate and useful summary of various doctrines taught in the Bible.

(PDF version: Statement of Faith – Brian Watson)

Revelation

God is spirit (John 4:24). He is immaterial and invisible (1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16). He cannot be detected through empirical observation or scientific experimentation. If he is to be known, he must reveal himself. Indeed, God has revealed himself in his world, his works, and his Word: both the written Word and the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.

God’s revelation of himself in nature is called general revelation. God has revealed himself in all that he has created. The heavens declare his glory (Ps. 19:1). God’s eternal power and divine nature can be known clearly from creation, though sinful humans have suppressed this knowledge (Rom. 1:18-20). God has revealed himself in his providential care for his creation (Acts 14:15-17). God can also be known by the conscience that each human possesses (Rom. 2:14-15). God has put eternity into man’s heart, so that man knows there is more to reality than this mortal life (Eccl. 3:11).

Yet general revelation is not sufficient. It does not tell humanity exactly who God is. It cannot save anyone; it can only condemn. It leaves humanity without an excuse (Rom. 1:20). To know God truly, humanity would need to hear his voice.

Within the scope of biblical history, God spoke to several individuals. He spoke to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:16–17; 3:9–19), Noah (Gen. 6:13–21), and Abram (Gen. 12:1–3), among many others, from Solomon (1 Kgs. 3) to Elijah (1 Kgs. 19) to some of the disciples (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; John 12:28).

God also revealed himself to individuals in dreams, as we see with Abimelech (Gen. 20:3–7), Laban (Gen. 31:24), and Solomon (1 Kgs. 3:5–14), and visions, as with Peter (Acts 10:9–16). Additionally, God appeared to some in physical manifestations, known as theophanies.  Most famously, he appeared to Moses (Exod. 33:17–34:9), who was able to see God’s “back.”  He also appeared to prophets such as Isaiah (Isa. 6).

Though in the Old Testament God revealed himself in these ways, and spoke to his people through the prophets, in the fullness of time he sent his Son, his true Word (John 1:1–8; Gal. 4:4; Heb. 1:1–2). Whoever saw Jesus saw the Father (John 14:9), for Jesus is the true image of God (2 Cor. 4:4; Col. 1:15).

Of course, these truths are revealed in God’s written Word, the Bible. All of Scripture is inspired, breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16). God’s Word is sufficient to make people wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), and it gives eternal life (Ps. 119:93; John 6:68), in the sense that if a person believes God’s Word, he or she will be saved from sin and hell, be adopted by God the Father, be indwelled by the Holy Spirit, and live with the triune God forever. God’s Word is also useful for teaching, correcting, training, and equipping the Christian for a life of holiness and good works.

The Bible is the product of both God and man. Those who wrote Scripture spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:19–21). Therefore, the Bible can say that the Holy Spirit spoke Scripture by the mouth of a human author (Acts 1:16; 4:25) and that the words of Scripture are the words of Christ (Heb. 10:5). Paul calls both Old Testament and New Testament writings “Scripture” (1 Tim. 5:18; cf. Deut. 25:4; Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7), and Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15–16; see also 1 Thess. 2:13). Therefore, we conclude that the entire canon of Scripture is God-breathed, written by the hands of humans, but directed by God so that each word written was exactly what God intended. The various modes of Scripture writing range from dictation from God (Rev. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14) to a human author conducting historical research (Luke 1:1–4).

God’s Word is true (2 Sam. 7:28; Ps. 119:43, 160; Prov. 30:5; John 17:17). It is therefore perfect (Ps. 19:7) and pure (Ps. 12:6; 19:8). God does not lie (Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18), therefore, we can trust that his word is reliable.

God’s Word is eternal. It will last forever (Ps. 119: 89; Isa. 40:6–8; Matt. 24:35). It is not subject to change, either through subtraction or addition (Deut. 4:2; 12:32; Prov. 30:6; Rev. 22:18).

God’s Word is living and active (Heb. 4:12). It accomplishes God’s purposes (Isa. 55:10-11).

God also reveals himself through the process of illumination. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, people are born again (John 3:1–8), able to profess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), and are taught spiritual truths that non-Christians are unable to understand (1 Cor. 2:6–16).  When God’s Word is read or preached through the power of the Holy Spirit, then full conviction of sin is the result, enabling people to turn from idols to the living God (1 Thess. 1:4–5, 9). God is able to open up spiritual eyes (Ps. 118:18; 2 Cor. 3:12–16; Eph. 1:18), which allows people to see the truth, shining light into our hearts so that we would have “knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

God

There is only one God: Yahweh, the God of the Bible. There is no other (Isa. 45:5–6).  He is the true and living God (1 Thess. 1:9–10). He is spiritual/immaterial (John 4:24), personal (Exod. 3:14), and triune (Matt. 28:19).

God has eternally existed as one Being in three Persons. The fact that God is triune can be demonstrated in various passages in the Bible, such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. Moreover, at Jesus’ baptism, all three Persons were present: the Father (whose voice was heard from heaven), the Son (being baptized), and the Spirit (who came, like a dove, upon Jesus). This event is portrayed quite clearly in the three synoptic Gospels (Matt. 3:13–14; Mark 1:9–11; Luke 3:21–22). Further, we know that God is triune because of the following propositions: (1) God is one (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19); (2) the Father is God (Isa. 63:16; 64:8; John 6:27; 17:1–3; 1 Cor. 8:6; 2 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:3; 1 Pet. 1:2–3); (3) the Son is God (John 1:1–4; 20:28–29; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1); (4) the Spirit is God (Acts 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 3:16–18); (5) the Father is not the Son; (6) the Father is not the Spirit; and (7) the Son is not the Spirit (these last three propositions are supported by the description of Jesus’ baptism, the entire Gospel of John, and various Trinitarian passages such as 2 Cor. 13:14 and Eph. 1:3–14).

The fact that God is triune means that God is personal and he is an inherently relational being. Therefore, the Bible can say that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), because he has always possessed intra-Trinitarian love. Each Person of the Trinity is involved in salvation, for the Father elected and adopted his children and sent his Son; Jesus became man to die on the cross for our sins; and the Holy Spirit indwells Christians, enabling us to have a relationship with God and serving as a seal and guarantee of our salvation (Gal. 4:1–7; Eph. 1:3–14).

Additionally, all three Persons of the Trinity are eternal (Ps. 90:2; Heb. 9:14; Rev. 1:8) and they all played some role in creation (Gen. 1:1–2, 26-27; Job. 33:4; Ps. 33:6; John 1:1–3; Col. 1:15–16; Heb. 1:1–2). Therefore, the three Persons are equal in essence.

Jesus is not less divine than the Father. If Jesus were anything but God, redemption would be impossible. Only an eternal God could cover our sins eternally. If the Holy Spirit were not God, it would be impossible to be recreated spiritually and to be drawn into union with Christ. If God were Unitarian, and not Trinitarian, he would not be inherently relational, nor could he both be the one who punishes sin and the bearer of sin. Therefore, the errors of Arius and Sabellius (and their followers, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses) should be rejected.

The triune God is eternal (Ps. 90:2; Isa. 9:6), omnipotent (Ps. 115:3; Dan. 2:21; Rev. 4:8), omnipresent (Ps. 139:7–19; Jer. 23:23–24), and omniscient (Ps. 139:1-6; Prov. 15:3; 1 John 3:20). God knows the future, declaring the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:9–11). He works all things according to his will and he will fulfill his purposes (Eph. 1:11; Isa. 46:11). God created everything, seen and unseen, ex nihilo (Gen. 1; Acts 17:24; Heb. 11:3; Rev. 4:11). All things exist from God, through God, and to God (Rom. 11:36). God is King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). He is also wise and true. Jesus is said to be the truth (John 14:6) as well as our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:24, 30).

God is good and his steadfast love endures forever (1 Chron. 16:34; 2 Chron. 5:13; Ps. 106:1; Jer. 33:11; Mark 10:18). God is perfect (Matt. 5:48). He is immutable; his character and purposes do not change (Mal. 3:6). He gives every good gift (James 1:17) and he cannot lie (Num. 23:19; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18). There is no darkness in God at all (1 John 1:5).

Another way to refer to God’s perfection and character is to speak of his holiness.  Throughout the Bible, God is referred to as holy (Lev. 11:44; Ps. 99; Isa. 6:3; Rev. 15:4). He is a jealous God who demands exclusive worship and fidelity (Exod. 20:3-6; 34:14). His eyes are so pure he cannot look upon evil (Hab. 1:13). He is righteous (Ps. 145:17; Isa. 5:16) and a righteous Judge (Ps. 7:11). Therefore, God must punish sin (Exod. 34:7). Yet God is also gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love (Exod. 34:6).

At the cross of Christ, God’s holiness and grace meet. By providing the perfect sacrifice for sin, God was able both to punish sin and to forgive his people their iniquities. The cross allows God to be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21–26).

Creation and Providence

Creation

The witness of the Bible is clear: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Many passages indicate that God the Almighty is the Creator (Gen. 1–2; Neh. 9:6; Job 38–41; Isa. 42:5–6; 45:12; Acts 14:15; 17:24; Rev. 4:11; 10:6; 14:7). The three Persons of the Trinity were active in creation, for the Father created the world through the Son (Heb. 1:2; see also John 1:1–3). The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters at creation (Gen. 1:2) and Psalm 33:6 indicates that God created by his word and by his “breath” (a, the same word translated as “Spirit”).

The eternal, triune God created the universe ex nihilo, out of nothing, speaking creation into existence through his Word. Hebrews 11:3 states, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”  This statement indicates that the visible universe was created by things that are not visible, which suggests that God created the universe out of nothing. In speaking of God’s creation of a people out of Abraham, Paul writes that God “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom. 4:17). This statement also suggests that God brings things into being which did not exist. Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” If “all things” is indeed absolute, this must include all energy and matter, as well as spiritual beings, animals, and human beings. Since the Bible speaks of God creating all things, and the Bible speaks of God existing eternally prior to creation (Ps. 90:2), it is a good and necessary inference to state that God created everything out of nothing.

The fact that God created everything else is vital, because it indicates that there is a clear distinction between Creator and creation. One is divine, the other is not. Therefore, the Christian doctrine of creation is far removed from pantheism. The earth is not divine. We are not divine.  The Lord alone is God, and he freely chose to create the universe for his purposes.

All things were created for God, through God, and to God (Rom. 11:36). This means that creation exists for his glory. Indeed, the heavens declare God’s glory (Ps. 19:1), and God created his people for his glory (Isa. 43:6-7).

A number of implications flow from this doctrine. One, the fact that God created everything means he owns everything (Ps. 24:1–2; 89:11; 95:3-5). Two, the fact that God created everything shows that he is Lord (Jer. 33:2; Amos 9:6). Three, creation reveals God’s design and wisdom (as seen in the first two chapters in Genesis, as well as Prov. 3:19; 8:22–36; Jer. 10:12; 51:15). The world and all life forms did not come about by blind, mechanical forces, as those who advance some form of a macroevolutionary theory would have us believe. Four, the fact that God created everything shows that any miracle is possible. Five, the fact that God created everything means he can give life to those who are dead in their sins. Six, the fact that God created the universe means he can recreate it.

The last two implications require further explanation. The Bible likes God’s initial of act of creation to his recreation of individuals when they are born again. Second Corinthians 4:6 states, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The God who is powerful enough to create the universe is certainly powerful enough to make us into new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17).

The presence of sin in the world has led to a world that is under a curse.  Romans 8:20–22 states that the creation has been subjected to futility, is in bondage to corruption, and is groaning—all because of the presence of sin. One day, when Jesus returns, there will be a new creation, which is promised in both the Old and New Testaments (Isa. 65:17–18; 66:22; 1 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 21:1).

Providence

The God of the Bible is the not the god of Deism. He is intimately involved with his creation. He provides for his creation, sustaining its existence at every moment, for, as Hebrews 1:3 states, Jesus upholds the universe by “the word of his power.” In Christ, all things hold together (Col. 1:17). God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). Rain, crops, and seasons all bear witness to God’s care for his creation (Ps. 104; Acts 14:17). He “knits” people in their mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139:13). He determines where and when they live (Acts 17:26).  He clothes and feeds people (Matt. 6:25–34). He even numbers the hairs on their heads (Matt. 10:30).

Providence is typically thought of in three terms: preservation, concurrence, and governance. As stated above, God faithfully preserves his creation (Gen. 8:22). He also faithfully preserves his people (Pss. 31:23; 37:28; 66:9; 121:5–8; 138:7; 143:11; Matt. 16:18).

Of course, God’s providing for people also entails human effort. The way that God’s sovereign providence and human effort work together is called concurrence. God provides the ability work and earn wealth (Deut. 8:17–18), yet human diligence is lauded (Prov. 10:4; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 21:5), and human work is expected (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:10). In many ways, God’s sovereign control over his creation works together with human effort. While humans can intend evil, God uses their efforts to cause a good result, as seen in the story of Joseph and, more importantly, in the crucifixion of Jesus (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 4:10, 27-28). Salvation (grace through faith leading to sanctification and glorification) is a gift from God, yet he expects us to work towards obedience and holiness (Phil. 2:12–13).

God clearly governs all his creation. He works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). Whether light or darkness, well-being or calamity, God makes and directs all things, always carrying out his purposes (Prov. 16:4; Isa. 45:7; 46:8–12). He controls the hearts and fates of kings (Prov. 21:1; Dan. 2:21). Even the smallest occurrences are governed by God (Prov. 16:33).

Perhaps God’s greatest providence is salvation through his Son. Abraham knew that God would provide a substitutionary sacrifice, a lamb, for his son, Isaac (Gen. 22:8). Indeed, that sacrificial lamb is Jesus, provided to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Humanity

God made humans in his image, to reflect his glory; he made humans male and female; and he made humans material and immaterial, consisting of both body and soul/spirit/mind.

On the sixth day, God created humans. They were the crowning glory of his creative works. God made man a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor (Ps. 8:5). Unlike anything else in creation, human beings were created in God’s image (Gen. 1:27) and were given the responsibilities of ruling over the earth, subduing it, being fruitful and multiplying, and working and guarding/keeping the garden of Eden (Gen. 1:26, 28; 2:15). Just as the priests and Levites guarded and kept the tabernacle (the same Hebrew verbs used of Adam in Gen. 2:15 are used in Num. 3, among other places, of the Levites), Adam and Eve were supposed to minister in the garden of Eden as God’s royal priests. Therefore, humans were created to work.

Being made in the image of God means, chiefly, imaging God in his world. In other words, human beings are made to represent God and to glorify him. (Isa. 43:6–7 says explicitly that God created his people for his glory.) Humans are able to image God because they reflect him in certain ways. God is personal (he is an agent who has a will), relational, rational, and he creative, among other things. Likewise, humans are persons, relational, rational, and creative. Yet humans are not divine. They are completely dependent upon God. They are finite and God is infinite.

Though humans have fallen into sin, they still bear God’s image (Gen. 9:6; James 3:9). However, this image is distorted by sin and therefore needs renewing. Humanity needs to be transformed into the true image of God, Jesus (Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:8; 4:4; Col. 1:15; 3:10).

God made human beings male and female (Gen. 1:27). Since both male and female are made in God’s image, they have equal value and dignity. Yet they have different roles in marriage (1 Cor. 11:2–16; Eph. 5:22–32; Col. 3:18–19; 1 Pet. 3:1–7) and in the church (1 Tim. 2:8-3:1–7; Tit. 1:5–9; 2:1–6). The fact that God made humans male and female means that God has defined human sexuality and that the definition of marriage is one man and one woman (Gen. 2:24).

God also made human beings both material and immaterial (Gen. 2:7 says that Adam was made from dust and the breath of God). In other words, humans are both body and soul/spirit/mind/heart (soul and spirit are used interchangeably at times, and Mark 12:30 states that God must be loved with heart, soul, mind, and strength). The body is not an inherently inferior or sinful substance, a prison from the which the spirit must escape. It was originally created very good (Gen. 1:31). Nor is the body all that humans are, in contradistinction from the worldview known as materialism. The material and immaterial aspects of human beings interact with each other in complex ways, so that to be fully human is to be both body and soul/spirit/mind/heart. Though in the intermediate state, the spirit/soul is separated from the body (2 Cor. 5:1–10), at the resurrection, the material and immaterial will be reunited for eternity.

Sin

In the beginning, there was no sin in God’s good creation. The only hint of the possibility of sin was sounded by God’s command to Adam: God told him not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, an action that would lead to death (Gen. 2:17). Yet sin entered the world through the actions of Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:6-7). Romans 5:12 says that sin came into the world through one man, Adam, who was the representative of all human beings. Of course, Eve was complicit in this transgression, too (1 Tim. 2:13–14). Because of this sin, all creation is under a curse (the natural implication of Rev. 22:3, which says that, in the new creation, there will no longer be anything accursed). God told Eve that women would have pain in childbearing, and she would desire to conquer her husband (Gen. 3:16; cf. Gen. 4:7). God told Adam that the ground would be cursed and that working for a living would be painful and difficult (Gen. 3:17–19). Death awaited the first two humans, but not before they left God’s direct presence in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:23–24). Since then, all human beings have been born outside the direct presence of God, born in sin (Ps. 51:5), with Adam’s guilt imputed to them (Rom. 5:12–18). Whether we like it or not, all human beings are represented by the first Adam or the last Adam, Jesus. All are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). There is no one who is good (Rom. 3:9–18).

Sin creates a separation between God and man (Isa. 59:2), one that cannot be bridged by man’s best efforts. All are unclean, and even our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment (Isa. 64:6). Prior to redemption, humans are slaves to sin (John 8:34; Rom. 6:16, 19, 20). The just punishment for the sinner is death (Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 6:23; James 1:15).

Sin creates alienation between human beings, which is evidenced in all human history since the original sin of Adam. This separation between human beings is illustrated by Cain’s murder of Abel (Gen. 4:8).

Sin also creates an alienation within a person, causing the person to be dominated by sinful desires (2 Pet. 2:19). Sin causes one to have futile thought and darkened hearts (Rom. 1:21), which are deceitful and sick (Jer. 17:9). The “earthly” and sinful passions that wage war in us include sexual immorality, evil desires, and covetousness, which is idolatry (Col. 3:5).

Sin can be described in numerous ways, such as disobedience (Rom. 5:19), a lack of faith (Rom. 14:23), lawlessness (Rom. 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:14; 1 John 3:4), and transgressing the covenant (Hos. 6:7). The heart of sin is idolatry. Idolatry in the Bible is often depicted as spiritual adultery. Worship of false gods leads to disobedience to the true God’s commands. (James 4:1-4 connects idolatry with sinful passions, which leads to covetousness, fighting, and even murder.) One cannot serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24), and the love of money, like the love of all idols, is a root of all kinds of evils (1 Tim. 6:10).

The only cure for sin is Jesus Christ, who, though he knew no sin, became sin on the cross so that we might become righteous (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus nailed our debt to the cross so that we might be forgiven or our trespasses (Col. 2:13–14).

Jesus

I believe that Jesus is the Christ (Matt. 16:16; Acts 2:36), the Son of God (Matt. 26:63–64; Luke 1:35; John 11:4; 1 John 4:15). Jesus is truly God, the second Person of the Trinity (John 1:1; 20:28; Rom. 9:5; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1). Jesus is one through whom the Father created the universe (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). Jesus is both Lord and Savior (Luke 2:11; John 20:28; Acts 2:36). He is our great High Priest (Heb. 4:14–15; 8:1), the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).

In “the fullness of time . . . , God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as sons” (Gal. 4:4–5.) Jesus was born of the virgin Mary (Matt. 1:18, 23, 25; Luke 1:17, 34–35). By becoming flesh (John 1:14), Jesus did not lose his divine nature; rather, he added a human one, so that he is one Person who is fully God and fully man. He lived a sinless life (Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5), fulfilling the Mosaic law (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 10:4).

Jesus also died for our sins on the cross, bearing the wrath of God that we deserve (Matt. 20:28; John 1:29; 1 Cor. 15:3; Gal. 1:4; 1 Pet. 2:24). He was buried in a tomb (Matt. 27:57–61; 1 Cor. 15:4). On the third day, he rose from the grave (Acts 2:24; 3:15; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4) and appeared to many (1 Cor. 15:5–8). He later ascended to heaven (Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9), where he is seated at the Father’s right hand, making intercession for his people (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 1 John 2:1).

One day, Jesus will physically and visibly return to judge the living and the dead (Matt. 24:36–25:46; Acts 17:31;1 Thess. 4:13–5:11; 2 Thess. 1:7–10; 2 Tim. 4:1; 2 Pet. 3:10–13; Rev. 19:11–21; 20:11–15). Jesus will then make all things new by bringing heaven down to earth to make a new creation (Rev. 21:1–22:5).

Jesus is the only way to be reconciled to the Father. He is the only way to be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The Holy Spirit

I believe that the Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Trinity (Matt. 3:16–17; 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14). As such, the Holy Spirit is Lord and God (Acts 5:3–4; 2 Cor. 3:16–18). The various actions of the Holy Spirit reveal that he is personal (John 14:26; 16:8–15; Acts 16:6–7; 1 Cor. 12:11; Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19). Like the Father and the Son, the Spirit possesses divine attributes, such as eternality (Heb. 9:14), power (Mic. 3:8; Acts 1:8; Rom. 15:13, 19), omniscience (Isa. 40:13–14; 1 Cor. 2:10), and omnipresence (Ps. 139:7). The Spirit also has a role in creating and sustaining life (Gen. 1:2; Job 26:13; 33:4; Ps. 33:6) and regenerating souls (Ezek. 36:25–27; John 3:5–8; 6:63; Tit. 3:5), enabling people to confess that Jesus is Lord (1 Cor. 12:3).

In addition to regenerating souls, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer at the moment of faith, serving as a seal and a guarantee that we will receive an eternal inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13–14). He makes Christians and the Church a temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Eph. 2:22). The Spirit bears witness that we are children of God (Rom. 8:16; Gal. 4:6). The Spirit distributes gifts to the church, empowering members to serve within the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:11; for spiritual gifts, see Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:7–11; 1 Pet. 4:10–11). The Holy Spirit also produces fruit in the lives of a believer (Gal. 5:22–23).

Additionally, the Holy Spirit inspired men to write Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 1 Pet. 1:10–12; 2 Pet. 1:21; see also Acts 4:25; Heb. 3:7).

Salvation

Subjectively, one is saved by repenting of sin and believing in Jesus (Acts 2:38; 3:19;16:30, 31; 17:30; 20:21; Rom. 10:9–10; Heb. 6:1). When one has true faith in Jesus, a transformed life of good works follows (Eph. 2:10 in relation to vv. 8–9; James 2:14–26). The Christian will then strive to complete his or her salvation by pursuing holiness (Phil. 2:12–13).

Objectively, salvation is God’s work from start to finish.  It is by God’s grace, operating through the instrument of faith, that saves a person, and all of this is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8–9; Phil. 1:29). God takes people dead in their sin, draws them to Christ, makes them alive, and resurrects them on the last day (John 6:44).

God’s salvation of people can best be seen in Romans 8:29–30. God predestines his chosen people for salvation (also Eph. 1:3–6; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:1–2). Those whom God predestines, he calls. He makes sure that the gospel message is preached to them so they can repent and believe. Those who believe are also justified, which means that they are declared righteous. They are credited with Jesus’ perfect righteousness. Those who are justified are sanctified, which, in this passage, is described as being conformed to the image of Jesus. Finally, those people will be glorified, when the process of salvation is consummated and they receive resurrected bodies. Paul does not explicitly mention regeneration in this passage, but this, too, is a work of the Holy Spirit. First Peter 1:3–6 shows how salvation from the time of regeneration to glorification is God’s sure work.

The Church

The one true Church of God consists of all the redeemed who have been purchased with Christ’s blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Rev. 5:9). The Church consists of all who belong to the new covenant, which was inaugurated by Jesus.  Members of the new covenant are those who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, who know God personally (through faith in Jesus) and who have been forgiven of their sins (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 36:25–27). Those who have been born again should also be baptized in obedience to Christ (Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:38). The Church is the one body of Christ, filled with the one Spirit, under the rule of the one Lord, possessing one faith and experiencing one baptism (Eph. 4:4–6). Jesus gave the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers to equip the saints for ministry (Eph. 4:11ff.). All members of the body of Christ have been given spiritual gifts to be used for worship and mutual edification (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:7–11; 1 Pet. 4:10–11).

The two offices within the church are pastors/elders/bishops/overseers and deacons (Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:1–13). The two marks of any church are a right handling of God’s Word (2 Tim. 2:15; 4:2) and a right administration of the two ordinances: baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 28:19; Rom. 6:2–4; 1 Cor. 10:14-22; 11:17-34; 12:13; Eph. 4:5; 1 Pet. 3:21).

The main tasks of the church are worship, mutual edification, and evangelism. The church should also practice church discipline in the manner prescribed by our Lord in Matthew 18:15–20 (See also 1 Cor. 5.) This is for the benefit of Christ’s reputation, the members of the church, and the one who is unrepentant.

Last Things

We live in a fallen, sinful world. Since Adam and Eve’s rebellion, in Genesis 3, the world and all humanity has been under a curse that includes pain, hard labor, and death. However, one day, God will restore his creation, transforming this earth into a new heavens and earth (Isa. 65:17; 66:22). This transformation will consist of a refining the earth by fire, through judgment, during which sin will be purged (2 Pet. 3:10–13). In the new creation, there will be no sin, no pain, and no death. There will only be a Paradise in which God and his people, redeemed by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, dwell (Rev. 21–22).

When Jesus rose from the grave following his death, he rose in a glorified, immortal body. He thus inaugurated the new creation. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20). All who have repented of their sins and put their trust in Jesus have been born again of the Holy Spirit (John 3:1–8). This means they are a new creation. (2 Cor. 5:17), being changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit, becoming increasingly like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). Though all humans will die, the spirits of those in Christ will join him in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1–10). Upon Jesus’ return, the dead in Christ will experience a bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23, 51–53). They will then receive their own glorified, incorruptible bodies, ones that will be perfect and will no longer be hampered by the curse of sin.  Jesus will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:3–4). Only those who have faith in Jesus will experience this blessed eternal state.  Those who have rejected God will be consigned to hell. They, too, will have a physical resurrection, but only to be judged and cast into the lake of fire, to be punished and tormented forever (Rev. 20:11–15).

The New Testament repeatedly testifies that one day, Jesus will indeed return. However, no one knows when this will occur (Matt. 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 Thess. 5:1–2). The entire witness of the Bible seems to indicate that prior to Jesus’ return, things will get worse. It appears that there will be a great rebellion and a “man of lawlessness,” or the Antichrist, will appear (2 Thess. 2:1–12). Then Jesus will return suddenly and visibly, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). Those who belong to Christ will be “caught up in the clouds . . . to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:13–18). It seems that they will return to earth, where there will be a great judgment.  From my reading of the New Testament, this will happen quickly.  It seems the destruction and judgment of unbelievers happens all at once. (It is possible that 2 Thess. 1:7–10; Rev. 19:11–21; and 20:7–15 are describing roughly the same timeframe.)

I believe that Revelation 20:1–6, the famous passage on the millennium, describes the time period between the two advents of Christ. At the cross, Satan was cast out of heaven (John 12:31) and bound (Matt. 12:29). This is also pictured in Revelation 12. From one perspective, Satan’s influence has been greatly diminished. Satan is bound and thrown into the pit so that he might not deceive the nations any longer (Rev. 20:2–3; cf. Matt. 28:18–20, when Jesus commissions his disciples to disciple all nations.)

Though we may disagree about the meaning of the millennium, we can all agree that one day, at a time when no one is expecting it, Jesus will return to reign, to judge, and to make all things new. We can all look forward to eternity with him. This indeed is our blessed hope.

 

 

Who Is God?

I gave the following presentation to students involved with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Bridgwater State University on October 4, 2016.

Who Is God?

I saw something interesting this past week. 25 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation. Among 18–29-year-olds, that number is 39 percent.[1] That means that about four out of ten people in your age range don’t claim any particular religion. Some people see that a dismaying figure. I see that as an opportunity. I think it’s an opportunity to reintroduce people to who God is.

Here’s what I’m convinced of: despite all the churches in America, despite the billions of Bibles we have in this country, and despite all the God-talk in our society, we don’t really understand who God is. That’s because the vast majority of those Bibles collect dust. And a lot of churches don’t even bother much with the Bible these days. When they do, it’s not uncommon for churches to misinterpret the Bible. And despite all the references to God in America, most of it is vague. Our money says, “In God We Trust.” The Pledge of Allegiance mentions “one nation under God.” But who is that God? People talk vaguely about prayer or faith, but they usually don’t talk with any specificity. If we’re going to know who God is, we have to move past sound bites, clichés, and memes.

Tonight, I’m going to try to lay some groundwork for us to understand who God is. That’s really hard to do, because there is so much to say about God. Often, when people are talking about theology (which simply means “God words”), they focus on his attributes. That is, they talk about how God is eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, holy, righteous, wise, good, loving, and so forth. We could talk about God that way. Or we could look at a particular story in the Bible that shows something of God’s character. Both would be good places to start.

But tonight, I want to take a little bit of a different tactic.

To understand who God is, I want to compare the story that the Bible tells with two or three other stories about God. And I’ll say this up front: I think all stories outside of the Bible that concern God tend to reduce him to something less than he actually is. The word for this is reductionism. And the problem with all other God-stories is that they end up ignoring very real and important things that we all care about.

The Story of Atheism

So let’s start with one very prominent story. This is the story of atheism, which says there is no God. This worldview is sometimes called naturalism, which means that nothing supernatural exists. Sometimes it’s called materialistic naturalism, which means the only reality is matter. In this story, the universe is either eternal and has been continually expanding and contracting (each “Big Bang” is followed by a “Big Crunch”) or it somehow emerged out of nowhere. And everything in the universe has evolved with no overarching plan behind it. It isn’t designed; it only appears that way. It’s not the product of a superintelligence such as God. And everything in the universe, including us, is the result of a blind, unintelligent, purposeless process of evolution. In essence, we’re a cosmic accident. Our lives have no inherent meaning. We’re simply here right now. Many people who believe in this story say that we don’t even have free will. No, all our thoughts are simply the byproducts of chemical reactions in our brains. We don’t actually choose anything; it just appears as if we do so. And after we die, that’s it. There is no God and no afterlife.

That story reduces reality to one in which God doesn’t exist. And if we take God away, we end up taking away any objective meaning to life, any objective moral law, and any hope for an afterlife. Without God, there is no purpose to life. Don’t take my word for it. Here is what Richard Dawkins, the famous evolutionary biologist and atheist says: “Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of life, has no purpose in mind.”[2] If there is no creation of the universe for a certain purpose, there simply is no purpose. And, worse than that, there’s no justice in such a universe. This is what Dawkins says elsewhere:

In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.[3]

I hope you see that such a view of reality is problematic. We are conscious, intelligent beings who act with purpose. How can we arise from an unconscious, unintelligent, and purposeless process? We long for justice, yet in a world without a moral law and a judge who will make sure that all crimes are paid for, there is none. We think that certain things are good and other things are evil, but according to Dawkins, that really isn’t the case.[4] There are many philosophical and scientific problems with this view.[5]

The Story of Pantheism

So, that’s one view of the world, where the only thing that exists is “not God.” Another view of the world is pantheism, where everything is God, or God is in everything. This is the view of the world that some eastern religions possess. It’s also the view held by New Age spirituality. In this view of reality, God is reduced to a spiritual force or energy. At its worst, it says that we are gods. I didn’t think that many people believe in this sort of thing, until I met a young man on an airplane earlier this year. He and I sat next to each other and he started a conversation that lasted nearly four hours. He asked me what I was reading, which was a book that dealt with God. We then talked about God, the meaning of life, and other things. He said he thought he was God. About a month ago, I met up with him again and had lunch. Again, he wondered if maybe he is God. I don’t think he was joking, either. He had been exposed to a long strange, New Age views.

People who hold this view think that they can create their own reality. They think that if they think something and really believe it will come true, it will happen.

There are a number of problems with this view. The most basic problem is that it doesn’t line up with reality. We can’t create reality. It exists. Period. We can work hard and do good things, of course, but there are limits to what we can do. And we’re not in control of life. Any one of us could die tonight in an accident. Any one of us who contract a disease and die at a young age. What is certain is that all of us will die. It’s foolish for finite, mortal creatures to believe they are God.

A Third Story

We’ve briefly considered the story in which everything is “not God” and also the story in which everything is God. Here’s a third story: there is a God who made the universe. God is not the universe and the universe is not God. God has always existed. He has no beginning and no end. The universe, however, came into existence at a certain point in time. It is a created thing. And the universe is sustained at every moment by God. He is the reason for why the universe is well-ordered. He is the reason for why there is beauty. He is the reason why there is an objective, transcendent moral law, one that we can discover but not one that we can create. He is the reason why we love and value relationships. He is the reason why we are intelligent beings who can make choices. He is the reason why we long for justice and why we long for a better world.

This is the story of God that is told in the Bible. But before I continue, I want to say this: our tendency is to think that God must be like us, or that God must always agree with us. In other words, our tendency is to make God in our image and likeness. But that’s not reality. The truth is that God has made us. We have no right to tell God how his universe should go. What we can do, however, is learn about God, have a relationship with him, and live according to his design. When we do that, we have meaning in our lives. We have peace. We can have real freedom. And we can have hope.

In order to know God, we need to let him speak. After all, I couldn’t really know any one of you just by looking at you. I could know some things about you by observing you or digging up information on you. But if I were to really know any of you, I would need for you to talk to me. You would need to reveal yourself to me. How much more is this true of God? After all, God is immaterial. He doesn’t have a body. He is the not the proper study of science. Science can’t observe or experiment on God. And even if it could, we would still need to have God speak to us to tell us what he’s really like. So, we must let God speak. And God speaks to us through his word, the Bible.

It may seem odd that God speaks to us through a book. Why doesn’t he just speak to us individually? Well, think about the advantages of a book. It’s objective. We can study it together. I didn’t make it up and neither did you. Now imagine if God spoke to us individually. What if we thought that God was telling us different things? Imagine that one of the men here said to one of the women here, “God told me that I should ask you out.” Now imagine the woman saying, “That’s funny, because God told me to reject you, because you’re creepy.” Who would be right? We need something objective, something outside of me and you, to tell us.

God Is “I AM”

I want to touch on just a few passages in the Bible to show what God is like. The first passage is from the book of Exodus. About four thousand years ago, God had spoken to a man named Abraham, and he promised to make a great nation out of Abraham’s descendants. Fast forward a few hundred years later and Israel had become a large nation. But there was a problem: the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. When they were oppressed, they cried out to God and God responded with a plan to rescue the Israelites. He did that through a man named Moses.

When God first appeared to Moses, he told him that he would send him to the king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, and say, “Let my people go.” Then Moses says, “Who am I that I should be able to do such a thing?” And God says, “I will be with you” (this is a paraphrase of Exod. 3:10–12).

Then Moses asks this question, which is followed by God’s response. I’ll read Exodus 3:13–15:

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

I want to focus on what God says about his name. He says it is, “I am who I am.” What does that mean? This could be translated, “I cause to be because I cause to be.”[6] What God seems to be saying is, “I exist. Period. I don’t need any explanation. I have always existed. And I cause everything else to exist.” No one made God. He didn’t make himself. He has always existed. And he is the Creator of everything else. So, there’s God and there’s “not God.” Unlike the story of atheism, where everything is “not God,” and the story of pantheism, where everything is God, the story of the Bible says that there are two basic types of things that exist: God and everything else.[7] Those two things shouldn’t be confused.

In all of this, we see that God is personal. He is a God who speaks and who reveals himself. He is powerful. He is ultimately the Creator of everything else that exists. And he’s one of a kind. Only God exists without any other cause.

There’s No One Like Him

The reason I draw that out is because we need to know this if we’re going to know who God is. God created us in his image. That means that we reflect something of what he is like. In fact, God made us to reflect him and represent him in this world that he has made. But that doesn’t mean that God is entirely like us. The fact is, God is incomparable. There is simply no one like him (Isa. 40:18; 46:5). One of our major problems is to confuse God with something in creation. We end up making a false god who is like us or who is the way we think he should be.

Some of the clearest expressions of God’s incomparable nature come in another Old Testament book, the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet who lived roughly seven hundred years before Jesus. His job was to call Israel back to God. Israel had been worshiping false gods, or idols. This is what is said of Israel right at the beginning of the book:

Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth;
for the Lord has spoken:
“Children have I reared and brought up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
and the donkey its master’s crib,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand” (Isa. 1:2–3).

Israel, like all human beings, rebelled against God. They were worse than animals, because they forget their owner. And when they did, they started doing some very unjust things. This is what God says about the city of Jerusalem later in Isaiah 1:

21  How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
22  Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
23  Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them (Isa. 1:21–23).

If you find that language a bit shocking, you should read the other prophetic books in the Bible. Generally, they say things like, “Stop your whoring, you whores!” They say that because worshiping idols is like cheating on God. The relationship between God and his people is often likened to a marriage. It’s a relationship that is supposed to be exclusive. And when you ignore God and live life on your terms, you’re being a whore.[8]

God cannot tolerate this situation. Later in the book of Isaiah, God makes it clear that he won’t share his praise with false gods. In Isaiah 42:8, he says,

I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.

There simply is no other God. We were made to worship God, but we give our time, our attention, our money, and our emotions to other things instead of God. We fall short of God’s standard for right living.

God’s standard for righteousness is rather high. And that is because God himself is the standard of righteousness. The reason that certain things are right and certain things are wrong is because God is the measure of what is right, and what is contrary to God’s character and God’s commandments is wrong. We cry out for justice because we realize that a lot of things in this world are not the way that God had originally designed them to be. A lot of things in this world are out of step with God.

The “I Am” Is a Savior

Notice that in Isaiah, God uses the “I am” language often. For example, here’s Isaiah 43:11–13:

11  I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
12  I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
13  Also henceforth I am he;
there is none who can deliver from my hand;
I work, and who can turn it back?”

And a few verses later, God says,

“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins” (v. 25).[9]

Here, we see that there is only one God, but we also get a hint that he is a savior. He is the one who can reconcile us to himself. He is the one who can make all things right. We live in a broken world because from the beginning, human beings have rebelled against God. That’s when evil entered into the world. It is like a cancer that metastasizes, working its way through all the world and through our bodies and through our hearts and minds. But God promises to fix this broken world one day.

The story of Christianity is that God does that through Jesus. Jesus is God, yet he also becomes man without ceasing to be God. He entered into human history when Mary miraculously conceived him. But he has always existed as the Son of God. Jesus came to live the perfect life that we don’t live. He perfectly images God the Father and represents him. He always does what the Father wants. He is the ultimate human being.

God Is Triune

Now, at this point I’ve introduced something that may seem strange and mysterious. The God of the Bible is one God, yet he exists in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is a Trinity. How can one God be three Persons? It’s hard to understand this, and I don’t think we can understand it completely. That’s because there is no proper analogy for the Trinity. We can’t really compare God to something in creation. As I said, God is incomparable.

Even though it’s hard to understand the Trinity, here’s what is great about it: God has always existed as a community of Persons who love each other. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and they love the Spirit, and so on. The Bible says that “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16) because God has always been both lover and beloved. If God were one God who has always existed as one Person—and that’s what Islam says about Allah—then before creating the universe and before creating human beings, he would have nothing and no one to love. That would mean that God has not always been love. But the God of the Bible has always been love, and that is why we long for love. That is why we want deep relationships. We are reflecting the image of God when we search for love.

Jesus Is “I Am”

Here’s one more thing specifically about Jesus. Jesus, too, is the “I am” God of the Bible. In the Gospel of John, which is one of the four biographies of Jesus in the Bible, Jesus has seven “I am” statements. He is the bread of life (6:35, 48, 51), which means he sustains our lives in a way that literal bread cannot. He is the light of the world (8:12; 9:5), revealing truth. He is the good shepherd (10:11, 14), who cares for his sheep. He is the resurrection and the life (11:25), because after he died on the cross, bearing the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion against God, he rose from the grave in a body that can never die. That’s the end of the story of the Bible, by the way. When God makes all things new, he will restore the world and all his people will become alive again in bodies that can never die. And Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (14:6), the only way to be reconciled to God, and the only hope for having life beyond this life.

Jesus even says challenging things like this: “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). He means that unless you believe that he is God—and trust him, not just accept this as a fact—you will not have eternal life in a perfect world. Jesus makes it clear that he will evaluate everyone’s life. He is a savior, but he’s also a judge (John 5:25–29; 12:48).

Now, I realize that last bit may not sit well with a lot of you. The worst sin in the world, our culture tells us, is to be judgmental. Let me say this: first of all, everyone is judgmental. Look at social media. Look at the comments section of any article online or underneath just about every YouTube video. Think about all the times you have said, “He should do this,” or “She shouldn’t have done that.” Now, ask yourself, what would happen if you were judged by your own standards? How would you come out?

I think the reason we’re judgmental is because we are reflecting the image of God. He is the true Judge, and we are little judges. But our judgments tend to be off. They need to be corrected.

God Corrects Us

It seems like a lot of people want a God who won’t correct them. They want a God who says, “You’re amazing just the way you are.” That might make a nice pop song, but it’s not reality. Which one of you would bother to go to school here if every professor said, “You guys don’t need to learn anything. I won’t give you any exams, because you don’t have to prove anything to me. You’re amazing just the way you are.” If that’s how each class went, you wouldn’t spend four years of your time and thousands of dollars on tuition and fees.

And, honestly, any real relationship can’t work that way. Earlier, I said that the relationship between God and his people is like a marriage. If you honestly think your future spouse is never going to correct you, you don’t understand marriage. Just last night, my wife corrected me. She brought something to my attention that I need to work on. If my wife does that, how much more does God do that? My wife is an equal partner, another human being, but we’re not equal to God. So, if the human beings who love us correct us, the God who is love should correct us, too.

Now, there’s a lot more to say about God, but I think that is a start. God is the I am. He exists. Period. Without him, there would be nothing. He is the reason why we exist. I would encourage you to learn all you can about him.

Notes

  1. Robert P. Jones, Daniel Cox, Betsy Cooper, and Rachel Lienesch, “Exodus: Why Americans Are Leaving Religion—and Why They’re Unlikely to Come Back,” a survey conducted by the Pubic Religion Research Institute, September 22, 2016, http://www.prri.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/PRRI-RNS-Unaffiliated-Report.pdf, accessed October 3, 2016.
  2. Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design (New York: North, 1987), 5, quoted in Richard Weikart, The Death of Humanity and the Case for Life (Washington, D.C., Regnery, 2016), 68–69.
  3. Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” Scientific American 273 (Nov. 1995): 85.
  4. Interestingly, Dawkins knows that there are evils, even if he is wrong about what is evil. Elsewhere, he writes, “Faith is an evil precisely because it requires no justification and brooks no argument” (Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion [New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2006], 308). This shows that his worldview is false. Any worldview that excludes something that we know to be real is false. The person who must “cheat” on his own worldview by borrowing from another possesses a false worldview.
  5. There are many books that address the problems of any form of Darwinism. I can personally recommend Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design (New York: Harper One, 2013); Nancy Pearcey, Finding Truth: Five Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2015); Benjamin Wiker, Moral Darwinism: How We Became Hedonists (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2002).
  6. Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2006), 121.
  7. This is called “Two-ism” by the theologian Peter Jones, who calls other worldviews “One-ism.” See Peter Jones, One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference (Escondido, CA: Main Entry Editions, 2010).
  8. I realize this is shocking, and perhaps offensive, language. But it’s the language of the Bible: Jer. 2:20; 3:1–3, 6, 8, 9; Ezek. 16:15–17, 26, 28, 34, 41; 23:3, 5, 19, 30, 43; Hos. 1:2; 2:4–5; 3:3; 4:10–15; 5:3–4; 6:10; 9:1.
  9. The “I am” sayings in Isaiah include Isa. 41:4; 43:10–11, 13, 25; 44:6; 48:12.

Resources on the Death and Resurrection of Jesus

Isaiah-53.11-for-website

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I wanted to post some resources on both Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I have presented a few messages on Jesus’ death, which are available at the West Bridgewater Community Church website.

I also have written two articles on Jesus’ resurrection and I have preached a few messages on the resurrection. These are also available on another page on the West Bridgewater Community Church website.

The resources on the resurrection focus on both the meaning of and evidence for this all-important event.

Bill Nye, The Anti-Science Guy

Within recent months, I have seen multiple people share a video of Bill Nye speaking about abortion.[1] While there are multiple video responses available (here and here),[2] I believe that a written response is also in order.

Before I analyze the video, I want to give my overall impression: Nye is shockingly bad in this video. It looks as if he didn’t bother to prepare anything, let alone construct a coherent argument. However, that’s just my subjective take on the video, and my experience does not a counter-argument make. Therefore, I will respond to Nye’s argument, such as it is, point by point.

When Does Life Begin?

First, Nye starts by trying to assert that the beginning of life starts not at conception, but at implantation. Instead of admitting that life begins when sperm and ovum interact and produce a zygote, he wants to say that a “fertilized egg” is nothing until it is attached to the uterine wall.

This is a common rhetorical ploy used by abortion-choice advocates. (I say “abortion-choice,” because everyone is pro-choice. Everyone realizes people need to make decisions. I want people to make the right choice, and that never involves abortion. Abortion-choice advocates believe abortion is a morally legitimate option.) The reality is that pregnancy begins at conception and not at implantation, which occurs about six days after conception. At conception, the result of a successful fertilization process, we have a new human being, not a “fertilized egg.” As Francis Beckwith writes, “It is a misnomer to refer to this entity as a ‘fertilized ovum.’ For both ovum and sperm, which are genetically parts of their owners (mother and father, respectively), cease to exist at least at the moment of conception and perhaps earlier in the fertilization process.”[3] While there is some dispute among embryologists as to exactly when a new human life has been formed, it is clear that by the time a zygote is formed, it “is a whole human organism.”[4] Among the scientific facts that support such a statement is the reality that the zygote has his/her own DNA. As Beckwith writes, this genetic code “is neither her mother’s nor her father’s. From this point until death no new genetic information is needed to make the unborn entity an individual human being. Her genetic makeup is established at conception, determining to a great extent her own individual physical characteristics—gender, eye color, bone structure, hair color, skin color, susceptibility to certain diseases, and so on. . . . The conceptus, from the very beginning, is a whole organism, with certain capacities, powers, and properties, whose parts work in concert to bring the whole to maturity.”[5]

Though the zygote consists of only one cell, this cell is not just another cell, like a skin cell, for example. “It is an individual human organism whose cells all have the same genomic sequence—just like those in her mother’s body as well as in her own—except the zygote is a human being at a stage in her development at which her body just happens to have only one cell.”[6]

The zygote is sometimes referred to as a totipotent cell. That is, all the different cell types that we have in our bodies comes from that one cell. This new human body doesn’t grow by adding parts. Rather, it grows from within. It is not a part; it is a whole. It is not a clump of cells, to which cells from the mother are attached to form what becomes an eventual human being. It’s not Frankenstein’s monster, slowly assembled from various parts and later animated.

For other evidence that supports the conclusion that life begins at conception, see here and here.

Though not related to Nye’s argument, it should be noted that the unborn child’s heartbeat starts as early as sixteen days after conception.[7] That means that abortions, which may be performed at about as early as four weeks after conception, stop beating hearts.

At any rate, Nye is wrong to call a zygote a “fertilized ovum,” and he’s wrong to insist that life begins at implantation, rather than conception.

Is a Miscarriage a Crime?

Second, Nye poses a rather silly question, which I’ll paraphrase: If the “fertilized egg” is a human being, whom shall we sue when that egg doesn’t implant but is instead flushed out of the body? Thinking he has proven his point through such a rhetorical question, he asserts, “It’s just a reflection of a deep scientific lack of understanding.” I think I’ve shown above that Nye is the one who has a lack of scientific understanding. What he’s trying to do at this point is use another rhetorical ploy: Claim that your side is scientific and the other side isn’t. His non-sequitur about science giving us microscopes that allow us to know more about conception is ironic, given that such science disproves his point.

But let’s go back to the whole “is misconception a crime?” question. Yes, new human lives do not always adhere to the mother’s uterine wall. And, of course, women miscarry at later dates. But this is not the same as abortion. The difference between any type of miscarriage and abortion is similar to the difference between a child accidentally drowning and that child’s mother intentionally murdering the child through drowning. In the case of the accidental drowning, there may be negligence on the part of the parent. But even then, that is different from homicide. Generally speaking, we can’t control if a woman miscarries.[8] It’s a tragedy. But it’s different from intentionally killing an innocent human life, which is exactly what abortion is.

You Can’t Tell Someone What to Do?

At this point, Nye admits that no one likes abortion. Then he quickly shifts gears: “But you can’t tell someone what to do.” However, we do that all the time. Laws against murder say to people: “You can’t murder someone.” Or, to put it a bit more accurately, those laws say, “It is morally unacceptable to murder someone, and if you do and are caught, you will pay for it.” Other laws have the same effect.

Nye then talks about the failure of abstinence-only sex education and the ineffectiveness of closing abortion clinics. I’m not a policy guy, so I can’t speak to the effectiveness of this or that program. But I reject pragmatic, utilitarian arguments that favor “what works.” My point is that abortion is morally wrong. (And, to be clear, I would define abortion as the intentional termination of an unborn life. If a surgery is intended to save the life of the mother and it unintentionally results in the death of the unborn child, that is another story. Yet those events are relatively rare.)

Science and Faith

Nye then comes back to his “I have science on my side” tactic. He acknowledges that others have “deeply-held beliefs. . . . But I really encourage you to look at the facts.” Nye has already botched the facts. But what he’s trying to do is separate faith from facts. He’s trying to show that he is rational, a man of science and facts. Others who see differently have no evidence on their side; they are irrational; all they have is a blind faith. This tactic plays up the so-called fact-value split. Science and math are in the realm of fact. Religion and morality are in the realm of value. The first realm is objective. The second realm is subjective. Or so people like Nye would have you believe.

Yet such arguments fail. Science is not the only discipline that seeks to describe reality. And science is certainly not the only way to know what is true. The claim that the only true knowledge we have is scientific knowledge is not itself a scientific statement. It is not the result of empirical observation and experimentation. It is a philosophical claim. Yet that shouldn’t bother us, unless we claim that the only real knowledge we can have is scientific. We can know reality through philosophy and religion as well as science. For any claim we make, we should have arguments supported by evidence. But that evidence need not always be scientific in nature.

We should also note that Nye has a faith of his own. His “deeply-held beliefs” have caused him to misconstrue the scientific evidence regarding conception and the development of the new human life. And he takes it on faith that we can’t tell women what to do. He also tries to state that laws against abortion “are in nobody’s best interest.” That’s another belief of his. Apparently, such laws are not in the best interest of anyone . . . except the unborn human being.

A Woman’s Right?

Though the video ends without much of a conclusion, Nye makes another significant assertion: We can’t tell women what to do with their bodies. This statement, and similar ones, are made frequently by abortion-choice advocates. I have heard it said that we can’t make laws that “regulate women’s vaginas.” Such statements distort the issue of abortion. The key issue is not the woman’s body; no, it is the body within the woman’s body. That body is not the mother’s body. It is the body of another human person, one whose life is precious and should be protected.

Granted, pregnant women are in a unique position: They have another human being growing inside of them. This is something that no man can experience. Yet if men were able to become pregnant, abortion would be wrong for them, too. In that hypothetical case, abortion would still be the intentional killing of an innocent human life.

A Person’s a Person, No Matter How Small

Some people may concede that, scientifically speaking, while the zygote/embryo/fetus is a human life, they may also claim that such a life not yet worthy of protection. Some abortion-choice philosophers try to claim that the unborn human life is not yet a human person. They believe that the incipient human life is not yet a person who has rights.

That argument about personhood is very arbitrary. Scott Klusendorf presents an excellent argument for why the unborn human being is a human person, one with a right to life.[9] In his words, “Philosophically, there is no morally significant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today.”[10] This statement is then supported by the acronym SLED, developed by Stephen Schwarz.[11] The following is Klusendorf’s explanation of the acronym:[12]

Size: Yes, embryos are smaller than newborns and adults, by why is that relevant? Do we really want to say that large people are more human than small ones? Men are generally larger than women, but that doesn’t mean they deserve more rights. Size doesn’t equal value.

Level of development: True, embryos and fetuses are less developed than you and I. But again, why is this relevant? Four-year-old-girls are less developed than fourteen-year-old ones. Should older children have more rights than their younger siblings? Some people say that self-awareness makes one human. But if that is true, newborns do not qualify as valuable human beings. Remember, six-week-old infants lack the immediate capacity for performing human mental functions, as do the reversibly comatose, the sleeping, and those with Alzheimer’s disease.

Environment: Where you are has no bearing on who you are. Does your value change when you cross the street or roll over in bed? If not, how can a journey of eight inches down the birth canal suddenly change the essential nature of the unborn from non-human to human? If the unborn are not already human, merely changing their location can’t make them valuable.

Degree of dependency: If viability makes us valuable human beings, then all those who depend on insulin or kidney medication are not valuable, and we may kill them. Conjoined twins who share blood type and bodily systems also have no right to life.

When we think about the issue of abortion with respect to this acronym, then we can see that many arguments that purportedly demonstrate that abortions are acceptable in some cases fall apart. Some people believe that women who can’t afford to have children should be able to have abortions. Would we say that a mother of an infant who is struggling financially therefore has the right to kill the infant? Some people believe only viable fetuses should be protected. But no infant is able to live on his or her own. They are nearly as dependent as the fetus. (Though, I must admit, an infant can be adopted or cared for by people other than the parents, whereas an unborn child cannot be transferred from one womb to another.) Some people say abortion should be allowed in the cases of rape, because the child causes the mother traumatic, unpleasant memories. I’m sympathetic to the victim of rape. It is a horrible crime. Yet combing the two wrongs of rape and abortion does not produce a moral right. And if we’re able to kill innocent people who cause us unpleasant memories, are we thus able to murder ex-wives and ex-husbands?

Conclusion

Much more can be said about abortion. It’s a contentious issue that elicits emotional responses. My hope is that people would be able to slow down and think about the issue critically. Bill Nye shows no sign of thinking about abortion using critical thinking skills. He didn’t engage with the substantive arguments that the pro-life side makes. My concern is that Bill Nye is not alone. It seems to me that many people lack the ability to think seriously about moral issues. When an issue is literally one of life and death, we need to think more carefully and exercise far greater caution.

Notes

[1] “Bill Nye on Abortion,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hB3Zb9Env1A.

[2] “Bill Nye FAILS on Abortion – Best Response,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2SYN2ooFAw; “Bill Nye, The Incoherent Abortion Guy,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8PPIsE1WaE.

[3] Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case against Abortion and Abortion Choice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 66.

[4] Ibid., 67. I should note that Beckwith has done his homework. He cites a number of embryology textbooks (page 252, note 3).

[5] Ibid, 67 (original emphasis).

[6] Ibid., 68.

[7] Mark Prigg, “A Baby’s First Heartbeat Is Just 16 Days after Conception: Breakthrough Could Lead to New Cures for Congenital Disease,” Daily Mail, October 11, 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3833015/A-baby-s-heart-beats-just-16-days-conception-Heartbeat-breakthrough-lead-new-cures-congenital-disease.html.

[8] Of course, a mother could engage in risky behavior like binge drinking or drug use that may result in miscarriage.

[9] Scott Klusendorf, The Case for Life: Equipping Christians to Engage the Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009).

[10] Ibid., 28.

[11] Stephen Schwarz, The Moral Question of Abortion (Chicago: Loyola University, 1990), 18.

[12] Klusendorf, The Case for Life, 28.

Book Review: No God but One

Introduction

Over the past fifteen years, there has been an increased interest in Islam in the Western world. Islamic terrorism, the rise of ISIS, the increased numbers of Muslims living in the West, and the rhetoric of political candidates have all generated more discussions of Islam. Some people dismiss Islam without knowing anything about it. Some people think Islam and Christianity are essentially the same. Those who are committed philosophical pluralists (to use a term employed by D. A. Carson) like to think both religions worship the same God. Those who are atheists dismiss both religions, asserting that both are equally false and equally destructive.

A greater understanding of the Islamic faith is needed. What does Islam teach about God? What do Muslims believe? What are the historical origins of this faith? What does the Quran teach? How does Islam differ from Christianity? What evidence is used to support the claim that Islam is true? These are the questions that should be asked and answered.

Fortunately, we now have an accessible, well-written book that answers these questions. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus[1] and Answering Jihad,[2] has written a third book that compares Christianity and Islam. His latest book is No God but One.[3] In the space below, I will summarize and critique this book. Most of this review will consist of summary, since the contents of the book are important. A short critique will follow.

I should state up front that I received a free copy of an advanced reading copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review. Though not required to provide a positive review, I will say that I enjoyed this book enough to purchase my own copy on Amazon.com. (The advanced copy wasn’t the same as the published version, and I like to have books that I can cite in my writings. My purchase of the book is indicative of how useful I found the book to be—I plan on citing it in the future.)

Summary

Qureshi’s purpose in writing this book is rather straightforward: “In the course of this book, I hope to elucidate two overarching matters in particular: that the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims” (page 13). Qureshi begins by mentioning the real-life case of a Muslim woman named Fatima who, while living in Saudi Arabia, became a Christian and was thus threatened by her brother, a zealous Muslim who demanded that she renounce her newfound faith in Christ. Fatima was now the possibility of dying because she moved from one religion to another. Who would die for believing one religion is true and the other religion is false?  Is this really something to die for? “Is the truth worthy dying for?” (21).

Qureshi lets that last question hang in the air as he begins this book. He then tells his own story of converting from Islam to Christianity. As a young college student, he was devoted to Islam. He had memorized portions of the Quran and he grew up attending Mosque. He came to Old Dominion University armed with arguments in support of Islam and against Christianity. Yet Qureshi made another student named David Wood, who was on the debate team with him. Wood, a committed Christian, started to informally debate against Qureshi. For Qureshi, the process of weighing the evidence in favor of Christianity and against Islam took four years, but in 2005, the year he graduated college, he became a Christian.

As a former Muslim and now a Christian (who, after completing an MD, decided not to pursue a career in medicine but rather a career as a Christian apologist), Qureshi is an ideal candidate to write a book comparing Christianity and Islam, because he does so with knowledge, understanding, and grace.

The book is devoted to two questions. Parts 1-5 answer the question, “Are Islam and Christianity really all that different?” Parts 6-10 answer the question, “Can we know whether Islam or Christianity is true?”

In Part 1, Qureshi begins to compare these two religions by sketching out their respective worldviews. Islam means “submission,” which is the relationship that Allah’s followers have to their God. They must submit to his sovereign will. According to Islam, “the fundamental problem of mankind is ignorance” (33). The solution is what to believe (aqeeda) and how to live (sharia). “Once people learn what to believe, aqeeda, and how to live, sharia, they will earn the pleasure of Allah” (33).

The major beliefs of Islam are six: “belief in Allah as the only God, belief in the prophets [(the greatest of which is Muhammad], belief in divinely inspired books, belief in angels, and the unseen, belief in the day of judgment, and belief in Allah’s predestining sovereignty” (33). These are the six articles of Islamic faith. Sharia is Islamic law, literally “way.”  “Sharia dictates virtually every respect of a devout Muslim’s life, from what foods to eat, to proper forms of currency, to exact words to recite during prayers” (34). The five most important practices of Islam are known as its five pillars: “proclaiming the Islamic motto, the Shahada: ‘There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is His Messenger’; praying the five daily prayers; fasting during the month of Ramadan; giving alms; and undertaking a pilgrimage to Mecca” (34). It is important to observe that in Islam, on the day of judgment, those who have obeyed Allah will be rewarded. Salvation is through obedience, not through sheer grace.

In Christianity, on the other hand, God is love. This is only possible because God is triune. He is a trinity: One Being in three Persons (Father, Son, and Spirit). The fact that God is triune means he is inherently a community of love. Prior to the creation of the universe and of people, God is love, because the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and they love the Spirit, and so forth. The same cannot be said of Allah.

Christianity states that the problem of mankind (and all of nature) is sin. Sin is “a rejection of the Source of Life” (35). It’s a turning from God. “It is rebellion against the Sustainer of the universe. It is the most destructive force in the cosmos, the ultimate root of every pained heart, every broken family, every pointless war, every heinous genocide. Sin spreads through generations like a malignant cancer, and it razes civilizations like a plague” (35).

The solution to this problem is what is called the gospel, which means “good news.” The good news is that God the Father sent God the Son into the world to live the life that we are incapable of living because of our sin and to die in place of sinners, bearing the holy and just condemnation that sin and sinners deserve. Not only did Jesus die on the cross in place of sinners, but he rose from the grave. Qureshi’s description of the significance of Jesus’ resurrection bears reading:

            From the perspective of a human watching Jesus, it might have looked like just another man dying just another death. So to prove to the world that His death was not just another death but one that brings life to the world, and to prove that He was indeed the God He claimed to be, He rose from the dead. On the one hand, this was a sign to all who were skeptical that Jesus truly has supernatural authority and deserves to be heard. On the other hand, it was a symbol for those who believe in Him that death has been defeated. Jesus has conquered it for us (36).

Salvation in Christianity is achieved by grace (it is a gift from God, not earned) through faith (those who believe/trust in Jesus are saved, not those who have done more good works than bad).

It should be clear how Islam and Christianity differ. In Islam, Allah is Unitarian (one God, one Person), whereas in Christianity, God is Trinitarian (one God, three Persons). In Islam, which denies original sin, the problem is ignorance, which is solved by right beliefs and right living (obedience to sharia). In Christianity, the problem is the power of sin, which has invaded the world and dwells within us. The solution is a rescue from God, who becomes man and lives a righteous life in our place (satisfying a holy God’s demands) and dies in our place (satisfying a holy God’s justice) and is raised to life (offering proof of who he is, what he’s done, and what he will do when he returns and all his followers are resurrected to eternal life). Additionally, Christianity teaches that God gives us himself: The third Person of God, the Holy Spirit, comes to dwell in Christians, empowering them to live a life pleasing to God. Islam teaches salvation is achieved through obedience, whereas Christianity teaches that salvation is through faith.

Since grace is a message Muslims struggle with, Qureshi spends some time defending it. “Herein lies the genius and infinitude of the love of God: He doesn’t draw the line [between mercy and justice]. He offers mercy to everyone who has ever sinned while also demanding justice for every sin ever committed” (41). Qureshi also states that the message of Christianity, particularly with regard to our problem and God’s solution, “resonates with reality” (45).

Thus ends Part 1 of the book. In Part 2, Qureshi compares the Islamic doctrine know as Tawhid with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Tawhid teaches that Allah is absolutely one. It teaches that there can be nothing else alongside of Allah that is eternal, including any attributes that are not eternal, or not part of his essence. This is significant with respect to the Quran, because some Muslims believe the Quran to be eternal and uncreated. In other words, it has always existed. But this threatens the doctrine of Tawhid! In fact, early in Islam, that belief regarding the Quran was condemned. But it has now become a majority view. The belief that Allah and the Quran are eternal is a contradiction to Tawhid.

Yet Muslims find the doctrine of the Trinity to be incoherent. They believe it “an indefensible, self-contradictory, polytheistic doctrine” (52). For this reason, Qureshi devotes a fair amount of space to the definition and defense of the Trinity. Since the Trinity is so essential to the Christian doctrine of God, it is difficult to say that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Part 3 of the book compares Jesus to Muhammad. While Muhammad is not analogous to Jesus in all ways (Muhammad is not God, nor is he eternal or a savior), Jesus and Muhammad are central to the Christian and Islamic faiths, respectively. Jesus is the God who, without forfeiting his divine nature, added a second nature, that of a human, when he entered into his own creation. He is both Savior and the ultimate exemplar. Muhammad, though only a prophet and not a savior figure, is the prime exemplar for Muslims.

In Part 4, Qureshi compares the Bible and the Quran. Muslims view the Quran with the utmost respect. They do not believe the Quran was in any way written by men or a man, but it was dictated to Muhammad, who preached these recitations (“Quran” means “recitation”), which were later written down. Muslims also believe that the Quran is only the word of God if it’s in Arabic, the language in which it was written. In other words, this book cannot truly be translated. “Muslims are hesitant to call non-Arabic versions of the Quran ‘translations,’ believing that there is mystical value and hidden meaning in the Arabic that cannot be translated” (106). By contrast, the Bible is the product of God and human beings. God is the ultimate and final author, but he wrote through human beings, using their personalities, experiences, and historical and cultural contexts to write what he wanted. It was written in history, as opposed to the belief that the Quran is eternal. Also, the Bible can be translated because it is the message of the Bible, and not any particular language, that is important.

Part 5 is devoted to a discussion of the Crusades. Though Qureshi does not aim to defend all that occurred in the Crusades, he does show them in context. The Crusades were conducted in response to Muslim attacks on so-called “Christian lands.” Muslims had attacked and conquered nations that had been predominantly Christian from the mid-600s well into the second millennium. “The reality is that the Crusades were launched in defense of the Byzantine Empire after two-thirds of the Christian world had been conquered by centuries of Muslim attacks. Muslims understood this and held no grudge against crusaders until modern times, when postcolonial narratives came into vogue” (133). Qureshi compares the violence inherent in Islam with the peacefulness of Christianity. He acknowledges that many—probably the vast majority of— Muslims are peaceful. But Muhammad and the early caliphs were not, and the Quran most certainly has passages that command violence. And these passages were not abrogated or limited to one time and place.

Clearly, the answer to the first question, which asks if these religions are different, is yes.

The second half of the book examines the truth claims of both religions. Qureshi identifies three central truth claims of Christianity: “(1) that Jesus died, (2) that He rose from the dead, and (3) that He is God” (153). The two central claims of Islam, beyond the existence of Allah as the one true God, is that Muhammad was a prophet and that the Quran is the word of God. These five truth claims are examined one by one in Parts 6-10 of the book.

In order to make this already long review shorter, I will move quickly through these parts. However, I should add that it was this part of the book that felt more coherent, and more central to the debate. It’s important to observe the differences between the religion (as Qureshi does in the first half of the book). But it’s more important to know whether one religion (or, at the least, some of one religion) is true.

That Jesus of Nazareth died on the cross in Jerusalem when Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator of Judea is one of the surest facts of ancient history. Virtually no scholar denies this. Yet the Quran does deny that Jesus actually died on the cross. (It should be noted that in Islam, Jesus is not the Son of God, but he is a prophet. He was born of Mary and ascended into heaven, but, according to Islam, he did not die and therefore he did not rise from the grave.) Since all the evidence we have points to the fact that Jesus died on the cross, Islam is wrong in this regard.

Jesus’ resurrection is more debated. There are a number of biblical scholars who don’t believe that Jesus actually rose from the grave in a physical body. But the majority of scholars do agree on three basic points: (1) Jesus died, (2) his followers claimed that they had seen him after his death, and (3) some people who didn’t follow Jesus prior to his death (namely, Paul and James, but also Jude) claimed to have seen him after he died and their lives were changed. The only hypothesis that can adequately account for these facts is the resurrection. This is the argument made by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona, the argument known as the “Minimal Facts Approach.”

Muslims believe that Jesus’ message was somehow corrupted immediately after his ascension, but there is simply no evidence to support that view. Muslims believe that Paul corrupted Jesus’ message, but Qureshi shows that Paul had nothing to gain in doing so. Also, Paul’s message was the same as the message of Peter and the other apostles.

Qureshi demonstrates effectively that the consistent witness of the New Testament is that Jesus is God. This was not a claim fabricated by a later generation of Christians. It is demonstrated in the earliest gospel, the Gospel of Mark, as well as the latest one, the Gospel of John. It is also very clear in Paul’s letters, some of which are among the earliest Christian documents that we have.

These issues were not, for Qureshi, dry and academic. As he was weighing the evidence for Christianity, he realized that the evidence in favor of the truthfulness of this faith was very strong. But he still was reluctant to leave Islam. He had to consider, as objectively as possible, whether the evidence for Islam was as strong as the evidence in favor of Christianity.

Therefore, Qureshi considered whether Muhammad was really a prophet of God. He had been taught that Muhammad was meek, humble, a champion for widows and orphans, and a great leader of impeccable character. He had been taught that the Bible actually prophesied the coming of Muhammad (in Deuteronomy 18 and John 16, among other places). He had been taught that Muhammad had attained miraculous knowledge of science that would have been otherwise unknown in his day.

Yet when Qureshi examined these teachings, he found them not to be true. Muhammad may have been admirable in some regards, but he also was a man who committed great violence. He sent assassins to kill his enemies in their sleep. He punished his enemies by cutting off their hands and feet and branding their eyes with a hot iron, and had killed the men of a tribe while making slaves out of their women and children.  He allowed his men to rape female captives and he declared that women were mentally inferior to men. He even said the majority of those in hell would be women.

Qureshi easily shows that Muhammad was not the prophet prophesied in Deuteronomy 18 (that would be Jesus) nor is he the “paraclete” prophesied in John 16 (that would be the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, Muhammad did not have miraculous scientific knowledge. When we read passages from the Bible and the Quran in context, we see that the claims of Muslims are easily refuted.

Interestingly, there are some scholars who question whether Muhammad actually existed, given that most of our knowledge of him comes from the hadith, which are traditions of Muhammad’s life written down centuries after he lived. Qureshi boldly writes, “”There is almost nothing we can know with certainty about the historical Muhammad” (263).

Finally, Qureshi considers whether the Quran really is the word of God. Muslims claim that the Quran is the best piece of literature, so great that it must be of divine origin. They claim that there are prophesies in the Quran which have been fulfilled in history, that the Quran teaches knowledge that would not be discovered by scientists until centuries later, that there is something of a mathematical code in the text of the Quran, and that it has been perfectly preserved from error.

Qureshi shows that the first argument is completely subjective. Who is to say what is the best piece of literature? The prophesies that have been fulfilled in history are dubious, as is the so-called “science” of the Quran. The claim that the Quran evidences a mathematical structure can only be supported through a very selective sifting of evidence, and the Quran has actually been edited as late as the early twentieth century.

In short, the evidence in favor of the truthfulness of Islam is slim. Therefore, if one were to test both Christianity and Islam in as objective a manner as possible, one would discover that Christianity is true.

Qureshi ends by continuing the story of Fatima, the one that began the book. She was killed by her own brother because she became a Christian. Shortly before dying, she published a poem online. The last lines of that poem are:

My last words I pray to the Lord of the worlds,
Jesus the Messiah, the Light of Clear Guidance:
Change their heats and set right their discernment.
May he spread love among you, O Muslims (296).

Critique

Qureshi has written a book that is clear and accessible to the motivated reader. It is very difficult to summarize, compare, and then explore the veracity of two religions. Qureshi does so in as succinct a manner as possible, without sacrificing important details and all the while adding in enough autobiographical details to keep readers interested.

I could quibble with how he describes elements of the Christian faith, but, on the whole, Qureshi does a good job describing the basic elements of the faith. I trust he has done the same with Islam.

My main critique would be that I would like to see a more coherent structure in the first half of the book. I would also have appreciated a bit more history, particularly of the origins of Islam. If I were to write the book, I might have started there. He does discuss Islamic and Christian history throughout the book, but in not in the systematic way he discusses the Trinity and the identity of Jesus.

However, if Qureshi went into greater detail, whether discussing history or theology, the book would become much longer, and I’m sure that would attract fewer readers. Readers who demand more information will have to go elsewhere.

I have two critiques directed towards the publisher, Zondervan. One, the book has endnotes instead of footnotes. I don’t know why this is the case, since the number of notes is relatively small. As a reader, I detest flipping back and forth between the body of content and the endnotes. A second critique is that the book lacks indexes. There should be a subject index as well as index of Scripture (the Bible and the Quran). I believe that would make the book more useful as a reference.

However, even as it stands, No God but One is a valuable resource for those who want to know how Christianity and Islam differ and why anyone should adhere to either of these religions.

Notes

[1] Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014).

[2] Nabeel Qureshi, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

[3] Nabeel Qureshi, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016).

Book Review: Black and Reformed, by Anthony Carter

What would I know about being a black person who adheres to Reformed theology? Not much, since I’ll never be black. But as someone who does believe in the sovereignty of God (his ultimate control over everything that comes to pass), I thought it would be interesting to read a book on a black person’s perspective of this most biblical theology. When P&R Publishing graciously offered a free copy of the second edition of Anthony Carter’s Black and Reformed in exchange for an honest review, I jumped at the chance.

(And here’s that caveat: the publisher of this book gave me a free book in exchange for a fair review. While writing in parentheses, I’ll throw this note in here: I will consistently refer to people with a dark complexion as “black” instead of “African American.” I mean no disrespect at all. I’m a white person. I have always found the word “Caucasian” to be an odd one, and I don’t refer to myself as a “European American.” Yes, I know my skin color isn’t white, and the skin color of others isn’t really black. I suppose an label has its problems. One last parenthetical remark: all quotations will be followed with their own parenthetical references to the page number. Now, on to the review.)

The first edition of Carter’s book, published in 2003, was titled On Being Black and Reformed. This edition, published this year, differs from the first one in three respects: It features a foreword from Thabiti Anyabwile, a new preface from the author, and a new appendix of questions and answers. Otherwise, the text remains the same.

Anyabwile begins with high praise for the book, stating that Carter’s work stated clearly that being black and holding to Reformed theology was not a contradiction. I must admit that part of my reason for wanting to read this book is that I didn’t know many black people who held to Reformed theology. In fact, I know of at least a couple of people to whom I would like to refer such a book as Carter’s, to show them that having a strong, biblical theology is in no way inimical to the black experience. And I think that Carter’s book succeeds in that regard.

Toward the beginning of the book, Carter asks, “Do we need a black theology?” And the answer is: “Emphatically and unfortunately, yes” (25). He observes that most so-called “black theology” has been black liberation theology, which he calls “biblically unacceptable” (26). The reason that a black theology is needed is that systematic theology tends to answer the concerns that people of a certain time and place have, and very little Western Christian theology has taken up the issues of racism and institutionalized discrimination. “The major contributors to conservative theological thought over the centuries have, consciously or not, spoken predominantly to and for white people” (28). Yet most black theology hasn’t been rooted in sound exegesis of the Bible. Rather, it has been based primarily on experience. Experience is useful, but it’s not an infallible guide. “My goal in Black and Reformed  is to redeem and reform our perspective on the black American experience through the most legitimate lens available, theology—in particular, biblically based and historically grounded Reformed theology” (35).

Carter then moves on to explain Reformed theology. He focuses on the famous TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance [Carter calls it “preservation”] of the saints). He also lists many texts that indicate God’s ordination of all aspects of life. Personally, I found his explanation and defense of TULIP to be a bit wanting, but he ably demonstrated God’s sovereignty over humans, nations, and creation. He also describes the sinfulness of humanity and the sufficiency of Christ. These three elements (sovereignty, sinfulness, sufficiency) are for Carter the pillars of Reformed theology. The chapter devoted to this subject is a good introduction to this type of theology, though the person who wants to learn more will have to turn to other resources.

The best part of this book is the way that Carter applies Reformed theology to the issues of race, racism, and slavery. For example, when discussing Christ’s redemptive work, he writes, “In Christ we are forgiven and we find the means of forgiving others. . . . we are never more like Christ, and thus more Christian, than when we are operating in Christlike forgiveness. And nowhere is this work of forgiveness more decisively needed than in race relations in America” (59).

In chapter 3, Carter write about “The Church from Chains,” the experience of the black church in America. Some Christians in the 1700s were not eager to preach the gospel to slaves, though others were. Baptists and Methodists were more likely to preach to blacks and advocate for freedom. Carter explains the rise of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which officially formed in 1816 though its roots go back to 1787. Carter makes an important comment when discussing how Christianity in America in its early years was beset by racism and slavery. He writes, “The blacks’ response to such hypocrisy-laden Christianity could have been a complete rejection of the one true God in Christ. Yet instead of rejecting Christ, African Americans rejected this brand of Christianity, separating what the Bible taught about Christian virtue from what so-called Christians practiced” (79). In fact, Reformed theology can accurately pinpoint the root of such hypocrisy: the heart of sinful man.

Chapter 4 is devoted to the experience of being black and Reformed. One of the more interesting bits of this chapter was a discussion of Lemuel Haynes, a pastor-theology in Vermont at the end of the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century. He drew on the teachings of John Calvin, Martin Luther, and Jonathan Edwards, among others. One may think it as likely to find a unicorn as it would be to find a black man pastoring a congregational church in Vermont, particularly at this time. This chapter also features a great point made by Carter, one that is particularly relevant to Christians living in today’s America. He writes, “Few among the majority in American Christianity can relate to an experience of exile. Few can relate to having to develop a community gift of laughter in the midst of tears. . . . Yet if American theologians were to adopt a perspective of inclusion and not view their theology through myopic lenses, they would see that God has in his sovereignty given to American Christianity a people whose experience of pilgrimage in a foreign land would enrich American faith. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? Look to the black Christian experience as an example” (98).

Carter also discusses how an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty helps make sense of the black experience in America. It was God’s will to bring Africans to America, though the sinful slave traders who captured and enslaved these Africans were wrong to do so. On the one hand, slavery brought about great horrors. On the other hand, many black people were brought to faith in America. The Bible emphasizes time and again God’s ordination of events (his sovereignty) and human responsibility and human sinfulness. It may not be easy for us to reconcile these things, but both are true, and both can be seen in the black Christian experience.

Carter ends the book by encouraging African Americans to see that embracing Reformed theology is not a repudiation of their heritage. Rather, Reformed theology is the most biblical theology and the one that makes the greatest sense of the experience of blacks—and black Christians—in America.

Three appendices appear at the end of the book. One is on racial reconciliation within various denominations (Assemblies of God, SBC, PCA). Another is a message that Carter gave on connecting to historical Christianity. A third is a series of questions and answers regarding the author, the book, and issues that affect black people. I love this portion: “Sovereign love has been the theme of the black church in America. Sovereign love is at the heart of Reformed theology. It is why I love both and seek to bring them together” (154).

The book isn’t perfect. Every now and again Carter uses a $10 word when a $5 word would do. At least one time, he used one of those $10 words incorrectly (calling a book “sentient” instead of, perhaps, seminal). Some of the writing is a little clunky (example: “Those whom God has called and justified by his grace will be glorified to his glory” [43-44]). And the book could certainly be longer and go deeper.

However, I would recommend this book. I imagine the best audience would be black Christians who haven’t embraced Reformed theology. Putting this book in their hands may encourage them toward a more biblical and theologically-rich form of the Christian faith.

An Open Letter to Senator Elizabeth Warren

Dear Senator Warren,

Hello, my name is Brian Watson. I’m one of your constituents. I’m writing in response to a video [1] I saw of you speaking on the Senate floor with regard to S. 1881, the proposed piece of legislation that would end federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Perhaps I should say I watched a “highly-edited video” or your speech. I assume it has to be heavily edited, because there must have been some bits of your speech that were omitted, parts where you expressed shock at what has been revealed in videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. Surely, you said something about how you don’t think unborn children should have certain body parts crushed by forceps in a careful manner so as to leave their valuable organs intact for sale. At least, my hope is that you would have said something other than what you did say.

You begin your speech with a clever bit of rhetoric, asking whether your Republican colleagues had hit their heads, fallen unconscious, and then woke up and thought they were in the 1890s or 1950s. Oh, yes, those were unenlightened times. Perhaps in the 1890s, there were people alive who could remember the institution of slavery in the United States. They probably had a keen sense of moral outrage over how African Americans were dehumanized and treated as property. Perhaps your Republican colleagues did wish it were the 1890s, when such moral outrage still lingered in the nation’s collective memory. In the 1950s, it was easy for people to remember the Holocaust, when Jews were treated as less than human by the Nazis. Perhaps your Republican colleagues wish we were living in that era, when moral outrage over the slaughter of millions was fresh in our national consciousness.

You seem to suggest that in 2015, one shouldn’t be outraged that since 1973, untold millions of unborn children have been terminated in their mothers’ wombs. (The number of abortions in 2011 was 1.06 million, according to the Guttmacher Institute.[2] As you probably know, exact abortion figures are hard to come by, but the approximate number of abortions since Roe v. Wade is 55 million.) Look, no one really wants to go back to 1895 or 1955. Instead, we want to have the best 2015 and beyond that is possible.

You say that Republicans are “trying to defund women’s health care centers.” First of all, this isn’t really a partisan issue. Or, at least, it shouldn’t be. A number of people in America are concerned by what they have seen in the videos released by the Center for Medical Progress. These videos are not the products of the Republican Party; rather, they are the fruits of citizen journalists. Let’s put aside our “let’s make sure our team wins at all costs” political mentality. This issue is too important to be rooting for “our side.”

Second, Republicans were trying to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest purveyor of abortions. (They performed 327, 653 abortions in 2013, according to their own most recent Annual Report.[3]) So, the Republicans were not trying to defund a women’s health care center. They were trying to defund abortion mills. The issue is abortion, not women’s health care.

You say, “The Republicans have had a plan for years to strip away women’s rights to make choices over their own bodies.” The issue isn’t a woman’s body. It’s the body within the woman’s body. That’s the issue. Abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent human being. We know this from science. When a sperm cell fertilizes an egg, it is a new human life. This new human being has his or her own unique DNA. The zygote has all the information it needs to grow. It doesn’t magically become human later. We all started at this point. We’re all “products of conception.” We were not egg cells or sperm cells, because that wasn’t us. That wasn’t our DNA. It was only at conception that we came into existence. That which is in the womb is not a “blob of cells” or some piece of “tissue.” Rather, what is in the womb is a whole, not fully developed human life.

The only difference between the zygote, blastocyst, embryo, and fetus, on the one hand, and the infant, on the other, is size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. Obviously, an unborn child is smaller than one outside the womb. But does a larger size confer personhood upon that living being? If so, is a larger person more of a human than a smaller one? Is a teenager worth more than an infant?

The fetus is at an earlier level of development than an infant. That much is true. But an infant is not as developed as a toddler, and a toddler is not as developed as a teenager. Since an infant is not as developed as an older child, should we not protect the infant’s life?

The unborn child is obviously in a unique environment. That much is true. But what do a few inches matter? Why should a few inches down the birth canal confer personhood, and all attendant rights, upon a human life?[4] Is an infant less of a person if he or she is cradled in his or her mother’s arms?

And the unborn child has a high degree of dependence. Yes, that’s true. But so do my own young children. The infant is completely dependent upon his or her parents. That is particularly true for the nursing child, but it’s still true for bottle-fed infants.

So, the issue is the killing of an unborn human person. You seem to think it’s fine. You stress that abortion is legal, as if that makes it right. Yet the fact that a law exists does not make it right. We should revisit laws if they are wrong. Otherwise, there is no way to make progress as a society. The videos released by the Center for Medical Progress show that the unborn—even when hacked to bits—are human. It is wrong to kill intentionally an innocent human life. That which is in the womb is an innocent human life. Therefore, abortion—whether legal or not—is wrong.

You say, “Republicans threatened to shut down the government unless they could change the law to let employers deny women access to birth control.” No, Republicans don’t want to deny women access to birth control. Let’s be honest. If that were the case, Republicans would try to legislate a ban on birth control. The issue was whether an employer should be forced to pay for an employee’s birth control. Many people do not think an employer should be forced to do so, particularly if that is against his or her beliefs.

You say, “Over the past five years, Republican state legislators have passed nearly 300 new restrictions on abortion access. This year alone, Republican state legislators have passed more than 50 new restrictions on women’s access to legal health care.” Republicans have passed restrictions on the termination of innocent human life. You can call abortion “legal health care.” I call it “murder,” which better fits what the intentional killing of an innocent human life actually is.

You say, “The Republican vote to defund Planned Parenthood is just one more piece of a deliberate, methodical, orchestrated, right-wing attack on women’s rights.” Once again, the issue is not women’s rights. Frankly, most people don’t care too much about what women do with their bodies. No one is trying to legislate what one does in the bedroom. The issue is abortion. No woman should have a right to snuff out the most vulnerable human beings in existence. The Supreme Court magically found such a right in the Constitution in 1973, even though the Constitution says no such thing. Abortion is not supported by the Constitution, nor is it supported by the natural law, or the revealed will of God. I am still stunned that anyone could think someone has a “right” to kill an innocent person.

You say, “Women everywhere are sick and tired of it. The American people are sick and tired of it.” I know many women who are against abortion. They are sick and tired of the euphemisms (“women’s health care,” “women’s rights,” “war on women,” etc.) and the deceptive rhetoric. Roughly half of Americans are pro-life. Only 27 percent of Americans favor legal abortion in the second trimester,[5] the exact type of abortion showcased in the latest of the Center for Medical Progress’s videos. Even if the majority of Americans favored your views, that wouldn’t make your views right. Again, the issue is abortion, and I believe that science, philosophy, and religion show that abortion is wrong.

You mention the Republicans’ effort “to take away a woman’s right to control her own body and access to medical care she may need.” Again, the issue is the body in the woman’s body. As for legitimate medical care, no one wants to take that away. There are many community health care centers that provide health care for women. Let’s fund real health care. If you were committed to that, why not reform Planned Parenthood so they provide no abortions?

You also claim that “3 percent of patients visit Planned Parenthood for a safe and legal abortion.” This figure is wrong.  You may say that only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total services are abortion services, but services are not patients. The claim that 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are abortion services is true depending on how one calculates these figures. But let’s put that figure in perspective. If a woman goes to a Planned Parenthood and receives a pregnancy test, a test for STDs, an abortion, and some contraceptives, she has received four services. This way of counting services inflates the total services rendered, which would make the number of abortions seem relatively small. Planned Parenthood says that it had 2.7 million patients in the latest year for which they have statistics. Since 327,653 of those patients had abortions, that means that 12.1 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients had abortions.[6] (I’m assuming that a woman wouldn’t have two abortions in a year, though I suppose that’s possible.)  If those abortions cost about $500 each, that would mean that more than 12 percent of Planned Parenthood’s total revenues come from abortions. So 12 percent may be a more accurate figure.

But, for the sake of the argument, let’s stick with that 3 percent figure. What would we say about a father who provides for his daughter, helps her with her homework, teaches her valuable life skills, and also rapes her once a month? “He only rapes her 3 percent of the time!” What would you say about a person in the nineteenth century who had 10,000 possessions, including 300 slaves? “Only 3 percent of his possessions are slaves!” Frankly, it doesn’t matter how much good Planned Parenthood does. Any amount of abortions is wrong. Planned Parenthood shouldn’t receive any federal funding.

According to you, “Even though the abortion performed at Planned Parenthood are safe and legal, the federal government is not paying for any of them. Not one dime.” According to Planned Parenthood’s most recent Annual Report, they received $528.4 million. All of this money went to their affiliates, which had a total of $1.1458 billion in revenues. That means that 46.1 percent of the total revenues of Planned Parenthood affiliates comes from the federal government. Strictly speaking, this money does not fund abortions. Yet what would happen to those Planned Parenthood affiliates if 46.1 percent of their funds were taken away? They wouldn’t exist. Really, this is a bit of an accounting game. Imagine if the United States had secretly been giving money to ISIS. Now imagine this news was made public. Understandably, the public would be livid. What if we heard this response from the White House: “The US doesn’t fund terrorist activities. This money was relief aid. It paid for medical care, for clothing, and for food. It did not pay for any terrorist activities”? Well, that may be true, but in this hypothetical situation, ISIS wouldn’t survive if those basic needs were not met. They would never be in a position to perform any terrorist activities if they didn’t first have food, clothing, and medical care. In a similar way, Planned Parenthood would never be in a position to kill over 300,000 unborn children a year were it not for federal funding.

Finally, you say, “The Republican plan to defund Planned Parenthood is a Republican plan to defund women’s health care.” No, the plan is to defund an agency that performs over 25 percent of abortions in America each year. This is not an attack on women’s health care. It’s an attack on the destruction of human life.

Consider this: of the 300,000-plus unborn children who are snuffed out each year, how many of them do you think are female? If you saw all of the Center for Medical Progress’s videos, you may remember that a fetus at 11 weeks and 6 days was identified as a boy by the medical assistant (after a Planned Parenthood doctor first said, “It’s a baby”). But that baby could easily have been a girl. I suppose something like 165,000 of those babies that Planned Parenthood kills each year are female. Let’s talk about their health care. Let’s talk about the real war on women.

And what of the mental health of women who have had abortions? What about them? Let us consider the results of a meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Priscilla Coleman of Bowling Green State University on 877,181 women, including 163,831 who had abortions.[7] Women who had abortions had a 81% higher risk of subsequent mental health problems than women who did not have abortions. Women who have had abortions had a 138% higher risk of mental health problems than women who had given birth. Women who had abortions had a 55% higher risk of mental health problems than women who had an unplanned pregnancy and who gave birth. Women who have had an abortion had higher rates of anxiety (34% higher), depression (37%), alcohol abuse (110%), marijuana use (23%), and suicidal behavior (155%) than women who did not have abortions. If you cared about women’s health, why would you ever encourage a woman to have an abortion?

Let me close on this note, Senator Warren. I am impressed by your rhetorical abilities. As a preacher, I recognize preaching when I see it. I don’t know what your religion is. I don’t know who your god is. (We all have some god, someone or something we hold to be the ultimate reality.) From what I see, you grant human autonomy a god-like status. But we are not our own authorities. We are but a mist that comes and goes.

Now please bear with me if I preach a bit. I assure you that if you continue on this path, you will be on the wrong side of history. When human history comes to a close, the ones who championed the deaths of the innocent will not be on the right side. The ones who sit back and do nothing as unborn children are vacuumed out of their mother, or killed through chemicals and then dismembered bit by bit—those people will not be vindicated.

As I said earlier, no one wants to go back to 1895 or 1955. Those times were not perfect. 2015 isn’t perfect, either. But we should all want to live in a better society, one that makes progress. Yet how do we know if we are making progress or not? What is our standard by which we make progress? We could easily be regressing. Is a society that destroys life a progressive one?

This matter of abortion is a life and death matter. And whether we die at an old age of natural causes, or whether we are torn from the womb, we will die. I don’t know what you expect will happen upon death. But I know that after we die, we will meet our Maker. And God will not look kindly upon those who do not speak for the innocent, for the poor, and for the defenseless. Your “progressive” ideas will be exposed for what they are: an ideology that leads to death.

But things don’t have to end this way. You can be courageous and reexamine your position. Watch these videos. Study the science of embryology. Reevaluate your philosophy. Reconsider what are truly “rights” and what is truly “health care.” To change your position with respect to abortion would require courage, but you are a strong woman. I’m sure you have ability to change your position if it is the wrong one.

Furthermore, you have the opportunity to stop pretending to be your own authority and put your trust in the true Lord of lords and King of kings, Jesus Christ. Your fate is in his hands. You may think that you are making a name for yourself in the Senate. Perhaps you’ll run for President. Perhaps you’ll even win. Yet any fame and power you achieve in this life will come to an end. The only status that matters is the one that Christ offers. If you would forsake your current ways and find forgiveness in Jesus, you would have the greatest status possible. You would be a child of God.

I’ll end my preaching now.

If you would like to discuss these issues with me, you can find my contact information below. I would certainly welcome the opportunity. I wish you well, Senator Warren. Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

Brian Watson

Notes

[1]  “Senator Elizabeth Warren: I Stand with Planned Parentood,” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeilHs9kZ2g&gt;, accessed August 5, 2015.

[2] Guttmacher Institute, Fact Sheet: Induced Abortion in the United States, July 2014,  <https://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html&gt;, accessed August 5, 2015.

[3] Planned Parenthood 2013-2014 Annual Report,  <http://issuu.com/actionfund/docs/annual_report_final_proof_12.16.14_/0&gt;, accessed August 5, 2015.

[4] One pro-choice advocate states rather bluntly, “It seems absurd to suggest that the only thing that makes us fully human is the short ride out of some lady’s vagina.” Mary Elizabeth Williams, “So What if Abortion Ends Life?” Salon, January 23, 2013, < http://www.salon.com/2013/01/23/so_what_if_abortion_ends_life/&gt;, accessed August 5, 2015.

[5] USA Today/Gallup Poll, < http://www.gallup.com/file/poll/160067/Roe_v_Wade_Anniv_130122.pdf&gt;, accessed August 6, 2015.

[6] Planned Parenthood 2013-2014 Annual Report.

[7] Hope After Abortion, Adverse Psychological Reactions: A Fact Sheet, <http://hopeafterabortion.com/?page_id=213&gt;, accessed August 5, 2015.

 

Silly Memes, Volume 1

IMG_1808

Generally, memes are a lazy way of making an argument. They can be rhetorically powerful, particularly since they make such a visual impact. Yet they often consist of a sentence or a paragraph, taken out of context. Real arguments require more time, more thought, and more evidence. Yet a society that is trained to respond quickly to visual stimuli—and to think shallowly—doesn’t care for those types of arguments.

If I am able to write more frequently, which is always my desire, I want to take some time to refute some errant memes.

I just saw this meme posted on Facebook. I have seen similar memes posted in the past. One similar meme had these words:

[I]f you don’t want your tax dollars to help the poor, to help the sick, to avoid violence, to take better care of those in prison, to help the needy, fine. Don’t vote that way. But don’t ever say you want a government based on Christian values, because you don’t.[1]

In the picture above, this nun says that if one doesn’t believe that the government should take care of children from cradle to grave, then one isn’t truly pro-life. Instead, if one is merely against abortion—and not for cradle-to-grave governmental care—then one is merely pro-birth. In the block quote above, the argument is this: If you don’t vote to use tax dollars to help the poor, the sick, and the needy (along with preventing violence and taking care of prisoners), you don’t want a government based on Christian values.

At first glance, such arguments seem powerful. Shouldn’t Christians want to take care of the poor? Shouldn’t they thus want government funds to be spent in the care of those in need, regardless of whether they are in the womb or outside of it?

No real Christian would debate whether or not it is good and right to take care of the poor. But the real question should be: What is the government’s role in taking care of the poor? That question leads us to a larger question: What is the role of the government?

What Is the Role of the Government?

Unfortunately, in these memes, there is little room for substantive argumentation. That’s why memes are a lousy way to make an argument. Sure, memes are effective in confirming one’s already-held beliefs. But they often don’t deal with the underlying, fundamental issues, and that’s why they fail as arguments.

So, what is the role of government? First, one should consider what makes government unique. What separates the government from various voluntary and free associations (charities, churches, non-profit organizations, corporations, clubs, etc.) is that the government has the power of force. The government can force people to pay taxes and to obey certain laws. If its citizens do not obey, the government has the power to penalize and/or imprison its citizens. This is not true of other institutions within society.

When we have considered what makes the government unique, we then should move to the question of the role or purpose of the government. In order to know the answer to such a question, we need a standard. Christians should turn to the Bible, God’s Word, to understand God’s intent for the role of government. Two passages in the New Testament speak clearly to this issue:

Romans 13:1–7 (ESV)

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

1 Peter 2:13–17 (ESV)

13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14 or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

These two passages are similar. They both state that the government is instituted by God to punish evil. The Romans passage says that we should pay taxes because the government has a legitimate role to play. It exists to punish evil. The 1 Peter passage says the government also praises those who do good. It does not say, “The government exists to provide goods and services.” The government bears the sword; it does not bake the bread. In other words, the government protects people and punishes evil. It does not give out free stuff.

What is a Christian View of the Role of Government?

The arguments presented above—in the meme and the block quote of John Fugelsang—suggest that government, to be a pro-life government or a Christian government, must provide for the poor, the needy, all the way from birth to death. However, you won’t find such statements in the Bible. (When I say, “in the Bible,” I am referring to where we are now in the biblical plotline, in the time between the two advents of Christ. We are not taught to expect that any government in this time period will be a theocracy, as was the case with Israel in the Old Testament.)

Jesus didn’t tell his disciples to go lobby Caesar. He didn’t tell them to get involved in politics. However, Jesus told his disciples that it was their duty to take care of their neighbor, whomever that might be. He told his followers to love the poor. The apostles repeat this message. James says true religion is both to take care of the orphan and widow and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27). Yet he didn’t say it was the government’s role to do that. If we are led to believe that Jesus’ commandments (whether in “red letters” or whether through the apostles and prophets—the Bible makes no distinction between the two) apply to government, such a position, if held consistently, would lead us to believe that the government must also make disciples, baptize people, and teach them everything that Jesus taught (Matthew 28:18-20). Yet no one seems to be advocating such a position.

Instead, a truly Christian view of government would be this: The government should protect the lives of its citizens. It should protect those citizens from harm by others. It should give its citizens negative rights, not positive rights.

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find a concept of a government providing what are called positive rights. Instead, we see that the government is supposed to provide negative rights. J. P. Moreland, a Christian philosopher, explains the difference between positive and negative rights:

A positive right is a right to have something given to the right-holder. If Smith has a positive right to X, say to health care, then the state has an obligation to give X to Smith. . . . A negative right to X is a right to be protected from harm while one seeks to get X on one’s own. If Smith has a negative right to X, say to health care, then the state has an obligation to protect Smith from discrimination and unfair treatment in his attempt to get X on his own.[2]

On Abortion

Abortion is the intentional termination of an innocent human life. It is murder. That assertion, which sounds rather stark and perhaps harsh, is nonetheless supported biblically, scientifically, and philosophically. I have presented these arguments elsewhere.[3] If abortion is the killing of innocent life, it must be stopped by the government. The government has the obligation to protect the unborn and punish those who would seek to kill the innocent human life in the womb. In so doing, the government would be protecting the negative rights of the child.

Once the child is born, the government still has a role in protecting that child’s life and punishing anyone who would harm or kill that child. When the child grows up to be an adult, the government still has an obligation to protect the innocent human and punish anyone who would seek to harm or kill that person. Yet the government does not have an obligation to provide positive rights to that person. The government does not have to give the person, once outside the womb, free food and clothing and shelter.

A Christian view of abortion is that it is wrong; a Christian view of government is that we should expect the government to protect the unborn child. Yet Christians would also say that the government has no obligation to care for all the needs of a person from cradle to grave. What the government ought to do is protect people and punish those who would harm and kill them. Christians, on the other hand, have the opportunity and the obligation to personally care for those around them.

On Poverty

Let’s now think about poverty. According to the argument above, the government has no obligation to feed, clothe, and house the poor. Yet the government does have an obligation to protect the poor from harm. The government can punish those who seek to rob from the poor. The government should create laws to protect the poor from predatory lending, or other unfair business practices. The government can and should punish companies who would practice racial discrimination.

Let’s say the government, though it has no obligation to care for the poor, decides to do so anyway. Can government really do a good job of caring for the poor? Obviously, the government has the power to tax people heavily, and can therefore accrue great amounts of money. But does money alone cure poverty?

In an article on The Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter relays some facts about the “War on Poverty,” which has been waged since the mid-1960s.[4] I won’t repeat all the information Carter presents there. To me, the salient fact is that in almost fifty years, the government has spent $15 trillion on poverty, and has only been able to reduce the percentage of Americans living below the poverty line by a few points.

Why can’t government fix poverty? Government’s role is to punish vice. But it does a poor job of instilling virtue. Many, though not all, of the factors that contribute to poverty are related to virtue. Carter says that the percentage of married couples living below poverty is only 6 percent (compared to 15 percent of all Americans). Yet 31 percent of single moms and 25 percent of single dads live below the poverty line.  The government has done little to keep families together. I would argue that government can’t really help in that area because it’s not the purpose of government. To address the problem of the broken home, one must get to the root problems. This is where Christianity can do much more than the government. Christianity addresses the design and purpose of marriage: to reflect the relationship between God and his people. Christianity teaches forgiveness and grace, responsibility and love. If we let the government be the government and the church be the church, things would be better.

So a Christian view of government as it pertains to poverty is that it should protect the poor from theft and unfair business practices. But the government has no obligation to feed, clothe, and house the poor. There may be wisdom in having the government provide certain tax incentives to married couples, or to people seeking re-education to train for a new job.

I personally think there should be some kind of safety net, but one that is limited in scope.

Twisted Logic

Let’s return to the meme posted above. I don’t think this nun suggests what I’m about to write, yet it is the logical conclusion to her argument. Her claim is that to be truly pro-life, the government must care for people from their birth to their death. Anything short of that is merely pro-birth. She seems to suggest that unless we provide for everyone from cradle to grave, we shouldn’t protect their lives in their mother’s wombs. She does not celebrate the notion of “pro-birth.” It’s almost as if this meme suggests, “Unless the government pays for all kinds of goods and services for these babies that are being aborted now, it’s better to let them be aborted.” Again, I don’t think the nun would say such a thing, but that’s where her argument leads.

I think the failure of self-proclaimed Christians to denounce abortion as evil is cowardice. These kinds of arguments work against any progress that our society can make in fighting against the murder of more than a million children each year. Since Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have been over 55 million abortions. That number is frightening. It far surpasses the number of slaves in America and the number of Jews killed in the holocaust. To suggest that this is anything other than the greatest evil of our day is folly.

A Limited Government Is Best. A Large Government Is Beast.

If we are to take what the Bible says about government seriously, we should advocate for a limited government. Since the government has the power to force people to do or not to do certain things, we should be careful about how much power government has. When considering the size and scope of government, we should also consider Christian anthropology (the doctrine of humanity) and hamartiology (the doctrine of sin). To put it in simpler words, we should consider what the Bible teaches about humans and sin.

The Bible says that each person is sinful. We are fallen. We have disordered desires. Even Christians struggle with their sin nature as they tread the road of sanctification. The government is not some impersonal force. Government consists of many humans, all of whom are sinful. This large, sinful group of people has the power of force. That force can be used for good and evil. If the size and scope of government is limited, it won’t do as much harm as a large government.

Hunter Baker, in his excellent primer on the Christian view of political philosophy, writes, “The most powerful governments in history have often been the most murderous and the most oppressive.”[5] One need only think of the Soviet Union under Stalin, or Communist China under Mao. Baker then suggests, “If we accept the truth about the sinfulness of human beings—and it is the better part of wisdom and experience to do so—then we should perhaps consider revising our expectations of what can be achieved through the institution of government.”[6] A large, benevolent government is a utopian dream. We may all long for a government that can provide for everyone. Yet what happens when the sinful people in charge of the government start to use the power of force in evil ways? According to Baker, “A limited government with very specific mandates can still successfully punish evil. But it takes a Leviathan to envision and enact our dreams. And too often, they become nightmares.”[7]

According to the Bible, large, godless empires are like beasts that devour its citizens. One need only think of the examples of Egypt and Babylon and the Roman Empire, as well as texts like Daniel 7 or Revelation 13.

So, a consistent, pro-life, pro-charity Christian can and should be for a limited government, one that protects the negative rights of the unborn and born. That same Christian should also get his or her hands dirty in helping the poor. Loving one’s neighbor directly through action takes more work, and requires more virtue, than allowing the government to tax more, operate inefficiently, spend wastefully, and see little fruit.

Notes

[1] John Thomason, “A Conversation with John Fugelsang,” Boca, May 16, 2012, http://www.bocamag.com/blog/2012/05/16/a-conversation-with-john-fugelsang/, accessed May 30, 2015. The words above are Fugelsang’s.

[2] J. P. Moreland, “A Biblical Case for Limited Government,” Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, http://tifwe.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/JP-Moreland-Limited-Govt.pdf, 5, accessed January 15, 2014.

[3] “Defending Life: Arguing against Abortion,” a sermon presented at Pinehurst Baptist Church on January 20, 2013, https://brianjameswatson.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/defending-life-arguing-against-abortion.pdf

[4] Joe Carter, “9 Things You Should Know about Poverty in America,” The Gospel Coalition, January 16, 2014, http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/9-things-you-should-know-about-poverty-in-america

[5] Hunter Baker, Political Thought: A Student’s Guide, Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition, ed. David S. Dockery (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 84.

[6] Ibid., 85.

[7] Ibid., 86.

On the Murders in Charleston

Regarding Charleston: I saw someone pose the question, “How can there be so much hate?” Evil in the world is a reality, one that will always cause pain and confusion. Part of what makes evil so evil is that it isn’t rational or reasonable. It simply doesn’t make sense. But the question, “How can people be so evil or hateful?” can be answered by the Christian worldview. Christianity teaches that humans can do great and amazing things. They are intelligent and creative and capable of good and noble deeds. But Christianity also teaches that we are all fallen. We all have the capacity for evil. Our hearts are disordered, so we don’t want what is good and true. Our thinking becomes futile. And we all act out of this disorder. Most of us act out in small ways. Occasionally, someone commits an almost unimaginable act of evil. That’s what happened last night.

Christianity offers a realistic view of the world. It avoids equal and opposite errors: on the one hand, viewing the world as an irredeemable cesspool and viewing humanity; on the other, naively viewing humanity as fundamentally good with a utopia just a few policy changes away. In other words, things are not as bad as they could be, but they are far worse than some imagine.

Christianity also offers hope. Part of that hope comes through the promise of judgment. God will punish all evil. And the hope of judgment entails the hope of redemption. There are two ways that God will punish evil. One way is through the cross: for all who find refuge in Jesus, their own evil has been punished there. For those who reject Jesus, they will bear the punishment of their own evil. The serial killers, the genocidal maniacs, and the everyday sinner will be judged according to their works. That’s a harsh truth, but I must make this clear: we all deserve condemnation, because we all have, at one point, rejected the one, true, living God. We were made to reflect God’s glory and live in a right relationship with him, a relationship marked by love, trust, obedience, and service. Yet we tend to live for ourselves, not God.

God could have let us go our own way. He could have condemned us all. But he did not. God entered into this sometimes harsh world. He subjected himself to violence. Jesus was mocked, betrayed, rejected, beaten, and killed. Therefore, God knows firsthand what evil is like. He has endured it. But still there is hope.

Death is not the final word. After Jesus died, he rose from the grave in a body that can never be destroyed. He soon ascended to heaven, but one day he will return to judge the living and the dead. He will also return to make all things new. The universe will have its own resurrection. It will be reborn into a paradise of unimaginable beauty and peace. If those nine people murdered in Charleston were truly Christians, transformed by God into new creations, then that is where they will be forever. There is hope for them.

And there is hope for us. We still have time to turn to Jesus and trust in him. We still have time to stop living for ourselves, turn away from our selfish and disordered ways, and start living for God.

Christianity offers a realistic view of humankind and the world, and it offers hope. Best of all, it’s true.

For more information on the resurrection of Jesus, see here.

For more on the “problem of evil,” see here.

Finally, let’s pray for those who are hurting. Pray for those who lost loved ones. Pray for those who are scared. Pray for the young man who shot these people. Even he’s not beyond redemption.

Are There Contradictions in the Bible?

It is often alleged that there are many errors and contradictions in the Bible. In a previous piece (“When Was Jesus Born?”), I addressed the issue of an alleged error in the Bible: the time of Jesus’ birth, particularly with respect to the census conducted by Quirinius, the governor of Syria. Here, I will deal with a supposed contradiction: the different genealogies of Jesus, found in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38, respectively.

The Nature of Contradictions

Before looking at the text, we should take time to think about what a contradiction actually is. According to philosopher Simon Blackburn, a contradiction is, “The conjunction of a proposition and its negation. The law of non-contradiction provides that no such conjunction can be true: not (p & not-p).”[1] In other words, a contradiction is when one says that something is and is not. It is impossible to be a bachelor and a married man (a not-bachelor, if you will). However, philosophers often allow more nuance into what is called the law of non-contradiction. As Aristotle famously writes, “It is impossible for the same attribute at once to belong and not to belong to the same thing and in the same relation.” [2] So, turning our attention to the two genealogies of Jesus found in the Bible, we can say that Joseph is Jesus’ father and not Jesus’ father, and this is not a logical contradiction. How is that possible? The ways that Joseph is father to Jesus and is not-father to Jesus differ in relation, or sense. Joseph, Mary’s husband, is Jesus’ father in the sense that he raised Jesus and served as his human father. We would say he adopted Jesus. Joseph is not Jesus’ father in the sense that he is not his biological father. He is not Jesus’ true father: the Father, the first person of the Trinity.

Differences in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38

With all of that in mind, let’s turn our attention to Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38. When looking at the two, there are clearly differences: Matthew starts from Abraham and, going in chronological order, ends with Jesus. There appear to be forty-one different names (if we don’t county any names twice, and if we don’t include Mary). David tells us, in verse 17, that these names represent a total of 42 generations: fourteen from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from that exile to Jesus.

Luke, on the other hand, gives his genealogy in reverse chronological order, starting with Jesus and going all the way back to Adam. His list contains seventy-seven names, with no discernible set of groupings.

A closer look yields something else: there are different names in these two genealogies. Both lists have some commonalities (such as the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob-Judah-Perez-Hezron and Boaz-Obed-Jesse-David sections). But between David and Jesus, there are thirty-eight names that differ. It should be obvious that, if both of these genealogies are intended to be true in the same sense, we have a logical contradiction. However, if they are different in sense (or relation, to use Aristotle’s term), then there is no logical contradiction.

The Different Purposes of Matthew’s and Luke’s Genealogies

Before we look at a very likely solution to this problem, we must acknowledge that these genealogies serve slightly different functions in these two Gospels. Though there are four Gospels in the Bible, all telling the same general story of Jesus, they differ in details, structure, and themes. These differences do not mean they contradict each other; rather, the four Gospels complement one another. This fourfold depiction of Jesus enriches our understanding of who he is and what he did for us.

Matthew starts his Gospel with this sentence: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Interestingly, the second word in the original Greek is geneseōs, which might intentionally evoke the beginning of the Bible, the book of Genesis, along with its tôledôt formula: “These are the generations…” (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1; 37:2).The Gospels of Mark and John also recall the beginning of Genesis.

More clearly, Matthew wants us to know that Jesus is the son of Abraham and the son of David. In other words, he wants us to know that Jesus is the long-awaited offspring promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 13:15; 17:8; cf. Gal. 3:16) and the long-awaited son of David (2 Sam. 7:12-16). Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with Abraham, and he is the fulfillment of the covenant God made with David. This is part of Matthew’s emphasis on fulfillment (Matt. 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9). Matthew is highlighting the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah.

Matthew’s arrangement of this genealogy is clearly intentional, for he eliminates some names. In verse 8, he moves from Joram to Uzziah, though we know from 1-2 Kings and 1-2 Chronicles that Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah reigned in between Joram and Uzziah. Matthew is clearly doing this for a purpose. (We should note that “was the father of” [egennēsen] can be used of forefathers, such as grandfathers and great-grandfathers.) Perhaps it is to accommodate his three groups of fourteen generations. As Craig Blomberg explains, “Even though the Old Testament mentions several additional ancestors, Matthew arranges his names into three groups of fourteen, with David as the fourteenth. In Hebrew the gematria (the sum of the numerical equivalents of the consonants in a word) for David was 14 (D+V+D = 4+6+4). Given the popularity of various creative uses of gematria in ancient Judaism, Matthew may well have employed this device to stylize his genealogy and stress Jesus as Son of David.”[3]

Vern Poythress observes something else in Matthew’s genealogy: there are some alternate spellings of the names of kings. This is not an error, as it preserves the same referents (the same individuals) and, as anyone who has read the Bible knows, often people have different names by which they are known. But Matthew might have had deeper theological purposes for these spellings:

By spelling “Asa” as “Asaph,” Matthew refers to king Asa, the son of Abijah; at the same time, on top of this main connection, it creates a literary allusion to or reminiscence of Asaph, of the tribe of Levi, the head of the Levitical singers (1 Chron. 25:1). This allusion subtly suggests that Jesus is not only literally the heir to the kingly line of David, through king Asa, but figuratively and spiritually heir to the Levitical line of priestly activity. By spelling “Amon” as “Amos,” Matthew refers to king Amon, the son of Manasseh and at the same time creates a literary allusion to Amos the prophet. It suggests that Jesus is spiritually the heir to the Old Testament prophets.[4]

This may seem odd to us, but we have no right to demand that Matthew or the other biblical authors write history the way that we would. Any written history is shaped by an author for a particular purpose. This is true of modern biographies as well as ancient ones. The writers of the Gospels shaped their stories according to theological purposes. This does not make their writing any less true or historical.

Luke, on the other hand, does not begin his Gospel with a genealogy. He places his genealogy between two important events in Jesus’ life: his baptism and his temptations in the wilderness. Jesus was baptized to identify himself with sinful humanity, which originated with Adam and Eve and their original sin. This event may also recall the beginning of Jesus: the three persons of the Trinity are present (the Father, the Word [=Jesus], the Spirit). Jesus is, in various ways, depicted in the New Testament as the inauguration of a new creation, one without sin. So, just as the Spirit hovered over the waters at creation (Gen. 1:2), he descends on Jesus while he is in the water of baptism. Just as God declares his creation to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31), the Father says of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

After his genealogy, Luke writes of how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan. Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan’s temptation in the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:1-6). Israel gave into temptation many times in their wilderness wanderings, between the time of the exodus out of Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land (see the book of Numbers, in particular). Jesus, however, as the true Son of God, did not sin when tempted. It seems that Luke is showing that Jesus is not only the hope of Israel, but the hope of the world. Jesus is the one who will crush Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15; cr. Rom. 16:20).

According to I. Howard Marshall, “the point of the genealogy is rather to show that Jesus has his place in the human race created by God. The fact that the genealogy is carried back to Adam, as the son of God, may perhaps point a contrast between this disobedient son of God and the obedient Son of God, Jesus.” [5]

A Solution to an Alleged Contradiction

Some theologians have claimed that Matthew presents Joseph’s genealogy, whereas Luke presents Mary’s. This explanation is unconvincing, however, since both genealogies lead to Joseph. The more likely explanation, one that suits both the Gospel writers’ respective purposes, is that Matthew is presenting a genealogy of the royal heritage of Jesus and Luke is presenting Jesus’ biological genealogy. (Actually, it’s Joseph’s biological genealogy. As Darrell Bock observes, “In the first century, legal status depended on the father, so the most natural way to take the reference to Joseph is as a genealogical reference.” [6]) If Jesus is the true Son of David, the true King, he would be the rightful heir to the throne. So, Matthew indicates this with his genealogy. If Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:45) and the offspring of Abraham, he must be a legal descendant. So, Luke indicates that.

How can these genealogies diverge? How can Jesus be related to Adam, Abraham, and David, on the hand, while the royal accession genealogy found in Matthew have different names from that of Luke? Shouldn’t these genealogies be one and the same?

Gerald Bray, a British theologian, demonstrates how this could work by using an example from his homeland:

To understand just how complex genealogies can be, we need look no further than that of the British royal family. Queen Elizabeth II can trace her ancestry back more or less directly to the accession of George I in 1714, but there is not a straightforward succession from father to son. When we go back to the Tudors (1485-1603) and Stuarts (1603-1714), we find that of the twelve rulers they produced between them, the present queen is descended from only two—Henry VII (1485-1509) and James I (1603-1625). Ironically, although she cannot claim the first Elizabeth as her ancestor, she can include Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary Queen of Scots, whom Elizabeth I executed for her pretensions to the throne of England! Legal and physical descent are very different, and if we do not know the details, we might easily think that one (or both ) of the competing genealogies had been made up. We do not have the background information we need to decide what the different genealogies of Jesus mean, but the British example is a warning that we must be careful not to draw conclusions that may seem obvious on the surface but that are actually quite mistaken. [7]

Bray includes a footnote to that passage: “Of the eleven monarchs since 1714, George II was succeeded by his grandson (1760), George IV by his brother (1830), William IV by his niece (1837), and Edward VIII by his brother (1936).”[8] The point Bray is making is that biological and royal ancestry are not always one and the same. This historical example demonstrates that the suggestion that Matthew and Luke are using two different genealogies—both true in their own senses—is possible.

If this solution is true, then the royal and biological genealogies converge upon Joseph because the one with the royal heritage (Jacob, listed as Joseph’s father in Matt. 1:16) died childless, and his next of kin would be Joseph. It is possible that Jacob and Heli (Joseph’s actual father, according to Luke 3:23) were related or otherwise very close. Perhaps if Heli had died, Joseph would have become Jacob’s heir. An alternate view here is that Matthan, the father of Jacob, father of Joseph (Matt. 1:15-16) is the same person as Matthat, father of Heli, father of Joseph (Luke 3:23-24). Perhaps Matthan/Matthat have two different fathers listed (Eleazar in Matthew; Levi in Luke) because of a levirate marriage,[9] in which case Eleazar, heir to the royal throne, died with child. Eleazar’s brother Levi then married his widow, and they had Matthan/Matthat as a son, who was the biological child of Levi and the royal heir of Eleazar. Given that scenario, then if Jacob, son of Matthan/Matthat, died without child, his nephew, Joseph, son of Heli, would become his heir. These are but two possible (albeit complicated) ways that these genealogies could converge.[10]

We may ever know exactly why Matthew and Luke use differing genealogies. There may be another proposal that makes better sense of the evidence, or more evidence may come to light in the future. However, there is no reason to assume that we have found a real contradiction here. As is so often the case, the Gospels present different information that complements, not contradicts.

A final thought: if these genealogies are so problematic, if one of them is wrong, or one or both are fabricated, would not the earliest Christians have edited one genealogy to match the other? Wouldn’t those who gathered the Gospels together have made them to match? If you assume that things in the Bible are simply made up, why wouldn’t Christians make things up so that they harmonize more easily? The fact that these genealogies are, on the surface, at odds is evidence against the claim that the Gospels are legends or fabrications.

Notes:

[1] Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd ed. rev. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 78.

[2] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1005b 19-20, in Aristotle in 23 Volumes, vols.17, 18, translated by Hugh Tredennick (Medford, MA: Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1933, 1989).

[3] Craig L. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey, 2nd ed. (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2009), 233.

[4] Vern Sheridan Poythress, Inerrancy and the Gospels: A God-Centered Approach to the Challenges of Harmonization (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 70-71.

[5] I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1978), 161.

[6] Darrell L. Bock, Luke 1:1–9:50, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994), 352. I. Howard Marshall adds, “From the legal point of view, Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus, and there was no other way of reckoning his descent” (The Gospel of Luke, 157).

[7] Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 565.

[8] Ibid., 565 n. 26.

[9] Details of a levirate marriage are found in Deut. 25:5-10. Vv. 6-7 state, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” This way, the inheritance and legacy of the man who died without a son could continue.

[10] For more information, see D. A. Carson, Matthew, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 9:88-94.