Reflections on Christians who say “God told me!”

Introduction

Over the years I have read my share of books on the guidance of God and decision making and the Christian. And over the years I have certainly heard my share of statements by Christians such as the following:

 “God told me to start a new ministry”

“God told me to marry this person”

“God told me to join this church”

“God told me to leave this church”

“God told me to move here or there”

“God told me to take this job or leave this job”

I could go on and on.  There are many in the Church that think they have a prophetic word from God and then everyone has to submit to it. And who cares if people have to suffer if they’re wrong. I am not opposed to God speaking to his children in the least bit. I think God wants us to guide his children. I will never forget reading the following by the great theologian J.I. Packer:

“Belief that divine guidance is real rests upon two foundation-facts: first the reality of God’s plan for us; second, the ability of God to communicate with us. On both these facts the Bible has much to say. Has God a plan for individuals? Indeed he has. He has formed an “eternal purpose” (literally, a “plan of the ages”), “a plan for the fulness of time,” in accordance with which he “accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 3:11; 1:10–11 RSV). He had a plan for the redemption of his people from Egyptian bondage, when he guided them through the sea and the desert by means of a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. He had a plan for the return of his people from Babylonian exile, where he guided by setting Cyrus on the throne and stirring up his spirit (Ezra 1:1) to send the Jews home to build their temple. He had a plan for Jesus (see Lk 18:31; 22:22 and so on); Jesus’ whole business on earth was to do his Father’s will (Jn 4:34; Heb 10:7 ,9). God had a plan for Paul (see Acts 21:14; 22:14; 26:16–19; 1 Tim 1:16); in five of his letters Paul announces himself as an apostle “by the will of God.” God has a plan for each of his children.

But can God communicate his plan to us? Indeed he can. As man is a communicative animal, so his Maker is a communicative God. He made known his will to and through the Old Testament prophets. He guided Jesus and Paul. Acts records several instances of detailed guidance (Philip being sent to the desert to meet the Ethiopian eunuch, 8:26, 29; Peter being told to accept the invitation of Cornelius, 10:19–20; the church Antioch being charged to send Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, 13:2; Paul and Silas being called into Europe, 16:6–10; Paul being instructed to press on with his Corinthian ministry, 18:9–10). And though guidance by dreams, visions and direct verbal messages must be judged exceptional and not normal, even for the apostles and their contemporaries, yet these events do at least show that God has no difficulty in making his will known to his servants.

Moreover, Scripture contains explicit promises of divine guidance, whereby we may know God’s plan for our action. “I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you,” says God to David (Ps 32:8 RSV). Isaiah 58:11 contains the assurance that if the people repent and obey, “the Lord will guide you always.” Guidance is a main theme in Psalm 25, where we read, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him” (vv. 8–9,12). So in Proverbs 3:6, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

In the New Testament, the same expectation of guidance appears. Paul’s prayer that the Colossians might be filled “with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” and Epaphras’s prayer that they might “stand firm in all the will of God” (Col 1:9; 4:12), clearly assume that God is ready and willing to make his will known. Wisdom in Scripture always means knowledge of the course of action that will please God and secure life, so that the promise of James 1:5—if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him” (RSV)—is in effect a promise of guidance. “Let your minds be remade and your whole nature thus transformed,” counsels Paul. “Then you will be able to discern the will of God, and to know what is good, acceptable, and perfect” (Rom 12:2 NEB).

Other lines of biblical truth come in here to confirm this confidence that God will guide. First, Christians are God’s sons; and if human parents have a responsibility to give their children guidance in matters where ignorance and incapacity would spell danger, we should not doubt that in the family of God the same applies. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11). Again, Scripture is God’s Word, “profitable” (we read) “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17 RSV). “Teaching” means comprehensive instruction in doctrine and ethics, the work and will of God; “reproof,” “correction” and “training in righteousness” signify the applying of this instruction to our disordered lives; “equipped [ready] for every good work”—that is, a life set to go God’s way—is the promised result. Again, Christians have an indwelling Instructor, the Holy Spirit. “You have been anointed by the Holy One. . . . The anointing which you received from him abides in you, . . . his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie” (1 Jn 2:20, 27 RSV). Doubt as to the availability of guidance would be a slur on the faithfulness of the Holy Spirit to his ministry. It is notable that in Acts 8:29; 10:19; 13:2; 16:6 and most strikingly in the decree of the Jerusalem council—“it has seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us” (15:28)—the giving of guidance is specifically ascribed to the Spirit.

Again, God seeks his glory in our lives, and he is glorified in us only when we obey his will. It follows that, as a means to his own end, he must be ready to teach us his way, so that we may walk in it. Confidence in God’s readiness to teach those who desire to obey underlies all Psalm 119. In Psalm 23:3 David proclaims the reality of God giving guidance for his own glory—“he guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” So we might go on, but the point is sufficiently established. It is impossible to doubt that guidance is a reality intended for, and promised to, every child of God. Christians who miss it thereby show only that they did not seek it as they should. It is right, therefore, to be concerned about one’s own receptiveness to guidance, and to study how to seek it.”—J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 231–233

Challenges in the “God Told Me” Approach

There have always been several challenges with the “God told me” approach such as:

  1. How do you really know it was God?
  2. Does it line up with the objective Word of God? If not, YOU DIDN’T HEAR FROM GOD!
  3. Was it your flesh? Was it another Spirit?

 Let me make some practical suggestions:

1. Be accountable to a Body. For any Christian to approach a church where they are hopefully accountable to and tell them they have to accept a so-called prophetic word from the Lord is wrong. What would help is to ask these people to pray for you and ask them if  they are seeing the same things that God has supposedly told you to do. The point is we need to be accountable.

2. Remember, God has spoken and it is in the text. So much of what God wants us to do is in the Bible. It is true that the Bible doesn’t reveal everything. But if you are out of his moral will (that is in the text), you are out of his individual will.

3. If we look at the Packer quote, he says the following:

Other lines of biblical truth come in here to confirm this confidence that God will guide. First, Christians are God’s sons; and if human parents have a responsibility to give their children guidance in matters where ignorance and incapacity would spell danger, we should not doubt that in the family of God the same applies. “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Mt 7:11)”

I agree with this. God does grant us guidance in areas that might be dangerous or destructive. If special guidance is needed, he can and does give it. But I think in other cases it is not always a sign of spiritual growth to always hear a prophetic Word from God. Perhaps God wants us to grow up and make some choices without Him telling us what to do all the time. After all, that’s what we do with our own kids. While we offer them wisdom  we want them to eventually have the freedom to make choices. Perhaps many of us are stunting our growth because we are always waiting to hear from God when in many cases he has spoken (in the text) and he wants us to move forward.

Have a great day!

A Look at William Lane Craig’s Comment: The Ultimate Apologetic is Your Life

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“More often than not, it is what you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is: your life”-William Lane Craig

This was a quote that I read when I plowed through the Second Edition of Reasonable Faith in 1998. Ever since I read this quote, I have always thought about how my life might be an apologetic. In other words, do my words and actions reflect the One who is one we represent? To be honest, the quote has convicted me over the years. And without giving a sense of false humility, I know I don’t always live the apologetic life. I even know people who are Christians who have observed other Christians who are very well read in the field of Christian apologetics but note that the lifestyle of the individual doesn’t match up with what they profess with their lips. Just this past week I had the opportunity to teach on The Sermon on the Mount at a local church. Yes, I was convicted about how challenging it is to live out the very characteristics that show the reign of God is here. So anyway, let me go ahead and focus on a couple of areas and ask how we might live the apologetic life:

Two passages that have always challenged me are the following:

“ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”-Galatians 5: 22-26

”Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” –Ephesians 5: 17-20

If you are like me and love to defend the resurrection of Jesus, you hopefully know that living the resurrected life is a challenge. One aspect of resurrection is the how it impacts our present life: We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event). Eph. 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).

When Jesus rose from the dead, He not only reversed the curse of death (1 Cor. 55-56) but also broke the power of sin in this life for us. This doesn’t mean we will be perfect. But it does mean we can have a transformed life and victory over sin in this present life.

The bottom line is that the only way we can possibly appropriate passages like the ones above is to be empowered by the Holy Spirit and depend on the Him every day of our lives. This means we need a good understanding of pneumatology. The Holy Spirit has been described as one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts; hence refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate in court. Therefore, you can forget about reflecting our Lord without knowing the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is your Helper on a daily basis. The question is, “How much does the Spirit have of us?” There is more fullness in our lives that comes from the Spirit’s influence in our lives (Eph. 5:18). We are commanded to be filled with the Spirit. The more yielded we are, hence, a willingness to follow the Spirit (and doing so) produces this filling. Attitudes of unforgiveness, bitterness, and carnal behavior will not reflect the fruit of the Spirit.

So what is the bottom line? When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, people will see the character of Christ in us. They won’t have to beat it out of us. As much as I read and study apologetics, I long to see these traits in me on a daily basis. What about you?

Do College Students Care About Truth?

Over the last ten years I have done outreach on a major college campus (The Ohio State University which has 56,000 students). I have had hundreds of spiritual conversations with students and direct an apologetics ministry called Ratio Christi Student Apologetics Alliance. It is no secret that many apologists have written books on the Truth question. In other words, the statement “we are living in postmodern times” has almost become cliche in today’s society. Hence, because of the impact of post-modernism, many seem to assume that college students are not interested in objective truth. So the supposed fallout is that people are not asking whether Christianity is true. Given my experience on the campus, I will respond to this issue. So the good news is that I am truly speaking from personal experience.

I will go ahead and give some definitions of truth here. These are taken from Dr. Norman Geisler’s Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Apologetics, pgs,741-745.

Here we see Dr. Geisler comment on what truth is not and then give an argument for the correspondence theory of truth.

Geisler says:

#1 Truth is not “what works.” One popular theory is the pragmatic view of William James and his followers that truth is what works. According to James, “Truth is the expedient in the way of knowing. A statement is known to be true if it brings the right results. It is the expedient as confirmed by future experience.” That this is inadequate is evident from its confusion of cause and effect. If something is true it will work, at least in the long run. But simply because something works does not make it true. This is not how truth is understood in court. Judges tend to regard the expedient as perjury. Finally, the results do not settle the truth question. Even when results are in, one can still ask whether the initial statement corresponded to the facts. If it did not, it was not true, regardless of the results.

#2 Truth is not “that which coheres.” Some thinkers have suggested that truth is what is internally consistent; it is coherent and self-consistent. But this too is an inadequate definition. Empty statements hang together, even though they are devoid of truth content. “All wives are married women” is internally consistent, but it is empty. It tells us nothing about reality. The statement would be so, even if there were no wives. It really means, “If there is a wife, then she must be married.” But it does not inform us that there is a wife anywhere in the universe. A set of false statements also can be internally consistent. If several witnesses conspire to misrepresent the facts, their story may cohere better than if they were honestly trying to reconstruct the truth. But it still is a lie. At best, coherence is a negative test of truth. Statements are wrong if they are inconsistent, but not necessarily true if they are.

#3 Truth is not “that which was intended.” Some find truth in intentions, rather than affirmations. A statement is true if the author intends it to be true and false if he does not intend it to be true. But many statements agree with the intention of the author, even when the author is mistaken. “Slips of the tongue” occur, communicating a falsehood or misleading idea the communicator did not intend. If something is true because someone intended it to be true, then all sincere statements ever uttered are true—even those that are patently absurd. Sincere people are often sincerely wrong.

#4 Truth is not “what is comprehensive.” Another idea is that the view that explains the most data is true. And those that are not as comprehensive are not true—or not as true. Comprehensiveness is one test for truth, but not the definition of truth. Certainly a good theory will explain all relevant data. And a true worldview will be comprehensive. However, this is only a negative test of whether it is true. The affirmations of that view must still correspond with the real state of affairs. If a view was true simply because it was more encyclopedic, then a comprehensive statement of error would be true and a digested presentation of truth automatically would be in error. Not all long-winded presentations are true and concise ones are not all false. One can have a comprehensive view of what is false or a superficial or incomplete view of what is true.

#5 Truth is not “what feels good.” The popular subjective view is that truth gives a satisfying feeling, and error feels bad. Truth is found in our subjective feelings. Many mystics and new age enthusiasts hold versions of this faulty view, though it also has a strong influence among some experientially oriented Christian groups. It is evident that bad news can be true. But if what feels good is always true, then we would not have to believe anything unpleasant. Bad report cards do not make a student feel good, but the student refuses to believe them at his or her academic peril. They are true. Feelings are also relevant to individual personalities. What feels good to one may feel bad to another. If so, then truth would be highly relative. But, as will be seen in some detail in the next article, truth cannot be relative. Even if truth makes us feel good—at least in the long run—this does not mean that what feels good is true. The nature of truth does not depend on the result of truth.

#6 Truth is not “what is existentially relevant.” Following Soren Kierkegaard and other existential philosophers, some have insisted that truth is what is relevant to our existence or life and false if it is not. Truth is subjectivity. Kierkegaard said: truth is livable. As Martin Buber stated, truth is found in persons, not in propositions. However, even if truth is existential in some sense, not all truth fits into the existential category. There are many kinds of truth, physical, mathematical, historical, and theoretical. But if truth by its very nature is found only subjectively in existential relevance, then none of these could be truth. What is true will be relevant, but not everything relevant is true. A pen is relevant to an atheist writer. And a gun is relevant to a murderer. But this does not make the former true nor the latter good. A truth about life will be relevant to life. But not everything relevant to one’s life will be true.

#7 What Truth Is: Correspondence with Reality Now that the inadequate views of the nature of truth have been examined, it remains to state an adequate view. Truth is what corresponds to its referent. Truth about reality is what corresponds to the way things really are. Truth is “telling it like it is.” This correspondence applies to abstract realities as well as actual ones. There are mathematical truths. There are also truths about ideas. In each case there is a reality, and truth accurately expresses it. Falsehood, then is what does not correspond. It tells it like it is not, misrepresenting the way things are.

So after reading these tests for truth, what do I see out there?

Do I see college students who know about these tests for truth? Of course not. And which test for truth do I see the most when talking to students about the truth claims of Christianity? I will skip #2, #3, and #4. These tests for truth almost never come up.

The most popular view today seems to be #1 (a pragmatic view of truth) and then coming in second place is a tie between #5 and #6 (“Truth is what feels good” and “Truth is what is existentially relevant”).

Many, many, students are viewing the Christian faith as something that helps them have a better life. In other words, they are not asking whether it is objectively true. Comments like “I don’t see what difference Jesus would make in my life” and “I don’t think it is relevant whether God exists or Jesus is the Son of God” are somewhat common.

This shouldn’t be surprising given our entire culture is built on pragmatism. After all, people go to college to get a job that will work for them and help them get a good job. Furthermore, the Church has been embracing pragmatism for a long time. John MacArthur wrote an article called Church Pragmatism a long time ago. Not much has changed.

So what about atheists?

The one bright spot is that since popular atheists started writing their books and we saw a more aggresive approach towards atheism on the campus, I so see some interest in the truth question. In other words, atheism has caused some people to ask whether a belief is objectively true and corresponds to reality. Ravi Zacharias once said,

“There is just enough of the modern worldview left so that reason still has a point of entry. But we have to use this knowledge wisely. We cannot give an overdose of argumentation.”- “An Ancient Message, Through Modern Means To the Postmodern Mind” in Telling the Truth: Evangelizing Postmoderns, 2002, p. 27

Many of our speakers at Ohio State appeal to modern (not post-modern) objections such as science, evidence, miracles, etc. So this is why our speakers like Frank Turek and William Lane Craig have had good turnouts for their events.

What is my solution?

So you may say well it is nice that we have some success with our apologetic speakers. But what about all those people that just don’t care or don’t respond to apologetic arguments?

My response is the same as it has always been. I share the Gospel, answer objections and if I see people are lapsing into a pragmatic or subjective view of truth, I simply say “So the first question is whether the Christian story is actually true.” In other words, I just bring the person back around to the issue of objective truth. Believe it or not, many people say tell me that once they think about what I am saying it is clear that it does matter if Christianity is objectively true. How they feel about whether God exists or the resurrection of Jesus won’t change the fact as to whether it is objectively true and corresponds to reality. So I think it is incumbent upon me to explain what objective truth is and how the person can’t avoid it!

Why not stick with pragmatism?

So why not ask the question as to whether religious beliefs can be tried and tested out in the reality of life? This does have some merit. After all, if the Christian faith is the one true path, it should make a radical difference in the reality of life. The challenge of this argument is that in some cases, it seems Christianity doesn’t work. Christians have challenges in their families, work related issues and relationships. However, just because Christians don’t always reflect the character of Jesus and don’t always show the difference it makes, this doesn’t mean Christianity is false. Furthermore, the Gospel is not “What Can Jesus Do For Me?” but instead a call to die to ourselves and follow the Lord (Luke 9:23).

So the pragmatic argument can be a tricky one. If I was to stick with the pragmatic view of truth, sadly, when it seems Christianity doesn’t work, people tend to leave the faith and pick another spirituality. Trust me, it happens all the time. So in conclusion, I think that apologists are responsible for taking people back to the correspondence theory of truth. It is this test for truth that we live our lives by on a daily basis.

The Dangers of a Hardened Heart

Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.-Hebrews 3: 7-12

Introduction

Over the years I have seen a lot of hardened hearts. This doesn’t pertain just to skeptics. Christians can succumb to the same problem. Obviously, when we talk about the heart, we are not literally saying somebody’s heart (that pumps blood) is hardened. What we are really talking about is one’s conscience. Before the time of Jesus and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality. The Hebrew Bible does not have a word for conscience. Instead, it is usually translated as the “heart” or “leb,” or “lebad.” The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Jewish mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for heart is “kardia” which came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one’s conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter.” In Romans 2:15, “suneidesis” stands alongside with the “heart” and “thoughts” as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. This moral knowledge is what C.S. Lewis discusses in The Abolition of Man. Lewis recalls that all cultures, Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian, Babylonian etc. show that natural revelation is true. It is instantaneously apprehended.

A quick glance at the Gospels shows that Jesus had problems with the hardness of heart. It is important to note that not all witnesses that saw his miracles believed. John says, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). Jesus himself said of some, “They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). One result, though not the purpose, of miracles is condemnation of the unbeliever (cf. John 12:31, 37). (4) So the Biblical pattern of miracles is the following:

Sign/Miracle—–Knowledge is Imparted—–Should Result in Obedience/Active Participation

As we look at these examples, I will repeat it again:Both the Christian and the non-Christian are both susceptible to a hardened heart. I don’t want to pass judgment on anyone’s situation. I know that life itself can harden all of us. Losing a job, family difficulties, and disappointment can all harden us towards the ways of God.

So let’s take a look at each heart and see where you are at in your relationship with God:

Heart #1

This person’s conscience has been informed or trained by proper instruction. This is one of the functions of the Scriptures, parents, and teachers. These three vehicles are given to inform our conscience, and to apply God’s law to our life. This heart is very sensitive towards the ways of God. The person who has this heart desires to keep their heart pure before God and by God’s grace attempts to walk in a daily relationship with Him. They have a healthy reverence for God and know while God is the Creator, they are the created ones. This person knows “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1:7) This person has realized what Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3) is true.

Even though this individual blows it at times, they know it is folly to turn away from God. Obviously, this person has received Jesus Christ into their lives and has received a cleansed conscience and a new birth (see John 3). In other words, they have appropriated the following: “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Heb.9: 13-14).

Heart #2

While this person has received the new birth – they have become a Christian, they have now have begun to face some major temptations and trials. They may not be in regular discipleship and are not living a disciplined life before God. Disappointments and setbacks are causing this individual to question the goodness of God. They are beginning to develop a heart of rebellion. Being around other Christians has become more of a burden and the joy and praying and reading the Bible is becoming more of a challenge every day. This person needs to come to God and ask him for the grace to be sustained in these trials and to turn away from anything that may cause them to grow more hardened in the future.

Heart #3

This person can be a Christian who has allowed their conscience to become dull, or seared (1 Tim. 4:2). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sin has a way of causing the heart to grow harder and harder towards the ways of God. Sin also dampens a person’s ability to be receptive towards God’s invitation to them. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit. Or, this person has reached the point where they say “I don’t care what God thinks!” Sometimes people don’t want the rule of Christ in their lives. This individual is in serious trouble and needs to recognize the need for repentance.

The Hardness of Heart -The Unbeliever

A hardened heart can also be applied to a non-Christian who has continually rejected the message of the Gospel. As just mentioned, this person can also be someone who has allowed their conscience to become dull, or seared (1 Tim. 4:2). God has sent them several messengers to speak to them about this issue. Sadly, they won’t listen. While they say they are open to looking at the evidence, this individual doesn’t want the rule of Christ in their lives. So as they look at the evidence, the more elusive it becomes.

As time goes on, this person’s heart has grown so hardened towards God that they can’t even recognize that God has been offering his invitation to them on a daily basis. They have forgotten that sin can dampen the cognitive faculties that God has given us to find Him. Therefore, sin has damaging consequences on the knowing process (Is. 6:9-10; Zech. 7:11-12; Matt. 13:10-13).

This person may be able to identify with the following comment by Alvin Plantinga:

” Our original knowledge of God and his glory is muffled and impaired; it has been replaced (by virtue of sin) by stupidity, dullness, blindness, inability to perceive God or to perceive him in his handiwork. Our knowledge of his character and his love toward us can be smothered: it can be transformed into resentful thought that God is to be feared and mistrusted; we may see him as indifferent or even malignant. In the traditional taxonomy of seven deadly sins, this is sloth. Sloth is not simple laziness, like the inclination to lie down and watch television rather than go out and get exercise you need; it is, instead, a kind of spiritual deadness, blindness, imperceptiveness, acedia, torpor, a failure to be aware of God’s presence, love, requirements.” (Warranted Christian Belief. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2000, 214-215).

Conclusion

Every Christian needs to examine his/her relationship with God on a regular basis. It is also evident that sin has grave consequences for both the Christian and the non-Christian. If you want to have a hard heart that ignores the truth of God He will grant your wish if you continue to rebel against him. The only remedy for a hardened heart is a spirit of repentance.

Bart Ehrman on Did Nazareth Exist?

A few years back, I saw a lecture at a local university where a Jesus myther (those that say Jesus didn’t exist), say that there is no evidence for the existence of Nazareth. Of course, I knew it was a wacky claim then. It still is. Anyway, Bart Ehrman has anew blog post called  Did Nazareth Exist? Enjoy!

Can We Reconcile The Messiah Ben David and The Messiah Ben Joseph Tradition in Judaism?

Should Christians try to share the message of the Jesus the Messiah with their Jewish neighbors? This has always been a thorny topic. Anyone who has studied Church history knows that our relationship with the Jewish people hasn’t always worked out for the best. One comment is helpful here:

But despite the past and present issues of anti-Semitism and bad theology, I am saddened to see many Christians being duped into what is called Dual Covenant Theology. I do think it is abundantly clear that if Christians decided that Jewish people don’t need Jesus, they would have to ignore many passages in the Bible itself.

Christians need to remember that the purpose of Israel was not to be a blessing to herself. Therefore, through her witness, the world will either be attracted or repelled towards the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The entire promise to Abraham in Gen 12:3 exhibit’s God’s plan to bless the nations. It should be no surprise that in Matthew’s opening chapter, he says, “The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham “(Matt. 1:1). The Messiah is not only of Davidic descent, but will bring fulfillment to the Abrahamic Covenant. Also, Matthew emphasizes Jesus’ mission to help Israel fulfill it’s calling (Matt. 10:5-6;15:24), as well as Jesus’ command to bring the nations into God’s redemptive plan (Matt 28:19).

In relation to the work of  Jesus, while a remnant believed in Him, what is more significant is that Christianity is now the home of 1.4 billion adherents. Sure, large numbers don’t make a faith true. But another traditional view is that the Messiah will spread the knowledge of the God of Israel to the surrounding nations (Isa.11:9;40:5;52:8). Are there any other messianic candidates that have enabled the world to come to the knowledge of the one true God other than Jesus? As a Gentile Christian, I and others have benefited from the Abrahamic Covenant.

We see in the Book of Acts that the apostles preached that everyone needs to believe explicitly in Jesus, both Jews and Gentiles. Even Peter said to God-fearing Cornelius, that it is “through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins” (10:43). Paul also made an appeal to the Jewish audience at Pisidian Antioch to believe in Jesus because it is “through Jesus [that] the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified” (13:38–39, NIV).

Also, Christians need to follow Paul’s example in that he showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5;10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). For Paul, the resurrection was God’s stamp of approval on Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel (Rom. 1:3-4). Paul also understood that since the Gentiles have received the blessing of knowing the Messiah, they now have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in sharing the Good News of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Don’t assume Jewish people believe in a personal Messiah. Many of them have never thought about it. Furthermore, if there is a Messiah, he is not divine. For the most part all Jewish people  know  that Jesus is not for them.

Remember, regarding the Messiah issue:

  • The Jewish Scriptures records the history of those who were anointed  for a specific purpose such as  priests (Exod. 28:41; 29:7, 29; 30:30; Lev 7:36; 8:12; 16:32;), kings (Jdg. 9:8; 9:15; 1 Sam 9:16; 10:1; 15:1, 17; 16:3, 12, 13; 2 Sam 2:4, 7; 3:39; 5:3; prophets (1 Kings 19:16; 1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 105:15).

  • Notice these figures were all in the present.

  • None of these texts speak of a future figure.  Of course, there are texts that speak of a future figure. For example, Daniel 9:25-26 where it speaks of an “anointed one” who will ‘finish transgression, put and end to sin, bring everlasting righteousness, seal up vision and prophecy, and anoint the Most Holy Place” (Dan. 9:24) .

  • There were names were used to describe the messianic person other than the “Messiah.” Some of the names include Son of David, Son of God, Son of Man, Prophet, Elect One, Servant, Prince, Branch, Root, Scepter, Star, Chosen One, and Coming One.

  • Let’s look at one of these names for the Messiah: Daniel 7:13-14: The Glorious, Ruling King.
  • In this passage, we see the following:
  • God is bringing a figure with a status over angelic millions in a heavenly court scene.

  • The figure will be given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations, and men of every language will serve him.

  • He is given a kingdom by the Ancient of days, so he must be interpreted as an individual, namely a king.

  • Clouds-as well as riding on or with clouds- are a common attribute of biblical divine appearances, called theophanies (“God appearances”).

  • Rabbi Akiba (2nd century AD) proposed that one of the thrones in Dan 7:9 should be for God and another for David (a name for the Messiah).

  • How the Son of Man is used in the New Testament
  • The “Son of Man” (bar nash, or bar nasha)  expression  is employed to the earthly ministry of Jesus  (Mk. 2:10,28; 10:45; Matt. 13:37).

  •  Son of Man is used to describe the suffering,  death and resurrection of Jesus (Mk. 8:31;9:31;10:33).

  • Son of Man has a future function as an eschatological judge (Matt. 25:31-36; Mark 14:60-65).

The Suffering, Lowly Rejected Messiah

After the time of Jesus, the rabbis tried to reconcile the passages about the suffering and rejected Messiah with the ruling, kingly Messiah. For example, we just looked at Daniel 7:13-14. But let’s look at the following:

Zechariah 9: 9

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion!  Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king  is coming to you,  a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey,  on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim,  and the horse from Jerusalem; The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River[ to the ends of the earth.

Here is a comment by a rabbi on this topic:

“The Bible hints that two different figures will play important roles in Israel’s redemption. During the Second Temple period, the prophet Zechariah offered an oracle about the people of Jerusalem “lamenting to [God] about those who are slain … showing bitter grief as over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). The book of Daniel also contains a cryptic reference to “an anointed one [who] will disappear and vanish” (Daniel 9:26). These fallen would-be heroes came to be identified with the Messiah ben Joseph.” -Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope,

Messiah Ben Joseph and Messiah Ben David:

There is an established tenet in Talmudic times is that there is a splitting of the Messiah in two. This is why it says in the Talmud, “If they [the people of Israel] are worthy of [the Messiah] he will come ‘with the clouds of heaven’ [Dan 7:13] ;if they are not worthy, ‘lowly and riding upon a donkey’ [Zech. 9:9]” (b. Sanhedrin 98a).

“It is well according to him who explains that the cause is the slaying of Messiah the son of Joseph, since that well agrees with the Scriptural verse, And they shall look upon me because they have thrust him through, and they shall mourn for him as one mourneth for his only son; …[b. Sukkah 52a]

Who is  Messiah Ben Joseph?

  • He is descended from our patriarch and matriarch Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph—makes early appearances in the Talmud and midrash literature.

  • He is a successor of Messiah Ben David who will rise up during the birth pangs of the Messiah (the last days).

  • He will command the hosts of Israel in combat, overseeing incredible victories, killing the king of Rome, restoring to Jewish hands the precious Temple vessels stolen by the Romans, before perishing in battle.

  • For forty days the Messiah ben Joseph’s body will lie in the streets of Jerusalem, untouched—until the Messiah ben David arrives, sees to his resurrection, and ushers in Israel’s triumphant redemption.

  • Now keep in mind the Messiah Ben Joseph is legendary. There are not really two different messianic figures in the Bible who are two separate figures. Instead, in contrast to this rabbinic model, the New Testament applies both the suffering and ruling predictions to one person, Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Sources
  1. Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, Jewish Lights Publishing.

Religious Epistemology, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, by Thomas H. McCall

I have been trying to read through the book Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith: A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. The good news is that if you are interested, you can read the first chapter for free here. It is called Religious Epistemology, Theological Interpretation of Scripture, by Thomas H. McCall. I think it is a relevant topic.

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