When Will We Move Beyond the Basics? The Dumbing Down of the Church

1. The introduction to the job
2. The training/equipping for the job
3. Time to do the job!

The youth leader lamented that much of the Church has gotten many of our youth (and even older Christians) to point #1. But we have not gotten many of them to points #2 and #3. I agree with this leaders assessment. I see it over and over. But how did this happen? I think there are many reasons for this problem, but I will list a few:

1. We live in an overly sensate culture: With all the reality TV shows, video games, cell phones, texting, etc, means people want to be constantly stimulated. They want quick answers and have short attention spans. So pastors and leaders have had to try to adjust their ministry to this problem. In other words, the culture has rubbed off on the Church. Christians are being conformed to the image of the culture, not the other way around. Sadly, many Christians are just impatient. They want fast answers without exerting much effort.

2. We don’t know what it means to be created in the image of God: Can we all agree that we see in Scripture that the God of Israel is a rational being, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature? It is evident that God calls on us to use our reason (Isa. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:15; Matt. 22:36-37). God is a rational being, and He created us as rational beings. So we can agree that since humans are created in the image of God, reason is not opposed to revelation; it is part of it. Learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning play an integral part in our service to our Lord.

3. What is the Great Commision? I would say that probably most sermons on Matthew 28:19 have focused on the “go” part and forgotten the rest of the text. The text says that a large part of the Great Commission is to make disciples. We are to baptize new believers and we are to teach them. If we have not made disciples, we have have not fulfilled the Great Commission.

The Hebrew word for disciple is “talmid.” A talmid is a student of one of the sages of Israel. A disciple is a learner, or pupil. When we decide to repent and turn to our Lord for the forgiveness of sins, we have to realize we are now on a new journey. The Gospel is a message for the here and now- not just the future. We have to learn how to live out our faith in the world around us. A disciple (in the New Testament sense) is someone who is striving by God’s grace to be consistent follower of Jesus. The goal of the Christian is to imitate our Master.

Discipleship takes a commitment between the discipler and the one being discipled. And for those that say they don’t need discipleship- I pity you. Sorry to be so blunt. But without discipleship, you are destined for failure. There is no such thing as a Long Ranger Christian. Also, discipleship involves teachability. I have run into my share of those who know it all and can’t be told or taught a thing. Pride is the central problem in this area. So sad.

Discipleship is not getting any easier in the world we live in. Part of the problem is that churches preach a Gospel that promises that Jesus will fix all our problems. And when things get tough, many people bail out. A long-term commitment to our Lord which involves self denial (Luke 9:23) is hard to swallow for those that have been told The American Dream is the only way of happiness.

Conclusion:

To all youth leaders and ministry leaders:

Perhaps you are saying we can’t change this problem. My suggestion is to find the few that are interested in being conformed to the image of the Messiah and not the other way around. Remember, Jesus had twelve men. Stop basing your success on how many youth or people you have in your church or ministry! The issue is quality not quantity!

Why Would Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins, or Stephen Hawking, Care About Racism In Charlottesville?

Once again, the hot topic of racism and bigotry in Charlottesville shows that people live as if they care about justice, equality, and human rights. Yes, people do seem to matter. But to someone like Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins, or Stephen Hawking, why do humans matter so much and why would they be outraged over all these issues? Let’s look at their views of humans:

“Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”-Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3. This essay was originally published in 1903.

“In a universe of 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 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 blind, pitiless indifference”- Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books. 1995), 133.

“The human race is just a chemical scum on a moderate-sized planet, orbiting around a very average star in the outer suburb of one among a hundred billion galaxies. We are so insignificant that I can’t believe the whole universe exists for our benefit. That would be like saying that you would disappear if I closed my eyes.”- Stephen Hawking,  From an interview with Ken Campbell on Reality on the Rocks: Beyond Our Ken, 1995

Once again, we see the following: 

1.Most people know this world is not what it is supposed to be?  How do you know what the world should look like unless you have some clue as to what is just and unjust?

2. People complain that real evils — both moral and natural — take place in the world around them. 

3. People fight for justice as if they know how things ought to be, but are not. They assume a standard of justice and goodness. On a secular worldview, things just happen. There is no grand plan or purpose behind the evil/injustice we observe. Evil is just a social construct. 

4. On a biblical worldview, there is a design plan that has gone wrong because humans violated a standard of goodness and justice that has been established by God. To say something is evil in the world already points to a standard of goodness that’s being violated.

Bottom line: There are two views of humans:

Option #1: All humans are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26-27):  From a Biblical standpoint, all human beings enjoy the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Thus, all humans have a right to human dignity (i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or rank or any other way). Because humans are made in the likeness of a personal God, they are essentially valuable.  Rights come by virtue of who we are by nature (or essence), not our function.

Option #2: Humans are the result of undirected natural processes:

All reality is reducible to matter and chance. Biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism says that impersonal/physical, valueless processes produce valuable, rights-bearing persons. Humans can assign people value by choice. They don’t appeal to any transcendent source. It is purely subjective.

What Happens When Christians Forget Apologetics is Not Evangelism

Over the years, I have run into alot of Christians that tell me they tried to use apologetics arguments with their friends or skeptical family members only to realize the person never came to faith in our Lord. In other words they say “I have tried using apologetics with people and it doesn’t work.” So once again, they walk away frustrated and say they have lost motivation to study apologetics. This isn’t always the case.  I have seen many testimonies of those that use apologetics to great success. But to those who are frustrated, let me clarify something: apologetics is not evangelism. Yes there is some overlap between apologetics and evangelism. But let’s see what  Mark Dever’s says in his book The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. I appreciate these comments about the relationship between evangelism and apologetics. There can be a tendency to confuse them. Dever says:

“People mistake apologetics for evangelism. Like the activities we’ve considered above, apologetics itself is a good thing. We are instructed by Peter to be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). And apologetics is doing exactly that. Apologetics is answering questions and objections people may have about God or Christ, or about the Bible or the message of the gospel. Apologists for Christianity argue for its truth. They maintain that Christianity better explains that sense of longing that all people seem to have. Christianity better explains human rationality. It fits better with order. They may argue (as C. S. Lewis does in Mere Christianity) that it better fits with the moral sense that people innately have. It copes better with problems of alienation and anxiety. Christians may – and should – argue that Christianity’s frankness about death and mortality commends it. These can be good arguments to have. Answering questions and defending parts of the good news may often be a part of conversations Christians have with non-Christians, and while that may have been a part of our own reading or thinking or talking as we came to Christ, such activity is not evangelism. Apologetics can present wonderful opportunities for evangelism. Being willing to engage in conversations about where we came from or what’s wrong with this world can be a significant way to introduce honest discussions about the gospel. For that matter, Christians can raise questions with their non-Christian friends about the purpose of life, what will happen after death, or the identity of Jesus Christ. Any of these topics will take work and careful thought, but they can easily lead into evangelism. It should also be said that apologetics has its own set of dangers. You might unwittingly confirm someone in their unbelief by your inability to answer questions that are impossible to answer anyway.

You can easily leave the impression that if you don’t know how to answer your friends’ questions, then you don’t really know enough to believe that the Christian gospel is true either. But just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we don’t know anything. All knowledge in this world is limited. We proceed from what we know, and we work that out. Everyone, from the youngest child to the most celebrated research scientist, does this. Apologetics can be very important work, but it should be undertaken with care. By far the greatest danger in apologetics is being distracted from the main message. Evangelism is not defending the virgin birth or defending the historicity of the resurrection. Apologetics is defending the faith, answering the questions others have about Christianity. It is responding to the agenda that others set. Evangelism, however, is following Christ’s agenda, the news about him. Evangelism is the positive act of telling the good news about Jesus Christ and the way of salvation through him.

One of the most common and dangerous mistakes in evangelism is to misinterpret the results of evangelism – the conversion of unbelievers – for evangelism itself, which is the simple telling of the. gospel message. This may be the most subtle misunderstanding, yet it is a misunderstanding still. Evangelism must not be confused with its fruit. Now, if you combine this misunderstanding with a misunderstanding of the gospel itself, and of what the Bible teaches about conversion, then it is very possible to end up thinking not only that evangelism is seeing others converted, but thinking that it is within our power to do it! According to the Bible, converting people is not in our power. And evangelism may not be defined in terms of results but only in terms of faithfulness to the message preached. John Stott has said, “To ‘evangelize’ . . . does not mean to win converts . . . but simply to announce the good news, irrespective of the results.” To evangelize is to spread the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead according to the Scriptures, and that as the reigning Lord he now offers the forgiveness of sins and the liberating gift of the Spirit to all who repent and believe.”—  Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism,  (pgs. 76-79).

Now keep in mind that if you aren’t weaving in the Gospel in your discussions with people, you really aren’t doing evangelism. Yes, apologetics can be considered a part of pre-evangelism. But you need to remember that your job is to share the Gospel, be faithful and do your best to answer your friends questions and then leave the results to God. If we take this approach, it will take alot of the burden off you. Be encouraged and press on!

 

Alister McGrath on the Ernst Troeltsch Objection to the Resurrection of Jesus

alister mcgrath

Here is a common objection to the resurrection of Jesus that I hear from critics and others in academic circles. Alister McGrath addressed it here:

“The third line of criticism of the historicity of the resurrection is due to the German sociologist Ernst Troeltsch, who argued that, as dead men don’t rise, Jesus couldn’t have risen. The basic principle underlying this objection goes back to David Hume, and concerns the need for present-day analogues for historical events. Before accepting that an event took place in the past, we need to be persuaded that it still takes place in the present. Troeltsch asserted that since we have no contemporary experi¬ence of the resurrection of a dead human being, we have reason for supposing that no dead man has ever been raised.

Of course, as Christianity has insisted that the resurrection of Jesus was a unique historical event, the absence of present-day analogues is only to be expected. If people were raised from the dead on a regular basis, there would be no difficulty in accepting that Jesus Christ had been thus raised. But it would not stand out. It would not be different. It would not say anything, either about the identity of Jesus himself, or about the God who chose to raise him in this way. The resurrection was taken so seriously because it was realized that it was totally out of the ordinary, unique in the proper sense of the word.

 

Nevertheless, a more sophisticated reply to this line of criticism is needed. The most vigorous response to Troeltsch’s criticism has been made by Wolfhart Pannenberg, who pointed out that Troeltsch had adopted a remarkably dogmatic view of reality, based upon questionable metaphysical presuppositions, effectively dictating what could and could not have happened in history on the basis of his preconceived views. Troeltsch, Pannenberg argued, had already laid down in advance that the resurrection could not happen. The argument seemed to move as follows:

 

a. Dead people do not rise from the dead.
b. Therefore Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead.
c. End of discussion.

 

But this is unacceptably superficial. The philosophical question of induction, noted earlier, does not allow the conclusion to be drawn from the premise. Observation does not determine fixed laws, which may be used to determine whether something did or did not happen in the past. It merely establishes the probability of events of a certain type.”

To read the full article called The Resurrection by Alister McGrath, see here.

A Look at Cognitive Dissonance and How People Come to Resolution

Just recently I have been reading a new book by Christian philosopher Greg Gansslle. His latest book is called  Our Deepest Desires: How the Christian Story Fulfills Human Aspirations. In it, he says the following:

“Cognitive dissonance is tension that arises when our beliefs come into conflict with each other. I often experience this tension when I try to find my keys. I believe I left them on the counter next to my wallet, but they are not there. I have one belief based on my memory and another based on the fact that I don’t see them where I expect to see them. These beliefs conflict with each other. I want to find my keys, but I also want to find an explanation for the dissonance. Why were the keys not where I thought they would be? I keep looking for a resolution. If I figure out the problem, I feel a sense of relief. Finding my keys is a simple case. Cognitive dissonance in other cases can be deep and persistent. Scholars sifting through complex evidence face a deeper kind of cognitive dissonance. It often takes a great deal of time to work out their ideas and find resolution.

When we experience dissonance, we strive for resolution. We want to remove the tension. We cannot remain in a state of conflict for significant periods of time. We achieve resolution by revising either the content of our beliefs and desires or by revising the ordering of our beliefs and desires. We will often change our beliefs to fit our loves. We are less ready to change our loves to fit our beliefs

It is important for me to make it clear that I shall not argue that Christianity is true. I believe it is true, but for most people, the question of whether it is true is not the most important question. My suspicion is that there are many people who think something like the following: “I am pretty sure that Christianity is not true, and it is a good thing that it is not.” I want to challenge the second part of this thought. I hope to persuade readers that it would be a good thing if Christianity turned out to be true. For this reason, I will explore elements of our experience that we care deeply about, and I will point out how the Christian picture of reality makes sense of these elements. The assumptions by which we navigate our lives include more than what we believe. They include our desires or our loves. It is not only what I think is true that will affect how I pursue the best life. It is also what I most want.”

In regards to these comments by Ganssle, I have been told religious people are the ones who have to struggle with cognitive dissonance. This happens when Christians are given objections by atheists or people from other faiths. Well, guess what? All people deal with issues of cognitive dissonance. It is part of life. Yes, atheists as well.

If someone is a skeptic, and says that God must not exist or that miracles are not possible and they are challenged with dissonance, in many cases, they will seek out evidence that confirms their hypothesis and dismiss evidence that might overturn their position.  Likewise, if someone presupposes that God does exist or comes to the conclusion that God does exist by their own investigation, when challenged, they will seek evidence to continually support such a claim as well.  Thus, we tend to fill in the dissonance by looking for evidence that confirms our beliefs. Same goes for Muslims, Mormons, and others.

This doesn’t mean there is no objectivity involved here. But in many cases the bias and starting points are the same. Both parties are looking for evidence for their position and they cite books and articles to back up their points. Also, both sides can tend to dismiss each other when they cite an authority on some given topic.

But what about  Ganssle’s comments about we tend to want to cling to what we love more than what is true? Keep in mind, when we say something is true, we mean it matches reality. But yes, in many cases, we do pick what we love and desire over what is true. I have seen this happen quite frequently.  Ganssle also quotes the famous atheist  Bertrand Russell  who said:

“Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast heat death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”-Bertrand Russell, “A Free Man’s Worship,” in Selected Papers of Bertrand Russell (New York: Modern Library, 1927), 2-3. This essay was originally published in 1903.

So the question becomes, do some people love and desire to  be the result of an undirected, naturalistic process?  Of course some will say “Well, the evidence supports the fact that humans are the result of an undirected, natural process. ” We can debate the evidence all day long about this issue. But from a Biblical standpoint, all human beings enjoy the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Thus all humans have a right to human dignity (i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, ethnicity or rank or any other way). NOTE: I chose to the use the word ‘ethnicity’ instead of race since the Bible doesn’t teach there are races. There is only one race which is the human race.  We also have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Theism has a clear teleology which is the belief in or the perception of purposeful development toward an end, as in nature or history. Many atheists adhere to a naturalistic worldview which has no teleology. In other words, humans are a blind cosmic accident who came from a process that has no meaning, no purpose, no goal, no directions.  Atheist Thomas Nagel laments in the following comment:

My guess is that the cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life, including everything about the human mind.-The Last Word (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 13

Anyway, this is some food for thought.

NOTE: Also, see the article, “Is Religious Belief Just a Brain Function?”

 

 

What Does It Mean To Love God With All Our Heart, Soul, and Mind?

In Mark 12.28-34 we find a scribe asking Jesus a serious question, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus replied by saying, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Jesus then added a second commandment (from Leviticus 19.18) when he said, “The second is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Here we see the Shema is the central creed for Jesus! Jesus is quoting from Deut. 6:4-9:

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” These six words begin the Shema (pronounced “shmah”), three sections of Scripture repeated twice daily to remind each Jewish person of his or her commitment to God (Deuteronomy 6: 4– 9; 11: 13–21; Numbers 15: 37– 41).

In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of  the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the  Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is  “leb,” or “lebad.” While the word “heart” is  used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical  standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire  person. It can be seen as the seat of the person’s intellectual, emotional,  affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart”  (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the  rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith involves a  commitment of the whole person.

In Jewish thought, in the Shema, hearing is directly related to taking heed and taking action with what you’ve heard. And if you don’t act, you’ve never heard. Hence, in Deut. : 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds).  How might me love God with our minds?

First, as John Piper says in his essay on Faith and Reason:

Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In1 Timothy 6:5, he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And inRomans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.

We are an adulterous generation. We love man-centered error more than Christ-exalting truth, and our rational powers are taken captive to serve this adulterous love. This is what Jesus exposed when he said, “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” In other words, your mind functions just fine when seeking out a partner in adultery, but it cannot see the signs of Christ-exalting truth.”

Note: You can download Piper’s book THINK right here.

As Christ followers, we are called to not fall into the same traps that Paul warns his audiences here.

Second, Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity) from a Christian/biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity. As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (1)

Third, establish a worldview: The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an “outlook” or an “attitude.” Each person’s worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience.(2)

Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Fourth, as William Lane Craig says:

It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (3)

If we teach the holistic nature of faith, we won’t over emphasize emotions to the detriment of intellect or vice versa.

Fifth, from a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?

Conclusion

I hope these tips help. Remember, Biblical faith is a holistic commitment to God. It is a commitment that calls for us to submit our mind, emotions, and will all to the glory of God.

Sources:

1. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.

2. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.

3. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.

Would You Believe the First Apologists Were Messianic Jews?

jesus-washes-feet-of-disciples-07

Who were the first Apologists? Believe it or not, the first apologists were all Messianic Jews. You may say “Well, what are Messianic Jews?”  Messianic Judaism is not new at all. All the authors of the New Testament were Jewish (with the possible exception of Luke). For many years the early faith in Jesus was strictly Jewish in both orientation and practice. Hence, the early Church was 100% percent Jewish! We see the growth of Messianic Judaism in The Book of Acts: (Acts 2:41) 3000 Jewish people come to faith at Pentecost  after Peter’s Sermon (goes up to 5000 in Acts 4:4);(Acts 6:7) “The number of disciples increased rapidly and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith”; (Acts 21:20) Within twenty years the Jewish congregation said to Paul- “You see how many thousands (in Greek, it is literally “myriads” or “ten thousands” or “countless thousands”; Hence, we see at least 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus.

Obviously, we see our first Gentile convert in Acts 10 (Cornelius).  It was only over a long period where the Church become a predominately Gentile based phenomena. To read more about this, see The Ways That Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages by Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed.  Isn’t it nice that we as Gentiles are no longer “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph .2:11-13), and “without hope.” May we thank God for allowing us to participate in His redemptive plan for the entire world. To see the historical basis and background of Messianic Judaism, Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations by David J. Rudolph.

Today, there are thousands of Messianic Jewish  believers in the United States alone and across the world. Of course, the Apostle Paul (a Pharisee and a Jewish Believer himself) showed he had a tremendous burden for the Jewish people (Rom. 9:1-5; Rom. 10:1), and calls upon the Church to provoke Israel to jealousy (Rom. 11:11). Paul understood that since Gentiles (I am one of them), have received the blessing of knowing the Jewish Messiah, they have the responsibility to take the message of salvation back to Israel. Therefore, Christians of all denominational backgrounds should show interest in learning about how to share the good news of the Messiah with the Jewish people.

Messianic Judaism pertains to those who are Jewish and have come to faith in the promised Messiah of Israel. Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus, and means “Salvation.” Jesus was actually called Yeshua, a Jewish man living in the land of Israel among Jewish people.

But with acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah comes much opposition and objections from within the Jewish community. Also, it should not be surprising that the Jewish community has formed its own set of objections to Jesus and the claims of His followers. Many Jewish people who come to faith in Jesus can be ostracized by their own communities. I even know some who have been disowned by their own families.

Dr. Michael Brown

The most well-known Messianic apologist at the present time is Dr.Michael Brown. Dr. Brown has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He has debated many rabbis on shows such as Phil Donahue, and Faith Under Fire. Dr. Brown is a Jewish believer in Jesus and is visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Fuller Theological Seminary. His website is at http://askdrbrown.org. You can see him walking down the streets of New York discussing the Messiah issue here:

Dr. Brown has written a five set volume called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus:
Vol 1 is called General Objections/Historical Objections
Vol 2 is called Theological Objections
Vol 3 is called Messianic Prophecy Objections
Vol 4 is called New Testament Objections
Vol 5 is called Traditional Jewish Objections

What was the Message of the first Messianic Jewish Apologists?

1. The promises by God made in the Hebrew Bible/The Old Testament have now been revealed with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Acts 2:30;3;19;24,10:43; 26:6-7;22).

2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism (Acts 10:38).

3. Jesus began his ministry at Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).

4. Jesus conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God ( Acts 2:22; 10:38).

5. The Messiah was crucified according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24; 31-32; 3:15-26;10:40-41;17:31;26:23).

7. Jesus was exalted and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29;33-36;3:13;10:36).

8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Acts 1:8;2;14-18;33,38-39;10:44-47).

9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:20-21;10:42; 17:31).

10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized because of the finished work of Jesus (Acts 2:21;38;3:19;10:43, 17-48; 17:30, 26:20).

After reading this, we can see that there wasn’t much appeal to personal testimony nor “Accept Jesus into your heart and he will make your life better.”

Perhaps we can conclude with the words of J.P. Moreland:

“Today, we share the gospel as a means of addressing felt needs. We give testimonies of changed lives and say to people if they want to become better parents or overcome depression or loneliness, that the Jesus is their answer. This approach to evangelism is inadequate for two reasons. First, it does not reach people who may be out of touch with their feelings. Second, it invites the response, “Sorry, I do not have a need.” Have you noticed how no one responded to Paul in this manner? In Acts 17-20, he based his preaching on the fact that the gospel is true and reasonable to believe. He reasoned and tried to persuade people to intelligently accept Jesus.”–J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress. 1997, pg 30

Alister McGrath On Things That Can’t Be Seen

Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue by [McGrath, Alister]

Here are some thoughts by Alister McGrath on things that go beyond our experience:

” Let’s develop an issue that has been important in recent debates between Christians and atheists. Is it rational to believe in something that lies beyond our experience? Why not just limit ourselves to what we experience and encounter in the world? It’s a great question. Science is all about observing the world. The movement known as Logical Positivism took the view that this was all that could be done. Science was basically about accumulating uninterpreted observations of the world and developing general summaries of these observations. What happens if our observations suggest the existence of certain entities that we cannot see? Physics may have begun with a naïve realism; it has, however, achieved its greatest triumphs by going beyond the observable, in a leap of imagination that goes beyond what can be seen. Isaac Newton, for example, found himself compelled to believe in the notion of gravity – something that could not be detected through any human sensory capacity. Why? Because his observations of the patterns of behaviour of falling objects on earth and the motion of the planets around the sun could all be explained if there existed some intrinsic capacity on the part of one object to attract another (‘gravitational attraction’). Although he was deeply uneasy about this notion, it seemed to work well in calculating planetary orbits.

Others, however, such as the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716), were critical of such an unevidenced and counterintuitive notion. A related issue arises in connection with ‘dark matter’. The problem here is that theoretical calculations of the mass of the universe don’t match those that arise from observation. For this reason, the notion of dark matter was proposed. Basically, it is material that is believed really to be there (indeed, it would make up the vast bulk of the universe); it’s just that it can’t be seen. We are caught up in a firefight between those who defy reason and those who deify it. Reason, when all is said and done, is an excellent critical tool but an inadequate foundation for securing reliable human knowledge. To be rational is not to be limited to the severely truncated and inadequate world of what human reason can allegedly prove; it is to recognize the limits of reason and work within them, while at the same time trying to work out ways of transcending them.”-Alister McGrath, Enriching our Vision of Reality: Theology and the natural sciences in dialogue

 

 

Professor Jerry Coyne: “One day killing newborn babies will be widespread, and ‘it will be for the better”

If you aren’t familiar  with Jerry Coyne, he is a staunch atheist who has written books such as Why Evolution is True and Faith versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible. Christian philosopher Ed Feser reviewed the Faith vs Fact book here, and says: “Faith versus Fact is some kind of achievement. Biologist Jerry Coyne has managed to write what might be the worst book yet published in the New Atheist genre.”

Sadly, Coyne has recently said ” “If you are allowed to abort a fetus that has a severe genetic defect, microcephaly, spina bifida, or so on, then why aren’t you able to euthanize that same fetus just after it’s born?” Coyne wrote. “I see no substantive difference that would make the former act moral and the latter immoral.” See the entire article here: 

This is tragic and really reveals the fundamental difference in a theistic worldview and Coyne’s materialistic worldview. In Coyne’s worldview, all reality is reducible to matter and chance. Biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism says that impersonal/physical, valueless processes produce valuable, rights-bearing persons. Humans can assign people value by choice. They don’t appeal to any transcendent source. It is purely subjective.  In contrast, to a materialistic worldview, in a theistic worldview,  all human beings enjoy, the right to life and the resources to sustain it, for life is a gift from God. Humans have a right to human dignity, i.e. the right to receive respect irrespective of age, gender, race or rank or any other way. We have a responsibility to secure/protect/establish the rights of others. Rights are linked to personhood. Because humans are made in the likeness of a personal God, they are intrinsically (essentially) valuable. Rights come by virtue of who we are by nature (or essence), not our function.

Robert Spitzer sums up the issue of personhood in his book Ten Universal Principles:

With respect to life issues, this principle is important because a theory of human personhood that treats a person as a mere individual physical thing (materialism) does not explain the data of persons being self-conscious or having transcendental desires (such as the desire for complete and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness, Beauty, and Being). Therefore, materialism’s explanation of many acknowledged human powers and activities, such as empathy, agape (self-sacrificial love), self-consciousness, the desire for integrity and virtue, the sense of the spiritual, and the drive for self-transcendence, is, at best, weak. Theories that attempt to account for and explain these data, such as hylomorphism or transmaterialism, should be preferred to ones that do not, such as biological reductionism, materialism, and behaviorism. There is another more serious consequence of the underestimation of human personhood, namely, the undervaluation of real people. If we consider human beings to be mere matter without the self-possession necessary for freedom and love, without unique lovability, or without spiritual or transcendent significance, we might view human beings as mere “things”. If humans are viewed as mere things, then they can be treated as mere things, and this assumption has led historically to every form of human tragedy. Human beings might be thought of as slaves, cannon fodder, tools for someone else’s well-being, subjects for experimentation, or any number of other indignities and cruelties that have resulted from human “thingification”. The principle of most complete explanation has a well-known corollary, namely, “There are far more errors of omission than commission”, which means that leaving out data is just as harmful to the pursuit of truth as getting the wrong data or making logical errors. This adage is related to the moral saying that “there are far more sins of omission than commission.” In the case of the underestimation of human personhood, history has revealed how close the relationship between errors and sins truly is.”- Ten Universal Principals