Friday, December 29, 2006

Aren't Christians Hypocrites?

One of the objections to people becoming Christians is that Christians are all hypocrites. That is, they make great claims of being morally wonderful and then in reality, prove to be far from perfect. They are then seen as self-righteous, party poopers who try to impose their morality on everyone else but are far from perfect themselves.

Well I agree with this criticism to a degree. Christians are not perfect or better than anyone. Christians who claim the moral high ground make a crucial mistake from my reading of the Bible which forbids hypocrisy and self-righteousness. This is the thrust of Jesus' parable telling us to take the log out of own eye rather than look for the speck in others eyes (Mt 7:1-5).

An honest Christian will admit that they are not better than anyone else. What stands them apart is not their superiority in ethical behaviour (although they should be trying to live righteously), but that know they are no better than anyone else; they know they are not perfect; they know that they are sinful and full of weakness. What they have realised is not that they are superior, but that they need God’s forgiveness and salvation! Christians are not better than others, they are just forgiven!

If a Christian sets themselves up as superior they better watch out, they have showing the cardinal sin of pride and need taking down a peg or two.

Christians all let the team down at some point or other. All Christians make mistakes and are flawed. We are far from perfect. We all say one thing and do another because we are sinful.

Unfortunately a lot of Christians after a few years or so, can start to think they are better than others. They look down on society and have high expectations of others. They bemoan the sins of the world, while a huge log is often hanging out of their eyes. I have been guilty of this myself and am seeking to stop doing this, it is wrong.

So on behalf of all those Christians (myself included), let me apologise; sorry! I apologise to you personally for any Christian who has been a hypocrite and put you off Jesus.

I want to suggest to you that the existence of Christian hypocrites does not actually invalidate the essence of the message and the faith itself. What it does do is invalidate the honesty of the person involved. Jesus remains the same whether a follower of Jesus is a hypocrite or not. Jesus himself is what we believe in, not people who follow him.

I encourage you to look beyond human representations of Jesus to Jesus himself. He was no hypocrite but a wonderful man worthy of your allegiance. There is no evidence of hypocrisy in him; in fact, the people he challenged the most were those who claimed to be righteous in God's eyes, saw themselves above humanity and even shut out those who were supposedly less holy. Jesus himself hung out with sinners. He despised the self-righteous pharisee and declared righteous the sinful repentent humble tax-collector (read Lk 18:13-18 and Mt 23).

I accept that it is true that some Christians are hypocrites and that no Christian should be. Rather all us Christians should be humble in their lives and in the reality of our weaknesses, of which, if we are honest, there are many.

However I also believe that the existence of many hypocritical Christians does nothing to invalidate the faith or Christ and should not be used as an excuse to reject Christianity. If you are doing so, I challenge you to look beyond the hypocrisy of Christians to Jesus who was no hypocrite. Remember too that all of society is full of hypocrites who say one thing and do the other. What my hypocrisy does is reinforce the need for all of us to come to Christ as the only way to salvation. Will you do it?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why did Jesus die on a Cross in such a way?

One of the great questions worthy of consideration is why Jesus had to die in such a manner. Now assuming that the problem of the world is the existence of evil, I suggest that this is the best alternative to save the world from the scourge of evil. I can think of three others possible ways God could have saved the world, none of which are realistic and all which violate his character or purposes.

1. Overthrow evil (annihilation): One way to remove evil from the human realm is for God to simply step in and exterminate it in an instant. People often ask why God does not do this! After all this would solve the problem of the existence of beings that are completely and utterly evil (e.g. Satan and demons) and would remove the problem.

However removing evil in this way would be a problem where people who are partially evil are concerned. And the truth is that we humans are all corrupted, all fallen to a greater or lesser degree (Rom 3:23). If God was to destroy evil in this way, he would have to destroy us all in an instant, and any possibility of relationship with God would be destroyed eternally. God, because of his character and desire to save, is not prepared to do this at this point. Ultimately, when time is complete according to God’s agenda, he will destroy all evil. However, he wishes to give humanity time to repent.

2. Overpower evil (robotism): Another way for God to overthrow evil is to simply force humanity and all creation to acquiesce to his power. As God with all power (omnipotence), he could if he chose to simply force all that opposes him to obey him.

The problem with this is that human freedom would be abrogated. This would defeat the purpose of God in creating people with choice and freedom. God’s character of love demands that he gives us freedom to respond, it is those who freely accept him that will live forever with him.

3. Overlook evil (universalism): Another way for God to solve the problem of evil is to simply not worry about it and let it exist eternally.

The problem with this is that despots like Hitler and Satan himself would then live forever with the whole creative power of heaven and God at their fingertips. This would make heaven an eternal cosmic hell! This would also violate God’s character which involves justice, he cannot allow evil to rule.

Hence God chose a fourth alternative. He chose to overcome evil through sinless perfection, crucifixion and resurrection.

God had to choose a way to solve the problem of evil whilst still allowing humanity to remain free to choose. This ruled out the above possibilities. Hence he conceived of the idea of allowing himself in his eternal form to become human whilst retaining his divinity. This he achieved in the person of Jesus born of Mary. He then lived in the human realm refusing to fall prey to temptation whilst demonstrating the loving, healing, just character of God. In so doing he fulfilled the prophetic expectations of the chosen community, to be the anointed king in the line of David sent from God to save his people (cf. Is 9; 11).

He then allowed humanity to reject him and kill him. He allowed this death to be culturally understandable as a sacrifice (hence the cross, the blood and his death cf. Lev 17:11). He allowed this death to be horrendous and excruciating, symbolically absorbing the worst humanity could throw at him. He then died in a physical sense, but due to his sinlessness, passed through death and was raised from the dead by God. He then invited all humanity to simply place their faith in him and they would be saved.

They would be saved not on the basis of their own perfection but on the basis of Christ’s perfection. At the moment of accepting Christ, the believer’s sinful existence would be replaced by Christ’s sinlessness. Hence at the point of the death the believer, on the basis of Christ, would pass through death to life. God would then replace their inner being with complete purity, extinguishing their evil in the cross. Then as they stand before God in judgement they are seen as faultless, the judgement of the cross being their judgement, and they need have no fear of hell. Those who reject Christ stand before God in judgement day with their evil and sin before them and they will join all evil in eternal separation from God.

I am amazed at how creative and clever this is. The cross is a gruesome disgusting way for a man to die on the one hand; however, on the other hand it is a brilliant, culturally relevant way for God to save the world without violating human freedom and his character whilst destroying evil! To me the only way to respond to such brilliance is to accept Jesus as saviour and Lord.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

My story Part 3

So I became a Christian in 1984. I gave up the booze, the weed and my girlfriend who also became a Christian went home to live at her Mum and Dads until we got married later that year. I found that I had the power within me to overcome the things in my life that I did not like. It was slow change, but habits of a lifetime take time to overcome even with the power of God.

I went back to teaching and started telling all and sundry how God had changed my life. It caused a bit of a stir; the drunken larriken now trying to be a saint. I carried on my sport but slowly my heart went more and more into the Christian world. I joined some others who were out preaching the message on the street, in prisons, schools and wherever the opportunity came. I told the story of how God had changed my life.

I started reading the bible like a sponge, pouring over it, memorising it. I found in its pages the truth I was looking for. After a year my wife and I were working fulltime for our church out in the community, setting up children's clubs, preaching and singing with our band wherever the opportunity came.

Eventually we realised we needed to train to be ministers and were to bible college and studied for four years both getting degrees. Then it was off to work in another church for a year, then off to the Presbyterian training institution to get ordained. At that time I started a Doctorate; a bit of a joke for a university drop out.

We came out of college and settled in Auckland and went to work as ministers, preaching, singing, doing children's work and anything we could do to encourage others to grow in their faith and to help others become Christians.

Now I am a Bible College lecturer having completed my doctorate and I spend my life teaching others what the bible is all about.

I have to tell you that God is good. He has never let us down. Even when we students and out family was struggling for money, he always came through. All the bad times in my life have been good times looking back. He works in and through our struggles. He is for real. He answers prayers. He leads when we get lost. He gives us freedom to make choices, he is there for us when we muck up. He is grace!

Give him a try!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

My Story Part 2

So I ended up a school teacher. The God-stuff began when I arrived at work horribly hung over. Teaching was going to be impossible so I suggested the kids all do a project. Now, one girl chose to do Buddhism. This intrigued me and I asked her why. She said she was a Christian and that she wanted to know what other people believed. When she said she was a Christian something went off inside. I realised she was a great kid. I asked who else was a Christian in my class and all my best kids put their hands up. Now I know that not all Christian kids are like this, but these ones were.

This set the ball rolling. I started to see beautiful views. I started to remember back to what I had learnt in my early teens. I felt God drawing me, honouring my prayer I had made as a teenager. I asked my de facto girl friend to buy me a bible for Christmas; she did, but it freaked her out.

We went away that Christmas for the usual time of decadence and self-destruction with the booze and the drugs. For me this trip was different. I knew it was my last fling. I have never drunk as much or smoked as much weed; but it had no effect. God was calling me.

On New Years Day I announced to all my mates that I was giving away the life of debauchery to follow Christ. They were devastated and tried desperately to talk me out of it. I was immovable and when we got home I went church hunting. I visited one or two and then found a Presbyterian church. I knew the moment I walked in the door that God was in the house. I took my girlfriend reluctantly the next week and she too was hooked. It was modern, relevant and the people really believed.

Within a few weeks I gave my life to Christ, giving up running away from his voice. My girl friend followed suit. Pretty soon we felt uncomfortable about cohabitating in sin and so she went home to mum and dad and I stayed in our flat alone.

It was a great decision. Overnight the world looked different. I gave up the booze and the weed. I started taking teaching seriously. I went to church and read my bible, soaking it up like a sponge. I loved being alive. I realised that I was born for a reason and the reason was Jesus. He saved me from disaster. And then the journey really just began.

Monday, December 18, 2006

My story Part 1

It is time I shared a bit of my story. How is it that a boy who grew up in a non-Christian family came to be a Christian, a minister of the gospel and a bible teacher?

I did grow up in a non-believing family, although that may be being a bit unfair to my Mum who has always had some degree of faith; we certainly were not a church going family.

I remember during my time living in Niue Island in the Pacific aged 6 or 7 going to Sunday School. I recall nothing about why or what we did there, it had no effect that I recall in faith terms. I have no God-consciousness or awareness of personal faith.

We shifted to Rarotonga when I was 8 and I attended primary school and onto High School. Again, I have no recollection of any God-stuff.

It all began for me when I was 13 and a friend invited me to an after-school Christian group. I heard the teacher (Brian) telling us about Jesus and the phenomenal way in which he fulfilled many OT predictions about his coming. This impressed me as I realised that such a tie-up was impossible without the power of God over history, so I accepted Jesus as my Lord.

The experience after that is rather blurry but I recall that life got rather messy. My parents were very anti the whole thing. I am told I tried to convert them and this didn't go well; particularly suggestions of excess alcohol and smoking etc. I recall after some period of time weeping on my bed and saying to God that I couldn't follow him yet, but that when I got away from home I might. Looking back, I believe God heard the prayer of a 13 year old lonely boy and took me at my word.

From that point on I gave God the big sidestep and took to sport with a vengeance. I returned to NZ and played cricket and rugby for school and club and into the Auckland premier leagues. I was not bad at both and had high hopes. I also developed a taste for beer and parties, had a girlfriend or two and dabbled with recreational drugs. I was a lost soul though, deep down disillusioned with life knowing that there was more. I went to university and did not complete my BA; went off and became a school teacher.

I left home and went teaching and then the God-fun began. I was a real boozer and really should not have been in a classroom; I suppose the NZ education system was pretty desperate. I was living at this stage with Emma (who I have since married) and we lived a life of teaching, sport and partying. Little did I know that deep down, I was lost, very lost indeed.

More tomorrow...

Friday, December 15, 2006

Is Jesus God

Christians make strong claims about Jesus. Some who are radically monotheistic like Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah and Muslims find this distasteful. Some pseudo-christian groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the ancient Arians relegate Jesus below the divine to the level of a super human or an archangel in their determination not to violate the principle of monotheism. But does the bible teach that Jesus is really God?

As I look into the Scriptures there are a number of reasons that we can be sure that Jesus is God.

1. The OT predicted that the Messiah, (the Christ = anointed king) would also be divine ('Almighty God' in Is 9:6).

2. The early Christians assigned Jesus the names 'Son of God' and 'Lord' both of which suggest his divinity. In the story Jesus is fathered by the Spirit of God and is called the Son of God. The name 'Lord' can mean master, but is more often used in the sense of 'God'. So for example Phil 2:11 he is the 'Lord' of Is 45:23-24 who is God himself, Yahweh. He is Lord above all Greco-Roman gods and the emperor. He is Lord in the Jewish sense, adonai = God.

3. Jesus in Jn 8:58 stated his preexistence and assumed the name of God ('I am') from Exod 3:14. Some dispute this but Jesus enemies recognised this and wanted to kill him for suggesting he was God (Jn 8:58).

4. His radically monotheistic Jewish disciples over time came to believe that he was God despite their opposition to such a thought. While they believed in one true God (Deut 6:5), they accepted that he was God and this is recorded in a number of texts: Jn 1:1-14, 18; 20:28; Rom 9:6; Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3-8). Some tinker with these verses to diminish the divine attribution, but on deep engagement with these texts, this perspective does not hold up.

5. The acts of God are attributed to him including creation (Jn 1:3-4; Col 1:16) and forgiveness of sins (for which the Jews again wanted to kill him cf. Mk 2:1-12.

6. His miracles suggests that he was more than a mere mortal. Some argue that there have been others who do miracles and they point to his prophetic or angelic power; however, no one in history has raised the dead on three occasions, walked on water, calmed a storm, fed crowds of about 10, 000 with a few fish and loaves, healed countless sick people, cast demons out of huge numbers and then has risen from the dead to ascend to heaven! This is not bad!

7. His resurrection suggests that he was more than a mere mortal. This is the crunch event whereby Jesus was vindicated and demonstrated to be God!

8. His ascension into the heavens suggests that he is more than a mere mortal (Acts 1:11). His ascension was not just him disappearing into the clouds, but it was him rising up to be at the right hand of God.

9. Other biblical pointers can be found. Take a read of Revelation and you will see that God is on the throne but Jesus is also seated in the middle of the throne of God with God himself, the lamb seated on the throne. He is one with God (read ch 4-7 esp. Rev 7:17). Take a read through 1 Corinthians and see the interplay of Father, Son and Spirit e.g. 1 Cor 1:1-7; 12:4-6 where God in all three persons gives the gifts. 1 Corinthians also shows us that while there is a trinity, for the purposes of God's work in this world there are different functions for the three members of the trinity (cf. 1 Cor 3:22-23; 11:3; 15:23-28). Then there are the trinitarian texts where they are mentioned together e.g. Mt 28:20; 2 Cor 13:13.

10. Then there are those statements by the early church by Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, Polycarp, Irenaeus, Tertullian in the second century; Clement of Alexandria, Origen and others in the second century. They all unambiguously stated that Jesus was not only fully human, but God.

11. The experience of millions of believers since his earthly life who have come to know him also suggests he is God.

12. Examples of NT people worshiping him e.g. Thomas who cried out 'my Lord and God' (Jn 20:28) and through Revelation where the community of God's people and angels worship the lamb who was slain!

For me the evidence is overwhelming. Jesus is God who created the world, was the God who walked with Jesus in the OT (cf. 1 Cor 10:4), came from the Father to save the world, died on a cross, rose from the dead, is exalted to the right hand of his Father (his original rightful place) and I will worship him as my Lord and God; will you?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Can we believe in the resurrection?

Christianity is built of a belief not in the spiritual or metaphorical resurrection of Christ but in his bodily resurrection. That is, on a Friday sometime between 29-33A.D., Jesus who was truly dead through crucifixion, was buried in a sealed, secured and protected tomb and on the following Sunday, was found to be resurrected. That it was a bodily resurrection is clear from accounts of his eating with the disciples (Lk 24:42) and in Paul's defence of the bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.

While there are no witnesses to the moment of resurrection, there are a number of indicators that the resurrection really happened. That is, Jesus the crucified man was raised from the dead to be Jesus the resurrected man.

In his resurrected state he was like a man in that he had the same essential body shape, had scars from his pre-death experience, remembered his pre-death life, ate, drank, walked, talked and interacted with those he knew. However, he was also able to go beyond normal human physicality able to translate from one context to another, to go through walls and doors and seemingly disappeared for long periods of time. Finally he defied gravity in his ascension.

1. The Empty Tomb: The problem of the empty tomb has never been resolved. Where was Jesus body on the morning of the resurrection? While this is not conclusive, this points to the question of what happened to his body?

2. The improbability of other alternatives? There are essentially only two other alternatives. Firstly, that Jesus was not dead, came to in the tomb, got out and when they came to the tomb he was gone. Secondly, that Jesus was dead and his disciples entered the tomb and took his body and then made up the story that Jesus was raised. The first idea that Jesus got out can be ruled out emphatically for these reasons.
a. The notion that the experiences were merely hallucinations can be ruled out due to the number of experiences across such a wide variety of appearances.
b. If Jesus was not dead, then he needed to have the strength to get out of the linen cloths soaked in spices which swathed his body (this would have suffocated him), pushed aside the large sealed rock from the inside in the dark and snuck or forced his way past the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb.
c. That Jesus was thoroughly dead is evidenced by the soldiers not needing to break his legs to hasten death and the separated blood which flowed from his side when he was speared.

The second idea that the disciples stole his body can also be ruled out because the disciples would have had to sneak past the soldiers, roll away the stone, unwrap Jesus and get away without being seen! Then they would have had hide the body from the authorities and others.

3. The problem of the missing body: While it is theoretically possible, even if highly unlikely that the body was taken, it is still theoretical at best as no body has been found which fits the description.

4. Appearances: In the bible five documents (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 21, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8)give specific and detailed accounts of appearances of the risen Jesus to his disciples. The best explanation of these accounts is that the risen Jesus was seen as recorded.

5. Inconsistencies in the accounts: Some would argue that the inconsistencies in the accounts suggest a lack of reliability and perhaps collusion. However, I would argue that the inconsistencies point to genuineness in the eye-witness recollections and honesty in recording the accounts. That is, the differences point away from any collusion and suggest honesty in seeking to record what happened. They read like eye-witness accounts much in the same way one might gather data from a crime scene.

6. The martyrdom of the witnesses and subsequent generations: The subsequent history of the church suggests that most if not all the disciples, and thousands of subsequent generations, died at the hands of the Jews and Romans for their claim that Jesus died. Would these people be prepared to die for a lie? Now people are prepared to face potential death for a lie if it gains them money, power etc. However, these disciples in the early days of the church gained nothing except social ostracism, suffering and death. It was not until the 4th century that it was highly profitable to be a Christian!

7. The monotheistic nature of the people involved: We also have to remember who these people were. They were radical monotheists who believed in one God, and not unlike contemporary extreme Muslims, rejected the notion of God becoming flesh, suffering and dying on a cross. For a Jew, one was cursed if they were crucified (Deut 21:23). It was inconceivable that the Messiah from God would be killed by Gentiles! Yet, these people, including one who set out to systematically destroy Christianity (Paul in Acts 9), turned to faith in a crucified-resurrected Messiah. This suggests that the resurrection is to be seen as a reality.

8. The testimony of the women: One of the most amazing features of the resurrection accounts is the retention of Mary Magdalene as the first witness in John, Luke's and the longer ending of Mark's accounts. It was commonly held that a woman's testimony was worthless and it would have been of no value. Yet, they retained this in the accounts. It would have been to their advantage in terms of evangelisation of the Greeks, for the early Christians to remove this. However, they did not do so. Again this points to the authenticity of the accounts.

9. Greco-Roman disbelief in bodily resurrection: N.T. Wright's book 'The resurrection of the Son of God' has gone through carefully the Greco-Roman view of life after death and has concluded that there was no belief in the resurrection of the dead in bodily terms in the Greco-Roman world. Hence it cannot be argued that the notion of bodily resurrection was placed back into the accounts to make them more palatable to the Greco-Roman world or that the accounts are reworked Greco-Roman myths. Rather, it points again to a determined attempt to hold onto to their experience of the bodily-resurrected Christ corpse at the centre of the faith. This speaks strongly to a bodily resurrection.

10. Other historical accounts: Negatively and positively the resurrection is supported historically. Negatively there is no counter historical account contemporaneous with the biblical accounts that provide evidence that the resurrection did not occur, or that there is a suitable alternative explanation. Positively, there is the intriguing statement of the Jewish historian Josephus that Jesus rose from the dead (see Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 33). While some dispute this as a later interpolation, no extant document exists without this reference, meaning there is no real textual evidence that it is a fraud.

11. The incredible impact of Christ: When one examines the amazing expansion of the Christian faith in the first three centuries it must be concluded something amazing happened. This is especially so when one considers that Christians did not take up arms to achieve this. The use of military force again came later, when the Christian faith became tied up with Roman military and political might. In the first few years the faith spread as the Christians were persecuted terribly and showed love to those in need, shared the message of Christ and showed love to those who persecuted them. The manner in which Christianity became the religious belief of the Roman empire is utterly incredible and suggests the reality of the resurrection!

12. The testimony of million: The personal stories of millions of Christians who give personal accounts of the way in which Jesus changed their lives indicates that he lives.

13. The ethic of honesty: People do plead honesty but lie. However, it would be rather surprising for those first Christians to build their testimony on a lie while preaching honesty for no gain. If they had made a lot of money or gained great social or political power through such infidelity one might think that they were charlatans. However, they did not gain much for many years. That being the case, those who preached 'do not lie' to me were unlikely to lie and die for the lie.

I conclude than that the best explanation of the evidence that exists is that Jesus did rise from the dead in a bodily and real form. If Jesus rose from the dead he is unique and worthy of the claims made about him. He is God, the risen Saviour and Lord of the universe. We should believe in him because it is a totally unique event in human history and points us to Jesus as the one we should follow.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What about those who have never heard about Jesus?

If Jesus is so great and the path to salvation, what about those who have never heard or him? Are they cut out because of an accident of history i.e. they were born before his coming or lived in a place where his salvation message was unknown? That hardly sounds fair does it? Some hardline Christians take this view; however I disagree.

For me the bible, while not fully answering the question, gives us some good pointers in terms of answering this question.

The main lead is the way in which the New Testament refers to a number of people are have been saved and have gone to live with God for eternity, but they never heard about Jesus! People like Abraham (Rom 4) and a whole long list of people in Hebrews 11. It is worth examining why they were saved.

We can say for certain that they were not saved because of a perfect life; that is ruled out in the NT totally. In fact, examination shows that none of these people lived a perfect life. Hence, they were not saved because of the things they did per se. They were flawed people who made mistakes. Some like Samson even rejected God for great periods of their life (see Jdg 13-16).

Rather, they were saved because of their faithful relationship with God as they knew him (Rom 4:3; Heb 11:1, 39-40). These people were all saved because they walked through to their death in a living trusting relationship with God in terms of the way he had been revealed to them.

Abraham for example lived for many years trusting God and doing what he said. He made mistakes but hung in there. He knew God as ‘El', the God of his ancestors who he worshiped at shrines and as a nomad. He knew nothing about him as Yahweh or as the God of Israel, for Israel did not exist at this point. He knew nothing about Jesus or crucifixion or resurrection. Yet he was saved.

Similarly Moses knew God as Yahweh, who he met supernaturally in a burning bush, who he met on a mountain, who he disobeyed on occasion. Yet he was saved on the basis of his lifelong faithful relationship.

Hence we can conclude that in other cultures where Christ has not been preached there are others like Abraham and Moses who know God and walk in faithful relationship with him.

However, they were not saved by their religions! Rather they were saved by a living faith in God. Consequently, one can be saved necessarily through Islam, through Hinduism, through Judiasm or Buddhism. These are all flawed and inaccurate expressions of faith. However, where Christ has not yet been made known, or where he has been made known inaccurately, it is possible that people within these religious systems may be saved through their faithful relationship with the God they meet through creation and personal revelation.

Neither are these people saved through their view of God, they were saved retroactively by Jesus. This means that while they did not believe in Jesus in the contemporary Christian sense, they are still saved by his death and resurrection because of their faithful relationship with God.
The cross works across all of time for those who had a faith-relationship with God until their death.

The NT makes clear that is those who endure in their faith to the end that are saved. Hence it is not enough to say yes to God, get baptised and then expect to be saved. One must remain in that faithful relationship to the point of death to receive salvation (see Mt 20:1-16; 21:28-32; 24:13; 25:1-13; 1 Cor 15:2; Heb 6:1-8; Rev 2:26 etc.)

I conclude that those who have not heard about Christ still have/had opportunity to be saved. However, they are not saved through any religious system but through an active living faith in God as they know him through creation, personal experience and history. Once a person has heard the message concerning Christ clearly explained then it is on the basis of their faith in Christ as heard in the message that they are saved.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Why does evil exist?

One of the great questions asked by people in response to Christian claims is ‘why does evil exist if God is all good?’ This is the problem of theodicy.

I believe that the best explanation for the existence of evil, of pain and of suffering is found in the purposes of God and human freedom.

Evil exists for humanity to know and choose between good or evil. Central to God’s purposes is his desire for humanity to freely choose to accept him. Because of his love for humanity, he does not impose himself upon humanity, but wants humanity to freely come to him in relationship.

This desire for freedom and choice requires the existence of both good and evil. That being the case, God allowed evil to exist to ensure that humanity throughout its history, had a clear and ongoing choice to make between good and evil. Hence we see evil’s first appearance in the garden in the form of a snake (Gen 3:1). The snake offered Adam and Eve and alternative to the command of God (Gen 3:2-5).

The event of Adam and Eve's rejection of God is the Fall when humanity fell from their place of privilege and relationship with God. The event did not merely affect humanity but saw all of creation broken and fallen; this is the reason for natural disasters which are a distortion of the good order of creation. It also saw human relationships broken, our relationship with creation violated and our own psychological make-up marred.

Throughout the history of humanity the great adversary of God is Satan and he is the anti-god and anti-good God allows to exist, so that good is understood and revealed. Just as white is only recognisable in the presence of other colours, good is only visible where evil exists in whatever shade. Freedom, good and choice can exist without the existence of evil, but require the existence of evil to become evident.

Evil exists because humanity choose it. Since the days of Adam and Eve and their choice to do evil and not good, evil continues to exist because humanity continue to choose to do evil. In fact, human history, observation and the bible’s teaching all agree that the problem with the world is evil and in particular human evil. Indeed this is the problem of the world = sin. As it says in both Old and New Testaments, all sin and fall short of God’s glory (1 Kgs 8:46; Rom 3:23).

Evil exists but will be exterminated in its time (Mt 25:41; Rev 20). When evil was accepted by humanity God allowed death and mortality to take over humanity. Wherever a human chose to do evil God could not allow them to live forever otherwise evil would live forever. Hence we all die (Rom 5:12; 6:23). Where a person could live an unblemished life, continually and without compromise choosing good over evil, they would defeat death and evil (Heb 4:15). This is what Jesus did and so he rose from the dead, vindicated by God for his perfect life.

The bible teaches that the time will come when all evil will be exterminated. This means that all beings who have chosen evil will be destroyed. The wonder of the crucifixion of Jesus is that his perfect life meant that he defeated death. The way we can defeat death and evil is not through a perfect life which is impossible for us, but through faith in Jesus. His death then becomes our death and the evil we have committed is destroyed in his death retrospectively (Rom 6:1-4; Gal 2:20; Eph 2:4-7). We then pass through death to life free of evil not because we have never committed evil but because we have expressed deep remorse and accepted his death and resurrection as our own. All who reject God and Christ will not be saved but will suffer eternally!
I conclude then that evil has been allowed its existence in the short term to assist in giving God’s created volitional beings on earth the opportunity to make their decision to accept or reject God. Evil then is very much subordinate to God and only exists to allow people choice. All evil will ultimately be separated from God eternally. Those who prefer evil will experience that ultimate separation.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Why did God create our world?

Greetings again pilgrim. If you are an evolutionist, don't write off this stuff immediately. What is written here is working with the premise that God created the world and does not presume at this point to state how he did it. I will look at this another day. So, why did God create this world; this universe? And why did he create us?

The first reason is that he created to express his character. As a creative being, creating is something which flows from God in the same way as painting flows from an artist or a song flows from a composer. God is the ultimate artist, scientist, architect and builder. As such creation is inevitable where God is concerned. This makes it probable to me that there is more to God’s creation than that which we can observe and experience. Concepts like other planets with life, aliens, the multiverse and other unimaginable creations are natural to my view of God. There is nothing in the bible to rule out such an idea despite what some Christians claim. Were we to discover intelligent life forms on other planets or dimensions, for me, this would cohere with the biblical concept of God.

Secondy, he decided to create a world for his created people. The whole point of the creation of the world was to create an ideal environment for humanity to exist in. The picture of the garden of Eden and the wonderful flora and fauna of the earth is for humanity to live in a wonderful free loving relationship with God, free of suffering and evil (read Genesis 2).

Thirdly, he created to create free volitional free creatures with whom he could live in eternal volitional relationship. Put another way, the whole point of creation is love. God is love, meaning that he is relational, wanting to love and to be loved. We humans are created to live with God forever and ever in a relationship of love. He wanted us to do this by choice not by coercion i.e. he wants to spend eternity with those who want to be with him.

Fourthly, he created because it was worth the risk. God knew at the point of creation that it was possible that he would be rejected and evil would rule. In fact, in terms of his omniscience (all-knowledge), he knew that humanity would rebel against him. However he still wanted to create knowing that some would accept him and live eternally with him in a relationship of love.

So he created you to be his companion and friend, to exist with him forever and ever. He wants to bless you and he wants to know you. Will you let him?

Friday, December 1, 2006

Is the Bible Reliable?

Most of the answers I have given and will give to the questions asked come from the Bible. This raises the question of whether the Bible can be trusted. This is a huge question and takes a lot of thought. I would argue that the real issue is not that the bible is true, but whether we can trust the Gospel accounts about Jesus. It is Jesus who we claim to be God the Son, hence the real issue is whether the Gospel’s are true. The wider question about the reliability of the OT (which we consider to be reliable), I will not answer here. There are really good reasons to accept the basic account of Jesus life in the four Gospels are true.

1. They read like eye-witness accounts in that there is general agreement on the outline of what happened with minor discrepancies (virgin conception/birth – ministry of teaching [love/faith-based living] – miracles – prophetic – healing – crucifixion – resurrection – ascensions).
These minor discrepancies make it unlikely that the accounts are the result of collusion i.e. if they were, then the minor discrepancies would have been removed.

2. The similarities between the first three Gospels in particular do not suggest collusion but that in some way Matthew, Mark and Luke were dependant on each other. This is called the Synoptic problem. Most scholars believe that Mark was the first gospel and Matthew and Luke used Mark plus other material they had including possibly a source called Q (quelle). Some others believe Matthew was first and that Mark and Luke are dependent on it. All agree John is an independent source.

3. The cross-referencing to Greco-Roman and Jewish history (e.g. Herod, Pilate [cf. Tacitus, Pliny, Josephus]), archaeology and geography stand up under scrutiny i.e. the dates and references in the gospels-Acts play out against other histories. This suggests that they are reliable.

4. The history which followed in which we see Christianity burst forth (see Acts) and spread in 300 years across the Roman world, often clashing with its mother-faith, Judaism. This suggests that Jesus really lived, died and rose again! If he hadn’t his followers would not have been so determined in the face of persecution.

5. The preparedness of Christians in those 300 or so years to die, often in the worst imaginable way, for their faith strongly suggests that it is for real. Why would such people die for a lie?

6. The power of the Gospels to change lives since the time of Christ is an existential argument for their authenticity

I conclude that the Gospels are an honest recollection of the experiences of the first disciples. As such they record the most amazing and pivotal moments in human history from the incarnation of God the Son in the person of Jesus, to the most extraordinary 3 year ministry of a living human to the ultimate demonstration of Jesus godship, the resurrection. So why not read them.