Category Archives: Apologetics

Reflections on “the problem of evil”

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I have been reflecting on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it has made me think about “the problem of evil.” In fact, at the end of the book Tom himself, one of the spiritual heroes of the book, is wrestling with the problem himself. In the book, there are all sorts of terrible realities that represent actual events. Injustice after injustice happen to the people in the story, and again, these stories are based on actual real life events.

One could try to do away with these sad and confused thoughts by just saying that slavery ended long ago. However, this does not solve the problem. Evil continues, injustice continues, ramifications continue. Further, there is still slavery. There is still abuse. Some live life as a mere dash in-between agony and futility. That is all they know, tossed on an endless wave of seemingly nothingness. So one does not escape the question by saying things are now good, or at least not so bad. What then is the answer to the pain, the suffering, the injustice?! Why do people, millions of people, live painful lives, just to die in greater pain?

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Jesus and Jihad (part two)

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Jesus and Jihad

I talked to a Muslim friend recently that said Islam and Christianity are ninety-six percent the same. I strongly disagree with him and believe most informed Muslims would as well. There is an irrevocable difference between Christianity and Islam. Some Christian missionaries go and die if need be, whereas some Muslim “missionaries” go and kill if need be. This is because Jesus died and said take up your crosses whereas Muhammad killed and said take up your swords. Jesus promises salvation through justification; Muhammad claims it comes through jihad. 

It is important to understand that Jesus (Isa in the Qur’an) is quite prominent in the Qur’an and is held to be a prophet. The Qur’an assumes that its readers will have a working knowledge of Jesus and His teaching (cf. Surah 2:136; 4:29; 5:46). Islam even teaches that Jesus will return and carry out justice and “break the cross.”[1] However, there is a very large contrast between what the Qur’an teaches about religious use of violence and what Jesus teaches on violence. So, let’s look at what Jesus has to say about violence.

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Jesus and Jihad (part one)

 

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Introduction

Islam has many expressions. It is not monolithic. We are wrong if we think we understand Muslims because we have met one or read the Qur’an. That is a simplistic and false understanding. “Islam is a dynamic and varied religious tradition.”[1] In the same way, if you have met a Christian and read the New Testament, for example, that does not mean that you understand Christianity. “The range of contemporary Muslim religiosity varies tremendously. One of the reasons for this is that people understand and ‘use’ religion in a variety of ways; that is true whether we are dealing with Islam or Christianity or any other religion.”[2]

As Christians have different beliefs regarding certain doctrines, Muslims have different beliefs as well. Christianity has many expressions, liberal and fundamental and various particular denominations. In this post (and in part two), we will explore the Islamic understanding of jihad and contrast it with Christianity. Our first observation is to realize the multifaceted nature of our exploration.

Many Expressions of Islam

As we have briefly seen, not all Muslims are the same and not all Muslims understand jihad in the same way. So, some Muslims emphasize the more peaceful passages (e.g. surah 5:32; 2:256; Allah is also repeatedly said to be “most gracious, most merciful”) and that the Qur’an seems to teach to not begin the fight (2:190; 22:39). However, others believe that those who have not confessed Allah and his prophet have already essentially made war with Muslims and should be subjugated.[3] Some Muslims are strict adherents to Islam and some are secular. Muslims are not homogeneous. (For example, we see two very different narrative accounts in Nabeel Qureshi’s, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and Mosab Hassan Yousef’s, Son of Hamas). In fact, “not all Muslims believe that the Qurʾān is the literal and inerrant word of God, nor do all of them believe that Islam requires strict conformity to all the religious and moral precepts in the Qurʾān.”[4] We could group Muslims into three broad groups: secular Muslims, traditional Muslims, and fundamentalist Muslims.

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Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (a book review)

Nabeel Qureshi, once a devout Ahmadiyya Muslim, is now a Christian apologist. Qureshi holds an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University as well as an MA in religion from Duke University. So, Qureshi is qualified to write on the subject. He is personally knowledgeable not only about the academic aspects of Islam but also the relational and experiential aspects as well.
Importance of the Book
It was enlightening to see how difficult it is for a Muslim to convert to Christianity. Qureshi at one point questions whether or not Christians understood what an impact their message would have on him (p. 120). He even said, “My battle against the lordship of Jesus was an organic outgrowth of everything that defined me” (p. 172). Qureshi knew that if he decided to become a Christian he would shame his family with incredible dishonor. He was not sure if he could do that to his family after they had done so much for him (p. 252).

Hearing about Qureshi’ struggle as he thought about what it would mean to convert to Christianity was helpful. It will help me to be appropriately empathetic will discussing Christianity with Muslims. It is helpful to realize that “Muslims often risk everything to embrace the cross” (p. 253). I appreciated hearing his prayer: “O God! Give me time to mourn. More time to mourn the upcoming loss of my family, more time to mourn the life I’ve always lived” (p. 275). I also appreciated what he said about the cost of discipleship: “I had to give my life in order to receive His life. This was not some cliché. The gospel was calling me to die” (p. 278). Continue reading


Texts Espoused to Teach Universalism

The goal here is not to give an exhaustive commentary on each passage but merely to show that there are very viable interpretations that are faithful to the whole of Scripture and do not lead to universalism.

Is. 45:22-23

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. [23] By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”

In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) απιστραϕητε is an imperative and means “turn around.” It has to do with changing ones beliefs and ways. It translates the Hebrew word (פָּנָה) meaning “turn” which is also in the imperative. So God here is not asking people to turn to Him, He’s commanding it. And it says that all people (from the farthest stretches of the earth) who turn to Him will be saved. But it implies that all who don’t turn to Him (in space in time before the Judgment) will not be saved. So we see precedence for “all” being saved here, that is, if any turn to the Lord from all over the earth they will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved, Jew or Gentile. It was (in the OT and NT) an amazing thing for Paul for example that Gentiles can now be welcomed in (he called it a mystery). All the uncircumcised, the Egyptians that enslaved Israel, the Babylonians, all people that turn to the Lord (in space in time before the Judgment) will be saved. They will be saved from the terror of the Messiah’s Second Coming and the Final Destruction.

In the context, this passage would strike fear into the hearers, not comfort. This passage is saying, “repent and turn or else!” Further, v. 25 says “all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” i.e. all those who have faith (see e.g. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-16; 9:6), not all without exception. “Yahweh’s speech ends with a prediction of destructive fire for those who do not submit to his reality and reign (Isa 47:14-15)… There is voluntary submission for some and involuntary submission for others.”[1]

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Our Questions and Arriving at Answers

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First, our disposition or the way we approach questions is really important. How should we approach questions? What should characterize us?

Humility! Why? Because we are fallible, we make mistakes (We should also be aware of chronological snobbery). However, God does not. Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Also, kindness, patience, and understanding are an important part of humility and asking questions and arriving at answers.

Second, where do we get answers from? Scripture. Why is this important? Again, I am and you are fallible, that is, we make mistakes. And how should we approach getting those answers? Are we above Scripture or is Scripture above us? Who holds more sway? Scripture supplies the truth to us, we do not decide what we think and then find a way to spin things so that we can believe whatever we want…

Third, community is important. God for instance has given the church elders who rightly handle the Word of truth and shepherd the community of believers. We don’t decide decisions and come to conclusions on our own. God helps us through Christ’s body the Church.

Fourth, it is important to remember mystery, we cannot expect to know all things. We are… fallible. So, we should keep Deuteronomy 29:29 in mind: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” There are certain things that are revealed and certain things that are not revealed.

Fifth, our questions and answers are not simply about head knowledge. God doesn’t just want us to be able to talk about theology. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “that we may do…” So, there may be questions that are not especially helpful. I’m not saying we can’t ask them, we can. Only we may not be able to have a definitive answer and the question may be of a less practical nature (e.g. supralapsarianism or infralapsarianism).


Suffering and Our Savior

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When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.

However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering. 

Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.

Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.

So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not it. We thankfully are not left there. We also see…

God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering.[1] God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.

First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.

Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.”[2] Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!

Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.

God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.

So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!

Actually, even now we have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).

Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 7)

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Significance for Christian Practice
Nietzsche is certainly good at reminding us that if God does not break into human experience then we are hopelessly lost. Nietzsche shows us what the antithesis of Christianity looks like. Nietzsche is correct, if God is dead, “if atheism is true, there is no moral accountability for one’s actions… If life ends at the grave, it makes no difference whether one lives as Stalin or as a saint.”[1]

Apologists need to show people the world as it is, and existentialists like Nietzsche can do a good job at shaking us awake to the realities of our broken world. Ironically, understanding Nietzsche could help people become “poor in spirit,” a prerequisite to the Kingdom of heaven. Through, the dark and dooming picture that Nietzsche paints we can see our existential need for God. Thus, understanding Nietzsche’s philosophy can actually be helpful for Christians. Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 6)

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The Christian Ideal and the Answer to what Ails Us
Apologetics sees the questions in philosophy and religion and points to how Scripture ultimately answers them. Scripture answers Nietzsche’s questions (though perhaps unvocalized) about meaning and hopelessness.

Nietzsche is basically stuck on the Fall but does not understand the rest of the Biblical story that explains our reality. He does not realize that because God does exist and has revealed Himself and made us in His image that we have access to and can know truth. We also see in Scripture that there is more than nothing (nihil), there is hope in Christ. In fact, hope of everything that Nietzsche acknowledged as so wrong being fixed.

Interestingly, we see that we desire a superhero, a savior. We see this truth in all sorts of examples (e.g. The Avengers, Matrix, Batman, Superman, etc.). For Nietzsche, it was the Übermensch that he hoped in.[1] In all of this, we see humanities need for meaning and morality and for a Savior to fix all that we sense is so wrong. What explains all of this? The biblical worldview.[2] Continue reading


Nietzsche: Prophet of Doom (Part 5)

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Nietzsche’s Ideal Implodes
Salaquarda points out that “Historical criticism remained Nietzsche’s most important argument against religion up to the beginning of the 1880s.”[1] However, there are many persuasive arguments that have been made that support, for instance, the resurrection of the Jesus.[2] So, in my opinion, a convincing case can be made for why we can and should believe in the resurrection of Jesus and for the reliability of the Old and New Testaments. Thus, the bedrock of Nietzsche’s criticism is unfounded. In the end, it is his foundation that is shaky (Nietzsche does not even believe in true truth!). Nietzsche also claimed that God was dead and told people that they should live in light of that reality. However, good arguments can be made that conclude that God is alive and well.[3] Truly, even as we look at the world we live in it seems apparent that it is the fool that says there is no God (Ps. 14:1; 53:1).

Nietzsche said, “atheism and a sort of second innocence belong together.”[4] If God is dead there is not only no morality, there is innocence. No one is guilty. No one should feel guilty. Each person can freely do what they see as right in their own eyes. However, human experience tells us otherwise. Nietzsche seems to paint hell as heaven. If we apply his logic he seems to hold up the carnage of Auschwitz as a return to Eden.[5] As William Lane Craig has said, “If God does not exist, then in a sense, our world is Auschwitz: there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[6]

The world will eventually burn up in the death of the sun. There is no meaning. We are decaying matter that will soon be planted. If we are merely matter in motion then we have no morals. We cannot say man descended from apes and thus has no final importance and also say that we must love one another. That reasoning does not follow. Continue reading


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