Category Archives: Questions

The Crash of the American Church?

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Research shows that the “evangelical church” lost around 10 percent of her people in the last decade. There are many factors that are involved that have resulted in this decline. Further, most churches that are growing are just taking people from other churches, not converting people. The Great Evangelical Recession explores the factors involved in the decline of the church and offers suggestions for the future. I found the book helpful and thought-provoking. 

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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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13 Questions to Ask about Questionable Matters (from McQuilkin’s Biblical Ethics)

The below is taken from Robertson McQuilkin’s book Biblical Ethics (512-14). I have found these general principles helpful:

  1. Is it for the Lord? Does it bring praise to him? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor. 10:31). (See also Rom. 14:6-8)
  2. Can I do it in his name (on his authority, implicating him)? Can I thank him for it: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God for Father through him” (Col. 3:17)
  3. Can I take Jesus with me? Would Jesus do it? “Whiter shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?” (Ps. 139:7). “Christ… lives in me” should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). (See also Matt 28:19-20, John 14:16-17, 23.)
  4. Does it belong in the home of the Holy Spirit? “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify god in your body” (1 Cor. 6:29-20). (See also Eph. 4:30.)
  5. Is it of faith? Do I have misgivings? “But he who has doubts is condemned, if he eats, because he does not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). “Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21).
  6. Does it positively benefit, build up (not simply, “Is it harmless?”) “Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19). “Let all things be done for edification” (1 Cor. 14:26). (See also Rom. 15:2; 1 Cor. 10:8; Eph. 4:12-16)
  7. Does it spring from, or lead to, love of this world and its value system? “Do not love the world or the things in the world.   If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). (See also Mark 9:47; 11:14-15)
  8. Does it involve union with an unbeliever? “Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14)
  9. Does it come from or have the potential of leading to bondage? “All things are lawful,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up” (1 Cor. 10:23).
  10. Is the motive pride, or love? “We know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ ‘Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know” (1 Cor. 8:1-2)
  11. Is a godly mind-set the context of my decision on the matter? “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). (See also Rom. 12:1-2)
  12. What does the church say about it? “He who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men” (Rom. 14:18). “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (Acts 15:28). (See also Rom. 14:16)
  13. Would I like to be doing this when Jesus comes? “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming…. We know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 2:28; 3:2-3). (See also Matt. 24:44-51; Luke 23:34-35; 1 Thess. 5:2-4)

Two Humanities

All throughout the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, we see two distinct groups.[1] God has called particular people from all nations. As James Hamilton has said, “People are either seed of the serpent, on the side of the snake in the garden, or seed of the woman, on the side of God and trusting in his promises.”[2]

The careful reader of Scripture can see the enmity between the two seeds in Genesis[3] and in fact through the whole Old Testament. There are physical decedents of Eve that are spiritually seed of the serpent.[4] This is not just something we see in the Old Testament though. We see it through the whole of Scripture (cf. e.g. Matt. 13:38; Jn. 8:44; 1 Jn. 3:8). We see two distinct seeds with two distinct ends from the beginning of Genesis (cf. esp. Gen. 3:15) to the end of Revelation (cf. e.g. Rev. 21).

Notice that in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 there are two groups: 1) those who did not believe and thus receive judgment and 2) those who do believe and thus enjoy the presence of God and marvel at Him. And notice Jesus separates the goats from the sheep based on what they did in their earthly lives (Matt. 25:32ff). People are gravely either goat or sheep, wise or fool, darkness or light, faithful or faithless, in Christ or damned.

As I have said, the Bible shows to different humanities, one lost and the other saved, one in heaven and one in hell. This is what we see throughout the story of Scripture and this is what we see reflected in other places in the early church’s teaching. For instance, the Didache (50-120AD) says, “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways” (1:1).[5]

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Why did God create such a big universe?

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There is a certain way we should approach questions, the first thing that comes to mind is humility. There are certain things we cannot know the definitive answer to. I think that makes sense since we are creation, not Creator. However, that is not to say we shouldn’t ask. Here are a few of my thoughts on the question… 

First, is it actually big? It’s all perspective. To us it seems big, big beyond comprehension. However, Isaiah 40 says that God names every star and that the nations are like dust on a scale. That is, things, even really big things, are small to God. Also, to put things in perspective, ants seem small to us but they don’t seem small to themselves. There are things that are small compared to ants (e.g. protons and neutrons). Maybe it is not the universe that is big but we that are small. Maybe that seems strange because we see ourselves as so big, so grand. Maybe that’s part of the reason the universe is so big, to show us that we are small. We are not the be-all-end-all of the universe. We are small. 

Second, the Bible says that the heavens, i.e. the vast universe, carries out a specific role. And what is that role? The vast universe declares the glory of God (see Ps. 19:1ff; 50:6; Rom. 1)! If the universe is declaring the glory of God it makes sense that it would need to be big! 

Third, God takes pleasure in His creation. There are stars no human will ever see, fish we can’t imagine, and flowers that bloom and die without any humans awareness. But God knows. And God takes pleasure in it all. Remember, in Genesis 1:31 God said it was “very good.” So, God enjoys His vast creation. Remember God is the Great Creator, the Great Artist. Artists create. And it’s awesome and beautiful and sometimes mysterious but it’s what they do, even if no one sees. Creator or Artist is part of who God is, it’s one of His attributes. It’s what He does

Fourth, it causes us to say, “What is man that you are mindful of him” (Ps. 8:4)? It makes us amazed that God the Creator and sustainer of all, the one who upholds the universe by the word of His power, cares about us. Even to the point of death on a cross. 

[In fact, the hardest thing in all the Bible for me to believe is not the resurrection, is not the miracles, is not any of that stuff, that all makes sense to me (God can do all that!). However, what is hard to believe is that God cares about us humans. That is amazing!]


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).


Is Punishment in Hell Restorative?

Universalists sometimes claim that punishment in hell is restorative. They use Matthew 25:46 as a proof-text and translate kolasin aiōnion (κόλασιν αἰώνιον) as agelong chastening or correction. Below I list four reasons why I do not believe in restorative punishment in hell.

First, the noun kolasis (κόλασις) only occurs two times in the NT (Matt. 25:46; 1 Jn. 4:18)[1] and the verb kolazó (κολάζω)[2] also only occurs two times in the NT (Acts 4:21; 2 Pet. 2:9). The majority of English translations translate Kolasis and kolazó as “punish,” “punishment,” or “torment,” (see KJV, NIV, NLT, ESV, NASB, HCSB, NET Bible). In fact, Francis Chan “checked ten commentators from different theological backgrounds and fifteen Bible translations in five different languages on the word kolasis… they all translate kolasis with the word ‘punishment.’”[3]

Second, the term kolasis is used by other literature of the period to mean (non-restorative) punishment. For example, Josephus talks about Herod being on trial and in danger of being sentenced to death, but through the intervention of the high priest, he was delivered from that danger, and all punishment (kolaseōs) (Josephus, Antiquities XV, 16). “Punishment” in the case above does not seem to be used in the “pruning” sense because he is being saved from death[4] (cf. e.g. 2 Macc. 4:38; 4 Macc. 8:9-11). Further, BDAG,[5] one of the most respected dictionaries of Koine Greek, lists all sorts of examples where kolazó and kolasis means “punish” or “punishment” in the non-restorative sense. TDNT[6] also a widely respected dictionary says that the meaning of kolasis is “punishment” and the meaning of kolazó is “punish.”[7]

Third, there are other terms that the NT uses to refer to the concept of punishment. Apollumi (ἀπόλλυμι) occurs ninety-two times and means to “destroy” (e.g. Matt. 10:28; 21:41). Olethros (ὄλεθρος) occurs four times and it means “destruction” (see 2 Thess. 1:9). Timória (τιμωρία[8]) occurs just one time and means “punishment” or “vengeance” (see Heb. 10:29). Ekdikésis (ἐκδίκησις) occurs nine times and means “vengeance” (see 2 Thess. 1:8). Orgé (ὀργή) means “wrath” (see Rom. 2:5; Rev. 14:10) and occurs 36 times.[9] William V. Crockett, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and University of Glasgow, has said, “when we examine orge in Paul we find no reason to assume that it has reformative elements.”[10] He goes on to say, “orge in Paul excludes any notion of divine love.”[11]

Fourth, there is a lot of imagery in Scripture of God’s wrath being poured out that does not look like restorative punishment. This is the type of imagery we see: “So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia [i.e. about 184 miles]” (Rev. 14:19-20 see also Ps. 110:5-6; Is. 66:24; Ezek. 39:17ff; Matt. 24:51; Rev. 6:15-17; 19:11ff; 20:11ff; 21:27). Continue reading


Beauty (a few thoughts & more questions)

Beauty. What is it? Dictionary.com says beauty is “the quality present in a thing or person that gives intense pleasure or deep satisfaction to the mind, whether arising from sensory manifestations (as shape, color, sound, etc.), a meaningful design or pattern, or something else.”

Roger Scruton asks, “Why do we call things beautiful? What point are we making, and what state of mind does our judgment express?”[1]

“The nature of beauty is one of the most enduring and controversial themes in Western philosophy, and is—with the nature of art—one of the two fundamental issues in philosophical aesthetics. Beauty has traditionally been counted among the ultimate values, with goodness, truth, and justice.”[2]

Objective or Subjective?
At the head of the conversation over beauty is whether beauty is subjective or objective. The subjective view holds that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder;” beauty is determined by the subject.[3] The objective view holds that beauty is in the object. That is, there are some things that are objectively beautiful. However, it seems to me that there are actually problems with both of these views.

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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


Can we have hope in the midst of Trump’s (or Obama’s or Clinton’s) “reign”?

donald-j-trump-1271634__480How can we as Christians have hope in the midst of the “reign” of political leaders that we dislike or disagree with? We can have hope when we…

understand who is the King
As Christians, the king or President is not our ultimate King, Jesus is. Peter and Paul both lived under Roman rule, which was not the best of situations. Actually, we are told they were both beheaded under Roman rule. There are many other things that we could look at that happened under Roman rule (e.g. slavery, infanticide, public crucifixion, pornography, bisexuality). However, those things were not Peter and Paul’s main concern. Their main concern was Jesus and His gospel and they could find joy in the midst of adversity in the eschatological hope of Christ and His coming Kingdom.

Our hope is in no king here. Our hope is in the King that came and died. Our hope is in that King coming back and setting all things right. Until then, our job is to be faithful representatives of the King that came to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.

Christ is ultimately King! Not Clinton. Not Trump. Continue reading


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