Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What's Missing?

My name is Daniel, and I am writing to find out a little more about the Christian Faith. So before the questions, a little bit of background.

I have had an interest in Christianity for 6 or 7 years. During that time I have had many conversations with Christians, read a few books about Christianity, attended church on and off, and had some interesting email exchanges. For a period of about 5 months at the end of 2004 I considered myself to be a Christian, but since then have become increasingly skeptical. However, I believe that the answer to the question of who Jesus was has such enormous ramifications that it would be foolhardy for me to ever stop inquiring. I live in Australia, am 25 years old, middle class, and consider myself to be an open minded atheist (an oxymoron in some of your eyes no doubt!).

Enough about me, please find below a number of questions that I would love to hear some different opinions on. If you are too busy to answer all of them, no worries - I ask that you would either answer the first three, or forward this email to a regular at your church who may have a bit more time on their hands. If there are a few people at your church who would be interested in responding, that would be fine also.

I am writing purely for my own interest and education.

Kind Regards, Dan

Hi Dan,

I'll see if I can answer some of your questions:

1. Why should I dedicate my life to Jesus Christ?

Because Jesus is Lord, he offers life, joy, peace, and hope. And because he is Lord, the alternative to submission isn't good. It really isn't a choice on your part. Jesus is Lord. That means you either serve him with your whole life, or you don't. You do choose that. But life is not centered on you, it is centered on him. Everything revolves around him. Everything either serves him or it does not. But the fact that Jesus is Lord means that he gets it his way, no matter what we do.

On the up side, he is a benevolent God. He defines love, and goodness, and truth, and beauty. He gives true life. He laid down his life on our behalf because he loves us. He is Lord, but he isn't a stern Lord except to those who don't and won't submit themselves to him. Rebels don't believe that he is good, but those who serve him are blessed in everything they do--because he knows them and he cares for them.

So, don't ask this question like your dedication will be doing God a favor, he is Lord. The whole attitude is one of a great blessing to you, if you finally give up the struggle for your own autonomy and finally bow the knee to the only one who is worthy of you worship.

2. How do you know that Jesus was who you think he was?

Nothing in life makes any sense or fits or is consistent apart from the knowledge that Jesus is Lord and the Bible is true. If it is not, we have no hope in the world. But we do have hope and everything that happens in the world is described perfectly in the Bible. There is nothing in life that does not fit.

3. What are the top 5 books (excluding the Bible) concerning Christianity that you would suggest I read?

What's wrong with the Bible? You should read that too. Start with the Gospel of John and just keep reading.
Apart from the Bible, I suggest these five to get you started.

The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe by Lewis
Persuasions by Wilson
Mere Christianity by Lewis
The Pilgrim's Regress by Lewis
Defense of the Faith by Van Til

4. What do you believe about the power of prayer?
There is no power in prayer. The power is in the God who you are praying to. God love his people. We know this because he sent his son to die in our place. But we also know that one who loves will do whatever the loved one asks for, if it is for his ultimate good. So, I know that God loves me, he constantly pours out his blessings on me and my family, and he does what I ask for when it is in accord with what he wants to do in the larger scheme of things--things I don't know about.

5. What do you think the phrase "faith in Jesus Christ" means?

The word faith is a word we translate from a Greek word that also is translated as belief and trust. So when I say I have faith in Jesus Christ it means that I believe that he is Lord of lords and King of kings. It means that I have entrusted my eternal life to him because of who he is and because of who I'm not. I look at the past and see the pattern of God's hand on it and I believe that he has a grand plan and I give myself to him: lock, stock and barrel because he is trustworthy. I believe that he is Lord and I am not.

6. In what sense are The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit the same, and in what sense are they different?

They are one God and thus they share attributes and characteristics with one another. They differ in their role with regard to creation. The Father speaks, the Son creates, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is a huge topic and this is only a very very rudimentary statement. If you want to read some more you might read The Doctrine of God by John Frame.

7. Do you believe that it takes as much faith to be an atheist as it does to be a Christian?
I don't believe that faith is something that you can measure. It isn't a substance. A person, Christian or not, trusts in something for his life. That trust is faith. I believe the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is essentially who they will serve. It isn't about evidence or about truth, or knowledge or about anything other than who gets to be in charge. If it were really about any of these things, everyone would obviously be a Christian. There is nothing in science or creation that points to anything other than God's existence, but more than that, everything points to the God of Christianity. If folks could divorce the evidence from the obvious ramifications of the evidence, no one would deny the truth of Christianity. But the ramification is that if Christianity is true, we have to stop serving and loving ourselves and pour ourselves into the service of God Almighty. And we're back to where we started--who are you going to serve: the Lord Jesus Christ or yourself?

8. Do you think that a belief in evolution is irreconcilable with a faith in Christ?

Ultimately, yes. I think Christians, those who have faith in Christ, can be confused and wrong about evolution, but really, when you get right down to it Evolution is a competing world system with the God of the Bible. So as a person truly gives himself over to Jesus the Lord, he will distance himself from the silliness of evolution in favor of the God who is the Creator.

9. Is there anything else you would like to share concerning your religious beliefs?

When you go to the pool there are a couple of ways to get in: you can just jump in, or you can slide in really really slowly with the intent of getting used to the water as you slide. This is sort of like that. The problem is that the water is ice cold and sliding in is virtually impossible. The only way to get into really cold water is to just jump in. Sometimes events on the shore make jumping in, even into icy water, seem much more plausible. For instance, if you're in a forest that is on fire, jumping into ice water is a much easier choice.

But suppose there was no forest fire and you only thought the water was icy. There are plenty of folks already in the water who are saying, "Come on in, the water's fine." But you are convinced the water is really cold and they are all just trying to joke with you. They will all laugh when you hit the water and your hearts stops for a second and you turn into a bright blue smerf. But what if they aren't? What if the water is really a nice warm 87 degrees? What if it is so clear that you can see forever and the sights down there are wonderful and beautiful?

Becoming a Christian is a lot like that. The Bible says come to Jesus. Lay down your life and take up his. Your burdens are heavy and his is light. Let him take yours and you take his. He'll lift you up and take you to the throne room of God where you will join inumerable saints worshiping the God who loves you.

Normally God has to cause events and situations in a non-believer's life to be so bad that not being a Christian is impossible to maintain (the forest fire). When you life is so awful that giving yourself over the Christ is the only way to turn, then you will come. The issue is really, down deep in your soul: who will be Lord? You are Jesus? That is the core issue. Is Jesus Lord? Then serve him. If you are lord, then keep on making things up to try to justify the terrible things going on in and around your life. You aren't God and you can't run the universe--even your own universe. So I urge you, before your life gets so bad there isn't anywhere else to turn, while there is still opportunity to turn, turn to Christ the author, creator and keeper of your soul.

I hope this helps,

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Standard Setter

"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty."
Revelation 1:8

Who Sets the Standard?

…just raising the question as to whether God “measures up” to our standard of goodness is to assume that we set the standard for goodness, not God.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 20.

The God Who Can

Why is his [Rabbi Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People] book so popular? I think it is because it provides a kind of solution to the problem that everyone who believes in God in some way feels. God can be a friend without being in any way responsible for our suffering, either by action or by inaction. Kushner’s God is accessible, lovable, friendly—a god to whom we can relate as someone who shares our predicament of suffering and powerlessness. In his system, prayer does not change things; it only changes us. Religion makes us sensitive to other people’s pain and gives us the strength to get through the suffering by affirming our self-worth…What good is a God who cannot do anything but wring his hands and sympathize?...The biblical writers prayed to a sovereign who can remedy the situation. Even Jesus in his agony prayed to God, knowing that the issue was not one of God’s power, but of his will: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 19.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Suffering as Discipline

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.
Hebrews 12:7-13

Something Wrong

Suffering tells us that something is wrong. If there were no suffering, how many of us would be concerned either with God or with the welfare of others? The overwhelming immensity of suffering, the fact that there is so much of it, ought to give us some indication of the magnitude of the wrongness in the world and the enormity of humanity’s sinfulness.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 14.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Everyone Suffers, Everyone Dies

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
Luke 13:1-5

God Controls Evil

Here is where we must start. God’s sovereignty is the most important ground work for any biblical dealing with suffering. If God does not have control over evil, then evil is only senseless and meaningless, and it is silly to ask, “Why is there suffering?”…in answer to the general question, “Why is there suffering?”, the answer is that suffering is always a consequence of the curse. It is therefore indirectly the consequence of our sinfulness.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 13

Friday, August 15, 2008

Suffering: Becoming Like Him

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his , that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the .
Philippians 3:7-11

Suffering is Part of the Solution to Suffering

So the general answer to why there is suffering is, oddly, because God cares about the relationship he has with his image bearers. He does not shrug off our rebellion. Suffering is part of the curse that results from sin, but suffering is also part of the solution.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 12.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

How We Suffer Matters

Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Philippians 1:27-30

Suffering: A Gift From our Loving God

The main point of Genesis 3 is this: God has ordained suffering! It is a result of his curse. Suffering is not something outside of his dominion or beyond his control. But also note here that suffering is not merely punitive. It is also redemptive. Suffering is not God’s vindictive bashing of humanity for its disobedience; it is God’s means of restoring rightness to his creation and rescuing us from the evil situation we produced for ourselves.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 10.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Suffering: A Great Temptress

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.
1 Corinthians 10:13-14

The God of Peace Is At War

This story [Gen. 3:14-15] is not about how the snake developed its means of locomotion; it is about the humiliation and curse of Satan, the great enemy of God and humanity. God was not about to allow humanity to be Satan’s tame pet. So God first dealt with the perpetrator of this evil by setting up a war. God is a God of peace, but he does not make peace with Satan. In fact it is because God is a God of peace that he is at war, and sets us at war, with Satan.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 8.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Trust In A Faithful God

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.
Deuteronomy 29:29

When Questions Arise

It is when you experience affliction and oppression, when pain runs amok, when pain is seemingly futile, and when evil is so clearly present, that questions are raised, Then is when you begin to question all you know of God—his wisdom, his justice, his goodness, his sovereignty, even is being.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 7

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Answer to Suffering

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
Psalm 63:1-4

Simply Part of Life

But for most of the world's history, pain has been regarded simply as part of life.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 6

Thursday, August 07, 2008

For Those Who Suffer

In fact, we could say that the Bible is the book about suffering. From suffering’s origins in the Fall of humanity in Genesis 3 to its final defeat in Revelation 21, over and over the biblical writers raise the questions of why God’s chosen people are suffering and what their response should be. Israel’s bondage in Egypt, Israel’s suffering in the wilderness, their experience of oppression from their neighbors, their constant warfare, their droughts, and their exile are all problems for the biblical writers. Indeed, it was the question of suffering that gave rise to most of the Bible.
Dan G. McCartney, Why Does It Have to Hurt?, p. 3

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Things Seen are Transient

For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18


Cornelius Van Til spent over 40 years of his life working to create and teach a philosophy of apologetics that was distinctively Reformed and thus Biblical. He called his approach Presuppositional apologetics or Transcendental apologetics. He anchored his approach in Covenantal thinking which was tied directly to the relationship of God in the Trinity. Van Til was followed by such philosophers as John Frame and Greg Bahnsen, who massaged and popularized Dr. Van Til’s approach.

Presuppositional apologetics is contrasted with what has been called Evidentialist or Classical apologetics. “Classical” apologetics assumed that people could put aside their preconceived philosophies and religions and meet for discussion in a neutral arena. According to this view facts are facts and there can be no debate about this. Either a thing happened or it didn’t. So, the Evidentialist apologist seeks to pile up historical evidence before the non-Christian so that over time the non-Christian will have to admit that the truths presented are true indeed. So, men like John Warwick Montgomery, Josh McDowell, and Norman Giesler write books that teach and model this approach to apologetics and thus evangelism.

The problem with this method of apologetics, according to Van Til and others, is that the whole system is flawed by the central fact that the approach is not found in the Bible. No one in the Bible sought to reason with non-believers; no one assumed that there was anywhere that men could go that would be neutral; and no one piled up “facts” to try to convince others that the truths of Scripture were or are true. Dr. Van Til, therefore, sought to come up with a thoroughly Biblical approach to apologetics that was grounded in the word of God and was also consistent with the Calvinist theology he understood to be the only consistently Biblical theology.

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Cry to God For Help

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
See if there be any grievous way in me,
lead me in the way everlasting!
Psalm 139:23-24