RSS

Category Archives: Newspaper Article

The Christian Message, part 2

The message of Christianity (a message that Paul insists is of first importance in 1 Corinthians 15:3) is the gospel. We noted last week that, at minimum, the gospel makes historical claims: Jesus of Nazareth died and was buried, and he arose and was seen by witnesses. Paul strongly emphasizes these historical claims; according to him, if Jesus did not actually arise from the dead, there is no point at all to being a Christian. In fact, he says that if there is no resurrection, Christians should be pitied more than anybody else, for they have utterly wasted their lives.

Now why would he write that? Surely, even if Christianity is not historically or literally true, many millions of people derive comfort from Christian churches, both from participation in the familiar rituals and from relationships with other believers. The teachings of Jesus would still give us sound moral guidance, wouldn’t they? So why would Paul insist that Christianity is worthless without the literal, historical resurrection of Jesus?

The fact that some are ready to disagree with Paul indicates that the common Christianity of our day is not the same message that Paul proclaimed. And the chief difference is one of doctrine.

You see, Paul did not merely say that Jesus died, but that Jesus died for our sins. In addition, he twice notes that Jesus’s death and resurrection were according to the Scriptures. This is to say, then, that it is not sufficient to believe merely that Jesus died and rose again; the reason that Jesus died and the meaning of his resurrection are also vital to the gospel.

Jesus’s death, according to Paul, has something to do with our sins. Now, sin is an unpopular word in our day, but it is central to the Bible’s message. One confession of faith puts it this way: we are all “sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of that holiness required by the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin, without defense or excuse.” This is certainly no flattering description, but it is one supported by Scripture (to choose only two of many passages: Romans 1:20 and Ephesians 2:1–3).

So we are sinners. And to connect our discussion back to the gospel, here is the key biblical idea: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). What this means is that, if we are sinners, we have merited eternal condemnation. This death is rightfully ours.

If you understand this, you are now in position to see why the gospel is good news; you can see the value in Paul’s proclamation that Jesus died for our sins. And in next week’s essay, we’ll see why that truth is the very core of the Christian message.

 
Comments Off on The Christian Message, part 2

Posted by on February 21, 2013 in Newspaper Article, Theology

 

Tags:

The Christian Message, part 1

What is the central message of a Christian church? The correct answer to this question must always be the gospel. This answer, of course, merely suggests the obvious follow-up question: what is the gospel? For this answer, I don’t think we can do better than to look at the explanation given to us by Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15:1–6:

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

While calling this gospel a message of highest importance, Paul highlights two historical facts that are essential to the gospel: that Jesus Christ died and that he was raised on the third day. Each of these events is supported by evidence. The evidence of his death is that he was buried, and the evidence of his resurrection is that he then appeared to a host of folks who ended up believing the Christian message.

This is to say that, at minimum, the gospel message makes claims about historical reality. There is no reason for a church to exist if it does not believe that Jesus literally died and literally rose from the dead. As Paul continues in 1 Corinthians 15:14–19:

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Give special attention to that last verse: Paul insists that Christianity is less than worthless if it merely provides a measure of comfort in this life. Such a benefit falls far short of the eternal promises that the gospel offers, and these eternal promises are empty if Christ’s resurrection is not historical fact.

But the gospel is not only fact; it is doctrine. And we will see this aspect of the gospel in next week’s essay.

 
Comments Off on The Christian Message, part 1

Posted by on February 20, 2013 in Newspaper Article, Pastoral

 

Tags: ,

“Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

Does might make right? The question is one of ethics: who gets to say, in an ultimate sense, what is right and what is wrong? By what standard are we to know what is right?

People advocate a variety of answers to these questions. For some, what brings pleasure is the standard for what is right. For others, the measure is pragmatic: what works is what is right. Yet others insist that ethics are determined by whomever is strongest; this is the claim that might makes right.

The notion that might makes right is objectionable to most folks because it makes morality relative in a way that we find unacceptable. Typically, a single counterexample exposes the problem: if Hitler’s forces had prevailed in the Second World War, most insist that Hitler’s values would nonetheless be correctly judged corrupt and reprehensible. And his values would be no less worthy of contempt if, having conquered the world, he would have reigned without challenge until the end of the age.

The twist in the discussion came for me when I was told about a skeptic who suggested that the Christian position is equivalent to the claim that might makes right. And this objection seems plausible: the Bible clearly presents God as uniquely mighty, and as the one who will judge the living and the dead (Rev 20:11-15). He blesses those who do what he has commanded, and he condemns, for all eternity and in great torment, all those who will not do what he has dictated. Isn’t God simply the most egregious example of might making right? And if so, and if it is false that might makes right, shouldn’t a rational person object to the Christian message?

Now, as a Christian, I have to confess my belief in God the Father Almighty. The Bible says that “our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Ps 115:3). Denying the mightiness of God is no option for the Christian. That said, Scripture does not teach that God arbitrarily dictates what is right and wrong. Rather, moral standards are determined by God’s own unchanging character. In other words, it is not God’s mere mightiness that permits him to say what is right, but the fact that his character is wholly good.

But I think there’s an even more interesting reply to this objection. Suppose that Hitler does win, and does reign unchallenged until the universe ends. And further suppose that there is no justice awaiting him after his death. In that kind of universe, wasn’t he right? He won, didn’t he? But few of us would want to concede this point.

It seems to me that if we want to deny that mere might makes right, we must believe that the right must not only be mighty, but almighty. Otherwise, there is no justice in the universe, and there is no value in holding to the right. Without ultimate justice in the universe, then might really does equal right. The only safeguard against might making right is the existence of a right that ultimately overcomes all that is not right.

Now, those who object to Christianity will find the remaining truth (that God is still almighty) no less comfortable. For the if the right remains constant despite the objections of even the mighty, it will be the case that, in the end of things, we will stand before the Judge who never fails to do justice.

 
Comments Off on “Might Makes Right” and Christian Ethics

Posted by on February 19, 2013 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

Tags: , ,

Newspaper column 2

My introductory article made clear my intent to focus on biblical answers to common questions. I closed by asking, “Why should we believe something just because the Bible says so?” This is a supremely important question: if there’s no good reason to believe the Bible, talking about biblical answers to questions is rather pointless.

Here’s one possible answer to the question of the Bible’s trustworthiness: “I believe that the Bible is completely authoritative simply because it is God’s Word, and it commands my allegiance and submission.” A different answer would be something like this: “I think that the Bible is trustworthy because it agrees with the conclusions of science and history and archeology and ethics, and therefore merits my allegiance.”

The first answer sounds terribly circular, doesn’t it? The second, by contrast, seems more rational and well-considered. But when talking about the Bible, we’re asking questions about our ultimate authority, and discussions about our ultimate authorities work differently than normal questions.

You see, most disputes are resolved by referring to some kind of shared authority. “I saw it with my own eyes!” “I read it online.” “The state law says….” “My horoscope promises….” These claims are appeals to authority: if you and I both accept a given source of authority as trustworthy (your sense experience, for instance, or my encyclopedia), our dispute can be settled by consulting that authority.

But suppose I reject a source of authority that you accept. I ask you why I should believe that a horoscope is a valid and trustworthy source of knowledge about the events of the coming day, and you respond, “Look, it says right here in the horoscope, ‘Completely valid and trustworthy.’“ I look at you, unimpressed.

But isn’t this the same thing I’d be doing if I said, “Look, the Bible is trustworthy; it says so right here in the Bible”? It may seem so; however, if I’m making the claim that the Bible is the ultimate authority, what alternative do I have?

Consider this parallel situation: a person says, “I don’t accept anything by authority; I have to test it myself.” A person who says this is claiming to be his own ultimate authority. If I were to ask him, “What makes you think that you’re entitled to such a lofty position?”, he’d either have to appeal to his own authority (a circular argument) or else appeal to some other source of authority, which undercuts his claim of being the ultimate authority.

The point here is that all claims of ultimate authority must, in the final analysis, be circular. What happens when two (or more) claims of ultimate authority collide? For instance, the Bible claims ultimate authority, but so do people who don’t believe the Bible. We’ll need at least another article to address that question.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Apologetics, Newspaper Article

 

For the local newspaper

One of my tasks here in Wakefield is continuing a column that Pastor Thomas Bauder used to write for the local newspaper. I’m planning to cross-post these essays on the blog as well. Here’s the first essay, in which I introduce myself.

—————

The editor of this paper has my thanks for allowing me to inherit the column previously written by Pastor Thomas Bauder, who preceded me in the pulpit of Calvary Baptist Church of Wakefield. My further thanks go to Pastor Bauder; he answered dozens of my questions and has shown me nothing but kindness in this transition. I know full well that I cannot replace him.

As a newcomer, a word of introduction is in order. I was born and reared in suburban Detroit. (The church here has agreed to mock my origins only when I really deserve it.) I have a couple of degrees in Bible and theology and am working on another. My ministry to this point has been mostly in academic institutions: I taught at a Bible college in Arizona and was most recently an administrator at a seminary in Minneapolis.

My wife Alicia is from Washington state, born near the coast and reared in the mountains on its eastern side. We met and were married in Arizona. Our daughter Katharine is 18 months old, and she will be an older sister come the turn of the new year.

I intend to continue writing this column in the format that Pastor Bauder established: simply explaining what the Bible says in answer to various questions. Why so? Mostly because I have little else worthwhile to offer. No one should read this column (or attend Calvary Baptist Church, for that matter) to marvel at my wisdom. I’m still youngish, and the Bible says nothing flattering about the wisdom of the young. Even if I were a fountain of wisdom, my calling as a pastor is not to be a puritanical Dear Abby. Opinions and advice are cheap and plentiful, and although I think mine are correct (else I wouldn’t hold them), they can be safely discarded if they are merely mine.

No, anything of value that I have to say must be rooted in a deeper wisdom. I’m convinced that the Bible is the very Word of God, and this column will (continue to) be written with that conviction. Proverbs, the very heart of the Bible’s wisdom books, tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7), and for that reason, the Psalmist calls the Word of God “a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (119:105).

And so my life, my pastorate, and this column will be driven by a commitment to the Bible’s total trustworthiness. Why believe a thing like that? That, my friends, is certainly a column for another week.

 
Comments Off on For the local newspaper

Posted by on July 18, 2012 in Newspaper Article, Pastoral