Christianity 201

May 10, 2017

From Belief That to Belief In

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.
 ~James 2:19 NLT

Right now one of the brightest additions to the field of Christian apologetics has been former cold case detective J. Warner Wallace. (I’m currently reading his newest, Forensic Faith.) We featured his writing here six months ago, and today we return with another installment from his blog. Click the title below to read at source. Note to subscribers: This is the same author/book that Clarke Dixon is using as the focus for his Thursday column here.

Believing the Gospels Is Different Than Trusting the Gospel

In the first chapter of Cold Case Christianity I illustrate the difference between “belief in” and “belief that”. It’s one thing to “believe that” your bullet proof vest can stop a ballistic round, but I’ve known officers who trusted their vests to stop a bullet when they were powerless to do anything in their own defense. In those moments, they moved from “belief that” the vest could save them to “belief in” the vest as a life saver; they transitioned from “belief” to “trust”. We need to do something similar with the claims of Christianity.

I remember my own journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It began with an intensive investigation of the gospels as I examined them from the perspective of eyewitness accounts. I spent several months poring over the canonical gospels in an effort to mine out the red letters of Jesus. Along the way I employed the tools I learned as a detective and eventually decided the only thing preventing me from accepting the gospels as historically reliable eyewitness accounts was my presuppositional bias against anything supernatural. I eventually determined that the gospel writers were reliable eyewitnesses.

At this point in my journey, I believed “that” Jesus was who He said He was, but I was still much like Nicodemus; I had “belief that” but no “belief in”. Nicodemus visited Jesus late at night and told Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Nicodemus had been investigating Jesus and, based on what he saw and heard, he believed “that” Jesus was a Godly teacher. Jesus told Nicodemus this was insufficient; Nicodemus needed to be born again and “believe in” Jesus for his salvation. He told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16-18).

Every one of us, at some point in our investigation of the claims of Christianity, has to move from “belief that” to “belief in”. I can remember telling my wife, Susie, that I had come to the conclusion the New Testament gospels were reliable; I believed they were telling me the truth about what Jesus said and did. But I still didn’t understand the Gospel of Salvation. I still didn’t know why Jesus had to go to the cross. So I asked her, “Do you understand it?” She didn’t have a good answer for me either. As a rebellious, self-reliant detective, I still denied my need for a Savior, even though I accepted what the gospels told me about that Savior. In order to take a step from “belief that” to “belief in”, I needed to move from an examination of Jesus to an examination of Jim.

As I read the gospels for a second and third time and explored all of the New Testament scripture, I began to focus more on what it said about me than what it said about Jesus. I didn’t like what I saw. Over and over again, I recognized the truth about my own character, behavior and need for forgiveness; I began to understand my need for repentance. The facts about Jesus confirmed that He was the Savior, the facts about me confirmed my need to trust in Him for forgiveness. I was now ready to move from “belief that” to “belief in”.

All of us need to be good Christian Case Makers so we can defend what we believe about God and make the case for the claims of Christianity. But we need to be careful to understand the proper role of evidence and the important distinction between believing the gospels and trusting the Gospel. I want to be more than someone who understands and accepts the evidence about Jesus. I want to be someone who understands and accepts the evidence about me. Only then will I begin to place my trust in the Savior that the New Testament reliably describes.

 

September 22, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

[Editor’s Note: This week’s contribution from Pastor Clarke was a little different from what we normally present here…I would love to have been at his church for this sermon!]

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

Read more of Clarke’s writing at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon