Action

Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger have written a very good book about entrepreneurs entitled Who Owns the Ice House?.  The basis of the book is the entrepreneurial lessons Taulbert learned from his uncle Cleve who owned an ice house in Mississippi.  One of the lessons he learned is that one must take action if one is to succeed.  Uncle Cleve’s way of expressing that truth is:  “Yessir, if you ain’t got nothin’ planted, ain’t nothin’ gonna show up.” [1]  Ideas are great and they can provide us with a goal to aim towards.  However, as Schoeniger states:  “The truth is that good ideas are a commodity, but taking action is what really counts.” [2]

The Greco-Roman philosopher Lucian equates action with fruit and words with husks. [3]  Husks are important to the formation of a fruit but they are of minimal nutritional value to us.  Would we prefer husks to fruit?

Action has the same importance in our spiritual as in our physical lives.  Our beliefs, our ideas of how God has constructed our existence, are important but what is the value of our beliefs if we do not translate them into action?  The Bible, in the book of James, expresses this idea in this fashion:

If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? (James 2:15-17 ESV).

Anyone who just gave encouraging words to a poor person when they had the means to help them with the necessities of life would not be well thought of by almost everyone (there are a few sociopaths in the world who would differ).  So why do we think our relationship with God would be any different?  The Bible is very clear that God wants our actions, not just our beliefs.

___________________________

[1]   Clifton Taulbert and Gary Schoeniger, Who Owns the Ice House?, Cleveland, OH:  ELI Press, LLC., 2010, p. 75.

[2]   Taulbert and Schoeniger, p. 86.

[3]   Luke Timothy Johnson, Practical Philosophy:  The Greco-Roman Moralists, Chantilly, VA:  The Teaching Company, 2002, Part 1, p. 76.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Christian Athletes

Last year, World magazine ran an article on Christian athletes and their public expressions of faith. [1]  The article noted these expressions of faith are noteworthy and have generally been well received by the press.  However, Kurt Warner is quoted as saying that Christian athletes must live the life of a Christian first and then words can follow.  Actions are what demonstrate sincerity of those words.  The article concludes that Christian athletes must not let their actions or lack of actions destroy the positive press they have received.

If we humans acknowledge that words can be insincere and that actions are what demonstrate the sincerity of our words, why do we think God is any different?  I love how Mark Twain asks this question.

For ages we have taught ourselves to believe that when we hide a disapproving fact, burying it under a mountain of complimentary lies, He [God] is not aware of it, does not notice it, perceives only the compliments, and is deceived.  But is it really so?  Among ourselves we concede that acts speak louder than words, but we have persuaded ourselves that in His case it is different; we imagine that all He cares for is words—noise; that if we make the words pretty enough they will blind Him to the acts that give them the lie.

But seriously, does anyone really believe that?  Is it not a daring affront to the Supreme Intelligence to believe such a thing?  Does any of us inordinately praise a mother’s whole family to her face, indiscriminately, and in that same moment slap one of her children?  Would not that act turn our inflamed eulogy into nonsense?  Would the mother be deceived?  Would she not be offended—and properly? [2]

In fact God is not different than us in this regard.  This blog has documented that the entire Bible tells us God’s primary concern is our actions, not our beliefs.  So why is our doctrine of salvation concerned solely with our beliefs?

It seems we Christians live our lives one way and construct our theology another.  In our lives we acknowledge that actions speak louder than words but in our theology we say that word are more important than actions.

 __________________________

[1]  Mark Bergin, “Thanking God”, World, July 14, 2012, p. 76.

[2]   Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth (Greenwich, Conn.:  Fawcett Publications, 1962), p. 174.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

In the last blog I mentioned I had just read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  There are several scenes in which characters state their views on Christianity and the Bible and these views are very similar to what we have said in this blog.

In one scene, St. Clare is talking to his daughter Eva.  Eva expresses love for her servants—her slaves.  St. Clare questions his daughter’s ability to love her slaves to which Eva replies that the Bible commands us to love everyone.  St. Clare replies:  “O, the Bible!  To be sure, it says a great many such things; but, then, nobody ever thinks of doing them,–you know, Eva, nobody does.”  This perfectly sums up the attitude of most people in our world toward the Bible.  The problem is this belief is taught by most of organized Christianity.  If we are saved by belief in Jesus then why should we need to follow Jesus’ teachings?

In another scene, St. Clare after reading a portion of Matthew to Uncle Tom makes the comment that he expected it necessary for one to commit some terrible sin to be denied entrance into heaven but the Bible teaches that people will be condemned because they did not do some positive good.  Miss Ophelia then replies that “it is impossible for a person who does no good not to do harm”.  The book does not say which passage St. Clare was reading but from the context it appears it was Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus was describing the Day of Judgment.  Jesus said that feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the needy, and visiting the sick and those in prison were the necessary actions to gain admittance into heaven.  St. Clare and Miss Ophelia’s comments on the Matthew passage are more on the mark than what most Bible commentaries give.  It is impossible to read the Bible with an open mind and not acknowledge it teaches that our actions are what are most important to God.  Now a belief is necessary to take a particular action but according to this passage it is the action that is critical.  Is that what our theology teaches?

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

The Meaning of Christmas

I trust you have had a very Merry Christmas and have taken some time to reflect upon the nature and teachings of Jesus.  The coming into the world of such an individual is ultimately what Christmas is all about.

This Christmas, I have done so in part because I was following the advice of C. S. Lewis (if I am not mistaken), who recommended reading a few classic instead of all contemporary works.  Recently, I have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Uncle Tom has a negative connotation in today’s society and Webster’s gives a definition of an Uncle Tom as “a member of a low status group who is overly subservient to or cooperative with authority”.  However, in reading the book it is very evident that Uncle Tom was a Christ figure who actually implemented the teachings of Christ in his life.  Uncle Tom did what he could to ease the suffering of his fellow slaves even at risk to himself.  When faced with the cruelty of his master did not respond in like manner but with kindness.

Uncle Tom did obey his master in all areas except where his master’s orders conflicted with the teachings of Jesus.  He did not cooperate with authority when the master told him to whip other slaves.  Uncle Tom was essentially whipped to death for refusing to divulge the escape plans of two slaves.  He also had the opportunity to kill his master but refused.

How would Jesus, if he was again born into our world, be received?  Would we call him an “Uncle Tom”?

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

The Human Condition

In the last blog we discussed the Christian propensity to ignore legitimate questions about their faith.  One reason some do this is because they believe our entire being (including our intellect) has been so corrupted by the fall that we cannot by our own efforts find God.  After all, Jeremiah tell us we are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9) and in a couple of verses we are told that God’s ways are beyond our understanding (Job 36:26 and Isaiah 55:9).  Therefore, we must just believe what the Bible tells us even if our intellect raises questions about it.

The problem with this approach is that it does not address how we know what the Bible teaches us about God.  If we are so corrupted by the fall, then our intellect is unable to properly interpret the Bible and give us an accurate representation of what God is like.  As Budziszewski says in his book about natural law, such a view of humanity and of the fall shoots itself in the foot. [1]

While the Bible details the limits inherent in human existence, it also teaches we have enormous potential.  Genesis 1:26-27 tells us we are made in God’s image.  If God is as awesome as the Bible teaches and we share even a little of that nature, then we certainly can accomplish great things.  God gave us control over this earth (Genesis 1:28-30).  At times this world seems to control us but God would not have given us control if we were not capable of that task.  The Bible, in discussing the people of Babel, says that there is nothing we cannot do if we work together (Genesis 11:4-6).  The technological and cultural advances of our civilization are a testament to the validity of God’s assessment of our abilities.  The book of Psalms states we are made with just a little bit of God lacking in us (Psalms 8:4-5). [2]

Our theology must be based upon what the entire Bible says, not just a few selected passages.  The message of Christianity is that we have a sin problem and need help to overcome it but included in that message is that we also have enormous potential.  Nowhere does the Bible state our sinful nature prevents us from knowing the truth.  Paul, in Romans 1:18, tells us we must allow our wickedness to suppress that ability.

God made us rational creatures and we should use what God has given us to learn more about him.

_________________________

[1]   J. Budziszewski, Written on the Heart (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 111.

[2]   Ravi Zacharias,  Can Man Live without God?  (Dallas:  Word Publishing, 1994), p. 141.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Culture of Deceit

I subscribe to World magazine which is a Christian version of Time or Newsweek.  An editorial by Joel Belz titled “Our Culture of Deceit” asserts our politics and culture are saturated with dishonesty and he offers plenty of examples.  He also states that we Christians are not immune to that problem. [1]

One form of dishonesty is to ignore evidence that contradicts one’s beliefs.  Christians do this because they are so convinced their belief system is true that they have stopped looking for the truth.  They are right in asserting that God’s word is infallible however we must interpret God’s word and our interpretation is very fallible.  All the different versions of Christianity prove that at least some of our interpretations are in error; they all use the same Bible but come to very different conclusions about what it says.

In this blog, we have discussed several issues that call into question the validity of Christianity’s doctrine of salvation.  However, I have seen very few Christian who are willing to discuss these issues.  Most just say that these questions are interesting and then proceed to ignore them.  Why?  Is not ignoring legitimate questions a form of deceit?  We can believe anything we want if we ignore all evidence that is contrary to that belief.

 ____________________________

[1]   Joel Belz, “Our culture of deceit”, World, December 15, 2012, p. 4.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce was a driving force for the abolition of the slave trade in the 18th century.  Eric Metaxas, in his biography of Wilberforce, critiques the 18th century British society by saying:   “. . .the outward trappings of religion remained, but robust Christianity, with its noble impulses to care for the suffering and less fortunate, was gone.” [1]  Wilberforce was just the opposite; his religious beliefs were a call to action.  His beliefs, instead of being some fancy ornament to wear and display, were more like work clothes.  As a result, Wilberforce spent his life fighting the evils of slavery.

Are we Christians today any different from the 18th century British society?  Our beliefs are the most important element of Christianity according to most doctrinal statements while our actions rarely mentioned.  Is this what the Bible teaches?  Did not Christ teach that the ultimate test of whether one is speaking for God is their actions (Matthew 7:15-20)?

Christians have become so afraid of being accused of advocating a works salvation that they ignore what the Bible teaches about our actions.  Our doctrine drives our interpretation of the Bible more than the Bible drives the formation of our doctrine.

_________________________

[1]   Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace, New York:  HarperSanFrancisco, 2007, p. 71.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Words

A few days ago, I watched a video of a sermon by David Jeremiah, senior pastor of the Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego, CA. [1]  In this sermon he was giving advice on how to evaluate political candidates.  One point he made was:  “It is not what a man says that is important but what he does”.

I recently finished reading Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig. [2]  Dr. Craig very ably details the evidence for the existence of God, for the reliability of the New Testament, and for the resurrection of Jesus.  In his conclusion, he describes the ultimate apologetic which is someone who is focused on loving God and loving his neighbor as himself. Jesus stated that all the law and prophets were fulfilled in just these two concepts (Matthew 22:35-40) and these two concepts are action items, not just words.

With our words we can explore different ways that we should act.  Words can motivate us; words can move us to action.  However, “talk is cheap” is a phase with which we are familiar and its implication is that taking an action costs us more than just talking about something.  Talking is just saying words; taking action means making a commitment.  With our actions we use our will to actually change ourselves and our world not just speculate about the future.

Consider a young couple who say they love each other.  If all they say is “I love you” and take no actions such as spending time together and doing things for each other, will either of them believe the other actually loves them?  It would be a very unusual person who would answer “Yes”.  “Actions speak louder than words”.

If actions are more important than words in our human lives, why do Christians believe salvation is obtained by believing in Jesus and his death for our sins?  If we truly believed in Jesus, would we not need to make changes in our lives instead of just saying words?

______________________

[1]   http://vimeo.com/52163082?utm_source=Pastor+David+Jeremiah+On+Obama%2C+Romney%2C+Mormonism%2C+%26+Voting&utm_campaign=David+Jeremiah+on+Romney%2C+Obama%2C+Voting&utm_medium=email

[2]   William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008.

Posted in Reasons | Leave a comment

Moral Choices

In the last blog, we laid out all the Biblical support for the position that salvation is the renovation of our soul so it becomes like God.  Salvation is a free gift from God.  The gift he gave is that he sent Jesus to die for the sins of the entire world.  Jesus’ death and resurrection applies to the entire human race, not just those who believe in Jesus.  So now the entire world has a choice of becoming more like God or continuing our rebellion against God.  It is this choice that will determine if we spend eternity with God or without God.

This view of salvation does more than conform to Biblical teaching.  It also answers all the questions we have previously raised about this doctrine. [1]  Those who have never heard of Jesus and those whose culture and/or religion tell them Jesus is irrelevant still have the opportunity to go to heaven provided they live up to whatever light God has provided for them.

It also answers the question of why God would require us to believe in something for which we cannot obtain certain proof:  Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins.  God knows our beliefs are primarily determined by the culture in which we were raised and our life experiences.  God knows our beliefs are largely not under our control.  That is just the human condition; that is the way God constructed our existence.  So it does make sense that God would not require us to believe in an historical fact to obtain salvation.

However, there is one area of our lives where God has given us the capacity to do what he requires and that area is the moral choices we make.  In fact, God forces us to make these choices.  Robert J. Fogelin states there is no way to avoid making moral choices without losing one’s essential humanity. [2]

One could make the argument since we are finite we will not know what moral choices to make.  So how can we make the proper moral choices?  God provides us with three ways.

First, our life experiences teach us.  We only have to look at the world around us to see what we humans have created.  Our world reflects back to us, in a physical form, the reality of our moral choices.  This applies to our world, our nations, our communities, and our families.  The moral choices made by each of these entities are reflected in its character and actions.  And if we do not like what we see, this should give us the motivation and opportunity to change our moral choices.

Second, God gave us the Bible.  Not everyone has access to the Bible but other religions do provide guidance consistent with the Bible.  C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man notes how similar Christianity and other religions are in terms of their values.  He maintains there is an objective reality of our universe; there are everlasting ideals which are part of the fabric of our universe; there exists a sole source of values for all of humanity.  He refers to this universal principle as the Tao. [3]  In the Appendix, he provides examples of similar values held by peoples of different times, religions, and geographic areas. [4]

Third, God gave us the Holy Spirit who convicts us concerning sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:7-8).  We can ignore the promptings of the Holy Spirit as Paul teaches (Romans 1 and 2) but that is a moral choice we make.

God knows what he is doing.  God knows we are finite; that is why he will not judge us for our beliefs if we do not have sufficient information to rationally arrive at a particular belief.  Jesus did criticize the people of his day who did not believe in him because they experienced firsthand the teachings and miracles of Jesus.  For the rest of us God knows that while we cannot have definitive proof of Jesus’ life and resurrection, we are very capable of making moral decisions and he will judge us for those moral decisions we make.

____________________________

[1]   See my blogs dated May 15, 22, and 29, 2011.

[2]   Robert J. Fogelin, ed., Right and Wrong (Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich College Publishers, 1986), p. 2.

[3]   C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, (New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 1974), pp. 15-19.

[4]   Lewis, pp. 83-101.

Posted in Salvation | Leave a comment

The Doctrine of Salvation

In previous blogs, we have described several problems with the Christian doctrine of salvation. [1]  It is always easy to criticize another point of view but our aim is to do more than criticize.  So in this blog we will formulate a doctrine that that adheres to Biblical teachings and answers all the questions we have raised.  Nothing I will say in this blog is new; it has been stated in previous blogs and footnotes will direct you to those blogs.

I agree with a large part of the Christian doctrine of salvation.  I believe that we have rebelled against God and that we have a sinful nature.  I believe there is no way we can make ourselves right with God.  God, in his mercy, sent Christ as a substitute to die for our sins and to restore us to a right relationship with him. [2]

Where I differ from Christian doctrine is that I believe the Bible teaches we must change our entire soul, renovate our soul, so it becomes like God if we want to be saved. [3]  I based this belief on the  at least 70 verses which teach salvation is through:

¨      Repentance of our sins or humility – Luke 18:11-14, 2 Corinthians 7:10

¨      Belief in God – John 5:24, Acts 10:34-35

¨      Our conduct or actions – Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6-10

¨      Our pattern of behavior or persistence – Matthew 10:22, Hebrews 10:26-27

¨      Our talents or the use of what is given us – Luke 16:9-11

I also believe that Jesus died for the sins of the entire human race, not just those who believe in him.  There are at least 12 verses in the New Testament that leave no doubt about this issue. [4]  That means the sins of every person has been forgiven.  Does that means everyone will go to heaven?  No.  It is also obvious the Bible teaches not everyone will be in heaven. [5]  The way we get to heaven is as mentioned above:  Become more like God.  Just a belief system will not change our soul or enable us to become like God; as James 2:14-26 says our salvation requires belief and action. [6]

In summary, a truly Biblical doctrine of salvation is:

1.         There is a supreme being (God) who has a standard for humans.

2.         We humans have a sinful nature.  We do not live up to God’s standard.  In fact we have rebelled against that standard and against God.  This rebellion (sin) results in human death and the punishment of eternal separation from God (hell).

3.         Through the work of Jesus (his death and resurrection for our sins), God views humans as if they have met his standard.  This is called justification.  This is also God’s grace:  Granting humans something they do not deserve.

4.         The work of Jesus applies to the entire human race.  Everyone’s sins have been forgiven.

5.         We now have a choice of becoming more like God or continuing our rebellion against God.  It is this choice that will determine if we spend eternity with God or without God.

____________________________________

[1]   See my blog dated March 2, 2011 and March 7, 2011.

[2]   See my blog dated March 22, 2011.

[3]   See the article listed in the heading of my blog entitled “What the Bible Says about Salvation” for a complete description of all the Bible passages that support this idea.

[4]   See my blog dated March 25, 2011.

[5]   See my blog dated March 29, 2011.

[6]   See my blog dated April 1, 2011 and April 9, 2011.

Posted in Salvation | Leave a comment