St. Paul’s Approach to Other Religions

I recently completed reading a book that was written in the late 1890’s namely St.  Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen by W. M. Ramsay.  It is a book about the book of Acts and like Acts a major part of the book details the missionary journeys of Paul.  The author also draws on information about Paul and his journeys contained in the rest of the New Testament and other historical documents in order to draw a more complete picture of Paul.  One aspect of this book that was of interest to me was Paul’s approach to other religions.

First, Ramsay states that Paul’s missionary method was “not to insist where there was no opening and not to draw back where the door was open”. [1]  This most definitely was not an “in your face evangelism” but it was no shrinking violet either.  It was a very respectful approach.

Second, Ramsay notes that Paul did not rebuke other religious ideas but tried to guide them.  He understood some were honestly striving to worship God given the knowledge they had. [2]

Third, “Polished courtesy of address to all, was valued by Paul as a distinct and important element in the religious life; and he advised his pupils to learn from the surrounding world everything that was worthy in it”.  [3]

Is this how we Christians view and approach other religions?  Do we respect other religions and recognize they have value?  Do we try to learn from other religions?  Unfortunately many in the Christian community do not because we view Christianity as the only true religion and all the other religions are leading their adherents straight to hell.  Paul’s approach to other religions indicates that this belief needs to be rethought.

I have suggested an approach we should take with other religions in my book The Renovation of Our Soul and it is similar to Paul’s.  Chapter 18 specifically deals with this topic.

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[1]   W. M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveller and the Roman Citizen, New York:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1896, p. 61.

[2]   Ibid., pp. 146-147.

{3]   Ibid., p. 149.

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What Is in a Name?

The high school from which I graduated is a boarding high school.  Recently they built a new girl’s dorm and decided to name it.  Why do we name things?  Because names define things, they define the characteristics of things, they have meaning.

Acts 11:26 tells us that “in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (ESV).  Why were they called Christians?  It was because they were like Christ.  How were they like Christ?  Was it just because they had the same beliefs as Christ?  Acts does not tell us but I would expect it was also because their actions were like Christ’s.  Jesus had certain characteristics (beliefs and actions) and the people of Antioch saw that the disciples had the same characteristics.

If the word “Christian” was not yet coined, would our friends and neighbors coin that word to describe us?

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Recently at the annual Mid-America Prophecy Conference in Tulsa, OK, one speaker warned against ‘false prophets’. [1]  What is a false prophet?  A false prophet is “a self-appointed person who does not for speak for God and who deceives people for nefarious reasons”. [2]  The speaker at this conference stated we cannot tell false prophets by their actions.  The only way we can tell them is by what they say.  However, we need to be like the Bereans and search the scriptures to determine if what we are told is true (Acts 17:11).

1 John 4:1 tells us that we are to test the spirits to see if they are from God.  It tells us one way to test them is to determine if they confess Jesus has come in the flesh from God.

Matthew 24:24 tells us that false prophets will perform great sign and wonders so that even the elect might be deceived.  So we obviously cannot depend upon someone’s actions to tell us if they speak for God.

So from these two passages, it appears the speaker is correct.  We cannot tell false prophets by their actions (performing great signs and wonders) but we can tell them by what they say (whether they say Jesus is come in the flesh from God or not).

However, there is another passage about false prophets in which Jesus tells us we can recognize false prophets by their fruits.  Jesus says a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit and a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit (Matthew 7:15-20).  What does it mean to bear fruit?  Fruit is the output of a tree or vine.  The output of a person is what they say, what they do, their conduct, their actions.  We must not focus on just one litmus test to determine if someone is a false prophet or not (such as what they say).  As Jesus instructs us we must look at their entire output.

This once again illustrates that we must read what the entire Bible says about a particular topic, not just focus on a couple of verses that we pick out.

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[1]   “Uncovering ‘false prophets’”, Tulsa Beacon, Vol. 16, No. 1, April 21, 2016, p. 1.

[2]   Ibid.

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Tradition or Empiricism

Last week we discussed that in many cases the translation of the Bible is more of an interpretation of the Bible than a translation.  The past couple of weeks I have been reading a book on a totally different subject—about the history of man’s quest to harness the power of the sun. [1]  In recounting this history, Kryza discussed the feud between Roger Bacon and the papal court.  The papal court subscribed to a reading of the Bible in terms of science that was guided by the metaphysics of Aristotle and divine revelation (which generally is someone’s interpretation of divine revelation).  Bacon maintained that experimental science had the final say in interpreting matters of science discussed in the Bible. [2]

So how do we interpret the Bible?  Yes, there is a whole field of study called hermeneutics which should guide us but hermeneutics will not solve all the problems we encounter when we read the Bible.  For example, in this blog we have raised three questions about the Christian doctrine of salvation.  These questions came up because there was a difference between what I was taught the Bible said about salvation and what I observed in the world and what I read in the Bible.  So do I stick with the traditional interpretation of what salvation is or do I utilize what I have discovered in my personal experience to try to resolve these questions?

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[1]   Frank T Kryza, The Power of Light, New York:  McGraw-Hill, 2003.

[2]   Kryza, p. 53.

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Bible Translations

When we read our Bibles, most of us to do not consider the process that is involved in translating the Bible from Hebrew or Greek into English.  Leland Ryken in his book The Word of God in English gives us insight into the complications of translation.  One aspect he spends considerable time upon is called dynamic equivalence which is somewhat controversial.  Dynamic equivalence is an approach to translation that translates what a passage means rather than translating the exact words.  Its purpose is to make the Bible more readable.

Ryken gives many arguments for translating the actual words of the Bible instead of the meaning of a passage.  One argument is the fact that when any other book is translated, the emphasis is on accurately translating the words of the author not their meaning.  We must have respect for the author and how they chose to express an idea. [1]  So why should the Bible be any different?

Another of Ryken’s arguments is that there is a distinction between a translation and an interpretation of the Bible.   A good translation should enable us to determine what the author (God) actually said, not what the translator thought the author (God) wanted to say.  Should not we want to know exactly the message God is communicating to us and not the translator’s interpretation of that message? [2]

The danger in substituting our interpretation for what God actually says has been illustrated in this blog.  We have pointed out there are over 70 verses in the Bible that discuss salvation as being other than through belief in Jesus and yet these verse are ignored by the majority of Christians because they conflict with an established doctrine.  So what has priority—our established doctrines (what we think the Bible means) or what the Bible actually says?

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[1]   Leland Ryken, The Word of God in English, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway Books, 2002, p. 146.

[2]   Ryken, p. 144.

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Degrees of Proof

I have just finished reading J. Warner Wallace’s book, Cold-Case Christianity.  He puts his skills as a homicide detective working on unsolved criminal cases to use in determining if Christianity is true. [1]  It is among the best books I have read on Christian apologetics.  In a chapter discussing how much proof is necessary to know if a particular proposition is true, Wallace describes the standards or degrees of proof that are used in the legal field:

  1. Some credible evidence – There is sufficient evidence to begin an investigation.
  2. Preponderance of the evidence – The proposition is more likely true than untrue.
  3. Clear and convincing evidence – The proposition is significantly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.
  4. Beyond a reasonable doubt – There is no plausible reason to believe that a proposition is untrue. [2]

What standard or degree of proof would you use when evaluating the evidence for Christianity?

I can see why some would use the highest standard—beyond a reasonable doubt—when considering the evidence for the validity of Christianity.  Why?  First, believing in most matters of history does not impact us one way or the other.  It does not matter to us if tomorrow it is discovered that Alexandria the Great was a mythical figure.  The same cannot be said about Jesus and his death for our sins.  Therefore, before we make major changes in our lives, a very high degree of proof would be prudent.  Second, according to Christian doctrine, God expects us to believe in an event that has never occurred in the history of the human race—the resurrection of someone from the dead.  Most of us would definitely want substantial proof for such an extraordinary event.

Do we have proof that is beyond a reasonable doubt for the death and resurrection of Jesus for our sins?  Some would say “no” and it would be difficult to argue with them.  If we truly understand what it means that God made us finite—that God limited our ability to know what is true of events that occurred over 2000 years ago and in a different culture—then it is not unreasonable to have doubts about these events.  As William Lane Craig states:  “Christianity can only be shown to be probably true”. [3]

So why would God require that we believe these events are true to be saved?  Christianity has never answered this question.  My book, The Renovation of Our Soul, is a start in developing an answer.  We in the Christian community need to have a discussion.

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[1]   J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity, Colorado Springs, CO:  David C. Cook, 2013.

[2]   Wallace, p. 131.

[3]   William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2008, p. 55.

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Good Airplane Pilots

Joel Belz recently suggested the world would be a better place if people would live their lives in the same way that good airplane pilots approach their jobs. Good airplane pilots make a habit of correcting the little mistakes they make in flying before those mistakes become tragedies. Just imagine what the world would be like if each of us did the same in our personal lives. Belz gives three reasons why most people do not have this habit—we no longer believe in error, we justify our errors by saying everyone is doing it, and we have become cleaver at inventing instant solutions to our errors. [1]

We Christians have a great deal of responsibility for the third reason. We teach that all we need to do is to believe in Jesus and his death for our sins and automatically all our sins are forgive and we get to go to heaven. This view of salvation impacts how we live our lives and is aptly summarized by David Wells:

For a one-time admission of weakness and failure they got eternal peace with God. That was the deal. They took it and went on with their lives as before. The result is that there is no significant difference between the way born-againers live at an ethical level as compared to those who are nonreligious. [2]

In this blog and in my book we maintain that salvation is the change of our soul so it becomes more like God. It is not just a belief system. Salvation takes more than saying a few words at one moment in our lives. Salvation is not an event, it is a process (2 Corinthians 2:15, Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 10:14). It involves our entire being and our entire lives.

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[1]   Joel Belz, “The little adjustments”, World, Vol. 30, No. 24, November 26, 2015, p. 3

[2]   Chris Stamper, “Authors by the Dozen”, World, Vol. 17. No. 23, July 7/13, 2002, p. 33.

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Saving the World

Is it our responsibility as Christians to convert the world to Christianity? The great commission Jesus left us—“Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15 ESV)—would seem to indicate that we must.

The problem is there are plenty of examples of Christians whose efforts to spread the gospel are an unmitigated disaster—televangelists who use the gospel to enjoy a lavish lifestyle, priests who use their position to prey on young children. And then just look at all the different Christian religions and all the different denominations within the Protestant religion and their differing views of salvation. If I was an unbeliever, who should I believe? The problem is that we Christians are sinful and finite creatures and we do not always correctly present, in word and deed, God’s plan for our salvation. So why would God use such a defective means to communicate a message on such a critical subject—the eternal salvation of our souls?

The Bible tells us the Holy Spirit’s responsibility is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8) and he can do a much better job of that then we can. Our job is to assist in that effort by being a light on a hill (Matthew 5:14-17), by being the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). I like the way Rosaria Champagne Butterfield states it: Salvation is God’s work; service is what our responsibility is—selfless love and sacrifice. [1]

As for the great commission, my dad has said for many years that a better translation of it is: As we go about the world we are to share with others what Christ has done for us. Our responsibility is not to convert the world but to be an example of the impact Christ can make on the life of one person. God will take care of the rest.

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[1]   Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburg, PA: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012. P. 67.

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A Train Wreck

In both this blog and my book, The Renovation of Our Soul, we have shown the Bible teaches that salvation is more than a belief system; it is the change of our soul so it becomes like God. What is this change like?

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield describes her conversion as a train wreck. [1] Why would we think that following Christ would not be disruptive to our lives? The Bible teaches that each one of us has a sinful nature. Can this sinful nature be changed without effort, without discomfort? If following Christ is not disruptive to our lives, can we really claim to be Christians?

Butterfield states that conversion does not involve saying magic words, words to the effect that we believe in Jesus and his death for our sins. [2] In fact she takes the preachers who teach this easy salvation to task. She states:

Making a life commitment to Christ was not merely a philosophical shift. It was not a one-step process. It did not involve rearranging the surface prejudices and loyalties of my life. Conversion didn’t “fit” my life. Conversion overhauled my soul and personality. It was arduous and intense. [3]

I highly recommend you read her book.

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[1]   Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Pittsburg, PA: Crown & Covenant Publications, 2012. pp. 1-2.

[2] Butterfield, p. 35.

[3]   Butterfield, p. 34

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Doing Business with Sinners

There have been several cases reported by the new media of Christians who refuse to do business with individuals of the LGBT persuasion. Why do Christians refuse to serve the LGBT community? It is because the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin and Christians do not want to be seen as supporting that lifestyle.

However, the Bible teaches that all of us are sinners (Romans 3:10). Everyone with whom we Christians do business has sinned and will continue to sin. So why do we classify some sins as being so beyond the pale that we must refuse to do business with those who commit them? Where in the Bible does it tell us this is what we should do? What the Bible does tell us is that the consequence of all our sins is the same.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV)

God, in the above passage, does not single out any one of the above sins as worse than the others. So if we believe that we should not do business with those who commit the sin of sexual immorality will we also refuse to serve those who exhibit the sin of hatred, discord, jealously, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy? If we do, we will not have any customers.

Or take the case of divorce between heterosexual couples. Everyone acknowledges the Bible states that divorce (with the exception of infidelity) is a sin (Matthew 5:31-32). So will the Christian community refuse to serve a heterosexual couple who are divorced and want to marry?

Instead, maybe we should follow Jesus’ example.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13 NIV

Tax collectors were among the most despised people in Jesus’ era and yet Jesus associated with them. To others who had sinned Jesus exhibited compassion; he did not condemn them but counseled them to leave their life of sin (John 8:1-11). If we claim to be followers of Christ, should we not do the same?

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