Questions & Answers

Latechurch has committed itself to working towards answering some of the difficult questions we face as Christians.

We’ll be answering questions and putting it up here. The answers are given by all sorts of people from Latechurch. What you read are not the thoughts of experts, but the explorations of normal followers of Jesus.

If you want to keep exploring the issues, all of the articles will have links at the bottom for more in-depth discussion. Or, if you want to talk more with someone who follows Jesus just contact us here

There are over 30,000 Christian denominations: what makes you think you know what’s true?

Pete Kutazov is a member of Latechurch, a follower of Jesus and a Dad of two boys. Here he wrestles with the vast number of Christian denominations.

08/01/2015

Hero DogOn September 12, 2001 Canadian police officer James Symington and his police dog Trakr cut short their holiday to volunteer in the rescue operation at ground zero, New York. Twenty-six hours after the Twin Towers came down, Trakr leads rescuers through the rubble to Genelle Guzman, the last of the 20 survivors who had been inside the buildings when they collapsed.

The rescuers had no idea where to find survivors. Even after Trakr revealed Genelle’s general location they would have to spread out, searching for the safest way to get to her through the treacherous rubble. But because they had Trakr, they knew where they had to get to.

And I think the sense in which Christians can say that they know what’s true is similar to the sense in which the rescuers could say that they knew where Genelle Guzman was in those moments before she was found. Christians don’t know everything, but they have a person that they trust knows the most important things of all.

And that’s pretty much it. If Jesus did actually come from heaven, then even if Christians don’t know much they do know that if they follow him they’ll get there. And if Jesus truly did rise from the dead then it means he’s qualified to tell us what happens after death.

One of the greatest moments of honesty recorded in the Bible comes from Thomas, one of Jesus’ followers. Thomas says to Jesus, “We don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” I just love his honesty about having no idea how any of this will work out. But in a beautiful moment, Jesus says to him “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. (John 14:5-6) Thomas didn’t need to know the ‘right’ Christian answer to every thorny issue, because he knew the one person who knows the way to God.

In fact, Christians who listen to Jesus should expect that we’ll get all sorts of things wrong. The church has LOTS of sorries to say.

Now, you might have met Christians who don’t really have this attitude. Some of us insist that we’re right about everything. Sorry about that. We don’t follow Jesus too well sometimes. Jesus himself gave us three reasons that Christians should expect we’ll get lots of things wrong. Us humans are limited, self-centred and broken.

First, Jesus says that us humans can only ever know a sub-set of the whole story. One particular angle on the truth. We’re not omniscient.[2] We’re subjective. So our views will always be a bit one-sided. Secondly, Jesus says that our view of what’s true will always be a bit biased. One example of this is what psychologists call the ‘self-serving bias’. What we believe to be true is affected as much by what we would like to be true as by the objective reality.[3] Third, our brains don’t always function properly since sin messed up the world.[4] Anyone who’s been affected by mental illness knows just how much of a pain this is. So with these three all interacting, even the amazingly brilliant humans that God made in his image are going to mess things up quite a bit.

The thing about following Jesus is that he paid the costly price for our screw-ups. His death was for our sin, that he took on himself. He then rose again to enter heaven, paving the way for us to follow him there. Even if sometimes we follow him a bit like a confused tourist follows a GPS. Or a frantic rescue worker follows a police dog through dangerous rubble. We make wrong turns. Often. Following Jesus is a constant process of checking our direction against the compass and turning back to follow him. Often with our tail between our legs, but thankful for the forgiveness he won on the cross.

When you add our ability to make mistakes like this to the fact that Christianity inherently embraces people of every age, race, gender, class, orientation, etc: it makes sense that there would be 30,000 different groupings of Christians who all trust Jesus to tell them the way. I actually find the diversity somewhat comforting. Groups where there is no liberty of opinion or space for diversity of thought are an appropriate cause for real concern.

The great thing about all this is that you can ask any person from any one of those 30,000 denominations this question: do you trust in Jesus Christ to know the way, or do you think that you know what’s true? Someone who follows Jesus will tell you that they don’t know much, but they know Him.[5]

Now this answer raises a bunch of questions about whether Jesus is a real man, if the Bible is even an accurate record of what he said and whether he really rose from the dead. Which is great, because we love talking about hard questions like those, too. This page will be updated with links to honest reflections on those questions as they’re posted through the year. Come and check it out. We’d love you to be part of our journey for answers.

[1] Some of which we’ll cover in later questions

[2] John 3:8.

[3] On the ‘self-serving bias’ see http://www.psych.ufl.edu/~shepperd/2%20Shepperd%20et%20al.%202008.pdf or on the Dunning-Kruger effect, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10626367. For Jesus on our skewed, self-centred view of things, see Matthew 7:1-5.

[4] For statistics on mental health in Australia, see http://www.mindframe-media.info/for-media/reporting-mental-illness/facts-and-stats. For Jesus engaging with and caring for a broken mind, see Luke 8:26-35.

[5] This has been standard teaching among Christians since its first preachers started preaching, check out 1 Corinthians 2:2.

If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?

Ryan Ferguson is a uni student in his mid twenties who started following Jesus about 6 years ago. He gives us his thoughts on the problem of evil and God.

14/01/2015

Evil hurts2015 has just begun, and the New Year has come in on the back of tragedy. Two weeks before the New Year’s celebrations, a hostage situation broke out in Sydney, ending in three deaths[1]. Days later, eight children in Cairns were murdered[2]. The problem of evil is not just an intellectual paradox – it rattles us, it offends us, it grieves us. And it makes us ask: where is God in all this? Is God powerless against evil? And worse: if He’s able to stop it, does He just not care?

If you’ve ever felt the sting of evil, suffering and injustice, then you’ve probably found the cliché “God works in mysterious ways” underwhelming. It doesn’t give a good reason for why things are so bad, and it offers no comfort to ease our pain.

Job, an Old Testament character, knew about pain. Job was “blameless and upright” (Job 1:1, NIV), yet despite how good he was, he experienced the death of his children, the loss of his property and the destruction of his health. Spare for the air in his lungs, he went from having everything to having nothing. For many chapters, his friends told him that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people, therefore Job must be to blame. They didn’t approach Job with love and gentleness, which would be expected from those who know God’s Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Instead of comforting Job as men representing God (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), in an attempt to justify God they condemned Job. It was wrong of Job’s friends then, and it’s just as wrong of us now. While there are instances of divine retribution throughout the Bible (eg Genesis 6-9), Job‘s story is no such case. And in all probability, neither is yours.

Modern thinker Dr Alvin Plantinga looks at evil as the product of free will[3]. Instead of blaming the victim, he affirms that evil is the direct product of its culprits. This is true, and has been ever since evil entered the world (Genesis 3). But so what? When the hostages in Sydney had a gun pointed at them, would it have comforted them to know that God allowed this because He valued the gunman’s free will? When you have been personally violated, does the knowledge that your violator chose to do it make you feel any better? Evil is a function of free will, but it is still unjust. We are right to hate evil, and God himself hates injustice, for “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination the Lord” (Proverbs 17:15, ESV).

But if God hates evil and has the ability to stop it, why doesn’t He?

Sometimes, God uses our evil for His good purposes. In Genesis 37-50, God uses a murderous plot to save many people. In Judges 14-16, He uses Samson’s rebellion to free Israel from oppression. In the New Testament, Paul encourages his readers to rejoice in suffering, because “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4, ESV). But what about the children in Cairns? Was anyone saved by their death? When they were being murdered, was it somehow good character development? Sometimes God uses evil for good. But often we can’t see any good in the evil that we suffer.
Having experienced evil ourselves, we know that if God is good He has to stop evil somehow. But the effect of evil in the world and in our lives makes it look like God isn’t doing a very good job. Is there anything that can resolve this tension?

2,000 years ago, the Son of God became flesh and entered into human suffering. Like Job, Jesus was blameless, yet he suffered. Jesus had everything, but he voluntarily relinquished everything for our sake, giving up even the air in his lungs. Jesus died through a murderous plot to save many people, so that if we follow him, any evil in us (no matter how small or how great) is destroyed in his body.

The death and resurrection of Jesus show us God cares and is doing something about evil in the following ways:

One: Because our evil dies with Jesus, we can know that God hates evil enough to put it to death. At the same time, we can know that He loves us and protects us from the eternal impact of any evil inside us.

Two: Jesus claimed that the greatest act of love is to lay down your life for another (John 15:3). Because Jesus is God incarnate, we can know that God loves us to the fullest, having laid down His life for us.[4]

Three: Jesus is both God and human, and as a human he suffered physically, emotionally and spiritually on the cross. We can know that God intimately shares our pain, because Jesus suffered with us and for us.

Four: Because Jesus was resurrected as a human into eternal life, we can be assured that God’s promises to restore the world and raise us into eternal life will be fulfilled. Though we endure for now, if Jesus really was resurrected, then a time is coming when God will end all evil. “He will wipe every tear from our eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” (Revelations 21:4, NIV).

When we see evil or suffer it ourselves, we have good reason to be angry and confused. Unfortunately, we often have no answers for why horrible things happen. But, as frustrating as it is, if Jesus was crucified and resurrected then we can trust that God is not absent. Now, because of what Christ has done about evil in the past, God urges us to trust Him in the face of unexplained evil today. The gospel does not make evil comfortable, but in it God offers His comfort and gives us a reason to hope while we suffer.
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Sydney_hostage_crisis

[2] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-12-21/cairns-woman-charged-with-murder-of-eight-children/5981652

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKx7l7NhHww

[4] http://carm.org/religious-movements/islam/who-has-performed-greatest-act-love-yahweh-or-allah

How Old is the World?

Ryan Ferguson is a uni student in his mid twenties who started following Jesus about 6 years ago. He takes an in depth look at what the opening chapter of the Bible might say about the age of the universe.

28/01/2015

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a big issue with many factors that warrant serious consideration. Due to the word limit, the content of this article is highly abridged. For a deeper, clearer understanding, I recommend reading/watching references 4-6.

In Sunday school you learned that the world was made in six days, 6,000 years ago. In high school science, the age of the earth gained an extra six digits, and the universe itself became over 13 billion years old. Many believe that science and religion are irreconcilable, and often Christians are the ones perpetuating this belief.

At this point, the atheist might insist that science disproves religion, and the Christian might argue that God is bigger than science (therefore science that contradicts God is wrong).Meanwhile, people arguing from a middle ground – be they Old Earth[1] or Young Earth[2] Creationists – might try to explain that the Bible is scientific[3].

As interesting as these debates are, they hinge on subconscious modern assumptions. When we bring our 21st Century Australian perspective to an ancient text, we reinvent it according to our worldview. But since the Holy Scriptures are primarily about God revealing himself to humanity, we need to consider the original meaning. This article will look briefly at a mechanical view of creation in Genesis and how audiences at the time would have interpreted the text before exploring what this means for our relationship with God.

Creation and an Ancient Cosmology

Ancient CosmologyCosmology is the study of the origin, evolution, and eventual fate of the universe, and the Bible is certainly not shy about entering the discussion. There’s just one problem: ancient cosmology was very different to modern cosmology. In Day 2 of creation, God separates water from water, setting the sky between the waters. This refers to a world in which there is water above and water below (Gen 1:6-8). On Day 4, God puts lights in the sky (that is, in the space between the waters), including the sun, moon and stars for human purposes (Gen 1:14-19). The original readers of Genesis saw the world as: God in heaven above everything else; then water; then the sky and space; then the earth; then the place of the dead; then the pillars of the earth, infinitely deep water and leviathan (a creature associated with chaos). It’s an interesting worldview, and Genesis addresses some of its features, but only fringe groups would ever try affirming that cosmology today. Now if we acknowledge the presence of this cosmology in Genesis, but agree that God is not affirming such a cosmology, then just what is God affirming?

Creation from Something
Intuitively we assume that Genesis describes God creating everything from nothing. While ancient Israel understood all matter to be made by God, “something from nothing” is not God’s leading method in Genesis[4]. Instead we see “something from something.” Before Day 1 of creation begins, there is water (Gen 1:2). By ordering the water, God designates land and sky (Gen 1:6-10). The land produces vegetation (Gen 1:11-13) and all living things procreate, making life from life (Gen 1:11-12; 22; 28). Adam is made from dust (Gen 2:7) and Eve from Adam (Gen 2:18-25). The creation account may include the production of something from nothing, but that certainly isn’t a priority.

Creation of Existence through Ancient Eyes
At a basic level, it is safe to say that Genesis 1 describes God bringing the world into existence. But what did it actually mean to ‘exist’ according those living at the time of Genesis’ writing? And how might this affect our position on how old the earth is? According to the conventional 21st Century Australian worldview, existence is confirmed by experience, be it tangible or intangible. But according to Old Testament Professor John Walton, the people of the ancient Middle East understood the concept of existence differently. To them, something only existed when it functioned with a set purpose in an ordered system[5]. Thus, in their thinking, the sun (the physical thing itself) may well have been present in the universe for many billions of years, yet by their standards, it did not begin to exist until it was operating as a light to discern day and time (Gen 1:14-16).

Creation’s Pecking Order: Proof God Loves Us
If when you open Genesis your first thought is that God has a special place for humankind within the hierarchy of His creation, you’d certainly be right. If, however, your first thought is that the Babylonian pantheon is wrong, you’re very strange. You would also be starting to think like an ancient Israelite. Historian John Dickson demonstrates that the creation account in Genesis is a parody of Enuma Elish, the Babylonian creation account which claims we dwell low in the creative hierarchy[6]. Enuma Elish, a seven-act creation account, positions us as an afterthought made in the sixth act to serve the gods by carrying their burdens and feeding them. In contrast, Genesis 1 appoints us as the highlight of creation, specially made in the one God’s image. The lights of the sky – deified in Babylon – are demystified and made to serve us (Gen 1:14-19), the world is placed under our feet (Gen 1:26-28) and God himself feeds us (Gen 1:29). Genesis uses the structure of Enuma Elish to reverse the meaning, boldly declaring that God and creation are “very good” (Gen 1:31).

Creation of God’s Temple
So can the Bible really tell us how old the earth is? Well, the seventh day is where we may find some clues. The seventh day is different in that it does not open with the refrain, “And God said, ‘Let…’” nor does it lead into a command for nature. Instead, God rests and blesses the day. As a modern thinker, it may strike you as odd that the God who created time (Gen 1:3-5) and space (Gen 1:6-8) finally rested (Gen 2:1-3). Was the God of all creation exhausted? What puzzles us here, was in fact blindingly obvious to ancient audiences reading Genesis. While we think of rest as recovery from work, those in the Ancient Middle East believed that gods rest in their temples, where they reign[5]. And to ancient readers, this was exactly what God was doing. While not intuitively obvious to us 21st Century Australians, it is this logic that allows us to find significance in the conspicuous absence of the other recurring refrain present in the first six days of creation: “And there was evening, and there was morning – the [nth] day.” The omission of this refrain heavily suggests that the seventh day is ongoing, and that we are still in it — that all of creation is God’s temple and he reigns there with his image-bears, on a day that never ends.

Conclusion

The creation account illuminates how long God has dwelt with his image-bearers, which may inform us of the age of the world through ancient perspectives of existence. However, the Bible does not give a definite answer about when God formed the material universe from nothingness. Rather than emphasising questions of “what” and “how,” the historical and cultural context makes it clear that Genesis vigilantly pursues “who” and “why.” And the answer revealed is one God who loves and desires to dwell with his people. So much so, that even at creation Jesus was the planned culmination of God’s desire to have his people with him. Genesis begins what Jesus clarifies about the creator: he’s a God who made us in his image and cares for us above all else in his creation.

References

[1] Old Earth Ministries. 2014. Can you be a Christian and believe in an old earth? http://www.oldearth.org/question.htm

[2] Answers in Genesis. 2012. The 10 best evidences from science that confirm a young earth. https://answersingenesis.org/evidence-for-creation/the-10-best-evidences-from-science-that-confirm-a-young-earth/

[3] Deem, R. 2013. Science and the Bible: Does the Bible contradict scientific principles? http://www.godandscience.org/apologetics/sciencebible.html

[4] Willems, K. 2012. Evolving evangelism (part 6): “Creation out of something” not “nothing.” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/05/15/evolving-evangelicalism-part-6-creation-out-of-something-not-nothing/

[5] Walton, J. 2014. Origins today: Genesis through ancient eyes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR82a-iueWw&

[6] Dickson, J. 2008. Genesis of Everything. http://www.iscast.org/journal/articles/Dickson_J_2008-03_Genesis_Of_Everything.pdf

How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?

Mitch Smart is a member of Latechurch, a follower of Jesus and a Dad of two kids. Here he takes on the personal struggle of hell.

3/02/2015

Funerals and HellI remember sitting at my Aunty’s funeral as the man up the front gave his talk and spoke of the bliss of heaven. But it sat awkwardly with me, and with everyone else frankly. We all knew that she was no saint. A lovely, warm-hearted woman, but certainly no model religious citizen. It made me think, is she going to heaven, or is hell a possibility? The thought sent a wave of grief and anger through me. I knew her, and I liked her, I wanted her to be in heaven. Why do I believe God could send people to Hell?

Christians hold to the idea of hell because they must if they are to be consistent in following Jesus. See, the word Hell itself appears 11 times on the lips of Jesus, and only 2 other times in the New Testament. If you were to count the number of times Jesus talks about the concept not just the word, you’d stretch it out to about 20. It’s just 6-7 times in other New Testament writing, and a large number of times in the book of Revelation where all sorts of imagery is used to communicate all kinds of battles ultimately focused on the crucifixion of Jesus.

But nonetheless, the point is, it’s actually Jesus himself who is the main source and the clearest source of our understanding of hell. If you want to be fair dinkum about Jesus, you’ve got to take what he says on hell as seriously as you take what he says about love and being nice and heaven.

Essentially hell is described as punishment for sin:

43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell. (Mark 9:43-47)

It seems obvious, but before we go any further, it’s good to acknowledge where our society is at when it comes to punishment. Since the 18th century we’ve been on a steady slide away from the idea that anyone needs punishment. Think about this, some time ago prison places were called ‘penal’ colonies – places where people were penalised. Now, prisons have been renamed ‘correctional’ centres, people need to be corrected not punished. But the question you’ve got to ask yourself is ‘do I really think a serial murderer or paedophile just needs correction?’

Let me, if I can, come at it in a way that I think goes part of the way to answering the question.

Imagine a parent, and their child. Their teenager, let’s say. Now if that mum or dad was indifferent to their kid, didn’t love them, then if their kid started eating too much, or drinking too much, or became addicted to heroin or started conning people, the indifferent parent would do nothing. They would just watch from a distance, letting their kid dissolve into a pit of hopelessness.

But if they loved them, they would try to sit them down and talk them around, they would perhaps call an intervention with professional medical people. But at some point, for the sake of the child they love, for the protection of others, to show the cost of the behaviour of their child, they would come to a point where they would kick them out. Punishing them by cutting them off, and if it was bad enough they would cut them off for ever.

This response to a child is not a lack of love, but a depth of love that sees the cost of sin.

God in the Bible does love his creatures, us, immensely, his desire for us is to live full and blossoming lives with him. When we reject him, slowly but surely destroying our own lives and others, he must take action.

Not because he’s cranky and has a short fuse, but because of a deep a profound love for all his creatures. He says through the prophet of Ezekiel as he warned his people back then of coming punishment in Ezekiel 33:11:

‘’As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

In a book called Hope has it’s reasons, Becky pippert puts it like this:

‘God’s anger is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race which he loves with his whole heart.’

We see God’s settled opposition to the cancer of sin at the cross. Where, in the climax of his plan for humanity, an innocent Jesus willingly faces his Father’s anger at the sin of a guilty humanity. Right there a great trade is offered, Jesus life for yours. You no longer have to be good to avoid hell, you just need to trust that Jesus deals with your bad. Here is a loving God providing a way out of hell, giving his one and only son so that whoever trusts in him might have new life.

Whilst I will admit myself to having many ongoing questions about hell (how long is it?, where is it? etc.) I feel as a Christian, that in order to be consistent with my trust in Jesus and my own feelings about the need for punishment, that it’s an idea I cannot easily abandon. It brings me great pain to know that people I love may be there. But I have a great hope that a God whose son lovingly sacrifices himself to save people will always act with compassion and justice, rather than arbitrary or mean vindictiveness.

Science and God: Enemies or Friends?

Ryan Ferguson is a uni student in his mid twenties who started following Jesus about 6 years ago. He takes an in depth look at what the opening chapter of the Bible might say about the age of the universe.

21/02/2015

When I was 18, I thought science had destroyed God altogether. It seemed to explain so much and left no need for God. But the more I read, the more I realised that it reveals something quite different and led me to explore the purpose behind it all.

Science is an inquiry into repeatable physical events. Since God isn’t just a ‘physical event,’ he’s personal, it’s not as simple as trying to put him under a microscope as if we were dissecting a bee. It might sound like science has nothing to say about God at all. But when explored on its own turf, it not only leaves room for God, but could be seen to suggest a God. So, here we’ll take a look at two scientific discoveries and how they can dovetail with a belief in God.

God and the Big Bang

Today, while other scientific models have been suggested, the most widely accepted theory about existence is the Big Bang Theory. One of the most common misunderstandings about the Big Bang is that it explains how the universe came to exist from nothing. Actually, the Big Bang describes the expansion of space and time once they began to exist. It does not explain what caused space and time to begin in the first place – yet it does show that they had a beginning and a cause. This has been summed up in something called Kalam Cosmological Argument:

1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause

2) The universe began to exist

3) Therefore, the universe has a cause[1]

Big Bang ChartJust like a baby can’t give birth to herself, the cause of the universe has to be something outside the universe. The same reasoning suggests that the ultimate cause of time is timeless, and the ultimate cause of space is spaceless.[2] So the Big Bang does not rule out God, and may actually point us in the direction of a timeless, spaceless creator.

Christians have always believed that God created the world to display His glory (Psalm 19:1; 89:5), with life and relationships in mind (Genesis 1:26-31). We can’t prove that scientifically, but alongside the Big Bang a case for purpose and design in the universe can be made with something called the argument from Fine Tuning.

Fine Tuning

Scientists have discovered certain settings to the universe – ratios, constants and other conditions – that need to be fine-tuned for life to exist. If any one condition were mildly different, it would make life impossible.[3,4] Over 90 of these conditions exist.[5] Every one is needed.

Let’s say you rolled 90 dice and you needed everyone to be a six. What are the chances? Most likely you would need to somehow rig the rolls to make it work out. It’s more than reasonable to suggest that the best explanation for so many constants being just right is that they were designed that way.[6]

Fine-tuning is a teleological argument, arguing there is a telos or purpose in all things. Scientific laws describe the natural tendency towards order in the universe, while teleology investigates why order exists. So when it comes to fine tuning, Christians suggest that the reason so many measurements fit just right is so that the universe works in a certain way. The discoveries of science lead us to conclude that there is a purpose and a mind behind creation.

God of the gaps?

Some feel that these arguments evoke a ‘God of the gaps.’ What that means is that when we don’t know something we just say ‘oh, it must be God.’ This misunderstands the argument. The argument is that the evidence we have for the beginning of the universe and the evidence of fine tuning lead us to conclude there is a God behind it all. Rather than filling the gaps in our knowledge with God, this is applying our knowledge and seeing God as the best explanation.

Science leads us to find the purpose

If the evidence suggests the universe was created for a purpose, then we should try to find out what that purpose is. This is bad news if you like to choose your own purpose, as you might be pushing against the universe and its creator. But if, like me, you want life to have a definitive purpose, this is good news, because it means that by knowing God we can know our truest selves. According to the gospel, God and his purpose in creation are revealed in the person of Christ (Colossians 1:15-20; John 14:9-11), making Jesus the best source for understanding God and ourselves.

References

[1] Craig, W.L. 2010. Objections so bad I couldn’t have made them up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gtfVds8Kn4s

[2] Craig, W.L. 2012. Eastwooding Richard Dawkins’ cosmological argument objections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUIFjxYKEAU William Lane Craig responds to objections cited by Richard Dawkins to the Kalam Cosmological Argument

[3] Barnes, L.A. 2012. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. http://arxiv.org/pdf/1112.4647v2.pdf

[4] Swinburne University of Technology. n.d. Critical density. http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/cosmos/C/Critical+Density

[5] Ross, H. 2009. Fine-tuning for life in the universe. http://www.reasons.org/articles/fine-tuning-for-life-in-the-universe

[6] Craig, W.L. 2012. Eastwooding Richard Dawkins’ teleological argument objections. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8RPRpswW80 William Lane Craig responds to objections cited by Richard Dawkins to the Teleological Argument

Recommended Further Viewing from InspiringPhilosophy

Quantum physics debunks materialism. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4C5pq7W5yRM Quantum physics points to a mind behind the universe.

The Leibnizian cosmological argument. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2ULF5WixMM The nature of existence points to a necessary being.

The ontological argument (The introduction). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQPRqHZRP68 If it is possible that a necessary being exists (ie a being that cannot fail to exist in any version of reality), then a necessary being actually exists. Once cosmological arguments, quantum physics and teleology are considered, the possibility that a necessary being exists is demonstrated.

What Does Baptism Mean?

Hannah Thangasamy is a dentist, wife and follower of Jesus since childhood. Here she takes us through the bible’s view of baptism and why Christians do it.

21/03/2015

What is baptism, practically, in the church?

In Greek, the word baptism means to dip or immerse.
So, practically baptism often involves a person being immersed in water or having water sprinkled or poured over them. There are several bible verses that demonstrate the role water plays in baptism.

BaptismJohn the Baptist, in Matthew 3 as a part of his preparing the way for the lord, baptised people who were confessing their sins in the Jordan River.

Matthew 3:11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Also, in Acts 8:37-38, the Ethiopian eunuch comes to faith while riding with Philip in his chariot and says, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” Philip agrees and it says, “He commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him.”

Baptism, however, is not just a performance/ritual to tick off the list of things to do when you become a Christian. There is more to it and there’s a reason why Jesus made it a part of his ministry on earth and wanted us to obey it.

Matthew 28:19 says “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Baptism is a symbolic way to show the change in our lives when we confess our sins, repent and put our faith in Christ. Romans 6:3-4 says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

In baptism, by faith, we are joined with Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection.Baptism is a way for us to outwardly demonstrate this inward change! We see this in Colossians 2: 12-14:


…having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.

The relationship between baptism and our salvation (i.e. baptism is an outward symbolic expression of salvation) can sometimes be taken to mean that baptism = salvation.

Mark 16:16 – Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

These verses show that there is a relationship between our faith and baptism. However, it is clearly mentioned in other passages that what matters is our heart attitude and response to Jesus’ death on the cross.

Romans 10 :9-10 tells us “… if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.”

And again Romans 10:13 reminds us that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord – everyone who appeals to the Lord – will be saved.”

The take home message of baptism is that it is an outward expression of our commitment to Christ. It’s a reminder that things have changed – just as the immersion into water and raising up, reminds us that we are now dead to our sins and have a new life in Christ (Romans 6:11).
Baptism is taught by Christ, to his followers and therefore is a good thing for Christians to follow and obey, genuinely and not as a ritual.

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/what-is-baptism-and-how-important-is-it

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/what-is-baptism-and-how-important-is-it

The Bible has been re-translated so many times: can we expect the modern Bible to resemble the original?

Mitch Smart is a member of Latechurch, a follower of Jesus and a Dad of two kids. Here he reveals the reliable mistakes of the Bible.

26/03/2015

When I first became a Christian I didn’t really know anything about where the Bible came from or how we got it. I didn’t really care actually. I just assumed that it was ok, and what I read was right. That’s just how it was for me. And lots of people, when they first encounter Jesus, just take the Bible at face value because the church takes the Bible at face value. Lots of people do that.

There was a period of maybe 1500 years in our (Western) history when the Bible was just the standard of truth. If it said it in the Bible it was right. In fact the Bible’s so reliable that we swear on the Bible when we’re supposed to tell the truth.

But now it’s changed. We’ve rightly began to ask if it really is reliable. I mean, it’s a matter of life and death if it’s genuinely true. Who wants to waste their life on copying mistakes?

I think that the main objection goes something like this: ‘The Bible was written down years and years after Jesus was on earth. There might be something true behind it, but over time it’s been changed so much (even accidentally) that what we’ve got now is just a tiny spec of what might have happened.’ Like one of those games of Chinese whispers (I did check with my Chinese friend if it was offensive to use that phrase, he said no. If it is, get in touch and I’ll pass on his address).

With those kind of ideas, there’s no reason to read it or listen to it any more than the DaVinci Code or perhaps Harry Potter.

There are all kinds of questions to answer about the Bible, who wrote it, is it myth, how come we use the books we do? But, in this article we’ll focus on issues of translation and copying. Other articles throughout the year will tackle other question.

New Testament ManuscriptsHere’s the thing, we actually have tons of old copies of the New Testament. So many. If you follow the rules of ancient historians, we can count a bit over 20,000 pieces of paper as ancient copies of the New Testament. This is way more than any other ancient document (take a look at the picture to the left). It’s not a controversial idea that the Christian Bible is more abundant in history than any other book since Jesus. It’s one of the few things Wikipedia seems to have researched ok. [1]

We have tons of ancient copies, going all the way back to within 30 years of when they were first written.[2] There are a bucket load of mistakes. About 400,000 is one guy’s guess. [3]

My favourite is one in the letter to the church of the Thessalonians. Somewhere along the line the word gentle got changed to the word horses (1 Thessalonians 2:7). [4] So there are a bunch of old copies that are supposed to say:

Dear Thessalonians, we were gentle among you…

But instead says:

Dear Thessalonians, we were horses among you…

There are countless more like that. They misspell names, leave out the word ‘the’, accidentally write the same sentence twice, write Lord Jesus Christ when’s it’s just meant to say Lord, and many, many more.

But you know what? Because we have tons and tons of old copies, we can trace all the way back to when that mistake was made. Then we can see the older copies that don’t have the mistake and we can see that in fact, the apostles weren’t horses, they were gentle.

Of the mistakes we know of, 98-99% are sorted out just like that.

So the books of the Bible give us tons of copies to sort out the whispers from the genuine article on what happened with Jesus.

The reality is that the suggestion that the Bible has been changed too many times to be recognisable just doesn’t stack up against the evidence. One critic, who is by no means a fan of Jesus, can see that the argument for being very close to the originals is very strong:

‘…more manuscripts at best increase our confidence that we have the original version…The “best attested by far!” claim for the New Testament is true but irrelevant. It’s not all that surprising that a handful of early documents from a popular religion in a dry climate were preserved until today, and let’s acknowledge that that’s impressive and historically important…’[4]
 

What does this all mean? The Bible is a carefully and exhaustively copied document that has allowed us to whittle out errors and keep to the original. It’s clear that the early Christians, and those since, realised that the message of Jesus was so significant that it had to be passed on carefully. To them, it was the difference between your life and death.

The real question then becomes ‘is what was originally written convincing?’ We’ll leave that to another article.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_reliability_of_the_Gospels

[2] http://www.livescience.com/49489-oldest-known-gospel-mummy-mask.html,
http://www.dts.edu/read/wallace-new-testament-manscript-first-century/

[3] http://www.christianity.com/blogs/expository-thoughts/can-we-trust-the-new-testament.html

[4] Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner, et. al., Understanding Scripture: An Overview of the Bible’s Origin, Reliability, and Meaning (Wheaton, Illi.: Crossway, 2012), 115.

[5] http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2013/11/25000-new-testament-manuscripts-big-deal/

Read more:

http://blogs.christianpost.com/dear-ephesus/the-bible-and-chinese-telephone-20324/#ixzz3VSFxCHJl

What does the Bible Say about Homosexuality?

Mitch Smart is a member of Latechurch, a follower of Jesus and a Dad of two kids. He finds the issue of sexuality to be far more than a thought experiment, it’s personal.

Young ManI’m part of a Facebook group that’s very unusual. It’s made up of about 250 men and women from USA, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark, UK and a few others. We’re all Christians, from Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox and some other churches I’d never even heard of.

What brings us all together?

Every one of us is attracted to the same-sex, identifies as gay, or is transgender. So, when I come to a question like this, it’s not a thought exercise, but a real issue that affects the hearts and minds of my friends.

I guess the temptation here is to run through the verses in the Bible that specifically mention homosexuality, of which there are several (Leviticus 18:12, Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Romans 1:26-28, 1 Timothy 1:10). But as a follower of Jesus, one of the things I’ve come to realise is that we always need to start with Jesus before we go anywhere else. So, I want to take us to listen to him.

Everyone’s got a problem.

Jesus’ is talking with the religious leaders, the pharisees. They think that if you can just be a person who keeps the right rules you’ll be a decent person and right with God. They love ‘ceremonial washing’ (Mark 7:3). Jesus says to them though that the problem is not outside, but inside. There’s something deep within that causes bad stuff to come out of everyone. The pent up frustration, the sneaky urge to take something extra, the narky thoughts about the person you work with – all of these aren’t from not keeping outside rules, they come from deep in our hearts. He tells the religious people not to focus on the rules, but their inner hearts:

 

Jesus says “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’? For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body…what comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.”
(Mark 7:18-23)

You know what that means? We will feel strongly and deeply that we want to do certain things. Strongly and deeply that those things are from inside us and part of us. But even though they’re from what feels like the deepest part of us, it doesn’t mean they’re good. In fact, it’s from deep within us that brokenness comes according to Jesus.

Our hearts are broken, our inside is broken according to Jesus. All of us.

Homosexuality is not a different category of brokenness to anger, greed, or, surprisingly even foolishness. Everyone has brokenness.

So when gay people tell us that they feel like being attracted to the same-sex is a deep part of who they are, Christians can say “I bet it does feel like that.” Christians heartily affirm their stories of the depth and power of their attractions. That’s certainly been my personal experience of what it feels like.

What Jesus says here reminds us that no matter who you are there will be things that seem incredibly natural to us, but are not. Things that seem right for us, but actually stem from the brokenness of our hearts. We are born broken.

But what about homosexuality in particular?

You might be able to see how all that makes sense, but you’re thinking: “Yes, but Jesus didn’t mention anything in particular about homosexuality.” In many ways this is like saying it’s not ok to be violent but it’s ok to punch…

Let’s pretend my mother told me I wasn’t allowed to be violent toward my brother Jason. Sure, I could go with that. But, then, I walked away and punched him in the face. There would be, I suspect, some small childlike satisfaction, but it would quickly fade when I got in trouble.

My mum would say: ”I told you not to be violent.” And I would try to reply: “Yes, but you didn’t say ‘don’tpunch’.” Crazy right?

It’s very much the same for Jesus and sexuality. In his time and culture they had two types of sex. There was sex between a man and a woman in marriage, and there was everything else. The word they used to describe everything else was the greek word porneia, which we translate as sexual immorality. It included adultery, lusting after others, perving, sex before marriage, swingers, sexual pictures, and, yes, homosexuality. To suggests that Jesus didn’t mention homosexuality specifically is like saying it’s ok to punch when someone tells you not to be violent because they didn’t mention punching in particular. Jesus clearly viewed homosexual sex as outside of God’s intentions for his people.

So what does Jesus want?

The summary of this section from Jesus in Mark’s gospel is actually confronting for all of us. There is something deep within us all, something that feels natural and inseparable from our identity, but that something is not right.

I don’t know about you, but I find that really difficult. Often every part of me feels like I will only ever be satisfied if I express what feels natural. When I’m true to myself. That my life will only ever truly work out if I meet that deep thirst within me. Otherwise I would just be called to a dry life of self-denial.

The Christian hope, and the reason there are over 250 of us in that facebook group, is that Jesus came to show us the deep problem, and offer living water to quench the thirst we have.

Later in a conversation with a woman who’s been through more sexual partners than the Kardashians, Jesus says he’s here to help: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (John 7:38)

Jesus is not denying that gay people feel their attractions as deep and strong and natural, (I can testify to that), but what he is saying is that they’re not reliable and he’s the true way to quench our thirst.

Read more:

Hear people share their stories of living with Jesus and their sexuality at livingout.org

An organisation in Brisbane supporting people struggling to reconcile their faith in Jesus with their sexuality, and for those trying to support their friends at Liberty Brisbane – libertyinc.org.au

Why don't we have more non-Christian sources referring to Jesus?

Kathryn Richmond works part time in radio, loves a good dress up party and has been following Jesus since she was a kid. Here she wrestles with what sources can be trusted when it comes to Jesus.

Canadian GeeseHave you ever asked a football player how many books they have written on the migration pattern of Canadian geese? Or how many Canadian geese specialists have written books on football? My guess is not that many. Similarly, there aren’t many non-Christian sources referring to Jesus. Non-Christians just weren’t interested in writing about a guy who they didn’t follow. And, just because someone is passionate about something, it doesn’t disqualify them from telling you about it accurately.

Saying this, let’s start with the non-Christian sources that do refer to Jesus….

Non-Christian Sources

Flavius Josephus

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote a collection of books called ‘The Antiquities of the Jews’ around 80AD. Jesus is referenced on two separate occasions. The first in reference to Jesus’ brother, James, being sentenced to death by stoning[1]. The second mention provides a further insight into Jesus’ life:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.[2]

Cornelius Tacitus

Considered one of Ancient Rome’s greatest historians, Cornelius Tacitus wrote the ‘Annals of Imperial Rome’ in 115AD. Tacitus was not a fan or follower of Christ, but deemed it important to record the Christians’ persecutions:

Christians derived their name from a man called Christ, who, during the reign of Emperor Tiberius had been executed by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate. The deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, broke out afresh not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City of Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.[3]

Talmud

Finally, we have a small reference to Jesus in a second century Jewish religious document called the Talmud. This anti-Christian document refers to Jesus’ actions as sorcery and states that he led Israel astray[4]. Despite being in opposition to Jesus, they still acknowledge his miraculous acts, but attribute them to sorcery as opposed to Jesus being the Son of God.

While these sources don’t prove what Jesus taught to be true, they provide a substantial amount of information regarding his life, death, teachings, miracles, family, and even claims of his resurrection[5].

Of course though, the reality is, it is always going to be the people most passionate about their cause who say the most about it. The question when it comes to the Christian documents is are they still reliable even though they are Christian?

Reliability of Christian Sources

We have non-Christian sources collaborating what the books in the Bible say, but how reliable is the New Testament? Being made of 27 books written before 100AD and with many manuscripts, most historians agree that the New Testament is the best account of Jesus’ life and would affirm with reasonable certainty that Jesus was a real man, a religious teacher, known (rightly or wrongly) for wondrous signs, was crucified under Pilate and that his followers claimed to see him resurrected.

Number

No original texts exist, and the earliest manuscript we have is from 125AD. There are over 20,000 early manuscript copies or portions of the New Testament. The large quantity of texts means that historians can be confident that these existing copies are the same as the original, due to the lack of variations in the copies.

Time

The time frame in which the copies written after the events assists in verifying the reliability of the documents. The New Testament has a large number of manuscripts, and they were originally written within 30-90 years of the events they record. Let’s compare this to documents about other historical figures:

Sophocles with 193 manuscripts written up 1400 years later
Caesar with 10 manuscripts written up to 1000 years later
Plato with only 7 manuscripts written 1200 years later[6].

If the same criteria is applied to all these texts, the New Testament proves to be the most reliable of these sources.One might ask why don’t we have more sources on many of the people and events of history we come to take for granted?

Did the Christians just try to make it look good?

Given that it’s written entirely by Jesus’ followers, there is the chance that they just had overactive imaginations. This would be more plausible if the gospel accounts weren’t at times filled with information that is, frankly, awkward. For example, in Matthew’s Gospel we are told:

“When they saw Jesus, they worshipped him; but some doubted”[7]

If convincing readers was their primary goal, writing that “some doubted”, was not the most strategic move possible. If they were clouded by bias and exaggeration you would cut that out. But, if you were trying to pass on what actually happened, you’d leave that it.

Similarly in all four Gospels we are told how Mary Magdalene and some other women discovered that Jesus’ body was not in the tomb, and saw the angel telling of Jesus’ resurrection[8]. Women in the first century were considered second class citizens, similar to slaves[9]. If the intention of the four Gospels was to convince readers of Jesus’ resurrection, having the first people to witness it as women was not a great way to start. Luke’s Gospel even goes as far as highlighting the fact the women were not believed when they told what they had seen[10]. The inclusion of these statements in the Gospels goes to establish the reliability of what is written, particularly when read within the context of first Century, in which it was written.

Conclusion

There aren’t many non-Christian sources about Jesus. But the nature and number of Christian sources is a powerful force. When compared to the way we might assess any figure or movement of history, the accounts of the life and message of Jesus are at least as reliable, if not more reliable, than any other. One historian says it like this: “If we apply to the New Testament, as we should, the same sort of criteria as we should apply to other ancient writings containing historical material, we can no more reject Jesus’ existence than we can reject the existence of a mass of pagan personages whose reality as historical figures is never questioned.” [11]
[1] Flavius Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews. Book 20, Chapter Nine.

[2] Flavius Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews. Book 18, Chapter Three.

[3] Cornelius Tacitus. Annals of Imperial Rome (25.44).

[4] Baraitha Sanhedrin. 43a. Talmud.

[5] Dickson. 2003. Simply Christianity – Leaders Manual. Matthias Media, Kingsford Australia.

[6] Wogel. 2001. The Case for Christ. Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

[7] Matthew 28:17.

[8] Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-11, John 20:1-2.

[9] Harris. 2011. www.mdharrismd.com

[10] Luke 24:11.

[11] Michael Grant. 1977. Jesus: A Historian’’s Review of the Gospels.

Wasn't the Bible and Christianity Created by some powerful men at the Council of Nicea?

Lewis Wilson is working towards being an architect and is a member of Latechurch. Taking us back through the pages of history, Lewis explores whether powerful people are behind the rise of Christianity.

Bargain BobWhen someone tries to sell us something, they wield a certain power over us if we decide to trust them. When Bargain Bob sincerely assures you that the vehicle you’re interested in ‘hasn’t driven a mile over 50 000’, it is always possible that these claims are true. But if you’re like most people, you don’t trust easily. ‘What do they gain from me believing them?’ is the first question you will ask yourself. It is exactly this perception that plagues Christianity (or ‘the Church’) today. Were there just powerful groups who had much to gain from people believing Christianity?

You may have never heard of the Council of Nicaea, but I’ll bet if you read on, you’ll discover that some have come to believe it confirms every bad thing they have ever thought about the Church: It was all made up to consolidate power. Here’s how a popular version of the story has been circulated today:

The Council of Nicaea was held 300 years after Jesus’ death and was a meeting between the Roman Emperor Constantine and the three hundred most prominent leaders of the early church. Many of the leaders knew the real truth: that Jesus had never claimed to be the Son of God, and believed he was just a wise teacher. But other leaders believed the Jesus myth and said he was the Son of God. A vote was held and the Jesus myth won by the slimmest of margins. Constantine was pleased.

Why?

Well, as The Da Vinci Code puts it: “By officially endorsing Jesus as the Son of God, Constantine turned Jesus into a deity who existed beyond the scope of the human world, an entity whose power was unchallengeable.” Using Jesus, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of Rome so he could keep its citizens under the thumb of his church. To be thorough, he destroyed more than eighty gospels that taught Jesus’ original history and created the bible using the few writings that were based on the Jesus myth [1].

Makes sense, doesn’t it? And, Constantine had much to gain from people believing the story.

The only problem is that these things never actually happened. Jesus’ divinity was not decided by a vote. The Nicaean Council did not decide which books went into the Bible, and lastly Constantine did not make Christianity the official religion of Rome.

The main reason for the meeting of the Council was to cast a vote, but it was not a vote to make Jesus the Son of God. Rather they gathered to deal with one man – a church leader named Arius – who was preaching a message about Jesus that was opposite to the beliefs held by the vast majority of the early church. Arius claimed that Jesus was not God, but merely some sort of ‘lesser god’. To a majority of Christians, these teachings were the equivalent of a doctor telling people not to trust medicine – it flew in the face of everything they believed and the very reason for their existence. The Christians’ central belief was that Jesus is God in human form. Arius’s teachings began to cause so much commotion that, like an exasperated medical association being forced to address some whacko doctor, the Council of Nicaea was convened to formally denounce Arius’s teachings as false. The vote passed 298 to 2, reaffirming the Church’s belief of Jesus as God [2].

It was not a close vote.

Make no mistake: the divinity of Jesus was not in any doubt for pre-Nicaean Christians. We know this because there are a multitude of writings from church leaders, as early as 100AD, quoting from the very same books that we read in the bible today. Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp and Tertullian all refer to Jesus in language that describes him as “the Christ God” and “God incarnate” [2].

But what about claims that the Council invented the Bible as we know it today, by merely picking the books that claim Jesus was God and ignoring those that make no such claims? Well there are documents out there that make claims about Jesus that you won’t find in the Bible. But why aren’t they included?

Well let’s say I write a history essay on Australia’s first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton. But for some reason the Australian National Library has no interest in adding my work to their extensive archive on early century Prime Ministers. The Library has very strict criteria for inclusion. They point out that firstly, I never knew Sir Barton, or anyone who did. Secondly, my essay contradicts long-standing and validated accounts written by those who did. And thirdly, no one who works for the Library can agree on my work. One person agrees with some of it, another agrees with all of it, but most believe it doesn’t fit at all with what we know of Sir Barton. My essay is like a jigsaw piece that doesn’t fit.

This is how we must approach the idea of ‘lost books’ outside ‘Biblical Canon’. Canon simply means ‘standard’ or ‘rule’ and long before the Council of Nicaea, the very first Christians were applying a standard to determine which accounts of Jesus deserved inclusion in the bible, and which were bogus [3]. They had to be written by an eyewitness or by someone close to that witness, they couldn’t contradict or go beyond the other eyewitness accounts and, lastly, these accounts had to be accepted not by a small group of powerful men, but by a large ethnically and geographically diverse group of churches. In fact, by the 2nd Century, long before Nicaea, the essentials of the Bible had largely been determined using this standard [4]. The books that weren’t included had dubious authorship, attributed things to Jesus that no other documents did and had never been accepted on a broad scale by the churches. Referring to one such gospel, New Testament scholar Bruce M. Metzger says: “It is not right to say that the Gospel of Thomas was excluded by some fiat on the part of a council; the right way to put it is, the Gospel of Thomas excluded itself!” [5] Because these books could not pass rigorous tests of authenticity they must be viewed just like my history essay – as jigsaw pieces that don’t fit.

At this point, many questions remain on the table. But we have good reasons to believe that what is taught about Jesus today is what he taught about himself. The Council of Nicaea was merely an acknowledgement of what the large majority of Christians already believed. As renowned archaeologist Sir Frederick George Kenyon puts it: “No other ancient document equals the New Testament when it comes to the preservation of manuscripts, both in terms of number and closeness in time to the original autographs” [6]. Hopefully for you, knowing that the words of Jesus’ survive to this day without alteration, will give you the confidence to consider exactly what you think about him and if his claims should change your life.

[1] Clarke, Greg. 2005. ‘Is It Worth Believing? The Spiritual Challenge of the Da Vinci Code’

[2] Lutzer, Erwin. 2008. ‘What Really Happened at the Council of Nicaea Anyway?’ www.leestrobel.com/videoserver/video.php?clip=strobelT1092

[3] Lightfoot, Neil. 2010. ‘How We Got the Bible’

[4] Wegner, Paul. 1999. ‘The Journey from Texts to Translations ‘

[5] Strobel, Lee. 1998. ‘The Case for Christ’

[6] McFarland, Alex. 2011. ‘10 Most Common Objections to Christianity’

Isn’t God a Hypocrite?

Ryan Ferguson is a uni student in his mid twenties who started following Jesus about 6 years ago. Bravely he opens a discussion on whether God has any write to tell us not to do things it seems that he himself does.

judges-hammerA non-Christian friend once told me how proud he was of his son for outsmarting his Sunday school teachers. His son realised: “If it’s wrong for us, it’s wrong for God.”

I could relate, having spent my youth angry at God. I liked the Jesus who said: “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), but was sickened by the God who would dare to hate “hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes [and] a false witness who pours out lies” (Proverbs 6:16-19). It didn’t matter that I hated the same things, but how dare the God who claims to be love (1 John 4:8) hate anything?! I hated that God flooded the world, but what really got to me was that behind this destruction he had the audacity to judge the world, all the while sending his son to famously say: “Judge not…” (Matthew 7:1; Luke 6:37). Most of all, I found it utterly repugnant that God called us to treat him as the most important thing (Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), as if he’s better than everyone else.

Growing up I wanted to scream: “Who does God think he is?!”

Divine Hate

If God is love, it’s easy to feel like “God” and “hate” don’t belong together in the same sentence. True love can’t hate, right? That sounds fitting on the surface, but let’s examine that. Imagine the person you love the most. Now imagine someone doing something to them. Something horrible. The exact kind of something that you don’t ever want to imagine. If that ever happened, hate would be a natural response, and not for a lack of love, but because of love. The more we love someone, the more we hate any evil coming upon them. So if God is love, how much more will he hate evil?

Divine Judgement

When Matthew and Luke recorded Jesus’ famous “judge not” teaching, they took special care to go on and show that his target audience were judging people ignorantly, unfairly and with bias. This completely changes the focus of the statement. Instead of vilifying judgement, Jesus endorses judgement that is conscientious, fair and unbiased. Meanwhile, knowing the motives and actions of our hearts, heads and hands (Jeremiah 17:10), God is fully able to judge impartially[1]. It turns out the hypocrisy is in those of us — Christian and non-Christian alike — who think we are better judges than we really are.

Divine Violence

This topic easily warrants its own article. Dan Paterson recently spoke about it in an open forum[2], and was still only able to scratch the surface. In all senses of the word, it offends us if God is violent. And, given God’s prohibition against murder (Exodus 20:13), it strikes us as profoundly wrong of God to participate in any kind of violence. Yet he destroyed the world in a flood! Doesn’t that make him a murderer?

In Australia we don’t have capital punishment, but it is still alive and well (forgive my horrible joke) on a global scale. The executioner isn’t a murderer even though he ends a life. Murder is fundamentally unjust, while capital punishment is a form of justice. In the case of of the great flood, we don’t see innocent people dying. God’s action is shocking, but so is the state of humanity: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil: all. the. time.” (Genesis 6:5, emphasis mine). God’s violence is never arbitrary, but is the outcome of him judging fairly and impartially against the criteria of love.[3]

Divine Authority

For me, my disgust in God’s hate and judgement was underscored by my denial that God is the centre of the universe. In my self-righteousness, I hated God and judged him as self-righteous (read: pretentious, stuck-up and not remotely righteous). But when I investigated the life of Jesus, I couldn’t hold this view together anymore. Admittedly, it turned out Jesus wasn’t the politically correct nice guy I imagined him to be — when he saw people abusing the temple he flipped tables and drove them out with a whip (John 2:14-15). But he didn’t leave room for God to be a snotty-nosed brat, either. Instead,

being in very nature God, [Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).

 

The authors of the Bible did not shy away from the notion that God (and therefore Jesus) is the best thing. For someone like me, who despised the idea of God being better than everyone else, this is very confrontational. The passage concludes:

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

 

When a corrupt leader sets himself apart as the best thing, it’s easy — and even right — to feel the injustice. But Jesus is profoundly different, because his greatness (God’s greatness) is displayed most powerfully when he lowers himself to serve us, loving his neighbour as he commands us to do also. Jesus stays true to his word, that to be the greatest is to be a servant to all (Mark 9:45; Matthew 23:11). Against our intuitions, from creation to crucifixion, God uses his authority to serve our needs for life, love, fairness and restoration. Jesus’ unfailing love for us earns him the “highest place,” meaning he can rightly expect us to love God wholeheartedly, because he already loves us wholeheartedly.

[1] Piper, J. 1998. There is no partiality with God, part 1. http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/there-is-no-partiality-with-god-part-1

[2] Paterson, D. 2015. Did God command genocide? http://traverse.org.au/did-god-command-genocide/

[3] GotQuestions. Does God killing people make him a murderer? http://www.gotquestions.org/God-killing.html

Why Can’t I Find God Through Another Religion?

Ryan Ferguson is a uni student in his mid twenties who started following Jesus about 6 years ago. Here he takes a look at the relationship between Christianity and other religions..

24/07/2015

manypaths351King Xerxes the Great, Queen’s Freddie Mercury and Star Trek’s Persis Khambatta all had something in common. They were all Zoroastrians. In their religion, there’s one true God, but many beings worthy of worship. By worshipping these beings, Zoroastrians believe they come closer to God. In a modern pluralist society, the idea that there are many ways to God is appealing. A broad road is easy to follow and a wide gate is easy to pass through, and if God is good surely he’d make himself as accessible as possible, right?

Meanwhile Christianity and, by extension, Christians are often accused of being too narrow and exclusive. The skeptic can even use the Bible to argue for Christianity’s excessive exclusivity. During his ministry, Jesus taught to “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). In John 14:6, Jesus declared: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Against the accusation of excessive exclusivity, Jesus’ own words don’t look promising.

If you aren’t a Christian, the claim that the only way to God is through Jesus can be downright offensive. And if you are a Christian, it doesn’t always feel a whole lot better. After all, we have colleagues, friends and family members who want nothing to do with Jesus, but we want them to know and enjoy God. We believe that God is the best thing to have, and do not want anyone to miss out. Sadly, if Jesus really is the only way to God, this could mean devastating consequences for the non-Christians we love.

I can’t speak for other Christians, but personally I would love it if each religion granted legitimate access to God. Then I could rest assured that everyone will be alright in the end and I wouldn’t need to write this article. But Jesus claimed to be equal to God (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 2:5-12, John 5:16-18, John 8:58), and God affirmed Jesus’ claims through his resurrection. So when Jesus says he is the only way to God, we need to take him seriously.

In Christian circles, we sometimes talk about ‘general revelation’ and ‘special revelation.’ General revelation refers to what can be known about God simply from observing nature. When people look at the world and see that it is created without drawing from a specific religious tradition, this is an example of general revelation. While most religions grasp at general revelation, it is only when God informs us about himself directly — which he does through his Son — that we get special revelation.

Modern pluralists generally prefer to believe that all religions have stumbled upon some truth about God, but are missing the full picture. A common parable is the story of three blind men feeling an elephant. One man feels the tail and calls it a rope, one feels the leg and calls it a tree, one feels the belly and calls it a wall. But what if God approached the blind men and gave them sight to see him? This is what God claims to do in the life of Jesus.

Since God has chosen to make himself known through his Son, an uncomfortable question arises. We began by asking why we can’t find God some other way. But if god has already shown us the way, why would I want another way?

From the beginning, humans have resisted God’s way. In Eden, God’s way was to imbibe everlasting life, but Adam and Eve opted to go another way with disastrous consequences. In Israel, God’s way was to obey the law, but Israel opted to go another way with disastrous consequences. And now God’s way is to bond with humans through his Son, who is fully human and fully God.

When we have considered the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God, but still look for another way, are we really looking for God? Or are we rejecting him? It’s counter-intuitive to say that we can reject God through religion, but if Jesus really is the Son of God, then there is no better source for finding God. If Jesus is the real deal, then looking elsewhere is looking away from God.

Rejecting God has always had disastrous consequences. The good news is that people with a history of rejecting God — be it through religion or irreligion — are the exact kind of people Jesus came to save. On the cross, he faced the disastrous consequences of us rejecting God. So if we stop looking away and start following the Way, we won’t just find God — we will be with God forever.

 

Further Viewing

Explore God. 2013. Is Christianity Too Narrow?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqPx1i934pA

http://mccrindle.com.au/the-mccrindle-blog/spirituality-and-christianity-in-australia-today

Isn’t the Crucifixion Cosmic Child Abuse?

Daniel Smartt work’s part-time, is in his mid twenties and has been following Jesus his whole life. Here he tackles the thorny question of how Jesus is treated by his Father God…

21/09/2015

The crucifixion is foundational to Christianity. If it’s wrong, it really

Wooden cross against the sky with shining rays

matters. At the crucifixion the Bible says God the Father sent his innocent Son Jesus to die a horrific, shameful, painful death as a punishment for sins he didn’t commit. Jesus died on that cross as a substitute for us, so that we don’t have to take the punishment. His death in our place means that we can be reunited with God. If Jesus hadn’t died, we would still be separated from God and lost on the path to hell.

The claim that the crucifixion is cosmic child abuse is a serious accusation, not only because it slanderously paints God the Father as an abusive God, but also because it strikes at the heart of how we can be right with God. And it is a big concern: if the accusation were true, I wouldn’t want to serve a God who abuses his own Son. God the Father did cause his Son to die a horrible, painful death, and in most circumstances that would rightly be considered abuse.

There’s more than one way a Christian can deal with this issue, but not all are helpful. For example, some say “Jesus was a consenting adult and volunteered for it.” This is true, but it is a weak argument because in our broken world, parents do sometimes abuse their adult children, and even if the child consents (for example if an older child takes abuse to protect their younger siblings), abuse is still wrong. Another argument I have heard is “Jesus came alive again, so it was ok that Jesus was crucified.” This is also factual, but I’m not going start arguing that the end justifies the means, so this doesn’t actually deal with the problem, either.

But thankfully that’s not where the Bible leaves us.

“No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” 1 John 10:18

Imagine that there is a war on. The enemy is cruel, heartless and will steal, kill and destroy everyone if nothing is done to stop them. A father and his oldest son love the rest of their family so much that, to protect them, they enter into the war. The father, being the wiser and more experienced of the two, takes a command role at the military base, while the son takes advantage of his youth and steps out onto the front line.

Once out on the front line, the son sees his enemies and dials base. Having examined the landscape and the enemy tactic, he sees a way in which he can end the war right now – but it will cost him his life. His father, overseeing the battlefield, has observed the same battlefield and tactics, and agrees that the son’s bold move will end the war. Moreover, both the father and the son see that this is the only way they can end the war. If they don’t act now, the war will continue and will spread back home, resulting in the death of their family. So, as tragic as it is, the father and son unite in their mission, and the son defeats the enemy at the cost of his own life.

In this picture, it’s easy to imagine that the father loves his son very much, but as a joint effort they are willing for him to die so that his family may live. There is no abuse in this story, even though it is an awful decision to have to make.

The son loves his brothers and sisters so much that he freely volunteers to die to save them, knowing that his death will be horrific and painful. He takes their place so that they won’t all die. The son loves his father so much that he is willing to give up his life for him, and trusts his father so much, knowing that his father wouldn’t have him do this if there was any other way. The father and son both know that the only way to save the rest of the family is if the oldest son goes off to die.

If there was any hint of abuse in this relationship, or even anything less than perfect love, would the son have gone through with it? The son would have deserted at the first chance he got.

If a father can love his son and still send him off to war, with no chance that he might return, how much more can the God who is Love send his Son to save us, knowing that after his suffering and death he will return victorious.

TL;DR A Father sending a Son to war to save the rest of the family isn’t abuse, therefore neither is God the Father sending Jesus to die on the cross.

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