Blog Archives

On the Desire to Erase Hell from Christian Doctrine

God has the right to do WHATEVER He pleases.

If I’ve learned one thing from studying hell, it’s that last line.  And whether or not you end up agreeing with everything I say about hell, you must agree with Psalm 115:3.  Because at the end of the day, our feelings and wants and heartaches and desires are not ultimate — only God is ultimate.  God tells us plainly that His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isa. 55:9).  Expect then, that Scripture will say things that don’t agree with your natural way of thinking.

— Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, p. 17

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Salvation Apart from Catholicism

In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI released a document that had the entire Protestant community up in arms. As part of the revamp of my articles page, I thought I’d revisit the issue.  This used to be an article, and since I still substantially agree with its contents, I’m moving it down to a blog post.  This is an object lesson in actually reading things for yourself instead of just jumping to conclusions. Read the rest of this entry

Question from a Christian About Law and Grace

A member of the Christian Apologetics Alliance recently asked:

Question: In the old testament God outlines an entire list of dos and do nots for the Jews to follow. Among them is dietary regulation (Kosher food=♥).

In the New Testament Christ says,”until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”

Does that include dietary restrictions? Paul suggests in 1 Corintians 8, “But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. ” And Christ Himself says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’

So my question is thus, if Christ said that not a letter of the law would be removed until heaven and earth disappear and everything is accomplished but says also that what we eat doesn’t necessarily matter because it can’t make us unclean, is he contradicting Himself since in Leviticus 11 God dictates what Israelites were and weren’t suppose to eat?

I’ve heard this objection from 1000 different atheists, worded exactly the way this girl just framed it.  What most people fail to take away from Matthew 5:17-20 is one little snippet in v. 18, which qualifies the otherwise sweeping statement of nothing in the Law will pass away “until all is fulfilled.”  So, what is the fulfillment of the Law?  Christ himself.

Christ fulfilled the righteous requirement of the Law, so that means that we don’t have to.  We now live by faith, not by works of Law.  Which means the short answer to this inquiry is, “No, we’re not held to dietary restrictions.”

The long answer is a matter of context. Read the rest of this entry

Questions Theists Can’t Answer, the Bible

Another question from that old Reddit thread that has questions designed to stump theists:

If the Bible is the word from God, and the word from God is perfect, why does it need interpretations? Why don’t you stone adulters or avoid wearing clothes made from mixed fibers as stated in the Bible? Why don’t you sacrifice animals to your God? 

This is really two questions. First, Why does the word of God need to be interpreted? And second, Why don’t Christians adhere to the Old Testament Laws? Read the rest of this entry

Related Series on Parchment and Pen

I’m running through DaGoodS’s list of questions Christians hope no one will ask. This has become a pretty popular series, so I thought for a moment that C. Michael Patton of the Parchment and Pen blog copied my idea and did a similar series of his own, “Questions I Hope No One Asks.” So far, he has two:

  1. Why doesn’t God save everyone?
  2. Why did God put Satan in Eden?

I read the first post just to see if he mentioned the series on this blog as his inspiration. Alas, he either had the idea all by himself or decided not to mention me. Although I agree that “free will,” “God doesn’t love everyone,” “He’ll save everyone eventually” are all inferior answers, Patton’s own answer of “I don’t know” is equally insufficient.

As a fellow Calvinist, Patton ought to know that everything God does is intended to reveal his glory. God wishes to reveal all of himself to those he has chosen as vessels of mercy, and so in order to reveal his hatred of sin and wrath against unrighteousness, he has passed over many of his creations and allows them to suffer under his wrath.

That’s a sufficient answer to someone like me, who is confident of salvation and steadfast enough in faith to continue to run the race until the end. But to someone who is perishing, it is pure folly (to put it nicely). In other words, my answer satisfies believers firm in their faith but leaves unbelievers or believers who are questioning their faith thinking of God as a maniacal, merciless tyrant playing dice with the lives of people he ostensibly loves.

Yet my answer is still consistent with Scripture. The key is that the answer satisfies believers with a strong or unshakable faith (Rom 8:28), who are the people that God works all things out for. But to those who are perishing, it sounds like “folly” (1 Cor 1:18).

But what about those who are tottering on the brink of de-conversion? Well, God doesn’t really like the fence-sitters (Rev 3:16). An answer like that is bound to make you pick a side, not continue sitting the fence.

I’m not terribly comfortable with that answer, however confident I am that it is the right one. I don’t know why so many people have to be in the “perishing” category. It seems as though God could have created a system that revealed his full character and brought him glory, and resulted in more people saved. But, as I’ve pointed out time and again, the goal of this experiment called the human race was not to maximize salvation, but the glory of God.

The second question is a good one. I think that God intended the Fall to purposely create a system where only a few would be lavished with his mercy, while the remainder suffered his wrath. As above, that would maximize his glory. Again, the comfort level with that answer is minimal for me, however confident I am in the veracity of the answer. Satan is a part of God’s plan, for better or for worse. Patton seems to agree with the fact that Satan is part of God’s plan, at least in principle.

I think the answer to both questions really comes down to the fact that this life is all about God, not about us. God is ultimately free to do as he decides with us, and there’s really not much we can do about it.

As far as Patton’s inspiration for this series, I’ll continue to delude myself into believing that it’s me. That’s healthy, right?

More on PrayerMarket.com

In a previous post, I spoke of a new website called PrayerMarket.com in which users traded prayers for reward money. Basically, I thought the whole idea was reprehensible. I’m not alone; other bloggers who were directly contacted by the site’s founder have pretty much agreed with that sentiment:

The first two are Catholic websites and both used a term that’s new to me, but the concept it describes isn’t. The word is simony: the act of exchanging money for spiritual goods. The origin of the story is Simon the Sorcerer, which is described in Acts 8:9-25. The crux of the sin is found in verses 18-19:

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Offering money to obtain the gifts of God, rightfully obtained solely by God’s grace is not a sign of a penitent heart. The apostle Peter told Simon that his heart wasn’t right before God, and commanded the sorcerer to repent (verse 21-22).

Someone suggested Steve Colbert do a story on it. Not a bad suggestion; there is much to be mocked.

John Wilson, founder of the site, has agreed to an interview with me. I will reprint the interview below in Q&A format, with some further comments from me. Read the rest of this entry

Money Quote

I was reading an article from ABC News that profiled two anonymous ministers that, despite their atheism, continue in their positions as senior pastors. That really makes me mad. They are doing their congregations a great disservice, and are being major hypocrites. Atheists talk constantly about the hypocrisy of believers, but it looks as if many of them fare no better with major issues of integrity. But that’s not really the point.

The point is that there is a single money quote from Adam, one of the ministers-turned-atheist, that sums up two things very nicely. First, why he was able to wholly change his worldview so readily. And second, what is wrong with American Christianity and why it is in serious decline:

As I lost my faith … I realized that really had no bearing on who I am and my character and my actions. I live no differently than I did when I was a fervent believer.

Contrast that with the proper attitude of the believer toward his faith, summed up nicely by C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Adam’s problem is that he isn’t living any differently as an atheist than he did as a Christian.

The reverse is true as well. Christian converts live no differently than they did when they were unbelievers.

If the atheists are right, and there is no God, then a quick look at human history ought to be pretty disturbing. Wars, violence, greed, corruption, and horrible human rights violations permeate history like a cancer. We’ve always been violent and savage, and there’s no hope that we can change ourselves. We’ve tried and it doesn’t work.

But, if the Christian is correct, then God exists and he will recreate civilization so as all the war, violence, greed, corruption, and human rights violations are a thing of the past. That means we have hope. And, both Paul and James exhorted us to live as though we have it.

The problem is that even our ministers don’t seem to be living as if this hope is real, and the proof is this article. They readily abandon a dearly held worldview because, as Adam put it, there’s no difference in how he lives!

That’s really sad.

Can Atheists be Moral Without God?

A few days back, I promised that I would discuss the answer to a question that has been raging in the atheist-theist dialogue for a long time. It stirs up controversy wherever it goes. The question: Can atheists be moral without God?

The short answer: NO, absolutely, unequivocally, not. It is impossible to be moral without God.

I had best get to the long answer before I get flamed by my atheist readership, which actually amounts to 99% (if not 100%) of my overall readership. First, I must explain an important, and oft overlooked, distinction that will bring this entire question into focus: the difference between ethics and morals.

When he was learning the art of the psychological autopsy, NCIS’s Ducky was asked by Mr. Palmer to explain the difference between ethics and morals. Ducky said something akin to “The ethical man knows he shouldn’t cheat on his wife, while the moral man would not.” In other words, ethics govern solely the behavior of an individual, where morals begin with the heart and proceed out, modifying the behavior as a result.

It is quite possible for a man to watch rape porn, read erotica featuring rape or non-consensual scenes, constantly fantasize about raping women, and even request that his consensual partners fight him, beg him to stop, and cry real tears during sex. He literally views women as objects that exist solely for his enjoyment. What holds this individual back from actually raping a woman is the threat of jail time, the looming possibility of having to register as a sex offender, and the associated shame and loss of status all of that would bring.

This person actually quite ethical. He doesn’t act on his impulses. He obeys the law. By all outward appearances, he’s a fine, upstanding citizen. But his hidden dark side poses a problem with calling him  “moral.”

Ethics are solely concerned with behavior. A person can be ethical and even appear to bear the good fruit associated with the Kingdom of God, but essentially be a “whitewashed tomb full of dead man’s bones.” If you take care to wash only the parts that people can see, while continuing to live a robust life of mental evils, are you really moral?

If my neighbor, the guy with the really hot wife, the awesome job that I could never get in a million years, who paid off his house because he’s a millionaire in his twenties, and owns three fancy sports cars suddenly got divorced, fired from his awesome job, and totaled two of the three sports cars (in one day), how should I react to that?

Externally, if I offered a shoulder to cry on anytime he needed one and offered to help him financially if he needed to pay some debts or bills (no millionaire is completely without debt), and tried to help him get a job; would I still be good if in my mind I kept thinking silently, “I’m so happy! I want to see this S.O.B. fall further into despair. I’m going to nickname him ‘Job.’ May he total the other sports car, too!”

I’m thinking, “NO.”

That example is perfectly within our fallen natures. It isn’t that we can’t do good. We, in our fallen nature, can’t will good. We may do some (relative) good, but privately, we still entertain impure (or even evil) thoughts. Our behavior conforms to the good, but our minds do not.

Contrast this with a Christian, who is a Christian in both word and deed. I hate to say a “true” Christian, so let’s say a “sincere” Christian. Once his faith has been placed in Christ, a transformation occurs. He is a new creation. His inward thoughts are taken captive, to conform even those to Christ. Our carnal minds, after all, aren’t subject to God’s law (nor indeed can be).

Ethics are external. Those are what people see. However, morals work from the inside out. Instead of just doing good, we are good. That’s a far cry from simply acting ethical. Instead of not stealing thousands of dollars from the bank at which I work, the capability of that theft is no longer in my person. That, in a nutshell, is what it means to be conformed to Christ.

That, however, isn’t something that just happens the day of my altar call. It is part of sanctification, which is a life-long process where I work with God to conform both my actions and my thoughts to Christ’s example.

This is hard. But no one ever said Christianity was supposed to be easy.

Missing the Point

When a person hates something so deeply, like religion and everything that it stands for, then said person can see something that paints the object of his hatred in a positive light and completely, totally, utterly miss it. Especially when this “something” seems to paint the object of hatred negatively at first.

This clip from the TV series Firefly seems to be painting religion (specifically, the Bible) in a very negative light:

River, always logical to a fault, is trying to “fix” the broken parts of the Bible. At least what she perceives to be broken. Shepherd Book, on the other hand, tries to explain something that uber-logical River probably isn’t equipped to understand: what it means to actually have faith in something intangible yet bigger than yourself.

I like what Book tells her: “You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

Book points to a deeper truth about faith: that it is meant to fix our broken human condition. We who have faith acknowledge that our condition is flawed and that it requires fixing. We also realize that we aren’t capable of doing that on our own: God is required to heal our souls. That’s where faith–that is, trust–comes in. We have to trust that God is capable of doing that, that God is willing to do that, and that God will do that (see Rom 8:29-30).

In the end, this clip gives an excellent definition of what it means to have faith in something larger than ourselves–faith in the divine. At first blush, this scene seems to be making a negative comment about the Bible itself, and religion in general. In reality, it is driving home what Christianity has always taught: that we are broken and in need of a Savior who accomplishes our salvation through faith. The faith we have fixes our broken human condition.

The real point of this clip is utterly lost on the atheists. If you don’t believe me, read the comments below the clip:

“faith fixes you” my a**. faith breaks you down and then makes you into an unthinking zombie, at least our current faiths act as such.

the only way to “fix” the bible is to burn it and p*** on the ashes. (edited for content, by “theeyeisblind” with four “thumbs up” from other users as of this writing)