Friend of the podcast and cold case detective, J. Warner Wallace, writes about the Gospel of Philip. Why is it that we find the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reliable, but not Philip?
Andrew Menkis writes a good article on how Jesus’ brief time on the cross could pay for an eternity of sin. When someone objects that Jesus couldn’t have paid the price for your sins unless he goes to hell forever, ask them why. Why must Jesus go to hell forever in order to have paid my price? Why does the passage of time matter so much? The objection doesn’t even make sense, but Menkis writes a good response.
Tom Gilson, editor at The Stream, writes about what it is like for God to exist outside of time and space. There are things about God that are beyond our comprehension, but if God exists, we should expect this to be the case.
Dr. Michael J. Kruger, a friend of the podcast, writes about the Apocryphal Gospels and why they are so popular among the media. He also gives a quick answer as to why the Apocryphal are not in the Bible. And no, it isn’t because of someone with arbitrary power.
Featured Image Credit: Kanye West Rich Fury/Getty Images for Coachella
It is not uncommon for a celebrity in our culture to have a “road to Damascus experience” and place their faith in Jesus. Plenty of examples come to mind, but as of late, none is more prominent than Kanye West.
I do not keep up much with pop culture, Kanye West, or the Kardashians for that matter. A family member told me that Kanye had always been a Christian and mentioned his faith in other albums. Whether he is experiencing revival or conversion, it is obvious that something has happened in Kanye’s life.
I listened to his new album “Jesus is King” and was pleasantly surprised by what sounded like the sincerity and passion of a believer. I don’t know why this was a “pleasant surprise.” I suppose I viewed Kanye based on the words of his previous music, which by his own admission, would be anything but Christ-exalting.
Also, I watched some of his recent interviews in which he publicly proclaims his faith. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the words he was speaking were biblically faithful. I’m used to seeing high-profile religious people tout religious cliches and bend toward the cultural climate of the day. However, in Kanye’s words, I couldn’t help but hear a biblical orthodoxy.
Call me naive, but I believed (and do believe) that Kanye is sincere. Could I know with absolute certainty? I do not know anyone’s motives with absolute certainty. I can only judge one’s motives based on one’s words and actions. And of course with Kanye, my knowledge is limited to only what is publicized by himself and others.
However, I do know what God’s word says. I find in the story of the prodigal son a lesson for us all. And the lesson might not be the one you are familiar with. Usually when you hear the prodigal son, you think of the love of a father, and how no one is too far beyond redemption. However, I would submit to you that this is not the main point of the parable. The main point, I would say, is directly applicable to how we view the conversions of others.
I’m sure you have heard it, but the parable basically goes like this: A father had two sons. The youngest son comes to the father and asks for his inheritance in advance. Pause. At the time and place in which Jesus was telling the parable, this would have been like saying to your father, “You are no used to me alive, I wish you were dead, just give me your money.” As if the money were owed to the son.
The father obliges and gives the money to the son. The length that parents will go for their children’s happiness. The son takes the money and squanders it on loose living. Imagine him going to Las Vegas or something and blowing it on strippers, drugs, and gambling.
When the well has run dry, the son is left with nothing. What is he to do? He ends up selling himself as a hired hand to a farmer. Starving, he resorts to eating with the pigs. Face down in whatever pigs eat, he comes to his senses. He decides to return home and beg his father’s forgiveness.
Before he can even reach the house, his father runs out to greet him and welcomes him home in a loving embrace. Once again, we see the unconditional love of a parent for a child. Not only this, but the father orders the fatted-calf killed and plans a large dinner party for the son’s return.
What a story. What a great story about God’s love for sinners, right? There’s only one problem: I’ve left out the most important part.
Context is Key
A wiseman once said that a text without a context is just a pretext. The context of Jesus’ parable is this: Jesus’ enemies, the Pharisees (religious leaders of the day), were complaining that a righteous man like Jesus would hangout with notorious sinners all the day long. How could he defile himself in such a way?! The Pharisees were far too “holy” to do such things. Didn’t Jesus know any better?
This complaining of the Pharisees launched Jesus into a series of parables which included the prodigal son narrative. In each parable, something is lost that is found, and an invitation is given to rejoice in the finding of the thing lost. Keyword: rejoice.
At the end of the prodigal son parable we find the eldest son, who did not leave or squander his inheritance, grumbling at the return of his brother. He is indignant that his father would praise his younger brother after what he did. Not only that, but his father was hosting a party for this scoundrel, something he had never done for him despite his undying loyalty.
Does the elder son sound like anyone else? The Pharisees. Given the context in which Jesus was telling this parable, it becomes clear that the story is actually about the oldest brother more so than the youngest, or the father for that matter. The whole point was that the inheritance is the father’s to give, who was the oldest son to complain about the grace shown to the youngest son? The correct response was to rejoice, for what had been lost was now found.
Rejoicing with Kanye
It is not for us to decide if Kanye is sincere in his faith. Is there a chance that he has an ulterior motive? I guess, but that does not concern me. What concerns me is my own motives. I do not wish to be caught as a Pharisee as God rains out his love, mercy, and grace on sinners. I want to rejoice with those who publicly declare, “Jesus is King!”
I hope you will do the same.
Talking with someone who is objecting to your Christian beliefs can be intimidating. We fear that we won’t be able to adequately answer the person’s objections and will look like a fool.
The intimidation and fear that a Christian feels is not unique. It is not as if Christians alone feel this way. Anyone whose beliefs (about any subject) are objected to will naturally feel this way.
In my (limited) experience, and having read books on the subject, I have found some useful tips for how to deal with such situations. I flatter myself as someone who knows a bit on the subject of Christian apologetics, but even if you don’t, I believe these tips will help you adequately deal with encountering objectors to your faith.
1) You are not Superman
Nobody knows everything, not even your objector. You should not feel obligated to know how to answer every objection. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to know as much as possible, but even if you spent every waking moment reading scholarly books and journal articles, there simply isn’t enough time to learn everything you would need to know in order to respond to every objection.
Likewise, remember that the success of Christendom does not rest on your shoulders. In some way, feeling as if it does is narcissistic. Christianity has lasted the trials of 2,000 years and will continue to do so if you blunder one conversation, even if that conversation is publicized. So, relax.
2) Ask the First Question
The first question you should ask any objector to your Christian faith is this: If Christianity were true and you could know it with 100% certainty, would you become a Christian?
Seems silly, right? Surely, any level-minded person would follow the truth wherever it leads. Not so. I was in dialogue with a well-known YouTube atheist recently and I asked him this very question. His response was, “If Christianity were true, I would have to reject it.”
In fairness he said this because he does not want to live forever. He would rather be annihilated than live eternally with God. He said if an eternal hell were his only other option that he might have to become a follower of Jesus.
The point is this: you may have lost the conversation before it ever began. Not all skeptics are rejecting Christianity because they find it hard to believe, though many do. And even if they became convinced in their minds, their hearts would not necessarily follow. Sometimes, all we can really do is share the gospel and pray. After all, it is God who saves, not us.
If someone answers the way that my skeptical friend did, there just simply isn’t much we can offer them. What could I say? If he doesn’t want it, he doesn’t want it. There are plenty of people who do want it and we should focus our efforts there. That may sound harsh, but time is precious and we cannot waste our efforts.
3) Ask More Questions
I’ve come to believe that a lot of times you don’t even have to have answers. You just have to have questions. That may sound strange, but consider that most people have not given much thought to why they believe what they believe, including non-religious people.
I recently spoke with author Greg Koukl about this. He has seen much fruit in his ministry simply by asking pointed questions. There are two important questions that you should ask repeatedly: (1) What do you mean by that? and (2) How do you know that?
The first question is about defining terms. Often times we speak past each other, getting nowhere in our conversations, because we are not talking about the same thing even if we are using the same words. The problem is that we do not agree on the definitions of the words we are using. Think about the word “fetus” in the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate. One side sees a human child and the other sees a clump of cells. This difference must be settled before the conversation can go anywhere.
The second question is about evidence and reason. If some one says “In this scientific age, we know miracles don’t happen,” I want to know how science has shown that. What scientific experiment has shown miracles to be impossible, or even improbable? I also want to know what the person means by “miracle,” how do they define the word?
By asking questions, you are shifting the burden. Now, it is on your objector to give a reason for what they believe and why they believe it. Take the stress off of yourself and just ask questions.
4) Don’t Get Sidetracked
It is not uncommon to be asked questions by skeptics like “Do you really think God flooded the whole earth and Noah survived on a boat?” “Aren’t there numerous errors and contradictions in the Bible?” And of course, everyone’s favorite, “What about dinosaurs?”
Here’s a thought: Who cares? What do the majority of these silly questions have to do with anything? Nothing. They are red herrings that distract from what really matters. What really matters? With respect to our skeptical friends, God’s existence and the Resurrection. If God exists and Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Everything else can be worked out. Everything else is secondary. If the objection does not directly relate to these two subjects, feel free to disregard it, or even cede the point.
I do this with the “The Bible has contradictions” objection. I believe in the innerancy of Scripture, but even if it were true that the Bible contained contradictions, that wouldn’t mean that God does not exist, or that Jesus did not rise from the dead. Not even close.
5) Be humble
The last thing we need is another pretentious know-it-all apologist. We are not called to win arguments in a spirit of superiority. We are called to win people to Christ in a spirit of love and truth. Our character matters just as much as (if not more than) our argumentation. In fact, sometimes a humble life lived in servitude to Jesus is the strongest apologetic we can give.
Talking with objectors to your faith can be intimidating, especially for an introvert. However, there is nothing to be afraid of. Remember: the fate of Christianity does not rest on your shoulders, try to ask as many questions as possible, don’t get sidetracked, and stay humble. I think you will find your conversations less stressful.
Dr. Michael Strauss, who has been on the podcast, writes against the simulated universe hypothesis. This is a popular hypothesis, but not amongst the experts. Dr. Strauss explains a few reasons why.
Sean McDowell offers some practical advice when it comes to sharing truth, or answering questions. I just happened to be reading through the parables in Mark myself when I came across this blog. Jesus’ parables offer some insight on how to teach/answer questions.
Here is a good article that exposes moral relativism as self-defeating. Of course, I do not agree with the “divine command theory” approach to morality that is proposed by the author, but the critique of moral relativism was worth sharing.
Michael F. Bird writes about the kingdom of God and how it was understood in the Old Testament and Second-Temple literature. It is always helpful to understand how a text was first understood. Then we can get at what was originally intended.