Monday, April 27, 2009

my "shoot from the hip" reasons to
believe the Gospel

I love doing ministry in a college town! It's fresh and dynamic. Regularly students come to me with their assignments, needing questions answered. They usually come a bit late and close to the due date. I do what I can to make time for these divine interruptions, seeing them as opportunities to give a reason for my hope and let the Gospel "sound forth."

A student named Kevin sent me an email last Friday on behalf of a friend and his assignment that was due early this week. While I sat on the plane last Friday, I fired off some quick and rough "shoot from the hip" answers to the following 10 questions. And then I had an opportunity to interact with Kevin and his friend on Sunday. I think the conversation will continue in person down the road.

I thought my answers might benefit others who are in the game of engaging with those who do not yet believe (and I hope you are!). Once more, I believe a Gospel worldview is reasonable and defensible to today's post-Christian world. This is really how I try to talk to people when I have the opportunity to open my mouth for the sake of Christ. What you've heard me say on Sunday morning again and again is exactly what I look to say with any unbeliever . . . .

1. Why did you choose to become a pastor? Do you think it was a calling from God?

Yes, I believe it was a calling from God. I was a business economics major planning on pursuing a career in business, when God redirected my future. Essentially, I realized I wanted to invest my life in things of lasting and eternal significance.

2. Did you grow up in a Christian family? If so, did you have any doubts when you were growing up? If not, what triggered you to believe in the Christian Religion?

I did grow up in a Christian family. I experienced a period of doubt and deconstruction of my beliefs in high school after the tragic death of an uncle. Reading and exploration of other worldviews lead me back to Christianity, as I recognized the person and cross of Christ as the best fit hypothesis to explain the world as we know and experience it. I continue to have my doubts and have embraced doubt as a dimension of faith.

3. What is your view on Christian agnostics?

I am not sure what a Christian agnostic is. An agnostic is someone who believes that God exists, but that he cannot be known in a personal way. I am not sure how someone might legitimately be a "Christian agnostic."

4. What is your view on the comparison on the God of the Old and the New Testament?

The God the Bible is the same in both Testaments who makes himself and his plan of redemption known progressively through history and climactically in the person of Jesus Christ. The OT God of wrath and NT God of grace and love is a false dichotomy, a charicature and an inaccurate reading of the Bible. God is holy and just, so He is angry toward and punishes sin. At the same time He is graceful and loving toward sinners. The promise of God to redeem a fallen world and humanity begins on page 3 (Genesis 3:15) of the Bible and is finally realized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, looking forward to a full consummation at the return of Jesus. At the cross, God's holiness and love meet. At the cross, God is just, but also justifies sinners.

5. What is your view on subjective morality, is it plausible?

Subjective morality is non-sensical. Apart from a creator, all morality is a human construct and there is no defensible basis for it. . . neither majority or might. And yet everyone admits that certain acts are wrong. . .we know it, we feel it. . . . .acutely when a daughter is raped or a spouse is murdered . . . . . morality inevitably lead us back to God, the moral-maker.

6. How would you define purpose?

Our purpose or the word "purpose"? I believe the Bible teaches that humanity exists to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

7. What is your view on the origin of the human mind?

I believe and the Bible teaches that humankind is uniquely and specially made in "the image of God." The human mind is just one part of the human person. . . one part of this image-bearing package.

8. Catholics believe in purgatory, but why don't the Protestants believe in purgatory?

Protestants do not believe in purgatory, because they are unconvinced that purgatory is taught in the Bible. For protestants, the Bible is the final authority and arbiter of Christian belief and practice.

9. Is there a possibility that God does not exist?

Yes, there is a possibility that God does not exist. My own view is that it takes more faith to believe that God does not exist than to believe that He does exist. Beauty, love, simplicity/complexity, intelligent design everywhere we look, our deep human longings and feelings, our human brokenness and the implicit morality of the universe all point to the existence of God. I, personally, am not prepared to abandon these realities and embrace an accidental, purely material universe hurling toward an unknown trajectory.

10. Salvation according to some Christians comes from taking Jesus as your god and accepting the claimed blood sacrifice, while on the other hand, Jesus seems to be saying the opposite. Why is that? Aren't Christians supposed to follow the teachings of Jesus', why would Jesus contradict today's Christians?

There are two ways to know God.

1. Live a perfect, sinless life the holiness of God requires. (Go ahead and try!)

2. Trust Jesus, the substitute that God provides who lives the life that we should live and dies the death that we deserve.

Jesus, throughout his ministry is continually erecting way #1 before the people who come to him, because they think they can "DO" something to inherit eternal life. He does so in in in order to lead them to way #2, faith in himself. He is saying. . . go ahead and try to save yourself .. . . in order to bring show their own inability and need for a Savior. I believe this is what the entire OT and history of Israel demonstrates. . . humankind's inability to DO what God actually requires. This is the beauty of the Gospel . . . Christ lives the life that God requires which uniquely qualifies him to die in the place of sinners.


Kevin Heldt said...

Good answers, Tim. Thanks for sharing those.

Anonymous said...

Isn't saying that there is a possibility that God does not exist the same as saying that there is a possibility Jesus Christ didn't exist?

We know for sure that the Lord Jesus Christ is God. There is NO DOUBT that He existed. Therefore, we know FOR SURE God exists.

Janice Phillips said...

Loved this post; really great thoughts and so honest. Thanks for will be helpful in talking to others about my relationship with God.

Joe Pollon said...

Great post. A couple of questions.

What is the difference between the Catholic purgatory and the place Protestants believe non-believers end up?

Where would I look to find the OT passages suggesting that God requires one to live a perfect, sinless life to inherit eternal life?

Tim said...

Thanks, friends, for engaging.

Anon: Though the historicity of Jesus is established, that doesn't mean that you believe He was God. Most in the world today believe He was merely a good moral teacher. Its very possible to believe in the existence of Jesus, but still not believe in the existence of God. Obviously, for Christians these two are linked and support each other.

Joe. . .
Re Purgutory: I am far from a Catholic scholar, but in my very limited understanding, purgatory is not a place of final destination, but a place which somehow offers a second chance for those who did not keep the Catholic sacraments in this life. When a person goes to purgatory, their future final eternal destination is not yet determined and sure. In fact, I believe the living can affect and influence those in purgatory.

Protestants, on the other hand, do not believe this "midpoint place", but that our final eternal destinations are determined by our response, in this life to the person and work of Christ.

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Re OT passages and eternal life: Its an interesting question. The OT is far less concerned with eternal life than the New Testament. What is interesting, to me, however, is that some seemed to approach Jesus and ask him the question and he pointed them back to the law. . .

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus said "What is written in the law? How do you read?"

And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all
your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."

And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live." Luke 10:25-28

"And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed
must I do, to have eternal life?"

"And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One
there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." Matthew 19:16-17

If the Gospels are accurate in recording these dialogues (and that is the question, isn't it?), then there seemed to be a common understanding that the OT pointed us to the attaining of eternal life through law keeping.

My own view is that in these dialogues, Jesus is slyly leading these questioners to the reality that that was a dead end way, as a step to receiving Himself as the way. These dialogues are happening as Jesus marches toward the cross to make atonement for sin.

Indeed, next to the law stood the system of sacrifices.... a temporary covering for sin until the once for all time, once for all peoples sacrifice would come.

Hope that's helpful. . . T.

Anonymous said...

When an unregenerate person asks us, “is there a possibility that God doesn’t exist,” shouldn’t our answer be from a regenerate/believing perspective? We must tell them the truth! “NO, there is no possibility that God doesn’t exists. He positively DOES exist. Along with all the evidence for God we see around us: beauty, love, simplicity/complexity, intelligent-design everywhere we look, our deep human longings and feelings, our human brokenness and the implicit morality of the universe – God has positively revealed Himself to me in His Son Jesus Christ (Jn 14:21). I know from evidence and experience that God does exist.” (Or something like that).

If I were an unregenerate person asking a Christian “is there a possibility that God doesn’t exist?” I would expect them to answer the question from a believing perspective. To hear a Christian say, “there is a possibility that God does not exist,” seems unhelpful to the unbeliever – except to give them reason to remain unbelieving. I mean, if the believer isn’t sure about the existence of God, why should the unbeliever be?

Please help me understand how telling unregenerate people that I as a Christian leave open the possibility that God doesn’t exist? Maybe I’m misunderstanding what’s being said.

I can’t imagine someone like Moses, after seeing the glory of God, telling an unbeliever that there is a possibility that God doesn’t exist. Yet, the Christian has the third Person of the Trinity dwelling in them. From this perspective, how can we be telling an unbelieving person the truth and say, “Yes, there is a possibility that God does not exist” when we are sure He does exist? He has revealed Himself to us!

I understand that many people believe wrongly about who Jesus is. But for a nonbeliever to hear a believer confess that there is a possibility that God does not exist is more or less the same as saying, that we too leave open the possibility that Jesus didn’t exist. Just trying to understand.

BeckyandTroy said...

I saw the question as a technical one. The question of whether or not God exists is a question of provability. The bigger question that is often addressed in Philosophy classes and such is whether or not we can prove anything. How do I know that I'm not a butterfly dreaming I'm a man, sort of thing. I can't prove it.
I think that Tim was simply acknowledging the fact that we can't prove the existence of God, the same way that we can't really prove anything, but that our lives and the world around us make the most sense if God of the Bible does exist.


Brianna Heldt said...

Troy I KNEW you were really a butterfly! :)

Tim said...

Anon #2 (Sure wish you'd share your name!):

I appreciate your perspective and I'm thinking about it.

But Troy captured my intent and angle well...

The existence of God cannot be proven and yet we all bet our lives on something. All of creation and the Spirit within do speak to my mind and heart about the sure and certain existence of God, but still I think its helpful to empathize with someone on the road to faith. I think its important to acknowledge the challenge and difficulty of faith in Christ in such a secular, pluralistic age like our own that presents to us a very opposite narrative.

I don't think its helpful to act like the Gospel and the existence of God is an air worldview that one is crazy and stupid not embrace. I think to talk like this to those who do not yet believe is demeaning, belittling and off-putting.

I think its more helpful to identify with their doubts and remember well our own process to coming to faith and our own struggle of faith.

God is pleased by our faith in the unseen . . .

Heb. 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of [things] hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Heb. 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Lisa Lewis said...

Tim I love all the dialog here and especially love your straightforward answers. thank you for acknowledging that doubt is a part of this life here. Just want to share a great quote from one of my favorite authors as it pertains to life, faith and doubt: "I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia."

--The Silver Chair, C.S. Lewis

Thanks for engaging us!

Anonymous said...

Does the Bible teach that a Christian’s faith should be expressed in terms of “probability” or a “bet?” I can’t think of any place in the Bible where this is the case. Granted, from a strictly unbelieving intellectual perspective we all used to talk this way. But from the Christian perspective, is this accurate?

I agree, WE can’t prove God’s existence. But GOD can and does. He has positively revealed Himself to Christians (Matthew 16:17). Now that He has revealed Himself to us, can it be said that when we speak in the affirmative of God’s positive existence (not probability or a bet) that we are speaking arrogantly? I think that’s a leap. From the world’s perspective, yes that may sound arrogant. But from our perspective it’s absolutely true – for us and them. There is no possible way GOD doesn’t exist.

I don’t know one Christian who doesn’t feel for the unregenerate. I don’t know one Christian who would arrogantly call an unregenerate person a “fool” for their unbelief. That would be like calling a blind man a fool for running into a wall he can’t see and forgetting that we too were once a blind man. A Christian understands and is broken over the state of the soul of the unbeliever. And in humility, with great compassion we should clearly communicate the absolute existence of God among other things.

Christians do empathize with the unbelieving person. But please tell me how it helps the unbelieving person when the Christian willingly reveals their personal sin of temporary unbelief in God’s existence? And where is the precedent for this kind of confession in the Bible? I wouldn’t tell one of my unbelieving friends that I think their a fool for not believing in God’s existence. But I would read them what God says. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Ps 14, 53).

Living out of the gospel ensures we never loose site of what we’ve been forgiven of. We know our sin AND the kindness of God through the Cross. This keeps us humble, compassionate, and understanding towards those folks who don’t have eyes to see.

In 1 Corinthians 15, I love how Paul speaks to those who doubted the resurrection of believers. I’m sure Paul is empathizing with these folks. But he didn’t say anything like, “Yes, there is a possibility that we will not be raised.” He left them with the implications of their unbelief in the resurrection of believers. He didn’t expose any areas of his personal sin in an attempt to connect with them. He said, “IF there is no resurrection…”

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Cor. 15:12-19

In verse 20 Paul tells them the straight up truth – in the affirmative. ”In fact Christ has been raise from the dead…”

Christians have come in contact with GOD – the Lord Jesus Christ. He has quickened us and granted us eternal life. We definitely KNOW Him and KNOW He exists. Although we may stumble from time to time in unbelief, how does admitting it to the unbeliever bring any glory to Christ? We are admitting to the unbeliever that we don’t believe in the one who granted us eternal life, justification, forgiveness of sins or even created us in the first place. That just seems crazy to me. I still don’t understand.

I don’t see how confessing our sin of unbelief to an unbeliever brings them closer to the Lord Jesus. I think it’s shameful and may even harden a person’s heart even more. Yes, they might be able to relate to us. They might even like us more for admitting our unbelief to them, but is that the means God has given His Church to assist in the new birth of an unbelieving person?

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:24

Tim said...

Anon 2: Thanks for your thoughts.

Its clear to me that though you and I share a common faith in our great God and His glorious Gospel, you and I might interact with a non-believer in different ways. I'm alright with that. . .

If you'd like to continue our dialogue, I'd prefer to do it face to face. So I invite you come out of the shadows and lets set up a time to chat. You can reach me at 805.543.2358.