Theology


I’ve often heard people claim that Saul of Tarsus confessed the deity of Christ during his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road by calling him “lord.” We read: “As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ 5 ‘Who are you, Lord? Saul asked. ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied.”  (Acts 9:3-5)

Those who see a confession of Jesus’ deity in this passage assert that as a monotheistic Jew, Saul’s acknowledgement of Jesus as “Lord” would be an explicit affirmation of His deity since Jews used “Lord” as a substitute for God’s name, YHWH. I find this interpretation unlikely for a number of reasons.

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In Jesus’ debate with the Sadducees, He defended His position that there will be a resurrection of the dead by quoting Exodus 3:6. Luke records Jesus as saying, “But even Moses revealed that the dead are raised in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live before him.” (Luke 20:37-8, NET).

Jesus’ argument seems to be as follows:

(1) God can only be “the God of…X”, if X exists

(2) God identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob centuries after their death

(3) Therefore, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob still existed when God spoke to Moses

I find two problems with this line of reasoning.

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I completely forgot to mention that I was doing a series on the atonement for the Thinking to Believe podcast. It is a four part series. The final episode just went live.

The series seeks to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death and how it stands at the center of the Christian faith. Episode 1 explores the nature of Jesus’ mission, the OT sacrificial system as a means of atonement, and the necessity of the incarnation for God to fully and finally satisfy both His desire for justice and His desire for mercy.

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Naturalism cannot support the idea that human beings have real, intrinsic value. This is a feature of the Judeo-Christian theology of the imago Dei – that we are made in the image of God. Absent this theological foundation, there is no reason to think human value is real. At best, humans only have a subjective, extrinsic value; i.e. our value is derived from our own estimation of ourselves. Human beings value particular traits that they possess, and thus value the human beings who possess such traits (a circular, biased, and wholly subjective estimation). This sort of value, however, is fictitious. It only exists in our minds, and it only extends to those that we think it extends to. This value is never equal, and it rarely applies to all human beings. Some human beings will be considered to be more valuable than others, and some will be deemed to have no value at all.

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Conservatives are happier than liberals – especially women.

Brad Wilcox, professor of sociology at the University of Virginia did a study on happiness and found that conservatives were much happier than liberals, especially women. More than twice as many conservative women claim to be completely satisfied with their lives compared to liberal women. Why? Among other things, because conservatives were much more likely to be married than liberals.

Feminism has sold women a bag of goods that happiness is to be found in pursuing careers over family and that family structures must be egalitarian. This will not produce happiness.

Many Eastern religions make this claim about God. And now, it is being picked up as a popular idea among Westerners. Unfortunately, it is incoherent.

To say God is unknowable is either a statement about God or a statement about ourselves. If it is a statement about God, it is an affirmation that he has no properties capable of being known. And yet having at least one property is what differentiates existence from non-existence. If God has no properties, then he doesn’t exist.

If it is a statement about ourselves – our ability to know a God with specific properties – then it is self-refuting because the statement itself is a claim to know something about God: He is unknowable. If God were unknowable, we would not even be able to know that He was unknowable. The point can be made succinctly by asking, “How do you know God is unknowable if nothing can be known of God? Isn’t that something you know about him?”

Either way you look at it, that statement is incoherent.

Thomas would not believe the report of the other disciples who said they had seen Jesus alive. He only believed in Jesus’ resurrection after Jesus appeared to Him as well. Jesus’ words to Thomas on that day have been immortalized in the Gospel of John: “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

This verse is often used by those who oppose the use of evidence and reason in evangelism. They argue that if God’s blessing is given to those who believe in Jesus’ resurrection without evidence, then apologetic arguments aren’t just unnecessary, but a spiritual hindrance that robs people of the blessing that comes through faith. On its face, Jesus does appear to berate Thomas for requiring evidence of His resurrection while pronouncing a blessing on those who believe without the need for evidence. A closer examination of the passage in its context, however, reveals this reading of the text to be mistaken.

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Why study theology? Why does it matter? Isn’t theology just for preachers and smart guys? Isn’t theology divisive and difficult? In my latest podcast series titled “The Case for Theology,” I argue that while theology can be difficult and divisive, it’s unavoidable. All of us are theologians. The question is simply whether we will be a good or bad theologian.

In this two-part series, I’m going to show why theology matters and how it benefits every believer. Episode 1 has already been published. In that episode, I argue that theology (1) defines what we are to believe; (2) reveals to us what the spiritual realm is like; and (3) it is a prerequisite for salvation.

Check it out wherever you get your podcasts from. Just search for “Thinking to Believe” or “Jason Dulle.” Or, you can listen at thinkingtobelieve.buzzsprout.com.

Those who deny inerrancy end up replacing the authority of the Bible with their own authority because they get to determine which parts of the Bible are divinely inspired and which are not. The process is almost entirely subjective.

The tendency is to deny the inspiration of any part of Scripture that does not line up with what they think is true. When the Bible’s sexual ethics conflict with their sexual ethic, it is because those texts reflect man’s opinion rather than God’s. When the Bible’s teaching seems to conflict with the current scientific consensus, it is because those teachings are not inspired. When the Bible portrays God doing something that conflicts with their understanding of God, those passages must reflect man’s ideas rather than God’s. In the end, the Bible (and Christianity) is remade into their own image. When God just so happens to endorse everything you already believe, you’ve probably got the wrong God.

While cessationists offer Biblical arguments for their position, truth be told, Scripture plays a secondary role in most cessationists’ epistemology/theology. What’s really driving their position is their experience – or more properly, their lack of experience of the supernatural.

They seem to reason as follows: “I have never witnessed a miracle or the operation of any spiritual gifts. None of the people in my church or broader religious organization have experienced such either. I know I am a Christian and the people in my fellowship are Christians, so if God were still doing supernatural he miraculous today, surely we would witness such events in our midst. Since we have not witnessed such events, God must not be doing supernatural things in our day.” From there, one simply needs to determine when and why God stopped doing miracles and giving spiritual gifts.

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The meaning of life is being in relationship with God and fulfilling God’s purpose for our life in relationship to others.

What is the name above every name that was given to Jesus by God (Phil 2:5-11)? Was it “Jesus” or “Lord”?

In favor of “Jesus” is the fact that Paul says every knee will bow “at the name of Jesus” immediately after saying Jesus was given the name above every name (vs. 9-10). If the first name mentioned is “Jesus,” then “Jesus” would appear to be the name in question. Against this interpretation, however, is the fact that the giving of the name was an act of exultation in response to Christ’s humiliation, which includes His crucifixion. Jesus already had the name “Jesus” prior to the crucifixion, and thus it would seem to follow that “Jesus” cannot be the name above every name. Also, many Hebrew men shared the name Jesus. It was not unique.

In favor of “Lord” is the fact that Paul went on to say that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (v. 11). “Lord” appears to be a higher name than Jesus, which is why it is important to identify Jesus as the Lord. Add to this the fact that Paul is paraphrasing Isaiah 45:23 where it is said that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess to YHWH. The NT translates YHWH as kurios (Lord). It would seem, then, that Paul is identifying Jesus as the YHWH of the OT, and thus with the title “Lord.” Since “Lord” is unique to YHWH, it truly is the name above every other name.

I think the evidence points in favor of the name being “Lord,” but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.

It’s amazing to me how we can interpret a passage to mean almost the exact opposite of its intended meaning simply because the intended meaning seems to conflict with our theology. A great example of this is Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:35-39:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (ESV)

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Many unbelievers have dismissed the testimony of the Biblical writers regarding the resurrection of Jesus on the basis that these witnesses are Christians. They argue that as Christians, the Biblical authors were biased to believe in the resurrection, making their testimony unreliable. Greg Koukl discussed the merits of this argument on his radio broadcast many years ago. I would like to share some of his ideas with you, as well as add a few of my own.

This objection presumes that rational objectivity is impossible if one has taken a position on a matter (in this case, the resurrection of Jesus Christ), but this ignores the fact that rational objectivity may be what led these individuals to believe in the resurrection in the first place. The evidence could have been so strong in favor of that conclusion that they were incapable of remaining intellectually honest without affirming that Jesus rose from the dead.

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For many years now I have harbored concerns about the way many churches practice the Lord’s Supper:

— We practice it too infrequently
— Our “supper” differs in appearance from that of the early church
— We make it a time of sadness and fear rather than joy and hope.

Too Infrequent

Biblically and historically, the Lord’s Supper has been a regular part of the Christian gathering. Only after the Reformation did the sermon replace the Supper as the most significant part of a service. Now, the Supper is rarely celebrated in many Protestant churches.

The early church seemed to celebrate the Lord’s Supper on a regular, if not weekly basis. In Acts 2:42 we read, “They [the Christian converts] were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (NET Bible) While this could be a reference to general communal eating, the context suggests otherwise. First, eating is not a Christian practice to which converts must devote themselves. Eating is a practice common to everyone regardless of their religious affiliation. Secondly, the surrounding activities are religious in nature: doctrinal teaching, fellowship, and prayer. It is best to understand this eating as the Eucharist meal.

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My friend, William Arnold, once made an observation about “the rapture” that is worth sharing.

The debate over the timing of the rapture in relationship to the second coming of Christ presupposes that the rapture and the second coming are both events, and then seeks to determine when each event will take place in relationship to the other. Is that a valid presupposition? Does the Bible describe the rapture as an event?

The only clear passage in Scripture that describes a rapturing of the church is 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17. Paul wrote:

For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

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This is a difficult question. It’s not difficult theologically, but practically. If we give a simple “yes” answer, it makes Christianity and the God of Christianity look petty or bigoted. So how can we communicate the answer in a way that is both truthful and tactful? Greg Koukl from Stand to Reason has some tips for answering this question in a tactical manner.

First, clarify why it is that people go to hell. It’s not because they fail a theology test, but because they fail a moral test. People will be sentenced to hell for their moral crimes against a holy God, not for their failure to believe in Jesus. Sin is like a disease. Both will kill you (one physically, one spiritually) if they go untreated. Those who die of an untreated disease do not die because they haven’t visited the doctor, but because of their disease. Likewise, people do not go to hell because they have failed to believe in Jesus, but because of their sin.

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If God is omniscient, then He knows everything that will happen in the future – including everything you will ever do. God knows that on x date at time t1 you will stub your toe, and on q date at time t5 you will forget where you placed your keys. God has had such knowledge from eternity past. Since God cannot be mistaken, it is certain that you will stub your toe on x date at time t1 and forget your keys on q date at time t5. How, then, can our “choices” be free? Does God’s knowledge of the future eliminate free will, reducing us to mere actors who simply perform the parts of a cosmic play written for us by God from eternity past? Are we puppets with no control over our own destiny? Is our experience of free choice illusory? Darwinist, Robert Eberle, sums up the problem nicely:

[Francis] Collins asserts that there is still free will, but fails to explain his logic for arriving at this extraordinary conclusion. Either what will be is known and fixed or it is not. An infallible god that knows what is going to happen is in conflict with the idea that there is free choice and thus a responsibility for one’s actions.[1]

I am not persuaded that God’s knowledge of the future determines our fate for two reasons. First, knowledge is not a cause of anything. Knowledge of some x is not what causes x to be. The truth of x must precede the knowledge of x.

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Traditionally, the fourth gospel is ascribed to the Apostle John, who is understood to be the mysterious beloved disciple that makes so many appearances in the book. However, based on the internal evidence, I am persuaded that this identification is mistaken. Lazarus is the beloved disciple, not John. Since the beloved disciple is identified as the author, wouldn’t that make Lazarus the author of the fourth gospel? In a sense, yes, but authorship is rightly attributed to John given ancient standards.

I think Lazarus penned a written testimony to the life of Jesus, and John used Lazarus’ material as his primary source (similar to how Matthew and Luke used Mark as their primary source, or how Mark used Peter as his primary source). John edited Lazarus’ material and added some of his own to compose the fourth gospel shortly after Lazarus died (a second time), in part, because he needed to clear up a misunderstanding in the Christian community about Lazarus’ relationship to the return of Christ. What better way to do so than by using Lazarus’ own testimony as the basis for the gospel!

Check out the evidence I present in the paper linked below and let me know what you think.

Who Wrote the Gospel of John?

I believe in the concept of heresy. To be a Christian, one must believe in a core set of ideas (what some refer to as “primary doctrines”). If you deny or sufficiently distort those doctrines, you are not a Christian and will not be saved.

While there are disagreements about which doctrines qualify as primary, most would agree that the doctrine of God, the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of salvation, and the physical resurrection of Jesus are on that list. Most people would also agree that there is some latitude for disagreements on these issues, but nobody agrees on just how much latitude can be tolerated before one moves from the realm of orthodox to the realm of heresy. For example, many consider Nestorianism to be a Christological heresy, whereas others, such as myself, have argued that it should only be considered a Christology error. In other words, I think the doctrine of Christ is flexible enough that a Nestorian can still be considered a Christian and saved, despite his theological error.

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