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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It’s not uncommon to hear some people characterize atheism as a religion. Is it? It depends, in part, on how one defines religion. That’s a tricky subject that does not have widespread agreement. Be that as it may, I think most people would say atheism can’t be categorized as a religion because religions worship deities, and atheism explicitly denies the existence of any deity. However, that’s not accurate. Most forms of Buddhism could be categorized as atheist or agnostic. There is no worship of any deity, and yet Buddhism is properly categorized as a religion.

That said, I don’t think atheism should be categorized as a religion. There are no “cult” practices, for example. There is no set of moral principles that atheists are bound to. Atheism is just an answer to a single question: Does God exist? A point of view on a single issue does not constitute a religion. It is not robust enough. And while it’s true that this question is properly categorized as a religious question, that doesn’t mean that every answer is a religious answer or constitutes a religion. Atheists answer the question in the negative. They do not think God exists. So atheism is a negative claim about what does not exist. How can a claim about what does not exist constitute a religion? Surely religions make positive claims about what does exist, not negative claims about what does not. As a meme I once saw expressed, if atheism is a religion, then “off” is a TV channel.

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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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Is gender something more than our biology? Are our souls also gendered?

I tend to think our souls are also gendered given how differently men and women are. We think differently, we value different things, etc. Since these are functions of the mind, and the mind is a function of the soul, it seems to follow that there are different kinds of souls: male and female. Of course, it’s possible that these differences could be caused by hormonal differences between men and women. What do you think, and what are your reasons?

When Christians offer arguments for the existence of God based on the beginning of the universe or the objective nature of morality, some atheists will respond by asking, “Why can’t we just say we don’t know what caused the universe or what the objective source of morality is?” How might a thoughtful Christian respond?

I would suggest that you turn the question around. Ask them, “Why can’t we just admit that God best explains the origin of the universe and the objective nature of morality?” The atheist wants to plead ignorance, but we are not ignorant on these matters. It’s not as if we don’t know what the options are. We do. And it’s not as if the evidence is equal for all options. We have solid scientific, philosophical, and logical evidence that points to God as the cause of the universe and ground of morality. In other words, we have knowledge, not ignorance. So why not just say we don’t know? It’s because that would be a false statement. We do know. The evidence clearly favors the theistic hypothesis.

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Jesus’ foremost mission was the salvation of sinners, not social justice. While the marginalized and oppressed tended to be the most receptive to Jesus’ message, his message was for all people because all people need to be saved.

What about Jesus’ healing ministry? While Jesus surely had compassion on the sick, His miracles had a bigger purpose than just helping the destitute and needy. They were intended to reveal His identity and confirm His message.

Jesus never raised money for the poor or went on a campaign to liberate the oppressed. If those things could be done, great, but that was not Jesus’ mission, and it’s not the church’s mission either. Our primary mission is to preach the gospel and call sinners to repentance. If we can help their lot in life along the way, all the better, but we must keep the Great Commission the central mission of the church.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason recently wrote an article related to this topic. He debunks the idea the myth that Jesus was a social justice warrior championing the cause of the poor and oppressed. Check it out.

When it comes to evangelism, some of the hardest people to work with are those who are apathetic toward spiritual things. They simply don’t care whether God exists. This is often a conversation stopper. If you want to press on a bit more, however, there are some tactics for doing so. I’ve offered some thoughts on this in the past (here and here), but as I was reflecting on this the other day again, I came up with another tactic you might find helpful.

When Mr. Apathetic says he doesn’t care if God exists or not, ask him what he does care about. Often, what he cares about will be tied to the existence of God in some way. Tactically speaking, our job is to help him see the relationship between (1) what he cares about and (2) God’s existence in hopes that this will raise his interest in the latter.

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Check out my latest article, “How divine appearances and the angel of YHWH can illuminate the meaning of ‘the form of God’ and shed light on Jesus’ prayers.”

My conclusion sums it up best:

The human-like appearances of YHWH in the OT, including His appearances as the angel of YHWH, help us understand what Paul meant when he said Jesus existed “in the form of God” prior to the incarnation. He was identifying Jesus as the YHWH’s visible image in the OT, similar to Jude’s identification of Jesus as the angel of YHWH who led the Israelites in the wilderness.

These divine appearances also provide an analogue to the Father-Son communication in the NT. We see a distinction between YHWH’s invisible and visible modes of existence, and yet YHWH visible is still identified as the one and only YHWH. YHWH was active in both His invisible and visible modes simultaneously. Invisible YHWH could even communicate with visible YHWH, illustrating the possibility of communication between two modes of YHWH’s existence.

This phenomena is similar to what we see in the NT. Invisible YHWH (Father) communicated with visible YHWH (Son) and vice versa, even though the Father and Son are both YHWH. In the same way we would not say YHWH was talking to Himself in the OT, we should not think YHWH was talking to Himself in the NT. Jesus’ prayers, and the Father-Son communication generally, is due to God’s assumption of a human nature in the incarnation. When God became a man, He assumed a human nature, allowing Him to be a human being and function as a human being, including a genuine human psychology. In Jesus, YHWH is conscious of Himself as a human being. He has the mental life of a human being. In such a state, communication with the Father is not only possible, but expected.

People often misunderstand and misapply the term “hypocrite.” A hypocrite literally refers to an actor. They are pretenders. In the realm of morals, a hypocrite is someone who pretends to be moral. They tell you not to do something, but have no intention of following their own commands. They are people who do not think their own rules apply to them. They might pretend to keep these rules, but secretly they flout them.

On the other hand, there are those who believe the moral commands they preach to others apply equally to themselves, and they do their best to live up to those moral ideals. However, they fail to do so perfectly or consistently. When they fail their moral standards, they regret it and repent. These people are not hypocrites. They are simply fallen humans doing their best to do what’s right, but failing to do so perfectly.


It’s official! I have renamed the blog from Theo-sophical Ruminations to Thinking to Believe.

I raised the possibility of a name change back in March. At the time, I was considering changing it to Theogetical Rumanations. This was a mouthful and was no more memorable than my original name. Thinking to Believe has been the name of my private ministry for many years now, so it only made sense to use it as the name of my blog. It reflects my conviction that thinking and believing are bedfellows, not enemies. Thinking, when done properly, will lead one to faith, not away from it.

This is also the name of a podcast I will be launching very soon. More to come on that!

The new blog URL is https://www.thinkingtobelieve.com. If you have the old URL saved, please update it. However, a forwarding address has been added to ensure that old links to the blog will continue to work.

If you don’t know why those who believe different than you believe what they believe, then it’s hard to be dogmatic about what you believe. After all, they may know something you don’t. You may be wrong and don’t know it.

That’s not to say you have to thoroughly examine all positions before being justified in taking a position and believing it to be true. You can take a position based on the evidence you have seen, but in the absence of knowing how others justify their positions and their arguments against the position you hold, you should not be dogmatic about your position.

It seems to me that most Christians have chosen to ignore Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage. I realize that the Bible’s teaching on divorce and remarriage is not crystal clear, and that even conservative Christians hold to a number of different interpretations of the Biblical teaching. That said, I think it’s abundantly clear that Jesus only permitted divorce and remarriage in a very narrow set of circumstances.

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” (Mt 19:3-10, ESV)

It’s pretty clear that Jesus opposed no-fault divorce, which is tantamount to our modern “irreconcilable differences.” Jesus only provided one justification for divorce, and it has to do with some kind of sexual sin (opinions differ as to what constitutes this sin). Unfortunately, I would venture to say that most confessing Christians get a divorce for irreconcilable differences as opposed to sexual sin.

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I saw a car the other day with a bumper sticker that read “celebrate every color.” On the one hand, this is a fine message since it attempts to treat all people equally. However, I find the concept of “celebrating color” to be troubling. Why should we celebrate the color of our skin? Why don’t we celebrate every eye color? What about every hair color? Why just skin?

There are all sorts of external differences between humans, but we don’t tend to form identity groups based on those. We come in a variety of hair colors and eye colors but we don’t group people by such things. We don’t identify with others because they have the same eye color as us. We don’t have government reports that distinguish the crime statistics of blondes versus brunettes.

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I have long been concerned by the modern, therapeutic view of forgiveness. On this view, forgiveness is primarily about ridding oneself of anger toward those who have hurt us, and this can be done completely independent of the sinner. He does not need to repent, and he does not need to know we have forgiven him.

In the paper linked at the end of this post, I argue that Biblical forgiveness is about restoring relationships that have been fractured by sin (Mt 5:24; 18:15; 2 Cor 5:19), not ridding ourselves of anger toward those who hurt us. Forgiveness is an act whereby we release the offender from his moral debt against us and choose to treat him as if he had never sinned. If we are no longer angry at our offender, but have not reconciled the relationship, then we have not forgiven. If we reconcile the relationship, however, treating our offender as we did prior to their sin, then true forgiveness has been achieved – even if we still feel anger toward them. Feelings typically follow actions, so our feelings of anger will typically subside as we begin to treat our offender in a loving way.

Forgiveness is not something that can be done from afar, privately affirming our forgiveness to God in prayer. Forgiveness is something we grant directly to our offender, letting him know that we agree to restore the relationship. Of course, this requires that the offender seek to restore the relationship through repentance for his sin. Biblical forgiveness is not automatic or unconditional. We can only forgive those who have repented of their sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Luke 17:3-4). If they do not repent, they cannot be forgiven. We may release our anger against them, choose to love them, and determine to live peaceably with them, but the relationship cannot be restored to its pre-sin state until they repent.

Forgiveness – The Misunderstood Virtue

 

Euphemisms can be helpful. They allow us to talk about difficult topics in a sensitive way. They lessen the emotional impact. That’s why we have euphemisms for sex, excretions, and death.

However, sometimes, euphemisms are created to deceive. They are meant to make something that is evil sound good. They are distortions of language. The Nazis were masters at this. “Special treatment” meant execution. The “final solution” meant killing all Jewish people.

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I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Matthew 3:11)

While most people rightly understand the baptism of the Spirit as a reference to regeneration, there is no shortage of interpretations of what the “fire” refers to.

Some understand this as referring to two separate Spirit baptisms for believers: the baptism of the Spirit is for salvation (regeneration), while the baptism with fire is an empowerment for ministry. Others agree that “fire” refers to anointing and empowerment, but only see one baptism in view. When we receive the Spirit, we experience both salvation and ministry empowerment simultaneously. An appeal is often made to Acts 2:1-4, where fire appeared over the disciples when they were filled with the Spirit.

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I recently spent many hours copying and pasting every single blog post I have ever written into a Word doc so I would have a back up of my life’s work. I’ve been blogging at Theo-sophical ruminations since February 19, 2006. That’s over 15 years!

In that time, I have written 1,525 posts. The content filled nearly 1300 pages of a Word document, clocking in at nearly 718,000 words. I’ve had nearly 1.1 million visitors to the WordPress version of this blog (I moved from blogspot to WordPress in 2012). It’s hard to believe.

I offer a sincere thank you to all of you who have read this blog over the years. If it wasn’t for you, there wouldn’t be much reason for me to continue doing this. Thank you!

Christians will often point out to atheists that if there is no God, then there is no objective meaning and purpose to life. Atheists will typically respond by saying that they create their own meaning in life. They find meaning in what they do, in family, etc. There are at least four problems with this, however.

First, they are substituting subjective, proximate meaning for objective, transcendent meaning. When people ask what the meaning and purpose of life is, they are not asking for advice concerning what meaning and purpose they should invent for their life. They are searching for something transcendent. They are looking to discover something that is already there, not invent something new. By substituting objective, transcendent meaning for subjective, proximate meaning, the atheist is referring to an entirely different understanding of meaning.

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