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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Theistic Assumptions That Atheists Make

I stumbled across an article today that challenges Christians to answer 10 questions logically and rationally.  The author supposes that these questions pose contradictions that are unanswerable from a Christian or theistic worldview.  He asserts that these questions can only be answered logically if we assume that God is imaginary. 
I found it striking that even in his posing these 10 questions, the author borrowed the presuppositions of a theistic worldview.  That is, his questions assume truths that can only exist if there is a God, who serves as the ultimate standard of good.
Here are his 10 questions:
1)    Why won't God heal amputees?
2)    Why are there so many starving people in our world?
3)    Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?
4)    Why does the Bible contain so much anti-scientific nonsense?
5)    Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?
6)    Why do bad things happen to good people?
7)    Why didn't any of Jesus' miracles in the Bible leave behind any evidence?
8)    How do we explain the fact that Jesus has never appeared to you?
9)    Why would Jesus want you to eat his body and drink his blood?
10) Why do Christians get divorced at the same rate as non-Christians?

Our temptation may be to immediately launch into an apologetic answer to each question.  I believe that a better approach would be to challenge the presuppositions behind the questions, presuppositions which are foreign to the worldview of the author.  With each question, the author assumes things that can only exist if God exists.
The first thing that a number of these questions assume is that there is an objective standard of morality.  The author appeals to the concept of innocence in numerous questions.  In his comments on question #2, he writes, “Why would God be worried about you getting a raise, while at the same time ignoring the prayers of these desperate, innocent little children?”  Question 3 is similar.  Perhaps the author has not considered that the concept of innocence depends upon an objective standard of morality, which has no place in an atheistic world.  How can someone or something be innocent if there is no transcendent law?  There must be absolute right and wrong in order to declare someone innocent or guilty.  The atheist has no objective source for right and wrong.
Some atheists have argued that morality is a function of convention.  That is, morality consists of generally accepted principles that people have agreed upon over time.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume that is correct.  If that is the case, then what is right and wrong for one society might not be the same as right and wrong in another society.  And if that is the case, one society cannot impose its version of right and wrong upon another.  Morality is relative to a specific community.  This does not help the atheists argument against the biblical community.  This is because in the biblical community, there is no such thing as an innocent person (Rom 3:10-18), that is, this is an agreed upon principle of morality.  Therefore the author of the article, who is outside the biblical community, has no business imposing his sense of morality upon the biblical community.
This relativistic concept of morality would seem to completely absolve Nazi Germany of all their many atrocities.  After all, the mistreatment, ostracism, imprisonment, and murder of countless Jews were based upon generally agreed upon principles regarding the relative worth of Arians versus non-Arians.  Who are any of us to question moral principles that the Germans agreed upon among themselves?  And yet, modern atheists frequently use Nazi Germany as an example of pure evil inconsistent with the existence of a loving God.  They universally deplore the actions of the Germans, contrary to their own worldview.
Atheists may claim that morality is relative, but they cannot live that way.  There is inside of them an awareness of absolute right and wrong, which is why they naturally condemn those who violate that standard.  By posing questions that appeal to morality, the author of the article undermines his own worldview and assumes tenets of the worldview he seeks to disprove.  To the atheist, the material world is all that exists, and the material world cannot account for morality.  Only in a theistic world does absolute morality make any sense.
Next time we’ll discover other things assumed by the author that cannot exist in an atheistic world.  Until then consider that when unbelievers try to appeal to morality to dispute a theistic worldview, we should not allow them to borrow truths that only make sense in a theistic world.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

How Can Jesus Not Know?

As we’ve been studying Matthew 24-25, we’ve come across a number of things that are difficult to understand. One common difficulty pertains to the timing of the second coming and is found in 24:36: "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”
How can Jesus be God and not know the day and hour of His second coming?  God is omniscient.  Jesus is God.  So Jesus should be omniscient, right?
This is an important question because it is not only something that believers have a hard time understanding, but it is also an objection raised by those who reject orthodox Christianity.  Skeptics point to this verse and use it to claim that the Bible contradicts itself.  Various cults use it to argue against the deity of Christ.  Therefore, for a number of reasons we need to be able to answer this question.
Philippians 2:5-8 will help us make sense of this issue:
 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Vv6-7 are the key.  When Jesus took the form of a human servant, He emptied Himself.  That is, He willfully muted some of His divine prerogatives.  It could be said that He did not give up any of His attributes, but that He willfully relinquished their independent use.  He uses them only according to the will of the Father.
The Lord Jesus repeatedly testified that He only did the will of His Father (John 5:19, 8:28-29).  He did not speak from His own authority, but only as the Father gave Him (John 7:16-18; 12:49; 14:10).  He subordinated His own will to the Father’s (Matt 26:39). 
There is evidence that His omniscience was also subordinated to the will of the Father.  Luke teaches that Jesus grew in wisdom (Luke 2:40, 52).  Heb 5:8 teaches that He learned obedience.  His omnipresence was similarly muted.  By virtue of His taking human form, He necessarily is localized.  He left the earth in bodily form and will return in the same way (Acts 1:11).  Right now He sits at the right hand of the Father (Eph 1:20; Heb 8:1, 10:12, 12:2).  It is because of the omnipresence of His Holy Spirit that He is able to say, “I am with you always…” (Matt 28:20; cf John 14:16-17; 16:7).
So we can say that Christ still has all of His eternal divine attributes – including His omniscience – but that He has willfully muted them for the purpose of taking on human form.  At times in His earthly ministry, He did exercise His divine knowledge (Matt 9:4; 26:34), but this must have been by the direction and will of the Father.
This should inspire all the more love and adoration for our Savior and His eternal, selfless service to us. When the Son condescended and took the form of a man, He did so as a permanent, gracious act.  Out of love for us and obedience to the Father, He remains our perfect high priest forever.  Even now, He awaits the command of the Father to return to the earth to bring judgment to the wicked and salvation to the justified.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Making Sense of Matthew 24:31

In Sundays’ message on Matthew 24:29-35, we did not have time to cover v31.  I’d like to do that here.  As with the other verses in the passage, people tend to assume that v31 can only refer to the second coming of Christ.  However, with a familiarity with biblical language, especially from the Old Testament, we must admit that a different view is at least plausible. Again, my contention is that this passage was fulfilled, at least most immediately, in the events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70AD.
Matt 24:31 reads: And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. 
The Greek word underlying the translation “angels” is angelos.  In order to understand what angelos refers to we need to consider first the realm in which this activity is taking place.  So let’s consider the last half of the verse, then we’ll come back and look at the first half.  Jesus says these "angels" will be sent out to gather the elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  “Four winds” is Old Testament language for the four points of the globe.  This can be seen in places like Ezekiel 37:9, Daniel 8:8, and Daniel 11:4.  Even “the four winds of heaven” refers to the four points of the globe as seen in these two places in Daniel.
Likewise, the phrase “from one end of heaven to the other” does not mean that the place of action is in the sky above.  This phrase often indicates something like “from horizon to horizon,” in places like Deut 30:4 and Neh 1:9.
Remember we saw on Sunday that the language of cataclysmic events in the heavens is commonly used in the Old Testament to describe events of great significance on earth.  I contended that the events in vv29-30 are actually earthly events described using this kind of symbolic language.  If that is the case, it makes sense that v31 as well uses grandiose heavenly language to describe earthly events.  When you consider this alongside the fact that the “four winds of heaven” simply refers to the four corners of the globe, it is probable that v31 describes activity taking place on the earth, not in the heavens. 
And what is the activity taking place all over the globe?  The gathering of the elect.  This also points to activity on the earth.  Why would the elect in heaven need to be gathered?  That wouldn’t make any sense – they’ve already been gathered.  It is those scattered on the earth who need to be gathered.  So the second half of the verse describes the gathering of the elect from all over the globe.
Now let’s consider the word angelos.  This Greek word literally means “messenger.”  In the Greek version of the OT, it is frequently translated “messenger” rather than “angel” (Gen32:4, Num 20:14, Jos 7:22, 1Sam 11:3, 2Sam 2:5, Neh 6:3, Job 1:14, Pro 13:17,Isa 18:2, 37:9, Eze 23:16, 30:9, Mal 2:7, 3:1 to name just a few). In fact, Malachi 3:1 reads, “Behold I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”  Having studied Matthew, we know that this is a prophecy regarding John the Baptist - John is the messenger mentioned (Matt 11:10-14).  All of this is to say that when we see the Greek word angelos it should not be a foregone conclusion that it refers to angels.  It is simply a generic word for a messenger.  The context must be consulted to decide whether this is a human messenger or an angelic messenger. 
So does the present context make it more likely that Lord is referring to human messengers or angelic messengers?  Well, He describes the gathering of the elect from all over the globe.  That is precisely what the Lord tasked the apostles with in Matthew 28:19-20, i.e. The Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  The book of Acts describes this very thing as the apostles took the gospel all over the known world, making converts as they went. 
So it is possible that this refers to human preaching of the gospel throughout the world.  It certainly is not a stretch, given the figurative language employed in the passage.  But if we want to say that it refers to literal angels, then it could refer to the supernatural power behind the preaching of the gospel.  That would make sense when we consider the cross-reference in Heb 1:14, which tells us that God uses angels to minister to His people.  Heb 1:14 reads, Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?  Sounds strikingly similar to what is described in Matt 24:31.  Whether the messengers are human or angelic, there is biblical warrant to view this activity as the spread of the gospel throughout the world for the purpose of gathering the elect.
It seems that we are left with one element to deal with – the loud trumpet call.  Trumpet blasts were used for numerous purposes in the Old Testament.  Among other things, they were used to call the Israelites to the tent of meeting (Num 10:2-4), to announce the coronation of a king (1 Kings 1:39), and to proclaim the year of Jubilee (Lev 25:9).  Any of these would be a valid picture of the spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth.  The gospel is a call to commune with God, it declares a risen King, and it proclaims the ultimate Jubilee. 
In my view, v31 describes the blessed missionary focus of the church, empowered by God to gather His elect from all over the globe.  This is in perfect keeping not only with the near context, but with the Great Commission given in the last verses of the book.
I look forward to pressing on in Matthew 24 with you this Sunday!