Christianity

The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 3)

Nativity-of-Christ-St-Patricks-Cathedral.jpg

By Dr. Ron Galloway

In Part Two, I spoke of a certain graduate student who imagined that by showing me parallels between Christian symbols, beliefs, and objects and those of other religions, she refuted the originality of the Christian faith. But I have argued that all the religious parallel symbols she presented simply pre-figure the reality of Christ; they simply foreshadow the concrete reality. In all of her examples, the student was really presenting sacred objects or mythical stories that try to unite the profane with the sacred. All of them ultimately fail because they are all partial incarnations. Yes, they can all be seen by their very attempt, to point to the ultimate sacred one, the Christ, to whom all fragmented or partial understandings of the sacred point. Therefore they can be seen only as shadows, not the reality. There are a great many other parallel symbols and objects that the graduate student did not have on her list. Common among religions and mythical stories are sacred mountains, cosmic trees, annual renewals of the universe, sacred skies, seas, skies, earth, rivers , even sacred vegetation of every imaginable and unimaginable variety. The extent of such symbols is well documented in Mircea Eliade's Patterns In Comparative Religions, Cosmos and History, and his very engaging work titled Images and Symbols.[1] But as we saw in Part 2, all such symbols were seen by Eliade, and can be seen by us, as abortive attempts at incarnation. Only the incarnation of Christ fulfils these abortive attempts at uniting the profane with the sacred.[2]

Only the Jesus of Scripture was ever described as fully man and fully God, yet born as we are born. He is the God who, before His birth as a man, brought the whole of the universe into being. He is the true source of earth and sky. His death, resurrection and transfiguration are the true sources of the transfiguration of the whole of the cosmos. Christ can be viewed as the true cosmic tree, and the true tree of life that brings new heaven, earth, and humanity. Indeed the cross of Christ was a tree, symbolizing the dying and resurrected Christ who by His death and resurrection ushers in the opportunity for all to be reborn by the indwelling of Christ, who is both truth and life. The tree of life in the historical garden of Eden can be seen to foreshadow Christ Himself. In scripture He is the reality that is pointed to by the tree in the Book of Revelation whose leaves heal the nations. He is the true source of the knowledge of good and evil. As Saint Paul says: "All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in him."[3]

In Scripture, He is the true living water, and true source of rebirth and regeneration. He is the true meaning of Eden in the transfigured garden of Eden that we find in the Book of Revelation.[4] Revelation chapter 21 speaks of a fully perfected, transfigured heaven and earth, yet it points to that which is beyond itself, and which fulfilled the transfiguration's own perfection, Jesus the risen Christ who overcame the power of death. All the related symbolisms of human religion will one day find their "yes." Even the horror of religions that practice human sacrifice, point out from their darkness to the true and freely given human sacrifice of Jesus Christ Himself, He who was fully God and fully man.

Once we understand these symbols, whether they be pagan or Judeo-Christian, the nations of the earth have a bridge to draw them close to the one who came down into history for them, and is coming again. For surely, in the myths and symbols in sacred objects across the world, there is some part of humanity in the image of God crying out for God, however dim their understanding, to come down and save them. In longing for a centre of the earth—where God meets with humanity—are not their spirits crying out for their creator? In longing for a new world, and their own rebirth, are they not crying out for something their heart and conscience long for? With all their talk of sacred mountains, do they not truly desire Mount Zion, the Kingdom of God on earth? With the vast range of liberator and redeemer myths, and the myths of a virgin birth, do not all these point to what people long to have in reality? Do not the vast number of liberator or redeemer myths that talk of a King who will one day be born and will overcome the dark King, all refer to a true King who will one day be born in real history? This King is Christ. Do not all the fears, hopes, and yearnings that are expressed in myth and legend speak of a promise to come?

Are they not all deeply fulfilled where the Scriptures say that the "Yes" has come in the good news of Jesus Christ? [5] Does it not say in Scripture that all the promises of God to humanity have their yes in Christ?[6] Do not the Scriptures say that Christ will unite all things into Himself?[7] Do not those wondrous words in the Christmas song, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," well express the deep longing in the human heart through legend song and ritual, to draw close to God?

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie.

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the birth of Christ, all that man has longed for in his lost state, and separation from God, comes into history with a finality of promise. For then God, our Lord Jesus, completely took the part of man by fully becoming one. He thus brought all the blessings of eternity into time, and into the human heart. Now all that came before can be seen as shadow, and all the perverted ways of expressing the longing for rebirth of heaven and earth, of renewing the earth, and of renewing man can be seen in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. In Him we see the reality in its uncorrupted, ultimate form. This does not suggest that either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit were responsible for the perverted ways of people whose understanding of sacrifice often came because of their contact with the spirit world through mediums, spells, or incantations, a form of contact strongly forbidden by the God of Israel.[8] They would do this and still do this in order to draw upon the powers of heaven, and receive its blessings. Such individuals only succeeded in contacting Satan and the spirit world. These evil practices enslaved them to a perverted lifestyle—child sacrifice, self-mutilation, ritual torment and slaughter. And yet, we continually see when Christ is preached, on mission field after mission field, that the very message of Christ, and the Bible itself, fulfil symbol after symbol couched in pagan myth, ritual and story. All their sacred mountains, temples, and objects, find their true fulfilment in the person of Christ. For here, the sacred one—the truly sacred one—comes and overcomes the power of darkness forever.

The battle that is even now bringing death to an end was won at the cross of Christ. Now in a very short time, Christ will come to claim His bride[9]. The end of sorrow and pain is very near, and all who know the Lord will live happily ever after. That is the essence of what J. R. R. Tolkien is getting at in his famous essay on myth and fairy story.[10] To Tolkien, what man invents in fantasy and myth is called secondary reality; but, as Tolkien explains, secondary reality longs to bring itself into reality. Only in Christ is that longing fulfilled. It happens because of His authentic coming down to man in the city of Bethlehem, authentic death and resurrection, authentic indwelling in the human heart, and His real and authentic return to come in a time that may not be too far away. At that time fantasies of secondary reality will all be understood as shadow, shadows that point to Christ Himself. It is He who will unite all heaven and earth in Himself. As Tolkien said of the story of Christ, it is the fairy tale that came true,[11] and those who belong to that Prince of Peace will live happily ever after on the day of His return.

This is the wonder of the Christian faith. It is such a precious reality that even the hopes and fears, and fantasies and myths of man, announce unawares—at some deeper level of the human self—the incarnation, resurrection and transfiguration of Christ and eventually of all things.

[1] Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, tr. R. Sheed (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958); Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, tr. W. R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1954); and Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbolism, tr. P. Mairet (London: Harvill, 1961).

[2] See John 1, including "the Word Became a human being and lived among us" (1:14).

[3] Colossians 2:3.

[4] Revelation 22:1-2.

[5] 2 Corinthians 1:16-19.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Colossians 1:8-12.

[8] Deuteronomy 18; Revelation 21:7.

[9] Revelation 21:1-2.

[10] J. R. R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1964), 65.

[11] Ibid., 64-66.


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The Meaning of Christ in Other Religions (Part 2)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

While I was in process of doing a Master's degree in Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, I was amazed at how very little my fellow graduate students knew about the Bible. They were quite familiar with other religions, and for the most part, they emulated the typical, unreflective student who thinks that all religions basically teach the same truths, and that none of them are really unique.

I remember the day one of these graduate students approached me in a very nice, but slightly triumphant manner. She knew of my Christian faith. To refute it, she placed in front of me a list of religious symbols and myths—common in the Greek and mystery religions. There it was, a long list showing me that other religions, anywhere from three to four hundred years before or after the birth of Christ, also believed in sacrifices, holy temples, baptism, a communion feast, a dying and rising saviour, a messiah to come, a virgin birth, the regeneration of heaven and earth, and the birth of a special king. It seemed to me that, in her mind, this finished the matter. As far as she was concerned, she had now fully proven that the Christian faith was, in no sense, unique.[1] Actually, when my fellow graduate student showed me these similarities, I was encouraged. For I saw in them—and still do—foretastes and foreshadowings of the Christ who has already come into history and was born to Mary, after being conceived by the Holy Spirit. This particular graduate student failed to understand that the virgin birth reveals the decisive difference between the Christian faith and the polytheistic religions that surrounded it. Unlike the myths of rising Gods and other such symbols and mythical events—the living God came into real history.

Answering the Student with Pre-figurations

Had time and circumstances permitted, my response to my fellow graduate student would go something like this. All the varied symbols, events and varied myths she showed to me can easily be seen as stories, beliefs and intrinsic human longings that prefigure the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In what follows, we shall further explore and unwrap what is meant by the term prefigure.

I have always appreciated C. S. Lewis's understanding of myth. It is his suggestion that what we call myths are often legends based on real events or persons. Irving Hexham and Karle Poewe argue that mythical stories contain events that integrate the life and conduct of individuals and their world.[2] One great myth, they argue, is sufficiently inclusive to integrate a great many other myths. Yet, they point out that myths could have no such effect if they were not believed to be true or at least based on truth.[3] After all, who would seriously model their lives after a story known to be false?[4]

But if myths, religious and otherwise, have the power to integrate all life, then they must involve ideas and themes that are absolutely at the core of the human condition, and the human longing for healing and restoration. This requires, then, that myths continually recur in cultures around the world because of their intrinsic power to integrate humanity.

Mircea Eliade, the famous historian of religions, introduces us to the integrative power of what he calls partial incarnations. By this he meant certain temporal objects that can only prefigure the incarnation of Christ. Pre-figurations are partial incarnations which seek a total union between the divine and the temporal, that is, the sacred and profane, but can never complete that union. Rather, they act as foreshadowing in their attempts to fulfill the innate human longing to completely unite, in utter fullness and harmony, the sacred and profane.

Yggdrasil
Yggdrasil

Eliade observed that archaic religions (meaning religions ancient and modern, untouched by science), as well as modern and ancient religions in general, were characterized by a separation between the sacred and the profane. Yet, objects considered to be divine or sacred could affect the profane. By the profane, Eliade meant the normal, temporal form and environment of human life and existence.[5] He observed that in the cultural perceptions of various tribal, rural and urban-based religions, a stone or even a vegetable can suddenly become a sacred object.[6] One very common profane object that frequently becomes a sacred object is a tree. Normal trees become sacred cosmic trees. Many such trees become sacred, because of their connection to some kind of myth about creation.[7] For this reason, cosmic trees are often able, in the mind of those who think they are sacred, to annually renew the universe.[8] The practical concern of such believers is whether or not these trees will have the power to bring a rich harvest, a good hunting season, or the end of a famine. In this way, the tree becomes an object that has the potential to put them in touch with a power existing in sacred, non-historical time.[9] The normal cosmic tree myth usually tells of the death and rebirth of heaven. To the believers in cosmic trees, their annual ritual imitation of the mythic story brings about the actual death and rebirth of the universe and humanity itself.[10] As such, Eliade views Cosmic Tree myths as one of many partial incarnations, that is, the attempt to unite the sacred and the profane, or the mortal and the divine.[11]

Eliade viewed all objects in history that seek to unite the divine and the human as pre-figurations—seeking in vain to fulfill the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[12] On the other hand, the coming together of God and man in Jesus Christ was what he called the supreme incarnation.[13] It was also Eliade who maintained that the Christian story of incarnation totally fulfills all other human attempts to fully integrate the divine and the human. He calls every other attempt to do this, abortive.[14] He called them abortive because none were able to bring to birth the reality of the union between the human and the divine. We have already seen how the Eastern doctrine of Karma prevented the Hindu avatars from being fully God and fully man. For this reason, they could not configure a total unity of the divine and the human, in which both the human and the divine are preserved intact.

Therefore, we, like Eliade, can see the logic of viewing all attempts of culture and religion to unite with the sacred as foreshadowing what is finally fulfilled in Christ.

We can then view Jesus Christ Himself as the true and concrete rescuer of humanity and the universe. In cosmic tree myths, for example, we then see a foreshadowing of Jesus as the redeemer of humanity and creation through His incarnation, death, and resurrection. By faith, the Christian believer—when he gives his life to Christ—imitates Christ in His death and in His resurrection, thus becoming a new creation.[15] It is this child of the Virgin Mary that fulfills the depths of myth and symbol. For Jesus Christ in His birth, fulfills the longing of the profane to fully unite with the sacred. To satisfy the profane, He is fully man. To satisfy the sacred, He is fully God as well.

Thus far we have surveyed Eliade's description of cosmic trees and abortive attempts to imitate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Eliade also maintained that whenever objects in profane time are used by the world's religions to represent things in sacred time, the objects are only sacred because of what they point to or represent.[16] It is the power believed to inhabit the object that counts.[17] That power is like a part of the sacred trying to enter historical time, and the believer wants so badly for it to do so, so that it may assist him in his life.

Christ then can be viewed as the true fulfillment of all the sacred symbols and places of the world's religions. They are the shadow, but He is the reality. In recognizing the need for rebirth, the Hindu sees deeply into reality. Here is a bridge of communication that can lead many Hindus down a road toward a true rebirth in Christ. The religions that see the need for a sacrifice to bring a new world are right in this understanding, but now there has been one true sacrifice that occurred in history that makes null and void all the other religious sacrifices—present and past. For only the sacrifice of Christ on the cross truly renews humanity, heaven and earth. Only His sacrifice on the cross truly began the death of evil and death itself.

Therefore, all of the symbols that the graduate student presented to me by way of the book, were, as I said, causes for rejoicing, not despair. They can be viewed as attempts to unite the human and the divine, as pre-figurations of the incarnation. Indeed, when thus understood, all such similarities show that the Christian faith is indeed unique among all the religion of the world. They are a shadow and foretaste, but Christ is the concrete reality to whom these shadows and prefigurations point.[18]

[1] Of course many of these alleged similarities are fallacious, for example the Virgin Birth of Horus. For an interesting refutation of the Horus myth and similar fabrications see the Lutheran Satire Horus Ruins Christmas.

[2] Irving Hexham and Karla Poewe, New Religions as Global Culture (Boulder, Colorado: Westview, 1997), 79-80.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mircea Eliade, Patterns In Comparative Religion (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1958), 1-37, 82.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[9] Ibid., 3.

[10] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 271, 273–274, 387, 431, 448.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 26, 29, 30.

[13] Ibid., 26, 29 158.

[14] Ibid., 26, 29.

[15] Ibid., 3, 8, 9, 106, 111, 190, 266, 267, 269, 273-274, 387, 431, 448.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 26, 29 30.

[18] For further insight into Eliade and Pre-Figuration, see also his Kosmos and History, trans. Willard R. Trask (New York: New American Library, 1958).


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The Meaning Of Christ In Other Religions: Myth, Symbol, Pre-Figurations and Promise (Part 1)

By Dr. Ron Galloway

This is the first of a three-part series. The first part revolves around a discussion with a Hindu convert to Christ. The second part will circle around an encounter with a post-graduate student in religious studies, and the final part will consist of further reflections on the same theme.

Could it be that the symbols, myths rituals, insights, and teachings of religions—past and present—might reveal a partial understanding of Jesus Christ, the God-Man? Might this not be the case even in the populations of humanity that are still distant from Him, and do not know Him as He is? Could it be that symbols from other religions and cultures—ancient and present—might, in some way, foreshadow Christ's incarnation, resurrection, and even the day when Jesus Christ will transfigure the universe? Could it even be that symbols found in myriads of other religions have, in some real sense, their fulfilment in Christ? The Bible itself is full of foreshadowing and promise. It is also rich in the symbols, events, celebrations, and traditions of the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Might not there be something of the same thing in the symbols, events, celebrations, rituals and traditions of other religions? Might they not act as a bridge to point cultures to Christ, and to His incarnation, resurrection, transformation, and transfiguration? Might there not be a way that these kinds of symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions are meant to foreshadow Christ, and even to reveal that Christ is the concrete reality to which they point, just as they did for Israel?

ichthus-symbol
ichthus-symbol

I know of a Hindu convert to Christ who once said that it is not only possible, but that it happened to him. The idea of other religions' symbols, rituals, celebrations, and traditions pointing to Christ was, for this convert, a reality. But before we hear more from him, I should clarify what is being suggested in this discussion and what is not.

We need not argue that non-Christian beliefs receive such foreshadowings, symbols, events, and traditions through direct revelation, as in the case of Israel. It seems to me, however, that one can reasonably entertain the possibility of at least some parallels. The Bible says that God has put eternity in the hearts of all people. God has made people in such a way that there will always be something in their religions, their myths, and their self-understanding that causes them to yearn for a transcendent realm. By transcendent, I mean a realm of reality that human beings would never be able to invent or imagine as it really is. Yet this realm is nevertheless attuned to the deepest yearnings of human hearts and minds for peace with God and with all God's creation. People sense that this transcendent realm can aid them in their struggle for survival, yet it also causes them to yearn for a new and better world free of the toil, struggles, and evils in themselves. Yet even though the yearnings are there, the Bible makes clear mention of a universal evil in the human heart and mind before encountering Christ. This universal evil is the unregenerate heart of a humanity that wants nothing to do with God. This leads human beings to purposely suppress the eternal yearnings in their hearts.

Mircea Eliade, Paul Ricoeur, and Martin Buber—all respected religious thinkers—explored this suppressed reality of the human condition: particularly as it plays out in story, myth, mythic symbol, rites, celebrations, and traditions.[1] Are there things that humanity will normally deny at the cognitive level that are revealed in myth and symbol at a level of deeper awareness? Aided by some of the insights from Mircea Eliade, I am going to suggest that myth and symbol and other religions at this deeper level of suppressed awareness all seek an answer, and resolution, and that the answer is Christ alone. This said, I now return to the Hindu convert whom I was speaking of before.

Many years ago I attended Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, and there I meant a Hindu convert who explained that when he became a Christian, he realized that Christ had fulfilled many central symbols of his Hindu belief. He said, for example, that the Hindu belief in reincarnation involved the understanding that, for man to be healed, he must be reborn. As a Christian, he now believed that the countless rebirths demanded by Hinduism were merely shadows whose fulfilment was our one-time rebirth made possible through Christ's death and resurrection. He went on to assert that Jesus Himself was pointing to this birth. For it was Jesus who said that "unless you are born again you cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (John 3:3-4).[2] However, Jesus made clear that He alone is the source and power of that new birth. My Hindu friend understood that the myth of reincarnation finds its true object in Christ. In Christ we are born again, but only once (Hebrews 9:27). In Him, concrete reality comes into history and time.

om-symbol
om-symbol

With respect to the incarnation of Christ—i.e. His coming down to us as a human child in a manger—there is something very different, yet, in some ways, very similar in the Hindu doctrine of avatars. Undoubtedly, my Hindu friend was more than aware of it, but at the time I did not think about discussing it with him. Had we discussed it, he would, I suspect, readily explain how Hindu avatars, serve as a near-perfect foreshadowing of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Avatars, as understood in Hinduism, are human beings indwelled by Brahma at certain times in history. Brahma, for a time, inhabits a mortal body that is enslaved to the wheel of life and death. But when the human being dies, Brahma departs. In Hindu teaching, when an avatar comes to earth, he takes the form of an illusion—i.e. a person. In Hinduism, we will recall, the human being is only Karma, an illusion. Now in some Hindu teachings, there is a soul in the person, but the soul is without human content. It is devoid of all the attributes that belong to the person. So then the soul that departs is simply Brahma.

Even when the soul in the individual person is considered separate from Brahma, nothing really changes, for the soul is still wholly identical with Brahma in every respect. It shares nothing of the finite human personality. So, then, avatars do not really come into history at all, for history in Hindu teaching is an illusion as well. Hinduism is forever helpless to bring God into relationship with real human beings. At death, Atman—the higher self—Brahma in finite human beings—leaves the illusory finite self. So while Brahma can visit a human being, he can never be one. But the Christ who became a man is no avatar. He is fully God and fully man, able to represent fully both God and Man. He is the reconciler—the one who truly reconciles humanity with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This Hindu convert now knew something far more wonderful than an avatar. He now personally knew the God who, unlike Brahma, does not wish to annihilate the human finite self, but to love and preserve it.

The Greek name Iësous, transliterated Jesus, means salvation or saviour. Jesus came into history and became a human being. He died and rose again, fully representing humanity in His life, death and resurrection. At present, He is seated at the right hand of God. Further, He is in a position of equal power with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As the gospel of John so beautifully says: "In the beginning was the word (Jesus Christ), and the word was with God, and the word was God. All things were brought into being by him, and without him, nothing was brought into being, that has been brought into being (John 1:1-6).

Ironically, the coming down and visitation of avatars finds its concrete fulfilment in Christ Jesus. All the avatars who come and will come down can be viewed as pale shadows of the one who was concretely born in Bethlehem. They are mythic shadows of the one to come. This concrete fulfilment in Christ reaches its wonderful culmination after Christ ascends, and descends again in the final judgment. Then the fullness of the New Heaven and Earth is brought into being, and God, at last, has His dwelling with men.

In Christ, humanity, God, and the universe are real, and can be known and loved. On that final day—the day of Christ's return—authentic joy will flood the galaxies and utterly fill those human beings who are in a deep and eternal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, And God the Holy Spirit, the three in one.[3] All this will take place amidst a true and authentic history, where in the end, peace, joy and love will prevail. In Part 2, I will explore this discussion of the meaning of Christ in other religions further, amidst my encounter with a postgraduate student who presents to me a religious list that she supposes devastates the credibility of the Christian faith.

[1] See Freud, Totem and Taboo; Jung, Memories Dreams and Reflections; Buber, Good and Evil, 73-74; Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil; and Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religions and Cosmos and History.

[2] All Scripture quotations are the author's translation.

[3] See Matthew 11:27, 23:9, 28:19; John 1:14, 3:35, 5:18, 6:27, 8:27, 10:15, 10:38, 13:3, 14:28, 16:15, 17:5; Romans 8:15, 15:6; 1 Corinthians 1:3, 8:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3, 11:31; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:17, 2:18; 1 John 2:24; Revelation 3:21.


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A Hijab and a Philosopher

holy-trinity.gif

By Justin Wishart

A short time ago, Larycia Hawkins, a professor at Wheaton College, was suspended for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.[1] Many people came out in support of Wheaton, while others supported Dr. Hawkins. The main controversy was over her Facebook comment: "And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God." One supporter of Hawkins is Catholic philosopher Dr. Francis Beckwith. He wrote two articles in support of Hawkins, and by extension his pope.[2] Much ink has been spilled commenting on Hawkins' and Wheaton's actions, so this article will focus on and analyze Beckwith's articles.

It's important to recognize the implications here and Beckwith's desire to defend this position. "As the Church declared in Nostra Aetate (1965): '[Muslims] adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men. . . . Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet.'" Beckwith views this as Catholic dogma, and his desire to defend Hawkins becomes evident.

The Argument

His first argument is to point out that just because people use different names doesn't mean that they are talking about something different. "Take, for example, the names 'Muhammed Ali' and 'Cassius Clay.' Although they are different terms, they refer to the same thing, for each has identical properties. Whatever is true of Ali is true of Clay and vice versa." Beckwith points out that if one person uses one name for God and another person uses a different name for God, this does not mean that they are speaking about different gods. I agree. Even Christians in Middle Eastern countries call God "Allah." "So the fact that Christians may call God 'Yahweh' and Muslims call God 'Allah' makes no difference if both 'Gods' have identical properties."

This is where Beckwith gets into his first bit of trouble. If his above argument is true, and I think it is, then the object in question must have "identical properties." Anyone who has compared the Islamic idea of tawheed and the Christian idea of Trinity knows that they don't share "identical properties." Beckwith anticipates this objection. He attempts to argue that Islam and Christianity share concepts that are identical. "In the same way, there is only one being that is essentially God: the uncaused, perfect, unchanging, self-subsistent, eternal Creator and sustainer of all that which receives its being from another." Both faiths have these identical beliefs about God; Beckwith rightly calls this "classical theism."

Yet, the immediate question focuses around the differences between the two faiths. Beckwith anticipates this, as well, and argues that just because people have different notions about something does not mean they are talking about different things. He uses this analogy:

Imagine that Fred believes that the evidence is convincing that Thomas Jefferson (TJ) sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings (SH), and thus Fred believes that TJ has the property of "being a father to several of SHs children." On the other hand, suppose Bob does not find the evidence convincing and thus believes that TJ does not have the property of "being a father to several of SHs children."

Would it follow from this that Fred and Bob do not believe that the Third President of the United States was the same man? Of course not. . . . Abraham and Moses did not believe that God is a Trinity [How does he know this?], but St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Billy Graham do. Does that mean that Augustine, Aquinas, and Graham do not worship the same God as Abraham and Moses? . . . The fact that one may have incomplete knowledge or hold a false belief about another person—whether human or divine—does not mean that someone who has better or truer knowledge about that person is not thinking about the same person.

This is the distinction that holds Beckwith's argument together. From this argument, he concludes: "For these reasons, it would a real injustice if Wheaton College were to terminate the employment of Professor Hawkins simply because those evaluating her case cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions."

Analysis

For clarity, I will list Beckwith's points succinctly:

1. Just because people use different names does not mean they are talking about different things. If they have "identical properties," they are the same thing.

2. Muslims and Christians ascribe many identical properties to God, which is called "classical theism."

3. Just because Muslims have less knowledge of the true God, doesn't mean they are necessarily talking about a different god.

My analysis will focus primarily on point #3, as I essentially agree with the first two points.

The major blunder in Beckwith's argument is that he confuses epistemology and ontology. Epistemology focuses around knowledge, for example, how one gets to know God; and ontology focuses around being, for example, what God is. Looking at Beckwith's analogy, one sees this epistemological focus. It is because "Bob does not find the evidence convincing" that he doesn't believe that Thomas Jefferson "sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings." This clearly has no bearing on whether Thomas Jefferson actually "sired several children with his slave Sally Hemings." Now, let's make his analogy into an ontological analogy. If Fred's Thomas Jefferson actually did "[sire] several children with his slave Sally Hemings" and Bob's Thomas Jefferson actually did not "[sire] several children with his slave Sally Hemings," then they cannot both be talking about the "Third President of the United States."

To say that God is triune, or to say that God is tawheed, is not an epistemological expression, but an ontological one. As the Athanasian Creed states, "the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not Three Gods, but One God."[3] This is clearly an ontological claim. Likewise, when Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips explains the meaning of tawheed, he says "that Allah is One, without partner in His dominion . . . One without similitude in His essence and attributes . . . and One without rival in His divinity and in worship."[4] Since these are both ontological statements, expressions of what God is, the differences actually do make "God" different between the two faiths.

To make matters worse, the knowledgeable Christian deniestawheed and the knowledgeable Muslim denies the Trinity. It's not as if Muslims believe in "classical theism," which doesn't contradict the Trinity, and when shown the Trinity he accepts it. It is precisely the opposite: it's exactly the knowledge that has been shown to him that he rejects. To lump in Abraham and Moses into this discussion is to say that Moses only has "classical theism" in mind when talking about God, a dubious claim, and if shown the Trinity he would have rejected it as well. Does Beckwith believe this? Sure, it is probably correct to say that Paul had a more complete view of God than Moses. But Moses' view of God never contradicts Paul's. Yet, Mohammad's view does.[5] It is the contradictions that equally matter. For Beckwith to focus on what Muslims and Christians agree on is to not really have a meaningful discussion on this subject. It's not that Muslims have a lack of knowledge, it's that they reject this knowledge. The laws of thought demand that we cannot be talking about the same thing anymore. Muslims do not worship the same God as we do.

Space does not allow me to point out that God Himself does not think He is like any other God, or provide the copious scriptural evidence to support this. Molech and Yahweh also shared identical properties, but God clearly didn't say the Canaanites worshiped the same God. Why should we accept Beckwith's "classical theism" as the benchmark for sameness while denying the similarities found within other religious conceptions of God? On what basis? Beckwith has not provided a meaningful argument here. It is disappointing that someone of Beckwith's calibre produced this fallacious argument because he "cannot make these subtle, though important, philosophical distinctions."

[1] Manya Brachear Pachman and Marwa Eltagouri, "Wheaton College Says View of Islam, Not Hijab, God Christian Teacher Suspended," Chicago Tribune, December 15, 2015, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-wheaton-college-professor-larycia-hawkins-20151216-story.html.

[2] Francis J. Beckwith, "Do Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God?," The Catholic Thing, December 17, 2015, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2015/12/17/do-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/, and Beckwith, "Why Muslims and Christians Worship the Same God," The Catholic Thing, January 7, 2016, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.thecatholicthing.org/2016/01/07/why-muslims-and-christians-worship-the-same-god/. All quotations attributed to Beckwith are taken from these two articles.

[3] "The Athanasian Creed," New Advent, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02033b.htm.

[4] Abu Ameenah Bilaal Philips, The Fundamentals of Tawḥeed (Islamic Monotheism), 2nd ed. (Riyadh: International Islamic Publishing House, 2005.), 17.

[5] "O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, 'Three'; desist—it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs" (Quran 4:171, Saheeh International translation).


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The Church: Dominant, Sub-, or Countercultural?

By Ian McKerracher

As part of the dominant culture, the role of the Church was well-defined for everyone involved. It was a role that lasted, off and on, for the better part of one and a half millennia. The Church was to be the conscience of the culture and the arbiter of morality and ethics. This role was valid for most of the past centuries of the Western worldview, since the time of Constantine, who enabled the Christian Church to bear the task of formulating orthodoxy and orthopraxy. If you wanted to know what was right or wrong, you could go to the Church and get an answer to your questions.

When the Church wandered from that role and sought a voice or a part to play in the wider culture, she tended to do very poorly. Cast into the role of a military power, many times she spawned religious wars and power grabs. Cast into the role of Science Journal, many times she opposed the best science of her day.

Bear in mind that all this was accomplished with the Church as a significant player in the culture. In today's climate, there is a renegotiation going on between the Church and that same wider culture: especially in North America, but also in Europe and whereever the touch of Western civilization has landed. This is what those in the Church who are looking back to the "glory days" are balking at. The renegotiation is trying to relegate the Church to a much-diminished role. They no longer want the Church to be the arbiter of their morality. They want to do their own thing without any outside interference. They want the Church to be confined to a limited subculture status.

The question is: Should the Church submit to that diminished role? Should we just accept that the culture around us is no longer listening to us, and so we should enter into a new phase by looking after our own interests just like all the other factions of society do? Do we just go quietly into that good night?

I want to say that there is another way: a third way between being a major player in the dominant culture (a role no longer available to us anyways) and being an inwardly focused subculture only concerned with the issues that the greater society allows us. This third way is being a counterculture. In the role of counterculture, the Church actually begins to revert to its original model provided by the pages of Scripture. It appears to me that the place for the Church is and always has been here. We were not designed to play the role of dominant culture, as evidenced by the great failures of the Church in the past. We also are not just one of many of the subcultures scattered throughout our world. The Church has a unique position in the culture—or should have.

For the Church to pursue this role, it is imperative that the Church start becoming the church! We should ask ourselves: if there was a group of people who have the Spirit of the Living God inside of them, what would they look like? How would they be different from the surrounding culture? What would their priorities be?

One sure-fire way to answer these highly charged questions would be to look at the culture outside and away from the Church, and begin to do the opposite things. I am not suggesting that the Church be "oppositional," thinking that would make us more attractive. That idea certainly has not been very successful any time it has been attempted. Attitude is everything, and being a jerk is still being a jerk even when you have the Truth. Let's just remember that those outside our congregations don't have the overwhelming reality of the Living God inside of them, and so they would act in a way that shows they are not being informed by Him. If the dominant culture, including those in political power, in educational power, and in the power of the media, are not being influenced as freely by the Holy Spirit as Christians should be, then the way they conduct themselves and the pursuits they deem valuable should reflect that difference. We could just observe their attitudes and actions and assume that we should look different.

Flower_Power_demonstrator
Flower_Power_demonstrator

We have had many countercultural groups over the course of history, with whom we can make comparisons and be instructed. They appear and disappear like waves on the historical ocean, and sometimes leave us with the faint smell of salty fishiness in the background of our collective consciousness. The hippies of the last century were much more than a weird fashion show with great music. They were countercultural in the true sense of the word. They redefined, for themselves, the notions of success, relationships, and personal autonomy. At the time, the Vietnam War provided a focus point for them to counter. Conventions of hair length were turned on their heads, along with dreams of picket fences in the suburbs, paid for by a personal commitment to a corporation for life. Those same hippies had children, who are now the "Occupy" people trying to change the social contract, or the social justice warriors that stride through the Internet, cutting a vast swath of vitriol, fueled by a sense of the unassailable rightness of their causes. These are examples of negative countercultural movements, which have suffered (or will suffer) the ignobility of being dashed upon the rocks of reality as their ideas become mainstream.

The Church has a history of very positive countercultural actions over the course of her story. Though many of the chapters of that glorious story have have been besmirched in modern times by a media hostile to religion, there are episodes of Church history where she rose to the occasions of her greatness by being present and accounted for to bear the weight of serving the victims of the poor policies of the dominant culture. With a true and robust redemption to offer those victims, the Church shone like a beacon, cutting through the fogginess of the anti-intellectualism that founded (and still confounds) the collective insanity that characterizes a life outside of God's good graces. Whether it is waiting in a boat below bridges where women cast their unwanted babies; gathering money and resources to help the poor at home and abroad; or providing care for disenfranchised, hospitalized, or incarcerated people, the Church was doing social justice long before it came in vogue to demand it from others. And she did all this with a clear-eyed vision to be an instrument in the Hand of the Master Builder of the Kingdom of God: to be involved in something infinitely larger than itself, a Kingdom where Love rules!

It doesn't take long for anyone focusing on those kinds of questions and looking at the latest rendition of the Church to realize: we aren't that, in whatever way we apply Scripture as a map to define what "that" is. Church-wide repentance is a great option! I heartily endorse it as a way to return to the original scriptural mandates set upon us by our Lord. As for the politics, bureaucrasies, and other power centres of our world: let the dead bury their dead. Let's follow Jesus.


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A Lesson in Power

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By Jojo Ruba

When we were younger, my parents only let us watch one show on school nights, the nightly news. Back then, it was only half an hour long and it aired at the right time—just after dinner and before we had to do our homework. Though I first resented the rule, I quickly began to enjoy knowing about what was happening in the world. I particularly loved the back-and-forth of political news. I enjoyed watching the debates and following the candidates and on rare occasions, I would be allowed to stay up late to watch the election results roll in.

That is probably one of the reasons why I went to our nation's capital to study journalism and politics in university. What I found in Ottawa was a great political community. Everyone was either working for the government or was related to someone who was, and so they deeply cared about how our country runs.

CanadianFederalElection2015PollingStationI also found Christians who were passionate about making government work. Whether they were civil servants or partisans on Parliament Hill, they truly wanted to bring our values as Christians to the marketplace of ideas. They strongly believed Christians had something positive to contribute to the country. There were days where I even imagined running for office and gaining political power.

Yet as I watched the most recent election results roll in, I couldn't help but feel personally rejected, as if Christians like me would never be part of the political world again. This had nothing to do, of course, with which party won the election—Christians have been involved in all the major parties, and we at Faith Beyond Belief take no partisan stance. But it has everything to do with what was said during the election—that Christians who didn't take a pro-choice view on abortion or pro-same-sex marriage stance were not even allowed to run for office on behalf of some parties. And when Canadians chose one of these parties to govern us, they wholeheartedly said they had no problem with this view. For the first time in Canadian history, then, no practising Christian with a Christian worldview will sit on the government benches on Parliament Hill.

When I point this out, I get pushback. Some Christians argue that there are practicing believers in government, like the health minister who apparently attends a Mennonite church.[1] But the point I am making is not that there aren't people who call themselves Christian on the government side of the House. It's that there is no one who holds a Christian worldview on that side of the house. Columnist Rex Murphy said it this way:

As things now are, a truly religious person must actually stay out of politics—must forgo an active role in democratic government—because in our brazen and new age, he or she will be faced with irreconcilable moral choices. If elected, he or she will be required to betray their faith and themselves, and on those very issues that matter most: issues of life, family, autonomy and the dignity of persons.[2]

When a political leader insists that those who run for his party must be willing to put that party's beliefs ahead of their faith's teachings, then its clear their faith is compromised. Abortion particularly is a tricky issue to enforce such a rigid morality. Given that Christians, and frankly many people of many faiths and no faith, believe that abortion takes the life of a human being like us, it is impossible to be "pro-choice" on taking those lives. It would be akin to saying I personally oppose killing gay people but it's okay if others choose to kill gay people. From a Christian perspective, killing innocent people is not something you can just be "pro-choice" about and still be a faithful Christian.

It's ironic that so many Canadians argued that requiring a Muslim to temporarily uncover her face while voting was prejudiced and anti-Muslim, but requiring a Christian to compromise her faith's teaching to value all human life before she could be part of the government, was not.

Of course it isn't just practising Christians who are excluded. Muslims, Hindus and even many atheists take the same life-saving position. I met a Sikh representative at my door of one of the parties who takes the radical pro-abortion stance that abortions even at the ninth month of pregnancy should be legal and publicly funded for any or no reason at all (the current law in Canada). He was trying to get me to put up a lawn sign for them. But as I quizzed him about his faith, it was obvious he didn't agree with his party's extreme stance. I asked him, "How can you support a party that won't let you run for them unless you compromise your faith?" I was expecting an argument but instead, he glumly agreed saying I was right and walked off visibly shaken.

Unfortunately, the lack of Christian representation also gets another response: sheer happiness. Many Canadians are glad to get rid of any religious, particularly Christian, influence from the public sphere. One Canadian I debated in an on-line forum insisted that religious people could only participate in politics if they first swear allegiance to the government. I told him that's exactly what the Communists in China and North Korea insist on doing and the comparison didn't bother him.

In fact, it's an ongoing story in Canada: BC's Trinity Western University has a biblical moral code for its staff and students, and because of that code, is in courts across Canada just to ensure their law students can actually practice law. In Quebec, all schools except for a handful must teach that religious views can't be right or wrong—they are all equal. In Ontario, an African church is banned from using public property in downtown Toronto because city officials think singing "There is no God like Jehovah" is proselytizing.

When I debated a top Canadian atheist at the University of Calgary, she insisted that all religious influence be removed from political life. Christians and other religious people can practice their faith, but that faith should have no influence on public policy.

I responded by saying that religious people, particularly Christians, have positively influenced politics too. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Baptist pastor when he fought for civil rights for African-Americans, and one of the founding fathers of the NDP was a Baptist pastor named Tommy Douglas who fought for nationalized healthcare because of his Christian views of taking care of others. Interestingly enough, she conceded this point but said only values that can benefit everyone should be allowed to influence government.

And that's why the move to exclude faith from the public sphere is so heartbreaking. These arguments come from people who don't realize that Christ did come to earth to benefit everyone. That's not an invitation to force people to become Christians through the government (as I pointed out during another debate with that atheist, Christians don't consider people who are forced to convert to our faith as actual Christians, so we have no incentive to do so), but it is a reminder of what Christians ought to do in a culture that is increasingly hostile to us.

Rather than lamenting about being excluded from political power, I realized that the power Christians have isn't found in Ottawa or in politics. It is found in what Jesus said about who is greatest in His kingdom. In Mark 9, in response to His disciples arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." Jesus' life showed that real power didn't come through the one who wielded the biggest sword or who made the most brilliant campaign ad. Instead, His message transformed the world because His power was accepting how much others hated Him and His views and then choosing to serve them anyway, even at the cost of His life.

And this is our commitment at Faith Beyond Belief too. Regardless of who is in government and how much they want to exclude us, we will continue to speak from God's word; we will continue to share how much He cares both for the preborn and the poor; we will continue to offer as an alternative to this culture's insistence that any sexual act will do, His plan for real wholeness for the sexually broken and confused; and no matter how many times we are told that we are no longer welcome in the public arena, we will continue to go those public places so we can proclaim that there is no God like Jehovah as we wash our enemies' feet. And in doing so we pray many understand that power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive today in a church that still chooses to be a servant of all.


[1] Dick Benner, "Philpott Named New Health Minister," Canadian Mennonite, November 4, 2015, accessed November 12, 2015, http://www.canadianmennonite.org/stories/philpott-named-new-health-minister.

[2] Rex Murphy, "In Justin Trudeau's World, Christians Need Not Apply," National Post, June 21, 2014, accessed November 12, 2015, http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/rex-murphy-in-justin-trudeaus-world-christians-need-not-apply.


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Giving Reasons to Believe: Why Studying Apologetics Is an Act of Love

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By Nathan Lau

Peter said always be prepared to give an apologetic, for the hope that is within you, and do that with gentleness and respect [1 Peter 3:15]. Apologetics has a broad sweep of two central concepts, giving an answer and giving an explanation. It clarifies truth claims. It does not make your answers confusing and difficult. You have to come to the level of the questioner, because more than answering a question, you are always answering a questioner. Somebody is behind that question, and if you answer the question without answering the questioner, you may come through as being very knowledgeable, but you've really not been persuasive to the one who is looking for the answer.
—Ravi Zacharias[1]

The power of the gospel is that it is true. Historically true. Objectively true. Ultimately true. The gospel (what Jesus taught and did) is not true because we want it to be, but is true because it lines up with reality. There should be no surprise that great amounts of evidence, solid arguments, good reasons, and excellent explanations are available to anyone who looks, to justify the hope in Jesus within us. Not thinking that this matters or that it can make a dramatic difference to people inside or outside the church represents a failure in recognizing human nature and how we are designed by God.

God made us to care about the truth. Interwoven throughout Scripture is the principle that seeking the truth is virtuous, good, and ultimately leads to faith in Jesus. God did not make us to be an uncritical, superstitious bunch of fools. He does not look favorably on magicians and mystics or those who fall for their schemes.

Now, some people will take John 20:29 as an example from Jesus that we should believe without needing to see, but there is a very different context here: "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."[2] When Thomas doubted, he already had every reason and evidence to trust in Jesus. He should not have needed to feel the wounds of Jesus to trust him, and neither should we. Thomas was scared, depressed, and disappointed, which in part explains why he could not clearly see the truth of what was right in front of him. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions [that causes me to lack faith]. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.[3]

Questions and doubts are natural and expected, and both Jesus and God are more than capable of responding to them. The issue comes after God has proven himself to be trustworthy, but due to changing moods or fanciful imagination we stop trusting God against good reason. Good reasons, answers. and explanations are also part of how we defend ourselves against the warnings of 2 Peter 2:1-3:

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.

Put another way, we use good teaching to combat false teaching. We expose heresies through explanation and giving evidence. We defend the truth with all these things while being guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). The hearts and minds that God gave us yearn to grasp and understand the truth in all areas. Who of us, except for sinful and corrupt reasons, would actually prefer a lie over the truth?

"Apologetics has a broad sweep of two central concepts, giving an answer and giving an explanation. . . . If you answer the question without answering the questioner, you may comet hrough as being very knowledgeable, but you've really not been persuasive to the one who is looking for the answer." —Ravi ZachariasThe ability to reason, answer questions, and explain are all gifts from God. Curiosity and the desire for evidence and explanation are not inherently evil. In fact, they can be a virtuous thing. People's desire for evidence and explanation may actually be the Holy Spirit awakening a love for the truth in them. Not every skeptic or doubter is necessarily a hater of the truth.

I hope so far you are in agreement that the truth matters, and that humans were made to care about what the truth is. I want to spend some time talking about whether living out 1 Peter 3:15 really works. When Christians are prepared to give good answers and explanations that the questioner can understand, does it work? Put another way, does apologetics help to lead people to a vibrant, strong faith that bears fruit in Heaven? I say yes. The best evidence for me on a personal level, are the changes that studying apologetics have brought into my own heart, mind, and life. I have never been more passionate or amazed by the love of God and what Jesus did on the cross. Another important evidence is the impact that apologetics has had on God-loving people throughout history: C. S. Lewis, Joy Davidman, G. K. Chesterton, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl, John Lennox, Josh McDowell, and on and on. These dramatically changed lives for Jesus and their stories bear great witness to the power and importance of God-led apologetics. A comparison could be made to whether prayer or reading the Bible is effective. The best evidence is the changed lives. Why would we accept good evidence in one category, but not in another?

The body of Christ, the church, has many varieties of differing passion. But all of us, out of respect and love for the other parts, ought to be careful not to be dismissive or unappreciative of the parts of the body we are not as naturally passionate about. In addition, all of us should be willing and prepared to be trained up and to serve in the other areas as it best serves God's purposes. I am not a musician, but if I can serve God at a camp by slapping some spoons together to a rhythm, I will do my best! For those who have not yet learned the valuable role of apologetics in their Christian life, I wonder if it is for the same reason that some have found little value in reading the Old Testament. Perhaps in both cases no one has gently and respectfully offered good answers as to why the time should be invested in it. Or perhaps a convincing explanation has not been given. If apologetics at its most basic is giving good answers and explanations about Christian beliefs and values, it can hardly be avoided by any Christian wanting to help bring others to trusting faith in Christ.

What should be the motivation behind everything a Christian does (including studying apologetics)? Love, of course! Love for God first, and love for others next (Matthew 22:37-40). God has used a desire to study apologetics to change me. I love people more than I ever have before, and I want them to know what God did for them on the cross. There are so many lost and broken people in this world looking for answers to the questions weighing them down. There are many educated, intelligent, loving, and kind atheists, silently desperate for a good explanation for the joy and hope they see in Christians. We must not forget the poor, the hungry, the widows and the orphans. But who has God put into your life to influence? If the poor, out of love give resources. If the hungry, out of love give food. If the skeptics, agnostics, atheists, or doubters, out of love give reasonable answers and good explanations that they can understand. In this way, studying apologetics can be a great act of love.

Nathan Lau lives in Calgary, AB with his wife Joyce. He has been a registered nurse for 10 years, and is currently working as a instructor at a college in Calgary. He has been involved in various church ministries since he was a teen, and currently serves as a Bible study leader. Seven years ago, he stumbled upon C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity and Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias. God used those two books to spark a fire that would lead him for the first time in his life, to truly believing with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind (Luke 10:27), that belief and trust in God and Jesus is the most reasonable position a human being can take.


[1] Ravi Zacharias, "A Fish Out of Water, Part 1 of 2," podcast, Let My People Thnk, August 29, 2015, accessed September 16, 2015, http://rzim.org/let-my-people-think-broadcasts/a-fish-out-of-water-part-1-of-2.

[2] Scripture citations are taken from the New International Version (NIV).

[3] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 139.


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Image as Humanity

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By Dr. Ron Galloway

In this post, I want to present a trans-cultural view of the human condition before and after humanity was driven out of the presence of God. Consider whether it portrays an accurate diagnosis of the human condition or not. But first let me define what I mean by trans-cultural and elaborate on this as the post proceeds. Very simply, trans-cultural refers to anything that does not originate in culture, nature, naturalism, environmental determinism, or finite human conception. Rather, it is derived from the supernatural.

Even the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, reveals humanity as incredibly precious and special beyond anything in the animal kingdom. For it describes man and woman as made in the image of God. Genesis begins by recording all that God created, and then steadily builds to the moment of God's greatest creation, the creature made in the image and likeness of God: humanity.

Contrary to what many have thought, the thing that makes humanity different from animals in the Bible is not the fact that people have a soul. In the original Hebrew of Genesis, it is particularly clear that not only human beings become living souls, but also the animals and all the other creatures God makes (Genesis 1:20,21,24,30). What makes humanity different is that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

For this reason, in the Bible, human beings are far superior to all the other creatures that God has made. Genesis and the implications of the entire Bible are very clear in this regard. God gives people dominion over all the other creatures (Genesis 1:26). But that is not all. We learn from the book of Genesis that the male, Adam, is not the full creation of humanity, but only one half. According to Genesis, Adam is simply the male part. Adam is not humanity, in the completed sense, until the creation of Eve. She is by no means his inferior, but rather his helper counterpart. In Genesis 3:27 we read: "God created human beings in his image, male and female he created them."[1]

Thus Genesis makes clear that humanity is not the male or the female, but rather the combination of both. This profound and unparalleled conception of humanity is even more wondrously articulated in Gen. 5: 1-3. There we read:

This is the book containing the records of Adam in the day God created humanity. In the image of God he made them. Male and female he created them, and he called their name, Adam.

Here, Adam means humanity. Contrary to what many people have thought and impressions conveyed by extreme feminist movements, both males and females are created in the image of God. Together they make up the human race.

There is an incredible wonder and sophistication in the Genesis account. In comparison to the Near Eastern cultures and civilizations surrounding them, the Hebrew people who followed their God Yahweh (Jehovah) brought a staggeringly advanced understanding of God, humanity, and creation into history. Why this is so, I will soon explain.

But let us leave former cultures and civilizations aside for a moment. What about the present? Where in all of the history of humanity past, present, or future has there ever been such a profound conception of both man and woman as is contained in the Bible, particularly in Genesis? Where else do we see such a high regard for living creatures, and yet a far higher regard for humanity?

It is therefore not surprising that this truly trans-cultural view of man and woman should be found in an account of creation equally sophisticated and far transcending any Near Eastern cosmology ever discovered in our studies and researches into the ancient world.

Not only does it transcend anything in the ancient world, the Genesis account beat science to the punch by many thousands of years. Why do I say this? Well, the first one to write of this phenomenal reality was Harvey Cox in his work titled ''The Secular City''.[2] In that work, Cox pointed out that in Genesis we see a complete separation between God, man, and nature. Unlike the rest of the ancient world, we find in Genesis no mixture of nature with the gods, whether in the form of polytheism or animism. No Near Eastern source of that time, nor even the most advanced state of the Greek or Roman civilization, was ever able to conceive of such a separation of the gods and nature. Genesis spoke of this many thousands of years in advance of science or the men who were science’s precursors.

Even in the Renaissance era, people still felt that the stars were angelic beings. Aristotle and Plato were the likely source of this continued misconception. This misconception was not put to rest until the coming of precursors of the scientific method such as Roger Bacon and Copernicus. Both of them believed in God, the Lord Jesus, and the Bible.

It is therefore not surprising in light of such an incredibly sophisticated description of creation, that we view this unrivaled, unmatched, trans-cultural view of the value of both men and women. Of course, one might ask, how could a tribal people ever come up with such a conception of man, woman, and creation on their own? Throughout the compilation of separate writings written over a period of eleven hundred years, the answer is obvious. Whether you ask Moses or the prophets, the answer was that Yahweh God (elohiym) came to them.

According to the Religious Humanist (now called Secular Humanist), relativist and Darwinist, every view or reality must be culturally derived. The trouble is, there is nothing like this in the cultures surrounding Israel, and nothing like it at all until the advent of science. Even the Epicureans and other Greek skeptics did not deny their nature god and goddesses were real. Indeed, it has been well argued by many that science itself could never find entrance until it was clear that the investigation of nature would not bring the wrath of the gods and spirits of nature. This, the argument goes, was only made possible through the Judeo-Christian worldview. Proponents of this view argue that science began to make sense only when it was clear that nature was not a fusion of gods, spirits and men, but not until then. I happen to be one of those proponents. This points to the obvious reasoning that Genesis offers us a truly trans-cultural view of the universe. Any persons informed by a trans-cultural speaker can then be a revealer of that which transcends human understanding. That, of course, is what the Bible writers purport to be.

The appointment of man and woman as rulers of the earth that God made did not imply, in any sense, that Adam "He" or Adam "She" were free to pillage or pollute the earth. Humanity, meaning both the first man and woman, were in perfect harmony with creator and creation. When God conferred this position of dominion, the being in the garden referred to as the "serpent" had not yet persuaded humanity to worship themselves and nature as divine.[3] It was only after Adam and Eve disobeyed God by taking the fruit on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that nature began its descent into imperfection, instability, and disorder. Genesis describes this descent with the expression: "Thorns and thistles will grow up" (Genesis 3:18). After Cain slaughtered his brother Abel, he and the generations after him ceased to call on the name of God. Like Adam and Eve before him, Cain dehumanized himself by denying God his creator. He was left only with the worship of himself, and a creation radically changed because of human betrayal and disobedience. With God out of the way, in their minds, Cain and those who followed began to blend in with nature, and in the process lost that true harmonious blend between man and woman that preceded the taking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before long, man made nature his god. Such was the mentality of Cain, and the murderous generation he spawned (Genesis 4:7-25). Now for men like Cain and Nimrod the plunderer, status and worth depended on how many human beings you could slaughter in battle. So Humanity went from garden to the gutters of war. But when I say garden, or I say Eden, I can almost hear the skeptics laughter. But then again, Hawaii attracts the most skeptical of souls.

Ironically, things have not changed much. Like Cain we have immersed ourselves in nature, even contending that nature is all there is. Now, unlike the original couple, we no longer rule nature. We are like they were after they were cast out of the garden. We too struggle to survive its dominion and its chains, both in life and death. We are lost within it, and define ourselves by it, and so we have no self or worth that we can intellectually sustain. However, the wars of today are far more lethal than those committed in the generations after Cain. Now war is not only barbaric but technological. The present technological rape of culture, human identity, and human worth derives from the contemporary decision to worship either our own self-fashioned, impersonal, impotent gods or no god at all. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, they dehumanized themselves. They chose to embrace their own idea of good and evil, to do what was right in their own eyes. This generation appears to be no different: as described in the Bible, we do what is right in our own eyes. Only now we call this ancient evil against our creator, relativism. Now man and woman are both reduced to the subjective preference of a society so committed to neutrality that identity itself, whether man or woman, may soon be neutered. Some call that progress, but it appears in many ways to be a return to the first day of creation when all was formless (tohu) and void (bohu). Rather than being progress, it is a reversal of all God has done from the sixth day on. If the serpent of Genesis is as real as Genesis implies, then no doubt the serpent is pleased with the present reversal. Genesis reversed, chaos restored.


[1] Biblical quotations are the author's translation.

[2] Harvey Cox, The Secular City (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966).

[3] In the first two or three chapters of Genesis, we are informed that the serpent was craftier than any beast of the field. This need not imply that the serpent was a beast, any more than if I said Adam was wiser than any beast of the field. Nor could the serpent be a snake, for we are told that it crawls on its belly only after God brings judgment upon it. Thus the meaning of serpent seems more likely to refer to a highly intelligent, evil being, rather than to a beast.


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Who am I?

Lauren-Handy-I-was-Queer.jpg

By Ian Murray

The question: "Who am I?" is one that is old as dirt. When this question is asked, many people take a trip down a common road of qualifications such as name and vocation. It is true that someone's name identifies them and their career says something about them, but neither name nor career defines them as people in toto. There was a time when sexual orientation was also not included as a qualifier, as even though it is a part of who someone is, it does not complete them. However, times have changed, and now when someone in Western society says "I am gay," their homosexuality is not just "a part of who they are"; it is in fact the very essence of who they are.

I recently chatted with a waitress at a local bakery. We talked about a number of things; however, when the conversation turned to church, our conversation got very interesting! I mentioned that my own church had split from a denomination that endorsed same-sex marriage. As she dried some dishes, she politely asked me if I knew any gay people. I mentioned that I had a Christian friend who is gay. However, when I told her that my friend, whom I'll call Frank, chooses to remain celibate due to his Christian convictions, she grew very upset. She held to the view that to ask someone not to act in accordance with their orientation is the same as asking them to deny who they are.

Frank denies such a proposition, because he knows who he is and he knows that his sexual orientation has played only a part in the development of who he is today. He does not deny that he is gay. He does not pretend that he is heterosexual by getting married to a woman and having children. He doesn't talk down to homosexual people nor does he speak about them or homosexuality in any derogatory terms. He accepts that he is same-sex attracted and simply chooses to deny himself the option of acting on it. He does this for one simple reason: he knows who he is.

So without any further ado, allow me to introduce you to my friend Frank. Frank is a same-sex attracted man who is a repentant sinner. That is who Frank is. Frank is saved by the sacrifice of Christ and by the grace and will of God (John 1:12). That is who Frank is. Frank is chosen "in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight" (Ephesians 1:4 NIV). That is who Frank is. Frank is created for the glory of God (Isaiah 43:6-7). That is who Frank is. Frank's identity is not in his job title, his choice of hobbies, his preference of books he reads, or TV shows he watches. It is not found in his sexual orientation or his name, but it is discovered under the protection of the powerful name of Jesus (Acts 4:12). That is who Frank is. That is Frank's identity. When Frank says no to his same-sex attraction, he is not denying his true self, he is denying his sin-stained sexual preference. If he was to deny Christ, then he would be denying who he really is, namely a creation of God, who was created for God's glory. He would be denying the chance to be renewed to the state that God intended him to be (Genesis 1:31). Frank's identity is in Christ.

Lauren Handy on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, April 2015Therefore, it would be a gross mistake to argue that all gay people identify with their homosexuality.

However, is it really true that there is an overarching positive connection between one's identity and sexual orientation? It is a common belief among many people in the LGBT community that homosexuality is genetic, and therefore it is something that cannot be changed. It stands to reason, then, that if homosexuality is akin to skin color, then just as I was born with Caucasian skin, Frank and every other gay man and woman was "born gay"! This means for the gay man and woman being gay is "who they are."

As a result, many gay activists play the equivalent of a "race card" to stifle any argument against homosexual behaviour. After all, what right does religion or politics have to dictate the bedroom activities of consenting adults? The LGBT community as a whole prides itself on sexual freedom. Gay men in particular are often sexually promiscuous, seeking partners in bathhouses and redefining the term "monogamy" to mean an emotional or spiritual commitment to one person rather than an exclusive sexual commitment.[1] This is why the waitress I spoke to was offended. She believed that to ask Frank to either find physical intimacy heterosexually or forsake it altogether was akin to asking him to deny who he really is.

Frank's homosexual attraction is the result of the fall. Like all sin, homosexual activity originates from Adam's initial sin against God (Romans 5:12). The apostle Paul is clear that we recognize God (Romans 1:20-21), but we deliberately and consciously turn our worship to God's created order (Romans 1:21). Humans are by nature worshipping creatures. We simply cannot not worship something as God, even if what we worship is inanimate and has no life (Romans 1:23). Our foolishness of thinking (Romans 1:22) is brought to light. Humanity also turns their desire to worship only themselves and to serve their own glory and their own will (Romans 1:24). Since he has redirected his worship to himself and his self-centeredness, his wisdom has become what guides his life (Romans 1:21). However, this is now the final ingredient for a recipe of death. As Paul explains, the mind governed by the flesh is death (Romans 8:6). Self-worship and self-centredness, expressed through sexual immorality, degrades the body. The Canadian AIDS Society says that "from 1985 to 2011, just over half (54.7%) of the 69,856 positive HIV tests among adults with a known exposure category were attributed to men who have sex with men."[2] However, lest we think that Paul has a special axe to grind with homosexuals, note Romans 1:28-32 where he offers a long list of other degrading sins that every one of us are guilty of, one way or another.

When sinful wisdom is activated, nothing good can come from it. When you combine foolish thinking with self-centeredness, there is only one outcome: devastation. So what then is the nature of humanity's true identity, whether gay or straight? They are foolish, for turning away from their Creator and turning to created things. They are deluded into thinking that they know best when they use their own thinking. So, do you find your identity in the one who is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6), or are you identifying with and following your desires to your own devastation?

For more detailed information about why Christians believe homosexuality is morally wrong, see the article "The Real Lives of Gay Men."


[1] Michael Brown, A Queer Thing Happened to America: And What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been (Concord, NC: EqualTime Books, 2011), 387-88.

[2] "HIV/AIDS and Gay Men," Canadian AIDS Society, accessed March 25, 2015, http://www.cdnaids.ca/hivaidsandgaymen.


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Scrubbing the Sin List

RFRA_Indianapolis_Protests_-_2015_-_Justin_Eagan_02.jpg

By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person's free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Justin Eagan, via Wikimedia Commons

The shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,"[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because "several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn't decree." In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can't explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni's next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called "chronological snobbery": assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners "prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing." By contrast, he recommends the views of "gay Christian" authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is "scattered" and "sparse," we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, "God Hates Shrimp?")

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines' argument that people in the apostles' day didn't know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung's examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato's Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of "gay pride."[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni's secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must "take homosexuality off the sin list." However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, "with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change" (James 1:17).[5] The church can't take homosexuality off the sin list. It's not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold's assertion that "church leaders must be made" to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government's authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray "for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world's most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni's op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: "Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, 'gay Christian' authors, and myself, or else." Or else what? I'm not an alarmist. We don't need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. "[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, "Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana's," The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, "Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana," New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, "Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato," 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).


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