Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Do You Say I Am? A Look at Jesus/Part One

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:13-17).

As of today, people are still trying to answer the same question that Jesus asked Peter 2,000 years ago. In his book The Case For The Real Jesus, Lee Strobel says if you search for Jesus at, you will find 175, 986 books on the most controversial figure in human history.
The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah” which appears thirty-nine times in the Tanakh. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as “christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. In the first century, the messianic expectation was by no means monolithic. And as of today, within Judaism, there is a wide range of thought about the Messiah. For some Jewish people a personal Messiah is irrelevant. For others, it is said that in every generation there is a potential Messiah or a time when there will be a messianic age.
One of the traditional objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. One of the Jewish expectations is that the Messiah will enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Is.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Jer. 23: 5-8; Mic. 5:4-6), and unite humanity as one (Zech. 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed usher in a period of worldwide peace, and put an end to all oppression, suffering and disease (Is. 2:1-22; Mic. 4:1-4).

Hence, since the world is not in a state of peace and the Jewish people are not dwelling securely in the land of Israel, the Jewish community objects to the claim that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
While the term “Messiah” is used of those who were of Davidic kings (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17), it is also used of Cyrus in Isa. 45:1. Both Gen. 49:10-11 and Num. 24:17 have been interpreted in a messianic way. While God promised that Israel would have an earthly king (Gen. 17: 6; 49:6; Deut.17: 14-15), he also promised King David that one of his descendants would rule on his throne forever (2 Sam. 7: 12-17; 1Chr. 17: 11-14; Ps. 89:28-37). After the death of King David, Israel began looking for a king like him because of the unconditional promise that a king would rule on David’s throne forever. The Messiah was called to defeat the oppressive enemies of Israel and enable the Jewish people to help “set up an earthly kingdom that will never be destroyed.” (Dan. 2:44). The prophets spoke of a Davidic Messiah who would be unlike any past Davidic king (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-5; Jer 23:5-6; Mic. 5:2-5).

Both Hosea and Ezekiel spoke of the Davidic aspect of the Messiah. While Hosea spoke of a time when the northern tribes of Israel would seek out David, Israel’s king (Hos. 3:5), Ezekiel spoke of a new David who would be a shepherd as well as a prince and a king to Israel (Ezek: 34:23-24; 37:24-25). In Psalm 2:2-7, there is a relationship between the term “Son of God” and the King of Israel. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed [that’s the word for Messiah]. . . . Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”
Therefore, when the Jewish people heard the term “Son of God,” they mostly associated it with a king. This has been confirmed by Dead Sea Scroll specialists Craig A. Evans and Peter W. Flint. The writings that were found at Qumran show that divine sonship was clearly a part of the Royal- Christian rhetoric of pre-Christian Judaism. The “Son of God” term is seen in the fragment known as (4Q246), Plate 4, columns one and two.

Furthermore, within the Psalms, God and His anointed king are described in ways that are equal in status and they are both qualified to be worthy of the same worship and reverence. Psalm 83:18 says, “God is the Most High over all the earth,” and in Psalm 89:27, it says the Davidic King is “the most high of the kings of the earth.” In Psalm 2:11 and Psalm 100:2, the rulers and the people are supposed to worship and serve the Lord, while in Psalm 18:44 and Psalm 72:11 it says it is the Davidic king whom they must worship and serve. This theme makes perfect sense in light of the New Testament passage John 5:22-23, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. (1)

Even in the Qumran writings, there is a messianic expectation seen in 4Q285, which is called the Rule of War. In this scroll, the Messiah, the Branch of David is supposed to slay the Roman emperor. Geza Vermes, a Jewish scholar, says that one of the best resources that speak to the messianic expectation of the time of Jesus is found in The Psalms of Solomon. The Psalms of Solomon is a book of Jewish prayers that was written after the Roman conquest of Judea in 63 B.C. In it, there are two passages about a righteous, ruling Messiah:

“Taught by God, the Messiah will be a righteous king over the gentile nations. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy and their king shall be the Lord Messiah.He will not rely on horse and rider and bow, nor will he collect gold and silver for war. Nor will he build up hope in a multitude for a day of war. The Lord himself is his king, the hope of the one who has a strong hope in God.He shall be compassionate to all the nations, who reverently stand before him. He will strike the earth with the word of his mouth forever; he will bless the Lord’s people with wisdom and happiness. And he himself will be free from sin, in order to rule a great people. He will expose officials and drive out sinners by the strength of his word.” (Psalms of Solomon 17.32-36)

“Lord, you chose David to be king over Israel, and swore to him about his descendants forever, that his kingdom should not fail before you. Undergird him with the strength to destroy the unrighteous rulers, to purge Jerusalem from the gentiles… destroy the unlawful nations with the word of his mouth…He will gather a holy people who he will lead in righteousness; and he will judge the tribes of his people…He will not tolerate unrighteousness (even) to pause among them, and any person who knows wickedness shall not live with them… And he will purge Jerusalem (and make it) holy as it was from the beginning.” (Psalms of Solomon 18: 4,22,26,27, 30). (2)

The New Testament states that Jesus the Messiah, the “seed of David,” was sent by God to restore God’s kingship over mankind (Matt. 1:1; Acts 13:23; Rom. 1:3,4; Rev. 22:16).

1. Michael Brown, Theological Objections, vol 2 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, 40.
2. Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew. A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels. New York. Macmillan Publishing Co. 1980, 251.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Is Jesus the Only Way?

Is Jesus The Only Way? A Look At Religious Pluralism

One of the most controversial issues in religious dialogue is whether there is one way of salvation. In other words, the Christian claim that Jesus is the only possible Savior for the human race (Matt 11:27; John 1:18; 3:36; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 John 1: 5:11-12) is considered to be overly exclusive and arrogant. The Bible speaks of God’s judgment on pagan religions. They are said to have no redemptive value to them (Exod. 20: 3-6; 2 Chron: 13: 8-9; Isa. 37: 18-19; Acts 26: 17-18; Col. 1:13). While Christianity is a Jewish story and salvation is from the Jews (John 4: 22), Paul makes it known that there is no distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish people. Both are under sin and must turn to God through repentance and faith through Jesus the Messiah (Rom 3:9; Acts 20:21).
What about those people in the Tanakh (the Old Testament ) that never exercised explicit belief in Jesus as the Messiah? What about people like Melchizedek, Jethro, Job and Rahab?

In response, it is true that people in the Tanakh did not have explicit knowledge of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah as a payment for their sins. However, this objection fails to take into account the issue of progressive revelation. The principle of progressive revelation means that God does not reveal everything at once. In progressive revelation, there are many cases where the New Testament declares explicitly what was only implicit in the Tanakh. One of these truths is the Jesus is the long awaited Messiah who takes away not only the sins of Israel, but the entire world (John 1: 29; 3: 16).

For those who have already rejected Jesus as the Messiah, John states that they already under condemnation (John 3: 16, 18). In the Bible, people do experience salvation by the explicit preaching of the gospel (Luke 24:46-47; John 3:15-16;20-21; Acts 4:12; 11:14; 16:31; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Heb. 4:2; 1 Pet.1:3-25; 1 John 2:23; 5:12). Paul makes it clear in that people must have both knowledge and belief in Jesus as the Messiah: “For WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? (Rom. 10: 13-14).

Furthermore, the New Testament does not reveal Jesus as any ordinary prophet or religious teacher. Rather, it reveals Him as God incarnate (John 1:1; 8:58-59;10:29-31;14:8-9;20-28; Phil. 2:5-7; Col. 2:9; Titus 2:13; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1). As of today, a large majority of the religious landscape is dominated by religious pluralism. Pluralism is the belief that every religion is true. In other words, each faith provides a genuine religious experience with the Ultimate, and while others may be better than others, all are adequate. How can the disciple of Jesus make an exclusive truth claim that Jesus is the only way of salvation for mankind?

For starters, there needs to be the willingness to implement critical thinking. Secondly, there needs to be a call to intellectual honesty. One of the weaknesses of religious pluralism is the tendency to forget that the denial of truth of any particular faith or truth claim is itself a form of exclusivism. While the pluralist says others are intolerant if they do not accept all views as true, they tend to be intolerant of anyone who is not a pluralist.

While there are some similarities in faiths such as truth, a God, a right and wrong, spiritual purpose in life, and communion with God, they all also have some glaring differences such as the nature of God, the afterlife, the nature of man, sin, salvation, and creation. Jesus made some very strong statements that challenge the issue of religious pluralism. It must be noted that after reading some of these statements by Jesus, the common response is that the reader cannot take these passages literally. The entire issue of what qualifies as literal and non-literal in the Bible falls into the category of biblical hermeneutics which is the art and science of biblical interpretation.This issue will not be addressed in this article. Needless to say, I suppose if Jesus really did say the following things and a person did take them literally, it would challenge them to face their autonomy before God. Here are some of Jesus’ statements.

1. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. "For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).
2. Regarding the eternal destiny of people, Jesus said to his fellow countrymen, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:24).
3. For the status of those who are presently rejecting Him, Jesus said “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
4. Perhaps one of the most challenging statements Jesus gives is in Matthew 10:33-37, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. "For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.”

While we do need to study these passages in their proper context, we can ask, if religious pluralists did believe Jesus is the Son of God, and His claims are true, would there still be a case for religious pluralism? One of the most important themes of the Bible is that since God is infinite and transcendent while man is finite, God takes the initiative in revealing himself to mankind. Since Christianity as well as several other faiths claim to be founded on divine revelation, it is impossible to not utlize reason and evidence to examine the revelation claim in it's religious and historical context. One aspect of reason utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A. Without the law of non-contradiction, we could not say God is not non-God (G is not non-G). After looking at the following religious claims, it is evident that it is impossible to not use the law of non-contradiction which states that two opposite views cannot be true at the same time. Regarding the deity of Jesus, here are the claims about Him from various faiths:

Orthodox Christianity/ Messianic Judaism: Jesus is both God and man/Jesus is an uncreated being. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings) as well as the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11).

Islam/Traditional Judaism: Jesus in not God and man. Traditional Judaism says Jesus is not the Jewish Messiah as foretold in the Tanakh. Jesus may be simply regarded as a prophet or teacher but not divine. In the case of Islam, Islam's founder is Muhammad who was forty years old when he began having visions accompanied by violent convulsions during which he received his revelation from Allah. His writings are called the Koran, which he claims were dictated to him directly by the Angel Gabriel. Islam states Jesus was never crucified, and therefore, never risen. The Qur'an was written some six hundred years after the life of Jesus which makes it a much later source of information than the New Testament.

Mormonism claims to be founded on divine revelation. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, claimed to have received personal revelation from God on the basis of two visions, (the first allegedly given to him in 1820, the second one in 1823). The Bible asserts that Jesus is that He is uncreated (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-17) while the Mormon claim is that Jesus is a created being.

The Watchtower Society/Jehovah Witnesses: In the Bible, Jesus is the second person of the Godhead, equal to the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-19; Phil. 2: 5-11). This is rejected by Jehovah Witnesses.

Buddhism/Hinduism: are not theistic faiths, they are pantheistic (all is God). Therefore, they are already different from Christianity. Buddhism teaches that Jesus was an enlightened man, but not God. Hinduism says that Jesus was a good teacher and perhaps an incarnation of Brahman who is an impersonal, supreme being.

After examining the differences in each of these faiths, John P. Newport sums up the issue rather nicely:
"No sane person tries to accept as authoritative revelation from God all writings which are self-declared to be such. However eager we may be for harmony and tolerance, we cannot be intellectually honest unless we face the fact that there is a real contradiction between conflicting truth claims. As we reflect on how we are created in the image of God, we need to remember that we are creatures of both will and mind, of faith and reason. We are called to think as well as act and feel; therefore our faith will always have a rational element to it." (1)
1. Newport, John C. Life's Most Important Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas, Texas. Word Publishing. 1989, pgs 452-453.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What is Faith?

Trying to explain the nature of biblical faith can be quite a challenge. Several factors have contributed to this issue. First, a large majority of our culture are biblically illiterate. Also, many people have bought into the term "leap of faith." In their book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli give a summary of faith. It is very helpful.

Kreeft and Tacelli say we must distinguish between the act of faith from the object of faith- believing from what is believed. The object of faith means all things believed. For the Christian, this means everything God has revealed in the Bible. This faith (the object, not the act) is expressed in propositions. Propositions are many, but the ultimate object of faith is one. The ultimate object of faith is not words, but God’s Words (singular), indeed-Himself. Without a relationship with the living God, propositions are pointless, for their point is to point beyond themselves to God. But without propositions, we cannot know or tell others what God we believe in and what we believe about God.

The act of faith is more than merely an act of belief. We believe many things-for example that the Chicago White Sox will win this years World Series and that New Zealand is beautiful but we are not willing to die for those beliefs, nor can we live them every moment. But religious faith can be something to live every moment. It is much more than belief and much stronger, though belief is one of its parts or aspects. There are four aspects of faith:

1. Emotional faith: is feeling assurance or trust or confidence in a person. This includes hope (which is much stronger than a wish and peace (which is much stronger then mere calm.).

2. Intellectual faith: is belief. It is this aspect of faith that is formulated in propositions and summarized in creeds.

3. Volitional faith: is an act of the will, a commitment to obey God’s will. This faith is faithfulness, or fidelity. It manifests itself in behavior, that is, in good works.

4. Faith: begins in that obscure mysterious center of our being that Scripture calls the ‘heart.” Heart in Scripture does not mean feeling, or sentiment, or emotion, but the absolute center of the soul, as the physical heart is at the center of the body. “Keep your heart with all viligence” advised Solomon, “for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23).

Joseph Thayer says,
"To believe" means to think to be true; to be persuaded of; to credit, [to] place confidence in. [And in] a moral and religious reference, pisteuein [from pisteuo] is used in the N.T. of a conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of his soul. (Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 511).

Biblical faith involves an objective element (the existence of God, Jesus' resurrection), and a subjective element (the individual must appropriate the objective truths through a subjective act). There have been three aspects of faith expressed throughout church history: notitia (knowledge), fiducia (trust), and assensus (assent). Notitia refers to the data or doctrinal element of faith. Assensus refers to the assent of the intellect of the truth of the Christian faith. According to the book of James, the demons can have intellectual assent to the fact that God exists but not have saving faith. That is why a person must exercise fiducia- this is the aspect of faith that involves the application or trust in the faith process. (1).

In other words, fiducia allows a person to go beyond merely intellectual assent. Fiducia involves the will, emotion, and intellect. In the Tanakh (the acronym that is formed from the first three parts of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (the first five books of the Bible), Nevi’ im (the Prophets), and K’ tuvim (the Writings), the Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the seat of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, and volitional life. In the New Testament, the word “heart” (Gr.kardia) came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements. Therefore, biblical faith also involves a commitment of the whole person.

Therefore, there is a relationship between belief that and belief in. As already stated, in James 2:19, it says that the demons believe that God exists. Apologetics may serve as a valuable medium through which God can operate, but faith is never the product of historical facts or evidence alone. It would make no sense for one to place his faith in God without believing that God exists. Objectively speaking, the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the evidence for the truthfulness of the Christian faith to enable us to understand that God exists. However, from a subjective perspective, the Holy Spirit also enables an individual to place his trust in God. (John 16: 12-15).

A good example of this is seen in Acts 17:1-4, “And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ. And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women." In this passage, we see that the Holy Spirit worked through the objective evidence (the Tanakh), which caused some of Paul's audience to not only acknowledge that Jesus is Jewish Messiah, but also to place their trust in Him for their salvation.

Faith and the resurrection: In 1 Cor 15: 1-17, Paul discusses the truth of Jesus' resurrection. It is important to note that a Christian's faith in the resurrection of Jesus will not change whether Jesus objectively rose from the dead in the context of time, space, and history. In other words, a Christian's faith cannot change the history of the past. The first followers of Jesus had a clear understanding about the relationship between faith and history.

As New Testament scholar Ben Witherington III says:
" Any position in which claims about Jesus or the resurrection are removed from the realm of historical reality and placed in a subjective realm of personal belief or some realm that is immune to human scrutiny does Jesus and the resurrection no service and no justice. It is a ploy of desperation to suggest that the Christian faith would be little affected if Jesus was not actually raised from the dead in space and time. A person who gives up on the historical foundations of our faith has in fact given up on the possibility of any real continuity between his or her own faith and that of a Peter, Paul, James, John, Mary Magdalene, or Priscilla. The first Christian community had a strong interest in historical reality, especially the historical reality of Jesus and his resurrection, because they believed their faith, for better or for worse, was grounded in it." (2)

1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997, 60.
2. Ben Witherington III. New Testament History. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. 2001, 167.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Problem of Evidence

The Problem of Evidence

Part of the debate about reason and rationality in relationship to faith centers around evidentialism, which maintains that one must have evidence and arguments for one's beliefs (in God) to be rational.The Enlightenment created a challenge for Christian philosophers to answer the evidentialist’s objection to religious belief. Philosopher William Clifford made the evidentialist objection famous by stating the following: "If a belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence, the pleasure is a stolen one. Not only does it deceive ourselves by giving us a sense of power which we do not really possess, but it is sinful, because it is stolen in defiance of our duty to mankind.That duty is to guard ourselves from such beliefs as from a pestilence which may shortly master our body and spread to the rest of the town. To sum up: It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence." (Delaney, C.F. Rationality and Religious Belief. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979), 10.

Many people attempt to apply Clifford’s objection to religious belief. However, as much as the skeptic likes to rely on the Clifford objection, it is nothing but a self-defeating statement. In other words, Clifford's objection can't meet it's own standard of acceptability. When a statement is included in its own subject matter and fails to satisfy its own standards of acceptability, it is self-defeating. Some examples of self-defeating statements are seen in statements such as “I cannot write a word of English;” “there is no truth;” and “there are no truths that cannot be verified scientifically, with the five senses."

Therefore, in the case of God, who isn't a physical object but a invisible divine being, it is imperative to clarify what qualifies as evidence. It is during these types of debates where the "hard rationalism" of many skeptics and atheists rears it's ugly head. The evidential issue is sometimes seen as the need to find some sort of infallible “proof” for God’s existence. When a “proof” is given, it is many times given in the form of a deductive argument which includes two premises and a conclusion. For example, the horizontal cosmological argument is as follows:

1. Everything that comes to be is caused by another.
2. The universe came to be.
3. Therefore, the universe was caused by another.

The form or logical structure of an argument must be valid. A good proof is a sound argument that causes another person to accept its conclusion. While theists may present what they consider to be sound arguments for God’s existence there are always those who walk away disappointed. In other words, while the theist may find an argument to be persuasive and sound, the skeptic always finds what they think is a problem with the argument But why?

As Ronald Nash says, “What tends to be forgotten is the subjective nature of proof. First, proofs are person-relative. In other words, proofs are relative, which is simply to admit the obvious, namely, that the same argument may function as a proof for one person and result in little more than contempt for someone else. Second, proofs are relative to individual persons. A person’s response to an argument will always reflect varying features such as their past and present personal history. Proofs also may be relative to persons in particular circumstances. Therefore, proofs must pass tests that are not only logical but also psychological. No argument can become a proof for some person until it persuades a person.”

But what if an individual does not have the time to examine the arguments for God's existence? Following Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas set forth five reasons why we must first believe what we may later be able to provide good evidence for (Maimonides, 1.34):

1. The object of spiritual understanding is deep and subtle, far removed from sense perception.
2. Human understanding is weak as it fights through these issues.
3. A number of things are needed for conclusive spiritual proof. It takes time to discern them.
4. Some people are disinclined to rigorous philosophical investigation.
5. It is necessary to engage in other occupations besides philosophy and science to provide the necessities of life (On Truth, 14.10, reply).

Aquinas said it is clear that, “if it were necessary to use a strict demonstration as the only way to reach a knowledge of the things which we must know about God, very few could ever construct such a demonstration and even these could do it only after a long time.” Elsewhere, Aquinas lists three basic reasons why divine revelation is needed.

1. Few possess the knowledge of God, some do not have the disposition for philosophical study, and others do not have the time or are indolent.
2. Time is required to find the truth. This truth is very profound, and there are many things that must be presupposed. During youth the soul is distracted by “the various movements of the passions.”
3. It is difficult to sort out what is false in the intellect. Our judgment is weak in sorting true from false concepts. Even in demonstrated propositions there is a mingling of false. (1)

1. Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Baker Books, 1999, 242.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Do You Have A Worldview?

Worldview Apologetics

Do you have worldview? The term worldview is used in the sense described by prominent German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911). Dilthey affirmed that philosophy must be defined as a comprehensiveness vision of reality that involves the social and historical reality of humankind, including religion. A worldview is thus the nature and structure of the body of convictions of a group or individual. (1) Worldview includes a sense of meaning and value and principles of action. It is much more than merely an "outlook" or an "attitude." Each person's worldview is based on a key category, an organizing principle, a guiding image, a clue, or an insight selected from the complexity of his or her multidimensional experience. (2) Believe it or not, a worldview will impact our view of our vocation, our family, government, education, the environment, etc. A worldview also impacts ethical issues in our culture such as homosexuality, abortion, stem cell research etc. Remember, the issues of competing worldviews shape the past, present, and future of a nation.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

Creation: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
Death: What happens to a person at death?
Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
Purpose: What is man's purpose in the world? (3)

Perhaps we may ask, how does one decide on a worldview? Here are a few guidelines:
First of all, a worldview must be consistent: Reason has to be utilized which includes systematic criteria. In using systematic criteria, an individual appraises the truth of a system or worldview.These criteria do not produce systems of thought; instead they judge them.
David Wolfe has identified four ways in which one may judge a system of thought: consistency (meaning ideas do not contradict each other) and coherence (the ideas have a positive fit). These are the rational criteria. Comprehensiveness (a system of thought that incorporates the broad range of experience) and congruence (the idea fits human experience) are part of the empirical criteria.(4)

Reason also utilizes the laws of logic (the law of non-contradiction- A is not non-A; the law of identity- A is A; the law of excluded middle- either- A or non-A). The laws of logic have to be used in evaluating a worldview. If contradiction is a sign of falsity, then noncontradiction (or consistency) is a necessity for truth. A real contradiction occurs when two truth claims are given and one is the logical opposite of the other (they are logically contradictory, not merely contrary).(5)

In relation to the creation account, two worldviews that make opposite truth claims are metaphysical naturalism and biblical theism. The naturalistic worldview came to be more prominent during the Enlightenment period. Philosophical or metaphysical naturalism refers to the view that nature is the “whole show.” For theists, miracles (which are paramount to the Christian faith) are supernatual but not anti-natural. Biblical theism does acknowledge that while God is the primary Cause of all things, He also works through secondary causes. In other words, God acts in the world through direct intervention (a miracle such as creation) and natural casues or indirect actions (preservation).

In a Christian worldview, the universe was created from nothing (ex nihilo).One of the classical or traditional arguments for God's existence is the cosmological argument. While Christian apologist William Lane Craig has revived the horizontal form of the cosmological argument, Thomas Aquinas left the church with an apologetic for the vertical form of the of the same argument. While the former centers on how the universe began in some time in the past, the latter focuses on how the universe exists at this very moment. In other words, the horizontal form is interested in originating causality or the First Cause of the universe while the vertical form defends the need for conserving causality or a Sustainer of the universe.

Secondly, a worldview must be comprehensive: A worldview should cover the whole world of reality. A worldview must provide adequate answers to the worldview questions mentioned above.

Third, a worldview must be livable: After all, a worldview is not just a philosophical system but something that can be attempted to live out each day. Thus, if some views are not livable, then they are not adequate. However, remember that what works is not always true. Lies work very well for many people, but that does not make a lie true.(7) Truth is determined by what corresponds to reality, not simply results. Therefore, while a pragmatic test is helpful, it cannot be the only test for the truthfulness of a worldview.

Fourth, a good worldview will have explanatory power: When examining how a worldview needs explanatory power, it is important to emphasize that a good worldview needs to avoid both extremes of being neither too simple or too complex. In his book called A Case For Christian Theism, Arlie J. Hoover uses the famous “Occam’s razor test.” William of Occam (1300-1349) supposedly said, “Do not multiply entities without necessity” which basically means to resist the temptation to make our explanations too complex. On the other hand, the worldview should not be so simplistic that it commits the reductive fallacy. In other words, it cannot be too simple. (8)

Fifth, a worldview will involve a commitment of the whole person: Since humans are subjective at their very core, a good worldview will emphasize a balance between both the objective and the subjective. As Paul states in Romans 1:18-21, the created order is one of the objective mediums that God chooses to reveal Himself to the human race. While it is an objective medium, it is still appropriated subjectively. As worldview analyst David K. Naugle says, “The heart of the matter is that worldview is a matter of the heart.

Thus, when “worldview” is reinterpreted in light of the doctrine of the heart, not only is its true source located, but it becomes a richer concept than its philosophical counterpart, being more than just a reference to an abstract thesis about reality, but an Hebraic expression of the existential condition of the whole person.”(9) The Hebrew word for heart is "leb," or "lebad." While the word "heart" is used as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, from a Biblical standpoint, it is also the center or defining element of the entire person. It can be seen as the center of the person's intellectual, emotional, affective, religious and volitional life. In other words, the “heart” plays an integral role in how a man or woman sees the world. The heart establishes the presuppositions of life and, because of its life-determining influence, must always be guarded. (10)

Hence, a worldview will avoid the the rationalism associated with Enlightenment period which was what Francis Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason." This type of reason is the attempt to build a worldview without recourse to God.

Therefore, in relation to epistemology, we need to remember the following comments by author David Naugle. In his book Worldview: History of Concept, Naugle says the following: “Ways of knowing the world complementing the capacities of sight and mind should be also be embraced by believers in order to do justice to their complete God-given natures and allow them to comprehend the totality of reality in its rich multiplicity and fullness. Naugle goes onto quote what spiritual writer Palker Palmer calls “wholesight,” which fuses sensation and rationality into union with other, yet often neglected ways of knowing such as imagination, intuition, empathy, emotion, and most certainly faith.

In God’s epistemic grace, he has provided a variety of cognitive capacities which are adequate for and to be employed in grasping the diverse modes of created reality, and ancient concept known as adaequatio. All capacities ought to be well employed when it comes to apprehending the truth about God, humankind, and the cosmos, else one suffers from metaphysical indulgence. As E. P Schumacher explains: "The answer to the question, what are man’s instruments by which he knows the world outside him? is….quite inescapably this: “Everything he has got”- his living body, his mind, his self aware Spirit…It may even be misleading to say that man has many instruments of cognition, since in fact, the whole man is one instrument…..The Great Truth of adaequatio teaches us that restriction in the use of instruments of cognition has the inevitable effect of narrowing and impoverishing reality.”

Naugle goes on to say,

"Thus, the heart of any Christians worldview worthy of the name ought to be the lodestar of wholeness which offsets any form of epistemic myopia and reconnects human subjects and created objects into sympathetic relation which appropriately honors the diversity, unity, and sacred character of all aspects of reality."

It is the understanding of a wholistic commitment to faith that leads me to say there needs to be an entire paradigm shift in the way we view and explain the “knowing” process.The continual problem with atheists and skeptics who consciously or subconsciously accept what Schaeffer termed "autonomous reason," simply affirms the fact that they have fallen prey to an epistemic dualism. This comes from a deficient worldview or for that matter the lack of a proper “lifeview.”

Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
Pearcey, N. Total Truth. Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 2004, 25-28.
Clark, D.J. Dialogical Apologetics: A Person Centered Approach to Christian Defense. Grand Rapids MI: Baker Books. 1993, 85-86
Geisler, N.L. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 82-96.
Ibid, 40-63.
Ibid, 110-124.
Hoover, A.J. The Case for Christian Theism. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1976, 52.
Naugle, D.K. Worldview: The History Of A Concept. Grand Rapids, Eerdmans. 2002, 266-274.
Naugle, 266-274.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jesus and Judaism

Jesus and Judaism/His Relationship to Israel

As of today, biblical scholars have embarked on what is called “The Third Quest” for the historical Jesus, a quest that has been characterized as “the Jewish reclamation of Jesus.”
Rather then saying Jesus broke away from Judaism and started Christianity, Jewish scholars studying the New Testament have sought to re-incorporate Jesus within the fold of Judaism.(1) In this study, scholars have placed a great deal of emphasis on the social world of first- century Palestine. The scholars of the Third Quest have rejected the idea that the Jesus of the New Testament was influenced by Hellenic Savior Cults.(2)

Some of the non-Jewish scholars that are currently active in the Third Quest are Craig A. Evans, I. Howard Marshall, James H. Charlesworth, N.T. Wright, and James D.G. Dunn.

In his book Jesus and the Victory of God,Christian Origins and the Question of God, Volume 2, author N.T.Wright says that the historical Jesus is very much the Jesus of the gospels: a first century Palestinian Jew who announced and inaugurated the kingdom of God, performed “mighty works” and believed himself to be Israel’s Messiah who would save his people through his death and resurrection. “He believed himself called,” in other words says Wright, “to do and be what, in the Scriptures, only Israel’s God did and was.” (3)

As Philip Yancey says, “Is it possible to read the Gospels without blinders on? Jews read with suspicion, preparing to be scandalized. Christians read through the refracted lenses of church history. Both groups, I believe would do well to pause and reflect on Matthew’s first words, “a record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham.” The son of David speaks of Jesus’ messianic line, which Jews should not ignore; a title without significance for him.” Notes C.H. Dodd,"The son of Abraham speaks of Jesus’ Jewish line, which Christians dare not ignore either." As Jaroslav Pelikan says:

"Would there have been such anti-Semitism, would there have been so many pogroms, would there have been as Auschwitz, if every Christian church and every Christian home had focused its devotion and icons of Mary not only as Mother of God and Queen of Heaven but as the Jewish maiden and the new Miriam, and on icons of Christ not only as Pantocrator but as Rabbi Jeshua bar-Joseph, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth?" (Philip Yancey. The Jesus I Never Knew. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House. 1995, 55.).

New Testament scholar Scot McKnight has also made some significant comments in relation to Jesus and His relationship to Israel. He says the following:

Scholarship is now recognizing that Jesus' mission was directed toward the nation of Israel. This means that his understanding of God himself must be oriented toward an understanding of God that emerges from the covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, which guided the history of the nation to the time of Jesus. The God of Jesus, accordingly, is the God of Israel, who is now restoring the nation and renewing its people as he had promised long ago. (A New Vision For Israel: The Teachings of Jesus in National Context. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1999, 19).

The Jewish Aspects of Jesus’ Life:

Jesus and the Name of God:

As Scot McKnight says, " At no place have Christians been more insensitive to Judaism that when it comes to what Jesus believes and teaches about God. In particular, the concept that Jesus was the first to teach about God as Abba and that this innovation revealed that Jesus thought of God in terms of love while Jews thought of God in terms of holiness, wrath, and distance are intolerably inaccurate in the realm of historical study and, to be quite frank, simple pieces of bad polemics. The God of Jesus was the God of Israel, and there is nothing in Jesus' vision of God that is not formed in the Bible he inherited from his ancestors and learned from his father and mother.

Countless Christians repeat the Lord's Prayer. When Jesus urged His followers to "hallow" or "sanctify" the Name of God (Matt 6:9), many are unaware of what that may have meant in Jesus' day- in part, because Christianity has lost sight of God's awesome splendorous holiness. A good reading of Amos 2:6-8 discusses this issue. "Reverencing the Name of God" is not just how Israel speaks of God-that it does not take the Name of God in vain when it utters oaths or when someone stubs a toe or hits a finger with an instrument -but that God's Name is profaned when Israel lives outside the covenant and by defiling the name of god in it's behavior (Jer 34:15-46; Ezek. 20:39; Mal 1:6-14).

God's Name is attached to the covenant people, and when the covenant people lives in sin, God's Name is dragged into that sin along with His people. So, when Jesus urges his followers to “reverence," or "sanctify" the Name of God, he is thinking of how his disciples are to live in he context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites (Who Was Jesus? A Jewish-Christian Dialogue. Lousiville: KY.Westminster John Knox Press. 2001, 84-85).

Righteousness: When most Christians think of this term, they are faced with two problems: first, that the apostle Paul used this term so much in the sense of "imputed" righteousness and did so in an innovative, however, effective, manner; and second, that is what the cognate in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek is not so in English. Fundamentally, the term "righteousness" along with its cognates, describes an Israelites relationship to God and his Torah, and that relationship is conceived in its behavioral categories: the righteous Israelite is one who does Torah as a covenant member (Deut 6:25; Job 22:6-93; Ps 1:4-6; Ezek.45:9) Jesus teaches about such righteousness as did his Jewish ancestors, as well as John (Luke 3:7-14; Matt 21:28-32), to describe those Jewish followers of his who wholeheartedly conformed their obedience to Torah, as taught by him (Matt 5:17-48), in the context of renewal of the covenant taking place though his offer of the kingdom (Copan and Evans, pg 87-88).

Some other aspects of Jesus' Jewish life:

Jesus participated in Mikvah: (Matt 3:13-16)

Circumcision (Luke 2:21): Jesus’ parents are obedient to Mosaic Law by having him circumcised on 8th day

Mary’s Purification (Luke 2:22-24): Mary follows purification law (Leviticus 12)

Jesus’ family went to Jerusalem every year at Passover: (Luke 2:41)

Jesus’ model prayer bears resemblance to typical Jewish prayers:(Matthew 6:8-13)

Jesus wore “tzit-tzit” or fringes: (Matthew 9:20)

Jesus revered the Temple and ceremonial worship:(John 2:16)

Much of Jesus’ teaching is done in context of Jewish Holy Days: Sabbath (Matthew 12); Feast of Tabernacles (John 7); Feast of Passover (Matthew 26); Hanukkah (John 10)

Jesus taught in the synagogue: (Luke 4:14-20; John 18:20)

Jesus gathered disciples:(Matthew 8:23)

Paul says Jesus became a servant to the Jewish people: (Romans 15:8)

Jesus settled disputes: (Mark 9:33-37)

Jesus debated other rabbis:(Matthew 12:1-14)

Jesus viewed His mission to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 15:24)

Jesus commissioned the seventy to go to the lost sheep of Israel: (Matthew 10:5-6)

Jesus viewed himself as being revealed in the Torah, the Prophets and the Psalms, (Luke 24:44); (John 5:39)

Jesus taught Scripture was authoritative: Jesus quotes passages from the Torah in the temptation in the wilderness: (Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus discussed how Scripture (The Tanakh) is imperishable in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:2-48)

Jesus also discussed how Scripture is infallible: (John 10:35)

1. Craig, W L. Christian Reasonable Faith, Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984, 240-241.
2. Ibid.
3. Sheller, Jeffrey L. Is The Bible True? How Modern Debates and Discoveries Affirm the Essence of the Scriptures, New York. Harper Collins Publishers. 1999, 191.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jesus- A Functional or Ontological Christology?

The Messiah/A Functional or Onological Christology?

The Actions of Jesus: Ontology is a branch of philosophy that examines the study of being or existence. For example, when Jesus says, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9), ontology asks questions such as,” Is Jesus saying He has the same substance or essence of the Father?” Ontology is especially relevant in relation to the Godhead since Orthodox Christians attempt to articulate how the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all the same substance or essence.

Within the Tanakh, there are Messianic texts such as Isaiah 52:13-53; 61:1-3, that focus upon the Messiah’s "works" rather than his essence or being. Perhaps this is a good indication that one of the starting points in Jewish-Christian dialogue is to understand the issue of Jesus' identity is not only about who He is, but also what He does.

In his classic book,The Christology of the New Testament, the late Oscar Cullman suggested that while the Greeks were more interested in nature or an ontological Christology, the Jewish people were more interested in a functional Christology. In contrast to ontological Christology, functional Christology places a greater emphasis on the "deeds" or "actions" of the Messiah. Some of the visible actions of Jesus included the healing of the sick (Mark 1: 32-34; Acts 3:6; 10:38), teaching authoritatively (Mark 1:21-22; 13:31), forgiving sins (Mark 2:1-12; Luke 24:47; Acts 5:31; Col. 3:13), imparting eternal life (Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:12-14), raising the dead (Luke 7:11-17; John 5:21; 6:40), and showing the ability to exercise judgment (Matt. 25:31-46; John 5:19-29; Acts 10:42; 1 Cor. 4:4-5). These "deeds" or "actions" demonstrate that Jesus is able to perform the same functions as the God of Israel.

As of today, one of the main objections is that Jesus is not the Messiah since he did not fulfill the job description. For the Jewish community, the messianic idea is somewhat pragmatic. In other words,“What difference does the Messiah make in the world?" There are prophetic passages that discuss God manifesting his kingdom in the world by presenting himself as the King (Isa. 24:23; Zech. 9:9; 14:9). The Messiah is also supposed to enable the Jewish people to dwell securely in the land of Israel (Isa.11:11-12; 43:5-6; Micah 5:4-6) The Bible also speaks of a worldwide peace (Isa. 2:1-22; Micah 4:1-4). Hence, since the enemies of God and Israel have not been defeated, death is not destroyed and the world is in a state of chaos, the Jewish community continues to object to the assertion that Jesus is the Messiah that is foretold in the Tanakh.
The term “Messiah,” meaning “anointed one,” is taken from the Hebrew word “masiah ,”which appears thirty-nine times in the Old Testament. In the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the term Messiah is translated as "christos” which was the official title for Jesus within the New Testament. As already discussed, the term "Messiah" is used of those who were of Davidic kings: past or present (Psalm 18:50;89:20; 132:10-17) but it is also used of Cyrus in Isa 45;1 and in Hab 3:13- it is used of a reigning king. The term “Masiah” cannot be limited to one of the aspects of one of the major factors, for instance a ruling king.

There are other examples in the Tanakh where God would annoint a priest or prophet for a specific task. Moses, in his leadership role to Israel, was anointed by God in his role as a prophet and priest. He spoke as a prophet (Deut 18:20), but he also fulfilled the role of a priest or mediator for Israel in passages such as Numbers 11:11-21. The prophet was to listen to God and then speak God’s words to the people. The priests in the Tabernacle were annonted in their service as mediators between God and the Jewish people. The priests had to make atonement (Lev 4:26;31,35;5:6,10; 14:31; etc).The act of atoning involved slaughtering the animal brought for sacrifice by the worshipers, the sprinkling of the blood (Lev. 17:6) and the actual offering on the alter (3:16). To make atonement involved intercession on behalf of the worshiper and the proclamation that was forgiven.

As already stated, in His role as a prophet, Jesus did not use the trademark formula, “Thus saith the Lord.” Instead, He spoke in His own aurhority. Also, Jesus goes beyond the function of the priests function in the tabernacle. Even though the high priest was consecrated, he was by no means sinless and could not offer up himself for the whole congregation. In Leviticus 4:3, if the priest sinned himself, the guilt was not only on the priest, but on the whole congregation. The priest was responsible for offering up a calf without blemish to make atonement. The shortcomings of the priest were a foreshadowing for the need for a better priest as stated in Hebrews 9:11-14.

In Isaiah 53, the Servant of the Lord is seen as a trespass offering, and one who takes the sin of not just a few, but the entire world. This was understood by John the Baptist who proclaimed in John 1:29 “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Furthermore, it is crucial to realize that the Tanakh does not explicitly teach that the Messiah comes once. In Isaiah 42:1-7; 49:3 it is evident that the Messiah is supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. Since Israel’s call was to be a light to the nations and the Messiah is the ideal representative of his people, it is no surprise that the He has the same role. Statistically, more Gentiles have come to faith in Jesus and continue to do so every day.These prophecies are still being fulfilled on a daily basis. It is imperative to read all the messianic passages about the Messiah.

In his book God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament, Richard Bauckham has asserted that an ontic/functional Christology distinction is not the correct approach to New Testament Christology. While some Jewish writers in the late Second Temple period consciously adopted some of the Greek metaphysical language, their understanding of God is not a definition of divine nature- what divinity is- but a notion of the divine identity, characterized primarily in ways other than metaphysical attributes. Bauckham suggests that in studying the relationship between Jewish monotheism and early Christology, it is imperative to understand the religious sects during Second Temple Judaism. The one God of Second Temple Jewish belief was identifiable by His covenant relationship with Israel. Various New Testament scriptures demonstrate that while the early Christians used titles to describe Jesus as God, they also clearly believed Jesus was God as evidenced by assigning attributes to Him which were clearly reserved for God. Moreover, they did so in a distinctly Jewish way that at the same time adhered to the monotheistic tradition of first- century Judaism.

While Greeks focused on philosophical matters of the nature of the divine, Jewish monotheism was more concerned with God's divine identity.The God of Second Temple Judaism was identifiable by three unique attributes: (1) The God of Israel is the sole Creator of all things (Isa. 40:26, 28; 37:16; 42:5; 45:12; Neh. 9:6; Ps 86:10; Hos. 13:4; (2)The God of Israel is the sovereign Ruler of all things (Dan. 4:34-35); (3) The God of Israel is also the only the only being worthy of being worshiped (Deut. 6:13; Psalm 97:7; Isa. 45:23; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9).


1. Groningen, G.V. Vol 1 of Messianic Revelation In The Old Testament. Eugene OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers. 1997, 23-38.
2. Ben Witherington III. The Many Faces of the Christ: The Christologies of the New Testament and Beyond. New York. Crossraod Publishing Company. 1998.