Friday, February 27, 2009

The Law and Consience

The Law and the Conscience

What is the relationship between the Christian and the law in the Bible? There seems to be a great deal of confusion about this issue in Christian discipleship. In unpacking this issue, here are a few suggestions.

1.In this issue, avoid the reductive fallacy. Reductive fallacies are attempts to reduce a complex issue to a single point that does not accurately represent or flatly ignores the complexity of the issue.

2. Remember, context is key: Where is the word “law” used in the Tanakh or New Testament? Who is the author? Who is the audience? How does it fit within the rest of the passage and book? If we follow this rule, we can see that the law viewed in negative sense in passages such as Ephesians 2:14-16; Romans 3:20; 4:13-15; 6:14; 7:5-6: 10:4; 1 Cor 15:56-57; Gal 2:15-16; 3:10-13; 3:23-25; 5:4; 5:18, but also used in a in positive sense in passages such as Romans 2:13;17-20, 23,25; 3:1-2;21-22, 31; 6:15; 8:3-4; 13:8,10; 1Cor 9:8-9; Gal 3:21; 1 Tim 1:8. Remember, the Hebrew word for "law" is Torah. Torah means "direction, guidance, instruction." There are 613 of the commandments in the Torah, which were decreed for the Jewish people.

3. Avoid Judaphobia: Since Christianity is mostly divorced from its Jewish roots, there is a tendency for many Christians to have an unwarranted fear of anything Jewish, especially Jewish customs, culture, etc. Therefore, Christians are quick to defend the view that they are no longer under the law, but under grace. They generally quote Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Therefore, is Jesus "the end of the Law"? Unfortunately, for many, the word “end “is understood by today's reader as termination. But what is forgotten is that the Greek word for “end” is "telos.” Telos is used 42 times in the New Testament, and in the great majority of cases it means, “aim, purpose or goal to which a movement is directed.” (1) Therefore, a better translation is David Stern’s Jewish New Testament which says “”For the goal at which the Torah aims is the Messiah, who offers righteousness to everyone who believes.” (2)

No one including myself is saying anyone (either Jew or Gentile) is justified by the law. A Christian is justified by grace through faith alone. But the view that the law has been terminated or abolished leads to what is called antinomianism. Antinomianism comes from two Greek words: anti means against and nomos means law. Therefore, antinomianism means to be opposed to, against God's moral law. In other words, it means lawlessness. Part of the tendency to fall into the trap of antinomianism stems from an over-reaction to legalism in Christian circles. The well- known Romans scholar C.B Cranfield wrote about this issue. He said: “The Greek language of Paul’s day possessed no word-group corresponding to our “legalism,” “legalist” and “ legalistic.” This means that he lacked a convenient terminology for expressing a vital distinction, and so was surely seriously hampered in the work of clarifying the position with regard to the law. In view of this, we should always, we think, be ready to reckon with the possibility that Pauline statements, which at first sight seem to disparage the law, were really directed not against the law itself but against that misunderstanding and misuse of it for which we now have a convenient terminology. In this very difficult terrain Paul was pioneering.” (C.E.B. Cranfield “St. Paul and the Law, “ in Scottish Journal of Theology (1964), pp.43-68.

Does the Bible teach antinomianism? No! Perhaps we forget that while we are saved by grace through faith alone and empowered by the Holy Spirit in order to obey God’s law. To say “I am a believer in Jesus and I can now do whatever I want,” is contrary to the what the Bible teaches.

The Conscience
A few years ago, I was browsing through a thrift store and came across the book section. It is amazing how God allows us to find books in such places for such low prices (in this case I only had to pay 2.00). Anyway, the book I came across was by John F. MacArthur called The Vanishing Conscience. Not to my surprise, the conscience happened to be something that I had been thinking about quite a bit.

Have you ever read Amos 1and 2? In these passages, God threatens judgment on upon the neighbors of Judah and Israel. But why? Syria treated its enemies barbarously. (1:3); Philista sold whole communities into slavery (1:6); (3) Tyre broke a pact and treated Edom treacherously (1:9). (4) But notice that since none of these nations were the same as the nation of Israel, God still held them accountable by a different standard. They did not have the Torah. But God knew they violated an objective moral law that they knew and should have obeyed.(5) Paul speaks of how God holds the Gentile nations accountable. He says, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." (Romans 2:12-15).

The Greek word for conscience is "suneidesis" which means "a co-knowledge, of oneself, the witness borne to one's conduct by conscience, that faculty by which we apprehend the will of God as that which is designed to govern our lives; that process of thought which distinguishes what it considers morally good or bad, condemning the good, condemning the bad, and so prompting to do the former, and avoid the latter." (6) In Romans 2:15, "suneidesis" stands alongside with the "heart" and "thoughts" as the faculty that allows the pagan world to live a life that corresponds to the Jewish people who have the written law. (7)

Where Is Your Conscience?

Before the time of Jesus, and even after Jesus, the Jewish people viewed the heart as the core of the entire personality. Although there is no Hebrew word for the conscience, the closest word to it is "lebad," which is usually translated as the "heart" in the Old Testament. The conscience is so much of the core of the human soul that the Hebrew mind did not draw a distinction between conscience and the rest of the inner person.(8) In the Hebrew Bible, not only is "heart" used to describe as a metaphor to describe the physical organ, but 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 heart is the psychic center of human affection or the source of spiritual life and the seat of intellect and will. (9)

We see the conscience in Scripture: When Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exodus 8:15), Pharaoh steeled his conscience against God’s will. A tender heart (2 Chronicles 34:27), refers to a sensitive conscience. (10) The upright in heart (Psalm 7:10), are those with pure consciences. When David prayed “Create in me a clean heart, O God, (Psalm 51:10), he was seeking to have his conscience cleansed. The conscience can become dull, or seared (1 Tim 4:2). (11). In other words, people can and do harden their heart towards God! Sadly, a hardened heart can make someone less sensitive to the things of God. Sometimes a hardened heart results from an unforgiving or bitter spirit. All over the world, we see people who have ignored their consciences. They have not taken care of it and allowed it to be defiled. Sadly, the same goes for Christians. Do you view the conscience as a gift from God? Do you take care of it? Do you protect the conscience of your children? The only answer for a defiled conscience is a repentant spirit. Sin will always darken the conscience. In other words, sin always hardens the human heart. If you are hardened by the circumstances of life, an unforgiving spirit, or just flat out rebellion against God, I suggest you call out to God for mercy. Don’t let you heart become so hard that God can’t get through to you anymore. If you have stifled your conscience, ask God to help you start to take care of this tremendous gift he has given to you!

1. Stern, D. Restoring The Jewishness of The Gospel: A Message For Christians. Clarksville, MD. Jewish New Testament Publications. 1990, 46.
2. Ibid.
3. Copan P. “True For You, But Not for Me.” Minneapolis, Minnesota. Bethany House Publishers. 1998, 65.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid.
6. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
7. Ibid.
8. Sire, J. Naming the Elephant. Downers Grove: IL: Intervarsity Press. 2004, 45.
9. Ibid.
10. MacArthur, J. The Vanishing Conscience. Dallas, TX. Word Publishing.1994, 36-37.
11. Ibid.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Maimonidean View of Messiah

Note: ThinkApologetics does not agree with certain aspects of the Maimonidean view of Messiah. The goal of this article is to educate the Christian community about the Maimonidean view since it still plays a large role in the Jewish view of Messiah.

by Elliot Klayman

The concept of the personage of Messiah1 is embedded in the Tanakh.2 Throughout the ages the nation of Israel has embraced hope in a coming Messiah. In the late Second Temple period, and its immediate aftermath, messianic expectations were heightened and there was a proliferation of messianic claimants.3 In the modern period Shabbatei Zvi and the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson stand out as colorful claimants to the office. During the medieval period messianic pretenders were no less prominent.4 It seems that foreign dominance and persecution of the Jewish people trigger a longing for a Messiah to redeem them from their plight.5 This in turn opens the floodgates for pretenders to make messianic promises.6 Often, because of despair, the Jewish people are ready to embrace a hope, however outlandish and false it may be. The motivating factor appears to be the desire for a permanent state of utopia, free from the battles and hardships of this life; for some, this means freedom to worship G-d in the way prescribed by scripture and tradition. Over the years there have been various concepts of Messiah7 from a variety of learned sources. Many have allegorized scripture and transformed the messiah into an age rather than a distinct personage.8 Some traditional writings, however, tout Israel as the messiah.9 Other tradition recognizes messiah to be really two messiahs.10 Still other authoritative writings exalt messiah as a literal person who will fulfill scriptural credentials. This is the position of the learned scholar Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides).11 What he said concerning the Messiah over 800 years ago continues to influence the minds of contemporary Jews on this subject. It is not surprising that a man of the stature of Maimonides would address the person and the work of Messiah, and engage in messianic speculation. In his vast writings he concentrated on a wide corpus of Jewish writings, philosophy and thought, which included messianism. Maimonides’ view of Messiah must be gleaned from a number of his writings, namely Epistle to Yemen,12 Mishneh Torah — Kings,13 and his Commentary on the Mishnah — Sanhedrin,14 which includes the Twelfth Principle of his Shlosha Asar Ikkarim (Thirteen Principles).15 From these writings we are able to piece together a composite of Maimonides’ concept of Messiah. The design of this article is to first sketch the life of Maimonides. It then formulates a composite sketch of the Messiah as conceived by Maimonides and gleaned from the three primary sources that contain his view of Messiah. It is the thesis of this paper that Maimonides’ concept of Messiah was shaped by a number of factors, including his life experiences, scripture, tradition and reaction to Islam and Christianity.

Maimonides16 was born on Passover eve, 113517 in Cordova, Spain. When scarcely 13, great persecution broke out when Cordova was overrun by the Almohades, a fundamental wing of Mohammadism. The Almohades presented Jews and Christians with the alternatives of death, conversion to Islam, or expulsion. Maimonides fled with his family, first to Port Almeria which a few years later was conquered by the same fanatical Almohades. They imposed the same trilogy of alternatives — death, conversion or expulsion. Once again the family was on the run and they wandered for years without a permanent home.18Maimonides was first taught by his father, scripture, Talmud and other Jewish subjects,19 math and astronomy. He attended lectures on science and medicine and immersed himself in the philosophical writings of the Greeks, particularly Aristotle and Plato; with rare intellect he sought clarity in a maddening world of entropy, substituting order for chaos, and rationalism for mysticism. While wandering, Maimonides was enmeshed in learning on land and sea.20In 1159-1160 Maimonides emigrated with his father, brother, and sister to Fez. It is still a matter of speculation as to why they relocated right in the heart of Islam, of the intolerant variety. It is most probable that the family feigned a belief in Islam to escape persecution, and worse. During this interval Maimonides made his writing debut by refuting a distinguished Talmudist who insisted that it was necessary to be martyred rather than purport to embrace Islam.21 Perhaps because of the guilt of professing Mohammad, and the desire for an unadulterated service to God, the family embarked for Palestine, in the spring of 1165, and remained for a brief period, before moving to Egypt, settling in Fostat, old Cairo. Yet fortune did not settle on the man who was destined to be the light of medieval Jewry. Here, physical disease, heavy financial losses, informers, and most rending, the death of his brother at sea, pierced what was left of any solace.22 Probably, in efforts to raise money for his writing projects and to assuage his grief, he reactivated his rabbinic-philosophic career, and added the practice of medicine.23 In 1168 he completed his first monumental work, a commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic.24 Thereafter, he wrote his epistle to the community in Yemen, which was plagued by strong influences to convert to Islam, and a messianic pretender.25 His fame gradually grew and by 1177, he was recognized as the Rabbi of Cairo.26 In 1180 he completed his Mishneh Torah, a comprehensive religious code27 which categorized and simplified the Mishnaic laws into a friendly format.Maimonides was not without those who accused him of error in his writings and even heresy.28 His grave monument encapsulates the two views, which were prevalent even while he was living. One states: “Here lies Moses, the excommunicated heretic.” The other reads: “From Moses to Moses, there is none like Moses.”29

Messiah, messianism and the world to come, are inextricably related. The focus, however, in the pages that follow, is on the Messiah and how Maimonides perceived him through the lens of tradition, and “the marks by which he is to be identified.”30 It is an attempt to extract from Maimonides’ writings his thoughts on the characteristics of Messiah. What does the Messiah look like through the eyes of Maimonides? It is true that there are some contrasts within the array of Maimonidean writings on this topic. However, most, if not all, may be explained by the circumstances surrounding the subject matter, and the people he was addressing. In his Epistle to Yemen Maimonides was responding to a present crisis of faith attributed to present afflictions.He addressed a community that was being threatened from within and from without. There was the threat of a messianic pretender.31 There was thepersuasive force of an ex-Jew who had converted to Islam and was seeking to persuade others to do the same on the strength of the argument that Mohammad was the true prophet foretold in scripture.32 And, there was the threat of an Islamic rebel leader who was compelling the Jews to desert their religion in favor of Islam.33 The community teetered on a lever where the fulcrum shifted between faith and doubt. In Mishneh Torah — Kings, Maimonides addressed the topic of Kings and the order of the future kingdom in connection with the Messiah. The present chaos in Yemen concerning messianic faith and the future vision concerning messianic order demanded different approaches. Here, Maimonides reflected a calm non-argumentative approach steeped in rationalism. And, his Commentary on the Mishnah, Sanhedrin (Perek Helek) focuses attention on the Thirteen Principles of Faith and an exegesis of the “world to come,” and messiah, in an effort to impose dogma designed to distinguish between those who are “orthodox” in their thinking and those who are “outside the pale.” The audience here was primarily those who “believed,” but disagreed on the meaning of the literature on principles of the faith, messiah and the world to come. As usual, Maimonides employs a rational approach steeped in the natural order of things.The three monotheistic religions all look forward to a messiah who will redeem the people and usher in a new age. The identity of the Messiah is formed in scripture and tradition. The characteristics of the Messiah for each of the religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — are similar with shades of differences.34 This paper identifies some of the similarities and differences among the Messiah of Judaism as expressed by Maimonides and the Messiah of traditional belief in Christianity and the prophet Mohammad. It also recognizes that there are some differences between Maimonides’ view as concerning messiah and the traditional view espoused by some Jewish sages who came before him. According to Maimonides, the Messiah would be from Davidic descent, a prophet like Moses, who would be a superior man. He would appear at a date not so certain, but generally predictable. The Messiah, according to Maimonides, could not be identified for certain until he met defined prerequisites and accomplished particular tasks. Finally, Maimonides recognized the purpose of the Messiah and his relationship to the age to come. Each of these is discussed seriatim.

According to Maimonides, messiah would be a man from Israel who would be of Davidic descent.35 Of all of the characteristics of the Messiah this is perhaps the most universal — that he would sit on the throne of David through Solomon. It is hard to find any disagreement on this point among the sages throughout the ages. Maimonides follows this traditional view-point, which is rooted in Torah, both written and oral. David’s throne was to be forever. Although David died and so did his successors, the throne will be occupied in the future by King Messiah himself. Rabbinic writings are replete with this understanding of scripture. There was nothing new in messianic thought contributed by Maimonides on this point. In support of Maimonides’ contention that the Messiah was an Israelite he cited Deuteronomy 18.15:The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet from among your own people,like myself.?...36 (emphasis added)This was sufficient to refute the claim of the followers of Mohammad since he was not from the land of Israel, and not Jewish. Unlike Islam, Maimonides and Jewish tradition’s concept of a Davidic messiah who would originate in Israel was not contrary to Christian understanding. The major difference, of course, was that for Christians the Son of David had come in the Messiah Jesus, while for Maimonides and the Jewish people, he was yet to come.

Messiah, according to Maimonides, will be in the mode of Moses in many respects and greater in others.37 He most certainly surpasses all of the other prophets,38? which would include Elijah, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Appellations ascribed to him by the prophet Isaiah are superlative: “the Mighty God is planning grace; the Eternal Father, a peaceable ruler.” 39 He will prophesy, but the biblical injunction of death will fall upon those whose prophecies fail to come to pass.”40 Hence, false prophecy discounts a messianic claimant, and condemns him to death. Christian commentators’ interpretation of the Deuteronomy passage as related to the Messiah does not deviate significantly from this position.
SUPERIOR BUT NOT DEITYIt was Maimonides’ contention that the Messiah is a man, and not a God. He would be superior in his wisdom and study of Torah. The rulers of the earth, whom he will subdue, will be sorely afraid of him.41 He will be greater than the prophets.42 Yet, he will have a very human side. He will not immediately know that he is the Messiah43 and even his family and parentage will not be known, initially.44The Christian Messiah is Deity. As the second part in the trinity, he is God manifest in the flesh. Not so for Maimonides! Messiah is a great man who fulfills the calling and attributes contained in the prophecies in the Tanakh, and the hope for redemption from foreign oppression. Yet, like a man, he will die after completing his task. And, his posterity shall continue to rule on the throne of David, forever.45Christians would find this traditional concept as expressed by Maimonides troubling. Jesus died but he rose to the right hand of the Father. As such, he will never die but rather awaits the time of his return to earth. His redemption was not only for the Jews but for all of mankind, a concept upon which Maimonides would probably disagree, while embracing the traditional belief that righteous gentiles, who keep the seven Noachide laws, do have a place in the world to come.

Maimonides acknowledged that no one could know the date of the coming of the Messiah. It is a mystery.46 In his “twelfth principle” he states:… We shall believe and affirm that he will come, and we shall not think that he will be late. If he should tarry, wait for him. Nor shall the individual set a date for his coming. Nor shall he attempt to derive deductively from Scriptural verses, a set date for his coming. The Sages said, ‘May the souls expire of those who calculate the date of the coming of Mashiach.’ 47According to this twelfth principle of faith we are not even to inquire into the date of his coming. The reason behind this is undoubtedly to remove the disappointment of dates that do not come to pass.48 The Book of Daniel which is thought to contain some of the dark secrets of the messianic appearing is a “closed book,” and it is expressly forbidden by the rabbis to search it for the time of the coming of the Messiah.49 Those who do are cursed. Nonetheless, in his Epistle to Yemen, Maimonides defends at least one sage who inquired into the end and dated the Messiah’s appearing. This was Saadiah Gaon, an earlier sage, who was the head of the prestigious academy of Surra in Babylon. Maimonides rationalizes the Gaon’s dating without backing down from his position that it is forbidden to calculate. He notes that the Gaon possessed proper motives to inspire the people with hope to Truth, and hence this was the exception to the general injunction.50 Finally, Maimonides himself suggested to the Yemen community that there was a tradition in his family passed down to his father and now repeated by him that in 1216 messiah would come.51 This seemed rather odd after he had gone to pains to deny access to such an inquiry and dating. He did make it clear that this date was not for sure. And, Maimonides was writing to a community who was in need of hope, defrauded by the “pretender” and lured by the “converter,” both of whom Maimonides had just debunked.Generally, in his Epistle to Yemen, Maimonides states that messiah will come during a time of great catastrophe and upheaval for Israel.52 It is to occur, according to Maimonides, some time after the expansion of the Roman and Arab empires;53 hence, his appearance was possible in Maimonides’ time.54 It would occur after the advent of Mohammad55 according to a scriptural interpretation.56 Re-emergence of prophecy is another sign of the coming of the messiah.57 And the restoration of the Sanhedrin was still another.58Christians related “signs and wonders” preceding the coming of the Messiah to the “second coming” of the Messiah, while Maimonides and traditional Jewish interpreters related the “signs and wonders” to the Messiah’s only advent to come.

A TWO-TIERED APPROACHIn his Mishneh Torah, Book of Kings, Maimonides institutes a two-tiered approach to messianic identification.59 Meeting the attributes in tier one qualifies one as a messiah potential. Fulfillment of tier two confers the title of King Messiah upon the candidate.As pertaining to tier one Maimonides writes:And if a king shall arise from the house of David who studies the Torah and is occupied in doing the commandments as his ancestor David according to the written and oral Torah, and compels all Israel to walk in its ways and to strengthen its foundation, and fights the battles of G-d — then it is presumed that he is the Messiah.60The qualifying round may be summarized as follows:• He traces his lineage to the house of David.• He studies Torah.• He performs good deeds, in accord with Written and Oral Torah.• He reinstates widespread Torah observance.• He fights battles for the LordThe fulfillment of these “Five” qualifies the person as a messiah potential, a type of messiah-in waiting. According to Maimonides, the 2nd century Bar Kosiba, who led a revolt against the Romans in 162 C.E. in an effort to reestablish the sovereignty of Israel, was a messiah potential. He allegedly fulfilled the Five prerequisites. Nonetheless, he was clearly not the Messiah, but instead wrongly dubbed so by Rabbi Akiva, the chief rabbi of the time, and one of the Ten Martyrs in Judaism. Bar Kosiva was slain before he fulfilled any of the second tier activities.61Maimonides continues in the method of identifying Messiah by stating: “If he succeeded in accomplishing these [five things], and he subdued all the surrounding nations and he built the Temple in its place, and collected the dispersed of Israel — then this is the Messiah for certain.”62Hence, Maimonides believed that there have been messiah potentials throughout the ages, but that the messiah certain had not arisen as yet. The second tiered characteristics may be summarized as follows:• He subdues Israel’s enemies.63•He rebuilds the Temple at the ancient site.64•He re-gathers the dispersed of Israel.Probably, the closest to fulfill these conditions was Zeruvavel, who rebuilt the Second Temple, and some of the dispersed of Israel returned. However, it is obvious that Maimonides was speaking of a future King Messiah who was yet to arrive. Neither did the Christian Messiah fulfill Maimonides’ eight requirements. According to Maimonides, “if he did not accomplish all those [eight things] or was killed, then it is understood that he is not the one that the Torah promised.”65 Jesus failed to overcome Israel’s enemies, rebuild the Temple and regather the dispersed ofIsrael. And, he was slain before he accomplished these requirements. The Believers’ response is that Jesus will return and yet fulfill thesemessianic requirements.Hence, Maimonides, in establishing a type of formulae for identifying messiah, accomplished a number of objectives. He was able to quench the frenzy and the mesmerization that often accompanies a messianic pretender who arrives on the scene and makes promises to an oppressed and gullible community. At the same time he was able to convey faith and hope in a coming messiah who would indeed restore the oppressed and the dispersed to the inheritance in the Land promised to them by the L-rd. This “wait and see” approach is a practical one that is intended to eliminate the risk of false messiahs.66 They are not the Messiah until they deliver on the Torah promises. This is exactly the presentation the Yemen community needed to hear. It was premature to believe that the “mad pretender” was the Messiah; and, in fact, he had already disqualified himself by a number of failings.67

The Messiah will usher in a normative world of Torah-keeping and teaching. Torah will not be altered,68 but it will be freely exercised in Israel69 where there will be no foreign usurpation or obstacles.70 According to Maimonides, King Messiah will be a teacher and keeper of Torah. One who adds to, or detracts from, Torah is surely not the Messiah.71 The bulk of Christianity embraced the view that Messiah Jesus altered the Law and ushered in a new covenant, not after the Law of Moses.72 For Maimonides, this is a disqualifier.The time of the Messiah will not, according to Maimonides, signal a new order, but a fulfillment of the ideal. The laws of nature will continue in its course without change.73 Maimonides cites with approval a Talmudic reference that states: “The only difference between the present world and the messianic era is our present subjection to foreign powers.”74 The redemption from the shackles of oppression in the messianic days will free the Jewish people to study Torah, and thus receive their just reward in the world to come.75Knowledge will increase. There will be no war, famine or discord.76 Simply, it will be a perfect environment for study of Torah. It will be very easy to earn a living, without expending a great deal of work, because the land will be so fertile.77 That means that the bulk of the time will be available for engaging in Torah study, which probably, for Maimonides, means a major emphasis on Talmud.78
CONCLUSIONMaimonides’ conception of the Messiah was rational. This is not surprising. As a philosopher who harmonized Greek rationalism with Jewish law, he paints messiah as a natural person who ushers in a natural order in fulfillment of scripture and tradition. Everything is transitional. Nothing is radical and apocalyptic. Maimonides was truly moderate. He rejected the kabbalists, who embraced mysticism and practically deified messiah, and ascribed supernatural powers to him.79 He strengthened those whose faith was in danger of being shipwrecked. He fused the Jewish G-d with the Greek mindset and created a harmonized universe. His position, like he prescribed for others in Hilchot Da’ot,80 was the one in the middle, and that is the one that made all the difference for Maimonides and his followers.His position concerning the Messiah was also pragmatic. Neither is this surprising for one steeped in rationalism. His letters spoke to real issues confronting communities and people who were living in a world of persecution. He could empathize. It was his experience as well. Thus, he tells the community in Yemen that they should reject the pretenders but await the true messiah who will come, and probably in the not-too-distant future, as evidenced by the prophecies and the signs.81Maimonides had suffered terribly in his life, with persecution and personal tragedies. He was a rationalist in the mode of the Greek mind, who sought to explain matters in rational terms. Moreover, it was a world of Christians and Mohammedans. They pressed the Jews to convert, and often became brute beasts in their attacks on the Jews.82 Maimonides was well aware of the need to live and the need to stay faithful to Torah. At great risk to his life he refuted the Islamic Prophet and the Christian Messiah,83 and encouraged the Jews, in near and distant lands, to hold fast to Torah and to believe in perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah and though he tarry, to wait, and not think that he will be late.84

ENDNOTES1 Messiah is Mashiakh in Hebrew, which means “anointed one.” 2 See, for example, Daniel 9.5-26. Although there are many messiahs in the Tanakh, kings and judges who were anointed with oil, the Jewish tradition is that there is one King Messiah who will reign over all of Israel from the Temple in Jerusalem.3 A number of the claimants are recorded in Acts 5.36-37. Bar Kosiva, acclaimed by Rabbi Akiba to be the Messiah, led a revolt 132-135 B.C.E. Messiah Jesus initiated his ministry circa 30 C.E., and the record of his work and claims are contained in the New Testament.4 Maimonides catalogued four false Messiahsof the medieval period, who appeared outside of the Land. Crisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides, Abraham Halkin, trans. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985), 127-30 (hereafter referred to as Epistle to Yemen). This list included the account of (1) a Persian Jew, probably Abu Isa, who was slain, ibid., 127-28 (2) Moses al-Darri, ibid., 128-129, who advised the people to sell all their property to their ultimate financial ruination (3) ibn Arieh, ibid., 129-30, who was exposed, flogged and put under the ban, thus averting gentile reprisals (4) a man of Linon, ibid., 130, who swung from the top of trees on moon-lit nights, and was put to death by the French. 5 Jacob Minkin, The Teachings of Maimonides (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aaronson, 1987), 399 (hereafter referred to as The Teachings of Maimonides), citing Maimonides, Repentance, 9. “Hence, all Israelites, their Prophets and Sages, longed for the advent of Messianic times, that they might have relief from the wicked tyranny that does not permit them properly to occupy themselves with the study of the Torah and the observance of the commandments … .” Ibid.6 See Harris Lenowitz, The Jewish Messiahs: From Galilee to Crown Heights (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).7 However, not all the sages recognized a personal messiah. Rabbi Hillel denied that there would be a messiah for Israel. BT, Sanhedrin 99a.8 This position is common among the reform branch of Judaism. 9 See RASHI’s commentary on Isaiah 53. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, Samuel Driver & Adolph Neubauer, transs. (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999), 37-39. 10 The Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, ed., Sanhedrin 98a (New York: Random House, 1999), 19.11 Epistle to Yemen, 91-149. Contrary to RASHI, note 9, Maimonides renders, at least portions of Isaiah 53, as referring to messiah. The Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, ed., Harry Orlinsky (New York: KTAV, 1969), 374-75. 12 Epistle to Yemen, 91-207.13 Mishneh Torah: Maimonides’ Code of Law and Ethics, abridged, Phillip Birnbaum, trans. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Co, 1974), 322-31 (hereafter cited as Mishneh Torah).14 Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah: Tractate Sanhedrin, Fred Rosner, ed. (New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1981).(hereafter cited to as Commentary on Mishnah}.15 Rabbi Zechariah Fendel, Torah Faith: The Thirteen Principles (New York: Hashkafah Publications, 1985). (hereafter cited as The Thirteen Principles).16 His Arabic name was Abu-Amran Musa ben Mamun Obaid Allah. Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews III (New York: Jewish Publication Society, 1894), 447 (hereafter cited as History of the Jews).17 This is not a precise date. Historians differ on his date of birth. Some have placed it at 1038 by back dating from his completion of Commentary on the Mishnah, which he states by his autograph was at age 30. We know that he completed this work in 1168. Therefore, that would place his birth at 1137 or 1138.18 History of the Jews, III, 447-48.19 In Hilchot Talmud Torah Maimonides recites the customary rules required by scripture for the father to teach the child. Mishneh Torah, 23.20 History of the Jews, III, 448-50.21 Epistle to Yemen, 13-45.22 History of the Jews III, 451-457.23 Ibid. 457-58.24 Ibid. 45825 Ibid 461-64.26 Ibid. 465.27 Ibid. 466.28 Ibid. 470-472; 475-47829 Ibid. 493. The quote has been modified by the author to reflect the more popular translation.30 Epistle to Yemen, 124.31 Ibid. 123. 32 Ibid. 107. He is referred to as “the apostate.” ibid. 33 Ibid. 95.34 For Islam, the hope is in a mahdi, who is ordinarily the forerunner of the messiah who ultimately becomes the messiah, and who after death is thought to be hiding in a cave awaiting the appropriate time to return. For an interesting discussion ofIslamic mahdistic movements see Israel Friedlaender, “Shiitic Influences,” in Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities, Marc Saperstein, ed. (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 113-161. For Christians, John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah, but he did not become the messiah. Matthew 3.1-11. Similarly, Judaism has the concept of a forerunner in the person of Elijah, the prophet, who never died. Malachi 4.5. Jesus is awaiting a second advent, although not believed to be hiding in a cave. Acts 1.11.35 Epistle to Yemen,121.36 Ibid. 109-110.37 Ibid. 124.38 Ibid. 123.39 Ibid. 124.40 Ibid.; Deuteronomy 18.20. 41 Epistle to Yemen, 125-26.42 Ibid. 124.43 See Jacob Dienstag, Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come (New York: KTAV, 1983), 32-35.44 Epistle to Yemen, 125, citing Isaiah 53.2.45 Commentary on Mishnah, 148.46 Epistle to Yemen, 114. “For these words are secret and sealed.” Daniel 12.947 The Thirteen Principles, 226. Maimonides’ quote is from Sanhedrin 97b.48 … [M] any people will calculate the time of the advent of the Messiah, but they will be disappointed and fail.” Epistle to Yemen, 115.49 “May the calculators of the final redemption come to grief … .” Ibid. 116.50 Ibid.51 Joseph Sarachek, The Doctrine of the Messiah in Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come, Jacob Dienstag, ed. (New York: KTAV, 1983), 31. This was gleaned from a passage concerning Balaam in Numbers 23:23. Epistle to Yemen, 122.52 Epistle to Yemen, 121.53 Ibid.54 In fact, Maimonides’ date of 1212, based upon his family tradition was just 8 years after his death. He was spared the disappointment.55 Epistle to Yemen, 121.56 Isaiah 21.7,9.57 Joel 3.58 Commentary on Mishnah, 3.59 Mishneh Torah, XI, 4, 329.60 Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Yad Ha-Hazakah), abridged, Phillip Birnbaum, ed. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1944), 327. (original translation by author)(hereafter referred to as Mishneh Torah, original translation).61 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329.62 Mishneh Torah, 327, original translation.63 In fact, messiah’s “advent will strike terror into the hearts of all the kings of the earth, and their kingdoms will fall; neither will they be able to war or revolt against him.” Epistle to Yemen, 125. He also cites the verse, “Kings shall be silenced because of him.” Isaiah 52.15, ibid.64 Maimonides refers to the biblical reference, Malachi 3.1: “He will suddenly come to his temple.” Epistle to Yemen, 125.65 Mishneh Torah, 327, original translation.66 Hence, Bar Kosiva was a messiah potential, but not a messiah certain. According to Maimonides he was slain before he fulfilled the qualifications. Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329. 67 Ibid.123-126. For example, the messianic pretender said that the rich should give all their money to the poor. Maimonides says, in effect, “This is wisdom!” We would only wind up reversing the economic conditions of the two extremes and be in the same state. Ibid. 124.68 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 329.69 In Commentary on Mishneh, Maimonides listed five common positions on “why” keep Torah and fulfill the commandments, ibid. 134-136. Some opine that it will determine whether you wind up in Gan Eden or Gehenna, ibid. 135. A second group believes that the good flowing is that the Messiah will come and everyone will be a king, and inhabit the world through eternity; and those who do not keep Torah will not enter into that state, ibid. A third group imagines a resurrection and eternal life with family and relatives, which will be denied those who do not keep Torah, ibid. A fourth group adopts the view that those who are faithful to Torah will enjoy the physical pleasures and an abundant life headed by a Jewish king, which will be denied to the unfaithful, ibid. 135-136. The fifth position is seized by those who combine the other four together, ibid. 136. Maimonides rejects all of these positions, instead advancing that studying Torah and keeping the commandments is for the sake of studying Torah and keeping the commandments, and that the motive should be nothing else. Doing Torah is out of love for G-d. Ibid. 136-140.70 Mishneh Torah, Kings, 330.71 Maimonides was of the opinion that Jesus altered the Torah. Epistle to Yemen, 98. “His purpose was to interpret the Torah in a fashion that would lead to its total annulment, to the abolition of its commandments, and to the violation of all its prohibitions.” Ibid.72 Jeremiah 31.31-34. This is generally the common Christian understanding of Jeremiah 31.31, which states in part, “Behold the days come saith the Lord that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” It is a supersessionist view, that the covenant has displaced Israel and replaced it with the Church who is now the heir of the covenant. This “displacement theology” has produced untold amounts of antisemitism.73 Mishnah Torah, Kings, 330.74 Ibid. 330, citing Berakhoth 34b.75 Ibid. 330.76 Commentary on Mishnah, 148.77 Ibid. 147.78 See Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Talmud Torah.79 The Teachings of Maimonides, 398.80 Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Da’ot, 11-14.81 Epistle to Yemen, 121-23.82 Although Islam under the dhimmis status fared better for the Jews than the “no status” under Christian rule, nonetheless, outbreaks of serious persecution, for example under the Almohads, always loomed imminent.83 Epistle to Yemen, 131 (“… the public welfare takes precedence over one’s personal safety.” ibid.).84 The Thirteen Principles, 226.MAJOR WORKS CITEDCrisis and Leadership: Epistles of Maimonides. Abraham Halkin, trans. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.Dienstag, Jacob. Eschatology in Maimonidean Thought: Messianism, Resurrection and the World to Come. New York: KTAV, 1983.Essential Papers on Messianic Movements and Personalities. Marc Saperstein, ed. New York: New York University Press, 1992.Fendel, Rabbi Zechariah. Torah Faith: The Thirteen Principles. New York: Hashkafah Publications, 1985.Fifty-Third Chapter of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, The., Harry Orlinsky, ed. New York: KTAV, 1969.Graetz, Heinrich. History of the Jews, vol. III. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1949.Lenowitz, Harris. The Jewish Messiahs: From Galilee to Crown Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Yad Ha-Hazakah), abridged ed., Phillip Birnbaum, ed. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1944).Minkin, Jacob. The Teachings of Maimonides. Northvale, N.J.:Jason Aronson, 1987.Mishneh Torah: Maimonides’ Code of Law and Ethics. Phillip Birnbaum, trans. New York: Hebrew Publishing Co., 1974.Rosner, Fred. Maimonides on Mishnah Sanhedrin. New York: Sepher-Hermon Press, 1981.Suffering Servant of Isaiah According to the Jewish Interpreters, The. Samuel Driver & Adolph Neubauer, transs. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 1999.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Resurrection-An Overview

Resurrection- An Overview

When it comes to the Christian faith, there is no doctrine more important than the resurrection of Jesus. Biblical faith is not simply centered in ethical and religious teachings. Instead, it is founded on the person and work of Jesus. From a soteriological perspective, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, we as His followers are still dead in our sins (1Cor.15:7). Jesus said in John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me shall live even of he dies.” Jesus could not have made full atonement for our sins without the resurrection. Also, through the resurrection, Jesus took on the role as advocate and intercessor (1John 2:2; Rom. 8:34). His resurrection also guaranteed us the opportunity of having a resurrected body’s like His (1 Cor.15:20-23, 51-53; 1 Pet.1:3; Phil. 3:20-21; John 5:25-29). If Jesus did not rise from the dead, he fails the test for a true prophet (Deut. 18:20). The resurrection also marked Jesus as the one who will be the judge all men (Acts 17:31).The resurrection demonstrated that Jesus is the promised Messiah of Israel and the whole world.

Belief in a resurrection of persons from the dead are seen in eight passages: (Job 19:26; Ps 17:15; 49:15; 73:24; Isa 26:19; 53:10; Dn 12:2;12:13). (1) The resurrection terminology is seen in two places (Ezek 37:1-14; Hos 6:2) to show a national and spiritual restoration brought about by the return from the exile. (2) As far as the nature of the future bodily resurrection, it may involve a corpse or the receipt of a material body comparable to the present physical body (Job 19:26; Isa 26:19); or it may be a matter of transformation (Dn 12:2-3 and perhaps 12:13); or glorification after reanimation, in the case of the righteous. (3) As far as the function of the resurrection, it may be personal vindication (Isa 26:16; 53:10-12). Resurrection may also have a function in relation to reward or punishment (Dn 12:2; 12:13) an assumption to heaven and enriched fellowship with God (Ps 49:15; 73:24,26), or preface to the beatific vision of God (Ps 17:15 and possibly Job 19:26). (4)

There are resuscitations in the Tanakh such as the example of Elijah and Elisha raising a person from death (1 Kings 17-23; 2 Kings 4:34-35). There are also extra-Biblical passages that speak about the resurrection (Enoch 92:2; 4 Ezra 7:32; Enoch 91:10; 2 Maccabees 7:9; 14; 28-29). Even the The Messiah Apocalypse, which is dated between 100 and 80 B.C.E mentions resurrection: "He [God] frees the captives, makes the blind see, and makes the bent over stand straight…for he will heal the sick, revive the dead, and give good news to the humble and the poor he will satisfy, the abandoned he will lead, and the hungry he will make rich.” (5)
In the Rabbinical literature there are explicit teachings on the resurrection. It says in the Mishnah 10.1, it says, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come; ... and these are they that have no share in the world to come: he that says that there is no resurrection of the dead prescribed in the Law.” Moses Maimonides, a Jewish rabbi and a medieval Jewish philosopher who has forever influenced the Jewish and non-Jewish world said:

The resurrection of the dead is one of the cardinal principles established by Moses our teacher. A person who does not believe this principle has no real religion, certainly not Judaism. However, resurrection is for the righteous. This is the earning of the statement in Breshit Rabbah, which declares: “the creative power of rain is both for the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrection of the dead is only for the righteous.” “Our sages taught the wicked are called dead even when they are still alive; the righteous are alive even when they are dead (Bab. Talmud Brakhot 18 b). 3 points are made: 1. Resurrection is a cardinal principle taught in the Torah which all Jews must believe 2. It is for the righteous alone 3. All men must die and their bodies decompose. (6)

As we approach the New Testament, Joachim Jeremias comments:
Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event in history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the late Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to doxa [glory] as an event in history.(7)

N.T Wright says:
In Greek thought, the living could establish contact with the dead through various forms of necromancy; they might even receive ghostly visitations. But neither experience amounts to what the pagan writers themselves referee to as “resurrection,” or the return to life, which they all denied. Thus, Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenants, resurrection, was universally recognized as false. (8)

The main reasons that were behind the Greek’s general denial of the resurrection were:(1) the low value they placed on the human body, and (2) their firm belief in man’s inherent immortality, i.e., that his soul was naturally imperishable. We one day lose the “bad body,” but we retain the inherently imperishable soul.
Biblical view of body:The body is good because God made it. When Adam led the human race into sin, this sin affected his body, just as it affected every aspect of his being (Genesis 3:16-19). Man’s body succumbs to illness and death because of sin, but this is not what God originally intended.

Other Issues of Defining Resurrection

1. Resurrection is completely different from reincarnation which is a many-times event. Reincarnation is also categorized as a rebirth of a soul into a new and different but still physical and mortal body. Resurrection is a one-time event where the believer receives not a second body but a transformed body. In resurrection, there is continuity between our present bodies and the transformed body to come.

2. In its most elementary sense, resurrection denotes resuscitation- the regaining of physical life that has been forfeited through death (Mark 5:41-42; John 5:28-29; Heb.11:35; Rev. 20:5). There are three resuscitations in the Gospels: Luke 8:49-56; John 11:38-44; Luke 7:11-15. Lazarus was resuscitated. He went on to live on in his old mode of but still had to face a second death. However, Jesus was not resuscitated, but resurrected, he was changed. His body was transformed into what Paul calls a glorified body. He never died again. Therefore, it is important to remember that Jesus is not the only one in human history that has been raised from the dead ( if we call it resuscitation), but he certainly is the only one that has ever been resurrected!

3. Resurrection is not translation. Within the Tanakh, people such as Elijah and Enoch did not die but were simply translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24). Also, within the extra-canonical Jewish writing called Testament of Job 40, an account of translation was given as a category to describe recently deceased people as well as to the living.(9) Translation is defined as the bodily assumption of someone out of this world into heaven while resurrection is defined as raising up of a dead man in the space-time universe.(10)

4. Resurrection is not the same as the so- called dying and rising fertility gods in the ancient world. The myths of dying and rising gods in pagan religions are merely seasonal symbols for the processes of nature and have no relation to historical individuals. (11)

5. Another aspect of resurrection is the issue of exaltation. The raising up of believers is from the dead (resuscitation), in newness of life (transformation) into the presence of Messiah (exaltation). We as believers now live in a resurrection state. For after noting that God “made us alive together with” Messiah (this is a past event), Eph 2:5 says: “by grace you are now in a state of salvation” (indicating a present resurrection state).(12)

8. What are the differences between our resurrection and the Messiah's resurrection? Jesus was raised on the "third day" whereas we will be raised on the last day. And only of Jesus was he installed as Son of God (Rom. 1:4), as universal Lord (Rom. 14:9; Eph.1:20-21; Phi.2:9-11), and judge of the living and the dead (Acts 17:31). (13)

9. Body and soul are distinct interactive substances- one physical and the other immaterial. When we speak of the soul, we are speaking of our essential core. This core makes us persons since we would still be persons after death in a temporary disembodied state. (14) There must be some immaterial aspect to humans in order to provide the continuity of our existence and memories- and our own identity. While there is overlap between "soul" and "spirit" in the Bible, Paul tends to place a larger emphasis on the spirit rather than the soul because of his own experience with God's Spirit (Rom 8:15-16). (15). This is a departure from the intertestamental literature and rabbinic literature, which stressed soul (Heb: nepsesh; Greek: psyche) rather than spirit. (16)

10. The believer’s final destination is not heaven, but it is the new heavens and new earth- complete with a resurrection body. (17) The problem with this view is that death isn't swallowed up in victory. Death has the final word but isn't defeated. In the final state, heaven including the New Jerusalem portrayed as a bride breaks into history and comes to the renewed, physical, earthly, existence (see Rev 21). This shows that God is interested in the renewal of creation- God cares about the physical realm. (18)

1. Harris, M.J. From Grave to Glory: Resurrection In The New Testament. Grand Rapids: MI: Academie Books. 1990, 66-67.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. See Yamauchi, E.M. Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History? Available at
6. Gillman, N. The Death of Death: Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought. Woodstock, VT. Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997.
7. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith.Third Edition. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books, 1984.
8. P. Andrew Sandlin. New Flesh, New Earth: The Life Changing Power of the Resurrection. Lincoln, CA: Oakdown Books, 2003.
9. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith, 394.
10. Ibid.
11. Ibid.
12. Longenecker, R.N. Life After Death: The Resurrection Message in the New Testament. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans, 1988.
13. Ibid.
14. Copan, P. How Do You Know You're Not Wrong: Responding to Objections That Leave Christians Speechless. Grand Rapids: MI: Baker Books. 2005, 88-94.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid

Monday, February 23, 2009

Discipleship of the Mind,The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Discipleship of the Mind/The Recovery of the Christian Mind

Within Christian discipleship, scholars, theologians, and philosophers are asking, what ever happened to cultivating the intellectual life of the Christian? There have been several books written on this subject. One book that I recommend is Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul by J. P. Moreland
It is imperative for Christians to understand the history of anti-intellectualism in the church. In this brilliant book, Dr. Moreland traces the history of what has happened in relation to the Christian mind.

Moreland discusses the history of the pilgrims arriving to the United States in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Pilgrims along with other American believers placed a high value on the intellectual life in relation to Christian spirituality. The Puritans were highly educated people (the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was between 89 and 95 percent) who founded colleges, taught their children to read and write before the age of six, studied art, philosophy, and other fields as well. Evangelical scholars such as Jonathan Edwards were scholarly and well informed about other fields other than theology. Christians originally founded several American universities. The minister was regarded as proficient in both spiritual and intellectual matters. (1)

When the first Great Awakening happened in the United States from the 1730's to 1750's, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophical thought that began to undermine Biblical authority in the late 1800's. In other words, Christianity was not prepared for the philosophies of David Hume (1711-1776) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German higher criticism, and Darwinian evolution. During the middle 1800's, Christianity continued to see an anti-intellectual approach in sermons. Ministers such as and Charles Finney who preached during the Laymen's Prayer Revival ( 1856-1858), delivered simple sermons that were more tailored around emotions in contrast to sermons that were reflective and doctrinally informed. Moreland notes that many positive things did come out of this period. However, the downside was that since thousands of people were converted on the basis of emotion and warm fuzzy feelings, these new converts were not trained to think theologically or doctrinally. (2)

Moreland has also commented on the impact of Christians refusing to be informed about the language of ideas in the marketplace. As Moreland says:
Instead of standing up and doing the hard work of responding to the critics, Christians opted out and said, It doesn't matter what the facts say, I feel Jesus in my heart and that's all that really matters to me. So we opted for a subjective pietism instead of hard thinking on the issues, and therefore we lost our place in the public square. The way to deal with vain philosophies, wherever they may be found, is to have good philosophy, not to abandon the art of critical thinking altogether. (3)

Another book that has traced the history of anti-intellectualism in the church is Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don't Think and What to Do About It by Os Guinness. In this book, Guinness says:
Loving God with our minds is not finally a question of orthodoxy, but love. Offering up our minds to God in all our thinking is a part of our praise. Anti-intellectualism is quite simply a sin. Evangelicals must address it as such, beyond all excuses, evasions, or rationalizations of false piety. We need to affirm certain truths: Intellectualism is not the answer to anti-intellectualism, for the perils of intellectualism-supremely in Gnosticism- are deadly and ever recurring. Or passion is not for academic respectability, but for the faithfulness to the commands of Jesus. Our lament is not for the destruction of the elite culture of Western civilization but for the deficiencies in our everyday discipleship as Christians. For anti-intellectualism is truly the refusal to love the Lord our God with our minds as required by the first of Jesus’ commandments. Thus, if we take the commands of Jesus seriously, we cannot dismiss the charge of anti-intellectualism as elitism or intellectual snobbery. As God has given us minds, we can measure our obedience
by whether we are loving him with those minds, and disobedience whether we are not.(4)

In his book,The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ author David W. Gill makes a significant contribution about the relationship between intellectualism and discipleship by stating that we should advocate Christian minds, not intellectualism. Gill says:
Let me stress one more time that I am not advocating intellectualism in the Christian life! We must give our brains to God. But we are more than brains. I do indeed want people to develop their minds under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship. (5)

Scriptures that can be misunderstood as speaking against anti-intellectualism:
Acts 4:13: “The Jewish elders and rulers observe that Peter and John were uneducated and unlearned.” Many have concluded that intellectual emphasis has no place for the life of the believer. Is this right? It is important to understand that the Jewish leaders did not mean that Peter and John were irrational or intellectually unskilled. They meant that they had not undergone the proper rabbinical training. (6)

Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Some have concluded from this passage that Paul is commanding people to avoid secular studies or philosophy. If we look at this passage in context, Paul was dealing with a proto-Gnostic philosophy that was threatening the Colossian church. If Paul had not had a vast understanding of philosophy, he could not have addressed the problem in the Colossian church. It is important to note that Paul quoted pagan philosophers in Acts 17:28.
1 Corinthians 1: 19-21:" For it is written, I WILL DESTROY THE WISDOM OF THE WISE, AND THE CLEVERNESS OF THE CLEVER I WILL SET ASIDE." Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe."Does this passage say God is against reason? It is important to note that Greek orators prided themselves with possessing “persuasive words of wisdom,” and it was their practice to persuade a crowd of any side of an issue for the right price. So, since Paul is most likely condemning hubris (pride), he is against false pride, or prideful use of reason, not reason itself. (8)

One of the primary texts used for apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15 which says, "But in your hearts acknowledge Christ as the holy Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to every one who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have yet with gentleness and respect.” In the context of this verse, the apostle Peter is writing to a group of persecuted believers. The Greek word for “reason” in this passage is “logos,” which is defined as “a word,” inward thought itself, a reckoning, or a regard. Peter does not suggest we be prepared to do give a reason for the hope that is within us, but he commands that we do it! (9)

Some Suggestions in Restoring the Christian Mind
1. In order to restore the mind within the local congregation, there needs to be a stronger emphasis on critical thinking and apologetics. As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothius says:
Since we as Christians are called and commanded to have a reason for the hope within them (1 Peter 3:15), it is the responsibility Christian teachers, pastors, mentors and educators of all kinds are remiss if they avoid, denigrate, or minimize the importance of apologetics to biblical living and Christian witness. (10)

2. Christians also need to understand Christian anthropology (the study of humanity from a Christian / biblical perspective. It is primarily focused on the nature of humanity). As Norman Geisler says,

God is a rational Being, and man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Since God thinks rationally, man was given the same capacity. Brute beasts, by contrast, are called “irrational” (Jude 10). The basis laws of human reason are common to believer and unbeliever; without them, there would be no writing, thinking, or rational inference. Nowhere are these laws spelled out in the Bible. Rather, they are part of God’s general revelation and special object of philosophical thought. (11)

3. Establish a 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. 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.(12) 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.

4. Engage the Culture: According to a Barna study, 95% of all professing Christians have never attempted to share their faith. Out of that 5%, only 2% share on a regular basis. Now Jesus said in John 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments".Since Jesus commands His people to “make disciples of the nations” (Matt.28:19), the Christian who is not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16), will desire to share the good news of Jesus with his neighbor. It is my conviction the reason that there is such a lack of interest in apologetics and critical thinking is because evangelism and outreach are neglected. Christians also have a responsibility to be aware of the issues within our culture.

My suggestion to change this problem is to challenge congregants to take a survey with five spiritual questions and engage people on a regular basis. Once they see how people respond to the questions, they will begin to see how inept they are to handle objections to the faith. By doing a survey, this allows the congregants to witness firsthand the tremendous amount of diversity in our culture. One of the reasons the Holy Spirit was able to use Paul with a variety of audiences was because Paul had a vast knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, as well as Jewish and Greek culture. If someone asks a question that cannot be answered, it allows the believer the privilege of doing research about a particular apologetic issue.

As William Lane Craig says:
It is not just scholars and pastors who need to be intellectually engaged with issues. Laymen need to become intellectually engaged. Our congregations are filled with people who are idling in intellectual neutral. As believers, their minds are going to waste. One result is an immature, superficial faith. People who simply ride the roller coaster of emotional experience are cheating themselves out of a deeper and richer faith by neglecting the intellectual side of that faith. (13)

5. The university: From a university perspective, it is imperative that students be trained to think critically as well as apologetically. By the time Christian students leave to college, they should have a grasp of a biblical worldview as well as the ability to understand the importance of integrating the mind into all areas of spiritual life. If young college students compartmentalize their spiritual life, they will end up viewing spirituality as simply going to Bible studies, private prayer time, and congregational attendance. Classes and study time will be viewed as “secular” and something they need to get through in order to graduate. This must be corrected. How can students impact the university if they do not understand the way the culture thinks?
What about Christians who want to study philosophy in college? Should they avoid it? Groothius says:

Young Christians with an aptitude in philosophy and academic pursuits in general should be encouraged that these disciplines are just as spiritual as anything directly church-related. For example, being a Christian philosopher at a secular college or university is just as godly and spiritual than being a pastor, missionary, or professor at a Christian institution (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17). One may prudently apply one’s apologetic skills in these settings and extend the Christian witness. (14)

6. Understand the proper relationship between faith and reason: As David Gill says above, "Mindless emotionalism or traditionalism, segmented fragmented lives and ignorance disguised as simple faith are all terrible deformations of Christian discipleship. But so is arid, dry intellectualism. Developing a Christian mind is but one crucial aspect of Christian discipleship." Another challenge in restoring the Christian mind is the misunderstanding of the biblical use of the word “heart.” How many times has the Christian been told, “Faith is an issue of the heart, not the head.” How can we correct this problem? Remember, biblical faith also involves a commitment of the whole person. 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. (15)

1. Moreland, J.P Love Your God With All Your Mind. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress. 1997. 22-23.
2. Ibid.
3. Koukl. G. The Value of Philosophy. Retrieved November 9, 2007. Available at
4.Os Guinness. Fit Bodies Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think And What To Do About It. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1994, 18-19.
5. Gill, D.W. The Opening of the Christian Mind: Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press,1989, 30.
6. Moreland, 57-60.
7. Ibid.
8. Moreland, J.P and Craig, W.L. Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003, 13.
9. Moreland, 57-60.
10. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto 2003. Retrieved November, 12th 2007 from Answers in Action. Available at
11. Geisler, N. Systematic Theology Vol 1. Bloomington, MINN: Bethany House Publishers 2003, 91.
12. Newport. J.P. Life’s Ultimate Questions: A Contemporary Philosophy of Religion. Dallas: Word Publishing. 1989, 4.
13. Craig, W.L. Reasonable Faith. Wheaten, ILL: Crossway Books. 1984.
14. Groothius, D. Christian Apologetics Manifesto.
15. W.E. Vine, Unger, Merrill F. and William White Jr. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words. Nashville: TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985, 297.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jesus and His Jewishness

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 the context of the covenant: they are to live obediently as Israelites (Paul Copan and Craig A. Evans. 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).

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)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Exploring the Origins of the Bible

This looks like an interesting textbook for Bible students.

Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective
Craig A. Evans and Emanuel Tov

Craig A. Evans (PhD, Claremont Graduate University) is Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, and is the author or editor of more than thirty books, including Mark, vol. 2 (Word Biblical Commentary), Jesus and His Contemporaries, and Noncanonical Writings and the New Testament.
Emanuel Tov (PhD, Hebrew University) is J. L. Magnes Professor of Bible at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and editor-in-chief of the Dead Sea Scrolls Publication Project.
Exploring the Origins of the Bible: Canon Formation in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective

"The eight essays in this volume form a very worthwhile set of considerations of the emerging canons of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. A veritable ark full of expert analysis to enable any reader to navigate the flood of recent writing on canon."--George J. Brooke, University of Manchester

For those who want to go deeper in their understanding of the canon of Scripture, leading international scholars provide cutting-edge perspectives on various facets of the biblical writings, how those writings became canonical Scripture, and why canon matters. Craig Evans begins by helping those new to the field understand the different versions of the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text, Septuagint, Targum, Vulgate, etc.) as well as the books of the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha. Later essays also help beginners by explaining "canon" and the development of canons in various Jewish and Christian communities, the much-debated tripartite canon of the Hebrew Scriptures, and questions of authority. The book also includes insightful explorations and perspectives to challenge more advanced readers, including an essay on the complexities of biblical writing, a critical investigation of the usefulness of extracanonical Gospels for historical Jesus research, and an exploration of the relationship of Paul to the canonization process. The result is a thought-provoking book that concludes with discussion of an issue at the fore today--the theological implications of canon.

Emanuel Tov
James H. Charlesworth
Stephen G. Dempster
R. Glenn Wooden
Craig A. Evans
Stanley E. Porter
Lee Martin McDonald
Jonathan R. Wilson

"The eight essays in this volume form a very worthwhile set of considerations of the emerging canons of the Jewish and Christian Bibles. The complexity of the processes of canonization is refreshingly tackled on the basis of both internal and external evidence. Two essays cover some of the implications of the evidence of the Septuagint, two review especially the internal data of the Old Testament and Paul, two put in their places the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament Apocrypha, and two consider the theological bases of the authority that lies behind the text of Scripture. This two-by-two collection is a veritable ark full of expert analysis to enable any reader to navigate the flood of recent writing on canon. Some studies rescue old theories for a new generation; others provide polychromatic perspectives for a fresh start."--George J. Brooke, Rylands Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis, University of Manchester

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Intelligent Design

I have been reading The Design Revolution by William A. Dembski. Given the confusion in the media, culture, and the church, it shows the need to read a book such as this. If you have not read The Design Revolution, I highly recommend it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Doubt and the Vain Search for Certainty

Doubt and the Vain Search for Certainty -this was taken from RZIM ministries.

Taken from Doubting by Alister McGrath, a forthcoming title from InterVarsity Press. Copyright (c) 2006 by Alister McGrath. Used with permission of InterVarsity Press, PO Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515.
Deep within all of us lies a longing for absolute security, to be able to know with absolute certainty. We feel that we should be absolutely sure of everything that we believe. Surely, we feel, we ought to be able to prove everything that we believe.
Yet absolute certainty is actually reserved for a very small class of beliefs. What sort of beliefs? Well, for example, things that are self-evident or capable of being logically demonstrated by propositions. Christianity does not concern logical propositions or self-evident truths (such as “2 + 2 = 4,” or “the whole is greater than the part”). Both of these are certainly true. We may be able to know such truths with absolute certainty—but what is their relevance to life? Realizing that “the whole is greater than the part” isn’t going to turn your life inside out! Knowing that two and two equal four isn’t going to tell you anything much about the meaning of life. It won’t excite you. Frankly, the sort of things that you can know with absolute certainty are actually not that important.
The things in life that really matter cannot be proven with certainty—whether they are ethical values (such as respect for human life), social attitudes (such as democracy) or religious beliefs (such as Christianity). “There is no philosopher in the world so great but he believes a million things on the faith of other people and accepts a great many more truths than he demonstrates,” wrote Alexis de Tocqueville. Richard Rorty, probably the greatest American philosopher of the twentieth century, makes this point well, when he points out that “if anyone really believed that the worth of a theory depends on its philosophical grounding, then indeed they would be dubious about physics, or democracy, until relativism in respect to philosophical theories had been overcome. Fortunately, almost nobody believes anything of the sort.” His point? That we can commit ourselves to the great worldviews of our time without having to wait for absolute proof—a proof which, by the very nature of things, is never going to happen.

The British nineteenth-century poet Lord Tennyson made this point rather nicely in his poem The Ancient Sage:
For nothing worthy proving can be proven,
Nor yet disproven; wherefore thou be wise,
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt.
The beliefs which are really important in life concern such things as whether there is a God and what he is like, or the mystery of human nature and destiny. These—and a whole host of other important beliefs—have two basic features. In the first place, they are relevant to life. They matter, in that they affect the way in which we think, live, hope and act. In the second place, they cannot be proved (or disproved) with total certainty. By their very nature, they make claims that cannot be proved with certainty. At best, we may hope to know them as probably true. There will always be an element of doubt in any statement which goes beyond the world of logic and self-evident propositions. Christianity shares this situation. It is not unique in this respect: an atheist or Marxist is confronted with precisely the same dilemma, as we well see in the next chapter. Anyone who wants to talk about the meaning of life has to make statements which rest on faith, not absolute certainty. Anyway, God isn’t a proposition—he’s a person!
We cannot see God; we cannot touch him; we cannot demand that he give a public demonstration of his existence or character. We know of God only through faith. Yet the human mind wants more. “Give us a sign! Prove it!” It is an age-old problem. Those who heard Jesus’ teaching wanted a sign (Matthew 12:38)—something which would confirm his authority, which would convince them beyond any doubt.

To believe in God demands an act of faith—as does the decision not to believe in him. Neither is based upon absolute certainty, nor can they be. To accept Jesus demands a leap of faith—but so does the decision to reject him. To accept Christianity demands faith—and so does the decision to reject it. Both rest upon faith, in that nobody can prove with absolute certainty that Jesus is the Son of God, the risen saviour of humanity—just as nobody can prove with absolute certainty that he is not. The decision, whatever it may be, rests upon faith. There is an element of doubt in each case. Every attitude to Jesus—except the decision not to have any attitude at all!—rests upon faith, not certainty. Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservations—a trust in a God who has shown himself worthy of that trust. To use a Trinitarian framework: God the Father makes those promises; God the Son confirms them in his words and deeds; and the Holy Spirit reassures us of their reliability, and seals those promises within our heart.

These points are reflected in the American writer Sheldon Vanauken’s account of his mental wrestling before his conversion at Oxford. He found himself caught in a dilemma over the role of proof in faith, which many others have experienced.
There is a gap between the probable and the proved. How was I to cross it? If I were to stake my whole life on the risen Christ, I wanted proof. I wanted certainty. I wanted to see him eat a bit of fish. I wanted letters of fire across the sky. I got none of these ... It was a question of whether I was to accept him—or reject him. My God! There was a gap behind me as well! Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble—but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God—but, by God, there was no certainty that he was not. This was not to be borne. I could not reject Jesus. There was only one thing to do once I had seen the gap behind me. I turned away from it, and flung myself over the gap towards Jesus.
There is indeed a leap of faith involved in Christianity—but it is not an irrational leap into the dark. The Christian experience is that of being caught safely by a loving and living God, whose arms await us as we leap. Martin Luther put this rather well: “Faith is a free surrender and a joyous wager on the unseen, untried and unknown goodness of God.”

All outlooks on life, all theories of the meaning of human existence, rest upon faith, in that they cannot be proved with absolute certainty. But this doesn’t mean that they’re all equally probable or plausible! Let’s take three theories of the significance of Jesus to illustrate this point.
1. We have been redeemed from sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
2. Jesus and his disciples were actually the advance guard of a Martian invasion force, who mistook earth for the planet Venus on account of a navigation error.
3. Jesus was not really a person, but was really a hallucinogenic mushroom.
Although none of these can be proved or disproved with absolute certainty, it will be obvious that they cannot all be taken with quite the same degree of seriousness!
Let’s be quite clear: Nobody can prove Christianity with total certainty. But that’s not really a problem. The big questions concern the reliability of its historical foundations, its internal consistency, its rationality, its power to convert, and its relevance to human existence. As C. S. Lewis stressed in Mere Christianity, Christianity has exceptionally fine credentials on all counts. Look into them. You can totally commit yourself to the gospel in full confidence, as a powerful, credible and profoundly satisfying answer to the mystery of human existence. Faith is basically the resolve to live our lives on the assumption that certain things are true and trustworthy, in the confident assurance that they are true and trustworthy, and that one day we shall know with absolute certainty that they are true and trustworthy.

A superficial faith is a vulnerable faith
Superficiality is a curse of our age. The demand for instant satisfaction leads to superficial personal relationships and a superficial Christian faith. Many students discover Christianity for the first time while at college or university. This discovery very often happens alongside other important events like leaving the parental home, falling in love, or gaining independence of thought and action. As a result, initial emphasis very often falls on the emotional and experiential aspects of Christianity. There is nothing wrong with this! Christianity has abundant resources for those who wish to place emphasis on the role of experience in the life of faith. But there is more to faith than that.
Faith has three main elements. In the first place, it is trust in God. It is a confidence in the trustworthiness, fidelity and reliability of God. It is about rejoicing in his presence and power, being open to his prompting and guidance through prayer, and experiencing the motivation and comfort of the Holy Spirit. It is a deep sense of longing to be close to God, of wanting to praise his name, of being aware of his presence. In many ways, this aspect of Christian faith is like being in love with someone: you want to be with them, enjoying their presence and feeling secure with them. It concerns the heart, rather than the head; it is emotional, rather than intellectual. It is the powerhouse of Christian life, keeping us going through the difficult times and exciting us during the good times.

The difficulty is that all too many people seem to get no further than this stage. Their faith can easily become nothing more than emotion. It can become superficial, lacking any real depth. It seems shallow. It has not really taken root, and is very vulnerable. Yet faith can only flourish when it sinks deep roots. There is more to faith than emotion, experience and feelings, however important they may be to you. Christianity isn’t just about experiencing God—it’s about sticking to God. A mature faith is something secure, something that you can rely on. If your faith is not deeply rooted, you will be tempted to find security in something else, only to find that this alternative will fail you (Matthew 7:24–27).
In the second place, faith is understanding more about God, Jesus Christ and human nature and destiny. By its very nature, faith seeks understanding. It seeks to take root in our minds, as we think through the implications of our experience of the risen Christ. To become a Christian is to encounter the reality of God; to become a disciple is to allow this encounter to shape the way in which we think—and act.
For in the third place, faith is obedience. Paul speaks of the “obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 1:5) making the point that faith must express itself in the way we act. “Faith is kept alive in us, and gathers strength, from practice more than speculation” (Joseph Addison). Or, as the Oxford writer W. H. Griffith-Thomas put it, nicely linking these together:
[Faith] commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.
And it’s at this point that doubt can come in, simply because you have allowed your faith to be shallow. The New Testament often compares faith to a growing plant—a very helpful model to which we shall return frequently in this book. It is very easy to uproot a plant in its early stages of growth; once it has laid down roots, however, it is much harder to dislodge it. By failing to allow their faith to take root, some Christians make themselves very vulnerable to doubt. They haven’t thought about their faith. For example, someone may raise a question about the historical evidence for the existence of Jesus. They don’t know the answer. So doubts begin to creep in—often quite needless doubts, it must be said.

If this happens to you, view it in the right way. The gospel isn’t an illusion that is shown up for what it really is by hard questions—like the emperor’s clothes in the famous story by Hans Christian Andersen. The fact that you haven’t been able to give adequate answers to some person’s questions or objections to your faith doesn’t mean that Christianity falls to pieces the moment people start asking hard questions! It doesn’t mean that you’ve committed some kind of intellectual suicide by becoming a Christian. It shouldn’t mean that your confidence and trust in the gospel collapse, like a deflating balloon, just because someone asked you a question you couldn’t answer. It does, however, mean that you haven’t thought these things through.
Your faith is real—but it is not mature. It may be a little shallow and superficial. But—and this matters enormously!—faith can grow, and it strengthens as it grows. It needs to take root, and grow into a strong, vibrant plant. The problem often lies not in the gospel, but in the nature and depth of your response to it. You have allowed the gospel to capture your imagination, but not your mind. Your faith is shallow, when it should be—and can be—profound. Your failure here ought to be a challenge to you to go away and read more deeply about these matters, or talk them over with other more experienced Christians. In addition to helping you deepen your understanding of these things, doing this will enable you to be more helpful to those interested in learning about Christianity.

This doesn’t mean that you should try harder to believe, as if it were by wishing harder that difficulties disappear. This idea of “faith in faith” won’t get you very far. You should see doubt as pointing to your faith being based on weak foundations. It is those foundations which need attention. A superficial faith is a vulnerable faith, easily (and needlessly) upset when confronted with questions or criticism.

Faith is like reinforced concrete. Concrete which is reinforced with a steel framework is able to stand far greater stress and strain than concrete on its own. Experience which is reinforced with understanding will not crumble easily under pressure. Again, faith is like the flesh and bones of a human body. Just as the human skeleton supports the flesh, giving it shape and strength, so understanding supports and gives shape to Christian experience. Without the skeleton, the human body would collapse into a floppy mass. Without flesh, a skeleton is lifeless, hollow and empty; without the skeleton, flesh lacks shape, form and support. Both flesh and bones are needed if the body is to grow and to function properly. Faith needs the vitality of experience if it is to live – and the support of understanding if it is to survive. So reinforce your faith with understanding.

Doubt in Other Worldviews: The Case of Atheism
In the previous chapter, I made an important point that needs to be explored much more thoroughly. Christians tend to think that doubt is a problem for them alone. But it’s not. It’s a problem for any worldview—whether Jewish or Islamic, atheist or religious. Appreciating this point is essential to seeing doubt in its proper perspective. As I used to be an atheist myself, I am going to explore the place of doubt within atheism.
Most people—including, it has to be said, many atheists themselves!—have the rather simple idea that atheism is about fact, whereas Christianity is about faith. Their ideas are factual; those of Christians are unproven. But it’s not like that. Let me explain by asking a question: can I prove with certainty that there is a God? The short answer is “no.” If you have time to study the history of the philosophical arguments for the existence of God, you’ll know that they are suggestive, but not conclusive. It’s pretty much the universal consensus within philosophy that rational argument does not settle the question of God’s existence, one way or the other. The atheist philosopher Kai Nielsen makes this point clearly when he writes: “To show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false . . . All the proofs of God’s existence may fail, but it still may be the case that God exists.” Argument is not going to settle this question, one way or the other. And that means that the outcome is uncertain for the atheist.

Now let’s pause here, because you need to appreciate something important. Christians often tend to see only one side of that statement: that nobody can rationally prove that God exists. But can you see that there is another side to it? That nobody can disprove that God exists? The Christian who believes in God thus does so as a matter of faith. But can you see that the atheist has to do the same? That her belief that there is no God is exactly that—a belief! Because she cannot prove that there is no God, her atheism is also a faith.

Atheists don’t like this argument, but it is correct. The simple fact is that when anyone starts making statements about the meaning of life, the existence of God, or whether there is life after death, they are making statements of faith. You can’t prove, either by rational argument or by scientific investigation, what life is all about. Whether you are Christian or atheist, you share the same problem. It’s essential that you appreciate that it’s not just Christians that make these statements as a matter of faith. And because they make these statements as a matter of faith, they are just as vulnerable to doubt as anyone else—Christians included. We’re all in the same situation.
Let’s explore this a little further, by looking at two important issues: atheist arguments for the non-existence of God, and so-called “scientific atheism,” which holds that science disproves God’s existence. Both, as we shall discover, are hopeless overstatements of the real situation.
Atheist arguments against the existence of God
Atheists often tell Christians that their faith is infantile. It’s just fine for the minds of impressionable young children, but laughable in the case of adults. We’ve grown up now, and need to move on. Why should we believe things that can’t be scientifically proved? Faith in God, many atheists argue, is just like believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. When you grow up, you grow out of it. And if you don’t, then you are either mentally retarded or intellectually dishonest.
But this is just rhetoric—the attempt to discredit a belief by heaping ridicule upon in. In fact, it is this argument itself that is childish. If this simplistic argument has any plausibility, it requires a real analogy between God and Santa Claus to exist—which it clearly does not. There is no serious evidence that people regard God, Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy as belonging to the same category. I stopped believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy when I was about six years old. After being an atheist for some years, I discovered God when I was eighteen, and have never regarded this as some kind of infantile regression. As I noticed while researching my book The Twilight of Atheism, a large number of people come to believe in God in later life—when they are “grown up.” I have yet to meet anyone who came to believe in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy late in life! So let’s leave this sort of nonsense behind, and look at a more serious argument, often advanced by atheists.
The most sophisticated atheist arguments against God date from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and are found in the writings of Ludwig Feuerbach, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Although they are slightly different, there is a common structure to each. Here it is, set out step by step.

1. There is no God.
2. But some people believe in God.
3. Since there is no God, this must be the result of some kind of delusion or wishful thinking.
4. People believe in God because they want to. Their faith is just a wish-fulfilment.
5. So faith in God is just a human invention, corresponding to a human need. (Atheists differ over how this need arises: Marx puts it down to social alienation and Freud to psychological forces).
Atheists regularly use these arguments against Christians, as I have found out in university debates. Their faith often rests heavily on this kind of argument. But let’s look at this argument in more detail. On closer examination, it turns out to be as full of holes as Swiss cheese. There are three major points that need to be made.

1. The argument is circular. It presupposes that there is no God. Step (5) depends on step (1). If there was a God, then there would be no delusion, would there? It proves nothing, except that atheism is logically self-sufficient. And so is just about every worldview. The important question is: how well does it relate to the real world? The argument merely restates its presuppositions as its conclusions.

2. It is logically flawed. It is certainly true that nothing exists just because I want it to. I might long to have a pile of hundred dollar bills beside me, so that I could pay off some of my debts. But wanting something doesn’t make it happen! We can all agree on that, I think. But—and it is a very big “but”—it does not follow that, because I want something, it cannot exist. Do you see this point? Imagine a man who has fallen overboard from a ship. He wants there to be a helicopter to rescue him. So helicopters can’t exist, because he wants them to? Or the specific helicopter that is already on its way to rescue him cannot exist, because he needs it? Or imagine that you feel very thirsty. You need a drink of water. So water can’t exist, because you want it? Or the specific glass of water that you are about to drink cannot exist, because you need it just then? It just doesn’t follow. As C. S. Lewis so often pointed out, it looks as if God has made us in such a way that we long for him—and then go on to find him! The desire for God originates from God—and eventually leads to God! So much for the logic of the argument against God.

3. The argument works just as well against atheism. This is a devastating point. The atheist’s argument goes like this: you want there to be a God. So you invent him. Your religious views are invented to correspond to what you want. But this line of argument works just as well against atheism. Imagine an extermination camp commandant during the Second World War. Would there not be excellent reasons for supposing that he might hope that God does not exist, given what might await him on the day of judgment? And might not his atheism itself be a wish-fulfillment? And as cultural historians have pointed out for many years, based on their analysis of European history from about 1780 to 1980, people often reject the idea of God because they long for autonomy—the right to do what they please, without any interference from God. They don’t need to worry about divine judgment. They reject belief in God because it suits them. That’s what they want. But that doesn’t mean that this is the way things really are.

This point was made superbly by the Polish philosopher and writer Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1980. Parodying the old Marxist idea that religion was the “opium of the people,” he remarked that a new opium had taken its place—rejection of belief in God on account of its implications for our ultimate accountability. “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.”
Atheism thus depends on a core belief that it cannot verify. Do you see the importance of this point? Atheists live out their lives on the basis of the belief that there is no God, believing that this is right, but not being able to prove it conclusively. Hardly surprisingly, atheists have tried to buttress their beliefs in other ways. One of them is to appeal to the natural sciences. These, we are told with great confidence by atheists, have disproved belief in God. But is this really the case?

The inconclusive case of scientific atheism
The twentieth century has seen many atheist scientists insist that science has eliminated belief in God. The Oxford zoologist and atheist propagandist Richard Dawkins is a good example of this kind of writer. His simplistic overstatements are regularly criticized by other scientists as representing a serious abuse of the scientific method. The simple truth is that the natural sciences neither prove nor disprove the existence of God. So either we have to give up this discussion as meaningless, or we settle it on other grounds.
You will have no problem finding writers who talk about the “limitless powers of science” to explain things, or who argue that only scientific knowledge can be taken seriously. Here is the British atheist writer Bertrand Russell on this point: “Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be attained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” Yet this is a ludicrous overstatement. First, it is not actually a scientific statement, so it disqualifies itself as being true knowledge! Yet more seriously, it would mean that we can never answer questions about the meaning of life, even from an atheist perspective—something that Russell seems to overlook.

Yet science has its limits. That’s no criticism of science, by the way – just a recognition of its boundaries. Within those boundaries, it is highly competent. But outside them, it cannot deliver the simple answers that some hoped for. Sir Peter Medawar, who won a Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery of acquired immunological tolerance, was well aware of the limits of science. His words deserve to be pondered:

The existence of a limit to science is, however, made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions having to do with first and last things—questions such as “How did everything begin?’; ‘What are we all here for?’; ‘What is the point of living?’
The point is clear: science is wonderful when it comes to discovering the chemical structure of planetary atmospheres, the cause of cancer, or finding a cure for blood poisoning. But can it tell us why we are here? Or whether there is a God or not? No. It has its limits. And those who insist—quite wrongly—that science demands or necessitates or proves atheism have some serious explaining to do. Let’s hear Sir Peter again:
There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare—particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for—that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or ‘pseudo-questions’ that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer.

Let’s be clear about this. It is perfectly possible to interpret the natural sciences in atheist, theistic and agnostic ways. The sciences can be “spun” in ways making them support disbelief in God, belief in God, or scepticism. But the sciences demand none of these interpretations. Stephen Jay Gould, widely regarded as America’s greatest evolutionary biologist before his recent death from cancer, was no religious believer. But he was adamant that his own religious scepticism could not be derived from the sciences.
To say it for all my colleagues and for the umpteenth million time (from college bull sessions to learned treatises): science simply cannot (by its legitimate methods) adjudicate the issue of God’s possible superintendence of nature. We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can’t comment on it as scientists.

Gould rightly insists that science can work only with naturalistic explanations; it can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God. And those who argue that it disproves God have just lost the plot, imposing their atheism on a neutral science.

God is simply not an empirical hypothesis which can be checked out by the scientific method. As Stephen Jay Gould and others have insisted, the natural sciences are not capable of adjudicating, negatively or positively, on the God-question. It lies beyond their legitimate scope. There is simply no logically watertight means of arguing from observation of the world to the existence, or non-existence of God. This has not stopped people from doing so, as a casual survey of writings on both sides of the question indicates. But it does mean that these “arguments” are suggestive, and nothing more. The grand idea that atheism is the only option for a thinking person has long since passed away, being displaced by a growing awareness of the limitations placed on human knowledge, and an increased expectation of humility in the advocation of religious choices.
Two major surveys of the religious beliefs of scientists, carried out at the beginning and end of the twentieth century, bear witness to a highly significant trend. One of the most widely held beliefs within atheist circles has been that, as the beliefs and practices of the “scientific” worldview became increasingly accepted within western culture, the number of practicing scientists with any form of religious beliefs would dwindle to the point of insignificance. A survey of the religious views of scientists, undertaken in 1916, showed that about 40% of scientists had some form of personal religious beliefs. At the time, this was regarded as shocking, even scandalous. The survey was repeated in 1996, and showed no significant reduction in the proportion of scientists holding such beliefs, seriously challenging the popular notion of the relentless erosion of religious faith within the profession. The survey cuts the ground from under those who argued that the natural sciences are necessarily atheistic. Forty percent of those questioned had active religious beliefs, 40% had none (and can thus legitimately be regarded as atheist), and 20% were agnostic.

The stereotype of the necessarily atheist scientist lingers on in western culture at the dawn of the third millennium. It has its uses, and continues to surface in the rehashed myths of the intellectual superiority of atheism over its rivals. The truth, as might be expected, is far more complex and considerably more interesting.

The point of these reflections is obvious. Any worldview—atheist, Islamic, Jewish, Christian or whatever—ultimately depends on assumptions that cannot be proved. Every house is built on foundations, and the foundations of worldviews are not ultimately capable of being proved in every respect. Everyone who believes anything significant or worthwhile about the meaning of life does so as a matter of faith. We’re all in the same boat. And once you realize this, doubt seems a very different matter. It’s not a specifically Christian problem—it’s a universal human problem. And that helps to set it in its proper perspective.

Alister McGrath is Professor of Historical Theology at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he also lectures at RZIM’s Oxford’s Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). For more about Professor McGrath and his writings, see his website
Alister E . McGrath