Christians On Social Media


Peter said, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [apologia; apologetics] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15)

This is the tenor and main point of the article, CHRISTIANS ARGUING WITH CHRISTIANS ON SOCIAL MEDIA: A REAL INTEREST IN THE SALVATION OF THE LOST?….

I encourage you to read it. I put it here that people would read it, and that I would be reminded of it and read it again myself.

It’s far too easy to say things on social media that we wouldn’t think of saying face to face with someone in conversation. If we are not responding to people with gentleness and respect, as Peter urges us, we are not responding in love. We might as well not respond at all.

I think that stopping to consider whether we would say something face to face that we are about to say on social media is a good litmus test. We live in a reactionary world, and social media exasperates the problem by giving us the instant gratification of an immediate response for every thought the crosses our minds.

We need to be more self controlled than that. We need to be more self-sacrificial,  sacrificing that desire for the immediate gratification for the good of the Gospel. We can pick up our crosses and follow Jesus in this social media age by dying to that desire for the instant response.

We need to be salt and light. Salt accentuates the taste of food, but it does that subtly. Too much salt overwhelms and destroys the flavor of the food. Just the right amount accents and brings out the flavor. People are much more apt to take notice of what we say and take it to heart if we say it with gentleness and respect, as Peter admonishes us.

Light illuminates. Too often we demonstrate a great deal of heat without a great deal of light. It isn’t our job to convict people of their sin or even to convince them of the rightness of our positions. The Holy Spirit is well-equipped to do the convicting in peoples’ hearts. We just need to be faithful to speak the truth, but do it in love – always in love.

God’s word does not go out and come back void, but our idea of how people should respond and what it means that God’s word does not come back void may not be accurate.

When Isaiah was given the commission to speak God’s word to the people in the Temple, he was told that he would speak, but people wouldn’t listen. It wasn’t Isaiah’s responsibility to make sure they listened. It was his responsibility simply to speak and to let God do His work. If nobody listened, still Isaiah was being faithful in what God called him to do.

Are we always speaking God’s word? We are finite beings. We might not always have it right. We should have the humility to realize that.

Our love for other people, on the other hand, is always “true”. How we treat people will always shine through and have an impact. Our greatest apologetic is the love of God. Love covers a multitude of sins.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

 

The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument

The fact is that all scientists are filling in the gaps with a model of reality they believe best those gaps in light of the knowledge they have. 


Most people who have entertained ultimate questions seriously abut whether God exists are familiar with the “God of the Gaps argument” that is made against the existence of God. It goes something like this: In the past, people couldn’t explain the rain, so they concluded that God must be crying. People couldn’t explain an earthquake, so they thought God must be mad at something they did. People invoked a divine perspective to fill gaps in our knowledge and understanding of how the world works.

From that observation (which is factually true as a simplistic statement), they add in the equally true observation that the progression of science over the centuries has been filling in the gaps and providing knowledge and understanding of natural processes that explain the things we didn’t know without having to resort to the conclusion that “God does it”. Thus, the argument goes, we should stop invoking divine explanations… and stop believing in God.

Scientists realized they didn’t need to invoke divine explanations at all to be able to study the natural world, and so the scientific consensus has concluded over recent centuries that divine explanations are not only not necessary, but not appropriate. Divine explanations are viewed today as anti-scientific. Many who are concerned with the purity of science would deem divine explanations as heretical.

The God of the gaps argument (an argument to prove the nonexistence of God), however, is pretty weak. The fact that we can do science (which is the study of the natural world) without appealing to a supernatural being or explanation isn’t surprising. There is an order to the natural world that we can study and know, but that order doesn’t preclude the existence of a super (other than natural) Being behind it all.

If we resign ourselves to nothing but the study of the natural world, how do we expect to know anything about the possibility of reality beyond it?  If we limit ourselves to naturalistic explanations, we have foreclosed any other possibility.

Frankly, there is a big gap between the fact that the natural world has order that we can study and the question whether anything beyond the natural world exists. I can turn the argument around and accuse the atheist of filling the gap with the conclusion that no God exists.

But all of this really misses the important point. Hugh Ross addresses the God of the gaps argument in a recent interview with Kahldoun Sweis. He says, “In science, there are always gaps. We will never learn everything. We are limited human beings.” However, when we “push back the frontiers of science”, we have to ask ourselves whether the gaps in our knowledge are getting bigger and more problematic? Or are they getting smaller and less problematic?”

Continue reading “The Hole In the God of the Gaps Argument”

Questioning the Skepticism about Some of Paul’s Letters

A little skepticism of the skeptics might be in order in questioning the rejection of the authorship of some of the “questionable” Pauline epistles.

Old Engraving of the Conversion of Paul

I first learned that some of the “Pauline epistles” were not written by Paul in my religion courses in college. That was the scholarly consensus then, as it is now, among the elite New Testament scholars in colleges and universities around the world. This consensus grows out of the “school of higher criticism” that began in the 19th Century in Tubingen, Germany.

The so-called “school of higher criticism” is textual criticism with a heavy emphasis on the text. (I will explain that comment below.) Not that textual criticism, itself, should be suspect. Textual criticism is “a branch of textual scholarship, philology, and of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification of textual variants, or different versions, of either manuscripts or of printed books…. The objective of the textual critic’s work is to provide a better understanding of the creation and historical transmission of the text and its variants.” (Wikipedia)

And by the way, there are differences among the New Testament manuscripts. Many differences. That fact shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone in this information rich age. If you aren’t aware of that fact, you would do well to consider the work of Daniel Wallace on the subject. I have addressed this issue before (Can We Trust the Bible?). But, I digress….

I have no issue with textual criticism applied to the Scriptures. We have learned much about the Bible from the method of study called textual criticism. “Criticism” here doesn’t mean, necessarily, rejection or doubt, but is more of a method of study that recognizes textual differences between manuscripts and attempts to identify the text that is most true to the original text, among other things.

Because we have so many manuscripts, well over 25,000 of them in various languages, there are variants that need to be addressed and understood. Textual criticism helps us with this understanding. (I should add that we have such a high degree of certainty about what the original text says precisely because we have so many manuscripts. If you want to dig in to the topic of textual criticism as applied to the Bible, I recommend The Basics of New Testament Textual Criticism.)

Some people take the fact that there are many differences among the manuscripts as a reason to reject the New Testament as Scripture, believing it to be inherently unreliable, questing whether we even know what the original authors wrote. This is an extreme view, in my opinion, though one that skeptical intellectuals seem to like. Perhaps, their fondness of this view is that it eliminates the need to take Scripture seriously or to apply it to their lives (to apply a little skepticism to the skeptics).

The fact is that we have such a wealth of New Testament manuscripts (5800 Greek, 10,000 Latin and 9800 Syriac, Coptic, etc.) that we can know with a very high degree of accuracy precisely what the original text was (like 98.5% per Dr. Wallace). Even if we didn’t have a single manuscript left, there are some 36,000 quotations of New Testament text by the early church leaders. Wallace observes that we could assemble the entire New Testament from those quotations alone, without the need for a single manuscript of the text.

But, I digress. Only a little. The point is that we should be as skeptical of the skeptics as they are skeptical of the text. In fact, Skepticism is the hallmark of the higher school of criticism. Skepticism is their starting place. They assume a skeptical approach. They don’t just wipe the slate clean, and start from neutral; they assume that the plain meaning of the text, the authenticity of the text and the reliability of the text has the burden of proof. And for this reason, we have good reason to be skeptical.

This form of skepticism is the flip side of what some might call blind faith. There is a danger in being skeptical that will not admit a positive result. There is a commitment to skepticism that is counterfactual. We can be as “committed” to skepticism as we are to belief to the exclusion of the facts and reality. I believe this is the case with the Pauline epistles that scholars reject.

Continue reading “Questioning the Skepticism about Some of Paul’s Letters”

Significance in the Way Christianity Spreads

Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity.

Os Guinness talks about differences between Christianity and other religions in an interview with Justin Brierley a few years ago. He made a statement that Christianity is the only “traveling religion”.

He observed that Hinduism began in India and remains primarily in India. Buddhism began in India and remains primarily in India and Eastern Asia. Islam began in the Middle East and remains primarily in the Middle East. Christianity, however, began in the Middle East. Then it moved to Europe; and then it moved to North America; and now Christianity is growing fastest in Africa and Latin America and Asia.

While I think Guinness overstates the case little bit, he got me thinking about the how the major world religions have spread. For instance, Islam, which rivals Christianity in numbers, grew very rapidly during the life and immediately after the death of Muhammad. It spread throughout the centuries into Europe and down into Africa and more recently across Southern Asia.

To that extent, Islam rivals Christianity in its “travel” around the world. But the spread of Islam looked different than the spread of Christianity. This is the significant fact, in my opinion – not so much that Christianity has traveled through all the world (though it has) like no other religion.

Continue reading “Significance in the Way Christianity Spreads”

What Jesus Thinks of Doubters

In light of the recent announcements of Christian leaders struggling with doubt, what does Jesus think of doubters?


Following the announcement of Joshua Harris that he no longer considers himself a Christian, and Marty Sampson, who says he is loosing his faith, the Christian world has exploded with conversation about doubt and doubters. So much angst. Some of the comments have been harsh with criticism.

These kinds of announcements tend to rock a world that may look shaky to begin with from the the outside. Maybe even from the inside.

These guys may not be household names, (I didn’t know either name until a few weeks ago), but they represent some influence in 21st Century Christianity in the United States (Harris) and beyond (Sampson). Joshua Harris wrote a book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye (1997), that defined the dating culture (or lack thereof) for a generation of young Christians. Marty Sampson was a worship leader and songwriter for one of the most prolific and visible (if not controversial) Christian churches, Hillsong.

In the wake of his divorce, Joshua Harris publicly eschewed his faith in a recent announcement, stating that he is no longer a Christian. Not many weeks later, Marty Sampson, the Hillsong worship leader, made a similar announcement, saying that he was losing his faith. Since then he has clarified that he hasn’t walked away from the faith. He is simply struggling with doubt – something most Christians have experienced (even if we don’t like to talk about it).

The reactions have predictably poured in. When high profile Christians struggle with their faith, it’s the equivalent of an earthquake in a third world country. You just know there will be casualties. (The fact that we put so much faith in our leaders is another topic in itself!) Many of those reactions have been negative, even harsh.

That’s why I write. That’s why Mike and Debbie Licona have taken to the Internet in a video to discuss the issue. Mike has written, perhaps, the most significant work on the evidence of the resurrection – The Resurrection: A New Historiographical Approach. His mentor, Gary Habermas, revolutionized the way people think about the resurrection, even skeptics, by using the “minimal facts” that even skeptics will accept to make a compelling case for the resurrection.

And here’s the thing: the works that have come to define these men and the quality of their scholarship were born out of doubt. They were once doubters. Their doubts led them to dig deeper and get answers, even if those answers might unravel the faith that had come to define them. They stared doubt in the face and dared to seek truth, and their journeys led to their quintessential works.

Doubts are not necessarily a bad thing. Fear, I believe, is worse than doubt, and fear often exasperates the doubt and prevents the doubts from being resolved. When I survey the Scripture, I see admonitions against fear that suggest that fear, not doubt, is the antithesis to faith.

As for doubt, we shouldn’t be so reluctant or fearful. If our faith can’t hold up, it isn’t worth holding onto. If God is true, and I believe He is, we have nothing to fear. We can expose our doubts to the truth with assurance that they can be resolved.

Further, I think it’s important to consider that what Jesus thought about doubters. Jesus didn’t condemn doubters, He was patient with them. We don’t find him railing against doubters, we find him embracing them. Consider the observations along these lines by Mike Licona in the video below:



I have often thought about Thomas, (aka Doubting Thomas) in this context. He didn’t just doubt once after Jesus died, demanding to see his hands and side; Thomas was a doubter from the beginning. And that underscored to me that Jesus leaves Room for Doubters and Skeptics.

So the message is this: if you are doubting, be honest about it and seek answers. Jesus invites us to knock, and keep on knocking, to seek and keep on seeking, to ask and keep on asking. You might even read the book by Gary Habermas, The Thomas Factor: Using Your Doubts to Draw Closer to God.

And to Christians who are not (presently) wrestling with doubt, remember the words of Jude: “Be merciful to those who doubt….” (verse 22) Jesus demonstrated that very attitude towards Thomas, who doubted from the beginning, to Peter, who denied Jesus three times when the chips were down, and toward us when we doubt.

What is the Nothing Out of which the Universe Emerged


On a typical Sunday morning, I am contemplative, thinking about God, the nature of the world and other ultimate things. I have gotten home from church. The distant rumbling of thunder portends more rain to add to the buckets (more like vats) that came down earlier this morning. (We’ve had an unusual amount of precipitation in the Chicago area for about a year now.)

Though sunlight threatens to break through the clouds, despite the rumblings to the contrary, it’s a good day for reading and thinking.

In that vein, I raed an article from Forbes magazine that came up in my Google feed: Ask Ethan: Can We Really Get a Universe From Nothing? Ethan, is Ethan Siegel, a Forbes contributor. He is an astrophysicist, author and “science communicator” according to the short bio at the end of the article.

It just so happens that I spent my Friday evening this week with another astrophysicist, Hugh Ross, a brilliant man who is a Christian, and also a man of science. In fact, it was science that led him to his belief in God. But I digress. (You can hear the story of how science led Hugh Ross to God in his own words here.)

My meeting with Hugh Ross isn’t really relevant to the topic, other than the fact that our conversation got me thinking about science and ultimate things, things that science doesn’t really address (or hasn’t yet answered). Does God exist? Where did the universe come from?

The article suggests an answer to one of those ultimate questions: where did the universe come from? It suggests that the universe didn’t really come from nothing – at least not the kind of nothing that we usually imagine when we think of nothing. It entices the reader with a title that suggests an ultimate answer, but it doesn’t deliver.

Continue reading “What is the Nothing Out of which the Universe Emerged”

Are the Gospels Reliable?


I recently read a blog post by Brett Lunn, on his blog, Capturing Christianity, titled Why Everyone Should Believe that the Gospels are Reliable. If it were that easy, everyone would believe the Gospels are reliable. But, he makes some good points, and one in particular that sparked my interest.

The Gospels, of course, refer to the books we know as the Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The earliest copies of those writings don’t actually contain a reference to authorship, which has occasioned a great deal of modern conjecture about who really wrote them. I say “modern conjecture” because the authorship wasn’t questioned for centuries.

In fact, the earliest charge from anyone raising a question about the authorship of the Gospels was advanced in the 4th Century by Faustus. Augustine, the great writer, thinker and theologian took on the skeptic, Faustus, with the response, “How do we know the authorship of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Varro, and other similar writers but by the unbroken chain of evidence?”[1] With the Gospels, we have a history of acceptance that they are authentic writings of the men to whom they are ascribed all the way up to the 4th Century. That’s a pretty good chain of title.

Further, it’s not as if the writings didn’t actually identify the authors, as people suppose. They did identify the authors, but the identification was in the titles (not in the text), and they didn’t uniformly identify the authors in exactly the same format. Some said, “Gospel according to….”, and some simply said, “According to….” Much ado about nothing?

Another criticism is that the Gospels weren’t written by the most officious people. John, of course, was a close disciple of Jesus, and so was Matthew, but Matthew was kind of suspect. He was a tax collector, and tax collectors for the Roman government were persona non gratis in the Jewish outskirts of the Roman Empire. Couldn’t a disciple with better credentials have authored a Gospel?

Mark and Luke aren’t even disciples! Luke was a companion of Paul. He wasn’t even Jewish; he was a gentile! He wrote in the Greek style of the highly educated, using Greek expressions, instead of Hebrew ones. We know him chiefly through Paul’s letters: Luke the doctor (Col. 4:14) who was the last companion to remain with Paul before his death (2 Tim. 4:10-11) among other references.

And Mark? He was a companion of Peter. He was also a companion of Paul, being described as a missionary with Barnabas and Paul (John Mark) in whose house many gathered to pray. Paul also asks for Mark to come to him in the same letter in which he laments that Luke is the only person still with him. (2 Timothy 4:11) Peter referred to Mark as his son, which most scholars take to mean a term of honor and endearment. (1 Peter 5:13)

Mark also had a falling out with Paul at some point, however. (Acts 15:36-39) Luke was a Gentile. Matthew was a despised tax collector. Couldn’t even a fledgling religion come up with credible scribes of the central story?

Sure, if Christianity was nothing but a religion concocted by the imaginations of men. Frankly, why would anyone choose this cast of characters?

I think the answer is that no one would have chosen these guys, and the story wasn’t made up. These are the men who reported what they saw, what they heard and what they knew to be true from firsthand accounts. The truth is kind of like that. It isn’t neat and clean like a story someone made up. It is what it is.

And this is the point that intrigues me by the article that inspires this piece. Continue reading “Are the Gospels Reliable?”