Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Johannine Christmas reading

St. John doesn't get much love at Christmas. Here's a little something from him on the subject:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. (1)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (2)

(1) 1 John 1:1-2
(2) John 1: 1, 14, 10-12

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What Does 'Believe in Jesus' Mean?

Evangelical Christians throw the phrases "believe in Jesus" and the more-or-less synonymous "ask Jesus into your heart" around freely, so much so that they've entered into American pop religion. The problem is we rarely take the time to explain what they really mean which can result in people having a very confused, un-biblical understanding.

So what does it really mean to "believe in Jesus?"

What it isn't
First, let's look at some things that are commonly mistaken for the real thing. Believing in Jesus isn't just believing that he's real or that he really was a historical person. It's not even believing that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

It's not believing Jesus cares about you. It's not praying to him. It's not believing he will heal you or help you with your problems with work, money, or family.

What it is
The New Testament word we translate as "believe" carries a lot of meaning with it. It includes trust, reliance, and dependence on the object of the belief.

An example would be believing a chair can hold you up. Standing there looking at it, saying it could hold you up isn't biblical belief. Sitting on the edge of the chair so that some of your weight is still on your feet isn't biblical belief. Sitting solidly in the chair with you feet in the air, so that you would fall if it broke, is believing the chair will hold you up.

How does this relate to Jesus? To believe in Jesus, you have to
1) agree that you need Jesus to forgive your sins
2) believe that his death was sufficient for the forgiveness of your sins
3) give up any notion of ever being good enough to please God/go to heaven/earn forgiveness on your own.

Additionally, Jesus always talked about belief paired with repentance. You aren't called to "believe" but "repent and believe." So along with the above, you also must decide to change the way you live — from doing it however you feel is best to living the way Jesus says.

So to "believe in Jesus" you have to trust solely in Jesus' work on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins and devote your life to following Jesus. It's a life with no other safety net; if Jesus fails you, you're doomed. But that's OK. Jesus won't fail.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Christian Caricatures 2

I can understand when people can't believe in some element or another of the Christian gospel. I hate it, however, when they reject the gospel because they've picked up a bad copy, and there are a lot of caricatures of the gospel out there.

One version I've seen looks something like this:

Why does Jesus have to pester you "worship me, worship me?" It's great how you saved us and all, thanks, but go away now.

After you get past the "oh my gosh I can't believe you actually said that" response, how would you reply to that?

The problem seems to be that this person sees Christian evangelism as Jesus saying "Worship me" as thanks for his past act of saving us. So the person making this error has picked up on the "Jesus died to save us from our sins" part of the message but is missing that you have to make a conscious decision to respond to that act.

My response would be to point out the part that is missing:

It's like someone saying that, because antibiotics were discovered, we no longer have to worry about that infection you've got. No! You still have to take the drug.

Yes, Jesus essentially "created" salvation. You still have to take him up on it.

This may have its root in how we talk about "believing" in Jesus. "Believe that Jesus died for your sins." OK, I do, great, see ya. There's so much more to it than we so often let on. More about that next time.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Christian Caricatures 1

I can understand when people can't believe in some element or another of the Christian gospel. I hate it, however, when they reject the gospel because they've picked up a bad copy, and there are a lot of caricatures of the gospel out there.

One I've seen a going around recently looks something like this:

"I love you so much, and if you don't love me back I will torture you for eternity."
Appalling, isn't it? Just enough contact with actual Christian teaching to sound (very, very superficially) like the gospel — for about three-tenths of a second. But some people actually see this and "Yeah, yeah, Christianity really is stupid!"

No, I don't think this kind of thing drives away Christians. But we have a large pseudo-Christian fringe society that knows some of the lingo and has a grasp of a few of the concepts, and they rely on that as their religious experience. Things like this only encourage them to not take Christianity more seriously, to not go deeper, closer and become actual Christians.

So I don't think we should let these caricatures stand. We should correct them when we can. But the people spouting (or reading) these things are probably not the deep, thoughtful conversation type — at least not about this topic, not right now. So we need sound-bite sized responses to give them a little something to chew on, a rock in their shoe.

So if you had to put the gospel into a sound-bite, how would you do it?

John 3:16 is a great summary but I wouldn't want to use it for two reasons: First, "believe" is a word that has been abused and misconstrued; in current English usage, it bears very little resemblance to what the word in that verse really means. Second, it's too familiar. When people see it, they don't really see it. It's like when you see a stop sign, you don't actually read the word "stop" every time.

So here's what I've come up with. 

You've rebelled against me and so must be punished, but I love you so much I'm willing to take the punishment for you.
What do you think? There's so much missing. I'd love to have a paragraph, but a compound sentence is probably the most we can get away with. I'd love a better summary if you've got one, though.

Are there any other caricatures of Christian teaching that you've come across?

Thursday, August 27, 2015

When is Divorce a Sin?

A recent Christianity Today story looked at people's opinions on when divorce constitutes a sin:

Overall, about four in 10 (39 percent) Americans say divorce is a sin when one partner has committed adultery. A similar number says divorce is a sin, even in cases of abuse (37 percent) or abandonment (38 percent).

By contrast, about a third (32 percent) of Protestant pastors say divorce is a sin in cases of adultery. That drops to about a quarter for divorces in cases of abuse (28 percent) or abandonment (27 percent).

Many are surprised to hear that some think divorce in the case of abuse is a sin. I'm surprised that some think divorce in the case of adultery is a sin. Alright, so when is it a sin?

So what are the foundational texts on divorce? Let's start with Jesus:

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (Matt 5:31-33, emphasis added).

"I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matt 19:1-11, emphasis added).

In both cases, he seems to say that the sin — adultery — comes from remarriage.

The other NT passage on divorce is from Paul:

"A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife" (1Cor 7:10-16, emphasis added).

Again there is this idea that remarriage is the problem.

So when is divorce a sin? I don't think it is. Remarriage is a sin unless the divorce was caused by adultery.

What about abuse? Get out of there! You don't have to keep living with that person. But that doesn't mean you can remarry. And there's the rub.

Our society is so hedonistic it can't conceive of a life of celibacy. Even in the church, people just assume divorce means remarriage. But people do it. Some people live their whole lives without ever having sex. Some are widowed at a relatively young age and never remarry. And people can live celibate lives after separating from a bad spouse.

Do we want to do that? Of course not. But righteousness has to come before pleasure. The Lord has called us to live above the level of normal people. We bless those who curse us, give 'til it hurts, and forgive as we have been forgiven. Sometimes we have to choose celibacy to honor our God.

So does this mean divorce is always OK as long as you're willing to stay single from then on? No.

"'The man who hates and divorces his wife,' says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'does violence to the one he should protect,' says the LORD Almighty" (Mal 2:16).

God doesn't like divorce. Jesus made it clear: "What God has joined together, let no one separate" (Matt 19:6). This is not something that should be done lightly.

This isn't for people who aren't getting along. This isn't for people who have "fallen out of love." Divorce should not happen because of "irreconcilable differences." But when it does happen, it's not the end of the world. If you're willing to pay the price.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Do You Do With a Worldview?

Making sure your worldview is in line with the scriptures is hard work. Is it really worth the effort?

Yes. Your worldview will affect how you live. A worldview can affect how you treat people. It can affect how you see yourself.

Let's examine what than can look like. Consider the nature of humanity. Let's try to apply this Christian view to our world.

One of the key points here is that when we apply our faith to our world, we have to set aside our prejudices and ideas and presuppositions that come from other places. It doesn’t matter if you tend to vote Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Green. If you are a Christian, you need to think about the things of this world, including politics, as a Christian first and act accordingly.

What does the nature of humanity tell us about human institutions?

Humans are made in the image of God, but the image is distorted. That means that we can do good things, but we can also do very bad things. Left on their own, people will generally do bad things. As the old saying goes, power corrupts; human institutions tend to become corrupt, and the more powerful they are, the faster that seems to happen.

What does that tell us about governments? That means that no human government is going to be all good. That doesn’t mean human governments are all bad, but you can’t assume they’re above reproach. Some people in our society tend to want to put a lot of faith in the government. Is that perhaps misguided?

What does that tell us about the Church? The Church, because it has people in it, is going to show signs of sin. But when we look at what the Bible says about God, we see that he is all-powerful, and he always preserves a remnant for himself. Even if the Church became almost totally corrupt, there would still be a godly remnant that our Lord could work with to renew his Church.

Now we need to take it a little closer to home. Let’s look at the fields in which we work. Some may be surprised at the notion that Christian theology might affect how you think about your field. But if our God created everything, it only makes sense that He might have something to offer about every part of it.

One of the best examples of this comes from the history of science. Modern science is what it is only because of the Christian worldview. The basis of modern science is the scientific method. Essentially the scientific method is 1) observe, 2) make a generalization (a hypothesis), 3) test your hypothesis, 4) make a prediction (a theory), 5) test your theory. This was a novel approach.

You may be thinking, but what about the ancient Greeks? Prior to Christianity, “science” consisted of observation and … observation. They didn’t try to predict natural laws because in their worldview, the gods were capricious and temperamental. If you tried to predict how things would go, they might just change the laws of nature. (Now math isn't science. The Pythagorean theorem or the concept of zero are different kinds of things from a theory of gravitation.)

But the Judeo-Christian picture is of an unchanging God of order and law who can be depended on to keep the natural laws the same. A biblical worldview made the notion of a scientific method possible.

Now consider the field of education. What might the fact that we’re specially created by God imply about the question of learning? What might the fact that we’re created in the image of God suggest about how students are dealt with? What might the Fall add to that question? What might the truth that God made males and females different add to questions that are discussed in educational circles? Everyone needs to work these kinds things out for themselves in their own fields.

I want to emphasize that we’ve barely scratched the surface on the nature of humanity, and we didn’t even touch any of the other big questions. What I’m proposing here is not easy – in fact, it will never be finished. We’ll always be struggling to know Christ more and to be more like Christ, so those will obviously be on-going chores. We’ll never run out of people to evangelize, so that chore will never be finished either. We said last week that studying to defend the faith must be continuous or you’ll forget. But this is something different. If you commit to doing this now and until you die, you will always be re-evaluating your worldview for correctness and completeness, and you will always be looking for better ways to apply the faith to this world. The other parts are never complete because we’ll never run out of work; this one will never be complete because we’ll always be learning. But don’t let that discourage you – it’s a worthwhile goal, and doing in imperfectly will still leave the world much better than not doing it.

So how does one make sure he has a Christian worldview? This is going to sound odd, but it is NOT reading the Bible. One, because you always read the Bible through your preconceived notions. You need to look at a properly biblical worldview as a whole and then see where you’re deficient. The other reason is because getting a properly biblical worldview out of the Bible requires synthesizing everything the Bible says about these subjects – that takes a long long time.

After you get a good handle on what the Christian faith says about the world in general, start looking at how to apply it to specific aspects of the world. One thing to do is read – there are books about applying our faith to just about every field; look up yours.

Also, talk to other believers. Don’t just think these things to yourself or you might find yourself wandering off into left field. Follow Lewis’ example and find some thoughtful Christian friends to discuss these things with. It’ll be much better than talking about the latest movies you’ve seen all the time anyway.

I’ve laid out a pretty ambitious picture, I know. Remember, we will represent Christ wherever we go; doing it well, though, is hard. It requires time, effort, preparation, thought, and persistence. This is not a destination; it’s a lifestyle. Is your Savior worth some holy sweat? Are your unsaved friends and family worth some holy sweat?

We can't make the world change. But we can show the world what it looks like when life is lived God’s way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

What is a Christian Worldview?

Christians need to learn to see and think about the world through the lens of scripture — that is, they need to develop a biblical worldview.

Worldviews are frequently described as the answers to a series of questions. The questions vary, but the ones I mentioned before are useful. Here I will list the questions again and answer them in some detail, but remember that whole books have been written on this topic, so my answers will naturally be limited.

1) What is the nature of God?
First and foremost, God exists. He is eternal, meaning he always existed and always will. He exists independent of the universe, which he created. He can influence the natural world but is not bound by it or the rules that govern it. God is spirit, which is neither matter nor energy. God is neither male nor female but has chosen to use masculine terms to communicate his nature.

2) What is the nature of reality?
The physical world we experience really exists, but that is not the only reality. There are spiritual components to the natural world, too. The world was created by God, is dependent on God, and continues to exist only by his good pleasure. The physical reality we currently experience will not continue indefinitely. Our universe is largely orderly — it obeys regular, consistent physical laws unless told to do otherwise and thus can (usually) be understood. [This is why modern science had to wait on the Judeo-Christian worldview. The ancients observed but were loathe to predict because of the capricious gods they believed in.]

3) What is the nature of human kind?
A lot of the answer to this question can be pulled out of Gen 1:26-17, 2:18, Rom 3:10, 3:23.

We have a interesting picture of man painted in these scriptures. We are made in the image of God; alone of all God’s creatures, we are the image of God. But we are sinful creatures; the image of God is distorted in us because of our sinful nature. We also learned that from the beginning God made us male and female. God designed sexuality; it is not a societal construct but the plan of our creator. And we learned that we are communal creatures – God recognized at the beginning that Adam needed an appropriate companion. We are not meant to live in isolation.

[Notice that we didn’t find all of our verses together. That is why we have to study theology. If we just read the Bible on our own, we’ll come across all of these verses, but putting them all together properly takes a lot of time and effort, and it is best to go outside of ourselves for this – both because we can’t do everything, so we should let the professionals do it, and so that we can check our understanding of the Bible against other people. If we aren’t careful, we can come up with some weird stuff sometimes. We have to check our beliefs against other godly, intelligent people to make sure we haven’t accidentally wandered off into left field somewhere. Even such a great mind as C.S. Lewis had a group of friends he regularly met with to discuss ideas and make sure no one had strayed too far off the reservation.]

4) What happens to a person after death?
"It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb 9:27 KJV). I don't quote the KJV often, but sometimes you just can't beat the wording. People live once then face judgement and then the just desserts of their choices.

5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?
Because God made us to know and put us in a world that can be known — one that is, in fact, intended to reveal God to us. For that reason, our senses are (largely) reliable, so we can trust what they tell us about the world around us.

6) How do we know what is right and wrong?
Right and wrong are based on the nature of God. We know them because he has revealed it to us. Some of it is coded into human nature (thank you Adam and Eve), but some of it isn't. Even that part that we seem to know at an instinctual level, though, can be clouded, distorted thanks to the fall. But the fact that some humans think evil things are good doesn't disprove the existence of good and evil any more than than the existence of colorblindness disproves the existence of color.

7) What is the meaning of human history?
Human history is the story of our interaction with God. It is our creation, fall, and redemption. It has meaning only in context of that story.

That's a quick summary of the way Christianity describes the world. Every other religion or system of thought has competing answers to those questions. Some say there is no God or there are many gods or we are all god. Some say the physical world is all that exists; some say the physical world is an illusion. How you think about these things influences the decisions you make in your life, so it is important to start from a solid foundation.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Making Him Known: Applying the Faith

We are here to know Christ and to make him known. To effectively make him known, we need to be godly men and women who are ready, willing, and able to share the faith, defend the faith, and apply the faith to our world.

Sharing the faith is pretty easy clear. Defending the faith isn't hard to figure out. What on earth is "applying the faith?"

I've struggled with how, exactly, to explain that one myself.

The word of God, the Bible, tells us how to live our lives. It is the basis for our moral behavior. It should also inform our other behavior.

There is a tendency among Christians to divide our lives into the secular and the sacred. We have our jobs, hobbies, and political beliefs; the sacred covers church, quiet times, morals. We carefully keep the two separate – we go to the Bible for advice on family life on occasion, but generally we say Jesus has something to say about the sacred, but what does he have to say about the mundane things of life? We go to college, and they teach us how to think about our fields. We get political ideas from our parents and friends, political commentators, and politicians.

The problem with this is two-fold. One, Jesus wants to influence every part of our lives. Two, Jesus made the world and everything in it, so he has something to say about everything in it – government, education, science, law, and anything else you can think of.

There is no “secular” to the Christian. Our beliefs need to be expressed in every aspect of our lives. I’m not talking about taking Christian morals into our lives, though we need to do that too. Everything we do, every decision we make, every opinion we hold should be influenced by the Christian faith.

How do we do that? First, we have to develop a Christian worldview.

What exactly is a worldview? Basically, it's your ideas about how the world works. Everybody has a worldview, though they probably don’t know it, and they probably couldn’t describe it if they had to. But you can learn to recognize other people’s worldviews and react appropriately.

So what is a Christian worldview? It is when your ideas about how the world works are taken from the Bible. It’s really more than that, though.

I like the way George Barna describes it: “A biblical worldview is thinking like Jesus. It is a way of making our faith practical to every situation we face each day. A biblical worldview is a way of dealing with the world such that we act like Jesus twenty-four hours a day because we think like Jesus.” A common way to describe a worldview is in terms of its answer to certain questions. The list of questions vary depending on who you ask, but we’ll use these:

What is the nature of God? Some worldviews say that there is no God to have a nature. Others describe God in terms of infusing all of creation – they say everything has a little of the divine in it. The Judeo-Christian worldview describes a single, all-powerful, loving but just God who is eternal, invisible, and morally perfect, among other things. This first question is foundational – the answers to all the other questions are going to be related to your ideas about God.

Next, what is the nature of reality? You make not think you have any thoughts about the nature of reality, but you do make some assumptions. Some people think that reality is exclusively the physical world. Others think reality is exclusively a spiritual world. Whether you think about the natural order as created or independent, as orderly or chaotic, and as objective or subjective will determine how you interact with the world.

The other questions, quickly, are: What is the nature of human kind? What happens to a person after death? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what is right and wrong? And what is the meaning of human history?

Again, there are other questions people will use to describe a worldview, but these seem to work pretty well. Here’s the kicker, though: To have a biblical worldview, you have to answer these questions in line with the scriptures. That is why we talked about studying theology. We have to live what we believe, but to do that we have to actually believe the right things.

Some of you are probably thinking that, having grown up in church, you’ve surely got a properly Christian worldview – and you might indeed have a biblical worldview. But Barna’s research suggests that only 9% of professing born-again Christians have a biblical worldview. It’s not their fault. The last hundred fifty years or so have seen a marked decrease in teaching Christians what they’re supposed to believe. If we don’t know what the Bible says about different issues, we can’t very well act on that, can we?

And that’s part of the problem. We all have a worldview, and by our age it is very much ingrained in us. If we examine ourselves and find that we don’t have a properly biblical worldview, it is going to be difficult to change it – but we have to do it!

A worldview is just how we look at the world; applying the faith to our world does not stop there. Once we’ve taken information in and processed it, we have to decide how we’re going to act on that information. We’re going to make decisions, form opinions, take chances, choose options – and we have to learn to let our faith guide us in that.

The reason this is so important is that we act based on our worldview. If you want to be more godly, you have to make sure you are making decisions based on a biblical worldview. Eventually, your reactions will also be based on that Christian worldview, but the conscious, voluntary actions will come first. Again, if we want to act like Jesus, we have to learn to think like Jesus.

We represent our Savior here, and we will never do that properly until we are making decisions like he would make them if he were here in our place.

Our society is terribly messed up, and it is in no small part due to the failure of modern Christians to act like Jesus in our world. Folks, since the Fall we have been locked into a war between good and evil. We know what the outcome of the war will be, but the individual battles are often up to us. In that war between good and evil, in the last 60 years or so the Christian Church has hardly even showed up. We have retreated at every turn, and our society shows it.

Now more than ever, the next generation is at stake. The saying is that character is caught more than taught. Well, a worldview requires a lot of both. We have to model for them what we want them to believe and how we want it to affect their lives. We also have to make sure that we make clear to them what the Christian faith has to say about our world and what difference it should make in their lives. This one has to be caught and taught.

You may be thinking that you’ll raise your kids in a good Christian home and take them to church and send them to church camp and all that good stuff. Statistics put out by the Southern Baptist Association itself show that kids that grow up in Baptist churches – doing all those things good church kids do – and then go to Baptist colleges (not secular, not Christian – Baptist) abandon the Christian faith 85% of the time.

Children start getting trained to have a non-Christian worldview in Kindergarten if not sooner. Depending on what you let them watch on tv, what books they read, and what happens in school, your kids will probably be trained in every conceivable way to reject Christian beliefs. It’s obvious from that little statistic from the SBC that just raising them in church isn’t enough. We have to be intentional about preparing our kids to come out of college as a Christian, and we have to start about age 5 or, if they're older than that, ASAP.

How does the world poison our kids? It tells them that there is no such thing as absolute truth. It tells them that they are biological accidents rather than special creations of God. It tells them that, if God exists, He is neither holy nor just – in fact, He’s probably just a senile old grandfatherly sort who just wants them to have fun. It tells them that religion has no place in any aspect of life except church on Sunday and that if they want to have a normal life, they have to keep all that stuff in a box that they only open on Sunday.

This is what we have to learn to combat.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in the Resurrection of Christ?

All believers need to be able to explain why they believe in the resurrection. "He lives within my heart" or "I spoke to him this morning" may be fine as part of that, but it can't be the sum total of it. The bodily resurrection of Christ is a historical fact or Christianity is a joke.

The truth is that the resurrection of Christ is a story no one would make up. If you've never read that series before, please do. In all, I can combine that into one speech about 20 minutes long — and that is still leaving out some of the evidence.

Here I will boil it down into versions that can be shared in a few minutes or less.

(Bold is for subject headings/barest statements of facts. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus all happened publicly.

Jesus was executed in a public place and buried in a public cemetery. After his resurrection, his tomb was empty for all to see. Many of his post-resurrection appearances were in public places.

It is impossible to believe that Christianity could have begun in Jerusalem, within a short walk of Christ's tomb, unless that tomb was empty. The Jewish and Roman leaders would have been happy to produce Jesus' body to silence those who claimed he'd been raised from the dead (c.f., Acts 4). Instead, the oldest Jewish argument against the resurrection (the disciples stole the body) assumes an empty tomb.

2. The story contains many embarrassing elements that would have been omitted if untrue.

If first century Jews were to make up a story to start a new religion, it would not have included the founder being executed in what that society saw as the lowest, most degrading manner. They would not have women be the primary witnesses to the resurrection because that society viewed women as unreliable witnesses. They would not have made themselves look bad, being petty and argumentative and never understanding Jesus. And they wouldn't have included the fact that Jesus' own family didn't believe in him.

It's hard to grasp how that looked to people in their day. In modern terms, this story is as implausible as if the founder was put to death in the electric chair, the witness to the resurrection was the town drunk, his followers were childish high school dropouts, and Jesus' family had tried to have him committed to a mental hospital. It's not that these elements can't be true. It's that you wouldn't make these elements up if you were making things up.

3. There are many different appearance stories.

Jesus appeared to his followers under a variety of circumstances. It happened individually and in groups of varying sizes (from 2 to 500). He appeared in private rooms and in public places. He touched people and things. He even appeared to some who weren't his followers.

Some claim that the post-resurrection appearances were dreams, visions, or grief- (or drug-) induced hallucinations. But the variety of the appearances prevents that from being plausible. One person might convince himself that he saw Jesus, but not 500. They touched him. He cooked them lunch. Dreams don't cook.

4. There is no other explanation for the changes the resurrection caused.

Two changes that have to be explained are the changes in the disciples and the changes they made in their traditions. Cowards now boldly proclaimed that their crucified leader was Lord of the universe under threat of violence. And they proceeded to change the use and meaning of traditional ceremonies based on their belief that Jesus was the resurrected Lord.

First century Jews were very big on tradition. There was a right was to do everything, and it was the old way. But after Easter this group of Jews took the Passover meal and turned it into communion saying that there was a new covenant that did away with the centuries old sacrificial system. And these men, who ran and hid when Jesus was arrested, continued to teach this after being arrested and beaten and even when people started killing members of their group.

5. The story was prophesied long before it happened.

Dozens of elements of this unlikely story were foretold hundreds of years before it happened. Things no mere man could have controlled had to come together to fulfill these prophecies. Pick just eight prophecies — lots cast for His clothes, death by crucifixion, silent before accusers, badly beaten, killed with criminals, buried with rich, resurrection, betrayed for money. The odds of someone orchestrating those eight elements are 1 in a hundred million billion. Dozens of prophecies were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

One in a hundred million billion is a hard number to picture. A useful illustration goes like this: Cover the state of Texas two feet deep with silver dollars. Mark one of them and throw it out at random. Blindfold someone and let them walk as far as they want; then they pick up one silver dollar. The odds that they picked up the one you marked are the same as Christ fulfilling just eight prophecies.

These five elements of this story make for a story that you wouldn't, couldn't make up. That's why I believe it.

This argument requires that you believe that miracles are possible; that only requires that God exists. It also requires that you trust the Bible as a reliable source of information.

The above is drawn from many sources, chiefly The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe the Bible?

We need to be able to explain why people should take the Bible seriously. If the only explanation is "it works" or "I just believe it," it has nothing more to offer than the Koran or the Hindu Vedas.

But that's not why we should believe the Bible.

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eye witnesses to supernatural events that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.
This sentence can constitute an answer to "why should I believe the Bible." The key points of this sentence can then be expanded as necessary for argumentation or explanation. Again, whole books have been written on this subject, but this is a thumbnail argument.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics give explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

The Bible is a reliable collection of historical documents ...

We have ample evidence that we have, within a reasonable degree of certainty, what the Biblical authors wrote.

It is frequently claimed that modern Bibles are based on translations of translations that take us far away from the original writings of the Bible. That is false. We have thousands of copies of the Biblical texts in the original languages. We also have thousands of early translations. We also have quotations from the Bible in the writings of saints of the past. With all of these sources, we can determine what the original text really said.

We also have ample evidence that the authors wanted to and were able to honestly record what happened.

The authors tell us they wrote what they heard and saw or what they carefully researched. They share embarrassing or confusing things they could easily have left out. Where they can be checked against archeology, they have held up.

...written by eye witnesses to supernatural events...

These people wrote about what they saw, and what they saw were things that couldn't have happened by natural means. From a handful of men routing armies to the raising of the dead, the authors recorded a series of impossible things.

...that occurred in accordance with specific prophecies demonstrating the Bible's divine origin.

Those impossible things were, in many cases, foretold. Prophecies come true throughout the Bible — for example, the destruction of Tyre or Cyrus' returning the Jews to Israel — but most center around Jesus. There are more than a dozen very specific prophecies fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Those prophecies and the supernatural events they foretold are the proof that the Bible was not written merely by men. God is the ultimate author of this book.

This argument is the strongest for the New Testament. If we have to further bolster the case for the Old Testament, I argue that the support of a man who died and rose from the grave gives it more than enough credibility.

The above borrows heavily from The Ever-Loving Truth by Voddie Baucham and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.

Crib Sheets: Why Do I Believe in God?

These are the arguments for the existence of God I find most compelling. There are others. Use what appeals to you, the ones you find compelling.

(Bold is for subject headings. Normal text gives the thumbnail of the argument. Italics gives explanatory comments that you can go into if time allows and if necessary.)

1. The Cosmological Argument

A. Whatever began to exist has a cause. The universe began. Therefore the universe must have a cause.

Something cannot come from nothing. Even subatomic particles that arise from vacuum fluctuations aren't coming from "nothing" but from an energy-rich quantum field. If anything has ever come from nothing, anything can come from nothing.

However, God doesn't need a cause because God did not begin. There cannot be a continual, infinite progression of causes. It must stop somewhere. True infinities do not exist. There must be a first cause, and that is God (see B).

But the universe did begin. That the universe began to exist is a necessary result of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and General Relativity (among other physical observations). It is simply not possible that the universe has always existed.

If the universe didn't always exist, and if something can't come from nothing, something created the universe.

B. If the conditions for the creation of the universe were always met, the universe would have always existed. The universe has not always existed. Therefore some condition had to change. The physical conditions could not change, so it had to be a decision on the part of the creator — thus the creator has to be personal, not simply some force.

2. The Design Argument

The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design. It is not due to physical necessity or chance. Therefore, it is due to design.

The design in the universe is unmistakable. There are dozens of physical parameters in the universe that have to be just so before life — any life, not just human — is even conceivable. One example is the cosmological constant which drives the expansion of the universe. If it were different by one part in 10 to the power of 120 (or 10^120; 10^9 is a billion) life couldn't exist.

These numbers don't have to be anything like they are, but if they weren't what they are, no one would be here. The odds of all of them being what they are simply by chance are beyond ridiculous — it would be like one person winning the lottery millions of times.

Therefore the features of the universe that make life possible must have been designed by an intelligent, personal designer

3. The Moral Argument

If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist. Objective moral values and duties do exist. Therefore, God exists.

Notice that this is NOT arguing that atheists cannot be good. It's arguing that if God doesn't exist, there is no such thing as objective "good." If humans are just unusually advanced animals, murder is not wrong. One man killing another is no more wrong than a lion killing a gazelle. There is no moral obligation to help each other. Selfishness is nothing worse than the lion failing to share with the hyena.

But we all know instinctively that murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. Stealing is wrong. It is good to help people who are in need. We feel bad when we do wrong and when we fail to do right because this morality is ingrained in us. When someone does evil we do not respond as if the rules for a well-functioning society have been violated. We respond as if something evil has been committed. Those few who seem not to recognize morality do not disprove morality any more than the colorblind disprove the existence of color.

This inborn, universal knowledge of objective moral values and duties shows that God must exist.

The above only proves that a god exists. It takes more to prove the existence of the Christian God. For that you have to move from here to the case for believing the Bible and for the resurrection of Christ.

Whole books have been written on these topics. This is of necessity a brief summary. I encourage you to study so that you can explain these arguments in more detail where it is needed.

The above borrows heavily from On Guard by Williams Lane Craig.

Staying Ready to Defend the Faith

One day I was eating lunch and had a puzzling thought:

I collect knives. I have big knives and small knives. I have pretty knives and scary knives. I have knives with lights in them, knives with tools in them, and knives with knives in them.

So why am I cutting my chicken with a spoon?

Having all the knives in the world does me no good if I don't have one with me when I need it.

Christendom has all the tools it needs to defend the faith. They will do you no good if you don't appropriate them. And even if you go out and buy some good books, having all the books in the world will do you no good if you don't remember what is in them.

I've read quite a few theology and apologetics books. I've also read blogs and magazine articles. I've watched tv shows and listened to podcasts.

And a couple of years later I couldn't recall half of what I had once learned.

So I decided I should create some "crib sheets" I could review from time to time to jog my memory — or that I could flat out pull out in a pinch. (People choke under pressure. Don't be ashamed. Be prepared.)

I encourage you to do something like this on your own, but in the meantime, these notes are something you can refer to if you need them. You can even copy them into a memo on your phone or bookmark them in your browser if you want. Use them however you need if you find them helpful.

Apologetics crib sheets:

Why do I believe in God?

Why do I believe the Bible?

Why do I believe in the resurrection of Christ?