May we all have a happy and prosperous 2010.
As a Christmas present, I give the below, a response to some apologetics challenges recently encountered at a Caribbean Blog.
Grace to all!
On the alleged narrow-mindedness and hatefulness of the gospel's claim to unique truth and a unique path to God
The Christian gospel is pretty direct, even blunt, on the uniqueness of Jesus the crucified, risen Lord and Saviour:
John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me . . . "
" 'the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone.[a]'[b]
12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
In a pluralistic, radically relativistic postmodern age such as ours, this easily comes across as narrow-minded, closed-minded, intolerant, bigoted and hateful; sharply polarising hearts and minds against the Christian gospel, church and Christians. Indeed, in the rhetoric of anti-gospel, anti-Christian indoctrination, this objection is now a common, and often effective, tactic.
Now, at first level, the real issue is not narrow-mindedness, but truth. For, saying "2 + 3 = 5" is not a matter of being "narrow" or "bigoted," but of being accurate.
(And before rushing off and dismissing the gospel without further considerations as "obviously" inaccurate to history, one should consult the implications of the AD 55 eyewitness lifetime primary source record here (and the associated life-transforming experience of the millions across 2,000 years who have encountered God in the face of the crucified and risen Christ through the gospel; including many thousands of your neighbours all across the Caribbean), as well as discussions by men like professor Yamauchi here and professor Evans here. The 2006 Craig - Ehrman debate (transcript here) between two men at the top of their game, should give a balanced view. This debate (mp3) between professors Craig and Ludemann is also illuminating. [The DVD of the follow-up debate is here.])
But, too, we must also recognise the force of Aristotle's warning in Bk I, Ch 2 of his The Rhetoric:
persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . .
How, then, can we respond, being faithful to the core truths of the gospel message but also able to effectively and winsomely communicate the core message of God's love and rescue of lost humanity -- a message that is so eloquently portrayed in John 3:14 - 17?
Jn 3:14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.[a]
16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son,[b] that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him . . .Having recently (Dec. 2009) had to address a case in point in the Blog Barbados Underground, I offer the below (a slightly updated version of a blog comment) as a suggestion:
RE [objections raised in the thread]: (a) “Am I the only one that thinks God must have a real cruel and sadistic streak for creating a system that says if you don’t believe the right way, you are going to burn alive in hell for eternity” and (b) “Why should a GOD want me to be forever damned with Lucifer simply because I refused to believe.”
Whenever we start pushing God into the dock, that is a point where our reasoning has gone off the rails!
And, that is what is happening here, for there is a lot more to the story than the sort of unfortunately strawmanised, demonising and deeply polarised remarks just excerpted suggest.
Perhaps we need to read Paul in Rom 1 – 2 a bit more carefully (and this, on all sides):
Rom 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 1:19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 1:20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened . . . .
2:5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God’s righteous judgment is revealed!
2:6 He will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness . . . .
2:14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves. 2:15 They show that the work of the law [i.e core morality, expressed in the principles of neighbour love] is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them, 2:16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. [NET Bible.]
a –> Paul is pretty explicit that our big problem is resenting and rebelling against the truth we do or should know then substituting what we do or should know is a lie, and that God frowns on this.
b –> So the issue, first, cannot be that one is merely IGNORANT of relevant truth (especially as it is innate: e.g. "You unfair me!" we protest, testifying to the acknowledged binding nature of moral truth; which raises the sobering question that since we are under moral government, we are under a Moral Governor. [For there is no other adequate ground for such moral government.])
c –> Instead, it is that of rebelling against the truth we know and where it points, e.g. the fact of consciousness and mindedness points to the Source of mind. (And likewise the orderly organised complex information-rich balance of the world and of life in it point to the author thereof.)
d –> Likewise, our consciences crying out for justice — including when we would put God in the Dock and cry out against real or apparent evils — testify to the fact that we find ourselves morally obligated. This can only be grounded in a cosmos in which the ultimate reality is a Morally Just Creator so that good is reasonable and morally compelling as reasonable and fair, not arbitrary. Otherwise the is-ought gap swallows up the ought in the is.
e –> But things get hotter. For in Rom Ch 2 Paul takes in the man who does not know enough to know Jesus and the gospel, or who misunderstands it, contrasting him to the one who rejects truth he knows or should know and lives by evil in darkness:
Rom 2:6 He [God] will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality, 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness
f –> Here, we first see the ordinary man who by light of conscience — and inevitably stumblingly so — penitently perseveres in the path of good and truth, based on what he knows of good and God, by dint of nature, prophets, wise teachers, philosophers, scripture or even the manifest presence and power of the gospel. (The attitude is instantly recognisable, and so is its opposite.)
g –> The scripture we are discussing is explicit and plain that to such God gives eternal life:
Rom 2:6 He [God] will reward each one according to his works: 2:7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality . . .
h –> Very simple, but so very easy to lose sight of: God is fair and loving, so he will save anyone he can. So, it is unsurprising that the Biblical teaching is that if you walk in the truth, the light and the right you know or should — important caveat! — know, penitently and persistently getting up when you err or stumble, God [our loving Father] will receive you with open arms.
(And, BTW, one of God's yardsticks of judgement is the standard we use when we judge other people, especially if we then turn a found and fail to live up to such expectations. [Hence the vital importance of penitence and persistence in the way of the right when we find ourselves -- inevitably -- stumbling like that!])
i –> Such salvation is based on his lovingly and freely offered self-sacrifice by which he took the fatal venom of our self-destroying sin into his own self and expiated its consequences and penalty; so that we may have "life for a look." (NB: The exchange is explicit in many cases, implicit in others [e.g Abraham, Melchizedek, Job, Moshe, David . . . many others down to today who may not have a clear access to a higher -- much less, the highest -- degree of truth or light ], but it is the basis for salvation and eternal life.)
j –> But, not all turn to the good and walk in the path of the right and the truth, however stumblingly.
k --> Some — sadly — rebel even against the undeniable voice of mind and conscience.
l --> Others are willing to follow any rhetoric that excuses them in sin and in untruth, some even going so far as to actively suppress the truth they know or should know; up to and including in the case of those who have heard the gospel and have effective access to the compelling evidence of its truth.
[This includes the millions all around us and over the years who have met and come to know the real God in the face of Jesus and have had their lives transformed by the resulting release of resurrection power through the "great and precious promises" of the scriptures. (Advice: a little humble listening to people who however ill-educated and lacking in eloquence actually know God, would save many of us the highly educated a lot of grief here and in eternity.)]
m –> For good reason, then, rebels against the truth and the right they know or should know face a very different fate.
n –> And, it is such who need to heed the stern warnings Paul also gives:
Rom 2:8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness . . .
So, commentators and onlookers:
1: what is the truth and the right that you know or should know?
2: Are you seeking to turn to it and live by it, however much you stumble and must regret it and get up and try again?
3: Or, are you resisting the truth and following evil, in rage against what you know you should do?That is the issue we must all face.
I trust that this will prove helpful in seeing the importance of living by the light of truth and right that one knows or should know; because one has reasonable access to it, and why it is the rejection and rebellion against the truth and right one knows or should know that is the real issue, not the alleged narrow-mindedness of truth.
For, 2 + 3 = 5 is not a matter of narrow-mindedness or bigotry, but of accuracy.
God's richest for 2010, END