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+ What is a Christian?
The word "Christian" literally means "Christ-follower". And since "Christ" means "Messiah" or "Chosen One" or "Saviour" or "Deliverer" or "Rescuer", then to be a Christian is really to be someone who follows Jesus because they acknowledge that he is the Saviour. Jesus said it himself in John 14:6 when he said bluntly "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me." So, on the one hand a Christian is someone who goes to church because they have a genuine relationship with Jesus as their Saviour and they want to be encouraged in their faith. But on the other hand, just going to church without a relationship with Christ won't make someone a true Christian any more than walking in the woods makes you a tree, or standing in a parking lot makes you a car. It's not just a matter of where you go, but who you know that makes you a Christian, a Christ-follower.
+ How do I become, as you say, a "Christ Follower"?
Well, to become a 'Christian' you need to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is begun by coming to him and acknowledging our failure and asking for his forgiveness. Obviously we have something we need to be "saved" from if Jesus came to be our "Saviour", right? Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." Are you ready to admit your failure to live up to God's ideal? He is ready to forgive you and cleanse you from all your guilt. Next comes our whole-hearted commitment to following him, which simply means to do whatever he would want us to do. Of course, if we're going to learn about what his will is for our lives, this will mean that we become students of the Bible and study it for ourselves as well as learn what we can at church. So becoming and being a Christian is not really about being "Catholic" or "Protestant" or "Baptist" or "Brethren In Christ". Joining one church or another is not the issue, but committing to Christ is. In fact, it seems quite possible that there are all kinds of people who call themselves "Christians", both Catholics and Protestants, who may think they are Christians because they go to church and do other good things, but who don't really know Jesus. That seems to be the message Jesus gives in Matthew 7:21-23. He says: "Not all people who sound religious are really godly. They may refer to me as 'Lord', but they still won't enter the Kingdom of Heaven." Jesus goes on in those verses to describe that it is not enough to talk the talk, but what's important is our relationship with him displayed in obedience to his teachings that makes the difference. The Bible uses a word for that - "faith", which simply means "active trust", believing in someone or something enough to act upon that belief. Are you ready to commit your life to following Jesus as his disciple? He's ready to lead you into new and deeper life (John 10:10).
+ Do I have to become a goof if I become a Christian?
Sometimes people assume that God wants them to become some 1950's version of themselves, but that is not what it is all about. Christ loves you as YOU. Your personality, your likes, your style. If he wanted only a bunch of Jerry Fallwells for his followers he would have cloned him! So baby, if you're cool, you can still be cool, but if you're not, well then I not sure we can help you...(just kidding). Christ has called us to freedom, that means there can be diversity of expression among his followers from skaters to CEOs, from activists to academics, from country music's Good Ole' Boys to dance house rockers.
However, I would not be completely honest if I didn't give you a few of Christ's thoughts on the matter. In the gospels, Jesus makes it plain that we need to make a radical change in our lives and go against some of the negative trends, systems, values, and assuptions which he calls "the world". This at times may not be popular with those around you who may be offended by your chosen path, even to the point of antagonism. In the book of John, chapter 15, Jesus says to his followers: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." So be prepared and count the cost. Some may see your pursuit of Christ as the first steps down the path toward ultimate Goofdome - but ultimately, does it really matter what people think?
+ Is there any proof that God exists?
Yup... but we prefer to call it "evidence" rather than "proof". Evidence is the objective truth or reason - proof is what it becomes inside a person. What is "proof" for one person may not be for another, but we can all agree that there is a ton of evidence for God's existence. It's like the evidence used in a court trial - it points in one direction or another, but it's up to the jury to decide if a case has been "proven" to them well enough or not. The nice thing is that neither you nor I nor anyone has to "prove" God exists or not. All we have to do is honestly present the evidence and let everyone make up their own decision. Jesus himself constantly takes that approach in his teaching - he says "look at the evidence and decide for yourselves". Jesus encourages all spiritual question askers "seekers" at our church to take an "evidentialist" approach to the big questions of life. That is, look at the evidence HONESTLY, without bias and bigotry, and then come to your own conclusion. For now, I'll just point out that for me, creatION implies a CreatOR, and design implies a Designer. If I find a beautiful painting, I believe it is reasonable to believe that an artist exists somewhere. I find it less reasonable to believe that is just "happened" to come into being. Likewise, if I find on the beach one day a watch, it makes reasonable sense to me to believe that there is such a thing as a watchMaker. It is less rational for me to believe that is just happened one day as the result chance + time. Again, the very computer you are using to read this suggests that someone exists with intelligent powers of creation and design who built it. It makes less sense to believe that your computer came into being as a result of an explosion in a metal factory one day. You see my point? God is not for wishful thinkers... he just makes sense for the intelligent. There is MUCH more I could say about evidence for God's existence, but I'll move on for now.
+ Is there any proof outside of the Bible that Jesus existed?
Whoever asked this one is making it too easy for me. Yes, it is an established fact that Jesus of Nazareth existed as an actual historical figure. Josephus, Pliny the Younger, and other historians write of him. Open any encyclopaedia and you can easily confirm this. What we know as indisputable FACT is... He taught a radical message of love. He spoke of the importance of a spiritual kingdom in our hearts to setting up an earthly kingdom . He claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. He was put to death by Roman capital punishment - crucifixion. His tomb was empty just days later and no body was ever found. Now, what someone does with these facts is their own business. But these are the facts. For many people, these historical facts are enough to encourage them to read the writings of those who were eyewitnesses to Jesus life and teachings - found in the Bible. For others, they just dismiss them as coincidence... or a hoax. Your call.
+ Prove that God is looking down on us. PROVE IT!
You "prove" that He isn't. How about we just look at the evidence instead... Rather than just create the world and then leave it to all it's problems, the Bible teaches that the real God gave us rules, guidelines, to help us have the healthiest life and planet possible. He also stands opposed to those who would break these rules and hurt other people, themselves, or the planet in the process. Jews, Muslims, & Christians all agree over this point. But here's where the Christian message is specifically beautiful... The New Testament teaches that God loved us so much that, when he saw we couldn't live up to his high standards, he came down to earth, became one of his (amazing) creation, and died a death that would take all the punishment away from us "law-breakers". How beautiful - CreatOR becomes creatION, and takes all our personal failures and hurts upon himself on the cross. Then he dies the death of a criminal, so we can be filled with new life - minus all the dirt and grime . Wow - The God of the Bible isn't a fat contented man sitting in the lotus position with a grin on his face just watching us. No, he is the twisted, tortured figure left to die on a Roman cross because he loves us so much he was willing to become one of us. That's the God the Bible tells us about... take it or leave it.
+ Why do we have a choice to follow him, but if we don't, we get punished? That is not free choice.
Of course it is... All actions bring specific consequences. Just because decisions lead to results , doesn't mean that we no longer have free choice. God loves us, but he doesn't force his love on us. It makes sense though that, if there is a God and he knows what's best for us, that those who chose that better way, will have a better life. If there is a God, He MUST make a positive difference in our lives. That just makes sense. So, those who choose not to follow him will miss out on that benefit. It's their call. If your school caught fire and someone came to your class and said "All the usual exits are blocked and the smoke is bad - but I know a way out... follow me!", it would be completely up to you to follow that person or not. But if someone decides to stay in the classroom and die or try to find a way out on their own, don't blame the person who offered help.
+ Why is Christ the only way?
This is the most sensible of all issues to deal with. If God is real, why would he teach mutually conflicting and contradictory ways to find him? Wouldn't ONE God offer ONE plan to have the best life possible? He knows what's best for us... why offer some people second best. You see, no other religion or philosophy offers a plan to deal with our failure. They all teach ways of generating more success, but when we do fail they have no plan for wiping out our "sin". Hinduism & Buddhism say that our sin will effect our karma and we'll just come back as a lower life form. How cruel. Since our memories are wiped clean during this process of reincarnation, how can we ever learn a lesson from our past mistakes? It's just hit and miss each lifetime - being punished for past mistakes that we don't even know about. Islam teaches that we will be allowed into heaven based upon our works. All our deed will be weighed on a scale and if there are more good than bad then we can go into heaven. If not, too bad for us. BUT... how can a PERFECT God who lives in a PERFECT place let IMPERFECT people in with even, say, 10% sin and selfishness inside them. Wouldn't they just bring in the same "sin virus" and selfishness that we have here on earth? And wouldn't heaven then become corrupted just like earth? And wouldn't it cease to be a PERFECT place to live? How can any God let sin into heaven? No, it just makes reasonable sense that all human failure would have to be eradicated and all people fully purified if they are going to enter this totally pure place without contaminating it. And that's what the cross does for us! The Jews were the only other people who believed that sin had to be done away with if they wanted to go to heaven. This happened in Old Testament days through animal sacrifices. But since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD they have stopped these sacrifices with no satisfactory explanation as to what happens to their sin now. As Christians, we know that the animal sacrifices are no longer necessary, because Jesus was the final infinite sacrifice for all humanity.
+ Is God real?
I tend to use the word "evidence" rather than "proof" for God's reality. Evidence is more objective, whereas proof is subjective. Different pieces of evidence become proof to different people in different measure. An atheist believes there is no God (although this cannot be proven) and a theist believes there is a God (although this cannot be proven). Neither side can “prove” anything, but both can point to evidence for their beliefs. That being said, I for one am convinced by three lines of evidence: one internal and two external. Internally, I intuit God. I want to be plain and straightforward about this. I sense there is something more out there. I find it impossible to turn that off. I can come up with a variety of theories why I have that sensation, but the intuitive God-impulse within me is axiomatic. Externally, I observe that the God-impulse is universal among humans. Not all humans believe in God, but it is a universal impulse to believe in the “Something More”. We can come up with a variety of theories as to why this might be (and current popular atheist authors offer many that I find straw-grasping), but the weight of evidence (internally and externally) means that I must remain open to the possibility of God’s reality. There is a natural “flow” within human consciousness toward God, a stream, a current that moves us all in that direction. I wonder why – and Occam’s razor suggests I start with the possibility that we all tend toward belief in God because there is a God who has made us with this kind of a spiritual orientation. Anthropologists tell us that all people groups throughout history, universally and independent of each other, have exhibited some sort of God-impulse. Our earliest signs of human culture reflect a strong conviction that there is something more to life than this world offers. Karen Armstrong reports in her book A Short History of Myth, "Archaeologists have unearthed Neanderthal graves containing weapons, tools and the bones of a sacrificed animal, all of which suggest some kind of belief in a future world that was similar to their own." Armstrong also points out that, "in Neanderthal graves, the corpse is sometimes placed in a fetal position, as though Neanderthals believed the deceased must prepare for rebirth. Although we may never know the specifics of Neanderthal beliefs, we can at least deduce that they were believers." “Homo sapiens have had spiritual beliefs since the dawn of our species,” writes Dean Hamer in The God Gene: How Faith Is Hardwired into Our Genes. “Spirituality is one of our basic human inheritances. It is, in fact, an instinct.” Hamer goes on to quote William James, "It is as if there were in the human consciousness a sense of reality, a feeling of objective presence, a perception of what we may call 'something there,' more deep and more general than any of the special and particular 'senses'." So, as humans, we have an urge, an instinct, an impulse toward something "other," something beyond ourselves. We feel called toward this force that is our Source and our Goal, the One we have come from and are searching for. A third line of evidence for me is the historical/biblical Jesus. Jesus persuades me to embrace his worldview. I am intellectually and emotionally wooed by his teaching and example. And Jesus invites me into a worldview that is super-saturated with the presence of God. At this point I could list the thousand-and-three specific things about Jesus’ life and teachings that I find more intellectually and emotionally satisfying than any other approach to life, origins, and meaning, but that would take the length of a book. (I have, by the way, written that book. It's called "The End of Religion".)
+ Understanding the Old Testament
I agree, so much of the Old Testament is difficult for me to understand. I would not find the Bible a satisfactory or attractive holy book if it wasn’t for Jesus getting my attention first. Then, because of my admiration for and eventually faith in Jesus, I become willing to live with the mystery of much of the Old Testament. Now, about the specific commands you’ve mentioned, we’ve done a couple of series that touch on this issue. You could listen to “Strange But True” which is largely about the violent passages of the Old Testament, or “Tomb Raiders (1 and 2)” which deals with the strange laws of the Torah. In the meantime, I will throw into the discussion this one thought. We should remember that the written Torah was given to a community of people who, through their priests and prophets, were called to apply the rules in relational ways. So, what we read in print was mediated through community. This is also true of New Testament teaching – text is always meant to be understood and applied in community. In the Old Testament times, this included the teaching of priests, ongoing tradition, the wisdom of kings and other anointed leaders, and sometimes through divine prophetic voice. In fact, when people just mechanically followed the letter of the written law, God would always send prophets to chastise them for missing the point, the spirit, of the Torah. Eventually, after sending many ‘servants’ with this mediating message, God sent his Son (Mark 12:1-12). The message of Jesus, then, was not completely new, just newly powerful, bringing the Old Covenant to an end. This is one reason (perhaps not a sufficient reason on its own, but part of the puzzle) why it misses the point to take random laws from the Torah and blame God for their peculiarity. When we read this ancient eastern literature as modern westerners, rugged individuals trying to explain the meaning of texts out of the context of God-given community, we are left with a lot of unexplainable weirdness. But the texts were never meant to be used that way.
+ Do you think the world would be a more peaceful place without religion?
Every human being is inescapably religious. The word religion is derived from the Latin religion, meaning 'to tie back'. It simply has to do with getting people (rather than vines in its original usage) moving and growing in the same direction to form a cohesive and peaceful society. The Humanist Manifesto II, for example, identifies humanism (the denial of God and his relevance) as a "religious perspective".
Religion is simply 'ultimate concern' - it deals with the things that concern us in an ultimate sense – our origin, meaning, our moralities and destinies. Furthermore, most of the world's religions are atheistic and not theistic; that is, most religions do not believe in a personal, infinite creator God – this is a Judeo-Christian belief derived from the Bible. So first, it is important to note that it is impossible to rid the world of religion because human beings are religious creatures whether we believe in God or not. A better question to ask is which religion, which beliefs, which person, can influence this world for peace? Is it humanism, Christianity, socialism, Hinduism? Can Mohammed, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, or Jesus Christ, change the human heart toward peace?
According to the Christian story, all wars are ultimately the result of sin. War in human society is a concrete, historical manifestation of the long war against God in the human heart. People make war against God and his law, so they proceed to make war against one another. They do not love God and so do not love their neighbour as themselves. Instead, they act out of lust for power, dominion motivated by greed, hate, and selfishness. God in his sovereignty resists such arrogance and has raised up people and nations in history to fight such aggressors and stem the advance of evil (who would deny that Hitler's Nazi regime was evil?).
The Bible speaks of various kinds of war. First, there is a war between God and Satan, darkness and light; Secondly, as a result of sin and the fall there is also a war between the sinful hearts of people and their creator God – God has offered armistice and peace in his Son, but we still propagate a long war against God. Thirdly, manifesting this spiritual war against God, physical wars between fellow members of the human race have broken out. In Scripture, resisting evil by means of war is seen, at times, as a necessary evil in a fallen and broken world.
Jesus tells us "blessed are the peacemakers", not "blessed are the peacekeepers" [Matthew 5:9]. There is a difference. To compromise the truth or to negotiate with falsehood may temporarily keep an artificial and superficial peace but will not make for peace. By way of illustration, if Britain had surrendered to Hitler's demands regarding the Balkans, Western Europe may have briefly kept the peace for the British Isles, but it would not have made peace; it would have led to tyranny and eventually total war anyway.
The essence of the religion of Jesus is that the long war with God can be over. The war against our fellow human beings can be over. The war and restlessness in our own conscience can be over. By faith, we can have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us in Colossians that Christ was 'making peace' by his blood:
"He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of his blood on the cross. This includes you who were once so far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions, yet now he has brought you back as his friends" [Colossians 1:20 - 22].
Religion cannot be expunged from the world without ridding the world of all men and women. The elimination of one religion is only to replace it with another. Certainly, the world has known many wars between people holding differing beliefs. More people died in the humanistic, atheistic wars and tyrannies of the 20th century than in all the so-called 'religious wars' of all recorded previous centuries put together. Religion can be 'without God' as well as with him. The real question is, who can bring peace to hearts and lives, to make peace between individuals and then nations? The Christian answer is that only Christ can do this, the prince of peace who suffered violence at our hands, to bring us to peace with God, ourselves and others.
+ How can Science and Faith fit together?
Most people asking this question assume that faith is a blind leap in the dark at the point where science and reason can take us no further. They believe that Christianity is not concerned with evidence but is held to in the absence of evidence or even contrary to the known facts. Though it is common for people to believe that faith is a leap, the opposite is actually the case - faith is a foundation. All science is based upon a faith of some kind, we must all 'believe' certain things before we can speak of science. For example we must believe there is a real world of matter that is accessible and correlated to our senses. We must believe that our minds are giving us reliable information about the world. We must believe that language and mathematics, reason and logic can all be applied to the world of our senses. The most basic assumption of the sciences, taken for granted by all, is the uniformity of nature – the expectation that the future will be like the past. Without this pre-supposition science would be impossible. None of these things is proved by the methods of science - they are believed on faith! It is because we believe these things that science itself is made a meaningful and intelligible discipline.
Every person, scientist or not, nurtures a 'religious perspective' about the world -- their worldview. The two worldviews represented in this question are Naturalism and Christian theism. Naturalism holds that matter and energy is all there is. The whole universe is in flux, matter in motion. Matter and energy are in some form eternal. All the things that we observe in the universe made themselves springing from an ultimate chaos. The universe is at bottom the product of chance not design, and so requires no recourse to God for an explanation. Human beings are nothing more than a random assortment of atoms.
Christian theism holds that the God of the Bible is the Creator and Sustainer of this world. Rather than the void of chance, the mind of the triune God creates orders and sustains all that is. In these differing perspectives there are two divergent starting points – one is chance, the other is God. Both perspectives look at the same data or evidence, but since the 'facts' do not speak for themselves they must be interpreted according to a worldview. When the naturalistic thinker looks at the evidence he interprets everything accordingly. He claims, for example, that he does not see design in the genetic code, just selfish genes and random replication. He claims not to see God revealed in the heavens, but rather cosmic evolution. In looking at himself he does not see a creature made in God's image, but an animal that has arisen from lifeless chemicals –slime that developed rationality. The Christian theist on the other hand sees all the evidence as pointing to God. All facts are theistic facts. They are not interpreted arbitrarily by the finite and ever-changing thinking of people but pre-interpreted by the mind of God. All facts are therefore read in the light of God's revelation in scripture.
An important picture now emerges. The idea that 'science' has disproved Christianity or that science and faith are opposed is a myth popularized by the naturalistic religious philosophy. Naturalism as a religion has its science and the theist has his science. Each worldview stands antithetically opposed to the other. It is one faith or religion that opposes the other, not an objective 'scientific' body of knowledge that opposes religion. Because the religion of naturalism has dominated our secular educational system and media for so long, many people believe naively that one perspective is objective, detached and scientific whilst the other is religious, anti-science and subjective – this view is utterly false.
It is the Christian worldview alone that can provide the pre-conditions of intelligible science. It is God who gives order, structure, consistency and regularity to the universe that makes the cosmos rational. Without such a faith, philosophically speaking, there could be no science to speak of, it would be impossible.
+ Why Christianity?
Christians believe in Jesus Christ, in part, because all other views show themselves to be impossible by implication. To apply abstract laws constructed in the mind to irrational facts…is to chase the wind.
The argument can be arranged in simple logical order in the form of a syllogism. I will put it to you in both a positive and negative form. First put negatively…
1. If God does not exist, the world is unintelligible
Yet the likes of Einstein acknowledged (and you certainly don't need to be an Einstein to see it), the world is intelligible to us, the conclusion is therefore false so premise two must be false. Now to put it in the positive form…
1. If the world is intelligible, God exists
So, a truly consistent Christian argument seeks to show that reality is unintelligible apart from God at every level; causal [the relationship between cause and effect], axiological [our sense of moral obligation, ethics and aesthetic beauty], ontological [understanding and distinguishing being of every kind], and teleological [the purpose and design we see in nature]. None of these things can be what they appear to be without God; none of them make any sense without him. Without a faith commitment to God and his Word, would be autonomous human reasoning leads to the death of rationality and meaning.
The question for the non-Christian is: how is the world intelligible and meaningful when built upon your own assumptions? It is easy for a person to sit and deny everything, appearing humble and wise as they do it, thinking that in so doing they have intelligently affirmed nothing - but nothing could be further from the truth. Every denial is a significant affirmation of a faith position resting in a void.
Through no ingenuity of our own we have found an ever-present unity in our experience, provided by the worship of the God we love. It is Christ as God's Son who is our unity, making sense of work, marriage, leisure, children, past, present and future. This unity holds true for the good and bad times that we all experience in life; in happiness and in grief, in times of joy as well as times of despondency. Indeed the unity in life that Christ brings is never more evident than in those moments of grief over the loss of loved ones - this has no meaning or significance - it is rendered unintelligible, unless Christ is who he claims to be.
Only the Christian worldview can give a meaningful account of grief and the human condition. If you and I are just 'matter in motion' why grieve when another random assortment of bio-chemical material has lost vital functions – what is the meaning of a funeral? Loss and grief, even tragedy itself makes no sense in a universe of 'selfish genes' and 'random replication.'
Unbelieving philosophy simply cannot offer a rational account of human dignity or the intrinsic value of a person. In order to make sense of any of our experiences as human beings, atheists and sceptics must borrow from Christian theism, revealing the total lack of systematic cogency in the pre-suppositions of unbelievers, they simply do not comport. The question of unity in our experience once again exposes the fatal inadequacy of non-Christian thought – it cannot be lived out consistently or sustained in principle. Secularism, upon its own principles, is reduced to irrational and arbitrary superstition when assuming human value and dignity (i.e. wanting a formal funeral), yet dresses itself up as cold rationality! When simply asked to justify the most basic of our human assumptions, beliefs and experiences, non-Christian thought is left utterly bewildered.
But this is Christianity: to find your unity in all the diverse activities of life in the worship, pleasure and plan of God. That is how you can win or lose, rejoice or mourn, be rich or poor, sick or healthy and be satisfied. That is how one can find a consistency worshipping God as banker, a baker, or a candlestick maker, playing golf or preaching the message of Christ in Outer Mongolia. It is Christ alone who unites and makes sense of it all, as the apostle Paul writes, 'Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.'[1 Corinthians 10 v 31]
+ Who goes to heaven?
Words fail when we try to describe the future glories of heaven. Renaissance depictions of paradise, with saints sitting on clouds playing harps, are entirely misleading. The apostle Paul wrote, "no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9, nrsv), and we know that Christ has gone on ahead to prepare a place for those who embrace him.
St. Augustine tries to find the words to describe the splendor of heaven:
God will be the source of every satisfaction, more than any heart can rightly crave, more than life and health, food and wealth, glory and honor, peace and every good—so that God, vision, this response of love, this paean of praise, all alike will share, as all will share in everlasting life. (City of God)
But we must not think that we will be able to enjoy heaven or would even want to be there if we remain God's enemies in this life. If we do not change utterly, we shall never approach the joys of heaven. The holiness of God will be a terrifying and unbearable thing to us if we remain unrepentant.
Only the hell of endless separation from God remains for those who have chosen to be their own god. Wrongdoing will not end in the afterlife for those who oppose God. Hell is self-perpetuating. The rejection of God goes on in the rebel, and so does the punishment for this choice. We should not think that those banished from the presence of God will somehow long to repent and turn to him in love. Such hatred merely grows. God has no choice but to leave those who despise him and his Son in the outer darkness of hell, for the door is locked from the inside. God forces no one into hell; people choose to be there, and ultimately God grants them their choice. Even in this, their freedom is not taken away.
How is it possible that a holy and just God can send people who have sinned to heaven? How can he allow them to come in? Only because of the love of Christ, for by his blood he has washed clean our guilty consciences. The great tragedy is that some people will
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