The Art of Apologetics: The rule of “if”

Everybody is a theologian…whether you think so or not.

At Corban, in theology class, the first book we read was called “Who Needs Theology?” This book was intended to defend the practicality of going and learning “theology” in order to grow in one’s faith.

It was a good class, and it was a good book…here are some takeaway points that I learned from this book.

A)     While the word “theology” sounds like a fancy, complicated word, it is actually quite simple. In today’s language, “theology” simply means “what you believe.”

B)     Everybody is a theologian. (Everybody believes something, and everybody has some reason why they believe it)

C)     There are five different “levels” of theology, and you don’t want to be in the first or the fifth. They are: Folk theology, Lay theology, ministerial theology, professional theology, and academic theology.

Let’s review what each level means, in my own words.

Folk theology: They believe what they believe, and there’s nothing that’s gonna change that. So there.

Lay theology: They believe what they believe, and they have reasons for it.

Ministerial theology: Typically, in terms of Christianity, this is the level of somebody who has pastoral training. They believe what they believe and they have reasons for it…and they have given it great thought because, as teachers and pastors, they have to know how to explain and defend their position.

Professional theology: This would be the level of a professor or a Dr, a “teacher of teachers” if you will. While a pastor’s/teacher’s job is to learn enough to teach well AND to take care of their congregation/students, this person’s job is strictly the teaching of theology…they are not compensated to take care of any congregation’s practical needs, they are paid to teach, and therefore they must be knowledgeable enough in theology to teach the teachers.

Academic theology: “Deep” complicated theology that has no real purpose or value in the real world. The question “how many angels can dance on the pin of a needle” is the best-known example of academic theology.

 

How do we avoid folk theology? The answer is…the rule of “if.”

Any belief that is worth its salt must be “disprove-able.” What I mean by that is this…there must be a reason that this belief is held, and therefore, IF that reason is not true, then the belief is not true.

“Carson, are you saying that we Christians shouldn’t be SURE in our faith? That our faith is disproveable?” No, don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that we should be less sure in our faith, I am implying that we should be MORE sure in our faith because we know why we believe it.

This “rule of if” is not something that the Bible directly tells us, but it is something that is noticeable in the Bible. Observe:

Deut 18:22 (NIV)

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.

 

1 Cor 15:12-19 (NIV)

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

 

See, our faith plays by the “rule of if”. Our faith is “disproveable.” If anyone can find an unresurrected corpse of Jesus of Nazareth, pierced hands and feet, then our faith is null and void. If you can find and confirm Jesus’s body, then Christianity is false – there is no way around it.

However, if you CAN’T find that body, then Christianity could very well be true.

 

So in ANY debate, ANY belief should have a “disprove” button…what would disprove that belief? If the belief has no “if” that would disprove it, then the belief has no salt.

 

Why do you believe in Jesus Christ? Because the Bible tells me so (in other words, if the Bible didn’t say so, you might not believe it).

Why do you believe that the Bible is accurate? Because a million different manuscripts say the same thing (if ancient copies from Alexandria and ancient copies from Sinai said different things, I would not believe it was accurate, I would believe that someone changed it).

Why do you believe that the Bible is the word of God? Because we dated a prophecy to be written exactly word for word 200 years before it actually happened, so there is something supernatural there. (The “suffering servant” passage in Isaiah explains what would happen to Christ. Hey, guess what? It happened. And the Dead Sea Scrolls contained a whole scroll of Isaiah.)

These are just a few examples.

 

(By the way, in many cases, the “disprove” button is not accessible anymore. For example, although many might disagree, let me say that “disproving” creationism or “disproving” evolution is out the window…we weren’t there, and the interpretation of evidence on BOTH sides is colored by the biases of the interpreters. So we will never be able to “prove” or “disprove” that one.)

 

Next post: God isn’t obligated to prove Himself, yet He never seems to ask for faith before He DOES something. Wow.

Joshua: Part 3 (Do we value what God values?)

PART THREE

So God probably knows stuff that we don’t know. But if we knew what He knew…would we come out to the same conclusion?

Perhaps…but perhaps not. Which leads to the next section…

DO WE VALUE WHAT GOD VALUES? IF NOT, WHY?

Let’s start with the center of all my theology…but this is where I get cautious, because this is where the lines are drawn. How someone reacts to this statement reveals something about our spiritual disposition…

God is self-centered.

But let me explain…God IS ACTUALLY THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE. When we say “Jimmy over there is self-centered,” we are criticizing. Jimmy is not actually the center of the universe, and therefore, for him to be self-centered is bad. But God is actually the center of the universe, so for Him to be self-centered is good. EVERYBODY SHOULD BE GOD-CENTERED…including God.

Does that mean that God is selfish? I guess that depends on how you define selfish…but no. Because the concept of “good” and “morality” is not something that God wrote into existence, but more like something that God IS. So when we are God-centered, we also happen to be centered on the paragon of morality and goodness…because He is. As Jesus put it…”Why do you call me good? There is only One who is good…” (was Jesus denying that He was God? Or rather saying “Are you calling me good because you know that I am God?”)

So is God self-centered? Yes…and what I mean is that since God is the most important being in the universe, He knows it. He doesn’t bashfully pretend that He isn’t important. Therefore, the most important thing in the universe to God is Himself and His glory.

Most people get mad at a statement like that. But the reason they get mad at that statement is because they think that God prioritizes Himself AT THE EXPENSE OF people. But no. WHEN GOD IS THE CENTER, EVERYBODY WINS.

God created your digestive system, your taste buds, and food for His glory. When you enjoy how food tastes, you use them the way God wanted you to use them. God gets glory as the inventor of this neat system. You enjoy food. Everybody wins.

God created my reproductive system, and my wife’s reproductive system. I will spare you the details that you don’t want to hear about, but we enjoyed what God created of ourselves. Then, she conceived. I am convinced that Abrielle has her mom’s nose, but my eyes and ears. I’ve never reproduced a child before. I have now. It is really freaking awesome. But since God created our reproductive systems, we glorify Him when we use them for what they are for. He gets the glory, we get to enjoy the benefits. Everybody wins.

When sin entered into humanity, part of the temptation was “you will be like God.” Therefore, sin involves us being “self-centered” instead of “God-centered.” This hits us on multiple levels, both macro and micro…

Micro: The individual. Sin’s presence in me makes me inclined to want to glorify myself and make decisions for myself (about actions or what I think is right and wrong), rather than glorify God and let Him make decisions for me.

Macro: Mankind as a whole. We judge things “Right” or “Wrong” based on how they benefit or harm mankind. Sin inclines us to want to have authority…we want mankind to be the decision maker on what is “Right” or “Wrong.”

So most of us have a MAN-CENTERED framework of morality, rather than a GOD-CENTERED framework of morality. And then…get this…we measure God to OUR standard of morality (implying that these are rules that God has to play by…implying that the rules are ABOVE Him).

Even good Christians do this. Here’s a test…you believe that God is good. Why do you believe that?

Most of the Christians I ask this question answer with the following: “Because God gave me His son, so that I wouldn’t go to hell but so that I would live with Him forever!” BUT DO YOU SEE THE PROBLEM? I believe that God is good BECAUSE He gave His son for me. I measure God’s goodness or badness on whether He serves mankind or not. What He does for ME is what makes Him good. What He does for US is what makes Him good. Do you see the problem here? Are we willing to say that if God didn’t give us Jesus Christ, that He would be bad? Like He owed it to us? Like the higher power of morality demanded that it’s underling, God, obeyed it by sending His son?

God is good because good is who He is.

So does this mean that someone should be God-centered at the expense of mankind? No. Mankind is important to God…mankind is close to His heart. He values us. Therefore, when someone is God-centered, they treat mankind better. But I have noticed that when someone is man-centered…they always deteriorate to valuing someone based on what benefit they are to mankind. A God-centered person treats each person with the same value that God holds for them. A man-centered person views the doctor as more valuable than the retard or the handicapped because of how much they benefit society. A man-centered person might start out valuing mankind…but societies like this degenerate until they view the elderly and disabled as WORTHLESS.

So to put this long side-tangent aside, ALL MORALITY IS BASED ON THIS: Are we God-centered or man-centered? Do we treat God the way He wants to be treated? If God is the center of the universe, and if God is perfect, then He has the right to require this.

So based on this alone, even without all the other things that could go wrong, if God said that idolatry was deserving of death, isn’t this good and right?

And if we disagree…why do we disagree? On what basis shall we say that “Murder is deserving of death, but idolatry is only deserving of a stern warning or perhaps a five-minute time out”? Do offenses against man make us angrier than offenses against God? Why?

God is for Himself (which is good!) and along with that, God is for anyone who chooses to be on His side. He has made being on His side very easy (the only requirement is faith in Jesus Christ), although it is very hard for our prideful nature to prioritize Him over us.

SO DO WE VALUE WHAT GOD VALUES? If not, why not?

Onion Theory: ALL relationships take time, experience, and trust

So now, let me return to what Sherman taught us in high school. “You will never be satisfied in your relationship with another human being until you are satisfied in your relationship with God.”

I did not understand this question at the time. I thought, “Well, aren’t we supposed to never be satisfied with our relationship with God? Aren’t we supposed to always want more?” Now, I understand. Well, at least more than I did when I was that age.

You see, American discontentment should not be applied to our relationship with God. God has chosen that our relationship with Him shall deepen over time. He never intended us to be “there” right from the moment that we accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior, mediating the connection between us.

Observe as Carson randomly begins to talk about sex

The best metaphor that I can think of to explain the “why” is marital sex. (Of course. Did you expect different?) A lot of married couples are worried about their honeymoon night. Some are simply worried because it’s the first time, but some are worried because they want it to be amazing. In fact, non-Christians (and even some Christians, too!) will justify premarital sex by saying “Well, you need to experience each other first. You wouldn’t want your honeymoon night to suck!”

NEWS FLASH: YOUR HONEYMOON NIGHT IS SUPPOSED TO SUCK. For two reasons.

a)      Speaking as a guy, of course…sucky sex is still sex. Sucky sex is great! Great sex is…indescribable.

b)      You are married, right? YOU WILL BE HAVING LOTS OF SEX. You will discover each other and how to make it better and better, right?

c)      You know what would really suck? To have GREAT SEX on your honeymoon night…and to have “kinda adequate” sex on the other nights.

For fear of embarrassing my wife (who is far shyer than I am), let me put this in cryptic terms that are not detailed. We loved our honeymoon. We loved EVERYTHING that we did on the honeymoon (and I mean everything). As for our skill level in bed, we tend to laugh when we think about our honeymoon. But at the time…we didn’t know. We just liked it. Now, we laugh. We’ve gotten better.

What does this have to do with God?

Phil 1:6 (NASB)

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

God will not give you IMMEDIATE intimacy with Him. He does not measure your spiritual walk by some ideal standard that you are short of at any given moment. You are supposed to GROW and MATURE and become more intimate with Him. You are not supposed, nor are you ever expected, to start out at maximum intimacy with him.

In fact, Scripture even tells us this…

Luke 2:52 (NASB)

“And Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

Jesus increasing in wisdom and stature?! Jesus increasing in favor with God and men?!?!?! I don’t know what this means or what theological implications or whatever the heck, but I know that Scripture says it, and God intends to communicate something to me by saying that.

Here’s what I think it is…Jesus is the example that I am to follow, right? I should increase in favor with God (and men, but God first). Oh, and wisdom. I’ve already stopped growing in stature…I’m like the only person who isn’t taller than his dad.

God has chosen that your relationship with Him shall not be immediately intimate but progressive.

Concerning other people…

People are the same way, and this is why we are calling these posts the “Onion theory” posts. Invade too deep of the layer of the onion before that person willingly lets you in, and they get uncomfortable.

Interestingly enough, relationships (with others and with God) are deepened by the following 2 or 3 things…

Trust, Time/Experiences

I put time an experiences on the same line because relationships need time…but time itself does not deepen a relationship. The experiences you go through are what deepen the relationship. However, because of this, I mention time. Don’t expect a two month friendship to be as deep as a two year friendship. But don’t expect a relationship to be deep just because you’ve known them for five years.

It is the experiences together that deepen a relationship. No one seems to be closer to each other than military guys who fought together: They risked their lives together, so suddenly their relationship is far deeper than anybody imagined (Think “Band of Brothers”). Friends who experience stuff together become deeper friends.

In a similar fashion, my relationship with God is deeper because of what I’ve been through with Him. The stupid decisions I’ve made in the past…He was there through them. He was with me, and He pulled me out of them. God was with me at my wedding to Sarah. God was with me when my mom died of cancer.

The main point

So are we never supposed to be satisfied in our relationship with God? Well, how can you have “more” God than you have now? Could it always be better? Or is that an American concept of “bigger/better” that is interfering?

Is Jesus mad that you are not more intimate with Him? Wait, mad is a strong word…is He sad? Disappointed?

I can’t answer for Him…I’m not Jesus. But as I understand Him, no, He’s not disappointed. Are you disappointed in a 1 month old baby for not being able to walk? Are you disappointed in a 12 year old child for not being able to do calculus?

My line-of-thought abilities are not working because it is 2:45 in the morning, so let me jump straight to what I am trying to say. Do not be depressed that you are so far from perfect…be overjoyed that Christ is perfecting you. Do not be depressed that you lack grace…have faith (ooh, a Biblical word!) that God WILL (fact) form you into a more gracious person. And let this faith in this FACT give you JOY!!! Not depression that you aren’t there yet.

And apply that to your friends. It’s okay if you don’t talk about everything that’s going on yet. This will come with time, experiences, and trust. It will happen naturally, so look forward to it, and don’t rush things. Let it go their pace.

Don’t be cranky that you aren’t a perfect human being yet…be joyful that He who began a good work in you will complete it!!!