Why Christians aren’t ‘Cherry-Picking’ the Old Testament.

In a previous post, I introduced a series of upcoming blogs, in which I hope to increase people’s understanding of the worldview of biblical Christianity (as least as I and the majority of Christians I know see it). In particular I want to address misunderstandings of biblical Christianity that are regularly coming up as I engage with people about same-sex marriage as the postal vote looms. Please note: I’m not writing these blogs to argue for the ‘No’ case – there are plenty of people writing and posting well written articles along those lines. I’m writing these blogs because I believe we cannot love each other if we don’t understand each other (on both sides). I want to increase the love and decrease the hate in this debate, because I strongly feel this is what my saviour and king Jesus would want.

I don’t watch much TV, but since we got the DVD set of the West Wing, it has become one of my favourite TV series. It is brilliantly written and gripping, with complex and inspirational characters. It’s such a breath of fresh air compared with the brainless reality TV, crude comedy and far-fetched medical or forensic shows that dominate our screens. There is one scene that particularly sparked my interest. I’ve seen the rhetoric from this scene reproduced many times since, in particular by opponents to the Christian view of marriage.

The President of the US, Jed Bartlet – a man of faith, a man who knows his Bible well, eloquently and convincingly destroys a conservative Christian woman’s confident assertion that the Bible teaches ‘homosexuality is an abomination.’ You can view the clip on YouTube – it’s worth a watch, especially for Sam Seaborn’s line at the end of the scene!

His (it’s actually the writer of The West Wing, Aaron Sorkin’s) line of reasoning (which so many have copied since, either knowingly or not) is basically this: If you’re going to accept the part of the Bible that says homosexuality is wrong, then you also have to accept the parts that say that it’s fine to own slaves, that we should stone people for working on the Sabbath, that we shouldn’t plant two different crops side by side or wear garments made out of two different materials.

It’s a compelling argument. You can’t cherry pick the Bible. You can’t have a double standard. And there’s a further implication – if you accept the Bible as the Word of God then you are backward, outdated, and you’ll end up ‘on the wrong side of history.’ So move with the times or see your beliefs  slip into utter irrelevancy. No one is going to believe you if you claim ‘the Bible is the highest authority’ and have this double standard. So just admit that it’s not.

And it’s a really important question for those who wish to call themselves ‘Bible believing’ Christians. Either you accept the teaching of Scripture or you twist it to suit your agenda. And there are many ‘Christians’ who have done the latter throughout the centuries. You can get the Bible to say (or not say) pretty much anything if you work hard enough. The German church supported the Nazi party and Hitler when they came to power. The Crusades were justified from the Bible as ‘reclaiming the Holy Land.’

There are other Christians who want to say – “well that stuff is in the Old Testament – Christianity is about Jesus, and the New Testament.” Marcion, an early theologian who had quite a following, actually tore out the Old Testament (and bits of the New that disagreed with him) from his Bible.

But it’s not as simple as that. Jesus was a Jew, as well as those who wrote the New Testament. Not only do Jesus and the apostles quote the Old Testament all the time to support their teaching, they call it the Word of God. A great example is a really important passage for understanding Jesus’ teaching on marriage being between a man and a woman in Matthew 19 (which I’ll look closer at in an upcoming blog – ‘But Jesus never mentions homosexuality’). Jesus quotes Genesis 2 (from the oldest part of the Old Testament), and understands it to be God speaking –  “what God has joined together” (Matt 19:6).

What’s more there does seem, on the surface at least, to be a bunch of contradictions between the Old and New Testaments. The Old Testament seems to describe an angry, vengeful God, who wipes out people for seemingly small crimes, whereas the New Testament is about a God of love, peace, unity and eternal happiness, exemplified in the peace-loving God-man Jesus. One Facebook commenter asked me recently, “is it eye for an eye or love your enemies? You can’t have both.”

So what’s the solution? Are Christians doomed to either cherry pick the Bible, perform scholarly gymnastics to cleverly twist the interpretation to stop it contradicting itself, or abandon it as a source of truth – the very Word of God?

 If you permit me an aside here (if you’re bored or in a rush, skip to the numbers below) – can I quickly say that I hope you see this question is hugely important for Christians. There is nearly 2000 years of scholarship, including some of the smartest people in history, who have devoted decades of their lives to answering these questions. I stand on the shoulders of giants. So for someone who doesn’t know much about the Bible or Christianity to assume there is no adequate answer is naive at best, and supremely and ignorantly arrogant at worst. I’ve worked out an answer that fits my inquisitive, skeptical, logical mind – it may not be enough for you. If that’s the case, don’t dismiss it and say you’ve heard the arguments and you’re not convinced – there is far more that could be said that a blog (let alone a 500 page book) would not come near to covering. If you aren’t convinced – please talk to me about it – I’d love for you to stretch my own thinking on this topic. Just don’t assume coz you’ve read this blog you’ve heard all the arguments. You haven’t.

But here is my feeble attempt. Here are 5 key principles that I think Christians need to hold together to make sense of God’s teaching in the Old Testament.

1. The Old Testament is the word of God. 

I’ve already alluded to this point, but it is the key starting point for the question at hand. If God has spoken to humanity, then it is foolish and even offensive for humanity to think they can work out God for themselves. Likewise, there are many different types of ‘Christianity’ out there, but the key to working out which of them is ‘authentic Christianity’ (ie worshiping the true God as he reveals himself) is to examine carefully what the Bible says.

Of course, there will be different theories about what the Bible teaches about different things. But the important question for every individual to ask is – does this idea fit with God’s word as God intended it? This is the task I have been pursuing since I became a Christian in February 2006. It has led me out of a medical career to Theological College. I believe it is the most important task a human faces: what can be known about our creator God?

2. Context is key. 

As well as being the word of God, the Old Testament was written by particular people, to a specific group of people, at a specific time. It would be foolish to take something written to someone else and apply it directly to us without considering who wrote it, when it was written, to whom and for what purpose. It would also be doing yourself and the text a great injustice to take a particular part of a text and read it in isolation, without considering how it fits into the text as a whole.

As an extreme example – did you know the Bible teaches that there is no God? That’s a direct quote from 2 different parts of the Bible – Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1. See – the Bible contradicts itself…. until you read it in context – on both occasions, the full sentence is, ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”’

Let’s take one of Jed Bartlet’s examples which is a bit more relevant in thinking about Old Testament rules:

“touching the skin of a dead pig makes one unclean” (Lev 11:8).

Why do Christians seem to ignore this verse of Leviticus and yet be so uptight about Leviticus 18:22 which calls homosexuality an abomination?

Let’s consider the context. Leviticus is a book written to be the law for the nation of Israel, to establish how they were to live as a Holy Nation under God’s rule. This was a theocracy, (ie. God was the nation’s ruler) built on a strict religious system to distinguish them from surrounding nations. This included a range of seemingly arbitrary actions that made one ‘unclean,’ which would necessitate a series of cleansing rituals. With the coming of Jesus, God’s people were no longer confined to the ethnic nation of Israel, and their cleanness was no longer based on rituals but on Christ’s fulfilment of the law – so Jesus says in Mark 7:18-19:

“…nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.

And if it wasn’t clear enough, Mark adds the editorial note:

 “(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)” (Mark 7:19b).

Unclean food laws are further taught as not being applicable to Christians in the rest of the New Testament (eg. Acts 10, 1 Tim 4:3).

So what about homosexuality? Is it just part of the theocratic system of Israel’s society? Is there something about homosexuality that is arbitrary and simply to keep Israel distinct from the nations around it? Does the New Testament talk about ‘declaring all forms of sexuality clean’? These are important questions to ask, to ensure we aren’t ‘cherry picking’ verses to support a particular position.

3. Context only gets you so far.

Context is really important, and really helpful. But it’s not the silver bullet for interpretation. Not everyone who reads passages in context agree on what passages teach. That’s because sometimes things like the meaning of words or phrases, how much emphasis to put on historical context of a given passage, and the authors’ intent in writing certain things are unclear.

Some important principles to consider in these situations are:

  1. Let the Bible interpret the Bible. This is one that distinguishes more conservative Christians from more liberal Christians. Conservative Christians like myself believe that the Bible as it was originally given is the Word of God, with his stamp of authority on every word. If this is the case, when we find a passage doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of Scripture, then either it’s not part of the word of God, or we aren’t understanding it properly.
  2. Don’t try and make the Bible say more than its saying. If the Bible is unclear on something, it’s important not to push a particular view on that topic too far, or assert it with more emphasis than the Bible gives it. This is really tricky when it comes to something where a decision actually has to be made – such as “do we baptise children or not?” A decision has to be made, but the Bible doesn’t mention the baptism of children, and so you have to look at all the surrounding principles and make a decision based on what you can infer. (Hence baptism is an issue that is disputed between many Bible believing Christians).
  3. Consider how our own personal biases might shape the way we read a text. This is probably the most common hurdle that Bible interpreters trip over. We need to be aware of our biases and ensure that the reading we are making is based on what the text is actually saying, not a convenient support for a view we are bringing to the Bible. We can never be free of bias, but techniques to work out objectively what a text is saying (aka exegetical techniques) are what biblically scholars devote their lives to. The usual culprits are when we let our allegiance to certain traditions or institutions, or our personal experiences sit over the Bible. Rather than let the Bible speak into and critique those traditions / experiences, we let those traditions / experiences speak into and critique what the Bible says.
  4. Consider how this text is interpreted by others. The wisdom and understanding that a single individual can gather in a lifetime is infinitesimally small compared with the wisdom available to the human race. As I mentioned earlier, when interpreting the Bible, there are 2000 years of scholarship to help you. In a world where endless information is at our fingertips there is no excuse for being uninformed about something that is important to you. There’s a lot of rubbish out there, but there’s also a lot of gold. If there is a disputed text or issue, gather the strongest arguments for each case that you can find, and work out for yourself who makes the most compelling argument.

4. Christianity is not about rules.

There are a lot of rules in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. As a result, many people think that being a Christian is about trying to live according to God’s rules. The usual perception goes something like this: Those who do ‘good’ in accordance with God’s rules will get to go to heaven when they die, those who don’t will be condemned. In this way, Christianity is pretty much like any other religion – a group of people who are driven by some concept of a deity to try and be good people. Which explains why we often hear objections to Christianity along the lines of: ‘I don’t need a God to tell me how to live a moral life.’

But Christianity isn’t about following rules. The Old Testament rules aren’t what we base our religion on. They show God’s standard of perfection is a standard we can never reach. Following rules to get to heaven is like trying swim up a waterfall. It’s just not going to happen. God will not tolerate any evil, and he will not leave any deed unpunished.

If you want to read more about this, it’s worth reading all of Romans 1-8, but here is the key point: “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”(Romans 3:20)

The Old Testament law shows us that we’ve failed.  We all stand condemned before God, facing the death penalty – the just punishment for a life lived in rebellion against the author of life. All of us, that is, except one.

This is why Christianity is Christianity. It’s all about Jesus Christ. Jesus is the one man who perfectly obeyed God’s law in the Old Testament. And so in dying a death he didn’t deserve, he became a substitute. He substituted his own perfect life for us. Here’s a couple of examples where this is summed up beautifully by the apostle Paul:

“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:7–8)

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus has become the mediator between us and God:

“For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” (1 Timothy 2:5)

What this means is the Bible isn’t a rule book. It’s a book about how people who don’t follow the rules can be right before God. And the amazing news is that because of his amazing grace and love and mercy, God has made it possible for us to be right before him, through the death of his son Jesus. Have a look at my previous blog on ‘Why Christians can hate the sin but love the sinner’ for more on this.

So if the Bible’s not about rules, how do we decide what it does teach?

5. Christian ethics is multifactorial.

So hopefully you’ve seen that coming to understand what God’s will is in the Old Testament is far from ‘cherry picking’. There are detailed and essential processes that must be taken into account, especially the teaching of Jesus and his personal fulfilment of the Old Testament.

But it’s also not as straight forward as just looking at God’s commands and ignoring everything else. The Bible is a unified framework for all of life for all people. Christian ethics (a system of morality based on the Bible), is far more than listing all the commands in their correct context. There are many situations (such as same-sex marriage) which aren’t specifically dealt with in the Bible. Does this mean the Bible is silent on those situations?

In order to make ethical decisions we need to take into account the whole teaching of Scripture on how God would have us live. Andrew Cameron suggests there are 5 ethical categories (‘poles’) which I find extremely helpful and biblical for approaching any ethic issue:

  1. Creation. What is God’s intention for us within the created order?
  2. New creation. What is God’s intention in light of his promises for the future, where God will establish a new heavens and a new earth without evil?
  3. Character of God. How is God’s character reflective of his will for us?
  4. Commands. What does God specifically command us to do?
  5. Community in Christ. How does Jesus’ establishing of a new community of believers shape how we are to live now?

Cameron argues that Christian ethics is a dynamic process where we must integrate all of these elements. Over-emphasising one ‘pole’ at the expense of another will distort our morality in a direction away from God’s will. In a way, these principles are just a broader way of considering the question of context. The question they are answering is: ‘how does this passage fit in the context of the whole of the Bible’s teaching on the Christian life?’

A suggested technique.

Given the above principles, here are 13 questions to ask of any passage of the Bible, especially from the Old Testament.

  1. Historical context: Who was it written to?
  2. Literary context: Where does it fit within the book / section of the book it was written in?
  3. Is this passage or the principles in the passage mentioned in the New Testament?
  4. How does it relate to the rest of the Bible’s teaching?
  5. Am I trying to make it say more (or less) than it is actually saying?
  6. What biases might I be bringing to the text?
  7. What do other intelligent and thought-out people have to say about this text?
  8. How is it fulfilled in or by Jesus?
  9. How does it relate to God’s created order?
  10. How does it relate to God’s future plans for a new creation?
  11. How does it relate to the character of God?
  12. Is there a clear command here?
  13. How does it relate to the community of believers established by Christ?

So… now would be a great time to look at Leviticus 18:22 using these principles.

“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22)

I might do that in a future blog post. But I’ve explained the principles – why don’t you apply these principles and work out what God has to say for yourself?

In the meantime, hopefully this is a helpful response next time you or someone else thinks that Christians are just thoughtlessly cherry-picking the Bible to suit their own agenda. While it may be a fair critique for some, it’s important to understand a bit more about someone’s thought processes before jumping to such a conclusion.

In accordance with s 6(5) of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Act 2017, this communication was authorised by Andrew Williams, of Croydon Park, NSW.

Why Christians can hate the sin and not the sinner.

I think anyone reading my Facebook page will see that ‘tolerance’ only goes so far. It seems that any serious threat to the modern gods of individualism, pluralism, relativism and liberalism is crossing a line. There are some ideas that are almost impossible to speak about publicly without people taking it personally. I apologise for the offence that my beliefs have caused people. If you don’t want to hear what I have to say, please don’t read it.

Let me make this as clear as I can. I don’t hate any of you. I don’t hate gay people. And neither does God. Everything I am saying comes from deeply held convictions that are grounded in genuinely wanting the best for people. I’m far from perfect. Even though I’m trying really hard not to attack people personally or react emotionally, and instead present a carefully articulated account of what I believe, you will see if you read the various comment threads that I am never as clear as I could be. My words are easily misunderstood and I am seen by many as a hater. Something’s not working here.

I truly believe that if we can understand each others’ worldviews better we might be able to at the very least reach a peaceable ‘we’ll agree to disagree on this one.’ But maybe it’s too late for that. Maybe the content itself is so confronting that no matter how well it is articulated, it will still be heard by some as hate speech. Either way – this post has further inspired me to produce some articles about the Christian worldview as I hold it to be in an effort towards this.

Because my God is a God of love. Not the kind of love that compromises in order to accept any and everyone regardless of who they are and what they do or believe. A love that sees the evil in each of us, knows it and feels the offence of it personally, and yet instead of wiping us out as He should have long ago – achieves the impossible, at the cost of his own son, all in the name of love:

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6–8 NIV)

When I say homosexuality is a sin (which I only do when pressed by the way), people think I’m saying homosexuals are sinful, and that I’m not sinful. But this is where we misunderstand each other. The very fact that I confess Christ as my Lord and Saviour is a recognition that I am powerless, I am ungodly, I am a sinner. Otherwise why would I believe that the perfect son of God had to die for me?

I think this means Christians can have a unique approach to people. It means we can truly hate the sin and not the sinner. I think people don’t see this as a possibility with homosexuality. And its understandable. When someone’s sexuality is such a deeply felt thing, so hard to separate from someone’s identity – how could you possibly oppose that part of them without judging them as a person?

But the difference is that Christians have no warrant to judge others without first judging themselves. And because they judge themselves to be guilty, they know that they are no better at living God’s way than anyone else. Our starting point is sinfulness. Our only hope is Jesus’ sinlessness. So we can hate the sin in ourselves and others. Even the sin that seems is unavoidable because its so much a part of who we are.

And it means we can truly love the sinner. No one is better than anyone else. All of us fall short. All of us need help. True ‘equality’ if you like. It means we can treat others like we would want to be treated.

And yet, Christians like myself still fail at this distinction. We continue to sin – even though we know the offence that it causes God. Even though we know the great price that it cost to rescue us from it. Even though God’s Holy Spirit lives inside of us. So in some ways when we sin, we are worse than those who don’t know Jesus – we should know better. Christians sin when we are judgmental. We sin by looking down on others. We sin by hating the sinner and not the sin.

Like I said above – because I hate sin, because I know what it cost Jesus to rescue me from it, I really don’t want to do it. I especially don’t want to sin against a group of people who are marginalised by society and to whom Jesus would have reached out to with love and forgiveness. So if you see me doing or saying something contrary to what you think the Bible teaches, please let me know (preferably in a private message). But please don’t assume my motivations for what I’m saying – you can’t judge motivations by what someone says. That’s between me and God. I’m sure my motivations are not 100% pure – I know I’m sinful. But I want you to know that everything I say comes from a prayerful heart, meditating on God’s word, that truly wants to speak the truth in love. Even if I fail at it, that’s what I’m trying to do.

Love doesn’t always mean being unoffensive. If someone knows something important, that has a big effect on someone else, but doesn’t share it because they’re worried it might offend them – is that love? I, for one, would prefer the truth the hurts than the lie that keeps the peace.

I’m sure there’ll be outrage to this comment as well. I’m learning that’s unavoidable with a worldview that confronts the ‘gods’ I spoke about in the first paragraph. I guess I can’t tell you not to take this personally, and I can’t ask you not to attack me personally – what you do with these words is up to you. I’m just telling you what I believe, to try and help you understand where I’m coming from. If that offends you, I’m not surprised. People killed Jesus because he offended them. People keep killing his followers to this day. It hasn’t stopped Christians continuing to hold out the truth. Because we know that death is not the end – Jesus is risen and he will raise us also!

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (Romans 5:17)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Understanding biblical Christianity might help you see why we can’t support same-sex marriage.

The move by the government to ask Australians about changing marriage legislation to include same-sex couples has brought the spotlight onto Christianity. Debates about how to vote on this issue have a tendency toward the rhetoric of catchy ‘one-liners’ which are at one level compelling, emotive and effective, but at a deeper level are superficial, lacking nuance or much actual rationality behind them.

The topic of same-sex marriage is deeply personal, especially for those directly affected. For the LGBTQI community, to have society vote on this issue is ultimately a question of whether your lifestyle is accepted as ‘normal.’ For many, any suggestion that homosexuality is abnormal or wrong is unavoidably offensive. It seems there is no way someone can hold the “no” position without being seen as hurtful, hateful, insensitive, old fashioned, unloving, disconnected or bigoted.

It’s also brought out disagreement within Christianity in Australia. Some churches are putting up signs in support of marriage equality, while others are actively speaking out against it. Pastors have taken to social media to explain ‘what the Bible really says about same-sex marriage’ – and for something you think would be an obvious question (‘is it sin or is it not?’) – there are a variety of opinions.

My hope in this series of posts is not to argue for the ‘no’ position. If you follow my Facebook feed, you’ll know that I’m a fairly outspoken ‘no’ voter. There are plenty of articles, comment threads, and ‘one-liners’ getting thrown around for you to look at if you want to hear the arguments either way. Here are some of the best articles I’ve come across for why we should keep the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman:

https://selkesnet.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/somewhere-over-the-rainbow/

Baptists, Bible, and Marriage

http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2017/08/15/4718836.htm

My primary aim instead is to decrease hate and increase love. My method will be to try and increase understanding. Who we are and what we believe is a result of so many different factors – our upbringing, traumatic experiences, genetics, education – I could go on. I’ve never met anyone whose aim was to hate people or hurt people. There’s always a reason why someone acts the way they do. I reckon’ if we can just understand each other better – then there can be less hate and more love. Working as a doctor, I’m often asked to go and speak with angry patients and family members. Pretty much every time, the issue is not that they are horrible angry people, but there has been a breakdown in understanding. Much of what a doctor’s job is involves increasing understanding to help people make informed choices about their health. So it’s something I’m passionate about and have seen the results of both positively and negatively.

Religious, social, and political contexts are no different to the health setting. Understanding each other is the key if we’re ever going to love those who are different to us. In a society that is so diverse and largely individualistic, it’s great to finally be talking about some areas where difference of opinion actually matters. And as I’ve seen this debate unfold, and have been involved in and observed many discussions with the passionate, well-meaning SSM advocates and opposers, I think most anger, frustration, harm and outrage comes from a place of not understanding each other. If we can try and put emotional knee-jerk responses and personal attacks aside and just have a thoughtful, careful discussion about ideas, seeking to really understand each other, I believe we can reduce the hate and increase the love in this heated debate.

There are two types of people I have in mind particularly: the first are same-sex marriage advocates who haven’t had much to do with Christianity and just can’t fathom how a religion of love and forgiveness can be so judgmental and unfair. The second are Christians who are despairing at those speaking out for the ‘no’ vote, feeling that they are damaging the church and the gospel, and making it almost impossible for our LGBTQI neighbours to come to know the saving love of Jesus.

Like I said, I won’t be trying to convince these people to change their mind (although I hope it will help the Christians in the latter group think hard about their position). I just want to increase understanding, with the hope that you might see that people like me don’t hate gay people, we aren’t using the Bible to discriminate against people we think are ‘yucky’, and we aren’t just being old fashioned coz we’re opposed to change. That we’re actually thinking really hard about these issues, and are not speaking in order to hurt people but because we really feel it is actually for the best.

Why is this important to me? Because far more important than where marriage ends up in Australia, is where each person in Australia ends up when Jesus returns to judge the world. And far more important than making convincing arguments, is making arguments in a loving and respectful way. Jesus died to bridge the impossible chasm between humanity and God resulting from our sin and his perfection. So that people who were enemies of God could be restored in their relationship with him. There is no greater love than this – that Jesus would give himself to save sinners like me. So I want to honour Jesus in everything I do and say, especially on this sensitive topic. And to honour Jesus means, first and foremost, to love.

Here are some questions that I’ve heard people asking, which will form the topics for my future posts:

  • Aren’t Christians just cherry picking the Bible? What about rules about stoning people, slavery, working on the Sabbath and not wearing clothing of different threads?
  • How can you say you’re loving and reject homosexuals at the same time?
  • Surely gay marriage is more godly than gay not-marriage?
  • How can you impose your morality on other people?
  • Isn’t Jesus silent on homosexuality?
  • Surely there are more important things for Christians to be advocating for?

There could be volumes written on these questions. And while I have been studying theology for the past 2 and a half years, I’m far from a leading expert in this field. But I’ll do my best to increase understanding about what I (and what I think most bible-believing Christians) believe, as clearly and succinctly as I can.

If there are other things about Christianity that you find confusing or ridiculous then please comment and I’ll do my best to address them. And if you are feeling misunderstood by me, then please consider helping me understand you better too. Maybe if we work hard to understand each other better, there can be more love and less hate in this debate.

What if You Could be a Radical Extremist for Good Rather than Evil?

We constantly hear in the media how our law enforcement agencies are on the look out for “extremist tendencies” and “radicalisation”.

And it’s fair enough. That’s what drives a suicide bomber isn’t it? Extremists are terrifying because they are willing to pay the ultimate price for what they believe. They’re dangerous. A threat to society.

And yet somehow people find it appealing. We hear about “disenfranchised youth” who are fed up with the meaningless of their lives, searching for something to pour their passion and energy into.

But is the solution to avoid extremism and radicalisation at all costs?

The problem with so-called extremists is not extremism itself. And it’s also not religion. It’s that their extremism is directed towards a false idea. An evil idea. An idea that is self-seeking and hateful at its core.

What I want to put to you is the dangerous idea that we don’t need less extremists. We need more. What if there was a form of extremism that did the opposite of terrorism? That spread love not hate?

There are extremists in our world who aren’t talked about much in the press. People willing to die for what they believe. People who have sacrificed everything and are willing to do whatever it takes. People who’s belief in a higher power makes them resolved to act out the will of that higher power at all costs.

What if there was an extremist movement that had goodness at its core? An extremist movement of radical love?

There is. It’s called being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Evil extremists give their lives to bring death and terror.
Jesus gave his life to bring life and hope.

Warning: This blog contains material that may lead people to become radicalised. At least that’s what I’m hoping…

I’m a busy person so this is going to be pretty low production value – I don’t have much time for careful word-smithing and editing. There are plenty of good resources out there if you want to read something more polished on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and I’ll refer you to those as we go. But here’s my goal: I want to show you that you can be an extremist without being a terrorist. It’s dangerous. People will hate you for it. But it’s fulfilling. It’s exciting. It’s so worth it.

Where we’re headed: Passion without compromise.

My Top 10 ‘Proofs’ for the Existence of God

screenshot_from_imaxc2ae_3d_movie_hidden_universe_showing_the_helix_nebula_in_infraredThe first thing to say when trying to “prove that God exists” is that this is an impossible task. Humans can’t prove that God exists any more than Hamlet could prove that Shakespeare exists. The reason is that God is not contained to our universe – he is a transcendent being. So his existence can never be proven through mere observation of the world (see 1 Corinthians 1:21).

However, God has given us plenty of clues to his existence in the world we can observe. So much so that to reject the existence of a God is not only misguided, but demonstrates our inner desire to be independent of him and thus a suppression of the truth of his existence (see Romans 1:18-25). The approach however is more like a court case than a laboratory experiment. What we have is a collection of evidence, based on the careful testing of witnesses, and ultimately a judgment we have to make.

Not only has God given us clues in nature, but he has given us a definitive revelation of himself through human mediators. These revelations have been written down and preserved for us in the Bible over a number of centuries. His ultimate revelation was in the man Jesus Christ, who in his very nature was divine – thus the exact representation of God’s being (see Hebrews 1:3).

I don’t pretend that I will convince you without a doubt that God exists. My aim is that I will persuade you that the existence of a Creator is plausible, in fact more plausible than the lack of one. With this qualification, we can now move on to my top 10 proofs of the existence of God, starting with God’s general revelation in nature (1-4), and moving to his special revelation through the Scriptures (5-10).

Proof #1: Intelligent design
Everywhere you look there is evidence of an intelligent creator. The beauty of fractals and sunsets. The taste of sweet fruit and the sound of birdsong. Many people don’t need further proof than this – you ask if they believe in a creator, and they say, “yeah I know there is a higher power, the world is filled with too much beauty and meaning to be a cosmic accident”.

Proof #2: Irreducible complexity
Related very much to Proof #1, irreducible complexity is specifically about the existence of living beings. Having loved and studied biology and medicine all my adult life, this is my favourite. The current scientific theory for life existing is that the right chemicals, in the right environment, given enough time, will eventually become life, as various components of life develop one by one by a process of natural selection. However this fails to take into account that the simplest life forms (single cells) are still incredibly complex.

People think the probability of life occurring is minutely small, but given enough time it’s inevitable. But the probability isn’t like 1 grain of sand out of all the grains of sands in this universe, it’s more like billions of grains of sand forming a beautiful sandcastle, complete with turrets and a draw-bridge completely spontaneously. Life is a sandcastle that you stumble upon on a beach – the atheist says “over billions and billions of years, the wind and the waves formed in such a way to create this sandcastle”. The theist says “there must be another intelligent being on this island.” Which is the more plausible conclusion to make based on the evidence?

Proof #3: Humanity’s divine attributes
Have you ever considered what makes humans different to all other creatures? The answer of many people is “we’re just more evolved”. But is it really that simple? Don’t get me wrong, I can see that evolution is a plausible method of moving from one species to another, as mutations that enable better adaptation to the environment lead to natural selection through survival of the fittest. I agree that there is strong evidence for a clear ancestral relationship with the apes. But is there something more to humanity than just being more evolved?

I think one of the clearest distinctions is that we can contemplate the divine – we feel like there is something more to life than simply survival of the fittest. We long for eternity and fulfilment – like an emptiness. As Augustine puts it, addressing his maker – “you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” The existence of religion (some kind of effort to relate to the divine) present in every culture, even isolated groups is a testimony to this. It would make sense if God were to make humanity in his own image, he would create us with an innate desire to seek him out.

Proof #4: Humanity’s conscience and morality
Related to Proof #3, there is a sense of morality and innate sense of right and wrong which transcends evolutionary theory or social conditioning. Again, much of our biology and behaviour could be attributed to evolution. However, generally speaking, humans (other than psychopaths perhaps) have a reverence for life, a sense of guilty conscience at hurting other people that testifies to a divine creator. If we were to be only driven by the instinct of “survival of the fittest” then why would we not kill or harm those who are outside of our family, especially if they were to be a competitor for resources? Yet we feel tyrants are wrong to persecute the poor, and we have a desire to protect the weak and sick even though it might work against the survival of our genetic material.

If you to take atheism to its logical end point, then life really is about survival of the fittest. This kind of thinking from the likes of Nietzsche, Marx and Hitler led to the atrocities and genocide of the 20th century. If you are a true atheist, then you have no reason to be moral if it prevents you getting ahead. If you have an instinctive sense that being amoral is wrong – then your own conscience testifies to a divine creator who loves justice and truth who made you and loves you.

Proof #5: “Coincidences” and answered prayer
Many people know that there is someone watching over them because of their experiences. Certain things happen that just seem so coincidental that there must be a higher power at work. Some might call this wishful thinking. But the right set of events, at the right time often lead people from skepticism about God to belief. We know that God seeks after his lost people, and he uses people and events to bring individuals to know that he is there.

If you want to believe in God, but just aren’t sure if he’s there – why not ask him to show himself to you? He doesn’t promise that he’ll give people visions or dreams or miracles. Especially not to those who demand them. But he does promise that whoever seeks him with a genuine heart will find him (Jeremiah 29:13). He promises to never turn away someone who is contrite in heart (in other words someone who comes humbly not presumptuously – Psalm 51:17). So what have you got to lose? Much more if he’s there and you ignore him than if he’s not and you seek him without finding him.

Proof #6: Unlikely heroes
Moving to the authenticity of God’s revelation in Scripture, one of the striking things about the Bible is that the heroes are not really heroes at all. Most of the ancients who invent stories about their ancestors will gloss over the messy stuff and emphasise their best sides. Even though the Old Testament was written by Jews for Jews, it’s remarkably negative about them. Abraham, the Father of Israel passed off his wife as his sister and slept with his slave because he doubted God’s promises. Moses wasn’t even a real Israelite since he had been adopted by the Egyptians and he had speech problems, yet he reluctantly became God’s prophet and led his people out of Egypt. The Israelites did a terrible job of being God’s people and were eventually exiled from the land God had promised them.

But the hero of the Bible is God. Most people making up a religion use it to wield power and influence over people. But God is clearly shown to be the hero of the Bible, not the people. And the most unlikely hero is Jesus. He’s not an impressive king. He’s a humble carpenter from a backwater town who becomes a teacher and healer, who is hated by the powerful and ends up getting executed as a blasphemer. Who would / could make this stuff up?

Proof #7: Fulfilled prophecy
As you read Scripture, God asks time and time again for you to look back at whether he has been faithful to his promises. He gave prophecies to certain people which came true – in particular, he told Abraham that the Israelites would be captives in a foreign land, he predicted through Isaiah that they would be exiled to Babylon and return under a king Cyrus (this was written before Cyrus was even born), he predicted they would exiled to Babylon 70 for years.

The recurring prophecy in the Old Testament is about a great king, saviour, rescuer, called the Messiah. He would be born miraculously of a virgin, in the kingly line of David, there would be a prophet coming just before him to prepare people for his coming, he would heal people and proclaim good news, he would suffer and bear the punishment of sins to bring peace to his people, he would crush the Devil, he would rise again and he would establish a kingdom that would last forever. There are hundreds of such prophecies in the Old Testament. Written hundreds of years before Jesus came. And Jesus fulfilled them in ways that the people of the time were not expecting (i.e. political upheaval of the Romans and an earthly Jewish kingdom) – so it wasn’t even wishful thinking on their part – they had him killed because they thought he was a fake!

Proof #8: The Historical Jesus
The accounts we have of Jesus are amazing. When compared to any other historical document form this period they are off the charts in terms of reliability. We have eye witness testimony – details that could only have been known by people who were there. The books were written within the lifetime of these eye witnesses. We have a transmission of manuscripts that has been established that we know with 99% accuracy the exact words that were written down, in Greek, by the original authors. There are tens of thousands of manuscripts which contribute to this – hundreds times more than other historical texts from this time.

People say there is no evidence of Jesus outside of the gospels, as though we can assume the gospels were made up. But that is four key primary sources of the time. And not only is this so, but there is evidence of Jesus outside the gospels, from people (such as the Jews) who opposed him. Some examples include Josephus and Tacitus.

The biggest evidence that Jesus existed is the following events that ensued. This was not a myth that developed over centuries. By the turn of the first century, we have writings by Christian leaders, referring to the New Testament writings, and as well as Roman officials writing to each other about issues with this new Jewish sect.

Proof #9: The Resurrected Jesus
The proof of Jesus’ authority as God and Messiah is constantly linked to the resurrection in the New Testament. All four gospels give an account of Jesus rising from the dead. Included are details such as an empty tomb, Jesus having a new body that was not bound by time and space, and yet he could still eat in their presence, and still had the scars from his crucifixion. He gave many convincing proofs to the disciples, including those who could not believe without seeing him with their own eyes. He remained in the area of Galilee for 40 days and over 500 people saw him and recognised him.

There are many arguments pointing to the plausibility of the resurrection. I will mention only a few that have stuck with me:
1. The Romans knew how to execute people, and the testimonies refer to water and blood flowing from his side, a sign confirmed by modern medicine that his heart was no longer beating.
2. The Romans set a close guard over the tomb and when the body was gone, they tried to maintain that it was stolen. They could not produce a body to silence the claims of the first Christians.
3. Many of the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection were still alive at the time of the New Testament, and the reader is told to go and ask them if they don’t believe.
4. The most compelling (in my view): Jesus disciples were scattered and in disarray when Jesus was tried and executed. Their leader, who was going to bring in this amazing kingdom had just been killed. Yet something happened to them shortly afterwards that led them to proclaim, under great opposition – to the point of being executed, that Jesus had come back from the dead. They had nothing to gain by making this story up – they did not have any political intent, they became social outcasts, and definitely had no monetary gain from this, as they gave up their jobs to teach others this news, becoming like beggars, dependent on the generosity of others to survive. Most of them ended up losing their lives for this testimony. Sure, some cults last a generation or two with people willing to die for what they are convinced is true. But we’re talking hundreds of initial witnesses, who convinced thousands across the world by the certainty of their testimony.

Proof #10: The Perseverance of the Church
If you are a Christian or want to engage with Christianity at all as a skeptic or whatever, and you haven’t read the book of Acts from start to finish, then stop reading this blog and go and do it. This is the account of the early church – what happens after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. We see throughout the book of Acts that Jesus is still at work, through his people, by his Spirit. He spiritually empowers his people to speak boldly in the face of opposition, perform miracles, guide them where he wants them to go, and work to bring people to belief in him. This work of the Holy Spirit has continued throughout the centuries and continues today in churches. People are turned from skepticism to belief through the bold proclamation of the message of Jesus. Some are given incredible gifts to serve the church. People are healed physically and spiritually – (although miraculous healings are not promised to everyone, especially not to those who demand signs). Throughout the ages, Christianity has faced great opposition – either from the authorities, or from within the so-called “church” – which has often and still is corrupted by many false teachers and unbelievers masquerading as Christians. But there is evidence that God has sustained the true church through all of these times, and has remained faithful to his people as he promised (see Proof #7).

Ok that’s my 10 proofs of the existence of God. None of them originate from my own thinking – they are what I’ve learnt from many other sources. Again, I want to remind you that this is not an open and shut case. I just want to give you some evidence to show Christianity is intellectually and logically plausible given the above arguments.

But if you’ve read this far and your not convinced, I want to leave you with one last thought. Most people who have intellectual objections to Christianity think the reason they can’t believe in God is because of their intellectual objections. But almost always the reality is that deep down, they are holding on to something that they know they will have to give up if they become a Christian. Maybe it’s their pride. Maybe it’s their desire to have autonomy and not have someone else tell them how to live their lives. Maybe it’s their relationships. Or their use of things like pornography, alcohol, sex or money that they know God wouldn’t approve of and don’t wanna give up. Whatever it is – it’s those things, things that their hearts secretly want to hold on to that make them not want to believe, even if it was true, that are stopping them. These people can hear all the arguments, but they will never accept them because they don’t want to. They might have convinced themselves that they are being open minded. But basically unless something dramatic happens, they aren’t going to change their minds.

So their intellectual objections aren’t the reason they don’t believe. They are simply a cover for getting what they really want. They use these objections to justify their position. They use them to convince people, themselves most of all, that their rejection of God is right. And any threat to this self-justification is dismissed quickly without actually approaching the evidence with an open mind.

So here’s my question for you: If you were to become a Christian, is there something that you would have to give up that you don’t want to? Have you tricked yourself into rejecting God because deep down, you don’t want it to be true.

This question changed my life. I realised that I was deluding myself if I thought I was being open minded. I didn’t want to be a Christian, because I didn’t want God telling me what to do. And I was willing to justify that position at any cost. Once I realised my deep personal bias against Christianity, I was able to have a far more objective approach (the approach that I was championing all along), which led me to belief in Christ.

Andrew Williams.