Sunday, May 9, 2010

Theology and Apologetics Q&A (1)

These are questions asked by my fellow churchgoers. For reasons of length, they are answered here so I can elaborate if I need to.

Q1: The whole Bible is the basis of my faith and I know if one word is not inspired then the whole thing collapses. The biggest barrier I run into in my outreach is the tripwire the old chestnut of the book being written by man and therefore suspect...Bottom line, give me the elevator speech that knocks down that argument about the Bible being written by men. Thanks.

If, by "argument," you mean the view that since the Bible was written with human hands it couldn't also be inspired by God, then I would ask "why not both?" What people are really questioning is whether the Bible can be truly error-free if it were produced by human hands. If there is a God who wants to communicate with us through the Bible, then why can't the Bible be error-free? Again, if there is a God who wants to communicate with us, then why does it matter that He chooses to speak through poetry, narratives, and letters written by men vs another method?

Would it make a difference if God struck His word on tablets on a mountaintop instead? (Oh wait, He did) Would it make a difference if monkeys pounding on computer keys produced all the books of the Bible? Would that make things any more miraculous, inspired, or error-free? It wouldn't to me.

In turn, I'd like to ask if such an argument is made by people, namely men (?). Of course it is. So, if I were to adopt a similar line of reasoning, shouldn't I be able to question whether that is a good argument simply because it was made by a man? Well no, of course not. It just goes to show that this attitude dismisses the veracity of the Bible based on its origins in what's called the genetic fallacy. Other than being guilty of extreme prejudice, this argument carries little weight.

Q2: Why is God so angry in the OT, to the point of killing people on the spot? Why did he stop that behavior in the N. T. ? hum, does that mean GOD changed his tactic with us?

This is a good question that people often ask.

Your question makes it sound like God reacts out of His anger to kill people unjustly. Is this what you mean? If so, God wouldn't be loving or just if He did that. People are created beings; on top of that we are sinners. Our lives are always at His mercy, and if/when He determines that our earthly lives should end, we have no reason to accuse Him of being wrong or unfair.

God may appear to behave differently between the OT and NTs, but I think this is only due to what we perceive as more tolerance on His part. God can and has claimed life in immediate punishment for sin past the OT. Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5 are the examples that come to mind. But you could be right that God has actually changed His behavior toward those in post-NT times. If He has, I'm thankful for His great mercies.

Q3: Did Jesus give a chance to the people of the Old Testament that never heard the Word of God?

Romans 4 talks about Abraham and David believing God and God treating them as righteous long before Jesus walked the earth. Theologians have pointed out that Jesus' blood retroactively covers their sin even as it proactively covers ours today. For those people in the OT who were not a part of the Hebrews or Israel, their witness was the nation of Israel itself. There were many who became part of the Hebrew community all throughout the OT who learned of the God of Israel (i.e. Egyptians escaping w/ Hebrews in the Exodus, the Moabites).

Q4: Why are we saved by grace through faith? Why not grace through love, or forgiving others? Is it because we’d earn salvation that way, in a sense?

Think about it this way: it is not so much the "earning" aspect that plays a role in this question. Being sinful people by nature, we cannot love well enough or forgive others with pure enough hearts and minds to qualify being worthy of being in the presence of God. One guilty person loving and forgiving another guilty person doesn't erase the guilt of either party before God.

Second, the whole idea of grace negates trying to earn salvation, because grace is something God freely gives as He wills. If grace is earned, then it wouldn't be grace (Romans 11:5-7). Suppose if salvation could be earned, then some people would have a right to demand it of God based on a level of achievement. Those people would somehow have less sin or be better than the rest of humanity. But, as Scripture reveals, no one has any spiritual advantage. We are all sinners, whether we sin more or less than the next person.

I think I should point out that only Christianity contains God's grace in this way. God is an agent
independent of us who gives grace and instills faith on believers. Many religions require merit that is ultimately not for God but for collecting self-orbiting accolades meant to force God to do something for us. That is very different from the loving relationship that God wants for us that we find in the Bible.

Q5: What happens to people that don’t hear the Word of God? Are they judged based on the difficulties that God has given them, or solely on never hearing his name?

Wow, this is a question that is as old as the Bible itself! Even if I had another two-thousand years, I couldn't give you a complete answer. You won't be alone when you get to meet Jesus in person one day and ask Him directly. :)

Short answer: it depends. Without the Gospel, there is only Law (Romans 10). How an individual responds to the Law of God, which everyone knows in their heart, is how God will judge him/her (Romans 1). The only thing we know about the unknowns is that God is always just, and whatever happens to those people will be the right thing.

Q6: In the end, it says that “every knee shall bow” (Philipians 2:10) and every tongue confess (Philipians 2:12) that Jesus Christ is Lord. Also, it says “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” So, it turns back to belief again with the heart, but what about salvation through confession? If everyone confesses, are they all saved? That is a nice thought, but I think I’ve misunderstood something here.

Yes, there are two senses of the word "confess" here. One can "confess" as in pure acknowledgement of the identity of Jesus Christ; another "confess" is what a believer does to identify his belief and faith in Jesus Christ.

Notice that the first sense in Philippians 2:11 is what everyone will do when Jesus comes again and the world must acknowledge Him for who He is. The second sense in Romans 10:8-10 is communication to God from someone with a believing heart. Per your question, the confession of the believer doesn't grant salvation, but it witnesses to the believer's salvation.

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