What If I’m Wrong? Confronting Doubts about the Christian Faith

faith-doubt

This post is adapted from the transcript of Dr. Mike Licona’s Mobile Ed course Philosophy of History (CS151).

Toward the end of my graduate work, I started to have questions about my faith. It wasn’t because I’d heard some arguments against Christianity. To be honest with you, at that point I wasn’t even exposed to too many folks who weren’t Christians.

But I wondered, “How do I really know that Christianity is true?” I had been brought up in a Christian family, in a nation that is pretty much Christian, at least by name, and I had only really been exposed to the Christian worldview. I had heard about other worldviews like Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism and atheism, but I really just didn’t know too much about them.

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Adjusting the Soundtrack of the Atonement

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When we think about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we often do so with an image or a set of biblical passages and categories in mind. Much like the score in a movie, those categories help us make sense of Jesus’ death. For that is what doctrine is about—helping us make sense of and understand who God is and what he has done for us, that we might better worship and serve our God.

But let’s think about that image a little more carefully—the image of a film score. Let’s say that you turn on the TV, and find yourself in the middle of a movie, but the sound is muted. Before you is a green valley, with a stand of trees in the background. What is the movie about? If the score is light and airy, a couple might soon stroll into the scene of a romantic comedy. If the score is the driving, intense music of Steve Jablonsky, the Autobots and Decepticons of Michael Bay’s Transformers may soon battle across the valley. The music we hear as we watch a scene dramatically changes our expectations, and how we perceive what is going on.

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3 Mistakes Most People Make When Reading Revelation

3-mistakes-revelationSome people will never tire of spreading a transparency of the text of Revelation over today’s newspaper to look for coincidental correlations, or of gazing into it as though it were some window into an as-yet-future (or in-progress) “seven last years,” attempting to “predict” how those events will play out in our world. This post is not for them.

It is for those who are tired of playing games with Revelation; who are ready to approach it in a new way – as Scripture – and to seek out its word to us in line with best practices in listening to the rest of Scripture. Because Scripture ought to be considered first and foremost as a word to those for whom it was written, from the Lord to give them much-needed guidance. I have found this approach lends itself far better to biblical preaching and to the difficult task of discerning the challenges facing Christians in their settings worldwide.

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What Is the Conscience according to the New Testament?

conscience

When interpreting Scripture, it’s all too easy to impose our own ideas onto the text, rather than drawing out what the biblical author and the Holy Spirit intended to convey. Sound biblical exegesis is all about getting back to the original author’s intent so we can faithfully apply the text to our lives, and the lives of those we serve.

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John Webster (1955–2016): Surveying a Man and His Métier

john-webster

On May 25, 2016, Professor John Webster, one of the world’s great contemporary theologians, suddenly and unexpectedly entered glory. Within hours memorials began to appear. Following his training at the Bradford Grammar School and the University of Cambridge (MA, PhD), Webster took his first teaching post at St. John’s College at the University of Durham. After four years he moved to North America where he spent a decade teaching at the University of Toronto. He returned to England in 1996 with an appointment to the prestigious Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity at the University of Oxford, which he left in 2003 for the open spaces of Bonnie Scotland. In Scotland he served at the Chair of Systematic Theology at the University of Aberdeen until 2013 when he took up an identical post at the University of St. Andrews.
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How to Empower Your Church for Serious Bible Study

serious bible study

This is a guest post by Peter Krol.

A reader of my blog recently emailed to say, “I was never intentionally taught how to lead a Bible study, and, when the time came for me to teach others how to do it, I had no idea even where to begin.” Do you know this guy? Does your church have such people, eager but directionless? They might never go to seminary, but I assure you they can become terrific Bible students and teachers.

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Is the Traditional Protestant Concept of Justification by Faith a “Legal Fiction”?

new perspective on paul

In my town we had a radio station that called itself “the new 102.” The name was short. It rhymed. They added a catchy tune. Ten years later, they were still calling themselves “the new 102.”

The New Perspective on Paul is just a little like that. It started in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so it isn’t exactly “new.” On the other hand, contrasted against nearly 2,000 years of Christian interpretation, it’s just a babe.

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We are much worse than we think

I recently posted a somewhat funny post calling Andy Stanley a Calvinist. The quote I mentioned there got me thinking about the larger context in which Calvin used it. I’ve always been struck by this section in Institutes. Calvin has such an adept sense of the real condition of our hearts. He says:

For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also—He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself…

So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

 

Andy Stanley is a Calvinist?

My father attends Andy Stanley’s church, North Point. I am personally thankful for Andy’s church as it has been there that my dad has surrendered his life to the gospel. Whenever I visit with my dad, I often take the occasion to attend church at North Point.

Several years ago I remember Andy preaching on sin and he gave an illustration using some figures cut out from pieces of bright orange cardboard. He explained how we often look around and judge ourselves righteous because we live in a bright orange world and when we look at ourselves (bright orange people) we think we’re ok. However, take that bright orange cardboard person and stick them in front of a solid white background, and you suddenly realize how extremely different you are than that white color.

The point was one of God’s holiness, our sinfulness, and the tendency to look at our sin in comparison to the world around us as opposed to the holiness of God. It was a great illustration that has stuck with me to this day. I found it humorous the other day while reading Institutes when Calvin gave the exact word picture (though Calvin used black instead of orange). I couldn’t help but wonder if Andy pulled his example from Calvin.

And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure: just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010).

Calvin’s Aim in Writing Institutes

In the prefix to the 1545 French edition of Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin seeks to explain to his readers why he wrote Institutes to begin with. While he goes into more detail, the third paragraph has some amazingly interesting nuggets of insight for the reader. I will include it with my observations below.

Seeing, then, how necessary it was in this manner to aid those who desire to be instructed in the doctrine of salvation, I have endeavoured, according to the ability which God has given me, to employ myself in so doing, and with this view have composed the present book.

Calvin wrote Institutes in order to instruction people “in the doctrine of salvation.” It is interesting to note this because many today are intimidated by Institutes. The shear size of the volume and the weight of Calvin’s name often make people feel like this is a book for scholars. However, Calvin wrote it simply for those wanting to know the doctrine of salvation. As I’ve told many people, Institutes seems to me one of the most approachable systematic theologies I’ve ever read.

And first I wrote it in Latin, that it might be serviceable to all studious persons, of what nation soever they might be; afterwards, desiring to communicate any fruit which might be in it to my French countrymen, I translated it into our own tongue.

This was really cool to read. Calvin wrote it in Latin so that it might have the most broad reach. That it might make it to all the learned persons of any country and they would be able to read it (and by inference, teach it rightly to others). Then, because of his love for his homeland, he also wrote it in French, so that all his countrymen, scholar and non, would have access to the volume. This speaks highly of his passion for the spread of the gospel around the world and specifically to his country.

I dare not bear too strong a testimony in its favour, and declare how profitable the reading of it will be, lest I should seem to prize my own work too highly.

There is no doubt that by the final edition of Institutes Calvin knew how important his book had become. It is nice here to seem him attempt to keep his pride in check, despite the obvious success and impact that this volume had, even in his own short life.

However, I may promise this much, that it will be a kind of key opening up to all the children of God a right and ready access to the understanding of the sacred volume.

So beautiful is the fact that one of his main goals in writing Institutes is to help God’s children to open and understand the Bible.

Wherefore, should our Lord give me henceforth means and opportunity of composing some Commentaries, I will use the greatest possible brevity, as there will be no occasion to make long digressions, seeing that I have in a manner deduced at length all the articles which pertain to Christianity.

This final note in the paragraph is interesting because it helps inform the reading of any of his commentaries. For those who access any of Calvin’s commentaries, he makes the point that having read Institutes is a key in getting the most out of his other works. I just think that is fascinating and wonder how many who consult his commentaries have actually read through Institutes.

John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, vol. 1, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2010), 30.