Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Answering Not-crunchy's call

Not-crunchy is a blog maintained by a soon-to-be environmental lawyer. I was pointed to her blog by Amy and have enjoyed Not-crunchy's blog quite a bit.

Apparently, I'm not the only evangelical who's "discovered" Not-crunchy lately, as last evening she posted some questions to all of us evangelicals in an attempt to get to know us better.

The questions, though, are not easy, and come up quite often in my discussions with non-Christians and liberal Christians alike. I have been given permission to answer the questions here instead of in her comment section, and judging by my verbosity of late (see my post of earlier today) I'm sure readers of her comments section are grateful. While these answers are for her, specifically, I'm hoping that others may find these thoughts helpful.

As Not-crunchy is sincere in asking, I'd also encourage other evangelicals to provide their $.02 worth. After all, we're supposed to be "ready to give an answer" for our faith.

Question 1: Do you believe that I am going to hell because I do not accept the divinity of Christ?

Thanks for starting off with an easy one:-) I do not ever believe that any one given person is destined to Hell. Where you spend the eternity that follows this life is between you and God. I can no more say that you are going to Hell than I can say you are going to Heaven.

I can say I believe in Hell as I believe in Heaven. Both are real places. Both will house a certain population for eternity. I also believe that the decision on where one spends eternity is made in this life, and is based on acceptance or rejection of God's grace, received by faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ.

I can also say I think it is better to believe a hard truth than an easy lie. I don't particularly care for the thought that some folks will spend an eternity away from God. The Bible doesn't make Hell seem appealing. But I have yet to see compelling evidence that Hell doesn't exist, or that Jesus was wrong about it. Ergo, I think it incumbent on me (and likeminded others) to at least raise the warning. After all, if I love others, I don't want to see them harmed, right? It seems to me that those who believe in Hell, yet don't warn people that it's in the realm of possibility that some people may end up there, are cruel beyond understanding.

I also don't think that those who end up in Heaven are better than those who end up in Hell. All of us have the same standing before God: sinners and rebels. When the standard is perfection, we all fall short. We all, though, have the opportunity to accept His grace, which allows us to experience relationship with Him. Forever.

Question 2: Do you believe that every word of the Bible is true? What about the parts that contradict one another?

Funny you should ask. I'm starting a series on the reliability of scripture. I haven't gotten to alleged contradictions, but since you brought it up now...

I believe every word of the Bible is true, at least as recorded in the original manuscripts. I also believe the accuracy of our current translations - when compared to the original manuscripts - is very high, so yes I guess I believe the modern translations are generally true as well.

However, truth does not equate to literalism. I still take poetry as poetry, history as history, parables as parables and metaphor as metaphor. For instance, do I believe the Good Samaritan actually existed? No. But I believe Jesus told the story to make a point. Take scripture as it's presented, linguistic tricks and figures of speech included.

As to the contradictions, I have yet to see one that cannot be rationally addressed and shown to, just maybe, not be a contradiction at all. Most of the alleged contradictions I've seen are cases of ignoring context, not acknowledging figures of speech/parts of speech, inaccurate interpretation, or just plain trying to make a passage say more than it intends to.

In other words, I haven't seen a "contradiction" that causes problems for my faith.

Question 3: What is your ultimate authority on the fact that the Bible is divinely inspired?

Historical analysis shows the Bible is as trustworthy as other ancient documents in technical terms. Literary analysis indicates the content is more trustworthy than other, legendary materials. External testimony confirms the gist of the Gospel story, and archaeology confirms many of the historical/factual claims in the Bible. However, all this could be true and we could still have a nice fairy tale that happens to take place in the real world.

Ultimately, my faith in scripture is built on many things. First is the academic matter that scripture tends to be held as a fairly good historical record (at the very least of what some folks believed, if not of Jesus' real life.) Few scholars see it as purely fictional propaganda. Second is my own relationship with God. The Holy Spirit does work through us, and I experience God through the Bible. Prophecy fulfillment is a controversial matter, but I generally tend to believe that prophetic matters give credibility to the scriptures.

I could write books on this topic (not that anyone would buy them) and this is merely a start to the discussion.

Question 4: Does God offer only one path to salvation? If so, what about all those people in the non-Christian world? Did God allow their creation so that they can go to hell?

Well, for those who believe the Bible is God's word, the answer has to almost certainly be yes: there is only one path to salvation. Jesus Himself claimed this in John 14:6-7.

I have posted about "those who haven't heard" the Gospel. This is a tough question, and the truth is we don't really "know." My faith is that God is just and will judge appropriately. I cannot let the beliefs/non-beliefs of others dictate what I believe. If it's true, I should believe it regardless of whether someone else has even heard of it. And then I should try to help those who haven't heard, hear.

I believe the Bible when it says there is only one way to salvation, that being through grace received by faith in the atoning sacrifice and lordship of Christ Jesus. If the Bible is true, those who ignore or reject it will have to deal with the consequences of ignoring or rejecting the truth. Much like I will have to deal with the consequences of rejecting Islam if it turns out Muslims are right about their religion.

For what it's worth, I desire that all would know the truth. Better to know the truth than believe a lie. I believe the Biblical view of Hell is correct, but if it's not true I would hope someone would demonstrate that to me. It's not an easy thing, but if it's true I'd rather believe it than not.

I hope this helps. If not, I hope the others responding to your questions help.

God bless!

4 comments:

Not Crunchy said...

That was a beautiful response to my questions. Thank you! I have a few follow up questions:

In answer one, regarding hell you say "But I have yet to see compelling evidence that Hell doesn't exist, or that Jesus was wrong about it." That is an interesting choice of words because I don't see how you could have any compelling evidence that Hell DOES exist.

I was surprised at this: "For instance, do I believe the Good Samaritan actually existed? No. But I believe Jesus told the story to make a point." Are there parts (which are not a story within a story) that you believe are stories to make a point? Obvious example: creation story or Noah and the Arc story.

Regarding "Historical analysis shows the Bible is as trustworthy as other ancient documents in technical terms.": I need to read more on this - I must admit ignorance here.

I liked this part: "If the Bible is true, those who ignore or reject it will have to deal with the consequences of ignoring or rejecting the truth. Much like I will have to deal with the consequences of rejecting Islam if it turns out Muslims are right about their religion." One of my biggest problems with organized religion is that they all claim that you must believe them. Why should I believe Jesus' claim (in John 14:6-7) any more that I believe, for instance, Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism?

I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks again!! -NC

R. Stewart said...

Thanks for the kind words. And I think you'll do well as a lawyer - follow up questions already. Here are the follow up answers:

That is an interesting choice of words because I don't see how you could have any compelling evidence that Hell DOES exist.Well, we won't ever see empirical evidence one way or the other in this lifetime. My belief that Hell exists is built on a few other things, namely:

-Existence of evil implies a source of evil
-If God cannot abide evil (belief built on orthodox Christian faith as described in the Bible), there must be a place where it can be separated from Him, though not in this world since God is described as omnipresent within the natural realm
-Bible is credible in other matters, so I have little reason to doubt it is correct in this matter

I guess a better way of phrasing my comment would have been to note I have yet to see compelling enough evidence against these foundational matters that I can reasonably and honestly discard the notion of Hell. My faith has withstood many challenges to the Bible, and until one of those challenges rises to a fairly compelling level of proof that I am misguided, then I cannot retain intellectual honesty and also reject some "hard" beliefs.

Are there parts (which are not a story within a story) that you believe are stories to make a point? Obvious example: creation story or Noah and the Arc story. Hmmm...very good question. I tend to think not, but would have to ruminate on this a bit. As to Noah and Genesis 1-2, which you mention specifically, I believe these were historical events. I am willing to entertain the idea that Noah's flood was limited to a certain geographical area, for instance, but still believe there was a man named Noah who built a big boat at God's command in order to save his family and numerous critters from a coming deluge. Generally, the "stories within stories," like the parables, are denoted clearly enough that you can tell they are for point making only. Others are quite clearly intended to serve as historical records of God's dealings with certain groups of people. Again, I'll think on this a bit more, but I have a hunch my answer would depend on the story in question.

I need to read more on this - I must admit ignorance here.I can recommend a few books that speak to this. I may even be talked into letting you borrow one or two of mine, but that may be stretching the concept of internet invisibility a tad:) Email me if you'd like some recommends.

One of my biggest problems with organized religion is that they all claim that you must believe them. Why should I believe Jesus' claim (in John 14:6-7) any more that I believe, for instance, Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism?
The $64M question, IMO. I think you would have to first decide whether Jesus' claims are reasonable in and of themselves. For instance, does Christianity make a sufficient case on its own. If not, then there is no sense wondering whether you should accept it over, say, Mormonism: if you can't believe Christ rose from the dead, then there is no use being a Christian, even if it makes more sense otherwise than any other belief system. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 15:18-20. If Jesus didn't rise again, there is no use for me to adhere to my faith.

Once you can accept that Christianity makes claims you can accept, then test them against reality and other faiths. The resources in this area are myriad, and each comparison would be dealt with differently. For instance, I would test Christianity (my sort) against Mormonism (another sort of Christianity, according to some, a cult according to others) differently from how I would test my faith against Hinduism.

I believe Christianity holds up well against any other faith system, of course. But defending it against all others would be a daunting task given the space in a dozen copies of War and Peace. Doing it in a blog comment is nigh on impossible. Sorry!

Thanks for the questions. Hope I can help...and I'm always up for more follow ups.

Anonymous said...

You wrote "I believe the Biblical view of Hell is correct, but if it's not true I would hope someone would demonstrate that to me."

If your view of Hell is based on the Bible, and you believe the Bible to be true, there is no way anyone can "demonstrate" another view of Hell to you.

So though your position sounds reasonable put that way, it is in fact rigid and unchangeable.

R. Stewart said...

If your view of Hell is based on the Bible, and you believe the Bible to be true, there is no way anyone can "demonstrate" another view of Hell to you.

So though your position sounds reasonable put that way, it is in fact rigid and unchangeable.
Well, no, not really. It is merely my position that I am open to other arguments and evidences that counter mine. If my belief in Hell is based on the Bible, it is not that I am rigid and unchangeable, it is rather that to convince me that Hell does not exist you need to either (a) show from scripture that the orthodox reading is incorrect, or (b) show me that the Bible is untrustworthy in regards to the doctrine. In other words, I'm open to alternatives, but your aim is at the foundation of my beliefs, not necessarily the beliefs themselves.

It is the same as when I would discuss evidence with a naturalist. They could be seen as "rigid and unchangeable" when they say their foundation of their worldview is a belief in naturalism; miracles and the supernatural are de facto assumptions, ergo I cannot prove they exist. I do not start by offering evidence for miracles, but instead start arguing against the foundation: naturalism.

Rigid adherence to a doctrine isn't an issue with me. I will clearly lay forth my foundation, and against that is where any successful arguments will be leveled.