The first two chapters introduce science. The third and fourth chapters introduce some basic concepts about faith in general, and Christian faith in particular. We need this background before we can relate science and faith to each other in ch. 5 to 8. If this seems boring right now, perhaps it would be best to go on to ch. 4, and perhaps refer back to this when it seems necessary to understand things there and further on.
How many types of faith are there for us to choose from? Although it seems the choices are endless, we can divide them into several categories, so there are really only a few choices. There are many systems of classification; here is a simple one. This only gives definitions. Evaluation will begin in ch. 5, sec. I.
A Atheism/humanism/materialism requires this long label because there are various types of atheists. In the modern Orient an atheist is a person who may believe in many small gods but not in one supreme God. In the ancient Roman Empire, Christians were accused of being atheists because they believed in one supreme God but not in many small gods. What I mean here is modern Western atheism, which says there is no God or spiritual realm of any kind, no gods either small or supreme, so matter and the laws of nature are the only things that exist, therefore they must be eternal. This leaves the human race with only ourselves to decide everything about life and society.
The word “atheist” is derived from Greek, “a-“ meaning “not,” and “theos” meaning “god.” So it simply means the belief that there is no god.
B Agnosticism is more humble and cautious than atheism. Agnostics do not claim to know that there is no god, only to not know whether there is. But we can distinguish two kinds of agnostics, one who only says “I don’t know whether there is a God,” and the other kind who also says “and I know you don’t know either.”
The word is derived from Greek again, “gnosis” meaning “knowledge.” So an agnostic is professing no knowledge, or ignorance, about God. But the second kind is also asserting that this knowledge is inaccessible, that if God exists He is irrelevant and for any practical purpose indistinguishable from non-existent. So agnostics are practicing atheists, though not professing ones.
C Pantheism says that the universe is God, God is the universe, so we all have God within us, in fact we are God. This includes all of Hinduism; or rather Hinduism is so complex and variable that perhaps we should say all pantheism is Hinduism. Buddhism came out of Hinduism as a reformation against its abuses, and original pure philosophical Buddhism was atheistic. Both Hinduism and Buddhism are complex and variable, containing many schools of thought with various mixtures of atheism, pantheism, and animism (next section). The modern New Age movement in the West is very directly derived from Hinduism.
Hinduism and Buddhism have a huge literature of writings that are considered as holy books, and often referred to in English as scriptures. These writings were penned by many men (and perhaps women) who are called sages, or gurus, or various other titles. They were in some way different from ordinary mortals, and managed to venture into the spiritual realm and make discoveries which they recorded in these holy books to be passed on to others.
D Animism is the local or tribal folk religion of the various peoples of the world. It claims a large majority of the world’s population, not only remote tribal groups but also most of those who consider themselves Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim, and even many Christians. Among such people, although many of the names and terms involved in their religious practices are superimposed from one of the more formal religions, their outlook on and relationship with the spiritual realm is in practice animistic. Thus animism overlaps broadly with other professed religions, and thus the percentages of the world in each of these six categories adds up to well over 100%.
Animism in its details has almost countless forms, but all share some common points: believing that people, animals, and objects are controlled by many spirits, including the spirits of people who have died. Animism is polytheism, belief in a large number of gods and spiritual beings arranged in a complex hierarchical structure of ranks and categories, closely resembling human society. The goal of animism is to get along with these spirits, to keep them from causing trouble, and to persuade them to do what we wish, if possible persuading one to protect us from another. In most cases it includes some special relationship with the spirits of one’s own departed ancestors, and preparation for the inevitable day when we who are now living will join them. Some people have in various ways acquired special connections and powers in the spiritual world, and provide helpful services to others upon request and, usually, sufficient remuneration. Such people have strong influence in their community.
Animism is the predominant religion of the poor and uneducated, but it is also growing among the wealthy and educated classes throughout the modern world, where animism fills a vacuum left by departure from previous traditional and more formal religions. Many people may for a time become professing atheists or agnostics, but when life’s inevitable crises arrive this fails to meet their needs. Their search for help takes many forms. Some openly and permanently become adherents of a religious system, while others continue a dichotomous existence combining inward disbelief with outward involvement. Some adopt the practices of folk religion directly into a lifestyle that is otherwise very modern, with a shocking appearance of anachronism to an uncomprehending observer from another cultural background. Others reject animism in its traditional form, only to replace it with animism in an updated form, such as Satanism, neo-paganism, new age, and various “new” cults.
There is much mixture of animism with pantheism. In principle they are different, but in practice they are often difficult to separate, and will usually be discussed together from here on. A deeply detailed study of religions is not our primary goal.
I am not aware of any form of animism that has produced one or more holy books. Mostly it has been passed on for many centuries by word of mouth, through a system of apprenticeship and folklore. Among modern and educated people it has developed a vast literature, which are viewed as guidebooks, reference, and promotion, but not scripture.
E Deism is belief in one God, who created
the universe and (perhaps) us, and then went away and pays no attention
to us now. This was popular in 18th-century Europe and America, but is
not important now except as one aspect of liberal theology. Almost no one
now claims the label of deist.
A God who completed creation and then immediately vanished from the scene of course did not bother to be involved in the production of any scriptures, such as the Bible. So deists were and are in an ambivalent position of not really believing the Bible or its God but not able to completely disregard Him or it either.
F Monotheism, usually simply called theism, is belief in one true God with Whom we can, in fact must, have a close personal relationship now, because without such a relationship we are in the direst eternal peril. Judaism, Protestant and Catholic Christianity, and Islam in their conservative, traditional forms are all monotheistic, but Islam does not usually emphasize the need or even possibility of a personal relationship with God. See ch. 4, sec. I.
This one true God is believed to be the Creator of everything else that exists, yet is clearly separate from it, unlike the pantheistic deity. “Everything else” includes the physical universe in which science does its work, and also all spiritual and physical beings: humans, angels, and demons. God created all these by choice, not necessity; their existence is dependent on Him for their origin, characteristics, and continuation. Their fate is entirely at His disposal.
Atheism, agnosticism, and pantheism deny that there was a beginning or will be an end of the universe and life as we know it. Animism relegates the question to an unknowable distant deity. Only deism and theism face these questions and offer answers.
This has an interesting implication that has only become clear in the 20th century. There are hints in the Bible that God transcends our framework of time and space, that that framework itself was created by Him and not eternally equal let alone above Him. When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush, He told him to tell the Israelites in Egypt that “I Am has sent you.” This name, “I Am,” is the Hebrew word transliterated into English as Jehovah or Yahweh, and carries the connotation of self-existence and even transcendence. Proverbs 8:22-31 is a fascinating passage in which personified wisdom speaks, recounting how she participated in creation, in fact predated it (imagine a woman boasting about her age!). Verse 23 states, “I was appointed from eternity, from the beginning, before the world began.” Isaiah chapters 40 to 50 are a lengthy comparison of God with all (false) gods, with repeated statements that He is unique, the first, the only, and always has been and always will be. He is clearly claiming to be on a wholly different level, not merely one or even just the greatest among other gods. In Isaiah 57:15 God says, “I inhabit eternity” (in most versions except NIV, which translates it as “I live forever,” apparently considering that more comprehensible than what is apparently a more direct word-for-word translation). This phrase is perhaps the clearest hint in the Bible that eternity is not merely endless existence in time, but is transcendence beyond our existence within time.
Moving on to the New Testament, Jesus stated (John 8:58) that “Before Abraham was, I am,” not even just “I was,” a clear claim of equivalence with the Jehovah of Moses. His listeners clearly saw this claim and considered it blasphemy worthy of death. It was either true or blasphemy. In His final prayer Jesus says the Father loved Him before the creation of the world. Paul refers to Jesus Christ being planned as our Savior “before creation,” Eph. 1:4; see also 2 Tim 1:9. Peter says the same thing, I Pet. 1:20.
Within the 20th century, discoveries of general relativity have given further insight into our outlook on time. In relativity theory, time and space are interrelated, so that a being who is in some sense infinite in space (omnipresent, to use the theological term) must also in some sense be infinite in time. But this is only endless time; there are even more profound conclusions. Stephen Hawking and others derived theorems proving that general relativity theory requires that our universe must have a beginning, which was the beginning of our time and space dimensions, and of the laws of nature, and therefore that beginning had to be something beyond time and space and laws. Theism equates that beginning with God. Hawking and others have attempted to evade this conclusion, but it is at least as logically valid as any of their speculative alternatives, and answers far more questions, which are the topic of ch. 6.
This answers, or rather corrects, the common question directed to theists, “Who made God?” If He had a source, then that source is God. It seems that this cannot be pursued infinitely, but that there must be a first source somewhere (though there are deep philosophical arguments about the possibility of an infinite regression, that are beyond my philosophical talents). Whether or not it can be logically proved that there must be a first source, it at least can’t be proved there must not be one, and the simple fact of Biblical revelation is that God claims to be exactly that. If we accept the idea of transcending time, which is just a label for something beyond our comprehension, then God need not have a cause, beginning, or creator. Only things that exist within time have a beginning or cause; God does not.
Another purported loophole in this discussion was raised by David Hume in the 18th century. He pointed out some fascinating questions about the concept of cause and effect, or at least about our ability to know anything for sure about it, but again it can’t be proved that cause and effect is purely illusory and in fact nonexistent.
The major theistic religions have all developed large segments with varying degrees of departure from the conservative style of faith and practice, adopting more liberal viewpoints. This is especially common among the educated classes. The results vary widely, ranging all the way from deism to atheism, though rarely labeled as such. From here on through ch. 6 there is considerable discussion of the liberal branch of Christianity.
Monotheistic religions possess a book regarded as a revelation from the one true God (ch. 4, sec. I), which is therefore the basis of the beliefs briefly summarizedabove. This gives an objective standard for belief, though of course the principles of interpretation of that standard are subject to extensive argument. The primary books have already been mentioned: the Bible of the Judeo-Christian community, and the Koran of Islam.
Notice the distinction from pantheism’s scriptures; the initiative begins with God, not the human channels of revelation. This concept of one true revelation from one true God is the basis of monotheistic religions’ claim of absolute truth, which is so offensive to those of other religions, especially in this modern skeptical pluralist world. This offense is often a misunderstanding based on a failure to grasp what monotheists consider their religion to be. Those who take offense mistakenly equate Biblical prophets with Eastern gurus, and misconstrue theists’ claims as arrogant assertions that “my guru is better than your guru.” Most non-monotheists have honestly never even conceived the possibility of a true God Who took the initiative in giving us a true revelation, so they view monotheists as cultural imperialists who think their religion (considered as one aspect of culture or humankind’s experience of the spiritual realm) is best just because it is theirs, and therefore try to impose it on others who don’t need it or want it. This is no doubt true of some, probably many, monotheists. But it is possible to humbly believe that one has been blessed with a precious truth, and that this privilege entails a responsibility to share it with others. Some people do realize what monotheists claim for the source and authority of their beliefs, and take offense at such a claim. This is at least rejecting the actual state of affairs rather than a misperception of it.
Chapter 4 further pursues such logical topics. For
now the goal is simply to describe theism.
II How to choose your faith: What do you want?
A "Believe" has at least two meanings.
1 The simplest is merely to agree that something is true.
2 + 2 = 4. If you don’t believe it, try it.
This chair exists and will hold me up if I sit on it. We can see and feel it, and many have sat on it safely.
Antarctica exists. We have not seen it (at least very few of us have), but we believe those who say they have been there, and we believe the pictures they show us are not fake. We could go if we really decided to.B Many opinions
The earth is round. We can’t see the roundness, but we believe airplanes fly around the world and astronauts have seen that it is round and took the pictures they show us. It is not totally impossible for anyone who wishes to become an astronaut and see for himself or herself.
People of the past existed: Sun Yat-Sen, George Washington, Jesus Christ, Julius Caesar, Confucius,... It is impossible to go back in time to verify these people’s existence. This is historical truth, and we believe it because it is the only reasonable explanation of the records we have.
God exists. We may simply accept this as a fact, but still not know Him or trust Him. Most people consider God’s existence as unobservable, something that is a part of religious faith, but in itself it is a simple question of fact, on which we have our own opinion and basis for it.
Nearly everyone agrees to moral standards, but many people believe them only as an abstract ideal for society in general, but not for themselves whenever it is inconvenient or unprofitable.
2 “Believe” has a second meaning, which is deeper, and includes what is called “religious faith.” This is what we do when we take action or make a commitment of ourselves and things that are important to us. This is trusting and relying on someone.
When you ride an airplane, you trust the pilot, crew, and repair staff. Many people say they believe airplanes are safe, but they are afraid to fly on one.
When you put your savings in the bank, you trust the people who work there.
When you really obey a moral standard, you believe it is good for you and others, even if the immediate visible results seem unfavorable.
When you obey God’s commands and principles, and believe He is caring for you and guiding you, you trust Him. This gives a basis for moral convictions.
3 So-called “liberal Christianity” is the belief that the Bible was written only by the authors themselves, and is a part of the development of culture. This leaves the connection between the Bible’s contents and God (if He exists) uncertain, and its teachings are not necessarily all true. Therefore we can select the parts we accept and the parts we do not. Liberal Christians talk explicitly about their own “faith” and Biblical teachings as being something that was produced and chosen by human thought, yet they proceed in the next breath to profess to believe it and find it highly meaningful. After listening to many such discussions, the logic of this still totally escapes me, and I feel this attitude cannot be considered as “believing.” See ch. 4, “Logical problems.”
There are many opinions about religious faith. We cannot avoid choosing one. This is the most important decision of our life; it controls all our other decisions. How can we know which religion(s) is (are) true? Or are they all false? Here are some common and popular (politically correct) choices. They are based on different assumptions, or paradigms, which are often accepted unquestioningly as self-evident, unaware that alternatives even exist (see ch. 2, II).If you tell these people that this is what they are doing, it will probably not make them change their mind. In fact they may become angry. But at least knowing this can help Christians understand what other people are doing. Christians should not feel guilty or ashamed, thinking they are being intolerant if they continue to believe Christianity. They should not feel that other religions are more tolerant than Christianity is. Everyone is narrow-minded about his or her opinions, and this is unavoidable, in fact desirable. Not to know what you think is to be bordering on insanity or mental disability. We should admit we are all narrow and intolerant, and then respectfully exchange our opinions and the reasons for them. But it is hypocritical to hang a label of broadness on something that is in fact very narrow.1 “All religions tell us to do good, have peace of mind, and promote social harmony. This is what is important. If there is a God, he surely will accept people who are like this.”This view deals with the purpose and personal effect of faith.
This person says that nothing is important beyond this world and this life; are we sure of that? That is a very large assumption, not at all obvious or necessary, requiring a strong basis. Is there any basis? If we are sincerely, open-mindedly wanting to know whether there is a God, and if so, what He requires, then we should see if He has told us. If we think He must do as we think He should, we are actually saying there is no God at all or a very stupid one with no opinions of His own.
This approach is not even realistic about people in this world. Who has really done good, had peace of mind, and promoted social harmony? This is discussed further in ch. 4, II, B.
The Bible says all roads do lead to God, in the sense that everyone will someday face Him. But most people will meet Him as Judge. It is only by believing Jesus that we can become a friend of God, in fact a child of God, and meet Him as Father.2 “All roads lead to God if there is a God. I believe all religions; they all worship the same God. Be broad-minded, tolerant, comfortable, popular. Find what works, what is true for you. Don’t try to change others’ beliefs and impose your beliefs on them. Doing that is narrow and intolerant, rejecting other people and cultures, especially if it is your own original cultural background, family, and friends. Don’t cause family disharmony and disrespect. If our family and friends will be in hell, then we should be there with them. Why does the Bible say that God is so narrow, that He created us, gives us commands, and will judge us?”This view overlaps with the first but emphasizes a more philosophical and interpersonal aspect.
It is rejecting what the Bible says, and it is trying to change Christians’ beliefs. In saying the Bible should not say others are wrong, they are saying the Bible is wrong. In saying the Bible is true for me but not true for them, they are insisting that I accept that statement as true for me. The statement “That is true for you but not true for me” is true for you but true not for me. This claims to be a tolerant opinion, but it is actually self-contradictory, narrow and intolerant.
Followers of the various forms of pantheism usually take this kind of position. It is mistaken to say that pantheist religions are tolerant of other religions; they are not. They assert their teachings very plainly, do not accept different teachings, but only teach tolerance of other people, which the Bible also teaches. To see how really tolerant they are, see how they react when one of their friends or family decides to become a Christian. Notice the world conferences that have been held by these religions specifically about how to combat the inroads of Christianity, and instead to make inroads into Christianity. They say they believe Jesus, but the Jesus they believe is in fact a Hindu/Buddha-ized version of Jesus, not the Biblical one, so they do not really believe the Bible or its Jesus at all. In some cases Buddhist and Hindu leaders have admitted that they never were really tolerant.
In a final ploy to pose as tolerant, many pantheists deny the very basis of logic, asserting that truth is many-sided and contradiction is acceptable, in other words that a statement and its opposite can both be true. But even this does not evade taking a narrow position; it is denying the Biblical teaching that some things are truth and all others are falsehood. Actually, this is not just a Biblical teaching; the ancient Greeks stated this as the law of non-contradiction, and it is simply the minimum requirement for logical deduction and meaningful communication. If this is abandoned, anything can mean anything; for example the person who says all beliefs are equivalent could really mean that they are all mutually exclusive. But if you tell him that might be what he means, he will strenuously insist that that is not true! Which is of course contradicting what he just said, demonstrating that it is impossible to really believe it or mean it.
Believing all religions is believing none of them. Accepting Christianity as “one of many true religions” is rejecting it, because it claims to be the only true way to God as Father. If it is not the only way, it is false; it cannot be one of many ways. A “tolerant” Christianity, which is the professed position of most liberal Christians, is not Christianity at all, because it rejects the teaching of Christ. It is a philosophy dishonestly borrowing the name of Christ. Liberal Christianity is further discussed in ch. 4, I.
The gods of different religions are different; how can they all be the same god? Only the God of the Bible created everything including us, and offers a relationship with Him on the basis of faith alone. If someone says the god they worship is different from that, then he is not worshipping the same god. If you describe your wife as being a short, pretty blond who likes pizza, but your wife is in fact a tall, pretty brunette who hates pizza, she will say you are talking about another woman, express considerable interest in determining her identity, and accuse you of having an affair! That is exactly the terms in which God describes those who worship different gods. See also C, 2 below, and ch. 4, II, about narrowness.
If we disagree with a person’s religious belief, that need not mean we reject the person himself; we disagree with our friends about many things, and discuss the reasons for our opinions, and still are friends. Christians have something they believe is good for everyone, and want to share it with others. This shows acceptance, not rejection. If we rejected others, we would not care about them, and would just ignore them.
The Bible’s rejection of other religions does not mean total rejection of any culture. Culture consists of many patterns of behavior and relationships, most of which have no conflict with the Bible. There is no such thing as a Christian culture, only cultures that are more or less consistent with the Bible. Culture is an expression of the creativity which God gave us, and should be valued, except when there is a conflict between a particular aspect of that culture and His ways. God created people in such a way that they form groups and relationships that naturally develop culture, but God’s authority is higher than any culture.
This applies especially to our own family and friends. The Bible does not teach us to oppose them. It teaches us many times to respect and care for our family, especially to respect our parents. But God wants us to love Him most of all, as our highest, heavenly Father. Because we love Him and belong to Him, we should become able to love them more than before.
In a sense God removes us from our earthly family into His family, but then He sends us back to our family to love and care for them for His sake, more than we were able to before. It is absolutely necessary to become a part of a group of others who are in God’s family, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, who can encourage us, counsel us, and pray for us in our relationship with our family.
A Bible reference often misunderstood in this connection is Jesus’ requirement that we “hate… father and mother.” (Luke 14:26) Jesus’ teachings contain many examples of overstatement, or exaggeration, for emphasis, and this is one of them. In many other instances he affirmed the Ten Commandments, including the one to honor father and mother. When in agony on the Cross He still was concerned enough to instruct His disciple John to assume responsibility for His mother Mary. This is a subject worthy of much further study than we can devote to it in this book.
If our family members choose to become our enemies because of our faith in Jesus, that is their choice, not ours. We do not leave them. We are not their enemies. If they persist in rejecting God, and force us to make a choice between them and God, then although it breaks our heart we can only place God first. He came before our earthly ancestors, and loves us even more than they possibly could. If they choose to be separated from God forever, that will also be separation from us, in hell. That is all the more reason to keep expressing concern for them, and trying to lead them to join us in God’s family.
We should not consider whether it would be better to be at peace with them now rather than at peace with God, or after death to be with them in hell rather than with God in heaven. God of course deserves to be our first priority.
But do we really even have these two options? Does any family really have peace? Even without differences of religious faith, wherever there are people there are usually conflicts. God gives peace in our heart that enables us to do better at facing and solving the conflicts that occur in life. Also, it is uncertain whether we have the possibility of being with them in hell. The Bible does not reveal very much about hell, except that it is a place of pain and remorse. If people are able to communicate with each other there, they must forever be selfish, increasingly so, and this is one of the terrors of hell. Or perhaps in mercy God does not permit them to communicate, so even if we went there we would not be with them.
In the Bible, Luke 16, Jesus describes a rich man in hell, who hopes someone will warn his still-living brothers to avoid going to hell too. Interestingly, he is able to communicate this wish to Abraham and a man with Abraham who was a beggar at the rich man’s door during his earthly life, even though Abraham and the former beggar are not in a condition of torment. This tells us that our relatives in hell hope we will avoid going there, and do not hope we will join them. If we really respect them, we should obey their wishes and avoid hell by trusting in Jesus to save us. See also sec. VI below, about dead people’s spirits.
In times of conflict with others who oppose our Christian faith, we must remember that we are also in a conflict along with God against Satan and evil spirits, and these spirits are often a great influence in the irrational hatred people express toward Christ and Christians. We must not fear, but resist, this spiritual power. Again, see sec. VI.
Although I am arguing that to be a Christian does not require a person to be narrow, intolerant, and reject other people and cultures, I must admit that many Christians do reject other people for various reasons, and this is wrong. The Bible does not tell them to do this. They should admit they are wrong, and stop it. This was a common mistake of earlier Western missionaries who considered their culture to be a “Christian” culture and rejected almost everything about other cultures. We all tend to feel that others who are different from us are therefore wrong; Christians are just still human! But it is also true that Christian missionaries have been leaders in studying and protecting many cultures and languages which are threatened by political and economic development.
Asking why the Bible says God is so narrow is asking the wrong question. The correct question is, “Is it true?” which is discussed in Sec. C below.
3 “I can’t believe until I understand completely.”This is impossible, and if it were possible it would not be faith. In everyday life, we should wait until we have enough reason to believe something, and then must believe it even though we do not have complete understanding or certainty: friendships, purchases, etc. Incomplete certainty is not complete uncertainty. If we insisted on absolute certainty, all of life would come to a screeching halt.
4 “Don’t try to understand at all. Just experience your religion, feel it, use your intuition.”This is the opposite extreme. What difference is there between this and superstition? What protection is there from deception?
We must find a balance between these two extremes, using our mind appropriately but recognizing its limitations. Lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding. This is discussed later, in the section on the relationship between logic and faith, and a number of other places; it a basic theme of this book.
C The correct question: Is it true?
When choosing your faith, the correct question is not “Does it sound pretty? Is it tolerant? Does it make me comfortable? Why does the Bible say God is like that?” The correct question is “Is it true?” This is a matter of both fact and relationship.
1 A question of fact.To state that there are no facts is to state a fact. When someone says there is no absolute truth, we must ask in response “Absolutely none?” This is an obviously, blatantly self-contradictory position, yet it is held, or at least professed, by many of the world’s most brilliant people.
Facts are narrow. For example, the laws of physics are very precise and narrow. A physics professor who taught a broad-minded approach to the laws of nature would quickly be fired.
A lot of truth is narrow and uncomfortable, therefore we do not run through red lights without looking, go to sleep on railroad tracks, drink poison, etc.
Would you cross a bridge designed and built by a tolerant engineer who says it doesn’t matter how it is built and what materials are used?
Would you go to a handsome, pleasant, tolerant doctor who says it doesn’t matter what illness you think you have, or what medicine you take, all you need is to be sincere? Or would you rather have an ugly, unpleasant doctor who says you are dangerously ill and tells you what you must do to regain good health? When the doctor says you need surgery immediately, you don’t complain that he is not handsome, or his voice is unpleasant, or his opinion is too narrow. You need to know whether he is right.
Suppose you have discovered a cure for cancer. But when you try to tell people about it, many of them become angry, and say you are proud and narrow-minded. Perhaps you have discovered that the cause of cancer is something which is very common and is the basis of a large industry, whose collapse would cause great economic hardship to many people and even nations. Also, your discovery will cause great hardship to many people involved in producing and applying the currently accepted treatments for cancer; probably a number of companies will suddenly collapse the moment you announce your discovery. Should you still try to tell everyone about it? This is very similar to the experience of the doctors who first discovered and advocated principles of sanitation in hospitals, in maternity wards and in surgery. Other doctors ridiculed and rejected them, causing many unnecessary deaths, and great sorrow to the doctors who knew better. At least one of them committed suicide in his grief and despair.
Many primitive people have customs that are very unsanitary, spreading diseases that kill many of them, especially their newborn infants. Poor nutrition also weakens their resistance. But when you try to tell them to change their customs, they get angry. Many of these customs are connected with their religion, so you are trying to change their religion. They believe that disease is caused by spirits. They do not believe you when you talk about nutrients, germs and viruses that they cannot see. They think you are stupid, crazy, and proud. Should you still try to find a way to convince them?
The God of the Bible says we have a sickness called sin, and the only way to avoid dying with this sickness is to cut out our present value system and let Him give us a newone. The important question is not whether this is tolerant or popular or pleasant, but whether it is true.
Why should religious truth be broader than truth in other subjects? Wouldn’t it be strange if one part of reality were so much different from other parts? But we must be cautious in attempting to transfer principles between different parts of reality; see ch. 5, VI, D.
2 A question of relationshipOur choice of faith is also a matter of relationship. If there is a true God who is our Creator, then He has a unique relationship with us. Anyone else who interferes with that relationship is wrong, and we are wrong to accept a relationship with anyone else as our God. You can only have one father and mother, and they will be both sad and angry if you call others your father and mother and thank them for things he and she gave you. A boyfriend and girlfriend, or a husband and a wife, are very narrow-minded about the relationships their mates should have with others. In the Bible, God often uses the father (and mother)-child relationship, and husband-wife relationship, to explain the relationship we can and should have with Him. Worshipping other gods is described as spiritual adultery, an affair. In fact, God probably created us with family relationships in order to help us understand our proper relationship with Him. Any other spirit that wants our worship is an impostor; see Sec. VI below.
This is the reason why it is not sufficient merely to believe in the existence of God. Type 1 belief (sec. II, A) is not religious faith. It is not sufficient in any religion, especially not for the God of the Bible. Many people’s attitude seems to be “I believe that God exists,” with the unstated assumption that “He couldn’t expect more of me, could He? Isn’t that enough?” Is it enough in human relationships? What constitutes a healthy parent-child relationship? Suppose you enter an outstanding university, graduate at the top of your class, win a Nobel prize the year after you graduate, live a good life, become rich and famous, make a great contribution to society, and talk about your parents’ existence and good qualities, but for twenty years you never visit them, write to them, phone them, or remember their birthday. Will they be satisfied? Will your mother say “My child believes I exist. I’m so moved!”? That is the way many people treat God, and they think He should be satisfied!
III Four steps to Biblical faith (Isaiah 6:10b)
Isaiah 6:10 is discussed in sec. V below.
These are simply the steps we would expect for a mature, reasonable faith in anything. And it is what the Bible teaches. The Bible does not support blind, shallow faith.
1 Realize our need, inadequacy: health, family, finance, friendships, depression, failure, shame, guilt, emptiness,... (“see with their eyes”) We cannot control our circumstances or other people, and most disturbing of all we discover we cannot even control ourselves. We keep doing things we ourselves consider shameful and wish we would not do, and we fail to perform as we believe we should.
2 Feel that there must be a God who is loving, wise, and powerful. He not only can give us all we need; He is all we need. This understanding is clearest if we have the opportunity to hear what the Bible tells us about God. (“hear with their ears”)
3 Find that there is evidence which confirms that the Bible is from God, true, and reliable. It is not only a human record of events, ideas, feelings, and hopes. (“understand with their hearts”)
4 Repent from our past way of life without God, and make a complete commitment to Him. Review the meaning of “believe” in section II. (“repent and be healed”)
1, 2, and 3 are not enough. This only gets us to the point of acknowledging that we are not God, and God exists, which is type-1 belief. Satan does this much, and that does not make him a believer. This is only the preparation for faith. Step 4 is faith.
Most Christians skip step 3 when they first believe. After steps 1 and 2, they try 4, and believe they can feel God changing and helping them. For many people, this is enough for them individually. For many others, it is sufficient at first but not in the long run. Unfortunately, this leads to conflict and criticism between the two types, which can be labeled as emotional and logical, for lack of better labels. Both labels are used pejoratively by the other type, but allow me to use them for now in a neutral, descriptive sense. I believe God created both types, and is prepared to meet the needs of both types. The logical ones are not entitled to criticize the emotional ones as irrational, gullible, or shallow-minded, though dependence on feelings alone can easily lead to those dangerous conditions. The emotional ones are not entitled to criticize the logical ones as being cold, impersonal, cerebral, skeptical, lacking in faith, unresponsive or ungrateful to God, though dependence on thinking alone can easily lead to those dangerous conditions. Both types must respect each other, trust the other’s stated good intentions, resist the temptation to be judgmental, and humbly confess that both can learn something from the other.
In earlier ages and simler societies, emotional and subjective confirmation of faith was sufficient because it was all that was available or needed. The most objective criterion they required was deliverance from direct or indirect demonic oppression, if they experienced it. One individual’s feelings cannot be shown to others, and cannot serve as the sole basis of their faith, though one person’s account can be a helpful guide to others. Each person must try it and experience it for him/herself. They found that the God of the Bible was totally suited to their circumstances and nature, and no other god or philosophy was; what more was there to ask or wish?
In principle this is all still true. But 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated students face 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated questions. These questions come both from other people and from their own heart and mind, as they face doubts of their own that must be answered in order to continue to believe. So they must back up and fill in step 3. The purpose of this book is to show that God has provided 20th-century, scientific, modern, educated answers. If He has chosen to provide them, who dares say they are unneeded?
We can only expect evidence to confirm, not absolutely prove, the authenticity of the Bible as a message from God. And evidence can only apply to some parts of the Bible’s contents; there are many aspects of the Bible’s teachings which we must simply take by faith as long as we are in this life. But it should be faith with a basis, not blind faith. This is the subject of IV. C, and also all of ch. 6 sec. III.
Some people complain that Christian faith is only motivated by selfish interest, gaining benefits now and heaven later, avoiding trials, and the fear of hell. This complaint is partly true; these motivations should not be all that our faith consists of. Our trust and goal should be in God Himself, not just what He does and gives. But faith must start somewhere, and it is better to start from a shallow motive than not to start at all. We do not complain about whether a person walked, ran, crawled, drove a car, rode a bus, was carried in an ambulance, or flew a helicopter to the hospital, as long as he got there.
Faith should grow with time as we learn more about God and His truth. If a person claims he has believed God for many years and still only cares about benefits and fears, his faith has not developed normally, and we cannot be sure whether he has any true faith at all. See also ch. 4, II, B, about God’s fairness, and ch. 6, IV, about believers’ experience.
What is wrong with believing God’s promises of blessing and love in return for a commitment of faith, and also His promises of unpleasant consequences otherwise? We do the same with our children and students. Is religion supposed to offer neither hope nor love? Believing God’s promises is a necessary and proper part of faith. As stated above, the correct question is “Is it true?”
Unfortunately, many people “trust Jesus” with the mistaken idea that He will give “peace of mind” by bringing only pleasant things and instantly solving all their problems. This indicates a major mistake in the way “trusting Jesus” and “peace of mind” was explained to them, and Christians must accept some of the responsibility for producing such a misunderstanding. Sometimes we are too anxious to package our message so it will look attractive. These new “believers” are very quickly disappointed with the results of their belief. While He does promise to bless us, solve problems, and give peace of mind, the Bible says that we have entered a war and a school, that we will have persecution from people and demons, and that God will teach and discipline us. We have peace of mind in the midst of problems, not in escaping them.
IV Logic, evidence and faith
Many people think that faith must be independent of logic and evidence, but it is not. Logic and evidence play at least five important roles in mature, balanced faith.
A Remove barriers
There is much misunderstanding and misinformation
about each type of religion. This raises unnecessary barriers, which should
be removed by correcting such errors. This is accomplished with logic and
evidence. However, this can only remove barriers on the road to faith in
God, but it cannot force anyone to believe. We can clear the road, but
we can’t push people along it. The Bible says that only God can give faith
in Him as revealed in the Bible.
This is stated in a number of places, including:
People who are not willing to obey the God of the Bible cannot even understand the facts about the Bible in step 3. Some places teaching this are:John 6:44
Ephesians 2:8, 9
This means that there are many people who have many questions about the Bible and Christian faith, but those questions are not the real reason they do not believe. Their questions are only excuses for a choice not to believe, and if those barriers are removed more will be found to replace them. The asking and answering of questions can go on indefinitely. Therefore before beginning to try to answer questions so as to remove unnecessary barriers, a Christian should ask his or her inquiring friend, “If I could answer all these questions, would you then believe?” If the answer is an honest “No,” then it will save everyone a lot of time not to bother.Romans 1:18
I Corinthians 1:18-25
II Corinthians 4:4
II Peter 3:1-5
B Prevent blind faith
On the other hand, many religious leaders and movements do contain dishonesty and contradiction. Examination of logic and evidence can avoid blind faith, deception, and superstition. If we find that a purported revelation contains mistakes in source, consistency, etc. that we can independently check (see C), then it loses credibility and we cannot believe that it is truly a message from God about things we cannot check. Examples are often mentioned in the news, and it is impossible to anticipate as I write what may be the latest noted instance at the time you read this. It is dangerous not to be careful about what we believe.
Some religions explicitly reject logic as a consideration in finding truth, and even boast of contradiction. This should be a warning flag of danger ahead.
C Provide a basis for faith in books and teachers who claim to give us messages from God.
Another reason many people resist the idea of a connection between faith and facts is that they have seen it misused. Some Christians try to use logic and science to argue with people, hoping to use proofs to force people to believe. This is of course unsuccessful. Proponents of other religions, and atheists, also use logic and facts in ways that seem convincing at first glance, so that many people cannot find a flaw in it but still reject the conclusion.
Unfortunately, they tend to overreact to all this, and conclude that logic is the wrong approach. Many Christians have a similar attitude, and feel we should “Just pray and preach, don’t try to argue and think.” But it is not a mistake to use logic; the problem is that logic is often misused, by both Christians and atheists. Both extremes are wrong; both overemphasis and neglect of logic are equally mistaken. Anything good can be misused. The solution is to use it properly. Section V shows that the Bible has much teaching in this regard, and the primary goal of this book is to attempt to use logic and facts correctly in relation to the issue of faith.
Many people object at this point, even including many Christians. There is a widespread opinion in Western educated society that “faith” and “basis” are mutually exclusive concepts. This is related to the emotional-logical conflict just mentioned. If there is logic and evidence, can you still call it faith? Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here. Of course logic and evidence cannot totally replace faith, but neither should they be totally isolated from it. They can only give a basis for faith, but this is still very important. This protects us from blind faith, deception, and superstition (point C). When someone says he has a revelation from God, those who hear him cannot check whether it is correct about God, the future, etc., except by comparing it with previous revelation in the Bible. That is why a revelation is needed on these subjects. But they can check other aspects of a claimed revelation: its source, consistency, agreement with the Bible, and so on. If all these parts are true, this raises its credibility and gives them a basis for confidence in the rest (see ch. 6, III, why we believe the Bible is God’s word). Then they can believe the things that go far beyond logic and evidence, things we cannot prove now: heaven, hell, forgiveness of sins, God’s love and plan, and so on.
This is the way the Bible grew. The first writer, Moses, did not have previous written revelation with which to be evaluated, but the people did have the traditions passed down from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and perhaps some documents still existed at that time as well. But Moses’ divine authority was attested by truly extraordinary miraculous confirmation. From that time on, the basis he laid was part of the standard for evaluation of further purported revelation. Moses specifically warned them that there would be both true and false prophets after him, and made this, conformity to his teaching about the nature of God, the criterion for discernment of genuineness, Deuteronomy 13:1-11; 18:18. If a professed prophet’s predictions are not fulfilled, he is false; but even if his predictions are fulfilled but he preaches another God, he is false.
Because of isolating faith and basis, much of current thinking also views “objective” and “believing” as two mutually exclusive categories. All belief is assumed to be blind baseless prejudice and tradition, and disbelief is the one true badge of objectivity and logic. This is blatantly illogical and self-contradictory, and those who believe it have no objective basis for their belief. Atheists’ protestations notwithstanding (this book spends more than enough time responding to them, mostly in ch. 4 through 6), there is no proof that all religious faith is false. If some of it might be true, then objective logic might lead to that truth. This possibility is not disproved, but simply inconceivable to many people. (See also ch. 5, V, B.)
D Find evidence of intervention in the natural world from outside
In ch. 2 we discussed the possibility that there is a realm of reality that is larger than the physical or natural realm which can be studied by science, and that that larger realm might occasionally produce effects, called miracles, inside the natural realm: a suddenly healed disease or injury, an extremely improbable “coincidence” with great significance in one or more people’s relationship with God, knowledge about matters in the future or inaccessible by any human means, and so on. If such events do occur, then research on them will lead to increasing confidence that they have no physical cause. This never gives certainty, or “proof,” of the existence of a supernatural realm; we can only say that a natural cause has not been found yet. We must be slow and cautious in labeling an event as a miracle. It is the frequent occurrence of hasty mistaken applications of that label that contributes to widespread ridicule of belief in miracles. But when all known physical causes fail to explain the event in question, and in fact its occurrence seems to violate known laws, then the degree of confidence that it is a miracle can approach very close to certainty. Notice that this is a conclusion after research, and further research is never forbidden, but is in fact welcomed. Later in this book, ch. 5 deals with philosophical objections to the possibility of miracles, and ch. 6 introduces evidence for the specific major ones on which Biblical faith is based. Ch. 6, IV also briefly discusses the legitimate role of miracles in Christian faith and life.
We must carefully qualify what we do not conclude from evidence for miracles. My focus at this point is to reply to those who deny that a reality beyond the natural world even exists. This of course does not mean that all that is supernatural is from the God of the Bible; see sec. VI. And it does not mean that we trust God if and only if we constantly experience miraculous health, wealth, and happiness. This attitude led to the “prosperity theology” disasters of some pastors and TV evangelists. True faith is not always asking “But what has He done for me today? And was it what I asked for?”
This point also reveals a perverse trait of human nature in both seeking and evading a confrontation with God. Many people object that God has not done enough, that there is not enough plain evidence of His existence or at least His concern and relevance to us and our world. They say that if He revealed Himself to them really clearly, they would believe; why does He seem to remain hidden and leave so many questions unanswered? Why does He not write a message in the clouds, speak in an audible voice, and so on? This is a very good question, with only an indirect answer for now. We could discuss the definition of faith; is inescapable assent faith? We must not be like the mockers who called on Jesus to jump off the cross so that they could believe Him. If He had jumped off, they would have been petrified, not converted. The Bible says that one day “every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,” but it will occur under circumstances of compulsion, too late to be a step of faith.
But there is another aspect to this question. It is interesting to observe that the Bible records many instances in which God did miracles, very observable striking interventions in our world. The outstanding series of such events is in the story of the Exodus, the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and their transit through the wilderness and into the Promised Land. They lived forty years with a visible cloud in the daytime and fire at night, and ate food that dropped from heaven. Their response is a matter of history; within days it all became routine and they were preoccupied with other wishes that were still unfulfilled. Everyday miracles soon became normal. Skeptics of course don’t believe the Exodus story anyway, but I reply with two questions. First, if such things happened to us now, would we react differently than the Israelites are recorded to have done? Can we really require such activity as a means of producing faith? Second, these skeptics are asking why God doesn’t do more extraordinary things to prove His existence, and they are also objecting that the Bible is full of such unbelievable stories that they can’t believe, so those stories are an obstacle to their faith. So do they or don’t they want God to do extraordinary actions? Must God prove Himself all over again directly to every individual on earth?
The other outstanding instance was Jesus’ many miracles, climaxed by His resurrection. His enemies responded not with faith but with attributing His miracles to the devil (Mt. 9:34; 12:24), bribing the guards at Jesus’ tomb to cover up the facts (Mt. 28:11-15), and persecuting the apostles for their preaching (Acts 4; 6:9-8:3; 9:1, 2;12). Miracles alone do not produce faith. Jesus said a wicked generation asks for miraculous signs as a prerequisite for believing (Mt. 12:38, 39; 16:4; Lk. 11:29), and in Lk. 16:31 He stated that for those who will not believe Moses and the prophets, they still will not believe even if someone returned from the dead. See ch. 6, IV, for further discussion of supernatural experiences and their role in the life of believers.
E Analyze and understand the contents
of the revelation God gives
Once we have chosen a trustworthy faith, and understand its basic concepts, there must be much more to learn. This requires study, and reasoning, among other things. As stated earlier, it is a relationship, and just as in our relationships with other people it requires thinking and study. Jesus rebuked the Jewish leaders several times for not thinking clearly enough to see what the Bible was telling them. Paul admonished Timothy to study and think clearly, II Tim. 2:7, 15, etc. But as is always true in matters related to God and the spiritual realm, we must expect to face limitations. We must not expect to understand everything while we are in this life. As stated in B, 3 and 4, lack of complete understanding is not complete lack of understanding.
V Biblical instructions on answering questions
Many people think that religion is just a matter of feeling and preference, as was discussed in I, B, and in IV. This is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible has a lot to say about how to think and how to share the truth with others.
James 1:19 “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.”
This very important principle has several benefits.
1 Wait until you find out what is the real problem which is keeping this person from believing. The first thing he or she mentions is probably not what is really basic and important to him, so don’t spend a lot of time on it. Listen, ask for more, until he has really finished all he has to say. Then you know what is most important to answer. This is also the point at which to ask the question mentioned in IV, A, “If I could answer all your questions, would you believe?”
2 Express confidence and security about your faith. Don’t be afraid of questions. Hasty answers to every little question appear to indicate insecurity.
3 Establish friendship and respect, a genuine concern to help the person, not just win an argument. Try to avoid debate.
4 Probably no one before ever let him fully explain his thoughts. If we believe that the Bible is the only truth, then we believe that all else is untrue, so the more he says the more errors there will be. As he continues talking and thinking, he himself may discover there are flaws and contradictions which he never noticed before. This is much better than you pointing them out.
5 Earn the right to have your turn to speak when he is finished. Wait until he is ready to listen, and is curious why you can be so secure in the face of so many doubts and questions. Be confident there are answers, but wait until he really wants to know what they are. If you interrupt before he is finished talking and ready to listen, he won’t hear you anyway, so it is no use talking. And if he is unwilling to give you a turn, it is no use trying.
Philippians 1:27, 28 “…stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved.”
This was written in a time of physical persecution, but the principle applies also to intellectual opposition. Be calm, confident that the truth can withstand scrutiny, even when you do not immediately have an answer for a particular question. Go look for it.
Proverbs 18:13, 17 “He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame. The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”
Once again, listen carefully until you understand the real problem. Try to understand both sides of a question, and deal with it fairly.
Proverbs 26:4, 5 “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”This humorous pair of proverbs seems contradictory. The first line means we should not try to make the truth acceptable to people on the terms of their own proud, independent assumptions. If we accept their assumptions, we have no answer. Rather than answering the question, point out the flaws in it.
The second line means we should answer questions with similar questions, and not always give a direct answer to insincere questions. Christians are usually too polite and defensive; we always let others ask questions and we try to answer, and they feel smart when we can’t answer. Everyone has a philosophy of life, which in fact is his religion, his faith. Require him to defend this faith, and discover that he can’t answer all the questions either. Jesus is a good example; He often answered a question with another question, especially to the religious leaders who opposed His teaching and tried to trap Him with trick questions. He turned the trap around and left them speechless. It is a valuable skill to develop.
John 9:25 “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”Read this entire chapter to see who said this and why. It was a blind man whom Jesus had healed. The man did not know much about Jesus or the Bible, but he told what he knew. We can do the same. We need not worry about what we do not know. Very few who are reading this book have formal theological training, and I don’t either, so there is no reason why we should be experts. It is no loss of face if we cannot answer every question. In fact, most (fortunately not all) theologians I have seen have lost the ability to give a simple answer to a simple question so that the ordinary person can understand it! If we wait until we can answer every question before we start talking, how long will that be? We will never start, of course. And that is what Satan, not God, wants us to do.
I Peter 3:15 “Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that youhave. But do this with gentleness and respect.”The above verses are of course not an excuse for remaining ignorant. We must be willing to learn, and work hard to do so. Peter tells us that we should have a reason, a hope, and a life that makes people ask. We should prepare, which means studying and thinking. The Bible does not require us to have blind faith, in fact it forbids it. And our life is to be consistent with our belief, so that people come to us to ask why we are different. We are not to argue in hostility, but calmly and kindly share and explain.
John 10:38 “Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”Even Jesus did not expect people to blindly believe what He said; that was why He did miracles, to prove who He was. God gives evidence.
Luke 16:31 “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”If you are not familiar with this story, read it. After Jesus told this story, He Himself rose from the dead, and still most people did not believe. So do not let people use the excuse that they need to see a miracle and then they will believe. If people don’t accept all that God has already done, don’t be surprised that you cannot convince them.
II Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.”Don’t get so busy with facts and logic that you end the discussion and still have not mentioned Jesus Christ, His resurrection, His deity, and His humanity.
Proverbs 1:7, 29 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord,...”People’s basic problem is their choice not to fear the Lord.
Isaiah 6:10 “Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”When God first called Isaiah to be a prophet, He warned him that the people would be unresponsive. This verse sarcastically describes those who are unwilling to believe; they are unable to see because their heart is hardened. Unbelief begins with the heart. But for those whose hearts are willing, belief begins with the eyes. God does not request or recommend blind faith.
Psalm 10:4 “In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.”We must not presume to pass judgment on any particular individual’s motives, but in general unbelief is often a choice, a refusal to face what is actually seen and known. If a person will not accept a few basics about the existence of God and His nature, then it is no use trying to explain anything more about spiritual truth and life. He will only reject and ridicule it.
Psalm 14:1; 53:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”
Romans 1:18-22 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities ? his eternal power and divine nature ? have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…”
But this does not mean every doubter is a dog and a pig! It is not always easy to identify dogs and pigs; pray for wisdom. It is sometimes difficult to tell what a person’s real attitude is. One who seems polite may be totally cold and closed-minded, and one who seems hostile and unreasonable may turn out to be desperately searching and hoping you have an answer. We can only assume the best until the person himself directly proves otherwise.
John 8:42-47 is Jesus’ scathing diagnosis of the Pharisees’ heart condition. Because they did not believe God, they could not even hear what He was saying.
I Corinthians 1:18 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”It is not our job to make people understand the truth, or convince them to accept it. We cannot do that; only the Holy Spirit can. So we need not burden ourselves with that responsibility, and should not feel it must be our fault that they do not understand. We can only do our best to explain, and keep learning to do better, but remember that our job is just to tell them; the result is between them and God.
I Corinthians 2:14 “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
II Corinthians 4:3, 4 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
If they are unwilling, they are not even able to grasp simple facts about the Bible. It is a strange experience to talk to extremely intelligent people who suddenly become very dull when dealing with simple facts related to the Bible.
Mt. 16:17 is encouraging on this point. Peter has just made his “great confession” of faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and Jesus replies that he is blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this truth to him, but the Father who is in heaven did. Jesus Himself did not take credit for having caused Peter to comprehend this truth through His effective instruction and explanation. If Jesus’ teaching alone was not enough to produce comprehension, then it is no use hoping that ours will be.
The gospels are full of accounts of Jesus answering questions, usually hostile ones. It is important to study His answers. He often answered a question with a question, as already mentioned. All His answers emphasized logic, and rebuked the logical flaws in others’ thinking which did not make sense. This means that theology should make sense. Theology transcends logic, but does not violate it. As stated above in IV, D, logical considerations should enable us to identify false teaching.
The entire passage of I Cor. 1:18 - 2:16 is valuable in this regard, but it is sometimes misunderstood. 1:21-23 says “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.
Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified,…” 2:1 says “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.” In 2:5 Paul concludes, “so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom but on God’spower.” Some people use this as a basis for opposing the use of any arguments, logic, or evidence in presenting the gospel. These are the ones discussed in the previous section, who say we should just “pray and preach the gospel.” It is true that we must not base our faith on some Christian expert’s intelligence alone, because there will always be a smarter non-Christian somewhere, probably quite nearby. While logic and facts alone will not produce saving faith (which is what 1:21 means), a lack of them can be a genuine barrier to faith. Paul proceeds to say, in 2:5, “We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age.” We are supposed to comprehend and trust the wisdom of God, as communicated through human teachers. The God of the Bible does not require blind faith and ignorance. Biblical faith is not a mere subjective feeling devoid of mental content.
VI The Bible’s explanation of other religions and philosophies
Judaism is based only on the Old Testament. Christianity is based on the whole Bible, including the New Testament. Christianity includes both Catholic and Protestant faith. This is the Judeo-Christian religion, so “other” means outside of this closely-related group. (See ch. 4, sec. I.) What does the Bible say about all other religions?
Each point is followed by some of the key Bible passages containing this teaching. Space is left for the reader to fill in the essential statement made in that passage.
A Their power
There is a spiritual, supernatural power in other religions, but it is not God. There are deceiving spirits. These spirits are not just a product of our imagination and superstition, although that is a major factor in many ghost stories, traditions, taboos, etc. There is a real world of Satan, demons, and angels. Demons and their powers are real, but they are not truthful. Because they are rebelling against God, they oppose His plan for the world and for us. These spirits were originally created as angels, but they rebelled and became evil spirits or demons. The greatest one was named Lucifer, and when he rebelled he became Satan. Angels and demons are a separate type of being from human beings. Good people’s spirits do not become angels after they die, and bad people’s spirits do not become demons. (see sec. C) This is explained in these verses:
II Peter 2:4
Satan and other evil spirits can only do what God permits them to do.
Christians do not need to fear these spirits. They are at present in some ways more powerful than we are, but God is more powerful than they are, and He protects those of us who have become His children. The spirits are not between us and God. They have no authority except what they win from us by deception. They are not above us in any way, and do not deserve any respect or worship from us. In fact God has given believers authority over them now. They are impostors, pretending to be gods. God will finally punish these spirits, sending them to hell forever. This is found in the following Bible passages:Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6
II Peter 2:4
God commands us to avoid contact with any spirits besides Himself, and resist them. This teaching is found in many places, including:
God especially forbids us to worship idols.Exodus 22:18
Leviticus 19:26b, 31
II Chronicles 33:6
I Peter 5:5-9
I John 4:1-6
Isaiah 40:19, 20
I Corinthians 8:4-6
Because the spirits have made themselves God’s enemies, they try to prevent people believing in God and Jesus Christ, and finding forgiveness for sin, relationship with God, and a sense of security. Most people who submit to their deception do not notice or care that the spirits will never acknowledge that Jesus is the one Son of the only true God, that He is God, and that the blood He shed on the Cross defeated them and can cleanse away all our sins. These spirits can give us a high ethical standard, a good feeling, and beautiful visions. They can heal diseases, exorcise frightening spirits, pretend to be the spirits of dead people, and sometimes they even dare pretend to be Jesus! They want us to think they are providing all our needs. They will not tell us that they want to make sure that after death we will go to hell with them, not to heaven with God. These spirits are happy to give us benefits in this life, in order to cause us to lose benefits in eternity. They dare not promise us any certainty about what awaits us after death. They can only give some uncertain hope, or try to distract us from thinking about it.
The spirits use any method that accomplishes their goal: terror, deception, substitution, etc. In some religions, they act very visibly, using both enticements and terror, posing as both “good” and “evil” spirits or gods, although they are in fact all evil. In other religions, and so-called non-religious philosophies, they do not make themselves directly apparent, and even lead people to deny the existence of such spirits. The evil spirits use different lies to deceive different people. One person may be very moral, hard-working, religious, kind, and proud, confident that the spirits who help him now will be able to take care of him after death. Another person may be “non-religious,” with his philosophy of life serving as his religion. He may not believe there is any existence after death, or he may believe he will be all right after death. Or he may just live one busy day at a time, thinking that the future doesn’t matter now, but he will think about it when he is old. Another person may be an alcoholic or a drug addict, thinking he can escape thinking about all problems, responsibilities, and consequences. Still another may be a dishonest businessman, a criminal, or a corrupt politician, thinking he is rich, powerful, and secure.
Not only do spirits deceive us, we may deceive ourselves. Sec. V discussed the factor of choice involved in producing unbelief. People who refuse the truth from God thus make themselves especially vulnerable to deception by spirits teaching false ideas, and there are some puzzling but dire warnings that God lets us choose deception, and even helps us find it when we so choose.
The spirits are comparable to a person who raises pigs, ducks, chickens, or fish. Each of the animals may think that it is in heaven, and that the owner is a powerful benevolent provider of all its needs. The owner does not tell it what his purpose is. It does not wonder why several of its friends disappear every day, until one day it is suddenly taken and killed, and cannot return to tell the remaining animals that they too are being prepared to be eaten.Romans 1:24-32
II Corinthians 4:4
II Thessalonians 2:9-12
I Timothy 4:1
Another comparison is cockroaches and ants in a garbage bin. They happily think they have found an inexhaustible source of all they will ever need, but they do not know that in a few hours both they and the garbage will be buried in the garbage dump, or burned in the incinerator. People without faith in God’s truth are all doomed, the same as ducks, pigs, and chickens in a farm, fish in a pond, or cockroaches and ants in a garbage bin.
B Fortune telling
God wants to protect us, so He forbids us asking other spirits for more information than He has given us. Other spirits are not reliable, anyway. Only God knows the future. The Bible places great emphasis on this teaching, partly because the Israelites so stubbornly disregarded it.
We are commanded not to worship the stars. So much for horoscopes.Leviticus 19:31; 20:6,27
I Samuel 15:23
II Kings 17:16; 23:5
If we trust God, we do not need to know more about the future; it is enough that He knows and is caring for us. If He is the almighty God and loves us, we do not need advice or protection from any other “gods” (see sec. II, B and C) or dead ancestors (next point, below).II Kings 17:16
Logically, it is contradictory to hope to know the future so that we can change it. If it is changeable, it is not really knowable. This is a fascinating subject of much philosophy and science fiction!Romans 8:28-39
Actually, we are better off not to know the future. We would be impatient waiting for good things, and constantly worried about bad things. For example, Jesus told Peter he would die by crucifixion (John 21:18, 19). It would be terrible for me, and for most of us, to know something like that about our future!
I don’t want to know my future. If I knew something wonderful is going to happen 20 years from now, I would be impatient from now to then, counting the days, and missing most of the pleasures along the way. Also, if I knew something terrible is going to happen 20 years from now, I also would count the days, dreading the passage of every day that brings the coming event closer, and thus also missing most of the pleasures along the way. It is best just to live one day at a time, as Jesus taught, Mt. 6:34.
C Dead people’s spirits
The Bible says that dead people’s spirits are not in this world. They cannot communicate with us, help us, or hurt us. We cannot help them. Deceiving spirits pretend to be the spirits of dead people. Some people quote I Samuel 28:5-19 and claim that the Bible teaches the dead can communicate with us. In fact it teaches the opposite. In this story, Israel’s King Saul asked the witch at Endor to call the prophet Samuel back from the dead to talk to him. The witch herself was frightened when she saw that it was really Samuel, not just the spirit with which she usually worked. This shows that this case is an exception, especially allowed by God; it is not what usually happens.
This is why Christians cannot worship the “spirits of the ancestors.” Those really are not the ancestors’ spirits, but are evil spirits. We must respect our ancestors, remember them, and thank them for their contributions to us, but this must be separated from worship. See section I, B, 2 above, about Christians’ relationship to family and culture.II Samuel 12:23
All the things listed above mean that reincarnation is impossible. The Bible says people are born only once, die once, and are judged once. This is stated in
The concept of reincarnation comes from Hinduism, which is totally different from the Bible’s teaching. Hinduism denies that we were created by God, but says we are God, or have God within us. It does not offer eternal life, but instead considers existence to be a curse and offers the hope that we may escape it someday. It bases our future on our merit, not on God’s grace. So reincarnation is a part of an entire system which the Bible says is false.Hebrews 9:27
When some people seem to be able to “remember previous lives,” including correct historical details they could not possibly have known by ordinary means, what they are actually seeing is visions given them by evil spirits who know about past events. This is one more of the spirits’ deceiving tricks.
E Near-death experiences, etc.
There have been many books about people who very nearly died and then recovered, reporting that during that period of time they observed another realm. The details vary tremendously, literally from heaven to hell, and different accounts are very different. A related phenomenon is the reported experience of people who remain conscious and communicative during their final moments, and describe to those near them what they see and hear as they near the end. With modern medical procedures, it is less common than it used to be for people to be conscious and surrounded by others right up to death, so this is not as frequent as it once was. Again the details vary widely, from frightened accounts of torment to delighted descriptions of heaven and angels and even Jesus Himself. What does all of this prove? Does it confirm or refute the Bible? How does the Bible account for it?
Once again, a major caution is that there are many physical and psychological factors which can produce hallucinations, and also supernatural powers capable of producing visions and sensations which do not necessarily represent reality. I am especially inclined to question most near-death experiences, which by definition did not actually result in the death of the individual. On the other hand, it cannot be totally disregarded as psychological effect or demonic deception. A strong consistent correlation with their religious beliefs would be very significant. I have no hard data to support such a correlation, only anecdotal impressions. I have heard of many Christians who had a peaceful death reporting their approach to heaven, but no such non-Christians (ch. 6, IV), although based on my views as discussed in ch. 4, II, A, I would not consider this impossible, especially among those who never heard the Biblical message. They are of course beyond the circles with which I have had much contact.
Another subject is out-of-body experiences, reports of the spirit (or soul?) consciously floating free from the physical body, viewing it and events occurring near it, and traveling elsewhere up to considerable distances. Some of these are in connection with a near-death situation, but many others are perfectly healthy people in a sort of trance. Again, there are various possible factorsinvolved. I cannot reject the possibility of such experiences; the Bible refers to a soul in distinction from the body, especially in reference to our existence after death. However, I have seen little reason to associate such experiences with Biblical teachings; almost all instances are clearly associated with spiritual powers and concepts in conflict with the Bible. Therefore I cannot attribute those instances to God, but to other spirits, which places it under the Bible’s prohibition against contact with them.
F The truth
This is the most important matter, as explained in sec. II, C.
Other religions have much truth about good behavior, much deep and interesting philosophy, much help in feeling peaceful and satisfied in life. The Bible does not say other religions are bad or totally untrue. If they were, they would not attract people. Satan wants to attract people away from the truth about God, so he will give them much truth, the more truth the better. But this is mixed with errors, and it lacks the most important truths, the things people need to know about God. It leaves them living in fear and uncertainty.
Other religions do not tell us these important truths: (see also ch. 6, III, B and C) There is one true God and Creator (Islam does teach this). He created us to be His children, to know and love Him and share His glory forever. But the first couple, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, and thus became sinners, with a sinful nature. Because we are their children, we all are sinners, unable to know God and please Him at all. But God still loves us, and He can and will care for us. He has a good plan for us. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to earth, died for our sins in our place, rose from the dead, and thus defeated Satan. We can know God, love Him, and be sure He forgives our sins if we believe Jesus. We can have a new life now, and become able to change and please God. We can be sure now that we will spend eternity with God.
All other religions are the opposite of the Bible. They tell us to do good in order to be accepted, or reach heaven, or whatever goal they believe in. The Bible tells us God accepts us now, as we are, with no other requirement than that we want Him to and ask Him to. We are accepted first, and then because we are accepted we desire to do good, and He gives us the ability to do good.
The Bible has many laws, e.g. the Ten Commandments. These express God’s requirements. But God does not expect anyone to be able to obey them all, and on this basis become acceptable to Him. The purpose of the law is to show us God’s standard, and how far we fall short, and how much we need a different way if we want to have any hope of establishing a relationship with Him. Then, after we have that relationship, and because we have it, we naturally wish to conform to His laws, and are increasingly able to do so. But we will never be perfect in this life. See further discussion of this subject in ch. 6, III, C and N.
Galatians 2:15, 16
No other religion has such a simple teaching about human nature and salvation. Because other religions’ bad news is not this bad, their good news is not this good. They do not tell us we are totally lost and dead, and so they do not tell us how we can be totally saved and certain of new life. They tell us we are partly good and partly bad, so we must develop the good and suppress the bad. No matter how hard we work to do this, we are never sure how well we are doing, or whether we are good enough to be accepted. In fact, if we are honest, we are sure we are never good enough.
Most people like other religions’ teaching anyway, because that leaves them some room for pride, for a feeling that they are not totally bad and can do something for themselves. People do not like the Bible’s simple way because it requires humility, admitting we must depend on God to be saved from our sinful nature. This is simple, but it is not easy. It is easier for children to understand and accept than it is for adults.
G How to tell true teaching from false teaching
Any good thing will be imitated by many counterfeits, and some counterfeits are very skillfully done. It requires careful discernment to distinguish what is the real thing and what is not. The primary criterion for teaching is of course conformity to the Bible’s teaching.
1 Study carefully their meaning, not just their wordsIt is easy to use good-sounding words, but to mean something different than you think from the first impression. They talk about God, but what kind of God? If they talk about Jesus, what kind of Jesus? What do they mean by “do good”? What kind of heaven do they believe in, and how can we get there? And so on. Also watch out for self-contradictions. God does not promise to protect us from delusion that should be obvious. In fact the Bible has some dire warnings that He will abandon us to willful folly and even aid us in our self-deception if we so choose.
Many groups quote the Bible, but only to seek validation for concepts that are actually derived from other authorities and assumptions. Watch whether the Bible is really the only authority, or they have other authorities and assumptions that in practice take precedence. Do they only use parts of the Bible and avoid others? Do they study whole passages and books of the Bible, or just lift a few words out of context? See ch. 4, I, the comments on “cults.”
Does he practice what he preaches? This requires a long time period to become apparent. Anyone can look good for a little while.I Corinthians 12:32 Look at the teacher’s behavior.
II Corinthians 11:13-15
II Thess. 2:9-12
I John 4:1-3
Does it produce improvement and peace, or increasing degeneration and fear?Mt. 7:15-233 Look at the long-term effect the teaching has on you and others
Galatians 5:22, 23
Many teachings and teachers can of course produce some good behavior and effects, some of the time. We must spend time to discern their basic spirit, purpose, and result. I believe that no religion or philosophy outside the Bible passes this kind of inspection. Many teachers and teachings that claim to be Christian and Biblical do not pass it either. There are cult groups, and there are false people in good churches. There are well-intentioned people who have slipped into serious error. Of course we cannot demand too much of others; no one is perfect yet. This is discussed in ch. 4, I. But there should be definite progress and humble willingness to admit and correct shortcomings.
Besides these Bible passages, much of II Thessalonians, II Timothy, II Peter, II John, III John, and Jude is about false teachers, especially inside the church. Obviously this was a large problem very early in the history of the church.I Corinthians 14:22-33
II Corinthians 7:9, 10
The above is the Bible’s viewpoint on other religions. In some respects it is a criticism of them. Other religions of course disagree with this explanation of their existence and content, and in response they have their own explanation of the Bible’s existence and content, and criticisms of it. Many of these are discussed in ch. 4. This leaves us in a difficult position. We hear many different voices all claiming to be from God and offering us benefits, and warning us against choosing alternatives. How can we make our decision? We must believe something, but can we know which one or ones to believe? How can we know whether the Bible is really from the one true God? This is discussed in ch. 6, III.