The Way (part 2) – The ONE Way? Really?

[This is the second in a series about Jesus’ claims in John 14:6. Click Here to read the series from the beginning]

Jesus said he was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” In fact, he then said, “No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Those claims sound pretty exclusive to me.

And yet, it is so common for Christians to shy away from affirming this teaching of Jesus. Isn’t it interesting that we want to honor Jesus so long as he’s helping others, healing the sick, preaching peace and love, and tearing down _____ [insert your modern, contextualized, political pet peeve here], yet when he teaches something like his own exclusivity we try to explain it away, or—more often—ignore it completely and hope no one calls our bluff.

So today we ask, could Jesus actually mean what he said?

The Way to What?

Jesus said, “I am the Way.” But the way to what? This simple statement is implying two things: there is an end goal in life, and there is ONE way to it. Elsewhere he compares “the way to salvation” as a narrow path to which few will adhere, while the “way to destruction” as a wide and easy path to find. I’m guessing he’s not calling himself the latter.

In actuality, he calls himself the way to the Father. As in, being in the Father’s presence is the goal in life and Jesus is the only way to that goal.

What if there’s no Father?

Every religion has some image of “salvation.” They don’t all say anything about damnation, but they do all say something about salvation. A “higher existence,” if you will. It may be a separation from worldly desires, or a perspective on the world hewn from life experience that allows you to always make the right decision. Reincarnation into higher beings, trying to achieve a goal.

Nirvana.

Paradise.

Heaven.

Let’s not act as if there is no “salvation” in these worldviews. But just because they all paint the picture that we need some sort of deliverance does not make them all “the same.” It doesn’t mean they are all saying “basically the same thing.” What it reveals is that the notion there is something wrong or imperfect with us is a universal notion. It is a truth that—if we would just be honest with ourselves—we cannot escape. It’s part of our very humanity.

This truth also reveals that there is a desire for the perfect, for the correction of our brokenness, for the healing of wounds and for the freedom that comes when insecurity, self-preservation, and fear finally cease.

So the question is where this idea comes from? Where do we get morality, if not from a moral law-giver? Where do we get the idea of perfection if the very essence of the world is imperfect? If that is all that is observable, where have we learned to universally long for its inverse?

See, many world religions will deny God as Christianity understands him. They want to acknowledge God (some higher power, a guiding force, etc), but they don’t want this god to be personal. They don’t want their god to have created everything from nothing.

But a world without a creator God has no purpose, meaning, or basis for morality. A world without a personal, creator God is utterly futile.

The Way to the Father Creator.

The question of the Father implies that there is A CREATOR. Here’s why Jesus is the only way to be in relationship with said creator. One thing that is always true of created things is that they are subject to the will of the creator. When you create something, you have the right to regulate its purpose and use. It’s the reality that our copyright laws aim to recognize and thus, protect. It’s why we have patents. The creator has the right to dictate purpose to the creation.

As such, we owe God obedience to the will for our lives that he has set out. We were made for the purpose He alone dictates, and we are obligated to recognize and respond to that responsibility. When we fail to do this, just like any creator whose invention fails to do what it was supposed to, he has every right to scrap his creation and start all over.

But he doesn’t. Rather than destroy us because of our sin (falling short, or breaking his intention for us), God has given us a means by which we can be reconciled to him. The cost of sin is death, to be sure, but God gave his son to bear the death that we all deserve.

Think you’re pretty good? You don’t sin that much? Think your good deeds ought to outweigh the bad things you do (only once in a while, as we all seem to convince ourselves)? The issue is that even failing once separates us from him. And even if that weren’t true, I know I fall short several times, daily. So I don’t know whose scale we’re measuring on, or which good deeds “count” as more significant to counteract all my selfish deeds and desires, but I’m pretty sure a very strong case can be made for me breaking the relationship and the intention my creator had for me.

AND WHEN THAT HAPPENS, I need help. When that happens, I can’t “make it up,” because he already has exclusive rights to my life. Everything is already his. Even my “extra.” I already owe him everything for the very breath in my lungs. Any good I do to “make up for” the bad already belongs to him. It’s not extra credit. It’s just credit. and our account falls short every time when we rely on our own goodness.

This is why every ideological system in the history of the world has some concept of salvation.  We’ve come full circle and completed the cycle. We are broken > We need salvation (or whatever you’d like to call it) > We try to earn it by being good, >but we’re not that good > thus we are “broken” > and we need salvation (or whatever you want to call it).

Jesus breaks the cycle. Jesus says, “It’s not about how good you are.” Jesus says, “Your attempts were never going to be able to pay the penalty.” Jesus says, “I bring grace, where every other system only offers works.”

Jesus brings grace. It’s what is distinctive about Christianity, and it’s why Christianity is the only Way.

It’s why Christians have hope. Because the very law-giver has said, “I will forgive you of your lawlessness.”

No one else offers that.

Don’t miss your chance to take him up on the offer.

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5 Ways to Protect Your Kids from Online Pornography (and other threats)

When my son gets a little older and starts playing sports, I think I’m going to give him a bottle of prescription pain pills.

I’ll tell him to use them responsibly, but what he does with them is his business. After all, he’ll be eight or so by then, and he needs to learn how to handle responsibility. Plus, considering pills are not damaging in themselves, it’s all in how you use them. I want him to make good choices, and people only learn from their mistakes, right? It’s the world they’re growing up in. Someday they’ll grow up and (in the “real world”) a doctor will prescribe them pills for pain. They need to know how to use them.

You’ve got to let your kids be their own people, after all. Continue reading

4 Thoughts on the Ham/Nye Debate

Let me just put this out there:

I don’t know where my Christian beliefs and Science meet when it comes to the Origins of the world.

I know I am created. By God. I know that mankind is created in his image (by observation…see what I did there?), and I know that as such, he has authority over his creation. He is king. It’s that simple.

But how creation came about is another issue. That is what Ken Ham, CEO of Answers In Genesis, and Bill Nye (yes, they Science Guy) got together to debate tonight.

The debate did nothing to land me in either camp. Maybe I’l explore that here, along with the various ways Christians have offered to make sense of the apparent discrepencies that fueled tonight’s shindig. But here are a few thoughts I had surrounding the debate.

1. Presuppositions matter

I think this was Ham’s biggest point, and it may have gotten lost in some of the other noise. There is a certain amount of faith that comes with a naturalist position and that faith can be easily under-estimated. It is dishonest for Nye to stand up and say that his presuppositions that there is nothing supernatural simply because it can’t be tested and repeated doesn’t shape his frame of reference for research. No one is neutral.

At the same time, Ken Ham was asked point-blank if there was anything that could make him soften his stance on young-earth creation explanation of the world’s origins. His answer was no. His presuppositions that the Bible is trustworthy is the guiding frame through which he views the data we have available to us today.

So since they are both colored by presuppositions, does that mean neither can be right? Absolutely not.

Let’s not come to a false conclusion about presuppositions. Their presence does not eliminate the reality of truth. Someday, we will die and we will see (or not, I guess, if we just decompose and that’s it) which side of this debate is true. We will see if the Universe was created, or if it just “happened to come about” from natural processes. One side will be right. Or both will be wrong.

But they can’t both be right.

Therefore, we should examine the data and find a position we can passionately  defend. I’m not quite there yet, but that just means I have more work to do, not that both are “equally valid.” We need to look beyond natural sciences, too. To morality and philosophy, to archaeology and other disciplines. If you haven’t done it before, read the Bible for yourself. But understand that in our postmodern world that wants truth to be subjective, one of these men will have been right and the other wrong.

God exists or he doesn’t. And whichever side you fall on will have consequences to the way you live, act and—yes—think.

2. Tonight’s special is Red Herring, with a side of debate.

I don’t know if you caught it. It was subtle and sneaky, and meant to deceive. But then, all fallacy is.

Red Herring is a fallacy—a faulty way of reasoning in debate—that responds to an argument by making a separate, irrelevant argument to draw attention away from the argument at hand. And Red Herrings were everywhere. It was like breeding season, with all of ’em swimmin’ upstream like that!

Here are some examples.

Bill Nye repeatedly called himself “A Reasonable Man,” which is a type of Red Herring known as an “ad hominem” argument. It is an attack on the arguer, not the argument. The implication, each of the several times Nye made this claim is that Ham is clearly not reasonable. It is the equivalent of “I know you are but what am I?” or maybe, “My name’s rubber and your name’s glue!” It took his argument and posed it as the “reasonable” position, and any other argument as the “unreasonable” stance.

This is related to Bill Nye’s “Appeal to Authority” Red Herring where he calls “us on the outside [of this silly creation-talk]” the “legitimate” scientists, the “traditional” scientists, etc.

Ken Ham’s opening presentation with scientists who were also creationists also seemed to me to be a fallacy. Maybe along the line of a straw man, where he sets up a misrepresentation of his opposition’s view just to knock it down. I’m not sure anyone was saying that those who believe in Creationism can’t be scientists. The debate was whether that specific view that those well-respected scientists held is indeed an adequate explanation of the Universe’s origins.

We could include Nye’s repeated questioning Ham to make a prediction, which he did, and then outright refusing to accept it.

We could include Nye’s many appeals to emotion, from the shunning that others who hadn’t heard Ham’s view feel (in light of their impending condemnation, according to Nye), to the many appeals that “it’s just ridiculous!” (as with Noah building a satisfactory Ark).

We could include Ham’s frequent use of the word “hijacked”

I could go on. I thought the debate was couched in these arguments that didn’t really stand on their own and, frankly, I saw Nye employing them WAY more often than Ham.

3. The Bible and the “Science” of Textual Criticism

Bill Nye is a Scientist. He accepts that we can look at things as they are now, and make certain assumptions about how they always must have been. Those assumptions are then shaped by the ancient evidence we find, and theories become laws, etc. He is a scientist.

So it baffled me the many times he attacked the Bible as “an ancient document, translated thousands of times into modern American English,” and scoffed that such an ethereal cloud of unclarity could ever be understood in the first place, let alone interpreted.

Herein lies Bill Nye’s Biggest fallacy of the night. He accepts the scientific process, but failed to acknowledge the scientific excellence that proves the Bible we have is, by and large, the original text written by the original writers. We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 65,000 manuscripts from the Bible dating to the 1st century BC for the OT, and the early 2nd Century AD for the new (second place in antiquity is Homer with about 650 manuscripts from 400 years after he supposedly wrote it). Let those numbers sink in. We have an amazing number of copies of the text of the Bible. Those copies are not all identical: they have errors, just as if you or I hand-copied something a bunch of times. But we a) know where those discrepencies are, b)know the nature of most of the discrepancies and c) through comparing and contrasting translations, by listening to voices outside the Bible, by looking at archaeology of the region, we can determine the best variant to take. And most bibles (both Greek/Hebrew AND English) will offer the variant.

Textual Criticism is a Science. To suggest that we can’t look back at ancient Hebrew and know what it means is ridiculous. To think we can’t look at the way a “dead” Greek word used to be used by looking at all the Greek writing we have is absurd. There are men and women who have devoted their lives to looking for patterns and laws, and analyzing language the way Mr. Nye studies astronomy. To suggest (as he did) that choosing what is taken as poetry and what is taken as history is not a subjective exercise, but one that has been undertaken over the years through the studying of Greek and Hebrew prose and poetry.

Yet Mr. Nye wrote this off several times as being “unreliable.”

This doesn’t make the Bible true, but it shows his scientific bias toward even accepting the text as a reliable text.

4. I am sad for Bill Nye

My heart breaks for a man who denies God. A man who looks into the cosmos, sees the grandeur (not finitude), the order (not randomness), the life (not inanimacy), the consciousness of man (not brute instinct), and end up worshiping the created things, rather than the creator himself (Romans 1:25).

By heart breaks for a man who honored his faithful colleagues by acknowledging the “religious people” of the world could be great scientists, but who—in the same breath—called any religious systems that believe in a God “made up.”

I mourned tonight—genuinely—over a man who denies that Jesus is the Christ, the only salvation for our sins against a creator to whom we owe our whole lives.

I mourn because I know what Scripture says happens to those whose faith is not in him.

Tonight’s debate was never about creation and evolution. It was about presuppositions.

And my fear is that Bill Nye’s presuppositions are leading him to an end he doesn’t believe in, even though in the course of tonight’s debate he heard the good news of Jesus at least a few times.

Sometimes we can get caught up in the details, when what is really missing is a glimpse of the big picture.

Seminary Smatterings #1: Sausage, Silver, and Sovereign

There is a local butcher in town who has THE BEST breakfast sausage I have ever had.

The. Best.

We get a pound of it pretty much every week, and I pound out my own patties (a process that makes it that much more satisfying), and we enjoy taste-bud bliss for a couple of mornings.

And so I’m telling people about it all the time! My wife and I are telling people about the best-kept secret in Louisville, Kingsley’s Breakfast Sausage (if you’re in Louisville, go support this local family business; you won’t regret it).

But we tell people about it because we feel like they are missing out on something great.

Well, never does a week go by where I sit and class and don’t think, “People need to hear this!” Reading, studying, discussing, these things lead to deep connections being made in the Scripture and I come across things all the time that people need to know. I wish I had time for all the conversations I wish I could have.

So this is the first post in a series I will call, “Seminary Smatterings.” There won’t necessarily be consistency from week to week, but I just want to share some thoughts or lessons that have seemed profound.

From my Isaiah class:

We’re only in chapter one, but already there are a TON of things jumping off the page. I won’t go into all of them, but Isaiah 1 says some interesting things about Silver. In fact, God compares the Isrealites to Silver that has become “dross.” When a silversmith is working with silver, there is a refining process. Over and over, the smith heats the silver up to a liquid, and all the impurities—the dross—float to the top, where the Smith scrapes them off and repeats the process. And repeats.

Until he can see his reflection in the silver.

In Isaiah 1, God is stating his case against Israel: they have turned away from him and forgotten to properly honor him for all he has blessed them with. Worst of all, they have turned the means by which God graciously gave them a way to reconcile with him despite sin—the very essence of their worship practices—into mere lip service. Their hearts were not repentant of their sin, nor did they have any intention of turning to him.

Thus, their “silver has become dross” (Isa 1:22).

But wait, the end of chapter one (and remember, this sets the tone for all the book), God makes clear that he will redeem the faithful. And what image does he use?

25 “I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy.
26 And I will restore your judges as at the first,
and your counselors as at the beginning.
Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness,
the faithful city.”

God tells Israel he’s going to turn up the fire. Let persecution come. Let hard times knock us down. Allow struggle. Ordain strife. And he allows that to bring out the impurities. He does it so that the faithful will remain.

And they will reflect his own face.

Be faithful, the fires are not meant for you, but for the impure, to reveal the faithful people of God.

From “Life and Teachings of Jesus”

Just a thought that was posed on day one that I found provocative (but possibly accurate—still thinking through this). What if Jesus’ whole ministry really could be summed up by his first pastoral sentence: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What if that is simply his message.

What if “the Kingdom of God is at hand,” is not primarily about the end times, or about Heaven, per se, but a statement of fact? Said another way, what if the statement was, “God is King. Therefore, in light of this fact, repent (for it is the only proper way to come before a king). And believe in the Gospel for your salvation, for your membership in this Kingdom.” 

What if the “Kingdom of God” is the kingdom where people actually live as if God were their king? Bowing to his authority, submitting where his decrees bristle against our will? Giving him glory and honor? Trusting him to provide based on the fundamentals of his economy, his social order, his reign and his ability to fight his own battles?

What if we came before him with our hat in our hands, pleading for mercy because we don’t deserve communion with him, because that is how you come before a king, rather than “waltzing in, handing him the resume we’ve built up and telling him how glad he should be to have us on his team. That’s not how you act in the presence of a King!” (this was a paraphrase from my professor, regarding the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18). What if repentance has much more to do with giving up the notion that our lives are our own, and less to do with apologizing for each individual mistake we make? 

The point is, what if we are being called to give far more to be a Christian than we’d previously considered? What if God really is King, and we treat him like he is our “co-pilot” or “homeboy?”

What if we really do need to Repent? What if the Kingdom of God really IS at hand?

Just some thoughts. I’m sure I’ll have more next week!

The Way

It’s not very popular these days to say that Christianity is the only way to salvation. In fact, in many circles, that is one way to ensure you will not be taken seriously.

And I know many, many Christians who believe that to be true, but wouldn’t come right out and say it, because of the stigma it would raise.

I know this because I have long been one of those Christians.

Longing for “conversation,” and “dialogue,” I have skewed the truth to be something less than exclusive, buying into the cultural narrative that so strongly asserts exclusiveness is always a bad thing. But Christianity is exclusive. And I hope you’ll keep reading so that I can explain why.

One of Jesus’ closest disciples, John, who even described himself as “the one Jesus loved,” quoted Jesus as saying, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6, emphasis added). That is a pretty exclusive claim. And it’s the source for this and subsequent posts about why Christians should not be scared of Christianity’s exclusive claims to salvation.

What is at stake?

“Exclusivism,” or the view that Christianity makes an exclusive claim to salvation or, put more simply, the idea that only Christians will be saved, has been under attack for some time now. As culture becomes more submissive, and as globalization exposes us to other cultures, it feels intolerant to say that those of other faith backgrounds will be saved. But exclusive faith has by and large been the orthodox Christian position since the beginning. In an effort to ease some of the tension that people feel in defending such a position, some have abandoned it for an “inclusivist” view.

“Inclusivism” is the general idea that those of other faith backgrounds can be saved, but that Jesus will do the saving, even if they worship another god. Appeals are made to the power of environment to determine one’s faith tradition. And it feels unfair for someone who is devoted to their faith and “living a good life” (this is often a factor in the debate, though it need not be. I’ll explain later) being condemned for eternity for believing in the “wrong” religion. Inclusivism gives people the escape hatch they need to believe in Jesus’ power to save, and his saving others based on their devotion to whatever tradition they claim. 

Then there’s “pluralism.” This is where I’ll spend the most time in this post. Pluralism is very popular today, even amongst Christians. As I said before, people who don’t believe in it will often affirm it publicly in an effort not to offend anyone. Pluralism is the belief that all religions have an equal claim on truth and salvation. They are all “basically the same,” trying to make the world a better place. Pay attention to that last part, as it will be important later. Pluralists use a number of illustrations, but one of the most popular is the “many ways up the one mountain” analogy (where the peak or goal is the same for everyone, but the paths to the top may vary substantially). I hope to show that Christians must pay a pretty high price in order to affirm this view, and we don’t do non-believers any favors by telling them that their other faiths are going to save them.

The Elephant in the Room

Allow me to share with you a classic illustration: Four men are led into a room containing an elephant. The four men, all blind from birth, have never learned what an elephant is, and, even if they had, have never seen one. You lead them into the room with the elephant and immediately they would start to feel around and conceptualize the elephant from what they could feel.

The first man starts to feel the tail, and says, “An elephant must be something like a length of frayed rope, used for tying things.”

The second has the elephant’s trunk in his hands, “No, you’re wrong. An elephant is a relative to the great Boa Constrictor.”

The third is feeling around the elephant’s leg, “Really, I think the elephant is more like a tree. Strong and solid.”

The fourth feels the elephant’s ear, and concludes, “Elephants must be some sort of parchment, or leather material.”

All four men have made equal claims about the part of the elephant to which they had been exposed. So the illustration goes, the varying religions of the world have all made claims about the small portion of truth they have been given while, in actuality, they are all part of the picture, and the idea that they are exclusive is merely a misunderstanding of reality.

This doesn’t work on two levels. The first is the men could have felt their way around the elephant. They would have come to a consensus about what sort of animal the elephant is, because elephants are material things you can put your hands on. On the contrary, the various world religions cannot come to consensus. Anyone who says they can is simply not paying attention. The problem lies in that they directly contradict one another in ways far more significant than the elephant discussion. Christianity says God is Three Persons in One God. Islam denies that to the point of waging war because Allah is ONLY one God. Meanwhile, Hindus say there are many gods and Buddhist/Taoist thought denies a personal God. Which is it? By simple logical analysis, these cannot all be true. They are directly in opposition. They are not all “basically the same.” And this on an issue pretty central to any given belief system holding up. Yes, muslims and Christians could probably be more loving to one another (I love the image of the Muslims protecting Christians and vice-versa in the Middle East). But their religions cannot both be true, and they would be the first to tell you they are not praying to the “same God.” This kind of argument is simply ignorant of the views adherents to religions hold.

Far more troubling in this illustration is that the Pluralist who gives this illustration immediately poses himself as the smartest, most enlightened man in the room. He alone sees “the whole elephant.” He alone understands the reality that so many people throughout world history have missed. He alone sees the big picture, which is a bunch of blind folks groping aimlessly to see what he could clearly tell them. And by what standard are they they wisest people in the room? Their feelings. What they hope God is like. By how religious conversations make them feelSomehow, billions of people throughout world history have got it wrong, but Joe New-Ager has transcended them all. He’s the only one with “sight” to see the elephant, and he scoffs at the blind people for their blindness. 

The Biblical View

Perhaps there is a post for another day on the uniqueness of the Christian religion. For today, I would like to point out that the biblical text teaches exclusive salvation for Christians, and encourage you to commit these three verses to memory.

First, we have John 14:6, quoted above. “I am THE Way, THE Truth, and THE Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In this passage, Jesus is describing himself preparing Heaven (his Father’s house) for the people of God. And he tells his disciples they “know the way to where [Jesus is] going to be.” When they push back and say, “but we don’t know the way!” Jesus says “I am the Way.” To Heaven. To Salvation. To the Father’s presence. Jesus is the way.

Second, in Acts, the apostles who started the early church confirmed this. Acts 4:12 says, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” This comes from Peter’s defense against the Sanhedrin immediately following Pentecost. And his statement was clear: Jesus (who had just been crucified) had risen, empowered Peter to speak (v10), since he was just an ordinary, uneducated man (v13), is the cornerstone of God’s Kingdom (v12), even though the ones who were supposed to build it (Israel) rejected him, and is now the only way to salvation. This was so true of their identity early on that the early Christians were not called “Christians” at all, but “followers of ‘the Way'” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22).

Third, an appeal to the decalogue (fancy, seminary-speak for the “Ten Commandments”) here seems appropriate. This isn’t the exclusivity of Christianity per se, but to the exclusivity of the One True God. The FIRST commandment (the “Big E” on the eye chart, as a certain famous pastor is keen to saying) is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:2). In his book, Gods At War, Pastor Kyle Idleman points out that this word doesn’t mean “before” as “in priority over me,” but “Don’t have any gods before me” means, “don’t have them in my presence,” the way servants come before a king. No other Gods. A theme in the Old Testament is Israel compromising this very command, worshiping Ba’al, Ashtoreth, and other gods of the region rather than the One True God. As Idleman puts it, “God declines to sit atop an organizational flowchart. He is the organization. He is not interested in being president of the board. He is the board” (Idleman, Gods At War, Zondervan, 2013, p. 23). If we take this to heart, we have to conclude that worshiping Vishnu, Light, Allah, Thor, Zeus, Ba’al, the Inner Self, Molech, the Sun, or any other name is offensive to God. To say that people all have equal rights to worship these gods is one thing (they do). To say, as a Christian, that they are all equally valid as true worship is another (they are not).

So Christian brothers and sisters, be bold! These Scriptures just scratch the surface of what the Bible teaches about there being only One God and One Savior. Commit these to memory and engage conversations where you hear other people who consider themselves Christians making the “Christianity is not the only way” arguments.

Hold each other accountable. Think clearly and correctly about God, Man, Sin and Salvation.

Don’t be “Ashamed of the Gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” (Romans 1:16)

Be followers of “The Way.”