Friday, July 6, 2012

When is a Christian not a Christian?

There’s an old joke about George Washington’s hatchet, the one that he allegedly used to chop down the infamous cherry tree. The story goes that a museum claimed to have Little George’s actual hatchet. It was totally authentic except for the fact that the handle and the head had been replaced.

It strikes me that some Christians are like George Washington’s hatchet. They remove and replace one doctrine with another until sooner or later they bear little resemblance to traditional Christians except in name.

A look at the Roman Road provides a quick overview of basic Christian theology. First, Romans 3:10-12, 23 makes clear that all men are inherently evil and fall short of God’s perfection. Romans 6:23 states that the penalty for our sinful failure is death. Romans 5:8 brings the good news that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This sets the stage for Romans 10:9-10, 13, which explains exactly what is required to become a Christian: To “declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead….” Romans 5:1, as well as several verses in Romans 8, reiterate that it is this faith that our salvation is built upon.

Even this simple formula is sometimes a bit much for our modern minds. The root of the problem for many people seems to be an attempt to reconcile a belief in Christ with unbelief in any unseen, supernatural world.

We’ve been taught that seeing is believing, yet some things cannot be seen. No one can see how the world was created. There is much diversity of thought on the subject, yet Christians can expect to be ridiculed if they state their belief in Biblical creation, sometimes even by other Christians. Similarly, the story of Noah’s flood is also commonly doubted. The idea of a global flood whose only survivors were aboard the Ark seems too fanciful even for some Christians.

If we look to the Bible we can see what Jesus himself believed. For instance, in John 5:45-47 Jesus vouches for the veracity of the writings of Moses. In Exodus 20:11, Moses states that God created the earth in six days. Even more explicitly, in Matthew 19:3-6 Jesus specifically referenced the creation of Adam and Eve. In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus refers to the death of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, in Genesis 4. In Matthew 10:15, Jesus uses the fates of Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning to towns that would reject the disciples. Jesus even held up the story of Jonah as a foreshadowing of the three days that he would spend in the grave in Matthew 12:40-41.

A close look at the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament leaves little doubt that Jesus knew and believed the stories of the Old Testament. This leaves Christians who doubt the old Bible stories in a conundrum. If Jesus is the Son of God then he is all-powerful and all-knowing. If he is all-powerful and all-knowing then he would not allude to stories that he knew to be false. If Jesus is God then the stories of the Old Testament must be true.

An alternate route is to simply throw out the verses that challenge one’s preconceptions of Jesus. A common claim is that the Gospels cannot be trusted because they were written down so long after the time of Christ. This argument ignores two facts.

The first is that the books of the Bible are not in chronological order. Many of the epistles of Paul and the disciples were put to paper years before the Gospels. Paul is believed to have been killed in AD 64, but the book of Acts closes before his death. Therefore, the year 64 would be the late date for Acts and the Gospels that preceded it. The letters, written earlier than the Gospels, share their message and teachings.

Second, contained within the books of the New Testament are early church creeds that are believed to date back to shortly after the death and resurrection of Christ. One of these creeds, found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5, is believed to have been written down by Paul as early as AD 54. The creed would have existed in oral tradition long before that.

Skeptics of the supernatural must cut out much of the Bible to fit their worldview. Jesus also spoke about Satan (Mark 3:23), hell (Matthew 5:29-30), demons (Matthew 12:43-45), and his ultimate return as judge of the world (Matthew 24:30-31). Skeptics must choose to ignore Jesus’ teachings on all of these topics. Peter recorded a warning to such “scoffers” in 2 Peter 3:3-10.

The question is why would a believer in God not be able to believe that he would be able to create and intervene in the world. If God really is God then creation, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and all of the other stories of supernatural intervention are not hard to believe. If they are unbelievable, then do we really believe in God?

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