Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

Probably one of the most common questions that you hear from people who don’t fully understand Christianity is this question: “why did Jesus have to die?”. The answer that most Christians seem to hold to is that 1) humans are rebelling against God, 2) Humans deserve punishment for their rebellion, 3) Humans cannot escape the punishment for their rebellion on their own, 4) Jesus was punished in the place of the rebellious humans, 5) Those who accept this sacrifice are forgiven for their rebelling.

Are humans rebellious?

Some people think that humans are not really rebellious at all, but it’s actually easy to see. You can see it just by looking at how people spend their time. Some of us have no time for God at all, and instead try to fill our lives with material possessions and experiences in order to have happy feelings. Some of us embrace just the parts of God that make us feel happy, like church and singing and feelings of comfort, while avoiding the hard parts of that vertical relationship; reading, thinking and disagreeing with people who don’t believe the truth about God. And so on.

This condition of being in rebellion is universal, and all of us are guilty of breaking the law at some point. All of us deserve to be separated from God’s goodness and love. Even if we wanted to stop rebelling, we would not be able to make up for the times where we do rebel by being good at other times, any more than we could get out of a speeding ticket by appealing to the times when we drove at the speed limit, (something that I never do, in any case).

This is not to say that all sinners are punished equally – the degree of punishment is proportional to the sins a person commits. However, the standard is perfection. And worse than that, the most important moral obligation is a vertical moral obligation. You can’t satisfy the demands of the moral law just by making your neighbor happy, while treating God like a pariah. The first commandment is to love God, the second is to love your neighbor. Even loving your neighbor requires you to tell your neighbor the truth – not just to make them feel good. The vertical relationship is more important than the horizontal one, and we’ve all screwed up the vertical relationship. We all don’t want God to be there, telling us what’s best for us, interfering with our fun. We don’t want to relate to a loving God if it means having to care what he thinks about anything that we are doing.

Who is going to pay for our rebellion?

The Christian answer to the problem of our rebellion is that Jesus takes the punishment we deserve in our place.

However, I’ve noticed that on some atheist blogs, they don’t like the idea that someone else can take our punishment for us to exonerate us for crimes that we’ve committed. So I’ll quote from this post by the great William Lane Craig, to respond to that objection.

Excerpt:

The central problem of the Penal Theory is, as you point out, understanding how punishing a person other than the perpetrator of the wrong can meet the demands of justice. Indeed, we might even say that it would be wrong to punish some innocent person for the crimes I commit!

It seems to me, however, that in other aspects of human life we do recognize this practice. I remember once sharing the Gospel with a businessman. When I explained that Christ had died to pay the penalty for our sins, he responded, “Oh, yes, that’s imputation.” I was stunned, as I never expected this theological concept to be familiar to this non-Christian businessman. When I asked him how he came to be familiar with this idea, he replied, “Oh, we use imputation all the time in the insurance business.” He explained to me that certain sorts of insurance policy are written so that, for example, if someone else drives my car and gets in an accident, the responsibility is imputed to me rather than to the driver. Even though the driver behaved recklessly, I am the one held liable; it is just as if I had done it.

Now this is parallel to substitutionary atonement. Normally I would be liable for the misdeeds I have done. But through my faith in Christ, I am, as it were, covered by his divine insurance policy, whereby he assumes the liability for my actions. My sin is imputed to him, and he pays its penalty. The demands of justice are fulfilled, just as they are in mundane affairs in which someone pays the penalty for something imputed to him. This is as literal a transaction as those that transpire regularly in the insurance industry.

So, it turns out that the doctrine of substitionary atonement is not as mysterious or as objectionable as everyone seems to think it is.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Do people go to Hell just because they don’t accept Jesus?

From J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me. (Link is now down, I can’t find it anywhere else)

Excerpt:

A “just” God does justice, which means to punish or reward appropriately. In the Western tradition, we punish people for the actions they commit, but the extent of punishment is dependent also on the person’s mental state, and a person’s mental state is reflective of his or her beliefs. Premeditated murder is worse than manslaughter, and is punished more severely, and a hate crime is a sentencing enhancement that adds more punishment to the underlying crime. In both examples, a person’s beliefs are at play: the premeditated murderer has reflected on his choices and wants the victim dead; a hate crime reflects a belief that the rights of a member of the protected group are especially unworthy of respect. So, considering a person’s beliefs may well be relevant, especially if those beliefs have motivated the criminal behavior.

But the challenger’s mistake is even more fundamental. He is wrong to assert that people are condemned for not accepting the gospel. Christians believe that people are condemned for their sinful behavior – the “wages of sin is death” – not for what they fail to do. The quoted challenge is like saying that the sick man died of “not going to the doctor.” No, the person died of a specific condition – perhaps cancer or a heart attack – which a doctor might have been able to cure. So too with eternal punishment. No one is condemned for refusing to believe in Jesus. While Jesus can – and does – provide salvation for those who seek it, there is nothing unjust about not providing salvation to those who refuse to seek it. After all, we don’t normally feel obliged to help someone who has not asked for, and does not want, our assistance. So too the Creator has the right to withhold a gift – i.e. eternity spent in His presence – from those who would trample on the gift, and on the gift-giver.

The quoted assertion also demonstrates an unspoken belief that we can impress God with our “kind” or “generous” behavior. This fails to grasp what God is – a perfect being. We cannot impress Him. What we do right we should do. We don’t drag people into court and reward them for not committing crimes. This is expected of them. They can’t commit a murder and then claim that punishment is unfair, because they had been kind and generous in the past. When a person gets his mind around the idea of what perfection entails, trying to impress a perfect Creator with our “basic goodness” no longer seems like such a good option.

Here’s a related answer from CARM. This one answers the question about degrees of punishment in Hell.

Excerpt:

Yes, there are different degrees of punishment in hell.

[...]But, not all people are equally bad.  Though all deserve damnation because all are sinners, different people have committed different degrees of sin.

  • Mt. 11:20-22, “Then He began to reproach the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 “Nevertheless I say to you, it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment, than for you…I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”
  • Luke 12:47-48, “And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much shall much be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
  • John 19:11, “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.’ ”
  • Heb. 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

So, if Jesus speaks of greater condemnation for Chorazin and Bethsaida than Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 11:21-22), one slave received more punishment than another (Luke 12:47-48), the one who delivered Jesus to Pilate has the greater sin (John 19:11), and a more severe punishment is reserved for those who trample underfoot the Son of God, then does not greater sin mean that greater punishment will also happen in hell?  Yes it does.

Not only are there degrees of punishment in Hell, but there are degrees of reward in Heaven, based on what you do on Earth and what strengths you start out with.

Philippians 4:10-18:

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

15 Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only;

16 for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid more than once when I was in need.

17 Not that I desire your gifts; what I desire is that more be credited to your account.

18 I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

Everyone who believes in Jesus gets salvation, but your experience in Heaven will be different based on what you do while you are alive. And that’s also the answer to another common question – about deathbed conversions. Both deathbed converts and William Lane Craig will get the same experience of being in the presence of God, but there are completely different levels of reward. One person has an empty account, and the other person has huge massive amounts of virtuous action on deposit. But I think the real reason that Christians are trying to do good things here on Earth is that they like God, and they want to be his friend. They want to work on the relationship, even if it means a little self-denial, and a little sacrifice. We all have things that we would rather be doing for ourselves, but sometimes we have to things that work – things that are effective – for someone else. My values are not his values. Sometimes it is good to do something based on what He values. I don’t always have to get my way, because then it wouldn’t be a real relationship.

I enjoy thinking about Bible puzzles like this… so often in church we just make Christianity a checklist of things that we are supposed to believe somehow, by brute force willpower. I think reflecting on these problems, asking questions, and making sense of them on our own, is a much better approach.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Christianity and the doctrines of exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism

Are you familiar with the differences between exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism? This article from Leadership University explains all three of them.

Here’s exclusivism:

The following is a succinct explanation of the central characters and ideas behind each position. The exclusivist position has been the dominant position of the church as a whole through much of its history until the Enlightenment. Major representatives include Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, Hendrick Kraemer, D.A. Carson, William Lane Craig, and R. Douglas Geivett.

Key to this position is the understanding of God’s general and special revelations. God is manifested through creation (general revelation), but Man has responded by freely going against this revelation and, thus, stands guilty before a holy God. However, God has demonstrated a reconciliatory mercy through His word and deed, fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ. The historical person of Jesus, then, is the unique, final, decisive, and normative self-revelation of God to Man (special revelation). Exclusivists believe that Jesus Christ is the sole criterion by which all religions, including Christianity, should be understood and evaluated. Calvin Shenk explains:

Christ did not come just to make a contribution to the religious storehouse of knowledge. The revelation which he brought is the ultimate standard. Since in Christ alone is salvation and truth, many religious paths do not adequately reflect the way of God and do not lead to truth and life. Jesus is not, therefore, just the greatest lord among other lords. There is no other lord besides him.

Specific texts often employed by exclusivists include Acts 4:12; John 14:6; 1 Corinthians 3:11; and 1 Timothy 2:5-6.

And inclusivism:

Inclusivism is a blanket term to characterize a sort of “middle way” between exclusivism and pluralism. Most prominent within mainline Protestantism and post-Vatican II Catholicism, its notable proponents (in one formor another) include Karl Rahner, Raimundo Panikkar and Stanley Samartha, and Hans Kung. Evangelical theologians such as Clark Pinnock, Norman Anderson, and John Sanders have also identified themselves with this position. Herein, the agnosticism associated with the latter option above is replaced with outright optimism. Christian salvation is not confined to the historical or geographic extent special revelation has spread, rather it must be available to all cultures, irrespective of age or geography.Salvation is still posited wholly in Christ and his salvific work. Specific knowledge of this work, however, is not necessary for the effect (i.e., salvation) to apply to those within a different religious culture who have responded to the general revelation available. Once again, Shenk explains:

Inclusivists want to avoid monopolizing the gospel of redemption. They acknowledge the possibility of salvation outside of Christian faith or outside the walls of the visible church, but the agent of such salvation is Christ, and the revelation in Jesus is definitive and normative for assessing that salvation. Jesus Christ is believed to be the center, and other ways are evaluated by how they relate to him. Other religions are not just a preparation for Christ, but Christ is actually present in them.

The fundamental differences between exclusivism and inclusivism… are the nature and the content of “saving faith.” The former emphasizes explicit faith while the latter points to an implicit faith.

And pluralism:

Finally, there is the pluralist position. This is undoubtedly the most difficult of the three to define in any general sense. The spectrum of pluralistic thought is as wide as it is long. The focusof this particular study will examine the contributions of its key figures: Paul Knitter, John Hick, and Wilfred Cantwell Smith. Just as in the previous positions, the interpretative range within just these three individuals varies. It is fitting, however, to focus primarily on them since they are the most vocal and influential figures espousing pluralism today.

Hick and Knitter argue the case for pluralism on the following grounds: (1) ethically, it is the only way to promote justice in an intolerant world; (2) in terms of the “ineffability of religious experience,” so no religion can claim an absolutist stance; and (3) through the understanding that historical and cultural contexts must be the filter for any absolute religious claim. Hick has argued that all world religions attempt to relate to the unknowable Ultimate Reality (or, the Real), but because of their various cultural and historical contexts these attempts are all naturally different. Hence the various conceptions of the Real and the salvation(s) sought. The common soteriological goal, toward which all religions strive, though, is rooted in the desire to transcend self-centeredness and, in turn, encounter a new (unexplainable) experience with the Real. But, he emphatically emphasizes the fact that there is “no public evidence that any one religion is soteriologically unique or superior to others and thus has closer access to Ultimate Reality.”

Therefore, with pluralism, Christ is no more definitive or normative than any religious figure or concept. Or, as Andrew Kirk explains, “Rather than confessing that Jesus Christ is the one Lord over all, this view asserts that the one Lord who has manifested himself in other names is also known as Jesus.” By “crossing the Rubicon,” as Hick and Knitter illustrate, Christians are encouraged to abandon any claim of Christian uniqueness and the possibility of absolute revelation, accepting the fact that the Christian faith is one among many options.

Now maybe you didn’t know this, but Roman Catholics seem to have taken a turn away from exclusivism and towards inclusivism in the last century.

So, I thought I would post a rebuttal to the Roman Catholic embrace of inclusivism from one of my favorite Christian apologists, Greg Koukl.

Excerpt:

There are some issues of Christianity that are intra-Nicene, intramural discussions between believers, in which I think a charitable person can easily see how another Christian can hold a different view because there are things that are difficult to understand in Scripture. For instance, though I’m Reformed in my soteriology, my understanding of salvation–I’m a Calvinist–I am sympathetic to an Arminian perspective because I can see how they, in lines of reasoning from the New Testament and verses themselves from the New Testament, can come to their view. So, though I would disagree, and I think they’re mistaken, I understand how they can see it.But there are other positions that I cannot understand because there is no New Testament evidence in favor of it, and, to the contrary, almost to a word, as the New Testament touches the issue, it says quite the opposite.

Earlier this week, I was honored, flattered, and, frankly, humbled to have a very unique opportunity on Monday to address an audience of about 150 Jewish people that were in the midst of Jewish High Holy Day services–morning services, evening services–at kind of a pause time in the afternoon, in which my host and I and another guest had a discussion about Jews and Christians. The three of us were on the panel:  my host, Dennis Prager, a man I have a tremendous admiration and affection for, and Greg Coiro, a Roman Catholic priest and a professional friend. I’ve known both of these men over 20 years and have been in many discussions, both in private and public on the air with Dennis and Greg Coiro.

It was in this opportunity that, in a sense, the ancient quarrel of sorts, theologically, was revisited, that I’ve had in the past many years ago when we were talking about this in interfaith dialogues. This difference of opinion is a historically new development in Roman Catholicism that stunned me when I first encountered it in the early days of being on Religion on the Line in the late eighties, a radio panel Dennis Prager hosted for many years. The priests on the panel uniformly held the conviction, informed by Vatican II, that Jews don’t have to believe in Jesus in order to receive the benefits of Jesus’ salvation. This is a view called “inclusivism.” It’s not the same as pluralism, but in my view, it seems to have the same impact: “Yes, Jesus is necessary for salvation, but you don’t have to believe in Jesus to benefit from Jesus.”

Now, at this afternoon panel recently, the very first question that came up was whether trust in Jesus is necessary for salvation. “Greg, do you believe that? Do Protestants believe that?” I answered, “Yes, I believe that. And no, not all Protestants believe that. But let me try to explain it to you in a way that doesn’t sound so stark. Let me try to give it some perspective.” I explained that it wasn’t as if God was up there looking down at a bunch of religious clubs and prefers some over others. He used to prefer the Jewish club and now He prefers the Christian club. It may sound that way to many when this doctrine of Christianity is put forward: Jesus is the only way of salvation; you must believe in Jesus in order to benefit from what Jesus did.

Talk about Daniel in the lions’ den. Anyway, click through and read the whole article to get an idea of how to make your stand for exclusivism in difficult places.

For a general article defending the Christian doctrine of exclusivism, check out this article by William Lane Craig. One of my favorites, from way way back to when I was an undergraduate.

And, if you would like to listen to a debate on pluralism, then here is a debate featuring pluralist John Hick.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Six things you have to believe to be a Christian

Here is the article on the Stand to Reason web site, written by Greg Koukl.

Excerpt:

The six essential doctrines would be: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Christ, the bodily resurrection, man’s fallenness and guilt, salvation by grace through faith by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, and belief that Jesus is the Messiah. And you have a seventh doctrine that strikes me as a functional necessity, that is the ultimate authority of Scripture without which none of the other truths can be affirmed or asserted with confidence.

By the way, it’s really important that people know these doctrines because many Christians are quite kind-hearted and they end up not being very careful about drawing distinctions between truth and falsity because they don’t want to disagree. I understand that. But if you were really kind-hearted then you would be honest and straight-forward with people about the demands of the gospel on their lives. The demand of the gospel is that you believe particular things to be true. It’s not just a matter of mere belief, as if these are just some incidental details of theology that you might happen to be mistaken about. And if you just happen to be mistaken, why should you go to hell because of that?

You don’t go to hell because you just happen to mistake a doctrine. You go to hell because you have broken God’s law. It is very critical to understand that. God only judges guilty people. People get judged by God not because they mess up on their theology but because they are guilty. People who are guilty get condemned. That’s it. There is a way to get around that but you’ve to know a couple of particular things that are true before you can take advantage of the forgiveness God offers. That’s where the essential doctrines come in.

He’s writing from a Calvinist perspective, which I don’t entirely agree with. But I don’t see anything wrong in that minimal list. Sometimes, it’s a good thing for us to focus on the essentials. There are lots of Christian denominations, and they disagree on many minor things, but on the major things, they are in agreement. And that’s a good thing, too.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: important differences between Christianity and Mormonism

Here’s a podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace that I listened to twice on a recent road trip. This is an after action report from Wallace’s recent missions trip to Utah to evangelize Mormons.

The MP3 file is here. (74 minutes)

Topics:

  • Mormons disagree with Christians about the nature of God, Jesus and salvation
  • The differences are so dramatic that the two religions are completely different views
  • Mormons try to portray themselves as a denomination of Christianity
  • The Utah missions trip: how Christians were trained to engage with Mormons
  • Mormonism is a works-based religion – you earn your way to eternal life by doing works
  • In Christianity, eternal life is a free gift from God to anyone who accepts Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • Mormons believe that doctrines can change from generation to generation (progressive revelation)
  • Mormons commonly make the case for a works-based theology by appealing to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  • Mormons believe that you have to be perfect in order to get “exalted” eternal life
  • Christians are perfect because Jesus has paid the price of our rebellion against God
  • Christians: Jesus’ sacrifice pays for anything evil that we have done and could do
  • Christians are made perfect because Jesus’ perfection is applied to them
  • Christians are not practically perfect, but they are perfect by accepting that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
  • God credits righteousness to Christians because Jesus has already died to pay off the punishment for their sins
  • The good works that Christians do are a voluntary response to this free gift of salvation
  • The good works do not secure a Christian’s salvation, they are the natural outworking of accepting the gift of salvation
  • The Mormon view of the afterlife is different from the Christian view
  • The best Mormon afterlife (“exaltation”) requires continued righteousness to the end of one’s natural life
  • This is not compatible with Christian teaching about salvation being by grace and not by doing good works (Gal 3:10-14)
  • Mormons can never know whether they are saved or not until the day they die
  • Christians can be sure of their salvation from the moment they accept Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • The Bible is clear that we can know whether we are saved or not (John 5:9-14)
  • It is inconsistent for Mormons to claim to be Christians and then try to convert Christians to Mormonism
  • The reason why Mormons go door to door is because they think Christians are wrong
  • The Mormon view of Jesus is nothing like the Christian view of Christ (from the Bible)
  • Mormonism is polytheistic, whereas Christianity is monotheistic
  • Mormon “gods” are just beings who have a human nature who were “exalted” for doing good works
  • When debating Mormons, they will try to argue that Mormonism is true because it results in good works
  • The Biblical standard for a good prophet is to see whether his prophecies come true
  • The Mormon view is that Joseph Smith is reliable because he did good works
  • But good works are not a good way to test truth claims – a person could be “good” and still say false things
  • A good question to ask Mormons: is the Book of Mormon ancient? It claims to be ancient, but is it?
  • They may try to answer this question by appealing to fideism: praying for confirmation by burning bosom
  • But this is not a question that can be assessed by subjective feelings (just pray about it)
  • This is a question that needs to be assessed by historians using historical evidence
  • There is no historical or archaeological support for the claims in the Book of Mormon
  • In contrast, we have direct eyewitness testimony about the life of Jesus in the New Testament
  • We have fragments of NT manuscripts dating back to first century so we know that the New Testament is ancient

Previously, I posted my refutation of Mormonism which used two evidential arguments. And J.W. Wartick has posted two philosophical arguments against Mormonism as well.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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