Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Three Basics of Gnosticism

Gnosticism gets its name from the Greek word gnosis (γνωσις), which means knowledge. Knowledge in this context refers not to the idea of propositional knowledge but something more akin to the Eastern concept of enlightenment. There are three basic premises of Gnosticism:

1. Dualism of Matter and Soul

Like Christianity, Gnosticism teaches that reality is both material and spiritual. Unlike Christianity, it teaches that spiritual reality is inherently good, while material things are inherently evil. Human souls are holy, but they are trapped inside a corrupt body. Through accessing secret knowledge, one can free oneself from the limitations of matter and bring out one’s own capacity for divinity.

2. A Transcendent God vs. an Ignorant Creator

The Gnostics believed in an unknowable, transcendent God who is the Father of Jesus, but they did not equate Him with the Old Testament Creator. They saw the creator-god of the Old Testament as inept and hateful, and they blamed him for creating a flawed physical universe. The Gospel of Phillip goes so far as to say, "the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal. He fell short of attaining his desire.” Certainly, this view of God is not just unorthodox, but blasphemous.

3. Christ as Immaterial Teacher

Since the Gnostics rejected the idea that God was knowable and that God could take physical form, their idea of who Jesus was and why He came was very different than that of the first Christians. Rather than being the incarnation of God who came to redeem mankind from sin and make the Father known, they believed He was an apparition who taught mystical secret knowledge to His followers to help them free themselves from ignorance. He did not actually suffer and die, but only appeared to do so. The Gospel of Thomas removes 114 sayings attributed to Jesus from any narrative or space-time context and includes vague, metaphysical statements not recorded in the canonical gospels.

Clearly, the fundamentals of Gnosticism are at odds with the basics of historical Christianity. The Gnostic gospels do not paint an accurate picture of God, Jesus’s nature and purpose, and the meaning of redemption. Next week, we’ll examine the Gnostic gospels themselves: are they gospels at all?

Works consulted/ For more information
Introduction to the History of Christianity, ed. Tim Dowley

Friday, August 3, 2012

Giving an Answer for Hope

When you first heard someone explain apologetics, you probably heard 1 Peter 3:15. It’s something of a theme verse for apologists:
“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect”. 
Giving an answer includes dozens of topics, from the historical accuracy of the Bible, to science manifesting design, to the nature of Christ. And not only are these many topics worth understanding and communicating, they all are part of giving an answer—not for why someone else is wrong or even just why faith in Jesus is logical, but why we have hope.

You see, the world outside the Way desperately wants hope. People search for it, and many even claim to have found it. Science will unlock the future. A political movement will finally bring prosperity and justice. An educated and enlightened human nature will overcome our baser instincts. Messiah will restore Israel. The Twelfth Imam will rule a peaceful Muslim empire. We will escape the painful cycle of birth, life, and death. The Overman will lead humanity to transcend itself.

Every worldview I’ve ever come into contact with believes that something is wrong, that things are not as they should be. And almost every worldview believes that there is a way for things to get better and wrongs to be rectified.

So why is the Christian explanation of the worlds’ problems and solution more worth buying into than the explanation anyone else offers? This is one of the best questions we can ask ourselves before sharing our faith.

Now, I could just offer an answer, but we’re all critical thinkers here, and every Christian should have the privilege of taking ownership of their belief system. I will tell you that I’ve found 1 Corinthians 15 an excellent place to start. It explains the gospel and its reality in space-time history, explains what exactly we’re hoping for, points out what life would be like if we didn’t have hope, and directs us in what to do when we know we have hope. 

Here are more questions to consider:

  • How is the Biblical explanation of the fall and sin a more reasonable explanation of reality than that of other world religions?
  • Some people believe that humans are basically good and that society will improve as we progress as a species. What evidence might they use as support? What evidence does not support this claim?
  • How would your life be different if tomorrow archaeologists discovered what they confirmed to be the body of Jesus? Would you try to find or create the meaning of your life?
  • What sins and grey-area activities would you indulge in if you knew there was no God? Do you think that lifestyle would make you happy, if you knew all guilt was fake?
  • Does having hope mean that you will always be optimistic about the future?  Is it sinful to feel hopeless, or is it an understandable human emotion even for a believer?
  • How do most people in your community regard death? Is this a reasonable attitude based upon the prevalent ideas?
  • What great things would you attempt for God if you knew you would succeed? Is this the same as “knowing in the Lord your labor is not in vain”? 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Francis Schaeffer: Redefining Apologetics

"We have a responsibility to communicate the gospel to our generation.

Christian apologetics is not like living in a castle with the drawbridge up and occasionally tossing a stone over the walls. It is not to be based on a citadel mentality -- sitting inside and saying, "You cannot reach me here." If the Christian adopts this attitude, either in theory or practice, his contacts with those who have accepted twentieth-century thought [the postmodern division between reason and faith] will stop. Apologetics should not merely be an academic subject, a new kind of scholasticism. it should be thought out and practiced in the rough and tumble of living contact with the present generation...

No one can become a Christian unless he understands what Christianity is saying. Many pastors, missionaries and Christian teachers seem to be helpless as they try to speak to the educated people and the mass of people about them. They do not seem to face the fact that it is our task to speak to our generation; the past has gone, the future is not yet here. So the positive side of apologetics is the communication of the gospel to the present generation in terms that they can understand.

The purpose of 'apologetics'  is not just to win an argument or a discussion, but that the people with whom we are in contact may become Christians and then live under the Lordship of Christ in the whole spectrum of life."

(Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There. 1968. Italics in original.)

By this argument, the traditional definition of apologetics as "defending the faith" is inadequate. Is this idea closer to the Biblical idea of advancing the Kingdom, rather than merely protecting the church from our spiritual enemies and the corrupted world? Or should we keep the familiar definition and give this process a new name?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Historical Records of Jesus

Dr. Craig S. Keener, professor of New Testament Studies at Ashbury Theological Seminary, wrote an informative article about historical records of Jesus and published it in the religion section of the Huffington Post’s blog. It looks like a great place to start looking for original sources about the historical existence of Jesus, and it’s an outside source in its own right. I can't vouch for all of his theology, but this article is pretty solid.

Happy researching!

Monday, July 16, 2012


If you’ve been on facebook much or on Twitter at all this summer, you’ve probably become familiar with the #YOLO trend. YOLO stands for You Only Live Once, and it’s usually tacked onto the end of a statement about the poster doing something unusual, risky, or just plain silly.

This image is from Firstcovers.com, no endorsement implied.

While staying fun and casual, #YOLO is quite a metaphysical claim. Several worldviews have something to say about that.

#YOLOATSE: You Only Live Once And Then Stop Existing

If there is no God and no supernatural, humans are stuck in a world void of purpose and moral obligations. This gives us two options: either we’re basically animals subject to an impersonal universe and our own biology, or we’re capable of creating our own meaning, destiny, and identity.

The first option is naturalism. If it’s true, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” and we might as well find sensual pleasure in the material world before we plunge into oblivion. Our desires and choices come from our DNA and our environment; we don’t really have control over our lives.

The second option is secular existentialism. Existentialism means that you exist before you know who you are and what life is really all about. In SE, you have no inherent purpose or destiny, so you make them up. You authenticate your existence by acts of the will, choices that make you who you are. If there is no God, you take the place of God in your own life.

If SE is true, #YOLO is the perfect response. The more choices and experiences you create, the more meaningful your existence is.

#YOLOAOAO: You Only Live Over And Over And Over

Eastern religions hold to pantheism, a belief system in which reality is primarily spiritual and everything is part of a divine Universal. Hinduism and Buddhism teach that human souls are reborn many times into different bodies as they progress towards unification with the Universal. This way of thinking was resurrected (reincarnated?) in 19th-century Romanticism and the recent New Age movement.

To become one with the Universal, which in modern versions often includes discovering that you are Divine yourself, pantheism encourages meditation, becoming more “in touch” with nature, treating animals and humans with kindness (Hinduism makes an exception for "untouchables", sadly), and various spiritual rituals.

#YOLOF: You Only Live Once—Forever

Theism teaches that human souls live on after death and are either rewarded or punished based on actions done in the body. The only way to avoid a sucky eternity is to find favor with God or the gods.

Notice that I’m not to Christianity just yet. Theism has been dominant for most of human history. The Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Norsemen tried to please their gods with sacrifice, displays of courage, and good works; Muslims try to keep the Five Pillars to please Allah; and Jews have tried to please God by keeping the Mosaic Law and traditional regulations and by celebrating holy days. Theists tend to take #YOLOF pretty seriously.

As Christians, we believe that we find favor with God by faith; believing God means taking on His righteousness. This is possible because God’s Son, Jesus, found favor with His Father while taking on a human nature. In Jesus’ substitutionary death, God attributed human sin to Jesus and attributed Jesus’ righteousness and favor to anyone who believes.

While faith determines where you spend eternity, God has commanded us to spread the good news and to do good works in the short mortal lives we have now. Believers will not face condemnation, but we will be judged nonetheless.

#YOLOF, but for now, #YOLO. Make it count! 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Stand Out with Memorable Scripture

Some Bible verses come up almost every speech in a round, depending on the category and region. Soon the speeches all start to sound alike (especially in Category IV). Most of us memorized these familiar passages in AWANA or Sunday School, and you know your judges have heard them before. 

Nothing is wrong with these verses; they're just overused. Standing out from the competition is crucial to moving up in the ranks, so why use the same scripture as everyone else? At the same time, you have to support your points with Biblical evidence. 

I invite you to get creative with what Bible passages you cite, and I’ve made a list to get you started. I haven’t included the verse texts because it’s up to you what version you wish to use.

Category IV

Instead of John 3:16 and Romans 6:23, try 1 John 4:9-10.

Instead of Ephesians 2:8-9, try Galatians 2:16, Titus 3:5 (or verses 3-7 in context), or 2 Timothy 1:9-10.

Instead of Romans 5:8, try 1 Peter 3:18.

Also consider Galatians 4:3-5 and Acts 10:38-43.

Category V

Instead of John 14:6, try 1 John 5:11-12 and 20.

Also consider 1 Corinthians 1:30 and Hebrews 2:14 & 17.

Category II

Instead of 2 Timothy 3:16, try Proverbs 30:6.

Also consider Isaiah 45:19 and Numbers 23:19.

Category III

Instead of Romans 3:23, try Romans 5:12, Psalms 14:2-3, or Ecclesiastes 7:20.

Is there another overused verse in your region that you think should be substituted? Found a helpful passage you’d like to share? Post a comment!
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