What about those who never heard of Jesus?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be sent to eternal separation from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘  N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the  what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

And now I want to close by making a general point. There are two kinds of people in the world. The first kind encounters problems, like the hiddenness of God, or the problem of evil, the problem of Cookie monster objections (thanks, Truthbomb!), or religious pluralism, and they respond by leveraging that problem in order to justify rejecting God and going their own way.

Even uninformed Christians read books like “The Da Vinci Code”, and avoid the arguments and evidence that would defeat the objections raised by that book. Why? They want to be lazy, or to fit in, or to pursue pleasure apart from God. This is because if we don’t know that God is real for certain then we won’t feel rationally compelled to be good. And that’s why many Christians go out of their way not to find out the truth about these thorny problems.

And doubts also relieve us of the burden of evangelizing. Uninformed Christians know that their doubts give them freedom to keep silent about God, so they can get along with non-Christians. They think that keeping the truth about God to themselves, and not being ready and available to answer questions, is loving. But it’s really just selfishness. It doesn’t help non-Christians to keep the truth from them.

So why do some Christians hide the truth from others? It’s because they really do not believe that God will exclude people based on their beliefs about Him, even though Jesus says so in many places. Deep down, we believe that God’s purpose for humans is to be happy. When Christians don’t try to find answers to difficult questions like religious pluralism, they end up softening the Bible’s exclusive claims based on their emotions.

This is not what ambassadors are supposed to do – we are not free to make up our own doctrines and then lie to people in order to be happy and popular.

The second group is willing to spend time and effort to assess whether science, history, philosophy, etc.  support Christianity. This kind of person is willing to go where the evidence leads. They don’t jump on doubts and use them to justify disobedience. They are willing to be public (i.e. – “divisive”) about their faith and put God first, above worldly goals, like popularity.

The whole point of life is for God to draw people to himself in a two-way relationship. He reveals himself a little, and we respond and pursue him. How about you? Do you want to know for certain whether God is real? Are you willing to give up everything to follow him? Or would you rather he just keep out of your busy life and your subjective purposes in the world?

UPDATE: A related post over at Tough Questions Answered on whether Jesus is required to be rightly related to God and to get eternal life.

Different perspectives on the days of Genesis

Over at Tough Questions Answered, they survey different views on the days of creation described in Genesis. Basically, there are two views: the young-earth creationist view, the old-earth creationist view. (Theistic evolution is nothing but atheism).

As my bio describes, I favor the old-earth view. I believe in micro-evolution (adaption to environment within different body plans), but I don’t believe that macro-evolution has been demonstrated in the fossil record or in the lab or in mathematical models of likely mutations and development parthways.

Christians are delighted to that the Bible is in agreement with what scientists have discovered about the origin of the universe, and it’s careful design to support the minimal requirements for complex life of any conceivable kind (given our physical laws and chemical diversity). But there is still one apparent disagreement between the Bible and science.

The apparent disagreement is that the book of Genesis describes the creation (asah, bara) of the earth as taking place in a series of days (yom). But there seems to be a tension between 6 24-hour days and a 4 billion year old earth. Are we stuck with a contradiction between science and Scripture here?

Here’s what TQA says:

The word yom can mean several things in Hebrew.  It can refer to a 24-hour period or it can refer to longer periods of time.  Which is the correct interpretation in Genesis 1?

In fact, Genesis 2:4 uses the word yom to describe the entire week of creation. And, St. Augustine, writing in the 5th century, interpreted the yoms of Genesis to be long periods of time, not 24-hour days. (And he also predicted the beginning of time at the creation).

For a solid scientific treatment that explains the possible meanings of yom and tries to reconcile it with what science tells us about the age of the earth, take a look at this paper by Dr. Walter Bradley of Baylor University.

Here is an excerpt that explains what the paper is about:

In this paper we would like to focus on the interpretation of the Hebrew words “yom” and “bara/asah” as they are used in the early chapters of Genesis to describe the time frame and mechanism of creation. A careful examination of both biblical and scientific data will be summarized. A critique of the current models based on this data will be made leading to our summary of how at present we think one may best harmonize all of the available information.

I think there are solid young-earth creationists out there, like Paul Nelson and Marcus Ross, but I agree with Bradley and Augustine on this question.

One last thing – the dividing line between Christian and non-Christian views on this issue depends on how you answer this question: “Does nature, including the realm of biology, show signs of having being created and designed by an intelligent agent – signs that are independent of the religious beliefs of observers”.

Both young earth and old earth creationists answer “yes”. Yes, the universe shows signs of being programmed by an Engineer. Atheists and “theistic evolutionists” answer no, there universe was not programmed by an Engineer. Intelligent design people also answer “yes”, but their theory is strictly mathematics (probability theory). What Genesis says is not relevant to intelligent design.

Democrats in Congress spending 1 billion per hour

Politico is reporting that the Democrats are spending like drunken sailors.

“In just 50 days, Congress has voted to spend about $1.2 trillion between the Stimulus and the Omnibus,” McConnell says. “To put that in perspective, that’s about $24 billion a day, or about $1 billion an hour—most of it borrowed. There’s simply no question: government spending has spun out of control.”

The math: 50 days times 24 hours equals 1,200 hours. 1,200 times 1 billion equals 1.2 trillion (a thousand billions is a trillion).

H/T: Sen. Jim Demint

Scott Klusendorf makes the case for protecting the unborn

Linked here at Apologetics 315. His 35-minute presentation (no Q&A) is entitled “Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-Life Persuasion”. There is a presentation of the law of biogenesis and the SLED test (Size, Level of development, Environment, Degree of dependency).

A little biographical information on Scott.

For your office show-and-tell, you can buy Frank Beckwith’s 2007 book “Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice”. Since the book is published by Cambridge University Press, it’s useful to show people who think that there is no respectable case for the pro-life position.

My previous post on the case for the pro-life position in plain english is here. It contains a link to a 4-part series by Beckwith on answering arguments for the pro-abortion position.

Why does talking about religion make people uncomfortable?

In a recent post, I argued against Christians who hide their faith in public. I said that although hiding your faith may make you happier and more popular, it is more loving to confront others as an informed Christian ambassador. Your goal should be to help your friends to be reconciled with God through Christ, by telling them the truth and answering their questions, if they are willing.

In this post, I want to survey a research paper by evangelical Christian philosopher Michael J. Murray. In a previous post, I surveyed his answer to the question “Why does God hide his existence from us?” in this post, the question is “Why are we afraid to discuss our faith in public?”

Murray begins with a distinction, as philosophers love to do:

…we would be perfectly happy to have a discussion of claims like…”Mahayana Buddhism emerged in the first century BCE with the appearance of the Mahayana sutras.” … It is OK to speak of religion… as a historical phenomenon or a socio-cultural influence. It is something altogether different to discuss religious commitments that one owns. That is the sort of religion that troubles us.

People who aren’t religious feel discomfort about hearing about the religious beliefs of others, because those beliefs influence public policy, but (they think) those beliefs are based non-rational factors, such as place of birth, parental beliefs, peer groups, emotions, prejudices, superstitions, etc. They are uncomfortable living in a government that was voted in by people whose views are based on irrational religious beliefs.

He has some illustrations of this “theo-phobia” here:

…think about the last time you heard a devoutly religious person argue, on explicitly religious grounds, that gay marriage should be banned, or that intelligent design should be taught in the public school biology curriculum, or that abortion is murder and thus should be outlawed.

And I agree with that. I feel uncomfortable when people argue for positions from faith-based premises. But do discussions of religious beliefs necessarily have to be about faith-based personal preferences? Or is there another way to discuss religion that doesn’t make non-religious people squirm with discomfort?

In the remainder of the paper, Murray explores five reasons why theo-phobia exists in academic settings:

  1. Religion supports oppression, violence, and tyranny and is thus best ignored, excluded or perhaps even actively opposed.
  2. Religion is a personal or subjective matter and as a result can’t be subjected to canonical standards of rational scrutiny.  It thus has no place in the academy.
  3. Religion can’t have a role in scholarly inquiry since it at best plays a balkanizing role in the scholarly world.
  4. If religion is allowed to have a role in the academy it will quickly intrude into domains where it does not belong.
  5. Reason #5 is kept secret until the end of the paper.

Regarding point 1, Murray argues that religious excesses can be controlled by falsifying the religion using reason and evidence, because religions make testable claims. So, if academics are afraid of the excesses of a dangerous religion, they should falsify it by arguing that its claims are false. There is no reason to be afraid of expressions of religious belief when you are free to argue against the testable truth claims of that religion.

I repeat: different religions make different claims about the external world. Either the universe had a beginning (Christianity) or it didn’t (Mormonism). Either Jesus died on the cross (Christianity) or he didn’t (Islam). If academics are worried about the effects of some religion, they can argue against it! If a religious person is not willing to defend the testable truth claims, then they are discredited anyway by refusing to engage.

For the remaining 4 points, especially the last one, I recommend you read the whole article. Give it to your friends, religious and non-religious, who believe that faith is fundamentally different from  other academic disciplines. Some truth claims of different religions can be tested. And Christians especially should help others to feel comfortable talking to them by sticking to testable truth claims and publicly accessible evidence.

I’ll give you a hint about reason #5, from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel of New York University. Nagel is quoted as follows:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
(“The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)

So we learn from Murray that religions stand or fall based on logical consistency and empirical validation against the external world, just like any other academic discipline. So long as you stick to discussing the public, testable claims of religions, there is no reason to be uncomfortable about discussing religions. Don’t discuss the parts of a religion that can’t be tested, only discuss the parts that can be tested.

(Note: Nagel isn’t all bad, he defends intelligent design as science in a research paper summarized here). To see how religion is debated in academia, (public debates held on university campuses, that leverage arguments from published research across academic fields), look here.

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

%d bloggers like this: