Tag Archives: Atonement

The most important thing Christian parents need to focus on with their children

A family praying and reading the Bible
A family praying and reading the Bible

I know what you’re thinking – I’m going to say apologetics. But, in dealing with the new membership questions of my PCA Presbyterian church, I have moved to think that it might be something else. Sean McDowell has a recent post about it, and since he is an expert in apologetics, I’m inclined to agree with him.

He writes:

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis makes a distinction between “Gift-love” and “Need-love.” As for Gift-love, he gives the example of a father who works and plans for the future well being of his family, even though he will die without seeing them benefit. As for Need-love, Lewis gives the example of a lonely and frightened child who comes to its mother’s arms for comfort and protection. Such love is neither selfish nor improper, because children are intended to have nurturing mothers, and mothers are intended to care for their kids.

According to Lewis, God’s love for mankind is entirely Gift-love: “The Father gives all He is and has to the Son. The Son gives Himself back to the Father, and gives Himself to the world, and for the world to the Father, and thus gives the world (in Himself) back to the Father too.” God does not need our love or worship. Rather, He freely loves us as an extension of His grace.

But our love for God is different. While we may be able to offer God Gift-love, our love is primarily need based. Lewis explains: “But man’s love for God, from the very nature of the case, must always be very largely, and must often be entirely, a Need-love.” We desperately need God in both this world and the next.

And then Lewis makes an additional (and helpful) distinction—while our objective need for God will never change, our awareness of that need can. And if our awareness of the need for God fades, then so may our faith. Thus, Lewis says:

There seems no reason for describing as hypocritical the short-lived piety of those whose religion fades away once they have emerged from “danger, necessity or tribulation.” Why should they not have been sincere? They were desperate and howled for help. Who wouldn’t?

In other words, if someone believes in God because of an immediate need for safety or comfort, then as soon as the danger or pain ends, so may the faith. How does this relate to students? Think about it. If a young person believes in God for social or relational needs in the family, church, or school, then when those needs fade, so will his or her faith. If belief in God fulfills some external need, then as soon as that need fades, or another venue provides satisfaction of that need, the student will likely abandon his or her faith (or minimally, have a marginalized faith).

The whole post is worth reading, because no less than Sean McDowell himself had a moment like this where he realized his own sinfulness and had to rely on Jesus for his forgiveness.

Judging from his tweets, I know that Sean is obsessed with super-heroes like Spider-Man, and so he would not be comparing himself to his peers in terms of righteousness. That sort of distance between you and Spider-Man can be really grating for boys. Inside, we feel like we are meant to be super-heroes. Many young men go into apologetics because they see it as a super-power. The problem of not measuring up is very strong for us, because we see the demands of Christianity as much greater than mere church attendance. I imagine that as Sean engaged with people using his apologetics super-power, he probably realized how difficult it was to know everything and give an answer to everyone. That’s above and beyond the standard shortcomings or pride, anger, hatred, and so on that are inside of every person.

We are not super-heroes but we need to have super-human righteousness (that is, perfect righteousness) in order to stand before our Creator and Designer. The only solution is to rely on the imputed righteousness of Jesus for our super-hero status. It is a good and healthy thing to take on Jesus as King, and to imitate him. But when we fail, we must also rely on him as Savior. And thank God the Father for that provision of salvation. And indeed, I myself think of Jesus as Savior in the moments where I am conscious of my own sin. But I need to think about him more than that, and I’ll explain how next.

What I learned about myself while thinking deeply about the new member questions for the excellent PCA church is that I had pretty much forgotten the excitement of how God saved me by grace when I was little. I was saved in a non-Christian home where, thanks to my hands-off “parents”, I was on a very dark path to failure. When I look at my older brother now, I can clearly see where I would have ended up. It is a disastrous place to be. I get excited about God as initiator and architect of salvation (not without my free will to trust). When God architects a divine appointment for me to use my prepared abilities in his defense or in mentoring little ones, I praise God as author of salvation. But I forget that Christ is the one who allows me to be clean enough to participate in this plan.

My ambition from small was to be a super-hero, and this later turned into great respect for people in the military, especially those who are awarded the Medal of Honor, like Michael Murphy. I want God to give me the Medal of Honor, too. But sin ruins my ambition every day. When I am called out to serve and am found faithful and competent, I need to remember that what makes me fit for service is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. His shed blood is the cape that I put on when it is my turn to come off the bench and be who I was designed to be.

Thank God that the PCA church made me reflect on this. I have never been in a place where the spiritual transformation was so strong. If you are not in church, because you hate church are disappointed in church, may I just suggest that you don’t hate church more than I do, and you are not more disappointed with church than I am. You need to give church another look. Go and find the church that is involved with Reasons to Believe, or Reasonable Faith, or apologetics conferences with evidentialists like Wallace and Turek and Craig. Then get in there try your best to tolerate it!

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

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.

Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to reconcile rebellious humans to God

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

I thought I post this passage from Colossians for everyone to think about, because I had some thoughts about it.

Colossians 1:15-23:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.

22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

I don’t think anyone can read this and think that there is anything that they have to do in order to contribute to their reconciliation with God. This passage is really clear – when it comes to being reconciled with God, Jesus does all the work. You can’t do anything to add to the solution, because Jesus is the whole solution. This is what Christians mean by Jesus is our savior. He saves us from the wrath of God by taking our punishment for us.

The reason I am posting this is because I have been having some discussions with Reformed theologians, and they are very suspicious of me having definite plans for my life. It’s very strange. The more I talk about things that I’d like to do in order to be a friend of Jesus, and treat him as Lord in my prioritization and decision-making, the more suspicious they get that I am trying to merit salvation.

The even stranger thing is that these Reformed people are clearly making a lot of decisions in their lives that reflect Jesus’ commands and Jesus’ priorities. I am sure that the Reformed people would be outraged if I asked them if their own plans and decisions were meant to contribute something to their own salvation. But I also think that they are hyper-sensitive to any sort of planning or allegiance to God that involves thoughtful decision-making. And they can sometimes be very passive, which I think is a consequence of their commitment to determinism (i.e. – they think that God is the sole determiner of whether a person is saved or not, and there is no human agency or human responsibility involved in having faith, not even in response to God’s initiative to save).

Being a Christian means treating Christ as Lord, i.e. – leader. Naturally, if Jesus is your leader, then you are interested in making decisions that respect his leadership. This is completely separate from the issue of Jesus as Savior. I think the Bible is very clear in urging people to trust Jesus, and I think that this trust comes out in actions. Jesus says that if you love him, then you should obey his commands. Christianity is not just something that I do in my mind, by having the right answers to theology questions. When I am faced with a decision about how to act, I can trust in Jesus by making a decision that respects Jesus as leader. Trust is one of the components of Biblical faith, the others being accurate knowledge and rational assent. Trusting in Jesus is not something that is an add-on to Jesus’ work of atoning for my rebellion against God with his death on the cross. Trusting in Jesus is, however, a necessary component of my faith in Jesus.

William Lane Craig explains the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

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.

William Lane Craig talks about the book “Contending With Christianity’s Critics”

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to students and faculty at Purdue University

Note: This book is currently on sale for only 99 cents (Kindle edition). Get it! Sorry if the price has changed by the time you read this post.

A series of three interviews from the “Reasonable Faith” podcast about the essay collection “Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists and Other Objectors“.

Here is the first MP3 file.

Topics:

  • About the editor Paul Copan, (the nicest Christian apologist)
  • 1: Responding to Dawkins’ argument “Who designed the designer?”
  • 2: Responding to the multiverse counter to the fine-tuning argument
  • 3: The argument that rationality and consciouness require theism
  • 4: The evidence for humans being hard-wired for belief in God
  • 5: Responding to naturalism’s claim to rationally ground morality
  • 6: Responding to Dawkins’ idea that the universe looks undesigned

Here is the second MP3 file.

Topics:

  • 7: The criteria that historians use to establish historical reliability
  • 8: Did Jesus think that he was the Son of Man in Daniel
  • 9: A time line for the resurrection of Jesus from the early sources
  • 10: Responding to scholarly distortions of the historical Jesus
  • 11: Responding to Bart Ehrman’s claim that the NT text is corrupted
  • 12: The evidence for Jesus divine self-understanding

Here is the third MP3 file.

Topics:

  • 13: The logical coherence of the concept of God
  • 14: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Trinity
  • 15: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Incarnation
  • 16: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Atonement
  • 17: The logical coherence of the doctrine of the Hell
  • 18: Responding to objections to God’s knowledge of the future

My favorite chapters in this book are the ones by Mark Linville on evolution and morality, and the chapter by Robert H. Stein on historical criteria and methodology. This is not an introductory book, this book is an intermediate-level book. You want to read the two Jim Wallace books and the Lee Strobel “Case For” books before you tackle this one.

Much of the book is philosophy and philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. Well, I guess everyone knows that I hate non-STEM disciplines, and I only read philosophy because it’s useful for Christian apologetics. If you are like me, and think that only STEM disciplines have value, then this book is for you. You will be able to make use of it in your case-making adventures. It. Works. This is the stuff that gets William Lane Craig invited to all the best universities to debate against all the best atheists. And he beats them all up with it, too.