For those who don’t want to watch the video, here’s a good thought from J. Warner Wallace at Please Convince Me.
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.
If you want to hear a debate featuring exclusivists versus pluralists, I’ve got a podcast and a summary of a good debate on this issue between Chris Sinkinson and John Hick. You can’t find a more prominent pluralist than John Hick, except for maybe Paul Knitter, who is featured in a debate with Harold Netland in the new “Debating Christian Theism” book that is just out with Oxford University Press.
Why did the early church apply the word resurrection to Jesus? If they wanted to say that Jesus was alive and had triumphed over his enemies and was exalted by God, then why not say that? Why not say that he had been bodily assumed into Heaven and was now with the Father? The early proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead is a puzzle for naturalists, because it seems unexpected given what most Jews believed about the concept of resurrection. Jews didn’t have any concept of an individual resurrection before the day of judgment. Resurrection was something that happened to all the righteous at the end of the world. Not to one person.
The report of Jesus’s resurrection would have also have been unthinkable to the Jews. Unlike the Greeks, the Jews saw the material and physical world as good. Death was not seen as liberation from the material world but as a tragedy. By Jesus’s day many Jews had come to hope that some day in the future there would be a bodily resurrection of all the righteous, when God renewed the entire world and removed all suffering and death. The resurrection, however, was merely one part of the complete renewal of the whole world, according to Jewish teaching. The idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of the world continued on burdened by sickness, decay, and death, was inconceivable.
[…]If someone had said to any first-century Jew, “So-and-so has been resurrected from the dead!” the response would be, “Are you crazy? How could that be? Has disease and death ended? Is true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Ridiculous!” The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek.
And there’s more in a second post (this is Keller quoting N.T. Wright):
Over the years, skeptics about the resurrection have proposed that the followers of Jesus may have had hallucinations, that they may have imagined him appearing to them and speaking to them. This assumes that their master’s resurrection was imaginable for his Jewish followers, that it was an option in their worldview. It was not.
Others have put forth the conspiracy theory, that the disciples stole the body and claimed he was alive to others. This assumes that the disciples would expect other Jews to be open to the belief that an individual could be raised from the dead. But none of this is possible. The people of that time would have considered a bodily resurrection to be as impossible as the people of our own time, though for different reasons.
Another reason to question whether the concept of resurrection could be applied to Jesus is because there is no expectation that the Messiah was even supposed to die, much less be resurrected.
The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite almost every predisposition to the contrary. Three aspects of the disciples’ disposition following Jesus’s crucifixion put a question mark behind the faith and hope they had placed in Jesus:
Jesus was dead, and Jews had no anticipation of a dying, much less rising, Messiah.
According to Jewish law, Jesus’s execution as a criminal showed him out to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God.
Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead before the general, eschatological resurrection of the dead.
It is important to appreciate, with respect to the first aspect of their situation, that in Jewish expectation Messiah would conquer Israel’s enemies and restore the throne of David, not be shamefully executed by them. Jesus’s ignominious execution at the hands of Rome was as decisive a disproof as anything could be to a first century Jew that Jesus was not Israel’s awaited Messiah, but another failed pretender. Failed Messianic movements were nothing new in Judaism, and they left their followers with basically two alternatives: either go home or else find a new Messiah. These were no doubt hard choices, but nevertheless they were the choices one had. After surveying such failed Messianic movements before and after Jesus, N. T. Wright remarks,
So far as we know, all the followers of these first century Messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called ‘cognitive dissonance’ when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all.
And here’s more support for the no individual resurrection point:
Finally, Jewish hope in the resurrection of the dead was invariably a corporate and eschatological hope. The resurrection of all the righteous dead would take place after God had brought the world as we know it to an end. Surveying the Jewish literature, Joachim Jeremias concluded,
Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the later Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to d o x aas an event of history.41
Even if the disciples’ faith in Jesus had somehow managed to survive the crucifixion, they would at most have looked forward to their reunion with him at the final resurrection and would perhaps have preserved his tomb as a shrine, where Jesus’s bones might rest until the eschatological resurrection. That was the Jewish hope.
But we know that that did not happen. Despite their having most every predisposition to the contrary, it is an indisputable fact that the earliest disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
So I hope that enough has been said there for you to realize that talking about resurrection with respect to Jesus is a very weird thing for the early church to do – that is, unless it actually happened.
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.
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.
1 Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan.
2 And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.
3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female,
5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8
He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”
11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given.
To be a Christian, minimally, is to be a follower of Jesus Christ. That means that we accept what Jesus teaches, on whatever he teaches about. We don’t overturn the teachings of Jesus in order to make people who are rebelling against God feel better about their rebellion. It is central to the Christian worldview that Christians care more about what God thinks of them than what non-Christians think of them. In fact, Christians are supposed to be willing to endure suffering rather than side with non-Christians against God’s authority. So really not sure what the BuzzFeed non-Christians are doing in that video.
Matt Walsh had a fine article about the Buzzfeed video.
As Christians, our goal is not to avoid being like the big bad “other Christians,” but to strive to be like Christ Himself. This is one of the advantages to having an Incarnate God. He went around acting and speaking and teaching and generally functioning in our realm, thereby giving us a model to follow. This is the model of a loving and merciful man, and also a man of perfect virtue who fought against the forces of evil, condemned sin, defended his Father in Heaven with sometimes violent force, spoke truth, and eventually laid down His life for those He loved (which would be all of us).
[…]This is what it means to believe in Christ. Not just to believe that He existed, but to believe that Christ is Truth itself, and that everything He said and did was totally and absolutely and irreversibly true forever and always. Many Christians today — not only the ones in the video, but millions alongside them — seem to think we can rightly claim to have “faith” in Jesus or a “relationship” with Him while still categorically denying much of His Word. This is a ridiculous proposition. We can’t declare, in one breath, that Christ is Lord, and in the next suggest that maybe God got it wrong on this or that point. Well, we can make that declaration, but we expose our belief as fraudulent and self-serving. We worship a God we either invented in our heads, which is a false idol, or a God who is fallible, which is a false idol.
If you really accept Jesus as God, then you can’t think he is wrong when he explains what marriage is. Period. End of issue.
Real Christians don’t make excuses for sin. Real Christians present the gospel. The gospel is that all men have rebelled against God and fallen short of perfect submission to and obedience of him. For this, they deserve to be separated from God eternally. Jesus paid the price for this rebellion on the cross, and anyone who accepts him as Savior and Lord will be with God eternally after they die. There is no salvation apart from Jesus. That’s what Christians say. And they say it regardless of how weird they look, and how many non-Christians don’t like them for saying it.
Looks like Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable radio show found a pastor with a Ph.D in philosophy, and he can really whip some ass. And that’s a good thing, because he is taking on one of the two leading proponents of religious pluralism, in my opinion, (the other being Paul Knitter).
John Hick is a noted philosopher and theologian who is a proponent of a pluralist view of religion – that there is one light (God) but many lampshades (religious expressions).
Chris Sinkinson is a pastor and Bible tutor who has critiqued Hick’s work. He says that pluralism empties Christianity of any content and in its own way disrespects other religions more than his own exclusivist stance.
Justin does a great job as moderator of this debate. He said what I was thinking of saying a number of times during the debate.
Anyway, here is my snarky summary. I creatively paraphrase some of the things that Hick says to make it more clear. And funny.
– had an experience looking at the buildings of other religions
– other religions have buildings, so all religions are equal
– I spent some time in the East, and met nice Eastern people
– since Eastern people are nice that means all religions are equal
– isn’t Jesus’ claim to be the exclusive path to salvation offensive?
– all religions that are exclusive and have to deal with religious pluralism
– even John Hick writes polemically in favor of his own view
– even John Hick thinks that religions that are exclusive are false
– what about the blind man and the elephant?
– the story seems to say that other people have a partial grasp?
– but the story-teller himself has the privileged view
– so isn’t the religious pluralist just as arrogant as exclusivists?
– well, it’s not arrogant to claim to have the right answer
– Jesus never made the claim to be God incarnate
– Jesus never made the claim to be the exclusive path to God
– historians don’t think that John’s gospel is reliable because it is late
– the proclamation of exclusivity was added by evangelists much later
– the historians who doubt the high Christology are radical skeptics
– the mainstream of historical scholarship accepts a high Christology
– the EARLIEST history about Jesus has the highest Christology
– the moderate scholars do think Jesus was divine but that he didn’t think he was divine
– the phrase “Son of God” was used to describe any remarkable person
– only later did the early church turn the generic term into “God the Son”
– there is reflection on Jesus’ identity and developments, but not invention
– Jesus and his followers were in trouble precisely for linking him to deity
– why else would Jesus get into trouble and get crucified?
– the Romans crucified him because people were saying he was the Messiah
– but the Messiah was not identified as being divine, but political
– and that’s why the Romans crucified him
– do you (Sinkinson) think that people in other religions can be saved?
– the traditional view is exclusivism
– the other world religions are logically contradictory with Christianity
– you have to respect their differences – they are not the same as Christianity
– exclusivists allow that people can be saved by responding to natural theology
– and there are also other cases where non-Christians are saved, like old testament saints and babies who die in infancy
– but people’s religions are based on where they are born
– so it’s not fair for God to expect people to be saved in one religion only
– the plurality of religions grouped by location doesn’t make christianity false
– that would be the genetic fallacy – rejecting an idea because of its origin
– the real question to consider is whether it is true
– and even the objection assumes that God is a God of love, who should be fair
– but how do you know that God is loving? that is an exclusive view
– how can the “blob” ultimate of religious pluralism be “loving” and “fair”
– the ultimate reality is loving or not loving depending on each person’s religion
– but some religions and theistic and some are atheistic
– how can those God exist and not exist?
– God is beyond everyone’s understanding, except mine
– God is beyond all definitions, except mine
– God is beyond all human understanding, except mine
– i’m not contradicting myself, it’s a mystery! a mystery!
– as long as you don’t look to closely, they’re all the same!
– allow me to tell you about God, which no one can do but me
– doesn’t your religious pluralism mean that Christianity is false?
– well, Christianity can’t be true, because it disagrees with other religions
– Christianity can’t falsify other religions, that would be mean to them
– other religions are just as “profound” as Christianity – and that’s what matters – not whether a religion makes true claims
– some religions are older than Christianity, that means they can’t be disagreed with
– we can’t let Christianity be true, because then some people will feel bad
– if people feel bad, then they don’t like me and then I feel bad
– if there’s one thing I know about the unknowable ultimate reality, it’s that it wants me to be liked by lots of people
– your view seems to be agnosticism – that nothing can be known about the “ultimate real”
– if we can’t express in words what God is like, then why are you saying what God is like?
– the indescribable ultimate is described (falsely, but interestingly) by various tradition
– does the “ultimate real” exist?
– are all the exclusive religions wrong, and only you are right?
– all propositions about God in all the religions are false
– the experience of being deluded and having feelings about your delusions is “valid” in all religions
– all religions are equally good ways to believe false things and to have feelings about your false beliefs
– only my propositions about God are true
– everyone who disagrees with me is wrong
– so all the propositions of all the religions are wrong
– but all the experiences and feelings are “right”
– all propositions about God are humanly constructed, and so false
– except mine – mine are true!
– so everything distinctive about Christianity are literally false?
– yes, Christian doctrines are all false
– because if they were true, other religions would be false, and they would feel bad
– and we can’t have that, because everyone has to like me
– only things that don’t offend people in other religions can be true
– so do we have to then treat all religions as non-propositional?
– well just don’t ask people about the content of their beliefs
– just treat their religion as non-cognitive rituals, feelings and experiences
– don’t inquire too deeply into it, because all religions are all nonsense
– i’m very respectful and tolerant of different religions!
– but Muslims, for example, think their religion is making truth claims
– but there can be tolerance as long as you treat religions as non-propositional nonsense
– um, I have a higher respect for religions than you do
– I actually consider that the claims of other religions could be true
– I think that other religions make truth claims and not nonsense claims
– well they are all useful because they are all false
– I don’t emphasize beliefs, I emphasize living, experiences and feelings
– as long as everyone accepts my view and rejects their religion, we’ll all be tolerant
– erm, isn’t that an exclusive claim?
– you’re trying to say that your view of what religion is is right, and everyone else is wrong
– I’m not arrogant, I just think that all the religions of the worlds are false
– only my statements about religion are true – everyone else is wrong
– I’m tolerant, and Christians are arrogant
– but you think Sinkinson’s view is wrong
– why should we accept your view and deny his view?
– His view of salvation is false, and mine is true
– you use words with set meanings, but you mean completely different things
– when I say salvation, I mean deliverance from sins through Jesus
– I get to decide what salvation means for everyone, you intolerant bigot
– but that word has a specific meaning that has held true in all of Christian history
– but what you mean by salvation is people having subjective delusions that are not true
– I don’t like using the word salvation
– but you just used it!
– and you think that it is present in different world religions, but it isn’t
– God is unknowable and indescribable
– God isn’t a wrathful God though
– and the Christian description of God is false
– Evangelical Christians are mean
– I had experiences with people of other faiths
– and these experiences taught me that religions that think that the universe is eternal are true
– as long as you reduce religion to behaviors and not truth, then religions are all good at producing behaviors
– if you just treat all religions as clothing fashion and food customs, they are all valid
– the main point of religion is for people to agree on cultural conventions and stick to them
– never mind the propositional statements of religions… who cares about truth? not me!
– but Christianity is definitely false
– the Judeo-Christian God is different – he reveals himself to humans
– he is distinct from the other religions
– he is personal, and is loving but also angry at sin
– But God isn’t a person, and he isn’t a non-person
– I can’t say what he is – I’ll offend someone if I say anything at all!
– except Christians – I can offend them because they are arrogant bigots
– I’m also very spiritual – I meditate on my breathing
– you can’t assess a religion by the experiences that people have
– people who have weird experiences do all kinds of evil things
– so the real question has to be about truth – is the New Testament reliable?, etc.