Category Archives: Apologetics

Debate recap: Introduction.

On July 24th I had the pleasure of joining Jeremy Goff, a popular LDS lifestyle blogger, in a moderated public discussion of the question “Who is God?” Dr. Wallace Marshall moderated for us, which was a real treat, as his past debates have always been very interesting. We had a decent turn out, and I managed to get some video of the event, although technical difficulties prevented us from capturing the whole thing.

While I’ll be taking up a number of topics from the debate, I wanted to take this first post to reflect on how the debate went overall. Here we go.

We followed a pretty standard format with opening statements, rebuttals, cross-examination, closing statements, and then audience questions. I’ve uploaded a copy of my opening statement here if you want to read it. We had flipped a coin earlier in the week and God willed that I go first, so I kicked things off and we went from there.

I have to say, over all, I was satisfied with how things went. I certainly had a good time, and I think Jeremy did as well. We got some good questions from the audience at the end which showed they had been paying attention, and I had some interesting conversations with people after the event.

I wish Jeremy had engaged more with my opening statement, but he did come at it from essentially the angle I was expecting. My argument was, roughly, that if you believe Jesus is raised from the dead you should also trust the Scriptures, and that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t engage with my exegesis of John 1 at all, nor did he take up Isaiah 43:10. Instead he kept asserting that God is our literal Father and that the Bible had been tampered with by men.

For my own part, my first response should have spent less time pointing out how Dan Brown-esque Jeremy’s understanding of church history was and more time demonstrating why his points didn’t touch my initial argument. My feet got out from under me and I spent way too long talking about what Gnosticism does and doesn’t teach. I’ve got to be more concise in further engagements, and really tether myself to the topic.

The cross-ex was a lot of fun. Jeremy failed to produce sources for any of his claims there, which was unfortunate because that left him with just assertions. This really showed a lack of authority, from my perspective. Anyone can say “such and such happened,” but as the late Hitch was wont to say, “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Since Jeremy provided no evidences for his claims, his earlier plausible sounding story really fell apart. I wish I’d pinned him down more on the nature of God, though, but he kept side-stepping questions.

All in all, it was quite interesting to hear “straight from the horses mouth” what a lay-LDS member believes about church history, philosophy, the Bible, and the rest. I had a really good time, and I think that for two first-time debaters the event went very well. I’d love to go at it again sometime!

Like I said, a number of interesting points came up during the debate. I’ll be exploring them over the next few weeks, hopefully with video clips from the debate to provide some context. I hope you keep reading! If you want updates you can get them via email/Wordpress (above right) or via my Facebook page.

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Filed under Apologetics, Mormonism Mondays, Theology

If it’s Saturday, it must be Arians [Trinity Misconceptions]

This is a post in a series about the Trinity. The introduction is here, and part two is here.

It’s a Saturday morning. Two well dressed guests knock on your door. They introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ask if they can show you what the Bible really teaches. They deny that Christ is the second person of a Trinity, and say instead that He is the first of God’s creation, who created everything else.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very recent development, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes got it right: There is nothing new under the sun. The teachings of the Witnesses about Jesus are an ancient heresy known as Arianism.

The History

Early in the history of the Christian Church, a young man named Arius was studying in Alexandria. From the work of earlier teachers (perhaps Paul of Samosata) he concluded that the Son was created; that is, there was a time when the Son, the Logos in John, did not exist. The teaching of Arius was very popular among the Alexandrian schools, and his theology spread fast.

Proponents of orthodoxy initially won out, led by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor Constantine, a catechumen in the church at the time, called a council at Nicaea in 324 A.D. and all but two of the bishops there agreed that the Scriptures taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “consubstantial” (i.e. they share the same substance, or essence, or being). They composed the Nicene Creed, to put into a succinct statement of faith what the Scriptures teach.

Many have criticized the political power with which Constantine upheld orthodoxy. Often there are myths such as “Constantine determined the canon of Scripture at Nicaea,” or other such silliness. Those improper understandings of the council aside, Constantine did use his power inappropriately (in my estimation) when he ordered the destruction of Arian documents and the death penalty for those who did not volunteer Arian documents in their possession.

Ironically, Constantine later exiled Athanasius, the hero of orthodoxy, in an attempt at conciliating Arian sympathizers. At any rate, when Constantine’s son, Constantius II, assumed power, he used it to spread Arian doctrine throughout the Roman Empire by force. The point being, political force was used inappropriately on both sides of this issue. What we must look at, then, is the doctrines themselves.

The Theology

For a good starting point in discussion with any Jehovah’s Witnesses you may meet, I don’t suggest John 1:1. In their New World Translation of Scripture, they twist this verse to read “and the Word was a god.” Unless you speak Greek fluently, and are able to teach them Greek fluently, it won’t be much use to tell them that their translation is wrong. They simply won’t believe you.

Rather, I’d suggest jumping over to John 1:3. Even in the NWT it reads “[a]ll things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” When I read this with them, I’ll change the “all” to “some” and “not even one thing” to “almost nothing.” So I will (mis)read “some things came into existence through him, and apart from him almost nothing came into existence.”

When I misread it, they will usually correct me. When the answer comes from their own mind, instead of being supplied by someone with whom they disagree, it is much more effective at communicating the point.

That point is that, according to the grammar of John 1:3, Jesus cannot have come into existence. Why? Because all things that came into existence came through him. Can a man be his own father? His own cause of being (in other words, his own efficient cause)? Of course not. So also, if not even one thing came into existence apart from the Word (that’s Jesus, remember? see Jn. 1:14) then Jesus can’t have come into existence, because then at least one thing came into existence apart from Jesus.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll appreciate this very helpful blog post by Greg Koukl. It is essentially no different to what I outlined here, but he has a visual aid that make the point very clear.

Like I mentioned before, I’ll only be posting on Thursdays for a while during my summer intensive at school. I hope to get back to a regular Monday post soon, but I may edit the schedule further to allow for all of my obligations. God’s blessings on your week!

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Filed under Apologetics, Christology, Theology, Theology Thursdays

Trinity Misconception: Modalism.

Last week I wrote up a brief introduction to the doctrine of the Trinity. Over the next several Thursdays I’ll tackle some of the different misconceptions and myths about the Trinity. Up first: Modalism.

One of the ways that people talk (incorrectly) about God is to say that just as one man can be a father, a son, and a husband, for instance, God also reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Spirit. The result of this analogy is Modalism: The belief that there is one God who reveals Himself in three different modes. It is as if God plays three different roles; in Modalism, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all the same person.

Modalism is also known as Sabellianism, as Sabellius espoused the doctrine in the third century. In fact, it found its origin in earlier teachers, such as Praxeas [see especially Tertullian, Adversus Praxeas, ch. 1]; Sabellius simply popularized it.

In contrast to Arianism, which also taught that there was only one God but denied that Jesus was divine, Modalism does teach that Jesus Christ is fully divine. What Modalism denies is that there are distinct divine Persons. Modalism is also sometimes referred to as Patripassianism (the belief that the Father was crucified in the Son) because Modalists deny that the Father and Son are co-existent persons; thus they teach that the Father is incarnate in the mode of the Son and suffers on the Cross.

The closest modern expression of modalism is found in the Oneness Pentecostal movement. There are some significant differences, but they both deny the persons of the Trinity.

The Athanasian Creed (the best explanation of the Trinity, bar none) shows us the two errors one may fall into regarding the Trinity: “[W]e worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” All Trinitarian heresies have their root in one of these two errors. In the case of Modalism, the Persons are confounded – they are not seen as distinct from each other.

To refute Modalism, all that must be demonstrated from Apostolic teaching is that the three Persons of the Trinity are co-existent; that is, that the Father, Son, and Spirit exist side by side at the same time. This is done simply: At the Baptism of Jesus, the Father speaks from heaven with approval of the Son, who is standing in the water, and the Spirit descends in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13ff; Luke 3:21-22). Thus all three persons, Father, Son, and Spirit, are present (i.e. they exist) at the same time. The alternative, if Modalist doctrine is upheld, is that Christ was throwing His voice to speak from heaven!

You may not run into Modalism tomorrow (unless you’re reading the Book of Mormon), but it certainly functions as a good example of bad teaching. It’s still useful to us because it helps us to dig into Scripture and see what God reveals about Himself.

Next week I tackle Arianism. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do! Also, check out the blog on Facebook or follow me on Twitter for updates. 

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Why would Mormons want to be Christians too?

In every conversation I’ve had with a Mormon, whether it be a lay member or a Missionary, they have always told me “Yeah, we’re Christians too.” That statement has always confused me. Here’s why.

The LDS church stands or falls on one idea: There was a Great Apostasy and the Church needed to be restored on the earth. This is first lesson which the Missionaries will teach you if you ever have them over. It’s called “The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” and it teaches the Latter-Day Saint view of church history.

According to the official account of the First Vision, Joseph went into what is now known as the Sacred Grove to pray. There, God the Father and Jesus appeared to him, and he asked them which of the sects of Christianity he ought to join. In Joseph Smith-History 1:19 (which is part of the Pearl of Great Price, and therefore official doctrine) he says:

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

So according to God, all of the creeds (as in the Apostles, Athanasian, and Nicene Creeds otherwise known as Christian orthodoxy) are an abomination, and all those who profess those creeds (Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Eastern Orthodox, Catholics, and even most Baptists) are corrupt. And yet, when I, as a corrupt professor of an abomination, say “I’m a Christian,” Mormons say to me “We are Christians too.”

I think you can see now why I’ve been stressing the “too.” It wouldn’t bother me if Mormons said to me “Well, we think we’re Christians, and you’re not.” It wouldn’t bother me if Mormons said just “Well, we’re Christians.” If they believe that they are the true church that Jesus founded then it would make sense that they think they are the true Christians. But when they say that they are Christians too, as if we somehow share faith, despite the words of their prophet, it is confusing to me and strikes me as, perhaps, dishonest.

If you’re a Latter-Day Saint, perhaps you can help me understand. Why would any Mormon tell me that they’re a Christian too, when 1 Nephi 14:10 teaches:

Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth.

Given what Joseph Smith said about traditional Christianity, it cannot be the case that when a Mormon says “we’re Christians too” they mean that both traditional Christians and the LDS belong to the church of the Lamb of God. That would fly in the face of what God told Joseph Smith. But I can’t believe that they would believe the only alternative: That the Latter-Day Saints belong to the church of the devil! They must not mean that we are both Christians, because there’s no way, given Joseph’s revelation from God, that this can be true.

One response I anticipate is what Missionaries have told me from time to time: I, as a traditional Christian, have part of the truth. I just need the Full Gospel restored. The problem with this, as I see it, is that just because someone knows some true things, that doesn’t make them a Christian.  A Sikh believes many true things about the world, but they are not Christians because they don’t believe in the Christian God. So it seems that a traditional Christian, who does not believe in Heavenly Father (at least not in the Mormon sense) cannot, from a Mormon point of view, be called a true Christian despite the fact that they believe many true things.

Would any Latter-Day Saint like to clarify things for me?

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Free-for-all Friday: July 1st.

This is my first free-for-all Friday. It’s a collection of content from around the internet that I found uplifting, encouraging, devotional, thought-provoking, or just plain funny. Let me know what you think, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments below!

I don’t think enough Christians have seen this video by Big Think with Penn Jillette. I’ve linked to the section I find the most poignant but his whole monologue in that video is worth watching (either herehere or below).

 

Even though we’d disagree about a lot, Al Mohler nails it in this episode of The Briefing.

Not theology related (although good wine is a gift from God, for sure!) but here‘s a cool little documentary on wine making.

Hans Fiene wrote a great piece over at The Federalist about how Jon Stewart is terrible. Whether you agree or not, Pr. Fiene applied his usual thoughtful, sarcastic tone that makes him such a joy to read.

Last is the following image from Orthodox Lutheran, one of my favorite meme pages on Facebook.

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It’s okay to laugh. It’s funny.

If you have something you would like to be considered for next month Free-For-All Friday, comment below. Want to stay in touch? Great! Like the blog on Facebook, follow the blog on WordPress, and subscribe via email. 

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The Holy Trinity: A brief introduction.

I was young when The Shack came out. I got it from the library, and I honestly didn’t get all that much out of it. But I do remember thinking how weird it was that God the Father was portrayed as a woman.

Now that I’m older, and more theologically inclined, I see more of the problems with The Shack‘s theology in a clearer light. Since the movie is coming out in less than a year, I thought it might be wise to take a look at the doctrine of the Trinity.

Before we go much further, click here and take the Trinity quiz that Tim Challies offers. How’d you do? 

The word Trinity is not found in your bible. It is an ecclesiastical, or church, word used to describe God’s revealed nature. A simple definition of the Trinity might look something like this: There is only one God, who exists as three distinct and co-eternal persons. The best definition of the Trinity is found in the Athanasian Creed.

I’m sure you’ve heard an analogy for the Trinity before. Throw it out, because it’s probably useless. I’ll let Donall and Conall explain:

Yes, I know: The rest of the post is going to be boring after that.

So where in the bible do we find this Trinitarian doctrine? I submit that the bible teaches that (1) there is only one God, (2) the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons, and (3) the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each fully God. If all three of these premises are true, then the Trinitarian concept of God is also true.

Premise 1: There is only one God.

This is, ostensibly, the easiest premise to prove from scripture. We know from a host of verses that God is the only God (Deut. 6:4; 4:35; 32:39; Is. 43:10; 44:6; 45:5; 45:18; 46:5-9, just to name a few). Two of my favorites are Isaiah 44:8 and Psalm 18:31. Both put polytheism to rest so succinctly.

Isaiah 44:8 says “Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” In Isaiah 43-49, God goes on an epic rant against those false gods and false saviors of other nations. He repeatedly makes the point that there are no other gods and no other saviors. And here He hammers it home: “I know of none!”

Psalm 18:31-32 says “For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God, the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless?” Again, the only acceptable answer to this rhetorical question is “No one!” God alone is God.

Premise 2: The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are distinct persons.

This premise is also easy to demonstrate from the Scriptures. In Matthew 3, at Jesus’ baptism, we see all three separate and distinct persons of the Trinity simultaneously. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”” (vs. 16-17). This poses a serious challenge to modalists (people who believe that God is not three co-eternal persons, but one person playing the different roles of Father, Son, and Spirit at different times): Was Jesus just throwing His voice to speak from Heaven as the Father?

Another passage, which plays nicely in our next premise as well, is John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  So as far back as you can go, the Word – whom John identifies as Jesus (Jn. 1:14) – was already there as a distinct person from God (the Father). This “face-to-face” relationship can only take place between distinct persons – not one person playing two different parts.

Premise 3: The Father, the Son, and the Spirit are each fully God.

This premise may be demonstrated in two different ways. The first way is that each of the Persons of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – are certainly called God in Scripture. The second is that each of them is attributed with titles and qualities reserved only for God in Scripture.

As John 1:1 showed that the two persons, Father and Son, are unique, so also it demonstrates that “the Word was God.” Another appropriate translation of that verse is “what God was, the Word was.” Everything that God is by nature, the Word is also by nature.  Distinct persons, but one substance – exactly as the Athanasian Creed puts it.

The Spirit, also, is called God. In Acts 5:3-4 Peter says

“Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Notice in the first sentence, Peter says that they lied to the Holy Spirit; in the last line Peter says they’ve lied to God. So the title of God is applied to the Holy Spirit.

The attributes of God are applied to each of the Persons of the Trinity equally as well. I won’t reinvent the wheel here: Check out this chart of scripture verses.

trinity-chart

Conclusion: The Trinity must be true.

Since the three premises are supported by even this cursory examination of the scriptures, we must conclude that the Trinity is true. It is mysterious, and beyond our understanding by reason alone, true, but God has revealed Himself in this manner. It is our privilege to know and worship the true and Triune God.

 

Got questions about the Trinity? Comment below! Or share your favorite bad analogy (or a good one, if you can find it!), myth, misunderstanding, or other Trinitarian related topics. If you want to hear more then subscribe via email or WordPress, and like the blog on Facebook. See you next week for Trinity Myths and Misunderstandings!

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Does being pro-life mean supporting forced motherhood?

On August 22, 2015, the satanic temple of Detroit showed up at a peaceful pro-life protest of Planned Parenthood in order to engage in self-described political theater, shown in the video linked above. Overall their counter protest is relatively lackluster. Sure, the wasting of milk has some shock value. The wearing of clericals and carrying of a crucifix just shows the lack of creativity involved. I am underwhelmed.

Beyond the basic lack of creativity in their costuming department, they employed an argument that I find basically preposterous. Well, “employed” is probably strong language for what actually happened. They just held up a sign that said “America is not a theocracy. End forced motherhood!”

Yawn. Boring.  Continue reading

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Four ways evangelizing helps you grow.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the many benefits of evangelizing, and especially to members of groups like the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the past few weeks God has given me many opportunities to converse with various members of both groups mentioned above, plus with many others who do not know Jesus. I’ve noticed a few things that seasons of intense evangelism has done in my personal life.

1. Evangelism helps you to know what you do, and do not, believe. 

The Church has historically been refined by fire. When the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ was under attack by Arius, the Church’s understanding was hammered out, guided by Scripture, so that we would be able to confess Christ as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” There is no longer ecclesiastical confusion about this doctrine because it was challenged.

Think of your life as a microcosm of this history of the Church for a moment. We come to know what we ought to believe when we are made to examine the Scriptures “to see if these things might be so” (Acts 17:11). In my experience, almost every time I share the good news with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I come away with a question I haven’t heard before. Thus, by evangelizing others, God causes me to grow in faith toward Him by teaching me more about who He is through the questions of those who do not yet know Him. The Church continues to be refined by fire.

2. Evangelism ignites a serious prayer life.

When you are intentionally spending time face to face with people who reject Jesus and His saving work, you will often feel helpless. This is a good feeling for you to experience for, while unpleasant, it is a true feeling — that is, it is a feeling that accurately reflects reality. After all, God has told us that His children are borne of His will (John 1); it is not our will that saves others, nor is it their will that saves them, but it is the gracious will of God the Father who draws them to His Son (John 6).

As a result of this, spend time evangelizing and it will draw you closer to God in prayer. You will keep adding names to your list of people for whom you petition the Father, asking him to graciously grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2). You will begin to ask the Father for more opportunities to tell people about His Son. Even if you only pray for other people (despite our Heavenly Father’s desire that you share everything with Him) your prayer life will be kindled as you engage others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Evangelism will help make you grateful.

After walking away from conversations with Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses, I immediately pray “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” I listen eagerly to the Scripture readings on Sunday mornings, and to the sermon. I am drawn to the Lord’s Supper with great adoration for the gift of forgiveness given there by the God who rose bodily from the dead. Truly, God’s Word cannot return to Him void, for even if the ears you intend to share it with are deaf, it will always fall on your ears as well.

A lot of people think doctrine is boring and irrelevant, but every thing that I learn about God drives me to greater devotion to God and greater thankfulness for His Son. When I see how the promise of forgiveness that Christ gives us in Baptism is so much better than the fear that Jehovah’s Witnesses carry that they haven’t done enough to save themselves from God’s wrath, I’m necessarily captivated by the True God’s love. When I compare the promise that God will uphold His Word with the confusion of a “god” who changes his mind; when I see the God who is eternal, unchanging, and sinless triumph over the “god” who is created, volatile, and possibly a sinner; when I meet the God who came to save me, versus the god who demands I save myself, I cannot help but be transfixed by this God Almighty. I cannot fathom the greatness of God, but when I see the smallness of god in the eyes of unbelievers, I get a glimpse of how much better our God is. How could the knowledge of the God who saved you be irrelevant?

4. Evangelism works!

I have saved the most important point for last. The reason we evangelize is not because it serves us, but because God Himself has given the proclaimed Word as a means of Grace — God uses this Word to make new Christians by granting them repentance and faith. Sharing God’s Word means you may get to be a part of that! You can be a firsthand witness to the continuing work of God through His Word; what else could be said about that?

I hope this post has encouraged you. God’s blessings on all your efforts to share His word!

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Conversations with Latter Day Saints.

You’ve seen them before: Two young men, dressed in black slacks and a white button down, faces shaven (or likely still bare with youth) and shining with excitement. They introduce themselves as Elders, despite the fact that they are at least 3 years your junior, and ask how they can help you today. They talk about Jesus, and our Heavenly Father, and the Plan of Salvation.

Mormon missionaries are a mission field to themselves. They show up on your doorstep, often without warning, offering another gospel to you, ostensibly shared by an angel from heaven. Of course you’ve read Galatians 1 and remember Paul’s prophetic warning against the followers of Joseph Smith. The question of how to engage Mormon missionaries is a tough one.

One of our primary goals when talking with Latter Day Saints should be to establish a shared epistemology. Epistemology is a fancy word for “how we know what we know.” So in plain English, we must both agree to a way to find out if a claim is true. Unfortunately, Mormons insist that their subjective experience is the way to know truth. They will ask you to read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. I encourage you to ask them what the spirit feels like some time — they will describe (much like Pentecostals and Charismatics) a feeling of peace, warmth, love, happiness, or joy. Of course these are all good things, but they are not proof of the truth or falsity of a particular proposition. Many things which are untruthful may, in fact, make you happy. For instance, we have all shared the elation of a well executed movie, as the rising action climaxes and the story resolves. The story was a good one; it was not necessarily a factual one, and in many cases may be counterfactual. Many more examples could follow, but for the purposes of our discussion here, this will suffice.

So we must not be fooled into thinking that a good feeling is a truth-telling feeling; after all, our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9), and from them all manner of evil flows forth (Matt.15:19). But the truth is found in God’s Word, for His Word is truth (John 17:17). How then do we communicate this to our Mormon friends and neighbors in a way that is winsome, charitable, and convincing? I have found that the best way to do this is by having them do it for you.

When I sit down with some missionaries, I try to get to know them. I learn about their lives before their mission, where they’re from, and what they do for fun. As we talk things inevitably turn to spiritual subjects — after all, you’re both there evangelizing. The killer question to ask: “What is the best way to learn spiritual truths?” Missionaries invariably respond something like “pray about it.” This is a good place to ask them what the spirit feels like, as I mentioned earlier. Allow them to share, and genuinely listen. Get them to clarify that they think prayer is the best way to understand what God wants from us.

The next question is something along the lines of “Should I pray about whether or not to commit murder?” You can substitute “break the law,” “cheat on my wife,” “lie to my husband,” or any other sin that you know they will not affirm. If they don’t outright say it’s wrong to do whatever you ask about, make them clarify why it’s wrong. Often their response will be something along the lines of “Because God revealed it to us; we don’t need further guidance about that.” If they say this, of course, they are overthrowing their own emotionally-driven epistemology for a Scripturally-driven one — they’re moving from feeling alone toward the truth of God’s Word. At this point it’s a simple matter to clarify: “If God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray for further guidance about it, right?

Turn with them then to Isaiah 43:10; this is probably the most important verse in Scripture to share with missionaries. A great way to introduce it is to say “God revealed His testimony about Himself through the Prophet Isaiah.” Have one of them read what God says about Himself there. Then remind them that they just said if God reveals something in His Word, we don’t need to pray about it. We already know that anyone or anything that contradicts God’s testimony of Himself is wrong. From this point on in the conversation, any time they try to contradict the Scriptures, they have contradicted themselves.

This is not a cheap shot to win an argument. This is a powerful tool to overturn a worldview and to set people on the path away from error. You have planted a seed of truth: God’s Word trumps all else. When you part ways invite them over for a free meal. Ask them to bring answers to your questions. Build a relationship with them. And above all pray for them fervently.

I hope that this example helps you communicate the truth in love to the next pair of missionaries you run into. For more information about the LDS church, check out http://www.mrm.org. If you have questions, please comment with them! I’d love to talk more about the subject. Also, please leave your favorite question to ask missionaries below!

May God strengthen and keep you in the true faith, once delivered for all the saints! Amen.

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Christ is Risen! Why I believe in something as crazy as Jesus’ physical resurrection.

Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Happy Easter!

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the definitive apologetic for the Christian faith. If Jesus is not alive, St. Paul tells us, our faith is in vain. Alternatively, if Christ is raised from the dead, then all else must certainly be counted as vanity. After all, if the Christian faith is true, God offers us Christ’s victory over death as our own.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, put it this way: If, at the end of my life, I find out that, say, atheism was true instead of Christianity, it won’t matter. I’ll be dead, the universe will go on, and I’ll be none the wiser. But if someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity finds out it is true, then they lose everything. As Jesus said, even if they’ve gained the whole world that will not profit them if they lose their soul eternally. This isn’t an argument for Christianity, per se, but I hope you see why it’s important to think about things that have potentially eternal ramifications. And in an effort to help you think about these things, whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever or somewhere in between, I want to present you with several reasons you ought to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

The empty tomb.

It seems a pretty basic argument: If the tomb isn’t empty, Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, right? I mean, if you have a body, you don’t have a resurrection. So why didn’t the earliest opponents of Christianity just produce the body and be done with it?

Well, the Christian response has always been that they can’t! The tomb is empty and they can’t find Jesus’ body because He’s ascended into heaven! Let’s look at a few lines of evidence for the empty tomb. A lot of people summarize them with the acronym JET: Jerusalem, Enemies, Testimony of Women. Let’s start with Jerusalem.

The Gospels and Acts tell us that the Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been crucified. Can you imagine how hard it would be to preach Peter’s Pentecost sermon about how the Lord of Glory had been crucified, and raised from the dead, if the Jews could produce a body and shut you down immediately? And yet that’s exactly what happens: Peter preaches a powerful message within walking distance of the tomb, saying “David’s tomb is still here, but God raised Jesus up!” If the tomb wasn’t empty, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.

Now the point comes up again: Why didn’t the earliest enemies of Christianity just grab His body? If the tomb was still full then the Jewish leaders could have just strung up the body and paraded it through the streets. Instead they pay off the guards to say they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). This is precisely because the tomb was discovered empty that first Easter Sunday, and they couldn’t produce the body! It speaks volumes when your strongest opponents confirm your point; John Stott said the silence of Christ’s enemies is just as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the apostles’ witness.

Finally, the fact that women discovered the tomb would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting first century male. If the disciples were trying to start a religion, they wouldn’t have had women be the first people to discover Jesus had risen. The Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings from the time, says “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a). Many more quotes could be piled on to demonstrate the low view of women that first-century Judaism took, especially in regards to legal matters: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15). So for the Gospels to record such a stark reality — that the male disciples are still cowering in fear and unbelief, while the female disciples go to see Jesus at the tomb — smacks of truth! If you’re going to start a religion in the first century, you don’t do it by painting yourself as a coward compared to a lowly woman.

So based on the nearness to Jerusalem, the silence of the Enemies, and Testimony of Women (JET), it certainly seems like the tomb was empty that Easter morning. And this is only a superficial exploration of the very rich collection of evidence. If this was the end of the case, there would still be compelling reason to consider the claims of Christ further. But there’s still much more.

The appearances of Christ

The Apostle Paul records that after He was raised Jesus “appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five-hundred people at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep; then to James, then to all the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). We see Jesus appearing to individuals and groups, both friendly and hostile. This variety shows us that Christ did indeed appear to His church.

Often people object that the apostles probably had some grief hallucinations. Despite the fact that hallucinations would probably have fit preconceived notions of Jesus resting in Abraham’s Bosom (where faithful Jews awaited the general resurrection at the end of the world), and hallucinations generally don’t give rise to life-altering beliefs, people persist in this particular objection. But Jesus did not just appear to individuals alone; He appeared to groups of people, and groups of people do not have shared hallucinations. That’s why we pay attention when two or three eyewitnesses say they saw the same thing. Not only that, but it wasn’t just friendly sources who saw Jesus: Hostile sources like James (Jesus’ brother who had previously disbelieved his Brother’s claims to Godhood) and Paul (then called Saul, and a murderer of the Christian heretics) both saw Jesus raised from the dead!

The change in the apostles.

Read Luke 22:54-62, then read Acts 2:14-36. Both passages deal with Peter, both are by the same author, and yet the Peter who denies Jesus is very different to the Peter who stands up on the day of Pentecost and preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus’ authority and victory over death. What changed this coward into a bold preacher? He told you, if you read the Acts account: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Meeting the risen Jesus completely changed Peter — there’s just no other way to put it. And what could possibly change a man from being so fearful of death to preaching to those who could kill him? Again, he told us: Death has no power over Jesus (See verse 24). So Peter no longer feared death because he had met death’s match; he had met someone who walked straight into the belly of Death and punched a hole in it’s side. That’s why when Peter was faced with death, rather than recanting what he had said, he boldly confessed Christ and received martyrdom for it.

But it wasn’t just Peter or John or the close friends of Jesus who were changed. As I mentioned above, Jesus’s appearance changed people who had been hostile to the faith. James, Jesus’ brother, went from unbeliever to apostle when he met Jesus, even writing the letter bearing his name. And Saul of Tarsus, who was basically a hit man the Jewish leaders hired to kill Christians, said he met Jesus on the way to a murder-for-hire in Damascus. From then on Saul went by Paul, and went from one of the top persecutors of the church to one of it’s chief advocates, writing roughly half of the New Testament, being shipwrecked, stoned, and persecuted in various means as he tried to spread the Gospel. Paul, too, received death as a martyr, choosing to bear witness to what a great hope Christ’s resurrection had given him rather than to live. Becoming a Christian early on in the history of the church generally ended with your own blood being shed. Ask yourself, what would compel a man to leave a successful, stable, and relatively cushy life as a traveling persecutor of heretics, only to be persecuted himself, and ultimately die as a result? Doesn’t the conversion of Paul invite us to take a second look at this whole Easter thing?

So what?

I’m sure that as you’ve reached the end of this post you have questions, and perhaps objections. I’d love to hear them. But I think perhaps the most pressing question is “so what?” What does the fact of the resurrection mean for you? That depends on how you respond to it. If you respond in faith then the resurrection is fantastic news — and faith is not a blind and reasonless ignorance but a trust that is willing to step beyond the evidence, as one might trust that there is something casting a shadow though you cannot see anything but the shadow cast. If you trust that Jesus’ work on the cross, His death, and His resurrection were for you, then this whole Easter thing means so much: Peace with God, forgiveness of your deepest sins and guilt, the strength to fight against sin in your self, and so much more.

Responding in unbelief, however, and rejecting Jesus’ work means that you will have none of that. You will continue to be at odds with God and the universe, you will continue to deal with your guilt on your own, you will continue to be a slave to all of your sinful desires. C. S. Lewis put it nicely: “Some people say to God, ‘thy will be done,’ and there are some people to whom God says ‘thy will be done.'” In other words, if you continue to reject Jesus’ work, and God’s invitation back into right relationship with Him, He will, one day, say “depart from me, I never knew you.”

So this is what the resurrection means: Eternal life, joy everlasting, and freedom from sin, death, and the Devil. I hope you have found a few compelling reasons to believe that the resurrection did indeed happen: If the tomb wasn’t empty, how’d Christianity even get off the ground? If Jesus didn’t convert the Apostle Paul, why did he go from killing Christians to being killed as one? And if these things are true, then why do you delay? It was for your sins that Christ died: Repent of your sins, trust in Him, and His victory this day is also your victory. May God grant it.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christology, Evangelism, Theology