This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly exchange. If you have questions that you would like answered on the topics of the Bible, theology, apologetics, ethics, and religion, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do we know we know the truth? Conversely, how do we know we are not in/under heretical and false doctrine? Muslims, JW’s, Mormons, Buddhists are all convinced they are right.
First of all, you are right to say that other groups seem equally, if not more earnestly convinced that they possess the one true religion. If all we had to work with in dividing truth from fiction was sincerity of heart—if there were no evidence that could be examined—we would be in a pretty serious pickle. However, I am convinced there is overwhelming evidence that supports the truth of Christianity. I do not take this issue lightly. I have no interest in believing something that is not true.
When dealing with difficult questions like this, the rule that I teach my
students is “Always start with Jesus.” The reason is that if the Gospel evidence
about Jesus is historically unreliable, then Christianity falls apart. On the
contrary, if the Gospel evidence is historically reliable, then we can know a
lot about Jesus. Without going into great detail, there are gobs and gobs of
scholarly works written on the reliability of the Gospels. Just glancing at my
bookshelf, I would recommend Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. Minus
the supernatural elements of the Gospels, even most atheist scholars will affirm
that they are historical bedrock. There are also excellent works on the
historicity of the resurrection. Once again, from my own library, I would
recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike
Licona. All of that is to say that if Jesus did what the Gospels say he did, and
said what they claim he said, then we have very strong reasons to think that
Christianity is the one true religion.
At the same time, I am convinced that the evidence for other worldviews is
terribly weak. Mormonism, for example, is fraught with historical inaccuracies
and problems of forged translations among other things. Jehovah’s Witnesses are
in a similar boat. They build their theological distinctives around very
specific translations and interpretations that are contradict all scholarship
outside of their own camp. As such, they advance an totally separate religion
from Christianity, while attempting to smuggle in the parts that they like to
prop up what would otherwise be a religion with no foundation. As for eastern
religions, while they have many elements of truth, I have a hard time finding
much connection to reality in the fundamental teachings—evil is illusory,
millions of demi gods, that all is divine and the like. Then there is Islam
which depends on the claim that the Bible has been corrupted and/or
misinterpreted. But the evidence for the faithful transmission and preservation
of the biblical manuscripts is outstanding. Furthermore, Islam rejects the death
of Jesus by crucifixion (a fact agreed upon by practically all historians).
Going back to what I said before about starting with Jesus, each of these
religions has a different view of Jesus from what is portrayed in the Gospels.
So, while interpretation (which is subjective) certainly plays a role, the law
of non-contradiction (which is objective) tells us that while they could all be
wrong, they cannot all be right. If the Gospels are historically reliable,
preserved, and translated correctly, then they clearly point to the teachings of
classical Christianity. Again, while I am having to move quickly here, this is
not something that I take lightly. If I am wrong, I want to know.
My study group is missional based, and most of the books we read and work
we do reaches out to our community and communities throughout the world. This to
me, embodies christianity much more than sitting in a pew listening to preachers
and deacons spew their agenda. Do you think that this type of worship
is a suitable replacement for traditional sunday worship? I do feel like i’m not
getting to know the bible quite as I should, we only touch on it directly on
occasion, but the books we read reference it often, i guess you could say i’m
learning by proxy(but who’s to say that the english translations of the bible
aren’t this sort of ‘proxy’ to the original text anyway).
While I understand, and often share your frustration; I think you may be
“throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” In short, I wouldn’t equate what you
describe as “listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda” to
“traditional Sunday worship.” You have to remember that there are 2000 years of
church history behind us. I think that what you (and a lot of people, including
me) have experienced is a rather recent phenomenon (last 150 years or so, and
especially the last 40). I also think, (crossing my fingers), that a lot more
people are seeing it for what it is and it is losing steam. Anyway, all of that
is to say that I think small groups are great and it sounds like you are part of
an awesome one, but I also think it is important to belong to a church body and
sit under the teaching of a pastor who is teaching and leading effectively. That
is really hard to come by, and again, I know the frustration. I know how tedious
it can be to search for the right place, but trust me, it is worth it when you
get there. Anyway, I would simply say that I don’t think there is any
“replacement” for being part of a healthy church family. Notice I said
“healthy,” not “perfect.” Anyway, I suggest that you keep doing what you are
doing, but I would also do some research and visit a few places. You will
probably be surprised to find that there are a lot of congregations in your area
comprised of people who feel the same way you do.
What do you think about the morality of doing wrong to do good? For
instance, if you did something morally wrong to get money so that you give it to
charity and do good with it. Can good come from intentional wrong doing?
What you are suggesting is a form of consequentialism, or “ends justify the
means” ethic. That is, what makes something moral is the ultimate result.
However, on its face, it is incompatible with a biblical view of ethics. From a
biblical perspective, moral duties are grounded in God’s character and
subsequent commands. He has revealed these through both general (we
intrinsically know right from wrong) and special revelation (through the giving
of Scripture and culminating in Christ). I think your example is actually pretty
easy to deal with. You have the choice to either steal or not steal. Obviously,
it is not justified to steal simply because you plan to do something good with
the money. However, there are much more difficult examples to be offered. For
example, what if you are faced with a situation like Corrie Ten Boom—you can lie
to protect people or tell the truth and subject them to torture and death. Or if
you are in charge of switching the train track and there is a boy trapped by the
switching mechanism. You need to flip the switch or an oncoming train with
hundreds of passengers will crash, but by flipping the switch, you ensure the
boy’s death. Both choices pose a serious moral dilemma. It is only in these
types of circumstances that I think it is morally right to choose the “wrong.”
Unfortunately, this often gets called “the lesser of two evils.” I don’t like
that name because the moral decision is necessarily not evil. Some biblical
ethicists suggest that God will always provide a third option in these
circumstances. While I think that is very often true, it to me seems that there
are possible scenarios where there simply is not a third option. Furthermore, I
think Scripture provides examples of this. One famous example comes from Exodus,
where the Hebrew midwives are commended for disobeying and lying to Pharaoh.
Likewise, Rahab lies about hiding the spies in Jericho. She is also commended,
and even integrated into the Davidic/messianic family tree. Anyway…it is
obviously a hotly debated and complicated issue, but these are my thoughts in
I have two questions to ask. One, how did you keep yourself most
accountable while you were touring and still in Becoming The Archetype? Also,
what advice would you give someone who wants to write songs and work within the
Christian music industry?
I am going to go a different direction with my response than you probably
expected. I presume that by “keep yourself accountable,” you are referring to
avoiding temptations—substance abuse, sexual impurity etc. I will simply say
that those things were really not big struggles for me. And while they are for
many other people, I think that there is a tendency to focus so heavily on these
“big” issues that we totally overlook the “smaller” ones. Far too often, young
Christians fall into the trap of equating spiritual development with a check
list of big things to avoid. That is a terrible thermometer for gauging
spiritual health. Let me give you an example of what I mean. While I didn’t
struggle with the “big” things, one of the strongest temptations that comes with
being in a band (or being in any profession) is to become cynical—unnecessarily
negative and pessimistic. I wish that I successfully avoided this temptation
while on the road with the band, but I can’t. While this is probably not the
answer you were looking for, I feel like it represents an equally important
lesson to learn.
With regard to getting into the music industry, my advice is three-fold.
Develop your ability to the highest possible level, make a lot of friends, and
keep yourself available. Don’t be afraid to play second fiddle (pun intended) to
anyone and everyone. The most successful musicians that I know are not people
who made it big by starting a band from the ground up. Rather, they are people
who got in playing guitar, bass, drums, violin, etc for someone else. Many of
them have since moved on to very successful solo careers and/or bands of their
own. But the way the industry is today, you are very unlikely to make a name for
yourself simply by jamming with some buds and starting a facebook. There are
just too many bands starting up every day. Lastly, keep yourself as available as
possible. In a strange coincidence, a lot of young musicians are also convinced
that they need to get married really early. Maybe it is their creative/romantic
bent. But it will seriously limit your availability. And it will also limit your
ability as a husband/father. Of course, some relationships work just fine within
that framework, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. Again,
that probably isn’t what you expected me to say, but I hope it helps.