Back in 2005, I was driving home from work one day and I heard an awesome song on the local Christian radio station - it sounded just like the country song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but I found out it was actually “The Devil Went Down to Jordan,” a song about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness! That was my first experience with the band known as ApologetiX (www.apologetix.com). They’re a Christian parody band, so they change the words of popular songs, all the way from oldies of the 1960s to modern day songs, to explain Bible stories or explain concepts of the Christian faith. They take their band name from our word of the week, which is apologetics.
Apologetics comes from the Greek word apologetikos, which means “suitable for defense.” Apologetics can be defined as providing a reasoned account of the grounds for believing in the Christian faith. When we give such an account, that account is called an apology. Apology is from the Greek word apologia, meaning speaking in defense of. We need to defend our faith to those who would try to sway us from it.
Being able to give an apology of your faith is of utmost importance to Christians. We need to be able to explain to nonbelievers why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15-16 gives us the command to do this:
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”
Take note of the phrase in the middle of that passage - “with gentleness and respect.” If you present your apology with rudeness and anger, it will turn off the person you’re talking to. Respect that person’s apology of what they believe when presenting yours, and they will better respect both you and Christ, the person your apologetic is for.
I encourage you to think through your faith and why you believe what you believe. I had the opportunity to do this during the theology classes I took during my seminary studies. We students had to write a paper on various topics of the faith, including God, sin, and what happens at the end of the world. It was a very challenging experience to get my faith down on paper, especially why I believe those things, but very worthwhile.
Think through your faith and be ready with your apologetic, so when someone asks you why you believe something, you can tell them the reason for the hope that you have - with gentleness and respect.
A note from Jason DeZurik: Due to some of you possibly being confused by the word "apology" in this post, please remember that Katie takes us back to the origin of the word and what it means. We do not apologize for our faith. The word "apology" here means, speaking in defense of. So when giving a defense of your faith in Christ remember to do it in love and let us not forget what General George Patton Jr. has to say about defense, "Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more." We need to remember that a strong defense can be a strong offense as well. Have a great week!
I remember when I was just a boy, I used to think it was so cool to get close enough to my favorite athletes to get their autographs. Then, when I was old enough to drive and work a job, I would go to the games of the local Minor League baseball team and buy seats that were close enough to the field that I could get autographs from the players during their warmups. I learned that this was a cheap and easy way to get the signatures of players who had a great shot of making it in the big leagues. The biggest reason I wanted to take this easy route was an experience I had at 10 years old. My dad took my brother and I to a local baseball store/batting cage that had advertised an event with our favorite player of our favorite team - Barry Bonds, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was advertised that we would get his autograph and participate in a batting clinic that he would teach. It was supposed to be a great experience. However, things didn't go as planned. We waited in line for almost 2 hours just to hand him a baseball and card, which he promptly signed while ignoring our attempts to talk to him as if the whole event was an annoyance for him. Because the autograph line was so long, he had to cancel the clinic portion. So in other words, we waited in line for almost 2 hours just to get up close and speak to a guy we cheered for on TV and get his autograph, only to realize that he couldn't possibly have cared less about us! The fact that he left my favorite team and took big money to sign with the San Francisco Giants, went on to become baseball's all-time home run king, and was considered the best all-around player in the game for a generation never changed my opinion of him which was based on one very brief personal interaction. While my judgment of Barry Bonds is irrelevant in the grand scheme of life, his many great achievements could not overshadow in my mind the bad attitude he had that one day 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, the words and writings of professional athletes and other celebrities are sources of idol worship all throughout our society. Even as I write this, the great Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has just passed away. While it's okay and appropriate to remember and appreciate his achievements, the reaction of many has been nothing short of idolatry. There is a statue of him in State College, PA that many people are visiting with "reverence", as one TV network put it. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ only, this should be nothing short of disgusting to us. Our God is the only One who deserves this kind of reverence.
In the Old Testament, people were afraid to hear and see God, and rightfully so. Exodus 19 and 20 is the account of the LORD descending to the top of Mount Sinai to speak directly to Moses while all the Israelites could hear Him. This was the setting where God revealed what we now call the "Ten Commandments". What amazes me, a guy living on the other side of Christ's sacrifice which permits me to have a direct relationship with the Creator of the whole universe, is the FEAR that immersed God's chosen people. The presence of God was marked with thunder, lightning, loud trumpet blasts, and a dense cloud. God told Moses to set clear boundaries between the people and God's area. "Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, 'Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death'" (19:12). Later, the people saw all these signs of God's presence and "trembled with fear" (20:18). "They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, 'Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die'" (20:19). The important thing for us as sinful, mortal human beings to know is that God sets these boundaries for OUR benefit, not His. Unlike many of the athletes and celebrities that we try to get close to, God desires to have a relationship with us and let us experience Him. However, because we are unholy and He is holy and His presence alone destroys anything that is unholy, He set boundaries so that we would not be destroyed. Thus, we rely on human beings whom God had set apart to interpret His Word for us. That was until He sent His Son to come to the world to be both a perfect mediator between us and our Creator, as well as the complete manifestation of everything that God wants to reveal to us.
Much is discussed by both Christians and those who oppose our faith about how God's original message has been tainted by humans who were the first to write it down and also those who have interpreted/translated it over the generations. As a Christian, I feel I cannot argue that point. There is no doubt that sinful human beings have had their influence on the Bible. But I want to challenge everyone reading this blog to look beyond that fact to the bigger picture. John 1:14 says, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us". While this is an obvious reference to Christ, John is intentional about referring to him as "the Word". That means that whether human beings have tainted the tangible writings of Scripture or not, we have the TRUE and ORIGINAL message of our Creator in the person of Jesus Christ. By entering into relationship with him by faith, we are entering into relationship with "the Word" in its original form free from human contamination. And the best part about it is that THIS Word has the Creator's autograph all over it!
“Can I please have your autograph??” asked the average American to the famous celebrity.
Why are autographs so special to us? I remember as a kid going with my mom and older brother to baseball card shows occasionally, because some famous baseball player would be there signing autographs. My brother would have the famous player sign a baseball card or picture, and suddenly that ordinary item would become a treasure because a guy wrote his name on it. I had the opportunity a couple years ago to have my favorite band, VOTA, autograph a photo for me in person, and I’ll admit I was pretty excited about that - and it’s still hanging on my wall!
An autograph from a famous person is a special treasure to us because we honor that person. They do something well that we cannot do, and we enjoy watching them do it. Having their hand-written name on something we own makes us feel special because we admire them. So, what does that have to do with the Bible?
Well, the original writings of the Bible are called “autographs.” Unfortunately we do not have the original autographs of the Bible today that were written thousands of years ago, but we do have some very old copies of the Greek and Hebrew texts. But what does this have to do with a famous person writing their name for us, aside from being called the same thing?
Those of us who follow Jesus Christ believe that he has done something very well that we are completely unable to do - He lived a perfect, sinless life, then died and was raised to life again. I know I have not lived a perfect life - not even a perfect day! - and I definitely have not (yet) died, and I will not be raised to life on this earth again once I do die. Because of what Jesus did for me, I honor and praise Him, and He is very special to me and makes me feel special because of His love for me.
Not only do I have Jesus’ name written on my heart (like having my favorite band write their names on a picture), but I have an entire book written about Him and by Him - the Bible, which we have today because of those original autographs of the Scriptures. And that is way more awesome than any baseball player’s name on a baseball card!
Last week the Word of the Week was agnosticism, which is the term for doubting that God exists. This week we take that one step further into the idea of atheism, which is complete denial of the existence and reality of god. Atheism is from the Greek word “atheos”, which is from “a” meaning “without” and “theos” meaning “god.”
Typically, atheists are skeptical of anything having to do with the supernatural - whether it be the God of the Bible or any other supernatural being. Their reasoning for this belief is a lack of empirical evidence, that is any evidence based on data. They also cite reasons of the problem of evil - why does a God who claims to be good allow suffering in the world; inconsistent revelations between the various holy books of the world’s religions; the claims of the Bible about the destiny of unbelievers; and that a god who wants people to believe in him would do a better job of gathering followers.
In this blog we have tackled some of these issues. The post on theodicy tackles the problem of evil. Universalism discusses the destiny of unbelievers and why God doesn’t just save everyone. The posts on grace discuss what we need to do to be saved. Perhaps we’ll tackle some of the other claims in the future.
Even though atheism sounds like a fairly simple concept, there are different forms of it. Practical atheism involves living as if there is absolutely no god of any sort, and there are no “acts of god” in this world either. Gods are determined to be unnecessary and useless and do not need to influence daily life. Theoretical atheism is when an individual specifically argues against the existence of a god, rather than just simply living as if there is none. These atheists respond to arguments of Christians (and others) that God exists and provide their own arguments as to why there is no god.
Similar to last week’s writings on agnosticism, we cannot fundamentally be atheists as Christians. If a person considers the Bible to be their source of authority, they cannot help but believe in the God described throughout its pages. However, many in this world do not hold the Bible as an authority for their lives. This is when beliefs such as atheism can creep in and they end up living God-less lives.
As Christians we need to encourage those we know who are atheists (and agnostics too). We need to love them as our brothers and sisters, even though we do not agree with their beliefs. We need to pray for them that the God we believe rules the universe will reach out and touch their lives so that they cannot help but acknowledge Him with their lives.
In the church that I grew up attending, our pastor had a specific way of declaring faith in God after experiences that had little or no logical explanation. He would say, "Coincidence?" The congregation learned to respond with the classic, "I think not!" I was a little young at the time to even understand what a coincidence is and frankly, the saying just became incredibly annoying to me. But as I grew older, I began to realize just how big of a statement this was. In fact, I realized that it is really the core of any given person's belief system. How you answer the question of whether the events in your life are "coincidental" or part of an intelligent design determines your belief system and your reaction to the many things that happen in life which you cannot control.
I bring this up because the Word of the Week is ATHEISM. In my humble opinion, most people have a misunderstanding of what this word actually means and are therefore quick to label themselves "atheists" because they don't "believe in God". In truth, an atheist not only does not believe in God (big G for the Christian God since I am a Christian), but also rejects the notion of any god (small g for anything that is believed in and worshipped). An atheist claims to believe in no deities whatsoever. This is where the understanding becomes a bit fuzzy for me. Knowing the true meaning of the word "atheism", I'm not sure such a thing really exists.
Let me explain using Biblical examples. Satan is not an atheist. "I will make myself like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:14b [NIV]). He believed HE could be the deity. Pharaoh was not an atheist. "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go" (Exodus 5:2). The implication in his words is that he believes HE is above the LORD. His question is rhetorical. Why would Pharaoh of all people "obey him"? This makes sense with the belief of the Egyptians, which was that Pharaoh himself was a god. Goliath was not an atheist. "And the Philistine cursed David by his gods" (1 Samuel 17:43b). King Nebuchadnezzar was not an atheist. "King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon" (Daniel 3:1). It goes on from there to say that he dedicated the image and required everyone to worship it. In the New Testament, King Herod, Pontius Pilate, and many others simply worshipped themselves or their positions over God. The Jews worshipped their understanding of God, but rejected Jesus as the Christ. So, while all of the aforementioned people were enemies of the Christian God, none of them were atheists!
The closest thing I believe there is to "atheism" is the opposite of what my pastor taught our congregation. It could be said that someone who believes in chance or coincidence is an atheist. However, that person still believes that something beyond himself controls the universe. Therefore, I'd still say that he is not an atheist. His god is "chance". He may not worship at any throne, but he clearly believes in it. Now, if you're reading this and you consider yourself an atheist, I am not telling you that you're wrong. I believe that every human being has free will and that includes the right to identify yourself with any set of beliefs about the world you choose. What I am saying is that I encourage you to consider your outlook. Does an atheist really have any less faith than a Christian? I'd argue that the atheist has more faith, from the standpoint that faith is believing in something which cannot be logically proven. Everyone puts their faith in something because whether we want to admit it or not, we are not in control of our lives. I put my faith in the Christian God. You must decide where to put yours.
Have you ever stopped to consider how much of our lives are actually lived by faith and how little control we have over anything? We think of faith as a religious concept, but it actually applies in many every day areas of life. Anytime you make a move or a decision in life without being 100% guaranteed of how it will all turn out, it's a matter of faith. This would include some things we do with little or no reservation, like getting in a car or on an airplane, or ordering food at a restaurant where we cannot see it being prepared. It would also include most of the "big" life decisions, such as getting married, moving to a new community, or choosing a career. Even the most devout Christian would not be able to claim that he meets every single one of these situations with prayer and a conscious decision to trust. Many of us operate that way with the big things, but seriously, how many of you pray and consciously choose to trust EVERY time you get into a vehicle or order food at a restaurant? I certainly don't. I simply put faith in my car, my own abilities, the cooks, etc. It may not be a conscious decision, but the fact that I'm not even considering the possibility that things won't go as planned proves that it's faith. Hebrews 11:1 gives us the best definition of this word: "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see". When I get in my car, I'm sure I'm going to arrive at my destination safely, even if I have no actual proof. Now, if you'd say that's taking things for granted, you'd be correct. But in reality, that's what we all do many times every day when we act with no certainty.
So why in the world have I been talking about faith when the Word of the Week is Agnosticism? Well, the two are very much connected. "Agnosticism" is a word that is generally not thought of positively in Christian circles. But in reality, agnostics aren't telling us anything we don't already know. The main point of the agnostic belief system is that it is impossible to know with certainty whether God does or does not exist. Agnostics usually tend to "believe" one way or the other, but will always maintain that it is sheer opinion and that knowledge of God's existence is impossible. From a human logic standpoint, they are right. But basically, they are using a lot of words and thoughts to say very little. Whatever humans choose to believe, they do so by faith, since absolute proof is not possible.
Here is where agnosticism drops the ball regarding God's existence: it fails to take into account the fact that God is NOT wrapped up in human terms. God is portrayed throughout the Bible as many things which often contradict themselves according to human terms. For example, He is justice AND mercy. He is lion AND lamb. He is king AND servant. He is near (in the sense that he came to this earth and walked among us and now dwells in those who believe and has relationship with them) AND he is far (the Creator of the whole universe who is perfect, holy, and untouchable for sinful humans). For the purposes of this topic, God is both mysterious AND obvious. Agnostics would stop at saying God or even the notion that God exists is mysterious, and thus they'd only be half-right. In support of their belief, we have Job 11:7, which says, "Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?" But they miss God's obviousness as described by Paul in Romans 1:20: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse".
Friends, the problem with agnosticism is that it promotes the "ignorance is bliss" fallacy. As humans, we feel like we can be secure and comfortable when we can just say, "I didn't know". But that's a very dangerous lie that the enemy wants to keep those who are lost believing. Scripture clearly tells us that pleading ignorance simply will not work. At some point, you have to stop riding the fence and take a stand on one side or the other. Consider this: if you choose not to believe in God's existence because you cannot know it for sure, then what is your alternative for explaining how everything you see before you came to be? Can that alternative be proven beyond all doubt? I think not. So it will always be a matter of faith. The only question you have to answer is, where will you put your faith? I choose to put mine in the One whom I will never understand or fathom this side of heaven, and who chose to make Himself known through the beauty and obviousness of creation.
Have you ever had a pen pal, or a friend you only know online but haven’t met in person? I have had a number of those throughout my life. I had a good pen pal who lived in Oklahoma and a very close online friend in Australia, just to name a few. I corresponded with them regularly and greatly enjoyed their friendship and what they added to my life. Because they sent me pictures and I received letters and emails, I never doubted their existence, even though I have never met either of them in person.
But what if suddenly the letters and emails stopped, and I lost all previous correspondence from them? As time went on, would I doubt that they ever existed?
That’s what it’s like for agnostics. An agnostic is a person who doubts that God exists. The word agnostic comes from the Greek “a” meaning “not” and “gnostic” meaning “knowledge.” An agnostic believes that since God’s existence can’t be proven in worldly terms, therefore God does not exist. It’s like having a pen pal you’ve never met but no record of letters; because they haven’t seen physical proof of God addressed directly to them, they do not believe He exists.
Doubting God’s existence goes against the Scriptures. The entire Bible is proof of what God has done, is doing, and will do in our world. Even the whole of Creation shouts God’s praises! (Psalm 69:34) All people also have the opportunity to at least acknowledge God’s existence through the fact that we exist in His creation. Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
I am sure that God exists, and the main way I know that is because I have faith. The very nature of faith is that we cannot see what it is we believe in. “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) I had faith that my pen pals existed even though I didn’t see them; and even more so, I have faith in the God that I cannot physically see.
The agnostic belief is one of doubt and a lack of faith. It’s totally ok to have doubts about God, but when you do be sure to check them out with those who believe and in the Scriptures, and I have faith that God will dispel your doubts with the truth that He exists and is present in the world today.
I remember reading a news article that caught my attention about one month ago. It was written by NBC Universal and you can find it online. It was about a man who walked into a downtown Sears store in Seattle, WA and handed a note with a $100 bill to a customer service associate. In the note, he explained that he had stolen $20-$30 from them back in the 1940s and wanted to pay them back, plus interest! Wow!
Now, depending on your regard for the law and those who break it, there could be a wide variety of reactions to this story. But let's remember that way back in the Old Testament, before Christ came to this earth, this was the way to deal with theft as determined by God through Moses. "A thief must certainly make restitution, but if he has nothing, he must be sold to pay for his theft" (Exodus 22:3b [NIV]). Nowadays, we go through a process that takes a very long time and involves lawyers, judges, juries, and court fees. And there is still no guarantee of justice even after all of that! In the Old Testament, it was as simple as settling the matter fairly by paying back what was owed or working for it. In the news story referenced above, the man did not leave his name or even say anything to the employees. While many applauded his actions after the fact, he clearly did not do it for any other reason but to "atone" for his mistake from almost 70 years ago.
The word for this week is "atonement". My theology professor at Winebrenner Seminary called it "at one ment" because that phrase embodies what it means almost literally. When we steal from or otherwise sin against anyone with whom we are in relationship, the relationship is broken and we are in need of reconciliation. We go from being "at one" with the person to being separated by the hurtful choices. This happens when we sin against God. Now I'm gonna try to be as brief and clear as I can about what that means. When I say "sin against God", I don't just mean breaking rules that our Creator has arbitrarily set up. That's not what I believe about God. You see, we do not exist for ourselves alone. Each and every one of us were born to bring glory to God through our existence and every command he has given or structure he has set up was for the sole purpose in helping us bring him glory. Therefore, disobeying those commands doesn't break relationship with God simply because he didn't want the rule to be broken. Rather, sinning against God and his commands STEALS from him because it lessens our ability to bring him glory.
Because of our sins, we are no longer "at one" with God. We need to find a way to pay our restitution like the old man in the Sears store. However, the problem is that we didn't just "steal" once 70 years ago. We keep "stealing" over and over and over again. If we live trying to please God by reconciling ourselves to him, we'll simply grow more and more frustrated as we take 2 steps forward, then 3 steps back, and so on and so forth. We cannot do anything to make ourselves "at one" with God, so we needed something to do it for us However, in this case, the "something" became SOMEONE. Writing about Christ Jesus, Paul says: "God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:25a). Elsewhere in his writings, Paul elaborates on what he means by "sacrifice of atonement" when he addresses the Christians in Colosse: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 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" (Colossians 1:21-22).
Those words of Paul are some of my favorite in the whole bible because he breaks it down so plainly for us. The bottom line is that we started out ("we" in the sense of Adam and Eve) as "at one" with God. Then, we were alienated from him by our thoughts and actions. But NOW, we have an opportunity to be reconciled back to him and be "at one" with him again thanks to Christ's atoning sacrifice. We simply must believe by faith first that it was necessary, and second that it has already been done. If we fail to believe one or both of these crucial truths, we are still alienated from God. Praise God that he has brought us back to one with him!
Being a person who generally loves language, the first thing I see when I look at the word “atonement” is that it is made up of other words - “at” + “one” + “ment.” This is especially significant because those little words show us the meaning of the word as a whole.
Atonement is us being made “at one” with God. Atonement is the idea that because we are separated from God through our sin, we must be atoned or reconciled to him. We can’t just say “Hey God, I’m sorry” and think that’s enough. Something bigger than us had to happen to make that reconciliation or atonement happen.
Back in the days before Jesus came to earth, the people of Israel celebrated the Day of Atonement. This was the most holy day of the year for these people, because it was of central importance to their faith. The high priest would make a sacrifice in the temple and offer the blood to God. After that, they would send a goat into the wilderness that would be a symbol of carrying away the sins of all of the people. This goat would never return, symbolizing the fact that now their sins of the past year are completely gone.
Today, however, we don’t need a literal scapegoat like that! Because we live in the time after Jesus came to the earth, we look to His atonement for us - living a sinless life, dying on the cross and raising back to life. This is what makes atonement possible for us today. In Romans 3:25-26 it says:
"God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus."
Last week we learned about grace, which is God’s free gift to us - giving us the salvation that we have in no way earned ourselves. Atonement is similar to that; it is the reason grace is available. Because Jesus died an atoning sacrificial death on the cross, we have the opportunity to receive grace and be made “at one” with God. Atonement re-establishes the relationship between us and God. We simply need to have faith and we are restored and atoned to God because of Jesus.