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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • Archive for the 'Christianity' Category

    Hebrews 3:2-10

    Saturday, April 26th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    A verse by verse study of the book of Hebrews.

    NOTE: Due to technical issues 2:18-3:1 was not recorded.

    III     Jesus the High Priest (3:1-5:10)
        A     A Faithful High Priest (3:1 4:13)
            1    Jesus is faithful (Greater Than Moses) (3:1-6)
                a    Faithful to God’s house (3:1-6a)
                b    Link – We are God’s house (3:6b)
            2    Exhortation – We must be faithful (3:7-4-14)
                a    Avoid Past Mistakes (3:7-19)
                    i    OT citation (3:7-11)

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineShort.htm

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineLong.htm

    Hebrews 2:11-17

    Saturday, April 26th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    A verse by verse study of the book of Hebrews.

    II The Superiority Jesus (1:5 2:18)
       A Jesus is Superior to the angels (1:5-14)
       B Exhortation – pay close attention (2:1-4)
       C Jesus shares in our humanity (2:5-18)
          1 World to come subject to man – not angels (2:5)
           2   Humanity’s exultation (2:6-9a)
          3       Jesus is like us (2:9b)
          4          Perfected through suffering (2:10)
           5       Jesus is our brother (2:11-13)
          6    Humanity’s freedom from death (2:14-15)
          7 Jesus becomes one of Abraham’s descendants – not an angel (2:16)
       D Link (2:17-18)

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineShort.htm

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineLong.htm

    Hebrews 2:7-10

    Sunday, April 6th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    A verse by verse study of the book of Hebrews.

    II The Superiority Jesus (1:5 2:18)
     A Jesus is Superior to the angels (1:5-14)
       B Exhortation – pay close attention (2:1-4)
       C Jesus shares in our humanity (2:5-18)
          1 World to come subject to man – not angels (2:5)
          2   Humanity’s exultation (2:6-9a)
          3       Jesus is like us (2:9b)
          4          Perfected through suffering (2:10)

          5       Jesus is our brother (2:11-13)
          6    Humanity’s freedom from death (2:14-15)
          7 Jesus becomes one of Abraham’s descendants – not an angel (2:16)

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineShort.htm

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Hebrews/OutlineLong.htm

    Consider Christianity Week 2014

    Sunday, April 6th, 2014 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Today marks the beginning of Consider Christianity week.   The main goal of CC Week is to equip Christians with the knowledge and ability to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do so with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). Not only will this strengthen their faith, but it will increase the effectiveness of their witness.

    New this year will be a series of discussion sponsored by Energion Publications where a number of authors will participate in panel discussions which can be seen in a live stream or accessed in the Energion Publications’ channel on YouTube at a later time. Energion will also monitor our special Twitter account (#ccweek2014) so observers of the live stream can Tweet any questions they have during the one hour broadcast. You can see a schedule of the discussions here. We hope you will join us!

    The Bible Week 4

    Monday, December 16th, 2013 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Here is week 4 of the 16 week course on the Bible.

    Summary of Documentary Hypothesis,  Evidence for Authorship of Moses, Why is the authorship of Moses rejected, Alfred Wegener, rejection of the supernatural,  Daniel and prophecy
    New Testament, Types of Book, Chronology and order

    Links:

    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Bible…
    http://www.consider.org/Classes/Bible…
    http://biblehub.com

    Evolution

    Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 by Elgin Hushbeck

    At a recent lunch with some co-workers a friend shared a picture he thought was funny.  The picture was of the sign for a Christadelphian Meeting Room, which in addition to the name and meeting time also had an area for a short message that could be changed. The message in the picture was “Evolution is a Lie.”  What he found humorous was that taped to the sign was a paper that said, “If you have evidence to disprove evolution… then write it down, get it peer reviewed & collect your Nobel prize.”

    Regardless of any possible humorous value, this picture does highlight a number problems with this entire issue.   The first point is that it is always easy to poke fun at the fringe and the Christadelphian Church is clearly on the fringe.  Not only do they reject evolution, they reject most of teachings that have defined Christianity for 2000 years.

    Their claim that evolution is a lie is at best hyperbole, and more likely simply absurd.   Regardless of what you think about evolution, it is not a lie.  A lie is something said with the intent to deceive. The core of a lie is deception not truthfulness.  In fact, it is possible to lie while only saying things that are true, if they are said in such a way as to mislead.

    Few if any supporting evolution do so because they know that evolution is false, and they are just trying to deceive people into thinking it was true.  They believe evolution to be true and that is why they defend it. Evolution can be true or false, but it is not a lie.

    The paper taped to the sign is not much better, has it has several problems. Let me take them in reverse order.  Let’s assume for a second that someone did have such evidence.  Would it really be as simple as getting it peered reviewed and collecting a Nobel Prize? The history of science says no. Science, regardless of its benefits as a method to learn about the natural world, is governed by people.  As a community, scientists have beliefs and agendas that get in the way of pure objectivity.

    In my book, I cite the example of Alfred Wegener, who had a theory of Continental Displacement, what we would now call Plate Tectonics.  When he published his results rather than winning a Nobel Price he was shunned and ridiculed to the point that he could not even get a job teaching in his own country.  This was because his theory would have overturned the then current thinking on Geology.  It was only 20 years after his death that his theory ceased to be considered pseudoscience and finally came to be accepted.  Overturning evolution would be a far more massive change than that proposed by Wegener.

    That brings us to the issue of what this “supposed evidence to disprove evolution” might be.  Just how would one go about trying to disprove the theory?  Evolution is not a repeatable event that can be verified by experiments.  If one wanted to “disprove” Gravity one would need to construct an experiment which showed that the mathematical formulas that describe it break down.

    But evolution was an historical process. It attempts to describe what happened. So how would one “disprove” it? Find a difference between the theory and the evidence? That already exists.  Darwin’s theory involved small changes over long periods of time, but the fossil records shows long periods of stability marked by short periods of change, which has led to the version of evolution called punctuated equilibrium.

    This leads to the second problem, which goes to the heart of what is evolution.  I have seen a very wide variety of definitions. In short it means many things to many people. I have seen evolutionists define it so broadly as to account for all dogs, or even all canines, evolving from a single type, something even devout 7-day creationists would accept; to a godless and undirected natural process that accounts for the origin of all life.

    This later definition is probably the most accurate for the most ardent supporters. It is not tied directly to any evidence, as evidence really does not matter. The theory of evolution will simply adjust itself to include whatever the evidence is found. Given the human ability to rationalize almost anything, it is hard to conceive of anything that could not be fitted in somehow.

    After all the core of Darwin’s original theory was small changes over long periods of time.  When that was not supported by the evidence, the evidence was simply incorporated into to the theory.  In short, Evolution can accommodate large changes or small changes; long periods of change or short periods of change. It is whatever it needs to be.  In short, it is a tautology and thus is something that cannot be disproven.

    Finally, there is an even deeper issue at play, and it is one that involves the nature of science, particularly when it comes to historical issues such as evolution that do not lend themselves to repeated testing and experimentation.  When dealing with such issues, is it the purpose of science to discover what happened, or is science limited only providing a natural explanation?  This question is at the core of the debate over the possibility of discovering intelligent design.

    The short history of research into intelligent design also shows the absurdity of the claim taped to the church’s sign.  Even scientists who accept evolution have found themselves in trouble for even considering the possibility of Intelligent Design. This is because for many, science can only consider natural explanations, and as such, any consideration of Intelligent Design is a priori unscientific.  This would be fine if it was then acknowledged that science was correspondingly biased, but strangely few skeptics will acknowledge that point.

    The real irony in all this is that within the Christian community, evolution is a matter of open debate.  There are Christians who accept evolution, Christians who do not, and some in the middle.  One is free to look at the evidence and reach their own conclusion.  Within the scientific community, evolution is a belief that can only be questioned at serious risk to one’s career, where even the research into the possibility of Intelligent Design is strongly opposed and condemned.  Yet somehow it is the Christians who are closed minded because they consider more than one option.

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 1 John 3:19-22

    Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week 33: Sept 16 2012

    Having contrasted sin with abiding in Christ, John now gives two positive examples to show what abiding in Christ and love really mean.

    Study

    i. Two Benefits (3:19-3:20)

    *19-20 – This is how we will know that we are from[1] the truth and how we will be able to keep our hearts[2] at rest[3] in his presence, 20whenever[4] our hearts condemn us because[5] God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.

    – Having stated the principle, John now gives us two reasons that we should do this. The first reason is the service of other is a sign of our devotion to the truth – That we are from (i.e., that we are grounded in) the true teaching of Christ. The second is that this should set our hearts as ease. If we are too busy “giving our lives” to others, there is no need to worry about our relationship with Christ.

    – If our hearts condemn us

    – This is a difficult verse because it is not clear exactly what John means. One possibility is that if our hearts condemns us we can take comfort in our service to others. The another is that whenever our heart condemns us, we can take comfort knowing we are from God. The word condemn (καταγινώσκῃ) here refers to knowing something against someone. But John is quick to point out that God is greater than our hearts and knows everything. He knows more than our heart does, he is the judge, not our heart. He sees everything we do. Yes he sees our failures, but he sees all the times we are faithful that we followed the leading of the Holy Spirit but did not even realize it.

    c. Love answers prayer (3:21-24)

    i. The Confidence (3:21-3:22)

    21 – Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God.

    – John transitions by taking the point from the previous verse, i.e., that we put our heart at rest and moves his argument forward. If our heart is at rest, we can be confident before God. Do you feel confident? If not, why not?

    22 – Whatever we request we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

    – This is another difficult statement. One that in many ways, seems too good to be true. But as Marshall put it, “though we are encouraged to have faith that will move mountains, a prayer that an awkward mound in my garden will smooth itself out is unlikely to be answered by some kind of miraculous bulldozing operation.” (p 200) But as always context is important, and here it is in the context of keeping His commandments, and doing His will. This is not a grant of power to ourselves, but an expression of God’s willingness to work through us. He will give us whatever we need to do His will.

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.


    Footnotes:

    [1] 3:19 ISV belong to
    [2] 3:19 ISV: keep ourselves 3:19 Lit. keep our hearts
    [3] 3:19 ISV: Strong
    [4] 3:20 ISV: if
    [5] 3:20 ISV: lacks because

    Evangelicals and Politics

    Tuesday, June 26th, 2012 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The recent post at Juris Naturalist, is the sort of thing that drives me crazy. Entitled, Evangelicalism == Christian Legislation, it basically, after a lengthy introduction on Wilberforce and slavery, argues that Evangelicals are too tied to the political process and should instead seek more self-sacrifice in their attempts to deal with societal issues, with the main example being, not too surprisingly, abortion.

    A key foundational premise for the author seems to be: “I don’t think morality can or should be legislated.” Thus, all the evangelicals marching in the annual Walk for Life in Washington, D.C., an event that seems to have sparked the post, are misguided as this is not what Christian’s are called to do. We are called to sacrifice, not to legislate.

    Now there are a number of problems in this argument, one being that this is not an either/or issue. While I don’t think the particular solution of paying women not to have abortions will work, I agree that the spirit of sacrifice is lacking in the modern church. In fact, many have trouble giving of their abundance, much less anything that might actually be called sacrifice. Thus the question “Where is sacrifice?’ is a very good question and one the church would do well to explore it more deeply.

    But that immediately raised a problem in that for the author, sacrifice seems to be only monetary. I have no doubt that many at the march in question sacrificed a lot to be there, including the cost to get there, to be counted as supporting innocent life.

    As for the other problems, one that stood out for me was the premise that we cannot and should not legislate morality. While a very common view, this does not change the fact that this view is simply silly. It may sound good on a bumper sticker, but it cannot withstand even the mildest critical analysis.

    Now if you agree with the belief that morality cannot/should not be legislated, then simply ask yourself this question: Why do we have laws against murder and theft? For that matter why do we have any laws at all? Virtually every law is either a direct legislation of morality, such as the laws against murder, or an indirect expression of moral values, such as our driving laws being grounded in our value for life, and our belief that it should not be needlessly endangered.

    Now lest someone conclude from this that I believe all morality should be legislated, I do not. A key question for people in a democratic form of government is what moral values are considered so important that the power of the state must be used to enforce them.

    The author sees legislation, Christian or otherwise, to be “merely another tool for force. “ In this he is correct, though his questioning of whether any legislation “do good, or even do well” is more problematic. Like most things in public life, there is no easy one size fits all answer. In our current era marked by very large, and I would say bloated, government, teetering on the verge of collapse, it is easy to build a case against government action. But the evidence of history is also pretty clear that not enough government can likewise be a bad thing. The difficultly is in finding the right balance.

    The discussion over what is the right size for government is a never ending debate that must be fought out and answered on a continual basis. When it comes to abortion, given the central issue of innocent life that is involved, this is as much a matter of legitimate state interest as laws on murder.

    Christian involvement in politics is also called for by several other factors, which I will only outline here. The first is that we are to be the salt and light to the world. While I do not believe that these verses are in any way primarily political in their nature, I do not believe that they exclude politics, i.e., that we are to be salt and light, except when it comes to politics.

    Second, we are to be subject to the rulers and authorities over us. I do not believe that this duty ceases when the government is a democratic form in which we as citizens have input into the process.

    Finally, the period from about 1925 until fairly recently was a period where evangelical Christians largely did withdraw from any active role in our government, though since the 1980s there has been some renewed interest. I, for one, do not think the results of that withdrawal are all that encouraging.

    Let me conclude by addressing one of the seeming criticisms the author had of Wilberforce’s efforts on slavery, which by implication he applies to modern efforts to ban abortion; that while it was successful, it was not “a clean win.” While this is true, does this really mean that the effort should not have been made? It is very true that God demands perfection, but he also does not expect us to achieve it in this life. Rather, it is something that we must constantly strive for, particularly in the face of a success.

    The Epistles of John: Living in Truth and Love. 2 John 3

    Tuesday, October 18th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Week Seven:  Oct 23, 2011

    While this class follows the text very closely, there is no preset schedule, nor any particular number of verses that we need to cover each week.  Instead I encourage discussion and leave room for the Holy Spirit to take the class, where He needs to take it.  This was one of those week, were most of the class was taken up in the discussion and questions.   As a result we only covered one verse.   I will try to summarize at least the main points that were discussed in the question section below.

    Study

    I. Opening

    b.      Greeting(3)

    3 – Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus1 the Messiah,2 the Father’s Son, in truth and love.

    –          Ancient letters followed the standard opening with a greeting, an example of which can be seen in Acts 15:23.

    From:  The apostles and the elders, your brothers
    To: Their gentile brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
    Greetings
    .

    Paul’s letters show an expansion of the standard greeting with Christian elements in awordplay with the word Greeting (χαίρειν/chairein) changing it to Grace (χάρις/charis) and often adding peace, the standard Jewish greeting.  Thus in 1 Cor 1:3,

    May grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, be yours!

    This came to be a common patter among Christian letters and one that John follows here.

    Grace, mercy and peace

    –          Grace and peace were common among Paul’s letters and to this John adds mercy.

    –          A member of the class mentioned that there was a progression in this verse, and there is a definite progression.  Working backwards, you cannot have true peace apart from God. But sin keeps us from God, and it is God’s mercy that allows us to be reconciled with him, and this mercy in grounded in grace.

    will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus

    –          This is an affirmation, not a request.  Note that John is making it clear that the source of our grace, mercy and peace are both the Father and Jesus.

    –          This will be important has the letter develops, for the denial of Jesus as the Messiah forms a key part of the false teachings this letter warns against.

    the Father’s Son

    –          Jesus is further described as the Father’s Son.  This repletion is a form of emphasis that Jesus is the son. Again this was something the traveling missionaries discussed in this letter rejected.

    in truth and love.

    –          John again comes back to truth adding love.  This stresses their importance in grace, mercy and peace, without truth or love, there can be no grace, mercy or peace.  This is why truth and love will play such large role in the rest of the letter.  So John is not just greeting his readers, he is using the opening of this letter to prepare his readers for what follows.

    Question/Discussion:

    As mention above the question and discussion took up the majority of the class, and my memory is not sufficient to have captured it all. So you see there is a reason to come to the class and not just follow it online!  But I will do my best.

    The discussion started with the theme of the class, living in truth and love.   These are both very important concepts, but they are often at odds with each other.  In addition, truth, itself is a very challenging concept.  This was brought home to me in the very first week of this current class.  Highland Community Church has a winter and summer schedule and does not have classes during the summer.  So when our class started up again, not too surprisingly, one of the members who has been in the class for several years asked me, how was my summer?

    My first reaction was to say the standard, “fine,” but I realized this was not true.  For reason that are not important here, it had been a difficult summer with virtually no free time to actually enjoy it.  Here I was, about to start teaching on truth and love, and before class even started I was about to say something that was not true. So I was honest, it had been a difficult summer.

    This started a discussion among the class as to what and how much to say, and how you can answer truthfully, without going into long and possibly unwanted explanations.  But before long, the discussion broadened onto how we are not always truthful with ourselves. Just as we tell others that we are Ok, or that everything is fine, we say the same things to ourselves.  We are fine; no problems with God; I have my life in order.  Yet if we were to ask God, would he say the same thing?

    Before I had started this study, I thought I was doing pretty well on the truth front, and in a general sense this was probably true.  But it did not mean that I was up to God’s standards, or even that I viewed truth, or its importance, in quite the same way that He does.

    Jesus is the truth in every sense of that word.  A commitment to Him is a commitment to truth, a key component of which is being honest with, and about, ourselves.  Letting God shine his light into our lives to reveal the things we need to work on.

    A few weeks ago, we had some questions about Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so after the discussion above, before going into 2 John, I updated the class on something that had happened during the week. My neighbor has had some Jehovah’s Witnesses coming over to his house, and so he stopped by to ask some questions about what they were claiming.   One argument in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with the class.

    A key difference between the historical Christian belief and the beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is over the deity of Jesus Christ.  Christians have historically affirmed it, while Jehovah’s Witnesses deny it.  A key verse in this debate is John 1:1.

    In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God.

    Verses 1:14, 15 and 30 clearly identify the Word in verse 1 as Jesus.   So when it says “The Word was God,”  it is not hard to see why historically Christians have believed that Jesus is God.

    My neighbor said that in response to this passage, the Jehovah’s Witness had pulled out a Greek-English Interlinear and pointed out how the word translated God in the phase, “and the Word was with God” was different than the word translated God in the phrase “and the word was God.” My neighbor went on to explain that he had been told that the word ‘God’ in “the Word was with God”, refers to Jehovah, while ‘God’ in “the word was God” is not really god. Thus in the New World Bible, the Jehovah’s Witness’ translation, John 1:1 reads,

    In [the] beginning the Word was, and the Word was with God, and the Word was a god.  (NWT)

    While this argument may sound good in English, it falls completely apart with even the most preliminary understanding of Greek.

    Here is the Greek of John 1:1

    Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος, καὶ ὁ λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν θεόν, καὶ θεὸς ἦν ὁ λόγος.

    Or transliterated

    En arche en o logos, kai o logos en pros ton theon, kai theos en o logos.

    Or as a word for word literal translation

    In beginning was the word, and the word was with the god, and god was the word.

    From this we can see that it is true that two words translated “God” in this passage are spelled differently, the first one is θεόν (theon) and the other is θεὸς (theos).  But the difference in spelling has nothing at all to do with the basic meaning of the word, but rather the grammar of the sentence.   The spelling is different because Greek uses the ending of words to indicate their function.  Consider the following sentence:

    Bill threw the ball to Joe.

    English uses word order to indicate function, so we know that Bill is the subject (i.e., Nominative Case) and Joe is the indirect object (i.e. Dative Case) by where they appear in the sentence.  Greek however uses the ending of the word for this.   One place were English also uses word endings, is with the possessive (i.e. Genitive case).   Thus in the sentence

    Joe threw Bill’s ball back.

    The  -’s  ending is used to show that the ball belongs to Bill.   English also uses the –s ending to show plural.   So whereas English does this for the Genitive case and for plurals,  Greek does this for all cases and for both singular and plural.    It shows the Nominative singular (i.e, the subject) with the  -oς   ending and the Accusative singular (i.e. the object) with –oν.  This the reason for the difference in spelling between  θεόν (theon) and θεὸς  (theos).  The first is in the Accusative case, which is exactly what one would expect as it is the object of the phrase, and the second occurrence is in the Nominative case.

    To see the fallacy of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ argument consider again the two sentences about Bill and the ball.

    Bill threw the ball to Joe.
    Joe threw Bill’s ball back.

    Bill is spelled differently in these two sentences.  Does that mean that “Bill” in the first sentence is a different kind of Bill than “Bill’s” in the second sentence?  Clearly not! Bill is the same in both sentences and the spelling difference merely concerns how it is being used in the sentence.   The same is true for θεόν (theon)  and θεὸς (theos) in John 1:1.

    At this point a question was asked about the translation of “a god” found in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ translation.   First off, it is not impossible.  Greek has no indefinite article (“a”) nor can one simply determine by the absence of the definite article (“the”)  that a noun is indefinite. Normally, this must be determined by the context.

    A key issue in John 1:1 is that in the phrase “The Word was God” (lit:  God was the Word) both “God” and “Word” are in the nominative case.  A rule in Greek, Colwell’s Rule, does help us determine that “Word” is the subject, which is why it is translated as “The Word was God,” and not “God was the Word” because in English the subject normal appears first. It also suggests that God is definite (“was God”) instead of indefinite (“was a god”).  But it does to prove it.  I will not go into the details of the grammar here.  Those who are interested can find a more complete discussion of the grammar here.

    In terms of the context, an extremely difficult problem arises with the translation of “a god” particularly in the way it is understood by the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  If Jesus is “a god,” in what sense is he a god?  If he really is “a god,” separate and distinct from the father, then you have the teaching of polytheism, the belief in more than one God.  On the other hand, if you want hold on to monotheism, the belief in only one god, then John 1:1 cannot really be saying what it is saying.

    Another point is that one of the ways Greek emphasizes something is by moving it to the front. (The other is, as we saw in the verse this week, by repetition)  Remember, because of the word endings, word order is not needed to determine the function of the word. In Greek you can put the words pretty much where you want them. While “Bill’s Joe ball threw” does not make much sense in English, that word order would not be a problem in Greek as the word endings would make it clear that the meaning was “Joe threw Bill’s ball.”   As mentioned above, the Greek literally reads “god was the word.”  So not only is the word being equated with God, but the “God” part is being emphasized.  Yet the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ understanding attempts to de-emphasize this out of existence.  It is not “God” but just “a god,” and then it was not really even “a god,” but something lesser than that, because according to their belief Jesus is not god.  In short it is pretty easy to see that their translation is trying to get around what the text says, because what it says does not match their beliefs.

    From here the discussion turned to how average Christians can deal with such arguments. After all, few Christians know very much Greek, nor do they need to. God does not expect anyone to become a super-Christian, one who know all the answers and whose walk with God is perfect. This goes right back to the subject of this class.  When dealing with questions, the simplest thing is to be honest.   Answer those questions you know, and when you are not sure, or do not know the answer, or someone raises a point or objection you have never heard before, simply say “that is a good question, and I do not know the answer. Let me look into that and I will get back to you.”

    Everyone has their role to play, and just as not everyone is called to be a pastor, not everyone is called to be an apologist.   So while you may not know the answer, there is probably someone in your church who does, or at least who knows how to get the answer. Your pastor is a great place to start.

    In many ways truth is liberating.  It frees us to go wherever the truth leads us.  We do not have to live in fear that what we believe will be proven wrong. If a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon showed me an error in my understanding of the Bible, I would praise God, because that would remove an error from my understanding and move me one step closer to the truth.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  Having said that, as with the example above, I have seen so much error and falsehood in their teachings that I know that they cannot represent the true teaching of the Bible, but I approach them in truth and in love seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit.

    Next week we will start in 2 John 4

    If you have question or comments about the class, feel free to send me an email at elgin@hushbeck.com and be sure to put “Epistles of John” in the header.

    See here for references and more background on the class.

    Scripture taken from the Holy Bible: International Standard Version®. Copyright © 1996-2008 by The ISV Foundation. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED INTERNATIONALLY. Used by permission. www.isv.org

    Note: Some places I have modify the text from the ISV version. Passages that I have modified have been noted with and * by the verse number and the ISV text is included in a footnote.

    Footnotes:
    1 Other mss. read the Lord Jesus
    2 Or Christ

    The Cult Question

    Wednesday, October 12th, 2011 by Elgin Hushbeck

    With Romney as the front-runner, the question of his Mormon religion continues to be an issue and came to the forefront recently when a Perry supporter labeled Mormons a cult, which was then followed by calls for Perry to repudiate these comments.

    This is an issue, which if not handled correctly, could blow up in a number of directions. Romney supporters are understandably nervous that if Romney’s Mormon beliefs become an issue, it could cost him the nomination or the election. However, if the defense of Romney is to label any criticism of Mormonism bigoted that could also easily backfire and alienate many Christians who make up a large portion of the conservative base that Romney will need to win.

    One factor that makes this a huge minefield is the general ignorance of the mainstream media when it comes to religion. But the biggest problem in this whole debate concerns the word “cult.” “Cult” is one of those words that has a very large lexical domain (range of meaning) from academic/technical at one end of the spectrum to a derogatory label on the other. Those calling for Perry to repudiate the term clearly see the term in the latter sense. Because of this ambiguity in meaning I do not use the word, and have encouraged others to avoid it.

    While there certainly are some Christians who use the term in a derogatory sense, for many Christians the term cult simply refers to groups who in some fashion claim to be Christian, but who reject one or more of the key doctrines that have defined Christianity. But this gets into a discussion of just what is Christianity. I discussed this issue in my book, Christianity and Secularism.

    On these central beliefs there is very little dispute. In fact, it has been these doctrines that have defined Christianity as a religion. Groups that accept these doctrines are considered to be Christian groups. Those who do not accept these doctrines cannot be considered Christians, at least not in any historical sense.

    Some may consider it to be judgmental and arrogant to say who is or is not a Christian simply because they do or do not accept a particular doctrine or belief. First, let it be clear that we are talking about classifying groups based on beliefs. After all, if there is a difference between being a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, does it not mean that Christians must have some distinct beliefs that can be contrasted with these other religions? Second we are not talking about an individual’s relationship with God. This is a spiritual matter that only God can judge, for only He knows what is truly in a person’s heart. We may be able to get a good indication by the person’s actions or beliefs but we cannot judge the heart.

    Groups do not have personal relationships with God. What defines a religious group is the beliefs of the group. If we were to be completely non-judgmental, then we would have to conclude that any group that claimed to be Christian was, regardless of what they believed. This would render the term “Christian” completely meaningless. Should we consider a group that believed in child sacrifice to be a Christian group? Would this make child sacrifice a legitimate expression of the teachings of Christ? Clearly not. So the question is not should a line be drawn that defines Christianity, but where do we draw that line.

    If no line is drawn, Christianity becomes a completely meaningless term that could be applied to any group or any action from the most divine to the most depraved. If, on the other hand, we compose a long and extensive list of doctrines that must be accepted in order for a group to be considered Christian, then we would indeed be arrogant and judgmental, restricting Christianity only to those groups that agreed with us in every little detail. The doctrines that define Christianity should be limited to those expressly taught in the Bible as essential….

    Philip Schaff, in his three volume work, Creeds of Christendom, surveyed the doctrinal statements and creeds of the various Christian churches down through the ages. He refers to their ecumenical creeds as those creeds which contain “the fundamental articles of the Christian faith, as necessary and sufficient for salvation.” As to the acceptance of these creeds, Schaff points out that they:

    … are to this day either formally or tacitly acknowledged in the Greek, the Latin, and the Evangelical Protestant Churches, and form a bond of union between them.

    The differences that divide denominations are mostly peripheral issues, such as whether or not some spiritual gifts are available to be used today. (pg 76-7;90-1)

    How this applies to the current debate is that Mormons reject some of these key doctrines. For example, while both Christianity and Judaism believe that there is only one God, Mormons believe that that many gods exist. This does not make Mormons bad people, but it does mean that Mormons beliefs are different from those that have historically defined Christianity.

    It is true that Mormons use a lot of the same terminology as Christians, such as referring to Jesus as the Son of God, but what they mean by this is often vastly different than what Christians have historically meant. Thus when a Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Orthodox, to name just a few, talk about the nature of God, or say that Jesus is the Son of God, and they all mean the same thing. Mormons talking about these topics may sound similar, but they mean something significantly different.

    This is not an unusual circumstance. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share a lot of beliefs. In fact they all believe that there is only one God. But they also have key differences. Thus we refer to them as different religious movements. While there are a large number of Christian groups with differing beliefs, they have historically shared a core of beliefs that has defined them as Christian. Mormons reject this core of beliefs, so the easiest thing to do is to likewise consider Mormons a different religious groups. This is not said in a derogatory sense, but merely an attempt to be accurate and precise.

    So how does this apply to the election? The simple answer is that it doesn’t. The constitution is pretty clear that there should be no religious test for office. The office of the president has no religious function, and therefore the religion of the candidate should be largely irrelevant. It would only become relevant if the candidate chose to make it an important part of their campaign, but this would in and of itself raise red flags. But Romney has not done this, and nothing in his career would indicate that he would. So as a bottom line, when it comes to Romney, while I do not believe he is a Christian, I am looking for a President, not a pastor. Thus I will be much more interested in his polices than his religion.