I Invite You to Challenge Me at My Most Vulnerable Point

(This challenge is for atheists, agnostics, and anyone else who believes that Jesus Christ is not who the Bible says He is.)

If you want to attack and defeat an enemy you look for the most efficient way to do so.  If it’s a country, you go after its capital because through victory over that one city you can control the entire nation.

The central focal point of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Israel, raised from the dead.  I could not have this faith were it not for the historical reliability of the New Testament.  That is, I take the New Testament documents at face value.  If it says “Matthew’s gospel” I believe it was written by Matthew.  If a letter reads as if it was written by Paul, I believe it was written by Paul.  On this basis, I read the New Testament and either accept it or reject it as a whole.

I don’t pick and choose which parts of the New Testament to trust and which to doubt because in order to do that I’d have to trust Bible scholars and they never unanimously agree.  They exist across a spectrum from liberal to conservative, and if you want to be choosy about what you believe, there is always a Bible scholar to be found who will support your view.  Reading the New Testament collection of documents as they present themselves, I find them logical and persuasive.  Having accepted the New Testament, I fully accept the Old Testament because the New Testament bears abundant witness that the Old Testament is the word of God.

To summarize the key point: in the New Testament I find a collection of testimonies from people who claim to be eyewitnesses that I can either accept or reject as a whole.  To reject parts of their testimony, I’d have to trust myself or a Bible scholar to know more about those points than the person who claims to be an eyewitness.

Let me spell out the sequence and development of my faith: 1) the New Testament documents are what they present themselves to be until proven otherwise , 2) I find their message logical and compelling, 3) accepting their message (the centrality of which is Jesus as the Messiah, raised from the dead), I believe that the Old Testament is the word of God 4) due to its similarity to the Old Testament, I conclude that the New Testament is also the word of God.

Notice that regarding the New Testament as the word of God was not the way I began, but rather the way I ended.  I only began with “Here is a set of documents from antiquity which are presented to me as historically reliable; I will read them and see what they say.”  I found nothing in my reading of these 27 documents that was self-contradictory in any material way.  On the contrary, I found their cohesion and consistency – given the variety of authors as well as the variety of circumtances which gave rise to the various documents – to be stunning and awe-inspiring.

Nonetheless, if you were able to demonstrate to me that these documents were falsified in any material way – that is, written falsely or edited falsely – you could completely undermine my faith in Jesus, which is to say undermine my faith in God, the supernatural, life after death, and on and on.  Therefore, I invite you to challenge me at my most vulnerable point.  Herein is “the capital,” by which if you capture it, you will have won the whole country.

Apparently, there are a number of people who think that the New Testament documents were either completely fabricated or else are extensive embellishments of original documents which presented a different Jesus that we read about now.  If you are one of them, here’s your chance.  I’m inviting you to attack me at the most strategic point of my faith.

I will tell you at the outset that all I have heard so far along these lines have been preposterous propositions, so you had better present some reasonable explanation of how such a falsification was pulled off.  If you can do so, you would have solved the crime of the century…no, make that millennium…no, make that millennia since it’s been almost 2,000 years since this caper was supposedly pulled off.

Until then, we’ll call the theory that the New Testament documents aren’t the work of Jesus’ honest and faithful apostles, “The Great Hoax That Never Was.”

POSTSCRIPT:  Someone (Hendy) posted below that he didn’t completely understand the challenge and wanted me to clarify or elaborate.  I’ve done that below.

For an update on the project’s status as of January 11, 2011 see below.

Miracles Considered

Some people today have trouble believing the Bible because it contains accounts of miracles.  They feel that we live in an age of science and that biblical documents, coming from a pre-scientific age, don’t have credibility.  This is an unwarranted rejection of reliable historical documents.  To help such people address their qualms about miracles, here are some points to consider.

1. Miracles were rare in Bible times.  It is not as though every page of the Bible contains a miracle.  On the contrary, miracles are comparatively rare in biblical times.  When they did occur, they sometimes came in bunches – most notably in the life of Jesus of Nazareth which is part of what made His life so noteworthy. 

2. Miracles are rare today.  Many false claims of miracles are made today – some by hucksters seeking fame or fortune, and some by sincere but misguided folks whose wishful thinking leads them to exaggerate and rationalize.  Thus, biblical times and modern times are quite similar in the sense that true miracles were and are rare, and that false claims were and are abundant.

3. God usually doesn’t perform miracles to prove Himself.  When He was raised from the dead, Jesus appeared to His disciples and not the Pharisees or the Romans.  Thus miracles are a favor to the believing, not the unbelieving.

4. God doesn’t grant miracles on demand.  Miracles come as He wills, not as we want.  Therefore, we can’t set up a science lab, have a control group, and do all the things that our science teacher would be proud of.  We have to be content with the approval of our history teacher who would have us examine the historical record and pay attention to eyewitness accounts.   

5. Miracles are different from wonders.  Wonders are present all through creation.  It’s a wonder that we are walking around on the side of a spinning sphere that is flying through space without falling off or even getting chapped lips.  This has happened for all of known history though, so we become dulled to the wonder of it.  A miracle, then, is an extraordinary wonder.  Their rarity keeps them from being wonders which get taken for granted.  If God can perform wonders every day, what’s so strange about a miracle once in a while?  

6. Miracles are seamless with creation.  Since the God of creation is the God of miracles we should not be surprised that miracles, in some ways, look like normal life.  They are seldom accompanied by great fanfare or dramatic flourish as we would see in a magic act.  They are momentary alterations from the ordinary. 

7. Miracles are not a suspension of the laws of physics.  God no more suspends the laws of physics to perform a miracle than humanity suspended the law of gravity to achieve flight.  We can only benefit from the laws of physics to the degree that we know and understand them.  God has an advantage over us in that regard, and we see that advantage exploited in the execution of a miracle.

8. Just because biblical societies weren’t scientific doesn’t mean they weren’t skeptical.  While biblical society may not have had as many science books as we do, they certainly had as much skepticism.  When the rare miracle did occur, it was disbelieved, rationalized away, or otherwise ignored just as much as it is today.  Not everyone believed then, just as not everyone believes now.

9. The miracles of Jesus were expressions of His kindness.  When Jesus fed the 5,000 He was feeding hungry people.  When he brought back to life the dead son of a grieving widow He was comforting her.  When He walked on water toward His storm-tossed disciples He was saving them.  Don’t let the splendor of His miracles divert you from seeing what His acts were at their root: love in action. 

10. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the most important miracle, and the key to understanding all the others.  The only miracle in the Bible necessary to know about, understand, and believe is that Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day according to the Scriptures.  If you believe in Him, you can then believe in Jonah and all the other miracles…because He believed them.

Dialogue with KC (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  KC is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began when KC (We do not otherwise know each other) made a comment yesterday on the post Dialogue with Rob.  Of course, I don’t always break out a comment into a separate post.  This is one of those exchanges, however, that I thought worthy of it.  KC was, in essence, summarizing the dialogue with Rob and then giving his own take on it – which can sometimes give new perspective to the same issues.

(If you want to see KC’s initial words in their original context, see Dialogue with Rob and scroll down to the December 23rd comment he made.  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

KC:  This is actually a really interesting discussion. I have to say though, Mike (and I say this with all due respect) you are a little on the gullible side. I don’t know if you have had a lack of exposure to dishonest people or exposure to honest people with faulty human memories or what, but you seem to give the biblical account of Jesus’ life the benefit of every doubt and don’t seem to approach the issue with a healthy dose of skepticism. Historical documents should always be read with a skeptical eye, particularly those that claim to document events that defy what we know about science and the natural world.

As a lawyer I’ve had exposure to some of both. People tell boldface lies for little or no reason. Other people’s memory fails them on fairly key details. History is distorted by the passage of time. The fact that the events the bible purports to describe were written down years after the fact is a serious red flag for their accuracy.

But for me the biggest indictment of the big religions are 1) modern day alleged “prophets” who manage to bring everything from a handful to a few hundred to even thousands of followers. The 900 or so people who killed themselves on Jim Jones’ direction in Guyana tells me that some people will believe anything and follow anyone if they are brainwashed enough. 2) the fact that a LOT of humans to this day claim to witness miracles and/or talk to god when they quite clearly do not.

Its one thing to be open minded. It is another thing to believe things humans tell you.

Mike:  I would be gullible if I accepted without question an isolated document from the distant past which makes bold and dramatic assertions about its protagonist.  However, that is not what we have here.  (By the way, it is what we have in the Book of Mormon and the Quran which is why I regard their claims as dubious on their face – and even more so because in both cases the protagonist is the author!)

You are right that historical documents should be viewed with a skeptical eye, but I wouldn’t limit the skepticism to merely those that contained supernatural claims.  In any case, once a document has survived appropriate scrutiny, however, we ought not continue questioning it.  Otherwise we become excessively suspicious because we can’t trust anything.  (Apparently there are people who think the moon landing was faked or that the USA engineered the 9/11 attacks.) 

The dozens of documents produced over a thousand years by ancient Israel (that we call the Old Testament) had passed the test.  They were completely accepted in 1st Century Israel.  People certainly disagreed about what they meant, but no one challenged that they existed or what they said. 

It is these documents that originally made the bold and dramatic assertions about a protagonist – over and over again.  Therefore the New Testament was not an isolated document – not by a long shot.  Neither was it predicted by an isolated document, but rather many documents all regarded as national treasures (just as every country treasures the documents related to its formation and its pivotal moments).

Moreover, the New Testament itself was not a single document, but rather a collection of 27 of them – also by various authors – none of whom is the protagonist.  People often overlook this when they make the claim that it was “written many years after the facts described.”  This is only true of the historical books of the New Testament (the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles), and I’ll say more about them in a moment.  The other 22 books of the New Testament were letters, and thus were ipso facto documented as the act of writing occurred.  It wasn’t as if Paul’s letter to the Ephesians began with “Twenty years ago I wrote you a letter in which I said…” and ended with “…and that’s what I wrote you twenty years ago.”

As for the New Testament’s historical books, what is uncommon about history being written years after the fact?  In the last few years books have been published on World War II (60 years ago), the American Revolution (over 200 years ago), and, of course, virtually every period of history.  Are such books immediately discredited because they are written so long after the fact?  On the contrary, they’re accepted prima facie.  That’s not to say that no one disagrees with a historian’s conclusions; it’s to say that no one dismisses the historian because he’s not writing contemporaneously with the events.  In fact, no one allows that sort of thing to even be called history – it’s called journalism instead.

And journalism brings us to this point: the Gospels and Acts emanated from eyewitnesses.  In the cases of Matthew and John, the eyewitnesses wrote the accounts; in the case of Mark, Luke, and Acts, the writer assembled eyewitness accounts.  They were not immediately written down after Jesus’ resurrection, as if the good news was going to be spread through a book tour and an appearance on Oprah.  It was much more of an oral culture in those days.  In fact, it’s likely that most of the material we see written in these historical books existed in oral form for years before they were written down (which accounts for why they’re consistent without being uniform).  What then caused them to be written down?  Certainly one factor was the age and impending doom of the eyewitnesses. 

Peter and Paul each testify to their expectations of death.  The imminent destruction of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70 A.D., of course) would cause further disruption.  If the associates of the carpenter’s son managed to escape martyrdom (which, apparently, few did) there was still the fact that they weren’t getting any younger.  If they were the same age as Jesus, they would have been approaching 70 at the destruction of the temple by the Romans. Thus, oral transmission of the eyewitness accounts of Jesus was soon going to be impossible.  Better to have their depositions taken than to rely on second-hand witnesses and hearsay going forward.

As to your last point – on your “biggest indictment of the big religions” – I agree with you.  And I want to elaborate in a separate reply below this one when I have more time.

Dialogue with Don (re: Second Coming)

In this discussion, Don is objecting to my position on the Second Coming.  I believe it occurred long ago as I have made clear in Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again.  Don holds to the evangelical Christian view that Jesus’ Second Coming is still in the future.

Don and I went to high school together a little over forty years ago, and we’ve interacted only sporadically since then.  This dialogue originally took place as a comment exchange last month.  If you want see it in its original context, see All the Promises of the Bible Have Been Kept.  I’ve done only minor editing here, and that for the sake of readability.

Mike: There are no prophecies in the Bible which are awaiting fulfillment.  They have all been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  This does not make the Bible less relevant to our lives – it makes it more relevant…and more trustworthy.  You can believe that God will keep all His promises to you because everything He promised in the Bible to do, He did.

For more on this topic, see All Bible Prophecy Has Been Fulfilled .

Don:  The Second Coming has not occurred.

Mike:  Should I believe you or the Bible?

Don: Well, the Bible of course. I don’t hold to a Dispensational view as so many evangelicals do concerning the second coming, but I don’t see how you say the second advent has already occurred. Do you hold to a more Seventh Day Adventist view that the second coming was not an earthly return and Jesus entered into the heavenly sanctuary?

 Mike:  I’m told that Adventists believe in an imminent physical return of Jesus as is common among evangelicals. Beyond that, I’m not knowledgeable about all the various beliefs that churches hold.

I say that it’s already occurred because of having read the Bible. That is, when you read the New Testament it is clear that the apostles saw the event as imminent in their age, and insisted that it would not be delayed. To say otherwise is to say that the New Testament is wrong. How can we believe the Bible regarding Jesus’ first coming but not regarding His second? Rest assured that we can believe the Bible regarding everything it says. Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again explains the issue. At the end of that post, there is a link to a book-length biblical case where I go into detail with discussion of specific relevant passages.

 Don:  What about 2 Peter 3:8-10, “But, beloved do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the Day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works of it will be burned up.”

This creates problems to your thoughts. One is that if the scriptures say these things will happen soon, we need to consider how the Lord views time. Two is that there is something that has not been fulfilled.

Mike:  1) Your interpretation of Peter’s words “with the Lord one day is as…” would mean that all the other New Testament instructions about the timing of the event were misleading. Peter, however, was not breaking rank as you suggest. He was reinforcing the idea that Jesus had laid down: no one would know the day or the hour, but as to the general timeframe everyone should be aware.

2) To be precise about it, the New Testament nowhere proclaims that the Second Coming had occurred – only that it was about to occur. Therefore, if it was imminent for them almost two thousand years ago, it must be past tense for us today. Of course, the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. was the key historical event confirming the truth of the prophecies. Nonetheless, the Second Coming itself was just as Peter said: “like a thief in the night.” Otherwise, “if the owner of the house had known what day or hour to expect the thief, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into.”

As to these two points, see also the post Do Not Withhold Good.

“One Nation Under God”

You recognize the phrase “one nation under God” as coming from the Pledge of Allegiance.  It seems our country’s citizens can be divided into two categories: those who like these words in the Pledge of Allegiance and those who don’t.  Both groups seem to feel strongly about their position.

Those who like the phrase think that its value speaks for itself.  For them, to remove the phrase would be an insult to God and victory for godlessness.  Those who don’t like the phrase often mention that it was added to the Pledge in 1954 and that it has the government in the business of promoting religion.

Irrespective of whether those words, or even the Pledge itself, continue to be uttered, however, this is a nation that is under God.  How do I know this?  Because every nation is a nation under God.  As it says in the book of Proverbs, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin brings disgrace.”  That is, our collective national welfare is dependent on our collective moral behavior.  God is the Judge of heaven and earth and He will always do what is right.  He will bestow blessings when we do right and curses when we sin. 

The reason that our country has enjoyed the blessings that it has since its inception is that God has judged us more worthy of blessing than cursing.  Sure, we have had both – but the blessing has far outweighed the cursing.  This balance of accounts is worked out for every country.  America does not have some unique charter with God.  America has been great because she has been good.  As she stops being good, she will stop being great.  We may have the greatest founding fathers a country ever had, but we’re going to lose our country if enough of us don’t live right in our time.

My purpose in this post is to call us to repentance in the sight of God.  If we don’t stop living immorally, we will suffer the loss of many blessings that our ancestors have left to us.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter so much whether we want to say the words “one nation under God” or we don’t.  God is not interested in mere lip service.  What He cares about is how we live.  The only logical thing for us to do is repent.  (For elaboration, see Judgment Is Upon Us.)

Dialogue with Don (re: Church)

In this discussion, Don is objecting to my position on church.  I believe that it is unnecessary, as I make clear in like Seeking the Kingdom of God Instead of Church as well as in the title of the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.  Don’s position is the traditional evangelical Christian view that involvement in church is necessary to pleasing Jesus.

Don and I went to high school together a little over forty years ago.  We’ve interacted only sporadically since then.  This dialogue originally took place as a comment exchange a couple of months ago.  If you want see it in its original context, see The Church Adds Its Ideas to God’s Ideas.  I’ve done only minor editing here, and that for the sake of readability.

Mike:  Jesus calls us to come to Him.  The church adds that this means we should come to church (even though Jesus never said this).

Jesus says that we should be generous.  The church adds that this means we should give money to the church (even though Jesus never said this).

Jesus says that we should honor Him.  The church adds that this means we should honor the church as we would honor Him (even though Jesus never said this).

Jesus says that we should acknowledge Him as Lord of our lives.  The church adds that we cannot do this without being an active part of a church (even though Jesus never said this).

The church preaches the truth but adds to it ideas of their own that are not truth.  You must be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Jesus is the wheat.  Everything else is chaff.

Don:  What do you mean by “the church?”

Mike:  The organizations that call themselves churches today. I used a singular term to describe them as a group but there are, of course, tens of thousands of Christian denominations and countless non-denominational churches. Regardless of their number, the characterizations I gave generally apply to them all, but especially to the more biblically-oriented ones.

By the way, I applaud any church when it preaches Jesus – not because it is a church, but because it is preaching Jesus.

Don: There are some very complicated statements that you made and to respond to them would be more lengthy than what you said. However, let me give you some basic responses. No, Jesus during his earthly ministry did not recommend the organizational structure of the local church, however it was illustrated in things that he did. He discipled people in ministry, illustrated baptism and the Lord’s supper. He did advocate and also lead what could be described as congregational meetings and outreach services. People that were discipled by Him did outline the basic structure in the local church elsewhere in the New Testament. He advocated helping the poor, widows, sick, prisoners, orphaned, etc. How are you going to do this without money. He did say, “Give and it will be given unto you.” Paul in the epistles particularly when writing to the Church at Corinth mentioned the taking of offerings to supply the needs of the Christians in Jerusalem who had suffered a great deal. Paul also talked about those who preach receiving funds for their ministry. Christians meeting together eventually build buildings for their activities. The people that attend give money to pay for those buildings. The funds are also used for mission activities and preaching the gospel, feeding the needy and so many other things. Are we perfect in our fellowships and gathering places, no, but most are trying to do well in honoring Christ. Also, when speaking of the church you need to consider that The Church is referred to as the bride of Christ.

Mike: You paint a vivid picture of how churches today have departed from Jesus’ commands and from the practices of the New Testament church. Instead of giving to “the poor, widows, sick, prisoners, orphaned, etc.” today’s churches collect for their buildings – just as you say. Sure, some of that money goes to the poor, but only a fraction. As you also rightly say, the New Testament church collected in one city to send to its poor in another city. Churches today do not do that; they collect for themselves (and maybe give a fraction elsewhere). Are most people in today’s churches trying to do right in the sight of God? Yes, but so are many people who don’t attend church.

As for “the church” being the bride of Christ, that was spoken of the New Testament church which was one undivided body. The apostles rebuked even the beginnings of division (1 Corinthians 1:10-13). Yet today’s churches exist in tens of thousands of different denominations, and even more nondenominational churches, thoroughly demonstrating that it is not the kingdom of God because of its divided state (Matthew 12:25).

The Kingdom of God is in our midst. It is available to everyone, whether they go to church or not. Those who trust and obey Jesus are seeking it. This trusting and seeking means keeping His commandments. Your acknowledgement that Jesus did not command church attendance should make you think. If going to church was essential to our pleasing Him, why would He not command it? And if we say that it is essential when He didn’t, are we not adding to the word of God our own man-made commandments?

Dialogues

I began publishing “dialogues” on this blog today.  Initially, there are four of them.  Three with atheists who challenge my message and one with Christians who challenge it.  The dialogues with the three atheists are ongoing.  The one with the two Christians occurred several months ago and is concluded.  Other dialogues may be added over time.

I hasten to add that I don’t like using labels like “atheist” and “Christian” because they can cubbyhole and divide people.  Therefore, I don’t really look at the individuals with whom I’m conversing through these lenses.  I just use them to help organize the content on the site to help people find their way to content that interests them.  Therefore, “atheist” in this context is simply a way of saying that the dialogue is based on someone challenging my reasons for having faith in Jesus Christ and the Bible.  “Christian” in this context means someone is challenging my position when it departs from traditional church-based Christianity.  The “Dialogues with Atheists,” therefore, are usually about who Jesus was while “Dialogues with Christians” are usually about what Jesus teaches.  Thus, to help you find discussions which are relevant to you interests I use these categories.  However, I eschew all such labels for people and consider us all part of the same human race – the one for whom Christ died.

All these dialogues are civil arguments, conversational debates.  If we all communicate truthfully with, and respectfully toward, each other, we will all learn from each other.  And those who read the exchanges will learn as well.  May the best ideas (that is, the truth of God) prevail – regardless of how many of us get to utter a piece of it.

The first three Dialogues with Atheists are Dialogue with Ken, Dialogue with Willy, and Dialogue with Rob.

The first Dialogues with Christians is Dialogue with Don and Robert.

Dialogue with Don and Robert (re: Heaven and Hell)

In this discussion, Don and Robert are objecting to my post Everyone Is Going to Heaven.  Instead, they believe that those who have faith in Christ are going to heaven and everyone else is going to hell. 

Don and Robert are two friends of mine.  They both identify themselves as evangelical Christians.  This dialogue took place on FaceBook several months ago.  I’ve removed it from there and placed it here.

The interaction began when Don commented on one of my blog posts (which posts directly on FaceBook when I publish it on WordPress).  Robert joined in later.

Don:  Hey Mike, one of your articles says that everyone goes to heaven. However, I could give you 100 references in the New Testament that says you must say, “Yes,” to Jesus to get to heaven. You must recognize He is the Son of God and gave Himself as atonement for sin. You cannot read the New Testament without this being clear. Why do you brush that aside? Just saying “Yes” to him is not asking too much compared to what He did for us.

Mike:  I do not brush anything in the New Testament aside, for it and the Old Testament are the word of God. I base everything I believe on it – including the truth that everyone is going to heaven. You are right to say that we should say “Yes”… to Jesus, but we do not have to say “Yes” to church in order to say “Yes” to Him. And just because everyone is going to heaven does not mean that there is not judgment for our sins – both in this life and the one to come. My message is this: love Jesus and serve His kingdom!

Don:  How can you have both? How would you feel as a father to have given your son and all you ask is that people hear and believe what He did for you is true. That is all you ask, but they reject your son in word and heart felt attitude.

Mike:  I would forgive them. Isn’t that what He has taught us to do?

Don:  God judges no one as we are judged already. Jesus is available for those who want to escape the judgement. He gives you free will. Will a loving God send someone to heaven who does not want to be there?

John 3:18, ‘There is no judgement a…waiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust Him have been judged already for not believing the only Son of God.”

Mike:  God chose heaven for our destination when we die just as He chose earth for our destination when we were born; in neither case do we choose the destination. Our choice is whether we will repent now or when we die. If we repent and trust Him now, we may be able to escape the judgments that are on the world and falling all around us. This is the promise of the verse you quote.

Don:  Where does it say in scripture that we have another opportunity following death? The only revealed will of God I can count on is what is in the pages of the Bible.

Mike:  Have you never read the scripture that says “every knee shall bow” or the one that says “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive” or the one where Jesus says “I will draw all men unto Myself” or the one that says He died not for the sins of some “but for those of the whole world” or the one that says He is “the Savior of all men”? If these are not enough for you, read my book The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven which has much more and is posted on my blog site. Why are you so opposed to everyone going to heaven?

Don:  You have to consider those passages in view of others as well.

Romans 1 speaks of God making himself clear to all men, but that does not mean they will respond.

Matt. 10:31 “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. Bu whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 10:38, “And He who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.”

Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Sower. Only the seeds that take root and produce fruit are the saved. Parable of the separation of the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25.

John 1:10-11 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believ in His name.

John 3:19 And this is the condemntion, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

John 5:24  Most assuredly, I say to you he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgement, but has passed from death into life. 

Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in you heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 

Romans 10:13 “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” 

No where is a Universal salvation taught in the Bible. All of scripture points to Jesus and the need to say, “Yes,” to Him. It is so simple.

Is a Muslim who blows himself up in an effort to get to heaven then a Christian? Would there be any comdemnation on the one who taught this to the suicide bomber?

1 Timothy 1:12  If we deny Him, He also will deny us.

Hebrews 11:6  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believer that He is, and that He is a rewarder of thosw who diligently seek Him.

Mike:  None of the Scriptures you quote make reference to heaven or what happens to a person when they die. On the contrary, they all speak to distinctions God makes among the living. And, as you can see from them, the obedience He seeks from us involves much more than “simply saying yes” to who He is. You have pushed back the Kingdom of God to something that happens at death when God would have us seek and enter it now for it is here in our midst.

Don:  I pushed it to making a decision before death, but you made it a decision after death. There are some 80 Kingdom of God passages. I believe all of them would note a decision before death.

Mike:  Don, I am not making it a “decision after death.” As I said above, going to heaven when we die is not a decision we make. It is a decision God has made. As for the kingdom of God, yes, we should make the decision to enter it now in this …life so that we can be blessed in this life and the one to come. You are confusing the kingdom of God with going to heaven when we die. The kingdom of God is the state of being obedient to Jesus. Heaven is the location of our afterlife just as earth is our location for this life. By equating the kingdom with going to heaven, you make the kingdom of no effect in this life which leads us to disregard His commandments and thus deprives us of God’s blessing.

Don:  I don’t feel I am the one who is confused. I am just telling you what scripture says.

Mike:  Don, you and I are both appealing to Scripture. We just disagree about what it is saying.

Robert:  Okay, then there’s:

LUKE 16 —The Rich Man and Lazarus

19″There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.  20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores  21and longing to eat wha…t fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.  22″The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.  23In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  24So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’  25″But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’  27″He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house,  28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’  29″Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’  30″ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’  31″He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

And, MATTHEW 8:

10When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

And, REVELATION 20:

10And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The Dead Are Judged

11Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Mike:  Robert, your Matthew 8 passage refers to the kingdom, not to where we go when we die – the same thing that is confusing Don. As for your Luke 16 passage, Jesus told this story before the resurrection. Moreover, the word “hell” in verse 23 is actually “Hades” in the original language – the same “Hades” that your Revelation 20 passage says “gave up the dead that were in them.” If Hades has given up its dead, how are any dead still in it?

Robert:  So, are you discussing the “Kingdom of God” via eschatological (millennial) views (pre-Mil, A-Mil, Post-Mil, etc.)? What about the unbelieving, reprobate dead. What is their eternal destiny?

Mike:  Robert, I am discussing the kingdom of God via none of those things. I am discussing it via it being the central theme of Jesus’ teaching and that which He said in the Sermon on the Mount we should “seek first.”

Robert:  Still wondering about your view of what happens after death (especially at Jesus’ 2nd coming and the end of human “history” and the beginning of the “new heaven” and “new earth”) — what eternal distinction between the believing individual and the unrepentant unbeliever? I refer back to Don’s Matt. 25 citing:

The Judgment

31″But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne.

32″All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats;

33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats (AD)on the left.

34″Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . .

41″Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘(AN)Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels . . .

46″These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Also, there’s HEBREWS 10:

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again,”The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

And Paul, in 2 COR. 5 is surely making a distinction between what transpires at death for a believer (vs. a non-believer). His approach here and elsewhere is via his consistent reminder to those who are “in Christ” to “persuade men” (who are not in Christ). No “universal salvation” here (or numerous other places). If there were (for all men in all times) , then we don’t need to preach a Gospel of “Christ’s atonement for sins”/”forgiveness”/”redemption”/”salvation by faith” (et al), since everybody’s going to Heaven anyway. The question is one of eternal dwelling place (??). I think this is Don’s question and also mine.

See also: “A Vision Of Hell — Somber accounts of the reality of eternal punishment” (BOSTON, RYLE, SPURGEON, BUNYAN)

Mike:  Robert, you and Don continue to consider any scriptural reference to the kingdom as a reference to something later, something after death. I am saying that the kingdom is here and now and should be sought here and now. Your Matt 25 and He…b 10 passages both speak to the kingdom which is now and the judgment which is now. The Son of Man has already come in His glory and is sitting on His glorious throne – just as He promised.  (See Jesus Christ Has Already Come Again.)

I cannot find the distinction of which you speak in 2 Cor 5. That everyone is going to heaven is all the more reason to preach the gospel: 1) so that all of us can continually give thanks to God for His unmerited and staggering kindness toward us, and 2) so that we can turn from our sins and find grace instead of judgment in this life, and 3) so that, if we do repent here, in the life to come we may have the opportunity to receive honor in heaven for indeed some who are first here will be last there and some who are last will be first (That is, everyone is going to heaven but each will receive glory there according to what he has done here – and glory in heaven is different from, and infinitely better than, earthly glory.)

Robert:  I have no disagreement whatsoever with you that Jesus’ Kingdom is here and now, that we should “live” in that confidence and the knowledge of it current and future benefits.

The concern that I still have (Don too??) is one of eternal dwelling re: believers and unbelievers. Your references (immediately above) are for believers “in Christ” (e.g. 2 Cor.5).

What about all the others? In my opinion, you haven’t yet addressed that adequately, unless of course you still purport a “universal salvation” of all men with not eternal consequences (punishment) for those who die without faith in Christ. Please clarify your position on that specific point.

Mike:  I do not know how to be more clear: Everyone is going to heaven, and every act is brought to judgment. It sounds like you think these two ideas are incompatible.

Robert:  “Everyone is going to heaven, and every act is brought to judgment.” I agree, Mike, although I think I might state it this way: “Everyone will ultimately appear (in Heaven) at the final judgment seat of God.”

It’s what happens when the “…judgment” process is completed that I’d like to get your input on. Let me see if I can rephrase the SPECIFIC QUESTION I’d like you to answer:

Q: At the end of all human history, where (and in what sort of literal “environment”) will all UNBELIEVERS in Christ in this life spend ETERNITY after they die?

Mike:  A: Heaven.

Robert:  My question had two prongs; the second one was: “(and in what sort of literal ‘environment’)” — i.e., experiencing eternal punishment or not?

Mike:  There are consequences in heaven for how we have lived here – both negative and positive. However, the environment is heaven and so it does not include the unremitting physical and emotional torture described in your SermonIndex link above….

I deal with these issues at the level of detail you are seeking in this book:  The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

Robert, you know the Bible and so you know that the Old Testament taught that everyone went to Sheol (Hades) below at death. My question for you is: “Since that was the single destination for the dead until Jesus ascended to the right hand of God in heaven, how and when did that destination change for anyone else?”

Don:  What happens when you send people to heaven who don’t want to be there? You will end up with almost the same situation we now have on earth. We have people trying to be good and do the right thing with people who just don’t care and are explotive of others. God gives us free will and allows us to make a choice. There are people who will make the choice they don’t want to be in heaven.

Robert:  As I have skimmed your lengthy posting at the above link, I can’t help but remember that the Bible describes Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as “propitiation” = a wrath-ending sacrifice for a “people of his own possession.” If there is to be a distinction—on earth, in this life, “by faith”—between those who belong to the family of God “in Christ,” then surely those who do not belong to that same believing “family” are outside the benefits and application of Christ’s work. If not, then why repent and come to faith at all?  If it’s only about “this life,” then why not just “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” without any real consequences that we have to “worry” about.

If you think about it sin is an “ETERNAL offense” against an ETERNAL, holy, sinless God. The consequences for sin should be comparable. We expect “justice” for crimes (sins) committed against each other on earth (e.g., murder, rape, child-molestation . . . et al); why wouldn’t/shouldn’t we expect the same from the God of justice if we reject his Son (of mercy)?!

As for me, I do not know, want, or serve a God who will allow the guilty to go unpunished. My (anybody’s) sin either is paid for by Christ, and I am redeemed and forgiven “by faith” in Him or I am condemned by my own guilt, non-repentance and rejection of the One who comes to be a “Savior” of the elect of God, and I should and will receive the “just consequences” of that sinful rebellion in my own person.

Our problem may be that we take sin way too lightly. “Justice” is indeed tempered by “mercy” because of Christ. But there is “condemnation” apart from Christ. It’s clearly taught all through the N.T., particularly Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews. To think otherwise is only to cheapen and to make Christ’s atoning work inconsequential (literally).

Mike:  Don, no one in his right mind would reject heaven as a home. That people reject the idea here on earth is merely evidence that they are not in their right minds – they are blinded by sin. Therefore, we pray and live that their eyes may be opened, but even if not, death is the removal of the veil of flesh and all will bow to the glory of God. The repentant rich man in the Luke 16 story that Robert quoted demonstrates this. Besides, many of the people saying no to heaven in this life are not saying no to Jesus; rather, they are saying no to the hypocrisy they see in the gospel presented to them (self-seeking churches, ministries, individiuals, etc.). Let us present Jesus and Jesus only and see if more do not embrace Him. No one will be in heaven who will not be grateful to be there, though some may bitterly regret the way they lived on earth.

Mike:  Robert, you must not be aware that you are painting a picture of God that trivializes sin and portrays Him as unjust – the very ideas you say you oppose. I say this because you seem to be saying that those who profess faith in Christ won’t… be punished for their sins but those who don’t profess faith in Christ will. Thus you have God under-punishing the professors (by not judging them according to their deeds) and over-punishing the non-professors (by condemning them to infinite punishments for finite offenses) – the actions of an unjust judge. Further, your view trivializes sin because it suggests that the mere profession of faith removes sin’s consequences. Ezekiel 18 makes clear that continued blessing comes only with continued obedience and that continued wrath comes only with continued disobedience. Professing faith is Christ is a good thing, but it is not a magic talisman (John 13:17; Matthew 7:21).

I know that deep down you do not believe the doctrine of a fiery hell for nonprofessors that you are proclaiming because if you did, you would never spend a moment of life doing anything other than warning people of this eventuality. You are trapped in religious thinking that has nothing to do with the Spirit of Christ. Return to your first love. He who released you from your sins in the beginning of your walk with Him will release you from the sins you’ve committed since then. Spurgeon, Ryle, and the others did not die for you – Jesus did. He is alive…and well…and as personal as ever.

It is you who are – albeit unintentionally – rendering His atoning work inconsequential by insisting that its effects do not reach as far as the curse is found. Moreover, you are making Adam a more consequential figure in human history than Christ (thus eviscerating 1 Corinthians 15:22 of its meaning). And you are ascribing more power to human decisions than you are to those of our sovereign God.

Robert:  I am not saying that obedience in unnecessary. Jesus is both “Savior” and “Lord.” Those who claim Him as the former must also bear the fruit of following Him as “Lord.”

As to Christ’s atonement and “our sovereign God” and His “decisions,” I… firmly believe in that often unpopular, but biblical doctrine of “election” that God, “the Potter” has indeed created “vessels unto glory” and “vessels of destruction.” A very unsettling (and often avoided) N.T. Pauline teaching in Romans 9. He cautions us there too, not to think we have any reason or right as “clay” to argue with the “Potter.” Again, I know that the whole idea of an “elect of God” is an unpalatable concept for many, but it wasn’t my idea, and it’s in the Bible. The Greek root word(s) associated with this teaching (elect, election, “choose”) literally mean to “speak out,” involving God’s “foreknowledge” = “setting His love upon” beforehand. (Eph. 11:14//Romans 8). My biblical thesis work was on this very topic of God’s “adopted” children “in Christ.” The whole “predestination” issue comes to bear too, another very unpopular yet biblical teaching.

Simply put, the Bible nowhere affirms a “universal” salvation. If so, we can just stop talking about all those technical, theological issues and pronounce everybody ultimately “saved” at their deaths. Only problem is that this is not the teaching of Scripture.

God doesn’t have to “punish the professors” since indeed that would be “double jeopardy” with the list of their transgressions, the decrees against them having been “nailed to the cross” along with Christ, the perfect God-Man, the “second Adam” in their stead (again, Hebrews, Galatians, Romans, Corinthians et al).

For you to present a teaching that seems to contradict the biblical teaching of numerous of God’s servants down through history (including Spurgeon, Ryle, Bunyan, Boston and literally hundreds if not thousands of others) would at a minimum put you in among a very small contingent of similar folks who would not be considered orthodox, evangelical Christians. The doctrine of a “universal” salvation of all men has been historically and soundly rejected by orthodox Christianity.

Mike:  If we are going to limit ourselves to the light seen by Spurgeon, Bunyan, and others then why not throw away the Bible and study only their writings? God forbid! And these men themselves would forbid such behavior, too. So, if we believe th…ese men are lights but lesser lights to the Scripture then let us indeed put the Scripture in a higher place and allow it to correct and supersede them when and where warranted.

Orthodoxy is in the eye of the beholder. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles were all considered unorthodox in their time and for this reason were killed by their contemporaries…and then extolled by the generations that followed. That’s the way of the world. It’s sad and ironic, but truth comes into the world birthed by pain.

Nevertheless, I can still understand your reluctance to accept a doctrine from me that was not previously preached by others you respect. Therefore, consider this:

1. Just because you have not heard it before does not mean it is necessarily wrong.

2. My only appeal is to the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the truth. I would not have you believe me for any other reason.

3. At the very least, study out the references to Sheol (Hades) in the Old Testament and ask yourself, “If this is where everyone who died went, how and when was this changed?” For if it has not changed, then everyone is still going there when they die (which would mean that no one is going to heaven – except Jesus, of course). The link I sent will help you but is not necessary. The Bible alone is sufficient.

4. You don’t have anything to lose from this study since it will be of the Scriptures which you love and, for all you know, should strengthen your own current convictions and further prove me wrong.

5. I will be interested in what you learn from this study. You may see things that I did not.

Fair enough?

Robert:  What has “changed” from OT to NT, Mike, is everything that is made full in Jesus Christ. The OT things are “a tutor to lead you to Christ.” So, in all of this, do you believe in a universal salvation of all men?

Mike:  You say Scripture is your authority but then you dodge my challenge to let it decide our disagreement. I’m saddened by that.

As for your question, it sounds like you’re trying to find a theological cubbyhole in which to file me. I don’t …want to play that game. I don’t know all that you or others might mean by that term. As for what I believe, my blog is a thorough and unambiguous record. And although it’s much shorter, I’ve been clear and straightforward in this string of comments as well.

My challenge remains: Every competent student of the Bible knows (or can easily learn) that Hades (Sheol) was the destination of all the dead before Christ. Unless you have a scriptural explanation of how and when that was changed (for the NT states that the dead had still not at that time been raised – only Jesus), then you have no basis for believing that anyone other than Jesus has gone to heaven (John 3:13).

What you will find if you do the study is that our glorious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has turned the world upside down to draw all men to Himself. All praise and honor and glory be to His name and His name alone. The description of how He did it is laid out in Scripture (both OT and NT). When He shows it to you, just be sure to believe it lest the chastisement of the prophets should apply (Acts 13:40-41).

Robert:  Using your perspective, Mike, I get some “chastisement” from the prophets shouldn’t be a real negative thing, since all men are going to heaven. I just don’t see your ultimate point or even your “Gospel of Jesus Christ.” Seems like it doesn…’t really make a lot of difference other that one we “might” experience in this life by our “obedience.” Where’s/What’s the impact of our disobedience/unbelief on our eternal destinies? From what I can gather from you, not a whole lot (less accolades, less “jewels,” farther back in heavenly “rank.” I guess I just don’t get your point. Sorry.

Mike:  Robert, you seem to be saying that eternal destiny is far more important that any intermediate destiny (and with this I would readily agree). You also seem to hold to the traditional view that our eternal destiny is either heaven or hell. …

If I have you right on these two points, please tell me how much variation you see in outcomes for those going to heaven and hell. That is, for those going to heaven is the experience pretty much the same (along the lines you suggest above “less accolades, less…” – that is, “not a whole lot” of variation) or much more varied and therefore important for us to pursue. And the same question for those going to hell.

Robert:  Correct: Heaven —ultimately the “new heavens and a new earth” restored to the sinless, Garden state (not NJ, by the way) and hell. Heaven and the eternal residents of a “new earth” will be an environment of glorified bodies and souls witho…ut pain, tears, possibility of sin (etc., etc.), where we shall see God as He really is, and join in perfect fellowship with each other and our sinless, perfect Savior, the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, hell will be, by God’s decree and sovereign supervision, a place DEVOID of any grace, blessing, favor, fellowship, rescue, comfort, joy, pleasantness, _____________, ____________, ________________ et al!

In a nutshell, either in God’s presence and eternal blessing OR apart from any conscious experience of God’s presence (even though He’s omnipresent) except a knowledge of unending judgment for our denial of Him while on Earth (the original one).

Again Mike, this is found in biblical teachings, hence the “good news” (Gospel) that God, in Christ (“Immanuel” = God with us), came to deal with sin and its consequences, the appropriation of which comes “by grace through faith” and the “works (of obedience to the Lord) that evidence that faith. No belief, no repentance, no faith = no salvation = the Bad News! Consequence of the former — eternal blessedness with God.
Consequence of the latter — eternal judgment of God.

Mike:  On those going to heaven, are you saying they are going to heaven or to earth (new earth) or some to one and some to the other? If some to one and some to the other, what determines the destination?

On those going to hell, are you really sa…ying that their is no variation in the experience for anyone there – that a Hitler, or serial murderer, or an infant, or a person who lived in a part of the world where they never heard of Christ, or a person who otherwise lived a righteous life but did not confess Christ all have the same eternal experience?

Robert: Re: Heaven: At death our spirits (souls) immediately are in God’s presence there. “New heavens” and “new earth” are noted in Scripture as being establish at the end of human “history” when God will be redeem and restore His creation (also “…groaning” “waiting” – Romans 8 ) as well as His “adopted” family members (with bodies/souls reunited in “glorified” perfected state.

Re: Hell: None of the above. Unrepentant (on earth) sinners are it’s eternal residents. While I do believe that some sins are more heinous than others (hence the OT stonings, etc. as an illustration to us), unrepentant, rebellious sinful people of all categories, unforgiven “by “faith” in Christ, the Savior of sinners are still “dead in trespasses and sin”—unholy offenses against a holy God—and will be held personally accountable.

As to “infants”—I believe you know my covenant theological perspective on that re Westminister Confession of Faith and “infants dying in infancy,” as well as the biblical teaching on “one believing parent” receiving God’s stamp of “holiness” (set apart to God) of their offspring. We also know the biblical teaching of how much God loves the little children. He is also the author of life, determining the exact number of days, hairs on the head, etc.

As for those who’ve “never heard of Christ” or “live a righteous life but did not confess Christ”— God is also sovereign over the proclamation of His Gospel, and there really is no “righteousness” inherent in man apart from Christ. Wrong motives, self-serving, not God-honoring, etc. “The heart is desperately wicked and deceitful above all else.” (GEN. 6) “There is none other name (Christ) given among men whereby we must be saved” (ACTS).

Once again let me remind you, Mike, that the Bible nowhere teaches a universal salvation nor an “unfairness” with God for anything He chooses to do (ROMANS 9 — “Potter” and the “clay” and “vessels prepared for glory/destruction”). Paul says not to argue with God about these matters. Apart from God’s willingness to save ANY OF US by His “mercy” (not giving us what we deserve) and His grace (giving us what we don’t deserve), then we would all perish eternally. He doesn’t need us. He is One God in three Persons, existing from all eternity and continuing through all eternity.

Mike:  I’m not arguing with God – or even with you at this point. I’m merely accepting the fact that you don’t believe me when I say the Bible says everyone is going to heaven and trying to find out what you do believe it says. Therefore, please clarify your position on heaven: are you saying that people who go to heaven go there immediately at death (without bodies) and then eventually to earth (with bodies), or do some of them remain in heaven? (And if some remain, what determines who lives on earth and who lives in heaven?)

Also, please clarify your position on hell regarding infants dying in infancy. You told me that you believe the infant goes to heaven as long as at least one of the parents has confessed Christ. However, what about an infant who doesn’t have even one believing parent? I looked up the Westminster Confession of Faith which you referenced and it seems to be silent regarding the infants of unbelieving parents so I’m still not sure what you believe. In any case, I’m less interested in what you think the Westminster Confession of Faith says than in what you think the Bible says.

Robert:  Mike, I simply don’t have enough time to try to demonstrate (“convince”?) you what the Bible teaches about this. There are lots of others who surely have devoted their whole lives to the issues. I’ve presented what I can in the limited amount of time I have to do so. And, yes, you’re correct by saying that I don’t believe you when you say “the Bible says everyone is going to heaven” because my Bible doesn’t say or indicate that, except for their appearance there to be separated out for their eternities based on faith in Christ. And that we’ve already discussed here in previous exchanges. Not sure there’s any more I can offer. Thanks for helping me reinforce what I already believe.

Dialogue with Ken (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Ken is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue began a few days ago as a comment exchange between Ken (whom I otherwise don’t know) and me on someone else’s blog.  The dialogue took a different path from the original post so I’ve reproduced it here for the purpose of continuing it.

(If you want to see all the initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian?on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.  [August 15, 2015: Sorry, but it appears the lined-through links are no longer being maintained.]  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

The conversation begins as Ken asks me why I believe Jesus as He is presented in the Bible.  I’m pulling it from the original site and from his comment to my Everyone Is Going to Heaven post so I’ve done some very light editing here to improve readability.)

Ken:  What gives you “conviction” that Jesus actually walked on water and healed the sick?  Because the bible says so?  Why do you believe in the teachings of the bible and not the teachings of the Koran, or the teachings of the Torah, or the teachings of Buddhism? Or the teachings of the ancient gods of Zeus, Thor, vishna, apollo, Odin, Ra, or any of the thousands of other faiths? I wager that you were born into a family or society that was of Christian denomination.

Do you believe your faith out of knowledge or of ignorance of other ways of thinking? Do you believe your faith because it helps you fit in with your community? Do you believe your faith because it is comforting to believe in a big sky daddy always watching over you and going somewhere really nice after you die? I recommend you google “why won’t God heal amputees” it is an interesting read. (unless you are fearful that knowledge may challenge your faith).

Mike:  Ken, you’ve asked more questions than can be individually addressed here, but if you’ll ask them on my blog I’ll answer each one thoroughly. For here and now let me give this summary answer:

I believe what the Bible says about Jesus because it’s logical and persuasive. By contrast, I’ve read “Why doesn’t God heal amputees?” and do not find it logical or persuasive. As for all the supposed motivations you think I have for believing in Jesus, none of them apply. I hasten to say that I reject organized religion (yes, this includes all churches) as unrepresentative of God. Instead, I am motivated by a healthy regard for truth whenever I encounter it.

I believe Jesus takes everyone to heaven at death – you, me, Hitchens, Dawkins, the Dalai Lama, etc. This does not mean, however, that there is no judgment for our sins. On the contrary, it matters very much how we live.

Ultimately, everything I believe rests on the personal veracity of Jesus of Nazareth. And with that stance, I am quite comfortable.

Ken:  So in other words, you are a christian because you hold too strong a desire to believe in heaven for the majority of your life that facing the alternate reality of no heaven would be too life changing for you to face… No matter the facts surrounding it. Many people maintain their faith this way (too much time and life invested to completely re-invent your mind and way of life).

And if that works for you, so be it. After all, for many it is impossible to reverse their childhood indoctrination of their parents religion.

Mike:  Your paraphrase is as if you didn’t read a word I wrote. You must be working from preconceived notions. In any case, our dialogue is stalled so no point continuing it…at least not now. We each believe what we believe and neither of us is persuading the other.

Thanks for engaging and now let’s let Scott have his blog back.

[Editor’s Note: At this point, Ken went to my blog and made the following comment on my Everyone Is Going to Heaven post.]

Ken:  Hey Mike, I am grateful that you have invited me to share viewpoints on your blog.
Just a quick question, if you have indeed read the entire “why won’t god heal amputees”.
Then what would be your explanation for why indeed we have never seen an amputee healed by God or Jesus through prayer?

P.S. Although our views differ, I do find you to be an intellectual rarity amongst the throngs of uneducated or thoughtless throngs of “Christians”. And I do very much agree with your approach to Christianity (nobody likes Christians who shout with megaphones on street corners about going to hell) So I applaud you for that.

Therefore I do not wish to come across as an evil atheist bent on ridiculing you or belittling you. However I do hope that you feel like responding to a few of my queries, and I will gladly return the favor if you desire to challenge my train of thought.

Cheers: Ken

Mike:  Ken, your challenge is very gracious – and one I am grateful to accept.

So, to start with the “Why Won’t God Heal Amputees” web site, I think the argument there is illogical and unpersuasive. It starts with a flawed premise – that God has promised to answer all prayers and is answering all prayers – and then points to amputees and says, “See, it isn’t so!” Jesus’ hometown synagogue challenged Him to do miracles in their midst that they had heard about Him doing in other locales. He said that while there were many lepers in Elisha’s time only one of them was healed (Luke 4:23-27). And it was said of Jesus that He did no miracles there because of their unbelief (Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:5-6). Thus, even in Jesus’ time, miracles were not always commonplace.

[By the way, when I give you chapter and verse it is not to say “this is the word of the Lord,” but simply to let you know my source should you want to keep me honest about what the Bible says. When I started reading the Bible I only gave it the same respect I would give any other document from antiquity. That’s all I’d ask you or anyone else to consider.]

I myself think miracles are quite rare. That’s what makes them miracles! That’s what made Jesus of Nazareth so unique – never before or since have that many miracles of that magnitude been ascribed to a human being. But even He was limited when there was no faith.

I myself am not surprised that God does not heal amputees. And the fact that He doesn’t, doesn’t mean to me that He can’t. Moreover, the hospitals filled with people that God is not healing miraculously. They’re either being healed through more mundane means or not being healed at all. God can do anything He wants. But He chooses to operate in very predictable ways most of the time (e.g. through the laws of physics and biology) which makes miracles exceedingly rare.

Having said that, I see the ordinary flow of life as quite wondrous, if not “miraculous” in a sense. For example, you and I are spinning around somewhere between the top and the side of a ball. The rate of speed is about 600 miles an hour in the continental United States. Simultaneously, that ball is circling the sun at about 66,000 mph. Simultaneously again, the ball’s solar system is moving around the Milky Way at 432,000 mph. And so on. Nonetheless, you and I do not fall off or fly off the ball, neither are we getting chapped lips from the experience. I’m no scientist, but I do have a sense of irony. And of wonder.

As I said, amputees are not the only people God does not heal. In fact, you could say that ultimately He doesn’t heal any of us because we all die. (That’s why everyone going to heaven – independent of faith – is such wonderfully good news.)

In other words, I adopt the opposite stance of the straw man on the “Amputee” web site (which I concede that the extravagant claims of wishful thinkers have encouraged). That is, I see God’s healings and answered prayers as the exceptions rather than the rules – and I derive this perspective from reading the Bible.

Your turn, Ken.  Just comment below.

Dialogue with Willy (re: Jesus and the Bible)

This dialogue centers on Jesus and the Bible – can they be trusted?  I trust that the Bible is telling the truth about Jesus, and that He is all He claims to be.  Willy is questioning me on these points because he does not understand why I take this stance.  It does not seem a reasonable stance to him.

This dialogue with Willy (whom I don’t otherwise know) began as a comment exchange yesterday on another blog.  Willy had actually been observing a comment exchange between Rob (whom I also don’t otherwise know) and me on that blog which I’ve since reproduced as Dialogue with Rob.  Willy then decided to offer a point of his own.

(If you want to see all the initial comments in their original context, see Is Richard Dawkins a Secret Christian? on Scott’s Catholicism Blog on About.com.  [August 15, 2015:  Sorry, but it appears the lined-through links are to pages that are no longer being maintained.]  For a quick background on dialogues that appear on this site, see the post Dialogues.)

I’ve reproduced Willy’s comment here and responded to it.  If he chooses to continue the dialogue it will show up as comments on this post.

Willy:  Mike, a few things. First: historicity. There are several versions of the Christian Bible which include and exclude books from other biblical cannons. Over several centuries, biblical cannons determined what books would and would not be considered part of the Bible. Extensive editing and translating has occurred throughout the history of the Bible by hundreds and thousands of people (most notably monks) as directed by the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church (King James), Greek Orthodox, and the dozens of Protestant sects. Needless to say, taking the gospels at “face value”–that they are Reports of Christ’s life or something–requires a complete disregard for (or ignorance of) biblical history. You seem to appreciate historicity and verifiability, so if I were you, I would take a look at the history of the Bible.

On top of that, however, to call the gospels and the resurrection of Christ “logical and persuasive” undermines both logic and faith. Between the four gospels (in the King James Bible), there are dozens of events recounted where one gospel fundamentally contradicts the other. That is definitively illogical. But if we talk about the resurrection of Christ as logical, then you undermine faith. Faith requires suspension of reason, and the resurrection of Christ requires just that. It is not just illogical, it is, in fact, impossible. But the resurrection forms a crucial part of Christian faith–that the divinity of Christ was proved by this event because it contradicted the limitations of the natural world and logic.

I like your curiosity and I bookmarked your blog. Would enjoy some more discussion with you because it appears that you are an out-of-the-box thinker with regard to Christianity, and that you appreciate historical background. I would advice you to engage the documented history of the Bible in order to build you understanding and knowledge on the subject.

Mike:  Willy, I have studied the historical background of the Bible but draw a different conclusion than you do.  First of all, the different biblical canons that you mention are notable not for their dissimilarity but rather for their similarity.  While the Catholic canon includes a few books that the Protestant canon doesn’t, and the Greek Orthodox canon a few more, the vast majority of the books are the same in all three.

There has been extensive translating of the Bible over the centuries, not just because there are so many languages but because each language (e.g. English) changes.  However, I am unaware of what you say is “extensive editing” of the text.  On the contrary, Bible translations have always been valued for their faithfulness to, not their divergence from, the original text.  Even paraphrased versions, while trying to communicate in more understandable ways, are doing so in the name of faithfulness to the original meaning.

As for Christ’s resurrection, on what basis do you say that it is illogical?  I could understand if you said that it was uncommon, and I would agree.  But what makes something illogical just because it’s not commonplace?

Faith is not the suspension of reason.  Rather, faith is based on reason.  I trust my wife because my reason (as well as my affection) led me to do so.  I do not have exhaustive knowledge of everything my wife thinks, says, and does – but the subset of knowledge I do have leads me, through the process of reason, to trust her regarding the subset I do not have.

I find the accounts of Christ’s resurrection in the New Testament persuasive because I find more reason to believe them than to disbelieve them.  My reasons for believing them, summarized, are that they are logically coherent and they – unlike anything else I have ever read – adequately address the fundamental question of life: that is, death.  To disbelieve the apostles I would have to see evidence that they had motive, opportunity, and means to lie.  (For more, see Why the Bible Can Be Trusted.)

Your turn, Willy.  Just comment below.