Christ in the Wilderness - Ivan Kramskoy - 1872 (small)
Christ in the Wilderness – Ivan Kramskoy – 1872

Consider the following situation: you are in your final semester of college, and one class is borderline. If you pass the final, you pass the class. If you pass the class, you graduate. If you don’t pass the final, your diploma is delayed another semester. Now suppose you’re going into engineering, where you are required to work under a practicing engineer before you’re eligible to become licensed yourself. But this experience (typically 2 to 4 years) doesn’t start counting until your after actual diploma date. A lot is riding on this one exam. Having retaken a class may not matter in 20 years after you’ve established a solid work record, but the stakes are high as you get ready to start your career. Lastly, suppose you have the opportunity to get the exam answers in such a way that you know you won’t get caught and nobody will ever know you cheated. You will benefit greatly, and there will be no foreseeable “casualties” from your actions (i.e. the exam is not graded on a curve, so your cheating will not adversely affect anyone else’s score, and so on).  Would you do it?

If your ethical standard is of a consequentialist nature (i.e. all that matters is the consequence, or end result), you could reasonably justify cheating in this case. It benefits you, without harming anyone else, so why not? For instance, if you take atheist Sam Harris’ view of basing our morals on whatever promotes human flourishing, then you could argue that the cheating would certainly appear to help you flourish in your career; and if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, that’s a net gain, right? But I’d like to suggest that the idea of simply not harming others isn’t sufficient for an ethical standard because of unforeseen consequences. We may truly believe that an action of ours, though generally viewed as unacceptable ethically, will be alright in a particular instance because it’s “not hurting anybody.” But we are notoriously short-sighted, especially when it benefits us personally. Whether intentionally or not, we often selectively look at the reasons for and against a course of action, ignoring or minimizing the potential consequences of our desired action if those consequences might stop us from acting.  But even if we are seriously, conscientiously weighing the pros and cons of a particular decision fairly, we still have our very finite knowledge hindering us. We simply do not, and cannot, know all possible ramifications of our actions, either immediate or in the distant future. In this case, the cheating may very well contribute to a timely graduation and successful career, with no harm to anyone else. But what we may not see from our limited perspective is that it will actually hurt us in the long run. For one successful lie often sets the stage for others later. At some point, our example student may find himself in another ethical dilemma. But now, ten years later as an engineer, it’s no longer grades riding on his decision, but people’s lives. Again, he might decide he has figured a way out of the dilemma where some unethical behavior won’t matter because “nobody will ever know” and “it won’t hurt anybody”. But, the devil’s in the details, as they say. This time, there is a subtle distinction he missed, and now people have died because of his lie. An investigation may determine the immediate cause of the tragedy, and find him guilty of misconduct or negligence in that particular design, but is that the root of it, or was the deeper cause ten years earlier when he learned that he could get away with cheating? Ideas have consequences, and one of the consequences of consequentialist systems of ethics (like utilitarianism and situation ethics) is a reliance on one’s own limited and fallible knowledge as the standard of right and wrong. This situation was aptly described in the Bible when it says that people in the land “did what was right in their own eyes.”[1]

Instead of relying on our error-prone selves to guess at right and wrong, might I suggest a better standard? It’s hard to judge the sweep in a line without a ruler to put next to it. Ask different people and you’ll likely get different answers. But get out a ruler, and that “official” standard settles it. Only having God as a source of our ethics is sufficient. Recognizing that God is the source of morality eliminates the idea that differences in ethics may simply be differences of culture or time.  God is the “third-party” that’s needed to settle these differences. Unforeseen consequences are the bane of utilitarian ethics, but that’s not a problem for an omniscient God. We can rely on His decrees because He is all-knowing. Recognizing that aspect of His nature also eliminates the rationalization that nobody has to know the wrong we do, for God knows. Recognizing that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment”[2] reminds us that we will be held accountable for every action, whether anybody happened to be harmed by a particular deed or not. God cares not simply about the results of our actions, but the root of our actions – our motives and intentions. But there is hope in knowing what to do: He has revealed to us what is required of us, both in the natural law written in our hearts, and in the special revelation of the Bible. He has also provided a way for us to made acceptable before Him in spite of our all-too-imperfect humanity: the redemptive sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ. And His way is always the right choice.

[1] Judge 17:6.
[2] Hebrews 9:27. See also, Ecclesiastes 12:14.
Additional Resources: For an in-depth comparison of different ethical systems with support and objections to each, I recommend Philosophical Foundations for Christian Worldview, Part V: Ethics, by J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, (Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press, 2003).

Biblical Abortion?

Man w BiblePreviously, I detailed scientific reasons why abortion is, in fact, murder. In that post (here), I mentioned that these are reasons to support the Christian position on abortion. But what is the Christian position on abortion? In the past, I would’ve said it was a unanimous agreement that abortion is wrong. But in researching this, I found there are segments of Christianity that do support having the option to abort a baby under some conditions.[1] So it would seem that Christians aren’t unanimous on this question. For us, it always comes back to what the Bible says, and sure enough, Christians supporting abortion choice do try to justify their view with the Bible. Let’s dig into that today and see if there is a biblical case for abortion. Here are a few of those attempts to justify this practice.

  • One site I found actually stated that abortion is okay because that word isn’t mentioned in the Bible. True, it’s not; but murder is, and it’s clearly prohibited. Also, while the word “abortion” may not be mentioned, neither is the word “embezzlement”, yet it is clearly unacceptable by the prohibition on stealing. For that matter, the word “Trinity” isn’t in the Bible either, but that hasn’t stopped us from recognizing the concept there and formulating a word for it.
  • That same site also tried to say that abortion was an example of stewardship, and we are called to be good stewards of what God has given us. Now, this twisted logic is based on the mother being a “good steward” of her body and aborting her baby if it would cause her any negative effects like physical or emotional distress. If this version of “stewardship” seems a little self-centered, it is. Consider Merriam-Webster’s definition of stewardship: “The activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something.”[2] The very idea of stewardship is that you are taking care of something that is not yours. Regarding the mother taking care of her body (at the expense of her baby’s), I would suggest that this is similar to the idea that “your right to swing your fists ends where my nose begins.” The baby is clearly not part of the mother’s body, as evidenced by different DNA, duplicate organs, and often different blood type and even gender. Therefore, I would say the mother’s right to be a “steward” of her body ends where such activity harms the baby. In fact, taking care of her body such that it prevents harm to the baby is generally recognized as a mother’s obligation. Hence, the warnings to not drink or smoke during pregnancy. In reality, motherhood is a beautiful example of stewardship, but abortion is actually to reject being a steward of what is consistently described as a gift from God.
  • Genesis 2:7 is cited as biblical support for abortion in that Adam, the first man, did not become a living soul until God breathed the breath of life into him. This is taken to mean that babies do not become living souls until they take their first breath. Aside from the fact that babies are going through the motions of breathing amniotic fluid in and out of their lungs for months before they are born (as early as 10 weeks [3]), it should be pretty clear that Adam and Eve were unique in all of humanity. Neither went through through the birth process, and both appear to have been formed as fully adult humans, so applying their case to babies is to go beyond any reasonable support of the text.
  • Numbers 3:39-43 is used to justify abortion because God commanded a census to be taken, counting all the Levites over a month old. This is taken as an insinuation that their lives didn’t count prior to 1 month. Not being counted for a census is not the same as not being counted as a human life. The first is a pragmatic consideration while the second is ontological. The census was concerned with counting a large number of people in a time of high infant mortality. The first month is a dangerous time for any baby, but especially in primitive Bedouin-type conditions. Babies that survived the first month were much more likely to survive to adulthood, thus warranting their being counted in a census.
  • Ecclesiastes 6:3-5 is taken as meaning that a miscarriage is better than an unhappy life. Please note first that a natural miscarriage is a far cry from an intentional dismemberment. But even if this verse were an endorsement of abortion for “quality of life” concerns, Ecclesiastes is King Solomon’s search for the true meaning of life by investigating all the dead-end roads. One could come away with a lot of strange ideas if you read parts of Ecclesiastes, even extended parts, without reading the whole thing. The first and final chapter are the bookends that give the context for that experiment in folly, as Solomon finally concludes that the rest of his search for meaning apart from God was just that – folly. Don’t take a man’s depressed ramblings about the futility of life as endorsement for killing those yet to be born. Moreover, we have no way of knowing what the future holds for any of us as far as “quality of life”, so who are we to decide for an unborn baby that their future won’t measure up? I will tell you right now, there are physically deformed and/or mentally handicapped people out there with more joy in their lives than many millionaires with the world at their fingertips. Frankly, it’s rather arrogant for us to think we can correctly guess whether a baby with serious issues would grow up to consider his or her life “worth it” or not. That depends on their perspective, not ours. Nick Vujicic w FamilyLet’s face it, a lot of people supporting abortion for “quality of life” concerns would probably have chosen to abort evangelist, motivational speaker, husband, father, and author, Nick Vujicic if they had known he would be born without arms or legs. So let’s not pretend we can “see the end from the beginning”; only God can do that.

There’s 5 attempts to justify abortion using the Bible. Hopefully, you’ve seen that these simply aren’t good reasons. Have you come across other justifications for abortion that you believe are legitimate? Share them in a comment and let’s work through them together. 🙂

[1] The United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the Episcopal Church, to varying degrees. See 2013 Pew Report at
[2], accessed 2016/08/24.

Communications from the Creator

engineering-plans Today I want to offer a modest proposal: that God acting in human history is a reasonable possibility. What I offer here is by no means a “proof”, in even the loosest sense of the word, of the existence of the personal, relational, God of Christianity. But it is, I hope, something that opens the door to possibilities you might have dismissed out of hand in the past.

I’ve heard some very intelligent people through the years say they could agree to the need for a Creator or Supreme Being to “get things started”, but the idea of a personal, interacting God as Christianity describes is a bridge too far for them. This conviction may be due to the fine-tuning of the universe or the amazingly precise information management system of our DNA, or from the recognition of the implications of the law of causality and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. This idea that God is a distant “Watchmaker” who wound up the universe and and walked away is typically known as deism, but this is not what the Bible advocates. In fact, the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes “And without faith it is impossible to please Him {God}, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”[1] There are two requirements listed here: 1) accept the fact that God does indeed exist, and 2) accept that God will respond to our seeking. In other words, God is not the uninterested, detached god of deism, but rather one who interacts in human history.

We see so much apparent design in our natural world, that we have to ask if there was a designer. And if there was, would that designer leave any kind of message to convey intent regarding his “product”? You can review some of the reasons for believing in a Creator/Designer based on the Teleological Argument (or the argument from design) here, but this really doesn’t take us past the the idea of basic theism, that some god exists. It may be one or more gods; it may be a god who did indeed get the universe started, but who no longer exists for some reason; or it may be that deadbeat god of deism who gets things started and walks away.

Seeing design aspects in nature, I tend to think of God’s designs in terms of engineering. As an engineer, when I design a building, I invest myself in that design. I care about what happens to it. And so I write instructions pertaining to various stages of its lifecycle. A project will typically have sheets of “general notes” on our drawings, and sometimes hundreds or thousands of pages of project specifications.  All of this is to detail what’s acceptable and what’s not in terms of construction materials, building loads and uses, acceptable substitutions, and so on. I don’t just say, “Make it work,” and leave the contractor to guess how to meet the building requirements without any instructions. I’m not going to design a mezzanine and tell the client, “Here’s a mezzanine design for your warehouse, but I’m not going to tell you if it’s rated for a 300 psf load capacity or only 50 psf. Don’t worry – you’ll figure it out pretty quickly once you start stacking boxes on it. If it starts sagging, you’ve exceeded my design.” That would be crazy. When we go to the effort to design something, we try to leave instructions regarding our intent for its proper use. The more complex the design, the more important the instructions are. It seems reasonable to me that if God exists, and put so much incredible planning into this universe, this world, and us as humans, He would provide some “documentation,” so to speak. Now, we have a collection of documents – the Bible – that does, in fact, claim to be a message from this Creator, addressed to His creation.

But how could one know if such a book really is what it says it is? There are a couple of ways. One is to check the accuracy of statements made in it that we can confirm historically and archeologically. If we find its record of history confirmed independently, through other sources, then we are warranted in trusting it to some degree.  In this, the Bible has been confirmed repeatedly. Many things mentioned in the Bible aren’t recorded elsewhere, though. Or if they were, those corroborating sources have been destroyed or are yet to be found. However, when we find archeological evidence for the truth of the biblical records,  in the absence of outside sources, that is a powerful piece of evidence in favor of the Bible. For while we might say that biblical authors were simply copying from their contemporary authors (and so of course they matched up), finding an actual town or a monument to a king or ruler that no other sources besides the Bible ever mentioned is very hard to refute. This has also been been the case with the Bible on multiple occasions. So we have a collection of writings from multiple authors spanning well over a millennium that presents a coherent, historically accurate, archeologically-verified record of events. But it also claims that all of this is due to the divine inspiration of its writers by the all-knowing Creator of the universe, and that He used them to convey His message to humanity. That would explain the historical reliability of it in its accounts of natural history. So could it be telling the truth in its record of supernatural history as well? When Luke records the minutest details about people and places visited, and these are repeatedly confirmed, should we not at least entertain the possibility that he may be telling us the truth when he records miracles as well?

Secondly, there is the issue of prophecy. Anyone who has ever watched the weather forecast knows that it is extremely difficult for us humans to predict events even a few days in advance. Yet the Bible contains prophecies that were made hundreds of years in advance of their fulfillment. While some prophecies might be vague enough to be rationalized, I want to point out one I’ve always found particularly interesting in its specificity. Isaiah 44 and 45 record a prophecy that a specific king named Cyrus would set the captives free, restore Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple there, without asking for payment or reward. This was fulfilled 150 years later when Cyrus, King of Medo-Persia, allowed the Jewish captives to return to Israel and rebuild their city and the Temple, and even provided them with money to purchase building materials. Predicting the name of a future foreign ruler generations in advance is beyond any natural human abilities and does speak to the supernatural inspiration of the Bible.

In summary, I think the corroborating historical records and archeological evidence, combined with fulfilled prophecy, point to the legitimacy of the Bible’s claim of divine inspiration. And if it is divine communication, then this is truly the most important message ever put into human language, and it is incumbent on all of us to study it relentlessly. For in so doing, we learn not only of a God powerful enough to create a perfectly-planned, finely-tuned universe out of nothing, but also of a God who loves each of us more than we can ever understand, enough that He entered into human history to offer reconciliation and redemption to a rebellious and ungrateful humanity. And that, my friend, is the God I serve.

[1] Hebrews 11:6.
[2] Isaiah 44:24-28 & 45:1-13.

“Now Hiring: Evangelists”

St. Paul Preaching at Athens - by Raphael
St. Paul Preaching at Athens – by Raphael

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a trend among product vendors to label their marketing as “evangelism”. Autodesk, producer of the Revit software I use (along with I don’t know how many other programs) has “Technical Evangelist” as an actual job title. These are the people usually doing the blogs and seminars and webinars, telling us design professionals how their product will be so incredibly helpful to us in our day to day jobs. And while dictionaries may describe this type of evangelist as “someone who talks about something with great enthusiasm,”[1]  I’d like to suggest that there’s more to these companies’ choice of job titles than just their employee’s attitude. But for that, we have to look back at the origins of the word.

Now maybe you’re familiar with evangelists as preachers. Maybe you’re cynical toward Christianity because of televangelists you’ve seen on TV: maudlin, maybe a little crazy, but like clockwork when it came to asking for money. I understand. But set aside those impressions for a moment, and come back with me to a time before the word was sullied with such behavior. If we dig into the Bible, we’ll find the following statement in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved…”[2]  The noun “gospel” above is εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion) in the Greek. Likewise, the verb phrase “preached to you” (or “proclaimed” in other translations) is εὐηγγελισάμην (euēngelisamēn). Remember that in it’s transition from Greek to Latin to English, the “u” became a “v”, and you can then see the root of our word evangelist or evangelism in both of these. But the “eu” at the beginning of both of these words is why companies sometimes call their marketers evangelists: “eu” means good in Greek. The other root, ἄγγελος (aggelos) means a messenger. This is the same word we get “angel” from, for angels serve as messengers of God. Put together, an evangelist is a messenger proclaiming good news or tidings. So when a vendor sends a technical evangelist to talk to me, they’re hoping to deliver a “gospel” of sorts (i.e. good news). And if their product really does work the wonders they promise –  well then, that would be good news!  The key point is, it’s not enthusiasm, but the content of their message that (hopefully) justifies the job title. “Good news” is at the very heart of the word evangelist, by definition. If it’s not good news to the audience, then evangelist may not be the most appropriate job title. But if it really is good news for the people you’re going to, then there’s also a reason to talk about it “with great enthusiasm”.  It’s not just an act then.

Now, what of the original evangelists? Does the Christian gospel actually bring good news? Indeed! Paul’s statement above speaks of the gospel (or good news) “by which also you are saved.” Many see the news that we are all sinners, worthy of condemnation by a just and holy God as bad news – even offensive news – and stop there. But is that part really “news”? When you look at the nightly news, or read the papers or look back through history books, can you honestly say humans are not fallen creatures? In spite of all our scientific and cultural advances, overall, we excel at finding better, more efficient ways to destroy and kill. We tend to be like the classic arch-villian of comics and movies – so much potential for good, yet so often choosing evil. In our heart, in those quiet times of reflection, we recognize that something is wrong at the core of us. And no amount of cultural progress or species evolution could ever fix it. Christianity not only explains our potential for good (we were created in the image of the one truly good God), but also our actual failure to realize that potential (we have all inherited a terminal disease called sin, that is, rebellion against our good Creator). Christianity recognizes the depressing problem that we can’t “fix” ourselves no matter how hard we try, but also proclaims the rest of the story – the amazing solution that God has intervened to do what we never could! Now that’s news.

Allow me to illustrate our trying hard to be good, but still failing. I never learned to swim until high school, when I took swimming lessons. After getting chided by my coach for doing something incorrectly, I flippantly remarked, “Oh well, practice makes perfect”, at which she snapped back, “No! Perfect practice makes perfect!” She was right. Practicing swimming strokes wrong will never make you a better swimmer, no matter how sincerely or devotedly you practice. Religious devotion or trying to lead a “good life” (by whose standard, anyway?) can likewise never succeed. That’s because the standard to meet is perfection. But, as the old sayings go, “to err is human,” and “nobody’s perfect.” In every other religion, you must earn salvation. Only Christianity proclaims this supreme unfairness, that God, in the person of Jesus, perfect and without sin, would become a human like us, to offer Himself as a sacrifice in our place, taking the punishment we justly deserved, that we might be justified and acceptable before God despite our utter inability to ever “measure up.” That’s not just good news – that’s GREAT news! And with news like that, how could we not proclaim it?

[1], accessed 8/8/2016.
[2] 1 Corinthians 15:1, NASB.


dominosI surprised an atheist colleague a while back when I asked to borrow all the atheist books he had. I was attending Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined Instructor’s Academy in Charlotte, NC for 3 days of intensive training in Christian apologetics (i.e. giving a rational defense for our beliefs).[1] Part of the requirements for attendance was a long reading list of Christian apologists, as well as being familiar with the works of prominent atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. This desire to delve in to opposing views surprised my friend. But as physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne says, “The question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality”.[2] That’s because of the far-reaching effects it has in our lives. Indeed, ideas have consequences, so let’s look at some consequences of Christian doctrine.

  • Work Ethic – I often hear the lament that people don’t want to work hard anymore, and I’ve seen plenty of examples myself. Work ethic seems to have suffered some major blows in our generation. But it’s good to remember that this trait used to be referred to as the “Puritan work ethic” or “Protestant work ethic”. Why? Because the Puritans brought to America the application of biblical principles that Protestant reformer Martin Luther had reminded Europe of the century before: that there can be honor in our work, regardless of what we do, because we do it for God. Other civilizations viewed physical work as demeaning and lowly, fit for slaves but not for citizens, and certainly not for nobility. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to do our work, whatever it is, as for God rather than men[3]; that masters should be fair to their slaves, for they too have a Master in heaven[4]; and slaves should not just work when their master is watching, but with integrity all the time; and that God had given Adam, the first man, work to do in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned, and so work was not a curse to be avoided, but a way to serve and honor God.[5] While we may not live in a society with masters and slaves anymore, those exhortations to fair treatment of workers and doing one’s work with integrity apply equally well to our modern-day employer-employee relationships.
  • Ethics – That idea of fairness leads to another implication of Christianity. The Christian should not just work hard, but should also be ethical. The Bible tells us that false weights (i.e. for cheating in business transactions) are an abomination to the Lord.[6] And that he who formerly would steal should steal no more. [7] We are also told that it is better to be wronged than to do wrong. And that even when we do the right thing, it should be from pure motives and not from compulsion or fear of being caught.[8]
  • Stewardship – Under Christianity, all we have is given to us by God. He is the owner, and we are simply stewards. [9] This perspective naturally leads to a desire to care for and use wisely the resources we have. We do not value resources like the environment and animals above people, but we don’t want to neglect them or misuse them either.
  • Imago Dei – Speaking of the value of people, under Christianity, all people are created in the image of God, or “imago Dei” in Latin. Therefore, they each have intrinsic worth regardless of race, nationality, creed, gender, title, or any other differentiation.  In fact, the Bible tells us that there is really only one race – the human race – so racism simply must whither and die in the soil of Christianity.[10] Aside from our common origins, God has offered salvation and eternal life to all freely.[11] And if Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for people a little different from us, who are we to hate those whom He loved? Moreover, we recognize that “none are righteous,” and that apart from Jesus, we are no better than the lowest outcast or the most evil villain.[12] As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
  • Dealing with Suffering – Life can be tough. And yet, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes the various trials he has gone through, then proceeds to say that “momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”[13] Paul was a man who had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead – and yet, he considered this difficult life to be “light” in comparison to the “heaviness” of eternity with Christ. In Paul’s view, no amount of earthly suffering could tip the scales. Christians have a bottomless reservoir of strength and hope in times of trial.

There are significant implications to belief in Christ. We can compartmentalize our beliefs, but only at the expense of our honesty. For if we are honest, our beliefs must express themselves throughout our lives. These are just a few of the ways those beliefs will surface. Can you think of others?

[1] In fact, this blog is the result of being challenged by J. Warner Wallace at that training class to become a “Christian casemaker”. 🙂
[2] John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist, Ch. 3.
[3] Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31.
[4] Colossians 4:1, Job 31:13-15, Ephesians 6:5-9.
[5] Genesis 2:15.
[6] Proverbs 11:1, 20:10,23, Micah 6:11, Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13 to name a few.
[7] Ephesians 4:28.
[8] 1 Corinthians 6:7, Proverbs 16:2, 2 Chronicles 19:9.
[9] Deuteronomy 8:1-20, Matthew 24:42-51, 25:14-28,
[10] Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26, Galatians 3:26-29.
[11] Romans 6:23, 1 Peter 3:18.
[12] Romans 3:10-12, 23.
[13] 2 Corinthians 4:17.