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Ends, Means & Evangelism (blogcast)

This article was originally posted on Joel Settecase’s pastoral blog.

My son has been in the hospital for over two weeks now. My wife posts updates on her blog, but I have not written much about him (outside of social media). However, as Lukas has been hospitalized, I have been doing a lot of thinking about God’s sovereignty, and I want to share my thoughts. Specifically, I want to talk about how I think the Lord is using my son’s health crisis to accomplish his mission for our family.

What does it mean that God is sovereign?

When believers say that God is “sovereign,” we are saying that God is completely free in his ability to act in every area over which he has authority, which is to say, over all of creation.

One of the entailments of God being sovereign is that he has not only the authority to plan and declare intended outcomes, but also the ability and power to make those outcomes happen. This is true on the cosmic scale (“He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4)), but it is also true at the personal level. The circumstances of each person’s life have been predestined in advance by God (Psalm 139:16 says each person’s days were written in God’s book before they ever happened).

This truth, that God exercises sovereign control over human lives, is wondrously seen in the way he brings sinful people into saving relationship with himself. The Bible teaches that, apart from a powerful work of God’s grace on an individual’s mind, no one would ever naturally turn from his sin and love God (Romans 8:6-8). Therefore everyone who is justified–forgiven and declared to be righteous before God–is done so not by his own power but by God’s (Romans 4:5).

Again, God is sovereign, and we see the beauty of his sovereignty in the way he forgives sinful people and gives us new life in Jesus.

God’s sovereignty over the ends and the means

So then, does God know whom he will justify, whom he will save? Yes, he does. In fact, he has already pre-planned ahead of time, determining in advance to save his people.

Not one sinner upon whom God has set his sovereign sights will be left out of God’s saving plan.

Because of the intricacies of God’s plan (which involves every detail of his spiritual, natural and human creation), in order to effect his desired outcomes, he must also exercise sovereign control over every detail leading up to those outcomes. As apologist James R. White and others have stated, “God ordains the ends as well as the means.

When it comes to his plan to save his chosen people God has included, as means, the prayers and proclamation of his word on the part of believers. If you have become a Christian, that probably happened through someone teaching you the Gospel at some point. Someone was also likely praying for the Gospel to take root in your heart and mind, and God heard those prayers and granted you repentance and faith. In sending that person to you and answering those prayers, God was working out what he had determined in advance to do. He was accomplishing his intended ends through the use of his intended means.

So what does God’s sovereignty have to do with Lukas’s stay in the hospital?

In September 2018, Aliza and I were commissioned by Cru as missionaries to carry out Cru’s mission of winning, building, and sending disciples of Jesus. As we have worked to develop our new ministry, we have specifically committed ourselves to the mission of equipping believers with knowledge, engaging them in conversation with non-believers, and encouraging them to share and defend their faith. We want to communicate the Gospel to non-believers ourselves, and we want to empower Christians to do the same.

We have been praying for the Lord to bless our ministry. We believe getting the Gospel out to hundreds and thousands of people is one of the ends God has intended for our life. We also prayerfully believe that he will use our work to bring many sinners to repentance and faith. What we most certainly did not expect were the means by which God was going to do this. What do I mean?

What I mean is that the Lord is using our time here in the hospital to encourage Christians and to evangelize non-Christians. Aliza and I have had opportunities to share the Gospel with nurses and parents of other patients. Aliza’s blog is getting thousands of views–and she is sharing the Gospel in every post. Literally thousands of people are reading and hearing about Jesus Christ through our family’s pain and suffering.

Does this mean we want to go through this? From a human perspective, of course not! However, this is what we take wonderful comfort in: we know that whatever happens here at the hospital (and we are of course praying hard for a complete and timely recovery of our little guy), that our sovereign God is watching over us (Psalm 121:5), walking with us (Joshua 1:9), and working out every detail of our lives for his glory and our good (Romans 8:28).

We do not have full insight into God’s plan as to why he has allowed us to enter into this trial. However, we are not afraid. Rather, we are “bold as lions”(Proverbs 28:1) because we know whom we have believed (2 Timothy 1:12). So we pray that God’s word would prove true: that “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22), and that by the means our tribulations, our Sovereign God would accomplish his ends of saving many souls.

Pray for Superhero Lukas on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pray-for-Superhero-Lukas-379691506187358/

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What Does the Bible Teach About Education?

By Joel Settecase / 13-minute read

While Christians approach the subject of education from different perspectives and come to diverse conclusions, the Bible does present clear answers to questions like whose responsibility it is, what the curricula should center around, and the desired effects and goal of education.

With home education growing worldwide and about ten percent of American students enrolled in private, non-governmental schools, this seems like a good time to talk about education from a biblical perspective.

The endeavor of entering a discussion of how Christian parents ought to educate their children is one fraught with peril. Inevitably any discussion or teaching on the subject is going to step on toes and aggravate raw nerves of Christians with strong convictions on the matter. Even those of us who ostensibly consider themselves “Bible Centered” (which, according to the Barna Group only amounts to a paltry 5% of Americans) have undoubtedly had our views on education shaped by both Scripture as well as external influences, including memories (good and bad) of our own childhood education. If we were to listen to the voice of God through the cacophony of voices speaking about this issue, what would we hear him saying?

In a (now postponed) episode of The Think Podcast, my guest and I enjoyed a robust conversation about Christian approaches to education, although we did not answer the question many want to jump to: “Should Christian parents put their children in the public (government) schools?” This is the question many want to jump immediately to answering. However before we can answer that we need to see what God tells us in his word about three vital elements: the responsibility of education, the focus of the curricula and the goal or desired results of education.

I want to close this introduction with two quick thoughts.

First, note that just now I did not say we are going to look at the goal or desired results of education “for Christians,as though there were separate norms for believers that unbelievers would be free to accept or reject. Of course anyone may accept or reject whatever the Bible says (and we reject it to our peril), but if Christ really does possess all authority in Heaven and on Earth (and he does according to Matthew 28:18), and if the Bible is his word (and it is according to Luke 24:27 and John 5:39, etc.), then the Bible’s prescriptions for education apply to the whole of humanity, not just those who accept them. So there’s that.

Secondly, in terms of defining what education is, I roughly have in mind the definition expounded upon by Douglas Wilson when he speaks about the paideia of God (quoting the Apostle in Ephesians 6:4), which I loosely summarize as:

A system of teaching and enculturation that transcends (though not excluding) the formal schooling happening typically between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., and that is built upon the foundation of, and in support of, a robust biblical worldview.*

I want the rest of the article to serve as a resource for parents and other Christians who are thinking (or want to begin to think) biblically about their children’s education. Under each of the three headers, I will list the answers and supporting biblical passages. Feel free to leave any comments in the appropriately-marked “comments” section below.

Who “Owns” Your Children’s Education?

Whose responsibility is it to education our children?

Fathers and Mothers

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 6:6-7

You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

—Deut. 11:19

Note: as a good New Covenant Theologian (as I am, which was pointed out by Joe and Jimmy on a recent episode of the podcast Doctrine and Devotion), I recognize that these commands were given to Old Covenant Israelite parents, that they would teach their children the commands of the Mosaic Law. Believers are not under that covenant or law, but the O. T. Law is instructive for us (Romans 15:4) and the pattern of parents teaching their children persists throughout Scripture into the New Testament, as we shall see.

Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching

—Prov. 1:8

O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me and said to me, “Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight; do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth

—Prov. 4:1-5

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

—Eph. 6:4

Interestingly, the same verb (ektrepho) Paul uses for how fathers are to “bring up” their children is also used in Ephesians 5:29, when Paul commands husbands to “nourish” their wives as their own bodies. Husbands and fathers therefore have a special responsibility to oversee the educative environment of their homes (see also 1 Cor. 14:35, Eph. 5:25-26).

God Directly

God may directly impart wisdom or knowledge to people. Because Christians enjoy a personal relationship with God through Christ Jesus, we enjoy the benefits of God teaching us (often through his word, and always in direct agreement with his word, when the instruction comes by way of other means).

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.

—Psalm 25:4-5

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.

—Daniel 1:17

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

—James 1:5

The Church

Just as parents are to foster the household of the immediate family as an educational environment, so also is the “household of God” a place where teaching and learning take place. In fact the leaders of each local church, the elders, are required to be men who are “apt to teach” (2 Tim. 2:24). Education is a mission of the church given by Christ himself in the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

—Matthew 28:19-20

And elsewhere, the Apostle Paul instructs the church to teach:

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching

—Romans 12:6-7

Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good,  and so train the young women to love their husbands and children,  to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

—Titus 2:3-5

In that Titus passage, Paul essentially tells Pastor Titus to commission the older women to facilitate a kind of practical-theology-meets-home-economics-meets-marriage-counseling program.

The State (in the right circumstances) may provide some facilitation

Again, this deals with Old Covenant Israel, however it is instructive:

David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals...And they cast lots for their duties, small and great, teacher and pupil alike.

King David, as head of state, set up a worship music arts teaching program for temple worship. Note that David was not doing the teaching, nor were any of his governmental officials leading the department. Rather David set it up and entrusted it to faithful and gifted instructors, under God’s leadership.** Translated to modern times this may look like a government giving a public award or even a tax break to an arts program that seeks to instill the love of truth and beauty in its students, which would be in line with the responsibility of government (cf. 1 Peter 2:13-14) to sanction good behavior.

What Should the Content or Curricula of Education Be?

Education should found its foundation in the worship and reverence of the Lord:

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

—Proverbs 1:7

As for the subjects to be covered, anything good, true and beautiful is fair game. Classically, students were taught according to the Trivium of subjects, namely Grammar, Logic and Rhetoric. This format is followed by classical schools today. In my own perusal of Scripture I found support for inclusion of the following subjects. The list is not certainly not exhaustive but may be instructional.

  • Natural sciences. Adam’s first job was to classify the animals. Proverbs 6:6-8 encourages entomology as a source wisdom.

  • Biblical Hermeneutics. Jesus says one who has mastered the Old Testament and is also trained in the New Testament is like a man who “brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52).

  • Philosophy and poetry. The Apostle Paul quotes from pagan poets and philosophers when he needs to demonstrate a point, indicating the value in this study (cf. Ti. 1:12, Acts 17:28).

  • Literature. Jude (1:14) quotes from the Book of Enoch, even citing the passage he quotes as an authority. Paul asked Timothy to bring him his books (2 Tim. 4:13).

  • Cosmology and Astrophysics. Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare the glory of God. The study of the heavens ought to aim to find out what the heavens are saying.

  • History. Scripture is itself a historical text and is filled with commands for God’s people to “remember.”

  • Christology and Theology. Jesus tells his followers to teach disciples “All that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20), just as Paul tells Timothy to pass on “What you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 2:2) and to “follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 1:13) .

What Is the Biblical Goal of Education?

Ultimately, the goal is that the student would own his own learning and be able to test doctrines and studies himself, to discern truth from error. For example, the author of Hebrews admonishes the Hebrew Christians for their inability to have achieved maturity, calling them children in need of “milk” (Heb. 5:12).

The Berean Jews, on the other hand, took ownership of their own education and searched the Scriptures as soon as they heard the new teaching of the Gospel; Luke (the author of Acts) calls them “noble” (Acts 17:11).

Good instruction is life-giving (Prov. 4:13); as parents we ought to seek to educate our children in such a way that, when they are older, we will be happy if they stick with it (as they most likely will according to Proverbs 22:6). We want our children to become the kind of learners who intertwine their righteousness with their learning and become wiser still (Prov. 9:9).

Ultimately our goal is to ensure that our children are provided with the tools to become mature and complete through their studies, studies which are rooted in Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17) but which branch out into every area of God’s world, and studies which are supplemented by rigorous testing, which produces maturity (cf. James 1:4).

There are many more passages we could have cited and dissected, but this should at least provide parents with a framework for thinking robustly, from a biblical worldview, about these three pertinent questions as they seek to pursue their children’s education in a way that honors the Lord.

Notes:

*Wilson sees full-orbed Christian education as not being fully possible to achieve apart from a Christian civilization, but as a Postmillennialist he believes we are on our way there. As an Amillennialist I disagree with him. However, I do consider myself something of an “optimistic Amillennialist, to which, when I told that to Doug Wilson in a recent phone conversation, he replied, “Well, that works.”

**King David, the man of God and prophet, was himself “apt to teach,” and apparently enjoyed teaching children the fear (worship and reverence) of the Lord (Psalm 34:11).

This article by the Institute for Faith, Works & Economics helped me find the 1 Peter passage about government praising good behavior: Dr. Art Lindsley, “What Does the Bible Say about the Role of Government?”, tifwe.org, accessed on July 30, 2019, at https://tifwe.org/bible-role-of-government/.

30 Questions to Ask Your Atheist, Agnostic & Skeptical Friends & Family

By Joel Settecase / 7-minute read

This post is designed to go along with episode 17 of the Think Podcast. You can listen to the Think Podcast here on this site or find it on your favorite podcast app by going to this link.

The other day I received a comment on one of my posts from a friend of mine who identifies as an atheist. He was offended by my post (it was about how science is not accounted for by atheism), and his comment really made me think.

My goal isn't to offend anyone, but in the course of putting so much content out on apologetics, it's bound to happen. I want to equip believers to be ready for any questions that they encounter about their faith. I talk about how to answer questions a lot, but in this episode I want to change things up a little bit, and talk about how to go on the "offensive" without being unnecessarily "offensive," and ask a few questions of our own. Of course, it’s common for Christians to be confronted with questions and objections from non-Christians about the Christian message.

We need to be ready for such questions (1 Peter 3:15). But we also need to be equipped with questions of our own. After all, we aren’t the only ones presenting a worldview.

The atheist, agnostic or skeptic also has a worldview. And like most everyone, there are likely to be aspects of that worldview he or she hasn’t fully thought through. Encouraging an unbeliever to really examine their own worldview can be a powerful apologetic tool.

The goal is not to win the argument but to engage in meaningful dialogue, to seek "truth in conversation" (the Think Institute motto) and, if the Lord gives the opportunity, to point the person to the Good News about Jesus that alone can give them forgiveness and eternal life. I hope you enjoy this and, of course, "I hope it makes you think." 

What follows is content, slightly modified, that originally appeared on my personal blog.

Christians are constantly confronted with questions about the Christian message.  We need to be ready for such questions (1 Peter 3:15). But we also need to be equipped with questions of our own.

Encouraging an unbeliever to really examine their own worldview can be a powerful apologetic tool.

The Questions

Now, here are 30 questions for atheists, agnostics and skeptics (I go into these in greater detail in the podcast episode).

  1. Are you certain that God does not exist, or that you can’t know whether He exists?

  2. How do you know that?

  3. Did you use your five senses to come to that decision?

  4. Given that God is by definition a Spirit, how much sense does it make to decide whether He exists using your five physical senses?

  5. Did you use your reasoning to determine God does not exist?

  6. How do you know your reasoning is working correctly?

  7. Did you use your reasoning to determine your reasoning was working?

  8. Do you see the problem with that?

  9. The Bible says that skepticism about God is the result of a mind suppressing what it knows to be true. Have you ever tried doubting your doubts about God?

  10. The Bible contains hundreds prophecies fulfilled hundreds of years after they were written. How would that be possible without God?

  11. The Bible says that objective moral values are based in God’s morally perfect nature. Without God, what do you think they are based in?

  12. Jesus’ disciples went from being terrified of death, to being willing to die for their belief that Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus didn’t rise, what do you think changed their mind?

  13. There are hundreds of varieties of unbelief. How do you know yours is the right one?

  14. Archaeology is constantly confirming the details of the accounts in the Bible. Why do you think that is, if the Bible isn’t true?

  15. There is more evidence that Jesus Christ lived, died and came back to life than for just about any other event in ancient history. If God did not exist, or Jesus’ claims to be God were not true, then how would you explain his resurrection?

  16. What do you think makes so many Christians able to live radically different lives from the way they used to live prior to becoming Christians–even to the point of forgiving their abusers for terrible crimes?

  17. One of the most basic principles of philosophy, confirmed by science* is ex nihilo nihil fit (“out of nothing, nothing comes”). Without God, how do you think everything came into being?

  18. The Bible says that we were created to live forever, and that death is an unnatural enemy, brought about by sin. If you are a naturalist who believes death is simply part of life, how do you explain why we feel like we ought to live forever, and why pain and death feel so unnatural and wrong to just about everyone?

  19. If your brain is merely the unplanned result of evolution by natural selection, aimed at survival and nothing else, what makes you think you can trust your reasoning to discover the truth, rather than just whichever belief is best for survival?

  20. If no God, why would anything objectively matter?

  21. If no God, why is there so much good in the world?

  22. If no God, how did our DNA get programmed with such incredibly complex language and instructions?

  23. Is everything in the universe really just matter and energy?

  24. If you just thought, “Yes,” was that thought made of matter and energy?

  25. The Bible says every good and perfect gift is from the Father above (i.e. God). To whom are you grateful for the good things in your life?

  26. Where do you think the laws of logic come from?

  27. Are the laws of logic made of matter and energy?

  28. What evidence would actually convince you that Jesus Christ is God, the Lord, and the only Savior?

  29. How much do you know about the heart of the Christian message, AKA the “Gospel” or good news?

  30. Are you ready to learn more about Jesus? Start here with the Gospel of John.

Note:

In the comments on the original article, someone objected that this is a philosophical, rather than a scientific principle. Yet science corroborates it and even relies upon it. Scientists such as Lawrence Krauss and others have proposed that the universe could have popped into existence from “nothing,” but they define “nothing” as an energy-neutral quantum field. If you have to redefine nothing, you’re no longer talking about nothing. The principle of ex nihilo nihil fit, therefore, turns out to be as true in science (excluding God, of course) as in philosophy. Can you imagine how useless scientific hypothesis and inquiry would be if we expected things to suddenly, causelessly, just come into being from nothing?

The Biblical Worldview, Part 7: Who Is Jesus?

By Joel Settecase / 7-minute read

Is Jesus merely a man, a created, divine being, or God? What did Jesus claim about himself and are those claims true?

The Most Important Question In the World

There is perhaps no historical personage whose identity and significance is debated more than Jesus Christ. Of course, this is appropriate given of what is at stake in answering the question. 

Christians teach that Jesus is the Messiah (or “Christ,” the “Anointed One”) who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). If  this is true, then correct belief about him (and in him) is a matter of eternal life and death. In that case, every human being on earth owes him complete allegiance and submission.

Because we humans are none too willing to surrender our autonomy to just anyone, and because (due to our broken and sinful human nature) we naturally rebel against God, it is to be expected that the identity of Jesus would be highly controversial. The unbeliever has literally everything to lose (and, the believer would add, everything to gain!) by believing in the biblical identity of Jesus. Below, we will briefly look at a few of the ways that adherents of different worldviews answer this question, before we examine the biblical data. 

The Most Interesting Man In the World

At this point, you might be thinking, Wait, I thought we were talking about seven questions that every worldview must answer! Belief in Jesus is a Christian thing. Why should other worldviews need to answer this? This is a valid question. So then, is the identity of Jesus really a vital one for all worldviews? 

The answer is yes, for two reasons. First, Jesus really is who the Bible teaches he is, and therefore his identity is of the utmost, cosmic importance. Secondly, as it turns out, all the major worldviews really do have an answer to the question of Jesus’s identity. This First-Century carpenter-turned-rabbi from Judea has been so influential that, when it comes to thinking about life’s biggest issues, he turns out to be unavoidable. 

In a 2015 article for Relevant Magazine, apologist J. Warner Wallace said, “Every religion makes some effort to account for His existence and teaching… This ought to give seekers a reason to pause and consider the life of Jesus seriously.” It is amazing to see how nearly so many adherents of different worldviews try to explain Jesus and even roll him into their own system.

Different Answers

So how have other worldviews explained who Jesus is? Let us now consider five alternative versions of Jesus, from Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Rabbinical Judaism, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The Bible’s Answer

We could continue and list the versions of Jesus from other worldviews, such as Atheism, Postmodernism/Intersectionality, Mormonism, and more. Such a list would be fascinating. However, it suffices to say that every worldview other than biblical Christianity views Jesus as less (far less!) than what he truly is, according to Scripture. Now, what does the Bible really teach about Jesus? 

Whole libraries could be, and have been, written about the biblical Jesus. In fact the Bible itself is a library of 66 volumes, all testifying to his future coming (Old Testament) and his life, work, and ongoing presence with his people through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (New Testament).

His Identity

Remember that the Bible’s presentation of the Godhead (the divine nature) is that he is triune (three-in-one), and that the three divine Persons are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is the Son, the second Person of the Trinity. He is also called the “word” in John 1:1, who is said to have existed at the beginning of creation, and through whom all things were created (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). In all, there are at least 102 different names or titles for Jesus in Scripture, including Alpha and Omega (Revelation 1:8), Bread of Life (John 6:32), and Captain of Salvation (Hebrews 2:10).

His Work

For Christians, Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God in the world (Colossians 1:15), and the only way to God (John 14:6). He is God in the flesh (John 1:14), and during his earthly ministry he presented himself as a sinless sacrifice to God on behalf of all his people (2 Corinthians 5:21). All who repent of their sins, confessing Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead (validating his claims about himself, about which more below) will be saved from God’s wrath (Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:10). 

His Roles

To believers, Jesus is king, defender and best friend. And he will be the judge of the world. These are just a few of his roles, and we could discuss many more. Yet there are three roles (or “offices”) in particular, which Jesus carries out in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, in which all the other roles are bound up. These are the roles of Prophet, King, and Priest. Jesus fulfills all three roles simultaneously (it is not like he is a Prophet on Monday, a King on Tuesday, and a Priest every third Sunday). Each of the three roles is perfectly summed up and unified in him. 

Each one also gives meaning to, and provides a basis for, certain elements of the biblical worldview we have been discussing. In other words, the whole system we have been studying together all orbits around Jesus. He is the rock upon which our whole worldview is built. In fact, Scripture tells us as much:

  • “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).

  • “...God’s household… with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19b, 20b).

  • “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Luke 20:17, citing Psalm 118:22). 

  • “For no one can lay any other foundation than what has been laid down. That foundation is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

Each of the three roles also corresponds to the three “Lordship Attributes” we discussed earlier. Let’s look at these three roles of Prophet, King and Priest. 

Who is Jesus graphic (1).png

Do you see how Jesus gives meaning to the whole biblical worldview? In this course we have truly been saving the best for last. Jesus is the best; he has the final word on the previous six questions we have been examining. 

To know Jesus is to know the unifying principle of the biblical worldview. Think about that. If a worldview is the “network of presuppositions… through which one interprets all human experience,” and the biblical worldview is the true worldview, then the person, work and story of Jesus is the fundamental proposition by which we must filter all reality--and truly, all reality is all about him! 

This means that our investigation of the Christian perspective ought to lead us closer to Jesus, the “source and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).\

Notes:

For comparative views on Jesus in world religions see, J. Warner Wallace, “What Other World Religions Think About Jesus,” RelevantMagazine.com, March 12, 2015, accessed June 26, 2019, https://relevantmagazine.com/god/what-other-world-religions-think-about-jesus/.

Rabbinic Judaism is based on a combination of the Tanakh (Old Testament) and the Talmud, the tradition of the Rabbis written in the early decades after the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70. and is distinguished from biblical Judaism, which was based on the Tanakh alone. Cf. “Question: What is the difference between Messianic Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism?” Bethadonai.com, accessed June 26, 2019, http://bethadonai.com/?page_id=511. See also, “Extra-Biblical Historical Evidence for the LIFE, DEATH, and RESURRECTION of JESUS,” WestarkchurchofChrist.org, accessed June 26, 2019.

Official Jehovah’s Witness teaching on Jesus drawn from, “Lesson 4: Who Is Jesus Christ?” JW.org, accessed June 26, 2019.

For the names of Jesus see,  Betty Miller, “All the Names of Jesus,” BibleResources.org, October 10, 2005, accessed June 27, 2019.



The Biblical Worldview, Part 6: What Is Our Destiny?

By Joel Settecase / 6-minute read.

The biblical worldview teaches that the story of the world is linear, that it is headed somewhere, and that it is ultimately God’s story. History is neither purposeless nor is it ultimately determined by human choices. While our decisions and actions are morally significant, the ultimate flow and shape of history has been predetermined by God.

Before we begin this section, I need to include an important caveat. When it comes to the details of eschatology (the study of “last things” or the End Times), there are many conflicting views across Christianity. The eschatological details over which orthodox Christians disagree are secondary ones. That is to say, two individuals can both be Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-having believers and still disagree on when Jesus is coming back and what specific events will occur immediately before and afterward.

This cannot be said when it comes to primary doctrines, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation of Jesus, or the Gospel.

However, while the boundaries of orthodoxy (which simply means “straight teaching”) allow for broad divergence in the secondary details of eschatology, that is not to say that all of eschatology is secondary. There are some must-believes, some essential teachings, about the future taught clearly in Scripture.

We could turn to any number of passages to derive a biblical view of history and destiny. However, there is one verse in particular that is especially instructive:

Isaiah 46:10: “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will.”

From this single verse we learn three things about the destiny of our world. We learn that the story of the world is linear, that it is headed somewhere, and that it is ultimately God’s story.

History Is Linear

To clarify, we are using the word “history” to mean the whole story of the world, not just the events of the past.

Eastern worldviews conceive of history as circular. Just as the seasons rotate through spring, summer, autumn and winter, so all the life of humanity and the cosmos is a series of repetitions. Even human souls are reincarnated over and over in a cycle of life, death, and reincarnation (until, perhaps, they achieve release from the cycle through Moksha and become unified with the cosmic reality (Brahman in Hinduism).

Not so in the West, shaped as it has been by a long history of biblical teaching. In Western worldviews, even including Western forms of atheism, history had a beginning and will have an end.

The Bible teaches that history had a beginning when God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing by his word (Genesis 1:1; Hebrews 11:3). From that moment, in which natural time itself was created, the story of the cosmos has been progressing toward an inevitable conclusion.

History Is Heading Somewhere

Isaiah 46:10 (with Scripture as a whole) teaches that history will have an end. Things will not continue on infinitely into the future.

At the end of this age, Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead by their words and their deeds (Hebrews 9:27; Matthew 12:36-37). Those who have been rescued by Jesus during their earthly lives (there is no recourse after death) will be judged not by the record of their misdeeds but rather by the inclusion of their names in the book of life (Revelation 20:11-15).

Our current world will not last forever but are being reserved for fire (2 Peter 3:7), after which a new heavens and earth will be created (Isaiah 65:17), the dwelling of God and his redeemed people forever (Revelation 21:4).

History Is “His Story”

Our passage in Isaiah says that history is ultimately the unfolding of God’s holy will. What he wants to happen will happen. So it is appropriate to say that history is actually “his story.” Isaiah 14:24 similarly records God as saying, “As I have purposed, so it will be; as I have planned it, so it will happen.”

The theological center point of history--the most important event ever--was the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the heart of the Christian message and worldview. The Apostle Paul called this the matter of “first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). The Gospel, then is the key to understanding history. In one sense, all the events prior to the death and resurrection of Jesus are pointing forward to it, and in some sense every event since then is pointing backward to it. In another sense, the cross points both forward and backward to all the events before and after it, giving them all meaning.

So history is neither purposeless nor is it ultimately determined by human choices. While our decisions and actions are morally significant, the ultimate flow and shape of history has been predetermined by God (Genesis 50:20). This is a great comfort to believers, because this means that we are never outside of God’s plan for us, and that he is always working our situations together for good and to make us more like his Son (Romans 8:28).

At this point we could get into a discussion of the divergent views Christians hold on the Millennium (the thousand years of Christ’s reign with his saints mentioned in Revelation 20:4) and whether Jesus will physically return before or after that reign (or whether it is currently happening now). We could discuss the Rapture, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the Beast, and the Harlot mentioned in Revelation, as well as the 70 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy (9:24-27) and the destruction of Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. However, we will not get into these questions now, not because they are not important (all biblical teaching is important!) but because they are not essential to the biblical worldview.

Godly Christians disagree on these matters, but we all agree on the important issues. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is coming back, and the story of the cosmos is ultimately about him.

The Biblical Worldview, Part 4: What Is Man?

By Joel Settecase / 8-minute read.

Man’s nature is best described as fundamentally broken. While having been initially created good, mankind has gone astray and is in desperate need of restoration, forgiveness and redemption.

Why This Question Matters

We start this section by asking why we need to ask this question at all. That is, why do we need a definition of man at all? After all, we are human beings. Shouldn’t it be obvious to us what we are?

The fact is, the answer to “What is Man?” is not obvious. Or at the very least, there is no shared definition of humanity across all worldviews. Therefore, if we want our thinking to be shaped by the Bible, we must ask this question and see how the Bible answers it. (It is also important to note here that we are using the term “man” in an inclusive way to refer not just to adult males but to male and female human persons of all ages. This usage is biblical and theologically significant in ways which we won’t expound on here, but which will perhaps become clear as we go on).

Some Alternative Views

worldview views o f man.png

We mentioned above that there is no unified way that all worldviews answer the question of mankind or human nature. Here are a few samples of the various answers out there:

  • Materialism: Man is a complex machine or evolved animal, the product of an unguided process of evolution by natural selection over millions of years.

  • Mormonism: Man is a spirit child of Elohim, the Heavenly Father, who himself is an exalted or deified man. As man now is, God once was. As God now is, man may become.

  • Hinduism & New Age: In Hinduism, “Atman” (man) is “Brahman” (ultimate reality or the cosmic soul). Man is one with the universe, though he may not be aware of this. New Age thought is similar, in that the self is god.

  • Postmodernism & Intersectionality: Man’s nature is debated, but generally seen as being without any objective definition or essential nature (a Postmodernist would likely object to my use of “man” to describe humanity!). Neil Shenvi says, “As a non-theistic worldview, critical theory believes that our identity is not primarily found in our vertical relationship to God but in our horizontal relationships to other people and other groups.” On this view, individuals define themselves and relate to one another and society according to an intersecting network of sub-groups, each with various levels of “privilege” and “oppression.”

Then there is the question of the moral status of human nature: is man basically good, basically bad, more good than bad, more bad than good, or fundamentally broken? There are diverse answers to this question as well.

The Biblical Teaching

So what does the Bible teach? What does man’s Creator have to say about his creation? According to the Bible, man is:

  • Persons bearing God’s own image (Genesis 1:27).

  • Designed as an expression of unity-in-diversity, male and female each with their own roles and both equal in value and personhood (Genesis 2:18; 5:2).

  • Created to procreate and exercise dominion over the animals and the natural world (Genesis 1:26).

  • Valuable and possessing of dignity from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5; 139:13; cf. Exodus 21:22-25; Jeremiah 1:5; Luke 1:41).

The first humans were a married couple, specially created by God (the husband from the soil and the wife from the side of her husband) (Genesis 2:7, 21-22). All humans since that time are descended from the same married couple (Genesis 3:20; Acts 17:26) and so are rightly considered a single race.

Man is the only “animal” given personality, and as such people are more like God than anything else in nature and enjoy a status infinitely higher than animals, plants and machines. However, unlike God, who is infinite, man is finite. As such, he is infinitely lower than God and is dependent on him (Matthew 4:4).

Adam, our first father, sinned, an event we refer to as the Fall, recorded in Genesis 3:1-7. As the father of all mankind, Adam was also our representative. As a result of his Fall, sin and its consequences (death and hardship) spread to all mankind, who all became sinners (Genesis 3:16-19; Romans 5:12).

So man’s nature is best described as fundamentally broken. That brokenness is both given to us (by virtue of our shared ancestry, according to Psalm 51:5) and chosen by us (by virtue of our own individual sins). We should not think of ourselves as victims but rather as villains. In man’s natural state he is utterly sinful (“totally depraved,” as the Reformers put it) and enters this world under God’s judgment. Ephesians 2:3 describes our state apart from God’s grace as living “in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts,” and being “by nature children under wrath.”

Sin broke all human relationships--to God, to society and the world, and even to oneself. Although man was originally created to exist in perfect relational harmony (similar to how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another), since the Fall man’s default is interpersonal strife and jealousy (action that the Apostle Paul calls “merely human” in 1 Corinthians 3:3). Left to our own devices, we would become more and more sinful, and earn more and more of God’s wrath and judgment. The final state of an unrepentant, sinful person is everlasting punishment in Hell (Matthew 10:28; Revelation 21:8).

Yet while man’s nature is broken, his dignity as being God’s image bearer has not been completely destroyed. Human life is still valuable and dignified (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9-10). Furthermore, mankind is not a lost cause. It is possible for sinners to be reconciled to God and reborn, given new life and adopted into God’s family as his children (John 1:12; 3:7).

So we see that man, while having been initially created good, has gone astray and is in desperate need of restoration, forgiveness and redemption.

There has only ever been one human being who did not sin, namely Jesus Christ, who is both fully human and fully God (Philippians 2:6; Hebrews 4:15). Therefore, Jesus both flawlessly exemplifies what it means to be human, and perfectly provides the means by which broken and sinful humanity may be “fixed” and forgiven.

Notes:

For a comparison of different worldviews’ answers to the question of humanity, cf. the “Theory Comparison Chart (Santrock Chapter 2)” Christinao.wordpress.com, accessed on June 18, 2019, https://cristinao.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/sire-cristinao.pdf.

See also: James Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 156-209, especially page 200.

On the issue of ethnicities and race: although the Bible recognizes many ethnicities, it presents only one “race.” That is, human beings of every ethnicity share the same primeval parents, Adam and Eve. However, biblically speaking there are really two “races,” the race of Adam (unregenerate sinners still under Adam’s headship) and the race of Christ--those who have been reborn and brought into God’s family (John 1:13; 1 Peter 2:9), who have Christ as their representative or head.

How to Share and Defend Your Faith to Muslims

Did you know nearly one out of every 3.5 people on earth is a Muslim? Christians have been commissioned to disciple the nations, yet historically we have sent precious few resources to bring the Gospel to this incredibly massive portion of the human population.

In episode 10, Joel Settecase and N. G. (name withheld to avoid it coming up in search results) pull up a couple of chairs to discuss the goal, motivation and method of sharing the Gospel and defending the Christian message to Muslims. They get deep and wide in this conversation, which ranges from the theological to the practical. We hope it makes you think.

The Biblical Worldview, Part 2: What Is Good?

By Joel Settecase / 5-minute read.

The Bible, and the God who has revealed himself in its pages, provides the only adequate basis for morality.

In Part 1, I explained that there are only three possible answers to the most basic question any worldview must answer, “What is real?” We saw that God is both ultimate (or infinite, a world which I might like even better) as well as personal, and that in relation to his creation he exercises the “Lordship Attributes” of Authority, Control and Presence.

Now we are close to having a basis for answering the second question every worldview must answer, “What is good?” I say we are close, but not quite there yet, because there is one further attribute of God’s nature that we must consider, the attribute of being relational, about which more in a minute.

There are various fields of study bound up with this question, from morality (right and wrong thought and action), to axiology (values), to aesthetics (judgments of beauty). These are all concerned with the question of absolute goodness (if such a thing as absolute goodness does in fact exist).

When we have answered the ultimate question of goodness, we will know if it is possible to also ask, “What are our moral duties and how do we know?” as well as, “What does it mean to violate the absolute standard of goodness?” Is beauty objective or merely in the eye of the beholder?” If there is an absolute standard by which we may make sense of morality, then we may also make sense of related fields of study.

Absolute, Relationsl Moral Standards Need an Absolute, Relational Basis

Morality cannot be subjective. If it were, we would only be talking about preferences, not morality. There would only be what is, meaning there would be my preference, and your preference, and their preferences, but no bridge between them and no scale on which to weigh them, no way to judge between them.

So morality must be objective, which is to say it must be absolute. Absolute morality requires a basis in an absolute prime reality. This prime reality must be absolute as well as personal. This is because moral duties are laws, and laws require a lawgiver. A lawgiver cannot be an impersonal force (e.g. gravity) or abstract object (e.g. the number four) but must be personal, someone who can make the pronouncement, “This is how things ought to be.” Absolute, unchanging laws require an absolute and unchanging Lawgiver. Certain non-biblical worldviews, which present a concept of God that is unitarian (absolute oneness) could perhaps account for absolute, unchanging laws, if they merely applied to an individual person interacting with himself.

Yet moral principles do not just deal with individuals but also govern relationships between individuals. Much of morality covers how people ought to treat one another. In the study of morality we are concerned not merely with unity but also with diversity. We are concerned with how individuals ought to treat one another in their relationships and interactions with each other. This is a question not merely of absolute unity but of diversity too.

In order to account for the existence of absolute moral standards that govern interpersonal relationships, the prime reality in which they are grounded must also be absolute, personal and interpersonal. There must be a relational attribute to God, or else any of moral standards for interpersonal relationships would merely be arbitrary.

For example, if God were a monad, as the unitarian religions (Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Islam, etc.) believe, then prior to him creating, there would have been no interpersonal relationships at all. Any moral requirements such a God would have decreed would be the creations of his mind, but would not have been rooted in God’s own relational nature, since prior to creating God would have had no relationships.

It follows that, for absolute interpersonal moral standards to be absolute, they must be rooted in a prime reality (God) who is infinite without division (unbroken oneness), personal, and yet also interpersonal or diverse in itself. God’s nature, as revealed in Scripture, is such a prime reality.

There are many worldviews, religions and philosophies in the world, yet only one worldview that has such a concept of God, and that is biblical Christianity. As Francis Schaeffer has said, the Christian answer is not merely a good answer, it is the only answer. This Venn diagram shows a sampling of the world’s religions and worldviews, and how they account for (or fail to account for) unity, diversity and personality:

Worldview Comparison Venn Diagram - Metaphysics FINAL FINAL!!! properly categorized WITH THINK INSTITUTE LOGO.png

Only biblical Christianity accounts for all three.

God’s nature is the basis for absolute morality

The God who has revealed himself in the Bible is absolute unity, absolute personality, and absolute diversity. He is one (united) in his essence and yet is three (diverse) Persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

These three share a name (meaning they share authority and Lordship), and yet each one is distinct from the others. These three have known and loved one another perfectly forever in perfect, infinite oneness, so it makes sense when Scripture says that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). His very nature is love. His loving nature is the basis for how the three Persons of the Trinity relate to one another, and it forms the basis for his moral commands to his creatures.

Therefore God’s moral commands are not arbitrary, nor does he appeal to some standard beyond himself. The Greek Philosopher Plato wrestled with this, because he only knew the gods of mythology. Yet God is not like those “gods.” God’s very nature is the definition of goodness. He is magnificent, glorious and eminently praiseworthy, and he commands that his creatures live by his glorious standard (Mark 10:18). God’s goodness was reflected in his creation as he originally created it (Genesis 1:31).

Only the biblical worldview can account for absolute morality

Recall that God’s nature is personal, infinite, and diverse within himself (we might say “tri-personal”). This provides the basis for absolute morality. Because he is personal, he has a will. Because he is infinite, his will applies to all people, everywhere and at all time. And because he is tri-personal, it is in his nature to communicate; he has communicated his will to his creatures, in the Bible.

We may say confidently that the biblical worldview is totally unique in this regard, because it is the only one that can sufficiently account for unity, diversity and personality in its concept of prime reality. God, the infinite, tri-personal, relational God who is love, is perfectly moral, infinitely valuable, and gloriously beautiful. All the fields of study related to goodness find their basis and ultimate reference point in him; things are good, valuable and beautiful insofar as they are like God, who is all good, valuable and beautiful to the nth degree.

God has revealed mankind’s moral duties in two ways

God’s creation communicates his glory (Psalm 19), to the extent that men have enough knowledge about God to glorify him and give him thanks, and therefore we are without excuse for failing to do so (Romans 1:18-24). Failing to fulfill even this basic requirement, man goes on to sin in various ways throughout life, falling short of God’s glorious standard in every area of life (Romans 3:23). Although man was originally created good, the first man sinned, and all his children have been sinning ever since, suppressing what can be known about God from the world without and the moral sense within. However the moral sense, the conscience, does remain. The Bible says the “works of the law” are written on the heart of all people, and their, “competing thoughts either accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15).

The second way God communicates his absolute moral standards to us is by the Bible. The Bible teaches that creation’s greatest purpose is to praise God (Ps. 148:1-14), and man’s highest moral duty is to love God (Mt. 22:38; Jn. 14:15), followed by the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Mt. 22:38-39). The Ten Commandments were a baseline summary for the nation of Israel, and Jesus Christ deepened and expanded God’s moral teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and elsewhere.

The teachings of Christ are impossible to fulfill in man’s current sinful condition, which is bleak indeed. Because God is good, he must give sin what it deserves.

Immoral man’s predicament

The “wages” of sin, the Bible teaches, is death (Romans 6:23). Man’s predicament, then, is that by living life in disobedience to God, he is choosing death. There there is such a deep disconnect between God’s perfectly good nature and law, and man’s current immoral state, that it would be completely impossible for man to be restored to a right relationship with God apart from divine intervention. He is in the predicament of having an inner moral sense which drives him to desire moral goodness, while at the same time being morally incapable in his nature of choosing the good and pleasing God (Romans 8:8).

We will get into the solution to man’s predicament later in the series. However, before we do that, we must address the question of truth. After all, we are drawing our answers to life’s biggest questions from the biblical worldview—the perspective taught by the Bible. How can we know that the Bible is the best place to get those answers?