Keys to Reading 1 John

Today, as in times past, biblical Christians face an onslaught of false teachings from those who claim to teach the Word of God.  There are numerous gospels within mainline denominations and cults.  Many whole denominations have followed the way of the world and adopted beliefs, lifestyles, and behaviors contrary to biblical faith.  They have followed the siren sound of worldly philosophies brought forward from centuries and millenniums before.  For this reason, Christians must keep their ears and eyes open for distinguishing between falsehood and truth.  The Apostle John gives bold warning in his letter of 1 John concerning those who seek to bring their false teachings within churches,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1, ESV).

An insidious philosophy had taken hold in the time of Jesus and the Apostles brought in from Greek philosophy (Plato) that proposed a dualistic way of viewing existence.  Jews and Christians alike were not immune to its lure.  It espoused philosophical beliefs foreign to Judaism and biblical faith.  This dualism identified a spiritual side and a material side, hence dualism.  The spiritual was perfect and pure while the material was corrupt and evil.  False teaches came into Christian fellowships and disrupted them with this dualism.

Exposing False Teachings

The Apostles John and Paul wrote letters warning their congregations of the deception of this sinister Greek false teaching.  John devoted the entire letter of 1 John tearing down the walls of its deception and exposing its philosophical errors.  He leaves us with some very important keys for alerting us of modern day religious philosophies that operate under the cloak of deceptions.  These keys enable us to gain greater understanding of 1 John.  This letter shows us how John engages in corrective teachings that preserve the gospel’s message.  He brings these corrective teachings to application in our relationship with God and other Christians.  These keys for understanding John’s letter consist of the following:

  1. Knowledge/knowing
  2. Spirit/physical dualism
  3. Light/darkness
  4. Truth/lie
  5. Love/hate
  6. Christ followers/anti-Christ
  7. Jesus the Christ vs. Jesus and the Christ
  8. Righteousness/unrighteousness
  9. Fellowship/separation

This Greek philosophy was the early stages of Gnosticism.  This Gnosticism held to a secret knowledge (Sophia) meant only for the initiates whom its teachers guided into a process of self-knowledge.  This secret knowledge was associated with an inward divine spark that led to one understanding one’s spiritual origins.  Light constituted this divine spark, and darkness was simply intellectual error and not really sin.  John fought back against six major errors Gnosticism brought into the early Church related to this secret knowledge.  All of them related to a subjective way of truth as opposed to objective truth found in Jesus.  They consisted of the following:

  1. False Christ – False teachers denied that Jesus came in the flesh, because to them the material was evil. They denied the Incarnation and Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Jesus was an illusion.  They divided Jesus from Christ.  According to these teachers, this Christ came upon Jesus when John (Jesus’ cousin) baptized Him and left Him when Jesus went to the cross.  The Christ remained a pure Spirit untouched by evil.
  2. False knowledge – Secret knowledge based on self or the subjective rather than true knowledge; that is, knowledge of the one true God (objective) and His Son, Jesus Christ.
  3. False spirituality – These false teachers believed in an ethereal spiritual existence based on secret knowledge that gave them an awareness of their heavenly origins and blissful destiny through an internal (subjective) divine spark. They simply had to be in touch (i.e., get in touch with your inner child) with it to gain true spirituality through secret knowledge.
  4. False light – There exist a divine spark (light) in each of us we must come to understand (secret knowledge). This opposed the true Light (Jesus, objective).
  5. False righteousness – People came into righteousness through self-knowledge and a movement away from material evil. Since evil dwelled in sinful matter, one becomes righteous by attaining a higher consciousness of the spiritual as an initiate, perfection of self-knowledge, and escape from intellectual error and ignorance.  It is not a matter of sin but knowledge and escape from ignorance.
  6. False morality – Self-knowledge informed initiates of their spiritual pure state. The physical body held them in slavery.  Once they come to self-knowledge of their perfect and pure spirituality untouched by the material world, they can then think on a higher plane and ignore the restraint of the material world.  That is, they can live as libertines (amoral), because their spirits are untouched by the material existence.

John’s Counterarguments to False Teachings

John not only wants believers to recognize the false claims from false teachers but also desires us to counter and refute them through acknowledgement, practice, and defense of the truth in our own community of faith.  That is the reason he begins this letter as he does.  Therefore, from the beginning words of his letter to the conclusion John’s defense of the truth about Jesus is of the highest importance because of its consequence on relationships with God and others.  Who and what these first century believers believed influenced the way they lived their lives.  His counterarguments to the six false doctrines of Gnosticism consisted of the following:

JESUS – John stressed that the real Jesus dwelled among humanity in flesh and blood (Incarnate) (1 John 1:1-2.  Jesus was not an illusion but a real person.  No cosmic spiritual “Christ” existed.  Jesus came as Christ (Messiah).  To believe otherwise denied the Incarnation, resurrection, the eternal life, redemption and mediation, and fellowship with the Father, five foundational truths of faith.

KNOWLEDGE – Knowledge was NOT some internal secret self-knowledge, self-actualization (Sophia), or enlightenment through an initiation (subjectivism).  It is not the means of getting in touch with the divine spark (light) within for discovering our spiritual origins and destiny.  Rather, true knowledge is the knowledge of the personal God (objective) with whom we have fellowship and whom Jesus came to reveal (1 John 1:3; 2:3-4, 13; 4:7; 5:20).

SPIRITUALITY – True spirituality is not something we strive to attain through escape from material evil and secret knowledge (subjective) but a result of the new birth from God (objective) leading to faith, obedience, and righteousness (1 John 2:29; 3:9; 5:4).

LIGHT – Light is not some internal divine spark of higher consciousness meant for select initiates through which we attain when we escape ignorance.  It is not some sense of the mysterious destiny of ultimate purity and perfection when we come into complete self-knowledge of pure mind once one escapes the material world.  John declares God is light; it is His very nature where no darkness at all dwells (1 John 1:5) in which He has called us to walk in obedience (1:7) in love of God and fellow believers (1 John 3:1).  There is nothing mysterious about walking in light, because it is summed up in the New Commandment of love toward God and others (1:7; 2:9-10).

RIGHTEOUSNESS – Righteousness is not reaching some higher consciousness and perfection through self-knowledge.  Rather, it is a practice of life resulting from the new birth (1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10).  This righteousness exhibits itself in love for fellow believers and being faithful to God (3:9-10).

MORALITY – Morality is not casting off the restraints of the material world and rising to a higher consciousness.  It is not being in touch with our spirit selves and denying sin as that which is associated with the material world.  Rather, morality is living righteously (faithfully) toward God.

Contemporary Elements of Gnosticism

As we can determine in our reading through 1 John, John’s response is hard hitting and specific against the treacherous and cryptic teachings of the false teachers.  These false teachers are attractive because they cloak their teachings in enigma.  Their teachings are all about the inward and subjective while they ignore objective truth and clarity.  Secrecy, the intellect, escapism from reality, and the higher consciousness are the essence of their philosophy.  The elements of Gnosticism have made their inroads into philosophy, religions, and psychology.

Cults as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, and the New Age movement have adopted many of Gnosticism’s beliefs and teachings.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do not believe Jesus was God, but rather view Him as a lesser god much like the demiurge of Gnosticism.  It also denies Jesus’ physical resurrection.  Rather, He rose spiritually, a Gnostic belief.  Mormons deify humans and make God human according to one of their prophets who claimed, “As man is now, God once was; as God is now, man may be.”[1]

The New Age movement harbors all sorts of cult and occult beliefs and doctrines.  One of the underpinnings of the New Age movement is Gnosticism’s strands of beliefs.[2]  Both the New Age and Gnosticism holds to mysteries, hidden knowledge, and “enlightened minds.”[3]  It encompasses the psychological philosophy of psychologist Carl Jung and the metaphysics of Theosophy, Scientology, and Christian Scientists.  It encompasses astrology and numerous pagan practices.  It has captured whole denominations, such as the Presbyterian Church USA and its Re-Imagining Conference in 1993 with its symbol of Sophia.  While the denomination rejected the Conference then, it continued to hold to the Sophia symbol as one of worship in its continuing “Voices of Sophia Breakfast” in the denomination’s General Assembly.[4]

Warnings!

Such inroads into mainstream denominations and Christian fellowships should alert us to the dangers of ancient religious philosophies posing as Christian and secretly coming into Christian congregations, disrupting and dividing believers.  We must read John’s letter carefully to become aware of these dangers and guard ourselves against them.  John informs us,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

Not much in philosophy has changed over the millenniums. The same false teachings continue to rear their ugly heads in different ways.  Beware of them!  Hold tightly to John’s warning, listen closely to similar sounding ideas that resemble Christian theology, search the Scriptures, and ask questions.  Many who come in the name of Christ raise false imitations and counterfeits, which sound like Christian teaching.  They offer things like higher consciousness, the higher life, deeper spirituality, inner enlightenment, secret knowledge, divine spark, entry into mysteries, self-actualization, and inward-focus.  They imitate, impersonate, mimic, and copy biblical faith.  In the end, these false prophets give a foreign Jesus and lead astray into false teachings of demons (1 Timothy 4:1).

[1] (Chapter 5: The Grand Destiny of the Faithful: Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 2011, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, http://bit.ly/1kH4fIU).

[2] Phil Johnson, “What’s New with the New Age?  Why Christians Need to Remain on Guard Against the Threats of New Age Spirituality,” Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 10:4 (Winter 2006), pp. 76-78.

[3] Ibid, 76.

[4] http://www.pcusa.org/news/2012/7/7/voices-sophia-breakfast-thorson-smith-reflects-bac.

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The Real Jesus in Today’s World

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—” (1 John 1:1, NKJV)

If Jesus appeared to the world today, would he be whom people imagined Him?

The Apostle John begins this letter of 1 John in a rather strange way that most people today do not do when writing to someone.  However, he had a purpose for this beginning.  Philosophers of his time began teaching a very different Jesus than He whom the disciples knew.  A substantial amount of time had passed, substantial in terms of John’s life but seemingly short considering the brief amount of time it took for these philosophies about Jesus to take hold.  Their underlying tenets survived for a couple of centuries since their formulation.

John gives insight into the basis for these philosophies.  A battle ground existed that dates back the Greek philosopher Plato.  Plato taught a metaphysical dualism that subscribed to the physical or seen and the intellectual or unseen.  The physical dealt with the senses and material objects.  The intellectual dealt with knowledge and the mind.  Many variations of Platonism arose over the centuries up to the time of the Apostle John and beyond.  These variations never really disappeared, but they lay dormant until another religious variation adopted them and brought them up to date in current religious practices.  These variations exist today in a number of forms and practices, such as with different philosophies of the New Age movement.

One major practice that arose during the first century and continues today is Gnosticism.  It integrated one of the major tenets of Platonism, dualism, and posed a major threat to the faith Jesus and His disciples taught.  This dualism saw spirit and the material world as incompatible.  Spirit is pure while the material world is corrupt.  Jesus could not have come in the flesh without becoming tainted and corrupted.  Therefore, He remain a spirit and never came in a human body.

John took up his apologetic arguments against this strain of Gnosticism.  He exposed how it committed theft of Jesus and incorporated Him into its religious philosophy through splitting Him apart by denying His physical appearance and accepting Him only as a spirit.  This threatened the gospel and its central truth of the incarnation.  That is, Jesus came among humanity in human flesh, a body like ours.  He knew and experienced suffering and pain.  People saw and touched Him.  He enjoyed a good meal with His friends and family.  His own race of people condemned Him, and the Romans executed Him, hanging His tangible body on the cross to bleed and die.  Men placed His body in the grave, but He physically rose from it to life once again.  Gnosticism denied this Jesus.

The errors that crept into this infant church sought to undermine the gospel.  These errors encompassed the following:

  1.  A split or separation between spirit and matter resulting in a variety of entities in both forms
  2. Complete separation between the material and spiritual so that God or the Demiurge could not inhabit the material world – total transcendence.
  3. The existence of a divine spark within man for making him aware of the divine
  4. The deliverance from evil and the material world through this divine spark by increased self-awareness and increasing knowledge and the insight it brings through masters and spiritual guides.  These masters bring such knowledge to the initiates, who are among the few, chosen, or elites to receive enlightenment
  5. The Christ was the source of the divine spark and delivered it to Jesus, the man – the spiritual enlightening the material Jesus, the two being distinct and separate rather than the same person.  Jesus, in turn, became the Master or source of secret knowledge from God for His disciples and those after them.
  6. All those who learn of this divine spark or secret knowledge become enlightened about themselves and salvation (www.bibleone.net/print_tbs61.html).

The dangers of these beliefs are the denial of the deity of Jesus, the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus for victory over sin and death, and the practice of self-righteousness.  This self-righteousness expresses itself in the pride of life (1 John 2:16), a condescension toward others that shows through a lack of love (1 John 3:1-10), and unrighteousness, leading to the denial of sin among the initiates or disciples of Gnosticism (1 John 1-10; 3:4-10).  These insidious errors in theology and practice lead one away from God and his beloved children who know Him through faith (1 John 2:18-19).  Those who deny Jesus is the Christ, without splitting Him into two parts, separate themselves from those whom these initiates consider uninformed and unenlightened.

Therefore, the initiates will have nothing to do with them (believers in the gospel John taught) because they remain in their evil of a lack of self-knowledge.  Self-love becomes a substitute for divine love so that the commandment of love reduces love to the condition of enlightenment on a higher plane of knowledge that separates the spiritual from the material.  This love is pure spiritual love based on separation from the material.  Those who have not reached this higher plane have not arrived at this distinctive love with its basis in secret self-knowledge and self-righteousness.  This kind of knowledge and righteousness reduces love to a feeling and mysticism that romanticizes it through the inner divine spark and an internal focus. It is not a love found in the rough and tumble of the physical world but on a higher plane of the spirit, the ideal, separate from evil material.  This love (Akhana) is connected more to some sort of ethereal (other worldly) wisdom (Sophia) born out of eroticism rather than the biblical sacrificial love of agape or philos.  It focuses on self rather than others and eventually becomes destruction and alienating.  Those who follow this kind of love walk away from other Christians and subsequently biblical faith altogether.  Because biblical Christians do not participate with the more enlightened, they deserve to be left.

The Apostle John’s warnings throughout this short letter of 1 John should give us pause concerning the errors that creep into our lives.  They lead us away from Jesus Christ to another gospel and cause us to separate ourselves from other believers.  Many in churches and Christian fellowships throughout history have adopted the errors of Gnosticism without realizing it.  They believe in some sort of higher plane of secret knowledge that causes a separation of spirit from the physical world, relegating the entire physical world to evil and prizing a romantic type of secret knowledge.  They attain this secret knowledge only through some sort of initiation of ecstatic feeling, higher wisdom, deeper knowledge or similar means.  These who have not reached this higher plane have not attained a true spirituality that results in living apart from all known sin.

This describes a modern rendition of Gnosticism, one that also needs confronting with the same truths John used to refute and renounce the errors of his day.  We do this through acknowledging our sinful condition and our confession of it while recognizing that Christ alone is our focus and source of forgiveness.  We also do this by faith and fellowship, two central truths the Apostle John clearly teaches.  This faith is in the clear teaching of Scripture and not in secret wisdom on some spiritual higher plane meant only for those who attain a higher level of spiritual knowledge (gnosis), abstinence, and separation based on self-love and self-righteousness.

This fellowship means commitment to love others, to participate in their lives, and to contribute to their spiritual growth.  This fellowship is not “what I can get from the church or small group” but rather how can I give myself to others in an exchange of open and transparent knowledge of Jesus and His word.   In this fellowship, there is no secret knowledge of dreams, vision, or other revelations meant only for a few initiates.  There is not cliquishness that causes separation.

These philosophical strains of Gnosticism are dangerous to the Church and the fellowship and love we share with one another that raises some above others.  Rather we follow the real Jesus and not some imaginary philosophical one that departs from what the Scriptures clearly teach of Him.  This real Jesus leads to a true bond of fellowship around clearly communicated Scripture that reveals a transparent Savior who came in the flesh, participated in our humanity, was executed, rose from the dead, and remains our living Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1-2).  Through Him, we have genuine and transparent fellowship that leads to a life of joy (1 John 1:4).

Faith’s Joy Depends on the Historical Incarnation of Jesus

1 That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life—

2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us—

3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.

4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.

Nelson, Thomas (2009-02-18). Holy Bible, New King James Version (NKJV) (p. 1178). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

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John wanted to assure his readers that the historical incarnation of Jesus was historical truth. Historicity is the bulwark of faith. In history, real knowledge exists. Someone lived, accomplished certain things, and then died. It is knowledge that can be verified. There were eye witnesses, and they spoke of what they saw. Faith draws upon knowledge, for there cannot be faith in non-existence. Genuine faith could not be placed in that which does not exists, because that which does not exists could not be brought to mind toward which one would claim, “I believe.”

From the outset, John established that faith pointed to what he saw, heard, and handled. He heard Jesus speak. He saw Jesus move among the people, healing some and speaking to others. John touched Jesus and knew He was real. He was witness not only to Jesus’ life but also to His death and resurrection. His writing showed that he trusted what he saw and heard. One might argue, “Isn’t faith that which is in the unseen.” Yes, but it is also in evidence of what one sees. The writer of the Hebrews letter writes,

“By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which are visible” (Hebrews 11:3). The world around us stands out visible to our eyes. Why then do we need faith? Observation is one thing, but understanding is quite a different matter. Both lend to faith. However, the understanding receives enlightenment through faith. That which one observes supplies evidence just as much as that which one does not see. We do not see words, and a deaf person does not hear them, nor can a blind person read them. However, their lack of hearing, reading, or touching does not at all discount their existence. How then does one know such words exists? Another brings the evidence of the reality of those words. It is valid for one to introduce evidence to another.

The hope, joy, and faith of John’s audience of his letter depended on the historical fact of Jesus and His death and resurrection. All that Jesus did and spoke was as true as the most recent events of the past. It was just as certain the accounts of the US presidential lines, the various wars in which the US fought, and yesterday’s news.

John gave witness that they [the apostles and others who knew and followed Jesus] heard, saw, and touched the living Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, came in the flesh, lived among fallen humanity, suffered persecution and opposition, was executed, and rose again from the dead. John had earlier written of these events in his gospel.  Now he sets this very truth out as foundational when he writes to his audience. Since Jesus was who he said he was, that claim and historical fact makes all the difference for all who believe Him. That belief acts as an anchor of allegiance to Him as Lord of all.

There are different types and levels of allegiances. Many pledge allegiance to a political party, and that causes them to rally for that party through time and money regardless sometimes of the candidate. For many, the platform for that party are simply benchmarks for society as a whole and are the drawing card for allegiance. Nothing calls individuals to absolute obedience to them. They simply hold them as what the party stands for and can be changed for the next election cycle. They may not be burned into the minds and hearts of all who pledge allegiance to the party. It is allegiance to a non-personal. People can hold differing opinions and interpretations of the elements of this non-personal platform and still give allegiance to it.

Many pledge allegiance to a nation and the flag that represents that nation. The Constitution also stands as a standard for that nation. Yet, the Constitution’s interpreters can read into or skew the meaning of this Constitution to mean other than what the original writer meant until this document becomes meaningless. The pledge to the Constitution becomes a pledge to a generalized form in which the content becomes lost or changed over time as people go about living their lives as though it does not exist until the rights the Constitution bestows are removed. Then people get up in arms that a group or person stands in their way between them and that form. Their complaint is about the form and not so much their commitment to its contents.

The interesting thing about giving allegiance to a nation or a document as the Constitution is that a ruthless dictator can rule the nation while spewing out propaganda for gaining allegiance of the people. Germany was a good example during World War II. The document could also contain lies lacking any attachment to reality. Giving allegiance to such a national leader or document is giving allegiance to that which is false. Yes, people can give allegiance to something false or false knowledge, something not grounded in truth or evidence. Such an allegiance has occurred numerous times in history. Consider the false Greek and Roman gods without history or reality. Deceit undergirds this allegiance. The proprietors of the temple of Diana in Ephesus is a stellar example of profitable deceit. People deceive without giving evidence or verification of their claims.

However, John carries allegiance well beyond a party or document. Rather, he points to a living person and not some impersonal entity like a political party or document. Since an allegiance is to a person, it takes on a far different dimension. It is true that people give allegiance to other people. However, such an allegiance frequently takes on an external commitment. They give up their material goods and time to become involved in some sort of membership or group the person to whom they give allegiance represents. Jesus calls for an allegiance that is greater and deeper than the external. It is one that involves internal motives, thoughts and intents, feeling and desire, and behaviors untouched by a mere man. Following Jesus calls for an allegiance that renders internal change of all we are for expressing a new way of life.

Let us return to the Hebrews passage a moment. Observations of the world about us gives evidence that it came about some time in the past. How one understands what one observes depends on one’s interpretation of what one observes and how that interpretation agrees with reality. Since we are far removed from the origins of existence, all we can do is attempt to propose hypotheses and try our best to test them with the best tools available, which are better than those 200 years ago but probably inferior to those in 200 years from now. Nobody saw existence come about. That eliminates observation. Even then, much about origins is speculation and requires some sort of faith that whatever first thrust the elements of what exists also existed. Many scientists simply claim they do not know the origins of existence. The writer of Hebrews offers a starting point. All that we see did not come about from that which is visible. That is, all that began to exist did not give rise to that which began to exist. Rather, that invisible God created all that began to exist. Faith is required for both views of how things began to exist. However, the Hebrew writer claims that the invisible God as Creator is far more credible than the starting point of the visible giving rise to the visible or eternal matter.

The same thing holds true with John’s message. He wrote his opening statement based on living testimony (evidence), “That which was from the beginning” (1:1). If Jesus was from the beginning, as John claims from the mouth of Jesus Himself, would such first-hand evidence be more credible than drawing conclusions from lack of observation?

If all Jesus said was true, and John recorded what He said, would it not make sense to give allegiance to such personal first-hand knowledge, especially when Jesus supported this knowledge through His resurrection from the dead? The opening paragraph of John lays the foundation for this new way of life by setting forth the person to whom all allegiances are rendered. With this foundation established on a person, John can then set forth the argument that true allegiance assumes the same depth of personal allegiance as Jesus had with His Father, which John illustrates specifically as he works out throughout his entire letter of 1 John the substance of this allegiance to Jesus.

The Fool’s Answer About God, Part 1

“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”” (Psalm 53:1).

The psalmist and fool sit across the table from one another, cards in hand, and bets tendered.  The fool gambled with all he had in life, placing all his chips in the center of the table, sitting smugly in his chair, and holding his cards close to his chest.  He daringly looks straight at the psalmist.  The psalmist calmly and softly announces, “I call your hand.  Show it.”

The fool lays down his hand and defiantly declares, “There is no God!”

The psalmist looks at the atheist’s cards and replies, “Say that again.”

The fool again exclaims louder and in a more boisterous tone, “There is no God!”

His cards reveal the word God on each card as both the psalmist and fool stare at them.  The psalmist presents his hand.  It, too, had God written on each card. He declares, “Sorry, you lose Mr. Fool.  Your cards you held next to your heart betray you.”

The fool stared at his cards and gazed at what he just admitted.  The cards were clear.  His claim contradicted the cards he held close to his chest.  The cards reflected what he thought in his heart and thereby conceived in opposition to what he claimed.  His speech betrayed his thoughts.  He claimed there was no God while his thoughts conceived God’s existence.  The very mention of God showed what his cards showed that he held close to his chest.  He claimed with his mouth that God did not exist while making mention of God on His tongue.

The psalmist met the fool’s eyes and said to him, “You lose the hand and all that you have, for one cannot think with his thoughts, conceive in his mind, or extrapolate from what does not exist.  You have thought of God, because God implanted Himself deep inside you.  You conceived God in your thoughts before making the verbal claim about the non-existence of God.  See there, your thoughts appear on each card you held close to your chest right next to your heart…”

The fool raised his hand and shouted, “Hold on, Mr. Psalmist!  I can think about unicorns and Superman.”

He smiled widely as he laid down a card with a unicorn on it and claimed,  “They don’t exist!  Yet I thought of them and conceived of a unicorn.”

He then laid down another card that showed a picture of Superman and said with a big grin, “Here is another non-existent being from another non-existent planet.  I can conceive of him flying, bending steel with his bare hands, and moving faster than a bullet, but he doesn’t exist.”

The psalmist briefly thought and then spoke, “A unicorn is nothing but a horse, and certain novelists have simply placed a horn on his nose and given it the name ‘unicorn’.  Horses exists in reality as do horns.  Somebody got creative and integrated them into a fictitious animal and gave it a fictitious name.  With Superman, his creators knew men existed.  They then dressed him up in a Halloween costume and assigned him the powers of flying, great strength, and speed.  All of these characteristics exists in the real world.  Birds fly, polar bears have great strength, and the cheetah runs fast.  It is easy for us to imagine all of these characteristics with a man, and comic book creators did just that.”

The fool replied, “But men have to create a god or gods because one does not really exist.  These other things are not gods but fictional characters in novels and comic books.  What do you have to say to that Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist raised his finger to his lips and thought for several seconds before continuing, “Think about what you just said, Mr. Fool.  What is the source of these gods or god?  They are extrapolations of what exist.  Much like the creation of Superman or the unicorn, god creators integrate from things that exists, because they cannot think or conceive of that which does not exist.  In spite of denials of God, individuals who create gods do so as extrapolations of what exist.  They take from creation – animals, rocks, trees, the sun, and even people – and integrate them into what they conceived as God and take it to be their god or gods.  They knew God exists because they cannot think of that which does not exists.  God exists.  Therefore, they think and conceive of Him.  They want some image to represent what they conceive in their thoughts.  As they perceive the created order, they choose from it those things they want to represent the God of which they already conceived in their thoughts.  They then create their god or gods from the knowledge God planted in their thoughts and what they wanted from creation to represent Him from creation.  They make an idol from corrupting the true God.”

The fool folds his arms and sits gazing at the five cards he placed on the table that reflected what was in his thoughts.  He then looked at the psalmist’s card, and they reflected back his thoughts, also.  What was he to do?  In claiming there was no God, he admitted thinking of God and entertaining Him in his mind. He thought, “Where did those thoughts come from?  My parents through their parents and their parents before them!”

The fool then looked up, and with a gleam in his eye leaned forward and looked straight into the eyes of the psalmist and spoke, “I asked myself where the thoughts of God came from and I have an answer!”

The psalmist, inquisitive then asked, “What is it?”

The fool then replied, “My parents told me of God just as their parents before them, and their parents even before them.  You see, generations past passed on this fictitious thing called god.  It’s like an inheritance passed down through the generations, an inheritance through the mind.  What do you say to that, Mr. Psalmist?”

The psalmist still engaged the fool’s eyes, smiled, and then replied, “Are you accusing your parents of lying to you by later denying what they believed?  Furthermore, where did the original humans receive their idea of God if one cannot entertain in one’s thoughts, conceive of, or extrapolate from what does not exist?  How then did the thought of God come to be in the mind of the first person that ever lived if you wish to trace back that far?”

The fool thought hard for several minutes and then spoke once again, “Evolution!  God evolved along with the evolution of all that exists!  As we evolved, we continued to bring to mind that which is greater than ourselves, and we began to worship that greater thing or things.  However, some saw through the charade of religion of a hierarchy of being with God as the highest to which humanity must worship.  Those who recognized that all creatures are on equal plane without some hierarchy saw no need for a crutch like religion.  Rather reason led them to the conclusion that humanity needed no God.

The fool paused, took a breath, and then continued, “They determined that the default position was really atheism at birth.  Babies have no notion of God, because they are atheists when born.  Humanity’s natural dependency led to the need for a god or something of a divinity, and hence god and gods arose from the creation of the mind.”

The fool folded his arms and thought, “I have the psalmist now.”

The psalmist then replied, “Are you suggesting that (all we are as persons with the attributes of thinking, acting, and feeling) some impersonal thing or process determined by blind and mindless forces of chance made us into more than a robot or machine?(1)  How could we then be free or exercise any modicum of free will, make choices, or even guide our own thoughts.  We could not be thought of as having personality with hopes and aspirations, goals, and dreams for guiding our lives and giving us meaning.  Speaking of chance, how could it even move matter to generate the form of all that exists into millions and billions of shapes and give shape to the universe as we know it?  Pure chance (or randomness) cannot give such direction without there being some determinism for shaping what exists.(2)  At the point of direction, chance ceases to be chance and becomes intelligent direction for guiding and shaping the universe.  Additionally, such intelligence gives rise to intelligence (humanity) and animate and inanimate objects as well as the knowledge of such intelligent design within us for promoting our own imagination, creativity, and thinking.  That is, Mr. Fool, intelligence gives rise to intelligence, making the default position as theism or something greater than ourselves and the entire universe.”

After a moment, the psalmist continued, “Mr. Fool, do you not think and make choices or are you simply a machine for programming and that we obey the impulses of determinism without recourse?  Do you really want to take the path that humanity is nothing more than a set of drones without meaning, purpose, and hope and that what exists in the material world is all that exists?  How can you judge your life worth living?  How can you distinguish between right and wrong or good and bad?  How can you judge something fair or not fair?  How can you make any moral judgments at all? How could such judgments even arise through randomness and chance?”

The fool looked at the cards he placed on the table between him and the psalmist, reading the word “God” on each card.  Then he glanced at the other cards he place on the table that read “unicorn” and “Superman.” He pondered what the psalmist said and then replied, “Hmm, no I am not a machine but free to think, make choices, and act.”

After making that statement, the fool’s face brightened and he took another direction and exclaimed, “But Mr. Psalmist, you cannot prove scientifically that God exists..  You simply must accept it by faith, because in the face of a lack of fact and knowledge, you as a believer in God must simply take a flying leap of faith.”

The psalmist replied, “Mr. Fool, you have now taken several directions without replying directly to my rebuttals or giving a defense FOR your position that there is no God.  Your tactic of evasion shows you have no answers or adequate replies to theism.  It is one thing to deny something, but it is an entirely different matter to defend your own position.  Denial is not a defense.  So far you simply have offered excuses for not believing in God while failing to give a defense for your position.  If your position is indeed valid, you must show it.”

The fool interrupted, “I do not need to “prove” anything.  How can you ask me to defend what I do not have and do not need – faith?  I do not need faith, because faith is a religious thing and arises due to a lack of knowledge and scientific proof.  It is on you, Mr. Psalmist, to prove God exists and not on fools to prove or defend non-existence.  You cannot prove non-existence, anyway.

The psalmist then replied, “Thank you for raising the issue of faith.  I will join that issue with your assertion of proof for God and not being able to prove non-existence.  I have several questions for you regarding:

  1. Have you ever been married? You make a faulty divorce between faith and knowledge as though faith takes over when knowledge is absent.
  2. Do you hold or need scientific proof that your spouse is trustworthy and faithful?
  3. Do you really claim that science is the arbiter or medium for all knowledge and that unless something is scientifically proven, it is false or not worthy of consideration and analysis?
  4. Do you really understand the nature of “proof”?
  5. Do you really claim you do not need to support any claim you have about your atheism?
  6. Do you really believe one cannot prove non-existence?

Let us take up these questions when we get together again for continuing our game.  Thanks for all your chips I won.

(1) See Edward Feser, “The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, Kindle location 3890.

(2) See Robert J. Spitzer, “New Proofs for the Existence of God,” Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010, p.65-67, 74, 90-91.

Humanity’s Thinking: God Is Like Us

“You thought that I was altogether like you, but I will rebuke you” (Psalm 50:21)

The psalmist shows that God breaks through the natural world from His domain and does not fail to leave us without knowledge of Him.  Since He created men and women in His image, God implanted knowledge of Him in them and revealed to them how they should live.  When our faulty thinking rises to Him, He takes it into account and it calls down His rebuke.  He is not like those among humanity who give a pass to sin and overlook wrongdoing.  Judgments in our court system is full of inconsistencies and laxities. We think nothing of watching violence on television or at the movies.  They decrease our sensitivities to wrongdoing.

The judgment of humanity is that fairness and judgments are what we want them to be.  Then we form God in the image of our judgments.  We fail to understand and perceive the faultiness of our thinking until its repercussions show up in our behavior and actions.  Troubles abound as we experience the results of our faulty thinking and evil ways.  Then we ask, “Why do bad things happen to “good” people?”  We fail to understand our faulty logic, because our waywardness has encompassed our entire being, and we no longer see ourselves the way God sees us – in need of restoration and reconciliation back to Him so we can see ourselves from His perspective.  God calls people who have wandered from Him and sought their own ways, calling them “wicked” (Psalm 50:16).  He pronounces judgment on them because of their wickedness:

“But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to declare My statutes, Or take My covenant in your mouth, Seeing you hate instruction And cast My words behind you? When you saw a thief, you consented with him, And have been a partaker with adulterers. You give your mouth to evil, And your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son” (Psalm 50:16-20).

The psalmist’s statement is not only true for his age but also true for all ages.  The psalmist stated then,

“You thought that I was altogether like you” (Psalm 50:21).

Today, contemporary men and women substitute the above statement with the following (and so many more):

“A loving God would not punish people.”

“God accepts everyone.”

“Who is your God to judge me?”

“Live and let live.”

“It is OK to do [fill in the blank] as long as it does not hurt anyone else.”

“My truth is just as good as your truth.”

All of the above give us a way out and an excuse for anything we believe is not bad.  We call good evil and evil good and claim God holds the same perspective.  We claim, “There is nothing wrong with doing [fill in the blank].”

The only way we can overcome faulty thinking is through embracing how God created us – in His image and turning around and affirming through faith God’s design for our lives, a design patterned after His Son, Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

The psalmist says much the same thing in his conclusion:

“Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:23).

Offering praise to God is an act of faith.  It acknowledges that what God declares is right and truthful and that He alone establishes how we order our lives.  That ordered way is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.  The results is salvation or life with Him for all eternity.  This salvation is real freedom from faulty thinking and waywardness into evil.

Why Worldview Makes A Difference for Morality and Philosophy for Life

night moonRecently, I engaged in a discussion on the http://www.linkedin.com network website.  The discussion was “The Moral Guidelines that Could Change Our Moral Codes” (http://linkd.in/1vp7DDa).  The author suggested that not all moral codes make us think.  He then proposed a question answer scenario that would facilitate our thinking.  In doing so, he posed a number of questions prior to acting or making a moral decision:

“Would this action or practice
– facilitates or impede my/our development?
– facilitates or impede the development of our fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede my/our interrelations with my/our families and my/our friends?
– facilitates or impede my/our interactions with my/our colleagues and fellow citizens?
– facilitates or impede the functioning of my/our governments?
– creates or maintain an environment where we are free to develop?” (, “The moral guidelines that could change our moral codes.”

In a comment to a series of other replies, particularly focused on Ayn Rand’s philosophy, one gentleman posed a suggestion: “When we do for others we do for ourselves for it creates our reality…the same is true when we only focus on self/fear.”

He came very near what Jesus claimed by paraphrasing what He actually said.  The difference between this gentleman’s suggestion and what Jesus claimed is that Jesus claimed that such a statement revealed a singular and truthful worldview and not the creation of “our reality.”  I went on to say,

“One thing missing in this discussion because this one thing rises above and encompasses the details of what has been said: worldview. Rand’s philosophy rises from her worldview.  [Name withheld], the initial statement you made (a paraphrase) in your recent post rises from a specific worldview: “When we do for others, we do for ourselves.”

Jesus actually claimed that statement:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:7-12).

He embeds that statement in His worldview, that is God is above all. Notice at the beginning of the cited quote, Jesus says, “Ask…seek…knock.” Ask…seek…knock from whom? GOD. Then He continues by describing the nature of humanity. He said that although people are inclined to evil, they know enough to do good for their families. Then Jesus notes that God is greater, because He is Father of all. Afterwards comes the quote in question: “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7:12). That is, those who seek God and His worldview will have this mindset, because it comes from God, and all humanity is created in His image.

This worldview claims, then, all have His imprint within and know value and duty. Value recognizes the worth of all God created and the order He established. Duty recognizes moral obligation. That is, everyone knows when they do right or wrong. Treatment of others and allegiance to God show both. We do good to and for others because we see them as having great value. Doing evil toward another or even toward ourselves devalues others and ourselves. Doing evil devalues oneself. Although we are naturally inclined to evil, as shown by our need for any moral code at all, we recognize good and do good because we are created in the image of God. Jesus claimed that our commitment to God enables us to live according to the image in which He created us, that is, according to Him.

Worldview makes a huge difference in terms of how we view moral codes. If we reject God as the giver of morality, we will attempt to create our own. When everyone does this, conflict arises, and morality becomes relative to one’s own worldview. There will be no end of conflict, tension, and wars in the world as each person, group, or society competes for the power to exert its worldview. Power plays happen in all organizations. Recognizing and committing ourselves to the source of our existence goes toward reducing such conflict and living in love toward one another. The last phrase Jesus said acknowledges this. He referred to the claim of doing to others as you would have them do to you as arising from the Law and Prophets. Jesus made only one other claim that did so, and that claim was loving one another. He said doing this fulfilled the Law and Prophets (Matthew 22:37-40). God’s worldview preempts all other worldviews and moral codes. It is universal while any human created worldview and corresponding moral code is limited because it is finite.

If then a moral code assumes that all are inclined toward evil and all need correction, as Denis’ questions suggest, then the solution is a worldview and corresponding moral code that is sufficiently universal to apply to the universality of the inclination toward evil. That worldview is that which Jesus claimed.”

Worldview matters, because it does indeed reflect truth and that truth reality.  The significance of the worldview of Jesus is that His worldview is the only one that works, because God alone changes people from the inclination toward evil to an inclination toward right living through imparting to them a new life altogether.  The Apostle Paul wrote,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Through faith we commit ourselves to the worldview of Jesus and in doing so to the greatest commandment of the Law – to love one another.  This worldview is reality because it reflects the truth of God.  Worldview matters for morality and philosophy of life.

Reminders of the Cross

 Sunday morning, the minister talked about Jesus sharing about His second coming to His disciples from John 14-16.  A thought surfaced – “I have heard this before many times.”  Pride.  No sooner does the proclamation of the gospel happen that a temptation arises to attempt to blunt the message.  Temptations do not come from God.  Rather they come from the source of darkness and try to block our listening so we do not hear and the Spirit does not have material to work in our hearts.  Such subtle deception – these temptations.

Yes, I have heard that message from that passage many times before, but the moment the cross gets stale and old is the moment it fades from memory.  This results in losing sight of the love of God.  The slippery slope begins from that point first toward questioning God.  This questioning, while entertaining what we consider as the staleness of the message of the gospel, leads to another rung downward.  Doubt creeps in.  This questioning and doubt do not arrive without a nudge.  Temptation gives them that nudge.  Unless we encounter that temptation, it could blossom into skepticism and subsequent unbelief.  Giving into temptation takes a person a step away from God.  That first step encounters more temptations.  If we succumb to them, the steps away from God become more rapid until we run full speed into unbelief.

I have read many stories lately about former pastors, elders, and leaders in the church “deconverting” and becoming atheists.  One atheist, John Loftus, was a pastor for 14 years, graduated from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and studied under Christian apologist William Lane Craig.  He has now written six books against the Christian faith.  Among them are: “Why I became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity,” “The Christian Delusion: Why Faith Fails,” and “The End of Christianity.”  He even taught apologetics.  He gave three reasons for deconverting: adultery, the failure of other Christians when he asked for help, and atheists came up beside him and converted him.  Two of them had nothing to do with atheism and its merits.  Even the other one failed to give merits for atheism.  He boasts in his failures.  This is a sad and tragic commentary.  Temptations killed whatever faith he claimed and baptized him in pride and boasting.  He apostatized.  It is tragic that fellow believers shoot their own wounded, and we must take care to surround a wounded sheep.  But do we not have responsibility to come to Christ with our problems (Matthew 11:28)?  Loftus did not, and he rejected faith in Christ and took the ultimate step toward apostasy.  That occurred frequently in the early church from what we learn from John,

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us” (1 John 2:19).

I am constantly reminded of what Peter writes, “For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth” (2 Peter 1:12).  Though you know.  Hmm.  Fading thoughts without reminders lead to forgetfulness and cold hearts.  I do not want temptations to get in the way of remembering the cross.  I need to check my temperature regularly to insure that I never get cool toward Christ and His cross.  Temptations are sneaky and devious.  They break the temperature gauge and whisper that it is warm outside.