atheism, B'hai, Bible, Big Bang, Buddhism, Christianity, COBE, cosmic background radiation, Deism, Evangelical, expanding universe, Frank Turek, General Revelation, God, Hadith, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, NASA, Norman Geisler, pantheism, Q'uran, Robert Jastrow, Scripture, second law of thermodynamics, Special Revelation, Talmud, Tanakh, theism, William Lane Craig, worldview
Who is God?
Is God a He, a She, or an It?
Is any one religion right about God? Are they all right? Are none of them right? How do we know?
All religions make exclusive truth claims, even religions like Bahai that say all religions are true (they think their inclusive view is correct, and so they exclude the exclusivists). All religious views (and I am including atheism, in the sense that it is a view on the nature of religion) could be wrong, but if one is right, the others cannot be right in areas where they differ from the true view.
While we could start at the question of whether there is such a thing as truth at all, for the purposes of brevity I’m going to assume that we all believe there is such a thing as truth. This is a safe assumption, since even people who claim there is no such thing as truth do not live out their view consistently in any way. If anyone wants to refute themselves by commenting on this post that there is no such thing as truth (which would be a truth claim), have at it!
We can reasonably determine what is true or false through evidence. It is possible for something to be true without any evidence, but we would have no good reason to believe it. As a Christian, I believe that I have solid evidence to support my truth claim. The two primary lines of evidence for the truth of Christianity are General Revelation and Special Revelation.
In General Revelation, God reveals Himself through the natural world. This idea is affirmed in the Bible.
Psalm 19:1-4a ESV
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world….
Romans 1:18-20 ESV
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
The Bible teaches that God reveals His nature and power to all men in His creation–both in the earth below or outer space (the heavens) above. I point this out, not so much to convince non-Christians of the truth Christianity at this juncture, but to convince Christians we have more sources of evidence for our faith than the Bible.
This is indispensable to Christian evangelism. We are living in a day and age when the authority of the Bible is no longer taken for granted. We can whine about Biblical illiteracy, the moral decay of society, and the decline of Christianity, or we can follow the example of one the greatest evangelists in history: the Apostle Paul.
To those who believed Scripture is authoritative, Paul appealed to the Bible.
Acts 17:1-4 ESV
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.
However, unlike many street evangelists today, Paul didn’t bother appealing to Scripture to those who didn’t think the Bible was authoritative.
Acts 17:16-34 ESV
Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’
Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.
In the Jewish synagogue in Thessalonica Paul reasoned from the Scriptures because the Jews took the Bible seriously. In the Greek Areopagus in Athens Paul appealed to General Revelation and Greek poetry. In both cases, people were persuaded by Paul’s arguments. A common teaching about these passages is that Paul’s reasonable arguments (particularly at the Areopagus) did not convince many people, and Paul abandoned this sort of thing in favor of “simple” presentations of the gospel. There is nothing in this passage, or elsewhere in the Bible, to support this interpretation. Not surprisingly, this argument against using reason when presenting the gospel is just plain unreasonable.
To those who believed Scripture authoritative, Paul reasoned with Scripture. Now I have reasoned with Scripture to my fellow Evangelical Christians that extra-Biblical authority, including General Revelation, is useful for evangelism. If you fail to take extra-Biblical truth seriously, when the Bible takes extra-Biblical truth seriously, I’m forced to conclude that you don’t actually take the Bible seriously.
Paul wrote this:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ESV
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Paul became all things to all people to save some. As we read in Acts 17, he reasoned with the Jews according to their authority–the Bible, and he reasoned with the Greeks according to their authority–their poets, and General Revelation leading to the unknown god. We ought to follow his example!
I often hear people say, “I don’t need to [fill in the blank] to be a good Christian.” One of the [fill in the blank]’s I hear a lot is apologetics. We need to get away from an attitude of, “I don’t need to study apologetics,” and adopt Paul’s attitude of, “I’m going to be all things to all people to save some.”
If the non-Christian world takes science seriously, it would behoove us to learn some science. If they take a naturalistic philosophy seriously, we ought to familiarize ourselves with their philosophy to persuasively argue for supernaturalism. If they take a non-Christian supernatural view seriously, such as Islam or Hinduism, we ought to learn why they believe what they believe to effectively show them why Christianity is true.
By the way, I’m not advocating that we jettison the Bible entirely when witnessing to non-Christians. If you noticed, in Acts 17:31, when Paul spoke to the Greek philosophers, Paul mentioned that God would judge all men. Judgment Day is rooted in the Special Revelation of the Bible. Paul didn’t explicitly state it was a Biblical concept, but it’s certainly not a conclusion anyone I know of could come to by observing the natural world.
How exactly does General Revelation lead us to God? Arguably, the greatest apologist of our time is Dr. William Lane Craig, whose arguments often focus on Natural Theology. Natural Theology argues for God’s existence via General Revelation. There are several effective arguments for God’s existence from General Revelation.
One of the most compelling arguments is the Cosmological Argument.
1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause.
2. The universe had a beginning.
3. Therefore, the universe had a cause.
We know today that the universe had a definite beginning known as the Big Bang. The evidence in favor of the Big Bang is not seriously questioned by scientists and is rooted in Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, which has been proven accurate to more than five decimal points. In addition to the mathematical accuracy of General Relativity, there is observable physical evidence of the Big Bang. These include the second law of thermodynamics, the expansion of the universe, and the cosmic background radiation in which was left evidence of precise temperature variations which allowed matter to come together at certain points to form galaxies, planets, stars, and everything else we’ve observed in the heavens. Frank Turek and Norman Geisler use the handy acronym S.U.R.G.E. to describe all this evidence.
Now we see how the astronomical evidence leads to a biblical view of the origins of the world. The details differ, but the essential elements in the astronomical and biblical accounts of Genesis are the same: the chain of events leading to man commenced suddenly and sharply at a definite moment in time, a flash of light and energy.
~Dr. Robert Jastrow
There was a Big Bang, and this means the universe had a definite beginning some time in the distant past. If the universe had a beginning, it had a cause. The best explanation for the cause of the universe is a theistic, supernatural creator.
Based on the Big Bang evidence, we can rule out both atheism–no God, and pantheism–all is God. If there were no God, the universe would have to be eternal and without a beginning, since there must have always been something that exists for anything to exist at all. It is impossible to get something from nothing. If there really were no God, there would be nothing to cause the universe’s beginning. Pantheism can also be ruled out, because in pantheistic systems the universe, and everything in it, is God. If the universe had a definite beginning, what caused the pantheistic god(s) to exist?
We need what Aristotle called the unmoved mover. As I stated a moment ago, for anything to exist, something (Someone?) must always have existed. Nothing comes from nothing.
This unmoved mover God must be:
Spaceless – He created space
Timeless – He created time
Immaterial – He created matter
Powerful – He created the universe out of nothing
Intelligent – His creation is precisely fine-tuned for intelligent life
Personal – He made a choice to create something from nothing, and impersonal forces don’t make choices
The evidence points to a theistic, supernatural, omnipotent, omniscient, personal God–a lot like the Christian God. Not so fast! It may accurately describe the God of the Judaism or Islam.
This is where Special Revelation becomes important. These three religions have their own sacred books that claim to be Special Revelations from the one true God. The Jews have the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament) and the Talmud, the Christians have the Bible, and the Muslims have the Q’uran and the Hadith. If we can find evidence to support one of these alleged Special Revelations, we also disprove the other two.
There is no Special Revelation for a deistic God (a God that creates and then has little or nothing to do with its creation) so I will rule that view out in addition to atheism and pantheism.
I will deal with Special Revelation in a future post.