Tag Archives: God

I Worship Me

I Am That Important

I could stay at home and get some more sleep… because, you know, it’s that important.

I could stay at home and watch some TV… because, you know, it’s that important.

I could sleep a little later, then make a special breakfast… because, you know, it’s that important.

I stay at home, wake up later, make a light breakfast, then take a morning jog when there’s no rush… because, you know, it’s that important.

Or, I could just ignore the needs of my fellow believers; I could assume I’m never missed and my absence makes no difference; and I could just brush aside any biblical commands while I hold God hostage to my demands… because, you know, I am that important.

I am… kinda has a nice ring to it, you think?

Yeah, who needs to go to church on Sunday morning, anyway? Especially when I AM the one I worship the rest of the week.

“For men shall be lovers of their own selves…”  – 2 Timothy 3:2

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How Am I Doing?

The Question

It came from Africa.

No, it wasn’t an animal trying to eat me, or a disease for which no one has a cure (which is more scary). It was a question, one asked by a Facebook friend in Uganda.

Pastor Ndahayo Shine asked: “How are you?”

imageHow am I? How does an American answer that question? I mean, seriously? What do I have to complain about?

Honestly, at the very moment Pastor Shine’s question popped up on Facebook Messenger I was eating a warmed-up piece of apple pie (as American as it gets).

Pie, I tell you!

I’m eating pie, and I get a question regarding how I’m doing from a man in Uganda. Africa! The place where famines kill more people than the NRA is blamed for!

So, I replied with the following answer:

“I am alive, not hungry, and not hurting. I have a roof over my head, a car in the driveway, and children who love me. My wife is faithful, the police are not after me, and the dog hasn’t chewed anything important in a long, long time. I guess you could say I’m doing better than I deserve.”

Am I Blessed?

So many times we answer questions like “How are you doing?” with things like, “I’m fine,” or “I’m blessed.” However, to be honest – which I try to be most of the time – I’d rather admit to being “fine” than “blessed.”

Why is that? 

Saying that I’m blessed has a sneaky way of implying that those in other places – like Africa – are NOT blessed, at least not as much as me. I mean, what does it say about Christianity and the character of God when those who are “abundantly blessed” are the ones who rarely feel the need to trust God for their next meal? What I own or what’s parked in my driveway is not a mark of spirituality, nor should it insinuate I’ve live a life more worthy of blessing than my brothers and sisters living in poverty.

If I am blessed at all, it’s not because of anything I’ve done or deserve; I am simply the recipient of God’s grace. I have been allowed according to God’s sovereignty to live in a country where leftover pie in a running refrigerator is commonplace.

Jesus made it pretty clear who the “blessed” really are. They are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers (Matthew 5:3-9). And if that’s not enough, “…Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord…” (Revelation 14:13).

What I Don’t Deserve

While saying “fine,” I’d bet the temptation to answer the question “How are you doing?” with complaints is almost overwhelming for most. Oh, admit it – you say you’re “fine” because you don’t think the person asking is really that interested in hearing your list of ailments, worries, and irritations.

You probably answer with “fine” because you don’t want to sound like a cry baby or a hypochondriac, right? Because, admit it, you feel you deserve better than what you have; you don’t really feel “blessed,” do you?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t deserve anything but hell. Yet, for some reason God has allowed me to be the recipient of many good things which I don’t deserve, even if I have worked for a lot of it.

I don’t deserve a faithful wife, loving children, and a devoted dog. I don’t deserve to be a pastor, have a regular job, or to be respected in my community.

I don’t deserve electric appliances that make life easier, or even the split-level brick home in which I live. I don’t deserve the freedom to come and go as I please, not having to rely on public transportation or worry about being stopped by thugs demanding to search my car.

How am I doing? What can I say? I just ate pie…because it was there…and I wasn’t even hungry! If I’m blessed, it’s above and beyond what I need.

God is good, but His grace is Amazing! 

 

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Filed under America, Christian Living, Life Lessons, Thanksgiving

Why Do You Sing?

Yesterday my daughters and I attended Jfest 2016, a Christian music festival held here in Chattanooga. One of the artists who performed was Phil Joel, the former Newsboys bassist and current lead for a band from New Zealand called…you’ll never guess…Zealand.

Since we have been fans of the Newsboys for a long time, it was really fun to see Phil Joel in person. Haley, my youngest, was more than thrilled to get an autograph and a “selfie” with Phil and his band.

phil joel selfie

But out of all the music we heard at Jfest, it wasn’t really a song that stood out for me. No, it was something fairly profound that Phil Joel said before singing a more well-known praise song. Frankly, that’s why I’m writing this now, because what he said went with me through the whole evening and into this morning.

“We don’t sing to remind God of who he is; we sing to remind US of who God is.” – Phil Joel

Stop and think about that. Sure, we sing songs of praise unto God because of who He is and what He has done, and that’s wonderful. However, we must understand that in the process of praise we encourage and edify each other through the truth expressed in the lyrics.

The next time you go to church, or wherever, take a moment to consider what you are singing. Fluff doesn’t encourage; the truth of God’s character does. In the world we live in, with all it’s problems, we need to be  praising God even more, because He deserves it!

And we need to be reminded.

Oh, and here’s one of my absolute favorites from back when Phil Joel was playing bass with the Newsboys. I still get chills at the line that says, “…all the powers of darkness can’t drown out a single word.”

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Filed under Christianity, God, worship

The “Real” of John Hick

My Longest Post!

Folks, this will be my longest blog post EVER (5085 words)! I wrote it 3 years ago, but NOT for the internet; it was a research paper.

The following was submitted in candidacy for the degree of Master of Ministry. The class was Theology Proper and the Trinity: Theology 6323R. My professor was Dr. John Owen.

The subject was the “Real” of John Hick, the late philosopher whose religious theories still carry weight on many of the most elite campi of the world. If you’ve never heard of John Hick or his pluralistic view of God, it might do you good to read this post.

(FYI, I didn’t include the title page, content page, or page numbers.)

So, grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy some seminarian ponderings😉


THE “REAL” OF JOHN HICK

Introduction

John Hick (1922-2012)

John Hick (1922-2012)

John Hick (1922–2012) was considered by some to be “one of the most significant philosophers of religion of the last 50 years.”[1] What made him so significant? Well, for one thing he was a man who asked, “Are Adonai and God, Allah and Param Atma, Rama and Krishna different Gods, or are these different names for the same ultimate divine Reality?”[2]  He was also a man who challenged the traditional Christian view of God and selectively defined Him in the way he wanted “without the control of any authoritative revelation.”[3]

But most importantly, he was a man who developed a pluralistic theory that all religions, despite their seeming contradictions, actually worshiped the same transcendent Ultimate Reality, or as he called it, “the Real.” He impacted the teaching of theology around the world, leaving a pluralistic stain on Christianity. Therefore, this paper will examine Hick’s “the Real”,  attempt to give reasons for the rise of such a concept, and present criticisms by several of Hick’s contemporaries in an attempt to show that the God of orthodox Christianity is not equal to the gods of this world.

John Hick

Background

John Hick was not always the champion of pluralistic thought. As a matter of fact, Hick was at one point considered to be a fundamentalist Christian. According to his autobiography, it was in 1940, while he was a law student at the University of Hull (England), that he experienced something of a conversion to Christianity. He said that for several days he was in a state of “intense emotional turmoil,” during which he became increasingly aware of a “higher truth and greater reality” demanding a response. He went on to say, “The reality that was pressing in upon me was not only awesomely demanding…but also irresistibly attractive,  and I entered with great joy and excitement in to the world of Christian faith.”[4] It was only later in life, sometime around the 1960’s, that it is generally believed Hick made a break from what was considered orthodox Christianity and sought after a more inclusive view of religion. Theologian John Cobb, emeritus professor at Claremont Graduate University in California (one of the places where Hick taught), said of Hick: “He was a Christian believer who cared about Christian truth, but he later moved from positions he thought were too narrow to more liberal ones.”[5] Eventually, Hick came “to accept the need to re-understand our own faith, not as the one and only, but as one of several.”[6]

People that knew John Hick thought of him as kind and caring toward everyone, even toward those who disagreed with him. One of his former students, Gavin D’Costa, who later became one his harshest critics, said, “He cared deeply about the issues he taught, and he taught with a care and conviction that helped set students like myself on fire.”[7] The problem, however, is that even though Hick may have cared about people and faith, his caring may have led to the demise of his own orthodoxy.  He exchanged the God of the Bible for a pluralistic world view and a non-exclusive deity of his own making.

In the following pages we will explore various attributes of the Real in an attempt to explain Hick’s theory and differentiate the Real from the God of Scripture. But before we examine Hick’s version of God, is would be very beneficial to look at some possible reasons such a theory even came about. What influenced the Real?

Influences

Christianity

            The first real influence on Hick’s theology was Christianity. As noted above, he admitted to what amounted to a “conversion” early in life. It must be understood, however, that Hick’s definition of Christianity was not orthodox. In one article Hick said, “I feel irrevocably challenged and claimed by the impact of the life and teaching of Jesus; and to be thus decisively influenced by him is, I suppose, the basic definition of a Christian.”[8] But being “influenced” does not equate with confessing Jesus Christ as Lord (Rom 10:9). As a matter of fact, it will be presented later that Hick did not even believe Jesus to be divine.

Theodicy

Secondly, Hick was influenced by theodicy.[9] When Hick looked at all the pain and suffering in the world, he could not sit by idly and not try to defend the existence of God. When atheists complained that suffering was proof that God didn’t exist, Hick responded with an Irenaean view that “God will eventually succeed in His purpose of winning all men to Himself in faith and love”[10] (which could make one wonder if Rob Bell was influenced by Hick). He came up with the idea that God was “soul-making,” so suffering was really a good thing.[11] He said that humans have been created as immature creatures who are gradually being brought unto perfection through their own freedom within a challenging world.[12]

Observation of Others

A third major influence behind Hick’s understanding of God was brought about by his observation of religious experiences and worship. Even though he considered himself a Christian at one point, Hick quickly came around to believing that Christianity could not be the only true religion nor Jesus Christ the only way to heaven. What made him decide this was his observation that people from other religions also had life-changing experiences resulting in positive changes of behavior and worship which transformed. Hick said: “When you visit the various non-Christian places of worship in one or our big cities you discover – possibly with a shock of surprise – that phenomenologically (or in other words, to human observation) the same kind of thing is taking place in them as in a Christian church.”[13] He believe that when we “extend our data base” and take all the world religions into account, we will see that other religious people also experience transformed lives and have limitless value.[14]

Hick compared different hymns, noted the similarities, and concluded that, in the light of the phenomenological similarity of worship, “[w]e have to ask whether people in church, synagogue, mosque, gurudwara and temple are worshipping different Gods or are worshipping the same God?”[15] One among many that Hick suggests is an example of a religion worshipping the same god as another, specifically the God of Christianity, is the following Sikh prayer:

There is but one God. He is all that is.

He is the Creator of all things and He is all-Pervasive.

He is without fear and without enmity.

He is timeless, unborn and self-existent.

He is the Enlightener

And can be realized by grace of Himself alone.

He was in the beginning; He was in all ages.

The True One is, was, [O Nanak,] and shall forever be.[16]

Hick believed that if there is just one God who is maker and Lord of all, then these people “must all be worshipping the same God.” Another way to look at this is that Hick wanted to “allow for religion as a whole to be true,” not just human projections or wishful thinking.[17]

Non-Exclusive Loving God

There are surely more, but for this paper a final suggested influence behind Hick’s theology would be the fact that he could not accept the idea that a loving God would be exclusive. Hick had to come up with a vision of God that would conform to his belief that “the God to whom the Christian Gospel bears witness is not the God of this or that bounded human group, but is the Creator and Father of the human race as a whole and in all the continents of the earth.”[18] Hick often referred to orthodox Christianity as the “older theological tradition” that had at its center the conviction that Jesus – the Second Person of the Trinity – was God in flesh and come to be the only way to salvation.[19] He believed that if God had really sent Jesus to be the only way that would obviously mean that others would not have hope, so therefore a teaching like this could not be true. Because of the knowledge now available about other religions (such as mentioned above with regards to worship), the idea of Jesus being the only way was “unacceptable.”[20] According to Hick, the idea that God would limit salvation to only those who would believe in Jesus “conflicts with our concept of God.”[21] Speaking of a loving God, Gavin D’Costa described Hick in the following way: “[He] argued to Christians that the God of love revealed by Jesus could not consign most of humankind to hellfire for something they experienced through no fault of their own. If we can only be saved by Christ and most people in human history have never even heard of him, a perverse God is at work in the world.”[22] Hick said that in the course of all of his study and life, it has become “abundantly clear” that each of the world’s faiths constitutes a perception of and a response to the ultimate divine reality which they all in their different ways affirm; and also that within each there are to be found true saints through whom the Transcendent shines within the fabric of our human life.”[23]

So, now that we have a better understanding of where John Hick may have come up with his ideas for the Real, let us examine some specific attributes of the Real.

Attributes of the Real

Beyond Comprehension and Inspection

In No One Like Him John S. Feinberg discussed various theories regarding “God as a Being.”[24] Some people see God as an immaterial being, while others see God as material. Some see God as both an immaterial and material being. John Hick’s explanation of God falls under the category of immaterial, but with a twist. God, according to Hick, is at one time “independent of our minds”[25] and any ability to describe him, but at the same time immanent in the perceptions God allows us to experience. God is “beyond comprehension and inspection” because the God that we experience is only the thing that we perceive, not the “thing-in-itself.”[26] Hick describes the Real as “transcategorial,” which means that God is “beyond our humans systems of concepts or mental categories.”[27] To put this another way, the Real is ultimate reality – it is what it is – but what it is in its true nature is beyond the ability of men to understand, talk about, or discover. The what is it we are talking about if we can’t talk about and understand God? Evidently, all we can know about the Real is what we gather from experiencing it. In other words, it is sort of like the wind – we cannot really see or touch or know the wind, but we can be keenly aware of how we each experience the wind. For one person the wind may be experienced as a cool breeze, but by another it can be a hot wind or a tornado. None of these experiences are the wind, per se, but the effects of the wind.

Hick proposes that there be a Kantian distinction between the noumenal and the phenomenal understandings of God. When one talks about something that is noumenal, that is something that is outside of experience. Phenomenal things, however, are the things we can experience. The Godhead (the Ultimate Reality) is unknowable, so that is the noumenal aspect of God. The phenomenal perceptions of God (the masks) are the experiences we have of the noumenal. Hick describes this as the “divine phenomena in distinction from the divine noumenon of which they are its appearances to humanity.”[28] This is very similar to the idea of personae and impersonae, which is the distinction between the personal pictures of deity, such as Shiva, Allah, or Vishnu, and that of impersonal realities, such as Brahman, Nirvana, or Sunyata.[29] The Real is totally transcendent. All of the gods that religions worship, according to Hick, are simply “masks” that give a face to what “is” while not really showing us what the “is” really is. Hick believed that “the heavenly Father of Christian faith, known through the distinctively Christian response to Jesus of Nazareth; the Allah of Islamic faith, known as self-revealed in the Qur’an through the prophet Muhammad; and Shiva known and intensely experienced within the Shaivite cults of India,”[30] all pointed to the same reality. All the “masks” have been created by man in a response to the true reality of the Real’s “presence” and “reality.”[31] Gerald Loughlin, however, has a real problem with this description of the Real. He believes that by saying anything about a noumenal reality based on phenomenal experience totally defeats the idea that the Real is unknowable. In other words, what are we even talking about if we cannot speak literally of the “presence” or “manifestation” of the Real?[32] Aimee Upjohn Light called Hick’s attempt to synthesize all the world’s religions as a “meta-position” which in claiming to represent the world religions actually contradicts them.[33] She said, “…any position claiming to collapse all religions into one common group enterprise misunderstands and misrepresent each of them…Meta-perspectives, by definition, contradict religions’ claims to uniqueness.”[34]

Can be Distorted but True

According to Hick, one can indeed describe God in conflicting ways, yet still tell the truth about the Ultimate Reality. This has to do with the fact that so many religions have truth claims that contradict each other. For instance, in John 14:6 Jesus says that he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” That would surely exclude any other god from coming along and saying the same thing and both are true. Yet, the way Hick puts it, one can’t get truth without distorting it. Does that sound crazy? Well according to Hick, concerning the different, and indeed often conflicting, belief systems of the religions: our earth is a three-dimensional globe, but when you map it on a two dimensional surface, such a piece of paper, you have to distort it.[35] Just like the big wall maps that take a global view and spread it out, you have to cut it and make it flat. Hick notes that there are a lot of cartographers out there that know that the world is round, yet take different approaches to making detailed maps of the world. Some even have bumps and ridges, while others don’t. Yet, just because one make a map flat, while the other is round, this does not mean that the maps are wrong when one seems to contradict the other. Hick says, “If they are properly made they will all be correct, and yet they all distort.”[36] What Hick is trying to convey, here, is that different religions may have different maps, but all are useful in helping us make our journey in life. The reality, however, is that if a map is incorrect one will wind up in a ditch. And what’s more, God is not a map, so saying He is no different than a distorted piece of paper is really a stretch.

Is Agape, and Agape is God

The Bible is clear about one truth: God is love (1 John 4:8). But nowhere in the Bible does it say that “love is God.” There is a big difference. On the other hand, John Hick tried to make the point that the very act of showing agape love was a manifestation of the Real. “Wherever men or women have lived in self-giving Love,” so says Hick, “there Agape has been incarnated in the human life.”[37] Hick is literally saying, then, that we are all not only like Christ when we show agape love, but we literally are incarnations of Christ. Hick said: “Incarnation in this sense is self-evident metaphor. It means that some value or truth is lived three-dimensionally in a human life or lives within the flow of human history. Now in this sense divine Agape, love, was incarnated in Jesus. Agape became flesh and blood in Jesus’ life of healing and teaching.”[38] So, if Jesus was incarnate Agape, then we can be just like Jesus if we show agape love (according to this interpretation).

Is not Jesus

John Hick said he was a Christian, but he was anything but a Christian in the traditional sense. The reason is because traditional Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Second member of the Trinity, God’s Son, Incarnate God, Divine God-Man, and the Savior of mankind. The Bible is very clear that the only way to the Father is Jesus (John 14:6). In Acts 4:12 we read, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Colossians 2:9 even says, “For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” meaning that Jesus was not just a man filled with the presence of God, or Agape, but that He was God in the flesh. But John Hick could not accept the teaching of the Bible “as is.” He had to distort the Truth of the gospel in order to deliver his own version of the “good news” to those who chose to believe there were other ways to God. Hick said that whatever we say about God’s action in Jesus Christ…must cohere with what we say about God’s action in relation [to the world].”[39]

When it simply came to the book of John, Hick was skeptical. That shouldn’t amaze anyone, however, for if the book of John was truly inspired, then that would mean the words of Jesus were not put in there by a man who wanted to distort Jesus’ words for his own gain, but that the words of Jesus were actually what he said. But when it comes to John, especially the verses found in chapter fourteen, fault has to be found somewhere, so why not in the text itself? Instead of taking the Bible at face value and then looking at the rest of the world through the lens of divine revelation, Hick has to try to discredit what would seem completely obvious and contradictory to every other truth claim in the world. Regarding John 14:6 Hick said, “Here, unfortunately, we have to enter the realm of NT criticism: and I say ‘unfortunately’ because of the notorious uncertainties of this realm.”[40] He said that “it must be taken as all but certain that the pre-Easter Jesus neither designated himself as Messiah (or Son of God) nor accepted such confession from others.”[41]  But it should be noted that not all scholars agree with Hick about the book of John. Craig S. Keener argued:

Although pseudonymous works existed in antiquity, they stated their purported author rather than implied him; unless we want to argue for John’s implicit pseudonymity, the internal evidence supporting an eyewitness author should be allowed to stand. For this reason, I believe the Fourth Gospel’s claim to authorship by John is stronger than the claims for the other Gospels, which are ultimately dependent only on Christian tradition external to the text itself.[42]

John Hick specifically stated: “The older theological tradition of Christianity does not readily permit religious pluralism. For at its center is the conviction that Jesus of Nazareth was God – the Second Person of a Divine Trinity living a human life.”[43] He also says that this dogma, that Jesus was God in flesh, was generated in order to convince people that they needed to convert from other religions to faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. But, “That nerve is cut,” said Hick, “when we acknowledge the other great world religions as being also areas of divine salvation.”[44] Hick believed that the story of the incarnation of God in Jesus was simply metaphor, and nothing else. The incarnation, as Hick put it, “can be seen as a poetic expression of his disciples’ relationship to Jesus as one through whom they have found salvation, liberation, newness of life in the presence of God.”[45]

Why is it, then, that Jesus could not be God? It is because the Real cannot be considered to be exclusive. The Real is the Ultimate Reality, the God behind the gods, the God that all religions worship, even though they may worship different “masks” that have been overlaid on top of the Real in order to have something to relate to in an anthropomorphic sense. To say that Jesus actually was who traditional Christianity implied would be to say that other religions are wrong. This, according to Hick, just cannot be. He said: “We can revere Christ as the one through whom we have found salvation, without having to deny other points of experienced saving contact between God and man. We can commend the way of Christian faith without having to discommend other ways of faith. We can say that there is salvation in Christ without having to say that there is no salvation other than in Christ.”[46]

Accepts Prayer

As strange as it may sound after all that has been said so far, the Real can hear and answer prayer. In Who or What is God? Hick does admit his belief that the Real does answer prayers for protection and guidance and health and deliverance. He says that he essentially agrees with the common understanding of God that He (or She) is an infinite personal Being who has created the universe, is prayed to, and has the power to intervene in human affairs in response to human requests.[47] But Hick also says that our view of God is “anthropomorphic,” which means we project onto God human qualities and characteristics which we feel are the highest qualities a person should have. This does not mean, however, that God does not answer prayers, though. The only problem goes back to the theodicy question of why does God answer some prayers and not others?

Biblical Rebuttal

One of the reasons John Hick questions Christianity as the only true faith is because he doubts the words of Jesus as recorded in the fourth gospel, the book of John. As shown above, not all modern scholars agree with Hicks assumption that the book of John is flawed. Hick said that we “cannot rest anything on the assumption that the great Christological sayings of the Fourth Gospel…were ever spoken…”[48] However, if John cannot be trusted, then why would Hick want to have anything to do with the Jesus of the Bible? But there are other scriptures which tell the same story as that of John. Even if the book of John was suspect, then what is John Hick supposed to say in response to these verses?

“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt. 1:22-23).

“And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David” (Luke 1:31-32).

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).

It would seem that these verses alone bear witness to the words of Jesus in John. But if not these, then what about the other verses in the Old Testament? What about Deuteronomy 6:4 that says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD”? Jesus quoted this in Mark 12:29-30, “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” Are these words of Jesus also questionable? Or are they clearly saying that there is only one God, and all the others are false? If language means anything, it would seem that other gods were forbidden.

Conclusion

It seems that John Hick had to come up with something like his concept of the Real to keep from saying any religion was wrong. He had to come up with the Real in order to make sense of his personal experiences, along with the experiences of others. It also seems that Hick wanted to keep a foothold in Christianity, but without exclusivity, which is why he said in a response to Gerald Loughlin that he had “a commitment to try to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ as one who has revealed to many the possibilities of human existence in response to the ultimately Real.”[49] He called himself a Christian, but in the sense the he tried to live out the example of “agape” love shown by the actions of Jesus, but he could never accept that Jesus was/is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He did all this and influenced others with his way of thinking, and that is a big problem.

There are many who attend universities and seminaries with the intention of learning more about the nature of God. Unfortunately, many are being taught a pluralistic view of Christianity that says all religions are equally true and that none have a better way. John Hick’s theories have come to be widely accepted and taught in many universities because Hick’s view of God is one that allows for anyone to believe what they want, just as long as they don’t say Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). But no matter how tempting it may be to follow along with the teaching of “the Real,” it must be avoided at all cost. There is no other name under heaven whereby we must be saved except Jesus Christ. There is only one God, and that is the Trinitarian God of the only revealed Word of God, the Bible. Unfortunately, many pastors are coming out of seminaries with the ability to play the Christian game, but in reality believe a lie. They are dangerous and need to be exposed for what they are. That is why it is important that we learn what the “Real” of John Hick is and stand against it as a false god, not the Ultimate Reality.

 

Footnotes

 

[1] Alan Race. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Modern Believing 53, no. 3 (July 1, 2012): 243-253.

[2] John Hick, “Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine.” Modern Churchman 18, no. 1-2 (December 1, 1974): 8-17.

[3] Gavin Decosta. “The New Missionary: John Hick and Religious Plurality.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (April 1 1991), 68.

[4] Race, 245.

[5] John Dart, “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Christian Century 129, no. 6 (March 21, 2012): 15.

[6] John Hick, God Has Many Names. Philidelphia: The Westminster Press. 1982, 7.

[7] Gavin D”Costa. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” First Things no. 223 (January 1, 2012): 21.

[8] John Hick, “Pluralism and the Reality of the Transcendent: How My Mind Has Changed; 15th In a Series,” Christian Century 98, no. 2 (January 21, 1981): 47.

[9] “…[Part] of natural theology which is concerned to defend the goodness and omnipotence of God against objections arising from the existence of evil in the world.” F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. rev. (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 1609.

[10] Race, 247.

[11] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 781.

[12] A response to Gerad Loughlin, 62.

[13] Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine, 9

[14] Who or what is god, 3

[15] Whatever path men choose, 11

[16] Whatever path men choose, 10

[17] Loughlin, prefacing 40

[18] General introduction, 4

[19] Plurality and the reality of the transcendent 48

[20] Ibid., 48

[21] Ibid., 48.

[22] Remembering John Hick, 21

[23] Pluralism and the transcendent, 46.

[24] Feinberg, 45-55

[25] Feinberg, 49.

[26] Feinberg147

[27] Who or what is God, 4

[28] Who or what is god, 9.

[29] John hick and the master of religion, 39

[30] Badham: John hick and the human response 47

[31] Feinberg, 147.

[32] John hick and the mastery of religion, 41

[33] Aimee Upjohn Light, 468.

[34] Ibid, 468.

[35] Who or what is god, 9

[36] Who or what is god, 10

[37] General introduction, john hick, 4

[38] Ibid., 9.

[39] General introduction, 5.

[40] Whatever path men choose, 14

[41] Whatever path men may choose, 14.

[42] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), Jn.

[43] Pluralism and the reality of the transcendent, 48

[44] Ibid., 48.

[45] General introduction, 9

[46] Whatever path, 15.

[47] Who or what is god, 1

[48] Whatever path men choose, 14

[49] A response to Gerard, 66.

 

Bibliography

Badham, Paul. “John Hick and the Human Response to Transcendent Reality.” Dialogue & Alliance 5, no. 2 (June 1, 1991): 43-51.

Cross, F. L. and Elizabeth A. Livingstone. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 3rd ed. rev. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dart, John. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Christian Century 129, no. 6 (March 21, 2012): 15-318.

D’Costa, Gavin. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” First Things no. 223 (January 1, 2012): 21-22.

D’Costa, Gavin. “The New Missionary : John Hick and Religious Plurality.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 15, no. 2 (April 1, 1991): 66-69.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Grant, Colin. “The Threat and Prospect in Religious Pluralism.” Ecumenical Review 41, no. 1 (January 1, 1989): 50-63.

Hick, John. “A Response to Gerard Loughlin.” Modern Theology 7, no. 1 (October 1, 1990): 57-66.

Hick, John. “Christology In an Age of Religious Pluralism.” Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa no. 35 (June 1, 1981): 4-9.

Hick, John. “Pluralism and the Rreality of the Transcendent : How My Mind Has Changed; 15th in a series.” Christian Century 98, no. 2 (January 21, 1981): 45-48.

Hick, John. “Whatever Path Men Choose Is Mine.” Modern Churchman 18, no. 1-2 (December 1, 1974): 8-17.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.

 Light, Aimee Upjohn. “Harris, Hick, and the demise of the pluralist hypothesis.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies 44, no. 3 (June 1, 2009): 467-470.

Loughlin, Gerard. “Prefacing pluralism : John Hick and the mastery of religion.” Modern Theology 7, no. 1 (October 1, 1990): 29-55.

Lyden, John. “Why Only “One” Divine Reality? A Critique of Religious “Pluralism.” Dialogue & Alliance 8, no. 1 (March 1, 1994): 60-74.

Netland, Harold. “Religious Pluralism and Truth.” Trinity Journal 6, no. 1 (March 1, 1985): 74-87.

Race, Alan. “Hick, John, 1922-2012.” Modern Believing 53, no. 3 (July 1, 2012): 243-253.

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The Real Problem with the Problem of Evil

One of the most common reasons for denying the existence of God is the problem of evil in the world. Just ask any group of atheists to give their top ten reasons for unbelief and surely one will claim as number one, “If there is a God, then why is there so much evil in the world?” For many, this is the pièce de résistance of rebuttals. How could a good God be real and allow all the suffering in the world to continue unabated – assuming He is even good? The eighteenth century philosopher, David Hume described the problem this way in Dialouges concerning Natural Religion, 1779:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (Stackhouse 1998, 11)

So, the “problem of evil,” and its source, has been an issue of philosophical debate for centuries.  The existence of evil in the world, along with unanswered questions, has even become evidence enough for some to even embrace atheism.  Therefore, because so many philosophers and theologians have tried for ages to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, I dare say that nothing I write will be new.  But, if anyone were to challenge my belief in God, along with my faith in Jesus Christ, with the argument that the problem of evil constitutes proof God does not exist, then I would possibly respond with arguments based on the following thought: without the existence of God, there should be no evil to be a problem, and that’s the real problem with “the Problem of Evil’

What exactly is “evil?” Now, that may sound like an absurd kind of question to ask, but if the existence of evil is the evidence that is supposed to expose my faith as a fraud, at best, or even a lie, then what is it?  Is it something tangible? Is it metaphysical? Is ittheoretical? What is it, exactly? Does it have any particular form? How can it be distinguished from what is called good? On what do the atheists and agnostics base their definition of this thing called “evil?” Amazingly, the answers are not all the same, nor in some cases even grounded in reality. However, it is imperative to understand that we must define this God-killer, because its definition will determine our conclusions and help to clarify our assumptions. When C. S. Lewis was an atheist, for example, his “argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.” (Lewis 1989) There he had it, or so he thought. God could not exist because so much evil exists. But how did he arrive at “this idea of just and unjust?” Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” (Lewis 1989) “Tell me,” I would say, “what is evil, and how do you recognize it when you see it?

To start, evil must be understood to be an adjective. Evil is a description of something that is not good. Evil is not a thing. The word “evil” only describes the thing, the thought, and the action. Technically, “evil” does not exist, only what it describes. Some people say that they cannot believe in God because why or how could a good God, if He was perfect, create evil? They think of evil as something that must have not existed until God made it. But evil “isn’t a kind of molecule or a virus…infecting or affecting everything it encounters.  There was no time when God said, ‘Let there be evil,’ and there was evil.” (Stackhouse 1998)  As John G. Stackhouse put it, “evil becomes a noun only in the abstract.” Additionally, in his book Can God Be Trusted, Stackhouse says of evil:

“An action can be evil, or an event can be evil, or a quality can be evil, or a being can be evil. And we can lump all these particular evils together in our minds and come up with a category ‘evil.’ We can even go on to discuss it as if it were a particular thing, so long as we do not forget that we are always dealing with a category or group of particular evil things, not a thing itself.” (Stackhouse 1998, 31)

So then, if evil is a description, how is it that we come to use the adjective, or as Lewis put it, the “crooked line,” without first having some idea of what is a “straight” one?  Defining what is good is as important as defining evil. To know what is evil, we must first have some assumption as to what is not evil. The crazy thing is that if God does not exist, and man is nothing more than a collection of random matter, both good and evil are purely relative – their existence is based purely on one’s perspective.  So, in other words, the one who says that there is no God, based on the existence of evil, is literally basing his belief on pure opinion, not on anything objective; therefore, in order to bring an accusation against the goodness of God, one must have a base line. What is the standard by which we determine what is good and what is evil?

Some use Man as the baseline. They compare God to the standard set by what is thought to be good behavior in this world. They rationalize that if God is real, at least according to monotheistic dogma, He must be all-powerful, perfectly good, and the supreme example of love, kindness, and providential care. Because it is preached that God is a better Father than earthly fathers, Mark Twain took it upon himself to write:

The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it…[yet], God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of that, yet those minds warmly justify those crimes…when he commits them.” (Tonie Doe Media 2007)

So then, according to Twain, God could not exist because if He did, He would act consistent with our understanding of what a good and loving earthly father would do.  In other words, if God cannot, in all His perfection, behave better toward His children than the most common man, His credentials are therefore revoked, and He must cease to exist.  However, this is so illogical. Who are we to say that God, if He is perfect, and we are imperfect, ever treats His children poorly? Do the protesting cries of a toddler who has had poison taken from his grasp carry more weight than the decision of the earthly father to take it away? How, then, are we to automatically assume that the infantile tendencies of finite man are wiser than the infinitely Mature?  Using Man as a baseline for what is good and evil is pure arrogance.

In reality, the problem of evil is really a problem for the atheist. He, who denies the existence of a Creator and accepts only the realities of evil in the world, essentially has nothing about which to complain.  Everything should be just fine and dandy, but it’s not.  The atheist knows that evil things happen to good people, as well as bad.  He sees the hurt, feels the pain, and begs for justice. The reality of evil in the world causes men to cry out for justice; for things to be made right. This is a problem, though, because knowing that a crooked line is not straight hints at the fact that a Line-drawer exists.

Of course, there are others who take a different approach. They claim that God does not exist except in the evil intentions of his followers to control others through guilt. They claim that God is just a fabrication of priests to keep mankind from behaving “naturally.” They say that nature is good, and if anything, God is evil for trying to get man to behave contrary to the very way he was created to behave. One guru said, “It seems that for those who worship God, the opposite to God is not that which is ‘evil,’ but that which is natural.” He said of animals, comparing them to men, “They don’t worship God, they don’t go to church, they don’t have any theology.  They don’t have any feeling of guilt, they are simply natural.” (Osho 2009)  In other words, if there is evil in the world, it is because our belief in God has inflicted it.

But for the majority of the hurting world, pain is real, loss is real, and evil is manifested daily.  Many see the things that happen to innocent people, especially children, and wonder, “If there is a loving God, why doesn’t he do anything about this?”  These people, many of which hold on to hope as long as they can, finally succumb to their doubts and conclude that the only way to explain away the pain is to admit that it is just part of life, part of the natural world, part of what makes us human; alone, in our quest to make life easier, free of pain, free from evil; alone, without God. These are the ones, I believe, that lure more away from the faith than any Darwinist.  They are the ones who have seen evil face-to-face and cannot fathom a God who would allow it to continue.  And because their experiences are so painful and tragic, the devout are left speechless and without explanation. Ellie Wiesel is a good example.

Wiesel was a teenager when he saw his family murdered in the Nazi death camps.  But it was only after witnessing one particular act of horror – the slow, hanging death of a young boy – that he turned away from his faith in God. In the book Night, his Nobel prize-winning autobiography, Wiesel said he heard a man behind him ask, “Where is God now?” As he stood there, being forced to stare into a pitiful, wide-eyed, swollen face of a dying child, a voice within replied, “Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on the gallows…” (Wiesel 1982) Because there was no justification, even in the big scheme of things, Ellie Wiesel’s God died with the executed boy.  But as sad as it is, without God, who can say what happened to that boy was any worst than the slaughter of an animal?  Are we not all just animals – some more evolved than others?

To me, the problem of evil is not a problem for the believer, but for the non-believer.  Aside from the theological arguments about the character of God, without God, to turn Hume’s question around, “whence then is evil?” Without God, evil is relative to one’s desires and personal pleasure.  Does it really even matter whether or not God could do anything about evil in the world when the whole question is moot if He didn’t exist?  With God, evil is defined as that which is against His law, that which stands opposed to His standards, and that which describes all who take pleasure in such rebellion. Without God, evil is just a matter of opinion. That is the real problem of evil.


Works Cited

Lewis, C. S. “Atheism.” In The Quotable Lewis, by C. S. Lewis, 59. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Osho. The God Conspiracy: the path from superstition to superconsciousness. New York: Osho Media International, 2009.

Stackhouse, John G. Can God Be Trusted. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Tonie Doe Media. In The Atheist’s Bible, 129. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

Wiesel, Ellie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

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The Humble God Brings Revival

On June 15, 2011, I preached a short message from Isaiah 57:15 entitled, “Three R’s and Revival.”

Later, I read through the chapter again on my iPhone, this time in the NET version:

“For this is what the high and exalted one says, the one who rules forever, whose name is holy: “I dwell in an exalted and holy place, but also with the discouraged and humiliated, in order to cheer up the humiliated and to encourage the discouraged.” – Isaiah 57:15 NET

My eyes filled up with tears! The Holy One is not too good to sit down with the humiliated and discouraged! Hallelujah!

News Flash! God is humble!

Of course He is! Just look at what He did! Jesus became flesh (John 1:14) and walked in our shoes. He allowed Himself to be humiliated and beaten, even crucified, although He had every reason to look down on us, being God (Phil. 2:6-7). The “High and Lofty One” became the “meek and lowly” (Matt. 11:29).

There is no pride in God!


The Three R’s

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” – Isaiah 57:15 KJV

There are three “R’s” that I see in Isaiah 57:15… Reign, Realm, and Residence.

  1. I see the first one in the words “high and lofty.”
  2. The second one I see is found in the words “inhabiteth eternity.”
  3. The third “R” is located in the words “I dwell,”and “with him also.”

1. Reign

Earlier, in chapter 6, Isaiah said he “saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up…” The “high and lofty” One is none other than a King. And not just any king, this is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. The same description is found in Revelation 4. In verse 2, John saw a throne “set in heaven, and [one] sat on the throne.” Who was the One that sat on the the throne? Evidently the same Person who was seen by Isaiah, because in both accounts the angels were crying out “Holy, holy, holy...”

God is not a man-made idol or idea formed in the human mind – He is “high and lofty.” He is “exalted” above every other creature, whether in heaven or in earth. “Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all” (1 Chronicles 29:11 KJV).

Because He is king, there remains only two options with regards to His reign: you are either His subject, or you are His enemy. God does not operate like earthly kings and nations. We have allies; but not God. His kingdom demands total loyalty (every knee shall bow). Serving another king is not a good thing at all, for it will only result in His judgment. No king is greater than He. To serve another is to live in rebellion.

2. Realm

God is the One that “inhabiteth (inhabits) eternity.” This is His realm. His influence reaches not only across all known and unknown areas of the universe, but across time immortal!

It was said that at one time the sun never set on the British realm. All over the world there were colonies under the control of the throne of England. But even more impressive than that, God’s realm isn’t limited to the present rising and setting of the sun, it is in ETERNITY.

It is important to note something here. I am not opposed to reading different translations, but a good example of when a new translation misses the mark is changing the word “inhabiteth” to “rules/lives forever.” Of course it is true that God lives and rules forever; however, there is more to it than that. The word “inhabit” touches upon His eternally sovereign omnipresence. God/Jesus is not just king over the here and now, or the future, but over the past, present, and future at the same time! He inhabits eternity! There is nothing in the realm of time, no matter where it is, that is out of His scope of authority.

Stop and think about this, folks. Think about the practical application of the above statement. Let’s just say you need $100 tomorrow to pay a bill. Or, it could be $1 million, a billion – doesn’t matter. You could go to an earthly king and ask for help, but the king would be limited to the time frame in which you needed the money, the amount that he had, and the limitations of his realm. Not God.

I have seen money come in for a need that was desperate. God provided what was needed. But, when you look at the sequence of events, God started answering that prayer long before it was ever prayed – decades before! God is not limited by time, space, or anything. His realm covers it all. When George Mueller prayed for milk (for his orphanage), do you not think that God had already put in place the neccessary sequence of events to make that milk wagon drop a wheel? It is not even out of line to think that He went back to when the tree was planted that provided the wood for the wagon.

3. Residence

God not only lives in the “holy place,” but He dwells with lowly man. His name is Emmanuel – God with us. But notice this, He only dwells with the humble, the contrite, the broken-hearted, the cast down, the weary, the needy (“God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” – James 4:6). Even though He could choose to stay in His high and holy place, far above the heavens (as most men would do, given the opportunity), He makes His bed right on the floor with the lowliest, shivering beggar.

Of all people, God should be the one who looks down His nose at us. He is the “lofty” One upon the throne. We are the helpless sinners. How ironic is it that the only ones who will not open the door of their hearts are the prideful? Pride closes the door to the King.

and Revival

He said “I dwell” in order “to revive.” It is the presence of the God who cares; the God who understands where we are; the God who makes His home with the “discouraged” and the “humiliated” that brings revival. Oh, to live without hope, without compassion, without a tender touch from a caring hand, brings death. But to have a King step down from His lofty position in the heavenlies, from the eternal, to a lowly place in time – that revives the heart.

The gulf that separated me from Christ, my Lord 
It was so vast, the crossing I could never ford 
From where I was to His domain, it seemed so far 
I cried “Dear Lord, I cannot come to where You are” 

CHORUS 
He came to me, He came to me 
When I could not come to where He was, He came to me 
That’s why He died on Calvary 
When I could not come to where He was, He came to me 

He Came to Me – by Squire Parsons

Don’t let pride shut the door to your heart when the King of Kings seeks to dwell with you.

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How Long? Selah.

“O ye sons of men, how long will ye turn my glory into shame? how long will ye love vanity, and seek after leasing? Selah.” – Psalm 4:2

FullSizeRender (1)Selah. A word that calls us to stop for just a moment and contemplate what we’ve just read. This morning pause and consider the glory of God.

“My glory”

It is important that we realize first that when David writes these words it is not only about himself. This is one of those verses which have a double meaning: one that is meant for the time it was written, and another that implies a bigger story. In this case, it’s about the glory of God.

In case you’ve ever wondered, the word glory carries with it the idea of a “heaviness” or a “burden.” It concerns one’s “reputation.”

“Sons of men…”

David was probably writing to men whom at one point were his trusted friends, but now they were trying to kill him. These were men who made up his inner circle of government, who acted in his name. Yet now, here they were in rebellion, turning the glory of David’s reign into shame.

Sons of men was something of a title of honor and dignity.

“Vanity” and “Leasing”

Vanity is that which is hollow and worthless. Vanity is that beauty that fades, the riches that decay. Yet, what does the world love? It chases after fleeting fame and false beauty. It’s constantly trying one-up God’s creation. Yet, men “love” it; literally, they “flirt” with it. Why not seek after things that last?

“Leasing” is another word for lying. David is asking why it is that men seek after lies? I guess the answer could be found in the modern context of news. Why do we keep going to the media for truth about the world when we know they rarely tell the truth?

From Glory to Shame

God is asking His creation – the ones who bear the fingerprint of their Creator – “Why do you turn MY glory into shame?” Why do men and women constantly seek after emptiness and lies, when the Truth is right in front of them?

Why did David’s men rebell against him, knowing he was God’s annointed King of Israel? Why do men rebel against Jesus, the eternal King of Glory? After all, we are who we are because of God; we are the jewel of His creation? Why do we love to devalue ourselves, turning His glory into shame?

Tragic, isn’t it? Nevertheless, the “how long” part of this verse hints at something very important: We can’t rob God’s glory and impune His name forever.

Just think about that for a while.

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