Trinitarians are often accused of violating the law of non-contradiction with the doctrine of the Trinity. Over the years, many, many theologians have demonstrated that this is not the case, but Ravi Zacharias does the most concise yet comprehensive job of exploring this topic I’ve yet seen in the video below. It’s worth 10 minutes of your time, for sure.
I came home yesterday to find that some Jehovah’s Witnesses had stopped by while I was at work. They left me a nifty little tract (see? —>) that I’ve spent some time dissecting – I’m hoping they come back to talk about it. In the meantime, however, I have used my valuable time – which should have been more practically spent – re-writing one of my favorite “Men At Work” tunes. Oh well.
Who Can It Be Now?
Who can it be knocking at my door?
Go ‘way, don’t come ’round here no more.
Do I have time for Arians?
Don’t care so much, for heresy has-beens.
All I want is some honesty;
Let’s read the Greek, not the NWT.
Tell you what, let’s have some fun,
We’ll exegete – start with John one one.
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Who can it be knocking at my door?
I don’t want the newest “Watchtower”.
If he hears, he’ll mark his book,
He’ll come back to make sure the tract’s been took.
I’d like it more, if they only called;
Then I could ignore their “lesser god” Michael.
I could just say I’m an ex-J-Wit;
One sure way, to be “do not hit”.
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Who can it be now?
Nineteen-fourteen has come and gone away.
Why do they still believe?
It’s not the future that they can see,
It’s just a fantasy.
Oh…Who can it be now?
Oh…Who can it…Who can it…
Yeah yeah yeah
And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed on a tree.
The sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth, and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things Which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is “the Alpha and the Omega,”
This One is “The beginning and the end”… the beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
“To Him be the glory and the power forever.
As much as I would love to take credit for these words, they are not mine. They are taken from a sermon on Passover written by Melito, bishop of Sardis, who died c. 180 A.D.
Don’t ever let Dan Brown, Muhammed, a Jehovah’s Witness, or anyone else ever tell you that the Deity of Christ was invented by the Nicene Council in 325 A.D.
Or, if they do, please tell them Melito says “hi”.
If you have not yet read “Witnessing – Arrogance or Agape? (Part 2a)“, I would encourage you to do so before reading this post.
My hope is that for this post, that video has said most of what needs to be said. Therefore, this post will be less wordy than previous ones. (and there was much rejoicing)
Statement B: “Why can’t you just love and accept them where they are, instead of trying to impose your system on them?”
The individuals who say this simply do not think about – do not understand – what they are saying. But we are called to be discerning, so let’s examine.
So this person wants to be loved “where they are”? Ok, let’s look at that atom bomb analogy again to find out what it means to love someone, “where they are”.
Those people in your town, yeah, you know, the ones who have no clue that the bomb has already been launched and is on a crash course with where you all live.
Q: Where are they?
A: They’re in a town with 24 hours left before it gets wiped from the map.
Q: What’s the best way to love those people?
A: Tell them about the bomb – that there’s no hope of survival if they stay in the town. Then tell them about the train – that only by boarding it will they escape the coming destruction.
Q: What are you doing if you do not take every opportunity to preach this message to the masses around you?
A: You are not loving them. In fact, you are hating them – because the only way you would not tell them is if you indeed hated them with an unfathomable hatred. Otherwise you would want them on the train – even if they were your enemies.
So, this person speaking the phrase above wants to be loved “where they are”? Ok, fine. Well, where are they then?
They are separate from God, because they are not in Christ.
Ok, so if where they is are separate from God and in need of Christ, what’s the best way to love them?
Tell them about Christ.
In other words, when someone tells you, “You aren’t very good at this Christian love thing, are you? If you really loved me you would just accept me as I am, even if I’m not a Christian”, is simply means they have not been paying attention to the message. What message?
This one: THERE IS NO HUMAN INDIVIDUAL WHO HAS EVER LOVED YOU MORE THAN I AM LOVING YOU RIGHT NOW BY TELLING YOU THAT THE BOMB IS COMING, AND JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY TO LIVE.
Now, I don’t want to give you the wrong impression here with all this fire-and-brimstone (anyone who knows me personally can tell you I normally don’t trade so hard on the whole “judgement” theme), but it really is important to get this message across.
When John the Baptist came preaching, he wasn’t telling people “God is your buddy, I really want you to get to know Him.” No. He was screaming to the crowds at the top of His lungs: “Repent! Repent!” (Matt 3:2) and asking Pharisees, “Who told you to flee from the coming judgement?” (Matt 3:7) This was the man who spoke of Jesus saying not “He’s a really nice guy – I just know we’ll all get along great!”, but instead, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear the threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matt 3:12)
The fact is, Jesus Himself talks about judgement and hell more in the Gospels than He does about heaven.
That’s what’s at stake. That’s why we sometimes seem too pushy when witnessing. That’s why we mourn so deeply when our brothers and sisters choose to ignore us.
And that’s the truth.
Aside: I really encourage you to read THIS article by Carl Kirby, a speaker for the ministry Answers in Genesis (link in the sidebar), for some great insights on this topic culled, of all places, from the mouths of atheists.
The bottom line is this: the bomb/judgement is coming. The gentleman in the video knows what he’s going to do with that knowledge.
Question is, do you?
Well, I do dearly hope that some of you found AU1 and the Encore to be helpful. I know there were several points I touched on in those posts that many of you would like to explore in greater detail (i.e. the Council of Nicaea, the Biblical evidence for Jesus’ Deity in the Old and New Testaments, the History of the Doctrine of the Trinity, etc.), and rest assured that in the coming weeks and months we will be digging deeper and deeper into this vital subject. Which is good, since these days most Christians don’t really even know the Doctrine of the Trinity like they should, and outside of pastors and scholars, you might be surprised how few of us could give a clear articulation of what we believe about God’s Tri-unity.
That all said, I have stumbled across a video featuring one of my heroes, Dr. James R. White of Alpha and Omega Ministries (link in the side bar). It is an excerpt from a debate he was involved in with a Muslim in Britain. I found it to be a fantastic summary about the Deity of Christ and why it matters (see especially 11:44-12:30), and one presented in the context of countering Unitarian arguments to boot (yes, Muslims are Unitarians).
If you have not already read Answering Unitarians #1: Does the Deity of Christ Matter?, please do so before continuing.
What you will find below is a short exhortation to those whose hearts are hardened, who read AU1 and were not persuaded by logic, nor by scripture, nor by philosophy, nor by emotion. For such people who will not or can not respond to the good news of God in the flesh, there is but one recourse: the Law.
To my Unitarian friends, who reject the Deity of Christ but uphold the Scriptures as God’s revelation to mankind, take heed.
There were only a handful of crimes in ancient Israel that guaranteed death if convicted. Among them, blasphemy and idolatry.
If Jesus is not God incarnate, and you worship Him, then you are committing idolatry. Exodus 20:3, Deuteronomy 5:7, 30:17-18
If Jesus is God incarnate, and you do not give Him the honor and glory due His Name but instead call Him a mere creature, then you are committing blasphemy. Numbers 15:30-31; Psalm 2:12; John 5:23
Think carefully; what you decide will have eternal consequences.
In my interactions and dialogues with those who deny the Deity of Christ, I’ve become aware of a pattern which is all too commonly adhered to. Namely in which the denier is eagerly willing to debate the question of the Deity of Christ with you, armed with their supposed trump cards: the lack of textual evidence for the Comma Johanneum, the fact that Jesus never said the phrase “I am God” as such in the Gospels, the tired old theory about how the Church corrupted the “true” teaching of a merely human messiah at the Nicene Council in 325 AD, and so on.
However, when confronted by a believer with some skin in the game, and an answer to their objections, they start to backpedal. No longer interested in rational and reasonable discussion of a Divine vs. created Jesus, they switch tacts from trying to prove to you that Jesus was merely a created being and instead throw out a smokescreen saying, “Well, it doesn’t matter anyway whether I believe Jesus is God or not” – which is to say, by implication, “This conversation is a waste of time, and also, screw your logic.”
Now, in sports, it’s a bit of a giveaway when you only care about the score as long as you’re winning – but as soon as the other team takes the lead you suddenly decide that you don’t want to play anymore. Aside from the intellectual dishonesty of such tactics – that is, if you really care about truth you’ll follow where it leads instead of jumping ship when it pulls into a harbor you’re uncomfortable with – this statement also bespeaks a considerable naivete on the part of those who say such things.
What do I mean? And why is the Deity of Christ THE issue of central importance? What does it matter what we believe on the issue anyway?
To answer this question I will appeal to four categories of argumentation, namely: logical, scriptural, philosophical, and emotional. Let the reader understand that none of these categories exist in a box, but freely mix and interact with one another – so too what I am about to say, while presented point by point, must not be taken in isolation but understood in the context of the whole.
In this way the issue is understood to be not one of simple intellectual exercise (rationalism), simple scriptural argumentation (proof-texting), simple philosophical meandering (abstract), or simple emotional appeal (subjective). Instead, it is my hope that you will see that the truth is not defined by any single one of these categories alone, just as a person cannot be defined just by his shoe size or favorite color alone. No, a person is an organic unity comprised of many different facets – and so must truth be…
…because Truth is a person.
His name is Jesus.
DOES THE DEITY OF CHRIST MATTER – AND DOES IT MATTER WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT IT?
Category #1 – Logical
It’s the beginning of a new year, and you know what that means: taxes are due in only a few months time. I’m dreading the paperwork already. Good thing I live in Switzerland, where we have the lowest income tax rate in the world. I sure don’t envy the people of Germany, Denmark, or France – all of which fall into the top 5 list of free nations with the highest tax rates in the world. Yes sir, it’s good to be Swiss.
“Tom, you live in the United States.”
I do? Well, that changes things! This means that I need to send my taxes to the US IRS, not the Swiss government. Good thing you told me!
Of course, I was never under the impression that I lived in Switzerland, but this scenario is a good illustration of a couple of points I would like to make:
a) Believing something does not make it true – my geographical location and national citizenship is an objective fact with or without my belief
b) What I believe has consequences – if I believe I live in Switzerland, the IRS is going to be looking for me in a few months when they don’t get their check in the mail (and the Swiss are going to wonder when Americans set up a donation fund for them)
In other words, when the judge is deciding my fate, a plea of ignorance (“I thought I was in Switzerland!”) is probably not going to get me out of sharing a cell with Wesley Snipes. Why? Because the judge would merely say, “you had plenty of evidence that you live in the U.S.A., United States flags are everywhere, the name of our country is on your money, the fact that your driver’s license and voter’s registration card also testify against you…etc. Ignorance is not a valid excuse – unless you also want to plead an IQ of 10?” And he would be right.
Now, some will call me out and say, “But Tom, that’s a straw man. Sure, you’re going to change certain things about the way you live depending on where you believe you reside (paying taxes to the IRS instead of the Swiss, saluting the American flag and not the Swiss flag, rooting for Venus Williams instead of Martina Hinges, etc.), but it’s not like I’m going to change how I live based on whether I believe in the Deity of Jesus or not.”
Who said anything about changing “how you live”? I said what you believe has consequences, not that those consequences are necessarily behavioral. (They are, of course, but I’m making a different point for now.)
In John ch. 8 v. 24 Jesus says, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.”
Now, this verse has some interesting things going on in the original Greek, about which I will no doubt go into detail in future posts; for now though, read that through a couple of times. Then crack open your Bible and read it again, in context. Ask yourself, do the Scriptures teach that what you believe about Christ matters?
On that note, we turn to our next category.
Category #2 – Scriptural
“Who has ascended to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment?
Who has established the ends of the earth?
What is His name, and what is His son’s name?
Surely you know!”
Do you know who said these words? In Proverbs ch. 30 v. 4 one Agur son of Jakeh gives us a hint of what is to come later, namely the revelation of the Son of God.
Hundreds of years later Simon son of Jonah recognized this one that the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (Hebrew Bible) pointed to and made this confession: that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16) Six days after that confession he and two others would witness this Son of God transfigured, and hear the voice of the Father confirm once and for all what he who from that time on was called Peter had said. (Matt 17:5)
Clearly, the Bible makes no secret that the nature of Jesus – who and what He is – is an issue of primary importance, and many more scriptures could be marshaled in defense of this point (e.g. Matt 26:63-64, Mark 1:23-24, Luke 3:21-22, and John 8:25). To say that “it doesn’t matter if Jesus is true God from true God, His Deity is not an issue and it doesn’t matter what we believe about it” is to speak against the express testimony of the Word of God.
“But Tom,” the skeptics cry. “All we see here are verses talking about how Jesus is the Son of God – not actually truly Deity.”
My response: you’re missing the point. The issue I’m addressing here is that the Bible makes it expressly clear that WHO and WHAT Jesus is does not constitute an idle question. Instead, the Scriptures bear witness that WHO and WHAT Jesus is should be given THE MOST SERIOUS AND CAREFUL THOUGHT. Therefore the answers to both “Does the Deity of Christ matter?” and “Does it matter what we believe about it?” are resoundingly YES, regardless of the final verdict on whether He is in fact God, because it is reaching a verdict as to who and what He is that the Bible insists upon. To say that it doesn’t matter is to completely contradict the Scriptures themselves (or do I need to mention John 8:24 again?).
As to the point raised that the above citations affirm the Sonship of Christ but not His Divinity – this line of argumentation was taken up by a Unitarian I debated some months back, who stated, “By definition, Son of God = not God.”
My response: “The same way son of man = not man?”
I am not impressed by this classic Unitarian line of reasoning. To say categorically that the title “Son of God” denies deity is the same as to say categorically that “son of man” denies manhood – this is absurd and smacks of circular thinking. Not only so, but John 5:18 proves that this title was understood by Jesus’ contemporaries to be an explicit claim to equality with God; that is, Deity.
I’m sure we will have ample opportunity in future posts to go deeper and deeper into the passages which deal with this title, as well as other passages which speak of the Deity of Christ in other ways. For now, however, I have demonstrated that Scripturally speaking, the who and what Christ is and what we believe about it matters very much. Thus we move on.
Category #3 – Philosophical
Not long ago, a man I have deep respect for – who happens to be a Unitarian – and I were talking philosophy with one another, and he made this statement:
“It is impossible to know God.”
I asked him what he meant, and he gave the following analogy:
God is to men what human beings are to dogs. it is possible for the two to have some sort of relationship, but that relationship is severely limited by the dog’s lack of ability to comprehend the things of men. For instance, a dog may have some sense that when his master scratches his ear it is a sign of affection; however, when the man sits and reads a book the dog has no comprehension of what is taking place. To the dog, the man is immobile and staring blankly at an item in front of him – he might as well be sleeping with his eyes open if not for having to flip a page every so often. Or when the master climbs into his car to go to work, the dog has not even a modicum of understanding about what is taking place – that the master is going to a place to work in a certain vocation, which through a system of exchange and economy will eventually result in more Kibbles and Milk Bones later on. The dog is clueless. And what’s more, he is clueless about how clueless he is. That dog cannot really “know” his master, though we are both finite and limited creatures; how much less can a man know God, since He is the infinite and limitless creator!
My friend was right. Absolutely, unequivocally right. Man cannot know God because He is beyond us – so far beyond us that, like the dog, we don’t even know how clueless we are when it comes to Him. We have no hope, as my friend expressed so well, of ever having a real, true relationship relationship with Him – just as the dog has no hope of ever having a real, true relationship with his master. Unless…
Unless his master became a dog.
Yes. If the master condescended to take the form of a dog – to live as a dog, to play as a dog, to eat as a dog, to be limited as a dog (no opposable thumbs – that’s giving up the ability to do a lot of things), and to die as a dog – then the dog could know his master.
Most of you, I think, know who C.S. Lewis is. Before he became a Christian, Lewis was an emphatic proponent of my friend’s view – that God absolutely cannot be known by mere men. Here, let him tell you in his own words:
I distinguished this philosophical “God” very sharply (or so I said) from “the God of popular religion.” There was, I explained, no possibility of being in a personal relation with Him. For I thought He projected us as a dramatist projects his characters, and I could no more “meet” Him, than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare.
Lewis continued to ponder this, and it was ever more apparent how true it was that man cannot, by his own reason or strength, approach God for communion with Him. But as he pondered, Lewis realized that it was perhaps not true to say that Hamlet and Shakespeare could never meet.
Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side? My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite: if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare’s doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing.
– C.S. Lewis in Chapter XIV of Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (1955)
You see, it is a fact that men cannot have a relationship with God outside of the actions of God Himself. And what would be the ultimate action of God’s part, to reach out and interact with man? He could become a man, so that we could understand who God is on our terms.
No, the dog will never understand what it is to live a day in the life of a man, and no, men will never understand what it is like to live as God. But none of that matters. God has come to us to seek restitution and fellowship. He Himself has been the one to make the sacrifice necessary to have communion with us – this is why we say God “condescends” to take human flesh, because it was Him lowering Himself (descend-ing) in order to be together with (con-) us. He allows men to see Him, to hear Him, to touch Him, and to know Him – all in a way we can understand.
Philosophically, this is why it is important that Jesus is Deity: because God cannot be truly known another way. This is what John means when He tells us in chapter 1 verse 18 of his gospel that “No one has ever seen God; the Unique God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made Him known.”
Do you want to know God? Then know Jesus, who is Immanuel – “God with us”.
Category #4 – Emotional
If you’ve made it this far and haven’t yet experienced emotions like wonder, awe, and exhilaration at what God has done for us, you are one hard egg to crack. This category will, I hope, drive the wonder of the God-man home. For this I will divide the presentation into 3 parts, each of which I find gives me all the emotional affirmation I need to know that the Deity of Christ is not only important, but vital. I hope to go into some great detail and explore each of these at a later date, but for our purposes here, I think a synopsis will do.
Back when I was in school, I interned for a hospital kitchen one summer to learn management skills. I worked immediately under the Director of Nutrition Services, Mike, who was in charge of not only the kitchen (including employees in 3 different facilities) and cafeteria, but also the clinical dietitians who see patients on the floors. I can’t paint a great picture for you, so you’ll have to take my word for it – he was high on the totem pole, and he reported only to the hospital president’s right hand man.
Most of the time Mike stayed in his office, carrying out managerial duties and addressing employee’s concerns if they came in with problems. He always wore nice shoes, nice slacks, and a pressed business shirt. The employees all referred to him endearingly as “boss”.
One day came when the cafeteria was short-staffed. Breakfast had been served and the dishroom – which is right behind the cafeteria, separated by a wall – was busy doing the dishes from both the patient trays and the cafeteria. Even on good days, the old drains in that facility were not the best, but on this day they gave up – complete block. The dishroom didn’t realize it, but the cafeteria and the dishroom shared a drainage system, and while the dishes were being done, the cruddy, murky, stinky dish water was bubbling up into the cafeteria. It was only half-an-hour until lunch serving began, and housekeeping was also short that day. The cafeteria was on its own for clean-up.
Now, here’s what could have happened: Mike could have told the cafeteria staff to get a bucket and start mopping, while he pulled another worker from somewhere else to finish prepping the tray-line for serving, or he could’ve done that easy, clean job himself while the unskilled laborers did the dirty work.
Here’s what did happen: Mike walked out of his office, pulled out a bucket and a mop, rolled up his pant cuffs, and started cleaning. He stood there out in the open, for all the hospital employees who had begun arriving for lunch to see and, perhaps, to scorn, nice shoes mucking around in the grime, and did the job of a housekeeper – the lowest paid position in the entire hospital.
Humility. It’s a quality we all prize, yet few practice. God demands it of us. Does God not do it Himself?
When Abraham had Isaac he was ecstatic. He finally had a son of his own flesh who was born of his wife, Sarah. Isaac was the apple of his father’s eye, precious in his sight. But then God demanded him as a sacrifice.
Of course, in the end, it turned out to be a test. God wanted to know that Abraham loved Him, and the final proof was that Abraham would not withhold his son, his only son, from God. This has been understood by Christians universally as a prefiguring, a type, of what God was later to do by sacrificing His only son in ransom for our sins.
But you have to ask yourself… if Jesus was only a man, a mere created being, was God’s sacrifice any greater than Abraham’s? In fact, wouldn’t God’s sacrifice be less than Abraham’s? For God to create a man, only to use Him as a sacrifice, when that man was not the eternal, uncreated, begotten Son become incarnate – does that not cheapen the value of that sacrifice?
Does that not cheapen God’s…
“For God so loved the world that He gave His ONLY BEGOTTEN Son…”
So starts the most widely quoted and universally known verse in the Bible, John 3:16. But for all the times we quote it, do we ever actually ponder it?
What does it mean, that God would send His Son, His only son, from eternity, into the world (John 1:14)?
What does it mean that this one, “though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9)?
It means that God the Father bankrupted heaven of His treasure, with Him and loved by Him from eternity, to buy your freedom.
It means that God the Son divested Himself of all that was rightfully His, to be born of an unclean woman, in an unclean land, to feel hunger, to be thirsty, to know heat, cold, sickness, and affliction…
…to be mocked…
…to be ridiculed…
…to be spat on…
…to be scourged…
…to be crucified…
Let me now ask you the very question that I have been trying to answer: does the Deity of Jesus matter? Does it make any difference whether or not He is, from eternity, the Divine Son of God? Or is it all the same if He is a mere created being who, though sinless, is just like the rest of us?
And after reading all of this, does it really not matter which we believe?
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
If everyone will forgive me, I’m going to deviate from straightforward apologetics for this post.
I can’t seem to get the R.E.M. tune, “Everybody Hurts” out of my head. A wonderful friend of mine is in anguish of soul right now (my second prayer request in two posts – different friend though), and the song seems to fit. This has raised the question in my mind: how do you respond to someone who is living their darkest hour to date right before your eyes?
If you think this is a question with a simple answer, then you have a lot of growing up to do. When someone comes to you in pain, the last thing you want to do is minimize their suffering – take it from someone who’s experienced his share of hurt and disappointment. Nor do you want to offer a pat answer as if you could just print off a form letter, sign it, and slap it in their hands to make everything better. No one wants to hear your pep talk, your “you’ll make it through this a stronger person” speech. No one wants to be patronized with “suffering builds character” remarks made comfortably from the sidelines as the one actually suffering bleeds it out in the ring.
What, then? What path should Job’s comforters take? Very well, I will tell you what I have concluded.
“What?” you say. “You mean I shouldn’t try to cheer them up?”
That’s exactly right.
“And I shouldn’t give them my well-reasoned and brilliant advice?”
You got it.
“And I shouldn’t point out that everybody goes through trials and it’s in the blazing fires of life that we are refined and purified?”
“And I should avoid the temptation to quote Bible passages to them and make them see how this is all in God’s gracious providence and that He has a plan for their lives even if things seem bleak right now because His purposes will be accomplished and His strength is made perfect in weakness?”
Because words are not what your friend needs right now. His hope has been shattered, his dreams crushed, and you think a little cheerleading or wise advice is going to get him to rally on the turn of a dime? Let him grieve, and for Pete’s sake, don’t let him do it alone.
Remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, right before His arrest? In the Gospel of Matthew chapter 26 beginning in verse 36, we are given a profound picture of what “bearing one another’s burdens” means to our Lord. Verse 37 tells about how, when they had come to Gethsemane, Jesus left all of His disciples and, taking with Him only Peter, James, and John, went to spend time in prayer. Please note that these three were His closest friends – they were the privileged trio who were with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, who “saw His glory and spoke about it”.
Why did Jesus have those three there, in the midst of His suffering and anguish (which Luke tells us was so severe His sweat became like drops of blood)? Why not leave them with the other disciples further back? After all, they seem to be more of a nuisance than anything; He is always having to go to wake them, exhorting them to remain awake – to keep watch with Him. What purpose did they serve?
The answer is simple: they were there.
Read the Matthew account, and meditate on verse 38 in particular. Even Jesus, in His darkest hour, needed His friends there with Him. Not to talk Him through it. Not to psych Him up. Not to give well-meaning advice or quote Bible passages to Him. Not to tell Him that it would all be over soon and that everything would be okay because God the Father is in control.
Just to be there.
Just to be.
If you are going through a season of trials in your life, take heart. As R.E.M. sings: “Everybody hurts”. But it’s the words they conclude with that underscore the true comfort and hope we have as Christians. Even when your friends are too busy or too distant or selfish to be with you…
“You are not alone.”
The Solid Rock
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When ev’ry single prop gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
—Edward Mote (1797-1874)
As anyone who knows me fairly well can tell you, the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity are issues that are very close to my heart. A year ago a bombshell was dropped when a dear friend of mine (whom I had up to that point considered a Christian) testified to me that she did not believe the Trinity was taught in the Bible – she said it was a heretical teaching that had been introduced into the church at a later date, and propagated by manipulative leaders, thus leading astray the ignorant masses into false doctrine. She further claimed that Jesus Himself was not God – nor had He ever claimed to be. To her, He was a mere mortal who – while born miraculously of a virgin and therefore in a sense the “son” of God – was certainly not eternal God, and was most certainly not to be worshipped as such.
Apart from the heart-wrenching anguish this obviously caused me, this event also awoke in me the need to know the truth, and the passion to find the answers. For the last year I have poured over every source I could find to tell me about the history of belief in the Trinity. I have watched every scholarly debate I could get my hands on. I have listened to lectures and read papers late into the night, studying the facts and eschewing sleep in favor of information. I’ve even debated Unitarians (that is, those who say that there is no Trinity and that Jesus was only a man) on web forums, just to get a feel for the arguments and to better understand the issues. And I’m not done.
Now, to be sure, I have also branched out into other areas of apologetics besides the Deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, and for an amateur apologist, you could say I’m a jack-of-all trades. It’s a rewarding study, apologetics.
That said, I view the Deity of Christ to be THE CENTRAL ISSUE to the Gospel ‘once and for all delivered to the saints’. To me, if that was not God on the tree, then I am dead in my sins, hopeless. This is why I am a Christian: that Jesus Christ, “though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
With this in mind, I will be starting a question and answer series on this blog titled: “Answering Unitarians”. Every week I will be taking one question on the Deity of Christ/the doctrine of the Trinity and answering it to the best of my ability – by the grace of God.
On the top banner, you will find the button labeled “Answering Unitarians – Submit a Question”. I welcome your questions (and your feedback) so please don’t hesitate to write in! If you have friends that fall into the Unitarian camp (make no mistake, it’s becoming more common than you realize), feel free to direct them here as well.
So what happened to the friend I mentioned? She still denies the Trinity, still holds that Jesus was merely a man anointed by God. Last we spoke, she seemed to be mulling things over, but in the end she shrugged me off saying: “It doesn’t really matter whether Jesus is God or not – it’s not going to change the way I live my life, I’ll still be trying to obey God and be a good person one way or the other.” Pray for her.
Does the Deity of Christ really matter in the end? If you’ve read this far you know my take, in short form. This is the question I will be answering in greater depth for our first installment. Don’t miss it!
In part 1 of this series, we looked at some possible reasons why, in your witnessing, you may encounter a statement such as the following:
“I can’t stand you Christians, you’re always trying to convert people. Why can’t you just love and accept them where they are, instead of trying to impose your system on them?”
In this part, we will examine the nature of such declarations – that is, what they are saying (as we have already covered why they are said in part 1) – in order to better equip ourselves to respond. For that, I have determined that it will be easiest to first tackle each sentence by itself, then together as a unit.
Statement A: “I can’t stand you Christians, you’re always trying to convert people”
In this statement, the speaker makes it very clear that he/she does not care for “Christians”. I put the word “Christians” in quotes because it is important to always bear in mind the different connotations this term may have to different people. After all, the word itself has a long history of usage and certainly carries a decent amount of philological baggage these days. The meaning of “Christian”, then, is almost always dependent upon the primary source of identification for the term in the speaker’s mind. What do I mean? Let me give you some examples.
1) To someone who was raised in a household or region where the Bible was used to beat people over the head (think “Footloose”), a “Christian” is probably someone who thinks they are better than everyone else and uses religion like a whip to tear people to shreds.
2) To a Jewish person, a “Christian” is a religious descendant of the people who persecuted this ethnic group over the past almost 1900 years (such as in the Spanish Inquisition).
3) To a young man who was molested by a Roman Catholic priest, a “Christian” might be an elderly pervert who uses his church-given authority to prey on the innocent.
You get the idea.
Sometimes the meaning of the word “Christian” may be primarily shaped by a person’s experiences, especially if they have seen the worst “Christianity” has to offer (as in #1 and #3 above). Sometimes it may be that a person has never had a single negative experience with a Christian at all, but their approach to the term “Christian” may still be influenced for the better or worse by family or friends who have had such experiences (as in most cases of #2 above). The bottom line is that the term “Christian” is often a very loaded one.
That said, this does not mean we should shrink from identification with the label, for it describes in no uncertain way what we are: followers of Christ. All the same, we do need to be aware that it may not mean the same thing to those we are witnessing to as it does to us.
All right, so, in the first clause of the above sentence we have a person making a claim (“I can’t stand you Christians”); in the second clause this person provides us with a reason for this claim (“you’re always trying to convert people”). You might as well add the word “because” between the two clauses, since what the person has done is set forth a justification for their frustration with Christians (whoever they are defined to be – see above). This assertion certainly seems rational, but is it reasonable? Three things must be considered here.
- Are Christians really “always trying to convert people”?
- Is indignation with this a logically consistent position?
- Is trying to convert people really a bad thing anyway?
Let’s take these one at a time.
#1 – Are Christians really “always trying to convert people”?
There is much that I could say here about how the “Christians are always trying to convert people” line is a good example of a logical fallacy called “begging the question”; however, that would make this post more overly long and complicated than it probably already is. If you would like to follow that rabbit trail, click this link for more information.
To address this point simply: it really does depend on what your definition of “convert” is. If your definition follows the New Oxford American Dictionary’s primary definition “[to] persuade someone to [something]”, then is it true that in witnessing* Christ to others we are ultimately seeking to persuade people to Him? I actually tend to think it’s a fair definition myself.
Now, we could go round-and-round about how “oh, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to work faith in someone and persuade them – we only confess the truth and let Him do the rest”. True. Fair enough. However, don’t expect a non-Christian to be able to see the difference between you witnessing and the Holy Spirit persuading just because you say, “I’m only telling you about Jesus, not trying to convert anyone – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job.” Truth be told, I’m not so sure we should be trying to divide ourselves like that from the Holy Spirit and the work He sees fit to do through us anyway (but that’s a subject for wiser minds than mine).**
The bottom line is: from the perspective of those we are witnessing to, the conclusion is simply that the act of witnessing is fundamentally an attempt to “convert” the hearer(s).
With this point established, we must now consider…
#2 – Is indignation with this a logically consistent position?
It’s one thing to affirm that the act of sharing the Gospel implicitly assumes the hope of salvation for the hearers, that is, “conversion”***. It is another thing altogether to justify ill-feelings towards any group merely because they seek to be persuasive. Certainly if you are a person who never, ever seeks to persuade others to any ends whatsoever, then perhaps you may reasonably scoff when others do so. However, the fact is that all people without exception engage in persuasion on a daily basis – you can’t live life another way – and to fault someone (or someones) for this is sheer hypocrisy.
Consider the following examples:
I) In part 1 we mentioned that professors in the University setting like to make the “I can’t stand Christians because they always try to convert people” argument. But the basic fact is that it is these professors’ job to win converts. That is, they must persuade you that the subject matter you are studying is actually important (so they still have a job), that you must do well on tests to pass the class (because if they can’t persuade you of this they will have a failing class – bad if you are seeking tenure), and that they are worth giving good reviews to at the end of the semester (especially if they are seeking tenure). Add to this that many professors at secular universities consider it a blue ribbon to convert you away from Christianity and, well, hopefully you can see the double standard.
II) Every job candidate who knows what they are doing is seeking to make converts. Think about it, when you interview for a position, you are doing nothing less than trying to convert the interviewers to the belief that you would make an excellent employee. Which of you ever went into a job interview with the attitude that “I’m not looking to persuade anyone – I hope I don’t offend people by looking as if I’m trying to convince them about my fantastic work ethic”. No! And I can tell you that if you did go to an interview in that frame of mind, any potential employer is going to send you packing and hang out their tile again, waiting for someone who actually has what it takes to “win converts”, that is, them.
III) Any of you who have children are experts at the art of persuasion and “winning converts”. Little Johnny took a cookie before dinner without permission? He didn’t see anything wrong with it – but I bet you the parent are going to make sure he gets converted to the position of believing that he isn’t going to do that again, aren’t you? Little Susie drew on the walls? I bet you don’t waste any time in converting her to the opinion that she shouldn’t be doing that. Little Billy said a bad word he heard at school? I can just picture you parents taking on the passion of the very most eager religious zealot as you seek to convert him out of his new pagan vocabulary and into a better way (maybe this is because I can still see the look in my mother’s eyes when she washed my mouth out with
soup soap). Sometimes your tools of persuasion are as simple as a wagging finger, and sometimes they are as complex as a belt-no-longer-on-dad’s-waist – but one way or another, as a parent, making converts of your children (away from their selfish, sinner ways and towards a pattern of decency and respect) is numero-uno on your parental responsibilities list.
I could go on forever, listing all the areas where people try to win converts every single day (converting your wife to the belief that she should stop hogging the covers at night; converting your husband to the belief that you really do need those new shoes; converting your co-worker to the belief that he needs to get his own stapler and stop taking yours, etc.), but we must press on.
It seems to me that the unspoken offense that people who insist Christians are “always trying to convert people” are actually up in arms over is not that they believe any attempt at persuasion/conversion is wrong (if it is they are simply great big hypocrites, as just discussed), but that they feel that Christians overstate our case and end up becoming (or at least seeming) too pushy. I can sympathize with this – I hate feeling pushed around. And I certainly have seen some very passionate “campus crusaders” who overstepped the boundaries in their eagerness to “win souls for Christ”. I have seen preachers so eager to play a numbers game in their church that they pressure people into making a “commitment to Christ” and rush them up to the altar for an impromptu baptism, never to notice that for every person dragged up for an altar call ten more are escaping out the back doors and running as fast as they can from what they have seen of “Christianity”, never to look back and grateful to have escaped with their lives and dignity intact. It is practices like this that our Lord condemned in Matthew 23:15 (and no, I’m not going to quote it for you – I wouldn’t be a very good Christian blogger if I didn’t get you to open your Bible once in a while, would I?).
In sum, to be antagonistic towards Christians because we seek to be persuasive is to adopt a double standard and fall into hypocrisy. On the other hand, Christians need to be aware that we can – like all humans – get carried away in our excitement, which in our case is excitement about the good news of Jesus Christ, and end up driving people away in droves, the very opposite of our goal. More on this in part 3.
#3 – Is trying to convert people a bad thing?
Finally, we must address the issue of whether trying to convert people is a bad thing. Given that we just spent a significant amount of time showing that everyone tries to convert others to one belief set or another on a daily basis, I think one example here should say it all.
Suppose a war broke out in your country. Now suppose that you have received word from a very reliable source that the area where you live was going to be the target of the next atomic bomb detonation. Suppose you were the only one in your town who knew about the impending nuclear explosion. A train has entered town, bound for an underground bunker hundreds of miles away that will shelter you from the blast and the fallout. In it there is food, water, and safety. Suppose you had 24 hours to board the train before it left for the bunker, never to return.
What would you do?
Would you board the train, never saying a word to anyone? Would you leave behind all the poor souls who never heard that the end is near? Would you, when you have the power to witness to them about the coming destruction and the hope of safe harbor, allow them to die?
Or would you not run through town, shouting at the top of your lungs, proclaiming it all in its horror and its hope to the townsfolk around you? Would you not tell friends, acquaintances, strangers, and even your enemies, so that by chance some may believe and be saved?
This scenario has a bit of a precedent, you know. Genesis records the story of Noah and the flood that wiped out the entire human population, save eight. I don’t know if Noah witnessed to those men around him about the coming cataclysm, but my guess is he did.
What we Christians have in this life is the same opportunity as in my hypothetical example. We have sure news that judgement is coming soon. We know that no one who is not on that train, that is, Christ, will survive. And we have a hope of life – one that is far greater than some subterranean tomb – and of eternal joy in the presence of God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, in the final analysis, is trying to convert people a bad thing?
Not on your life.
*There are many kinds of witnessing, but what I primarily mean here is the classic “telling people verbally about Christ” type of witnessing (as opposed to the silent type of witnessing where we simply exhibit Christ-like love in our everyday vocations) because you are more likely to run into the type of statement we are examining in situations where there is actual verbal conversation taking place, i.e. verbal witnessing.
**For a study on how the Apostles themselves sought to persuade their hearers, see Acts 2:14-41; 3:12-4:4; 9:20-22; 17:22-34; ch 22; 26:28-29 (and preceding vv); 28:17-24 (or just read the whole thing – it’s full of this stuff) —> also, the book of Hebrews itself is one giant attempt at such persuasiveness.
***The more I write, the more the word “conversion” seems disingenuous – though I’m not completely sure why. Could it be that this word, like “Christian”, has accumulated its fair share of baggage as well? All the same, it is a Biblical word (Acts 15:3) and I will continue to use it.