Favorite dish of the theological Left & skeptics: Shellfish

This is one of my all-time favorites bits, originally posted in 2007.  It addresses a very common argument used by atheists and those on the theological Left.  The argument they use is wildly illogical but never seems to go away.

I just added another response at the end that I can’t believe I didn’t put in the first time: The claim that Christians are inconsistent if they say homosexual behavior is a sin if they don’t also avoid shellfish, mixed fibers, etc. would mean that they anyone claiming to be Christian who complained about bestiality, child sacrifice, adultery, gay-bashing, etc. would also be inconsistent if they didn’t obey the Jewish ceremonial laws.  That is transparently false.  You should use this counter-argument against “Christians” making the shellfish / mixed fiber / etc. claim: Unless you also follow the Jewish ceremonial laws, then you shouldn’t advocate for any of your [allegedly] biblical views about government, helping the poor, gays, abortion, etc.

—– 

shellfish.jpgAs always, this is about careful thinking and proper analysis of the Bible and not about picking on homosexuals.  We are all sinners in need of a Savior.

Many liberal theologians, skeptics and pro-gay lobbyists use the “shellfish” argument to undermine and/or dismiss parts of the Bible they disagree with, often mocking about how they love shrimp and such.  They use the same reasoning with other Old Testament restrictions such as not eating pork or mixing fibers in garments.  This video by Jack Black is a recent example.

Their argument goes like this:

  • Yes, Leviticus 18:22 says Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.
  • But Leviticus 11:10 says, And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are an abomination unto you
  • Therefore, the Bible cannot be the word of God and homosexual behavior must be moral because the Bible is an undependable, contradictory book that equates shrimp eating with sexual immorality.  And people who teach that homosexual behavior is a sin are bigoted hypocrites who only follow the parts of the Bible they like.

Here’s a sample of how they present their conclusions.  Search for Leviticus shellfish or see sites like God Hates Shrimp for more examples.

The above exercise proves that anti-gay fundamentalists selectively quote the Bible. They enthusiastically and openly embrace those parts of the Bible which affirm and justify their own personal, pre-existing prejudice against gay people, while declining to become as enthusiastic about verses like the ones listed above.

After all, how many times have you heard a fundamentalist say that eating shellfish was an abomination? But they sure don’t hesitate to say it about gay people, do they? What does that tell you?

Actually, I find those questions to be ironic, because I think the facts will show which side is most likely to pre-judge, selectively quote the Bible and take it too literally.  I hope they take this analysis seriously and reconsider whether their premises and conclusions were sound.

On the one hand, their argument is effective because it is catchy and very few people know how to respond to it.  Many people can’t even articulate the simple Gospel.  When was the last time anyone read Leviticus?

On the other hand, their argument is ineffective because the facts do not support it.  Also, it deliberately and unnecessarily undermines confidence in the word of God.  I expect that from skeptics and non-believers, but I am always disappointed that those claiming to be Christians use it to attack the word of God.

The argument appeals to those who take passages literally when it suits them.  Both passages say abomination (or detestable, depending on what translation you read), don’t they?  And if eating shellfish is obviously a morally neutral act then homosexual behavior must be as well, right?

However, if you follow the basic principle of reading things in context and you attempt to understand the original languages better on difficult or controversial passages, then you’ll realize that the shellfish argument is not supported by the facts.

The short version: There were different Hebrew words translated as abomination.  They were used differently in the individual verses and were used very differently in broader contexts.  The associated sins had radically different consequences and had 100% different treatments in the New Testament.  

The longer version

1. The words translated abomination in the original Hebrew are different.  In Lev. 11:10, it means detestable thing or idol, an unclean thing, an abomination, detestation.  This word is typically used in the Bible to describe unclean animals.

In Lev. 18:22 the Hebrew term תּוֹעֵבָה (toevah, rendered “detestable act”) refers to the repugnant practices of foreigners.  As noted below, the word is also used to describe bestiality, child sacrifice and incest.

Therefore, the whole “same word!” argument self-destructs immediately.

2. Even a plain reading of the passages shows that the homosexual behavior is considered detestable to God, whereas the shellfish are to be detestable to the Israelites because it made them ceremonially unclean.  Those are key differences.  Being detestable to God is quite a bit different than being detestable to a person.

3. The broader contexts show completely different types of regulations.  Read Leviticus 11 and Leviticus 18 yourself and note the contexts.  I’ll wait here.

The beginning and end of chapter 11 make it clear that this passage is about dietary rules just for the Israelites:

Leviticus 11:1-2 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat:

Leviticus 11:46-47 These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.

Now consider the beginning and end of chapter 18, where the Israelites are told not to be like the pagan Canaanites.  God expected the Canaanites to follow these moral laws and was about to vomit them out of the land for failing to do so.  Therefore, they obviously weren’t Jewish ceremonial laws.

Leviticus 18:1-3 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.

Leviticus 18:30 Keep my requirements and do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them. I am the Lord your God.”

4. The punishments for eating shellfish and homosexual behavior were radically different.  There were about 15 things in the Israelite theocracy that could result in capital punishment, and homosexual behavior was one of them (And no, I’m not suggesting that should be the punishment today.  The punishments were for the Israelite theocracy, which is clear when you read the context of those passages.)  But eating shellfish just made one ceremonially unclean for a period of time.

Again, note how the moral laws with their steep punishments are tied to offenses God held the pagans responsible for, yet the unclean animal passages were for the Israelites only and were brief (It could have been for health reasons and/or symbolic reasons.  Animals on the ground were like the serpent and thus symbolized sin and pagan religions often sacrificed pigs).

 Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

Leviticus 20:22-26 Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.

‘You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those which I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.

5. The ceremonial dietary laws were clearly and emphatically overturned in the New Testament, whereas the commands against homosexual behavior (and other sexual sins) were not.   Also see Acts 15:28-29 (It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.)

6. The claim that Christians are inconsistent if they say homosexual behavior is a sin if they don’t also avoid shellfish, mixed fibers, etc. would mean that they anyone claiming to be Christian who complained about bestiality, child sacrifice, adultery, gay-bashing, etc. would also be inconsistent if they didn’t obey the Jewish ceremonial laws.  That is transparently false.  You should use this counter-argument against “Christians” making the shellfish / mixed fiber / etc. claim: Unless you also follow the Jewish ceremonial laws, then you shouldn’t advocate for any of your [allegedly] biblical views about government, helping the poor, gays, abortion, etc.

And if someone tries to play the “Leviticus is outdated” card, remind them of this verse and ask if it still counts: Leviticus 19:18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Remember, anyone calling themselves a Christian should be seeking to hold the same views as Jesus.  And Jesus fully supported the Old Testament law — every last letter and mark.

Here’s another answer from Tektonics, a terrific apologetics website:

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Aren’t there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

The point of this question – aside from the matter of not knowing what ritual purity is all about – is lost; if there is a sincere interest in knowing if there are “degrees” of abomination, just ask this simple question: Are there degrees to which things may be found “abominable”? Are the works of a robber baron not less abominable than those of a murderous dictator? In any event, if shellfish is a matter of ritual purity only, and homosexuality is a matter of higher morals as argued, then indeed, eating shellfish would have been a lesser abomination. (Indeed, the fact that the words used for “abomination” in both passages are different suggests that by itself. The word used for the shellfish is used only a few times in the OT, always of unclean animals, whereas the word used for homosexuality is used for things like bestiality, incest, and child sacrifice!)

So if anyone uses the shellfish argument with you, ask a few questions to see if they have really thought it through.  Everyone I have ever seen use it was either unaware of these responses or deliberately ignoring them. 

Also see Problems with Pro-Gay Theology and Responding to Pro-Gay Theology.

Helping teens respond to questions about their faith — part 4

My friend Edgar asked for my opinion on some questions from some of his Sunday School students.  I see the same sorts of questions from adults as well.  My goal is to provide some brief, concrete answers.  This is the last question (for now, at least!).

First, I think it is important to have a game plan with questions like this.  Whether answering a skeptic or equipping a believer to answer the skeptic, my goal is always to give clear, thoughtful answers that address the question and then point to the word of God as quickly as possible.  When in doubt, I’d rather someone read the Bible than listen to me.  God’s word made many promises* about what it will accomplish but contains no such promises about anything I say.

I highly recommend reading Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions to learn how to navigate conversations like these (only $2.99 for the Kindle edition — you can’t afford not to buy it!).  The burden isn’t all on you, and the conversations don’t have to be hostile.  There are many ways to ask polite questions to get people thinking more carefully and to highlight their errors.

Here is the fourth question:

How do you determine what traditions to follow from the Bible and which ones you don’t (i.e. women’s head covering, others)?

OK, I’ll be candid: This will be the weakest response of this series.  I just haven’t spent a lot of time on these things.  I think the short version is to consider the context and the principle behind the traditions / commands.  I’m going to punt over to CARM.org for this one.  I’m hoping that our loyal readers will weigh in with more!

The first question is why Paul gave these commands about head coverings and long hair. He did so because the way people wore their hair indicated in the culture of Paul’s day whether one was behaving as a man or a woman. In other words, Paul wanted to retain the distinctions between the sexes. This is a powerful word to our culture where differences between the sexes are routinely denied, and we commonly have gender blending and gender confusion.

The principle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 11:3 is male headship. Men have a unique God-given authority in the family and the church for leadership. Men are responsible to protect and provide for women, and women are to humbly submit to their leadership and to assist men in their leadership roles. Such differences in role don’t indicate lack of equality, for Christ submitted to the Father but was equal to him (1 Cor. 15:28).

The issue Paul addresses isn’t really head-coverings and length of hair in and of themselves. In the culture of Paul’s day a woman not wearing head covering in worship would signal rebellion against male headship, and in the same way a man’s wearing long hair would suggest that he was denying his masculinity. What matters in the passage, then, are not the exact customs, but the principle or truth communicated in the text. If a woman wears a veil today, it doesn’t suggest to people in our culture that she is rebellious.

We need to apply the principle of male headship and female submission to our culture today. We can apply the passage as follows. Men would deny their masculinity if they wore a dress, and a woman denies male headship if she did not wear her wedding ring or refused to take the last name of her husband.

Here is a truly in-depth analysis of the various interpretations of this passage.

I do think we need to take care when saying something is symbolic or a tradition.  Otherwise, people could abuse scripture.  The larger context of the universal differences between men and women are a foundation to work from.

* Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

** The three general types of pro-gay theology people: 1. “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong but it isn’t the word of God” (obviously non-Christians) 2. “The Bible says it is wrong but God changed his mind and is only telling theological Liberals” (only about 10 things wrong with that) 3. “The Bible is the word of God but you are just misunderstanding it” (Uh, no, not really.)

Helping teens respond to questions about their faith — part 3

My friend Edgar asked for my opinion on some questions from some of his Sunday School students.  I see the same sorts of questions from adults as well.  My goal is to provide some brief, concrete answers.

First, I think it is important to have a game plan with questions like this.  Whether answering a skeptic or equipping a believer to answer the skeptic, my goal is always to give clear, thoughtful answers that address the question and then point to the word of God as quickly as possible.  When in doubt, I’d rather someone read the Bible than listen to me.  God’s word made many promises* about what it will accomplish but contains no such promises about anything I say.

I highly recommend reading Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions to learn how to navigate conversations like these (only $2.99 for the Kindle edition — you can’t afford not to buy it!).  The burden isn’t all on you, and the conversations don’t have to be hostile.  There are many ways to ask polite questions to get people thinking more carefully and to highlight their errors.

Here is the third question:

How do you deal with questions around homosexuality? This is a tricky subject because this is a high school audience and sexuality has to be taught respectfully and with sensitivities to the teens and young ladies in the classroom.

This is a huge and contentious issue, and one that Satan is using to keep people from the faith and to divide entire denominations.  Many people use the homosexual issue as an excuse not to even consider Christianity.  That may tempt some people to gloss over the topic or misstate what the Bible says.

Yes, we should be sensitive with it, but when you consider about how aggressively the world pressures us with its false views I think we should be more bold in equipping young people about the details.

Make no apologies about what the Bible really says, because it couldn’t be more clear.  Bible-believing Christians and even two out of the three types of pro-gay people** (religious or not) can see these truths:

  • 100% of the verses addressing homosexual behavior describe it as sin in the clearest and strongest possible terms.
  • 100% of the verses referring to God’s ideal for marriage involve one man and one woman.
  • 100% of the verses referencing parenting involve moms and dads with unique roles (or at least a set of male and female parents guiding the children).planned
  • 0% of 31,173 Bible verses refer to homosexual behavior in a positive or even benign way or even hint at the acceptability of homosexual unions of any kind.

Then there is the question of love.  If you really love people you won’t affirm behavior that is spiritually, emotionally and physically destructive.

But do you have to convert people to your views on homosexuality before sharing the Gospel with them?  No.  Of course you shouldn’t water down the truth, but what you really want to do is share the Gospel and let God do his work on their hearts.  As I noted in this post, you don’t have to fix someone’s sins before telling them the truth about Jesus.  The point is to let Jesus do that!  We should approach all people with humility, because we all have temptations that we’ve given into.

It is easy to quickly affirm what the Bible says (“Yes, homosexual behavior is a sin”) but then shift to the Gospel (“But even if it wasn’t a sin you would still be a sinner in need of a Savior . . .”).

Don’t be shy about pointing out the lies of the LGBTQ movement.  People aren’t “born that way,” and even if they were that wouldn’t justify acting on the behavior.  Quoting the Bible doesn’t make LGBTQ people commit suicide any more than saying “don’t get drunk” makes alcoholics kill themselves.  “Same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron and those unions can never produce children or ever provide a mother and a father to a child, so the government has no good reasons to get involved in those relationships.

Make no mistake: The LGBTQ lobby wants to silence Christians.  Lots of us may end up in jail before this is over.  It may not be long until you won’t be employable if you don’t affirm the lie that the behavior isn’t sinful.

Here are some links that go into more detail.  This is a crucial issue so I encourage people to read them.  Feel free to use the PowerPoint slides if you like (I prepared them for a series of Sunday School lessons).

Problems with pro-gay theology  

Responding to Pro-Gay Theology  

Responding to same-sex marriage arguments

PowerPoint slides: Refuting pro-gay theology

Remember that if people are sincere in their questions and aren’t just using them as excuses to justify their rebellion against God then it is completely legitimate to let them do some of their own homework, such as reading a book like Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

If they don’t want to do more work or read the Bible, it may be pearls-before-swine time and you should obey Jesus’ command to move on.  Pray for them and perhaps God will make them spiritually alive in the future.  You will have done your work as an ambassador and an apologist (defender of the faith):

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

* Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

** The three general types of pro-gay theology people: 1. “The Bible says homosexuality is wrong but it isn’t the word of God” (obviously non-Christians) 2. “The Bible says it is wrong but God changed his mind and is only telling theological Liberals” (only about 10 things wrong with that) 3. “The Bible is the word of God but you are just misunderstanding it” (Uh, no, not really.)

Helping teens respond to questions about their faith — part 2

My friend Edgar asked for my opinion on some questions from some of his Sunday School students.  I see the same sorts of questions from adults as well.  My goal is to provide some brief, concrete answers.

First, I think it is important to have a game plan with questions like this.  Whether answering a skeptic or equipping a believer to answer the skeptic, my goal is always to give clear, thoughtful answers that address the question and then point to the word of God as quickly as possible.  When in doubt, I’d rather someone read the Bible than listen to me.  God’s word made many promises* about what it will accomplish but contains no such promises about anything I say.

I highly recommend reading Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions to learn how to navigate conversations like these (only $2.99 for the Kindle edition — you can’t afford not to buy it!).  The burden isn’t all on you, and the conversations don’t have to be hostile.  There are many ways to ask polite questions to get people thinking more carefully and to highlight their errors.

Here is the second question:

If God is morally good, all loving and kind, why did he command the stoning of people, or the annihilation of entire peoples (man, women, children, babies, etc)? Why does God allow evil at all?

This is a great opportunity to ask clarifying questions.  Typically, it will highlight that the skeptics know very little about the issues they are questioning.  They are often just repeating sound bites they have heard from Richard Dawkins and the like.

I encourage you to never dodge this topic!  At a minimum you have an opportunity to share this truth: God used the most evil act in history to bring about the greatest good in history.  Jesus was the perfect man (far beyond our comprehension) but was betrayed, given an unjust trial, brutally beaten and then nailed to a cross like a piece of meat until He died.  That was the most evil act in human history.  Yet it brought about the greatest good: The salvation of countless sinners who could never be reconciled to God on their own.  So never underestimate God’s ability to appropriately punish and redeem evil. (Hat tip to John Piper)

Then you can ask questions like this:

  • Who was stoned, and why?  Do you understand the context of how the Jews were set apart as special people and were to be a witness to the world?
  • Who was annihilated?  (No “entire peoples” were annihilated, and there was no genocide, though the inhabitants of the Promised Land were supposed to have been completely eliminated in a one-time cleansing.)
  • Why did God command the land to be cleared out?  (The skeptic probably doesn’t know that God had given them 400 years to repent, yet they continued to offer child sacrifices and more.)
  • If God were to eliminate every bit of evil from the universe at midnight tonight, where would you be at 12:01?  Remember, you would be judged based on his standards.  You don’t get to compare your best traits to your neighbor’s worst traits.
  • Do you want God to completely remove your ability to disobey him?  That would make a great prayer!
  • Do you think you are in a position to sit in judgment of God?  If there is a God, would we be in a position to dictate the terms and conditions to him?
  • Would a loving and kind God let sins like child sacrifice go unpunished?  (Young children were literally placed on burning hot statues to be killed.)

Those kinds of questions can provide opportunities to point to what the Bible really says, and can put God’s actions in perspective.  One of our biggest problems is always looking at things from our viewpoint, and forgetting that ultimately it is all about God and his glory — and rightfully so!

Remember that if people are sincere in their questions and aren’t just using them as excuses to justify their rebellion against God then it is completely legitimate to let them do some of their own homework, such as reading a book like Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.

If they don’t want to do more work or read the Bible, it may be pearls-before-swine time and you should obey Jesus’ command to move on.  Pray for them and perhaps God will make them spiritually alive in the future.  You will have done your work as an ambassador and an apologist (defender of the faith):

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

* Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Helping teens respond to questions about their faith — part 1

My friend Edgar asked for my opinion on some questions from some of his Sunday School students.  I get the same sorts of questions from adults as well.  My goal is to provide some brief, concrete answers.

First, I think it is important to have a game plan with questions like this.  Whether answering a skeptic or equipping a believer to answer the skeptic, my goal is always to give clear, thoughtful answers that address the question and then point to the word of God as quickly as possible.  When in doubt, I’d rather someone read the Bible than listen to me.  God’s word made many promises* about what it will accomplish but contains no such promises about anything I say.

I highly recommend reading Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions to learn how to navigate conversations like these (only $2.99 for the Kindle edition — you can’t afford not to buy it!).  The burden isn’t all on you, and the conversations don’t have to be hostile.  There are many ways to ask polite questions to get people thinking more carefully and to highlight their errors.

Here is the first question:

What do I say to an atheist friend when he says he can be good without God?

This is a classic question.  Remember that we know the truth about atheists: Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

So you can approach the conversation with the confidence that deep down they know the truth.  They can’t go three sentences without making moral claims that assume an objective morality  — that is, that some things are always wrong — e.g., torturing babies for fun.  Side note: Sometimes atheists will rationalize that some things are acceptable for perpetuating the species (rape, abortion, etc.), but you can eliminate those arguments by adding “for fun” to the deed in question. Everyone knows those are wrong — or if they don’t, you should probably leave the room for your own safety!

One of the techniques from the Tactics book is to ask questions such as, “What do you mean by that?”  So in this case you could ask the person what he means by “good.”  That puts the burden on him to define the terms, and he is likely to tip his hand by pointing to some universal moral truths.  After all, if there is no God, then the universe came from nothing, life came from non-life and it evolved to everything we see today.  Therefore, there is no ultimate meaning or accountability in life.  If you steal from or kill your neighbor that wouldn’t be immoral.  Why should you care if he thinks it is immoral?  He just evolved to think that way, but you obviously would have evolved differently.  Sound bites about “human flourishing” or the like just assume that human flourishing is a moral good.  But they have to prove that, and simply coming up with a new phrase assumes what they should be proving.

You could tell him that technically he could do some good thing without God, but he would have no grounding to say the act was truly good.  If Darwinian evolution was true, then real morality is a fiction invented by these random chemical reactions in our brains.  He may think something is “good” but there would be no logical grounding for it.

You can also point out that the existence of evil is proof of God’s existence, not the opposite.  Remind them that all sins against an eternal and holy God will be judged perfectly and that they can pay the penalty for their sins themselves for eternity or they can trust in Jesus’ sacrifice on their behalf.

You can also remind them of how they won’t be judged based on how their best traits compare to their neighbor’s worst traits.  Every one of their thoughts, words and deeds will be judged on the standard of Jesus — Romans 2:15-16 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Remember that if people are sincere in their questions and aren’t just using them as excuses to justify their rebellion against God then it is completely legitimate to let them do some of their own homework, such as reading a book like Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God.  If they don’t want to do more work or read the Bible, it may be pearls-before-swine time and you should obey Jesus’ command to move on.  Pray for them and perhaps God will make them spiritually alive in the future.  You will have done your work as an ambassador and an apologist (defender of the faith):

2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

1 Peter 3:15–16 (ESV) but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Summary: Can people be good without God?  Technically,  they can do some good things but they can’t explain how they would qualify as truly good in a godless universe.  And in a more meaningful sense, they aren’t good at all.  They need Jesus.

Romans 3:9 For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; 11 no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” 14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 in their paths are ruin and misery, 17 and the way of peace they have not known.” 18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” 19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

* Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Isaiah 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Is Christianity too narrow?

Shouldn’t there be other ways for God to save the world?  John recently asked if there were Too few means to salvation?

One common complaint against Christianity is the doctrine of exclusivism.  The teaching that there is only one true God and only one true religion is something some people just find objectionable.  Whether they find this to be arrogant, narrow-minded, elitist, or worse; they think the idea that there is only one way to God in order to be saved is distasteful.  But what if Jesus wasn’t the only way and there were more than one way to salvation?  How many would be sufficient?

It is a logical question to ask, especially in our culture.  Even many of those filling church pews each week sit in judgment of God and his word and think that the truth that Jesus is the only way to salvation is too restrictive (because there are “only” 100+ passages affirming that truth).  They are ironically exclusive in demanding that others be inclusive.

And of course, if Jesus isn’t the only way then He isn’t a way at all.  If Christianity — and Jesus himself — claimed that He was the exclusive way to salvation, then if even one other religion is correct then Christianity is false.  Those who claim the name of Christ while saying that other paths can lead to salvation should reconsider their views.

It is hard to imagine something more obvious than this: You must meet the creator of the universe on his terms, not yours. He starts off perfectly fair, giving all what they deserve. Then He becomes extremely unfair by offering grace to those who accept the sacrifice made on their behalf.

God is completely inclusive in the sense of offering salvation and forgiveness to all who come to him on his terms. Any type of sinner, any age, any culture, any gender, etc. is welcomed.

God is completely exclusive in that if you reject his terms then He will reject you.

1 John 5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Complaining that there is only one way to salvation is the height of ingratitude and another symptom of Romans 1-style rebellion and suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. If God offered two ways, then people would complain that there aren’t three, and so on.

Just get on your knees and thank him that there is a way at all!

One of the commenters at the link said this:

Of course, it is difficult enough to exonerate god for the behavior of god (such as described in the Bible).

He expressed the typically incoherent thoughts of atheists. They insist on the fantasy that the universe came into being without a cause, that life came from non-life, that life evolved to caterpillar/butterflies, elephants, humans, etc. and that there is no ultimate accountability for your actions. And then they can’t go three sentences without making moral judgments! If they were slightly consistent with their worldview they’d “know” that Darwinian evolution was the sole cause for all religions, including Christianity and my conversion from atheism to the belief in the evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. So why are they critical of the products of evolution? Why do they make moral judgments when they would “know” that there is no such thing as universal morality that and that we would agree with or even care about their standards? These Romans 1 poster children tip their hands at every turn.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

More bad news: You’ll be judged on the standard of Jesus, not by comparing your best traits to your neighbor’s worst traits. All your deepest, darkest secrets will be brought to light and judged by a holy and perfect God.

Romans 2:15-16 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

It is foolish and rebellious to think that you get to define whether God exists and what He must be like. Repent and believe while you still have time. Eternity is a mighty long time to suffer for your foolish pride. Seek God on his incredibly gracious terms and not only will your past, present and future sins be completely forgiven, but you will have the righteousness of Christ imputed to you.

Jesus — fully human and fully divine — came to live the perfect life in your place and to die for your sins.  That is worth celebrating.

Addressing a common atheist objection: “I didn’t get a good answer to my question about God, so He doesn’t exist”

This comment from an atheist on the epic Richard Dawkins / Wendy Wright post* represents a common objection of skeptics:

My troubles began when I was being prepared for my first communion. I asked our chaplain “who moved the stone” since the Gospels are contradictory. He could not give me a satisfactory answer. Then I discovered many other contradictions in time and place – how, I reasoned can any of this be offered as proof of anything – I still don’t have satisfactory answers. Can you answer me?

Many atheists have similar stories about how they left the faith because they didn’t get satisfactory answers to their questions. The Jodie Foster character in the movie Contact made much of that (though ironically the rest of the film was a testimony to the principles of Intelligent Design!).

But their conclusion is illogical. While I wish all Christians were better versed in apologetics as they are commanded to be, just because the person you asked gave you a bad answer or got defensive doesn’t mean solid answers don’t exist. These stories are perfect examples of why atheists give up all too easily once they’ve “stumped” an authority figure. It is more evidence that they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. There are countless places to dig deep into the difficult questions of life and Christianity if you really want the truth.  Check out any of the apologetics links to the right.

Romans 1:18–20 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 2:15-16 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

It is foolish and rebellious to think that you get to define whether God exists and what He must be like.  Repent and believe while you still have time.  Eternity is a mighty long time to suffer for your foolish pride.

So if you are an atheist, keep searching and don’t use flimsy excuses.  And if you are a Christian, study a little more and know of other resources to which you can point authentic seekers.  And don’t get defensive and give lame answers if you can’t answer the questions.

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* 400+ comments and counting, and that is without the many I’ve deleted for violating the commenting guidelines.  Every few months some atheist site links to it and I get tons of traffic, though not necessarily the good kind.