So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 3: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

In this installment, I want to go a little deeper into the issue of God’s power. God is called “almighty” fifty-eight times in the Bible, forty-eight in the Old Testament and ten in the New. Historically, this has been taken to mean that God has the power to do anything that power can do. If you are collecting nerdy theological terms, this is called “omnipotence.”

Some have tried to challenge this belief with questions like, “Can God make a rock so big or heavy that he can’t lift it?” They think that whether you answer “yes” or “no” to this question, you undermine the doctrine. If you answer “no,” then there is something God cannot do, so he is not all-powerful. If you answer “yes,” then since he cannot move it, there is something God cannot do, so the doctrine is undermined. However, this is a silly challenge if you look a little deeper.

First, it is a logically absurd question. Remember I said almighty means God has the power to do anything power can do. What power cannot do is accomplish something that power cannot do. (Ya think?) Power cannot do the absurd.

Second, what would it mean for a rock to be too heavy for anyone to lift? It would mean it had so much mass that it had an irresistible gravitational attraction. However, such an object would attract everything else to itself. If all of matter were in one lump, what would it mean to lift it? “Lift” usually means moving in an “up” direction. However, which way would be “up?” Moreover, if such a universal lump existed, what sort of resistance could there be to God moving it? There would be no other objects to provide a gravitational attraction against the effort to move it, and no air to provide drag.

Third, what would it mean for a rock to be too big for God to move it? In this case, it would actually be possible for God to make a rock too big to move.

“Ah ha! See? He’s not all-powerful, omnipo.. omnibus… om nom nom… whatever you said!”

Not so fast. I said it would be possible. However, in order to make it, God could make a universe in which all that existed was the rock, and just enough space that the rock filled all of space. What is movement? It is a change in location in space. However, in such a world, since there is no empty space, movement is impossible.

“Wait! I clicked on this to read about God, not rocks!”

Fair enough. I think we’ve squeezed enough out of this. Let’s move on.

What omnipotence does mean is that the same God who made all of matter, energy, space and time can also do all the other miracles found in the Bible. Some have balked at things like Jesus’ virgin conception, the parting of the Red Sea, and the Resurrection because they don’t happen very often. Well, of course not. If they did, they wouldn’t be miracles, and they would prove nothing. However, if God made the universe, then a pregnant virgin or a dead man rising is not even difficult. And if he raised Jesus, he will raise you too on the last day. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians (that’s first Corinthians, Mr. Trump) 15:20-24,

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,  then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power.”

 

In my next article, I will address God as love, and (brace yourselves,) the Trinity.

So Now I’m a… Wait, Did Jesus Go to Hell?

In this series on the basics of the Christian faith, I have been using the Apostles’ Creed as an outline. A reader raised a question about the line, “He descended into hell.”

Just like when we read the Bible, sometimes it can be difficult to make sense of a term used by people in the early church in a different way than we use it now. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol was used to refer to the place or realm of the dead. Sometimes this is translated “grave,” or “pit.” In the New Testament, the Greek word Hades is used for the same idea. It was the place where all the dead went, though not all had the same experience. (See Luke 16:19-31.) All Bible passages that are invoked to support the inclusion of this line in the creed use the term Hades. NT passages that refer to the place of punishment use the Greek word gehenna.

Wayne Grudem notes that the creed was developed over a period from 200-750 AD. The earliest version to include this line did not appear until 390, and all indications are that it meant simply that Jesus had indeed experienced death. Moreover, the line did not appear in another version until 650. Grudem argues that the line ought to be dropped from the creed.[1] Even the Roman Catholic Church agrees with this interpretation as can be seen here.

The bottom line is, Jesus did not go to Hell, if by that you mean the place of punishment. He experienced death in order to satisfy God’s justice for our sin so that we could be reconciled to God.

 

 

 

 

[1] http://www.waynegrudem.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/he-did-not-descend-into-hell_JETS.pdf

 

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? Part 1: God

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

“I believe in God…”

At the most essential, basic level, a Christian is a theist. That is, we believe in the reality that God exists. Who or what is God? As Christians, we hold that God has revealed himself through special and general revelation. That is, we can know some things about him through nature and our conscience, and he has given us a written revelation, the Bible. We speak of God as omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, loving, etc.

“Omni-what? Omeprezol? Omnomnom… what are you talking about?” Ok, there’s that jargon again. Omnipotent means all-powerful. Omniscient means all-knowing, and omnipresent means God is everywhere at the same time.

It is hard to know where to start. I will start at the beginning and work from there.

Science and philosophy tell us that the universe had a beginning. Our universal experience tells us that everything that begins has a cause, so if the universe, that is all of matter and energy (material), space and time began to exist, it had a cause. This means the cause had to be immaterial, nonspatial, and timeless. Additionally, since whatever caused the universe to exist chose to do so, and choice is something only agents do, the cause must have been personal. (By personal, I simply mean having a will.)

“’Agents?’ Who, the feds? What are you talking about?” In this sense, an agent is a being that is able to choose.

Obviously creating the entire material world requires a powerful cause, and the design shows the cause to be intelligent. To summarize, philosophy and science can point to the existence of a powerful, intelligent, immaterial, nonspatial, timeless personal being. We call him God.

As Christians, we hold the Bible to be divine revelation. That is, God revealed himself though the words of the Bible. What we see from philosophy and science is consistent with what he reveals through his word, which is what we should expect since he is the author of all knowledge. However, in the Bible we are given more information.

“…creator of heaven and earth.”

Genesis 1:1 tells us “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” We see here that God is called creator in his word. Historically, this is understood as he created out of nothing. Theologians (those who study theology at an academic level) call this creatio ex nihilo. (The Latin is a freebie. It makes everything sound fancier.) In other words, he did not create the universe out of pre-existing material, but he created the very material.

The point of beginning with creation is that God is distinct from his creation, not a part of it or “one with” it. Some would ask, “Who made God?” If, however, they mean the God of the Bible, the question is nonsensical since we understand God to be uncreated. Another way of saying this is that he is self-existent. It means that there was a timeless state of affairs such that all that existed was God. It would also mean God is changeless. This state had no beginning and while it was the case, there was no time. Wait, what? Okay, rabbit trail time. Let me say something about time to make sense of this.

If we understand an event to be a change in the state of affairs, we can understand time to be the relation of before and after between events, as well as the duration of and interval between them. So when the state of affairs is such that all that exists is an unchanging God, such a state is timeless since there are no events. As such, the creation of the universe would be the first event, so that time is created along with matter and space. All this is to say that before he created the universe[1] God existed eternally, which means without beginning. In this state he is timeless.

We see above that the creation entails an immaterial, nonspatial being. We are told as much in Scripture. One example is Jesus’ words to the woman at the well in John 4, “ God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” (4:24) Spirit is understood to be immaterial and nonspatial. Moreover, Genesis 1:1, as well as John 1, which attribute the creation of all things to God, imply that God himself is not created. The only way something can exist without beginning is if it is self-existent. As Isaiah has said, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God.”

In this post, we have discussed God’s self-existent, unchanging, non-material, and nonspatial attributes. In my next installment, I will talk about God as almighty, or “omnipotent.”

 

[1] I know that is technically problematic, but for the sake of accessibility I will leave it be

So Now I’m a Christian. Now What? An Introduction

Welcome to the family! Coming to faith in Christ is a big deal. You’ve made the commitment to follow him, and you see others doing so with varying degrees of success, but how do you measure success? You already know Christianity is not a set of “do’s and don’ts,” but a life that reflects what we believe. There are lots of resources that will tell you how to do that, but it is helpful first to know what it is we believe, or are supposed to believe as followers of Christ.

In the following series of posts, I will offer some broad outlines of what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity.” I will be following a format stolen from…. I mean, inspired by Greg Koukl’s “Credo” talk,[1] in which I will cover the topics of God, man, Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection (the general resurrection at the end.)

In each section, I will explain doctrines that are largely agreed upon by most Protestant Christians. “Wait, what? What’s a doctrine?” As much as I would like to limit the amount of geeky jargon in these posts, some is useful. A doctrine is a particular set of teachings on a given issue. See how useful that is? “Doctrine” is WAY shorter than “a particular set of teachings on a given issue.” I will not go into much depth on issues of controversy on non-essential issues. My purpose is to explain the essentials.

In my next post in this series, I will begin to explore the doctrine of God. I will use the Apostles’ Creed as an outline. After Christianity began to spread and the original leaders began to dies off (or get killed in some cases) there were occasional disagreements that arose among churches. This led to leaders getting together to figure out what it was that everyone agreed was essential to the faith. By essential, I mean in order to be considered part of the church there were certain things you had to believe. It wasn’t about being exclusive or snobbish. It was simply so that others you hung out with knew you shared their beliefs. Some time during the second century AD, the church leaders came up with a basic outline of what Christians believe about God. They called it “The Apostles Creed.” They did not claim the apostles (those were the original guys that Jesus trained) wrote or dictated it, but that it was a summary of what they taught. For those of you unfamiliar with it, here it is:

 

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Amen.

 

It is my prayer that you find these posts helpful.

[1] http://www.str.org/articles/the-christian-story#.Vph0bZMrKV4

Born Again: Why Christianity is Not What You Think by Jim Barringer: A Review

 

The Author

Jim Barringer has a Bachelor’s degree in Education from Anderson University, and an MA in Biblical Studies from Southwest Seminary. He is worship and teaching Pastor at The Church of Life in Orlando, Florida.

Synopsis

The phrase “born again,” is taken from John 3:3. It has taken on a variety of meanings, and in contemporary culture it has gained some unfortunate baggage. Barringer seeks to help the reader understand what it really means and why it matters. The book is structured in 7 semi-linear chapters. I say “semi-linear” because there are references and connection between chapters that are coherent, but unconventional. This manages to avoid making the book confusing.

The author lays the groundwork by expositing the dialogue where the phrase first appears, notes that it is a mandate and not an option, and points to its centrality to our identity. He then demolishes the idea that there are good people (apart from God) and lays out our need for rebirth. After explaining the sin issue, he then spends the next three chapters unpacking the command to love God and others and what that should look like.

Analysis

Barringer does an excellent job making these ideas accessible to those interested in understanding the Christian life from conversion through the sanctification process right up to the eschaton. In other words, from joining oneself to Jesus, to the growth process, right up to life in the new heavens and new earth. Many books like this have been written, but few, if any, with this level of transparency on the part of the author. Barringer is refreshingly honest about his own struggles and failures in his life. It is good to know that even those in leadership struggle beyond the occasional “yes, I struggle too” thrown in as a formality. While there are a few places that a theology nerd like me might take issue, they are not nearly important enough to mention here.

Recommendation

This book is a must read for anyone who is frustrated with the christianese platitudes they get when they look for advice on the Christian life, or any serious seeker who is confused by the many voices competing for their attention. It is accessible for readers from middle school up, and intelligent enough for a PhD. Even experienced Christians can be refreshed and reminded of what is important.