Naturally in ministry, I have a lot of conversations with people at seminars, conferences, churches, schools, and the like. What follows is the accumulation of three different conversations that hit some of the main points people have when discussing Christianity and the Bible in our secularized culture.
I edited them together into one conversation and used a generic name for all three. Most of the discussions have occurred many times over with many people, but I organized it like this because these are among the crux points that people ask. The conversation often involves death and suffering, the truthfulness of the Bible, the character of God, God’s Word versus other religions, and sin and salvation.
Keep in mind these conversations usually go quickly. And although there is much to say, only a fraction of what you would want to say is permissible in short conversations. But take note that biblical authority plays a key role in the debate.
Bodie [B]: Hi John, I wanted to talk to you about something very important.
John [J]: Okay Bodie, shoot.
[B]: I wanted to talk to you about salvation.
[J]: What is salvation?
[B]: It means that you can be saved.
[J]: Saved from what?
[B]: Saved from your sin.
[J]: Hmmm, what is sin?
[B]: Sin is doing bad or evil things, like lying, sex outside of marriage, or stealing.
[J]: Why would I want to be saved from my sin? I like doing those things you listed. I’ve made a lot of money by lying and stealing—well, not that much, and I spend that money on sex outside of marriage with my girlfriend! But the point is that I like some of those things—so who says those things are bad?
[B]: Would you want others to lie to you or steal from you? Or would you be fine with someone else having sex with your girlfriend?
[J]: Well, no! I don’t want others to be like that, but I want to be like that. I don’t want someone trying to impose what they believe on my actions.
[B]: In other words, you want to be master of your actions, but you want others to be subservient to your wishes.
[J]: Well . . . yes.
[B]: That is called a “double standard.” You have one standard for others, and another for yourself. And whether you realize it or not, you have elevated yourself to a position of ultimate authority when you do this. But God is actually the ultimate authority on all matters—not you or me. But if someone really does think they are the ultimate authority, rather than God, then how would that person be able to save themselves?
[J]: Well, I’m the first to admit that I’m not “God”—at least I think I’m not anyway!
[B]: Since you rightly recognize that you aren’t God, then consider how God views you. With that, there is a great reason for you to want to be saved from your sins.
[J]: What is that?
[B]: The reason is because if you don’t repent (which means to turn from those sins), then God will punish you for those sins forever in hell. You see, God is the one who sets what is good and bad. It is God who sets what is evil and good. And it is God who punishes those who sin.
[J]: I was recently listening to a person who told me to get on the right path too . . . hmmm . . . New Age, I believe. He said that God was like an ultimate reality and we are all part of the endless sea of being where we are all a part of God. Is that what you mean by God?
[B]: Not at all, John. You are not God, like you affirmed before, and some alleged ultimate reality is not “God” either. The God that I’m talking about is the God of the Bible.
[J]: But how do you know that the ultimate reality is not the true God and the God you believe in isn’t the false God? I mean, who are you to judge?
[B]: Well first, it is not I who judges, but the God of the Bible has already stated that there is no other god besides Him. So it is the God of the Bible who discredits all other alleged “gods.” Second, if you understand much about this alleged ultimate reality, it says all is one, so there really is no distinction between good and bad as good and bad are both complimentary aspects of the same idea. This is often presented as the yin and yang concept and symbol and describes the universe as dualistic. Truth and falsity are also one and the same and have no real distinction. Furthermore, this ultimate reality is impersonal, and being impersonal, there is no way that this alleged ultimate reality would communicate with personal beings. So no one could really know anything about it for certain!
[J]: Hmm, I never thought about that. But now I must ask, the famous question that everyone asks about the Bible . . . how do you know it’s true?
[B]: I’ll be the first to admit that some Christians fail to answer this very well and sometimes even give the wrong answer, but the truth of the Bible is not a matter of what Christians believe. Would you follow me for a moment here and think about this answer?
[B]: What I’m going to do to answer this question is to first preface it. You know how we just talked about New Age worldview?
[B]: In New Age, truth really doesn’t exist as a separate distinction since truth and falsehood are complimentary parts of “reality.” In other words, truth really doesn’t exist in a New Age model. Furthermore, “knowledge” and having “no knowledge” are really one and the same too since there is no real distinction here either.
[J]: I think I see what you are getting at with New Age. They can’t answer the question of how we know something is true.
[B]: Yes, but it is actually more than that. They can’t even make sense of the question! In other words, when someone asks how we know something is true, they are assuming that truth exists and that knowledge exists. From a New Age perspective, you can’t really answer the question since you never know what is true or what you actually know. But when it comes to the Bible, it gives us a standard to make sense of truth and knowledge and to answer questions about what is true.
[J]: I’d have to take your word for it, as I don’t know much about the Bible.
[B]: Well, let’s keep going. The God of the Bible is the truth according to the Bible. Also God is all-knowing. But adding to this, the God in the Bible made us in His image, so we are capable of understanding truth and realizing that knowledge exists. So the Bible, that is God’s Word, makes sense of truth, knowledge, and the fact that we can understand the question in the first place!
[J]: Wow, that is pretty deep. I’ve never thought that way before.
[B]: So the Bible must be true just to make sense of the question.
[J]: Well, we looked at New Age, but what about other religions? Can they account for truth, knowledge, and why we can comprehend such things? Just thinking about it, we would have to know all other possible religions to say they can’t.
[B]: Actually, we don’t have to know all things; we only have to know the God who knows all things. And the all-knowing God of the Bible says His view is the only one that is right. With this, all other religions must borrow from God and His Word to make sense of these questions.
[J]: But there are other religions that say truth and knowledge exist.
[B]: But to do so, these other religions must borrow from the Bible. And many openly do like Mormons, Ba’hai, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on. Others have an impersonal god, which makes it impossible to answer the question of how we know something is true. This is because personal beings, like we are, can never really know the attributes about an impersonal god, nor would it be possible for that god to communicate to personal beings since communication is a personal thing. Virtually all of the religions that say “God doesn’t exist” or that “you can’t know if a God exists” are materialistic where evolution and millions of years are crucial.
[J]: I’ve been taught things like big bang and evolution. How does that fit with God?
[B]: I think most of us have been taught evolutionary ideas one way or another nowadays. First, big bang, millions of years, and evolution are aspects of the materialistic religions called humanism (in its broadest form). Basically, man has assumed that they (individually or collectively) are greater than God and presume therefore that God doesn’t exist. They argue for all of existence to be material (nothing immaterial or spiritual) and call for naturalism (nature is all that there is) to explain things. But there is a big problem here. If everything is material, then logic, knowledge, truth, and so on cannot exist either since they are not material! So they ultimately can’t make sense of questions about truth either!
[J]: I didn’t realize that I’d been taught a religion. I always thought I was “not religious.”
[B]: A lot of people are duped into believing they are not religious by people who don’t want you to believe that they are religious. An easy way to test if a belief is not religious is to see if it is compatible with the Bible. You see, if something is truly “non-religious,” then it should be perfectly compatible with any other religion.
[J]: Let me think about this for a moment. So humanism can’t account for answering the question either. That is pretty powerful. Okay, so if the Bible is true, which I’m not entirely convinced yet, then why didn’t God just make a perfect world in the first place instead of this place that has all these bad things?
[B]: Actually John, God did make the world perfect the first time! This is mentioned at the end of the Creation Week in Genesis 1:31 where everything God made was “very good.” We should expect nothing less from a perfect God since all His works are perfect according to Deuteronomy 32:4.
[J]: So all this disease and death and all these terrorists acts are part of an ideal world?
[B]: Not at all. In Genesis 3, we see man fall into sin—that very first sin—and that ruined this perfect world. The world is under a curse right now with the punishment of death due to sin.
[J]: So God didn’t make the world like this, but it has become like this due to a first sin?
[B]: Exactly. When Adam, that first man, sinned, the punishment was death. The punishment for sin is death, and the final result of sin is hell, which is an eternal punishment that is called an “eternal death” or “second death” from God.
[J]: But why do we get punished for something this first man did? It seems a bit unfair.
[B]: Well, John, we all sin too, don’t we?
[J]: Okay, I get your point.1 But why didn’t God do something about this if He knew it was going to happen? He is all-knowing, right?
[B]: God did do something about this. But not by just “letting it slide.” You see, the debt had to be paid. And He paid the debt at the right time, in His timing. Jesus Christ, who is God, came in the flesh; that is, to become a man and take the punishment that we all deserve for sin. This is why Jesus became a man to die on the Cross for what we deserve. Then He rose from the dead on the third day to clearly demonstrate that He had conquered sin and death.
[J]: Why did it have to be Jesus, and why couldn’t it be something or someone else—the Israelites sacrificed animals in the Old Testament right? Why wasn’t that good enough?
[B]: The punishment from an infinite and holy God is . . .
[J]: . . . an infinite punishment . . .
[B]: Yes. Only Christ, who is infinite, could take this punishment. Only He could take the infinite punishment from an infinite God on our behalf to satisfy the wrath of God upon sin. Animal sacrifices, for example, were only enough to cover that sin but not to satisfy the wrath of God upon sin for all eternity. These animal sacrifices point to the Lord Jesus Christ.
[J]: But how could Jesus receive and endure this punishment from God, when Jesus is supposed to be God?
[B]: There is one God but three persons in this one true God. This is what Christians mean by the Trinity—the Father, the Son (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit.
[J]: That seems tough to understand.
[B]: It is not as tough as you might think. Let’s do some analogies to get this point across. Though no analogy is perfect here. First, think of an equilateral triangle. Each point is unique and different and identical, and yet the lines for one point make up the lines for the other two points on this one triangle. Or think of a triple point of water. At a particular pressure and temperature, water is solid, liquid, and gas at the same time! Consider time—past and future all converge at the instance that we call present.
[J]: I guess it isn’t that tough after all.
[B]: It is as if God left a few hints of His nature on His creation that we can connect to what He has revealed about Himself in the Bible. But none less than those He cared about and made in His image—man. This is why Christ died for us to relinquish sin’s grip on man and set us free. He didn’t become an animal for instance, but instead He became a man.
[J]: Hmm, I’m starting to understand what that means now.
[B]: But there still remains the sin aspect that we first started with. We all sin because Adam sinned and now we do to. And there is only one solution to this sin problem, and this debt was settled by Christ on the Cross. The Lord now offers the free gift of salvation because of His love for us. One needs only to repent and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to start the journey . . . .
If you were John, how would you respond?