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Monday, April 29, 2013

Answering an Atheist Objection to Prayer.


  The formula for the classic straw-man attack is twofold: start with a misunderstanding/misrepresentation of your opponent's position and then lay into that "straw-man" with everything you have.

    And, as far as I'm concerned, no religious practice has been the object of more uncritical, simpleminded straw-man attacks than that of prayer.

  A typical atheist attack on prayer goes something like this:

       (P1.) -- The Bible says that if you pray for something with faith and sincerity, you'll receive whatever you ask for. (Matt. 7:7, 17:20, 18:19, 21:21; Mark 11:24; John 14:12-14; James 5:15-16)
       (P2.) -- People pray with faith and sincerity for many things and yet do not receive them.
       (P3.) -- Therefore, prayer according to the Bible does not work.

  The conclusion follows logically from the premises, therefore if a Christian is to deny the conclusion (which we do) then we must show the invalidity of one of the premises.

  The flaw of this argument is in ignoring the qualifications given in Scripture as to who can pray so as to get what they ask and and what kind prayers will be answered.

  In his 1920's classic "The Power of Prayer", preacher Reuben Archer Torrey makes a biblical case for who can pray to God so as to have their prayers answered in the affirmative.

Firstly, God answers the prayers of those who keep his commandments:

     If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God  and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. -- 1 John 3:20-22

  Here John expounds on Jesus' words in John 14:12-14 and other places in the Gospels, explaining why the Christian has confidence in making his petitions known to God and having them answered with  a "yes", going further in verse 23 to explain what exactly is the command of God:

  And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

  As a rule, trusting in Jesus Christ and loving our neighbor are necessary components for receiving affirmative answers to prayer.  
  Secondly, focusing on the last part of the verse, Torrey notes that God answers the prayers of those who do what pleases him.

  Christianity is not a rote system of detached obedience and as we live a life pleasing to God we have confidence before God in prayer. 

  Now this is likely to make some Christians squirm.

  Are you saying that if I'm backslidden or struggling with sin that God won't answer my prayer??

  Not at all.

  Nor am I saying that you have to perform a certain amount of good deeds in order to get God to pay attention to you.

What I'm saying is that you cannot expect God to answer give you what you ask while you refuse to love your neighbor and do what is pleasing to him.

  There are always exceptions to the rule, but my job is to preach the rule since only God knows the exceptions.

  Furthermore, the first premise ignores what kind of prayers will be answered, namely, prayers that are according to God's will. (1 John 5:13-15; Psalm 37:4)

 In addition, Torrey gives a list 8 of hindrances to prayer, all stemming from a lack of loving our brother and obeying God. 

1. Wrong Motives in Prayer (1 John 5:13-15; James 4:1-4).
2. Sin in the Heart or Life (Isaiah 59:1-2; Psalm 66:18)
3. Idols in the Heart. (Ezekiel 14:1-3)
4. An Unforgiving Spirit (Mark 11:25-26)
5. Stinginess in Our Giving (Proverbs 21:13; Luke 6:38)
6. Wrong Treatment of Husband or Wife (1 Peter 3:7)

  What are we to make of all this?

  I want to again emphasize that I'm not saying that we have to be perfect in order to have our prayers answered.

  But know as long as we persist in sin, we should not expect to receive what we ask for from God.

   When ALL that the Bible has to say about prayer is brought into the discussion, we see that premise one of the deductive argument is overly simplistic and not totally accurate, thus rendering the argument invalid.

  I say all of this to correct Christian misunderstandings of prayer as much as atheist ones.

  The definition of prayer is not "asking God for something", but when we do ask, we who are walking with God have confidence that He will hear us.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I AM HE: An Answer for the Jehovah's Witnesses as to the Status of Jesus' Deity.

   Once again the Judeans picked up rocks in order to stone him. Yeshua answered them, “You have seen me do many good deeds that reflect the Father’s power; for which one of these deeds are you stoning me?” The Judeans replied, “We are not stoning you for any good deed, but for blasphemy — because you, who are only a man, are making yourself out to be God.” -- John 10:31-33 (Complete Jewish Bible)


  Since the Lord Jesus Christ walked the earth preaching and teaching some 2000 years ago, there have been those who refuse to accept his radical identification with the being of God and the clear teaching of his Word on the subject of his deity.

  I echo Alexander Campbell's words on the severe implications of the denial of this doctrine:

Surely, then, those professors that annihilate the sufferings of Christ as an atoning sacrifice, and reduce him to a mere man, or a mere angel, or some other kind of creature than the Word that was God and became incarnate, are propagating views more fatal to God’s corner stone, than the opinion that circumcision and the law of carnal ordinances ought to be superadded to the gospel to the Gentiles as a proper introduction to the Christian church.

   My concern in this post is not with the myriad of religions which deny the divinity of Christ, but with the adherents of that peculiar American religion from whom we've all hidden from behind our living room furniture one time or another: the Jehovah's Witnesses.

  Indeed, the chiefest heresy among these supposed witnesses of Jehovah is the belief that Jesus Christ is not God, immediately disqualifying them from Christian status and cutting them off from salvation (John 8:24).

   Since the Witnesses profess belief in the Bible as the final authority in matters of religious faith and practice, we may ask what the Bible say about the deitaical status of Christ Jesus?

  First of all, Jesus is directly identified as God in many passages of Scripture such as Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1; and the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 9:6:

looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ JesusTitus 2:13 (emphasis mine)

Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ2 Peter 1:1 (emphasis mine)

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6 
(emphasis mine)

 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. -- Romans 9:5  (emphasis mine)

Other such passages include Hebrews 1:1-9; John 8:24; 1 John 5:19-21; and John 1.

More evidences of Jesus deity are seen in the frequent association of Jesus with the person of God.

Consider the following parallels:

The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear
allegiance.Isaiah 43:25
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. – Colossians 1:16

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,  ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”Exodus 3:14

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.John 8:58-59

Stir up Yourself, and awake to my right
And to my cause, my God and my Lord.
Psalm 35:23

Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” – John 20:28

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
-- Isaiah 40:3

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God,  as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”  “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.'" --
Mark 1:1-3

    In addition, we may deduce that it was Jesus whom Isaiah saw in chapter six of the book that bears His name (John 12:40-41) and Jesus whom Abraham saw in Genesis 18 (John 8[v56]).

   Finally, the Lamb of God and the Son of Man, both namesakes of Jesus, are the objects of religious service/worship which Jesus in Matthew 4:10 says is to be given to God alone.

   Speaking of the Son of Man, Daniel writes in chapter seven verse fourteen of his book, And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed.” (emphasis mine).

  In the Greek Septuagint (the Greek rendering of the OT) the word “serve” in this passage indicates the same kind of religious devotion/worship that Jesus said must be reserved for God alone.

  Furthermore, we see in the New Testament the following from Revelation 5:13-14, Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"The four living creatures said, "Amen," and the elders fell down and worshiped.

   While it is true that the Greek word used in this passage to denote worship (proskuneo) does not always refer to religious worship and sometimes homage paid to one of high report, it is hardly conceivably that when standing before the throne of Almighty God and the Lamb of God that every created being would do anything but give the most high and fervent praise that could be given.

   I think that all this when taken together is enough to convince the reasonable man of Jesus' Godhood.  

  I hope to write a little more on the subject of Witness theology in the future!