Tag Archives: Ravi Zacharias

Pluralism In Your Face

Editorial comment:

I’m not a political person. Faith means much more to me than politics. I do have strong opinions about the need to keep politics out of practicing and sharing our faith because equating the importance of God and politics is disrespectful to God. And it’s unwise. There is scriptural guidance in the form of an argument from silence—Jesus did not politicize His teachings. At the risk of appearing to taint this ethic, please dismiss the political and constitutional implications of the following material and focus on the core questions.

 

In potentially uncomfortable situations, most of us have some fear of rejection or confrontation that compels us to be silent about our faith. Thinking about it ahead of time can help overcome those fears.

Imagine that you are on the hot seat. Attention is focused on you, and your beliefs are called into question. How would you respond? (If you’ve never been in this position it might be good to ask yourself, seriously, “Why not?”)

Earlier this month, Russell Vought, an evangelical Christian, was testifying during a confirmation hearing, and Senator Bernie Sanders questioned Vought’s beliefs. The following two-minute YouTube clip captures the contentiousness of the incident.

For context, please read what The Atlantic has to report. Pay careful attention to the scriptural citations. If you aren’t aware of the context, you could be inclined more to an opinionated, rather than informed, reaction.

Back to the question. Forgetting about the political and constitutional issues and personalities involved, how would you respond?

Just in case this topic comes up at your water cooler or cocktail party, here are some thoughts to help you prepare an answer.

  1. The teaching of Jesus does not foment hatred, bigotry, or intolerance. Jesus said, directly, the greatest two commandments are to love God and love your neighbor. When questioned about whom He meant by ‘neighbor,’ Jesus taught the parable of the good Samaritan. Samaritans were held to be low-class people in the first century. By including them in the parable, Jesus made a clear point that His followers are to love others broadly and inclusively.
  2. As Christians, we believe the Bible contains the inspired word of God and is the final authority for faith and practice. We rely on what it says and do not have the liberty or right to make up our own brand of Christianity, or to cherry pick proof texts. There are many reasons, objectively and personally, for accepting the Bible as the inspired, holy word of God.
  3. Christians do not have the right to condemn people—we are commanded to love people—but God does have that right. If you really want to understand why, study the Bible. We, the created, are in rebellion against the Creator, and a holy and just God has a plan for the salvation of those who accept His complete sacrifice on our behalf. He has the right to condemn those who reject Him, as Scripture clearly teaches (again, read The Atlantic article).
  4. John 3:16, the most familiar passage of scripture in the New Testament, states, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” From this passage, we can see that God is loving and did not discriminate to whom salvation is offered. He offers salvation to the world.
  5. Jesus said directly that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to God the Father except by Him.
  6. The apostle Paul, who wrote half of the New Testament, taught that we are saved by our faith in Jesus, not by our works. While we all know people of every faith and creed who are indeed wonderfully good, salvation is by faith in Jesus alone. Again, we’re not free to make this up—it is directly stated in the Bible. Just because people are ‘good’ does not entitle them to salvation.
  7. Western culture is inebriated with pluralism. We resist anything that might impinge upon personal freedoms—such as a morally-based worldview. Pluralism by its nature appeals to a wide swath of voters and is therefore quite pragmatic in politics. But on logical and spiritual levels, pluralism comes up short.
  8. In logic, there is the law of non-contradiction, which holds that two opposite truth claims cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. “There is either milk in the refrigerator now, or there isn’t,” as Norman Geisler says.
  9. The world’s major religions ALL have opposing truth claims. The nature of truth claims is that they are exclusive.
  10. Christianity teaches that Jesus was crucified and resurrected from the dead. Islam teaches that Jesus was not crucified and therefore did not rise from the dead. Keep it real. Both claims can be false, but both cannot be true. The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14, “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty.” Christianity depends on the objective truth of the Resurrection.
  11. Hindus acknowledge multitudes of gods and goddesses. Buddhists say there is no deity. Muslims believe in a powerful but unknowable God. Christians believe that God is loving and personal. As Ravi Zacharias says, “The world’s major religions are not fundamentally similar and superficially different, they are fundamentally different and superficially similar.” Most advocates of pluralism don’t take the time to investigate the differences.

Pluralism may be good for getting votes, but it’s an empty and illogical worldview. Although I disagree with those who wish to cast Christianity into a cultural stew with the world’s other religions, my Christian faith compels me to love those who disagree. I wish we could at least all agree on that.


For Those Living in a “Post-Truth” Society: A New Book Co-Authored by Ravi Zacharias

Jesus Among Secular Gods, by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale.

Jesus Among Secular Gods, by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. Addresses issues that were missed in Zacharias’ earlier work, and geared towards today’s college student.

When I first read Ravi Zacharias’ book, Jesus Among Other Gods, published in 2000, others and I were encouraged by what we considered to be a very readable exploration into why Jesus Christ is so fundamentally different, in a society that is constantly exposed to conflicting and competing truth-claims. So impressive was the book, that our church made a united effort to bring Ravi Zacharias to our church, and the campus of the College of William and Mary, for a weekend of messages, followed by dynamic public question and answer sessions.

Though I still highly recommend Jesus Among Other Gods, I personally felt that the book lacked something important. Zacharias was great at showing the contradictions between various religious worldviews, but he did not adequately address the question of how one is to live in a world, where such conflicting truth-claims exist in the first place. It is one thing to consider the particular truth-claims of different religions. But why even chose any particular worldview at all? Why not just accept them all?

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, 2000.

Jesus Among Other Gods, by Ravi Zacharias, 2000.

For example, so many Christians enter into a relationship with someone who is a professing Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu, with the idea that the other person is “Evil Incarnate.” However, these Christians are often confused when they soon realize that their new Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu friend, is often really a nice person. Are then all religions somehow “true?” An informed response is needed to this question.

Oxford Dictionaries named the term “post-truth” as the 2016 word of the year. So, it is absolutely crucial that Christians begin to more clearly think through the relationship between “truth” and the Gospel, and start having better conversations with our neighbors about these issues.

That is why I am really excited by a new book co-authored by Ravi Zacharias, and fellow associate apologist, Vince Vitale, Jesus Among Secular Gods. With chapter titles such as “Atheism,” “Scientism,” “Pluralism,” “Humanism,” “Relativism,” “Hedonism,” and “Love the Truth,” Jesus Among Secular Gods has great potential to be a great discussion starter among our neighbors.

Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale travel the world, speaking before audiences, sharing their faith and answering objections to the Gospel of Christ, through Ravi Zacharias International Ministries.  Zacharias is featured on a weekly syndicated radio program, Let My People Think. Below is a 12-minute discussion about the new book. I have not read the book yet, but if you have, please share your review in the comments section below!


Keeping It Real

Personal Discipleship Week 2

Click on the images inside this file to link to the online resources. (You may need to adjust your browser settings to allow the links to work, or open it in iBooks, or save it to your desktop and open it with Acrobat Reader.)

(Note: For those interested in the calculations for the precise dating of the first Easter, here is the link to the paper Dr. Ken Petzinger shared with our Personal Discipleship class.)

Truth is not relative. Truth is not—as Ogden Nash so eloquently wrote—that “people believe what they believe they believe.” Truth is not dogma. It is not—as Ravi Zacharias argues—logically inconsistent, empirically inadequate, or experientially irrelevant. Truth is incredibly important. Truth is the reason Jesus Christ was born and came into the world.

“In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.”
John 18:37c (NIV84)

Okay, okay…Why spend time studying ‘truth’? People who harp on ‘truth’ make me nervous (and sometimes nauseous). Sometimes dangerous ideologies are launched on malformed or manipulative notions of truth. Got it. But objective truth is the proper basis for personal discipleship. Without objective truth, the door is open to wield the Bible as a weapon, perverting the very purpose of Divine revelation. Without objective truth one can hold up the Bible and say with a clear conscience, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” (New Testament scholar Daniel Wallace calls this attitude “bumper sticker theology.”) Among many other problems, that approach has a glaring flaw—an inherent internal focus. In other words, “that settles it (for me).”

Those who ascribe to a “that settles it (for me)” approach to the Bible tend to miss the beauty that comes from understanding how well it can withstand objective, historical, logical, philosophical, and (yes) scientific scrutiny. It takes a great deal of effort to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12), but the juice is worth the squeeze.

We don’t tell people what to think on Veracity, but we’re not afraid to share opinions. Rather than sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring challenges to the Bible and the Christian faith, why not take a hard look at these challenges and study the appropriate responses? Could it be that the reason some Christians are unwilling to address atheistic or skeptical objections is that, deep down, they fear the answers might be inadequate? Why upset the applecart when it is settled (for me)? Could it be laziness or complacency?

With objective truth as the basis for personal discipleship, our studies can become rich and full of awesome discoveries. Without it we’re apt to flounder, or even end up spiritually bankrupt. Okay, enough of my testimony.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is beautiful and true, yet oftentimes one will ask, “How can it be true that there is only one way?” Odd, isn’t it, that we don’t ask the same questions of the laws of nature or of any assertion that lays claim to truth. We are discomfited by the fact that truth, by definition, is exclusive. That is what truth claims are at their core. To make an assertion is to deny its opposite. Rather than complain that there is only one way, shouldn’t we be delighted that there is one way?”
Ravi Zacharias, Think Again – Deep Questions, 28 August 2014

In addition to J. Warner Wallace’s excellent video on The Case For Truth, there are two essays I would recommend for anyone interested in personal discipleship. The first is a brief blog post by Ravi Zacharias entitled “Deep Questions.” The second is a paper delivered by J.P. Moreland at the Evangelical Theological Society, November 18, 2004. Click on the images below to read these essays.

Ravi-Zacharias: Truth

J. P. Moreland: Truth


Politics and the Christian Faith

Political Family

“My opponent is a #^&@)*g.  You know he’s a #^&@)*g because here’s a picture of him frowning with his finger near his nose.  (Cue the pleasant music)  Here’s a picture of me smiling with my family and our dogs.  I will be good for you, and I will be good for your wallet.  You can tell I am a true patriot.  I am your non-#^&@)*g candidate, and I approved this message. (Smile)”

Welcome to the predominant success formula on the American political landscape. To get elected candidates discredit their opponent—by striking fear in voters that there is something really wrong with the other guy. Political handlers believe that American voters have short attention spans. There isn’t enough time in a 30-second spot to address substantive issues or ideas—but we can absorb short, memorable sound bites that leave horribly unfavorable impressions of the opponent.

After being bombarded with political rhetoric and campaign commercials in the month leading up to the midterm elections, I was hoping the election results would bring an end, at least for now, to this ugly parade of mudslinging.

But I received a troubling email this week. Not from a political candidate who caved in to his handlers, but from a seminary that, at the very least, has an increasing appetite to engage in political issues and debates.

So?! What’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t seminaries be engaged in the democratic process? After all, the right to free speech is protected in our constitution. The church is under increasing attacks from political figures and the culture in general. Shouldn’t seminaries prepare their graduates to engage and challenge the culture? Shouldn’t Christians be thermostats instead of thermometers? Why would anyone object to Christians being actively engaged in political processes? Some of these candidates are sincere Christians who truly want to serve their Lord and their country.

At the risk of disappointing family, friends and Veracity readers, there is something wrong with mixing politics and political agendas with the Christian faith.

Please hear me out. There are times when it is right—even necessary—to mix Christian values with politics. Consider the political activities of William Wilberforce (fighting slavery), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (fighting Nazism), or Martin Luther King, Jr. (fighting racism). These are three strong examples of when Christian activism was necessary and made an impact on our world.

But let’s be honest—it’s a long way from Wilberforce, Bonhoeffer and King, Jr. to the political candidates of the 21st century. So, how willing should we be to lock arms as Christians with political candidates or political agendas? Is that necessarily a problem?

The problem is that one institution (politics) is fueled by popular opinion, and the other (Christianity) is beyond popular opinion. Democratic politics is practiced successfully by appealing to the widest swath of voters, while negotiating compromises to build plurality positions. The objective in politics is to make a better world for ‘us’. The means are often ugly and combative. Christianity, on the other hand, is successfully practiced by appealing to God, who isn’t favorably impressed or swayed by popular opinion. The objective in Christianity is to develop a right relationship with God, by representing Him well and serving others.

An Argument from Silence

When we bring Jesus to the political arena, we risk equating our faith with our politics. The Christian faith compels us to maintain a certain integrity—by sharing God where it matters most, not necessarily in politics for political gain.

Jesus never attacked a government (although He certainly did attack religious leadership), and nowhere did He model that His followers should engage in any political debate, issue or cause. Jesus launched the ultimate revolution. He did call upon His followers to fight—not against individuals or governments—but against separation from God, darkness, evil and man’s own inhumanity to man. And what weapons did He prefer? Kindness, compassion, self-sacrifice, empathy and love. In fact, when confronted by Pontius Pilate at His trial, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36, ESV). When the apostle Peter drew his sword to defend Jesus in Gethsemane, Jesus said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53, ESV). Jesus was fighting a different kind of war, for something far more important than political gain. And He never promised that anything would be better in this world—”In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV84).

In the 1st century somewhere between 10 and 15 percent of the entire population of the Roman empire was enslaved. The Romans occupied Palestine and Jerusalem. Talk about political causes you could sink your teeth into! In fact, Jews expected their Messiah to be a king who would overthrow the Roman occupiers. So if Jesus wanted to gain the respect of the chosen people, all He would have had to do was take on the Roman government. But when Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:7, Luke 20:25, NIV84), we see the ultimate example of a big thinker. If they were looking for a leader to free the slaves, Jesus was way ahead of them—You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mathew 20:25b-28, NIV84). In John 8:34-36 Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

The apostle Paul got it. Paul had a lot to say about slavery, particularly as he addressed the idea that we are all one in Christ. His letter asking a slave owner to restore a runaway slave as a brother in Christ is as poignant as his instructions to slaves and masters in Ephesians 6:9. Paul ends these instructions by noting that God is everyone’s master in Heaven. There’s that big-picture idea again.

In logic, this type of argument is termed an “argument from silence.” Can we infer from Jesus’ own words and deeds, and apostolic writings, that the Christian faith is dealing with more important matters than politics and political ideas? Is there a principle to be applied in our own lives about our approach to politics?

Ravi Zacharias on Christianity and Politics

Ravi Zacharias recently wrote an eloquent post about Christianity and politics.

“Only Christianity is strong enough to preserve our freedom and our dignity. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ gives us the enormous privilege of sacred freedom without imposing faith on anyone. Those who mock this faith will find themselves before long under the oppression of an ideological domination that uses religion to gain political and cultural dominance and will not tolerate the mocking of their beliefs without cruel responses.

“History is replete with examples that politics never has had and never will have the answers to ensuring the perpetuity of a nation and the freedom and dignity of our souls. From the feudal warlords of ancient Mesopotamia to the divine status of kings in Babylon and Persia, from the democratic and republican ideas of Greece to the empire building of Rome, from the theocracies of Islam and the state church of Europe to flirtation with the idea of freedom without responsibility in postmodern America and the materialism of Communism—what has remained? A world in turmoil.

“Political theories come and go. Nations and empires rise and fall. Civilizations wax and wane. For this very reason, Jesus resisted any efforts to make himself an earthly king. The allegiance he wants is that of the heart, for the ultimate universal battle is that of the will against God. In Him alone are we truly made free.”
Ravi Zacharias, Think Again–Freedom and Dignity

 So What?

Back to Lon Solomon‘s litmus test. Back to Jesus and the apostle Paul, and bring it through Ravi Zacharias. What would I say to the seminary president who introduces a politician at a national Christian apologetics conference, and who has specific ideas about which political parties have made certain mistakes, and which legislative bills should be passed and which should be defeated?

Simply this. Your faith is of far more consequence than your political views, and (with all due respect) your Savior deserves better treatment than your Congressman.

You have a right to your political opinions, and you have a right to speak out. In matters of highest import I sincerely hope you will. But when you take up one politician or political cause and promote them with your faith, you put Jesus in a position of lower integrity than He deserves, and you invite questions about your judgment and priorities. Be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

So, promote the Gospel and promote Jesus Christ with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Let your efforts affect the political system most importantly through the votes of the citizens that you counsel and teach. Prepare them to engage this world and our culture, but more importantly prepare them for the next. Prepare them to recognize the shortcomings in a political system that succeeds by following formulas built on disdain for people who think differently than we do.

As Ravi Zacharias wrote, “History is replete with examples that politics never has had and never will have the answers to ensuring the perpetuity of a nation and the freedom and dignity of our souls.” Christianity should remain above politics.

 Additional Resources

Relevant Magazine (yes, Relevant Magazine has fresh, insightful material) published a piece by contributing author Brian Roberts entitled 7 Things Christians Need to Remember About Politics that we would all do well to heed.


Podcasts for the Thinking Christian

Plumb LineJohn’ s recent post on William Lane Craig’s Defender Series of podcasts brought to mind that I should update my list of recommended podcasts for the thinking Christian (here is an earlier list John and I have discussed).  I do not have the time to read books as much as I would like, but the marvel of MP3 players is that I can download audio files and listen to them while I work in the yard or drive to and from work.

John’s suggestion of William Lane Craig as the “graduate school” for the next step following after Dick Woodward’s Mini Bible College is very appropriate. Dick was an amazing teacher who continues to impact the world through his unique ability to “put things on the bottom shelf” for people by exploring the basic contours of the Bible. Dr. Craig then makes it more in-depth in terms of helping you grasp and develop your own understanding of God (theology) founded on Scripture and then applied in terms of being able to offer a rational defense of the Christian faith (apologetics).

But just as there are fine and different academic graduate schools out there, there are different “graduate school” approaches to theology and apologetics. For example, Dr. Craig is probably one of the leading Christian apologists alive today, such that atheist Richard Dawkins awkwardly still refuses to debate him. But Dr. Craig is known for his “Middle Knowledge” approach to the issue of God’s sovereignty vs. free will. He is also known for his classical/evidentialist approach to apologetics.  Without digging too much into those things right now, let me just say that not everybody is totally with Dr. Craig on these issues. But, PLEASE, do not let that dissuade you from digging into William Lane Craig! He is awesome! It is just important to know that there are other approaches that Christians take to these issues. You might want to check out some of the other podcast resources available to get a flavor of what is out there. So here we go!

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