Archive for the ‘Evangelism’ Category

"Let there be no compulsion in religion" - Sura Al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:256 Is one of the most quoted verses in the Quran. It could be argued that the phrase was actually originally coined by the Christian apologist Tertullian in the second century.

Sura Al-Baqara (The Cow) 2:256 Is one of the most quoted verses in the Quran. It could be argued that the phrase was actually originally coined by the Christian apologist Tertullian in the second century.

This week at Flinders is Islam Awareness Week. It’s kinda like the Muslim Association’s equivalent of our Jesus Week which Flinders Evangelical Students held in August. So, I thought it would be appropriate to be aware of Islam (more that I am normally) by seeking to reflect on what is being communicated by our Muslim friends, and to give some responses and some questions from a Christian perspective. I will be making a few posts over the next few days.

What – or Whom – are we promoting?

One thing that has struck me in observing the activities of Islam Awareness Week is a key difference between Christian and Muslim ‘evangelism’.

For Muslims, what they are promoting is Islam. Their large glossy posters outline the things that Muslims must do, why their system is superior to others, how they promote peace and elevate the status of women, etc. In essence, they are calling people to a religion, a way of living, a belief system.

While they affirm a certain amount of propositional ‘truth’ – statements about Allah and his revelation through Muhammed – the heart of their religion is what they are required to do in order to be a true Muslim – ie. one living in submission to Allah. The path to peace and righteousness, acceptance by Allah, and a civil society is through the faithful observance of the arkān al-dīn, or ‘Pillars of religion’:

Shahadah: declaring there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger
Salat: ritual prayer five times a day
Zakat: giving 2.5% of one’s savings to the poor and needy
Sawm: fasting and self-control during the holy month of Ramadan
Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if one is able

This faithful observance, along with obeying the other rules of Islam, will (they hope) increase their Sawāb, or merit before Allah.

Good news, not good rules

By contrast, Christian proclamation is about calling people to a Person – the Lord Jesus Christ. There is a way of life that will flow out from a relationship with Jesus, but the focus is on a relationship with the Person, not the religion he taught. Hence, Jesus’ teaching emphasises that those who trust in him will know God as their Father, not merely a sovereign Creator.

When a person becomes a Christian they repent and believe – which is a far cry from taking on board a new set of beliefs or actions. Repentance is recognising that all my actions are actually like filthy rags, and that I can do nothing to earn merit before God – in fact my actions only bring me the condemnation I deserve. And faith is trusting that what I am unable to do myself, Jesus has done for me on my behalf, and he gives me merit before God as a free gift of grace (also known as justification). So, while the heart of Islam is the 5 Pillars – a list of what I must do, the heart of Christianity is the Gospel – an announcement of what Jesus has done.

This is succinctly summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4: ‘…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.’

Or in 1 Timothy 3:16: ‘Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.’

Or 2 Timothy 2:8: ‘Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.’

All of these are statements, using slightly different phrases, of what Jesus Christ has done for us, not what we must do for him. That makes a huge difference to how we go about evangelism. It is also, I believe, why Islam seems much more culturally bound to Middle Eastern and Arabic thinking and practice, whereas cultural diversity abounds within world-wide Christianity.

This different also has a massive implication for the seeker of truth. Even if, as our Muslim friends insist, Islam is a logical and rational religion; even if the Quran is coherent and unique and reliable; even if Islamic societies are peaceful, and a dedicated Muslim finds a sense of peace and fulfilment in observing their religion, none of that actually proves the truthfulness of the religion nor compels me to even begin to consider becoming a Muslim.

Islam cannot bring me into a personal relationship with God where I know myself to be His beloved son. Islam cannot give me the absolute assurance that my sin has been dealt with and forgiven once and for all time. Islam cannot save me from the burden of trying to make it myself, and to never be sure if I will be good enough. And Islam cannot give me a sure hope for myself or this world.

Only Jesus does that. The Person, not a religion, is the only one who can deliver. He is the Author and Finisher of my faith; all I can do is fix my eyes on him.

Ephesians 5:21-33

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband
(Ephesians 5:21-33 NIV)

Rosie and Jethro have chosen a passage of scripture today that is considered by some to be controversial. Many people have been shocked by a recent national survey that revealed 28% of Australians believe ‘women prefer a man to be in charge of the relationship’, and 19% believe ‘Men should take control in relationships and be the head of the household.’ Each of these figures has risen over the last 4 years – even if only by 1% each.

I don’t know a lot about analysing statistics, but that to me sounds like a minority – that more Aussies than not would disagree with the idea of male leadership, especially in a marriage relationship.

So many – maybe including you here today – may not sit comfortably with this Bible reading that speaks of a wife submitting to her husband. And it is no small submitting. It is ‘as you do to the Lord’ – in other words, in the same way in which she would submit to Jesus Christ. The writer, St. Paul, fleshes this out by saying that a husband is the head of his wife in a similar way in which Christ is head of the church.

We do not have much – if any – wiggle room here. We do not really have any other choice but to say either, ‘This is true, and a husband is the head of the relationship,’ or, ‘This is false, and we must discount everything else that this passage says.’

Our problem though, is that we do not really understand what ‘headship’ means, and what it looks like in practice. Because our experience in this world, sadly, of those in authority, is of failure, abuse of power, corruption and violence, we immediately are suspicious of any suggestion that authority is good – not just a necessary inconvenience. And we may especially feel uncomfortable with the idea that authority can be worked out based on gender. How dare someone stereotype men as ‘leaders’ and women as ‘submitters’?

However, if we look more closely at this passage, and seek to understand what is being said here, what we see is actually something rather beautiful.

Firstly, we should note that the passage begins with a call to ,’Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ This call is given to every person who considers themselves a follower of Jesus, and comes from an attitude of thanksgiving – just before he says this, Paul encourages his readers to be, ‘…always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Ephesians 5:20)

An attitude that sees every good thing I have as a generous, no-strings-attached gift from God will result in thankfulness; and an attitude of thankfulness will overflow into an attitude of generosity and humbleness towards others. So, it is a natural thing to expect that someone who has received from God, will likewise seek to give to, not take from, others.

So, both husbands and wives are called to submit to one another. It’s simply that their submitting looks a bit different.

Jesus once said to his Disciples, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ A Christian’s obedience to Jesus does not flow out of a fear of punishment, a threat of violence, or a slavish following of the rules, but out of Love. The relationship comes first, and is followed by the actions. No real relationship can be built just on doing good things. If we love a person, and desire the best for them, and want them to be honoured, then we will be willing – and joyfully so – to follow their desires, and do what they ask, and submit to their leading.

The Church – the collection of those who follow Jesus and know Him as their saviour – knows of the extreme love that Jesus has shown by going to the cross, taking their sin, and reconciling them to God the Father. And their response is a to love him in return, with a joyful, glad and willing submission, because they know that in doing so they find their true freedom and identity. This passage is simply calling wives to seek the same in their relationship with their husbands: a response of love that says, ‘I am willing to put my ambition second to yours.’

But notice that is is essentially the same as what husbands are called to do. In verse 25 husbands are to submit to their wives in a way that reflects what Jesus did for those He came to save.  Jesus – God in the flesh – did not aggrandise himself or seek to control, manipulate or dominate. Instead he lived in humility, loving and serving those around Him, and eventually making the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus put our own needs before His own, by going to the cross and taking upon Himself not only the punishment we deserve, but knowing in his very being all of the pain and isolation and anguish that we know because of our sin. Why did he do this? Well it says here in verse 26: to make us holy – that is, set apart especially for God, with a special purpose for existing; to cleanse us – that is, to remove all our guilt and shame and all that makes us ‘dirty’; and to present us to himself – that is, with the ultimate goal of a perfect, unbreakable relationship with Himself.

So the standard to which husbands are called is just as great, and often just as difficult, as that to which wives are called. And together, a husband and a wife are called to something much greater and nobler than simply having a partnership or raising a family: they are to be a reflection, an audio-visual display of the relationship between Jesus Christ and all who know and trust Him.

Jethro and Rosie stand before us today, and in doing so are giving us permission to watch them closely – not just today, but for the rest of their life together – and to see in their love and commitment, in their promises of faithfulness and cherishing, in their willing sharing of themselves with one another, a picture of the relationship with God that has been made possible by Jesus.

Paul makes a very profound observation towards the end of this passage. He reflects on the union of a husband and wife and says, ‘This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.’ (Ephesians 5:32). He is saying that human marriage – the beginning of which we are witnessing today – is meant to be simply a reflection of the true marriage – that between Jesus and the church.

God has written into the fabric of our humanity a parable that tells us of a much greater story than the story of a man and woman committing to be faithful for life. This story is of God Himself making a commitment – a promise to be faithful – to this human race whom He has created. This is a commitment that has been sealed in blood, and is the most reliable, trustworthy, securing commitment we will ever experience.

In this world, human marriages can and do fail. Husbands and wives will fail to love as they should, and will regularly break one or more of the promises they make at their wedding. But the promise of commitment that God makes to us in Jesus Christ is one that will never fail, because He will never fail.

So we are called by God – and Rosie and Jethro have agreed by inviting us here – to see in this wedding and the marriage to follow something far beyond just a new family being formed. We are called to see the story behind the story, and to answer God’s call to come, be loved by Christ, be washed and made holy, and to know and love Him as He has loved us.

Jethro and Rosie, this will happen in two ways as we, your family and friends observe your marriage.

Firstly, in the good times. When you find that your partnership flows easily, and submitting to and loving one another is natural; when you display to us, and to the children that God may bless you with, a faithfulness, devotion and commitment that says, ‘I made a promise, I will stand by that promise no matter what.’ In doing so, you will remind us that God is faithful, and worthy of our love, trust and obedience.

Secondly, when the tough times come. And they will come. Because one thing is for sure, you stand before one another today as sinners, saved by grace. And that means there will be times when the partnership is difficult, when you do not see eye to eye, when people may say, ‘I felt a bit of tension between Rosie and Jethro tonight.’ There will be times when you realise that you, or they, have let each other down, and may even be tempted to think, ‘They promised something at our wedding, but I don’t see them keeping to that promise.’

It is in those times that you can still communicate something to us and your family about God: that He is the God of all grace. That when we lose faith, he remains faithful. When we fail to keep our promises, he remains firm on His. That no matter how far or how badly we fall, there is never any second guessing abut whether He will forgive, heal, and restore.

You have been saved by grace, but you also live by grace. This wedding day is a gift of God’s grace to you, and your marriage will be by grace. As you live in that grace, forgiving, persevering, restoring one another, and giving glory to God in that, you will faithfully be presenting Jesus to us all. We all look forward to taking this journey with you.

Trembling, bewildered and afraid at the announcement of Jesus’ resurrection?

1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. ’” 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8 NIV)

Just as Mark gives a concise description of Jesus’ death, so he give a concise description of the resurrection. He is not concerned so much with the how, but the simple fact. None of the Gospels give us a statement on the meaning or reason for the resurrection; the writers seem to assume that this is obvious: Jesus is the Son of God, of whom the Father says, ‘This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased’; God’s chosen and anointed King who does nothing but what pleases the Father, to his dying breath.

The wages of sin is death (and all have sinned, therefore all die), but also God promises to vindicate the righteous and reward them with life. The Psalmist, quoted by Peter on the day of Pentecost says, ‘You will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your holy one see corruption.’ (Psalm 16:10) Because Jesus’ sacrifice was the culmination of all Jesus did in his God-pleasing life, the Father’s response to this action is to declare Him to be the Son of God and King by raising him from the dead.

Mark began his gospel, stating clearly that Jesus is ‘the Son of God’ (1:1), and his account of the resurrection is like him saying, ‘See, I told you!’

Marks original Gospel, I believe, ends with verse eight. 1

8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

To us this may not seem like a very satisfying conclusion, especially as we are used to Hollywood movies that end with a moving speech, a song, and the hero riding off into the sunset. However Mark, in his succinct way, is simply stating the facts, and the way he does has a ring of authenticity about it. If someone were inventing the story of the resurrection, and making it the lynchpin of their whole religion (ie. without the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus, the whole of Christianity is pointless), we would expect them to embellish the story to make it believable. Instead Mark records the authentic response of the women.

How would you respond after a traumatic weekend of seeing Jesus tortured and killed, expecting to find his body in the tomb, but instead encountering an angel who tells you he is alive? Would you immediately believe, or would it take a while for the reality of it to sink in? This was not just one miracle – the last in a long list of 3 years worth of miracles. Jesus’ resurrection means not merely that the man Jesus is alive again against all odds. It marks the start of a cataclysmic, history making, destiny forming, earth shattering reality of the establishment of the Kingdom of God. It meant the resurrection not just of one man but of the entirety of humanity. This will in turn mean a total renewal and liberation of the entire universe. The enormity of this had gripped them, and according to the NIV their response was, ‘trembling’, ‘bewilderment’ and ‘fear’ – three words which have almost wholly negative connotations for us. Yet they do not need to.

The word translated ‘bewildered’ is ‘ekstasis’ – ‘ecstasy’. ‘Fear’ is not terror, but extreme awe. And so their ‘trembling’ (‘tromos’) was not a disturbed trembling, but one of joyful anticipation, like a child may tremble as she stands before the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, or a contestant on X-Factor shakes with overwhelming disbelief as the panel of judges stand to applaud them.

‘They said nothing…’ obviously doesn’t mean, ‘ever,’ otherwise we would not have this account. Rather, it simply means they did not speak to anyone as they fled, as they had been commanded to report to the disciples. They were simply being obedient.

Marl ended his Gospel at this point possibly because of the purpose for which he wrote: it is thought that Mark was especially an ‘Evangelistic’ Gospel – ie. written not primarily for Christians but for non-Christians, who had heard the Gospel proclamation of the crucified, risen, reigning Jesus and wanted more background to the story. He leaves the ending somewhat open – as if to say, ‘What do you now make of all these events? What is your conclusion about Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of Man and the Son of God; who healed the sick, proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, and willingly laid down his life to be a ransom for sinners; who predicted both his death and his resurrection?

One writer has suggested that Jesus, his miracles and the resurrection simply give us useful symbols to help reflect on the paradox of life and death. However Mark presents his account of Jesus as historical fact, with geographical and biographical references to confirm this. If the claim of Mark and the rest of the New Testament that Jesus literally rose form the dead is true, as well as the implications it gives for the hope of our own resurrection and the renewal of the entire universe, we ignore Jesus at our peril.

So what is our response to the news of Jesus’ resurrection? It may be rattled off as one in a list of core Christian beliefs, and we may talk about it so often that we end up taking it for granted, and it no longer grips us with awe, ecstasy and trembling like it did the women. However we view verses 9-20, it is an indication that this reality of the resurrection captured the hearts and lives of the disciples, and that they were unable to contain the wonder of all God’s promises being fulfilled – being ‘Yes’ – in Jesus; what resulted was a revolutionary, world and history changing explosion of the Gospel going out to all nations. This is what we are a part of, and God calls us to continue to be part of this explosion.


  1. Verses 9-20 do not appear in the earliest, most reliable copies of Mark that we have, which is why many modern translations have it as a separated section. It probably indicates that it was not part of the original Gospel. The court is still out on this, and Christians have different views on whether it should be considered as 1. Truly Mark’s ending, 2. Not Mark’s ending, but still fully scripture, 3. Not Mark’s ending, and not fully authoritative (yet indicative of the early church’s teaching). My view is in line with no. 3, which makes verse eight Mark’s final words to this account of Jesus. 

This is something that Muslims and Christians must categorically agree about, otherwise both are being untrue to their own faith:

‘They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary”, while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with Allah – Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment.’ (The Quran, Surah 5:72-73)

While the Quran here gives an inaccurate representation of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, it nevertheless refers to Christians who claim Jesus is divine, a member of the trinity. The orthodox Muslim view is that Christians will end up in Hell unless they repent and confess ‘Allah is One and has no Son’.

‘Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.’ (1 John 2:22-23 ESV)
‘The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.’ (John 3:35-36 ESV)

The orthodox Christian view is that Muslims remain under God’s wrath unless they repent and confess Jesus as the Son of God.

From a Christian perspective, Muslims are not like the Athenians of Acts 17:23 who had an altar to an ‘unknown god’. Islam states categorically who Allah is and what He is like; it does not feign ignorance or an openness to being enlightened as to who this unknown God is whom they worship. Likewise, Christians can and should say very clearly that our God is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only true and living God. Muslims do not worship, acknowledge or pray to this God, but rather to a god of Mohammed’s own devising. To affirm in any way to a  Muslim that there is an affinity between our God and theirs is to add to their deception.

So don’t come at me with any of that nonsense about us worshipping the same God, just in different ways. Not only does it dishonour God, but it also dishonours your Muslim friend.

In 2012 I spoke at a conference on the theme, ‘The Word of God’.

Maybe because of our language and thinking for many of us this is synonymous with ‘The Bible’. However it is a phrase that is much, much richer than simply a volume of text. It means, ‘When God speaks He acts, and… God acts by speaking’ (Tim Meadowcroft).

The four talks are available as audio downloads below, along with the PDF here.

Talk One: God of the Word

Talk Two: Another God, another Word

Talk Three: The Word Who is God

Talk Four: Of God, the Word

On Thursday, August 22nd 2013, Flinders Evangelical Students partnered with the Flinders Uni Muslim Association to present a forum exploring the identity of Jesus.

Speakers were Samuel Green (Christian) and Abdullah Kunde (Muslim)

When we met with our Muslim friends to plan the event, we began by acknowledging that both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths. We were honest about the fact that we would like all Muslims to become Christians, and that they would like all Christians to become Muslims – in fact the two faiths are mutually exclusive. We were able to respect one another on this basis – because we knew that there would be no ‘hidden’ agendas. How can you be friends when you never know if the other is being honest with you?

The format of the evening was as follows:

A 20 minute presentation by each of the speakers on their view of Jesus. The aim of their talk was not to refute the other, but to present why they believe their view to be true.

15 minutes each for each speaker to pose questions to the other. This was an opportunity to clarify, and to raise any inconsistencies in the other’s presentation.

10 minutes each to answer questions that had been written down by the audience.

As you watch, I trust that something will become clear. The Muslim view of Jesus is not good news. Much of it is refuting those who believe Him to be divine. What is left is simply another role model, whose teaching has been lost (as Muslims believe the New Testament is corrupted, even though the Quran does not say this).  As Samuel says right at the end of his question time (1:43:00), how can you honour a prophet if you do not read his book? But Muslims cannot do this, because they do not trust the New Testament (Gospel) we have today.

By contrast, the true Jesus – as seen in the Bible and proclaimed by Christians – is incredibly good news. In Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, God does for us what we are unable to do for ourselves; through faith in his death and resurrection on behalf of sinners, we may come into the Father’s family, and have the assurance of sins forgiven, and future that is secure.

Jesus is not the bringer of Good news; He is the Good News. He does not bring a way of salvation, He is Salvation.

NOTE: Some names and other details have been changed or removed from the original message to protect the guilty…

Dear Mohid,

It was good to meet you again last week.

Your question was: ‘In our modern times, how is the teaching of Jesus important to us after we abolished many aspects of that time such as slavery and pedophilia? Aren’t we better off?’

My initial response is that, sadly, pedophilia and slavery are still major problems in the world today. Human trafficking and sexual abuse (often of minors) is rampant today, as can be seen by the information given by International Justice Mission –  http://www.ijm.org/. Because of this, Jesus’ teaching about love, justice, unselfish living, and protecting the vulnerable is still very much relevant to the issues we face today. Unfortunately in our sophisticated society, a lot of these human rights abuses, while happening in our own countries, are cleverly concealed, so that many are not aware of them. I would also say, though, that in nations where Christian teaching has been an important part of our culture, these things are not tolerated. Many non-believers who are protesting and acting against these things do not realise that they are working from a Christian ethic. (I dod not know enough about Islamic teaching to say whether this is also true in Islamic countries)

Secondly, I would say that the ultimate goal of Jesus’ teaching on morals and ethics are not so that we should follow them in order to make this world a better place (although if everyone did follow them, the world would be a much better place in many ways). Jesus’ teaching of God’s Law, as seen in the famous Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapters 5-7, is to show us what an incredibly high standard God’s law sets for us – such that even a lustful thought about a woman is considered equal to adultery, and feeling superior to someone is the same as murder. This in turn shows us that we cannot save ourselves by our own works or progress – since we constantly fail to keep this standard. And so Jesus’ ultimate purpose for coming – as Samuel presented – was to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves through his life, death and resurrection.

This is really the teachings of Jesus. He said in Matthew 20:28, ‘The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ So the Apostles (his followers who wrote down his words), were primarily concerned not with spreading Jesus’ ethical teaching, but the news of his death and resurrection, because it is through faith in Jesus that a person is set free to begin obeying the Law found in the Torah. The Christian teaching, from Jesus himself, is that genuine change does not come when a person simply decides to try to do good by following teachings. Instead, a person needs to be ‘born again’ – literally made a new person in their soul, by the Holy Spirit changing their heart to be able to trust in Jesus.

I hope that answer makes sense. Feel free to reply or to ask any other questions about the Christian view.

Kind regards,

James

Dear James

As you can see my questions are for both Muslims and Christians, and I don’t find them to be able to provide a satisfactory answer. Where Mariam was wedded  the age of 13 to Joseph of the age 90, or where Muhammad married Aisha at the age of nine. The big issue is that such acts were committed from people who were assumed to be the ultimate moral avatars for humanity. At todays measures, such acts could only be accomplished in the dark, and with our moral standards of judging these people very negatively.   

As for the standards  of God, to judge us so harshly for “lustful thoughts” which are encrypted in our survival instincts by god himself displays a major flaw of design. Why would God create us and our survival to depend on such thoughts when it’s a sinful act?. This could easily be said for muslims as well who would stone adulterers who would angry god, yet God would reward them with 72 virgins.

Both religions have existed a long time ago. Both advised to kill for god, rape for god (slavery), hate for god, give money for god, idolise current living men as connected to god (shikh or clergy), stoning, beheading, and the list keeps going countless. Aren’t we better to say no god would ever say such a thing?

Thanking you for your kindness and time. Again you display to me how kind and thoughtful you are after all these years.

Highest regards

Mohid

Dear Mohid

Thanks for your response, and I can understand your difficulties.

I would have to be honest, though, and point out that the issue of pedophilia is only a concern for Islam, as none of the prophets in the Bible were married to children (the Gospel does to mention the age of Mary (Miriam)). Jesus himself taught that ‘causing a little one to stumble’ – which could be understood to include sexual abuse – was a heinous crime, and that it would be better for the perpetrator to have a large stone tied around their next and be thrown into the sea! 

In the Torah, Prophets, Psalms and Gospels, none of the prophets are held up as models of moral perfection for us to follow. All of them, except for Jesus, are example of sinful human beings who, just like us make terrible mistakes and who need to depend on God’s grace and mercy. So we are to follow their example in repenting (turning from our sin) and trusting in God.

The Christian view of instincts – or ‘desires’ – is that while God created human beings (Adam) perfect, with only good desires, we have become corrupt, and sinful by nature. That means that desires that were designed by God for good, like being sexually attracted to our wife, have become distorted, so that we think lustful thoughts about women who are not our wife. This is not strictly how God created us; it is how we have become because of our sinfulness. We can blame no-one but ourselves for this.

And so the harsh penalty is given, not to say, ‘Every society in every place should adopt these laws,’ but rather to highlight the serious nature of sin, and the fact that sin is a matter of the heart. 

What I mean is, every sin starts with a desire. We want to do something, and so we end up doing it. Jesus himself said, 

‘”Whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled.” Thus he declared all foods clean. And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”‘ (Mark 7:18-23)

So the reason God judges us harshly, is to highlight our desperate need for reconciliation with Him, and this reconciliation is found in Jesus. So the One who judges us so severely is also the one who loves us so greatly that He sent His only Son for us.

James

'Who do you say I am?' Views of Jesus at Flinders University

sneak preview of the talk I am about to give 2-4 times these two weeks as part of Jesus Week – ‘Meet the Real Jesus’ at Flinders Uni:

Text: Mark 8:27-38

The concept of God judging is not a palatable idea for many people. It’s the reason why some people reject all forms of religious belief altogether, saying, ‘I can’t believe in a God who will send me to Hell simply for not believing in Him,’ or, ‘God would be a moral monster if he demands that we meet such an unreachable standard, and then sends us to hell if we fail.’

Yet regardless of what intellectual conclusions we make, there is an undeniable reality that human beings have sense of justice, fairness, and an innate desire to see evil and wrongness corrected. If this were not the case, I would have no basis for rejecting or refuting the Christian belief in God as Judge. If I reject the idea of God because, in my view, God is unjust, I am betraying my implicit belief in and desire for truth and justice by saying God does not meet my standard of what is good and right and fair.

We all agree that justice is a good thing, especially when it impacts us directly; if we were to witness our own loved ones brutally killed in front of us, we would feel/know it to be a great travesty if the murderer was set free. We agree that it is right to be angry about the human rights abuses that happen in the world, and we feel a sense of satisfaction when dictators are toppled and criminals are captured, or even when we are simply vindicated and shown to be right when we have been falsely accused. Justice is in our bones, and you could argue that it is a foundation of civilised society.

So why do we get upset when we hear the idea that God will bring justice to this world through Jesus Christ? Why are we happy for human beings to carry out justice, but struggle with the idea of God doing so? Who is more qualified to bring about justice – a good and loving, all knowing God, or imperfect human beings with mixed motives and limited knowledge?

Mark 8:27-38 is a passage that can help us understand something of what it means for Jesus to be our judge.

Twice in this passage Jesus refers to himself as ‘The Son of Man’. This term comes from the Old Testament (The first part of the Bible), from a prophecy by the 4th century BC prophet Daniel. In a vision he saw God on his throne just like a judge in a courtroom; before him were all the nations and peoples of the world. A person whom he described as, ‘One like a Son of Man’ was brought directly into the presence of God, who gave him authority over all the nations of the earth, and all people worshipped him. This ‘Son of Man’ is essentially God’s representative; he rules with God’s full authority.

By using this title for himself, Jesus is claiming to be the one whom Daniel saw in his vision. At another time Jesus said that because he is God’s Son, God the Father has entrusted him with the role of judging the whole world; so each one of us will have to stand before Jesus and be assessed at to whether we meet God’s perfect standard.

This is what Jesus is talking about at the end of this passage when he says in verse 38:

‘Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’

The word ashamed here does not just mean ‘embarrassed’ in the way that we might use it. It is a word that means being wrongly aligned, a bit like backing the losing football team, or  being loyal to the wrong side in a war. Jesus says that rejecting Him and his words now, will result in him rejecting us when he comes as judge.

So, what is it about Jesus and his words that is so important for us to not reject? We see this in the first section of the passage.

In verses 27-30 Jesus has asked his disciples who people say he is – and who they say he is. Jesus considers it important that people understand who he is and what his mission is. The public have some ideas, but when Peter says, ‘You are the Christ’, we know from other accounts of this event that Jesus commended him – his view was the right view. ‘The Christ’ means ‘God’s appointed King’ – the one who would set up God’s kingdom; he was promised to the Jewish people over 1000 years earlier, and they had been waiting for Him to arrive all this time. They knew that the Christ would be the king not just of their people, but of the whole world; that he would bring peace and justice to the world, and enable people to truly know and worship God.

This description may sound very similar to the description I just gave of the ‘Son of Man’, and that is because the titles ‘Christ’ and ‘Son of Man’ meant the same thing. They are speaking of the same person – and Jesus is this person.

However both the public and the disciples thought – wrongly – that when the Christ came, he would use military strength to set up his kingdom. That is why Jesus told his disciples not to tell people about him – because he knew the people might start a violent revolution.

Jesus goes on in verses 31-33 to explain how he will set up God’s kingdom: He would suffer, be killed, and rise again after 3 days. This does not sound like a great and powerful king, which is why Peter rebuked him. However he did not understand why Jesus had to die and rise again.

Any kingdom need two elements to be a true kingdom: a King, and citizens. A King without citizens is not really a king. So in order to be the King of God’s kingdom, Jesus must gather for himself those who will be citizens of His kingdom. However, there is one problem. There is not one human being who is worthy or qualified to be a citizen of his kingdom. The Bible tells us that all of humanity has rebelled against God – we have become God’s enemies. We have chosen not to live under God’s loving authority, but instead set ourselves up as the rulers of our own lives and of this world. This is what the Bible calls ‘Sin’. Sin is not primarily bad things we do, but an attitude in our hearts that says, ‘No’ to God. It is a rejection of the relationship with God that we have been created for. As a result, our lives are filled with actions and deeds that reflect this – things we call ‘sins’.

God is rightfully angry at this, because He is good and just and loving, and so He will not tolerate Sin. If we reject a relationship with Him and want nothing to do with Him, the fair punishment for this is Him rejecting us in the same way. And because this sin of rejecting God is so serious – it is essentially ‘cosmic treason’, the punishment must also be just as serious – being cut off from God and all his goodness, forever. And so, as we have seen already, those who reject (are ‘ashamed of’) God by rejecting His Son Jesus – will also be rejected.

Because the core problem of sin is a problem of the heart, we cannot fix this simply by trying to do good things or changing our behaviour. We need to be reconciled to God. The attitude of our heart that causes us to be under God’s anger needs to be dealt with; we owe God a massive debt, and it is a debt that we cannot pay or make up for. If a criminal is found guilty in a court of law, he cannot say to the judge, ‘Please let me off, because I feel really sorry for what I did,’ or ‘I shouldn’t go to prison because I promise to do good from now on.’ If a crime has been committed, the penalty must be paid, otherwise there would be no justice.

This is why Jesus said that he had to die. The penalty we deserve for our treason is death, and since we cannot pay it ourselves, Jesus, the Son of God, has paid it for us. All of God’s anger that was rightfully directed against us, was instead directed against Jesus in our place. And by rising from the dead, Jesus demonstrated that this penalty has been fully paid: the fact that Jesus is no longer dead means that the penalty of death has been paid!

What does this then mean for us right now?

God has given us the means by which we may be reconciled to Him, and by being reconciled, we may become citizens of His kingdom. Through trusting in Jesus – and not in ourselves – we may know with certainty that God has brought us back to Himself.

We see this in the next verse – 34.

Jesus tells people that they should ‘deny themselves and take up their cross and follow him’. He is describing here what in other places the Bible calls ‘repentance and faith’ – or ‘turning and trusting’.

To ‘deny ourselves’ means we recognise that there is nothing we can do to fix our broken relationship. The problem is just too big, and so we need to be prepared to call out to Jesus for Him to save us.

To ‘take up one’s cross’ was quite a shocking thing to say – as in that time and place only the worst criminals – murderers and traitors – were crucified. So it means that we recognise that we actually deserve to face the required punishment for our treason against God! It was not coincidence that God allowed Jesus to die in this way, as him being crucified was a picture of our own crime against Him. This is what ‘repentance’ means: to turn from where we are in our sin and rebellion – to say ‘I am wrong, and God is right!’

The third thing Jesus says is ‘follow me’. This is a picture of trusting. We would only follow someone wherever they go if we knew we could trust them – or rather, if we knew they could be trusted fully. To follow Jesus means to completely depend on him to bring us back to God the Father; to accept that His death and resurrection is the only way that we can come into His Kingdom, since it is the only thing that can fix our problem.

What is the result of this? What does all this mean for someone who turns and trusts in Jesus?

It means we will be citizens of God’s kingdom, with Jesus us our good, loving, fair and just ruler – the Judge of all humanity who loved us so much that He came to bear the judgement for us. What a wonderful person to have as our ruler! It means also that we will have hope – hope for ourselves that we will never be rejected or abandoned by a divine Father who loves us so greatly, and calls us to know Him personally; and hope for this whole universe, that Jesus is ruling over it in its entirety, and will one day return to gather us to be with him, and to renew this whole world and remove all that is evil, unjust, painful and sad. This is the kind of promise that Jesus makes for all who trust Him.

So, will you repent and trust in Jesus?

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Thanks to the folk at the Athiest Alliance

#1:

Distract Christians so they start arguing about peripheral questions like church history and the age of the earth, instead of the heart of their faith which is Jesus’ death and resurrection. We cannot answer that, so avoid it at all costs.

#2:

Accuse Christians of ignoring the scientific method, while failing to mention that Christianity is a faith based on historical events, and therefore uses  legal/historical evidence, not scientific proofs. Make it sound like believing the Bible is irrational, even though we implicitly believe our scientific textbooks.

#3:

Exaggerate and misrepresent Biblical concepts and stories to make them sound inane and absurd. Then locate a Christian with limited Biblical literacy and ridicule them for believing such nonsense. Make sure you choose only the passages that seem nasty, not all the nice ones.

#4:

Use the same kind of idealistic rhetoric for which you criticise religious fundamentalists. This is really important, since you are actually promoting a faith system, you know.

#5:

Call people who bring up their children in the Christian faith ‘child abusers’. Because it’s such a hostile and inflammatory statement, it precludes a rational response. Ignore the fact that refusing to give a child any religious education actually deprives them of an opportunity to understand the foundation of nearly every culture that has arisen in human history.

#6:

Quote something ‘A Christian’ said rather than what the Bible says, as if the view of one follower represents the consensus of all Christians everywhere at every time. Ignore the fact that that Christian may well have misunderstood the Bible on that point, as well as the likely possibility that many people who profess Christianity are not actually true Christians.

#7:

Use words like ‘Secular’ and ‘rational,’ and terms like ‘freedom of religion,’ instead of ‘Athiest’ in describing your movement. This will throw your opponents off guard and make them think you are a benevolent organisation with goodwill. Heck, Christians do it with the Intelligent Design movement, so why can’t we?