Archive for July, 2010

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Can We Be Good Without God?

Monday, July 26th, 2010

The sign on a New York City subway read, “A million New Yorkers are good without God.”   In Boston, there were signs on the city buses and subways that read, “Good without God?  Millions of Americans are.”  Billboards in Chicago carried the same message.  During the Christmas season, buses in Washington D.C. carried posters that featured someone dressed as Santa Claus with the message, “Why believe in a god?  Just be good for goodness’ sake.”  These were all part of a bold advertising campaign in 56 cities and 29 states that was launched back in 2007 by organizations such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Their campaign included many other slogans such as, “Imagine No Religion,”   suggesting that America would be much better off if we could somehow remove religion (Christianity in particular) from our culture.

For my purposes here, I want to focus specifically on their message that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I’m finding that more and more people in the public square are proudly proclaiming that, as an atheist, they can be good without God.  When I engage someone in conversation and they tell me that they can be a good person without believing in God, they are usually surprised to hear me say that I agree with them!  I realize that it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to be a good person.  In fact, I know of some people who do not believe in God who I would consider to be more moral than many so-called “Christians”.   So, what’s the problem?  The problem is that the person who denies God’s existence cannot make sense out of morality.  It’s important to keep in mind that the question is NOT whether one can be good without believing in God, but rather, can we be good if, in fact, there is no God.

A friend of mine who teaches Philosophy and World Religions in a local community college had invited me and a pastor from my church to come answer some questions regarding Christianity.  One of the students was a lady who identified herself as a practicing Buddhist.  Keep in mind that Buddhists do not necessarily believe that God exists.  During the Q&A, she had commented in a somewhat sarcastic tone of voice, “Look, I am a good person who does good for my community, and I don’t have to believe in your God in order to be a good person!”  In response, I said, “May I ask you a question?  You just used the word ‘good’ three times.  I need to point out to you  that as soon as you did that, you immediately introduced into this conversation some standard by which to measure what ‘good’ is and what it isn’t.  In order for that standard to make any sense, it must be an objective standard.  That is, it must exist outside both of us, and both of us must be accountable to that standard.  Since you’re the one who brought this standard into the conversation, I have to ask you: 1) What is that standard? and 2) Where did it come from-  what is it based on?”

After a long, awkward silence, she replied, “I don’t know.”  A student sitting behind her attempted to help her out.  This gentleman had leaned forward and whispered something in her ear, after which she confidently smiled and said, “I get my morality from Buddhism.”  As I was attempting to reply, another student began to speak, so I’m not sure if she (the Buddhist) could hear my next comment.  I had said to her that I’m pretty sure that if I were to ask her if Buddhist morality is better than Nazi mortality, she would most likely say, “Yes.”  But to say that one is “better” than the other is to measure both of them by some “higher” standard that exists outside both of them.  To compare the two and to say that one is better than the other is to say that one comes closer to meeting that standard than does the other. But to acknowledge some “Ultimate Standard” is to say that there exists a supreme moral law-  this requires a supreme Lawgiver.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason makes an insightful observation about this.  He points out that when someone says that they don’t have to believe in God in order to be a good person, it’s like saying that they don’t have to believe in authors in order to read books.  While that may be true, they certainly cannot make sense of books existing apart from authors, nor can they make sense of an objective moral law existing apart from a moral Lawgiver.

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Posted in Ethics | 107 Comments »

Christianity 101

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking to a classroom full of bright, young students at one of the local community colleges.  The invitation had come from a good friend of mine who teaches a class on Philosophy and World Religions.  As he covered various world religions, he would invite speakers representing those religions to come and field questions regarding their particular belief system.  On the day that his class was covering Christianity, he had asked me and one of the pastors from my church to come participate in the Q&A sessions.

In-between sessions, he said something to me that was very troubling.  He said that he had asked some of the Christian students in his class if they knew what the Gospel was, and if they could explain it, but no one responded.  I would certainly hope that the students who remained silent were just reluctant to do so because they were uncomfortable speaking up in front of the class.  I would hate to think that they really did not know nor understand the Gospel, although I wouldn’t be too surprised by that.  Sadly, it’s getting much harder these days to find a church that is in the habit of regularly presenting the Gospel.  In fact, my friend had further commented to me that many of those same Christian students had remarked that in their church they had never heard their pastor explain the Gospel.  If that’s true, it is worse than tragic, it’s shameful!  To further complicate things, when well-meaning people do attempt to present the Gospel, they often make the mistake of presenting it as if it was merely some means by which we can “become a better person.”  But, as Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias has pointed out, “Jesus did not come to make bad people good, but dead people alive.”  Furthermore,  when the Gospel is presented, it is often couched in terminology that most people cannot understand or cannot relate to in today’s world.  With this in mind, the following is the manner in which I explained the Gospel to his class that day.

It all begins with God.  This God really does exist.  I’m not simply saying that I have a “personal belief” in God or that I have a “personal faith” in God.  I’m saying much more than that. The latest discoveries in science affirm the fact that this God really does exist, whether people choose to believe it or not.  Secondly, this God is absolutely holy and just. This is crucial to understand especially in today’s world where people have tried to invent a “god” of their own liking by reducing Him to an image that they, personally, find much more convenient and much more comfortable.  They’ve imagined a god who is all-loving, who never judges anyone.  But a god who is so “loving” that he never judges evil is not a  just judge.  To say that God is holy is to say that there is absolutely no trace of evil or imperfection anywhere in His character.  He is the embodiment of absolute justice.

The bad news is that you and I have rebelled against God by knowingly, willingly, daily, repeatedly violating His Laws.  Therefore, all of us are lawbreakers- we are all guilty and we know it.  The other bad news is that each one of us has an expiration date stamped on us.  The time will come when you and I must die- but it doesn’t end there.  You and I will survive the grave to someday appear before God, the One Who is the final Judge over all that He has created.  As our case is brought before Him, every thought, word,  and action that we’ve lived out will testify against us.  As we stand before Him, there will be no doubt in our minds that we deserve His justice.  We stand there as condemned criminals- He knows it and we know it.  That’s the bad news.

The good news (“Gospel”) in all of this is that out of His unimaginable love, as a supreme act of grace on His part, God, from the beginning of time, set forth a plan whereby we could be pardoned. When God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, into this world to die on the cross, something of enormous consequences was taking place, such that my mind cannot fully grasp it.  When Jesus died on the cross, it’s as if God had reached out and dipped His pen in the blood of His Son and wrote out a contract with the human race.  As with any contract, there are terms of agreement and they are as follows:  Anyone who is willing to turn away from their rebellious behavior and acknowledge God’s authority  by surrendering their life to His Son will be found “not guilty” when they are brought before God.  This offer will not be made to anyone after they die.  Only those who were willing to enter into this contract with Him on His terms will be pardoned of their crimes against Him.  Their case will be dismissed, all charges will be dropped, and they will be acquitted of every offense they’ve committed against Him.  But there’s more.  Not only will they be pardoned, but God has made the magnanimous offer of granting them eternal life and they will be given the incredible privilege of spending eternity with Him in His kingdom.

That, my friends, is the Gospel.  And now you know why the Gospel is not just “good news”, it is the greatest news that has ever fallen on human ears.

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Posted in Theology | 11 Comments »

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.