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FAQ of Faith, Spirituality, Theology, and the Bible

From the Pastor

Welcome to the latest edition of Frequently Asked Questions of Faith, Spirituality, Theology, and the Bible. We've alphabetized all entries for easier access and hope this makes the page more reader-friendly. Our goal, as always, is to offer creative space for any and all to ask questions and wrestle with responses. By no means do I claim to be the Bible Answer Man--nor even to have all the best answers. What you'll see, hopefully, is an example of one person doing his best to take seriously the spirit of peoples' questions and sketch out some Bible-based possibilities for a response. This is an ongoing project that's conducted annually in the Spring--so if you'd like to submit a new question, and I will assemble your questions for a response.

Blessings as you join me in the journey of learning and spiritual formation!

Warmly,
Carl Hofmann

 

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P R S T U W

A

Afterlife

Q: Given that God made all of the human body and soul, what is the nature of our soul’s state between death and the future resurrection of our (heavenly) body and final judgment? Also, what happens to our body until the return of Christ?

A: Another great question! As we’ve been learning in 1 Corinthians, true biblical spirituality has a material aspect: God made not only the human soul, but also the human body. Both are originally good and both are redeemed in Christ’s resurrection. Unlike the Greek-thinkers of Corinth, who believed only in the immortality of the soul (and upon death its release from the prison house of the body), Jewish and Christian believers hope in the resurrection: a redemption of both body and soul on the day of final judgment.

There are at least two Christian views I’m aware of about what happens to the human soul upon physical death. The first is “soul sleep”, the idea that the soul sleeps in some unconscious state until Christ’s return and then, on Judgment Day, it is awakened and restored to its (now resurrected) body. The other view, and the one I tend to agree with more, is that of the (believing) soul’s departure to be with Christ in some conscious state and place until the soul is restored to its resurrection body as above. This seems more congruent with several Scripture passages: 1) the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The thief’s body was dead and buried, but his soul (that essential aspect of his personality) went to join Jesus in a state called “Paradise.” 2) Paul’s hopeful words in Romans 8:38-39, where Paul is convinced that even death cannot separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Their bodies were buried, Paul infers, but their souls were consciously enjoying the love of the Lord. 3) Paul’s autobiographical words in Philippians 1:21-23 where he writes “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain…I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul knows that death will be the end of his life in this mortal body; but he also knows that death will allow his soul to be “with Christ”, conscious of his love and presence in what theologians call “the intermediate state.” This is not the new heaven and new earth to come, for that will be inhabited by redeemed humans who have their souls living in new resurrection bodies. Rather, it is a temporary state where the soul resides in Christ’s presence, conscious of his peace and nearness.


Anger

Q: Help me to understand “anger” vs. “righteous anger” in the Bible.

A: This is a thoughtful question. It gets at a powerful human emotion that can often be very destructive. However, there are occasions when anger is very appropriate, hence the term “righteous anger.” Let’s begin with a reflection: I’ve heard that anger is a sign that someone or something has not squared with our expectations or perceived sense of right and wrong. For example, we expect to be treated a certain way or for someone to follow rules of respect, fairness, or standards of thoughtfulness and civility toward us, and when these expectations are not met, we feel angry. Anger, therefore, is a gauge of some injustice we perceive, often against ourselves. To not be angry would be a sign of disinterest, apathy, or disengagement. It would mean we do not care. The problem, of course, lies in why we’re angry: is it because of an inflated sense of ourselves and our rights? Is it an impatience that things are not going the way we want or feel we deserve? Too often this is the case; our anger is rooted in a sinful self-absorption or our grandiose view of “the way things should be” (according to us). In contrast, to be angry because of clear injustice or oppression against victims who are powerless, or to feel anger because God’s character has been slandered or his will disregarded, that’s a different story.

Let’s explore anger in the Bible. Using the NIV Nave’s Topical Bible (Zondervan, 1992), which I strongly recommend, I looked up anger and learned that in its overwhelming number of uses it refers to the negative human emotion, that which is sinful and destructive: “be not quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Or recall the hard words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Or the teaching of James, the brother of Jesus: “Let every one be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:19-20). In the Apostle Paul’s vice lists, anger is often mentioned as something to be put off or put away. For example: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31; see also Galatians 5:20). Clearly, these are all examples of inappropriate, what we might term “unrighteous”, anger.

There are, however, exceptions where anger is justified, almost always because the person who is angry identifies with God’s righteousness or justice which has been disregarded. Think of Jesus cleansing the temple because it is being used for materialistic profit and not as a place of prayer and worship (Mark 11:15-17) or Jesus’ anger at the hardness of heart among religious hypocrites (Mark 3:5), or Jesus’ anger at those who would hurt or abuse little children (Matthew 18:6). God’s wrath against sin and injustice is always righteous (Romans 1:18). God is perfect in holiness; God cannot abide sin and evil and God’s wrath in response to these is a sign of God’s justice and righteousness.

Our human anger normally reveals that we sense some injustice, unkindness, or inequity has been done to us. Typically, our anger is a gauge that indicates something’s not right. This may or may not be the case. Our perceptions may be spot on; but they can also be mistaken, inflated, or exaggerated. The problem lies with the calibration of our gauge: too often it’s too sensitive and oriented primarily to ourselves and our expectations and not toward God and others. Discernment is necessary: what is it exactly that has made us angry? Where or how or why do we feel provoked? What standard has been broken? Sometimes our anger is justified; sometimes it is not. The other thing we must do is beware where our anger leads us: to feel angry is one thing; to act out in ways that are harmful or destructive is another! It’s a sensitive discussion, to be sure.

Animal Sacrifice

Q: “Given the prevalence of human sin, I imagine that the practice of animal sacrifices in the Bible would be frequent and repeated. It’s hard to imagine that people would have enough livestock (or doves for those who were poorer) to suffice. How did the availability of sacrificial animals correspond to the frequency or magnitude of human sin? Second, I wonder about the social attitudes around peoples’ sacrifices—did onlookers judge or condemn worshipers for making too many sacrifices (and being therefore too sinful) or not enough sacrifices (and therefore being unholy)?”

A: Good questions. We need to recall that during the Second Temple period (after the return from Babylonian exile) Jews made pilgrimage to Jerusalem from all over the known world to celebrate the major feasts and to offer sacrifices in the Temple. The money-changers in the outer courts of the Temple (those Jesus chased out in the gospels) existed to provide currency exchange in the acceptable coin for foreign coinage that the pilgrims brought with them. This indicates that trips to the Temple by most Jews were rather infrequent, given the great distances people traveled. As you mention, there was provision for the poor to permit less expensive animals to be sacrificed; there were also other types of offerings—grain, wave, etc.—which were also commanded to be given. So what we mustn’t imagine is that people could easily stop by the Temple whenever sin was committed and simply pay for an animal to be sacrificed. More likely, they did so only on high holidays, among great crowds who also did the same. I don’t imagine, given these logistics, that observers could easily track how many offerings people presented, of what kind and for what sin. The social stigma you mention wouldn’t have attached itself to these practices.

Apostasy

Q: “A sibling of mine has recanted his faith. Says he can no longer believe in a God that requires an animal (and therefore human) sacrifice as a way to salvation. There is no real, everyday sin, but there is evil in men’s hearts (i.e. Hitler, Saddam, etc). We (our family) are good people so of course we’ll go to heaven. Question: I am not as theologically trained as he. My only arguments are based on the Bible and he won’t accept that as truth. How can I help him? Has he hardened his heart and should I, in essence, give up on him? Am I casting pearls before swine? This is tearing me up.”

A: I can hear your anguish and appreciate it. A couple thoughts come to mind: how can there be “evil in men’s hearts” but no “real, everyday sin”? I’m afraid I don’t understand the difference. Sin is the transgression of God’s high and holy standards revealed in Scripture. Ultimately, sin is the worship and service of self as god. There would seem to be bountiful examples of this all around us, beginning with the daily newspaper. If the issue for your brother is blood sacrifice as atonement for sin, while that may be distasteful to the modern Westerner, it teaches us an indispensable lesson: God takes human sin so seriously that a life is required to make atonement. As Leviticus 17:11 explains, blood is a literal symbol of life and when another’s blood is shed for sin, their life is substituted as payment. This of course readies us to understand the shed blood of Christ on the cross. Jesus is, after all, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Blood sacrifice is essential for the forgiveness of our sins, first with innocent animals as anticipation in the Old Testament, then with the innocent Son of God as fulfillment in the New Testament. This is a graphic but necessary way to depict the great seriousness with which God takes us and our choices. It does sound as if your brother has hardened his heart and darkened his understanding. This would not be cause for giving up, but for redoubled efforts to pray for him and to set a good example of one who believes. Sometimes a quiet, persistent witness is more effective than a good argument!

Atonement

Q: “Although it is clearly taught in the New Testament, I have trouble understanding how Jesus could legally take the rap for my sins. C.S. Lewis seems to focus more on Jesus acting as the ransom for others’ sins. The ransom concept however seems to necessitate the existence of a powerful enemy who can in some way (or think that he can) extort God. Your thoughts?”

A: This is where typology is very helpful. Typology is a name for the way in which certain “types” or themes in the Bible are foreshadowed in the Old Testament and fulfilled by Christ in the New Testament. Let’s consider sacrifice for sins. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross must be understood against the backdrop of substitutionary animal sacrifice in the Old Testament. There, we see countless examples where God instructs the Israelites to present an animal (blood) offering as an atonement for their sins. Their sins are transferred to the innocent animal and the animal’s shed blood and consequent death redeem the people from sin (see especially Leviticus 17:11). It’s this system of law, not our Western judicial system, that should be in view as we try to make sense of the cross of Christ.

As for the ransom theory of atonement, the idea that an enemy, in this case the devil, has held humankind hostage and demands payment for their release, is present in Scripture, as well. We recall the famous words of Jesus in Mark 10:45 and parallels: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Or similar ideas are clearly expressed in 1Timothy 2:6 and Hebrews 9:15. This motif of ransom is also present in the Old Testament, particularly in the period of Babylonian captivity, where the Judean exiles are “ransomed” by God from their captors and brought back to new life in Palestine. The difficulty with the ransom theory is that it might imply that God is beholden or even captive to the demands of the devil. It might lay too much stress on the devil. The notion of substitutionary atonement is better in that it keeps the focus on God’s justice, which is satisfied by an innocent substitute dying for the people’s sins. Given the weight and preponderance of the Bible on sacrifice, I’d go with the image or “type” of substitutionary atonement primarily, and use “ransom” as a further illustration, mostly supplementary.

B

Baptism

Q: I don’t see any examples of infant baptism in Scripture. Believe, repent, confess and be baptized are terms applicable to more mature ages. Also, Jesus was baptized by immersion; how did we get sprinkling?


A:While it is true that the majority of references to baptism in the New Testament have to do with believers, there are several important instances where baptism included children. For example, we read that Cornelius and “his whole household” (which presumably included children) were saved and baptized (Acts 10:44-48; 11:14). Similarly, the Philippian jailer believed in the Lord Jesus and he and “his whole household” (which surely included children) were saved and baptized (see Acts 16:31, 33). We must recall that in one key passage, Colossians 2:11-12, baptism is likened to the Jewish rite of circumcision, which was (and still is) practiced on infant males. Today, the baptism of children of at least one believing parent illustrates the gracious acceptance of the undeserving by a loving God. The baptism of believing adults, on the other hand, indicates the newness of life available to those who exercise faith in Christ.

As for the mode or amount of water used in baptism, this is mostly a matter of practicality. My understanding is that many of the churches which had their origin in colder climates began using less water out of concern for the health of the baptized (presumably they felt that to immerse infants not only was dangerous to begin with, but also might compromise their health by giving them a chill). Whatever the case, God’s grace is the point, not the amount of water!

Bearing Arms

Q: Luke 22:36-38, 49-51—there seems like more than meets the eye here, perhaps a literal intent for purpose of a big God-lesson, not only for the disciples but for the guards and Pharisees, and for us. It’s somewhat confusing, though, whether literal or figurative.

A: In the first passage, Jesus is in the upper room with the disciples on the night of his betrayal and arrest. He begins the section reminding his followers that when he originally sent them out on mission (see Luke 10:1-12, esp. v. 4), they depended on their faith in God for provision and lacked nothing. Now, Jesus says, they are to supply themselves with tangible provisions for their mission, including a sword. The best commentaries see this as figurative: Jesus doesn’t literally command his disciples to take weapons on their mission; rather, Jesus wants them to know that in light of his impending trial, suffering, and crucifixion, times have dramatically changed and opposition has increased. As Howard Marshall writes in his commentary, “dire circumstances are at hand…the saying is a call to be ready for hardship and self-sacrifice” (The Gospel of Luke, Eerdmans, 1978, p. 825). The second passage, Luke 22:49-51, in which some of the disciples pick up a sword to defend Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, shows how much they miss his point. Jesus doesn’t command or encourage armed resistance (his willing submission to the cross shows that); instead, he uses dramatic language to indicate the high cost of following him.

Becoming a Christian

Q: We hear a lot about Jesus in church and Sunday School. Why are people not told what they have to do to become a Christian?

A: With this question you may be putting your finger on a blind spot in our Presbyterian tradition! In our Reformed heritage we’ve tended to stress God’s election of sinners to salvation (in other words, emphasizing that it is primarily God’s choosing us in Christ, rather than us choosing him, that saves). Unlike members of other traditions (for example, the Baptists), who place emphasis on human choice and response, our tradition has tended to diminish human contributions to the process, while stressing God’s gracious initiative. We DO believe that humans need to make a conscious choice in asking Jesus to forgive their sins and be their Lord and Savior; however, we believe that it is God’s Spirit, working in the human heart, that makes this possible. I think we probably need to do more “altar calls” than we’re accustomed to, provided we still emphasize God’s saving grace, a la Ephesians 2:8-9.

Bible

Q: “Why should I take the Bible more seriously than other religious writings?”

A: Sometimes things make more sense from the inside out. Case in point: if you line all the religious books up on a table (the Koran, the Tanakh, the Bhagavad Gita, the Bible, etc), they would look like equal works vying for your religious attention. However, as you open them up and read them in their historic and cultural contexts, their teachings would present differences which might surprise you. My suggestion is to become familiar with the Bible and allow its message and themes to persuade you of its overall truthfulness. Once you see its integrity and consistency, its logic and beauty, the wisdom of its teaching and its central figure, Jesus Christ, I think it will be apparent why it makes sense to take it seriously.

Boasting

Q: “In several places in Scripture, the word ‘boast’ is used. Paul speaks of ‘boasting’ not in self, but ‘in the Lord’ (1Corinthians 1:29-31 and 2Corinthians 10:17). David also says: ‘My soul will boast in the Lord’ (Psalm 34:2). In our culture, boasting has a close association with ‘pride’ and ‘self-promotion.’ What is the history and proper scriptural interpretation of the word ‘boast’?”

A: I’m not sure I can provide much help with the historic usage in Scripture of the word ‘boast’ (or that it would be that helpful in the end). What’s better, is to do what you’ve done and that is to look at the context of how a particular word is used. What you’ve so clearly shown is that in the Bible not all boasting is wrong! Boasting in self, whether in our abilities, our track record, our technology or our techniques, is usually wrong. It is an example of pride, of thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought and not with sober judgment (see Romans 12:3). Such boasting also fails to give credit to God for who we are and what we have. I think of 1Corinthians 4:7 “What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?” As you clearly indicate in your examples, there is a proper form of boasting and that is in the Lord (consider that great verse in Psalm 20:7 “Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the LORD our God”).

C

Calvinism
Q: What exactly is “Calvinism”?

A: Calvinism is another name for the Reformed theology that traces its roots back to John Calvin (1509-1604), the great reformer of Geneva, Switzerland. Calvin was more thorough than Martin Luther in his reformation of Catholic theology and practice. Luther tended to reform with the slogan “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As a result, Luther’s reformation left many things closer to the Catholic position—including his church structure and some of his views of the sacraments. Calvin, by contrast, felt that “If it ain’t in the Bible, we ain’t doin’ it.” He sought, therefore, to reform by Scripture as much of Church doctrine and practice as possible. “Sola Scriptura” (“Only Scripture”) was the principle which guided his reform. Calvin influenced many people during his time—people from the Low Countries, like the Netherlands, as well as Scotsmen, like John Knox (who founded Presbyterianism).

Calvinism is known for an emphasis on the sovereign majesty of God, who is so high, holy, and righteous that a relationship with him for sinful human beings is impossible apart from his gracious initiative. Later “Calvinists”, seeking to pick up where Calvin left off in his reform, developed the famous “Five Points of Calvinism” at the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619). These Five Points have come to be known by the acronym “TULIP”: Total Depravity (every aspect of our human personality has been tainted by the fall from grace and we cannot rely on ourselves for salvation); Unconditional election (God, from all eternity, chooses people for a relationship with him not based on their later behavior or worthiness); Limited atonement (Christ’s atoning death saves only those whom God has chosen for relationship); Irresistible grace (even people’s choice of God is due to grace, not their careful, conscious choosing); and Perseverance of the saints (believers chosen by God for relationship will persevere in that relationship and will not fall away from grace).

Q: We are “Reformed.” Will you explain that?

A: See my entry under “Calvinism”. Typically, Reformed Christianity is considered one of the major branches of Protestant Christianity, in contrast to other Protestant branches like Lutheran, Anglican, or Anabaptist. Reformed theology owes its origins to the 16th century’s John Calvin of Geneva, Switzerland, who was strongly influenced by St. Augustine’s theology of the 5th and early 6th centuries A.D.

Christ-Nature
Q: “Given the dual natures of Christ—divine and human—what went on in Jesus’ head as he walked this earth? Was he fully aware of where each star in all the galaxies was located? Did he have that ability but chose not to use it? Did he forego that ability when he was incarnated? Was Jesus’ mind and thinking only reflecting some ethical or willful union with the Father?”

A: For us to get inside the mystery of Christ’s nature and understand his psychology and self-awareness is impossible. Scripture only gives us tantalizing hints of what Jesus knew and saw in his uniqueness. We read of his exceptional interest and teachability in Torah as a youth and of his special connection to God as his Father (see Luke 2:46-49). We know he performed miracles (opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, cleansing lepers, casting out demons) which would’ve demonstrated the unique operation of God’s Spirit within him. And, at least in John’s gospel, these miracles are called “signs” which point to God’s Kingdom being authoritatively operating in Jesus, substantiating his role and his teaching. Whether or not these miracles in themselves would’ve been understood by his observers as constituting his divinity, is hard to say. The Church’s confession of Christ’s divinity was something that most likely was the conclusion of cumulative evidence: his teaching, his miracles, and most of all, his resurrection. Though there’s early evidence that his followers believed he was divine (we think of Thomas’ confession in John 20:28) the official doctrines of the Church took a few centuries to nail down the fuller implications of his divinity. Clearly, Jesus had insight and ability that surpassed the ordinary: he seemed to know things about people he otherwise could never have known (for instance, regarding the Samaritan woman, John 4:17-19, 39; or all people in general, John 2:24-25). So we see certain intimations that Jesus had knowledge and insight that suggest divinity; but whether he always drew upon this knowledge or if this knowledge extended to the minute details of all things, including stars and subatomic particles, we can’t really say. My personal feeling is that we don’t spend enough time thinking about Jesus’ ability to access divine power through the perfect yieldedness and submission of his will to God, as well as through his great ability to trust God. Too often, we so easily assign all the extraordinary works he did to his divinity and then let ourselves off the hook. Remember, Jesus also said that his believers would do “greater works” than his (John 14:12)!
Finally, the idea that Jesus may have chose to limit his divine grasp of cosmology and other details to the narrow (and mistaken) notions of his time is called “accomodationism” and it likely raises more problems than it solves. I’m sorry: I’m sure this answer doesn’t satisfy your curiosity and question—but it’s the best I can do!

Christ-Death
Q: “In the Apostles’ Creed, we state that Christ was “dead and buried, he descended to hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended to heaven…” One of the things I take from this is that Jesus did not immediately go to heaven after he died. I find this hard to reconcile with Luke 23:43 in which Jesus says to the thief on the cross, as they’re both dying, “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” This may be nit-picky, but I’m not seeing how they can both be right. Do you have a resolution for this?”

A: Your question reveals just how much all of us are influenced by Western standards of time and exactness. Our thinking is shaped by calendars, PDAs, watches, etc and, when we read Scripture, we carry over our understanding of time to how we interpret it. All that is very understandable! Here’s my take on what Jesus is saying to the thief on the cross: by his remarks, the criminal gives evidence of his repentant heart as well as some rudimentary faith in Jesus. He apparently sees Jesus as the messiah and asks if he, the criminal, may be remembered by Jesus whenever it is that Jesus comes into his kingdom. In response, Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” In other words, it is now, through his death and imminent resurrection, that Jesus is establishing his kingdom reign—and that soon and very soon (and not at some point distant in time) the thief shall share with him in that glory. Joseph Fitzmeyer writes in his commentary, “’Today’ refers not to ‘the calendar day of the crucifixion,’ but to the day of ‘messianic salvation inaugurated by’ the death of Jesus. The criminal will share the kingly condition of Jesus that very day” (The Gospel According to Luke X-XXIV, Doubleday, 1985). Sometimes biblical references to time are literal and in other places words like ‘today’ are figurative (see Hebrews 3:13-15). This passage and its reference to “today” means much more than an immediate 24-hour period.

Christian Leaders
Q: “What if I think Christianity is a good religion but absolutely don’t like being associated with the self-appointed Christian leadership—like Pat Robertson, televangelists, Karl Rove, etc?”

A: I would say, “Join the club”! Seriously, not all self-appointed prophets speak for God. To embrace Jesus and his truth doesn’t require that we blindly accept or even like the leadership of particular persons. All human leaders in the church are sinners; and while we may respect and follow the guidance of particular leaders, we recognize that ultimate leadership always rests in Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church.

Church
Q: “How long did it take to build the church?”

A: If your question has to do with Christ’s Church universal, then I’d say at least 2000 years! (Of course our Reformed theology makes the argument that in the Old Testament, the people of Israel were the Church “in its infancy”, so the answer might be many more years than that!). However, I suspect you’re asking about how long it took to build First Presbyterian Church, Boulder. My answer would also be nuanced, I’m afraid! The church, biblically speaking, is the people of God—and under this definition, God is always building the church. However, if you mean our church campus, then I might refer you to A Pioneer Church, by J.B. Schoolland, which is a marvelous history of First Pres Boulder since 1872. There have been numerous building campaigns and expansions over the years, many of which are detailed in the historic photographs around Sheldon Jackson Parlor. The chapel, the Westminster and Geneva wings, the sanctuary, the Children’s Wing, the Atrium, and Oerter Hall—each represents a different expansion for a new era. For a brief and helpful overview click here to visit our church’s history page for more information!

Church Attendance
Q: In your class on the Letter to the Hebrews you addressed a number of times the importance of worshipping together in church as a body of believers. Could you go over that again? I am wondering about how to respond to a person who says "I'll be worshipping God while in the mountains today"?

A: Certainly, because God is omnipresent, God can be worshiped at any time and in any place. The apostle Paul urges us to present our entire selves to God regularly and completely as our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1). Here there is no mention of formal liturgical expression or of specific meeting times and places. Worship, in this context, is personal, holistic, and meant to be done in all places at all times (and not just Sunday mornings in a sanctuary). However, this does not excuse us from the important practice of corporate worship. While we have been saved as individuals, upon being saved, we have been engrafted spiritually into the Body of Christ. We are now members of his body and meant to function in ways that are corporate and mutually supportive. Our common worship, exercised weekly, is a particular form of that expression. The writer of Hebrews makes our need for public, corporate worship very clear when writing “And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25). Christianity is a faith that is best practiced in community and our regular common worship is a central means for living this out (see 1 Corinthians 14 for an extended passage on corporate worship).

Cremation
Q: “What is your feeling about cremation?”

A: Because there exists a long-standing Christian tradition of burial (and because Jesus himself was buried according to Jewish custom) many in the Church have concerns about cremation. My sense is that God’s miracle of resurrection will raise all of our decayed bodies whether they have turned to dust over time or done so quickly in the flames of cremation. Some have pointed to the early Christian martyrs (who were burned at the stake) as examples of the acceptability of cremation: if God will no doubt raise these saints who’ve been burned beyond recognition, will he not do the same for those who’ve been cremated? Lastly, having seen the relative simplicity of preparations for cremation (in contrast to those of burial), I wonder if cremation is easier on families, less expensive, and a better stewardship of resources.

Criminals
Q: “I read of a church having a very difficult time in deciding whether to allow a former convicted child molester to become a member of their church. What is FPC’s position on this? I think we would allow membership to this sinner, as to all sinners, but we might restrict that person’s area of leadership and influence (no ministry to children or young people and perhaps no officer position in the church).

A: It’s difficult for a church to balance truth and grace: to acknowledge the deep, abiding, struggle we have with sin, as our flesh and spirit wrestle together, while at the same time affirming the reality of the new nature Christ brings to those who trust him. This is never more true than with child molesters. I think you’re right: we at First Pres would embrace anyone who genuinely repents of their sin and trusts Jesus as their Savior and Lord (these are the essential conditions for church membership, after all). However, we would probably not permit persons who had certain struggles to work in areas that would put them or those they serve at risk.

D

Death-Infant
Q: "When an infant is called to heaven, will they age as we age here on earth? What age will he be when I join him in heaven?"

A: This is such a touching, heart-felt question. Naturally, we wonder what our infants will look like, what will happen to the babies we miscarried, and, indeed, what will happen to all of us when we experience the fullness of resurrection. Will we look like we did when we were 18? 25? 30? 45? Older?

First, a clarification: the current heaven, where our souls go to be with Jesus when we die (see Luke 23:43, Philippians 1:23) is to be distinguished from the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-5) which God will create after the general resurrection. This latter place is our permanent dwelling. The current heaven, by contrast, is an intermediate state, where our souls await reunion with our resurrected bodies on Judgment Day (John 11:24-25). So, the question is, what will our resurrection bodies look like? Obviously, they’ll look different from the bodies we had when we died. If Jesus’ resurrected body is any indication, they will still be recognizably “us”—but changed—after all, Jesus could now come and go miraculously, even appearing through closed doors (John 20:19). I don’t believe the Bible addresses the resurrection maturation of infants who have died, but I do believe we can extrapolate and read between the lines. The new heaven and new earth will be places of fullness and completion. All we currently experience in this world is temporary and provisional, pointers to that which will be full and complete in the next world. The next world will be free of the ravages of evil, sin, and death (and presumably any form of mortality, which would include aging). I imagine that our infants who have died, will grow to maturity and that those who have aged and been disfigured by injury or disease will be wonderfully whole.

Denomination

Q: “A Christian is a Christian…then why are there so many denominations?

A: We wish—as did Jesus in his great prayer of John 17—that we could all be one, as he and the Father are one. Yet sadly, we seem to be many, at least visibly in terms of our many denominations. Historically, denominations arise because of differing interpretations of Scripture and Christian practice. Often, different views of the sacraments, or of church polity, or of standards for leadership contribute to the rise of different denominations. These are not minor differences! It is sometimes helpful to look into the historical development of denominations to gain an appreciation of their distinctives. I recommend the classic work by Frank Mead, Handbook of Denominations in the United States, 11th edition (Abingdon, 2001).

Discernment
Q: “I have the gift of discernment. I know I am supposed to be accepting of all people, yet, certain discretions don’t allow me to. How can I learn who to accept and to accept more people into my life?”

A: Your question gets at one of the core issues in the collision between Christianity and contemporary secular culture. Our secular culture often emphasizes the supposed virtues of tolerance and acceptance (e.g. we are never to condemn, let alone criticize, other viewpoints, lifestyle choices, or behaviors. We must embrace and celebrate them). As Christians, however, we are not called to “tolerance” or even “acceptance.” We are called to love! And love does not involve jettisoning our discernment. In fact, the Bible instructs us to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves when evaluating the behaviors around us (Matthew 10:16). True, Jesus told us not to judge (meaning condemn people harshly, Matthew 7:1-5); however, in his very next words, Jesus also told us not to cast pearls before swine or give what is holy to dogs (meaning not to share God’s truth with those who will spurn it out of hand, Matthew 7:6). Discernment of people’s behavior is wise and right, according to our Lord—provided we do so in a spirit of love and concern (not condemnation or self-righteousness). Recall, too, Paul’s instruction in 1Corinthians 5:9-13—he urges his readers to especially evaluate behavior within the church, even going so far as to have them shun those so-called Christians who live in ways contrary to the gospel. Thoughtful discernment of people’s behavior, yes. Self-righteous condemnation of others, no! This is the way of wise Christian discernment, it seems to me.

Dispensationalism
Q: Could you explain “Dispensationalism”?

A: Dispensationalism is a method for interpreting the Bible that arose from the teachings of John Nelson Darby in the mid-19th century. It was popularized in the notes of the study Bible edited by C.I. Scofield and widely read by evangelical Protestants in America in the ensuing years. Dispensationalism understands the broad scope of salvation history in separate segments called “dispensations” or “economies”. These are viewed as distinct periods of history in which God sets different agreements (or covenants) with his people. These covenants have different terms of required behavior, rewards, and punishments. Among different dispensationalist teachers there is some disagreement over the exact number of dispensations (for instance some say seven, others eight). Some key elements of dispensational teaching would be: a literal, rather than a symbolic, reading of many apocalyptic and prophetic Old and New Testament texts; a separate eschatological (“end times”) plan for Israel than for the Church; an abrupt removal (“rapture”) of Christians before a literal 1000-year reign of Christ on earth preceding a great tribulation and the final judgment. By contrast, the covenantal theology of the Reformed (and Presbyterian) faith holds to one main covenant of grace which God initiates with his people (first with Israel and later with the expanded Church). This single covenant finds expression in two halves: the Old Covenant (Testament) and the New (or completed) Covenant/Testament. Whereas dispensationalism divides history into many distinct eras and activities, Reformed theology tends to see continuity between the different periods. In its interpretation of the Bible, Reformed theology tends to read prophetic and apocalyptic texts more symbolically than literally. For instance, Reformed eschatology tends to be “amillenial”, interpreting the thousand year reign of Revelation 20 as a metaphor for the expansion of God’s kingdom through the ministries of the Church in the current age. For more information, see articles in theological dictionaries or go to the source and consult Charles Ryrie’s Dispensationalism (Moody Press, 1995). Incidentally, the popular “Left Behind” series of novels by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins exclusively espouses dispensational theology/eschatology.

Divorce
Q: “How do I overcome the suffering of a divorce that took place 10 years ago…and wasn’t my choosing?”

A: I hear a lot of pain in your question and I’m aware that divorce is one of life’s significant tragedies. Many people walk through life with the wounds of divorce, struggling to find healing. Not knowing all the details of your experience, I would guess that healing would come as a combination of a number of things. Certainly, forgiveness of your former spouse would be at the top of the list. Without forgiveness, it’s almost impossible to move on. You feel hurt, possibly betrayed, certainly abandoned. You mourn the loss of a companion, the investment of time and emotion, the history of good memories. I encourage you to find ways to forgive your spouse, forgive yourself, and hand over to God all of these feelings.
I suspect another important thing to do is invest in meaningful relationships and activities. If all you’ve got is the void created by the divorce, it’s pretty hard to build a life around it. Fill your emptiness with new friends and service opportunities. Discover your gifts for ministry and find joy in using them to bless others. Take up a sport or a hobby and make new friends in the process. If these endeavors fail to bring you the satisfaction you’re seeking, do not be ashamed to seek professional counseling, spiritual direction, or the aid of a recovery group.

E

Ebenezers
Q: In a hymn recently, there was a reference to an “Ebenezer.” What is this?

A: Great question! I’m sure you’re referring to verse two of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” which states, “Here I raise my Ebenezer…” I’m afraid that when we think of Ebenezer, most of us think of Charles Dickens’ character Ebenezer Scrooge! An “ebenezer” is a Hebrew word used in 1Samuel 7:12, in which the prophet Samuel erects a stone monument to commemorate for Israel the Lord’s faithfulness to them in the defeat of the Philistines. An ebenezer is literally a “stone of help”, a marker or memorial of a time and place in which God provided specific help. We can erect our own ebenezers in a variety of ways—by using symbols or mementos or even writing down entries in a journal, all of them tangible means by which we recall ways God has been good to us in the past (and may be similarly trusted in the future).

Eternal Life
Q: How does our Christian belief of eternal life after death contrast with that of Old Testament Jews? Exactly what did Old Testament Jews believe happened to them at death?

A: As with the question of Satan above, the idea of an afterlife takes shape over time in the biblical writings, finding its fullest expression in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the New Testament’s witness to him. Most Old Testament references to death do not mention bodily resurrection. Instead, those who die are said to have their souls descend into Sheol, the shadowy netherworld of the dead (e.g. Psalm 6:5). However, intimations of resurrection may indeed be found in the Old Testament (see Job 19:25-27 and Daniel 12:2). By the time of Jesus, there was diversity of Jewish opinion about life after death: the Pharisees believed in bodily resurrection; the Sadducees did not (Matthew 22:23ff; Acts 23:6-9). This diversity of opinion persists in modern American Judaism: orthodox and conservative branches tend to believe in resurrection and the afterlife; Reformed Judaism does not.

Evolution
Q: Can you help me better understand the Christian perspective concerning the evolutionary theory.

A: That’s a tough thing for me to do, since there certainly is no single “Christian perspective” on evolutionary theory. On the one hand, there are some Christians who swear by a literal six days of creation and a young earth; on the other, there are some Christians who want to recognize God’s hand in natural selection and therefore find no difficulty harmonizing evolutionary thought with biblical creation narratives. I suspect Christians line up every place in between as well! In my limited study of the subject, I think there are excellent proofs of “intelligent design”, in other words, God’s purposeful hand guiding creation and its changes over time. My sense is that, as people of faith in God, we cannot embrace evolutionary hypotheses without question because evolution, as I understand it, implies no Creator, but rather a process of natural selection without a divine hand to guide it.

F

Forbearance
Q: What is your interpretation of the word “forbearance” as used in the Bible?

A: “Forbearance” is a good old-fashioned word. We don’t tend to use it much and, in fact, where the Revised Standard Version used “forbearance”, the New Revised Standard Version most often uses “patience.” I looked up the “forbear” word cluster on my handheld Bible computer and studied the 16 occurrences that came up (six in the Old Testament, 10 in the New Testament). In the Old Testament, “to forbear” usually means “to refrain” or to hold back. With reference to God in Jeremiah 15:15, it is a plea for God’s patience. This notion of forbearance as patience dominates the New Testament, where eight of the ten uses are in the letters of Paul. When Paul means forbearance as patience, he uses the Greek word makrothymia, or “long-suffering.” Elsewhere, he uses other words, like a word for “stop,” as in stop doing something or refrain from doing it. “Forbearance” can also refer to “gentleness” (Philippians 4:5) or enduring one another’s shortcomings (Colossians 3:13). Perhaps this last usage is the most instructive to us: as God is patient with our shortcomings and endures them graciously, so we are called to do the same with each other, not being snippy or peevish, but exercising kindness and a godly tolerance for the weaknesses of our brothers and sisters.

Forgiveness
Q: “Does God expect you to forgive even when the person doesn’t think s/he has done anything or not asked for your forgiveness—and continues to hurt you?”

A: That’s a tough—and sensitive—question. My instinct is to say, “yes and no”! When Jesus teaches on forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4 he mentions that we must forgive many, many times a brother or sister who repents and seeks our forgiveness (note there’s no mention here of forgiving those who don’t repent and seek our forgiveness!). So, based only on this passage, I’d say the answer to your question is “No, God doesn’t expect you to forgive those who don’t ask for your forgiveness or recognize they’ve done wrong and hurt you.” However, my reading of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:43-48 and especially the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:12-15) leads me to believe that we are to forgive liberally and often, as God forgives us. My sense is that you may need to lovingly confront whoever it is who’s hurting you to make them see the error of their ways and then go from there (Matthew 18:15-17 might be a guideline). To conclude, I’d say that repentance and sorrow for the hurt we’ve caused is a precondition for true forgiveness. Yet, I’d also say that when we’ve been hurt by others and then harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, we poison our souls. Forgiveness may be the best thing for us, if not for them! This is a tough situation, certainly.

G

Genealogy
Q: “In the sermon on the genealogy of Jesus the genealogy of Joseph was traced back to David and beyond—but Joseph had nothing to do with the conception of Jesus. What is the genealogy of Mary?”

A: In first century Jewish practice, the adoption of a child by a father conferred on that child all the rights and privileges associated with the father’s lineage. By being adopted by Joseph, Jesus is legally and religiously considered to be part of the Davidic line. Additionally, some have pointed out that Mary too may have had roots in this lineage (it was not uncommon for marriages to occur within tribal families). The Bible, however, is silent on Mary’s heritage.
Gloria Patri

Q: “In the Gloria Patri, you need to change the line ‘world without end.’ This line does not support the Bible, hence it goes against God. The last book of the Bible tells us about the world’s end, so how could you say that the world has no end? Even if that is not what is meant, the line comes across as such too easily. Please, as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, change this line.”

A: Are you sure that this line “goes against the Bible” and that “the last book of the Bible tells us about the world’s end”? I read in Revelation 21 of the creation of a new heaven and new earth after the passing away of the first heaven and first earth (see verse 1). When we speak of “world without end” we are talking about this new heaven and new earth, in which God reigns supreme and eternal. And, furthermore, this phrase is eminently biblical: see the King James version of Ephesians 3:21—“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”

God-Attributes

Q: “Philosophers and theologians for centuries have described God as ‘immutable.’ Yet I see little biblical support for God being ‘immutable’—that is, changeless—albeit eternal. What do you see as the teaching of the Bible?”

A: I suspect that the doctrine of God’s immutability may be more influenced by Greek philosophy and an attempt to correct theological distortions than it is by Scripture. What theologians seek to avoid in developing this doctrine of God’s essential unchanging nature is a descent into the capricious, unpredictable behavior of pagan deities (just read Greek mythology for many examples!). Protestant reformers, in their defense of God’s immutability, were partly reacting to the mistaken medieval Catholic notion that God could be bought or manipulated by people’s practices (for example, their payment of indulgences to the church to shorten their time in purgatory). I think what we want to avoid is “fallen anthropomorphisms”—in other words, the projection of our finite, broken personalities onto God’s. We human beings quickly explode in anger when provoked; we can easily be bribed into changing our minds or actions by people’s treatment of us. God is infinitely higher and more holy than we are and such behaviors are clearly unworthy of God. So we mustn’t confuse our fickle nature with God’s steadfast character. “Change” for us may mean one thing; for God it may mean something entirely different. Clearly, Scripture shows God changing a course of action because of people’s intercession (see examples of Abraham and Moses praying for people under judgment—and God sparing the people because of such prayers). God also changes a course of treatment of his people (punishment, for example), if they repent of their sins (see Israel’s history for many instances). The ultimate example is the appeasement of God’s just wrath against sin by the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus. God turns from judgment because of Christ’s atoning work. That’s change of a sort, isn’t it? So, I guess the real issue is what do we mean by—and perceive in our limited perspective as—change in God? God doesn’t change in the mercurial, sinful ways we do. Indeed, God and Jesus are the same, “yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). But clearly, God interacts with and responds to the actions and attitudes of people in ways that are in keeping with God’s holy and just attributes. God may mercifully reverse a course of judgment, show pity instead of wrath, forgive rather than punish, or extend blessing in place of a curse, all of which show evidence of a change from God’s original declared intent.

God-Protection
Q: “I have been struggling with the concept of God as a ‘shield.’ (i.e. Psalm 3:3; Genesis 15:1). If ‘protection’ is the definition as in Webster’s, I cannot accept it and I cannot teach children the simplification that ‘God keeps you safe.’ What is the value of praying for travel safety, protection from illness, and the dozens of other things people ask protection for? …If it means more that God goes before you through the valley of the shadow of death to lead you to eternity, then I will hold onto that future real hope.”

A: I appreciate the depth and maturity of your question. For any believer who has gone through inexplicable pain or tragedy, to realize that God’s protection is not what we may have thought, is disorienting, to say the least. It is a mark of Christian maturity when we learn to accept that God’s chief role in our lives is not to shield us from all forms of sorrow and suffering, but rather to use us for his purposes and to transform us into the image of his Son. Indeed, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus can help provide perspective. Surely, if God loved anyone and would’ve sought to shield anyone, it would have been his Son. Yet, as we know, Jesus was the Suffering Servant of God (see Isaiah 53:3-12) who was not spared affliction and tragedy. Can we, as God’s children, expect any less? Paul put it well in Romans 8:17, “Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” As much as we’d like to teach our children (and believe ourselves) that “God keeps you safe”, it may not be wholly true, at least in our limited understanding of “safety.” God preserves his faithful against anything and everything that can ultimately separate us from his love (see Romans 8:35-39)—but often, that does not include earthly sorrow and pain.

H
Heaven
Q: “I have a friend who is struggling with becoming faithful, because in heaven her family would not be there. How can she be truly happy in heaven without them?”

A: We do indeed wonder how heaven can be enjoyed without the fellowship of those we love. That may be because we are “reasoning from below” (or trying to understand heaven’s future through earth’s present). Though it stretches our imagination, I anticipate that all our current experiences will fade into dim memory in light of the joy of heaven. God’s overwhelming love and goodness (not to mention his mercy and justice) will so captivate us that lesser loves and allegiances will pale by comparison. Additionally, we will have a perfect family in heaven with such joyful, completed relationships that prior experiences of family will seem preparatory at best. Lastly, we can never know what occurs in the last conscious moments of someone’s life. We can entrust our loved ones to our merciful God hoping and praying that his compassion and forgiveness may extend to them as well as to us. If we love our family members, God must love them far more!

Q: Given that God made all of the human body and soul, what is the nature of our soul’s state between death and the future resurrection of our (heavenly) body and final judgment? Also, what happens to our body until the return of Christ?

A: As we learn in 1Corinthians, true biblical spirituality has a material aspect: God made not only the human soul, but also the human body. Both are originally good and both are redeemed in Christ’s resurrection. Unlike the Greek-thinkers of Corinth, who believed only in the immortality of the soul (and upon death its release from the prison house of the body), Jewish and Christian believers hope in the resurrection: a redemption of both body and soul on the day of final judgment.
There are at least two Christian views I’m aware of about what happens to the human soul upon physical death. The first is “soul sleep”, the idea that the soul sleeps in some unconscious state until Christ’s return and then, on Judgment Day, it is awakened and restored to its (now resurrected) body. The other view, and the one I tend to agree with more, is that of the (believing) soul’s departure to be with Christ in some conscious state and place until the soul is restored to its resurrection body as above. This seems more congruent with several Scripture passages: 1) the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The thief’s body was dead and buried, but his soul (that essential aspect of his personality) went to join Jesus in a state called “Paradise.” 2) Paul’s hopeful words in Romans 8:38-39, where Paul is convinced that even death cannot separate the believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Their bodies were buried, Paul infers, but their souls were consciously enjoying the love of the Lord. 3) Paul’s autobiographical words in Philippians 1:21-23 where he writes “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain…I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.” Paul knows that death will be the end of his life in this mortal body; but he also knows that death will allow his soul to be “with Christ”, conscious of his love and presence in what theologians call “the intermediate state.” This is not the new heaven and new earth to come, for that will be inhabited by redeemed humans who have their souls living in new resurrection bodies. Rather, it is a temporary state where the soul resides in Christ’s presence, conscious of his peace and nearness.

Heaven-Pets
Pets

Q: Do pets go to heaven?

A: This is such a great question! All of us who’ve ever owned pets and watched them die have asked this (or have had to respond to a child who asked this). We humans love our pets (I know I love our Golden Retriever Hannah!). They become so much a part of our lives they’re like people, almost like dear friends and relatives.

While the Bible doesn’t address this question directly, it suggests a few things that may be helpful. For one thing, we can affirm that all God’s original creation was deemed “good” by God (Genesis 1). This would include the animal world, both wild and later domestic animals (Genesis 1:25). As parts of God’s good creation now under the effects of sin and death, animals may well be part of God’s redemption as well. Here’s what I mean: God is in the business of redeeming and restoring all things, of renewing the originally good creation. “See, I am making all things new” God says in Revelation 21:5. We tend to forget that our future as believers holds not only a new heaven, but a new earth as well (Revelation 21:1). Presumably, this new earth will include elements of the old earth, including living creatures, which will live with us in freedom from the taint of sin and death. It will be a redeemed creation. And if in this fallen creation we enjoy closeness with our pets, would it be too much to think that the new creation would provide even better relationships in this area? I’m not saying that God will resurrect the dead bodies of our pets and reunite them with their souls (the way God will with human beings in the general resurrection when Christ comes again); but I do think a case can be made for an appropriate closeness between humans and animals in the new creation to come. I think this is the Apostle Paul’s main point in Romans 8:19-21, which states: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

This begs the bigger question: will Hannah's breath smell better in heaven?

Heaven-Rewards
Q: “[How do I understand] the issue of ‘levels’ of rewards in heaven (discussed somewhat in The Purpose Driven Life)?”

A: In a quick skim of the New Testament use of the term “reward” I notice that it is a term that refers to God’s (or Christ’s) compensation for faith or good works. Rewards can be given by God here on earth (Matthew 6:5) or they can be stored up in heaven (Matthew 5:12). They can be simple or they can be great. I suspect that your question may have to do with the important biblical doctrine of justification by faith (and not by works): we believe Scripture teaches that no one by virtue of their good works is worthy of the heavenly reward of everlasting life (Romans 3:23, 28). Only faith in Christ qualifies us for this (Ephesians 2:8-9). However, for those saved by grace through faith, it does seem that works still have a place (Ephesians 2:10) and that they will be rewarded in the future (1Corinthians 3:14). Somehow we need to hold in tension the twin truths that only grace saves us (not works) and that works still have their place as the outworking of faith—and for those saved by grace, their works will be rewarded accordingly.

Third Heaven
Q: “In 2Corinthians 12:2 Paul mentions a man ‘caught up to the third heaven.’ What is the third heaven and what are the first and second heavens?”

A: Interesting question! Paul’s reference here to multiple levels of heaven is unique in the New Testament but not unusual in extra-biblical literature of about the same time period. 1Enoch and other apocalypses describe numerous levels of heaven (often seven, but up to ten!). Some types of rabbinic literature from the same period allude to similar things. Without much more information to go on, we can’t be too sure about the specifics of heavenly cosmology. Perhaps John Calvin’s answer was best: the number three here is the perfect number and is used to indicate what is highest and best.

Hell
Q: “What about hell? How could a loving God banish anyone to hell for eternal punishment? Wouldn’t it be better to just put those who don’t believe out of their misery? In The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel makes the case that hell is not eternal punishment in torment, but willful separation from God. Do you believe this or do you adhere to the verse in Revelation that says “all who were not written in the book of Life were cast into the lake of fire”?

A: It’s interesting, isn’t it, that Jesus (best known for his teaching and example of love) spoke more than anyone else about hell! We may wonder, therefore, if it is a mark of his love for us that he warns us about the reality of hell. Jesus didn’t seem shy about using very graphic language to describe hell (we think of the worms, the unquenchable fire, etc). In speaking like this, he must have been very concerned that we avoid such a place. Now, whether such descriptions of hell are literal or figurative (describing the horror of eternal separation from God) may not be the most important question. I’m afraid too much ink has been spilled estimating hell’s location, temperature, and duration. The main point is that God’s love includes his justice (and that shouldn’t surprise us, for how could a loving God look the other way regarding evil? Such toleration of evil isn’t loving at all). As someone once observed, God never damns anyone to hell. We do that when we refuse to choose God’s offer of life. In the end, God simply gives us what we ask for.

Holy Spirit
Q: “How do I know that I have the Holy Spirit and that he does indeed dwell in me?”

A: The assurance of one’s indwelling by the Holy Spirit involves both an objective and a subjective dimension. Objectively, we are informed by Scripture that when we confess our faith in Christ, claiming “Jesus is Lord”, it is by the Holy Spirit who indwells us (see 1Corinthians 12:3). The Bible also clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit is “in” believers (see John 14:15-17 and 1Corinthians 6:19). So, although faith involves an inescapable subjective dimension, objectively, we must agree with Scripture about its teaching regarding the Holy Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer. Now, subjectively, there are indeed times when we may feel the Spirit’s indwelling presence and activity. These may be special times of joy, worship, thanksgiving, and praise—occasions when the Holy Spirit moves us to extol God in Christ. Additionally, we may experience special insight or gifting for ministry appropriate to a certain circumstance. These are rich gifts of the Spirit which leave a strong impression on us! However, in the absence of such experiences and subjective feelings, we nevertheless base our conviction on the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence on the firm foundation of Scripture.

Human Responsibility

Q: How does one strike the balance between acknowledging that God is in total control and yet, we are personally responsible for our decisions?

A: “Carefully.” Seriously, you’re asking a big and important question which historically has fallen under the attempts to reconcile divine sovereignty (God’s supreme rule over all things) and human responsibility (our challenge to exercise free will responsibly). Scripture clearly teaches both, with an emphasis on God’s sovereignty first and foremost. Divine sovereignty—that is God’s mighty and majestic rule over all things that occur—nevertheless leaves room for human responsibility. These two are not mutually exclusive. Scripture depicts God knowing in advance what people will do (and yet incorporating their free actions into his eternal purposes). A clear example of this is Acts 2:22-23 in which Peter proclaims to the Jews gathered before him at Pentecost: “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth…this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.”

We see here divine sovereignty (God’s “definite plan and foreknowledge” of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion) mysteriously working amidst human responsibility (“you crucified and killed”). Though human beings are free to choose, God sovereignly uses their choices as part of his eternal plan. Another example would be Judas: Judas freely chooses to betray Jesus; yet Jesus mentions that his choice fulfills ancient biblical prophecy (Matthew 26:24, 54). These twin realities—divine sovereignty and human responsibility—present us with a mystery, one we might call an “antinomy”—two truths which appear contradictory, yet must be held together in tension.

I

Inclusiveness

Q: If Jesus was inclusive (i.e. inviting people off the streets to the wedding party) and loved everyone, help me understand why we at FPC do not let gay/lesbians be full members of this church (i.e. with rights such as becoming elders and deacons)? They are Christians, not Paulinians (Paul was against lust and pederasty, not real love between any two people).

A: It’s interesting to me that you have applied the popular term “inclusive” to Jesus Christ. My take on the Jesus we meet in the Bible is that he was both “inclusive” (in that he included everyone potentially in the scope of God’s love and his own sacrificial death) and “intolerant” (in that he refused to wink at sin or tolerate it in any way). It is true: Jesus offers love and new life to all who will follow him in faith. But it is also true that to these disciples Jesus issues his call to follow him on the narrow way, to pick up their crosses and walk his path to a certain death to themselves (sometime literal, always figurative). Let’s be clear: Jesus loves and calls all sinners to relationship with himself. Yet this relationship never leaves us as we are or were; it is a relationship of transformation from sin into holiness, a holiness defined by biblical standards and the example of Christ himself. At FPC all are welcome to join us in our life together. However, to those who pledge themselves to Jesus as his disciples, a life of holiness and surrender to God becomes increasingly important and necessary. This is especially true for those who are called to the ordained offices of the church. These officers pledge to lead their lives as examples to the rest, following the guidance of Scripture and the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Constitution. My understanding of church office is that it is not a right of all members, but, rather, a privilege, a responsibility, and a calling to those so gifted and recognized by the congregation. Please note: though our PC(USA) constitution (and the practices of FPC) prohibit self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from holding church office, this restriction does not apply to people of same-sex attraction who remain celibate.

Inerrancy
Q: “What does the term ‘inerrancy of Scripture’ mean? How is Scripture viewed among different Christian theological camps (e.g. fundamentalist, liberal, etc)?

A: The phrase “inerrancy of Scripture” made its way into popular American Christian consciousness in the late 1970s with the “battle for the Bible” named after a book by Harold Lindsell. Lindsell was writing in the context of what he felt was the diminishing authority of the Bible in seminaries and evangelical churches. In particular, he took issue with some neo-orthodox views of Scripture linked to the famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth.

“ Inerrancy”, as applied to the Bible, is the idea that the Bible is without error and indeed cannot err. Some very strict views of inerrancy would extend this concept to scientific and historic details. Other more moderate views of inerrancy are often tempered with the statement that the Bible is without error “in all that it affirms”--about God, humankind, salvation, and the righteous life.

My understanding of this term is that it comes relatively late in Church history. It really gains traction in the 20th century. As such, it is a somewhat reactionary idea, developed as a polemic against what was perceived as the threat of modernism and comparative religious studies. Note the way the term is expressed defensively: it tells us what Scripture cannot do (i.e. it cannot err). Historically, the Church has affirmed not inerrancy, but the authority and inspiration of Scripture. I tend to like these terms better, for they tell us positively and confidently what the Church has believed about the Bible since the beginning. Scripture is a trustworthy document, God’s Word through human words, a durable, thoughtful, cohesive, coherent story which integrates reliable descriptions of our relationship with a loving, saving God viewed most fully and clearly in Jesus Christ.
If we may generalize: from the right side of the theological spectrum, fundamentalist Christians would insist that the Bible is inerrant and might unconsciously approach it in the way many Muslims approach the Koran: believing that the text is fully divine and that human authors were quite passive in its writing. On the opposite side of the spectrum (again, if we must generalize), liberal Christians would tend to view the Bible as inspirational religious reading which reflects a mostly human composition. The issue for Christian views of the Bible is the nature and authorship of Scripture: how much is divine and how much is human? As Presbyterians, our Reformed heritage has preferred to speak of the Bible’s authority (basing this on the example of Jesus and the early church, in particular) and its inspiration (affirming with the Apostle Paul that it is “God-breathed” -- 2Timothy 3:16).

J

Jesus
Q: Often, God and Jesus are spoken of as the same person. Why is that?”

A: To my knowledge, Jesus and the Father are never spoken of as the same person, though at least in one place (John 10:30) they are spoken of as “one.” However, as the Son of God in human flesh, Jesus is described as divine in the New Testament many times (e.g. John 1:1ff; Heb 1:1-4; Col 1:15f; 2:9).
Judgment

Q: “How does a believer properly view the judgment we will experience in the future?”

A: It’s a difficult thing for us to consider Judgment Day, isn’t it? As Christians, when we imagine ourselves standing before the Lord on the last day, we need to avoid two opposite extremes: first, we must beware the extreme of insecurity: worrying if we’ve done enough good deeds to merit eternal reward. This is the error of works-righteousness, the false understanding that any of us can possibly earn salvation by our good works. In light of God’s holiness and perfection, we all fall miserably short. We were “dead in our transgressions and sins” as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1. Dead people cannot save themselves! Only God’s gracious initiative, only God’s renewing activity on our behalf, can save us. Secondly, we must also avoid the extreme of false confidence, of taking God’s saving grace for granted and not allowing it to move us to good deeds. We must heed the warning Jesus issues in Matthew 7:21 “’Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Simple verbal affirmation of Jesus’ deity (without a life-changing submission to his Spirit) will not qualify us for heaven (James makes this point strongly in James 2:14-17). Our faith must issue in good works. True saving faith unites us intimately with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We become new people and we begin to live that way. So, in answer to your question, we approach the idea of our judgment by God with gratitude for his great grace which saves us and humility in knowing that our deeds cannot merit salvation. This gratitude and humility move us to action as we seek to live out the life of Christ within us. However, at the end of the day, we cast our confidence solely on Jesus Christ, who is our Judge as well as the friend of sinners.

Judgmental
Q: “How do the verses about judging others (Matthew 7:1-5) apply to our daily lives in choosing friends and marriage partners, patronizing businesses, etc?”
“Christianity and Jesus say to not judge others—accept people for who they are—why then are Christians some of the most judgmental and unaccepting people in society?”


A: First, in response to this second question (and hopefully as an answer to the first), let me offer a challenge: do Christianity and Jesus really say not to judge others? I can think of two particular instances where Jesus (Matthew 7:6) and the apostle Paul (1Corinthians 5-6) actually urge us to judge! Now let’s be clear: this “judgment” has nothing to do with passing condemnation on people, but rather with critically evaluating their character and behavior (and ours as well!) in light of God’s Word. Christians are never asked to abandon their moral standards as they try to determine what is pleasing to God, whether in themselves or others. Rather, Christians are: 1) to be acutely aware of their own shortcomings and sin (the “plank” in their eye in Matthew 7:3-5); 2) to humbly strive for God’s high and holy standards revealed in Scripture; 3) to uphold and graciously enforce God’s moral requirements for members in the Church; and 4) to show Christ’s love to those outside his Church as we urge them to embrace Jesus as Savior and Lord. If we did a better job of these things, we’d be seen as much less judgmental, don’t you think?

K

King Solomon
Q: “Recently, someone challenged me with the idea that there is no historical proof that King Solomon actually lived. Can you tell me something about this and perhaps point me to some credible authors I can google?”

A: This debate wasn’t familiar to me until I googled it myself! I learned that positions for and against King Solomon as an historical figure are largely based on presuppositions about the nature of Scripture (i.e. when it comes to the stories of David and Solomon, is it primarily legend or factual chronology?) Added to this is the complexity of archaeology: the sites where Solomon had his palace and temple were situated in areas of Jerusalem that cannot be excavated (due to the sensitive nature of the Temple Mount and private property in the City of David). Suffice it to say, this is a complicated debate with many layers. I googled “historicity King Solomon” and went from there. Give it a try and good luck!

L

Living the Faith
Q: “How can we become channels of Christ’s love and compassion, reflecting him in our daily walk and interaction with others?”

A: Several phrases come to mind in answer to your question. First, I think of “intimate relationship.” By striving after intimacy with Jesus, through the knowledge of his Word, through regular discourse with him in prayer, through a life together in Christian community, and through an intentional modeling of our lives after his, a deepened relationship occurs which results in a similarity of character. “Submission” is another term that might be helpful. As we submit ourselves increasingly to his will and not our own, he will literally live through us by his Holy Spirit. Our lives will then become an extension of his love to all we meet.

Lord’s Prayer
Q: In the Lord’s Prayer some churches and translations have “debts”, and others “trespasses” instead of “sins”. This is confusing! What is the original?

A: This is always awkward for me when I visit my parents’ Methodist church. They say the Lord’s Prayer with “trespasses” and I, as a Presbyterian, say “debts.” I like “debts” better because it rolls off the tongue more easily! Let me prove it: compare “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” with “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?! The original word in Matthew’s version of the prayer (Matthew 6:12) is opheilemata, which is a Greek rendition of an Aramaic (and earlier, Hebrew) word hob, which literally meant “debt” as in financial indebtedness. This carried over into the idea of sin, as a debt we owed to God in order to restore righteousness. Luke’s version of the prayer (Luke 11:4 NRSV) uses the simple word “sins” (hamartiai) in combination with “indebted”: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” I’ll bet this is “all Greek” to you!

Loving God
Q: “I can understand being thankful to God for all sorts of things…however, it is hard for me to understand what loving God means. Love an entity that can create all things, infinitely complicated, perhaps infinitely large; that can know all things; that is unknowable by us, except by Jesus’ life; that is more powerful and intelligent than we can possibly imagine; that is unseen…”

A: John in his First Letter writes, “we love because he first loved us” (4:19). Our love for God (and for others) is conditioned on his prior love for us. As we learn of God’s love, supremely shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for us, we experience feelings of gratitude and thanksgiving and these are signs of a budding love for God. Our love for God will never be perfect or based on complete understanding of God. But we can nonetheless love God is ways that are genuine and real.

M

Mary
Q: “Are there any songs, hymns about Mary used in Protestant churches?”

A: Former FPC Music and Worship Director Bruce Graham writes:
“In the Episcopal church, there are the settings of the Magnificat in the back of their hymnal....usually sung as more of a chant than a hymn setting. In the blue Presbyterian hymnal there is the Hymn "The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came", one of my favorites. There is also "To a Maid Engaged to Joseph" which is also in the same hymnal. But no one celebrates Mary in song like our Catholic brothers and sisters!”

Mormon Church

Q: “What is the primary focus of Jesus Christ in the Mormon Church? They use the name Jesus Christ very prominently in their title and talk. Is Jesus just a prophet like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith? Are Mormons “Christians” by our definition?”

A: If being a Christian means to personally trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and, furthermore, believe in him as the unique Son of God, fully human and fully divine, co-eternal with the Father, alone sharing one substance with the Father (per the Apostles and Nicene Creeds), then, no, Mormons are not Christians. In fact, I’ve learned the following about Mormon Christology: Joseph Smith’s successor, Brigham Young, taught that Adam was actually God who took on a body and came to Eden (in Missouri) with one of his heavenly wives, Eve. This Adam-God (believed to be the archangel Michael) begat Jesus by sexually cohabiting with the Virgin Mary in a physical relationship (see Larson’s Book of Cults, Tyndale House, 1982, p. 161). According to Larson, Mormons believe in an anthropomorphic God with physical, material dimensions (p. 162) and apparently some Mormons believe that Jesus was married to both Mary and Martha who bore him children on earth. The Mormons are well-known for the saying: “As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may become” (Larson, 162). Walter Martin, in his classic book, Kingdom of the Cults (Bethany House, 1985, pp. 213, 219), has material which also describes Mormons’ highly unorthodox view of Jesus and God the Father.

N
New Testament-Jesus’ Character
Q: What’s going on in Matthew 15:21-28? Every time I read this, it sounds so harsh, almost loathing, and out of character for the loving Jesus.

A: Isn’t it troubling when the biblical Jesus behaves in ways we think he shouldn’t?! Passages like this one, or other ones like his woes to the Pharisees (Matthew 23), or the cleansing of the temple and cursing of the fig tree (Matthew 21:12//Mark 11:12-21) shock us and throw into question our preconceived understandings of what we think Jesus should be like. Too often, I’m afraid, we expect Jesus to behave like a polite, mild-mannered gentleman…but that’s another issue…and I’m starting to preach!

In this hard-to-understand passage, Jesus apparently shows some reluctance in answering the Gentile woman’s request for him to deliver her daughter from a demon. His initial reticence seems to be motivated by his sense of calling: he believes he is sent to minister, at least at first, to the house of Israel and not beyond it to the Gentiles. His vivid response, “It is not fair to take the children’s food [that is the spiritual blessings he’s come to share with the Jews] and throw it to the dogs [that is the Gentiles]” is hard to comprehend, particularly this seemingly harsh reference to “dogs.” However, as commentaries note, Jesus uses the softened term for dogs, which can be translated “lapdogs” or “puppies.” (These are not the common street dogs which scavenge among the refuse in the gutter.) Dale Bruner, in his excellent commentary on this passage, notes that Jesus, in his humanity, is wrestling with the scope of his mission: clearly, he is meant to preach the gospel to the Jews first; but now the Gentiles too?! Through the Canaanite woman’s faith, Jesus sees that his healing power is meant to be shared with all people who will trust him, not just the Jews. Should we have difficulty recognizing that Jesus needed to learn new aspects of his calling during his earthly ministry, we need only recall Hebrews 5:8, which states that Jesus learned obedience through that which he suffered. This passage is an important turning point in the gospel, which we must remember ends with the famous Great Commission, in which Jesus calls his followers to “make disciples of all nations.”

New Testament-Third Heaven
Q: “In 2Corinthians 12:2 Paul mentions a man ‘caught up to the third heaven.’ What is the third heaven and what are the first and second heavens?”

A: Interesting question! Paul’s reference here to multiple levels of heaven is unique in the New Testament but not unusual in extra-biblical literature of about the same time period. 1Enoch and other apocalypses describe numerous levels of heaven (often seven, but up to ten!). Some types of rabbinic literature from the same period allude to similar things. Without much more information to go on, we can’t be too sure about the specifics of heavenly cosmology. Perhaps John Calvin’s answer was best: the number three here is the perfect number and is used to indicate what is highest and best.

New Testament-Sermon on the Mount
Q: I was reading Matthew 5 and was thinking about verses 29 and 30, which seem to be written with the presumption that if we sin we will go to hell. They seem to leave no place for forgiveness, mercy, and grace. That is, if the hand causes one to sin, verse 30 leaves little room for forgiveness and repentance, where the hand could stay.

A: What we see in these verses is an example of Jesus’ hyperbole: he’s overstating the potential consequences of disobedience to warn his listeners about the seriousness of sin. Some Christians (most notably Origen in the 3rd century) took Jesus literally and removed parts of their body! This is not what Jesus intends for us. Rather, he wants us to avert our lustful eyes from the object of our desire (Matthew 5:29) and to not allow our hands to lead us into sin—and this, he recognizes, is painful, almost like severing a literal member of our body. This is a call for the mortification of our flesh, not its mutilation (John Stott). Above all, we must remember that the “gateway” to the Sermon on the Mount was grace: Jesus’ eight beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) extend a clear hope of forgiveness and mercy to all who sin. The stringency of Jesus’ later teaching in the Sermon needs to be read in light of these beatitudes.

O
Old Testament-Imagery
Q: In Psalm 74:19 the word “turtledove” puzzles me in this context. In Psalm 74:2 the “rod of thine inheritance” is also puzzling. I don’t understand what “rod” means here.

A: As I read them in their context, both of these references are to the people of Israel: in verse two they are the rod of their shepherd (God); in verse 19 they are his turtledove. Please note that in verse 2, the Hebrew word for “rod” (shebeth) can also be translated “tribe” (as it is translated in most of the English versions, including NIV, NASB, RSV, and NRSV).

Old Testament-violence
Q: Why does God encourage violence and killing so much in the Old Testament?

A:
This is truly a tough question. In light of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, considering his prayer from the cross for God to forgive his enemies and keeping in mind much of his teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (about loving enemies, turning the other cheek, etc) how is it, we wonder, that God, the Father of Jesus and the One he came to reveal, should show such violent wrath to (particularly the pagan) people in the Old Testament period? Books like Joshua are especially hard for us to read and make sense of. One writer I found helpful remarked that 1) though there were commands to annihilate entire pagan populations, it is likely that they were often limited in number and concentrated in small city-states in Philistia; 2) these were places of great immorality (often their inhabitants sacrificed their children to their deities). God’s intent, it seems, is to judge them for their sins as well as to graphically indicate that his people were to be altogether different in their lifestyle and faith. Remember, this is an early period in Israel’s “infancy”—after Jesus and all he reveals, things have dramatically changed.

Other Faiths
Q: If those (Buddhists, e.g.) who have never heard of Christ don’t go to heaven, do they spend eternity in hell? Does that seem fair/loving etc? I have a hard time with this.

A: This question of heaven and hell as it relates to people of other religions is one many have asked (and one to which I’ve responded to in “Religions-Other” and I’d urge you to have a look there. Another answer under the title “What About Hell”--also in the same section--discusses aspects of your question as well).

P

Personalities
Q: “I am interested in the role of an individual’s personality as it affects the intensity, the nature, and even the existence of their faith. A few examples come to mind of certain personality tendencies such as being 1) control-oriented; 2) anti-authoritarian; 3) a person who always is seeking a magic solution to everything; or 4) highly self-sufficient.”

A: This is a great question! How does the one, historic, orthodox Christian faith impact the infinite variety of our human personalities? How much do our differing personalities affect the way we experience our faith?

What’s evident from Scripture is that there are a variety of personalities who meet and interact with God—and Jesus, God’s Son. There’s no “one type of personality” that is suitable for faith. We think of impetuous Peter, obviously, but also of strict, acerbic James, the brother of our Lord; we think of doubting Thomas, of fire-brand Elijah, of timid Timothy, of bold Paul. We think of young Jeremiah, stuttering Moses, thoughtful Mary the Mother of our Lord; we think too of contemplative Mary of Bethany sitting at Jesus’ feet and her sister, business-like Martha scurrying about, attending to the household. The point is, there are a myriad of personalities in the Bible, just as there are today, who are impacted by the knowledge of God.
The issue, it seems to me, has not to do with diversity of personalities, but how such personalities interact with their personal faith in God or Jesus—and how much certain personalities change or stay the same as a result. I suspect what we’re talking about is sanctification: the progressive growth of God’s people in holiness or the reflection of God’s character. While in many respects the diversity of our core personalities seem to be expressions of God’s manifold creativity, certain aspects of our personalities are clearly twisted by our fall from grace: sin has distorted our personalities and God’s grace must slowly bring us healing and correction. So, the control-oriented person learns, by the grace of God, to relax and let God govern their lives more completely, recognizing that such compulsion to control things may in fact be an attempt to play god and therefore be an expression of a lack of faith in the true God. Anti-authoritarianism may also be evidence of prideful self-will and stubborn independence. By God’s grace, such persons learn to submit more freely to God’s legitimate, gracious authority. So too, with traits of magic thinking or self-sufficiency. At their core, all of these traits you list may derive from a person who is detached from God’s life-giving leadership and lordship of their lives. This may be due to family patterns, distorted thinking, or painful past events. As the person grows in grace, it may well be that the lighter side of these traits (assuming there are some) are purged and purified and redeemed for God’s service. All of this is sanctification or growth in Christ-likeness—and it’s a lifetime process. Finally, I do believe that God respects how we’re wired in our personalities. There’s ample room in the Church for the quiet as well as the boisterous, the energetic as well as the lethargic, the thinker and the doer, the conservative and the expressive, the accountant and the artist. Each of us while retaining the God-given essence of our personality, will find ourselves stretched and growing as we yield to Christ and his lordship.

Pets
Q: Do pets go to heaven?

A: This is such a great question! All of us who’ve ever owned pets and watched them die have asked this (or have had to respond to a child who has asked this). We humans love our pets. They become so much a part of our lives they’re like people, almost like dear friends and relatives.
While the Bible doesn’t address this question directly, it suggests a few things that may be helpful. For one thing, we can affirm that all God’s original creation was deemed “good” by God (Genesis 1). This would include the animal world, both wild and later domestic animals (Genesis 1:25). As parts of God’s good creation now under the effects of sin and death, animals may well be part of God’s redemption as well. Here’s what I mean: God is in the business of redeeming and restoring all things, of renewing the originally good creation. “See, I am making all things new” God says in Revelation 21:5. We tend to forget that our future as believers holds not only a new heaven, but a new earth as well (Revelation 21:1). Presumably, this new earth will include elements of the old earth, including living creatures, which will live with us in freedom from the taint of sin and death. It will be a redeemed creation. And if in this fallen creation we enjoy closeness with our pets, would it be too much to think that the new creation would provide even better relationships in this area? I’m not saying that God will resurrect the dead bodies of our pets and reunite them with their souls (the way God will with human beings in the general resurrection when Christ comes again); but I do think a case can be made for an appropriate closeness between humans and animals in the new creation to come. I think this is the Apostle Paul’s main point in Romans 8:19-21, which states: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

Prayers-Unbelievers
Q: How does God answer the prayers of non-believers? Does he hear and act on them before they accept Jesus? Jesus is our high priest and intercessor with the Father, so does he still intercede if the person doesn’t believe in Jesus?

A: How exactly God answers prayers, whether of believers or not, is beyond me. I think it’s safe to say that God answers prayers (or fulfills the request of people who pray) always according to his will. When unbelievers pray to God in sincerity, I am confident God hears them (for God is able to hear everyone) and if God’s will is furthered by their request, God may answer that prayer. God’s request for sinners to call on him and to seek him by their prayers would suggest that in these pre-belief stages, God is hearing and responding to their prayers. In fact, I’ve often encouraged people who are struggling to believe to “test drive” God by praying and seeking God in Scripture. Such halting, feeble “baby steps” God often uses to direct people to himself. That was certainly my experience as I gradually drew closer to Christ and found faith. I also suspect that, as our Great High Priest, Jesus intercedes on behalf of all humanity, pleading God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness upon them. It might be worthwhile to explore the example of Cornelius, the God-fearing Gentile in Acts 10. Granted, he seems to believe in God before Peter reaches him, but clearly, he doesn’t yet believe in Jesus, and God is said to have still heard his prayers (v. 31).

Prayer Requests
Q: How do you draw the line between praying for God to provide highly specific life results versus asking for more general prayer requests? As we mature in our faith, does our trust in "God's Plan" cause us to change the tone/nature of our requests of Him?

A: I think I know what you’re getting at: you are calling into question the practice of those who drive along the street and pray for God to provide them with a parking space! Possibly that, or you are questioning those who pray for other seemingly “petty” requests which can appear “unworthy” of a great God governing the universe. While I can sympathize, I think we need to be careful not to disparage specific prayer requests and somehow demote them beneath more general ones (such as those for world peace, the working of God’s hidden will and purposes, etc). We may be tempted to think that a greater and more mature faith prays for general, global requests while a less mature faith prays for specific and smaller concerns. But is this antithesis fair? In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught the importance of praying for great general requests (“hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done”) alongside small specific ones (“give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”). Strong faith is unafraid, where necessary, to be specific in its petitions of God (recall that Abraham, in interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah, prayed for a specific number of righteous persons—see Genesis 18). The Bible depicts God as caring for both general needs (for instance, the advance of God’s kingdom) and specific ones (God knows the number of hairs on our head). Besides, which takes greater faith: to pray for general requests (like world peace), the answer to which we may not see in our lifetime, or specific concerns which are immediately necessary? My sense is that we must let Scripture guide us in all our prayer requests, praying for both general concerns as well as specific needs, submitting both to God’s will and glory.

Preaching
Q: What is the difference between preaching and teaching?

A: I’ve often wondered about this myself. Some of the best biblical teaching I’ve ever heard included inspired preaching (e.g. Dr. Dale Bruner); and some of the best biblical preaching I’ve heard has had strong elements of teaching (e.g. Dr. John Stott or Dr. Earl Palmer). To draw too sharp a line between the two is probably not helpful. Rather, it has more to do with feel: presentations which primarily proclaim God’s word and call for response are most likely examples of preaching; talks which delve more deeply into the subject or passage at hand, illuminating it to our understanding and helping us attain the biblical “aha” moment, that’s likely teaching. The best Christian presentations have considerable elements of each in them (let’s not forget that among the gifts Christ gave were “pastor-teachers” (Ephesians 4:11) who both proclaim God’s Word and instruct people in it.

R

Religion
Q: “Is it possible that religion is an elaborate construct that serves to explain the existential questions that have always plagued man?”

A: I’m sure it’s possible; it may even be probable. But I’ve never been comfortable with seeing Christian faith as mere religion. Religion is a human category, a term most naturally used in “comparative religion” which is more a branch of anthropology (the study of human beings) than of theology (which is the study of God). “Religion” as I understand it, is a description of organized human spiritual aspirations for transcendence. To put it another way, religion is the upward striving of human beings after the divine. The Christian story, as shown in the Bible, is the downward movement of God in love, reaching out to broken human beings in crisis.

Religions-Other

Q: “How do you explain salvation for Hindus, Buddhists, and other wonderful people who don’t accept Jesus?”

“Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the light, and the life [sic].’ Why then are the vast majority of people on the planet non-Christians (Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, etc)? Are these people damned? Is there nothing valuable and sacred in learning about/following these religions?”

“ What do you say to your kids (of all ages) who have good Jewish friends, ‘Are they going to hell since they don’t believe in Christ?’”


A: These questions of religious pluralism are very difficult, especially in our post-modern climate which places high value on concepts of “tolerance” and relativism. In addition, in light of the intolerant past practices of religious oppression, we are very reluctant to comment about traditions other than our own for fear that such comments may pave the way for persecution. Yet we must hazard a response to such questions, albeit with sensitivity and respect.

Before I delve into the matter, let me first correct the fairly common misunderstanding that “the vast majority of people on the planet are non-Christians.” This is only true when we add together all the non-Christian religions. Consider the following statistics..." According to David Barrett’s well-respected /World Christian Encyclopedia/ (Oxford University Press, 2001), the breakdown by population of the world’s major religions is as follows: Christians (33%), Muslims (19.6%), Hindus (13.4%), Buddhists (5.9%), Jews (.2%), non-religious (12.7%). The remaining religious adherents comprise a very small percentage of the total.

Now on to the questions themselves…it would seem to me that the problem may lie in the way we frame the question of other religions and religious people. It is the problem of perspective: when we attempt to determine what is “good” or “wonderful” about ourselves and others, we are reasoning from our relative human standards. The God we meet in the Bible, on the other hand, is perfect and holy and has standards infinitely far above ours. According to the biblical tradition, to enjoy intimate oneness with this perfect, holy God requires that we be perfect and holy ourselves and not just relatively “good” (see Leviticus 11:45 “you shall be holy, for I am holy”). The Bible teaches that such perfection cannot be achieved by religious devotion or moral performance of any kind. According to the New Testament, perfect union with God is made possible only by humble faith in the saving death of Jesus Christ on the cross. There is a high logic here as well: if relatively good people of any stripe merited heaven on their own achievements, why would God need to become a human being in Christ and die a cruel death on a cross?

Certainly, we respect and honor others and their religious convictions. Christ’s law of love requires it. We may in fact have things to learn from each other. But that does not imply that we accept other religious convictions as equally true. We can honor and defend others’ rights to believe as they see fit; but that does not mean we claim that “all roads lead to the same place.”

Resurrection
Q: There was an article in the Camera religion section a couple months ago regarding the lack of the risen Christ in some ancient texts. How do you respond?

A: Without access to the article you mention, I’m hard-pressed to answer intelligently; I’m afraid I can only answer generally and speculatively. In the furor over the release of “The Da Vinci Code” movie (and before it, the novel by Dan Brown), there has been much popular discussion of ancient religious texts, both those in the Bible and those outside it. All New Testament texts, both gospels and epistles, are in one accord: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Gnostic texts (from “gnosis”, a Greek word referring to secret “knowledge” which brings enlightenment and spiritual advancement) can be found which teach ideas about Christ not found in the Bible. To my knowledge, most of these passages make Christ more—and not less—spiritual or divine. At this point, I’m not aware of any such texts which deny the resurrection.

S

Salvation
Q: There is a person in a tribe in the middle of Africa who has never heard about Christ. What will happen to him when he dies?

A: Will you allow me to say: “God only knows!”?! Actually, I’m quite serious about that. God alone knows the heart of that person as well as the dictates of their conscience and when they have chosen to follow their conscience or disregard it (which, for them, would be sin. See Romans 2:14-16). God alone understands the forces that have shaped that person for good and for ill. God alone recognizes the limits of divine understanding the tribesperson has deduced from nature, conscience, and other (lesser) forms of revelation. I feel confident in maintaining that the God we meet in the Bible is one of unfathomable love and perfect justice. If anyone would be merciful and compassionate to the tribal people in remote Africa, it would be the God and Father of Jesus Christ. As one pastor put it to me when I asked a similar question, “Scripture is very clear about those who, knowing the gospel, reject it. Scripture is not as clear about those who’ve never heard the gospel.” I suppose our best response is to hope for mercy for these people and all others who’ve never heard the saving message of Jesus Christ. However, alongside this hope must come our commitment to mission and evangelism, so that people like this no longer live in ignorance of God’s love and transformation but have the opportunity to be welcomed into the family of faith.

Satan
Q: It seems that the character of Satan has been established more by Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno than by Scripture. I could only find a handful of references to Satan in the Old Testament....one in Isaiah about the falling star....and that seems to do more with representing the fall of the Babylonian king. Job mentions Satan...are there other references? Why does the character of Satan get more “press”—if you will—in the New Testament? In the 500-600 years between the Old and New Testament, does Satan come up?

A: I resonate with your perceptions about Satan’s character being more established by Milton than by Scripture—I’m an old English major from the University of California, Berkeley and, believe it or not, my senior thesis was on Milton’s Paradise Lost!
As with many other key biblical ideas (including the Holy Spirit, God’s Triune nature, and life after death) the notion of Satan is developed over time during the period of history covered in the Bible. For this reason, we need to read Scripture diachronically (across time) in order to understand the development of important themes and doctrines. Additionally, we need to be aware that other terms besides “Satan” are used to describe that personal evil which aligns itself against God and God’s people (terms such as devil, demon, Beelzebub, Prince of this world, etc). A full study of personal evil must encompass all of these terms. However, for brevity’s sake, let’s just look at “Satan.” In Hebrew “Satan” simply means “adversary” or “accuser.” Depending on the context, it may or may not refer to the devil. Its earlier use in the Hebrew Bible has to do more with a generic “accuser” who opposes someone (often in a court setting). However, its later use, particularly in Job 1, Zechariah 3, and 1Chronicles 21:1, clearly refers to a supernatural evil being. This personification of “Satan” continues during the Intertestamental period of roughly 400 years. Works like the Dead Sea Scrolls, various apocalypses, and the Pseudepigrapha depict Satan clearly as an evil supernatural being seeking to destroy God’s work and God’s people. The New Testament develops this view of Satan even further by equating him with the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). I suspect that Satan “gets more press” in the New Testament because it describes the person and work of Jesus Christ who appeared “to destroy the works of the devil” (1John 3:8).

Social Issues
Q: What are First Presbyterian Church’s and the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s positions on a) ordaining practicing homosexuals; b) abortion; c) Christian parachurch activism?

A: a) As a congregation within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), First Presbyterian Church, Boulder is governed by the PC(USA)’s constitution which consists of the Book of Confessions (outlining our beliefs and theology) and the Book of Order (covering our church government, worship, and discipline). Currently, according to our Book of Order, 6-0106b, ordained church officers (deacons, elders, and ministers of the Word and Sacrament) “are to lead a life in obedience to Scripture and in conformity to the historic confessional standards of the church. Among these standards is the requirement to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman ([Book of Confessions] W-4.9001), or chastity in singleness. Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed as deacons, elders, or ministers of the Word and Sacrament.”

b) As for abortion, as a denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has in the past several decades protested efforts to restrict abortions, and has repeatedly come out in favor of defending a woman’s right to choose when and whether to terminate her pregnancy. Though there are different opinions within the membership of individual congregations (and First Presbyterian Church, Boulder is no exception), the church leadership at First Pres Boulder has weighed in against abortion, most significantly with its position paper “Seeking Perspective on Abortion” (adopted by the FPC session in 1980 and reaffirmed in 1992). The paper is worth reading for its irenic tone and its life-affirming balance of grace and truth. Contact the Spiritual Formation & Discipleship (303.402.6453) office to receive a copy.

Additionally, First Pres leadership has supported ministries like Presbyterians Pro Life as well as “Right to Life” Sunday, which advocate against abortion and seek alternate ways (such as adoption) to preserve the life of the unborn.

c) As for “parachurch activism”, I’m not certain exactly what you mean—whether you are referring to parachurch ministries (i.e. non-denominational Christian organizations which work for one specific aspect of ministry, such as evangelism, hunger, social justice, etc) or secular activism (such as the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice group) which may partner where appropriate with Christians who support the same cause for faith-based reasons. Either way, FPC and the PC(USA) defend the right of individual conscience to guide members on specific activities and ministries which are not regulated by our Constitution.

Soul vs Spirit

Q: Explain the difference between our soul and spirit.

A: In the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, the most common word for “soul” is nephesh. The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew-English Lexicon gives the following definitions for this word: soul, living being, life, self, person, desire, appetite, emotion, and passion. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible (and the one read by the Early Church), most frequently uses the word psyche to translate nephesh. Among the many English options, the best choice in translating this word is usually determined from the context. As for the word “spirit”, it is most often a translation of the Hebrew word ruach, which can mean “breath, wind, or spirit.” The Septuagint uses the Greek pneuma for this word. Interestingly, the Greek New Testament tends to follow the Septuagint and uses psyche for soul and pneuma for spirit. Though there is certainly some overlap between these two terms (especially later in their usage), I would say the main difference between these words is that nephesh (soul) describes the whole person as a living being and, in particular, its essential, interior portions; whereas, “spirit” describes that life-giving “breath” that animates the living person. When the spirit (breath) leaves a person, that person dies; however, upon death, the soul (that which constituted the essence of the person) departs from the body and thus endures.

Sovereignty

Q: How does one strike the balance between acknowledging that God is in total control and yet, we are personally responsible for our decisions?

A: “Carefully.” Seriously, you’re asking a big and important question which historically has fallen under the attempts to reconcile divine sovereignty (God’s supreme rule over all things) and human responsibility (our challenge to exercise free will responsibly). Scripture clearly teaches both, with an emphasis on God’s sovereignty first and foremost. Divine sovereignty—that is God’s mighty and majestic rule over all things that occur—nevertheless leaves room for human responsibility. These two are not mutually exclusive. Scripture depicts God knowing in advance what people will do (and yet incorporating their free actions into his eternal purposes). A clear example of this is Acts 2:22-23 in which Peter proclaims to the Jews gathered before him at Pentecost: “You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth…this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.”
We see here divine sovereignty (God’s “definite plan and foreknowledge” of Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion) mysteriously working amidst human responsibility (“you crucified and killed”). Though human beings are free to choose, God sovereignly uses their choices as part of his eternal plan. Another example would be Judas: Judas freely chooses to betray Jesus; yet Jesus mentions that his choice fulfills ancient biblical prophecy (Matthew 26:24, 54). These twin realities—divine sovereignty and human responsibility—present us with a mystery, one we might call an “antinomy”—two truths which appear contradictory, yet must be held together in tension.

Study Bibles
Q: Can you recommend a good study Bible? There are so many available, it is hard to know what to look for.

A: I would recommend two study Bibles for you to consider. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, Third Edition is in a translation widely used among different Protestant denominations, including many Presbyterian churches. The NRSV, as it is called, is a version commonly used by biblical scholars as well. The notes tend to reflect a middle-of-the-road, broad consensus of scholarship. This particular Bible includes the Apocrypha, recognized by Roman Catholics as Scripture, but treated by Protestants as “lesser lights”—texts worthy of study, but not considered as authoritative as Holy Scripture. The NRSV is noteworthy for its use of horizontally inclusive language (meaning that the Hebrew and Greek terms which included men and women are translated into English in a way that reflects both genders and not just males exclusively).The NIV Study Bible (which doesn’t include the Apocrypha) is more evangelical. It too is widely used, particularly among more conservative Christians. It’s a fine text for study, but its lack of inclusive language may make it sound dated to some ears. The notes are helpful and so are the other study aids included. Either of these Bibles would provide much food for thought and help in study.

Suffering
Q: “The New Testament seems to say Christians should expect suffering and persecution. I’m experiencing neither. Does this reflect on my commitment/discipleship? If I were really putting my faith/trust in Jesus, would it result in suffering and or persecution?”

A: I suspect you’re not alone in wondering whether we comfortable Christians in the west might be too comfortable in not being persecuted for our faith. We hear of the faith-based suffering of our courageous brothers and sisters in the Muslim world or China or southern Sudan and we experience feelings of awe, inspiration, and—if we’re honest—anxiety: could we suffer that way? Should we?

Granted, we live in a culture that still has vestiges of a Christian memory along with large measures of religious freedom. We can practice our faith openly and without fear of persecution. But your question still haunts us, doesn’t it? Are we too complacent? Are we too tepid and comfortable in our Christianity? If we were more sold out to Jesus, more surrendered to his Spirit, would we not experience greater resistance from our culture (let alone from the prince of this world and the powers and principalities)? I suspect the reasons for our comfortable Christianity lie in a blend of context (our relatively tolerant culture) and commitment (our attempts to live most of our Christian lives “under the radar”). Tough question—I suspect that this could be a matter for personal prayer and continued reflection.

T

Teaching
Q: What is the difference between preaching and teaching?

A: I’ve often wondered about this myself. Some of the best biblical teaching I’ve ever heard included inspired preaching (e.g. Dr. Dale Bruner); and some of the best biblical preaching I’ve heard has had strong elements of teaching (e.g. Dr. John Stott or Dr. Earl Palmer). To draw too sharp a line between the two is probably not helpful. Rather, it has more to do with feel: presentations which primarily proclaim God’s word and call for response are most likely examples of preaching; talks which delve more deeply into the subject or passage at hand, illuminating it to our understanding and helping us attain the biblical “aha” moment, that’s likely teaching. The best Christian presentations have considerable elements of each in them (let’s not forget that among the gifts Christ gave were “pastor-teachers” (Ephesians 4:11) who both proclaim God’s Word and instruct people in it.

Theodicy
Q: “Is it possible that religion is an elaborate construct that serves to explain the existential questions that have always plagued man?”

A: I’m sure it’s possible; it may even be probable. But I’ve never been comfortable with seeing Christian faith as mere religion. Religion is a human category, a term most naturally used in “comparative religion” which is more a branch of anthropology (the study of human beings) than of theology (which is the study of God). “Religion” as I understand it, is a description of organized human spiritual aspirations for transcendence. To put it another way, religion is the upward striving of human beings after the divine. The Christian story, as shown in the Bible, is the downward movement of God in love, reaching out to broken human beings in crisis.

Third Heaven
Q: “In 2Corinthians 12:2 Paul mentions a man ‘caught up to the third heaven.’ What is the third heaven and what are the first and second heavens?”

A: Interesting question! Paul’s reference here to multiple levels of heaven is unique in the New Testament but not unusual in extra-biblical literature of about the same time period. 1Enoch and other apocalypses describe numerous levels of heaven (often seven, but up to ten!). Some types of rabbinic literature from the same period allude to similar things. Without much more information to go on, we can’t be too sure about the specifics of heavenly cosmology. Perhaps John Calvin’s answer was best: the number three here is the perfect number and is used to indicate what is highest and best.

U

Unitarianism
Q: Please explain the Unitarian Church as compared to the Presbyterian Church.

A: To answer this question, I turned to Frank Mead’s Handbook of Denominations in the United States, a classic resource that’s been around for decades and is now in its 12th edition (Abingdon Press, 2005). I learned that the Unitarian Church merged with the Universalist Church in 1961, forming the denomination called the Unitarian-Universalists. The Unitarians came from a liberal branch of the Protestant Reformation which emphasized the perfectibility of humankind, and tended to view human nature very positively. American Unitarianism developed out of New England Congregationalism in the late 18th/early 19th century and has strong roots in the Boston area. William Ellery Channing was one of its greatest proponents, delineating its distinctives in a famous sermon of 1819. Mead’s book outlines these convictions in Unitarian thought and practice: no creed; the sum of Jesus’ teachings was love for God and man; the oneness of God (as opposed to a Trinitarian understanding); the strict humanity (and not divinity) of Jesus; the ultimate salvation of all souls (achieved by their character which is perfectible); no belief in hell or eternal punishment. Mead writes: “Universalism [the other branch which merged with Unitarianism] is not exclusively a Christian denomination, having roots in both pre-Christian and contemporary world faiths.” In the union of these two denominations, the new denomination was clear: “no member shall be required to subscribe to any particular interpretation of religion, or to any particular religious belief or creed.”

W

Women
Q: “Can you give a biblical defense and explanation, considering the 1Timothy 3 qualifications for elder and deacon, for women elders and deacons?”

“Would you please put 1Timothy 2 in context with the rest of God’s Word and also explain verse 15?”

“Why did Paul limit women’s part in church leadership since he said there is no more difference between men and women (Galatians 3:28)?”

A: The deeper question beneath all these questions, it seems to me, is whether or not the Bible permits women to be leaders in the Church. And for an answer we’ll need to probe beyond the Pastoral Epistles (the Letters to Timothy and Titus) where some of the qualifications for church leadership are listed. In fact, this is a good principle when answering big questions like these: look, as much as possible, to the whole of Scripture—and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. Our goal is to let the clearer texts of the Bible shed light on the more confusing ones.

To arrive at an answer to whether or not women may lead in the church, we would begin by noting that the rule of men over women is not something good that God originally designed in creation; rather, it is something that results from the tragic fall in Genesis 3:16. In the first two chapter of Genesis we read that the woman was made to be a “helper” to the man; however, lest we think this is a subservient role, we need only recall that God is often referred to as a “helper” throughout the Old Testament. The creation narratives in Genesis clearly show the man and woman have a complementary relationship, both are equally image-bearers of God, both are given responsibility as partners to tend and steward the earth, even to rule over it (Genesis 1:27-29).

Furthermore, we may recall the important role certain female leaders had in the life of Israel. In the Book of Judges, Chapter 4, Deborah, the judge and prophetess, is often cited as an example of a woman who led both men and women at that point in history. The New Testament, particularly as it unfolds the redeeming, saving effects of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, suggests that women have been delivered from their former fallen subservience and redeemed from any lesser status. Through the work of Jesus, women, as well as men, are set free from the curse of evil, sin, and death. This is what Paul teaches in Galatians 3:28, where he writes that the sinful social distinctions which have divided human beings, have now been erased: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

And this is what the Holy Spirit amply indicates on the Day of Pentecost. In Acts 2 the Spirit falls on men and women and gives both the gifts and responsibilities of prophecy, that is speaking authoritatively God’s Word to others. The Apostle Paul assumes women will prophesy in the inter-gender worship gatherings of the church (1Corinthians 11:5). Romans 16 also is often used as an example of female leaders in the church. There, we read of Paul’s commendation of Phobe, a deacon, as well as his greetings to Junia, who is “prominent among the apostles”. In the Book of Acts, Priscilla and Aquila, a wife and husband team, are described as having taught Apollos more accurately God’s ways. The fact that Priscilla is listed first is highly unusual and may suggest that she was the teaching leader of the pair!
So, you see, it’s not enough to extract one verse or two prohibiting women in leadership (for instance 1Timothy 2:12) and make from them a general rule for all time. A more biblical way is to approach the issue from the whole sweeping teaching of the Bible. God’s original intent in creation—and now brought to completion in Jesus Christ—is to make men and women complementary in their leadership and stewardship over the created order, without oppressive hierarchy; we see evidence in the Old Testament and especially in the New, of women leading God’s people; we watch the Holy Spirit at Pentecost give gifts of authoritative utterance (prophecy) to women as well as men; and we hear Paul proclaim that former exclusive social distinctions have now been erased by the work of Jesus Christ. Taken against this compelling backdrop, 1Timothy 2:12’s prohibition against women speaking or exercising authority over men cannot be made into a general rule for all churches at all times. Rather, it likely addresses abuses of authority in that particular church in Ephesus at that time.

World Without End

Q: “In the Gloria Patri, you need to change the line ‘world without end.’ This line does not support the Bible, hence it goes against God. The last book of the Bible tells us about the world’s end, so how could you say that the world has no end? Even if that is not what is meant, the line comes across as such too easily. Please, as a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, change this line.”

A: Are you sure that this line “goes against the Bible” and that “the last book of the Bible tells us about the world’s end”? I read in Revelation 21 of the creation of a new heaven and new earth after the passing away of the first heaven and first earth (see verse 1). When we speak of “world without end” we are talking about this new heaven and new earth, in which God reigns supreme and eternal. And, furthermore, this phrase is eminently biblical: see the King James version of Ephesians 3:21—“Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end.”