Monday, October 7, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom Q&A #1

This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly exchange. If you have questions that you would like answered on the topics of the Bible, theology, apologetics, ethics, and religion, send them to

Question 1:
How do we know we know the truth? Conversely, how do we know we are not in/under heretical and false doctrine? Muslims, JW's, Mormons, Buddhists are all convinced they are right.

First of all, you are right to say that other groups seem equally, if not more earnestly convinced that they possess the one true religion. If all we had to work with in dividing truth from fiction was sincerity of heart--if there were no evidence that could be examined--we would be in a pretty serious pickle. However, I am convinced there is overwhelming evidence that supports the truth of Christianity. I do not take this issue lightly. I have no interest in believing something that is not true.

When dealing with difficult questions like this, the rule that I teach my students is "Always start with Jesus." The reason is that if the Gospel evidence about Jesus is historically unreliable, then Christianity falls apart. On the contrary, if the Gospel evidence is historically reliable, then we can know a lot about Jesus.  Without going into great detail, there are gobs and gobs of scholarly works written on the reliability of the Gospels. Just glancing at my bookshelf, I would recommend Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. Minus the supernatural elements of the Gospels, even most atheist scholars will affirm that they are historical bedrock. There are also excellent works on the historicity of the resurrection. Once again, from my own library, I would recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. All of that is to say that if Jesus did what the Gospels say he did, and said what they claim he said, then we have very strong reasons to think that Christianity is the one true religion.

At the same time, I am convinced that the evidence for other worldviews is terribly weak. Mormonism, for example, is fraught with historical inaccuracies and problems of forged translations among other things. Jehovah's Witnesses are in a similar boat. They build their theological distinctives around very specific translations and interpretations that are contradict all scholarship outside of their own camp. As such, they advance an totally separate religion from Christianity, while attempting to smuggle in the parts that they like to prop up what would otherwise be a religion with no foundation. As for eastern religions, while they have many elements of truth, I have a hard time finding much connection to reality in the fundamental teachings--evil is illusory, millions of demi gods, that all is divine and the like. Then there is Islam which depends on the claim that the Bible has been corrupted and/or misinterpreted. But the evidence for the faithful transmission and preservation of the biblical manuscripts is outstanding. Furthermore, Islam rejects the death of Jesus by crucifixion (a fact agreed upon by practically all historians). Going back to what I said before about starting with Jesus, each of these religions has a different view of Jesus from what is portrayed in the Gospels. So, while interpretation (which is subjective) certainly plays a role, the law of non-contradiction (which is objective) tells us that while they could all be wrong, they cannot all be right. If the Gospels are historically reliable, preserved, and translated correctly, then they clearly point to the teachings of classical Christianity. Again, while I am having to move quickly here, this is not something that I take lightly. If I am wrong, I want to know.

Question 2:
My study group is missional based, and most of the books we read and work we do reaches out to our community and communities throughout the world. This to me, embodies christianity much more than sitting in a pew listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda. Do you think that this type of worship is a suitable replacement for traditional sunday worship? I do feel like i'm not getting to know the bible quite as I should, we only touch on it directly on occasion, but the books we read reference it often, i guess you could say i'm learning by proxy(but who's to say that the english translations of the bible aren't this sort of 'proxy' to the original text anyway).

While I understand, and often share your frustration; I think you may be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." In short, I wouldn't equate what you describe as "listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda" to "traditional Sunday worship." You have to remember that there are 2000 years of church history behind us. I think that what you (and a lot of people, including me) have experienced is a rather recent phenomenon (last 150 years or so, and especially the last 40). I also think, (crossing my fingers), that a lot more people are seeing it for what it is and it is losing steam. Anyway, all of that is to say that I think small groups are great and it sounds like you are part of an awesome one, but I also think it is important to belong to a church body and sit under the teaching of a pastor who is teaching and leading effectively. That is really hard to come by, and again, I know the frustration. I know how tedious it can be to search for the right place, but trust me, it is worth it when you get there. Anyway, I would simply say that I don't think there is any "replacement" for being part of a healthy church family. Notice I said "healthy," not "perfect." Anyway, I suggest that you keep doing what you are doing, but I would also do some research and visit a few places. You will probably be surprised to find that there are a lot of congregations in your area comprised of people who feel the same way you do.

Question 3:
What do you think about the morality of doing wrong to do good? For instance, if you did something morally wrong to get money so that you give it to charity and do good with it. Can good come from intentional wrong doing? 

What you are suggesting is a form of consequentialism, or "ends justify the means" ethic. That is, what makes something moral is the ultimate result. However, on its face, it is incompatible with a biblical view of ethics. From a biblical perspective, moral duties are grounded in God's character and subsequent commands. He has revealed these through both general (we intrinsically know right from wrong) and special revelation (through the giving of Scripture and culminating in Christ). I think your example is actually pretty easy to deal with. You have the choice to either steal or not steal. Obviously, it is not justified to steal simply because you plan to do something good with the money. However, there are much more difficult examples to be offered. For example, what if you are faced with a situation like Corrie Ten Boom--you can lie to protect people or tell the truth and subject them to torture and death. Or if you are in charge of switching the train track and there is a boy trapped by the switching mechanism. You need to flip the switch or an oncoming train with hundreds of passengers will crash, but by flipping the switch, you ensure the boy's death. Both choices pose a serious moral dilemma. It is only in these types of circumstances that I think it is morally right to choose the "wrong." Unfortunately, this often gets called "the lesser of two evils." I don't like that name because the moral decision is necessarily not evil. Some biblical ethicists suggest that God will always provide a third option in these circumstances. While I think that is very often true, it to me seems that there are possible scenarios where there simply is not a third option. Furthermore, I think Scripture provides examples of this. One famous example comes from Exodus, where the Hebrew midwives are commended for disobeying and lying to Pharaoh. Likewise, Rahab lies about hiding the spies in Jericho. She is also commended, and even integrated into the Davidic/messianic family tree. is obviously a hotly debated and complicated issue, but these are my thoughts in brief.

Question 4: 
I have two questions to ask. One, how did you keep yourself most accountable while you were touring and still in Becoming The Archetype? Also, what advice would you give someone who wants to write songs and work within the Christian music industry?

I am going to go a different direction with my response than you probably expected. I presume that by "keep yourself accountable," you are referring to avoiding temptations--substance abuse, sexual impurity etc. I will simply say that those things were really not big struggles for me. And while they are for many other people, I think that there is a tendency to focus so heavily on these "big" issues that we totally overlook the "smaller" ones. Far too often, young Christians fall into the trap of equating spiritual development with a check list of big things to avoid. That is a terrible thermometer for gauging spiritual health. Let me give you an example of what I mean. While I didn't struggle with the "big" things, one of the strongest temptations that comes with being in a band (or being in any profession) is to become cynical--unnecessarily negative and pessimistic. I wish that I successfully avoided this temptation while on the road with the band, but I can't. While this is probably not the answer you were looking for, I feel like it represents an equally important lesson to learn.

With regard to getting into the music industry, my advice is three-fold. Develop your ability to the highest possible level, make a lot of friends, and keep yourself available. Don't be afraid to play second fiddle (pun intended) to anyone and everyone. The most successful musicians that I know are not people who made it big by starting a band from the ground up. Rather, they are people who got in playing guitar, bass, drums, violin, etc for someone else. Many of them have since moved on to very successful solo careers and/or bands of their own. But the way the industry is today, you are very unlikely to make a name for yourself simply by jamming with some buds and starting a facebook. There are just too many bands starting up every day. Lastly, keep yourself as available as possible. In a strange coincidence, a lot of young musicians are also convinced that they need to get married really early. Maybe it is their creative/romantic bent. But it will seriously limit your availability. And it will also limit your ability as a husband/father. Of course, some relationships work just fine within that framework, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. Again, that probably isn't what you expected me to say, but I hope it helps. 

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