I mentioned in a previous article (“Answering 10 Questions about the Christian Faith”) that, as a university professor and a Christian scholar, I have been asked literally thousands of questions in my 30 plus years of teaching and engaging in Christian apologetics professionally. In fact, in the early 1990s, I worked at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) where I cohosted the Bible Answer Man radio program. In those days I fielded questions in a talk show environment.
Today I continue to answer questions, but now many come online and on social media. Answering questions about the Christian faith is necessary. The Bible encourages inquiry and Christians are called to answer people’s questions (1 Peter 3:15–16).
What follows are 10 more selected questions I was asked online over the last couple of years. Again, my answers are intentionally concise, which reflects how I respond online. Much more could be said on these important topics; please see the resource section for further information. I hope these brief answers will help you in your engagements with people who ask similar questions.
Q1: Why wasn’t Jesus sent to die for the world’s sin before the Flood of Noah? Why wasn’t the Law given to Adam and Eve after they sinned? Why are the two vehicles of salvation delayed by God? Is this proof of man’s evolution about salvation?
A: Both “lowercase” law and gospel were given right after Adam and Eve’s sinful rebellion (called protoevangelion: Genesis 3:15). According to the biblical doctrine of original sin, Adam and Eve represented humanity (Romans 5) and thus all people sinned in their rebellious acts, experiencing moral corruption, guilt, and separation from God. The Flood is part of God’s just judgment that will come in its fullness on Judgment Day. The people who lived before Christ’s atoning sacrifice were saved prospectively (accepting the promise of a future Savior). People who live after the coming of the Savior are saved retrospectively (looking back on a historical Savior). Thus, historic Christianity sees a continuity in salvation.
Q2: Since the Bible is all-sufficient it is not in need of any man’s interpretation, right?
A: When evangelicals say the Bible is sufficient they typically mean it is all that’s needed to convey salvation and how a follower of Christ is to live. Yet the Bible is a written text and thus has to be interpreted. It seems the real issue is whether we have interpreted the Bible responsibly. We seek to lead out the text’s intended meaning (exegesis) rather than read into the text our own meaning (eisegesis).
Q3: We are finite and God is infinite. Why then is God described as a male? Isn’t such a distinction limiting God from his infinite persona? He’s a king, a father, a he. Are we putting infinity in human-shaped boxes in order to understand God?
The triune God of historic Christianity is a purely spiritual being without a physical body and therefore without a sex or gender as we humans have. Some of God’s characteristics are ones we traditionally associate with a male or a father. Other characteristics are ones we traditionally associate with a female or mother. Yet Jesus Christ, who is both fully God and fully human, was a male and he taught us to call God “father.” It might be helpful to think of “father” as an analogy. That is, God is both like a human father (providing for his children) and unlike a human father (doesn’t have a wife and isn’t married). Thus the term “father” isn’t meant to be used univocally (the same exact meaning) nor equivocally (a completely different meaning) but analogically (both like and unlike).
Q4: You don’t actually interpret the Bible. You accept Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to explain it to you by continuing to read more and more of God’s Word, at which point it will all come together and make perfect sense—knowing there can be no contradictions. Correct?
A: Reading a text is interpreting a text. A reader tries to discover the author’s intended meaning. Readers do that by understanding the genre, the language, and the context. Even Jesus interpreted the Hebrew Bible (sometimes differently than his religious community did). All Christians read the Bible but sometimes they interpret or understand it differently. As God’s inspired Word we believe there will be no contradictions, but that doesn’t guarantee we have read and interpreted it correctly.
Q5: I find the Christian discussion of end times to be a difficult and confusing topic. Am I alone?
A: You are not alone.
In my small book Christian Endgame (82 pages), I offer what I think is a clear, careful, and objective primer that emphasizes prudent biblical thinking about a controversial and challenging topic.
Without telling you what I personally believe, I simply (1) discuss the ground rules of the Bible’s apocalyptic literature, (2) identify and explain the major views of historic Christian eschatology, and (3) note their major strengths and weaknesses. I then allow you to form your own critical judgment and interpretation.
In other words, I work hard to report carefully, but you ultimately decide.
Q6: Does God gives us pain in order that we would seek him?
A: Discovering that temporal realities cannot provide ultimate fulfillment in life is often deeply disappointing (existentially painful). But in that disappointment comes a severe mercy (a painful gift) from God who will not allow us to find ultimate fulfillment in anything other than himself. Thus, existential dissatisfaction is severe but it directs us to God, which is a great mercy. For believers in Christ, pain and life’s disappointments keep us tethered to the Lord. This is, in my view, the central message of St. Augustine’s classic book Confessions.
Q7: What do you think of the Jesus depicted in the gospel narratives?
A: Having read through the four gospels again recently, I offer three reflections that struck me afresh:
(1) Jesus is an extraordinary miracle worker and healer right from the get-go. He seems especially drawn to people with extreme needs who express a sincere faith.
(2) Jesus is highly critical of religious hypocrisy but reaches out liberally to sinners who repent.
(3) The ones who are most confident about Jesus’s true identity are the demons Jesus encounters. As they are driven out the demons refer to Jesus in divine terms (the Son of God, the holy one of God).
Q8: Why aren’t people more persuaded by arguments?
A: In my view there’s a difference between argument on one hand and persuasion on the other. People are persuaded based on rational, irrational, or nonrational considerations. So successful persuasion isn’t a guarantee that the argument is sound or cogent.
Q9: Aren’t all Christians simpletons?
A: All of them? Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Ockham, Pascal, Galilei, Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Boyle, Leibniz, Newton, Maxwell, Mendel, Kelvin, Lemaître, Gödel, Jaki, Lewis, Sandage, Polkinghorne, Plantinga, Wolterstorff, Swinburne, Craig, McGrath, Wright, Ratzinger, Adler . . .
Q10: What do you do when you encounter a clash of ideas and opinions on social media and you strongly suspect a genuine respectful exchange of ideas isn’t going to happen?
A: I try to make sure my reasoning is careful and my delivery is respectful. Then I end the exchange and allow others who may read my comments to form their own judgments on the matter. By the way, I crashed and burned a few times before I learned this strategy.
I hope these questions and my brief answers will motivate you to think carefully about the historic Christian faith.
Reflections: Your Turn
Which question are you most interested in?
Here are five books I’ve written to address various questions about the Christian faith:
- Christianity Cross-Examined: Is It Rational, Relevant, and Good? In this book I answer twelve questions about historic Christianity’s truth, relevance, and goodness.
- Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions In this book I answer 20 common questions and objections about God, Christ, and Christianity.
- A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test In this book I address issues pertaining to the Christian worldview and its relationship to competing worldviews.
- Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction In this book I address topics relating to church history and historical theology.
- God among Sages: Why Jesus Is Not Just Another Religious Leader In this book I address issues relating to Jesus and Christianity in comparison with the world’s religions and their leaders.