Saturday, February 25, 2017

Book Review: The Edge of Evolution

Michael J. Behe, Professor of Biological Science at Lehigh University, received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Pennsylvania, did post-doctoral work on DNA structure at the National Institutes of Health, and has authored more than 40 technical papers. In 1996, Behe authored his first book, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution, quickly becoming a founding father of the intelligent design movement and a lightning rod for vociferous criticism. His second book, The Edge of Evolution, was published in 2007 (a full-time job and nine children make it a challenge to write books).

The Upper Limit of Darwinism
As the title indicates, the main premise of the book is to determine the “edge” or upper limit of evolution by undirected, naturalistic processes, utilizing random mutations. Writing in a style that is easy for laymen to follow, yet engaging enough for those with some scientific background, Dr. Behe takes the reader to the molecular level where random mutations occur. By conceptualizing proteins as the “nanobots” of living organisms, the book details some of the complexity of these systems. Noting that nearly every major process in a cell is carried out by assemblies of ten or more protein molecules is only the beginning of the complexity: These nanobots must self-assemble. Then, for proteins to work jointly in the cell, binding sites must fit together similarly to a lock and key. The book points out that, to make Darwinian evolution work at this level, it would be necessary for five or six amino acids to change in a coherent manner to reach the higher order advancement of a new binding site. This may not sound like much, but the statistical likelihood as shown by the research of the development of only two new protein binding sites – to acquire some new, useful property in the cell – is the upper limit of Darwinism. Five or six beneficial changes are well beyond the limit. Behe shows that experimental research studies and hard statistical data are definitely not on the side of evolution by random mutation.

Evolution in microorganisms?
Behe examines in some detail effects of random mutations of three organisms that are ideal for this type of analysis:  Plasmodium falciparum (malaria), Escherichia coli, and HIV. Each has been studied extensively for decades and, during that time, genetic studies contain data for many thousands of generations, and multiple trillions of organisms. Additionally, these three organisms are ideal for study since the entire genome of each has been sequenced. For more than a century, E. coli has been studied in the lab and in one particular experiment; over thirty thousand generations - roughly the equivalent of a million years of human history – have been systematically studied. Certainly if random mutation and natural selection were the mechanisms of Darwinian evolution, we should see these little buggers evolving into some higher organism, right? If malarial cells have not evolved into a chimpanzee by now, then perhaps a sea snail? Not even close. In all these generations, there have been “No new protein-protein interactions, no new molecular machines”[1] and nothing even hinting at a new, higher level organism.

To put these studies of bacteria and viruses into perspective, The Edge of Evolution gives an estimate of the total number of malarial cells worldwide in only one year as 10²ยบ cells. Compared with a rough estimate of the total number of “Primates in the line leading to modern humans in the past ten million years”[2] of 10¹². So, if Darwinism is the mechanism for primate evolution, then why has there been no sign of evolution in malarial cells, which outnumber (in one year alone) the total number of primates who have lived in millions of years by a factor of one hundred million? If orangutans, gorillas, and chimps evolved from lower primates, and humans evolved from there, we certainly should see significant evolution through random mutation from malarial cells. And, not only malaria, but also E. coli and HIV, which mutates at a dizzying rate. But, that’s not the case. Increased complexity is simply not happening and Behe has the hard scientific data to prove it.

Trench warfare or arms race?
One of the alleged examples of Darwinian evolution shown to students in the classroom includes sickle hemoglobin (usually a deleterious mutation) conferring malarial resistance. Other examples include mutations in protein binding sites that lead to antibiotic resistance. However, Behe explains that these examples are not progressive. They are more like acts of desperation, like burning one’s own bridges to stop the enemies’ advance during a time of war. This picture is contrasted with a very different type of warfare, the USA-Soviet arms race of the 1980s, in which deliberate, intelligent advances in technology were made. As the book points out, beneficial mutations at two sites in a protein is extremely rare and is near the upper limit of Darwinism. Furthermore, this example of malarial mutation, while beneficial, does not evolve any new, advanced, or complex machinery. This and other similar examples are demonstrations of what Behe terms “trench warfare”, not increases in complexity. 
Michael Behe employs a number of analogies that assist the reader in understanding the import of the molecular inner workings. Some of the alleged examples of evolution in progress are identified as debris in the gutter at one’s house, trench warfare, and a drunk climbing a small hill but failing to ascend the mountain. These analogies can be useful in applying the microscopic world to the macroscopic. “If there is not a smooth, gradually rising, easily found evolutionary pathway leading to a biological system within a reasonable time, Darwinian processes won’t work”.[3] Behe does admit common descent and he notes that Darwinian evolution does account for variation within species. The Edge of Evolution makes a very convincing case that the upper limit of natural selection via random mutation does not extend much higher than that. Well beyond the edge exists a high degree of fine tuning necessary for life, including:  multi-protein complexes, molecular machines, biochemical properties of DNA, phyla, classes, kingdoms, cells, origin of life, and so on. The conclusion is that “The major architectural features of life – molecular machinery, cells, genetic circuitry, and probably more – are purposely designed.”[4] But, atheistic Darwinists need not worry:  Behe draws no heavy-handed theistic conclusions from this and he is not a young earth creationist. He simply lays out evidence for the limits of Darwinism.

[1] Page 142
[2] Page 143
[3] Page 7
[4] Page 202

Friday, February 24, 2017

Is the trinity Biblical?

Does the Bible teach that there are three Gods? Do Christians believe in three different Gods? This issue has been one of the most commonly misunderstood for centuries and even Christians who believe in the trinity do not fully comprehend it. Because this issue goes to the heart of the nature of God, it is critical to separate truth from error. The concept is biblical as will be demonstrated below. Many religious doctrines either mischaracterize the trinity, condemn it, or both. Below is a very brief sampling of some of those teachings.


1. Modalism
Modalism is the doctrine that God is one, but represented in three different manifestations or modes. This was one of the heresies the early church had to contend with as taught by Sabellius in the third century. One typical modal analogy used is the sun, which is manifested as heat, light, and the physical globe itself. However, the sun is one entity, not three. Another analogy is water, which appears in three states:  solid, liquid, and gas. According to modalism, water is not three different substances, so God is one being who can manifest Himself in one of three ways:  Spirit, Son, or Father. However, these analogies are unbiblical. The Son and Spirit are not alternate manifestations of the one God. 

2. Islam
In the Quran, Mohammad denounced the concept of the trinity. Sura 4:171 states:
O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist – it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God.”
The same denunciation is found in Sura 5:73:
“They have certainly disbelieved who say, "Allah is the third of three." And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment.”
The Quran clearly teaches that Jesus Christ is not equal with God and in fact is not even the Son of God.

3. Jehovah’s Witnesses
The doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses teaches that the doctrine of the trinity is unbiblical and erroneous. According to JW theology, Jesus Christ is not equal in authority with the Father and the Holy Spirit is not even a person. The Jehovah’s Witnesses official website provides these denunciations of the trinity:
Beyond a doubt, the Trinity doctrine has confused and diluted people's understanding of God's true position.”
“Those who believe in the Trinity are not ‘holding God in accurate knowledge.’"
“THERE (sic) can be no compromise with God's truths. Hence, to worship God on his terms means to reject the Trinity doctrine. It contradicts what the prophets, Jesus, the apostles, and the early Christians believed and taught. It contradicts what God says about himself in his own inspired Word.”[i]


One God
First, the Bible clearly states there is only one God:
·         “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
·         “there is no one besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:6)
·         “there is no other God besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; There is none except me.” (Isaiah 45:21)
·         “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)
·         “You believe that God is one you do well.” (James 2:19)
So, if the Bible teaches there is only one God, what about the individual persons of the Godhead?

Three persons
The trinity means one God in three persons. By “persons” is meant separate, individual beings who exist independently within themselves. Each member of the trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) is eternal and equal in authority as God. However, each member serves different functions. For example, the Son became a human being (John 1:14) and, during His time on earth, did not exercise His full authority as God (Hebrews 2:9). The Son served the role as propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2). The Spirit serves many functions, including: teaching (John 14:26) and guiding believers (Romans 8:14), directing people (Acts 13:4), interceding for believers (Romans 8:26), and many more. The Father is depicted in the Bible as holding the position of greater authority in the trinity, though He is not better in essence or being. Jesus submits to the higher authority of the Father (Luke 22:42 and John 14:28) as well as the Spirit (John 16:13-14).

Jesus Christ is God
Numerous Biblical passages indicate that Jesus Christ is equal with God the Father in authority, position, and essence. For example, in the Old Testament, Isaiah calls the Son of God “Mighty God”. “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” In the New Testament, Jesus identified Himself with God the Father when He said, “’I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). On another occasion, Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58), an obvious reference to Exodus 3:14, when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Immediately following both statements by Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders picked up stones to stone Him, realizing Jesus had equated Himself with God. Jesus also is given attributes that only God has, such as the ability to forgive sins (Luke 7:48 and Mark 2:5). Jesus accepted worship (Matthew 2:11, John 20:28, Matthew 28:17, and Hebrews 1:6). Jesus is identified as Savior (Luke 2:11), while Isaiah 43:11 states, “I, even I, am the Lord (Yahweh), and there is no savior besides me.” Other verses clearly identify Jesus Christ as God.[ii]

The Holy Spirit is God
Peter plainly equates the Holy Spirit with God when he identifies Ananias’ lying to the Holy Spirit as lying to God.[iii]But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit … You have not lied to men but to God.’" The Spirit of God is eternal, appearing at the creation of the earth, as Genesis 1:2 states, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters”. The Spirit is omnipresent, as indicated in Psalm 139:7-8 shows, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there”. The Spirit has intimate knowledge of the thoughts of God: “the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God … the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11).

Did the Father become the Son?
The ancient heresy known as patripassianism (from the Latin words meaning ‘father’ pater and ‘to suffer’ passus) taught that the Father literally became the Son and suffered on the cross. This is similar to modalism or Sabellianism, teaching that there is only one God, but may appear as the Father, Son, or Spirit.  However, according to this doctrine, God would only be able to appear consecutively in a different form, not concurrently. The Bible on the other hand illustrates that the three do appear simultaneously. For example, after Jesus was baptized by John, all three persons of the trinity were present individually:
After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased’" (Matthew 3:16-17).
So, according to the Bible, the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct, separate entities.

Different analogies have been given to help people comprehend the mystery of the triune God, such as the comparison with time, which has past, present, and future. Another is space, which consists of height, width, and depth. However, in both analogies, the three aspects still represent only one concept or one essence. The trinity consists of three separate persons, each with His own separate being. Possibly one analogy that more closely approximates – recognizing that none are perfect – is that of a business partnership; not just any partnership, but one in which all three partners are in complete agreement concerning the operation of the business. For the sake of argument, we’ll call the business “Ben, Jerry, and Bob’s Ice Cream Company”. Any one of the three can sign the checkbook and all three have equal authority to make decisions regarding the business. Though they are separate persons, each equally represents the mission and interests of the ice cream business. They may perform separate functions; for example, Ben may operate as CFO, Jerry may be in charge of hiring, and Bob may oversee marketing and advertising. Even so, all three are co-owners. This may help us today to understand the statement made in Genesis 1:26:
            “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.’”[iv]

Though analogies fail at some point, and biblical scholars do not fully comprehend it, the doctrine of the trinity is clearly taught in the Bible. There is only one God, but three separate eternal persons. Though the Father, Son and Holy Spirit may perform different functions, each has equal authority as God. 

(Biblical references are from th

[i] Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Website, “Worship God on His Terms”, Published in 1989, Copyright 2006, Accessed 24 Jul 2008, <>.
[ii] “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), then several verses later, “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).
“the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus” (Titus 2:13).
[iii] “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’" (Acts 5:3-4).

[iv] Students of Hebrew grammar note that the word used for God “Elohim” is a plural noun and, because of this, the pronouns “us” and “our” are required to be plural also.  This may not necessarily indicate God is speaking for the trinity; rather, it may simply be a requirement of the grammatical structure.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why pray if God already knows what I need?

If God already knows everything, including what I will ask Him, why do I need to ask? In fact, Jesus told His disciples, “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8). Well then, why doesn’t God just give me what I need? But, the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy by writing, “I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men” (1 Timothy 2:1). Why are believers instructed to offer prayers and petitions if God is all powerful?  Doesn’t God do whatever He wants anyway?

Why am I praying?
To approach this question from a different angle is to ask what is the goal of my prayers. Do I pray to God when I need something? Am I praying to convince God, twisting His arm to give me something? As this article was being written, an advertisement for a book appeared on television by Robert Tilton entitled “How to be Rich & Have Everything You Ever Wanted”.[1] Should these things be the goal of our relationship with God and our prayers? Many people view the main reason for prayer as a means of having our desires and needs fulfilled. Jesus did say, “Ask and it will be given to you” and “For everyone who asks receives” (Matthew 7:7-8). So, if we need something, it is certainly acceptable and Biblical to ask for it. But, is that the primary purpose of praying to God, to get what we need or want? No, in fact Jesus said, “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). This is not to say we should not pray for what we need (we should), but the primary goal of our prayers involves a higher purpose of God in our lives.

What is the higher purpose of prayer?
A passage in Ezekiel offers insight into the Lord’s desire for His people. God recounted the wickedness of the Israelites, then said to the prophet, “I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30). Why did God look for such a man? The entire Bible is one long narrative detailing the Lord’s peculiar habit of wanting to bring humans into a working relationship with Him. If God simply did whatever He wanted, we likely would not have been given the Bible, the prophets, or the words of Jesus, all of whom attempt to bring us into relationship with Him.

Many years prior to the time of Ezekiel (ministry from ca. 593 B.C. through 571 B.C.), there were others who stood in the gap. In Numbers 16, the actions of Moses and Aaron influenced the Lord to discontinue His judgment on the Hebrews.[2] The Bible indicates that all of the people who had grumbled against Moses and Aaron were to be condemned and killed in a plague. However, as Aaron interceded on behalf of the people, the plague was halted. As we see from the Ezekiel passage, God wants someone to intercede for the people.     

Another who stood in the gap before God on behalf of the people was the prophet Amos (ca. 765-760 B.C). Disaster was imminent for the people of God, but because of Amos’ plea, God spared the people.[3] And, of course the greatest example of intersession is Jesus Christ:
“Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:34).
Much more can be written on the subject of intercession, but the intention here is to illustrate purpose of prayer. God’s will is enacted on earth by the actions and prayers of believers.

What does God want for us?
The crucial point believers need to understand is that, while God is certainly capable of doing whatever He wants, His greatest desire is that His people partner with Him in doing the Lord’s work in the earth. Jesus offered insight into this in His own work in the world when He said, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working” (John 5:17). Two verses later, Jesus went on to say, “the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” This seems to indicate that, during Jesus’ ministry, He did not pray to inform God of things the Father was not aware, nor did He convince God to do something the Father was not intending to do. Rather, Jesus was tuned in to God and His actions were directly in step with God’s desires. Paul instructs believers to “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ”, for the purpose of “not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved” (1 Corinthians 10:33). Jesus showed us an example of how to live; doing the will of the Father.

Paul, writing on behalf of himself and Timothy, describe themselves as “working together with Him [God]” (2 Corinthians 6:1). In the NIV, Paul and Timothy are described as “God’s fellow workers”.  This is the relationship the Lord wants to have with every believer, as working together with God in this world.  By praying for people and situations – as did Ezekiel, Moses, and Amos – we can accomplish God’s work. This is not to say that we change God’s mind and convince Him to do things He does not already desire, but that we take an active, rather than passive role in accomplishing His purposes. 

It is not necessary for believers to bring our needs to God’s attention:  He already knows our situation intimately even better than we do. Believers are instructed to pray for the purpose of working together with God in the world in this life. As Jesus worked hand in hand with the Father, we are to imitate Christ. We have the incredible privilege of participation in a working partnership with the Creator of the universe.

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Robert Tilton Free Ministry Material, “Success N Life”, 22 Jul 2008,
[2] “the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, ‘You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.’ It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’ Then they fell on their faces. Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun!’ Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked. But those who died by the plague were 14,700 (Numbers 16:41-49).
[3]“Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, He was forming a locust-swarm when the spring crop began to sprout. And behold, the spring crop was after the king's mowing. And it came about, when it had finished eating the vegetation of the land, that I said, ‘Lord God, please pardon! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?" The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be, said the Lord. Thus the Lord God showed me, and behold, the Lord God was calling to contend with them by fire, and it consumed the great deep and began to consume the farm land. Then I said, ‘Lord God, please stop! How can Jacob stand, for he is small?’ The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘This too shall not be,’ said the Lord God” (Amos 7:1-6).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How can we know if there's life after death?

If there’s no life after death, why should I bother living as a Christian? That seems like a good question. If there is no heaven, hell, or god, we may as well eat, drink, and be merry. Why waste my life serving a god who does not exist? The underlying presupposition in the question is that I would have much more enjoyment in life by not living according to the Bible. Is that true? Is the belief behind this statement that I need to do things that are immoral or illegal to have fun? And, what if I did “waste my life” by following principles in the Bible such as:  be honest, treat others as I want to be treated, work hard at my job, be faithful to my wife, be a good father, and help those less fortunate. Which of those lifestyles would anyone disagree with? Would it really be so bad to live according to these principles in this life? Then, what about the next life?

Why does it matter?
Someone may say that believing in the afterlife is like believing in something that cannot be proven. Like aliens living in another galaxy, I have no empirical evidence that they exist and it has no impact on my life, so why should I care.  The problem with that logic is that death is certainly something that will affect me. The death rate among humans is 100%. Even if I live 95 years, I’ll be dead forever and, if my soul is eternal, that’s a very long time. People spend much energy planning for retirement which lasts a few years, but expend little or no effort planning for eternity. Some say they will just see what happens when they get there. That’s crazy! If there’s a chance I may spend eternity in hell, I’m going to do my best to determine if heaven and hell are real. Eternity is a lot longer than retirement. It just makes sense to be sure.

How can we know?
What kind of proof would be valid for life after death? Because we do not have access to the other side, direct observation is out of the question. We cannot prove one way or the other through scientific empirical testing. So, how would we know? Philosophy professors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli list 25 arguments for life after death.[1]  Some of these are, as one might expect, not very convincing, whereas others are intriguing. Two thought-provoking philosophical arguments will be mentioned here very briefly and two rather convincing arguments with an evidentiary basis will be mentioned in more detail. 

Arguments for the afterlife
The “argument from consensus” reasons that nearly all cultures and the vast majority of all individuals who have ever lived have believed in life after death.  If this was merely a Judeo-Christian concept, one would not expect such a broad spectrum of belief.  If, as atheists claim, this life is all there ever was and will be, why do people almost uniformly believe there is more to life?  Some validity is added to this argument from the fact that believers in the afterlife have no experience on which to base that belief.  So, where did they get the idea?  Some may claim this belief is derived from the Bible, but the Bible was not the basis in most cultures (Hindus, American Indians, ancient Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, and Greeks).  Though the “argument from consensus” proves nothing, it causes us to question the origin of this nearly universal belief. 

The “argument from desire” is basically the same argument for God’s existence:  Every innate desire within humans corresponds to a real object which may satisfy that desire. We desire food and may eat to fulfill that. Humans thirst and desire water, grow tired and desire sleep, become amorous and desire sex, become lonely and desire company, and so on. This does not necessarily indicate the desire will be fulfilled, rather that it could be fulfilled. We have a concept that there must be something more than this life. Because humans have a desire for something beyond this life, it seems reasonable that there is a possible way to fulfill that desire. Interestingly, the Bible states that God has “set eternity” in the hearts of people (Ecclesiastes 3:11). 

What about after-death experiences?
Certainly we must exercise caution when evaluating these accounts. A number of books have been written on this subject, most detailing positive experiences by those who claim to have glimpsed the other side. Several factors may improve the reliability of some afterlife reports:  medically verifiable death, absence of mind-altering substances, witness reliability, and amount of time between the experience and the report. If medical evidence showed that the subject’s heart had stopped for a period of time, no drugs were involved, and the interview was conducted very shortly afterward, the recollection would have some basis for believability.

Cardiologist Maurice Rawlings had the opportunity in his medical practice to resuscitate a number of patients who had clinically died in his presence.  He recorded some of these after-death experiences reported by the patients within minutes of resuscitation. Dr. Rawlings was surprised to find that many of the “bad experiences seem to be so painful and disturbing that they are removed from conscious recall so that only the pleasant experiences – or no experiences at all – are recollected.”[2]  In one particular case, a patient had a cardiac arrest during a stress test and dropped dead in his office. Rawlings reported that, “each time he regained heartbeat and respiration, the patient screamed, ‘I am in hell!’”[3] On the other hand, some very pleasant experiences commonly reported by patients included:  feeling no pain, going through a tunnel, seeing dead loved ones, beautiful sights and fragrances. One point of difference Rawlings noted between his patient interviews and those by others was that:
“so far as I know, [no other interviewer] has ever resuscitated a patient or had the opportunity of recording immediate on-the-scene interviews. After many interrogations of patients I have personally resuscitated, I was amazed by the discovery that many have bad experiences. If patients could be immediately interviewed, I believe researchers would find bad experiences to be as frequent as good ones.”[4]  

Someone did actually return from the dead.
Fortunately, we have very strong historical evidence, including eyewitness accounts of someone who was certified to be dead, placed in a tomb for three days, then was seen alive again afterward. John, Matthew, and Peter were eyewitnesses of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.  Luke, a physician, investigated the death and resurrection of Jesus, then wrote about it.  Paul, formerly Saul of Tarsus, was well aware of the death of Jesus as a Jewish religious leader and, in fact, persecuted early Christians. Paul then recorded that more than 500 people saw Jesus alive again after the crucifixion.  At the time of Paul’s writing (ca. A.D. 55), most of the 500 were still alive to refute the story if it were not true.[5] Because there is legitimate historical evidence that someone did rise from the dead, this person, Jesus of Nazareth, is qualified to speak of the afterlife. He told His disciples, “I lay down my life so that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). Jesus has the authority to speak of these matters, as He stated, “I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:18). In fact, Jesus spoke many times of life after death.

What does the Bible say about life after death?
The Bible contains so many clear references to life after death that it would require too much space here to recount all.  The NASB contains 43 instances of the term “eternal life” in the New Testament alone and the word “forever” is used 318 times in the Bible. The Bible states, “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus said, “These (the unrighteous) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (Matthew 25:46). Daniel spoke of the resurrection on the last day when he stated, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). The Bible is very clear that all people will live forever in one of two conditions:  everlasting life or everlasting condemnation.  A vision of the future of all humans is given in Revelation 20:12-15:
“I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Reasonable evidence exists for life after death. The Bible plainly informs us that we have the opportunity now to decide our fate for eternity. Even if the evidence is not 100% convincing, is it really worth taking the chance of spending eternity in hell and missing the indescribable joy in heaven for believers? It is a very simple matter to have one’s name written in the book of life: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21).

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Peter Kreeft & Ronald Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press, 1994), 227-256.
[2] Maurice S. Rawlings, M.D., Beyond Death’s Door, (New York, NY:  Bantam Books, 1978), 47.
[3] Rawlings, 1-3.
[4] Rawlings, 47.
[5] “He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-8)

Monday, February 20, 2017

Are there many ways to heaven?

Does it matter what I believe? Do all roads lead to God? These are critical questions to ask because, if all roads lead to God, then it does not matter what I believe. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life released a U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2008, which found that 70% of those affiliated with a religion did not believe their religion is the only way to salvation. These are not atheists or agnostics, but people who believe religions other than their own can lead to God. Of those religions which base their faith on the Bible, 66% of Protestants and 79% of Catholics agreed that many religions can lead to eternal life.[1]    

What does the Bible say?
According to the Bible, are there many ways to heaven?  No, the Bible clearly teaches only one way for one to be saved. Some claim that Christians are intolerant of other religions, but modern Christians did not devise the way to salvation, God did. Jesus Christ was very exclusive concerning the road to eternal life. He stated, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through me” (John 14:6) and “unless you believe that I am he (sent from God), you shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).  Peter also preached the exclusivity of Jesus Christ when he said; “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).  Paul affirmed the same concept when he stated, “there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  If the Bible is not true and not from God, then there may be other ways to be saved.  However, if the Bible is true, other roads to heaven are necessarily excluded.  It is logically permissible to state that either Christianity or another religion contains the way to salvation, but it is illogical to believe that Christianity and another religion can both lead to God. 

Why is Jesus the only way to heaven?
Why is there only one way to be saved? So the Bible teaches that salvation is only through Jesus Christ, but isn’t the way to heaven like the way to Chicago?  You can take a plane, car, train, bike, or even walk if you wish.  And, there are many different roads:  Interstate 94 from the North or East, Route 65 from the South, Route 90, and so on.  Or, to use another analogy, isn’t religion similar to ice cream?  One person thinks the best flavor is Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, while another would argue that Rocky Road is the best, and so on.  Two people may disagree as to the most efficient route to Chicago or the best ice cream, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter as long as you get there.  The reason Jesus is the only way to be saved is that no other mechanism exists to expunge our sins.  Since God is completely holy[2] and righteous[3], while all humans have sin in our lives[4], we are necessarily separated from God and condemned[5].  The only effective method to deal with sin was for a sinless person to face punishment in our place[6].  No other religion completely addresses the sin issue and that is what makes Christianity unique.    

What about other religions?
Isn’t it arrogant to make the claim that Christianity is better than other religions?  First, it is crucial to recognize a category difference between truth and preference, such as the difference between religion and ice cream.  As Sean McDowell has pointed out, different ice cream flavors are a matter of preference and, in the end; it is inconsequential which flavor of ice cream you prefer.[7]  Religion could be categorized as a preference if there really is no god or, alternatively, if all roads do lead to God.  But, what if there really is a God and not all roads lead to heaven?  If that is the case, religion is not a question of preference, but of truth versus error.  If I want to travel to Chicago from New York and I decide to drive south on Route 95, I will not arrive in Chicago.  It is not a matter of preference, nor is it arrogant, to believe that this road will lead to Miami, not Chicago.  It is simply the truth.  Other religions typically contain much good teaching and philosophy, but if they do not point to Jesus Christ as the only way to God, they do not contain the whole truth and may contain very serious errors.    

How do we know Christianity is true?
There are a number of methods to demonstrate that the Bible contains the truth from God.  The most convincing evidence, which also happens to be the most crucial difference between major religions, is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Jesus of Nazareth is the only religious leader or founder who: 
1.    lived a perfect, sinless life
2.    performed verifiable miracles
3.    died a substitutionary death
4.    was raised from the dead

No religious leader can claim any of the above and these are actions that only someone sent from a living God could perform.  Whereas some other religious leaders may have lived very exemplary lives, all were sinful human beings.  This is true for Siddhartha Gautama, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Lao Tzu, Charles Russell, Confucius, and others.  This is not to say we cannot find some value in the teachings of non-Christians, but we need to be very discerning in regard to essential issues, in particular the nature of God and the way of salvation. 

Second, no other religious leader performed certifiable miracles.  For example, the Qur’an portrays Muhammad as refusing to do miracles (Suras 3:181-84; 4:153; 6:8-9).  Allegedly, traditions in the Hadith contain miracle accounts, but these were written by individuals who lived more than 100 years after Muhammad’s death.[8]  The numerous miracles of Jesus Christ were recorded by eyewitnesses, such as Matthew, John, and Peter. Additionally, extra-Biblical writer Quadratus recorded that Jesus performed miracles and, during his time, some of the eyewitnesses were still alive.[9] 

Third, no other major religious leader died to offer atonement for the sins of others.  Jesus Christ “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” and “so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation” (Hebrews 9:26,28).  The death of Jesus Christ is one of the best attested historical facts from the entire ancient world.  In addition to eyewitness accounts in the Bible, other non-Biblical sources record His death, including Josephus, Tacitus, Ignatius, Phlegon, the Jewish Talmud, Lucian, the book of Barnabas, Gospel of Thomas, Acts of Pilate, Justin, and early creeds.[10] 

Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus was even more extraordinary (if that was not enough in itself) because He prophesied His own death, resurrection from the dead, and exactly when it would occur.[11] In addition, the Apostle Paul wrote of the resurrection of Jesus and, as Paul’s letters were being circulated among the early churches, most of the 500+ witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were still alive to attest to that fact.[12]  No other religious leader can touch that. There is only one way to heaven; belief in Jesus Christ. 

(Biblical references are from the NASB version.)

[1] Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, U. S. Religious Landscape Survey, Jun. 2008, <>
[2] Leviticus 11:44 – “be holy, for I am holy”
[3] Daniel 9:14 – “the Lord our God is righteous”
[4] Romans 3:10 – “there is none righteous, not even one”
[5]Romans 5:18  - “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men”
[6] 2 Corinthians 5:21 – “He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf”
[7] Sean McDowell, Apologetics DVD Seminar:  The Big Dig, (Focus on the Family, 2007).
[8] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Muslims (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 2002) 55.
[9] Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, MO:  College Press, 1996), 244.
[10] Habermas, p. 247.
[11] Luke 18:33 – “after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again"
[12] 1 Corinthians 15:6 – “After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now”