This little series, which I expected would be nothing more than a record for posterity, has garnered much more interest in the present day than I expected. I’ve been particularly pleased at the insightful and important comments several people have left. They’re important because they reflect sentiments I’ve heard often, but which I had neglected in my posts. I’ve responded in their respective comment streams, but wanted dig them out of that relative obscurity and put them in this post where more people will see them.
And let me apologize at the start for not including every good comment. There were many, but this post is about 1,20o words as it is.
I’m going to start with the most recent posts because that’s where some of the most important conversations took place.
From Part 4: Romans 8:9:
Here, I said that I had not seen significant difference in the conduct of evangelicals versus the rest of the population, and neither had formal surveys. I argued that this was evidence against “a central doctrine of evangelical Christianity,” namely that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who gives them the motivation and power to live better lives.
Jeremiah Dahl rightly observed that the central message of the gospel is not to become a better person. “If your only idea of sin was ‘being a bad person’, then of course I can see your predicament; but that’s not what sin is. The shopkeeper didn’t need to be saved from being a terrible person, he needed to be saved from his sin, from rejecting the God who created him. … [In the] words of Christ, he is without a doubt failing to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind’ which is what Christ commands before saying ‘and Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I think Jeremiah is so correct that I considered devoting a whole post to presenting the gospel from an evangelical point of understanding. Ironic, eh!? :) Instead, I hope the following will suffice.
- Every person is sinful.
- The penalty for sin is death, which in this life means alienation from God and in the next means eternal separation from him, in hell.
- However, Jesus took that penalty on himself by dying on the cross. Because his own life was sinless, his death did not have to pay for his own sin. That uniquely qualified him to die in our place.
- We can avail ourselves of Jesus’ sacrifice by “receiving him.” Evangelicals differ on what this means. For some, it means to receive God’s free gift, no strings attached. Others say that in addition, one must turn from the old life of sin and resolve to follow Jesus as Lord.
- At conversion, the Holy Spirit indwells the believer, giving him new power for godly living. Jesus’ resurrection not only showed he conquered death for the next life, but gives us victory over sin in this life. As Romans 6:4 puts it, “…we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” And two verses later, “…our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”
- Importantly, we do not earn our salvation through good works, for salvation is God’s gift. Rather, we do good out of gratitude for what God has done for us, and out of simple love for him.
From Jeremiah’s comments, I gather that his evangelical tradition differed from mine on point 5. However, where I come from that was an important aspect of the salvation story, which is why, when I did not find it to be true, it shook my faith.
From Part 3: Prayer Studies:
etnotablog saw my argument about prayer studies as “thinly veiling the much more egregious question, ‘How could a loving God allow people to suffer and die?’ question.” He continues, “Looking at why, with or without prayer, a loving God would allow any person to suffer unjustly is a question that has less to do about the validity of prayer and more to do about the nature of God and His relationship to man. Or, even further removed, does God exist at all?”
Chris responded before I did, and did it well. “The Beagle points out that it is written in the Bible that the prayers of ‘the faithful’ will be granted. Then it is demonstrated [that] multiple groups of presumably faithful people did not have their prayers answered, not just for miraculous healing but for marriage repairs as well. This then forces one to question the validity of prayer as a means to achieving any sort of end.” He continued with much more that is worth going back to read.
I agreed with etnotablog on one point: “Prayer not working says nothing about whether a God or gods exist.” However, I continued, “It is evidence against the particular God-claims entailed in evangelical Christianity, and that was my point.”
etnotablog also made a point that comes up frequently when discussing scientific studies of prayer. Citing the episode From Luke 4 where the devil tempts Jesus to put God to the test, etnotablog asserted, “We can accept that prayer is a way to interact with God (of the Bible) and believe that there is power to heal and restore found in it, but at the same time we have been told that it will not be subject to tests and trials.”
To someone like me, this is tantamount to saying, “Prayer heals, as long as you’re not paying attention.” Scientific trials are nothing more than the most reliable way of paying attention that we have discovered so far.
The conversation continued for quite a while from there!
From Part 2: Worthy Prayers:
Nathan thought that both Science and belief in God ought to admit that they don’t have all the answers. He closed by saying, “…at the end of the day, I don’t see any alternative than to take a leap of faith in one direction or the other.”
Michael said, “Science concerns itself with the material whereas religion concerns itself with the immaterial.”
I responded, “The moment religion makes predictions about what will happen in the material world, it has stepped into the realm of science: it has made claims that are testable.” That’s what I went on to explore in Part 3.
There were other worthy comments, including those in Part 1, but I’m going to cut this short (shorter, anyway).
Next time, I’ll continue with my series, taking a fresh look at God as found in the Bible