Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

You’ve probably heard the accusation: the Bible contradicts itself. More evidence—if we needed it—that the Bible was written by simple people in a much simpler era.

In fact, there’s a group called the Reason Project who claim to have found five hundred such contradictions in Scripture.

So does their accusation stand?

On closer inspection, most of these so-called contradictions are little more than silly word games: cherry-picked verses that ignore both the culture and the theology of the Bible.

But some are worth a closer look.

One Angel Or Two?

When Matthew wrote about Jesus’ resurrection, he mentioned the angel at the tomb. But in John’s gospel, there are two angels. So which is it?

Notice that Matthew didn’t say only one angel was present. Basic maths says that if you have two of something, you also have one of them.

“These reports aren’t hard to reconcile.”

This solution might sound a bit too cute for the cynical-minded. But it’s not difficult to imagine a scenario in which two angels were at the tomb, and one played a more prominent role in the conversation that took place.

Matthew chose to focus on the one, while John felt it was worth mentioning both. That’s hardly a contradiction.

How Did Judas Really Die?

Or there’s the death of Judas—the disciple who betrayed Jesus. Judas hanged himself, according to Matthew’s account. But Luke records that he fell headlong and was found disembowelled.

It’s interesting that the traditional site for Judas’s field is a pasture at the bottom of a cliff outside the city of Jerusalem.

A very plausible scenario is that Judas indeed hanged himself, and that eventually his rope broke or was cut, causing him to plummet to the field below. Once again, these reports aren’t hard to reconcile.

The Contradictions of Jesus

Contradictions are often pointed out between Jesus’ teachings recorded in different places. The details seem to differ depending on which gospel account you read.

But I’m a preacher. And I’ve used my favourite illustrations and teaching points on many occasions, often modifying them for my audience or to make a slightly different point. Surely Jesus is allowed the same freedom?

So much of what passes as contradiction is actually nothing of the sort. It’s worth bearing this in mind the next time you hear this accusation made.

More Trustworthy, Not Less

In fact, much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.

Imagine, God forbid, a murder took place on the streets of your city. Four witnesses stepped forward who claimed not to know each other, but who gave near-identical testimony, pointing the finger at the same suspect.

“The four gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry.”

Any lawyer would be right to assume the four witnesses had colluded, agreeing to give the same account. Suddenly they are the guilty ones. They’ve been caught selling a fake story—probably to hide a darker truth.

Likewise, if Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s accounts were nearly identical, we’d be right to think they’d collaborated, trying to fool the world with a concocted story about Jesus.

“Much of what passes as contradiction makes the Bible more trustworthy, not less.”

As it is, however, their gospels emphasise different aspects of Jesus’ life, character and ministry. At times, they differ so much that harmonising them takes time and consideration, as we’ve seen.

And this is exactly what we’d expect if their accounts were honest, independent, and based on eyewitness testimony.

Warts and All

The same holds true of other embarrassing details in the Bible. Too often, the main characters in Scripture are—to put it bluntly—idiots.

Abraham is a chronic liar. David has an affair. The nation of Israel can’t stop sinning. The disciples betray Jesus and run away. The early church was a hot mess.

“For Bible writers to include these details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.”

If the Bible really was made up by the people who wrote it, why didn’t they try to make themselves look less stupid?

Ancient cultures had a strong honour-shame dynamic. In other words, for Bible writers to include these warts-and-all details is strong evidence that they were telling the truth.

The Best News in the World

During the last four posts, we’ve explored the Bible’s uniqueness, its preservation, its historicity and its internal coherence. On each count, it has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.

People today are reluctant to accept the Bible’s claims. At one level, this is understandable. Scripture holds out high moral standards; it strips away our self-reliance; it speaks of a great day of accountability for every soul.

“The Bible has emerged with surprising credibility, given the accusations levelled against it.”

But that’s not all it does. It also gives us unspeakable promises, like these from Romans 8.

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.

“The Bible gives us unspeakable promises.”

No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If the Bible is a trustworthy document, it’s not bad news. It turns out to be the best news in the world.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so. We all know the tune. But how much confidence can we actually have that anything the Bible records is true?

Many skeptics of Christianity are adamant that the Bible is not a reliable source of history. If they’re right, then as followers of Jesus we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.

If.

See, there’s a reason the Bible is held in such suspicion. Put simply, it’s because the Bible records miracles. And there’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia that says a document is only historically accurate if it doesn’t describe supernatural events.

“If skeptics are right, we need to rethink our most deeply-held convictions.”

This might be a fashionable idea. But it’s far from being a self-evident fact. Really, it’s a worldview—an assumption that’s been made before any research has begun.

Anyone is free to believe this, of course. But that’s the point—it’s a belief. It’s as much a belief as the Christian who naively claims no research is needed since God wrote the Bible and it must be true.

“There’s an unspoken rule in the halls of academia.”

What if, for the sake of historical inquiry, we all agreed to suspend our beliefs? What if we asked a question everyone agreed on: Is the Bible historically accurate when it speaks of events that can be tested historically?

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The Embarrassment of Scholars

If you’re familiar with the Bible, you’ll know the feeling. Nodding off to sleep as you endure another list of dates, names or numbers.

In case it hasn’t occurred to you yet, those details aren’t there for your entertainment. They’re there for historical verification. Thousands of them.

For centuries, skeptics have assumed many of the Bible’s historical claims to be bogus. But so often, it’s the skeptics who’ve been put to shame.

Let’s take a few examples.

Isaiah talks about King Sargon of Assyria. For years academics scoffed and said such a king never existed. Then in 1842, his entire palace was unearthed in modern-day Iraq.

For a hundred years, skeptics said that the Hittites, mentioned many times in the Old Testament, were just a made-up people-group.

But in the late 19th century, the Hittite capital city Hattusa was uncovered in modern-day Turkey. It’s such a vast city that it’s still being dug up today.

Or take the Pool of Bethesda. For many years, university professors taught that the gospel of John was unreliable because it spoke of this apparently non-existent pool.

But with new technology, archaeologists were able to dig deeper, discovering what is without doubt the Pool of Bethesda spoken of by John.

This is just a sampling, but the pattern is a familiar one. Archaeology has vindicated the the Bible time and time again.

It’s beyond the reach of archaeology to prove the Bible’s supernatural events. But literally thousands of archaeological discoveries have been made that confirm the Bible’s other claims.

Let the Archaeologists Speak

Sir William Ramsay was born in Scotland in the 1850s. From a young age, he was skeptical of the Bible, calling it a book of fables.

He especially doubted that the book of Acts was real history because the author, Luke, spoke of so many places for which there was simply no evidence.

Ramsay studied at Oxford and then travelled to modern-day Turkey, fully expecting to discover there that Acts was mere myth.

After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field. Towards the end of his life, this is what he said:

“Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements of fact trustworthy… this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians… Luke’s history is unsurpassed in respect of its trustworthiness.”

Sir William Ramsay died a believer.

“After thirty years of study, Ramsay became the foremost scholar in this field.”

W. F. Albright, one of the world’s great archaeologists, said, “There can be no doubt that archaeology has confirmed the substantial historicity of Old Testament tradition.”

Nelson Glueck unearthed some 1,500 ancient sites. He wrote, “In all of my archaeological investigation I have never found one artefact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of the Word of God.”

But the Bible’s Writers Were Biased

Let’s change gears for a minute. You may have heard it suggested that the Bible’s writers were already believers, so of course they were biased in their telling of history.

“The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism.”

But even if we set aside the entire Bible, there’s still so much we know about Jesus from non-Christian writers like Thallus, Tacitus, Lucian, Emperor Trajan, and Pliny the Younger.

Consider these words from Josephus:

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.”

From non-Christian authors alone, here’s what we know about Jesus:

  • he came from Nazareth
  • he lived a wise and virtuous life
  • he was crucified in Palestine, during the festival of Passover, under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius Caesar
  • he was considered a Jewish king
  • his disciples believed he was raised to life three days after he died
  • he was a sorcerer
  • his small band of disciples grew and spread as far as Rome
  • his followers believed in one God and worshipped Christ as divine

Is the Bible historically reliable? It depends. If you’re searching for proof of every miracle, historical inquiry won’t get you very far. At some point, you’ll have to exercise faith.

But it will be a faith that rests on facts.

The Bible has withstood centuries of skepticism. But here’s what we know: when it speaks of events that can be tested historically, the Bible is a thoroughly trustworthy document.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

Has the Bible Been Tampered With?

You’ve probably heard it suggested that the Bible we read today is nothing like the original, given how many times it’s been copied through the centuries.

Surely this has provided too much opportunity—so the argument goes—for people to copy it poorly. Or worse, to tamper with it to suit their own agenda.

This makes for a good story, but is it true?

The Old Testament

The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures. In making a new copy, the scribe wasn’t allowed to write a single letter from memory: every one had to be checked.

Two others would hover over his shoulder ensuring he made no mistakes. If an error was made, all three of them had to initial it.

“The Jews had a special class of people whose only task was to preserve the Scriptures.”

On completion of a book, every word would be counted. And tallies would be made of each letter of the Hebrew alphabet to see if it matched the original.

If a new manuscript didn’t pass these and other tests, it was trashed and the process would begin again.

The Dead Sea Scrolls

Until last century, the earliest copies we had of the Old Testament only went back as far as AD900. So arguably, it still could have changed a lot in that time, despite every scribe’s good intention.

But then along came a shepherd boy called Muhammad. He was tending his goats near some caves at the Dead Sea. The year was 1947.

Bored, he tossed a stone into a cave and heard the sound of breaking pottery. So he scrambled in and made the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century: the Dead Sea Scrolls.

“What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus.”

They were a collection of around 500 works, written on leather, wrapped in linen, and stored in jars. Among them was most of the Old Testament.

What made this find so important was that they dated back to the time of Jesus—a millennia older than any previous Old Testaments we had. More important still, they bore remarkable similarity to those older copies.

Take for example Isaiah 53. After a thousand years of copying, only 17 letters in the entire chapter were different. Most of the changes were obvious slips of the pen or minor spelling changes, and none affected the meaning of the text.

Reflecting on the value of the Dead Sea Scrolls, archaeologist W. F. Albright said, “We may rest assured that the consonantal text of the Hebrew Bible, though not infallible, has been preserved with an accuracy perhaps unparalleled in any other Near Eastern literature.”

The New Testament

Tiberius was the emperor who famously sent Mary and Joseph packing for Bethlehem. Volumes have been written about Tiberius. But almost everything we know about him was written 80 years after his life by the historian Tacitus.

Now consider the biographies of Jesus, also known as Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These gospels were written within 30-60 years of Jesus’ life.

In other words, our records about Jesus are better than the those we have for the man who ruled the world at the same time.

This has other implications too. If Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote while witnesses to Jesus were still living, it would have been near impossible for them to invent stories about him.

“Our records about Jesus are better than they are for the man who ruled the world at the same time.”

Imagine an account was fake. To shut down the Jesus movement, all a skeptic needed to do was visit this village, ask if Jesus really did heal that person, and the whole charade would be exposed.

Instead, in those early centuries a perplexed pagan world watched on as this fledgling movement spread throughout the empire.

The Ancient World’s Most Copied Text

In the Rylands Library in Manchester, UK is a fragment of John’s gospel. It’s the earliest parchment we have of the New Testament.

Like most ancient documents, it’s a copy. But it’s been dated to within 50 years of the original. Compared with other writings from the ancient world, this is remarkable.

“As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.”

But the New Testament has even greater credentials. No one claims the history about Caesar or the writings of Plato were made up. But only a handful of these documents have survived.

On the other hand, 25,000 New Testament manuscripts can be found throughout the libraries of the world. Not just fragments, but whole scrolls and books too. As such, we can reconstruct the New Testament with near-perfect accuracy.

So has the Bible been tampered with?

There’s no evidence for this claim. Instead, the evidence points in a different direction. As far as tests go for ancient documents, the Bible passes every one with flying colours.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Bible is the best-attested document of ancient history.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

What Makes the Bible Unique?

Once upon a time, the Bible was a trusted book. Today many people hold it in suspicion, and feel that to believe Scripture is to take a leap of faith into the dark.

What a curious turn of events. Peter, one of the Bible’s authors, said, “We were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:16).

“The Bible stands or falls on the facts of history.”

John claimed, “We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands.” (1 John 1:1). And Luke said he wrote his gospel only after he “carefully investigated everything from the beginning.” (Luke 1:3).

In other words, this book claims to be more than religious truth (whatever that means). It’s true truth. Apparently it stands or falls on the facts of history.

Which is why, in this and future posts, I want to ask four questions:

To believers, I want to ask: do these questions make you nervous? If so, brilliant. It means your faith has a chance to mature, and be shored up on foundations stronger than just your feelings.

If you don’t follow Jesus, I have a different question: if it could be shown that the Bible is reliable, would you believe? In other words, are you truly open-minded?

It’s hard to find questions that matter more than these—because if the Bible is true, it changes everything.

What Makes the Bible Unique?

If every Bible on the planet ceased to exist this second, you could still go to your city library and piece it together just from quotations in other books. So profound is its impact on our world.

From science to education, democracy to medicine, and some of our dearest values like humility, reason, and equality, the Bible has truly given western civilisation its soul.

The word Bible simply means book. But in fact, the Bible is an anthology of books.

“It was penned from deserts and dungeons, palaces and prisons.”

The Bible was written over 1,500 years by more than 40 authors, who came from every walk of life: kings, peasants, military leaders, philosophers, shepherds, statesmen, and poets.

It was penned from deserts and dungeons, palaces and prisons. And on three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe.

It was written in times of peace, and periods of war and unrest. It expresses the heights of joy and the depths of despair; days of doubt and times of great faith.

“The Bible has truly given western civilisation its soul.”

And the literary styles that make up the Bible are unbelievably diverse: biography, romance, prophecy, correspondence, law, satire, song, allegory, memoirs and more.

Despite this amazing diversity, the Bible tells one story: the redemption of humanity. Everything that was lost in Genesis is restored in Revelation.

The Book That Just Won’t Go Away

The Frenchman Voltaire (1694-1778) was a famous philosopher and early atheist. He predicted that within a hundred years of his lifetime, Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history.

Not long after his death, the Bible Society had bought Voltaire’s estate and were using it to print and distribute Bibles around the world.

Fast forward to today, and the Bible is the most widely printed, read and distributed book in history—5 billion copies and counting. No other book comes even close.

“Voltaire is dead, but the Bible lives on.”

The Bible is also the most translated book in history. Portions of it are now available in almost 3,000 of the world’s 6,500 languages, making it accessible to 90% of the world’s population.

Voltaire is dead, but the Bible lives on. It is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.

And if news from majority-world nations like China, India and Indonesia is to be believed, that doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. In fact, its best days may yet be ahead of us.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, please give it a like, comment or share on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of the series:

Sources

Clark, Mark. The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.

McDowell, Josh. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2017.

How Pluralism Points to Jesus

In recent posts, I’ve explored the place of Jesus among other gods. Using controversial titles, I suggested that every major world faith contains clues that point to him.

In this cultural moment, it’s scandalous—even arrogant—to suggest that Jesus might be the only way. I’d get a lot more traction if I said that all religions are equally valid; that all paths lead to God.

This belief, known as pluralism, is today’s accepted wisdom. No one even feels the need to defend it because it’s so widely assumed to be true.

“It’s scandalous to suggest that Jesus might be the only way.”

But pluralism has disastrous blind spots. In seeking to affirm people of every religion for their insight and spiritual commitment, it actually insults them all.

How? Pluralism does this by failing to understand the unique claims of each world faith. The founders of every religion—and most of their adherents—are convinced that their path of salvation is needed, precisely because other methods have been found wanting.

Enlightenment became possible only because the Buddha discovered the eightfold path; the five pillars of Islam are the true path of submission to Allah; Hinduism’s way of release is what makes union with the ultimate life force attainable; the Jewish people can obey God only by following his law. The list goes on.

But according to pluralism, each of these—the Buddha’s eightfold path, Muhammad’s five pillars, Hinduism’s way of release, the Jewish law, and Jesus’ death and resurrection—weren’t really needed, because hope could have been found elsewhere.

“Pluralism has disastrous blind spots.”

There’s a famous parable from India that pluralists love to tell that exposes this problem. It’s called the tale of the blind men and the elephant, and it goes like this:

Five blind men inspect an elephant. One feels the trunk and concludes it’s a snake. One touches its ear and decides it is a leaf. Another finds the leg and thinks it’s a tree. One puts his hand on the elephant’s side and believes it’s a wall. The final man holds the tail and says it is a rope.

The moral of the story, says pluralism, is that ultimate truth isn’t found in any one religion. Rather, through our combined insight we will be able to arrive at an all-encompassing truth together. If we shared our wisdom, we’d realise that all paths lead to God (or the universe, or whatever—because who cares about details, right?)

But pluralists have missed the most important fact in the story: there is a sixth man. He is the narrator, the one telling the story. Only he has all the facts; only he perceives things objectively.

“Applied to the world’s religions, this story is manipulative and insulting.”

Do you see it? Pluralism congratulates itself for its tolerance, but it actually makes the most arrogant claim of all. It paints itself as the only truly objective point of view—the one that all other religions failed to see.

The blind men and the elephant is a nice story, and surely has use in other spheres of life. But when pluralists apply it to the world’s religions, it is manipulative and insulting. Pluralism becomes simply another ideology—and a bad one at that—for people of every world religion to disagree with. Please don’t miss the irony in that.

You definitely don’t want to miss the irony in that.

So where does this leave us? If a unity between all faiths can’t be achieved, should we just reject them all?

“A conversation between the different world religions is so important.”

The problem is that faith—even in all of its various forms—seems to find an echo in every human soul. For centuries in the West, we’ve tried the secular project. We’ve lived as though the universe were a closed system and God was just an optional extra. But faith hasn’t gone away. The world, even in the West, is as religious as its ever been.

Which is why a conversation between the different world religions is so important. As a pastor, I see too many Christians who grow up in church but never really examine the claims of Jesus for themselves—much less other world faiths. Then they hit a crisis in their twenties and declare that the faith they never owned and never really thought about is a fairy tale.

Do me a favour: don’t be like that. Whether you’re a person of faith or not, think about what you believe. Compare it with the claims made by the other competing voices out there.

“We’ve tried the secular project, but faith hasn’t gone away.”

I’ll try to abstain from the arrogance of pluralism. I won’t claim to have a handle on all other world religions that they have missed. I will continue weighing up all the claims I hear and comparing them with the words and works of Jesus.

But I will tell you what I’ve seen so far. I see the fingerprints of God in every worldview. I see people with eternity written across their hearts. I see people reaching out, not just for something greater than themselves, but for a way out of our human predicament—even if that predicament is framed in a thousand different ways.

In Jesus, I see something unique. Instead of asking us to live better or strive harder or reach higher, I see a God who has come down to us, who has literally stepped into our human predicament, and done for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

“Eternity is written across our hearts.”

In Jesus, I see the enlightened one that even the Buddha needed. More than a prophet, I see the truest Muslim, the one who perfectly submitted to God and enables us to do likewise. I see Hinduism’s way of release personified and fulfilled for us. I see the God that even atheists can’t seem to escape. I see the Messiah, the hope of Israel.

Maybe I’m just seeing things as I consider Jesus among other gods.

Or maybe he is the true God—the one we’ve all been searching for.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

How Judaism Points to Jesus

Israel. It’s bizarre that such a tiny nation somehow makes news headlines every week. I guess when you occupy the hottest piece of real estate on the planet, the whole world is going to have an opinion.

Today the media buzz is mostly about Israel’s injustices. But if you look back in history, there’s probably no people group that’s suffered as much injustice as the Jewish people. From slavery to exile to the 6 million Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust, it’s a miracle they’ve even survived.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our suspicion of other religions. What if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Judaism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

The Story of Judaism

Judaism is a religion, but it’s also a story: the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world. God made amazing promises to this ethnic group, along with a high calling to obey his laws in every area of their lives.

So in brief, God’s people obeying his law is what Judaism is all about. The only way for us to understand this faith is to join its central characters on a fascinating adventure through time.

T H E   C A L L :   A B R A H A M

In 1800BC, in today’s Iraq, an idol worshipper hears a voice from heaven: Leave your country and family, go to the land I give you, and I’ll make you into a great nation that will bless the planet. Abraham obeys, and he becomes the founding father of Judaism.

As part of this promise, God expects every male in the family to be circumcised: a peculiar reminder that they are God’s peculiar people—and that his plan of universal blessing will come through their offspring.

“It’s the story of God calling a man who became a nation that blessed the world.”

The promise begins to unfold: Abraham’s grandson Jacob or Israel has twelve sons (who go on to become the twelve tribes of Israel). Like most brothers, they don’t get along so well, and during a low point in the story, one of them called Joseph is sold by the others into slavery in Egypt.

But in Egypt, God turns the tables. Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s chief administrator and saves the region from a devastating famine. Starving and in search of food, his long-lost brothers arrive to a surprising and emotional family reunion.

T H E   C O V E N A N T :   M O S E S

The family settles in Egypt, and their numbers grow so rapidly that a new Pharaoh, feeling threatened, puts them under brutal slavery. But God won’t stand for this injustice, so he raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.

At Moses’ word, supernatural plagues and storms ravage Egypt, but Pharaoh’s heart is hard like stone. So in a final showdown, God has each Israelite household cook a lamb and smear its blood on their doorframe: the firstborn in every house in Egypt would die that night, and God’s judgment would pass over any home marked with blood.

“God raises up a leader called Moses to set his people free.”

Egypt is left devastated, and Pharaoh, broken-hearted, lets Israel go. Through a parted ocean,  God’s people escape. Meanwhile Pharaoh has changed his mind, and in hot pursuit of Israel, he and his armies are drowned in the engulfing waters.

The nation is finally free. On their journey to the promised land, God makes a covenant with them. He gives Moses their national law or Torah, which will govern every aspect of their lives as God’s people. If they obey it, God will make them prosperous and secure, and the model of a wise and just society. If they neglect it, curses and exile are sure to follow.

T H E   K I N G D O M :   D A V I D

After a long journey camping in the wilderness, Israel finally arrives in the promised land. The twelve tribes unite to form a kingdom, and in around 1000BC, their greatest king comes to power. David is a warrior-poet with many faults—but he captures the holy city of Jerusalem, extends Israel’s borders, and leads the nation with a heart after God.

“Israel finally arrives in the promised land.”

God honours David’s faithfulness by promising him a dynasty that would last forever. From David’s line, God says that an eternal king or Messiah would come, ruling over a universal kingdom—and leading Israel to fulfil its God-given destiny.

In time, Israel builds God a temple. The Jews know God is everywhere of course, but this temple is God’s throne room where they can approach him to offer praise and sacrifices. One day a year, on the day of atonement, the most important sacrifice is made. Two animals are brought: one is killed, bearing the nation’s sin—the other is released into the wild, declaring their forgiveness.

“David is a warrior-poet who leads the nation with a heart after God.”

But this spiritual and political high doesn’t last long. Soon most of the nation, even its kings, are perverting justice and worshipping idols. God sends prophets to remind Israel about the blessings and curses of the covenant—but Israel rejects and kills them.

God has had enough: from the 8th to the 6th centuries BC, the empires of Assyria and Babylon invade and take the Jewish people into exile. It would be centuries before they’d return to their land to restore the nation and rebuild their ruined temple.

T H E   C R O S S   R O A D S

Even when Israel returns many years later, life isn’t like it was. The new temple is small—only a shadow of its former self. Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised. Foreign empires keep invading: in an act of desecration, a Greek king sets up a statue of Zeus in God’s temple, leading to a Jewish revolt. Then Romans invade with a huge military and heavy taxes.

During this bewildering time, Israel is at the crossroads. There are competing visions for what the future of the Jewish people should look like: retreat to the desert and wait for the end of days? Overthrow the Roman invaders? Meet them with a compromise?

“Promises of a glorious future for Israel stay unrealised.”

There was another option. A peasant from northern Palestine called Yeshua knew the Torah, taught people to love their enemies—and even worked miracles and healed people. Crowds followed him everywhere and some thought he might be the long-awaited Messiah. But Israel’s leaders knew better, and they had him crucified outside Jerusalem in AD30.

T H E   C O N T I N U I N G   H O P E

The solution would be found somewhere else. After the Romans destroyed Israel’s temple a second time, a group called the Pharisees rose to prominence with a vision for how the Jews should live while their temple lay in ruins: the focus must now turn inwards to personal purity.

This would set the path for Israel for the next two millennia. In that time, the Jewish diaspora has taken the Jewish people all around the world. Everywhere they’ve gone, Jews have gathered in local synagogues to pray, sing and read the Torah and other scriptures like the Mishnah to help them obey God and live pure lives.

“For Jews, festivals are a time to reflect on the hardships of their people.”

Today, synagogue creeds and prayers remind Jews of their membership in Abraham’s family, their need to confess sin, their confidence in the afterlife, and their enduring hope that Messiah will come and establish his kingdom in Israel. (For many Jews, this hope has looked more likely since the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948 in the original promised land).

Jews today celebrate many important events. Once a week they rest for Sabbath. Male infants are still circumcised. Jewish teenagers mark their coming of age with Bar Mitzvah. Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the temple after its desecration. For Jews, festivals are often a time to reflect on the hardships of their people—and their ongoing hope in God’s faithfulness:

New Year | A sombre day when a ram’s horn is blown to remind the Jews of their need for spiritual awakening and obedience to God.

Day of Atonement | Without a temple there can be no animal sacrifice, but this is still a day when the nation seeks God’s forgiveness.

Feast of Tabernacles | Faithful Jews eat their meals in outdoor tents to remember their time of wandering in the wilderness.

Passover | A special feast is eaten to commemorate God passing over Israelite houses in Egypt and delivering them from slavery.

Pentecost | Many Jews stay up through the night to read and study the Torah as a celebration of the day God gave his law to Israel.

That’s Judaism. Today the world’s 15 million Jews are found in 134 countries, but around one third of them live in the modern state of Israel.

Judaism and Jesus

You need to squint to see Jesus’ fingerprints in other world religions, but his place in Judaism is explicit. Jesus was a Jew—he was part of God’s unfolding story of the Jewish people. In case you missed it, he was Yeshua, the one rejected and killed as a false Messiah.

For the Jews, that rejection has lasted two thousand years. But maybe Jesus is worth another look. After all, he came as a prophet to point Israel back to the covenant and God’s law. Like the Jewish people all through history, even killing Jesus couldn’t keep him down. He predicted his crucifixion in advance, and explained what it would achieve for Israel.

“Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.”

He said he was the passover lamb whose blood would protect them from God’s judgment; that he was the animal killed at the temple to bear the nation’s sin so they could go free and be sure of God’s forgiveness. Could the enduring absence of a temple since the first century be proof that Jesus was the sacrifice to end all temple sacrifices?

Jesus wasn’t just a descendant of Abraham: he also came from the line of David. He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah that would lead Israel to fulfil its destiny. Yes, he was crucified, but he rose again and has promised to return to establish and rule over a universal kingdom—a dynasty that will last forever.

This is a promise he made to Israel. But it’s also a promise that he extended to all nations. It wasn’t just in his earthly life that crowds followed Jesus: today there isn’t a nation on earth where his followers can’t be found. Jesus truly is the fulfilment of God’s plan to bless the world through Abraham’s offspring.

“Jesus wants to lead the Jewish people with a heart after God.”

Even as Jews regather in the land of Israel today, there is still a sense that they’re a nation in exile, a people wandering in the wilderness. The wailing wall in Jerusalem is a reminder of this. There is no temple; today Israel is still just a shadow of its former self; promises of the future stay unrealised.

That day will come. But until his return, Jesus has a vision for how the Jewish people should live—he wants to help Israel obey God with lives of inward purity. He wants to lead them with a heart after God. He longs for Israel’s spiritual awakening.

The Messiah is here—one greater than Abraham, Moses, and David. And he has come to set God’s people free.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 85-131.

How Atheism Points to Jesus

The world’s favourite atheist Richard Dawkins has said that faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse not to think or evaluate evidence. He has also likened religion to a mental illness.

Atheism likes the spotlight. It’s had a pop-culture resurgence in the last decade, driven by bombastic books like The God Delusion and God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. And today, an atheistic worldview rules the media and western universities.

As Christians, we’re sometimes known for our fear of other ideas. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from atheism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origin and Influence

There were scattered pockets of atheism long before the time of Jesus, but it began as a serious movement in 1700s Europe. Two intellectuals called Voltaire and Hume bravely criticised the institutional church. They questioned miracles, faith and God—shaking Europe to its foundations.

Their ideas spread from the cafes of Paris to the halls of power, and soon atheism had replaced Christianity in government, launching the French Revolution.

“They questioned miracles, faith and God—shaking Europe to its foundations.”

Later, two Germans took up the mantle and wrote many important books. Karl Marx, the founder of communism, famously called religion the opiate of the masses—and Friedrich Nietzsche declared the death of God.

In the 20th century, atheism peaked when dictators like Lenin and Stalin of Russia, Chairman Mao in China, and Cambodia’s Pol Pot applied it to modern politics, leading to the loss of 100 million lives. (There were other causes for these genocides too, but it would be dishonest to deny atheism’s influence on them).

It’s no surprise then that atheism has declined in popularity since last century. It now accounts for about 3% of the world’s population, mostly in Europe, Scandinavia, China, and North America. Including agnostics—those who are unsure if God exists—that number is about 7%.

The Case For God’s Existence

Simply, atheism is a lack of belief in the existence of God. There are good arguments both for and against this position. Let’s look at three of each, beginning with the case for God’s existence.

1. The Cause Argument / The universe had a cause, therefore God must exist.

Things don’t just happen. Everything has a cause, from the weather, to buildings, to your choice of outfit today. If it’s true of small things, it must be true for something vast and complex like our universe. God is a good explanation for how it all began.

But then who created God? The God of the Bible calls himself I AM—he’s the great uncaused cause. He’s always existed, and he sits outside of time.

“God is a good explanation for how it all began.”

So why don’t we just say that the universe is the great uncaused cause, that it has always existed? Actually, science says this is impossible.

According to the second law of thermodynamics, we’re running out of heat energy. Soon every corner of the cosmos will be the same temperature, and no more energy will be exchanged. If you’re still breathing, that hasn’t happened yet—which means the universe had a beginning.

2. The Design Argument / Evidence of design is everywhere, therefore God must exist.

If you found a watch in the forest, you wouldn’t assume it came together by accident. The design of a watch makes it obvious that there was a watchmaker. In the same way, whether we look through microscopes or telescopes, the creation around us shouts that there is a Creator.

“Evidence of design is everywhere.”

Think about DNA. One pinhead of it has enough information to fill 500 stacks of books that reach the moon. DNA proteins even slightly out of order cause serious deformity or death. So in the past, could the right proteins have arranged themselves to form the first simple life? Honestly, it would be more likely for a tornado to assemble a functioning aircraft.

3. The Morality Argument / Objective morals exist, therefore God must exist.

We’d all agree that things like racism, child abuse and terrorism are evil. But to say this, we need something outside of ourselves to measure them against. According to the Bible, God is love—which makes him the transcendent measure of right and wrong.

“You know deep inside when something is evil or immoral.”

Without God, the worst we could say about injustice in the world is I don’t like it or it’s bad for society. But when you’ve been wronged, is that what you shout? You know deep inside when something is evil or immoral. In order for you to call it that, God must exist.

The Case Against God’s Existence

So a good case can be made for God’s existence. But how would atheists respond? What are the best arguments against the existence of God?

1. The Evolution Argument / Design in the universe is due to natural processes.

Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of the Species was a game-changer for atheism. Darwin had returned from Galapagos where he’d seen unfit species die, but the fit survive to pass on their genes and create new species. If this had been happening from the start, he realised it might explain the origin of all life without a Creator.

“A creative force is needed.”

Darwin called this process natural selection, and he was right about its mechanics. But what evolutionists have missed is that natural selection is a destructive force: it removes bad genes from the gene pool, but it doesn’t create new ones. In other words, it can explain the survival of the fittest, but not the arrival of the fittest.

A creative force is needed. Evolutionists point to mutations, which rearrange existing DNA information. But it’s still a great mystery where all the information came from to turn fish into philosophers. The origin of reproduction, language and eyesight still seems very miraculous, even in an evolutionary worldview.

But miracles are exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

2. The Multiverse Argument / Our universe is one of many that just happens to be designed for life.

If you roll a dice enough times, you’ll eventually get the number you want. The same logic is behind the multiverse argument: if an infinite number of universes exist, then it was inevitable that a beautifully intricate one like this would exist. And so here we are.

This is an excellent argument—it solves every scientific problem imaginable. But there’s one small problem with the multiverse theory: there’s not a scrap of evidence for it.

“If an infinite number of universes exist, then it was inevitable that one like this would exist.”

Australian scientist Paul Davies wrote, “Invoking an infinity of unseen universes to explain the unusual features of the one we do see is just as ad hoc as invoking an unseen Creator. The multiverse theory may be dressed up in scientific language, but in essence it requires the same leap of faith.”

But faith is exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

3. The Evil Argument / God can’t exist because evil does.

How can a good God exist when there’s so much evil and suffering? This is without doubt the biggest challenge for Christianity. Disease and natural disasters are unspeakably horrible, and they give clear evidence that something is broken in the world.

“This is the biggest challenge for Christianity.”

But are they evidence that God doesn’t exist? If you stumbled upon a broken watch in the forest, would you assume there was no watchmaker? Of course not—you’d just know that something had gone wrong since he made it. That’s what Scripture says: all creation was subjected to God’s curse and has been groaning right up to the present time.

What about evil—the actions of terrorists and child abusers? This takes us back to the morality argument: if these things aren’t just preference—if evil really does exist—there has to be a God.

But God is exactly what atheism was trying to avoid.

Atheism Points to Jesus

So not only do some of the best arguments for God’s existence point to God. Some of the best arguments for atheism do too. This shouldn’t be a surprise.

Scripture says that “People know the truth about God because he’s made it obvious to them. Through everything God has made, people can clearly see his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”

“Some of the best arguments for atheism actually point to God.”

In other words, God doesn’t believe in atheists. But he does love them incredibly. And through our conscience and his creation, he is continually calling every person back to himself.

This is good news. It means there’s more to life than shopping at Ikea, being tolerant, having a few lattes and then dying somewhere quietly. There’s more than just static and darkness to follow.

“God is with us even in our darkest times.”

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of this world’s mess, and it’s easier to give up on God. But at the very centre of history there is God, hanging on a cross, carrying the world’s evil and suffering.

Jesus’ death makes sense of our own pain and cynicism. It reminds us that God is with us even in our darkest times, and that he has defeated evil forever.

And that there is true and ultimate hope for us in this life—and in the next.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Geisler, Norman, and Turek, Frank. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004.

How Islam Points to Jesus

For some in the West, Islam is a synonym for terrorism and oppression. Others seem to believe that Muslims deserve a free pass, and special immunity from criticism.

I’ll admit upfront that I’m biased too. I love my Muslim friends, and I have a deeper interest in Islam than any other world faith outside my own. For me, Islam is an acronym for I Sincerely Love All Muslims.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Islam—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

It all began with Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in Mecca in 570AD, five centuries after Jesus. Arabia was dry, hot, and full of warring tribes. Jews and Christian cults were scattered around, but most people were polytheists, and once a year they’d flood to Mecca to worship their gods.

As a travelling merchant, Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas, and the idolatry troubled him. He would often retreat to a cave near Mecca for spiritual insight. One day there, a supernatural being appeared and spoke to him. He was so alarmed that he ran home to his wife, convinced he was demonised or insane.

“Muhammad sat around campfires at night hearing many religious ideas.”

But with the help of a scholar, Muhammad concluded that he’d met the angel Gabriel, and that he was called to be a prophet. For the next two decades until his death, he received 114 messages—today making up the chapters of the Qur’an.

His theme was this: only one of Mecca’s hundreds of gods was the true God, and all the others were false idols. That didn’t go down too well—so fleeing persecution, Muhammad moved to the city of Medina.

Here the people liked him and his message about the oneness of God. They embraced him as their prophet and political ruler. It was 622AD; Islam was born.

“Muhammad would often retreat to a cave for spiritual insight.”

The people of Mecca kept troubling Muhammad until eventually, with an army of 10,000, he marched on the city. The powerless Meccans were quick to convert to Islam.

Throughout his life, Muhammad lead 66 battles, married 11 times, and was heralded as a great military leader and God’s final and greatest prophet.

Within a hundred years of his death, Islam spread as far as Turkey, France and India. Fourteen centuries later there are 50 Muslim-majority nations, and Islam is the world’s second biggest religion with 1.8 billion followers.

The Heart of Islam

Islam is built on a single idea: submission to Allah—this is what the word Islam means. Muslims practice the Five Pillars of Islam in the hope that Allah will accept them into paradise:

1. Creed. There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. If you recite this in the presence of another Muslim and believe it, you become a Muslim.

2. Prayers. At five set times a day, faithful Muslims pray facing the city of Mecca. This involves a ritual washing, set postures and recited prayers. The Friday noon prayer is held in local mosques where a sermon is preached.

3. Fasting. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims aren’t allowed to eat or drink while the sun is up. Night time is for feasting; and celebrations are especially big at the end of this month—a time when Allah is more likely to hear and answer prayers.

4. Alms. This religious tax of up to 5% helps feed the poor, support war efforts, and spread the message of Islam around the world.

5. Pilgrimage. Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it must visit the city of Mecca once in their life. Here, pilgrims take part in many rituals: they wear special garments, circle a shrine called the Kaaba, and spend an evening on a hill outside the city where they hope their sins will be washed away.

Jihad is sometimes considered a sixth pillar. Jihad means struggle, and while some point to the days of Muhammad and think of this in military terms, most Muslims today consider jihad an internal struggle against sin.

Along with these practices there are Five Pillars of Faith which every Muslim must embrace:

1. God. Allah has 99 beautiful names. (His hundredth name is unknown). Allah is unique, and it’s blasphemy to equate any person with him; certainly, he is too lofty and majestic to have a son. Allah is our master, and we are his servants. He knows us, but we can’t know him.

2. Angels. These include jinn or genies, but most important are the two angels that sit on every person’s right and left shoulder, recording our good and bad deeds for a final day of reckoning.

3. Prophets. Moses, Abraham, David and many other Bible characters are prophets in Islam—Jesus is especially honoured as a prophet. But Islam’s final and greatest prophet is Muhammad. He’s the model for all Muslims to imitate.

4. Books. The Torah, Psalms and Gospels are holy books in Islam. In fact, Jews and Christians are considered people of the book. But the most holy book is the Qur’an. Muslims believe it was given because the other books were corrupted.

5. Judgment Day. Like Muhammad, Allah is a good businessman. On judgment day, he will weigh our good and bad deeds on a scale to see whether we deserve hell or paradise. But even then Allah is still sovereign, and his mercy is what will determine our destiny.

Muhammad and Jesus

Christians have much to learn from Islam. In a world of apathy, Muhammad led with uncompromising conviction, and he had a reverence for God that the western church desperately needs to recapture. And the cultures Muhammad has shaped are among the most respectful and hospitable on the planet.

What about Muhammad’s claims? Private visions are difficult to verify—but the Qur’an does help us build bridges with Muslims since it speaks so often of ‘Isa al-Masih or Jesus the Messiah. In fact Jesus is referred to 93 times in the Qur’an—four times more often than Muhammad himself!

“Christians have much to learn from Islam.”

The Qur’an says that Jesus was born of a virgin; that he was a healer and miracle worker who raised the dead; and that he will intercede for us on judgment day. These things are not said of Muhammad. In fact, while the Qur’an mentions Muhammad’s sins, it calls Jesus sinless—and even gives him titles like Spirit and Word of God.

Actually, this is what the Bible taught all along. There’s no theological reason for Muslims to believe the Bible has been corrupted: God can protect his books. And there’s no historical reason either: 25,000 manuscripts spanning from the second century AD are almost identical to today’s Bibles. How could forgers have edited so many documents—and no modern scholar notice?

“God can protect his books.”

The Word of God didn’t come to Jesus in a private vision. Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message, and it was lived out in public where it could be tested by history.

Like Muhammad, Jesus called people to turn from their idols and follow the true God. The people of Jerusalem persecuted him for this. But unlike Muhammad, Jesus didn’t flee. He willingly submitted to the plan of God. That evening he was crucified on a hill outside the city—where he washed our sins away.

Because of this, our destiny no longer hangs in the balance between the good and bad deeds that we do. God has shown us mercy once for all in Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is God’s guarantee that we’ll also be raised up to paradise.

“Jesus is the Word of God. His life was the message.”

Because of Jesus, God hears our prayers any time of the year. Because of him, we can win our internal struggle against sin. Most of all, because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.

It is wrong for any human to equate themselves with God. But what if God equated himself with us? What if the greatest act of God’s majesty was to become one of us, and make himself personally known? What if God’s hundredth name is ‘Isa al-Masih?

“Because of Jesus, we can know God and the great love he has for us.”

Today there’s a wind in the house of Islam. In countries still shut to the gospel, Jesus is appearing to thousands of Muslims in dreams and supernatural visions. And many more are coming to faith in open nations through the love of Christian friends.

Muslims around the world today are discovering that Jesus is more than a prophet—and that following him is the true path of submission to God.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To get new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

Sources

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 177-217.

Masri, Fouad. Bridges: Connecting Christians With Muslims (DVD). Indianapolis, IN: Crescent Project, 2008.

How Buddhism Points to Jesus

Let’s be honest, it’s the world’s most fashionable religion. Buddhism has an exciting mystique about it, especially for us spiritually starved westerners.

Mindfulness has gone mainstream, along with Zen gardens and the Dalai Lama. Buddhist themes light up our cinemas, from The Matrix to Kung Fu Panda and every Star Wars film in history.

Christians are sometimes known for their fear of other religions. But what if we got over ourselves and asked what we can learn from Buddhism—and how it might point people to Jesus?

Origins and Influence

The Buddha lived long before Christ. He was born Siddhartha Gautama, a Hindu prince, in the 5th or 6th century BC. A prophecy foretold that he’d become the greatest founder of the greatest religion in the world. Fearing this, his father kept him safe inside a palace.

But that would never last. One day Gautama ventured outside, and on his travels he encountered an elderly person, a sick person, and a corpse—confronting him with the reality of human suffering.

He called this the wheel of suffering, and he made it his life’s mission to find an escape from it. At age 29, he abandoned his wife and son and gave up everything to live as a poor man. Following the Hindu tradition, he wandered the Ganges river to mediate, fast, and learn from gurus.

“A prophecy foretold that he’d become the greatest founder of the greatest religion in the world.”

Desperate to be free of suffering, Gautama sat under a tree and vowed not to get up until he was enlightened. Six years after his search began, the moment arrived. He became the Buddha or enlightened one—and a new world faith was born.

The Buddha’s teaching career continued until his death at age 81, during which time huge crowds followed him. 2,500 years later, Buddhism is the world’s fourth largest religion; the dominant faith in a dozen countries; and is practiced by half a billion people.

The Heart of Buddhism

Buddhism is complex and varied, drawing on Hindu ideas like karma and reincarnation, and mixing with many other beliefs as it spread through Asia. But in all its diversity today, it’s built on one simple idea: escape from suffering. The Buddha developed this in his Four Noble Truths.

1. The Existence of Suffering. To live is to suffer. Sadness, fear, worry and loss are all part of life. Even pleasure is fleeting. This too is a form of suffering.

2. The Explanation for Suffering. Suffering is caused by desire. We experience the pain of hunger, for example, only because we desire food; we experience grief and fear of death only because we desire life.

“Buddhism is built on one simple idea: escape from suffering.”

3. The End to Suffering. Suffering ends when desire ends. The end goal of Buddhism is nirvana—to end all desire by realising that we don’t really exist, so we can live in this world with complete detachment.

4. The Escape from Suffering. There is a way to be free. The Buddha had been a prince and a pauper, but neither experience dealt with suffering at its root. Under that tree, the Buddha found a Middle Way between these two extremes—also known as the Eightfold Path to end suffering:

Right understanding | embracing the Four Noble Truths

Right direction | aiming for a life of detachment from this world

Right speech | speaking truthfully, kindly, and gently

Right conduct | acting non-violently and compassionately

Right livelihood | finding a vocation fitting with Buddhist beliefs

Right effort | endeavouring to live a worthy and meritorious life

Right mindfulness | realising that all sensations are illusory

Right concentration | meditating to remove all distraction

This, in a nutshell, is Buddhism. Notice that God wasn’t mentioned? That’s because the Buddha was silent on the existence of God. In fact he was even silent on the origin of the universe. His goal was simply to discover a life of serenity that transcended suffering.

(Religion is still an accurate word to describe Buddhism. Most Buddhists today pray and take part in other rituals; one branch worships the Buddha as a god).

The Buddha and Jesus

In comparing Buddhism and Christianity, we must avoid two extremes. One is syncretism: combining these two faiths and ignoring what makes them unique and incompatible. The other is ostracism: rejecting the Buddha and his teachings completely.

There is a better way—a middle path, if you will. It involves caring enough about Buddhists to find points of contact between their beliefs and the gospel; taking down our walls and instead building bridges; asking how Buddhism can deepen our gratitude for the good news of Jesus.

“The Buddha’s goal was to discover a life of serenity that transcended suffering.”

First, the Buddha’s spiritual commitment is astounding, and it puts many of us Christians to shame. Am I seeking Jesus as passionately as the Buddha sought enlightenment? Am I as desperate to be free from sin as he was from suffering? Do I meditate on God’s Word—at all?

But let’s go a level deeper and explore Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. How does Jesus answer the Buddha’s deepest questions about life?

1. The Existence of Suffering. Suffering is part of our life in this world. Scripture says that Adam and Eve’s sin brought a curse on the world, and now all creation groans as we long to be released from sin and suffering.

2. The Explanation for Suffering. Left unchecked, our desires do lead to misery. In the words of James, they entice us, drag us away and lead to sin, which gives birth to death. The Bible even describes us as slaves to sin—caught in our own endless wheel of suffering.

“The Buddha’s spiritual commitment puts many of us Christians to shame.”

3. The End to Suffering. The gospel offers a remarkable solution. Not unlike the Buddha, Jesus stepped down from his heavenly palace to identify with a broken human race. But rather than seeking an escape from it, Jesus took our sin and suffering into himself at the cross. All who are enlightened to this, God welcomes into an eternal serenity where suffering is no more.

4. The Escape from Suffering. Jesus himself is the path to end suffering. He is the way, the truth and the life. Suffering will still touch us in this life, but as we follow him, his Spirit enables us to live detached from sin, and to act with truth, gentleness and compassion—and many other virtues the Buddha taught.

Not so that we can earn our escape from suffering, or finally reach enlightenment. But because we’ve already experienced this in Jesus, the truly enlightened one.

Thanks for reading! If you’d like to support my blog, please like it, leave a comment, and most importantly, share it on social media. To receive new posts directly by email, scroll to the bottom of the page and subscribe.

Check out the rest of this series:

Buddhism  |  Islam  |  Hinduism  |  Atheism  |  Judaism  |  Pluralism

 

Sources

Cioccolanti, Steve. From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism and Christianity. Oxford, UK: Monarch, 2007.

Claydon, David. Connecting Across Cultures: Sharing the Gospel Across Cultural and Religious Boundaries. Melbourne: Acorn Press Ltd, 2000, 99-108.

Dickson, John. A Spectator’s Guide to World Religions: An Introduction to the Big Five. Sydney: Blue Bottle Books, 2004, 47-84.

More Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church

In a recent post I shared three secrets I’ve discovered working with young adults that are making a big difference in our church:

    1. Give up trying to do so much ministry
    2. Get rid of your best quality people
    3. Tell them how hard it is to follow Jesus

The response to this was huge, so I’ve decided to share three more that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.


In high school I was shy and awkward. If you told me that one day I’d be discipling hundreds of young adults in one of Australia’s fastest-growing Baptist churches, I would have shaken my head in disbelief.

It turns out that God has a sense of humour. This has been my adventure for the last four years, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’ve decided to share three more secrets that I’ve been keeping close to my chest.”

Any of my “success” I credit to the goodness of God. But there are also a few things I’ve picked up along the way—secrets that I think help our young adults community thrive.

All of them are totally counter-intuitive. So brace yourself.

#4 Make it known how average you are

Millennials are sick of slick. Consumer culture surrounds us and it gets worse every year. We’re not just being sold products—increasingly we are the product.

So don’t try too hard to win our loyalty or we’ll see through it. If you want our trust, what we first need to see is authenticity.

“Pastors need to let their dirt be seen.”

Young adults don’t want polish, and this is especially true when it comes to faith. We want a spirituality for the trenches. We want to see others who follow Jesus with dirt on their face.

That means pastors need to let their dirt be seen—their inabilities, their sins, their bleeding wounds. Basically, their desperate need for Jesus.

“We want a spirituality for the trenches.”

A revolution would start if young people no longer thought of us pastors as “professional Christians” (whatever that means). If they see that we’re normal, just like them, then they’ll realise they can be just like us—equally legitimate followers of Jesus, and leaders in their own right.

This couldn’t be more true in Australia, the most egalitarian culture on earth. Here down under, if leaders want to call people up higher, first we have to get down lower. We need vulnerability written all over us.

#5 Stop telling people to invite their friends

Young people in our church often invite friends, even friends who don’t follow Jesus. But not because I tell them to. Instead, it’s because some Sundays they find themselves thinking, I wish I’d invited my friend to this, they would have loved it.

If we’re serious about reaching the world, we need to stop telling people to invite their friends—and instead shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.

“People who don’t follow Jesus have huge roadblocks to faith.”

Our Sundays are far from perfect. But as we’ve reimagined them with outsiders in view, here are some things we now do differently.

We’ve stopped talking about “non-Christians” or “unbelievers” like they’re some strange group out there. We’ve stopped trying to just sound spiritual when we pick up the microphone, and to instead speak about real things Jesus is doing in our lives.

I’ve started to define terms like redemption and Old Testament and even God. Even if I need to pause mid-sermon to do it. Even if all the Christians in the room already get it. (By the way, this helps them communicate their faith better too).

“We need to shape services that unchurched people actually want to come to.”

We’ve started answering questions that embarrass us. Like those ones about sexuality. Or world religions. Or the supernatural. Or like the series we’re about to start on big objections—Bible errors, hypocrisy in the church, religious violence, evil and suffering. The list goes on.

For people who don’t follow Jesus, these are huge roadblocks to faith, maybe the reason they don’t believe. So care enough to go there. When you do, you’ll discover what we have: people will invite their friends without being asked.

#6 Promote other churches over yours

I speak to lots of young people at my church who are part of another church too. There they serve on band or in kids ministry. Often it’s the church they grew up in. Even if it’s small and turning grey, they have a heart to see it thrive.

I’m so encouraged when people tell me these stories, and I cheer them on. I don’t want their undivided loyalty to my church. I want to bless and equip them so surrounding churches benefit too.

Jesus said the world will know us by our love for each other.

Here’s why: that was my story. At eighteen, I was struggling to lead a youth group in my home town. I was so thankful to find a church on Sunday nights that strengthened me to go back and fight another week. So thankful that I’ve now become one of its pastors, so I can do the same.

Hey churches, this isn’t a competition. Too often we’ve seen ourselves as footy clubs fighting for top place on the ladder. Wrong analogy: we’re actually players on the same team.

I was recently interviewed at a nearby Christian school. With hundreds of teenagers listening, I was asked where to visit if they want to explore faith. So I told them about three other great churches in the area before mentioning mine.

“This isn’t a competition. We’re on the same team.”

Revival is coming. But not before churches bury the hatchet. Jesus said the world will know us, not by our infighting or our one-upmanship, but by our love for each other.

That’s what young adults want to see in a church. That’s the Jesus they’re drawn to. So let’s stop building our own little kingdoms and get on with building his.

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For more ideas, check out my original post, Secrets to a Thriving Young Adults Church.