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.

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 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.

Is God Still Speaking?

Part 2: The Purpose of Prophecy

There’s a unity between Christians today that gets me excited. Labels like Baptist and Pentecostal and Lutheran are falling away, thank God. We’re beginning to see that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

But let’s be honest, there are still a few things that divide us. None more so perhaps than this question: is God still speaking today? So let’s go there and see if we can find some common ground.

Many say that if the Bible is complete—if God has said all he wants to—we don’t need prophetic gifts anymore. If we try speak for him today it will just lead to distraction, even danger.

“Why does God still have so much to say?”

I used to think like that, but I’ve recently changed my view. In a previous post, I explained that prophetic gifts have limits, and if we understand these, we don’t need to see prophecy as a threat to Scripture.

But what is God’s intent behind prophecy? If he’s given us the Bible already, why does he still have so much to say? Consider four purposes of prophecy. God has given it to:

Refresh us in the truths of Scripture

That’s right. One of the main reasons God speaks to us today is to remind us of what’s he’s already said. We can be forgetful people.

Don’t be that person who closes their eyes, raises their hands, and says “Lord speak to me!” while their Bible sits there collecting dust.

I’m nervous about anyone who gets more excited about prophecy than they are about God’s Word. Prophecy will pass away, but the Word of God will stand forever.

“God speaks to remind us of what he’s already said.”

Wouldn’t it be amazing if God gave our brains an index of all 31,102 verses in the Bible so we’d have the nugget of truth we need, precisely when we need it?

Actually, he’s done something better, and far less exhausting. God has given the church prophetic gifts so that we can recall just the right Scripture at just the right time—for ourselves and for each other.

Reprove us for moral failure

The lowest point in King David’s life was when he got a married woman pregnant and then covered his tracks by having her husband killed. In the fallout, God sent the prophet Nathan to tell the disgraced king a story.

A rich and a poor man each had a lamb. One day, the rich man hosted a meal, but instead of killing his own lamb, he stole and cooked the poor man’s lamb instead. The poor man was heartbroken; he’d loved that lamb like his own child.

When David heard what the rich man did, he was outraged. So Nathan turned to him with fire in his eyes and said, “You are that man!” It’s a story that sends shivers down my spine.

“Prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge.”

Prophecy is lots of things, but it’s also a call to godly living. Prophets are watchmen for moral compromise. We can hide our sins from others, but never from God.

Keep in mind though that prophecy today will always have a redemptive edge. There is no condemnation in Christ. Prophetic gifts are given to strengthen, encourage and comfort us (1 Corinthians 14:4) even as God sets us back on the narrow path.

Recruit us to an alternate future

Prophecy isn’t a crystal ball telling us exactly how the future will unfold. Yes, prophecy can predict the future. But when it does, its purpose is to altar the present.

Think of Jonah. God gave him a very simple word for the city of Nineveh: Forty days from now and Nineveh will be destroyed. The people humbled themselves, held a fast, and repented in sackcloth and ashes.

“Prophecy altars the present.”

Have you ever stopped to think that Jonah’s prophecy never came to pass? It was from God, yes—and it was exactly what the people of Nineveh needed to hear. But it was never fulfilled. Its purpose was to reorient their lives.

I have been given remarkable prophecies that have clearly come to pass in my life. There are others I’m still baffled by.

“There are things about God we’ll never understand.”

God’s thoughts are higher than ours. And he is outside of time, while we’re stuck in it. So there are things about him we’ll never understand.

But here’s something we can all understand: when God speaks to us, he is calling us to stop and reconsider our lives. And he’s in the process of recruiting us to a future that’s different—and far greater—than the one we’d dreamed for ourselves.

Remind us we’re known and loved 

Recently a friend of mine was overseas, and he found himself in a prayer meeting full of strangers.

A picture entered his mind as he prayed. It was unusual but vivid. Trusting it was from God, he described the scene to everyone present: a barn house with hay and high rafters, and a particular type of car parked outside.

“Nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.”

Suddenly a girl burst into tears. That barn was the place she was abused as a young girl. My friend got to tell her that God felt her pain, and that he’d never abandoned her, even in those dark moments.

God has given us prophecy for lots of reasons, but one of the most important is to remind us that he knows us and that he loves us.

Sermons, books, prayer, wisdom from others—all of this helps us build strong foundations for our faith. But nothing pierces the heart like a word directly from God.

“God knows us and he loves us.”

More and more, I’ve been on the receiving end of these kinds of words, and they have transformed my relationship with God.

God is no longer someone I just read about in a book. I know him now as the one who cares, and who walks with me on the mountains and in the dark valleys.

Because God has used the prophetic gifts of others to bless me so much, I am motivated to bless other people in the same way. It’s something I’m still growing in, but it’s worth the journey.

Stay tuned for Part 3 where I’ll share what I’m learning with you.

If you enjoyed reading this, please like and share it on social media, and scroll to the bottom of the page to subscribe to my blog by email.

Is God Still Speaking?

Part 1: The Problem With Prophecy

She couldn’t flee that prayer meeting soon enough. But little more than ten steps out of the room and she collapsed to the ground like one wounded in battle. A group of us gathered to see what happened.

Immediately she awoke. Her and I locked gaze, but those dark, unfeeling eyes weren’t hers looking back at me. She spoke with spitting and curses, but this wasn’t the sweet girl I knew. She was demonisedand it was just as the Bible described. I had to travel to the jungles of South-East Asia to see it.

“I’d been raised to think the supernatural events I read about in the Bible belonged in the Bible, not in today’s world.”

In the following days, my worldview got an overhaul. Not just because I realised that demons were still active. Not just because when we prayed, fasted and worshipped, God set my good friend gloriously free.

But because “the voices” were gone. She explained that for days before her deliverance, there were audible voices in her head telling her to run away from home, to rebel, to self-destruct, to walk out of that prayer meeting. And now her mind was at peace.

It dawned on me that if demons still speak, God must too. It would make no sense if in today’s world, God (who has far more important things to say than the devil does) chose to gag himself but still let demons tell audible lies. With this single insight, my cessationist theology fell like a house of cards.

“What happened in South-East Asia took the blindfold off so I could see what Scripture said.”

See I’d been raised with the unspoken assumption that the supernatural voice of God that I read about in the Bible belonged in the Bible, not in today’s world. Prophecy and other miracles helped authenticate the Bible as God’s book—but we don’t need them now we’ve got that book in our laps.

It was a solid theory. And it certainly made sense of the miracle-free, un-supernatural life I’d grown up with in Australia.

That upbringing came with an inbuilt suspicion towards any Christian who claimed to hear God speak. They were probably deceived—or at the very least, they were letting experience shape their view of the Bible, when it should have been the other way around.

“Cessationism made sense of the miracle-free, un-supernatural life I’d grown up with in Australia.”

Little did I realise that I’d let my experience shape my view of the Bible. I grew up with no exposure to the supernatural, so I was hardwired to believe that all ended with the apostles. My South-East Asian friends who grew up seeing miracles were hardwired to think my view was laughable.

Do you see it? Everyone’s view of the Bible is shaped by their experience—whether that experience has involved a lack of supernatural events or an abundance of them.

What happened in South-East Asia didn’t have more authority for me than Scripture. It just took the blindfold off so I could see what Scripture said all along.

“Little did I realise that I’d let my experience shape my view of the Bible.”

The fear for many is that if God is still moving and speaking today just like he was in Bible times, then it’s open slather: anything goes. Anyone can can claim, “God said so,” and toss Scripture aside.

This is a danger. But only if we confuse Scripture with prophecy.

See there are big differences between the once-for-all-time Word of God and the ongoing prophetic words of God. When we understand these differences, the threat of danger subsides, and we see how it’s possible to have both a completed Bible and a God who still speaks.

Consider four differences between Scripture and prophecy today.

1. Scripture is Scripture, prophecy today isn’t

You might be surprised to learn that beyond the major and minor prophets who all had books of the Bible named after them, God spoke through hundreds more prophets whose prophecies never made it into Scripture.

Samuel, Saul and Elisha all mixed with groups of prophets who seem to have formed schools or guilds in ancient Israel. Obadiah hid a hundred prophets in a couple of caves. On his missionary travels, Paul met prophets in Antioch, a man named Philip whose four daughters prophesied, and a bunch in Corinth that he had to sort out.

“God spoke through hundreds of prophets whose prophecies don’t appear in Scripture.”

In fact, when he wrote to Corinth, Paul said, “The gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture, but when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.” Follow the logic: if there’s a type of prophecy that will pass away, by definition it can’t be Scripture, because Jesus told us that Scripture will stand forever.

Many of us have been accustomed to thinking of only two categories of prophet: true and therefore Scripture-writer, or false and therefore false prophet. But the Bible itself forces us to add a third category.

If it was possible for God to have prophets in Bible times whose prophecies weren’t Scripture, surely it’s possible today too, without us feeling like the 66 books of the Bible are under threat. Even the greatest personal revelations someone might have in 2017 won’t change the fact that the Bible we pass on to the next generation will be the same one Christians have read for millennia.

2. Scripture is ultimate, prophecy today isn’t

Sola Scriptura (“By Scripture Alone”) is an important doctrine reminding us that the Bible is the only final error-free authority for what we believe and practice as Christians. So if any other authority contradicts the Bible, it has to be discarded.

For this to work, there have to be other authorities—so things like church councils, creeds, God’s witness in creation, logical arguments, Bible commentaries—and yes, personal revelation, or prophecy.

“Just like our favourite preachers and authors, any prophecy must be tested by the Word of God.”

The problem is that many people who think they defend Sola Scriptura actually don’t. They’ve invented Solo Scriptura (“Scripture Alone”) which says that there are no other authorities at all. In particular, they take aim at prophecy, saying that it’s not to be trusted.

The irony is that those who hold to Solo Scriptura are often still very excited about the creeds, councils, and their favourite theologians. To be consistent, they should discard these along with prophecy. In fact, to be consistent, they should also discard Solo Scriptura, because it’s not Scripture either!

The Bible is our ultimate authority, and prophecy is not. Just like our favourite preachers and authors, any prophecy must be tested by the Word of God.

3. Scripture is indisputable, prophecy today isn’t

Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul said, “Don’t quench the Holy Spirit. Don’t scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said and hold on to what is good.” To the Corinthians he gave a similar word: “Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said.”

If these instructions mean anything, they must mean that it’s possible for someone to hear God speak, but to accidentally mix their own error in with that message. The Bible was verbally inspired—breathed out by God himself, and is therefore indisputable. But that same Bible tells us there is a type of prophecy that is disputable, and that therefore needs testing.

4. Scripture is universal, prophecy today isn’t

The Bible is relevant to all people, in all places, for all time. An Amazonian warrior with the right Bible tools can open an obscure chapter in the book of Leviticus and apply its truths to his life. That’s not true of prophecy today.

Prophecy today is limited in scope. It’s for particular people in particular places for particular times—given to strengthen, encourage, and comfort them (1 Corinthians 14:3).

More on that to come in a future post.

But for now, I trust that prophecy appears a lot less intimidating—and a lot more biblical—than you once thought it was.

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Revenge of the Short-Term Mission Trip

Stigma surrounds the words “mission trip”. Stories abound of jubilant teams returning home, unaware that they’ve left a trail of offended locals, useless half-finished projects, and further-disempowered communities in their wake.

These stories are real, and they are the spoiled fruit of ill conceived and poorly executed short-term trips. And they make my stomach turn.

But I have a different story to tell. I have just returned from leading my fourth team our church has sent to remote South-East Asia in the last few years. Each time I weigh up the pros and cons of such an endeavour—especially in light of said criticisms—and each year I go ahead and take another group.

“I have a different story to tell.”

Cross-cultural trips can be done extremely well. My evidence is anecdotal, but it is consistent. Year in, year out, the organisation we partner with welcomes us with open arms and sends us home with utmost thanks, asking us to come again. Past participants now make up the core of our young adults community, having stepped up into significant roles of leadership in the church following their return from overseas.

Our trips are far from perfect. We’re always learning: hoping to improve our preparations, our effectiveness on the ground, and our reintegration of members back home. But here are six reasons I believe our teams excel as they do; indeed six suggestions for any church considering a trip, or looking to improve their current practice.

Adopt a learning posture / I have lived in the region we visit for two years, and have become fluent in both the national and local languages. And on every visit, I learn more surprising realities about the place, its people and its culture, and without fail I add dozens of new words to my vocabulary. As our church prepares participants for the trip ahead, my single greatest aim is to make them as curious as I am so we all go with a posture of learning.

“I have lived there for two years but on every visit, I learn more surprising realities about the place, its people and its culture.”

Commission a quality team / Our church has been blessed now for many years with incredible unity and love amongst our leadership and those who call it home. As such, those we’ve sent overseas are spiritually healthy. We’re careful not to recruit people with questionable motives, we’ve developed a solid application process for those interested, and we provide intensive training in the months leading up. As such, when a team is prayed for and commissioned to go, we have great confidence in the group we send.

Serve a worthy organisation / So much credit for the success of our trips goes to the organisation we partner with. It began in 2002 with an Australian couple providing medical treatment and training in refugee camps after a conflict, and it has grown into a fully-fledged NGO led by a local board of directors and staffed by over 100 nationals. The few long-term westerners who remain serve in roles of consultation, strategy and empowerment. The organisation is well staffed to receive visiting teams and ensure our weeks of service among them are effective and responsive to genuine need. As a bonus, there’s been an outpouring of revival in the region for over a year: miracles and people coming to faith on a weekly (and sometimes daily) basis. Thousands of kilometres seperate our church and their patch of jungle, but the growing synergy between our communities is palpable.

“The long-term westerners who remain serve in roles of consultation, strategy and empowerment.”

Build a long-term partnership / Our history with this work traces its roots back over a decade. Several teams were sent then, and our trips have been more consistent in recent times, but spanning this era over 60 people from our church have made the journey. As such, when we arrive, we don’t start from scratch. Relationships, projects, and avenues of ministry that have existed for many years simply continue where they left off. The trust and rapport we have built translates into brand new friendships that feel years old, and progress that is seen in a context far greater than just the few weeks we are there.

Have a strategic purpose / Recent visa restrictions have put limits on how much our teams can work in the school and hospital. But they have also made us reshape our strategic involvement. This year I heard of huge progress being made by a paraplegic patient because of exercises that one of our past team members had taught his carers months ago. I saw a classroom teacher now excelling in behaviour management of her Year 1s because of curriculum we’d put together two years ago, the same week she first nervously stepped into the classroom untrained. Yes, we paint the occasional wall and and tidy the library shelves, but we also work with the nationals to be strategic in the support we give.

“When we arrive, relationships, projects, and avenues of ministry that have existed for many years simply continue where they left off.”

Embrace a supernatural worldview / Demons throw people to the ground screaming. Broken bones get healed instantly. Prophecies are given for a whole team and come to pass with eyebrow-raising accuracy. A class of eleven year olds pray for patients and the whole ward gets discharged in a day. Get used to this. It’s the worldview of the New Testament—and just about every place on earth but the West. Our teams prepare for this too, knowing it’s exactly what we can expect to encounter when we arrive. And on return, we’re better equipped to face uniquely Australian challenges that we never saw in that light.

This upturned worldview is just one of countless benefits of short-term mission trips. Visitors return with a deep compassion for the poor, a commitment to financial partnership at home and abroad, callings to long-term missionary work, and a new-found love for God. As a pastor, I can say without a hint of exaggeration that these trips are the greatest discipleship tool I have discovered.

Convince me to stop planning our next one.

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