WDJD: Prolegomena

Introduction

In my first sermon, “WDJD: Scripture,” I mentioned that I really would have started with, “WDJD: Prolegomena.”

Definition

My poor man’s definition of “prolegomena” is “the things you need to say beforehand.”

Focus on two things

This talk will focus on two things we need to establish prior to a series on “What did Jesus do?”

  • Ground-rules for a viable discussion
  • Why should we care what Jesus did?

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]


 

Ground rules for a viable discussion

Disagreements

What are the two things that people should never talk about?

That’s right: politics and religion.

But, why?

People disagree about a lot of things…without being disagreeable.

For instance, what is the best Major League Baseball team? Favorite NFL football team?

See, other than anyone crazy enough to be a Yankee fan, we can have great emotional commitment without feeling a need to question our “opponent’s” character, intelligence, or sanity.

That’s because we know we are just wrestling about opinions, not facts.

Well, except that nobody should be a Yankee fan–and that’s a fact!

So why are politics and religion off limits? For instance, Michelle and I used to be involved in Lion’s Club–there is a good chance if time frees up we will be again–and here is a quote from Article II regarding “Purposes” in their “Constitution and By-Laws” (http://www.lionsclubs.org/EN/content/pdfs/la2.pdf):

To provide a forum for the open discussion of all
matters of public interest; provided, however, that
partisan politics and sectarian religion shall not be
debated by club members.

“Provided, however that partisan politics and sectarian religion shall not be debated by club members.”

Everything but politics and religion!

Why?

Confusing the type of conversation

Since our concern is religion…not politics…let’s focus on that. Why is it nobody should talk about religion?

Could it be that there is confusion over the type of conversation?

For instance, could it be that when a Christian discusses Jesus with a non-believer that person is often convinced we are treating opinion as fact? That we are confusing the type of conversation?

Could it be that when it comes to religion that some of “choose a side” like we are supporting a sports team, but when it comes to how much grace we allow those we disagree with, we treat our opinions like scientifically proven fact?

There are many ways for a conversation to have an “opinion/fact disconnect”:

Your perception of the type of conversation.

Their perception of the type of conversation.

The actual type of conversation.

Your perception of whether you are speaking fact or opinion.

Their perception of wether you are speaking fact or opinion.

Whether you are actually speaking of fact or opinion.

Their perception of whether they are speaking fact or opinion.

Your perception of whether they are speaking fact or opinion.

Whether they are actually speaking of fact or opinion.

Whether you care.

Whether they care.

And so on…trust me…the list could continue…

Why the violence?

Why is it, through history, religion has led to such violent disagreements?

Maybe in modern “civilized” countries it is no longer as much an issue–for instance, after we get done with church today we aren’t going to gather stick, clubs, and knives and head over to Divine Mercy Parish in Bennington and fight it out.

But that doesn’t mean that differences in religion in Western nations are handled in a civilized manner. Even though theological differences generally don’t beget violence, it doesn’t take much effort looking at the latest offerings of Richard Dawkins (“The God Delusion”), Bill Maher (“Religulous”), or the various other “New Atheists” (or agnostics) to see the vehemence with which religion is rejected and ridiculed. There even seems to be a concerted effort to make true religious belief a disqualifier for appointed (or elected) government positions.

If you will ever allow your religious beliefs affect your decisions–you are persona non grata (somebody people don’t want around).

What is unacceptable

In the modern mind one of two things is often unacceptable:

  • Any religion (Richard Dawkins: “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” — http://richarddawkins.net/quotes)
  • Any religion that dares to claim another religion is false–that is, any religion that claims exclusivity.

Christianity fails both. Well, true Christianity fails both.

The only acceptable faith is no faith, pluralism (“all beliefs are equally valid”), or relativism (“your religion is true for you, my religion is true for me”). With pluralism and relativism I have to agree with Dawkins when he says, “There’s this thing called being so open-minded your brains drop out” (ibid.)

So, how should we discuss religion?

First, separate opinion and fact…and agree on what type of conversation it is

Based on what I’ve mentioned before, we must first separate opinion and fact and agree on what type of conversation we are having. If either party is unwilling to do that, then we might as well chat about sports where we can agree it’s all just opinions and congenially spar.

Let’s not forget that means we (you and I) need to make sure we have separated opinion from fact. For instance:

Jesus is the Son of God: fact.

Communion should use real wine: opinion.

For a Christian, fact should be only those things that can be convincingly shown by the pages of Scripture. Everything else should be treated as opinion, even if we are comfortable it is seasoned with a good amount of fact.

And let’s not forget a conversation can easily (and continually) move from fact to opinion and back…

Second, agree on three axioms about truth

(Axiom — something that is accepted as true without having to prove it.)

  1. There is truth
  2. We can know truth
  3. Truth does not contradict itself

[ Repeat a second time ]

There is truth

This first one is so basic I’m hoping we can all just accept it. As a simple definition of the word, how about “that which corresponds with what actually is”?

If, however, I am wrong and there is no such thing as truth, then all we have are opinions.

We can know truth

Another one I hope that doesn’t require a whole bunch of discussion…

Although we can accept that our feeble human bodies (and natures) do not always perceive truth correctly, if there is no way for us to know truth, then once again we are left to only wrestle over opinions since we cannot distinguish between fact and fiction.

Truth does not contradict itself

Now this one is a bit more complicated, but hopefully still easily accepted. “Real” truth cannot contradict itself. For instance, speaking in the exact same context, Jesus is either the Son of God or not. Either “Jesus is the Son of God” corresponds with what actually is, or it doesn’t.

I cannot emphasize how important this last axiom is–because there is great danger in not holding one’s belief system to it.

[ Read from page 210 and 211 in Modern Physics and Ancient Faith by Stephen Barr. Use 1 = 0 example, and close with Pope example. ]

“There is a very important fact about inconsistent formal systems: if any contradictory statements can be proven, the all contradictory statements can be proven” (211-212).

[ Repeat three axioms ]

If any of these three aren’t true, how can we learn or reason?

Bonus theological axioms

  1. There is a God
  2. God reveals Himself to us

If either of those are false, then our theological studies are useless.

Third, the evidence must be allowed to carry us wherever it will

Although I am not saying that we have to come to a conversation with a clean mental slate–absolutely no presuppositions–we must allow the evidence to carry us wherever it will. I would argue where atheists fail is their unwillingness to even consider a supernatural explanation. They believe this somehow shows greater intelligence, yet are willing to posit that life began on the backs of crystals or that there are an infinite number of universes.

Somehow those kinds of unprovable theories are fine, but we are troglodytes for believing God created.

I would also suggest most agnostics (“we can’t know”) are really acting like atheists since they too, for all intense purposes, reject supernatural explanations. They also, in the spiritual realm, do not accept my second axiom–”We can know truth.”

Of course, for them to say we cannot know truth is contradictory…because it is absolutely saying we can’t know truth…so they cannot claim to know if their own statement is truth.

I like this quote from Thomas Jefferson:

We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it (Letter to William Roscoe, December 27, 1820, in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, Sixteenth Edition, page 345).

Not limited to discussing religion

Other than my “bonus theological axioms,” what I suggest as ground rules apply to all conversations about fact…not just religious ones.

If not, let’s talk about the weather, our favorite color of crayon…

Final note in our ground rule section

Beyond what I mentioned before, I would be remiss to not suggest that when it comes to religion there are a couple other things coming into play in how angry and/or uncomfortable religious conversations make people:

First, it’s not fun being reminded we are mortal.

Second, we love sin.

Woe to those who remind us of the former or charge us with the latter–implicitly or explicitly.

 


 

Why should we care what Jesus did?

First, and apology…

I want to apologize because when I first imagined this talk I intended this section to be the bulk of it…but as I worked on the first part it seemed too important to rush through. Thus, you are going to hear about Jesus a lot less than I want today…and have far less Scripture references than I believe sermons should include.

Not going to try to prove Jesus is the Son of God or that He is God

In discussing why we should care what Jesus did, I’m not going to prove Jesus was the Son of God or, even more importantly, that He is God.

That could be a multi-part sermon series itself…and in church one would hope we could also consider those facts axiomatic.

However, there are only a couple options

Having said that I want to make two points in favor of committing to Jesus as Lord:

The first is that you only have two options–completely accept His claims, or completely reject him–there is no option in-between.

In one of my favorite books… [ Show all the tabs marking quotes I liked. ]

[ Read C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, page 52: ]

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man an said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic–on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg–or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with an patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

If there is one thing to focus on to know Jesus is God…

The second reason you should consider Jesus God is because if the resurrection happened, it validates every claim Christ made.

If you do not believe in Jesus, then do one thing–using normal historical standards, disprove the resurrection.

If you are honest and “are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead” like Thomas Jefferson, you will either embrace the Son, or at least know clearly who you are rejecting.

And yes, there are those who know exactly who Jesus is yet still reject Him.

Now, back to why you should care about what Jesus did…

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says God has “put eternity in man’s heart”–and would you agree, other than someone mentally sick, no person faced with death wants to die?

Eternal life

So, wouldn’t eternal life be a good reason to care what Jesus did? Do you remember in my first sermon when I quoted why John said he wrote his gospel?:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

Knowing what Jesus did…and said…is key to believing…which is key to eternal life.

What is the issue?

So…there is a connection between knowing…believing in…Jesus and eternal life. Why?

To answer that, let’s first discover what went so very wrong in the beginning…

1 Now ​the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You​ shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,​ she took of its fruit ​and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate (Genesis 3:1-6).

Do you think that all the evil perpetuated by humanity since that day was the result of Adam and Eve failing a test? Is that what really went wrong?

No…what happened in the Garden was first Eve, and then Adam, stopped fully trusting God. The breakdown of trust is what got us in this mess, and the restoration of trust is what is needed to repair it.

How do we restore trust?

Has someone ever done anything to you that made you stop trusting them? Have you ever been able to restore your trust in them? If so, how?

Time and experience, right?

As you see they are trustworthy, your trust grows…

Mankind, through Adam, lost trust in God.

Throughout the Old Testament we see myriad cases where people continued to fail to trust God.

What was the solution?

Let’s turn to John 14:8-11:

8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that ​I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that ​I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else w​believe on account of the works themselves.

How did the Father decide to restore trust?

He sent His Son in whom we can see the fullness of God.

Why should we care what Jesus did? So we can say what a friend of mine has said:

I believe that the most important of all Christian beliefs is the one that brings joy and assurance to God’s friends everywhere — the truth about our Heavenly Father that was confirmed at such cost by the life and death of His Son.

God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be — arbitrary, unforgiving and severe. Jesus said, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” God is just as loving and trustworthy as His Son, just as willing to forgive and heal. Though infinite in majesty and power, our Creator is an equally gracious Person who values nothing higher than the freedom, dignity, and individuality of His intelligent creatures — that their love, their faith, their willingness to listen and obey may be freely given. He even prefers to regard us not as servants but as friends. This is the truth revealed through all the books of Scripture. This is the everlasting Good News that wins the trust and admiration of God’s loyal children throughout the universe.
Like Abraham and Moses — the ones God spoke of as His trusted friends — God’s friends today want to speak well and truly of our Heavenly Father. We covet as the highest of all commendations the words of God about Job: “He has said of Me what is right” (A. Graham Maxwell — see http://www.pinenkoll.org/)

Jesus came to show that there aren’t two God’s–the loving one who arrived as a babe in a manger, and the angry one up in Heaven joyfully striking you down for the smallest infraction:

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 ​for the Father himself loves you, because w​you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (John 16:25-27).

No, the Father Himself loves you, and longs to have you know plainly about Him. The truth about Him.

We should care what Jesus did so that, like Job, our Lord can say that we have “said of Me what is right.”

Friendship

One final reason to care what Jesus did. In John 15:15 God Himself makes a rather incredible offer:

“15 No longer do I call you servants,​ for the servant​ ​does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for ​all that I have heard from my Father ​I have made known to you.”

Jesus offers you friendship! Can you name another god out there who would rather you be understanding friends than mindless servants?

The creator of everything, including you, has His hand extended in friendship to you…

But, you cannot really be His friend if you don’t trust Him…and you cannot have eternal life if you do not trust him…as a matter of fact, one of the definitions for “belief in” is “trust”–just ask my Mac’s dictionary. It is synonymous. That means I can retranslate John 20:30-31:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by trusting in him you may have life in his name”

By trusting in Him (and, because of Him, the Father) you may have eternal life.

 


 

Your turn

One final Scripture…

All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also (2 Corinthians 5:18, GNB).

Why should you care what Jesus did? Because in knowing what He did you can trust God, become His friend, and make others his friends also.

Will you?

 


 

Glossary

Axiom — something that is accepted as true without having to prove it

Pluralism — all beliefs are equally valid

Prolegomena — the things you need to say beforehand

Relativism — your religion is true for you, my religion is true for me

Truth — that which corresponds with what actually is

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Verses (in order of use)

Ecclesiastes 3:11

John 20:30-31

Genesis 3:1-6

John 14:8-11

John 16:25-27

John 15:15

2 Corinthians 5:18, GNB: All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends and gave us the task of making others his friends also.


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