The Biggest “Contradiction” in the Bible

When people criticize the Bible, they often point to contradictions. “The Bible says this here, but says the opposite over here!” This proves, they say, that this cannot be God’s book, it’s no different from any other human book with the usual errors and mistakes.

Usually it’s quite easy to show that these are only “seeming” contradictions. If we interpret God’s Word correctly, we will usually be able to show how both verses or passages are true.

However, sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes it’s very hard. Sometimes it looks almost impossible. One of these “impossible” passages is James 2:24, probably the biggest “contradiction” in the Bible.  Let me state this problem as clearly as I can.

In at least three places in Romans alone the Apostle Paul says that we are saved by faith alone without works (Romans 3:20, 28; 5:1).

But when we turn to James 2:25 we read: A man is justified by works, and not by faith only (James 2:24).

The problem is obvious, isn’t it? Many verses in the Bible teach that we are justified by faith alone in Christ alone. But James says that faith alone without works is not enough.

High Stakes
The stakes are very high here, because it’s not just a minor matter about the number of soldiers in Israel’s army; it’s about the most important matter of all – how sinners are saved.

Can these opposing statements be reconciled? I believe they can, and the key is to understand that although Paul and James both speak of justification, they are speaking about two different kinds of justification.

This isn’t some kind of verbal trickery, making words mean just what we want them to mean depending on what we want to believe. No, words only have meaning in relation to other words. We need to look at the surrounding words to figure out what each word means. The surroundings make all the difference.

For example, if you’re fishing in a boat and someone says, “Will you get off the net?” you look around your feet to see if you are standing on the landing net. But if you’re sitting at a computer and Dad says to you, “Will you get off the net?” you’re looking for the “Close Browser” button. Same word, but different surroundings make the word mean something completely different.

Surroundings
So what are the surroundings of “justification” in Romans and James?

In Romans, the context is our standing before God, God’s view and verdict upon us.  In that sense, God justifies us by our faith, He counts us as righteous because of the faith that He alone can see.

In James, the context is our standing before people, their view and verdict upon us. In that sense, people justify us by works, they conclude we are righteous because of the good works they see in our lives (being unable to see if faith is in our hearts).

The whole letter of James is about practical Christianity – how we are to live out our faith. Chapter 1 covers doing the Word not just hearing it (v. 22), care for orphans and widows (v. 27), and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world (v. 27). Chapter 2 says, “Stop being snobs and start treating rich and poor alike” (vv. 1-13). Chapter 3 is about the way we use our tongues, chapter 4 addresses relational conflict, and chapter 5 calls us to deal fairly with our employees and pay our bills on time. It’s all about the visible practice of Christianity.

No Surprise
No surprise then when we come to the latter part of chapter 2, James is utterly focused on the need for faith to produce works, fruit, public profit, evidence of spiritual life, etc. It’s not about our relationship to God but our relationship to other people. It’s not about how God sees us but how people see us. It’s not about how we get spiritual life, but how we demonstrate that we have it.

The biggest contradiction is not Romans v James. The biggest contradiction, says James, is a Christian without good works.


Worldview

2014 Predictions for Churches
A couple of articles highlighting expected trends in the church over the next year. First of all, some predictions from The Institute of Religion and Democracy:

  • Polygamy will gain as an issue in religion and society.
  • Church attendance will increase in major cities.
  • …But Oldline Protestant denominations will lose at least another 300,000 members.
  • Meanwhile, the National Council of Churches will come precariously close to collapse.
  • Christians continue to increase in Israel while decreasing everywhere else in Mideast.
  • Anti-Israel sentiments will surface in the evangelical world, especially on evangelical college campuses.
  • Most evangelicals will remain against or ambivalent about mass legalization of illegal immigrants.
  • Religious Left groups will target denominations that do not ordain female pastors.

Then Thom Rainer gets his crystal ball out (Part 1 and Part 2):

  • Smaller churches will seek to be acquired by larger churches in increasing numbers mainly because of staff costs.
  • Downsizing of denominational structures.
  • Decline in evangelism and fewer non-believers becoming Christians.
  • More megachurches.
  • Greater number of churches moving to a unified worship style.
  • Increased emphasis on high-expectation church membership.
  • Increased challenges for congregations to build and acquire land due to restrictive governmental policies.
  • Increased emphasis on small groups.
  • Longer pastoral tenure.
  • Local churches increasing their roles in training for ministry.

The End of Morality Laws? Not Exactly
Polygamy campaigner, Professor Jonathan Turley (lead counsel in the “Sister Wives” case in Utah) says he’s celebrating the death of all morals legislation. Al Mohler points out that all law is moral, and therefore all that’s happening is the substitution of one set of morals with another, biblical morals being replaced with secular ones. “The removal of morals legislation and the celebration of that removal is itself a profound moral statement,” says Mohler, before highlighting the hypocrisy of Turley and others who still want to hold on to laws agains incest and bestiality.

We are seeing Psalm 2 being fulfilled before our eyes as men and women throw off God’s “bands and chains,” as they see them. The problem is that no one knows where this great experiment in “liberation” is going to end. It’s all very well for secularists to celebrate the ending of morality laws, but none of them have any idea, and even fewer seem to care, what kind of society will result 20, 50, and 100 years down the road. See Ari Fleischer’s article below for some indication of the damaging fallout from this reckless and rage-blinded disregard for possible consequences.

India Hails Polio-Free Milestone
I always like to include at least one link that shows a more positive view of our world, and this news is certainly worth celebrating. It’s three years now since India had its last reported polio case. It is a huge public health success, achieved through a massive and sustained immunization program, and rightly hailed by India’s health minister as a “monumental milestone.”

  • Nearly 2.3 million volunteers vaccinate some 170 million children under five years of age in India during every round of immunization.
  • Polio is capable of causing crippling disability or death within hours. It plagued societies in ancient times – and was present in more than 100 countries even in the 1980s, when it left 350,000 people paralysed each year.
  • Global cases have decreased since then as part of a mass eradication program – to 372 last year.

Click through for an illustrated history of polio to underline how thankful we should be for this wonderful news.

How to Fight Income Inequality: Get Married
So says Ari Fleischer, former Press Secretary to President George W. Bush:

If President Obama wants to reduce income inequality, he should focus less on redistributing income and more on fighting a major cause of modern poverty: the breakdown of the family. A man mostly raised by a single mother and his grandparents who defied the odds to become president of the United States is just the person to take up the cause.

  • Among families headed by two married parents in 2012, just 7.5% lived in poverty.
  • When families are headed by a single mother the poverty level jumps to 33.9%.
  • The number of children raised in female-headed families is growing throughout America.
  • 28.6% of children born to a white mother were out of wedlock. For Hispanics, the figure was 52.5% and for African-Americans 72.3%.
  • In 1964, when the war on poverty began, almost everyone was born in a family with two married parents: only 7% were not.
  • Among white married couples, the poverty rate in 2009 was just 3.2%; for white nonmarried families, the rate was 22%.
  • Among black married couples, the poverty rate was only 7%, but the rate for non-married black families was 35.6%.
  • The majority of women who have children outside of marriage today are adult women in their 20s. (Teenagers under 18 represent less than 8% of out-of-wedlock births.)
  • Children who grow up in a home with married parents have an easier time becoming educated, wealthy and successful than children reared by one parent.

The U.S. is steadily separating into a two-caste system with marriage and education as the dividing line. In the high-income third of the population, children are raised by married parents with a college education; in the bottom-income third, children are raised by single parents with a high-school diploma or less.

Apple: Making a Difference One App at a Time
See, digital technology’s not all bad! Lots more companies should make films like this to show the difference their products and services are making to the world. Why should the media only tell stories and make films about corporate greed, insider trading, fat-cat salaries, and abuse of employees?


Check out

Free Narrated Film Version of Pilgrim’s Progress for Kids
Bit basic but might be a good tool for a Sunday afternoon.

A Few Good Men, Not a Few Good Yes-Men
Carl Trueman: “every minister needs good local elders, men whom he has not chosen, who see him each Sunday, who hear him preach and pray, who connect with him during the week, who see how he treats his wife and his children, who observe how he speaks to visitors, who know how he relates to his neighbours, to keep him accountable both to the Word of God and to congregation which he serves.  Anything less, anything other, is simply unbiblical and in the long run a recipe for disaster.”

The Printed Book is Not Dead – Long Live the Book
Surprising Infographic on the state of the publishing industry. The good news is that although eBook sales have grown significantly over the last few years, most of the sales have been in addition to printed books rather than cannibalizing them.

6 Deadly Enemies of Marriage
Tim Challies lists the 6 greatest enemies of our marriages. Good one for couple to discuss and pray about.

Ten Regrets, Ten Graces
Your New Year resolutions already smashed to smithereens? Read Katelyn Beaty’s neat way of finding positives among the negatives. Why not resolve to develop this ability?

6 Simple Habits to Keep You Consistently Happy Every Day

  1. Wake up early
  2. Exercise daily
  3. Have a habit of disengagement
  4. Regularly help others
  5. Learn new skills
  6. Have multiple ways to win each day

A Short History of Student Missions [Video]

A Short History of Student Missions from Citygate Films on Vimeo.


A Report Card For Humanity

Is the world getting better or worse? Is the human race getting better or worse?

Your answer probably depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, but 21 of the world’s top economists have tried to provide an objective answer by measuring and forecasting 10 areas (e.g. health, education, air pollution, etc.) over a 150 year period (1900-2050). Their conclusion?

Neither the pessimists nor the optimists are entirely right. But the optimists definitely win on points—most indicators are going in the right direction…That’s not to underplay the serious issues still confronting much of the world, especially in developing nations. But overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.

Some highlights from their findings:

Air pollution
The biggest environmental problem in the world is not climate change; it’s indoor air pollution (caused mainly by indoor cooking in developing world). All told, the effects from indoor air pollution killed almost twice as many people—260 million—than all the 20th century’s wars combined, and four times as many as outdoor air pollution.

Armed Conflict
On average, 20th-century military conflict cost about 5 percent of GDP per year. Today, the cost of conflict has fallen to about 1.7 percent and most experts expect it to remain that way.

Climate Change
One of the more startling findings is that climate change is expected to have a net positive benefit through 2050….However, after the year 2070, as temperatures rise, global warming will become a net cost to the world, justifying cost-effective climate action now and in the decades to come.

Education
Today, 20 percent of the world population is still illiterate. Yet in 1900 that number was perhaps closer to 70 percent. By 2050, it is estimated global illiteracy will fall to only 12 percent.

Pakistan and South Korea started with about the same level of education and income in 1950. Today, Koreans have an average of 12 years of education, whereas Pakistanis have not yet reached an average of six years. Korea’s per-capita income has grown 23-fold versus Pakistan’s three-fold growth.

Human Health
In 1900, the average person lived 32 years; today it’s 69 years, and by 2050 it will be 76. Advances are so rapid that for every month you live, medical science adds a week to your life expectancy.

Comment
There are a number of other indices but I’ll let you read them for yourself and instead conclude with a few comments.

First, let’s thank and praise God for His common grace. There are clear signs of progress and improvement in many areas of the world – better health, raised life expectancy, improved education, less war, etc. This is not chance but providence, and therefore praiseworthy: “The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).

Second, these economists remind us to look at the bigger picture. Sometimes we can get caught up in the multiple problems of our own family, church, or nation, and fail to see what God is doing in the wider world. Or, if things are going well for us, and we’re tempted to self-confident complacency, these stats remind us of the struggles of billions of people around the world.

Third, notice how different man’s report card is to God’s. God is not disinterested in economics; He is concerned about the environment, education, etc. But His criteria are primarily moral and spiritual: “God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God” (Psalm 53:2; 14:2). He measures what has eternal impact and consequence.

Fourth, the self-confidence of the researchers is quite astonishing. “Overall, we can stop panicking. Things are generally getting better.” They’re confident about their analyses of causes and effects in the past. And they’re confident about their predictions for the future. War will only cost 1.7% of GDP, average life expectancy will rise, global illiteracy will fall.

All by 2050!

Even though none of us can be sure the world will exist tomorrow!

There’s absolutely no sense of possible divine intervention to upset their figures and predictions. “If the Lord wills” or “If the Lord tarries” is totally absent. As Jesus himself predicted:

For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be….Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (Matthew 24:38-39, 44).

Then humanity’s report card will be irrelevant and the only one that matters will be the one in God’s files with your name upon it. Unless, of course, you’ve asked God to rip yours up and substitute it with Jesus Christ’s. There’s nothing more world-changing and eternity-changing than that.


Worldview

What’s Ahead for Education in 2014?
One of the four questions challenging educators in 2014 is “Will schools come up with a plan to stop cheating?” Some of the stories and stats about cheating at every level of our education system are horrifying. But Academia is fighting back:

A college professor named James M. Lang published Cheating Lessons: Learning From Academic Dishonesty. It argued that the best way to combat cheating is to make learning complex and compelling enough that students won’t be able to cheat easily—and that they won’t want to. The new president of Princeton University was so alarmed by the rise of cheating in schools and universities that he assigned incoming students to read philosophy professor Anthony Appiah’s book Honor Code, about the history of morality. People within academia are obviously trying to understand why people cheat and coming up with solutions. Hopefully 2014 will be the year a clearer, more widespread plan to fix this problem emerges.

I’m afraid they’re fighting a losing battle. Without a God-consciousness, fast fading from our society, students will always find ways to cheat the system and beat the teachers.

How Should We Teach the Bible in Public Schools?
This article might just explain the previous one. It begins:

This past summer marked the fiftieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Abington Township v. Schempp. That case is most famous for its prohibition of school-sponsored Bible reading in public schools, but it also figures prominently in American educational history for its endorsement of the academic, nonsectarian study of religion in that same setting.

The article critiques some schools for the way they considered “the teachings of the New Testament through the lens of faith,” for teaching Christian apologetics, and for including creationism.

On the other hand it praised schools that “treated the biblical material in ways that respected constitutional limits and diverse religious sensibilities” and goes on to list eight ways they did this, including:

  • They recognized the importance of biblical texts as ancient historical sources without lapsing into a tone of assumed historicity.
  • They discussed the Bible’s moral and theological claims without presenting them as authoritative for the students.

I accept that public schools must respect the law, that they are not missions or evangelistic campaigns, and that they are not the place to proselytize followers of other religions. However, I do wonder if it would do less spiritual damage to simply drop the Bible teaching from public schools altogether, rather than have it taught like this as just one option among many valid options that you can take or leave at your leisure.

Where Life Has Meaning: Poor Religious Countries
Research indicates that lack of religion is a key reason why people in wealthy countries don’t feel a sense of purpose.

Previous research has shown that wealthy countries typically rank higher on life satisfaction, which is not the same as meaning. Satisfaction has to do with “objective living conditions,” the researchers say, which is why wealthy countries with relatively stable economies and political conditions rank higher. But meaning is more subjective.

The Gallup data showed that countries with lower GDPs ranked higher for meaning. Toward the top were Sierra Leone, Togo, Laos, and Senegal, all of which were in the bottom 50 countries in the world for gross domestic product per capita in 2012. Poorer countries also had lower suicide rates.

When all other factors were accounted for, the researchers found “it was the presence of religion that largely accounted for the gap between money and meaning….Even among countries with similar GDPs, the more religious ones reported higher levels of life meaning.”

Interestingly, in a 2013 Gallup poll, “75 percent thought the country would be better off if more Americans were religious.” Unfortunately, “77 percent of Americans thought religion was losing influence in the U.S.”

Virtue at GQ
Another more uplifting story. One of the most popular blog posts at Gentlemen’s Quarterly Magazine (GQ) in 2013 was a commentary giving men 10 reasons to stop viewing pornography.  Anthony Bradley comments:

On GQ’s website the piece registered 24,000 thousand “likes” on Facebook in just a few weeks. The popularity of the post could be a signal that Americans really are interested in discussing moral issues and perhaps GQ should take advantage of this opportunity to include more posts that offer moral direction even if some might ultimately disagree.

He ends with this appeal:

Our world is groaning for virtuous men. Men who reject empty lifestyles characterized by greed, apathy, pride, envy, and gluttony in exchange for a life that pursues the virtues that make our relationships, families, businesses, schools, and communities extraordinary.

Virtuous men are the ones we remember. They inspire us. These are men we want our sons to become and the ones we want our daughters to marry. GQ certainly has an opportunity in 2014 to do something that no other popular magazine seems willing to do by regularly promoting the characteristics that make gentlemen virtuously “smart.”


Check out

Balancing It All
Watch the interview at the end of Denny’s post about actress Candace Cameron Bure’s practice of a complementarian (translation: “Ephesians 5″) marriage.

Why Good Works Are Necessary for the Christian
The Puritan Anthony Burgess argued that while good works should never be construed as meritorious for our justification, they were still necessary as our duty on the way to final salvation, and gave 13 reasons why.

50 Countries Where It’s Hardest To Be A Christian
“The top 10 nations where Christians faced the most pressure and violence, were North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Pakistan, Iran. and Yemen. While North Korea has topped the list for 12 straight years, this is the first time that a sub-Saharan African country took the No. 2 slot.”

5 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor in 2014
Nick Batzig: “Pastors need the saints’ prayers because they are ever the object of the flaming arrows of the evil one. In addition, the world is eager to run them over at any opportunity. As one of my seminary professors so illustratively put it, ‘Ministers have a bull’s eye on their back and footprints up their chest.’”

8 Mind-blowing Images of the Brain at Work
A photo-sermon on Psalm 139v14: “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

14 Sentences That Brought Joy to Pastors
Thom Rainer asked several pastors to recall something very positive said to them by church members and then collated the answers.