Jan 3, 2011

Defending the Faith

Political activists "soapboxing" in New York in 1908. Picture courtesy of Wikipedia.

Many different faiths and belief-systems have apologists of some kind or another - people who defend their beliefs, explaining why they're actually reasonable and why you should hold them, even though they may appear other than reasonable or desirable. Many of these people spend a large portion of their time engaged in this curious activity. I say 'curious' as I sometimes find it strange that upright bipeds should care so much about the ideas they have concerning the ultimate nature of reality. Going by my limited knowledge of other primates, I'd be inclined to think a few more bananas or other tropical fruit would satisfy us; though such a belief would be patently ridiculous.

I spend quite a bit of time reading what they write, these 'apologists'. The vast majority of the time I spend in this way is spent reading stuff that broadly falls into this category from Christians, atheists (and other secularists) and Muslims.

Sometimes what I read simply confuses me. Certain kinds of apologist are dishonest in the extreme. I say 'in the extreme' not because I'm accusing anyone at the moment of being a blatant lier but because it is subtle and frustrating, but clear to those who have some background in reasoning and e.g. reading the New Testament texts. When it comes to complex details around textual criticism (of either Christian or Muslim scriptures) and conflicting details, say, from the Hadith about the life of the prophet Muhammed, I can understand mistakes being made and errors through lack of careful scholarship. No one is perfect and the 'copy-paste' function is easily accessible. But in other cases, amazingly bold and easily falsifiable assertions are made; particularly in friendly forums.
I've now edited the rest, as I made a mistake. Oops.
Here's an interesting quote I just found on one Muslim site, run by a popular Islamic apologist, Bassam Zawadi. His apologetics is of a reasonably high quality. I didn't read the article properly initially, so misinterpreted what he said - so the quotes from Romans aren't directly relevant now. He said:
“Nowhere in the Bible do we see people believing in Jesus Christ's coming to die for our sins and therefore making them righteous and perfect before God.”
In response, I'd point to Hebrews 11. Maybe there are other places too - I can't think of passages that deal with those who came before Christ off the top of my head. It's pretty clear to me that those saved, from whatever time period, were saved by Christ's work, not their own works.
It was silly of me to pick up on what was a fairly incidental comment, albeit a bold one. That distracts from the main points being made at such sites. The apologist's main argument in the particular article under assessment was that other people in the OT are called "sinless" or similar things, so Jesus isn't special. The quotes tend to be from the poetic books. One of them is from Psalm 18 (vs 23), a psalm of David. We all know that David wasn't sinless, so basing the argument on passages like that isn't too convincing.
I'm curious whether the prophet Muhammed ever sinned. Perhaps he did not.
Maybe I'll have to think about all this a bit more, to work out and explain the relationship between the Old Testament, Jesus and Islam in a way that would make sense to Muslims.

Recently, I've also been reading my way through the book of Romans - i.e. the letter the apostle Paul wrote to the Christian community in Rome just past the middle of the first century - and thinking about faith. Romans is a good letter on this topic. Christian belief, like most beliefs, has its complexities. Reading scripture as a whole, it's clear that mere intellectual assent does not constitute saving faith - but that genuine faith/belief in Jesus nevertheless saves, is the clear witness of the New Testament. There are probably numerous places in the bible which refute the above claim, but a few in Romans will do (I give some longer passages (from the NET Bible translation) for context; this leaves some things that I would explain if I were preaching rather than blogging - but in the interests of keeping it short, I highlight the bits that are particularly apposite for my point, leaving you to ponder the rest):

3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 3:25 God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed.

3:28 For we consider that a person is declared righteous by faith apart from the works of the law.

4:4 Now to the one who works, his pay is not credited due to grace but due to obligation.
4:5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited as righteousness.

5:1 Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
5:2 through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory.

10:5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.”
10:6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 10:7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 10:8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 10:9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10:10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 10:11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.10:12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. 10:13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
I have often made vague promises about future posts and not fulfilled them, as my attention has been caught by other topics and/or exams and the like. However; in a future post, I intend to give more verses which explain the relationship between Jesus' death, our faith and our standing before God. Soli Deo Gloria


  1. Perhaps the author meant that no where in the Bible do we see people proclaiming that Jesus would come in the "future" to die for their sins. It seems that this is what he is saying based on the context of his words.

  2. you mean nowhere in the Old Testament is Jesus predicted? I don't think that's true and I don't think you could get that from the Muslim apologist's words anyway.

    Since the New Testament was all written after Jesus' death, I don't see how that claim could be defensible or even make sense with regards to the New Testament either.

  3. Actually, reading it again, "none", you are right. I hadn't read it properly.

    In response, I'd agree it's probably not explicit in the Bible, tho reading e.g. Hebrews 11 will give a similar sense.