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Two days ago I heard a fascinating story on NPR about the decline of Christianity in Great Britain. Listen to or read the article here. The following are some highlights of the story.:

Church attendance is slipping rapidly as Britain has become one of the most secular countries in Europe. The English church has always seemed to swing between the two extremes: from the piousness of Puritanism to the dissolute courts of the Restoration; from the high tide of Victorian evangelicalism to the deep and broad secularism of the 20th century and beyond.

Some lay the blame for the modern departure from God at the feet of one man, who lived for 40 years not far from the Canterbury Road.

It is 150 years exactly since Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species: By Means of Natural Selection. His former home, Down House, in the tiny village of Downe, is now open to the general public.

When On the Origin of Species was published in 1859, it sparked an exodus from the established church that has continued to this day. Many people in Britain still say they are Christians, and of course, under that sometimes frosty exterior, the British people are generally among the warmest, most hospitable people on Earth.

[…]

For people who do still believe, though, there doesn’t seem to be the same conflict that exists in the United States between the idea of evolution and the idea of God. There are no culture wars in Britain — it’s all so jolly moderate now.

[…]

Michael Nazir-Ali, the 106th bishop of Rochester, is also the first Asian bishop in the history of the Church of England. He was born in Pakistan, but moved to Britain for theological studies.

Nazir-Ali is one of the new intellectual evangelicals who have tried to shake up the Church of England. He is also ruffling feathers by saying the country needs to get back to its Christian roots.

“I think modern Britain has had an identity crisis, and we have now reached a stage where we need recovery, and it must be recovery rather than simply the forging of a brand new identity,” says Nazir Ali, who announced last month that he would leave his post later this year. “All of Britain’s cultural, literary, political, legal life is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Nazir-Ali has earned himself death threats by being very critical of Islam in a way that few white bishops would dare. But he says his comments have also earned him thousands of letters of support. He sees the irony that he and the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York John Sentamu are perhaps the two most outspoken supporters of Christian Britain.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali
(Michael Nazir-Ali, the 106th bishop of Rochester)

[…]

“If you come to our church or come to our house or even when we are praying in the night, we pray for Britain to be evangelized back, to go back to their first love,” [Nigerian Christian Adunla Ogunlade] says. “British people brought Christianity to my country. Then why should they lose it?”

I wonder if the United States will come to a point when the creation/evolution controversy will be over. I hope and pray so.

Also, how interesting that a Pakistani and a Nigerian are struggling to bring Christianity BACK into England. I hope and pray that God uses them and others to do just that.

He is risen indeed!

My Christianity does not hinge on whether the universe is 14 billion years old or 6000, or whether God made mankind by evolution or by fiat. It does hinge, however, on Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It means that everything Jesus did and promised was guaranteed by his Father, and it means that the same power that brought my Savior back to life will also sustain my soul and resurrect my body.

“…through the Spirit of holiness [Jesus] was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead…”  Romans 1:4

“…we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence…”  2 Corinthians 4:14

I was sad not to be able to celebrate with my church. I was needed at home to help with our new baby boy, who decided two weeks ago to join our family six weeks early. Today was his first holiday, but the only thing festive we did was cook out and put a bunny hat on him. I look forward to going all out with future Christmas and Easter celebrations. I really want to emphasize the church calendar with him.

Here’s a picture of our little man, who is now at home and in great condition. (Praise God!)  Have a happy Easter!

dscn1616

My wife’s family causes me to think, probably to over-think. Her scientist father’s unwavering belief in evolution led to a complete reconsideration of evolution and Christianity, and I am now in a very different place from my YEC beginnings. On the other side of the spectrum, her uncle’s conversion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses has led to a lot of research on the organization’s beliefs, but his efforts to persuade me have not had the same success. I fundamentally disagree with the tenets of this organization, especially concerning their belief on the deity of Jesus. The following is a letter to Uncle “Bob” explaining our differences. I would love your feedback.

 

Hi, Uncle Bob!

 

I have been thinking about you and your enthusiasm as a Jehovah’s Witness and have been wanting to talk with you about the differences between what you believe and what I believe. I find it easier to express my thoughts on paper than in conversation, so I thought I would write you a letter.

 

First, I am glad that you have a desire for the truth and a longing to find the true religion. We have a lot in common here because I also want to know God and have a relationship with him, to live a purpose-driven and happy life, and to have hope of life after death. Also, we both agree that God has revealed these things to us in the Bible. Where we disagree, however, is how we understand what the Bible says. I would like to concentrate in this letter on the most important disagreement we have—our understanding of who God is.

 

We both agree that God is the eternal, almighty, all-knowing being who created the universe, but we disagree over the Trinity. I won’t pretend that the teaching of the Trinity is easy. Most Christians recognize it as a mystery and accept it by faith. But the reason we accept it in the first place is because it seems very clear that scripture teaches that there is one God and that within the one God are three persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 

Why do I believe that Jesus is both the son of God and also God Himself? Why do I believe that Yahweh is the Father AND the Son? Here are a few reasons why.

 

1.      I have been reading from Zechariah, the second-to-last book of the Old Testament. This book is about a young priest who lives in Israel after it has been conquered by the Babylonians and after  the first temple has been destroyed. God gives him a series of visions telling him that He will again have mercy on Israel and that He is sending them the Messiah. In one of the visions, Zechariah sees an angel going to Jerusalem to measure the city. This angel is told by another angel to tell Zechariah that Jerusalem will be a city so large that it will not have walls. Yahweh will be a wall around it and the glory inside it. Now listen to the next part (Zechariah 2:8-11):

 

“This is what Yahweh[1] Almighty says:  ‘After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you [Israel]—for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye—I will surely raise my hand against them so that their slaves will plunder them. Then you will know that Yahweh Almighty has sent me.

 

‘Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,’ declares Yahweh. ‘Many nations will be joined with Yahweh in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that Yahweh has sent me to you.’”

 

Notice who is speaking throughout these verses. It is clearly Yahweh (“This is what Yahweh Almighty says,”  in verse 8 and “declares Yahweh” in verse 10). Now notice what Yahweh says in verses 9 and 11—“Then you will know that Yahweh Almighty has sent me” and “you will know that Yahweh has sent me to you.” It is Yahweh who is speaking, and he is saying that Yahweh is sending him! There are two distinct people here, but both are Yahweh.

 

So what are these verses talking about anyway? I believe that they are looking ahead to the time when Jesus first comes to live among his people (“For I am coming and will live among you” in verse 10 and “I will live among you and you will know that Yahweh Almighty has sent me to you” in verse 11. What happened when Jesus came to live among us? He died for our sins, he rose again, and then sent his disciples to preach the word to many nations. “Many nations will be joined with Yahweh in that day and will become my people” says verse 11. These things have happened, just as God said to Zechariah!

 

Notice, though, this very important point—the Yahweh who is speaking is different from the Yahweh who is sending.

 

2.      There is a similar, better-known passage in Exodus 3, the passage about the burning bush. Read closely what it says about Yahweh:

 

“…the angel of Yahweh appeared to him [Moses] in flames of fire from within a bush.” (verse 2)

 

“When Yahweh saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush…” (verse 4).

 

Again, these verses are pretty clear. The angel (messenger) of Yahweh and Yahweh are identified as the same person!

 

When Moses asks God what his name is, God says:

 

“I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.” (verse 14)

 

As I am sure you already know, I AM is YHWH, which we translate as Yahweh or Jehovah.

 

3.      That last verse that I quoted, Exodus 3:14, comes into play again in the New Testament. In the Gospel of John, the Pharisees are attacking Jesus’s message, and Jesus says to them,

 

“Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.”

“You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was, I am!”

(John 8:56-58)

 

Jesus is not using incorrect grammar here, Uncle Bob. He is making a point. Remember when God appeared to Moses and Moses asked him what name he should use when he returned to Egypt? God told him to say that “I AM has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14)

 

It seems crystal clear. Jesus is telling the Jews that he is Yahweh. The Jews’ reaction tells us that they understood this. “At this they picked up stones to stone him” (verse 59).

 

I know that the Jehovah’s Witness official translation translates verse 58 as something like “before Abraham was, I have been,” but I think this is a major distortion of what is actually written. Having studied a little Greek, I know that what it says is egw eimi (ego eimi). egw means “I” and eimi means (I am). The verb eimi is the present tense, not the perfect tense. To translate it as “have been” is a real stretch in my opinion, unprofessional as it may be.[2]

 

There are many other passages of scripture that indicate that the Father and Jesus are both God. Remember how Thomas spoke to him after the resurrection:  “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Remember also what the wise men did before the baby Jesus:  “And they bowed down and worshipped him” (Matthew 2:11). Notice that later in Matthew, Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of the world if Jesus would “bow down and worship me” (Matthew 4:9), but Jesus rebukes him by saying, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

 

The doctrine of the Trinity is not an easy one to understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. The Bible is pretty clear on this mystery:  there is one God, and in him are three persons.

 

I hope that this letter was not too long, but this is such an important issue. I want you to know God through Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) and the exact representation of his being (Hebrews 1:3). He is “the way, the truth, and the life,”[3] the only way to the Father (John 14:6). Jesus is the only source of forgiveness for sins, and it is his obedience that makes us acceptable to God. If we just ask him, he will give forgiveness and eternal life. This is our only source of salvation—it is not a matter of doing good works.

 

Much love to you, Uncle Bob. Let’s keep the conversation going.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Thomas

[1] My Bible, the NIV, always writes “the LORD” when the original Hebrew says “Yahweh.” In the verses I quote, I go ahead and translate it as Yahweh.

[2] Furthermore, you don’t usually say egw eimi because the verb means “I am.” To put egw in front of it is unneccesary and is not done unless you want to add emphasis. Jesus wanted to say egw to add emphasis to the “I.” I think it is very clear that he wanted to identify himself with the I AM of Exodus.

[3] Notice, by the way, that Jesus does not say that the Father is the way, the truth, and the life; unless Jesus was God, it would seem inappropriate for him to not say it was the Father.

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