An Atheism Primer

A recent op-ed piece by Charlotte Allen in the Los Angeles Times, "Atheists: No God, No Reason, Just Whining," prompted a flurry of reactions from the atheist community.  The most clever response came from Hermant Mehta, who basically said that atheists should be protected from outrageous claims such as those made by Allen (that atheists are basically boring).  Mehta even compared atheists to Jews, perhaps implying that such claims are tantamount to hate speech.

Exhanges like these, especially in the blogosphere, don't really serve much of a purpose, except to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes.  We need more productive conversations, such as the debate that occurred between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens on the campus of Biola University.

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Know Hope

The death of Jesus on the cross is central to the Christian life, but it is also part of a larger story, one that includes the resurrection. Without the resurrection of Jesus, the cross would be meaningless, because without the resurrection, there would be:

No Messiah. The true Messiah must fulfill the Messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures, including the prophecy that the Messiah would die for the sins of the world (Isaiah 53:7,8), and that God would raise Him from the dead (Psalm 16:9,10). If Jesus did not come back to life after dying, then He wasn’t the Messiah. And if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then both Jews and Gentiles alike are still waiting for salvation.

No Eternal Life. Jesus didn’t just say that He would be resurrected. He also said that He would be a resurrection for us:  I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die like everyone else, will live again. They are given eternal life for believing in me and will never perish (John 11:25,26).  If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then Jesus was a big fat liar, and there’s no hope for us to have eternal life.

No Heaven. Do you think about heaven? There’s no loftier thought we human beings can have. Now think about this: Without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we’ll never get there. Jesus made it very clear that He is our connection to heaven. Not only is He designing and building a place in heaven for all who believe in Him, but He has also promised to take us there personally (John 14:1-4). As wonderful and amazing as heaven sounds, it doesn’t mean a thing if Jesus is still dead.

No Hope. The bottom line is that without the resurrection, we’re sunk. Oh yeah, we can appreciate the teachings of Jesus, we can do our best to imitate the life of Jesus, and we can feel good about living good lives here on earth. But what good is that if there’s no hope of a life with Jesus beyond this one? If Christians are merely putting their faith in a dead guy, they are just what Ted Turner once called them—a bunch of losers. Or as the apostle Paul put it, we are to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:19).

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Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

The reason Christ had to die was to earn our salvation. As sinners, we deserve the penalty for sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). Because God is holy and just, He demands a punishment for sin. A penalty must be paid, and we aren’t capable of paying the penalty because we are sinners. The only one who can offer an acceptable payment is Jesus, because only He is without sin. The Bible clearly tells us it was love that caused God to send Jesus to pay the penalty for our sin (1 John 4:10).

The work that Christ did in his life and in his death to earn our salvation is called the atonement. The death of Jesus by crucifixion was the pivotal event that allowed sinful humankind to get back into a right relationship with the holy, almighty God. The crucifixion of Christ wasn’t a tragedy. It wasn’t a series of events gone out of control. It was the divinely designed plan of God. Here is a list of some of the fundamental accomplishments achieved by Christ’s death on the cross. Each one is a vital part of God’s plan of salvation for humankind:

  • Substitution.  Christ died so that we don’t have to. This is what Christianity is all about, and it required the death of Christ on the cross (Romans 8:3-4).
  • Propitiation.  Christ’s death on the cross turned God’s wrath away from us. Because God is so holy, He hates sin and is radically opposed to it. As sinful beings, that would place us as the objects of God’s wrath. But Christ’s death on the cross appeased God’s wrath (Romans 3:25).
  • Reconciliation.  God was alienated from humankind because of sin. That alienation was removed when Christ died on the cross. Reconciliation between God and humanity was made possible (Romans 5:10-11).
  • Redemption.  Before Christ died on the cross, we were slaves to sin. We were in bondage. We couldn’t escape sin’s snare. Think of it as if Satan had kidnapped you and was holding you as a hostage. Your release was dependent upon someone paying a ransom. That’s exactly what Christ did on the cross. He paid the ransom to redeem you (literally, to purchase you back) from slave market of sin. The ransom price was high. It cost Christ His life (1 Peter 1:18-19).
  • Destruction.  Satan was behind all of this sin stuff from the beginning. (Remember the serpent in the Garden of Eden?) Not only did Christ’s death on the cross free us from Satan’s bondage, it also demolished Satan in the process (Hebrews 2:14-15).
  • Perfection.  In the Old Testament times, the priest had to offer a sacrifice on behalf of the people each year (in a ceremony referred to as “the Day of Atonement”). When Christ died on the cross, His sacrifice was enough to cover the sins of all people—past, present, and future (Hebrews 9:26-28).
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What the Hell?

Heaven is a wonderful place to think about.  Hell, not so much.  Few people talk about hell these days.  Even fewer take it seriously.  But hell is real.  In his parables, Jesus uses various terms to describe what seems to be hell:  a place of outer darkness (Matt. 8:12); a fiery furnace where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:41); and eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46).

And then you have these graphic descriptions  by John in Revelation:  the bottomless pit (9:1); a huge furnace (9:2); fire and burning sulfur (14:10); no relief day or night (14:11); the fiery lake of burning sulfur (21:8); and the second death (21:8).

Sounds pretty grim.  Can you blame people for shying away from the topic of hell, especially people who struggle with a God who seems to allow suffering and evil in this life?  That's bad enough, but it pales in comparison to a God who is evidently (if we take this stuff literally) going to torture people in hell forever in the next life.

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What the Nativity Really Means...For You

The nativity is one of the best-known, most often told stories in history.  Asked to describe the events surrounding Jesus' birth, most people could probably give the basic components of the story:  An angel tells a young virgin she's going to give birth to the Savior of the world...Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, but there's no room in the inn...They find shelter in a stable where Jesus is born...Angels announce the good news to a bunch of shepherds, who run to see the baby Jesus...Some wise men drop by to pay their respects and leave some gifts.

That's the nativity story in a nutshell--at least the one you'll see depicted in your church's Christmas pageant, featuring amateur actors in bathrobes and fake beards.

As much as we all enjoy those charming (if a little kitschy) pageants, such annual presentations sell the Christmas story short. 

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Heaven: Our Greatest Hope

In certain circles—including some religious ones—people deny that a real heaven exists in a real place. Instead, they say heaven is a state of mind—it if exists at all. Other people criticize thoughts about heaven as wishful thinking. To believe in heaven is to believe in fairy tales. Don’t be fooled. Heaven is not an alternative to reality. Heaven is reality. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

If Heaven is not real, every honest person will disbelieve it simply for that reason, however desirable it is, and if it is real, every honest man, woman, child, scientist, theologian, saint, and sinner will want to believe in it simply because it is real, not just because it is desirable.

Heaven is a real place, created by God, that will exist forever. Heaven is where Jesus lives now (Acts 3:21) and where those who have trusted Jesus by faith will live in the future (John 14:2). Gary Habermas writes, “the life of heaven is eternal life.” And it isn’t merely a continuation of our life now. There will be no sorrow, crying, or pain in heaven, and the inhabitants of heaven will never again experience death (Revelation 21:4).

Having God's Heart - Part 3

Sharing Your Faith

Immediately before Jesus left earth and ascended into Heaven, He gave this final instruction to His followers:

But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power and will tell people about me everywhere . . . (Acts 1:8).

Jesus said that we are supposed to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). That means we should tell people what we know about Him. Plain and simple.

Sharing your faith should be the most natural thing in the world because it’s really nothing more than telling someone else the story of what God has done for you personally. It doesn’t have to be in a fancy speech or in a well-crafted presentation; in fact, it is better if it isn’t. Since the essence of Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus, you’re better off by simply sharing your personal story of what Christ means to you (it is called your “testimony”).

Having God's Heart - Part 2


In the New Testament the word “disciple” was used to describe the relationship between Jesus and His followers. Jesus was often referred to as “Rabbi” (which means teacher), and anyone who followed Him was called a “disciple” (which means learner). A disciple was anyone who believed in Jesus (John 8:31) and who learned from Him (Matthew 5:1). The same is true today. A disciple of Jesus is one who has trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord, and who desires to learn from Him and follow Him fully.

Become a Disciple

Jesus is the one who calls us to be His disciples (Matthew 4:19). And He doesn’t just ask us to learn from Him. Jesus wants us to follow Him in everything we do. Discipleship means that we commit to the person of Christ as well as the teachings of Christ.

Having God's Heart - Part 1


Your success at walking in the Christian life will depend upon a continuing and deepening relationship with Jesus Christ. You must stay connected with Him. Here is how Jesus explained it to His disciples:

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful apart from me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).

Staying connected with Christ is not solely for your benefit. Yes, it will change you from the inside out, and you’ll be a better person. But there is a collateral benefit to others. Just as Jesus had compassion for you, as you become more like Him, you’ll find that you have more love and compassion for others.
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What God Wants You To Do - Part 3


Next to reading the Bible and praying, the most important thing you can do in your Christian life is go to church. That’s because the church is not some human idea or invention. The church is God’s great idea. Church is where the people who “belong to the Lord” and who have been “called out” by God (that’s what the word church literally means) gather regularly to worship God, study the Bible, and encourage one another.

Even though you probably go to a specific church, the definition of church is much broader than a particular location. In reality, the church includes all Christians—those who believe in the God of the Bible and have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior—for all time. In other words, all Christians living today are part of the church, but so are all believers who have died. Here are some other qualities of the church:

• The church is invisible and visible. Because the church includes all genuine believers for all time, there is a sense in which the church is invisible. From our human perspective, we don’t know for sure who the true believers are, even in the church we attend. That’s because we can’t see people the way God sees them (1 Timothy 2:19). At the same time, the church is definitely visible. Professing Christians are the visible representation of the church.

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.

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