Nathan Schneider


Creation Care and Moral Vertigo

Earlier this year, a piece of legislation was introduced in the California Senate, which, if passed, would ban the selling of shark fins (over 70 million sharks are used to make Shark soup and other products each year). Recently, the legislation has gained national attention because of support from numerous celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio. Read more about the law here.

Now, I don’t have anything against the proposed law and would, if I was a resident of California, consider supporting such a measure (further study would be necessary). However, earlier today I sent out this Twitter:

It’s sad to think many people care more about sharks than people (50 mil abortions since 1973).

My point was not to bring down those who support the proposed law, but to point out the sad reality that our values have shifted as Americans. This becomes obvious when those who stand for animal rights are hailed as champions for what is right, while those who stand up in the pro-life camps are mocked as bigots. The truth is Bible-believing Christians should affirm the good nature of creation AND place highest priority on God’s greatest creation: humans.

Here are three points I think are obvious from Scripture concerning the care for general creation:

  1. God has Given Humans the Task of Caring for Creation (Gen. 1:26; Lev. 25:23-24). The words in Genesis 2 that describe Adam’s responsibility in the garden, “to work it and take care of it,” have their roots in the words for “obey” and “worship.” As John Sailhamer has said, “Man is put in the garden to worship and to obey him. Man’s life in the garden was to be characterized by worship
    and obedience.”[1] Adam was to worship God by taking part in the act of caring for God’s creation.
  2. Creation reveals a Creator (Psalm 19; Romans 1). Just as a painting needs a painter, a building needs a building, so creation needs a Creator. The apostle Paul makes this clear when he pens his
    epistle to the Romans: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (v. 20). This point is also made clear with the usage of things in nature to illustrate a principle in Scripture (e.g. Isaiah 11:9; Matthew 6:25-34; Mark 13:28-31).
  3. Creation is an Apologetic. Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”[2] Often, the early apologists would reason from natural or general revelation, pointing out that certain things can be deduced from the very existence of creation.

There is no doubt that God cares about Creation and He wants Christians to invest in it as well. The Bible even says that there will be punishment on the Day of Judgment for those who do not care for it (Revelation 11:18). However, what is necessary to point out is that God has put precedence on particular areas of His creation. For example, God prioritizes people over all other areas of creation (e.g. Genesis 1:28; Matthew 6:26). One of the most obvious passages where this is evident is found in Genesis 9, following the Flood:

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.”

I don’t use this passage to suggest that humans should eat all the animals and do so without care. Rather, I point out that God values humans most of all. After all, it was human beings that God created in His own image (Gen. 1:26-28), and it was humans that God came to save (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Again, my point is not to diminish the efforts of those who champion animal rights. There is certainly a balance needed between our concern for environmental issues and our love for people (this does not reflect a position on the shark law). Ultimately, though, we must find ourselves pushing for what pleases God and sadly, in many cases, we don’t do this. We should care for nature because it is God’s. We should care even more for people because we are created in His image, each valuable in His eyes, and utterly hopeless before entering into a relationship with Him.

[1] See Mark Liederbach and Alvin Reid, the Convergent Church: Missional Worshippers in an Emerging Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2009), 122. By the way, the term “moral vertigo” also comes from Dr. Liederbach.

[2] Martin Luther, God’s Other Gospel quoted in The Green Bible Devotional.


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God’s Gospel – Romans 1:1-17

Paul introduces himself in his epistle to the Romans in usual fashion. He identifies himself as a “slave of Christ Jesus” (c.f. Phlm., Ti.) and one who is “called as an apostle” (c.f. 1 Cor., 2 Cor., Gal., Eph., Col., 1 Tim., 2 Tim., Titus). However, in this epistle Paul adds a phrase unique to the introduction of Romans, εὐαγγέλιον θεοῦ (“the gospel of God” or “God’s good news”). This was the purpose for which Paul was writing to the Romans, it was the very reason he had been “set apart” by God himself.

Notice, though, that this was God’s good news. John MacArthur said this of verse one:

The most important thing about the gospel is that it is of God… it was not man’s news, but God’s good news for man.

The fact is, the gospel is from God, about God, and dependent upon God. Paul continues in his opening of Romans to elaborate on the nature of this gospel. He says verses 16-17:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God (θεοῦ) for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God (θεοῦ) is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

What does it mean that the gospel is of God? It means that we can be assured of its certainty based on the character of God. We don’t have to question our calling every time we do something wrong or feel as though we don’t deserve salvation. The point is that we don’t deserve salvation, but God, in His righteousness, has decided to enter into a covenant with those who would respond to Him in faith. Once an individual has entered into a covenant with God, it cannot be broken because God’s righteousness won’t allow it. Consider the following passages:

8 He will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9God is faithful; by Him you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Cor. 1:8-9)

10 This is why I endure all things for the elect: so that they also may obtain salvation, which is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. 11This saying is trustworthy: For if we have died with Him,we will also live with Him; 12 if we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He will also deny us; 13if we are faithless, He remains faithful,for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Tim. 2:10-13)

29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those He predestined, He also called; and those He called, He also justified;and those He justified, He also glorified.

31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?32He did not even spare His own Son, but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? 33Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. 34Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died,but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. 35Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. 37No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. 38ForI am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come,nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:29-39)

I ran into a man at the airport a couple of weeks ago and he was adamantly against me because of my position that once saved, one could not lose their salvation. The belief that you could lose your salvation is based off of a misunderstanding that our actions are what determine our standing before God. If this were true, there’d be no hope for any of us. The gospel is “of God.” It is based on Christ’s work on the cross and for that, there is no condemnation.


What About the Resurrection?

This past week I was speaking with a non-believer who claimed the reason she couldn’t become a Christian is because she couldn’t believe in the Resurrection. If you think about it, she makes a great point: everything about Christianity being true or not hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I wrote an article last year summarizing a few basic arguments that favor the resurrection’s validity. You can read that article here.

This year, I’d like to point out one fact about the resurrection which I find most convincing: the changed lives of the apostles. Think about what happened to these men. The Bible tells us that after the death of Jesus they were afraid. This was the end. The Man they had been following, who Himself claimed to be God, was now dead. Yet, as history tells us, all of these men were willing to suffer for their faith. They claimed to have seen Him after His death. Now, people may die for something they believe is true, but what is actually false. However, no one dies for something which they know to be false. The disciples could have easily denied that Jesus rose from the dead in order to save their lives, but they didn’t. In fact, this is the evidence that convinced Lee Strobel, a journalist investigating Christianity to prove its falseness, that Christianity was actually true. Here’s how he ends his book The Case for Easter:

I started my original investigation as a spiritual skeptic, but after having thoroughly investigated the evidence for the resurrection, I was coming to a startlingly unexpected verdict. One final fact – described by a respected philosopher named J. P. Moreland – clinched the case for me.

“When Jesus was crucified,” Moreland told me, “his followers were discouraged and depressed. So they dispersed. The Jesus movement was all but stopped in its tracks. Then, after a short period of time, we see them abandoning their occupations, regathering, and committing themselves to spreading a very specific message – that Jesus Christ was the Messiah of God who died on a cross, returned to life, and was seen alive by them.

“And they were willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this, without any payoff from a human point of view. They faced a life of hardship. They often went without food, slept exposed to the elements, were ridiculed, beaten, imprisoned. And finally, most of them were executed in torturous ways. For what? For good intentions? No, because they were convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that they had seen Jesus Christ alive from the dead.”

Yes, people will die for their religious convictions if they sincerely believe they are true. Religious fanatics have done that throughout history. While they may strongly believe in the tenets of their religion, however, they don’t know for a fact whether their faith is based on the truth. They simply cannot know for sure. They can only believe.

In stark contrast, the disciples were in the unique position to know for a fact whether Jesus had returned from the dead. They saw him, they touched him, they ate with him. They knew he wasn’t a hallucination or a legend. And knowing the truth, they were willing to die for him.

That insight stunned me. The disciples didn’t merely believe in the resurrection; they knew whether it was fact or fiction. Had they known it was a lie, they would never have been willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Nobody willingly dies for something that they know is false. They proclaimed the resurrection to their deaths for one reason alone: they knew it was true.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9)

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Is God a Moral Monster?

Recently, I’ve been asked about difficult passages in the Old Testament. Namely, the accounts of God prescribing the mass killing of entire nations. The argument usually goes something like this, “What about the parts of the Bible where God commands that the Israelites wipe out the Canaanites? How could God command this? If God is like that I would not want to follow Him.”

Certainly, these are difficult passages and no one should feel wrong for seeking answers to such issues. Christian apologist William Lane Craig said, “these stories offend our moral sensibilities.” However, it is interesting to point out that in many cases those who will bring up such arguments against God also want to borrow from a Judaeo-Christian worldview by claiming objective moral values. In any case, it’s important to keep in mind a few points when trying to understand one of these difficult texts:

  • Events in the ancient Near East need to be taken in their historical contexts. Our postmodern world is different from the one experienced by those in Scripture. They had different customs, rituals, and ways of life.
  • The accounts in the Old Testament need to be taken in the larger context of God’s meta-narrative (the Bible as a whole). The overall theme of Scripture is focused on Jesus and God’s redemptive work for all of human kind.
  • If God is the author of human life, He is the determiner of a person’s fate. *If one declares that God was wrong, one is acknowledging moral values, which necessitates the existence of God.

I had the privilege of sitting under the teachings of Paul Copan while at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He has written extensively on the topic and he proves to be helpful in dealing with these issues. In fact, his most recent book, Is God a Moral Monster?, was just released this year by Baker Books and deals with this topic. Here are some of the points we discussed in class as it pertains to the Canaanite issue:

  1. People who object to the command to kill Canaanites must first ask about the source of their moral standard; typically, this turns out to be the God of Scripture.
  2. God’s purposes are ultimately to bring salvation to all the nations through Abraham and his offspring (Gen. 12:3) – even if this involves punishment in the meantime.
  3. War was a practical reality in the ancient Near East (ANE). Like all other nations back then, Israel had to fight to survive.
  4. God, who is the author and giver of life, is cheating no one by taking his life up again (What about infants and children? They would actually go to heaven and be delivered from this morally-twisted culture).
  5. In many cases, Israel’s enemies struck first, not Israel.
  6. Because God is holy, there comes a time – whether in this life or in the life to come or in both – when God must deal with the unrepentant, wicked persons for the sake of his righteous character.
  7. Yahweh directly punished the morally corrupt cities of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), but he indirectly punished the morally corrupt Canaanites by using Israel.
  8. In the book of Joshua, the biblical text indicates that the conquest of Canaan was far less sweeping and harsh than many assume (e.g. God’s command to the Israelites to not marry any of the Canaanites – could not have been total obliteration).
  9. The “military motif” may not be the only one to consider in Israel’s taking Canaan; other factors need to be considered (such as infiltration and internal struggle).

Further Resources: Paul Copan’s Website
Is Yahweh a Moral Monster?
How Could God Command the Killing of the Canaanites?

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Can the Resurrection Be True?

Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” -John 11:25-26

If indeed Jesus was raised from the dead it would prove the need for a divine miracle which would not only be proof for the existence of God, but also the validity of Scripture and the claims of Christ.  However, it is highly unlikely that the resurrection can ever be proven and most people remain skeptical.  Although, I do not believe one should say “Well, I’ll just have faith.”  It’s important that we know what Scripture teaches and it’s significance for life, especially when we’re talking about the central doctrine of the Christian faith.

There are at least four events to consider when thinking about the resurrection (see William Lane Craig’s God? A Debate Between a Christian and an Athiest):

First, after his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. Craig points out that given the understandable hostility between early Christians and the Jewish leaders, Joseph of Arimathea, as a member of the high court that condemned Jesus, is unlikely to be a Christian invention.  This fact is also highly significant because it means the location of Jesus’ tomb was known to Jews and Christians alike.  So, it is highly unlikely that the first women to arrive at the empty tomb were mistaken as to the right tomb.  Paul Copan jokingly points out that “if the disciples (who had gone after the reports of the women) had gone to the wrong tomb, Jesus’ enemies would conveniently have pointed them to the right tomb!”  Certainly the appearance of an angel also suggest the wrong-tomb theory was never taken seriously from a biblical perspective.

Secondly, on the Sunday after the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb was found empty by a group of his women followers. Notice the tomb was first “found empty by a group of his women followers.” In these times a woman’s testimony was considered highly unreliable –  they were even prevented from testifying in court. So then why would the apostles, if fabricating a story, use the testimony of females when they could have just as easily stuck men’s names in their place to establish credibility? Craig states, “The fact that it is women, rather than men, who are chief witnesses to the tomb is best explained by the historical facticity of the narrative in this regard.”

Third, on multiple occasions and under various circumstances, different individuals and groups experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead. “The number and variety of people in a variety of circumstances who saw the Lord after His resurrection give overwhelming proof of the fact that He did rise from the dead” (James Kennedy). During the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) 500 people witnessed the resurrected Christ.  Some have suggested that those witnesses were all hallucinating, but to assume the incident at Pentecost was an episode of hallucination is to assume that all 500 people hallucinated the image of Christ, when not one of the over five hundred was expecting any such thing. There are no recorded hallucinations of some 500 people, especially 500 people from different backgrounds, cultures, and languages.  The same hallucinating could not possibly have occurred to hundreds of people over a period of 40 days.

Finally, the original disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every predisposition to the contrary. Originally the disciples had such a hard time believing in the resurrection that Jesus had to convince His own followers it was indeed Him standing right in front of them. Thomas, one of the twelve, expressed a hesitation many share today: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” About a week later Jesus appeared to all the disciples in their room and Jesus instructed Thomas to look and feel the prints of the nails as well as his sides. Thomas responded with sheer joy, “My Lord, and my God.”

Don’t miss this: Within a matter of weeks from the resurrection the disciples had left their families, jobs, and all familiarities in order to proclaim the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. This would eventually cost them their lives (see above) and change the course of human history forever.

Some have said, “People will die for what they believe to be true, though it may actually be false. They do not, however, die for what they know is a lie.”  Each of the disciples was willing to suffer for their belief and millions of others have followed in their footsteps by becoming martyrs for Christ.

Here is a list of the disciples and their fate: Andrew, crucified; Bartholomew, beaten and then crucified; James (son of Alphaeus,) stoned to death; James (son of Zebedee,) beheaded; John, exiled for his faith and died of old age; Judas (not Iscariot), stoned to death; Matthew, speared to death; Peter, crucified upside down; Philip, crucified; Simon, crucified; Thomas, speared to death, and; Matthias, stoned to death.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the pinnacle of all human history, but if Christ has not risen, as some claim, then the Christian faith is “empty” and those who follow Jesus should be “of all men the most pitiful.”  Indeed, as Erwin Lutzer wrote, “If the resurrection of Christ can be proved to be a hoax, I for one will cease believing in Christ.”

However, I do not believe with the story as it is and the testimony of so many believers that one should take this lightly.  If Christ has risen, Christians have a future hope and a present victory.  If Christ has risen, then His death and resurrection has been for all.

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What Is the End Goal of Christian Theology?

Simply put: the end goal of Christian theology can be nothing short of changed lives.  The word “lives” is plural because not only does the learner seek to be transformed by the study of the gospel of Jesus Christ, or the whole of the biblical narrative, but the leaner also seeks to communicate what he has received to the people around him.  In other words, Christian theology must encompass both spiritual transformation and great commission goals.

One of the key words in the title’s question is the word “Christian.”  This implies that the exercise of this particular discipline can only be accomplished through the work of the Holy Spirit as it transforms the individual Christian.  There are two versus that help here.  First, 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  In other words, someone without the assistance of the Holy Spirit cannot understand the things of God.  Gregory Thornbury helps explain this in the first chapter of A Theology for the Church, “It is not that man cannot receive the truth about how he should respond to God but that in his natural state he does not want to receive the truth about the God of the Bible.”  This is not only a statement of difficulty for the unbeliever, but also a charge to the Great Commission.  One cannot obtain salvation through head knowledge because without salvation, there can be no head knowledge.  We must connect people with Christ first.

A second verse that is helpful in understanding the emphasis on “Christian” theology is Colossians 2:3, “in whom (Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  This is an amazing declaration!  Paul has said that ALL wisdom and knowledge are in Jesus.  Outside of Him there can be no understanding of how everything fits together in an individual life or in the universe as a whole.  The Christian need not follow any “wind of doctrine” or the “trickery or man” because they are false and only imitations of the only real truth.

The before mentioned goal of Christian theology can also read, “the end goal of Christian theology can be nothing short of knowing God and making Him known.”  The verb knowing and the term “changed lives” can be interchangeable in the definition.  The reason for this is that knowing God, growing in the knowledge of Christ, leads to change.  I’ve heard someone illustrate it this way, “If I told you that I had been run over by a truck, you would expect to see the marks that proved I was hit by a truck.  How much more should my life look different after an encounter with the living God?”  We should seek to live radical lives for Jesus and his kingdom.  This ambition begins with knowing our Savior and the good news of God’s meta-narrative.  However, this cannot be the end.  Gregory Thornbury, in his definition of theology makes the great commission his focus, “a good definition of theology is: ‘the attempt to explain God’s self-disclosure in a consistently faithful manner.’”  Notice the emphasis on sharing verbally. Ultimately, our goal as Christians is to not simply know God, but know God for the purpose of others knowing Him as well.

This is life-giving!