Ask Gareth Black (February 25 - March 1, 2019)

(Carson Weitnauer) #1

Hi friends, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM,

This week we have the opportunity to put Gareth Black in the hot seat! Come at him with the toughest questions of your friends and family. He’s a rugby guy so I’m sure he can handle it. :slight_smile:

In all seriousness, this is a unique way to bring forward the doubts that trouble your own heart or the places you’re “stuck” in an evangelistic relationship.

I look forward to following along and learning from the conversation!


Gareth Black’s RZIM biography:

Gareth Black joined the Zacharias Trust as an OCCA Fellow following his time as a student at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). He is also completing graduate studies in Applied Theology at the University of Oxford. He holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Theology and a first-class Bachelor of Divinity degree from Queen’s University, Belfast. Prior to moving to Oxford, Gareth was a staff member for four years at a church in Northern Ireland. He is passionate about engaging with ethics and the relevance of Christianity within contemporary culture.

(Abby Narvaez) #2

Why are there so many denominations within Christianity? Why do so many Christians fight one another on issues that are not even biblical? Do we not all believe in the redemption of Jesus? Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Evangelicals etc.

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #3

How are we, as Christians, to engage the culture on the topic of abortion, especially if the pro-choice side already acknowledges the scientific fact that the embryo is human, yet they still don’t care? Why is the pro-choice side apparently the default position in today’s society? I’ve never understood that. One could make a persuasive case against abortion without ever having to quote scripture.

(Priscilla Ababio) #4

I recently heard that the passage about the woman caught in adultery can not be found in the manuscripts? Is this true? If it is, how do we defend the concept of corruption in the bible?

(Kelvin Bottle) #5

With the ever changing landscape of what it means to be Christian. Is revisionist and progressive Christianity undermining conservative/traditional theology?


Hi Gareth Black,

I am from India, and I am interested in civil services who serves for the country. But in reality these civil officers are in high pressure from politicians in India and these politician makes these officers to do wrong things sometimes. As a Christian what should I do?
Some of them stand by they are threatened by politicians. Many go in wrong path.
I am unable to make a decision whether to choose this service or not.
Can you please help me regarding this?
I will be so thankful to you :blush:

(Lynne) #9

Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions .
The question asked so many times of nonbelieving friends is , why does God allow (or cause, some say) suffering and death of children, not from human hands but because of disease, or illness.?
I am always stumped by this question, especially when we see no tangible reason or good come out of it, no lessons learned nor faith increase or even happen.
Thank you,

(Gareth Black) #10

Dear Abby,
Thank you for this great question. It’s one that is very meaningful for me personally because I grew up in Northern Ireland, a country that knows all too well the devastation that can be caused by religious people responding to their disagreements in a sectarian and violent way. However, my experience of Northern Ireland has also taught me that it is way too simple to claim - as many people do - that such ugly responses were exclusively the result of religion. Religious difference was only one among many other political, ideological and circumstantial factors influencing the 30 years of bloodshed that my country experienced. Many people viewed it as a war between Protestants and Catholics. The reality was much more complex!

In answering your question I think it is important to consider two issues: 1. What it truly means to be a Christian, and 2. How we treat and respond to people who believe different things
In considering the first, the bible and theologians down through the centuries have made clear that the basic requirements for anyone to be a Christian are a.) repentance and b.) personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and risen saviour. These are the ‘fundamentals’ of what it means to be Christian. So although Christianity does have a lot of “denominations”, this is the common “denominator” that makes anyone, at any time, and attending any type of church, a true Christian. That said, Christians can and do disagree on many ‘secondary issues’, such as baptism, the eucharist and the gifts of the Spirit. I say ‘secondary’ issues because, although important, what we believe about them is not fundamental to being a Christian and so believers can legitimately disagree. For some Christians, however, these ‘secondary’ issues are so important that they cannot with integrity remain in churches that believe or practice different things to their personal convictions on these matters and so they leave and start new churches or even new denominations. Of course, its not always simple to establish what is the ‘right’ interpretation to take on these matters - if it were, Christians wouldn’t disagree so much! In the New Testament we see that it took the early Church a long time and a lot of prayer and discussion to come to a conviction about what to do about circumcision and the inclusion of Gentiles in the Church. And even Peter in Matthew 16, moments after making an incredible (and correct!) confession that Jesus was the Messiah, has to be strongly rebuked by Jesus because he then makes clear that he has absolutely the wrong idea of what it means for Jesus to be God’s Messiah - he was “thinking” rightly and got this issue dead wrong even though he was a genuine believer and Apostle. So when it comes to denominations and differing opinions on secondary issues, I think we need to have a lot of grace for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. These issues are not easy and we all have a tendency to get things wrong. No matter how convinced we our by our own convictions we need to hold them we humility and respect the difference of others.
And that leads to me the second and final point about how we treat others who believe different things than we do. Although Peter got his views about what it meant for Jesus to be Messiah very wrong in Matthew 16 and Jesus had to challenge him, he did not reject him, let alone abuse him. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there is no justification whatsoever for attacking or defending Christianity by abusive means. Worse, in responding to people with different views by abusive means we can do serious damage to their ability to consider the truth. You see, you cannot impose truth by force, you must simply confront people with Christianity’s claims and allow them to the space and freedom to come to convictions about it for themselves. That’s how Jesus dealt with me when I believed wrong things about him. That’s how he still deals with me when, despite my best intention and efforts, I make mistakes in my understanding of him.
I trust we shall do the same with others, because our interactions with those who don’t believe Christian truth has to be as Christian in character and tone as it is in content.

I hope this helps!

(Gareth Black) #11

Dear Isaiah
This is a timely and difficult question. Two things I would consider in response: 1. The moral status of human embryos, and 2. how we Christians ought engage culture on the topic of abortion. You are correct in saying that many who advocate for abortion (at any stage in pregnancy) fully acknowledge that the embryo is human. However, they would only acknowledge the embryo as “human” in the species or genetic sense of the term (i.e. a member of the species homo sapien as opposed to other animal species) and not in moral sense of the term. In other words, they make a distinction between an embryo being factually human and having inherent moral status as a human embryo that is worthy of protection and human rights. Most Christians believe that embryos have moral status because they are human, however, liberal ethicists (like Peter Singer) would accuse this view of being guilty of ‘speciesism’ i.e. elevating the human species above other non-human species. Of course, it all depends on your view of what it means to be human because most ethicists who claim this of Christians do so because they believe that humans are simply a different kind of animal. I would want to argue that Genesis makes clear that that is precisely what human beings are not and yet that doesn’t compromise the worth or care of other created things. Some more extreme liberal ethicists (Singer, Harris, Savulescu) would argue that even at birth human babies do not necessarily have moral status - a scary thought! However, most secular ethicists today subscribe to a view known as ‘gradualism’ i.e. that embryos don’t inherently have moral status and only gradually gain this throughtout pregnancy when they develop qualities like sentience.
Why is pro-abortion the default position in many Western cultures? I would suggest that one reason is because of the dominant ethic of freedom and autonomy (self-governance) that has permeated our culture. It is imperative for many people that they ought to have control and governance over their lives and decisions and ought not to be restricted by anyone else in doing what they want with their bodies. This means pregnant women, rightly or wrongly, hold ultimate authority with what happens to their bodies and whether they keep or abort any baby growing in their womb - whether it has moral status or not. It’s a powerful argument and this is why the debate often gets pitted as “Pro-life” vs. “Pro-choice”. I don’t like these terms or this dichotomy as a way of framing the debate because it suggest that those who believe that abortion for convenience is wrong (which I do) are against the liberty of women (which I am not). This is why we need to avoid falling into the trap of making abortion a choice between the life of the baby and the human right of the mother. Christianity says “Both lives matter!” The real issue is determining whether what is in her womb has moral status and worth because it is a human being. Christians aren’t against human rights on this issue, instead we are for establishing what is a “human being” so that we can fight for its rights whether it is an adult mother or a early embryo!
A few final things to consider in terms of how we respond: As much as the abortion debate is a political issue, let’s remember that for many women it is a deeply personal and terrifying issue that they do not consider lightly, no matter what decision they make. Secondly, I think if we are going to oppose abortion publicly we need to be demonstrating as a church that we are prepared to offer a better story. In this sense, the church does just have a social ethic on abortion, it is a social ethic on abortion. We need to show that the church is a place that will support young women, love and care for unwanted children and value those with disabilities and physical abnormalities in order to demonstrate a better story for culture and that such humans have a right to come into existance. If the church becomes recognisable as this kind of community in our culture, perhaps women who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy that has foetal abnormalities may not feel that abortion is their only option because in the community called ‘Christian’ they have become aware of a plausible better way.

(Gareth Black) #12

I completely understand your difficulty Lynne - this is the hardest question of all when it comes to belief in God. It’s important to remember when talking to friends about this topic that this question comes from at least two places: First is the places of observation - looking at the suffering around us and asking how an all-loving and powerful God can possible exist in the light of it. Second - and i would argue far more seriously - is the place of personal experience. Many suffering questions come out of people’s own experience of pain and brokenness and that has to massively influence how we respond to them on this question. If we give people an abstract, philosophical answers (no matter how good) to this question when it is really a question emerging out of personal pain, will be in danger not only of not taking seriously people’s suffering but perhaps even adding to their suffering in doing so. So next time you are asked, maybe respond by asking your friends if there is a particular reason why they are asking this question - that will help you know where to go with your answer!
Any adequate answer to this question would be a long one and there are loads of good resources on youtube in which members of RZIM answer this question. As a starter though, let me give you a few things to consider:

  1. This is not simply a question for Christians. All religions and worldviews (including atheism) have to account for the reality and meaning of suffering in our world. If atheism is true, we cannot even ask the “why?” question because the universe has no ultimate meaning and so even finding ourselves needing to ask such a question is irrelevant and ultimately futile.
  2. Although many natural disasters (like earthquakes and tsunamis) have no direct human causes, not all seemingly “natural” disasters (like famine or disease) are completely “not from human hands”. I know an academic who specialises in disaster management and he often likes to say that, “No natural disaster is completely “natural””. Sometimes diseases and famines can be caused by government exploitation, refusing to implement hygiene initiatives, or affects of this like over-farming or misuse of the eco-system much earlier up the line. Simply because the human cause of disasters are not always apparent doesn’t mean to say that some of these disasters are the products of human selfishness and sin.
  3. The Bible affirms our instinct when we encounter suffering that “something has gone wrong” (unlike atheism). We do not experience the world as God intended and the Fall has impacted every aspect of creation.
  4. Finally, we don’t always know why God permits some disasters and suffering. And when we don’t know the precise reasons why, the real question becomes whether there is any evidence that we should trust God in the face of such pain and brokenness. I think there are good reasons. First because God has not remained distant from human suffering but has become part of it - even to the point of death. And, second, because the Christian God offers us one thing every single person needs in the midst of suffering and disaster (whether it comes by natural or human agency) - HOPE. We all need to believe the no matter how bad the suffering is, no matter how much we understand the reasons behind it, what we need is hope that this suffering will not the be end of the story. Christianity says that suffering won’t be and in raising Jesus from the dead God has proved it. If Jesus truly rose form the dead it means that death (no matter how we encounter it) is not the end, justice will come, and one day the world will be put right and God Himself will wipe the final tears from our eyes. That doesn’t answer every “why?” question but it does for me suggest that God can be trusted in the midst of such a world of suffering, trusted even with my own tears.

(Albin Siby) #13


My question is regarding evangelism.

While dealing with people, those who are religious, and so much as, who kindof like drink relegion, sometimes things could get sensitive.
Like almost all the people of other religions are universalists and Believe that just about everyone by default is on the way to heaven and so assume their dead relatives, deceased closed ones to be Resting in Peace in heaven and are comforted by the fact that they’re in a better place.

But when they’re confronted with the Truths of the Gospel, and especially that JESUS is the only way, it would almost be impossible for them to Believe or accept that their deceased ones are in eternal torment without hope and would reject such a view as it would be requiring them to bear such a huge emotional burden.

And this might be one of a big barrier for them to even consider the Faith.

So, how can one deal with such situations ?

(Abby Narvaez) #14

I recently asked a question to the genl forum on this site which recd no answer. This is the question: “Can anyone provide me a list of churches in the Chicago area that teach exegetical scripture from the pulpit? I have visited many churches who claim they teach this way but fall miserably short. Pastors with little to no biblical training to mega churches who teach topically and take scripture completely out of context. I am feeling very discouraged. I am not looking for the perfect church. I am looking for a community who values and teaches the complexities and simplicities of scripture along with kingdom living spoken so often by Jesus. I have written professors at the major Christian colleges for advise and have been disappointed and surprised they were not able to provide me any leads. Churches like Calvary Chapel Ontario, The Bible Project by Tim Mackie are a couple of examples of the teaching I long for. I can get this teaching online but I long for a church community I can connect with. Please help!”

The lack of response to this question perplexes me. Am I asking the wrong question? Does the type of church we attend really not matter as long as we attend? Do we as believers have common standards when it comes to the quality of the type of preaching from our churches? Should pastors have a minumum level of education in both scripture and pastoring?

(Lynne) #15


Wow, such a great explanation. Thank you for taking the time to answer this very puzzling question for me. Listening to Ravi on YouTube has been a great help to me.

Bless you

Lynne Tomarelli

Lynne Tomarelli

(Isaiah J. Armstrong) #16

Thank you @garethwilliamblack

That’s exactly the type of advice I needed. I appreciate your wisdom on the issue.

(Bill Brander) #17

Good day Gareth, Carson kicked us with:

One doubt which I still wrestle with is what we [apologists?] term, “The moral law giver”. I’m not sure about this. I still think that morals are from our culture. I say this as a person living in a cross cultural society. My morals and those of some of my colleagues are opposite poles. If our morality is from God, surely we must all share the same morals? I echo the father who cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.”

(Gareth Black) #18

Hi Kiran
I am sorry that this is your experience of the civil service culture. Unfortunately, it can be a common experience for people in the corridors of power and, in fact, the Bible highlights the issue of integrity and ethics in the work place a lot. I have never worked in this kind of context, so I don’t want to be too prescriptive in offering advice. Here are a few principles that I have found helpful, however, when wrestling with such questions:

  • Your ultimate purpose in your job is to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”. In other words, your number 1 consideration and authority needs to be to see God as your ultimate boss and to conduct your business affairs in a manner that He calls “righteous”. Most of the time, there is no disparity between what God expects of us and what our bosses expect of us. Occasionally, however, our bosses ask us to do things and conduct ourselves in a way that betrays our allegiance to Jesus Christ. At that point, you have a decision to make about who is the ultimate authority that you will obey. I find that Jesus’ words “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God” (Luke 20:25) very helpful here. Again, many times you won’t need to choose between the authority figures in your life and work (the Caesars) and God, but occasionally they will make demands of you that compromise your loyalty to what God says is right. At that point, Christians must choose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 4:19) and face any consequences that earthly authorities may throw at us - even if it means losing our jobs.
  • The Bible talks about these kinds of challenges a lot, particularly in the early parts of the book of Daniel. Daniel and his friends we civil servants also. They were brilliant men who worked hard and excelled themselves even in service to foreign country and morally questionable ruler. And they did so precisely because they knew that it is a Christian ethic to work hard and do our best in our jobs - that is what God expects of us. Many times they were not asked to choose between God and serving the kind but every now and again they were and they choose to obey God. Doing so certainly had consequences for them: As punishment, they were thrown into a fiery furnace and a den of lions with no prior promise that God would rescue them and yet God vindicated their loyalty to Him and this loyalty became a huge witness even to the king! So you are not alone in this battle my friend. You follow in the footsteps of many great men and women who, when forced into an ultimatum, chose to obey God over men. I pray that you will follow their example and, if you do, God will honour and vindicate you. It may even be a powerful witness to others! That doesn’t mean that you might not face some consequences or even lose your job. 1 Peter 3 says that it is possible to suffer even for doing what is ultimately right. But it does mean you will have learned the ultimate lesson for why we work - to seek God’s rule and reign in our lives FIRST and obey him over all other authorities and power, and God will honour you for your faithfulness.
  • Read 1 Peter 3:10-17 and have a think about how it applies to your situation.

Thanks for your excellent question!

(Gareth Black) #19

Dear Abby

Thanks for your question. I’m sorry that you haven’t had much uptake in response.
Unfortunately, as someone who grew up in Ireland and has never been to Chicago, I fear that I am not going to be much help to you. I think you are right to look for a solid bible teaching church. It is certainly not all that you need to consider when finding a new church but, personally, good bible teaching would be a non-negotiable for me when joining a church. I have taken the liberty of asking your question to my colleague Sam Allberry who would be more familiar with Chicago churches. He mentioned Park Community Church and Trinity Church (Pastor David Helm), so perhaps these are some to consider? Sam also mentioned that The Gospel Coalition website have a “Church Finder” facility so it might be helpful to check this out and see what comes up in the Chicago area.
Hope this is useful.


Thank you for your answer. I feel that is from GOD. :blush:

(Mary) #21

First,I appreciate the time and attention to precision with which each questioner is answered.
Tonight, in studying Roman’s 7 at youth group, we came to a question of whether temptation and the desire that the temptation “came to town on” are the same or sin? Temptation in itself is not sin, we agreeed as Scripture shows in Jesus’ life. How might you distinguish the two and help clarify the right/wrong for those? The examples immediately brought up in our group were same-sex attraction and slander.

(Gareth Black) #22

Great question Bill and thanks for being willing to share one of your doubts (it sets a healthy precedent!). We want these digital spaces to be places were people can feel free to be open about their doubts.
Regarding your question, philosophers like to distinguish between “Objective” morality (the idea that there are things that are ethically right or wrong for all people, in all places, at all times and regardless of how we individually or as a society feel about it) and “Subjective” morality (the idea that morals are basically individually or socially constructed i.e. whatever we personally or as a society believe is right or wrong is then right or wrong “for us” - but not necessarily for all people across all times). When then philosophers or apologists talk about a “moral law giver” they are talking in the “objective” sense of morality. In other words, if there is such a thing as “objective moral laws” then there must be some basis for this objective morality - it must come from somewhere/someone. Moral laws don’t come from no where, they have to be conceived in a mind(s) and then revealed. Either that mind is our own mind and/or the collective minds of society (in which case it is subjective morality and not objective morality, and there is therefore no basis for saying that other human minds or societal minds who think differently about what is moral are any less right/wrong). Or what is moral is not constructed in our’s or society’s mind but transcends to us from a mind and law-giver outside of ourselves (i.e. God). So when Christians challenge atheists about their belief that morality is culturally constructed, they are NOT saying that non-Christians cannot be moral. Far from it. When Dostoyevski in The Brothers Karamazov wrote that “if God does not exist everything is permitted” he didn’t mean that people who don’t believe in God cannot be good. What he meant was that there was no ultimate BASIS for why any morality is more authoritative than another morality. If morality is all just a product of the human/cultural mind then there is no rational basis on which we can say that any other human/cultural mind that subscribes to a completely different (perhaps antithetical) morality is objectively “wrong” because, at the end of the day, its all just the product of human preference and why should any human preference be more authoritative than another? But if morality is created in God’s mind and beyond every human mind, then there is a real objective basis for saying that some behaviours are wrong, always wrong and wrong for everyone.
So if thats the case, then your question is really important: If morality is transcendent then why do human beings not all have the same ethics? Why do we appear to have such different morals? Let me finish by offering the beginnings of an answer:

  • Although there are a lot of ethics that we disagree on (sexuality etc), human beings and societies across history and cultures have perhaps had more of a similar ethical compass than it might now appear. The fact that we have such a universe moral compass (a conscience or intuitive sense of right and wrong) at all is remarkable for beings with free-will who don’t just act on instinct like animals. Of course we disagree on some ethical questions but the fact that we experience morality at all is not a given in secular philosophy. And when it comes to things like murder, rape, infanticide, extreme racism etc the vast majority of humans do have a common ethical code and do believe that these issues are not just about personal preference. For me this is evidence that each human being is made in the image of God and capable of very ethical living, even if they don’t believe in God or have an objective reason for such morality within their worldview.
  • Genesis 3 and Romans 1 make very clear that, since the Fall, all humans have both the opportunity and the tendency to “suppress the truth” and reconstruct morality in our own image and mind rather than take seriously what God says is right. And (amazingly!) God in his love and patience is willing to let us do so! God has not made us robots who can only operate according to his ethical instructions but rather has given us REAL freedom to choose whether we will listen to his word and law, or deny it and construct our own. This would then account for why people hold such radically different moral positions, even though objective morality, and an ultimate moral law giver, exist and has revealed his ethics to us. We cannot assume that simply because God has made His morality known to us, and that we have the capacity in Christ to live by it, that we will always do so. On the contrary, Romans 8:7 says that the “mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God, it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” The issue is that, even though objective morality exists, we do not want to acknowledge or obey God and so in rejecting him we created our own morals because society cannot live without some morals. These morals can be similar to God’s morals or radically different but no matter how similar or diverse the problem with humanity is that we do not want acknowledge God behind them. We now find ourselves a long way in history from Genesis, so humanity has had a long time to creatively construct morality that denies God and those ideas affect us all at different levels.
  • So if I discover people in my life who have radically different morals than I do, it does not undermine my faith in God. If anything, it strengthens it because this is exactly what God’s word tells me that i should expect in a fallen world. The real question is not whether people have morals or not, the bigger question is whether our morals are true - not just “true for me” or “true for our society” but objectively true. My experience has been that there are at least some things that most rational people will accept must be right or wrong for everyone. If that’s the case, it must mean that morality is not just a human construct but transcendent. And that means it transcend from a mind and “law giver” that exists beyond us. And the most likely candidate for that role? God.
    Hope this helps in some way.