Ask Logan Gates (May 18-22, 2020)

Hello, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM friends!
This coming week we are excited to welcome @Logan_Gates back to the forum for a week of Q&A about faith and life.

Logan is an itinerant speaker with RZIM Canada. He earned a master’s degree in theology at the University of Oxford alongside two years of study at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics. Logan’s passion is to help others encounter God by exploring the big questions in life.

Topics he often tackles include “Why Would a Loving God Judge Me?” “Why Trust the Bible?” and “Finding Unity in a Culture of Division.” Logan also speaks Spanish (shout-out to @ApologistasHispanos!) and French, and speaks at universities and churches both in Canada and abroad. He lives in Toronto where he loves to surf, drink tea, and cook with his lovely wife, Samantha.

As always, do ask your questions below! :arrow_down:

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Logan, thank you for taking the time to answer questions.
I am exploring what it really means to find one’s identity in Christ, and was wondering if you had any recommended resources?

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Hey Logan,

I’ve listened to a number of RZIM speakers and something that comes up often is identity, like the question above. I’ve heard a number of Michael Ramsden’s talks, and he mentions that identifying as a Christian is not about what you do, think, or feel, but it is about who you are. This makes sense to me on an intellectual level but what does this look like practically? What would you recommend for me, someone who loves the idea of Being a Christian rather than doing it, but doesn’t know how to get there other than with his mind.

Thanks

David

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Dear David,

Thank you for this question. I think it’s perhaps the most important question that we can ask as Christians. I don’t know which talk of Michael’s you’re referring to in particular, but I think I understand what you’re asking – that it’s one thing to say that being a Christian isn’t something we do, it’s something we are, but how does that translate into real life when we experience life at the levels of doing, thinking, and feeling!

I think the richest way into this question might be through reflecting on the Christian doctrine of adoption. Paul writes in Romans 8:15, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul echoes this teaching elsewhere (Ephesians 1:5 and Galatians 4:5-7) and we see it in Jesus’ own teaching as well: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." (John 14:18).

Adoption of course has to do with a change of legal status; it has to do with who we “are” – it’s a change at the level of identity, in terms of what family we belong to. An orphaned child goes from being without a family to belonging to one from the moment the adoption papers are signed. It’s a beautiful illustration of the Gospel because, for the orphaned child, the change of status does not depend on his or her actions, but rather wholly rests on the actions of the one doing the adopting, to bring the child into the family. We all are, by nature, alienated from God because of our sin, but God through Christ’s perfect life and alienation on our behalf on the cross, has adopted us into His family. This comes with a new identity – we belong to God, and we are “sons.” Tim Keller has helped me see that Paul’s language of “sons” and not “sons and daughters” is actually intentional and, far from being misogyny, reflects the very opposite; it would have been deeply encouraging to the first century woman, because at that time only the sons in the family had all of the rights to the inheritance. Paul is saying, when we become adopted by God, we are adopted with the full rights to the inheritance He promises us (Romans 8:17). What a thought.

But being adopted – having that change to our identity – should become then the source of the change in our lives, at the level of our doing, feeling, and thinking. Keller has a wonderful sermon illustration of this that I haven’t been able to find a link to, but I’ll share it here. He suggested we imagine what it would look like for a child from the streets to be adopted into the royal family. The moment the papers are signed, the child now belongs to this new family. There has been a change of status. However, it’s likely that the child will continue behaving in the same ways he had behaved on the streets – he might be used to scrounging around for food, never knowing when his next meal would come, so he might start doing that in the palace. Of course, it would be silly for him to do that now – he’s a prince (if he’s now a son of the king), with access to the king’s table! He’s taken care of, but his behaviour doesn’t change automatically because of his new status. If his new parents caught him scrounging in the palace pantry, they might sit down with him and say something like, “You know, you don’t need to scrounge for food like that any more – we’re taking care of you.” One might say, the task ahead for this child is now to “become who he now is” – to step into his new identity, and to change the way he lives. But the change will be driven by the security that the new identity brings.

So also, I think for the Christian, the source of real change in our lives will stem from our dwelling on, on a daily basis, the new secure identity we have in Christ. We don’t need to “scrounge” around desperately grasping for a sense of identity in the ways we did before we were believers, whether in relationships, success in our vocations, financial security, how we look, how fit we are, etc. We are taken care of now. What lies ahead of us is now to become who we are – to begin living out of our new identity in Christ. Practically, this might look like catching ourselves when we find ourselves going back to the ways we lived before, repenting and receiving God’s grace, and praying that God would assure us and remind us of the security we now have in Christ. From that point we must take small steps of obedience, by faith, trusting that God, by His Spirit, is committed now to making us into something new, and that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

In terms of resources, I think Keller has a chapter on identity in his book Making Sense of God that would have much of this content, but I also might just recommend a deep study on Romans 8; Martyn Lloyd Jones has a fantastic sermon series on Romans that has been a huge encouragement to my faith – you might check out his volume on Romans 8:5-17.

I hope that’s helpful David!

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Thank you, this is very helpful. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to answer my question.

David

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Hola, @Logan_Gates. Si alguien te dice que el cristianismo es verdad para ti, pero no para él, ¿qué le responderías (en español)? Gracias.

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Dear @Logan_Gates, thank you for your time to shade some light for us. I have few questions outlined below.

  1. Many scholars argue on which letters or books of the bibles are credible in the new testament and the question pretty much lies on the “Why Trust the Bible.” Some people blame translational errors. How do you respond to that. I realize it is not an easy question but since we have you, I asked.

  2. What are your thoughts about sola scripture vs the rest. The scripture itself tells us that not everything that Christ did or that was done is recorded in the bible. If it was, no book would contain it. Where is the compromise, and if there should even be a compromise.

  3. The disagreement on the number of books in OT (orthodox vs catholic vs protestant), how do we go about it.

Thank you so much.
God Bless You

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Dear Dan,

Thank you for your questions! They are questions that are foundational to the Christian faith, because they deal with the foundation of Scripture itself.

To your first question, if I understand you rightly, you’re asking particularly about the charge that some make that there have been translational errors in the Bible – particularly with the New Testament, you specify – and so we cannot trust it as a result. Some raise this objection under the impression that the Bibles we hold in our hands today are a translation of a translation of a translation, etc., which makes us think of the game “telephone” and how unreliable a message is if it has been passed along over and over. This, however, is simply not how modern translations of the Bible work. When it comes to the major translations like the NIV or ESV, they are the product of a committee of scholars who go back to the earliest manuscripts we have found (in ancient Greek, in the case of the New Testament) and who base their modern translations off them. There is no chain of translations in this case. From all the reading I’ve done (and I’ll include some sources at the bottom), it seems the scholarly consensus is that the New Testament documents were all originally written in Greek, so in terms of “translation” there is really only one translation that is happening – from koine Greek into the modern day language. Often what accounts for differences between different translations is that they’re using different early manuscripts – sometimes because we’re continuing to discover earlier manuscripts, and sometimes because there is a lack of scholarly consensus as to which manuscripts are the earliest or most authoritative; but again, most modern English translations will add little footnotes if there are variant readings. The vast majority of these variants are of little or no substantive importance (often relating to things like word order or spelling), but the ones that are perhaps more significant (like the alternate ending to Mark’s Gospel, or the scene of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery in John’s Gospel) are noted (or footnoted) in most modern translations.

Now, it’s worth saying that the earliest manuscripts we have found are not the “autographs” – that is, the original writings of the actual authors. Among the earliest manuscripts we have are the Rylands Papyri (with manuscripts of John’s Gospel from around 100-150 AD) and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri (the earliest from around 150AD), which I actually had the chance to handle for myself in Oxford’s Sackler Library while I was a graduate student. Given that John was probably written around 90AD, this means that these manuscripts are not the originals, but rather copies, and in this case, perhaps copies of copies. But, we have good historical reasons to trust that these copies are reliable and faithful to the original documents. One such reason is that history shows us how the Jews, in transmitting the Old Testament, had an elaborate, careful process to make sure there weren’t scribal errors. It was God’s word after all! The possibility of human error isn’t something we’ve just realized in the 21st century. Josh McDowell’s ministry has an article about that process here. A second historical reason that attests to the reliability of that very careful process is what we learned from the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before they were discovered and catalogued, there was significant scholarly doubt regarding the reliability of the Old Testament in particular – we simply didn’t have very many old manuscripts of it. The Dead Sea Scrolls was a uniquely early collection of Old Testament manuscripts that showed themselves remarkably consistent with the Old Testament manuscripts we had from centuries later. In this sense the Dead Sea Scrolls served as a sort of “case study” attesting to the reliability of the Jewish scribal process, giving us a “before” and “after” a period of transmission and showing us surprising consistency, even across hundreds of years (which gives us valid reasons to trust that in the span of 60 years, say, in between the writing of John and our first manuscript, there weren’t the kind of changes some people suspect).

But a third reason why the “copying” process doesn’t trouble most ancient historians is that, in the case of the New Testament, we have so many copies! This is significant because, if someone were to try to “change” the New Testament documents, you would have to collect all the existing copies, destroy them, and then reissue your version. You’d have to try to make sure that not a single earlier manuscript escaped; otherwise, people could recognize the changes you made in your version. Something like this seems to have happened with the variant copies of the Qur’an under the caliph Uthman. But there is no such history with Christianity. Instead, the abundance of early manuscripts of the New Testament, in various languages across a wide geographic spread, tells historians that actually it would have been very hard to gather up all the versions and change them all. We do see some variants among the early manuscripts, but by and large these only serve to strengthen our confidence in the original version. To illustrate, we could imagine I asked a hundred people to copy out by hand this paragraph I’m writing now. There would certainly be some errors (especially since we don’t have the rich scribal tradition inherited from the Jews!), but it’s very unlikely all the errors would be the same. People would make errors in different places, but that would mean for any given error in one copy you’d then likely see the correct version in the other ninety-nine copies, so you could see the error for what it is. Scholars tell us there are as many as 24,000 early manuscripts of the New Testament from the first few centuries of Christian history. That huge number helps historians be more confident that the version of the Bible we have in our pews is indeed the version that was penned by the New Testament authors themselves.

I hope this is helpful Dan, at least as an answer to your first question! I’m not a Biblical scholar, so I’ll refer you to the experts for your own reading. I would check out books like, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament by Craig Blomberg, Can we Trust the Gospels? by Peter Williams, and Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham. At the more popular level, Lee Strobel’s Case for Christ has been a classic for me, as well as Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Here’s also a neat little video a friend of mine put together on this question here.

I’ll see if I can get to your other questions later this week!

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Definitely is. Thank you so much. Will dive into the resources.

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Hola Emilio,

Gracias por la pregunta. Es una que es muy común donde yo vivo en Canadá. Ravi siempre nos acuerda que debemos tener en cuenta la persona detrás de la pregunta, y creo que esto es particularmente relevante para esta pregunta. En mi experiencia encuentro que muchos tienen esta pregunta porque sienten que la fe cristiana es demasiado exclusiva, y como consecuencia, arrogante. Hay tantas religiones en el mundo – ¿Cómo puedes estar seguro que la tuya es la correcta? Parece ofensivo.

Andy Bannister tiene un par de ilustraciones que me han ayudado mucho a reflexionar sobre esta pregunta. La primera es ésta – voy a un bufé y alguien me dice que, a pesar de todas las opciones, tengo que limitarme a la ensalada. Con razón decimos que esa persona es exclusiva, cerrada, y de mente estrecha. ¿Pero por qué? Porque, en un bufé, es solo cuestión de preferencias.

Pero Andy ofrece también otra ilustración. Imaginemos que vas al médico porque te sientes mal, y el médico te dice que estás muy enfermo – estás por morir. Tú le preguntas al médico qué se puede hacer, y el médico abre un gabinete lleno de pastillas, de varios tamaños y colores. Entonces el médico te dice, toma – busca algunas y tómalas. Tú respondes, “Pero parecen diferentes, ¿no? ¿Cuáles debo tomar?” El médico te dice, “Sí, claro, son diferentes, hacen varias cosas, pero mira, no quiero imponer mi opinión sobre ti. Me considero un médico inclusivo y tolerante.” ¿Qué harías tú? Buscarías a un nuevo médico, claro. No es intolerante cuando un médico te da una prescripción para un medicamento. Es lo que esperamos de los médicos. Solo de esa manera nos pueden ayudar.

¿Qué es la diferencia entre el bufé y las pastillas? En cuanto al bufé, se trata de preferencias. En cuanto a las pastillas, se trata de la verdad; no todas las pastillas te van a ayudar. La pregunta es entonces, ¿en cuál categoría está la religión? ¿Estamos hablando de preferencias, o estamos hablando de qué es la verdad?

Jesús afirma ser “el camino, la verdad, y la vida.” Dice que solo venimos al Padre “por” él. En otras palabras, Jesús está diciendo que, al nivel de la “religión,” la verdad sí existe, pero “la verdad” no es que todas las religiones son iguales. Como en la ilustración del médico, Jesús nos da un diagnóstico serio de nuestra situación – que sin él, no hay manera de venir a Dios Padre. Pero Jesús nos da también una “prescripción”; no nos da nada impersonal como una pastilla – nos da una persona, viva y real, quien nos ama, quien ha muerto por nosotros, quien quiere cambiar nuestras vidas para que seamos conformes a su imagen, y quien quiere estar con nosotros para la eternidad. Esta “verdad” no es algo que tenemos que creer con una fe ciega – hay muy buenas razones para creer que la fe cristiana es verdad, proviniendo de la ciencia, la historia, y la filosofía.

A la persona quien me ha hecho la pregunta, tal vez le lanzaría otra, ¿Qué te impide de creer en Jesús? ¿Has investigado las razones que hay para creer en Él? ¿Qué opinas de su diagnóstico de la condición humana, y la solución que nos ofrece en Él?

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Hi Logan!

Thanks for the work you are doing and will continue to do. I am a medical student in the US and we are beginning to study medical ethics. After reading the first chapter of our book “Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Medicine,” I realized that many of the ideas in there (namely, assisted suicide, medical futility) do not align with Christian ethics and I was wondering if you could recommend a book or two on Christian ethics, Christian medical ethics and/or bioethics from a Christian perspective. Thanks in advance!

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I have wrestled with the question, “how do I know what the Holy Spirit is showing me?” I sometimes think it is my mind playing tricks on me. I desire to please God, not only in my walk but also where I work.

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Dear Patti,

Thank you for this sincere, beautiful question. I love your heart to want to please God not only in your walk, but where you work. I want more of a heart for those things too.

I have just two quick thoughts I’ll share. First, while I was gathering thoughts to answer Dan’s question, above, I was struck by Jesus’ words about the psalms, where he says that David was “speaking by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 10:36). This is something we see in other parts of the New Testament (2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16-17), but it was precious to see it in the words of our Saviour as well. This just was a reminder to me that the primary way we as believers hear the Holy Spirit is through reading God’s Word. That’s the revelation of the Spirit that we can be most confident in, though it’s not the only direction the Spirit gives.

I think when it comes to discerning about what the Holy Spirit says beyond (though not against) Scripture, a passage like 1 Corinthians 14 comes to mind, which touches on the topic of prophecy. Giving instruction about orderly worship, Paul writes, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29). I love this because Paul is valuing the gift of prophecy, but he’s also valuing the need for the Church community to “weigh” and discern whether a prophecy really is from God, by the Holy Spirit, or whether it is not. Paul acknowledges here that it is possible for us to mishear God. I can think of a few occasions in my life where I thought God was telling me something, but looking back, I’m not so sure anymore. This is where our brothers and sisters, and the guardrails of Scripture, can be a real help to us when it comes to hearing the Holy Spirit speaking to us today.

I hope that’s helpful as a start, Patti! I pray God would continue to grow your heart for him and your desire to yield your ever hour to him! Ravi’s passing has put that on my heart recently.

Logan

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Hi Dan,

You’re right that John 21:25 says that “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” If I understand you right, you’re raising the question, how did the books for the New Testament get chosen? Would any book that talked about Jesus’ deeds be included? How do we decide what the “scriptura” is in “sola scriptura”?

I love this question because it gets us thinking not just about the Bible as a historical document (although it is!) but also about the idea of the Bible being “God’s Word.”

A book that’s been key in my thinking through this is a volume edited by DA Carson called Scripture and Truth, which came out back in the days when there were a lot of conversations about what does it mean that the Bible is “inerrant” (still an important question today!). That book introduced me to the idea that Christians should take their view of the Bible, from Jesus’ view of the Bible. After all, if Jesus really was God – we need to take seriously what he had to say! And Jesus had things to say about the Bible. Of course, “the Bible” for Jesus was the Hebrew Scriptures, so we’ll have to start there.

When we look at what Jesus said about the Hebrew Scriptures, we see he had an immensely high view of them. He says things like “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), he tells us that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law” (Matthew 5:18-19). Jesus says that David, in writing the psalms was “speaking by the Holy Spirit” (Mark 10:36). We see Jesus quoting from all the major sections of Hebrew Scriptures – Torah, Psalms, Prophets (even lesser prophets like Jonah!) – and throughout treating it as God’s word and utterly authoritative.

But we also see Jesus anticipate the writing of another Scriptures. In John 16, he tells the disciples about the coming of the Spirit. Now, because we know the Spirit comes to all believers, we know that much of what Jesus says in this passage applies to all Christians. Nevertheless, I think a good case can be made that one part of Jesus’ teaching about the Spirit was meant for the apostles especially; Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13). In this verse, many have argued that Jesus is giving the apostles a special authority to write a new Scripture; he is promising that the Spirit will guide the apostles in a particularly special way.

I think by way of evidence that this is what Jesus meant, we can see that the New Testament authors saw themselves and one another as writing Scripture. Paul writes, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit.” We know Peter saw Paul’s letters as inspired Scripture; in 2 Peter 3:16 he writes, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” We see, in turn, Paul in 1 Timothy 5:18 quoting from Luke 10:7 and treating it as Scripture, “For the Scripture says… the laborer deserves his wages.”

As the early church discerned which texts were included in the Bible, one of their key criteria (based on passages like this one) was whether the text could be traced to the testimony of an apostle, who had seen Christ risen from the dead. It’s worth noting that this would include the writings of Paul, “the least of the apostles” (1 Cor 15:9), as well as books like Mark, which though not written by an apostle were based on an apostle’s testimony (Peter in this case). The early church also looked at criteria such as non-contradiction (whether the text fits with the Old Testament), catholicity (whether the text was accepted across the whole Christian world, and not just a particular region), inspiration (whether there is evidence of self-attestation as inspired text), and how early the text was written. The canonization of the New Testament did not happen at Nicea in 325 under Constantine’s heavy hand – as is sometimes said – but was rather a gradual process culminating with Synod of Hippo in 393AD. But to see an early example of this process in progress, check out the Muratorian Fragment possibly dating from as early as 170AD, which included a list of 20+ books now in the New Testament. It was encouraging to my faith to learn that, even from the perspective of the most skeptical scholars today, the earliest accounts we have of Jesus are those that are in the New Testament. The other books that didn’t “make the cut,” like the Gospel of Thomas, were all written later (sometimes much later) and don’t meet the other criteria the early church used. I’m finding the more I learn about the history of the Bible, the more confident I am becoming about its historical validity, as well as its validity as the Holy Scripture that God, by his Spirit, sovereignly put together.

In terms of your question on the differences in terms of the versions of the Old Testament used by Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, here’s a response written on that coming from a Protestant perspective. I believe, again, a guiding principle for us is what Jesus would have considered the Hebrew Scriptures to contain.

I hope that’s helpful, Dan. Thanks again for your great questions. Sorry for writing you a book!

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Thank you Logan. I asked a tough subject, thank you for the detailed answer.

God Bless

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Dear Gabrielle,

I’m so encouraged you’re wanting to bring your studies alongside your faith. We have such a need for Christians who understand the medical field from the inside to lead us as the Church in thinking through these tough questions. Because I’m not an expert on these questions, I reached out to a friend of our ministry who is also currently a medical student, and who has given a lot of thought to these questions. He gave me permission to share what he wrote with you here:

"It’s hard to recommend a single book on Christian (bio)ethics. One of the best places to begin would be The Public Discourse website, in their archives on bioethics articles. Their stances on contemporary issues are generally very sound, though usually argued from a “philosophical” rather than a “theological” perspective (which actually may be helpful from a medical student’s perspective).

For an excellent overview of what it means to practice medicine as a Christian (though mostly devoid of specific bioethical issues like abortion), there are two books by the great Edmund Pellegrino and David Thomasma, The Christian Virtues in Medical Practice and Helping and Healing: Religious Commitment in Health Care.

Specific book recommendations depend on the topic. The best book I’ve read on understanding the Christian historical and theological position against assisted suicide is sadly out of print, but readily available from AbeBooks, Darrel Amundsen’s A Different Death."

I might also add, on the issue of assisted suicide, Vaughan Roberts has written a book on that topic (though as a pastor, not a physician), which I have not read, but which I imagine would be solid and helpful.

Hope that’s helpful Gabrielle. May the Lord bless your studies and give you great wisdom in living out your vocation as a follower of Christ. So thankful you’re doing what you’re doing!

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Hi Logan,
I read your responds to dan about all the books that was not included in the bible. And I noticed that you didn’t mention the book of Enoch. So I’m just curious what is your understanding of the book of Enoch and why it wasn’t added also. Hope this question reaches you in time.
Thank you for sharing your time and wisdom with us.

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