Ask Matthew Mittelberg (July 8-12, 2019)

Hello, friends! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)
I am very pleased to announce that @matthew_mittelberg will be back in the hot seat this coming week, fielding your questions about faith, life, and obstacles to belief.

Matt is a fulltime OCCA Fellow more recently based in Boston, MA, but now in Atlanta, GA. He was raised in an environment of apologetics and evangelism as his father, Mark Mittelberg, writes and teaches in these areas. He earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurial business from Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. During his time there, he started and led the Defenders Apologetics Club for three years and was in a number of leadership roles including Servant Scholar and Senior Senator.

Matthew received his certificate of theological studies from Wycliffe Hall and was trained at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA). He has spoken at universities, churches, societies, and training events, and has led international mission trips in Europe and Asia.

Matthew loves competing in ultimate frisbee, eating Japanese food, and spending time with his friends. He’s passionate about helping people understand that faith in God makes sense, removing barriers to belief, and personally introducing others to Jesus.

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Hello Matthew!! I would like to ask how faith and science can go hand in hand. Thank you.

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Hi Matthew, I hope that my question is in order because I am 'picking it up; from another forum in RZIM. It is asking how to introduce apologetics into a church body/community.
My senior pastor views apologetics as a debating tool, not an evangelistic one so I cannot just ‘do it’. Somehow he has to change his mindset, but that’s God’s department not mine.
Thank you
Bill

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Hi Matthew, I have a question on the Doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved”. Does doctrine also applies to Christians who commit violence, murder and rape. Or Christians will “never” commit such crime and those commiting them aren’t Christian. Or they are Christian but the doctrine doesn’t apply to them, they are bound to damnation when judged if they don’t repent.

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Hi Simon, this is a fun topic. John Lennox has a new book out on this topic called Can Science Explain Everything?

In brief, some of the “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins would like to say that faith is anti-science, or that Christianity and science contradict each other. But that doesn’t seem to be the case at all, for a few reasons:

  1. Many of the most important, most influential scientists throughout history were Christians. People like Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Babbage, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, and Clerk Maxwell, just to name a few, were all theists and most were Christians. These scientists weren’t hindered by their faith in God—many of them stat that it was their main motivation! They expected order in the universe, and then they went out and found it. If these men were atheistic, and didn’t expect an order in the universe, it’s questionable whether we would have the level of advancement we have today.

  2. Many scientists today are Christians. For example, most Nobel Prize winners have been Christians (https://godevidence.com/2019/06/the-many-christians-crucial-to-science/?fbclid=IwAR0W5aCI8uZtIBimrpWBXcZGCkFWhQXkD2I-iufqbHxMipeyLrxCqpQB-fI).

Most physicians believe in God. (https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20041220005244/en/Science-Miracle-Holiday-Season-Survey-Reveals-Physicians)

And many other top minds like Francis Collins, John Lennox, or Alister McGrath, are strong Christians.

  1. How vs. Why – Sometimes the misunderstanding comes from the fact that science and Christianity often are trying to answer two different questions. Science can often answer the how, but almost never the why. So science points to the big bang as the event where the universe came into existence out of nothing. But why did this happen? How does something come from nothing? Science doesn’t answer this question. Christianity can provide a rational answer to this question that fits with the evidence we already have (information proceeds from minds).

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’ll leave it there for now. Does that answer your question? If not, let me know and we can talk more about it!

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Hi, Matthew!
To start off, I just want to say I really admire the work you and your father have contributed to the apologetics world. Your father has also been kind enough to contribute on some polls I have done on my Twitter page (@someapologist) and I am extremely grateful for that.

Recently, a former Christian who deconverted after graduating from a Christian university, has started to interact with me on Twitter and my Periscope streams. We both mutually ask one other for advice on different topics and we have a good correspondence overall. He is beginning to write the story of his deconversion and one line particularly stood out to me. He says, “It was difficult for me to come to terms with the reality that my best friend, who I thought was the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, was a figment of my imagination.”

Now, as a current psychology major, that last phrase struck me. How can we show that our experiences with the Holy Spirit aren’t simply the result of the powerful and creative minds we possess?
My main question for you really boils down to: how would you respond to this assertion that our relationships and experiences with Jesus in life are simply a figment of imagination? Is there any way to show that they are genuine?

With thanks,
Karsten Friske

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Thank you :smiley: . It does answer my question. However, I have doubts with the reason that some of the most important, influential scientists throughout history were Christians. Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, and many of the other scientists were in a time where not much scientific advancement and knowledge that we acknowledge today are present. Additionally, for some of the scientists mentioned, it is a time where Christianity seemed the only intellectual option out there without being feared of heresy or blasphemy. In other words, it seems like there is no diversity of beliefs. How would you respond? Thank you :smiley:.

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Hi Karsten, wow thank you for the encouragement! I’m just getting started, but I’m also very thankful for my dad’s work in the apologetics world. Glad you’re doing what you do on your twitter and periscope—we need more people contributing in this vital arena!

I also love hearing about your relationship with this lost friend. So often our world assumes that people who disagree cannot be friends, but it seems like you’re able to continue the conversation without unnecessarily pushing him away. Bravo!

Psychology is important, but by definition it only studies what happens within the mind, so it shouldn’t be the main method to speak to the reality or falsehood of things outside of it. When Freud or others attribute belief in God to the desire for a father figure, they overreach when they say that must mean that God doesn’t exist. God may have simply designed us to desire a heavenly father—which seems pretty reasonable if he created us for relationship with him!

Also as a side-note, the book Faith of the Fatherless points out that most of the notable atheists throughout history have had absent or abusive fathers. Perhaps their ardent desire for there not to be a God was partially motivated by their own experience?

Ultimately our beliefs don’t create reality. No matter how hard I believe in God, if He’s not there, I won’t cause him to exist. And no matter how hard an atheist disbelieves in God, if He is there, He won’t cease to exist. We need to ask the question, “What is true about reality?”

So when it comes to answering that question, we need to look at the evidence. Fortunately, the evidence is very strong for the existence of God, and the truth of the Christian faith. In my father’s book, Confident Faith, he builds a cumulative case for this with 20 arrows of truth that point toward the cross. These include evidences like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, the fine tuning of the universe, the historical evidence for the resurrection, fulfilled prophecies in the Bible, and more. When we examine these arguments, doing our best to remove our biases and motivations and to look at it with an open mind, it seems to me to be overwhelmingly clear that the God of the Bible is real. I don’t know the specifics of why your friend stopped believing, but if he’s never taken the time to consider each of these reasons (and their cumulative weight in pointing toward Christianity), I would encourage him to do so.

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Hi Simon, thanks for the follow-up. I think you’re right that it may have been difficult for some of these men not to wear the label of Christian in their contexts. But from what we know about these men, it wasn’t just a label they used to justify their real work as scientists, but actually the motivation to do good science.

For example, Johannes Kepler said “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God, and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

Or Galileo believed that the Creator who had “endowed us with senses, reason and intellect” intended us not to “forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them.”

That’s just two examples, but there are many more. These men were deeply committed to God and this didn’t hinder their ability to be incredibly influential scientists.

Also it’s helpful to point out that science itself requires a kind of faith that doesn’t seem to make sense in an atheistic universe. Albert Einstein said, “The eternal mystery of the world is its comprehensibility…The fact that it is comprehensible is a miracle”

What does Einstein mean by this? Atheist and Nobel Prize winning Physicist Sheldon Glashow explained this further when he stated, “Many scientists are deeply religious in one way or another, but all of them have a certain rather peculiar faith—they have a faith in the underlying simplicity of nature; a belief that nature is, after all, comprehensible and that one should strive to understand it as much as we can…[this belief] is completely irrational and completely unjustifiable.”

Now to atheists like Glashow, it’s irrational and unjustifiable, but not to the Christian who expects God to organize the world in a rational way, it makes perfect sense. As physicist Paul Davies has said, “Science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview…even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith the existence of a law-like order in nature that is at least in part comprehensible to us.”

If you’re interested in reading more about the history of science and Christianity, the book Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? is fantastic. Check it out!

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Hi Kenny,

My main guiding book on sin in the Christian life is 1 John. It acknowledges the fact that Christians will sin when it says:

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

Christians don’t stop sinning when they’re saved. Romans 7 also speaks to this fact.
However, 1 John also makes it clear that when someone becomes a Christian, something changes within them. They are born again, and the new life within them will inevitably prevent them from continually living a lifestyle of sin. To me, this seems to be an irreversible change that will eventually result in complete holiness (Philippians 1:6).

"Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him…No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.”

I think it’s easy for us to point out the really “serious” sins and say that no Christian could ever commit them. But Jesus raised the standard for what sin is when he said that anyone who hates his brother has committed murder in his heart, and anyone who lusts has committed adultery in his heart. 1 John agrees with this when it states “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it (James 2:10). So while most people don’t commit murder, we’ve all broken God’s holy law in one way or another, which the Bible says is just as serious. When we sin, the remedy is always the same: repent. Turn back, mourn what you’ve done, and do whatever you can to bring peace. Admit what you’ve done is wrong, and trust God with your salvation. Whether this is the initial moment of salvation, or a renewing of that covenant, only God knows. But that is God’s concern, not ours. Ours is to repent when we sin, and encourage others to do the same.

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Thanks Matthew for the theology insight.

However I’m more inclined on the matter of crime not the thought and heart sin but really criminal activities. There are a lot of case it is not easy to just leave the environment just because you believe in Christ. And in those environment, crime is the norm and even the common Law would be hard to enforced. Yes, I’m talking about organized crime of national level. Someone in such syndicate especially in high position or handling dark secrets who came to Christ don’t just actually quit without paying some form of compensation and not many are willing to lose an arm or leg literally just to follow Christ. While some would be relief if the cost were just that as they would face the compensation of their life, family and loved ones. Most even like undercover law agents have to do heinous act just to keep their cover. How does salvation on that apply? To save the millions of sheep you pretend to be with the wolves that kill hundreds sheep of the ones you intended to save.

On other cases like rape and molestation, we have modern day reports everywhere of elders and priest committing such act and are only exposed after they have committed tons of them. Saying that a Christian who has already been saved committing such act continuously harming other believers in the process only were to be caught and repent to gain salvation again in the end, is a downright ticket of an Emperor’s forgiveness. And furthermore this ticket can be reused again and again only to be damned at the point before the ticket is use or to be saved after the ticket is use.

Even history showed the darker side of Christianity from the Crusade to the Inquisitions. The atrocity committed then were there any salvation given until repent or salvation lost until repent to the Christians who committed them.

One man’s heart can change from pure to evil and evil to pure at almost anytime when environment and temptation come or when repentance and forgiveness is available. For someone who is living at such borderland the doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved” is a ticket for them to continue living in the criminal life until such life is almost expire and repent to gain salvation again or salvation was never lost as repentance and forgiveness is just act to lessen the burden of the sinful heart.

I hope to look for an answer is salvation never lost even when committing crime and heinous atrocity, but now more on the understanding why such a system of forgiveness was placed by God’s Love. It almost seems unfair to Christians who committed the thought and heart sin.

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Thanks for the answer Matthew. I now understand. I have another question. How do we Christians justify the Crusades and Adolf Hitler, who has writings saying that he is a Christian. Also, did Stalin kill in the name of atheism?. Thanks :smiley:.

Hi Bill, thanks for this question! I’ve run into a lot of people over the years who come from this negative perspective toward apologetics, and I think it’s really important for us to take a moment to consider it.

First, what is apologetics, really? If it’s is what your pastor defines it as—a debating tool—then of course it’s not something we all should be using for evangelism. In a conversation, the goal isn’t to win the argument, but to win the person. So we shouldn’t go around demolishing people through our argumentation. As Ravi’s mother used to tell him, “There is no point cutting off a person’s nose and then giving them a rose to smell.”

But here’s the thing: that’s not true apologetics. 1 Peter 3:15 says that Christians should be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them, but to do this with gentleness and respect. It doesn’t say, “Just be nice,” or “Just preach the gospel.” It says give a reason. We see this pattern all over in scripture, such as 2 Corinthians 10:5, which says “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” Or 2 Timothy 2:25, which says the Lord’s servant should be “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses…”

We also see countless examples of this being done in the Bible. In Acts 2, where Peter preaches to the crowd and three thousand become Christians, he appeals to the evidence of Jesus miracles and his resurrection. The first thing the apostle Paul would do when he would go to a new city is go to the synagogue and “reason persuasively,” showing that Jesus is the Christ. In Acts 17, he uses secular Greek philosophers to show that there must be one creator God, and he appeals to the resurrection as the way that we can know Jesus is who he is. Even Jesus appeals to the evidence of his miracles as a reason why people should believe in him (John 10:38).

This can and should be done by Christians. In fact I see it happen all the time! I often speak on college campuses and have conversations with skeptics and seekers from all kinds of different religious and non-religious backgrounds. When I and my RZIM colleagues approach these discussions by providing answers to their objections, removing barriers to belief, and humbly providing evidence and reasons they had never considered for Christianity, it goes really well! These are almost always productive conversations, and sometimes these people come to faith.

What we do is not some gargantuan task that can only be accomplished by those specially gifted in apologetics. It only requires listening to our neighbor’s genuine questions, and being ready to give a response.

To be honest, I don’t know how someone can regularly do evangelism without apologetics. If we present the gospel message to someone who doesn’t yet believe, the first question they will ask is “why?” If we don’t answer this question, we are leaving them out to dry, and ignoring the command of 1 Peter 3:15. Perhaps this is why John Lennox simply defines apologetics as “persuasive evangelism.”

So to answer your question of how to introduce apologetics to your church, I’d recommend you watch this talk from my father, Mark Mittelberg, on how to increase a church’s evangelistic temperature: https://vimeo.com/341666578

One of the points he makes is that if a church is really going to be outward-focused, this direction has to come from the top down. That means convincing your pastor on the importance of apologetics! Once that happens, there can be space to have classes in apologetics, use curriculum for small groups, host outreach events, and more. It’s unlikely God will suddenly change his mind on this issue—it may take someone like you reasoning persuasively with him, showing him the biblical support for apologetics and the effectiveness of it. Feel free to share that talk with him, or if he’s really interested in seeing an overarching strategy for an evangelistic church, he could read the book Becoming a Contagious Church by Mark Mittelberg.

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Hi Kenny,

I can tell you have a lot of thoughts on this issue, and I saw on your other post on Connect that this is a personal issue for a lot of people that you know. I may not be able to answer all your questions, but I’ll do my best to address some of the things you said and what I think the overarching issue is.

You said “I’m more inclined on the matter of crime not the thought and heart sin but really criminal activities.” The thing is, our actions flow from our hearts and thoughts. They’re a reflection of who we are inside. In Matthew 15:19, Jesus said “For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander.” We cannot separate our actions from the state of our hearts. So the question isn’t “Can someone do this thing and be forgiven?”, but “Has this person been born again?”

As I said before, someone living a lifestyle of unrepentant sin is showing that they haven’t been transformed by the Holy Spirit. So your examples of people who are involved in crime and claim to be Christians, or those who even claim to represent Jesus as priests and yet are committing abuse, are showing that their hearts are unrepentant to the Lordship of Christ. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” In this passage we see that a saving relationship with Jesus involves both knowing and obeying him. They are tied together. In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

This kind of love and obedience cannot be achieved through mere moral effort. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us. John 3:3 states, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” This happens when we give our lives to Christ—our whole lives—and we acknowledge him as Lord. If he is truly Lord of our lives, it follows that we are obeying him as our master.

You said “One man’s heart can change from pure to evil and evil to pure at almost anytime when environment and temptation come or when repentance and forgiveness is available. For someone who is living at such borderland the doctrine “Once Saved Always Saved” is a ticket for them to continue living in the criminal life until such life is almost expire and repent to gain salvation again or salvation was never lost as repentance and forgiveness is just act to lessen the burden of the sinful heart.” Paul addresses this kind of “free ticket” attitude toward sin in Romans 6:15 when he says, “What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”

Someone can’t follow God and keep living in habitual sin. We cannot serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). Someone who claims the name of Christ and lives in unrepentant sin is showing their true master.

However, the Bible is clear that all people can be forgiven, even people who have committed unthinkable crimes. Paul, who persecuted the church, oversaw the murder of Stephen, and described himself as the worst of sinners, was forgiven completely and became a blessing to the church. Even the thief on the cross acknowledges himself as a sinner, recognizes Jesus’ identity, and asks to be remembered, and he is forgiven. This is the glory of the gospel message: all of us deserve judgment and punishment, and yet because of Jesus’ substitute and sacrifice we’re offered forgiveness and salvation. But we can’t get this on our terms, living our way. We must repent.

If you’d like to hear a first-hand account from someone who has dealt with God’s forgiveness for unlovable people, check out this interview from the most recent RZIM Ask Away podcast:

Beyond that, I’d really encourage you to meditate on the book of 1 John. I think it has a lot to say about the questions you’re asking, and I think the Lord could use it to speak to you in a deep way.

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Wow! What a great idea. I wish that I had watched this particular video before I had to do the assignments for RZIM. Like him, I’m closeted in a church, I no longer have ready access to people of other faiths and beliefs. Oh I wish I had watched this before. But now I can still do it. Fabulous idea! I’m scared, but…

Thank you very much
Bill

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Hi Simon, I think my answer to Kenny can address some of your questions. Also, check out this video disproving the idea that Hitler could have been a Christian in any way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bqQhDUZCXM

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Hi Kenny,

We’re running out of time before the forum closes, but I think I’ve said most of what I’d want to on this issue. If you’re still wanting to investigate more, a friend I talked with recently recommended this book: https://www.amazon.com/Todays-Gospel-Authentic-Walter-Chantry/dp/0851510272

May God lead,

  • Matthew

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