Ask Matthew Mittelberg (Sept. 30-Oct. 4, 2019)

Greetings, all! (@Interested_In_Ask_RZIM)
Guess who’s back with us this coming week on the online Q&A stage? If you guessed @matthew_mittelberg, you would be correct! Gold star for you. :star: (It probably also means you read the title of this post, so, well done. :clap:)

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.

All that to say, he’s a great guy to pepper with your questions. :slight_smile:

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Hi Matthew, I recently joined RZIM connect and was so amazed by this platform full of deep and very respectful discussion, especially we get the chance to ask our own questions and get very thoughtful answers. I feel so blessed !!!
Before I ask my real question, I am just wondering whether you have been to China ? The introduction mentioned you have been to Asia, so I am just curious :slight_smile: Me and my son love Japanese noodle and Sushi :sushi::slight_smile:
Okay, now real question. I have a very close high school friend back in China, who got very sick in college. Modern medicine didn’t help at all, then she turned to other ways. Then she found Indian “Sahaja Yoga”. Following their physical and also spiritual practice, she miraculously got cured ! She told me she would never leave the “mother”—-the founder of “Sahaja Yoga” :frowning:
I have been spreading Gospel through articles and podcasts to thousands of people in China for many years. But she is the one that I care so much but I even dare not talk to her about religion issues. I am sure she sees all the materials I have shared and I know she is still perusing her way through social media posts. She told me once that we should not mention religious stuff when we talk, just let it be.
My biggest concern is her health. I know that sickness and the great pain almost drove her crazy, and almost caused suicide( according to her description) . And I know one reason she would never leave the “mother” is the fear that it would come back if she “betrays”.
I know our Lord is BIGGER, I know I should not have the fear, I know the eternal life with God is definitely much much more important than the short lifespan on earth. But, I think only a mature Christian who is sure about the truth and the way and the life would be able to say “okay, if I will be sick for the rest of my life, but I still have God, it’s fine.” I am afraid, if with my help she comes to Jesus, and then she gets sick again, and her husband and her son and all the other family members will blame me…and she doesn’t want to talk about it anyway…
Should I just pray for her and leave her alone as she requires ? Or do you have other suggestions? (After typing these words, I realized I shouldn’t be afraid of the blames, if that’s the cross I need to carry, right ? But what about “leave me alone” part?)
Thank you very much !!!

Shu

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Hi Matthew,
Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions!
I have a friend that is Christian and is raising her 10 year old boy with the word but he recently asked her a question that she considers hard to answer and I am trying to give her some answers with all that I’ve read but I really don’t know how to put it in perspective for a 10 year old. He is very curious and intelligent so I want to be careful here. His question is “Why does God allow evil, sin, and suffering in the world?” It is a common question and one that speaks to the heart for all of us no matter what age. I would answer explaining God’s narrative for the world and the reason why evil exist instead of why He “allows” it but please shed some light! :slight_smile:
-Beatriz

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Hi Beatriz,

Thanks for your question! This is, of course, one of the most difficult and asked questions surrounding the nature of reality—not an easy concept to explain to kids! That being said, I think there are some things we could say that could help him along in his journey of understanding this topic, and even speak to the heart of the gospel message.

In my understanding, at the heart of why God does anything is love, and this is no different. He wants to love us and he wants us to be able to love him in return—that’s why he made us, for relationship! But in order for us to have the ability to love, we have to have the freedom to choose whether to love or not to. Robots can’t love, because they can’t choose. You can’t force love, because the reason love is meaningful is that it is unforced. When Adam and Eve (and everyone after them) chose to live according to their own plan and reject God’s plan for their lives, they chose against loving God. If God is the source of all goodness, love, and beauty, then a choice away from him is a choice away from goodness, love, and beauty. That makes for a world filled with pain and suffering.

Thankfully, God didn’t leave us there—he made a way for us to be right with him, taking on the penalty for our sin, and suffering in our place. And eventually, after he patiently waits for us to receive his free gift, he’ll redeem the world and make it a place of eternal joy.

I hope that’s helpful! There are a lot of great resources on this topic, but I bet he would appreciate starting with some of William Lane Craig’s animated videos, which are fantastic:

Part 1: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k64YJYBUFLM&list=PL3gdeV4Rk9EfL-NyraEGXXwSjDNeMaRoX&index=8&t=0s

Part 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxj8ag8Ntd4&list=PL3gdeV4Rk9EfL-NyraEGXXwSjDNeMaRoX&index=9&t=0s

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@Matthew_Mittelberg Thank you! You are right William Lane Craig’s animated videos are fantastic! I have a background in design and can recognize well made design. I really like these videos. Anyhow, I passed the info to my friend and she is super excited to show this material to her son, Ethan.

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Hi Shu Yang, thank you for your warm message! I have been to China, and I enjoyed my time there throughly! I only wish the Chinese food was as good in America as it was over there. :slight_smile:

I love hearing about your concern for your friend and your desire to share the good news of the gospel message with her. I’m not very familiar with Sahaja Yoga, but from your description and from reading a few quick articles on the internet, it bears a lot of signs of a cult. Promises of health and prosperity for those who give financially, the discouragement of questioning authority, the threat of curses and sickness if you leave the faith—these are hallmark signs of a cult. It may be hard to help your friend to see this as she experienced what she believed to be healing. If she truly was healed, it is not difficult to explain in the scope of Christianity—the Bible explains that there are other spiritual forces in the universe besides God and his servants, and sometimes these can manifest in power (such as Pharaoh’s magicians in Exodus).

She needs to understand that this temporary, physical healing cannot compare to the eternal, complete healing that Jesus can provide in eternity. Jesus didn’t just point to the way, he is the way, and while Nirmala Srivastava has passed away and remains dead, Jesus rose again. He is the greater guru—has she ever read his words and considered what he said?

You know your friend—if she truly would be offended by talking about these issues, then you may need to simply pray for her. But sometimes it’s worth a some discomfort to begin these conversations. If you come with humility, explaining how much you love her and care about her well-being, people will sometimes open up. You can begin by asking questions about what she believes, why she believes it, and how it makes her feel. Does she feel satisfied in life? Does she feel valuable? How confident is she in what she believes? These kinds of questions can open up deeper issues and offer you the chance to share what you believe and why.

I hope that’s helpful! Let me know what you think.

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Matt,

Rod Dreher and others have been calling for the Benedict Option as a way for the church to be shielded from the onslaught of hostility from culture. Much of the philosophical background for this position rests with Alasdair Macintyre in his work After Virtue:

A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead often not recognizing fully what they were doing—was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.

Is this enclave model a viable way for the church to tell its story and develop in our time? How can Christians maintain a faithful witness in a culture that demands to know their political and social positions immediately and fully? How do you think Jesus would have responded to our times?

Hi David,

Thanks for your insightful question (and welcome to the RZIM connect community!). I haven’t read either of those books so my ability to comment on them will be limited—but for what it’s worth, here’s what I’m thinking.

I’m always nervous when I hear anything that seems to be discouraging an outward-focused evangelism mindset. The great commission never expires until the kingdom of God comes in fullness, and I think on the balance most American churches are so focused on themselves the they forget to influence their communities (and so also miss the spiritual formation that comes from evangelism). The people around us that are compromising on moral stances are not our enemies, they’re our goal.

That being said I think there’s a difference between reaching out to individuals with the gospel message, and feeling like we have to hold on to a “Christian culture.” We should always fight for Christian values and principles wherever we can, but we shouldn’t be surprised when culture turns away from God. I think much of the anxiety people have about losing our “Christian nation” could be avoided by realizing we’re citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

I hope that’s helpful! My colleague @Kasey_Leander often thinks about culture and Christian influence, and when I showed him these questions, he said you may be interested in reading these books:

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Hi, Matthew

In Matthew 16:24, it says 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. How does one deny himself? It sounds very, very hard.

Thank you

Lawrence

Hi,Matthew, thank you so much for your reply. Following your questions, I actually remembered maybe the only one time conversation that my friend and I had about this topic. Maybe more than 10 years ago, so it’s kind of vague…

I think she told me she was satisfied with her life, she felt like she found herself through that “mother”, very confident about what she believed…and few years ago, her family suffered from a very huge financial loss, she also told me that she survived only because she had that spiritual support…I think I did not say too much as I did not think it’s a good time to tell her different opinions to make her feel uncomfortable or sad…just could not find the right timing :frowning:

Yes! That’s what I will tell her one day, when I have the courage to talk to her about it. I have been imagining the dialogue in my mind for long time.

I don’t think she has read the Bible. But now I remembered she said something that she picked up from her group…like how can you believe in Bible as it might have been modified by lots of people over thousands of years…if God sent his son Jesus to this world, then what if he has sent lots of sons to this world and we just don’t know…I think at that time I thought it’s too ridiculous, I was kind of speechless :rofl:

Thanks again for answering my question and reminding me about our old conversation through your questions. I think I can do two things: 1) Go ahead and send her the Bible as a Christmas gift ! In this case, she will not be offended. A Christmas gift, the Bible, so related, right? It’s not right that I did not do anything else in all these years just because I did not think she was ready for a good talk. 2) Get well prepared for any questions she will have when she gets to open the Bible…things like why did they describe Jesus’ resurrection differently in the four Gospels…or how do you know which words are from God while there are so many different versions out there…I am planning to take the Core Module in RZIM Academy, maybe at the beginning of next year(too much work this year). Or do you have any other resources to recommend before I do that?

Oh, by the way,

Amen to that!!! :rofl: However, I can buy Chinese ingredients in Houston and cook at home. Let me know when you come to Houston next time, I am very much looking forward to cooking for any RZIM members who love Chinese food, haha.
God bless!!

Shu

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If someone asks why it makes sense to believe in God or is logical, how would you begin to answer?
broad questions have a variety of answers you could give so how would you suggest is the best way to start?

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Hi Lawrence,

Your question is so profound, and it goes right to the heart of the gospel. A lot of people when they first hear this command of Jesus think that it’s calling us to repress everything about who we are and follow a bunch of rules to pretend like we’re a religious person.

But it’s not about that at all. It’s about denying our ability to rule our lives. At the heart of our sin is the desire to make ourselves God. We want to do what we want, and we don’t want to be subject to any higher authority. We even want to save ourselves, and try to earn our way to perfection. The problem is: we can’t. We’re deeply flawed, and we fall hopelessly short of God’s standards.

So God calls you to deny yourself as the ruler of your life, and instead follow Jesus.

Is this hard? On one level, yes! It goes against our very deepest instincts and our sinful desires to control our lives. That leads to suffering—it hurts to pick up our crosses. It hurts to reject our sinful desires.

But on another level, it’s very easy to do. We don’t have to perform or accomplish some great task for God—we simply acknowledge that we never could, and that we need him to come and give us new life.

The best part? When we let go and give our lives to God, we actually become our true selves! The very next verse 25, Jesus says: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” We find out that God’s plan was better after all, and we gain the abundant life that Jesus promises. Nothing could be better than that!

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Hi Sadie, thanks for your question! I think you’re right that there’s a lot of different ways to respond.

I might start by taking a step back, and helping the person asking the question understand that we all have faith in different things that we can’t absolutely prove. Even atheists believe there’s no God, even though they can’t prove that he doesn’t exist. We all have reasons for the things we believe too. Sometimes these reasons are good, and sometimes they’re bad. But these reasons can form a cumulative case to give us a good reason to believe in something.

Once you have that foundation laid, it then opens the door to share some of the evidence for your faith, such as the historical evidence for the resurrection, scientific arguments for the beginning and fine tuning of the universe, and more.

Another thing that may be worth pointing out is that the Christian worldview actually helps logic to make sense at all. In an atheistic universe, we’re all random accidents of nature. Our minds and consciousnesses themselves are illusions, as random, evolutionarily-conditioned chemical reactions happen in our brains. We have no reason to trust the thoughts in our heads, as they’re formed only to help us survive and procreate, not find truth.

In contrast, the Christian worldview says that God created us in his image with dignity and love. We have the ability to think and discover truth because of this!

Also, is someone asked me specifically “why it makes sense to believe in God,” I’d want to give them a copy of The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense by my father, Mark Mittelberg. :smiley:

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Hi Shu,

I agree with your action steps! If you feel that she would be open to receiving a Bible, there’s no substitute for reading the word of God ourselves. And if you do the core module, that will get you on the right track to being prepared to having this conversation. The sooner you can do that, the better, and you may want to check out some other resources as well. Have you ever read the book, The Case for Christ? That will help to answer some of the questions your friend had about the Bible being changed over the years (it hasn’t been–we know because we have thousands of copies from those years that all say the same thing!), or why Jesus is God’s only son, because he’s the third member of the trinity and is himself God. This doctrine might be confusing to her at first, but it’s true, and it helps us understand why Jesus died for us. He wasn’t some unrelated third party dying on our behalf. He was the very God to whom we owed our debt, taking on that debt himself, and dying in our place.

Praying for your conversation with her! God bless!

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