Ask Sam Raju (June 15-19, 2020)

Hello, @Interested_In_Ask_RZIM friends!

After a couple of weeks break, the Ask RZIM Q&A forum is back open! This week, we are excited to welcome @Samraju from the India team to the seat.

Sam is an itinerant speaker and trainer with RZIM India. He has spoken extensively in several countries on a wide range of topics such as, “Does God Exist?” “Why Suffering,” “Truth in a Postmodern World,” “The Discovery of True Love,” “Has Science Buried God?” “The Discipline of Prayer,” “Meaning in a Meaningless World,” “Leadership in a Fragmented World,” and “The Historicity of the Resurrection.”

His bout with a rare and aggressive form of cancer has fueled his interest to study the age-old question of God and suffering. His passion lies in reaching people for Christ and seeing them grow in understanding God’s love, ways, and purposes.

Sam holds a master’s degree in psychology with highest honors from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, following which he enrolled for pre-doctoral studies in rehabilitation psychology with the hopes of pursuing a doctorate in neuropsychology. However, his growing interest in apologetics led him to secure a master’s degree in philosophy with honors at the reputed Biola University.

Sam is a member of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the American Philosophical Association, and an international affiliate of the American Psychological Association. He contributes regularly to Christian and secular publications. Sam and his wife, Amy, make their home in Gurgaon, India.

Just reply below with your questions! :arrow_down:

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Dear Sam, glad to meet you through connect.
I understand that RZIM is an apologetics ministry. How according to you or to what extent is apologetics helpful in India to convey the gospel message effectively.

As I understand, the main goal of RZIM is to make the thinker believe and the believer think. My understanding is that usually people in the West is known for their critical thinking abilities and the people in the East is know for their faith or beliefs in the general sense. (Or what’s your take?)

So in India the second part of RZIM’s mission statement would apply in a general sense. I would like to ask you how effective is the apologetics ministry in India. I’d appreciate if you answer with some personal experiences.

To see this in different eyes please help to elaborate the significance of Apologetics ministry in India.

Regards.

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Dear Mr. Raju,

Thank you for being willing to answer questions on the forum this week! I am an American graduate student in mathematics, and I can easily say that a non-trivial percentage of people in my field are Indian. As I was reading your bio, I noticed you have gone to university both at home and abroad, and I have met quite a few people who have done the same, but I have not had the opportunity to engage in a conversation where I can genuinely ask the following question: what were some of the unique spiritual challenges that you encountered when studying abroad, and how can we as Christians reach out to help foreign students with their struggles being so far from home and at this critical time in their lives when they are often asking the tough questions about life (morality, meaning, destiny, origin)? I would sincerely appreciate any insight you have to offer, and thank you again for being willing to do this forum!

Best,
Elizabeth

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Thanks Moses for writing to us with your question.

You are right. There is a very predominant idea among some groups in India that spirituality is above and beyond the realms of rationality. We should use our minds to study the physical world but ought not rely on our rational capacities to understand the spiritual, supernatural world. Those who subscribe to this view will lay out reasons for why you should not use your mind to make sense of spiritual realities. This raises many questions: Don’t they use their minds to interpret their religious experiences? When there are conflicting experiences how do they resolve them?

How do we engage with such people? We can challenge their assumptions and reasons for claiming that the spiritual is outside the purview of the natural.

The stark differences

India is a country with diverse philosophies/worldviews, and religions. Religiosity pervades and prevails in the Indian culture. The idea of the incarnation (God becoming man) is not new to the Indian psyche. In the west, naturalism, scientism and materialism are the dominant philosophies. The primary task of the apologist in the western context is to address the intellectual obstacles raised by these philosophies, and once the reasonableness of theism is established it is easier to present Jesus as God.

However, in India people concede the existence of God, but the question is which one. A couple of years ago students in Kolkata, from various colleges and faiths, came to hear me speak on the topic “Has Science Buried God?” Following the event a young man came up and said that he agreed with me, “It is reasonable to believe in God.” Then he paused and said, “There are many religions out there. I am a Buddhist. Which is the right one? Which God?” I had the privilege of sharing with him the uniqueness of Christ and how Christ alone can satisfy the deepest longings of the heart. He requested to stay in touch and inquired if I’d be speaking at a church that Sunday. The following Sunday he came with five of his friends. Personally, I have seen many like this young man who have responded to the gospel through the ministry of RZIM in India, and that is a testament to the need for apologetics in India.

The New Testament church wrestled with similar challenges. Christians were called to witness Christ to a very religiously diverse/pluralistic world. Remember Peter was writing to Christians who were persecuted and scattered on account of their faith, challenging them to offer a verbal defense for their hope in Christ.

Universal questions/longings

The gospel speaks into the cries of the human heart. Amidst the differences, there are common threads/longings/questions that run between cultures and people groups, and the gospel uniquely speaks into each. As Ravi Zacharias has time and again pointed out, every worldview must answer 4 fundamental questions:

  1. Origin (Who made me? Who made the cosmos? How did we come to be?)
  2. Meaning (What is the purpose of my life?)
  3. Morality (What is right and what’s wrong?, What ethical principles to live by?)
  4. Destiny (Where am I going to? Is there life after death?)

Since the inception of humanity we have wrestled with these questions. They are both cross cultural and cross generational.

The two-fold task of the apologist

As we well know, apologetics is that discipline that seeks to address the intellectual obstacles that people have in taking the gospel seriously. C.S Lewis said “Apologetics is the science and art of Christian persuasion.” In 2 Corinthians 5:11, the apostle Paul writes “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.”

When it comes to persuasion, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In his book Fool’s Talk Guinness writes, “Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we. Every single person is unique and individual and deserves an approach that respects that uniqueness.” Apologetic persuasion requires both the rational and the imaginative.

The apologist has a two fold task of defending and commending the faith.

(i) Defending

A Christian is called to give a verbal defense for his hope in Christ. (1 Peter 3:15)
In offering a defense for the faith, we seek to show that the Christian faith makes sense. It attempts to show that it is reasonable to believe in the existence of God. We seek to show that any attempt to show that belief in God is unwarranted (logically incompatible/inconsistent) fails. But, our task as apologist does not end there. We are called to make a positive case for Christian theism.

(ii) Commending:

We are also called to commend the faith. In other words we are called to present the gospel in all its beauty.
While commending our faith we seek to show the beauty and the superiority of Christian theism over and above other world views.

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Thank you for your elaborate answer. I am able to see how the starting point for apologetics in the east and the west completely diifer. Thank you for your insights.

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Thanks Elizabeth. That’s a very good question.

You are absolutely right. It’s challenging for anyone to thrive in a foreign country away from home, friends, and the community they have known all their lives. Your desire to reach them for Christ is admirable.

Most eastern cultures have strong family bonds. Eastern cultures are more group-centric or communalistic, whereas western cultures are more individualistic. In the west there’s a great emphasis on personal autonomy and identity whereas in the east one’s identity is tied to his family and community. Oftentimes it can be difficult for someone from a western culture to fully understand the extent of pain that an easterner experiences when moving to a new country.

It is fascinating to me as I read the gospels to see how Jesus interacted with people. Here are a few things we notice from his earthly ministry:

(i) In his interactions with people He did not start with a lecture, rather he would ask questions. This spoke powerfully to his audience and conveyed the message that He was interested in knowing and hearing them. Often I find Christians are quick to speak and share their views on life and God without giving people a hearing. Sometimes this can come across as arrogance.

(ii) Jesus sought to address their immediate physical needs before addressing their deeper spiritual problem. This communicated love and concern, breaking the initial barrier and building trust.

(iii) He did not make His interventions conditional. If you recall the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, it was not dependent on their belief or allegiance to Him. Although all 10 of them experienced healing, only 1 came back to thank Him.

(iv) In the gospels we find Jesus moved with compassion whenever He encountered pain and suffering. We see Him in tears at Lazarus’ tomb, empathizing with His family. Jesus was not one to hide His emotions; people could see His heart for them.

(v) Jesus was willing to cross social and ethnic boundaries in order to reach people. (The Samaritan woman in John 4). He would reach out and touch the ostracized and unclean as he did in healing the leaper in Matthew 8.

In the incarnation itself we see Jesus identifying with humanity, entering into our pain and griefs. We learn from Jesus that in order to reach people it is imperative that we first identify with them. Seek to know them and what they believe. Ask questions. Be willing to be vulnerable with your own life. They should feel loved and cared for by you. When you do, you will find people reciprocating and opening up to you. Also, continually remember them in your prayers and seek opportunities to minister to them. The Lord will open up doors

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Mr. Raju,

Thanks for coming! I appreciate your perspective as an Easterner. I find Eastern philosophy and methodology to be quite fascinating, and I’m glad to see you bringing your unique perspective.

My question is this: How do we work with ‘de-converted’ Christians. There are some deconverted Christians who would even claim that they prayed to God, asking Him to provide them evidence, yet He failed to produce it, so they became atheists. Assuming they did ask Him, how are we to interpret this? Did God choose not to answer their prayer?

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Hi Sam! Matthew 5:32, which says, “anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Luke 16:18 also says “the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultry.” Im not understanding this. The woman is permitted to remarry when her husband divorces her but anyone who remarries her is an adulterer? That cant be right. It doesnt make sense that it would be lawful for her to remarry but not equally lawful for anyone to marry her. Especially if she is the one who has biblical grounds for divorce in the first place.

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Thanks Kyle for writing in with your question.

Although I grew up in the East, I am not well versed with eastern philosophies. My training is mostly in Western philosophy.

Why does God not answer the prayers of those seeking evidence for His existence? A lot can be said in answer to this question, but let me keep my response brief.

Some have argued that if God exists then He would have given us clear evidence of His existence, and they assert that there is no good evidence for God’s existence. Interestingly the Bible teaches that man’s problem not the absence of evidence but the suppression of it.

Paul writes about this very thing in Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.

God has given us enough evidence of His existence. There are many arguments that have been put forward by eminent philosophers in this regard. In fact, there is a whole branch of theology called Natural Theology that provides arguments for the existence of God from observed natural facts. I shall not take much time to go into these here, but if you are interested Charles Taliaferro, J.P Moreland, Stewart Goetz, and William Lane Craig have written a lot on this subject.

Apart from the many arguments for God’s existence such as the Kalam cosmological, moral, teleological, fine-tuning etc. arguments, the most compelling argument for God’s existence and His goodness is the incarnation, the atonement and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus speaks to the veracity of the truth of Christian theism. Christianity falls flat if Christ did not actually rise from the dead. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, (1 Cor. 15:14) writes, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” N.T Wright, Garry Habermas, William Lane Craig and many others have written extensively on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus.

Another point worth considering is how much evidence is enough. One could always ask for more. Sometimes we think that if only God had made Himself more obvious then more people would respond. Think of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day. They were given firsthand accounts by Roman soldiers present at the scene when the stone was moved and Jesus’ body was not found in the grave. Rather than investigating the soldiers’ report, they paid them to spread false information. Matthew records this in chapter 28.

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

God being omniscient knows that it is not lack of evidence that prevents people from turning to Him; even if more evidence were given people still won’t believe.

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@Samraju Thanks for making this insightful case for apologetics as well as it’s practical impact in turning men to Christ.

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Thanks @Shari for asking this question. I am not sure if I can give a satisfactory response here, but I’ll try.

Typically we think of marriage as a contractual relationship, involving the husband, wife and the state. If marriage is just a contractual relationship then a breach of contract, a failure to fulfil/carry out one’s responsibilities is good grounds for dissolution of that relationship.

Biblically, marriage is a covenantal relationship involving the husband, wife and God. In marriage a new entity comes into existence. The Bible gives us very limited grounds for the dissolution of this covenantal relationship. Only when there is a breach of covenant in ways specified in Scripture such as unfaithfulness/adultery is there legitimate grounds for divorce.

When there is a breach of contract such as when someone fails to fulfill his responsibility to the other, legally there is grounds for divorce and the marriage can be legally nullified, at which point the couple is no longer a single family unit in the eyes of the state. However, in the eyes of God the marriage is not nullified unless there is biblical grounds for it.

Now when a man engages in sexual relationship with a divorcee, then the man commits adultery if the divorce was illegitimate, i.e. there was no biblical grounds for the divorce. We think of adultery as a sexual act against one’s spouse. Most of us consider adultery to be an act only a married person can commit, but when Jesus speaks of adultery in Matthew 5:27-28, He equivocates adultery with a man looking lustfully at a woman. Thus adultery is a sin not only committed against the other person, but primarily as an act of sin against God. Marital relationships not only have an interpersonal dynamic but also a spiritual dynamic.

In marriage the two become one flesh and there is a telos, a purpose to this new formed entity. A man who unites himself with a woman who is illegitimately divorced is violating that telos.

In the verses you referred to Jesus is speaking of an illegitimate divorce. And He says if any man engages in a sexual relationship with her then he commits adultery with her.

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