One Sure-Fire Way to Grow in Spiritual Health this Summer

Before we begin, join me, for the sake of argument, in assuming two things:

  1. You have a spirit.
  2. Your spirit could be healthier.

Your spirit is the deepest core of who you are.  It’s the truest essence of “self” that you have. It’s your very life. When your spirit departs your body (i.e. when you die), your body dies. Ever since our Creator breathed the first human spirit into the first human body (creating the first human being), all people ever since have been both physical and spiritual (or “psychosomatic”).  While it is relatively easy to find reliable data on how to pursue physical health, when it comes to spiritual health, things get a littler more murky. There are countless traditions, techniques, and writings out there on how to grow in spiritual health, but I want to suggest one simple, repeatable, and enormously beneficial practice that is guaranteed to grow you in spiritual health.

That practice is: study the Bible with followers of Jesus.

Now, you might object that you aren’t a Christian. That’s fine, you don’t have to be one, to study the Bible with some. If you live close to a Bible-believing church, call them up and see if your local pastor or church leader can recommend any Bible-study groups meeting in your neighborhood. But the goal must be to get into a group where followers of Jesus–Christians–are studying the Bible together.

Why do I say that this practice is guaranteed to grow you spiritually? There are three reasons:

It’s God’s own recommendation for spiritual growth.

In the ancient book of Deuteronomy, it’s recorded that God told His people, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3). Later, in another book (Hebrews, chapter 10), it is written, “…let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.” So the Bible is like food for the soul, and we’re instructed to gather together for encouragement. Together, we see a strong recommendation for studying the Bible together. 

It will give you access to supernatural insight.

Jesus famously told His disciples, “…I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in my name, there I am with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). Jesus does not physically show up at every gathering of His followers; rather He shows up by God’s Spirit–the Holy Spirit, who indwells every true Christian. When Christians gather together around God’s word, they should expect the Holy Spirit to give them insights together that transcend anything they could come up with on their own. This insight is relevant to life changes, to one’s relationships to God and others, and to simply understanding life’s important questions.

It works.

Studying the Bible with Christians has been one of the top three practices that have grown me spiritually. In other words, I know from experience. In case you’re wondering, the other two practices have been prayer and teaching (what you prepare for, you learn!). When I think back on the periods of my life in which I grew the most spiritually–when I grew in peace, humility and confidence, when my heart grew larger toward my fellowmen, I immediately think of early morning and late night conversations with followers of Jesus, had while studying Scripture together.

Where to find a group:

Many churches (and probably one in your area) offer small group ministries or so-called Sunday School classes. If you happen to find yourself in Chicago, click here to get connected through Park Community Church. Again, whether you have faith or not, whether you consider yourself a strong believer or are just looking into spirituality for the first time, my recommendation is: get in a group and study the Bible with followers of Jesus. It’s God’s own recommendation, it will give you access to supernatural insight, and it works.

Why I Believe the Bible’s “Crazy” Stories (or: What Shrek Can Teach Us about Knowledge)

The movie “Shrek” features a talking donkey (creatively named just, “Donkey”). Did you ever stop to think that Donkey was a subtle dig against the Bible? Here is why: the characters of Shrek are ostensibly all from fairy tales (Pinocchio, the Ginger Bread Man, etc.). By including the talking donkey, Dreamworks is basically lumping the Bible in with the “other” fairy tales.

Because the Bible has a talking donkey in it. Read on.

The other night, at a certain weekly discussion group of which I am a part, the question came up concerning the stories of the Bible that seem, not merely miraculous (such as Jesus turning water into wine or raising the dead), but actually outlandish. You know, the Bible reports as historical fact such events as the following:

The difficulty of these stories

These stories seem far-fetched to our (post)modern sensibilities. They really seem like fairy tales–unbelievable. The stuff of story books and CGI movies for children.

Of course, these stories undoubtably seemed far-fetched even to many of the pre-modern people who read the accounts. Talking snakes and donkeys were not everyday occurrences then, either.

Certainly, pre-moderns had myths of all shapes and sizes, but the Bible does not present itself as myth. It presents as historical truth–a factual account of a rational Creator who loves, judges, and communicates with His people. Yet this historical account is peppered with stories that stick out like a sore thumb, stories which stretch our sense of plausibility.

So why do we, and I am speaking of followers of Jesus today, believe those stories? Why do we not simply accept the “reasonable” stories, and discard the others as myth–as good-natured attempts of pre-modern theocrats, doing their best to make sense of the world using nature imagery and metaphor? Why not do that? I can think of many reasons (including the astounding archaeological evidence that corroborates the Bible), but I want to focus in on just two, and one is far more important than the other.

Because genre matters

The first reason is this: to discard the unexpected, outlandish-seeming stories from Scripture is to do damage to the text. These stories were not written as fairy-tale add-ons to an otherwise sensible historical narrative. They are part of the warp and woof of the tapestry of the God’s story. They belong in Scripture, and they are written as history. Sure, we could ignore all that and simply decide to only accept what seems appropriate to us.

But in doing that, we would be ignoring all meaningful categories of genre and authorial intent.

Far from making the Bible more intelligent, chopping it up that way–with total disregard to what the biblical authors intended–is a far less intelligent way of interacting with ancient texts, or any texts for that matter. More than being un-faithful, it would be un-intelligent and incoherent.

Because Jesus matters

The second reason why we should believe the stories in the Bible that offend our sense of reasonability is simply this: Jesus believed them.

To read the Gospels (the four accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament) is to read about a Messiah whose life and ministry were deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures (what we call the Old Testament–which contains many of the aforementioned “outlandish” stories).

For example, Matt Slick (in this excellent article) that Jesus believed in…

Jesus believed in the Bible. All of it. Even the hard parts. And that matters, because of who Jesus is.

He is God’s ultimate prophet, conveying God’s truth in an infallible way–He cannot be wrong.

He is the king of the universe, and He commands His people to believe God’s word–of which word He claims to be the central theme.

He is the ultimate counselor, who lovingly guides his people like a shepherd leading his sheep, by the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit and through the Bible.

When the King of Everything tells us to believe and obey something, our first response ought to be absolute, unquestioning belief and obedience. Of course, we all stumble and struggle in many ways. None of us has totally perfect faith (as my dad says, “only one person was ever perfect, and they crucified Him”).

However, there can be no question that Jesus believed the Old Testament is true. We can rest confident that God the Son knows what He is talking about.

What this means about everything else the Bible teaches

I do not have time to get into it right now, but there are some wonderful implications of the above.

The Bible lays out the world’s most comprehensive, cohesive and coherent worldview ever. No other system so satisfyingly, so scientifically, so truthfully answers the deepest questions of life:

  • Who are we?
  • What’s wrong with us?
  • How do we fix it?
  • Where are we going?

I have argued elsewhere (though I am certainly not the first to do so!) that the Bible, taken as a whole, alone provides an adequate basis for science and knowledge–for thinking we can know anything at all. But that means it all must be true, even the part about the talking donkey and the big fish. All 66 books of the Bible, and everything in them, must be true, or none of it is.

To conclude: because Jesus believes the Bible, we must believe it too. So while Shrek may have been poking fun at something unexpected in Scripture, it turns out to have been getting at something much deeper. We really can know, because the Bible told us so. Now sing it with me: “some-BODY once told me….”

On Being Prepared to Defend Your Faith

In the Bible, God instructs his people to be prepared at all times to give a response, whenever anyone asks us about the hope that we have.

Most followers of Jesus have probably heard that command, yet how many of us are confident that we could, at the drop of the proverbial hat, feel ready to give an adequate defense of the Christian message?

A few months back, I was asked to create a resource that will answer the biggest objections and questions that people have about the Christian faith. If you know anything about me, you know that one of my main passions in life is tackling the tough questions–I do not always have the answers, but it’s a real thrill tracking them down. And I happen to be a believer that, as God’s breathed-out word (2 Tim. 3:16-17), the Bible has the answers contained within it; any resource like this is going to direct folks right back to Scripture. So the thought of creating a resource that would defend Christianity against the toughest objections out there, and encourage my friends at Park to get deeper into the Bible, was really exciting to me. It was exciting to the other Park pastors as well–and a couple of them actually had enough margin in their schedules (a small miracle to be sure, given that many are husbands and dads–and all are incredibly busy) to be able to come alongside me on the project.

This initiative will certainly be aimed at non-believers who have real questions and objections, but it will also be for equipping Christ-followers to obey that command that we all know, but most of us never quite feel ready for: defending the faith.

More details will follow. However, in the meantime, maybe your interest in defending the faith has been piqued. If that’s the case, I want to recommend the blog of another Settecase–my brother Parker. Parker has been tackling some of the toughest questions and objections against the Christian faith for awhile now, and he does it well. You can also check out my older blog, with the unfortunate title, “Don’t Forget to Think.” And one final recommendation: go get The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, right now. Read it and re-read it, then hand it off to a friend (maybe that one friend or coworker with all the objections about God that you never quite know how to answer). You will be glad you did.

Every follower of Jesus needs to be able to obey the command to be prepared to defend his or her faith. The steps we take today can prepare you to better do that tomorrow. Happy preparing!

Why You Should Still Believe In The Bible, Even If It Contradicts Evolutionary Theory

As I write this, I am preparing to participate in the Skokie Library’s panel discussion of religious leaders, interacting with the Smithsonian Institute’s Exploring Human Origins exhibit currently on display there. If you’re a follower of Jesus, I would certainly appreciate your prayers as I get ready for this exciting event. If you’re in the area, consider coming on on Monday, September 19th at 7PM to enjoy what promises to be a lively discussion.

Does the Bible contradict Darwinian evolutionary theory? I believe it does. Some disagree. But what if they do contradict one another? Would that be a good reason to give up belief in the Bible?  No; as I intend to show, there is good reason to the Bible, even if it does conflict with the accepted “scientific” paradigm of Darwinian evolutionary theory.
To begin with, I will freely admit my dependence on God’s revelation in Scripture. The truth of the Bible is my most fundamental presupposition about reality, and I reason outward from there. As we will see, that’s a good thing–especially given the alternative.
So why doesn’t it matter whether the Bible and Darwinian evolutionary theory contradict? It is because belief in evolution means believing in rationalism. The problem is that rationalism ultimately collapses on itself and turns into irrationalism. And irrationalism similarly collapses on itself and turns back into rationalism again.* The belief system turns out to be totally incoherent. We’ll look at this issue in two stages.
Clear as mud yet? Read on.

Stage One

  1. It is a rule of logic that two contradictory propositions can not both be true. 
  2. If Bible and evolutionary theory contradict (which, again, is the issue we’re considering–whether or not they actually do contradict is beside the point), then to believe in evolution is to disbelieve, from the get-go, in the Bible. Because rejecting the Bible means rejecting the God of the Bible as the standard for truth, to reject the Bible in favor of evolution would be to subscribe to a kind of rationalism.

    Rationalism, according to theologian and philosopher John Frame, is, “the view that the human mind is the final judge of truth and falsehood.” But remember that two contradictory propositions cannot both be true. Therefore the only way you can be sure that everything you think you know is not false is by knowing single fact in the universe. Unless you know every fact in the universe, for all you know there might be a fact out there that contradicts every single proposition you think you know.
  3. As an ape evolved by time and chance alone after an extraordinarily long series of random mutations out of a sea of goo, you don’t know every fact in the universe. After all–why should an ape think he is omniscient!?
  4. Therefore, for all you know, every single proposition you think you know could be contradicted by some fact out there.
  5. This means you cannot actually be certain about anything in the world.
  6. You are stuck in irrationalism: you are now forced to live in complete uncertainty and without any certain knowledge of anything at all.
  7. This means that, even if evolution were true, you would have no good reason for thinking that you should believe it–because you could never actually be certain that you knew it (or anything else in the world).
  8. Therefore, it doesn’t matter if the Bible and Darwinian evolutionary theory contradict. Because if evolution were true, and it did contradict with the Bible, then you couldn’t know that, or anything else. And this whole conversation is moot.
  9. “Fine!” You may say. I can see that there’s no reason to believe in evolution, if it’s actually true. But I still can’t believe the Bible, because I am now an irrationalist. With my limited mind, I can’t know anything for certain–including that the Bible is true!”

Stage Two

  1. Alright now, you’ve adopted irrationalism. Irrationalism, according to Frame, is, “A view of epistemology [the study of knowledge] that emphasizes the deficiencies of human reason, at the extreme denying the possibility of rational knowledge.”

    And now, like a good irrationalist, you know that you know nothing for certain. Here’s the thing: you DO know some things for certain about the world. For example, you now know that you have no good reason for believing in evolution, if it is true (see above). You also know you exist. And if you insist that you really don’t know anything at all, well then I would simply ask, “Do you know that for certain?” See the problem? You’re asserting irrationalism with rationalistic certainty. You know that you don’t know.

  2. Given that you do know some things for certain, and given that two contradictory statements can never both be true, there are only two possible options: either (a) you know everything–and therefore you are sure that there are no facts out there that contradict anything you think you know, or (b) God, who reveals Himself in the Bible, who actually does know everything and alone can be certain, has revealed some things to you–such that you can be certain.
  3. So the fact that you have certainty at all in your life, about anything, presupposes the truth of the Bible, God’s revelation about Himself and the world.
  4. To emphasize that point: because the Bible is true, we have certain knowledge about some things in the world.
  5. Because the Bible says that every book, chapter and verse within itself is “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:15-16) we must presuppose that the Bible is true in its entirety. If we want to pick and choose which parts we will believe, we are substituting God’s standard of truth (Scripture) for our own fallible, fallen and incomplete knowledge. And then we’re right back to where we started.
  6. So this is why it doesn’t matter whether Darwin’s evolutionary theory contradicts the Bible. Because the Bible is true. So if Darwin’s theory contradicts it, then Darwin’s theory is wrong.

How to Respond

The Bible is God’s truth, given to us through men whom the Holy Spirit spoke through. And in the Bible, God reveals to us his holy character, his grand design of the world and His plan for the people He has created. As a people, we have rebelled against God. We have sinned and pursued our own autonomy–strongly desiring to live in God’s world, enjoying God’s benefits, but without God. As we have just seen, the desire for autonomy does not work out very well. In fact, it collapses in on itself!
In the Bible, God warns sinful people like you and me of the eternal consequence of living a lifetime in rebellion against him: everlasting punishment in Hell (Romans 6:23) says, “the wages of sin is death….” In the same Bible (in fact in the same verse!) God offers sinners like us complete pardon and reconciliation–through the man that he has chosen as judge of the world. God publicly confirmed that this man is both the perfect standard of goodness, and the perfect judge of humanity, when he raised this man from the dead.
You guessed it: the judge and God’s perfect standard is Jesus. And it is He who offers you reconciliation to God–even right now as you read this! The Bible says to change your mind (“repent”) about your so-called independence from Him and completely trust your life to Jesus, believing that He is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead (Romans 10:9-10). If you will turn and trust yourself to Jesus, God will forgive you and give you new life, that will last forever with Him.
I know. To someone who has believed that Darwinian evolutionary theory was true since grade school, the Gospel (good news) about Jesus is going to sound foolish at first. But remember, we’ve shown here that, even if the Bible contradicts evolution, you should still believe the Bible.  The Gospel may seem to go against what you’ve come to see as common sense. But then again, compared to Darwin’s theory with its self-defeating rationalist-irrationalist cycle, the Gospel doesn’t sound like such nonsense after all, does it?
If you would like to know more, or you read this and have become a follower of Jesus, I would love to hear from you. Would you please shoot me an email at jsettecase@parkcommunitychurch.org?
Thanks, and God bless you.
*apologies to John Frame and Richard Pratt

Want to learn more?

  • Pratt, Richard L., Every Thought Captive (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1979).
  • Frame, John, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R, 1987).
  • Bahnsen, Greg, “Greg Bahnsen vs Evolution” on YouTube.

Catechism Q2: Is there more than one true God?

Is there more than one true God?

No!

Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is the one and only God.

Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIrV)

I wanted you to understand that I am the one and only God. Before me, there was no other god at all. And there will not be any god after me.

Isaiah 43:10b (NIrV)

You are my witnesses. Is there any other God but me? No! There is no other Rock. I do not know even one.

Isaiah 44:8b (NIrV)

The Bible makes it clear, over and over again, that there is one God. There is one great King who sits on the universe’s throne. Sure, there are many false claimants to God’s throne–many who are called “gods”–but there is only one true God. In a way, this makes Christianity a very simple faith. And it sets Christianity against a litany of other religious options, such as…

  • Polytheism–(ancient paganism and modern Hinduism) teaches that there are many gods and spirits, who must be appealed to for different needs. However the Bible teaches one God, who supplies all our needs.
  • Henotheism (ancient regional religions and similar to Mormonism) teaches that there are many gods, but only one “for us.” Yet the Bible says that there is only one God, and He is God of all, and must be worshiped by all.
  • Pluralism (modern, Western political correctness) teaches that all views of God are equally valid. However, the Bible teaches that there is only one correct view of God, and that is the view He Himself reveals to us.
  • Gnosticism and Arianism (practiced in the first few centuries A.D. and similar to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe) teach that there is one high God, and at least one created, demi-god under Him. Yet the Bible teaches that there is only One deserving of the title “God,” and that is the uncreated God, the Lord, the Creator of everything.

Whether or not someone subscribes to one of the religions mentioned above, our modern world is filled with false gods–as my son Cubby and I call them, “pretend gods.” Scripture calls them idols.

An idol–a pretend god–is not just something you bow down in front of. Tim Keller defines an idol this way:

It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

We are tempted to give our hearts over to false “gods” every day. That’s why this basic, biblical truth, summed up in just one short word, is so important: “Is there more than one true God? No!

Hello friends & family!

What’s going on with my family lately: a post from my wife Aliza about our son.

prayforlukas

My name is Aliza Settecase and I am a mom to three beautiful children, Jakob (3.5 years old), AnnaSophia (2 years old) & Lukas (10 month old.)  I never saw myself as being a stay at home mom, but I was thrust into the role when I lost my job at 35 weeks pregnant with my second born, AnnaSophia.  At the time I was angry with my company for putting my family in this situation at such an inopportune time, as I was the SOLE bread winner for our family at the time, but God knew better.  I have absolutely LOVED staying at home with our kids and feel blessed by my new role.

That being said the road has not been an easy one for me and my family.  After losing my job, Joel, who was in seminary full time, was able to find a full time position at a…

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