In today’s podcast, Kurt discusses the topic “Is Jesus the Only Way?” with Dr. Bob Stewart. Points of discussion include: how to reconcile the notion of Jesus being the only way in a relativistic society, religious pluralism, possessing relevant apologetics for our specific culture including how to discuss objective truth to someone who doesn’t believe it exists, and more.
Kurt: Good day to you and thanks for joining us here on another episode of Veracity Hill, where we are striving for truth on faith, politics, and society. It’s a pleasure to be with you here. Episode 54, 54 of Veracity Hill. I’m very excited about the things that we’re doing here, the topics that we’ve been bringing to you week after week. If you haven’t had a chance yet, last week we did an interview with former Chicago Cub outfielder Matt Murton and on his story of his journey as a professional baseball player not just here in the States but over in Japan where he had lots of success and I hope that you will listen to that episode and share it with your friends as well. Today, we’ve got a great show coming up. We’re talking about whether Jesus is the only way. Is Jesus really the only way for salvation? Let me put it that way, for salvation. Sometimes we say is Jesus the only way to Heaven, but sometimes that gives some ideas that maybe we’re going to spend eternity in Heaven, which I don’t think that’s quite what the Bible says. At any rate, I am running solo today. Chris has the week off, and so I do have the livestream up on Facebook. If you’re following along live, thank you for those that are watching here. I’m doing all sorts of things here during this episode, running the sound and what not, but before we get to the main thrust of the show today, I just have a few announcements. First, if you want to participate in today’s show, if you want to ask a question, you’re welcome to do so on Facebook. Hopefully, I’ve got the questions coming here and I’ll be seeing those come in. You can also text me. Just text the word VERACITY to the number 555-888 and I’ll get your text messages and if you’ve got a comment or you’ve a question either for me or for my guests, I’d be welcome to read those on the air here, or you could even call in if you want to have a discussion with us. The number is 505-2STRIVE. That’s 505-278-7483. Lastly, let me say this. In the month of August, Veracity Hill’s going to be doing a small fundraiser. I’m going to be looking to raise some more money, especially for recurring gifts, and so before I begin doing that, I would love to get your feedback on the show. If you are a listener to this show, I know there are many out there that listen live and even more that listen through the downloads, the websites, the podcasts that they get to their phone, I would love to get just a comment that you might have to say about what we’re doing here. If it’s the types of questions that we’re exploring, if it’s the wide variety of guests or topics, tell me something that you like about the show and why you want to have other people contribute to making this show happen. That would be great.
Now let me introduce to you Dr. Robert Stewart. He is the Greer-Heard Chair of Faith and Culture at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Bob. Thanks for joining me on this show today.
Bob: Thank you for having me, Kurt.
Kurt: Before we get into the discussion whether Jesus is the only way, first, tell me a little bit about what’s happening there at New Orleans Baptist THeological Seminary or as I call it here, I just call it NOBTS, but maybe you guys have some nickname down there.
Bob: Yeah. In Louisiana, we pronounce words in many different ways. Almost nobody in New Orleans saws Nawins[NP1] . I don’t know where that comes from. You may hear New Orleans, or New Orleeans, but nevertheless, I direct the philosophy/apologetics programs here at New Orleans Seminary and I’m also the chair of the Greer-Heard. I hold the Greer-Heard Chair of Faith and Culture and that’s a program where we bring in an evangelical or traditional Christian scholar of some renown to dialogue or debate with a non-Christian or with a liberal and…
Kurt: That’s theologically speaking.
Bob: Right. We’ve been doing the program, now we’re in our 14th year, and our first year was a dialogue between N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan on the resurrection of Jesus and in November will be our 14th Greer-Heard forum and that will include again N.T. Wright dialoguing with Simon Gathercole from Cambridge University on the meaning of Jesus’s atonement and N.T. Wright has a new book, The Day The Revolution Began, which is all about the atonement of Christ and its been a bit controversial in some circles and so Tom and Simon will dialogue on Friday night, November 10th about the topic and we will livestream it and we’ll take questions and so forth and so on and then the next day, November 11th, Saturday, we will come back and we will have papers by Kevin Vanhoozer and Michael Horton and Doug Moo and Edith Humphrey and then Tom and Simon, N.T. Wright goes by Tom to those who know him, Tom and Simon will interact with each paper presenter and so it’s a great time and then we have a bit of Q&A with each paper and so forth. That’s going to be a fantastic event for us and we’ve been publishing with Fortress Press, so a number of our forums are in print, so you can purchase and plus we add authors to the group that is actually on campus so even if you come to the event or you see the livestream, you may not get every bit of the dialogue that eventually takes place and we’ve had some pretty significant scholars add additional articles. People like the late Wolfhart Pannenberg, people like John Hick, the late John Hick, people like Alister McGrath or J.P. Moreland, Nancy Murphy…
Kurt: You’ve got this sort of academic conference or round table, but then you guys also do an apologetics conference in January. Right?
Bob: We have a pretty significant apologetics program. We have over 100 majors in one apologetics degree or another, between 100-200, closer to 100 at the moment than 200, kind of a moving target, and so we offer everything from a certificate in Christian apologetics to a Ph.D. in Christian apologetics. We have three Master’s degrees in apologetics, plus a Master’s degree in Islamic Studies, and then also a Doctor of Ministry degree. The big event that we do eventwise in apologetics is our Defend Apologetics School and that takes place every year in January and we especially target collegiate students for this, but it’s open to everybody, so we have our students coming, we have undergraduate students from across America coming. We have just the general public coming.
Kurt: Like former NLF tight end Benjamin Watson.
Bob: Exactly. Yeah. I had watched Ben on television, but then he came to our conference unannounced.
Kurt: That was a few years ago. Right?
Bob: He was playing for the Saints at that time and the word was getting around pretty quickly. Ben Watson’s here. Ben Watson’s here.
Kurt: Yeah. That’s cool.
Bob: He is such a good person. He’s done so much in this community, also in Baltimore. His faith is genuine and he’s done a great deal in terms of racial reconciliation with worldview as the basis. Very intelligent and articulate fellow. The thing about our conference that I think makes it really unique, #1, is it’s five days and so you get a ton of teaching and training and so forth and then we bring in really good people. This year some of our plenary speakers will be Gary Habermas, Craig Hazen, Christopher Brooks is going to be one, Tim McGrew.
Kurt: TMG! The great Tim McGrew! Yes. Excellent!
Bob: One of the things that we take very seriously here in New Orleans and it may be because we’re a majority African-American city is urban apologetics and this is an area that a lot of apologetics programs have neglected, I don’t think through intentionally so, but we will have Lisa Fields from Jude 3 here, Christopher Brooks is a pastor in Detroit.
Kurt: He’s written the book Urban Apologetics.
Bob: He’s written an excellent book on urban apologetics and some others that have special training and experience in this regard, so that’s got to be one of our emphases this year, but because we have a passion to train young people and collegiates in particular, the charge for the general public for the whole conference would be $120 and for five days.
Kurt: That’s a good price.
Bob: We record every minute of the conference and we livestream the plenary sessions, but the recording is roughly 100 hours of apologetics teaching and we make that avaliable to anybody who registers for the conference. You couldn’t buy[NP2] that for $120, but for collegiate students, we waive that $120 fee and so the cost for a college student to come to Defend is 0.
Kurt: Is that any college student or is it just a student enrolled in your program?
Bob: It’s any college student.
Kurt: Wow. That’s a great deal, Bob.
Bob: It’s any undergraduate student. We also make a special package deal for them as far as room and board because we know they do have to eat and sleep, although collegiates apparently sleep less than most people, but we give them five nights lodging and thirteen meals for $200 and you can’t beat that with a stick.
Kurt: That’s great.
Bob: That’s some of what we’re doing here in apologetics and missions and evangelism at New Orleans Seminary.
Kurt: That’s great work. Awesome. Let’s get into the main topic here for the show. We want to talk about whether Jesus is the only way and what does that mean? In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, except through me.” And elsewhere in the Scriptures, we see that YHWH tells His people that they should have no other gods before Him. He is to be the head honcho, the only one that they worship and in fact, we see as you read the Old Testament, that there is punishment for when people go astray and they worship other foreign gods. What does that mean then, especially in our relativistic society today, where that’s true for you but not for me or you might also hear this sort of acceptance of religious pluralism in terms of its truth value, that there are many ways to God, how do we respond to folks that bring forth these objections?
Bob: Alright. That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked it, and I do think it shows that all of our apologetic conversations are going to be situated within a culture, within a timeframe and so forth. I was looking at a quotation just a little while ago from the first World’s Parliament of Religions and one of the major Christian speakers, William Wilkinson, said this, and I quote, “Of any ethnic religion, therefore, can it be said that it is a true religion, only not perfect? Christianity said no. The attitude of Christianity therefore towards religions other than itself is an attitude of universal absolute eternal unappeasable hostility.” So roughly 125 years ago, that was the widely accepted Christian position. I might want to pick a bit of a bone with Wilkinson to say that we have to be hostile toward other religions, although read in context he’s not saying that Christians should be hostile to non-Christians, he’s saying Christianity as a belief system is not going to fit with other belief systems. In today’s culture that is highly offensive and several of my degrees are from state universities so I’ve been on large campuses, I was a student taking doctoral seminars at private universities and also state universities and I experienced this firsthand, that people think that’s just offensive, that’s intolerant, and I think there is something that they are recognizing and what they are recognizing is that if Jesus is the only savior, then every other so-called savior is a false savior, and if Jesus is the only savior, then all of us are incomplete and inadequate on our own and we live in a culture where we want to feel good about ourselves. We want to say that we can handle everything. If we have a problem, counseling will fix it, and the Gospel says no, counseling won’t fix it. You’re fundamentally broken, that sort of thing. When we say that Jesus is the only savior, what they tend to hear is that we’re right and you’re wrong and they think that’s arrogance, but I think they also feel this way because thinking about truth has changed in our culture and so frequently I hear things like, “Well there’s no such thing as truth,” or “There’s no such thing as objective truth.” My answer typically is “Really? Is that true?”, because if there’s no such thing as truth, then it’s not true that there’s no such thing as truth. If it’s not true that there’s no such thing as truth, then there is truth, but what I think people are really trying to say, one thing when they say that is nobody can know the truth, and that’s a different sort of animal[NP3] . But again the response is similar. “Really? Is that true?” If nobody can know the truth, then how can you know that nobody can know the truth?
Kurt; There’s sort of this self-analysis, this self-test, that it doesn’t seem to pass. Right? And because it doesn’t pass, it’s self-refuting. Right?
Bob: That’s right. It’s self-refuting or as philosophers would say self-referentially incoherent.
Kurt: That’s the term I was looking for.
Bob: When you tell people that, their eyes roll back in their head. What I tend to say with people who think there’s no such thing as truth or wonder if anybody can know the truth, that sort of thing, is I tend to ask them a question, and it’s a really simple question, and the question is this. Have you ever been lied to? Of course, I’ve been lied to! Notice this. If there’s no such thing as truth, then there’s no such thing as a lie, but everybody knows that they’ve been lied to and of course all of us who are truthful know we’ve all lied as well. Truth, we really all do believe in truth. What we’re cautious about is other peoples’ thinking about truth. Frequently when people mean when they say there’s no such thing as truth or nobody can know the truth is you can’t be absolutely certain that you know the truth. I think maybe they’ve raised the bar to an unrealistically high level, something like you would need in algebraic truth or mathematical truth, but you don’t need to be certain about truth to know, not even important things that you build your life on. I’ll tell you a little story. About 10-12 years ago, one of our faculty members had a college age son who was going through a crisis of faith and so he came to me and he said, “I’d like you to go to lunch with me and my son. He’s been going through some things and he’s questioning his faith and I think maybe you can help me,”, I said, “I certainly hope that I can,” so we went out to lunch and I just started asking him questions and then after I kind of thought I knew where he was headed I said, “So let me make sure I’m understanding you correctly,” and this is one thing that I would recommend to people as you dialogue with people, that you don’t jump to a conclusion or that you don’t come in with a canned one-size-fits-all rebuttal, that sort of thing.
Kurt: Which even lay apologists, we can do that sometimes. We just have these canned answers that are ready to go.
Bob: And they may be
wide of the mark and then they leave thinking he doesn’t really care about me
or my problems. I said, “Let me make sure I’m understanding you. What I’m
hearing is you think there’s pretty good evidence for Christianity, but you’re
not certain it’s good enough because you’re not absolutely certain that it’s
true. That you have some rational doubt, that sort of thing.” He said,
“That’s it, exactly.” I said, “So the problem is certainty.
Let me ask you a question. You’re a young guy. Single. Would you like to be
“Oh yeah. I’d like to be married.
“Okay. When you
get married would you like to be a married who was always faithful to you or
would it be okay if she cheated on you from time to time?”
“I want a woman that’s 100% faithful to me.”
“Alright. How could you be certain?”
Kurt: Yeah. Good.
Bob: He said, “I guess I couldn’t.”
I said, “Now your problem is you’ve got your can’t be certain but Christianity calls for an absolute 100% existential commitment and the certainty isn’t matching the call but commitment, but so does marriage, so I guess you’re never going to get married, huh?”
“I’m gonna get married.”
“But you can’t be certain.”
Right there, I could see the light bulb come on in his mind. His eyes lit up and he saw that you don’t have to have absolute certainty. Even where existential commitments are involved, where complete commitment, marriage is not 50-50, it’s 100-100, that sort of thing. I think there are some lies floating out there that sound really good. Things like, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Well, 1, that’s a pretty extraordinary claim so where’s the extraordinary evidence for it? But secondly, it’s just simply not true. We make extraordinary claims on less than extraordinary evidence. Cosmologists do it all the time and it’s only about the very fabric of reality, the nature of the universe, and we have cosmologists who radically differ and yet they have some evidence. They’re not making unreasonable conclusions, that sort of thing. I think we just have some bad thinking about knowledge.
Kurt: We might even come up with easier examples shall we say then than cosmology. How about the claim, “I won the lottery.”? That strikes me as an extraordinary claim if someone says that, but it doesn’t require extraordinary evidence. It just requires ordinary evidence in order for that extraordinary claim to be proven. Even just these regular day examples would help to fight against these, they’re not adages, they just kind of sound nice, they sound like that they might be right, but upon further analysis they just don’t hold weight.
Bob: Right. I do think some of this is perhaps the legacy of modernism of a bad sort. I think overall modernity’s been very good to Western culture, but there are thinkers that have gone overboard and then the reactions have gone overboard in the opposite direction. I’ll tell you a story about a doctoral seminar I was in at the University of Texas in Arlington over twenty years ago. This was in the 90’s. The first day of class the professor comes in and he passes out the syllabus and he explains how the seminar’s going to work and then he lectures for about 15-20 minutes, something like that, which is not a lot of lecturing being done by professors in Ph.D. seminars. They’re mainly facilitating…
Bob: Yeah. But the first sentence out of his mouth was “Rationality and will are illusory.” Everybody around the room just seemed to accept it. I was so stunned that I actually wrote that sentence across the top of the syllabus because it just blew my mind. Let me be clear about what he was saying. He was saying “You think you’re rational, but you’re not.”
Kurt: Yeah. It’s all about whatever you want to do.
Kurt: I was just engaging in a discussion with a colleague and he was telling me a story about someone who had come up to him and said something along the lines of “Arguments and evidence don’t persuade people”, and my colleague said, “Why do you think that?” The guy proceeded to give an argument and evidence for why he thought that and of course, he wanted my colleague to agree with him.
Bob: I do grant that people are not always rational. None of us is. Then the second half of it, will is an illusion. You think that you freely choose to believe or to act, those sorts of things, or not believe, or not act, but that’s an illusion too. That’s basically coming out of your culture. My question after he finished was “If rationality and will are illusory, on what basis will we be graded in this course?”, and he let me know pretty quickly that he wasn’t doubting his rationality or his will, but my rationality and my will. What we find is lots of this talk about truth and certainty and knowledge and power and hegemony, discourse, and so forth, it’s not about truth. It’s about us. But the truth is, no pun intended, we can’t live without truth and we don’t live without it. The way that we live reveals that deep down we believe there actually is truth and that we can know it and other people can know it and we know we’ve been lied to. We know we’ve lied. When we go to the pharmacist and turn in the prescription, we don’t expect the pharmacist to close his eyes and go, eeny, meeny, miny, moe. We trust that the pharmacist can read doctorese and give us what the doctor has really written that we should get. When we take our tax receipts to an accountant, we trust the accountant will use real numbers because we know the IRS believes in truth.
Kurt: Hey, Bob. We’ve got to take a short break here, but when we return we’re going to explore more of these topics and questions, and if you’re following along with us, some of this might seem a little deep to you. Oh boy. We’re talking about truth and how you can know things and how does that really relate to Jesus? The tough truth is, is that a lot of these objections that you might face have these, yes, philosophical underpinnings, and it’s important that we recognize them so that we can recognize how they are mistaken and so to guide us through some of those thoughts, Dr. Bob Stewart’s here with us talking about these things. If you want to comment or question, there are a number of ways you can get in touch with us. You can give us a call. The number is 505-2STRIVE or you can shoot me a text message. Just text the word VERACITY to 555-888. Alright, we’ve got to take this short break and when we come back we’re going to explore more of these philosophical underpinnings and also maybe touch upon the topic, “What about those who never hear the Gospel?”, so stick with us.
Kurt: Thanks for sticking with us through that short break from our sponsors. If you are interested in learning more about how you can become a sponsor or a patron, just go to our website, Veracityhill.com and click on that patron tab and you can read more about ways you can donate just a couple of bucks a month or if you want to become a sponsor with us, have your logo up on the website and maybe even have an ad played here week after week on our show, you can do that and learn more there at the website. I’m here with Dr. Bob Stewart and today we’re discussing whether Jesus is the only way for salvation. In the first half of the program here, Bob’s been talking about these sort of philosophical underpinnings for these objections that we might see in our day to day conversations and so let’s continue with that Bob. I didn’t mean to cut you off too much there but I know we had to take our break here. Tell me a little bit more about, I’m trying to reflect back now where we were, you had told us that story.
Bob: We were talking about truth and exclusivity. One of the things about truth is it excludes error, falsehood, because it is particular. People recognize this with math. They recognize it in science, those sorts of things, but when it comes to religion, people are a little more hesitant about that. They tend to think that it’s maybe more like, “I prefer chocolate ice cream. You prefer vanilla. Somebody else prefers strawberry. That sort of thing.” One of the questions that sometimes I get, particularly on university campuses is, “So you think Christianity is the only true religion. Have you investigated them all?” If you haven’t investigated every true religion how can you say that Christianity is the only true religion,” and that sort of thing. The answer of course is, “Of course I have not investigated every single religion[NP4] . Nobody has and nobody could. Religions are popping up all the time.
Kurt: Every day. Yeah.
Bob: I can’t even name all the religions and nobody else can either and I do this for a living, but the thing is, you don’t need to. Once you’ve found the truth, you don’t have to look in all the other places that it possibly could be, but isn’t. I’ll give you a story. The first year I was on faculty here, the seminary. We had a dog back then and our dog was kind of stupid and misbehaved and, not a bad dog, but just got out of the yard a fair amount of the time. One night about three in the morning, the phone rings, and this is back when we actually had landlines. I stumble out of bed to the phone and it’s our campus security. My wife and I rent a home from the seminary here on the campus, it’s a large campus, and they said, “Do you have a dog?” And I said, “Yes. We have a dog.”
“Is your dog in your yard?”
“I don’t know. She should be. Hope so.”
“Will you check?”
“Okay. Hold on.”
I put on some clothes, get a flashlight, go out in the backyard, and sure enough our dog is not in the backyard. So I come back and say, “No. Our dog is not in the backyard.”
“Look on your carport and see if the dog on your carport is your dog.”
Kurt: On your carport!
Bob: Yeah. My response was, “Why didn’t you start right there?” If I look on the carport and see my dog on the carport, I know my dog is not…
Kurt: In the backyard
Bob: In the backyard. We do things like this. We don’t ask someone who says that 2 + 2 = 4. How do you know? Have you checked all the other equations?
Kurt: Have you checked 2 + 5 = 4?
Bob: Right. What we see is we’re not being arrogant. It’s not arrogant to say that you have the truth that other people need. In fact, we do it all the time. When we give directions, we do it. We do it in chemistry. We do it in math. We even do it in history or ethics. Now history or ethics are not like chemistry and math. They are debatable, but when we debate over history or ethics, we show that we think there is a historical truth and an ethical truth, or we wouldn’t be debating it. Arrogance is not saying that one thing is true and anything contrary is false. Arrogance is mistreating people who disagree with you. It’s certainly not arrogant to say that I was blind, but now I see and you’re blind and you need to find the same cure that I found. Someone who leads a cancer support group is not arrogant for saying other people need help emotionally as well as medical treatment to get through and what we see in the gospel is that Jesus is the cure for spiritual cancer and that all of us, each and every human being without Christ is as a dead man walking. What’s worse than arrogance is having something that can save a life….
Kurt: And not sharing it with people.
Bob: This is an area that interestingly enough, Penn Jillette and I agree on. Now I don’t know Penn Jillette personally. I’m a fan. He’s the taller, he used to be like 2/3 of Penn and Teller, but he’s lost weight. Now he’s just 1/2, he’s just the taller half, but I love magicians and I think Penn and Teller are just great, but both of them are committed atheists and Penn Jillette several years ago put out a video blog talking about a Christian who had come to one of his performances, magic acts, and afterward came up and gave him a Gideon New Testament and he said, “This man was sane. He was sober. He looked me in the eye. He’d written his number and email inside the little Bible he gave me, marked some verses, and he said, ‘I appreciated that. I don’t have respect for people who don’t proselytize.’ and then he said, ‘If you think that I’m going to Hell and you have the answer to keep me from there,’ he said this, ‘How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?’ ” From the mouth of an atheist, something that many Christians need to hear, but it doesn’t, even though it’s reasonable, doesn’t mean that it’s going to end. I saw the Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who’s an interesting guy and I really like a fair amount of his work actually, but he said this in a program on television with a Southern Baptist leader, not myself, he said, “I am absolutely against any religion that says one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. It’s a way of saying we are closer to God than you and that’s what leads to hatred.” Now that has tremendous rhetorical force until you actually look at what it says. The rabbi was apparently oblivious to the fact that what he just said was that religions that don’t say they are superior to others are superior to those that do.
Bob: We see that, but I think there’s also this mistake made that frequently people mistake an attempt at persuasion for coercion and if you coerce somebody to believe something, #1, they don’t actually believe it, but rationally it’s falacious. We actually have an informal fallacy called the ad bauculum fallacy which is an appeal to the rod. If you don’t do this, I’m going to spank you, that sort of thing. Interestingly enough, a good friend of mine is the Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill-Levine, and here’s what she has to say to counter the rabbi Boteach. She wrote this in an academic work. She says this, “Exclusivism”, and she’s talking about Christian exclusivism, particularism, Jesus is the only savior, “Exclusivism should not be morally dubious. What I find more morally dubious is my insisting to another that his or her reading or presuppositions, because they are not pluralistic, are somehow wrong. The evangelical Christian should be free to seek to try to convert me to Christianity. Such an attempt is Biblically warrantly and consistent with evangelical exclusivist theology. I’m free to say ‘Thank you, but no thanks.’ I would not want someone telling me that my cherished confessional traditions have only limited value. I would not presume to do the same to another.” I think she’s got it right. Tolerance is not saying that all religious views are equally correct. In fact, tolerance demands disagreement. You can’t be tolerant without disagreeing. We don’t tolerate things that we agree with. We agree with them. A proper understanding of tolerance is respecting someone’s right to disagree with you. Intolerance is insisting that they not disagree with you. I think these things are kind of underneath the surface when we talk about objections to Christianity.
Kurt: We’re talking here about the importance that evangelism plays when we have the truth and so, that’s a good segue perhaps here. We’ve got a question online from Kyle. Kyle asks this. “If Jesus is the only way, why doesn’t He make it more obvious?” Maybe that question, I know that gets a little bit into the hiddenness of God, but it’s also a good segue into the discussion of the problem of the unevangelized as well, so maybe we’ll properly take Kyle’s question first and then move over into discussion on those that never hear the gospel, so if Jesus is the only way, why doesn’t He make it more obvious?
Bob: Great question. It is a long topic to discuss in full. I’ve actually done a fair amount of work in the last year, not as much as I would like to, on the problem of divine hiddenness, but we do have some great young philosophers that are working in this area. Travis Dumsday has done some very good work in this regard, but let me take the question and I think it is pretty apparent that God exists and oftentimes we have this idea that people are lost, because they have rejected Jesus. That’s the reason that they are lost and that it’s unfair of God to condemn them for not believing something that they couldn’t believe because they never heard it. I would agree that it would be unfair of God to send a person who’s never heard of Jesus to hell simply for not believing a message he’s never heard, but the question is, “Is that the basis of our separation from God?” The Biblical answer is, “No, it’s not.” That’s good news. Jesus is not the reason people are lost. Rejecting Jesus is the reason that lost people continue to be lost rather than the basis upon which they are lost. Paul says it very clearly in Romans 1. He says that “The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them, for sense the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made so that they are without excuse for even though they knew God they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” That’s five or six verses that I just read there from the book of Romans. The interesting thing to me as a philosopher is there is a ton of knowledge language in there. The wrath of God is revealed. Men suppress the truth in unrighteousness. That which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them. His invisible attributes, eternal power, divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood so that they are without excuse, though they knew God, they did not honor Him. There’s epistemology, theory of knowledge, just flowing all through that passage. I think actually Alvin Plantinga is correct that because of sin we are damaged. Now when you talk to an unbeliever, he’s not going to accept that answer. You can’t say “The Bible says” and that’s the answer. I think that the reality of the situation, when I talk to people who have genuine questions about “Why isn’t God more obvious?” These sorts of things. Sometimes Christians have these questions to. It seems sometimes even in my Christian life and other peoples’ Christian life that the very moments when you most need God are the times when He’s most difficult to find. I tend to ask people questions like, “What God are you looking for?” We really haven’t said a whole lot when we say God. I sometimes ask atheists, “Would you please tell me about the God you don’t believe in?” Frequently, they don’t believe in a god I don’t believe in either. Then I will ask some questions like, “Where are you looking?” The Bible tells us the sorts of places and, God is everywhere, God is everywhere, but the Bible tells us the sorts of activities God participates in….
Kurt: Including the bringing of thunderstorms too.
Bob: Yeah. We have a storm here in New Orleans. Not unusual in the summer, but it’s not a hurricane. I will challenge people to pray and they’ll say, “Well why should I pray? I don’t believe in God.” Well if God doesn’t exist, He won’t do anything to you just because you pray. And if God is not real, it’s not irrational to pray. If you fell off a cliff at night and grabbed on to a root out of the side, you would cry out in hope that somebody would hear you up there that could come help you. If you were on a raft at sea you might fire off a flare even if you didn’t know that somebody could, those are not irrational things to do, but God tells us that He is present with us in a special way in worship and so I encourage people to go to church and be open to the fact that God could speak to them, but to cut this short and get back to the main issue, I think Pascal got a lot of things right. “God has made Himself not so hidden that He can’t be found”, there’s enough evidence for those that will see, but there’s enough obscurity for those who don’t want to see. That comes out of his famous statement about the heart has its reasons that reason does not know. I think that’s what the wager is all about. It’s not an argument for God’s existence. I think it’s an argument that a rational person would want God to exist, but then Pascal’s advice is then go to church, take the mass, do the prayers, and then God Himself will personally confirm His reality to you. Does that make some sense?
Kurt: Oh yeah. For sure. What does that then mean for people that never hear the Gospel? You talked about how sin has damaged human nature and yet God has made Himself evident to all men, but it seems like those that never hear the Gospel don’t know about the revelation of Jesus, so they’re sort of left with incomplete knowledge, shall we say? What do you think God does in those circumstances when He is evaluating on the Day of Judgment. What will He do with those sorts of people?
Bob: Well, I think that may be above my pay grade. I think we do have to get back to the condition of the human heart, that what Paul is talking about in Romans 1 is the revelation of God that is available to all people in all places at all times. Now the Gospel is not that sort of revelation. The technical term that we use in theology for the knowledge of God that’s available to all people in all places at all times, we call general revelation. The Gospel is an example of special revelation. Special revelation is available to particular people in particular places at particular times. You could have seen Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee or hanging on the cross if you were there at that point and time and that location, but if you were in Siberia then you couldn’t see Him, or if you were at that point in time 100 years before or after, you wouldn’t see those things, those things happen. The Gospel is special revelation, but here’s the deal. We’ve had the Gospel for nearly 2,000 years. Why are there people that don’t know?
Kurt: Or if I could slightly modify that, why are there people that still don’t know?
Bob: Right. If the figures I’ve heard from missiologists are correct, there are more people living on Earth today who have never heard of Jesus than lived on Earth when Jesus walked on the Sea of Galilee. That’s on us. That is totally on us, but I do think that God is capable of putting people in the right place at the right time for people that have an openness, if such people exist. Okay? I think sometimes we wonder about salvation. No one is ever saved because of how good they are or how moral they are or how intelligent they are or how spiritual they are. We don’t deserve salvation. If salvation were only for the worthy, nobody gets saved. Salvation is God’s free work of grace, not something that we’ve earned because of our behavior or because of our intelligence or our innate spirituality, that sort of thing. I do think part of the answer, but not the most important part, but part of the answer is getting the question right. The question is not, “Why are only some people saved?” The question is, “Why is anybody saved?” The answer is because God is loving, God is gracious, God is merciful, He saves people who don’t deserve to be saved. But I do think that the Bible teaches us that we can trust God to deal righteously with everybody. He is righteous. We may not understand how that works. We may not even understand what being righteous is, but if they respond to the light that they have, then God can be trusted to give more light. That’s not saying if they respond to the light that they have, then God will act as though they received more light. It’s saying God will give them more light.
Kurt: That’s different than what’s called the inclusivist position. Right? You’re not saying that if respond accordingly to what they have, that God will save them. You’re saying that they’ll be given more light. Is that right?
Bob: Right. That’s correct. We’re bordering on opening up a whole can of worms. I actually, now this is a time for me to get a commercial in. I actually edited a book which goes through a number of these positions entitled Can Only One Religion Be True? which takes up a number of these topics, but what I’m talking about, I would say it’s not inclusivism. It’s more of an optimistic exclusivism. It’s definitely a particularist kind of theology, and let me give you some Biblical examples. This is something[NP5] I’m just making up. A lot of times we do. We want God to be someway so we imagine that He is. In Genesis 18:25, before God judges Sodom and Gomorrah, we read this, “Far be it from you to do such a thing. To slay the righteous with the wicked so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from you. Shall not the judge of all the Earth deal justly?” We have a text there that what we see in the New Testament is something like Acts 8. In Acts 8 Philip has been involved in mass evangelism, very successful mass evangelism, and the Holy Spirit tells Philip to leave the area that he is to go to a desert road where he encounters one Ethiopian eunuch and the Ethiopian eunuch is coming from Jerusalem. He’s been to Jerusalem to worship. He actually has at least part of the scroll of Isaiah, because we find that out in the passage. What you don’t find out in the passage, but you can put together from Josephus and historical context is what happens to the eunuch when he gets to the temple. He’s told he can’t go in because he’s a eunuch. But in Isaiah, there’s a passage that says, “And eunuchs will be welcome too.” The eunuch should not say to himself, “I am a dry stump.”, that sort of thing. Then Philip runs up and asks him, “Do you understand what you’re reading” and he says, “No. But how could I without someone to help?” Philip gets in the chariot, preaches Jesus…
Kurt: Baptizes him.
Bob: Salvation. That’s a miracle. They come upon water in a desert. Baptism in a desert. Then Cornelius in Acts 10. He’s a Roman. God prepares him and He prepares Peter separately for Peter to bring him the Gospel. God tells Cornelius through a messenger to send for Peter who will tell you what you need to know to be saved. What we see are examples. Now let me say this very clearly. Some people theologically may push back and say “Yes, they had special revelation. Cornelius had attached himself to a synagogue. The Ethiopian eunuch had the book of Isaiah.” That’s not general revelation. That’s special revelation. I grant that that’s absolutely the case, but the inference is if you respond directly, God will give you more like. I’ll tell you a story, a couple of stories.
Kurt: Sure. And then we also have a question from James who texted in.
Bob: Okay. Let me do these first and then we’ll take that question. How about that?
Kurt: Sure. Sounds good.
Bob: These, I think, really make a contemporary. Randy Ridenour is a friend of mine who teaches philosophy at Oklahoma Baptist University. He’s also an army chaplain. He was stationed in Afghanistan and he’s leading a Bible study and most of the people in the Bible study are Americans. Some of them are GIs. Some of them are contractors who are there. One of the contractors tells him this story. He said, “This morning, I got to my office and I found this Afghani man in my office. I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. He said, ‘Are you American?’ I said, ‘Yes I am.’ He said, ‘I had a dream in which I saw man with wounds in His hands and feet and He said to find an American and the American would tell me who He was.’ ” The Christian contractor leads this Afghani to faith in Jesus, because he had a dream. He didn’t know it was Jesus. None of that. He just was told, “If you want to know who I am, find an American.” Another story, and I think this gets at some of the emotional difficulty that we need to recognize people have who come from other religions. I was speaking on this topic to a group of college students here in Louisiana and a Chinese student from Tulane came to me and she was not a Christian, but she’d made some Christian friends, she’d begun going to church. She was very close to becoming a Christian under conviction. She said, “The thing that troubles me is that if what you are saying is true, then my grandparents are in Hell and everyone else in my family is headed there.” That is a powerful emotional factor and our ability to suppress the truth is extreme. I prayed for wisdom and I said to her, her name is Penny, and so I said to her, “Well if it is true, do you think your grandfather would want you to join him?” And she said, “Well that is something to think about.” I shared with her from the Gospel of Luke with Lazarus and the rich man. The Rich man is in Hades and he asks Abraham, “Send Lazarus to warn my brothers so that they don’t come here.” That was in the Fall of, I can’t remember which year, and then in the Spring we had the Greer-Heard forum and she came up and she said, “I’m a believer now.”
Kurt: That’s great.
Bob: I think God can be trusted to give more light when people respond to the light that they have and I’m not saying that anybody responds appropriately to general revelation, but the truth of the, when you read the Bible it’s not a story of how we seek for God. It’s a story of how God seeks for us, from Genesis to Revelation. I think that’s the answer. What was your call-in question or texted in question?
Kurt: James texted in. He’s asking, “What about aborted babies and miscarriages? What happens to those babies?” I think he’s meaning to say here, “Do they go to Heaven or to Hell?” Because I think what you’re proposing here is people get some light, they get more light. What about those that are unable to get any light at all?
Bob: Right. Right. Frequently that is a question that comes up as do questions about Old Testament saints, people who lived prior to Jesus. My own position is that there is such a thing as an Age of Accountability. That is not something that I can show you knockdown verses in the Bible for…
Kurt: But it’s a theological conclusion made upon some inferences from Scripture support.
Bob: Yeah, but I would contend that all aborted babies are saved. Theologically, we’ve got all these different schools of thought. Calvinism. Arminianism. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, very famous Calvinist British pastor of the….
Kurt: London Tabernacle.
Bob: Of the 19th century. He gave a famous sermon on this and he basically said, all infants, all children who die early on are elect. I don’t know that we need to take that route, but there’s a route that a Calvinist could do, because we don’t know the elect are. That sort of thing. They absolutely would go to Heaven. I remember, I think it was in the 80’s, my first degree was in music, but I got over it. The late great Andre Crouch, African-American Christian musician, wrote a song that a lot of people thought was just a regular song. They used to say “He’s lost his faith. He’s out doing soul music.” That sort of thing. It was entitled, “I’ll Be Good To You, Baby.” It kind of sounded like a typical soul song, but what it was about was aborted babies. It was God saying, “I’ll be good to you, baby.”
Bob: That would be my answer, but the ultimate answer is we can trust that the God of justice and righteousness will be just and righteous toward all.
Kurt: Good. Bob. We’ve already gone over for our time today, but boy, this has been an excellent conversation and even just sitting here and learning from you, listening to you, I don’t know, folks that are listening here, I’ve been taking notes throughout this time today and hopefully you have too. Let me thank you for coming on the show and sharing your, not just your knowledge, but also your wisdom, when you apply your knowledge in those conversations that you have with people. That’s a real blessing. It’s God’s gift to you. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us here and I pray that we can then apply it to our own lives.
Bob: Kurt. Could I do one more commercial?
Bob: Most of the classes that we do, all of our apologetics degrees can be earned either residentially or distance, but the distinction between most of our online classes and the typical online class is that most of our classes are going to be synchronous online classes.
Kurt: What does that mean?
Bob: It’s like streaming. It’s like Skype. I teach several classes over the last several years. I have taught several classes where I have a classroom of students in the room physically with me, and others who log on, and I can see and hear them real-time. They can see and hear me real-time. It’s interactive. It’s dialogical rather than simply being a course in the box in the internet serving as the box. If any of your people would be interested, any of your listeners would be interested, they should contact me or contact the seminary, find out about these sorts of things.
Kurt: If you just want to go directly without having to search Google, the website is nobts.edu. New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Kurt: Bob. Thanks again for coming on the show today. We’ll have to bring you on. I know you are an apologist, though you’re chiefly a professor, that’s your occupation, but you’ve got a number of other topics that you speak on so we’ll have to keep in touch and bring you on the show sometime in the future.
Bob: We thought we were going to talk about universalism today didn’t we?
Kurt: We didn’t even get around to it!
Bob: Thank you for having me, Kurt. I really appreciate it.
Kurt: Of course, Bob. God bless, and we’ll be in touch.
Bob: God bless you too.
Kurt: That does it for the show today. I am grateful for the continued support that I receive from our patrons and the sponsors that we have. Again, if you want to learn more about that, you can go to our website Veracityhill.com and let me just give you a preview of what’s coming up next week. Funny enough, I received a question this week.
Kurt: Alright. This person had a question, we’ll call her J. Her question was this, and I’ll just be brief here. Her question was, “Jesus talks about how His kingdom is not of this world and He scolds Peter for taking out his sword and cutting off the ear of the Roman guard. What does that mean for us as Christians? Are we to engage in politics if Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world?” I want to thank J for her question, especially because we’ve already scheduled next week’s show which happens to be, in fact, upon religion and politics, so it’s so convenient that you’ve asked that question and I hope you’ll tune in next week. We’re going to be talking about that relationship between religion and politics and we’re going to have an author from the Relevant magazine, Krysti Wilkinson, we’re going to be having that discussion. It’s a great question. Let me just give you a quick teaser. My own position is this. Even the political realm is under God’s authority. That’s the teaser for next week I’ll give you. J. Thanks for commenting and questioning in on that. Next week we’re going to be talking about the relationship between religion and politics.
That does it really for the show today. Again, I’m thankful for the partnership that I have with our patrons and our sponsors. Let me list them for you. Defenders Media, Consult Kevin, The Sky Floor, Rethinking Hell, The Illinois Family Institute, Evolution 2.0, and Ratio Christi, and I want to thank our guest today, Dr. Bob Stewart of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and if you want to learn more about the programs that they have, you can go to NOBTS.edu, and so lastly I want to thank you above all for listening in and for striving for truth on faith, politics, and society.
[NP1]Not sure how you want this spelled at 4:20
[NP2]12:25. Unsure if could or couldn’t was said.
[NP3]Cut out at 18:25. I put in animal because it does work, but put in whatever you like.
[NP4]The recording went out around 36:05 so I pulled a Thucydides and said what I thought appropriate to the occasion.
[NP5]Was this said at 1:01:30?