The “Questions from atheists” Facebook page claims that “Christianity is the world’s most testable religion”. And “There is a huge difference between Christianity and other religions”. They have posted a video online that compares the origin of Christianity against the origin of other religions. Here’s what it says:
How other religions began
– Someone had a private idea about God, or
– Someone had a private dream about God, or
– Someone had a private encounter with an angel
Then that person told the rest of the world.
This makes other religions impossible to verify because there are no eye-witnesses of the prime event.
How Christianity began
– Jesus spent three years doing miracles and teaching publicly (There were at least three Passovers during this period – Jn. 2:23;6:6; 12:1), and
– Jesus was executed publicly (Mt. 27:39-43; Lk. 23:4-49), and
– Jesus was buried (Mt. 27:62-66) and rose from a public tomb publicly (Mt. 28:11-15), and
– Jesus showed that He was alive publicly (1 Cor. 15:3-8)
Then the public told the rest of the world.
So, Christianity is the world’s most testable religion. That’s a good reason why the Christian Bible is the best place to look for spiritual answers.
This blogpost reproduces information on the “Questions from atheists” Facebook page, which was brought to my attention by Steve Warsa.
Written, May 2016
The National Geographic Channel is screening a documentary series “The story of God with Morgan Freeman”. It asks big cosmological questions like; How did we get here? What happens when we die? Why does evil exist? What is the apocalypse? And, the power of miracles. The series blends science, history, anthropology and personal experience on a journey to understand humanity’s religious devotion. It tells the story of religion and spirituality, across disciplines and faiths.
Freeman played God in the movie “Bruce Almighty”. When asked about his picture of God, Freeman said, “I don’t think there is an image of God. I like the idea of rays coming down from clouds. I like the idea of seeing the Milky Way on a clear and starry night or under a full moon. That is the essence of existence. You’re there totally with the great unknown. That’s God”. Also, “The highest power is the human mind. That’s where God came from, and my belief in God is my belief in myself”.
Many people are aware of a spiritual dimension to life. They may sense a divine higher being that provides meaning and purpose and moral guidance. Or they may realize that their capacity for thinking, willing and feeling is beyond the physical realm. The fact that we need to find meaning and purpose in our lives means that we are spiritual beings.
A Google search on “spiritual answers” gives a range of responses including those based on, meditation, yoga, Christianity, Hinduism, Mormonism, psychics, mysticism, and higher consciousness. Some say that all religions lead to God and heaven. But, according to the Bible that’s not true.
True and false
When Jesus was in Sychar, He asked a Samaritan woman for water to drink from the well. In their conversation Jesus mentioned her previous five husbands. She responded by calling him a prophet and discussing places of worship. Then Jesus said, “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (Jn. 4:21-22NIV). The Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). Samaritans worshipped the true God, but their failure to accept much of His revelation meant that they knew little about Him. They mixed the law of Moses with idolatry and built a temple on Mount Gerizim. Consequently, Jesus condemned their ways of worship and spiritual practices, which must have been inconsistent with the Old Testament (the Bible at that time). He corrected her by saying that God’s revelation in Scripture came through the Jews (their Scripture taught that a Messiah was coming into the world) and the Messiah (who was talking to her) was Jewish.
Jesus is saying that God can now be worshipped in any place. In the Old Testament the Israelites were to worship God at the tabernacle (as it moved from Sinai to Canaan) or at the temple (in Jerusalem). But after Jesus came, there’s no one special place to worship God. Instead, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16). We can worship God anywhere. And corporate worship is possible wherever Christians gather together. Also, Jesus said that He was metaphorically the new temple, the new meeting place with God – “Destroy this temple (His body), and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn. 2:19).
Then Jesus said that because God is spirit, people must worship God “in the Spirit and in truth” – “a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:23-24).
Because truth is associated with Jesus Christ, true worship must include Jesus (Jn. 1:14; 14:6). Jesus is “full of grace and truth”. And He’s “the way and the truth and the life”. So there is true worship and false worship. There is true religion and false religion. There is true spirituality and false spirituality. This is how to test spiritual answers. Because the Samaritan worship didn’t include Jesus (as Messiah), it was a false worship. A false religion. Jesus said, “Whoever rejects me rejects Him who sent me (Lk. 10:16). If you reject Jesus, you reject the true God. This means that Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and any other religion or philosophy that does not accept Jesus as the divine Savior of the world who came to die for sinners and rise again and become the Mediator between God and humanity is false. The Bible says that only one religion leads to God and heaven – true Christianity. Despite our pluralistic, multicultural, relativistic and all-tolerant world, all other religions are false.
What about Morgan Freeman’s search around the world for spiritual answers? He said that “the great unknown” is God. Is this true or false? It’s false because God has revealed much more about Himself in the Bible. His search doesn’t include Jesus at all. And God is much more that our mind or our self-belief. What about all the religions and philosophies? All except Christianity as described in the Bible are false. They don’t include Jesus. Or if they do include Jesus, it’s not the Jesus described in the Bible.
Lessons for us
Don’t be like Morgan Freeman and look for spiritual answers in the wrong places. And the results of a Google search that don’t include Jesus as described in the Bible are wrong places.
It’s easy to be influenced by others. For example, the Israelites were influenced to worship the gods of other nations. Likewise, today we can be influenced by the news media, social media, academics, politicians, and movies. In fact, we can be influenced by anyone.
Let’s look in the Bible for our spiritual answers and not be swayed by the other false religions and philosophies.
Written, May 2016
Today the music legend, Prince, died suddenly aged 57 years. According to Billboard, Prince was “One of the most iconic musicians in music history”. “His legacy as a musician, a singer, a style icon and an endlessly creative mind is nearly unparalleled, and his influence stretches from pop to R&B to funk to hip-hop and everywhere in between”. Tony Parsons wrote: “Prince danced like Fred Astaire, he played guitar like Hendrix, he wrote songs as good as Dylan, he smashed as many barriers as Bowie”. Prince received seven Grammy Awards from 32 nominations. Over his 35-year career, he released 39 solo studio albums. Four of these were No. 1 on the Billboard 200.
When discussing the death on radio today, a commentator said “You’ve got to enjoy life”; presumably because it can end suddenly. King Solomon tried living like this.
Solomon enjoyed life
I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for the ‘good things’ in life.” But I found that this, too, was meaningless. So I said, “Laughter is silly. What good does it do to seek pleasure?” After much thought, I decided to cheer myself with wine. And while still seeking wisdom, I clutched at foolishness. In this way, I tried to experience the only happiness most people find during their brief life in this world. (Eccl. 2:1-3NLT)
“Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure” (Eccl. 2:10).
His attitude was: enjoy life while you can!
“So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.” (Eccl. 3:12-13)
“So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.” (Eccl. 8:15).
“Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine with a happy heart, for God approves of this! Wear fine clothes, with a splash of cologne! Live happily with the woman you love through all the meaningless days of life that God has given you under the sun. The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil. Whatever you do, do well. For when you go to the grave, there will be no work or planning or knowledge or wisdom” (Eccl. 9:7-10).
But Solomon found that a life which is not related to God is meaningless (Eccl. 2:11; 12:8). It is like “chasing after the wind.” True fulfilment and lasting satisfaction are elusive. The things we do apart from God are hollow and futile because they can be destroyed and come to nothing.
Death, the leveller
100% of people die. Solomon realized that we all share a common destiny (Eccl. 9:2-3). Death is a great leveller. It happens to the rich and famous like Prince and to ordinary people like us.
Here’s what Solomon concluded from his investigation into all the ways of living without God:
Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor Him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” (Eccl. 12:1).
Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey His commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” (Eccl. 12:13-14).
From this we see that our purpose in life is related to the God who created the universe and to whom we are accountable.
If our quest is to enjoy life, then it will absorb so much of our time and energy that we will miss the purpose of our life. This life is the support act for the main show. It’s the prelude to eternity.
Prince’s biographer said he was spiritual. I wonder what this means? But salvation isn’t based on our goodness. Instead, it’s based on Jesus’s goodness, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
According to the Bible, we are not here just to enjoy life or to be spiritual. But we are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe. This is prohibited by our rebellious sinful nature. Fortunately, God sent Jesus to earth to overcome this barrier so we can be reconciled with God. Have you accepted this gift?
Written, April 2016
According to Listovative.com the greatest leaders of all time were Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Mao Zedong, Adolf Hitler, George Washington, Napoleon Bonaparte, Franklin D Roosevelt, Julius Caesar, Winston Churchill, Asoka, Alexander The Great, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro.
But the Bible says that Adam and Jesus Christ are the greatest leaders of humanity. In this post we look at the contrast between Adam and Jesus in Romans 5:12-21, where it is evident that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. And Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.
The theme of the book of Romans is the good news (gospel) that God has intervened in our history so that through faith in Christ’s sacrificial death we can be reconciled with God. It describes the universal need for this reconciliation (Rom. 1:18 – 3:20), how it can be obtained through faith in Christ (3:21-31), an example of similar faith in Old Testament times (4:1-25), and the benefits of such faith (5:1-11). Then the good news is summarized by contrasting Adam and Jesus (5:12-21), which is followed by a description of the process by which believers grow to maturity (sanctification) (6:1-23).
The state and destiny of humanity is pictured in two men: Adam and Jesus. Adam trespassed by disobeying God (when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). This resulted in humanity becoming sinful and God’s punishment was the death penalty (physical death and eternal spiritual death). That’s why people die. On the other hand, Jesus obeyed God (when He allowed men to execute Him). This resulted in humanity being freely offered to have the penalty of eternal spiritual death cancelled and replaced with eternal life. So Adam is the source of all our problems, suffering, pain, and God’s judgment; while Jesus is the source of our reconciliation with God and the promises this brings. Adam brought death and Christ brought life.
The major difference between Adam and Christ was their disobedience and obedience to God. This has a dramatic impact on our world and our destiny.
Adam and Jesus were both unique. Adam was the first man. Jesus was both human (a man) and divine (the Son of God). They were similar as men, but different because Adam wasn’t divine. They were also similar in that a single act (Adam eating the fruit and Jesus dying) impacted all humanity.
Romans 5:12-21 teaches that Adam is the leader of sinful humanity.
“just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people (everyone), because all sinned” (5:12NIV).
“death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam” (5:14)
“many (everyone) died by the trespass of the one man (Adam)” (5:15).
“the result of one man’s (Adam’s) sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation” (5:16).
“by the trespass of the one man (Adam), death reigned through that one man” (5:17).
“one trespass (Adam’s) resulted in condemnation for all people (everyone)” (5:18).
“through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many (everyone) were made sinners” (5:19).
“sin reigned in death” (5:21).
As a result of Adam’s disobedience, sin and death passed to all his descendants. Through Adam’s sin all were condemned as sinners. Death is the penalty for sin. Death shows our sinfulness. The proof that Adam’s sin affected the entire human race is that death is universal. So because of Adam all people are sinful in their nature and in their behavior. Adam’s sin altered our human nature so that it’s corrupt and rebellious. That’s the condition of humanity for you, me and everyone else. We’re habitual sinners because of Adam’s original sin. It’s the greatest problem of the human race and it’s the source of the evil in our world. That’s why the world is as it is.
This passage also teaches that Jesus Christ is the leader of forgiven humanity.
“how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many (believers)!” (5:15).
“the gift of God … the gift (of Christ’s righteousness, v.17) followed many trespasses and brought justification (to believers)” (5:16).
“how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness (believers) reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!” (5:17).
“one righteous act (Christ’s) resulted in justification and life for all people (believers)” (5:18).
“through the obedience of the one man (Christ) the many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:19).
“grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).
What a contrast between Adam’s sin and Christ’s gift! Condemnation came to us through Adam’s sin, while justification comes to us through Christ’s gift of righteousness. The good news is that Christ’s gift paid the penalty for Adam’s sin, and we can be reconciled with God if we accept this gift. There’s no other way to get right with God.
Clearly Christ’s gift of salvation is superior to Adam’s sin and the judgment we deserve. It’s “much more” (5:15, 17) and is sufficient for “many trespasses” (5:16) because Christ takes our judgement and we are seen in His righteousness. Instead of being ruled by death, in a coming day we will reign with Christ (5:17; Rev. 3:21). While Adam brought eternal death, Christ brings eternal life (1 Cor. 13:19-23).
Paul also says that Adam “is a pattern of the one to come (Jesus)” (5:14). How is Jesus like Adam? He explains this:
“Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ’s one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone. Because one person disobeyed God (Adam), many became sinners. But because one other person (Christ) obeyed God, many (believers) will be made righteous” (5:18-19NLT).
As Adam’s sin is imputed to everyone (5:12), Christ’s righteousness is imputed to all who trust in Him (1 Cor. 15:21-22). So, both judgment and salvation come from one man.
Adam and Jesus had a great influence on the human race. Adam is the leader of sinful humanity and Christ the leader of forgiven humanity. But Christ’s gift is greater than Adam’s sin.
The universal problem of the human race is sin and the universal solution is the gospel. All people, no matter what they have done, can get right with God because of Christ’s obedience and His righteousness. That’s the most important thing that we can do. But like any gift, it belongs only to those who accept it. Only those who by faith receive God’s gift of justification will enjoy the benefits of Christ’s obedience (5:17). Our eternal destiny depends on which humanity we choose: that of Adam or that of Christ.
Because of our humanity, we all begin life “in Adam”. A Christian changes their allegiance from Adam to Jesus. This means they are positioned “in Christ”. If we are in Christ, our salvation is secure not because of anything in us, but because we’re in Him.
Christians have accepted Christ’s gift, but they are still influenced by Adam’s sin. They have a new identity in Christ and an old identity in Adam. Whether our new identity is shown in our everyday life depends on whether we obey God’s instructions for us in the parts of the Bible written to the church (Acts to Revelation). Do we live like Adam (who disobeyed God) or like Jesus (who obeyed God)? Let’s be like Paul and follow the example of Christ (1 Cor. 11:1).
Written, February 2016
The Town of Paradise is in Newfoundland, Canada and there is an area near Boston, Ohio, called Hell Town. Place names arouse particular connotations, connections and feelings. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus used such associations in their teaching. For example, when Jesus spoke about what we call hell, He used the Greek word Gehenna. But what did the word “Gehenna” mean to those living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD?
The ancient city of Jerusalem was bounded by Kidron valley on the east and Hinnom valley on the south and west. The boundary between the Israelite tribes of Judah & Benjamin was along Hinnom valley (Josh. 15:8; 18:16). The Greek word for this valley was Gehenna (Strongs #1067). Today it is called Wadi er-Rababi. The valley was probably named after a Jebusite named Hinnom. The southern part of Hinnom (#2011) valley is also lowest point near the ancient city. This area, named Topheth, was where there was child sacrifice to the god Molech in the 7th and 8th centuries BC and after this it was a garbage dump.
Topheth in the valley of Hinnom was a place of idol worship. The wicked kings Ahaz and Manassah of Judah practiced child sacrifice here (2 Ki. 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6). Parents would sacrifice their children in the fire on shrines to Molech, the god of the Ammonites (1 Ki. 11:5; 2 Ki. 23:10), which was prohibited by the law of Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). It was a place of burning (Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Child sacrifices were also made to Baal (Jer. 19:5; 32:35).
During king Josiah’s reforms in the 7th century BC he demolished the pagan shrines and made them ceremonially unclean by covering the sites with human bones (Num. 19:16; 2 Ki. 23:10-14).
So in the first instance Gehenna was the site of horrendous fiery idolatry, which was destroyed by a godly king.
After this we time read that one of the southern gates of Jerusalem was called the Potsherd gate (Jer.19:2). Potsherd is broken pottery. This gate led to the valley of Hinnom where potsherds were thrown (Jer. 19:10-11). It was later known as the Dung gate (Neh. 2:13; 3:13-14; 12:31). The Potsherd/Dung gate overlooked the valley, which was the main dump for broken pottery and other garbage.
The sacrificial laws God gave Israel required that the dung and certain portions of sacrificial animals were to the taken outside the camp (beyond the city walls in temple times) and burned (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:11-12; 8:17; 16:27).
So in the second instance Gehenna was a garbage dump for the disposal and burning of refuse.
Symbol of God’s judgment on Judah
Jeremiah used a clay jar in a dramatic message to the people of Jerusalem (Jer. 19:1-15). It was delivered at the Potsherd gate overlooking Topheth. After he smashed the jar, he claimed that God says “I will smash this nation and this city” and “I will make this city like Topheth” (Jer. 19:11-13NIV). He also predicted that the valley of Hinnom would be a vast cemetery (Jer. 7:30-34; 19:6). Just as the jar was smashed, the city will be destroyed and the people buried in the valley of Hinnom. Jerusalem will become a waste land devoid of life and littered with corpses and fires like Topheth. This was fulfilled when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in 586 BC.
So in the third instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment on Jerusalem when they were invaded by the Babylonians.
Symbol of hell
In the 7th century BC Isaiah used “Topheth” as a metaphor for hell when he says its burning fires are ready to welcome the wicked king of Assyria (Is. 30:33). Elsewhere the Bible says that God’s enemies are judged by fire (Isa. 31:9; Zech. 12:6; Rev. 20:9-10). The image of everlasting punishment of God’s enemies in Isaiah 66:24 is also associated with Gehenna. It describes people looking at the valley of Hinnom, which was a picture of hell.
Jesus used the Greek word Gehenna 11 times in the New Testament. In four of these instances it is associated with fire (Mt. 5:22; 18:9; Mk. 9:43, 45). A person goes there after death; they are sent there by God: “Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell” (Lk. 12:5). Both body and soul are destroyed there: “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). And it is eternal: “the fire never goes out” (Mk. 9:43). It is clear that this is a figure of speech and that Jesus wasn’t referring to going to the valley of Hinnom.
In this context, Gehenna is used to describe the “eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41); “the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12); “the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42, 50); and “this place of torment” (Lk. 16:28). It’s a place of eternal punishment for unbelievers in contrast to the eternal life of believers (Mt. 25:46). Elsewhere it is called “everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord” (2 Th. 1:9); “blackest darkness” (2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13); “the second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6; 21:8); “the fiery lake of burning sulfur” and “the lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14). It’s the final destiny of sinners who refuse God’s revelation and Christ’s offer of forgiveness.
According to the English dictionary, the word “hell” means “a place or state of existence where the wicked are punished after death”. So in the New Testament the Greek word Gehenna is used as a metaphor for hell. This isn’t evident to most readers because it is translated “hell” in modern English Bibles.
So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of God’s judgment of unbelievers in hell.
Symbol of Satan
James also uses the word Gehenna in his letter to Jewish Christians. In the context of a series of metaphors for uncontrolled speech, he writes “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (Jas. 3:6). Uncontrolled speech destroys our life like a wildfire destroys everything in its pathway. Then it says that hell (Gehenna) is the source of this evil. Because hell matches the characteristics and destiny of Satan, this is a figurative way of saying that Satan is the source of this evil.
So in the fourth instance Gehenna was a symbol of Satan.
The Bible doesn’t say where hell is. But the valley near Jerusalem called “Gehenna”, was a symbol of hell. People living in Jerusalem in the 1st century AD would have associated this valley with the wickedness of child sacrifice, the desolation of a garbage dump, the invasion of Judah by the Babylonians, the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell and Satan the source of all evil.
The only way to avoid hell is to listen to the message of Scripture (Lk. 16:27-31). Let’s believe that Jesus died so that we don’t have to endure its eternal suffering (Jn. 3:16).
Written, February 2016
Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Every day we experience good news and bad news. Life is a mixture of both. But the news media often gives us more bad news than good news. Did you know that the Bible contains both good news and bad news?
The main message in the New Testament is called the “gospel”, which means “good news”. It’s good news about bad news. To understand it we need to understand the bad news first.
In the beginning of time, God made everything. It was very good. Everything was as God intended and people were in harmony with God. It was good news at the start.
But it didn’t stay that way very long because the first people rebelled against God. Their rebellion affected all God’s creation causing suffering, problems, disease and death. Things were no longer as God intended and people weren’t in harmony with God. That’s bad news. It’s our greatest problem.
So we live in a world that has been influenced by both good and bad news.
Jesus came to bring good news once again. To right the wrongs and solve the problems. But He does this in two stages and we live between them, between His first visit to earth and His second visit. He is the central theme of the gospel (or good news). The verses of Scripture that mention “Jesus” or “Christ” and “gospel” or “good news” are about Christ’s death, resurrection, glory (His second visit), His promise (of eternal life), the peace He brings, the fact that He can replace death with life and immortality, and His judgment of our lives.
That’s the message of the Bible. It’s the whole gospel. It’s not a human idea, but it’s God’s idea (Gal. 1:11).
The Bible says that the gospel is “the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16NIV). This power comes from God when people repent by turning towards God. God has already done His part, but we can only experience it if we do our part. It’s of no value to those who don’t accept it (Heb. 4:2).
So, let’s remember the whole gospel story. Why it’s good news about bad news. This is important because many people don’t know about the early history of our earth and humanity given in the Bible.
Written, July 2015
The Christian faith is based on teachings in the Christian Bible, which are mainly about Jesus Christ. After all, the Greek noun Christianos translated “Christian” (Strongs #5546) means a follower of Christ (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt. 4:16). The steps to become a follower of Christ include: a preacher is sent by God, they proclaim the good news given in the Bible, a person hears this message, and they believe it (Rom. 10:14-15). Sometimes it is helpful to use experienced preachers to help proclaim the good news to others.
Over the past decade, several courses have been used to help introduce people to Christianity. The following such courses are reviewed below: “Simply Christianity” (2003), “Alpha” (2005), “LifeWorks” (2005), “Christianity Explained” (2006), “Christianity Explored” (2013), and “Introducing God” (2014). Each of these courses has several sessions which are intended to be done on a periodic basis. Some of the courses have extra sessions, which aren’t included in this review. So the review is based on the core sessions. “Towards Belief” (2013), a course which addresses the belief blockers of our time, was also viewed but isn’t discussed below.
All these courses have been developed and delivered by those with the gift of evangelism and with theological training. They are skilled and experienced presenters with appropriate demeanour, body language, and attire. The messages are encouraging and challenging with the major application being that unbelievers would trust in Christ as their Savior. In each session they keep to the subject and have a clear outline, key points, introduction and conclusion. They use appropriate illustrations and visual aids, which are generally better in more recent videos (see “Video age” below). The Scripture passages used are relevant to the message and they are interpreted and applied as in mainstream Christianity, except for in one Alpha message (see “Doctrinal aspects” below).
How can we choose which of these courses is best for us to use? To help make this decision, we will look at several categories.
Because people are often busy, it can be difficult for them to persist through a long course. Also, the time period available may be limited by other factors such as a person’s availability.
Simply Christianity is the shortest course with 5 sessions, but it requires more preparation as it doesn’t have a video version of these sessions. Of those with videos, Christianity Explained is shortest with 6 sessions, while Christianity Explored and Introducing God have 7-8 sessions. On the other hand, Alpha is the longest course with 11 core sessions.
The longer a message, the more difficult it is to maintain the audience’s interest and their recall of the content. If one’s attention span is limited, this can be an important factor.
Christianity Explored has the shortest video messages (about 15 minutes). Most of the other courses are about 30 minutes (Christianity Explained, Introducing God, and LifeWorks). On the other hand, Alpha is the longest at about 45 minutes. It is noted that a shorter version of the Alpha messages is also available (about 25 minutes).
Because of changes in technology and culture, videos tend to represent the year they were made. Generally, recent videos use more appealing graphics and visual aids. Their illustrations are also more current and less historic.
All videos except Christianity Explained were produced in 2013 -2015, while Christianity Explained was produced in 2006.
Spoken English can be difficult to understand for those with English as a second language. For example, Chinese students who visit Australia need to do English language courses in order to improve their understanding of the English language and so be able to complete their course of study.
Christianity Explained is probably the easiest course to understand because it uses the Good News Bible, which has simple language. The level of English in the other courses is similar as they use the NIV, ESV and HCSB translations of the Bible. Also, the Alpha course includes some English church terms such as “vicar” and “church warden”, which would need to be explained.
Pre-evangelistic or post-evangelistic
Today some people don’t know much about the Christian God or the terminology used in the Bible. This means that such knowledge shouldn’t be presumed.
The course with the largest proportion of time spent on pre-evangelism is Lifeworks, which is at least 50% pre-evangelistic. On the other hand, the course that assumes the most knowledge of the Bible and church life is Alpha. Alpha also provides the most post-evangelistic content (at least 60%).
Expositional or not
As the Christian message involves the death and resurrection of Jesus, some courses are based on biographies of His life. Christianity Explained and Christianity Explored are based on the book of Mark, which is the shortest biography of Jesus. Simply Christianity is based on the book of Luke. These courses are expositional, while the other courses draw on passages across the Bible.
All of these courses cover the basics of the Christian faith; including the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.
However, Alpha (2005 videos) deviates from mainstream Christianity in its session on “Does God heal today” where there is questionable exegesis with regard to “Words of knowledge”. It claims that Matthew 28:19 is a command for Christians to heal the sick, and endorses the Pentecostal preacher John Wimber. Also, the extra Alpha sessions on the Holy Spirit assume that the coming of the Holy Spirit to first Jewish, Samaritan and Gentile Christians, and when John the Baptist’s disciples and Paul became Christians, described in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, 19, are all normative for today. But each of these describes the Holy Spirit coming in a different sequence of events. As today the good news is going out to all nations (Acts 15:10), the pattern for us is that the Holy Spirit indwells someone as soon as they believe in the message (Acts. 10:44). So these sessions on Healing and the Holy Spirit should be omitted if you don’t want to include Pentecostal teaching in your course.
I am not yet able to comment on the 2015 Alpha videos.
Most of the sessions in these courses are designed to be a presentation followed by a discussion. Discussion questions are provided by Christianity Explored, Introducing God, and LifeWorks. The discussion questions are in the Workbook for Christianity Explored, in the video for Introducing God, and in the Group leader’s toolkit for LifeWorks. Discussion questions for the Alpha Course are available on the internet. In the other courses, the discussion questions need to come from either the audience or those facilitating the discussion.
Sometimes it may not be convenient to use a video, although this is less likely with the advent of tablet computers and smart phones. Also, you may wish to present to message yourself so it can be tailored to the audience. Someone told me they would prefer that the audience read the Bible instead of watching videos.
LifeWorks provides the most information for the presenter, including speaker’s notes and PowerPoint slides. On the other hand, for the other courses this information would need to be derived from the message summary in the Workbook and from the video messages. All the courses have Workbooks or Notes which contain a summary of the messages. The Workbook for Simply Christianity also has “Extra information” for each session.
So, what’s the best course for introducing people to Christianity?
Best of all
Which course is best for you will depend on the relative importance of each of the categories considered above. Like various translations of the Bible, they all tell us what God wants us to know about Jesus Christ and what we should do about this. They are merely tools to help people understand the most important message in the Bible.
If you want to use minimal preparation and contemporary style, the options are Christianity Explored (with shorter messages), Introducing God, and LifeWorks (after mid 2016).
Although no course is perfect, they all clearly present the good news of salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ. Let’s all communicate this message, whether we use a course or not.
Written, May 2015
Revised, February 2016