Clarifying Values by Allan Turner


Clarifying Values

(Originally published in The Bulletin on June 10, 1990.)

Various humanist organizations have used the National Education Association and its 1.4 million teachers to indoctrinate our children with the various credos of Humanism. In a book published by the NEA's Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, titled To Nurture Humaneness, under the subtitle "Technology and the Decline of Organized Religion," the humanistic message of this organization is made quite plain: "If schools are to move toward humanism, then humanism must become important to all of us, students, teachers, administrators, and the general public." For some time now, NEA educators, under the guise of "behavior modification" and "values-clarification," have been subverting our parental authority, our homes, and the religious beliefs of our children. When one tries to point this out, one is simply labeled a bigoted, anti-intellectual religious fanatic.
Now it is true that some have overreacted to the various teaching methods used in the public schools. For example, because Socrates was a classical humanist, we have heard some condemn the Socratic method, a mode of teaching where the truth is arrived at by a series of short question and answer sessions. This is absolute nonsense. We wonder if these same people would condemn the polio vaccine because Jonas Salk was a humanist? One uses Salk's vaccine to prevent polio, not to promote Humanism. By the same token, one uses the Socratic method because it facilitates learning, not because it promotes Humanism. Christians wield a sharp two-edged sword. We cannot stupidly shut our eyes and swing blindly at anything and everything that smells like the enemy. In doing so, we could easily injure our fellow soldiers.
Values-clarification has rightly been denounced as a humanistic ploy to destroy the traditional morality of our school children. This is, in fact, an accurate description of the Values-clarification technique developed by humanist educators Howard Kerschenbaum, Sidney B. Simon, et al. But when we denounce the Values-Clarification technique formulated by these men, we must not give the impression that we are against clarifying values. Furthermore, we must not reject everything found within the Kirschenbaum and Simon technique. For instance, both Kerschenbaum and Simon list three different levels of teaching that are absolutely correct and useful, even when teaching the Bible. At the risk of being "written up" again in one of the "brotherhood papers" for trying to justify Values-Clarification as formulated by the humanists, let me demonstrate what I mean.
The biblical teaching concerning "Not rendering evil for evil" can be taught on three different levels: (1) the facts level, (2) the concepts level, and (3) the values level. The fact that these three levels can be found in any book written by the humanists on Values-Clarification is no reason to reject them. At the facts level, the student is asked to learn all the scriptures that have to do with the subject and the facts recorded in each. At the concepts level, the teacher encourages the students to explore the principles behind the facts, e.g., "See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men" (I Thessalonians 5:15); "But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil; but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn unto him the other also" (Matthew, 5:39). At this level the student is encouraged to piece different facts together so that generalizations can be made from the gathered data: How are we to define evil? Is violence always evil? Does turning the other cheek apply in cases where grave bodily harm is contemplated? These are ideas which must be explored at the concepts level. But as far as I am concerned, nothing is really accomplished until the student is guided to the values level. At this level the student is made to relate the facts and concepts to his or her own life (i.e., "What does this have to do with me?"). At the values level the student is forced to explore the connection between the subject matter and his or her own behavior. Fruit cannot be brought forth in the life of any Bible student until this third level is reached.
The problem with the Values-clarification technique developed by the humanists is that it is alleged to be "values free." What this means is that the children who are subjected to this technique are taught that there are no absolutes and that one is free to choose any value one likes. Teachers who use values-clarification this way are actually teaching the student that whatever he or she decides is right, is right. This is exactly what the humanists have claimed in their manifesto: "Ethics is autonomous and situational, needing no theological or ideological sanction." Consequently, although there are some similarities between the humanists' "non-value" values-clarification and the clarifying of values which takes place in effective teaching, we believe one can readily understand that the latter is non-humanistic and quite appropriate in the teaching of moral values.
We hope this study will help you to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling...in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among who ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life" (Philippians 2:12-15).

"THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS" Chapter Four by Mark Copeland

                    "THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS"

                              Chapter Four


1) To notice Paul's tactfulness in dealing with Euodia and Syntyche

2) To glean Paul's secrets for joy, peace, contentment, and strength

3) To consider how Paul viewed the Philippians' generosity towards him


This final chapter begins with a series of exhortations to unity, joy, 
and peace.  With great affection, Paul pleads with his beloved 
Philippians to stand fast in the Lord (1).  With great diplomacy and a
call for assistance from others, he implores Euodia and Syntyche to be 
of one mind in the Lord (3-4).  He then follows with a call for them
to rejoice always in the Lord, letting their gentleness be known to 
all, and through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to allow the
peace of God remove any anxiety (5-7).  His final exhortations include 
a call to meditate on things of virtue and worthy of praise, and to 
imitate his example in order to ensure that God will be with them 

At last he comes to the matter which occasioned this letter, expressing
joy and gratitude for the gift they had sent to him by way of
Epaphroditus.  As they had done before on several occasions, so now
they had provided for his necessities.  He is thankful, even though he
was quite content, for he knows that this gift really abounds to their
account, serving as a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is well pleasing to
God (10-19).

His closing remarks include praise to God, and greetings from those 
with him, especially members of Caesar's household.  As was his custom,
he closes with a final prayer that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ 
be with them all (20-23).



      1. Prefaced with an exhortation to stand fast in the Lord (1)
      2. A plea for Euodia and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the
         Lord (2)
      3. A request for assistance in helping these women (3)

      1. Rejoice in the Lord always, letting your gentleness be known
         to all (4-5)
      2. Through prayer, allow the peace of God to guard your hearts
         from anxiety (6-7)
      3. Meditate upon things worthy of virtue and praise, and follow
         Paul's example (8-9)


      1. Paul rejoiced when they were able to care for him again (10)
      2. Not that he really had need (11-13)
         a. For he had learned contentment (11-12)
         b. For he had the strength of Christ (13)
      3. But they have done well to share in his distress (14)
      1. A brief history of their giving to Paul (15-16)
      2. Their giving abounds to their own account, viewed as an 
         acceptable sacrifice to God (17-18)
      3. God will supply all their needs according to His riches (19)

      1. Praise to God (20)
      2. Greetings from those with Paul, especially those of Caesar's 
         household (21-22)
      3. Final benediction of grace from the Lord Jesus Christ (23)

1) What are the main points of this chapter?
   - Exhortations to unity, joy, and peace (1-9)
   - Thanksgiving for their generosity (10-23)

2) How does Paul describe his brethren as he exhorts them to stand fast
   in the Lord? (1)
   - My beloved and longed-for brethren
   - My joy and crown

3) What two women does Paul implore to be of the same mind in the Lord?
   - Euodia and Syntyche

4) What is said about these two women? (3)
   - They labored with Paul in the gospel
   - Their names were in the Book of Life

5) In what are we to rejoice always? (4)
   - In the Lord

6) Why are we to let our gentleness (or moderation) be known to all 
   men? (5)
   - The Lord is at hand

7) What is the antidote for anxiety? (6)
   - Letting our requests be made known to God with an attitude of 

8) What will the peace of God do in response to such thankful prayer?
   - Guard our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus

9) Upon what should one meditate? (8)
   - Whatever things are true
   - Whatever things are noble
   - Whatever things are just
   - Whatever things are pure
   - Whatever things are lovely
   - Whatever things are of good report
   - Anything of virtue, anything that is praiseworthy

10) How can one ensure that the God of peace will be them? (9)
   - Do the things learned, received, heard, and seen in Paul

11) What had served as a source of great joy for Paul? (10)
   - The Philippians' care for him flourishing again

12) What had Paul learned? (11-12)
   - To be content in whatever state he found himself

13) How was Paul able to do all things? (13)
   - Through Christ who strengthens him

14) When had the church at Philippi helped Paul before? (15-16)
   - When he departed from Macedonia
   - On at least two occasions when he was at Thessalonica

15) Why was Paul really pleased with their gift? (17)
   - He knew that it added to their account

16) How did Paul view the gift they had sent by way of Epaphroditus?
   - A sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to

17) Who would provide help for the Philippians? (19)
   - God, according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus

18) Who in particular sent greetings to the Philippians by way of Paul?
   - Those of Caesar's household

19) What was Paul's final prayer for his beloved Philippians? (23)
   - The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2016

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Does the Quran Encourage Violence? by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Does the Quran Encourage Violence?

by Dave Miller, Ph.D.


Does the Quran encourage violence?


Yes. The Quran—the holy book of Islam that 1.3 billion Muslims believe to be the word of God—is replete with explicit and implicit sanction and promotion of armed conflict, violence, and bloodshed by Muslims. Read Surah 47:4 from the celebrated translation by Muslim scholar Mohammed Pickthall:
Now when ye meet in battle those who disbelieve, then it is smiting of the necks until, when ye have routed them, then making fast of bonds; and afterward either grace or ransom till thewar lay down its burdens. That (is the ordinance). And if Allah willed He could have punished them (without you) but (thus it is ordained) that He may try some of you by means of others. And those who are slain in the way of Allah, He rendereth not their actions vain (Surah 47:4, emp. added).
Many other verses in the Quran forthrightly endorse armed conflict and war to advance Islam. Muslim historical sources themselves report the background details of those armed conflicts that have characterized Islam from its inception—including Muhammad’s own warring tendencies involving personal participation in and endorsement of military campaigns (cf. Lings, pp. 86,111). Muslim scholar Pickthall’s own summary of Muhammad’s war record is an eye-opener: “The number of the campaigns which he led in person during the last ten years of his life is twenty-seven, in nine of which there was hard fighting. The number of the expeditions which he planned and sent out under other leaders is thirty-eight” (n.d., p. xxvi).


Lings, Martin (1983), Muhammad (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions International).
Pickthall, Mohammed M. (no date), The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (New York: Mentor).

The Holy Scriptures--Indestructible! by Wayne Jackson, M.A.


The Holy Scriptures--Indestructible!

by Wayne Jackson, M.A.

The Word of God “lives and abides.” Thus wrote Peter, the inspired apostle of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:23). To buttress this claim regarding the enduring nature of the sacred Word, the divine spokesman quoted from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (40:6ff.), declaring: “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory thereof as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower falleth: But the word of the Lord abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). Men come and go. Generations vanish. But the Holy Scriptures march on triumphantly.
There is a saying: “Homer must be handled with care.” The allusion, of course, is to the compositions of the blind poet of ancient Greece. The implication in the proverb is this—Homer’s works have been treasured and preserved cautiously for centuries. And yet, in spite of this meticulous care, only scant copies of Homer’s writings survive. There is no complete copy of the poet’s works prior to the thirteenth century A.D.—more than 2,000 years after the Greek writer lived (Schrivener, 1883, p. 4). By way of vivid contrast, the Bible, though viciously opposed and oppressed across several millennia, is reflected in thousands of Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, and even today continues to be the best-selling publication in the world.


Biblical antagonists have a long and violent history as they have sought, frequently by force, to eliminate the sacred Scriptures from public access. Reflect upon the following examples of malevolence toward the Creator and His Word.
When the noble Hebrew king, Josiah, was killed in battle, his son Jehoahaz came to the throne. He reigned but three months before Pharaoh-necoh of Egypt put him in chains and transported him to the land of the Pyramids. A brother, Eliakim, was placed upon the throne; his name was changed to Jehoiakim. Jehoiakim began to reign when he was twenty-five years of age. He taxed the Jews heavily on behalf of Pharaoh. He strayed from the Lord and immersed the nation in idolatry (2 Kings 23:28-37). The prophet Jeremiah was commissioned by Jehovah to write a sacred scroll, which threatened divine destruction unless the king and his people repented of their wickedness. Jehoiakim treated the matter with absolute contempt. After briefly listening to the message being read, he confiscated the scroll, cut up the leaves with a knife, and cast them into a fire (Jeremiah 36). But the Holy Word was not to be dismissed so easily.
After the death of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire was divided into four segments (cf. Daniel 8:8), and the Jewish people fell under the control of a remarkably evil ruler whose name was Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus, known popularly as “the madman,” launched a bloody persecution against the Hebrew people. One aspect of his vendetta was an attempt to destroy copies of the Jewish Scriptures. An ancient document records this episode:
And [the officials of Antiochus] rent in pieces the books of the law which they found, and set them on fire. And wheresoever was found with any a book of the covenant, and if any consented to the law, the king’s sentence delivered him to death (The Apocrypha, I Maccabees 1:56-57).
The historian Josephus commented upon this event: “And if there were any sacred book of the law found, it was destroyed, and those [Jews] with whom they were found miserably perished also” (Antiquities, 12.5.4). The heathen plan backfired, however, for it was this very persecution that generated more intense examination of the divine Writings. Out of this circumstance the genuine books of the Old Testament canon were formally separated from contemporary spurious documents that feigned inspiration (McClintock and Strong, 1968, 2:76).
Following the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, Christianity was introduced into the Roman world. It spread like wildfire in the stifling environment of ancient paganism. Not many decades passed before Rome came to view the Christian system, with its New Testament Scriptures, as a threat to the security of the empire. And so history repeated itself. A determined effort to eradicate the Bible from antique society was initiated by the Roman ruler, Valerius Diocletian.
Diocletian occupied the Imperial throne from A.D. 284-305. In A.D. 303, he inaugurated a series of merciless persecutions upon those who professed the religion of Christ. Hurst noted:
[A]ll assemblies of Christians were forbidden and churches were ordered to be torn down. Four different edicts were issued, each excelling the preceding in intensity. One edict ordered the burning of every copy of the Bible—the first instance in [Christian] history when the Scriptures were made an object of attack (1897, 1:175).
Of course, as every student of history knows, events changed radically when Constantine the Great came to the Roman throne in A.D. 306 at the age of thirty-two. He solidified the Western empire by the defeat of his rival, Maxentius, in A.D. 312. The following year Constantine (in concert with Licinius, emperor in the East) issued a decree that granted legal protection to Christians. A form of this document is found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History(Book X, Chapter V). Once more the sacred Scriptures could find their way from places of seclusion and exert their benevolent influence.


If one method of opposition fails, then another must be employed—so surmised the apostles of paganism. Julian, a nephew of Constantine, came to the Roman throne in A.D. 361. When Julian was quite young, his family was murdered by wicked churchmen, into whose hands he was thrust for care. This circumstance, together with his early exposure to pagan philosophy, led him to renounce Christianity at the age of twenty (though it is doubtful that he was ever sincerely disposed toward the religion of Jesus). The year he assumed Roman rule, at the age of thirty, he openly declared his hostility to the Bible (hence he became known as “Julian, the Apostate”). Three centuries of bloodshed had not enhanced the cause of heathenism. Persecution had merely accelerated the spread of the Christian cause. Julian thus determined that he, with logical argument, would destroy the influence of the Scriptures.
There had been earlier attempts to meet Christianity head-on in intellectual debate. Celsus (c.A.D. 178) had written a treatise called “True Discourse,” which was “the first literary attack upon Christianity” (Cross, 1958, p. 256). Similarly, Porphyry (c. A.D. 232-303) authored several books against the Scriptures. These efforts, however, were isolated, and largely stood in the shadow of the violent persecution of those early centuries. Now, in a period of greater tranquility, Julian would renew the assault. Shortly before his death, he wrote a bitter attack against Christianity, the only remains of which are to be found in a refutation produced by Cyril of Alexandria (c. A.D. 432). The “Apostate” merely regurgitated the arguments of Celsus and Porphyry in a modified form, expanded somewhat by his larger acquaintance with the Bible (Schaff, 1981, 3:75). While this literary effort was doubtlessly effective with some, a skeptical historian, Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), penned this curious remark: “[T]he Pagans...derived, from the popular work of their Imperial missionary [Julian], an inexhaustible supply of fallacious objections” (n.d., 1:766; emp. added). “Fallacious objections?” Strange but powerful words from an infidel! Nathaniel Lardner (1684-1768), in his renowned work, The Credibility of the Gospel History has shown that Julian, in his vitriolic narrative, actually provided a number of incidental admissions that confirm the truth of most of the leading facts of Gospel history (see Schaff, 1981, 3:77-79).


The Bible has had to survive not only the persecution of its enemies, but also has had to weather the opposition of its so-called “friends” as well. Though some historical revisionists attempt to exonerate the Roman Catholic system of efforts to suppress the Holy Scriptures, the plain facts are undeniable. On numerous occasions in centuries past, church authorities had committed the Bible to flames under the guise that the translation was vulgar. The Fourth Rule of the Council of Trent stated that the indiscriminate circulation of the Scriptures in the common vernacular would generate “more harm than good.” Therefore, those reading or possessing the Bible “without...permission may not receive absolution from their sins till they have handed [copies of the Scriptures] over to the ordinary” (Schroeder, 1950, p. 274).
“Persistent effort was made by the Romanizers to suppress the English Bible. In 1543 an act was passed forbidding absolutely the use of Tyndale’s version, and any reading of the Scriptures in assemblies without royal license” (Newman, 1902, p. 262). Thousands of copies were burned. “Of the estimated 18,000 copies printed between 1525-1528, only two fragments are known to remain” (Thiessen, 1949, p. 84).


As a result of the tyrannical power of the Roman Catholic Church, the Protestant Reformation was born. A by-product of the Reformation was an emphasis upon the use of the individual mind for personal Bible interpretation (as opposed to the dictums of the priesthood). While this spirit was admirable, some took it beyond the bounds of legitimacy, virtually deifying human reason. The movement was distinctly identified when Johann Selmer (1725-1791) began to argue that biblical events must be judged in the light of human reason/experience, and so, the reality of Jesus’ miracles was called into question, Christ’s deity was denied, etc. The rationalistic disposition grew rapidly in the fertile fields of the German universities, and perhaps reached its culmination with the publication of Friedrich Strauss’ Life of Jesus (1835), in which the author undertook to show that the Gospel accounts were mere “myths” (Hurlbut, 1954, pp. 178-179).
In France, Rationalism found a champion in Francois Marie Arouer—popularly known by his pen-name, Voltaire—a deist who produced several volumes brimming with hatred for the Bible. No one in Europe did as much to destroy faith in the Word of God as Voltaire. France rejected the Scriptures, tied a copy of the Bible to the tail of a donkey, and dragged it though the streets to the city dump, where it was ceremoniously burned. But, as Coffman notes, “since that time, the government of France has fallen thirty-five times” (1968, pp. 343-344). Voltaire predicted that within a hundred years of his death (1778) Christianity would be swept from existence and pass into history (Collett, n.d., p. 63), yet two centuries have come and gone, and today, rare is the person who owns a copy of Voltaire’s writings, while almost every home is adorned with a Bible. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that Voltaire was “inordinately vain, and totally unscrupulous in gaining money, [and] in attacking an enemy” (1958, 23:250). Indeed! His final days were spent in agony. As an ex-Catholic, he loathed the idea of not having a “Christian burial.” He even signed a confession begging God to forgive his sins—which his biographers claim was insincere (Brandes, 1930, 2:328-329). When the composer Mozart heard of the skeptic’s death, he wrote: “[T]he ungodly, arch-villain, Voltaire, has died miserably, like a dog—just like a brute. That is his reward” (as quoted in Parton, 1881, 2:617).
In America, the battle against the Bible was led by men like Thomas Paine and Robert Ingersoll. Paine (1737-1809) came out of a Quaker background, and gained considerable prominence as a result of his writings (e.g., Common Sense) advocating America’s independence from Britain. Eventually he went to France. There he yielded to the influence of French deism, and so composed his infamous tome, The Age of Reason, which was a passionate attack against the Bible. His qualification for such a task may be illustrated by the following admission. In discussing a passage in the book of Job, Paine says: “I recollect not enough of the passages in Job to insert them correctly...for I keep no Bible” (n.d., p. 33). Again: “[When] I began the former part of The Age of Reason, I had, besides, neither Bible nor Testament to refer to, though I was writing against both...” (n.d., p. 71). So much for “scholarship.” Paine died a bitter and lonely old man, having lost most of his friends due to his political views and his hostility towards Christianity (Cross, 1958, p. 1005). His trifling little volume is mostly ignored today. In this writer’s city (Stockton, California) of more than a quarter-of-a-million people, the public library’s only copy ofThe Age of Reason has been checked out sixteen times in the past ten years!
Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) was a politician who gained his real fame as an agnostic lecturer. He toured the country blasting the Bible. Quite the eloquent speaker, he was paid as much as $5,000 for some of his speeches, and thousands thronged to hear him rail against things holy. His “Mistakes of Moses” was a popular presentation. William Jennings Bryan once quipped that it would be much more interesting to hear Moses on the “Mistakes of Ingersoll.” Ingersoll had been greatly influenced by the writings of Voltaire and Paine (as well as others), and initially was a deist. Eventually, he evolved into a full-blown agnostic (Larson, 1962, pp. 76-77). Ingersoll was enamored with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, and argued that Darwin’s discoveries, “carried to their legitimate conclusion,” destroy the Scriptures (as quoted in Larson, 1962, p. 223). Ingersoll’s influence pretty much died when he did. I phoned a major Barnes & Noble distribution center and inquired regarding Ingersoll’s books. Not a solitary volume was carried in their inventory! It is a fact, though, that the views of Voltaire, Ingersoll, etc., have influenced some religionists of our era. Modern theological liberalism is so doctrinally nebulous that now even skeptics are warmly regarded. A few decades ago, Dean Shaller Mathews of the theological department of the University of Chicago asserted that the days are gone when men like Robert Ingersoll would be regarded as anti-Christ (Horsch, 1938, p. 7).
Yes, its critics wax and wane, but the Bible abides. It will outlast them all. In the words of John Clifford:
Last eve I passed beside a blacksmith’s door
And heard the anvil ring the vesper chime;
When looking in, I saw upon the floor,
Old hammers worn with beating years of time.
“How may anvils have you had,” said I,
“To wear and batter all these hammers so?”
“Just one,” said he; then said with twinkling eye,
“The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.”
And so, I thought, the anvil of God’s word
For ages skeptics’ blows have beat upon;
Yet, though the noise of falling blows was heard,
The anvil is unharmed—the hammers gone!


Apocrypha, The (1894), (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons) revised edition.
Brandes, Georg (1930), Voltaire (New York: Frederick Ungar).
Coffman, Burton (1968), Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation Publishing House).
Collett, Sidney (no date), All About the Bible (London: Revell).
Cross, F.L. (1958), The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (London: Oxford University Press).
Encyclopaedia Britannica (1958), “Voltaire,” (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica).
Eusebius (1955 reprint), Ecclesiastical History (Grand Rapids,MI: Baker).
Gibbon, Edward (no date), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (New York: Random House).
Horsch, John (1938), Modern Religious Liberalism (Chicago, IL: Bible Institute Colportage Association).
Hurlbut, J.L. (1954), The Story of the Christian Church (Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston).
Hurst, John F. (1897), History of the Christian Church (New York: Eaton & Mains).
Josephus, Flavius (1957), The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus (Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston).
Larson, Orvin (1962), American Infidel: Robert G. Ingersoll (New York: Citadel Press).
McClintock, John and James Strong (1968, reprint), Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Newman, A.H. (1902), A Manual of Church History (Philadelphia, PA: American Baptist Publication Society), Vol. II.
Paine, Thomas (no date), The Age of Reason (Baltimore, MD: Ottenheimer).
Parton, James (1881), Life of Voltaire (Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin).
Schaff, Phillip (1981 reprint), History of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, reprint).
Schrivener, F.H.A. (1883), Introduction to the Criticism of the New Testament (Cambridge, England: Deighton, Bell & Co.).
Schroeder, H.J. (1950), Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (St. Louis, MO: B. Herder).
Thiessen, H.C. (1949), Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

The Problem of Suffering by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.


The Problem of Suffering

by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Just to be human is to deal with emotional and physical pain on a day-to-day basis. This is the practical and existential problem of suffering that affects, and is affected by, our world view. Even Christians, who confess a living God (Matthew 16:16), may wonder: Where is this God when we need Him? Why doesn’t He do something? These questions may lead to doubt, and then to disbelief. Atheists see only vindication in events like the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. They hear a mother on the evening news proclaiming, “It’s a miracle that my baby survived,” and wonder: Would it have been much bother for God to have done the same for everyone else? This is not a new argument. But given academic freedom in the modern secular university, unbelievers are able to wield the extent and depth of human suffering with devastating effect on ungrounded faith.
If we understand the intellectual problem of suffering, we may have a better chance of coming through the emotional side of the problem. However, my primary goal is to defend theism, and Christianity in particular, against the charges leveled by atheists. In so doing, I intend to show how one common tactic may distract us from a God-centered response.


The intellectual problem of suffering is a challenge unique to theists. By “theist” I mean anyone who believes in a Being Who exists beyond or outside the natural world, yet Who is able to be involved in the course of human events. This excludes deists, for example, who believe that a Supreme Being created the world, and left it alone. Christians, Jews, and Moslems, for the most part, count themselves as theists. Specifically, most readers of this article will be Christians who believe that God has attributes that are infinite in degree: that He is eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and so on.
Then the following question arises: How do we reconcile the existence of suffering with the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing God? The argument goes something like this:
  1. If God is all-powerful, He could do something to prevent or end suffering.
  2. If God is all-loving, He would want to prevent or end suffering.
  3. There is a tremendous amount of suffering in the world.
  4. Therefore, God either is not all-loving or not all-powerful.
The reason I say that this is a problem for the theist is that the atheist does not believe in the first two premises. He rejects that there is a God Who could do something about suffering if He had the power, and he rejects that there is a God Who would do something about suffering if He had the inclination. He does not deny the third premise—that there is suffering. Like every human being, he faces the existential problem of suffering. As far as he is concerned, suffering just is: it is part of our unplanned, purposeless existence. We live, we die—end of story. Only for the sake of the present argument does the atheist grant God’s existence. All he is asking us to do, as theists, is reconcile or justify suffering, given that God is supposed to be an all-loving and all-powerful Being.

Skirting the Problem

Some people have tried to sidestep the problem by denying one of the three premises listed above. This was the approach taken by Harold Kushner, a Jewish rabbi who lost his son at an early age to a cruel and debilitating disease. God is infinitely good, Kushner concluded in his immensely popular book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (1981), but He is not all-powerful.
Other theologians have suggested that God neither is infinitely powerful nor infinitely good, but only in the process of acquiring these attributes. So it is understandable that there should be imperfections in our world because God, while great, likewise is imperfect or incomplete. Like Kushner, their “solution” is to abandon the God of conventional theism (e.g., Edwards, 1972, p. 213). Unfortunately, as John M. Frame has observed, such a finite god offers no “sure hope for the overcoming of evil” (1994, p. 157). In the end, this god is not the God that most Christians would want to defend.
Finally, someone may wish to deny the third premise by maintaining that suffering is not real. What we call “suffering,” they might say, is just an illusion. This is the position of Eastern mysticism, not of theism. Spinoza, a radical Jewish philosopher, maintained that evil was mere deprivation. When we think we are suffering, all we are doing is acting like children who have been denied toys or candy. If only we had a complete picture of reality, Spinoza would say, we would know God, and nothing would appear imperfect. But for Spinoza, nature and God were one and the same. Again, this is not the God of theism. Most Christians, like most atheists, acknowledge that suffering is all too real. Indeed, that Jesus suffered for the sake of mankind is a vital element of the Christian faith (Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:26; Acts 17:3; Philippians 3:10; 1 Peter 2:20-25; 4:12-19; etc.).

Dismissing the Problem

So, let us say that we want to deal with this problem without giving up any of God’s essential characteristics. Where do we begin? One approach is to maintain that no explanation is necessary. We, as mere mortals, should not have to “justify the ways of God to Men” (to use a phrase of John Milton’s). Or, in the words of a Simon and Garfunkel song, “God has a plan, but it’s not available to the common man.” If God is Who we think He is, then there must be an explanation, but it is beyond our grasp.
Alvin Plantinga (1977) takes a more defensive approach. He points out that suffering, and the claims about God, are not contradictory. It is not like saying, for example,
Only birds have feathers.
Tweety has feathers.
Therefore, Tweety is not a bird.
Clearly, the last line contradicts the preceding lines. But where is the contradiction in affirming both that there is suffering, and that God is an all-loving and all-powerful Being? What a critic must do is supply some extra premises (e.g., Mackie, 1990, p. 26). He would have to insist, for instance, that the theist’s perfectly good God always would eliminate evil insofar as He could. That there is so much evil is supposed to show that God is not all-good. Further, a critic would have to insist that there are no limits to what this Being could do. That there is so much evil is supposed to show that God’s powers are limited.
The trouble is, these additional claims for what God would or could do fail to take into account a complete picture of God. For God to “eliminate evil insofar as He could” still may mean that we have a lot of evil in the world, because to reduce it any further might violate one of God’s other attributes. We simply do not know what conditions would make the existence of both God and evil logically contradictory (also see Pike, 1990, pp. 48,52). As to God’s power, there are no limits as to what He could bring to bear in any one situation. However, the actual power He uses would depend on other characteristics, such as grace, love, mercy, and so on. At the time of His arrest, the Son of God could have called on twelve legions of angels, but not without contradicting the promises of His Father in heaven (Matthew 26:52-56).
Plantinga has given us a good place to start. Theists could say, at least initially, that there is nothing irrational about believing in God and acknowledging the reality of evil. Still, people may think that this is a problem that Christians need to address. Have we got anything more to say?

Answering the Problem

One reason to suspect that there must be more answers is that the Bible—the foundation of our faith (Romans 10:17)—is not exactly silent on the subject. The Book of Job shows that God stood back and allowed a man to suffer at the hands of the Adversary. Job’s world collapsed around him. He lost his property, his children, and his health. During this time, he had no idea why these things were happening to him. Job’s wife told him to “curse God and die” (2:9). Three of his friends thought terrible sins must lie at the root of such misfortunes. Job himself came to question God’s goodness and power. In the end, of course, Job regained his faith, wealth, and much more.
But could we say that all these terrible events were necessary? Perhaps we can learn something from these events, but how can we justify the collateral damage? A great wind collapsed a house on Job’s children, killing everyone inside (1:18-19). Natural calamities killed his animals, and raiders killed his servants (1:15-17). Was all this death necessary to teach Job, and us, a lesson about suffering?
And what about the death of Christ? Maybe—just maybe—the skeptic might go along with us and agree that Jesus had to die to save us from our sins. But why did He have to die with such humiliation, with scourging and beatings, and a tortuous death on the cross? Why did God not do a better job of arranging events so that His own Son could die in a more humane way? Besides, if humankind is guilty, why not punish the whole of mankind? Why did it have to be taken out on Someone else?
To those outside the faith, all this makes no sense, yet it is central to Christianity. And therein lies the problem. When I say it “makes no sense,” I mean it makes no sense without appeal to religious concepts found in Scripture. “But why should I believe the Bible?,” a critic will respond. That is a good question, to which Christians can offer all sorts of good reasons, but that is not what the skeptic has asked us to do in this case. The fact is, every concept important to Christianity comes from the Bible, and so it is to the Bible we must go if we are to find answers that are consistent with the claims we are making about Christianity. Ultimately, I suspect, this is why well-grounded Christians remain immune to the atheists’ attacks on this front. To some degree or another, they know that suffering does not reflect badly on what they understand of God.
Likewise, if we introduce concepts such as sin, salvation, miracles, and so on, the atheist often will respond, “Yes, but they depend on the existence of God. If God does not exist, then these explanations disappear.” Again, whether God exists is beside the point. Atheists have challenged us to reconcile certain attributes of God with the existence of evil. They were not challenging us (on this occasion) to defend the existence of God. The very problem, as it is posed to us, grants that God exists.
This is such a common tactic that I must make this point absolutely clear: the atheist cannot accuse us of a contradiction within our faith, and then block us from introducing the entire content of that faith (as opposed to discussing just the logical claims that are made about God’s attributes). Perhaps this is why the argument gets bogged down in philosophy, when really, it is a theological issue. Marilyn McCord Adams agrees:
Where the internal coherence of a system of religious beliefs is at stake, successful arguments for its inconsistency must draw on premisses (explicitly or implicitly) internal to that system or obviously acceptable to its adherents; likewise for successful rebuttals or explanations of consistency (1990, p. 210).


The Origin of Suffering

As is often the case, the Book of Beginnings is the best place to start in dealing with fundamental questions. Genesis tells us that God put Adam and Eve in the Garden, and gave them access to the Tree of Life. They would live forever as long as they could eat from this tree (Genesis 3:22), but they were not immortal. God told them not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, otherwise they would surely die (Genesis 2:17).
At some point, apparently not too long after the creation week, Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and she, in turn, convinced Adam to do the same. This brought judgment from God. He separated them from the Tree of Life, and promised that people would suffer, and that Satan would be defeated (Genesis 3:14-19). It is difficult to grasp the enormity of this situation. We suffer—even innocent children suffer—because of the sin of two people. How could God allow so much suffering to exist for so long?

God is Sovereign

From God’s perspective, the first step is not to answer a question like this, but to deal with our accusations. Job is a case in point. The old patriarch accused God of
  • judging him falsely (9:20)
  • wronging him (19:6)
  • persecuting him (19:22)
  • not judging the wicked (24:1-12), and
  • ignoring all his good works (31:1ff.).
  • Job’s cry, like our own, seems to be “Why God? Why?!”
God’s response was to ask some probing questions of Job:
Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? He who rebukes God, let him answer it.... Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified? (40:2,8).
In his questioning, Job assumed that God was at fault. His three friends—Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar—assumed that Job was at fault for some great sin that he must have committed, and God chastened them for this presumption, too (42:7ff.).
Finally, young Elihu recognized that, on occasion, suffering can have a purpose. God can use it to judge the wicked, strengthen the faithful, aid the oppressed, and bless the righteous. And yet, throughout his criticism of Job, the level-headed Elihu affirmed the sovereignty of God: “Why do you contend with Him? For He does not give an accounting of any of His words” (33:13).
Paul followed the same theme in Romans 9. The apostle was responding to a “not fair” claim on the part of Jewish Christians. Apparently, some of them felt that they, as descendants of Abraham, merited a greater share in the inheritance of God’s kingdom. Of course, as Paul pointed out in verse 8, it is the children of the promise, not the children of flesh, who were to be the children of God and, therefore, heirs of salvation. He illustrated this with the example of Esau and Jacob. Some might point out that Jacob’s having a higher place than his older brother was an injustice, but God had a plan that did not take into account manmade customs of inheritance. To anyone who would accuse God of being unjust in this case (vs. 14), Paul would remind them of God’s sovereignty: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (vs. 15).
While he was at it, Paul dealt with another familiar accusation: “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’” (vs. 19). In other words, “if the things that happen in my life are God’s will, then surely they are out of my control, and if my life is not my own, then why should God hold me responsible for the things I do? It’s not fair for us to suffer if God is supposed to be in control.” Again, Paul responded with a countercharge: “Who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” (vs. 20). Our duty is to do what is right, not to worry about what God is doing and why.
On returning to the original question concerning Gentiles, Paul pointed out that God had been working throughout history to bring about His mercy. Along the way, He suffered the disobedience of Gentiles and Jews alike. God “endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (vs. 22). But, by His teaching and the unveiling of a redemptive plan, God had made “known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy” (vs. 23). Both Jews and Gentiles were vessels filled with iniquity, but God rescued those whom He called, and has filled them with His mercy (vs. 24).

God is Just

Paul’s comments about mercy lead us to a second response: not only is God sovereign, but His mercy demonstrates that He is just. Mercy is revealed in God’s redemptive plan: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God’s goal is redemption. He does not wish suffering on any of us; He wishes that we were with Him in heaven where there is no pain and suffering. Let us revisit Romans, but chapter 3 this time. Paul wrote: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation [an appeasing sacrifice—TM] by His blood, through faith” (vss. 23-25a).
By justifying us, God shows that He is just; by making us righteous, He shows that He is righteous. We are justified through faith
...to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vss. 25b-26).
Often we think of God’s justifying us, but here we see that God’s justness is revealed to us at the same time. This was not so evident to the people of the Old Testament who lacked the clear testimony of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. If God already has revealed so much to us in history, we can only wait in wonder to see what will be revealed to us in the future: “If we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Romans 8:18,25).
In Frame’s view, Romans is the New Testament equivalent of Job. It is as much about the justification of God (a theodicy) as it is about the justification of man.
Romans confirms, therefore, what we have seen elsewhere in Scripture. (1) We have no right to complain against God, and when we do, we expose ourselves as disobedient. (2) God is under no obligation to give us an intellectually satisfying answer to the problem of evil. He expects us to trust him in spite of that. (3) God’s sovereignty is not to be questioned in connection with the problem of evil; it is rather to be underscored. (4) God’s word, his truth, is altogether reliable. (5) As a matter of fact, God is not unjust. He is holy, just, and good (Frame, 1994, p. 178).


God is all-good, God is all-powerful, and yes, there is an abundance of suffering. People have struggled with this apparent dilemma throughout the ages. Sometimes we mortals may try to vindicate our God by presuming to know His mind, but God says “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Exodus 33:19). In short, God is sovereign. There is nothing wrong with asking “why” questions, but when they turn into accusations, we challenge His sovereignty. Why was this woman raped? Why did thousands die in a tropical cyclone? No one can answer these specific questions adequately, anymore than the two-year old can understand why she must undergo heart surgery (Adams, 1990, p. 217; see also Frame, 1994, pp. 150-151). The little girl does not hate her parents for the pain, but continues to love and trust them based on her life experience.
Given the tremendous amount of suffering in this world, could we not assume that God is sovereign, but some sort of malevolent ruler? On the contrary, Christ’s willing sacrifice on the cross has shown God to be just.
Well-grounded Christians, I am convinced, have a strong intuition that the atheists’ standard arguments on the problem of suffering are wrong. The answers they find have more to do with the “how” of Christian faith, than the “why” of presumption against God. They want to respond with Job, and they want to respond with Christ, because these examples make sense out of suffering for them, but the atheists always try to block this part of the conversation. They ridicule the Bible and the Christian experience. They give anecdotal stories about people who lost their faith in the face of suffering. They admit freely that the intellectual problem of suffering was crucial to their own walk away from faith. And, if all else fails, there is the old standby of incredulity: “I just can’t believe you [are stupid enough to] worship a God Who [is so heinous that He] would allow so much suffering in this world.” Yet the conditions of the discussion at the very outset assume that God exists. From that point on, it does not matter for the sake of argument whether the critics believe that the Bible is true, or that we all are sinners in need of salvation, or that God raised His Son from the grave. As Adams argues:
Just as philosophers may or may not find the existence of God plausible, so they may be variously attracted or repelled by Christian values of grace and redemptive sacrifice. But agreement on truth-value is not necessary to consensus on internal consistency. My contention has been that it is not only legitimate, but, given horrendous evils, necessary for Christians to dip into their richer store of valuables to exhibit the consistency of [an all-loving, all-powerful God] and [the existence of evil] (1990, p. 220).
This “richer store of valuables” for the Christian includes not only an intellectual acceptance of God’s sovereignty and justice, but an abiding experience of God in their lives. Hope for a better world has enabled Christians to survive the worst of times. This is not an explanation for why we have suffering, but a justification of God’s love, in that we would expect our Creator to endow us with the ability to find an essential worth in our own existence (Adams, 1990, p. 216).
Contrary to the atheists’ assertion, a Christian’s faith in God is not a humiliating emotional crutch, but a source of joy in overcoming the practical and existential problem of suffering. Christians, I believe, know within themselves that their faith has been a source of strength. All they see in the atheists’ charges is an allegation of internal inconsistency leveled by people who, frequently, know little to nothing of Scripture, and who, perhaps, never have experienced a full, spiritual life.
Only by being faithful to God can we attest to the perfect revealing of His redemptive plan, which is for us to live with Him forever. “Don’t you think it’s awful,” the atheist speaks with incredulity once more, “that God will condemn all those people who don’t bow down and worship Him and only Him?” What would be worse is if there were no God to punish the Neros, Hitlers, and child molesters of this world. There is a God, if there is any justice at all. In the meantime, the words of Peter remind us that the Lord “is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is just before us; the only question that remains is: Are we just before Him?


Adams, Marilyn McCord (1990), “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 1989, 63S:297-310), pp. 207-221.
Edwards, Rem (1972), Reason and Religion (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich).
Frame, John M. (1994), Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R).
Kushner, Harold (1981), When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York: Shocken Books).
Mackie, J.L. (1990), “Evil and Omnipotence,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in Mind, 1955, 64:200-12), pp. 25-37.
Pike, Nelson (1990), “Hume on Evil,” The Problem of Evil, ed. Marilyn McCord Adams and Robert Merrihew Adams (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; originally published in The Philosophical Review, 1963, 72:180-197), pp. 38-52.
Plantinga, Alvin (1977), God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).

What Happens to Faith When We Doubt? by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.


What Happens to Faith When We Doubt?

by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

When Peter walked on the water toward Jesus, we can imagine that he launched out with great gusto (Matthew 14:28-33). And yet, as he glanced away from his Lord to look at the treacherous winds and waves he knew so well, it seems he lost certainty in the divine power that had borne him across the water thus far. When he returned to the boat, the Master admonished him with these words: “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” (14:31).
Throughout the New Testament, “doubt” is couched in negative terms. It is something we are to avoid in prayer, for example (1 Timothy 2:8). Jesus told His disciples that they could move mountains if only they would believe, and not doubt (Matthew 21:21-22; Mark 11:23-24). Paul advised the Roman Christians that they stood condemned if they doubted the propriety of eating food sacrificed to idols (14:23). The classic example, of course, is that of the apostle Thomas—doubting Thomas. “Be not faithless,” the risen Christ urged as He presented His wounds to the incredulous disciple, “but believing” (John 20:27).
Doubt, then, is in some way an impediment to belief or faith. However, it is not the opposite of belief; it is not a denial of faith. This would be disbelief, that is, believing a claim to be false. Rather, doubt is a matter of unbelief—an occasional inability to admit a particular claim. It is a human failing that, on occasion, we simply cannot decide whether something is true. The different words translated as “doubt” in the New Testament carry with them the sense of being unstable, wavering, being in two minds, or contending with oneself. In relation to faith, doubt is a “lack of certainty concerning the teachings of Christianity or one’s personal relationship to them” (Habermas, 1990, p. 10).
Doubt, left unresolved, can become a serious problem. God holds us responsible for addressing the cause of our doubt, and for seeking the remedy so that doubt does not prevent us from doing what faith demands. If we do not know whether God answers prayers, then how can we honestly go to God in prayer? If we eat meat sacrificed to idols (or the modern equivalent), and yet we are not sure that this is something we should do, then how can we have a good conscience before God?
These are the negative consequences of unresolved doubts, but doubt may also be resolved in favor of greater faith, or even faith itself. After all, converts will not be made of people who never doubt their rejection of Christ’s saving blood.
Let us look in more detail at the case of Thomas. Apparently, like most of the disciples, Thomas had missed or refused to accept Christ’s own warnings about His death. And in those somber days after Calvary, they certainly did not expect to see Him alive again. The disciples on the road to Emmaus, for example, had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth would be the One to restore the nation of Israel (Luke 24:21). Even after these two encountered the resurrected Christ and reported their experiences to the other disciples (among whom Christ then appeared and spoke), His followers could hardly believe this wonderful turn of events (24:41). Their doubt soon evaporated in joy, not merely because their beloved Lord had risen from the dead, but because through His resurrection came the hope of salvation for all the nations of the world.
Thomas, however, missed out on this momentous event (John 20:24). The others had seen and heard the resurrected Christ; He had even shown His wounds to them. Thomas responded by demanding no less, but such a demand was an expression of weakness. Yes, the renewed faith of the other disciples was based on direct, physical evidence, but why could Thomas not trust the testimony of his closest friends? Christ’s response was to appear again for Thomas’ sake, and for the sake of all in his position. Thomas had the opportunity to touch the wounds, but he withdrew his demands and made the supreme confession: “My Lord and my God” (20:28).
The story does not end there. Christ went on to teach this vital lesson: “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (20:29). If Christianity was to succeed, people would have to put their faith, not in a continuing manifestation of miracles such as the appearance of a resurrected body, but in a well-reasoned belief that Christ was raised from the dead. The testimony of the witnesses as recorded in Scripture would have to be a critical part of that belief. Immediately following the incident with Thomas, John wrote: “These things have been written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31; see also Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-8).
What would have happened to Thomas, and perhaps to the future church, if he had continued to doubt? Jesus dealt with this doubt, and He dealt with Thomas’ particular brand of doubt, for all time.
Doubt is a human weakness, but it is a serious matter when it affects one’s faith. That Thomas and the other disciples could doubt serves as a warning to us. From our vantage point, they had every reason to be faithful, and yet still they struggled with unbelief. Christians must be able to recognize doubt in themselves so that they can, unreservedly, make the same good confession as the apostle Thomas.


Habermas, Gary R. (1990), Dealing With Doubt (Chicago, IL: Moody).