If doing bad requires punishment, does doing good merit eternal life?

Do we as humans tend to think that others ought to get what they deserve, i.e justice, karma, punishment and praise? Do we think that we should always be given things according to what we deserve? Why does this theme of ‘reward for works’ seem to crop up so often throughout our thinking? It appears in many religions, in our families, in our societies and various worldviews. Is there some underlying perception of justice that is common to all humanity? I know in my own life the idea of fairness and what is right tends to influence how I emotionally react to my circumstances. Is this the same for you?

Contrary to this idea is this area of mercy, grace, and compassion which is so richly imbued into the Christian worldview[1, 2, 3]. However, Christianity is also deeply imbued with these ideas of justice, what is owed, what we deserve and appropriately issued punishment[4, 5, 6], themes which have permeated most of the societies and governments in existence. But how is it possible to reconcile these two so fundamental and intensely emotional features of humanity?

A nice place we could start is this short video dealing with where these two features collide in Christianity. Have a watch and then share your thoughts on such matters in the comments. Do you think that the answer given in the video was adequate? Maybe you feel we should be able to earn a place in heaven through good works? What would be good enough? Let us know!

[1] – 
[2] – 
[3] –
[4] – 
[5] – 
[6] –


Dragon Speak (Or, What is Theology?)

You have nice manners for a liar and a thief  (Smaug in the Hobbit)

A few weeks ago I went to a lecture at Otago University. The lecture commemorated five hundred years since Martin Luther kicked off the Reformation. Written on the desk that I sat at where the words, ‘there is no god.’ Yet here I was listening to a lecture about Luther and his god, and believing in that same god. Clearly there was a vast gulf between the theology of the scribe and my own.  

The serpent said to Eve, ‘did God really say, “you must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ And so begins one of the most famous (or infamous) dialogues in all of human history. Whether you identify as a Christian or not does not take away from the power of this story. It is a universal story: a utopian existence lost through folly. Everybody – Christian, Buddhist, and Jedi alike – has lost someone’s trust through failure or deceit. Humans fail. And their failure hurts them. And it hurts those around them. ‘O Adam, what have you done? For though it was you who sinned, the fall was not yours alone, but ours also who are your descendents’ (2 Esdras 7.11). Some call it sin, others, evil. C. K. Chesterton commented that sin ‘is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proven,’ and is also a ‘fact as practical as potatoes’ (Orthodoxy).   

The third chapter of Genesis is a strange story. The main actors in the previous two chapters – God and Adam – are in the back-ground: God is passive and Adam pretty much invisible. Instead, two new actors – Eve (then unnamed) and the (until then unmentioned) serpent – are introduced as principal characters. Theirs is a fleeting scene: between them they only say a handful of words and some of those are quoting God. Yet the echos of this event thunder down through the ages, obscuring the First Story: we can now barely imagine life in Eden, walking and communing with our creator, without thinking of Eve and Adam’s folly. Ours is a view of a high mountain peak from deep in a shadowed valley.

When we thought and talked about God we did so from the shadows. Long ago we lost our footing and fell off the precipice. David wrote of the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ (Psalm 23.4). We could only look up, and when we did so we saw the silhouette of a dragon circling far above, casting its shadow over us and obscuring our view of the sky. Between us and God was a dragon, ‘that serpent of old’ (Rev 12.9, 20.2).

So comes snow after fire, and even dragons have their endings (Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit)

This changed after the first Easter. Through his life, death, and resurrection Jesus overcame the separation, the expanse between humanity and God. After Easter humans could both know God and know about God in a way that they could not before. Theology as we know it was born. We can know God because he has revealed himself to us through Jesus (Hebrews 1.3a). The historical reality of Jesus, then, makes theology possible. But what  if you don’t believe in Jesus?

Theologians refer to the noetic effect of sin on the human intellect (from the Greek noe?tikos, relating to mental activity or the intellect). The human intellect is affected by sin. This effect is overcome by the work of Jesus in the life of the believer, but not the non-believer. Abraham Kuyper wrote that ‘regeneration [salvation] breaks humanity into two’ – the regenerated mind and the non-regenerated mind (Moroney, 1999:434). While Emil Brunner added that, ‘the more we are dealing with the inner nature of man, with his attitude to God, and the way in which he is determined by God, it is evident that this sinful illusion becomes increasingly dominant’ (439). That is, Christians can both know God and about God because God, through Jesus, has regenerated their minds, while non-believers cannot because their minds remain un-regenerated.

He who fights too long against dragons becomes a dragon himself, and if you gaze too long into the abyss, the abyss will gaze into you (Friedrich Nietzsche).

Consider the following words from some secular thinkers. Protagoras, an epistemological agnostic,  wrote that, ‘concerning the gods….many things prevent knowledge including the obscurity of the subject and the brevity of human life’ (On the Gods). Thomas Paine, the American revolutionary, charged that ‘the study of theology…is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it provides no authorities…it admits of no conclusion’ (The Age of Reason). Ludwig Feuerbach, the atheist philosopher, suggested that Christianity was a ‘web of contradictions and delusions’ (The Essence of Christianity). While the logical-positivist A. J. Ayer wrote that ‘all utterances about the nature of God are nonsensical’ (Critique of Ethics and Theology).

Meanwhile author and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who clearly hasn’t read much good theology, accuses theology of never being of the ‘smallest use to anybody’ and only talking about ‘pestilence as the wages of sin.’ In his opinion theology is an empty ideology: ‘The achievements of theologians don’t do anything, don’t affect anything, don’t achieve anything, don’t even mean anything. What makes you think that ‘theology’ is a subject at all?’ (Scientific Versus Theological Knowledge). (Perhaps Dawkins should check the history of both his profession and institution.)

But does this mean that the non-believer can have no theological insight? No. It is probably better to understand it in general terms rather than an precise statement true in every situation. There has been some very flawed theology from redeemed minds (by ‘redeemed’ I do not mean ‘perfect’) just as there has been some good theological insight from unredeemed minds.

The Dutch Reformed Church’s (DRC) support of apartheid in South Africa is an example of believers getting theology very wrong. Founded in 1652, it was the theological teaching of the DRC that some races were superior to others that helped pave the way for racial segregation in South Africa. It needs to be noted that while the DRC was expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in the 1980s (an action that showed that other churches believed the theology, on this point, to be wrong), it was re-admitted in 1986 for welcoming black members and preaching that all members of all racial groups should meet and pray together.

St. Augustine wrote that ‘the Platonists realized that God is the creator from whom all other beings derive’ (City of God, VIII, 6). This is a theological insight. The Platonists were not  Christians, though Augustine seemed to have suggested as much, yet they came to a conclusion compatible with a simple reading of Genesis. Paul wrote in Romans 1.19, which Augustine quoted regarding the Platonists, that, ‘what can be known about God is plain…because God has made it plain…’ Perhaps the Platonists were such ardent searches for the truth that God made plain that which they sought? Either way these non-Christians came to the same conclusion as Christians regarding Creation: that one god did it – though they didn’t know which one.    

It might be deemed by some as offensive to hold that non-believers have un-regenerated minds, and it may be so, but some of those un-regenerated minds have no problem accusing believers of stupidity – surely a more offensive claim.

Different conclusions are reached about God because different people are coming from diametrically opposed positions – a point that needs to be remembered. One position says that there is a god, and that that god has revealed himself through Jesus two thousand years ago. Another position sees the notion of a god as foolish from the beginning, and comes to very different conclusions: Richard Dawkins even suggests that Jesus would have been an atheist had he lived today. One mind sees the son of God, the other sees merely another muggle.    


Moroney, S. K. (1999). How Sin Affects Scholarship: A New Model. Christian Scholar’s Review , XXVIII(3), 432-451.     

A mid-week meditation

A thought to think.

The Bible, the norming norm of God, tells us that man is:

  1. Dead in his sins
  2. Filled with hatred for God
  3. Void of righteousness
  4. Destined for wrath

Even when we look deep down for the good that pop culture tells us is definitely there, we find filth all the way (if we are honest).

Our hearts are deceitful, our wills are enslaved, our affections perverted. The damage of the Fall is total – infiltrating and corrupting every part of what makes us human. But what of our minds? Yep. They are messed up too.

Dissenter (potentially played by you): Hold up. I thought this was an apologetics website? Thanks for the theological dissertation but what has this got to do with defending the faith?

Me: Everything (emphasis included).

Sin is not concerned with borders – geographical, physiological and metaphysical boundaries will not prevent it from pillaging all it touches. Our minds are no exception. Rather than unique compartments, all of our faculties are to work together. And all of these faculties have been dramatically altered by a dark descent.

When we attempt to convince non-believers of the truth claims of Christianity and stand confounded as they refuse to believe, it can become far too easy to attribute this either to a lack of consistent education on their part, or a lack of clarity on ours. Never does it cross our minds that the human mind has been mangled – in one sense, it operates as designed and on the other, joyful suppression and consistent inconsistency abound.

A thought to think – sinners hate God. They don’t know Him, nor do they want to. A thousand and one foolproof points will not change the fool.  New hearts, not new arguments, are the goal.

Free Audiobook

Here at Thinking Matters we love free stuff, so whenever something is free and of a high quality, we go for it!

The free audiobook this month is Delighting in God by A. W. Tozer; you can find it at Usually it will cost you $15 (US), however, for one month only, it is free of charge.

Here is the summary from

Delighting in God is the message Tozer intended to be the follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy. He demonstrates how the attributes of God–those things God has revealed about himself–are a way to understand the Christian life of worship and service. We are here to serve and adore him, but we can only fulfill that role by acknowledging who he is, which is the essence of the Christian life and the source of all our fulfillment, joy, and comfort.




Four Gardens – Ravi Zacharias

RZIM has recently re-released a video about Easter:

In this classic message, Ravi Zacharias shares thoughts from the perspective of Easter as he delves into four gardens: the text, the context, the contest, and the conquest.
Ravi inspires with truths surrounding creation, the word, the cross, and the resurrection in presentations excerpted from the Jesus Among Other Gods group study. This presentation is a beautiful and thought-provoking reminder of all that Easter celebrates.

Have a safe and blessed weekend as you remember and celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6-11

Blood work

Free eBook this Easter

Hi everyone,

Here at Thinking Matters, we love free stuff, and here is something that is just that…FREE!

Reformation Trust is making the ebook edition of Anthony Carter’s Blood Work: How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes Our Salvation, completely free.

What does it mean to be redeemed by the Blood of Christ? Check out this book and see. It is true that this book is not on the subject of apologetics, however, it is still important as thinking Christians for us to understand our own faith.



This post is courtesy of Ligonier Ministries.

Thinking matters – Shame on His Name

Welcome to the final instalment in my series on why thinking matters greatly in the life of the Christian. In part 1 of the series, we looked at the spiritual malnourishment that Christians put themselves through to avoid the ‘lifeless endeavour’ that is theology (or, putting-God-in-a-box-ology). We learnt that the Bible creates a vital link between thinking and spiritual health. Part 2 expanded this intellectual famine out into the watching world – theologically starved Christians do not tend to provide a stimulating case for belief. And now, in part 3, we face the consequence of these two errors.

To put it bluntly– thinking matters because not thinking dishonours God and is therefore, a sin. Few professing Christians would be comfortable with the idea of bringing God’s name into disrepute, yet fewer seem to have made the connection between glorifying God (making Him look great) and engaging in the life of the mind.

A disdain for thinking in the Christian life is not merely a spiritual boo-boo, but a brazen refusal to live and love God in the way that He has prescribed. When Jesus stated that the greatest commandment is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind (Matt. 22:37) he was in effect saying, “Love me with all of your being. Love me in all the ways I have created you.” Never—in Jesus’ mind or in Scripture—is there a splitting of head and heart; they are always meant to go together. 1

Christians (and humanity in general) tend to concentrate on the activity of their hearts and hands – on what they are feeling and doing. We are hard-coded doers. Value is rarely attributed to thoughts or beliefs, but rather to desires and deeds. Few think about their thinking. What I have aimed to achieve in writing these articles is not for Christians to forsake the pursuit of devoted hearts and generous hands, but for the correct paradigm to be restored. Truth enters through the gateway of the mind, is accepted, believed and treasured, and then the rest of the body follows suit, instinctively obeying. This is demonstrated with the following adage:

Head > Heart > Hands. 2

Removing or rearranging any component in this progression will cause the whole thing to collapse. Only with all three in the correct order is the Christian able to live in a way that brings glory to God’s name. The very fact that God ordained His words of eternal life to be written down in a physical book shows us that He first aims to take our minds as willing captives before wooing the rest of our being.


Just like every other sin, Christian anti-intellectualism brings shame to God’s name and is worthy of punishment. We can’t blame our lack of thinking on our culture, our brains, or just try to pretend it isn’t important. The Bible is clear and it will not alter its wording for you. The natural response here should be to mourn.

However, there is one more glaring similarity to all other sins – it is not beyond the all-encompassing reach of Jesus Christ. When Jesus died on that cross, he bore the punishment for every sin that his people had and would commit, including the sin of anti-intellectualism. I don’t know about you, but that glorious gift of grace makes me want to exercise my intellect so I can learn even a touch more about this beautiful God who saves.

1. “The Church Needs Philosophers and Philosophers Need the Church” Paul Gould, The Gospel
Coalition (
philosophers-need-the-church), accessed on 11 October 2014

2. This wee maxim has been borrowed from David Murray’s blog of the same name.

Thinking matters – Our starving souls

“We live in what may be the most anti-intellectual period in the history of Western civilization”.[i]

These words from theologian, R.C. Sproul, seem a harsh diagnosis. Anti-intellectual seems an odd adjective for the age that has seen numerous advancements in the fields of science, politics, and human rights. University attendance in New Zealand is rising with every new year, and yet here is Sproul arguing that these statistics do little to stem the tide of anti-intellectualism.

So what then is meant by anti-intellectualism? If it doesn’t mean anti-scientific (as demonstrated by the leaps of mankind in scientific understanding and technological development), and it doesn’t mean anti-academic (as demonstrated by the authoritative role tertiary education continues to play in the Western world), what does it mean?

Sproul argues that anti-intellectualism is defined as the general distaste of, and aversion to, acute reasoning and solid logic in developing good answers to big questions.[ii] We live in a society today where a particular argument is deemed truthful not because it is true, and has shown to be so through logic and reasoning, but rather because it is helpful. You can choose your various beliefs and convictions from here and there, like a greedy and uncomprehending child running for the Pick N’ Mix. Little do you know that the more you grab, the less sense the final package will make (and the sorer your tummy will be). No serious thought of any kind is put into distinguishing between views of reality that make sense and those that don’t and can’t. The sovereign self reigns supreme. You call the shots on what is true or false often with blaring contradictions. That is anti-intellectualism.

As mentioned in my last article, the Church has allowed itself to be enticed by this way of thinking (or rather lack of thinking), resulting in a body of believers that looks identical to the world. One of the first things to go down the gurgler when the Church falls into this mire is a biblical view of Christian spiritual growth.

What is spiritual growth?

This is a huge question with a vast number of key biblical texts that need to be considered in order to even begin formulating a definition. Due to the nature of this forum, I will only consider one and try to let the text do the talking for me. Consider Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, looking specifically at chapter 12, verses 1 and 2:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

In these two verses, we have been graciously given an overview of what the Christian life should look like. Paul appeals to the Roman church to completely devote their lives to God in worship. On what grounds? Because this is the path to acceptance and favour with God? Because then He will love us? No. Paul appeals to them on the basis of God’s mercy, clearly expounded from chapter 1 through 11 of Romans.

  • The depraved and sinful state of man, and the just punishment he faces in hell (chapters 1-3)
  • The love that God demonstrates in dying for sinners, and the realisation that He loved the same before time itself and will never, ever, let them go (chapters 3-11)
  • The brain and heart melting statement that God “justifies the ungodly” (chapter 4).

All of these truths and many more sing out of the pages of Romans, providing the reader with a glimpse into life as it truly is.

The point is this – Paul spends 11 chapters stating truths upon which he will build his calls to live and grow in Christian discipleship (expounded in chapters 12-16). Rather than thinking like the world does, with its countless man-centred ideologies, we are commanded to have our minds continuously renewed with the truths of the gospel; truths that couldn’t be more against the current of modern thought. In other words, Christian discipleship and growth is made possible when we believe the right things/ have correct theology. When we believe, and consequently cherish, the truths of Christianity, our whole lives are transformed. And because I can’t help myself, here are a few other references that make the same point (Matt 22:37, 2 Cor 3:18, Eph 1:15-22, 3:14-20, 2 Peter 3:18).


A false dichotomy is often drawn at this point by many Christians. They see the study and pursuit of good theology as “necessarily lifeless, spiritually draining, and prone to head-knowledge without heartfelt passion”.[iii] A distinction is drawn between theology and devotion; head and heart; being a Pharisee or being a devoted disciple of Christ. The problem with this view is simple – the Bible is silent on it. In fact, God’s Word speaks overwhelmingly in the opposite direction – theology (literally, the knowledge of God) is to be at the core of the Christian life.  R.C. Sproul responds to the objection in a way that few people can:

“Christianity is an intellectual faith. This does not mean that it flirts with intellectualism or restricts sainthood to an elite group of gnostic eggheads. But though the Word of God is not limited to intellectuals, its content is addressed to the mind. There is a primacy of the intellect in the Christian life as well as a primacy of the heart… The primacy of the intellect is with respect to order. The primacy of the heart is with respect to importance.”

To conclude, thinking matters. The answers we have (or don’t have) to big questions can tell us a lot about the health of our Christian walks. As demonstrated above, the Bible clearly places the utmost importance on believing the right things before we do the right things. In fact, the things we do (loving our neighbours through acts of mercy, being good at our jobs, stewarding our gifts well) are made right only through the things we believe (that none of those things can save us, but we do them out of gratitude for God’s grace in saving us). If we as the Church allow ourselves to be swayed by the dominant thought patterns of today’s culture, rather than having our minds shaped by the Word of God, then we stunt our spiritual growth and miss out on the intellectually fulfilling and passionate faith that our Father desires for us.

[i] R.C. Sproul, Burning Hearts are not Nourished by Empty Heads, Christianity Today, Sept. 3, 1982

[ii] ibid

[iii] Trevin Wax, Why You Should Love God With Your Mind, The Gospel Coalition,, accessed on 1 August, 2014

Thinking matters

The world is changing. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my toes.

Anti-intellectualism is sweeping through Western civilization and there is no high ground, no safe haven from the rushing tides. Constant technological advance is making modern life easier and more convenient every day, and while there are definite benefits to this, there is also a clear downside.

Shaking the lucky-8 ball of Google whenever a question arises has taken the effort out of thinking, and the ease with which modern people can get the answers has actually been demonstrated to have a negative impact on intellectual health. Even universities, the institutions of knowledge and learning are not free from this unstoppable force, albeit in a different way. While culture at large falls prey to not thinking hard about much at all, many academics have fallen prey to only thinking one way, blind and deaf to the cogent and coherent alternatives of opponents.

As with most cultural contagions that ravish the Western mind, the Church also falls victim, despite our allegiance to Another Land. I have seen this most notably in the following ways:

  • A separation between theology and piety (what you believe and how you live)
  • Redefining childlike faith as childish faith
  • A disdain for the past and the history of the Church
  • An over-emphasis on being led subjectively and directly by the Holy Spirit, to the neglect of his promised means of grace (the Word preached)
  • The belief that doctrine divides (an example being the existence of denominations)

I don’t sound the alarm as a concerned scholar, sitting in my ivory tower and nodding at all your indiscretions, but rather, as Mark Noll put it, a “wounded lover” of the intellectual gold mine that is Christianity. Apart from missing out on having your mind absolutely blown by the truths that the Bible teaches, an aversion to thinking in the Christian life is actually a sin. The command to love the Lord our God with all our hearts does not stop there, but is a call to devote every fibre of our beings to the pursuit of grace and knowledge, given to us through Jesus Christ. Attempting to love God without knowledge of Him is tantamount to attempting to love your partner or spouse while avoiding learning any of their hobbies, joys or deepest fears.

The way I see it, anti-intellectualism in Christians will result in three things:

  1. Stunted spiritual growth
  2. A hollow worldview
  3. Robbing God of glory that is all His.

I pray that you will join me as over my following few articles, I attempt to delve into these consequences, demonstrating not only the harm they are causing us, but also the joy and satisfaction that we are missing out on.

Does the Bible contain Errors? Steve Chalke and Andrew Wilson Discuss


Recently, Steve Chalke has argued that the Evangelical community needs to face up to hard questions about the Bible. In a paper called ‘Restoring Confidence in the Bible’, Chalke suggests we need to rethink how we understand scripture and  move away from approaching it as ‘inerrant’ or ‘infallible’ and instead view it as a progressive ‘conversation’ with God that continues today.

He sat down with Andrew Wilson to discuss this and other issues in a series of debates hosted by Justin Brierley.

Watch the first discussion here.

Must Christians still observe the Sabbath?

Here are the notes from Thinking Matters Hamilton’s latest worldview study. The path to the conclusion was pretty complex and intense, but I think where we ended was clear and well-supported:

There is ample biblical evidence that the Sabbath is strictly a sign of the Mosaic covenant. There is no biblical evidence that it should be observed by Christians, and a fair amount pointing the other way. It has been fulfilled in Jesus (see Matthew 11:28), and so we now live in an eternal, spiritual Sabbath, which the repeating, physical Sabbath pointed to. Thus, observing any kind of Sabbath day is purely a matter of conscience—we are free to do it or not, as our own convictions require.

Must Christians still observe the Sabbath?

Can God be both outside time and in time?

Paul Helm explores Rob Lister’s claim in God is Impassible and Impassioned that God exists in two modes.