Did Islam precede Judaism?

Fresco with image of Abraham to sacrifice his ...

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Question: I keep hearing that the Bible references Islam before it split from Judaism in the Old Testament. Is that for real, and, where can I find it? It seems like there’s a chance to heal that breach, and the answer is in the Bible somewhere. Just like witnessing to Jews, only more difficult.

Answer: Islam did not start until roughly 600 A.D. You’re probably thinking about how Ishmael and Isaac were separated in a sense as they each fathered separate nations. Ishmael was removed from Abraham’s family when Isaac was identified as the child of promise from God to Abraham and Sarah. Muslims argue that Ishmael was the favored child and meant for the greater destiny, i.e., Islam. In fact, they teach that it was Ishmael and not Isaac who was offered as a sacrifice before God provided a substitute animal. But check out Genesis 21 and 22.

Randall Johnson

What does the Bible say about swearing?

Henry Kissinger being sworn in as Secretary of...

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Question: What does the Bible say about swearing?

Answer: It depends on what you mean by swearing. If by swearing you mean using ugly words in order to shock or intimidate people, there is very little specifically said about that in the Bible. Proverbs speaks a lot about the way we abuse words generally (Proverbs 11:9; 12:18; 18:21 to name a few).

If you are talking about making an oath in God’s name, the Bible says a lot about that kind of swearing. The command against using the Lord’s name in vain in Exodus 20:7 is a command against swearing an oath in Yahweh’s name and then not keeping it. The typical oath or swearing in this case would be something like, “May God strike me dead if I am telling a lie.” If you violate that oath, you have brought God’s integrity into the mix and abused it. Of course Jesus taught us, in the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:33-37, that we ought to simply tell the truth and not swear oaths, in recognition of the fact that our integrity needs to come from our hearts and not some external threat of punishment.

Randall Johnson

Are there non-religious reasons to question evolution?

Pretender to the throne

Answer:  I would suggest that there are non-religious reasons for questioning evolution.  A number of scientists have questioned whether evolution is sufficient to explain the vast amount of change that would have to occur in order to arrive at the species we have today from unicellular life.  Even 3-4 billion yearsw would not appear enough given only the process of natural selection and random mutation.

Perhaps one of the best books I have read on this subject is Michael Behe’s book The Edge of Evolution.  His first book, Darwin’s Black Box, is also helpful.

Should I waste my time with a Jehovah’s Witness?

Question:  A few weeks ago a couple of Jehovah’s Witnesses came by the house. I have had one meeting with them. I don’t have very much material on them other than the Josh McDowell and Don Stewart’s Handbook of Today’s Religions. Do you have any material where I could ask them some biblically sound questions that would cause them to see their organization/religion in a different light? I have already told them of my faith and trust in Jesus Christ and in His death, burial, and resurrection. Do I need to discontinue meeting with these guys, am I wasting my time? Because they can’t influence me and I most likely can’t influence them.

Answer: I have come to the conclusion that attempting to argue with them from a purely doctrinal stance is likely to produce exactly the stand off that you described. I believe what alone will suffice to make an impact in someone’s life is genuine friendship. That means getting to know someone on a personal basis, not just a doctrinal basis. What are their personal concerns, who is their family, how do they need a neighbor’s help, what problems are they facing that I have insight into, what problems am I facing that they have insight into, what is the real hope or lack of hope they experience, are their hearts wrenched with fear over whether they will have God’s approval, etc.

This situation is somewhat artificial because the JW has not necessarily come from your neighborhood and you would have no relationship with them otherwise. But it is possible that if they are willing to come on a week to week basis and really enter into relationship with you that you might have a chance to develop this friendship that might lead to their being willing to trust that you might have answers to life’s bigger questions.

What you don’t know about JW’s you can always find out by asking them questions. And ask them how they feel about what they believe. If they believe that they cannot receive blood transfusions, how does that make them feel in an emergency situation? Are they scared? Does this only serve to activate their faith? Even if their faith is wrongly placed it might be commendable from the standpoint of trusting God despite what appears to be a hopeless situation. Aren’t we called to have that kind of faith? You will learn a lot in this fashion if you can suspend judgment on what they believe until you have fully understood it and your probing questions might help them to reconsider it and actually want to know what you believe. You will also undoubtedly be required to do some study to figure out why you believe what you believe.

I am attaching a correspondence I carried on with a JW relative of a member of our congregation. I did it in the exactly wrong way of keeping it doctrinal and eventually gave up. But it will help clarify one issue for you, i.e., the JW view of the trinity and Jesus’ deity.

Randall Johnson


Where does the Bible say it is wrong to dabble with Harry Potter?

Harry Potter

Question: I am very strong in my faith and walk with Jesus. I was talking with a lady here at work and I said something like, “Well, there is only one way and that is through Jesus.” She said, “Oh, no, if it makes you feel happy or makes you smile that is what counts.” We got interrupted before I could say more. Then a man saw this little candy thing I had with a green hand pointing and he said, “That is a Harry Potter peace sign.” “I had no idea,” I said. “Oh, well, I will throw it away.” He said, “Why?” I said, “That is a cult to me,” and he laughed right in my face and said “You’ve got to be kidding.” My question is where in the Bible can I back up what I believe is wrong with Harry Potter?

Answer: I don’t know of a specific passage that would say it is wrong to have anything to do with the Harry Potter books or movies or paraphernalia. Of course, anything that suggests that there is life other than in Jesus Christ is wrong, but that covers most everything we listen to, read or view (the nightly news, for example).

May I suggest that a better way to witness to unbelievers is to pick up on the ideas they focus on and that might speak to their hearts. For example, with the guy who pointed out that you had a Harry Potter peace sign, you might have said, “Peace is a pretty important thing to have these days, isn’t it?” If he engaged you or made a remark about that, it might lead you to say, “I have found peace for my life in the most extraordinary place. I’d love to talk to you about it sometime.” Then let him make a decision about whether he will take you up on that. This will be an indication whether the Holy Spirit is drawing him or not.

Unfortunately, when we point out to people how things they have enjoyed are devilish or wrong, they have no basis for understanding that and will only think we’re heartless, joyless prigs. They won’t be able to see that we care about them and their eternal destinies. They will only be repulsed and less willing to hear what we have to say about Jesus. I guess what I’m suggesting is to focus on the positive in the unbeliever’s passions or interests instead of the negative. Once they come to Christ there will be opportunities to sort out more minor issues about what they read or watch or wear.

Randall Johnson

How should we respond to the Golden Compass controversy?

Cover of "The Golden Compass (Widescreen ...

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Question: How should we respond to people who have seen the movie, The Golden Compass, and read the trilogy of books (The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass) by Philip Pullman

Answer: We should be ready to ask some questions about the books and movie that will help people think about the philosophy being espoused. We may start by asking (and these questions are adapted from Jeffrey Overstreet in an interview with Christianity Today):

1. Is it true that the books tend to look down on authority as our source of guidance? If so, what do you think would be the result of letting everyone’s free will be the ultimate source of guidance and authority in our world?
2. Does it feel to you that the human heart has proved itself trustworthy as a compass to give us direction?
3. Does it seem that free will always leads us to the right choice?
4. If, as I’ve been led to understand, the golden compass or alethiometer is the source of truth and guidance in this story, isn’t that just substituting another source of truth in the place of Authority, making it the new Authority? Why are we supposed to believe that it is a better source of truth?
5. If there are many truths out there, each equally valid, then aren’t the characters in these stories being as intolerant and self-righteous as the oppressors are by demanding that their version of the truth is better than others? If we say oppression is wrong, on what source of truth do we base that assessment?
6. I understand that there is a battle between the bears in this story that is supposed to be an inspiring moment. But isn’t this just leading us to a place where it is “survival of the fittest” that rules the day? Do we really want those who are strongest fighters to be the winners at the end of the day, or do we want those who genuinely love people to be the winners?

Of course, if you haven’t read the books you will profit first by asking your questioner to explain the story to you before you make judgments on it. It is also notable that in the books and movie there is much of a spiritual/supernatural nature that according to Pullman should not be a part of explaining our world or our decisions. But is it fair for Pullman to represent his worldview with the spiritual/supernatural when this is only possible if there is a God or other supernatural forces beyond ourselves?

The last thing we need to do is pass judgment on those who have seen the movie or read the books. Simply ask your questions and let them know that you are open to discussing truth and philosophies of life and that you believe that Christianity stands up to the test of truth and that you would like an opportunity to demonstrate that. You don’t have to have all the answers, just be ready to humbly say when you don’t know something and seek answers when you don’t.

Randall Johnson

Why does God allow evil in the world?

Question: : If God is all-powerful, why does he allow evil in the world?

Answer: It is impossible to give a complete answer to your question because it delves into an area of knowledge that is beyond, apparently, what finite minds can understand. Let me direct you to a couple of articles on our website that deal in some ways with this issue and then I’ll try to give you an answer.

How can there be a hell if God is love?
Why doinnocent children suffer?

The Scriptures tell us that God made things good, that no suffering occurred in the world as it first came from His hand (Genesis 1). But with the introduction of Adam’s disobedience God deemed it necessary to change the way the world worked. For example, he kept Adam and Eve from eating from the tree of life in the garden so they wouldn’t live forever (Genesis 3:22) and subjected what should have been the most rewarding aspects of their lives (childbirth and work) to pain and suffering. I believe He did this out of love and out of justice.

Justice demanded that He impose consequences for disobedience. After all, He had provided everything we needed and we foolishly, ungratefully and rebelliously chose to try to do things our own way and maintain control, so we thought, of our own lives apart from Him. Love demanded that He not let us live lives of comfort and thus never feel a need to move toward Him, when in fact He is the one we need the most. If I were trying to help my child grow into a self-sustaining and loving adult, the worst thing I could do is let my child get away with things I know would hurt him and warp his development. I could guarantee that he would grow selfish and with a feeling of entitlement that would be destructive to himself and others.

There are undoubtedly other reasons God introduced suffering into our world. For one thing, we need to learn to care for those who suffer in order to learn what it means to love people. Secondly, we need to see what people are capable of doing to others in order to examine our own hearts and see the power for evil that resides within, so that we don’t think we’re different from “evil people” or that we don’t need rescue and forgiveness as much as they do. And there are other reasons that perhaps we don’t have the capacity to understand. But if we trust that God knows what He is doing better than we do (and that shouldn’t be hard since His knowledge is infinite and ours is so limited, but in fact it is hard because we arrogantly think we know better than He does) then we can trust that even though we can’t fully explain the reason for evil and suffering in this life, He can and He knows it is important for it to happen this way.

So the answer to your question is that God’s omnipotence (all power) is not really the issue when it comes to suffering. He could, He has the power, to stop all suffering, but He does not want to, obviously, because He knows it serves a greater purpose to allow it.

Randall Johnson