#STRask: February 1, 2016

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Published on 02/01/2016

Greg talks about how to know if one is actually praying to God, how the Muslim and Christian God is different/same, if God loves those whom he chooses not to offer salvation, how one can navigate discussions in which they are outmatched intellectually, and which Bible translation Greg uses primarily.


  • How does one know that they’re actually praying to God, and what can we actually pray that is in His will?
  • How is the Muslim and Christian God different/same? And how about the Hebrew and Christian God if Jesus is the issue?
  • Does God love those whom He chooses not to offer salvation?
  • How can one navigate discussions in which they are outmatched intellectually?
  • Which Bible translation does Greg use primarily and why?


Melinda: Hey there, it’s the Stand to Reason podcast, the short one. Once again STRask with Greg Koukl, and I’m Melinda Penner, also known as The Enforcer. Hi Greg.

Greg: Wonder why.

Melinda: We all know why. It’s self-descriptive.

Greg: By the way I talked to somebody this weekend in Texas and they said they really enjoyed the show, in spite of you.

Melinda: Good. Well I’m glad. Glad I’m not a hindrance. Glad you aren’t either. Okay. You can send your questions to STR ask, on Twitter use #STRask. Yup. Submit them. Greg’s on a timer, four minutes or less, unless I deem he gets more time, anything about ethics, values, and religion. It’s not a game show, but we’re just trying to offer things in more bite sized pieces for people who don’t have time to listen to the long one, which is really good too. Okay. I guess we’re ready to go. Ready to go Greg?

Greg: Yes, Ma’am.

Melinda: Alrighty. First question comes from Joe D. on Twitter, “How does one know that they’re actually praying, and what can we actually pray that is in His will?”

Greg: How does one know that one is actually praying?

Melinda: Maybe praying effectively? We’re actually getting through to God.

Greg: It all depends. Let me just take the shorter version.

Melinda: That’s the purpose of the podcast, yeah.

Greg: Well I’m not... I guess there’s ambiguity about what he’s asking, or the person is asking. It depends on what you mean by prayer. Praying is talking to God. I guess you can kind of have an attitude of prayer where you’re just kind of emoting regarding God, or you’re consciously thinking about God as if... In a certain sense you and I could look at each other silently and – she’s crunching up her nose, like oh, man. Let’s not get weird.

Melinda: I don’t want to gaze at you.

Greg: I’m just trying to... In principle we can kind of just be together like that. You know how people are even if-

Melinda: Well, but we can be, which we’ve done, we can be in a car together without-

Greg: Yeah, but I’m thinking about not just being in the same presence, but we could be... I think there’s a way where people could be-

Melinda: Interacting without talking.

Greg: They could be wordlessly engaged. Okay, usually that’s romance-

Melinda: So like the dirty looks I give you?

Greg: That’s body language.

Melinda: We’ve been doing that for years through the window when I’m on the other side of the podcast, so yeah I could-

Greg: Okay, but see that’s body language, and of course God doesn’t have a body, but I think there’s a sense you could say that prayer is a kind of a, would include a kind of connection with God, and even though you’re not saying any words, you could be just communing with God, in a certain sense, but generally it is communication with God. If you’re talking to God, then that’s praying. You don’t have to talk, I think, in a certain formal way, like preachers, or you don’t have to use King James English, as some people do, which is I guess okay. I think sometimes that makes things a little contrived. I think genuine conversation and communication with God can happen lots of different ways, and the more genuine the better. Okay, so that’s prayer.

Is it effective? Is that an effective prayer? Well, again it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. If you’re trying to engage God in conversation, then when you engage him you are accomplishing your goal. If what you’re trying is to get God to do something, well then I guess you could say your prayer is not effective if God says no, or your prayer wasn’t answered, but that might be missing the point. My daughter’s asked me for something. There is a genuine communication, even if I say, you know honey I’m not going to give you that right now, or I’m not ever going to give you that. Sometimes we could not get what we ask for, but the prayer could still be a legitimate, or even I guess effective in a certain sense, connecting with God, communing with God, communicating with God, and doing friendship relationship with Him, regardless of how He happens to answer, and sometimes He says no.

If a person is consistently doing that and they are not getting anything answered, or so it seems, that would cause me to wonder, and I’m not doing that in a sense of disparaging, because I think my prayer is not anything like I would like it to be, especially-

Melinda: Yeah, I was kind of wondering is that how you feel?

Greg: In terms of effectiveness, but it does cause me to wonder about myself. I do not understand what it means to be praying according to God’s will. In a certain way I understand what the words mean, that is you’re praying something that you know God wants, but usually that question is asked in the sense of if we pray according to God’s will, God will give us what we’re asking for, and that I think isn’t as straight forward as it sounds, because God wants everybody to be saved, so if we pray for the whole world does that mean the whole world is going to be saved? That’s praying according to God’s will, but you and I both know that’s not going to happen.

What does that mean? I will just finish this sentence if I’m allowed to, I don’t know. I wish I could decipher that, but I couldn’t teach on that, and tell people here’s what I think it means. I don’t know. It’s a mystery to me.

Melinda: I think a lot of times we think of prayer only as asking for specific things and whether they get answered or not. I think a prayer, the older I get, the more I do it, the more I think prayer is about building a relationship with God, expressing my dependence on God, and in those sense the effect of the prayer is not just in whether my petitions get answered or not, it’s in how prayer is changing me, and how I related to God.

Greg: When you think of the Lord’s prayer, and Tim Keller points this out, there are a number of things that happen in the Lord’s prayer before any particular personal requests. There are personal requests, and Paul tells the Philippians that we should make a request known to God, and other things like that, but in other places like that, but there is this thing that you’re talking about I think is really critical. Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. That’s half the prayer, and it’s all about God, God’s purposes, not ours. I think that’s a huge part of what prayer is supposed to be.

Melinda: When Jesus is praying like this, He’s talking about the model, and yeah, so maybe a lot more of our prayer time should be spent in glorifying God as our father, and aligning our will with His, and things like that before we actually get to the petitions.

Greg: Yeah, and as for a recommendation I think Tim Keller’s book on this point is actually really good, because he spends a lot of time on that, and not just for his own point of view, but he brings in Aquinas. Is it Aquinas, Augustine, and Luther? I think the three that he brings in.

Melinda: Yeah, Luther-

Greg: Oh, it’s Calvin and Luther-

Melinda: Well he talks about Luther in the book, yeah.

Greg: So anyway. The heavy weights he brings in, and their opinion of the Lord’s prayer, so there’s a lot there.

Melinda: Yeah. I would also recommend getting his, I think there’s five sermons on the Lord’s prayer. Go to Gospel in Life, which is Redeemer’s online store, and the series on the Lord’s Prayer is really good. Next question comes from Maria B Cochran on Twitter. This came up. We answered this a couple weeks ago, but this has become a really big question online in the last few weeks, so I thought we’d just bring it up again. “How is the Muslim and Christian God different or same, and how is the Hebrew and Christian God different or same if Jesus is the issue, because Jews don’t-”

Greg: All right. Let me start with this... No it’s fair. Let me start with the second, because it’s the easiest.

Melinda: It’s easier.

Greg: The classical Hebrew understanding of God is entirely like the classical Christian understanding of God minus the trinity. Not to diminish the significance of the Trinity, but-

Melinda: Or the necessity of believing in it.

Greg: Or the importance of it, correct; however, that’s the one difference, and if you think about the flow of salvation history, and I think our friend over at Talbot made this point, who writes on the Trinity-

Melinda: Fred Sanders.

Greg: Fred Sanders, excellent work from a number of different perspectives. He’s written more than one book on the trinity, but he makes the point that the reason the Trinity wasn’t revealed in the Old Testament is because... Or let me put it differently here. The reason it was revealed clearly in the New Testament, or the details of it, the substance of it, thought the word is not mentioned, but all the parts of it are there, is because there was a necessity of clarifying the nature of God since God did become a man to die on our behalf, and so it was the nature of the incarnation, and the nature of the work on the cross, all of that, that made it critical that we have a more precise understanding of God, that was not given in a precise fashion to the Jews. I could say in their case, the lack of acknowledging the Trinity as a characteristic of the same, of a God who is the same God we both worship, is understandable, okay.

Now I think this is an entirely different kind of situation that we have with the Muslims. The only... Well I guess it’s not the only, but the chief... Here’s is the problem with trying to navigate this issue, is that Muslims believe in one God and we believe in one God, and they claim that they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, okay. That seems to be enough to satisfy a whole bunch of people that we’re talking about the same God, but I don’t...

Look at the Mormons believe in Jesus. We believe in Jesus. You believe in Jesus. We both believe in Jesus, so we’re both Christians together. This is what they say. I say wait a minute, your Jesus – is he a created being? Yes. Well, my Jesus is not a created being. My Jesus is the guy who created everything. Just because you say you believe the same Jesus that I believe doesn’t mean anything. You have to look at them.

I guess this is the heart of the question here. Okay. I don’t see any other... This is where everything goes south after that. In the seventh century you have Mohammed, a person who has a vision about God, writes all this stuff down. He gets all his information about, well I shouldn’t say all, but a substantial amount of really important information about Jesus just dead wrong. The people who walked with Jesus, and lived with Him for three and a half years, give a very different accounting of who Jesus was, than Mohammed does. Okay.

The foundational statement of Islamic belief is Allah is God, and Mohammed is His prophet. Now if Allah is Yahweh if there’s an identity relationship there, we’re talking about the same one, then Mohammed is Allah’s prophet too. I’m sorry Mohammed is Yahweh’s prophet too. Mohammed is the prophet of Yahweh, but Yahweh had a son, and his son died on the cross in order to bring forgiveness for the world because God loves the world. “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son. Whoever believes in Him would not perish but have ever lasting life.” Probably the most famous line of all history. Okay. No other line has been repeated as often, but this is precisely the thing that Islam denies, and in fact it’s more than that. Where this line is the most wonderful line in the Christian testimony about the Christian god, it is the most abhorred line in Islamic theology. It is an example of shirk, and associating something ignoble with the pure god. One of the biggest crimes that one could ever commit.

How is that we’re worshiping the same god if the thing that we view as the most noble thing about that god, based on the revelation of that god himself to us, turns out to be the most ignoble thing that one could say about god on the view of Islam, and also identifying Mohammed as the prophet of Yahweh. Those are just a couple of points. There are more that I could say. The god of Islam hates the non-believer. This is part of their revelation. Where the God of Christianity loves the non-believer.

Melinda: Summary, if you want more detail call the longer broadcast on Tuesday afternoon.

Greg: That’s a nice way of saying I went over my time. Okay.

Melinda: I have a follow up question, because I completely agree the Muslim god is not the same as the god revealed in the Bible, Old or New Testament, but people will say well Allah is just a word for god. We believe in God. They believe in God too. As far as that goes, I mean, so even if we granted that we’re talking to the same god, I’m not sure where that takes us or anybody, because you still have to get to the issue of Jesus and salvation.

Greg: That’s right.

Melinda: Muslims are talking to the same God. They’re not following Jesus, so what good does it do? None. It doesn’t do the Jews any good.

Greg: That was a point that I brought up, if you recall last time we discussed this, and in a way this is a little bit of a tempest in a teapot, because in the long run, even the demons believe in the true God, and it doesn’t help them. That’s what James says, so the real issue is who is Jesus and here we have wildly divergent views, and that’s the question that really matters. I don’t want to act like it does not matter what we think about God.

Melinda: It does matter, right.

Greg: It does matter, but there’s kind of a necessary and sufficient kind of situation. It may be necessary to have the right view about God, and even if we said that the Muslims and the Christians both have the same view about the same god, it’s not sufficient. There’s something else that is really critical to the whole project, and that of course is the person of Jesus.

Melinda: Maybe some of the attempts to say Christians and Muslims are worshiping the same god are maybe attempts at moving towards pluralism, or inclusivism, and that could be why it raises the matter to a higher level. I don’t know, but even if we grant it it still doesn’t get you saved.

Greg: I think that is the impulse frankly. I think there’s something like that that’s working in the background.

Melinda: That’s becoming much more common in the church among Christians, it’s something we have to be... I can understand then being much more alert to those kinds of early warning signs. Next question comes from EASAG85 on Twitter. “Does God love those whom He chooses not to offer salvation?”

Greg: Well the answer to that is yes, but we want to make clear that God does not... I’m pausing because I know this is going to be very easy to misunderstand, but there are different kinds of love that God shows. We know this because we can read different passages where you can distinguish these things. This is common sense for us. We have friends that love each other, and we have spouses that love each other, but we would not equate the two. They’re different kinds of love. They both are love. You have C.S. Lewis in the four loves, for example, he trades on some of these different nuances of the notion.

I think God in the same way loves people. He loves all human beings in a certain measure, for God so loved the world, now the word world is cosmos, and that world says to may, but I think it’s pretty clear that it includes the individuals because He gives His son for the individuals to believe in, but at the same time there is a redemptive love that is extended, a special favor that is extended only to those who are believers. How does he put it in John 1:14, “Even those who believe in His name, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” To those who believe in His name, and so not everybody has the kind of love of a father towards a child in the relationship John had in view there in John chapter 1.

Only those who have put their trust in Jesus, so here’s a different aspect of love. I’m looking in the upper room discourse right now, in John 14, well it’s John 13 through 17, it’s the discourse, but there is a place in here somewhere, where Jesus is saying that if you respond to me or follow me, or something then my father will love you, and I’m looking for that, and maybe somebody else looking, again... Here, “Greater love has no man than this, than one lay down his life for his friends.” This is John 15:13, Jesus is laying down His life for His friends there. Now if somebody wants to argue, that’s everybody in the whole world, then okay. I understand that. There’s a theological debate on that issue, but I wish I could find this. There’s something that says I will make my abode with him and I will be with him and my father will love him. This then is a fairly clear statement of-

Melinda: It’s more familial-

Greg: Here it is, “He who”... Verse 14:21, “He who has my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me, and he who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him, and will disclose myself to him.” Now there is a love the Father gives only to those that love Jesus. What I’m trying to point out here is that the Father loves different people in different ways. I don’t know any way around that. Yes, He loves everybody, but He doesn’t love everyone the same. He extends a particular kind of redemptive love to those who put their faith in Jesus that he does not extend to the rest of the world. If that sounds like playing favorites, well just keep in mind, it says that God is no respecter of persons, which means there is nothing in the person themselves that deserves this special attention. It is according to the kind intention of God’s own will, according to Paul in Ephesians 1.

Melinda: Boy that was really good, on the nose.

Greg: Man.

Melinda: Next question, pardon me, comes from LNG on Twitter. “How can one navigate discussion in which they are outmatched intellectually?”

Greg: I give a way to do this in the tactics book. I call it “getting out of the hot seat,” and of course it depends what you mean by manage, because the hot seat circumstance that I describe there is when we’re in conversation with somebody that we end up discovering that we’re outmatched with, so now we got to change our approach, because we were kind of in persuasion mode, and then we get pushed back pretty hard, and we realize we are outmatched, we’re outgunned, whatever. We’re out of our depth with that individual.

Now what? Well, I suggest people go immediately from persuasion mode, to student mode, to fact finding mode, and you go right back to your tactical questions. What do you mean by that? How’d you come to that conclusion? The way this looks in conversation is you say something like, wow, you know a lot more about this than I do, maybe you could slow done a little bit and help me get clear on two different kinds of things, your point of view, first. Secondly, the reasons for your view. You can say it any way you want, but those are essentially the first two Columbo questions, what do you mean by that? How’d you come to that conclusion?

Then you tell the person, when you’re done, let me think about it. Those are the magic words, because if you say then let me think about it. You realize, you’re off the hook now. You don’t have any obligation to respond. You have to give it some thought, and then I suggest people do what they say on their own, at their leisure, when the pressures off, they think about the challenge. Maybe use some resources, and find an answer, but this is way of getting out of the hot seat, and actually reversing the whole dynamic, because when the other person’s coming back really hard, it’s discomforting, and you’re not in the driver seat of the conversation, the other person is.

When you use this technique to get out of the hot seat, you’ve reversed the momentum, even though that person still keeps doing the talking, you’re in the driver’s seat because you’ve just directed this conversation in a very particular way that you can manage. You’ve taken yourself out of a circumstance that’s hard for you. You’ve acknowledged you’re not going to be able to respond, but you do want to hear what the other person has to say, and you’ll give it some thought sometime later. That is one of the best ways I think of maneuvering with somebody that is much more intelligent than you are. Definitely the Columbo tactic is where you want to go, and once you ask those two questions, then you might want to use, in some cases you might see an opening, you always ask a question to make a point. You want to make a point, use a question to make the point, and that means the balls always in their court, and it puts you in a much more tactically favorable position.

Melinda: Do you ever foresee a time you’ve going to have to rename the Columbo tactic, because too many people have never seen it.

Greg: You ever hear of the Socratic method?

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg: Yeah, that’s 2400 years now, that’s survived.

Melinda: Yeah, but-

Greg: I promise you, more people know who Columbo is, than who Socrates is.

Melinda: Okay.

Greg: My feeling is, as it turns out, I still, I asked for a show of hands on Saturday, and I got most of the people have heard of Columbo, but I realize, you’re right, as we get more culturally distant from that 70’s-

Melinda: Younger on, younger people-

Greg: It’s okay, because I’ll just tell them who it is. What matters-

Melinda: Okay. Did you ever watch Columbo?

Greg: She’s asking Brooke. No, Brooke’s twenty something right? That’s all right, because when I pull out the trench coat, and I get out the plastic cigar-

Melinda: They enjoy it anyways.

Greg: Everybody has a good time, you know and it’s memorable.

Melinda: You should watch the reruns because they’re great.

Greg: It’s good pedagogy. They remember the details, and it allows me to get into the material in, I think, in an effective way.

Melinda: Okay. Last question, we’re going to give him two minutes.

Greg: Two minutes?

Melinda: Yes.

Greg: Yikes.

Melinda: “Which Bible translation do you use primarily and why?”

Greg: New American Standard is my translation for a couple of reasons. For one, that was the one I happened to cut my eye teeth on as a new Christian in the Jesus movement, and it was very popular then, this is before the NIV, which is sometimes called the Nearly Inspired Version, which I shouldn’t because Zondervan published it and they’re doing my book, so maybe they shouldn’t hear me say that, but there are different approaches to Bible translations. There’s actually three different types. You can have a very strict kind of literal translation, on the one hand. You have on the other side, a free translation, which is a paraphrase, so like Living Bible would be like that. Then, you can have kind of in the middle, where you have a little flexibility to make it flow better, but its adherence to the spirit of the original text.

You have a formal correspondence, in the first case. You got a free translation in the second, and in the middle you have a dynamic equivalence is what they call it. It’s basically the same ideas, but in order to get basically the same ideas, you’ve got to assess the original words, and say I think I know what they mean, so I can give you the basic ideas in a little bit different language. There’s a step of assessment that’s going on there, so sometimes in the translation, you get the opinions of the translator in a way that’s more so than you do in a more strict translation. For example, the word sarks means flesh. This could mean, flesh could be in human nature, it could mean fallen nature. In new American Standard, sarks is always translated flesh, and we get to decide which kind of flesh it’s referring to. NIV they decide, and I don’t think they always get it right.

This is why I would rather have what might read to some as a little stiffer translation. I don’t think it is. I think the NAB is fabulous, because then you don’t have to rely on some translator who’s making the judgement calls, like with the NIV. I think the ESV is fabulous too. My girls use that, but I’m stuck in... That’s Bible to me, and if it was good enough-

Melinda: It’s got all your under linings.

Greg: Yeah, and if it’s good enough for the apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me.

Melinda: Okay. The ESV is a newer version following the same thing, a strict translation, without trying to make those interpretive steps. Mary Roberts, concerned when I first saw it that they didn’t capitalize what seemed to be obviously divine pronouns, and I don’t like this habit of not capitalizing them anymore. I was afraid they were kind of going with the cultural flow there.

Greg: Kind of loose, right.

Melinda: I checked with Justin Taylor, who’s at Crossway and he said no-

Greg: They publish the book.

Melinda: Right. This is actually their attempt to not make interpretive steps. The original Hebrew and Greek aren’t capitalized, so they have not added that interpretive step in it. Again, we judge from the context, so ESV is another very good strict interpretation. Okay. Good. See I knew you could do that one in two minutes.

Greg: Thank you, Auntie Mindy.

Melinda: You’re welcome. By the way, he calls me Auntie Mindy, not because other people call me that. His children call me that, so sometimes he calls me that. Don’t say “Hi, Auntie Mindy” when you see me. Anyways.

Greg: Say “Yes, ma’am.”

Melinda: No, he can say “Hi, Enforcer,” or “Hi, Melinda.” Anyways, that’s why he calls me Auntie Mindy. All the names I’m called, but I’m still one person, different identities here.

Greg: That’s right, so rigidly designated you are you. Okay.

Melinda: That’s it for this week, so make sure you send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. If you want your question answered longer, make sure you tune in to the Tuesday podcast and call in and talk to Greg directly. This podcast is posted every Monday in all the usual places, and we post a new one every Monday. I’m Melinda the enforcer with Greg Koukl, keeping him to four minutes. All right. See you next week.