Greg is on a timer and answers questions about the prosperity gospel, God killing babies, publishing, and if all sin is the same.
- How would you respond to someone who uses Philippians 1:18 to give a pass to prosperity gospel preachers?
- How do you reconcile God commanding the killing of babies in the Old Testament against the idea today that God hates abortion?
- I’m close to finishing my first apologetics book, and have a likely publisher. What’s your advice for those coming onto the scene?
- Are certain sins worse than others? My Mom always said, “A sin is a sin.”
Melinda: Is that really danceable music? Our engineers across us who are dancing to that. I’m not sure it’s danceable.
Greg: I was dancing to it, in the past.
Melinda: Oh, is that what that was?
Greg: Not just now, but you made fun of me in the past so I just thought I’d just do it in my heart instead of...
Melinda: All right. Well, I’m Melinda the Enforcer. I’m here with Greg Koukl. Derek’s on the other side of the window, formerly dancing. This is the STRask podcast, the silly podcast of Stand to Reason. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask and Greg is on a timer, four minutes or less to answer these very good questions that come in that way. Ready to get going?
Greg: Yes, ma’am.
Melinda: Okay. I mentioned to you on the last podcast to remind me to have you open up your Bible...
Greg: I did remind you.
Melinda: Before the next one. You told me immediately, and therefore you didn’t tell me right before this one, but I thought of it. Anyways, how would you respond to someone who uses Philippians 1:18 to give a pass to prosperity gospel preachers?
Greg: Philippians 1:18? “What then, only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth Christ is proclaimed and in this I rejoice.” That’s their verse?
Melinda: Okay, fine they’re preaching about prosperity and stuff, but hey pretense. Jesus is still preached.
Greg: No, but keep in mind what he is saying. Okay, he is not talking about any old gospel. He is talking about the gospel being preached with bad motives. Some people do it with the right motives, he says, and then some people do it to cause him trouble and harm. He said, okay whether in pretense or in truth, I am happy when the gospel is preached.
Melinda: In both cases it was an accurate gospel?
Greg: in this particular case, yeah.
Greg: It’s not a distortion, whatever. Now, he is not happy with the bad motives. We know that because he speaks about this and the New Testament does in other places. What he’s doing is saying, well, whatever. If the gospel is being preached, then even with bad motives, then that’s something to rejoice about. Now, if word faith folk are preaching the gospel to the degree that they preach the gospel, that’s something to rejoice in. The gospel does get through to people even from that crowd, even though their larger worldview is seriously distorted. God can use anybody. We can rejoice in that, but we don’t have to rejoice in the massive errors of that broader system.
Melinda: Should we give them a pass?
Greg: I don’t know why we should. Paul, when he addressed, people are causing trouble, he called them by name: Hymaneaeus and Alexander, for example in 2 Timothy, I think, he refers to them and other places. These are people who are doing harm, or they’ve fallen away, or they’ve deserted me, went after the world, et cetera. Paul was ready to address what was wrong in the body of Christ. He is just simply making the reflection in this particular case that some people have the wrong motives, not the wrong theology, but the wrong motives more preaching. He says, “Some to be sure are preaching the gospel even from envy and strife, but some also from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing I’m appointed for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” They give the true meaning or the true message for the wrong reasons. The message is still true. The message still has its impact. They are still responsible for their wrong motivations.
Melinda: Prosperity gospels are preaching false doctrine.
Greg: Well, that’s right.
Melinda: It’s not a comparable situation.
Greg: I’m sure you can find cases where the gospel itself is proclaimed in those environments with some clarity, and to the degree that it is done with some clarity then we can say, “Good, the gospel is going out there.” Now, there’s a bunch of other garbage going out as well. Then we could say, so we take our hat off to them for preaching the gospel, then we put it back on for preaching all that other nonsense. Sometimes the gospel gets totally lost in the mix. It isn’t the most important thing, it’s this prosperity deal.
Melinda: Right. Okay, next question comes from Floods34. How do you reconcile God commanding the killing of babies in the Old Testament against the idea that God hates abortion?
Greg: Well abortion is a violation of a commandment. The commandment is thou shalt not murder. The commandment thou shalt not murder doesn’t apply to God, because murder is the unjustified, inappropriate taking of human life. Human beings when they take a life need a justification that’s adequate to the task because they’re human. When God takes a life he’s taking something that belongs to him. He doesn’t need a moral justification for it, the life is his. God can give the life, he can take the life away. It’s interesting. I know some people are going, “Wait a minute then. How could it be wrong for us but not wrong for God?” It’s because he’s God and we’re not. There are certain liberties that are appropriate to certain offices. That applies in this particular case. It’s interesting that there is an intuition that’s being reflected here that I think people are in touch with and express when they object to capital punishment. If you think about the way some people have argued regarding capital punishment they’ll say, “We’re not supposed to play God.” Okay. We can’t take a human life. We’re not supposed to play God. I don’t think that turns out to be a good argument against capital punishment, but notice the intuition that is reflected there. There are some things that are wrong for humans to do, but right for God to do. Humans shouldn’t act like they’re God. Well, can God act like he’s God? Yeah, he can. It is a prerogative of God to take life, not humans. That’s the insight behind that particular line of argument against capital punishment. I don’t think it works because it seems that God has delegated the latitude of taking life under certain circumstances. In any event, it does identify the fact that God can choose to take the life any time he wants. Sometimes he does take a life. Unborn children, many are stillborn or there are miscarriages. I’m not saying that God is, “Zap, I’m going to take that life right then”, but certainly God is allowing those kinds of things to happen passively, whatever. There are other cases when whole families are killed by a judgment of God, and that includes children. God is certainly within his rights to do what he wants with that which is his. We are not, and this is why abortion along with all other unjustified taking of human life is wrong.
Melinda: Next question comes from Dustin Holcomb. I’m close to finishing my first apologetics book and have a likely publisher. What’s your advice for those coming onto the scene?
Greg: Okay, well I guess my first thought is, and this may come a little late since the book is already written, is you have a lot of competition. That is, there are lots and lots of books on apologetics that are available for people to read. If you’re going to produce a new title on a well-worn topic, you have to in a certain sense have an angle. Here comes Lee Strobel who is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, and there’s an angle in that. Here’s J. Warner Wallace who is a former cold case homicide detective, and he brings a different angle to the basic apologetics.
Melinda: Here’s Greg Koukl.
Greg: Well I haven’t written a general book on apologetics, and this is one reason why I haven’t, because it’s already been done so well by so many people I haven’t done that. Now, I will weave apologetics into other things like The Story of Reality. That particular material is covered well by other people, C. S. Lewis, and Paul Little and Know What You Believe and why you believe it and that kind of stuff. It just seemed like there was a need right now, an opening for a retelling of that story in a voice that...
Melinda: A unique way of presenting that.
Greg: Yeah. In certain ways the voice is similar to Mere Christianity, but it’s more simplified than even what we have in that book.
Melinda: He has already written the book. Perhaps as he looks towards promoting the book, trying to identify in his treatment what is unique, what they’re going to get from this book that they’re not going to get from another book.
Greg: Yeah, this is why I feel a little bit awkward at this point, because if you’ve already done a book and the book is pretty much like everybody else’s book, it’s going to be hard to get a publisher that’s going to want to take a financial risk.
Melinda: He says he has a likely publisher already.
Greg: Oh, okay. Well that’s good.
Melinda: It looks like the book is going to be published.
Greg: The second thing is you have to be a good writer. That is, you have to communicate in a clear fashion with an economy of words, and you have to speak in a compelling way as well. I mean, those are two things here. It’s the ability to deliver the material in an effective way and then an ability to hit a market that will respond to it. You just can’t get around the marketing concern. There are lots of books that are good books, but nobody ever finds out about them because there’s not a kind of a footprint in the marketplace that allows people to know about it. This is an advantage to being associated with Stand to Reason, for example for me. That’s a liability. If people are thinking about writing a book that they are doing for someone else, not for themselves...Some people write for themselves and that’s a good way of clarifying your own thoughts. You write a book and you may be self-published and sell to people that you know. If somebody wants to write a book that really wants to sell then they’ve got to ask the marketing questions: why should somebody read this material and why should they read it from me?
Greg: Those are important questions.
Melinda: Yeah and let me add a few things, just because we’ve been promoting Greg’s book. Just because you have a publisher doesn’t mean the publisher is actually going to put that much effort into promoting the book. We’ve seen that in the past. Be prepared to be the advocate for your book. If your publisher says they’re going to line up interviews and all that stuff, fantastic. Be proactive. Contact bloggers, radio shows, podcasts, hosts and try to line up interviews. We get a lot of books here at STR. When you send your book out so somebody, make it easy for them to see what’s going to be different about this book and why it’s going to be distinguished from the hundred other books that they’re receiving, so they want to spend their time on it and they want to promote it.
Melinda: Then social media, you’ve got to have a webpage, you’ve got to have Facebook, you’ve got to have Instagram, you’ve got to have Twitter, and whatever, Snapchat, whatever. You need to promote your book. You need to have those forms and develop an audience.
Greg: The lion share of the marketing is done by the author.
Greg: It’s not magic having a publisher. They can be very helpful under certain circumstances, but first time out you’re probably going to get very little attention from them. They got other players that they’re promoting aggressively. You’re going to have to do the lion’s share of the work.
Melinda: Okay, last question. Just two minutes. It comes from Riley JMU. Are certain sins worse than others? My mom always said “a sin is a sin”. Are you going to argue with Riley JMU’s mother?
Greg: Well, the phrase a sin is a sin is a “pastorism” in my view. It’s an aphoristic way of putting something that has some truth, but also can be misunderstood. If what one person means by “sin is sin” is that all sins are wrong and any sin is enough to make you a sinner and a rebel before God, well then I agree with that. If what one means by that is all sins are equal, this is obviously false. I don’t even have to go to the Bible to know this, though it does teach in the Bible. Jesus said “the person who delivered me over to you”, speaking to Pilate, “has the greater sin.” There’s other places too I could site. Common sense dictates that. Is it a sin to lust after a woman? Yeah, that’s adultery in your heart. Is adultery a sin? Yeah. Which one is more egregious? Is it a sin to call a person a fool? Yeah. Is it a sin to murder them? Yeah. Which one is more egregious? Isn’t it obvious that some are worse than others? This is exactly the way that the Bible treats it. Yes, all sin is sin, but that doesn’t mean all sin is the same or of equal gravity.
Melinda: Perhaps the point his mom was trying to get across with saying a sin is a sin is the first thing that you said, that we’re all sinners. Therefore, we’re all guilty before God. That should keep all of us humble because we’re all equally in need of God’s grace and mercy.
Greg: That’s right. James makes this point in James 2 I believe. He says if you don’t murder but you commit adultery, aren’t you still a violator of the law? There’s all kinds of people in prison. They have different things that they’ve done, but they’re still violators so they’re in prison. That’s the point James is making. If you don’t break one law, you break another. Then you’re a lawbreaker. Since everybody breaks laws, then we’re all lawbreakers. We’re all in it together.
Melinda: Right. While it’s different sins, some may be more grievous than others. Basically sin puts us all on the same level as sinners in need for grace before God. Coming up, by the time this airs, it’s March, by next month, April 21 and 22 we’re holding our first Rethink Conference in Birmingham, Alabama at Brierwood Presbyterian Church. Early bird cutoff was back in February. We’ve already got almost 500 people registered. The church has been a fantastic cohost, very enthusiastic. It’s going to be a great conference. Rethink Conferences are primarily for students, but we obviously encourage youth leaders, pastors, parents, teachers to come along, bring students.
Greg: We don’t check ID’s at the door.
Melinda: Bring students along. It’s going to be a great conference and we encourage you to join us there.
Melinda: There you go.
Greg: Rethinkapologetics.com you get all the information.
Melinda: That’s it for this episode. Send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. Two episodes every week. We still have the regular podcast every week too, Wednesdays and Fridays. Thanks for listening. I’m Melinda the Enforcer with Greg Koukl.