Why Andy Stanley is Right About the Foundation of Christianity and How to Defend It

Dr. Russell Moore expressed several disagreements with pastor Andy Stanley at a recent conference for Southern Baptists. Dr. Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and Andy Stanley is the Founding Pastor of the Northpoint series of churches in and around Atlanta, which collectively have over 40,000 weekly attendees.

Moore was supposed to be interviewing Stanley about his approach to engaging the culture through preaching. Andy and his Northpoint team are known for creating a church environment that attracts unbelievers with the goal of making them disciples of Christ. Andy’s obvious success at engaging unbelievers made him the perfect subject for Dr. Moore’s interview. Unfortunately, the interview turned out to be more of an interrogation than a quest for knowledge.

After Andy read a letter from an atheist who had attended Northpoint the previous two Sundays and was moving toward Christ because of her experience there, Dr. Moore immediately took issue with Andy’s approach despite its obvious success in reaching just the kind of person the conference was convened to help reach. The tension level rose as Dr. Moore continued to disagree with Andy’s approach on several fronts. (I saw this interview from a private link which we originally had on this site and had to remove.  If you would like to see this interview for yourself, please contact the ERLC and ask them to post it.  It is their property and they originally said they would post it. UPDATE:  the interview video is now up here.)

Though he controlled the questions and the direction of the interview, Dr. Moore later said on his podcast that he didn’t want it to go the way it did. In fact, he spent his entire 22-minute podcast (which he recorded a few days later) explaining his differences with Andy’s culture-engaging approach. Based on the interview and that podcast (which you’ll have to hear to get a fuller understanding of what I’m about to say), I think Dr. Moore gets a few tactical issues right, but he gets the more substantial theological points wrong.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a friend of Andy Stanley, and he’s used and recommended my book in his current apologetics sermon series. I do not personally know Russell Moore but do appreciate much of his work. I’ve tried to be fair in the following assessment. I’ll leave it to you to decide if I’ve succeeded.

Since Dr. Moore was the one initiating the disagreements, I’ll address his points.

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Right

Dr. Moore is certainly correct when he states that churches have to strike the right balance between evangelism and discipleship. Russell Moore CLEARUnlike some in his reformed camp, he admits that the church is not solely for believers and that unbelievers will attend. In fact, he observed that the church at Corinth had unbelievers attending, and that pastors today must be sure to conduct worship services in an orderly and explainable way so that unbelievers don’t think “you are out of your mind” (1 Cor. 14:22-40).

Dr. Moore believes that Northpoint is out of balance—that it is weighted too much toward evangelism. I actually can’t verify if he’s right about that, but he could be. The many messages of Andy’s that I’ve seen are nearly always biblical, insightful and extremely practical. But whether or not Northpoint actually is successful at making disciples, I honestly cannot say. I’m not there, and discipleship is very difficult to measure at any church, especially a church of over 40,000. While there certainly is room in the body of Christ for churches that lean one way or the other, every church must “feed the sheep” to some extent. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, not mere believers.

I think Dr. Moore is also correct that all pastors, particularly a pastor of Andy’s influence, must qualify statements such as Andy’s, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible.” A comment like that, without proper explanation, can lead down a dangerous path as Dr. Moore observed, and it’s certainly going to cause some Christians to run for their pitch forks (just google “Russell Moore and Andy Stanley” to see the pitch forks for yourself). Andy must go out of his way to explain exactly what he does and doesn’t mean.

In Andy’s defense, the context of that comment was made at a conference designed to reach a culture of unbelievers, and the more complete quote was, “We need to get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection. Because the issue for us is, ’who is Jesus?’ Did he rise from the Dead?”

As I’ll argue below, that comment can be defended in context. But extreme clarity is critical, especially when you’re talking about something as important at the Bible. Without that clarity, Dr. Moore is right to raise a red flag. (Other similarly provocative statements by Andy Stanley have raised evangelical eyebrows, including my own, at least until I better understood the context. Please understand that I don’t always agree with Andy. I agree with about 95% of what he says—I don’t even agree with myself that much!).

I also think Dr. Moore is correct about the need for pastors to address controversial moral issues from the pulpit. Although he’s protested at abortion clinics, Andy stated that he has never preached a message on abortion, preferring that and topics such as same-sex marriage are left to small groups within the church.

Why would a pastor of unparalleled communication skills (Dr. Moore called them “amazing”) leave such delicate and important issues to small groups—issues that are literally life and death and cut to the heart of what people perceive to be road blocks to Christianity? I’m convinced that so many people stay away from Christianity, and often destroy their lives, because pastors fail to tactfully present the truth on these issues (not to mention the damage our silence is doing to the nation and religious freedom). If anyone can present tactfully and compassionately it is Andy Stanley. Andy should take the lead on those issues instead of relying on less skilled and informed group leaders. Paul stated that he “did not shrink back from declaring to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). Neither should Andy nor any other pastor.

Those are the tactical issues that I think Dr. Moore gets right. Now, let’s take a look at the more foundational theological issues that Dr. Moore gets wrong (and Andy gets right).

 

What Dr. Moore Gets Wrong

Quoting the Bible is the only way to reach unbelievers

I think Dr. Moore is mistaken for suggesting that the only way to engage unbelievers is by quoting Scripture. He argued that Andy’s apologetic approach is not Biblical because Jesus quoted Scripture to people and said “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

It is true that Jesus did quote Scripture with folks who already accepted the authority of the Old Testament. But when He spoke to unbelievers (the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, Pilate, and the thief on the cross), Jesus wasn’t firing Bible verses at them while assuming the authority of Scripture. Likewise, Paul didn’t assume the authority of Scripture or quote from it when speaking to the Athenians (Acts 17), but attempted to find common ground with them, even quoting their own poets and recognizing their “unknown God” beliefs, in order to connect them with the true God and the truth of the Resurrection.

I agree with Dr. Moore that quoting Scripture is effective to bring some unbelievers to Christ (with the work of the Holy Spirit of course), just that it’s not the only way. Some unbelievers have intellectual objections and often resist the Spirit until they get answers.

In fact, if preaching Scripture alone is the sole means through which everyone can be converted, why doesn’t Dr. Moore merely read Scripture on his podcast? If the Scriptures are all “sufficient” for evangelism, then why is he wasting his time organizing a conference where he seeks Andy Stanley’s insights on how to better preach to the culture? If merely saying “thus sayeth the Lord” is sufficient, then evangelists should forgo the hours of message preparation and simply read the Bible!

It seems to me that a preacher can do three things with regard to the Scriptures:

  1. He can read the Scriptures;
  2. He can explain the Scriptures so they are understood and applied (exposition);
  3. He can support their veracity with evidence (apologetics).

Why wouldn’t a wise pastor do all three? Pastors will reach and disciple a lot more people by using every tool available to them. Indeed, God makes his appeal through us, and it’s a deeper and wider appeal when we engage in evangelism, exposition, and apologetics.

 

Presupposing the Bible is true rather than showing it’s true

Dr. Moore’s stance on quoting the Bible to unbelievers seems to be the result of a presuppositional approach to apologetics, which just presupposes the Bible is true. In doing so, he is confusing knowing that the Bible is our authority with showing the Bible is our authority.

This is also a failure to distinguish between the ends and the means. Dr. Moore and Andy agree on the ends—that the Bible is God’s primary revelation and authority to mankind. However, the means of showing that are not presupposing it’s true (that’s circular), but the classical approach to apologetics that Andy advocates, which cites evidence for the events in the Bible, and the reliability of the biblical documents, from philosophy, science and history.

Getting evidence for the New Testament events and documents is not circular—we are not presupposing the Bible is true as the presuppositionalists do. We are gathering evidence to find out what really happened and to see if the New Testament documents can be trusted, which is what historians do when they investigate any set of historical documents or events. (For more on problems with presuppositionalism and the merits of the classical approach, listen to my recent interview with Dr. Richard G. Howe).

In fact, the Bible actually commands us to use reason and evidence in worship and in our defense of Christianity. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God . . . with all your mind.” God speaks through the prophet Isaiah saying, “Come now, let us reason together.” Peter urges us to “always be prepared to give an answer.” Paul commands us to “destroy arguments” that are opposed to the truth of Christianity, and he declares that Christianity is false unless the resurrection of Christ is an historical fact. He even names the living eyewitnesses of the Resurrection, in effect daring his readers to fact-check him by asking them. He did not say, “Believe that Jesus rose from the dead because I’m writing the Bible and the Bible is the authority!”

Of course, not everything in the Scripture can be supported with evidence. But as Andy and classical apologists maintain, once we’ve established that Jesus actually rose from the dead and is therefore God, then whatever Jesus says and teaches is true. Since the evidence shows that the New Testament documents are reliable, then we know Jesus taught that the Old Testament is God’s Word (as is the coming New Testament). It is on the Risen Savior’s authority that we believe all of the Scriptures are true—even those events in Scripture that we can’t independently verify.

 

Failing to acknowledge the indispensable role of God’s other “book”

Dr. Moore seems not to acknowledge the indispensable role of natural revelation in understanding God’s special revelation to us. (I keep saying “seems” about Dr. Moore’s beliefs because I’m basing all of this on an interview and his 22-minute podcast—I may not be understanding his beliefs completely or accurately). God has actually written two books: the Bible (special revelation, see 2 Tim. 3:14-16) and the “book” of nature (natural revelation, see Ps. 19, Rom. 1:18-20, 2:14-15). Both are necessary in the life of the believer.

Unfortunately, when some Protestants today talk about the “sufficiency of Scripture” or “sola Scriptura” (Scripture alone), they often make it sound like we have no need for any truths outside the Bible. That’s not true for several reasons. Here are just two.

First, one can’t even understand the Bible (or any communication) without first understanding truths from outside the Bible—aspects of the natural revelation such as philosophy, logic, and consistent cause and effect. In other words, in order to get anything out of the Bible, you need principles or keys of interpretation from outside the Bible to access it, much like you need your keys to unlock your house to get anything out of it. Without keys of interpretation from the outside, we would never be able to unlock the Bible to learn what’s in it. While we often take those keys of interpretation for granted, we get them from the book of nature and the principles of human communication including language and grammar.

Sometimes we even use what we learn from nature or philosophy to overrule what appears to be the clear reading of Scripture. The rotation of the earth around the sun is one such example. Another is the immaterial nature of God. We use the book of nature and the principles of human communication to realize that the Bible uses observational language to describe nature (sun rising and setting) and metaphors to describe God’s attributes (He has eyes, arms, legs, etc.).

While the Bible does say “God is Spirit,” the only way to resolve the apparent contradiction with several other verses that suggest God has body parts is through philosophy. (Before you object to the use of philosophy, the Apostle Paul never prohibited its proper use. That would be a philosophy to not use philosophy which would be self-defeating. The “vain philosophy” to which Paul was referring in Col. 2:8 was legalism infecting the church). While one can use bad philosophy to interpret the Bible, it’s impossible to use no philosophy.

In his new series “Who Needs God,” Andy highlighted a second reason that truths outside the Bible are critical: Truths outside of the Bible got Christianity started! Before the New Testament was ever written, thousands of Jews and pagans understood the truth of Resurrection Christianity. While those early believers didn’t have as much information as we’re privileged to have now, they knew enough to transform the Roman empire.

how needs god and andy

Andy’s point in reaching unbelievers today is that unbelievers in the mid-first century were never asked to become Christians through blind faith in an authoritative New Testament that didn’t exist, but on the reality of God and the historical fact of the Resurrection. Contrary to what some skeptics assert, the New Testament writers did not create the Resurrection; the Resurrection created the New Testament writers!  So Christianity would still be true if every Bible and manuscript in the world were destroyed.

Let me sum up this important point in another way. The ontological foundation of Christianity is not a collection of ancient writings we call the Bible. The ontological foundation of Christianity is the reality of God and the historicity of the biblical events including the Resurrection of Christ. (In fact, the New Testament wouldn’t exist unless the Resurrection occurred.) So while we need all of the Bible to more fully understand God and live the Christian life, we don’t need all the Bible to understand its most important message—the Gospel.

That was Andy’s reason for saying, “Let’s get the spotlight off the Bible, and back on the Resurrection.” Not for believers, but for unbelievers. Namely, when unbelievers doubt certain stories in the Bible (such as Noah or Jonah), focus on the evidence that the Resurrection actually occurred so they don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and dismiss the Gospel.

That’s Andy’s approach because many in our culture believe that if you doubt one story in the Bible you can’t believe any of it. Andy’s apologetic approach defuses that erroneous belief and for good reason. Believing in Noah and Jonah are not essential to your salvation, but believing in the Resurrection is!

Andy Stanley does not deny the Scripture or the historicity of stories such as Noah and Jonah. In fact, he went on to affirm the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible (watch the interview). However, his point is that the way to bring unbelievers into Christianity with the fewest potential obstacles is to focus on the historicity of Jesus and His Resurrection.

This aspect of historical reliability is unique to Christianity among world religions. The fact that Christians tend to ignore the unique verifiability of their belief system and insist people just take it on “faith” like other religions do makes little sense, and it ignores Jesus’ directive to examine the evidence. He said to his disciples, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves (John 14:11).” Since Jesus cited evidence shouldn’t we?

 

Using an incorrect definition of Sola Scriptura

This final mistake is related to the last. Dr. Moore and several reformed internet critics seem to be charging Andy with denying “sola Scriptura.” But Andy doesn’t deny sola Scriptura. What he denies is their erroneous definition of that doctrine.

Sola Scriptura was cited by the reformers to correct abuses by the Roman Catholic church. It means that the Bible is sufficient for the faith and practice of a believer, as opposed to the Scripture plus church tradition, plus church councils, plus the statements of the Pope, and so forth. Andy’s critics seem to think that Sola Scriptura denies the role of natural revelation, including reason, in theology. But, as we have seen, such a position would make understanding the Bible impossible. Without natural revelation we couldn’t understand the Bible or anything else about reality! Even Martin Luther realized this point. He didn’t dismiss reason. He said he would only recant if he could be proven wrong by Scripture or reason.

It’s ironic that a tradition has arisen in reformed Christianity that distorts the original meaning of sola Scriptura—the very doctrine intended to correct the erroneous traditions that had arisen in the Roman Catholic church. Roman Catholics may nullify the Word of God when they add traditions to God’s revelation. But some Protestants are nullifying it when they subtract from God’s revelation. We shouldn’t add church tradition to God’s special revelation, but we also shouldn’t subtract natural revelation either. It’s from God just as much as the Bible!

 

Conclusion

You may disagree with some of Andy’s tactics (leaning too far toward evangelism, provocative statements, leaving some moral issues to small groups), but there’s nothing wrong with his theology, especially on the issues Dr. Moore brought up.

Ironically, it turns out that in several important ways Andy Stanley is more in line with all of God’s revelation than Russell Moore. So if anyone needs to make substantive corrections to his theology, apologetic method and approach to unbelievers, it’s not Andy Stanley—it’s Russell Moore.

I don’t expect our pitch-fork-bearing brethren on the Internet to agree with me. While classical apologists defend Christianity, presuppositionalists defend presuppositionalism (as you’re likely to see in the comments of this post). They and others seem hell bent on labeling Andy Stanley a heretic by taking his statements out of context. Unfortunately, they don’t appear to be open to correction by Scripture or reason (but I pray that I’m wrong about that).


Resources for Greater Impact:

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I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

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DEEP & WIDE

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ONWARD

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STEALING FROM GOD

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COLD CASE CHRISTIANITY

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WHY I STILL DON’T HAVE ENOUGH FAITH TO BE AN ATHEIST

Is Christianity based on an argument from ignorance?

By Ryan Pauly

I received a lot of responses after last week’s blog, “Is atheism a ‘lack of belief’ in God?” Most of the responses came from atheists which I expected. I also expected an immediate request for proof of the Christian God which is what happened. Over the last year I have had to reduce the amount that I interact with followers on Twitter, but when I do respond to this type of request I always ask the same question. If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? I learned this from Dr. Frank Turek, and the reason this question is important is that it lets you know whether the person you are talking with really wants the evidence. They may ask you for it, or demand that you show it, but they might not really be looking for it. So, if they respond with a long explanation or flat out say “NO!” to your question, then it isn’t evidence they are looking for because evidence wouldn’t change their mind. However, if they say “Yes!” then you might present some evidence.

When it comes to presenting evidence, there are a lot of different topics that could be discussed. You could discuss the cosmological, teleological, or moral arguments. You could also bring up the complexity of biochemical systems. Or, you could go with my response this last week and talk about the existence of the mind. Each of these topics clearly points to a creator, but we need to be careful how we present the information. There are two ways that we can go, and if we aren’t careful, our point may be mistaken for an argument from ignorance or a god of the gaps argument.

Is Christianity based on an argument from ignorance?

Probability Argument

The first way to present evidence for God is by using the probability argument. It is absolutely remarkable seeing the discoveries that scientists have made over the years when it comes to complexity of life, origin of the universe, and origin of life. We can talk about the probability of these things coming into existence without God and how it is practically impossible. However, simply pointing out the probability can be insufficient because someone can always appeal to chance. The quote from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind. When Lloyd talks to Mary about the chances of them dating, she says he has a 1 in a million chance. Lloyd quickly responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Some may always say that if given enough time it is possible with natural processes, and students are quick to point this out.

It is also common to hear a response like this, “Just because you don’t know how it happened doesn’t mean it was God.” Skeptics claim that this is an argument from ignorance. God must have done it because there is no scientific explanation. They might also say that this is a god of the gaps argument. Christians simply have a gap in their knowledge and so they plug it up with God. This was done in ancient times to give a reason for the rain or thunder. The gods were sad or angry.

The reason for these responses is that the probability argument is a negative argument. It states that the probability of this complex system is very low and so it must be designed. I think that the probabilities can be very useful, but we need to use them along with our main argument.

Argument from Analogies

We can more effectively making a case for design using the complexity of life’s chemistry and universe by using analogies. Instead of an argument from ignorance or appealing to probabilities, we are able to make a positive case for design based on specific features of the object. We can look at the complexity of the bacterial flagellum and show that it functions better than any motor that has been intelligently designed by humans. DNA is similar to a message written in a book except it would fill millions of books. We only see motors and books coming into existence from intelligent minds because they contain information, so therefore it is reasonable to conclude that a mind created the complexity of life and DNA.

We can also make a positive argument by looking at characteristics of the thing we are discussing. The beginning of the universe points to an immaterial, uncaused, purposeful, intelligent, powerful cause that is outside the universe. Christians are not ignorant of how it happened so it must be God, but there are certain characteristics that point to a creator outside the universe.

I chose to discuss the existence of consciousness and the mind this week. I was quickly met with a response like, “No one knows how consciousness came to exist, so saying God did it is an argument from ignorance.” But, I am not arguing from probabilities or a lack of knowledge. Instead, I am making a positive argument based on characteristics of consciousness. It is undeniable that we are conscious beings, and consciousness is not physical. It cannot be produced through physical processes. This information makes a positive case that it is created by a non-physical mind.

In conclusion, is Christianity an argument from ignorance? No, it is not. Christians are able to make a positive case for Christianity based on scientific and philosophical data. It isn’t filling a gap in our knowledge with God, but God is the best explanation given the evidence.

Check out these additional resources if you are looking for more evidence for God. I hope these help.

Who created God?

Do objective moral laws point to God?

Is free will an illusion?

Is our mind the same as the brain?

Has our universe been designed?

What best explains the origin of life?

Has our universe been fine-tuned for life?

What best explains the beginning of our universe?

Is belief in God a rational position?

 

Visit Ryan’s website at CoffeeHouseQuestions.com


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Did Jesus Commend Faith That Is Blind?

You don’t have to read much of Cold-Case Christianity to realize I’m an evidentialist. The title usually gives it away. As a result, my inbox is filled with email from people who want to convince me that true faith is independent of evidence.

Many of them point to the well-known passage in John chapter 20 where Thomas expresses his doubt that Jesus has been resurrected. When Jesus presented Himself to Thomas, He made an important statement that is occasionally offered as an affirmation of some form of “blind faith”:

After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been [f]shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” (John 20:26-29)

Faith Blind

Without any other context to understand what Jesus believed about the relationship between evidence and faith, this single sentence (“Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed”) does sound like an endorsement of faith independent of evidential support. But context changes everything. Like other declarations offered by Jesus, this statement has to be reconciled with everything else Jesus said and did before we can truly understand what He believed about the role of evidence.

As it turns out, the Apostle John wrote more about Jesus’ evidential approach than any other Gospel author. According to John, Jesus repeatedly offered the evidence of His miracles to verify his identity and told His observers that this evidence was sufficient:

“Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11)

“If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” (John 10:37-38)

“…the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish, the very works that I do, testify about Me,
that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36)

John frequently described Jesus as someone who offered the evidence of his miraculous power to demonstrate His Deity. In fact, the passage describing Thomas’ doubt is also an affirmation of an evidential faith, if it is read in its entirety:

But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus *said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.” Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name. (John 20:25-31)

John makes an important statement right after the line that is typically offered to “demonstrate” Jesus’ alleged affirmation of a non-evidential faith: “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples…” What? Blessed are those who did not see and yet believed, therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples? Do you see the contradiction here? Why would Jesus continue to provide evidence if those who believe without evidence are supposed to be blessed? The answer is found, once again, in the Gospel of John. In Jesus’ famous prayer to the Father, he prayed for unity and He carefully included those of us who would become Christians long after Jesus ascended into Heaven:

“I do not ask on behalf of these (the disciples) alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20-21)

Jesus is talking here about all the people (like you and me) who will believe in Jesus not because of what we will see with our own eyes but because of what the disciples saw and recorded as eyewitnesses (“their word”). Yes, Thomas was blessed to believe on the basis of what he saw, but how much more blessed are those who will someday believe, not on the basis of what they will see, but on the basis of what the disciples saw and faithfully recorded. Jesus understood the value of evidence and continually provided “many convincing proofs” (Acts 1:2-3) to His followers so they could record their observations and change the world with their testimony. Jesus commended this process; His words to Thomas were not an affirmation of “blind faith”.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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4 Ways to become a better listener and a better Apologist

By Michael Sherrard

Step one in apologetics is to understand someone’s position. Many skip this step and merely vomit rehearsed arguments as soon as they hear a trigger word like “evolution” or “unreliable”. We like to give textbook answers, but people don’t hold textbook beliefs. Answers are only meaningful when given to relevant questions. So you must know the beliefs of the person across from you as they hold them before you start quoting J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, or Ravi. And you will only know their beliefs by listening.

Many things work against us when we defend our faith. We do not need misunderstanding to be one of them. If you want to defend your faith well, become a good listener. Be patient and hear what others are saying so that you can respond appropriately. Do not dominate conversations. This is not easy. It takes practice. But you need to do it. Let me offer four practical ways to improve your listening.

1. Focus on their words and not your response. Nearly everyone devises clever retorts or responses while the other person is talking, and it is no different in conversations of faith. This isn’t actually a conversation. It’s two people lecturing an audience that isn’t paying attention, and it’s not effective.

You need to practice not thinking about your response when someone else is talking. This is hard. It is a discipline that you can learn, though. When you notice you’re forming a response before they are done speaking, stop and refocus. Witnessing to skeptics is usually a marathon. You must pace yourself. Don’t try to sprint to the end. Don’t worry about jumping in and rebutting everything they say as soon as they say it. Rather, slow down, trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to remind you of the truth, and do not worry about winning.

2. Ask questions. If the person you are talking with is long-winded and hard to follow, ask them to restate their belief or position slowly and concisely. Remember, it is vital that you understand what they believe before you respond, so ask a question if you didn’t catch it the first time.

You can do this by asking them to summarize what they just said. What I find effective is to summarize what I think they just said and say it back to them. Typically when someone has finished talking I will say something like, “So let me make sure I understood you. You believe that…” This is effective because it ensures that I understand them. I often find that when I do these people see how their position is flawed, which is just a bonus.

better Apologist

3. Write down their points. Stopping conversations to jot down others’ points of contention is so simple and practical and will revolutionize your apologetic efforts. This practice is valuable in several ways. It keeps conversations calm and focused. It gives you time to think. It ensures that you heard correctly. It gives you their points to study later without relying on your memory. And it lets others see their position laid out neatly for perhaps the first time.

You will find many people have not thought through their beliefs; it isn’t only Christians who have not contemplated their religion. The goal of listening is hearing, and by hearing, I mean comprehending. Seeing beliefs ordered on paper allows everyone to clearly understand the position. Many times, this process does the work for the apologist by showing skeptics the inconsistency or inherent contradictions in their beliefs.

4. Pray. One of the things I do when talking with a skeptic is to pray short prayers throughout the conversation. In just a couple of words I ask God for wisdom, control of my emotions, and the ability to hear what the other person is saying. I also ask God to help me understand why they think like they do. It is good to ask God to give you eyes that can see past arguments into motives. Clever words are often a smoke screen for a deeper issue. Arguments that appear logical may be covering some emotional or volitional problem. People’s default position is to believe in God (Rom. 1:19–32). In their attempt to hide from Him, people devise wise-sounding arguments to convince themselves that they are right in their rebellion. Ask God for wisdom to see why they are rebelling.

Praying throughout the conversation is an act of faith whereby you understand that it is the Lord who draws people to Himself, and you are but a tool in the process. It will keep you humble and calm. It will keep you focused on the well-being of the other person and keep you from becoming consumed with winning. All of this helps you listen. And beyond the benefit of listening, it keeps you relying on the Lord and not your wisdom, and this is right where you want to be in dealing with a skeptic. So pray, pray, pray.

(This article is adapted from chapter 5 in my book “Relational Apologetics”. Order it here)

________________________________

Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, the director of Ratio Christi College Prep, and the author of Relational Apologetics. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.


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“People Do Not Come to Faith from Arguments!” 4 Objections to Apologetics

By Brian Chilton

Some time ago, I was in a meeting with pastors and other church leaders from various backgrounds discussing a potential ministry opportunity. I noted the importance that apologetics plays in the realm of collegiate ministries, especially with the mainstream attacks on Christianity from ultra-liberal voices. For instance, the collegiate ministry known as Ratio Christi has held a profound positive influence on the intellectual and spiritual lives of college students across the nation. To my surprise, one particular ministry leader said, “It’s my experience that people are not brought to faith by arguments.” The statement was shocking enough. However, I was even more bewildered by some who seemed to agree with him. I replied, “What do you say of Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and J. Warner Wallace who were former atheists and became believers because of the evidence for the Christian faith?” The conversation quickly moved to a different topic.

I do not tell this story to demonize or demoralize anyone. The person who voiced opposition to apologetics was a good, caring individual who loves the Lord and the people he serves. However, we must engage the question he presented. Do logic and argumentation bring people to faith or are such disciplines useless endeavors? The mission statement of Bellator Christi is that it exists to take up the sword of Christian theology and the shield of classical apologetics in order to take Christian truth into the arena of ideas. But if people are not argued into the faith, this ministry would seem a bit futile, at least in the latter portion of the mission statement. So, are apologetic argumentations necessary? This article will review 4 common objections given to apologetics by the modern church. Each objection will contain an explanation and an appropriate reply.

Objection #1: Arguments do not bring people to faith.

The ministry leader I mentioned posed the first objection against the use of Christian apologetics. This objection claims that arguments do not really bring people into faith. Faith is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

Reply:

One could provide several replies to the first objection. To keep the post brief, I will present only two. First, objection 1 is in reality a self-defeating statement. How so? Well, the objector is presenting an argument to persuade others that arguments do not persuade. The objection is much like someone claiming to be a married bachelor or saying “I cannot speak a word of English” in English.

Second, the Bible presents several examples where people came to faith or were persuaded to faith by various argumentations. For instance, the miracles and teachings of Jesus provided a case for His claim to be Messiah. The miracles served as a sign. Why were such signs offered? Signs were provided to present an argument for the Messianic claims of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus argues that “the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). In addition, Jesus challenged His adversaries to “search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39). Other examples could be offered such as Paul’s defense of the faith before various groups of people, including the Athenians. Consider Philip’s argumentation to the Ethiopian that Isaiah 53 referred to Jesus of Nazareth. All such arguments were used to bring people to faith.

Objection #2: The Holy Spirit brings people to faith, so argumentation is useless.

Some people have objected to the use of Christian intellectual arguments due to the assumption that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. If the Holy Spirit leads people to faith, then why should one worry about intellectual argumentation.

Reply:

Let me first say, I wholeheartedly agree that the Holy Spirit leads people to faith. Jesus noted that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because you do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11). While the Holy Spirit convicts, we are told that we have a part to play in the evangelism process. Jesus also told the disciples before His ascension, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). One could argue; If the Holy Spirit brings people to faith, then why evangelize? Christians evangelize because God commanded us to do so. Through the preaching of the Word, people are convicted by the Holy Spirit to come to faith. The Holy Spirit uses our evangelistic efforts to save people. The same is true for apologetics. Intellectual argumentation is often used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith. While the majority of Athens did not follow Christ after hearing Paul’s intellectual defense of the faith, the Book of Acts states that “some men joined him and believed, among whom were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17:34).

Another problem I have with this statement stems from the spirit of laziness that exists in some Christians today. I heard a person tell a pastor, “You don’t have to study to preach. Just follow the Holy Spirit.” While I wholeheartedly agree that a person should follow the Holy Spirit, I also accept that the Scripture tells us the “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1). How does a person test a spirit? One tests a spirit against the Word of God. Testing spirits require study. I truly believe that it is the increased biblical illiteracy and lack of study that has led the modern church into many great heresies.

Objection #3: No one has ever come to faith through argumentation.

Anti-apologetic apologists argue that no one comes to faith through intellectual argumentation. Why bother if no one comes to faith through argumentation?

Reply:

This is an easy objection to answer. The claim is false. Many have come to faith through intellectual argumentation for the faith. Among such converts include: C. S. Lewis (famed English professor and writer), Josh McDowell (author of countless Christian books), Lee Strobel (former legal editor of theChicago Tribune, atheist turned Christian pastor and writer), Fazale Rana (Christian biologist), and J. Warner Wallace (former Los Angeles cold-case homicide detective turned Christian apologist). These individuals only scratch the surface of those who have come to Christ because of the evidence for Christianity.

Objection #4: If someone is argued into faith, then someone could be argued out of faith.

Lastly, objectors to Christian apologetics often claim that if it is by evidential argumentation that one comes to faith, then one could be easily led astray by some other persuasive argumentation.

Reply:

This objection holds two problems in my estimation. 1) The objector does not understand the power of the Holy Spirit. If Christianity is true and a person comes to faith in Christ, then the Scripture states that the Holy Spirit will abide with the repentant person (John 14:15-16). Jesus notes that the Holy Spirit would lead a believer in truth (John 15:26-27). Thus, it would appear that the objector places less value on the power of the Holy Spirit than the advocate of Christian apologetics.

2) In addition, the objector must consider the following point. If Christianity is true, then it will always remain true. The truthfulness of Christianity will never change. Truth is unchangeable. Thus, if a person is truly convicted of the claims of Christianity and truth does not change, then the person (although doubts may come) will not leave the faith due to the truth claims.

Conclusion:

While I respect the objections made and the people who make them, it cannot be said that such objections hold any merit or value. Christianity is true. Period. If Christianity is true, then it is worth defending. If Christianity is true, eternity is at stake. Some people do come to faith when they are met with the evidences for Christianity. It may be true that some people do not require the same level of evidence that other people require. But, refusing apologetics to the one who needs it is like refusing insulin to a diabetic because not everyone needs insulin. It is, to a degree, a categorical mistake. Remember, Peter tells us, as has been noted several times before, that we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

Check out this video by Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason as he engages this issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0cS2xGUj5KQ

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Visit Brian’s website at BellatorChristi.com © August 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.


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Atheist Vs. Christian Summer Camps: Which More Effectively Taught Their Worldview This Summer?

By Natasha Crain

A blog reader sent me some information recently on an atheist summer camp (thanks DD!). I was fascinated to read all that they are doing to promote an atheistic worldview with their young campers. It immediately made me wonder how Christian camps stack up. After all, about 40 percent of all U.S. teens ages 13 to 17 have been a camper at least once at a religious summer camp—making camp a perfect opportunity to give large numbers of kids an understanding of why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true and how to defend their faith in a secular world.

So are Christian summer camps imparting this critical knowledge? To find out, I Googled “Christian summer camps” and visited the websites of 100 camps across the country. I spent hours going through these sites to see what they offer so I could share the findings with you.

I wish I could say I had a positive report.

Before we look at what I found, however, I want to first give you a glimpse of an atheist summer camp for comparison.

 

What Happens at Atheist Summer Camps?

The largest atheist summer camp is called Camp Quest. Camp Quest started 20 years ago and has grown to 14 locations throughout the United States. According to its website, “The idea to offer a summer camp program designed for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families originated partially in response to the Boy Scouts of America’s increasing enforcement of their policy requiring boys to profess a belief in God.  It became clear that children from nontheistic families needed their own place to belong and enjoy the summer camp experience.”

The camp’s tagline is, “Summer camp beyond belief!” Campers participate in all kinds of traditional camp activities—for example, archery, canoeing, climbing, crafts, dance, horseback riding, and swimming—along with an important core of “freethought” activities in line with the camp’s secular mission.

So what do they mean by “freethought”? They define it this way: “Broadly, it means cultivating curiosity, questioning and a certain disdain for just taking the word of authority; demanding evidence and knowing you can make your own observations even if they lead you to disagree.”

In other words, they do activities that aggressively teach kids their worldview in the context of others.

You might not immediately conclude this from their freethought definition. After all, doesn’tevery parent want to cultivate curiosity, encourage questions, and teach kids to think for themselves? Make no mistake, however: Camp Quest and all self-identified “free thinkers” ironically believe that freethought inevitably results in the same atheistic/agnostic conclusions.

One of the most loved freethought activities at camp is the Invisible Unicorn Challenge. The children are told that there are two invisible unicorns who live at Camp Quest but that they cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched. They cannot escape from camp and they don’t eat anything. The only proof of their existence is contained in an ancient book handed down over countless generations. The challenge: Can you disprove their existence?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these kids are supposed to see that the idea of God is just like these invisible unicorns. While the kids will learn that you can’t strictlydisprove God’s existence (how can you disprove invisible unicorns?), they’ll also learn that there’s no evidence of them, so there’s no reason to believe in them. (The claim that there’s no evidence for the existence of God is pervasive today but flawed—see chapters 1, 7, 8, 21, 27, and 28 in my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, for help talking to your kids about this subject.)

With activities like these, kids are actively learning why they should believe their worldview is an accurate picture of reality.

Meanwhile, at Christian summer camp…

 

What Happens at Christian Summer Camps?

I went to a Christian summer camp for several years as a kid and remember those weeks rather fondly. I remember the excitement when it was time to go to the snack bar for afternoon popsicles; I remember the smelly but fun cabins where everyone would stay up late talking; I remember being sent off by camp counselors with a notepad and pen to write a letter to God and having no idea what to do; I remember nightly songs around the campfire; and I remember having my first crush.

What I don’t remember from those years is growing in my understanding of Christian faith. Of course every camp is different, and every camper is different, so that’s not to say that my experience is representative of all or even most. But, after seeing what happens at Camp Quest, I was keenly interested in seeing how Christian camps today compare.

Here’s what I found from my survey of 100 Christian camp websites.

First, many say nothing of their Christian mission outside of generally promoting a “Christian camp” label. If you’re considering sending your kids to “Christian” summer camp, make sure you know what exactly that means. At many places, it doesn’t mean much.

Those that did detail the faith-based component of their camp were quite similar in focus. The key words repeatedly found on camp websites were: worship, relationship, good values, community, devotions, experience, and growing close to Jesus.

I want you to see first-hand the specific descriptions these camps offered. Here’s a good representation of the key phrases found throughout the sites…along with some side notes I couldn’t help but make:

  • Wholesome Christian atmosphere
  • Excellence in Christian camping (This made me laugh out loud. I get the term “Christian camp” but “Christian camping” makes me wonder how Christians camp differently…)
  • Take the next step in your faith
  • Fun, faith, friends (alliteration is fun, but it doesn’t say much)
  • Demonstrate that the Christian life can be one of meaningful fulfillment (Another laugh out loud moment—“can” be?)
  • Enjoy recreation in a Christian atmosphere
  • Dynamic speakers (I’m glad they’re dynamic, but what will they speak dynamically about?)
  • Show kids you can be a Christian and still have fun (What kind of message does this send? That everyone assumes Christians can’t have fun and this camp will prove the universal assumption wrong? How about showing kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true so they understand why they should be a Christian in the first place?)
  • Special moments to learn about a loving God
  • Exciting Christian campfire programs
  • Gain deeper insight about God (I like how that sounds, but insights could mean anything…)
  • Grow strong in a welcoming Christian experience
  • Transformative worship
  • Campers come to know Jesus and pass on God’s love with excitement
  • Give kids a moral compass and learn God’s Word
  • Be encouraged and strengthened in the Lord
  • Wholesome recreation consistent with Christian standards and purposes (“consistent with” is about the least committal descriptor I can think of)
  • Enjoy God’s wonder
  • Enthusiastic speakers (enthusiasm is great, but, again, what content are they enthusiastically sharing?)
  • Establish goals to move closer to Jesus
  • Provide a life-altering experience
  • Enjoy high energy worship (I’m glad they clarified it’s high and not low energy…)
  • Conform campers to the character of Christ
  • Bring kids to a saving knowledge of Christ
  • Explore faith and God’s creation while you enjoy outdoor time around the campfire
  • Promote a lifestyle that honors God
  • Provide strong Christian role models
  • Nightly cabin devotions
  • Explore actions and teachings of Jesus Christ
  • Each adventure-packed day ends with campfire singing and a Bible message
  • Daily group Bible studies
  • Awesome worship music, live speakers, and meaningful Bible study
  • Activity-based application of biblical principles
  • Bible-based teaching based on shared adventures
  • Values-based camping
  • Help campers build a relationship with Jesus
  • Experience Christian community
  • Provide programs allowing campers to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ
  • Emphasize Judeo-Christian values
  • Be inspired and challenged as the staff brings the Bible alive in new ways
  • Christian lifestyle is demonstrated through Bible study, devotions, music, and personal interaction
  • Experiences that strengthen the spirit, mind, and body under a strong Christian emphasis
  • Steadfast focus on the Creator in the midst of adventures (I’m imagining a kid sliding down a zip line with camp counselors yelling, “Focus on who ultimately created this!”)
  • Focus on values important to all faiths (now we’re just going to focus on the lowest common denominator?)
  • Speakers sharing from their heart on how God’s Word has transformed them

If you read through all those “talking points,” it’s clear that Christian camps overwhelmingly focus on the experience of being a Christian. And, of course, facilitating opportunities to experience God is hugely important! But one of the ways we experience God is with our minds and stems from the confidence of our convictions. Out of 100 camps, just TWO explicitly mentioned anything related to teaching Christian worldview in the context of other worldviews and how to engage with our secular culture:

  • Prescott Pines: “Stand up for your faith in the face of adversity” (funny enough, this is a camp in my hometown—but not the one I attended!)
  • Camp Kanakuk: “Helping your child grow in their character, and ability to communicate and defend their faith”

While other camps may address these topics as part of their general Bible teaching or messages, it certainly wasn’t a focus enough for them to explicitly mention it on the other 98 sites. I’m not saying that every single camp should have this as an emphasis, but given the challenges kids are facing today, the fact that 98% of camps are at the very least not promoting that they’re going to talk about Christianity in the context of other worldviews is both surprising and disappointing.

 

What Should We Make of All This?

In terms of numbers, the attendees at Christian camps far outnumber those at atheist camps. But if you’re tempted to think that means we shouldn’t care about this comparison, you’re missing the point.

Atheists are still a small percentage of Americans overall (5-10%), but their numbers are quickly gaining because they aggressively promote what they believe to be the truth of their worldview versus the falsities of other worldviews. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in America continues to decline in response. Churches have been slow to realize the urgent necessity of teaching apologetics given the increasing challenges to faith today…and it’s clear that Christian summer camps are no different.

This is a shame. Truly. A lost opportunity with thousands of kids.

I hope that this post will reach the inbox of people involved with camps and encourage them to think of how their program next summer might be more tailored to these subjects.

Importantly, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be “exciting campfires,” devotionals, “high energy worship,” fun speakers, and so on. All of these things contribute to a memorable camp experience. But there may be nothing more important today for helping kids draw nearer to Jesus (a stated goal of most camps) than helping them know confidently why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is true.

If you’re involved in camp planning for your church or other organization and want some content ideas for teaching apologetics at next year’s camp, please email me through my contact form.  

 

Addendum: Two Camps to Consider

There are two fantastic programs for teens that do focus on equipping kids to engage critically with other worldviews and I want to make sure you know about them as you consider opportunities for next summer.

First, Summit Ministries offers intensive two-week retreats designed to teach older teens how to champion a biblical worldview and to strengthen their faith in a post-Christian culture. These retreats are in Colorado, Tennessee, and California. They have incredible speakers. If you want to see what Christian camp can look like, check out their sample schedule. Wow.

Second, Faith Ascent’s Base Camp in St. Louis offers “5 days and 4 nights of fun, fellowship, and intense preparation for the challenges and opportunities college bound Christians will be presented with. In a real college environment we ask and answer the tough questions Christian teens are asking (and being asked).” They, too, have fantastic speakers and an incredible schedule.

I hope you’ll check out these excellent programs and consider them for next summer if you have kids of the appropriate age.


 

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Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

By Brian Chilton.

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1]Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from theEnglish Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.


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Can God Create A Rock So Heavy That He Cannot Lift It?

By Evan Minton

Many times when talking with non-believers, they will appeal to some sort of one-liner or meme to render their unbelief a more credible position than the reality of an omnipotent God. Nevertheless, although these one-liners seem credible to the untrained mind, they actually don’t work as arguments. The same goes with this riddle, which basically attempts to pit God against himself in asking, “Can God create a rock so heavy that he cannot lift it?”

This question reminds me of when the religious leaders tried to trap Jesus in a no-win situation by asking “Should we pay taxes to the Romans?” If Jesus said yes, then that would mean that He was siding with Rome, the people hated Rome and wanted their Messiah when he came to overthrow the Romans and destroy them. Answering yes would turn the Jewish people against Him. They might even stone him or something! On the other hand, if Jesus said no then he’d get in trouble with the Romans. It’d be treason. No matter which answer Jesus gave, it seemed, He would get Himself in trouble. We all know what happened next and how Jesus brilliantly wiggled out their trap. (Mark 12:13-17, Luke 20:21-25)

The Christian Apologist seems to be in the same position. “Can God Create A Rock So big he cannot lift it?” If we say yes, then we concede that there is something God can’t do because God would then create a rock which He couldn’t lift. The thing God couldn’t do would be to lift the rock. On the other hand, if we say no, then we also concede that there’s something God cannot do. Namely, create a rock which He can’t lift. Either way, our answer will affirm that God is not omnipotent, or so it seems.

I think this attempt to stump the theist and get him to admit that God is finite is a pretty bad one. For it misunderstands the definition of omnipotence. When we Christians say “God can do anything” we don’t mean literally everything. When we say that God can do the impossible, we don’t mean he can do the logicallyimpossible. By impossible, we mean things like creating things out of nothing, keeping people in a fire from burning, having a guy walk on water, or make a 90 year old woman get pregnant and give birth to a healthy son, and things like that. We don’t mean God can do absolutely everything. We mean only what is logically possible (that is to say, things that are not contradictory concepts).

There are some things God cannot do simply because He is omnipotent. If God is infinitely powerful than it’s impossible to create a rock so large He cannot lift it. For if there was anything He couldn’t lift, that would prove Him a being of finite strength. But a being of infinite power could create a rock of infinite size and infinite weight and still be able to move it. It is because God is infinitely powerful (i.e omnipotent) that He cannot create a rock too hard for Him to move.

This little riddle is akin to asking “Can God’s infinite power overwhelm His infinite power?” Or it’s like asking “Can God beat Himself in a fist fight” or “Can God think up a mathematical equation too difficult for Him to solve”. It’s sheer nonsense. C.S Lewis once said “Nonsense is still nonsense even when we speak it about God.”You’re basically asking if a Being of unlimited power can produce something to limit Him. But His unlimited power, by definition, rules out that possibility. An unlimited being cannot create limits for Himself.

The definition of omnipotence does not mean being able to do the logically impossible (to do something logically contradictory). God cannot create square circles, married bachelors, one ended sticks etc. God can do anything that’s logically possible, that is; not logically contradictory. God can create out of nothing, God can make ax heads float in water, He can make animals speak in a human tongue, He can cause a virgin to be pregnant, but He can’t make something exist and not exist at the same time, He can’t cause an animal to speak in a human tongue and be silent at the same time, and He can’t make a woman both pregnant and not pregnant at the same time. Nowhere in The Bible does it say that God can do the logically impossible. That is not the definition of Omnipotence.

There are other things God cannot do. Not just logically impossible things. He can’t commit sin. He cannot do evil acts because God is sinless and holy (Psalm 23:6, Psalm 25:8; Psalm 34;8; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.) and so to do those things would be to contradict His own morally perfect nature. Titus 1:2 says that it’s impossible for God to lie. It’s not that God merely chooses not to lie, but that He’s literally incapable of it. Why? Because lying is a sin and sin goes against God’s morally perfect nature. God can no more do evil then fire can cause things to freeze.

Richard Bushey of “ThereforeGodExists.com also wrote about this question. And he said in the article “This is not to say that logic is some sort of force that transcends God that he is a slave to. But rather it is to say that logical consistency is founded in the person of God himself.” Indeed. Logical Consistency is a character trait of God like holiness, love, justice, etc. Indeed. God is a rational Being. Even if God’s power did allow him to do the logically impossible, at the very least, His nature would prevent Him from doing so.

Can God do anything? Yes. So long as it’s both logically possible and in accord with His morally perfect character.

Visit Evan’s Blog @ CerebralFaith.Blogspot.com


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The Apostle Thomas was Not a Doubter

Thomas is my favorite apostle. I love his inquisitive nature (John 14:5) and his demand for evidence (20:24-29). Thomas may have even been the boldest apostle! When Jesus announced to his disciples that he was going to Judea, they tried to stop him (11:8). And yet Thomas was not dissuaded. He boldly proclaimed: “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (11:16). Thomas may have even first evangelized India and died there as a martyr. As I demonstrate in my book The Fate of the Apostles, the stories and traditions surrounding the apostle Thomas are utterly fascinating. In fact, Thomas was one of the most commonly cited apostles in the early apocryphal traditions.[i]

And yet most people simply remember Thomas as a doubter. How unfortunate! The great irony is that Thomas wasn’t even a doubter. That’s right, Thomas was not a doubter. Let me say it one more time to be sure it sinks in—“Doubting Thomas” was not a doubter.

How can I make such a claim? According to Strong’s Greek lexicon doubt (distásō) means, “to waver, hesitate, be uncertain.” Doubt is not rejection of belief, but holding a belief with hesitation and uncertainty. Doubt involves believing something with questions about whether it is really true or not. In fact, doubt seems to be parasitic upon belief.

When we think about it this way, its clear that Thomas was not a doubter. He didn’t doubt the resurrection of Jesus—he fully rejected it until he could have physical proof. John 20:24 describes an appearance of Jesus to the apostles except Thomas:

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

As this passage clearly indicates, Thomas refused to believe. He didn’t doubt the resurrection; he rejected it entirely and claimed he would never believe without physically touching the risen Jesus. The adjective “doubting” misrepresents Thomas’ unbelief. Maybe we should call him “Skeptical Thomas” or “Incredulous Thomas.” Probably the most accurate title would be “Disbelieving Thomas.” But, of course, that doesn’t have the same flair as “Doubting Thomas.” Regardless, Thomas was not a doubter and we need to stop referring to him as one!

Why does this even matter? I can think of two reasons:

1. Calling Thomas a doubter implies that doubt is opposed to faith. In reality, there are many people who believe amidst doubts—myself included! Right before Jesus gave the Great Commission, and then ascended to the Father, Matthew reports that the eleven disciples worshipped Jesus, but some doubted (Matthew 28:16). They did believe that Jesus had risen from the grave, but they still harbored doubts. If the apostles of Jesus had doubts, even though they saw Jesus in his resurrected state, then it seems natural that many of us will too. Given that Thomas seems firm is his belief (and unbelief), my suspicion is that Thomas was not one of the apostles who Matthew reports as doubting. So, ironically, there may even be other apostles who were greater doubters than Thomas.

2. Calling Thomas a doubter implies that certainty is required for belief. If we refer to Thomas as a doubter when he was not a believer, then aren’t we implying that people with doubts don’t genuinely believe either? When people think belief requires certainty, doubts and questions can be paralyzing, painful, and sometimes even lead to despair. Fortunately, the Bible does not teach that certainty is required for faith (nor does good epistemology). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, belief is when “we take something to be the case or regard it as true.” Understood this way, belief does not require certainty. In fact, depending on the available evidence, we hold beliefs with varying degrees of confidence. For instance, the belief that my wife loves me is much firmer than my belief that the San Antonio Spurs will win the NBA championship next year. I am much more confident in the former, but I do believe both are true.

Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” This implies that doubt is not the opposite of faith (point #1) and also that certainty is not required for belief (point #2). And it also shows the posture with which we ought to approach people with doubts. Rather than improperly labeling them, we ought to extend care and grace for people with questions. No doubt about it.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[i] Glenn W. Most, Doubting Thomas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 90.


 

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Forgiveness: The Most Powerful Apologetic

We apologists love to offer evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, and the resurrection of Jesus. These are powerful truths that have convinced many to personally trust Christ. Yet amidst our desire to defend the truth of Christianity, let us not forget the power of forgiveness, which, in my view, is perhaps our greatest apologetic today.

Our world seems to be falling apart at the seams. Each week the news is filled with increasing awareness that our world is profoundly broken and that humanity’s problems—whether racial, economic, political, moral, or religious—run deeper than we can imagine.

In light of the current state of the world, and given how many outsiders increasingly have a negative view of Bible-believing Christians, here is a question we must contemplate:How can we demonstrate the unique power of Christ in a world in which everyone has a microphone?

We certainly need to keep proclaiming the truth of the Christian message. In fact, as I show in A New Kind of Apologist, we need apologetics in the church today as urgently today as ever before. Jesus, Paul, the apostles, and the early church fathers were all apologists. And yet there is something we must not forget: our willingness to offer forgiveness to people who have wronged us, and especially our enemies, demonstrates the unique power of the cross more robustly than arguments alone. Genuinely offering forgiveness often breaks down barriers and invites people to consider reasons for our faith.

Forgiveness: The Most Powerful Apologetic

Why is this so? For one, there is always a way to avoid truth (2 Peter 3:15-16). It is our human nature to suppress it (Romans 1:18-20). We naturally get defensive when people challenge our cherished beliefs. But unexpected, grace-filled acts of forgiveness are harder to dismiss. They subvert our defensiveness. In fact, they often catch us off guard and invite us to consider the deeper reasons motivating people to act with such kindness. And it is uniquely the Christian worldview that can provide both the moral basis and motivation for forgiveness (e.g., Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:32).

This was clearly on display a decade ago in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. A man stormed into an Amish schoolhouse, shooting ten girls and killing five. Although clearly grieved, shocked, and heart-broken, the Amish community responded in a manner that the world had trouble comprehending—they offered forgiveness to the man, and reached out lovingly to his family. Some members of the Amish community went to the cemetery for the killer’s burial and others donated money to the widow and her kids.

Why did they respond in this manner? First, the Amish believe that God is sovereign, even when things appear to be spiraling out of control. Second, they have experienced God’s love and grace, and believe He has called them to extend His grace to other people. They hold no grudges and willingly offer the same forgiveness to other people that God has extended to them.

The world was watching when the Amish forgave the man who committed this horrific act. Many people were inspired, and others simply in wonder, just as some people were at the death of Jesus. After seeing the calm and gracious manner in which Jesus faced execution, the Roman centurion professed, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

Few things invite people to consider the power of Christianity more than the genuine offer of forgiveness in the face of wretched evil. This is what Jesus did, and if we care about the proclaiming and defending the gospel, we must be willing to do no less.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Just Listen

By Timothy Fox

“Everyone should be slow to speak, quick to listen….” James 1:19

I admit, I hate asking Christians for advice or to share my troubles. They just don’t listen! You pour out your heart and they respond with trite statements like “Smile, Jesus loves you!” “Everything will be okay!” “Trust in God!” “Jeremiah 29:11!” While you’re talking, you see in their eyes that they aren’t even listening; they’re thinking of some Christian-ese slogan or random Scripture to share. And while they may be well-meaning, they don’t help. If anything, you leave feeling more frustrated that you had your problem disregarded or minimized. And sometimes you don’t really need advice. You just want someone to care.

Just listen

But what does this have to do with apologetics? Everything.

For instance: A kid from youth group expresses his doubts about God’s existence to his pastor and the pastor responds “Just have faith.” What does this do to the youth? It shows him either 1) his doubts and concerns aren’t worth responding to, 2) the pastor doesn’t have the answer, 3) or worse, there is no answer. Then what happens the next time the youth has a doubt? He keeps it to himself. And the next one. And the one after that. Eventually, doubt will build until he abandons his faith completely.

That’s why the first job of an apologist is to listen. To individuals and to the culture. What are the questions people are asking? What are the big issues facing society? Apologetics isn’t just an academic discipline. It’s about helping people. We “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5) out of love because we want to remove any mental obstacle standing between an individual and Christ. Because we respect people’s doubts and concerns. And because we have them too.

Here are three things that listening allows you to accomplish:

1) Listening shows that you care about people’s questions and concerns. But not only that, it shows that you care about them. Sometimes people don’t want advice; they just want someone to pay attention to them. Remember the cliché: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is especially true in apologetics. We get so wrapped up in DEMOLISHING ARGUMENTS!!! that we end up destroying relationships instead. But what’s the point in having all the answers if no one is willing to hear what you’re saying? If you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them first.

2) Listening enables you to answer the questions people are actually asking. You can lecture people all day on the evidence for God’s existence and never reach the true reason they won’t accept Christianity. If someone is troubled by all the pain and suffering in the world and you’re pontificating on the fine-tuning of the universe, you’re talking past them, not to them. Apologetics is personal. It answers someone’s specific questions. An apologist who doesn’t listen to people is irrelevant and useless. A good apologist need not have all the answers, just the one a seeker is actually looking for.

3) Listening teaches you what people really believe. I can’t stand when someone presumes to tell me what I believe, so we shouldn’t do it to others. “Oh, you’re a _____? Then you must believe _____.” Never assume. You may think you’re DESTROYING!!! someone’s worldview when you’re really straw-manning them. Want to know what someone actually believes? Ask them. Then you can have a meaningful conversation. You may even learn something in the process.

We apologists are great at gathering information. But we also need wisdom. Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 8:1: “knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” What use is tons of apologetic knowledge if you’re not actually helping someone overcome objections to the gospel? We only tear down arguments so that we can build up faith. Apologetics is a labor of love, one that begins with an open ear and a closed mouth.

So what’s the first step in becoming an effective apologist? Just listen.


 

Visit Tim’s website @ FreeThinkingMinistries.com

Are Science and Faith at Odds? Insights by Augustine

The relationship between science and faith is one of the most important, and yet controversial subjects of our day. Are science and faith opposed? Do they support one another? Do they threaten one another? Or do they address entirely different “magisteria”, as Stephen Jay Gould famously suggested.

It is important to get the relationship between science and faith correct, for as David Kinnaman has pointed out in his book You Lost Me, the perceived conflict between them is one of the top reasons young people disengage the church. While there are many good books on the dynamic between science and faith (See, for instance, Where the Conflict Really Lies by Alvin Plantinga), sometimes the best wisdom comes from the past.

In his book On the Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine gives some helpful advice for how to approach science. Long before the Scientific Revolution, Augustine was well aware of the supposed conflict between science and faith. His advice is worth heeding today:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens…and this knowledge he holds to as Are Science and Faith at Odds? Insights by Augustinebeing certain from reason and experience. Now it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear aChristian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn…If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books on matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods and on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason” (Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, vol. 1 (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), 19:39, p. 42).


Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Be the Cause of Your Kids’ Questions About Christianity

By Natasha Crain

A couple of weeks ago, I started teaching a 5-week “Introduction to Apologetics” class to adults at a local church. In the first session, we talked about the evidence for the existence of God in nature—the origin of the universe, the design of life, and our innate moral knowledge.

During the question time at the end of the first session, one of the men raised his Bible in the air and said, “This was empowering! It gave me even more appreciation for God’s Word!” Other people had similar positive comments. I left feeling like things went great.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be the Cause of Your Kids’ Questions About Christianity

A couple of days later, my husband ran into someone from the class and asked what he thought of the first session. The man hesitated, then said, “Honestly? It really shook me. I know others said it was empowering, but it really made me start thinking about things—like all the atheist claims she talked about.”

My husband relayed this conversation to me…and I subsequently went into a funk for several days.

I felt like I totally failed. So many thoughts ran through my head:

How did I mess this up?

What could I have said to better demonstrate how powerful the evidence for God is?

How could one person say this was empowering and another person say it shook his faith to the core?

I must not be a very good apologetics teacher if my class had a negative impact on someone’s faith.

What if my class ultimately becomes the trigger that sends him away from the Lord?

Then, one morning, I woke up and realized something very important: I was having the same fears about apologetics causing a person to question his faith as many parents have about it causing their kids to question their faith. And I always tell those parents they need to promptly conquer their fears and forge ahead for the long-term spiritual benefit of their children.

It was time for me to take my own advice.

 

Conquering the Fear of Causing Doubt

I’ve received a number of emails and comments over the last couple of years from parents who say they don’t know if they want to get into all this “apologetics stuff” with their kids because they “only want to teach them truth” and don’t want to risk leading them astray by alerting them to all the challenges posed by nonbelievers.

But, as I point out to them, you don’t get to choose whether or not your kids will hear challenges to Christianity. In today’s world, they will hear those challenges! The only choice you have as a parent is if they’ll hear them first from you—in an environment where they’ll have your guidance readily available—or if they’ll hear them first from nonbelievers—in an environment where they’ll be processing what they hear on their own.

I shared a (true) story in a blog post a few months ago that so readily demonstrates the reality of that choice that I have to briefly recount it again. A young Christian I know was taking an undergraduate humanities class. He said that, so far in the semester, he had “learned” the following: Jesus never even claimed to be God in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Christianity borrowed ideas from earlier pagan myths, and the church arbitrarily picked which books to include in the Bible according to its own biases.

He noted, “The reactions of other students are of shock and disbelief. Yesterday the professor asked a student how these facts made her feel. She said she was mad and couldn’t wait to go yell at her pastor and parents. The professor egged her on. It was like watching a commander rally up his troops to tear down his enemy.”

The girl in the class was presumably ready to throw out years of Christian upbringing after a couple of months in a single college class.

All because she heard the “other side of the story” for the first time.

This is exactly what happened to the student in my class.

When I teach apologetics, I don’t simply present the case for the truth of Christianity. I acknowledge what skeptics say at every step of the way. I explain why things like the origin of the universe, the apparent design of life, and our innate moral understanding are best explained by the existence of a universe-creating, life-designing, and moral law-giving God—but I also describe the naturalistic (non-God) explanations offered by atheists. It was hearing those alternative claims for the first time that shook my student’s faith.

Parents, please take this to heart: When we explain the claims of skeptics to our kids and it raises questions they might not otherwise have had yet, we’re not damaging their faith…we’re actually strengthening it for the long term, even when that means our efforts may be the very thing that causes their questions now.

Parents make choices with a similar tradeoff all the time. We let doctors give our kids shots that cause temporary discomfort for the good of their long-term health. We take the training wheels off their bikes, knowing they’ll take some falls before becoming a confident rider. We allow them to struggle through difficult homework problems without giving them answers so they’ll better understand the material in the future.

So why do parents fear causing temporary spiritual pain for the good of their kids’ long-termspiritual health when these other examples seem to be no-brainers?

I think the difference is confidence—parents are more confident that they can effectively manage the process of teaching their kids to ride a bike than they are that they can effectively guide their kids’ spiritual development. To overcome that, parents need the confidence of knowing two things: 1) that Christianity really does have compelling answers to secular challenges, and 2) that they personally are equipped to offer those answers.

Gaining both types of confidence is in your control. You just have to commit to deepening your knowledge of Christianity. I didn’t say you have to become an expert. There are plenty of experts you can point your kids to. But you do need to become a well-trained guide.

Make your summer reading really count this year. If you’re just getting started learning about making a case for and defending Christianity, check out my reading plan specifically for parents here (it starts with my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, and takes you through four more books that will round out your core apologetics knowledge). If you’re ready to go to the next level, I have five other reading plans here.

And through all your reading, remember this: Truth has nothing to fear.

 Your willingness to tell your kids what other people believe makes that statement loud and clear.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be the Cause of Your Kids’ Questions About Christianity

Are Christians Less Intelligent Than Atheists? Here’s What All Those Studies REALLY Say

By Natasha Crain

Today I want to shed light on a nasty little “fact” that regularly makes the rounds online:

Studies show that Christians are less intelligent than atheists.

This statement is proudly tossed about by atheists who want to reinforce their claims that religion is for the poor, ignorant, and unintelligent.

And you know what? The statement is true…a number of studies have found a negative relationship between intelligence and religiousness (the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to be religious).

Does that mean people can legitimately say, based on these studies, that Christians are less intelligent than atheists? Absolutely not. 

I have an MBA in marketing and statistics and have taught university-level market research, so I’m a professional numbers geek…a numbers geek who dug into all these research studies to find out what they REALLY say. Today I want to set the record straight.

Before we get too far, however, I have to point out what is hopefully obvious: Even if we could reliably measure which group is smarter, the answer wouldn’t tell us anything about the truth of Christianity; intelligence doesn’t equate to always having the right answer.

Theoretically, we could end all conversations on this topic by pointing that out. But if your child asks you one day why Christians aren’t as smart as atheists, do you really just want to reply, “Well, that doesn’t mean Christianity isn’t true”? We owe it to our kids to be able to address the claim itself.

So here we go. Please bookmark this page as a resource that you can link to next time you see someone claim that Christians are less intelligent than atheists!

What 63 Studies on Intelligence and Religiousness Really Say

In 2013, researchers from the University of Rochester and Northeastern University pulled together all past studies conducted on the relationship between religiousness and intelligence at the individual (person) level. Of the 63 studies identified:

  • 35 showed a significant negative relationship between intelligence and religiousness (the more intelligent a person was, the less likely they were to be religious).
  • 2 showed a significant positive relationship between intelligence and religiousness (the more intelligent a person was, the more likely they were to be religious).
  • 26 showed no significant relationship between intelligence and religiousness.

In other words, only about half of the 63 studies suggest that the more intelligent a person is, the less likely they are to be religious. The other half of the studies don’t show that at all. The researchers themselves acknowledged, “The relation between intelligence and religiosity has been examined repeatedly, but so far there is no clear consensus on the direction and/or the magnitude of this association.”

First major takeaway: The common claim that studies have shown repeatedly that religious people are less intelligent is highly misleading. It ignores the results of almost half of the studies conducted. Overall, the results have been very inconclusive.

The goal of the researchers in 2013 was to look at these studies as a group for the first time, in order to better quantify the nature and magnitude of the relationship between intelligence and religiousness. Before we even look at the results, it’s important to note that combining 63 individual studies is very problematic. The studies varied extensively on:

  • Who was studied: Some studied precollege teens, some studied college students, and some studied noncollege adults (people recruited outside an academic context).
  • How many people were studied: Sample sizes ranged from 20 to more than 14,000.
  • When the studies were conducted: The studies were done over an 84-year span of time (the earliest study was conducted in 1928 and the most recent in 2012).
  • What the studies measured: Some studies measured religious behavior (for example, church attendance and/or participation in religious organizations) and some measured religious beliefs (for example, belief in God and the Bible).
  • How the studies measured: Twenty-three different types of tests were used to measure intelligence (for example, university entrance exams, vocabulary tests, scientific literacy tests, etc.). Details weren’t provided on how exactly each study measured religious behavior and beliefs, but that surely varied extensively as well.

Generally speaking, combining such disparate studies is a statistical disaster.

Cornell statistics professor William M. Briggs summarized the problem, saying, “Data of every flavor was observed, data that should not be mixed without an idea of how to combine the uncertainty inherent in each study and in how, say, kinds of IQ measurements map to other kinds of IQ measurements. In other words, they mixed data which should not be mixed, because nobody has any idea how to make these corrections.”

Methodological concerns aside, let’s pretend for a moment that it’s valid to combine the results of these 63 studies. Ultimately, there were two factors researchers found to be significant in the relationship between intelligence and religiousness. The first was the life stage of who they studied (precollege, college, or non-college). The second was the measure of religiousness(behavior or belief). The results suggested:

  • Religious behavior, such as church membership, has almost no relationship with intelligence at any life stage.
  • Religious belief has almost no relationship with intelligence in the precollege years (presumably because beliefs are more influenced by parents).
  • Religious belief has a very weak negative relationship with intelligence for college and noncollege adults (the higher the intelligence, the less likely a person is to have religious beliefs; the weak relationship is a -0.17 correlation between intelligence and religious beliefs for the college studies and a -0.20 correlation for the noncollege studies).

Second major takeaway: The results suggest a negative relationship specifically between intelligence and religious belief for adults, but the mathematical magnitude of that relationship is very small. Almost all variation in religious belief amongst individuals is explained by (unidentified) factors other than intelligence.

In review, here’s what you need to know next time you see someone make this claim:

Over the last 80+ years, many studies have been done on the relationship between intelligence and religiousness. In 2013, researchers pulled together all the ones that quantified that relationship. Of the 63 studies they identified, roughly half showed no relationship at all. The other half showed at least some kind of negative relationship (the more intelligent you are, the less likely you are to be religious). That said, statistically speaking, it’s not very helpful to simply know there is “some kind” of relationship. You have to know how strong the relationship is to know if it matters. Researchers combined the results of all these individual studies to evaluate that question overall and found the strength of relationship to be very weak.

What do I mean by very weak? A -.17 or -.20 correlation is considered to be a trivial or negligiblerelationship by most statisticians. In other words, hardly worth mentioning.

Now you have the whole story. But one last note. Please do not share the following article when you see an atheist make claims about Christians being less intelligent: Of 10 Highest IQ’s on earth, at least 8 are Theists, at least 6 are Christians. I regularly see Christians replying to atheists with that link and it makes me cringe every time. It doesn’t matter if the 50 or even 1000 most intelligent people on Earth are theists or Christians—that doesn’t statistically mean anything about the relative intelligence of Christians as a group. Engage instead on the studies underlying the atheists’ claims by sharing this analysis.

Any questions?

Are Christians Less Intelligent Than Atheists?

The Brief Biblical Case for the Eternal Life of the Soul

What happens to our souls when our bodies die? Do souls “sleep” until the final resurrection and judgment? My Seventh-Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witness friends accept a doctrine known as “Conditional Immortality”; the notion that the soul ceases to exist after the physical death of the body.  In fact, Jehovah’s Witnesses call this “soul annihilation”; only those who are redeemed will have their souls recreated by God at the Second Coming of Jesus. In order to accept such a notion as someone who uses the Bible as their source of information related to the soul, people who believe in “soul sleep” must reject the following Biblical proclamations:

Souls Are Alive With God Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Luke 23:39-43 and Ecclesiastes 12:5-7

Even though Jesus and the thief on the cross experienced physical death, Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word that Paul uses to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life; the soul does not die when the body dies. Solomon also acknowledges this reality when he describes life beyond the grave. Solomon says that while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God that created us in the first place. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving.

Souls Are Functional Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Luke 16:19-31

In the famous passage describing the rich man and Lazarus, the dead are repeatedly described as performing actions that are characteristic of the living. But that’s not all; God tells the rich man it is at least hypothetically possible that the dead could “go” to the living. Once again, the dead are not dead. How can this be? It can only be possible if the physically dead are still immaterially alive.

Souls Are Available Immediately After the Death of the Body
See Matthew 17:1-3 and Matthew 22:31-32

At the Transfiguration, Jesus talks to Elijah and Moses. They obviously died long before Jesus was born, so how could this scene be true unless they exist truly as immortal souls, and not simply as physical bodies? Here once again we have another example of disembodied life after death, something that is ONLY possible if we exist as living immortal souls. In addition, Jesus later tells his followers, “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.” How can Jesus describe Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as “living” at the time of this statement? This only makes sense if Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are actually immortal souls that are alive after death (and prior to their physical resurrection in the future). If they are immortal souls, immaterial beings, then the passage begins to make sense.

Souls Are the Source of Life Immediately After the Death of the Body
See 1 Kings 17:19-23

The author of 1 Kings tells us that Elijah revived a widow’s son: “And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived.” The “life” of the child is said to “return to him”. The word used here is “shuwb” (shoob) and it really means “to turn back”, as if to retreat. But to turn back from where? Where is the ‘life’ at when it is ‘returned’? To describe ‘life’ in this way is to say that after the body dies, the true life of the person exists beyond death and that God has the ability to return this ‘true’ life back to the body. This is consistent with the notion that ‘true’ life is actually found in the life of the soul, not the life of the body.

Notice that this case for the soul does not utilize passages that have been translated with the word “soul”. I’ve avoided those passages because the two words commonly translated as “soul” (“nephesh” in the Old Testament and “psuche” in the New Testament) can be translated into many different words, encompassing a number of divergent concepts. The passages I have used, instead, describe a disembodied life that survives the death of the body. This Biblical evidence indicates that we are living souls who exist, even when our bodies fail us. That should give us hope and certainty in the promises of God and an expectation of life beyond the grave.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene.

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30 Things You Can Do This Summer to Deepen Your Kids’ Faith

By Natasha Crain

It’s now officially summer!

For many families, that means a (slightly) less hectic schedule for a few glorious weeks. At the same time, it can mean small-scale panic at what to actually do with the extra time your kids have.

Solution: Take the opportunity to get more creative with engaging together spiritually as a family. Here are 30 ideas to get you started!

 

  1. Choose a gospel to read as a family (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John). Decide on a timeframe (days or weeks) and divide the chapters accordingly.

 

  1. Pick two chapters per week from my book to discuss as a family. You probably have about 10 weeks of summer vacation. That means you can cover about half of the 40 critical conversations from Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side in that time! It’s a perfect opportunity before another hectic school year.

 

  1. Watch the “What’s in the Bible?” DVD series together. This 13-DVD series takes kids all the way the way through the Bible. It’s perfect for kids who need entertainment combined with their learning in order to pay attention. My 7-year-old son, for example, thinks it’s hilarious AND learns from it. However, kids who learn better from a more A-to-B approach will likely find it too chaotic. My 7-year-old daughter (my son’s twin) hates it because she has “no idea what’s going on.” I end up pausing it every 5-10 minutes (in a 25-minute episode) to explain. Nonetheless, it’s meaty WHILE being crazy, so it’s a great option for kids with certain personalities and learning styles.

 

  1. Schedule a “questions night”—a time for your family to get together and discuss any questions your kids have about God. Here’s how we do that in our family. Don’t just do it once! Do it throughout the summer, and hopefully beyond.

 

  1. Have your kids interview a nonbeliever. This could be a family member or friend. Help them come up with some questions, then discuss the responses later.

 

  1. Choose a news story with a faith angle to talk about. The sky’s the limit here. The Christian Post has a ton of material to consider.

 

  1. Find a way to serve others together as a family. Then discuss what the Bible says about serving others, so your kids have a meaningful understanding of how their beliefs tie to their actions.

 

  1. Attend Vacation Bible School. VBS is a fun week offered by many churches for kids to play and learn together. And you don’t have to just go to the one offered by your church–attend one at another church and get to know more people!

 

  1. Pick a relevant single word to focus on and discuss. Some good words for discussion from my book are faith (chapter 8), objective truth (chapter 9), justness (chapter 3), miracle (chapter 24), and evolution (chapter 37).

 

  1. Invite your pastor over for dinner. Depending on the size of your church, your kids may never have actually interacted with your pastor. Invite him to dinner and give your kids the opportunity to ask questions they may not want to ask you (or that you may not know how to answer)!

 

  1. Read or watch a debate between a Christian and a nonbeliever. Debates make for great discussion opportunities with older kids. Here’s a debate on the existence of God you can use, and here’s one on the reliability of the Bible.

 

  1. Do an internet research project together. Pick a faith-based subject to Google with your kids (e.g., “Did Jesus exist?”). Look at several of the articles from different viewpoints together. Talk about how to evaluate all the conflicting ideas you see online.

 

  1. Watch a science DVD series from a Christian perspective. This collection is great: The Intelligent Design Collection – Darwin’s Dilemma, The Privileged Planet, Unlocking the Mystery of Life.

 

  1. Learn about Christian persecution worldwide. In many countries, Christians are being persecuted. Open Doors USA is one organization that works on raising awareness of this. Use their site to help your kids gain more perspective on what the cost of following Jesus can be (and talk about how you can help).

 

  1. Encourage your kids to invite a friend to church. Have a conversation with your kids beforehand to help them fully understand why sharing our faith is important.

 

  1. Get The Belief Book by David McAfee and discuss. This is an atheist book written directly to kids which explains that religious beliefs are just holdovers from ancient people who didn’t know how to explain the world. It’s filled with inaccurate caricatures of faith and would be an excellent discussion tool for older kids.

 

  1. Introduce logic games. Critical thinking is so important in faith development today! Here’s a game we do regularly in our family that can help even the youngest kids think better.

 

  1. Visit a different church (another denomination or religion). Then discuss the difference in beliefs and practices versus your own…and why they differ.

 

  1. Break down the meaning of a worship song. If you ever stop to pay attention to the words in the songs we AND our kids sing at church, you’ll note that the meaning isn’t always obvious. Kids can learn a lot from discussing the songs they’re used to singing and it makes the songs more meaningful at the same time. (As an example, think of the song, “Open the Eyes of My Heart Lord, I Want to See You,” and how not obvious that meaning is to a child.)

 

  1. Get a new Bible game to play as a family. Search for “Bible games” on Amazon and you’ll find many options.

 

  1. Take a family spiritual inventory and act on it accordingly. Have each family member write down what they feel is good about your family’s spiritual life and what could use improvement. Get everyone thinking by identifying categories like prayer, Bible study, church attendance, service, and conversations. Take action on areas for improvement!

 

  1. Write letters to God. Have each family member take 10 minutes to write a letter to God. Pick a topic that is relevant at a given time for your family–it could be something light-hearted like complaints you’d like to “file” or something more serious like expressing disappointment about unanswered prayer. Share your letters.

 

  1. Print an internet meme to discuss. Google “religion memes,” click on the search results for images, and you’ll see all kinds of discussion-worthy topics.

 

  1. Do a Bible timeline activity. In my opinion, one of the greatest problems with biblical literacy today is understanding how the whole Bible fits together as one story of salvation history. When kids grow up without that understanding (as I did), the Bible is just a jigsaw of unconnected stories with questionable relevance. If you search on Amazon for “Bible timelines for kids,” you’ll see many activity options for kids of different ages. Pick one and work through it this summer.

 

  1. Go to a Christian bookstore together and pick out a devotional. It doesn’t have to be January 1 to start a devotional habit. Take your kids to a Christian store and select a devotional book to start.

 

  1. Pick a magazine and hunt for examples of the secular worldview throughout the articles. For example, with a teen girl, you could pick a popular teen beauty magazine. Get two copies—one for you, one for her. Have each of you go through and circle examples that are in conflict with a Christian worldview. Compare and discuss.

 

  1. Play “What would you say if…”. Certain personality types love intellectual challenges. My daughter, for example, loves open-ended questions that she can try to answer in the best way possible. If you have a child like that, you can facilitate conversations in a game format by asking “What would you say if…” Here are a few examples: What would you say if your friend’s mom said God doesn’t exist? What would you say if someone told you the Bible is 2,000 years old, so it’s not relevant for our lives today? What would you say if someone told you Christians are hypocrites so they never want to be a Christian? What would you say if someone told you they believe in science, not God?

 

  1. Create a family prayer list. Write down the biggest needs for your family and those you know and commit to praying together consistently throughout the summer.

 

  1. Role-play being an atheist and have your kids try to convince you that Christianity is true. This can be an eye-opening experience for all involved and show you what subjects you should study together going forward.

 

  1. Read a religion research study together and discuss. The Barna Group does a ton of interesting research about religious belief and activities in America. Their studies could lead to many interesting conversations with older kids and trends in our country and what it will mean to them to be a Christian in an increasingly secular world. Here’s one research example that just came out: The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code.

 

If you have any other ideas that you’ll be using in your family, please share in the comments!

30 Things You Can Do This Summer to Deepen Your Kids’ Faith

5 Things Christian Parents Must Do to Raise Godly Children in a Secular World

By Natasha Crain

In the last couple of years, I’ve had the opportunity to speak at several Christian conferences and churches on the importance of parents teaching their kids apologetics (how to make a case for and defend the truth of the Christian faith). When I speak, I often begin by asking the following two questions.

First, I ask parents, “How many of you have come here already knowing that our world is becoming very secular and that your child’s faith is likely to be challenged in some way because of it?”

5 Things Christian Parents Must Do to Raise Godly Children in a Secular World

One hundred percent of the hands go up…every time.

Second, I ask parents, “How many of you would go to the next step of saying you’re confident that you know specifically what those big faith challenges are, how to effectively address them with your kids, and how that translates into parenting responsibilities on a day-to-day basis?”

Zero percent of the hands go up…every time.

As I’ve blogged about Christian parenting for the last four years, I’ve had the opportunity to hear from hundreds of parents. This gap between 1) knowing our secular world will influence our kids’ faith and 2) understanding what exactly that means for parents, is nearly universal. And it often leads to fear and frustration—parents know there’s a problem but they don’t know the solution.

It’s that gap that led me to write Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith(released in March). I wanted to help parents identify and understand 40 of the most important faith challenges they need to discuss with their kids so those challenges no longer feel ambiguous and unmanageable. But even once parents gain this critical understanding, the question remains: How does this translate into parental responsibilities?

Here are five key things to consider.

  1. Parents must commit to continually deepening their understanding of Christianity.

In a secular world, kids will frequently encounter challenges to their faith—especially from vocal atheists. Atheists are often well prepared to lay out their arguments against God and Christianity in particular. Unfortunately, many Christian parents are not equally prepared to teach their kids the case for the truth of Christianity and how to defend their beliefs. Questions like the following are critically important for kids to understand today, but few parents are equipped to proactively address them: What evidence is there for the existence of God? Why would a good God allow evil and suffering? How can a loving God send people to hell? Is faith in God the opposite of reason? What are the historical facts of the resurrection that nearly every scholar agrees on? How can Christians believe miracles are even possible? How do we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote? Does the Bible support slavery, rape, and human sacrifice (as skeptics allege)?

In the past, when society was at least more nominally Christian, parents may have been able to avoid addressing the more difficult questions of faith with their kids (not that they should have!). But today’s challenges require much more from faithful Christian parents. We must learn what the big challenges are, equip ourselves to engage with them, and commit to continually deepening our understanding of our faith so we can guide our kids accordingly.

      2. Parents must intentionally make “spiritual space” in their home.

It’s not enough to deepen your own understanding of Christianity, of course. Somehow you have to transfer that understanding to your kids, and that transfer requires carefully set aside time. The kinds of faith conversations we need to be having with our kids today (like the questions listed in point 1) are simply not going to happen in a meaningful way unless you make spiritual space for them. By spiritual space, I mean dedicated time for your family to engage together in growing your understanding of and relationship with God. There’s no reason such a time shouldn’t be scheduled just like all the other (less important) activities in your life. If you’re not currently doing this, start with just 30 minutes per week. That’s reasonable for any family, and you can always work up from there.

  1. Parents must study the Bible with their kids. Really.

Even if you know Bible study is important, statistics show you’re probably not doing it: Fewer than 1 in 10 Christian families study the Bible together in a given week. If your kids perceive that you’ve effectively relegated the Bible to the backburner of relevancy, they’ll have little reason to see it as the authoritative book Christians claim it to be. It’s absolutely pointless to talk about the Bible being God’s Word if you’re not treating it as such.

Meanwhile, the Bible is a favorite attack point of skeptics and our kids will have ample opportunity to hear how it’s an ancient, irrelevant book filled with inaccuracies and contradictions. If you’re not regularly studying the Bible with your kids, there’s a good chance they’ll eventually stop caring what it has to say. (See my article, Don’t Expect Your Kids to Care What the Bible Says Unless You’ve Given Them Reason to Believe It’s True, for more on this.)

  1. Parents must proactively and regularly ask their kids what questions they have about faith.

In a secular world, where kids are constantly hearing competing worldviews, questions are guaranteed to continually arise. But there are many reasons kids may never actually ask them—they have too many other things going on, they’re afraid of your reaction, or they are simply not interested enough to bring them up.

In our house, we’ve implemented a scheduled “questions night” to help with this. You can read about how to start your own in my article, How to Get Your Kids to Ask More Questions about Their Faith.

  1. Parents must ask their kids the tough questions they don’t think to ask.

If you regularly encourage your kids to ask questions about faith (see point 4), you’ll have lots of great conversations. But many questions that are important for kids to understand in preparation for the secular world they’ll encounter are ones that might never cross their mind to ask. For example, most kids don’t think to ask how we know the Bible we have today says what the authors originally wrote. But that doesn’t mean they won’t almost certainly encounter skeptics who tell them the Bible is completely untrustworthy for that reason. Just as we don’t wait for our kids to ask questions about World War II before deciding when, what, and how to teach them about it, we shouldn’t wait until our kids encounter challenges before we address them. They’ll undoubtedly hear about these topics from skeptics at some point, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t hear about them from us first.

http://christianmomthoughts.com/5-things-christian-parents-must-do-to-raise-godly-children-in-a-secular-world/

 


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Why Are Christians So Defensive?

In case you are wondering, this is not a post in which I am going to bash the church. Far from it. I love the church. But I am going to point out a “weakness” that we urgently need to address (see Proverbs 27:6).

How can I claim that Christians are so insecure? For the past decade, I have been role-playing an atheist at camps, conferences, churches, and other Christian events. I have done this in youth groups of ten students and in stadiums up to six thousand people. And I have done my role-play with parents, youth pastors, businessmen, and a variety of other groups from a myriad of denominations. During the presentation, I put on my “atheist glasses,” do my best to make the case for atheism, and then have two volunteers take microphones out into the audience so people can raise questions and challenges. People typically ask questions about morality, the origin of the universe, and evolution. And I simply respond back with the answers many of my atheist friends have given me.

Inevitably, people tend to get defensive, agitated, and quite upset. In fact, after the role-play is over, I often ask the audience to use individual words to describe how they treated me and “hostile” is one of the most common responses. Sure, there are undoubtedly people who are gracious and kind. But, in my experience it’s the exception to encounter a Christian who can engage the “atheist” both thoughtfully and graciously. Even though people know I am merely role-playing, I have had people call me names, yell at me across the room, walk out, and even threaten me—seriously!

This experience has caused me to ask the following question for some time: why do we Christians get so defensive? There can certainly be a variety of issues, but as I write in A New Kind of Apologist, there is one pressing reason we often overlook: Most Christians do not know what they believe and why. As a result, when I push back on their beliefs as an “atheist,” many get defensive.

It is human nature to get defensive when someone challenges us and we’re ill equipped to respond. If we really haven’t thought through how we know the Bible is true, why God allows evil and suffering, and how to reconcile science and faith, then when someone presses us to explain our beliefs, we have two options: admit we don’t know the answer, which takes humility, or get defensive. In reality, many Christians get defensive because they simply don’t have thoughtful answers to these big questions.

I don’t write this blog from a position of higher ground. I have fallen short many times in my interactions with non-Christians. Trust me, this post comes from my own frequent shortcomings. But I have seen firsthand the confidence training in apologetics brings to the church as a whole and students in particular.

Training in apologetics is especially important today because we find ourselves, as a church, increasingly at odds with the wider culture. If you believe the Bible is true, especially on issues related to sexuality, then you may find yourself getting tagged as hateful, intolerant, bigoted, and homophobic. We simply cannot respond with defensiveness. Rather, we must respond truthfully, but with kindness and charity. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Colossians 4:5-6).

Sure, some people learn apologetics and become haughty. There’s no question about that! But the problem is not with apologetics per se, but that it is often not coupled with grace. Here’s the bottom line: we Christians often get defensive because we don’t really know why we believe what we believe. If we want to be confident ambassadors of the faith, who can interact with both kindness and substance, we must get training in apologetics.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.

Why Do So Many Christians Dismiss Apologetics?

I love apologetics. It’s fun to teach apologetics, discuss apologetics, and offer reasons for what I believe to non-Christians who ask. Yet, quite clearly, not all Christians share my enthusiasm. Why not? Below are five common reasons why many Christians dismiss apologetics (thanks to my Twitter friends, acknowledged below).

Apologists have often failed to model gracious apologetics. Rather than blaming others, we apologists might do well to start by examining ourselves. Let’s be honest, we could probably all share a story where we failed to model the kind of evangelism and apologetics we see in Jesus, Paul, and the early church fathers. If you can’t think of a story, then you’re probably not even aware of your own blind spot! As I emphasize in A New Kind of Apologist, many Christians dismiss apologetics because they have seen apologists being arrogant, dismissive, and uncharitable to others. Many dismiss apologetics because of a bad experience.

Faulty understanding of faith and reason. Some time ago my father and I were speaking at a student conference in the southeast. Noticeably upset, a young female youth worker approached us afterwards and (essentially) said, “I wish you guys had a more biblical view of faith. We don’t need evidence. Real faith involves believing something without proof.” And then she stormed away. Sadly, this young lady had bought the idea that faith involves believing something blindly without evidence. If she were right, then apologetics wouldbe frivolous. But the Bible both teaches and models a different view of faith. Simply put, evidence is offered to give people a confident faith (E.g., Exodus 14:31; John 20:30-31; Acts 1:1-3).

Mistaken view of apologetics. A couple years ago I spoke with an influential youth leader about the present state of youth culture. When I inquired about his views on apologetics, he quickly dismissed it, even though his own research showed that many kids were leaving the faith because they had unanswered questions. As I probed further, it became clear that he equated apologetics with a cage-match where people defend their hot-button issue without relationship or gentleness. If that is what apologetics is, then I would dismiss it too! What should apologetics be about? Dallas Willard Perhaps said it best:

Like Jesus, we are reaching out in love in a humble spirit with no coercion. The only way to accomplish that is to present our defense gently, as help offered in love in the manner of Jesus.[1]

Not being engaged in evangelism. Motivated by my friend Brett Kunkle, I have been taking high school students on apologetics mission trips for the past few years. Inevitably, whenever we meet up with atheists, Mormons, student freethinking groups, Unitarian Universalists or people of other faiths, students become highly motivated to study apologetics. Students often study theology and apologetics late into the evening getting prepared for the next day! In my experience, nothing motivates Christians to care about apologetics more than evangelism and spiritual conversations. After all, once you start sharing your faith, people will inevitably have questions about the Bible, evil, evolution, and more.

Apologetics is often motivated by fear. Something stood out to me a few years ago at an apologetics conference—virtually every speaker used the hook of “fear” to motivate people. We were told to fear changing sexual mores, the growth of atheism, the tactics of various “cults,” certain theological movements within the church, and more. While there is undoubtedly a place for healthy fear, apologetics should not simply be a reactive discipline to changing cultural mores. Rather, we ought to provide positive answers and reasons for the supremacy of the Christian faith. Insofar as we are primarily negative, apologists will fail to inspire people to stand up for the faith.

There are certainly other reasons many Christians dismiss the value of apologetics. If you want to see a few more, which were suggested by my friends on Twitter, check out this interesting Twitter exchange. Here are a few samples of their insightful feedback:

@rickwade55: Apologists focusing on true conclusions rather than on the individual they’re talking to and coming to believe.

@triciascribner: Some believe that apologetics undermines the gospel’s supremacy, diminishing the authority of the Word and of Christ.

@smlabonte: I’ve heard people say that Jesus doesn’t need us to defend him. (Not exactly what apologetics is)

@DynAggelos: some Christians think it is unnecessary since the Holy Spirit and the Word of God ultimately do the transforming of the mind.

@prashanthdaniel: I’ve been told that its pointless nitpicking, argumentative and therefore divisive, Sean. Naturally, I disagree.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.


[1] Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness (New York, NY: Harper One, 2015), 4.

Keeping the Slaughter of Canaan in Context

By Shannon Byrd

Are the conquest narratives in the Old Testament any different from what we are currently viewing with ISIS throughout the Middle East and Europe? Questions like this often come up in discussing the existence of objective moral values and duties and their proper grounding. When God is posited as the grounding of morality, the objector usually brings up some obscure OT text that he or she thinks will demonstrate that God has a warped sense of morality and it is usually in this context that the conquest narratives are brought up.

 

False Distinction

One reason this problem has persisted is that many Christians aren’t comfortable with God judging people; they draw a distinction in their minds between the God of the OT and the non-violent, peaceful Jesus of the NT. However, this distinction is an artificial one, Jesus regularly denounced others and threatened judgment. He took a whip and drove moneychangers out of the temple (Jn 2:15). Never mind what he said in Matthew 18, “. . . whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” So this distinction between God in the OT and Christ in the NT falls flat on death ears. Christ didn’t downplay the texts depicting judgment and for modern Christians doing so actually skews the image of Christ.

 

The Bible is Literally True

We’ve all hear this before, “Either the bible is literally true, or it’s literally false.” I remember agreeing with statements like this as a kid growing up in church; it sounded pious, but I didn’t know any better at the time. Many critics of Christianity as well as pastors have little to no understanding of biblical hermeneutics. Just because everything in Scripture is true, does not mean it is literally true. What am I saying? If we take everything in Scripture to be literally true, then tree’s sing,(1 Chr 16:33; Ps 96:12), Christ is a door (Jn 10:7), YahWeh flies in the sky on Cherubs (2 Sam 22:11), and Elihu’s heart jumped out of his chest (Job 37:1). Clearly everyone understands these texts to be figures of speech and aren’t to be taken literally; they were consciously exaggerated by the author for the sake of effect. Taken literally, these passages sound like a Harry Potter novel.

 

The statement “either the bible is literally all true, or it’s literally all false,” is also a logical fallacy. Just because some passages of Scripture are literally true, it doesn’t follow that all passages are literally true. So, not only is thinking in this manner hermeneutically flawed, it’s logically flawed as well. There we have it, two solid reasons to reject a rigid literal only interpretation.

 

Additionally, there are good textual reasons not to take the conquest accounts literal. K Lawson Younger Jr. notes that the accounts in Joshua 9-12 are figurative and utilize what he calls a “transmission code,” which is a commonly stylized and frequently hyperbolic method of recording history.[1]

It is clear that from within the book of Joshua itself, the text indicates that it isn’t to be taken literally. Consider the text of Joshua 10:20, ”It came about when Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they weredestroyed, and the survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities.” If they were slaughtered and destroyed then there shouldn’t have been any survivors.

 

One of the best examples of why we should regard the text as hyperbolic occurs in Joshua 8.

v. 16, And all the people who were in the city were called together to pursue them, and they pursued Joshua and were drawn away from the city.

v. 17, So not a man was left in Ai or Bethel who had not gone out after Israel, and they left the city unguarded and pursued Israel.

v. 22, The others came out from the city to encounter them, so that they were trapped in the midst of Israel, some on this side and some on that side: and they slew them until no one was left of those who survived or escaped.

v. 24, Now when Israel had finished killing all the inhabitants of Ai in the field in the wilderness where they pursued them, and all of them were fallen by the edge of the sword until they were destroyed, then all Israel returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword.

 

Taken literally, this block of scripture would be manifestly nonsensical. If there were no survivors or fugitives remaining in Ai, who did the Israelites pursue?

 

Joshua also exaggerates numbers:

v. 25, all who fell that day, both men and women, were 12,000—all the people of Ai.

Yet earlier the spies Joshua sent in prior to the battle for Ai make the remark:

Do not let all the people go up; only about two or three thousand men need to go up to Ai; do not make all the people toil up there, for they are few (Josh 7:3).

Clearly these texts aren’t meant to be literal, something else is going on and the hagiographic hyperbolic interpretation fits best and takes the passages that appear at face value to be nonsensical and interprets them within a flexible framework, just as other Near Eastern texts were understood at the time. A great deal of the narratives that contain troop numbers and or casualties mentioned are exaggerated for added effect. This was common during that period.

           

The Canaanites Were Innocent

Often times it’s assumed by many that the Canaanites were the victims of a terrible crime against humanity. “They were attacked and massacred for no reason at all,” I’ve heard some say—but is this true? Scripture presents a different story; the Canaanites were called wicked (Deut 9:5). What were they guilty of? Moses listed all the occultic practices of the Canaanites; they did “detestable things,” “practiced witchcraft,” and sacrificed their children to Baal via fire. Moreover, the Canaanites practiced bestiality—disgusting—this is why it is mentioned in Leviticus 18; God did not want the Israelites practicing this as the Gentile nations around them had done. “Not good enough evidence,” the skeptic might say, “the authors were biased and looking for a reason to fight the Canaanites.” To be sure, no one is without bias, but did the author accurately report what the Canaanites were doing? Extra-biblical evidence corroborates what the OT reports of them. In the Canaanite epic poem The Baal Cycle, we learn: “Mightiest Baal hears; He makes love with a heifer in the outback, A cow in the field of Death’s Realm . . . He lies with her seventy times seven, Mounts eighty times eight; [She conceives and bears a boy].” I think the evidence speaks for itself; Canaanite sexual practices are well documented.

 

“Utterly Destroy”

In Joshua 6-12, it is reported that Joshua “utterly destroyed” multiple cities and peoples. It is unlikely that whoever finalized the form of Joshua intended it to convey that the Canaanites were exterminated at God’s command. Joshua was intended as a literary component consisting of Deuteronomy, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. It is best to interpret it as preceded by Deuteronomy and succeeded by Judges. Given Judges is literarily linked to Joshua, the book presents a different story; it starts with the presumption that the Canaanites are still present in the land. So, Joshua on the surface seems to show that the Canaanites had been “utterly destroyed” yet Judges assumes they are not. In Joshua specific locations are mentioned where Joshua exterminated everyone (Hebron 10:36; Debir 10:38; Hillcountry Negev and western foothills 10:40). Yet, in the first chapter of Judges, it’s affirmed they couldn’t drive the Canaanites out from these very cities (Debir v.11; Hebron v.10; western foothills v. 9). Moreover, Joshua reports that he took the “whole land,” (Josh 11:23) whereas God makes a statement in Judges that presupposes Joshua did not take the whole land (2:21-23).

This tension can even be seen within Joshua itself, “It came about when Joshua and the sons of Israel had finished slaying them with a very great slaughter, until they were destroyed, and the survivors who remained of them had entered the fortified cities,” So, Joshua destroyed them yet they had survivors? What is going on? It seems to me, Joshua occurs in a literary genre that allows for the language of “utterly destroy” to be immediately followed up by a narrative stating the Canaanites were not “utterly destroyed.” So, put simply, Joshua appears to be highly stylized hyperbole whereas Judges appears to be more like down to earth history. This means Joshua is used to teach theological points rather than give a detailed account of history as it happened. Additionally, this sort of hyperbole was very common in Near Eastern conquest accounts and wasn’t understood as literal.

 

Some Innocents Were Killed

Given that the interpretation of Joshua presented here, the critic might still argue that some Canaanites were still killed including innocent children. I fully admit that this is possible. Is this a defendable position? My view is if we can coherently defend that if human beings on exceptionally rare occasions can kill innocents for some greater purpose or some greater good, then we have an even better reason for God issuing such a command.

First, humans kill innocents all the time for the sake of a greater good. Consider this scenario: a plane headed for Washington D.C. is reportedly hijacked. A terrorist has control of the aircraft and is headed for the White House, where thousands are gathered. The Air Force intercepts the plane and the fighter pilot is faced with a choice; he can either let the plane hit its intended target, killing thousands and potentially the leaders of the executive branch of government to include the president, or he can shoot the aircraft down and kill everyone on board to include the terrorists, men, women, and children. Is it coherent for this pilot in this extremely rare circumstance to kill innocent human beings? Most would say yes, he would be rational in making such a decision.

This pilot is armed with counterfactual knowledge and knows that if he does not shoot the plane down, more lives will be lost. Like the pilot, God knows counterfactuals as well. He knows not only what will occur, but also what would occur given different circumstances, and he knows this infallibly, whereas humans do not. So, is it coherent that God could command the killing of innocent human beings? My answer is yes. God may know that permitting the killing of some innocent Canaanites might have prevented future and greater loss of life or even greater apostasy by Israel leading to more spiritual death. The point is, if we as humans can rationally justify killing innocents in rare circumstances, and do so with hypothetical knowledge, then we have no grounds to criticize God, who does so, and is omniscient.

* Please read this related article from my colleague, Tim Stratton, shining additional light on the subject of the Canaanite Objection.

 

[1] K. Lawson Younger Jr., Ancient Conquest Accounts: A Study in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical History Writing (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1990).

Interview With A Former Skeptic: 3 Important Lessons

A few years ago my family befriended another young family in our neighborhood. Our kids were the same ages, and we all had a lot in common, so it was a natural and enjoyable friendship. There was one big difference though—we were Christians and they were skeptics. While I had many friendly apologetics conversations with Gavin, the father, he seemed to always have some good reason for doubt. When they finally moved away from our neighborhood in southern California, I remember thinking that he would never come to belief.

Well, I could not have been more wrong! Gavin ended up becoming a believer, and I had the amazing privilege of baptizing him last summer (this brief video has the story and baptism). He is now a National Certified Counselor and lives with his wife and three kids in Bend, Oregon.

When I wrote the book A New Kind of Apologist, I included interviews with apologists, atheists, and some others who have important insights for how to do evangelism and apologetics today. My friend Gavin was kind enough to answer some of my questions. As a former skeptic, his experience and insights are unique and very important for Christians today. Enjoy his brief interview from the book!

SEAN MCDOWELL: What role did apologetics play in your conversion to Christianity?

GAVIN MACFARLAND: There was a time a few years ago when I told my wife that I didn’t think the God the Bible existed. In fact, I was 99.9% sure that I could not be convinced otherwise. I spent a lot of time reading books, discussing theology with friends, and even allowing a group of high school students to ask me questions about my beliefs. I was confident that I had been intellectually honest with my dismissal of Christianity.

Looking back, I think that I always knew, deep down, that my belief system stood on shaky ground. I had attended a debate between Christopher Hitchens and William Lane Craig, and came away certain the Craig had the stronger argument(s). Yet I was still unwilling to fully accept the implications of what he had said.

I started to revisit old “debates” with some longtime friends, and their arguments took on a new sense of clarity. However, it was not until my personal life hit rock bottom that I fully opened my heart to God and the Bible. Last year I did a Bible study through our church, and I opened up about being a new believer. I told them my story of packing up my family and moving to Bend, Oregon with no jobs and no real plan. My son’s teacher attends our church and our next-door neighbors do as well. Perhaps it was a divine plan?

What I learned as I reflect on the past two years is that the intellectual arguments for God needed to come at a time when I was spiritually ready for them. If my life had not taken the negative turn that it did, I do not know if I would be here today as a believer. I re-read “Mere Christianity,” and the arguments made so much sense that I could not understand how I had dismissed them before.

MCDOWELL: What were the big questions that kept you from becoming a Christian?

MACFARLAND: Currently, I am most convinced by the Kalam Cosmological Argument as well as the idea of objective moral truth. My Christian friends have debated with me for (literally) 20 years about these ideas, and even though there have been some contentious interactions, I have always known that there was never malice behind any of their words.

Not long ago, I was reading an old email exchange between you and my dad where you guys were discussing some theology and philosophy. In one of my dad’s posts, he mentions the idea of trusting his intuition. It sounds reasonable. However, when I think about this more critically, I have to ask if it is, in fact, reasonable to trust our intuitions. I am skeptical that an evolutionary model of thinking can lead us to the conclusion that our intuitions are true. I do not believe naturalism can make any legitimate claims to truth.

MCDOWELL: What are some helpful things, and unhelpful things, Christians did during your journey?

MACFARLAND: Pastor Eugene Cho came to our church several months and he talked about the need for Christians to focus on building relationships first and foremost before moving too quickly to evangelism. Too often, I believe, in the excitement and/or challenge of discussing our faith with non-believers, this step is overlooked.

The tricky thing about relationships is that they don’t always look or feel the same to the participants. Personally, I often felt that many of my Christian friends were more motivated to convert me than they were to get to know me. I don’t know if that is accurate, but that’s how it felt at the time.

Similarly, I don’t know that Christians are always aware of how they are perceived by their non-Christian friends (not that this is unique to Christians). One example of this that I often see today is a comment that goes something like this: “Wow, you should feel really good about XYZ school because a lot of strong Christians work there.” The not-so-subtle message is that students are safer and teachers are better than if the teachers were not Christians.

So, in sum, my suggestion is for apologists to build genuine relationships with people and to care for them as human beings, whether or not they ever convert to Christianity. If you truly love people for who they are, have an open-mind to learn from non-believers, look for natural opportunities to talk about spiritual things, and have a long-term view, you might be amazed at how God can use you to be a part of someone’s life transformation. I am living proof of this.

Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.