My Favorite Bible Verse

By Tim Stratton

Many times I am asked the question: “Tim, what is your favorite Bible verse?” This is a hard question for me to answer because there are many verses contending for this top spot. Off the top of my head, some of my favorites include (in no particular order): Romans 12:2; Matthew 22:37-39; Romans 1:20; 1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Colossians 1:16; Deuteronomy 30:11-19; Psalms 1:19; Psalms 97:1-6; Judges 6:12; 1 Timothy 2:4; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Peter 3:9; James 4:7; Genesis 1:1; John 1:1, Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 4:5-6; Philippians 4:5; John 18:37; John 14:6, and of course, John 3:16.

My Favorite Bible Verse

Although I love dwelling upon each of these passages of Scripture, if push comes to shove and I must choose a “life verse,” I would choose 2 Corinthians 10:5. In this passage, the Apostle Paul writes:

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

I love this Bible verse for two reasons: First, Paul provides the example to Christian apologists to destroy every argument and incorrect opinion about God! To be clear, Paul does not say that we destroy every “arguer” (we are supposed to love them); rather, we are to destroy bad arguments! Based on the logical law of identity, an arguer and an argument are two different things. It stands to reason that Christians can destroy arguments while loving arguers! This is often hard to accomplish, but it is quite possible. When this is done correctly, I have seen miracles occur and lives transformed for eternity!

The second reason I love this verse is because Paul states that “we” — and implies that we ought to — take our thoughts captive to obey Christ. According to Paul’s other writings, Jesus Christ is ultimate reality (Col 1:16). Thus, when we take our thoughts captive to obey Christ, we are thinking true thoughts. This is because truth corresponds to reality.

What I love most about this verse is the fact that Paul implies that we are responsible free thinkers of the libertarian variety. According to the fifth verse of the tenth chapter of his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul makes it clear that all of our thoughts are not causally determined and forced upon us from external sources. That is to say, YOU are responsible for your own thoughts (at least some of them).

Paul is clear that we ought to take our thoughts captive to obey Christ — to obey reality! He also implies that we can be taken captive by incorrect thinking in Colossians 2:8. It follows that humanity is engaged in a battle. This battle is “not against flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12); no, whether we realize it or not, each and every one of us is in a battle for the mind!

We must take our thoughts captive before they take us captive. We are responsible for our thoughts and thus, we ought to be free thinkers!

Which is not even possible on naturalism or any other deterministic view!

So, take your thoughts captive and in Paul’s other words…

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim Stratton

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.

Epic Failure: My Biggest Evangelism Mistake

During a trip to Breckenridge, a beautiful ski town in the mountains of Colorado, a friend and I decided to get our hair cut at one of the little shops downtown. As we waited our turn, I read another chapter of the book I had brought along with me, a book whose title clearly indicated my interest in spiritual things.

When my turn came and I settled into the chair, the young hairstylist noted that I was reading a Christian book and wondered if it would be okay for her to ask me a question about God that had been on her mind. Of course I said yes, relishing the opportunity to talk about theology. After all, I had been studying apologetics and was ready with all the right answers. Bring it on, I thought, smiling to myself.

“Well,” she started, with just a hint of hesitation, “why does God allow so much evil and suffering in the world?”

Really, that’s all you got? raced through my mind. Why is this such a big problem? It’s one of the most oft-asked questions in apologetics, and I was ready with the classical free-will defense—emphasizing that God desires a relationship with us, which is possible only if we have free will. I made the point that evil can exist only if there is first a standard of objective good and there can be good only if there is a God. In other words, her very question, I pointed out, presupposes the existence of God.

This led to more questions, and I found I could answer each one pretty easily. She’d ask a question, and I had an answer ready at hand.

Things were going extraordinarily well, I thought, until she paused for a long moment, lifted the scissors away from my head, and then began to cry. She stepped back from cutting my hair and said in a quavering voice, “This is a bunch of bs! You’ve got an answer for everything. It can’t be that easy. You just don’t understand.”

I was speechless (and a bit nervous, since she was clearly upset and had very sharp scissors poised not far from my head).

What had just happened? It seemed like we were having a great conversation…and now this. Well, I quickly changed the topic and made sure to give her a big tip on the way out. Outside the shop, I turned to my friend and asked him why he thought she had been so defensive. He took a deep breath and looked me in the eyes, probably trying to determine if I was ready to hear the truth.

“Well,” he said, as gently as he could manage, “do you have any idea how arrogant you were toward her?”

I was taken aback. But as we walked along the streets of Breckenridge, I thought about the encounter and realized he was absolutely right. Rather than really listening to her, asking questions, and trying to learn from her, I was more interested in scoring points and winning the argument. My replies had come across as prepackaged sound bites rather than compassionate and respectful responses. What I saw, maybe for the first time, is that truth must be wedded to grace, and that what we say is important…but how we say it is equally critical.

If we have the best arguments but not love, our arguments will often fall on deaf ears (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). As I write in my newest book A New Kind of Apologist, Christians today must have both truth and love. This is why the apostle Paul said,

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Whenever the problem of suffering and evil come up, I try to avoid simple answers. I typically respond with a question: “Of all the things you can ask about God, why that one?” Occasionally people have a genuine intellectual issue they want to wrestle with, and I am more than happy to help. But more often than not, the intellectual question masks a deep personal wound. When I ask this question, I often hear painful stories of sickness, broken relationships, and abuse. The Christian response is not to simply give a reason, although there may come a time for that, but to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15) and to show comfort and care to the afflicted (Psalm 82:3).

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.

Wisdom in Evangelism

By Ryan Pauly

I recently had the opportunity to attend the AMP Conference here in Southern California hosted by Reasons to Believe. It was a wonderful weekend with presentations from Jeff Vines, Sarah Sumner, Sean McDowell, J. Warner Wallace, Fazale Rana, Hugh Ross, Mary Jo Sharp, Abdu Murray, John Njoroge, and Mark Mittelberg. Each of the speakers approached the weekend’s theme from a unique way with topics including: conversations that count, intolerance, the science of Genesis, the problem of evil, Islam, and reaching people in a secular world.

The thing that immediately caught my attention was that the speakers were preparing the audience to have wisdom in evangelism, yet they were teaching apologetics. It is the same reason that J. Warner Wallace says, “In this day and age, evangelism is spelled A-P-O-L-O-G-E-T-I-C-S.” Our culture is at a point where we have to take a different tactic in the way we approach evangelism. People are being exposed to different religions today like never before, and this is causing people to ask questions. I was talking to my dad over the weekend and I asked him how much he knew about other religions while growing up. He grew up in a very small town where everyone he spent time with went to the same church and the same school. He said that he grew up in a bubble where he wasn’t exposed to other world religions and different belief systems. There was no reason to question his beliefs.

As much as we want to protect the youth today and keep them in a bubble as long as we can, it has become an impossible task. Young people are being exposed to materialistic philosophy, the sexual culture, and every worldview you can think of whether it is from TV shows or social media. This is causing them to ask questions, and to be effective in reaching them we need to have answers. We as Christians have to be open to use different ways to reach our culture. It is possible that someone only needs a simple Gospel presentation to see the truth of Christianity, maybe your testimony will help them see the Gospel, or maybe you will have to discuss philosophy and science in order to break down the walls. I’m not saying that apologetics is the only answer, and apologetics doesn’t save anyone. It is only one of many tools that the Holy Spirit can use to bring people to God. I believe that in order to be prepared, we need to know the answers. We need to have every tool ready and know how to use each one so the next time we are in a conversation the Holy Spirit can use anything necessary to help the person see the Gospel.

The problem for many Christians is that they know the Gospel message and they know their testimony, but many don’t know how to answer some of the difficult questions. Are you ready to respond when someone says they won’t believe in a God approves of slavery, genocide, and the oppression of women? Do you have an answer when someone says that Muslims are going to heaven because they worship the same God as Christians? Can you explain why a student should believe in creation after their teacher has lectured on the “truth” of Darwinian evolution? What do you say when your son or daughter comes home from college and tells you how the resurrection is a myth created by the early church based on pagan gods?

These are the questions being asked by people today; especially the youth. In order to do evangelism well and be wise in our interaction with non-Christians, we need to be prepared to use whatever is needed to help them come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and that includes knowing the answers to the tough questions.

Ryan Pauly is a CrossExamined Instructor Academy Graduate and a student at BIOLA University.

For more articles like: Wisdom in Evangelism visit Ryan’s site at CoffeeHouseQuestions.com


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8 Ways that Anti-Intellectualism is Harming the Church

By Brian Chilton 

When asked to identify the greatest commandment in all of the Law, Jesus answered the inquiry by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command” (Matthew 22:37-38).[1] It seems that one aspect of this commandment has eluded the modern church. Yes, the church notes the great need to love the Lord with the heart, that is the will and emotions. The modern American church also focuses on the love that one must hold for God with one’s soul, that is, one’s conscious being (life). However, the third aspect of the great commandment seems to have escaped the modern American church. The Christian is also commanded to love the Lord with his or her mind. Extreme fideism (believing that the Christian life is only about faith without reason) has led the church into a state known as anti-intellectualism. Anti-intellectualism is defined as the state of “opposing or [being] hostile to intellectuals or to an intellectual view or approach” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In this case, the intellectual approach is the intellectual approach to the Christian faith. Anti-intellectualism not only hinders one from keeping the great commandment, but such an attitude is also damaging to the church. This article will present eight ways that anti-intellectualism harms the church.

1. Anti-intellectualism harms the church theologically.

By theologically, I simply indicate how the church views God. Dr. Daniel Mitchell, one of my theology professors from Liberty University, once said, “The more you study God, the bigger God becomes.” His statement proved true. So often, anti-intellectuals limit their scope of God. Because anti-intellectuals fail to examine, research, and contemplate, they miss out on the vast nature of God. While the Christian may understand the basic fundamentals of God’s omniscience and omnipotence, one who allows oneself to contemplate and study these attributes of God will be left in great awe of the greatness of God Almighty. We love God with our minds when we study God. “Search for the LORD and for His strength; seek His face always” (1 Chronicles 16:11).

 2. Anti-intellectualism harms the church doctrinally.

By doctrinally, I simply indicate how the church views God’s interactions with humanity. How does the church view salvation? How does the church view humanity? The modern church has allowed pop culture to dictate these issues according to social fads and the like. The anti-intellectual will relish in having loads of moving music, will jump with excitement with the latest form of entertainment, but will be left with no basis for examining whether such songs and activities fit within the parameters of orthodoxy. So often, modern Christians leave their churches feeling great excitement, yet are left without any solid foundation for knowing what the church stands for and why it stands for certain things. Issues of salvation have become universalized, issues of eternity have been compromised, and issues concerning humanity have been radicalized because many modern Christians fail to love the Lord with their minds.

 3. Anti-intellectualism harms the church apologetically.

Those who know my testimony knows that I left the ministry for seven years and nearly became an agnostic. Why? My faith was shaken by the Jesus Seminar. When I asked Christian leaders why it was that I could trust the Bible, they responded by saying such things as, “Because it’s the Bible;” “the Bible says we should believe the Bible;” and “you shouldn’t ask such things!” It wasn’t until I came across the works of Christian apologists like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, and many others that I began to realize that there were good reasons for why I should believe the Bible. Many of those evidences came from outside of the Bible (e.g. archaeology, manuscript evidence, and et. cetera). Had I been given this information earlier, I would not have left the ministry. Anti-intellectualism is killing the church today because we are left with no defense from the attacks arising from secularists and the like. We must remember that we are instructed to “Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). To do otherwise is to neglect the love that we have for God with the mind.

4. Anti-intellectualism harms the church emotionally.

The fourth statement may sound counter-intuitive. Often when a case is made for intellectual Christianity, emotionalism is invalidated. However, emotions are important for human beings. Yet, emotions can lead us astray. Anti-intellectualism, such as is found in movements like the prosperity gospel and the like often lead to far more emotional damage than intellectual Christianity. A proper understanding of theodicy, suffering, and the problem of evil will help the believer in times of great distress. Proponents of anti-intellectualism are far less equipped to deal with times of tragedy than those who have a solid understanding of such topics. In fact, I have personally witnessed pastors who advocated anti-intellectualism fall into times of far greater distress and doubt when they are met with times of suffering and stress. Their doubt and stress is at a far greater degree than those who are grounded with an intellectual faith. An intellectual faith grounds the emotions and demonstrates how a person can love God with the mind.

5. Anti-intellectualism harms the church philosophically.

Philosophy and theology are intertwined to some degree. Theology is a branch of philosophy. Philosophy, simply put, is “a discipline comprising as its core logic, aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology” (Merriam-Webster), or the “pursuit of wisdom” (Merriam-Webster). How do we see the world? How do we see society? What is the meaning of life? These are questions that everyone must answer. Different people come to differing conclusions. In a culture where every opinion is held to equal value, it is important that the believer understands such concepts as truth, logic, and value. Otherwise, the believer will be led by everything thrown their direction or, in contrast, oppose everything that may have some value. Some oppose philosophy because of Paul’s statement to the Colossians saying, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition” (Colossians 2:8). A closer examination of Paul’s statement will reveal that Paul is not dismissing philosophy, but rather Paul is dismissing bad philosophy. In addition, Paul’s statement on philosophy is a philosophical statement. Thus, it would seem that quite the opposite is being promoted by Paul. One should not avoid philosophy. One should avoid bad philosophy. How does one know bad philosophy? They know bad philosophy because they know good philosophy. Possessing good philosophy is another way that the church loves God with the mind.

6. Anti-intellectualism harms the church socially.

It seems that many are led more by politics rather than their religious convictions. The opposite should surely be the case. When one allows political parties and nationalistic fervor to dictate their beliefs, one may well be found favorable among the populace while being very unpopular with God. Anti-intellectual Christians will find themselves more easily swayed by the great influence of politics. The intellectual Christian, one grounded in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, will understand the great value of all lives despite race, nationality, or gender. Intellectual faith remembers and realizes the truthfulness of Paul’s statement in that “There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). When intellectual faith realizes and actualizes Paul’s statement, then one will truly love God with the mind…and will be moved to love their neighbors as themselves.

7. Anti-intellectualism harms the church evangelistically.

While in prison Paul wrote that “what has happened to me has actually resulted in the advance of the gospel…I am appointed for the defense of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12, 16). How would Paul have been able to know how to defend the gospel if he did not know why one should believe the gospel? Many anti-intellectuals hold a limited if not unbiblical view of faith. Anti-intellectuals often consider faith to be the acceptance for which no evidence exists. Or, some may view faith as simply an emotional crutch. Faith is not demonstrated in such a way in the Bible. For instance, consider Jesus’ use of miracles. Jesus did not ask for blind faith. Jesus would back up his claims with a demonstration of power. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5) and then provided the light of physical sight to the man at the pool of Siloam. At the tomb of Lazarus, Jesus told Mary and Martha (the sisters of Lazarus) as well as everyone else “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live” (John 11:25). Bold words to say at a man’s tomb, don’t you think? Yet, Jesus demonstrated that he was the resurrection and the life by raising Lazarus back to life. Jesus backed up his claims. It behooves the modern Christian to know the evidences for the faith. This will provide great strength to one’s evangelistic efforts. Know what you believe, know why you believe what you do, and know the One in whom you are believing, so that you can tell others about the One you serve. Doing such demonstrates a love for God with the mind.

8. Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually.

Finally, anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually. How one might ask? Anti-intellectualism harms the church spiritually in many ways. I will list only two for the purpose of this article. 1) It harms one’s view of salvation. Some have added to or taken away from the gospel message because of an unexamined view of salvation from the Bible. False professions have been made without understanding the submission required for salvation, that is to say one’s submission to Christ as the Lord of one’s life. 2) It harms one’s spiritual walk. Sometimes anti-intellectuals will allow things into their lives which should not be present. When confronted, the person will say, “I have faith and that is all that matters.” Such a view stems from a bad interpretation of faith. If a person had studied their Bibles, researched passages, and held a true love of learning about God, then one would be willing to submit themselves to God fully and completely. Perhaps some of the problems of integrity in the modern church stems from the laziness which is so boldly exhibited in the anti-intellectual movement. Such can be protected at least to some degree by loving God with the mind.

Conclusion

Socrates is noted as saying that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates is right. However, one could stretch the philosopher’s statement in saying that “an unexamined faith is not worth having.” Biblical faith is enmeshed with reason. We should know why we believe in God and why we believe in Christ. If one simply accepts Christ because their family or friends did, is their faith truly legitimate? The Christian should not be afraid of loving God with the mind. One need not leave their brain at the door of faith. In fact, reason and faith are complementary because we serve a real God who provides a real trust. Anti-intellectualism is harmful for the church. It is a trend that must be reversed. Charles Bugg puts it best in saying,

“There is no excuse for preaching that requires people to leave their head outside the church. In the Great Commandment, Jesus taught His disciples to love God with all of their mind, heart, and soul. Some preachers make their living by attacking education or by riding the horse of anti-intellectualism. The result is a kind of demagoguery that creates unwarranted suspicion toward education. Ministers need to use the minds God has given them and to love God with all of that mind. Likewise, they need to call their listeners to love God with all of their minds” (Bugg 1992, 125-126).

Sources Cited:

Bugg, Charles B. Preaching from the Inside Out. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992.

Mish, Frederick C. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003.

 Click here to see the source site of this article

© August 24, 2015. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quoted in this article comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009).

The Eclipse of Christmas

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned – Isaiah 9:2

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 On March 19th 2007 the earth experienced one of the most fantastic and amazing events in the heavens – a total eclipse of the sun! Solar eclipses have been recorded since the dawn of human history. In ages past, humans saw eclipses as full of great significance and meaning. Eclipses are certainly strange and wonderful events, even in modern times. While they are now explained by science, eclipses are still full of mystery and awe.

What exactly is a solar eclipse?  Essentially an eclipse is when the light-giving body of the sun is blocked by the moon thereby causing a temporary shadow across the surface of the Earth. The shadow of the moon on the earth is called the umbra – similar to our word umbrella – the penumbra is the larger shadow.

When a full solar eclipse happens, strange things occur on earth. The temperature can drop as much as 20 degrees! Chickens begin to roost, animals bed down, and in the shadow of the moon the world is bathed in total darkness. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Thales of Miletus predicted an eclipse which occurred during a war between the Medians and the Lydians on May 28, 585 B.C. Soldiers on both sides put down their weapons and declared peace as a result of the eclipse.[1]

Our world today is currently under another kind of eclipse – a spiritual one in which darkness is rampant.

It is an overshadowing not only of the Christmas holiday – but the PERSON which Christmas is all about – Christ, the true light of the world!

This Christmas season you may have noticed the flagrant bias against Christmas and its true meaning by the entertainment industry (Hollywood), by the retail world (businesses), and by our own State and Federal Government. Today the ACLU and other organizations are suing communities around the country for expressing their belief in the true Christmas story demanding that the “Separation of Church and State” has been violated.

For Christians, however, this should not come as a surprise. The attempted darkening of God’s light and truth has been going on for millennia. Consider this passage from John’s Gospel (considered to be John’s Nativity passage):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. …Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:1,3-5)

A few years ago, the American Atheists paid for a huge a billboard (see below) on a turnpike in New Jersey. According to David Silverman, spokesmen for the American Atheists, the purpose of the billboard was not intended to make new converts to atheism, rather it was to encourage existing atheists who are going through the motions of celebrating Christmas, to stop. Atheists should be celebrating reason, not Jesus! (not even indirectly by giving gifts and having traditional Christmas celebrations)

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Whatever the case, the billboard was just one more way of eclipsing the true Light of Christmas – the advent of the Christ-child.

Just a few days ago in the Chicago area, the heads of Mary & Joseph in a church nativity scene were vandalized and decapitated.

What other ways is the light of Christ’s truth being eclipsed today?

Sadly, there are many credible reports coming out of the Middle East of Christian children being murdered simply because of their faith in Christ! This is unbelievable! The small little light of a child is so bright that those who love the darkness must extinguish it!

There was a song I learned in Sunday School many years ago, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine…”

When I think of the words to that children’s song I think of the little children in the Middle East who are murdered because of Christ.

Sadly, these precious little lights were eclipsed and extinguished by those who hate the truth and love darkness.

The attempt to eclipse Christmas reaches all the way back even to the very first Christmas itself. In the first century when Christ was born, a heinous crime was committed against innocent children in order to prevent the light from shining before it even dawned. The crime was committed by none other than Herod I (builder of some of the greatest structures in the ancient world – but also murderer of little children).

Bruce Scott summarizes some of Herod’s crimes here:

He was the classic paranoid tyrant. His fortresses reflected his mentality. He lived with constant fear and suspicion. He had spies everywhere, looking for seditious activity. Herod would occasionally disguise himself as a commoner and mingle among the people at night, listening for conspiracies. Suspects were captured and tortured. Anyone who did not swear allegiance to Herod was persecuted and/or killed. To be sure, Herod had no qualms about killing. He killed 2,000 survivors of five cities that had rebelled against him. He had his brother in law drowned. He executed his uncle, his wife’s grandfather, his wife, his mother in law, and three of his sons. He murdered faithful followers, servants, friends, soldiers, pious men, relatives – often on flimsy evidence of rumors or coerced confessions.

In the last days of his life, Herod arranger for all of the prominent Jewish leaders of the country to be rounded up, placed in a hippodrome and executed upon the word that he had died. He wanted to ensure that there would be mourning throughout the land after he died. Fortunately the orders were never carried out.

One of Herod’s most barbaric acts is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 2:16. Shortly after Jesus’ birth, Herod had all males two years old and under in and around Bethlehem slaughtered. He was endeavoring to exterminate the promised Messiah.[2]

Herod failed.

No man can extinguish the glory of God or the light of the world, not even today.

Not only did Herod not succeed, but those who attempt to eclipse Christmas today fall short as well. God’s glory, His light and Truth fills the earth and the heavens (Psalm 19). The light of His Truth is shining even in countries where spiritual darkness is rampant. Even the blood of Christian martyrs will be used by God to bring light to those in darkness.

Sir Winston Churchill once said:

The Truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it. Ignorance may deride it. But in the end there it is.

Christmas is all about LIGHT – light as a metaphor, light as a reality, and light as a symbol of Truth. The truth that there is Truth; that there is a Creator; who made all things, and that God took on human form (in Jesus) that we might know Him and reflect His glory. Christmas is when God took on human form in the incarnation. It is marvelous and mysterious at the same time!

The primary reason why God did this is so that Christ (who was innocent and sinless) could take the sins of the world upon Himself on the cross.

Why would God do such a thing? Simply because He loves the world that He made (John 3:16). Without His act of selfless love, there would be no hope and no escape from the darkness – spiritual or otherwise.

An Attempted Eclipse at the Second Advent

In the Old Testament Psalm 2 is a Psalm about Christ. Theologians refer to it as a “Messianic Psalm.” Anything in the Old Testament that refers to Christ (the Greek word for Messiah), literally means “anointed one,” is considered to teach some truth about Israel’s Savior and King.

Psalm 2 is particularly interesting because it refers to a future time when the rulers and the nations of the earth will rise up and stand against Messiah, attempting once again, to eclipse God’s Light and Truth.

The Psalmist begins:

Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together…(verse 1)

And exactly what are these world-rulers meeting about? He continues:

…against the Lord and against His Anointed (Messiah), saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’ (verses 2-3).

But God’s response to them is mockery.

(Yet)…He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then He will speak to them in His wrath, and terrify them in His fury, saying, ‘As for Me (GOD), I have set My King (Messiah) on Zion, my holy hill’ (verses 4-5).

And God’s further response is that complete dominion of the entire earth will be given to His “Anointed” (Christ Jesus)

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are My Son; today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your heritage, and the ends of the earth Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel’ (verses 7-9).

Finally a word of warning to rulers who attempt to eclipse, darken or oppose the Anointed One.

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, for His wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are those who take refuge in Him (verses 10-12).

Conclusion

To those think that Christmas as well as Christianity, is a huge sham: have you stopped to truly  consider the evidence presented on this website and by this ministry? The central claim of Christianity (the Resurrection) is supported by an amazing amount of evidence.

For Christians who feel the encroaching spiritual darkness, Christmas is a reminder to all of us that the Light of the world HAS indeed come! Until He comes again, we are commissioned by our Lord Himself (the Light of the World), to continue to shine His light in the darkness so that a total eclipse of Christmas never happens.

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Matthew 5:14-17)

[1] http://www.iep.utm.edu/thales/#SH8a (accessed, 12 Dec. 2014)

[2] Bruce Scott, Israel My Glory, Nov/Dec, 2006, p.20

Having Conversations Full of Grace and Seasoned with Salt: Advice to the Christian Debater

In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul instructs his readers to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person,” (Colossians 4:6). I have found this advice to be invaluable in the context of debate, an activity in which many of us in the apologetics community participate.

Recently, I have had the opportunity to be involved in a few radio debates. In such situations, it is so important to always exemplify an attitude of humility and graciousness. Too often, regrettably, I have seen people (believer and unbeliever alike) attempt to disparage people on the other side of the argument. For the Christian, I firmly believe that the purpose behind debating is not simply to win an argument. Let me say that again: The purpose of debating, for the believer, is not simply to win an argument. It is possible that one successfully win an argument while failing to win the audience or one’s interlocutor. There are souls on the line. A message of love should thus be clearly conveyed — through the words we speak, through our conduct and mannerisms, and through our devotion to the message of the cross. It is so easy to let our Christian apologetics be reduced to nothing more than an intellectual pursuit, or a way to bolster one’s own ego. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:2,

If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.

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Is Learning Apologetics like Fiddling While Rome Burns?

A Modern Commentary of C.S. Lewis’ ‘Learning in Wartime’

Today it is easy to see why many Christians may be discouraged and feel the need to “circle the wagons,” – to not see the need to cultivate a life of the mind, including learning apologetic arguments for Christianity, or even learning anything new at all. We now live in a world of ISIS, Ebola, violent Christian persecution in various parts of the world, and an increasing attack on religious liberties in America.

Perhaps a lesson from the past will bring light and even encouragement to the value of learning – especially loving Christ with all of our minds in the Church today.

In 1939 the dark clouds of Hitler’s Nazi war machine were beginning to loom across Europe and in England. Walter Hooper, who briefly served as C.S. Lewis’ personal secretary in 1963 relates a fascinating story of when Lewis was invited to preach a sermon at Oxford’s Church of St. Mary the Virgin in the late 30’s.

The threat of imminent war with Germany caused many of Oxford’s undergraduates much hesitation and unrest. Christian students understandably wondered at the value of education and the pursuit of truth when a world war loomed on the horizon. At that time Canon T.R. Milford, an admirer of Lewis’ literary works, asked him to come deliver a sermon and address this growing sentiment among the student body. According to Hooper, “Lewis – an ex-soldier [in WWI] and Christian don at Magdalen College – was thought to be just the man to put things in the right perspective.”[1]

How very right Canon Milford was! Not only did Lewis brilliantly make the case for learning in a time of global upheaval in the twentieth century, there are brilliant lessons we can learn for our own day as well. The text of Lewis’ sermon ended up as a chapter in The Weight of Glory[2] under the title “Learning in Wartime.” The barbarities of our own day and Lewis’s are uncanny, and the lessons are timeless.

Of course, there is no substitute for reading the entire chapter by Lewis’ himself, but in this article I would like to highlight a few principles that I believe relate to those of us today who traffic in the realm of the mind, ideas and the intellect.

There has Never Been a Perfect Time to Learn: Favorable Conditions Never Come

If we’re waiting for more peaceful or favorable times [whatever that is] to begin to dig deeper into our faith or perhaps to learn something new, then we’ll probably never begin at all. Lewis knew then that there will always be distractions which prevent us from pursing truth on a deeper level – whether those distractions are the threat of war, or the hectic busyness of life. He writes:

There will always be plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.[3]

…If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal.[4]

If we will not pursue truth and cultivate loving God with our minds with today’s many threats and distractions, then we probably never will. Life has never been “normal.”

Shouldn’t We Just Preach the Gospel Only?

There were those in Lewis’ day (as well as our own) who perhaps thought that learning should take a back-seat to leading people to Christ in evangelism.

..how is it even right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to hell spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology.[5]

…why should we – indeed how can we – continue to take an interest in these placid occupations when the lives or our friends and the liberties of Europe are in the balance? Is it not fiddling while Rome burns?[6]

Or,

“How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls?” and we have, at the moment to answer the additional question, “How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think of anything but the war?”[7]

Of course, in saying these things Lewis is certainly not undermining the importance of personal evangelism. Indeed, several years later in that same chapel he preached what is perhaps, one of the most profound sermons on evangelism ever preached in the 20th Century [at least in my opinion!].

The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. …All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct our dealings with one another…[8]

Lewis’ solution to this apparent dilemma of either evangelism (the active life), or learning (the contemplative life), is that whatever our view of this relationship is during peacetime, should be the exactly the same as in a time of war.

Now it seems to me that we shall not be able to answer these questions until we have put them by the side of other questions which every Christian ought to have asked himself in peacetime.

During a time of peace hardly any Christian doubts the value of loving God with all our minds and cultivating a deeper Christian understanding and integration of reality. So why should our principles change during a time of imminent death and war? According to Lewis, they shouldn’t.

In other words, regardless of whether we are living in a time of impending war & violence or relative peace and safety, there is an important place for both activities in the Christian view of things.

We don’t have to choose either evangelism or learning – it is imperative to do both!

Lastly, on this question, Lewis makes it clear that he makes no distinctions between the secular and the sacred.

Every duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute.[9]

In short, ‘whether we eat or drink, [do evangelism, or learn], or whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31).’

In Our Pursuit of Truth, there is No Place for the Proud

Christ was very clear when He stated the greatest commandment, “to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Matt. 22:36). Lewis recognized that a life of learning is perhaps not the path for every Christian. Indeed, within the body of Christ there are many members with different functions (1 Cor. 12:12-31).

Regardless, our pursuit and love of the pure, unvarnished truth should take second place to our pride and personal achievements (if any). We must always be on guard against pride, whatever our vocation, but especially intellectual pride – for as the Apostle Paul writes, “…knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Cor. 8:1). Lewis writes:

As the author of the Theologica Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge – our knowing – more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us. Every success in the scholar’s life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. They time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.[10]

In apologetics as in any other intellectual pursuit, there is no place for pride, whatever form it takes in our lives. We are servants of Truth, and not the other way around.

be ready to give a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you a reason [logos] for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear (1 Pet. 3:15).

I can’t tell you how many apologists I’ve noticed, who are arrogant and condescending to others who don’t have a deeper understanding. This certainly does not help the cause of Christ or His Kingdom, and in reality, intellectual pride is the mark of another kingdom. The father of pride led a rebellion of a third of the angels against God. In Eden, he convinced Adam & Eve that God did not say what He really said.

Don’t Worry About the Future – Live Life One Day at a Time

One of the frustrations that Lewis addressed to his audience of Oxford undergraduates in 1939 was the frustration of possibly not being able to finish what one has started – of looking ahead to the future, when it looks bleak. “What’s the point?”

This is certainly a sentiment that is true today. When one thinks of the future of the world and where we might be headed, it can be somewhat foggy or even depressing. Lewis’ wisdom is especially brilliant here because it is grounded in the very words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (see, Matt. 6:34).

Lewis states:

Never, in peace or war, commit your virtue or happiness to the future. Happy work is best done by the man who takes his long-term plans somewhat lightly and works from moment to moment “as unto the Lord.” It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received. …A more Christian attitude, which can be attained in any age, is that of leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.[11]

Human Civilization Depends on Not Listening to Our Worries but on Thinking Clearly and Loving God with our Minds

Finally, in the larger scheme of human history, we should not allow our worries to dictate how we live. Human culture (if it is to survive) depends on it. Lewis writes:

If human culture [& learning] can stand up [and alongside] to that [that people today are headed to eternity in heaven or hell], it can stand up to anything. To admit that we can retain our interest in learning under the shadow of these eternal issues but not under the shadow of a European war would be to admit that our ears are closed to the voice of reason and very wide open to the voice of our nerves and our mass emotions.[12]

Here we can learn from a chapter in the history of the early, medieval Irish monks. When the British Isles were under the threat and then eventually under the sword of the Norsemen, Irish Christians didn’t worry & fret about their future. Rather, they went to work translating great works of literature and creating great works of art such as we find in the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels.

In his book, How the Irish Saved Civilization, author Thomas Cahill narrates in vivid detail the fall of the Roman empire when barbarian hordes marched across the frozen Rhine and eventually down into Italy ultimately sacking Rome herself, the crown jewel of classical civilization and learning. Several centuries later when the prow of the Viking longboat hit the sands of the British Isles another dark ages swept across Europe. Civilization was threatened and the learning of the classical world was gravely threatened.

It was the Irish Christians, who according to Cahill, played a key role in Europe’s rebuilding after the long and dark ages.

Wherever they went the Irish bought with them their books, many unseen in Europe for centuries and tied to their waists as signs of triumph, just as Irish heroes had once tied to their waists their enemies heads. Wherever they went they brought their love of learning and their skills in bookmaking. In the bays and valleys of their exile, they reestablished literacy and breathed new life into the exhausted literary culture of Europe. And that is how the Irish saved civilization.[13]

It is in light of these and other principles, that we pursue Truth for its own sake, we learn apologetic arguments, we love God with our minds, and we cultivate a life of faith grounded in God’s eternal Word.

Eternal things are at stake.

 

[1] Walter Hooper, “Introduction,” in C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper One, 2000, originally 1949), pg. 18.

[2] Incidentally, the title of Lewis’ second message at The Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Oxford in 1941.

[3] Lewis, “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 60.

[4] Ibid., pg. 49.

[5] Ibid., 48-9.

[6] Ibid., pg.47.

[7] Ibid, pg. 50-1.

[8] The Weight of Glory, pg. 45-6.

[9] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 53.

[10] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 57.

[11] “Learning in Wartime,” pg. 60-61.

[12] Ibid.. pg. 49.

[13] Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Historic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (New York, London: Doubleday, 1995), pg. 196.

What Really Happened at Jesus’ Tomb?

A Look at “The Creed” Through History & Archaeology

800px-In_Front_of_the_Garden_Tomb

For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as one born out of due time (1 Cor. 15:3-8)

One of the earliest records of the events surrounding the first Easter was recorded in an early saying or “creed” which the Apostle Paul mentions in his epistle (or letter) in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8. It has been called the first Christian “creed” or Credo [Latin for ‘I believe’]. Although Paul refers to it, it is not original to him; it is Pre-Pauline. It very likely dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus – His first Disciples – those who waked with Him, lived with Him, those who watched the drama of His life unfold before their eyes…those who watched Him die…those who ate with Him and spoke with Him and saw Him after He reportedly arose from the dead.

Part of how we know whether or not something happened in the past or not is through eyewitness testimony. Eyewitnesses can be reliable or not. One way (certainly not the only way) we can test whether an eyewitness is speaking the truth is through internal and external evidence that is consistent with other verifiable facts in a particular time period. Unlike mathematics or deductive logic, history allows us to make inferences based on the evidence that we have at hand as we study it carefully and determined if it is reliable.

From this early creed – I would like to consider three facts[1] that it is indeed genuine and bears the key marks of an authentic record of a monumental historical event – namely that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the dead.

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What was the Crucifixion like?

What was the extent of the physical suffering Jesus endured at the crucifixion?  Consider that the English word “excruciating” is from the Latin meaning “out of the crucifixion.”  I’ve found that the best way to comprehend the magnitude of the Christ’s physical suffering on Good Friday is to read the following description that we’ve adapted from the work of medical doctor, C. Truman Davis (see I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p. 380-383).  The short video above also illustrates the kind of brutal punishment Christ took to pay for our sins.

WARNING:  THIS IS GRAPHIC (You may have a difficult time getting through it).

The whip the Roman soldiers use on Jesus has small iron balls and sharp pieces of sheep bones tied to it. Jesus is stripped of his clothing, and his hands are tied to an upright post. His back, buttocks, and legs are whipped either by one soldier or by two who alternate positions. The soldiers taunt their victim. As they repeatedly strike Jesus’ back with full force, the iron balls cause deep contusions, and the sheep bones cut into the skin and tissues. As the whipping continues, the lacerations tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh. Pain and blood loss set the stage for circulatory shock.

When it is determined by the centurion in charge that Jesus is near death, the beating is finally stopped. The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone pavement, wet with his own blood. The Roman soldiers see a great joke in this provincial Jew claiming to be a king. They throw a robe across his shoulders and place a stick in his hand for a scepter. They still need a crown to make their travesty complete. A small bundle of flexible branches covered with long thorns are plaited into the shape of a crown, and this is pressed into his scalp. Again there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular areas of the body). After mocking him and striking him across the face, the soldiers take the stick from his hand and strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his scalp.

Finally, when they tire of their sadistic sport, the robe is torn from his back. The robe had already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds, and its removal—just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage—causes excruciating pain, almost as though he were being whipped again. The wounds again begin to bleed. In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return his garments. The heavy horizontal beam of the cross is tied across his shoulders, and the procession of the condemned Christ, two thieves, and the execution party walk along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of his efforts to walk erect, the weight of the heavy wooden beam, together with the shock produced by copious blood loss,

is too much. He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance. The centurion, anxious to get on with the crucifixion, selects a stalwart North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to carry the cross. Jesus follows, still bleeding and sweating the cold, clammy sweat of shock.

The 650-yard journey from the fortress Antonia to Golgotha is finally completed. Jesus is again stripped of his clothes except for a loin cloth which is allowed the Jews. The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild pain-killing mixture. He refuses to drink. Simon is ordered to place the cross beam on the ground, and Jesus is quickly thrown backward with his shoulders against the wood. The legionnaire feels for the depression at the front of the wrist. He drives a heavy, square, wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. Quickly, he moves to the other side and repeats the action, being careful not to pull the arms too tight, but to allow some flexibility and movement. The beam is then lifted, and the title reading “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” is nailed in place.

The victim Jesus is now crucified. As he slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms to explode in the brain—the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As he pushes himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, he places his full weight on the nail through his feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tear- ing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet. At this point, another phenomenon occurs. As the arms fatigue, great waves of cramps sweep over the muscles, knotting them in deep, relentless, throbbing pain. With these cramps comes the inability to push himself upward. Hanging by his arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs but it cannot be exhaled. Jesus fights to raise himself in order to get even one short breath. Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and in the bloodstream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, he is able to push himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen. It is undoubtedly during these periods that he utters the seven short sentences that are recorded.

Now begin hours of this limitless pain, cycles of cramping and twisting, partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from his lacerated back as he moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins. A deep, crushing pain in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart. It is now almost over— the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level; the compressed heart is struggling to pump heavy, thick, sluggish blood into the tissues; the tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps of air. The markedly dehydrated tissues send their flood of stimuli to the brain. His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally he can allow his body to die. With one last surge of strength, he once again presses his torn feet against the nail, straightens his legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters his seventh and last cry: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus went through all of that so you and I could be reconciled to him; so you and I could be saved from our sins by affirming, Father, into your hands I commit my life.  If you haven’t done that, why not?

How to Reach Your Non-Christian Relatives this Christmas

Why Is God So HiddenIt’s going to happen again this year.  You’re going to get together with a bunch of people who would rather talk about anything but Jesus.  What can you do to reach them?

Face it.  You’re probably not going to get them to accept Jesus by the end of dinner.   A direct frontal assault with facts isn’t going to work because many of them don’t want Christianity to be true.  So I think your goal should be more modest.  How about just planting and watering seeds (like Jesus and Paul did!)? In other words, getting them to doubt what they believe and/or getting them to think about the claims of Christianity.

Here are few ideas you might try:   

  1. Pray: Start praying now for opportunities and for hearts to be open.  Then volunteer to pray before the meal (No one will interrupt or critique a prayer!).   Keep the prayer short and thank God for:
    • Your family members and guests by name
    • The food
    • Coming to earth that first Christmas in the person of Jesus to pay for our sins and to offer forgiveness and salvation for free to anyone who trusts in Christ
  2. Serve: Get off the couch and serve people as if you were a real Christian!
  3. Ask:  Seriously ask people how they’ve been doing this year.  Then ask them, “Is there anything I can pray for you about?”
  4. Testify: If they ask you how you’ve been doing, fold in a story of how God is working.
  5. Agree & Affirm whatever they get right.  It will make points of disagreement more acceptable.
  6. Use Tactical Questions When They Get Something Wrong: When people make truth claims, it’s not your job to refute them—it is their job to support them. So before responding to their statements, ask these questions.
    • What do you mean by that?
    • How did you come to that conclusion? (Or what evidence do you have for that?)
    • Have you ever considered…? (Fill in the blank with the evidence you would like the person to consider).
  7. Use the Quick Answers section of the CrossExamined App to respond to specific objections.   
  8. Show them what makes your walk easier: Glo Bible, You Version Bible, CrossExamined App (people love gadgets and apps).
  9. Seed the conversation:  Depending on how the conversation goes, some of these statements may get people thinking and even get them to ask you questions.  They include:
    • If I were perfect, I wouldn’t need a Savior.
    • God won’t force people into Heaven against their will.
    • I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist.
    • The greatest miracle in the Bible is the first verse.
    • What motive did the Jewish New Testament writers have to make up a new religion?
    • If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian?

    10. Write them afterwards:  Following up on a conversation later via email can be very effective.  That’s because you can present your ideas more clearly and completely while the other person can actually consider what you are saying without feeling the pressure of having to respond immediately.  You can also include links to articles or websites for those that want to go deeper.

I hope some of these ideas will help you move people closer to the gospel this Christmas!  I’d love to hear what actually worked for you.  Please put your story in a comment below or drop me an email at Frank@CrossExamined.org after the holiday.  Blessings to you this Christmas!

“Eternity Has the Floor:” Another Look at Pascal’s Wager

Silent you stand before the altar of death! Life here and life after constitute an eternal conundrum; but its expiring spark awakens us to holy devotion and quiets every other voice except religion. Eternity has the floor.

~Alfred Nobel: read at his funeral (1896)

The above words were spoken at Alfred Nobel’s funeral service in 1896. In life Nobel was an interesting but ironic man. He is remembered, of course as the Swiss chemist and engineer who invented dynamite among other things, and also the man whose name is associated with coveted prizes in physics, chemistry, literature and peace. Nobel was also an atheist, and yet he also left large sums of money to churches. In 1888 when Nobel was reading through a French newspaper, he was astonished to read about his own obituary – the heading was “The merchant of death has died.” As it turned out, it was actually his brother Ludwig that had died. It would only be eight years later that Alfred himself would die by a brain hemorrhage at age 63.

Apparently Nobel had given some thought to that moment when he would face his own mortality. It’s not a pleasant thought – thinking about one’s own death, but one day every person must stand in silence and enter that mysterious realm beyond this life on earth, or as Nobel says… that eternal conundrum

Cementary

The Old Testament patriarch Job pondered this question millennia ago when he asked, If a man dies, will he live again? (Job 14:14)

Atheists and materialists alike, stake their eternal souls on the belief and the affirmation that there is no afterlife or soul which survives the body after physical death. But is science equipped to answer such a question? Pascal would say no.

In the 17th Century (the 1600’s) a brilliant Frenchman (child prodigy, pioneering mathematician, inventor of the world’s first mechanical calculator, philosopher and scientist)[1] named Blaise Pascal put forth a rather strange argument for religious faith – and not just generic religious faith, but faith in full orbed Christianity.[2]

This is Pascal’s famous argument called “The Wager” (or The Bet).

But first let’s clear up a common misconception and make one clarification about Pascal’s famous Wager.

(1). He is not proposing “faith in faith” (a blind leap in the dark), but assumes that we have our data correct (faith is only as good as its object) – i.e. that the true God is the God of Christianity and that salvation is found only in a belief in Jesus Christ and that rejection of Him will result in eternal damnation.[3]

(2) Similar to the above notion – the Wager should not be considered in complete isolation from the larger work of Pascal’s Pensees (his apologetic for Christianity).

As philosopher James R. Peter’s observes, “Properly understood, the wager makes a compelling but limited point….”[4]

Kreeft clarfies:

“The Wager is not an attempt to prove the God exists. It is not a new argument for the existence of God. Rather it tries to prove that it is eminently reasonable for anyone to “bet” on God, to hope that God is, to invest his life in God. It moves on the practical, existential, human level rather than the theoretical, metaphysical, theological level. …It is not an alternative to the traditional arguments for the existence of God… [the Wager]…is addressed to unbelievers, to those who are skeptical of both theoretical reason and revelation.”[5]

What Pascal’s Wager highlight’s is the fact that we are all “in the game” – there is no neutrality on the question of God’s existence or of eternal salvation in Jesus Christ.

He writes:

“Let us examine this point, and let us say: ‘Either God is or he is not.’ But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong.

Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice… ‘No, but I will condemn them for not having made this particular choice, but any choice, for although one calls heads and the other one are equally at fault, the fact is that they are both at fault: the right thing is not to wager at all.’

Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. What will you choose then? Let us see: since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest. You have two things to lose: the true and the good: and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness.”[6]

Finally and interestingly, the Wager comes down to a pleasure (or a happiness) calculus – which appeals to what a person has the potential to gain from such a wager.

Here is what is at stake.

A. God exists (& Christianity is true)

  • If I believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I gain eternal happiness and lose nothing.  
  • If I do not believe it and it turns out to be objectively true then I lose everything (including happiness and pleasure).

B. God does not exist (Christianity is not true)

  • If I believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.
  • If I do not believe this and it is objectively true then I gain nothing and lose nothing.

If Christianity is true then those who don’t believe it have everything to lose. But if it is not true then nothing, in the end, is lost to the pious believer. It is really the unbeliever who has more to lose if they are wrong.

Pensee 241 provides a good summary:

I should be much more afraid of being mistaken and then finding out that Christianity is true than of being mistaken in believing it to be true [& it not actually be true].

On death’s threshold “eternity has the floor,” then religious questions don’t seem so silly after all.

What will you choose then?


[1] For an old but excellent biography of Pascal’s life see Morris Bishop’s classic, Pascal: The Life of Genius (New York: Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936)

[2] See his Pensees, 418.

[3] For more on this point see Peter Kreeft’s excellent book, Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined & Explained (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 292-3.

[4] James R. Peters, The Logic of the Heart: Augustine, Pascal, and the Rationality of Faith (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 188-9.

[5] Kreeft, pg. 291 [emphasis mine].

[6] “233” in Pensees, Translated by W.F. Trotter, Robert Maynard Hutchins, Editor in Chief, Great Books of the Western World, (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 213-6 [emphasis mine].

Should Women Be Apologists? They Already Are!

In the past couple of decades or so there has been a renaissance of apologetics at the college and seminary level. There was a time when undergraduate and graduate degrees in Christian apologetics did not exist. Now there are a number of great schools and universities that offer degrees in Christian apologetics (i.e., Talbot School of Theology at Biola, Southern Evangelical Seminary, Denver Seminary and lately Houston Baptist University, just to name a few). I am not aware of any specific statistics, but with all of these schools whose graduates are now entering the world of work and/or ministry, the question of the role of women in apologetics was bound to come up.

I have given some thought to this, and as I see it, there are several issues that are really at the heart of this question.  The main question, however, that I wish to focus on is – Is apologetics for everyone in the church or just men only? Some might even ask, Why is this even a question worth considering? Women are already engaging in apologetics and making great strides for the Kingdom of God. One such organization is the International Society of Women in Apologetics which is managed by apologist Sarah Ankenman – to learn more go to – http://www.womeninapologetics.com. Then there are those in the church who believe that a woman’s place is to remain silent and not be involved in teaching in any way.

Perhaps a good place to begin to answer this question is at the very beginning of Christianity. In his excellent book, History of Apologetics, Cardina Avery Dulles makes a salient point in his chapter on ‘Apologetics in the New Testament.’ He writes:

“Before being an apologetic, Christianity was of course a message. It began as a conviction that Jesus was Messiah and Lord, and this conviction seems to have drawn its overpowering force from the event of the Resurrection. As the message concerning Jesus as risen Lord was proclaimed, it gave rise to certain questions and objections from inquirers and believers, and from adversaries. In answer to such objections, and possibly also in anticipation of foreseen objections, the Christian preachers spoke about the signs, and evidences that they found convincing. …To some degree, therefore, apologetics was intrinsic to the presentation of the kerygma [proclamation – Gospel].”[1]

Apologetics, therefore, was and is intrinsic to evangelism. Apologetics, of course, can also be used to strengthen and reinforce the faith of those within the Church. So from this standpoint, the question now is – Should women be involved in the proclamation of the Good News? The answer – I hope – is obvious! We know from the New Testament that women played a key role in bringing people (including men!) to the Jesus, the Savior. One shining example is the Samaritan woman (or the woman at the well in John 4:1-38). After His encounter with her, in verse 27, Jesus’ disciples asked Him an interesting question and His response was even more interesting (especially in light of the first-century Jewish culture!).  After Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman and revealed hidden things about herself that only God could know [evidence], she left Him to go tell others:

“…His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or ‘Why are You talking with her?’ The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they [the men!] went out of the city and came to Him.” (Jn. 4:27-30)

This point is reinforced by a closer look at who (if we are truly honest) the world’s very first apologists were – the women at the empty tomb!  All four Gospels record the fact that it was women who were first to arrive at the empty tomb of the risen Christ and they were the very first to report (& proclaim) that Jesus is risen (Matt. 28:5-8; Mk. 16:2-8; Lk. 24:1-8 & Jn. 20:1).

One of but many examples of women in apologetics in today’s cultural context is the necessity of women evangelists/apologists to Islam – the fastest growing religion in the world. In light of Islamic culture (where it is inappropriate for men to build relationships to other women), it is crucial that Christian women engage Muslim women with the Gospel and with Truth. But women apologists are not only needed in to reach Muslim women – but also to reach those in modern Western culture – with its Post-modern, Post-Christian outlook  – women trained in apologetics – who know how to skillfully and gracefully defend the Faith once and for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 1:3). Basically, where there is a need for the Gospel to be proclaimed and defended (which is everywhere!) – then women apologists are needed. Exactly how various churches and ministries utilize apologetically trained & educated women, will certainly vary from place to place and from church to church.

Nancy Pearcy studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri Fellowship. She is the author of "Total Truth"

Nancy Pearcey studied under noted Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri Fellowship. She is the author of “Total Truth”

I would encourage my fellow female apologists who are probably more highly trained & educated in apologetics than many of their pastors – to be faithful where God has planted you. Wherever and whoever your audience is – proclaim the resurrection of Christ and defend the Faith with gentleness & respect (1 Pet. 3:15). God will open doors of ministry and opportunity for you, in His good wisdom and in His perfect timing. This is not only good advice for female apologists – but (I believe) to guys as well.

Christianity never stopped being a Message which should be proclaimed (& defended). The Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) was given to the Church (to both men & women).  The Church has been in the past, and certainly will be in the future, enriched by the effective witness of women who have found the Savior and who give a reasoned defense of His resurrection.


[1] Cardinal Avery Dulles, History of Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), 1-2

Christian Response to the Reason Rally, March 24th, Washington DC

From here:

“Richard Dawkins, P.Z. Myers and other New Atheists are planning a “Reason Rally” in Washington, D.C. on March 24. They’re billing it as “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history,” and they’re using it to trumpet their message that reasonable people reject belief in God.

We disagree.

Together, we represent Christians from the United States and around the world who believe that Christianity is a reasonable worldview. Our goal is to demonstrate a humble, loving and thoughtful response to the Reason Rally.We’ll be equipped there with:

  • Gifts of kindness to give away–free bottled water, for example
  • Mini-book (32-page) summarized versions of Reason Really, an exciting soon-to-be-published ebook written especially for this purpose.
  • Flyers advertising that ebook.
  • A limited number of copies of a currently published book on Christianity and atheism.

Further details on these books are available on request.

Join us in Washington!

Come join us there! We invite you to unite with us in a spirit of grace and truth (John 1:14, 1:18), ready to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), with godly grace and wisdom (Col. 4:6).

This is not a counter-demonstration. We are going there to share Christ person to person as opportunity arises. We will not raise our voices. We will talk with those who want to talk with us. We will offer gifts and materials to all, but we will not press ourselves on those who do not wish to converse. Knowing that the way others may choose to gather near us is not entirely in our control, we will nevertheless attempt to avoid gathering groups larger than a handful of people.

Let us know how to contact you so we can share plans and resources.

Come fully equipped

We’ll provide you some advance training by way of Internet, so you will be prepared for interactions in this unique “Lion’s Den” environment.

The items you will have opportunity to share at the Reason Rally require some funding. We ask you to share in this by donating funds for what you will distribute there—and more than that, if possible, to help other ministries and individuals who will be there.

How Can I Help?

For now, there are three primary ways you can get involved!

First, join us in prayer. We are asking God to empower this loving, intelligent response to the Reason Rally. Our goal is to make a positive difference with each person we reach through this effort.

Second, join our contact list. This will allow us to keep you informed as plans progress for our response to the Reason Rally.

Third, consider making a donation. Even a small amount – $5, $20, or $50 – when pooled together, makes a big difference. We are seeking to raise a total of $5,000 for this outreach.

This united outreach is being led by:

 

Supporting Bloggers

Should Tiger Woods Become a Christian?

Brit Hume boldly suggests Tiger Woods, who considers himself more of a Buddhist, become a Christian because Christianity offers forgiveness. Some Buddhists object. Here’s what Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor on Buddhism, said:

“You have the law of karma, so no matter what Woods says or does, he is going to have to pay for whatever wrongs he’s done,” said Prothero. “There’s no accountant in the sky wiping sins off your balance sheet, like there is in Christianity.”

But since Buddhists don’t believe in a Deity, one must ask, what is the grounding for morality that makes Karma even possible, and what “accountant” is keeping track of karma? With Christianity, you have grounding for morality (God’s Nature) and you have an “Accountant” keeping track of how one lives in relation to that morality. Of course, that “Accountant” after seeing your negative balance, came to earth to pay your debt for you. Great deal. And it has the necessary quality of actually being true!

Blessings to Brit Hume for his boldness. He didn’t back down on The O’Reilly Factor as you’ll see in this video. (HT: Melinda Penner at www.STR.org)

Atheist Urges Evangelism

Atheist Penn Jillette of the comedy team Penn & Teller believes in evangelism more than do many Christians.  A Christian approached him after one of his Las Vegas shows, and Penn appreciated the man’s effort.  In this short YouTube video, Penn says that he “knows” there is no God, but that it’s hateful to NOT evangelize people if you truly believe in Heaven and Hell.  He also says that atheists ought not be so defensive when people sincerely share the Christian message.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JHS8adO3hM

If only more Christians thought more like this atheist!

By the way, I saw Penn & Teller’s show back in 2003.  It’s certainly worth seeing.