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Men of God Should Understand the Importance of Fatherhood

I first noticed the problem as a Gang Detail officer in the early 1990’s. Our city was culturally and ethnically diverse, and we had a gang problem that seemed to transcend ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries. We had wealthy Korean gangsters, middle-class white gangsters, and upper, middle class and lower class Hispanic and African-American gangsters. I was raising two and four year old boys at the time and I was interested in what caused the young men in my community to become gangsters in the first place. It certainly didn’t seem to be something in their culture; they came from very diverse backgrounds. What was it? The more I got to know these gang members, the clearer the problem became: all of them suffered from “lack of dad.”

god fatherhood

Many of the white gangsters had fathers that were uninvolved, alcoholic or “deadbeat” dads. Many of the Korean fathers were first generation Koreans who never learned the English language, started businesses in our community and worked so hard that they had absolutely no relationship with their sons. Some of the Hispanic fathers were incarcerated and most of our Hispanic gangsters came from a multi-generational gang culture. Many of the African-American gangsters told me that they never even knew their father; they had been raised by mothers and grandmothers without their biological dads. Over and over again I saw the same thing: young men who were wandering without direction or moral compass, in large part because they didn’t have a father at home to teach them. Many studies have confirmed my own anecdotal observations.

I can remember seeing a movie during my tour on the Gang Detail. It was called “Boyz ‘N The Hood“. My partner told me I simply had to see it. I thought it was one of the best movies ever made on the importance of fatherhood. The primary character is a young man who is raised by his mother until he starts to go astray. His mom then delivers him to his father who begins to raise him up in a tough neighborhood but manages to provide him with the moral role modeling he really needed. The movie demonstrated what I learned as a Gang Detail officer: it takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man.

I’ve also learned this first-hand. My dad was largely absent in my childhood and it was tough to understand my role in the world as a man without the daily input from my father. I noticed that as I reached my teen years, I was actually interested in reaching out to my dad and making sure we had a relationship. I needed him. In many ways, I became him in an effort to understand what it was to be a man. I ended up leaving a career in the arts to follow him into Law Enforcement. The power and guidance of a father is an undeniable force in the life of a young man.

As Christians, we ought to get this more than any other group. Scripture is filled with passages that describe the importance of fathers. In addition, the Bible consistently references fatherhood in an effort to analogize God’s relationship with each of us. What does Scripture tell us about the role of Fathers? First and foremost, we are to be teachers:

Deuteronomy 6:6-9
“These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

This is the role and duty of fathers; to teach our kids to embrace the image of God in which they were created. So today, on Thanksgiving Day, I would like all of the fathers who read this post to recognize their debt to their own fathers. If your father was absent, be grateful that you have a chance to do what he never did. Be a dad. Start teaching your kids. Take the words of Dr. Tony Evans to heart:

“It is a fool who says. ‘I do not tell my children what to believe’, because if you don’t, someone else will.  The drug addicts are commanding your children and your children are obeying.  The lust mongers are commanding your daughters and your daughters are obeying.  For God’s sake YOU command something!”

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

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How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

How do we make theology engaging and interesting for students? While I certainly don’t claim to have it all figured out, and am always looking for some creative and new ideas, here are four lessons I have learned from roughly two decades of teaching and speaking to students on theological issues.

students theology

First, use stories. We all love stories. Students do too. As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his excellent book The Storytelling Animal, “Human minds yield hopelessly to the suction of story. No matter how hard we concentrate, not matter how deep we dig in our heels, we just can’t resist the gravity of alternate worlds.” Jesus told stories for a few reasons. People remember them. We relate to them. And lessons are best learned through stories. Jesus was asked who qualifies as a neighbor, and he told the story of the Good Samaritan. He was asked how many times we should forgive people and he told the story of the Unmerciful Servant. Teach theological doctrines, but whenever possible, tell a story.

Second, use cultural examples. Students today are engrossed with the prevailing culture. The movies they watch, the music they listen to, and the technology they use are all influenced by our wider culture. Sometimes we need to critique culture and other times we need to show how Christ is within culture. But using cultural examples of theology not only makes theology interesting to students, it also helps them make connections from their theology to the “real” world. For instance, recently I was talking with my students about the biblical view of sex. And so I used an example from the movie Passengers, which I wrote about here.

Third, ask good questions. In my experience, good questions are far better than answers. As I wrote in a recent post, my teachers who asked me good questions had a far greater impact on my life than those who simply gave me answers. Isn’t that true for you too? Students today have access to endless information. Simply giving kids theological truths has some value, but far more important is helping kids think theologically. We simply can’t cover every conceivable theological issue in our classrooms, ministries, or conversations. But we can give students a template for how to think theologically. And even if we did cover every issue of today, new issues will inevitably arise. Thus, the most important educational task today is teaching students how to think, how to arrive at truth. And one of the best ways to do this is to ask good questions and guide students through how to discover reasonable answers.

Fourth, connect theology to practical life. According to the National Survey of Youth and Religion [1] students today tend to compartmentalize their spiritual faith. In other words, they tend to believe that science, math and history are matters of objective truth, but spiritual beliefs are merely a matter of preference that helps give their lives meaning. As a result, few students are able (or interested) to translate theology to their practical lives. In other words, few students can show how their beliefs about God practically shape how they live. If we don’t connect theology to how kids actually live, what’s the point? While there are many ways to do this (such as through stories, experiences, and personal examples), one simple step is to always ask, after teaching a theological truth: How should this affect the way we actually live?

Students need to see that believing God created the world should influence how we treat the environment. They need to connect belief in the resurrection to how we handle death. And they need to see how belief we are made in the image of God shapes the way we think about abortion, pornography, bullying, racism, eating disorders and many other issues. Theological teaching is not complete until students connect truth to their daily lives.

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.


[1] This study is admittedly dated. But my experience and subsequent research confirms that this point is still largely true among today’s youth.

 


The Power of “Nice” and the Importance of “Good”

“Why are you always involved in these missions trips to other religious groups?” Claire’s mother stopped me after a Sunday youth service and pulled me aside. I’ll never forget our conversation. Her question was more accusatory than inquisitive. “I’m not letting Claire go on this trip. I know lots of Mormons. We have several really good friends who are Mormon. They are incredibly nice people. Why would you want to challenge what they believe when they are so nice?” I received many similar complaints and questions from parents when I first began taking students on trips to Salt Lake City. Why would we want to challenge and upset people who are that nice?

nice good

“Niceness” is a persuasive apologetic. Several years ago, on a missions trip to the University of California at Berkeley, I observed the power of “nice” firsthand. An atheist student from SANE (Students Advocating a Non-religious Ethos) impacted our group more powerfully than any of the other atheists we encountered. This student was young, attractive and incredibly “nice”. His demeanor made his worldview attractive, even before he opened his mouth to try to defend it. “Nice” can be incredibly powerful.

But “nice” is not the same as “good”, even though we often confuse the two. “Nice” is an adjective that means “pleasant,” “agreeable,” or “satisfactory”; we might use it to say, “We had a nice time”. It can also be used to describe someone who is “pleasant in manner” or “kind”. In this sense “niceness” describes an appearance based on outward performance. The young man from SANE behaved in a way that was observably pleasant and kind. He was a nice young man. Why would anyone try to persuade someone to change his or her beliefs when their worldview has clearly resulted in such a nice disposition? His behavior was a commanding advertisement for his worldview and our students were powerfully impacted by his presentation.

That’s where the question of “niceness” vs. “goodness” becomes important. “Good” can also be used as an adjective, as when it is used to describe something “to be desired or approved of”, but it can also be used as a noun: “That which is morally right; righteousness”. “Goodness” is a moral evaluation. It seeks to describe the unseen motives that drive our visible behaviors. It’s quite possible to be pleasant and kind for an underlying evil purpose; people can be pleasant and kind to accomplish something vile. I’ve seen this happen repeatedly as a homicide detective.

“Niceness” is determined by one’s personal experience. We typically declare an experience or person to be “pleasant” if we experienced personal enjoyment. Your “pleasant” might be different than my “pleasant”. It is subjective. But “goodness” is grounded in something bigger than both of us. I can have a subjective opinion about what or who pleases me, but deciding if this thing or person is “righteous” is another matter altogether. Righteousness is a standard that transcends my personal opinion; it’s not subjective, it’s objective. To be “righteous” is to “act in accord with divine or moral law.” That’s a law that transcends our personal opinion. I’ve known committed gang members who were able to be “nice” to one another or in order to fool a victim. “Niceness” is one thing, “righteousness” is another.

When we behave “nicely” because we hope to achieve something for ourselves, even when the reward is our spiritual salvation, the moral value of our actions is compromised. If I give you $10.00 because I know it will result in my receiving $100.00, my actions can hardly be called “good”, even though you might think it was “nice” at the time. I wasn’t trying to be “nice” at all; I was just trying to accomplish a selfish goal of increased income. People who are outwardly “nice” because they are convinced this behavior will earn them salvation are in a similar situation. That’s why “work-based” theological systems can produce “nice” people who aren’t necessarily “good”.

That’s also why we take the time to share the Christian truth about grace with people who are still working hard to earn their salvation (like Mormons) or who reject the transcendent source of “good” altogether (like atheists). We interact with people who seem incredibly “nice” because we understand the difference between “nice” and “good”.

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

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Can We Investigate the Universe Like A Crime Scene?

When a dead body is discovered, detectives must investigate the evidence to determine the most reasonable explanation. Did the deceased die naturally? Did he suffer some kind of accident? Did he commit suicide? Was he murdered? These are the four possible explanations at any death scene. Homicide detectives are concerned only with the last one. Of the four explanations, the first three do not require the involvement of anyone other than the victim. If his or her death was an accident, the result of some natural cause, or the result of a suicide, all the evidence we might find related to the victim’s passing will ultimately come from the very room where he or she died. Every death scene involves evidence of one kind or another, but intruders turn death scenes into crime scenes. For that reason, every death investigation begins as an intruder investigation. Without evidence of an intruder, deaths are likely to be the result of natural causes, an accident, or a suicide. One simple strategy in death cases, therefore, is to ask a foundational question: “Can I account for all the evidence in this room by staying in the room?”

Universe Crime Scene

During most of my early investigative career, I was a committed atheist and resolute naturalist. I rejected supernaturalism thoroughly, denying both the existence of a supernatural God and the possibility of the miraculous. I truly believed everything I observed in the universe could be explained and attributed to natural, physical causes and processes. Thinking of the universe as a “room,” I didn’t believe there was any evidence pointing to anyone outside. I certainly didn’t believe anything “extra-natural” or “supra-natural” entered this natural realm. But I hadn’t yet looked at the evidence carefully; I wasn’t an experienced investigator. Over the years, I learned how to evaluate and assemble evidential cases, and along the way—at the age of thirty-five—I was introduced to the New Testament.

I became interested in God’s existence only after investigating the gospels as eyewitness accounts. (I describe this investigation in detail in my book Cold-Case Christianity.) The New Testament accounts passed the same four-part test I apply to all my witnesses, yet I still rejected them on the basis of their miraculous stories. As a naturalist, I believed the accounts of miracles in the biblical narratives disqualified them as reliable history. But what if I was wrong in my anti-supernatural presuppositions? It was time for me to look carefully at the evidence for God’s existence. If a supernatural being did exist, the miracles in the Gospels would be possible and maybe even reasonable. The case for God’s existence was an integral part of the case for the reliability of the Gospels.

Like many of my death scene investigations, my examination of the natural universe required me to look at the characteristics of the “room” and determine if they could be explained fully by what already existed within the “four walls.” Was there any evidence inside the universe pointing to the existence or intervention of a supernatural being outside the universe? My most important question was, “Can I account for all the evidence in this room by staying in the room?

As I considered the natural “room” of the universe, I identified and listed four categories of evidence for consideration:

1. Cosmological Evidence
Our universe had a beginning.
Our universe appears to be fine-tuned for human life.

2. Biological Evidence
Life in our universe emerged from non-life.
Biological organisms appear to be designed.

3. Mental Evidence
Non-material consciousness emerged from unconscious matter.
As humans, we are “free agents” in our otherwise “cause and effect” universe.

4. Moral Evidence
Transcendent, objective moral truths exist in our universe.
Evil and injustice continue to persist, in spite of our best efforts.

These features of the universe must be explained, and they can be attributed either to something inside the natural realm or to something outside the natural realm. In many ways, our investigation of God’s existence is very similar to my death investigations:

Illustration from God’s Crime Scene

In both cases, several evidences in the “room” require explanation. Their origin must be identified before we can decide the correct nature of the scene. In my book, God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, I examine the evidence inside the natural, physical realm of the universe to determine if there is someone we need to look for outside the natural, physical realm. After investigating these eight important pieces of evidence (in four very different categories) I determined the most reasonable inference is a suspect with the following characteristics:

1. External to the universe
2. Non-spatial, atemporal, and non-material
3. Uncaused
4. Powerful enough to create everything we see in the universe
5. Specifically purposeful enough to produce a universe fine-tuned for life
6. Intelligent and communicative
7. Creative and resourceful
8. A conscious Mind
9. Free to choose (and create) personally
10. The personal source of moral truth and obligation
11. The standard for good by which we define evil

This article was excerpted from my book. To learn more, please refer to God’s Crime Scene: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe, and be sure to request our free teaching outlines so you can share the case with others.

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

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Are Questions Better Than Answers? No Question About It!

Although it might surprise you, given that I grew up with a famous apologist father, my parents asked me more questions than they gave me answers. My parents did not want me to believe something simply on authority, but because I had good reasons for believing it was true. They certainly wanted me to become a Christian, but they were also deeply interested in helping me learn how to think critically for myself and to confidently arrive at truth.

questions better

Jesus also asked dozens of questions even though he knew the answers. Why? While there could be other reasons, it seems to me that he wanted to elicit faith in people and to help them arrive at a personal knowledge of the truth. When it comes to helping people arrive at a biblical worldview, Jesus knew questions were often far more powerful than statements. In fact, he knew the most important question of all is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)

As I look back on my life, it was often the people who asked me the most timely and insightful questions who have had the greatest impact on my life. For instance, as a grad student in philosophy, I read a ton of books on postmodernism and, to be honest, was quite confused about the nature of truth. I remember thinking: How can I ever know the nature of truth if I can’t step outside my own perspective and examine it firsthand?

I asked for guidance from one of my philosophy teachers at Talbot, Dr. Garrett Deweese, and he simply asked me a question back: “Is it possible you’re confusing the metaphysical and epistemological issues related to truth? Ponder that for awhile and let me know what you think.” Boom! His question got me thinking on a whole new level and opened up clarification in my worldview between the nature of truth (metaphysics) and how we know truth (epistemology). This distinction continues to serve me well to this day.

The Question Explosion

Even though information is expanding rapidly, people are asking questions at an even greater rate. Every year humans ask the Internet 2 trillion questions. On average, American adults asked four questions per day online. But most of these questions are for a place to eat, sports facts, or how to fix something that is broken. Most are factual questions that have easy answers.

But there are other kinds of questions that lead to life change. What is the key to asking transformative questions? This is a question I have been thinking about for some time. Becoming a better question-asker is one of my ongoing goals as a teacher, parent, coach, apologist, and follower of Christ. If you want to genuinely influence other people, a key skill to develop is the art and science of asking good questions.

What Makes a Transformative Question?

I was recently reading The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. If you’re interested in future technological and cultural trends, this is a must-read book. Towards the end of the book Kelly has an entire chapter titled, “Questioning,” in which he talks about how culture is moving from the rigid order of hierarchy to a state of flux where new possibilities will be opened up for those who ask the right questions. Kelly got me thinking, “How can I be confident that I am asking the right questions?” How confident are you?

Kelly lists fourteen marks of a good question. Here is my top seven:

  1. A good question cannot be answered immediately.
  2. A good question challenges existing answers.
  3. A good question creates new territory of thinking.
  4. A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
  5. A good question cannot be predicted.
  6. A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
  7. A good question is what humans are for.

Take a minute and reflect on these points. End by asking yourself a few questions for reflection:

What is the most significant question someone has ever asked you? What made it so significant? What is the best question you have asked someone else? Do you tend to make statements or ask questions? Why? How can you become a better question-asker?

If you want to make a lasting difference in the lives of people, these are critical questions to ask.

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.

Jesus Is A Myth, Just Like President Kennedy

I was born in 1961, so I was too young to recall the national tragedy that my mother remembered with such shock and dismay. She talked often of presidential assassination that occurred in 1963, and it was clear that it impacted her deeply. You probably already know the president to whom I am referring:

Jesus Kennedy Myth

Prior to his election, he had been a boat captain. He was related to a U.S. Senator, Attorney General, ambassador to Great Britain, and the mayor of Boston.

He was elected to Congress in ’47 and was the vice-presidential runner-up in ’56.

He was elected President in ’60.

He was in his thirties when he was president; his wife was a socially prominent twenty-four year old girl at the time of their marriage. She spoke French fluently.

While living in the White House, his wife suffered the loss of a child. His family consisted of three children.

As president, he was deeply involved in civil rights for African Americans.

He was assassinated and shot in the back of the head, on the Friday before a major holiday, while seated beside his wife (she was not injured).

On the day of his assassination, a staffer told him not to go to the event where he was murdered.

Following the assassination, there were insistent claims that the fatal shot must have come from a different direction.

His assassin was born in ’39, and was a southerner who held extremist views.

This assassin was murdered before he could be brought to trial; he was killed by a shooter who used a Colt revolver and fired only one, fatal shot.

After the assassination, he was eventually succeeded by a vice-president who was a southern democrat (and former senator) named Johnson.

Does this president sound familiar? I used to think so too, but I’m not so sure anymore. It turns out that the president I just described is not John F. Kennedy, but Abraham Lincoln. I think that my mother created this piece of fiction by borrowing the details from Lincoln’s personal story. After all, the details I just listed are accurate facts related to Lincoln. How could they also be true of Kennedy? I think my mom has been lying to me all along.

Well it turns out that both Lincoln and Kennedy share these common characteristics, and while this seems to make them nearly identical on paper, you and I know how different the two men really were. It’s easy to make people sound the same when we are selective about describing similarities and intentionally leave out all the characteristics that distinguish one from the other. Imagine that historians are researching Kennedy 2,000 years from now. Will they doubt his existence simply because Lincoln shared so many similarities? Will “Kennedy Skeptics” deny the historicity of Kennedy because he is so similar to Lincoln? Maybe.

There are lots of skeptics who try to deny the historicity of Jesus just because he allegedly shares some similarities with gods or mythologies that pre-date him. Truth be told, the similarities related to Jesus are more fiction than reality, but even if they were all true (like those I’ve listed related to Kennedy and Lincoln), the mere existence of similarities does not invalidate the historicity of Jesus (or Kennedy, for that matter). If we’re prepared to say that Jesus is a myth just because he shares a few characteristics, we better be ready to tell the world that there was never a president named John F. Kennedy.

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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Resources for Greater Impact

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The Story of Reality: Apologist Greg Koukl Discusses His New Book

Although I first heard of Greg Koukl as an undergrad at Biola University in the mid 90s, we became good friends in the early 2000s as students in the M.A. Philosophy program at Talbot. Greg is one of the leading apologists of our day and has had a huge impact on my personal and professional life.

He gave me the honor of endorsing his recent book The Story of Reality, and I can honestly say that it’s fantastic. In the words of Tim Challies:

“Koukl promises to tell the story of reality. He does, and he does it beautifully. You’ll benefit by reading his telling of how the world began, how it will end, and all the important stuff that happens in between.”

the story of reality

Greg was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his new book. Check out his answers and then think about getting a copy of The Story of Reality. It is perfect for a believer who wants to go deeper in his or her faith, a small group, or for a seeker genuinely exploring the Christian faith. Enjoy!

SEAN MCDOWELL: Greg, what motivated you, in particular, to write The Story of Reality?

GREG KOUKL: Two important things come to mind immediately. First, I wanted to offer a kind of primer on Christianity’s basics—each of the critical, essential elements at the very foundation of our worldview—the kinds of things that are so important, if you took any one out you wouldn’t have Christianity anymore, but something else.

But I didn’t want to write another theological textbook. Rather, I wanted to show how the important pieces fit together in a fascinating drama. I wanted to give a wide-angle view so Christians—and others—would never get lost in the details again.

Second, I wanted to continually press the point that what I describe in the book is not my personal spiritual fantasy, my religious wishful thinking, or my make-believe-to-make-me-feel-happy kind of story. The Story doesn’t start out “Once upon a time” for a reason. It doesn’t mean to be telling a fairy tale. Rather, I wanted the reader to understand that the things the Story describes actually exist and the events in the Story really happened (or, in some places, are yet to happen). It is an accounting of the way the world actually is.

Nowadays, people have a habit of relativizing religion, reducing it “your truth” versus “my truth” versus “their truth,” and that’s the end of it. But as I say in the book, “If the Story is not accurate to reality, it’s not any kind of truth at all. So it can never be ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth,’ even though we may believe it. It can only be our delusion or our mistake or our error, but it can never be our ‘truth.”” (32) I want people to see that Christianity claims to be true in the deep sense, and if it isn’t, then it solves nothing at all.

MCDOWELL: What was the writing process like for this book?

KOUKL: I wanted to engage my reader in a way that was memorable and accessible. The structure is simple. The book is built around five words that tell the most important details of Christian Story in the order they took place: God, man, Jesus, cross, and (the final) resurrection—beginning to end.

I also wanted the reader to enjoy the journey, so I adopted a storytelling “voice” for the narrative. I wanted anyone who picked up the book to feel I was talking directly with them, that I was personally walking them through the account of how the world began, how it ends, and everything important that happens in between.

MCDOWELL: What makes this book unique?

KOUKL: The Story of Reality is a kind of Mere Christianity for a new generation, if the comparison doesn’t seem to bold. It’s a wide-angle look at the Christian view of the world and the meaning of the drama of human history, in a voice that’s conversational and not religious, with what I call “soft apologetics” mixed in—thoughtful reflections that are friendly appeals to common-sense insights we all have about the world that point to the truthfulness of the Christian take on reality—without being overly argumentative.

I also wanted readers (especially Christian readers) to see that the two biggest objections to Christianity—the problem of evil and Jesus being the only way—are not the problems for us that people think they are, that a proper understanding of the Story shows how these two fit together perfectly, complementing each other in a remarkable way. One of our deepest concerns about the world is, “What went wrong?” The Story answers that question, and gives the singular solution, God’s rescuer. Indeed, the problem of evil is what our Story is all about—and the Story is not over yet.

MCDOWELL: You title the book The Story of Reality? I can imagine people thinking, “How arrogant. This guy thinks he has the corner on reality.” How would you respond?

KOUKL: This is a popular challenge nowadays, but it’s an odd one when you think about it. Everyone has their own take on reality, it seems, and everyone thinks his or her own view true, right? So I don’t see why I should be faulted for offering my perspective, especially when I’m careful to give my reasons for it. As I say in the book,

It has always struck me as odd when some have been faulted simply for thinking their views correct. They’ve even been labeled intolerant or bigoted for doing so. But what is the alternative? The person objecting thinks his own views correct as well, which is why he’s objecting. Both parties in the conversation think they’re right and the other wrong. Why, then, is only the religious person (usually) branded a bigot for doing so? (24)

MCDOWELL: How do you hope people will use, or benefit from, this book?

KOUKL: Every writer would like to say his book is for everybody, but in this case I think that’s not too far off.

Most Christians who have been around for a while have their Story in bits and pieces, but have never seen how powerful it really is when assembled as a whole. This book is for them. Many are young Christians just putting it all together for the first time, so this book is for them, too, to help them get a solid start. Some older Christians know the Story, but don’t know how to tell it succinctly and memorably for their congregations, their Bible study groups, their youth groups, or their own disciples. This book is for them, too.

On the other hand, many non-Christians don’t take the Story seriously because, for one, they’ve never seen how well it fits together and how it offers tremendous explanatory power regarding the world as we actually find it. That’s why every time I sat down to write, my chief thought was reaching out to the moderately-interested skeptic in a way that would not offend him with condescension and empty slogans, would hold his interest and get him thinking, and would help him see that a chief reason for taking the Christian Story seriously is that it simply is—as I often say—“the best explanation for the way things are.”

MCDOWELL: Any final thoughts?

KOUKL: I think The Story of Reality will help many readers understand Christianity in a way they never have before. They will see how it all fits together, how it resolves the problem of evil, and why God’s solution is the only solution. Even better, though, they’ll see why they can be confident that Christianity is actually “true Truth,” as Francis Schaeffer used to put it—that is, God really does exist, Heaven actually is real (along with Hell), Jesus really did exist and did the things the historical records—the Gospels—say He did, the resurrection of Christ really happened, and there really is hope each of us can count on for “the kind of perfect world our hearts have always longed for.” (83)

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.


Resources for Greater Impact

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Book Review: The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl

By Timothy Fox

I’ve waited for this book for a long time. I’ve been listening to Greg Koukl – one of my personal apologetics heroes – on the Stand to Reason podcast for years and he would occasionally mention this book he was working on, The Story of Reality (originally entitled Credo). I had been (not so) patiently waiting for it ever since.

In a sense, I felt like I’ve read the book before since it contains ideas Greg weaves throughout all of his podcasts and talks. But now we have a full survey of the Christian worldview in one location. And it’s fantastic.

Story of Reality Koukl

Content

The Story of Reality is obviously about a story. But not just any story, the Story, with a capital S. Greg argues that Christianity is not just a mere religion; it is a complete understanding of all reality. And as any story is comprised of four major components – introduction, crisis, resolution, and ending – so does the Story: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. If any of those pieces are missing from your understanding of the Story, you have an incomplete view of Christianity.

So what is the Christian Story? Greg explains it through the five parts of his book: God, Man, Jesus, Cross, and Resurrection. The Story begins with God because He is the main character, the creator of all things. This part explores competing explanations of what reality is composed of, Matter-ism (materialism) and Mind-ism (pantheism).

Part 2 tells how God crafts man in His own image, which makes humans beautiful and valuable. But man disobeys God, triggering the crisis of the Story and bringing pain and suffering into the world. So now mankind is both beautiful and broken. This explains what every human knows about reality: there is something deeply wrong.

Part 3 introduces us to the Hero, Jesus Christ, the God-man, who came to fix what mankind broke. It answers two important questions: Who is Jesus? and What did Jesus come to do? Greg also briefly discusses a common modern objection that Jesus never existed as an actual person of history.

Cross teaches how the Hero saves us, by sacrificing Himself through a brutal crucifixion. Jesus bears the punishment we deserve by making a divine trade with the Father. All we do is place our trust in Him and accept God’s saving grace.

In Part 5, Greg uses what is known as the minimal facts approach to show that Jesus’ resurrection is a true historical event. The resolution of the Story shows mankind’s two alternatives: perfect mercy or perfect justice. We can either accept God’s offer of salvation or face his wrath as a just God.

Assessment

In my opinion, The Story of Reality offers the best way of explaining Christianity: as a complete Story or worldview. You cannot take the parts you like and leave the ones you don’t. Similarly, there may be aspects of reality that are difficult to understand but best fit within the Christian Story and not into others, like the pieces of a puzzle.

Greg tells the Christian Story simply and thoroughly, packing a ton of truth in under 200 pages. Every part is divided into multiple chapters which span only a few pages each. If you have ever listened to Stand to Reason, you know how skilled Greg is at explaining complex topics, which also applies to this book, making it very readable. This book is appropriate for Christian and seeker alike, so buy a copy for yourself and your unbelieving friend.

Conclusion

Greg has created a hard decision for me. Whenever anyone asked for a recommendation for an apologetics book, my number one choice without hesitation was always his previous book, Tactics. That is the book to learn how to navigate any conversation with ease and grace. But now I’m torn because The Story of Reality is so foundational. It surveys the entire Christian worldview simply and thoroughly while handling common objections.

Maybe next time some asks for my number one apologetics resource, I’ll just flip a coin. But either way, the top honor belongs to Greg Koukl.

―Tim Fox (FreeThinkingMinistires.com)


To purchase “The Story of Reality” visit STR.org

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Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

Studies continually show that most Americans—including many Christians—have poor theology. There is a lot of confusion about the person of Christ, the nature of salvation, and the attributes of God.

And yet there is one particular doctrine that has pressing implications for so much of Christian theology, which in my experience, seems to have been forgotten in the church and the wider culture—the sinfulness of man. Do we really grasp how deeply human nature has been corrupted by sin? Failing to grasp the nuances and depth of human sinfulness has massive implications for one’s theology and for all of life.

Sin Doctrine

The consistent biblical teaching is that mankind is made in God’s image with inestimable worth, but has been deeply flawed by sin (Mark 7:21-23; John 2:24-25; Romans 3:9-20). How can I claim human sinfulness has been lost? Let me share two stories.

The Problem of Hell

Recently I was speaking at a youth group in southern California, not far from where I live. After the service, a college student, who described himself as a former Christian, wanted to discuss the “Problem of Hell.” We talked for nearly 45 minutes and he raised the standard objections against the justice of Hell: How could a loving God send someone to Hell? How can a finite sin warrant an eternal punishment? How can people enjoy Heaven knowing their loved ones are in Hell? I did my best to respond with both kindness and truth.

After our talk, it seemed that I had made almost no “dent” with his questions. He still thought God was a moral monster. And then it dawned on me: His problem was that he saw human being as basically good. If humans are basically good, and simply commit a few “sins” in their lifetime, as he believed, then Hell does seem like overkill. Moreover, Hell can only begin to make sense when we grasp the biblical view of mankind—that we are made in God’s image with infinite dignity, value, and worth, but our natures have been deeply corrupted because of sin. An unbiblical view of the nature of man was at the heart of his rejection of the faith.

Niceness vs. Goodness

Each year I take a group of high school students on an apologetics or worldview mission trip. The goal is to train our students how to lovingly defend their faith by having conversations and interactions with people who hold very different faiths. Inspired by my friend Brett Kunkle, we started taking teenagers on trips to Berkeley to interact with students at UC Berkeley and also with leading atheists and agnostics from the Bay area. Both students and parents loved the trips, and I never received any critical feedback about the nature of the trip.

But then we decided to take students to Salt Lake City to interact with Mormon students at BYU. While most students and parents were supportive, one girl who chose not to go on the trip made a statement that expressed the thinking of a number of people: “Why are we going to SLC to beat up on Mormons?” It was strange she talked about beating up anybody, because we are very relational and gracious in our approach on all our mission trips.

But it also puzzled me that she was particularly defensive about reaching out to members of the LDS Church. And then I put my finger on it—she had trouble reaching out to Mormons because they are such nice people.[1] And they are! I have many friends who are Mormons and they are remarkably nice and hard working.

But we must not confuse niceness with goodness. Jesus taught that no one is truly good. That’s right, no one (Luke 18:19). That includes you and me. And it includes people of every faith or no faith (Romans 3:23).

We can respond to our sinfulness in different ways. One way, like the prodigal son, is to indulge our passions and ignore restraint. Another way, like the older son in the same parable (Luke 15:11-32), is to try to earn our righteousness by doing good works and following the law. What is interesting about this parable is that both sons were separated from the father and failed to understand what he desired from them—the younger son who rebelled, and the older son who was dutiful.

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

The doctrine of human sinfulness is offensive. No one likes being told that his or her own heart is fallen and in desperate need of transformation (myself included). We would much rather embrace the New Age idea that we are one with God. And yet the Christian story makes no sense without it. If humans were not “desperately wicked,” as the Bible teaches, then Hell would be total overkill. And there’s no need to reach out to people who are dutiful and nice.

But if human sinfulness is real, then the Christian story makes sense. We can at least begin to understand the reality of Hell and the need to reach all people with God’s grace. There are many doctrines we should be concerned about properly teaching the next generation. But in my experience, when people grasp their own sinfulness (and the converse, that God is holy), the rest begin to fall in place.

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.


[1] Which is doubly strange, since Mormons send out missionaries to knock on the doors of strangers to spread their version of the gospel. I don’t fault them for this. In fact, I respect their efforts.

 


 

Can Science Answer All Questions?

By Paul Rezkalla

In the movie Contact? Ellie told her father that she loved him, but she couldn’t prove it scientifically. That’s because science can’t do that sort of thing. Science can’t show that two people love each other. Science is simply a tool that we utilize to uncover facts about the observable universe. So here’s a fun fact: Science is not omniscient. It cannot answer all our questions. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And the idea that we can’t know anything unless we have scientific evidence for it, is ridiculous. The claim ‘We can’t know anything unless we can verify it scientifically’ cannot, itself, be verified scientifically. That kind of argument is self-defeating. Interesting, no? So when someone says, “There’s no scientific evidence for that, therefore I won’t believe it”, I can respond by saying either:

1. Your face has no scientific evidence

or

2. There are things that we know to be true apart from any scientific evidence.

I find the latter to be more efficient, although not nearly as epic.

Science Questions

Here are 2 categories of facts that we all accept without help from science:

1. Metaphysical Facts

Metaphysics, by definition, lies outside the realm of science. The term ‘Metaphysics’ means ‘meta-physics’ or ‘beyond physics’.  Metaphysical facts include the existence of other minds, the existence of the world outside of your own mind, and the reality of the past. We believe that there are minds other than our own, the external world is real, and the past wasn’t created 5 minutes ago and given only the appearance of having aged as it did. These beliefs are what philosophers call properly basic beliefs. That means that they are foundational. We can’t show them to be true or false. We accept them as facts without question, but they cannot be proven by science.

Science cannot tell me that there are minds other than my own. When I’m in a lecture, I assume that the professor who is lecturing is a real entity with a mind and not simply a figment of my imagination or a part of my dream (as much as I’d like to think so). I treat the world around me as if it is real. I could be stuck in the matrix or I could be a brain floating in a jar of chemicals being stimulated by some crazy scientist who is giving me the illusion of this world. But I know I’m not. I know that the past is real; I was not created 5 minutes ago and implanted with 22 years’ worth of memories. I comfortably believe all of this and yet there is no scientific evidence that confirms it.

2. Ethical Facts

A lot of interest has been generated recently in the field of Evolutionary Psychology. Some experts in this field have argued that we can get morality from understanding who we are as social mammals. The idea of the purely ‘selfish gene’ is slowly being understood to be false, or at least an incomplete picture of who we really are. We are not simply lone mammals on the quest to propagate our DNA at all costs—there is a complex social infrastructure in mammalian groups/herds that has an inbuilt morality for the purpose of helping us deal with each other. Elephants bury their dead, bonobos comfort each other after loss, and most primates understand and operate by the laws of reciprocity and justice. This explains morality, right? Science has given us ethics!

Just a minute, buddy. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This kind of argument commits what David Hume articulated as the            Is-Ought fallacy. You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. This means that observing and understanding how things are cannot tell us that this is the way things ought to be. Just because we observe that mammals help each other doesn’t tell us that we should help each other. Well, maybe we can say that we ought to help each other because that increases human flourishing. Right? Ok, but that presupposes that human flourishing is good and should be striven towards. But why is increasing human flourishing good in the first place? Why should we pursue it? Any answer that one gives to that question will not come from science. That’s because science is descriptive, not prescriptive. The ‘should’ or ‘ought’ has to come from elsewhere. Science can’t give us that.

Science doesn’t tell us that rape is evil. Science can’t tell us that rape is evil. The value judgment, evil, lies beyond the scope of the scientific method. Sure, science can tell us that rape can have biological and psychological repercussions on individuals and societies, but to say that rape is evil is not something that science can do. We know that rape is evil wholly apart from science.

Science can’t answer questions beyond those about the observable, testable world around us. Trying to do so is akin to using a yardstick to find the weight of a bucket of water. It won’t work because that isn’t the correct tool. My point here is not to say that science is bad. Not at all. I love science. Science has given us, and continues to provide us with progress in health and understanding the world around us. But we should not try to apply science outside of the fields for which it is meant.

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A “Chance” Encounter with the Miraculous

Last week I had an experience I will remember for a long time. Since it was raining outside, we took my three kids and some of their cousins to Big Air Trampoline Park to get some of their energy out.

The place was packed full of young kids and their parents. While my kids were enjoying the trampolines, dodge ball, and the climbing wall, I found an open seat in the small café to edit some of the chapters for an update I am working on with my father for his classic book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.

Encounter Miraculous

A middle-aged man plopped down right next to me and asked if he could join me to rest his back. “Sure, no problem,” I said. Then he noticed the book I was holding (which was Four Views on the Historical Adam), and asked if it was an apologetics book.

After I explained that it was primarily theological, but dealt with apologetic issues as well, he simply said, “Interesting, but I have no need for apologetics.” His comment piqued my interest, and so of course I asked why he didn’t personally need apologetics.

“Because I have seen God’s power so directly in my own life. Years ago my son was born with a genetic disorder, including a hole in his heart. The doctors said he would only live a couple weeks. Yet he stayed alive, even though the first few years of his life were incredibly tough. When he was three years old, I broke down and cried out to God for his healing. As soon as I was done praying, my soon looked up at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, daddy, Jesus has healed me.’ I took him to the doctor and he was in fact healed.”

As soon as he finished telling me this story, his son walked up, now eleven years old, and said hi. Here’s the bottom line: eleven years ago when his son was born the doctors said he only had a couple weeks to live, because of serious medical complications, but now he is a normal, healthy 6th grader. The father had no doubt that God healed his son. And he also shared how the experience deeply transformed him personally and helped restore his marriage and family.

We talked about the role of apologetics and how, when sharing this story, he is actually giving a kind of apologetic for the faith, which both encourages believers and challenges non-believers to consider the claims of Christ. The Bible does call us both to witness to what we have seen and to be ready with an answer when asked.[i]

But more importantly, do I believe this man and his story? Do you? After all, the man is a complete stranger to me, and you are reading it secondhand. How do I know he didn’t make it up? How do I know it wasn’t merely a coincidence or a misdiagnosis by the doctors?

Since I didn’t follow up and check all the details, I can’t further corroborate his story. And I fully admit that the evidence I am presenting in this blog is tentative. But I choose to believe him for four main reasons:

First, his younger daughter and wife were right there as he shared the story. Wouldn’t they correct him if he were simply making it up?

Second, as far as I could tell, he had nothing to gain from the story. He wasn’t writing a book for money or trying to get famous. In fact, he only opened up when I gently pressed him. He clearly enjoyed sharing the story, because it was so meaningful to him, but he was initially reluctant. He wasn’t looking for an audience to seemingly impress.

Third, I have heard many other stories like this before. When speaking at churches about the possibility of miracles, I often asked audiences to raise their hands if they have personally seen or experienced a miracle (And I always preface it by explaining that by “miracle,” I don’t mean a beautiful flower, the birth of a child, or happening to get the perfect parking spot when Christmas shopping). Every time I have done this, dozens of people raise their hands, and then I am flooded with miracle stories after the service.

Fourth, as Craig Keener reports in his massive, two-volume, academic study Miracles: The Credibility of the New Testament Accounts, miracles are not contrary to human experience. Hundreds of millions of living Christians believe they have personally experienced or seen the miraculous. This does not prove miracles happen, but it does show they cannot be so easily dismissed. And according to Keener, these are the kinds of miracle claims most frequently attested in the Gospels and Acts.

If you are a Christian and have experienced a miracle, please share it. Sure, some people may laugh or scoff, as they did with Jesus.[ii] But others will be encouraged, and some may even come to faith. If God has worked miraculously in your life, both Christians and non-Christians need to hear your story. And by doing so, you are giving one of the greatest apologetics for the faith. What are you waiting for?

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] Interestingly, the Gospel of John records the testimony of the blind man who simply said, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25) And John also reports that the miracles of Jesus were written down as signs for future generations, who won’t see Jesus in the flesh, so they too can have a confident faith and eternal life: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).

[ii] After all, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and the religious leaders wanted to arrest and kill him (John 11:45-57).

 


 

5 Attitude Changes That Will Transform Your Christian Parenting in the New Year

By Natasha Crain

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been able to write a post because my nose has been buried in writing my new book (if you’re new to the blog or missed what I’m working on, you can read about it here!). My deadline is March 1, so my ability to write new blog posts will continue to be sporadic for the next couple of months, but then I’ll be back to writing more regularly again…and I can’t wait. Writing the new book has brought so many important subjects to mind for the blog!

Christian Parenting New Year

In the meantime, I did want to end the year with a post on New Year’s resolutions. I’ve always been a person who loves setting goals, but I’ve noticed that I set fewer and fewer goals as years go by. It’s easy to get complacent and set in our ways, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I think it’s so hard to actually reach the goals we set is that successful changes in behavior require corresponding changes in underlying attitudes. For example, I’ve been trying to stop biting my nails since I was 15. It’s never happened. The problem isn’t that I can’t physically reach that goal; It’s that, deep down, I’ve never truly believed that this is an important problem that really needs my attention.

Despite the importance of our underlying attitudes in reaching goals, we rarely think of goals in terms of attitudes. So, rather than writing a post about New Year’s goals framed in terms of behavior, I’m writing a post about important attitude shifts we should aim to make.

With that in mind, here are 5 important attitude changes that can truly transform how we disciple our kids. For each one, I’m also giving an example of a behavioral resolution—an action point. But rest assured that unless we first take the attitude changes to heart, those behavioral resolutions will quickly fall by the wayside.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #1

From: The Bible is important.

To: The Bible is so important, I need to read it with my kids regularly—and if I don’t, their spiritual development will be significantly compromised.

 As Christians, it should go without saying that the Bible is important. We shouldn’t give ourselves a congratulatory pat on the back for such a belief. But it’s what we do with that belief that will really impact our kids’ spiritual lives. Don’t think for a second that simply paying lip service to the importance of God’s Word will ignite your kids’ interest in it. Without a strong foundation of how to read the Bible, what the Bible says, and why it matters, kids won’t learn how to depend on the source guide for their faith. Instead, they’ll learn to depend on what other people tell them about Christianity.

That’s very dangerous in a world saturated with false information.

So, if you don’t currently read the Bible with your kids, make this the year to start. And don’t depend on devotionals as a substitute—they can be a helpful addition to your family’s spiritual life, but they should never be the starting point.

Behavioral resolution: Pick a Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) and commit to reading one or two chapters per week with your kids (decide on the number of chapters based on how much information your kids are able to take in on a given night). For example, you could decide to read the book of John two nights per week over ten weeks. After that, pick another Gospel, or choose one of Paul’s epistles.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #2

From: My kids’ bad behavior will dictate how much time and energy I can spend on their spiritual development.

To: The time and energy I spend on my kids’ spiritual development will have nothing to do with how bad they’re being at any given time.

This is not a conscious attitude for most parents…we don’t set out to let our kids’ bad behavior drive anything. But it sure is easy to let it happen, right? This is something I noticed in my own home this year. I struggled a lot with the constant fighting between my two daughters, which often left me with less than zero energy by the end of the day. They would be mad at each other, or mad at me, or I would be mad at them…and, honestly, the last thing I felt like doing was making the effort on those nights to switch gears and bring it back to God.

But when we start relegating our kids’ spiritual development to the small (who am I kidding…tiny) slivers of time when everyone is in a good mood and feeling like sitting down to discuss what really matters in life, we’ll never make headway. Because it’s so easy to fall into this trap, it’s critical to 1) be aware of the danger and 2) put a plan in place to avoid it (see below).

Behavioral resolution: There’s one key way to support this attitude change—schedule family spiritual time. Start with finding a set time of just 30 minutes to put on the calendar each week. Kids might fight it at first, but over time, if you’re consistent, it will become something your family just expects. And having it planned will help you not succumb to parental fatigue (as long as you don’t cancel it!). This is a great way to do your Bible reading (point 1).

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #3

From: I’ll talk to my kids about faith whenever good teachable moments arise.

To: I’ll proactively determine what to teach my kids about faith and when.

In case you’re behind on popular parenting lingo, a “teachable moment” is when you use an unplanned event to teach your kids about something. Taking advantage of such times is important. But if this is your primary strategy for teaching your kids about Christianity, it’s one of the most ineffective parenting attitudes you can have.

There’s a simple reason for that: Not everything your kids need to be taught will have a corresponding moment naturally arise. In my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, I chose 40 of the most important faith conversations parents need to have with their kids in a secular world. Maybe 10 of them would naturally come up in conversation. But when was the last time you saw a brilliant opportunity naturally arise for addressing whether or not the Bible supports slavery? Or whether or not Christianity is responsible for millions of deaths in history? Or how a loving God could command the killing of the Canaanites? Or what the historical facts of the resurrection that most scholars agree on are?

Yet all of these are highly important conversations to have, given the challenges our kids will hear from skeptics today. It’s our responsibility to know what conversations need to be had and to proactively have them. We can’t just wait around for a corresponding teachable moment to happen.

Behavioral resolution: Pick one faith topic each week to have a conversation about with your kids. If you have my book, this will be easy. Read/review a chapter each week yourself (just 4-5 pages), then ask your kids a corresponding question to facilitate conversation. You could have one night per week (e.g., Sunday) where you spend 30 minutes with your Bible reading time and another night per week (e.g., Wednesday) where you do these discussions. Alternatively, you could do your faith discussion over dinner on a given night of the week, or on your commute to school if it’s long enough.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #4

From: I need to work on my kids’ (collective) spiritual development.

To: I need to tailor my discipleship to the needs of each of my kids.

If you have more than one child, it’s tempting to mentally merge them into a single discipleship “target”—We are the parental unit (the disciplers) and they are the children unit (the disciples). The problem is, just as in non-spiritual matters, every child is unique in his or her needs. We shouldn’t effectively make our home into a one-size-fits-all church program. Kids are ready for and interested in different areas of faith development at different times.

This is where I think devotionals can be a good supplement to the other things you do as a family (the above points). If you’re doing set times for Bible reading and faith conversations as a family, you can choose devotional books to use with your kids individually on other nights. Just be sure to really spend time looking at the ones you pick, as many have very little “meat” and are hardly better than 365 lessons on being a nice person. (In the 5- to 8-year-old range, I’ve found Max Lucado’s Grace for the Moment to be simple but solid. For about 7- to 10-year-olds, I’ve really liked The One Year Every Day Devotions: Devotions to Help you Stand Strong. No devotional is perfect, but I at least feel comfortable recommending these.)

Behavioral resolution: Write down three areas where you think each of your kids most needs to grow spiritually this year (Prayer? Learning to read the Bible independently? Understanding the basics of the faith? Studying apologetics? etc.). Then ask each child to write down three areas of their own. Compare your lists and decide on a final list of three goals for the year together. Make an action of plan of what you’ll do to work on those goals.

 

ATTITUDE CHANGE #5

From: I want to pass on my faith.

To: I want to help my kids develop their own faith.

While it’s common for parents to say they want to “pass on” their faith, it’s not necessarily a good way to think of our role in our kids’ spiritual lives. We have to remember that what we experience with God can never be exported to our kids; It’s unique to us.

I think one of the biggest reasons so many kids turn away from faith when they leave home is that parents spent too much time trying to pass on their own faith rather than helping their kids develop their own.

This attitude change will fundamentally alter how you think of your role as a Christian parent. It’s a lens through which to view all that you do. Are you continually just trying to express what you believe and what you do with that belief? Or are you teaching your kids why there’s good reason to believe Christianity is objectively true—why anyone should believe it? Changing our perspective on what, exactly, it is that we should be doing as Christian parents can make all the difference in the world.

Behavioral resolution: Reflect on how you currently see your job as a Christian parent, and the difference between passing on your faith and helping your kids develop their own. Commit to either beginning or continuing a study of an apologetics topic of interest (for those new to the blog, apologetics is the study of how to make a case for and defend the truth of Christianity). Need a reading plan? I’ve got a bunch for you: Click here.

 

Which of these attitude changes do you feel you most need to make next year? Share your thoughts below!

 

How do I explain abortion to my children?

By Michael C. Sherrard

These kinds of questions keep you awake at night. Knowing how and when to talk to your children about sensitive issues isn’t an exact science. But we better figure it out quick. While we contemplate the best way to do it, our little ones are being taught by someone else. The internet, social media, and public education have changed the rules of the game. With that in mind, here are four practical suggestions for parents and church leaders on how to get ahead of the issue and teach your children about abortion.

explain abortion children

1. START EARLY. 

Parents always struggle with “how soon do I allow my children to see the brokenness in the world?” My wife, Terri, and I err on the side of sooner than later. I want the first time my children to be horrified by the brokenness of our world to be in the safety of our company and in the context of the gospel. Besides, in the tech age, I’d be foolish to think I can keep the filth away. It will find them. My children need to be ready for when they encounter the darkness.

We need to be proactive in teaching our children. This doesn’t mean that we the force the issue, though. A good way to be proactive but not overbearing is to use questions to gently bring up sensitive subjects. They way I broached abortion with my oldest daughter (age 7) was by asking her if she knew why I went on a recent trip to England. She said, “to speak.” I said, “Yep. I went to speak about abortion. Have you heard that word before?” She shook her head no. I left it there. One minute later she asked what it meant, and we had an amazing conversation.

Good teaching requires knowing your children’s knowledge and assumptions. Bad teachers simply lecture and then patronizingly ask, “Does that make sense?” Don’t do this with your children. Instead, ask your children questions to find out where they are on abortion. Are they oblivious, disinterested, or already educated? Find out. Asking questions also allows for self discovery. You’d be amazed at the insight of seven year olds. They are already making sense of the world. They are forming their moral framework. When simply asked a question and introduced to abortion, children often know what to think if it.(1)

 

2. SIMPLIFY THE ISSUE.

Children, and adults for that matter, are confused about the pro-life position. We must simplify it. People need to know that we are pro-life because we believe it is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being. Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being. Therefore, we believe abortion is wrong.

Children also need to know the reasons that support this belief. They need to know that along with scripture we are pro-life because science and philosophy direct us to be. Science informs us that from the earliest stages of development the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. And philosophically, we understand that there is nothing morally significant in the difference between an embryo and adult that would justify killing the unborn. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons to kill the unborn.(2) 

The case for life is reasonable, rationale, and remarkably simple. Children easily grasp it. Use questions to simplify the issue, teach the pro-life syllogism, and explain the science and philosophy that support our conclusion.(3) Here are some questions you can use.

  • “Is it okay to kill humans?”
  • “Are the unborn human, and if not what are they?”
  • “Would it be okay to kill unborn humans because they are smaller, not aware of themselves, dependent on their mom for survival, and living in her womb?”
  • “Are humans valuable because of what they can do like be self-aware and able to care for themselves? Or are they valuable because of what they are, a human being?”
  • “If the unborn are valuable because they are human, what should we do with them?”

There you go. It’s that simple. You can teach your children the scientific and philosophical case for life by having a conversation directed by the right questions.

 

3. TALK ABOUT IT FROM THE PULPIT.

I understand that many pastors don’t want the controversy that might accompany speaking on a social issue, but neutrally isn’t an option when it comes to abortion. Children are very observant. When the church is silent on abortion one of two things is communicated to them: either that abortion is tolerable or that it is unforgivable. Both positions are false.

The sin of abortion is a horrific sin for which the blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient. People in our congregation need to hear that abortion is wrong and that there is mercy, forgiveness, and healing for those who have participated in one. When the pulpit addresses abortion, it shows the relevancy of Christianity to our children. It shows that it speaks to all of life. Speaking on it also allows sin to be seen in a concrete rather than abstract manner which makes the gospel more tangible. If you want to faithfully teach your children about abortion, the pulpit must be involved. When it is not, the church undermines the work in the home. (4)

 

4. CARE FOR THOSE AFFECTED BY ABORTION.

Training our children to be pro-life doesn’t mean that we just make then apologists. We want them to serve and love those affected by abortion. Whether this means that they serve in a local pregnancy resource center, or simply show compassion to their friends who have had an abortion, actively loving those affected by abortion must be stressed.

Do this as a family or a church family. Our youth group went and served our local pregnancy resource center by doing odd jobs for them. Our youth painted, cleaned up the grounds, folded clothes, and many other things. They also were given a short presentation by the director educating them on what the resource center did for woman. Many of our kids had no idea what the resource center was doing. This experience opened their eyes to the compassion in the pro-life movement and the reality of abortion in a way that words never could.

 

Parents, church leaders, we must be motivated. Children are almost always ready for more than we give them. Knowing when they are ready for something isn’t always clear. But I would rather make a mistake a time or two of addressing something too early rather than too late. So start early and teach the simple pro-life message in the home and the church, and may we all show the compassion that springs from the love of our Lord.

______________________________________

(1) Check out “Children asked about Abortion” by my friends at the Human Coalition..

(2) See “How to Defend Your Pro-Life Views in 5 Minutes or Less” by Scott Klusendorf for an excellent, concise summary of the pro-life position.

(3) A syllogism is simply a conclusion that is supported by reasons. This is the pro-life syllogism in case you missed it.

  •  Premise/Reason 1: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being.
  •  Premise/Reason 2: Abortion is the killing of an innocent human being.
  •  Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is wrong.

(4) I am a pastor, and I’ve experienced the fruit of speaking an equipping, gospel centered message on abortion. Pastors, you can win on this issue. You don’t need to fear taking it on. For our story and some resources on how to do this is your church, visit the Pro-Life Pastors Initiative at plpi.info.

________________________________

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.

 


 

Top 10 Apologetics “Tips” of the Year

During 2016, I began tweeting an “Apologetics Tip of the Day.” Some have to do with apologetics content, while others are tips for doing apologetics more effectively. Many of these were taken from my book A New Kind of Apologist or simply my own experience. And of course, some generated much more interest than others. Here’s the top 10 “Apologetics Tips” from 2016 in descending order:

Apologetics Tips

10. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Remember, the Bible doesn’t approve of everything it records.

9. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Speak truth with gentleness. Avoid the temptation to compromise truth or speak harshly (Col. 4:6).

8. Apologetics Tip of the Day: You don’t have to have all the answers. Admit if you don’t know an answer, but then go find it.

7. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Don’t merely make the case that Christianity is true. Make the case that it is good and beautiful.

6. Apologetics Tip of the Day: We are called to make good arguments, but not be argumentative (1 Peter 3:15).

5. Apologetics Tip of the Day: You may disagree with others, but remember, people hold views for reasons they perceive as good.

4. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Approach others with the idea that you may have something to learn from them.

3. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Tolerance is no longer agreeing to disagree but the silencing of seemingly offensive views.

2. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Interpret your experience in light of Scripture, rather than Scripture in light of your experience.

1. Apologetics Tip of the Day: Make good arguments and defend truth, but remember, the deepest need of the human heart is for love.

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.

 


 

Did Messianic prophecy inspire the Christmas story?

By Tim McGrew

One of the favorite targets of destructive biblical criticism is the narrative of Jesus’ birth in the first two chapters of Matthew. One distinctive feature of Matthew’s account makes it a particularly tempting target. Matthew’s theological agenda is absolutely overt: over and over in the first few chapters of his Gospel, we get some variation on the phrase, “… all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet…” followed by a quotation of some passage from the Old Testament. Clearly, Matthew is deeply concerned to show the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.

Messianic Prophecy Christmas

There are two ways to look at that fact. From a traditional Christian perspective, Matthew, knowing some of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, searched back through the prophets to find passages that would resonate with the events. Jewish interpretive practices in the first century were varied and complex and not always something sober twenty-first-century readers would engage in. Still, Matthew’s use of those techniques (still a debated issue in some circles) is pretty tame by Jewish standards of his time.

It is not difficult, in a quick online search, to find long lists of ostensible messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. Take Hosea 11:1, for example:

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.

One recent commentary (John Phillips, Exploring the Minor Prophets: An Expository Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2002), p. 60) reflects on this passage:

Devout Jewish students must have often pondered this Messianic prophecy. How can the Messiah possibly come out of Egypt? they no doubt reasoned.

Or consider Jeremiah 31:15:

Thus says the LORD, “A voice is heard in Ramah, Lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; She refuses to be comforted for her children, Because they are no more.”

Even in Jeremiah’s time, Rachel had been dead for centuries; her mourning is a metaphor. Matthew, reflecting on the small but brutal massacre in Bethlehem, saw history coming full circle again and found in Jeremiah’s description of Rachel’s lament an apt metaphor for events in his own time.

Above all, there is the much-disputed sign promised in Isaiah 7:14:

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

As the notes in the NET Bible Synopsis of the Four Gospels inform us, the “Messiah was to be born of a virgin”—and despite what appears to be an unending wrangle over the words almah and parthenos, it is not hard to see how Matthew, learning that Jesus had indeed been born of a virgin, would have taken the event to be a fulfillment of prophecy.

But from a more cynical perspective, this order of looking at things is backwards. Matthew, knowing the Old Testament prophecies, and persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah, invented the stories in order to fit the prophecies. The events did not remind Matthew of the prophecies; the events, in fact, never took place. Rather, recollected prophecies gave rise to the fabrication of the Christmas story.

The simplicity of the skeptical theory gives it a certain superficial charm. Anything Matthew says that cannot be independently verified can be explained away in this fashion. Why does he (but not Luke) send Jesus to Egypt? Because that way, Jesus can be seen as fulfilling the prophecy in Hosea.

Regarding Jeremiah 31:15, George Wesley Buchanan (Jesus, the King and His Kingdom (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1984), p. 292) writes:

Jeremiah was a prophet. Therefore, he would have been speaking only of the days of the Messiah. Why would there be weeping in Herod’s day? Herod must have slaughtered Rachel’s descendants the way Pharaoh had done with the Hebrew children in Egypt.

There is the reversal: Herod “must have” done this, as it is what the prophecy requires; therefore, the story fulfills the prophecy, neatly bypassing actual history in the process.

And for Isaiah 7:14, the skeptical explanation seems ready made. Does Isaiah prophesy a virgin birth for the Messiah? Well, then if Jesus is the Messiah, a virgin birth he must have. To the skeptical eye it is all so so clear, so satisfying.

Except for one small problem. In all of the Jewish literature prior to the advent of Christianity, there is not one scrap of evidence that any Jewish reader ever considered Isaiah 7:14, Jeremiah 31:15, or Hosea 11:1 to be messianic prophecies.

It is not as though we lack evidence of what they did consider to be messianic. We have an abundance of evidence on that front. In an appendix to the second volume of his massive work The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfed Edersheim lists 456 passages that are glossed in the Targums or the Talmud as messianic. And not one of these passages makes the list.

I want to express myself carefully here, as there is a risk that I will be misunderstood. I am not saying that, by the standards of first-century Jewish interpretation, these passages could not be taken to resonate with actual events in the life of Jesus. Clearly they could—if those events really transpired, they might well suggest that sort of application of these passages. What I am saying is that, so far as our evidence is concerned, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that an overly zealous first century Jew, intent on making up a story about the birth of the Messiah, would reach for these passages or feel the need to work them into his narrative. There is plenty of other material to work with. But for this hypothetical Jewish-Christian novelist, these three passages are simply not relevant.

The fact that the Jews themselves did not consider these passages to be Messianic is fatal to the theory that the birth narrative in Matthew was fabricated to accord with messianic expectations. One might even reverse the argument. It is not easy to find a good explanation for the incorporation of such material into a fictional account of Jesus’ nativity. Yet there it is. How, then, shall we explain that fact? Why did Matthew feel moved to draw out just those strands from the prophetic writings, unless it was because the parallels were suggested by the events themselves?

Against this, there is always the fundamental fallback position of skepticism, a position that Matthew Arnold puts with admirable bluntness in his Preface to Literature and Dogma (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1883), p. xii:

[O]ur popular religion at present conceives the birth, ministry, and death of Christ, as altogether steeped in prodigy, brimful of miracle;—and miracles do not happen.

With such an antagonist, one knows where one stands. There is no subterfuge here, no pretense that the narratives must be set aside because of the results of dispassionate historical criticism. As G. K. Chesterton observes:

Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. [Orthodoxy (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1945), pp. 278-79]

 

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A Logical Christmas Message

By Tim Stratton

John 1:1-14 states “In the beginning was the Word (Logos), and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Logical Christmas

This is the message of Christmas! The Bible refers to Jesus as “The Logos” and implies that not only is Jesus God, but also gives us some insight into the Trinity. From a theological perspective, this passage of scripture carries much weight! Moreover, from a philosophical and logical perspective this passage not only makes sense, but we even have scientific data supporting this scripture.

All of the scientific data supports the theory that all nature had an absolute beginning (big bang cosmology, 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, and the Borde, Guth, Vilenkin Theorem of 2003). Everything that begins to exist has a cause, and the evidence demonstrates that the universe (all nature) began to exist. Therefore, since nature began to exist, nature cannot be the cause of nature. Therefore, the cause of nature must be something other than nature (supernatural). This is exactly what the first chapter of John is stating about Jesus – he is the supernatural cause of the natural universe, and he entered into his creation so that we could know him.

That is to say, the Creator of the universe entered into the universe to save the people within the universe. This is what Christmas is all about. This is why we have good reason to celebrate Christmas!

Another thing to keep in mind is that the Greek word “Logos” is used synonymously with Jesus in the text. It is interesting to note that logos, in Greek, means, “the principle of reason.” This is where we get the term “logic.” The Bible is clear that Jesus is God and seems to suggest that he is the grounding of logic and reason. This would make perfect sense of why the immaterial laws of logic impose themselves on the material world — or any possible world. God created the material world according to the logical laws he had in mind or that are grounded in his essence. This is the best explanation of why logic imposes itself on the material world. Just as God is necessary in all possible worlds, so are the laws of logic which are essential to God’s very nature.

Logic is grounded in the essence of the immaterial God. Therefore, when we choose to think and behave logically, we are godly (approximating to or being like God).

With that in mind, we at FreeThinking Ministries and CrossExamined.org wish you a very Merry (and logical) Christmas!

 


 

Christmas is Christmas Because Jesus is God

As we approach Christmas in less than a week, I’ve been thinking about what separates Jesus from other great religious figures of history. Many faith traditions lay claim to famous religious leaders and founders, but Jesus is different. Jesus claimed to be more than a good teacher or leader. Jesus claimed to be God. Some deny this truth about Jesus’ teaching, but the New Testament leaves little room for doubt: Jesus claimed to be God and taught this truth to His followers.

Christmas Jesus God

He Spoke As Though He Was God
While all Biblical prophets of God made statements on God’s behalf, they were careful to preface their proclamations with “This is what the LORD Almighty says,” or “This is what the LORD says,” but Jesus never used such a preface. Instead, Jesus always prefaced his statements with, “Verily, verily, I say to you,” (KJV) or “I tell you the truth,” (NASB). Prophets spoke for God, but Jesus consistently spoke as God.

He Claimed the Title Used by God
Faithful Jews recognized the fact that God identified Himself to Moses as the great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). Yet Jesus (in referring to Himself) told the Jewish religious leaders that “before Abraham was born, I AM”. They immediately recognized that He was identifying Himself as God and were so angered by this ‘blasphemy’ that they “picked up stones to stone him.” (Jesus also identified Himself as the great I AM in Mark 14:62, John 18:5-6, 8:24, and 8:28).

He Claimed the Home of God
Every time Jesus was asked about where he came from, He told His listeners that He came not from Bethlehem or Nazareth but from the same realm where God abides. Jesus claimed to come “from above”. He repeatedly said that He was “not of this world” (John 8:23-24) and even told Pilate that he was a King whose Kingdom “is from another place” (John 18:36-37).

He Claimed Equality With God
Jesus said that God’s angels were His angels and that God’s Kingdom was His Kingdom (Matthew 13:41). Jesus even said that the judgment typically understood to be reserved for God was actually Jesus’ judgment to make (Luke 12:8-9). Jesus told His followers that when they saw Him, they saw God; if they knew Him, they knew God, and if they loved Him, they were loving God (John 14:6-9 and John 14:23).

He Saw No Distinction Between Himself and God
Finally, Jesus simply and plainly told His followers that there was no distinction between Himself and God the Father. When talking about the manner in which saints are selected for Salvation, Jesus said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:29). He did not mean that they were ‘one’ in purpose or power, but that they were one in identity. His hearers understood what He was saying and picked up stones again to stone him “for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33).

There are many important religious dates that commemorate the significant role that historic religious leaders have played (did you know, for example, that December 23rd is the birthday of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism?) But Jesus was more than an important leader and founder. He was more than a great thinker and teacher. Jesus taught His followers that He was God. That’s why Christmas is a celebration above and beyond other holy days celebrated by religious believers around the world.

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

Comment or Subscribe to J. Warner’s Daily Email

 


 

Jesus’ Birth: How undesigned coincidences give evidence for the truth of the Gospel accounts

By J.W. Wartick

There are many charges raised against the historicity of the birth narratives of Jesus Christ. These run the gamut from objections based upon alleged contradictions to inconsistencies in the genealogies to incredulity over the possibility of a virgin birth. Rather than make a case to rebut each of these objections in turn, here I will focus upon using undesigned coincidences to note how these birth narratives of Christ have the ring of truth. How exactly do undesigned coincidences work? Simply put, they are incidental details that confirm historical details of stories across reports. I have written more extensively on how these can be used as an argument for the historicity of the Gospels: Undesigned Coincidences- The Argument Stated. It should be noted that the birth narrative occurs only in Matthew and Luke. John begins with a direct link of Christ to God, while Mark characteristically skips ahead to the action. Thus, there are only a few places to compare these stories across different reports. However, both Mark and John have incidental details which hint at the birth account. These incidental details lend power to the notion that the birth narratives of Jesus are historical events.

Jesus Birth Undesigned coincidences

Joseph

First, there is one undesigned coincidence that is such a gaping hole and such a part of these narratives most people will probably miss it. Namely, what in the world was Joseph thinking in Luke!? Do not take my word for this–look up Luke chapters 1-2. Read them. See anything missing? That’s right! Joseph, who is pledged to a virgin named Mary (1:27) doesn’t say anything at all about the fact that his bride-to-be is suddenly pregnant. There is no mention of him worrying at all about it.

So far as we can tell from Luke, Joseph, who we only know as a descendant of David here, is going to be wed to a virgin and then finds out that she’s pregnant. He’s not the father? What’s his reaction? We don’t find out until Luke 2, where Joseph simply takes Mary with him to be counted in the census, dutifully takes Jesus to the Temple, and that’s about it. Isn’t he wondering anything about this child? It’s not his! What happened?

Only by turning to Matthew 1:18ff do we find out that Joseph did have his second thoughts, but that God sent an angel explaining that Mary had not been unfaithful, and that the baby was a gift of the Holy Spirit. So we have an explanation for why Joseph acted as he did in Luke. Now these are independent accounts, and it would be hard to say that Luke just decided to leave out the portion about Joseph just because he wanted to have Matthew explain his account.

The genealogies of Jesus that Matthew and Luke include are different, but they reflect the meta-narratives going on within each Gospel. Luke’s narrative generally points out the women throughout in a positive light, and it is often argued that his genealogy traces the line of Mary. Matthew, writing to a Jewish audience, traces through Jesus’ legal father, Joseph. Now it could be argued that these are simply reflections of the authors’ imaginations within their fictional accounts, but surely including names with descendants tracing all the way back to Abraham and beyond is not a good way to construct a fictional account. No, Matthew and Luke include the genealogies because their accounts are grounded in history.

Incidental Details

Interestingly, the birth narratives of Jesus also help explain the events reported in Mark and John, which do not report His birth. What of the apparent familiarity John had with Jesus in Mark 1:3ff and John 1:19ff? It seems a bit odd for John to go around talking about someone else “out there” who will be better in every way than he himself is without knowing who this other person is. Well, looking back at Matthew and Luke, we find that Mary and Elizabeth (John’s mother) knew each other and had visited each other during their pregnancy. It seems a foregone conclusion that they continued to interact with each other after the births of their sons, which would explain John’s apparent familiarity with Jesus in Mark and John.

Strangely, Mark never mentions Joseph as Jesus’ father. If all we had was Mark’s Gospel, we would be very confused about who Jesus’ father is. The oddness is compounded by the fact that Mary is mentioned a number of times. Well okay, that still seems pretty incidental. But what about the fact that Mark explicitly has a verse where he lists Mary as well as Jesus’ siblings?

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3, ESV)

This verse seems extremely weird. After all, Joseph was a carpenter (well, a more accurate translation is probably “craftsman”) and yet despite Mark explicitly using that word for Jesus, as well as listing Mary and Jesus’ siblings, we still see nothing but silence regarding Jesus’ father. Well, of course! After all, when we turn to the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke, we find that Jesus was born of a virgin. Jesus had no human father. Thus, Mark, ever the concise master of words, simply omits Joseph from details about Jesus’ life. But to not mention Jesus’ father in a largely patriarchal society alongside his mother and siblings seems extremely strange. It is only explained by the fact of the virgin birth, with which Mark would have been familiar. However, Mark didn’t see the birth narrative as important in his “action Gospel.” Only by turning to Matthew and Luke do we find an explanation for the strange omission of Joseph from Mark’s Gospel.

Conclusion

I have listed just a few undesigned coincidences to be gleaned from the birth narratives of Jesus. The fact of the matter is that these can be multiplied almost indefinitely if one looks at the whole of the Gospels, and even moreso if one investigates the whole Bible. These incidental details fit together in such a way as to give the Gospels the ring of truth. The way that Matthew fills in details of Luke, Mark demonstrates his familiarity with the birth narratives, and the intimate connections of Jesus and John are all cross-confirmed is both incidental and amazing. The claim is not that based upon these incidences alone the Gospel accounts are true. No, the claim is that those who challenge the truth of these accounts must account for these incidences in a way that is more plausible than that they simply occur when people relate history. It seems that the only way to do that would be to resort to outlandish narratives that involve the four authors sitting together and discussing which portions of stories to leave out so the others can fill them in. No, instead it seems much more likely that these four authors were writing what they had witnessed–or that they received from eyewitness testimony, and just as we do when recounting events (think of 9/11, for example, and the different things people remember) they wrote specific details they felt were important or part of the narrative, while the others found other things more important or had other incidental knowledge related to the events they recorded.

 

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5 Apologetics Questions Every Christian Should Learn How to Answer: Christmas Edition

By Alisa Childers

In a previous post, I offered quick answers to 5 apologetics questions that I think every Christian should be familiar with. With many misconceptions and misunderstandings about Christmas, here are 5 Christmas-themed questions with “barebones” quick answers that can easily be committed to memory.
Christmas Questions

  1.  Was Jesus born on December 25th, AD 1?

Although we celebrate His birth on December 25th, there is no biblical evidence that this is the actual date He was born. “AD” is an abbreviation for anno domini, which means “in the year of our Lord” in Latin. When scholars came up with the BC/AD system, they intended to divide world history based on the birth of Christ. However, they miscalculated the year of His birth, and it wasn’t recognized until later that Jesus was actually born somewhere between 6-4 BC. (1) Matthew 2:1 records that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great.  History tells us that Herod died in 4 BC, so Jesus would have been at least 4 years old by AD 1.

 

  1.  Is Christmas a pagan holiday? 

Every year, I see the inevitable “Christmas was a pagan holiday so Christians shouldn’t celebrate it!” claim circulated on social media at Christmastime. Let’s put it to rest, shall we? Christmas was never a pagan holiday. However, in the Roman Empire, there were certain pagan winter ceremonies such as Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, celebrated on December 25th, and  Saturnalia, a week long festival that culminated around the same date.

In the early third century, Christians began to associate Jesus’ birth with December 25th. In the fourth century, they made it an official holiday. Why? Some argue it was because it coincided with the date of the Resurrection, others report that it was to challenge and contrast the existing pagan traditions.(2) Either way, it’s interesting to note that Dies Natalis Solis Invicti honored the Roman sun god, and in Malachi 4:2,  a prophecy about Jesus calls Him the  “Sun of righteousness.” I can’t think of a better way to contrast the festival than to laud the birth of the true Sun—the Light of the world!

  1.  We three kings of Orient are?

There are three inaccuracies just in the first line of this beloved Christmas carol.

  • Three? The wise men brought three gifts, but the Bible doesn’t specify how many actually made the journey.
  • Kings? Matthew 2:1 tells of “wise men from the East” who followed the star to see the boy Jesus. Because of their high standing in court, early church father Tertullian wrote, “The East generally regarded the magi as kings,”(3) but they were not actual monarchs.
  • From the Orient? The wise men did not come from as far east as the Orient but were more likely from somewhere a little closer like Babylon. That was where a certain captive named Daniel was taken centuries earlier and was eventually made “chief of the governors over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). The wise men would have likely been familiar with the prophecies about Jesus through the writings of Daniel.(4)
  1.  Is the story of Jesus’ virgin birth just a re-telling of ancient mythology?

This frequent claim on social media disintegrates when we actually examine the evidence. Consider the three most common examples—Buddha, Horus, and Mithras. None of the earliest and most reliable sources indicate that these figures were born of a virgin.(5)

  • The earliest sources on Buddha specifically mention that he was born of a royal human bloodline. Later stories record more unusual elements surrounding his conception, but they are nothing like the virgin conception of Jesus.
  • Horus was an Egyptian deity whose parents were Osiris and Isis, and early stories actually mention Osiris’ seed being in Isis to conceive him.
  • Mithraism is an ancient mystery cult with no surviving scripture. All we have are sculptures and paintings, which can be tough to interpret. The earliest version of the birth of Mithras portrays him emerging out of the side of a mountain, leaving a hole in the rock. Unless the mountain was a virgin, that is hardly a “virgin birth story.”
  1.  Was Jesus born in a stable?

Although it is commonly assumed, the biblical account doesn’t actually mention a stable, or a cave, as early church tradition suggests.(6)  However, Luke chapter 2 mentions a couple of important details—that He was “laid in a manger” (a type of feeding trough for animals,) and that there was “no room at the inn.” There’s no mention of an innkeeper, and the word translated as “inn” is the Greek word kataluma, which might be better translated “guest room.” In fact, Jesus uses the same word in Luke 22:11 in reference to the Upper Room, the site of the Last Supper.

As I’ve written previously, Mary and Joseph most likely did not attempt to stay at an inn, but it would have been customary for them to stay with Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem. With the house overcrowded due to the government-mandated census and the guest room occupied, Jesus was probably born on the lower level of the dwelling. This is where animals were sometimes brought inside at night to keep warm and safe from theft, which explains why there was a manger.(7)

Have a well-informed and Merry Christmas!

 


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References:
(1) Alden A. Mosshammer, The Easter Computus and the Origins of the Christian Era (Oxford University Press, 2008) p. 319-356.
(2) Lee Strobel, The Case For Christmas: A Journalist Investigates the Identity of the Child in the Manger (Zondervan, 1998,2005) p. 20.
(3) Tertullian, Against Marcion, 3:13.
(4) William Stob, “The Gospel of Matthew: Righteousness Through Obedience” The Four Gospels: A Guide to Their Historical Background, Characteristic Differences, and Timeless Significance (Ambassador Group, 2007).
(5) J. Warner Wallace, Was the Virgin Conception of Jesus Borrowed From Prior Mythologies? Cold Case Christianity Podcast #53, 2015.
(6) Justin Martyr, Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew, LXXVIII.
(7) John McRay, Archaeology & the New Testament (Baker Academic, 1991) p. 80-82; Kenneth Bailey,The Manger and the Inn, 2008.


What is the Best Evidence for Intelligent Design? Interview with Brian Johnson.

Last year, when I was speaking at a church in South Dakota for a Heroic Truth Event, I met Brian Johnson. He invited me on his Podcast, and we had a great conversation about “hot” cultural issues today.

Brian is one of the founders of South Dakota Apologetics, an organization dedicated to spreading the Gospel and helping fellow Christians better understand why they believe what they believe. Brian and his buddies at SDA actually offer their speaking services for free, so check ‘em out!

Brian is especially passionate about the evidence for intelligent design. Given his interest and expertise, I recent caught up with him and asked him some pressing questions about the evidence for intelligent design. Enjoy!

Evidence Intelligent Design

SEAN MCDOWELL: Are there any recent scientific advances that are changing what we know about the inner workings of the human body?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I think that accolade needs to go to the discovery of the DNA double helix in 1953 by Crick and Watson. Once this was discovered it blew open the doors to a whole new world of biology. From that we have been able to begin to piece together an entirely new understanding of what it takes to make our bodies function. This has led to major advancements in medicine as well as many other disciplines. The discovery of DNA has also enabled us to build an incredibly strong case for Intelligent Design.

SEAN MCDOWELL: What got you interested in DNA as evidence for design? And why do you think this is such an important area for Christians, and in particular students, to understand?

BRIAN JOHNSON: I’ve always been interested in science and it was the scientific evidences for God that really started to convince me of His existence. As I started to look into the biological evidences I was awestruck at how obvious it was to make a design inference based on the inner workings of the cell. The molecular machines that are working inside each of our bodies at this moment scream of a designer.

If more Christians understood the beautiful structure of how the different processes within our bodies function I know it would not only strengthen their faith but would give them a much greater sense of just how amazing God’s creation really is. And this is certainly true for students who are often not exposed to the evidence for ID since our schools only teach Darwinian evolution.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Can you give a few specific examples of things in DNA that point to design?

BRIAN JOHNSON: Sure!

The first argument for Intelligent Design is based on the information we find in the cell. The arrangements of the four nucleotides, ACTG, contain specified information and convey meaning for the production and arrangements of proteins. Stephen Meyer makes the case for this in his book Signature in the Cell.

The second is a process called DNA error correction (aka, DNA repair). This process is mind-boggling and is currently at work in your body as you read this. Your body is creating new DNA at this moment in a process known as DNA Replication. During this process the DNA double helix is split in two, kind of like a zipper on a coat. As you unzip your coat you then have two sides of that zipper. Now pretend that the ‘teeth’ of the zipper on one side of the coat are each represented by a nucleotide letter of either a, c, t, or g. During the replication process a brand new set of ‘teeth’ are joined to the existing set of ‘teeth’ much the same way as when you zip the coat up and the two set of ‘teeth’ are joined together to seal the coat. If during this process an incorrect nucleotide is put down an error correcting process catches the error, stops the process, plucks out the wrong nucleotide, inserts the correct nucleotide, and then allows the replication process to continue. Describing this process as mind-blowing is actually an understatement.

The third process is one that has just recently been discovered. It now appears that in addition to repair mechanisms DNA also contains proofreading processes as well that make sure the information that passes through it is as accurate as possible. This all happens where messenger RNA transcripts are translated into proteins. The complexity of these processes is simply inconceivable.

SEAN MCDOWELL: Isn’t Intelligent Design based on a “God of the gaps” fallacy?

BRIAN JOHNSON: The God of the gaps objection is a common one. But it is mistaken. Rather than arguing from gap in our knowledge (i.e., what we can’t explain), Intelligent Design reasons from what we do know about the world by considering all the evidence and making an “inference to the best explanation.” This is the exact same scientific method Darwin used in his theory of natural selection. If you want to disregard the method we just used to infer an Intelligent Designer as the cause for what we find in the genome, then you must also reject Darwin’s conclusion as well. The knife cuts both ways.

Do We Really Live In A “Post-Truth” World?

It’s official. The 2016 word of the year is “post-truth.” Last year it was an emoji. In 2014 the word was “vape.” And in 2013 it was “selfie.”

With the truth twisting, emotional appeals, and personal attacks that characterized this past election season, Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the word for 2016. According to the dictionary, “post-truth” means, “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Post Truth

Simply put, we now live in a culture that seems to value experience and emotion more than truth. While modern technology and social media certainly contribute to the phenomena of emphasizing style over substance—just read Amusing Ourselves to Deathtwo thoughts stood out to me when I first heard that “post-truth” was the word of the year.

First, the idea of changing, avoiding, or moving beyond truth is not new. Judges 17:6 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” In other words, there was no standard the people were accountable to, and so they decided for themselves what they believed was true. No doubt they followed their experience and feelings to determine what was right. And by doing so, they demonstrated a universal human proclivity—the denial of truth. Humans always have, and always will, find ways to avoid truth.

Second, we don’t really live in a post-truth world. In fact, a post-truth world is impossible. Not too long ago I was speaking at a youth event. Afterwards, a student came up to me and said, “You talked about truth a lot. What’s the big deal? Why is truth even important?” I looked at him and simply asked, “Do you want the true answer or the false answer?” He clearly valued truth, even though he didn’t realize it. The same is true for all of us.

We make daily decisions based on what we think is true—waking up at the right time, taking the correct medications, and choosing the right directions to get to work. Truth is inescapable.

Trying to ultimately deny truth is like pushing a beach ball under water. Push it down on one side, but then it pops up the other. Each time you push it down it comes back up. Its nature is to float to the surface, even when we try to submerge it.

Truth is the same way. We may live in a “post-truth” world, in which people make choices based on emotion and experience rather than objective fact, but the reality is, truth simply won’t disappear. Truth will keep popping to the surface and reminding us that it’s important.

Deep inside the human heart is the knowledge that we need truth to live a meaningful life. We know that truth matters. In fact, that’s why we’re so quick to correct those we feel are mistaken. We may choose experience and emotion over truth, but deep inside the human heart is an awareness that we should follow and believe what is true.

Let me know if you think I got something wrong in this post. But just realize that if you do, you’re making my point for me—Truth really does matter. And we ought to get our facts right, even if Oxford dubs “post-truth” the word of the year.

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.

 


Resources for Greater Impact

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I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to be an ATHEIST (paperback)