Posts

Should Students Be Exposed to Evidence Against Christianity?

Sheltering students from beliefs contrary to Christianity is a big mistake. Let me say it again, to be sure it sinks in: Sheltering students from arguments for other religions, or against Christianity, is a bad strategy for developing them as disciples in the faith.

In his book You Lost Me, researcher David Kinnaman argues that “protecting” kids from opposing viewpoints is ultimately detrimental to their faith. Like “helicopter parents” who “hover” over their children to keep them from any conceivable danger, many young Christians feel that the church demonizes everything outside the church, fails to expose students to the complexities of the “real” world, and is too overprotective.

Overprotecting kids encourages them to wonder whether there actually are good arguments against the faith. And when they do encounter evidence against Christianity, which is inevitable today, many wonder—what else have you not told me? Are you too insecure in your own faith to speak truth? Overprotection undermines trust. And as a result, many kids disengage the church, as Kinnaman notes.

Evidence Against Christianity

Inoculation Theory

What can we do? There is something we can learn from inoculation theory, which says that people who are gradually exposed to opposing viewpoints are better prepared to answer such challenges in the long run. Like a vaccination, which exposes an individual to a milder version of a virus so he or she can develop immunity, exposing students to counterarguments helps them develop intellectual resistance to future, more persuasive ideas.

Consider a classic study by the late sociologist William J. McGuire. He took four separate groups of students and presented them with the counterintuitive idea that brushing your teeth is unhealthy. They each read a fabricated article, which was full of “scientific” arguments against the validity of brushing your teeth and then were assessed afterwards.

The first group was simply told that they would be given an article to read defending a particular viewpoint. The second group had their existing belief (that brushing your teeth is good) reinforced before reading the article. The third group was warned that they were about to read an article that would challenge their existing beliefs. The final group was presented with an abbreviated version of the argument as well as arguments against it. Which group had the most and least change?

Quite expectedly, group four (which received an advance summary and refutation of the article) had the least change in their beliefs. Unexpectedly, though, group two (who had their prior beliefs merely reinforced before reading the article) had the most change. This group was not only the most persuaded by the arguments against brushing your teeth, they also felt the most deceived when they were exposed to counterarguments against their prior beliefs.

How Does This Apply to Teaching Youth Today?

Here’s the bottom line: If we merely present students with the biblical position on an issue, without offering reasons for that view, as well as exposing them to counterarguments against it, we are setting them up for failure when they encounter thoughtful opposition. And we risk losing their trust.

But if we present them with the biblical view on an issue, and also expose them to counter perspectives in a fair and incremental manner, they will have a much better chance of hanging on to their faith when challenges arise.

There are many ways this can be done. As a part-time high school teacher, I aim to inoculate my students for the intellectual challenges they will inevitably face in college and beyond. They need to learn that Christians have nothing to fear engaging opposing viewpoints and that Christianity can hold its own in the arena of ideas.

Specifically, I have taken students through The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (after going through Christian Apologetics by Doug Groothuis). I regularly have them read articles from skeptics, watch videos that challenge their prior beliefs, and sometimes I bring in guests with opposing views. And thanks to the leadership of my friend Brett Kunkle, I annually take high school students on an apologetics mission trip to places like Berkeley, where they hear lectures from leading atheists and skeptics. In my experience, these types of activities serve to strengthen their faith.

If we want young people to have a vibrant and lasting faith, we must expose them to opposing viewpoints early in their intellectual development. And we must present those views fairly and accurately. This will help us gain credibility in the eyes of our students, and it will also help inoculate them from future, more articulate challenges.

If Christianity is really true, what are we afraid of?

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

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Book)


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.

 


 

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]

 

Christian Apologetics Alliance BLOG Banner

👉  Visit the Christian Apologetics Alliance 👈


 

Faith: ‘wishful thinking’?

By Steve Wilkinson

I often hear people talk about faith as if it is ‘wishful thinking’. This is especially true in the ‘science vs. religion’ debates. “I have my reason…. you have your faith…” is the general sentiment. I have even heard Christians use a similar way of speaking. In some circles, there seems to be an attitude that you should ‘just believe’ and not question anything.

These views of ‘faith’ are a misunderstanding of epistemology (how we know what we know… what separates a justified belief from simple opinion) on one side, and what the Bible teaches on the other. The assumption from non-believers is that faith has no foundation. The assumption from some Christians is that the Bible teaches us to ‘just believe’ and that searching for reinforcement of our beliefs is some kind of sinful doubting.

Faith wishful thinking

Faith, though… whether in religion or secular… is a very similar thing. If I decide to fly to Chicago tomorrow, I’d go to an airport and travel in a jet. I don’t know for certain that gravity will work the same way tomorrow, and the jet will get to its destination (baring other things which could go wrong). However, I am reasonably confident in what science has discovered about the nature of gravity and its consistency. I am also reasonably confident in flight safety records. My chances of a safe flight are extremely good. If this were not the case, I wouldn’t have so much ‘faith’ in the whole process and would walk or drive.

In this use of ‘faith’, everyone can see what I mean. It is a trust or confidence in what I do know, even if I might have fears, doubts, and lets face it… in this case, some uncertainty. There is no full guarantee or promise that I will absolutely get there; nor can I prove it before I leave! It is, a leap of faith.

Christian faith is similar in many ways. I can’t put it all in a set of test-tubes and beakers in a lab and test it. I can’t, in some complete way, prove it to you. But what, when you think about it, can you ultimately do this with? The set of things is pretty limited. I can’t prove my senses are 100% accurate, though without them, life would be incredibly uncertain. I can’t prove my wife loves me in a ‘naturalistic scientific’ way. There is no lab test for that kind of thing…. any such tests would depend on things we already suppose we know about the way things work.

Christian faith is based on trust in what God has done for us, and will do for us. This is based on our relationship with God, God’s revelation to us, history, science (yes, I said science… more on this in another post), and experience. It may or may not be something I can ‘prove’ to you (depending on what prove means to you), but it is certainly NOT wishful thinking.

Faith is essentially trust. We trust things based on many criteria. Just like the factors involved in my jet flight, or my wife’s love for me, some of these criteria can be ‘proven’ to various degrees, and some are harder to measure. We do this all the time, every day of our lives. Christian faith is really no different. How faith differs from belief, is that we are confident enough in it to put it into action. I might reasonably believe the jet will get me to my destination safely, but until I climb aboard, it doesn’t really become faith. Christians believe in the promises of God in Christ, and then exercise faith by putting their lives (and souls) in Christ’s hands.

Christian Apologetics Alliance BLOG Banner

This article was first published at TilledSoil.org. Copyright © 2013 TilledSoil.org. All rights reserved.


Resources for Greater Impact

FF Box and DVD Lead

Fearless Faith Seminar (DVD)

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Book)

 


 

Sexual Morality In A Christless World

How would you make a case for Christian sexual morality in a secular setting? Specifically, what would you say if you were asked to speak on the Christian view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage in a university classroom? This is exactly the opportunity that motivated pastor Matthew Rueger to start researching and studying Christian sexuality in depth, and ultimately to write the book Sexual Morality in a Christless World.

Sexual Morality

Rueger begins the book by recognizing that the world has radically changed and that Christians increasingly find themselves being considered outcasts and radicals by the secular elite. In light of this reality, he asks a probing question: “Will we mirror the ancient Christians who were not afraid to stand out in the crowd and say, ‘Not for me?’ Are we willing to be ostracized, excluded, secretly derided, and maybe even openly mocked simply because we are Christians? We need to be; our children need to be.”

And yet Rueger rightly notes that for Christians—and in particular Christian students—to stand boldly for biblical morality, they need to first understand why it makes sense. It is critical to understand why God created sex to be experienced between one man and one woman for life, and why this model is still best for society today. This is the exact same approach John Stonestreet and I take in our book Same-Sex Marriage. In order for Christians to speak out confidently for a Christian ethic on marriage and sexuality, we must first understand why God designed sex to be between one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship.

Sex in Ancient Rome

Ancient Roman sexuality was primarily tied to the idea of masculinity and the male’s need for domination. Thus it was permissible for men to have sex with his slaves, whether male or female. Rueger explains: “It was understood that he would be visiting prostitutes of either sex. A strong Roman male would have male lovers even while married to a woman. In the Roman mind, man was the conqueror who dominated on the battlefield as well as in the bedroom.”

And this domination often carried into sexual relationships between adult males and adolescent boys (pederasty). In the Roman mind, sex with boys was often viewed as intellectually superior and a purer form of love than sex with women.

While there are exceptions, women were often viewed as physically and mentally inferior to men. Their value was often tied to their ability to have children. In fact, in the primary creation story accepted in the classical world, which came from Greek mythology, woman was created as a punishment for man (the story of Pandora). This is radically different than the biblical view in which Eve is created as an equal companion to Adam (Genesis 2).

Sexual Exploits of the Caesars

In perhaps the most interesting section of the book, Rueger chronicles the sexual exploits of the Roman Caesars, who both reflected wider culture and helped advance its debauchery. There are stories of Augustus Caesar inviting senators to dinner, and then excusing himself to sleep with their wives. Tiberius practiced pedophilia and is said to have funded a special public office that concentrated on his sexual pleasures. Caligula lived in an incestuous relationship with his sisters. And Nero engaged in public cross-dressing, incest, rape, and other kinds of sexual assault.

It is important not to overstate the debauchery of ancient Rome. There were certainly many good people who resisted wider sexual norms. But citing such differences does reveal how radically countercultural Christian sexual morality was in the first century. And it also shows the courage of the first Christians who knowingly put themselves in harm’s way to advance the greater good in general, and the gospel in particular.

Secular Morality Today

Rueger speaks some chilling and prophetic words for Christians today: “Secular society is moving ever closer to Rome in its assessment of Christianity. The message of Christ is despised, and Christians are seen as bigoted and unloving. Christians today can learn from the Christians who lived in the Roman Empire of St. Paul’s day. The bubble of social acceptance for Christian morality has burst, and now we must be prepared to suffer. Those who speak God’s truth in love will be hated. They may even be prosecuted in some instances” (p. 41).

What I have discussed so far only takes us through the first two chapters in his book! Rueger also contrasts early Christian sexual morality with Jewish morality. He explores some of the key New Testament passages that lay the biblical foundation for sex and marriage, such as Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5, 1 Peter 3:1, 7, and Matthew 19:4-6. And he also considers common objections against the biblical sexual ethic. In each case, he shows how Christian sexual morality both elevated women and cared for children, even though it was considered extreme at the time.

Overall, I found Sexual Morality in a Christless World to be insightful, timely, and challenging. Despite what we increasingly hear in our wider culture, the Christian ethic is both reasonable and good. And this is a truth we cannot hide, but must teach to our children and proclaim from the rooftops.


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

Correct NOT CLEAR

Correct Not Politically Correct (Why Same-Sex Marriage Hurts Everyone)

Paperback

Download (PDF)

4PsNEWDVD4P’2 & 4Q’ (The Quick Case FOR Natural Marriage & AGAINST Same-Sex Marriage)

Download >> MP4

DVD

Christians and Donald Trump: Our Meeting with Him

I was asked to participate in a meeting between Donald Trump and about 35 Christian leaders Friday night in Charlotte.  There was no requirement for participants to endorse Mr. Trump. Instead, it was a chance to exchange ideas with Mr. Trump on issues especially important to the Christian community, such as life, judges, and the growing problem of the government coercing religious people to violate their religious beliefs.

Christians and Donald Trump

As he did in a similar meeting I attended in New York a couple of weeks ago, Mr. Trump affirmed his commitment to protect life, appoint conservative judges vetted by the Federalist Society, and to work with Christians on religious freedom issues.  While I don’t endorse candidates, I am encouraged by Mr. Trump’s willingness and openness to personally discuss these issues and express his agreement with the positions I support.

For those Christians who think it’s wrong to meet with someone like Mr. Trump, I ask them to take off their Pharisee robes for a minute to see whom Jesus met with and ministered to.  Meeting with Mr. Trump is not only biblical, it’s an opportunity to do good. When one of the two people who will be President of the United States asks for your opinion, why wouldn’t you provide it?  It’s a dereliction of duty to not speak the truth on issues that directly affect lives and our ability to preach the Gospel and live our faith!

Mr. Trump’s team reached out to me and other Christians.  I’d meet with Mrs. Clinton if she requested my opinion (I’ve only heard crickets so far. And I doubt there are any evangelical Christians expecting her call since she wants to use the force of government to change our beliefs, and her party has demonstrated hostility to biblical Christianity for the past eight years).

For those of you who see no good choice in this presidential election, remember that you are not just voting for one person— you are actually voting for thousands of people that come along with the top of the ticket, some of whom will affect our country for generations. There are literally thousands of political appointees at several levels of government, including Supreme court judges and about 300 other judges, whom the President will appoint. Those people will attempt to make America in the image of their party platform. Those are two radically different images and two radically different futures for you and your children.

To see how radically different they are, take a look at this very helpful chart that quotes directly from the two party platforms.  It shows where the Democrats and Republicans stand on issues important to most Christians.  Given this knowledge, it is also a dereliction of duty when you fail to vote.

How Did Christianity Prevail in Ancient Rome and What Can We Learn from It?

What was unique about Christian practices and teachings in the first three centuries of the church? And how did such a minority faith—which was considered irrelevant, extreme, and at odd with the role “religion” is supposed to play in a pagan society—ultimately prevail? In his recent book Destroyer of the gods, New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado focuses on the first of these questions. But his book also has powerful implications for the second.

Christianity Prevail in Ancient Rome

Hurtado explains how Christianity was viewed by pagans in ancient Rome: “In the eyes of many of that time, early Christianity was odd, bizarre, and in some ways even dangerous. For one thing, it did not fit with what ‘religion’ was for people then. Indicative of this, Roman-era critics designated it as a perverse ‘superstition.’”[1]

Interestingly, this is not too dissimilar from charges that are increasingly being raised against Christians today who refuse to embrace the progressive sexual agenda.

Although Christians in the early church aimed to be good citizens, and to show due respect and care for both their neighbors and the State (as Christians do today), their beliefs in Jesus as the one true God put them at odds with the prevailing culture (as Christian beliefs and practices increasingly do in our secular culture today).

In fact, as Hurtado observes, Christian beliefs were even considered more problematic to Rome than Jewish beliefs. How so? While Jews also refused to honor pagan deities, there is little evidence Roman-era Jews aimed to persuade the masses to abandon their gods. And yet this is exactly what Christians did. In other words, Christians were often allowed to hold Christian beliefs in private, but should expect to sacrifice those beliefs when they enter the public arena. Sound familiar? Chuck Colson saw this coming years ago.

Roman authorities had little problem that Christians worshipped Jesus as God. Their problem, however, was that Christians refused to worship other deities. While Christians considered worshipping pagan deities idolatry, Romans considered such behavior defiance to the state. Jews were often excused since their behavior could be “chalked up” as a matter of national peculiarity. But Christians could not appeal to any such ethnic privilege. As a result of their refusal to worship the pagan deities, Christians experienced popular abuse, intellectual condemnation, and persecution on a local and (eventually) statewide level. And yet, amazingly, Christianity prevailed.

There are many factors that can help explain the growth of Christianity. But as Hurtado points out in Destroyer of the gods, Christian distinctives must be taken into consideration as a piece of the puzzle. Consider a few Christian distinctives, which are often taken for granted today:

  • When people worship God, Christians claimed they should withdraw from worshipping the gods of their families, cities, and peoples. The exclusivist stance of Christianity was so offensive that Christians were often labeled “atheists.”
  • Christians emphasized that there is one transcendent God who passionately loves his people and can be related to personally. Pagans often spoke of the love of gods toward humans in terms of philia, which indicates friendship. But Christians spoke of God with the Greek term agapē, which connotes a deep love and firm commitment to the one loved.
  • Christianity was a “bookish” religion. Like Jews, Christians read Scripture publicly, produced voluminous numbers of texts, and committed remarkable resources to copying and disseminating them widely. In fact, in their eagerness to disseminate Scripture, Christians were at the leading edge of book technology of the second and third centuries.
  • Christianity uniquely linked religious beliefs with ethical living. As a result, Christians were on the leading edge of overturning popular practices in ancient Rome such as infant exposure, gladiator battles, sexual abuse of children, and sexual perversity. Christians uniquely called men to the same kind of sexual loyalty demanded of women.
  • Christianity was uniquely diverse. In ancient Rome, there was social stratification between men and women, slaves and free, rich and poor. But Christians began with assemblies that were diverse in gender, age, and social status. Even the least important members of Roman society, such as women and slaves, were considered equal members in the church.

There are many other Christian distinctives in the first century, but if you want to read them, you’re going to have to check out Destroyer of the gods. If you are interested in comparative religion or the ancient roots of Christianity, and how this may apply to the Christian faith today, you will thoroughly enjoy the book.

In particular, there are two aspects that I most appreciated about Destroyer of the gods. First, Hurtado shows Christianity is not just like any other religion. There are unique beliefs and practices that we can proudly embrace as modern Christians. In an age when Christianity is often condemned as harmful and poisonous, Destroyer of the gods is a reminder that Christianity was on the positive edge of cultural change in ancient times.

Second, Christianity ultimately prevailed over the pagan culture that it was birthed in. Modern critics often claim that Christians are on the “wrong side of history” for not embracing modern sexual norms. Undoubtedly, these critics would make the same charge if they were writing in the first couple centuries of the church. And yet they could not have been more wrong. Christian teachings are not only true, but they are in the best interest of individuals, families, and the state.

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

DanielDVDNEW_Shadow

Standing in the Lion’s Den

[Video Download]

[DVD Set]

RomansDVDNEW_Shadow

The Great Book of Romans

[Video Download]

[DVD Set]


[1] Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016), 2-3.

Allah or Jesus? Is God One? Interview with Nabeel Qureshi

Nabeel Qureshi is one of the leading apologists today on Islam. Raised in a devout Muslim home in the United States, Nabeel became a Christian in college. He records his faith journey in his first book, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (2014). His second book, Answering Jihad, was written as his response to the “why” behind the recent jihadist terrorist attacks. His latest book, No God but One: Allah or Jesus? A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam & Christianity, released in August 2016. It is an excellent book for Christians to better understand Islam and how to answer tough questions Muslims often raise, but also a great book to give to your Muslim friend.

Interview with Nabeel Qureshi

Along with his MD, Nabeel has three Master’s degrees, including an MA in Christian Apologetics from Biola University (where I teach). Coinciding with this latest book release, Nabeel was diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer. Nabeel answers a few questions related to his most recent book:

Q: Why did you write No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

A: My heart for this book really is to let the world know the reasons why we can be confident that the Christian faith is true, particularly to Muslims who might be seeking. Also, there are a lot of Christians who are considering Islam. They haven’t heard some of the things that are true about Islam. They’ve heard stories, they’ve heard notions, but they haven’t really studied the evidence or learned some of the darker issues. My book is designed to help people understand the strengths and weaknesses of Islam and Christianity. I believe my book shows that the Christian case is much stronger than the Muslim case.

Q: What is your hope for No God but One: Allah or Jesus?

A: My hope is ultimately that 100,000 Muslims would read No God but One and give their lives to the Lord. I know that’s quite a number, but that’s my prayer. There are millions of Muslims who are searching and considering whether or not Islam is true. Of course, what the Lord does with the book is ultimately what’s most important.

Q: How do you respond when a Muslim says there is nowhere in the Bible where Jesus claims to be God?

A. That’s one of the first questions Muslims very frequently ask. I would say you have to start with the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” and then you can show how the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in John 1:14. Someone will probably respond and say, “This isn’t Jesus speaking; this is John speaking.” We can respond by explaining that John was Jesus’ disciple. This is why it’s so important to understand the evidence for Islam and Christianity in contrast, because if you just compare one without understanding the other, it can be problematic. Muslims are very ready to tell you what Muhammad said. The problem is, we don’t have Muhammad saying anything. We have other people recording what he said, in the same way that we have John recording what Jesus said, or John recording things about Jesus.

If we can trust anything we know about Muhammad, we can trust that John the disciple wrote John’s Gospel. It’s having similar standards across the board. Of course, I’ve spoken to many Muslims, and the objection still comes up, “But these aren’t Jesus’ words.” Then you can point throughout the rest of the Gospel of John, where Jesus says in John 5, for example, “Honor Me like you honor God.” Let’s examine that statement. Could a prophet ever say, “Honor Me like you honor God?” Jesus says that He is the king of His own kingdom. Jesus also says, “Pray in My name when I am gone, and whatever you ask, I will give it to you.” That’s fascinating. Jesus isn’t even going to be on Earth, and He can hear you when you pray, and He can give you what you ask for?

In John 20:28, Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus affirms his exclamation, saying in essence, “Finally. You have believed. Blessed are those who haven’t seen and have believed.” Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus is God. Another approach that I often take is with the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 14:62, Jesus’s words [about being the Son of Man and sitting at God’s right hand] are a claim to be God. So when Muslims say, “Where did Jesus say, ‘I’m God?'” My response to them is often, “Did Jesus speak English?” They’ll say, “No.” I’ll say, “What language did He speak?” They’ll usually say “Hebrew” or “Aramaic” or “Greek.” However they respond, I’ll say, “Okay, so we need to understand that He’s speaking in the idiom of that language.”

In his time and language, when you say you are the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Father and coming with the clouds of heaven, as Jesus does in Mark 14:62, you’re claiming to be God. You can show that by turning to Daniel 7 and also Psalm 110:1. It’s important we know our Scriptures, and it’s important to be able to unpack for Muslims what Jesus is saying.

Q: How do you share the gospel with Muslim friends and neighbors without being too rude or insulting toward their faith?

A: Open your life to your Muslim friends, just like you would anyone else. Befriend them, and as you’re watching TV together or as you’re eating a meal together, or whatever things you would do with anybody else, be ready to talk about your faith. It’s not so much a matter of figuring out what to say, or having a script, as much as having the right attitude. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your Muslim neighbor as yourself. As you love your neighbor, love God. Let them see your love for God.

Let’s say you’re going through a difficult time or have heard some bad news, and you’re wrestling with that information. You can allow your neighbor to come into your life or knock on your neighbor’s door and say, “Hey, I just want to hang out.” Then, in the midst of your trouble, you can demonstrate your ongoing faith in Christ and what He has promised, that He will deliver, that He is our Savior, and that you trust in Him.

Let your Muslim neighbor, whom you love, see your love for God. If God has heard your prayers, then tell your Muslim neighbor that God has heard your prayers. In that, you witness to your neighbor through life. Of course, you might have some Muslim neighbors who are not from the same culture as you, and that can make interactions more complicated and tricky. I would learn as much as I could about how to welcome them from their own cultural idiom, so that you can be hospitable, so that you can host them, and in that context, love them.

Q: What should be our response to nominalism within American Christianity?

A: Nominal Christians are far more problematic than Islam. A lot of people ask, “Is atheism or Islam the most pressing concern we have as American Christians?” Neither. Apathetic Christians should be our most pressing concern.

Nominal Christianity gives the wrong message to most of the world. It makes people think Christianity is a faith that is lacking, a faith that produces lukewarm people. They don’t realize that Christianity infuses you with life. The gospel message allows you to truly live. It means living even though we die. We as Christians have to be lights. We have to be passionate for our God. We need to show the people around us—be they Christians, Muslims, or whoever—that the Christian faith is a passionate faith. It’s an all-or-nothing faith.

For example, look at Jesus’ teachings. He’s all in, and He says you can’t be halfway in. Take tithing, for example. In the Old Testament, tithing was clear; you give 10%. That’s a tithe. In the New Testament, are we told anywhere to give 10%? No. Some people may say, ” I don’t have to tithe as a Christian.” It’s the other way around. Jesus asks for absolutely everything, 100%. You don’t tithe as a Christian because you need give everything—your life, your clothes, your food. You trust Him with everything. That’s what it means to be a Christian. It’s all in. For the same reason, Jesus says not to worry about where you live, what you’ll eat, or what you’ll drink. You have to trust God. It’s 100% in.

Q: Is jihad a Quranic concept?

A: That’s very clear, yes. Surah 9 of the Quran is the best surah to reference because it’s the clearest on jihad. It’s also nearly the last surah written chronologically, almost like marching orders. Surah 9, verse 111 says very clearly that Allah has bought your persons and your property that you might slay in battle and be slain. Allah makes you a Muslim so you’ll fight in battle. That’s what surah 9, verse 111 of the Quran says.

Q: How do we respond to a Muslim who says Surah 9 does not apply to Muslims today?

A: That’s what my former sect of Islam used to say. They’d explain that surah 9 was contextual to a specific battle, and it doesn’t apply anymore.

The problem with that view is that it’s completely disconnected from the Islamic traditions. If you believe Muhammad is a prophet, you have to accept the Islamic traditions. There’s no other way to conclude Muhammad is a prophet, no historically consistent way to conclude it anyway, without following them. Within those very same traditions, surah 9 is the last major chapter of the Quran to be composed, and it was not limited to a specific context. It was the final marching orders for Muslims. To say that surah 9 doesn’t apply to Muslims anymore is an unhistorical or inconsistent way of interpreting the Islamic traditions.

Q: Do Muslims in general think critically about their faith, or is that a Western mindset?

A: There are two factors to consider. One would be West versus East, and the other would be educated versus non-educated. Critical thinking often comes with higher education. In the West, the focus on critical thinking seems to be a lot stronger than in the Middle East. I’m not saying Middle Easterners don’t think critically. Many do, and many are excellent critical thinkers, but the focus on authority in the Middle East is far stronger than the focus on truth in the West. In the West, we emphasize the individualism to arrive at truth however you arrive at it. Your truth is your truth. My truth is my truth. The relativism of truth has taken the matter a bit too far in the West. Whereas in the Middle East and in eastern areas of the world in general, honor comes from obeying authority or following lines of tradition, which means less critical thinking. It’s a natural outcome of following authority that questions are not as welcomed. You generally have to be either an educated Muslim or a Western Muslim to be a critical thinker about faith.

Q: In Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, you described your initial encounter with Christian music as negative. Have you found any worship music you like?

A: Early in my Christian walk, it was shocking to see people singing and leading music up front on a stage. It seemed very irreverent. I was not used to any music in a mosque. I was not used to women standing at the front in a mosque. Since then, I must say that I draw closest to God during corporate times of worship, and I am talking about worship music in particular—hymns and modern worship songs. The church I attended in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, was Passion City Church, where Chris Tomlin was the worship leader. He left to go to Nashville, and then David Crowder was often the worship leader. I love worshiping with contemporary music.

Q: Is it fair to say that while Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God, both faiths attempt to worship the same God, though obviously arriving at very different results?

A: In No God but One and also in Answering Jihad, I discuss that in one verse in the Quran, Muslims are told to say to Christians and Jews that we worship the same God as you do, yet throughout the rest of the Quran it’s very clear Islam rejects a Trinity. It rejects that Jesus is God and that God is a Father. If you believe Jesus is God, according to surah 5, verse 72, you will go to hell. How could it be that Muslims and Christians worship the same God if you will go to hell for worshiping the Christian God if you’re a Muslim? It goes further than that. The Christian God is triune, one being in three persons. The Muslim god is absolutely one, and there’s a doctrine within Islam called tawhid, which teaches not only is God absolutely one, but that his oneness is the most essential doctrine of Islam.

So Islam affirms as its most important doctrine an explicit rejection of the Trinity. This is not an incidental difference. It is intentionally antithetical, and that’s why I argue Muslims and Christians worship different gods.

Q: What is Islamophobia in your opinion?

A: There is a very real incidence of Islamophobia in the West. Some people see anything Muslim as dangerous or evil. At the same time, some things are called Islamophobia aren’t. For example, is discussing Muhammad’s violence Islamophobia? No. Is talking about the violence within Islam Islamophobia? No. Is saying that Islam misses the truth on some matters Islamophobia? No. In order to shut down conversation, people may say, “You’re being Islamophobic.” The word phobia can be used these days to shut down conversations. I don’t think that is an accurate use of the term “Islamophobia.”

Q: Do you think Muhammad knew or understood the Trinity? Did he receive wrong information about the Trinity?

A: In my honest opinion, I’m not sure we can know much of anything about Muhammad. All the Muslim records about Muhammad’s life are late, and they’re contradictory. They share information that is relatively unbelievable. They come from questionable sources. For example, if we try to corroborate some of the details we’re told in Islamic narratives, such as the simple fact that Muhammad was born in Mecca, there is no record of Mecca existing before the beginning of the eighth century. The Islamic narratives consistently claim he was born there, so the average Muslim will say, “Of course he was born in Mecca.” Yet there are no archaeological finds before the beginning of the eighth century within Mecca. According to the traditions, Mecca was a major trade city on multiple trade routes, yet merchants used to keep meticulous records of their trade routes, and Mecca isn’t found in any. How confident can we be that Muhammad was actually born in Mecca at the end of the sixth century? There’s no historical reason to be confident.

Or consider the term “Muslim” in the seventh century. According to Islamic narratives, Muslims conquered parts of Persia and Egypt, having been sent out by Muhammad’s teachings. Yet historically those Arabs who conquered Persia, Egypt, and Jerusalem never called themselves Muslims. They never used the term “Muslim.” They didn’t quote the Quran. Instead, they referred to themselves using other terms, “Sassinids,” for example. They’d also refer to themselves by their tribal names. All to say, when you attempt to corroborate early Islamic narratives with the hard evidence of archaeology, or numismatics, or trade routes, they don’t check out.

Getting back to the question, did Muhammad understand the Trinity? The Quran itself gets the Trinity wrong. The councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon had occurred hundreds of years before the Quran was composed, yet the Quran views the Trinity as Father, Son, and Wife. For instance, when Allah asks Jesus whether he told people to worship him and Mary alongside Allah, Jesus says no. That’s the Trinity the Quran assumes. Was there ever such a view of the Trinity? Sort of. The Barbelo Gnostics, from the end of the second century, are recorded to have worshiped Father, Son, and Mother, so Muhammad may have gotten some of his references about Christianity from Gnostics.

Q: In light of your health situation, do you have plans for another book?

A: I do. I’m working on my next book now. There are unknown factors that may affect when or how this book releases, but I’ve been working on it for some time. It’s entitled The Questions Muslims Ask and the Answers that Convert Them. It addresses 20 key questions, and it’s designed to help believers see the heart of Muslims and what captures their hearts as they’re coming to Christ. It should also be a good book to give to Muslim friends. I noticed with Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus that some Muslims disregarded my story because I grew up in a different sect than their one, assuming my story wouldn’t be relevant to them. This book will represent a vast array of Muslims, Shia, Sunni, Western, Eastern, nominal, and devout.

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.

Prayer Request: We humbly ask all of our readers to take time and pray for our brother Nabeel Qureshi as he battles with cancer. Thank you and God bless.


Resources for Greater Impact:

No God but One BOOK Review CLEAR

No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity

Answering_Islam DVD

Answering Islam

[Mp4 Download]

[DVD]

[Mp3 Download]

Are Christianity and Darwinism Compatible? One Biologist Says No.

Did God Use Evolution?

Years ago I was sitting in the middle seat of an airplane, minding my own business as I watched the PBS show Evolution. As soon as I closed my laptop, the lady next to me perked with interest and asked what I was watching. It turns out she was a practicing geologist and a staunch Darwinist. She didn’t just believe in neo-Darwinian evolution, she described it as a beautiful theory that ties all of science and humanity together.

Since she was both trained in geology, and a committed Darwinist, I simply asked her what evidence she considered most compelling for her views. As best as I can remember, she said, “Have you been to a museum? There are tons of fossils that clearly reveal that we descend from a common ancestor. The fossils tell us that evolution is true.”

Christianity Darwinism Compatible

Her answer struck me as both interesting and confused. First, while there are certainly many preserved fossils, there is genuine debate about whether they support Darwin’s theory of gradual evolution. But second, even if the fossil record were complete, it could not in principle establish Darwinian evolution as true. Why not? Waynesburg University Biologist Wayne Rossiter explains:

Even if we grant the pattern of common ancestry (which has recently been cast into doubt), proponents of evolution cannot stand back, post hoc, and simply declare that this is the product of natural selection…it is possible that all of life could share a common ancestor, and yet the splitting of species (and their evolving) could be the consequence of things other than natural selection.[i]

In other words, while the fossil record could be consistent with Darwinism, it could never independently establish it. A complete fossil record could also be consistent with another naturalistic mechanism and some versions of intelligent design. To establish Darwinism, proponents need to show that the mechanism—natural selection acting upon random mutation—is sufficient to explain the diversity and complexity of life. Despite the enthusiasm of my geologist friend on the plane, the fossil record simply can’t establish Darwinism alone.

This is just one example of an important insight that Dr. Rossiter makes in his recent bookShadow of Oz. His goal is to raise some difficult questions—both scientific and theological—for common attempts to wed Darwinism and Christianity. While there is considerable variety of perspectives and approaches within the theistic evolution camp, Rossiter raises some apparent “inconsistencies” in the views held by prominent spokespersons such as Ken Miller, Karl Giberson, and Francis Collins. Consider ten quick examples that he cites in the book:

  1. “The fatal flaw of all attempts to hold both Darwin and Christianity in their full potency is that one cannot be unintended and intended at the same time.”[ii]
  2. “Theistic evolutionists are persuaded to make room in their theology for Darwin, but not room in their Darwin for theology. They perceive this as a discussion between demonstrable facts (for Darwinian evolution) and claims of blind faith (in God’s activity). Naturally, whenever the two disagree, the facts will necessarily carry the day, or the faith claims are simply compartmentalized, and the conflict is not acknowledged.”[iii]
  3. “For all their contempt for ID, they seem utterly unaware that they are also offering a brand of ID. If they believe God exists and is intelligent, and they believe he created anything at all, then he is an intelligent designer!”[iv]
  4. “We understand large-scale (and small-scale) physics better than biological evolution, and yet the theistic evolutionist is happy to argue against the consensus views of physicists and cosmologists, but not those of evolutionary biologists.”[v]
  5. “Why are [some theistic evolutionists] so willing to accept fine-tuning in the physical constants that govern the universe, but not in biological instances of the coding of specified information in DNA?”[vi]
  6. “[Theistic evolutionists] seem to be arguing that he [God] is content to simply let his machine run, rather than tinker with its inner workings. It is hard to reconcile this position with the constant interactions between God and his creation described throughout the books of the Bible.”[vii]
  7. “Theistic evolution puts the God-man project on its head, holding that creation emerges from chaos toward perfection, rather than it being in a continual state of decay.”[viii]
  8. “In theistic evolution, God’s creative process is destructive. His method for creation leads to the death of stars, the annihilation of habitable planets, disproportionate ratios of negative mutations—many of which lead to inhuman deformities, sufferings, diseases, and loss of life—and the evolutionary mechanism of fitness at all costs in the biological realm.”[ix]
  9. “It is ironic that theistic evolutionists argue that all creation appears random and meaningless, while staunch atheists like Richard Dawkins attempt to explain away the ‘apparent design’ of creation using blind and purposeless mechanisms.”[x]
  10. “It’s funny how evolutionists like to reference ‘poor design’ as evidence against the hand of a creator, and then use words like ‘near-perfect’ when they are describing what Darwin’s theory is capable of.”

Rossiter is not necessarily aiming to disprove Darwinian evolution, but to draw out some particular implications (often ignored) that follow from attempts to blend Christianity and Darwinism. According to Rossiter, the devil is in the details.

Since co-writing the book Understanding Intelligent Design with William Dembski, I have been eagerly following the discussion over the intersection of science and religion. While I have read many books on all sides of this issue, Shadow of Oz is one of my new favorites. It is accessible, insightful, and not overly technical or wordy. If you enjoy the science and faith dialogue, this book is a must-read. You can also listen to Dr. Rossiter discuss the book in an interview with Greg Koukl.

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:


[i] Wayne D. Rossiter, Shadow of Oz (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2015), 108, 111.

[ii] Ibid., 9.

[iii] Ibid., 6.

[iv] Ibid., 16.

[v] Ibid., 18.

[vi] Ibid., 49.

[vii] Ibid., 53.

[viii] Ibid., 70.

[ix] Ibid., 77.

[x] Ibid., 83.

[xi] Ibid., 146.

3 Reasons Your Kids May Eventually Think Christianity is Worthless

By Natasha Crain

During Vacation Bible School this summer, our church collected an offering to help an orphanage in Mexico. The kids were all encouraged to bring what they could to contribute toward the cause.

My daughter, age 7, has always been very generous with her allowance and came running down the stairs with a Ziploc bag of piggy bank money the morning after the collection was announced. I smiled with appreciation for her giving heart and told her, “I’m so proud of you. You always want to share your allowance with others. That’s wonderful, sweetheart.”

Kids Christianity Worthless

She looked at me, gave a slight shrug, and replied, “It’s JUST money I had in my piggy bank. It doesn’t really matter.”

My blood immediately went to a rolling boil. I have worked really hard to teach my kids the value of money and emphasize how grateful we need to be for every small thing we have. I couldn’t believe her cavalier attitude that morning.

I unsuccessfully tried to cover my deep annoyance and disappointment.

“You have got to be kidding me. I seriously can’t believe you just said that when we have talkedso much about gratitude and generosity. That’s several dollars you have in that bag! How can you say it ‘doesn’t matter’?”

She looked down at the bag, which held two dollar bills and a bunch of coins. Then she looked at me in confusion and said, “MOMMY. This is not ‘several dollars.’ This is two dollars and a bunch of change that doesn’t matter.”

I took the bag and dumped everything out on our floor, then made piles of four quarters. I counted it all up and told her that she had $8.36.

She was shocked.

She scooped it all up, promptly put it back in the bag and announced there was “no way” she was giving away $8.36. Before I could launch into a sermon on generosity, she was halfway up the stairs looking for her piggy bank so she could deposit her newly found riches.

I’ve reflected several times on that experience, but not as much on the subject of generosity as on the subject of what it means to accurately value something.

There was $8.36 in that bag before and after our conversation. But something happened that drastically changed the value my daughter assigned to it—to the point that I couldn’t pry it out of her little hands just a few minutes later!

Similarly, Christianity is objectively true regardless of the value a person assigns to it. But something happens to many kids that fundamentally changes the value they place on it. Ultimately, the statistics show that at least 60% of kids reject faith by their early 20s…they decide it no longer has value. It literally becomes worthless.

Why the change? I think it boils down to three things.

 

1. They never understood how to value it.

My daughter ultimately didn’t know how to add up all the spare change in the bag. She could plainly see it all but didn’t know how to add all those different coins together. She just looked at the two dollar bills and assumed that’s all there was to the total value.

In a culture where people chalk religious belief up to nothing more than a person’s opinion about what may or may not exist beyond our natural world, most kids never learn how to appropriately value their religious beliefs. They don’t, by default, come to understand that:

  • Christianity is either true or it’s not. It’s an objective truth, and can’t be a matter of opinion. People may have different assessments of whether or not it’s true, but it’s not something that actually can be true for some and not others. When kids understand that, they’ll be more likely to value their faith because they’ll realize there’s much more at stake than a trivial matter of opinion. (For help talking to your kids about the nature of truth and Christianity in the context of other worldviews, see chapters 9-13 in my book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side.)
  • The truth of Christianity can be assessed by looking at evidence. Even if a person realizes that Christianity is ultimately an objective truth, they may place little value on committing to Christ because they believe there’s no real way of knowing Christianity is true. Our culture perpetuates the idea that faith is blind—a big leap in the dark. But that’s not the nature of biblical faith at all. Biblical faith is rooted in good reason (1 Peter 3:15). Again, kids don’t understand this by default. We have to shape their understanding so they know that they really can be confident that their decision for Christ is rooted in good reasons. That conviction makes all the difference in the world in how much a person values their faith.

 

2. They never had time to value it.

I’m guessing that if I had put my daughter in a room without distraction and plenty of time, she could have come close to totaling up the coins on her own. But between school, homework, piano lessons, soccer and chores, there’s no way such an exercise was going to get priority. She just didn’t have the time to appropriately value what was in the bag.

It’s really easy to play the victim when it comes to the perceived predator of time. I’m hugely guilty of this myself. “I have no time!” “I just wish there was more time!” “Where did the time go?” Those are things we all say. But the fact is, we all have the same number of hours in the day. It’s a matter of how we choose to use them. If your family’s spiritual life is crowded out by the constant shuttling between extracurricular activities, it’s time to really consider that. It might not be comfortable to look at it this way, but if we’re too busy to set aside family spiritual time at least once a week (for Bible study, faith conversations, prayer, etc.), we are quite literally choosing other activities over our kids’ spiritual growth.

It’s up to us to make time for them to learn to value their faith.

 

3. They forgot how to value it.

Last year, I actually had taught my kids how to add up coins of different values; there was a point in time when my daughter probably wouldn’t have been so cavalier with the money because she did know how to value it. But she forgot.

It’s easy to take for granted that whatever we taught our kids last month, last year, or three years ago is still part of their working knowledge. But planting seeds isn’t enough. We have to continually water them, tend to the growing soul, and plant more seeds. Otherwise, those earlier seedlings can easily be lost, and our kids can simply forget how to value what they may have know how to value in the past.

 

May we all help our kids develop a faith that they clutch like that Ziploc, realizing the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:8).

 

Visit Natasha’s website at www.ChristianMomThoughts.com


Resources for Greater Impact:

Book Review: No God But One: Allah or Jesus? by Nabeel Qureshi

By Timothy Fox

Are Christianity and Islam different paths to the same God? Is Jesus really divine or just another prophet? Which is the true word of God, the Koran or the Bible? In No God But One: Allah or Jesus? (NGBO), Nabeel Qureshi explores many of the most common questions involving Islam and Christianity to show “the differences between Islam and Christianity have great implications, and that the evidence of history strongly supports the Christian claims” (11).

Nabeel Qureshi

But this book is not merely academic; it’s personal. Nabeel calls NGBO a “summary of fifteen years of research that wrenched my heart and transformed my life.” The content and tone will be familiar to anyone who read his first book,Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus (SAFJ), which chronicles his journey from a devout Muslim to follower of Christ. While Nabeel says that book is “the heart of my story, detailing the relationships, emotions, and spiritual struggles in my search for God,” NGBO is “the mind of my story, examining the religions and their claims” (11).

Another similarity with SAFJ is the use of personal experiences to frame deep theological issues, making NGBO both engaging and easy to read. As I read his previous book, Answering Jihad (read my review here), I was amazed at how Nabeel approached such a difficult topic with great sensitivity, clarity, and brevity. The same goes for his latest. A lesser writer could have used four times the amount pages to convey the same information but Nabeel makes his points simply and with ease, moving briskly from one topic to the next while still providing a thorough response.

Content

NGBO is divided into two main sections, each framed around a key question. The first is “Are Islam and Christianity Really All That Different?” Nabeel discusses five points of contention between the religions: sharia vs. the gospel, Allah’s unity vs. the Trinity, Jesus vs. Muhammad, the Koran vs. the Bible, and Jihad vs. the Crusades. But again, this is not just scoring points in a religious sparring match; it’s the result of a lifetime of careful study: “A decade of experiences as a Christian contrasted with my first twenty-two years of life as a Muslim leaves me no alternative conclusion: Christianity is very different from Islam” (169).

After establishing the vast differences between the religions, the second question is “Can We Know Whether Islam or Christianity Is True?” The case for Christianity rests on three facts: Jesus’ death, resurrection, and deity. Nabeel states “If all three are true, we have good reason to accept the Christian message” (173). To establish the truthfulness of Islam, he focuses on its holy book and prophet: “If we can determine that the Koran is the word of God, or if we can determine that Muhammad is a messenger of God, then we have good reason to accept Islam” (175). Nabeel explores these five points by using the historical method and interacting with the works of leading scholars.

But what if you are already a committed Christian and have no interest in Islam? This book is still important for you as the objections to Christianity that Nabeel answers are not unique to Muslims. Many a skeptic has questioned the reliability of the New Testament or accused the concept of the Trinity of being incoherent. And don’t forget that Nabeel began as a critic of Christianity and raised all of these objections himself.

Conclusion

NBGO ends with a third, deeply personal question: “Is it worth sacrificing everything for the truth?” Because accepting the truth comes with a price. Here in America, we think changing religions is as simple as switching political parties. However, “Leaving Islam can cost you everything: family, friends, job, everything you have ever known and maybe even life itself” (349). Nabeel learned this firsthand, as did Fatima, a young Saudi woman whose courageous and heartbreaking story sets the tone for the entire book.

No, Christianity and Islam are not two paths to the same God. They present radically different views of God and salvation and only one can be true. So who is God, Allah or Jesus? Nabeel concludes:

“There is no God but one, and He is Father, Spirit, and Son. There is no God but one, and He is Jesus” (349).


Resources for Greater Impact:

Forgiveness: The Most Powerful Apologetic

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

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

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

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

Forgiveness: The Most Powerful Apologetic

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Makes the Deaths of the Apostles Unique?

“The apostles were willing to die for their faith? So what! Many people, such as Muslim terrorists and Buddhist radicals, were willing to die as well. Does that mean their beliefs are true too?”

One of the most common arguments for the resurrection is the willingness of the apostles to die for their belief in the risen Jesus. This argument is compelling, as I demonstrate in my recent book The Fate of the Apostles. Yet as soon as this argument is put forth, the objector will point to others who have died for their faith, implying that the deaths of the apostles is not unique.

Certainly, many people throughout history have died for their beliefs. As a form of political protest, for example, Buddhist monks have participated in self-immolation.[1] And on September 11, 2001, nineteen radical Muslims hijacked four planes and, killing themselves in the process, attacked and killed thousands of people. Clearly, the willingness to die on their parts shows the sincerity of their beliefs. Muslim radicals believed they were following the commands of the Qur’an and would be rewarded in the afterlife; Buddhist monks believed their sacrifice would save more lives in the future or lead to political freedom. Given these Muslim radicals and Buddhists were just as sincere as the apostles, should their claims be considered as reliable as well?

But this objection misses a key difference between the deaths of the apostles and modern martyrs. Modern martyrs[2] die for what they sincerely believe is true, but their knowledge comes secondhand from others. For instance, Muslim terrorists who attacked the Twin Towers on 9/11 were not eyewitnesses of any miracles by Mohammed. In fact, they were not eyewitnesses of any events of the life of Mohammed. Rather, they lived over thirteen centuries later. No doubt the Muslim radicals acted out of sincere belief, but their convictions were received secondhand at best from others. They did not know Mohammed personally, see him fulfill any prophecy, or witness him doing any miracles such as walking on water, healing the blind, or rising from the dead. There is a massive difference between willingly dying for the sake of the religious ideas accepted from the testimony of others (Muslim radicals) and willingly dying for the proclamation of a faith based upon one’s own eyewitness account (apostles). The deaths of the nineteen terrorists provide no more evidence for the truth of Islam than my death would provide for the truth of Christianity. My martyrdom would show I really believed it, but nothing more.

In contrast to the beliefs of Buddhist monks and Muslim radicals and any other modern martyrs, including Christians, the beliefs of the apostles was not received secondhand, but from personal experience with the risen Jesus (Acts 1:21-22; 1 Cor 15:5-8). They proclaimed what they had seen and heard with their own eyes and ears, not stories received from others (Acts 1:3; 2:22-24). Peter not only claims that he was an eyewitness but that the events took place in public and that his audience had full knowledge of them. The events were not done secretly in a corner. Buddhist monks and Muslim terrorists are certainly willing to suffer and die for a faith they received secondhand, but the apostles were willing to suffer and die for what they had seen with their own eyes.

If Jesus had not risen from the grave and appeared to his apostles, they alone would have known the falsity of his claims. In other words, if the resurrection did not happen, the apostles would have willingly suffered and died for something they knew was false. While people die for what they believe is true, it is a stretch to think all the apostles were willing to suffer and die for a claim they knew was false. The suffering and deaths of the apostles testify to the sincerity of their beliefs that they had seen the risen Jesus.

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


[1]Anthony Boyd, “Buddhist Monk Sets Himself on Fire to Protest against the Slaughter of Cattle in Sri Lanka,” The Daily Mail, May 24, 2013, accessed May 7, 2014,http://www.dailymail.co.uk /news/article-2330398/Buddhist-monk-sets-protest-slaughter-cattle-Sri-Lanka.html.

[2]The term “modern martyrs” refers to those who die in the present age for their beliefs. Technically, Muslim terrorists would not qualify as martyrs since they are actively murdering people rather than being put to death for the proclamation of their faith.

Why I Love Atheists

Last week I wrote a post Three Reasons I am Not an Atheist. For this post I am going to take a different route: rather than critique atheism as a worldview, I am going to discuss why I love atheists as people. So, I am shifting from talking about the idea of atheism to the people who embrace it.

Why I Love Atheists

I certainly don’t claim to represent all atheists in this post. There are a huge variety of people who consider themselves atheists (in terms of belief systems and demeanor), just as there is in Christianity, Islam, and many other religions. And there are even debates about what constitutes atheism—is it belief that God does not exist, or simply the lack of belief in God? My goal is not to enter into these kinds of debates, but simply to reflect on many atheists I have encountered personally, or through their writings, and what I love about them.

As apologists, we are often quick to criticize atheism as a worldview. But as I point out in A New Kind of Apologist, if we want people to hear our case for Christianity, we need to find common ground with others and also be charitable towards them as people. With that backdrop, here are three reasons why I love atheists:

1. Many atheists care about (what they believe is) truth

There are far more Christians in America than atheists. As a result, it is easy for people who grow up with Christian parents to simply embrace their family beliefs without genuinely considering any alternatives. There is little or no cost (at least in this country) to embracing the beliefs of your parents.

As a college student, I went through a period of significant doubt. In fact, I told my father, without knowing how he would respond, that I wasn’t even sure if I believed Christianity was true. While my father did respond graciously, and I ended up finding good answers to my questions, I remember counting the cost of what it would mean to reject my Christian roots. While thankfully I ended up keeping my faith, I still respect my atheist friends who choose a different path. Many count the cost and choose (what they believe is) truth over comfort. Even though I think atheism is wrong, I still can respect a person who makes a sincere decision based on what they believe to be true and tries to live accordingly.

Sure, I know some atheists who have rejected their Christian roots out of spite or rebellion. But that’s certainly not always the case. My atheist friends who have walked away from their faith remind me how important it is that we follow truth, regardless of the cost. Beliefs matter. And they do have consequences.

2. Atheists have made me think deeply about my own worldview

My worldview has undoubtedly been deeply shaped and influenced by great Christian writers such Aquinas, Augustine, Jonathan Edwards and even modern thinkers such as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and N.T. Wright.

But just as formative for me are atheist writers such as Nietzsche, Russell, and Camus. They have forced me to think deeply about my worldview and to consider why I believe as I do. In fact, some of my motivation to study and learn has come from the challenges they have raised to my faith: Why does God allow evil? Is there life after death? Is my faith a crutch? The more I have studied to find answers to these kinds of questions, the more my faith has grown.

Similarly, I love having conversations with my atheist friends. They tend to see weaknesses and vulnerabilities in my arguments, and force me to clarify and justify what I believe. Sometimes I have a good response, but many times I have to go back and study further to find an answer. But regardless, these kinds of conversations are always beneficial and enjoyable.

3. Atheists are made in the image of God.

As a Christian, I believe every human being—regardless of age, race, socioeconomic status, intelligence, athletic prowess, and sexual orientation—bears the imago dei. In other words, human beings have infinite dignity, value, and worth as members of the human race.

Even though atheists don’t believe in God, as a Christian, I still believe they reflect the image of their creator (Gen 1:17). As a result, like all people, they are unbelievably value human beings whom God loves. And so do I.

I am grateful for my atheist friends. Do I disagree with them? Yes. Do I pray for them at times? Certainly. Do I want them to become Christians? Absolutely! But my relationship with them does not depend upon their beliefs. My love for them does not depend on their conversion. Even if they never embrace Christ, I am thankful for their friendship. I love atheists, and if you are reading this as a Christian, I hope you do too.

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

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

By Natasha Crain

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

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

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

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

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

Zero percent of the hands go up…every time.

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

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

Here are five key things to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Greater Impact Resources: 

 

 

 

Why Are Christians So Defensive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Islamic Terror, Homosexuality, & the Consequences of Ideas

By Tim Stratton

Sunday morning I awoke to horrific news on my Facebook feed: an Islamic terrorist brutally gunned down over fifty of our fellow human beings at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This broke my heart and made me extremely angry! I cannot imagine the sorrow, pain, and anguish the friends and family members of the deceased victims are currently experiencing. This was an objectively evil act – it was wrong!

As soon as I read the headlines and processed the fact that evil has once again reared its ugly head, I told my wife what was going to happen next. Like clockwork, people were going to insist that “religion is the problem,” or that “guns are the problem.” The statements made on social media over the past few hours have validated my prediction. In this article I will examine both of these statements and offer a third option that must be considered if we are to extinguish terror, hate, and evil.

“Religion is the Problem!”

Since 9-11, many atheists have pontificated, “Religion is what’s wrong in the world today.” They conclude that since Muslims were behind the terror attacks on September the 11th, 2001, and Islam is a religion, then religion is to blame for the terror in the world today. This attempt at an argument can be written in the following syllogism:

1- Islam is responsible for the 9-11 terror attacks.
2- Islam is a religion.
3- Therefore, religion is responsible for the 9-11 terror attacks.

This argument fails as it commits the logical fallacy of composition. This error involves an assumption that what is true about one part of something must be applied to all, or other parts of it. In this case, the atheist assumes that since one particular religion affirms terror, then all religions affirm terror.

If one were to allow this argument to pass, then we could jump to all kinds of crazy conclusions. For example, according to several reports I read following the terror attack in Orlando, the terrorist was a registered Democrat. If one allows the above argument to pass, then the following argument would suffice as well:

1- The terrorist responsible for murdering homosexuals in the gay nightclub was a registered Democrat.
2- Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are Democrats.
3- Therefore, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are responsible for the murders of homosexuals in the gay nightclub.

Obviously this is ridiculous and such reasoning is incoherent. Reasonable people will reject such “conclusions.” Thus, a reasonable person will reject the so-called “conclusion” that, “religion is the problem with the world today.” This is explicitly demonstrated when surveying other religions and world views.

Take the religion of Christianity, for example. A necessary condition for one to be a legitimate Christian is that they desire, and strive, to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus are clearly contradictory to the teachings of Muhammad and Islam. Sure, the two religions share some overlapping beliefs: Christians and Muslims all agree, for example, that the universe began to exist and was caused and created by an enormously powerful Intelligent Designer, but they begin to part ways soon after. The final teachings from both of these religions are quite different with Muhammad commanding Muslims to kill all infidels (non-Muslims) in the Quran, and Jesus commanding his followers to love all people, from their neighbors (Mark 12:31) to their enemies (Matthew 5:44), in the Bible. Moreover, according to Islam, those in the LGB community are to be executed. According to Jesus, however, although homosexual acts go against God’s plan, the ones committing these homosexual acts are to be loved!

Let me repeat myself: According to the law of Christ found in the New Testament, homosexual acts are sinful, but homosexuals are to be LOVED! Click here for more!

“Guns are the Problem!”

Many others in America today see horrendous headlines of Islamic terror and immediately jump to the hasty conclusion that guns are the real problem. The error with this line of thinking is that it does not take into consideration all of the other means by which evil people can accomplish their evil plans. After all, the Nazis used poisonous gas to kill millions of Jews, the Ku Klux Klan used rope to hang African Americans, Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer to kill 168 people, and Islamic terrorists killed thousands of Americans on 9-11 without firing a single bullet.

If one thinks banning guns is going to stop hate crimes, then, to be consistent, they must also strive to ban all gas, rope, fertilizer, and airplanes too. This is obviously ridiculous as well, as the real problem does not lie within the tools that an evil man uses to accomplish his evil desires, but the desires of the evil man. If all guns, rope, fertilizer, and airplanes were banished from the face of the earth, these evil men would continue to find ways to accomplish their hateful plans. This is a much bigger problem.

Ideas are the Problem!

These evil desires typically stem from previously held ideas. The way one thinks directly leads to the way one acts, and the way one believes directly influences the way he behaves. You see, the problem is not all religions, all guns, all rope, all fertilizer, or all airplanes. The problem is ALLbeliefs, thoughts, and ideas that do not correspond to reality.

Ideas have consequences, and ideas that do not correspond to reality have painful consequences. These underlying ideas are referred to as one’s worldview. A worldview is a foundational set of beliefs that ultimately influence all other beliefs built upon this foundation.

Consider the worldview (or idea) of atheism. It is vitally important to understand what consistent atheism logically implies: If God does not exist, then there is nothing objectively good, bad, right, wrong, fair, or evil with anything! Watch this short video to understand exactly why this is true. It logically follows that if naturalistic atheism is true, then there is nothing really wrong with the Islamic terrorist shooting homosexuals at the gay nightclub in Orlando this past weekend. Moreover, if naturalistic atheism is true, this Muslim had no choice in the matter, as the laws of physics and chemistry forced this poor terrorist to believe and behave exactly as he did. It was simply not his fault.

To make matters worse for atheists, history is not on their side. This past century has provided evidence as to the consequences of following atheistic ideas, as the nations governed according to these ideals usually end in suffering and mass human slaughter. The atrocities committed in the name of atheism by Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and arguably Hitler being influenced by naturalism’s “survival of the fittest,” has caused devastating collisions with the reality of morality; human suffering and death followed on a massive scale.

If naturalistic atheism were true, then there would be nothing really wrong, bad, or evil with any action and there would be no ability to make moral choices. Couple that with the historical fact that communistic governments officially adopting atheism (or being influenced by it) make all murders under the umbrella of “religion” pale in comparison. Why would anyone want to hold to an incoherent worldview like atheism over the ideas of Jesus teaching all people to love all people? Can you imagine a world where everyone loves everyone? That sounds like heaven to me — maybe Jesus was on to something!

So, if you are keeping score, here is a quick recap: In regards to the terrorist attacks at the gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida this past weekend, here is what each worldview affirms; or rather, here are the consequences that follow from each set of ideas:

1- Consistent Islam: this attack was GOOD as Muhammad’s final commands were to kill the infidels (Take five minutes to understand by clicking here).

2- Consistent Atheism: there was NOTHING objectively WRONG with these attacks. In fact, on naturalistic atheism it is unavoidable. Terrorists are therefore not responsible for their actions.

3- Consistent Christianity: this attack was objectively WRONG and EVIL! According to the law of Christ, all humans are commanded to love all humans (even the ones we disagree with). According to Jesus, we are to love everyone from our neighbors to our enemies. Thus, one who consistently follows the teachings of Jesus will demonstrate love to all people (even the ones he disagrees with)!

Is there a best choice option? Yes there is. The one supported by all of the evidence and the same one commanding us to love!

Bottom line: If you agree that these Islamic terror attacks against homosexuals at the gay nightclub were objectively wrong and evil, then, to be logically consistent, you must reject atheism, Islam, or any other view that disagrees with the teachings of Jesus Christ. If you think terror and persecution against the homosexual community is objectively wrong, then you ought to be a Christ follower!

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5) and love one another (John 13:34-35),

Tim Stratton


Notes

To learn more about Islamic terror and Jihad, begin by reading this article by Timothy Fox reviewing the book of the former Muslim, Nabeel Qureshi, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward.

Original article: http://freethinkingministries.com/islamic-terror-homosexuality-the-consequences-of-ideas/

Is Spiritual Truth a Matter of Opinion? An Open Letter to a Relativist

By Natasha Crain

I received the following blog comment this week, packed with statements that your kids are likely to hear (and possibly come to believe) about the nature of truth. I wanted to reply to the commenter right here in a blog post because I feel there is so much that is important for everyone to understand about what he is saying.

I’m going to include the full comment below so you can read it in its unbroken entirety, then I’ll break it down part-by-part. If you have older kids, I encourage you to read them this letter and use it as a discussion starter.

For context, this person is responding to an atheist who had commented on a post previously, and is encouraging him to stay strong in the midst of Christian claims.

You are really brave defending your stance against a bunch of evangelical Christians banging on you. I myself am not an atheist. If I have to put a label on myself, I would choose agnostic theist. I believe in God or a higher power, but I don’t have an absolute certainty of his or her nature.

 My belief is rational to [a] certain extent. The rest is on faith. However, unlike Christians, my spiritual path is highly personal and subjective. I will never say that “you’d better believe what I believe or you will suffer eternal consequences”. Christians, whichever denominations, like to intimidate me which [sic] this “Jesus is the high way” tactic even though I never initiate any religious conversation with them. However, I have survived as a gay, Vietnamese, and non-Abrahamic-faith person, and my life is pretty good so far. I know you may not like to hear this. I feel connected to God with contemplation, prayer, and compassion practice. When I have a child, I will not raise him or her as an atheist or a believer. I will do my best to raise him as a person who has a higher sense of empathy and compassion. If he chooses to be a Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, etc., I will support his decision. I believe that God is like an ocean, and different spiritual paths are like rivers. I am not the one who decides which river is the best to reach the ocean…

Keep your stance and keep searching truth…your truth. Not mine and definitely not these Christians’.

 

My Response: An Open Letter to a Relativist

 

Dear Minh,

Thank you for being willing to honestly share your spiritual journey in the comments section of my blog. It’s clear that spirituality is an important topic for you, as it is for me. With that in mind, I’d like to respond to several of the points you make.

 

You said: I myself am not an atheist. If I have to put a label on myself, I would choose agnostic theist. I believe in God or a higher power, but I don’t have an absolute certainty of his or her nature.

From what you’re saying here, it sounds like you are “agnostic” about what kind of God or higher power exists because you haven’t found anything pointing to that Being’s nature withabsolute certainty. However, it’s important that we’re honest with ourselves about this desire for absolute certainty. There’s pretty much nothing in life we know with “absolute certainty.” For example, do you know with absolute certainty that you are a real person and that everything you experience is not just an illusion? No, but you have good reason to believe you really exist and you live accordingly. We claim to know things all the time that we can’t beabsolutely certain about. When the preponderance of evidence points toward something being true, we go ahead and say we know it.

The question I would leave you to consider, therefore, is this: If you discovered that a preponderance of evidence pointed to a specific religion being the one true revelation of God to humans, would you accept it as truth? Or do you require a level of certainty that you don’t require of anything else in your life?

If you require a unique level of certainty in spiritual matters, then I would suggest perhaps you don’t want to find truth. If you are open to considering the weight of the evidence for the possible objective truth of a specific religion, then I would invite you to begin that investigation in earnest. If you would like to learn about the evidence for Christianity specifically, I will recommend a great starting book at the end of this letter.

 

You said: My belief is rational to certain extent. The rest is on faith. However, unlike Christians, my spiritual path is highly personal and subjective.

It sounds as though you are suggesting that a highly personal and subjective spiritual path is a better way than an objective one, such as in Christianity. However, it’s important to realize (if that’s indeed what you are implying) that by claiming this, YOU are making an objective statement–that a highly personal and subjective spiritual path is best for everyone! That’s a contradiction.

 

You said: I will never say that “you’d better believe what I believe or you will suffer eternal consequences”.

If you’re an agnostic theist, then you presumably don’t believe there are eternal consequences for your beliefs, so of course you will never say that. But what you are really saying here is that it’s wrong (and probably arrogant) for Christians to suggest to others that they have objective knowledge that beliefs have eternal consequences. Here’s the problem: What if Christianity is true? What if there are eternal consequences for what you believe? Would it be more loving for Christians to tell others about that, or to stay silent in the fear that the truth might bother you? Whether you believe Christianity is true or not, it’s not logical to suggest it’s a bad thing for Christians to warn other people about what they believe to be eternal consequences. When a person truly believes something horrible will happen to another person unless they warn them about it (think of someone about to get hit by a bus), the logical and loving action is to warn them. I would hope you would do the same if that were your belief.

 

You said: Christians, whichever denominations, like to intimidate me which this “Jesus is the high way” tactic even though I never initiate any religious conversation with them.

We really need to stop here and better define the nature of intimidation; there is a huge difference between an intimidating delivery of a message, an intimidating message, and feelingintimidated.

If a Christian has gotten in your face, waving a Bible in the air and shouted angrily at you, “Jesus is the only way!” then they have delivered a message in an intimidating way. And I apologize if you have been the recipient of any such graceless delivery. That is not how Jesus would speak.

An intimidating message is one that is frightening in and of itself. Is the message that Jesus is the only way to God frightening? If so, I encourage you to really dig deep and understand why it would be frightening to you if there was really just one objective truth. The gospel is good news…Jesus died so that our sins can be forgiven and we can be reconciled to our wonderful Creator.

Finally, a person can feel intimidated even if someone does not deliver a message in an intimidating way and doesn’t even deliver an intimidating message. There is nothing inherently intimidating about saying that Jesus is the only way to God! But if, in response to that, you feelintimidated, then it’s worth digging within to understand why the notion of one objective truth is so challenging to you personally.

 

You said: However, I have survived as a gay, Vietnamese, and non Abrahamic-faith person, and my life is pretty good so far. I know you may not like to hear this.

Minh, the test of truth should never be whether or not our lives are “pretty good.” A person can believe the world is flat (a wrong belief about reality) while having an amazing life from an earthly perspective. It’s not about survival and circumstances; it’s about having good reason to know that what you believe is an accurate picture of reality.

 

You said: I feel connected to God with contemplation, prayer, and compassion practice.

But why put so much trust in your feelings? Our feelings can’t be the final arbiter of truth. If I tell you I feel connected to Jesus as God’s son, who represents the only way to God, you wouldn’t believe I’m right. So there has to be something objective–evidence outside of your and my personal experiences–to help us determine what is actually true.

 

You said: When I have a child, I will not raise him or her as an atheist or a believer. I will do my best to raise him as a person who has a higher sense of empathy and compassion.

Why are empathy and compassion the most important values? Why are they “higher” in value or truth than whether or not God exists? If God doesn’t exist, and the world is only material, then there is no basis for objective morality; there is nothing morally good or bad because there is no moral authority. Empathy and compassion are morally equivalent to killing people if we are just molecules in motion. To be sure, I’m not suggesting that most atheists would ever think killing a person is OK. But, in a world with no God (a moral authority), at best you could say that killing people is not good in your opinion, and therefore you won’t do it. Atheists can be “good without God,” but they have no objective basis from which to call anything good. Similarly, if you don’t believe in a God who has revealed anything of His nature, you have no objective basis from which to refer to empathy and compassion as “higher” values.

 

You said: If he chooses to be a Christian, Buddhist, Wiccan, Pagan, etc, I will support his decision.

If by “support” you mean you will continue to love him dearly, regardless of what he believes, then I agree wholeheartedly. But if by “support” you mean you will accept whatever he believes as an equally valid picture of truth, then once again this is a contradiction. At the end of your whole comment, you advise fellow readers to not search for the truth of Christianity. Clearly, if your son believed Christianity is true, you would not feel that view is as valid as yours. Thus, you are willing to claim that at least some views are objectively wrong.

 

You said: I believe that God is like an ocean, and different spiritual paths are like rivers.

If you study where all these “rivers” are actually leading, you’ll see that they make logically incompatible truth claims; they aren’t even claiming to run to the same ocean. As a simple example, in Judaism, Jesus is not the Messiah. He is simply a man. In Christianity, Jesus is the Messiah and is God Himself. These claims cannot both be true. They contradict each other and cannot point to the same truth.

 

You said: I am not the one who decides which river is the best to reach the ocean.

If God exists, as you and I both believe, then you are correct: We are not the ones who decide which river is the best to reach the ocean. GOD IS! Ironically, by stating that you are not the one to decide what is best, so you therefore choose to believe that all paths are fine, you ARE making a claim of what is best. God, and God alone, determines which “river” flows to Him. The question is, has He revealed which river that is, and if so, which revelation is correct? Christians believe He has revealed that river as Jesus. We are not claiming to have decided that on your behalf, which I think is a misunderstanding that flows throughout your comment. We are simply claiming that the river that runs to God has already been decided by God and are sharing what we believe He has revealed.

 

You said: Keep your stance and keep searching truth, your truth. Not mine and definitely not these Christians’.

After all you wrote about the equally valid paths to God, it’s hard not to see the irony in how you’re advising others to definitely not search for the truth of “these Christians.” Are all paths valid except Christianity? You champion relative, subjective truth, but in doing so, you are making an objective claim that all paths are equally valid (except, notably, Christianity).

The bottom line is this: Truth is not what we like the best, what makes us most comfortable, what costs us the least, or what makes us happiest. It’s what accurately matches reality. I encourage you to consider the actual evidence for the truth of various worldviews, including of course, Christianity. If you honestly and openly do so, I am confident you will see that there is good reason to believe that Christianity is the uniquely true revelation of God. An excellent book that examines this evidence from the perspective of a detective is Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels.

 I wish you the best and hope that there is some food for thought here.


 

For anyone wanting to better understand the nature of objective truth, whether or not all religions can point to the same truth, why Christians can claim to “know” Christianity is true, and how common sense and personal experience are or are not helpful in determining truth, please check out my new book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith. It’s available from your local Barnes & Noble and Christian book retailers, as well as ChristianBook.com, BarnesandNoble.com, and Amazon.com.

Is Spiritual Truth a Matter of Opinion? An Open Letter to a Relativist

What are the Best Apologetics Resources for Students?

When I first wrote my book Ethix in 2006, the reviewer for the Christian Research Journal said its one of a few, but growing number of apologetics resources for students. It’s amazing how much has changed in a decade. Now we have tons of good apologetics resources for students, and the challenge is to highlight the best ones. The purpose of this post is simply to highlight some of my personal favorites. Please let me know if there are any good ones I need to add to my list.

BIBLES:

The Apologetics Study Bible for Students. This Bible has quick answers to the top 120 questions students have about God, the Bible, ethics, and other religions, as well as many other apologetics features.
CONFERENCES:

Summit Ministries: A life-changing 12-day worldview training experience for students in California, Colorado, and Tennessee.
Re-Think: Weekend apologetics conferences featuring leading apologists and thinkers today tailored uniquely for students.
Impact 360 Immersion: Two-week summer worldview and apologetics experience for high school students in Pine Mountain, Georgia.
Wheatstone Academy: One-week worldview experience designed to help students ask deep, meaningful questions, think Christianly about the arts and culture, and cultivate their own faith.
BOOKS:

Cold Case Christianity (J. Warner Wallace)
Stealing from God (Frank Turek)
Is God Just a Human Invention? (McDowell & Morrow)
Ethix: Being Bold In A Whatever World (S. McDowell)
Welcome to College (J. Morrow)
Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis)
The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, The Case for the Real Jesus (L. Strobel) *I recommend student versions for ages 11-13.
More Than a Carpenter (J. McDowell)
CURRICULUM:

GodQuest: 6-week introductory apologetics course for youth groups.
True U: Three 10-part apologetics series for upper high school and college students on the existence of God, reliability of the Bible, and Jesus.
Re-Think Student Conference Sessions: 7 critical lectures for students on various apologetics topics.
The Defense Never Rests: Student workbook to go along with training material from William Lane Craig (ages 10-16).
Ask: An interactive 4-part student curriculum from RZIM.
Big Questions: A 6-part apologetics series to help students think about the big questions of life. Includes interviews with leading apologists.
Understanding the Times: High school worldview curriculum for the classroom.
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be An Atheist: Curriculum created by Frank Turek to go along with his classic book.

YOUTUBE VIDEOS:

*These videos are great to show in order to spur conversation with students:

Reasonable Faith Animated Videos.
Impact 360 videos. These are short animated videos on Questioning the Bible, the resurrection, and the nature of worldview.
One Minute Apologist: Quick interviews with leading apologists on a variety of issues.
Sean McDowell YouTube channel


 

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

4 Pieces of Wisdom from a Street Level Apologist

By Billy Dyer

One reason I believe in Christianity is because it speaks of reality closer than any other worldview. This isn’t the only or even the main reason but it is one of the reasons. Even if Christianity is not true (I do not doubt Christianity) I am convinced that atheism is wholly false. That is because atheism contradict the real world at every turn. I try to point this out to skeptics all the time and I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with people. Here are four observations I’ve made about our culture.

  1. Understand our culture is hypocritically skeptical about history

    Have you ever noticed that modern man is very skeptical about what happened in history? Of course he isn’t skeptical at all about the information we have in the Present. As if the present is some sort of infallible guide to truth. To our culture it seems as if the present contains the whole field of vision for truth. That is, if we believe it today then it must be true. Furthermore, they have the snobbery of believing that ancient man has nothing to teach us. But what I find most interesting is that this skepticism about history only goes back so far. Once you get back to the pre-historic days then somehow history becomes a matter of science and we all know science is infallible. Therefore, the study of dinosaurs is reliable but the study of the early church are ransacked with error.

  2. Realize they have a strong distrust of ancient text

    Modern man just cannot stomach the concept that the Bible has been copied. If it has been copied then assuredly it has to have been corrupted many times over. Admittedly this is a difficult topic to address not due to the evidence being in their favor but because of time. That is, we simply do not have the time, during those moments of objection, to sit down and teach them about textual criticism. At the same time, though, we can use their faith in science to our aide. They do call textual criticism a science. Therefore, we can ask the skeptic, “why should you doubt the science of textual criticism if their data findings conclude that the Biblical text has been preserved?”.

  3. Any sense of sin is virtually lacking

    The Apostles went into the world of pagans to preach the Gospel. It was full of mystical religions who worshipped the dead, conjured up spirits, had ancestor worship, idol worship, gross immorality, etc… But at least they had a concept of moral obligations. That is why the Gospel was called “good news”. For the pagans finally understood they could be truly forgiven for what they knew they had done wrong. I know it may seem weird to think about but please think about it for a minute. A person can be highly immoral in the Christian sense yet still have an understanding of a moral code. I’ve noticed this in my study on gangs. They are very wicked people. In fact, if women want to enter the gang they have to allow themselves to be raped by all the members as an initiation rite. Men sometimes have to kill an innocent person or allow themselves to be brutally beaten to show their loyalty. As wicked as this may be they still have a moral code. There are a set of rules that they still abide by. In our day and age America is forsaking the concept that morals even exist. As apologists we don’t even have grounds to start on to talk about sin. We have to convince the world that sin, in any sense of the term, even exists first. They do not want to know if they can be acquitted for sin but whether God can be acquitted for creating such a world as this. 

  4. We must learn the language of our audience

    Not too many Bible students have had the opportunity to study this out so I am just going to mention it here. But the New Testament authors actually took words from the contemporary culture and redefined them to fit what they were teaching. I think this is brilliant because it builds a bride of understanding. That is, we can take a concept that they do understand simply help show them the fuller truth of the nugget they seem to already agree with. This is why I try to stay away from using Christian-eze language when talking to non-church going people. That is language that is virtually only understood by Church people (atonement, propitiation, justification, sanctification). Don’t get me wrong. We shouldn’t ignore the concepts. I am only imploring you to speak of the concepts using words that make sense to your audience. If you cannot translate your theology into the common man’s vernacular then you are too confused about theology to teach it. So instead of saying God “justifies” us, we can say God acquits us. When speaking of “God’s wrath” I often use the illustration of a bounty hunter. We are criminals who are being tracked down by the bounty hunter known as God’s wrath and He always catches his victim. But God has provided a means of payment to satisfy this bounty hunter and it is only through Jesus. Another word to stay away from is “faith” When our culture hears faith they think of a blind leap in the dark or believing in spite of the evidence. Instead I like the word trust because our audience understands it and it actually better defines the Greek word.

If you keep these four things in mind it will help you to know your audience and present the case for Christ better.

For more articles like 4 Pieces of Wisdom from a Street Level Apologist visit Billy’s website: Dyerthoughts.com 

Billy Dyer is a CrossExamined Instructor Academy Graduate.

7 Questions from “Who is God”

By Brian Chilton

This past Sunday, the third episode of Morgan Freeman’s show The Story of God as aired on the National Geographic Channel. The third episode dealt with how God is understood to be in various cultures and religions. Again, I am profoundly surprised at how well this show has been made. The show has not attacked any particular worldview, as I feared that it would. Rather, the show has taken a fairly neutral position while evaluating some major topics. This episode was no different. The third episode dealt with the issue “Who is God?” This article will seek to answer 7 questions that were raised during the show from a Christian perspective.

 

  1. Is there one God or several gods?

By sheer necessity, there is only one ultimate uncaused cause. If there were several gods or goddesses, one would have to ask “How did such a number of gods arise?” It seems to me that one would be forced to accept a first uncaused cause. While it is possible to accept a multiplicity of gods and goddesses, it makes better sense to accept that only one God exists. Why? Well, I think Thomas Aquinas answers this well. Aquinas states,

 “When the existence of a cause is demonstrated from an effect, this effect takes the place of the definition of the cause in proof of the cause’s existence. This is especially the case in regard to God, because, in order to prove the existence of anything, it is necessary to accept as a middle term the meaning of the word, and not its essence, for the question of its essence follows on the question of its existence. Now the names given to God are derived from His effects; consequently, in demonstrating the existence of God from His effects, we make take for the middle term the meaning of the word ‘God.’”[1]

From sheer necessity, only one God must exist. Thus, God could manifest himself in several ways, but in the end there is but only one God.

 

  1. How does one connect to God?

If by connecting, one means relating to God, then one can connect with God in various ways. Morgan Freeman is right when he notes that it is sometimes difficult to relate to a transcendent God. However, God has given us means to relate to him. One way people connect with God is through prayer. Prayer is a means by which we can communicate with God and a way that God communicates with us.[2] Another way a person connects to God is through the written Word of God. The Scriptures are God’s revelation to all humanity. A third way a person can connect with God is through the intellect. A person can connect with God by learning more about God. Fourth, a person can connect with God through nature. As the psalmist notes, “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).[3] Lastly, a person can ultimately connect with God through a relationship with Christ. When one receives Christ, the Bible tells us that the believer is filled with the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:15ff).

 

  1. Has God revealed himself to several people throughout the world?

There is but only one ultimate truth. However, this is not to say that God has not been trying to reveal himself to various peoples throughout the world. Solomon writes that God “has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). So, I am not saying that all religions are the same. Such is not logically possible. However, I feel it is quite possible that God has been trying to reveal himself throughout all of history. Ultimately, the full revelation came through Jesus of Nazareth, the “only begotten Son of God” (John 3:16).

 

  1. How do we know what’s divine?

Only God is truly divine in the purest sense. However, human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1-2). Thus, human beings bear the mark of divinity (although we are not divine). But in fact, all things bear the mark of God in reality because “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). So, only one person is truly divine (God), yet all things bear the imprint of the divine as God created all things.

 

  1. Can we imagine God?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I think Norman Geisler puts it best. Geisler notes that “Although God can be apprehended, He cannot be comprehended.[4] Paul writes, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Thus, we cannot say that we know everything about God. If we could, we would be God.

 

  1. Does God indwell us?

We all bear the image of God (Genesis 1:26). However, God indwells each person who receives Christ as Savior. This person is known as the Holy Spirit.

 

  1. Can we experience God?

Yes! Absolutely we can! We experience the blessings of God every day. However, the only way to fully experience God is through a relationship with Christ Jesus. See also the answer to the second question.[5]

 

Much more could be said about God. In reality, the third episode of Freeman’s documentary as well as this article has focused more upon how humanity knows God. Such a knowledge of God is called revelation. God has revealed himself both through natural revelation (available to all) and special revelation (delivered to those of faith). If a person has not experienced God, it is highly advised that the person seek God and ask God to reveal himself.

 For more articles like 7 Questions from “Who is God” visit Brian’s website at BellatorChristi.com

© April 18, 2016. Brian Chilton.


 

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I.2.2., in Thomas Aquinas, Summa of the Summa, Peter Kreeft, ed., Fathers of the Dominican Province, trans (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990), 59.

[2] Some individuals have argued that God does not communicate with a person through prayer. With all due respect, I have found such arguments greatly lacking. God has spoken to a vast array of individuals in the Bible through the means of prayer (e.g. Habakkuk, Job, Elijah, Isaiah, and so on). To claim that God cannot speak to a person in prayer discredits the power and personal nature of God. However, I agree that one should always “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) to ensure that one is truly hearing from God.

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

[4] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 529.

[5] Also, check out the discipleship program Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby, Richard Blackaby, and Claude V. King.