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3 Startling Truths about the Early Church from the Pre-New Testament Texts

By Brian Chilton

Throughout the New Testament, one will find early creeds, formulations, and hymns that predate the New Testament itself. These texts are often called “proto-New Testament texts.” Proto-New Testament texts date back to the earliest church from those who were eyewitnesses of Jesus himself. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 is perhaps the most popular of the proto-New Testament texts as it bears heavily on the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Concerning 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner write,

Early church in Turkey attributed to St. Peter.

Paul had used the language of “receiving” and “passing on” traditions in 11:23 with respect to the Lord’s Supper. The information about the gospel had been passed on as being of first importance. While the expression could mean “at first” (and Paul undoubtedly shared this with the Corinthians very early on in his ministry among them), the nearly unanimous preference of English translations (first in importance) is probably correct.

The fact that he had received this information about Christ does not contradict his point in Galatians 1:12 that he received his gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.” While the basic gospel message was received by revelation from the Lord, the formulation he used in preaching the gospel included elements that had been passed on to him by those who were Christians before him, perhaps including the fact that Christ died for our sins and that it was according to the Scriptures, that his resurrection took place on the third day and that that was also according to the Scriptures, and the information about the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.[1]

So, what can we learn about the earliest church from the proto-New Testament texts? In the next two sections, I will provide a listing of the more popular—and generally accepted—proto-New Testament creeds and hymns. In the conclusion, I will examine the implications of these texts as it pertains to the beliefs of the earliest church.

Early Church Pre-New Testament

Creeds

  1. Romans 1:3-4 “concerning his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who was a descendant of David according to the flesh and was appointed to be the powerful Son of God according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection of the dead.”[2]
  2. Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
  3. 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
  4. 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me.”
  5. 2 Corinthians 4:5 “For we are not proclaiming ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’s sake.”
  6. 1 Timothy 3:16 “And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.”
  7. 2 Timothy 2:8 “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead and descended from David, according to my gospel.”
  8. 2 Timothy 2:11-13 “This saying is trustworthy: For if we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.”
  9. 1 John 4:2-3 “This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus is Lord has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming; even now it is already in the world.”

Hymns

  1. Philippians 2:5-11 “Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when he had come as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—in heaven and on earth—and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
  2. Colossians 1:15-20 “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For everything was created by him, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and by him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile everything to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

    (c) Telegraph. Archaeologists at possibly one of the oldest Christian churches in Jordan, possibly dating just past the time of Christ.

     

  3. Hebrews 1:1-3 “Long ago God spoke to the fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
  4. 1 Peter 2:21-25 “For you were called to this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He did not commit sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth; when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Conclusion

What can one gather from the aforementioned proto-New Testament texts? In stark contrast to what many liberal theologians purport—that is, that the divinity and miracles of Jesus were late inventions, the following three observations are made. Frankly, it is startling how much emphasis the church placed on these three truths.

  1. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to have physically risen from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus comprised one of the more important aspects of the early church. There was no doubt in the earliest church that Jesus had in fact risen physically from the dead. The acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection was made as an essential aspect of a disciple’s faith in Jesus. Thus, the resurrection was not a late invention. Rather, it was an accepted and established fact by the earliest Christians.
  2. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to be the divine Son of God. Just as the resurrection was not a late invention, neither was the accepted divine nature of Jesus as the Son of God. I was quite startled at the force behind the statements found in the hymns of Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-3. Even the statement “Jesus is Lord” points to the divine nature of Jesus. The Septuagint translated the personal name of God (“YHWH”) as the Greek equivalent to “adonai,” which was “kurios.” To proclaim “Iesous es kurion” (“Jesus is Lord”) was to equivocate Jesus’ identity with that of the Father. Jesus’ divine nature was not a late invention. It was one of the earliest accepted tenants of the church.
  3. From the earliest times of the church, Jesus was believed to be the exclusive way to salvation. The earliest church did not promote universalism—the idea that everyone would eventually be in heaven. Neither was the earliest church inclusivists—the idea that there are multiple ways to heaven. Rather, the earliest church accepted the fact that since Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God; then, he was the exclusive way to the Father.

Historians, apologists, theologians, and laity alike can learn a great deal from the proto-New Testament texts. This article has provided only a sample of the early texts found in the New Testament. The article has not even considered the great wealth of proto-New Testament texts found in the four canonical Gospels. Our New Testament is a trustworthy source for information about Jesus of Nazareth as its basis is found in the earliest church, whom had been given their message from Jesus himself.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mN1KRy


Unholy Benefits of Atheism

By

Examining atheism from the vantage point of Christianity motivates a Christian to ask two questions. First, “what would I gain if I convert to atheism?” Second, “is there any value to the benefits stockpiled from atheism?”

Unholy Benefits Atheims

What would I gain if I convert to atheism?

Thankfully, the “Creed” penned by the English poet and music journalist Steve Turner reflects the panoramic voice of an atheist whose godless worldview mandates an embrace of relativism:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin

We believe everything is OK

as long as you don’t hurt anyone

to the best of your definition of hurt,

and to the best of your knowledge.

We believe in sex before, during, and after marriage.

We believe in the therapy of sin.

We believe that adultery is fun.

We believe that sodomy’s OK.

We believe that taboos are taboo.

We believe that everything’s getting better

despite evidence to the contrary.

The evidence must be investigated

And you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes UFO’s and bent spoons.

Jesus was a good man just like Buddha, Mohammed, and ourselves.

He was a good moral teacher though we think

His good morals were bad.

We believe that all religions are basically the same –

at least the one that we read was.

They all believe in love and goodness.

They only differ on matters of creation,

sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.

We believe that after death comes the Nothing

Because when you ask the dead what happens

they say nothing.

If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all

excepting perhaps

Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn

We believe in Masters and Johnson

What’s selected is average.

What’s average is normal.

What’s normal is good.

We believe in total disarmament.

We believe there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed.

Americans should beat their guns into tractors

and the Russians would be sure to follow.

We believe that man is essentially good.

It’s only his behavior that lets him down.

This is the fault of society.

Society is the fault of conditions.

Conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man must find the truth that

is right for him.

Reality will adapt accordingly.

The universe will readjust.

History will alter.

We believe that there is no absolute truth

excepting the truth

that there is no absolute truth.

We believe in the rejection of creeds,

And the flowering of individual thought.

Postscript:

If chance be

the Father of all flesh,

disaster is his rainbow in the sky

and when you hear:

State of Emergency!

Sniper Kills Ten!

Troops on Rampage!

Whites go Looting!

It is but the sound of man

worshipping his maker.

The benefit an atheist accrues is predicated on an assumption that atheism sets him free.

If I’m an atheist, I’d be liberated from religious demands. I no longer need to love and worship God.

If I do not love God, I’d not be shackled to a morally pure life required by Christianity. As Friedrich Nietzsche thought, if God does not exist, everything is permitted. I am my own god.

Decisions abhorrent to a well meaning Christian would be desirable to an atheist. An atheist can abort his / her unborn child. Gaining wealth by hook or by crook cannot be condemned by moral relativism. Fraud and bribery are acceptable. If anyone impedes his pursuit, he can bulldoze them, figuratively and literally. Thanks to atheism.

Pleasure in all forms is acceptable to an atheist, for atheism is sufficiently undergirded by the relativistic paradigm. An atheist is free to practice adultery, polygamy, homosexuality, child sex and what not. Thanks to the power of subjective moral values.

This is not it.

An atheist could also live a depressing life, for he would suffer a constant existential struggle.

This metaphysical struggle is between moral relativism and the law of the land, which is fundamentally predicated on objective moral values (you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you cannot rape etc.).

Although moral relativism prescriptively allows an atheist to gain wealth through unholy means, the law of the land legislates various stipulations that stifles and could imprison him for gaining wealth through unholy means. So he should painfully ponder over the wisdom behind the law of the land not being predicated on moral relativism!!

Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial killer, expressed this struggle, “If a person doesn’t think there is a God to be accountable to, then—then what’s the point of trying to modify your behavior to keep it within acceptable ranges? That’s how I thought anyway. I always believed the theory of evolution as truth, that we all just came from the slime. When we, when we died, you know, that was it, there is nothing…” (Jeffrey Dahmer, in an interview with Stone Phillips, Dateline NBC, Nov. 29, 1994.).

Is there any value to the benefits stockpiled from atheism?

Atheists who wholly experience the unholy pleasures of this material world is destined to become weary of pleasure so to doom themselves into the darkened dungeons of meaninglessness.

Edward Young, in his work “Night Thoughts” ridiculed pleasure, “Sure as night follows day, Death treads in Pleasure’s footsteps round the world, When Pleasure treads the paths which Reason shuns.” And wasn’t it G.K Chesterton who said, “Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”?

The author of Ecclesiastes pronounced the meaninglessness of pleasure, “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards…I amassed silver and gold for myself…I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 2: 1-11, NIV).

So atheism does not set anyone free instead it imprisons its devotees to meaninglessness. Atheism offers perishable benefits, not enduring benefits.

What about those atheists who have lost faith in God because of the problem of evil and suffering? If you’re one of those atheists, please read the book of Habakkuk in the Bible.

The author of Habakkuk complains to God about evil, injustice and God’s apparent inactivity. But after hearing God’s response, he wholeheartedly proclaimed, “Though the cherry trees don’t blossom and the strawberries don’t ripen, Though the apples are worm-eaten and the wheat fields stunted, Though the sheep pens are sheepless and the cattle barns empty, I’m singing joyful praise to God. I’m turning cartwheels of joy to my Savior God. Counting on God’s Rule to prevail, I take heart and gain strength.  I run like a deer. I feel like I’m king of the mountain!” (Habakkuk 3: 17-19, MSG).

To conclude, yes, atheism offers a plethora of unholy benefits. But unholy benefits cannot enrich life.

There’s a God. HE desires that we love HIM. When we love God truly and wholly, we don’t gain pleasure from anything the material world has to offer. We find pleasure in enjoying God’s presence and the peace HE offers us through the good and the bad days of our lives. Because we love HIM, we long to be with HIM forever – even beyond this earthly life.

So let’s echo the words of the author of Ecclesiastes, who after having considered everything the material world has to offer, finds meaning in God alone, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12: 13-14, NIV).

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2nxaiun


Where Social Justice and Apologetics Intersect

Last week I had the opportunity of leading 30+ high school students to live at the Urban Rescue Mission on Skid Row for 3 days. We helped serve meals, paint walls, play with kids, pray for people, and much more. To say the least, it was life changing. The trip reminded me of how important it is for apologists (and really all Christians) to be involved in serving people who are less fortunate. Below is an essay on the intersection of apologetics and social justice from my book A New Kind of Apologist. It is written by my friends Ken Wytsma and Rick Gerhardt. This blog is longer than my typical post, but the content is absolutely vital for believers today. I hope you will take the time to digest it and share it with others.

Social Justice Apologetics

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Where Social Justice and Apologetics Intersect

Ken Wytsma & Rick Gerhardt

We get apologetics. We understand the need for Christians to be able to give a reasoned formulation and winsome presentation of a rational defense of the Christian world-and-life-view. Whatever ministries we have helped to birth or nurture have been grounded in our conviction that Christianity provides a uniquely accurate understanding of the real world we all live in.

We have graduate degrees in philosophy and apologetics. We have devoured the arguments of C.S. Lewis and of older apologists like Augustine and Blaise Pascal, who describe the realities of human existence with stunning accuracy. We have conducted “skeptics’ balls,” opportunities for anyone—seekers, believers with doubts or questions, true skeptics—to interact with the claims of the Bible in raw, open honesty.

Eventually, Christ called us to plant a church in Bend, Oregon, in one of the most unchurched regions of the country. From its inception, Antioch has had an apologetics component. At any given time, we are offering a skeptics’ Sunday school series, a learning group centered on apologetics, or a full-semester apologetics course at Kilns College, the school we founded during Antioch’s first year of existence. The skeptics’ balls have since morphed into Redux, a question-and-answer service that we hold most Sundays after the regular worship service.

Enter “The Justice Conference”

But a funny thing happened on our way to an apologetically grounded local church and college.

We had hosted two successful citywide apologetic conferences through Kilns College. We brought in leading apologists from around the country, and together we offered a powerful defense of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, the historicity of the resurrection, the reconciliation of science and the Bible, and Christianity’s uniqueness in explaining reality and human experience.

But before we could begin planning a third such conference, another conviction took root. We were defending important aspects and truth claims central to historical Christianity, but the Lord urged us that contemporary evangelical Christianity was missing one central aspect for a true and authentic Christian witness.

One of the tasks of the Christian apologist is to accurately articulate what it is Christians believe, what the Bible teaches, and what God has revealed to us of himself. And the Lord was convicting us that our tribe had been failing to articulate—for at least most of the last hundred years—one of his essential, inseparable attributes: his concern for justice. In lieu of yet another conference offering a general apologetic for Christianity, the Lord called us to gather a wide variety of Christian scholars, teachers, pastors and leaders, NGOs, field workers, and lay people from every walk of life for a conversation about the theology and practice of social justice.

We partnered with World Relief to host the Justice Conference in Bend, Oregon, in February 2011, and we were awed and humbled by the response. In 2012, the Lord greatly multiplied the number of attendees and the overall impact as we moved the conference to Portland. Since then, there have been Justice Conferences in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and Hong Kong. As we write this chapter, the run-ups to Chicago 2015, Melbourne, Australia, and a second Hong Kong Justice Conference are under way.

Along the way, we have met thousands of passionate followers of Christ, and many unbelievers who, while extending the practical compassion of Christ, had not yet acknowledged him as their redeemer. Many Christians we met were already involved in efforts to relieve poverty and suffering—the results of injustices—across the world. Others knew they were called to a life of selfless service to others, but found no encouragement from their Christian communities to follow that call to the brothels of Cambodia, the villages of northern Uganda, or the complex web of social injustices in the city centers of the United States.

Indeed, many experienced a disconnect between the discipleship the Lord was calling them to and an articulation of Christianity that had everything to do with saving souls and nothing to do with redeeming the whole person, much less the rest of creation. For the Christians involved, the overwhelming success of the Justice Conference is quite simply because the form of Christianity that acknowledges that God in Christ is establishing his justice “on earth as it is in heaven” is a more holistic, truer form of Christianity than the version that, in much of evangelicalism, had come to ignore this deeply biblical truth.

Lest You Missed It…

Justice in the social realm is a thread running through all of Scripture. Justice is at the very heart of God’s character and at the core of what he desires from his people.5 According to the psalmist, “The Lord is known by his acts of justice” and “a scepter of justice will be the scepter of [his] kingdom.” The Creator executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoner free, and watches over the immigrant, the widow, and the orphan.

The Lord says, “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land,” and he ties the future of his people to their treatment of the oppressed, the immigrant, the orphan, the widow. What he wants from mankind is that we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with him. When God’s people fail to act justly, they are disciplined or separated from him. In commending King Josiah, God equates knowledge of himself with defending the cause of the poor.

Jesus’s own mission statement incorporates healing and social justice, and his followers will be recognized by their feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, welcoming the immigrant, and visiting the sick and the prisoner. Whereas we evangelicals have sometimes made the good news all about an other-worldly heaven, Jesus’s own gospel was of the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth. Paul’s understanding was that Christ’s redeeming work applied to all of this creation,18 and that his followers—those saved by grace—would be ambassadors of reconciliation,19 doing the works of justice to which he calls them.

Social Justice and Apologetics

Most of us would agree that the best apologetic is a life well lived. Our character and relationships with others have a greater capacity for attracting those around us to the Christian message than do our arguments or rhetoric.

We also know that many intellectual or academic objections to Christianity usually mask deeper reasons for rejecting Christ. You may have experienced this in your conversations with friends. One such common reason to reject Christianity is the hypocrisy of his followers—failure to live according to the teachings of Jesus and to the worldview we espouse. This is reflected in many of our personal interactions, and it’s also the conclusion of a 2007 poll designed to identify the most common perceptions of Christianity among young adults—in which 85 percent viewed Christians as being hypocritical.

Our experiences throughout the United States and around the world have led us to some clear conclusions about the generation now growing up and the reasons they are suspicious of Christianity and the church. Let’s look at three of these, because they have important implications for doing effective apologetics today.

First, young people are globally aware to a degree unimaginable just a few years ago. The Internet and social media have provided the tools for keeping on top of current events around the world. These include not just the high profile and political events and issues that would always have made headlines. They include the more hidden goings-on unearthed by the isolated fieldworker, the personal friend on vacation, or the unknown blogger.

Second, what provides purpose and meaning for many is a variety of ongoing critical problems in the way people are being treated by others. Slavery and human trafficking are occurring at a greater rate than at any time in human history, and young Westerners know this. Poverty, malnutrition, lack of clean drinking water, abuse and exploitation of women and children, denial of property rights, government corruption that leads to squalor and destitution—all of these are occurring in our messy fallen world and being made increasingly visible in the flat world of modern technology. Racism is alive and well, not just in twentieth-century Germany or South Africa, but today in our own cities and towns. Issues that rightly fall into the category of social justice—justice in the realm of social relationships—are at the center of the individual and corporate consciousness of young people today.

The Justice Conference has always been organized and hosted by passionately and overtly Christian people and organizations. Nonetheless, many who are not (or were not) followers of Christ have been drawn to that conversation and have attended those conferences. The reason is simple: all humans are made in the image of the one true God, who cares about justice. All people share with their Creator (at least to some degree) a sense of right and wrong, fairness and unfairness, justice and injustice. Therefore, given the knowledge of and ability to expose social injustices with global media, it is not at all surprising that many people today find their purpose in combatting what the God of creation detests.

Third, for most people, the truth of any worldview is logically linked to its practical applications. If Christianity is—as its apologists claim—the accurate understanding of reality, then it ought to result in practices that offer hope and solutions to the obvious brokenness of our world. If we want to remove the obstacles preventing people from following the One who cared about “the least of these” and commanded his disciples to do the same, we ought to be aligning our lives with that command.

Social Justice and a New Kind of Apologist

From an apologetics perspective, there are at least two reasons for a renewed commitment to social justice. On the positive side, justice is a fundamental attribute of God and an inseparable part of the gospel of Christ. If it is Christianity we defend, our arguments and lives must include the teaching and practice of the social justice that Christianity necessarily entails. As John Perkins has it, “Preaching a gospel absent of justice is preaching no gospel at all.”

On the negative side, inattention to social injustices and apathy toward God’s creation represent the sort of hypocrisy that prevents our defense of Christian truth from being heard.

Everything we are arguing on behalf of social justice could be urged on behalf of caring for the creation as well. As those who claim an intimate personal relationship with the Creator, we Christians—of all people—ought to respect, enjoy, and care for creation, to be concerned about and leading the conversation regarding environmental problems and potential solutions. Christ created all things, sustains all things, and died to reconcile and redeem all things, and works through his followers to actualize this ministry of reconciliation.

A new generation of Christian apologists will be able to relate to the newer generations in the language they speak and about the issues that motivate them. That means recognizing and living according to the truth that God cares deeply—and commands his people to care deeply—about justice in the social realm, about the flourishing (shalom) of whole people, communities, and nations, and all of his creation.

We have witnessed this in the lives of Christians pursuing justice all over the world, but let us share a single example, that of the Association for a More Just Society (AJS) in Honduras. In some of the most dangerous neighborhoods on earth, AJS workers minister to and fight for justice on behalf of victims of violence and corruption. As they do so, they frequently watch those victims discover (or rediscover) a vibrant Christian faith.

As they work tirelessly to reform the systems that perpetrate injustice, AJS team members present to the UN representatives, government officials, and foreign ambassadors with whom they interact a truer, more Christlike Christianity than these folks have ever seen. And many of the young people who come to participate in such justice work—whose prior church experience has offered little to attract them—find a faith worthy of the dedication of their lives.

Though the founders and workers of AJS are merely living out the call of Christ on their lives, the result is that they are frequently asked for “the reason for the hope” that is in them.

For the younger generations (and increasingly for people of all ages), our best articulation of the cosmological argument for the existence of the Creator will not receive a hearing if our actions demonstrate a disregard for the creation itself.

Our most robust defense of the reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and teaching will fall on deaf ears if we ignore his commands to plead the cause of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, and the prisoner.

Our clearest argument for the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection will sound hollow if we are not going forth in the promised power of that resurrection to establish his kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

And our best theodicy—our most satisfactory defense of God’s goodness and power despite the pain and suffering in the world—will be seen as empty words if it doesn’t cause us to join with him in alleviating some of that pain and redressing the injustices from which that suffering results.

We believe and pray that the Lord is raising up a new generation of apologists whose rhetorical defense of Christian truth will be accompanied by just and compassionate living, and that as a result, a broken world might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.


God, The Shack, and the Christian Mind

By Adam Tucker

Unless you live under a rock, you’re no doubt familiar with the New York Times bestselling book The Shack by William P. Young that has also recently been released as a big-budget feature film. Much has been said and will continue to be said, regarding the alleged merits of The Shack as well as its reported theological (and perhaps even heretical) shortcomings. The reader can avail himself of these two articles HERE and HERE as examples of the controversy surrounding this work of “Christian fiction.” For now, I’m not interested in whether or not Christians should read The Shack or whether or not it teaches ideas contrary to historic Christianity. Rather, I want to discuss a trend that is very troubling to me which I see surrounding this debate amongst my own Christian friends.

God Shack Christians

For many years now emotion has trumped the intellect for both Christian and non-Christian alike. Christian stories/testimonies that elicit particular emotions are used over and over to draw out particular responses in people (not that that is necessarily always a bad thing). Sadly, it is often only when these emotions are stirred that someone thinks God is actually working through a particular missionary, ministry, or church. Our feelings have become the arbiter of truth, and more times than not, it is the missionary, ministry, or church that makes the most emotional impact that gets the most encouragement and support (whether verbal, prayer, or financial support). Make no mistake, we are emotional beings, but we are not merely emotional beings. We are in fact rational beings with intellects and wills, and this, I would argue, is what it means to be made in the image of God. The trend about which I am concerned is the way otherwise discerning and grounded believers, who obviously love God and desire to see others come to Christ, so easily celebrate emotionalism at the expense of the necessary, and biblical, art and science of critical thinking. The reactions I am seeing to The Shack simply serve to illustrate this point. After all, it was Jesus Himself who commanded us to love God with all of our minds (Matt. 22:37). Yet it seems too many Christians ignore this part of Jesus’ imperative.

Afraid to Grow Up

In a 2014 INTERVIEW at a church in England, The Shack author Young relayed his past life struggles, sins, and restorations. It was a very moving testimony, and no doubt God has used his past experiences for His glory and has done a work in Young’s life. But Young went on to say, “Do I understand [the success of] The Shack…this is all God’s sense of humor as far as I’m concerned. I don’t understand the purposes of God, and I don’t want to know. It took me 50 years to become a child. I’m not going back to being an adult. It’s too much work.” This is a case-in-point regarding the above mentioned trend of emotionalism. Millions upon millions of people have read The Shack and have been impacted. Because the author is a professing Christian who also has an emotionally moving testimony many Christians simply assume that this is a work of God, and that God is using The Shack in a major way for His glory. Even Young admits this when he says it’s “all God’s sense of humor.” But millions upon millions have been impacted by many other popular books that most Christians would likely classify as heresy, unorthodox, or worse. How does Young, or anyone else, know that The Shack’s success is a work of God rather than something being used by the enemy to weaken the life of believers and confuse unbelievers? Well, according to Young, he doesn’t know that because He says he doesn’t want to “understand the purposes of God.” He claims to be a “child” because it’s too much work to be an adult.

Here’s the problem. According to the Apostle Paul, we are not to be children in our thinking. We are certainly to be children when it comes to our complete dependence upon God for salvation (Matt. 18:3), but Paul says when he became a man he put aside childish thinking (1 Cor. 13:11). In fact, in 1 Cor. 14:20 he says, “Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking.” Neither success, emotional impact, nor even God’s ability to use something for His glory are adequate tests for truth. The fact is, everyone has a testimony, and God even used adultery in the life of King David to bring about the Messiah (and surely no Christian would advocate committing adultery because God can use it for His glory)! There are countless Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims, Hindus, New Age gurus, and even atheists who could share, and have shared, life-changing and emotionally wrenching testimonies about how their beliefs have positively impacted their lives. But virtually no orthodox Christian would claim these belief systems are true simply because their followers have a testimony. Why are these same Christians so quick to believe and celebrate most any emotionally charged thing a Christian says just because he claims God is the source? We are commanded to test the spirits (1 These. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). Lest we forget, “For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:14-15).

The Necessity of Doctrine

How do we “test the spirits” as it were? How do we know whether any successful and emotionally charged story/testimony or circumstance is actually from God? Paul says in 1 Tim. 4:16, “Pay close attention to your life and your teaching [i.e. doctrine]; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.” In other words, if a teaching/doctrine does not line up with the teaching of the Bible then it must be abandoned. When one is led by emotionalism, however, his ability to discern right doctrine becomes clouded.

For instance, in the blog linked above, My Response to Those in the Church Boycotting the Shack, author Michele Perry, a former missionary, says, “You see the Gospel isn’t a doctrine. The right doctrine alone will not get you saved.…The Gospel is a Person and it is a relationship with that Person.” While it is true that doctrine alone will not save, it is false that “the Gospel isn’t a doctrine.” The Gospel is not a Person [Jesus]. The Gospel is about Jesus and our trust in His death and resurrection as payment for our sin as Paul lays out in 1 Cor. 15:1-8. The Gospel is most certainly a doctrine! Believing the Gospel entails one having further doctrines correct. For instance, is Paul referring to the Jesus of Mormonism, the Jesus of Arianism (a.k.a. Jehovah’s Witnesses), or the Jesus of historic Christianity? If he’s referring to Jesus as God (i.e. the Jesus of Christianity), are we to hold to modalism, tri-theism, partialism, or the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity? Why does any of that matter and what does that mean for the nature of God? All of these questions are of extreme importance and we ignore these doctrines to our own detriment. To once again quote Jesus, “Therefore I told you that you will die in your sins. For if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Who is He? The answer to that is a doctrinal issue.

We cannot feel or emote our way through these issues. We must actually think about them. That requires intense study and work. One has to actually think and act like an adult in order to wrestle with these questions. In other words, we must do just as Paul says and “[hold] to the faithful message as taught, so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching and to refute those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). I would encourage readers to also ponder Eph. 4:13-14; 1 Timothy 4 and 2 Timothy 4 among other scriptures.

Yet Michele goes on to say, “To imply we can know God through an intellectual doctrine apart from experience, that my friends is a blasphemy far greater than a parable that seeks to make His heart, goodness and love known to those who have ears and hearts able to receive it.” Once again, if she means to “know” God in the salvific sense then I agree. Being in right relationship with God is much more than knowing “an intellectual doctrine,” but it is not less than that. We cannot know God in any sense if we do not believe the right things about Him in the first place! And what exactly are we supposed to “experience” beyond this knowledge of God? There is zero scriptural support for this experiential emotionalism. How do we know our “experience” isn’t demonic influence or simply the result of the tacos we ate last night? Why does my experience supersede the experience of the Mormon, etc.?

We’re right back to the absolutely essential need of thinking rightly about God. That just IS a doctrinal issue that requires much work, study, and critical thinking. And if experience is so important, why are my own experiences ignored or dismissed when I talk about how amazing thinking deeply about the nature of God can be? Digging into philosophical issues regarding the divine nature and attributes of God that we’re able to know via human reason (Rom. 1:20) is astoundingly eye-opening. It has enriched my worship and devotional life. It has helped my struggles with sin. And it is vital to our ability to properly understand the Scriptures.

On What Will Our Focus Be?

Why aren’t we celebrating the early church fathers and defenders of the faith? Why aren’t we writing blogs about the merits of the work of the early creed writers that helped us think more clearly about God? Why is someone like Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most brilliant Christian thinker to ever live besides Jesus and the inspired biblical authors, not a household name? Why aren’t Christians more often making modern day Christian philosophers and theologians New York Times bestsellers? Why aren’t churches celebrating and encouraging their bright minded congregants to pursue further study at seminary and welcoming with open arms what these bright minds can offer to the local body of believers? Why are the emotionally driven ministries the ones who receive 90% of the financial support as opposed to the seminaries and other institutions who are supposedly training the next generation of Christian leaders and influencing the intellectual life of the church? Why do we focus on pet doctrines like the age of the earth (which is a recent debate compared to most of church history) and then celebrate emotionalism elsewhere? Why can we pack out auditoriums when a Christian music group entertains us, a popular fiction writer shares his story, or a man recalls his moving testimony of his alleged visit to heaven, but we struggle to get more than a handful of believers to show up for evangelism training (that involves more than sharing your testimony) or a conference on defending the faith? Why are so many Christians afraid to be adults and think?

I know, I know. Those things don’t pull at the heart strings and they require effort to think about. Those things are for others to deal with in their ivory towers and don’t affect you. That’s not your grandma’s Christianity, and that’s not what your pastor or favorite Christian fiction author said to focus on. That’s fine. You’re free to continue to “feel” your way through the Christian life, but don’t pretend like you are doing the body of Christ any favors or offering God the worship He is due. Will you continue to withhold your mind from the whole-being worship Jesus commanded? What we feel should be judged in light of what we know and measured in the context of reality. Our will should follow our intellect, not the other way around. God is the one who said, “Come now let us reason together…” (Is. 1:18). Do with that invitation what you will.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2nkzaWx


 

The Kalam: An Overview & Defense

By Ronald Cram

William Lane Craig is famous for resurrecting and defending the Kalam Cosmological Argument (KCA). The argument appeals to both philosophical and scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe. If the Kalam is sound, it seems to prove the existence of God.

Kalam Cosmological Argument

The question is raised: Is the argument sound given our modern, scientific understanding of cosmology? In this essay I will review and examine the premises of the Kalam to see if we have good reason to affirm them as probably true. The standard form of the KCA goes as follows:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
2. The universe began to exist.
3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

We can add the following steps:

4. The universe (all space, time, and matter) cannot cause itself.
5. The cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and uncaused.
6. This uncaused, immaterial and timeless cause of the universe is what everyone means by God.
7. Therefore, God exists.

The argument is valid, but are the premises true? Science uses Bayesian probability theory to assign a probability to a hypothesis. I will follow that procedure for each of the premises.

Step #1

All science is based on cause and effect relationships. Zero evidence exists that this premise is false and so this premise has never faced any serious or informed challenges. In our daily experience, objects do not pop into existence uncaused.

Scientists have proposed a number of possible causes of the Big Bang including colliding branes in string theory, false vacuum in inflationary theory, and quantum fluctuations in quantum mechanics. Each of these ideas propose a “universe generator” of some type that must exist prior to our Big Bang. Scientists recognize that the Big Bang must have a cause.

Some have attempted to claim that quantum fluctuations are uncaused, but this claim is untrue. Quantum fluctuations are caused by the energy in the vacuum. While no one can predict where quantum fluctuations will appear, the number of fluctuations within a given volume and time are quite predictable.

Others have proposed that while things within the universe need a cause to begin to exist, we have no reason to believe the universe as a whole needs a cause. This is special pleading of the most irrational type. If objects within the universe need a cause (when the atoms and molecules already exist), then it is even more true that the universe as a whole needs a cause to exist because an extra step is required (the creation of matter, energy, space and time). A Bayesian probability can be assigned to this premise of 99+%.

Step #2

This is more complicated. Stated simply, the standard cosmology is that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. This means the universe began to exist 13.8 billion years ago. While it is true that theorists are working on models for a past eternal universe, a Bayesian probability can be assigned to this premise of 98%.

For those who are not interested in cosmology, you may skip to the discussion of the third premise. For those interested in cosmology and a defense of this Bayesian probability, read on.

William Lane Craig often refers to BGV theorem in his debates with atheists. (The theorem is often misunderstood to be a singularity theorem. It is not. It is an incompleteness theorem. But it is completely compatible with the singularity theorems.) BGV theorem states that any universe which is on average expanding throughout its history cannot be eternal into the past but must have had a beginning. This is an extremely robust theorem. Within a classical spacetime, BGV theorem does not depend upon any particular energy condition (low energy, high energy) nor does it depend on any particular solution to Einstein’s equations. The fact the theorem is so robust makes it very difficult to evade. It applies to multiverse theories and cyclic universe theories. Any past eternal cosmological theory must evade BGV theorem.

In his debate with William Lane Craig, Sean Carroll referred to his paper titled “What if time really exists?” and its Quantum Eternity Theorem.

In Carroll’s post-debate reflections, he writes:

“Indeed, I quoted a stronger theorem, the “Quantum Eternity Theorem” (QET) — under conventional quantum mechanics, any universe with a non-zero energy and a time-independent Hamiltonian will necessarily last forever toward both the past and the future. For convenience I quoted my own paper as a reference, although I’m surely not the first to figure it out; it’s a fairly trivial result once you think about it.” (Click here)

The QET is not a “stronger theorem” in any sense. Most cosmologists believe our universe has zero net energy. So any model built on a non-zero energy is extremely unlikely. Also, the theorem has the requirement of “under conventional quantum mechanics.” But a beginning necessarily requires something other than conventional quantum mechanics. There’s nothing to prevent a beginning of our conventional quantum mechanics. In reality, Carroll’s QET is not at all helpful to his argument. Aron Wall provides a cosmologist’s assessment of Carroll’s claims and his use of QET (click here).

Proposed Models

Some models have been proposed than can evade BGV theorem. We will look at a few of these theories in greater detail.

A. The first of these is the Aguirre-Gratton model supported by Sean Carroll in his debate with Craig. Obviously, Carroll thinks this model is the strongest possible, the most likely to be true, or he wouldn’t have used it to support his position that the universe may be past eternal. But what is the Bayesian probability this model describes our universe?

In the Abstract of his paper “Eternal inflation and its implications,” Alan Guth writes:

“Although inflation is generically eternal into the future, it is not eternal into the past: it can be proven under reasonable assumptions that the inflating region [our universe] must be incomplete in past directions [have a beginning], so some physics other than inflation is needed to describe the past boundary of the inflating region.”

On page 14 of the same paper Guth writes:

“If the universe can be eternal into the future, is it possible that it is also eternal into the past? Here I will describe a recent theorem [43] which shows, under plausible assumptions, that the answer to this question is no.”

According to Guth, under “reasonable assumptions” and “plausible assumptions” the BGV theorem cannot be avoided. On page 16, Guth discusses the Aguirre-Gratton model with its reversal of the arrow of time and explains that this model does evade BGV theorem. The natural conclusion is that the Aguirre-Gratton model does not have reasonable or plausible assumptions. Aguirre and Gratton have not put forward any plausible mechanisms that might cause the arrow of time to reverse and no reversal of time has ever been observed.

Remember this is the best model that Sean Carroll had to represent his view that the universe is past-eternal. A Bayesian probability that the Aguirre-Gratton model applies to our universe is <1%.

B. Cosmology from Quantum Potential Model – Because the BGV theorem applies to classical spacetimes, another way to evade the theorem is to appeal to the uncertainty of quantum mechanics. One example is the paper “Cosmology from Quantum Potential.”

However, this cosmological model has serious problems. A recent paper titled “Perturbative Instability of Cosmology from Quantum Potential” has the following Abstract:

“Apart from its debatable correctness, we examine the perturbative stability of the recently proposed cosmology from quantum potential. We find that the proposed quantum corrections invoke additional parameters which apparently introduce perturbative instability to the Universe.”

Our universe is stable. This model does not produce a universe like the one we observe. The Bayesian probability of this model being correct is less than the Aguirre-Gratton model and is <1%.

C. Emergent Universe Models – This class of models successfully evade BGV theorem. The idea is that a “cosmic egg” that exists forever until it breaks open to produce an expanding universe. Proponents of these ideas include Ellis, Barrow, Campo, Wu, and Graham.

Mithani and Vilenkin show that this class of models can collapse quantum mechanically, and therefore cannot have an eternal past.

A Bayesian probability of Emergent Universe Models being correct is <1%.


Side Note: What About Guth?weird-guth-sign

Someone may mention the photo of Alan Guth holding a sign at the Carroll/Craig debate that read [The universe is] very likely eternal but nobody knows.” Why would Guth pose holding that sign when all of his scientific papers say the universe had a beginning? Some assumed Guth was going to publish a new paper that explained his change of view, but it’s been three years and no paper has been published supporting a change in the science.

Perhaps Guth posed for that picture just as a favor to Carroll.


In order to defeat premise #2, skeptics must be able to show that a past-eternal universe is more likely than a universe of a finite age. While a number of past-eternal models have been proposed, the cosmological community has rejected all of them as highly unlikely. A Bayesian probability can be assigned to premise (2) of 98%.

Step #3

The third step of the argument is the rational conclusion of the first two premises. A Bayesian probability can be assigned to this conclusion of 98%.

Step #4

The fourth premise – “The universe cannot cause itself” – seems non-controversial. However, cosmologists (driven by their dislike of the way a beginning of the universe points to creation by God) have proposed ideas attempting to challenge this premise. Lawrence Krauss’s book, A Universe from Nothing, was one of the first of these proposals to get a wide audience. The idea, first proposed by Edward Tryon, is that the universe is a quantum fluctuation. Physicist Don Page pointed out that Krauss’s idea is not really “from nothing” because quantum fluctuations require a quantum field (which is something). Since the quantum field must exist before the Big Bang, this is not a universe from nothing at all.

Alexander Vilenkin modified Tryon’s idea referring to the origin of the universe as a “quantum nucleation” that happened before the existence of any matter, energy, time or space. In order words, the quantum nucleation happened in the absence of a quantum field. Not only is this logically incoherent as things happening before time require time, but this idea is problematic for most physicists because the theory makes an untestable claim. Scientifically untestable claims are not scientific. The probability the universe can cause itself is <1%.

Step #5

“The cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless, immaterial, and uncaused” is mostly non-controversial. If the universe is defined as “all matter, energy, space and time” and the universe cannot create itself, then it follows that the cause of the universe must be spaceless, timeless and immaterial. Some may argue that the cause does not necessarily have to be uncaused. But if a contingent being of finite age were the creator, that being would not be the ultimate answer.

The real Creator would be the one who created the intermediate being. An infinite causal regress is a logical absurdity and has been rejected by philosophers since the time of Aristotle. A Bayesian probability can be assigned to this premise of 99%.

Step #6

“This uncaused, immaterial and timeless cause of the universe is what everyone means by God” is largely uncontroversial. A Bayesian probability can be assigned to this premise of 99%.

Step #7

“Therefore God exists” is a rational conclusion. A Bayesian probability can be assigned to this conclusion of >95%.

Whether this God is the God of the Bible or some other God is a separate question and requires additional evidence and reasoning.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mJ8ZFg


10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

By Natasha Crain

[NOTE: This post is 4 years old but continues to receive a large number of visitors from Google searches on teaching kids about faith. A lot has happened here on the blog since I wrote this–including having the opportunity to write a book that was released in March 2016 by Harvest House Publishers: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith! If you’re here because you’re looking for resources to help you effectively raise your kids to follow Jesus in the midst of this secular world, please take a moment to check it out!] 

Yesterday, my 3-year-old daughter asked about the word “faith” after hearing it in the devotional book she received for Christmas. I told her that faith means we believe in God even though we can’t see Him, hear Him or touch Him. Hearing myself say that out loud, I realized for the first time just how difficult the concept of faith can be. My definition was true in a simple sense, but as my kids grow I want them to understand the greater richness of the word as used in the Bible.

This inspired me to study the different instances of the word translated as “faith” in the New Testament. Based on my (digital) study Bible, there are 245 such instances. I read each of the passages and categorized them into 10 key insights on faith that I hope to teach my children as they grow.

Children Faith God

10 Things Children Should Learn About Faith

1. Faith is what saves. Amongst the many verses that attest to this, Ephesians 2:8 clearly states, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. Our children first and foremost need to learn that faith in Jesus is the only thing that results in salvation of our souls.

2. Faith can grow. Since the Bible clearly establishes faith as the requirement for salvation, it is natural to think of it as something we either have or don’t have. While that is true for saving faith, many verses make it clear that the faith of (saved) Christians can and should continue to grow (e.g., Romans 4:20, 2 Corinthians 10:15, Philippians 1:25, 1 Thessalonians 3:10, Romans 14:1). Our children need to understand that growing faith is a life-time process that starts with saving faith.

3. Faith can fail. In Luke 22:31-34, Jesus foretells Peter’s denial. In verse 32 Jesus says, “…but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” Our faith can fail due to our circumstances. When facing such circumstances, our children need to know they can pray for their faith to remain firm.

4. Faith is a gift. Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 12:9 tell us that faith is a spiritual gift from God and therefore it varies by person.  When it first registered for me last year that strength of faith is actually a gift, I honestly felt a sense of relief; I had always thought something was wrong with my faith because it’s been more of a struggle for me to believe than for many other Christians I know.  Our children should understand that faith DOES vary amongst believers and that comparisons are fruitless. What matters is our personal faith growth.

5. Faith can move mountains.  Jesus says in Matthew 17:20 and 21:22 that if you do not doubt, your faith can move mountains; note He didn’t say that “medium” faith will move hills! Our children need to understand that the power of prayer lies in full conviction.

6. Faith means to trust. The book of Matthew quotes Jesus saying “O you of little faith” on five occasions. On all but one of those occasions, He was addressing the disciples regarding their fear or worry (6:30, 8:26, 14:31, and 16:8). If little faith results in worry, that implies great faith results in trust. When our children are worried or scared, we should help them pray specifically for God to grow their faith; faith that results in trust is the remedy for fear.

7. Faith is protective. There are two New Testament verses that use faith as a metaphor for spiritually protective armor (the “shield of faith” in Ephesians 6:16 and the “breastplate of faith” in 1 Thessalonians 5:8). Our children need to be aware of the need for spiritual protection in their daily lives, and that faith is the basis for that protection.

8. Faith results in action. Hebrews chapter 11 recalls many of the most faithful people of the Old Testament. Each verse starts with the pattern, “By faith (person) (did something)”.  It wasn’t enough for the author to point out that each of these people HAD faith; the focus was on what that faith produced. Our children need to understand that authentic faith results in action.

9. (Great) Faith is believing before you experience.  In almost every instance where Jesus acknowledged someone for having great faith, it was in the context of believing in Him prior to experiencing healing (e.g., see Matthew 8 for the “greatest” faith of the Centurion). Our children need to know that faith doesn’t require waiting for signs or experiences that lead to the “conviction of things not seen”; Jesus acknowledged great faith as first believing in Him.

10. Faith is a decision everyone makes. Even if a person does not have faith in God, he or she must have faith in another “unproven” alternative about the afterlife (even if it’s that nothing exists). Our children need to realize that faith is a decision everyone makes, not just Christians.

Original Blog Source:  http://bit.ly/2n1hiOs


5 Ways Christian Parents Fail to Prepare Their Kids to Engage with Questions of Faith and Science

By Natasha Crain

I’m coming down to the final six weeks of writing my next book and am very much looking forward to being on the other side of that deadline! I’ve missed being able to blog regularly during this intense writing time, so I had to take a break today and share a new post inspired by some of the topics my next book will address. (On a side note, watch for a new post very soon to reveal the cover and title of the book!)

Children Faith Science

My favorite section to write has been on Science and God, because I know so many parents are looking for help in talking about this subject with their kids. While writing the chapters in that section, I thought a lot about how we, as Christian parents, are collectively failing to adequately prepare our kids to engage with questions of faith and science. Today, I want to share 5 ways I believe that’s happening, and encourage all of us to consider what we can do better in our own homes.

1. We don’t talk about the relationship between faith and science at all.

This is, without a doubt, the number one way we fail our kids in this area—we fail to say anything at all. Not only do we need to say something, we need to say quite a lot. Over and over again, researchers have found that a leading reason why so many young people walk away from faith is that they believe they have to choose between Christianity and science. Meanwhile, other research has shown that only ONE percent of youth pastors address any issue related to science in a given year.

This is a giant disconnect.

Regardless of the fact that churches need to do a much better job in this area, parents need to take the reins. This is our responsibility, and there is absolutely no doubt that questions of faith and science will challenge our kids in some way…whether this is an area we feel equipped to discuss or not. If you do feel equipped, great—get started. If you don’t, that’s OK—start learning. Those are really the only two options.

2. We boil all “science versus faith” conversations down to one (or two) issues.

I find in talking with parents that when you say the words “science and faith,” most people quickly launch into a conversation about evolution. There’s no doubt that evolution is one of the most important topics in this category, if not the most important topic. But there are many other questions our kids need to understand, especially at the more philosophical level. For example, people throw out broad statements like “science disproves God” all the time. Kids need to know what to make of those kinds of assertions just as much as they need to know what to make of the subject of evolution.

The second section of my next book will address six of these broader questions:

  • Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?
  • Do science and religion contradict one another?
  • Do science and religion complement one another?
  • Is God just an explanation for what science doesn’t yet know?
  • Can science explain why people believe in God?
  • What do scientists believe about God?

3. We teach overly simplistic answers that ignore important nuances.

I understand that science is not a “user-friendly” topic for many people. The only C grade I ever received in my life was in high school chemistry and I’m still bitter about it.

Unfortunately, this leads many parents to either 1) ignore the science-versus-faith dialogue completely (see my first point) or 2) teach overly simplistic answers that can inadvertently do major damage to their kids’ faith later.

One of the most important ways we can avoid this is by taking the time to define key words. For example, consider the question, “Can science prove or disprove God’s existence?” If someone asked me that, I couldn’t even answer their question unless I first asked them: What do you mean by science? What do you mean by prove or disprove? And what do you mean by God? People use those words in many different senses today and you simply can’t have a meaningful discussion without understanding their more nuanced underlying question. They may be asking:

 Can a specific branch of science provide evidence that strongly challenges a specific historical claim of a given religion? (Answer: Yes.)

Or, they may be asking:

Can the field of science, when defined as the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the natural world, say anything about the existence of God, when defined simply as a supernatural being who may or may not have created the world? (Answer: No—and even most atheists would agree.)

While we may wish we could simply teach our kids easy answers like, “Of course science doesn’t disprove God!”, we fail to adequately prepare them for this challenging secular world when we do.

4. We teach only one of several Christian views on origins (age of the Earth and evolution).

If you’ve read my first book, Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side, you know how strongly I feel about this. There are eight chapters written to explain why Christians have varied views on how and when God created the world—based on both scriptural and scientific considerations. While many parents don’t teach their kids anything at all on this subject, many of the remaining parents only teach their kids one specific view (for example, young-Earth creationism, old-Earth creationism, or theistic evolution). Whatever view you teach, your kids will hear challenges from both other Christians and from atheists—a very confusing position for them to be in if you’ve never explained the issues at stake.

Note that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t tell our kids what we believe. There’s no problem at all with explaining our own convictions. The problem lies in teaching them our views in a silo rather than taking the time to explain why fellow believers and skeptics interpret science and/or the Bible differently than we do.

5. We’re overly fearful of suggesting there’s a conflict between Christianity and science.

One of the things I found most interesting when preparing to write on whether or not science and religion contradict one another was just how quick Christians are to lay out a case for why Christianity and science are not in conflict. Much of the time, Christians jump straight to showing 1) how science can’t say anything about a Being outside of nature and/or 2) how there’s no reason to expect that science could even be done if there weren’t a God to rationally design the universe. Those things are true. But much of the time when skeptics talk about the conflict of science and Christianity, they’re talking specifically about the conflict between mainstream scientific consensus and a specific claim of the Bible that intersects with the natural world—for example, the age of the Earth (based on the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture) and direct creation (versus evolution). If we just keep insisting “there’s no conflict,” when there actually are apparent conflicts in some areas, we miss some very important discussion opportunities with our kids. Again, we have to define terms clearly.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the accurate interpretation of scientific data and the accurate interpretation of the Bible will never be in true conflict. If apparent conflicts arise, (at least) one interpretation is wrong. When we’re convicted of the accuracy of our interpretation of Scripture, we shouldn’t be afraid to acknowledge when the Bible conflicts with scientific consensus; Scientists can be wrong. On the other hand, when there is an apparent conflict, we should be willing to thoughtfully consider the scientific data; Our biblical interpretation can also be wrong.

Rather than sweep apparent conflicts under the carpet, we can help our kids significantly by 1) confidently explaining why apparent conflicts may arise and 2) studying the scientific and scriptural considerations together.

What questions about science and faith do you most have trouble discussing with your kids? If you don’t currently have these discussions, what’s your biggest barrier?

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2mouGKB


 

The Necessity of God’s Existence: Ontological Arguments Worth Considering

By Brian Chilton

One of the more difficult of the apologetics arguments to understand is that known as the ontological argument. The ontological argument finds root in Anselm of Canterbury’s famed declaration, “God is that, than which noting greater can be conceived.”[1] This is the say, God is the greatest of all possible beings. God, properly understood, is maximally great. Nothing could be greater than God. Thus, Anselm argues that if it is possible to conceive of the greatest possible beings, then that greatest possible being must exist. There is much to unpack in this argument. However, I would like to focus on arguments that provide reasons to believe that God is a necessary being.

Ontological Argument God

Before we look at some arguments for the necessity of God’s existence, we must first define a necessary being. A necessary being is a being whose existence is mandatory due to a result of that being’s existence (i.e., contingency). For example, I exist only because of the necessity of my parents’ existence. My existence is contingent (based upon) the necessity of their existence. My parents’ existence is contingent (based upon) the necessity of their parents’ existence (my grandparents). The logical line of necessity continues until one finds the necessity of a maximally great being—a being that is transcendent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent. We know that maximally great being as God. Let’s look at three or four modern ontological arguments that make the case for the necessity of God’s existence.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Logical Necessity.

As we already unpacked the argument from necessity, we have found that God’s existence is mandatory. However, the logical necessity of God’s existence is found in the following argument presented by Douglas Grootius:

  1. God is defined as a maximally great or Perfect Being.

  2. The existence of a Perfect Being is either impossible or necessary (since it cannot be contingent).

  3. The concept of a Perfect Being is not impossible, since it is neither non-sensical nor self-contradictory.

  4. Therefore (a) a Perfect Being is necessary.

  5. Therefore (b) a Perfect Being exists.[2]

The first premise notes that God is defined as a maximally great being, or Perfect Being. Premises 2 and 3 demonstrate the logical necessity that a Perfect Being is either an impossibility or a necessity. Since the existence of a Perfect Being is neither impossible, nonsensical, nor self-contradictory, the existence of a Perfect Being is shown to be a necessary concept. The atheist would need to demonstrate that God’s existence is impossible (which itself is impossible), nonsensical (which is actually found in a worldview that postulates that things magically pop into existence without any cause), or self-contradictory. The only means that the non-believer has to disprove the necessity of God’s existence in my humble opinion is to show that there is a self-contradiction in God’s existence. Yet, it appears to me that there are greater self-contradictions in viewing the universe without the existence of God, thereby strengthening the necessity of a Perfect Being. The former is an impossible task, the middle is a task that some have attempted…and failed, and the third is inherently flawed.

Looking at this model from a different perspective, consider Alvin Plantinga’s take on Norman Malcolm’s argument, presented by Norman Geisler:

  1. If God does not exist, his existence is logically impossible.

  2. If God does exist, his existence is logically necessary.

  3. Hence, either God’s existence is logically impossible or else it is logically necessary.

  4. If God’s existence is logically impossible, the concept of God is contradictory.

  5. The concept of God is not contradictory.

  6. Therefore, God’s existence is logically necessary.[3]

Let’s unpack this argument. If God did not existence, his existence would be a logical impossibility like the existence of magical unicorns. If God does exist, then his existence would be a logical necessity—like the example of my parents’ existence as given above. Thus, God’s existence would be logically necessary if he exists or logically impossible if he does not exist. If God’s existence is impossible, then the idea of God is contradictory. God’s existence is not a contradiction; therefore, God is a logical necessity.

I personally like these arguments as I find the existence of God an absolute necessity. Non-theistic arguments often lead to bizarre absurdities which are at times irreconcilable. Christian theism is the most coherent of all worldview, thus the existence of the Christian God is a logical necessity. There is another take to this argument that demands consideration: the necessity of God found in possible worlds.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Possible Worlds.

A possible world is a hypothetical scenario that describes the various ways that the world could be. We live in the actual world, however the would could have been much different. With that in mind, consider Alvin Plantinga’s ontological argument from possible worlds.

  1. It is possible that a maximally great being exists.

  2. If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world. That is, God’s existence is not impossible (logically contradictory), so we can conceive of a world in which God does exist.

  3. If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world. (Otherwise, it would not be maximally great.)

  4. If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world.[4]

Let’s unpack Plantinga’s difficult argument. Nearly everyone would agree that it is at least possible that a maximally great being exists—that is, God. Since God’s existence is not impossible, then it is conceivable that God exists in some possible world. If it is possible that God exists in one possible world, then it is possible that he exists in every possible world including the actual world in which we live. Some will argue, “But yeah, it is possible that magical unicorns exist in some possible world. So, does that mean that magical unicorns must exist in this world?” Absolutely not! The existence of the magical unicorn is not a necessity. Since I am a contingent being, it is necessary in all possible worlds that I have a reason for my existence (by my parents or another set of parents). If God, being a necessary being, is possible in some possible world, he is possible in all possible worlds and is in fact found in the actual world. Confusing? Yes. But logically coherent? Absolutely!

Let’s now look at the last ontological argument of God’s necessity as it pertains to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  1. Necessity of God Found in Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that entropy increases as time progresses. Entropy is the disorder that occurs over time. Think of a wind-up toy. The wind-up toy is wound up and allowed to wind itself down. The winding down of the toy is the state of entropy. The same occurs with heat. Over time, heat cools until all heat is lost (i.e., heat death). The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is losing energy as it continues to exist. This will ultimately lead to a complete loss of heat unless there is an intervention from outside the universe. The following modus Tollens argument, presented by Groothius, notes how the Second Law of Thermodynamics argues for the finite nature of the universe and the necessity of God’s existence.

  1. If the universe were eternal and its amount of energy finite, it would have reached heat death by now.

  2. The universe has not reached heat death (since there is still energy available for use).

  3. Therefore, (a) the universe is not eternal.

  4. Therefore, (b) the universe had a beginning.

  5. Therefore, (c) the universe was created by a first cause (God).[5]

Let’s unpack this argument. If it were possible that the universe is eternal with finite energy (which is observable), then the universe would have reached a heat death already. However, that has not occurred. Due to the absence of such an event, this proves that the universe is finite and had a beginning. If the universe had a beginning, the cause is most plausible to have been attributed to God. “Wait!” the skeptic may say. “Isn’t it possible that a multiverse gave birth to the universe?” Yes, it is possible. However, it has been shown in the BVG Theorem (named by its discoverers Borg, Vilenkin, and Guth) that all physical universes must have a finite past and an absolute beginning. So, the skeptic does nothing by arguing for a multiverse outside of pushing the necessity of God’s existence back a step or two.

Conclusion

It is true that these arguments are quite complex. But if one takes the time to evaluate and understand these versions of the ontological argument, I think one will find the necessity of God’s existence is rooted in a wealth of logical and philosophical certitude. Logically speaking, God’s existence is a necessity as it is demanded by logic and the data of causal relations in the actual world.

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2npUHen


When Does Personhood Begin? Part I

Once you have established that the unborn are human from fertilization, the next step is to ask when we should assign basic human rights to a human individual [1]. The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights since without it you can’t enjoy any other rights. It’s pretty difficult to enjoy freedom of speech if you’re not alive to speak in the first place.

As a Christian, I believe that all humans are valuable because we were made in God’s image. [2] God does not have a physical body, so we weren’t made in His physical image. We were made in the image of His likeness; in other words, God has a rational, moral nature, and made us with a similar rational, moral nature.

Clifton Blog

The pro-life view is that basic human rights should be established when the human comes into existence, that is, at fertilization. In fact, I hesitate to use the term “person” because it’s a legal term that has been used to legally discriminate against groups of people in the past (such as Africans when slavery was legal). So when I use “person” it’s usually synonymous with “entity with basic rights” (e.g. the right to life).

The view held by most pro-life advocates is the Substance View, which has its roots in the sixth century Christian philosopher, Boethius: “a person is an individual substance that has a rational nature.” [3] A substance is essentially something that maintains its identity through change. You are essentially the same being now as the embryo you were in the womb. You can cut off an arm and still be you. Since you are the same substance, if a morally justifiable reason is needed to kill you now, a morally justifiable reason is needed to kill you in the womb. So if anyone is going to support abortion, a reason must be given that could not also be applied to someone outside the womb, otherwise killing that person outside the womb would also be morally justifiable.

The only truly consistent position is the pro-life position, which holds that the unborn are human from fertilization. Basic human rights should be established as soon as the human comes into existence. By contrast, the pro-choice position establishes basic human rights at a certain arbitrary point in human development.

Furthermore, the pro-life view is the all-inclusive view, whereas the pro-choice view excludes certain humans based on their lack of some arbitrarily-decided-upon feature (or point in their development). But to the pro-life advocate, all humans are valuable based on their inherent capacity as rational, moral agents. The human is both a rational and a moral being. Without a moral nature there would be no true humanity, so those who would abolish the moral law would abolish humanity in the bargain. [4] As C.S. Lewis writes, “Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasure masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.” [5]

It often helps in discussions with pro-choice advocates to make sure you listen carefully and accurately understand what their actual argument is, rather than assuming it. It helps to make a distinction between the humanity of the unborn and their personhood. Sometimes when someone accuses the unborn of not being human, they really mean they don’t believe we should afford them basic human rights, or personhood. If they really mean the unborn isn’t alive or isn’t human, then you can refer to my previous article about how we know the unborn are unique, living, human organisms. But if they mean the unborn are not persons, then the conversation will most likely be led in the following direction.

Most pro-choice objections you will encounter will usually fall under one of four categories, and you can remember these by the acronym SLED, as conceived by philosopher Stephen Schwartz. [6] SLED stands for Size, Level of Development, Environment, and Degree of Dependency. An objection raised that falls under one of these categories argues that the unborn aren’t human, or aren’t a person. After looking at these objections we’ll analyze a few others which have to do with function and socioeconomic problems. There are other, more difficult objections which I’ll write about in a future post. For now, these are some of the more common objections you’ll encounter.

For each of these objections, it helps to affirm the difference. This establishes common ground with the pro-choice advocate. Yes, the unborn are smaller, less developed, etc. than we are. But then you’ll want to ask why it matters. Finally, point to someone outside the womb who has those same differences and ask if it would be okay to kill them for that same reason. [7]

Size — the unborn is certainly much smaller than we are, but two-year-old children are much smaller than adults. Women are generally much smaller than men. But does this mean that two-year-old children have less rights than adults, and women have less rights than men because they’re smaller? It would not be unfair for a basketball coach to choose Shaquille O’Neal for his team over Gary Coleman, but it would be equally wrong to kill either one of them.

Level of Development — the unborn are certainly less developed than we are. Two-year-olds are less developed than adults. Does this mean that two-year-olds have less rights as humans than adults do?

Environment — the unborn are in a different place than we are. They’re in the womb. Changing location doesn’t change your nature or your value. I flew to Italy three years ago but who I was didn’t change. So how does an eight-inch journey down the birth canal change one’s value or nature?

Degree of Dependency — the unborn are much more dependent than we are. But how does being more dependent make us less valuable? It seems to me that someone who is more vulnerable deserves that much more protection. Children can’t drive, so they are more dependent than their parents are, who have driver’s licenses. But does it follow that adults may kill their children because they’re more dependent? Some say that the fact that they are totally dependent on one person means that person has the right to kill them. But how does that follow?

First, it seems that only being dependent on one person makes you less of a burden than being dependent on many people. But second, as Justice for All’s Executive Director David Lee says, suppose you’re the last out of a public pool and you hear a splash from the deep end. You look in the water and a toddler has fallen in and is drowning. No one else is there but you. That child is completely dependent on you for its survival — are you morally justified in walking away and letting the child die?

Some say that it’s okay to kill the unborn because they can’t feel pain. I think when someone says this they really mean it’s better to kill someone as an embryo because they won’t be in pain. But still, the lack of feeling pain does not mean it’s morally justified to kill someone, otherwise you would be justified in killing someone in their sleep, or through a painless method.

Take the case of Gabby Gingras, born with congenital insensitivity to pain. [8] This would mean that it would be morally justifiable to kill someone with this condition for any reason that would be used for a similar abortion.

Some also say consciousness or self-awareness is what establishes value. The problem with self-awareness is that we’re not self-aware until sometime after birth. So this would justify infanticide (and some pro-choice philosophers, such as Michael Tooley and Peter Singer, support infanticide for this very reason). Plus, if the immediately exercisable capacity for consciousness is what establishes value, then we could kill anyone who loses consciousness. This would mean we would be morally justified in killing someone for any reason who falls asleep, enters a reversible coma, or goes under anesthesia before a major surgery.

Additionally, as Francis Beckwith and Patrick Lee note, if consciousness is required to bestow value on a human, then no humans are intrinsically valuable. Consciousness is intrinsically valuable. This would mean that the moral rule would be to maximize valuable states of functions. It would not be morally wrong to kill a child, no matter what age, if doing so enabled one to have two children in the future, and thus to bring it about that there were two vehicles of intrinsic value rather than one. [9]

The thing about pain, self-awareness, or consciousness (aside from the problems already mentioned) is that these are Level of Development problems. So point to a two-year-old, or another human outside the womb who also fails in that way, and ask if it’s morally justifiable to kill someone just because they’re less developed than we are.

Finally, there are certain objections that rely on socioeconomic problems. For example, they might say that a family can’t afford another child, or that overpopulation is an issue, etc. Someone making these arguments is simply assuming that the unborn aren’t human, so in an argument like this it helps to bring the argument back on topic (to what is the unborn?) by asking if these same reasons could be used to justify killing a two-year-old child. A family of six could not kill their two-year-old child to help feed their other children, so we can’t justify abortion for this reason. We can’t go around killing small children or homeless people to help with overpopulation, so we can’t justify abortion for this reason either. Trotting Out the Toddler is a powerful tool to help keep the discussion on what the actual issue is, the nature of the unborn [10].

Original Blog Source: http://bit.ly/2ncmmyd


[1] Note here that as a JFA mentor, we actually take a slightly different approach than the one presented here. The scope of this article is how to defend the position that personhood should be established at fertilization, but in JFA seminars we prefer to keep the focus on what the unborn is. I have used both approaches in my discussions with pro-choice advocates.
[2] Genesis 1:26
[3] Ancius Manlius Severinus Boethius, Liber de Persona et Duabus Naturis, ch. 3.
[4] Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man, p. 77.
[5] ibid., pp. 84-85. Note that when C.S. Lewis speaks of the Tao, he is referring to an objective moral law.
[6] Schwartz, Stephen D., The Moral Question of Abortion, Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990, pp. 15-19.
[7] Credit goes to JFA for this approach to using the SLED tool in a dialogue.
[8] Note that this article is a little graphic.
[9] Paraphrased from Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p.50, and Patrick Lee, Abortion and Unborn Human Life, (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1996), p. 55.
[10] Credit goes to Scott Klusendorf and Greg Koukl for the tool of Trotting Out the Toddler.

Who Cares about Truth? Activity to Help Students Grasp the Importance of Truth

Along with being a professor at Biola, I have been teaching high school students for thirteen years. Below is one of my favorite activities – which could be used by teachers, youth pastors, and even parents – to help students grasp how important truth is for their worldview.

Students Truth

PURPOSE: This activity helps students realize that truth should be the guiding principle for what we believe, and as a result, how we live our lives

SUPPLIES: Whiteboard and pens; or a large sheet of paper for recording answers.

DURATION: 20-30 minutes

INSTRUCTIONS:

1.Begin by asking students the following question, “Why do people believe what they do?” Encourage students to come up with any reasons they can think of for why we hold certain beliefs (not just about God, but about anything).

2.List their responses on a large sheet of paper or whiteboard according to the columns below. Do not label the columns until they have given all their answers.

Sociological Psychological Religious Philosophical
Parents

Friends

Society

Culture

Tradition

Comfort

Peace of Mind

Meaning

Experience

Hope

Identity

Scripture

Pastor

Priest

Guru

Channeler

Church

Consistency

Coherence

Completeness (best explanation)

True

3.Once you have a substantial list of reasons, go through each one and ask, “Is that a good reason to believe something?”

4.If you have sharp students, the discussion might look something like this:

Youth worker “I see that many of you listed sociological factors. For example, many of you mentioned that our beliefs are shaped by our parents. Is that a good enough reason to believe something?”
Students “No, not necessarily. Parents can sometimes be wrong!”
Youth worker Okay, what about cultural factors such as tradition? Do you think people ought to believe something because it has been passed down through tradition?”
Students “No, not necessarily. Traditions are not necessarily wrong, but they are also not necessarily right. Radical Muslims have a tradition of Jihad, but that can’t be right.”
Youth worker “Good. Now some of you mentioned psychological influences such as comfort. Is comfort alone a solid reason to believe something?”
Students “No, we’re not ‘comfortable’ with that. Just because something is comfortable does not make it true. Lies can often be very comfortable!”
Youth worker “So you’re saying that truth is an important reason to believe something because there can be consequences when people are mistaken?”
Students “Yes, that does seem to be the case.”
Youth worker “What about religious reasons? Should we believe something because Scripture tells us it is true? Should we simply follow whatever a pastor tells us?”
Students “No, because how would we know which Scripture is true? Which religious teachings do we follow? All religious leaders can’t be right.”
Youth worker “Good point. So, how do we know which religion we should follow, if any?”
Students “We would need some outside evidence to indicate that the claims are actually true. There needs to be some proof.”
Youth worker “So we seem to agree that something is worth believing if we have reason to believe that it is true.”

COMMENTARY:

One of the challenges we face in a postmodern culture is skepticism about reason as a means of knowing truth. It is not that young people are unable to reason. In reality, students reason everyday! They reason with their parents (for a later curfew), with their teachers (for an extension on their homework), and with themselves (over who to ask to prom). But young people are often reluctant to believe that reason can lead to a genuine understanding of God. Such a misunderstanding must be corrected. While our reasoning ability is deeply influenced by our emotions and background, we are made in the image of God with the capacity to accurately understand His revelation to the world (Rom. 1-2). Reason is one means that God has chosen to make Himself known to people.

God designed us to be truth-seekers in all areas of life, which is why it is so critical to help young people understand why they believe what they believe. Few have given their religious beliefs much thought. Most of their beliefs have been shaped by sociological factors that have very little to do with rational reflection. This does not mean that their beliefs are anti-intellectual or that they are less justifiable, only that they have not been formed by weighing the merits of various options and coming to the conclusion that is most reasonable. Such lack of convictions will not maintain a life-long vibrant faith.

This activity is an important step in helping students to be aware of their lack of conscious reasons for their beliefs. The idea is to help students recognize that they themselves actually operate their lives on whether they think something is true or false (whether they realize it or not). This is critical for young Christians because without some sense of why they believe, they may hold their faith with reservation or abandon their faith completely when challenged. And this is also important for non-believers, so they can clear away misconceptions and consider the credibility of Christianity.

SUPPORTING SCRIPTURE: Hosea 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10


What the Bible Does (and Doesn’t) Say About the Life (or Death) of the Soul

As Christians, we believe humans are more than merely physical creatures. We are also “soulish” beings; living souls who also possess physical bodies. As a result, the vast majority of Christians believe our souls are unaffected by our physical death. We are eternal beings, even though our earthly bodies eventually die. Other groups, also using the Bible as their source of information about the soul, have argued souls die along with the body, entering what is sometimes called “soul sleep”. Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and Christadelphians all hold this position. Part of the problem is simply a matter of terminology. When we use the term “soul” as we have been using it in this post, we are referring to the existence of our immaterial being. But when Bible translators translate the original Hebrew and Greek words used by the Biblical authors, they are actually translating words typically used to describe something else:

Bible LIfe and Death

The Old Testament word, “nephesh” (neh’-fesh)
This word has been translated as “soul” on occasion in the Old Testament, but that’s not how the ancient Israelites understood the word. They used it throughout the Old Testament to describe any breathing creature or animal, and it is more often translated as “appetite”, “beast”, “body”, “breath”, “creature”, “dead”, “lust”, “man”, “mind”, “person”, or “life”, than it is translated as “soul”.

The New Testament word, “psuche” (psoo-khay’)
Like “nephesh”, this word has been translated as “soul” as well, but literally means “breath” and can accurately be translated as “heart”, “life”, “mind”, “us”, or “you” in addition to the connotation we would understand as “soul”.

How, then, are we to know exactly how the original writers of Scripture were using these words? How do we know whether they were using the words to describe some aspect of our temporal life or whether they were using the words to describe the soul? Let’s take, for example, Ezekiel 18:4, a passage often cited by Jehovah’s Witnesses trying to make the case we, as living souls, die or sleep when our bodies die:

Ezekiel 18:4
“Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.”

From a simple reading of this passage, it sure sounds like souls die. But the word being used as “soul” is “nephesh” and we know it is more often used to describe living physical beings (creatures). So this passage could just as easily (and may more accurately) be translated in this way:

“Behold, all lives are Mine; the life of the father as well as the life of the son is Mine. The person (life) who sins will die.”

See the problem here? We really can’t make the case for the mortality of the soul from a simple word study in the Old or New Testament. But Jehovah’s Witnesses are not the only ones who have to be careful. Those who try to prove the soul is immortal from a simple word study also fall into this same trap. Let’s take one example:

Psalms 84:2
“My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

Those arguing for the immortality of the soul use this passage to demonstrate the soul is clearly defined as something different than the heart and the flesh of the body. But once again we have to remember the word used for “soul” (“nephesh”) is most often translated in a different way. This could just as easily be what the psalmist intended:

“My entire being yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”

What the Bible Says About the Everlasting Nature of the Soul
Word studies
simply don’t help us understand the nature of the soul in regard to its immortality. There is a better way to examine the Biblical evidence without relying on any interpretation of “nephesh” or “psuche”. Let’s simply study examples in the Scripture where people are described as living beyond their physical bodies. If we see instances of “living disembodiment”, it is fair to conclude we are immaterial beings who live beyond our physical existence:

Luke 23:39-43
And one of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us.” But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? “And we indeed justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.” And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”

Even though both Jesus and the thief were about to experience physical death, Jesus clearly said something about our eternal life. He said our lives would continue and extend right from the point of death: “today you will be with me in paradise.” The word used here for “paradise” is the Greek word, “paradeisos” and it is the same word Paul used to describe heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know-God knows. And I know that this man-whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows- was caught up to paradise.”) The Bible clearly describes a disembodied life here (what we would describe as the “soul”), even though it is not given a name. From this passage it is obvious the soul lives beyond the death of the body. Here is another important passage:

Luke 16:19-31
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them,’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent. But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’”

In this passage, the dead are repeatedly described as performing actions characteristic of the living. But that’s not all. How can this be? This is only possible if the physically dead are still immaterially alive. That’s why as Christians, we recognize we are living souls and immortal by nature:

Matthew 17:1-3
And six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and brought them up to a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.

In this scene, Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. They obviously died long before Jesus was born, so how could this scene be true unless they still existed as immortal souls (and not simply as physical bodies)? We have another example of disembodied life after death, something possible only if we exist as living, immortal souls.

Matthew 22:31-32
“But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”

Were Abraham, Isaac and Jacob alive at the time of this statement? No. How, then, could they be described as living? This could only be true if they are actually immortal souls alive after death (and prior to their physical resurrection in the future). If they are immortal souls (immaterial beings), the passage begins to make sense.

1 Kings 17:19-23
And he said to her, “Give me your son.” Then he took him from her bosom and carried him up to the upper room where he was living, and laid him on his own bed. And he called to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, hast Thou also brought calamity to the widow with whom I am staying, by causing her son to die?” Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD, and said, “O LORD my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s life return to him.” And the LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper room into the house and gave him to his mother; and Elijah said, “See, your son is alive.”

This passage describes Elijah’s reviving of the widow’s son. The “life” of the child is said to “return to him”. The word used here is “shuwb” (shoob) and it really means “to turn back”, as if to retreat. But to turn back from where? Where is the “life” prior to being “returned”? The passage affirms the notion our true lives exist beyond death. God has the ability to return this “true” life to the body. This is consistent with what has been described elsewhere about the nature of the disembodied soul.

Ecclesiastes 12:5-7
Furthermore, men are afraid of a high place and of terrors on the road; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags himself along, and the caperberry is ineffective. For man goes to his eternal home while mourners go about in the street. Remember Him before the silver cord is broken and the golden bowl is crushed, the pitcher by the well is shattered and the wheel at the cistern is crushed; then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.

This passage also describes life beyond the grave. After our death, while people are still mourning our absence, we are on our way to the God who created us. We are not stationary. We are not lying in the grave. We are alive and moving. We all know that our bodies will someday die. We don’t need to make a case from the Bible for this; we get to see it (unfortunately) every day. The real question is: “Do we live beyond the grave, beyond the physical life?” The scriptures seem to answer that question in a straightforward manner:

John 11:17-26
So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles off; and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary, to console them concerning their brother. Martha therefore, when she heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him; but Mary still sat in the house. Martha therefore said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.”

John 8:51
“Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.”

We have a powerful promise here. When we place our trust in Christ we will never see death. Our bodies may cease to function, but there will never be a time when we could be considered dead. There is no soul sleep, even though the body dies. Once we understand what the Bible does (and doesn’t) say about the life (or death) of the soul, we can have confidence we will be reunited to God and in His presence the moment we leave this temporal life.


How to Leverage Moral Outrage for the Gospel

By Michael C Sherrard

It is good to acknowledge the appropriateness of ones anger in the midst of evil and pain. It is right to be angry over injustice. It is right to be sick at crimes against children. It is good for you to feel a hole in your stomach as you look upon the devastation and loss of life caused by a natural disaster. It is right to think, “This is not how life is supposed to be.” The key is for anger to be directed rightly whereupon your steps follow the right path of action.

Moral Gospel Christianity

Acknowledging an individual’s sense of justice can lead them to repentance. When we are angry at evil, we are acknowledging that life has purpose. We are recognizing that there is a difference between good and bad. We are affirming that bad should be punished. But what does that mean for my bad actions? And from where did my sense of justice come in the first place?

If life is the result of an accident, how can life have a purpose? And if life has no purpose, why am I angry at what I think is unfair? My sense of oughtness is an indication that I believe in a standard of life. But what standard, an arbitrary one set by changing cultures driven by natural selection or a transcendent one that never changes even though societies might? Mankind’s sense of justice can point them to the good Judge. Affirm their outrage and direct it properly.

If you take people down this road, you will see how mankind’s universal sense of justice is to the gospel’s advantage. There is only one worldview that provides a justification for belief in inherent human value and thereby true morality. It is theism. A transcendent creator is needed for our sense of justice to have any value. Existence must have been intentional for life to have intrinsic and objective worth. And simply, when we look at the world and say, “That is wrong!” there has to be an eternally fixed “right” for our moral indignation to have any value. Leverage this understanding that all naturally possess and direct them toward the One who is not only the standard of life, but its very essence.

This blog was originally published at MichaelCSherrard.com


Men of God Should Understand the Importance of Fatherhood

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

god fatherhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Is There Even A Jesus Myth Theory?

By Stephen Bedard

I have spent much of my apologetics activity responding to the Jesus myth theory. My first book (co-authored with Stanley Porter) Unmasking the Pagan Christ and my first journal article were both responses to the Jesus myth theory.

Although generally discounted by scholars, I believe that it is a dangerous theory that is influencing people through the medium of the internet. I am thankful that many apologists see this challenge and are responding to it.

This post is not a response to the specific claims of the Jesus myth theory.

Jesus Myth

My question is: Why is there even a Jesus myth theory to begin with? It does not make sense for people to just wake up one morning and decide they are going to question the historicity of one of the most well known ancient figures. Why do they do it?

I do not believe that there is only one answer to that question. I will present four possible reasons for people to embrace this theory.

1) Atheist Agenda. Atheists by definition deny the existence of God. Traditionally, however, they have accepted the existence of Jesus. They have seen Jesus as either someone who was delusional or someone who was misrepresented (usually by Paul).

More recently, some atheists have begun to question the existence of Jesus as well. Why make this leap? It may be the fault of many Christian apologists. Some apologists, including myself, see the resurrection of Jesus as the best evidence for the existence of God. If the evidence demonstrates that Jesus died and then on the third day was seen alive, something supernatural must have happened.

Instead of attacking each piece of evidence, it may be easier for some atheists to just reject the entire story. There is no need to respond to the empty tomb if Jesus never existed.

2) Anti-Religion. This reason has some overlap with the first but it is somewhat different. Being anti-religious does not require being an atheist. Some people use their love for God to fuel their hatred of religion.

The denial of the existence of Jesus should be seen in the context of attitudes toward other founders of major religions. In addition to denying the existence of Jesus, there are those who deny the existence of Moses, Buddha and Muhammad. Admittedly, those who deny the existence of Muhammad are quite careful in how they express that view.

There seems to be a trend for people to question the existence of every founder of a religion. How long before people question the existence of Joseph Smith?

3) Another Conspiracy. Some people embrace the Jesus myth because of their love for conspiracy theories. We can assume that at some point people knew that Jesus was a myth and then at another point people believed he was real. Someone had to be responsible for this change.

The Church has made many mistakes over the centuries and so they are an easy target. Church leaders must have secretly decided to make Jesus historical, presumably to make money off of the ignorant masses.

Once you add Constantine into the mix, you have both religious and political powers conspiring together. That is the makings of the perfect conspiracy theory.

4) Alternative spirituality. Not everyone who subscribes to the Jesus myth does it for negative reasons. Some use it to replace traditional Christianity with an alternative spirituality.

My introduction to the Jesus myth came through Canadian author Tom Harpur. Harpur is a former Anglican priest. Having read his books and spoken with him over coffee, I have a sense of why he believes what he does. Harpur was deeply disturbed by the exclusivity of traditional Christianity. Belief in Jesus as the only way is, according to Harpur, the reason behind the crusades, inquisition, holocaust and so on.

But what if the story of Jesus was true in a spiritual sense rather than a historical sense? What if there was no historical Jesus to divide Jews, Christians and Muslims? What if there was a cosmic Christ in every human of every religion and of no religion? Then there would be the potential for peace and unity for the human race.

This is not the place to respond to each of these claims. Rather the purpose of this post is to acknowledge that there are different reasons why people accept the Jesus myth. The practical application for apologists is to determine the kind of Jesus mythicist we are interacting with. Their place in each of the four categories will influence how we respond to their questions.

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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.

 


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Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

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

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

Sin Doctrine

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

The Problem of Hell

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

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

Niceness vs. Goodness

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

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

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

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

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

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

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

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

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


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

 


 

Did Messianic prophecy inspire the Christmas story?

By Tim McGrew

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

Messianic Prophecy Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

Or consider Jeremiah 31:15:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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


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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.


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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

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The Great Book of Romans

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