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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.


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


How Do I Motivate Students Who Don’t Seem to Care?

One of the most common—and frankly one of the toughest—questions I receive is how to motivate students who are apathetic. How do you make students care? If you are expecting an easy answer, then you might as well click away now. Students are not robots and so we can’t force them to care about anything! But there are a few things I have learned from my experience and research that may help you motivate students who don’t seem to care about spiritual issues:

Students Apologetics Motivation

  1. Build a relationship with students. When students sense that an adult really cares, they are much more likely to listen. When I taught high school full time, I especially focused on building relationships with the students who seemed apathetic. I took time to listen to them, encourage them, and go to various events they found important (school plays, dances, sporting events, etc.). I wanted them to know that I genuinely cared. I knew that was a key ingredient in motivating them to care about spiritual issues. If you want students to care about spiritual things, they need to first know that you care about them.
  2. Take students out of their normal environment. One of the reason camps can be so powerful is that it gets kids out of their everyday routine. Sometimes kids need to be away from their daily lives to consider spiritual truths in a fresh way. It’s amazing how open students’ hearts often are when they just slow down and step outside their normal environment. But it doesn’t just have to be at camp. Some of my best conversations with students have been on car rides to sporting events, at barbeques, on mission trips, and over coffee.
  3. Use pop culture illustrations in your teaching. Students love movies. They love social media. That’s the air they breathe! In my experience, students seem to come alive when I teach biblical truth with examples from pop culture. That’s why I used to teach an entire worldview unit through the lens of film (my favorite text was Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa). To be motivated to care about spiritual things, students need to see the connection between the secular and sacred worlds. Teaching biblical truth through film is one great way to do this.
  4. Challenge students. Many students are unmotivated because church (and by extension God) bores them. Yet, I have found many students respond when they are challenged and provided a practical way to make a difference. You can do this in three ways:
    1. Challenge students to serve: One year I took some students to visit a veteran’s hospital. The hospital requested DVDs, and so we did a DVD drive for the veterans. Once the students saw that they could practically make a difference, many stepped up and served.
    2. Challenge students to have spiritual conversations. Consider taking students on to a college campus, or to visit another religious site, to have spiritual conversations with people of different faiths. Just prep your students carefully, and use these surveys by Brett Kunkle at Stand to Reason to start conversations.
    3. Challenge students to defend their faith. I love to role-play with students. They tend to come alive when I role-play an atheist, Muslim, pro-choicer, or a host of other positions. I force them to think, put them on the defensive, and provide no easy answers. You can also consider bringing in someone of a different faith to engage your students, but just use wisdom if doing so.
  5. Ask questions rather than give simple answers. Jesus asked a lot of questions, even when he knew the answers. Why? He wanted to elicit faith in people. We do a disservice to students when we give simple answers rather than asking deep questions. In fact, when ministering to students, questions are almost always better than answers. I want students to gain a love for wisdom, and to learn how to think, which only comes when we refuse to give simple answers. Asking timely and thoughtful questions can often help elicit spiritual interest in students who are otherwise apathetic.
  6. Have a long-term perspective. Often times youth leaders beat themselves up for “failing” to motivate certain students. But here’s the reality: there may be nothing you can do to motivate certain students whose hearts are not open to spiritual things. I had a student who graduated from my class who went to the local JC. His goal in my class was to get the minimal passing grade (If I remember correctly, he got a C-). And yet the year after graduation he came back to sit in my class and to encourage other students to pay attention. Why? He was challenged in his faith by professors and started taking his beliefs more seriously than ever. I asked him what I could have done differently to motivate him in high school, and I will never forget what he said: “Nothing. I wasn’t ready spiritually. But I did learn more than you probably realized.” Even if a student seems apathetic, you might be surprised how much he or she is actually learning. Don’t give up!

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.

 


 

9 Truths about Sex and Marriage from Genesis 1-2

Critics have sometimes claimed that marriage is not that important to God. But interestingly, the Bible both begins and ends with a marriage. In fact, marriage is the defining metaphor God uses to illustrate His love for the Church, His “bride.”

sex marriage genesis

The natural place to begin an investigation into what God thinks about marriage (and sex) is in Genesis 1 and 2, where scripture describes God’s creation of the world and everything in it. Here are nine truths about sex and marriage from the first two chapters in Genesis:

1. Sex and marriage are a creation of God. Sex is not the result of a blind, evolutionary process that lacks meaning and merely exists to propagate the species. Rather, God is the one who created sex with a purpose for how it is to be expressed and experienced. The first explicit attribute we learn about God in the Bible is that He is the Creator (Gen 1:1), which implies there is a purpose for what He creates, including sex.

2. People are created as gendered beings. Gender is not accidental to the creation story. Rather, God intentionally made human beings male and female (1:27-28) so they could populate the earth. The creation story emphasizes distinctions between day and night, land and sea, as well as male and female. Gender is fundamental to what it means to be human.

3. The biblical design for marriage is monogamy. The pattern in Genesis 2:24 is that a man leaves his household, which consists of his father and his mother, and then “clings” to his wife. When God called Adam to name the animals, “there was not found a helper fit for him” (2:20b). The clear implication is that Adam was looking for one partner. Populating the earth only requires one man and one woman. Although many biblical leaders embraced polygamy, the clear design for marriage is monogamy.

4. The two sexes are equal in value. Even though there is contrast between Adam and Eve (male and female), there is no hint of ontological superiority for the male. Both are equal image bearers of the divine (1:27). While egalitarians and complementarians differ over the roles of men and women in the family and church, both agree that men and women have equal value.

5. Marriage is an exclusive relationship. Genesis 2:24 says a man shall leave his father and mother. The Hebrew term for “leave” is a strong term that is often translated as “abandon” or “forsake,” and is sometimes used to indicate that Israel has forsaken the God of Israel for false gods (e.g. Deut 28:20). Richard Davidson explains: “This leaving also implies the exclusiveness of the relationship: husband and wife, and no other interfering party, are bone of each other’s bones, flesh of each other’s flesh.”[1]

6. Marriage is meant to be permanent. According to Genesis 2:24, man will “hold fast” to his wife. The language of this same verse, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” expresses a marriage covenant vow. Holding fast and the one-flesh union indicate permanence in the relationship. Jesus affirmed the intended permanence for marriage (See Matt. 19:3-4).

7. Marriage is heterosexual. Both Genesis 1 and 2 indicate that marriage is gendered. The man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife. While marriage entails much more than gender differences, it entails no less. Paul affirms that marriage is gendered (See Eph. 5:22-33).

8. One of the primary purposes of sex and marriage is procreation. After indicating that males and females are made in God’s image, Genesis indicates that they are to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” Thus, one of the primary purposes of marriage is procreation. Not all couples can have children, for a variety of reasons, but part of the divine design for sex and marriage is procreation.

9. Sex is good and beautiful. Over and over again the author of Genesis 1 makes it clear that creation is good: “And God saw everything he had made, and behold, it was very good” (1:31). Sex is part of God’s original good creation. Sex is only bad when we abuse God’s intended design. But in the marriage relationship of one man and one woman, sex is meant to be experienced without fear, shame, or regret and is both good and beautiful.

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] Richard M. Davidson, Flame of Yahweh: Sexuality in the Old Testament (Peabody, MA Hendricksen, 2007), 44.

 


 

How Do We Make Theology Come Alive for Students?

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

students theology

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 


Are Questions Better Than Answers? No Question About It!

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

questions better

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

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

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

The Question Explosion

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

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

What Makes a Transformative Question?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Being “Blessed” is Better than Being “Happy”

Our culture is obsessed with happiness. From the movies we watch, the purchases we make, and our obsessive use of technology and social media, it is clear that many people today live for happiness.

You might be thinking, “So what? Isn’t happiness a good thing?” Well, that depends on what is meant by happiness. In his book Happiness is a Serious Problem, Dennis Prager argues that the common definition of happiness today is H = nF. In other words, happiness is equivalent to the number (n) of fun (F) experiences we can accumulate in a lifetime. The more fun experiences, the happier we are. To be happy is to feel good and have fun.

blessed better happy

Prager explains, “Most people believe that happiness and fun are virtually identical. Ask them, for example, to imagine a scene of happy people. Most people will immediately conjure up a picture of people having fun (e.g. laughing, playing games, drinking at a party).”[1]

Pleasure is certainly not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, God designed us as embodied beings to experience remarkable pleasure. But can pleasure-seeking in itself ultimately bring a meaningful life?

The Futility of a Pleasure-Seeking Life

King Solomon, who had all the pleasures the world could possibly offer, wrote millennia ago about the emptiness that comes from seeking pleasure as the purpose of life:

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?” I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine…till I might see what was good for the children of man to do under heaven during the few days of their life…So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem…And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun (Ecclesiastes 2:1-3, 9-11).

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman notes that there was a tenfold increase in depression among Baby Boomers over any previous generation. Why? According to his analysis, it is because Boomers were the first generation to focus on their own pleasure as the goal of life. According to Seligman, lasting happiness occurs when people outgrow their obsessive concern with personal feelings and live for something beyond themselves.

The paradox of happiness is that if we seek it, we won’t find it. True happiness comes when we stop focusing our own feelings, and lovingly seek the best for others. This is (partly) why Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek yourself first, and your life will be empty. Seek God first, and you will have a meaningful life filled with genuine happiness—whether you feel good or not.

Blessedness

The Bible has a different view of the goal of human life. Rather than living for happiness (understood as having certain feelings and experiences), Scripture teaches that the goal of life is to love God and love other people (Mark 12:28-34). When we do love God, and seek His glory, we are “blessed” regardless of how we feel.

Consider Psalms 1, which opens the book with these words: “Blessed is the man.” If you read Psalm 1 closely, you will notice that it is not about feelings, but about being right with God. The “blessed man” is not the one who has amassed endless material gain, has a fun job, has become a YouTube star, or accumulated endless fun experiences. Rather, the blessed man is the one who “delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night” (v. 2).

The Psalmist compares the blessed man, who prospers in all he does, to a healthy tree, planted by streams of water (v. 3). But the wicked man is driven away by the wind and ultimately perishes (v. 4-5). In his commentary on Psalms, Willem VanGemeren explains what blessedness means in this passage:

The formula “Blessed is the man” evokes joy and gratitude, as man may live in fellowship with his God. Blessedness is not deserved; it is a gift of God. God declares sinners to be righteous and freely grants them newness of life in which he protects them from the full effects of the world under judgment (Gen 3:15–19). Outside of God’s blessing, man is “cursed” and ultimately leads a meaningless life (Eccl 1:2). The word “happy” is a good rendition of “blessed,” provided one keeps in mind that the condition of “bliss” is not merely a feeling. Even when the righteous do not feel happy, they are still considered “blessed” from God’s perspective. He bestows this gift on them. Neither negative feelings nor adverse conditions can take his blessing away.[2]

Amen.

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] Dennis Prager, Happiness is a Serious Problem (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), 44.

[2] Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (ed. Frank E. Gaebelein; vol. 5; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1991), 553.

 


 

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

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

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

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

the story of reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MCDOWELL: What makes this book unique?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MCDOWELL: Any final thoughts?

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

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


Resources for Greater Impact

Story of Reality FINAL

The Story of Reality (Paperback)


Should Students Be Exposed to Evidence Against Christianity?

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

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

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

Evidence Against Christianity

Inoculation Theory

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

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

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

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

How Does This Apply to Teaching Youth Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

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


Sin: The Forgotten Doctrine

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

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

Sin Doctrine

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

The Problem of Hell

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

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

Niceness vs. Goodness

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

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

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

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

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

The Offensiveness of Human Sinfulness

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

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

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


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

 


 

A “Chance” Encounter with the Miraculous

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

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

Encounter Miraculous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 


 

Top 10 Apologetics “Tips” of the Year

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

Apologetics Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

Evidence Intelligent Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRIAN JOHNSON: Sure!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

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

Truth is a Person—Not Simply An Idea

Truth matters. And in our moments of honesty, we all know this. Minimally, we all live as if truth matters. It’s unavoidable.

Truth matters in religious matters too. All religions (including atheism) claim to present a true depiction of reality. And this includes Christianity. But there is a key fact that makes Christianity distinct from other world religions—Christianity does not present truth merely as an abstract idea, but as a person who can be known.

truth is a person

When Pilate questioned Jesus about truth nearly twenty centuries ago, he failed to realize something profound: truth was standing right in his presence. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Pilate was not just discussing truth in his Jerusalem palace that day; he was literally looking at it with his own two eyes. Truth was standing before him, clothed in human flesh! Jesus Christ, “who came from the Father full of grace and truth,” is the very embodiment and essence of absolute moral and spiritual truth itself (John 1:14, NIV).

Truth is much more than a mere abstract fact or concept; it is inescapably relational. Even more than that, truth is a person and this person is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus transcended the concept of truth by identifying himself as the truth. We cannot separate the idea of truth from the person of truth—Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus told Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19). Rather than telling Peter merely to follow certain rules, obey certain commands, or live out certain teachings, Jesus’ final instruction to Peter was: “Follow me.” Jesus knew that Peter could only fully understand what it meant to know truth if he was first willing to follow Jesus with all his heart.

In the Christian worldview, truth can be personally known as well. In John 16:13-14, Jesus says:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Truth is so relational that it dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Having truth ultimately means knowing Christ personally through his Spirit.

People in our world today desperately need to understand truth. But more importantly, they need a relational encounter with the Person of Truth. Our task is not merely to proclaim the abstract truths of Christianity with clarity and force, as important as this is. Our ultimate job is to proclaim the unique offer Christianity makes about intimately encountering the God of Truth (John 17:3). Framing our apologetics this way is not only true, it is much more attractive.

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

 


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA laying down book

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


America Desperately Needs Real Tolerance: A Lesson from Mike Pence

Our country is deeply divided. This, of course, is no secret. There are competing versions over how we need to proceed in terms of race, economics, moral issues and more.

Underlying many of these issues is a competing view of tolerance. As my father and I point out in our book The Beauty of Intolerance, tolerance no longer means what it used to mean. Classically, tolerance has meant recognizing and respecting others when you don’t share their beliefs, values, or practices. By this definition, tolerance assumes disagreement. Otherwise, what is there to tolerate? But according to a new view, tolerance means recognizing and respecting all views as being equal. And by this view, if you think your view is superior, then you’re a hateful, intolerant bigot.

tolerance mike pence

Two Competing Views of Tolerance

These two competing views of tolerance were on clear display this week. In response to the election of Donald Trump, designer Sophie Theallet called for the fashion industry to boycott Melania Trump. In defense of her views, Sophie posted a letter on Twitter that says her brand “stands against all discrimination and prejudice.” And then she says, “As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady.” And she called on the fashion industry to follow her lead.

The irony and contradiction is evident. If she really stands against “discrimination and prejudice,” then why prejudge and discriminate against Melania? If she really values “respect for all lifestyles,” then why not respect the future First Lady, especially since her husband received support from roughly half the country? Do their values matter? In reality, Theallet embraces a pseudo view of tolerance that claims to accept all lifestyles, but in practice, only accepts those who agree with her.

She certainly has the right to hold, defend, and proclaim this view. Even though I think she’s wrong, I fully support her right to run her business this way and to make her views public. People should have the right to run their businesses based upon their deepest moral convictions. But I do think she should stop pretending to value “diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles.” Clearly she doesn’t.

How Mike Pence Stole the Show

If you want to see real value for diversity, and a genuine model of tolerance, you will have to look to another story that has been trending this week: the Hamilton/Pence controversy.

Vice-President Elect Mike Pence took his family to see the play Hamilton. When he arrived many people booed him. How did he respond? “I nudged my kids and reminded them, that’s what freedom sounds like…I wasn’t offended by what was said,” said Pence in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

In other words, rather than getting defensive, angry or resorting to name-calling, Pence chose to find the good in people booing him, and he took the opportunity to teach his kids a valuable lesson: America is a great nation that allows people to disagree fervently. In fact, the value of freedom is greater than our own discomfort. By defending the right of people to boo him, Pence showed that he values freedom more deeply than his own feelings.

Part of what has made America great is that we are a nation of people with diverse views on a plethora of issues. Even though we may think others are deeply mistaken, we value the freedom of disagreement.

After the show, members of the cast personally addressed Pence and offered a criticism of his administration. On stage with his fellow actors, Brandon Victor Dixon read a statement directed at Pence:

We are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values, and work on behalf of all of us.”

Again, how did Pence respond? Although his security detail rushed him out, Pence made sure to stop and hear the full statement. He valued their opinion and their right to hold it. And he had no ill words the next day. In fact, Pence praised the actors and mentioned how much he enjoyed the show. And he reiterated his commitment to work for all Americans. As a result, Dixon called his response “encouraging.”

Our country will be deeply divided for some time. How do we move forward as a nation? Pence gave us many lessons, but one stands out as critical for our nation at this point: choose to be gracious and kind towards others and genuinely listen to their concerns. Pence could have been critical, harsh, or defensive. But he took the high road. He chose to be civil and kind towards those who see the world differently. And it was noticed. Although it was small, he advanced the ball on bringing back civil discourse. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come from people on all sides of the political spectrum.

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.

 


 

How Should Christians Talk about Homosexuality?

Joe Dallas is one of the most articulate people who address homosexuality and the church. He is an author, blogger, and professional counselor. While I have been a fan of his writings for years, we sat down for coffee recently and got to connect in person. As a result, he gave me the opportunity to endorse his most recent book Speaking of Homosexuality. While there are some excellent books on the Bible and homosexuality, this book now stands out to me as one of the best. I highly recommend it for its content and gracious approach.

Dallas answered a few of my questions. Check out this interview, and if you enjoy it, consider getting a copy of his timely book.

Christians Homosexuality

SEAN MCDOWELL: You’ve written a number of books on how the church can address homosexuality. Why another book? What makes this one unique?

JOE DALLAS: I’ve had the pleasure of writing books for people who are affected in different ways by homosexuality – families with gay loved ones, for example, or individuals struggling with their own sexual feelings – but this time I’ve been able to write a book for the average Christian who wants to dialogue with gay or pro-gay people. So many of us know what we believe, but we’ve been unsure how to express those beliefs, or when it’s appropriate to express them, or how to express them without coming across like a bigot. That’s why I wrote Speaking of Homosexuality.

SEAN MCDOWELL: You have been writing on this subject for roughly two decades. How have you seen both the issues and manner of the debate change?

DALLAS: If you hold the Traditional view on homosexuality, you’re definitely on the defense now. Not too many years ago, the majority of Americans believed homosexual behavior was wrong. But today, the culture has come to believe that if you think homosexuality is a sin, then you’re the one with a problem. So when believers express the Biblical view on human sexuality, they make their apologia, or their “defense,” in the marketplace of ideas. That’s both exciting and unnerving.

MCDOWELL: The subtitle of your book is “Discussing the Issues with Kindness and Clarity.” What is it about homosexuality that requires both kindness and clarity? Do you think we need to address all moral issues in the same manner?

DALLAS: We seem to be forever swinging between the extremes of harshness and sloppy sentimentality. Kindness is required when you discuss this issue, because you can hardly convince people if you’re not showing them respect and even friendliness. But clarity is a crying need as well, because we can hardly win people to the truth if we’re not clearly explaining what the truth is. So both are needed when addressing this or any other moral subject. If I was into tattoos, which I’m definitely not, I’d put “Remember: Grace AND Truth” on everybody’s right arm.

MCDOWELL: Jen Hatmaker is a popular and influential Christian author. In fact, my wife has loved her books. Recently, in an interview with Religion News, she declared that same-sex relationships are holy. How do you process an announcement of this sort from such an influential figure?

DALLAS: I hate to say it, but “buckle up.” There will be plenty of influential Christian speakers, musicians, pastors, and leaders of all sorts announcing their epiphany from a traditional to a pro-gay view. Hatmaker’s the latest; she surely won’t be the last. It’s a symptom of the times. We mistakenly assume that if someone is a leader, she or he must be well grounded Biblically, but that’s hardly true. These days, if you’re articulate, empathetic, and personable, that alone can elevate you to a place of prominence in the church. So while I’m disappointed in Hatmaker, I’m more concerned about the church in general, and about how readily we accept people’s teachings without taking a Berean approach and checking what we hear from the individual against what we read in scripture.

MCDOWELL: Some people have claimed that within 10-15 years homosexuality will be as acceptable in the church as divorce, even though the Bible has strong teachings against divorce. What do you think? Any predictions as to where the issue is going over the next few years?

DALLAS: I agree with the prediction, although while those who make it tend to view it as a good development, I think it will be more proof of our general deterioration as a church and a culture. Where there’s doctrinal weakness, moral compromise is sure to follow. So I think we’ll see a growing acceptance of homosexuality within churches that claim a Biblical base, and we’ll see a broadening of our boundaries on other vital issues like the exclusive claims of Christ as being the only way to the Father, the existence of hell, and the sinful nature of man. Churches that stick to a truly Biblical world view are likely to face lawsuits, revocation of tax-exempt status, and eventual legal sanction for refusing the alter their teachings and in-house practices. Then again, since Jesus, Paul, and John in the Revelation foretold the downward spiral we’re experiencing, should it really be a surprise to us? But, praise God, there will always be people who’ll respond to truth, embrace and live it, and reap its benefits. So let’s keep our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith, and finish the race. It’s still on, and there’s still a prize to be won.

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.

What are the Best Questions for Meaningful Spiritual Conversations?

I love having conversations with people about spiritual matters. If we treat people with kindness, charity, and show a genuine interest in how they see the world, most people are open to discussing religious matters. In fact, in my experience, many people are eager for such conversations.

Spiritual Conversations

In his excellent book Generational IQ, Haydn Shaw explains how intellectual questions are back in the minds of younger generations today:

“One of the biggest challenges we have in responding is that Millennials are asking questions again. Generation Why? wants to know, ‘How do we know that?’ Three of the six reasons Barna Group gives in their book Churchless for why Millennial Christians are leaving their churches are intellectual: Christianity is too shallow, churches seem antagonistic to science, and the exclusivity of Christianity is a turnoff.[1]

Shaw is right—younger generations are interested in truth-related questions. In fact, they’re asking them. I have spiritual conversations with Millennials and young people from Generation Z all the time. But these generations are also less trustworthy and more skeptical than previous generations. They don’t accept simple answers. In many cases, simple answers are a turnoff. They are used to proclaiming their opinions through social media. And if they suspect you’re mistaken, they’ll simply Google a response. It’s not enough for them to be told, “That’s what the experts say.” They want evidence.

So how do we best engage this younger generation? The key is to ask authentic questions and be willing to listen. Authentic questions are different than leading questions. Leading questions aim to get a preset answer and to direct the conversation to a particular end. Authentic questions are meant to elicit genuine dialogue. And they only work if we are truly interested in hearing how others see the world.

Some people are better at asking authentic questions than others. It’s a skill that takes time to develop. I have worked at trying to become a better question-asker, and I am always looking for good tips and even particular questions that beneficially advance a conversation. My goal is not to be manipulative, but to genuinely spur people to think, and also to learn myself. After all, if I am wrong, shouldn’t I change my mind?

Here are ten questions you might find helpful to advance genuine spiritual conversations with those who do not share your faith. If you want to probe further for specific strategies to have meaningful spiritual conversations, check out the essay, “Christians in the Argument Culture: Apologetics as Conversation” in A New Kind of Apologist.

I offer these as the kinds of questions that have been helpful to me. I would encourage you to think of your own. If you come up with some good ones, please share them with me:

  • Do you have a background in religion? If so, what was it like?
  • Was there ever a time you believed in God? If so, why did you think it changed?
  • How important is spirituality to your life now?
  • If God exists, would it be important for you to get your life right with Him?
  • Do you put Jesus in the same category as other religious figures? Why or why not?
  • What do you understand the core of the Christian message to be? In other words, what is your understanding of the gospel?
  • Can you please tell me about the God you don’t believe in?
  • Are there any things that attract you to religion? And are there any things that turn you away?
  • What experiences have most shaped your spiritual life?
  • What would it take for you to believe in God in general and Christianity in particular?

The good news for these kinds of conversations is that you don’t have to have all the answers. That’s right. You don’t have to be an expert! You just need to be bold enough to ask the questions and care enough to listen. If you do, you might be amazed at the depth of conversation you can have with people who hold radically different views than your own.

Many people have never been asked these questions before. Simply raising these questions, and giving people genuine space to wrestle with them, can sometimes be transformative. And you might even be able to encourage people to consider the claims of Christ.

So what are you waiting for?

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


[1] Haydn Shaw, Generational IQ: Christianity Isn’t Dying, Millennials Aren’t the Problem, And the Future Is Bright (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015), 117.

Freedom or Tyranny: What Will America Choose?

America is deeply confused about freedom. You might be thinking, “Wait a minute, America is the land of the free. If anyone understands freedom it’s us!” We are certainly a nation who has historically fought for freedom, and we do have greater freedoms than many nations in the world, but as R.R. Reno points out in his recent book Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society, we have abandoned classical freedom and embraced a new understanding that will, in the end, bring tyranny.

Freedom or Tyranny

Historically, Americans pursued a freedom that was aimed at serving the higher good and void of government overreach. There was a sense of collective responsibility and solidarity. Our freedom came from God and was based upon aligning ourselves with nature. We certainly fell short as a nation in living this ideal (e.g., racism and eugenics), but it’s the freedom we valued in principle and fought for.

But today we are embracing an entirely new understanding of freedom. Moral relativists encourage young people to be nonjudgmental. Students are encouraged to accept all lifestyles as equal and not to judge others. The only “sin” is to consider one’s lifestyle superior to another. Moral relativists talk about freedom, but it’s not the kind of freedom that encourages courage, forbearance, and sacrifice but the freedom to define moral truth for oneself. In other words, to the moral relativist, freedom means having no moral constraints.

The new understanding of freedom can also be seen in our cultural trend towards individualism. In The Beauty of Intolerance, my father and I describe the trend this way: “Moral truth comes from the individual; it is subjective and situational. This truth is known through choosing to believe it and through personal experience.”[1] SCOTUS judge Anthony Kennedy famously expressed this individualistic view in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Such a view seems liberating, but unchecked by God, nature, and custom, it will only lead to tyranny. In fact, untethered by any restraints, freedom becomes merely about freedom itself rather than what is best for the collective good. Reno observes:

“In a society without clear sex roles, without taboos against cohabitation, illegitimacy, and divorce—which is to say, without powerful social norms governing individual behavior—governmental and quasi-governmental support (and therefore control) necessarily expand. The triumph of nonjudgmentalism has created a cultural vacuum. The void is now filled by laws, lawyers, and courts that adjudicate the conflicts that arise in the private lives of ordinary people. Moral deregulation brings a certain kind of freedom, but someone has to pick up the pieces. More often than not, that ‘someone’ is the government.”[2]

This is the weakness with libertarianism, which promises unfettered freedom. By redefining the family, a pre-political reality that governments are meant to recognize, the state has now become the source of our freedom. And if the government can redefine marriage, it can effectively redefine every other area of private life as well. Again, Reno explains:

“The redefinition of marriage by the state turned the most effective limitation of government power, the family, into a creature of government. It does not matter whether this government takeover of private life is the work of unelected representatives, unelected judges, or popular referendum. If government can define marriage and parenthood as it sees fit, the personal is the political, which is one of the definitions of tyranny.”

How far can our culture take this new understanding of freedom. And what’s next? There have been sympathetic movements in favor of incest, bestiality, and for the view that people should be able to understand themselves as dogs. If the individual really is supreme, and there is no objective moral truth binding on us all, then on what basis can we criticize such behavior as wrong? In fact, in our nonjudgmental culture, the only “sin” is not praising such behavior.

Reno raises an additional possibility I simply had not even considered before:

“If we really can live in a way free from our maleness and femaleness, then the horizon of our freedom is almost limitless. Why should my future be limited by my body’s subjection to disease and decay, any more than by my nature as male or female? I fully expect that within a few years academics will advance the view that mortality, like sex, is socially constructed. Such a view provides the anti-metaphysical foundation for a right to doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and abortion. I can easily imagine the argument: There’s no such thing as death; it’s a construct imposed on us by traditional ways of thinking that sustain the interests of the powerful.”[3]

I fear he may be right.

In contrast, Reno argues that real freedom requires truth. We are most free, he claims, when we orient our lives around truth rather than seek godlike independence from all restraints: “Freedom comes when we bind ourselves to something worth serving…A culture of freedom requires legitimate authority. Freedom is fullest now when it serves truths freely held.”[4]

Our culture really is divided over its view of freedom. Will we embrace classical freedom rooted in custom, nature, and the divine? Or will we embrace a freedom untethered by any limits beyond the whims of the individual? It is not an overstatement to declare that the future of our nation depends upon what we choose.

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

Legislating Morality (Video)

Download

DVD Set

Legislating Morality (Book)

 


[1] Sean & Josh McDowell, The Beauty of Intolerance (Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2016), 19.

[2] R.R. Reno, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society (Washington DC: Regnery Faith, 2016), 127.

[3] Ibid., 19.

[4] Ibid., 35.


 

Is the Universe Full of “Wasted” Space?

Why did God make the universe so big? Why so much extra space if it’s just us? This is a question that both skeptics and believers have often asked, including myself. After all, why does there need to be a universe with some fifty billion trillion stars, which comprise merely one percent of the total mass?

Stephen Hawking raised this question years ago in his book A Brief History of Time. He suggested the vast size of our universe seems a waste. And Carl Sagan famously said, “The universe is a pretty big place. If it’s just us, seems like an awful waste of space.” Sagan suggested its size is good reason to believe there are other life forms in the universe.

Universe Wasted Space

Whether or not life exists in other parts of the universe, it turns out that the size of the universe is carefully calibrated and necessary for life’s existence on planet Earth. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross explains this phenomenon in his recent book Improbable Planet. He writes:

However, ongoing research has given us good reasons—all relevant to life’s existence—for the massiveness of the cosmos. We need it for essential construction materials.

The initial mass density of matter’s building blocks—protons and neutrons (called baryons. collectively)—critically impacted what happened the first few minutes of the universe’s existence. That’s when hydrogen, the lightest element, fused into the next heavier elements, helium and lithium. The amount of helium and lithium produced at the time then determined how much planet-and life-building material (the elements essential for life) could be produced later on within the nuclear furnace of stars.

If the universe contained a slightly lower mass density of protons and neutrons, then nuclear fusion in stellar furnaces would have yielded no elements as heavy as carbon or heavier; if a slightly greater mass density, then stars burning would have yielded only elements as heavy as iron or heavier. Either way, the universe would have lacked the elements most critical for our planet and its life—carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous, and more. For life to be possible, the universe must be no more or less massive than it is.[1]

Simply put, given the laws of physics in our universe, we need a universe as massive as it is for the construction of the materials that make life possible on our planet. If the universe were much smaller or bigger, we would not exist.

It turns out the universe is not full of wasted space. In fact, if the universe were not this massive, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and the rest of us could never even have been here to reflect upon it. Thank God we live in such a big universe.

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


Resources for Greater Impact

IDHEFTBAA book standing w SHadowI Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist (Paperback)

Cold Case Christianity Book angled pages

Cold-Case Christianity (Paperback)

 


[1] Hugh Ross, Improbable Planet (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 24.

What Are the Two Most Important Christian Virtues Today?

What would you say are the most important virtues for Christians to cultivate today? Believe it or not, but this is a question I have been wrestling with for some time. This post is not meant to downplay any Christian virtue, or to claim that some are not needed. Christians are certainly called to be like Christ and to exemplify all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-21). Rather, my goal is to ask what virtues are most critical today in light of our current cultural milieu.

I would welcome your thoughts and critique, but here is my conclusion (in advance): In light of our secular culture that increasingly considers classic Christian beliefs extreme, irrelevant, and sometimes even dangerous, the most pressing virtues for Christians to cultivate are courage and kindness.

Christian Virtues

The Case for Courage

Courage has arguably been cheapened in our culture. We think it’s courageous to speak out on a particular subject on Facebook. We think it’s courageous to tweet our support for a candidate or social cause. While these things are fine in themselves, and sometimes even helpful, Christians need to embrace a much more radical kind of courage—the kind of courage we see in Jesus, the apostles, and many other leaders throughout church history.

Consider the apostles of Jesus. They were threatened, imprisoned, jailed and even threatened with their lives. And yet on behalf of the apostles, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The apostles feared the judgment of God more than they feared the opinions of men. In fact, as I demonstrate in The Fate of the Apostles, they so deeply believed in the resurrection that they valued faithfulness to God above their own comfort. They were willing to sacrifice everything, including their own lives, rather than compromise their convictions.

While faithfulness to Jesus doesn’t presently cost Christians their lives in the West, the temperature is being turned up. And the cost is getting greater. If this story is correct, pastors may even be imprisoned for preaching biblical truth within the church.

I have no interest in overstating the cost of following Jesus in America today. After all, compared with much of the world, we still have remarkable freedoms. And my prayer is that we can maintain them. But it would be foolish to dismiss genuine threats to religious freedom and what they mean for individual Christians who are trying to faithfully live out their convictions in the private and public lives. I have personally met many Christians torn between their professions (bakers, photographers, pastors, etc.) who need to make a livelihood, but who also want to faithfully live out their deepest religious convictions.

Here are some questions we all need to consider: Will we stand courageously for our faith, like Daniel, even if it costs us our jobs, relationships, and freedoms? What are we doing now to cultivate courage, so if challenges come, we are ready to be faithful to Jesus?

The Case for Kindness

As important as courage is today, it is not enough. Courage must be balanced with kindness. Scripture is filled with commands for believers to be kind:

“Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another” (Zechariah 7:9).

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).

Christians are to be kind both to fellow Christians and to outsiders. Why are we to be kind? Simple: because God first demonstrated kindness to us. Ultimately, God’s kindness is what draws us to Him in repentance: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

Kindness is different than niceness. Kindness is not merely saying nice things to people, but exhibiting generosity and friendliness. Kindness involves being truly gracious with others, even if they hate us. Jesus demonstrated this kindness by asking God the Father to forgive the very people who were crucifying him. The kindness of Jesus drew the attention of those watching (Luke 23:26-48). And by God’s grace, our kindness might as well.

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.