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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

God Outwits Ann Coulter on Ebola

At the beginning of August, the news of American missionary doctor Kent Brantly's contraction of Ebola made the headlines across the country. Some people who were incredulous that a healthy American doctor would risk his life to serve others in a foreign country. Others, like commentator Ann Coulter seemed indignant. Coulter opened her August 6 column with the following:
I wonder how the Ebola doctor feels now that his humanitarian trip has cost a Christian charity much more than any services he rendered.

What was the point?

Whatever good Dr. Kent Brantly did in Liberia has now been overwhelmed by the more than $2 million already paid by the Christian charities Samaritan's Purse and SIM USA just to fly him and his nurse home in separate Gulfstream jets, specially equipped with medical tents, and to care for them at one of America's premier hospitals.1

As I had previously responded, Coulter's article devalued human life by weighing the price tag of Brantly's treatment against the human suffering he was alleviating treating Liberians with the disease.2 I had noted that putting oneself at risk for the sake of others has always been a part of the Christian tradition.

I also wrote that Coulter also errs by taking a utilitarian approach to Christian missionary efforts. I wrote, "If God is in control, then we have faith that He may work it out for His good." Little did I realize how quickly this would be proven, for just today CNN reported that Nina Pham, the Dallas nurse who contracted Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States was free of the disease. CNN reported that Pham "thanked Dr. Kent Brantly, the American physician who also survived Ebola, for donating his plasma to her while she was sick."3 As ABC News notes, "Antibodies in the blood of a survivor may help a patient fight off the germ."4

Interestingly, Brantly himself received plasma from one of the very patients he was treating in Liberia. A 14-year-old boy under Brantly's care had recovered from the disease and donated plasma to Brantly.5

However, that wasn't the only treatment Brantly received. He was also given an experimental drug named Zmapp, which also contains Ebola antibodies. However, that wasn't an option for Pham, as “Its maker says supplies are now exhausted,” according to the ABC report.6

So, just before a Liberian traveler to the US contracted Ebola and spread it to Pham in this country, a US doctor who treated and helped a young boy recover from Ebola contracted the disease himself, was given an experimental drug rich in antibodies before supplies ran out, was flown back to the very same state at considerable expense, and ultimately overcame the disease. He was then able to donate his plasma to those like Pham who contracted the disease through a completely different contact point. And because his recovery was such a short time ago, Brantly's plasma was still rich with the antibodies that could help fight the virus.

My answer to those like Coulter who asked "What was the point?" would be "Perhaps God had a bit more knowledge and foresight in this whole situation." Brantly's plasma has helped save American lives. And that only happened because Brantly was faithful to his calling to serve the suffering people of Liberia. I had written before that "for Christians, pragmatism is not the primary model for action: obedience is. It is not to us to merely count the number of people we may touch, but to trust God and follow His will for our lives."7 God's ways are indeed higher than our own, but it sure is cool seeing how He works it all out to His glory.

References

1. Coulter, Ann. "Ebola Doc's Condition Downgraded to 'Idiotic'." AnnCoulter.Com. 6 August, 2014. Online. http://www.anncoulter.com/columns/2014-08-06.html
2. Esposito, Lenny. " Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers." Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 11 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2014/08/ann-coulter-is-wrong-people-are-more.html.
3. Martinez, Michael, Michael Martinez, and Jason Hanna. "What Will Nurse Do after Beating Ebola? Hug Her Dog, of Course." CNN. Cable News Network, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/24/health/ebola-nurse/index.html?hpt=he_c2.
4. Marilynn Marchione Ap Chief Medical Writer. "How Plasma Transfusions, Antibodies Fight Ebola." ABC News. ABC News Network, 14 Oct. 2014. Web. 24 Oct. 2014. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/plasma-transfusions-antibodies-fight-ebola-26183499.
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Esposito, Ibid.
Image courtesy Samaritan's Purse.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Mormonism, Hell, and God's Holiness

This year, I took a group of students to Manti, Utah where they had the chance to talk with many people who were raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, otherwise known as Mormons. Most of these folks didn't even understand orthodox Christian doctrine. Part of the problem is that Mormons will use Christian terms but pour different meaning into them, such as the concept of salvation.



For a Christian, salvation means a person has recognized his sinfulness, knows that there is no way he can justify his sinful actions to a holy God, and places his trust in Christ's sacrifice on the cross as atonement for those actions. In this way, Christians are seen as righteous in the sight of God and they may dwell with Him eternally. However, Mormon doctrine is very different. The LDS church teaches that "salvation is synonymous with immortality" 1 and all are saved except for those that apostatize against Mormonism. Thus, almost everyone will live in a heavenly terrestrial kingdom but only Mormons in good standing will live in the higher celestial kingdom.2

The Mormon view of salvation is attractive to many people because hell isn't necessarily an eternal punishment. Like a lot of others who are uncomfortable with the idea of "nice" people going to hell, this seems to be a more comfortable solution. However, while the idea may seem uncomfortable, part of our discomfort is in our fallen state we tend to diminish the heinousness of sin and misunderstand what holiness really is.

God is a Holy God

One of the differences between the Christian God and the Mormon one is that the Christian God is completely holy. He has never not been completely holy. He is eternally God, and therefore His holiness is essential to His nature as God. The God of Mormonism, however, was once a man like you and me. He didn't create us out of nothing, but we were his spirit children birthed from a heavenly mother, and if one practices proper Mormon rituals he may become a God himself.3

These competing views really affect how one understands holiness. I like to use the comparison of an old laundry detergent commercial to make this point. The camera would show one sock on a table. A second sock would fall on top of it with the voice-over narrating "Your old detergent may get your whites this clean." The sock was indeed markedly cleaner and whiter. People would perhaps buy the detergent if the commercial stopped there. But the commercial then shows a third sock falling atop both. This third sock is much whiter than even the second sock, and the narrator promised that his product can produce whites this much whiter than the competing brand.

The reason why the second sock appeared white is because the comparison was relative to only the first. In our sinful world, we have only other sinners by which to compare ourselves. Once we begin to understand true holiness, we begin to see all of humanity stained with the blackness of sin. A holy God cannot allow any sin to go unpunished. Every sin must be dealt with. Just as any amount of sewage left untreated will corrupt the purity of water, so any amount of sin left unpunished would corrupt the nature of a holy and just God, making Him something less.4

So, each person is offered a choice – you may accept the atonement Jesus provided for your sin and apply his righteousness (his "whiteness' as it were) to yourself, or you may choose to rely on your own level of righteousness. Sewage doesn't clean itself up, even after an eternity. Thus, you will forever be stained and forever be separated from God by your stain. It's what we would expect from a holy God.

References

1. McConkie, Bruce R. "Salvation". Mormon Doctrine. Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft, 1966. Print. 471.
2. McConkie, "Terrestrial Kingdom", 548.
3. As Lorenzo Snow, fifth prophet of the LDS Church exclaimed, "As man now is, God once was; as God now is, man may be" (Ensign, February 1982, pp. 39-40). This means that every worthy male, according to the standards of Mormonism, will become a god and rule over their own planet. But what about the women? That question was answered by Joseph Fielding Smith, tenth prophet of the Church, when he spoke of man's exaltation as it is called in Mormonism:
The Father has promised us that through our faithfulness we shall be blessed with the fullness of his kingdom. In other words we will have the privilege of becoming like him. To become like him we must have all the powers of godhood; thus a man and his wife when glorified will have spirit children who eventually will go on an earth like this one we are on and pass through the same kind of experiences, being subject to mortal conditions, and if faithful, then they also will receive the fullness of exaltation and partake of the same blessings. There is no end to this development; it will go on forever. We will become gods and have jurisdiction over world, and these worlds will be peopled by our own offspring. We will have an endless eternity for this (Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, 48).
4. For more on this, see my article "How can a loving God NOT send people to hell?" at http://www.comereason.org/going-to-hell.aspM

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Does Being Old Disqualify the Bible's Teachings?

Recently, I ran across another of those atheist memes that have become popular online. As I've demonstrated before, these little quips, while attractive on the surface, usually make huge errors in thinking. However, since Christians are likely to run across similar objections to their faith from skeptics or others, I do think it can be educational to take some of these apart.



The latest meme has a simple image of a man's torso holding a Bible, accompanied by the statement/question "Would you let a doctor with a 2000 year old medical book operate on you? No. So why let a priest with a 2000 year old storybook tell you how to live?"

Leaving aside the loaded language of "2000 year old storybook," the meme tried to do two things at once. First, it tries to make a comparison between a medical procedure and matters of faith. Secondly, by so doing, it argues that because a text is old it is somehow deficient. Let's take these claims in order.

I would like to take these claims in reverse order, but the careful reader should note that the meme is wrong in its claim that people don't allow doctors with ancient medical books operate on them. Acupuncture predates Christianity by thousands of years and I have known many people who reject the wisdom of the Bible but embrace it as a treatment for their ailments. The practice has received enough attention that the Journal of the American Medical Association and the British medical journal Lancet have written articles on the practice.1 Whether the relief people feel from acupuncture is due to the procedure or simply a placebo effect, acupuncture patients will tell you that they continue to have treatments because it helps them.2 So, many people do let a medical practitioner with an ancient "medical book" operate on them.

One Cannot Dismiss an Idea Solely Because of its Source

The main error the meme commits is shown by those people who continue to pay of acupuncture. It doesn't matter how old a procedure is; the real question is "does it work" or "is it true." In logic, dismissing an idea because it comes from an old source is a form of the genetic fallacy. If you aren't familiar with the term, a genetic fallacy is a mistake in logic where a person claims the falsehood of an idea simply because of its origin. For example, I learned from my school teacher that 2 + 2 = 4. But if my teacher is later found to be a habitual liar, it doesn't mean that I must now reject the notion that 2 + 2 = 4! She could have lied about everything else, but that idea is actually true.

Similarly, one cannot dismiss the Bible as a source of wisdom on life simply because it is old. In fact, unlike medical procedures, which are more mechanical, issues of life are universal. This is why we require students to read Shakespeare, Boethius, and Homer—because we can learn from them, even though they are ancient. Human beings have faced the same big questions of life since our origin, and these are not things where the answers come more easily with better technical expertise.

For example, I would not let any doctor operate on me who doesn't adhere to the dictums of the 2,400 year old Greek physician Hippocrates who taught that medicine must be practiced morally and with the patient's best interest as the primary motivation. Such wisdom is so valued that 98% of American physicians today swear by the Hippocratic Oath when gaining their medical degree.3

So, the meme is asking the wrong questions. It doesn't matter how old a text is. What should be asked is "Is the text true?" For that we have strong evidence that the Bible is what it claims to be: the word of God given to men so they may find the answers to those big questions of life.

Perhaps if the meme's creator had spent more time reading Aristotle's 2,300 year old writings on logic, he may not have made such an egregious error.

References

1. JAMA articles on acupuncture may be found at http://jama.jamanetwork.com/solr/searchresults.aspx?q=acupuncture&fd_JournalID=67&f_JournalDisplayName=JAMA&SearchSourceType=3 . For a list of various Lancet articles on the subject see http://www.thelancet.com/search/results?searchTerm=acupuncture&fieldName=ArticleTitleAbstractKeywords&journalFromWhichSearchStarted=

2. To be sure, the efficacy of acupuncture is highly debated in the medical community. One of the most difficult problems, as the Lancet mentioned is that it becomes difficult to create a control group for a blind study when the procedure itself requires one to have needles inserted into the body. Regardless, the falsity of the "no" answer in the meme is proven.

3. Crawshaw, R. "The Hippocratic Oath. Is Alive and Well in North America." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 08 Oct. 1994. Web. 21 Oct. 2014. .

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Missing Piece in the Hillsong Controversy

There's been a huge uproar in the last week over comments made by Brian Houston, who is the senior pastor of Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. Hillsong is best known for its worship albums that have sold millions of copies and contain songs sung weekly in evangelical churches across the world. The Sydney church boasts over 20,000 members1, but there are eleven offshoot churches that have opened in major cities around the world, including New York and Los Angeles in the U.S.2



During a press conference3 prior to a Hillsong Conference in New York City, Houston refused to provide a yes or no answer as to whether he would allow the ministers in Hillsong churches to officiate same-sex weddings. He said:

I mean we go to you — you know — the one big hot topic maybe for churches is now with homosexual marriage uh legalized and uh — you know — and churches for generations, they- they hold a set of beliefs around what they believe the Word of God- the bible says. And all of a sudden in many circles the church can look like a pariah because, to many people it's so irrelevant now on that subject. So staying relevant, it's actually a big challenge…

Um- homosexual marriages legal in your city and uh- and will be in probably in most Western world countries within a short time. So the world's changing and we want to stay relevant as a church. So that's a mixing thing. You think, "How can we stay- ho-how can we not become a pariah".

So that's the world we live in. In the weight we live with is the reality that in churches like ours and virtually in any other church, there are young people who have serious questions about their sexuality. And uh- who may be spea- you know — hypothetically — speak to a youth leader. A youth pastor. And says -uh, "I think — you know- I'm gay".

And maybe they feel a sense of rejection there. Or maybe even their own Christian parents can't handle it and uh- exclude them at the time when they are the most vulnerable in their life. So you can have in churches not- not just our church — churches, young people who are literally uh depressed. Maybe even suicidal. And sadly often times grow up to hate the church because they feel like the church rejected them.4

The New York Times reported that "Mr. Houston said he did not think it would be constructive to delineate a public position on same-sex marriage" and quoted him as saying , "we feel at this point, that it is an ongoing conversation, that the real issues in people's lives are too important for us just to reduce it down to a yes or no answer in a media outlet. So we're on the journey with it."5

Evangelicals Reacting to the Wrong Mistake

Because Houston and his New York City pastor Carl Lenz both refused to say whether homosexuality is right or wrong, the evangelical world was in an uproar. I agree with the position many different evangelicals took that homosexual practices are is clearly forbidden in the Bible and that those who are in leadership positions must be as much about warning the saints against sinning as it is in reaching out to those who are lost. Relevance should never trump revelation.

The thing that bothers me in all of this, though, is that Houston's stance on homosexuality is not his most troubling belief. Reading Houston's own books, it is very clear that he teaches the very unbiblical doctrine of the prosperity movement. In other words, Houston teaches that all Christians should never have financial or health troubles. He published a book in 200 entitled You Need More Money. Granted, Houston said that the title was a mistake6, yet his prosperity gospel is reinforced in his 2013 book Maximize Your Life where under the chapter title of Blessing he writes:
God's will is always to bless you, but if you think His blessing is entirely for you, you are missing the point. The blessing of God in your life should go well beyond your own existence, God told Abraham that He would bless him, but the purpose of blessing him went far beyond his own life. This is what God said:

I will make you a great nation;

I will bless you

And make your name great;

And you shall be a blessing: (Genesis 12:2)
The purpose of God's blessing is to enable you to be a great channel of blessing to others. If you have nothing, there is nothing you can do for anyone else; if you have a little, you can only help a little; but if you have plenty, there is a whole lot you can do. When you are blessed, you have a mighty foundation from which to impact others. You are blessed to be a blessing.
But material blessing is not always God's will. Houston twists the scriptures here. Paul died broke and in prison. Stephen, in Acts 8, was stoned to death for his testimony—he was faithful, yet he received no material blessing. And Jesus Himself told the rich young ruler not to give his money to the church for use, but to "sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me" (Luke 18:22). Jesus Himself was poor; he stated "the foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Matt 8:20) and needed to have Peter catch a fish because he didn't have a coin to pay a tax (Matt 17:27)

Prosperity Teaching More Dangerous than Sexual Impropriety

The big problem I see here is that Houston's prosperity doctrine has been well known. He's written books on the subject and even this year posted to his blog that "God is our Father and like any loving parent He enjoys His children being blessed in every way, including financially. Simply put, it is God's desire to bless us because He loves us!"7 Yet, the prosperity teaching of Hillsong hasn't causes a ripple while his distancing himself from taking a stand on homosexuality has created a tidal wave of concern. Why?

Prosperity teaching is vastly more dangerous, because it claims to present the will of God, but misrepresents God in so doing. Those that believe in this kind of teaching and then find themselves in hard times can quickly give up Christianity all together. In other words, it has implications for the salvation of the believer. As one can see from the passages above and others, there's always a subtle subtext about doing what's right, about obeying the law. In his Blessings chapter, Houston writes:

Throughout the Bible, God consistently promises to bless His people, but His blessing also depends on our choices. He puts two dear choices before people: 'I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live;' (Deuteronomy 30: 19)

The book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament contains a list of blessings and a list of curses which were directly linked to whether one chose to obey or disobey the commandments of the Lord. You can read these in Deuteronomy 28: 1-14. To choose life with God is to choose a blessed life.
But the New Testament is clear that believers are no longer under the law. Deuteronomy 28's blessings and cursing are not applicable to Christians, they were directly meant for the nation of Israel. Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that they are no longer under the curse of the law, but they have freedom in Christ and then warns then that "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal .3:10,4:31, 5:1). He says that for anyone under the law, "Christ will be of no benefit to you" (Gal 5:2). So which is the more important issue?

Matthew Vines, who wants to see evangelicalism accept his homosexuality, provided this insight to the New York Times, "Is Hillsong influential primarily for doctrine and theology? No, it's not, but its music is as evangelical as you're going to get, in terms of reach and impact, and that's very significant."8 If Hillsong's position on homosexuality is that important, shouldn't Christians be more upset over Hillsong's undermining of the gospel through its prosperity teachings? "Jesus, You're All I Need" is a popular Hillsong worship chorus. Too bad it isn't the message Houston teaches.

References

1. Thompson, Tuck. "Hillsong Pastor Defends Ministry against Cult Claims." The Courier Mail. News Ltd., 25 May 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/hillsong-pastor-defends-ministry-against-cult-claims/story-e6freoof-1225715404571
2. "Hillsong Church." Hillsong Church. Hillsong Church, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://hillsong.com/.
3. Paulson, Michael. "Megachurch Pastor Signals Shift in Tone on Gay Marriage." The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/18/us/megachurch-pastor-signals-shift-in-tone-on-gay-marriage.html?_r=2.
4. Churchwatcher. "A Transcript and Statement on Brian Houston's Recent Press Conference." Hillsong Church Watch. Hillsong Church Watch. 20 Oct. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://hillsongchurchwatch.com/2014/10/20/a-transcript-and-statement-on-brian-houstons-recent-press-conference/. You may listen to a recording of these comments here.
5. Paulson, ibid.
6. Marriner, Cosmina. "Next Stop Secular Europe, Says Hillsong Founder." The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media, 25 May 2009. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.smh.com.au/national/next-stop-secular-europe-says-hillsong-founder-20090524-bjj1.html.
7. Houston, Brian. "Day 3: Make Room for Blessing." Hillsong Connect. Hillsong Church, 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 20 Oct. 2014. http://hillsong.com/blogs/collected/2014/january/day-3-make-room-for-blessing#.VEVuXPnF-So.
8. Paulson, Ibid.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why Christians Need to Grow Intellectually (video)



I was recently asked which apologists influenced me the most in my study.  Here in this short clip I provide some of my primary influences and also talk about the importance of Christians stretching themselves just a bit intellectually in order to become more mature in the faith and to love God more fully.


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