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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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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 them 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.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Christian Faith Is an Objective Faith

The Christian faith is an objective faith; therefore, it must have an object. The Christian concept of "saving" faith is a faith that establishes one's relationship with Jesus Christ (the object), and is diametrically opposed to the average "philosophical" use of the term faith in the classroom today. One cliché that is to be rejected is, "It doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it enough." 

Let me illustrate.
I had a debate with the head of the philosophy department of a Midwestern university. In answering a question, I happened to mention the importance of the resurrection. At this point, my Opponent interrupted and rather sarcastically said, "Come on, McDowell, the key issue is not whether the resurrection took place or not; it is 'do you believe it took place?'" What he was hinting at (actually boldly asserting) is that my believing was the most important thing. I retorted immediately, "Sir, it does matter what I as a Christian believe, because the value of Christian faith is not in the one believing, but in the one who is believed in, its object." I continued that "if anyone can demonstrate to me that Christ was not raised from the dead, I would not have the right to my Christian faith" (I Corinthians 15: 14). 
The Christian faith is faith in Christ. Its value or worth is not in the one believing, but in the one believed — not in the one trusting, but in the one trusted. 
—Josh McDowell, Evidence that Demands a Verdict.San Bernardino, CA. Here;s Life Pub. 1979. Print. 4.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Problems with Open Theism

For centuries, scholars have argued about the tension that exists between God's predestination and our free will. Some have backed a model of determinism, but such a position holds certain problems, such as the inability of human beings to make choices that are truly free. This may lead to even greater difficulties such as making God ultimately responsible for evil actions.



Because of those problems, some Christians have opted to abandon determinism all together and swung radically to another extreme: Open Theism. Open Theism is a view that basically says God has the ability to do anything logically possible and know everything there is to know but undecided future events cannot be known. The main proponents of this view are Clark Pinnock, Gregory Boyd and William Hasker.

Basic Views Of Open Theism

1. God does not have to control everything to be sovereign

All Christians agree that God is sovereign. But does this necessarily mean that God has to control every detail of His creation to be sovereign over it. Bruce Reichenbach writes "To be sovereign does not mean that everything that occurs accords with the will of the sovereign or that the sovereign can bring about anything that he or she wants. The ability of the sovereign to determine the outcome depends, in part, on the freedom granted to the governed."1

Reichenbach notes that sovereignty requires two classes: the governor and the governed. He then goes on to argue that while the sovereign has the power and authority to control all aspects of the governed, he also has the power and authority to grant them some autonomy. "And the more freedom the sovereign grants his subjects, the less he can control their behavior without withdrawing the very freedom granted."2

2. True free will is contrary to determinism.

An important point in the position of indeterminism is the idea that free will necessarily entails agents to be able to choose a path other than the one that was actually chosen. If God determines you to do X, and everything that God decrees must come to pass (He is God after all), then you must do X and you are really not free to choose another option. Therefore, in order for a person to be free, God cannot determine all of that person's future.

Reichenbach writes, "Freedom is not the absence of influences, either external or internal. ...Rather, to be free means that the causal influences do not determine my choice or my actions." He then says "where we are free, we could have done other than we did, even though it might have been very difficult to do so."3

3. God cannot know certain things.

Christianity has always held that God is omniscient and omnipotent (all knowing and all powerful). However, this has never meant that God could know or do what is illogical. For example, God cannot create a square circle because a square circle is a contradiction. Also, He cannot tell you what color unicorns are since they don't really exist.

Similarly, open theists maintain that if God would want to create a world where truly free beings exist, He has the power to do so. However, in order to do so it means that God must limit Himself, like the sovereign mentioned above. He must voluntarily give up the ability to know the future decisively.

According to open theism, because free will means that choices become real only at the time of the choosing, it would be impossible for God to know what that choice will actually be. Hasker states "So if God knows such a choice, it is the actual choosing itself that he knows, and nothing else. But if the choice is never in fact made, then there is no 'actual choosing,' and thus nothing for God to know."4

Gregory Boyd supports this point when he writes, "One is not ascribing ignorance to God by insisting that he doesn't foreknow future free actions if indeed free actions do not exist to be known until free agents create them."5

4. God experiences the future with us.

Because choices don't exist until the chooser makes them, open theism holds that God experiences and adjusts to events as they happen. Boyd tells us, "The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances or in the light of , he expresses regret and disappointment over how things have turned out, he tells us he's surprised at how things turned out, for he expected a different outcome, and in several passages the Lord explicitly tells us that he did not know that humans would behave the way they did."6

Clark Pinnock concurs: "God gives us room to make genuine decisions and works along side us in the temporal process. What we do matters to God. God responds to us like a dancer with her partner..."7

Objections to Open Theism

The Knowability Of The Future

One of the main tenets of Open Theism is that God cannot know future free actions, since those actions do not yet exist in reality. They are merely possibilities; and if an agent is truly free, that agent cannot be bound in any way to one possibility over another. However, this viewpoint has problems both philosophically and theologically.

In looking at claims about future free acts philosophically, William Lane Craig answers the common objection offered by open theists that there is no good reason to deny the truth or falsity of such statements. Such claims  are usually posited in this way: "Why should we accept the view that future-tense statements about free acts are neither true nor false?...About the only answer given to this question goes something like this: Future events, unlike present events, do not exist. That is to say, the future is not 'out there' somewhere."8

Craig answers this charge by showing that statements dealing in past-tense events can be and are considered true or false even though the events of the past, like those of the future do not exist in our present reality. "For example, [the statement] 'Reagan won the 1980 presidential election' is true if and only if Reagan won the 1980 presidential election... Long after the election is over... this statement will still be true. A future-tense statement is true if matters turn out as the statement predicts, and false if matters fail to turn out as the statement predicts."9

God's Claim To Know The Future

The other problem here is God does claim to know future events (ref. Isaiah 46:10.) There are many examples of God knowing the future choices of individuals within the pages of Scripture as well. One of the examples that Gregory Boyd tries to explain is Peter's denial of Jesus. Boyd writes "we only need to believe that God the Father knew and revealed to Jesus one very predictable aspect of Peter's character. Anyone who knew Peter's character perfectly could have predicted that under certain highly pressured circumstances (that God could easily orchestrate), he would act just the way he did."10

I find this explanation wanting. We must remember that Jesus' words weren't just "you are going to deny me" which would be predictable, but "you will deny me three times before the cock crows". In order to "orchestrate" such an event, God would have had to make sure Peter would wind up in a place where he would be forced to deny the Lord, and that his accusers would ask him three times within a defined time period. How Boyd can reconcile the free choices of all these individuals with all these events being destined to take place, he doesn't discuss. Needless to say, it would take more than just perfectly knowing a person's makeup to have the specifics of this prophecy fulfilled.

The Biblical Concept Of Predestination

Of course, the main focus of the Open position is to answer the problems a hard determinist view raises regarding fatalism and man's freedom . However, in denying that God in some way determines the actions of man, the open theist is also denying a Biblical concept - that God has indeed predestined some to salvation before the beginning of the world. Romans 8:29 is the pivotal verse. It states "Those whom God foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son." Boyd tries to explain this to mean  "Paul had [spiritual] Israel as a corporate whole in mind, not individual Jews "11 In other words, the church as a group. He uses this same reasoning regarding Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Timothy 1:9.

But we must remember that Romans 8:28 explicitly states that those who belong to the church are referred to as "the called". In the same chapter, Paul states that Christ is at the right hand of the Father "who makes intercession for us" (v.34). If we are to be consistent in this approach, we would have to say that Jesus' intersession only applies to the church as a corporate entity and not to individual Christians. But this doesn't make sense in light of the preceding verses where Paul talks about his individual suffering and how we (as individuals) eagerly await the redemption of our bodies.

There are other problems raised by the open view, how God sometimes changes His mind, for example. But in focusing on our discussion, I think you can see how the open view is a less than satisfying answer to the problems raised by determinism.

References

1.Reichbach, Bruce "God Limits His Power" Predestination and Free Will
Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1986. 105.
2. Ibid.
3. Reichbach,. pg. 103
4. Hasker, William. "The Openness of God" Christian Scholar's Review 28:1 (Fall, 1998: 111-139) Web. http://www.opentheism.org/hasker,_csr.htm
5. Boyd, Gregory. God of the Possible
 Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000. 16
6. "A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View." ReKnew. ReKnew, 29 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Oct. 2014. .
7. Pinnock, Clark "God Limits His Knowledge" Predestination and Free Will
Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1986. 158.
8. Craig, William Lane The Only Wise God
Wipf and Stock Pub., 1999. Eugene, OR: pp.55-56
9. Ibid p.57
10. Boyd, Gregory God of the Possible
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Mi. 2000 p. 34
11. Boyd, Op. Cit. p. 48

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Book Review: Questioning the Bible

Jonathan Morrow may not be a name most people recognize, but the author of Think Christianity has shown that he is adept at taking front-line issues in defending the faith and making them accessible to a broad audience. He does this again in his latest work, Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority. Here, Morrow delves into eleven common objections to the trustworthiness of not only the Biblical texts, but the general cultural understanding of the Bible as well, all written in a light, easy to understand style.



The book opens with a wonderful introduction addresses specifically to the Christian in the pew. Morrow sets the stage well as he notes that traditionally, pastors' sermons usually begin with the presupposition that the Bible is both accurate and authoritative. However, those concepts should not be so easily assumed, as the culture has become more and more secular, and therefore skeptical of those claims. In chapter one, Morrow next creates a broader foundation for his arguments by showing that faith may be built upon evidence, that the heroes of the Bible built their faith in just that way, and that we as modern Christians are also commanded to provide reasons for our own faith.

Once the foundation is established, Morrow moves into the question of the historicity of Jesus and the historical nature of the Gospels themselves. The former topic is key as the "Jesus as myth" movement many atheists propose seems to be gaining ground today, particularly via spurious Internet sources. Chapters 4 through 6 focus on the collection of texts that make up our New Testament, first showing that the Gospel accounts were chosen neither frivolously nor, as books like The Da Vinci Code would assert, to advance a certain political agenda. Morrow discusses the problem of forgeries that were identified and then shows why the biblical gospels cannot be considered forgeries themselves. H ends this section by showing why the modern New Testament text itself is a reliable copy of what the original authors wrote.

Once the biblical texts are confirmed accurate, the next question would be do they match with reality? While we may have the original texts, that doesn't mean they tell the truth or are giving us real knowledge. Morrow now answers these objections in the next three chapters, which deal with claims of Biblical contradictions, the claim that the Bible is unscientific, and the charge that the Bible is prejudiced or backwards compared to our modern morality. The last two chapters are reserved for issues focused on Christian application of the scriptures.

Overall, the book offers some really great tools to help the reader not only understand but implement the content. Chapters are short and the content is broken up by subheadings every page or two, creating bite-sized ideas that are easy to take in. There are not a lot of illustrations, however every chapter is summarized at its end with its "three big ideas", tips for how you can explain the main points of the chapter within a conversation, as well as a couple of resources that allows the student to dig deeper into that chapter's topic.

One key point is that there are three appendixes at the back of the books, which could really be three additional chapters. While not really fitting into the main scheme of questions that challenge the Bible's authority, they still touch on key issues that help establish the Bible as the authoritative word of God. While the writing style is conversational and friendly, each chapter is properly sourced, with the footnotes found at the back of the book.

As Morrow notes in his last appendix, today's youth are not taking the Bible as seriously as previous generations. Because of the growing secularization of the culture, the anti-institutional attitudes that pervade the younger generation, and the increasing onslaught of skeptics and atheists, Christian kids today have more confusion about the authority of Scripture than ever before. Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority goes a long way in quelling those doubts and reestablishing why trust in the Bible is a rational position to take. Morrow has given the church a gift in this book. I recommend it highly for youth groups, personal study, or simply general edification. You may be surprised—it could even answer questions you didn't know you had.
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