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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, December 31, 2012

2012 Top Ten #Apologetics Social Media Links

Beyond Come Reason's articles and features, our social media sites also try to keep you up to date on important or relevant articles and events relating to faith, culture, and the Christian worldview. Below are the top ten stories that were clicked on from our Twitter and Facebook pages.
  1. Setting the Record Straight - YouTube Video Playlist  (Originally tweeted on Sep 28)
  2. What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"? (Originally tweeted on Jan 13)
  3. Why I Secretly Root For the Atheists in Debates…  (Originally tweeted on Aug 23)
  4. Billy Graham, Mormonism, and the word "Cult" (Originally tweeted on Oct 23)
  5. Group sex is the latest 'trend' for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals  (Originally tweeted on Dec 29)
  6. Why do they always ask about rape and incest? (Originally tweeted on Oct 24)
  7. Planned Parent Info for Teens: It’s great to be a slut  (Originally tweeted on Nov 12)
  8. Come Reason's Free mp3s (Originally tweeted on June 5)
  9. Answering Bill Nye's Video on Creationism   (Originally tweeted on Sept 7)
  10. Should a Christian Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?  (Originally tweeted on Nov 5)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Top Five Apologetics Podcast Topics

The Come Let Us Reason Together podcast has been one of the most popular features of our ministry. With nearly 125,000 downloads last year we saw our podcast audience grow by about 40%.  This weekly series continues to provide thoughtful instruction on important apologetics issues.  We've been blessed to again be counted among the top 16 apologetics podcasts by the well-respected Apologetics 315 web site.

Below are the top five topics downloaded in our 2012 releases. If you haven't yet subscribed to the podcast, you may do so via iTunes or by RSS.
  1. The Case for the Resurrection
  2. Talking About God at Starbucks
  3. Does God's Predestination Contradict My Freedom to Choose?
  4. Separating Science from Scientism
  5. Talking about the "God" Particle—Interview with Dr. Barry Ritchie

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012 Top Ten Apologetics Blog Posts

2012 is coming to a close, and as I did last year, I'd like to take a moment and look back on some of the more popular posts from the last twelve months. Come Reason has continued to reach farther than I would've imagined, with over 300,000 unique visitors from all over the globe reading our articles, posts, and interactions  Add to that the highly popular podcasts and the various peaking engagements, and we've been very blessed this year.

Below are the top ten blog posts for 2012. My series on the "Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists" really resonated, making six of the ten spots on the list.  But the most popular post by far was my response to Jefferson Bethke's viral video "Why I Hate Religion but  Love Jesus". It seems that everyone had an opinion on this, I only hope that my thoughts add to a better understanding of approaching Christianity as a thoughtful faith.

The other top posts dealt with the Billy Graham organization's purging the word "cult" from their web site during Mitt Romney's campaign as well as an internal contradiction within the Book of Mormon itself. All ten posts are linked below. Which was your favorite?
  1. What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"?
  2. The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing
  3. Billy Graham, Mormonism, and the word "Cult"
  4. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #10 Theory of Knowledge
  5. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #5 The Edge of Evolution
  6. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #4 In Defense of Miracles
  7. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #6 The Christians as the Romans Saw Them
  8. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #7 Questions That Matter
  9. Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #9… A Romance Story?
  10. Should the Gospel accounts be taken as history or as propaganda?

Monday, December 24, 2012

What is the True Spirit of Christmas?



Important moments in life have been marked throughout the ages with ceremony and tradition. I recently told my just-married son that his wedding day is the one day in his life where more of his friends and family will gather together to celebrate his life-change than any other. We recognize that marriage changes you; you must abandon living for only yourself and put the needs of another above your own.  You are no longer a child but a fully engaged member of society who will be expected to contribute to the community. And as parents, we want to see our progeny grow into mature adults. So we celebrate the event with a wedding… a ceremony filled with ritual, symbols, and festivities.

It is through celebration and tradition that we mark significance and pass our culture to future generations.  Certainly we may write about the importance of certain occasions, but it is only when we vest them with our time and efforts that we most powerfully convey the depth of their magnitude. Think about it. Does a congratulatory card mean more than the presence of a loved one at your wedding?

Because purposeful celebration is important, we even mark our national heritage with nationally recognized holidays such as the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. But no holiday eclipses Christmas. It is simply the single largest celebrated event in humanity, with weeks of preparation and anticipation by Christian adherents and many others. There are vast amounts of time devoted not only to shopping and parties, but to preparing meals and treats ("the way our mothers made them for us"), reflection, attending church services, or traveling thousands of miles to simply be with friends and family.  Our media is saturated with songs and movies that supposedly capture the "true spirit of Christmas." But what is the true spirit of Christmas? Since Christmas holds such a high place in human culture, it is important for us to correctly understand the message these ceremonies and traditions are trying to communicate.

Misunderstanding Christmas is easily done.  Just this year, the group American Atheists placed a billboard in New York with the images of Santa and Jesus and a caption that read "Keep the Merry! Dump the Myth!" Of course, it wasn't Santa but to Jesus that the myth reference referred. The group issued a press release saying "The true beauty of the season — family, friends, and love — have nothing to do with the gods of yesteryear. Indeed, the season is far more enjoyable without the religious baggage of guilt and judgmentalism." Much of the made for TV holiday fare also boils down the true meaning of Christmas to some similarly amorphous "be-kind-to-others" message. But these obviously do not convey the true spirit of Christmas when you consider how the holiday is celebrated and how it is held in such high regard. The traditions associated with the holiday simply speak to a different meaning. There must be something more, something bigger than a simplistic axiom we all learned in kindergarten.

No, Christmas captures so much attention because it celebrates a fundamental change in humanity. The coming of Jesus is a milestone in the history of mankind unlike any other. While Christians would argue (and I would agree)  that the death and resurrection of Christ are more central to our salvation, the Incarnation marks a shift in the way God reaches out to His sinful creation. In the fullness of time God sent His Son to be born of a woman so that we could be freed from the curse of sin and adopted into God's own family. Paul doesn't say that such an action was for the Jewish people only, but that God did so for all of humanity. That's why the angels proclaim it as good news for all people,     and we reflect that in our traditions.  We adopt the German tradition of the Christmas tree, celebrating the life of Jesus among us. We give gifts to one another to recognize the importance they play in our lives mimicking the Magi who gave gifts to the Christ-child to signify His importance. We also deem Christmas significant enough to want to share it with those whom we cherish the most.  We understand that it is difficult to spend Christmas apart from them.  We know that this celebration unites not just family, but strangers in some way that is different from any other time of the year.

Christmas celebrates humanity because it recognizes that God offered the first gift in Jesus Christ, and began the process of reconciling us to Him. There can be peace on earth because the Prince of Peace has come; there can be joy to the world because Jesus, the Joy of Man's desiring is here. And even the fact that the atheists want to keep Christmas demonstrates its power within humanity. We have even marked all of time in reference to His birth.

Though the glory of our technical advancements and medical breakthroughs is trumpeted, we can find ourselves poorer than past generations. All the noise and wonder of the modern age can distract us and make us miss the message our traditions bring, offering the poor substitute of "be nice, love one another."  Don't miss the message of Christmas this year. The real meaning of Christmas can only be found in Immanuel, God with Us. Jesus has come and He changes who we are and what our position with God can be: those in whom God finds favor. May you and those you love celebrate a very Merry Christmas and may your traditions speak more about the true meaning that Christmas brings.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Can We Understand Unspeakable Evil?


Horrific. Senseless. Insane.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings is a tragedy beyond words. We think of the innocent lives lost because a young man sought revenge for either real or perceived wrongs from his mother.

"But they were kindergartners  really just babies… how could someone look into innocent faces and take their lives? It's insane."

We try to process such brutality. We seek to have it make sense to ourselves and so we start to put labels on the actions of Adam Lanza. It's evil. It's monstrous. It's insane.

That's the word that people keep falling back upon. Insanity. Certainly, no one in their right mind would do such a thing to such precious children. Some discover that Lanza had Asperger's syndrome, which is a mental condition, and conclude that this must be the cause. I have a different word for Lanza's evil, a word that has lost much of its power in our modern discourse. Lanza's actions were sinful.

We don't like to label this tragedy as simply "sinful". It doesn't seem, well, extreme enough. But why is that? It is most likely because we recognize that we are sinful ourselves. There are enough remnants of the Christian worldview left in our society that we can remember phrases such as "He who is without sin cast the first stone" and we know that we have failed. We know that we have sinned.

Because Lanza had some type of mental condition, we try to separate his actions from our own. He's not like us, we say. Except that he is. Lanza's actions were driven by a selfish need. All sin is ultimately selfish, it seeks one's own feelings, one's own desires above God or another person. The base motivation is the same; it simply becomes a matter of degree afterwards.

"But I'm not like that! What he did was something totally different than any little wrongs that I may commit."

Before Christianity was prevalent in the world, slaughtering innocents was a much more commonplace occurrence. Canaanites and Israelites would sacrifice their children to the fires of Molech. There is evidence of the Incas performing child sacrifice in ancient America. Romans would abandon unwanted infants so they would die of exposure. Modern Americans abort their children so it won't interfere with their personal plans and desires.

Because we live in a post-Christian society, sin is a word we wink at. Las Vegas is known as Sin City and whatever you do there better stay there. The City developed the idea as a marketing catchphrase.  But why? Because the idea is that while in Vegas one should live for him or herself. To find out the things we did, the selfish pursuit of pleasure, we could damage our reputation. We could hurt someone with whom we have a relationship. We could hurt other people. Think about that. Selfishness damaging another. It happens every day.

Lanza's actions are horrific. But this is why God takes sin so seriously. He knows how sin damages lives and he cares about those lives. We see the immediate devastation of families in Connecticut and immediately recognize that the pain they experience will be with them for life. We look at a pornographic image and don't think about the life-inflicting pain on the girl who has to live with her objectification or how it encourages acts such as sexting by our young.

Sin is real. Sin is dangerous. We need to recognize that. We need to start thinking about the Christian concept that we are all sinners, capable of things that are horrific to a God who sees the end result.

Pray for the families in Newtown. Pray for their comfort and their loss. Then, pray for the rest of our society. For by seeking to dismiss Lanza's actions as insane instead of sinful; by trying to escape the fact that Lanza is not so different from the rest of us, we lull ourselves into a position where such incidents could happen again. May God have mercy on our souls.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What Does Thanksgiving's First Mother Want Us to Know?

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and Americans of all faiths or no faith will come together to feast and perhaps reflect on their thankfulness for the blessings this nation provides. As I've said before, the very concept of being thankful requires someone to thank. Someone who had a keen understanding of this is also the one who more than any other is responsible for our annual celebration of Thanksgiving, though it's someone you have probably never heard of. The Mother of Thanksgiving is Sarah Josepha Hale.

Sarah Josepha Hale was a poet, an editor, and a writer. Every school child has heard her nursery rhyme "Mary had a Little Lamb", but few know that it was this author who was determined to see Thanksgiving reach beyond its traditional New England roots and become an official holiday for all of the United States. She campaigned tirelessly and her efforts proved successful when her editorials and letters reached President Lincoln. On October 3, 1863 Lincoln set aside the last Thursday in November "as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens…  offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience." 1
Hale was pleased with the recognition of an annual day of thanks. She also had a true understanding of the danger that such a holiday could become focused on the trivial.  In her book Traits of American Life, published in 1835, she paints a thoroughly modern picture:
It takes but little to make one happy when the heart is right: but a repining disposition never yet enjoyed a Thanksgiving. There is always some accident or occurrence that mars the festival. The turkey is over-roasted, or the sermon has been too long; or, perchance, the ball-dress of a young lady has not been sent home; or the hair-dresser has failed in finishing the beau; — many are made wretched by trifles light as these. But the heart is not in such troubles. It is sheer selfishness that makes the grief and vexations of which two-thirds of the world complain. It is chagrin, not sorrow, people feel; and they endure it, because they will not cultivate the disposition to be happy.2
In either 1835 or 2012, Americans worry about the food presentation rather than God's deliverances and blessings. They concern themselves with the latest fashion rather than humble penitence. And they seek personal happiness rather than obedience. Of course Hales prescience is underscored when she writes "There is small danger of being starved in our land of plenty; but the danger of being stuffed is imminent… You may indulge any childish propensity with less injury to the intellect than gluttony."
May we humbly remember our God in Thanksgiving and reflect on the true meaning of why this holiday is set aside. God bless you and your family this Thanksgiving.
"Many are the sayings of the wise,
In ancient and in modern books enroll'd,
Extolling patience as the truest fortitude.
But with the afflicted, in his pangs, their sound
Little prevails, or rather seems a tone,
Harsh and of dissonant mood from his complaint;
Unless he feels within
Some source of consolation from above.
Secret refreshings that repair his strength.
And fainting spirits uphold." 3
-Sarah Josepha Hale.
If you would like to know more about the life of Sarah Josepha Hale, page through this article from The Pilgrim Hall Museum.

References

1. "President Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Day Proclamation of October 3, 1863 (Presidential Proclamation 106)., 10/03/1863 - 10/03/1863", National Archives. http://research.archives.gov/description/299960. Accessed Nov. 21, 2012.
2. Hale, Sarah Josepha. Traits of American Life. 
Philadelphia: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1835. 210. Available online at https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=hjrY9eWC4lIC&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA210
3. Ibid. Page 226-227.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Should a Christian Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?

I've been hearing from a lot of Christians that they will either choose to sit out this election or not vote for president because neither choice is a candidate they consider appropriate for the position. They believe that their consciences would be violated by voting for "the lesser of two evils." Some hold that because neither are conservative Christians they therefore shouldn't be considered. Some wish to vote for the Libertarian candidate because they believe in Libertarian ideals. Some people are promoting the idea that Christians write in "Jesus" as their choice for president! (I would hope that any Christian with half a mind would never choose that last option, as it is infantile and foolish.  God is not pleased with such actions.)

On the other points, I can understand some people's misgivings. But I think we need to better understand just what is happening during a presidential election and why voting is crucially important and possibly even commanded by God for all faithful Christians.

First, I think that the idea of the "lesser of two evils" has no merit. I actually think it doesn't apply in the U.S. political process.  Our entire political system is not structured to find a single position on all issues.  It by nature takes into account those who differ, as they are represented and their disagreements should be included and weighed in the discussion.

The point of American politics is much like football; it is a game of inches.  One strives towards his goal line, but understands that forward progress is better than backward progress.  That's why I currently oppose promoting legislation that bans all abortions.  I am personally against elective abortion in any form except when the life of the mother is in jeopardy.  However, to seek to advance legislation at this point would actually set the pro-life movement back and more babies would be lost as a result. The goal isn't the laws; it’s the lives of the children at stake.  This is why compromise is a key part of congress passing laws, something I think both sides of the aisle have forgotten.  Ideology is great; it gives you a goal to focus on. But any team that is only throwing to the end zone will soon have their game figured out and be quickly defeated.

Choosing a president, a senator, or any elected official plays out the same way.  The office of president is especially powerful in this aspect.  Either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will lead our nation for the next four years, there's no escaping that.  Gary Johnson and other candidates may have been seen as more palatable, but they simply won't win. So, I would urge you to vote for the candidate that you deem more closely aligned to your goals and beliefs as a Christian. We choose presidents, not kings, and we are able to re-choose every four years for the express purpose that no one man will ever be the candidate that is perfect.

Lastly, I would note that in Romans 13 God tells us that the governing authorities are provided the sword by God to do good. We tend to read that verse and think of the president or the government writ large as that governing authority.  However, in our nation it is we the people that are the ultimate seat of authority.  We decide who is president and who sits in congress.  That means that God has given us the sword—the sword of the vote—to wield for the good. As a believer I think we would be remiss in our duties if we were to keep it in its sheath because we disliked both candidates.  On some issues Romney and Obama are close.  On other issues, they are not.  There are more issues where both have sought to reflect the views of their constituency when in the past they have held a different view.  (That last item is not a "flip-flop" or pandering as is often portrayed in the press.  I think it is appropriate as long as the candidate keeps his word and actually does what he promised after the election.) But there are enough clear differences between the two to know what they are and to be able to make a choice.

I urge you to exercise your sword, for God does not give it in vain.

Friday, November 02, 2012

In Online Dialogues, Asking Questions Is Crucial!

Yesterday, I tweeted a link to a story about two British banks pulling their support from the pro-homosexual group Stonewall's annual awards dinner because one of the "awards" they are presenting is the bigot award, in which they deride people that oppose the homosexual political agenda. My original tweet was:

Asking questions as an effective apologetics tool

British pro-homosexual group creates "bigot" award, despite objections from sponsors. So who's being bigoted now? http://bit.ly/ScyR6Y

One response I received was from Adam Preston, who on his Twitter page describes himself as "atheist. bibliophile. interested in military history, secularism, evolutionary psychology, LGBT rights. member of Labour Party & National Secular Society."  Below is our entire exchange.  I think this is helpful in showing why asking questions can play a key role in discussions with others.

@adam_preston: Calling a bigot a bigot is not bigoted.

@comereason: What're the essential attributes of a bigot? People throw these terms around too much without clearly knowing what they mean.

@adam_preston: I'd say wanting to deny equal rights to LGBT people because of your religion constitutes bigotry

@comereason: That's not what I asked. What are the necessary conditions to be labeled a bigot in any sense? Don't deflect the issue.

@adam_preston: Inflexibile intolerance and prejudice towards a group of people. I think that applies to most vocal anti-equalmarriage people

@comereason: By using prejudice you beg the question. Regardless, I am intolerant of serial killers. Is that bigotry?

@adam_preston: Was expecting that response. Although usually it's paedophiles, not serial killers. Intolerance of serial killers is RATIONAL

@comereason: So if the intolerance against a person is rational, it is not bigotry. Is that your view?

@adam_preston: In the sense that intolerance of child abusers & serial killers is not bigotry, while racism and sexism are, yes.

@comereason: Can you tell me why racism or sexism is irrational while the others aren't? What makes one belief rational and another isn't?

@adam_preston: Child abuse and murder are clearly harmful to individuals and society. How is equality harmful and how are gays dangerous?

@comereason: Is physical harm the only basis for rational intolerance? Can I be intolerant of cheaters or drunks if they harm no one else?

@adam_preston: Intolerance of them would be wrong, yes. Believing it's wrong to CHEAT is one thing. Intolerance of all who have is different

@comereason: I completely agree!! Being intolerant of the actions of cheating is different than being bigoted against the cheaters.

After my last statement Adam didn't respond again.  I think he could see the implication of his position that one can be against a behavior and not be considered a bigot, even if that behavior doesn't cause direct harm to another. This is exactly the position that Christians have taken for a while now.
Do I think the above exchange has changed Adam's mind and he will stop labeling those who are for traditional marriage bigots?  No, I don't.  But it may help clarify the issue in the minds of others reading the exchange and it does allow me to hold Adam to his own standard if he confronts me again.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Another (Not Too) Serious Christian History Quiz

Given the historic significance of October 31 in both the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions, last year I published the first (Not Too) Serious Christian History Quiz.  It was meant to be an entertaining yet instructive way to help Christians learn more about their history—something that's vastly under-appreciated in the church these days. It was a big success, so I thought I would write another one this year.



Check out the questions below and see how many people, places and events you recognize. Look up some that you don't. You'll be the better for it!

1.   Justin Martyr is famous because:
  1. His name sounds so close to Justin Beiber that all the teen girls love him, too.
  2. If he didn't live, then persecuted Christians would be called "tertullians".
  3. He set the model for Jewish mothers everywhere by complaining how much he had been put out by his children.
  4. He was one of the first Christian apologists, using philosophy and reason to defend the faith against heretics and skeptics.
2.   367 is a significant when discussing Athanasius of Alexandria because:
  1. That was the number of formulas he tried before creating the world's first soft drink.
  2. He was staying in room 366 and the adjoining room's noise kept him up all night.
  3. During Easter of that year he wrote a letter to the churches in Egypt, which included the oldest known complete list of the NT canon.
  4. The phone company decided to split North Africa in to multiple area codes and that number was assigned to Alexandria.
3.   The last Gladiatorial fights were fought in 404 A.D. because:
  1. The league owners and the players could never come to an agreement on the division of profit percentages.
  2. The reality genre didn't yet have the incredible talents of Snooki behind it yet.
  3. An extreme doping and steroids scandal was uncovered, eliminating all of the games' contestants.
  4. A single Christian monk named Telemachus stood his ground on the Coliseum floor and begged the crowd to stop the barbarous practice.
4.   The heresy of Donatism taught that:
  1. All business principles can be gleaned by watching The Godfather movies.
  2. All sacraments, including the baptism of new believers, are only effective if the priest administering them is morally pure.
  3. All-girl bands from San Francisco can stay on top of the charts despite changing record labels.
  4. All clothing labels in one's closet should read "DKNY".
5.   Saint Patrick sought to convert the Irish Druids because:
  1. He had been captured and enslaved by them, yet his love for God and his compassion for these people brought him back to Ireland.
  2. They had developed a delightful new breakfast food that was magically delicious!
  3. He knew that the Roman Catholic university would need a contention-worthy football team.
  4. He was never a big fan of Spinal Tap's music.
6.   The "Great Schism" of 1054 refers to:
  1. The first debate on whether or not Christians should vote for a Mormon.
  2. The final division of the Chalcedonian churches into Western (Roman Catholic) and Eastern (Eastern Orthodox).
  3. A description of the part in Donald Trump's hair.
  4. A super-hero whose impossible task is to save the printed comic book from extinction.
7.   William Tyndale is famous for:
  1. Teaching little Billy Shakespeare how to properly hold his quill.
  2. Creating the children's rhyme "Mary and Julius sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g".
  3. Translating and printing the Bible in English so expertly that even the King James Version is considered up to 70% Tyndale's translation.
  4. Developing gold-leafed pages to guarantee that paper cuts would be extremely painful.
8.   St. Anselm's argument for God's existence hinges on:
  1. The idea that greatest possible being must be one that exists in reality.
  2. The bathroom graffiti: "God is dead --Nietzsche." with a reply written underneath: "Nietzsche is dead -- God."
  3. If coffee exists, it is a blessing. Coffee exists, therefore it is a blessing. Since only God can provide true blessings and blessings exist, God must exist.
  4. Reading arguments promoted by the New Atheists and figuring that, given this level of reasoning, he'd rather be associated with the other side.
9.   Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the Wittenburg door on Oct 31, 1517 because:
  1. He wanted to begin a student protest about excessive homework assignments during the Halloween season.
  2. On the back of each he had written "Starting a punk band. Need bass player (preferably with edgy monk haircut). Please call monastery for audition."
  3. He was trying to start a new song to sing in the car: "95 Wittenburg theses on the wall, 95 Wittenburg theses! Take one down and pass it around..."
  4. He wanted to protest the clerical abuses he saw within the Roman Catholic Church, particularly the sale of indulgences.
10.   John Ray, the father of naturalism who set up the classification system for plants and animals is famous for saying:
  1. "Look how God spends His time. Forty-three species of parrot!"
  2. "By calling bats something other than birds, I will single-handedly create a contradiction in the Bible that was written thousands of years ago. The YouTube atheists will love it."
  3. "A wonder then it must needs be,—that there should be any Man found so stupid and forsaken of reason as to persuade himself, that this most beautiful and adorned world was or could be produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms."
  4. "Platypus?!? What the heck am I supposed to do with THIS?"
11.   William Wilberforce is best known for:
  1. Being an unsuccessful politician who had to pay trademark damages to Lucasfilm for his campaign slogan "may Wilberforce be with you!"
  2. His association with a talking horse.
  3. His tireless, determined twenty year quest to have the slave trade abolished in England.
  4. The lone red shirt to ever survive as an away team member on Star Trek TOS.
12.   Dietrich Bonheoffer returned to Germany in 1939 because:
  1. Those Nazis were really snappy dressers!
  2. At least the trains ran on time.
  3. He wanted to live somewhere where people didn't constantly say "you mean like the coffee?"
  4. He believed that "the ultimate question for a responsible man to ask is not how he is to extricate himself heroically from the affair, but how the coming generation shall continue to live."
Answers:  1:D,   2:C,  3:D,  4:B,  5:A,  6:B,  7:C,  8:A,  9:D,  10:C,  11:C  12:D.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Why Do They Always Ask About Rape and Incest?

The media is in full bore assault on Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock  because he held that even in cases of rape, the life of the conceived child is worth protecting. While Mourdock offered his view freely during the debate, the question of  "do you support abortion even in cases of rape or incest" has been asked so frequently it would be expected to appear. In fact, when NPR reported on the pro-life plank of the Republican party, it led with the "no exceptions for rape and incest" line. Why when discussing abortion does the "rape and incest" question always come up, and always in a way that seems to connote that the pro-life candidate is somehow out of touch?


First, these cases (yes they do indeed occur) make up a such a small percentage of the total number of abortions performed they really aren't indicative of why abortions are performed.  One cannot weigh the exceptions to the rule in order to determine whether the law should apply at all.  Imagine if we began a discussion on laws regarding theft and people kept saying "but what about those who must steal food because they are starving?"  This exception doesn't change the fact that stealing is wrong.

One may claim that the abortion issue is different. "But this is so personal. The child will  be a constant reminder of the crime" they may say. This is true; but in no other case do we intentionally punish the child for the crime of the parent, even when the child's conception is a direct result of the crime. The Mary Kay Letourneau case is a prime example. Letourneau was a 35 year old middle school teacher in Washington who was convicted of raping her sixth grade student Vili Fualaau and subsequently conceiving. So, should the conceived child be eliminated since it is a direct product of Letourneau's criminal behavior?  Letourneau  repeated her crime and was in prison while carrying her second child from Fualaau. Should she have been  required to abort the baby for the victim's sake? Must Fualaau's parents be subjected to the repeated reminder of their young son being manipulated by an evil seductress who stole the innocence of a child?

Here's another scenario: imagine a woman was raped without her knowledge and conceives. Perhaps she's passed out on a bed after drinking too much at a party or she was slipped something like Rohypnol. She wakes up the next morning sore and disoriented but doesn't have any recollection of the actual intercourse, simply a lot of questions. She returns home and believes that she became pregnant with her husband. However upon birth, genetic testing reveals that the baby isn't his. She puts the pieces together and realizes that she had been raped. Can she now ask that the baby be destroyed?  She doesn't want a child that will remind her of that awful crime that happened to her. Is it OK to at that point kill the child?

I think those who discuss the problem of abortion with others should begin to push back on the rape and incest question before answering it. I would like to ask reporters if Letourneau should have been forced to abort while she was in prison. Why is it not OK to kill a newborn if we find out that the child was the product of rape after it was born? If the guiding principle is that the life of a baby is precious enough that we can handle the issue or remembrance in more humane ways (say adoption), then that should apply in all cases of rape and incest.  If not, then the pro-abortion proponents must show what distinctions there are between a baby who has just been born or a baby who will be.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Billy Graham, Mormonism, and the Word "Cult"


Image courtesy the More Good Foundation.

Two subjects one is supposed to avoid in casual conversation are religion and politics. Either of these topics has been known to divide friendships, create animosity, and cause general discord at social gatherings. So, it should be no wonder that the recent endorsement of presidential candidate Mitt Romney by Billy Graham would grab attention. In the evangelical community, the Graham/Romney link made headlines for a different reason. Billy Graham's organization removed some content on their web site where it defines Mormonism as a cult of Christianity. Given that Romney has been very public about his adherence to the teachings of the Mormon Church, does this change mean that Graham's organization is compromising a religious stance for political gain?

Ken Barun, the BGEA's chief of staff who was quoted in the Washington Post, confirmed that the organization removed the article labeling Mormonism a cult. However, he said it was to neuter misperceptions attached to the word that could be used improperly in a charged-up election. "Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign." OK—I can understand that in our "gotcha" media mindset, there are those both online and in the mainstream media that would seek to hoist the BGEA on its own petard, so to speak. I mean this wouldn't be the first time that a Christian organization was misrepresented by the secular press.  But it does leave the question of whether the label of cult should be used for Mormonism unresolved.

Labels and Language

This situation brings up a point that I've been thinking much about lately. Whenever I speak with those in the general public, they are usually taken aback if they hear the word "cult" used in connection with the LDS. In fact, I've received a fairly hostile response to the charge and even lost a friend who felt that I was being excessively bigoted and narrow in calling Mormonism a cult. People may or may not have had a Mormon acquaintance, but they are pretty uniform in what they think the word cult means.

Part of the problem here is that language changes.  I was recently listening to a lecture on how the Bible has been translated by Dr. Daniel Wallace and he pointed out how the 1950 Revised Standard Version became outdated within some thirty years due to our shifting meaning in language.  For example, Psalm 50:9 has God declaring to Israel "I will accept no bull from your house." Now, the audience in1950 may understand this as a denial of a sacrifice, but the phrase means something very different to anyone today. Similarly, we never use the word "gay" in conversations with friends to mean happy or carefree, regardless of our position on homosexuality. Because the primary understanding of these words is now different, we must construct new sentences to help us get our idea across with as little misunderstanding as possible.

In our modern day, the word "cult" falls unfortunately under this rubric. Traditionally, we've used the word cult in two ways. It was primarily a theological definition to mark a group or teaching that claimed to hold to Christian beliefs, while diverging from them on essential doctrine.  Rob Bowman's definition of a cult is "A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy."[1] The BGEA also had defined the word in this sense. The other way the word cult was understood was in a sociological sense, as a kind of fully devoted allegiance that may or may not be reasonable (think of a cult fad, or the cult of personality.) However, in the last thirty to forty years, several theological cults whose followers held an almost slavish devotion to the pronouncements of their leader were given much attention in the media.  Over 900 people committed suicide following Jim Jones in the jungles of South America. In the 1993, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians' stand-off with the federal government was front page news. Add to that the Raelians and the Warren Jeffs' polygamy case and one can see why the word cult now paints a markedly different picture from the theological definition it originally held.

Definitional Distinctions

I grant that the word isn't communicating what I desire, but apologists and evangelists still have a problem here, and it is one the Mormon hierarchy themselves have created. In their advertising and in their proselytizing, Mormons continue to claim that they are a Christian faith. Past president Gordon Hinckley even stated "We are Christians in a very real sense"[2]even though Mormon doctrine denies all of the essentials of historic Christianity from the nature of God to the result of the fall to the atonement and even how many divine beings exist! It is therefore vital for the faithful defender of the faith to draw a sharp distinction to these differences lest someone assume that Mormonism is a legitimate choice for those wishing to faithfully follow Christ and His teachings.

So, how do Christian apologists best define the distinctions between those belief systems that seek to claim Jesus as their own while holding to fundamentally different concepts on the essential nature of God, Jesus, salvation, man, and eternity? What word do we use to clearly separate the two? I've used the word cult in the past and while it clearly communicated the distinction to those who understand the differences already, the new connotation may burn more bridges than it builds. Are other labels adequate for the task?  The word "heretical" is outdated. "Pseudo-Christians" or "faux-Christians" feel forced and awkward. Defining Mormonism as a "new religious movement" doesn't capture the concept that Mormons are claiming to be the true church started by Jesus.

The Need for a Word

And that's the rub. As long as the LDS continue to claim that they are Christian and that their roots are grounded in the Bible as well as the book of Mormon, then they force the historic church to make a distinction; we just need a word to communicate the difference. The Greek word πλάνος (planao) captures the idea. We find the word in Matthew 24:24 when Jesus says "For false Christs and false prophets will arrive and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead (planao), if possible, even the elect." It means "to confuse' or "to lead astray" and can be used of religious seduction toward idolatry. Maybe we can trade on that concept. I think that if I'm in conversation with friends and I state that Mormonism is a seduction away from Christianity; that would go much further in communicating that there's a difference from Christianity while still showing the claims of Mormonism as being Christian. I think I'll give that a try.  If you have other ideas, let me know them as well.



References
[1] Bowman, Robert M. "A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy" as quoted by Apologetics Index. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c09.html#sociotheolo Accessed 10/22/2012.
[2] "Are Mormons Christians?" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints web site. http://mormon.org/faq/mormon-christian. Accessed 10/22/2012.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Should the Gospel accounts be taken as history or as propaganda?

Should the Gospel accounts be taken as history or as propaganda? Many skeptical textual critics have treated the gospel accounts as guilty of being unreliable historically simply because the main message is religious in nature.  Is this a fair way to treat the documents?  Are the Gospels guilty until proven innocent or innocent until proven guilty? Dr. Craig L. Blomberg comments on where the burden of proof should lie when assessing the historical truthfulness of of the Gospels.


"Once one accepts that the Gospels reflect attempts to write reliable history or biography, however theological or stylized their presentations may be, then one must immediately recognize an important presupposition that guides most historians in their work. Unless there is good reason for believing otherwise, one will assume that a given detail in the work of a particular [ancient] historian is factual. This method places the burden of proof squarely on the person who would doubt the reliability of a given portion of the text. The alternative is to presume the text unreliable unless convincing evidence can be brought forward in support of it. While many critical scholars of the Gospels adopt this latter method, it is wholly unjustified by the normal canons of historiography. Scholars who would consistently implement such a method when studying other ancient historical writings would find corroborative data so insufficient that the vast majority of accepted history would have to be jettisoned."

Blomberg, Craig L. Historical Reliability of the Gospels.
(Downers Grove, Il.: IVP Academic, 2007). 304.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thoughts on Yom Kippur from the Book of Hebrews



"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. ... But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. ... He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."

 References: Heb 7:26-27, 8:6, 9:12

Monday, September 24, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #1 Love Your God With All Your Mind

Love Your God with All Your MindI've been taking some time to create a list of top books that I feel are very valuable for Christian apologists or anyone who finds themselves defending the Christian faith—which means every Christian who takes his faith seriously today. Most of these titles have been less visible publications by known authors or books that people really haven’t heard about.  So, why would I make the #1 book in my list one of the most noted titles by a well-recognized name like Dr. J.P. Moreland?  Simply because Love Your God with All Your Mind actually is neglected more than many realize.

As an apologist, from time to time I have had friends or church members approach me and ask what would be a good book to help them better defend their faith. Usually, this is prompted by some recent conversation where they've received some criticism on Christianity. They are usually looking for a "silver bullet" book, i.e. a single title that will address the specific issue with a quick comeback their interlocutors cannot refute. Such books do exist to some extent; Paul Copan’s True For You But Not For Me and Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties are immediate examples that come to mind. But I am hesitant on just tossing out a couple of titles and walking away.

You see, in dealing with atheists, skeptics, and those in aberrant religious movements, one sees the scripture abused in many different ways.  I am constantly confronted by arguments that use poor reasoning, passages taken out of context, or modern meanings forced onto ancient texts. Unfortunately, too many times I’ve seen Christians who try to defend their faith become guilty of these exact same abuses. Sometimes, it feels like you are giving a power tool to a toddler; while the tool is the right one for the job, in immature hands it can damage the project and possible hurt the operator! This is where Love your God with All Your Mind plays a pivotal role.  The book doesn’t tell you what to say, but it helps you better understand the fact that Christianity has always been a faith of the intellect as much as one of the heart.  It doesn’t teach you apologetics as much as it teaches you that a disciplined, thoughtful approach to how we develop our intellect is as much an act of worship as raising our hands on Sunday morning or dropping money in a plate.

The book is clear and accessible. It’s not overly large. J.P.’s chapters include titles such as “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation”, “Harassing the Hobgoblins of the Christian Mind”, and “Clearing the Cobwebs from My Mental Attic”. Each chapter helps take the man or woman in the pew from being a passive or even anti-intellectual Christian to a mature and thoughtful believer. J.P. shows how Jesus Himself modeled a strong intellectual capacity when dealing with questions from the Pharisees or Sadducees. He notes that charges of faith and reason being opposed to one another are actually lies that the enemies of Christianity promulgated. Somehow the church swallowed these lies and now believes that faith and reason live in separate spheres. With no intellectual stimulation or the ability of even their pastors to take on the difficult objections so common today, it’s no wonder that kids going off to college quickly drop out of church for what they see as a more satisfying combination of secular scholarship and morally loose living.

 NavPress has this month released a completely new edition of the book for its fifteenth anniversary, and it has been revised and expanded with a lot of new content. Specifically, chapters seven through nine have been completely replaced. They now contain a more direct apologetics message and present J.P.’s case for the existence of God and why the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry, message, and resurrection are reliable. On top of that, J.P. and Joseph Gorra have produced a great study guide to accompany the book that can be downloaded from J.P.’s web site for free.

I think that Love your God with All Your Mind needs to be read by every Christian. The challenges believers will face will not be easier in the future.  In fact, given the popularity of books by the New Atheists as well as the more prominent chatter found on the Internet and social media, Christians are being pressed harder for real answers for their faith. That is why I usually put it on the top three books that I would recommend to any Christian. The Christian mind affects all aspects of Christian life, and the modern church has by and large abandoned its responsibility for nurturing that mind to maturity.

Even the fundamental Christian activity of evangelism relies heavily on the life of the mind. One of the quotations that J.P. offers in the book is from one of the early leaders of evangelicalism, J. Gresham Machen:

God usually exerts that power in connection with certain prior conditions of the human mind, and it should be ours to create, so far as we can, with the help of God, those favorable conditions for the reception of the gospel. False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.1

If you are only going to own one book from this list, this is the one to buy. If you are involved in apologetics at your church, create a study group to go over its content with others. You should recommend it to everyone and anyone. Christians needs to reclaim the mind as a necessary part of worshipping and loving God.  In so doing, they will strengthen their evangelism, their youth ministries, and their own ability to withstand the fiery darts of the evil one.

References:
1. Machen, John Gresham. What Is Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdman's,  1951. 162. As cited from Moreland, J.P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1997. 63.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #2 Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible

Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible by John W. Haley."If the Bible is God's word, then why are there so many contradictions in it?" This question, or one of its variations, has been heard many times by those seeking to share their faith. Sometimes a questioner will pose a specific example, such as "how many angels were at the empty tomb?" or "Did God or Satan cause King David to sin?" Other times, they will have gathered a long list of objections (usually one that has made the rounds across the Internet) and say "See, look at all these!" How can just one person answer the myriad of supposed contradictions floating around today?
The fact of the matter is not only can one man answer these, but one man prepared the definitive response—and he did it back in 1874! John W. Haley made it his goal to address every known discrepancy or alleged biblical contradiction he could find after seeing a pamphlet circulating in a local parish listing several supposed self-contradictions. Haley didn't simply dismiss this pamphlet as the work of disgruntled skeptics, but he took the objections seriously, writing "I have been impressed with the fact that the so-called 'discrepancies' of the Bible have failed to receive due consideration by evangelical authors. The literature of the subject is comparatively meager and antiquated."[1] So Haley set out to survey much of the scholarly theological writings and treatments of the various texts. He then catalogued them, put them into short, very accessible language, and published them in what I consider a masterpiece: Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible.
Haley's efforts are still invaluable today. He breaks down discrepancies into one of three major categories: doctrinal discrepancies, ethical discrepancies, and historical discrepancies; the listings for each is exhaustive. He also created an index to find discrepancies by specific Bible verse. He handles the responses skillfully, with an easy-to-understand manner. He covers almost every objection that seems to surface in Facebook comments or YouTube pundits who want to topple the Bible's authority.  And he did it 150 years before these "problems" ever crossed the minds of our current slate of Internet atheists.
However, Haley saw the importance of not merely answering the charge of contradiction, but he sought to to explore why such discrepancies exist in the first place. The first three chapters of the book deal with why God would even allow such discrepancies in His word and why they can actually be advantageous to the serious Bible student. His comments in the introductions show his mind and heart for apologetics:
"Some persons may, perchance, question the wisdom of publishing a work in which the difficulties of scripture are brought together and set forth so plainly. They may think it better to suppress, as far as may be, the knowledge of these things. The author does not sympathize with any such timid policy. He counts it the duty of the Christian scholar to look difficulties and objections squarely in the face. Nothing is to be gained by overlooking, evading, or shrinking from them. Truth has no cause to fear scrutiny, however rigid and searching. Besides, the enemies of the Bible will not be silent, even if its friends should hold their peace. It should be remembered that the following "discrepancies" are not now published for the first time. They are gathered from books and pamphlets which are already extensively circulated. The poison demands an antidote. The remedy should be carried wherever the disease has made its blighting way."[2]
In reading first sentence above, I find many churches and youth group leaders hold a similar opinion in wanting to "shield" their sheep from the existence of the wolves.  As Haley noted, it is far better to know of the wolves and how to defend yourself against them, than to pretend they don't exist.
Given the publishing date, the contents for Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible are available for free online. However, I recommend purchasing the book and keeping it handy as a reference. This is one of the really superb hidden treasures that Christians have forgotten, and I hope he will be rediscovered soon.
References

1. Haley, John W.. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible Grand Rapids: Baker Book House 1986. Preface.
2. Ibid.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #3 Darwin's Enigma

Darwin's Enigma by Luther SunderlandEvolution is always a hot topic in apologetics circles and I've seen a true renaissance in the way Christians have approached the myriad of issues surrounding the claim that the entire diversity of life on this plant derives from a single organism plus chance mutations honed by natural selection. Such stalwarts as Phillip Johnson, Stephen Meyer, William Dembski, and Michael Behe are familiar to most who deal in this subject matter.

However, in 1984 the phrase intelligent design had yet to be coined and Phillip Johnson was a full nine years away from publishing his landmark Darwin on Trial. But it was this year that Darwin's Enigma by Luther Sunderland was first published, a remarkable book in many respects. This still stands as one of my favorite approaches to examining the evidence for the neo-Darwinian model that is offered as the only rational viewpoint by the scientific establishment.

Initially entitled Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems, Sunderland takes a careful look at the story of evolutionary development offered as fact in school textbooks and compares it to the evidence that paleontology has actually uncovered.'The main reason I like the book so much was that Sunderland's approach was to find some of the primary people working with the evidence of the fossil record and get them to comment specifically as to what the evidence shows. He writes:
In December of 1978 the New York State Board of Regents directed the New York State Education Department to do a detailed study of how theories on origins should be treated in a revised version of the state's Regents Biology Syllabus. As part of their study they invited the author to supply pertinent scientific information to the Bureau of Science Education which was conducting the study.
During the next year the author conducted taped interviews with officials in five natural history museums containing some of the largest fossil collections in the world. The interviews were with Dr. Colin Patterson in London; Dr. Niles Eldredge in New York City; Dr. David M. Raup in Chicago; Dr. David Pilbeam in Boston; and Dr. Donald Fisher, state paleontologist at the New York State Natural History Museum. Written transcripts of the interviews were given to the New York State Education Department for use in their study on origins.
In these interviews, the paleontologists were questioned in detail about the nature of the fossil record from the deepest deposits containing fossils to the most recent. Typed transcripts of the five interviews were then sent to the interviewees for editing. All but Dr. Patterson made editorial corrections before they were published for use by educators in various states.
This book presents the substance of these interviews through the use of short excerpts and summaries of the replies to the questions.[1]
Because this was well before the rise of the intelligent design movement, and because it had the auspices of the New York state educators, those interviewed seemed to be very candid in their replies. I would doubt that now, given the political heat the subject has taken on, any respondent would answer as freely as the paleontologists did here. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

So, what kind of information did the experts provide? One famous quote appearing in the book was given by Colin Patterson, noted paleontologist at the British Museum. In a rather excerpt from a letter, Patterson writes, "I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them." P atterson later summed up his statement by saying "If you ask,'What is the evidence for continuity?' you would have to say, 'There isn't any in the fossils of animals and man. The connection between them is in the mind.'"[2]

These are the true nuggets of Darwin's Enigma and they truly help people separate the conjecture of the neo-Darwinian model from the evidence that we have.'Certainly, in the thirty five years since the original interviews were conducted more evidence has emerged.'But although we have more fossils, we haven't found much that answers the questioned Sunderland posed any differently. No one has settled the gradualism versus punctuated equilibrium issue.

Darwin's Enigma is a great read and will help you understand some of the assumptions that evolutionists make as they seek to explain the incredible variety of living entities on our planet without invoking a creator. The best part about all of this is that the entire book is available to read online for free. Rendered in html, you can access it here.

References

1. Sunderland, Luther D. Darwin's Enigma: Fossils and Other Problems El Cajon, CA: Master Books 1988. 89.
2. Ibid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #4 In Defense of Miracles

In Defense of Miracles
When undertaking a defense of the faith, it is inevitable that Christians will cross paths with all kinds of skeptics—those who doubt the veracity of the biblical accounts, those who question religious motivations, and those who even doubt that Jesus of Nazareth ever lived. The most influential skeptic to ever live, though,  is in all likelihood David Hume. Hume wasn't a skeptic like some of the Internet atheists we see; he was a skeptic of a broader sort, a philosophical skeptic. However, Hume did vigorously voice his skepticism about religion in his writings and one of his most famous objections is that people have no rational justification to believe that miracles happen. His argument is interesting and thoughtful, which is why it continues to be proposed by today's atheists as one more point in why Christians are being illogical in holding their beliefs.

To answer Hume, Christian philosophers Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas compiled the excellent In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God's Action in History. Pulling together a collection of essays by top-notch apologists and philosophers, Geivett and Habermas have given Christians a real tool to use when engaging with skeptics on whether miracle accounts should be accepted as evidence. Not satisfied with only answering Hume's argument, the book uses Hume's essay as a springboard to discuss the various objections to miracles and the supernatural that are offered in their many modern permutations. Ronald Nash's article on the self-defeating claims of naturalism is great, as is J.P. Moreland's chapter on miracles and science. Of course, the book also contains entries by Habermas and William Lane Craig on the resurrection and why we can consider it an historical event.  I also liked Geivett's own contribution on why belief in miracles is considered reasonable for anyone with that theistic worldview.

The biggest contributors to the book, though, are the non-theists.  The authors included Hume's "On Miracles" in its entirety as the first chapter in order to lay the groundwork for what is to come.  But, not content to leave it there, they also asked Antony Flew, who was the leading expert on Hume to also contribute a chapter. Thus, we hear both Hume's argument and how it is understood in a modern context by non-theists today. This is important as no one can accuse the book of offering a straw man version of Hume.

While many discussions with online skeptics won't reach the level of sophistication of these articles, it is important that Christian apologists learn Hume's objection and the appropriate refutation of his arguments.  Hume continues to be a profound influence on atheists and skeptics. In Defense of Miracles is one book that covers the bases on the reasonableness of the resurrection and belief in a God who gets personally involved in His creation.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #5 The Edge of Evolution

The Edge of EvolutionEvolution is a subject that definitely causes a stir. It holds an overwhelming acceptance rate in the scientific community while its adherents make up only 39% of the American public.1 Ask about teaching evolution in schools and you will get a vast array of responses, some of which are very passionate for their positions. Even the way evolution is defined, as I've written before, is controversial. The term has been stretched and shaped to fit whatever its user hoped to prove.

 Much of the confusion and battle on this topic has to do with rebuilding models. All of the neo-Darwinian synthesis models rely on gradual changes over many millions of years, which means that one must infer what changes occurred and why. The evolutionary biologist inserts his own conjecture into his explanation because there is no way he could have observed the development of, say, a new species of homo from a more primitive ancestor. Observation and data could help remove some of the conjecture from what may have happened, but how could we get such data?

That's why my next book in our list of Top Ten Neglected Books by Apologists is an important one. Michael Behe's The Edge of Evolution is one of the few books tackling this subject with hard, observable evidence. Behe, a professor of biological science at Lehigh University, made a huge splash in the intelligent design community with his ground-breaking Darwin' Black Box. Here, he follows up that work by looking specifically at the claim that "life on earth developed over billions of years by utter chance, filtered through natural selection." This book is different though, in that Behe notes that genetic mutational change preserved through natural selection is observable. If you have a large enough population that replicates quickly, you can look at if the population's genetics adapt to new environments and more importantly see if it created new features in the organism.

 In the book, Behe selects three very good candidates that provide data for us to follow: malaria, HIV, and e. Coli. Viruses and bacteria will reproduce on the order of millions in just a few days, and we know that each can evolve resistances to antibiotics. They have the added benefit of holding a much higher rate of genetic mutation that our cells do. Thus, they provide a perfect model to observe in a relatively short time how genetic mutation provides new benefits. But the key here, as Behe shows, is that while these and other more complex species (such as Behe's use of Antarctic fish whose blood doesn't freeze) can have genetic mutations produce some beneficial effects, it always comes at a loss of some other beneficial function. Behe offers the fact that malaria, which it can develop resistance to certain drugs, cannot evolve to overcome those with sickle cell anemia. Further, these changes are limited to relatively small differences. They cannot create entirely new functional systems.

The Edge of Evolution contains some real numbers science can use when looking at the possibility of genetic change. When calculating factors for change, one must take into account how long it takes an organism or species to create a new generation, how many offspring it has, and its rate of genetic mutation. Each of these is known and uncontroversial. Therefore, scientists can observe the beneficial effects of change in something like a malarial virus or an E. Coli bacterium and see if new functions are actually being created, or if functions are merely being broken. Behe also extrapolates how much time would be required to accumulate enough changes to make new features in more complex mammals. As you can expect, the conclusion is not good for the blind watchmaker hypothesis.

  The Edge of Evolution is not a tough read, but there is some science in it. The biggest point the book has going for it is the observable data. Good science should be about the numbers we see, not the numbers we hope to see, and I think Behe here does a great job bypassing some of the conjecture and providing solid evidence that the neo-Darwinian model simply doesn't calculate.

References

1. Newport, Frank, "On Darwin's Birthday, Only 4 in 10 Believe in Evolution" The Gallup Poll 2/11/2009.Web. http://www.gallup.com/poll/114544/Darwin-Birthday-Believe-Evolution.aspx. 3/6/2012.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #6 The Christians as the Romans Saw Them

Of all the books on this list, certainly the one that most qualifies as a "sleeper" in terms of notoriety is Robert L. Wilken's The Christians and the Romans Saw Them. Everyone I've mentioned the book to has never heard of it.  It could be because Wilken isn't an apologist; he's a secular historian and the book is published by Yale University Press (which definitely cannot be considered a Christian publisher!) I hadn't heard about the book when I first bought it either.  It was one of those extremely fortunate thrift store finds; I risked two dollars based on the title and was pleasantly surprised at the content.

 As Wilken explains in his introduction, the story of early Christianity has been told almost exclusively through Christian sources. Because of this, we can miss how the new belief system was being perceived by the more mainstream circles of Romans and pagans in that day.  Wilken then goes on to draw on Pliny, Galen, Celsus, Porphyry, and Justin the Apostate—along with smaller mentions in other works—to paint a picture of Roman life, Roman belief, and just how this strange new sect was received.

Many struggles of the early Christians shocking, such as the accusations that they were a cannibalistic cult.  Others are very familiar to modern day evangelicals.  In all, the book is an absolute eye-opener, not only from an historical standpoint, but in seeing how a small contingent in an empire that numbered sixty million souls grew to the dominant belief system in a few centuries. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them can even help your apologetic. Understanding the persuasive nature of early Christians in a culture where they were deeply misunderstood will give you better insight into your own interactions with others.  The book is definitely a worthwhile read. You ca see the other book entries from this list here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #7 Questions That Matter

Questions That Matter: An Introduction to Philosophy In this series of blog posts, I'm presenting my list of "Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists." These are titles that don’t appear too often on recommended apologetics resources, but they are books that I’ve personally found extremely helpful in my development as one who seeks to competently defend the faith. Check out our previous posts here.

William Lane Craig has said that the study of philosophy is a key component to developing a strong apologetic.1 However, such a broad subject with so much history and interpretation can leave the student at a loss as to where to start. My next book recommendation was my first real introduction to philosophy, and it is excellent. Ed L. Miller's Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy is actually constructed as a textbook for a college level philosophy 101 course. However, Miller's inviting style, along with the various definitions highlights and reading excerpts from pivotal works in the history of philosophy make this a great way for anyone to become familiar with the major players and key concepts that the discipline has produced.

The thing I like most about the text is how even-handed Miller is on what can be very divisive issues. Miller, who holds a PhD. in philosophy from USC and a Doctorate of Theology from the University of Basel, Switzerland, is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers. One would never know where his affiliations lie, however, as he is presents each concept and it various aspects with cool, clear neutrality. The great balance between an accurate, scholarly explanation of each philosophical concept and a friendly, easy-to-understand style is clearly a remarkable achievement.

Because Questions That Matter is a textbook, it can be pricy. Amazon lists the title for nearly $100. However, it is widely used in intro to Philosophy courses, so picking up a used fourth or fifth edition will save you a lot of money. There is a Kindle version out now, too.

References

1.
Craig writes, "If you want to do apologetics effectively, you need to be trained in analytic philosophy. And I say this even if your area of specialization is not philosophical apologetics." From "Advice to Christian Apologists" at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5341

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #8 Who Moved the Stone?

The resurrection of Jesus is the center point of any apologetic for the Christian faith.  Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."  Christianity is not a faith founded on pragmatism, but it is a faith that's based on an historical event, Jesus rising from the dead.

This conclusion has not escaped Christianity's critics.  More than once, those antagonistic to the faith have realized that by knocking out the resurrection, they would with one swift blow topple all of Christian theology. Frank Morison was one such skeptic. In his first chapter, Morison explains that he thought the historical nature of Jesus "rested on very insecure foundations." He then decides to try and debunk the faith by examining the last seven days of Jesus’ life. In this way he could finally highlight the flaws in the fable. But, as Morison attests, his book does not become the undoing of Christianity. Indeed, it becomes the tale of "a man who originally set out to write one kind of book but and found himself compelled by sheer force of circumstance to write another."  Following the evidence, Morison reasons through each of the popular scenarios offered to escape the miracle and ultimately comes to the conclusion that the resurrection must be true.  At the end of his journey , Morison has been left with no choice but to embrace the resurrection as a real event.

While the book has parallels with Simon Greenleaf's landmark The Testimony of the Evangelists, Morison is a reporter and not a judicial scholar, so his writing is a bit more approachable.  Also, since this book was written in the twentieth century, the language and thought are more accessible to the common reader today.

Scholarly books on the resurrection have grown tremendously in the last twenty years, with scholars like N.T. Wright, Michael Licona, William Lane Craig, and Gary Habermas continuing to produce an incredible amount of evidence for the reality of the resurrection.  But Who Moved the Stone? is a nice, compact way to open the topic up to friends or family that would not otherwise read such weighty tomes. Lee Strobel credits this book as an important stepping stone in his journey to faith.  Give Morison a read, and I think you’ll find it more enjoyable and thought provoking than you may realize.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #9... A Romance Story?

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions I'm continuing building my list of top books that I have found valuable in building my defense of the faith, but are not as well-known as some others.  Some are more technical or academic in nature; others are not thought of as a  teaching tool for apologists.  My next entry falls into the latter category.

Number nine in my list as a little book entitled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbot.  Now, given the title, you might think that a romance book is a crazy thing to place in a list of apologetics texts, but this little work, written in 1884, is actually a scathing commentary on the  restricted class structure Abbott saw in England at the time.  What makes the book more valuable, though, is how Abbott deftly explains  why the constraint of a dimensional boundary limits the way one can understand life. Indeed, the resistance Mr. Square (our story's narrator) puts up in trying to grasp a third dimension and how being able to traverse in three dimensions would make observers in the lower dimensions react as if they were seeing a miracle. For example, a three dimensional being could seemingly miraculously "pop" into a two dimensional plane by simply rising above the plane, moving forward and then descending back into the two dimensional space again. It also brings up interesting speculations (and since they are only speculations, I won't elaborate further) of  what our resurrection bodies could be capable of.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is truly a mind-stretching book  Best of all, since it was written nearly 130 years ago, it is in the public domain and free for download.  You can grab either the Kindle version or many other versions, including PDF to read on your device or print out. If you'd like a physical book, you can get the annotated edition from Amazon here.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #10 Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge
Apologists are all about resources. Sourcing material, gathering good arguments and examples, and trading knowledge are ways people grow in defending their faith. So recommended books, videos, podcasts, and such are replete in apologetics circles.

 I'm getting asked fairly regularly about book recommendations and resources, but rather than simply put together a top ten list of titles that also appear on other lists, I've decided to look at some of the lesser known books that have played a role in my growth as an apologist. Therefore, I've decided to start a list of Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists. These are books that don't make most lists, but are very worthwhile.

 Kicking off the list is #10 - Theory of Knowledge by Roderick M. Chisholm. Chisholm is a masterful philosopher and this is a very well written book on epistemology - basically, how we know that we know things. It is deceptively short at 99 pages, but it requires careful study and the student should plan on devoting many hours to read it slowly and master its contents.  If you've ever wanted to know what ideas like what really constitutes beyond reasonable doubt or why you don't have to be certain of something to have knowledge, then this book is for you.

I believe the book is out of print, but Amazon does have links to used versions available online. Follow this link to find them.



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing



Have you ever watched the History Channel show Pawn Stars? Although many customers are obviously pre-selected and the facts are scripted ahead of time, my boys still like to watch how different quirky items claiming to be from years past get inspected to see if they're the real deal (and worth some real money) or simply forgeries that are worthless. I find it interesting as to how the experts that the staff call into the store look for telltale clues as to the legitimacy of the item.

The reason I bring this up is I recently came across a passage in the book of Mormon that would set off all the bells and whistles of Rick Harrison and his crew immediately. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi was part of a wave of Hebrew exiles, fleeing the Babylonians that were conquering Jerusalem at that time. These refugees supposedly built boats and sailed to the Americas, as they were told by God. Nephi also recounts how he had known of a stunning prophecy of the coming Messiah; a prophecy that gives more detail about the Savior to come than any Old Testament prophet ever did.  He writes:
"For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (2 Nephi 25:19)
Here's my question. At this date in history, the Babylonian empire was at its zenith. They would be overthrown by the Medo-Persians. We also have this book itself claiming it was written in "reformed Egyptian." The Greeks didn't come along until some 300 years later.

So, given all this, how in the world would Nephi use a word like "Christ", which is a transliteration of the Greek word Χριστός, the language of the New Testament? Hebrew prophets before Nephi would've called Jesus "anointed one" or "Messiah" (משיח), but not "Christ". Greece was a series of fragmented city-states at that time that fought among themselves as much as fighting any others. It wasn't until after Alexander the Great conquered the known world by 323 B.C. did the establishment of Greek as the common language become  settled across the empire.

But here we see a supposed Hebrew prophet who was raised near Jerusalem and could write in a modified Egyptian language using a term for the Messiah that only comes from a Greek word.  Does this sound believable?  It's kind of like claiming you found a book written by George Washington where, when visiting New York he borrowed a 20th century advertising slogan and exclaimed, "I love the Big Apple!" Such points are clear signs that the book's author sits well outside its historical setting - and they are a clear sign of a forged document.
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