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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 Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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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.

[1] Bowman, Robert M. "A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy" as quoted by Apologetics Index. Accessed 10/22/2012.
[2] "Are Mormons Christians?" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints web site. 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.
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