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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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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why Are Christians So Obsessed with Homosexuality?

I've spent a lot of time on university campuses lately. I get to interact with students and hear what's on their minds when it comes to questions of faith in general and Christianity in particular. Nowadays, I expect that someone will raise the issue of homosexuality, particularly the debate over homosexual marriage as we talk. It's pretty much guaranteed to come up and many times it forms the whole of my discussion with the students. Because this is such a hot-button issue, I wanted to offer a couple of thoughts on the subject that could hopefully help others when their conversations shift this way.


Let's start off with one objection that I hear all the time: "Why are you Christians so obsessed with homosexuality?" You can see that even online, the question gets asked a lot. Just look here, here, and here for some examples. It is a common refrain I hear from students when I've been talking with them about the state of marriage.

Why are evangelical Christians so obsessed with homosexual acts? Is it because, as some have claimed, that Christians are secretly suppressing their own homosexual attractions? Well, no. Such an assertion is ridiculous on its face. The Gallup organization estimates that 3.5% of the U.S. population identifies as homosexual. Even if we double that stat, there would only be 7% of evangelicals who would make up the constituency that hold to this supposed secret homosexual desire. Such a group could never hold the political clout to pass the traditional marriage laws that passed with solid majorities in 32 states and the federal Defense of Marriage act. This is simply a fallacy (known as tu quoue) that ignores the biological and moral arguments that Christians offer about the topic. But then why are Christians so obsessed with homosexuality?

Here's the answer: we aren't.

You may be shocked at reading that. You may disagree and think I'm dishonest. You may say that all you hear is Christians opposing the right for same sex couples to marry. But believe me, the last thing I want to do when I walk onto a college campus is to talk about homosexuality. It's not in the forefront of my mind. I'd much rather talk about Jesus, what salvation by grace really means, how God wants all people to renounce their sin whatever that may be and follow Him because He has a better way.

Those are the things I would like to talk about, and that's what Christianity has done historically. We've reached out to the poor and homeless; most churches have ministries that help these people within their community. We have looked to help orphans and sent people on missionary projects. We work to help folks overcome alcohol addiction or drug abuse. All these areas have a long, vibrant history within Christianity which is reflected both in the many efforts and ministries of the local church and para-church organizations like The Salvation Army. How many churches have a homosexuality ministry? They are nearly non-existent.

Actually it is other people who keep bringing up the issue of homosexuality. Activists want to change the definition of marriage, and they want to require Christian photographers and florists to service homosexual weddings. They sue Christian psychotherapists must not only take on homosexual patients, but affirm their actions.  They even want to indoctrinate children by rewriting state educational standards so that homosexuality is taught from the first grade. There's been a concerted effort to consciously and determinedly change our society so that homosexuality will appear as benign even though the science shows that it is nothing of the sort. It should be no surprise, then, that Christians and parents would respond.

When I'm at a university, the floor is wide open for questions. People can come up and ask anything, and they immediately latch onto homosexuality and continue to ask about it over and over. They then ask, "Why are you guys so obsessed with this subject?" I tell them I will give them an answer, but I want to know what their motivation was in asking the question in the first place. I will say, "I think that the changes that we're being asked to make as a society are serious and they require thought and care before  we simply jump into them. But realize that YOU are asking this question and I'm responding to it. You brought up the issue of homosexuality, not me."

Christianity didn't initiate this conflict. We should as thoughtful people should respond to the demands that others are making, but we've been playing defense from the start. Homosexuality wasn't even on most Christians' radar before the 1980's when the media began covering it in response to the AIDS epidemic. Then, after the assembly  175 homosexual activists into a forum they themselves dubbed " the War Conference", activists Kirk and Madsen produced a published manifesto with the goal to "desensitize, jam, and convert" the American public on the issue of homosexuality. That turned into a book which further pushed what Dr. Charles W. Socarides  called a plan "chilling in its diabolism, chilling in its hatred of straight America, chilling in its advocacy of lack of conscience, chilling in its brutal and naked lust not for sex but for power."

So, no, Christians are not obsessed with homosexuality. Homosexual activists and the media are.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Answering Atheist Arguments Against God


Atheism has been taking center stage lately. Both the New Atheists and a cohort of Internet skeptics continue to raise objections that have caught the public's fancy. Are they right? How should we answer? In this recent podcast series, Lenny highlighted some of the more popular arguments against God's existence and demonstrated the poverty of atheist objections. Listen to all four parts in the series below:

Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 1)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 2)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 3)
Answering Atheist Arguments Against God (Part 4)

To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Protecting the Value of Life

My newly born granddaughter is over at the house this week and this morning I awoke to the sounds of the hungry girl crying. I loved the sound. It isn't that I would like to see her upset; at three weeks, crying is really the only way she can communicate. To me, the sound of a newborn's cry is a confirmation of life. It's an echo of her first cries in the delivery room and when it fills my house I take a certain kind of joy in knowing that our family will continue, that life has been passed on. It's how things should be.

Photo courtesy Gianni1wiki
As loving parents, my son wants only the best for his daughter. He cares about responding when she cries. He wants to make sure she's getting the best nutrition and the proper rest. He performs diaper changes so she won't get a rash. As she grows, her needs and the proper responses to them will change, but the motivation is the same: he wants to provide the best environment for her flourish. However, we as a society are corroding some of the necessary conditions for human flourishing and it worries me.

In its constant pull away from its Christian moorings, today's culture is blind to the damage it causes to all human life. The continuing horrors being disclosed from abortionist Kermit Gosnell's murder trial, the aftermath of the Boston terrorism attacks, and the general elevation of the individual's desire for pleasure over the best interests of the community are all symptoms that a culture that once held to a moral framework informed by Christian values has turned its face from that foundation and now seeks something else.

 This becomes all the more evident when we compare some of the hot button issues of today with their counterparts in pre-Christian societies. Ancient Rome was the pinnacle of technology and living in its day. It had successfully conquered the world. Its citizens then enjoyed an unparalleled era of Pax Romana—200 years of peace. However, in this time of comfort and leisure the Romans didn't think twice about its degradation of human life. Parents of babies who were considered less than desirable were killed, offered as sacrifices, or left out by the Tiber to die of exposure. Historian Alvin J. Schmidt reports, "So common was infanticide that Polybius (205? – 118 B.C.) blamed the population decline of ancient Greece on it (Histories 6)."1 Schmidt also tells of how the Romans practiced abortion for the sake of wealth and convenience2 and encouraged suicide as a more noble way to die than through natural causes.

Of course the Roman trivializing of life is nowhere more evident than in the Roman Gladiatorial games. Using human beings as sport because they were slaves or held religious views that were considered improper to the state is something we would consider barbaric today. But such actions were a natural conclusion to a worldview that places the individual's happiness above the life of another. Most people don't realize it was because of the act of one brave Christian martyr that the Gladiatorial games ceased within five years of his stand.

I write all this because it is too easy to see how we are falling back into a trap of trivializing life. Abortion today is framed as a political issue, but no one bothers to remember why Christianity sought to eliminate it. Kermit Gosnell shows how debased one can become when his worldview objectifies the beginning of human life as a product or choice to be had or not. The terrorists in Boston cared not one whit for the value of their victims' lives. They wanted their own position to be heard no matter the cost.

In our modern age, we've forgotten that the Christian principles that shaped our society also transformed it from a more barbarous one. We're once again in an age of relative peace and luxury, and there are those who think the old ways can be discarded simply because they are old or they get in the way of personal expression. They need to realize that tit may be because of those old ways that we have the true peace that they so cherish. It's easier to stay secure when one has strong walls built around him to keep out the things that will cause harm.  G.K. Chesterton put it well when he said only a fool would tear down a fence before he knows why it was put there to begin with.

We're tearing down the walls of the Christian worldview and I fear a few savage beasts have already slipped in. This is why I do apologetics. It's not for my sake, but for the sake of my granddaughter and the society in which she will live. As a precious human being born into this world, she deserves nothing less.

References

1 Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World.
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004). 49.

2 Ibid. 56.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Quick Tips on Dealing with Difficulties


We're at the close of our series looking at the supposed contradictions in the Bible. In all our examples, we have shown that there can be answers to passages that seem to contradict each other or facts that we know today. Since it's impossible to deal with more than merely a handful of examples in this series, I want to leave you with a few checkpoints to use when confronting charges of a contradiction. The following quick tip guide will help you think more clearly in your discussions:

Quick Tips on Dealing with Difficulties

Is it really a contradiction?

  1. The burden of proof rests on the critics
    The Bible is probably the most critiqued and scrutinized book in history. Whenever a person charges the Bible with supposedly containing a contradiction the burden rests on them to prove that the contradiction is actually one and not his or her mistaken reading of the text. The text is innocent until proven guilty.1
  2. If there's a plausible solution, then it cannot be a contradiction
    Remember, I said at the outset that a contradiction is a very specific thing – it must show that the statements are making competing claims about the same thing at the same time. If it can be shown that another understanding of the text is not only possible but would be reasonable, then the charge of contradiction evaporates.
  3. Be sure you know what the text says
    Read the text carefully. Words like "after these things" could mean a significant gap in time. Ignoring them is one way to snub style.
  4. Be sure you know what the text means
    With 2,000 years or more between those that wrote the biblical texts and us, it is very easy to misunderstand the intent of the author. Both Snubbing Style and My Way or the Highway make this kind of mistake, but in different circumstances.
  5. Don't confuse imprecision with error
    Round numbers, shortening chronologies and estimating timelines within days instead of minutes are all considered appropriate in ancient literature. Robot Reporting is really a very recent approach to telling a story. As timekeeping improved, so did the precision in recording time.
  6. The Bible itself is an archaeological document – and one of the highest caliber. Therefore, it should be treated as trustworthy. If another document calls into question the Biblical text, why should one assume the Bible to be in error?
    One thing that always amazes me is how when a critic finds ancient texts that bring the accounts of Jesus into question, they never subject the competing claim to the same critical standard as the biblical text. The so-called "lost gospels" are a prime example of given them the benefit of the doubt while the Bible is supposed to be overwhelmingly convincing.
The Bible has shown its value as a historic document. Authors like Luke have paid particular attention to historic details, getting even inconsequential facts right. As we've seen, most claims of contradiction can be easily reconciled to the satisfaction of anyone who is open to honest inquiry. However, a lot of people I come into contact with aren't really interested in the evidence but ale looking for another excuse to not have to believe what it says. Julia Sweeney, a well-known performer who was on Saturday Night Live exemplifies this when she offers her critique of the Bible. She says:
"To me, the Iliad offers more insight into human character and lessons than the Bible. You know, like Jesus was angry a lot. When he turned all those people into pigs and made them run off a mountain, it was so hateful, not just to people but to pigs. I felt upset for the pigs!" 2
Sweeney is trying to object to the story in Mark 5:2-13. However, her woeful misunderstanding shows that she hasn't even done a thoughtful reading of the text. Jesus didn't turn people into pigs, He cast demons out of people and into a heard of swine. He didn't make them run off a cliff, the demons did that voluntarily. Sweeney gets all the facts of this passage wrong and then tries to imply that Jesus was somehow cruel to both people and animals! It was C.H. Spurgeon who said "I would far rather have a man an earnest, intense opposer of the gospel than have him careless and indifferent." When people run roughshod over the biblical text and then claim "contradiction" they really aren't being honest; they're simply throwing out another smokescreen.3

References

1. Dr. Craig Blomberg writes "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." From Blomberg, Craig L. Historical Reliability of the Gospels. Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic: 2007. 304.

2. Miller, David Ian. "FINDING MY RELIGION: Julia Sweeney talks about how she became an atheist." San Francisco Chronicle 15 August 2005: Accessed online at <http://articles.sfgate.com/2005-08-15/news/17384089_1_religious-los-angeles-dear-god>.

3. John W. Haley's book Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible underscores my point. Originally published in 1874, it continues to answer almost all alleged contradictions offered to this day. To check it out, see Baker Books republished version here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Differences between Accounts Is Actually a Positive!


As we begin to wrap up our study of the different types of charges against the consistency of the Bible, we find that many of the claims of contradiction are really nothing of the sort. They are merely products of an author using the language, styles, and categories of his day, or perhaps trying to emphasize a particular point or teaching of his subject. Where two or more authors conflict, we can look to the authors' different goals in writing and see that they would report events differently. Regardless, the previous explanations show why the claims that the Bible cannot be the God's Word because it contains contradictions falls away as acceptable alternatives are available for these differing objections.

However, I want to bring up one additional point not often heard when discussing the differences in the Bible and specifically in the gospel accounts. I have claimed previously that the gospels are eyewitness testimony. Either eyewitnesses or close associates who interviewed the eyewitnesses wrote the gospels. The fact that accounts of Jesus' resurrection vary in theme and detail actually strengthen the claim these were eyewitnesses instead of people who all conspired to make up the same story. You see made up stories only deal with main events and they only have one particular point of view. When people get together to invent a fable, they don't worry about the details. You know Hansel and Gretel had bread with them in the forest, but you don't know which forest they were in or what type of clothing they were wearing. These things aren't deemed important to the story so they aren't considered.  All accounts of Hansel and Gretel are pretty much the same—which means they all stem from one source.

Eyewitness testimony, on the other hand, is messy and many times offers different facts. In fact, any police detective will tell you, if multiple witnesses tell the exact same story with the same details it is a sure sign of collusion, meaning the witnesses got together and fabricated what they were going to say beforehand. Cold-case homicide detective Jim Wallace supports this point. In his book Cold-Case Christianity he writes:
"I learned many years ago the importance of separating witnesses. If eyewitnesses are quickly separated from one another, they are far more likely to provide an uninfluenced, pure account of what they saw. Yes, their accounts will inevitably differ from the accounts of others who witnessed the same event, but that is the natural result of a witness's past experience, perspective, and worldview. I can deal with the inconsistencies; I expect them. But when witnesses are allowed to sit together (prior to being interviewed) and compare notes and observations, I'm likely to get one harmonized version of the event. Everyone will offer the same story. While this may be tidier, it will come at the sacrifice of some important detail that a witness is willing to forfeit in order to align his or her story with the other witnesses; I'm not willing to pay that price. I would far rather have three messy, apparently contradictory versions of the event than one harmonized version that has eliminated some important detail. I know in the end I'll be able to determine the truth of the matter by examining all three stories. The apparent contradictions are usually easy to explain once I learn something about the witnesses and their perspectives (both visually and personally) at the time of the crime."1
So, the fact that the gospel accounts differ from each other is actually a good thing! Eyewitnesses will report different aspects of an event because each has a different perspective. It means that the writers didn't conspire to make up one story but are reporting events with the impressions the witnesses really had.

References

1.Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity: A Homocide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospel. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C.Cooke Pub, 2013). 71.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bible Contradictions - More of My Way or the Highway

Photo courtesy Wikipedia Japan
We're on the home stretch of a series I've been posting covering various types of contradictions that the Bible has been accused of. I've grouped the nature of the accusations into three main types of errors: expecting "robot" reporting, snubbing style to force meaning, and demanding "My way or the highway." For the full list of links to the series, click here. Here's a couple more from our last category.

Strict chronological order in all accounts of the same events

Since the Bible claims to report historical events, people have sought to show that it reports history unreliably. They will sometimes point to different Gospels reporting the same event, but recording that it occurred at different times or in different circumstances.  But it shouldn't surprise you that the way people report historical events has changed a bit in the last 2000 years.  Scholars note that ancient historians would not always feel compelled to report the events of a person's life in the chronological sequence in which they originally occurred. Sometimes they were more concerned about displaying a certain aspect or character trait of their subject, so they would assemble different events around a central teaching or significant point to substantiate their claim.1  Therefore, Matthew felt he had the freedom to report the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in a different order than Luke.

Assuming similar events must be the same event

Many times the claim of contradiction is raised when different gospel writers offer seemingly conflicting details on a particular event.  For example, Jesus' sermon containing the Beatitudes ("blessed are the poor in spirit… etc") is famously called "the Sermon on the Mount" since it begins with Jesus going up on a mountain with His disciples following Him.  But Luke records that Jesus stood in a level place when preaching the Beatitudes, so it sounds like Luke contradicts Matthew. Of course there could be a level place on the mountaintop, such as a plateau, where Jesus decided to preach this sermon.  That would remove the contradiction.

However, it is also possible that Jesus preached the same sermon more than once in different locations! If the principles of a teaching were important, then it stands to reason that Jesus would want to let many people in different locations hear the message.  There were no newspapers or tape recorders in those days; then only way to disseminate your teachings quickly is to repeat them.   Even today, speakers will recycle full speeches to different groups so that all get to hear the principles that they feel are worthy of more attention. Either way, this cannot be used to prove a contradiction since either explanation is a plausible possibility.


Example: Did Jesus cleanse the Temple at the beginning or the end of His ministry?

All four gospels tell of Jesus driving out the moneychangers from the Temple in Jerusalem.  Matthew, Mark and Luke have this event happening in the final week of Jesus' ministry, while the gospel of John records it very early in chapter two. Is this a contradiction? No.  It's possible that John is not sticking to a strict chronology, but recording the cleansing of the Temple early.  John's Gospel is structured differently from the other three in that John uses seven events to instigate seven major discourses by Jesus, each emphasizing a specific aspect of Jesus' divine nature.

But scholars also recognize that it's quite likely that Jesus cleaned the Temple twice in His ministry - once at the beginning and once in the final week before His crucifixion. The accounts seem to differ in tone (Jesus was thoughtful in John, making a whip with cords and preplanning the event and He told the sellers "stop making My Father's house a place of business" while in the other accounts the actions seem more immediate and Jesus' speech is more aggressive, saying "You have made [this  place] a robber's den."

Since John records at least three Passover visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, it would not be a stretch to believe that within two or three years, the moneychangers had come back to the Temple and once again set up shop.  There was good profit in selling to worshipers and the priests were considered the real authority for the Temple, not Jesus.  Therefore, it is likely that Jesus coming back to the Temple saw the re-established merchants and again drove them out.

References

1. John W. Haley notes that other historical accounts have taken this approach. "From the pen of one writer we receive an orderly, well-constructed biography; another gives us merely a series of anecdotes, grouped so as to suit some trait, sentiment, or habit of the person described.  Thus, in Xenophon's Memorabilia, we do not find a proper biography of Socrates, but we see various points in his life and character set forth by anecdotes respecting him and by reports of his discussions."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Bible Contradictions - My Way or the Highway


The third major way critics will try to claim a contradiction within the Biblical accounts, is to make the mistake I call making it "My Way or the Highway." Basically this means we take our modern biases and understanding of what we think writing should be and try to apply it to people writing in the ancient past.  This is a little different than snubbing style, in that snubbing style usually ignores the intent of the author while My Way or the Highway forces accepted modern approaches as universals to which ancients were somehow supposed to adhere. Many times in these instances, there are facts in dispute – not merely perspective or idioms.  The easiest of these to see is our first example: using modern definitions or classifications and forcing them on ancient writers.

Applying modern definitions to ancient texts

The history of the advancement of science has been fueled to a great degree by the Christian worldview.  Christians knew God was a god of order and He would create an orderly world that would be consistent, knowable and classifiable.  Because of this, they took to exploring their world, learning more about it, and sought to place this knowledge into categories. So, for example, scientists have developed a classification system for all living things known as biological taxonomy.  Your pet dog is part of a larger group (known as a genus) called Canis, including wolves and coyotes.  They are part of a larger family of animals that include jackals and foxes, which are still part of a larger grouping of carnivores: or meat-eating mammals.

This idea of grouping things together makes a lot of sense, but the precision and granularity we see now is a relatively recent invention. It has only being around for some 300 years or so.1 Yet it's a popular ruse to use scientific definitions that weren't even invented during Bible times to show that the Bible's in error.   For example, some object to Leviticus 11:13 classifying a bat as one of the birds since bats are mammals.  However, grouping animals by the fact that they have fur over the fact that they fly is purely arbitrary choice on our part, a choice that was made some 3000 years after Leviticus was written! This is in no way a mistake or contradiction, it's simply the critic trying to force a modern definition on a passage where the writer was using a completely different one.

Example: Does the Hare Chew Cud?

"Nevertheless, you are not to eat of these among those which chew the cud, or among those that divide the hoof in two: the camel and the rabbit …" Deuteronomy 14:7

 Cud chewers today are recognized as animals such as cows who chew their food, swallow it, then regurgitate it and chew it some more. Rabbits and hares, however, do not have a chambered stomach such as the cow to regurgitate food.  Instead, they let some their food pass through their digestive system and expel it where they then take it and rechew it again. This process is known as cecotrophy.  (It should be noted that they are not chewing dung as the makeup of the cecotrophs is quite different than their waste).

Since the classification of cud-chewers was first defined in 1847 by Richard Owen, it would be intellectually dishonest for someone to claim that a 3500 year old writing is contradictory because it doesn't match with this scientific classification. Further, if the ancient Hebrews defined 'cud-chewing" as that process where half digested vegetation was re-chewed by an animal for easier re-digestion (and that is a very specific and scientific definition), I would say the hare fits here fine.2

References

1 Most of the accepted way of classifying plants and animals follows the model set forth by Carolus Linnaeus in his book Systema Naturae.  For more on Linnaeus, see Scientists of Faith: Forty-Eight Biographies of Historic Scientists and Their Christian Faith by Dan Graves (GrandRapids: Kregel Pub, 1996)pp.80-83
2. Esposito, Lenny. "Does the hare really chew cud?" 6 April 2010
http://www.comereason.org/bibl_cntr/con055.asp

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Two More Ways Critics Snub Style

We are currently reviewing different ways critics make mistakes when accusing the Bible of being self-contradictory. In our last post, we saw that people sometimes claim the Bible has a contradiction when it is really only using phenomenological language. Today, we'll look at two additional ways critics snub style to force meaning.

Misunderstanding popular idioms and sayings

Every culture has expressions of speech they use to communicate quickly and colorfully. Teens do this naturally; what used to be hip became groovy which turned into cool, then phat. However, some people try to snub style by forcing common sayings—known as idioms—to be understood literally.  This simply proves the objector is not treating the text fairly.  I remember hearing a story where a translator was helping a person visiting Russia.  Getting to the train station minutes before their departure, he told a local that they had made it by the skin of their teeth, which the translator repeated verbatim.  The Russian looked at the man and was quite perplexed.  Teeth don't have skin! So the man had to interpret the meaning of the idiom in order for his listener to understand what he was saying. Similarly, ancient people also had idioms that they used to speak in a particular way.

Example: Jesus in the Tomb Three Days and Nights

"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."  Matthew 12:40

When you look at the accounts of the crucifixion and resurrection, it seems that Jesus was wrong. He died on Friday evening and was resurrected before daybreak on Sunday morning.  That's maybe 36-38 hours at the most, not three days AND three nights.  But in Hebrew speech any part of a day is referred to as a whole day.  We can see this in the passage of 1 Samuel 30. Here, David had been fasting before God to conquer the Amalekites, since they had ransacked southern Israel and captured many people including David's wives.  After his victory, verse 12 says that David "had not eaten bread or drunk water for three days and three nights."  But in verse 1, it clearly states that David overtook the Amalekites on the third day, not afterwards. So, here is another instance of the phrase three days and three nights not being used literally, but an expression for covering at least part of a three day period.

Differences in perspective or emphasis

One final way critics will snub style is to view a retelling of an account as a contradiction simply because it is emphasizing a different aspect of the same event. For example, the book of Kings and the book of Chronicles offer similar stories of the Kings of Israel and Judah, but the writers there were hoping to make different points. The author of the books of Kings is more concerned with the way God orders the events of history and downfall of the nation's leadership while the author to Chronicles emphasizes the apostasy from the Davidic covenant and temple worship.

Example: Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 competing creation accounts?
"This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven". Genesis 2:4

 In the first chapter of Genesis, God creates the plants first (day three), then the birds and fish (day four), then the animals, and finally man and woman (day 6). However, Genesis 2 seems to say that man was created first, then the plants, then all the animals, and finally woman.  Aren't these contradictory?  The answer is no, because the accounts are really not talking about the same things.

The best way to understand the creation story is to see Genesis chapter one as an overview of all God did to create the heavens and the earth. Then, like a movie plot that backs up to show the details of a particular event, Genesis 2:4 zooms in on the last creation day to tell the events there.   First, planting "a garden toward the east" does not mean that God hadn't already created plants and animals elsewhere.  In fact, because the location of the garden is qualified ("toward the east") it implies that this activity is very localized. God could simply be recreating plants and animals specifically for Adam. The language could also be perspective-driven; God's previous action of creating animals from the ground is restated while underlining that the animals were to be subservient to man.

We use language the same way today. We may tell a friend "this car was built for you" to someone who finds a car they that fits their personality.  Either way, the claim of a contradiction doesn't stand.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Snubbing Style to Force Meaning

I'm currently writing a series of articles answering the claim that the Bible holds contradictions. Previous posts discuss what a contradiction is, what I classify as the three main categories of errors people make when thinking they've found a contradiction, and a review of the first, which is an expectation of Robot Reporting.


The second major way that people err in claiming the Bible holds contradictions is they ignore the style and patterns of the language itself.  All language uses style to convey meaning.Some are put in by the authors to try and make a specific point while others are merely the way people spoke during that time and culture. Ignoring the fact that language and culture have a huge effect on writing and what people mean can mean coming out with a drastically different idea from what the author was really saying. I call this mistake "snubbing style" and it means that someone is trying to force making the text be in error when it is not really the case.

Ignore use of phenomenological language

The first case where this kind of mistake happens is ignoring language that is trying to describe something we all experience using language that we can all relate to.  An example we use even today is how we speak is the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. Now we all know that the sun isn't really circling the earth, the earth rotates and we see the sun.  But since from our point of view it looks like the sun is moving, we talk about the sunrise and sunset. Anyone who would stop someone else in conversation and say "you've made a mistake, the sun doesn't rise at all" would quickly have no friends!

Similarly, the Bible uses this type of language all the time.  God is depicted as having certain characteristics of a body, such as hands and eyes (called anthropomorphic language) even though Jesus tells us God is a spirit. Other passages talk about how "God remembered Noah" or how God would "once again turn his attention toward" His people.  These are all just linguistic ways of making a point that God is getting ready to do something special. He never forgot or had to be reminded.

Does God Change His Mind?

"But Moses interceded with the Lord…  So the LORD changed His mind about the disaster He said He would bring on His people." (Exodus 32:11,14)

If the Bible says that God is all-knowing and never makes a mistake, then how can he change His mind? This is a perfect example of how ancient writers were trying to help their audience understand the circumstances of that moment.  In this instance, Israel had sinned so deeply, they should have been wiped out by God. Therefore, the exchange between Moses and God is there to highlight the fact that it's not because the Israelites were somehow OK that God allowed them to continue, but it is only because of God's own promise and grace that He allowed them to continue at all.  God didn't change his mind, but His words just help us understand how precarious the Israelites situation really was. It also sets up the idea of the need for an intercessor between man and God — pointing the way to our ultimate intercessor, Jesus.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Don't Expect Robot Reporting

I've been going through some of the so-called contradictions that many Internet skeptics accuse the Bible of having. We're currently talking about the assumption of "Robot" Reporting, that is expecting historical books like the Gospel accounts to have been written in mechanical fashion instead of understanding that the authors would write history the same way other ancient writers recorded the events of their day. We've already talked about one way skeptics fall into the Robot Reporting trap: assuming the Gospel accounts should read like court transcripts.

Photo courtesy Mirko Tobias Schaefer

Another reason not to expect robot reporting is the issue of language.  Jesus probably taught the Judean crowds in Aramaic, the language of that land.  However, the world wouldn't understand Aramaic, so the gospel writers wrote in Greek.  Any time you translate from one language to another, it's impossible to record a word-for-word transcription of a teaching—and that's true even today.

Accounts are factual, but not balance sheets

Since writing was such a big deal, most of the stories of ancient times were received and passed on through verbal repetition.  In other words, people talked to one another and would tell the stories that they had heard. As we said in chapter five, people in ancient days made up for the fact they didn't write by honing their skills to memorize long narratives of text with remarkable accuracy.

Because memorizing played such an important role in keeping the stories clear and correct, writers of the ancient world had to different approach to recounting lists and facts.  Using abbreviated lists or rounding numbers to keep them simpler and easier to remember was not only an accepted practice, but the audience would understand that the writer wasn't trying to give exact counts or name every father/son relationship from person A to person B.


Example: Genealogy in Matthew 1

"So all the generations from Abraham to David were 14 generations; and from David until the exile to Babylon, 14 generations; and from the exile to Babylon until the Messiah, 14 generations."

The genealogy of Jesus we read in Matthew 1:1-17 is a prime example of how ancient writers would keep the integrity of a list intact, but make is easier for people to remember. If we were to compare the lists of Judean kings presented in the books of Kings and Chronicles with Matthew's list, we'll find that Matthew purposely left out some of the kings in order to have three equal groupings of fourteen with each grouping tying into a landmark event in the nation's past. Since the term "father" can also mean grandfather or ancestor, we can see that it being used in a different manner, and therefore is not a contradiction.

There were no Xerox machines in Ancient Rome

The last way that critics make the mistake of Robot Reporting is to assume that any errors found in the text must've been placed there by the authors themselves.  We can see through history that this is clearly false, as many times scholars have identified an error in a number that a scribe made while copying the text. Indeed, a famous example of this was the so-called "Sinner's Bible" that was published in 1631.  This King James Version accidentally left out one "not" from the entire bible when printed — unfortunately, it was left out of the seventh commandment which then read "Thou shalt commit adultery!"

God never promised that every copy of a Bible book would be preserved. 2 Peter 1:21 locates the Spirit's work of inspiration at the moment of the production of the texts by the authors. But no biblical text indicates that copies would be kept free from errors. Now, as we talked about in chapter five, sine we have so many copies of New Testament texts, we can know with over 99% certainty what the original texts actually said.  And since the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947, we've seen that the Hebrew Old Testament text has been preserved with amazing accuracy even after 1,000 years of copying.


Example: Solomon's Horses — 4,000 or 40,000?
2 Chronicles 9:25 reports Solomon had 4,000 horses while 1 Kings 4:26 reports 40,000. Since letters were used for numbers in ancient Hebrew (like Roman Numerals) a copyist mistook one character for another, similar looking one and thus the error.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Three Common Errors in Assuming Contradictions


We're currently discussing how to deal with claims that the BIble contains contradictions.  You can read the forst two posts in this series here and here. As, I've already noted, those who claim the Bible contains contradictions must prove the statements in question are actually contradictory and not meant in different ways.  Usually, though, most "contradictions" are nothing of the sort. Biblical passages generally hold different types of meaning, determined by their context.  Many times, a person is claiming that the Bible has a contradiction usually has some hidden assumptions that are influencing his or her understanding of the passage. In fact, most supposed contradictions are really errors on the part of people who are not treating the Biblical text fairly. In my study of the different errors that people make in treating the Biblical text, I've found that these errors tend to fall into one of three main groups: Expecting Robot Reporting, Snubbing Style to Force Meaning, or My Way is the Only Way.

Don't Expect "Robot" Reporting

The biggest mistake I see when people mishandle the Biblical text is to expect that the Biblical writers were trying to capture every detail of the scene that they describe. Many people assume the Bible offers some kind of strict, court transcript style reporting of whoever is speaking.  But that was never the intent of the authors.  This first group of mistakes-expecting Robot Reporting, that is to expect the Bible to be completely precise in its descriptions of events. But as we'll see, the Bible can be completely accurate without having to record all details of everything it mentions.

Accounts are history, but not transcripts

All ancient historians understood that they wanted to accurately portray their subject matter.  But they would never try to write down a blow-by-blow description of all aspects of the events they record.  They couldn't. Writing in the ancient world was a much bigger deal than it is today.  For one thing, writing was a skill that not everyone had.  We know Jeremiah and Paul had to use secretaries to help them at times.  Paper also was a prized commodity, and unlike books today, scrolls could only hold so much.  A writer would need to be careful to include only the important facts in his account of an event in order to achieve his point.  Other items may be ignored.  A good example of this is the variation in the number of women at the tomb in our example below.
Example: How Many at the Tomb?
  • One woman: John 20:1
    "Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb."
  • Two women: Matt. 28:1
    "Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to look at the grave."
  • Three women: Mark 16:1
    "When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might come and anoint Him."
  • Five or more: Luke 24:10
    "Now they were Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James; also the other women with them were telling these things to the apostles."
To easily clarify what the gospel writers are doing, let's look at a parallel that happens many times today. Suppose I received a phone call from my co-worker Fred Jones who says, "Hey, we're going to take our kids to see the new blockbuster at the theater, would you like to come?" "Sure!  I'll gather the family and we'll meet you there."

The next day, I talk to three people about my evening.  A mutual fried asks "what did you do last night?"  "Oh, we went to the movies with the Joneses."  Then, my mom calls me and asks why I wasn't at home.  I reply "I took the family to see a movie." A co-worker then asks if I have seen the new blockbuster.  "Yes," I replied "Fred and I both saw it."

Now, have I contradicted myself in any of these accounts?  No.  I've merely reported the relevant details applicable to the audience.  Leaving out some people is not a contradiction.  Remember, we said a contradiction has to be two mutually exclusive concepts.  If I were to say "I saw the movie with Fred and I saw the movie without Fred" it would be a contradiction.  And even then, it's only a contradiction if I'm talking about the same showing of the movie and that we were both present and not present at the same time. This kind of objection is also used to say the number of angels at the tomb is in error, but there's no contradiction here, just more or less information being presented.

Tomorrow, I will discuss some more ways the error of Robot Reporting comes into play. I hope you'll come back for the whole series.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bible Contradictions - What's a Contradiction, Anyway?


We've all heard the charge that the Bible is full of contradictions. It seems easy to level the charge of "contradiction" at a passage or two that seem to be talking about the same thing, but don't match. However, a contradiction is a very specific thing, and many times people just don't understand what must happen in order for one statement to be considered a contradiction to another. Simply put, a contradiction means that someone is making a nonsense claim. They are saying something that cannot possibly be true. If a statement does have the ability to be true given additional information, then the statement isn't really a contradiction.

This may seem a little confusing, but let me clarify what I mean. Luckily this area has been very well travelled in the study of logic, so we have a solid foundation from where we can base our definition.  The Law of Non-Contradiction is one of the Three Standard Laws of Thought that Professor Ed L. Miller notes that all rational thinking has at its basis. 1 These laws are so simple that they will seem self-evident, even to anyone who hasn't studies critical thinking or philosophy. In fact, Miller says that without these three laws thought and discourse would be impossible.  Without them, "nothing we think or say makes any sense, not even this very sentence."

The first law is the Law of Identity, which simply means that a thing is equal to itself. If I have four children then it is true that I have four children.  The Law of Identity is used to understand different terms that always refer to the same thing.  For example, an unmarried man is a bachelor.  Bachelors and unmarried males are different phrases that refer to the exact same property some men have, so any time I use the word bachelor, I can substitute "unmarried man" and it doesn't change them meaning at all. Another example is "God is divine". If we understand the word "divine" to mean pertaining to God, then the sentence just repeats itself; it says the same thing twice. This Law may seem pretty silly, but you'll see how important it is as we come to the next one.

The Second Law is the one that gets to the heart of what we're trying to understand: the Law of Non-Contradiction. The Law of Non-Contradiction says that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. Using our example above, if it is true that I have four children, then it cannot be true that I do not have four children at the same time and in the same manner.  Bachelors cannot be unmarried AND married at the same time. God cannot be both divine and not divine at the same time if we're using the word divine to mean the same thing.

You see, the Law of Non-Contradiction draws the line between true and false statements.  Look at the statement "Jesus is God."  It would make no sense to say "Jesus is God therefore Jesus cannot be divine."  Because of the Law of Identity above, we can see that this statement is really speaking nonsense.  Jesus either is God or He isn't. If He is God, then He's divine.  He can't be both divine and not-divine at the same time. 

The third law is known as the Law of Excluded Middle, and it simply means you have to choose a side.  Jesus is either divine or he isn't. Since the Law of Non-Contradiction says he cannot be both then when you have two contradictory statements, you cannot hold to both claims.  You must choose one and forfeit the other.

However, note that the Law of Non-Contradiction does specify that we must be talking about the same time and mean the same thing when we point to a claim as contradictory – and this is where most of our critics get into trouble.  The claim must be talking about the same time and the same manner or respect. If I travel to New York and pick up a post card for my wife, I'll write on the back "I'm in New York!" and drop it in the mail box.  If I fly home the next day, I'll beat that postcard to my home.  When my wife does receive the card, she's not going to say "this is a contradiction – you're right here!" It isn't contradictory since the statement was written when I actually was in New York.   Similarly, if I'm daydreaming about Tahiti while at my desk in Southern California, I may say "I'm not really here; I'm in Tahiti right now." Again, this isn't a contradiction since I'm using the words "not really here" to talk about a mental state, not a physical presence. So in order for something to be contradiction, it must hold to two opposing claims that mean the same thing at the same time.

References

1. Miller, Ed. L. Questions That Matter: An Invitation to Philosophy. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996. p.32

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bible Contradictions - Why Responding "Show Me Some" Doesn't Work

"What about all the contradictions in the Bible?" If you share your faith or even if your vocal about believing the Bible to be true, sooner or later you will hear this response. "How can you believe something that has so many contradictions in it?" The objection is designed to be a smokescreen, a showstopper. However, it shouldn't worry the Christian too much. You see, the Bible is in all probability the most scrutinized book in history. I know of no other written work that has been subjected to the sheer volume of critical examination as the Bible from supporters and detractors alike. Yet, the Bible has endured. The various mistakes that people claim for it are usually easy to answer and have been answered for many years.


One thing, though.  One must know how to answer the objection. In books and sermons, I've heard preachers talk about how to face this challenge. Usually, the advice they give is something along the lines of "If someone claims that there are too many contradictions in the Bible, you should hand them your Bible and say 'OK, show me some.' That's usually enough to stop them."

Now, there is some truth that this may catch the objector off guard. As I mentioned above, many times a person throws out this question to simply stop the conversation. They don't know any Bible contradictions; they've simply heard other say the same thing and they're parroting the question to play what they think is a trump card. So, when you ask them to point some out, you're just calling their bluff.

However, what if they're not bluffing? What if a person is really asking you to reconcile biblically-stated facts that seem to be in tension with each other? Maybe the objector isn't sincere in his desire to see the supposed contradiction solved, but what if others are also listening? What if they actually point out a couple of examples to you and hand you your Bible back—what do you do then?

You see, bluffing is fine if you're playing poker, but not for Christians sharing the most important message of life. It's not what the Bible itself commands us to do. As1 Peter 3:15 tells us, we always need to be ready to give a defense for our faith. Jesus did so when he was questioned by the skeptics of his day, the Sadducees. Luke 20 offers some clear examples of him doing so. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were called noble because they didn't take Paul's claims at face value, but checked them out. So we had better check our Bibles honestly before we go off and offer a smug answer to someone else. If we're merely throwing out the "show me some" statement, then we're guilty of the exact same stall tactic as the skeptic. Neither of us knows what we're talking about, we're just trying to block the other person's parry. But if they are informed and you don't know the subject matter, then you endanger your witness as well as your own reputation.

I'll be looking at the idea of so called biblical contradictions in the next few posts and the larger principles of how to treat passages that appear in tension.  I hope you'll join me so you can honestly answer the contradiction claim when it shows up.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Can Religion Offer a Better Answer than Science?

Internet memes, those single images overlaid with a quote or quip, are all popping up all over social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter. Some are funny, some make one reflect, but those hoping to prove a point can often be inadequate to the task.


One such meme that's becoming more frequent is the challenge New Atheist Sam Harris offered theists during his 2007 debate against Rabbi David Wolpe. Harris asked, "I would challenge anyone here to think of a question upon which we once had a scientific answer, however inadequate, but for which now the best answer is a religious one."1

Many people have read the challenge and chat boards are filled with comments from people who simply cannot think of a single question that qualifies. Some atheists have crowed about the inability of theists to do so.  Has history only gone from the religious to the scientific? Is there no question that can meet Sam Harris' charge?

Astronomer Robert Jastrow thought of one. Science had assumed that the universe had always existed. It was infinite and eternal. This was so ingrained into the scientific thinking of the day that Einstein adjusted the calculation of his General Theory of Relativity to only show a steady state universe.2After the Big Bang model was proposed, vehement arguments ensued about the whether the universe had a beginning. After its beginning was confirmed, Jastrow told Christianity Today "Astronomers now find they have painted themselves into a corner because they have proven, by their own methods, that the world began abruptly in an act of creation to which you can trace the seeds of every star, every planet, every living thing in this cosmos and on the earth. And they have found that all this happened as a product of forces they cannot hope to discover. That there are what I or anyone would call supernatural forces at work is now, I think, a scientifically proven fact."3

There you go.  Sam Harris' challenge is met. However, some may object to this answer, saying that it was actually science and not religion that proved the universe had a beginning. I would argue that point, but let's lay it aside for a moment. Is there another question that relies only on religiously-obtained knowledge to provide a better answer than science?

Let's try this one: "Can we clone a human being?"

A question like this really asks two things: it asks if humanity is capability of performing the task and it questions the prudence in performing it. For the first part, the cloning of large mammals from adult cells was not possible prior to the creation of Dolly the sheep in 1996. Through the discovery of somatic-cell nuclear transfer it became possible to clone sheep, monkeys, and even human beings. We didn't have the science, so the answer to "Can we clone a human being?" was "No, it's not scientifically possible." But now that it is possible4, we must turn to the second implication of the question, whether it is prudent to do so.

To answer to this part of the question, we find that science is woefully inadequate to the task. This is because science deals with the what, the why, and the how of natural processes. In other words, it only worries about function. It cannot deal with the questions that focus on the ought, the good, or the right. Science can tell us the best way to transplant a kidney is by using a living donor. However, it is totally impotent to tell us whether the living donor should be restricted to volunteers or enlarged to include, say, convicted murders who haven't given consent. This is a moral question, and such questions surround our scientific advances routinely.

Similarly, science says we can clone a human being. The possibility is there for science to use cloning as way to create spare parts for people, allowing for transplants that wouldn't be rejected.5But most nations have outlawed people even attempting to do so. The ability to clone humans is now not limited by the procedure, but by its moral implications and the concept of human worth and dignity. The answer to "Can I clone a human being?" is still "no" but the reasons for that answer are informed by religious values and not by scientific ones.

To decide to clone people on only the scientific response to this question would be barbaric. As Baruch Cohen explains, the Nazi experimented by freezing holocaust victims and the data they obtained is the only controlled scientific data we have on hypothermia.6But because it gives us scientific answers surely doesn't mean we should duplicate it.

It should be evident that science alone cannot answer all the questions humanity has.  It cannot even answer all the questions it raises though its own discoveries. Questions about God, the purpose of man, the ethics of cloning or transplantation, and even how we gather our scientific data must come from somewhere other than science. Religious and moral beliefs are necessary, not only because they can answer these questions, but because without them science can become a monster acting on whatever capability it discovers.

It isn't sceince but virtue that measures the enlightenment of a society.

References

1.Padilla, Steve. "Rabbi, atheist debate with passion, humor". Los Angeles Times. 12/29/2007.
<http://articles.latimes.com/2007/dec/29/local/me-beliefs29> Accessed 4/10/2013.
2.Dr. Sean M. Carroll writes that the Constant's "original role, to allow static homogeneous solutions to Einstein's equations in the presence of matter, turned out to be unnecessary when the expansion of the universe was discovered." See "The Cosmological Constant" by Sean M. Carroll  Living Reviews in Relativity.  Vol 4.(2001) 1. Accessed online at http://relativity.livingreviews.org/Articles/lrr-2001-1/fulltext.html 4/10/2013.
3."A Scientist Caught Between Two Faiths: Interview With Robert Jastrow," Christianity Today. August 6, 1982. Cited in Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jastrow Accessed 4/10/2013.
4."In November 2001, scientists from Advanced Cell Technologies (ACT), a biotechnology company in Massachusetts, announced that they had cloned the first human embryos for the purpose of advancing therapeutic research."
"Cloning Fact Sheet". Human Genome Project Information.
http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml Last modified 5/11/2009. Accessed 4/10/2013.
5."Scientists hope that one day therapeutic cloning can be used to generate tissues and organs for transplants. To do this, DNA would be extracted from the person in need of a transplant and inserted into an enucleated egg. After the egg containing the patient's DNA starts to divide, embryonic stem cells that can be transformed into any type of tissue would be harvested. " (Cloning Fact Sheet, 2009).
6.Cohen, Baruch C. "The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments". Jewish Law Articles.
<http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/NaziMedEx.html> Accessed 4/10/2013.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

What is Faith? A Proper Understanding

Photo courtesy Richard MacDonald.
What is faith? As I discuss issues like the existence of God I find that much of the time people have misunderstood the Christian concept of faith.  Bertrand Russell, the famous early 20th century atheist defined faith as, "the firm belief in something for which there is no evidence. Where there is evidence, no one speaks of 'faith.' We do not speak of faith that two and two are four or that the earth is round. We only speak of faith when we wish to substitute emotion for evidence."1 Sam Harris defines it this way: "Religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern."2 Both of these definitions miss the mark, erecting a straw man instead of a robust understanding of what faith is.

This misunderstanding is not limited to unbelievers, though; many Christians are also confused on what biblical faith means. They have an underdeveloped view of faith, assuming that it is some kind of trust without evidence or they think that faith is exclusively defined by a single Bible verse, like Hebrews 11:1. That verse reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  While the writer to the Hebrews was trying to give one aspect of what faith means, this verse is no more an exhaustive definition of faith than the statement "God is a consuming fire"—which is found in the following chapter—defines all aspects of who God is.

The Biblical Understanding of Faith

When you look at all the different ways faith is mentioned and expressed in the Bible, you'll find that faith in God encompasses three components: a proper understanding of the object of our faith, an assent or agreement with the claim of faith, and an exercise of trust that is the outworking of that assent.

First, in order to have faith, you must properly understand what it is you're asked to have faith in. The Christian no more believes in a cruel, vindictive God than the atheist does.  This is not the kind of God a Christian could have faith in. True faith in God means that one must at least understand what we mean when we say "God."  God has certain attributes and qualities.  Christians believe in an eternal God, a God from whom all goodness stems. The Christian God is not capricious, but unchanging, gracious, long-suffering and holy. If one doesn't understand these concepts, then the faith that one has would rightly be suspect. This is where many atheists go wrong.  They hold to an image of God that is inaccurate and they then reject that type of a God.

Beyond the mere understanding of the object of faith, the believer must give intellectual assent or agreement to the claims of faith. So, in our example, once you understand what the concept of God entails, then it is necessary for you to hold that such a being either exists or doesn't exist. Thus, faith is tied to belief. To have faith in God is to believe that He exists. But belief is not enough, for James said that even the demons believe in God and tremble!3To have faith means we must go beyond mere assent and exercise a level of trust in Him.  Trust is a necessary feature of faith.

The Evidence for Faith

All these components, understanding, assent, and trust, don't happen in a vacuum. We take the propositions we know to be true, such as everything that begins to exist has a cause, the universe shows evidence of design, for absolute moral values to exist they must originate from a moral lawgiver, and we use our reasoning ability to weigh them as evidence for the Christian God. We also have the internal witness of God and we have historical testimony such as the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. Because we have all of this, we can more easily place our trust in God as not only being real, but as one who is trustworthy to guide our lives. As J.P. Moreland states, "Belief in rests on belief that."

Even in Hebrews 11, this pattern shows itself. To clarify his definition of faith, the writer to the Hebrews follows up verse one with over thirty verses of examples of how God actually worked in the lives of those who had trusted Him in the past. He recounts how those in the past trusted God and their faith was rewarded, as they  "conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight."4He then says in the first verse of chapter twelve that these examples provide evidence for the faith that we should have. He exhorts the Christian, writing "since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us."5

Christian faith is not a leap in the dark.  The concept of "blind faith" is completely foreign to the Bible. Instead, when the Bible speaks of faith, it means a trust based on past history and evidence. Christianity has always grounded itself to a specific historical event, hanging the faith of its followers on the actuality of Christ's resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:14-19 Paul says that Christianity should be dismissed if the resurrection is not a reality. Therefore, it should be no surprise that the Christian view of faith is more measured and rational that others may have you believe.

References

1. Bertrand Russell as quoted in Introducing Philosophy of Religion by Chad Meister.
(New York: Routledge, 2009). 158.
2. Harris, Sam. The End of Faith.
(New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 2004). 65.
3. James 2:19. ESV.
4. Hebrews 11:34-35. ESV.
5. Hebfrrews 12:1.ESV.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Why the Christian Church is Marginalized

I've talked before about the problems in the Christian church, namely that too many churches don't stand up for the truth. They feel that hey must not make waves with the culture at large, lest they be deemed 'intolerant "and repel even more followers. Some have said that this is especially true if we want to keep our young people engaged.


I don't believe a word of this. In our relativistic age, young people desire meaning and truth much more than they want complacency. This has bee true even in times of greatest generational change.  Rather than quote from some evangelical pastor or bloggers who have written on this point, I would like to draw your attention to an excerpt from Martin Luther King's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail." As I wrote previously, King was hoping that the white Christian Church would have enough of the Spirit to stand up to the immorality of the popular opinion of his day. In these paragraphs, King almost prophetically decries the contemporary church and sees its future marginalization.
"There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
"But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust."
For a more thorough look at how much the world has gotten into the church, see this five part YouTube presentation.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Thank God it's Friday - Really!

T.G.I.F. everybody! Today is Friday and you're likely to see those four letters popping up on coworkers' lips and Facebook status posts throughout the day.  We've heard the expression so often it requires no translation anymore. Thank God it's Friday! I get the sentiment.  The pressures of the workplace and our obligations to an employer (or to the customer if you are the employer) are suspended and our time is now our own.  Usually, this means we have leisure time, time for fun.

Courtesy Jatayou
Because we are so accustomed to the modern construct of a five day work week, it's easy to forget that humanity hasn't enjoyed such luxury for most of its history. Even the concept of dividing time into seven days is a unique concept.  It doesn't really fit neatly into the 30/31 day month nor the 365 day year.

The real origin of the seven day week along with the cycle of work and rest is found in the Bible. In Exodus, God uses the six days of creation and seventh day of rest as a model for the Jews to follow. Because the Jewish Sabbath occurred every seven days, it became natural for the Jews to mark their calendars in this fashion. Eviatar Zerubave  dubbed it "a distinctively Jewish contribution to civilization."1 While the 24 hour day, the month, and the year all have their beginnings in astrological markings of time, the seven day week doesn't seem to fit.  It is roughly equivalent to the lunar cycle, (the moon will become full every 29-1/2 days or so), but its origins lie outside of astrological observance. Zerubave writes, "One of the most distinctive features of the week is the fact that it is entirely disassociated from the lunar cycle. It is defined as a precise multiple of the day, quite independently of the lunar month." 2

This concept of scheduling a regular time of rest during the week was unique in the ancient world. Most other societies thought it strange that the Jews required a day of no work. The Romans even said the Jews were simply being lazy. Augustine notes that the Roman philosopher Seneca would complain that the Jews "lose through idleness about the seventh part of their life, and also many things which demand immediate attention are damaged."3 It seems that the 21st century always-on-call mentality isn't as new as we may think!

Because the pattern of a day of rest was set by the Jews, it became customary for the Christians to gather on Sunday in remembrance of the Lord's resurrection, the day after their Sabbath observances. Sunday became the primary day of rest after Constantine issued a proclamation in 321 AD that solidified it as such for the Christian and pagan alike. Because Constantine was a politician, he avoided tying the rest day to the celebration of the resurrection. His motive to have a regular weekly day of rest and the choice of Sunday for that day were no doubt a result of his Christian conversion.4
In his article on the origin and meaning of the weekend, Witold Rybczynski writes that the word "weekend" first appeared in an 1879 issue of the English magazine Notes and Queries. Quoting the Oxford English Dictionary,  he writes, "'In Staffordshire, if a person leaves home at the end of his week's work on the Saturday afternoon to spend the evening of Saturday and the following Sunday with friends at a distance,' the magazine citation goes, 'he is said to be spending his week-end at So-and-so.' This is obviously a definition, which suggests that the word had only recently come into use."5

Rybczynski goes on to report that in the U.S. "the first factory to adopt a five-day week was a New England spinning mill, in 1908, expressly to accommodate its Jewish workers. The six-day week had always made it hard for Jews to observe the Sabbath, for if they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday, they risked offending the Christian majority. Moreover, as work patterns became increasingly formalized through union agreements, many Jews did not even have a choice, a state of affairs that threatened the Sabbath tradition. The five-day week—in which both Sunday and Saturday were holidays—offered a convenient way out, and it came to be supported by Jewish workers, rabbis, and community leaders, and some Jewish employers."6 While few industries followed this lead initially, it was ultimately adopted throughout the country when the Great Depression hit, simply as a way of reducing the number of work hours (and thus reducing the amount of pay) for a company's employees.7

So our two glorious days free from work to fill with our leisure time. Or perhaps we should also take a moment and use that time to thank God for the model of work and rest that He gave us. Maybe we should really thank God it's Friday, because without the Biblical tradition, the weekend would look a whole lot less appealing.

References

1. Zerubave, Eviatar. The Seven Day Circle: The History and Meaning of the Week.
(Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985.) 9.
2. Zerubave,Ibid.
3. Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book 6, chapter 11. Accessed online at <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/120106.htm>
4. See Philip Schaff's explanation in History of the Christian Church, Vol II: From Constantine the Great to Gregory the Great, A.D. 311-600. (New York: Charles Scribner & Co., 1867). 379-380.   

5. Rybczynski, Witold. "Waiting for the Weekend". The Atlantic Monthly. August 1991. Accessed online at <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/91aug/rybczynski-p1.htm> 4/5/2013.
6. Rybczynski, Ibid.
7. Rybczynski, Ibid.
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