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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, July 31, 2013

Three Signs of Religious Cults - Offering a New Revelation

We are currently looking at three signs of a religious cult of Christianity– that is a religious sect claiming to be based on the teaching of Jesus but one that in reality promotes heretical doctrines. My last post talked about the fact that many of these cults have a charismatic leader who claims to have the "inside track" on God's truth. They claim that all of Christianity has been corrupted, mistaken, or duped by its hierarchy and only they can set things right again.

Today, I'd like to look at the second sign of a cult—a new revelation from God that becomes the authoritative source for understanding Him and His word. This is a natural corollary to the first sign. Since these sects claim that historic Christianity has been duped, they need to provide their followers with some type of new filter or new revelation in order to "set things right" again. Sometimes, this appears as an entire new set of Scriptures. Joseph Smith offered his Book of Mormon as "another testament of Jesus Christ" Smith claimed it is "the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."1 Along with the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, Smith offered an entirely new set of scriptures to his followers. He claimed that the Bible text had been lost or changed,2 and he took it upon himself to provide a new translation, a project he did not finish before his death.

Many other sects rely on the bible as the source of scripture, but make the claim that one cannot understand the truths therein without their special insight. Mary Baker Eddy produced Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures claiming to have "rediscovered the healing principle of Jesus and his disciples, lost since the early Christian era."3

The Jehovah's Witnesses continue to make this claim with their production of The Watchtower and Awake! magazines. In fact, the September 15 1910 edition of the Watchtower made this famous claim:
"If the six volumes of Scripture Studies are practically the Bible, topically arranged with Bible proof texts given, we might not improperly name them the Bible in arranged form. That is to say, they are not merely comments on the Bible but they are practically the Bible itself… people cannot see the divine plan in studying the Bible by itself, we see that if anyone lays the Scripture Studies aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone.. within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he has read the Scripture Studies with their references, and has not read a page of the Bible, as such, he would be in the light after two years, because he would have the light of the scriptures."4

If it's new, it's not true.

When the Apostle Paul heard that the church he planted in Galatia was falling for one of these charming preachers teaching a new doctrine, he wrote them a letter and made his concerns known in no uncertain terms:
"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed!" (Gal 1:6-9)
Paul uses the strongest language possible to say that the idea of new doctrine, no matter the source, is not really something new, but something false! He says that such teachers should be accursed, using a term reserved for those to whom the most severe judgments apply.

Ultimately, this concept of a new scripture or a new interpretive scheme is a big red flag that what these sects offer is not to be followed. Jesus said that scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) and even the gates of hell could not prevail against His true church (Matt. 16:18). So why should we believe that His teachings have been lost? If the claims of these new revelators are true, then they contradict Jesus Himself!

Peter tells us that "no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." He then warns that "there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Pet. 1:20-2:1). Cults deny Jesus by denying His word is sufficient in itself. Such denials do not lead to life but to the destruction of those who would hold them.


1. "Introduction." The Book of Mormon. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Accessed online at on 7/31/2013
2. "The Scriptures Are Available to Us Today." Gospel Principles, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 2011). 44-46. Accessed online at
3. Martin, Walter. The Kingdom of the Cults. (Minneapolis:Bethany House Pub. 1997) 264.
4. Martin, Ibid. 87

Monday, July 29, 2013

Three Signs of Religious Cults - God's Inside Guy

Since its inception, Christianity has had those individuals who sought to change its core teachings to fit some other model. Even during His sermon on the mount, Jesus warned, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits (Matt.7:15)." Paul warned Timothy  of false teachers in 1 Timothy 1:3 and Peter warned the churches about false prophets in 1 Peter 2, saying that their false teaching would "secretly bring in destructive heresies" (1 Pet. 2:1).

Today, there are more groups than ever claiming to follow the real teachings of Jesus. Some claim that Jesus' teachings have been forgotten or corrupted and they have come to restore the true faith. Could this be? How can someone quickly and accurately identify false sects from true ones? Are there markers to identify these ‘ravenous wolves' who seek to devour the people?

 False religious sects that claim Christian teachings seem to follow a pattern that has three common traits:
  1. They have a charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.
  2. They offer some type of heretofore "secret" or exclusive revelation now being made public.
  3. They deny one or more of the essential doctrines (nature of God, nature of Christ, atonement, way of salvation, Christ's promised coming) that have always identified Christianity.
Over the next three posts, I'd like to look at each one of these in turn and see how they compare to those religious movements that claim to be the true revelation of Jesus and the Christian faith.

#1—A charismatic leader who claims to have unique authority to speak on God's behalf.

The first sign of a false sect is each has a leader who teaches with a bold authority, claiming to have the authority to speak on God's behalf. Mormon founder Joseph Smith claimed to be a prophet from God and said that all Christian denominations were wrong and "all their creeds were an abomination in his sight." The Christian Science church says that its founder, Mary Baker Eddy, "saw herself as having discovered the spiritual science behind Jesus' healing works." In 1917, the Watchtower magazine claimed that Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah's Witnesses movement, was the "faithful and discreet slave" that is spoken of in Jesus' parable in Matthew 24.  The Watchtower organization continues to claim only they fulfill this role even to this day.

The idea of God revealing some new doctrine to a single individual is antithetical to the New Testament.  Paul warns Timothy of this sign in 1 Timothy 1:6-7 when he writes, "Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions ." Notice how Paul describes these leaders as making confident assertions, but they really have no understanding.

In his first epistle, John writes, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.  And these things we write to you that your joy may be full." Here, John says that he and the other writers of the New Testament were reporting eyewitness events. John and Matthew were eyewitnesses themselves while Mark and Luke reported the eyewitness testimony of others. Paul claims to get his instruction from Jesus directly also (Gal. 1:6) and his writings are confirmed as authoritative by Peter (2 Pet. 3:15-16).

The model displayed in the New Testament contrasts that of the single person providing a new revelation. As the church is forming, we don't see one man independently claim to have God's "inside track", but the apostles as a group were given authority by Jesus to teach others about Him.  Jesus promised this very authority and insight to the apostles when He told them:

"However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you." (John 16:12-15)

Jesus said the Holy Spirit will come upon all the apostles so they can authoritatively teach on Jesus' behalf. Even when matters of discernment or controversy come, we never see only one man proclaim a new teaching from God, but the apostles gather together, as in Acts 15, to discuss the matter and bring forth a full consensus.

The sign of one man claiming some unique revelation from God heretofore undiscovered is a clear hallmark of one who doesn't have the truth. The believers in Galatia fell for such a charismatic speaker, an action that made Paul write to them using the strongest possible language: "As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed" (Gal 1:9).

The essentials of Christianity are well-established. Anyone, no matter how charming or persuasive, who asks you to believe something different is distorting the teachings of the Bible and is leading others to death rather than to eternal life.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jesus or Skeptic? The New York Times Gets Confused

Adam Grant seems like a pretty smart guy. According to his CV, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors, Phi Beta Kappa honors, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. He is a professor at Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania and he's written a best-selling book. Grant's writings have also been features in the New York Times. In fact, his most recent piece, entitled "Why Men Need Women," just ran last Sunday—prime time in newspaper circles.

Certainly, an academic of this caliber knows how to properly cite his sources. But as smart as Professor Grant may seem, he made an egregious error in his Times piece. In discussing how Mary Gates, Bill Gates' mother, had inspired both him and his wife, Grant wrote:
"Mary read a letter aloud that she had written to Melinda about marriage. Her concluding message was reminiscent of the Voltaire (or Spiderman) mantra that great power implies great responsibility: ‘From those to whom much is given, much is expected.'"[1]
It's a great thought. Grant obviously thought it was powerful enough to include in his story. But, he's woefully confused on the origin of the teaching. The quote originates not with Mary Gates, Stan Lee, or Voltaire, but with Jesus Christ! The quote is taken from Luke 12:48 which reads in part "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more" (ESV).

Grant seems to be truly ignorant of the origin of Mrs. Gates' quote, instead attributing the idea to a much weaker concept that Voltaire helped popularize. How could an academic miss this? And how could the New York Times editors miss this? Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson claimed that rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing are "a fundamental part of our job as journalists."[2] I realize that one cannot source every quote by every individual, but we are talking about misattributing a quote from the man who changed the course of humanity more than any other in history!

The truth is that both an academic and the editors at The Times missed this is because there is a much more pervasive dearth of religious knowledge in our culture, especially in the news media. There have been books written on it. The folks at The Media Project continue to sound alarms over it. But, The Times and other mainstream news outlets continue to be willfully blind on the question of religion. They seem to be falling for the classic blunder, the one that thinks, "because religion isn't important to me, it really isn't important at all."

Of course, Jesus' teaching was important enough to Mary Gates that she would quote it. That same teaching then influenced Bill and Melinda Gates to give incredible amounts to charity. To me, that seems important. Perhaps The Times could hire someone with a little working knowledge with Jesus and His sayings, just in case they make a lasting mark on our society.


1. Grant, Adam. "Why Men Need Women." New York Times. July 21, 2013, page SR1. Accessed online at
2. Brisbane, Aurthur. "Update to my Previous Post on Truth Vigilantes." New York Times. Accessed 7/24/2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Seeing Jesus as an Intellect

Who is Jesus? The question has been around as long as Jesus has! From the time that Jesus began ministering; people have been asking "Who is this man?" Jesus is portrayed many ways in the Bible. Some of His titles in the Bible include:
  • Savior
  • Messiah
  • The Lamb of God
  • The Light of the World
  • The Second Adam
  • The Son of God
  • The Word made flesh
  • Lord of Lords
  • King of kings
Of course, people continue to try and add dimensions to Jesus that they find relevant. Recent book titles that invoke Jesus include Jesus: CEO, Jesus is my Superhero, Jesus the Prophet of Allah, Jesus the Rebel, Jesus the Outlaw, and The Good Man Jesus & the Scoundrel Christ. These are simply examples of people trying to see Jesus as a reflection of their highest ideals; even the former head of the Soviet Union,Mikhail Gorbachev, called Jesus "the first socialist"![1] Obviously, people view Jesus through the lens of their assumptions and what they want Him to be.

Do Christians miss aspects of who Jesus is by our assumptions?

Even Christians who seek to properly understand Jesus can overlook aspects of who Jesus is because of their preconceptions. If I gave 100 people a blank sheet of paper and asked them to write their top ten attributes of Jesus, I would get many answers. I'm sure several would repeat some of the titles I've listed above. But I doubt that I would get one "Jesus is an intellectual" or Jesus is a master logician". The concept of Jesus as a logician is not any stranger than Jesus as a master carpenter, Jesus as teacher, Jesus as CEO, yet we never seem to equate Jesus with intelligence.

Why not?

Jesus relates to the Intellectual

Simply put, the modern church has not placed a sufficient value on intelligence as a necessary means for worshiping God. We tend to divorce concepts of faith and rational thought. Faith is seen as "spiritual" while knowledge is seen as "worldly." We believe Jesus was sinless and a champion of the downtrodden and we seek to do likewise. But Jesus also commanded us to love our God with all our minds (Luke 10:27) and He modeled this when He engaged with those who would question His actions.

USC professor of Philosophy Dallas Willard captures the idea of this concept well when he says:
"In our culture and among Christians as well, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with words such as "well-informed," "brilliant," or "smart."[2]
Dallas Willard goes on to write:
"Often, it seems to me, we see and hear his deeds and words, but we don't think of him as one who knew how to do what he did or who really had logical insight into the things he said. We don't automatically think of him as a very competent person. He multiplied the loaves and fishes and walked on water, for example--but, perhaps, he didn't know how to do it, he just used mindless incantations or prayers. Or he taught on how to be a really good person, but he did not have moral insight and understanding. He just mindlessly rattled off words that were piped in to him and through him. Really?"[3]
But can we seriously imagine that Jesus could be Lord if He were not smart? If He were divine, would He be dumb? Or uninformed?  Once you stop to think about it, how could Jesus be what Christians take Him to be in other respects and not be the best informed and most intelligent person of all: the smartest person who ever lived, bringing us the best information on the most important subjects.

In fact, John's gospel starts by identifying Jesus as the "Logos." Many Bibles translate that a "word" but the implication of Logos is not merely a word but an intelligent, rational thought. Logos is the root of our word logic and Jesus as the Logos is the embodiment of logic.  He used is throughout His ministry. His aim in utilizing logic was not to win battles, but to achieve understanding or insight in His audience, so He'd challenge the woman at the well or have the twelve disciples pick up twelve baskets of leftovers after He fed 5,000, trying to help them draw conclusions from His actions. (He even chided the disciples for not doing so.)

The church today needs to begin seeing this missing aspect of Jesus' nature. We complain and lament that our institutions of higher learning have kicked God out of the classroom, but has the church kicked the professor out of the pew? Do we never offer any kind of vigorous intellectual message so a PhD could look forward to church as a time of intellectual stimulation? Do we water down our messages so much that we never seek to stretch our congregations even just a bit, to make them a little bit smarter? Do we believe that Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived? And will we seek to love God with all of our minds as well as with our hearts, all our souls and all our strength?

For more on this topic, see: Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived.


1. Haberman, Clive. "Israel Welcomes Gorbachev as a Hero". The New York Times. June 16, 1992. <> Accessed 7/22/2013.

2. Willard, Dallas. "Jesus the Logician". <> Accessed: 7/22/2013

3. Ibid.

Friday, July 19, 2013

God and Our Technology

Does God care about our technology? Of course He does!  When God first created man, Genesis 2:15 tells us "The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it." Of this Keil writes, "Man was placed there to lead a life of repose, not indeed of inactivity, but in fulfillment of the course that was assigned to him."1 The idea of human beings tending and bringing out the best of God's creation has always been a part of God's plan, even before the fall.

Tending and keeping also includes learning about the creation so we can produce better and better results for everyone. That's really what our modern day technology does, when used rightly. We can marvel at the complexity and consistency of God's created order and harness that knowledge for the betterment of people and the world as a whole. Technology, when used rightly, should always bring glory to God.

However, many times we corrupt technology and use it to glorify ourselves or to serve our selfish desires. Below is a clip from Dr. Walt Russell that perfectly illustrates the point. During a recent theology class at Harvest Christian Fellowship, Dr. Russell gave a great object lesson on how instead of thanking God for the technological advances he allows us to discover, we turn technology into an idol. For the full series of talks, visit


1. Keil, C.F and F. Delitezsch.Commentary on Old Testament. (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans Pub., 1991. 84.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Who Should Be Able to Speak in the Abortion Debate?

During her filibuster to try and stop the Texas abortion bill that was just signed into law, Texas state Senator Wendy Davis said, "This legislating is being done and voted on—look around the room—primarily by men." In making that statement, Davis invoked an argument that has been used many times in the abortion debate: that since men cannot get pregnant they lack the real knowledge of what abortion means for women. A blogger at the Abortion Gang web site makes the same claim even more clearly when she writes:
"I want to silence all the male voices in the abortion discussion… In fact, the majority of persons in government who are anti-choice, are men. And none of them can get pregnant. The people who are making decisions that affect the lives of women, CAN'T EVEN GET PREGNANT! And so, I want to silence the voices of all men." (Emphasis in the original.)
The interesting thing, though, was that the Davis clip was featured on Rachel Maddow's news talk show on MSNBC. If you don't know, Maddow is an open lesbian who says she's in a committed relationship with her partner, Susan Mikula. So, other than spending a lot of money on insemination treatments, Maddow has the exact same chance of getting pregnant as any man in the Texas state government: none at all. Yet, Maddow felt she was quite in the right to discuss the issue and lead with this argument by Davis.

If pro-abortion supporters like Davis and the Abortion Gang are going to argue that the opinion of someone who cannot get pregnant should count less than those who can, then thy should be consistent and ban lesbians from the debate. In fact, they should have no infertile women or post-menopausal women speak to the issue, either.

It is clear that a standard such as the ability to get pregnant falls woefully short of a good argument in whether such a bill as was before the Texas representatives should be passed. Davis knows this and she was hoping to trade on people's emotions rather than making real arguments. Maddow seems to have bought it, even though her actions in engaging with the debate directly contradict the point that Davis implies. Such contradictions are worthy to be ignored.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Atheists, Pink Unicorns, and God

I've written before about atheist Internet memes, these static images with a slogan or question are meant to quickly prove the atheists' point that belief in God is just so ridiculous it can be this easily disproven. But such attempts usually backfire, showing the poster as the one who really doesn't know the arguments in question, or even the subject matter of the meme itself.

I stumbled across one just the other day that truly underscores my point. A group of atheists who manage a couple of pages on Facebook page look to be responsible for the image to your right. The meme is meant to answer the Christian demand that if atheists want to state a proposition like "God does not exist" or "God is a fictitious being" then they should be able to provide arguments and evidence for their position.

Many atheists have responded to the demand by saying that one cannot prove a universal negative. They say it's like trying to prove that invisible pink unicorns don't exist. As the meme says "prove to me the Invisible Pink Unicorn doesn't exist and I'll use your method."

OK, let's give this a try:
  1. The property of color is defined as a visible property.
  2. An object that has a visible property must be at least visible in that property.
  3. An invisible object is defined as an object that is not visible (e.g. lacking any visible property.)
  4. The Invisible Pink Unicorn has the property of color (namely the color pink.)
  5. The Invisible Pink Unicorn lacks any visible property.
  6. Therefore, The Invisible Pink Unicorn is visible (from 1,2 and 4)
  7. Therefore, The Invisible Pink Unicorn is not visible (from 3 and 5)
As my argument shows, belief in an invisible pink unicorn requires believing in a contradiction, that it is visible and invisible at the same time. Any belief that entails a contradictory belief cannot possibly be true, so this serves as definitive proof that invisible pink unicorns cannot exist anywhere. This means that one can prove a universal negative; it is impossible for an invisible pink unicorn to be real.

So, now the burden rests on the atheist to disprove God in like manner. Remember, the meme says if I prove it, they will use my method. Now, of course many will try to offer arguments that are either invalid or unsound. But offering just any argument doesn't do the trick. A sound argument must support its conclusion with its premises, just as I did above. I made sure I defined my terms and I didn't make any leaps in assumption when laying out my premises. Therefore, my conclusion necessarily follows.

I was able to show that a universal negative can be proven and I was able to meet the atheists' challenge. What are the odds that they will give a serious attempt to actually act on their words and use my method?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Great God Debate: Does God Exist? Esposito vs Carrier

Does God Exist? Philosophers and theologians have written volumes on this topic, but it has become especially significant in our modern world. Can we prove that God exists? And what are the implications if God doesn't exist? Listen to this lively exchange between Lenny Esposito and atheist Richard Carrier recorded before a packed house at the University of California Riverside.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Should We Separate Religious Beliefs from the Law?

Before we start, realize that I am not going to debate the merits for or against Colorado's recent legislation, as it has no bearing on my topic. So, no matter what your position on that issue, you can rest easy and keep reading. I only offer that disclaimer because it has direct bearing on the topic I do address below.

William Kinne is a graduate student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, He identifies as a Christian, and he supports Colorado's legislation for same-sex unions. In a recent Op-Ed piece he was quoted saying, "I think it's a civil-rights issue. I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law." His wife Rachel disagrees, stating: "I believe we [should] vote based on our moral beliefs."1

Kinne's response is as worrisome as it is common today. It shows how fragmented and compartmentalized our modern society has become, and how sloganeering has replaced clear-thinking on some very important issues. Especially troublesome is the contradictory nature of his statements. Can one separate his religious beliefs from the law? Should one do so? Really, one doesn't have to spend a lot of time thinking about these issues to see where the flaws in Kinne's statements appear.

First of all, what is religion? Today, many people would say it is what one believes about the existence of God and how that person should worship. It is a private belief that gives comfort and structure to the life on an individual, and each individual will seek out the comfort and structure that best works for him or her. In other words, religion is a pragmatic approach that affects one's individual actions or perhaps the actions of a like-minded group but doesn't really affect the wider world. But this is a relatively recent understanding of what religion is.2 Religious belief encompasses much more than the personal aspects of faith. Religion deals with concepts like why we exist, why there is something rather than nothing, what is right and wrong for all people; basically, any religious system has ultimate realities at its core.

But a great many of our laws are simply a reflection of our beliefs about ultimate realities. For example, we believe that human beings are valuable in and of themselves, so our society passes laws against killing or against discriminating on the basis of race. We value the truth so laws against slander or perjury are passed. While there are tax laws and other procedural legislation, moral values are the foundation for the laws that protect us. These laws reflect our understanding that human beings are intrinsically valuable.

When we talk about concepts like value, we are talking about something the Germans called a Weltanschauung or what is known as a worldview. But one cannot separate religion from worldview like Kinne hopes because religion plays a central role in informing one's worldview. Philosopher Brendan Sweetman notes, "Every time we make a moral judgment, or make a claim about the nature of reality, or about what sort of beings human beings are, or about whether God exists, or about the nature of the good life, or about which political system is best, or about whether a law should be passed regarding such and such, we are appealing to our worldview."3

Sweetman classifies worldviews into broadly religious and secular types.4 An irreligious person would have a secular worldview while a religious person would have a religious one. However, one cannot have a secular AND a religious worldview. Whether or not God exists is a worldview question and to say he does and he doesn't is hopelessly confused. Similarly, if one believes in Christianity then one would hold that moral values are grounded in God. Laws should then be a reflection of one's understanding of how God would have us treat one another. To make a claim that "I'm a Christian, but I justify it by separating my religious beliefs from the law" is contradictory.

I think we need Christians to challenge this mistaken concept of religion as only a private matter. Perhaps we should question those who would object to religion informing the law as to what they base their ideas of morality and equality. Do they truly believe that all men are created equal? Why? By centering our discussion on worldview instead of faith, we may be able to get farther and help others understand how all ones beliefs should work together to form a consistent whole. A consistent view is to be preferred over a cloistered one, and I've found no worldview more consistent than Christianity.


1. Brownstein, Ronald "Danger Ahead for Democrats: The Passion Gap."
July 11, 2013. <> Accessed July 13, 2013.
2. The early 20th century French sociologist Emile Durkin defined religion as "a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, i.e., things set apart and forbidden--beliefs and practices which unite in one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them." The Encyclopedia of Religion and Society classifies such views as "functional definitions". For more on this, see their entry "Definition of Religion" at
3. Sweetman, Brendan. Why Politics Needs Religion: The Place of Religious Arguments in the Public Square. Downers Grove, IL.: IVP Academic, 2006. 17.
4. Ibid.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

CSI has Nothing on Cold-Case Christianity

Crime dramas are one of the longest-running genres in television. From Perry Mason to Dragnet to CSI, people have consistently tuned in to see how clever detective work can uncover the truth about the facts in the case, sometimes even showing guilt on a very likable character. Former cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace has taken all the drama of these whodunits and created a new apologetics book entitled Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels that is just as engaging as any television show, perhaps more so given that his investigation focuses on the question "Did Jesus really rise from the dead?" The fact that this is a real historical question with the most profound implications makes this book more interesting than any fictionalized television show.

Cold-Case Christianity is at once accessible; each chapter begins with an anecdote drawn from Wallace's 23 year law enforcement career, and then uses that example to show how one discerns the truth from the facts at hand. The chapters are short and only deal with one topic at a time, which is perfect for a 21st century audience more accustomed to Twitter than treaties. Each point is reinforced in a sidebar and the illustrations make it that much easier to grasp.

Wallace builds his case by using the first ten chapters explaining how rules of evidence work, then in the last half he turns his attention to the New Testament and applies these rules as strictly as he would to any homicide case. Not only are his results convincing, but the journey is fun, which is not an adjective normally used in describing apologetics books.

Because Wallace also holds a seminary degree and has served as a youth pastor, his application of the material hits all the right notes: there are no theological gaffaws. His apologetic approach is sound and he has familiarized himself with the leaders in the field to know how to put forth the most current and convincing arguments.

Cold-Case Christianity is simply a joy to read and it would be one of the first titles I would recommend to individuals or small groups who haven't had a lot of exposure to the arguments in defense of the Christian faith. I'd also suggest that seasoned defenders read the book so they can learn how to better communicate the truths of the Gospel in a compelling way. As the culture continues to make the false dichotomy of faith versus reason, this book stands to show how one can use reason and evidence to support one's faith.

The detective has found the evidence to show that each of us can be freed from the guilt of our sin. Why wouldn't you grab it?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

J.P. Moreland to Young Christians: "Don't let anybody bully you"

Dr. J.P. Moreland recently gave a talk on why he doubts the neo-Darwinian model of all life arising from purposeless natural processes. I highly recommend the video. At the end of the talk he offered these words of encouragement to young Christians who may not be steeped in apologetics arguments:
"Don't let anybody bully you. I meet Christians all the time who think all the smart people are on the other side. That's not true. And if you don't know how to defend your faith, that's OK; we've got people who do. And we're community; we don't all have to know how. Because we have different roles to play. But we have people in our community who are as smart as the people on the other side and we know what we're talking about. You don't need to let anybody bully you because what the Scriptures teach at the end of the day makes sense and they're reasonable and we have nothing to be ashamed of in believing in the Creator God that we believe in."
J.P. is right. We have very smart people with incredibly strong arguments who are able to show the Christian worldview is at least as reasonable as modern secular viewpoints, if not more so. I know that there is a vast amount of data one must sift through in order to truly understand the points in question, but all Christians should be aware that we do have the goods, and they can walk confidently knowing that Christianity is an intelligent faith.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Authority Matters

One of my favorite John Mayer songs is his breakout hit "No Such Thing." However, its lyrics are indicative of an increasingly acute problem in our culture: the elevation of self above any authority structure. Mayer sings "They love to tell you stay inside the lines, but something's better on the other side." Is that true?

If you think about it, everyone looks to find a source of authority for the actions and decisions of his or her life. Authority is the natural starting point when seeking to understand how anything works. When we drive, we should obey the traffic signs because they are placed by an authority that has the power to control traffic for the public's safety. The authority has the knowledge to know how fast you can corner a turn before your tires lose their grip. An authority can also offer us safety: if one ignores the authority of a stop sign, the intersection may not hold something better of the other side, but disaster!

So, one can say appropriate authorities offer each of us at least two important elements in life: instruction and safety. I use the word "appropriate" because while there may be a lot of claims to authority, there should be some basic things that qualify a source as an appropriate authority. An authority should have some degree of expertise in whatever sphere he claims to have authority over. If we are also talking about authority as a governing institution, then the authority should be vested with the power to do things such as make laws or post traffic signs.

Don Thorsen writes, "Authority pertains to the right and power to command and be obeyed."[1] This is a good definition. If I went outside my house and posted my hand-painted speed limit sign, people would most likely ignore it because I have neither the right nor the power to override the city laws.

This idea of authority becomes even more important when we look at moral laws. In matters such as life and how one should live, the ultimate authority resides in God. God has the right to command us by virtue of His being the Creator of the universe generally and the creator of mankind specifically. In Romans 1:18-22, Paul argues that through His creation God has given us a witness to Himself as creator and because of that all men are obligated to worship and obey Him. Paul also pointed to God as creator of all mankind when he addressed the Athenians (Acts 17:24) and said that they should "seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us."

If God is the Creator, then he would have the definitive knowledge of how the world works and He would have the proper right to set down guidelines for how his creation should behave. God would have the right of authority. Of course, if God is the creator, he also demonstrates his power to control his creation. As the author of life (Gen. 2:7, Ecc. 12:7), God has the power to give life and take it, and can do so with impunity.

Many times when I talk about things of God with people, they will say things like "I cannot believe in a God who would do thus and so." But such statements are akin to posting your own speed limit sign on your street. Just because you want to drive faster doesn't mean that you should ignore the sign or that it isn't there for reasons to make everyone safer. There is a real world out there, and dismissing it can lead to painful consequences.


[1] Thorsen, Don. An Exploration of Christian Theology. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Pub. 2008).27.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Defining Morality: Objective Morals Must Be Grounded in God

Last time, we looked at the three main concepts of morality offered today. In that post, I showed why neither the emotive definition nor the subjective definition can properly ground moral values since neither provides a prescription for the way people ought to behave, but only expresses the opinion of the holder. Even if the holder of a moral view is the community at large, it doesn't follow that the community opinion is the moral one. (See my post "Relativism sinks into the quicksand of meaningless morality" for more.)

I'd like to now look at the last definition of morality, that morality is objectively discerned from a source outside of us. If morality is objective, it means that we can hold opinions on moral issues that are wrong; moral duties and values are prescriptive, and they tell us what we should do rather than merely describing what we are doing or what we're most likely to do. This view is also called moral realism, because it holds that moral facts are real and they can be true independent of one's beliefs. Indeed, under moral realism, a moral statement can be true even if no one believes that it is.

However, between those who hold to an objective moral framework, there is still a significant disagreement on where those moral duties and values are rooted. The Christian worldview holds that moral values and duties are binding on the individual simply because these things have the property of being good and right. We are created by a good and righteous God who wishes us to be morally upright, and we are morally aware. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to behave in a morally upright manner. Rightness and wrongness are rooted in God's nature; they are independent of our whims or opinions. This idea doesn't yet account for how we know certain things to be right or wrong, which is a topic that I'll examine in a later post.  But it does say that morality is objective and transcends human opinion.

Others, such as naturalists, offer that morality is rooted in the way the world works. That is, they hold that morality is simply describing actions that allow human beings to thrive. If people were to be more selfish or less altruistic then we as a species would not do as well. They argue that values like cooperation and empathy give human beings an advantage in a hostile world and since that advantage falls outside of only human opinion, this qualifies as an objective morality.

There are several problems with this view of morality, though. First, it isn't clear at all how certain moral constraints actually work in such a view.  I've offered an example in the past of seeking to euthanize felons sitting on death row in order to harvest their organs. The inmate is sentenced to die anyway and the organs can possibly go to someone who can greatly benefit the society. Beyond this, the government is spared from spending all that money housing the inmate.

Secondly, an idea such as the equality of all human beings doesn't naturally follow from such a view. Certainly, there are incredible differences in the aptitude of each person. If the Darwinian view of natural selection is to hold, then the weaker humans must give way to the stronger, fitter ones. To protect the weaker is to actually inhibit the advancement of the species, as the proponents of the eugenics movement argued a century ago. Darwinian natural selection only works when the best of any species is allowed to overtake (e.g. leave the most offspring") its competitors. Certainly, the only true competitor to a Nietzschean superman is the common man who completes with him for resources.  I think that Michael Ruse got it right when they said that "morality simply does not work (from a biological perspective), unless we believe that it is objective.  Darwinian theory shows that, in fact, morality is a function of (subjective) feelings but it shows also that we have (and must have) the illusion of objectivity."[1]

Lastly, it seems to me that in assuming human flourishing is itself an intrinsic good, the naturalist is actually begging the question. He assumes that good exists in stating that human beings should be able to flourish, and then argues that these steps will lead to that end. But why should one assume that the universe is ordered in a way to desire human flourishing if God is not at the center of it? If the laws of nature are all there is, then it seems pretty obvious that nature is indifferent to whether human beings continue or go extinct. Would the naturalist conclude that the mass extinction of dinosaurs was a moral travesty in wiping out the dominant species on the planet? If not, why?  Perhaps our culture is simply a stepping stone for the cockroaches that will evolve in some 200 million years to flourish on the earth.

When looking at morality, we can see that in order for morals to have force, they must be objective in nature, and in order for them to be objective, they need to be rooted in something bigger than ourselves. God is the only source from which concepts such as right and wrong or good and bad can stem.  Other systems ultimately break down. Without an external lawgiver, moral laws become either opinion or assumptions, neither of which would be binding on all people.


1. Ruse, Michael. Taking Darwin Seriously. (New York: Prometheus Books, 1988. 253.
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