Blog Archive


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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Friday, May 30, 2014

Why True Beliefs Matter

Wouldn't you love to write the world's next bestseller? Do you wonder what the "secret recipe" is? Stumble on it and you could be showered with fame and notoriety while your favorite movie star plays your main character.

Many authors and publishers have been working hard on trying to find that secret recipe so they can be the next in line to tap the American psyche. Given the success of books such as The Da Vinci Code, right now many believe the formula to be a mixture of God and history, with two parts puzzle and two cups of conspiracy theory generously mixed together and brought to a boil over heated cliffhangers.

Why would such a mixture seem so appetizing to the consumer? I believe that, given our recent turn to a postmodern culture, we're starting to see the inevitable consequences of the surrender of truth. People want to believe that old concepts of God are passé or that they are too restrictive. We need new paradigms, new ways of thinking about who God is and what He (or she or they or it, depending on one's presuppositions) really wants from us. The best way to do that is to make up fables about how the old stories aren't really true, and then start to believe your own fictions.

How Beliefs Matter

Now, there are people who believe a lot of strange things about the world. Some of these beliefs are less concerning than others. For example, I may have a belief that my shortcut to work in the morning saves me five minutes off my drive. That belief may or may not be true, but as long as I'm at work on time it has little impact on my life or the lives of others. If I'm wrong, it's not really a big deal, it merely means that I'm taking a little bit longer than I could have taken. Saving five minutes off my drive to work is not a crucial issue, so my belief about my shortcut is not a crucial belief.

However, if I'm an ambulance driver then my belief about where the hospital is located and what is the fastest way to get there has a much bigger impact. If I believe the hospital is to the north when it is really to the south and I'm transporting a critical patient, then whether my beliefs are true or not become crucial. The issue of getting a critically ill patient to the emergency room is a very important issue, so it follows that truth becomes more important in this instance.

This illustrates a point that I want to make regarding beliefs - the more critical the issue, the more important it is to have true beliefs. When we look at truth claims, it makes sense to ask "How important is this belief? What kind of effect will it have if my beliefs are wrong?"

The Importance of a True Belief About God

This brings me to my main point, which is simply that the issue of who God really is and what we believe about Him is incredibly important. I hold that this is one of the most important beliefs one can have. Think about it for a moment. The belief in who God is and how He feels about individuals shapes the actions of a Mother Theresa or a William Wilberforce. It also shapes the actions of an Al-Qaida terrorist or a Heaven's Gate member.

Beliefs about God are the starting point for all of morality, for how we view and treat other people, and how we should personally act. Therefore, having a false belief about God - who He is and what He really does expect from us - is a very serious problem. If you hold a false belief about God, it is a big deal, perhaps the biggest in your life. Because the stakes are so high, we need to examine our beliefs about God and not simply hold to those we "like" while discarding al those we don't. We need to make sure that our beliefs about God match what we can know about Him. It is simply foolish to think that you can pick and choose your God -narrative based on whether you liked the story that someone told or whether you like or dislike certain requirements for serving Him.

I have used the illustration that as a child there were many rules my mother set down for me that I didn't like. She made me eat those nasty vegetables. I had to go to bed at a certain time, and so on. However, as I grew and had children of my own, I see the wisdom in my mother's rules. Just because I didn't like them, didn't mean they weren't right or applicable to make me a better person.

Similarly, to deny aspects about God simply because you don't like them in no way proves that those aspects are not how God really is. God may actually be the type of being who seeks to communicate with mankind through the Scriptures. God may actually be the type of being who holds justice in high regard and because of that, He will judge the sinner. And God may actually be the type of being who also felt compassion for humanity and therefore became man to provide a way of escape from the judgment of sin.

It seems to me people want God both ways. They want to know that there's a real God out there; there exists someone who loves them and is in control of everything. This gives many people comfort and assurance. However, they also want to pick and choose what kind of God they believe in, and usually it's a God that looks a lot like themselves. However, holding a true belief about God is more important than that. I hope that as people continue to think about the claims of pop culture, they will also realize that a true belief may not be a popular one, but it must be recognized as true just the same.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let’s Change Our Message on Sex

This blog post is about sex, and it's the first time I've written about it directly in my years of posting. Is sex an apologetics topic? Absolutely. One's understanding of sex reflects one's worldview and many times actually helps shape the worldview of the individual. I think that the church hasn't done a very good job in expressing exactly what the Christian position on sex really is, and I'd like to try and provide a different approach from what you may have heard before.

In his Deeper Waters blog post this morning, Nick Peters talked about running across some online comments regarding sex and chastity. The poster said he was on "a bit of a 'sex' kick" and asked the mixed Christian and non-Christian audience "How important is virginity?" I think that both the Christian and the non-Christian are both really confused when it comes to understanding sex. Nick reminded me of the old joke, "I was told two things about sex growing up. #1. It's dirty. #2. I should save it for someone I love." Obviously, that sounds a little bit contradictory. How can sex be dirty and special at the same time?

Defining Sex as Holy

I think one of the real difficulties we have when trying to present the Christian viewpoint on sex is the language we use (maybe Wittgenstein was onto something!). Because sex is uncomfortable or embarrassing to talk about, we try to communicate its value by using words like "private," "special," within marriage but "dirty," "inappropriate," "foul" or some other negative term in public. I want to inject a new definition into the discussion. Ultimately, sex is holy. Now, some may recoil from that statement, but I believe it's true and it can be supported biblically. Sex is a God-created union that joins a man and a woman in a way that no other act or speech could. The Christians in Corinth had a sexually permissive attitude, but Paul tells them, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (1 Cor. 6:15-17).

So, Paul says sexual relations joins people together in a spiritual fashion, just as becoming a believer joins one spiritually with Jesus. Sex is therefore a spiritual union. It's holy. This idea is not new; in the Old Testament, the nation of Israel would often sin by worshipping foreign gods. Their actions are consistently referred to by God as "playing the harlot." Even in the book of Hosea, there's an extended analogy of the prophet Hosea's wife sleeping with other men, and God compares this to Israel's idolatry. If worshipping foreign gods is harlotry, then it stands to reason that worshipping the one true God is akin to the sexual union within marriage. It is how God designed us to behave. Sex is holy, and it should only be exercised within a context of holiness.

How Seeing Sex as Holy Changes Things

If we define sex as holy, it can radically alter our perspective. Just as the desecration of a holy object should naturally cause shock and revulsion, so to taking the holy act of sex out of its context and using it casually, for recreation, or to see how many times one can score becomes repulsive. Pornography takes on a whole new dynamic as besmirching and degrading that which we should hold in honor. Even lust can be seen a bit more clearly as deviating from the way we should be looking at one another. Marriage is a holy bond, a covenant made by two people before God. In this context sex becomes exclusive and focused, and it serves the purpose of drawing those two people together in a way that nothing else will. To run it through the mud by saying that it can be used with anyone interchangeably makes no sense. Chastity sounds reasonable and appropriate.

The holiness of sex is why infidelity is so damaging to a couple. Even if one person no longer desires sex, to learn that his or her spouse had sex outside of marriage is devastating. Infidelity intrinsically violates the entire marriage bond between husband and wife. It reduces one's commitment to frivolity. It's considered dirty because it damages the relationship. In other words, the misapplication of sex is a corrosive that breaks down the very bonds of marriage itself.

A Good Start

I recognize that sexual temptation is an absolutely huge problem, inside the church as well as outside. This one blog post is not going to change that anytime soon. However, if we make a mental commitment to use the language of holiness whenever we talk about sex, it may actually help up to begin really seeing sex in that way. This won't solve the problem by itself, but the more we reinforce the concept of sex as holy, the more we will begin to naturally understand it to be such. Anytime we can see things more as God sees them, we're one step closer to holiness ourselves.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving Mountains: How an Atheist Came to Believe in God

Many times in our desire to be obedient in sharing the Gospel, we can feel like we're having no effect. We talk with our friends or family members and it seems we're no closer now than years ago when we first started talking with them. They may continue to voice the same objections over and over and it can seem like we're not making any headway at all.

But don't be discouraged; don't give up! God can do miraculous things for those who are faithful to His calling. People you would never have thought to be moving closer to the truth of the Gospel may be affected by your witness - and more than you may know. One incredible example of this is the change in belief of one of the world's foremost atheists.

The Design Argument As Evidence for God

A topic that comes up frequently at Come Reason is the existence of God, and one of the standard arguments we use as evidence for the existence of God is the argument from creation.1 The fact that the universe shows design, planning, and fine-tuning is known as the "teleological argument" for God. The argument is stated, "The universe shows signs of intelligence and interdependence beyond the probability of chance. Therefore the universe demonstrates that it has been designed. And if the universe was designed, then there must be a designer, i.e. God."

Now, this argument has been around for hundreds if not thousands of years2. However, advances in science within the past twenty years have allowed us to better understand just how intricately designed the universe, and specifically it's living creatures, are. This is why the Intelligent Design movement has been gaining so much ground recently. The fact that DNA is an information-carrying system, the concept of irreducible complexity,3 and other discoveries are providing compelling evidence that the universe was indeed designed by a creator.

Dr. Gary Habermas, professor of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University has been using such arguments in his debates with unbelievers. One of Dr. Habermas' more frequent debate challengers was Dr. Antony Flew, probably the most noted atheist of the last half-century. A professor of philosophy who held positons at Oxford, Reeding, and York Universities, Dr. Flew was an icon to atheists - seen as comparable to C.S. Lewis for Christendom.

Dr. Habermas recounted that he first began debating Flew in 1985. Over the next twenty years, they met several times for debates and functions, developed a friendship, and continued to dialog on the existence of God. As they continued to talk and meet in debates, Flew began to reconsider his staunch atheism. In January of 2004 he spoke with Dr. Habermas and confirmed that he had indeed changed his belief from atheism to theism.4

Following the Evidence Wherever It May Lead

I cannot emphasis enough how significant Dr. Flew's change in belief is. Here we have a legendary figure in atheism, someone who is considered an expert in evolutionary theory and was held up as one of atheism's most intelligent thinkers, abandoning his position for a belief in God! In fact, Flew even bolsters the case for creation. He tells Habermas "It seems to me that Richard Dawkins5 constantly overlooks the fact that Darwin himself... pointed out that his whole argument began with a being which already possessed reproductive powers."6

Now, to be clear, Flew did not become a believing Christian. He classified himself as a deist, along the line of Thomas Jefferson. Still, this is a truly remarkable change. In his book, There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, Dr. Flew explained his abandonment of atheism as simply the product of examining the evidence:
My departure from atheism was not occassioned by any new phenomenon or argument. Over the last two decades, my whole framework of thought had been in a state of migration. This was a consequence of my continuing assessment of the evidence of nature. When I finally came to recognize the existence of a God, it was never a paradign shift, because my paradigm remains, as Plato in his Republic scripted his Socrates to insist: "We follow the argument whereever it leads."7
Antony Flew examined all the evidence to see where the truth may be found, and it lead him to a Creator God. Unfortunately,  Dr. Flew died just a few years after his change of mind, but the fact that a skeptic who looks honestly at the creation could no longer doubt the existence of God shows just how powerful the evidence actually is.

So, take heart in your discussions with relatives and friends who don't believe. I heard a man explain that truth seems to have a way of always being uncovered. "Relentless reality" he called it. Gary Habermas spent twenty years debating and dialoging on the existence of God with one of atheism's biggest champions and the evidence persuaded him that there is a God. That same relentless reality can pervade the thoughts of your loved ones, too. But it will only do so only if they hear it.

Paul asks in Romans 10 "how can they believe in Him whom they have not heard and how can they hear without a preacher?" Our loved ones need us to preach. They need us to continue learning and growing. They need us to share. So, be encouraged. You might not know it, but your faith may be responsible for moving a mountain of unbelief.


1. See the February 2001 newsletter article "How To Know God Exists - The Argument From Design" at
2. The teleological argument goes back as far as Aristotle. For more on this see our audio class "How Scientific Discoveries Show that God Exists" at
3. For more on evolution and irreducible complexity, see my article "Is it more reasonable to believe in Creation over Evolution?" at
4. Flew, Antony and  Gary Habermas. "My Pilgrimage From Atheism to Theism."
Philosophia Christi, Winter 2005 (article may be accessed online at
5. Richard Dawkins is a leading proponent of evolutionary theory and author of The Blind Watchmaker and The Selfish Gene among others.
6. Flew, Ibid.
7.Flew, Antony. There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (New York: HarperOne, 2007). 89.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On the Cost of Liberty

Today in the United States we observe Memorial Day. While most only see today as the traditional opening of the summer vacation season (can I now wear my white Vans?), Memorial Day is set aside to remember those who have given their lives to protect the freedoms of our country. Services will be held at most national cemeteries, and thoughts and prayers offered by family members of soldiers who were killed in service to their country.

While most nations mark their countries' fallen, there is a bigger issue that Memorial Day arouses in my mind. Western culture is enjoying the highest quality of living in the history of humanity, in no small part to the Judeo-Christian ethic. But as we become comfortable in this newfound success, we also become forgetful of how difficult life can be for many people throughout the world. We become complacent, thinking that things like liberty and freedom do not require sacrifices, even the sacrifice that some of our sons and daughters make for those ideals.

Is a concept worth sacrifice? Are there things more valuable than life and comfort? Our Founding Fathers thought that such a position is not only the patriotic one, but the Christian thing to do. Below is a quote from Patrick Henry's famous speech before the Virginia Convention, asking to establish armies across the colony. He recognized that people were fearful of the cost of war, and that they would be sacrificing their sons and daughters. Henry addressed their concerns head on, but holds that the ideal of liberty for the sake of their posterity is worth "whatever anguish of spirit it may cost."
Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it
Henry recognizes that, unlike today, the colonies were not nearly as likely to win a war against Britain, the superpower of that day. Yet, he ends his argument with some of the most powerful prose to come out of the founding period:
Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations; and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!
I'm thankful for those who continue to see that ideals like freedom and liberty are extremely valuable, and I recognize those who have sacrificed themselves so that they may continue to flourish. May we never take their sacrifices for granted, nor trample underfoot the liberties for which they fought.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Christianity and Superhero Movies

They're smashing box office records and have become one of Hollywood's most bankable formats. But why are movies like The Avengers, Captain America, and the Dark Knight so popular? And do they hold a secret to sharing the Gospel? Listen to this class and find out how superheroes derive their power from the Christian tradition.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

What's the Conflict between Faith and Reason?

We constantly hear that faith and reason are opposites; if you have faith in something, you’ve left reason behind. Do Christians follow a "blind" faith? Is reason the enemy of faith? In our most recent podcast, Lenny shows why there is no real conflict between faith and reason.  In fact, as its history has shown, Christianity is an inherently reasonable faith.

Friday, May 23, 2014

How to Get into Spiritual Conversations - Part 1

I think I have an easier time than most for engaging others in spiritual conversations. It isn't because I'm any more eloquent or anything. It's simply my job description. Take last week, when my I accompanied my wife to the dentist. The hygienist asked me what type of work I did, since I was able to work from home. I told her I was an apologist and she responded the way most people do; she asked "What's that?" I told her that apologetics is the discipline of providing reasons for one's beliefs using logic and evidence like a defense lawyer would offer. She told me she was agnostic and we began talking about presuppositions and beliefs.

Many Christians would love to get into spiritual conversations like the one above but really don't know how to go about it. So I thought I would provide some suggestions on ways I engage others. Lee Strobel tells an amusing anecdote of hearing a girl ask "What's a deist?" when walking into a restaurant. He says he immediately stops and spent the next 15-20 minutes deconstructing deism for her. It wasn't until afterwards that his friend corrected him. "Lee, she didn't ask ‘What's a deist?' She said ‘Buenos días!'"

One of the ways I get into conversations is to listen for ways I can jump into topics people are already interested in. While it may be difficult to stumble onto someone who is already discussing religious beliefs, it shouldn't be terribly hard to strike up a conversation about the events of the day.  For example, one hot topic that's being talked about almost incessantly right now is the Donald Sterling issue. Sterling has made some disparaging and racist comments and it has caused a whirlwind, especially since the billionaire makes money by owning the Los Angeles Lakers. So, immediately you can talk about whether Sterling is being consistent in his beliefs, how sin can affect everyone, and how money or success is not an indicator of whether a person is worthy to be emulated.

The fact that this Monday is Memorial Day, where we honor those who gave their lives for our freedom, is another opportunity to talk about sacrifice, honor, what values are held higher than life itself. We believe that it is honorable to give one's life for a true ideal. Why is this so? Do you think that "one laying down his life for his friends" is an act that has eternal implications? What about the fact that the unalienable rights that those men and women fought to protect were "endowed by our Creator" according to the Declaration of Independence? If God doesn't exist and every man is out for himself, does that make a difference as to whether we should expect others to fight for our freedoms?

 2 Timothy 4:2 instructs us to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." Therefore, when wanting to have spiritual conversations, one should prepare and know what's going on in the world. Subscribe to a good newspaper, and look it over daily. A news source that covers a wide range of issues and holds bylines from real people is important, even if you don't agree with some of the opinions presented there. Find two or three blogs that discuss some of the key topics of the day. Make sure they can accurately represent both sides of an issue. Also, keep your eye on topics explored on popular movies, books, or television shows. These can help provide more sources where you can launch into a discussion.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sometimes The Facts Don't Matter

I've made the point many times that we as Christians are called to defend our faith. The Bible commands it of us, and we face an increasingly hostile world. Apologetics is how one learns to defend his or her faith through the use of reason and evidence. I believe apologetics can be tremendously helpful in clarifying people's understanding t the Christian faith. However, sometimes we may rely too heavily on facts when engaging with others.

A fascinating new article appears in The New Yorker this week entitled "I Don't Want to Be Right." 1 In it, author Maria Konnikova highlights the research being done by a number of psychologists and sociologists showing that people's beliefs help shape the core conception of themselves, and thus if one tries to correct the false beliefs of someone, it may not only fail, but have the adverse effect of corrupting the source in their eyes.

As an example, Konnikova cites one 2013 study conducted by Kelly Garrett and Brian Weeks who sought to correct misinformation about access to health records. At first, they thought that the facts were making a difference, as some people changed their beliefs. "But, when the researchers took a closer look, they found that the only people who had changed their views were those who were ideologically predisposed to disbelieve the fact in question. If someone held a contrary attitude, the correction not only didn't work—it made the subject more distrustful of the source."2

Before some of my atheist readers jump too fast, the article was very clear that it mattered not which side of any contention one was on. This applies as much to liberal views as conservative one and it applies to secular and scientific views as much as religious ones. As Stephan Lewandowsky states in the article, "False beliefs, it turns out, have little to do with one's stated political affiliations and far more to do with self-identity: What kind of person am I, and what kind of person do I want to be? All ideologies are similarly affected"(emphasis added).3

Facts are Threatening Things

I had a similar experience a couple of years ago when I was working an online chat, answering web viewers' questions for the Harvest Crusades. A man came on the line and said that he really wanted to believe in Jesus in his heart but he felt that he couldn't because of his head. After a bit of conversation, it came out that he was a professor of philosophy, and he had difficulty with the problem of evil. Of course, I immediately went into apologetics mode and began telling how arguments such as Hume's have been shown to be incorrect.

This was all well and fine, but I noticed something strange. The more we talked about philosophy, the more resistant and hardened he became. Gone was the open, vulnerability in admitting that he would like to believe in Jesus. I realized that subconsciously that talking philosophy with this philosopher wasn't helping. Instead of weighing the arguments, he fell back onto his rhetoric. He had spent maybe 20 years studying and building a career in philosophy and for him to admit that he was wrong on such a fundamental point was more than we was willing to sacrifice, at least to someone over an Internet chat. He wasn't defending an abstract idea; his philosophy was how he viewed himself.

We must be open to the Spirit

After seeing his resistance, the Spirit took me in another direction. I retreated from my arguments and readdressed his felt need. I acknowledged his position but then asked him to reaffirm his felt need to believe. "You believe that these problems are real and I can see that. However, you asked to speak with me because you said you really want to believe. Can you tell me more about that?" That jump allowed him to again express his feelings and his vulnerability, and while he wasn't ready to convert just then, it gave us a much more honest conversation.

In Luke 18, Jesus was asked by the rich young ruler "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus pointed him to the commandments laid out in scripture, laws he already knew and kept. At that point Jesus switched from the facts of the matter to the heart of the matter. "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Luk e18:22). But the man's self-identity was wrapped up in his possessions as much as the philosopher's was wrapped up in his education. That's what these studies are saying. Of course, the disciples were stymied by the man's resistance, asking "Then who can be saved?" Jesus reply places the emphasis back where it belongs: "What is impossible with man is possible with God."

As those who would defend the Christian faith, we must be sensitive to both the leading of God's Spirit and the reactions we get when talking with others. Because logic and evidence play such a big part of apologetics, the apologist naturally goes there, but logic and evidence are not enough. You must care for and be sensitive to the person with whom you're speaking. Remember, it is the people who matter. Arguments are only one tool to aid them in seeing the truth.


1. Konnikova, Marina. "I Don't Want To Be Right: Why Do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren't True" The New Yorker Magazine. May 19, 2014. Accessed 5/22/2014
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Book Review: Grand Central Question

I recently was asked to review the new book Grand Central Question: Answering the Critical Concerns of the Major Worldviews written by Abdu Murray and published by InterVarsity Press. Unlike some other works that help instruct Christians to the task of defending the faith, Grand Central Question doesn't focus so much on objections and answers. Instead, Murray begins using a much broader perspective; he compares the worldviews of secular humanism, eastern religions and concepts of pantheism, and Islam against the Christian worldview. As our culture travels further and further from its Judeo-Christian roots, Murray's book is timely and important in providing the reader with key points of engagement.

Murray lays out his goal in Grand Central Question early. Following Ravi Zacharias, he defines a worldview as an overarching belief system that must cogently answer the four questions of 1) Why do we exist, 2) Is there a purpose to human life, 3) What accounts for the human condition, and 4) Is there something better than what we now experience. These four questions make up Murray's rubric to weigh the three primary worldviews above and see how they compare to the Christian position.

He does a fine job of confronting secular humanism, providing many quotes and comments from leading proponents such as Dawkins, Singer, Hawking and others. He also pulls from the different Humanist Manifesto statements, which serve as the closest thing to humanism's scripture since Darwin's Origin of Species. Next, Murray turns his gaze eastward. While he talks about Eastern views such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and other pantheistic faiths, his primary focus is on the Western understanding of these belief systems, and thus he covers New Age spirituality and even Scientology in his critique. The last area, and the one most well-developed, is the section on Islam. This is natural as Murray is a former Muslim himself and he holds key insights into both the Muslim and Christian understanding of reality.

Murray's background is that of a lawyer, and it shows through in his exploration of idea as well as seeking out the motives of holding those ideas. The real power of the book, though, is not in the detached arguments for or against a position, but in Murray's emphasis on the human cost in holding to or changing one's belief. Even in the first chapter, he tells of visiting a Muslim man who may be dying, but while Christianity appealed to him, he was deeply concerned with losing his children and their respect. This is truly where apologetics meets evangelism. Sometimes, one can get caught up in all the arguments and counter-arguments and forget that there are real, flesh and blood human beings who will really suffer if they were to leave their current religion to follow Christ. Murray continues to remind us that even in the 21st century counting all things as loss for the sake of Christ can be very difficult, as the loss may be extreme.

The book is an easy read and not too long, weighing in at 244 pages plus notes. Murray's anecdotes and examples prove to be good illustrations of conversational apologetics in practice, giving his readers a more clear view of the different aspects sharing ones' faith make take. Murray provides comparison tables to counter some of the Muslim claims of biblical corruption or that Jesus taught something different than Paul. He also takes the last two chapters to make the concept of the trinity and the idea of Christ's incarnation accessible, especially to a Muslim mind.

In all, I think Grand Central Question is an important work. There is no debate that we live in a post-Christian society. That means our apologetics cannot begin with the Bible, but must begin further back at the level of primary assumptions on how the world works. Abdu Murray has done a great job of helping the reader lay that foundation in conversational contexts. I find it a fine addition to the thoughtful Christian's library.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is the Trinity a Contradiction?

In my recent series on the essential beliefs of Christianity, I received a comment from a reader who claimed that I hadn't offered a cogent argument for the Trinity. This isn't the first time I've heard the claim that the Trinity is a contradictory concept. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged by everyone from Jehovah's Witnesses to Muslims as contradictory.

What is a Contradiction?

A contradiction occurs when someone asserts a claim resulting in the conclusion that A does not equal A at the same time and in the same way. To briefly understand what I mean, take this well-worn example of a syllogism:

      1. All men are mortal

      2. Socrates is a man

These two premises are not really controversial. But we can know something else about Socrates by looking at them:

      Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

This conclusion follows necessarily from the premises. There is no escaping it. Socrates is part of the set "all men" and if everyone in the set of all men are mortal, Socrates must be mortal, too.

But what if I make an additional claim about Socrates, such as:

      3. Socrates is immortal

If I assert premises #1, #2, and #3, I would have a contradiction. Socrates cannot be both mortal (from #1 and #2) and immortal (from #3) at the same time and in the same manner. Premise #3 could of course not be talking about the physical body of Socrates but referring to his work. In such a case, statement #3 holds no bearing on the other two statements, since they are completely different concepts. But if statement #3 means immortal in the same sense that statement #1 does, then Socrates cannot be a man and immortal because it would mean that Socrates is mortal and while he is at the same time the opposite of mortal. Both cannot possibly be true.

The Argument Against Contradiction

Since we know now what it takes to call an idea contradictory, we can use this understanding to see if the Trinity fits the definition of a contradiction.

      1. If the doctrine of the Trinity defines God as being both one and more than one at the same time and in the same manner then it is contradictory and therefore false.

Next, we declare that God is monotheistic. This is a staple of Christian belief:

      2. There is one God.

But Christianity teaches of a plurality within God. Supported by scripture, it makes the claim that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit can express themselves differently. The Son may pray to the Father or submit to His will. The Father may send the Spirit, and so on. But they are each called God. So, we get another premise:

      3. The person of the Father is God, the person of the Son is God, and ;the person of Holy Spirit is God.

      4. Therefore, God is one being comprised of the persons of Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit (from 2,3).

If we are to now claim that the Father is a being, the Son is a being, and the Holy Spirit is a being, we would have a contradiction. You would have God is three beings and God is one being. Certainly both cannot be true. However, that is not the Christian doctrine. The Christian doctrine is that God is one being comprised of three persons. In my last post I showed how personhood is separate from being. We can create a sub argument here from the facts of that post:

               5a. Personhood is not the same as being if the number of persons of an entity differs from the number of beings present in itself.

               5b. A plant is an entity whose number of persons (zero) differs from the number of beings (one) present in itself.

               5c. Therefore, personhood is not the same as being.

So, because we've clarified the concept of personhood and being, we can add an additional proposition to our argument:  

      6. Therefore, God can be one being comprised of a different number of persons without contradiction (from 4,5c).

      7. Therefore the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory ( from 1,6)

By arguing thusly, one can see that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory. One must add additional premises to the argument, and those premises must properly reflect Christian doctrine.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A Christian Must Believe in the Trinity

In this recent series, I've been working through some of the essential beliefs that identify someone as a Christian. Previous posts have discussed Christianity as a monotheistic faith. We believe there is only one God who has ever existed throughout all of reality. But monotheism isn't exclusive to Christianity. Most people will recognize that Judaism and Islam are also monotheistic.  Christians hold to a very unique type of monotheism. We've also talked about how Christianity holds to the divinity of Jesus, but that Jesus is not the same being as God the Father. In order to be considered a Christian, one must believe that Jesus is God the Son.

At first glance, it seems that the two statements are contradictory. There is only one God, yet there is God the Father and God the Son and one is not the other. To explain exactly how this works, though, has tongue-tied many people throughout the centuries. Add to this another complication as Christians also believe the Holy Spirit is God, and yet He is distinct from the Father and from the Son. How can such a seemingly illogical position be true? The answer lies in the concept of the Trinity,

The Trinity – What is it?

To describe the Christian belief of the Trinity is actually quite simple, but it takes a bit of careful thinking to make sure the concept is properly understood. To say God is a Trinity is to say that God is one being comprised of three persons. The term "Trinity" was first used for the three persons comprising God by the early Church father Tertullian around AD 200.1 Tertullian saw a distinction between what it means to be a person and what it means to be a being. Our difficulty today is primarily because most people think the terms are synonymous. We see a person and we say that the person is a human being. One person = one being.

However, it isn't always the case that the attributes of a being are the same as the attributes of a person. To prove my case, let's proceed downward rather than upward. When Tertullian talks about a being, he means that there is one substance that makes up the entity of God. When we look at our own bodies, we see that every part that properly belongs to our body should be considered human. Every cell is a human cell. We are made up of human "stuff" if you will. Similarly, every part that makes up a plant is "plant stuff." A plant is also a being; it is a living thing that exists. But no one would claim that a plant is a person. That would be foolish!

So, we have two cases here. We recognize a plant as a being, but it has no personhood within it. It has a personhood count of zero, if you will. We also recognize a human as a being that has a personhood count of one. This means that personhood is different from being, as a being can exist without personhood. It then follows that it isn't contradictory to say that God is a being with a personhood count of three. It may be the case that we see no parallel here on earth, it may be the case that there is no other being in all of reality that can claim multiple personhood. However, it is clear that the claim of one being in three persons is not a contradiction, any more than claiming a plant is a being with no personhood should be considered such.

The Trinity – Its Necessity

The Bible clearly recognizes God the Father as God. That claim is usually not disputed. However, as I mentioned last time, it also recognizes Jesus as God and it identifies the Holy Spirit as God, too (Matt. 28:19, Acts 5:3,5, Isa 63:10, 1 Cor. 2:10-11). These three persons are each recognized as fully God and yet God is one. If one denies the triune nature of God, then one is forced into denying some portion of scripture.

Beyond the reconciliation of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity holds additional advantages. I've argued this before, but it is through the relationship within the Trinity that God can be considered completely without need. Only a being like the Trinity can be all-loving, and only within a trinity can God express His own humility.

Of course, no one can say exactly how all the aspects of the three-in-one work. That shouldn't be a surprise, though. Scientists today have really good data on quantum models of matter, but you don't have to be able to explain all aspect of quantum mechanics to believe it's true. When talking about God, one is referring to a being that transcends humanity; therefore one should expect that there would be aspects to His nature beyond our comprehension. But that doesn't mean that we cannot apprehend the basic understanding of the Trinity. God is three persons who comprise one being and each is fully God.


1. Carl, Harold F. Ph.D. "Against Praxeas – How Far Did Tertullian Advance the Doctrine of the Trinity?" Global Journal of Classical Theology. (April 2009) Available online at

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Christian Must Believe That Jesus is God

I've begun a series of blog posts talking about the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. As a guide, I've been looking at the Nicean Creed to formulate the basic beliefs that define the Christian faith. One clear aspect of the Christian faith is the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
Right on the heels of declaring monotheism, the church fathers also declare that Jesus is God:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.

Jesus is equal with the Father

Notice that the emphasis on this part of the creed is to place the Son on equal footing with the Father. That's why the repetition of "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God" is used. In the early days of Christianity there were several heresies that cropped up trying to claim that Jesus is in some way lesser than God the Father. The Arians, like the modern day Jehovah's Witnesses, held that Jesus was God's first creation. Jesus is a "mighty god" but not "Almighty God."

Christians had long held that Jesus is God as much as the Father is God. He claimed the honors afforded to God and the attributes ascribed to God. He forgave sins only God would and received worship that is reserved for God alone.1 Robert Wilken writes that the Greek philosopher Celsus was offended by the Christian view of God even in the second century. In discussing his views, Wilken says Celsus is fine with those who would hold Jesus in some type of divine status, such as that reserved for the Caesars. Celsus wasn't convinced that Jesus even deserved this level of honor, but as long as those worshippers recognize the "high God" as greater than lesser deities, it would be OK. Wilken then writes, "The Christians, however, made even more extravagant claims: they said that Jesus was unique among the gods and that he should be worshipped to the exclusion of all other gods. To Celsus such excessive adoration set up Jesus as a rival to God and undercut the worship of the one God." 2

Jesus is different from the Father

While Christians recognize Jesus as being fully God, equal with the Father, they recognize that Jesus is not the same person as the Father. He is not the Father, but the Son. In scripture, we see Jesus coming from the Father (Jn. 5:37, 12:49), He prays to the Father (Mt. 26:39, Lk 23:34,Jn 17:1), He obeys the Father (Lk 22:42, Jn 6:38), and He humbles Himself before the Father (Phil 2:4-8). Jesus is distinct from the Father but both He and the Father are recognized as God.

The Arian view of Jesus was the motivating issue that caused the church fathers to gather from across the globe and convene the first church council in Nicea. The formulation of the Nicean Creed was the result. Its purpose was to clearly establish the equality of Jesus with God the Father while still maintaining the concept of a single God. The church fathers did this by distinguishing between the concept of personhood and being. Next time, I'll unpack the teaching of the Trinity a bit more. For now, recognize that one must believe that Jesus is God in order to be a Christian.


1. For a more conmprehensive understanding of the biblical case for why Jesus is recognized as God, see my post "The HANDS Argument for the Deity of Jesus" at
2. Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 120.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Christian Must Believe There is One God

Yesterday, I began a series talking about what beliefs someone must hold to be considered a Christian. While there are many different Christian denominations that exist, there are certain beliefs that are essential which all Christian denominations hold. These core beliefs identify Christianity from all other faiths and I had said there that the Nicean Creed is a really good starting point for identifying just what are those essential beliefs.

The first section of the creed sets affirms a core concept of God that stems from the Jewish Old Testament. It reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
Right off the bat, Christianity is identified as a monotheistic faith. One God and no others. This is key to all subsequent understanding of God, especially when considering His attributes.

For God to be Almighty, there can only be one

God is first identified as "Almighty." Most people understand the word God to mean a being that is all powerful. But that also means that God must be a single being. For if God is almighty, then He can have no equal. As a contrast, some later versions of Zoroastianism held to a concept of two beings, one good and one evil, who were equally powerful and locked in a constant state of war.1 But you cannot claim that a god is all-powerful if that god cannot win a fight with his enemy! The fact that the war exists at all shows that the god has limited power; his power cannot govern his foe. The problem would of course get worse with multiple gods, limiting the power of one's god even more as the other gods multiplied.

So, in order for God to be Almighty God, He has to be a single being. This is a straightforward logical understanding of God. Christians believe in one Almighty God (Deut 6:4, john 17:3, 1 Tim 2:5). That means that faiths such as Mormonism are excluded from Christianity immediately. Mormonism holds that many beings can become just as God the Father is now2, making God something less than what the creed establishes.

Mormons also believe that God has progressed through time to become God.3 He wasn't always almighty but he is now. Such a statement is self-contradictory since there is some mechanism (the eternal progression law or function or whatever) that God cannot have dominion over. Instead, He must obey its precepts to become God himself. That again means that the God of Mormonism isn't Almighty.

All of reality depends on the One God

The next part of that first sentence declares that God is the maker of heaven and earth, whether those things are part of the natural world (seen) or the spiritual world (unseen). All of creation relies upon God for its existence. God didn't need to create the universe, but He chose to do so. This makes God completely without dependence and when He creates, He creates out of nothing (Gen. 1:3-29, Heb. 11:3, Acts 14:24-25, Rev. 4:11). But in the Mormon view of God, the universe is eternal and God simply reshapes and refines pre-existing materials.4 If this is so, then we again see that the god Mormonism affirms is not the God of Christianity. Therefore, we can quickly declare that Mormons fall outside the definition of Christian by their denial of these essential attributes of God.


1. Shapero, Hannah M.G. "Is Zoroastrianism really a dualistic religion?" Pyracantha web site. 11/29/1995. Accessed: 4/15/2014.

2. Adams, Lisa Ramsey. "Eternal Progression." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Accessed: 4/15/2014.

3 Robinson, Stephen E. "God the Father." Encyclopedia of Mormonism. Accessed: 4/15/2014.

4 Nielsen, F. Kent and Stephen D. Ricks. "Creation, Creation Accounts." Encyclopedia of Mormonism.,_Creation_Accounts Accessed: 4/15/2014.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What Disqualifies Someone from Being a Christian?

Christianity is an evangelical faith. What I mean by that is that ever since its founding, Christians have tried to spread their faith through efforts at evangelism and conversion. From Jesus' command in Matthew 28:19 to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" to Paul's various missionary journeys to the proselytizing of all nations through the church's history, Christians have been called to share that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

In past centuries, it was pretty easy to identify which people were Christians and which weren't. However, as sects such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormons have appeared, differentiation has become more difficult. Recently, I was able to observe my friend Brett Kunkle pretend to be a Mormon elder in front of a group of nearly 800 Christians. In his Mormon persona, he said that many Christians would come up to him and other LDS and claim that they are not Christian. "So," he challenged, "can anyone provide me with a definition of a Christian?"

Several people in the audience tried. One said that it was trusting in Jesus for one's salvation. But the Mormon would say that he does trust in Jesus for his salvation. Another said it was believing in the God of the Bible. Kunkle again countered that Mormons do believe in the God of the Bible. The Bible is one of their four standard works. A few more tried to define God as being three in one, and Brett returned the volley by saying that the LDS church affirms that God is three in one, but it turns on what you mean by saying that God is three in one. Unfortunately, no one was equipped to provide a good definition of the Trinity nor did anyone spot Brett's LDS misrepresentation of the Trinity.

To me, this is tragic. Every Christian should know at least a basic working definition of what Christianity is. Imagine a biologist who has devoted his life to studying dogs. He has spent years in school earning a degree in veterinary medicine and biochemistry. He has years of research behind him, reading books and documentation on dogs and their inner workings. Dogs have been his life! Would you expect a person to be able to tell you how to identify an animal as a dog? Of course you would! And you wouldn't expect his to reply with a general description such as "a pet with four legs and a tail." That definition fails because it can apply to a mouse or a cat. In order for the definition of a dog to be functional, it would need to talk about things that are unique to dogs alone. They would need to be specific attributes, such as their sensitivity for scent, their specific shape, their teeth, and so on.

Similarly, Christians should be able to provide a working definition of what it means to be a Christian. It needs to be specific with identifiable attributes. In fact, the early Christian church was very concerned with this, as different groups kept appearing that claimed to be Christian. The early Church realized that the point of their uniqueness rests in two places: 1) in the proper understanding of God as one being comprised of three persons, including Jesus as the second person of the Trinity and 2) a trust in the work of Jesus alone in saving us from our sins.

The definition of Christianity became so important that the church even formulated a way to affirm that one holds to the foundational aspects of the faith. First shaped in 325 at the Council of Nicea, we know it today as the Nicean Creed. It basically reads:
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.1
While there is some debate between Eastern Orthodox churches and those in the West as to whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone or the Father and the Son, the Creed serves as a really good definition of the necessary beliefs one must hold to be considered a Christian. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons would deny that Jesus is "one in being with the Father" and that means they cannot be defined as Christians as we use the word.

I'll look more specifically at the details of the Creed in upcoming posts, but I hope that you will at least take away the idea that there is a good working definition of what Christianity looks like. It is a set of believes about God, Jesus, and the one true faith that forgives sins. Anything else is simply a counterfeit.


1. This version was translated by the English Language Liturgical Consultation and is used in many western English-speaking churches as well as the Roman Catholic Church. There are some subtle differences in other English versions, which may be found linked from the Wikipedia article "English Version of the Nicean Creed" at

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Robin Collins' Fine-Tuning Argument

Robin Collins is the Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He has done some extensive work on the fine-tuning of the universe and why the features we see point to the existence of God. Below is the core of his argument, taken from a shortened article he has made available on his web site. For more information and resources, visit him online at

The Fine-Tuning Argument

Premise 1. The existence of the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism.

Premise 2. The existence of the fine-tuning is very improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.2

Conclusion: From premises (1) and (2) and the prime principle of confirmation, it follows that the fine-tuning data provides strong evidence to favor of the design hypothesis over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

At this point, we should pause to note two features of this argument. First, the argument does not say that the fine-tuning evidence proves that the universe was designed, or even that it is likely that the universe was designed. In order to justify these sorts of claims, we would have to look at the full range of evidence both for and against the design hypothesis, something we are not doing in this chapter. Rather, the argument merely concludes that the fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis.

In this way, the evidence of fine-tuning argument is much like fingerprints found on the gun: although they can provide strong evidence that the defendant committed the murder, one could not conclude merely from them alone that the defendant is guilty; one would also have to look at all the other evidence offered. Perhaps, for instance, ten reliable witnesses claimed to see the defendant at a party at the time of the shooting. In this case, the fingerprints would still count as significant evidence of guilt, but this evidence would be counterbalanced by the testimony of the witnesses. Similarly the evidence of fine-tuning strongly supports theism over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis, though it does not itself show that everything considered theism is the most plausible explanation of the world. Nonetheless, as I argue in the conclusion of this chapter, the evidence of fine-tuning provides a much stronger and more objective argument for theism (over the atheistic single-universe hypothesis) than the strongest atheistic argument does against theism.

The second feature of the argument we should note is that, given the truth of the prime principle of confirmation, the conclusion of the argument follows from the premises. Specifically, if the premises of the argument are true, then we are guaranteed that the conclusion is true: that is, the argument is what philosophers call valid. Thus, insofar as we can show that the premises of the argument are true, we will have shown that the conclusion is true. Our next task, therefore, is to attempt to show that the premises are true, or at least that we have strong reasons to believe them.

Support for the Premises

Support for Premise (1).

Premise (1) is easy to support and fairly uncontroversial. The argument in support of it can be simply stated as follows: since God is an all good being, and it is good for intelligent, conscious beings to exist, it not surprising or improbable that God would create a world that could support intelligent life. Thus, the fine-tuning is not improbable under theism, as premise (1) asserts.

Support for Premise (2).

Upon looking at the data, many people find it very obvious that the fine-tuning is highly improbable under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis. And it is easy to see why when we think of the fine-tuning in terms of the analogies offered earlier. In the dart-board analogy, for example, the initial conditions of the universe and the fundamental parameters of physics are thought of as a dart- board that fills the whole galaxy, and the conditions necessary for life to exist as a small one-foot wide target. Accordingly, from this analogy it seems obvious that it would be highly improbable for the fine-tuning to occur under the atheistic single-universe hypothesis--that is, for the dart to hit the board by chance.

Typically, advocates the fine-tuning argument are satisfied with resting the justification of premise (2), or something like it, on this sort of analogy. Many atheists and theists, however, question the legitimacy of this sort of analogy, and thus find the argument unconvincing. For these people, the Appendix to this chapter offers a rigorous and objective justification of premise (2) using standard principles of probabilistic reasoning. Among other things, in the process of rigorously justifying premise (2), we effectively answer the common objection to the fine-tuning argument that because the universe is a unique, unrepeatable event, we cannot meaningfully assign a probability to its being fine-tuned.2


1.For an expanded view that deals with the many-universes hypotheses, see Dr. Collins' article here. 2. Collins, Robin. "The Fine-Tuning Design Argument". Home Page of Robin Collins. Accessed 4/10/2014.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Defending Your Faith May Help Save a Christian

Why should Christians learn how to defend their faith? Many  people think that while specialists like professional apologists can argue for Christianity, it isn't necessary for the person in the pew to know all those things. Perhaps it's better to ignore the Jehovah's Witness or Mormons knocking on your door, rather than get into countless arguments. However, such an attitude may be more dangerous than you know, and we can lose church members because of it.

In this short video, I tell a story about one man who left the Baptist church to become a Jehovah's Witness because his pastor wouldn't help answer the objections they gave him. Apologetics can help keep Christians in the fold as well as provide reasons for those outside the faith.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Is Christianity or Atheism the Virus?

As I've written before, the New Atheist movement and its proponents' goal is to proselytize the masses into believing that religion is not only untrue, but dangerous for society. The attitude is no more clearly on display than in the late Christopher Hitchens' book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens took the same stance as Richard Dawkins who wrote that religion is a virus1. They are among a number of authors who continue their assault on religion in general and Christianity in particular as being, well, bad for us all. They categorize faith as dangerous, deadly and evil.

Let's examine the charge of religious belief as a virus. One way you can identify a viral infection is the individual will have symptoms that cause their bodies to not operate properly. It is only when one feels ill or aches or one exhibits some other condition where the body is not operating as it should that gives the person reason to go to the doctor and get an examination. Granted, there are viruses that will stay inert for years, but they do eventually present themselves in some way. The same can be said of poisons. They destroy or impair certain processes of the body which results in harm to the individual.

Using this understanding, it would be interesting to see how non-believers compare with the faithful in their effect on society. If religion is a poison or a virus then one would expect to see some negative ramifications those views are causing. The person who believes would be like an infected cell, and that view spread across a significant portion of the population would affect the health of the society. So, can we tell if  Christian belief is either aiding or hindering the overall health of the society at large? In looking at a recent study released by the Barna Group I think  we can. The Barna Group regularly deals with matters of faith and it has looked at those individuals in the United States "who openly identified themselves as an atheist, an agnostic, or who specifically said they have 'no faith'."2 They then compared their answers against active-faith adults, (those who have gone to church, read their Bible and prayed within the last week of the survey.)

The results are telling. When compared to those with an active faith, those in the no-faith camp are:
  • Less likely than active-faith Americans to be registered to vote (78% versus 89%)
  • Less likely to volunteer to help a non-church-related non-profit (20% versus 30%)
  • Less likely to describe themselves as "active in the community" (41% versus 68%)
  • Less likely to personally help or serve a homeless or poor person (41% versus 61%).
A big difference Barna notes is the huge disparity in giving between the groups.  In a 2012 study, Barna reports "More than three-quarters of evangelicals (79%) have donated money in the last year, and 65% and 60% of them have donated items or volunteer time, respectively. Additionally, only 1% of evangelicals say they made no charitable donation in the last 12 months." What about the non-religious Americans? The report goes on to say, "One-fifth of people who claimed no faith said they made no donation over the last year, still noticeably higher than the number for all Americans."3

So, is faith a virus, a deadly poison that is damaging humanity? It seems that looking at altruistic measurements – basically people helping those in need – that faith is a tonic to society. People of faith volunteer more, give more, and are more active in making their communities as better place than those of no faith. In these measures, it would seem that having no faith is the true virus that needs to be addressed. Dawkins, Hitchens, and other atheists claim to be basing their arguments on a rational review of the evidence, but it seems to me that they're ignoring the real-world test data that pollsters such as Barna have uncovered.

As an aside, it seems that external measurements aren't the only way no-faith adults don't measure up. When asked about an internal perception of contentment, voiced as a feeling of "being at peace", 67% of no-faith adults described themselves in this way, as opposed to 90% of active-faith adults. This was one of the largest gaps between the two groups in the study.

So, by certain internal as well as external measurements, people of faith are more active, more altruistic, and more "at peace" than their no-faith counterparts. If I was diagnosing a patient, I think I can tell which one has the real virus.


1. Dawkins, Richard. “Viruses of the Mind”. [Online] 1991. [Cited: July 7, 2007.]
2. “Atheists and Agnostics Take Aim at Christians.” The Barna Group. June 11, 2007.  Accessed 4/8/2014.
3. "American Donor Trends." The Barna Group. April 12, 2013. Accessed 4/8/2014  

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

What Did Jesus Consider as Scripture?

When we discuss the makeup of the Bible, the New Testament is usually the center of discussion. Given the discoveries of various 2nd and 3rd century gnostic writings at Nag Hammadi, the success of The Da Vinci Code, and recent manuscript claims such as the Jesus' Wife fragment one can easily see why the question of which books belong in the Bible would center on the New Testament. However, people will question the legitimacy of the Old Testament canon as well.

The accumulation of books in the Old Testament is a much longer one than that of the New. The canon begins right where the Jewish faith begins, with the first five books of Moses. These books were called collectively the Laws of Moses or simply the Law. There are books by various prophets, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and so on that hold the definitive "Thus saith the Lord" pronouncements. They also provide the validation of predictive prophecy. We also have several books are historical in nature, such as Joshua, Judges, and the sets of 1 & 2 Samuel and 1 & 2 Kings. Because these documented God's dealing with the nation and they held stories about the various prophets interacting with the nation, they too were classified by the Jewish priests as part of the writings of the Prophets. Lastly there are the literary books, such as Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon and Ecclesiastes that were used in worship services. As well as other historical books like Daniel, the books of Ezra-Nehemiah and the two books of Chronicles. These were classified as the "Writings".

According to Norman Geisler and William Nix, "Philo the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, alluded to a threefold classification of the Old Testament, and Flavius Josephus arraigned the twenty-two books of the Hebrew Scriptures into three sections, saying that the twenty-two books ‘retains the record of all the past;… five belong to Moses, … the prophets who were after Moses, wrote down what was done in their time in thirteen books. The remaining four books contain the hymns to God and precepts for the conduct of human life."1 There is evidence of a more ancient two-fold division, which would fold the writings into the prophetic section. This is used in the writings found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as throught the New Testment writers.2

Jesus' Validation of the Old Testament

Jesus never provided a book by book list of the Old Testament canon. It simply wasn't necessary as the Jews of that day all knew what was meant by Scripture. He did refer to the Scripture as authoritative, though and we can see what He meant whenever he talked about them. First, Jesus would quote passages from various Scriptures and refer to them as such. He quoted multiple times from each of the books of Moses, and from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zecharaiah, Hosea, Micah and Malachi.3 He also quoted from the Psalms calling them scripture (John 10:24, John 15:25) and called Daniel a prophet of God (Matthew 24:15). So Jesus quotes from each of these three divisions in a way that recognized those books as authoritative scripture.

Further, Jesus referred to the collection of books several times. He talked of "the Law and the Prophets" in Matthew 7:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, and John 1:45. In Luke 24:44, He refers to the Scriptures in the threefold context, saying "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled."

In Luke 11:50-51, Jesus rebuked one of the experts of Scripture by saying, "the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary." Abel is the first person to die in the Hebrew Bible and Zechariah is the last. This reference would be obvious to such an expert, but it also confirms the canon of the Old Testament was accepted as authentic.

So, while Jesus did not explicitly list the books of the Old Testament, He pointed to the Old Testament as the authoritative word of God and said that all written in "the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms" must be fulfilled. Therefore, we can hold a high level of confidence that the Old Testament is truly the word of God.


1. Geiseler, Norman and William Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986). 24.

2. Ibid. 23. 3. Robinson, Rich. "Jesus' References to Old Testament Scripture." Jews for Jesus Web site. Accessed 4/7/2014.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The Supreme Court, Christian Prayer, and Town Meetings

The Supreme Court decision in the Town of Greece v. Galloway case is a step in the right direction for religious freedom. The case centered around Greece, a Rochester, NY suburb, inviting local pastors to open their town meeting in prayer. The town did not preview the prayers nor did they limit the invitation to any religious affiliation; they simply opened the opportunity up to local clergy. It so happened that the clergy who asked to be included were all Christians and they (understandably) prayed Christian prayers.

However, the overt Christian terminology used in the prayers bothered at least two town residents (identified by USA Today as an atheist and a Jew) who filed suit and petitioned the court not to ban the practice of opening the meeting with prayer, but "to limit the town to 'inclusive and ecumenical' prayers that referred only to a 'generic God.'"1 The Second Circuit Court of Appeals had upheld the lawsuit, but the majority of the Court disagreed and overturned the verdict on a 5-4 decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy made some lucid points about the problems with the suit. I'd like to look at some key points. (All emphasis in the quotes below is mine.)

The Historical Precedent for Prayer

First, Kennedy pointed to both the historical and legal precedent for allowing government meetings to be opened in prayer. Citing both a 1983 decision (Marsh) on the government funding of chaplains and a 1989 case of groups displaying specifically religious holiday displays on public lands, Kennedy writes:
There is historical precedent for the practice of opening local legislative meetings with prayer as well. Marsh teaches that the Establishment Clause must be interpreted "by reference to historical practices and understandings." … Respondents' insistence on nonsectarian prayer is not consistent with this tradition. The prayers in Marsh were consistent with the First Amendment not because they espoused only a generic theism but because the Nation's history and tradition have shown that prayer in this limited context could "coexis[t] with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom."
Kennedy further notes that the First Congress, just after crafting the First Amendment, voted to appoint chaplains and they opened their meetings in prayer, thus demonstrating that their intent was not to quell these activities.

The Problem of Governmental Censoring of Prayer

Kennedy then notes that if the law were to require governmental agencies to preview and approve or disallow specific prayers based on their use of sectarian language, it would create a much bigger problem. It would, in effect turn a bureaucrat or the court itself into the faith police. This would open up a can of worms. Government, the courts, or even the majority view judging which prayers should be banned and which are permissible becomes subjective and makes government more involved in religion than the current practice does.  He writes:
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislatures sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and censors of religious speech, thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the town's current practice of neither editing nor approving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact. Respondents' contrary arguments are unpersuasive. It is doubtful that consensus could be reached as to what qualifies as a generic or nonsectarian prayer. It would also be unwise to conclude that only those religious words acceptable to the majority are permissible, for the First Amendment is not a majority rule and government may not seek to define permissible categories of religious speech.

Understand that the Government isn't the Final Word

Another salient point Kennedy makes is that respectful, ceremonial prayer before a government assembly, no matter which creed administers it, serves a function for all. By appealing to God and asking a blessing on the proceedings, the invocation essentially declares that governments and those that run them are never the last word. People are fallible. Political organizations are fallible. We must recognize that while our representatives seek to make the right decisions and serve the will of the people as best they can, their decisions are not themselves foolproof.
The tradition reflected in Marsh permits chaplains to ask their own God for blessings of peace, justice, and freedom that find appreciation among people of all faiths. That a prayer is given in the name of Jesus, Allah, or Jehovah, or that it makes passing reference to religious doctrines, does not remove it from that tradition. These religious themes provide particular means to universal ends. Prayer that reflects beliefs specific to only some creeds can still serve to solemnize the occasion, so long as the practice over time is not "exploited to proselytize or advance any one, or to disparage any other, faith or belief."

Even those who disagree as to religious doctrine may find common ground in the desire to show respect for the divine in all aspects of their lives and being. Our tradition assumes that adult citizens, firm in their own beliefs, can tolerate and perhaps appreciate a ceremonial prayer delivered by a person of a different faith.

The Difference Between Offense and Coercion

The last key phrase I'd like to point out is one that I would hope extend well beyond this particular decision. Our culture today is sick. People have assumed that the pursuit of happiness somehow means that they should never feel any discomfort or disagreement while participating in a public function. Kennedy succinctly dismisses this claim:
In their declarations in the trial court, respondents stated that the prayers gave them offense and made them feel excluded and disrespected. Offense, however, does not equate to coercion.
To that I say "Amen."


1. Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway et al. 572 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States.
2014. Web. 5 Mar. 2014.
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