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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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Monday, February 29, 2016

Why Doesn't God Prove He Exists? Because It Wouldn't Help Disbelief

One of the more popular questions that atheists ask is "Why does God make it so difficult to believe in Him? If he would just give us some proof he exists, I'd believe." I've heard such statements many times, but I don't think their claim is true. I think the atheists are misstating their case in what devotion to a real God means. They fail to understand the stubbornness of the human heart and the animosity the natural man holds against God.

One way to better understand how people in the real world react to a righteous and holy God, we can simply look to the past. For argument's sake, let's assume the stories of the Israel's deliverance from Egypt are true. There, God does a series of miracles to free the Israelites from their slavery and set them in a promised land. These are not run of the mill miracles, either, but show-stopping affairs. God dried up the Red Sea and then drowned the Egyptian army in that same sea. He provided both meat in a desert and manna with the dew each morning. He cleansed the bitter waters and also produced water from the rock at Meribah. He led them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God gave as much evidence as one could possibly want to the Israelites.

Ignoring Evidence is a Very Human Thing to Do

One would think such grandstanding would make believing in Yahweh a slam-dunk, right? Unfortunately, no. Even though the Israelites were direct witnesses to some of the most obvious proofs of God's existence, it did not stifle their desire to abandon God and do what they pleased. The psalmist summarizes the reaction of the people in Psalm 106. Time after time, they disobey God, they don't trust God, or they turn to foreign gods. God's provision of proof didn't make the Israelites more faithful; it simply highlighted how selfish and demanding their hearts were. Nothing other than getting everything they wanted at the time they wanted it would do.

When I read the accounts of the ancient Israelites, I find their reaction to be completely human and believable. Even if you're an atheist who doesn't hold to the historicity of the accounts, you must admit that stubborn rejection of proof is a real possibility. In fact, this scenario is more probable than not. That's why people still start smoking cigarettes regardless of how big the Surgeon General's warnings appear on the package. No one is saying, "Why didn't anyone provide proof that cigarettes cause cancer?" They all know it does, but their desire trumps the evidence. The proof doesn't matter.

The resurrection of Jesus is a really good example of just how this plays out in the question of God's existence. We have as much evidence for the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus as we do any event in ancient history. If Jesus rose from the dead, then it provides evidence that God exists. There is compelling evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, there is evidence that God exists. However, atheists will contort, excuse, deny the resurrection as not evidence, or even deny that Jesus ever lived at all (!) because they don't like the conclusion. They won't use the same standard to measure the resurrection as they would other acts of ancient history.

Thomas Nagel is a famous atheist philosopher who admits that modern materialist explanations of the emergence of consciousness fail. In his book The Last Word, he made a very honest statement about his lack of belief in God. Nagel wrote:
In speaking of the fear of religion, I don't mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that.1
I think most people would agree. While many people form an idea of God that comports to their view of the world, most don't want to be beholden to a holy, righteous God that tells them the things they want to do are not good and they shouldn't do them. As long as that is fundamental to the human condition, proof of God's existence will never suffice to change their minds. It can always be explained away.


1. Nagel, Thomas. The Last Word. New York: Oxford UP, 1997. Print. 130.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mark Feb 24 as a Key Date in the Battle for Religious Freedom

Today is a significant date in Christian history, for it was on February 24, 303 AD that the edict was issued by Roman Emperor Diocletian that began the first empire-wide and most bloody persecution of Christians. Prior to 303, Christians had been persecuted in various provinces of the Roman Empire, but this was different. It was systemic and all-encompassing.

The Diocletian Persecution is important partially because of how it began. Historian W.H.C. Frend explains the crafting of the laws that launched the persecution:
The persecution resembled Valerian's more than Decius's. It had been carefully planned and the consequences had been weighed. Diocletian recognized the danger of making Christians martyrs. No blood, he insisted, must be shed. The aim was to recall the Christians to their duty of recognizing the majesty of the Roman Gods. The edict he promulgated on 24 February ordered throughout the empire churches were to be destroyed, and the sacred books of the Christians handed over to be burned. Christians in public offices were to be removed from them. In private life Christians in the upper classes (honestiores) were to lose their privileges. In particular, they could not act as plaintiffs in cases of injury, adultery, or theft. Christian slaves might not be freed. But there was no requirement for universal sacrifice. The attack was concentrated on the organization of the church, its life as represented by the Scriptures and buildings, and on its influential members. (Emphasis added.)1
Notice the thought process by Emperor Diocletian who had to initially be convinced to issue the edict. We're not going to force people to worship Roman Gods. It's simply the duty of those who enjoy the benefits of Rome's governance to recognize there is a social standard to which they must adhere. Thus, Christians should be removed from public offices since their Christian beliefs run counter to the beliefs the state wishes to promote. Wealthy Christian businessmen should lose any protections they hold, especially those that would protect them legally. The church as an organization should be attacked as a wrong-thinking institution. But no blood should be shed and Christians can believe what they will in the privacy of their own homes.

The Loss of Freedom Today

Of course, we are not in Diocletian's Rome. Frend spends several pages discussing why conditions in the Empire at that time made the persecution more likely than before. Those conditions do not exist today and I'm not arguing that we are heading for another Diocletian Persecution. However, the trend to weaken religious freedom is increasing, and many of the justifications used sound eerily familiar. If you're a Christian court clerk in Kentucky who refuses to sign a marriage certificate, people demand you be removed from public office. If you are a baker or wedding photographer, your beliefs and your conscience are secondary to what the state feels is moral. Here's how the Harvard Law Review summarized the judgment against one such photographer:
Justice Bosson concluded that "[i]n the smaller, more focused world of the marketplace, of commerce, of public accommodation, the Huguenins have to channel their conduct, not their beliefs, so as to leave space for other Americans who believe something different. . . . [I]t is the price of citizenship."2
The freedom of religion is often referred to as the "First Freedom." In the United States, it is the first freedom to be recognized in the Constitution's Bill of Rights, but it is the first freedom in more ways than that. Without the freedom to not simply "do whatever we want in the privacy of our homes," but to incorporate our beliefs into our broader lives, we are not truly worshiping freely. It is the state that is setting the rubric of what counts as true beliefs verses what counts as inconsequential beliefs. How much can you belief something if it never affects the way in which you live? The short answer is: you can't. By dictating which beliefs must be sacrificed for the price of citizenship is effectively setting a state religious litmus test.

Escalating from Legislation to Volience

The second reason why we should remember the Diocletian persecution is how quickly it elevated from a calculated, no-blood political move to an all-out blood bath against Christians. The Christian History Institute sums it up nicely:
Before the end of the year, Diocletian issued two more proclamations against Christians and Maximian issued a fourth the following year. One ordered the imprisonment of Christian teachers, filling the prisons with bishops and clergy. The next ordered that these prisoners either sacrifice to the pagan gods or be tortured. The third directed that all Christians should be required to sacrifice on pain of torture.

Christians suffered terribly, especially in the eastern empire. Some were thrown to wild beasts, others burned alive or roasted on griddles. Some were skinned or had their flesh scraped from their bones. Others were crucified. A few were tied between trees that were bent so as to meet and, when the branches were released, the force ripped these victims limb from limb. Eventually the Romans wearied of this and set the remaining Christians to work in mines or gave them menial jobs. In many instances, they gouged out an eye or maimed a hand or foot before sending the workers off. From this period come many notable martyrs, including the young girl, Agnes of Rome.3
While the powers that be began in limiting their scope of the edicts, it quickly grew out of control. The tortures were fierce and had gone beyond what the designers had imagined. Even those Christians who had adopted Roman customs were not immune. Frend writes, "For some, the Persecution must have come as a great shock. Even in towns where they were most numerous, we find Christians sharing fully in the Greco-Roman culture, taking part in city life as councilors, and not adverse to references to Hades and the Muses on their tombstones."4 To have assumed those who just "go with the program" or one who agrees with the state and capitulate to its edicts means they will not be targeted was mistaken. Just the name "Christian" was enough to condemn one to death or to slave labor.

AS we mark the anniversary of the Diocletian Persecution, we should consider these things and think about what we risk in our own society. People are people and they tend to repeat themselves. What lessons should we learn before we allow our religious freedom to be adjudicated into something less than an irrevocable right held by all mankind?


1. Frend, W. H. C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984. Print. 457.
2. "Constitutional Law — First Amendment — New Mexico Supreme Court Holds That Application Of Public Accommodations Law To Wedding Photography Company Does Not Violate First Amendment Speech Protections. Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 309 P.3d 53 (N.M. 2013)." Harvard Law Review 127.5 (2014): 1485. Web.
[. "Start of Diocletian's Great Persecution | It Happened Today." Christian History Institute. Christian History Institute, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2016.
4. Frend, 1984. 445.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Star Wars, SideWays, and Film as Cultural Touchstone

As the culture shifts and Christianity becomes less understood, it is becoming more and more difficult for Christians to share their faith.  That's why I'm so excited about being a part of Sean McDowell's latest book A New Kind of Apologist. With twenty-seven short, easy to read chapters by noted Christian thinkers tackling the most prevalent issues believers are questioned on today, it will be a tremendous resource for the church.

Below, I've provided an excerpt from my chapter entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith." I hope it will whet your appetite enough so you can check out the rest of the book.
I'll never forget the first time I saw Star Wars. I was young enough to see it on the big screen and lucky enough to have no expectations. The theater darkened and John Williams' majestic theme burst forth. Then, a rebel ship appeared with lasers blazing, fleeing for its life. It was quickly followed by the ominous Imperial Star Destroyer that didn't simply fly into the frame; it consumed the screen! This ship never ended! The experience still resonates with me today.

Star Wars didn't impact one generation. It continues to influence culture even decades later. Films have that kind of power. They are the modern equivalent to the traveler who visits the local village and weaves a tale of exotic places and heroic exploits. We get a new perspective on the world and we become the heroes we see on the screen. Movies whisk us away from our problems and our dreary lives. The storyteller has always had this power, but now the power is enhanced by computer-generated graphics and multi-million dollar budgets.

Movies will influence people in ways they never even realize. Take The Sideways Effect. The 2004 film centered on two friends touring California's wine country, where the main character gives an eloquent speech about his preference for one type of wine, Pinot Noir, and his disdain for Merlot. In the year following its release, sales of Pinot Noir jumped 16% while Merlot sales shrank 2%. The wine industry dubbed this "The 'Sideways' Effect."1 This is how effective powerful storytelling is in transmitting new ideas.

Using Story to Communicate Truth

Jesus knew the power of story. He continually used storytelling to more easily communicate difficult concepts, both to his disciples and to his challengers. Jesus relied on parables so much that "He did not speak to them without a parable" (Mark 4:34, ESV). Jesus's parables would use the familiar experiences of that culture then draw a spiritual lesson from them. Like Jesus, we need to use examples to help us illustrate our points. Our apologetic can be more effective by drawing on the shared experience of popular films to share spiritual truth.

Movies are not only shared across our culture, they're highly relatable and they can present clear pictures of complex ideas. Movies have the added benefit of being enjoyable to watch. While your non-believing friends or family may balk at the idea of attending a Bible study, most wouldn't mind watching the latest blockbuster. And with any good film, people get excited to talk about it afterwards. That gives you the advantage. Using movies in your apologetic offers you a non-threatening way to witness to friends or family using a powerful medium with relatable examples that they'll remember for a long time. Here are just three examples of how you can use Hollywood blockbusters in your apologetic.2


1. Cuellar, Steven S. "The 'Sideways' Effect: A Test for Changes in the Demand for Merlot and Pinot Noir Wines." Wines & Vines. 1 Jan. 2009: n. pag. Web.
2.Excerpt taken from  Lenny Esposito. "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith." A New Kind of Apologist. Sean McDowell, General Editor. Eugene, OR: Harvest House Pub, 2016. 119-20. Print.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Exploring the Value of the Human Body

What value is the human body and how should we treat it? That's a big question, but it's one that should concern pretty much everyone, since everyone has a body. It should especially concern the Christian, as Christian theology has much to say about our bodies. Yet, I don't think a lot of Christians have given this particular topic a lot of thought.

First, there are a lot of voices in Western culture offering differing opinions of the value of our bodies. We see some demanding more organically grown crops and no GMO-modified foods; others encourage us to be good to ourselves through exercise and the reduction of stress. Yet at the same time these trends are increasing, so is the number of people who are modifying their bodies as a form of self-expression. Tattooing has become commonplace and unsurprising. Other types of modifications include implants, piercings, and ear tunnels. Some opt even more extreme changes like branding, scarification, tongue splitting, and so on.

Of course, one should never assume all these are part of the same continuum. They may not even be in the same category, depending on how one defines those categories. But this is my point in exploring these issues. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I'd like to at least more clearly define the questions and do so using a Christian perspective. Non-Christians may have a completely different take, one that may comport to their worldview, but I hope to find some common ground to begin the discussion between Christians here.

How Does One Ascribe Value?

What value does a body have? To answer that question, one must first understand what we mean by value. Value can either be extrinsic or intrinsic. Extrinsic value is the value bestowed by an external source. For example, a child can value an old blanket or a soldier values his fiancée's letter from home, but those are extrinsic values. The object is perceived as valuable by the valuer. Items like an iPhone, currency, and even gold are considered valuable because people place a value for those items. Perhaps the item's rarity or the fact a metal won't tarnish make people agree it's more valuable than not, but if those conditions change, the value of the item will change. That's why the price of gold fluctuates and you can't buy anything with Confederate money. Extrinsic value has no value in and of the thing.

Intrinsic value is different. Intrinsic value comes simply due to the nature of the thing itself. For example, human life has intrinsic value. That's why we won't take the life of a prisoner to use his organs to save research scientists. It's why we shudder at concepts like eugenics and cannibalism. Human life holds an intrinsic value because human beings are intrinsically valuable. We are beings made in the image of God and as image-bearers we are unique in God's creation. We are able to relate to ourselves, each other, and to God in a way no other part of his creation can. And because all human beings carry this image of God, it means all human beings are intrinsically valuable.

Human Beings as Body and Soul

As human beings, we must recognize we are made of two components: body and soul.1 God's design for humans is for us to exist as bodily beings.  God created us this way and h calls his creation good. While there are many passages in the Bible of people surviving their bodies (Gen 35:18, Ecc. 12:7, 1 Sam. 28:15, Luke 16:19-31,Rev.6:9), the Bible clearly shows these disembodied souls are in an intermediate state. Prior to eternity, both the saved and the lost will be resurrected, meaning they will be re-embodied, so they can live out eternity once again as body and soul. This means the body is a crucial component of what it means to be a human being. Wayne Grudem writes:
It is important to recognize that it is man himself who is created in the image of God, not just his spirit or his mind. Certainly our physical bodies are a very important part of our existence and, as transformed when Christ returns, , they will continue to be part of our existence for all eternity (see 1 Cor. 15-43-46, 51-55). Our bodies have therefore been created by God as suitable instruments to represent in a physical way our human nature, which has been made to be like God's own nature.2
Secondly, God himself became embodied in the person of Jesus of Nazareth (John 1:14). In one way, this sanctifies the human body, as it is seen as a fitting vessel for the Son of God to dwell in. Because Jesus is fully human, his body will also exist for all eternity. His body wasn't a temporary dwelling, but it is how we will experience him in heaven (Rev 5:6). Christ's redemption entails both our bodies and our souls, and just has Jesus resurrected with the same body he had before his death, we too will be resurrected with our own bodies. They may have new attributes. They may be healed or made whole, but they will essentially be our bodies.

The Value of the Human Body

Given these two criteria, I believe our bodies hold intrinsic worth, too. This means it is an especially heinous when groups like ISIS or Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front uses amputation and mutilation as tactics to instill terror on others.3 This is also why we see crimes like rape as abhorrent. While rape does have a psychologically damaging dimension, the physical act is a violation all by itself. Imagine a woman being raped while drunk or under anesthesia. Even if she is unconscious and cannot remember the trauma, the crime is in no way diminished. This is because her body has been violated by another.

All of this is to simply try to focus our minds on what kind of value we mean when we say the body is valuable. In subsequent posts, I'll try to tease out the incredibly wide range of ways we treat our bodies and ask what that means to their value. I'm interested in your thoughts as well. But let's first agree that Christians hold our bodies are not valuable because our minds would hate to part with them or some portion of them.  Our bodies are valuable intrinsically. They have value because of what they are.


1. I realize some Christians hold to a form of physicalism, whereby they see the soul as an attribute of the body instead of in distinction from it. However, even this belief doesn't damage my central argument.
2. Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1994. Print. 448.
3. Onishi, Norimitsu. "Sierra Leone Measures Terror in Severed Limbs." New York Times. New York Times, 22 Aug. 1999. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.
Image courtesy LorenzoLivrieri and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

How Sci Fi Smuggles in a Godless Humanity (video)

Our media shapes our culture in many ways. Popular television and film can offer viewpoints that are antithetical to Christian beliefs. Sometimes this happens overtly. Other times it's more subtle.

In this short clip, Lenny highlights two key filmmakers—Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek and Joss Whedon who created Firefly and several wildly popular Marvel features—and demonstrates how their worldview leaks onto the screen, influencing their viewers.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Why Science Cannot Ground All Knowledge

Is science the best, most assured way of learning about reality? In the minds of more and more people, the answer is "yes." Yesterday, I highlighted a quote from scientist Peter Atkins on how he relies upon science to inform him about the world, dismissing even the consideration of God's existence as "lazy." But, relying on science as the only arbiter for judging the verity of truth claims will never work, because science cannot function as one's starting point.

When explaining reality, everyone must have a starting point. For example, one may observe an event, such as a strike of lightning, and ask "what makes that happen?" A person may respond by describing how a storm cell moving across the land scrapes off electrons until the charge is to such a degree they rush back to the ground, which is reasonable scientific. The first person would be justified in asking "how do you know that?" More conversations could ensue about the structure of atoms, experimental testing and predictions, etc. But each tome, the questioner could ask for further justification for the facts being presented. Sooner or later, there must be a starting point for science.

Four Assumptions Scientist Must Hold

Assuming the questioner drives his respondent back further and further (i.e. "But, how do you know that?") one will quickly see the scientific method relies upon several assumptions. The first is the world will behave consistently. Scientists assume that because electrons have behaved in a certain way in the past, they will also do so tomorrow, and next week, and fifty billion years from now. Science cannot prove this; the scientist must assume it to make predictions.

Secondly, in order to draw any conclusions at all, scientists must assume logic takes us towards the truth. Without logic, one could never infer anything. How can one infer any electron in the universe will behave in the same manner as the electrons creating the lighting strike if one cannot build an argument? The scientific method is really a logical argument offering support for its premises by way of experimentation and concludes with its hypothesis either confirmed or denied. The scientist gives reasons for his conclusion!

Thirdly, the scientist must assume ethics are important. Much research today draws its conclusions not simply from its own findings but from prior research and publication. Falsifying data to arrive at the conclusion one wants is considered wrong. Even unintentional bias and flawed research methods can corrupt results. That's why there's a real concern that so much of what's being published in scientific journals is irreproducible.  Without assuming ethical standards of truth-telling and the importance of solid methodology, scientific endeavors would be a confusing mishmash of conflicting data, with everyone's opinion held as equally valuable.

Lastly, the scientist must assume that his or her own mind is reliable in reporting how the world works. This is a key component to the scientific process and it also poses the biggest problem in cutting God out of the picture. If your brain is the product of mutations whose only benefit to its host is that of survival, then why should you trust it? Survival is not the same thing as truth-telling. In fact, lying can make survival much easier in many circumstances. As long as survival is the outcome, it doesn't matter whether you believe you need to run from the tiger because you're in a race or because it may eat you. If you get away, the same result is achieved. So, if we evolved from some primate species, why trust our "monkey-brains" to tell us the truth? How could one argue that a mindless, random process would even act in an orderly way?

God Grounds the Starting Points

Going back to pour first point, one must assume some intentional ordering of universe in order to ground the assumption of a consistent universe. Christianity teaches that God is a consistent God. He would create his universe in such a way that it would be consistent as well. This gives us a reason to believe in the consistency of the universe, a reason which science cannot offer. Scientists certainly assume the universe is consistent in its laws, but they have no basis for doing so, other than that's what they've seen. But even our dreams have an air of consistency to them until we wake up. Then we realize how inconsistent they are. To assume

Secondly, in the assumption of logic, God also becomes the starting point. If God is the logos—that is Reason itself—then logic and reason are built into the universe as reflections of his nature. Logic works because God is a logical God and we, as rational creatures, bear his image. Thus, we can understand and use reason to discover truths about the created order.

Thirdly, morality must have its grounding in God. The concept of classifying things as right or classifying them as wrong is central to theology. One cannot have the absolute standards of right and wrong without appealing to a being who transcends all of creation. That is God.

Lastly, the fact that a God of reason created us with the capacity to reason gives us grounding for believing our capacity for reason itself. AS part of God's created order, we can experience it in meaningful ways.

Science is a wonderful tool that tells us much about a very small slice of reality: the natural world. But the world is much bigger than its mechanics. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, relationships, mathematics, abstract concepts, and spiritual realities also comprise our lives and our experiences. Not only can science not explain these things, it must assume them before it gets going. It cannot explain its own assumptions, and therefore shows its incapacity for being the proper starting point.

Image courtesy Longlivetheux - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Unvarished Bias of Scientism

Recently, an episode of the Unbelievable? program featured a discussion on whether it is reasonable to claim that advances in science somehow undermine the existence of God. It pivoted on the assertion that science and religion are somehow opposed to one another, In other words, once certain scientific explanations for some observed phenomena are found, it removes the need for God to "do that."

The show pitted mathematician and physics Dr. David Glass against Oxford Emeritus Professor Peter Atkins and humanist James Croft. Peter Atkins is a physical chemist and a primary example of what it means to believe in not simply science, but scientism.

Atkins over and over again characterizes any appeal to a divine intelligence for explaining why things are the way they are as "lazy." It's as though the more he repeats the charge, the more believable he thinks it becomes. Then, at about the 44:52 mark, he offers this statement:
I'm just taking the world as it seems to me, from an utterly unprejudiced point of view. Lying here, looking at the evidence, assessing the evidence, accepting that this purported alternative explanation has arisen from sentiment, misogyny, power, hegemony, you name it… fear of personal annihilation, manipulation. All those things don't convince me that it's a better explanation.
Is this really the viewpoint of someone who holds an "utterly unprejudiced point of view?" Such a claim is farcical on its face. This isn't a one-off comment, either. Earlier in the program, he explained why he rejects theism as holding any sort of explanatory power:
I accepted right at the beginning that you can't disprove the existence of God, because as James [Croft] said, it's such a slippery and ill-defined concept. But what you can do is to understand how people came to believe that "God did it." That is, it's driven by sentiment, fear of personal annihilation, and cultural pressures, and history, and power grabbing, and all the things that go into religious belief. But if you discard those and you're left with trying to understand a mechanism by which the world works, a mechanism how it came into existence, then the only answer is through the scientific method, which is a procedure that depends upon evidence and setting theories into a whole network of understanding.
During the conversation, Glass queries Atkins and asks him how he proposes to use science to explain things like objective moral values, mathematics, and logic. Atkins retorts that ethics indeed can be explained via evolutionary survival principles, thus completely missing the distinction between functional outcomes and moral reality.

Who's Lazy Now?

Atkins' dodge should be noted. He cannot discuss how science claims to account for mathematics or the laws of logic. That's because it is impossible to do so, for science must assume these things before it can even start.

Even leaving all that aside, any person who is even half-interested in the truth will recognize that Atkins is anything but unbiased when trying to understand how beliefs are formed. His vitriolic mischaracterization that all cultures across all societies throughout history came to the conclusion of a creator for the material world because of sentiment, power, and hegemony is shameful. Has Atkins bothered at all to look into this matter? Why doesn't he acknowledge that world-class scientists like Francis Collins, who is doing top-notch work, would be deeply offended at such a characterization?

Atkins' statements do serve a purpose. They functions as evidence for only one conclusion: Atkins is the one corrupted by bias. He's the lazy one who isn't interested in seeking answers. He simply wants to throw insults, and his opinions on this issue can be ignored.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Quick Answers to the Charge of Bible Contradictions

When I speak with skeptics, many of them claim the Bible cannot be trusted because of all the contradictions within it. I usually ask for specific examples at this point, understanding that the objector may have some specific text in mind. (Don't bluff on this! Here's why.) However, when they offer examples, these usually are shown to not be contradictory upon examination.

Below are two short videos where I discuss how most charges of contradictions are simply the objector applying an unreasonable standard on the text. We can break these down into three categories: skeptics either expect robot reporting, snub style to force meaning, or demand "my way or the highway." The second video shows how I treat one specific objection often lobbed against the resurrection accounts: the differences the Gospels record when describing the number of women who visited Jesus's tomb on Sunday morning. Enjoy.

Does The Bible Have Contradictory Claims In It?

Is The Number Of Women At The Empty Tomb A Contradiction?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Evangelism Needs to Become More Intellectual

There exists a fairly popular instruction for pastors that when they prepare their sermons, they should strive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf." In other words, the sermon needs to be simple with points easy to grasp by all.

I agree that it is important to communicate clearly. Part of that is to help parishioners by approaching take complex ideas and breaking them up in such a way that they can be apprehended by most of the congregation. However, I fear that the drive to "put the cookies on the lower shelf" has been over emphasized. I've seen many Bible teachers who are afraid of being "too intellectual" or presenting difficult concepts because their congregants may not "get it." As a result, much of the preaching on Sunday mornings have been dumbed-down from what the average church goer would have experienced a century or two ago.

Of course, not all ideas given in the Scriptures are able to be easily digested. God's orchestration of the conquest of Canaan is one example. The role that women play in New Testament churches is another. Concepts such as believers being predestined yet having the freedom to choose to follow Jesus is a third. All of these are directly taken from the scriptures and if one is to take in the whole counsel of God, these ideas must be addressed.

The Intellectual Needs Jesus

My concern is not simply liturgical; it is also evangelical. There is real danger in not demonstrating an intellectually robust faith for the intellectuals who are influential in shaping the ideas of a culture. James Davison Hunter makes a salient point:
Imagine, in this regard, a genuine "third great awakening" occurring in America, where half of the population is converted to a deep Christian faith. Unless this awakening extended to envelop the cultural gatekeepers, it would have little effect on the character of the symbols that are produced and prevail in public and private culture. And, without a fundamental restructuring of the institutions of culture formation and transmission in our society-the market, government-sponsored cultural institutions, education at all levels, advertising, entertainment, publishing, and the news media, not to mention church-revival would have a negligible long-term effect on the reconstitution of the culture. Imagine further several social reform movements surrounding, say, educational reform and family policy, becoming very well organized and funded, and on top of this, serious Christians being voted into every major office and appointed to a majority of judgeships. Legislation may be passed and judicial rulings may be properly handed down, but legal and political victories will be short-lived or pyrrhic without the broad-based legitimacy that makes the alternatives seem unthinkable.1
To support his claim, Hunter points to one of the biggest victories of Evangelicals in the last century – the temperance movement. Christians had both political representation and a significant portion of the voting public behind them to pass a constitutional amendment. However, it proved a miserable failure.

The church must reach out to the intellectual in the academy as well as the builder on the job site. Both need saving. But if we only present Christianity in the most basic idioms, what will be their assumption about the faith? Instead of seeing the robust, historic Christian tradition that birthed the writings of the likes of Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Pascal, and many others, they see a feeble and childish view of the world.

I don't believe every sermon must feel like a college lecture. But offering one sermon a month that stretches the congregation and tackles some of the more complex ideas within Christendom wouldn't be a bad idea.

In the book of Hebrews, the church is rebuked by the writer for not being able to handle more difficult matters of theology. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Heb. 5:13-14). Paul also rebukes the Corinthian church similarly: "But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh" ( Cor. 3:1-3).

How are we reaching the intellectual with the Gospel? How are we growing our church members into mature believers who can digest solid food? Keeping the cookies on the lower shelf may be fun for the congregation, but it might simply mean we're short-changing their intellectual nutrition.


1. Hunter, James Davison. To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.46.
Image courtesy Jelllserrine - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What is Wisdom and How Can I Find It?

If you ever want to see how people can assume certain concepts, just ask a friend if they understand what the concept of time. Most would quickly respond, "Of course! Everyone knows what time is." Then ask them to give a definition of time that doesn't refer back to itself in some way (i.e. "Time is hours, minutes, and seconds. What are those? Measurements of …time.") Most people find this task extremely difficult, not because they don't have any concept of time, but because they haven't reflected specifically on what time is.1

While the example of defining time may be interesting, there are other, more important concepts that we also assume we know but don't necessarily understand clearly. Wisdom certainly fits that category. Over and over in the Bible, we are instructed to seek out wisdom, such as the passage in Proverbs 3:13-18:
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding,
for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.
She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor.
Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed.
This passage is indicative of how the scriptures encourage the gaining of wisdom. But there is a tendency among casual readers to assume that wisdom is the same thing as knowledge. Christians sometimes think that the command to get wisdom is basically becoming more familiar with the Bible. I don't think that's quite right. While knowledge is certainly a component of wisdom, the Bible seems to paint a fuller picture of wisdom than simply learning.

Making Wisdom Bigger than Knowledge

If one looks further in the book of Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly becomes clearer. Proverbs 5 begins, "My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword." Notice the verbs the author uses: be attentive, keep, guard and incline. It isn't that the son doesn't know or realize relations with the forbidden woman is wrong. The proverbist is teaching knowledge isn't good on its own; it must be put into practice. The son needs to remind himself of what he knows and not deceive himself by acting on his feelings in a way contrary to knowledge.

Looking at it this way, I think we can get a much better idea of what wisdom really means. Wisdom is knowledge properly applied. It encompasses both informed thought and the outworking of that reasoning. It requires the student to understand not simply the commands of God, but his character. It means the student must develop his reasoning skills to make judgments on how to act in specific situations. It also means one must practice and develop discipline and self-control, just as the New Testament commands (1 Cor. 9:25, Gal. 5:23, 1 Pet. 4:7, 2 Pet. 1:6).

Wisdom Affects Your Walk

Once the Christian sees wisdom in this broader view, it will change his walk. Study and developing reasoning skills become as much an act of devotion as prayer and worship. These are necessary tools that the faithful believer must draw upon in his or her walk with Jesus. How can one properly apply the knowledge that has never been acquired?

As the proverbist counsels in Proverbs 4:7-9, "The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight. Prize her highly, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a graceful garland; she will bestow on you a beautiful crown." The best way to be wise is to understand what wisdom is, and then go out and get it. You've just taken the first step. Now, keep waking towards that prize.


1. For those who may be wondering, one can define time as "the succession of moments." Also, any idea of change implies the concept of time, since change requires a before state and an after state. This is why when people like Lawrence Kraus tries to point to quantum fluctuations to explain the existence of something rather than nothing, they fail, since time is one of the things needing explaining.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

History is a Problem for Those Who Doubt Jesus Was Real

There are plenty of people who deny the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus. They may hold that there was a sage teacher of morality named Jesus who lived in the first century who was eventually executed by the Romans. Usually, the story goes that his followers taught others about his exploits, embellishing them with legendary acts and miraculous flourishes until we have the accounts of his life we read in the Bible today. These claims have been with us for centuries.

However, today there seems to be a growing subset of people who hold that not only did Jesus of Nazareth not do the miraculous deeds recorded in the Gospel accounts, but he never existed at all. The entire account of Jesus of Nazareth is mythical; it's an invention of people looking for a messiah-figure. These "Jesus-Mythicists" have gained traction primarily because of their presence on Internet. Even hyper-skeptic Bart Ehrman has noted that no New Testament scholar or historian, including the most skeptical, would hold such a view.1

The Problem of Association

One big reason the Jesus-myth scenario is rejected by scholars is the incredible hole it creates in explaining history. How could the story of Jesus gain traction so quickly if he didn't exist? Thomas Cooper, in his book The Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time, explains the problem well:
Who can ponder on Paul's history without feeling that it must be regarded as part of the evidence for the truth of Christianity? Paul's existence and course of life, and the writing of his letters to the Christian Churches are held to be facts by all the German and French schools of skepticism; and that "Reverend" Robert Taylor that I mentioned to you who some fifty years ago was a favourite of the London freethinkers holds by the same facts But what a puzzling contradiction it seems for men to acknowledge the reality of the life and recorded acts of Paul as facts and yet to deny the truth of Christianity.

What! Paul a real man and Christ a myth? Paul a real existence; Paul, who wrote so much about Christ so soon after his death and resurrection; Paul a real existing man, and Christ's existence a fable? Paul, who held the clothes of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, while they stoned him to death? Then Stephen was also a real existing man, who died praying "Lord Jesus! receive my spirit!" Paul, the glorious half-missionary, half-mechanic, who crossed the Mediterranean and the Adriatic, and visited so many shores preaching Christ, and yet there never was any Christ to preach? Paul, a real living man, who had seen and conversed with Peter, and James, and John? Then they were all real living men. How came they to say what they did about Christ if He never existed? How came they to speak of His miracles to the people who must have seen Christ's wondrous acts, if ever He performed them? Must they not have expected the people to say, "You are impostors! no such miracles were ever performed!" Yet no one said this. Even the worst enemies of Christ did not deny His miracles, though they attributed them to Satanic agency.2
This problem of explaining events such as the conversion of Paul and his self-identification as one who martyred Christians immediately after the crucifixion of Jesus, the quick dissemination of Christianity by Jesus's original followers throughout the Roman Empire, along with the appeal over and over again to eyewitnesses becomes hopelessly strained and convoluted if Jesus wasn't a real, living person. All attempts to reconcile a real Paul with a mythical Jesus hold less explanatory scope, less explanatory power, and rely on ad-hoc assumptions when attempting to make any sense at all. Cooper saw this when writing in 1871!

If Paul was real, then his life and his conversion need to be explained. The most cogent way to do that is by believing what he himself testified: he had seen the Risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:8).

I want to offer a special thanks to Dr. Timothy McGrew for collecting Thomas Cooper's book and others at his site All the titles are in the public domain and free to everyone.


1. Ehrman, Bart D. "Did Jesus Exist?" The Huffington Post., 20 Mar. 2012. Web. 29 July 2015.
2. Cooper, Thomas. The Bridge of History over the Gulf of Time a Popular View of the Historical Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1874. Print. 154-155.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Has Archaeology Proven the Gospel of John?

Charisma News published a web article last week with the bold headline "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." It opens with the claim "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true," then references both Eric Metaxas and a Los Angeles Times article that quoted Princeton New Testament scholar James H. Charlesworth. The claim is irresponsible.

Before we go too far, let me first say that the discovery of the pool of Slioam is a significant find for biblical archaeology. Discovered in 2004, it offers additional evidence that the author of John's gospel had first-hand knowledge of the city of Jerusalem, just as the discovery of the pool of Bethsaida (the setting of the healing in John 5) was found with its five porticoes, just as John described them. Since the 5th century, Christians had thought Siloam was the outlet of Hezekiah's tunnel, but this discovery shows a much larger, grander pool, according to the Biblical Archaeological Society.1 As Charlesworth stated in a Los Angeles Times interview which was cited by Charisma News, "Scholars have said that there wasn't a Pool of Siloam and that John was using a religious conceit… Now we have found the Pool of Siloam ... exactly where John said it was."2

Both Metaxas in his commentary and Charlesworth are correct to say the discovery lends credence to the level of historical reliability the Gospel of John holds. But that is a completely different claim than the one leading the Charisma News article. Both the article and the headline trumpeted "Archaeological evidence now proves the Gospel of John is true." Proves? It proves the truth of the entire Gospel? That's a troubling oversimplification that is actually dangerous to the message of the Gospel, as we can see by looking at a parallel story in the Los Angeles Times.

Are You Willing to Believe in Greek Gods?

The well-developed pantheon of gods in Greek mythology is familiar to most people. Much of that familiarity comes from the required reading of Homer's epic The Illiad. It is Homer's tale that provides the narrative of Helen of Troy ("the face that launched a thousand ships"), Achilles and his heel, the Trojan War and the accompanying Trojan horse. We read how the Greek gods work for or against the story's heroes and for or against each other.

Of course, Troy and Sparta are real places, but many scholars also held the Trojan War references in The Iliad were just as mythical as the references of the Greek gods. Troy was considered at first to be "entirely mythical."3 But in 1993, the Los Angeles Times reported "Archeologists have uncovered strong evidence that the Trojan War described by the poet Homer in 'The Iliad,' one of the first and most important books in Western literature, actually occurred."4

The article then reports the archaeological advancements at Troy:
In the 1870s, German merchant Heinrich Schliemann identified what he believed to be its site, a large mound on the Anatolian Peninsula about 15 miles from the modern city of Canakkale. The mound, about 600 feet long, 450 feet wide and more than 100 feet tall, is called Hisarlik (Place of Fortresses) and is accepted as the site of Troy…

But archeologists from Blegen's generation and later ones argued that the citadel was too small to be the Homeric Troy. "People believed there was a kernel of truth in the (Homeric) story, but the citadel was too small to be an important place," Korfmann said. 5
In the 1990s, when excavations resumed after a fifty year hiatus, archaeologist can now show the Trojan War was not merely possible, but maybe even probable.

Sauce for the Goose, Sauce for the Gander

Given this, does archaeology prove Homer's Iliad is true? Would any Christian claim such? Of course not. It shows Homer was familiar with the area of Troy. In fact, the article quotes archaeologist Korfmann postulating "Homer might have written down his story while viewing this ruins of this city. The ruins available in this landscape could have been the stage for an epic."6

Similarly, the archaeological evidence for the Siloam Pool demonstrates it is implausible to believe the Gospel of John was wholly invented in Asia well after the fall of Jerusalem by someone who has never visited the city. It adds credence to the claim that John was an eyewitness to Jesus' miracles at the Pool of Siloam or Bethsaida. But one cannot claim it proves the Gospel of John. Otherwise, a well-informed atheist can simply ask why you don't also believe in Achilles, and the Greek gods, since archaeology has proven the Iliad in exactly the same manner.

There are many things archaeology can tell us and many things archaeology cannot tell us about the Bible. But let's be careful in how much we assume.


1. Staff. "The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Healed the Blind Man." Bible History Daily. Biblical Archaeological Society, 3 Dec. 2015. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.
2. Justice, Jessilyn. "Pool Where Jesus Healed a Blind Man Discovered, Proves Gospel of John Is True." Charisma News. Charisma Media, 4 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 Feb. 2016.
3. Maugh II, Thomas H. "Archeological Evidence of Homer's Trojan War Found : History: Researchers Show That City Was Large Enough to Withstand the Epic Battle Described in 'The Iliad.'" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 22 Feb. 1993. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.
4. Maugh, 1993.
5. Maugh, 1993.
6. Maugh, 1993.
Image courtesy Ian Scott (Pool of Siloam) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Time Is No Longer the Friend of Darwinism

Today's neo-Darwinian scenarios have always relied on an abundance of time as an essential component of diversification through adaptation. We've all heard the canard where enough monkeys with enough typewriters will eventually produce a Shakespearean sonnet. Of course, it's been proven there's a big bias in even that assumption. However, now, as we learn more about the complexity and intricacy of encoded DNA instruction sets, we are finding out that time is not the friend of evolution.

In a paper published last year in the Journal Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling, John Sanford, Wesley Brewer, Franzine Smith and John Baumgardner look at the nut and bolts of DNA mutation and calculate just how long it would take to get new, biologically meaningful nucleotides. In other words, we don't simply need genetic mutations. We need mutations that will be of some benefit to the organism, will be significant enough to be "set" in the population, and will be able to do so within a population and generational set projected for the species. Let's look at each of these requirements in more detail.

1. Mutations Must Add to the Fitness of the Organism

In their paper, Sanford et. al. looked at strings of code within the DNA commonly referenced as genes. These strings of code are the instruction set for building all the biological systems that make up you and me. Just as a book is composed sentence by sentence, the sentences are built word by word, and the words are built by strings of letter, so DNA nucleotide strings are the source of the proteins or RNA machines that build more complex biological functions. These are the foundation of biology and it is at this level where any meaningful change must happen for evolution to work.

Further, not just any mutation counts. Just as any recombination or addition of letters doesn't lead to new sentences, the mutations must be to the degree that it provides "stronger fitness benefits" to the organism according to natural selection.1 This isn't controversial in and of itself; common descent argues this way. But needing specific mutations raises the odds and requires more time than just any mutation.

2. Mutations Must be Set Within the Organism

Advantageous mutations are not good enough, though. The mutations must be of a kind to be hereditary. They have to be able to be passed from parent to offspring, otherwise they die with the carrier. Not only do they need to be hereditary but they need to be dominant enough within the population to permeate the species.

Imagine you have an isolated village of blond-haired people. One dark-haired traveler stumbles onto the village and decides to settle there. He marries and has children, some of whom are dark-haired. While dark hair is a dominant trait, not all the dark-haired man's children will necessarily carry his dark hair gene. Dark hair could still be lost within a few generations.

The model used by Sanford et. al. takes this factor into account. It also raises the complexity of the mutation, sometimes requiring the same mutation more than once in a population in order for the gene to be "set."

3. The Size and Reproductive Rate of the Population Matters

Lastly, these kinds of mutations happen at different speeds for different types of organisms, as Michael Behe deftly explained in The Edge of Evolution. For example, the E. Coli bacteria can have a population pool in the millions within a community. It divides every thirty seconds, allowing less than 20 years for researcher Richard Lenski to reach 50,000 generations.2 However, for higher primates, the population size is much smaller and they reproduce at a much slower pace. Human beings must achieve puberty before they can start having babies. This means that mutations are passed much more slowly.

So what happens when you take these various factors and put them all together into a computer model? Just how long is enough time to get a biologically advantageous mutation within a hominid population, that is an animal type that would eventually produce homo sapiens?

Sanford's model shows there simply isn't enough time for enough significant mutations to move from more primitive hominids to human beings. The paper's conclusion states:
Biologically realistic numerical simulations revealed that a population of this type required inordinately long waiting times to establish even the shortest nucleotide strings. To establish a string of two nucleotides required on average 84 million years. To establish a string of five nucleotides required on average 2 billion years. We found that waiting times were reduced by higher mutation rates, stronger fitness benefits, and larger population sizes. However, even using the most generous feasible parameters settings, the waiting time required to establish any specific nucleotide string within this type of population was consistently prohibitive.3 (emphasis added.)
Interestingly, one point noted in the paper was that increasing population sizes to help point number three actually work against point number two by making the new genetic function more diluted within the population group and therefore less likely to become "set."

Overall, the paper is interesting and offers independent verification to the time problem Behe argued in The Edge of Evolution while using a completely different methodology. Make sure you take the time to read it.


1. Sanford, John, Wesley Brewer, Franzine Smith, and John Baumgardner. "The Waiting Time Problem in a Model Hominin Population." Theor Biol Med Model Theoretical Biology and Medical Modelling 12.1 (2015): n. pag. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.
2. Gallup, Dave. "E. Coli: A "Model Organism" From Theodor Escherich's Legacy." The Environmental Reporter. EMLab P&K, 13 May 2010. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.
3. Sanford, 2015.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Making Good Arguments for the Faith (podcast)

Christianity is a faith that is as logical as it is life-transforming. But how do we demonstrate that to a secular world? Christians must learn how to argue better. In this recent podcast series, Lenny explains  how to share your faith using persuasive, rational arguments that powerfully defend the Christian worldview.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Trying to Become More Relevant Makes Liberal Churches Less Relevant

There has been a lot of noise about the rise of the Nones in the U.S. As the 2014 Religious Landscape Study reported, more people are not identifying with any organized religious. That doesn't mean they are all atheists, though. According to the Pew organization that published the study, "the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the 'nones' are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith."1 The rise of the Nones mirror the decline in mainline Protestant denominations, while religious groups such as Evangelicals are holding steady or even growing slightly. Millennials are increasingly identifying as Nones.

None of this is surprising. Millennials take an increasingly subjective view of faith claims, just as the more mainline denominations had held and taught. I believe the problem stems from the shift that occurred in the theology of mainline seminaries and churches. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, mainline denominations became increasingly more theologically liberal, spiritualizing what had previously been understood as objective morality and a record of historic events. This was their fatal move, as Francis Schaeffer pointed out in How Should We Then Live:
The new liberal theology, because it says that the Bible does not touch the cosmos or history, has no real basis for applying the Bible's values in a historic situation, in either morals or law. Everything religious is in the area of non-reason, and since reason has no place there, there is no room for discussion; there are only arbitrary pronouncements. Immanuel Kant could not bring together the noumenal and the phenomenal worlds, and the new theologian has no way logically to bring his personal arbitrary values into a historic situation. Or to say it another way: Sartre said that in an absurd world we can authenticate ourselves by an act of the will; but, as we saw, because reason has no place in this we can help people or hurt them. Similarly, because the pronouncements of these theologians about morals or law are arbitrary, in a different mood they, too, can be totally reversed.

The new theologians also have no way to explain why evil exists, and thus they are left with the same problem the Hindu philosophers have; that is, they must say that finally everything that is is equally in God. In Hindu thought one of the manifestations of God is Kali, a feminine representation of God with fangs and skulls hanging about her neck. Why do Hindus picture God this way? Because to them everything that exists now is a part of what has always been, a part of that which the Hindus would call "God"—and therefore cruelty is equal to non-cruelty. Modern humanistic man in both his secular and his religious forms has come to the same awful place. Both have no final way to say what is right and what is wrong, and no final way to say why one should choose non-cruelty instead of cruelty.2
Because mainline denominations abdicated an objective standard of scripture for subjective one, they lost their claim to any real knowledge about the world. The Millennials have recognized this. If there is nothing liberal theology can provide and concrete and objective, then why bother with it at all? If one teaches an olly-olly-oxen-free approach to faith, then why would anyone need to bother with the inconvenience of waling up early to drive to some church building and sit in a pew so someone else can tell them what their understanding of spirituality is? The congregant has his or her own view, which is equally true, so why not skip the whole enterprise? And that's what they've been doing.

Ironically, many mainline churches have tried to recapture the interest of the Millennial generation by showing just how progressive and accepting of all viewpoints they rare. I see banners all the time hanging from Methodist or ELCA churches proclaiming their diversity and acceptance of views that have historically been anathema in Christianity. They don't seem to realize their stance makes their church less relevant in the mind of Millennials, not more so.


1. "U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious." Pew Research Centers Religion Public Life Project RSS. Pew Research Center, 02 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Feb. 2016.
2 Schaeffer, Francis A. How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2005. Print.177-178.
Image by Colin Babb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Making the Most of your Daily Devotions (Free Bible Download)

I am in the book of Revelation in my devotions this morning, reading the message of Jesus to the church in Ephesus. Jesus praises the Ephesians for their passionate and diligent pursuit of truth. However, he also warns them they were in danger of losing their place because "You have forsaken the love you had at first." (Rev. 2:4, ESV). This first love seems to be tied to the good deeds they did at the beginning of the church's ministry. Because of this, commentators see the first love to refer both to the love of Jesus and their love for one another.[1]

All Christians need to cultivate and nurture their love of Christ and for others. The first and best discipline to do this is during your daily devotions. As an apologist, my devotion time is critical, as it would be easy to slip into a habit of faith-defending without love. However, a few years ago, I noticed that even my devotions started to become a rote exercise. My prayer time would be dominated by my requests and my reading was all about quickly finishing the chapter so I could move onto something else.

In order to break out of this habit, I decided to be more deliberate in approaching my prayer time. I liked the ACTS outline of prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication) but needed a grid in which to place it. So, I came up with the following outline that I keep in my Bible and update monthly. I've created a downloadable template for you to save and use for your own devotion times. You can grab either the PDF or the editable Word version. Fill it in, print it out and keep a folded paper copy in your Bible to use each morning. Then, update it each month.

Here's my approach:

1. Contemplating the Nature of God through the Names of God

In God's word, God reveals different aspects of who he is through the various names he uses for himself. So I took eleven different names of God and laid them out in a two-week grid — one for each weekday and a dual-meaning name for Saturday and Sunday. I then contemplate in my prayers the different ways God fulfills the attributes of the "name of the day."

For example, if I am thinking about "Jehovah Sabbaoth - The Lord of Hosts," I contemplate how my holy God s the God over the armies. He can command legions of angels. He is the one who nothing or no one can overwhelm. I let me mind work on that aspect o God's character and I see if I can find new ways of understanding God as the Lord of hosts. Because this is a two-week cycle, it keeps my thoughts about God fresh and my desire to more keenly understand him.

2. Contemplate the Cross and the Sacrifice of Salvation

Coming to the Cross is hugely important. I think about Jesus and what it meant for him to give his back to the torturers. I think about his taking my sin upon himself. I think as a father with children about the sacrifice the Father made as he gave his beloved son to die so that I may live.

3. Ask for forgiveness of sins.

This is the place where I review and confesses my sins. It may be something big or small, but even a sin of hubris or not trusting should be honestly offered here. Make sure you use the Christian's bar of soap (1 John 1:9)!

4. Give thanks for blessings.

We all have more to be thankful for than what we can imagine. I normally open my eyes during this part of my devotional time, so I can be reminded of the many blessings I do have. When I do devotions outside, this drives me to be thankful for God's creation and the oxygen in my lungs.

5. Pray for self.

Here's where I begin the Supplication area. First, I pray I would reflect Jesus in what I say and what I do and what I think. I want to see others the way Jesus would see them. I then pray of my responsibility as a father, as a Christian witness, and any immediate needs I have.

6. Pray for family members

Next, I list out each immediate family member and pray for then. Usually, I pick four or five areas that I pray for. I always try to make sure I think about how can God change/use myself to be more effective in helping them as opposed to "change this thing I don't like" kinds of prayers. Also, because I update this list monthly, it is god practice to come up to your spouse and your children and ask them "What can pray for for you this month?" This ai a great way to stay in touch with your kids and hear what's critical in their, lives.

7. Pray for ministry/job/household finances, etc.

After I've prayed for people, I thin pray for my job or ministry, any financial issues, any difficulties our family may be facing, and other issues affecting us.

8. Weekly rotating prayer for community

Lastly, I use a one week rotation of specific, focused prayer for the larger community. The breakdown is below and also on the template:
  • Mon - Church
  • Tues - Martyrs & those suffering
  • Wed - Government and elected officials
  • Thurs - Apologetics ministries
  • Fri - Educational institutions
  • Sat/Sun — special requests
This list has helped me in my daily devotional time to really pray better, to draw closer to God and to focus my prayers more specifically. I hope it helps you in your devotional time as well. Let me know of any additions or suggestions you have. I can always learn more.


1. See note for Revelation 2:5 in The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008. Print. 2465.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Book Review: The Fate of the Apostles by Sean McDowell

Since Christianity's inception, it has been common for Christian faith-defenders to offer evidence supporting their belief in the risen Jesus. From Paul's testimony in 1 Corinthians 15, the claim of eyewitnesses to support the resurrection of Christ has been integral to Christianity. Many people point to the fact that Jesus's apostles died without ever recanting their belief in him as evidence of the truthfulness of their testimony.

But is this as strong a piece of evidence as we've been led to believe? How do we know the apostles were actually martyred, and does dying for one's faith prove anything other than loyalty to a belief system? These are the questions Dr. Sean McDowell takes up in his new book The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus (Ashgate, 2015). In The Fate of the Apostles, McDowell traces the historical evidence for the deaths of each of the Twelve and offers an objective rubric for weighing the probability of their martyrdoms.

Clarifying What They Died For

Martyrdom is a heady concept. Across the theological spectrum, there are many people who give up their comfort for their beliefs. There are fewer who may subject themselves to pain or abuse because of their faith, and fewer still who die for a religious belief. But all religious traditions can probably point to someone who qualifies as a martyr for their particular faith. So, how to approach the apostles' martyrdom, if they truly were martyred, encompasses the first four chapters of the book. McDowell keenly clarifies his goal is not to show the apostles were steadfast unto death not simply in their refusal to give up Christianity, but they very specifically refused to deny seeing the risen Christ.

This is a key point and one that must be emphasized again and again to detractors who would liken the apostles' fate to suicide bombers or some other modern contrivance. There would be a difference between sincerely holding to the faith in which one was raised and groomed versus the threat of death for testifying you've seen an executed enemy of your childhood faith (and Rome) walking around. McDowell makes the point right off in his book by underscoring the distinction:
The deaths of others for their religious causes in no way undermines the evidential significance of the fate of the apostles. Second, the apostles' willingness to die for their beliefs does not demonstrate the inherent truth of the Christian message, but that the apostles really believed that Jesus had risen from the grave. The apostles could have been mistaken, but their willingness to die as martyrs establishes their unmistakable sincerity.1

Outlining the Fate of Each Apostle

In the book, McDowell spends the first four chapters outlining the nature and understanding of what martyrdom is, how it would have been understood to the first generation of Christians, and how it would fit within their newly forming belief system. He then devotes a chapter to each of the apostles, including Paul and Jesus's brother James. As would be expected, the historical evidence shrinks when lesser-known apostles such as Simon the Zealot or Matthias are considered. Still, McDowell does a great job showing that even with some apostles' fate in question, there is ample evidence of apostles who did in fact die for their testimony of the risen Jesus and there exists not a shred of evidence that any apostle recanted their belief. Given each would have been considered an eyewitness testifying on first-hand knowledge, this is impressive and does the heavy lifting in setting up the historical bedrock that the disciples did have some kind of experience that needs explaining.


While the book is written and priced for an academic audience (Amazon is offering the hardback at a pricey $118), McDowell's style is open and easily enough read to be handled by a sophisticated high school student. The footnotes throughout offer good support for his claims within the text and his openings and conclusions of each chapter gives the reader a nice, concise guide to the evidence more fully developed between them.

The Fate of the Apostles takes on a historical question that no one else to my knowledge has done in such a complete manner. McDowell has truly done us a favor in his research and publishing, investigating claims that were assumed but not demonstrated in a systematic way. We now have a go-to source that should advance the discussion for the evidence of the resurrection. For anyone interested in church history, apologetics, or the origin of Christianity, I highly recommend this book.


1. McDowell, Sean. The Fate of the Apostles: Examining the Martyrdom Accounts of the Closest Followers of Jesus. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2015. Print. 4.

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