Blog Archive

Followers

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.
Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label apologetics. Show all posts

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (podcast)



If you were asked to choose the most intelligent person in history, who would it be? Einstein? Newton? Socrates? What about Jesus? We often think of Jesus as many things, but rarely do we think of him as an intellectual, using reason and logic skillfully. Yet, he did so frequently. In this four-part podcast, you'll hear Lenny explain just how Jesus out-thought his detractors and you'll learn about a underappreciated aspect of his ministry: how he wants us to engage our minds as much as much as our hearts.

Subscribe to Come Reason's Podcast via iTunes or RSS feed.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Top Apologetics Podcast Topics



In 2016, the Come Reason podcast site saw over 725,000 hits which is the largest year to date. iTunes listeners and RSS feed subscribers who get the podcast automatically accounted for over 42,000 downloads this year alone.  People are listening to the back-catalog, as we hit an average of 600 downloads per episode!

Some of the more attractive topics this year were a mix of social issues/current events as well as foundational arguments for the Christian faith.  Click on each title below to access all of the episodes in each series for these, the top five apologetics podcasts of 2016.

  1. Identifying Imposter Christianity
  2. Answering Atheist Arguments
  3. Are Christians Too Judgmental?
  4. Arguments against Same-Sex Marriage
  5. Dealing with Bible Contradictions

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Ten Apologetics Articles of 2016



2016 continued to be a key news period, especially for matters of faith. While the culture wars provided a couple of entries, the most popular articles proved to be those that offered strong answers to basic objections to the faith, atheist claims, and ways of communicating with non-believers. Without further adieu, here are the top ten apologetics articles from 2016:

  1. Taking the Bible Literally is One Way of Abusing the Bible — 9/16/2016
  2. Another Sign It's the End of the World as We Know It, Christian — 5/4/2016
  3. Has Archaeology Proven the Gospel of John? — 2/8/2016
  4. Five Reasons Why God's Hiddenness is a Good Thing — 7/20/2016
  5. Jesus Ate with Criminals; Why Wouldn't He Bake a Cake for a Gay Person? — 4/18/2016
  6. When Does Cultural Insanity Hit the Breaking Point? — 5/31/2016
  7. What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer? — 5/23/2016
  8. Atheists Admit Their Disbelief Linked to Emotional Discomfort — 3/21/2016
  9. History is a Problem for Those Who Doubt Jesus Was Real — 2/9/2016
  10. Why Doesn't God Prove He Exists? Because It Wouldn't Help Disbelief — 2/29/2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Starting God Conversations: State it Back to Them



Certainly we've all heard the bromide that one should never discuss politics or religion in polite conversation. It's been around for quite some time. In Thomas E. Hill's 1884 book on how to communicate properly in social and business settings, under the section entitled "Etiquette of Conversation" he warns his readers against such exchanges because "to discuss those topics is to arouse feeling without any good result."1

Most people would be inclined to agree with this. Even evangelical Christians wince at sharing their faith. Many times they can remember striking up a conversation with a friend or family member, hopeful that they'll get to share the Gospel, only to have it degenerate into a tense, loud, back and forth where there's more heat than light exchanged.

But it doesn't have to be that way. With respect to Mr. Hill, conversations about faith don't have to be disagreeable even when the participants disagree. I've had many extended conversations with atheists who have actually thanked me for discussing those issues with them. Previously, I explained how Christians can easily and graciously start God conversations by taking the" class photo" approach. Today, I'd like to continue in that vein by discussing a second step that will help keep the level of discourse high and the hurt feelings at a minimum.

Making sure you understand

Atheist Peter Boghossian likes to tell Christians their faith is "belief without evidence" or "pretending to know something you don't know." 2 But this isn't what faith is and it isn't the faith the Bible describes. In telling Christians what they believe and misrepresenting their understanding of their own belief, Boghossian has created a caricature of the Christian understanding of faith. He's set up a straw man that is easy to knock down. Of course, being told that you are pretending to know something you don't know is actually insulting and it shows the other person isn't interested in really knowing what you believe or why you believe it.

But atheists aren't the only ones who are guilty of such moves. Christians can be equally as culpable. It's easy to dismiss atheists as people who only want to live without any rules or some similar charge. Unless they've told you, you don't really know what they believe about the point in question.

This means you need to ask them not only what they believe but why they believe it. In fact, asking probably isn't enough, since we tend to interpret what we hear through our own viewpoints and experiences. The best thing to do is repeat their beliefs back to them using different wording and perhaps even an example. Make their argument as if you held the same view they did use phrases like "Do you mean..." and "So you believe X because you think Y is true."

By repeating their argument back to them, you'll find out a few very positive things happen:
  • First, the other person will feel as though they're heard. They know you're listening to them.
  • Second, it shows you care about them. You aren't simply trying to "put another notch on your Bible" but are truly trying to understand where he or she is coming from.
  • Third, if you can accurately represent someone's views before you've made your case, it will removes a lot of his or her objections to your stance as being uninformed.
  • Lastly, it helps you know where you need to focus your attention in the discussion. I've previously written how asking questions of a Jehovah's Witness radically changed the direction of our conversation.
So, don't be afraid to ask about a person's beliefs and the reasons they hold them. Repeat them back. If you've misunderstood, then they will most likely correct you. But make sure you get their position right before you attempt to tell then why your position makes more sense. To do otherwise is simply insulting.

References

1. Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms: A Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book, 1884. Print. 151.
2. Boghossian, Peter G. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2013. Print. 23-24.

Monday, December 19, 2016

How Does a Naturalist Justify His Reasoning?



Given my blog and public profile, I regularly get internet atheists who try to goad me into debate. My primary goal in ministry is to have honest discussions with people who are open to ideas, so I tend to ignore those who are trolling apologists looking for a debate. However, every once in a while I may engage someone if I think the exchange will be useful as a learning tool for my readers.

Last week, a Twitter user going only by the name Truth who objected to one of my tweets. He claimed "I am open to believe whatever is true." Looked on his Twitter profile and he only describes himself as "Naturalist." I've written previously on how naturalism cannot ground reason. You can see a short article here, or read my contribution to the book True Reason: Confronting the Irrationality of the New Atheism. So, I decided to see how someone who claims to be open to truth understands what truth is. I've reproduced the exchange below:

Started on Dec 18, 2016
Posts You May Have Missed: The Irrationality of Indifference to God t.co/C5EMwP2KqG comereason tweeted on Dec 18, 2016 06:47Reply
@comereason This is absurd. There is no good reason to believe in life after death. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:54Reply
@comereason I am open to believe whatever is true The supposed consequences of not believing a specific claim is not evidence for the claim. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 06:56Reply
@Gottisttot44 How do you know what's true? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:39Reply
@comereason Through the use of reason, evidence etc. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:40Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you ascribe to philosophical naturalism or did I read your profile wrongly? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@comereason methodological naturalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:42Reply
@Gottisttot44 Thanks for the clarification. So, how can you trust your reason then? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:44Reply
@comereason do you want to take this conversation to chat? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:45Reply
@comereason it's going to take more than a 140 characters to have a debate on presuppositionalism gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@Gottisttot44 But I'm not a presuppositionalist. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:47Reply
@comereason I think it is going to be a lot more difficult to debate in full like this but I will if you are not willing to move to chat. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:49Reply
@comereason didn't say you were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:50Reply
@Gottisttot44 Who's debating? I'm trying to understand where you're coming from. Why does a methodological naturalist place trust in reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:56Reply
@comereason because it leads to effective results. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:57Reply
@Gottisttot44 But effective results doesn't mean it's true, right? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@comereason it will just boil down to that. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:51Reply
@comereason it means corresponding with reality. Which is how I define true. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 07:58Reply
@Gottisttot44 But beliefs can be effective and not true. Michael Ruse holds that morality is a useful fiction. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:00Reply
@comereason I didn't say that the belief was effective. I said the results were. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:02Reply
@Gottisttot44 Right. But my original question was "How do you know what's true?" You answered reason and then proffered effective results. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:06Reply
@comereason your original question was why do you 'trust' reason and I said because it provides effective results:corresponding with reality gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:08Reply
@Gottisttot44 My question was based from our prior exchanges: Why do you trust reason to discover the truth. That includes true beliefs. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:13Reply
@comereason because when I use reason it leads to results that correspond with reality. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:14Reply
@Gottisttot44 Again, results that correspond with reality prove neither the truth of a belief nor that your reasoning is correct. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:16Reply
@comereason I disagree, if you make a claim and it corresponds with reality then the claim is true and belief is justified. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:17Reply
@Gottisttot44 Do you see the mistake you made above? What we wish to discern is *whether* the claim corresponds to reality or not. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:29Reply
@Gottisttot44 You said the way you do this is through reason. I asked why do you trust reason and you said "b/c it corresponds / reality." comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:30Reply
@Gottisttot44 You find truth through reason and you trust reason b/c you say it's true. You've argued in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:31Reply
@comereason no. I 'trust' reason because it works. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:33Reply
@comereason there is an argument to be made here but not the way you are presenting it The bigger problem is your position doesn't help fix* gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 08:35Reply
@Gottisttot44 A man can reason that he must run 3 miles to keep the fat demons away. He tests his theory and it works! comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:18Reply
@comereason Oh ok... so we are done reasoning. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:45Reply
@Gottisttot44 All I'm saying is you have expressed no good basis to trust your reasoning will lead you to truth. So, how do we proceed? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 09:57Reply
@comereason I told you, the conclusions we get to using reasoning are matched and verified by empirical observation. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:03Reply
@Gottisttot44 And I've given you an example that contradicts that. What is the naturalist's explanation for why we should trust our reason? comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:11Reply
@comereason What example? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:37Reply
@Gottisttot44 Belief in fat demons keep a mans weight away. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:41Reply
@comereason How is it reasonable to conclude there are fat demons? gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:42Reply
@comereason by reason i mean using logic to come to a conclusion based on valid and sound premises. In this example the man did not do this. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 10:46Reply
@Gottisttot44 First of all, arguments are valid and sound, not premises. Premises are either true or not true. Again, arguing in a circle. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:07Reply
@comereason actually premises are sound or unsound. But yes the argument as a whole is either valid or invalid. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason I just ran out of space. gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:11Reply
@comereason and you still haven't explained how my reasoning is circular... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:12Reply
@Gottisttot44 Why wasn't it reason? Bc it wasn't using truth in the premises. Circular. comereason replied on Dec 18, 2016 11:19Reply
@comereason You are making no sense... gottisttot44 replied on Dec 18, 2016 12:08Reply

I'll leave aside his confusion with soundness and validity for the moment. What you should pick up on is how he keeps switching his understanding of truth. He states that truth is "that which corresponds to reality, which is the definition of the Correspondence theory of truth. However, when asked why one should believe that reason is a trustworthy tool to arrive a truth, his response is "because it provides effective results," which is the Pragmatic theory of truth. This is the basis of his confusion.

I don't know if my interlocutor believes that all truth claims must have some kind of empirical point of verification. I do know that he cannot escape his circular justification for his beliefs, though. Not all naturalists would hold to his view; some would rightly believe that there are certain things one can know directly and immediately without even using reason (such as the laws of logic themselves!) But, even there, a naturalist is stuck in justifying such a belief.
Image courtesy Bart Everson and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

Monday, November 28, 2016

How to Use Questions to Help Defend Your Faith



In our post-Christian culture, it's becoming more and more common for believers to have their faith questioned. I have many students come up to me and ask how they can better defend their beliefs when challenged. You may have had such an experience. Or, perhaps you don't have a lot of people who challenge your faith specifically, but they hold to a particular belief that runs contrary to traditional mores and you'd like to be more effective at communicating your views to them. Here are two steps to help you do just that.

I've previously explained how when engaging in "God conversations", one should take up what I call the second grade class photo approach. Let's suppose you've done so and the person with whom you're speaking says something to the effect that he or she only believes in what can be tested. Science is really all we can know. You may ask "What brought you to such a conclusion?" and received a response of "It has a proven track record!" Do you stop there? What's next?

The person above gave an answer to your question, but it was pretty broad. In fact, when you think about it, it doesn't make much sense at all. First science is a pretty big category. Still, "science" is wrong all the time. A fifty year old textbook on any field in the sciences will be filled with errors that were assumed to be true. Add to this the fact that there are a whole range of things we can know that science cannot begin to explain, such as if a person is in love or what experiencing the color yellow is like. Lastly, saying something like "science is the only thing we can know to be true" is itself a claim about the truth. Yet, it isn't based on any science, so if the statement is true, it's false.

Of course, this is only one illustration. The conversation could go many different ways, but it does serve to underscore a point. You will find many times people do not have a well-developed reason for a lot of the things they hold. They've come to believe things because they've heard it from others, they take positions that are advantageous to themselves without thinking through all the ramifications, or they are simply comfortable and don't like change.

Asking pertinent questions helps to challenge their views

That's why asking specific questions in response is a great technique to use. You want to think about questions or conditions that they would hold but would also show the problem in their current beliefs themselves. In our example above, one could say "Boy, science is a big area. Which branch of science are you talking about? Do all branches of science have the same track record for being right?" You could also ask "How do you know that science is the only thing we can know to be true? What did you do to find out that piece of truth?"

Here's another tack: ask "How does science prove that all people considered equal? When I use scientific methods to test for intelligence, strength, stamina, or even biological functions, I see great disparities between individuals. Some people are physically disabled and some are mentally handicapped. How then does science tell us they're equal?" Or how about this one: "If evolution is about survival of the fittest, then shouldn't we sterilize the most stupid and lazy among us?" That isn't a far-fetched question; scientists came to this same conclusion in the early 20th century in the U.S. and Britain, spawning the eugenics movement. The last forced sterilization in the U.S. occurred in 1981.And even the U.S. Supreme Court upheld forced sterilizations on the grounds that some people may produce "degenerate offspring."

So, ask questions and try to get details for the beliefs your challenger holds. Identify the fuzzy points in their argument. it will help you as the conversation advances and helps them to see they may not have any good reasons for the things they believe.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Starting God-Conversations: Take the "Class-Photo" Approach



AS the holidays are approaching, families will be reunited and seldom seen relatives will have the opportunity to share with one another. Burt when the topic of faith comes up, the conversation can quickly turn contentious. How can you get "God conversations" started where others are interested in engaging instead of arguing with you? How do you set the stage so others won't be put off before the conversation has begun?

First, listen more than you speak

One of the bigger problem in witnessing today is Christians equate it with preaching or dumping our information onto someone else. Some think "as long as I say 'Jesus died for you' and share a couple of scriptures, my witnessing obligations have been met!" That's a complete misconception of what sharing the Gospel is. Jesus never did this. Jesus actually cared enough about each person he engaged to ask them about their lives and he tailored his conversation to their interests. With the religious leaders (Nicodemus/Pharisees) He discussed theology and with the common people (woman at the well, the blind man) he engaged them in the tasks they were doing or the needs they had.

With Zaccheus, Jesus went further. Zaccheus was a tax collector; this meant his attention to the Jewish laws and requirements were not strictly observed "because someone unreligious enough to collect taxes would not be careful about tithing his foodstuffs."1 But Jesus wanted to build a relationship with Zaccheus, not just preach at him, so he invited himself over for dinner. It was the building of intimacy and the care that Jesus showed towards Zaccheus the individual that prove3d effective in the sinner's repentance.

People's favorite subject is themselves

So, my first point in starting God conversations is to make sure you listen more than you talk. Take what I call the second grade class photo approach. Do you remember those pictures you would take in elementary school with your class in three rows and the teachers standing at each end? When the class pictures were distributed, what was the first thing everyone did? They looked for themselves! I'm sure you were interested in your friends and what kind of faces they may have been making, but you first wanted to see how you looked in the picture. That's because no matter the person, everyone's favorite subject is themselves.

Given this, the Christian can be very effective in beginning conversations not proclaiming pronouncements but by asking questions and trying to understand the person with whom they're conversing. Ask, "What's the thing you're passionate about these days?" Most people's passions have a moral component that leads into conversations on good and evil. Even sports or hobbies have broader implications, as the Colin Kapernick controversy has shown. Make sure you follow up their answer with another, such as "Why did you get involved in that specifically?" or "What is it about that that you find satisfying?"

Paul used this technique to great effect in Acts 17 when he was asked to present before the Greeks at Mars Hill. He first starts with a compliment (Men of Athens, I perceive you are very religious in all respects.."), then quotes some popular poets, then ties hose interests to his message. Paul made sure he knew the interests and ideas that motivated the Athenians before he brought up Jesus.
By seeking to understand the drives and motivations of an individual, you'll be in a much better position to discuss things like what makes life meaningful.  You may also find the conversation you planned would not be effective at all, as I did here.

People will tell me they've had the greatest conversations when they feel they were heard – not when they were talked at. That means you must listen first.

References

1. Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993. Print. 229.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Cold Case Christianity for Kids: an Apologetics Book Review


It has become more and more obvious that Christians need to be able to answer questions about their beliefs. Students face challenges to the faith everywhere. Apologetics ministries like Come Reason have been busy training students and congregations on just how to answer objections to Christianity in a smart yet understandable way, leading to an explosion of apologetics content for the believer. It's one reason why Lee Strobel characterized today as a "golden era of apologetics."

Not only are apologetics materials increasing, so is their level of sophistication. This means most are targeted for adult or young adult audiences. But it isn't only the adults that need to defend their faith! I've received many requests from parents looking to find quality apologetics materials for their younger children. That's why I'm excited at the release of J. Warner Wallace's new book Cold Case Christianity for Kids: Investigate Jesus with a Real Detective.

In Wallace's first book, Cold Case Christianity, he drew upon his many years as a detective to demonstrate why believing in the resurrection is the most reasonable position one can take when looking at the evidence. The combination of personal anecdotes on past crime scenes with a clear argument for the truth of the resurrection made that book a best seller. This version has the basics of that book rewritten in a form young people can better understand. This includes simplifying the arguments a bit and creating a "mystery" the main characters in the book work on solving. I would place the reading level at 7th or 8th grade level, though with a bit of help, younger audiences would enjoy it, too.

There are many things to like about the book. The writing is clear and simple. The addition of characters and the puzzle of the skateboard offer continuity from chapter to chapter. There are more illustrations, definitions, and assignments so the book can be used as a homeschool text or in a family study. Further, Wallace has additional materials, including worksheets and videos for each chapter at the book's accompanying web site.

As for criticisms, the first is the material moves fast—really fast. If one were to give this to a seventh grader and asked him or her to simply read it, the student would be faced with terms such as "naturalism", "inference," and "abductive reasoning." Each term is defined in a side bar, but the student must understand the concepts behind the terms well for the arguments to be effective. I'm sure some of this was to keep the book short for modern attention spans while still offering the same solid reasoning that gives the adult's version its power. I think it's laudable to not dumb down the arguments, but a few of them may be difficult for kids to grasp without some help. It may be a quibble since I don't believe talking down to kids is the right way to go. Just know up front that your child may have some questions for you as she reads it!

In all, we need more works like this. There are very few resources Christian parents can draw upon to help build their children's faith and show the reasons for why we believe what we believe. Cold Case Christianity for Kids is an important addition to the Christian parents' arsenal. Clear, well-written, and smart, with a detective story to boot, it does an excellent job presenting Christianity as an intelligent belief.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We Need More Christian Kids Hearing from Atheists



A Barna Group Study released earlier this year reports some dramatic shifts in how American youth approach the Bible. Today's youth read the Bible much less than young people have even fifteen years ago and fewer Millennials see the Bible as a Holy book, let alone one inspired by God. 1 Of course, the rise of skepticism has only added to young people's disillusionment about God's word. As the Barna researchers noted, the culture has seen a steady rise of skepticism "creating a cultural atmosphere that is becoming unfriendly to claims of faith."2

The skepticism and danger of losing their kids to skepticism and atheism has caused many Christian parents and pastors to try and shield them from non-believing influences. They dismiss any biblical difficulty as something not worthy of consideration or as a sign of faithlessness.

Reactions like this are not new. In 1874, when John W. Haley compiled almost every single biblical discrepancy or troubling passage into a single volume, he answered similar concerns:
Some persons may, perchance, question the wisdom of publishing a work in which the difficulties of scripture are brought together and set forth so plainly. They may think it better to suppress, as far as may be, the knowledge of these things. The author does not sympathize with any such timid policy. He counts it the duty of the Christian scholar to look difficulties and objections squarely in the face. Nothing is to be gained by overlooking, evading, or shrinking from them. Truth has no cause to fear scrutiny, however rigid and searching. Besides, the enemies of the Bible will not be silent, even if its friends should hold their peace. It should be remembered that the following "discrepancies"are not now published for the first time. They are gathered from books and pamphlets which are already extensively circulated. The poison demands an antidote. The remedy should be carried wherever the disease has made its blighting way.3
I think that's well said. While a Christian parent's gut reaction may be to steer their child away from objections or controversies of the faith, it is far better to take them on, take them apart and see how well they stand up in the light of truth. That means your youth group needs to integrate some kind of apologetics teaching into its regular curriculum. Invite an apologist to speak at a mid-week service. Make defending the faith the theme of your next youth retreat. Perhaps even find out how you can participate in one of our Apologetics Missions Trips, where students are trained then taken to a secular environment where they get to interact with atheists and skeptics directly.

We need to prepare our young people for the objections they will face once they head off to college. Kids will her these objections; there's no way to shelter them from the rising cultural animosity toward the Christian worldview. To try and do so may even backfire and produce the very result you had hoped to avoid. However, when you engage the arguments and objections, you may be amazed at how poor they really are. As Haley noted, if Christianity is true, then it has no cause to fear scrutiny. The poison demands an antidote.

References

1. Barna Group. "The Bible in America: 6-Year Trends - Barna Group." Barna Group. Barna Group Inc., 15 June 2016. Web. 26 Sept. 2016. .
2. Barna Group, 2016.
3. Haley, John W. Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible. Grand Rapids,: Baker Book House, 1977. Print. (preface)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What Do We Mean When We Say the Word "Cult"? (video)



Say the word "cult" and what comes to mind? Perhaps hooded figures keeping people against their will or a maniacal preacher fighting against the government. But the word cult has a religious as well as a sociological sense.

In this short video, Lenny adds a bit of clarity to the term cult, showing how certain belief systems would actually qualify as cults of an established faith.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Taking the Bible Literally is One Way of Abusing the Bible




"Do you take the Bible literally?" I've been asked that question countless times, usually by atheists or skeptics, but sometimes by others who want to understand my point of view. But like most questions about important things, this one is a little over-simplified and unclear. Much of the confusion comes in from the use of the words "take" and "literal."

In asking whether I take the Bible literally, what is it the questioner actually wants to know? Do I hold to a literal understanding of every sentence in Scripture? If that is his question, my answer is definitely no. But that doesn't mean that I don't hold the Bible as inspired, truthful, or authoritative. It doesn't mean that I believe there are mistakes in the Bible. I don't think there are. What it means is, just like any other important text, I must seek to understand the meaning the writers intended to get across.

For example, I once received a response from an atheist to my article "How Do I know the Bible is REALLY from God?" who said the Bible cannot be true by citing Psalm 58:8, which reads "Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime." He claimed this shows a scientific error in the Bible, since we know that snails don't really dissolve as they travel. Of course, my interlocutor was wrong. The Psalms are a collection of Hebrew poetry and as such one should expect them to use imagery and metaphor to make a larger point. It seems pretty evident that even ancient peoples without laboratories would be clever enough to know that snails don't actually dissolve.

In taking this verse literally, the critic actually abused the text. He tried to make it mean something the author never intended. If you doubt this, then start your stopwatch the next time your spouse tells you that he or she will be there "in a minute" and chastise them if they hit 61 seconds or more. Such actions disrespect the person making the statement.

Literalism verses Symbolism

Perhaps the questioner doesn't mean one must take every colloquialism or figure of speech as literal. Perhaps they are asking whether I take the Bible to be understood as literally versus symbolically. But this simply moves the problem back one level. Symbols are part of the Bible's makeup. The "talking snake" that atheists like to deride in Genesis chapter three is explained to be a symbolic reference to Satan in Revelation 12:9. In fact, even the most conservative of Biblical scholars readily acknowledge that Revelation is awash in symbols pulled from other Old Testament books. Similarly, Jesus primarily used parables to teach people about the Kingdom of God and how they should act.

To say that I take the Bible literally instead of symbolically doesn't clarify whether I believe Jesus has commanded to help only people who I find beaten in the street like the Good Samaritan or whether I take his teaching in a broader context. I must place it against all I know about Jesus and what he taught, the context in which he presented the teaching, and the type of literature in which it is presented. Since the Gospels are a form of ancient biography, I can believe that Jesus literally taught the concept of helping even those you see as enemies, but he used a form of symbolism to do so.

Taking the Bible Seriously

So, how do I answer when someone asks "Do you take the Bible literally?" I respond by saying "I take the Bible seriously." I want to know what the authors of those books intended to convey. In want to understand their teaching and learn from it. If they intended the account to be historical, then I will take it as history. If they intended it as metaphorical, I want to take it that way. In all, I want to respect the text and understand it to the best of my ability. That's the proper approach.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trusting in Science Alone will Starve Our Ability to Know



Every group has its biases. Enlightenment thinkers believed reason could provide the ultimate answer to all questions. The Victorians stressed common manners and proprieties. Both were helpful in some ways; manners provided a common framework for engaging with large populations pushed together as modern cities developed and reason is an appropriate way to seek understanding. But they shouldn't be practiced to the exclusion of other ways we understand.

Today, the dominant framework most people assume will provide answers and meaning is neither manners nor reason, but science. Atheists and "freethinkers" especially tend to hold to an over-confidence in science as the path to discovering truth. As an example, I wrote an article entitled "Three Intractable Problems for Atheism" where I pointed out that the origin of universe, the origin of life, and the origin of consciousness are unexplainable if all that exists is matter following physical laws. One comment I received was "We don't know YET, because we've only just in the past century begun to seriously uncover the origins of the universe. If that day comes, and you don't like the answer, what will the next goalpost be?" What those who respond in such ways never say is why they think that science is even the right discipline to answering these questions at all.

Fingers and Forks

In fact, science will never be able to answer these questions because it isn't designed to do so. Let me offer an example. Early cultures primarily used their fingers to eat their food. They would pick and tear at a piece of meat or tear off a hunk of bread. Even in Jesus's day, this was pretty common. But using your fingers has some drawbacks, too. If your hands are dirty, they can contaminate the food. You can't touch things that are too hot, and the buildup of greasy food on your hands means you'll need to wash after a meal.

That's why the fork is such a great invention. It solves health issues that accompany eating only with one's fingers. But it does more than that. It allows one to keep an item from moving so it can be cut, adjusting the size of your bite to fit you individually. It skewers smaller food items, like individual beans, that would be hard to grasp with your hands. It also reflects proper manners, providing a symbol of separation from animals.

Forks have given human beings a great step forward in our culinary history, allowing us to eat in ways we couldn't have without it. However, if the chef places a bowl of tomato soup in front of me, the fork is no longer useful. The benefits that the fork conveys when consuming solid food are the very reason it fails when applied to liquids. To close the tines of the fork so it may hold liquid would rob the fork of its unique abilities to skewer other foods. I need a different tool.

Now imagine a person from "the fork is the only way to true nourishment" camp who seeks to eat the soup with his fork. He tries to eat the soup and quickly becomes frustrated. He can dip his utensil inn the soup for a long, long, time. He'll never get all the soup and probably burn more calories than he consumes trying. At this result, he may then conclude that soup isn't really food at all.

Choosing the Right Utensil When Searching for Truth

Science is like a fork in humanity's quest for knowledge. It can do a lot of things. It has improved our health and allowed us to create new polymers. It has shown us facts about the material universe and its laws. But from where that universe and its laws originate, science cannot answer because it simply isn't designed to do so. It cannot tell us about things like consciousness since consciousness is immaterial.

When pressed, atheists usually try to escape their dilemma in one of two ways: they either claim science will get there eventually (what I call a Science of the Gaps argument). But that's just wishful thinking and as they seriously consider what human consciousness entails—things like the capacity for free will on a purely materialist framework—they begin to deny things like consciousness and free will are real.

Science, like a fork, is useful in the hand of humanity. It can serve us well as we seek to cut into the mysteries of the universe and digest what we discover there. However, it shouldn't be the only tool on the table. To ignore other ways of consuming knowledge is to limit not expand our intellectual palate.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived (video)



If you were asked to choose the most intelligent person in history, who would it be? Einstein? Newton? Socrates? What about Jesus? Jesus valued the life of the mind and it showed as he confronted his critics.

Last month, I had the privilege to give two talks for the Speaking The Truth in Love Conference. Here's my talk entitled "Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived, "explaining  how Jesus wants to engage our minds as much as our hearts.


To watch the other video from the conference, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Answering Bible Contradiction Claims (video)



Last week I gave two talks at the annual Speaking the Truth in Love apologetics conference. Here is the video from one of those, entitled Answering Bible Contradiction Claims. Enjoy!



Thursday, August 18, 2016

Christianity, Judaism, and Sharing the Messiah (podcast)



How should Christians witness to Jewish friend and neighbors? We share so much, yet the Judaism of today is not the same as what was practiced in the times of the Old Testament. Grab these lessons to learn ways we can share Jesus with the Jews.
To hear more podcasts from Come Reason, subscribe via iTunes or through our RSS feed. You can also visit our podcast page here.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Problems with the Shallow Grave Hypothesis



The resurrection of Jesus is the central claim of Christianity. The entire faith hangs upon this one event being historically true. That's one reason why so many skeptics have placed the resurrection in their crosshairs; they actually agree with the Apostle Paul in holding "if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless" (1 Cor. 15:17).

Of course, with every challenge to the resurrection of Jesus, there have been responses. One that seems to crop up time and again is that Jesus' body did not rise, but was simply thrown into the shallow grave of a paupers' field and was subsequently devoured by wild animals. Then, as his disciples sought to preach his resurrection, there was no body to prove them wrong.

John Dominic Crossan popularized this explanation. In his book Excavating Jesus, he explains how crucifixion victims were never buried, but left for the carrion. He then goes on to claim:
In the ancient mind, the supreme horror of crucifixion was to lose public mourning, to forfeit proper burial, to lie separate from one's ancestors forever, and to have no place where bones remained, spirits hovered, and descendants came to eat with the dead. That is how Jesus died.1
Crossan has elsewhere asserted that the account of the resurrection were originally invented in Mark and the resurrection of Jesus were interpolations of disciples seeing visions and reinterpreting them into a bodily resurrection2.

I have already explained why it isn't reasonable to see the resurrection narratives as an invention of the Gospel writers to build a following. The charge of intentional fraud fails. But what of this idea that Jesus was probably buried in a shallow grave and his body had been eaten by dogs? The theory has multiple issues against it.

1. An empty tomb is accepted by historians

For the shallow grave/carrion theory to be true, Crossan must deny that Jesus's body had a proper burial. However, this conflicts with the findings of other secular historians. Michael Grant writes:
Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition [recorded in Mark's resurrection account] as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels—as critical pagans early pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria that we would apply to any other ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the tomb was found empty.3
Given that Grant does not believe in the resurrection. Still, he holds there was a tomb and it was found empty, which as Michael Licona points out is the most popular view by historians who study this area.4

2. Christianity's detractors assumed an empty tomb

Another point we must note is that the earliest detractors of the resurrection didn't claim that Jesus's body was cast off to suffer the ignomy of being eaten by scavengers. Matthew 28:11-15 explains:
Now while they were on their way, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. And when they had assembled with the elders and consulted together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, and said, "You are to say, 'His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.' And if this should come to the governor's ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble." And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
Notice the phrase "and is to this day," which shows that explanation was what the Jews were using to counter the Christians' resurrection claims. They never pointed to a shallow grave, even when Peter was declaring the resurrectionin Jerusalem where the audience would be intimately familiar with such practices and locations.

3. No source material for this explanation

The shallow grave theory that Crossan explains suffers from the Gospel accounts in another significant way. While conflicting accounts in different documents may lead historians to argue with one another about which theory is correct, it is the record within the document itself that gives a evidential basis for the argument. In the case of the shallow grave, there is no testimony in any document from antiquity that this is what happened to Jesus's body. This is a theory made up in contradiction to written accounts (the Gospels) with no counter-testimony at all. Why should we give it equal weight in such a circumstance?

Certainly, some would side with Crossan saying there's historical evidence that this was the most common way Romans treated their victims, but that doesn't mean it is universally applicable. In fact, while trying to make the point, Crossan himself highlights the archaeological find of a man whose right ankle bone still held the bent nail of his crucifixion. IT was found in an ossuary, or Jewish burial box, which means his body was buried in accordance with Jewish custom of the day. The discovery proves not every crucifixion ended with an abandoned corpse.

In all, there's much greater evidence to believe that Jesus was buried in a tomb and not abandoned to the elements and carrion. It makes assumptions but doesn't offer any evidence as support. That the tomb was empty cries out for an explanation, and the resurrection fits that explanation the best.

References

1. Crossan, John Dominic; Reed, Jonathan L.. Excavating Jesus (Kindle Locations 5415-5416). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
2. See Michael Licona's summary of Crossan's view in his book The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove, Il.: InterVarsity, 2010. 523-527. Print.
3. Grant, Michael. Jesus: An Historian's Review of the Gospels. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. Print. 176.
4. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 461-463.
Image courtesy Rama, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.0 fr

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Are Christians Too Judgmental? (podcast)



The most well-known verse in the Bible is not John 3:16, but Matthew 7:1—"Judge not lest ye be judged." People quote it all the time when a Christian seeks to take a stand for biblical values. But what does it mean? Should Christians "force" their beliefs on others and is it right to take stand against an immoral practice by trying to pass laws affecting all citizens?In this four-part podcast, Lenny examines these charges, showing what Jesus actually meant and why Christians must identify sin to be loving.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Let's Change our Message on Sex (video series)



We live in a sex-saturated culture, one which warps our and our children's understanding. Yet, the church hasn't done a very good job in expressing exactly what the Christian position on sex really is. We hear that sex is bad... unless it is confined to marriage. But that sends a confusing message to our kids. Instead, Christians should understand sex as a reflection of worship.

In this three part series, Lenny explains some of the subtle and not so subtle ways we've come to think about sex and why the standard Christian message of sex as "good when married, but bad any other time" is flawed. He then shows how the most consistent parallel the Bible draw to sex is not something that's dirty, but something that's holy. Finally, Lenny explores how changing our focus of sex from fun to holy changes the dynamic in relationships for husbands, for wives and elevates the calling for those who remain single.

Check out this provocative idea in the videos below:

Part 1 - Sending the Wrong Message



Part 2 - Sex as a Reflection of Worship



Part 3 - How Re-Messaging Sex Changes Relationships


Monday, May 23, 2016

What's the One Question No Christian Can Answer?



Remember that cliffhanger on Friends where Rachel sees Joey on one knee with a ring in his hand and tells him she would marry him? As fans of the show would know, the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. Joey bent down to pick up an engagement ring that had fallen out of Ross's jacket. Even though Joey never actually asked her to marry him, it was because Rachel had it in her mind that she was going to be alone that she reacted so quickly to his posture.

Sitcoms have made a trope out of friends misunderstanding one another. The seventies sitcom Three's Company seemed to drive almost every episode on some kind of farcical misunderstanding. However, in the real world misunderstandings are usually not so funny nor so easily resolved. Yet, we live in an age where in-person conversations have given way to digital exchanges and misunderstanding someone else is easier than ever.

Real conversations between people allow the participants to see each other's body language, facial expressions, and their level of attentiveness. Their voice inflection, cadence, and speed help our understanding of the words they use and what they mean. But all of that is lost in the digital world of texts and social media comments.

How does this affect me and my witness?

Perhaps you've followed me to this point and are currently thinking, "Well, yeah. Everyone has had an experience when our text or comment was received differently than intended. But what's your point?" My point is simple, as Christians who engage with others both in person and on social media, we must be extra diligent to make sure we really understand the other person before we comment in any way.

Unfortunately, I see the opposite over and over again, especially on boards that focus on defending the faith. One particularly grievous pattern that I've observed is people commenting on the title of an article that has been shared or posted without actually bothering to read the article itself. Just like the distracted Rachel who's a bit wrapped up in her own needs, these folks are responding to something that many times hasn't been said. Yet we complain whenever an atheist or news report provides a caricature of a Christian position, many times without ever asking a Christian what it is he or she believes.

This can happen in face to face conversations when you're too busy thinking about what your next "killer comeback" is going to be instead of really listening to the other person. But I've shown that taking a vested interest in the other person and their beliefs can radically change the nature and direction of the conversation. Online, it happens even more frequently, and results in driving people apart more than helping them see the truth of the Gospel.

Did you answer this article's title before you got here?

Even in my own writings, I often title my articles in the form of a question (just as this one is). When I post them on Facebook, I receive several responses. The people don't interact with the article and its ideas, but they simply answer the question in the article's title! Sometimes they even get the topic the question raises wrong. This should never happen.

Christians need to care enough about those with whom we interact to find out what it is they're saying before we rush headlong into our "silver bullet" answer. We cannot allow ourselves to create straw men.  When the issues are important, proper communication and understanding become even more crucial. Don't rely on second hand accounts of what you think an expert said, read the expert yourself. You may be surprised to find a more nuanced view than you were lead to believe. Don't snap to a judgement on a post because the first sentence sounds like a common view. It may or may not be. Ask the author some questions and see if you can understand what is behind the comment. By asking questions, you may even be able to show the inconsistency of the other person's view.

What's the one question no Christian can answer? It the one they never bothered to hear in the first place.

Image courtesy Lourdes S. (Day 14: I Don't Know ANY of This!) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X