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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Wednesday, November 02, 2016
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, March 05, 2013
|Photo courtesy Roger Ebert|
In a column he wrote a couple of years ago, Ebert recounts:
Now, although reticent to label himself an atheist or an agnostic, Ebert completely dismisses the idea of "any God who has personally spoken to anyone or issued instructions to men." He writes:
Secondly, the lack of knowledge in apologetics by Ebert's teachers and parents were his ultimate undoing. When asking his favorite nun about the dilemma of God having no beginning, she replied "that is just something you have to believe. Pray for faith." As you can imagine, it was an unsatisfying. Ebert would then say "I lay awake wondering how I could pray for faith to a God I could not believe in without faith." Let me just say that this nun, who I don't doubt had the best of intentions, had a wrong understanding of faith and reinforced in the mind of an inquiring youngster that belief in God is irrational and unworthy of those who wish to think. Perhaps if she was better trained in some of the great Catholic theologians like Thomas Aquinas her answer would have been correct.
Ebert's parents also were no help. He says that during his high school years he never discussed his waning belief in God with them, but that makes me wonder if they ever discussed religion at all. As an elementary school boy with big questions about the world, Ebert went to his school teachers. If religion was a comfortable topic of conversation at home, surely he would have asked his parents also.
We as parents and teachers need to learn the answers to these questions and talk about them with our kids. And we need to start earlier rather than later. Elementary school kids have a wonder about the world and how it works, and we should be offering them the greatest truths to stimulate that wonder. Don't simply rely on the kids' Sunday School teaching to inform them about God. The Sunday School teacher may not know the answer, or may offer the wrong answer. You need to know these answers yourself, so you can pass them along. Otherwise, our kids will think that belief in the God of all reason falls outside of reason, and therefore is irrelevant. And that breaks my heart.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
After spending the day at the park and taking in all the indescribable scenery, we come back to the hotel on Thursday and let the kids swim. During this trip, I've noticed quite a few international tourists coming to the view the American sites. Sitting in the spa, I strike up a conversation with a man visiting California from the Lake Geneva area of Switzerland. Since I'm from Southern California, he asks about the beaches and the water, thinking it's as cold as the beaches in San Francisco.
Speaking the Same LanguageNow, when talking with people from Europe, I try to be sensitive to their understanding, so I try to convert distances and temperatures to their metric equivalents before answering. I tell the man, the water temp is about 20 degrees in SoCal (approx 68-70 Fahrenheit). I feel that by converting to Celsius or kilometers, it just makes the conversation more comfortable, just as you would appreciate a person in France letting you know that you have 200 miles until your hotel instead of 320 kilometers.
This lesson is also applicable when sharing our faith. Too many times we lapse into "Christian-speak" and start talking about the need to be born again and the glorious gospel without realizing that the person listening might be loading those words with completely different meanings. For example, to be born again in the Mormon church means that you have been baptized & confirmed into the Mormon church. We can use the words "good news" for the gospel, since that's what it means. Explaining our terms in language others can grasp will help much in our communication efforts.
Missing Our HeritageAs we continued our conversation, I had noted that the man was from the French-speaking portion of Switzerland. So I asked him if he was familiar with Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer was a prominent Christian thinker, philosopher and apologist who developed a Christian ministry called L'Abri in the foothills near Lake Geneva in the 1960s and 70s. Unfortunately, the man was unfamiliar with him, which surprised me a bit since he lived in the same general area as Schaeffer did. "What a shame" I thought, "to not even be exposed to such a powerful thinker when he is so close. You're missing out on an important movement in your own backyard." Then I started wondering how true this is for so many Christians.
Christianity has the greatest intellectual capital of any faith - with thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Pascal, and Leibnitz; thinkers who are so powerful even the most secular university students of philosophy must spend many hours studying them. We have today's lions of Christianity: J.P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga and others who are defending the faith and moving the ball forward against its most vociferous detractors even now and yet most Christians have never heard of any of them! We are just as guilty by ignoring our spiritual heritage!
The New Atheist movement has been making a lot of noise and getting a lot of press. In reality, the arguments they offer are not new at all - Christians have answered them hundreds of years ago. But the Devil preys on people's ignorance and will repackage an old lie to make it sound new and different. We need to be aware and not neglect the rich heritage we have as Christians. If you are interested in learning more, I recommend starting off with Love Your God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland, which is a good primer to the study of Christian thought in general For a more detailed look at the great thinkers of Christianity, you should read A History of Christian Thought by Jonathan Hill. And if you want to see today’s great apologists in person, I recommend checking out this year's EPS Apologetics Conference in Atlanta Georgia.
Monday, July 19, 2010
We went back through Four Corners (which was closed when we had passed it the first time) hoping to stand in Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico all at the same time. Alas, the Navajo Nation is doing construction on the monument so we could only walk around the fenced off circle. Still, I can now say I jogged across four states. Forrest Gump, look out!
Of course Utah has deep Mormon roots, from the names of towns and places (Mt. Carmel, Zion National Park) to the state highway signs which hold a beehive symbol. The state's population is 75% LDS, so I expect conversations to ensue. We check into our hotel (the clerk's name is Krishna!) and after a short swim, we all go out to dinner.
Even in popular culture, Mormonism and polygamy are intertwined. During dinner, my oldest asks a bit about this, allowing me to explain how Joseph Smith taught that polygamy was appropriate and himself took many wives, eleven of whom were already married to other men. One of the goals of polygamy was to produce as many children as possible to help increase the LDS population, but polygamy was illegal in the United States, so the Mormons practiced it secretly. However, it was an affront to the average citizen even then and this practice is primarily why the Mormons were driven out of Illinois.
Because Joseph Smith was killed while awaiting trial in Illinois, it was Brigham Young, the second LDS president, who lead the Mormons to the Utah territory, where they first began practicing polygamy openly. Although the U.S. government had been trying to stem these practices for some time, the Mormons continued them and saw them as a commanded by their faith. This continued until the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the right to seize all church assets and disincorporate the church because of their flagrant violation of the Edmunds-Tucker Act. In 1890, just after this ruling was handed down, LDS president Wilford Woodruf proclaimed a "revelation" form God disavowing further plural marriages within Mormonism.
In our discussion, I noted that modern day LDS become very uncomfortable when the practice of polygamy is brought up, usually saying that such things are far removed from what they believe now. However, apostle Richard Lyman claimed to have a plural marriage as recently as 1943! I also noted that many people splintered from the main Mormon Church once the proclamation was issued, spawning groups such as the FLDS and Warren Jeffs, who have recently been highlighted in the news.
A simple dinner was turned into a teachable moment as our family got to slow down and talk a little bit about what we were seeing around us. We also got to correct some misunderstandings and put a better focus on how beliefs will impact the way people live and how they understand right and wrong.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Now, my wife knows that any time we visit a new town, used bookstores are a definite stopping place. In Durango, they have a tiny house that's simply packed with stacks of books – so much so that you need to turn sideways to walk through some of the halls. The gentleman who runs the place seems to know the value of his books, too.
I find the philosophy section and look around a bit. Next, I search for the religious section wondering what treasures I may find. After some time, I find the area and am woefully disappointed. There are hundreds of books but not one Christian title – not one! Egyptology, Scientology, Buddhism, Karen Armstrong and others of this type are well represented. I think that there's a bias going on here!
When we stumble across the New Age book store, I walk in and talk a bit with its proprietor. She's sitting at a table with a deck of Tarot cards in front of her. Curious about the town's leanings, I ask her what the most popular title is she's currently selling. "Well, it all depends on the person and what energies you want to channel" she replies. Knowing that Riverside will probably be blazing hot when we get home, I'm thinking the energy to power my A/C would be nice. "What about authors?" I ask. She trots out the more common names of Marianne Williamson, Sylvia Brown, and the like. Unfortunately, this list seems to parallel Oprah's Book Club recommendations, too.
Hoping to get a little more insight into the current state of thinking among New Age adherents, I continue to inquire, this time asking which topics are big sellers. "Well, angels are always popular." I immediately believe this and am also troubled by it.
Our culture has turned angels into something opposite of what they really are – ministering spirits of God (Heb. 1:14). While God sends angels to sometimes help people, such as the one who freed Peter from prison in Acts 12, they are obeying God and His desires. But today, many make them out to be spiritual beings who are only to help us, as the popular license plate frame "Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly" attests. Hmm, I wonder what people who have those license plate frames would think of the two angels that destroyed Sodom or the one who wiped out 185,000 Assyrians in one night?
The real tragedy here is the only way this New Age lady or any of us know about angels is because they are portrayed in the Bible – yet we don't want to believe what the Bible actually says about them. We'd rather believe that we have carte blanche to do what we want while our guardian angels, acting as spiritual life guards, are always on duty to pull us out of danger.
If angels intrigue you, why not read about them from the source-the Bible? You'll find out how they really operate and what they're truly capable of. You will also discover that there's another caution you must be aware of – fallen angels with intent to murder and deceive(John 8:44). These are the ones that the New Age practitioners are more likely to channel.
For an excellent resource on this topic, I recommend Sense and Nonsense about Angels and Demons by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Many have asked me previously "How can you teach younger kids about apologetics and defending the faith?" Well, here's one good way. I've taken my family on a vacation touring the American Southwest. Along with a rich look at our heritage, I'm finding many opportunities to examine worldviews and the way that they shape people's attitudes. I'll be blogging about my experiences and observations as we go, allowing you to come with us and see ways you can also discuss ideas with your families and friends.
Our first day consisted of one long day of driving—750 miles! We arrived in Durango, CO knowing nothing more than it's a picturesque location and that it would be a good spot to explore. At breakfast the next morning, an ex-native of Durango recommended the Mesa Verde National Park. This area holds the ruins from the Ancient Pueblo Indians, who built their villages tucked into cliffs. I had always wanted to see these ruins and we decided that it would be a great trip.
The park is some 34 miles from the hotel, and the actual cliff dwellings that you can tour are another 20 miles of winding road beyond that. We tour Balcony House and listen to the Ranger explain how the ancient Puebloans were nomadic peoples "whose security was in their journey." The Ranger notes that the people worshiped "Father Sky" and "Mother Earth" and how their lives were seeking balance - "that center place." He also notes how the dwellings used a solar calendar to note the spring and fall equinoxes where the day and the night were equally balanced, then adds "which may have some significance for those of some other faiths." Assuming he's unfamiliar with Zoroastrianism, I assume he's referring to some form of Confucianism or Taoism. However, these were a non-literate people, so much of their beliefs and practices are nothing but sheer speculation based on interviews with their descendants who are some 800 years removed. We really don't know as much about their beliefs as some would lead on.
The most confused ideas presented during the day was in the museum where a film discussing the history of these people was playing. At the end of the film, the narrator notes that since this area is not merely an ancient place of history, "it is hallowed ground"(emphasis in the original). This shows the complete confusion today with modern understanding of the sacred. While the cliff dwellings are amazing, and these people were the ancestors of the Hopi, the Navajo, the Ute and the Mesa Indians of today, the cliff dwellings are certainly not hallowed ground. It highlights a nomadic society whose existence in this area lasted only some 80-100 years. While there's much conjecture on why they left (severe drought and lack of firewood are offered primarily) these people were still controlled by their environments. The cliff-dwellings couldn't sustain them long-term and life must've been very difficult. It's not a jump to assume that famine from loss of game and crops during the drought would cause a tremendous amount of suffering, forcing these people to continue migrating. Ultimately, building and dwelling in the cliffs didn't work to find the Puebloans' "center place" - simply because we live in a fallen world. The effects of sin were still prevalent in their daily lives and they couldn't escape it even in the rocks.
To many today, seeing 800 year old ruins of a people who lived a prehistoric lifestyle and the wonder that it inspires makes them feel like such sites are somehow holy. I think this does a disservice to the concept of what true holiness is. Holiness stems from one true God. It is seeking Him and shunning sin. While the ruins of the Puebloans are certainly awe-inspiring, they no less tell the tale of how the effects of man's fall ravages societies. They needed to better understand who God is and how He created this world. When we mix up holiness with history we are in danger of losing the real meaning of both and the lessons they teach.
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