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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.
Monday, October 15, 2018
Click below to watch the entire interview. You can get your copy of the book at Amazon here.
Monday, September 25, 2017
It's no secret people are feeling more and more divided these days. Even the actions of professional sports stars are creating strong feelings on both sides as NFL players decided to not stand while the National Anthem was being played in fields across the country yesterday. The players stated they were protesting in response to President Trump's inflammatory tweets that declared those who didn't stand for the anthem should be fired.
I'm not a football fan, but as I sit back and watch this spectacle, it looks very familiar. As someone who has engaged in debates and discussions online, this is very much the model of Internet exchanges that continually degrade in demeanor until there's no light at all but only heat. It is also how I've seen discussions about faith pan out many times. None of this is really productive, except as a model of what not to do. Therefore, I'd like to use it as a way to possibly model a different approach for Christians who are commanded to use love instead of vitriol in sharing their faith.
Through the Eyes of the NFL PlayerThe idea of taking a knee during the National Anthem as a sign of protest began with Colin Kaepernick during a 2016 San Francisco 49ers preseason game. He chose not to stand during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner and later said "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Other players, seeing Kaepernick's protest, didn't necessarily equate sitting out the Anthem or taking a knee with protesting the nation, but with trying to draw attention to the plight of inner city blacks and what they feel is the wrong perpetrated upon them.
Just last Thursday, in a recent interview with ex-NFL coach and Christian believer Tony Dungy (you may watch the piece here), Miami Dolphins' players Kenny Stills and Michael Thomas explained there were "a bunch of different instances where there were unjust murders of African-Americans, and I wanted to do something more, you know, than just talk on social media about it." They spoke with Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, who asked them their motivation for taking a knee, and he backed them, stating "when you hear the why and the caring that they have, and knowing that they think they could make a difference and be heard, I think, you know, how could one not really understand that and encourage it."
I don't doubt Stills and Thomas's sincerity. It was persuasive to even owner Stephen Ross. However, fans, friends, and family of the players reacted differently. They received death threats and wishes of harm. In the interview Kenny Stills said, "A lot of people just really didn't understand what we were doing or why we were doing it."
Point #1 – Miscommunication and Incoherence is More Common than You ThinkThis brings me to my first point in sharing your faith: people will hold passionate beliefs and they will act upon them, but don't expect those people to understand that their actions may be communicating something different from their intentions. Stills and Thomas wanted to see bloodshed end. I'm with them on that! They wanted to do something more than just talk on social media. So, they looked to the actions of their peer, Kaepernick, and mimicked it. What they didn't understand was their actions sent a message other than the one they wished to communicate.
What people see when a player sits or takes a knee during the playing of the anthem isn't a protest against police killing people, it's a rejection of the country and the values that country represents. Those values include the idea that all people are created equally. What veterans see is someone saying "I'm going to denigrate your sacrifice in risking your life for our country and our flag." The Take a Knee NFL players think they are protesting authoritarianism by not doing what they've always been told to do. But what others hear is "I'm protesting your country, one of the things that forms your identity and what you love."
Point #2 – React with Kindness to Establish ClarityMiscommunication is always an issue when coming from different perspectives. Yet, if we respond to perceived insults with insults of our own, then no one moves forward. Even though Stills and Thomas didn't get their message clearly communicated, they did get some kind of result because some folks in the Miami area cared. They were able to have a town hall meeting with local law enforcement, community representative, high school coaches, and it fostered real dialogue and helped everyone understand each other. They participated in a ride along and had police officers interact with the community in fun ways. The black community was surprised but began to see law enforcement not as enemies but as human beings. Stills notes how a young girl, age 5 or 6, was confused as to why these two paradigms for young black people would hang out with the police since "The only time the police ever came was to arrest my dad." Stills replied "You have nothing to fear from the police officers. If you do right, they're not going to come after you." This is a huge step towards ending the us/them perception and can save lives, both blue and black.
Seeking to build bridges and communicate made a real difference; so much so that Stills and Thomas stood up and rallied the whole Dolphins team, where they would all stand at Sunday's playing of the Anthem. But what happened next blew that all to pieces.
Point #3 – Reacting with Spite May Undo Good that Has Already been DoneThe players decided in 2017 they wouldn't kneel. Thomas said, "You're still giving back to the community, you're still keeping that conversation going, but without obviously protesting." They had planned on standing this week and tried to convince their teammates to do so, too. Yet, on Sunday they all knelt. Why? They were reacting to President Trump's invective on Twitter demanding NFL owners fire their players for taking a knee. Stills texted Dungy and wrote:
Deep down I did not want to allow the President to intimidate us or keep us from using our right to protest. We had a couple guys kneeling for the first time and we had our teammates all locked arms. We were still all together and that's powerful.The insults and challenges thrown down by the President harmed the progress that was made by open communication. I get the feeling that the players still don't fully realize the difference between protesting the president's authority and protesting the country from where they have the ability to exercise that challenge to authority. I think they have every right to protest, but I think they are protesting the wrong way. Yet this is very much how interactions go when feelings rather than a desire for understanding drives the debate.
Sharing your faith is hard. People's beliefs, be they patriotism or matters of God, are deeply held and form part of our self-identities. They are at the core of who we are. Therefore, dear Christian, it is essential that you take extra care and extra time seeking to understand what the other person is feeling and what he or she is trying to say rather than what you think you hear. You can either make progress or tear down any understanding that may have already been achieved. But Jesus had it right when he said we must love one another. That is the message of reconciliation.
Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Mormonism boasts over 12 million adherents, and it's still growing. What should we say when Mormon missionaries come to our door? How are Christian beliefs different than Mormon beliefs? In this latest podcast, Lenny provides are some ways to help you how to engage Mormons in fruitful discussion.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Women are crucial in service to the body of Christ. Women tend to pray more than men, tend to volunteer more, and attend service more, too. Most churches offer different ministries aimed at women, from Bible studies to cooking and craft workshops. Yet, there are very few women's classes aimed at teaching them how to develop their minds and thoughtfully engage the culture with the reasons for their faith. This is a glaring omission for both Christian women and the churches that serve them. Listen in as Lenny presents to a women's group and explains why women need to develop not only a strong spiritual relationship with God, but also a strong intellectual one as well.
- Romancing the Mind - Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (Part 1)
- Romancing the Mind - Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (Part 2)
- Romancing the Mind - Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (Part 3)
- Romancing the Mind - Why Apologetics is Crucial for Women (Part 4)
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
There's an old joke about a professor walking at his University and sees a young Christian from a small town reading the book of Exodus. "Praise God!" the youth exclaims, "What a miracle! God parted the Red Sea so Israel could pass through!" The prof decides to dispel the backwards beliefs of the yokel, telling him, "I think you're misinformed. Scholars have concluded that what you read as the Red Sea is really the Sea of Reeds. That area is really only covered buy a few inches of water, so the Red Sea wasn't really parted. Education has debunked that miracle, so there's nothing there to shout praises for."
The student sheepishly thanked the teacher for enlightening him to this new-found knowledge. Feeling a bit cocky as he began to walk away, the professor was surprised to suddenly hear the student exclaiming the greatness of God and his miracles all the louder. Turning on a dime, the lecturer quickly returned to the student and snapped "Didn't you believe what I said?"
"Yes sir, I did." answered the lad. "But then I kept reading and it says here that God drowned all of Pharaoh's army in those few inches of water. What a mighty miracle of God!"
Two Types of Charges against ScriptureCertainly one of the more persistent objections Christians hear to their faith is the Bible is untrustworthy. I've heard this charge raised in many different venues. Sometimes Christians will rush in to defend the Bible with stats and quotes, but this would be a mistake. As I've engaged skeptics in colleges and universities who question the veracity of the Bible, their objections are not monolithic. Different people have different objections to the Scriptures, and it is important that in conversation you address the specific objection in the objector's mind.
The first thing that I ask someone who claims the Bile can't be trusted is "in what way can't it be trusted? Can you be more specific?" This helps shape the conversation going forward so I know where to place my emphasis. Objections to the Bible come in one of two main categories: either doubting the accuracy of the text or doubting the fidelity of the accounts. Each category will need to be answered very differently. Let's take a look at both so you can more easily identify them.
Accuracy of the TextWhen asked to be more specific, most people who make the claim that the Bible is untrustworthy will respond with a more specific objection. You may hear objections like these:
- The Bible's been translated too many times
- No original versions exist
- It's been too long between the copies we have and when the originals were written
- There have been too many changes to the text over time.
Fidelity of the AccountsBut textual accuracy isn't the only type of objection one may hear. You may also be confronted with objections like:
- There are contradictions in the Bible
- There was too much time between oral stories and when they were written down for legends to develop.
When defending your faith, asking clarifying questions is crucially important. Sometimes when challenged, people don't even have a focused objection in mind. They're just parroting back something they've heard. Challenging them to be more specific brings this out and it will tell you just how seriously they are taking their own claims. But if they do, you now have a better idea of how to approach the discussion and whether or not they're earnest in listening to a response.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
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 understandAtheist 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.
2. Boghossian, Peter G. A Manual for Creating Atheists. Durham, NC: Pitchstone, 2013. Print. 23-24.
Monday, November 28, 2016
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 viewsThat'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
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 speakOne 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 themselvesSo, 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.
Image courtesy John Atherton and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.
Monday, October 31, 2016
Since its beginnings in first century Judea, Christianity has always been a proselyting faith. Jesus's followers, having been charged by their master to be his witnesses "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth" (English Standard Version, Acts 1:8), effectively followed his command for centuries. But while the Great Commission has been understood to begin at evangelism, it shouldn't be understood to end there. Christian evangelists spreading across the Roman Empire shared not simply a way of salvation, but an entire worldview that was so strange and foreign to its hearers, it was labeled a "deadly superstition" and "hatred for mankind." 1 Larry Hurtado explains how the Romans saw the Christian belief system as "a dangerous development that challenged what were then accepted notions of religion, piety, identity, and behavior.2"
Of course, Rome wasn't the only culture in which Christianity was deemed anti-social and dangerous. Across the centuries and across the globe, a similar theme would play out: Christian missionaries seeking out unreached peoples to save with a message deemed most peculiar. From Patrick in Ireland to Jim Elliot in Brazil, the struggle to communicate the ideas foundational to the Christian faith met significant resistance. Even so, Christian evangelists were successful in penetrating so many pagan societies that the adoption of their weltanschauung ultimately transformed the world.3
The Need for a New Communication StrategyEvangelism in the Western world today faces a similar issue. While the West has been built upon the Judeo-Christian worldview, it is increasingly abandoning its heritage. Growing more and more secular, basic Christian tenets now sound foreign and are not well understood, especially among the young adults.4
However, today's culture in which Christians now find themselves as outliers has one significant difference. To turn Chesterton on his head, most secularists believe Christianity is not something new and untried; it has been tried and found wanting. They oppose not just Christian belief, but formal religion as an idea while pagan cultures reviled Christianity because they felt it undermined religious piety. Tacitus, Seutonius, and Pliny all used the word superstitio to describe the burgeoning Christian sect. 5 Robert Wilken notes this is a significant term, communicating groundless and irrational beliefs as opposed to a "pious worship of the gods" that gave justification for Christian persecution.6
Unlike the ancients who sought to protect their religious practices, young people today are more likely to hold religious belief as superstition in the modern sense of the term. The Barna Group's recent study The Bible in America - Six Year Trends found:
- Millennials (22%) and Gen-Xers (18%) are significantly more likely to say the Bible doesn't qualify as a holy book, even as they reject other books as holy.
- There is rising skepticism about the Bible as a sufficient guide for living a meaningful life.
- Trust in the Bible's reliability is dropping. Barna first asked American adults in 1991 if they agreed or disagreed that "the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches." The percentage of those who strongly disagree has nearly doubled in six years.7
While those hostile to all religion may be in the minority, another problem exists in communicating Gospel truths to a post-Christian culture. People are less and less likely to understand broader Christian concepts. The explosion of moral relativism offers one example, but it isn't the only one. Even the very idea of personal responsibility can be questioned and justified. In his The Secular Age, Charles Taylor offers an example of how actions are now interpreted not as consequences of personal failure, but as signs of missing fulfillment:
[Religious Sociologist Wade Clark] Roof points to new approaches to dieting, and the control of obesity, in contemporary spiritual culture. On the older "deadly sin" understanding, obesity comes from gluttony, a temptation which must be rigorously controlled. Medicalization resituated this temptation as a kind of abnormality, the kind of thing which arises with deviant kinds of development. The contemporary understanding will often look beyond the craving to the deeper unmet spiritual needs that trigger anxious eating.10Taylor clarifies that the dieter's missing spirituality referenced above sits in contrast to "religion," where the latter is rejected as institutional and authoritarian instead of self-fulfilling, subjective, and feelings-based. Such concepts are barriers to sharing one's faith, as the very vocabulary one uses is no longer effective. Taylor concludes:
Whatever the level of religious belief and practice, on an uneven but many-sloped playing field, the debate between different forms of belief and unbelief goes on. In this debate, modes of belief are disadvantaged by the memory of their previously dominant forms.… They are even more severely disadvantaged by an unintended byproduct of the climate of the fragmented search: the fact that the falling off of practice has meant that rising generations have lost touch with traditional religious languages.11In order to reach the next generation effectively with the Gospel message, the church must communicate in a way that can relate the big ideas of Christianity but also won't be disadvantaged by negative bias the listener has toward religion.
2. Hurtado, Larry W. Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World. Waco, TX: Baylor UP, 2016. Print.
3. See Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print.
4. Barna Group. "The Bible in America: 6-Year Trends." Barna.org Barna Group, 15 June 2016. Web. 01 Oct. 2016.
5. Wilken, 1984. 49-50. Print.
6. Wilken, 1984. 60.
7. Barna Group. 2016.
8. Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. 51. Print.
9. Barna Group. 2016.
10. Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 2007. Print. 507.
11. Taylor, 2009. 533.
Image courtesy Brian Talbot and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license.
Monday, May 23, 2016
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.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
The headline read, "Indiana University Students Mistake Priest for KKK Member." Immediately, I had to know more. As Breitbart reported, several students saw a man dressed in a Dominican monk's habit with beads hanging from a long belt and began tweeting about him "to express their fear of the alleged Klansman, who they claimed was carrying a whip, and dressed in 'white robes.'" 1 The reports led residential hall advisor Ethan Gill to write a warning to IU students about the individual, as reported in the university newspaper:
There has been a person reported walking around campus in a KKK outfit holding a whip. Because the person is protected under first amendment rights, IUPD cannot remove this person from campus unless an act of violence is committed. Please PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there tonight, always be with someone and if you have no dire reason to be out of the building, I would recommend staying indoors if you're alone.Gill would later post a retraction after he saw a picture of the individual:
This is what happens when there is miscommunication. So what happened tonight goes like this: a person saw white robes and what looked to them like a weapon, got scared (rightfully so), warned people, warned staff, which in turn caused me to warn my residents because I need to look out for my residents, which in turn made it spread.Of course it would be easy to poke fun at IU students who overacted to a local priest who regularly walks the campus to pray for those enrolled. But instead of looking down on the undergrads, Christians can learn quite a bit from this incident. Here are at least three takeaways:
When my residents, terrified, come running to me, saying yeah the report must be true, they saw him and couldn't believe there was a klansmember with a whip. And I see this picture. It's a priest. With a rosary. 2
1. You cannot assume people today know anything about faithWe now live in a post-Christian culture, which makes things harder for Christians who want to be ambassadors for their faith. That means you shouldn't assume other people will know anything about Christianity or even what you mean by the words "faith" or "belief" as you engage in conversations about beliefs. These are constantly caricatured to mean something less than the traditional Christian understanding. Society is becoming appallingly illiterate on matters of religion, and not just the Christian faith. You need to be prepared to explain what you mean by these terms when talking with friends and family.
2. Christian customs and actions can be mistaken as a threat.Because matters of faith are foreign to so many, it becomes wise for the Christian ambassador to proceed slowly and make sure those with whom they're speaking have a better understanding of not only what they believe, but why that belief matters. Innocuous statements or actions—like a priest walking a college campus to pray for students—can be perceived as a threat by people who in a very real way belong to another culture. Just read this reflection on Christian missionaries in India by a local Hindu to see what I mean.
This misunderstanding has far-reaching consequences, too. The current climate on religious freedom bills, like those passed in North Carolina and Mississippi, and the one vetoed in Georgia, show just how out of touch folks are with the concept of fidelity to conscience being essential to the integrity of a human being. Instead of the first freedom being necessary, they ascribe it to bigotry – a Klansman's garb.
3. Christians need to work harder at bridging communication gaps.Lastly, as missionaries in what amounts to a foreign culture, Christians really need to spend some time going out into the world and getting to know those with whom they wish to engage. Be there to listen to the questions non-Christians have. The more people interact with loving followers of Jesus who care not simply about witnessing to them but care if they passed their last midterm the fewer misunderstandings will occur. Certainly, you cannot appease everyone; there are people who want to be angry or have a political ax to grind. But you can certainly be open before people and get to know them as people. That's what Jesus did.
2. Leeds, Griffin. "Everyone Mistook a Priest for a KKK Member." The Tab. The Tab, 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2016. http://thetab.com/us/indiana/2016/04/05/last-night-white-robed-priest-mistaken-armed-kkk-klansman-1804.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
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
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.
Friday, February 05, 2016
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.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
Facts, reason, and evidence play key roles in apologetics. Christian defenders spend many hours studying the latest arguments for or against God's existence, the resurrection, or other issues fundamental to the faith. This is good and necessary; familiarizing oneself with the latest arguments on both sides of the divide gives you a greater advantage at presenting the most persuasive case possible.
However, there is another piece that many Christians neglect which is just as crucial: how to engage in a disarming, persuasive manner. James W. Sire makes the point in his book Why Good Arguments Often Fail. He writes:
In presentations of the case for Christ, good rational arguments often do not persuade. I mean by "a good argument" one that starts from true premises and/or facts, makes no logical mistakes (fallacies), marshals a great body of evidence, answers objections, clarifies the issues and draws valid (therefore true) conclusions. 1Sire then recounts the experience of one young Christian who recounted C.S. Lewis's moral argument to an atheist friend. It didn't stir his friend at all. Sire notes such experiences are typical. He then concludes:
When such rational arguments are made in the field of Christianity, they are often not just ignored but rejected. Why is this?Studying techniques at proper approach and presentation, in other words making your arguments not simply sound but persuasive, is known as rhetoric. Rhetoric is probably a more difficult skill to learn than even understanding the arguments themselves, as there is no one pattern that fits every person or every occasion. It's as much art as science, and it requires the rhetorician to be as good a listener as he is a speaker.
Aristotle overstated the case, but still we should heed the warning it contains:
Every failure of Truth to persuade reflects the weakness of its advocates.
This is a humbling reminder of our responsibility as Christians: we must make the best presentation of the gospel that we can make. Of course, we are limited in our ability—every one of us, the clever and the not so bright. Our Lord knows this and works around our limitations. But we are responsible to do our best.2
This isn't to say rhetoric cannot be taught. Many techniques do exist to make your case more persuasive. Sire's book is a great place to star to learn how to be more winsome and persuasive in presenting your case for Jesus.
When Jesus sent out his disciples in Matthew 10, he told them, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Learning rhetoric is obeying his command to be wise in the midst of wolves. Make sure you take some time to learn persuasiveness as well as the facts.
2. Sire, 2006. 73-74.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
The command "Judge not lest ye be judged" is one of the most often quoted Bible passages. Less frequently cited but perhaps more applicable is the passage in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul tells the Christians to not judge non-Christians? What are we to make of these passages? In this short video, Lenny offers some clarity to how we should understand Paul's command in light of the examples we've received.
Image courtesy Andrew Hughey and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.
Sunday, January 03, 2016
"How do I share my faith better?" is a question that Christians struggle with again and again, especially when families gather for birthdays or holidays. While Christmas may be over, our recent podcast series "Talking to Family about Christmas" offers effective ways of sharing your faith with friends and family members. You can listen in to all four parts of this recent series here:
Tuesday, December 22, 2015
Apologetics is the discipline of thoughtfully and carefully defending the Christian faith. It is not only a calling in the Bible, but a command to which all Christians are obligated. I understand that most Christians won't have the background or the knowledge to become faith defenders in the manner of a C.S. Lewis. Neither will most Christians ascend to the ranks of Billy Graham in terms of sharing their faith. Yet, just as we are all called to evangelize (Matt.28: 19-20), we are all called to defend our beliefs (1 Pet, 3:15.)
Today, as more and more people are skeptical of Christianity and who Jesus was, apologetics has become integral to evangelism efforts. Yet, while Bible-believing Christians may not all share their faith, they usually don't doubt the fact they are called to do so. The same isn't true for defending their faith. They simply don't see such tasks as important. They claim such a task is "just head knowledge" or "a side project, not a necessary part pf Christianity." Nothing could be further from the truth.
In an article entitled "Defending a Defense of the Faith," Dr. Craig Hazen offers several key reasons why such claims fail. The first is that defending the faith is simply part of the original fabric of Christianity, beginning with Jesus and his disciples. Hazen writes:
Perhaps there is no stronger argument that Jesus himself was an extraordinary source for the apologetic impulse in Christianity than the fact that his closest followers, those who so deeply desired to emulate their Master, were such ardent proponents of Jesus' ethos of demonstration. Indeed, Paul, John and Peter seemed almost obsessed with offering evidence, testimony and argument at every turn in order to establish the truth of the gospel message. The case for the apostolic support for the full range of apologetic activity is very well known and has been affirmed by scores of preeminent Christian scholars in the last fifty years. Anyone wishing to downplay the significance of the defense of the faith to the apostles and the early church is truly swimming upstream against an overwhelming current.1Hazen goes on to list several passages showing how the New Testament writers reinforced the call to apologetics. (You can find a similar list here.) He then writes:
Even if Christ's closest followers had not given direct commands to engage in apologetic activities, they modeled those activities so frequently and unmistakably in Scripture that their actions amount to a clear exhortation for all Christians to go and do likewise. The Gospel writers themselves were carefully attuned to this. Luke, for instance, has an explicitly apologetic purpose in the construction of his Gospel—a special focus he lauys out in the prologue of his book. Here, he highlights eyewitness testimony, careful investigation and accurate reporting all with an eye toward his reader, Theophilus, to know "the certainty" of the things he had been taught (Lk 1:1-4).2Hazen is absolutely correct. One of the clearest apologetic encounters in the Bible is Paul's engaging the Athenians at Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31. I've previously demonstrated how scripture records apologetic engagements even by Jesus himself (see here, here, and here).
All of this simply shows that apologetics is foundational to Christianity. Jesus used apologetics to preach the arrival of the Kingdom of God. The apostles used apologetics to evangelize the lost. We Christians today should follow that example and prepare to know how to give an answer for our hope to anyone who asks.
2. Hazen, 1999. 41.
Tuesday, December 08, 2015
Last week, I told you about someone who asked for help when his Sociology professor broached the subject of religion, but basically dismissed it as a fabrication. The student wrote:
Some notable points he brought up, which are straight from the Sociology textbook, is that all religion is "socially constructed" and that faith is "belief without scientific evidence." ...For the answer to the main charges, you can read my last article here. As to the question of engagement, let me say that I've received more and more of these kinds of questions in recent years. Sometimes, they even come in the form of a plea, where the Christian really wants to defend his or her faith but doesn't know how. There's a real conflict here. On one hand, we want to share the truth of the Gospel message with others and not let mischaracterizations about our faith remain unanswered. On the other, the student recognizes the professor holds the position of power, not only in terms of stature and who gets to speak in class, but ultimately because the prof assigns the final grade for the course.
He stated that religion is constantly evolving and falsely asserted that Christianity was the first to develop monotheism. His final statement was made near the end of the lecture that "we all need to exercise some level of spirituality in order to survive" since religion provides comfort in the case of tragedy.
How does one, especially as a student, respond to such claims? It's apparent the professor has already chosen where he stands concerning religion. When another spoke up during the lecture, it was clear all he wants to do is debate. As Christians, should we speak up or not cast our pearls before swine?
First, Pick Your BattlesMy first piece of advice to this student is to be thoughtful. Exchanges with those in authority need to be judicious and part of that is weighing what the reaction to an objection may be. Jesus told us, "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16, ESV) and that applies here. The professor is the "man with the microphone," which means he controls the conversation. That also means you probably won't be able to have a sustained argument in class, which is appropriate since that's really not what the class is for anyway.
We have a couple of good examples of how Christians faced such conditions in the New Testament. Peter and John faced the Jewish rulers. Paul was also brought before the Jewish High Council and later before Felix. In each of these cases, the Christians never tried to steamroll the questioning authority. Instead, they first waited until it was the appropriate time for them to speak. Notice that Peter and John don't respond until questioned by the elders (Acts 4:6). Paul waits five days until he is summoned and even then only speaks when the Roman governor Felix "nodded to him to speak" (Acts 24:1,10). So, it is important to have a good "feel" for both the prof and the teaching style of the class before trying to engage at all.
Clarify Through QuestionsNext, in each instance they pointed to their own good conduct (Acts 4:8, 23:1, 24:12) and asked questions about exactly what the main issue was. This is so important that I want to emphasize it again. Questions are the primary way to open a conversation in a respectful and open manner. They can be hugely effective when engaging someone who is antagonistic to your point of view, as demonstrated here.
In the classroom especially, questions are expected. They allow you to not make assertions but ask for clarification which can serve to show a contradiction in the teacher's positions. For example, compare the two opening charges listed above. The prof claimed 1) religion is "socially constructed" and 2) faith is "belief without scientific evidence." The prof clearly mis-defined faith, as has been argued multiple times in the past. Leaving that aside, I would ask for clarification of his point. When the prof talks about religion, does he mean the various expressions people may produce in trying to reach out to the divine? I don't think it's controversial to recognize that the worship music of 21st century America will be colored by our current culture and be very different from the practices of a second century church in Antioch.
The question isn't how culture affects our stretch toward the divine, the question rally is whether God really exists and what is the most appropriate way to know how he has revealed himself. Feuerbach and Freud would say God isn't real, and I think this is also the professor's claim. If that is so, the next question should be "If scientific evidence is the standard for believing a claim, then what scientific evidence can be offered for holding that God does not exist, but is simply a socially constructed belief?"
The prof has alluded to the standard of science to determine truth value it seems to me. But there are a lot of things I believe that science has no bearing on. I believe I'm not in the Matrix, for example. I believe my memories for the most part accurately represent what happened to me previously. I believe that when I see the color green I have the same experience as you do.
A Little is a LotLastly, know when to be done. One or two key questions are usually enough to break the façade of assurance originally presented by the prof but not so much that the exchange begins to feel like a confrontation. Paul would wait for Felix to call him and they would then have conversations. But Paul didn't try to "eat the entire elephant" at once. Be patient and trust that God will provide the proper opportunities and the proper words for such times. Those are the marks of wisdom and gentleness, as Jesus commanded.
Friday, November 20, 2015
It's difficult to discuss hot-button issues today. On certain topics, people hold positions which make communicating the underlying principles much more difficult. Take the conflict between same sex unions and the wedding photographers or cake bakers as an example. Because the conflict has been framed in terms of bigotry and discrimination, the question of whether the state has a right to enforce people to violate their consciousness or their beliefs can become lost. Rather than debating the principles of the freedom the act in a way consistent to one's own beliefs, the discussion usually gets mired in the rights of two people to marry whomever they wish, which is beside the point.
I had the opportunity to share breakfast this morning with Dr. Francis Beckwith, and he noted that in cases where the rhetoric overwhelms the discussion, it helps to draw upon analogies or thought experiments. If the analogy is drawn well, one can construct a similar situation that calls upon the same ideological parameters but offers a different circumstance, perhaps one in which the recipient isn't as emotionally invested.
Beckwith said he has effectively used this type of approach with his students or in conferences when talking about the question of a Christian photographer being compelled by the state to photograph a same sex wedding. As I mentioned, the whole topic of same sex unions has been beaten down with overheated rhetoric and it can really overshadow what is a different issue here—whether a person has a right to be faithful to his or her conscience. So, if I'm concerned about keeping the sanctity to make choices that are faithful to my own conscience, a good way to communicate that is to use a situation that removes the same sex marriage component completely but still displays the conflict.
A Beef About A BrisOne example he gave is to imagine a Jewish couple hiring a photographer to record their eight-day-old son's bris. The bris is a religious ceremony that includes the circumcision of the infant. It is deeply significant, especially to those holding to Jewish orthodoxy, and signals the addition of the child to the Jewish covenant and to the community. However, circumcision is actually pretty controversial these days, with organizations believing that the cutting of the child's foreskin amounts to genital mutilation and coupled with the fact that the child cannot give consent to such a procedure, it is immoral.1
In his thought experiment, Beckwith asks the listener to imagine that the photographer has some deeply held beliefs that circumcision is child abuse and mutilation and therefore he cannot on good conscience photograph the bris. Does he have the right to refuse this request? Given the central importance circumcision plays in the Jewish identity, is it bigotry on the part of the photographer to refuse this couple? What would you think if they sued him on grounds of discriminating against their Jewish heritage and forced him to take pictures of the bris? Would such a judgment be right in your eyes?
As you can see, this thought experiment puts the very issue of fidelity to one's moral beliefs at the center of the discussion. If the principle should be applied in a specific way in the circumcision case, we can then apply it in the same-sex union case.
Be Careful with Your AnalogiesOne note of caution you should keep in mind when offering an analogy in this way: the analogy must be as close as possible to the original situation. In both cases above, you will note that both marriage and the bris are identifying, major life events. For a segment of society both are steeped in religious meaning; marriage is a sacrament in the Roman Catholic Church and the bris is fundamental to the Jewish faith. Both are real modern-day issues with a diversity of sincerely held opinions. Even the photographer's job is the same. The only variable is the circumstance in which the photographer is being asked to violate his or her conscience. This makes the analogy particularly effective and it focuses the debate where it should be, on the issue at hand.
Analogies and thought experiments are useful tools in gaining understanding for abstract concepts wile dodging the emotional reactions that can accompany controversial topics. Sometimes, they don't form immediately. They may be developed and refined over time to increase their effectiveness. But their power to cut through much of the rhetoric and get to the central conflict makes those efforts more worthwhile.
References1. Robbins, Martin. "Infant Male Circumcision Is Genital Mutilation." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/dec/06/1.
Monday, November 09, 2015
Other Christians soon jumped on the bandwagon, wishing to present the cup as the latest salvo in the War on Christmas, an activity which seems to have become as much a tradition in Christian circles as Wal-Mart unveiling decorations in their stores two weeks before Halloween. One person even created a video where he "tricks" Starbucks employees into writing Merry Christmas on their cups by giving the phrase as his name when ordering.
I'm not certain such a move will cause Starbucks VPs to sit in a conference room and exclaim "Sneaky little hobbitses. Wicked, tricksy, false!" Yet, the claims of "anti-Christian" are being passed around the Internet faster than you can brew a Tall espresso, with cries of boycotts for Starbucks removing the Christian faith from Christmas. At the same time, mainstream outlets are providing additional high visibility with their stories like this one that point and mock, essentially stating, "Look at these stupid people! Aren't Christians out of touch?"
It's Not Surprising that Secular Companies Act in Secular WaysLet's all take a breath, shall we? First, the cups. I'm not certain how having a plain red cup makes Starbucks any more anti-Christian than snowmen. Do snowflakes and reindeer signify the incarnation or are they neutral images that even atheists can use to decorate their homes? The reality is Starbucks wants people—Christians and everyone else—to get into the holiday spirit because Starbucks can sell more stuff and make more money that way. That's why they sell an Advent calendar (albeit disemboweling the word advent its meaning.) You don't need Christmas to learn that Starbucks is a secular company; their political positions demonstrate that. They commercialize Christmas because they are interested in the commercial benefits, just like almost every retail store you will come across. Plain red cups are not the issue here.
Secondly, while the corporation may be driven by the almighty dollar instead of almighty God, it doesn't mean the barista behind the bar holds those same opinions. I know Starbucks managers and baristas who love the Lord with all their hearts while working for Starbucks. You may even hear them tell you "Merry Christmas" if you gave them a chance.
Looking to Keep the Main Thing the Main ThingThird, I think the complaint about the cups does the very thing that the Christians are supposedly rallying against: it trivializes the coming of Jesus by reducing such a monumental event of history to printing on a cup that will end up in the trash twenty minutes after it is presented. Do we need Christmas cups to celebrate God's gift of the Messiah to mankind? By winning the cup battle, will any more people come to know and trust in Jesus? How does this help our witness?
Let's face it, the early church celebrated the advent of Christ not by demanding that Roman merchants write it on their bags, but by telling others why the event is celebrated at all. Yes, Christmas is a Christian holiday; it always has been. Don't let talk of Saturnalia fool you. There is no historic support for the idea that Christmas was invented as an alternative to a pagan festival. Because it is a Christian celebration, it's OK to wrap yourself in all the traditions and trappings. But for those who are not Christian perhaps asking them why Christmas is such an important holiday would be a better approach than railing against them not having decorated enough.
How well can you explain the importance of Christmas? Are you equipped and ready to tell others why it means so much to you? Are you ready to say the Savior's coming is exciting because you desperately needed saving? By protesting and boycotting instead of changing minds and possibly changing hearts, Christians further alienate Christianity from the greater society, ironically strengthening the very problems they are complaining about.
Don't wait for Starbucks to say Merry Christmas to you; you need to tell those at Starbucks "Merry Christmas; and here's why it's indeed merry…"
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