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

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why We Should Expect God to be a Trinity

Many times when I discuss Christianity, those of other faiths get tripped up in the idea of a triune God. Skeptics claim the concept of God being three-in-one is a clear sign of the confusion that early Christians had in trying to elevate Jesus to deity while still maintaining a Jewish monotheism. Others, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, simply think that it is contradictory to claim God is both three and one at the same time. However, if you think hard about God and what He entails, you may soon see that the trinity actually solves more problems than it creates.

What Does God Need?

"Before beginning a Hunt, it is wise to ask someone what you are looking for before you begin looking for it."
— Winnie the Pooh1

I doubt that Winnie the Pooh will ever make a list of great theologians, but I think his advice is sound in this question. When we begin to discuss concepts of God, we should at least start with identifying some of the attributes we would agree He would possess. According to Anselm, God is a being "which nothing greater can be conceived."2 In other words, God has no limitations and no need for help. He is all-knowing (omniscience), all-powerful (omnipotent), all-loving (omnibenevolent), and requires nothing or no one else in His existence. This last attribute is referred to as aseity in theological circles, and most philosophers agree that God could not be God if He had to rely on something other than Himself.

But we get to an interesting conundrum here. If God is all-loving, who did He love before He enacted creation? The Bible tells us that God is love, yet how can this be if He exists apart from anything else? St. Augustine raised a similar question. He wrote that when he thinks of himself as expressing love "there are three things concerned—myself, and that which I love, and love itself. For I do not love love, except I love a lover; for there is no love where nothing is loved. Therefore there are three things— he who loves, and that which is loved, and love." 3 So, Augustine says there must be a lover, a beloved, and the relationship of love that exists between the two.

This would place a God who is described as love in a pickle. It would mean that God could not be all loving until He created someone or something to be loved. But if God needs to create something to "become" love, then does that mean God must rely on His creation before He can exercise that attribute? Does this call God's Aseity into question?

However, if God exists as three persons on one being, then God can show love within those three persons without the need for any external thing. The Father can love the Son and the very existence of a triune being means that God is love becomes definitively true. Thus, in a Trinity, God's all-loving attribute is preserved.

Additional Advantages

Beyond God's lovingness, there are other attributes that a Trinity makes possible. God can be a relational being from all eternity, since relationship has always existed within Him. God can have humility. Philippians 2:6-7 states that Jesus "Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men." Jesus expressed humility in his incarnation. He also acquiesced to the will of the Father (Luke 22:42). So, when we say that people should exhibit humility, we are saying that people should imitate God's nature.

Because God is triune, He can exhibit things like love and humility within Himself. They are not things that God chooses to be, but are part of His very being. This is a crucial difference between the Christian understanding of God and all others. When talking with those of other faiths, it is fair to ask how they can understand God to be without need of anyone or anything. Without a Trinity, God becomes something less than what we understand Him to be.


1. Powers, Joan. Pooh's Little Instruction Book. (New York: Dutton Children's Books, 1995).
2. Anselm. Proslogium. Fordham University Web. < II> Accessed 4/30/2014
3. Augustine. On the Trinity (Book IX), Chapter 2. The New Advent. Accessed 4/30/2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

For Today's Youth, Life is Theater

This Sunday, I got into a discussion with a high school senior about the prom. She had a steady boyfriend and she knew they would be attending prom together, but she had grown anxious about him not formally asking her. Why would a formal invitation cause so much anxiety? They both knew they were going and they both knew they were going with each other. But for today's youth, being asked to prom is not what it used to be.

Kids today expect "promposals." If you're not familiar with the term, the promposal is a rather overt and showy way one would ask another to the prom and kids are using tactics that had previously been reserved for significant life-marking events such as engagement proposals. There are many examples. Fox News out of Boston just reported a teen enlisted the help of the local police to pull over his girlfriend so he could ask her to prom. One boy inflated 1500 balloons in his high school hallway and set up a 30' long sign reading "Will you go to prom with me?" and then carried his girlfriend blindfolded on his back to the location for the reveal, complete with a bouquet of roses. I would imagine that it took more hours to plan and execute the invitation than the dance lasted.

Why would kids today make such a fuss over something like a prom invitation? One reason is that it's become expected. The Washington Times reports the phenomenon of promposals really caught on because of two factors: the teen "reality" show Laguna Beach ran an episode highlighting some cast member making promposals and the advent of YouTube which allows kids to video tape their own promposals and get a bit of fame from them. The Times writes that "There are currently more than 40,000 videos tagged ‘promposal' and an additional 900,000 tagged ‘prom proposal' or ‘ask cute.'"

When talking with high schoolers, such as the girl above, a promposal of some sort is now expected. Junior Maggie Gitschier, who was interviewed by USA Today, expressed the sentiment. "Just a simple text asking to prom is not enough," she said. "Girls wait for this forever, so these guys need to keep up the good work and make sure it's cute." In the conversation I had, the girl had said that such acts "Make you feel special." She ended up making a sign to hang inside the pool at his swim meet and asked him rather than risking not having a promposal at all.

The Show's the Thing

The expectation of a promposal concerns me. Our culture has been accused of superficiality, but young people today are growing up in a world where they believe the media really is the message. They hold the production in high regard, but they lose perspective on the weight of the actual event. Kids are investing time, thought, and effort into asking someone to a dance, but acts that will have lifelong effects, such as intercourse after the dance are not given a second thought. According to the CDC, nearly 50% of high-schoolers reported to have previously had sexual intercourse.

I see the pervasiveness of the promposal another warning sign to say that even Christian kids can be more influenced by worldly values than we know. As Christian parents, we need to begin to ask our kids just how important a dance invitation really is. Are they giving it an appropriate level of attention? Are boys being pressured to make such a big display that their actions may be misinterpreted by their prospective dates? While kids like Maggie may think that being asked to the prom is something for which they've "waited forever," missing a high school dance won't change one's life all that much.

What do you think? Are promposals merely the latest youthful act of immaturity and nothing to worry about or are they more serious? I would like to think that we should be trying to teach our kids that big gestures match the big moments of life. Having a popular YouTube video isn't where we should place our emphasis. Developing authentic relationships with God and others should be. What message does a promposal really communicate and what are one's motives for so doing? I'd love to hear your views.

Monday, April 28, 2014

NOW and Abortion - A Study in Inconsistency

Last week, I had said that I hold to Christianity because it is both internally and externally coherent. Part of that internal coherency is the fact that it stays consistent in its values and teachings when they are applied to different situations. This is not always true of other movements, especially those who claim to take the moral high ground, but state that abortion is somehow permissible. Here are a couple of examples of how inconsistency looks.

A few years ago, when the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was making headlines daily, I came across a man protesting the U.S. involvement in a busy shopping area. Wanting to understand his position better, I approached him and began to ask him about his views. Unfortunately, he was more interested in shouting hyperbole than discussing the situation rationally. He wanted to make a big show of me so everyone would look, but he had no arguments, just accusations. (I also noticed that he got pretty mad, which I thought was ironic.)

Now, you don't have to be a scholar to understand how inconsistent it is to become violent while protesting for peace. But it seems more and more that people really don't think through their positions on matters, especially those dealing with the big questions of life. The recent debate over the war on Iraq is a good example of this.

An Issue of Life and Death

Although I don't think it proper in this space to debate the merits or flaws of the U.S. decision, I would like to look at some of the rhetoric voiced by certain organizations and see how truly coherent the Christian worldview is. No matter what side of the debate you were on - pro or con - it was evident that all understood we were dealing with life and death issues here. The National Organization for Women (NOW) recognized that as well when they wrote their open letter to President Bush objecting to the war. (Although the letter is no longer available on their site, you can read it via the Internet Archive's page here.) In that letter they make some interesting claims. For example, the letter states "Even more troubling are the costs in human lives and suffering that war will cause. Our women and men in the armed forces, though they understand the risks of enlisting, should not be put in harm's way unnecessarily."

NOW felt that U.S. soldiers' lives should be protected as much as possible, even to the extent that it would be acceptiable to leave cruel regimes such as the Taliban and Saddam Hussain's Baathists in power. Realize that the Taliban were no friends of women or women's rights. Their list of atrocities committed against women prior to the U.S. invasion is well documented. NOW says they understand the fact that soldiers are voluntarily enlisting into the armed forces and the normal expectation of enlistees should include the possibility of war. Yet they also feel we should err on the side of caution, because protecting life is of primary importance.

Not All Life and Death Issues are on the Battlefield

But, there is another life and death issue where many of these same choices come into play: abortion. How consistent is NOW's position in this instance? Not very. Protecting life isn't the primary concern for NOW in the abortion debate, a woman's choice is. Erring on the side of caution is not an option, even as medical science continues to allow babies to stay viable at earlier and earlier gestation.

The NOW letter continued, "Civilians in combat zones do not voluntarily take such risks... The killing and maiming of innocent people as well as the destruction of Iraq's physical and social infrastructure are inevitable in a massive pre-emptive military strike." The argument here is that some civilians (people who happen to live in Iraq but are not an immediate threat to the United States) will be hurt by the fighting and this is wrong, even to obtain a political objective such as overthrowing a despot and torturer such as Saddam. The political objectives are not worth the cost to life.

However, when looking at abortion, they don't feel the same way. NOW is very clear that a woman should maintain the right to eliminate the life inside of her no matter what the reason, and they'll do what ever it takes to achieve this political objective. Although the life inside a woman is an innocent, the baby's well being is not an issue. It has merely gotten in the way of the woman and her objectives in life, and because it intrudes, it should be killed.

Life Versus Potential Life

Some may object to my argument, saying that we're talking about two different issues. After all, NOW doesn't consider a pre-born baby a human life, but rather "potential life". While it is true that NOW's rhetoric differentiates the unborn from individuals who are already born, their reasons for doing so are the point of my objection. As I've pointed out, NOW says they believe that where life and death is involved, we should err on the side of caution, yet they don't approach the question of when life begins this way. They say they believe political motivations should be of secondary importance to risking lives, yet political concerns play a chief role in why they won't consider any type of limitation on any abortion procedures. Lastly, even though certain individuals (such as the Afghan citizenry) may endure long term suffering at the hands of a ruthless regime, NOW says there must be more at stake before we risk innocent lives in trying to oust that regime. How unfortunate that NOW refuses to see the innocent lives of the unborn that are being sacrificed merely to avoid the inconvenience they may cause in a person's life.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Belief in God is the Motor that Drove Science

Oxford Professor John Lennox on the relational dependence of Christianity and the development of the scientific enterprise:
Science as we know it exploded onto the world stage in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. Why then and why there? Alfred North Whitehead's view, as summarised by C. S. Lewis, was that: "Men became scientific because they expected law in nature, and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver." It is no accident that Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Clerk-Maxwell were believers in God.

Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winner in biochemistry, finds the origin of the conviction, basic to science, that nature is ordered in the basic notion: "that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science."

Far from belief in God hindering science, it was the motor that drove it. Isaac Newton, when he discovered the law of gravitation, did not make the common mistake of saying: "now I have a law of gravity, I don't need God." Instead, he wrote Principia Mathematica, the most famous book in the history of science, expressing the hope that it would persuade the thinking man to believe in a Creator.

Newton could see, what sadly many people nowadays seem unable to see, that God and science are not alternative explanations. God is the agent who designed and upholds the universe; science tells us about how the universe works and about the laws that govern its behaviour. God no more conflicts with science as an explanation for the universe than Sir Frank Whittle conflicts with the laws and mechanisms of jet propulsion as an explanation for the jet engine. The existence of mechanisms and laws is not an argument for the absence of an agent who set those laws and mechanisms in place. On the contrary, their very sophistication, down to the fine-tuning of the universe, is evidence for the Creator's genius. For Kepler: "The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order which has been imposed on it by God and which he revealed to us in the language of mathematics."

As I scientist then, I am not ashamed or embarrassed to be a Christian. After all, Christianity played a large part in giving me my subject.
Portion taken from Prof. John C. Lennox. "BBC Lent Talks 2012." Accesses 4/25/2014

Friday, April 25, 2014

How to Share Your Faith Without Using Scarecrows

I've recently written that a major problem I see in discussions of faith is the straw men that are erected by those who would seek to tear down a viewpoint. By creating a flimsy caricature of a belief, it becomes much easier to defeat that caricature than deal with the nuances of the belief itself. This is something that I work hard at avoiding when I discuss a belief different than my own. I absolutely hate the straw man, not only when someone substitutes a flimsy shell for my real belief, but I hate it when I misrepresent someone else's view. It's a form of bearing false witness and if someone values the truth, then straw men have no place in argumentation.

Because Christians and non-Christians are equally prone to commit the straw-man fallacy, I wanted to offer some tips on how to avoid misrepresenting someone else's views. These are pretty simple things to list, but sometimes they take a bit of work which may be why they aren't more frequently implemented. But if you follow these guidelines, you will be more informed and a better person for it.

1. Ask More Questions

I've written on this before, but it bears repeating. Instead of immediately launching onto along, drawn out apologetic against a position that you hear, first find out exactly what the person believes. If you find someone who states they are pro-choice, it's OK to ask "exactly what do you mean when you say 'pro-choice?'" You can then continue to explore their views. Do they believe the government shouldn't regulate any medical procedures? Do they believe that at no time before the birth that a human person exists in the mother's womb? How do they define personhood? By asking these questions, you can get a better picture of that person's particular views and you may find areas where you can point out a contradiction in their thinking.

In conversational first engagement, questions like "What do you mean by that," "Can you explain that more," or "Can you give me an example" are key go knowing just where the other person stands. Use them more often and ask more questions and make fewer statements.

2. Restate the person's position back to him

Once you feel you have understood your interlocutor's point of view, repeat it back to them. Say something like, "If I understand you correctly, you feel that the government should stay out of women's healthcare issues because it interferes with their lives." This approach is what is known as a Socratic dialogue. This approach figures prominently in Plato's writings and was further used effectively by Thomas Aquinas. By repeating the person's arguments back to them and ask if they agree with that summarization, you have paved the way to make a convincing argument without the knee-jerk response of "That's not what I meant!" They have just agreed that you have understood their view; thus you are in a better position to be more persuasive since they agree you understand their reasons well.

3. Get information from the horse's mouth

While inquiring from the person gives you a lot of information about their specific beliefs, I think it's also important to read primary sources from the different faith positions to make sure you understand what the actual belief system entails. In talking with folks, I find that thy really don't even know what their own faith tradition teaches and they believe something different than the official dogma/theology of the faith with whom they identify. This happens often in discussions Mormons and Roman Catholics, but it can even be true with atheists or any other belief system. Therefore, it's good to read the actual publications and pronouncements that are held as authoritative. Talk with a Mormon Bishop or read LDS writings. For the abortion debate, make yourself aware of Margaret Sanger's motives and read NARAL's political stances on things like late-term abortions.

I realize that this kind of research can only happen after you have engages someone in conversation. If you don't know what you will run into, it can be pretty tough to read up on everything. I know very few Christians who have even heard of Vedanta Hinduism, for example. So, you may have to do your research after your initial encounter. However, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, and atheists are common enough that you can begin to study their beliefs and doctrines simply to be prepared in case such an encounter arises. If you can master the basic history and concepts of the more common worldviews, then the details offered during discussion will make more sense.

As someone who has been teaching apologetics classes for some ten years, I've covered quite a variety of beliefs. More than once, I've given a presentation on a religious belief system where the people present were either previous adherents or even still practicing adherents. To be told that I was fair in my representation of their view gives my apologetic more weight in their eyes. To erect a straw man is really tantamount to lying about another's belief, and that should never be a part of our witnessing approach.
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