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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.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

Reason and Faith Are Not Opposites

I don't know how many times I've heard the claim that "religion is just a crutch for the weak-minded". Many of the popular atheists in print today like to try and say that belief in God is the opposite of being rational.1 Others I've had conversations with dismiss faith as being the opposite of knowledge. I remember having lunch one day with some mutual friends. The discussion turned to matters of belief and one girl immediately said that we couldn't really know truth at all, to which I objected, saying that there are a lot of things we can know. We know 2 + 2 = 4, the earth circles around the sun, and Shakespeare wrote Hamlet. She immediately objected and said "that's not truth, those are facts!" I answered, "Well, are those facts true or not? What makes the statement 2 + 2 = 4 a fact and 2 + 2 = 5 not a fact? Isn't it an idea known as truth?"



As you can see, this girl was trying desperately to draw a line between matters of faith and things that fall in the category of math and science. She was trying to say that faith is merely a personal choice, like which ice cream flavor is best. But God either exists or He doesn't. Jesus of Nazareth either really lived, really was crucified, and really rose from the dead or He didn't. These statements aren't nearly the same as liking a particular ice cream. They are questions of history and of existence. That means they can be investigated and facts can be discovered. Reasons for their truth or falsehood can be offered. And if it's found that there are good reasons for believing in these claims, then we are only unreasonable if we refuse to believe them.

So reason and faith are not opposites. The Christian faith rests upon the reasons we have for believing in things like the resurrection. In our Proverbs passage, God says that we are to cling to "the words of the wise"; we are to cling to "excellent things of counsels and knowledge." Wise words, counsels, and knowledge are all objective terms; words are only wise or knowledgeable if they are true. And if something is true, then it must be rational to hold to such as belief. That's why God says we can know the certainty of the word of truth. To do anything else would be irrational!

References

1. The most prolific of those that would contrast faith to reason are the so-called "New Atheists" such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In his book The God Delusion, Dawkins writes that belief in God is "a persistently false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence"(p.28) which is tantamount to shutting your eyes and denying what's in front of you.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Gay College Prof Indoctrinating Students

Here are some stories from September's Apologetics Update email newsletter. Sign up on the right to get these delivered to your inbox each month.

September is here and school has begun, which means that the ministry here takes on an increasing importance. Just this week in fact, I spoke with a girl who is a freshman at the local community college. She had enrolled in freshman English, a required class. The professor announced that he was an "out" homosexual man and was recently married to his partner.



Such professions by an instructor would be perhaps a bit bothersome, but not completely avoidable in such an environment. However, the shocking thing was the first assignment given to the class: the students were required to write a four page essay answering the question "What is Marriage?" in a new, fresh, engaging, and/or surprising way (emphasis included in the original assignment sheet).

Why should the concept of marriage, which all cultures across time have understood as the lifelong coupling between a man and a woman that provides the stability to produce and rear offspring, need to be redefined in some new or surprising way? That is like asking someone to redefine automobile in a new or surprising way. Why would one create such an assignment unless the goal is to create the impression that the idea of marriage is up for grabs? Note that this was an English class, not sociology or political science, and 10% of the grade earned in this required course comes from this assignment.

These types of subtle tricks to indoctrinate our kids infuriate me! How in the world will kids just out of high school be able to defend the historic and natural understanding of marriage on their own? They simply don't have the experience to answer the subversion of their beliefs in this assignment. They are like the proverbial frog in the pot; the prof slowly turns up the heat and soon all their Christian values are boiled right out of them.

I was glad to be able to provide some resources to this girl that clarifies how marriage requires of two people of the opposite sex because it is a function of how God constructed our bodies. Marriage is as much a function of biology as it is of relationship, and as such it cannot be redefined on a whim, even if you do not believe the Bible.

I'm glad that I was able to help this student clarify her beliefs and provide her with some answers to maintain her Christian witness. But there are many other people out there who need help in a similar way. That's why Come Reason Ministries exists: to provide answers for the seeker and to help the Christian defend the truth of the Gospel in a hostile world. We do this through our web site, podcasts, videos, publications and speaking events. But we need your help.

Please prayerfully consider supporting Come Reason with a gift or inviting me to speak for your church or group. We need supporters so I can continue to help people like this young girl. Many have nowhere else to turn to find the answers that strengthen their faith in Christ, instead of tearing it down.

Speaking the Truth in Love Conference

I had a great time last month at the Speaking the Truth in Love Conference in Kent, Washington. It was great to meet conference organizer Eric Urabe in person although we has a "virtual" relationship for some time now. I also got to catch up with my friend Abdu Murray, who has been in great demand since his book Grand Central Question was published this year.  I should have videos of the event very soon and we will be making them available on the web site and in DVD format, so stay tuned!

September Apologetics Class:
Defending the Trinity Against World Religions


On Monday, September 8, I will be holding my next apologetics class at Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside entitled "Defending the Trinity Against World Religions." This class will help believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that the Trinity is a logical contradiction, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand.

The class is free and open to anyone. It begins at 7:00 PM and childcare is provided. Click here for details.

This Month's Apologetics Resource:
Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable


This month, I'm excited to offer a new resource for your gift of any size. "Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable" takes a look at evidence that has recently come to light showing how the gospel accounts must have been written by first century eyewitnesses of the events they record. By studying the names used throughout the accounts, noting interlocking testimony, and finding undesigned coincidences, it becomes easy to see that the gospels are not fable, fiction, nor falsehood.

This gift is yours for a secure donation of any size to help support the efforts of our ministry. Your tax deductible gift may be given securely online here, or you may send us a check at the address on the bottom of this email. However the Lord leads you, please know that I'm deeply grateful for your prayers and your friendship.

Blessings,

Lenny
Lenny Esposito

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Top Five Blog Posts for August


Below are the top five apologetics blog posts for the month of August. Articles on atheism were the most popular, but we saw a significant amount of traffic when I responded to Ann Coulter's criticism of Kent Brantly, the American missionary doc who contracted Ebola. Rounding out the top five is an article with theological impact and an observation that skeptics seem to not be skeptical of their own viewpoints. Here are the links:

1. Atheist insults believers and is stunned at the response
2. Atheists contradict themselves by seeking invocations
3. Ann Coulter is Wrong: People are More than Numbers
4. Why didn't God create a world where everyone would go to heaven?
5. Why isn't the skeptic skeptical about his morality?

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Strength of a Cumulative Case

Modern movie-making has come a long way in terms of special effects. Audiences gasp in awe during scenes in adventure stories such as Journey to the Center of the Earth, where the heroes stumble upon extraordinary locations during their quest, seeing things few humans have ever beheld. Our exploration of the Christian faith can give us a similar sense of awe as we travel through its unique tenets, finding new ways of thinking about things we believe and the way God works in each of us. Some of its grandeurs and vistas are as breath-taking as climbing to the rim of the Grand Canyon, looking out and trying to take in its vastness. Of course, the Canyon is so massive that we only get a glimpse of one small portion. We can never see it all and see it intimately at the same time, but still understanding there is a greatness there that we can at least begin to appreciate. This really is how it feels to seek out knowledge of the one True God.



Seeking to find out if there's a God is a basic part of being human; it's one of those "big questions" that I talked about before. As human beings, we want to know where we came from, why the world works the way it does, and how things will eventually turn out. Belief in God begins to answer these questions. It becomes the very first step in defending our faith, since it entails ideas that we will use in the rest of our journey.

So as we start to scale the tall cliffs that show us the existence of God, it makes sense to take the advice of our wise friend Pooh, above, and understand exactly what it is we're looking for. The basic notion that there is a God is nothing new; all societies have held it in some form since the beginning of recorded history. But what does the notion of God really mean? We assume that when we say "God," everyone understands what we are talking about, but this may not be true. Therefore, if we're going to look for evidence that God exists, it becomes necessary for us to define just what qualities we should be looking for at a minimum. What are the things that make God, God and everything else not a god? We're not looking at all of God's attributes right now, just something that differentiates God from everything else.

A fourfold cord: presenting a cumulative case

In beginning our climb to discover the reasons for believing in God's existence, we want to make sure we're on the firmest footing possible. I am going to be building what is known as a cumulative case argument for God's existence. A cumulative case argument is one where we have several different arguments all pointing to the same conclusion. What a cumulative case argument is not is a series of arguments meant to be safety nets for each other. Let me try to clarify this a bit more.

In rock climbing, there are different techniques used to help aid the climber and ensure his safety. Some will use a system of ropes and anchors to climb up a tall face —the climber will be attached to a safety rope by his belt, and as he makes his way up the face, he will nail an anchor to the rock that holds a clip. He then clips his rope to that anchor and continues up. This way if the climber slips, he may fall a ways, but the anchor will catch the rope and he won't fall all the way to the bottom. If that anchor pulls out, then the next anchor will hopefully catch him, and so on.
If an explanation rejects God and suggests another reason for the evidence of existence, design, morality, and history, that explanation should:
  1.  Offer an account for each of these points that is stronger than God as an explanation, and
  2.  Offer accounts that are all consistent with one another in explaining the evidence we see.

This is an example of building a case with "leaky buckets." The idea is if one argument is found to be weak or has a hole in it (like a bucket that has a leak), there's another bucket underneath to catch the water. Each argument doesn't really strengthen the case, is simply helps catch any mistakes. If our climber has a series of bad anchors when he slips, then he'll never reach the top of his climb and it will be pretty scary coming back down!

Another way to climb is to tie off the rope at the top of the cliff before the climber starts his ascent. The rope can help support the climber as he climbs and it's safer, since the rope is anchored to a solid object before the climb even begins. The climber can also know the rope reaches all the way to the top, so he knows he can get there even if he's pulled up. Now imagine that our climber doesn't have just one rope that will hold his weight, but four ropes attached to him instead, all anchored from the top of the rim. Each rope can stand on its own and support the rock climber's weight, but weaving four different ropes together makes a support system so strong, it's nearly impossible to fail.

This is the type of evidence for God I offer. Each of these four arguments goes "all the way to the top" in supporting the existence of God. Each can hold its own weight. But taken together, they point very strongly to God's existence. You may hold some doubt concerning any one of these arguments, but once you put them together, their total becomes amazingly strong. And remember, any other theory for how and why we're here should 1) offer an explanation of each of these points that is stronger than what I'm offering, and 2) offer accounts that are all consistent with one another in explaining the evidence we see to give us good reason to choose to that argument over a belief in God.

References

Image courtesy MakKuyper and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

If You Ignore the Trinity, You Ignore the Gospel

Over at Patheos' Progressive Christian Channel, Presbyterian Church USA pastor Mark Sandlin posted an article entitled "No Trinity For Me, Please." Given Sandlin had previously written in the same space that he denies the deity of Jesus, this shouldn't come as a huge surprise. However, in this article Sandlin argues in a way that may sound convincing even to evangelicals. He writes:
Admittedly, the Trinity is an interesting theory and it certainly quelled some of the early Church's division on the nature of God, but it is just that – a theory.

…I'm not saying the theory of Trinity is wrong. I'm just not saying it's definitively right, which is exactly what many of its adherents do when they say that if you don't believe in the Trinity, you can't be Christian.

Here's the thing, if the Trinity is that important, doesn't it seem like Jesus or the book of Acts or Paul or James or Peter or John would have talked more directly about it?

The lack of biblical witness leaves me to believe that either there simply was no understanding of a Trinitarian God at the time books of the Bible were written, or that the concept was so unimportant to their faith that it mostly wasn't mentioned.

So, why do we make it so important?1
Many conservative Christians believe perhaps some of what Sandlin says above. They think that while the Trinity is a concept that helps theologians overcome certain obstacles in reconciling some snippets of scripture, it is more esoteric and "head knowledge" than the central message of the gospel, which is the message we should truly be sharing.



If you believe something like this, may I tell you in the kindest way possible that you are completely wrong? Because you are. As Dr. Fred Sanders wrote in his compelling book The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, "the doctrine of the Trinity inherently belongs to the gospel itself."2 Let's look at some aspects of the work of Christ's atonement on the cross to see just how dependent it is on the concept of the Trinity.

The Trinity Demonstrates God's Sacrifice is the Greatest

The Trinity is necessary for understanding the total sacrifice of Christ for our sins. Paul in Romans 5 puts it this way:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.3
Notice how Paul makes a distinction in the passage above with the words God and Christ. He argues that a person giving up his own life for a righteous man would be a great sacrifice; it would mean more that a person gave up his life for an unrighteous man. However, we have been "reconciled to God by the death of His Son." It's one thing to lay down one's own life, which Jesus did in following the will of the Father. It's a completely different level of sacrifice to lay down the life of your beloved son for the sake of an enemy! Without the concept of the Trinity, this level of sacrifice is missed.

The Trinity Allows Jesus to Atone for All Humanity

Jesus' offering of Himself to the Father reconciles us to God. But only the blood of the second person of the Trinity could possibly atone for the sins of all humanity. Anything less wouldn't have a universal effect. Romans 8:3-4 is very clear here: "For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." The writer to the Hebrews completes the thought:
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

…So Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.
Jesus needed to appear in the heavenly realms, in the true Holy of Holies to atone for sinful humanity. He couldn't be just a man, as a righteous man might be able to pay for the sins of an unrighteous man, but Jesus paid for the sins of all flesh.

The Trinity Makes Resurrection Possible

The atonement is not the full Gospel. Any presentation of the Gospel message must not stop at Christ's death, but also include His resurrection. We know that without the resurrection of the dead, "you are still in your sins."4 Jesus said that his resurrection was his own to do,5 and Paul tells us that our future resurrection from the dead depends on God's Holy Spirit, who also raised Jesus: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you."6 Thus, without the Trinity, there would be no resurrection and no hope for us. We would be "of all people the most pitied."

The Trinity is necessary for the gospel. One cannot be separated from the other. Sanders sums it up nicely in his book:
Nothing we do as evangelicals makes sense if it is divorced from a strong experiential and doctrinal grasp of the coordinated work of Jesus and the Spirit, worked out against the horizon of the Father's love. Personal evangelism, conversational prayer, devotional Bible study, authoritative preaching, world missions, and assurance of salvation all presuppose that life in the gospel is life in communion with the Trinity. Forget the Trinity and you forget why we do what we do; you forget who we are as gospel Christians; you forget how we got to be like we are.7

References

1.Sandlin, Mark. "No Trinity For Me, Please." Patheos. Patheos, 20 Aug. 2014. Web. 04 Sept. 2014. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thegodarticle/2014/08/no-trinity-for-me-please.
2.Sanders, Fred. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, Kindle Edition, 2010. 9.
3. Romans 5:7-10,ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles, 2007. Print.
4. 1 Cor. 15:17.
5. John 2:21, John 10:18
6. Romans 8:11
7. Sanders, Ibid.

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