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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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Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Christianity Has Always Done

Why would a 33 year old man travel thousands of miles from his home to an isolated country, just so he could provide relief and medical care for those with an incurable disease? Why would this man risk such close proximity to those that basically carry a death sentence? How does he feel when he discovers he is infected with it himself? The man has told us. He said, "I am very satisfied and very happy."

Currently, the world is closely watching reports on Dr. Kent Brantly who, after studying for years in college, medical school and four years of residency, took a position with the Christian missionary organization Samaritan's Purse to provide medical services for the poor people of the African nation of Liberia. Brantly began is missionary efforts last year and when the deadly Ebola outbreak occurred there he chose to stay and provide treatment and comfort to those in need. Last week it was reported that the doctor had contracted the disease, which has no known cure and proves a 90% fatality rate.1

But Brantly isn't the man I'm speaking of.  I want to tell you the story of Joseph De Veuster, better known as Father Damien. Like Brantly, Father Damien left his comfortable home at the age of 33. Instead of Africa, he was sent to the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, where a quarantined camp for lepers (now defined as Hansen's disease) was located. Because of its isolation, victims of the disease where simply shipped there to die.  According to one web site, "The area was void of all amenities. No buildings, shelters nor potable water were available. The first arrivals dwelled in rock enclosures, caves, and in the most rudimentary shacks, built of sticks and dried leaves."2

Father Damien changed that. He felt called to share the saving message of Jesus Christ with the lepers, but he also put his faith into practice. An 1889 New York Times article states that Father Damien had "always expected that he should sooner or later become a leper… it was not likely that he would escape, as he was constantly living in a polluted atmosphere, dressing the sufferers' sores, washing their bodies, visiting their deathbeds, and even digging their graves."3

Father Damien even had the opportunity to leave the island, when his superiors wrote that he may leave "as your devotion dictates." It is said that when Damien received the letter "he was overjoyed; he had permission to stay where he was and where he longed with all his heart to be with the people he loved."4

Even though Father Damien died in 1889, people like Kent Brantly continue in the same spirit and with the same motivation. Brantly is following in a long line of individuals who've put others above self in order to obey the command of Jesus. This is what Christianity has always done. Sometimes, it means risking one's health to serve others. Sometimes it means taking an unpopular stand. But recognizing that all people are made in the image of God and therefore have dignity and worth, and should be treated that way, is fundamental to the Christian faith.

Books that disparage religion such as "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" don't talk about the Father Damiens or the Kent Brantlys of the world.  But the evangelization efforts of Christianity cannot be separated from its efforts to alleviate suffering; both are simply people taking the commands of their Lord seriously. I don't believe that religion poisoned those banished to Molokai, nor did it increase the suffering of those Ebola patients. In fact, it proved to do just the opposite.


1 The Associated Press. "American doctor in Africa tests positive for Ebola." Fort Worth Star-Telegram. 27 July 2014. Web.
2. "The Lepers of Molokai." The New York Times. 26 May 1889. Accessed online.
3. "Brief Biography of St. Damien of Molokai." St. Damien Catholic Church. 21 Dec 2011. Web.
4. Ibid.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

That Quote May Not Mean What You Think It Does!

Yesterday, I began a rebuttal of some comments from a previous post on Gandhi. I had said that Gandhi's eastern background hindered him from understanding the gospel message because he filtered it through his pre-existing Eastern conception. I quoted Gandhi, who said, "If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself." I then explained, "Jainism specifically teaches that one can remove all their bad karma and become God. In fact, in Jainism the only Gods that exist are those humans who've rid themselves of their karmas."1 So, it isn't surprising that Gandhi would somehow misunderstand Jesus' unique claim to divinity since in the Eastern view, being divine is not unique; it's the goal.

I supported my point with several footnotes, including one by scholar Huston Smith and one from, which is one of the most comprehensive sites covering Jainism. However, that passage elicited this response from Nate:
Also, as far as Gandhi's issues with "if God could have sons, all of us were sons." Are we not "children of God?" I don't see any issue with his logic here. And this: "If Jesus was like God, or God himself, then all men were like God and could be God himself---" Seems as though his perspective is consistent with many great Christians.
In order for Gandhi's perspective to be consistent with many great Christians, these Christians would need to be polytheists, like Hindus and Jains are. However, being a polytheist is a direct contradiction to the most basic of Christian theology, which is widely recognized as one of the three great monotheistic faiths of the world.

For his support, Nate included sixteen different quotes from the Bible, C.S. Lewis, and others. They are reproduced here as he supplied them:
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship. . .
—C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

. . . the Spirit and our spirit bear united witness that we are children of God. And if we are children we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, sharing his sufferings so as to share his glory."
—St. Paul, Rom. 8:15-17

They (those who love him) are the ones he chose specially long ago and intended to become true images of his Son, so that his Son might be the eldest of many brothers.
—St. Paul Rom. 8:29

God became man, so that man might become God.
—Early Christian Proverb

I am the vine, you are the branches.
—Jesus, John 15:5a

For the Son of God became man, that we might become God.
—St. Athanasius, De inc

God said to this hairless monkey, "get on with it, become a god."
—C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

"the Word became flesh and the Son of God became the Son of Man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God"
—St. Irenaeus, Adv Haer III 19,1

I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works.
—Jesus, John 14:12

Souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes . . . abiding in God, the being made like to God, and, highest of all, the being made God.
—St. Basil the Great, On the Spirit.

(God) said that we were "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him-for we can prevent Him if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.
—C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 174-5

Let us applaud and give thanks that we have become not only Christians but Christ himself. Do you understand, my brothers, the grace that God our head has given us? Be filled with wonder and joy—we have become veritable Christs!
—St. Augustine of Hippo

The Only-begotten Son of God, wanting us to be partakers of his divinity, assumed our human nature so that, having become man, he might make men gods.
—St. Thomas Aquinas

In this way we are all to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself.
—St. Paul, Ephesians 4:13

Morality is indispensable: but the Divine Life, which gives itself to us and which calls us to be gods, intends for us something in which morality will be swallowed up. We are to be remade. . . . we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.
—C. S. Lewis, The Grand Miracle, p. 85

A seed of God grows into God.
—Meister Eckhart
With the possible exception of Eckhart, who was a very controversial figure in the 14th century and whose teachings were put on trial as heretical, these are good Christian sources. However, these would more prove my initial point than Nate's. Each of these sources, removed from its context does not communicate the full thought of the passage. Some, such as the John 15:5 quote, are incomplete. The entire verse reads, "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing" (emphasis added). Rather than teaching Gandhi's view that we have the power within ourselves to become sons of God, it teaches the opposite. We need Jesus otherwise we are hopelessly lost.

Quote-Mining Distorts of the Truth

I don't how Nate amassed these quotes. He may have been gathering them in his studies or he may have done a bit of Googling. Regardless, I highlight this to show how quote-mining without context is a dangerous thing.  Notice how C.S. Lewis used scare quotes in Mere Christianity when he wrote, "(God) said that we were ‘gods' and He is going to make good His words." That's a tip-off that Lewis doesn't believe that we will become divine in the way the Hindus, the Jains, or even the Mormons do. He's talking about something else. To use this quote as support for Gandhi's perspective being "consistent with many Christians" is to twist Lewis' words and make him say something he is not saying.

And so it is with all of the quotes above. Not one of these quotes supports a view that would coincide with man becoming an equal of Jesus. Remember what Gandhi said: "If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself" (emphasis added). That isn't Gandhi claiming to have a God-centric attitude. That's saying man has the potential to be all that God is—omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Can the context for any of the quotes above to show that they argue for that position? I think not.

The problem with quote-mining is that it's pyrite, fool's gold. It looks like it supports a point of view, but it often has no value for the conversations. Occasionally, like the John passage above, it can even be used to support the opposing point. Without context it always disregards the author's intent. I think it smacks of dishonesty, as it portrays form of knowledge that doesn't really exist.

I've seen Christians who have been caught up trying to defend their faith sometimes resort to gathering quotes that they don't completely understand and offering them as proof of their position. You shouldn't do this! This is unfair to the author and to your objector. If you are researching some supporting evidence for your view, make sure you understand the author and his or her position.  Even then, make sure you understand the quote itself, in its proper context. That may even require you to read the entire chapter in which the sentence appears. However, it will be an honest way to present good evidence to others who are questioning the faith.

Yesterday, I quoted another passage from Mere Christianity where Lewis explicitly states that one cannot take Jesus as a moral teacher and leave behind His claims to Lordship. Lewis said, "let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." Jesus very clearly taught the same thing: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). While Gandhi wants to take Jesus in just this way, he has taken Jesus out of context.  That was his undoing.


1. Esposito, Lenny. "Why would Gandhi Reject Jesus?" Come Reason Ministries. 2014-07-24. Web

Monday, July 28, 2014

Is Gandhi a Better Model for Christians?

A post from last week discussing the difficulties in communicating with those of different backgrounds inspired several comments from Nate. He commented three times (most of which were quotes taken out of context) but prefaced those with a couple of paragraphs that seemed antagonistic, even though nothing he wrote addresses the post's central argument. First off, Nate responds with a bit of confusion between outward actions versus beliefs:
I would say, let Gandhi serve as a caution to Christians today that when you embody the teachings of Jesus, you may starve, be beaten, ridiculed, misunderstood, alienated, be poor.....Gandhi lived more like Christ than any Christian I have ever seen (with my own eyes), and yet here we are cautioning other Christians to his story. Hmmm... seems as though it should be the other way around.
Nate seems to be upset that I would use Gandhi for a blog post discussing Christianity at all, although I'm not sure why. I never said Gandhi was a bad man nor did I say that he didn't do great things. I affirm he did. As to his caution, Nate is obviously unaware of the history of Christianity. Jesus taught that we would be starved, beaten, ridiculed, misunderstood (even in blog posts, perhaps?), alienated, and poor. The Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:1-11) starts with this and there is a HUGE historical record of Christians bettering society at extreme cost to themselves. Simply look at stories like St. Telemachus, David Livingstone, William Wilberforce, Father Damien, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Theresa, and Jim Elliott just to name a few. Paul the apostle recounts his sufferings as well in 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, where he writes:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.1
Paul lays out just some of his sufferings in spreading the gospel, and they are more than nearly all Christians face today, to be sure. However, notice how Paul opens the list. He writes, "Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors." If one cares about what Paul is actually trying to communicate, he or she would stop and ask why the apostle qualified his list.

Christianity isn't about the suffering

The answer is simple; Paul is saying that it isn't suffering that makes a person a real Christian. Paul is continuing a thought he began in chapter 10 where he is defending his authority to correct the wayward church at Corinth. (He doesn't finish his thought until the end of chapter 12, so anyone who wishes to understand the passage above needs to read all three chapters.) Basically, Paul says that boasting in sufferings or what one does is nothing. It is what one believes about Jesus that matters. That's why he says his battle is spiritual and it is fought in the realm of beliefs: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).

The big point here is that sufferings, beatings, and such are not the things that make one "live more like a Christian." That's not biblical; it's works-based nonsense. Nate didn't expressly say so, but it is what his comment (along with past comments) implied. Corinth was a city of great wealth, and the Christians there weren't poor like the church in Judea. That's why Paul in both his letters asks them to donate money for the Christians in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1, 2 Cor. 9:6 ff). The Corinthians had huge problems with sexual immorality, too. Yet, even with a church in a prosperous city, where they had large feasts, and fell into unmentionable sexual sin, Paul still considered them Christians.

Of my post, Nate writes, "here we are cautioning other Christians to his story. Hmmm... seems as though it should be the other way around." Perhaps he needs to read the post again. The caution is about how we communicate with others, not how Gandhi lived. What I argued was that people with a western worldview and people with an eastern worldview could be talking past each other and not know it. The Christians in Gandhi's life failed to understand the Hindu and Janist concepts that all can become divine in the same way God is divine. (This is a mistake Nate makes in another comment, which I will address tomorrow.)

My caution was aimed towards Christians to make sure one asks instead of assumes what the other person believes. I would hope that such caution applies to carefully reading blog posts as well, to ensure one's criticism applies.

Gandhi is not a good model for Christians

Gandhi was not a Christian. He denied it himself and to say he lived more like Christ simply ignores the more fundamental teachings of Jesus. Jesus was asked once which is the greatest commandment? We're talking about the greatest commandment, now, the greatest. The most important one. I want to emphasize this so no one says "but what about this teaching on suffering or sacrifice?" This is the thing that Jesus holds as first and foremost. If you don't have this, you have nothing.

Jesus responded to this question with the definitive monotheistic text, quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment" (Matt 22:37). Gandhi failed at this. He didn't love the God of  Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the way that Jesus said. Gandhi was a polytheist who believed that even he could become God some day. Such talk was blasphemy. So, Gandhi is not Christ-like in the most important way. Therefore, Gandhi doesn't serve as a model for Christians, but Jesus served as a model for Gandhi. Just after Gandhi talked of his distaste for the Old Testament, he commented on the New:
But the New Testament produced a different impression, especially the Sermon on the Mount which went straight to my heart. I compared it with the Gita. The verses, 'But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man take away thy coat let him have thy cloak too,' delighted me beyond measure and put me in mind of Shamal Bhatt's 'For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal' etc. My young mind tried to unify the teaching of the Gita, The Light of Asia and the Sermon on the Mount. That renunciation was the highest form of religion appealed to me greatly.

This reading whetted my appetite for studying the lives of other religious teachers. A friend recommended Carlyle's Heroes and Hero-Worship. I read the chapter on the Hero as a prophet and learnt of the Prophet's greatness and bravery and austere living.

Beyond this acquaintance with religion I could not go at the moment, as reading for the examination left me scarcely any time for outside subjects. But I took mental note of the fact that I should read more religious books and acquaint myself with all the principal religions (emphasis added). 3
It was the Sermon on the Mount that spurred Gandhi to become more religiously aware. Jesus' words awakened him to even the teachings of Hinduism that had a parallel to the Sermon's. Selflessness and nonviolence were prompted in Gandhi from Jesus' teachings. Christian teachings had a huge influence on his nonviolent practice. So, Christians can look to Jesus' teachings and get everything that Nate has said wiithout ever looking to Gandhi. But one cannot take parts of Jesus' teachings in isolation. One must take all of Jesus' teachings to understand them. Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh and He said that His authority rested on the fact that he would rise again. As C. S. Lewis rightly pointed out:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.4
In my next post, I will address Nate's confusion on the deity of Jesus and his claim that Christianity somehow teaches we are all God in the same way that Jesus is God.


1. The ESV Study Bible, The English Standard Version. (Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2008) Print. .2237-2238.
3. Gandhi, Mahatma. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Reprint of the Public Affairs Press, Washington, DC, 1948 edition). 107.

4Lewis, Clive Staples. Mere Christianity. (New York: Macmillian Pub. Co., 1952). 55-56.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Christianity Is Not a Private Party

Is Christianity stuck in a Holy Huddle? How can we reach the world if we're only talking to ourselves? There are six mega-themes—shifts in the way Christians think and act—that show how much the world's ideas are corrupting the church today. In this second of a six-part series, we look at the charge that Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.

For more on this point, see the accompanying blog post here.

Photo credit: Cameron. Licensed through the Creative Commons 2.0 Licence.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Do Airplanes Evolve? Only If Evolution Encompasses a Designer

Evolution is a topic that seems to always be accompanied by assertion and conjecture. Yesterday, the Christian Science Monitor highlighted a recent scientific journal article that compares the history of passenger airplane development with the evolution of birds.1 The abstract from the journal article begins, "The prevailing view is that we cannot witness biological evolution because it occurred on a time scale immensely greater than our lifetime. Here, we show that we can witness evolution in our lifetime by watching the evolution of the flying human-and-machine species: the airplane."2 The paper concludes with "The legacy of all flow systems (animate and inanimate) is this: they have moved mass (they have "mixed" the Earth's crust) more because of design evolution than in the absence of design evolution."3

While I don't doubt that passenger airplane design and development follow the authors' well-argued pattern of larger bodies and similar structures, the claim that this somehow allows an observer to "see" evolution as one would desire to see birds evolve shows just how loosely the term is applied even within the academic community. It comes as no surprise to anyone that the change airplanes experience are a result of intelligent designers who are constantly testing designs to select the changes that would make the vehicle more efficient and functional. These changes are not random mutations in a genome, but thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose.

If I were to say that birds evolved the way airplanes do, becoming more efficient because of design changes that were thoughtful extrapolations enacted with purpose, that would be a good definition of intelligent design. Darwinists would have a fit if I were to define evolution in this way, for the goal of evolution is to explain diversity and complexity without a designer.

I believe studies like this may be interesting and useful, but they tell us nothing about neo-Darwinian theory. The problem is that the evolution is famously understood as a wiggle-word as David Klinghoffer has documented. It can mean anything from change over time to natural selections acting on random mutations to all living organisms descending from a common ancestor.4

It seems that the authors of this article have taken the meaning of evolution in one its broadest senses. They define the term when commenting on the image provided above:
Yes, we should care because bird's-eye-views such as Fig. 1 open everybody's eyes to the natural phenomenon called "evolution." Evolution means a flow organization (design) that changes over time. In biology, evolution is largely a mental construct built on imagination, because the time scale of animal evolution is immense relative to the time available to us for observations. We cannot witness animal evolution, and this places the biology argument for evolution at a disadvantage. It would be useful to have access to the evolution of one species in real time.

Looking at Fig. 1 satisfies precisely this need.5
You can see how subtly the authors try to apply the changes in airplane design to biological evolution, but such application is without merit, for they never discuss the mechanism of the change within the biological counterpart to the airplane. Who are these designers that are coming up with new bird body types? The assumption seems to be, well I'm actually not sure what it proves. Things change. Humans improve designs because they want their efforts to be efficient and rewarding, both financially and emotionally. But if passenger airplane designs satisfy the need to see evolution in action, then the intelligent design community offers a better explanation of the diversity of bird types than the neo-Darwinian model ever will.


1. Lewis, Tayna. "Airplane designs evolve like flying animals do, say scientists" The Christian Science Monitor. 23 July 2014. Web.
2. Bejan A., J. D. Charles and S. Lorente. "The evolution of airplanes." J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014); Web. 25 July 2014.
3. Ibid.
4. Klinghoffer, David. "The Eight Meanings of ‘Evolution’." Evolution News and Views. Web. 26 Aug 2011.
5. Bejan, 2014.

Image credit: J. Appl. Phys. 116, 044901 (2014);

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why would Gandhi reject Jesus?

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about why mixing belief systems is dangerous. The post stemmed from an article in the Vancouver Sun that held up Mahatma Gandhi as "one of the most famous people to openly promote mixing religions." 1 But, I don't think Gandhi's mixing of faith helped him. In fact, I think it may have caused him to miss the central message of Christianity.

In An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth, Gandhi discusses his various interactions with people of faith, his study of religion, and how it shaped his nonviolent resistance. He recounts in some detail his different conversations with Christians, and the impressions they made. He states the primary message of Christianity did not resonate with him:
One of the Plymouth Brethren confronted me with an argument for which I was not prepared:
You cannot understand the beauty of our religion.

From what you say it appears that you must be brooding over your transgressions every moment of your life, always mending them and atoning for them. How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners. Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless Son of God. It Is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to live in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have eternal peace. Think what a life of restlessness Is yours, and what a promise of peace we have.
The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly replied:

If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself, or rather from the very thought of sin. 2

The Miscommunication of Christianity

Most Christians might believe that the Christian did a decent job of sharing the gospel. However, I think he rushed it because he first didn't find out what Gandhi already believed about humanity and sin. Gandhi's Eastern background made certain assumptions about sin, the nature of God, and of human beings that are incompatible with Christian teachings. He tells us a bit later:
My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself. My reason was not ready to believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again, according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death on the Cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept… From the point of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect religion or the greatest of all religions.

I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy me. 3
Gandhi was raised a nominal Hindu, but also had an understanding of Jainism. In both faiths, the law of karma applies and is inescapable. Good deeds are a credit to one's karmic account while bad deeds are a debt. One's own choices and actions are wholly responsible for the good or bad karma held against you. Therefore, the eastern mind would understand all sin as something someone can avoid by one's own power.4 Jainism specifically teaches that one can remove all their bad karma and become God. In fact, in Jainism the only Gods that exist are those humans who've rid themselves of their karmas5.

Given this background, one can see how the Gandhi's understanding of Jesus and the atonement would be confused. His explanation of his rejection makes perfect sense in an Eastern worldview, but completely misses the point of western theology.

Just reading the Bible won't help

Prior to this encounter, Gandhi writes that a friend challenged him to read the Bible. Because he had no background whatsoever with the Christian story, it didn't go well:
I began reading it, but I could not possibly read through the Old Testament. I read the book of Genesis, and the chapters that followed invariably sent me to sleep. But just for the sake of being able to say that I had read it, I plodded through the other books with much difficulty and without the least interest or understanding. I disliked reading the book of Numbers.6

Again, this isn't surprising. We understand that the story of Adam and Eve sets up the concept of man as a fallen creature, one incapable of being perfect on his own. The teaching is emphasized when Adam and Eve seek to don fig leaves for themselves but they're shown to be inadequate.

Let Gandhi's story serve as a caution to Christians today. We are living in a post-Christian culture and while the assumptions may be different, the gospel message may be just as foreign to Western secularists today as it was to Gandhi then. When you share your faith, you should assume nothing. Ask people what they believe about sin, justice, and God. Ask them if they think human beings can ever be perfect. Find out what they understand so you can provide the proper context for the biblical message. That's when true communication will happen.


1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web
2. Gandhi, Mahatma. An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth. (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Reprint of the Public Affairs Press, Washington, DC, 1948 edition). 107.
3. Gandhi, 119.
4. Huston Smith in The Religions of Man (New York: Harper Collins, 1986) writes, "This idea of karma and the complete moral universe it implies carries two important psychological corollaries. First, it commits the Hindu who understands it to complete persona responsibility. Each individual is wholly responsible for his present condition and will have exactly the future that he is creating." Pages 101-102.
5. "Liberation (Moksha)." Jainism Global Resource Center. Accessed 7/24/2014.
6. Gandhi, 68.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When an Atheist Says it's OK to Rape Her Sister

I couldn't believe my ears. Did she really just say that? I was standing in front of a young woman and her sister on the University of California, Berkeley campus. A friend and I had engaged her in a conversation about objective morality and here she was saying it wasn't even objectively wrong if a person wanted to rape her sister—and she was saying this right in front of her!

Let me give you the whole story. As part of our apologetics missions trips, we go to places like the Berkeley campus, engage people in conversation, and share Christianity. If Christian students learn how to defend their beliefs in a place like this, they will have no problem doing so in their own colleges.

On this trip, I saw a young woman holding a campaign sign for her friend who was running for student council, and I struck up a conversation. We began with simple questions such as "Do you believe in absolute right and wrong?" She replied that right and wrong are relative to the individual. I asked, "But you're campaigning for your friend. By campaigning, you are implying that he would do a better job representing students than the other candidates. Doesn't that imply a concept of right and wrong?" She quickly deferred, stating that the reason she was helping him is simply because he had helped her in the past. He asked her to help, and so she is doing so. There's no admission of an objective right or wrong in this.

I pressed on, "What about absolute morality? Are there not certain things that are always wrong?"

"No," she said. "I hold to certain values because of my culture and what works for her, but there is no absolute standard for all people."

"So stealing isn't wrong? If something of yours I stolen, you wouldn't think the person is wrong that did it?"

"It's wrong for me to steal, but another person may need to."

I'm familiar with such dodges. It's easy to try and justify certain circumstances where a crime like stealing can be used to wiggle out of an uncomfortable situation. Therefore, I pushed for a more black and white example. "What about something like rape? Isn't that always wrong? If a man came up to your sister and grabbed here, and he fully believed that he had the right to take her. He felt convinced that he should be able to force sex upon her, wouldn't it still be wrong for that man to rape your sister? You wouldn't try to stop him?"

She simply replied "Well, I guess if he truly believed he had the right, then it wouldn't be wrong for him."

Calling out ridiculousness

As you can imagine, her sister wasn't very comfortable at that response, yet she stayed silent through the exchange. Here's the point, though. This girl was intelligent. She had been indoctrinated with a relativist view of morality and she didn't want to abandon her views. As I've written in the past, it is really hard to change a belief. In our discussion, she was not willing to give up on her relativism no matter what I said. Even in the rape example, she had to admit that rape can be OK if she was going to save face. I've had similar experiences with other topics, such as people trying to justify homosexuality even when their position leads to incongruities like the permissibility of incest or bestiality.

Sometimes, Christians who wind up in a discussion that takes such a turn throw up their hands in frustration. They simply don't know what to do next! How do you argue with that?

Here's my solution: call their bluff. A lot of people see these kinds of talks like a chess match. You make a move and they counter with a move of their own. The woman above was trying to remain consistent, but she was doing so because to her the entire conversation was in the abstract. The best thing to do is to break that mindset and bring it back to reality.

Upon her reply, I looked her straight in the eye and said, "You're lying. There's no way that if a man was really attacking your sister you would excuse it. You'd be screaming your head off calling for police or anyone to come and help because you really believe that rape is wrong. While you have an intellectual argument for the opposite, in real life you would never let that happen. There are people who truly believe that what's right is whatever is right for them. We call the sociopaths and we lock them up because they are a danger to society. Right now, in our discussion, you're simply trying to win the argument, but you're doing so at a tremendous cost to the truth. I am truly scared if you really believe that something like rape has any permissible circumstances."

At all times I kept the conversation civil and never yelled or pointed a finger. I did make my final statement with some level of authority. She didn't agree with me, though. She maintained that this is what she believed so I thanked her for her time and walked on.

You may believe such interactions are wasted, but they are not. That woman will continue to think about that conversation and what she said. (Her sister probably wanted to have a conversation with her, too!) But God can use small things like this to provoke people to reexamine their position. Changing beliefs takes time and one must have patience even when the other person's position shows a contradiction.As you go to defend your faith with others, don't let silly statement get a pass. The statement that rape can sometimes be OK is an outrageous statement to make. Imagine any newspaper or politician announcing such a thing. Outrageous statements need to be met with an appropriate amount of incredulity. Be courteous and respectful, but don't accept them in these conversations any more than you would anywhere else. Ideas have consequences; don't allow for their abuse.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Atrocity Against Christians in Iraq

There are only two books in the Bible that end in a question. The first is the book of Jonah, which tells the story of God going to remarkable lengths to share the message of redemption with a seemingly irredeemable people. Because the prophet Jonah was Jewish, he rebels against God's command to preach repentance to the Ninevites who were ruthlessly cruel and would inflict that cruelty upon the Northern Kingdom of Israel some years later. Jonah wants to see the Assyrian capital judged by the Almighty. However, God knew that if the right person delivered His message those people would be saved.

Today, the city that occupies Nineveh's location is named Mosul. Mosul is famous for its long history of Christianity, which goes back to within a 100 years of Jesus' death1. Both the Catholic and the Orthodox faiths have early roots there and the city was the capital of Nestorianism since the sixth century. Christians are a significant part of the historic fabric of the city.

But all that has changed. With the recent takeover of the city by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a militant Jihadist group, Christians have been targeted. ISIS has purged the city of Christians, forcing them to either convert to Islam, agree to second-class status, or die. ISIS terrorists, echoing the Gestapo's branding of Jewish houses with a Star of David, were marking every door identified as Christian with the Arabic letter N for followers of the Nazarene, Jesus. Ironically, Nazareth is also the area where the prophet Jonah was from.

The UK Telegraph passed along a report from the local news agency that "ISIS troops entered the house of a poor Christian and, when they didn't get what they wanted, the soldiers raped the mother and daughter in front of their husband and father." 2 The New York Times reports that "at least 1,531 civilians were killed in June alone" in Mosul and the city's Christian population has gone from 30,000 in 2003 to zero.3 While major media outlets continue to splash headlines decrying the nearly 500 dead in Gaza, the fate of Christians in Mosul gets no such preference. This when the crisis is a direct result of US troop toppling the Iraqi government then abandoning the country.4

As I said, Jonah is one of only two books of the Bible ending in a question. It records the redemption of a people. The other is the book of Nahum, which records the utter destruction that was heaped upon Nineveh as judgment came. Today, Christians are faced with a question. Will we as the body of Christ be reluctant to intervene or will we extend ourselves to minister to those who are suffering because of His name?

What Christians Can Do

The horror ISIS is inflicting on our brothers and sisters in Christ is staggering and the church needs to act. The Apostle Paul instructs us "as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Here then are three things we can do to help Christians fleeing Mosul:

1. Support the Christian Refugees

Christians can support those fleeing their homes in Mosul. We first support our brothers and sisters by praying fervently for them. Pray daily. Pray before each meal as you thank God for your blessings that He would offer compassion and shelter to the refugees as well. But you can support the refugees in more concrete ways as well. Currently I've found two Christian organizations that are providing relief efforts to the displaced Christians from Iraq. You may donate to either  International Christian Concern or the Barnabas Fund. Both are registered with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

2. Write Your Congressional Representative

We need to speak up for those people who are being murdered and displaced from their homes. I recommend you write to your federal congressional representative and let them know that you have serious concerns about the suffering in Mosul. Be respectful and keep your letter short and on point. I have created a sample letter here. For US citizens, if you don't know who your representative is, you may find out here.

3. Talk about it

Let's raise the awareness of this atrocity to the level of national discourse. Post about the plight of Iraqi Christians. Update your status on social media platforms and share links. Encourage others to do the same. If you're a pastor, talk about this from the pulpit. The more attention we draw to those afflicted by evil, the more other people will join with us to help.


1. See Rassam, Suha. Christianity in Iraq: Its Origins and Development to the Present Day.(Herefordshire, UK: Gracewing, 2005). 24-26.    
2. Stanley, Tim. "Iraqi Christians are raped, murdered and driven from their homes — and the West is silent." The Telegraph. 21 July 2014.
3. Rubin, Alissa J. "ISIS Forces Last Iraqi Christians to Flee Mosul." The New York Times, 18 July 2014.
4. Stanley, Ibid.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Mixing Belief Systems Can Be Dangerous

Friday the Vancouver Sun ran a book review of In Praise of Mixed Religion: The Syncretism Solution in a Multifaith World (McGill-Queen's University Publishing) by William Harrison. Syncretism is a fifty-cent word that simply means combining elements of more than one faith to forge something new, a task not at all unfamiliar to the postmodern mindset of today, even if they don't know the label.

Reviewer Douglas Todd speaks highly of the book's premise of taking various elements from different belief systems and combining them, claiming the book "maps out an important path for truth seekers."1 He writes:
Citing Christianity's and Islam's transformative encounter with Greek thought and Buddhism's adaptation to China, Harrison reveals the many ways that religions, as well as secular world views, have gained wisdom by borrowing from outside their own movements.

Most of us are aware of fundamentalists, whether Christian, Muslim, Marxist or libertarian capitalist. Fundamentalists are big on ideological purity and separation. Like the Europeans who burned witches, they are disposed to excommunications, ostracizing and the condemning of "heretics."2
I think Todd has deeply missed the point here, at least with respect to Christianity. As he rightly points out, Christians have availed themselves of truth propositions where they may be found. The Apostle Paul quoted from two Greek poets when he was preaching to the Athenians on Mars' hill.3 Augustine found within Plato's teachings certain elements that explained the Christian understanding of the world quite well. The logic of Aristotle greatly informed Thomas Aquinas. Even Boethius, in his Consolation of Philosophy, implored one to "as far as possible, join faith to reason."

But that's the hook. These Christians weren't strolling through some theological salad bar simply placing whatever appealed to their appetites onto their plates. They first understood the Christian worldview and they sought to explore it and explain it with as much clarity of possible. So, because Augustine is familiar with the Neoplatonist understanding of evil as a privation of good, he compares it to the Christian teaching of an all good God who created a world now contaminated by evil and he sees that the definition applies and thus uses it.

It is a far different thing, however, to try and combine two different faiths that have competing claims. For example, Christianity teaches that only God is eternal. As created beings, we are distinct from God and we have a beginning. So, when early church father Origen adopted Plato's idea that all souls are pre-existent, the view was rightly condemned as heretical.4It simply cannot be that a finite, created being has no beginning. The two points are a contradiction and to hold both leads not to truth or clarity but to confusion.

Harrison's holds draw a much broader definition of syncretism than has been used traditionally. The book asserts "a 'religion' is almost any form of deep, distinct and comprehensive world view that maintains human life has purpose."5 Included in that seems to be economic and political concerns as much as theology proper. Well, maybe. I don't recall any Christian being labelled a heretic because they held to a certain economic theory. Perhaps one must define syncretism that broadly in order to make the premise of the book work, I don't know. The one thing I do know is that if one is interested in truth, then it's important to learn the distinctives of each faith before one tries to merge them. The differences are as vital as the similarities.

A chemist will tell you that an alkaline solution can be as caustic as an acidic solution. Throw the two together, and eventually you'll end up with water and salt—as well as a big boom. To encourage the blending of faiths without first understanding the basics of those faiths is like throwing a bunch of chemicals you find in the science lab together. Perhaps they might only create a pretty puff of smoke. I'm not willing to take that chance.


1. Todd, Douglas. "In praise of mixing religion and world views." Postmedia Network Inc. 2014. Web
2. Ibid.
3. In Acts 17:28, Paul quotes from Aratus' Phaenomena and from Epimenides. For more, see
4. See Kenneth R. Calvert's "Origen: Model or Heretic?" Christianity Today. 01-07-1996. Web.
5. Todd, Ibid.

Image credit: Amitchell125

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Danger of a Media-Driven Worldview

Television personality and journalist Malcom Muggeridge had a prescient understanding of the power of media. When addressing the National Religious Broadcasters, he spoke on how Christ may be communicated in a media-driven culture, one that Muggeridge characterized as "increasingly given over to fantasy." In this quote, he makes clear just why drawing one's worldview from popular media is dangerous.
Simone Weil wrote: "Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good, and no desert so dreary and monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive, and full of charm."

Now the media, as it seems to me, strikingly bear out Simone Weil's contention. In their offerings it is almost invariably eros, rather than agape, that provides all the excitement; success and celebrity rather than a broken and a contrite heart that are made to seem desirable; and Jesus Christ Superstar rather than Jesus Christ on the cross who gets a folk hero's billing. Good and evil, after all, constitute the essential theme of our mortal existence. In this sense they may be compared with the positive and negative points that generate an electric current. Transpose the points, and the current fails. The lights go out. Darkness falls and all is confusion. It seems to me clear, beyond any shadow of doubt, that the darkness that is falling on our civilization is due precisely to such a transposition of good and evil, and that the media in furthering the transposition are a powerful influence—perhaps the most powerful in furthering the consequences.1


1. Muggeridge, Malcom. "Christ and Media." Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 12/3 (Sept. 1978).
Accessed online. 195.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

We Don't Know What We Believe

Is the Church letting itself get corrupted by the world? There are six megathemes—shifts in the way Christians think and act—that show how much the world's ideas are corrupting the church today. The first is the fact that the Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. We have Christians who don't even know why we celebrate Easter! See the danger this represents and what we can do about it by watching the clip below.

To read more about these Christian megathemes and a few simple steps individuals and the Church can take to walk more strongly with Christ, click here. For the complete video series on Christian megathemes, click here.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Separating the Sacred and the Secular is a Bad Thing

The Secular Coalition of America (SCA) is asking people to knit a brick "to help rebuild the wall of separation between church and state."1 In a recent press release, the organization derided the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision and is hoping to visually protest it by creating a knitted wall. This is not a surprise as the release also identifies their purpose "to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all."2

Is it the best guarantee of freedom for all, though? The SCA seems to maintain that government should remain wholly secular and uninfluenced by those who are motivated by their faith commitments to rebel against laws which they deem in violation of their religiously-informed moral choices. Certainly the Hobby Lobby family's argument was such.

But does a position of purely secular governance conflict with "the best guarantee of freedom for all?" For example, a Christian bishop had been petitioning the President of the United States to change his policy on a certain matter because it violated his Christian principles. He explained the motive for his demands were rooted in God:
It is not a pleasant task to make an appeal, where excited public feeling may arouse unkind suspicions and unjust accusations. Few men love more than myself the approval of their fellow citizens, and none desire more the affection of those among whom they labor. I dare not be silent; I fear less the reproaches of the people than the anger of GOD.3
While such a statement would surely inflame the folks of the SCA, this man's religiously motivated quest was actually successful. The man in question was Bishop Henry B. Whipple and the policy he sought to change was the treatment of the Dakota and Sioux Native Americans by the federal government.  According to a Los Angeles Times article by Gustav Niebuhr, Whipple had petitioned President James Buchanan but never received a response. After Lincoln was elected president, he continued his letter writing campaign which eventually resulted in a meeting with the president. Whipple single-handedly saved the lives of 265 Dakotas who were sentenced to death.4 This happened because one man's religion motivated him to push his beliefs into the political arena.

Of course, Christians spurred by their faith to change political policy for the better is nothing new. William Wilberforce fought for over two decades in the British Parliament to end the slave trade.5 Elizabeth Fry sought reforms for prison conditions and the welfare of inmates, even using Bible studies to reform those thought incorrigible.6 So it goes throughout history. Even during the days of Rome, it was one Christian monk named Telemachus who stood up to the popular practice of the Gladiatorial games and gave his life so others' would be spared.

Each one of the people above took an unpopular position and advocated against government standards of their day. They did so simply because governmental policy violated their religiously-based morality. If the SCA's concept of strict separation were in place at any of those times, people would not be better off. The Dakotas, the slaves, the prisoners, and the gladiators would not be more free, but less free.

The first amendment of the Constitution guarantees that the federal government will neither establish any official religion, but it also guarantees that the free exercise thereof by the citizens of this country shall not be prohibited. The first clause is to make sure religion doesn't come under government control. The second is to make sure that citizens' religions have the ability to inform their understanding and their worldview. These are prescriptions against government, not against people who own businesses, people who petition the government, nor even policy decisions brought before the government. The SCA would silence people such as Bishop Whipple simply because his message comes from a Christian point of view. I can think of at least 265 reasons why that's wrong.


1. "Knit a Brick." Secular Coalition for America. Web. Accessed 18-07-2014.

2. "Secular Coalition Condemns SCOTUS Decision to Strike Down Contraceptive Coverage Requirement." Secular Coalition for America. Web.  30-06-2014.  Accessed 19-07-2014.       

3. Whipple, Henry B. "Plea for the Red Man." Project Canterbury. Web. Reprinted from the "Missionary Paper," No. 24, Epiphany, 1868.

4. Niebuhr, Gustav. "How a bishop moved Lincoln, and saved 265 Dakota Indians." The Los Angeles Times. 17-07-2014. Web.

5. "William Wilberforce." 08-08-2008. Web.

6. "Elizabeth Fry." 08-08-2008. Web.

Image © Copyright John Vetterli and licensed for reuse under thisCreative Commons Licence

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Investigating the Truth of the Gospel Eyewitnesses

Yesterday, I was able to talk with a room full of middle-schoolers at Magnolia Church who were investigating the claims of Jesus' death and resurrection. Their mission was to critically examine the gospel accounts and see what evidence they could find to determine the truth value of the accounts.

As any good investigator would, one should start an investigation into the truth with the earliest eyewitness accounts. The gospel of Mark is held by most scholars as the first of the four to be written, probably between the mid to late 50's, then Matthew and Luke were composed in the 60's, with John written last in the 90's1. So, while John was written some 50-60 years after Jesus' crucifixion, Mark closes that gap by 40 years, being composed within a couple of decades after Jesus' death. While skeptics try to make a big deal out of the gospels being written decades after the events, this is actually a boon for those who study ancient history. But many cultures who even today rely on the spoken word rather than the written word would never see this as a problem, as several scholars state.

An Insult Offers an Insight

One of the primary objections to the Gospel accounts is that the passion story was made up after the fact in order to launch the newly-formed Christian religion. Joe L. Watts, for example, believes that the Gospel writers "'creatively' expanded the original story of Jesus to speak to their current social problems."2 However, as good investigators there are ways we can study the text to see if there are any clues that lead us to such a conclusion.

One such clue is found in the taunts that Mark said were thrown at Jesus while He hung on the cross. In Mark 15:27-32 we read:

And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe." Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

Here, we have a supposed eyewitness account of the events around Jesus' crucifixion.  The mocking particularly is significant. While John's account doesn't mention it, both Matthew and Luke record the mocking of the chief priests and scribes. But only Mark's gospel includes that passersby said a very specific thing to him: "Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!" Why is that significant? It is simply because nowhere in the gospel of Mark does Jesus ever claim that he would destroy the temple and rebuild it. That story isn't found until John's gospel is written some forty years later!

Corroborating Testimony

If Mark wasn't reporting eyewitness testimony, if he was inventing or expanding the story of Jesus' crucifixion, then why would he include this taunt, but provide no explanation for it and no back story? Someone creating a fictional account wouldn't make such a boast come out of the mouth of Jesus, because by itself it looks as if Jesus failed at that claim. The temple wasn't destroyed at all. Only some 60 years later, in John chapter 2 do we understand what Jesus meant by his prediction. "But he was speaking about the temple of his body. When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken." So, John makes it clear that the prediction Jesus offered was referencing His resurrection, not the destruction of the actual temple. But how would Mark know this when John hadn't been written yet?

Some may claim that john added the passage in chapter two to help the story along. But if John were trying to solidify the crucifixion narrative of Mark, how come he leaves out the insults at the cross completely? If his goal was to buttress Mark's account, then one would assume he would include the insults in the crucifixion. But John leaves them out. Both gospel account rely on one another in order for the picture to become clear.

Police investigators are very familiar with this kind of interlocking testimony from eyewitnesses. Jim Wallace, a cold-case detective was trained in a method called "forensic statement analysis" the purpose of which is to "determine truthfulness or deception on the part of the person making the statement."3 The fact that Mark provides a trivial bit of information that fits nowhere else in his account and John provides additional information but leaves out the climax in his account argues that both accounts are eyewitness testimony and not fable, fiction, or fraud. Here's just clue that the crucifixion and resurrection happened as the gospels say it did. There are many other pieces of interlocking testimony throughout all four gospels, but this example should suffice to get our investigation pointing in the right direction.

For more on this, please check out our featured resource available this month: "Hidden Ways the Gospels Prove Reliable."


1. See Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.(Downers Grove, Il: IVP Academic, 2007). 25-26.
2. Watts, Joel L. "Are the Gospels Made Up?" Web. 29-07-2013.
3. Wallace, J. Warner. Cold-Case Christianity. (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013). 88.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Your Mind is Not Your Brain

Historically, Christianity has taught that human beings are creatures made up of two fundamental kinds of "stuff"—body and soul. We are physical creatures, interacting with the world around us, and we are spiritual creatures who can interact meaningfully with God and with one another. However, there is a trend today that dismisses the spiritual side of humanity and seeks to only affirm the physical aspects of our existence. Atheists, scientists, and others claim that we are only our bodies. There is no such thing as a soul. All of who we are may be explained in terms of scientific understanding. There is a big problem with this view, though. There are certain aspects of the human condition that simply cannot be explained in physicalist term, such as the attributes of the mind.

In order to better understand the problem, I'd like to look at the attributes of the mind. Whenever on seeks to classify a certain thing, it is the attributes of that thing that help us in so doing. For example, when British naturalist began to explore Australia, the discovery of the platypus gave them fits! Here was an animal, kind of shaped like a beaver with a bill and webbed feet of a duck. Further, the creature laid leathery eggs and produced venom like a reptile. How would one classify such an animal? It is because the platypus was warm blooded, covered in hair (not feathers or scales), and nursed its young that naturalists listed the animal as a mammal. The attributes of the animal help us categorize it.

Similarly, there are specific attributes of the mind which clearly demonstrate that the mind cannot be reduced to brain activity. Brain activity is electro-chemical and can be described using physical nomenclature. For example, if their instruments are sensitive enough, one could measure the amount of dopamine present in the brain or tell if certain neurons were firing at x point in time. But as Daniel N. Robinson has succinctly noted, "One who spoke of pounds of thought or volts of memory would be considered not a native speaker! Equally bizarre, at least in the area of common sense and ordinary judgments are the claims to the effect that brain tissue makes moral judgments and wishes nothing but happiness for the bride and groom."1

Here are at least five attributes of the mind that can in no way be explained in physical terms:

  1. Thoughts - Thoughts are one of the most basic elements of the mind. A thought is any idea that can be expressed in the form of a sentence. I can ask you to think about pink elephants right now and you can picture a pink elephant in your head.
  2. Beliefs – Beliefs are different from thoughts. Beliefs carry a truth value to them. If I believe that the Los Angeles kings will win a third Stanley Cup championship, then I hold the statement to be true. I currently believe that I am sitting in front of my computer right now typing this blog post. Such a belief is not hard to hold. However, I also believe that the memories I have of yesterday are true. That belief is harder to prove.
  3. Intentions – Intentions are mental events that are usually tied to some action or event. I can intend to raise my hand and my hand will rise. My intention caused m hand to go up. However, intentions are not the same thing as the action. People who suffer from Tourette's syndrome move parts of their body without intending to do so. Also, I may have intentions without being able to execute them. If my hand is tied down, I will not be able to move it, even though I'm intending to do so.
  4. Desires – Desire are primarily natural inclinations that one experiences. Hunger is the desire to eat food. Desires can produce thoughts or intentions, but they are different. They sometimes have a biological basis, but not always. One can have the desire to solve a particularly pressing math problem for example.
  5. Sensations – Sensations are how our minds comprehend sensory input from our bodies. While our ears can translate sound waves into electrical signals and send them to our brains, only our mind can have the experience that the sound is pleasing or annoying. Feeling pain or heat happen at the mental level. Even seeing the color red, one has an experience of "redness." Red has a certain quality to it that green doesn't and one cannot explain such qualities by talking about wavelengths of light any more than one cannot warn a two-year-old about burning her hand on a hot oven with talk of high energy molecules.
All of these attributes above are real and each of us has experienced them. You have had thoughts, beliefs, intentions, desires, and sensations. These things are real and, as J.P. Moreland states, they are "puzzling entities that cry out for an explanation."2 Even atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel states that mental events need to be explained Nagel holds that "certain things are so remarkable that they have to be explained as non-accidental if we are to pretend to a real understanding of the world"3 and the mind is one of those. He later writes that "the physical sciences will enable us to understand the irreducibly subjective centers of consciousness that are such a conspicuous part of the world."4

Tomorrow, we will look more closely at why physicalist explanations of the mind fail. But for now, it is important to realize that your mind is not your brain. It is something with different attributes, which means it falls into a separate category: the category of the soul.


1. Robinson, Daniel N. "Neuroscience and the Soul." Philosophia Christi Issue 15:1, Winter 2013.
(La Mirada, CA: The Evangelical Philosophical Society, 2013.) 13.
2. Moreland, J.P. The Recalcitrant Imago Dei: Human Persons and the Failure of Naturalism.
(London: SCM Press, 2009). 24.
3. Nagel, Thomas. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Neo-Darwinian Conception of the World is Almost Certainly False.
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.) 7.
4. Ibid. 42.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Science and Religion Resources

Just recently, I received a request for content that deals with the supposed war between science and religion. That topic is very wide, but it is also one I have been speaking and writing on fairly regularly. As I pulled some of these resources together, I thought that it may benefit my readers, too.

While this isn’t all of the content that may be associated with that topic, it is a good sampling across the different media. Enjoy!

Web Site Articles


Blog posts:

Series on Science versus Scientism:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Jesus as God and Man

Christians at Christmas celebrate Jesus becoming the incarnate Son of God. But exactly how can God be a man? Does this mean God is limited to a certain time and place? In our most recent podcast series, we explored the humanity and divinity of Jesus and how both are crucial to his role as Messiah. Listen below.
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