Blog Archive


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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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Modern Heresies and the Christian Response

Heresies — those deviations from essential Christian doctrine — were painstakingly refuted in the early years of the church. But today, some of those same heresies have reappeared, only using new labels or a different forms. Join us in this new podcast series where Lenny outlines how many of the "new religious movements" that crop up are actually regurgitations of old, deadly errors.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Defending the Trinity Against World Religions (video)

The Trinity and the Atonement are the doctrines that most differentiate Christianity from all other faiths. It's no surprise then that it's also one of the most attacked doctrines from those of other faiths. What makes the Trinity so unique and why is it such a crucial concept? How should Christians understand the doctrine of the Trinity and how should we best defend it against skeptics and objectors?

In this video class, Lenny helps believers defend critical challenges against the Trinity such as the claim that it is logically contradictory, the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, and the Trinity is too mysterious and unintelligible for us to understand. Plus we look at common objections to the Trinity from Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses and others.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Binds Us to the Past and the Future

Thanksgiving is an important holiday, one that properly reflects our dependence upon God's grace and acknowledgement of his provision in our lives. But who is responsible for an entire nation recognizing their need to offer thanks to their creator?

Thanksgiving proclamations have a long history in American government. While Abraham Lincoln established an annual recognition of thanksgiving in 1863, the practice goes back much further. George Washington offered the first official proclamation as President of the United States in 1789. But even before our Constitution was written, the United States Continental Congress recognized their need to offer thanks to the Almighty.

Of course, Thanksgiving is rooted in the tough winter the Puritan settlers experienced after landing on Plymouth Rock in 1620. But, the exploits of the Puritans were not nearly as ingrained in the psyche of the young nation as they are now. It took a stirring speech by the famous Daniel Webster to do so. Webster was asked to speak at Plymouth Rock on December 2, 1820, to mark the 200 year anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower in the new land. It was Webster's speech that painted such a vivid portrayal of the sufferings and difficulties they faced, that Americans took the story as symbolic of the resolve the country itself bore. Here's how Webster began:
Let us rejoice that we behold this day. Let us be thankful that we have lived to see the bright and happy breaking of the auspicious morn, which commences the third century of the history of New England. Auspicious, indeed, — bringing a happiness beyond the common allotment of Providence to men, — full of present joy, and gilding with bright beams the prospect of futurity, is the dawn that awakens us to the commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims. Living at an epoch which naturally marks the progress of the history of our native land, we have come hither to celebrate the great event with which that history commenced. Forever honored be this, the place of our fathers' refuge! Forever remembered the day which saw them, weary and distressed, broken in everything but spirit, poor in all but faith and courage, at last secure from the dangers of wintry seas, and impressing this shore with the first footsteps of civilized man!1
The entire speech is contained in the book The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster which is available as a free download here. Webster felt that the Pilgrims' attitude toward God was not only proper, but it cemented the citizens of the US to those stalwart pioneers. In the same speech, he said "neither is it false or vain to consider ourselves as interested and connected with our whole race, through all time; allied to our ancestors; allied to our posterity… , binding together the past, the present, and the future, and terminating at last, with the consummation of all things earthly, at the throne of God."2

I like Webster's concept that recognizing our God in a day of national Thanksgiving ties us not only to our American heritage, but to our progeny who will follow after us long after we've passed on. It is all the more reason to give thanks on this special day.


1. Webster, Daniel, and Edwin Percy Whipple. "First Settlement of New England." The Great Speeches and Orations of Daniel Webster, with an Essay on Daniel Webster as a Master of English Style. Boston: Little, Brown, 1879. 25. Print.

2. Webster, 26.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Trade Your Thanks for Desire - Doors Open at 6PM

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it's one of the busiest holidays of the year. Traffic swells on roads and at airports as people travel to celebrate a day of thanks, prayer, and togetherness with friends and family.

At least that's the Norman Rockwell version of it. It seems every year that merchants are pushing more and more to be invited to dinner as well. Yesterday I received an e-mail from Staples trumpeting the fact that they will be open Thanksgiving Day from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM. Staples. An office supply store! So I'm supposed to leave my family and my home on a day set aside to give thanks just to go out and grab that new fax machine I've been eyeing? Is it really so important to grab a printer or tablet that you cut short some of the few precious moments you have to be with loved ones all in the same place?

While Staples is an easy target, Target is just as guilty. But I don't place the blame primarily on the retailers. The secular world wants to make money, and they know that holiday shoppers can be attracted with "early-bird sales" and "doorbusters". In an article for Colloquy, Lisa Biank Fasig reports:
"When the Macy's Herald Square store opened last year, more than 15,000 people were waiting, said Jim Sluzewski, senior vice president of corporate communications at Macy's.

"What we learned is we didn't open early enough," Sluzewski said. "We had very large crowds just about everyplace, and what many of them told us is that (they) wished we had opened earlier."1
The article goes on to say that many of the Thanksgiving Day shoppers are young, falling into the 13 to 30 year old demographic. Do the young people of today value their stuff more than their relationships?

How is "Give it to me at a discount" Thankful?

The problem isn't simply the devaluing of Thanksgiving as a family holiday, but the fact that running out to the store to grab that "much needed" television or laptop at deep discounts is directly contradictory to the concept of the holiday itself. The day was to be reserved for giving thanks to God for his provision and blessing in our lives, not to say "what I have is OK, but I won't really be happy until I pick up that thing in the ad."

Lest I come on too strong, I do want to say that I understand money is tight and people will want to be able to save where they can. I get that. However, I also think that we need a rest—a Sabbath if you will—from those concerns every once in a while. My oldest son is married and has a daughter. To be able to gather with them for an evening is worth far more than the $100 I could save buying a TV on Thanksgiving night. Those times are too precious to waste on stuff.

There is also a concept of trust I think gets lost in all this. God commanded Israel that they should not only have a day set apart from work once each week, but he also commanded one year where they should not actively farm their fields. That took an enormous amount of faith on their part in trusting God to provide. There are so few days offered to us in modern society where we even have the opportunity to rest and reflect on the blessings in our lives; I'd hate to lose Thanksgiving to the merchants.

A Cautious Analogy

In our rush to push Black Friday into Black Thursday, I see an analogy. I want to be careful in saying I'm not calling everyone who shops on Thanksgiving Day a sinner; I'm merely using the phenomenon as a parallel to a more important point. Thanksgiving Day sales are driven because stores want to exploit any opportunity they can to make money. They know that if they offer enticements, people will come and not only buy the drastically marked-down items, but they will pick up accessories and other things where profits can be made. Therefore, as the competition gets more fierce, they continue to push their opening earlier and earlier, tempting shoppers to visit their store first.

On the other side, consumers justify their actions by saying they needed that item or they needed to save those extra dollars to make their budgets work. As they are faced with earlier openings, they feel like they might miss out, becoming more immune to the problem while reinforcing the store's actions. This is exactly how sin works in a person's life. Self-justification and small concessions lead to more dependence on the sin itself (whatever that may be), until the sin stands in direct contradiction to those values one says he has. No addict has ever purposely sought out his addiction, yet the consequences of his concessions lead to serious problems.

I don't know if the Thanksgiving Day opening trend will continue. Many fewer shoppers are expected this year as compared to last.  But, I don't doubt that we send the wrong message to our families and to the retailers when we don't take a Sabbath from commercialism and appreciate the most valuable of all resources: time giving thanks with our families.


1. Fesig, Lisa Biank. "New Research Carves Up Thanksgiving Numbers." Colloquy, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 26 Nov. 2014.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Evangelicals Shouldn't Ignore Christian Iconography

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society along with its sister organization, the Evangelical Philosophical Society. These gatherings are a highlight for me, as I get to see old friends and hear academics present on a wide variety of cutting edge research into issues of Christian theology and philosophy.

The very first paper I attended was delivered by Dr. Fred Sanders, a systematic theologian from Biola University, who gave a very interesting talk entitled "Icons and the Gospel: Ancient Images & Modern Evangelicals." The use of icons in the church will immediately bring Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy to mind, but Sanders noted that the study of iconography can be of great benefit, even to those in the Protestant tradition.

Sanders began his paper by briefly stating some things iconography cannot do. Icons are not divine revelation and cannot be used authoritatively, as scripture can. Iconography doesn't somehow facilitate a connection between the viewer and a divine presence. In fact, we are warned more often in the scriptures to NOT rely on images as a way of facilitating our connection to God.

With that being said, here are three points that Sanders offered where a study of Christian iconography can benefit the body of Christ.

1. Learn Its Content

One thing I've learned in my study of apologetics is that there is nothing new under the sun. Arguments that many atheists today offer have not only been answered previously, but they have been answered some 1600 years ago! Church fathers like Augustine, Tertullian, and Origen all provided great apologetics and theological insight to problems with which we still struggle. That's why reading the Church fathers is important; you don't need to reinvent the wheel, but simply understand their insights.

Similarly, icons are simply visual representations—not of Biblical stories, but of theological insights applied to those stories. In an illiterate culture, they provided an important teaching tool and way of remembering important doctrine. Of icons, Sanders said, "The actual content of this tradition is a rich source of theological commentary on the gospels, and it is profitable for instruction." He went on to demonstrate how typology in Christian iconography is most commonly used and gave several examples of different biblical stories that tied together in a common theological understanding., such as Jesus' entombment flanked by Joseph's brothers throwing him in a well and Jonah being tossed to the great fish.

2. Understand The Development of Theological Ideas

Just as the cartoons that are produced in the Op-Ed pages of a newspaper summarize a particular issue or viewpoint in our culture, so the images produced by the early church provide a very detailed and informative glimpse into the understanding and development of theological thought in Christian history. Sanders noted that early art in the Church was much like Roman pagan art, but as Christian theology became more robust, the accompanying art became distinct and unique. Sanders said that the "new tradition created a totally new system" of artwork and techniques.

3. Study Its Rules

Lastly, the wealth of imagery we have in the form of Christian iconography and the fact that they serve as an additional set of commentaries on the Scripture can help us today in seeing insights that we may have forgotten. The principles followed by those artists can also protect us from making certain theological mistakes, too. While Sanders didn't delve too deeply into this third point, it intrigues me and I would like to dig deeper into how those that commissioned the works gave guidance to the artists to make sure their houses of worship weren't adorned with very expensive heresy!

To hear Sanders' paper in its entirety, along with the accompanying images, you may purchase the audio here, and view the presentation slides here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christianity is a Thinking-Man's Faith

There are many ways that Christianity distinguishes itself from all other religious systems. Chief among these is the central doctrine that God became man to pay the penalty we could never pay and thus reconcile sinful man back to God. But there are many other points where Christian teachings are unique. One of these is just how much Christianity centers on thoughtful examination of belief.

When we look through the teachings of scripture, it turns out that Christianity is very much a thinking-man's faith. In fact, in order to be a mature Christian, you are commanded to not just seek God emotionally, but intellectually as well. When asked by an expert in the Jewish law as to what commandment ranks above all others, Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6, which is the passage that Jews use to distinguish themselves from their pagan neighbors. Yet, Jesus added something to it. While verse five in the original reads "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might," Jesus added the phrase "and with all your mind" in Matthew 22:37. Jesus cared about the life of the mind.

1. Christianity is Discriminating

From His model, Christians took the life of the mind seriously. They weren't simply believe simply any tale told as part of their faith, but they were to test the claims coming to them. Paul challenges the Thessalonians to "test everything; hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). In Revelation 2:2, Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because they "have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false."

2. Christianity is Literate

Christianity became a very literate faith, relying on the teachings of the Apostles passed on through scripture. Paul exhorted Timothy to "do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15-16). It's interesting that Paul tells Timothy he is going to have to work at discerning the meaning of the texts. In fact, Paul goes further in the next verse, warning against speculations when he cautions, "But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness."

Because the written word played such a key part in the development of the Christian life, it truly became the basis for the modern university. Alvin J. Schmidt writes:
Formally educating both sexes was also largely a Christian innovation. W.M. Ramsay states that Christianity's aim was "universal education, not education confined to the rich, as among the Greeks and Romans…and it [made no distinction of sex." This matter produced results, for by the fifth century, St. Augustine said that Christian women were often better informed on divine matters than the pagan male philosophers.1

3. Christianity is Fact-based

Beyond just seeking to be true to its own teachings, Christianity is a faith rooted in the facts of history. he concept of eyewitnesses plays a huge part in the Christian message. Like tells us that when he began to compile his account of Jesus' life he sought out "those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses" and that he himself "investigated everything carefully from the beginning" to provide "the exact truth." Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, offers the testimony of not only himself, but over five hundred witnesses and says that if any of the people doubt his account, they could ask some of them, since most were still alive at that time. Peter tells the church "we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty."

Peter was even bolder than this when he preached before the Jews in Acts chapter 2. Here he stood in front of a hostile audience and he appealed to their own knowledge of the facts in order to convert them! He declares Jesus' story of ministry, death and resurrection and offers the phrase "as you yourselves know" as proof that he wasn't making up myths. Surely a hostile audience would not have stood for mistakes in his presentation of the facts.

Christianity values intellectual excellence. Christians are command to study, to examine the claims brought before them, to not accept just any attempt by a person to pass along what they say is Christian doctrine, but to rightly divide the word of truth. As Alastair Begg recently said "We need to do what the Bible has always instructed us to do: to think." It's time to reclaim the life of the mind for Christ.


1. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World: Formerly Titled Under the Influence. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. Print. 172.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Why Won't God Heal Amputees? (video)

One objection to God's existence that has become popular in atheist circles is the fact that God won't heal amputees. A web site of that name argues, "The Bible clearly promises that God answers prayers... So what should happen if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs? Clearly, if God is real, limbs should regenerate through prayer. In reality, they do not."

In this short video, Lenny answers the charge that God is not real because he won't heal amputees and shows why the objection fails.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical

It is becoming more and more popular in certain atheist circles to claim that Jesus never existed. They claim that the story of the Messiah from Nazareth is simply a regurgitation of the myths of old, such as Osiris, Dionysius, or Mithras. But such claims, while superficially tempting are really impossible to manage if you study the details.

Historian Paul L. Maier shows just one way the charge of myth crumbles in his book In the Fullness of Time, and he takes scarcely more than a paragraph from his introduction to do it. He writes:
Instead of claiming a mythological founder, or one who materialized from the mists of the past in an appearance datable only to the nearest century or two, Christianity boldly asserts that Jesus' public ministry began (in association with that of John the Baptist) in
… the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas … (Luke 3:1, RSV)
No mythological heroes or cardboard characters here! This sixfold documentation involves personalities and places, all of which are well known and historical. In fact, we know even more about this collection of proper names from sources outside the New Testament. The author of 2 Peter expressed Christianity's "historical advantage" splendidly: "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths … but we had been eyewitnesses" (1:16). 1 (Emphasis in the original.)


1. Maier, Paul L. In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991. Print.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #8 – Be Confident!

In hockey, scoring a goal is tough. A team will average thirty or more shots on goal per game, with only one or two making it past the goalkeeper. Because of this, teams will often circle or delay their attempts hoping for a better opportunity. While some care should be exercised so a player doesn't blow a chance, it's easy to fall into the trap of being over cautious. Players begin to look for the "perfect" chance. Of course, there's another team on the ice, so perfect chances are rather hard to come by. The result is they dismiss decent opportunities or possible opportunities as not good enough and they fall deeper into a scoring slump.

I think the same thing is true in sharing our beliefs with others. Over the last week and a half, I've been offering several tips on sharing and defending your faith. I'd like to wrap up this series by simply offering a word of encouragement: be confident! Take a chance and strike up a conversation with a person. Don't be afraid to tell someone the Christian position on a particular topic that's being discussed. Write a letter to the editor or ask someone out to lunch.

Remember, we are commanded by God to make disciples (Matt.28:19) and to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). I also know that many people find this very scary. But, as I've written before, you're smarter than you think you are. It really doesn't take a lot to ask someone why they hold to his or her beliefs. If you are gracious and listen a lot, the conversations can turn out very pleasant. I've approached atheists on college campuses who were complete strangers and had extended conversations about God and morality with them which end in them actually thanking me for taking the time to talk about these issues.

Paul, when writing to Timothy, encouraged him to not be ashamed of his Christian beliefs. He states, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (1 Tim 1:7 NKJV). Jesus promised that he wouldn't leave us alone in this task, but he would provide the Holy Spirit to help us in our efforts (John 14:15,25-26). We have the very Spirit that shaped the world helping us in our witnessing to others!

Wayne Gretzky, the greatest goal-scorer the NHL has ever seen, has been credited with saying, "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I think that's right. Be confident. Take a chance to share your faith. You cannot get better at it until you risk a bit of yourself and do it. You may be surprised at  how quickly you can see fruit from your faithfulness.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Image courtesy goaliej54. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #7 – Be Gracious

 Every year, I attend the meeting of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. The EPS is a collection of professional philosophers and apologists from different parts of the world. Tonight, Paul Copan addressed the audience and gave a talk about emphasizing gentleness and respect when sharing our faith. As it happens, this is exactly the topic I was planning on writing about tonight.

The phrase "gentleness and respect" is the second half of 1 Peter 3:15, known as the apologist’s verse. It reads, "Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence." Yesterday, I wrote about the what of 1 Peter 3:15—the "always be ready to give a defense" part. I said that it would take some work on your part to study the common objections that you may hear so you can answer them.

Arguments Shouldn’t Be Adversarial

Today, I want to focus on that last part. As I said previously, passionate arguments can generate a lot of emotion and it can become difficult to keep one’s emotions in check. Yet, it’s crucial that you don’t get heated in your talks. Remember, our goal is not to win the argument, but to win the person to Jesus. Yelling and snapping at people won’t accomplish this. In fact, it may have just the opposite effect of driving people away.

Many years ago I was a purchaser for a hardware distribution company. One of my vendors had a girl who would always answer the phone in a very kurt manner. She sounded harsh and a little bothered any time I called to place an order. Given that this vendor had a cutoff time that if not met could mean some serous delays, I knew that it would not benefit me to react to the abrasiveness of this girl; I just couldn’t afford the gatekeeper as an enemy. Therefore, I decided that whenever I called I wouldn’t ask for my sales rep without engaging her with a bit of small talk. I’d ask her about her day or if she had a nice weekend. Soon, whenever she heard my name, her tone changed and she was genuinely happy to hear my voice in the phone. My calls were handled aster and they would now make some exceptions for my needs. This is all because I consciously decided to treat abrasiveness with care.

Practice Your Patience

Peter not only commands us to prepare for defending our faith through study, he also instructs us to prepare to defend the faith graciously. It may surprise you to think of gentleness and respectfulness as things that require preparation, but they do. Being kind when another is attacking is a hard thing to do. You have to make a conscious decision to keep calm and defuse any potential conflict. It doesn’t feel natural to us. It takes practice.

Proverbs 16:21 reads, "The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness." Our arguments can actually become more persuasive when we defer to another. Again, if you feel things are getting out of hand, you can stop the conversation. By telling your questioner, "You know, I value you so much as a person that I don’t want our relationship to be hurt by this conversation. Why don’t we take a break and meet again another day," you demonstrate you care more about them than being a conqueror. Such actions can open the minds of others far more quickly than any intellectual argument may do on its own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #6 – Prepare and Seek an Answer

People have noted how some of the most wildly successful people seem to dress in a uniform. Even though he could have afforded any type of clothing, Apple founder Steve Jobs chose to always appear in the same combination of jeans and a black turtleneck. Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg said that he has only one drawer at his house filled with "about 20 of these gray t-shirts." 1

Why would such successful people choose to limit themselves so much? Zuckerberg recently answered that question by saying he wanted to spend his time focused on the thing that mattered most to him. "I'd feel I'm not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life." That may be a bit of an overstatement, but it is true that highly successful people pour more of their energy into achieving their goals than most people. They strive to cut out distractions, whatever they may be, in order to really focus on making their product or service the best in its class.

Always prepare to give a defense

That lesson is also true in sharing your faith. We are commanded to make preparations before we have encounters with people to be able to answer their questions on Christianity. 1 Peter 3:15, which reads "Always be prepared to give a defense to those who ask of the hope that is within you," is the most well-known of these verses, but there are many others.

So, while you don't have to limit your wardrobe choices, it is imperative for Christians to prepare before they step outside the door. Make sure you have studied some of the key objections that are common among skeptics such as arguments for the existence of God, dealing with the problem of evil, and the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Make sure you look at both sides of a controversial issue. As I've warned both in this series and more fully in a previous article, you do not want to erect a straw man. You should be able to put the issue and the solution into plain language without using "Christianese" in order to make sure that you are understood.

Don't bluff

Of course, it's impossible to know everything. People will have had different experiences from you and they will have heard different things. They may bring up a point that you hadn't heard yet or perhaps something you haven't thought a lot about. The key in these situations is to recognize that you aren't fully prepared to answer that point. Don't bluff! Bluffing may be an acceptable strategy for poker, but when the goal of a conversation is to discover the truth about an issue, bluffing an answer is the worst thing you can do! In certain situations you will have to admit that you hadn't heard that point before. Don't be afraid to tell someone "that's an interesting question; I'd like to get back to you on that." However, if you offer that response, you have now obligated yourself to dig into the books and really seek out an answer. This means you will need to set aside time to investigate the question thoroughly.

Make sure you set a time to meet again

Because you are taking on such an obligation, whenever you hit a roadblock you should always agree on a time to meet again and take up the conversation. This offers two advantages: first, it makes sure the other person is serious about continuing the discussion. While the research in digging out an answer is always good for you, you don't want to always be doing research if he or she isn't interested in engaging in your findings. If they don't want to meet again, you will know their objection is simply a smokescreen.

Second, setting a time pushes you to not procrastinate. I know that a lot of things compete for our time and distractions can creep into our lives, causing us to delay doing those important things. If you delay meeting again because you haven't had time to look into the issue may be perceived by them as you not really caring about the truth, or worse they may feel you don't care about them! It's also best to try and capture a puzzling question when it is fresh in your mind, so you can get the objection right and not spend a lot of time researching something the other person wasn't ever asking.

To be successful in sharing and defending one's faith will require time and effort. There's simply no escaping that. However, once you put in that effort, you may be surprised at the dividends it pays.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Kelly, Samantha Murphy. "Mark Zuckerberg: I Wear the Same Thing Every Day." Mashable. Mashable, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2014. .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #5 - Look for Logical Fallacies

When I was in sixth grade, some of my friends and I played an elaborate hoax on the second graders in our neighborhood. We took some ViewMaster projector and some slides of the Apollo missions, a sound effects record, an old reel-to-reel tape recorder and some flashing Christmas lights that we taped t the back of a panel and convinced these kids we were taking them up in space. We tried to think of everything; we even sewed some dime-store space patches on our clothing to simulate uniforms.

I don't know just how much the little kids really bought, but they sure seemed to swallow the story hook, line, and sinker. The main reason was we had all the trappings right. It looked and sounded like a space launch in their limited experience.

When you are talking about faith and opposing worldviews, many Christians can be just as gullible as the second graders in my story above. They will hear an objection or an argument and because it sounds like a real objection, they assume it is a serious issue. However, the mature Christian will be able to identify what are known as logical fallacies. Fallacies are not real arguments. They're smoke-and mirrors tricks that are not evidence of someone's position. I've reviewed a couple of these before, but I'd like to quickly go through some of the more common ones below.

1. Genetic Fallacy

The genetic fallacy is any argument that draws a conclusion due to an irrelevant aspect of the source. An example I've often used is of an elementary school teacher who taught children their multiplication tables. Imagine that later this teacher was convicted of perjury. Since the teacher is a proven liar, does that mean the children should now not believe that 2x2=4? Just because the source of that fact has been shown to be flawed, it doesn't mean that the particular point you are arguing is flawed, too. Here are some examples of the genetic fallacy:
  • "You are a Christian because you were raised in a Christian country."
  • "Because the Bible is an ancient document, it can't be relevant to today."
  • "Too many Christian hypocrites have told me the same thing that you're saying."

2. Argumentum ad Populum

Argumentum ad Populum, or arguing to the people is saying because an opinion or position is the popular one, it should therefore be believed. However, the popularity of a position doesn't make the position true. Slavery was accepted in the early period of the United States, but that doesn't mean it was right or moral. Here are some examples of argumentum ad populum:
  • "Everyone believes evolution is true."
  • "The vast majority of scientists don't believe in God."

3. Argumentum ad Hominem

Argumentum ad Hominem means arguing to the man, and it happens when a person attacks the person for some inconsequential reason.  While the most well-known version of the fallacy would include an insult ("You're too stupid for me to believe that!"), many times the ad Hominem argument is more subtle. For example, a Democrat that rejects any statement offered by a Republican because of his party affiliation is committing a type of the ad Hominem fallacy. Here are a couple more:
  • "I can't listen to you about abortion. How can you possibly know how a woman feels since you're a man?"
  • "Christianity can't be believed. I mean, look at what the Christians did in the Crusades!"

4. False Dilemma

A false dilemma is when you are offered two choices as the only two possibilities, while more really exist.
  • "Either you accept outdated beliefs or you hold to reason."
  • "I would rather place my trust in science than faith."

5. Straw Man

Sometimes people will either oversimplify Christian beliefs or completely misstate what Christians believe. Just as a scarecrow stuffed with straw is easier to knock over than a real man, some will construct a straw man of the Christian's beliefs just to more easily knock them down.  (For a fuller explanation of a straw man, see this.) Here are a few straw men that you may recognize:
  • "All you Bible-believing nuts want to be slain in the spirit and protest against homosexuals"
  • "Everything needs a cause. God is a thing, so what caused him?"

6. Appeal to Pity

Appeals to pity are simply trying to not argue on the reasons for a position but rather on making someone feel bad. It tries to play on people's emotions rather than the facts of the matter. You can see this used all the time in political campaigns, where candidates will offer one or two anecdotes of a person who is in a tough spot and then argue that certain policies need to be adopted "to help her out of this difficult time." It's a tug on the heartstrings instead of looking at the argument itself. Here are some more examples:
  • "If abortion is not legalized, then only the rich will be able to get abortions."
  • "Accepting Christianity would mean that there are more people in Hell than in Heaven. That's a monstrous belief."
To see all the posts in this series, click here.
Photo courtesy edgeplot and licensed by the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith #4 - Avoid Smokescreens and Dodges

There's an old saying that goes "Do not discuss politics or religion in general company."1 Within any conversation where the participants are passionate about their views, it is likely that emotions can get in the way. The talk gets heated and it degenerates to more seeking to wound the other person or simply trying to protect oneself. This next tip is so important, because it seeks to help you argue well. We will use a single topic to see how each dodge can play out, but this is just for example. Hopefully, you can recognize these and apply them to other discussions as well.

Let's say we are discussing why God is necessary for objective moral values and duties. I've argued here that objective morality requires God to ground its precepts. Perhaps I tweet this article and get several responses. Let's walk through our scenario and see how to deal with each.

1. Be aware of smokescreens

Many times if you raise a point that the other person cannot or doesn't want to answer, they will throw out a smokescreen. Smokescreens are questions or objections that are meant to a) take the pressure off them by bringing up some new subject or problem not related to the issue at hand or b) questions where the questioner isn't really interested in hearing the answer. So, for example, a person responded to my article by writing "Morals can't be grounded in an imaginary being... not grounded in Jesus any more than grounded in Santa." This response is clearly not dealing with the problem of morals being objective versus subjective. It's simply meant to inflame.
Therefore, Someone who wants to shout at you, ask questions but refuses to answer ones you present, or simply barrages you with a barrelful of issues is trying to create a smokescreen. Here's the takeaway:
  • If people are honestly seeking an answer, they will be open to discussion; otherwise it's not worth your time.
  • Ask, "What evidence would you accept in order to change your views?"

2. Keep the focus on the issue at hand

The tactic of trying to get out of trouble by introducing a new subject is known as a "offering a red herring," an idea coined by William Cobbett, who wrote a story about a boy who drags the smelly fish away from a hare's trail in order to send the tracking dogs in the wrong direction2. In my post above, I used confederate money as an analogy to show why morality must be anchored in something bigger than just whatever people want to believe. I had another respondent who began to argue about the value of gold and the economics of the1860s versus today. These had nothing to do with my point, but were distractions. Similarly, you may get "well, if God is moral then why did He let all those people die in the (choose disaster of choice)?" But God's actions are a separate question from how we get meaningful morality. They are red herrings meant to lead you away from your point. Here's the key:
  • Stay on one topic
  • Make sure both parties are responding in a way that moves the conversation forward

3. Note who has the burden of proof

Another dodge that can come up is when a person makes a charge and when you respond to that charge, he challenges you to prove your own position. For example, sometimes atheists simply dismiss my argument and state God is not necessary for morality to be real. At that point they've made an assertion, so it is incumbent upon them to back it up. I would ask something like, "How is it that moral laws are binding upon all of humanity and not merely a preference?" If the person replies with, "Well, atheists are more moral that other people" he's offered a red herring. This is why tip #2 is so important. The more questions you ask the less work you have to do. The objector should be able to provide reasons for his objection. The takeaway is:
  • One who asserts belief should have reasons for why they hold that view
  • You don't need to prove or justify anything, simply ask them the questions

4. Watch for power moves

One time I was walking down a street and noticed a man on a bench who was shouting about the Iran war to the crowd. He spoke in brave tones and seemed very confident. But some of the things he said were very simplistic. I asked him how Just War theory fits in with his position. He actually got off the bench, took me aside and said in a normal voice, "Yes, I know about Just War Theory. I'm a professor as the local college." I asked, "Well, we should talk about it since it isn't quite what you're shouting." He replied, "Well, I have to use rhetoric in order to get the attention of people walking by." I found such as statement educational. The man was intentionally misrepresenting a position to draw attention to himself, but the people wouldn't know because he'd never shout the nuances of the debate.

This is why students must be careful when arguing with their professors during class. It's important to try and be heard, but it's also important to realize that the dynamics are such where the prof may do whatever it takes to save face. The takeaway is:
  • Don't get "shouted down" – assert yourself as having a right to be heard!
  • The man with the microphone always wins

5. Don't let emotions ruin the conversation

Of all the tips I've presented, this one is probably the most important, since Christians are just as guilty of it as those they interact with. If your discussion with another person starts to turn where you can feel the blood rising in your face, it is probably time to take a break. As I said at the beginning, passionate beliefs can turn into more heated arguments. But this is exactly the wrong way to share your faith! Be firm in what you believe and don't let people abuse you, but you should never alienate the person because your emotions got the better of you. Take a break, ask to come back at a later time and finish the conversation. It's better to part ways and have the opportunity to be heard another time than it is to offend someone to the point where they will reject your message because they associate it with a vindictive messenger.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Hill, Thomas E. Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms a Guide to Correct Writing. Chicago: Hill Standard Book, 1886. Print. 151. Available via Google Books here.
2. "Catching a Red Herring." Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Tribune, 02 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Nov. 2014.

How Not to Show You Have Truth...

In Utah, I was able to speak to several sister missionaries, some young and some old. After watching "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, a pair of sister missionaries and an older one asked me a few questions. I explained what I was doing there – that I had questions about the LDS faith and that I was there to find out more about the religion and discuss how it differs from Christianity.

I later found out the older sister missionary got reprimanded for "debating" with us, that "debating was not what they were here to do," and that "if she continued to do this, there would be problems." But the discussion we had was highly civil, respectful and mutually enjoyed – which the sisters themselves verbally acknowledged. This was not an isolated incident, however. Most of my experience with LDS leadership has been that of discouraging questions that are not easily answered via 1) pushing any serious questions to the faith towards the LDS church’s website or 2) by asserting that I needed to test what is true by means of prayer or 3) by simply brushing me off. Obviously, these could possibly be isolated incidents, but the sheer consistency of these responses makes me think this is how the LDS faith actually responds to those sincerely trying to seek truth that have difficult questions.

I appreciate that in following Christ, critical thinking, testing, and transparency is not only a righteous ideal, but a command. The whole worldview of Christianity is strong enough to withstand testing and to be put through the ringer of reason and evidence. If it really is true, shouldn’t that be the case?  Would we really have anything to hide? Had the situation been in reverse, if they sought us for questions about Christianity, I can GUARANTEE we would have been there as long as possible.

It has once been said that, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." That same person did not say truth would be known by feeling, but by reading the word of God. And it is true: in Christianity, testing important truths is not really about feeling; it’s about reading the words of God: "Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, IF you continue in my word, THEN are you my disciples indeed; AND you shall know the truth, AND the truth shall make you free." John 8:31-32 (and essentially Psalm 119).

If you are truly serious about telling me you have truth, then please be intellectually honest: do not discourage sincere questions or stifle the gift of rational, critical thought.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Why The Trinity Is Not a Contradiction (video)

One of the main criticisms of Christianity is it's description of God as a Triune being. Others have charged that the concept of three-in-one is a contradiction, but most don't understand just what the doctrine of the Trinity entails. Here, in this short video, Lenny offers a deductive argument to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is not contradictory.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Morality Relies Upon God's Character, Not Simply His Commands

The moral argument for the existence of God has always been compelling to me; I see no way to anchor the reality of objective moral values than within the person of God Himself. Yet, some atheist claim any attempt to source morality in God means that God is somehow capricious in doling out just what should be counted as right and what should be counted as wrong.

 This is not what Christians believe. As Dr. Scott Rae in his book Moral Choices writes so succinctly, morality is anchored not in arbitrary commands, but in God's very nature. He explains:
Morality is ultimately grounded in the character of God, the ultimate source for morality is not God's commands but God's character. The virtues, or character traits, that are made clear by God's character and further clarified by Jesus' character, are the ultimate foundation for morality from a Christian worldview. God', commands are derived from his character. God issues the commands that he doe' because he is the kind of God that he is. For example, God commands that we low our neighbors, ultimately not because "love makes the world go 'round," though that result is surely a good thing, but because he is that kind of God. In addition, God mandates that we be forgiving people not primarily because forgiveness restores relationships, though that is certainly true but because God is fundamentally a forgiving God. The virtues, then, are primary, and the moral principles, or God's commands, are derived from them.


Rae, Scott B. Moral Choices: An Introduction to Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 2000. Print. 24.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #3 – Give them enough rope

I've been gathering several tips for Christians to better share and defend their faith when talking with those who hold to different beliefs. If you've missed any of the other posts, you can read them all here.

One of the biggest errors Christians make in faith conversations is they think they are the ones who have to do all of the defending. I've heard from so many Christians how they would be talking with a skeptic who would shoot off about four or five objections to the faith, like "how can you really believe a man rose from the dead, " "How can you know the Bible is from God," or "What makes you think your interpretation is true?" In many of these situations, the Christian will try to answer every objection thrown at him only to find that the objector has many more waiting in the wings.

Sometimes objections are simply thrown out as stall tactics, something I will talk about next time. However, more often it's a signal that the person is desperately trying to hold onto his or her own belief by undercutting yours. But real dialogue doesn't work that way. I have always held that the reason-giving game goes two ways. If someone wants to know why you think the Christian worldview makes sense, you may answer, but then you have every right to ask them about the problems within their own worldview.

Make sure they know what they're talking about

Napoleon has been quoted as saying "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." When you begin to ask questions, you may be surprised to find that the skeptic doesn't know quite as much about his own beliefs as he thinks. As an example, columnist Thomas Sowell tells of a time where he asked the simple question of "what do you mean by that" and it completely unraveled his challenger:
As someone who has taught at several colleges, I am all too painfully aware of the erosion of thinking over the years. But even after leaving the classroom, I have continued to encounter the same mindlessness everywhere. For example, an environmentalist to whom I presented certain facts responded by saying, "But, they're raping the planet!"

"What specifically does that mean?" I asked.

He was as speechless as someone who had just played the ace of trumps and was then told it was not enough to win.1
When in conversations, you should always make sure the other person can define their terms appropriately. "What do you mean by that?" is a very powerful question that asks the skeptic to go beyond trite or repackaged objection. It also helps you see if they truly have understood the issues involved. It cuts down on misinterpretation, as well. Many times what they mean when they say words that can carry a technical meaning and what we hear can be two different things. Mormons will freely admit there is one god – but they mean one god for them. Clearing up these types of confusion can be a big step forward.

Look for self-refuting statements

Beyond misdefinitions, another key to showing the problems with other worldviews is to identify positions that the skeptic holds that contradict each other. In other words, there are certain positions that cannot possibly both be true at the same time.

Sometimes you can even find contradictions even in single statements. These kinds of statements are known as self-refuting or self-defeating statements. A self-refuting statement is one that is so broad it actually cuts its own legs out from underneath itself. A classic example would be someone saying something like "I cannot say one sentence in English." Obviously, that statement is itself a sentence in English so it cannot possibly be true.

Here are some other self-refuting statements that are common when talking about faith, as well as follow-up questions you can give:
  • "There is no such thing as absolute truth." Ask "is it absolutely true that there is no such thing as absolute truth?"
  • "The only real truth is that which can be proven by science" Ask "Can you tell me what kind of science you have performed to find that out? What experiments did you perform that gave the result of ‘any truth not proven by science is false.'"
  • "You shouldn't push your morality on others." Ask "Are you saying it is morally wrong to push one's morality on another person? Is that your moral position? Why are you trying to push that on me?"
There are many other ways to approach self-refuting statements. I've written a bit about other self-refuting positions here and here. But the big takeaway here is to make sure that you aren't only playing defense in your faith-talks with others. One of the biggest advantages you have as a Christian is the Christian worldview is both externally and internally coherent and it provides a better explanation of the world that other belief systems.

It is not only Christians have to account for and justify their beliefs; everyone does. The reason-giving game goes both ways. So probe a bit and see if you can uncover the other person's confusion about their beliefs. You might be surprised at what you find.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.


1. Sowell, Thomas. "Using The Church Burnings To Scapegoat Conservatives." The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 26 June 1996. Web. 14 Nov. 2014.
Image courtesy Frits Ahlefeldt and licensed through the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internationa1.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #2 – Listen to People

One of the things that irritates me more and more these days is the push for "suggestive selling" at fast food restaurants. Whenever I pull up to a drive-thru, I've usually looked at the menu and I know what I want to order. But when the attendant comes on the speaker she or she first pummels me with asking if I'd enjoy whatever their new special item is. This causes me to regroup for a second and recall my original order. Sometimes even as I'm ordering, they ask "what size would you like" or "would you like to add a XXX for only $1.49?" They will talk right over me when I'm in the middle of an order! I've even had attendants miss my drink order because they were too busy following their script.

I understand that fast food chains want to introduce new options that I may not be aware of, and I understand that some cash registers require the options to be noted in a certain order, but talking over customers while they are trying to order is still terrible customer service. Customers can choose many different restaurants; they're the ones with the money and they should feel like the cashier cares enough to get their order right before offering any add-ons.

Learning to Listen

The same is true when sharing your faith. Yesterday, I began a series of tips to help Christians better share and defend their faith. I said in that article that asking questions is crucial to being an effective ambassador for Christ. When I was first starting out in apologetics, I know that one of my bad habits was to talk with people and as they brought up a certain point, I would try to muster my responses while they were still talking. I was looking at apologetics like a tennis match: if he drops back, I'll rush the net, if he moves to the left, I'll aim for the right.

But this is exactly the wrong way to go about having a conversation! You aren't conversing with another person when you are strategizing instead of listening. Just like the over-zealous cashier in the example above, then you starts planning your responses while the other person is still speaking, your mind isn't focused on what they're saying and you aren't really hearing them. For someone who isn't just trying to fight but really wants answers, this is off-putting and rude. They may not wish to talk about these things with you a second time if they think all you're interested is talking about your position regardless of what they say.

The Second Grade Class Photo Approach

This is why I encourage you to use the "Second Grade Class Photo" approach. Do you remember those awkward class photos that your entire class used to take in elementary school? You know, the ones with the rows of children and the teachers standing on either side. When the school photos were developed and passed back to the students, what's the very first thing you did? You looked for yourself in that picture! That's human nature; we care about how we look or how we are perceived.

When engaging other in conversation, you can use that knowledge to help make sure the other person feels heard and knows you're listening. As I said last time, start by simply asking a lot of questions. I always ask "tell me, why did you come to believe this position?" That's a key question and can take your conversation in a completely different direction. As you ask more questions, you may begin to see that they hold contradictory positions on certain things. This is where tactics like the Columbo tactic can be handy.

Repeat their argument back to them

The Class Photo technique accomplishes a few things. First, it makes the person you're talking with feel important. I've always been told I'm a great conversationalist when the topic is about that person. Secondly, it informs you of their beliefs.  But just as importantly, it makes sure you aren't mischaracterizing their position. We should never offer straw men of someone else's position. The best way to guard against that is to listen and ask if you've understood them correctly. You should be able to repeat the argument back to that person and have them say "Yes, that's what I mean."

Lastly, you should be looking for the main idea or concept that drives their belief. There is usually one real issue underlying a specific position. It could be their not wanting to answer to a god, a woman who is saddled with guilt over her abortion, or simply that they don't understand the historic Christian position. Whatever it is, ask questions like "and why do you hold that view" or "Do you think this is one of the more important reasons you believe in X? If not, what would you say is an important reason?" Many times the issue isn't intellectual but emotional, and finding that out will make for a very different conversation. So, let's learn to listen.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #1 - Slow Down!

I don't think it's too hard to realize that in our secular culture, Christians have faced more and more resistance to their beliefs. Sharing one's faith can be difficult when others seem so antagonistic to it, but there are ways that we as Christians can be more effective in standing up for what we believe and sharing it with others.

In Matthew 11:16 Jesus said "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (ESV). Such a picture shows the adversarial nature that the Christian worldview faces. So, to be wise, we want to make sure we are planning on how to be more effective in having intelligent conversations. It's with that in mind that I want to offer eight tips for sharing and defending your faith to others. These techniques are ones I use all the time and they have been proven to be effective in real-world encounters with others. I'll spend the next couple of weeks going through each, so be sure to come back every day and follow the entire thread.

Many times Christians want to get to the "punch line" too soon!

The first tip is a crucial one because it's a mistake I see Christians make all the time: they go too fast. I've seen so many people who are talking with non-believers and they will jump straight from the question of "Are you a Christian?" to "You must recognize you're a sinner and Jesus came to save you." That's a big leap for someone who isn't familiar with the Christian concepts of the fallen nature of man or redemption. Heck, the person may not believe in the Bible, or that Jesus was even a real person! Christians can be too anxious to "get to the Gospel" when significant groundwork may need to be laid first.

So, my first tip is simply slow down. When Paul visited the synagogues during his missionary journeys, we see that he would sometimes spend weeks discussing why Jesus is the Messiah, and those people already accepted the ideas of God, the Old Testament Scripture, their sinfulness, and the need for a Messiah to come. The Christian today doesn't know if the one with whom they're speaking holds to any of those things.

It's hard to change beliefs

Remember that when you are discussing Christianity with another, what you are really doing is asking that person to change his or her beliefs. As I've written before, that's not an easy task. No one can force themselves to believe anything. Beliefs change only through the exposure to new evidence or experiences or seeing a contradiction in the belief itself. That means it takes time and purpose to provide new ideas and explore existing beliefs the other person holds.  Before you launch into a case for your own view, here are a few questions you should ask yourself to make sure you properly understand the other person's position:
  • What does this person actually believe?  Do I have it right?
  • Why do they believe that way?  Is this an emotional rather than intellectual position?
  • What do they know and what are they assuming?
This means that apologetics and evangelism starts by asking questions instead of making statements. Once you can answer each of the questions above, you should be able to build a better foundation for your arguments.

To see all the posts in this series, click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Difference Between God Being Understandable and Illogical

I recently received a question from a Ethan, who had read my article answering the question "Who Created God?" Ethan wasn't satisfied with my answer that God is a being who is eternal; he has no beginning. He wrote:
How can you say that it is reasonable that something has existed for eternity? Existence for eternity is incomprehensible; just as incomprehensible as something coming from nothing.
What Ethan failed to understand is that there's a difference between something being fully understandable, such as an eternally existing being, and something being logically incoherent, such as something coming from nothing. There are a lot of things we don't fully understand yet we accept as true. For example, there are certain properties of quantum mechanics that just don't seem to make sense to us, but when we use the calculations based on those principles, they produces very accurate results. Because we don't know all there is to know about quantum laws, it is understandable that we would find things mysterious, yet we trust the results because they are reliable.

The second class of ideas, those that are logically incoherent, are completely different. These are things that are not simply misunderstood, but impossible to ever achieve because they violate the laws of logic. For example, if I were to ask if the number two smells worse than the number four, you would immediately tell me that such a question is preposterous. Numbers are abstract object, they aren't physical and scent is a physical characteristic. To try to compare physical characteristics of non-physical entities is simply silly. It cannot work. This is known as a category error in logic.

Similarly, to say a something came from a nothing is to endow the nothingness with the power of creation. But, just like the numbers issue, you have a problem. Nothing by definition has zero properties. IT cannot create because it doesn't have the property of creative ability. Nothing simply means "no thing". That's why the idea of "out of nothing nothing comes" has been recognized as true as long as it has.

Since we as human beings have always existed inside time and we all have a beginning, the idea of an eternal being is definitely a hard one to wrap one's mind around. But an eternal being isn't any more incoherent than the numbers two and four being eternally even. There we never a time where two or four could ever be considered indivisible by two. God's eternal existence isn't a contradiction, it simply is a bigger idea than we can fully comprehend.

One last point. Since we know that something cannot come from nothing, and the universe is a something that indeed have a beginning, then that should tell you at the very minimum there has to be something else out there and that something needs to be eternal. Whatever begins to exist must have some type of cause for its existence. So, if an eternally exiting thing is impossible, then the universe itself can not have existed from eternity past. Therefore, Ethan is now faced with a real dilemma: where did the universe come from?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Building Faith Muscles in Your Kids

Last week, I got to have a nice conversation with my eighteen year old son about some different things that's been on his mind. He told me that he's been mulling over concepts of predestination and free will, and reading up on the subject.  We discussed the Calvinist and Arminian models as well as Molinism. We also talked about the nature and purpose of salvation and touched on creation models.

Some of you may think that because I'm an apologist, our family has "theology hour" or some such thing.  That would work about as well in my home full of teenage boys as it would in yours. However, there are a few things you can do to nurture the faith of your children.

1. Realize that It's Their Faith You Want to Develop

I think it's natural that people want the best for their children. In affluent cultures such as ours, that desire sometimes gets mistranslated, though. As parents we can mistake providing a safe, loving home for our kids into providing a care-free area for them to grow up where every difficulty is eliminated or marginalized as much as possible.

Probably the most important principle I can offer is this first one: your desire is not to give your kids your faith, but to have them develop a strong faith of their own. This is key. Teenagers are naturally inclined to seek out meaningful lives. They actually want to understand their world and do things that are important. But our kids don't yet have the experience to know how to go about understanding the world. They're like a young hockey player who has some raw talent, but who doesn't know what it takes to make it in professional athletics.

Your job as parent is to train them. You can't simply tell them what to believe, you have to ask them what they think in a certain situation. You have to let them understand the basics of Christianity then ask them how they would express it. This means drawing their attention to big topics.

One way you can do that is to use movies to point out different worldviews.  For example, my family may go watch the latest superhero action movie. The movie is a lot of fun, but I also try to draw attention to the values the film is promoting. Listen to their ideas of why this hero is so cool and ask why would they want to be like him or her. Ask a lot of questions! The more you explore their point of view, the more they will see where their beliefs may be inadequate. Just as a young athlete must get acquainted with the rules of the game and know the mechanics of moving  on ice skates, so the young Christian must learn to stand upon those things he or she believes. We are to train our children in the way they should go; we shouldn't try to carry them there.

2. Faith Requires Exercise to Grow Stronger

Next, don't shun tough questions that they have or difficult situations in which they're placed. We have a tendency as parents to want to "helicopter" our kids out of uncomfortable or difficult situations. But doing so actually impedes their growth. Faith is like a muscle; in order to make is stronger, one must use it.

This is again just like developing an athlete. You would never take a person who only played in a neighborhood league and force them to face the professionals. Athletes grow by joining leagues where the level of play is higher than they're used to, but where they can be coached and receive additional instruction on how to improve. As they grow, they're own style and skill come to the fore.

One way I help youth ministries do this is by leading different apologetics missions trips to places like Salt Lake City, Utah or Berkeley, CA. We take kids out of their comfortable environment and train them how to interact with students on a college campus who do not share their Christian beliefs. They get to dialogue with atheists or others and they then can see how those views compare to their own. All the while, we are training the students and talking with them after every encounter.

The problem is if we don't let our kids struggle just a bit with tough questions or with objections to their faith, they will never learn that what they believe is actually able to withstand the pressure. I've talked with many people who in college lost their faith. It wasn't because they thought the objections to Christianity were too difficult to overcome. Instead, they concluded that, since their parents and pastors told them to just ignore those "troublemakers" with tough questions that Christianity didn't really care about the truth at all. Since they had never faced someone antagonistic to their beliefs before, they never knew that Christianity could handle to toughest shots thrown at it.

Our kids can do amazing things. They are truly interested in forming their beliefs, but that formation requires them to have some experience with those beliefs. Help them grow into mature Christians by allowing them to explore their faith and be challenged every once in a while. The conversations that result may surprise you!

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Truth and Inclusivism

We must keep in mind that truth and reality are not in themselves pluralistic. If your gas tank is empty, social acceptance of your right to believe that it is full will not help you get your car to run. Everything is just exactly what it is, and you can develop cultural traditions, vote, wish, or whatever you please, and that will not change a thing.

Truth and reality do not adapt to us. It is up to us to adapt to them. A four thousand year old tradition does not become truer as the years go by. If it is false or wrong, it simply continues to be a long-standing error. If it is popular, it is widespread. If adopted by the powerful, it is authoritative. But it is still wrong. Acceptance of its right to exist in a pluralistic society does not make it any more correct, and will be of no help to those following it when they finally run into reality.

Some of my intellectual friends say that this is true in the domain of "fact," but that religion is the realm of "faith." They are victims of the unfortunate delusion of current culture that "fact" is limited to what is sense-perceptible. Hence they say that whether past or current living species where created by God or not, for example, is a matter of "faith." The implication is that for faith things are, somehow, as you think them to be. Much of what is now written in support of pluralism or "inclusivism" in religion assumes that there is no "way things are" with God, or at least that we cannot know how they are. Hence all views of God are said to be equally true because all are equally in the dark--an astonishingly fallacious inference.

— Dallas Willard, "Being a Christian in a Pluralistic Society"

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Top Five Apologetics Posts for October

People turned to the articles on the Apologetics Notes blog 21,799 times last month. One key piece that generated our second-highest traffic of all time focused on the recent Hillsong controversy. While I've written before about the importance of holding to natural marriage as the only legitimate form of marriage, I took a different tack with Hillsong, calling them out for their unbiblical Word-Faith teachings. The post really resonated and generated a lot of talk on social media. Here then are the top five posts for October:
  1. The Missing Piece in the Hillsong Controversy
  2. What Archaeology Can Tell Us About the Bible
  3. Moral Laws Necessitate a Moral Lawgiver
  4. Christianity Properly Diagnoses the Human Conditon
  5. Does Being Old Disqualify the Bible's Teachings?

Thursday, November 06, 2014

What is Middle Knowledge?

One of the more contentious issues within theology is the tension that exists between God's predestination of the saints and the individual's ability to freely choose to follow Jesus. The Bible recognizes both, and there have been many arguments as to how to reconcile these views. Some have suggested that man doesn't really have free will, but that God controls all aspects and choices of every life. However, there are problems with this position, most notably how it reduces human beings to puppets and makes God responsible for evil. Others believe that man has absolute freedom apart from God, but this view also presents difficulties. Some include the issue of God not being able to foresee the future or being a part of time as we know it. It also in no way answers the biblical fact that man is predestined by God.

It's easy to see why this debate has raged on for hundreds of years! Choosing to emphasize one side seems to contradict the other. However, there is another position that I feel more completely explains both God's predestination and man's libertarian freedom by showing both can be true and not in competition with one another. It is a theory first put forth by a Spanish monk named Luis de Molina in the 16th century called "middle knowledge" or Molinism. We'll base our outline on William Lane Craig's understanding of the doctrine found in his book The Only Wise God.

God Knows the World As It Actually Is

Craig explains that God holds different kinds of knowledge. God has what is termed necessary knowledge. This is knowledge that can never be false. It encompasses things like the laws of logic and the idea that 2+2=4. God also has free knowledge. Free knowledge is knowing creation as it actually is, including the past, present and future. Another way to state this is free knowledge is how God actually chooses to make the world. God was free to make any kind of world he desired (thus the "free" designation) and he chooses to make this specific world with all the events that go along with it.

The difference between free knowledge and necessary knowledge, though, is that "God could lack [specific free] knowledge and still be God. He must have this sort of knowledge to be God, but its content would be different. For if he would have created a different world, his free knowledge would be different." 1

Examples of God's free knowledge may be found in Isaiah 45, where God speaks directly to Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon 150 years before he was born. Craig also offers other examples of free knowledge. "God's knowledge seems to encompass future contingencies: God foreknows Nebuchadnezzer's divinations to determine his battle routes (Ezek. 21:21-23). Even more remarkably, just as God knows the thoughts that humans have, so he foreknows the very thoughts they will have."2 Psalm 139 also supports this idea.

So God knows all of the events of human history, past present and future. This includes every detail of the universe - the thoughts that we think, how lots will be cast, when cocks will crow, everything. God knows this to be true because it exists in reality. If reality were different, though, God's knowledge would be different. God only knows the truth to be true.

God Knows All Possibilities

Not only does God know exactly how the world really is, He also knows the way the world would be if events were different. A favorite example of may own is in Acts 27:21-32 where Paul is aboard a ship to Rome and a great storm arises. The ship's crew were terrified for their lives, but Paul delivers a prophecy given by God saying "there will be no loss of life among you , but only of the ship" (v. 23). However, some of the sailors still sought to escape by  lowering the life boat. Paul then warns them that "unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved" (v. 31). Paul knew that all aboard would be saved. But if events were different, he knew that the outcome would be different and the prophecy would be false.

Craig offers 1 Samuel 23:6-13 as another example. He writes "the story was understood to show that God knew that if David were to remain at Keilah, then Saul would come to get him, and that if Saul were to come to get David, then the men of the city would hand him over."3 

In either case, we have different outcomes for the same event if the choices of the individual involved were to be different. God knew both outcomes, yet he also know which choice the individuals would freely make. Thus God created a particular situation to achieve a particular end (delivering Paul to Rome or sparing David from Saul), not by controlling the choices of those involved, but by knowing which choices they would make when faced with that situation.

Middle Knowledge

The idea that God knows what would happen in any situation were that situation different is termed middle knowledge. Adherents to middle knowledge hold that God not only knows what is, but He knows what would be if something were different.

This is the key to solving the predestination and free will problem. God knows all aspects of every possible world he could create. It's part of his natural knowledge and is essential to him. His middle knowledge consists of "what every possible free creature would do under any possible set of circumstances and, hence, knowledge of those possible worlds which God could make actual."4 God then freely decides to create the actual world in which we live and knows every detail, past, present, and future, of how that world will be.

The ramifications of this idea go far and deep. God doesn't just "look ahead" into the future and predestine someone he knew would choose him. He decides to create a world in which that person will actually exists to choose him, knowing that he will choose that way given those circumstances. He personally decides to give life to everyone and every event in our world after looking at all possibilities and scenarios, in order to suit his purposes! It's a much bigger picture of God that still maintains the reality that our choices are freely made and significant.

Using the concept of middle knowledge, we can see how God can predestine each one of us to a saving grace in Him while at the same time preserving the idea of human freedom to choose. God loves you enough that his entire creation is ordered so you would choose to follow him. It's pretty amazing to think about.


1.Craig, William Lane The Only Wise God
Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Pub., 1999. 127-128.
2. Ibid. 32
3. Ibid. 132
4. Ibid. 131.
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