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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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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 Top Ten Apologetics Blog Posts

This year the Apologetics Notes blog has really exploded. I switched to a daily post format, and you all have responded by continuing to come back to read the various articles and topics that we talk about. There are well over 20,000 pages read every month and the audience is growing daily.

The growth is also reflected in the most popular blog posts, all of which were published in the second half of the year. Some posts are straight apologetic while others, such as the Ann Coulter piece or the Hillsong article, focus on topical events. But every one was enthusiastically shared across social media.

Without further adieu, here are the ten most popular blog posts of 2014:

Article Pageviews
10 Conflicting Beliefs of Modern Atheism 2805
The Missing Piece in the Hillsong Controversy 2255
Christianity is a Thinking-Man's Faith 1812
Why Naturalism is Simply Unbelievable 1284
Morality Relies Upon God's Character, Not Simply His Commands 1176
Atheist insults believers and is stunned at the result 1093
Atheists contradict themselves by seeking invocations 994
History Testifies that Jesus Worked Miracles 701
Ann Coulter is Wrong-People are More than Numbers 691
One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical 684

Friday, December 26, 2014

2014 Top Five Apologetics Podcasts

The Come Let Us Reason Together podcast has continued to grow in 2014, seeing an average of nearly 1,700 downloads a month as we approach the end of the year. Part of Some of the increasing popularity has come from people interested in listening to previous podcasts, a task that was made much easier since we have redesigned the podcast page and integrated it into the site.

Of the popular topics for 2014, two of them ("Tools for the God-Fearing Mind" and "Science, God, and Knowing") deal with some complicated issues. Yet, these made it into our top five. Some others deal with questions that you hear from skeptics and the top podcast topic is one we've approached before: how to understand and witness to Muslims.

Here, in reverse order of popularity, are the top five podcast topics of 2014.
  1. Would the World be Better Without Religion?
    Skeptics such as Richard Dawkins often claim that the biggest evils in the world are perpetrated because of religious beliefs. Does religion cause more wars, more hatred and prejudice than other views? What would a world free of religion look like? Join Lenny as he shows why such objections have no grounding in reality.
  2. What's the Conflict between Faith and Reason?
    We constantly hear that faith and reason are opposites; if you have faith in something, you’ve left reason behind. Do Christians follow a "blind" faith? Is reason the enemy of faith? Listen in as Lenny shows why Christianity is an inherently reasonable faith.
  3. Tools for the God-fearing Mind
    Jesus commanded us that we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, but many Christians simply don't know how to love God with their minds. Before we can think rightly about God, we need to learn to think rightly, to think logically. In this talk, Lenny teaches you how you can tell the difference between good arguments and bad ones and how you can offer unbelievers rational, persuasive arguments for your faith.
  4. Science, God, and Knowing
    Today, people look to scientists to find the answers to our problems in the world. But does science have limits? Are there other ways to know something as fact? And how are questions about God and religion tested scientifically? In this class, Lenny shows why scientific objections to God fail.
  5. The Challenge of Islam
    Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, but is still a mystery to most Christians. Is it a religion of peace and a breeding ground for terrorists? Join us as we examine Muslim beliefs and discuss how to effectively witness to Muslims.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Top Five Apologetics Posts for November

November came in with a bang, as the blog continues to draw over 20,000 readers a month. They found several topics engaging, with a lot of shares for the eight part series Tips for Sharing Your Faith. Most posts finished just under the top five, but advice to "Slow Down" was quite popular. However, our top post this month shot to the #3 all time position within 10 days of it being published. Glad to see our readers are thinking!

Here then are the Top Five Apologetics Posts for November:
  1. Christianity is a Thinking-Man's Faith
  2. Morality Relies Upon God's Character, Not Simply His Commands
  3. One Reason Why Jesus Cannot be Mythical
  4. Tips for Sharing Your Faith: #1 - Slow Down!
  5. What If You Can't Be Reasonable Without Faith?

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?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Is God Limited by the Laws of Physics?

It seems that yesterday's post on the Fine-tuning argument ("A Mostly Lethal Universe Does Not Disprove Design") struck a nerve on the Twittersphere. I was involved in a long Twitter conversation with a number of atheists concerning the implications of a universe that contains vast spaces where life cannot survive. While I won't recount the entire exchange here, here are a couple of tweets that seems to be indicative of the thinking:

This was interesting as it highlighted a couple of atheistic misunderstandings about the fine tuning argument and about the nature of God.

First, the premise of their objection rests on the idea that God can make anything He wants happen. While Christianity holds to an omnipotent God, it has never taught that God can do absolutely anything. God cannot do what is logically impossible (make a rope with only one end or create a triangle with four sides). God also cannot learn, cannot lie, and cannot cease to be. Omnipotence has always been defined as God is capable of doing anything that is within His nature. Since God is logical, his universe would follow logic as well.

Looking at the fine tuning argument then, one must understand that part of God's prerogative is how to set up the universe to begin with. If God chooses to create intelligent beings that are three dimensional, then it follows that there are certain limitations that follow from that choice, such as the beings will need to have the world in which they live also be three dimensional. Other restrictions may also follow from this, but what doesn't follow is that God is constrained by the laws of physics. To show why, we merely need to look in the kitchen.

If a chef desires to create a dessert, he or she has many possibilities. First, he would need to choose whether he wants to make a hot or cold dessert. This is entirely his preference; he has access to both the oven and the freezer and may use either However once he has made his choice, that choice will present itself in a certain way. So, if our chef seeks to make a soufflé, he won't be using the freezer, because soufflés simply are not frozen. And if our chef wants to use cherry filling instead of egg whites, he would no longer be making a soufflé but a cherry pie. The choices are free, but they begin to define the outcome.

Choosing to create a three dimensional universe that can support life requires creating certain parameters by definition. Saying God is limited by physics when creating our universe is like saying God is limited by a geometry textbook because he cannot draw a four-sided triangle. That's silly, because anything with four sides is simply not a triangle. Ultimately, the objection is simply a version of "If God is all powerful, why can't he make salsa so hot that even he can't eat it?" These are nonsense statement.

The fine tuning of the universe that we see shows, as I have said, that the Laws of the universe are set just right, the constants of the universe are set just right, and the initial conditions of the universe are set just right for life. In other words, God's recipe for our universe uses just the perfect ingredients in just the right amounts to achieve his end goal. Arguing that God should have used cherry filling instead of egg whites is not the same thing as proving there was no chef at all.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hot Button Issues in Islam

When talking about Islam, certain issues always seem to rise to the top of everyone's minds. How does Muhammad compare with Jesus? Is Islam really a religion of peace? What does Jihad really mean? And what about the Crusades? In this podcast series, Lenny will equip Christians to better understand these trigger points when witnessing to your Muslim neighbor.

To subscribe to the Come Reason podcast, click here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How to Talk about Faith on Facebook

Social media offers a great opportunity for Christians to talk about their faith, but many times we are confronted with people who don't think twice about slamming the faith. How can we be both winsome and compelling in representing Jesus online? In this podcast series, Lenny provides real-world examples of how to be both winsome and effective in online conversations.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Top Five Come Reason Apologetics Blog Posts for July

Facing off against atheists, Mormons, and those who would hold Gandhi in the same regard as Jesus are among our top five resources for July. Also is a collection of resources dealing with the science and religion controversy.  Here are the top five apologetics blog posts for July:
  1. When an atheist says it's OK to rape her sister
  2. Are Mormons Christians, too?
  3. We Don't Know What We Believe
  4. Is Gandhi a better model for Christians?
  5. Science and Religion Resources

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Don't Blame Christian Martyrs for Violence

There is a lot of sloppy thinking in our modern world, especially when it comes to the area of faith and beliefs. While this shows up frequently in mainstream outlets (the blog over at GetReligion has covered the myopia of the press for years), social media is one of the main enablers of quick quips that sound good but really make no sense at all. The internet meme is a prime example of this.

I've been deconstructing memes every once in a while on the blog; you can find some of my previous posts here.  Yesterday, though, I had the first opportunity to interact with the creator of one of these slick picture-slogans. Atheist Michael Sherlock claims "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." After I had pointed out the fact that early Christianity didn't spread by doing violence, but were the victims of various martyrdoms, Sherlock sought to argue that the early church leaders would solicit Christians to become martyrs for the PR value and attract more adherents. Yesterday I showed why his claims and sources fail.

However, there's another problem with the argument. It simply isn't true that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. If one looks carefully at what Sherlock's meme states, the reasons become apparent.

Martyrdom Wasn't Attractive to Romans

First off, it would be a mistake to assume that ancient Roman culture would look upon those who are conscientiously objecting to state requirements in the same way that we may in the 21st century. One source Sherlock cites is a footnote of Anthony Briley that supposedly shows Christians are trained to be martyrs. Briley comments that "Marcus thinks of Christians as 'lined up unarmed' for death, as soldiers in battle array: but not as persons who had really made an individual reasoned choice — they were drilled, and trained to die…" I think Sherlock misunderstands this passage. Briley wasn't saying that Christian were training to die. Rather, he was using this as one of many examples of how Aurelius would see Christians in a negative light.

It strikes me this is actually evidence against Sherlock's charge. The Romans were a militaristic people and valued not dying for one's own cause, but killing on behalf of the state. Alvin J. Schmidt quotes Richard Frothingham stating "The individual was regarded as of value only if he was part of the political fabric and able to contribute to its uses, as though it were the end of his being to aggrandize the State."1. Roman virtues of frugalitas, severitas, and fidelis that Roman soldiers were expected to exhibit were considered virtuous, not the giving of oneself to death. A man who is martyred for crimes against Rome would be about as attractive to Romans as suicide bombers are to Americans today. You may get a few fringe followers, but it would in no way explain drastic growth in the same way that Christian charity and missionary efforts do.

The Problem with Blaming Christians for Being Martyrs

What Sherlock has attempted to do is to justify his meme after the fact by claiming that performing violence on Christians is the same thing as Christian violence. Note what the meme states: "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Anyone who reads that will understand it to say that Christianity grew to a world religion through violent conquest as its primary proselytizing method. The phrase "quantity of its violence" can be parsed clearly. Sherlock uses a possessive pronoun to state that it is Christian-generated violence that expanded the faith. Then, when called out on the mistake, he makes says the violence of martyrdom justifies his meme. He writes, "Thus, in the ante-Nicene period, prior to its transformation into a dangerous and murderous religion, Christianity was but a violent suicide cult, the aim of which was to spread by way of violent theatrics aimed at inspiring onlookers with the needless spilling of the blood of innocent fools."2

To claim that Christian martyrs died as a PR stunt is despicable . Briley, in the same footnote that's mentioned above, talks about the charges of incest and cannibalism that would also arise against Christians, false charges that Roman apologists such as Minucius Felix or Lollianus would use to stir the populous against them. 3 The fact that the Romans felt they needed to fabricate false charges puts Sherlock's claim in doubt. Historian Robert L. Wliken tells us that charges of incest and cannibalism "had become widespread" against Christians by the late second century and comments that in the Roman world "charges of immorality and licentiousness were often brought against devious individuals or groups."4 Wilken then notes how the charges became standardized, following a very specific pattern which underscores their dubious nature.5

So how does Sherlock come to the conclusion that Christian leaders would encourage "many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities?" If so many Christians were seeking to provoke the powers that be, why would a society that values law and order need to invent anything at all? The fact is that no reputable scholar of the anti-Nicean period would ever take Sherlock's interpretation seriously. He's gasping at trying to make Christianity into something it isn't. Sherlock is using the same tact that Felix and Lollianus did, only the evidence falls against him.

The early martyrdom suffered by the saints cannot be considered Christian violence, but only violence done to Christians. Even today, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world because of their faith. Reports out of Nairobi and other nations about gunmen hunting down Christians in shopping malls are horrifying. Does Sherlock label this "Christian violence?" Does he think that the dozens who died simply because they were attending  All Saints' Church staged it for the PR value? Such claims would rightfully be considered disgusting and offensive. Just because the early martyrs preceded these by some 1700 years doesn't make Sherlock's claims any less so.

Internet memes can be very attractive if one doesn't think to carefully. It's easy to try and reduce centuries of history to a few words. But history isn't so reducible. Neither is dismissing the deaths of others because you don't like their faith.


1. Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004). 48.

2. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity — Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.

3. Wilken, Robert L. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984). 18.

4. Ibid. 17-18.

5. Ibid. 18.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Were Early Christians Encouraged to Become Martyrs?

A few weeks ago, I had responded to a meme (here and here) posted by atheist Michael Sherlock that claimed, "Christianity did not become a major religion by the quality of its truth, but by the quantity of its violence." Sherlock has attempted to reply to one of my arguments, but I think he falls short in numerous ways. Two primary areas where he gets both history and the argument wrong are 1) the concept that Christians somehow solicited people for martyrdom in order to attract followers and 2) the argument that since Christians were the recipients of violent acts, it somehow justifies his meme. I will deal with the first today and tackle the second tomorrow.

Sherlock makes the claim,  "We have records that testify to early Christian Church officials and fathers, encouraging many of their followers to provoke the Roman authorities and submit themselves to the violence of voluntary martyrdom, in the oft times realized hope that they might be martyred in public spectacles and thereby increase the popularity of the early Church."1That's a huge claim. Sherlock ascribes very specific and sinister motivations to the early church fathers; however he fails to produce a single document from antiquity that spells out such a plan or goal. His first stab at evidence is to quote Chapter II from The Martyrdom of Polycarp where the church fathers of Smyrna (Sherlock incorrectly attributes the passage to Polycarp himself) recount the pattern of prior martyrs for the faith and concludes:
And so like lambs, a number of the more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions, with the hope that the fires would be cool to them and that they, as willing martyrs for their unfounded and credulous faith, acting 'imitatio Christi,' would be afforded an opportunity to commune with Christ himself and attain a free-ticket into a non-existent heaven.2

Christians Did Not Solicit Martyrs

Sherlock's dogged misunderstanding of the text shows in many ways (you may read the passage here in context). First, this wasn't written as an appeal to action. The letter is entitled "The Martyrdom of Polycarp" and was written to explain just that. It seeks to place martyrdom in its proper Christian context and labels martyrs of that past as heroes of the faith. This is as natural as any nation reporting stories of those who laid down their lives for an ideal. But if Sherlock would have read just a bit further, he would have seen that the letter explicitly argues against promoting martyrdom for the sake of martyrdom. Just 115 words later in chapter four it recounts that a Phrygian man named Quintus who sought voluntarily martyrdom, but when he saw the fate awaiting him he apostatized instead. The letter then admonishes the Christians, "Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do."3 This statement is of course in direct contradiction to Sherlock's thesis.

Secondly, it wasn't "more gullible Christians of the ante-Nicene period, were sent out amongst the wolves to be slaughtered for their leader's ambitions." Polycarp was the one martyred! He was the leader of the church of Smyrna and therefore it would be hard pressed for his martyrdom tom result in his own ambitions somehow being met. The charge is wholly without merit and Sherlock offers not a scrap of evidence to corroborate his conjecture. It is fabricated out of whole cloth, and I do think using the epithets "gullible," "leader's ambitions," and "credulous" is simply Sherlock exercising the fallacy of poisoning the well.

Lastly, Sherlock seems to conflate his religions. Christianity in no way teaches that martyrdom provides any such favored status as a "free-ticket to a non-existent heaven." In fact, by Polycarp's own writings we see that he endorsed Paul's view of salvation as having already been received by the believer when he endorses Paul's epistle to the Philippians. In Chapter three, Paul spells out how no work of the flesh can gain one access to heaven, but only "that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith." Sherlock seems to think that Christian theology teaches something akin to Muslim beliefs, a position that is demonstrably false.

Sherlock's Own Sources Prove Christians Eschewed Voluntary Martyrdom

In hoping to justify his broader claim that Christians were trying to coax people to become martyrs in order to attract new followers, Sherlock quotes a few other sources, including the following passage from Henry Chadwick:
Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction.4
I believe that Sherlock is hoping one would read the first sentence and ignore the rest. Sherlock himself ignored the sentences just before his quote which places that paragraph in context:
Ignatius was writing in haste under difficult circumstances, and his language did not always convey precisely what he wanted to say. The language used would be surprising at any decade of the second century. The confrontation with imminent martyrdom profoundly affected him, and the impression can be given that a proper willingness to die in union with Christ has passed into a neurotic will to die.

Voluntary provocative martyrs were easily engendered by promises of celestial joy. In the 190s Clement of Alexandria deeply disapproved of aggressive voluntary martyrs. Their attitude seemed to the emperor Marcus Aurelius, a Stoic defender of suicide, 'theatricality' in poor taste. Cyprian of Carthage under persecution in 250–8 also united idealized language about the martyr's crown with express disapproval of voluntary self-destruction (emphasis added.)5
So here we have Chadwick explaining how Ignatius' letter may be misunderstood because of his duress and that he would disapprove of voluntary martyrs because other Christian leaders such as Clement of Alexandria and Cyprian of Carthage had also explicitly disapproved of such, too! Add that to the admonition in The Martyrdom of Polycarp cited above and we have a consensus in the sources that Christian teachers disdained unprovoked voluntary martyrdom. These are Sherlock's own sources, and they argue specifically against his point.

I'm certain that Christians being covered in pitch and lit on fire for to provide light to Nero's garden were not congratulating themselves. I'm certain that when Diocletian ordered the arrest and imprisonment of all bishops and priests, along with the confiscation or destruction of all church assets that these leaders did not benefit. Sherlock has taken small slivers of historical text and filled them with a 21st century new atheist viewpoint. There is real violence demonstrated in Sherlock's post; unfortunately, it is to history and to the texts themselves. Tomorrow, I will show how even if we grant Sherlock's first premise, it doesn't save his meme.


1. Sherlock, Michael. "Violent Christianity – Refuting the Christian Apologists at Come Reason Ministries." Web. 7-7-2014. Accessed 7-8-2014.
2.Sherlock, Ibid.
3."The Martyrdom of Polycarp."  Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. Web. Accessed 7-8-2014.
4. Sherlock, Ibid.
5. Chadwick, Henry. The Church in Ancient Society: From Galilee to Gregory the Great. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).67.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

For Today's Youth, Life is Theater

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

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

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

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

The Show's the Thing

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Must One Try Out Every Religion Before Knowing Which is True?

This morning, I was approached on Twitter by South Humanist who I believe was reacting to an article I had tweeted by Matt Walsh, describing his conversion from atheism to Christianity.

I think this exchange is helpful to read for two reasons. First, it highlights a common misconception of many atheists that religious beliefs are so shallow that we can simply choose them. As I've written before, one's religious beliefs form the foundation on one's worldview and worldview is our foundation for how we understand everything else.  Everyone has a worldview and even if atheists want to deny they are making any claim that needs defending, they certainly are doing so.

Secondly, the exchange will hopefully show how online interactions can be conducted in a respectful way while still making a point. I think I got my point across, even though South Humanist didn't choose to accept it.  That's fine. The objection is diffused and I've shown that one can hold to a belief without having to check every option available. Such a position is a form of the genetic fallacy and should be rejected.
Here is the Twitter exchange:

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Should Christians Stop Saying They're Blessed by Material Increase?

Affluence is a funny thing, especially in the Christian west. Many times people when they realize that they have achieved more than most feel a bit guilty of that fact. Sometimes it plays out in the way a culture seeks to help the less fortunate, or how the race relations dynamic works, or even how we talk about wealth.

Much of this kind of angst has its origin in a Judeo-Christian worldview. The Bible tells us that we are not of this world (John 18:36) and we are sojourners on this earth (Psalm 119:19). We're given examples such as Abraham who lived in tents in the Promised Land, and we read of those in the early church who sacrificed by giving up their possessions and laying them at the Apostles' feet. Jesus' teachings seemed to show that the rich man was spiritually poor, building new barns while neglecting his soul (Luke 12:13-21) or the man who went away sad choosing not to give away his money to follow Jesus (Luke 18:23).

With all that, it is no surprise that an article is currently making the rounds on social media denouncing the Christian habit of speaking of material success by labeling it a blessing. In his Huffington Post article "The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying," Scott Dannemiller argues that when Christians talk about some success in their lives they reflexively say they've been blessed. Dannemiller admits he's done it himself, but calls it "a lie." He says things like having a good year in business or buying a new car is not a blessing and he cries with urgency that "it has to stop!" He argues:
"First, when I say that my material fortune is the result of God's blessing, it reduces The Almighty to some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers. I can't help but draw parallels to how I handed out M&M's to my own kids when they followed my directions and chose to poop in the toilet rather than in their pants. Sure, God wants us to continually seek His will, and it's for our own good. But positive reinforcement?"
Dannemiller goes on to write:
"The problem? Nowhere in scripture are we promised worldly ease in return for our pledge of faith. In fact, the most devout saints from the Bible usually died penniless, receiving a one-way ticket to prison or death by torture."
Dannemiller is simply wrong. As I pointed out above, there are many teachings that show how those who value their material possessions above spiritual realities are in sin. But to equate that concept to saying "I've been blessed to have success" is nowhere near accurate.  The Bible does in fact make that connection.  In Deuteronomy 28:1-8, when God was imploring the Israelites to follow Him he promises their faithfulness will lead to material blessing:

"And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today… Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock."

In order not to miss the point, God emphasizes that this blessing is monetary in nature just a few verses later: "The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Surely blessing in one's land and in one's livestock increase and in one's barns (you, know, those things that the rich man had to build because he was so rich?) would be clearly understood by an agrarian society.

But it isn't just in Deuteronomy that the theme is discussed. The psalmist equates the farmer's bountiful crops with blessing in Psalm 67. Even Satan complains to God that "You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land" in Job 1:10.

You may object at this point and say, "Those are only Old Testament passages. What about the New Covenant believers have in Christ?" Well, the concept is continued in the New Testament.
  • Paul compared the wealth of the Corinthians to the manna that God bestowed on the Israelites, so "your abundance at the present time should supply their need" (2 Cor. 8:14).
  • In Romans 15:27, Paul writes that the Gentile believers had material blessings and they could use those just like the spiritual blessings they received in becoming believers.
  • The writer of Hebrews tells us that a good crop is a blessing: "For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God." (Heb 6:7)
The problem isn't having material wealth, it is not putting it in its proper perspective. I know people who are not wealthy, but they still think of God as "some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy." In fact, the reason prosperity-gospel preachers succeed is that their congregations, who aren't wealthy, want to be and believe such ilk. 1 Timothy 6:10 doesn't tell us that money is the root of all kinds of evil, but the love of money is. It's emphasis, not accumulation. That's why Proverbs 3:9-10 reads "Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." If you understand that material blessing are truly from God, then you had better treat them as any good steward would: mange them well and hold them a loosely recognizing that they are on loan to you. But don't deny that it is God that truly works in the lives of men to bless whom He will.

Dannimiller's second point is that many impoverished Christians in poor nations would be offended by such an expression as "I've been blessed" for a raise or job promotion. I understand his angst, but this doesn't seem logical at all. If God is sovereign, then He will choose different blessings for different people, just as Paul when writing to the Romans told them that they could benefit from the poorer churches' spiritual growth while they could benefit from the Romans' material wealth. As someone in ministry who relies on donations to survive, I completely understand this point.

Throughout the article, Dannimiller seems to blur the difference between an average Christian and one who holds to the heretical prosperity doctrine, one that I highly repudiate. Of course, heresies are offensive, but is it more offensive for Christians to say "I did all this myself with only myself to thank" or "Thank God for blessing me with time, opportunity and the ability to achieve success"? I would call the first statement a lie well before I would so label the second one.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lists several ways people are called blessed. These truly are blessings, but Jesus never meant this to be an exhaustive list. For example, the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12/14 are also blessings. There are many other types of blessings noted in the Bible as well.  The point is to not condemn people simply because they have been successful or perhaps have more than you. The point is what are you doing with the blessing of material increase that God has provided for you?  Christians are not to try and force the so-called 1% to give their wealth to the poor. Jesus calls on each of us to allow God to bless us so that we may in turn put his blessings to work.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Top Ten #Apologetics Social Media Links

Beyond Come Reason's articles and features, our social media sites also try to keep you up to date on important or relevant articles and events relating to faith, culture, and the Christian worldview. Below are the top ten stories that were clicked on from our Twitter and Facebook pages.
  1. Setting the Record Straight - YouTube Video Playlist  (Originally tweeted on Sep 28)
  2. What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"? (Originally tweeted on Jan 13)
  3. Why I Secretly Root For the Atheists in Debates…  (Originally tweeted on Aug 23)
  4. Billy Graham, Mormonism, and the word "Cult" (Originally tweeted on Oct 23)
  5. Group sex is the latest 'trend' for teenage girls, disturbing report reveals  (Originally tweeted on Dec 29)
  6. Why do they always ask about rape and incest? (Originally tweeted on Oct 24)
  7. Planned Parent Info for Teens: It’s great to be a slut  (Originally tweeted on Nov 12)
  8. Come Reason's Free mp3s (Originally tweeted on June 5)
  9. Answering Bill Nye's Video on Creationism   (Originally tweeted on Sept 7)
  10. Should a Christian Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils?  (Originally tweeted on Nov 5)
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