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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, February 07, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #9... A Romance Story?

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions I'm continuing building my list of top books that I have found valuable in building my defense of the faith, but are not as well-known as some others.  Some are more technical or academic in nature; others are not thought of as a  teaching tool for apologists.  My next entry falls into the latter category.

Number nine in my list as a little book entitled Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin Abbott Abbot.  Now, given the title, you might think that a romance book is a crazy thing to place in a list of apologetics texts, but this little work, written in 1884, is actually a scathing commentary on the  restricted class structure Abbott saw in England at the time.  What makes the book more valuable, though, is how Abbott deftly explains  why the constraint of a dimensional boundary limits the way one can understand life. Indeed, the resistance Mr. Square (our story's narrator) puts up in trying to grasp a third dimension and how being able to traverse in three dimensions would make observers in the lower dimensions react as if they were seeing a miracle. For example, a three dimensional being could seemingly miraculously "pop" into a two dimensional plane by simply rising above the plane, moving forward and then descending back into the two dimensional space again. It also brings up interesting speculations (and since they are only speculations, I won't elaborate further) of  what our resurrection bodies could be capable of.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions is truly a mind-stretching book  Best of all, since it was written nearly 130 years ago, it is in the public domain and free for download.  You can grab either the Kindle version or many other versions, including PDF to read on your device or print out. If you'd like a physical book, you can get the annotated edition from Amazon here.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists - #10 Theory of Knowledge

Theory of Knowledge
Apologists are all about resources. Sourcing material, gathering good arguments and examples, and trading knowledge are ways people grow in defending their faith. So recommended books, videos, podcasts, and such are replete in apologetics circles.

 I'm getting asked fairly regularly about book recommendations and resources, but rather than simply put together a top ten list of titles that also appear on other lists, I've decided to look at some of the lesser known books that have played a role in my growth as an apologist. Therefore, I've decided to start a list of Top Ten Neglected Books for Apologists. These are books that don't make most lists, but are very worthwhile.

 Kicking off the list is #10 - Theory of Knowledge by Roderick M. Chisholm. Chisholm is a masterful philosopher and this is a very well written book on epistemology - basically, how we know that we know things. It is deceptively short at 99 pages, but it requires careful study and the student should plan on devoting many hours to read it slowly and master its contents.  If you've ever wanted to know what ideas like what really constitutes beyond reasonable doubt or why you don't have to be certain of something to have knowledge, then this book is for you.

I believe the book is out of print, but Amazon does have links to used versions available online. Follow this link to find them.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Book of Mormon's Slip is Showing

Have you ever watched the History Channel show Pawn Stars? Although many customers are obviously pre-selected and the facts are scripted ahead of time, my boys still like to watch how different quirky items claiming to be from years past get inspected to see if they're the real deal (and worth some real money) or simply forgeries that are worthless. I find it interesting as to how the experts that the staff call into the store look for telltale clues as to the legitimacy of the item.

The reason I bring this up is I recently came across a passage in the book of Mormon that would set off all the bells and whistles of Rick Harrison and his crew immediately. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Nephi was part of a wave of Hebrew exiles, fleeing the Babylonians that were conquering Jerusalem at that time. These refugees supposedly built boats and sailed to the Americas, as they were told by God. Nephi also recounts how he had known of a stunning prophecy of the coming Messiah; a prophecy that gives more detail about the Savior to come than any Old Testament prophet ever did.  He writes:
"For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God." (2 Nephi 25:19)
Here's my question. At this date in history, the Babylonian empire was at its zenith. They would be overthrown by the Medo-Persians. We also have this book itself claiming it was written in "reformed Egyptian." The Greeks didn't come along until some 300 years later.

So, given all this, how in the world would Nephi use a word like "Christ", which is a transliteration of the Greek word Χριστός, the language of the New Testament? Hebrew prophets before Nephi would've called Jesus "anointed one" or "Messiah" (משיח), but not "Christ". Greece was a series of fragmented city-states at that time that fought among themselves as much as fighting any others. It wasn't until after Alexander the Great conquered the known world by 323 B.C. did the establishment of Greek as the common language become  settled across the empire.

But here we see a supposed Hebrew prophet who was raised near Jerusalem and could write in a modified Egyptian language using a term for the Messiah that only comes from a Greek word.  Does this sound believable?  It's kind of like claiming you found a book written by George Washington where, when visiting New York he borrowed a 20th century advertising slogan and exclaimed, "I love the Big Apple!" Such points are clear signs that the book's author sits well outside its historical setting - and they are a clear sign of a forged document.

Friday, January 13, 2012

What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"?

Modern culture runs at a pace faster than ever before. Unfortunately, some important practices fall victim to all that acceleration. One of the more concerning things I have seen is the proclivity of Christians to jump onto nice, neat slogans about their faith instead of really knowing what their faith is about. This is what I would call bumper-sticker Christianity, where people affirm phrases like "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Well, cannot a Muslim make the exact same claim?

My concern is highlighted by a new video that is catching fire around the internet seeks to draw a distinction between religion and Jesus. ;Entitled "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus," street rhymer Jeff Bethke starts off with a bang, claiming that "Jesus came to abolish religion." He then begins a nearly four minute contrast between the problems of religion and the true faith expressed by Jesus and others in the Bible. Obviously, the video has struck a chord in the greater Christian community. The YouTube page shows over six million hits in just over two days. But I think Bethe not only is fostering a wrong view, he may actually be doing more harm than good in certain instances.

In the video's description, Bethke writes "In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it's core Jesus' gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered." And this highlights the problem with the video--Bethke is simply wrong in his definition of religion.

When most people talk about religion, they understand that it involves an entire system of thought, including what God is like, what it means to be moral, and what kind of worship practices are acceptable, and when you talk about worship, you are specifically talking about relating to God in some way. So relationship does come into play when we are talking about religion!

Many of Bethke's examples are not of religion, but of hypocrisy. "They might preach grace but another thing they practice" and "It's like sayin' you play for the Lakers because you bought the jersey." He draws from Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27 in saying that "religion's like spraying perfume on a casket." But that's not what Jesus said. Earlier in the same book Jesus says explicitly, "“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill".(Matt 5:17). Jesus was denouncing the Pharisees abuse of Jewish law, not the Jewish religious system as a whole.

Other claims, such as "If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor?" are not only patently false, it shows how prevalent the influence of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been to even those inside the church. Clearly, Bethke knows nothing of the history of Christendom and hasn't thought his statements through. And if other Christians concede the New Atheists' point on religion being only about starting wars and big buildings with no care for the poor, then doesn't it make it that much easier for people to abandon all faith altogether?

The video culminates with Bethke claiming “One thing is vital to mention. How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one is the work of God, but one's a man made invention. See, one is the cure, but the other's the infection.”  These are incredibly strong words. The problem with such an oversimplification is that I know people who will affirm that statement and still be in the very predicament he's trying to warn people against. As I've previously written (you can read the whole account here), I had an encounter at a Starbucks with a woman who very definitely said she felt we shouldn't "over-complicate our approach to God and make it all about religion. I think that people try to make things too hard, when it's all about relationship." But while affirming the "it's not religion, it's a relationship" line, she couldn't tell me why such a relationship was necessary. She held onto the slogan, but had no idea of the nature of the atonement. So, the relationship is one that she understood as a feeling between her and God, not Him dealing with our sin and our proper response to that act.

The phrase of "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" is one I've heard countless times and from many pulpits. The nature of the atonement is a little harder to boil down into a catchy saying. However, no one will understand the true nature of salvation without understanding the atonement. Grace is found in the cross, and we must be diligent to make that the main message of our witnessing. But it means we need to do some hard work; we need to study and make sure that what we say is accurate and we don't misrepresent another's views. I applaud Bethke's desire to see more people be genuine in their faith. However, such desire should never lead us to rely on slogans over proper theology. You never know who may agree with the slogan but still go away lost.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2011 Top Five Apologetics Podcast Topics

The Come Let Us Reason Together podcast has been one of the most popular features of our ministry. With 90,000 downloads last year alone, our weekly podcast continues to provide thoughtful instruction on important apologetics issues.  We've been blessed to again be counted among the top 16 apologetics podcasts by the well-respected Apologetics 316 web site.

Below are the top five topics downloaded in our 2011 releases. If you haven't yet subscribed to the podcast, you can do so via iTunes or by RSS.
  1. Did Christianity Steal from Mystery Religions?
  2. Dealing with Bible Contradictions
  3. The Case Against Homosexual Marriage
  4. Who Chose What to Include in the Bible?
  5. Looking at Eastern Religions: Hinduism & Buddhism
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