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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
First, these cases (yes they do indeed occur) make up a such a small percentage of the total number of abortions performed they really aren't indicative of why abortions are performed. One cannot weigh the exceptions to the rule in order to determine whether the law should apply at all. Imagine if we began a discussion on laws regarding theft and people kept saying "but what about those who must steal food because they are starving?" This exception doesn't change the fact that stealing is wrong.
One may claim that the abortion issue is different. "But this is so personal. The child will be a constant reminder of the crime" they may say. This is true; but in no other case do we intentionally punish the child for the crime of the parent, even when the child's conception is a direct result of the crime. The Mary Kay Letourneau case is a prime example. Letourneau was a 35 year old middle school teacher in Washington who was convicted of raping her sixth grade student Vili Fualaau and subsequently conceiving. So, should the conceived child be eliminated since it is a direct product of Letourneau's criminal behavior? Letourneau repeated her crime and was in prison while carrying her second child from Fualaau. Should she have been required to abort the baby for the victim's sake? Must Fualaau's parents be subjected to the repeated reminder of their young son being manipulated by an evil seductress who stole the innocence of a child?
Here's another scenario: imagine a woman was raped without her knowledge and conceives. Perhaps she's passed out on a bed after drinking too much at a party or she was slipped something like Rohypnol. She wakes up the next morning sore and disoriented but doesn't have any recollection of the actual intercourse, simply a lot of questions. She returns home and believes that she became pregnant with her husband. However upon birth, genetic testing reveals that the baby isn't his. She puts the pieces together and realizes that she had been raped. Can she now ask that the baby be destroyed? She doesn't want a child that will remind her of that awful crime that happened to her. Is it OK to at that point kill the child?
I think those who discuss the problem of abortion with others should begin to push back on the rape and incest question before answering it. I would like to ask reporters if Letourneau should have been forced to abort while she was in prison. Why is it not OK to kill a newborn if we find out that the child was the product of rape after it was born? If the guiding principle is that the life of a baby is precious enough that we can handle the issue or remembrance in more humane ways (say adoption), then that should apply in all cases of rape and incest. If not, then the pro-abortion proponents must show what distinctions there are between a baby who has just been born or a baby who will be.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Image courtesy the More Good Foundation.
Two subjects one is supposed to avoid in casual conversation are religion and politics. Either of these topics has been known to divide friendships, create animosity, and cause general discord at social gatherings. So, it should be no wonder that the recent endorsement of presidential candidate Mitt Romney by Billy Graham would grab attention. In the evangelical community, the Graham/Romney link made headlines for a different reason. Billy Graham's organization removed some content on their web site where it defines Mormonism as a cult of Christianity. Given that Romney has been very public about his adherence to the teachings of the Mormon Church, does this change mean that Graham's organization is compromising a religious stance for political gain?
Ken Barun, the BGEA's chief of staff who was quoted in the Washington Post, confirmed that the organization removed the article labeling Mormonism a cult. However, he said it was to neuter misperceptions attached to the word that could be used improperly in a charged-up election. "Our primary focus at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has always been promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We removed the information from the website because we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign." OK—I can understand that in our "gotcha" media mindset, there are those both online and in the mainstream media that would seek to hoist the BGEA on its own petard, so to speak. I mean this wouldn't be the first time that a Christian organization was misrepresented by the secular press. But it does leave the question of whether the label of cult should be used for Mormonism unresolved.
Labels and LanguageThis situation brings up a point that I've been thinking much about lately. Whenever I speak with those in the general public, they are usually taken aback if they hear the word "cult" used in connection with the LDS. In fact, I've received a fairly hostile response to the charge and even lost a friend who felt that I was being excessively bigoted and narrow in calling Mormonism a cult. People may or may not have had a Mormon acquaintance, but they are pretty uniform in what they think the word cult means.
Part of the problem here is that language changes. I was recently listening to a lecture on how the Bible has been translated by Dr. Daniel Wallace and he pointed out how the 1950 Revised Standard Version became outdated within some thirty years due to our shifting meaning in language. For example, Psalm 50:9 has God declaring to Israel "I will accept no bull from your house." Now, the audience in1950 may understand this as a denial of a sacrifice, but the phrase means something very different to anyone today. Similarly, we never use the word "gay" in conversations with friends to mean happy or carefree, regardless of our position on homosexuality. Because the primary understanding of these words is now different, we must construct new sentences to help us get our idea across with as little misunderstanding as possible.
In our modern day, the word "cult" falls unfortunately under this rubric. Traditionally, we've used the word cult in two ways. It was primarily a theological definition to mark a group or teaching that claimed to hold to Christian beliefs, while diverging from them on essential doctrine. Rob Bowman's definition of a cult is "A religious group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining fervent commitment to heresy." The BGEA also had defined the word in this sense. The other way the word cult was understood was in a sociological sense, as a kind of fully devoted allegiance that may or may not be reasonable (think of a cult fad, or the cult of personality.) However, in the last thirty to forty years, several theological cults whose followers held an almost slavish devotion to the pronouncements of their leader were given much attention in the media. Over 900 people committed suicide following Jim Jones in the jungles of South America. In the 1993, David Koresh and the Branch Davidians' stand-off with the federal government was front page news. Add to that the Raelians and the Warren Jeffs' polygamy case and one can see why the word cult now paints a markedly different picture from the theological definition it originally held.
Definitional DistinctionsI grant that the word isn't communicating what I desire, but apologists and evangelists still have a problem here, and it is one the Mormon hierarchy themselves have created. In their advertising and in their proselytizing, Mormons continue to claim that they are a Christian faith. Past president Gordon Hinckley even stated "We are Christians in a very real sense"even though Mormon doctrine denies all of the essentials of historic Christianity from the nature of God to the result of the fall to the atonement and even how many divine beings exist! It is therefore vital for the faithful defender of the faith to draw a sharp distinction to these differences lest someone assume that Mormonism is a legitimate choice for those wishing to faithfully follow Christ and His teachings.
So, how do Christian apologists best define the distinctions between those belief systems that seek to claim Jesus as their own while holding to fundamentally different concepts on the essential nature of God, Jesus, salvation, man, and eternity? What word do we use to clearly separate the two? I've used the word cult in the past and while it clearly communicated the distinction to those who understand the differences already, the new connotation may burn more bridges than it builds. Are other labels adequate for the task? The word "heretical" is outdated. "Pseudo-Christians" or "faux-Christians" feel forced and awkward. Defining Mormonism as a "new religious movement" doesn't capture the concept that Mormons are claiming to be the true church started by Jesus.
The Need for a WordAnd that's the rub. As long as the LDS continue to claim that they are Christian and that their roots are grounded in the Bible as well as the book of Mormon, then they force the historic church to make a distinction; we just need a word to communicate the difference. The Greek word πλάνος (planao) captures the idea. We find the word in Matthew 24:24 when Jesus says "For false Christs and false prophets will arrive and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead (planao), if possible, even the elect." It means "to confuse' or "to lead astray" and can be used of religious seduction toward idolatry. Maybe we can trade on that concept. I think that if I'm in conversation with friends and I state that Mormonism is a seduction away from Christianity; that would go much further in communicating that there's a difference from Christianity while still showing the claims of Mormonism as being Christian. I think I'll give that a try. If you have other ideas, let me know them as well.
 Bowman, Robert M. "A Biblical Guide To Orthodoxy And Heresy" as quoted by Apologetics Index. http://www.apologeticsindex.org/c09.html#sociotheolo Accessed 10/22/2012.
 "Are Mormons Christians?" Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints web site. http://mormon.org/faq/mormon-christian. Accessed 10/22/2012.
Monday, October 01, 2012
Blomberg, Craig L. Historical Reliability of the Gospels.
(Downers Grove, Il.: IVP Academic, 2007). 304.
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
"For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. ... But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. ... He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."
References: Heb 7:26-27, 8:6, 9:12
Monday, September 24, 2012
As an apologist, from time to time I have had friends or church members approach me and ask what would be a good book to help them better defend their faith. Usually, this is prompted by some recent conversation where they've received some criticism on Christianity. They are usually looking for a "silver bullet" book, i.e. a single title that will address the specific issue with a quick comeback their interlocutors cannot refute. Such books do exist to some extent; Paul Copan’s True For You But Not For Me and Gleason Archer’s Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties are immediate examples that come to mind. But I am hesitant on just tossing out a couple of titles and walking away.
You see, in dealing with atheists, skeptics, and those in aberrant religious movements, one sees the scripture abused in many different ways. I am constantly confronted by arguments that use poor reasoning, passages taken out of context, or modern meanings forced onto ancient texts. Unfortunately, too many times I’ve seen Christians who try to defend their faith become guilty of these exact same abuses. Sometimes, it feels like you are giving a power tool to a toddler; while the tool is the right one for the job, in immature hands it can damage the project and possible hurt the operator! This is where Love your God with All Your Mind plays a pivotal role. The book doesn’t tell you what to say, but it helps you better understand the fact that Christianity has always been a faith of the intellect as much as one of the heart. It doesn’t teach you apologetics as much as it teaches you that a disciplined, thoughtful approach to how we develop our intellect is as much an act of worship as raising our hands on Sunday morning or dropping money in a plate.
The book is clear and accessible. It’s not overly large. J.P.’s chapters include titles such as “The Mind’s Role in Spiritual Formation”, “Harassing the Hobgoblins of the Christian Mind”, and “Clearing the Cobwebs from My Mental Attic”. Each chapter helps take the man or woman in the pew from being a passive or even anti-intellectual Christian to a mature and thoughtful believer. J.P. shows how Jesus Himself modeled a strong intellectual capacity when dealing with questions from the Pharisees or Sadducees. He notes that charges of faith and reason being opposed to one another are actually lies that the enemies of Christianity promulgated. Somehow the church swallowed these lies and now believes that faith and reason live in separate spheres. With no intellectual stimulation or the ability of even their pastors to take on the difficult objections so common today, it’s no wonder that kids going off to college quickly drop out of church for what they see as a more satisfying combination of secular scholarship and morally loose living.
NavPress has this month released a completely new edition of the book for its fifteenth anniversary, and it has been revised and expanded with a lot of new content. Specifically, chapters seven through nine have been completely replaced. They now contain a more direct apologetics message and present J.P.’s case for the existence of God and why the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ ministry, message, and resurrection are reliable. On top of that, J.P. and Joseph Gorra have produced a great study guide to accompany the book that can be downloaded from J.P.’s web site for free.
I think that Love your God with All Your Mind needs to be read by every Christian. The challenges believers will face will not be easier in the future. In fact, given the popularity of books by the New Atheists as well as the more prominent chatter found on the Internet and social media, Christians are being pressed harder for real answers for their faith. That is why I usually put it on the top three books that I would recommend to any Christian. The Christian mind affects all aspects of Christian life, and the modern church has by and large abandoned its responsibility for nurturing that mind to maturity.
Even the fundamental Christian activity of evangelism relies heavily on the life of the mind. One of the quotations that J.P. offers in the book is from one of the early leaders of evangelicalism, J. Gresham Machen:
1. Machen, John Gresham. What Is Christianity? Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1951. 162. As cited from Moreland, J.P. Love Your God with All Your Mind. Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 1997. 63.
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