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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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Friday, March 01, 2013

Why Study Theology?

Do you remember dating your first love? Usually such early dates include miniature golfing or perhaps a meal and a movie, followed by long walks home and telephone conversations in between.  Why is that? Because when you are developing a relationship with someone, you want to get to know them better; you want to know who they are and what interests them.  As the relationship grows, you start to care about what they care about.

Similarly, we study theology to get to know God better, to develop a deeper relationship with him and to understand what it is He cares about so we can care about those things, too.

Theology will help us love God more fully

  • We study theology to help answer Jesus’ question of “Who do people say that I am?”
  • We all have opinions about God, so we are all “practicing theologians.” Therefore the study of theology simply helps us to form right beliefs about questions and opinions we are already forming.
  • A systematic study of God will help us know Him more accurately and therefore more intimately.
  • Romans 12:1-2 commands us to present ourselves as a sacrifice and to renew our minds to discern the perfect will of God.

Theology will help us know ourselves better

  • Theology helps us to see ourselves more clearly in relation to God. Our sin nature tends to weaken our view of sin and diminish our understanding of holiness.  Good theology helps to restore that balance.
  • In Romans 12:3, Paul admonishes the believers to engage their minds, writing: “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Thinking soberly includes analysis of what God has revealed.

Theology will help us mature in our Christian walk

  • “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2 Tim 3:16)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Christianity is the Most Persecuted Faith in the World

Image courtesy smallbones.
It may surprise you that chimpanzees are on the endangered species list. From a population of more than 2 million a century ago, current estimates are that there are no more than 250,000 chimpanzees in the wild.1  Such a reduction in numbers cause many people to rally on behalf of the animals, with various opportunities to pay thousands of dollars to help stop the shrinking populations.

Trying to protect chimps from extinction is not an unworthy cause. However, there is another group that has seen a similar loss in numbers in the last twenty years. In 1990, there were between 1.2 million to 1.4 million Christians living in Iraq. Today there are less than 200,000, according to Dr. Rupert Shortt. In his recent article Christianophobia, Shortt make the startling claim that "Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers" in the world today, and thus Christianity has surpassed Judaism as the most persecuted faith. He says that in the Middle East Christianity is so persecuted that it could become extinct in the place of its birth. "There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands. Anthony O'Mahony of Heythrop College, London, echoes other scholars in estimating that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the region have left or been killed over the past century."2

In her article on the report, Evelyn Gordon observes:
There are two reasons why Christianity has displaced Judaism as the world's most persecuted religion. One, obviously, is increased persecution of Christians, which stems largely from the rise of radical Islam: Though non-Islamic countries like China also repress Christians, only radical Islamists kill them wholesale. The other is that today, Jews face less persecution than ever before in history. And that is entirely due to the existence of the State of Israel.3
It is evident that Islam is a primary reason for the growing persecution of Christians specifically. Shortt's report offers a detailed look at seven nations (Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma, and China) to bolster his argument of the persecution Christians face. He concludes by noting that religious freedoms are commonly found in countries that are traditionally Christian, while the countries with the most persecutions are those that are either traditionally Islam or those with Communist governments.

Quoting from the Pew Forum and the World Evangelical Alliance, Dr. Shortt estimates that "200 million Christians (10 per cent of the global total) are socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs."4 He also highlights the fact that religious freedom is important, because it serves as a barometer for the general amount of freedom a country offers its citizens. "Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally."5

So, with Christians in Nigeria being bombed inside their churches, the killing of Christian converts in Pakistan, or Copts being burned alive in Egypt, there is a crisis in the world due to religious persecution. So, how valuable are these Christians who face life-threatening conditions? Are we willing to do as much for them as for the chimpanzees? Should there not be an outcry from citizens of free nations so that western governments demand such atrocities stop? If the canary in the mine dies, you know that it will be only a matter of time before you will, too.  Perhaps we had better take these warnings seriously.


1. "Chimpanzee". Primate Info Net. <>  Accessed 2/27/2013.
2. Shortt, Rupert. Christianophobia. (London: Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society, 2012). Available online at  viii.
3. Gordon, Evelyn. "Religious Persecution and Safe Havens." Commentary. , 2/26/2013.
4. Shortt.Ibid.
5. Ibid.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Big Bang is Not the Enemy of Theology

The Big Bang is a term that's very familiar to most people, but many Christians seem to be afraid to hold to such a concept. However, the idea of a Big Bang is really not the enemy of theology. See, nobody can explain what the Big Bang actually is. The main idea of the Big Bang is simple: at some point in the past, the universe was created. It didn't exist and then it did. Exactly when it happened is a separate question and the answers have changed as scientists find out more. But the concept of the Big Bang—that the universe came into existence at a point in time that we can number—is really a ground shaking idea in science.

We're Running Down the Clock (The universe can't be infinitely old)

It makes sense that the universe cannot be infinitely old. You see, what Russell did without knowing it is he substituted his own line of turtles for the old lady's. If the universe is infinitely old, then we'd have a never-ending chain of events going back, back, back without a beginning. Now think about that for a minute. If the universe is infinitely old, that means that it had to start an infinite amount of time ago, right? But if the universe started an infinite amount of time ago, that means that it would take an infinite amount of time to get to where we are today. But we're here, so how did we cross infinity and get to its end if infinity has no end? Since we're here, we know that the universe had to have started less than an infinite amount of time ago. Otherwise, it's like turtles all the way back, as opposed to turtles all the way down because it uses an infinite regress of time. Since the universe is experienced inside of time, then it must have a starting point, a beginning some finite amount of time ago.

We're Running out of Steam (The universe is losing functional energy)

There's another interesting thing that we notice about the universe. It's like a wound-up clock that is continually running down. We see this all the time in our lives. If I pour myself a hot cup of coffee, I would want to drink it within a reasonable amount of time from when I poured it. Why do I say that? Because my coffee's going to get cold. How can I tell whether a coffee cup has been sitting for five minutes or over an hour? I simply touch it and see if it's still hot. Coffee can't stay hot on its own, since it loses its heat energy to its surroundings. This is called entropy, which states that all things in our universe are radiating away their energy. Every battery you have will eventually run out of juice whether you use it or not. Every coffee cup will eventually run out of steam. Even our sun and our earth, anything that holds heat, will eventually turn cold and dark to a point where everything in the universe is equal. There will be no functional motion at all. So if everything is running down, it follows that everything was wound up to some point in the beginning, and the clock's moving forward in a certain direction.

We're Running Away from Everything Else (The effects of the Big Bang are still seen)

There are more reasons, however, than just the winding-down of the universe for knowing that it had a beginning. Scientific discoveries made in the 20th century have been so astounding, they have pretty much put Russell's assertion of "no reason to assert the world has a beginning" to rest. The first was when famed astronomer Edwin Hubble calculated the speeds at which all of the galaxies in the universe are moving. He found that they are moving away from each other, and they separate faster the farther apart they are from each other. This was just the kind of motion one would see in the aftermath of an explosion; everything that exploded would be moving away from each other to greater distances. Since all the galaxies were acting this way (and it didn't matter where in the universe you looked), Hubble came to the conclusion that they were all together at one point and there was some kind of an explosion, and that's what's causing everything to separate as it does. It validates the Big Bang.

One of the most definitive discoveries happened in 1965, when two scientists who were listening to the sounds of space heard a distinct type of noise found throughout the universe. What they heard was background radiation which is a kind of the noise that would accompany the Big Bang. It was the confirmation everyone was looking for to prove that the universe did indeed originate with a bang. After their discovery was published, even scientists who still held out against the concept were forced to accept the Big Bang as the origin of the universe. This is a huge development because it means that scientists were in all in agreement in that the universe began to exist at some point in the past. NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow put it this way:
"For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

Jastrow, Robert. God and the Astronomers (Toronto: George J. McLeod, 2000)107.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is the Media Biased on Same-Sex Marriage

This weekend, Patrick Peyton, Ombudsman with the Washington Post published a piece on how he and a reporter from the Post exchanged an animated dialog with a reader over the paper's coverage of the same-sex marriage issue. As Mollie Hemingway pointed out in her column over at Get Religion "the reporter reveals some breathtaking bigotry about the people he or she is supposed to be covering." But Paxton, whose job as Ombudsman is supposed to be the people's advocate and voice to the paper, is just as complicit in his complete ignorance of the reasoning that social conservatives use when discussing the issue.

By Pablo Perez

The primary problem is identified by Rod Dreher. He states:
"Most reporters and editors, in my 20 years of experience, do not set out to slant stories, and in fact try to be fair. The bias that creeps into their coverage is typically the result of a newsroom monoculture, in which they don't see the bias because everybody, or nearly everybody, within that culture agrees on so much. In the case of gay rights and the marriage debate, though, they don't even make an effort to be fair."
Dreher says that the reporters, editors, and others in most mainstream journalism outlets fall back on the concept that "error has no rights." In other words, we reporters know that you traditional values folks (or worse "religionists" as Peyton called us) are really backwards buffoons, and therefore your opinion isn't even worth understanding. This belief is assumed to be true, even as it vilifies a significant portion of the population. So, there is no vast left-wing conspiracy, but a general unrecognized level of groupthink by the media.

Of course throughout the original post, Peyton continually misunderstands both the concern of the reader and the argument we have against same-sex marriage.  He falls back yet again to the old trope that its basis is the same as bigotry against mixed race marriages. But such a comparison is as insulting as it is pig-headed. As I've noted in a recent podcast, marriage is the only institution that allows our society to continue through the act of procreation and the rearing of children. There is no other institution that will bring us the next generation. No other. Not one.  Homosexual unions by their very definition cannot do this. Sure they can adopt children, or maybe "borrow" a gamete from the opposite sex to birth children. But such measures will never produce an entire generation of citizens. In fact, books like Huxley's Brave New World cry out against the divorce of human procreation from its natural biological origins.

Hemingway I think hits the nail on the head when she writes:
Here's what needs to happen. Right now. Every reporter — no matter the beat, no matter how much in the tank for redefining marriage, no matter how close-minded they've been to this point — every reporter needs to stop what they're doing and read "What is Marriage."

It's a very easy-to-read book that succinctly explains the traditionalist arguments surrounding marriage. Refusing to learn the arguments of those who oppose changing the law must end. It simply must end. The ignorance and bigotry with which reporters have covered this topic is a scandal. It's destroying civil political discourse, it's embarrassing and can't continue.

Reporters don't need to change their deeply-held biases in favor of changing marriage law. But they do need to learn even a little bit about the arguments of those who oppose such a change.

No reporter working today should ever make the error of comparing arguments against marriage redefinition with anti-miscegenation laws. It's clownish and easily disputed.
Such a step is one of the bare minimum requirements for the job of journalism. Get the facts straight first, and then you can report the news accurately.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Ten Great Movies to Use in Apologetics

Yesterday was the annual Academy Awards ceremony, where those in the motion picture industry celebrate their craft. It is a major event that is televised all over the world, primarily because of the huge amount of clout and status movies play in modern culture. Motion pictures influence our morality and our worldview more than most realize. Plato's statement "Those who tell the stories rule society" is shown to really be true.

In the past, I've offered a list of ten movies that Christians should see but are generally neglected today. However, in lieu of the Oscar festivities, I'd like to take a different tact. Here is my list of ten movies that you should be using in your apologetic. Each one of these movies will help you in some way share an important truth about the Christian worldview. If you'd like to hear more about exactly how these movies can be used in witnessing efforts, check out this CD teaching entitled "Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share the Gospel".

10. The Book of Eli
How does divine providence work? If you have God's protection does that mean it will be easy? Here's a great way to see how God can be working in the lives of His servants like Eli who know that they must follow His calling even if situations don't fall into place as they should. The film is marred by a lot of gore and too much foul language, and that's how it gets its R rating.* It makes me wish I could own the version they show on the airlines, so know that going in, but the primary message is still fascinating.

9. The Matrix
Want to get a conversation started about spiritual things?  There's no better fodder than the original Matrix. Keanu Reeves stars as Neo, a young computer hacker who finds out that it is actually his mind that has been hacked and everything he thinks is real is nothing more than a computer simulation. This film, directed by the Wachowski brothers, takes on more philosophical and spiritual themes than you can count, but the biggest is the idea that the beliefs we're most comfortable with may in fact be false ones and we may need to give up our comfort for the truth.

8. Spider-Man 3
What if the thing that makes you feel better, more powerful, and more popular is also a more subtle and seductive side of evil that is unknowingly changing you into something else? Peter Parker must grapple with a temptation that is making his soul as black as his suit. This movie illustrates how sin works. Sometimes the thing that makes you feel better is not necessarily better for you.

7. Twelve Angry Men
This is the only movie that I repeated from my last list, but that's because it so poignantly  portrays one man's desire to sway others to the truth of a matter even if their prejudices make then want to believe otherwise. Henry Fonda must be understanding but firm, never giving up on his convictions. This is the way to argue for your position.

6. The Truman Show
The Truman Show has a single message: Reality is important.  Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank, a person whose whole life has been fabricated for a reality television show. Sensing that there's more out there than he's been told, Truman becomes increasingly determined to find out the truth of the world, even risking death.  The movie is a bit heavy on the religious allusions (The show's and thus Truman's creator is named Christof after all!), this film demonstrates why seeking a reality beyond what one has experienced is part of what it means to be truly human.

5. Amazing Grace
This is the only movie with an overtly Christian message in the list, and that's on purpose. Most friends and family will roll their eyes at a Christian who wants to invite them over for a Christian movie night.  However, this story ties the John Newton hymn in with William Wilberforce's twenty year struggle to outlaw the slave trade in Britain, so it has broader historical implications. It is a fine example of both how Christians can lobby for unpopular views that are ultimately moral and how the Christian worldview, specifically that all men are equally valuable has played a major role in the betterment of civilization.

4. Inception
Can you change a belief?  While Inception spends a lot of time on the question of dreams versus reality, that's not its real target. No, Inception is about how we form beliefs. Cobb states that while he cannot make a man believe something by dreaming, he can plant a seed in a man that will then become a real belief inside the man. "The smallest seed of an idea can grow. It can grow to define, or destroy you."

3. The Dark Knight
Another of Christopher Nolan's films, this second installment of the Batman trilogy hits exactly on concepts of sacrifice and redemption, when Commissioner Gordon states "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Certainly Jesus saw both of those concepts come to pass and in a similar manner, Batman must ultimately take the sin of others upon himself for the greater good of saving society.  However, this movie is not quite that neat as it also brings up the question of "Do the ends justify the means?" However, you fall on this, it makes for some great discussion.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird
Standing by one's convictions can be scary, even dangerous, but such acts can also have implications that ripple well beyond what one would expect. In this classic adaptation of Harper Lee's novel, Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, a lawyer in a 1930's southern town defending a black man against the charge of raping a white woman. Atticus' determination to do the right thing leaves a marked impression on his children and ultimately on all those who finally see the truth.

1. Lord of the Rings Trilogy
It would simply be unfair to leave off the superb film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's masterful tale. This is how the most unassuming of individuals can step in and do what little they can, and how it can mean so much. Tolkien infused not only Frodo, but also his heroic and reliable friend Samwise Gamgee with a will that overcomes the most difficult of circumstances in order that good should triumph. As Tolkien put it in the books "It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till." This is a call to apologetics if ever I heard one.

*Thanks to Trevor Sloane for reminding me to add this caution.
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