It's About People

An apologetic that can do little more than continually talk about itself is not worth the effort exerted or ink spilled over it. (1)

 

When I read this sentence something inside of me resonated. I’d thought too much about the process of apologetics. When I wrote my book, Apologetics for the Rest of Us,  one of the driving forces was that too many books I’d read on apologetics were written for other apologists. Theologians and philosophers do this too, and if you don’t speak their lingo you don’t get much of what they’ve written. What’s that about? Few apologetics books, if any, were written for the person in the pew, the person apologists are supposed to help. Something is wrong with this picture.

 

I read a lot of blogs, maybe too many. A good hour of my morning is spent cruising websites and blogs to see what’s being said. However, too many blogs are about the bloggers, what they’re doing and trying to accomplish. What is worse is when i read different apologetic or theological camps that downgrade the camps they don’t agree with. I find it wearisome.

 

This happens with seminaries, too. Over the last five to ten years more seminaries have entered the arena providing graduate degrees in apologetics. Fifteen years ago, when I was looking for a place to learn apologetics there were two. Biola in California and Southern Evangelical (SES) in North Carolina. I chose SES more because of proximity as I was living in New Jersey. Since then there’s several more schools that have come on board: Liberty University and Houston Baptist Seminary are two that come to mind. There are others as well. The problem I encounter is that this too becomes a place to denigrate the others.

 

You’d think that the camps that excel in critical thinking would get this one right. Instead of competing we ought to be completing each other. Each school mentioned above has a strength the others lack. In turn, each has weaknesses the others don’t, too. There ought to be a cross fertilization going on, not rivalry.

 

It is interesting that the quote I began with comes from an author whose apologetic method is different than mine. In fact, these two camps have been outright hostile toward each other at times. Unfortunately, at one time I bought into it. However, fortunately, God is good and changed my intellectual condition. I began to see the merits of other camps and schools. Allies are a good thing.

The real point in all this is the awareness that if apologetics is not helping the person in the pew build and defend their faith as they evangelize the world around them, it really doesn’t matter that we get all the ducks in a row or eggs in the basket. It’s a flop, a waste of time.

 

The message is about people, always has been. In Genesis we learn God created an extravagant universe right down to a special garden to fellowship with people. Not animals, not amoeba, not plants, trees, or mountains, but people. When God called Abraham it was to build a family of people. Israel became a nation of people. Jesus was born into a family of people to redeem people. The church is made up of people. Ministry gifts are given for people. One day the Lord is coming back for his people. Can we get it straight? We’re here for God’s people. We serve the Lord to reach people, win people and help to build people. It’s all about the people.

 

When apologetics gets so introverted that it cannot see the reason for its existence, that’s a problem.

 

 1 Oliphint, K. Scott (2013-07-31). Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (p. 25). Crossway. Kindle Edition.

Jesus Didn't Come To Make Bad People Good . . .

Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live. - CS Lewis

I would have loved to had said this first, but somewhere CS Lewis wrote it, I read it, and it stuck. Admittedly, this is one of my favorite quotes and I have lots of them. This is so simple, yet it is so profound.

Many Christians in the west seem to care a lot about morals and good behavior. Even when we look at certain lifestyles we seem to be more interested in the behavior of a person rather than the condition of the person. We judge people’s behavior all the time.

The person isn’t necessarily a “bad” person, but a “dead” person. Isn’t this what the Scripture tells us about ourselves? Didn’t Paul say, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins?” Does God help our behavior? Of course, He does, but maybe not the way you think He does. 

Reflecting on the role and work of an apologist I must return to the gospel. If we don’t get this right, it doesn’t matter how well we make a defense. The illustration of buttoning your shirt or blouse comes to mind again. If you don’t get the first button right it doesn’t matter how you button the others. You can mess the other up, too, but you have to get that first one right to have a correct starting point.

Knowing the gospel is that first button. What is the gospel? What did Jesus come to do? What happens when we give ourselves to Jesus Christ? Sometimes I hear answers to these questions that make me cringe. Yes, Jesus came to provide forgiveness of sin, but not so I could go on sinning. In fact, the transformation in my life ought to make me go a completely different direction than the one I was traveling on.

The message of the New Testament is that God sent His Son to redeem and restore me. He redeems me to Himself and restores me to Himself. As a result, I am a changed individual. Paul said it this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  (Galatians 2:20).

For me, conversion was a catastrophic event. Someone said it was like a “train wreck.” Everything in my life changed. Most of my friends left me; I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing before. My worldview radically changed. Explaining what happened to me was another story. At first, I couldn’t explain it at all. I walked away from a lot of conversations because I couldn’t explain my conversion experience. But that changed too. I began to understand what God did in my life.

Now I go even further and explain why my experience can be validated by the evidence found in the New Testament for the message of the Gospel. Jesus isn’t just one of many, nor is he a false or fake person. Jesus embodies the truth of God to redeem us and put us on the path that continually leads us to the all-loving and all-powerful God.

The gospel is the message - apologetics is the seasoning, the adjunct, the ancillary, the handmaiden to evangelism if you will. If we convey the message correctly and people embrace Jesus because He is the answer to their need, they will have new life, not just new behavior. Jesus didn’t come to make bad people good, but dead people live.

5 Books on Archeology Every Christian Should Read, by Ted Wright

The Following is a "guest blog" written by Ted Wright, Executive Director for Cross-Examined.org. Ted will be one of our speakers at the annual NJ Christian Apologetics Conference, March 20-21, 2015.

The Bible is not just one book, but sixty-six books composed over a period of around fifteen hundred years. The stories recorded in the Bible are not myth, but real events recorded by real people who lived in real places in history. This means two things: First, as a science, archaeology can often provide a correlation of those stories with material evidence: that they either happened as the Bible records, or that there is no evidence that an event happened as the Bible states. Secondly, since the stories in the Bible are a record of real events in the past, the twin sciences of archaeology and geography become indispensible tools to help us understand the Biblical world and even provide additional evidence that the Bible is a reliable source of valuable historical & geographical information.

Archaeology in the “scientific sense,” has been around since at least the mid-nineteenth century, and there has been much that we have learned about the ancient world since that time.[1] Since it’s been well over a century since archaeologists have been digging in the lands of the Bible, the task of knowing what’s been discovered so far and how archaeology and geography correlates with the Bible can be a bit daunting. The following is a list of five books (with links) that will hopefully provide help to the average person in understanding the value of archaeology in illuminating and affirming the Biblical record.

Note: The following list is only a beginner’s list. It’s intended for those who want to know where to begin a study of Biblical Archaeology (a term that has now been replaced by scholars to the less “offensive” terms, Syrio-Palestinian Archaeology or Near Eastern Archaeology)

  1. Archaeology and the Old Testament by Alfred J. Hoerth

A great general overview of the archaeology of the Old Testament organized chronologically, beginning with the Patriarchs in Mesopotamia (a term you should already know), and ending with the Persian exile and the rise of Greece in the Intertestmental Period (the time period between the Old & New Testaments). This is a great book to begin with! There are illustrations, charts and maps throughout the book which are very helpful. At the end of each chapter is a great bibliography for further study.

  1. Archaeology and the New Testament by John McRay

This book is the companion volume to the book listed above. It is organized into four parts which focus primarily on the cultural and political background of the New Testament period. Part 1 – The Architecture of New Testament Times; Part 2 – The Building Program of Herod the Great; Part 3 – Archaeology and the Life of Christ, and Part 4 – Archaeology and the Church. Personally, one of my favorite parts of this book is Chapter 11, ‘The Discovery and Contributions of Ancient Documents,’ which discusses the interaction of ancient historical texts with archaeology.

  1. Ancient Egypt and the Old Testament by John D. Currid

This is one of my “all time favorite” books on Ancient Egypt and the Bible! This book by Dr. John Currid provides some amazing and excellent insights into the culture of ancient Egypt. According to the Bible, the Israelites lived in Egypt for 400 years. and the religious culture of Egypt would have had a profound influence over they way that they thought. Since Moses (the traditional author of the Pentateuch) also lived in Egypt, then certainly, there would be evidence in the Biblical text that indicates its authenticity. What is the significance of Moses’ staff becoming a serpent in front of Pharaoh? What do the ten plagues listed in Exodus 7-12 have to do with Egyptian gods and even the pharaoh himself? To find out the answers and learn more about Egypt and the Bible, then read the Old Testament book of Exodus and get Currid’s book.

  1. Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible: A Basic Guide by John D. Currid

The fourth book I recommend to beginners in archaeology is also by John Currid. This book is not very long, but it is packed with great information on the history of archaeology and the Bible as well as the science of archaeology. Interspersed throughout the text, are boxes containing archaeological terms with brief definitions – a great tool for newcomers and a refresher to those already familiar with Biblical archaeology. One example of this is “Stratigraphy: the study of the deposition and relationships of the occupational layers of an archaeological site.”[2]

  1. The MacMillan Bible Atlas, 3rd Edition, Edited by Yohanon Aharoni, Michael Avi-Yonah, Anson F. Rainey, and Ze’ev Safrai

I am a firm believer that every Christian should visit the Holy Land at least once if they are able. If not, the next best thing is to get a very good Bible atlas. In my library I have several Bible atlases including a two-volume satellite atlas. But there is one atlas that I come back to again and again, and it is the Macmillan Bible Atlas, 3rd Edition. Having excavated in Israel and seeing first-hand how geography is an integral part of the Biblical narrative – a Bible atlas is vital for getting the context of Scripture. Physical geography is also important even in helping identify ancient Biblical sites (such has been the case at least since Edward Robinson in the 1830’s). As the late archaeologist, Yohanan Aharoni wrote: “It is not too much to say that the geographical position of this little land has always dominated its history. Thus, in the land of the Bible, geography and history are so interwoven that neither can be understood without the other.”[3]

Solomon wrote many centuries ago, “…of the making of many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body” (Eccl. 12:12). I hope this list of books will not weary you, but help in your study of the Bible, and further strengthen your faith & trust in God’s infallible Word.

 

[1] For an excellent book on the history of “Biblical Archaeology,” see P.R.S. Moorey’s, A Century of Biblical Archaeology (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992).

[2] John D. Currid, Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible: A Basic Guide(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), p. 28.

[3] The Land of the Bible

It's been a while . . .

It’s been some time since I’ve written a blog posting for the website or newsletter - there’s a lot to catch up on. Most of the summer was spent doing course work which I finished in August. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m on track to finish my degree work by next summer. As the saying goes, “I can see the finish line from here.” It has been a lot of work with more to come and I’ll be a happy camper when it is all over. I find myself thinking at times, “What was I thinking?” But, I know this is something God has called me to.

Part of my studies include developing a project that has practical application. This is essentially the culmination of the degree and it includes the actual project and a defense of it. I’ve got the outline of the project recorded and I’m working on fleshing it out. It’s the result of my studies in apologetics and my heart to make the information accessible to the rank and file of the church. To say the least, I’m chomping at the bit to get to work on it, but I have these three other courses . . . 

Beginning this week I have several speaking engagements. I’m speaking locally this weekend and then next month (October), I have two engagements. One is at the National Conference on Christian Apologetics (NCCA) in Charlotte, NC. I’ll be presenting a seminar on the development of Christology in response to Bart Ehrman’s book, How Jesus Became God. Then, also in Charlotte, I’ll be speaking at the Ratio Christi Symposium on How to Bring Apologetics into Your Church or Campus Ministry. I’m excited about both of the presentations. In November, I have a weekend conference in Kearny, NJ. I’ll be presenting apologetics as part of evangelism, connecting the dots and helping the church to witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Don’t forget that we have a seminar coming the end of this month on the 27th, at Long Branch Covenant Church. This time around we have a simulcast presentation called, Science and Faith: Are They Really in Conflict? Drs. John Lennox and Stephen Meyer will be the main speakers. Eric Metaxas of Socrates in the City will emcee the simulcast.

We are already working on our annual conference on March 20-21, 2015, and have three speakers confirmed. Ted Wright of Cross-Examined.org, Julie Miller, Chapter Director of Ratio Christi/Rutgers, and Kristen Davis of Doubtless Faith Ministries will be our speakers. I’m undecided whether I’ll be the fourth speaker or whether I’ll invite another person. The conference is a highlight of the year and is also a major project.

I am so happy to announce that Kati Aumack has joined our team and is helping out with a number of administration issues, publishing, and social media. Kati is a joy to work with and very competent in all she does. She’s helped fine tune some things and is helping out with our website and newsletter. I’m working on being more intentional and having clear direction, so Kate’s picking up other important things I don’t have time to do. She’s definitely helping make the ministry work more effective. Welcome Kati!

I’m working on blogging more regularly and more often - so look for this to come about before too long - like next week.

September 2014 No Pat Answers Seminar

ScienceFaith pic.001.jpg

Please join us on September 27th, 2014 for our September NPA Seminar! During this seminar, we will be hosting a simulcast titled "Science & Faith, are they really in conflict?"

The simulcast will feature renowned Oxford University Professor John Lennox and New York Times bestselling author Stephen Meyer, two of today's leading speakers and writers on the intersection between science and faith. The simulcast will be emceed by bestselling author Eric Metaxas, whose speaking style has been described as "a combination of edgy wit, charm, inspiration, evangelization, [and] thoughtfulness," making him a highly sought after public speaker, especially on college campuses.

Questions to be addressed during the simulcast include:

* Has science disproved God?

* Are science and faith really in conflict?

* Just how "scientific" are the claims of leading atheists?

* Are human beings the result of an unguided Darwinian process?

* Does nature supply evidence of intelligent design?


After the simulcast, Ray will discuss the simulcast as well as address questions during a Q & A period.  Refreshments will be served.  There is no cost to register for the conference but an offering will be taken on that day.  Doors open at 8:30am.  

Simulcast Preview:


Forty Years: Ten Tips

On June 30th of this year, Joanne and I celebrated forty years since we were ordained to Christian ministry. In a very moving Sunday morning service, Joanne and I knelt on the platform of our church as the elders laid hands on us and set us apart for ministry. Although I remember that morning pretty clearly and, in some ways, it “seems like yesterday,” the years since then have given us some important insights.

Over these forty years, we have learned some valuable lessons about ministry but also about family and ourselves. Perhaps we can help others who are just starting out or who think they’re stuck in something. During these forty years, there were times when we rode the crest of a wave of momentum. Times like those can make you think it is normal. Or worse, make you think you are causing the wave. There may be things you can do to cause some momentum, but you can just as easily kill it. Generally, God is doing something, and you must stay in step with Him by devotion to the Word. If you believe God can speak to you, it will predominantly be through the Scripture. Here are a few of the lessons we have learned.

First, for married couples in ministry, we practiced something we continue today. For the most part, I never traveled alone. There were and are exceptions, but we made sure I had a traveling companion, even when we knew the people and place where I was going. Temptations are too great, and many ministers fall from grace too easily. Traveling in two’s seems wise. Having an extra pair of eyes and ears is always helpful. I have both accompanied someone else who was ministering and had others accompany me.

Second, I didn’t make decisions alone; we made them together. When it came time to choose a secretary or anyone with whom I had a regular work relationship, Joanne had a major say in who worked with me or for me. Many times she sensed something in a candidate that I didn’t. She was right. Joanne often saw things in people that I didn’t. If a woman I was considering for a secretary made her uncomfortable, that was enough cause for me to reject her. Joanne had opinions about most things, which I always considered, but when she was uncomfortable with someone, I paid extra close attention.

Third, while I’m writing about marriage, I want to add a word for singles. If you believe you’re supposed to be in ministry, it is extremely important whom you choose for your partner (if you believe you’re supposed to get married). I often reflect on the proposal I made to Joanne. It wasn’t very romantic, but I wanted her to understand where I believed my life was going. I knew if we weren’t on the same page I wouldn’t achieve what I believed I was called to. Ministry and marriage are two of the hardest pursuits in life. If one of them is wrong, it will destroy the other. If you’re unequally yoked, it will be difficult. Marriage is difficult anyway. Joanne, as a selfless partner, has often encouraged me to pursue something that she would pay the price for.

Fourth, if you are young and just starting out in ministry, be aware that you need to be accountable to someone, preferably someone who knows you and can tell you no—and whom you respect enough to listen to. I had several men my age in my life who had as much or more zeal for the things of God as I did. What we lacked was the wisdom of age. The zeal of youth can outrun your wisdom. Few people are wise in their youth, but there is no lack of zeal. This is why we need accountability. Some boards can provide this, but few actually know who they are accountable for. I am talking about pastoral care.

Fifth, one principle I learned early on was that giftings mean very little. Character is king and, therefore, must govern gifts. Some people who are obviously gifted think they are exempt from character demands. An ungoverned gift is a loose cannon. It can destroy lots of things, including itself. Character must govern gifts, so discipleship is a must. 

Sixth, I have had the opportunity to restore several men to their ministries after they made mistakes, fell into immorality, were financially unfaithful, or abused their authority. The common denominator with all of them was that they didn’t have a devotional life. Looking to God first thing in the morning can help you keep your day in perspective. I’ve seen my own life rise and fall with my devotions. When sin is crouching at the door, submitting to God can make it flee. Regular reading, study, and practice of scriptural principles can keep you on course. Again, this is where accountability comes in.

Seventh, when times get tough, it is good to remember “it’s not about us.” Staying the course, persevering, and enduring hardship all help to build character. I can usually endure the intensity of a trial. It is the duration that wears me down. It is then I must exercise perseverance. Also remember, God is faithful. 

Eighth, things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. Be creative. Don’t sulk. Realize you aren’t the master of your life; God is. I’ve often said God cannot steer a parked car. It’s important to keep moving, keep serving.

Ninth, pass it on. Whatever it is God has given you, things you’ve learned from experience as well as things you’ve found in Scripture, pass it on. Find a place to serve and give it away. Spiritual growth happens when you give away what you have. You ought to love what you do so much you’d be willing to pay to do it. If something is worth doing, doing it ought to feel worthwhile to you.

Tenth, before you know it you’ll be looking back on years of experience. As much as you can, try not to waste time. It’s the only thing you cannot get back. Discipline yourself to make the most of the time allotted to you. That includes your down time. Resting and recuperating are part of staying strong. Running on empty doesn’t help anyone. Plan for down time with your family and by yourself. Take a day every week to relax and reflect. Turn off the phone and computer and recharge.

Although this is not about family time, family is more than important to the person in ministry. Your marriage and family must come first. If things are not right in the home, they won’t be right in the ministry; this will overtake you sooner or later. Marriage and raising a family are two of the hardest things to accomplish today, but they are doable with God’s help and a willing heart.

Hopefully, some of these short reflections will help you succeed in your ministry. Perhaps there will be a time when you’re writing helpful tips to the next generation, too.

 

# 15 Why is God So Violent?

“Why Is God so Violent?”

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, by Guy P. Harrison

 

As I write these blogs, I’m aware that so many of these questions are missing the point. The simple answer to this question is that Mr. Harrison cherry picks verses and ideas. Sometimes these ideas come from Christians who do not know how to defend their faith because they don’t know what they believe. This chapter begins with the words, “God is love.” It should have been followed by, “God is holy.” Actually, I believe God is referred to as holy more than He is referred to as love in the Bible. Perhaps many Christians believe the Old Testament is not relevant for today. Perhaps they only read the New Testament. Herein lies the problem. The Bible is comprised of sixty-six books written by forty authors. In order to properly interpret any Scripture verse, we must read it in context, and that context is ultimately the whole of Scripture.

Some Christians who don’t know how to interpret Scripture will divorce the Old Testament actions of God from the New Testament actions of Jesus. These are the people Mr. Harrison wishes to question. I would like to say to Mr. Harrison that he is looking at the wrong people. Aside from lumping everyone into the Christian camp, he picks the people who perhaps are the most ignorant of hermeneutics and Bible doctrine. His book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, is just that: It is written to every person he thinks is a Christian. (I wrote about this before in a previous blog.) No, Mormons aren’t Christians. Not all Catholics are Christians; not even all Protestants are Christians. Christians are those who believe Jesus is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, who died for our sins and bodily rose again to prove we have been forgiven. He sits at the right hand of God (the place of power and authority) to make intercession for us. It doesn’t matter what church people belong to. Churches are not objects of faith; Jesus Christ is.

If Mr. Harrison understood this, perhaps he wouldn’t have anything to write about. Or like other intellectually astute atheists, he would challenge arguments for God’s existence, not go off on practices that rank and file believers are not clear about. God is holy; His essence is holy, without shadow, sin, or any sort of perversion. God is the purest being, without any lack. He is the morally perfect being. His actions are always in concert with who He is; He acts out of His essence.

Mr. Harrison believes God is violent and commits horrible acts. He also calls His people to commit horrible acts. The fact that God caused the Flood and that every baby and child would have drowned is disturbing to Mr. Harrison. I can see why he feels that way, but it is because he doesn’t understand holiness and, therefore, doesn’t understand judgment. Atheists and skeptics refuse to acknowledge anything greater than themselves. The idea of being subject to anything beyond themselves is, well, unthinkable. So, to be morally responsible to a “god” in the heavens, invisible and far away, is something they cannot comprehend.

Atheists and skeptics want to argue on their ground—naturalism. It’s kind of silly, but that’s their position. They also want to make up concepts to be the ground rules—like, “Violence is bad.” That is generally true, except when you are defending your family and property. Then violence may be acceptable. I personally abhor gratuitous violence, bullying, and any physical abuse. However, I’d say there are times when violence is acceptable, such as defending my wife from an intruder. Or defending my children or grandchildren from bodily harm. So, while I’m against acts of aggression, I’m certainly not opposed to using force when it is justified.

The Bible tells us God is supreme over all His creation, including humankind. He doesn’t arbitrarily set the rules, but they are set according to who He is—His essence. Remember, God is holy. Any action that falls short of that is unholy or sinful. Before we get carried away with this idea, let’s remember that God Himself paid the price for our sins. Context is such a good thing.

My simple answer to the question, “Why is God so violent?”, is this: The punishment is meted out according to the offense. It could also be shown that God warns many times before judgment comes. That part is clear. However, it can also be shown that offenders continued in their offense. This is the human condition we rightly call depravity.

I have to echo Mr. Harrison’s concern that many Christians do not think about their faith and simply attach themselves to popular beliefs. Even if some Christians read a lot, they don’t study. There is a big difference. We would all do well to learn to use our minds to think critically, purposely, and reflectively. 

Next No Pat Answers

On June 28, 2014, we will hold our next No Pat Answers seminar. During this time, we'll review a book from the New York Times bestseller list - How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher From Galilee, by Dr. Bart Ehrman. Although the book is written at a popular level, I doubt many from the rank and file of the Church will actually read it. However, I think many atheists and skeptics will read it and use the information Dr. Ehrman provides to challenge an orthodox evangelical view of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Ehrman claims to be an agnostic, but this isn't the sense one gets from reading his book. I would say skeptic is more accurate. An agnostic would simply claim, "I don't know," while a skeptic says, "There's no evidence." Although Ehrman makes claims such as, "History can neither prove nor disprove the miracle of the resurrection," he also argues that Jesus is not the second person of the Trinity. He is not simply presenting evidence from a neutral position.

Dr. Ehrman questions:

1.  whether early Christians adopted a Greco-Roman practice of "deifying" heroes,

2. whether Jesus believed He was the Son of Man,

3. whether the appearances to the disciples and other followers were the same as other dreams, visions, and hallucinations recorded throughout history, and

4. whether Jesus was ever buried. Dr. Ehrman believes he provides "evidence" against Jesus' burial and an empty tomb.

Does this book make the case that Jesus is not God's Son, the second person of the Trinity? Did the disciples of Jesus construct a theology that developed into Christology? Is there any evidence to refute Dr. Ehrman's views? These are just some of the questions we will address during this No Pat Answers seminar.

To say the least, this seminar will be packed with information, resources, and counter arguments. The seminar is FREE, but we will take an offering. Refreshments will be served before the seminar (at 8:30 a.m.) and during the break. I'll do my best to end at 12 noon, while also trying to leave time for Q and A.

Hope to see you there.

# 14 How Do We Know Heaven is Real?

50 Simple Questions For Every Christian

“How Do We Know Heaven Is Real?”

"Rays of Hope" by Marco Monetti, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from Original

"Rays of Hope" by Marco Monetti, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Cropped from Original

This is my fourteenth response to Mr. Harrison's book.

Chapter 13 of Guy P. Harrison’s book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, asks the question, “How Do We Know Heaven Is Real?” There is a simple answer to this question: Because Jesus says it is. It doesn’t matter how many people have “near death experiences” (NDE) or actually make a trip to Heaven. I cannot verify those experiences; they may very well be true, or they may be the result of overly active imaginations or dreams. Or perhaps it is what, as Mr. Harrison says, the human brain is capable of producing.

Instead of postulating about NDEs, I suggest people simply trust what Jesus says. Of course, the skeptic is going to question whether Jesus was a real person, whether the New Testament is reliable, and whether the New Testament is telling the truth. It is one thing to say it is a reliable ancient source; it is another thing to say it is telling the truth. Though these questions are not the subject of this post, I will briefly say that Jesus was a real person, as the New Testament portrays, and yes, the New Testament is telling the truth.

If Mr. Harrison had addressed these questions, it may have short-circuited his book. He wouldn’t have us chasing rabbits all around the field of speculation. By posing the question the way Mr. Harrison has, he presents a “strawman” argument (and fills a lot of pages with ink). What he has done is present an argument that Christian doctrine does not make and then attack that argument. The credibility of Heaven is not based on existential experience but on the belief that Jesus tells the truth as recorded in the New Testament, specifically the gospels.

Here are a few of the 235 verses where Heaven is mentioned in the New Testament.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal (Matt. 6:20).

Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter (Matt. 7:21).   

Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3–4).

And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it (Matt. 23:22).

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).

So then, when the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God (Mark 16:19).

These are but a few of the 235 Bible verses that reference Heaven in some manner. Jesus never questioned whether Heaven is real, and for that reason, we can believe it is.

Yet because Mr. Harrison is unwilling to consider the subject from that angle, he takes it into the somewhat questionable field of human experience. Mr. Harrison’s chapter is filled with anecdotes of people either having NDEs or dreams of going to Heaven. At this writing, the movie Heaven Is For Real is making a box office splash. I haven’t seen the movie, and I have no interest in doing so. It’s not because I question whether this boy actually visited Heaven. Instead, it’s because my faith doesn’t need to see the movie in order to be bolstered or stabilized. I’m pretty secure in my faith based on the evidence of the New Testament. We do live in a culture hooked on the sensational. It’s not a very deep or thoughtful culture; we really don’t think enough about our faith or life’s big questions. I hope this movie will cause people to think about God, not about the pleasures of Heaven.

 

#13 “How Can We Be Sure of the Resurrection?”

 

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian

 

In chapter 12 of Guy P. Harrison’s book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, he asks, “How Can We Be Sure of the Resurrection?” I have been anticipating this chapter, mainly because I love to study the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the cornerstone of Christian doctrine. I also believe we have several great sources to research about the resurrection. I’ve had the privilege of studying with Gary Habermas, who is the leading authority on the resurrection. When Gary was the instructor for my first course in seminary, I didn’t realized how great of an opportunity it was. I also had the opportunity to travel with Dr. William Lane Craig for a couple weeks in South Africa. Bill Craig is also an expert on the resurrection. Aside from that, I’ve drilled down on the evidence to see if it holds. Without a doubt, the orthodox Christian belief in the resurrection is the most reasonable explanation of the empty tomb, the reported appearances, and the dynamic spread of the early church.

In Mr. Harrison’s book, he makes it clear he does not believe Jesus was raised from the dead. According to a naturalistic worldview, this would be impossible to believe. Since Mr. Harrison has already ruled out miracles, how could he possibly accept the resurrection? Now who is being close-minded? I say this to show how presuppositions rule our beliefs. If you rule out God, you rule out any consideration of the miraculous. If you have a one-hundred percent naturalistic worldview, reading this blog will not help you. You have already made up your mind—just like Mr. Harrison.

Mr. Harrison says:

I want Christians to think for themselves, think more deeply about extraordinary claims such as that empty tomb, and draw their own conclusions rather than simply accept an ancient story they were told about or read in a book.1

This causes me to wonder whether I should reject his statement simply because I read it in a book. Mr. Harrison wants Christians to use reason to examine extraordinary claims, and that we will do. Aside from the experience of finding truth in the person of Jesus, let’s examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. In order to do this, we need to find the sources of the resurrection story and check for any corroborating evidence. If we had the time and space, we could turn to more than a dozen lines of evidence, but here we will consider only a few evidences offered by both Gary Habermas and William Lane Craig.

First, we must consider that the church flourished in the same city where Jesus was crucified. It flourished because the disciples believed they saw the risen Jesus. The Jewish authorities had ample time to produce the corpse, but no one ever did. Threatening the disciples with torture and death didn’t stop them from preaching that Christ was risen. People die for many reasons, but very few would die for something they believed to be false.

Could it be the disciples hallucinated? Mass hallucinations are as impossible as a multitude having the same dream. Have deceiving spirits appeared to people? It’s possible, perhaps probable. Apparitions have been reported around the world for centuries. Does this make them false? Not really, but the source may be deceptive.

Could it be the Jews didn’t allow the body of Jesus to be buried and threw it in a ditch and he was eaten by dogs? This is one idea offered by skeptics. However, history tells us the Romans allowed criminals to be buried in proper tombs, and the Jews would not have permitted a corpse, no matter whose body it was, to be thrown in a ditch for fear of defiling the land. Thus, the idea of the body being discarded or even buried in the wrong tomb is pretty sketchy. On top of that, we have the story of the women who followed to see where Jesus would be buried (see Mark 15:47). We have no reason to believe Mark made this story up. Papias, an early disciple, tells us Mark was Peter’s secretary. Papias was a bishop and contemporary of Polycarp, who also was a disciple of the apostles, particularly John. He wrote around AD 100. Both Papias and Polycarp quote the gospels in their writings and give us some insight into who wrote what. Thus, the gospel of Mark is probably Peter’s recollections of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

One of the problems with Mr. Harrison’s call to look at the evidence is that, in his opinion, the gospel accounts are not historically reliable. This is a serious problem, because they rank as some of the most historically reliable ancient documents in existence. Without claiming the gospels are the Word of God, we can ask, “Do they have historical significance?” According to Gary Habermas, almost every New Testament scholar agrees they do.

Now let’s consider how the gospels present their story. One of the most compelling details is found in the gospels’ record of women being the first to discover the empty tomb. In Jewish, Greek, and Roman cultures, women were considered unreliable witnesses. Thus, it would not make any sense for the disciples to make it up like this. If they were going to fabricate a story, certainly they would have relied on male witnesses of the empty tomb. Instead, Matthew’s gospel says the women were first. Each of the gospel writers reported that the resurrected Lord first appeared to women.

Few people realize that a personal bodily resurrection was not part of Jewish expectations. A suffering Messiah was not popular either. Jews who believed in the resurrection believed it was reserved for everyone at the end of the age. They didn’t believe the Messiah would be crucified nor did they believe He would be resurrected. This was completely new theology, and it explains the disciples’ despair when Jesus was crucified. It also explains their disbelief when the women reported they had seen the risen Jesus.

The New Testament reports that Jesus appeared to not only the women but to all the disciples, James the Lord’s brother, and five hundred witnesses (see 1 Cor. 15:3–8). At the time of Paul’s writing of First Corinthians (AD 55), most of those five hundred were still alive. Why is this important? If this was a grand conspiracy, it would have been advantageous to “break” one or more of these witnesses. Again, there is no record of any of this—no recanting, no defecting. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the early church strived in the very city where the best evidence to disprove it could have been revealed.

Mr. Harrison says eye witnesses are unreliable. This may sound reasonable, but consider this. If four different witnesses describe an accident differently, does this mean the accident didn’t happen? As far as I understand it, police do not want exact testimony of eyewitnesses, as everyone has a different account, which helps them piece together what actually happened. The potential problem with eyewitnesses is that they can lie. I’ve already discussed the possibility of this and how it is improbable the disciples would have given their lives for a lie. Few will go through torture for a lie, let alone give their life for one. Here we have more than five hundred people who continued to testify to seeing the risen Jesus.

Let’s look at one of Mr. Harrison’s statements and see if this is “reasonable.”

Even if we allow ourselves to accept the Bibles account of what happened to Jesuss body as accurate reporting of what people really said at the time, the empty-tomb claim is still based on hearsay about eyewitness accounts. How can we accept that? Its too important to accept on the word of fallible human beings alone. They could have lied or been honestly mistaken.2

In other words, if we allow ourselves to accept the Bible’s account, we are only believing hearsay. Can we believe early testimony from eyewitnesses—fallible human beings—is reliable testimony? Maybe a better question is, Are there any other kind of witnesses? Isn’t scientific research accomplished by fallible human beings? In fact, aren’t all history books written by fallible human beings? This statement is what is called “poisoning the well.” Mr. Harrison’s insinuation here is supposed to make you doubt everything that comes from a human being. In other words, it suggests that because people could lie it means they did lie. Hearsay is another attempt to poison the well. This is poor argumentation.

What’s corroborating evidence for Mr. Harrison’s statements? Where has he found the gospel writers to lie or to honestly make mistakes? The evidence shows the belief in the risen Jesus spread beyond Rome and later affected the entire empire within the first generation of believers. There is also evidence that the disciples of the apostles—Papias, Polycarp, and Clement—were all preachers and leaders in the early church. They received firsthand from the disciples and continued the chain of evidence. They repeated the apostles’ claims—claims that most of them died for at the hands of persecutors.

Consider this: The message of Jesus’ resurrection spread in the same city where He was crucified and buried. No alternative evidence other than the idea the disciples stole the body has been offered. Included in that statement about the resurrection is several (more than a few) appearances of the risen Lord to the women who went to attend him at the tomb, to Peter, to the rest of the apostles, to more than five hundred witnesses, and then to the Lord’s own brother, James. Paul also records his encounter with the Lord as corroborated with Luke’s account in Acts. Lastly, there is the empty tomb.

The empty tomb is declared and implied. John the apostle became a believer at the empty tomb. The fact that the tomb never became a shrine is another evidence of its emptiness. Nothing was there. Jesus had risen.

Add the disciples’ record of embarrassing statements about themselves. Paul, who was hostile to Christianity, became a prolific witness for Jesus after Jesus appeared to him. James, the Lord’s brother, also a skeptic, became a Christian after Jesus appeared to him. These recorded testimonies are considered authentic by nearly every New Testament scholar. The appearances are the testimony of the eyewitnesses, as is the empty tomb. With this message, Christianity spread from a back water province in the Roman Empire to its western boundaries. The message was simple: Christ is risen!

 

 

{1 }Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), 84.  

2 Ibid., 85.

Why Do Some Christians Do Bad Things in the Sight of Jesus? #12

50 Simple Questions For Every Christian

“Why Do Some Christians Do Bad Things In the Sight of Jesus?”

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, By Guy P. Harrison

 

Guy P. Harrison begins the eleventh chapter of his book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, with an interesting statement: “I have no interest in trying to tally up bad deeds by people who happen to be Christian.”1 This is interesting because it is, in fact, exactly what Mr. Harrison does. However, he does qualifying his dirt-gathering with this statement:

The truth is, crimes and mischief committed by Christians don’t prove anything one way or the other about central claims that Jesus is a god, that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that heaven and hell exist, and so on.2

Mr. Harrison seems to be concerned with how those who call themselves Christian can do bad things while believing Jesus sees everything they do. “The specific question being addressed here is how so many Christians are able to cheat, lie, and even commit very serious crimes while professing to know that their god is always near them.”3 He doesn’t attempt to compare crimes committed by Christians to those committed by atheists but simply asks how Christians can do these things when they know God is watching. As examples, He mentions the Catholic priest sex scandal, as well as the Penn State child abuse case surrounding Coach Jerry Sandusky. 

Because Mr. Harrison does not know what a Christian is, he makes an arbitrary decision, saying it is up to the secular society to describe a Christian. Here he makes a statement concerning how one can identify a Christian: 

This crossfire gets us nowhere, of course, which is why a basic secular description of who is a Christian is necessary: If one believes in Jesus and worships or follows him in some manner, then she or he is a Christian. It’s as simple as that.4

Can we really define a Christian as anyone who worships Jesus in some manner? I’m not even sure what that means. As an evangelical Christian, I believe people must adhere to certain basic tenants in order to be a Christian. Thus, I would say some who claim to worship Jesus are not actually Christians. By contrast, Mr. Harrison’s definition includes Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and any other cults who claim to follow Jesus. Is this fair? I believe there must be a more judicious definition for Christian based on what one believes about Jesus and how one worships Him. I covered this in an earlier post, “Who Is a Christian?” Not only is it true that not all Catholics are Christians, but also not all Protestants are Christians. To say Jerry Sandusky is a Christian because he attended a Methodist Church is ludicrous. Mr. Harrison likes to subtly stack the deck in his favor while appearing to be fair-minded. I don’t believe he is fair even when he makes statements like, “I have no interest in trying to tally up bad deeds by people who happen to be Christian.”

Christians who cheat, lie, and worse are not living the way they should; it’s that simple. Many times Christians do not live as if God is alive. This is called “practical atheism. Another reason for the inconsistency of some Christians is the weakness of the flesh, which Jesus mentions: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41 NIV). Simply put, Christians still sin. This is especially true when Christians are not cultivating their relationship with the Lord, are not practicing their devotions, and are not serving in some active capacity in the church. The book of Proverbs is replete with warnings for the “fool.” Being a Christian doesn’t put you on auto pilot and make you do the right thing. It also doesn’t mean the belief that “God is watching” will always deter people from sin. 

So what does cause Christians to commit evil deeds? Again, we need to qualify who we mean when we say Christians. First, I must admit I cannot speak for every Christian Mr. Harrison would like to include. Aside from orthodox Catholics, who hold similar theological views to evangelicals, other so-called Christians could have a multitude of reasons for doing their “evil” deeds. With that qualifier, here are a few of my observations on this issue.

Many Christians have a low view of God. Theology is not on the front burner for most of the Christian church. Not only is this a reason why some Christians to do wicked things, but it is also a reason why some Christians leave the church. Much of the church never hears a sermon or teaching on theology beyond the basic fact that God loves us. This is a weakness in the Christian church. Neither do Christians hear messages on accountability—that is, being accountable for our actions.

Some Christians misunderstand the grace of God. Knowing they are forgiven, they believe living the Christian life is not about pleasing the Lord. Thus, they live with a carte blanche attitude toward God and His grace. Some who believe they are eternally secure also believe nothing can shake God’s love from their lives. Therefore, they can live as they please. Many Christians would do well to learn a few things about God’s holiness and grace. Although God is forgiving and always merciful, we still face consequences for our actions. 

Another issue concerns spiritual warfare. Those who are not Christians (in my definition) do not understand the concept of spiritual warfare or our human ability to rationalize our actions. Between the efforts of the “enemy of the soul” and our tendency to rationalize, it isn’t a wonder that Christians can act sinfully. Of course, I wouldn’t expect Mr. Harrison or another skeptic to comprehend this explanation. It appears they think God precludes Christians from every ill. This is naive. It shows their ignorance of the realities of free will, as well as the power of temptation, the weakness of the flesh, and the power of Satan. Considering these factors, we see that anyone can be deceived.

So the answer for why Christians do bad things in the sight of Jesus varies from person to person. These include a misunderstanding of the nature of God, an abusing of the grace of God, and the reality of spiritual warfare.

1. Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), 79.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid. 82

The Number One Sign Your Kids Are Just Borrowing Your Faith (and Not Developing Their Own) by Natasha Crain

February 25, 2014

Let's take a break from the regular interaction with Guy P. Harrison's book and take a look at Natasha Crain's blog.

You can find Natasha's blog at:  http://christianmomthoughts.com

Thanks to Natasha Crain for letting me repost this excellent piece.

The other day something reminded me of the popular 1993 book, “The Celestine Prophecy” (anyone remember that?). “The Celestine Prophecy” is a fiction book that discusses ideas rooted in New Age spirituality. The book sold 20 million copies and practically spawned its own cult-like religion, with groups popping up all over the country to study the insights and apply them to life.

I discovered this book when I was fresh out of high school and was enamored by it. The insights were exciting (“there’s a reason for every apparent coincidence!”) and it proposed interesting ideas about spirituality that seemed totally plausible to my young mind. I couldn’t stop talking about it. I told all my friends about it. I started paying attention to how the nine insights in the book applied to my life. I suddenly felt life was more meaningful.

The problem? I was a “Christian” but it never even occurred to me that these New Age ideas should have been immediately rendered false by the beliefs I claimed to have. My faith was so shallow that the first exciting philosophy I encountered after high school swept me off my feet – without so much as an inkling that it was in conflict with everything I had been taught.

When I randomly remembered this book last week, I marveled at how I had developed such a shallow faith, despite the fact I had gone to church for 18 years and grew up surrounded by family members who deeply loved the Lord.

 

A Borrowed Faith

In my family, faith looked like spiritual “parallel play.” Parallel play is the stage young toddlers go through where they enjoy being near other kids, but don’t actually interact with each other yet. They’ll play blocks side by side, but they won’t find ways to play blocks together.

My family members would individually read their Bibles, go to church every week, participate in prayer chains, and humbly remind each other that plans would only happen “Lord willing.”  Those were the spiritual blocks they played with next to me.

Meanwhile, I went to church, was at least mildly interested in what I heard, felt confident that if I died I would be saved, prayed occasionally on my own, went to church camps, attended youth nights, and freely told anyone who asked that I was a Christian. Those were the spiritual blocks I played with next to them.

But we never spiritually played together. Without that deeper engagement, my faith simply remained shallow and was based on living out a copy of what those around me were doing.

I left home with a completely borrowed faith.

I had never made it my own, but not because I rejected it in any way.

Many parents are brokenhearted when their kids reject Christianity in the teen years. I would suggest that many other parents are lulled into a false sense of security when their kids appear to toe the line of faith until they leave home. That faith often amounts to little more than borrowed beliefs which will soon be shattered.

Make no mistake: a borrowed faith leaving home can be just as dangerous as a broken faith. The result is often the same, just delayed.

When I originally started this post, I planned to call it, “10 Signs Your Kids are Just Borrowing Your Faith.” As I thought through the signs I can see in retrospect from my own experience, however, I found they all really pointed back to just one sign. So here it is:

The number one sign your kids are just borrowing your faith is that they rarely, if ever, ask questions.

 

Why Aren’t They Asking Questions?

  • They may be just uninterested enough to not ask questions, but not so uninterested as to reject Christianity altogether. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because that’s what’s in front of them on the buffet.
  • They may not yet see the importance of Christian belief in their lives. It’s perceived as just another subject they’re learning about, like math. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because they don’t think it’s important enough to think more deeply about.
  • They may not have been exposed to enough non-Christian ideas yet. Their faith isn’t being challenged in preparation for the adult world. Challenge them. If you don’t, non-believers soon will. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because they see no need not to.
  • They may be scared or uncertain of your reaction. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because that’s what they think is expected of them.
  • They may be getting answers elsewhere – usually not the answers you’d like them to have. They’ll just borrow your faith for a while because they don’t want to rock the boat at home.

If your kids aren’t asking questions, start asking THEM questions. Open the door for the conversation yourself and get them thinking in ways that will ultimately allow them to own their faith.

Have You Read The Bible? #11

“Have You Read the Bible?”

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, by Guy P. Harrison

 

This is my eleventh installment in my response to Guy P. Harrison’s 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian. Here I will address chapter 11, titled “Have You Read the Bible?” Before reading this, I suggest reading my first response, which you can find here (Scroll down). It will provide necessary background to help you more fully understand what I write in this entry.

I will start by saying I agree with Mr. Harrison on most points in this chapter. He writes, “People who come to be religious skeptics and nonbelievers through a thoughtful process of research and discussion are inevitably surprised to discover an odd thing about Christians. Few seem to have actually read the Bible in its entirety!” 

However, I don’t think most Christians avoid reading the Bible because they’re afraid to come across some uncomfortable texts. I think people are lazy and easily distracted. Also, many Christians who attend church depend on the preacher to tell them about the Bible instead of reading it for themselves. Few Christians actually study the Bible, even with all the amazing software now available.

Of course, Mr. Harrison makes the same mistake most non-believers make when they read the Bible. They don’t understand they’re reading someone else’s mail. Consider these verses in Acts 8: 

But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship,  and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me? (Acts 8:26–31, emphasis added).

Clearly, the Ethiopian didn’t understand the passage, but he did understand that he needed a guide to help him comprehend it. Few secular people understand the God of the Bible, and many attempt to make sense of the Bible from a contemporary liberal point of view. They don’t understand judgment because they don’t understand holiness or transcendence. Human attributes are imposed on God as if He were just a nasty, short-tempered bully. I’ve heard people say, “Who is God that we should worship Him?” My response is, if you give me enough time I’ll tell you who He is and why you ought to worship Him.

This is why people don’t understand the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. When unbelievers read this, they accuse God of genocide and the murder of innocents. They also take things out of context or omit important details, like the fact that God waited four hundred years before He judged the Canaanites. As well, the Canaanites knew the Israelites were coming, yet only a few considered repenting (see Josh. 2:9; 9:3ff). By contrast, even though the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua, he honored the covenant he made with them and spared their cities. In these facts we can see the goodness and righteousness of God. But without a guide, unbelievers will have a hard time truly understanding what they are reading.

Mr. Harrison also points to a poll by George Barna listing the percentage of Christians who read the Bible. Few actually do read it, though everyone owns a Bible. In these statistics, Mr. Harrison lists people who are associated with Jesus in some way as Christians. I don’t think that is fair. I know from my upbringing as a Catholic that the common person was not encouraged to read the Bible. In fact, I remember being taught it would be dangerous to go anywhere beyond the gospels. Only priests and other clergy were capable or understanding the Bible. Was this practiced widely? I do not know.

Conversely, “Bible churches,” as we may call them, encourage Bible studies and daily reading. However, people are not taught how to read the Bible. One Bible teacher aptly says, “Never read a verse.” Although, we may be shocked at this, what he is saying is to read the Bible in context. Don’t just read a verse in isolation; read the paragraph. Don’t just read the paragraph; read the chapter. Don’t just read the chapter; read the book.

It isn’t enough to simply read the Bible; you have to study it. In order to have a biblical worldview, you must learn to see life through the lens of Scripture. This requires the work of reading, thinking, comparing, and coming to conclusions. Will you understand everything? No. But you will come to understand more than you do now.

Mr. Harrison is correct when he says this lack of Bible reading is a problem. I agree with him when he says Christians who don’t read the Bible are not really consistent with their confession of faith. Why wouldn’t you want to read and study the Bible? On this point, I’m more in agreement than disagreement with Mr. Harrison.

Does The Complexity of Life Reveal an Intelligent Designer? #10

“Does the Complexity of Life Reveal an Intelligent Designer?”

50 Simple Questions for Every Christian

 

Having read this chapter several times, I have tried to understand Mr. Harrison’s point clearly enough to answer it. If you have a copy of his book and are reading along with me, you will understand the following. If you don’t have a copy, you’ll have to take my word for it. I suggest you read along with me so you can tell whether I’m answering him appropriately.

In my opinion, Mr. Harrison conflates creationism with intelligent design repeatedly. However, the chapter title—“Does the Complexity of Life Reveal an Intelligent Designer?”—asks a straightforward enough question. He is asking whether enough evidence exists, when looking at the complexity of life, to reveal an intelligent designer. In other words, does the fact that life is so complex reveal an intelligent designer? However, Mr. Harrison then conflates biblical creationism with intelligent design, though the two are not synonymous. The question is not, Is there evidence for an uncaused cause? Or, Is Genesis 1:1 true? Those questions could be answered by presenting cosmological arguments or the God hypothesis. But creationism is not the point here. Intelligent design is.

The bottom line is, when it comes to intelligent design, Mr. Harrison has not done his homework. He confuses creationism with intelligent design and then says intelligent design advocates need to do their testing out in the world of science. It appears, having not done his homework, Mr. Harrison is actually clueless about intelligent design and its advocates. In order to understand intelligent design, one should read some books written by its proponents. Dr. William Dembski’s, The Design of Life, co-authored by Jonathan Wells, is a good place to start. Stephen Meyer’s books, Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt, are also excellent explanations of the position. Of course, Darwin’s Black Box, by Michael Behe, is where much of the movement started. Without reading these books, one cannot properly understand or argue against intelligent design.

The fact that life is complex does not necessarily mean it is designed. Instead, only discovering a design can prove that. Design is a product of a mind, an intelligence. More than a few cases, which are outlined in the books I mentioned above, give us evidence for design. Mr. Harrison acknowledges this several times in his book, yet he doesn’t acknowledge actual design but just the appearance of it.

He also leans heavily on “Darwin of the gaps,” which mainly says that if we don’t see how something can be, we should not rush to judgment. Sooner or later, science will discover the cause. When Christians do something similar, we are scorned for a “God of the gaps” theory. We don’t know how something happened, so we inject God into the solution. Naturalists do the same thing, only they use science and Darwin’s theory or natural selection.

One statement Mr. Harrison made got me to thinking. He says, “Who does not answer how?” In other words, just saying God did it doesn’t explain how He did it. This seems like a bold, authoritative statement. However, I don’t think it holds. People do carry authority. If I find a complex computer programming code and ask who did it, the answer would either lead me to wonder or satisfaction. If someone says, “My dog did it?” I would wonder, and I would seriously doubt it. However, if someone said, “Bob, did it,” and if I know Bob’s capability with computer codes, I would be satisfied.

The same is true with God. I don’t need to know how God did or does something. If I know God did it, I’m satisfied. I’ll find out how later.

All intelligent design does is recognize that parts of life, like the intricate formulation of DNA, are best explained by an intelligent designer. It’s like looking at skywriting and knowing, when I read, “I love you, Maria,” it is not an unusual cloud formation. It has intelligence behind it. The complexity of the letters, as well as the specific order of the letters, tells us this.

Consider the pieces of a jig-saw puzzle that represent a scene from nature. The puzzle is complex, in that it possesses different piece sizes with different colors. However, it is the specific placing of these pieces that gives me the picture they mean to represent. Intelligent design advocates mainly use this kind of analysis to say some patterns in nature are best explained by intelligence.

Many intelligent design advocates are Christians. However, some are Muslims, some Jews, and some agnostics. David Berlinski, one of the most articulate advocates of intelligent design, is an agnostic. Although his heritage is Jewish, he is non-practicing. Based on the evidence he sees, he does not believe natural selection can account for it all.

Considering these factors, I believe Mr. Harrison dismisses intelligent design too easily. He hasn’t done his homework at all. Although he suggests Christians should think more seriously about their faith, it appears Mr. Harrison should think more deeply about his skepticism.

 

What is a Miracle? 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian #9

 

Mr. Harrison dedicates his book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, to “The World’s Christians; may they find peace and happiness.” I think this is an olive branch of sorts. In one place he also says the world would be a better place if Christians thought more deeply about their faith. I think this is true. That is, I think Christians ought to think more deeply about their faith. The “rank and file” of the Church is not aware of much of the evidence for Christianity beyond their subjective feelings. For the apologist, there is quite a bit of evidence. In some cases—for example, the number of documents that make up the New Testament, the internal coherence, and consistency of the documents and the outside corroboration—it is an embarrassment of riches. There are over 20,000 documents in a variety of languages that maintain a very high degree of consistency. The Greek documents are as high as 98 percent consistent with no doctrines affected by the 2 percent variation. Aside from this documentation, there are logical, historical, scientific, and archeological evidences for the Judeo-Christian faith. Particularly, the resurrection of Christ has many tests for truth. We’ll look at that more closely in a later post. The resurrection falls under the category of miracles. However, Mr. Harrison doesn’t believe they are possible. A naturalist wouldn’t believe this is so; this is no surprise. A naturalist sees only the physical material world. There is nothing beyond it. In other words, the universe is all there is.

A word of definition would help here. Miracles are different from providential acts. Providence is when God uses the material world or people or things in it to accomplish something. Mr. Harrison uses the example of someone missing a plane and then the plane later crashes as an example of a miracle. This, however, is providence for the person who missed the plane. Mr. Harrison’s example of when he fainted in the jungle at night and was not eaten by wild beasts because a Masai warrior found him and sat by him is providential. That is not a miracle. A miracle would have been if Mr. Harrison would have become invisible to the wild beasts.

Miracles are acts of God to confirm the Word of God. Not only are they acts of God, but they are acts of God that either suspend the laws of nature or counter them. Jesus and Peter walking on water was a miracle. Jesus feeding the five thousand with two fish and five loaves of bread was a miracle. As I said before, the resurrection of Jesus was a miracle. Simply put, Christians believe in miracles because they believe God exists. Belief in the God of the Bible is the starting point. Orthodox Christianity believes God created the world ex nihilo, out of nothing. Nothing, as Aristotle said, is what rocks dream about. Nothing is non-existent. So when Christians say God created the worlds from nothing, it means there was nothing to work with. Before Creation, only God existed. (Beware of assertions today that nothing is really an energy field we simply don’t see.) Nothing is non-existence.

The New Testament records Jesus and the apostles performing miracles. Mr. Harrison’s explanation is that people of that era were easy to fool. “It would not have been difficult to amaze and baffle most people back then. For example, any mediocre magician today could easily have his or her way with an Iron Age audience.”[1]  So, what Mr. Harrison is inferring is that Jesus was at least a mediocre magician. Once again, when you have a naturalistic worldview, you cannot regard miracles as genuine. You are predisposed to look for a natural explanation, like slight of hand or some other kind of chicanery. This is a kind of presuppositionalism. Some might call it confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when you approach everything from your presupposed conclusions. You cannot consider whether another explanation might exist. Confirmation bias is used against Christians most of the time. This concept will come up again in Mr. Harrison’s writing.

We’ll look at the strength of eye-witness testimony and the corroboration of evidence in a later post. Once you accept the view that the God of the Bible exists, miracles are not difficult to believe. For an excellent treatment of miracles, consider Craig S. Keener’s, Miracles: The Credibility of New Testament Accounts. It is a two volume set that documents miracles in the New Testament and then later accounts from around the world.

Skeptics and atheists love to toss red-herrings and other tactics to get us off the trail. However, when a Christian can articulate the argument from cause to effect—the reason there is something instead of nothing—the skeptic has to provide reasons for existence. What we call the cosmological argument purports the idea that the universe had a beginning. This is understood and agreed upon by almost everyone. Some New Agers still hold to a belief in an eternal universe, but on the whole, all of science believes in a beginning. Now we just have to decide what caused it to come into being. If the universe came into being, what was the cause? There are only two choices—chance or purpose. Either the universe came into existence by chance or on purpose. Time, space, and matter came into existence at a point in the distant past. They did not exist before the beginning.

If time-space-matter came into existence at some point, then whatever caused them had to be time-less or beyond time; space-less, or not confined to space; and immaterial, not made of matter. In other words, it had to be transcendent or apart from these things. Not being a scientist, I can’t describe everything about what was necessary for the universe to come into existence, but I know enough to know these things came into existence together and need each other to exist. It seems simple enough to say matter must occupy space, and time is the measurement of something moving through space.

What best describes the beginning? Chance? Some hyper explosion from nothing caused all of this? Scientifically we don’t know, but we have to ask what’s the best inference or explanation? What’s the best probability? If you’re not convinced yet, consider Dr. Paul Copan’s article, “Is Naturalism a Simpler Explanation Than Theism.”[2] Dr. Copan covers the major features of both naturalism and theism. Some things cannot be explained by science and certainly cannot be defined by science—like other minds, beauty, morals, and science itself. Science is dependent on philosophy and metaphysics.

Back to miracles. Have miracles happened? According to the eyewitnesses of the New Testament documents, they have. What about miracles of other religions? Are they real? If a miracle is a work of power, counterfeits can exist. Satan can perform miracles to deceive. However, according to a naturalistic worldview, this is impossible, chicanery of some sort. Or there is a naturalistic explanation for it. Admittedly, some people are ready to call anything a miracle. Perhaps it is for their own reassurance. That is possible. For the purpose of apologetics, defending the historical reliability of the eyewitness accounts of the resurrection is the main point. For this reason, the resurrection is a lightning rod for skeptics and atheists.

The miracle of the resurrection tied several doctrines together besides providing the way into God’s presence. Mr. Harrison questions whether miracles are real at all. His conflating of providence with the miraculous is a simple mistake. He’s no better informed than other skeptics and atheists who don’t know the difference. However, it causes him to ask the wrong questions.

The bottom line is, if the God of the Bible exists, miracles are possible.

 


Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), (Kindle Locations 1007–1008).

2 Paul Copan, “Is Naturalism a Simpler Explanation Than Theism?” Enrichment Journal; http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201201/201201_108_naturalism.cfm#.UwzVHoWVixk.facebook.

Does Christianity Make Societies Better? 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian #8

In this next chapter from Guy P. Harrison’s book, titled “Does Christianity Make Societies Better?,” Mr. Harrison begins the chapter with this quote:

After growing up in Florida and then living twenty years of my adult life in the very Christian Cayman Islands, I am well aware of how common and strong the belief is that Christianity is not just good for a society but absolutely necessary. Without Christianity, I have heard repeatedly from many Christians, a country and its people are doomed to immorality, violence, corruption, and failure. A country that is committed to Jesus, however, will be blessed and is sure to prosper in every way that matters. When stated, this belief is usually followed closely by calls to strengthen Christianity, to make it more prominent in schools and government, to better fund and promote it, and to push back against rival religions, atheism, and even science. This all makes sense to many Christians, of course, because in their minds Christianity is associated with everything good. Why wouldn’t we want more of it? The prejudice, hate, and violence that are sometimes tied to Christianity are seen as aberrations or problems stemming from counterfeit versions and churches that are corrupt or have lost their way. These mean nothing to a society’s crucial need for “real Christianity.” While it is certainly understandable why so many Christians accept and push this theme of Christianity improving societies, it is important to ask one very simple question: Is it true?[1]

 In a word, the answer is yes! Who wouldn’t want to live in a place where people didn’t steal from each other, commit adultery, or murder? That appears like a no-brainer. Once again, it may be necessary to draw some boundaries to answer the question. Admittedly, Christians can be carnal. If that was not true, several books of the New Testament would not have been written. That doesn’t mean Christianity doesn’t work. Neither does it mean Christian principles are unfounded. A good source for facts on Christianity’s positive influence on culture down through the ages is Rodney Stark. His books on Church history are quite eye-opening.  My personal favorite of Stark’s books is The Victory of Reason. Several others also offer some enlightened views of the Church through the Middle Ages.

Mr. Harrison’s use of statistics appears to be compelling. He says, “The most reliable way to assess the claim that Christianity or other religions make societies better is to simply look at the world and see if it does.”[2][  He then uses charts to compare statistics from the United Nations, demonstrating that less religious countries are more advanced than religious countries. What the chart doesn’t tell you is that these advanced nations were all religious countries until this present day. Until the last thirty years or so, most countries’ statistics would have been presented differently.

He also leaves out social issues like the abolition of slavery, which was spearheaded by Christians on both sides of the Atlantic. Were Christian guilty of participating in the slave trade? Absolutely! However, there was never a time when Christianity in general believed it was right. There was always the nagging presence of a greed and guilt finally voiced in a movement that abolished the practice.

 Until the middle of the twentieth century, Darwinism continued to promote the superiority of the Caucasian race. It wasn’t until Nazi Germany’s obvious cruel practices became well-known that text books were changed. Yes, the Nazis practiced their atrocities because they embraced a Darwinian biology. In fact, countries that deny a difference between humans and other animals often see a rise in acts against humankind. A good source for this is John G. West’s book, Darwin Day in America.

       Conversely, it was the promotion of a natural theology that gave way to freedom. These ideas, as recognized in our Declaration of Independence, were founded on religious belief. Argue if you want about the difference between theism and deism, but the Declaration was rooted in nature’s God and His laws. It’s easy to forget this or try to diminish its effect. However, most of the western world took note of the American experiment and copied it.

Ironically, Mr. Harrison uses “infant mortality” as a measuring rod, but not abortion rates. I find that peculiar. It’s always interesting that skeptics and atheists (except for some like Christopher Hitchens) promote abortion. Most often, that belief is founded on the idea of “weeding out the weak” from our evolutionary development. There are no “rights” for the unborn because they aren’t fully human, or so the argument goes. Mr. Harrison says, “Specifically, Mississippi’s fervor for Christianity and high church attendance does little for the welfare of its babies.”

He holds up New York City, a stronghold for Liberal politics and religion, as having lower infant mortality, while completely ignoring the fact that it has one of the highest per capita abortion rates in the nation. In fact, New York City has twice the abortion rate of the rest of the country, at over forty percent. The abortion rate among African American women is almost sixty percent. In other words, out of all viable pregnancies in New York City, over forty percent end in abortion. For whatever reason, Mr. Harrison doesn’t include these statistics in infant mortality rates. Of course, New York is among the least religious cities.

The fact is, citing Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is a red herring. That is, it leads us off the trail of truth. The original question was, “Does Christianity Make Societies Better?” My immediate answer was yes. A world without Christian influence would be dark. How many hospitals have been begun by atheists? If we eliminated the hospitals started by Christians and Jews, the number on this planet would be very small. When disaster strikes, who are the first to show up? Christians! Certainly, some atheist groups do humanitarian work, but when it is compared to the work done by Christian organizations, the imbalance is in favor of Christianity.

Do Christians make better politicians, or could they run the government better? I don’t think that’s a fair question. Would I want a politician to have a strong moral foundation and live by his convictions? Yes, and I think everyone else would, too. It is the loss of Christian morality that has caused America to slide into the state we are in today.

So, once again, Mr. Harrison has asked the wrong question. Or he has looked in the wrong places for the answers. I often find this to be true in my conversations with atheists; they attempt to frame a question in a way that allows them to twist your answer to their satisfaction.

 

 

[1] Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 679.

[2] Ibid, Kindle Locations 679.

 

 

A friend sent me this link for any who wish to continue this response.

http://christthetao.blogspot.com/2012/11/how-christ-liberates-humanity-123-proof.html

What is Atheism? 50 Simple Questions For Every Christian #7

This is perhaps one of the longer chapters in 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, by Guy P. Harrison. Mr. Harrison’s goal, in it, is to remove any negative stigma Christians may have toward atheists. He states, “Atheism is the absence of belief in a god or gods.”[1] This is straightforward enough; however, he doesn’t stop there, adding, “As many skeptics point out over and over, everyone is an atheist.”[2] For Mr. Harrison, it is just a matter of degree. However, this is not how theists describe their beliefs. And in order to have an a-theist, you first have to have a theist. Atheism is the absence of belief in any god.

I believe this is a category mistake. One category (theists) includes those who believe in God or gods. The other category (atheists) includes those who do not believe in God or gods. It is not a matter of how many gods you believe in but whether or not you believe in a spiritual dimension where this God or gods lives. Christians, as theists, believe more exists than the natural physical world we see with our eyes. God dwells in that world because God is a spirit. Atheists are naturalists, and they do not believe in anything beyond the natural physical world. Therefore, the difference between the two it is not a matter of how many gods one believes in but whether one believes any god exists.

Before I am accused of equivocating on the term theist, allow me to build a fence or two. I used the term theist as a category for someone who believes in God or gods. Technically, in the world of theology, a theist is someone who believes God is beyond this world yet interacts with it. Christians, Muslims, and Jews are all theists. There are also polytheists and limited god theists. These are quite different from a tradition theist. For example, Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe there is only one God, whereas by definition, polytheists believe in more than one god. Limited god theists can go either way on this, because their view of God is limited and, therefore, can be more than one. Thus, the idea that everyone is an atheist because it is a matter of degree is a category mistake.

Mr. Harrison tries to make a case for common ground, because both atheists and Christians don’t believe in all the other gods. This is silly. Atheists do not believe in a world or place or sphere beyond the natural physical world, while Christians do. There is no common ground here. In fact, Christians have more common ground with a pantheist or a polytheist than an atheist.

Mr. Harrison tries hard to normalize atheism, but the reality is that atheism continues to be the minority view, even in secular societies. He says atheists don’t believe in Jesus for the same reasons Christians don’t believe in all the other gods. I beg to differ. Once again, the reason atheists do not believe is not the same. Christians believe in one true God. Atheists do not believe in any god. Christians believe God and spirits exist. Atheists do not.

Mr. Harrison makes two other points. First, he says many Christians believe atheists are Satan worshipers or are working for Satan. I don’t know any Christians who believe this. And my experience on this matter carries the same anecdotal weight as Mr. Harrison’s assertion. Neither one has solid proof. Further, whether an atheist is working for the devil or not ought not to be a concern for an atheist, as atheists don’t believe in the devil. I’m not sure why this bothers Mr. Harrison.

Second, he claims Christians also believe atheists are communists. It is a simple logical mistake to say all atheists are communists. However, it wouldn’t be an informal logical fallacy to say all communists are atheists, since communism is an atheistic political system. In other words, to say all communists are atheists and, therefore, all atheists are communists, does not logically make sense. The two statements are not equal. If some Christians think all atheists are communists, they are making a category mistake.

Mr. Harrison likes to use his personal experience to make assertions about what Christians believe—like his assumption that Christians believe atheists know God exists but deny that reality so they can continue to sin. I’m sure some professing atheists do this; in other words, they deny God’s existence because they know what it means if they acknowledge it. Is that stupid? Yes, and selfish. But it would be foolish to assume all atheists do this.

Mr. Harrison’s questions for Christians are mainly based on anecdotal evidence. He says the fact that atheists can’t disprove God’s existence doesn’t mean He does exist. However, it does show that the evidence for God’s existence stands. So, what atheists do is try to disprove the evidence. They attack arguments like the cosmological argument with alternative theories, like a multiverse. We’ll consider the intelligent design arguments in a different writing.

Mr. Harrison’s last point is one I agree with. That is, he says atheists are people too. As apologists, we ought to know to attack the argument and not the person. Atheists can be arrogant and abrasive, but so can Christians. I believe we ought to strive for civility as we discuss the issues. Unfortunately, Mr. Harrison downplays the new atheist’s nastiness, ridicule, and aggressive behavior, which doesn’t help the arguments. It would have been good if he had addressed this honestly.

I find Mr. Harrison’s book to be more of a “street fight” than a professional prize fight. His questions are based on anecdotal experience, not research. Occasionally he will discuss statistics, but even then, he does not take an even-handed approach. This doesn’t help the conversation.

Mr. Harrison claims to be a skeptic when, in fact, he is an atheist. A skeptic would suspend judgment on whether God exists and whether materialism is true. Mr. Harrison wants Christians to question their views, but he supports a materialistic worldview. He believes only materials or matter exist. He is also not skeptical about whether truth exists, because he believes science is the only arbiter of truth. So his skepticism isn’t really a suspension of judgment but only of Christian views.

 

 

 

[1] Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 746–747.

[2] Ibid.

Who Is A Christian? 50 Simple Questions For Every Christian #6

 

If you are just joining in on these emails/blogs, the title of this issue comes from a chapter of Guy P. Harrison’s book, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian. This is the sixth installment, with many more to come. When I can, I will combine some chapters, so I may not have fifty responses, but I will address all the questions.

This chapter questions “Who is a Christian?” Mr. Harrison is a skeptic and insists we question everything. Of course, we couldn’t question his skepticism, for that would just create a circular discussion without any conclusion, except to be skeptical about skepticism. This sounds like nonsense. I will give in to the idea that skepticism is “suspending judgment,” but you cannot suspend judgment forever. You can suspend judgment until a sufficient amount of evidence is examined. By sufficient, I mean at least two explanations of the data. This is how we can come to some working knowledge by which we can judge a matter.

However, Mr. Harrison’s skepticism carries a hidden assumption—that the only reliable knowledge is scientific knowledge. Only scientific knowledge can be proven to be true. This belief is also known as scientism. The problem with this is that the statement, “The only reliable knowledge is scientific knowledge” cannot be proven scientifically. That is an ideological statement, a philosophical statement, and therefore, it cannot be proven scientifically; only logic can prove or disprove this statement as true. But logic is one of those things science cannot prove or explain. Thus, it seems this hidden assumption cuts its own throat.

Mr. Harrison’s other option is to remain a pure skeptic. Pure skepticism does not arrive at conclusions (preferring to suspend judgment) other than to remain a skeptic; this is a bankrupt ideology. Although Mr. Harrison wants his readers to become critical thinkers, his biases are clear. That is—science is the only verifiable knowledge. Critical thinking requires the thinker to consider all the options without having presupposed conclusions. This is called intellectual honesty. (Postmodernists say that is impossible to achieve, because everyone comes to the table with presupposed ideas. At this point, we could ask whether that is a presupposed idea, but that would be a digression.)

The wonderful thing about a personal human mind is that, even with presupposed ideas, we can hold them off and look at things objectively. Intellectual honesty requires us, when evidence is presented to prove our idea wrong, to admit our error, change our thinking, and go on with this newfound knowledge. Intellectual dishonesty refuses to consider our ideas might be wrong. Every writer begins with the end of his book, story, or idea in view. That is what Mr. Harrison has done in this book. However, I don’t believe he has looked at the evidence carefully enough to make his case, although I do believe it is worthwhile to look at his questions. Most Christians would not be able to answer him sufficiently, and some might be persuaded to lose their faith. These people have built their foundations on emotions and experience, not on the veracity of the unique truthfulness of the gospel. Or they have not thought much about why they believe what they believe. Others are people who do not know how to work their way through a question to see the motivation behind the question. Mr. Harrison plays to these feelings and emotions and in some ways skews the facts.

Mr. Harrison also does not address scholarly Christian arguments for God’s existence, the authority and reliability of the New and Old Testaments, the Intelligent Design Movement, and other noteworthy evidence for the Christian faith. What he does address is the rank and file of the church, questioning the average Christian’s ability to defend his or her faith. This is more like a schoolyard fight than a professional boxing match. However, I’ve attempted to bring some order and clarity to the arguments he presents and provide answers for the rank and file in the Christian church.

To effectively address Mr. Harrison’s question, “Who is a Christian?” let’s first look at how he describes it in his own words:

This is one of the key reasons why many people are skeptical of Christianity. There are a maddening number of versions of it, and this adds to the confusion and doubt. When someone tells you that they have the revealed truth from Jesus and it is just one version of thousands, there is a problem.[1]

How can any Christian blame skeptics for not embracing Christianity when the world’s Christians can’t even agree on precisely who Jesus is, what he wants us to do, how we are supposed to worship him, and how we get to heaven?[2]

I don’t know any Christians who do not lament the division that exists in the Body of Christ. If there are 41,000 different denominations of Christianity, as Mr. Harrison claims, that is too many. Some would say two is too many. Although I think Mr. Harrison has a point, once again I believe he is missing something important. He generally defines how different churches do things rather than what they believe. For instance, he wants to include Mormons as part of the Christian Church. (Mormons also want to be included.) Of course, Mormons have very different beliefs than Christians. However, I have no problem including Catholics, and I believe it isn’t the church you belong to that makes you a Christian.

A simple way to answer the question about who is a Christian is to address the concept of relationship. Everyone is in relationship with God: Some are related to God through peace and some through wrath. The question is, which are you? The question now is: How do you attain a peaceful relationship with God? How do you make peace with God?

If I was going to list the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, I would have between twelve and fourteen items. However, a person does not need to believe even these essential doctrines in order to become a Christian. Essential doctrines must be true in order for the gospel to be true, but becoming a Christian is much simpler. Paul said, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”[3] This is what it takes to become a follower of Jesus. Admittedly, the word Lord is a loaded concept. Following Jesus is more than saying a prayer, and salvation entails more than justification.

Two things Mr. Harrison points out need direct addressing. The first is about “revealed truth” from Jesus. Harrison asserts there are thousands of different truths about who Jesus is. This is misconstrued. Generally, Christians agree on the person of Jesus—that He is the second person of the Trinity, was born of a virgin, lived a holy life, died by crucifixion, rose on the third day, and ascended into heaven. How Christians practice their beliefs varies widely; these are the differences people usually identify within Christianity. And I dare say, if all Christians practiced their Christianity in an identical fashion, they would be criticized for walking “lock step.”

Harrison’s second criticism has to do with what Jesus wants us to do. This is simple: He wants us to believe in and obey Him. What Jesus wants can be received from studying the Scripture. This is all that matters.

As an unlikely source for what a Christian is, I refer to Christopher Hitchens, who was a known atheist and antagonist toward Christianity. Hitchens, now deceased, was one of the “four horsemen” who were identified as new atheists. In an interview for the Portland Monthly, Marylyn Sewell asked Hitchens this question:

The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens responded:

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.[4]

Clearly, Hitchens understood more than Mr. Harrison does about Jesus and Christianity.

 

[1] Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 615–617.

[2] Ibid., Kindle Locations 617–619.

[3] Romans 10:9–10 NKJV

[4] “The Hitchens Transcript,” Portland Monthly (Dec. 17, 2009); http://www.portlandmonthlymag.com/news-and-profiles/people-and-profiles/articles/christopher-hitchens; accessed December 11, 2013.

Does Jesus Answer Prayers - 50 Simple Questions For Every Christian #5

Suppose we could identify the most important and deserving prayer request of all and then measure its effectiveness objectively. Would that say something meaningful about the claim that God/Jesus answers prayers? I think so.[1]

So begins Guy P. Harrison’s chapter, “Does Jesus Answer Prayers?” First, I think this is a misguided question as far as determining whether God exists. I don’t know any apologist who would use this as an argument for the existence of God, no matter how many Christians use it to verify their experience. Second, I once again believe Mr. Harrison conflates religious people together. He highlights the poor he has encountered from different faiths and asserts they all point to prayer for the validation of their beliefs. I’m not sure what purpose this serves for Mr. Harrison. After all, the title of the book is 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian.

Harrison says Christians have used the example of answered prayer as proof for God’s existence. At least this is done to verify their experience, an act that then supposes God’s existence. This simply demonstrates that Christians need to learn apologetics and employ better arguments. If I was truly a cynic, I would say Mr. Harrison has employed a “straw man” fallacy by setting up this false image and then attacking it. However, I believe Mr. Harrison has encountered these religious people and has been given these examples of answered prayer.

In considering whether God answers prayers, we first need to define a few terms. First, we need to clarify that what Mr. Harrison means by prayer is actually petition. Christians often use the word prayer for petition, too. Prayer has a much wider definition, which Mr. Harrison employs later in the chapter. Prayer means communing with God. Petition means asking God for specific things. Consider the verse that says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Is Paul saying we should continually ask God for things? Or is he saying we ought to be in constant communion with God? Jesus often uses the word ask. This is the nature of petition. We ought to make our petitions known, which is part of prayer but has a narrower meaning. As I mentioned, prayer is a much wider word.

Related to prayer, Mr. Harrison asserts:

If prayer works, then we should see the most religious societies on Earth—the places with the most praying going on—as the most “blessed,” secure, and safest places to live. Meanwhile, the least religious societies ought to be more distressed, because there is much less praying for positive divine intervention. Is this the world we see? Not even close.[2]

Mr. Harrison goes on to assert that the poorest places on earth are the most religious, and if prayer really worked, these would be the least distressed. Mr. Harrison is clearly using material wealth as the measure. I wonder why he doesn’t look at suicide rates. Would not the idea of hope be a good indication for religious people? Isn’t suicide an indication of distressed people? According to a 2010 list of the top fifteen most suicidal countries,[3] Belgium is number 15 on the list, and Finland is 14. Most of the countries on the list are from Eastern Europe, including Hungary (#6) and the Russian Federation (#3). The only country that is considered third world is Guyana, at number 8. Sri Lanka (#4) and Japan (#7) are countries with a very low Christian population (Japan is not a religious country, and Sri Lanka is primarily Buddhist). None of the third world African countries that Mr. Harrison mentions make the top-fifteen list. Could it be that the extreme poverty he witnessed is not a reason for ending it all, but hopelessness in a secular society is? The majority of nations mentioned in the study are developed, secular nations.

How does this relate to Mr. Harrison’s assertion that these poorest nations are not a good indication of Jesus’ answering of prayer? I see it connected in two ways: First,{C}[AC1]{C}  these people in the poorest of nations who live in extreme poverty must have a sense of hope. Perhaps God is not answering prayers the way Mr. Harrison would like, but He is giving these people hope to go on. By contrast, many of those who don’t have a god to pray to or a reason to live beyond this life find it unbearable, even though they live in a good social system.

Mr. Harrison cites a mother crying out for the life of her baby, then watching the child die after a prolonged time of suffering, as unreasonably disturbing. I agree. It is disturbing to see the ravages of poverty, especially when it is caused by war or other human interventions. We don’t know why God doesn’t answer such prayers. One reason may be because we don’t know the mind of God and shouldn’t attempt to be His counselor. Only God knows the end from the beginning and what this child may or may not do if it grew to adulthood. Suffering is part of this world, and it will be until a new order is ushered in. Prayer, as we know it, will remain a mystery to us. Mr. Harrison, like most atheists and skeptics, does not like being subject to anything and considers his person above any kind of subservience.

I always find it amusing when skeptics and atheists “frame the argument” from their worldview and their view of God. They then expect the Christian to answer them accordingly. From a naturalistic worldview, there is no room for the supernatural. We’ll see this when Mr. Harrison asks about miracles. I also think Mr. Harrison is not trying to get Christians to think about what they believe but trying to persuade them not to believe. That is fair enough; however, it ought to have been stated up front.

Mr. Harrison asserts Christians are stuck by introducing the fact that Muslims and other religious people say their god has answered their prayers. For instance, if Allah is answering Muslim prayers, doesn’t this provide evidence for Allah’s existence? And wouldn’t this be a conflict with the Christian view of God?

This isn’t a problem for Christians at all. God is big enough to answer the prayers of anyone who seeks Him. This isn’t to say I believe Allah is the same as Jesus. What I am saying is that anyone who seeks God, whether in ignorance or knowledge, can receive an answer to his or her petition. God answers or intervenes in people’s lives according to His plan for the earth, and God is merciful.

Finally, Mr. Harrison uses the term atheist’s prayer when he describes talking to himself. Is an atheist’s prayer an oxymoron? As we established earlier, prayer presumes a God or gods, unless Mr. Harrison is here inventing something new. Talking to yourself may be helpful, but it isn’t prayer.

 

 

[1] Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 485–486.

[2] Ibid., 512.

[3] Mamta Badkar and Gus Lubin, “The 15 Most Suicidal Countries in the World,” Business Insider (Oct. 22, 2010); http://www.businessinsider.com/most-suicidal-countries-2010-10# (accessed Dec. 3, 2013).

 {C}[AC1]Where is the second way it’s connected? Clarify.

 

Is It Polite To Ask - 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian #4

Many think it is impolite to talk about religion in any meaningful way in most settings. Strangely, this unwritten prohibition is promoted most vigorously by people who talk about religion in virtually every setting. From football games to the Grammy Awards to presidential speeches, religious belief is brought up constantly by religious people. But the moment someone asks a relevant question or makes the slightest challenge to it, no matter how fair, protests of rudeness and perhaps even charges of intolerance are sure to be made. Is religion a private affair or not? Is it appropriate to bring up the subject and talk about it or not?[1]

            These questions do not appear to be directed at Christians as much as the media. It also appears that Mr. Harrison is confused about what is polite and what is permitted. For instance, it is not permitted to question a candidate about his or her children. I agree. However, I don’t think it is rude to question a candidate’s religious views, and I have seen it done a number of times. I don’t agree with Mr. Harrison’s view that this is a one-way street—that is, that only believers are allowed to carry the conversation forward. The media questions candidates about their beliefs all the time.

            Barack Obama’s beliefs were called into question when the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s preaching came under scrutiny. The candidate Obama was excused from identifying with Wright’s less-than-flattering appraisal of American history and culture. Nevertheless, Obama’s religion was in the news, and his opponents attempted to use it against him.

            Senator Rick Santorum’s religious views were also scrutinized, especially because of his pro-life stance. He was interviewed and challenged by the media over and over. In fact, any pro-life candidate is usually taken to task for being “out of touch” with the rest of the country. So to say this conversation is a one-way street is hardly accurate.

            When candidates claim “God told them to run for office,”{C}[2] they ought to give an explanation for that statement, including what the implications might be. However, it should not be a big surprise if a candidate expresses faith in God and reliance on Him. Throughout the stories of important individuals in American history, we find reliance on God. Civilized men believed in God. Pagans were atheists or worshiped false gods. (For a more definitive view of God, read the previous post.)

            Interestingly, Mr. Harrison thinks it’s okay to be rude to Christians because rudeness is just part of life:

But rudeness exists in every form of human interaction. Football fans are often rude to one another. People can go far beyond being impolite to one another based on political leanings. There is rudeness in schools and in the workplace, and it can probably be found in a church or two as well.[3]

Is he saying that, because rudeness abounds in society, it is okay? Is he attempting to impose his idea of morality on us? It isn’t doubt that makes someone rude to those from another religion. Neither is questioning someone’s religion rude.

            Harrison does say he thinks we ought to be polite to one another. He also thinks Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins should not be called militant atheists. I disagree. They are called militant because of their militant attitude. Harrison makes this statement:

Reason and logic do not make a gulag, no matter how vigorously they are championed. A lecture is not a terrorist attack. Piercing questions about God delivered to the faithful are not assault and battery.[4]

Gulag? What religious institution made a gulag? It was the Soviet Union, the bastion of atheism. Assault and battery? Who says they are. When Richard Dawkins promotes intimidating Christians at the first “Reason” gathering in Washington, DC, is this not militant?

            Let me also say that Mr. Harrison doesn’t seem to be as widely read as he proposes. YouTube has hundreds of debates between Christians and skeptics. Dan Barker, John Loftus, and Michael Schermer are all atheists and skeptics who debate Christian philosophers. Perhaps Mr. Harrison has only encountered new believers who haven’t gotten their bearings yet.

            As an example, Mr. Harrison uses a “healing service” he once attended and reported on where an elderly woman went forward for prayer. Evidently she was suffering from a life-threatening disease. The faith healer claimed she was healed, as did the woman. However, the woman died within a couple weeks. Harrison says, although he was allowed to cover the healing service, he wasn’t permitted to follow up on the woman’s story. He says he was told it would be rude to do so since the woman had died after claiming she was healed.

            Admittedly, this sometimes happens, but it ought to also be clear that it is tasteless to interview the woman’s family about her faith. Instead, the “faith healer” ought to be investigated for making these claims. However, this does not rule out whether God heals or not. Harrison ought to consult Craig S. Keener’s two volume set of Miracles, which chronicles supernatural miracles happening all over the world. This would be a good exercise for a skeptic—rather than using an anecdotal story of a one-time incident.

            To be clear—no, I don’t think it’s rude to question people about their religious beliefs, especially when they make them public and especially when they say things like, “God told me to run for office.” However, I also think atheists ought to present their beliefs, too. They should not be allowed to hide behind the idea that they are the only reasonable ones. Skeptics and atheists use this idea and attempt to paint Christians as people with the “blind faith.”

            What is blind faith? Faith is an act of believing, and for the most part, it means trusting an authority. I believe when Jesus died, He died for my sins. God forgives me of all my sins. Is this blind faith? Only as much as trusting any other authority is blind faith. People get into their cars and drive without knowing much about combustible engines. People take medication, trusting their doctor’s word about its healing properties. Is this the same kind of blind faith? I don’t have to understand how something works in order to receive the benefits of it. I just have to trust the authority who claims it is true (i.e. it works). Faith is only as good as the object you place it in. Another way to say it is, faith only works when you place it in the right object. The object of the Christian’s faith is God’s acts through Jesus, as they are declared in the Scripture. This, of course, brings up all the questions about whether God exists and, if so, whether He has spoken to us. In short, if God exists, it follows He has communicated with us.

            So the blind faith argument really doesn’t work. People trust things every day without certainty. People take medication, trusting their doctor’s authority, in same way that people trust the traditions and words of their religion. However, I do believe everyone must learn to defend their faith. Politicians shouldn’t be allowed to garner votes by mentioning God, quoting Scripture, or even invoking the name of Jesus without being subject to questions. Like Mr. Harrison, I’m all for dialogue and clarification. Along those lines, I would request Mr. Harrison check his sources and not lean so much to the weak and sloppy beliefs he’s come across. No, I don’t think it is rude to ask about someone’s faith, especially someone who makes a faith claim in a public setting. And I also don’t think it’s fair to cherry pick incidents to try to make your point.

       

 

[1] Guy P. Harrison, 50 Simple Questions for Every Christian, Kindle Edition (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2013), Kindle Locations 347–351.

[2] Harrison, Kindle Location 393.

[3] Harrison, Kindle Locations 424–426.

[4] Harrison, Kindle Locations 448–449.