The Gutted Truth

I knelt down over the large doe I’d just shot. She had dropped where she stood when I fired my primitive muzzle loader at her vitals. It was my first trip into the woods in over twenty years. Now what? In nice terms I had to “dress her.” In reality, it is called “gutting,” because of the operation of removing everything inside her-her guts. I thought to myself, “Big fish,” as I’d gutted hundreds, maybe thousands of fish. It wasn’t the neatest, but it was sufficient. She was “dressed” and ready for the butcher.

A gutted deer has no semblance of life. There’s no mistake, it’s dead. There is a process however that restores some of the image of what the deer once was - taxidermy. This is the process of a carefully trained person who can take the skin and head of the animal and make it look like its still alive. However, it isn’t difficult to tell it is stuffed. The taxidermist has used a styrofoam form that fits the deer. In about eight hours he or she can construct a fairly good resemblance. 

I bring this story and concept up to discuss truth, which in my estimation has been shot, killed, gutted and stuffed by our culture. What passes as truth today is something our culture has not just killed, but murdered and neatly stuffed. What passes for truth today is not the living truth that our culture once relied on. It is a phony replica - an imposter. Truth tells us like it is. It is an accurate description of what is real. To be brief, it is objective and absolute. You may have an opinion about what is real, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. You can even say that you believe that something can be true for you but not for me, but that doesn’t make that statement true either. Truth is an accurate statement about reality. Something is true if that is what actually is - as in, existence.

Here’s how this plays out in our culture - We are in a media centered  environment that miscommunicates and misleads what actually is. It has gutted and stuffed reality with phony impersonations. The news media is largely to blame for this skewing reality to promote an agenda or simply to boost ratings. Movies, music, TV, and the internet are all purveyors of distorted reality. They rarely tell it like it is. The problem is we trust it. (I say “we” as a culture.) That brings us major problems - pitfalls, but first understand what authority has to do with this. 

We accept something as an authority when we believe in its representation of what is real. We trust someone’s word or description about reality. Here’s an example: At one time what was morally correct was the right choice to make. Over time, this has been replaced by “whatever feels good - do it,” kind of ethic. I hear people say, “Whatever floats your boat,” as a new deciding influence for their actions. It has nothing to do with morality, nothing to do with reality, just whatever feels good - do it. The is a result of cultural influence - secular cultural’s influence. Secular culture has become the authority for this “taxiderm-ied” truth.

What secular culture doesn’t tell us is that there are pitfalls to misunderstanding reality and dissing truth. As an authority, secular culture doesn’t seem to care. So let me list at least three pitfalls.

Pitfall #1 of choosing the wrong authority is you’re likely to make bad decisions. I say, “likely” because there is an outside chance that what floats your boat may be the right choice. If secular culture is misrepresenting the way things really are there is a good chance it will mislead you and you’ll make bad decisions. The equivalent of this is having a broken compass. This is losing the “true north” indication - you won’t know which way to go to get to the correct destination.

Pitfall #2 of choosing the wrong authority is that you’re likely not to come to the right conclusions on important concepts. Readjusting concepts of life is an important part of growing up. One principle I was taught, no, it was drilled into me was to respect your elders. However, the turbulent time of the Sixties shouted this down with, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty!” Aside from being a fairly stupid idea, it had “legs” among a young disgruntled population. (You have to wonder if those who first stated this really thought they wouldn’t ever turn thirty years of age.)

The idea of coming to the wrong conclusion or definitions of concepts can be devastating.The obvious one is truth. Redefining the concept of truth has had an enormous impact on our lives. If truth is not objective and absolute then there is no “true north” to life. There’s no way to navigate, to know what is right or wrong, and anything goes. This is exactly where we are living. Every moral fiber that established our culture is up for discussion and we have the world of the media - movies, music, TV and the internet to guide us.

Pitfall #3 in choosing the wrong authority is loosing the ability to think seriously and deeply about everything important. If you can't properly define the concepts how can you think clearly. No matter how strongly secular culture states that can you make the decisions that matter, the aim of culture is to decide for you. Without addressing some conspiracy theories, the role of secular culture seems to coerce us into their way of thinking. Some tactics are intimidation, bullying, and chastising. Instead of promoting dialogue and truly hashing out the concepts, secular culture tells you, “obey or else.” Name calling is another tactic. “You’re ignorant if . . .” “You’re a racist if . . .” “You’re intolerant if . . .” People, and many Christians succumb to the intimidation and fall into line.

So there you have it - a secular culture that has gutted truth.

Pitfall #1 you'll make bad decisions

Pitfall #2 you'll not be able to correctly define important concepts

Pitfall #3 you'll lose the ability to think clearly 

What’s a person to do? First, recognize that your ability to think is a God-given characteristic that acknowledges your Creator. We all trust authority - some choose to trust science, some trust the Bible, some trust other people. The ability to think, reasoning, is the way we come to the conclusion of which authority best represents the truth. Personally, I believe the Scripture is the best representation of reality. Every other authority that clamors for my attention must line up with that. However, I have the ability to think through the process and see if that authority truly lines up with my understanding of God’s revelation to us in the Scripture. I don’t see Scripture and science at odds with one another - just one is subservient to the other. However, what I do recognize is when something is consistently wrong or skewed, like secular culture. Don’t accept a gutted, dressed and stuffed version of reality, but the real one that is accessible through a renewed mind.

Learn to think biblically and theologically. Learn to think through the lens of Scripture; see life as God would see it.

Please Donate to our Tech Equipment Fundraiser through Fundly


As RCM/No Pat Answers takes on new projects and events, we have found a need to upgrade and purchase new technical equipment (audio/video) to better serve you and be more effective in ministry. Our desire is to be able to record video blogs as well as other instruction of biblical, apologetics and theological theme.  We will be collecting donations for this equipment through 1/31/15. We are so grateful for donations of any amount. We have set up a Fundly page for donations that you can visit here.

Renewing Your Mind, Part Two

In the first part of Renewing Your Mind, I wrote about the benefits of renewing your mind. Now, I would like to tell you how you can renew your mind. This is not an automatic process as we ought to notice in Paul’s admonition. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We must note that this is a command, not a suggestion. So, the objective is to be transformed, that is, have our lives changed further into the image of Jesus. Conversely, the world pressures us to be conformed to its pattern, but we are to be transformed. It pays to mention again that the term conformed  is to be forced into a mold and the term, transformed, is a change from the inside out. It is true change. It is change that flows from what is already inside of us, that is, the Spirit of God.

 

There are more than a few words in the New Testament that are translated as mind. It’s hard enough in English to define mind, but the Greek language gives it a good try. This is the first step in renewing your mind. You must think differently than you did in the past. The target of your thinking is above not below. In Colossians 3:2 we read, Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. However, context, as usual, plays an important role. V1. says, If you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Both verse 1 and 2 employ a command - Keep seeking and set your mind. Actually, verse 2 says, Think! Think on the things above!

 

Think on the heavenly things where Jesus has won a place for you for eternity. This is not gazing at the heavens imagining pearly gates and streets of gold, but the work Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection. Think on the provision of his grace, the hope of glory, the power of the resurrection. These much more are the items to think on. Learn to think biblically, and yes, theologically.

 

For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:6). Here again Paul using the same word for “mind” tells us that if we set our minds on the flesh we are carnal people. The next two verses betray that the mind set on the flesh is of the flesh and hostile towards God. (Reflect back on Chapter 1 of Romans.)

 

In Romans 8, Paul states that the mind set on the flesh is death, not subject to the law of God and cannot please God. This jives with Romans 12, also. Remember, Part 1 of Renewing Your Mind. 

 

The mind set on the heavenly things, the things of the Spirit help us to renew our minds. If I may press this further and say that a good habit of reading quality material that lays out the person and work of Christ, good material that properly lays out biblical history and theology will help you renew your mind. If you persist in reading “feel good” books that do nothing to advance your critical thinking skills, nor give you good sound biblical information, you will not be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Books that do nothing but appease our selfish appetites are helping you set your mind on the flesh. Friends, this may sound blunt, but I make no apologies for it. I know how easy it is to take the path of least resistance and give in to the flesh. We sometimes do this by thinking we’re reading something spiritual that will help us when all it does is gratify our selfish desires. There are many books and videos that only help us focus on ourselves. We must learn that the answers do not reside in us but in Christ. Think on these things. You can be transformed by renewing your mind and succeed in proving what the will of God is. You can do this by setting your mind on what Jesus has done for you. Think on these things. Focus your attention on Christ, who is the wisdom of God and fullness of Him.

 

Renewing Your Mind, Part One

Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

These verses in Romans 12 are considered “hinge” verses that are highlighted by the word “therefore.” The old adage in Bible study is whenever you see a therefore,  you must look what it is there for. Normally, it refers to what has just proceeded it. However, in this case I believe Paul is referring to something that doesn’t just precede it but actually goes back to the first chapter.

In Chapter One, Paul is laying out his argument that the Gentiles are sinners who have rejected God, even though He has made Himself known to them. The result is that their hearts were darkened and then God gave them over to three conditions: the lusts of their hearts (v.24), degrading passions (v.26), and a depraved mind (v28). My interpretation is that Chapter Twelve refers back to this passage.

Knowing that the path of sinners is destined for the wrath of God, whether Jew or Greek, Paul set out to explain God’s plan for justification, sanctification, and glorification. Paul explained how all mankind is shut up under sin, but God has a plan to restore those who would find salvation in Jesus Christ. That would take us through Chapter Eight of Romans. He then turned to whether or not Israel was still included in God’s plan and the answer was, “yes.” He then gave his, “therefore” in Chapter Twelve.

If believers are not conformed to this world but transformed by the renewing of their mind they can receive some valuable spiritual benefits. It is very clear that there are enormous benefits when believers renew their mind. It should be noted that this is a command, not a suggestion. “Be transformed,” is an imperative. So what are these benefits?

First and foremost when a believer is transformed by the renewing of their mind they are pleasing to God. Who doesn’t want this? Although most people are trying to please someone, believers in particular want to please their God. Here’s your chance!

The second thing that Paul says is that you will prove what the will of God is. Wow - if I had a dollar for every time people have asked me how to find God’s will, well, I’d have lots of dollars. The point is that every one struggles or at least seeks to know the will of God. Here Paul tells us that we can prove what it is - that it is good, acceptable and perfect. And, we can do it by simply being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Now that’s a winner.

The third thing is the obvious one - perhaps too obvious; the believer is transformed. This transformation is the work of the Spirit who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Christ in you is the hope of glory. The short way to say this is that we become more like Jesus.

These benefits of transformation - pleasing God, proving God’s will, and being changed, are why we should all be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Next time, I’ll post about the “how” to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Stay tuned.

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)

 "Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral" by Jason Pratt, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from Original

 "Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral" by Jason Pratt, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from Original

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 . . .

"Train Wreck - 1905" by Jill Carlson, licensed under CC BY 2.0 / Modified from Original

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.