Here we go again. Sorry, that's a bit of exasperation. I read today about another Christian musician who has given up his faith because he discovered many things he had overlooked. So, here's another round of "I never knew this about Christianity."
Shannon Low, frontman of Order of Elijah, a "Christian Deathcore" band gave up his faith. (Pardon my ignorance, but I have no idea what a Christian Deathcore band is other than something to do with heavy metal). Low renounced his faith because he was ignorant of accusations that the earliest gospel was written fifty years after Jesus "supposedly" died. Paul never read any of the gospels. Or, that there is no evidence of Jesus' existence that was written by contemporary writers. He goes on to say that the eyewitnesses to the miracles were long gone before the gospels were written and the wonders the gospels contain are similar to wonders of "other gods before his time." Low admits he picked up a copy of The God Delusion, by Richard Dawkins that answered so many of his questions. In effect, reading this book made sense of the "chaotic puzzle" he had encountered. Of course, he imbibed Dawkins' rants of the God of the Old Testament being so mean, ugly, petty, jealous, vindictive, racist and misogynistic. I may have added a few words there for color, but you get the idea. If you've read Dawkins' God Delusion, you'll know I went easy on God here.
Here's my exasperation – So another high profile celebrity Christian falls to the attacks against Christianity and buys wholesale the familiar arguments that are shallow and defeated with a bit of knowledge and logic. Low says he studied the history of the Old Testament, and so I'm wondering how and with what did he study? What were his tools other than swallowing God Delusion as if it were the Bible? I'm wondering if he read Dawkins' Delusion. Or, The Devil's Delusion, both which give considerable evidence for God's existence and easily refute the likes of Richard Dawkins' arguments.
I'm afraid we will continue to see these modern Christian icons fall from grace because of seemingly sound ideas. All of the ideas Low mentions in his FaceBook post are easy to defeat. Better he could have been prepared for the arguments beforehand, which is a better idea still. Christians are still relatively ignorant of the Bible's history. We are still novices when it comes to argumentation and how to engage with contrary ideas. Although apologetics subjects have come closer to the forefront, they are still a long way off for the average Christian. Training in logic and critical thinking are not standard, not even promoted in most Christian churches.
Shannon Low would probably still be a Christian today if he'd have learned something of how we got the Bible we have today. He might still be a Christian if he understood some basic theology, a study of the character of God. I'd wager his Christianity was based a lot on emotion and more than likely a bit of political correctness. He may have encountered some legalism among Christians, too.
Low's departure from the Christian Faith echoes through countless other unprepared young Christians. There is great need to educate young people about the historical reliability of the New Testament, the transmission process of the Gospel message, and how to think critically. Low bought into Dawkins' rhetoric because he could not critically judge what Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion. Any skilled thinker could see through Dawkins' arguments in the first few pages. Unfortunately, most of the literate world is not skilled in critical thinking, and the book has sold millions.
Other Christians will read Low's FaceBook post and begin to question their faith, too. Low's commentary and his statements will resonate with their doubts. Once again, this is a heads up for the church to take seriously the arguments marshalled against the Christian faith.
You can read Low's full explanation here
Ouch! These are painful words. They’re some of the most painful words I’ve heard parents say. It is usually at the end of the story about how their teenage son or daughter walked away from the faith. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes anger when this is expressed to me. There is always a look of shock that accompanies the statement. Sometimes parents will say, “I wish I saw that coming.”
The situation usually surrounds the brutal fact that we don’t teach our children the “whys” of our faith. We tell them Bible stories, biblical values, and model a good Christian life only to find out it isn’t enough to keep them walking with the Lord. In short, we have taught them “what” is believed to be true, but not why it is true. We have never pondered the idea of evidence or reasons to believe. We’ve never shown how faith is a reasonable choice. At worst, we said things like, “It’s in the Bible,” as if that would be enough to secure them in their faith. What we haven’t done is supported our assertions with good reasons.
Now the question is for those who still have their children within the sound of their voice and grasp of their hand: “What must I do to prepare myself and my children for the challenges both of us will face?” Lately, I seem to draw on my military experience for illustrations and rightly so: this is a fight, too. One thing the military is good at is training. When the military knows what obstacles or situations you will face they step up their training. Usually, that includes some physical conditioning. Sometimes it is psychological training. In effect, the military wants you prepared for every situation you will face. For me as a crash rescue man, I had to learn vehicles, tools, tactics, hydraulics (yes! hydraulics) rates of explosive ordinance, and much more. When I received orders to Binh Thuy Airbase, South Vietnam, I had to undergo some other training. Quite a bit of it was psychological. In all, the Air Force wanted me prepared so I wouldn’t be saying, “Didn’t see that coming!”
LEARN THE MATERIAL
So, how do you prepare to be ready for this challenge? Fortunately, there is a growing amount of resources for parenting children in the 21st Century. Three aspects of this preparation are necessary. For the Christian parent, the task is to learn the material that will help you teach your children why they believe Christianity is true. Don’t depend on your church to do this. If your kids attend a Christian school, don’t rely on them to do this, either. Teaching your children is your responsibility. Think of it as homeschooling your children in their faith. Many parents have a family devotion time. If you don’t, you must. Use this time as “school-time” to teach your children the reasons why you believe Christianity is true.
The second part is for the Christian parent the challenge is learning how to dialogue and convey the answers to the many questions their children will have. Okay, so you have a toddler who jabbers and having a meaningful conversation doesn’t have much of a chance at this stage. I know, I hear it all the time: “I don’t think my child can grasp complex issues.” Here’s another way to think of this - when do you think retired New York Yankee Derek Jeter began playing baseball? Would you say it was when he was five years old? Ten? A teenager? I’ll bet his father was rolling a ball to him when he was a toddler. Young Derek may have picked it up and tried eating it, but he knew what the ball felt like, smelled like, and how much it weighed. That ball would have begun to imprint on his young brain. His ability would have grown accordingly. It would have been crazy to put him in a batting cage when he was a toddler.
So it is with presenting evidence with children. I would bet one of the first issues a parent has to deal with is their darling child lying to them. What? What parent hasn’t had to deal with this? Here’s a tip - good situation to begin to explain the difference between truth and falsity. We know lying is wrong, but why is it wrong? Why do we value the truth? The point here is once you learn the basics of why it is we believe Christianity is true we begin to teach our children the same.
The last part of this is providing that space for your children to learn. If we see this as a mandate, a responsibility, we make the time to teach our children not only the “what” of the Christian faith, but the “why” it is true.
Our kids will face all kinds of opposition to the Christian faith. The internet provides hundreds of videos designed to deconstruct their faith (and ours). How do you keep you children from that? How do you keep your kids from other children that have learned all religions are like fairy-tales. The point is we want to equip our children so that none of these challenges come as surprises. We want to provide them so that none of these challenges catch them unprepared, and we never have to say, “Didn’t see that coming.”
Here are some resources: Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Build a Lasting Faith by Natasha Crain. See our RCM store to download two Natasha Crain MP3s.
It may be a somewhat surprising combination – technology and seniors – but a new survey shows that using social technology results in better wellbeing for people ages 80 and older. In fact, 58% of seniors surveyed believe technology has the power to improve communication with family and friends. The senior respondents also report that social technology gives them more life satisfaction and health, and a higher likelihood of attaining life goals. The positive effects of social technology can be extended to bringing church to senior shut-ins, which more than likely will add to their life satisfaction, health, and overall wellbeing. That’s why we recommend three ways to use tech to bring church to senior shut-ins.
One social technology that can bring church to senior shut-ins is YouTube. As demonstrated by this Methodist church, church leaders can record church services and upload them to YouTube. All the church needs is a Google account to start the YouTube channel. Naming the channel after the church and church’s location may be the best way to ensure that the senior audience will be able to find the videos. The church also may want to create playlists that group the videos together by sermon topic, theme, or month.
Once the church has uploaded a video to its YouTube channel, the church secretary or other designated person can share the videos with senior shut-ins via Facebook, Twitter, and other social channels. It may be easier, however, for the seniors to find and view the church services if the church sends the first video through email with instructions for subscribing to the church’s YouTube channel.
YouTube is one of the best ways to use tech to bring church to senior shut-ins because it is a free service, both for the church and its shut-in members. It also requires very little equipment, other than a smartphone, computer, or tablet with an Internet connection. YouTube also is user-friendly, so senior shut-ins should be able to click on the videos and play them without much instruction or assistance.
2. Teleconference & Video Calling
By using a conference call service to set up a dial-in number, homebound seniors can listen to a sermon in real time right from their living rooms. You can even simultaneously record the sermon and have an MP3 version of it made to post on your church’s website or distribute through email. It’s a wonderful way to let listeners feel like they’re really there -- they’ll even be able to hear the audience responses!
Church leaders can also use video calling as a way to reach out and stay in touch with seniors. They can set up office hours where they’re available for video calls, or allow members to schedule an appointment for a video call counseling session. This allows elder congregation members to get a more personal experience with face-to-face counseling, but eliminates the stress of getting to the church or having company over.
3. Record Church Services on DVDs or CDs
Of course, not all senior shut-ins have the required devices to watch videos on YouTube or to listen to a service via conference call. Sometimes, older technology is required to bring church to all of the senior shut-ins. Recording church services for distribution via DVDs or CDs may take a bit more time than recording services with newer technology, but it will be worth it if the church is able to include all senior shut-ins in church.
One option is for a congregation member to record the services on a smartphone, upload them to a computer, and then burn them to a CD or DVD. No matter the logistics of recording church services on DVDs or CDs, this older technology may be the best medium to use based on the devices senior shut-ins have access to at home.
It is important to include all church members in church services as often as possible, to make everyone feel like a part of the church family. And, senior shut-ins especially need to have a connection with their fellow church members because it improves their wellbeing. That’s why congregations who aren’t already should look into using technology to reach their senior members.
Marie Villeza was inspired to start ElderImpact.org after she watched her son teach her father how to play Angry Birds™ on his smartphone. In that moment, she realized the importance of bringing the generations together so they can usher each other into the future, breaking down walls of fear and time. In her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and taking part in her monthly book club.
Visit ElderImpact.org for more resources
Photo from geralt via Pixabay
Dwight Eisenhower once commented that what is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. It is a wise word. When you have a plan in place, there are so many issues that arise and claim urgency. However, few things ought to take you away from your plan. (I know your mind is thinking of emergencies that you must address.) The point Eisenhower makes tells us that there are instances that are both urgent and important. For example, when the house is on fire it is both urgent and important you get out of the house!
About twenty years ago statistics began coming to light that the church was losing way too many of its young people. Apologists began moving toward reaching college age Christians who were subject to teachings that were hostile toward their Christian beliefs. Some estimated the percentage of Christian young people losing their faith as high as eighty-five percent. Other statistics were around fifty percent. Even losing one out of two college-age Christians is too many, in my opinion. The swell of talks, articles and books on how to prevent this disaster added to the rising tide of apologetic material. Ministries emerged (and are emerging) to reach this age group. It also became apparent that high school and junior high students were subject to material challenging foundational Christian doctrine. Now, you can find every conceivable challenge to Christianity on the internet where sites devote themselves to debunking Christianity. Christ’s resurrection, the existence of God, and anything ranging from questioning the historical Jesus to the idea that early Christians borrowed from other religious myths to create the gospel story can be found here. It becomes pretty clear that this situation is important and needs an urgent response.
A Changed World
It is important to recognize the world has changed, and by “the world” I mean culture - American culture. Christians are not the vocal majority, nor do Christian values mean anything to most people. We have watched the decline of Christian morality and values in our society. Now, what?
It is both important and urgent that the church learns to defend the historic Christian faith that rests upon the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From my perspective, we are in a fight that will claim all our young people if we are not diligent to persevere, roll up our sleeves, or prepare our minds for action, as the Scripture command us (1Peter 1:13). It is also urgent we begin to think and act like an army and not a militia.
Also from my perspective, parents of young children (especially) must learn the reasons why they are Christians and be able to defend those reasons with cogent arguments that can persuade the naysayers. Parents must learn to do this so they can teach their children the reasons why they believe Christianity to be true.
I made a mistake, and I own it outrightly. I hope to help the parents of this and future generations not to make my mistake. When I pastored and was the parent to my young children, I believed the influence of my godly lifestyle and simple presentation of gospel truths were enough to win and keep my kids as Christians. I thought to teach them Christian values was enough. What I didn’t teach my kids were the reasons why I believed my beliefs were right. I didn’t show them the evidence why I believed God exists, that Jesus rose from the dead, and why the Bible is reliable. I didn’t arm my children with the reasonable arguments for Christianity, just the emotional and experiential ones. Each of them has wrestled and been unsteady with their relationship with Jesus because of this. Clearly, I don’t believe it is “either-or”, but “both-and.” Children need to know the reasons and see examples of the outworking of the beliefs. They need to sense God’s presences and experience his love, but what the heart believes the mind does seek to know as well. Having reasons for faith is a foundational necessity.
What I should have done was be proactive in “homeschooling” my children with the reasons why I believe Christianity is true. By homeschooling, I mean taking the reigns to make sure my kids knew the reasons why our experiences were valid. Sure, being in an exciting worship service is a plus. So is having friends in the church who demonstrate the love, grace, and mercy of God. I don't discount those aspects in any way. We also had a wave of momentum that made us feel strong and influential. We asked, “How could anyone miss this witness?” Evidently, many of our kids did.
So here’s my plan to help the church, parents, and grandparents, train up a new generation of on fire, intelligent soldiers for the army of God. First, learn the basics of apologetics. It is urgent to know the basics yourself begin and keep the discussion going. Many parents don’t know how to defend against something like Evolution. Evolution is something your kids will encounter relatively young. Atheism will be riding on this teaching and Atheism will be introduced to them at an early age. Evolution is the first subject your kids will find that discredits Christian values. So here is the first step: learn the basics.
So, the basics to learn are one, the arguments for God’s existence, what is called the argument from origins. Technically, these are the cosmological arguments which demonstrate God’s existence both in creating and sustaining life as we know it.
Then two, the arguments from design or the teleological arguments. These show the universe has elements of design that point to intelligence. The Intelligent Design movement (ID) has done a lot of work in this area. However, they stand in a place of neutrality when it comes to affirming what intelligence they are promoting. Even though many of ID community are Christian, some are Muslim, some agnostic. ID has a lot to offer and utilize.
Then you must become more than acquainted with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is an enormous amount of evidence for the existence of the historical Jesus, the reliability of the New Testament documents, the eyewitness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and the early church’s activities. Personally, this is my particular area. I find this evidence compelling toward belief in Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God and Savior of the world.
I find there are questions about the resurrection appearances of which most Christians do not want to talk. The reason being they don’t know how to reconcile what appear to be contradictions in the text. We’ll deal with this more in future blogs.
Finally, everyone should learn to think critically. That is, determine to think seriously and seek truth in your thinking. Put your emotions in their rightful place behind your thoughts. Let your emotions follow the truth rather than lead you to the truth. How you feel about something matters little unless it is a well thought out conclusion, held up to the light of Scripture and the truth of reality.
I once receive an email from a parent of a teen (I’ve received more than a few) asking for help. The parent, in this case, mom, was distraught that her son had tossed his Christianity out for a scientific, realistic belief. Her son told her that she based her views on fairy-tales. You know he didn’t come up with that by himself. My heart sank as I knew this was a tough uphill fight for this mother as it is a tall order to keep her cool, learn the arguments and keep her son from delving further. She would be playing catch-up all the way.
It is important to determine the general topics. Any soldier will tell you he must learn the enemies strategies and tactics too. I find few Christians who are willing to study the basics of Evolution and when their child comes home from school asking questions about Darwin’s theory they tell their kids something like, “Well, we don’t believe that.” Or, “That’s not in the Bible.” Clearly, these are pat answers, not well thought out, shot from the hip. Kids will walk away agreeing but secretly questioning or comparing the thoughts they’ve heard.
Let’s go back to Eisenhower’s quote: It is both urgent and important that parents of young children address this problem and learn the basics of apologetics to teach their children the same. I add to this that it is crucial and important for grandparents, too.
The Hindu word “karma” is used more and more often with a Western twist in meaning. Often people say it to mean “luck” (good or bad) or even as a gleeful expression of revenge. I have seen this word on bumper stickers and heard it said lightly, as a joke. I myself once sincerely held a belief in karma when I was following Eastern and New Age beliefs, and often thought of how someone who had wronged me would eventually suffer karma for what they had done to me. By no means, however, is the term or concept of karma a joke. Others – including some Christians -- try to justify the term karma with the idea of consequences as seen in Galatians 6:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Gal. 6:7, 8
So should a Christian use the word “karma?” First, what is karma?
Karma and Reincarnation
Karma in Hinduism means “action” and the law of karma refers to the consequences of action. However, although there is a karma relating to consequences from actions in the present life, the usual meaning has to do with the consequences of previous lives (reincarnation), and actions in this life that sow the seeds for consequences in future lives (if interested, see explanations on Christian site, Karma2Grace, at http://bit.ly/1Pcq4yj, and on Hindu site at http://bit.ly/1UrHaMp and http://bit.ly/1n12TQY).
Quote==Generally speaking, the belief that one lives many lives, returning after death to life in another body, time, and place. This belief is an essential part of Hinduism. One accumulates karma, which are the actions of a person in life, which will influence the person's subsequent lives…..In Hinduism, one can return as an animal or insect (called 'transmigration'), but in Western reincarnation, one returns as a person.==From CANA document at http://bit.ly/1XiASRD
Reincarnation, a doctrine of Eastern belief systems, is totally opposed to biblical teachings, as is the concept of karma.
“For it is appointed unto man to die once, and then the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27
Penance, Forgiveness, and Karma
The consequences in karma are mechanical and ongoing; there is no forgiveness or way to erase them except, according to some teachings, in cases of a guru who claims to do so for you in this life or possibly by performing a ritual. Even then, while a temporary erasure has been done, karma continues and will continue in future lives.
Here is advice from a Hindu site on Prayaschitta, which is penance:
Quote==The doctrine of karma is complex, with many subtle distinctions and categories. But for the purpose of understanding penance, we may consider karma as two-fold: the meritorious or good, called punya or sukarma in Sanskrit; and the undesirable or bad, termed papa or kukarma….[….]…In the broadest sense, the entire system of reincarnation is an elaborate form of penance, for we are born with the body, family, circumstances and even longevity and propensity toward disease brought about by our past actions. Prayaschitta is, however, an act of limited aim, intended only to mitigate or avoid altogether the karmaphala, "fruit of action," of some action we have taken in this lifetime. Actions from our past lives are not considered within reach of ordinary prayaschitta. The karmas of past lives can only be assuaged or erased altogether by intense tapas or austerities under the guidance of a guru, or by the extraordinary grace of God. Manu Dharma Shastras 11.54 states, "Penances, therefore, must always be performed for the sake of purification, because those whose sins have not been expiated are born again with disgraceful marks."==From http://bit.ly/1Rd42Sr
Also, one must ask, what values or standards is karma based on?
Answer: The values found in Hindu teachings, which are diverse and complex. Hinduism is not one monolithic religion but rather a set of wide and multifarious beliefs depending on which particular texts, gurus, sects, schools of thought, and even the region of India they stem from. The need for a sinless sacrifice of another to pay the penalty for sin is absent in Hinduism because if there is a penalty, it is paid by each person through karma. The only release is moksha -- liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth – dependent on one’s actions in many lives.
The Meaning and Purpose of Sowing and Reaping in Galatians
What is the meaning and point of the Galatians verses about reaping what one sows?
The Expositors Greek New Testament comments on verse 8:
Quote== Every action produces an effect on the character of the actor corresponding as exactly to its motive as the fruit to the seed. If it springs from selfish desire, it stimulates the growth of evil lusts, and issues in a harvest of inward corruption. If, on the contrary, it be done in obedience to the spirit, it quickens spiritual growth, and issues eventually in a harvest of eternal life. The heart of man resembles a field in which he sows, by the mere exercise of his will, a future harvest of good or evil.==See this and other commentaries at http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
This passage in Galatians is written to Christians, and is part of an exhortation as we see in the next 2 verses:
“Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” Verses 9 and 10
Also read the beginning of the sixth chapter to get the context. This has nothing to do with the popular notion of “what goes around comes around,” but rather that our deeds either are done for the flesh, that is, the fallen nature, and will end destructively, or they are done according to the power of the Holy Spirit, leading to results that have eternal value, in accordance with eternal life.
From the Pulpit commentary on this passage:
"That is, he that expends thought, time, effort, money, upon the furthering, in himself and in others, of the fruits of the Spirit, shall receive, from that Holy Spirit to whose guidance dwelling within him he resigns himself, that quickening of his whole being, body, soul, and spirit, for an everlasting existence in glory, which it is the proper work of that Divine Agent to effect." From http://bit.ly/1OI4qrz
The contrast is between sowing to the flesh and sowing to the Spirit, the flesh vs. the Holy Spirit being a common theme in Paul’s letters. “Flesh” here does not mean the body, as though the body is bad, nor is it about one’s spirit being good, since it’s about the Holy Spirit. Rather, this is about living by/pleasing the fallen nature, i.e., the sin nature, vs. living by the Holy Spirit. The results will be different depending on which way one chooses.
So Should Christians Use the Word Karma?
While it is certainly true that there are consequences for one’s actions and that often one does “sow what one reaps” in this life, equating karma with the concepts found in Galatians of sowing and reaping, or elsewhere in Scripture, is invalid, as has been shown.
Moreover, using the word karma may give others the idea that the Christian agrees with the Hindu concept of karma or somehow endorses it. There is no good reason for Christians to use this word except as a platform to contrast it with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Karma and Christ
The differences between karma and Christ are deeper than any ocean or as distant as galaxies we don’t even know exist. In Hinduism, the way out of karma and reincarnation must be through one’s deeds – the various Yogas -- and realization of his true nature, which is allegedly divine, among other possible paths and teachings (see http://bit.ly/1Z3I0FZ to understand how complicated this all is). This realization only comes after many lifetimes and is dependent on one’s own actions to reach moksha, liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth.
In contrast, God tells man that due to man’s separation from God due to sin, and man’s inability to bridge that gap by his own deeds, Jesus came once for all to offer Himself on the cross to pay the penalty for sins. Through faith in Jesus, knowing that His payment makes the way to God possible, one is forgiven of all sins and inherits eternal life.
Once for all:
"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption." Hebrews 9:11, 12
Note here the similarity to the Galatians passage of exhortation to good works as a result of living in Christ:
"…..since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way He has opened for us through the curtain (that is, His flesh), and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works." Hebrews 10:19-24
If one has eternal life through faith in Jesus, why use the word “karma?” Does karma offer “no condemnation?” No, it does not. Only Christ can do that through faith in His work on the cross:
“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1-4
Marcia Montenegro's web page, www.Christiananswers forthenewage.org, is filled with well thought out articles about the occult and the New Age. Marcia is my "go to" person for all things in these areas.
Eastern Roots of the New Age
The New Age: What Is It?
Worldviews in Contrast
Christian site, Karma2Grace
Hindu and Christian Concepts of Self, Karma2Grace
Contrast between Hindu and Christian Beliefs
Disclaimer: The beliefs about karma and reincarnation are complex, and differ in many ways in the New Age from Hinduism. I realize what is written above are simplified explanations and I do not claim to be giving an all-encompassing summary.
Photo credit: "Shiva" by Alice Popkorn, licensed under CC BY 2.0
As an apologist, I can think of no greater need today than for parents to learn to defend their faith. Today, parents are on the front lines as defenders and need to learn this because of the world in which their kids are growing up. Several years ago I began to structure my messages toward this group alerting them toward this vital need. Now, Natasha Crain of ChristianMomThoughts.com has provided a book that does the job. (If you are unfamiliar with Natasha Crain’s blog you should become familiar with it now. Ms. Crain has repeatedly hit “home runs” addressing issues that significantly affect the church.) Recently, I had the opportunity to read an advanced copy of Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith, by Natasha Crain. I should mention that I have no pony in this race. I’m not an employee of the publishing company, nor am I going to gain anything from this review.
Natasha Crain provides a useful resource for parents they will use for many years. Although Ms. Crain does not hold a degree in apologetics, philosophy, or theology, she demonstrates what someone can do if they want to research a subject. For Ms. Crain, this became a quest when her blog came under attack by atheists who challenged the beliefs she had learned and practiced for most of her life. “Did Jesus ever really exist?” “Can you prove God exists?” “Is the Bible reliable to demonstrate its claims?” These and more questions drove Ms. Crain to read, study, then read and study more. Her book reveals she has mastered the subject matter and she gets high grades for not only learning, but also for communicating. This book is a terrific introduction worthy to be read and studied by anyone who wants an introduction to defending the faith. Parents will especially benefit from this book.
Ms. Crain covers five areas of subject matter: Conversations About God, Conversations About Truth and Worldviews, Conversations About Jesus, Conversations About the Bible, and Conversations About Science. Each part has eight chapters equaling the forty conversations. The subject matter of the book provides a comprehensive introductory study of important topics with which most Christians are unfamiliar. I particularly enjoyed her chapter on “textual criticism.” There she provided not only a definition but how textual criticism supports the Bible’s truth claims about Jesus. She aptly provided evidence that what the New Testament writers wrote then is what we now have. Here she also demonstrates how a “layman” can readily converse with skeptics when they’ve done their homework. She provides succinct explanations in each of the chapters arming the reader with strong responses.
Ms. Crain’s writing style is sharp and clear. There’s no fog here, no wondering what she meant by this or that. Apologetics can leave many who attempt to read it to wonder what they’ve read. Not so, here. She tackles some difficult topics (like textual criticism) and makes it simple to get your mind around. This book will not stump you, nor leave you wondering why you bought it. Instead, this book will inspire you with principal reasons for your faith, equip you to answer skeptics, and provide the resources to engage your children with reasons why Christianity is true.
I welcome this book to give to my children who now have their own children. They will need it to answer the questions their kids will ask when they encounter the arguments against their faith. In fact, as a grandparent I can recommend this to other grandparents who want to have conversations with their grandkids. Whether children have friends who believe differently or they encounter material on the internet, which they inevitably will do they need to know they can ask questions. Parents and grandparents are the ones to engage them in a safe place. Here, they will find the necessary answers in Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side.
The end of the year, in this case, 2015, is always time for reflection. As I grow older, I discover that I reflect on the past a lot more than when I was young. When I do reflect, I find there are reasons for my actions and thoughts as I walk the corridors of my memory. Certainly my past has influenced my present. Psychologists would call that “antecedent causal circumstances.” Without chasing that thought too far I must say I agree with the idea, but not that it is the sole cause of my present condition and actions. Our past’s do influence our condition and behavior. I happen to believe I have the will to choose how my past affects me.
Laying that thought aside, I find that some of the reasons for my actions are good, anchored in principles gained from experience. Some are not so good, usually when I am reacting to bad experiences. That is an item that needs to be wrestled with and overcome. We can do that because of the cross.
This year I seemed to put a sense of value on friendship. I have several friends that I believe have contributed something positive to my life. That’s a good thing, and I’d like to think many make a positive impact on my life. However, three men who came to mind as I reflected. Without attempting to embarrass anyone, nor hurt someone’s feelings for not making the list, the three friends I want to mention here are Shawn Hyland, Simon Brace, and Pastor Vinny Manzo. You may know all three or perhaps none of the three.
Shawn is the founder and director of Move the Earth, a ministry devoted to helping churches stand together “undivided.” He has organized monthly pastors prayer meetings in Ocean and Monmouth Counties in Central New Jersey. It is a growing prayer movement that this area sorely needs.
Simon along with his wife, Nel are campus chapter directors for Ratio Christi at Potchefstroom Campus of Northwest University in South Africa. Simon was the driving force behind establishing Ratio Christi as a campus ministry in the USA and now around the world. He was also the Director of Outreach for Southern Evangelical Seminary and founder of TEAM, the outreach ministry of the seminary.
Pastor Vinny Manzo’s church, “City of Hope International”, is a light to the community in Kearny, New Jersey. Vinny has been pastoring in the area for over forty years establishing communities of worship and praise. His ministry extends to “regions beyond” as they have planted and supported churches in South Africa and the Philippines. Vinny is also part of the ministry of Reconciliation which seeks to build bridges between racial divides.
Shawn is my newest friend among these three. I know Shawn a little less than a year. However, we became fast friends as we shared our hearts for ministry and how to help the church. We both recognize the condition of the church and what must take place to bring the church to become the cultural influence it is meant to be.
Shawn has demonstrated a sense of urgency that we must have as Christians. His ministry has begun to shape other ministry’s perspective because of his bold stance on taking back the culture. By taking the culture back, he does not mean “taking over” the culture. I believe he means having a place of significant influence in the culture. Shawn’s influence has helped many pastors unite in prayer and stand undivided.
Here are my thoughts about this. At one time the Christian church would have been recognized as the “conscience of American culture.” However, because of differences, in-fighting, fallen ministries, and wrongly seeing the purpose of influence, the church has been sidelined. Weakened because of these issues the Christian church has also become prey to attacks, mainly from the new atheists and their banter of what I would consider tired arguments. However, to the unsuspecting, uninitiated, and untrained, these arguments weaken the believer’s faith further. It is time to equip the church to stand against these attacks and strengthen the weaknesses that plague us. As a result, we can have a voice into the culture as well have a powerful witness.
This idea brings me to my second friend, Simon. I have spent a lot of quality time with Simon both in the US and abroad. Simon’s energy is infectious; his vision for the church is inspiring and convicting. Like Shawn, Simon motivates and mobilizes people. His ability to mobilize people is a gift to those people who stand idle on the sidelines. Or, as in some cases Simon also can place people in the right positions encouraging them to “do their thing.” I’ve had the privilege to minister with Simon on three continents. It has always been productive and enjoyable.
This past year, Simon asked me to fill in for someone at a conference in Pennsylvania. During one session Simon spoke at he used an illustration that has stuck with me. At times, the thought has dominated my thinking as I like to think in these military terms. Simon mentioned that most Christian churches are filled with “militia.” You know, the volunteer types that show up when there is a crucial need when there is some crisis. When the need is met or disappears, so does the militia as it returns to “ordinary” life. Simon stated that this was a wrong perspective for ministry. The church is not a militia but an army of regulars, those people who have signed up for whatever is necessary.
My take on this is, “Amen! So be it.” I signed up over forty years ago before I was called into ministry before I knew what life would be like as a Christian. I decided to follow Jesus in whatever course he took, in whatever path he walked. I believed that since he bought my life with his blood, I belonged to him. This choice was a conscious choice of devotion and commitment. I could not understand (and still don’t) Christians who are part-timers, walking with Jesus when it is convenient and comfortable. These are those who withhold their resources for that which they deem fit. These are people who never do anything extravagant for God with other priorities that captivated their lives.
My friend, Pastor Vinny Manzo and I have been friends for the longest time, almost all 45 years I’ve been a Christian. There are too many things to write about, either what Vinny has said or the life he has demonstrated as a man in ministry. I esteem his friendship with the highest value. We have walked through some tough times and emerged with a stronger friendship, a deeper love for each other, and greater respect for how we conduct our ministries. Our friendship was born when we both were young pastors searching for the way forward. We met Tuesday afternoon’s with a couple of other pastors for several years. At first, it was three or four of us who discussed our sermon topics, how to train leaders, lead worship and encourage fellowship in the church. We were often surprised when our sermon topics were the same. We even preached from the same verses! Lots of memories to explore here.
If I could boil all those years into something I continually find strength and courage in it is my friend’s emphasis on the presence of God - don’t forget God is with us. Vinny continually emphasizes the supernatural, something many apologists do not embrace. Vin’s emphasis on God’s presence in our lives and worship is crucial to keep our faith focused on a person, Jesus Christ, and not methods or other distractions.
My take on this is that we sometimes, many times, forget to recognize that God is not passive; he is involved in our lives. Sometimes when I hear people talk about conversations they are having or inquiring how to speak to someone, it is without consideration that God is part of the process. We must remember it is God who convicts and convinces. Sometimes we forget that when a child walks out on a conversation away from parents, he or she has not walked away from the Holy Spirit. God goes with them. We also forget to acknowledge God has more invested in the lives of our loved ones than we have.
It seems too easy to forget that God is involved in our lives and the lives of everyone around us. Sometimes it seems the church believes God is passive and needs us to awaken him. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is God who is acting, and we must discover what he is doing and act with him.
The final thought to think about is, who has influenced your life? What have they given to you, or better, how have they affected your life? I find that I have let the sense of urgency rising and fall in my life as I have gone through high and low times. At times, I have discarded the feeling that we live in times that demand an urgent response. I also find that I too am subject to allowing the church to be a militia, instead of an army. I am grateful when someone “shows up” and fills a present need. In a sense, it is settling for something less than what God expects. Finally, I find it is far too easy to forget God’s love for people, his actions behind our backs as well as that which he performs in front of our faces. We forget Emmanuel, God with us.
My time reflecting has been a useful time giving me much for which to be thankful. As I reflect further on these men and their contribution I will develop these three thoughts into themes for my next three blogs as they relate to helping the church defend its faith by giving it strong, sound, reasonable answers that will strengthen its faith and witness.
Photo credit: "Reflection In Chevrolet Tyre" by MrT HK, licensed under CC BY 2.0
This article has been used with permission from Michael Sherrard. Michael will be a speaker at our Annual No Pat Answers Conference on April 8-9, 2016.
This time of year, my church doesn’t need a “5 Ways to Make Jesus the Reason for the Season” type of sermon. We are not in a time of peace. We cannot keep drinking our spiced eggnog pretending that all is well in the world. While we deck the halls with boughs of holly, there is a mob that has set fire to boughs of their own, and they are marching toward us.
Now, of course it is right to celebrate. I’m not saying otherwise. But pastors are not merely MC’s. They are watchmen. And when the enemy is before us, the watchmen better not have his head down wiping the eggnog off his ugly sweater as the walls are being scaled.
Rather than be caught defenseless, pastors must equip their people to engage a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile toward Christianity. And so, the pulpit must be political. Yes, I know that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Let’s get that out of the way. I already hear your objection: "We should care more about salvation than society." Sure, I agree. It is better to lose the world than your soul. But if you think that society can go to hell as long as people don’t, you’ve fallen for an old trick and you’ve misunderstood the nature of the gospel.
A politically silent pulpit is one that is catering to the secularist's agenda: “Keep you religious beliefs private. They are not wanted in society. They are no good to us.” And for some reason, we've bought into the propaganda of those that want to fashion a society after their own values. Somehow they have convinced us that the only good beliefs for society are the beliefs of atheists. But beliefs that are true are true for all and are good for all. It does not matter where they come from. And if the Christian message contains truth, the application of that truth is far reaching. It does not end at the capital steps.
Christianity is an all-encompassing worldview. Meaning, it is a set of true beliefs that affect all of life. The gospel itself has implications that go beyond ones eternal destination. We see this truth in Paul’s ethics. Pauline ethics might be summed up this way: because Christ humbled himself and died on a cross, so should you be humble and willfully offer up your life for the good of others (Phil 2:1-11). Our faith manifests itself in ways that benefit others, if it is a real faith. You must repress your hope in God to keep it private. I doubt you disagree with this.
So why are politics off limits? Why is it right for us to sit back and allow harmful policies be legislated? Why shouldn’t we expose candidates that seek to preserve the right to kill babies? Why do we think we have to let atheists run our country? Are Christian teachings not good? Do they not promote human flourishing? Why do we think a Christian influence equals a theocracy? How have we become so simple minded about our civil responsibility? Pastors we have failed our people. If it is not our job to instruct the people of God on these things, whose job is it?
When politics are ignored in the pulpit the message to the world and the church is clear: Christianity is irrelevant. It tells the world that what we care about is our little club, and it tells those in the club not to worry about what goes on outside. Subsequently, many in the church find it impossible to find fulfillment in life because life itself is apparently not worth redeeming. This leads to self-indulgence and things like “church shopping.” We use the church as a commodity to meet our needs. We consume the church rather than be the church. And the body of Christ becomes a glutton for the work of others instead of being a vessel passing out the common grace of our Lord.
Even though we know that they only way to find life is to give it away, we have sold a product that says otherwise. Let us change that. We understand that we are to seek the good of others. We understand that Christ did not redeem us for irrelevance, but to be agents of renewal. Therefore, let us turn our attention again to society and utilize all the tools at our disposal. As we eagerly await the Kingdom to come, let us not neglect the land we have be given. Let us be political.
Michael C. Sherrard is a pastor, the director of Ratio Christi College Prep, and the author of Relational Apologetics. Booking info and such can be found at michaelcsherrard.com.
Have you ever seen one of these? I’m referring to the photo above. If you know your shrubs you know these are arborvitae (arbs). They adorn many gardens and yards as natural barriers. These in the photo are not sick, but neither are they healthy. They’ve been the meal of choice for a small herd of deer that travel the narrow stretches of woods in my suburban town. However, notice how the deer have only eaten the arbs to a certain height. This is called a “browse line”. In this particular row of arbs there are over fifty trees, so there’s plenty to choose from. The deer just worked their way down the row eating up to the height of their heads.
I’ve actually walked up on these deer eating the arbs while out walking my dog, Kozmo. The first time I walked up on them was about three years ago. There were three of them standing between the shrubs and all I could see were their heads. I thought it odd at first just seeing their heads and wondered what they were doing there. I came to realize that deer love arborvitae. However, as soon as they saw Kozmo they’d run off. Little by little I noticed this browse line as the deer were eating up to a certain height. More than a few times I stood in front of those arbs looking at the browse line thinking there’s an illustration here. Then one day it hit me.
I realized Christians are a lot like deer eating arbs (or any other shrub). We eat up to a browse line of material when reading books, listening to our favorite preachers, or even surfing the web. We seem to keep going back to the same places exerting as little energy as possible. Few people read books that stretch their understanding. We know it is good to read; we may even think we’re supposed to read, but we keep reading the same material. We read on subjects we like and ones we understand. Few of us wrestle through new concepts, or concepts we don’t agree with. This is eating at the browse line.
If we want to grow spiritually and dare I say, intellectually, we have to move beyond this. Many of us do not like challenges and we would rather maintain the status quo. We would rather keep doing the same thing, maintaining the same position eating up to the browse line. However, we have to ask: Is this what God wants?
Before I give you a few benefits of eating at the browse line let me mention what maintaining the status quo has produced in the church. There’s a kind of lethargy that sets in when we aren’t stretched. There’s a mentality that we do just enough to get by and take the path of least resistance. It’s defeating in the long run. The church becomes shallow and anemic. Here’s three benefits you can gain by breaking out and going beyond the browse line.
1. Loving God with your mind. This is actually a commandment found in Matthew 22:37: “And He said to him, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’”
Christians like to talk about growing spiritually, but not intellectually. Face it: there is an anti-intellectual bias in the church. Somehow we think being smart or intellectual works against our spirituality. I’d like to see someone have that conversation with the Apostle Paul.
2. The second benefit that you gain by stretching your mind is learning to think critically. By critical, I don’t mean judgmental, or fault finding, but exercising skilled judgment or observation. A more technical definition of critical thinking would be to employ a wide range of cognitive skills needed to identify, analyze, and evaluate truth claims. Few of us use our minds to think through problems as we often look for the quick answer. Growing intellectually, reading widely, and challenging our own beliefs helps us to think critically. This also involves being able to be objective about our own thoughts and prejudices - something rarely found today.
3. If we learn to think critically we can also learn how to engage those who walk in error. The church in general has a lot of hokey beliefs. Perhaps, “unsound” is a better word. During my tenure as a pastor I heard a lot of weird interpretations and strange beliefs. There is a lot of teaching out there in print, radio, and especially the internet. There’s so much to digest. However, when we come upon believers who hold to unsound beliefs we need to be able to engage them and help them see their error. I know some people will recoil or react to this. However, there are plenty of Scriptures to back this up. Here’s one: 2 Timothy 2:25 says, “correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
One of the first sermons I preached in Bible school was from 2 Timothy 4:2 which says: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction.” This verse is lost on so many today because we are not critical thinkers who eat above the browse line. We’re seduced by tolerance and an all inclusive mentality that cannot discern truth from error.
If we want the church to be active in a world that is steadily moving further away from God, a church that admittedly has the answer to life’s biggest questions, then we have to dig deeper. We have to eat above the browse line. Below are two links for the average Christian to go deeper into apologetics without signing up for seminary. Both are affordable and well worth the investment. Go deeper.
Southern Evangelical Seminary has a course called SEALI -
RZIM has a course to learn apologetics called RZIM Academy
If anyone misunderstands the Bible it is the Kurt Eichenwald’s of this world.
Kurt Eichenwald wrote about how the Bible is so misunderstood because it is wrongly translated. He presumes the Bible to be unreliable.
“No television preacher has ever read the Bible. Neither has any evangelical politician. Neither has the pope. Neither have I. And neither have you. At best, we’ve all read a bad translation—a translation of translations of translations of hand-copied copies of copies of copies of copies, and on and on, hundreds of times.”
“The Bible is a very human book. It was written, assembled, copied and translated by people. That explains the flaws, the contradictions, and the theological disagreements in its pages. Once that is understood, it is possible to find out which parts of the Bible were not in the earliest Greek manuscripts, which are the bad translations, and what one book says in comparison to another, and then try to discern the message for yourself.”
The two quotes from Kurt Eichenwald are from the beginning and the end of his “hatchet-job” on Christianity and the Bible, especially the New Testament. (Newsweek,1/2/15) To someone who hasn’t ever read anything on textual criticism his article may sound compelling, even convincing. From the outset let me state that he misquotes and misleads by the so-called evidence he presents. It appears that Christianity has gained attention through protests and stands some Christians have taken on issues that may or may not be political or in the public interest. He mentions protests at abortion clinics, prayer at high school football games, and battles over whether or not the Ten Commandments should be exhibited in public schools. If this is all he has ever encountered of Christianity, then he needs to get out more and perhaps read some history. There is much more to Christianity than what Eichenwald has gathered and from what the media portrays as Christian.
So what does Eichenwald attempt to say? Simply, the Bible cannot be trusted as an authoritative guide for life because it is not God’s word, was copied over and over by people who may not have known what they were copying, and it was assembled by mere humans. According to Eichenwald , it is also full of errors. His first quote, that no one has ever read the Bible is very misleading. He should have said, “No one who is alive today has ever read any of the original documents that later became the New Testament.” That would be accurate. To say no one has ever read the Bible fails poorly and misses the mark completely. As an illustration, imagine that I am a non-English speaker but I want to write a letter to you. So, I write in my native language which you don’t understand. You in turn find someone who speaks my language and have them translate the letter. Could you say you never read my letter? At best, you could say you didn’t read it in my native language, but it wouldn’t be true to say you didn’t read it. So, it goes with translations of New Testament Greek and Old Testament Hebrew languages.
Three simple Responses
There are three things to hold on to to dispense with Eichenwald’s rant. They’re pretty simple. First is that the New Testament has almost six thousand manuscripts that are used by scholars well 'schooled' in Koine Greek to translate it. (There are thousands more in other ancient languages.) Contrary to what Eichenwald says, this has made for more accurate translations than anything previously made. Without these manuscripts Eichenwald could never charge that there are any differences within the text. He would have no idea of what an “earlier” manuscript is. He erroneously calls the King James Version of 1611 (KJV) one of the best translations. The KJV has some beautiful prose, but there are better translations. The KJV was translated from six copies of the Greek New Testament. Today textual critics scour the thousands of documents, assembling what would be the best translation process to offer us a great translation. This is fairly common knowledge which Eichenwald ignores or perhaps is ignorant of.
The second response is that there is enormous internal consistency within these documents. Contrary to what Eichenwald asserts there are documents from as early as the end of the first century through the twelfth Century. There are three major families of documents that are identified for their style and geographical location. Comparing the differences within the documents scholars rate the New Testament documents at ninety-eight percent accurate or consistent. There are variations but none of them account for any discrepancy in the message they communicate. Eichenwald quotes Bart D. Ehrman, as a modern scholar who has pointed out these changes and differences. Ehrman is known among the textual critics as one of the best today Greek scholars. No one can take that away from Ehrman. However, Eichenwald fails to quote Ehrman’s statement in his well-known book, Misquoting Jesus where he states: “The vast majority of these changes are insignificant, immaterial, and of no importance for the meaning of the passages in which they are found.” (Bart D. Ehrman, Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, (New York, Harper Collins, 2005) 260.
Finally, when Eichenwald asserts that the Bible was assembled by man, he is correct. However, his argument is that it was wrongly assembled. It wasn’t the Emperor Constantine who decided which books would be in the New Testament. It was the Council of Laodicea (AD 363-364) that finally agreed on which books would become what we know as the New Testament. However, it wasn’t as if the Council just picked these books at random. There were a couple (ex. 2 Peter) that weren’t clearly accepted, but almost all were acknowledged as coming to us from the Apostles of Jesus or other eyewitnesses. Here is something that Eichenwald doesn’t mention: if we never had one of Paul’s epistles, or any of Luke’s writings, or any of the gospels, or other documents, we could reconstruct the entire New Testament from the writings of the Apostolic and Church Fathers. This means that the earliest disciples of the apostles of Jesus received the same message as the apostles did. In turn, they communicated that message to their successors. What they wrote in their epistles is what the New Testament says. So, we may ask, “where is Eichenwald getting his information?” It may be in the playground of his imagination.
There is one other idea Eichenwald proposes that needs to be addressed. That is, the writings called the Gnostic Gospels. The earliest of these writings appeared in the second half of the second century. It is clear they are not written by people who were familiar with the Jewish culture of the first century as it is absent in all the writings. These writings are not embellishments of the authentic writings but departures from the form and nature of the New Testament. They declare “another gospel.”
So, if I were to point you to scholars that Eichenwald ignores I’d point you to Dan Wallace, Darrel Bock, Tom Howe, and some others. These scholars have considered the writings and statements of the Bart Ehrman’s and found them wanting when compared to what is in the NT documents.
Concluding that the New Testament is a hodgepodge of unintelligible scribblings of ignorant copyists is about as far from reality as flying elephants. What we have in the New Testament is the inspired Word of God, preserved through meticulous responsibility, scholarship, and divine providence. Even using the documents in languages other than Greek, one could still arrive at the New Testament we have today. We have the most of all ancient documents, the most accurate of ancient documents, and therefor the most reliable of ancient documents. Certainly, to attack it is common; to study it by the nay-sayers, is uncommon.