Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Our website upgrade to WordPress is finally complete and we will be posting daily at the new website and blog. PleaseConvinceMe.com will feature the blog prominently on it's homepage, and the blog is now located on an internal page here:
In addition, you can subscribe to all the new posts with this rss feed:
I hope you enjoy the new look and feel of the PCM site. It was designed by Kyle Froman. He has been very easy to work with and he does a great job. I highly recommend him. You can connect with him at his website:
Looking forward to connecting with all of you at the new blog location!
Posted by Jim at 6:53 AM
Monday, November 26, 2012
My ministry partner, Greg Koukl, has done the Christian community a great service in writing Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions. His work was recently cited in a valuable blog post at Reasons for God, entitled “Five Ways to Answer A Question.” The book and the blog post illustrate the need for tactical engagement when talking to seekers and skeptics in your world. Detectives also have experience talking with people and some of these experiences are relevant to the common spiritual conversations that all of us have. There are three kinds of interactions that Detectives navigate with witnesses and suspects:
Most of us are familiar with these kinds of interactions. Conversations are two directional; they involve a dialogue between both parties. Most of my professional interactions with anyone begin this way. In the early part of my interaction, I want to build relational bridges with the people I engage. This takes time and it takes a true heart for people. You can’t fake this; it’s not a technique or tactic that can be employed falsely. People will see right through you if you don’t have a true interest in them. In all the years I studied interview and interrogation techniques as a detective, learning the tactical “tricks of the trade”, my interviews and interrogations only improved after I became a Christian. My conversion made me a better interviewer. Once I truly recognized my own fallen nature, I was able to relate to others without judging them harshly. I began to develop a heart for people that I never had as an unsaved detective. My interactions changed dramatically and my introductory conversations became genuinely empathetic, regardless of the person I was talking to.
I began to eat meals with the people I arrested. After taking them into custody, I would often ask them if they were hungry, and if they were, I would order something and make sure I ate with them in the interview room. I recognized that many of God’s most important conversations with humans have been over a meal (the Lord’s Supper is the most powerful example of this). We don’t eat with people we don’t know well, and a simple meal can unite two people in a way that few other settings can achieve. Once my heart was broken for people, I was actually willing to eat with the people I arrested. The conversations we had were powerful, even though they weren’t directed intentionally at the issues we would later cover together. Conversations are benign interactions between two people who share something of themselves with the person they are engaging. Be prepared to open up a bit and share something personal if you expect the other person to do this with you.
At some point, conversations turn toward interviews. In an interview, one person begins to probe more deeply into an area by asking specific questions related to that area of interest. Something is usually mentioned in the initial conversation that triggers a line of questioning. When we begin to probe this aspect of the conversation, we are slipping into interview mode. Interviews are not antagonistic, they are simply inquisitive. My questions are not pointed at this stage of the interaction, they are simply curious and directed. My goal is to establish a baseline from the person with whom I am talking. What do they believe? What did they see? What did they do? What happened next? If I am talking to a witness, I am simply trying to collect data. If I am talking to a suspect, I am trying to establish a preliminary story and baseline that I can then compare to later statements and evidence I have at the scene.
This is where Greg’s book on Tactics begins to interact with our interview strategy. Greg employs two “Columbo” questions when talking with skeptics. It’s no coincidence that he uses the example of Columbo; detectives have been doing this sort of thing for generations. My dad worked this way as a detective, I’ve worked this way and my son will someday work in the same fashion. Here’s where questions like, “What do you mean by that?” and “Why do you believe that?” are invaluable.
At some point, especially when dealing with suspects, I have to move from interview to interrogation. Interrogations are more pointed and seek to uncover and probe the inconsistencies that are discovered in the interview process. When talking to a suspect who is lying to me, I will eventually collect a series of statements that are either inconsistent with the facts of the case or with the prior statements of the suspect. This is the portion of the interaction where I must confront those inconsistencies. This is where the interaction can become difficult and confrontational if I’m not careful.
In many ways, each of us has to enter into an “interrogation” phase when talking to people about their spiritual convictions (or lack thereof). At some point in the conversation and interview process, the person we are talking to is going to make an inconsistent statement. They are either going to make a claim that is obviously inconsistent with the world we observe, or they are going to expose faulty logic and internal inconsistencies with some statement they made previously. That’s when good tactics (as described in the aforementioned book and blog post) can really help us to make some headway.
Unless you’ve taken the time to sincerely engage people in conversation and interview, don’t expect to move or influence them in the interrogation phase of your interaction. There’s a reason why I’ve described these phases of contact in this order; one must follow the other. Detectives are constantly engaging people with questions in this simply sequence of interaction. This process can teach us something about how to engage the world around us in spiritual conversation, interviews and interrogations.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
Not long ago, I had the privilege of meeting a World War II fighter pilot. Now in his late 80’s, in 1944 he took part in a key battle of the war in the Pacific, a last ditch effort by the Japanese to repel the American reoccupation of the Philippine Islands. Known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf, it pitted the last remnants of Japanese naval power against a vastly inferior American force, left behind to oversee the American landings while the bulk of American striking power had gone off in search of the enemy. The men who fought that day, on ships and in the air, exhibited much gallantry in facing a determined enemy. Though time had ravaged this man’s body, his mind remained sharp, and before long he was recalling details of that October day those many years ago. As our conversation came to a close, I took a moment to express my thanks for what he did during the war. I thanked him for his service and his courage, and for the opportunity to live in a more peaceful world.
As I reflected on this later, I realized that his actions in upholding freedom in a war-torn world did not actually involve me. He had done nothing directly for me; I was not yet even born. But I knew that if men and women like him had not risked their lives, and been willing to sacrifice all, I might not ever have been. They had earned my thanks. They, in turn, had people who had come before them, who had done things for them, and to whom heartfelt gratitude would be appropriate. Tracing backward in time, I saw for a moment an endless stream of thanksgiving moving back through the recesses of time to a beginning trapped forever in the mists of forgotten memory.
In that moment, I also saw that my gratitude was personal. It was directed at living, breathing human beings. I did not give thanks to machinery, to the steel that cocooned the pilot in the cockpit of his plane, or to the chemistry that allowed the fuel mixture to propel it forward. Nor did I thank the instruments that provided feedback to him or the gunpowder that charged his weapons. My thanks, appropriately, were directed at people – the ones who forged the steel, who had teased out the secrets of chemistry, who had built the machines and weapons that he used. My gratitude related not to the thing, but to the intelligent source that lay behind it. To a person.
What, I wondered, lies at the end of this seemingly endless chain? If gratitude is owed to a person, to whom did the first man and woman, or the first group of humans, give thanks? Evolution? A random force that did not have them in mind? And if much of what we are thankful for exists in nature – the good Earth and all that is on it - to whom does this thanks belong? I saw in that moment that the whole idea of gratitude, the innate desire to give thanks, presupposes an ultimate source to whom this gratitude is owed.
While the atheist too can give thanks to people who preceded him, how can he make sense of the end of this chain of personal thanks? With no one there who created the Earth with all its bounty and splendor, what point is there for gratitude? The Christian worldview, by contrast, does make sense of this. The ability to appreciate the generosity and the work of others and to express gratitude is natural to all people.
In the last analysis, it is God – a person – whom we thank for all that is good. Whether He acts directly, or through the things and people he created, it makes sense to express our gratitude to Him. And what better time to begin than on this weekend set aside to remember... and to give thanks.
Friday, November 23, 2012
Christians aren't the only ones looking for the first “uncaused cause” of the universe. Everyone, theists and atheists alike, is looking for the cause of a universe that clearly had a beginning. If the cause of the universe was itself caused, then our search for the beginning of everything would continue, wouldn’t it? We’d be sifting through a series of previous causes toward infinity past, and we all recognize that a search of this nature is both futile and illogical. Believers, skeptics and seekers are in search of the uncaused “first cause”; some of us believe this first cause to be purely “natural’ while others believe this first cause to be supernatural.Big bang cosmology, often referred to as the Standard Cosmological Model, demonstrates that everything we see in the universe (all space, time, and matter) had a beginning and came from nothing. If this is true, the first cause of the universe must itself be non-spatial, a-temporal, and immaterial. This description of the uncaused first cause begins to sound a lot like the God of the Bible. But there is another attribute of this uncaused “first cause” that is often overlooked. This cause must also be personal. I first realized this many years ago after reading William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland’s seminal work, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Craig and Moreland laid out a clear and concise argument for the personal nature of the uncaused “first cause”.
There are two kinds of forces in the universe: personal forces and impersonal forces. Impersonal forces, like the force of gravity, have no choice about how they affect their environment. They enter, their effect is realized. Imagine a gravity free room in which everything is simply floating in midair. Now introduce the impersonal force of gravity. What happens? We would expect the effect of gravity to be felt immediately. The instant gravity enters this room every object will be drawn to the floor. Impersonal forces cannot decide when to act; if they are present, their effect is felt. This truth has a great impact on the way we understand the first cause of the universe.If the cause of the universe is an impersonal force, its effect (the appearance of everything from nothing) would be realized the instant the force was present. If that were the case, the first cause of the universe could be no older than the universe itself. The appearance of the cause (the impersonal force) and its effect (the creation of space, time and matter) would be simultaneous events; one would be no older than the other. But if that's the case, we would once again find ourselves looking for what caused the first cause to appear in the first place! See the problem? The first cause of the universe must itself be uncaused and eternal in order for us to avoid the illogical and endless pursuit of a prior cause. Unless we are willing to accept the irrational premise that the cause of the universe is itself only as old as the universe itself, we are going to have to admit that this cause cannot be an impersonal force. The cause of the universe had the ability to decide to bring the universe into existence, and the ability to decide is an attribute of personhood.
Now let's review the characteristics of the cause of the universe given the reasonable evidence that confirms Big Bang cosmology:
1. The first cause of the universe must itself be uncaused. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept an illogical and unreasonable series of causes that regress infinitely.
2. The first cause of the universe must be non-spatial. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept the illogical and unreasonable premise that space could create itself
3. The first cause of the universe must be a-temporal. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept the illogical and unreasonable premise that time could create itself
4. The first cause of the universe must be immaterial. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept the illogical and unreasonable premise that matter could create itself
5. The first cause of the universe must be personal. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept the illogical and unreasonable premise the cause of the universe is only as old as the universe itself.
6. The first cause of the universe must be incredibly powerful. If this were not the case, we would be forced to accept the illogical and unreasonable premise that all space, time and matter could come into existence without the power necessary to accomplish the taskSo the cause of the universe is an uncaused, non-spatial, a-temporal, immaterial personal force of incredible power. What does that sound like to you? A personal god is still the best explanation for the beginning of the universe.
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold Case Christianity
Thursday, November 22, 2012
I first noticed the problem as a Gang Detail officer in the early 1990’s. Our city was culturally and ethnically diverse, and we had a gang problem that seemed to transcend ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic boundaries. We had wealthy Korean gangsters, middle class white gangsters, and upper, middle class and lower class Hispanic and African American gangsters. I was raising two and four year old boys at the time and I was interested in what caused the young men in my community to become gangsters in the first place. It certainly didn’t seem to be something in their culture; they came from very diverse backgrounds. What was it? The more I got to know these gang members, the clearer the problem became: all of them suffered from “lack of dad.”
Many of the white gangsters had fathers that were uninvolved, alcoholic or “deadbeat” dads. Many of the Korean fathers were first generation Koreans who never learned the English language, started businesses in our community and worked so hard that they had absolutely no relationship with their sons. Some of the Hispanic fathers were incarcerated and most of our Hispanic gangsters came from a multi-generational gang culture. Many of the African-American gangsters told me that they never even knew their father; they had been raised by mothers and grandmothers without their biological dads. Over and over again I saw the same thing: young men who were wandering without direction or moral compass, in large part because they didn’t have a father at home to teach them. Many studies have confirmed my own anecdotal observations.
I can remember seeing a movie during my tour on the Gang Detail. It was called "Boyz 'N The Hood". My partner told me I simply had to see it. I thought it was one of the best movies ever made on the importance of fatherhood. The primary character is a young man who is raised by his mother until he starts to go astray. His mom then delivers him to his father who begins to raise him up in a tough neighborhood but manages to provide him with the moral role modeling he really needed. The movie demonstrated what I learned as a Gang Detail officer: it takes a man to teach a boy how to be a man.
I’ve also learned this first-hand. My dad was largely absent in my childhood and it was tough to understand my role in the world as a man without the daily input from my father. I noticed that as I reached my teen years, I was actually interested in reaching out to my dad and making sure we had a relationship. I needed him. In many ways, I became him in an effort to understand what it was to be a man. I ended up leaving a career in the arts to follow him into Law Enforcement. The power and guidance of a father is an undeniable force in the life of a young man.
As Christians, we ought to get this more than any other group. Scripture is filled with passages that describe the importance of fathers. In addition, the Bible consistently references fatherhood in an effort to analogize God’s relationship with each of us. What does Scripture tell us about the role of Fathers? First and foremost, we are to be teachers:
"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."
This is the role and duty of fathers; to teach our kids to embrace the image of God in which they were created. So today, on Thanksgiving Day, I would like all of the fathers who read this post to recognize their debt to their own fathers. If your father was absent, be grateful that you have a chance to do what he never did. Be a dad. Start teaching your kids. Take the words of Dr. Tony Evans to heart:
“It is a fool who says. ‘I do not tell my children what to believe’, because if you don’t, someone else will. The drug addicts are commanding your children and your children are obeying. The lust mongers are commanding your daughters and your daughters are obeying. For God’s sake YOU command something!”
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Like most Christian holidays, Thanksgiving has become a secular institution inAmerica, moving from a meaningful religious celebration to a benign cultural tradition. This is the case for most other Christian holidays as well. Let’s face it, Christmas is more about Santa than Jesus, and Easter is more about the Bunny than the Resurrection! But most people in our country fail to see Thanksgiving as a Christian holiday at all, and this is primarily because they don’t know the history of the people and the celebration of the day. I’ve written and podcasted about this over the years, but I thought I would take a minute to ask us to think carefully about the notion of giving thanks as we get ready to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Think about it for a minute. Who exactly are we to thank for everything that we have in our lives here in America? If you are a youngster, you might say, “Well, I would thank my parents; they were able to give me everything that I have!” And while that is true, a more thoughtful consideration would reveal others in the chain of provision who also should be thanked. After all, your parents couldn’t provide for you if they didn’t live in a state that provided them with the freedoms required to make a living. So you might find yourself thanking the Governor or the state officials that run and maintain your state. But the state wouldn’t exist without the nation, so you might next want to thank the federal leaders and military personnel who serve and continue to protect our freedom. And of course, the nation would not exist without the sacrifice of those who first worked so hard to form the union. So we could find ourselves thanking the first settlers and founders. But would it stop there? Would it be interesting or important to find out who THESE people were thanking as they formed the nation? Did these folks see themselves as the last object of thanksgiving, or did they bestow their thankfulness on yet Another?
The settlers and founders of our nation did not thank themselves as the final source of provision; they, of course, turned their praise and thanksgiving toward the Holy God of the universe. It’s undeniable. The pilgrim, Edward Winslow, described the first thanksgiving celebration in the following way, recalling themes from Acts 14:17 and Psalm 23:1:
"Our harvest being gotten in, our Governor sent four men on fowling [bird hunting] so that we might, after a special manner, rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as... served the company almost a week... Many of the Indians [came] amongst us and... their greatest King, Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted; and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought... And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God we are... far from want”
It’s no surprise then that Abraham Lincoln would eventually formalize the holiday of Thanksgiving by acknowledging that God alone is the final provider and object of thanksgiving. In the midst of the Civil War, he reminded a nation of all they had to be thankful for and who precisely they ought to be thanking:
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
Enjoy Thanksgiving tomorrow as we praise the God who is sometimes forgotten by our secular culture here in America.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Can death be beautiful? It’s an odd thought. If some good can come from death greater than its consequences it could be considered beneficial. But beautiful? I was unexpectedly faced with this question after reading two recently published books detailing the lives of two men who suffered through horrendous evils of WWII. I learned that to approach this question requires us to know what death really means. We’ll look at four ways.
Definition #1: Physical death is the end of suffering in this world
The deadliest man-caused event in the history of the world occurred on August 4th 1945 when the first atomic bomb deployed in combat ignited the sky over Hiroshima, a Japanese city of over 300,000 souls. The ensuing chaos makes the actual death count unclear, but it’s quite likely up to half the city perished from the blast. It's hard to rationalize this horror, especially when we fail to place it in the context of the incredible evil happening in Japan those years.
Useful insight of events leading up to the bomb can be found in the eye-opening book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Olympic runner and WWII veteran Louie Zamperini. As an upcoming world-class track star, he was expected to be first to break the 4 minute mile and was even personally congratulated by Adolf Hilter at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Soon after war erupted and he never broke that record.
Louie entered the Army as a B-24 bombardier in the Pacific Theater. Tragically, after a couple near-misses, Louie’s plane and entire crew finally went down at sea as many of them did. Surviving the crash, he endured 47 days at sea making him and his raft-mate the longest known survivors at sea. He spent his ordeal on a damaged raft with almost no food, water, shelter, or supplies. He was under constant threat from man-eating sharks, sun blisters, lice, infection, hallucination, starvation, dehydration, mental fatigue, and enemy aircraft. When Louie eventually found land it was in hostile territory and he was quickly captured by the Japanese. That’s when things really got bad.
My father taught me how to attend church as a non-believer. He did it for many years in many different contexts with both his kids and grand kids. He was willing to attend Catholic Mass as a non-believer with my mother in the early 1960's, and he did it again with his second family at the LDS church near his home. He attended Methodist services with my grandparents and Baptist services with my sister-in-law. He also attended the church I pastor several times. He even served once with us on a service project. He sang the songs and sat quietly during the prayers. If you didn't know better, you would swear he was a believer. But as a happy atheist, he rejected Christianity (and Mormonism) while he simultaneously embraced these two religions. He rejected their claims related to the existence of God while embracing them as useful delusions. He liked the impact these religions had on his children, and for that he continues to be grateful.
In 2010, John Steinrucken wrote an article at The American Thinker entitled "Secularism's Ongoing Debt to Christianity". Many Christians have commented on this article because Steinrucken, as a committed atheist, acknowledged the debt that secularists have to the Judeo-Christian culture in America:
"Rational thought may provide better answers to many of life's riddles than does faith alone. However, it is rational to conclude that religious faith has made possible the advancement of Western civilization. That is, the glue that has held Western civilization together over the centuries is the Judeo-Christian tradition. To the extent that the West loses its religious faith in favor of non-judgmental secularism, then to the same extent, it loses that which holds all else together. Succinctly put: Western civilization's survival, including the survival of open secular thought, depends on the continuance within our society of the Judeo-Christian tradition."
Steinrucken acknowledged what my father has always believed. As an atheist, my father embraces my Christian values wholeheartedly, even while he rejects the God from whom these values come. He served for nearly thirty years in the same occupation in which I have served and now the same profession where his namesake, my son, proudly serves. All of us are cops. Yet my father still fails to see that his love of the law is ungrounded (and therefore unfounded) as an atheist. Steinrucken seems to understand the secular moral dilemma:
"Although I am a secularist (atheist, if you will), I accept that the great majority of people would be morally and spiritually lost without religion. Can anyone seriously argue that crime and debauchery are not held in check by religion? Is it not comforting to live in a community where the rule of law and fairness are respected? Would such be likely if Christianity were not there to provide a moral compass to the great majority? Do we secularists not benefit out of all proportion from a morally responsible society? An orderly society is dependent on a generally accepted morality. There can be no such morality without religion. Has there ever been a more perfect and concise moral code than the one Moses brought down from the mountain? Those who doubt the effect of religion on morality should seriously ask the question: Just what are the immutable moral laws of secularism? Be prepared to answer, if you are honest, that such laws simply do not exist! The best answer we can ever hear from secularists to this question is a hodgepodge of strained relativist talk of situational ethics. They can cite no overriding authority other than that of fashion. For the great majority in the West, it is the Judeo-Christian tradition which offers a template assuring a life of inner peace toward the world at large -- a peace which translates to a workable liberal society."
Steinrucken rejects the claims of "religionists", even as he enjoys the world they have created.
"The fact is, we secularists gain much from living in a world in which excesses are held in check by religion. Religion gives society a secure and orderly environment within which we secularists can safely play out our creativities. Free and creative secularism seems to me to function best when within the stable milieu provided by Christianity."
My dad would certainly agree. But for my dad to live in a world that benefits from the "useful delusion" of religion, he has to live a life of contradiction and denial; a life that is itself an illusion and a lie. He has to enforce the law as if it was something more than simply a matter of cultural convenience and opinion. He has to deny the source of the law even as he works to enforce it. Such a pursuit is folly and it is ultimately dangerous. C. S. Lewis said it best in The Screwtape Letters:
"[God] will not be used as a convenience. Men or nations who think they can revive the Faith in order to make a good society might just as well think they can use the stairs of heaven as a shortcut to the nearest chemist's shop."
J. Warner Wallace is the author of Cold-Case Christianity.