Wednesday, December 29, 2010
“There are many people out there who hold other world views that are perfectly satisfactory to them. I’m sure there are others who don’t have any world view at all and are fine with that. Christianity claims to have all the answers, but if that’s the case, why are there so many people who seem perfectly content without it? In other words, why should I adopt your worldview”
This is a challenging question, because it is quickly apparent that success in the material or worldly sense does not require one to be a Christian, or even to act like one. If this present life is all there is, then Christianity has nothing to offer that the world doesn’t already have. But to a thoughtful person, there is more at play than simply what pleasure he might obtain today. An adequate worldview must answer more than how to maximize one’s earnings, or one’s pleasure. It must make sense of the tough questions that haunt us in the still and darkness of the night, questions such as: “why are we here?” “what’s next?” “how should we live?” and “what is required for salvation?”
Many people today live lives not of reflection but of hyper-stimulation. They may never have taken the time to examine their worldview, and as they bounce from one activity to the next, they push away the nagging sense that something is missing. So it is that they may not realize, at least not for a very long time, that they are operating on a very “stripped down” view of the world, one that highlights pleasure and power, but ignores those things that endure. But a worldview is not like a car. A driver may be perfectly satisfied with a stripped down model because he doesn't want comfort or elegance, just the ability to go fast. But there are no "stripped down" versions of reality. A worldview that can’t answer the important questions of life is misguided, regardless of whether one realizes it at the time.
A good worldview is one that corresponds well to reality. It's worth adopting because it approaches the "true". The best worldview is the one true one, which perhaps none of us can ever fully grasp. In the end, though, a worldview either corresponds to truth, or it doesn’t. To the extent that it doesn't, it is inadequate and one should keep looking.
This investigation can be difficult, because knowing anything with certainty is itself difficult, but it’s worth the trouble. As a person continues to investigate, he should start to be able to draw some conclusions about the historical events upon which Christianity is based, as well as the soundness of Christian doctrine.
Christianity doesn’t promise a perfect life in the here and now. Indeed, following Christ is guaranteed to bring hardships. But if what you want is a worthy life now, and the guarantee of being made perfect by the One who defines perfection, then the Christian worldview will be your ultimate destination.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
The Eyewitness Gospels and the Chain of Custody
In this podcast, J. Warner examines five historical "chains of custody", tracing the eyewitness accounts of John and Peter and the original writings of Paul and Luke through history from the eyewitnesses to their disciples. Do we have good reason to believe that the Gospels are eyewitness accounts that were written early and carefully transmitted through the centuries? Do the Gospels hold up as important pieces of evidence?
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Darwinian evolution provides the underpinnings for the modern atheist. And when apologists for the Christian faith try to point out its shortcomings, we're sometimes asked why defeating Darwinism should matter. In other words, why should eliminating Darwinism as a viable theory require the skeptic to conclude that there must be a deity somewhere behind the scenes?
Put simply: because there aren't any other good alternatives. Consider the principal question at issue in discussing life's orgins: "how can we make sense of the fact that there is something, rather than nothing, and that included in this something are complex beings that are living, intelligent and extremely complex?"
Evolution in the Darwinian sense - i.e. life emerges from inert matter and eventually, slowly, assembles itself through random mutation and natural selection - is the current atheistic answer to the question. If it can be shown that life really did emerge in this fashion, then there is no need to resort to a God who designed everything and set it all into motion.
But "evolution" in this sense has never been proven. "Evolution" in the sense of small changes occurring in already existing species - what's called micro-evolution - is an established fact. But given the complexity of even the simplest life form, the fact that an already functioning form of life can evolve to meet environmental challenges tells us nothing about how it first came to exist in the first place. Atheists make use of the confusion in the use of the terms to argue that Darwinian evolution - life from non-life - is a fact when it is, at best, a theory.
When Darwinian evolution is finally abandoned - acknowledged to lack the explanatory power to make sense of life's origins - then the original question remains. The only logical explanation is that life was designed by a supremely intelligent and powerful being. Now, this may not be the God of the Bible, but it would be a "deity" - a transcendent being who is beyond and before this universe.
And that, at least, would get the discussion about ultimate origins back on a theist track.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
In a couple of days, Christians throughout the world will celebrate the birth of the Savior. But to the growing number of atheists, this celebration makes little sense. Having accepted the materialist's view of reality, they have limited themselves to thinking that nature is all there is, or was, or ever will be. Ignoring the futility of such a barren worldview, they think they have the corner on reason as they insist that miracles like the Incarnation are simply not possible.
This is circular, and quite limited, thinking. Beginning with the assumption that nature is all there is, is it any surprise that they end up where they began, with the conclusion that miracles do not occur? And without the possibility of miracles, they conclude Christianity must be false, without ever bothering to examine the historical evidence that supports it. But, of course, for a Creator powerful enough to create the universe from nothing -as the Big Bang corroborates occurred - and intelligent enough to create practically infinite varieties of life through the assembly of amino acids into DNA, entering this world as a flesh and blood creature isn't really an obstacle. Insisiting that this is impossible is roughly similar to a fish in an aquarium insisting that nothing exists beyond the tank. To the fish, the tank may seem to define the limits of reality, but that is simply because his frame of reference is so limited.
This Christmas season, it's worth remembering that the real miracle of Christmas is not that God became man, but the manner in which He did it. When Jesus came into this world, Augustus Caesar ruled a Roman Empire that was making its might felt in all directions of the compass. But Jesus wasn't born into wealth, power or privilege. Swaddled in rags, He drew his first breath in the lowliest of circumstances, welcomed by parents who could barely care for Him and who needed to flee the country in order to protect Him. He was born to a people that were themselves powerless. Defying expectations of a conquering messiah, He walked among men and women as a simple carpenter, seeking neither to form a church nor raise an army. Instead, He preached a message of repentance, and then He lay down his life in fulfillment of the prophecies of old.
In so doing, He showed us the meaning of real love - love that seeks not reward nor return, love that is given selflessly and without limit - the kind of love we each long for, but seek in the wrong places. He emptied Himself so that he could fill us with the love that could restore the relationship broken when man chose to use his free will to defy God. Possessing infinite power, He chose to serve, rather than be served. Without ever putting quill to parchment, his teachings nonetheless reverberate down to us 2000 years later, with the same transformative power that rocked the Roman Empire, and then the world.
The Psalmist says:
"When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?"
What is man?
To the atheist, nothing more than an animal. An intelligent animal, to be sure, but nothing more. But to the Creator of the universe, man holds a much revered place. That He would bother with us, would express such love to us, is indeed the true Miracle of Christmas.
I recently wrote about a conversation I am having with a LDS friend where he wrote,
Do you know our Articles of Faith? #11 – "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may". I claim my "privilege". I allow you the same.I'm sure creedal statements like Article 11 make LDS feel very honorable that they are so tolerant as to not impose on anyone's religious beliefs and that anyone that would try to convert them away from Mormonism should take a lesson from them in open-mindedness. Essentially Article 11 is a condemnation of those who would impose their religious beliefs on others. If not inherently, then it is certainly implied in the request for me to claim "my privilege" of worshipping according to the dictates of my conscience while allowing others to do the same. It is a nice way of saying "it is wrong to condemn anyone for their religious beliefs" or "it is wrong to force your beliefs on anyone." These statements are self refuting. Like other self refuting statements, they fail to meet their own criteria of validity. When relativists assert that "there is no truth", we should ask "is that a true statement?" or when someone says, "no one can know anything for sure about religion", we should ask "how did you come to know that truth about religion?"
Article 11 asserts that "it is wrong to condemn anyone for their religious beliefs" or "it is wrong to force your beliefs on anyone." What if my religious belief is to share the truth of Christianity and warn others against false teachings? It would seem that Article 11 should grant me that right. If not, aren't you condemning me for my beliefs? If I relent because of Article 11, then aren't you FORCING YOUR BELIEFS on me that I shouldn't question or address the problems within Mormonism? The statement is self contradictory if you do not allow me to worship Almighty God by following the dictates of Christ to proselytize, preach the true gospel and teach against false teachers however, wherever and whatever way I may.
Article 11 says that "we can agree to disagree" about how we worship God. We are not talking about worship in the sense that my church might use contemporary songs, drums and electric guitars and the LDS church uses hymns and an organ. We are not addressing "style" of worship, but the substance of "how and what" we are worshipping - which Mormonism claims to have modern revelation of the truth regarding God and salvation.
If you like chocolate and I like vanilla, then yes, we can agree to disagree about the best flavor of ice cream. It is completely subjective. The truth resides in the subject (you or I) and so subjective truth claims can be different for everyone. If you like BYU and I like UCLA, then again, yes, we can agree to disagree about the best college football team. While somewhat subjective, an objective case could be made as well. The truth resides in the objects (the team stats - wins/losses, yards gained, interceptions, number of tackles, etc.). If you like 3 as the answer to the question "how much is 2+2?" and I like 4, then no, we can't agree to disagree. To even say that we "like" 3 or 4 no longer even makes any sense. We can claim knowledge that the answer is 3 or 4, but we have clearly moved into an objective claim of truth. The objective claim is either true or false. The claims of Christianity are objective claims as well but the stakes are much higher. If you worship a god that was created and I worship a God that is uncreated; the Creator of everything, then we can't both be right. At best, they are different gods, at worst; one is true and the other in non-existent. To agree to disagree would be to allow the other to continue in their worship of a false or non-existent god, ultimately doomed* for eternity. This is the unloving result exemplified in Article of Faith #11.
If Article 11 suggests that we should not persuade people to other beliefs or that I should respect and condone the worship of other deities then I disagree and the Bible does as well. I see NO evidence that Jesus or the apostles would knowingly let others worship other than in Spirit and TRUTH to the true and living God. Where in scripture do they tell the Jews, the Pharisees, the Gnostics, the Pagans, the Greeks or anyone else that it's ok to worship however you like. I asked my friend to REJECT this unloving and unbiblical notion taught by the LDS authorities to encapsulate Mormons into retreating from conflict by thinking that they have nobly taken the "higher ground".
While the Articles of Faith conspicuously fail to mention any controversial teaching of the LDS church and hide nearly all of the LDS teachings that separate Mormonism from Christianity, a difference can be seen here in Article 11. The early Christians were tortured and martyred by Rome. While Mormons want to be identified with Christianity, in fact, Rome would have had no problem with Christianity had it been just another religion that said "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may." What Rome would not accept were the claims of Christianity that it was a source of truth about the world; a path to knowledge about reality.
*according to Christianity – in hell (Matt 7:21-23)
*according to Mormonism – at best, separated from God to a greater degree and without His blessings given to those who are faithful Mormons, at worst, sealed to the devil (Alma 34:34-35)
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
As we left the parking lot of ToysRUs, I felt like crying. Only two weeks ago, when our financial situation was a little grimmer, I'd told my children that we wouldn't be doing Christmas presents this year; we just couldn't afford it. Had they complained? NO! They took it in stride. They don't yet think that Christmas is a must-get-toys event, and they believe me that Santa is the epitome of selfishness, Jesus the epitome of SELFLESSNESS. I couldn't be prouder of what they already seem to understand.
But my husband's work picked up again, and soon we had bought and decorated a tree. That act changed the story. Traditional Christmas was back on.
I don't want to argue that Christmas should not be celebrated by Christians, though I happen to lean in that direction. The evidence I have seen suggests that Jesus was born on the Feast of Tabernacles, sometime in the September/October time of the year. I'm glad we are still able to celebrate His birth in this country, to gather as friends and family and community under what seems to be a common theme - good will - but...
I do have a list of questions that I am asking myself about gift-giving this year and I want to share them with you to get your feedback:
1. Are we (my husband and I) entrenched in our culture/tradition? Why do we celebrate the wrong-date birth of Jesus by spending money on "stuff"? Do we think people will not like us if we don't purchase gifts for them? Do we have the extra money this month? Why do we feel we HAVE TO buy? Have we thought this through objectively?
2. Am I, as a person who knows better, helping to support the idea that the possessions we acquire can satisfy, or even come close to the satisfaction found in Jesus Himself?
3. How do I, as light and salt, as a member of Christ's body, meant to show His glory here on earth, fulfill my role by acting in the same way as my unsaved neighbors (Matt 5:13)? Am I worshiping my God the way people who do not love Him worship what they find most important? Shouldn't those who know I am a Christian see me doing things differently?
4. Are we trading feasts when we give gifts (Luke 14:12-14)? Jesus talked about giving to those in need, not to those who can give back. Am I so wrapped up in my friends and family that I am forsaking those with real needs?
5. Am I overspending? Jesus does not want us putting ourselves into debt, does He? Did you know that 13 million shoppers are still paying off last year's Christmas purchases? If we feel certain that we need to give presents, but are maxing out our credit cards, wouldn't it be better to consider the even better gift of our SELVES, our time and energy?
6. When we buy gifts on Christmas, are we spending money that God has not provided, on things God did not suggest, at a time God did not appoint? God always provides for us to give and receive - and He does it all year long, as we wait on Him and follow Him. Are we using Christmas as a time to make up for what we didn't do all year?
7. If we are really celebrating Jesus' coming into the world, on a date that He was not born, isn't there is a much better way to celebrate Him? What was His purpose here? He came to live an example life, to prove who He was, and to accomplish salvation for hurting sinners. If we really want to give gifts at Christmas, shouldn't we follow Him (Mark 10:21)? Shouldn't we spend our free Christmas time evangelizing, studying apologetics, and reaching out to the spiritually needy? What better gift could we ever hope to be a part of giving, than that of the news of our LORD Jesus Christ, and His salvation?
Perhaps I'm overthinking this, in an effort to separate from a pagan past. What do you think?
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Do you know our Articles of Faith? #11 – "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may". I claim my "privilege". I allow you the same.He was referring to the Articles of Faith originally published by Joseph Smith in the LDS publication Times and Seasons in 1942 and later reprinted in the Pearl of Great Price with minor changes. This creed of Mormonism is supposed to be a list of beliefs, but is more remarkable for what beliefs it leaves out. The Articles of Faith conspicuously fail to mention any controversial teaching of the LDS church. Even though Joseph Smith was practicing polygamy at the time, no mention of the doctrine of plural marriage is made and the Articles of Faith are silent on teachings and doctrines that God was once a man, that there are many Gods or that men can become Gods, that celestial marriage is necessary for salvation, baptizing for the dead, temple work and all that it entails, the degrees of glory in eternal worlds, etc. In fact, the Articles of Faith hide nearly all of the LDS teachings that separate Mormonism from Christianity. This fits perfectly with the modern Mormon Church that at every opportunity, publically calls itself "Christian" while continuing to pursue heretical doctrines.
Articles of Faith #11 – "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may".I responded that I know that this can't mean that Mormons can worship anyway they want within Mormonism. LDS are quickly excommunicated for certain ideas. No, the intent of the article is to say, "We won't bother you, so don't bother us." I find this so strange to have been penned by Joseph Smith, who claims to have received this direct revelation from God,
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof." Joseph Smith – History 1:18-19The same Joseph Smith who translated these words from 1 Nephi 14:9-12,
"And it came to pass that he said unto me: Look, and behold that great and abominable church, which is the mother of abominations, whose founder is the devil. And he said unto me: Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth. And it came to pass that I looked and beheld the whore of all the earth, and she sat upon many waters; and she had dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people. And it came to pass that I beheld the church of the Lamb of God, and its numbers were few, because of the wickedness and abominations of the whore who sat upon many waters; nevertheless, I beheld that the church of the Lamb, who were the saints of God, were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small, because of the wickedness of the great whore whom I saw."In light of these passages, I do think it odd that LDS would say to those who worship outside of the LDS church, continue to worship as part of the corrupt, whore church of the devil and continue in wickedness believing abominable ideas as long as you don't question the LDS church. This makes zero sense if the LDS church has God's truth and a responsibility to share that with the world. When Mormon missionaries come to my home, the first lesson they teach is that there are many "plain and precious truths" removed from the Bible due to a great apostasy. The very first lesson is that you cannot trust the Bible to worship how, where, or what we may. This actually doesn't offend me. Every religion makes truth claims and truth is discriminatory by its very nature. The problem is that modern LDS are lulled into believing that non-LDS will be given a second chance at accepting the gospel in spirit prison or be assigned to a lower level of heaven to be angel servants when the book of Mormon teaches that,
"For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. And now, as I said unto you before, as ye have had so many witnesses, therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance until the end; for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed. Ye cannot say, when ye are brought to that awful crisis, that I will repent, that I will return to my God. Nay, ye cannot say this; for that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world. For behold, if ye have procrastinated the day of your repentance even until death, behold, ye have become subjected to the spirit of the devil, and he doth seal you his; therefore, the Spirit of the Lord hath withdrawn from you, and hath no place in you, and the devil hath all power over you; and this is the final state of the wicked." Alma 34:32-35The problem is that Mormonism teaches that when we die in an unrepentant state (and that only true repentance can be achieved within Mormonism) we are sealed to the spirit of the devil. For my friend and many modern Mormons, the message they are receiving in their wards is a religious pluralism that says (and these are his words),
"I think of [Christians] as almost right and in God's big, beautiful plan, you will have a chance to get it right."If this is true, and this is important. Right now, I believe orthodox Christianity more or less as it was in 1820. If I will have a chance to get it right; if this is true for others as well, then there was ABSOLUTELY no need for God to come to Joseph Smith. If it is true, the restoration DOES NOT MATTER. If I can attain the same glory as a devoted Mormon, then Mormonism is irrelevant. If I will be at some lower glory, then isn't it unloving to tell non-Mormons that being "almost right" is good enough; that you "respect" me and my false worship while watching me lose some potential benefit from God?
"Will all be damned but Mormons?" he replied, "Yes, and a great portion of them unless they repent and work righteousness" Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 119
"The Christian world, so-called, are heathens as to the knowledge of the salvation of God" Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 8:171Why do Joseph Smith and Brigham Young have such a different take than many of the LDS that I meet and talk with including my friend? Why should I trust them over the LDS prophets?
Monday, December 20, 2010
Six Disturbing Christian Trends
In this podcast, J. Warner examines six disturbing trends identified by the Barna Group in 2010. What can we do about the fact that Christians seem to be less and less theologically literate, less "outreach oriented", less interested in spiritual principles and more and more influenced by post-modernism? J. Warner also answers listener email about evidence and secular entertainment.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
This is an interesting request, for if these atheists followed reason, they would not waste money on public outreach to defend a position that reason does not – indeed, cannot – support.
Atheism, after all, is the belief that there is no God. Assertions such as this require evidence. What reasons do the atheists have to support the conclusion that there is no God? Well, I suppose they would say that since they have never seen him, and have never been contacted by him, there is no reason to believe he is there.
Proving a negative -here, the non-existence of God - is of course quite difficult. Usually, the atheist will claim that he does not have to. He might say that he does not believe there are leprechauns even though he has not scoured the universe to prove that none exist. Or he might use unicorns or goblins or some other fictitious creature to make his point. But doing this amounts to a category error, for there is in this universe nothing like God. He is in a category of his own.
Consider: In the case of leprechauns, we are talking about figures from Irish folklore who are characterized by their size and style of dress, and their supposed penchant for mending shoes, storing coins in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and generally making mischief. Just describing them is the first step in intuitively realizing that they don’t really exist. God, on the other hand, is not a thing within creation. He is that Being, outside of and apart from this universe, from which all things derived; that Being a greater than which cannot possibly be conceived. He is the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the incomprehensibly intelligent and powerful source of all that exists.
Placing this image before our mind, we see that this conception of God is based not on fairy tale or folklore but on reason. Something must be there to explain what is here, to account for intelligence and consciousness, to make sense of the design inherent in nature, the laws that govern it, and the existence of morality and beauty. Even if all religious knowledge were suddenly erased, rational men and women would quickly grasp that such a Being is real - that He must exist.
To prove atheism, a person must do more than ignore all the evidence of design in the universe. He must do more than reject the testimony of those who witnessed Christ’s life, death and resurrection. He must be able to examine the entire universe, and everything that exists beyond the universe. In short, he must become omniscient, for only then could he know, with the certainty atheism claims, that there is no God.
Talk about chasing the pot of gold. Ironically, the atheist would have to become God in order to prove that God does not exist.
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
All funny stuff, done in that fast-paced witty way that makes the show so popular. And Stephen went on to further mock Christianity: "What part of three kings following a star through a desert to bring gifts to an immaculately conceived baby God they dreamt about sounds like a myth to you?"
Stinging sacrasm like that can drive home a point: Christians, it seems, are guilty of being unreasonable. An increasing number of people appear to believe that Christians should keep their beliefs to themselves, that they should perhaps retire into the closet that the atheists are being urged to vacate.
But this point cannot survive real scrutiny. Indeed, it is the atheist position that is patently unreasonable, and a bit ironic. A myth? Arising within the lifetime of those who knew the person around whom the "myth" had arisen? You've got to be joking.
Consider: while Christian writings didn't begin immediately after Jesus’ death, the oral transmission of the basic creed - the key facts of Christ's life, death and resurrection as set forth in 1 Corinthians 15 - began shortly thereafter. Luke provides corroboration for this in the Acts of the Apostles, which was written quite early, as it does not include Paul’s death in 64 A.D. Acts was a continuation of Luke’s Gospel, which must have been written earlier still. Mark predates Luke, so Mark’s Gospel was likely written in the early 50’s, just over twenty years after the crucifixion.
Any key exaggerations - say for instance a false claim that He had risen from the dead - would quickly have been squelched by those who would have had the motive and the ability to silence those early followers. But the tomb remained empty, and no dead body was ever produced. Jesus' early followers were so convinced that the resurrection had occurred, that they were willing to accept death rather than deny Him. For these earliest of followers, this faith wasn't based on what someone else had told them but on what they themselves had seen and heard. If the resurrection had not been witnessed by them, then they died for a claim they knew was false. Myths do not arise around such foolishness.
Instead, myths arise after the passage of greath lengths of time, and relate to stories that were never fully documented, or describe mythic creatures with extraordinary characteristics or abilities. But the Christian claims were not stories about super beings who lived centuries earlier; they were claims about some extraordinary events which had happened in the life of a man who was put to death, all of which had occurred in what was their recent past. Christian apologist J.P. Moreland sums it up in this way: "[The myth claim] requires the assumption that someone, about a generation removed from the events in question, radically transformed the authentic information about Jesus that was circulating at that time, superimposed a body of material four times as large, fabricated almost entirely out of whole cloth, while the church suffered sufficient collective amnesia to accept the transformation as legitimate.” This is simply not plausible."
Historically speaking, the events surrounding the birth of Christianity are the most extensively documented historical event from antiquity. That the earlier adherents were liars, or were themselves deceived, could pose a better challenge, but that it's all a myth is, well, silly. The church has survived much greater challenges.
So, while The Colbert Report continues its faux "War on the War on Christmas," committed apologists must continue to do their part to set the record straight.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Resident Evil (Responding to 5 Kinds of Evil)
In this special edition of the PleaseConvinceMe Podcast, J. Warner posts an audio of his recent teaching about the problem of evil. This impromptu Blackberry recording (complete with barking dogs and student interaction) documents a recent 2 hour training for the Berkeley Missions Trip involving over 30 high school students as they prepare to engage atheist scholars and students on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. J. Warner utilizes object lessons and media to teach about the problems of Moral, Natural, Bodily, Theistic and Christian evil.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
It seems that many people today live their lives in a similar fashion. Carrying precious cargo – their eternal souls - they nonetheless recklessly set things in motion with no destination in mind and no one at the controls. Along the way, they seek excitement and purpose in the wrong places, sometimes taking sidetracks into drugs or alcohol or sex or the pursuit of wealth and power. As the pace quickens, there's little time for true reflective thought, until perhaps much later down the track, when they wonder how things got so out of control. And how to make it all stop.
For the atheist, of course, the idea of a "right" track is merely wishful thinking. With no God to set the standard of right and wrong, any direction a person wants to go is, in the final analysis, as "good" as any other. Sure, the atheist can live a "moral" life, but he can't define what moral really is, or why it matters. Or, more precisely, to whom it matters. After all, if we evolved from lifeless matter with no one who cares about us, and no one to eventually welcome us home, then filling our days with “stuff” as we push away the overwhelming emptiness is as good a strategy as any.
Without a capable Conductor giving direction to your journey, the risk of a trainwreck at the end of the line looms. But there is a better way. What an unstoppable train really needs is an unsurpassable Conductor. Inviting Jesus to be that Conductor won’t solve all your problems. It won’t suddenly make you successful or better than everyone around you. But it will give you a destination and it will make sense of the cargo you are carrying. It will give meaning to a journey that often times seems to be just once more trip around the track. And it has the added advantage of being true.
Isn’t it time to invite Him on board?
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
Yet, it seems Christians increasingly speak with a divided voice when it comes to issues such the use of force, whether it be in self defense, "just war" theory or in the application of the death penalty. Many Christians have limited their beliefs to the words spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry; indeed, many have reduced the Bible to Christ's Sermon on the Mount. To them, Jesus is a pacifist who speaks of forgiving and who accepts everyone just as they are. Since Jesus never gave assent to the death penalty or to war, they reason, they could never endorse it.
What this view leaves unconsidered, of course, are those other areas of Scripture that also deal with these topics. On a recent podcast, for example, Pastor Jim made the case for the morality of using deadly force in defending oneself or another, or by the State in executing a convicted criminal. In doing so, he referred to the Apostle Paul's teachings. For example, in Paul's letter to the Romans, specifically Chapter 13, Paul writes that "if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil." Romans 13:3-4.
Seeing what they perceive as a conflict, many Christians today believe that they must choose between "two views," and so they opt for Jesus. But such a view is ultimately self defeating, because the Bible makes clear that Jesus endorses Paul's view. Hence, they cannot be in conflict, and Paul's views must be considered and reconciled,and not simply rejected.
Prior to his conversion, "Saul of Tarsus" was a major persecutor of Christ's church. He partcipated in the execution of Stephen which began a great persecution in Jerusalem. Acts 8. "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison." Acts 8:3. He breathed "threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord." Acts 9:1. That is, of course, until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus and underwent his conversion. Acts 9:3-9. Paul's authority from Jesus could not be made any clearer that Acts does: "he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." Acts 9:15-16.
Now, the followers of Jesus rightly suspected Paul: Paul "was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple." Acts 9:26. But eventually they realized that Paul's conversion was in fact genuine and they accepted him, because Jesus had commissioned him. See eg. Acts 11, 13, 21. Paul was embraced by the leaders of the infant church and began his missionary journeys.
As Christians, we affirm that all Scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for correction and training. 2 Tim. 3:16. The Book of Acts is the continuation of Luke's gospel and has been considered Scripture from the earliest days of the church. How much sense would it make for Jesus to use Paul for inspired purposes but to get the message wrong?
So next time you debate a Christian who rejects Paul message, or believes that a choice must be made between Paul and Jesus, remind him of the history of the early Church, when Jesus selected Paul for a very specific purpose.
I finally finished watching the La Ciudad de las Ideas 2010: Does the Universe Have a Purpose? debate and thought that I would pass it on if you haven't seen it yet. While Richard Dawkins has refused to debate William Lane Craig directly, the two get to engage some here. Atheists Matt Ridley and Michael Shermer and Theists Rabbi David Wolpe and Douglas Geivett also participate as well as others. The video begins in spanish but the debate is in english.
We have discussed the subject of debate here at PleaseConvinceMe and pondered at it's effectiveness to change minds. None the less, I think that this is an interesting debate.
I often see in debates that when Theists say that there is no foundation for objective morality without a moral law giver,atheists respond by saying that they can of course act moral without believing in God and seem to have missed the point of the question. I think that the same can be said here as well. The point that the Theists are making is that if the universe is purely materialistic (no supernatural mind of God) then there is no ultimate purpose. If there is a purpose to life and the existence of the universe then someone outside of the universe must have given that purpose. The response of the atheists is that religion does not give us purpose and that purpose is what we make it. I know that these are not dumb men (and women), but they continually fail to answer the questions. How can we as Theists be clearer in our presentation of ideas? Or is the atheist just disinterested/not listening and content with answering strawmen arguments?
Of course we give things purpose(the problem being that if someone decides that torturing small children is their purpose, then who are we to disagree that is not a justifiable purpose), but that does not address the question of ultimate purpose outside that which we create.
Would it be clearer to define a purpose giver and reciever? We would say that we are definitely capable of giving purpose to that which we create, but if we have purpose, who did we recieve it from if not from the universe?
Monday, December 06, 2010
What Is the Gift of Heaven?
In this podcast, J. Warner follows the "Roman Road" as he examines the nature of the Gospel of Grace. How can we use Paul's Letter to the Romans to articulate the Gospel to our atheist friends and the importance of Grace to our friends who hold "works based" theological ideas? Also, J. Warner addresses an email question related to free will and the sovereignty of God.
Check out the podcast homepage for subscription information and archives.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
One writer took me to task, saying: “ You wrote, ‘So, Mr. Harris, if there is no God, no source of good to whom we are ultimately accountable, why shouldn’t the strong dominate and enslave the weak or the disadvantaged?’ If you read Harris's book you'd see his answer. The strong should not dominate, because only that which enhances the well being of conscious creatures is moral; enslavement does not enhance the well being of conscious creatures so it is not moral.”
But this, on a bit of reflection, is simply restating a definition. Enslaving is not moral because it is not moral. Anyone can make up a rule, but you if want to have people actually be motivated to follow that rule, you have to attach a consequence to the violation of the rule. Imagine the chaos that would exist on the roadways if police were unable to stop or ticket drivers who violate the vehicle code’s provisions. Saying that people should drive safely because driving unsafely does not enhance the well being of drivers may sound enlightened, but in the end, it the authority of the rule giver and the rule giver's ability to actually attach a consequence that will provide grounding for the rule.
The writer then continued: “You also skimmed right over the fact that the God of Abraham did, discuss slavery without standing firm against it. (Read the Bible and you will see.) That makes the God of Abraham immoral.”
An interesting challenge, but again one that does not bear close scrutiny. What the writer is assuming is that the Bible is a rule book written for the modern era. Slavery is obviously wrong, so any rule book for right behavior would list slavery as something to be prohibited. The only problem with this argument is that the Bible is not a rule book. It is an account of God's interaction with us that contains rules, but much more than just rules. Now, the Bible does include, in the Old Testament, a set of very detailed rules, but these rules were part of a covenant with an ancient people. At the time, slavery did not always involve the barbarity of the human bondage practiced in early America, which the writer no doubt has in mind, but was a part of the then-existing primitive economic system. Sometimes such "slavery" took mild forms that involved a form of indentured servitude and sometimes it actually benefitted the recipient, whose other alternative may have been even worse. Slavery flourished in all parts of the ancient world, and continues on to this day in many non-Western societies, and also illegally in Western ones. This raises the question as to why the Christian West outlawed slavery. The answer, as exemplified by the actions of William Wilberforce in England, was that the message of Christianity – that we are all brothers and that we each bear the sacred image of God, which confers dignity upon us which no man can violate – was the driving force. In short, the Bible does stand against slavery, as it stands against any behavior that would dehumanize a fellow child of God.
The writer concluded: “There are many many old books which state many many things. Using them as your moral compass is silly. Especially when they stand neutral on slavery.”
Perhaps we agree on this. Using just any book as my moral compass would be silly. But no book, ancient or modern, can rival the Bible as both an historical document and a source of transcendent truth. This book, and the beliefs that it generated, changed for the better the course of world history. Many authors have made this case, such as Alvin Schmidt and Rodney Stark.
For any compass to work, there must be a source of true north. So to with morality. To give it teeth and to make it more than simply a person's opinion, the source must be strong enough to stop the needle from spinning and to point the way home.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Here's another cool kinetic type animation. It is what most Christians would call a presentation of "the gospel" in 11 minutes. While I would have liked a better explanation of how grace fits in, I think that they did a pretty good job. I especially liked the "6 ways that God tries to get through to us". What do you think? I would be interested to hear what our atheist and LDS commenters think of this as well.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
The difficulty with this approach isn't that Christianity can't help someone improve his life. In many cases, living according to Biblical values can indeed make life better. The problem is that our faith starts to be marketed as a product, a method of achieving some desirable end. A person identifies a need in his or her life and Christianity fills that need, the way any product might do.
But this is not the message of Christianity. The Bible is not a "how to" manual on achieving financial or worldly success. It does not promise riches in the here and now, nor an end to all hardship. Quite the opposite, in fact, as the early fathers of the church, and their followers, could have attested. In short, Christianity tells the story of man's broken relationship with his Creator. It claims to speak truth about the nature of God and of the rift between Him and us, and most importantly, what is needed to fix it. The Old Testament provides the backdrop as God prepares a people to serve as the vehicle for redemption. Jesus comes - not to make our lives profitable or more fulfilling in some modern sense - but to fulfill those prophecies, give His life as ransom for us, and thereby restore our relationship with the Father.
So, we need to consider Christianity on its merits - are its historical claims true? The Apostle Paul said as much, when he said that we are to be pitied as fools if Christ did not rise from the dead. Everything rests on that truth claim. Once we see that Christ did rise, and we place our trust in Him, He will do a work in us and will eventually welcome us into His Kingdom. But Paul himself remained afflicted, and there is no reason to believe that by following Christ, our problems will disappear. We will, however, look at them differently, and by living Biblical values, we will probably have a better life than we might otherwise have had. More importantly, when the storms come, we won't discard our faith like yet another product that didn't live up to its promises.
For the promise of Christ is not the perfect life here, but an eternity in the presence of Perfection. That's a promise we can place our trust in.