Saturday, December 29, 2012

Intolerance and Totalitarianism in the Guise of Social Convention In the course of his interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Piers Morgan expressed an idea that is becoming increasingly more common: • “The Bible and the Constitution were well-intentioned, but they are basically inherently flawed,” Morgan said. “Hence the need to amend it.” • “My point to you about gay rights, for example, it's time for an amendment to the Bible,” he said. While it doesn’t seem that Morgan is ready to launch a crusade, at least for now, to legally change the Bible, his statements carry troubling assumptions: 1. The gold-standard by which every other truth claim is critiqued is the modern cultural consensus. Implicit in Morgan’s statements is the notion that this standard should trump everything else, even the Constitution. 2. Perhaps even more troubling is the underlying attitude that everything and everyone else must be coerced into conforming to this standard. If their philosophy, worldview, or religion fails to conform, them it should be changed. No room for diversity here! 3. Divergent points of view will no longer be tolerated. Conform or else! 4. This represents the imposition of one totalitarian secular religion upon everyone. This initiative is usually justified in the name of “neutrality,” “not offending others,” and “human rights.” However, human rights must necessarily be defended by invoking a rationale for unchanging, objective and universal principles. However, Morgan didn’t try to articulate any rationale, as if to say, “Don’t give people an occasion to think. It might just upset all of our plans.” This, of course, should raise the question, “Why should your standard be the deciding standard and why should your standard replace every other standard?” If Morgan’s position seems unjustifiably intolerant, perhaps this is because it is intolerant!

In the course of his interview with Pastor Rick Warren, Piers Morgan expressed an idea that is becoming increasingly more common:

  • “The Bible and the Constitution were well-intentioned, but they are basically inherently flawed,” Morgan said.  “Hence the need to amend it.”
  • “My point to you about gay rights, for example, it's time for an amendment to the Bible,” he said.
While it doesn’t seem that Morgan is ready to launch a crusade, at least for now, to legally change the Bible, his statements carry troubling assumptions:

  1. The gold-standard by which every other truth claim is critiqued is the modern cultural consensus. Implicit in Morgan’s statements is the notion that this standard should trump everything else, even the Constitution.
  1. Perhaps even more troubling is the underlying attitude that everything and everyone else must be coerced into conforming to this standard. If their philosophy, worldview, or religion fails to conform, them it should be changed. No room for diversity here!
  1. Divergent points of view will no longer be tolerated. Conform or else!
  1. This represents the imposition of one totalitarian secular religion upon everyone. This initiative is usually justified in the name of “neutrality,” “not offending others,” and “human rights.” However, human rights must necessarily be defended by invoking a rationale for unchanging, objective and universal principles. However, Morgan didn’t try to articulate any rationale, as if to say, “Don’t give people an occasion to think. It might just upset all of our plans.”
  2. It also assumes that by imposing one uniform morality upon all, a better world will emerge. It says in effect, “Heck with your religious freedom.”
This, of course, should raise the question, “Why should your standard be the deciding standard and why should it replace every other standard?”

If Morgan’s position seems unjustifiably intolerant, perhaps this is because it is intolerant!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Laughing in the midst of the War on Christmas and Christianity

My wife and I just returned from an eye-opening trip to Washington DC, which has the most incredible and extensive selection of museums in the world.

However, our visit wasn’t as inspiring as we might have wished, even though it was the Christmas season. We did see a broad array of Christmas trees but no public crèche scenes apart from two movable displays set up by private individuals for only the day. We did find a hotel near the White House hosting Christmas carols. However, the lyrics sang of no more than gifts, smiles, snow, and sledding.

What we found at the Kennedy Music Center was little different. We heard the Handel’s magnificent Hallelujah Chorus from his Messiah. However, it too had been sanitized of any reference to the Messiah and spoke only of “jiggle bells” and other associated secular superficialities. It felt as if I had loaned out my family photos to have them returned with my family’s faces replaced by those I no longer recognized – a major violation.

The next day, we toured the Capital. We learned a lot about statues, ornaments, and building blocks but nothing about the Christian building blocks upon which our nation was constructed.

However, the absence of any references to Christianity was richly compensated in the American Indian and Holocaust Museums. In these museums, there seemed to be little hesitation to reference the impact of Christianity. Predictably, its impact was largely associated with the negative. The Indian tour guide spoke of the repressive influence of Christianity upon Native American spirituality. However, he did concede that 60% of Native Americans identify with a church. Evidently, most haven’t regarded the Christian faith in an entirely negative way!

Although the Holocaust Museum did admit that Christians had rescued Jews, I can only remember one Christian group that had been identified as “Christian” – the Huguenot (Protestant) town of Le Chambon which had rescued thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

On the last day, we visited the Natural History Museum, a museum which is openly committed to providing only natural explanations for the origins of planets, stars, life and even the entire cosmos. If these were the only possible or reasonable explanations, I would not take issue with their commitment. However, the museum makes absolutely no attempt to weigh natural explanations against intelligently designed causation.

Its presentation on African slavery associates this institution with Christian slave-traders without a hint that Muslims were – and still are – active in this inhumane trade. Instead, the curators gave high praise to the Muslim slaves who had temporarily rebelled against their so-called "Christian" masters in Brazil.

The Washington experience was a subtle indictment of our faith – a faith upon which Western civilization has traditionally rested. However, this experience was only a condensed version of the experience of an increasingly secular West.

While at the founding of this nation, secularism guaranteed everyone a seat at the table to express their own views and values, it has done a 180 degree turn. Now the table is only reserved for those who will play by the new set of secular norms. It replaces God with the new god of naturalistic and materialistic explanations. The secular altar is constructed on moral relativism which will not countenance any criticism of alternative sexual lifestyles. And upon this altar, Christian college groups have been banned from an increasing number of campuses, Christians have lost their jobs and businesses, and free speech has been curtailed.

We returned to our youth hostel, heads hung low. Secularism’s shadow has temporarily darkened Western society. It is no longer acceptable to be transparent about what is most central to us – our faith in Christ.

We even found this to be somewhat true in our international hostel. Two German young men told me that they were planning to teach science. I therefore asked them about what possible role God might have in their understanding of the physical world. Predictably, they gave me the well-rehearsed yet superficially respectful secular answer:

  • Science has nothing to do with questions about God.
I must admit that I was infuriated by their answer but tried to hide it. All creation points inescapably back to the Creator (Romans 1:18-21), and I wanted to show them this, even though it should have already been apparent to them. However, secularism has provided some pat but mindless answers to avoid thinking about the God question. I therefore pushed ahead:

  • Where do our changeless, elegant and uniform laws of science come from and how are they maintained in our expanding, always changing universe?
After an awkward moment, they confessed that no one could explain this.  Although tact would advise me to not pursue this matter any further, tact can also be short-sighted, so I pushed further:

  • But doesn’t it make more sense that an Intelligent Being must transcend this universe and design and maintain it? Otherwise, we are left with the conclusion that the universe created and maintains itself.
The two Germans studiously avoided me after this. In their eyes, I was an extremist trying to push my religious opinions on them. They had already been inoculated against Christian truth claims by the museums, the media and the universities, convinced that such knowledge is not possible. They know that we can’t know. To them, we are wrong even though they can’t articulate how we are wrong.

But had I done something wrong? Had I needlessly alienated them? Fortunately, there were many Asian students and travelers at this hostel. Although they had bit deeply into the apple of material consumption, they had not as yet consumed the fruit of philosophical materialism and naturalism. They hadn’t been indoctrinated into an unexamined faith in moral relativism and religious pluralism. Nor had they been inoculated against Christianity, despite their years under communism. They retained a healthy curiosity and were willing to dialogue in a non-defensive manner. How refreshing!

I don’t want to be combative or offensive. I don’t want to dishonor my Savior, but I know that I have often crossed the line. My nephew just sent me links to videos in which he played a malevalent but comical blood-thirsty Santa Claus. They were amusing and didn’t malign my faith in the slightest, although they poked fun at Santa. In fact, if Santa Claus permanently dropped into the sea along with every Christmas tree, I would probably rejoice. As with many other Christians, I want Christmas, along with every other aspect of my life, to reflect Christ, my Savior.

However, these videos are part of a larger context, in which Jesus and anything to do with Christianity is maligned. It’s fair game. Hunting Christianity is always in season. It’s a good way to find acceptance within educated, elite circles.

I’m not against joking about my faith, myself or even other Christians. However, there comes a point where jokes reach a critical mass and they become ridicule, and ridicule then becomes dismissive and oppressive, preparing the way for outright oppression. Hitler would not have succeeded in his genocidal program hadn’t the way first been paved by the systematic ridicule and indictment of the Jewish people. (Muslims are now re-circulating gross Nazi cartoons depicting Jews in the most derogatory ways.)

I want to laugh with my nephew at his satire, but I cannot. I want to affirm him – and there is a lot to affirm, since he is quite talented. However, I cannot separate his skits from the fact that 170,000 Christians are being exterminated yearly, according to the estimate of Christianity Today. Nor can I separate this horror from the fact that our Western media refuses to report on this fact and Western governments refuse to do anything about it.

Likewise, I cannot laugh about Hitler’s Holocaust, even today. Western media and its willful silence prevent me from laughing. The vast majority of our media outlets give only the barest details about the alarming rise of Muslim-based anti-Semitism in the West. While anti-Semitic acts are escalating in our nation, they have already reached epidemic proportions in many western European countries – so much so that many Jews are fleeing.

I would like to affirm my nephew, but I would also like to suggest that he might aim his sights on other targets, those more worthy of derision and exposure – especially secularism. However, he might have drunk too deeply from its fountain to see it clearly enough to expose it.

Besides, humor rises to its greatest heights when it takes the form of self-criticism. However, this is harder to achieve. It means that we have to see ourselves and our own culture, which has molded and indoctrinated us - the culture which has made us who we are. This is something for which few have either the vision or the stomach. It will also exact a price. The culture we criticize will become our enemy. A true prophet is never honored in his own household or land.

Humor has an easier task when it tears apart the other guy. However, such humor is not prophetic; it fails to illuminate and it is often fails to rise above an act of hostility. When it focuses on the safe and convenient target, it merely reinforces social norms and biases.

Today, Christianity is that target. Nevertheless, I can laugh. Jesus has given us reason to laugh:

  • "I have told you these things [of sorrow], so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)
Perhaps I can have a hearty laugh with my nephew!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Answer to Persecution: Faithfulness to Scripture

These aren’t the best of times. However, we’ve been warned about them:

  • But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. (2 Tim. 3:1-5)
Well, what are we to do? Separate from society? Tweak our faith in order to make it more acceptable? Paul suggested neither of these two options. Instead, he counseled Timothy to:

  • Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus... Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist. (2 Tim. 3:14-15, 4:2-6)
Sadly, as the prevailing culture has rejects Scripture and disparages the church, Christians have also hastened to pick up stones. Emergent Church guru and, Tony Jones, approvingly posted this letter by a Wheaton graduate on his blog:

  • What seems clear is that evangelicalism has come full circle, and is now being forced to come to terms with its fundamentalist roots. Those who cling to the failed religious beliefs of the past will slowly fade into irrelevance, and those who struggle to embrace a new and more meaningful faith, as [Rob] Bell seems to be doing, will carry on a tradition that is anti-establishment, radically inclusive, and deeply loving.
What the beliefs of the past “the failed religious beliefs?” Is “irrelevance” God’s criterion?  Christian moderns tend to take a limper view of Scripture. Jones himself argues that Scripture has to change with the times:

  • Many supporters of the marriage amendment referred to marriage between a man and a woman as “biblical marriage,” but anyone who possesses even a passing acquaintance with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures can recognize that marriage evolves in those texts.
This means that Scripture lacks unchanging, objective, and transcendent truths. It enables modernity to become the ultimate authority, and Scripture is expected to submit. Consequently, the modern Christian is free to construe Scripture to coincide with his own lifestyle and culture. He can now be culturally relevant and acceptable.  

Paul prophesied that “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” And evidently, our Lord is allowing this to happen for His own good purposes. Therefore, we must not despair.

How then should we address our hostile culture? “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.” Consequently, we will “endure hardships.” However, this doesn’t mean that we have failed. Instead, faithfulness is not a matter of learning and applying modern church-growth techniques. Success in God eyes is not synonymous with numbers. Pastoring a mega-church might not constitute spiritual success. Instead, persecution might be a more accurate measure of Godly success. Paul prepared Timothy for the inevitable persecution:

  • In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. (2 Tim. 3:12)
Compromise can allay persecution. If we tell people that “Christ works for me,” rather than “Christ is truth,” we can retain our popularity. One highly gifted pastor confided to me that his interfaith ministry remained dead until he added a how-to-win-friends technique:

  • I affirmed the Rabbi and the Imam in their relationship with God. I would tell them, “I can see that you have a deep and vibrant faith with your God.
After this pastor affirmed their faith, his ministry predictably boomed, and his theology changed accordingly. I have visited many churches that affirmed whatever ideas, faith or lifestyle came through their door. They preached an all-inclusive “love.” Everything was acceptable to them (except Evangelical Christianity). And from appearances, this seems to work. These churches were filled with hugs, soft-fuzzies and every form of affirmation, and people felt accepted there, at least at that time.

However, we are not called to what works but to what pleases God:

  • You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
This might seem extreme. However, His ways are not always our ways. Consequently, faithfulness will bring contempt and not the friendship of the world. However, in the minds of many, the contempt of the world means that we failed. We conclude that if people don’t like us, there is something unlikable about us. If the culture is offended by us, well, we must have been offensive.

While sometimes, we are offensive and insensitive, persecution naturally results from the offensive nature of our Gospel:

  1. We are all sinners who deserve death, even the best of us. Even one sin can condemn us. (James 2:10; Matthew 5:21-22).
  2. None can save themselves. (Romans 3:10-20)
  3. There is only one way to be saved, and that’s through faith in Jesus. (John 3:16)
  4. Therefore, some are “in” and some are “out.” Some are children of the light and some are of the darkness. (John 3:19-21)
  5. Those who don’t believe face eternal condemnation (John 3:17-18).
All of these truths are offensive to humankind, especially the modern variety. Consequently, Paul prepared Timothy by using himself as an object lesson:

  • For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. (2 Tim. 4:6)
Sadly, when we see a Christian “being poured out” as Paul had been, we conclude that, somehow, he had brought this fate upon himself. Surely, he could have handled himself more diplomatically or sensitively.

Instead, these difficult times require a return to the basics. Paul encouraged Timothy to “continue” in the “holy Scriptures,” the “power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16), not in the latest, most acceptable techniques. Lord, cause me to be centered on You and Your Gospel!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Magi and Balaam: A Tale of Two Kinds of Wisdom

What did the Magi understand? Why did they travel such a long distance from the east to come to worship the newborn King (Matthew 2:1-12)? Certainly, there were enough kings in the east who would have rewarded the Magi for their gifts and worship. The tiny child could not reciprocate in this manner.

Evidently, they knew that this child wasn’t an ordinary king but the King of Kings. But He was a foreigner! Why take the risk to worship someone who was not their own king. Certainly, this would arouse suspicions of sedition! However, the Magi knew that Jesus was more than just another great king. For one thing, He had His own personal star, which had appeared to them. For another, the Magi evidently knew enough to seek this child in the environs of Jerusalem, the city of Promise. They also knew that He was the Messiah and deserved worship. We see this in King Herod’s response to them (Mat. 2:7, 8).

Well, from where did the Magi get this wisdom? Frankly, we don’t know. However, there are certain parallels between their knowledge and that of another man from the east – the false prophet Balaam. Balaam also saw a star as he prophesied according to “the vision of the almighty”:

  • "I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…” (Numbers 24:17; All quotations from the NKJV)
 The “scepter” represents the reign of a King. The “star” represents the light and the glory that emanate from Him. Although Balaam confessed that he saw Him, it was only from far off. In one sense, the King was already among Israel, but in another sense, His time had not yet come. However, the Magi understood otherwise. “His star” (Mat. 2:2) had finally appeared to them, heralding His arrival, and they knew that they had to make haste to worship Him.

Instead, Balaam had come to curse Israel at the bequest of the king of Moab, Balak, who feared the Israelite multitudes. However, the Lord had warned Balaam that he must only say what the Lord had instructed him to say.

Balak prepared sacrificial offerings and Balaam proceeded up the mountain to curse Israel, if God would so allow him. However, Balaam came back with a prophecy that great displeased his benefactor:

  • "Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number one-fourth of Israel? Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!" (Numbers 23:10)
Instead of cursing Israel as Balak would pay him to do, Balaam saw Israel’s blessed end, and expressed his desire to share in their fate.

As a faithful pagan who believed that getting blessings and curses was just a matter of using the right techniques or manipulations, he angrily brought his prophet up to another mountain and made additional sacrifices, convinced that the right combination would produce his desired outcome. However, Balaam’s next prophecy was even more discomforting to Balak:

  • "He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel. The Lord his God is with him, and the shout of a King is among them.” (Numbers 23:21)
Strangely, even though Israel’s King was far off, He also was present with Israel. The Apostle Paul had written:

  • All [Israel] drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. (1 Cor. 10:4)
Christ was always among His people, but not in His post-crucifixion fullness. Israel was blessed through Christ’s presence materially and otherwise. Through the anticipated blood of Christ, "He has not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel.”

This is absolutely incredible. Israel was crawling with “iniquity” and “wickedness.” Why did not God see this? Was He blind? Certainly not! Instead, He perceived sinful Israel through eyes of love and mercy – a mercy that can only be understood in light of the time when His requirement of justice would be decisively fulfilled on the Cross.

King Balak was not lacking in perseverance or sacrificial animals. He took his prophet to another mountain. This time, Balaam described his prophecy as to one whose “eye is opened” and sees the “vision of the Almighty” (Num. 24:3, 4). “Falling down” in awe, he saw something incredible, something that we are prevented from seeing:

  • "How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!” (Numbers 24:5)
After 40 years of wandering in the desert, Israel’s tents must have looked ratty at best. However, this wasn’t how they looked in their God’s eyes. Instead, they were “lovely.” Everything about Israel was beloved, even their smelly, un-bathed tents!

Although our God loves us with a love that surpasses all understanding (Eph. 3.17-19), we are kept from seeing this. This causes us to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7). I suspect that we are not yet ready to receive the fullness of this knowledge.

By the time that the Magi arrived to worship the Child Jesus, He was no longer living in a stable but a house. However, it must have represented the humblest of lodgings. Nevertheless, these travelers fell to the ground and worshiped. There is no hint here of an elegant bow or curtsy. As Balaam had hit the ground, so too did the Magi, overcome with His glory. However, what Balaam had seen from afar, the Magi saw in person.

Balaam had seen the King as only the Savior of Israel. However, the Magi worshiped Jesus, the King of Kings, the Savior of the entire world and also their Savior. While Balaam had received the gifts of the King of Moab, the Magi gave gifts to the King of Kings.

Although Balaam wouldn’t curse Israel, he foolishly counseled Balak to tempt Israel to sin, which Israel did at great cost to themselves. However, Balaam was killed when Israel retaliated against Moab for their treachery. In contrast, the Magi left their gifts, and not evil advice, and lived, warned by God to avoid the murderous Herod.

Balaam had also seen the light, but this didn’t bring him to worship. It had no lasting effect upon him. However, the Magi worshiped and departed after leaving their precious gifts of gold, incense and myrrh.

It had been a divine appointment. Once they left, the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream directing them to flee to Egypt. This they were able to do in comfort, thanks to the gifts of the Magi.

I suspect that Balaam’s treacherous advice finally earned Balak’s reward. However, his was a fool’s wisdom – a wisdom that failed to perceive the “tents of Israel” and the King who inhabited them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Need for Apologetics: The Defense of the Faith

Sometimes we expect that a few good arguments will unlock salvation’s door. When we find that they don’t and that we are met with a glaring sneer instead of a grateful embrace, we are hurt and conclude that “apologetics doesn’t work.” We then swing to the opposite – “I’m going to simply let my good works speak for the Gospel.”

Admittedly, in our post-Christian society where people have been warned and inoculated against the Gospel, it might be better to lead with good works in most cases. However, we are instructed to “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15). Therefore, I want to present a rationale for this.

Apologetics - reasons to believe in the Christian faith – is primarily for us. We have to know why we believe and how to defend ourselves against the many challenges to the faith.

Moses knew that the children of Israel needed reasons to believe – evidences – in order to follow him out of Egypt. In the midst of a burning bush, God had instructed him to return to Egypt to lead His people out of captivity, but Moses was reluctant:

  • "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The Lord did not appear to you'?" (Exodus 4:1).
Instead, of commanding Moses to tell the people “Just believe,” God  equipped Moses with a quiver of miraculous evidences – a rod turning into a snake, a leprous hand, and water turning into blood – to prove that He had sent Moses.

Jesus also understood that His disciples needed evidences to support their faith. He therefore prophesied to them what would happen to Him so that they would believe once these prophecies were fulfilled:

  • I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:29)
We also need supportive evidences to help in sustaining our faith. After the crucifixion, Jesus’ disciples fled, convinced that everything that they had believed in had been for naught. In order to bring them back, they required the proof of His resurrection appearances:

  • After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
John the Baptist also had his struggles with his faith in Jesus after he was jailed, prior to his execution. He therefore sent his disciples to Jesus to ascertain whether He was truly the Messiah. Instead of Jesus telling them to tell John, “Just believe,” he told them to relate the various confirmatory miracles they had seen Him perform (Mat. 11).

We need to know why we believe. Doubts are birthed like tsunami waves in our post-Christian world. The highly touted Jesus Seminar proclaimed that only 18% of what Jesus is purported to have said in the Gospels is authentic. In the wake of this pronouncement, the faith of many had been severely shaken.

Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code rattled thousands of others with his claims that the selection of the Bible’s Gospel accounts was merely the product of political in-fighting and church counsels. He claimed that there had been 70 other gospels vying for inclusion.

As a result, one woman wrote that she could never again be able to trust the Gospels as she had. How tragic! Fortunately, there were many able apologists who have exposed the fallacies of both Brown and the Seminar. However, those who don’t believe that apologetics is necessary will neglect such works.

How can we face the world with the confidence and the boldness we need if we can’t be confident about the basis of our faith – the Bible! We can’t! Before I went to seminary, I subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review. Many of the authors wrote approvingly of the Wellhausen Hypothesis – a radical theory of how the Hebrew Scriptures were humanly assembled by cutting-and-pasting from pre-existing manuscripts. They were so confident of this skeptical theory that they didn’t even provide any evidence for it.

I was troubled but decided that I would lock my doubts away, pushing them back into a crevice of my mind until, perhaps, I might have the tools to critically examine them. However, this strategy didn’t work. The doubts that this theory had provoked interfered with both my reading of Scripture and my faith. Consequently, I read the Bible less and with less excitement. The doubt that the Bible might merely be a human creation festered in the back of my mind.

Fortunately, I was struck down with a bad back for several months. Someone had given me a copy of Gleason Archer’s Survey of Old Testament Introductions. Although it was one of the driest texts I’ve ever read, I cried my way through it. Archer dealt conclusively with the Wellhausen Hypothesis, and restored my Bible back to me as if Jesus Himself had returned to me.

I think it inevitable that without understanding the rational foundations of the faith and without knowing how to critique the challenges, our faith and life will suffer.

Apologetics is also necessary for the health of the church. Jude counseled the church to oppose false teachings and not neglect them:

  • Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. (Jude 1:3-4) 
Elders, therefore, had to have the ability to defend the faith against false teaching:

  • He [the elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it…They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach. (Titus 1:7-11)
The possibility that the faith of the church might suffer damage must be a central concern. Many studies have shown that 80-90 percent of regular church-going youth completely leave the church by the end of their forth year in college. Even many of those who remain do so with a faith severely compromised by their involvement with the surrounding culture.

Clearly, the churches are failing to prepare their youth for the challenges of this world – sexual permissiveness, theistic evolution, multiculturalism, religious pluralism, moral relativism… We are neglecting the life of the mind, the port-of-call where destructive teachings are entering. Arrogantly, some are neglectful of apologetics, claiming, “I know what I believe and what I have experienced, and no one will take that away from me.” They are confident that they can “stand” (1 Cor. 10:12-13) even though they are neglectful of the Biblical instruction to also love God with our minds.

While it is probably true that the Spirit begins His work in our heart, we are nevertheless commanded to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

We are also instructed to subject all thoughts and worldviews under the scrutiny of the Gospel (2 Cor. 10:4-5). If we neglect the mind, the world will not. It will co-opt our minds at great cost to the church.

Think of the mind as a protective shield. If it is not fully operational, attacks will penetrate freely to our heart of faith, undermining the peace, joy and confidence of the church. We will stumble around in a schizophrenic haze – our minds in conflict with what we believe in our heart.

Apologetics is also required for the seeker. In fact, we are commanded to have in hand the rationale for our beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). I wouldn’t even begin to consider the Biblical faith as long as I believed that evolution was a fact. I was convinced that if Darwin was right, Genesis had to be wrong. However, a Jehovah’s Witness gave me a book critiquing evolution, the theory I had once thought to be unassailable. This made me more receptive to the Bible.

Similarly, in Search for the Truth, Bruce Malone wrote:

  • Prior to graduation from college, I had not once been shown any of the scientific evidence for creation either in school or in church. Little wonder, that by the time I started my career [as a chemist], God had little relevance in my life. It wasn’t as though I had any animosity toward God or religion. It simply held no relevance to the world around me. This should be no surprise when the subject never came up in school and everything seemed to be explained without reference to a Creator.
Apologetics is also helpful for cultural interaction. My apologetics professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, William Lane Craig, stated that people will not believe what they find unbelievable. Today, many deem the Christian faith “unbelievable.” I think that part of the reason for this is that the church has become intellectually lazy and compromised. We have lost the ability to show forth the wisdom of God in the public marketplace of ideas. We are no longer culturally proactive as we must be:

  • The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death. (Proverbs 13:14)
Wisdom is part of our inheritance. We have wisdom regarding so many areas of life – forgiveness, morality, justice, child rearing, and marriage. However, we have hid our light under a bushel basket. Why? For one thing, we have failed to develop the ability to understand and critique the ideas of the world (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Consequently, we don’t know how to speak to the world, and we know it. Therefore, we fear the world and interaction with it. Instead, we need to understand the poverty of their thinking so that we will not be driven to take cover.

What happens when we neglect the life of the mind and apologetics? We will keep our light hidden. However, many are now saying, “Well, my good works are the light.”

However, even though there is some truth in this, it is not adequate. It is like flying a airplane with one wing. It just won’t fly! Instead, Paul claimed that we are “the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved” as we speak “the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:15-17). This is not to leave out good works. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that we need both!

When Paul visited the synagogues around the Mediterranean, he didn’t go there to perform good works alone. He went there to preach the Gospel and also to reason with the Jews according to the Scriptural evidence:

  • As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. (Acts 17:2-4; 18:4)
God’s arm has not withered away. He can still save through the Gospel, even in our post-Christian world.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Materialism, Atheism, and the Denial of Freewill

If we start with an impoverished worldview – one that can’t embrace all of the nuances of reality – it means that we have a faulty worldview and that our conclusions will be skewed.

The atheist starts out with the presupposition or worldview that there is no spiritual reality, just matter and energy – what you see is what you get. Accordingly, thinking and choosing must also exclusively be a matter of chemical-electrical activity.

This understanding leaves little or no room for freewill. Consequently, there is no basis for any thought, choice or decision somewhat independent of our steady stream of chemical reactions. Every thought and decision is therefore the result of prior brain chemistry.

Even as far back as 1871, Thomas Huxley, a zealous advocate of Charles Darwin, advocated for this position:

  • Mind is a function of matter [and nothing beyond that], when that matter has attained a certain degree of organization.
Similarly, in his new book, “Free Will,” atheist Sam Harris writes, “Free will is an illusion.” What feels like freewill is nothing more than chemical processes.

With such an impoverished worldview, counter-factual and counter-intuitive conclusions quickly multiply. Here are several:

A denial of freewill goes against everything we intuitively know about ourselves and our lives. When I make any decision, like flipping through the TV channels, it seems that I am freely choosing one station over another. Of course, like anyone else, I am subject to powerful biological-genetic forces. Admittedly, I am biologically predisposed to not like loud and glitzy programming. Therefore, some will say, “Well, this proves you’re pre-programmed to make certain choices.”

Although there is truth in this claim, it falls far short of proving that pre-programming is the only factor involved in my choices.

Of course, Harris and the other atheists will respond, “Your experience of free choice is just an illusion.” However, if something that I experience with such clarity is illusory, perhaps my own existence and the existence of this world are also illusory. Perhaps I’m just someone else’s consciousness. Perhaps, as some Buddhists claim, we are just part of one universal consciousness and lack any individual existence.

However, if our intuitions and perceptions are simply part of this great delusion, then science and all reason are also part of this same delusion, along with Harris’ thinking. If our thinking and perceiving are illusory, so too are Harris’ challenge and the entirety of his book.

The extent of freewill differs among people. The heroin addict is more constrained in his free choices than before he became addicted. Christians report that, in Christ, they have come to enjoy a greater measure of freedom. They are not as constrained by their psychological needs for approval and success as they had been. If these observations of relative freedom are true, then the narrow, unvarying materialistic view of the atheists is invalidated. From their view, everyone is equally and completely controlled by brain chemistry. Consequently, there can be no room for varying degrees of freewill – the very thing we find!

We can perceive a distinction between purely chemical determination of our behavior and our relatively free responses. Wilder Penfield, the father of modern neurosurgery performed experiments demonstrating that brain activity doesn’t seem to account for all of our mental experience. Lee Edward Travis sums up his findings this way:

  • Penfield would stimulate electrically the proper motor cortex of conscious patients and challenge them to keep one hand from moving when the current was applied. The patient would seize this hand with the other hand and struggle to hold it still. Thus one hand under the control of the electrical current and the other hand under the control of the patient’s mind fought against each other. Penfield risked the explanation that the patient had not only a physical brain that was stimulated to action but also a nonphysical reality that interacted with the brain. (The Mysterious Matter of the Mind, 95-96)
There appears to be a distinction between brain chemistry and a nonphysical reality – the home of freewill. J.P. Moreland commented on another interesting aspect of Penfield’s findings:

  • No matter how much Penfield probed the cerebral cortex, he said, “There is no place…where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.” (The Case for the Creator, Lee Strobel, 258)
If our mind is no more than a physical brain, then we should expect that electrical charges could stimulate every kind of response. However, this isn’t the case. It seems that our choices and beliefs cannot be entirely accounted for by the physical brain. Meanwhile,
atheism bases its non-freewill claim on the “observations” that everything is material. However, this does not seem to be the complete story.

There seems to be a nonphysical basis for thinking. Strobel writes:

  • In their journal article, Sam Parnia and Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, describe their study of sixty-three heart attack victims who were declared clinically dead but were later revived and interviewed. About ten percent reported having well-structured, lucid thought processes, with memory formation and reasoning, during the time that their brains were not functioning. The effects of oxygen starvation or drugs – objections commonly offered by skeptics – were ruled out as factors. (Strobel, 251)
This contradicts the atheistic narrative that thinking and choosing depend exclusively upon brain activity. In order to maintain their narrow materialistic worldview, the atheist is forced to discount this kind of study along with the many accounts of extra-body experiences.

If our brain chemistry compels all of our choices, then we cannot truly be culpable and responsible moral agents. This idea is humanly demeaning. This is very significant because it will affect how we view ourselves, our fellow humans and also how we treat them. If humans are no more than sophisticated chemical machines, there is a greater likelihood that we will use them like machines.

The atheist might agree that their view of freewill seriously compromises our estimation of humanity. However, he often retorts, “I’m more interested in truth than in what feels good.”

However, the denial of freewill goes far beyond the question of a lower estimation of humanity. This denial undermines everything upon which civilization is based – justice, right and wrong, reward and punishment.

If biology alone made the rapist rape, then it is not just to punish him. After all, he could make no other choice. Consequently, no punishment is just and no reward is deserved. It’s just a matter of chemistry not morality.

These ideas mean the destruction of civilization, and the atheists recognize this. Consequently, they are scrambling to resurrect the concept of moral responsibility, which they have undermined. Professor of Philosophy, Chad Meister, writes about Harris’s muddled scrambling:

  • While in Harris’s view we lack free will and moral culpability for our actions, he nonetheless believes that we can still be “blameworthy” for our actions. How so? “Because,” he says, “what we do subsequent to conscious planning tends to most fully reflect the global properties of the our minds” (Christian Research Journal, Volume 35, Number 4, 59)
Oddly, Harris claims that we can be “blameworthy” without being morally culpable. This is a blatant contradiction. If our “conscious planning” and what we do subsequently are strictly the products of brain chemistry, then there still can be no basis for either “blameworthiness” or moral culpability. They die a common death with the denial of freewill.

Some atheists are candid enough to admit that this is a real problem for their worldview. However, they continue to bring charges against the burglar who tore up their apartment. In this, their actions contradict their worldview. While they seek justice, they admit that they lack any possible basis for this concept in their pre-determined chemical world.

The denial of freewill seems to also constitute a denial of any meaningful thought. All brain chemistry is subject to the laws of nature. Consequently, all thinking and choosing are the result of formulas. However, formulas and laws produce repeated and predictable patterns, not information, not the nuances of thought. Clearly, the books that we write and the discoveries that we make don’t reflect repeated, formulaic. Instead, these creations reflect something greater – reasoning, the weighing of evidence for and against various paradigms. All of this requires something beyond what chemistry can offer. It requires the subtle and gloriously nuanced ability to freely choose among various thoughts and ideas.

Why are people atheists? Why do we trap ourselves in narrow boxes, which effectively obstruct our vision? One atheist friend explained to me the great relief he had experienced once he adopted the no-freewill position. He was no longer responsible for his behavior, and his sense of guilt became greatly diminished. He is what he is. Who can blame him!

While I can sympathize with this, Christ offers another way – a way to not only diminish guilt but to obliterate it. Besides, Christ obliterates our guilt in a way that doesn’t infringe upon moral responsibility. He replaces gratitude for guilt, gladness in service for gutless, going-with-the-flow biological determinism.

When a worldview fails to work, when it can’t be coherently lived out, we should be free to discard or modify it. This represents sanity, but sanity has no place within biological determinism.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christianity and Child Abuse

Living by myths and irrational beliefs usually gets us in trouble. We need an accurate road-map (or GPS) to get us where we want to go. If it’s inaccurate, we’ll end up in Timbuktu, costing us valuable resources.

The same principle applies to our beliefs. If they don’t accord with reality, they will lead us to make costly decisions. Decision-making requires accurate data. When we see clearly, we can drive our car through traffic without a fender-bender.

We should therefore expect that those who are most deluded will experience the most problems – physically, mentally, emotionally and relationally. Generally speaking, people who think that they literally are Julius Caesar don’t get far on the job or with their friends.

If Christians are following a set of myths, we should also expect that our lives will also show more wear-and-tear for it. However, this is not what we find. Instead, a multitude of surveys have shown that practicing Christians experience many and varied benefits. This also includes children of “religious parents”:

  • Andrew Whitehouse, of the University of Western Australia, recently summarized a 2008 study that looked into “whether growing up in a religious household conveys advantages or disadvantages in the behavioral and emotional development of children.” Whitehouse wrote that it “turned out to be a bit of a landslide in favor of more religious parents. Children of religious parents were rated by both parents and teachers as having a greater self-control, better interpersonal skills, and less likely to have depression or impulsivity problems. (Salvo, Issue 22, 18)
Instead of discounting the ways of Christianity, investigators should be examining them more closely to determine what it is that accounts for these favorable outcomes.

These findings are contrary to the expectations of atheists, who call the Christian upbringing “child abuse” and even worse. Weep your eyes out Dawkins, Harris and Dennett!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Blind Faith, Beleaguered Life

Many Christians are missing-in-action. They flee any argumentation – any controversy, conflict - because they are not prepared for it. They don’t know how to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).

Why not? For one thing these fideistic Christians do not believe that there is a rational and evidential basis for the faith. They will claim that Christianity is a matter of faith and not fact – a leap into the darkness.

Interestingly, in this they are unwitting bed-fellows with the secularists and atheists who argue that the Christian faith must remain in the churches, because public discourse should be a matter of facts, evidences, and rationality instead of the myths of faith.

The fideistic Christian will cite Hebrews to support their position:

  • Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1; NKJV)
From this, they will argue that the “evidence for Christianity is merely a matter of blind faith, unsupported by facts. Indeed, there are times that we must walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” where we can’t see where we’re going, where our only hope is in our Savior.

Abraham had found himself in this situation on many occasions. Paul wrote:

  • [Abraham] who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, "So shall your descendants be." And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah's womb. (Romans 4:18-19)
Faith in the promise of God was his only “evidence” that Sarah would bear him a child. The evidence of nature would not support Abraham’s confidence in this matter. Physically speaking, Sarah no longer had the ability to bear children.

However, Abraham was not bereft of solid evidence supporting his faith in God. By this point in his life, he had seen, on many occasions, God work miraculously on his behalf. He had even met and dinned with Him (Gen. 18, 19). He knew God, and this belief was supported by the events of his life. Therefore, although faith didn’t come easily to him, Abraham had a sound basis for his faith in God. Therefore Hebrews reads:

  • By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death. (Hebrews 11:17-19)
Abraham didn’t know how God would make good on His promise to bless the world through Isaac, but he “reasoned” that He most definitely would! Based on what did Abraham so reason? On the evidence! What evidence? The evidence of his experiences and encounters with God! Abraham had an evidential foundation for his faith, even as he was walking through the darkness illuminated by faith alone. But his faith wasn’t alone! Reason was holding its hand. Indeed, we walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7), but this can be a faith rich in evidential support! It has reasons to believe.

What are the consequences of a blind faith that lacks evidences and proofs? Many:

  1. No confidence or assurance! They have no more reason to place their faith in the Koran than in the Bible.
  1. Marginalization. They will not be able to answer anyone who questions them about their faith (1 Peter 3:15).
  1. Evangelism. They will not be able to explain to anyone why they should trust in Christ. The Muslim or Buddhist will understandably ask, “Why should I give up my faith for yours?”
Instead, the Bible says much about the evidences and proofs that support the faith. Here are just a few verses:

  1. Testimonial Evidence. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)
  1. Fulfilled Prophecies. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (John 14:29)
  1. Miracles. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
For many years, I was tortured by my skepticism – my weakness of faith. However, through studying the supporting evidences, the Lord has given me a confidence and a joy in believing that I had never had. To Him be the glory!

Faith also Entails a Willingness to Follow Jesus

 This is my response to a Christian who believes that faith is just a matter of mentally giving assent to a set of teachings without any repentance or willingness to follow Jesus:

You feel that your testimony argues against the need to repent in order to be saved. You reason that since you made no effect to repent after coming to savingly believe in Jesus and consequently, lived like the devil, that repentance is not necessary for salvation. However, there might be other ways to interpret your testimony. (Sorry! I’m probably being a bit presumptuous by trying to interpret someone else’s testimony. So I must beg your forgiveness.):

  1. Perhaps you weren’t saved when you came to “believe?”
  2. Perhaps you were saved, but God had been very indulgent with you, since you had misleading teaching. (You had been taught that you didn’t have to repent or give up anything, and that you could live in any manner that you chose.) Consequently, your lack of repentance didn’t represent an unwillingness to repent but just a lack of understanding.
After all, the devil and his demons also believe, perhaps more perfectly than we do. They were at the Cross. They were even privy to Jesus’ post-resurrection teachings. Consequently, we shouldn’t assume that mere mental assent to a set of facts saves.

Instead, the Bible gives us a more robust portrait of the nature of faith. All we need to do is to compare the unsaved to the saved in order to see that we are separated by far more than just a mental assent to facts. Paul claims that the unsaved don’t seek God (Rom. 3:10-12) and are even at odds with God and the truths of God (Rom. 5:8-10). Consequently there cannot be any meaningful mental assent without a change of heart.

Jesus taught that we cannot even see the kingdom of heaven unless we are born again (John 3:3). Without this change of heart, the things/truths of God are “foolishness” to the unbeliever (1 Cor. 2:14). Therefore, there cannot even be any mental assent without a prior change of heart.

Naturally speaking, we have become lovers of darkness who hate the light of God and flee from it:

  • This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. (John 3:19-20)
Therefore, faith must entail a change of heart! And a change of heart must also entail a change about what we think about the light and the darkness, sin and grace. Loving God and turning to His light is essential. It is inseparable from faith. There are no Scriptural examples of saving faith associated with a hatred of God and a love for the lies of darkness.

Israel’s problem was that they refused to love God. Therefore, they required a change of heart, as Moses informed them:

  • The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. (Deut. 30:6)
A circumcised heart was imperative if Israel was going to love God and “live” eternally. These elements cannot be separated from faith. No one should expect to “see God” without these changes associated with “holiness” (Heb. 12:14). However, although “holiness” has behavioral implications, it is not itself a meritorious work. Instead, we are granted holiness when we repent and confess our sins (1 John 1:9).

Hebrews offers us a negative portrait of holiness through the example of Esau. He shed tears over the fact that he had lost out on the blessing. However, he failed to confess his sin of looking down on the things of God and repent:

  • [Don’t be a] fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it [the blessing] diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17)
Esau lacked a godly sorrow – one that leads to repentance. Paul argued that a godly sorrow was a necessity for salvation:

  • Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. (2 Cor. 7:10)
I too have my own testimony. However, it doesn’t fit in too neatly with what I have been writing. I had come to a faith in Jesus without even believing in sin. I had been a product of a psychologized society. This worldview promoted the idea that there was no sin. Instead, it was all a matter of needs-fulfillment. If we had our needs met, then we would naturally be loving and merciful. Therefore, I understood Jesus as my needs-fulfiller, not as my Savior and Lord.

Was I saved at that point? I don’t really know. However, I know that the Lord had His hand on me, even from an early age.