Monday, December 19, 2016

Debating Skeptics (part 1 of 5)

On November 27, 2016, I debated a local atheist leader, retired podiatrist Dr. Gil Shapiro, the spokesperson of Freethought Arizona (video here). I've blogged on general post-debate thoughts here but now will cover a series of five consecutive blog posts covering each of the four arguments that the atheist couldn't answer. This is no credit to my debating skills or subject knowledge which are nothing special, but it does show how classic arguments for the Christian worldview can be powerful if we keep it simple. My hope is that this will serve as a good outline to keep in mind when you engage with skeptics in your own community, the water cooler, or the next family dinner table.

By far, the most difficult part of debate prep was planning my general approach. Knowing my opponent helped. In a story by the local paper leading up to the event, the AZ Daily Star quoted Dr. Shapiro saying, "There is the religious view and the secular point of view, and there will be some things we can't move on our position, but there will be some things that we can." In this spirit, I researched claims from renowned atheists and non-Christians and arrived at four aspects of reality we can all agree on even though we may come to different conclusions. They are:

1) the arrival of the universe from nothing
2) the arrival of biological information from dead matter, 
3) the arrival of evil, and 
4) the arrival of Jesus. 

This was a community event between two amateurs so I had to stick to the basics. As a full time detective, I’m not a biblical scholar, scientist, or philosopher so I wasn't going to get fancy. That's why I proffered four facts that enjoy the vast consensus of scholars regardless of religious or non-religious bias. I was also intentional on my topic selection. After all, what could be more pressing for the Christian worldview than creation, sin (evil), and the resurrection? I framed the debate using only commonly accepted facts both Dr. Shapiro and I could, in principle, agree on, and provided an explanation that best fit the facts. If my logic was valid and the facts true, the conclusions I offered would remain standing as the most reasonable. At the end of each of the four separate arguments, I told the audience I would wait to see what my opponent would offer as a better explanation of these facts. In his rebuttals, he gave a lot of criticisms but never answered my challenges directly. Not only was my opponent silent in presenting an alternative explanation for any of these four facts, he didn't offer any explanation at all.  So, if the challenges I presented demand an explanation, the Christian explanation won by default. 

Christianity won because the evidence was better and the reasoning clearer than what my atheist friend offered. We all know that debates are won or lost by much more than the content. If I came across condescending or frustrated, all the evidence and logic in the world wouldn't have helped me. Good manners and graciousness are critical. My goal was to be bold and nice at the same time. While his arguments were lacking, I owe thanks to Dr. Shapiro for keeping things cordial as well. He's a gentleman. 

A quick note about scholarly consensus is important. Few of us have the time or training to master all the arguments so it helps to stand on the shoulders of scholars who do. I'm not suggesting an appeal to authority or majority can replace sound reasoning. Surely, scholarly consensus alone isn't an argument. It would be fallacious to appeal to the majority since the majority can be wrong and the number of noses is irrelevant to the truth of a proposition. What this shows is that each fact has been defended in published work and debated among experts on all sides of the issue. When scholars committed to a worldview contrary to Christianity concede these facts, they do so in spite of their desires because of the weight of evidence and because intellectual honesty compels them. That's what we want it to do for our unbelieving friends as well. We just need to point this out. 

To show how this works, I'll release four short blog posts to unpack each of these facts over each of the next four weeks. When combined together, these four facts make a cumulative, or "minimal facts," case we can use to show our skeptical friends to infer important conclusions that point us to God based on facts even atheists grant. Inspired by what Gary Habermas has done for the historical case for the resurrection, these facts can be extended into an overall case for Christianity. The compelling force of Habermas' work is showing the mass concession by scholars from non-Christian, even hostile, worldviews on relevant facts surrounding the death of Jesus. It's easy to point out Christian scholars in support of our views, and there's nothing wrong with that, but citing a skeptic who is an authority on the topic blunts the bias objection from the start. 

It's not only skeptics who need to hear this. When I speak at various Christian groups, I'm constantly surprised by how many intelligent and faithful Christians don't know how widely accepted these facts are either. Without the facts, they risk being forced into defending ideas already settled among the experts. To suggest that Jesus died by crucifixion, for example, might sound like a religious claim, not a historical one. Once we learn that the most skeptical scholars accept Jesus' crucifixion, however, it should cause our skeptical friend to question her own reasons for denying it. 

Many of the scholars I'll cite are the same ones our skeptical friends are learning from. So if our friends are persuaded by atheist writings of Dawkins, Shermer, Hitchens, Krauss, Erhman, Carrier, and others, get ready to hear what they have to say now!  




Friday, December 9, 2016

My Debate with Freethought Arizona

Once you get the apologetics bug there's no turning back. If you're reading this blog, you know what I mean. I spent years jogging the sidewalks of Orange County and driving long LA commutes to the debates of Christians and athiests. I even ran a 10K Turkey Trot to the sounds of Frank Turek and Christopher Hitchens battling out big ideas in my ear buds. But when you take the stage yourself in front of hundreds of people things are a little different. 

That's how it was for me a little over a week ago when I debated the spokesperson for Freethought Arizona, which describes itself as "a community of freethinkers, humanists, skeptics, agnostics, and atheists based on reason, science, and critical thinking" working together to "maintain separation of church and state, advance education and science."

In August, I invited Dr. Gil Shapiro, a local podiatrist and spokesperson for the group, to present his worldview to a packed Reason Why event at Catalina Foothills Church in Tucson, AZ. Dr. Shapiro has enjoyed the attention of southern Arizona through his many public speeches and dozens of op-ed articles in the Arizona Daily Star newspaper. When it came time for our church to study atheism, I figured there was no better way than to hear from the man who best represents that position. The response was overwhelmingly positive.

Last week's debate was a favor returned. I was honored and immediately welcomed the invitation to come speak for their group when asked this summer. Dr. Shapiro told me his board would prefer to have the secular humanist response immediately after my presentation and offered a debate in lieu of a one-sided presentation by a Christian. That sounded fair so a debate was born. 

The debate was what you'd expect. I gave four points that supported Christianity as the best explanation of reality and Dr. Shapiro gave his case why it wasn't. I plan to blog a detailed analysis of the ideas exchanged but want just to give my overall feel for how it went and what I learned from it. After all, the question I continue to get by those who want to know is, "How'd it go?"

My knee-jerk reaction is to smile and say "It went great!" Dr. Shapiro probably does the same. For me, that's only partially true. It would only be truly great if people responded by digesting the information and telling me how it changed them. Afterwards, I was approached by a line of attendees, both believer and skeptic alike lauding their praises on a job well done. The organizers treated me well, the reception was nice, but the question remained, "Did anyone really listen?" 

To their credit, Freethought Arizona expressed their interest in continuing the dialogue on more specific questions of public interest like abortion, same sex marriage, religious freedom, education, and other controversial policy matters. While we disagree in big ways, they seem to really want to engage in the marketplace of ideas. I can't tell you how refreshing this was. This is what Christian apologists live for! I've worked on projects like this with other atheist groups but haven't had the olive branch extended quite like this. This may lead to other public conversations on radio or other live event which is very exciting. 

I could be wrong, but they seem genuine in this effort. From the very start of our conversation, everyone on the FAZ board treated me with respect and fairness. It was as if they were shocked a Christian actually contacted them at all. In fact, when Dr. Shapiro came to Catalina Foothills Church, he said it was the first time in over 20 years anyone invited him to church. That was a compliment with a simultaneous punch to the gut. I'm honored to be the one, but where have the Christians been the last 20 years? 

I don't know about your city, but Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews work together in Tucson every day striving to make this a better place. Religious views don't need to get in the way. And if they don't get in the way in everyday life when we pretend they don't exist, why do they have to get in the way when they're right there in front of us? I don't know about you, but I never ask someone what they think about Jesus before I decide to work their mail theft case or not. I don't care the religious perspective of the offender I'm going to arrest. We work together in our jobs, whatever we do, regardless of whether or not we agree on the big things of life. This doesn't mean that those conversations shouldn't come up. Religion and politics are so important, they BETTER come up!

Since when did our culture get so sensitive that the thing we base everything on, our worldview, must stay hidden? The answer is obvious, of course. People's feelings are going to get hurt. Well too bad! I'm sorry to be crass, but my feelings are hurt that Dr. Shapiro encountered cowardly Christians over the last 20 years who decided not to offend him by steering clear of religious conversations or even a church invite. We need to man up and get real. If we think the issues that really matter don't need to be discussed, we're in big trouble. We're obsessed with the Titanic's deck chairs. 

I'll leave you with one illustration before I close out this offensively long blog post. When in the course of human events, do we set aside the most important issues because someone might be offended? Should doctors stop recommending diets, should bosses stop doing reviews, should athletes all be awarded trophies...? I think you get my point. Real love is truth. Maybe Rick Astley was right: "What is love? Baby don't hurt me. Don't hurt me no more."

We don't have to be rude. In fact, it's the exact opposite. It may take a little courage to start asking our friends, family, and even strangers the kinds of questions we're all thinking about but nobody is asking. Let's start now. It may be hard, but let's start digging into the big issues of life in every meaningful conversation we have with people. Life is short, people matter, and we've got to start now.

Gil Shapiro has become my friend. He didn't change his mind and neither did I..yet.    

     

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Book Review: A New Kind of Apologist by Sean McDowell

Click here for 3 minute video review.

When Sean McDowell asked "would you review my new book?", I thought this was going to be another brilliant apologetic for the faith. What I found were a few pages from Sean interspersed with 27 essays by excellent apologists and six a diverse cast including skeptics. I was right about it being brilliant but it was more than just another apologetic. The book is certainly readable cover to cover like I did for this review but even better served in bite-sized chunks on demand. The topics are among the most current I've seen in any printed work to date and might be the best single volume reference set of it's kind. Let's unpack it.

Description:

Harvest House, 2016, just under 300 pages, $16.99 paperback, ($13 Amazon, $11 kindle), endorsements by Skip Heitzig, Nancy Pearcey, J. Warner Wallace, Russell Moore, and others. Each of the 27 essays are about 5-8 pages long by people specializing in each area with six interviews that are about 2-4 pages. The essays are thoroughly footnoted and a short bio of each author follows their work (although much more could be said about each one). 

Main Takeaway:

The apologetics market is filled with books with new ideas including many good ones by McDowell. This isn't one of those, but it is very good. Rather than a new twist on an old argument, A New Kind of Apologist is more of a "How to" book that lays out 27 of the most pressing obstacles to evangelism in the current cultural climate and how to navigate them. It focuses on our approach and the people before we share the gospel message. One of the common threads that spans each essay is the idea of "pre-evangelism." It guides the reader to more effectively understand various perspectives of our potential audience before launching arguments at them. Here's a quick synopsis of each chapter, but there is much more good stuff inside you won't want to miss.

Abstract:

Introduction
Sean McDowell
McDowell begins by urging the reader not to repeat one of his early mistakes. He sympathizes with our temptation to give reasons before learning why the questioner is asking something in the first place. He rehashed his attendance at a national event by The Reformation Project, an organization committed to the acceptance of same sex relationships in the church. Although there was some nervous trepidation, McDowell eased into it by being honest about his disagreement while requesting the same tolerance expected of him. It allowed him to learn about the people even if no agreement was likely. Before handing off to his expert line-up, he sets up three critical traits for the new kind of apologist: humble, relational, studious, and practitioner. 

PART 1: A New Approach

1 - Christians in the Argument Culture: Apologetics as Conversation
Tim Muehlhoff
Religion is increasingly becoming a controversial subject to bring up with unbelievers. How to navigate: 1) what does the person believe? Listen instead of trying to push an agenda. 2) Why do they believe it? Despite the temptation to launch into your best case, slow down and remember we're still gaining information. It's not even time to jump on their bad ideas yet. We need to first find out why they think their ideas are right. For most people, their ideas aren't formed in a vacuum but mostly from family, personal experiences, and influential people in their life. 3) What do we believe in common? Often some of the big questions they're pondering are the same as ours even though the answers might be different.
Seek first understanding where someone comes from before setting out to win the debate. 

2- Apologetics and New Technologies
Brian Auten
With limitless options for taking our apologetic energy to the masses online, Brian Auten breaks what seems like an infinite sea of options down to four basic apologetic avenues to take: content author, content artist, content communicator, and content propagator. Finding your groove depends on how God has gifted you with certain skills or opportunities. There can be some overlap and ways we can synergistically coordinate our efforts so the church at large can increase it's impact. He offers a caution to be effective and shrewd online because what's posted is permanent. 

Bart Campolo interview
Campolo is the son of emergent church pastor Tony Campolo. He recently announced his agnosticm and has been speaking widely in support of the secular worldview. He describes himself in the interview as a postmodern offshoot where community is what shapes beliefs. Campolo says religious beliefs may be true for the individual believer, but they can't convince others nor should they try. He sees any claim to truth as irrelevant unless you're in a community of others who believe the same thing. For atheists, you're just wasting time.

3 - Servant Apologetics 
Tom Gilson
Who are you reaching and why? Gilson warns against doing apologetics for the pride of it. There's much we could be missing if we do but often that's what happens. We end up forgetting what Jesus set out to do and instead do it our way. In the process, we find ourselves doing the exact opposite. Gilson points out that white apologetics, the least needy care the most and the neediest care the least.
Is this a cycle perpetuated by apologists who cloister around other apologetic junkies to exchange fancy terms and arguments and complain about how the church doesn't appreciate them.

4 - Motivating Others to "Give an Answer"
Mark Mittelberg
So you love apologetics - now what? Forst, we must support and encourage church leadership. Pray for help and against spiritual adversaries. Remind the church body that apologetics isn't optional. It's a command! We need to model this and be an example to follow. Show the transforming power of God and arguments for God are comparable and necessary. Train and equip them, especially parents and grandparents by reminding them of the battle facing their kids. Show love and win people before arguments.

5 - Social Justice and a New Kind of Apologist
Ken Wytsma and Rick Gerhardt
Our biggest testimony is our life. God is clear how he wants us to help widows and the poor. Jesus gave a great example of reaching outcasts. Yet people outside the church view Christians as hypocrites (85%). The reasons this is evident to young westerners are: 1) global communication uncovers everything, 2) many non-Christians understand and engage with the world's evils because they care how people are treated, and 3) for some we're trying to reach, truth depends to some extent on pragmatism. If Christianity is really true, then wouldn't God make sure that it works in areas he supposedly cares about?

Interview with JP Moreland
Dr. Moreland shares how apologetics has changed and gives advice on how to address the current challenge.

6 - "Don't Blame Us, It's in the Bible"
Dan Kimball
Youth leave when they discover difficult Bible passages they never knew about and no one can adequately answer. We've been our own enemy by throwing out a passage and skipping right to application. Largely that's what people want but that created a problem. People ignore hermeneutics and as a result are biblically confused. We need to tackle the tough parts before our kids get to them. Meanwhile pray and act like you believe it's really true and not just another winning argument. 

PART 2: New Methods

7 - Shepherding is a Verb
Jeff Myers
Leaders are like shepherds who develop their disciples more than charging ahead of them merely as an example. A mentor is key to success. 70% of youth group teens leave by their 20's. If not for mentors, St. Patrick, Spurgeon, Wilberforce, and Edwards may not have been. Relationships matter more than publishing and speaking across the globe.

8 - A Practical Plan to Raise up the Next Generation
Brett Kunkle
Godly kids too often get derailed from their faith intellectually. How we equip youth: classical education via Trivium which includes grammar (the "what") elementary school, 2) logic (the "why") in middle school, and 3) rhetoric (the "experience") in high school. "It's time to stop bemoaning the exodus of students from our churches and start doing something serious about it."

Dennis Rainey interview
Parents equip your kids everyday. He urges parents to involve worldview issues in every phase of life. Regardless of belief we all have a worldview. It's how we think differently especially on matters of sex, gender identity in context of the Bible.

9- The Multiethnic Church
Derwin L. Gray
Paul and the disciples Philip and Peter before him reached the multicultural world as something no religion tried to do. The old world was very divisive (perhaps more than today but no less so). Paul's words show the gospel destroying that separation. "The ethnic unity of God's church is a sign to the world that his kingdom has broken through the darkness; multiethnic local churches are God's living apologetic." Sadly, our churches are among the least multiethnic parts of society. Let's change that! Rather than focus on the individual we must see the world as God does- a land and people to be remade and reconciled to him for his glory. We can do that not as colorblind people but as "color blessed" people.

10- Come and See: The Value of Storytelling for Apologetics
Holly Ordway
Ordway teaches us that CS Lewis' testimony of imagination plus reason made his intellectual acceptance of doctrine meaningful.
There's a basic human need for purpose. Our lives are expected to have a beginning, middle and end. We celebrate the good things and seek answers when things don't go as they're supposed to. A Christ centered apologetic must rely upon both reason and imagination, on argument and story. People aren't always looking for brute facts or clever reasoning but want to connect with the truth emotionally as well. That's a big part of being human and relationship depends on connecting emotionally. Consider how God first reached out to us. Read the first few books of the Bible and of the gospels and you'll see he introduces himself and his Son through story! The author came to Christ opposite Lewis but through story just as much. Ordway rejected doctrine but was pulled in by the story which urged her to reexamine the content without apprehension. This shows the power of story and emotional appeal is so powerful it can work both ways. Our case is intended to be story in that we're relational beings made in God's image as incarnate souls meant to rejoice and weep. Telling God's story becomes even more as we weave in our own personal testimony into the overall narrative. Story is what it means to be a Christian. "Our faith is an adventure."

11- Using Hollywood Blockbusters to Share Your Faith
Lenny Esposito
Movies impact culture. They offer a great and exciting way to discuss spiritual things where as our friends may be less interested in discussing doctrinal or biblical matters by themselves. Movies help illustrate important concepts relevant to spiritual discussions. Story sometimes shows how certain parts of the narrative fits into the full sequence of events from beginning to end.

12- The Urban Apologist
Christopher Brooks
Black lives matter is a lesbian-founded group whose mission seeks to empower minority groups to action. They criticize the church and overall social structures as belittling black lives. They turn to alternatives like Buddhism, the moorish science temple, the nation of gods and earths, Islam, and black humanism. Brooks lays out three kinds of BLM objections to the gospel and how to overcome them: 1) religious. We should appeal to Jesus. Christians must show how Jesus grounds our value and seeks the outcasts like none have ever since. 2) Ethical objections. We must debunk relativism. What is right and wrong? 3) Social justice objections. Christianity is largely to blame and minorities often have political differences that are hard to face. We must remember it's not about politics but the gospel. "No longer can we fall into the false dichotomy...as either evangelism or social change." It's both.

13- Intuitional Apologetics: Using Our Deepest Intuitions to Point Toward God
Terry Glaspey
More than intellectual. We must seek an emotional and aesthetic appeal as well as intellectual. If not, Christianity might appear too ugly to consider. "They breathe in the germs of prevailing assumptions from the cultural air around them, and this determines their belief system." For some, the idea of becoming a religious person - much less a Christian - seems impossible. We must consider their current mindset and what makes them tick. We need a "pre-rational" apologetic to open hearts and minds to a better way of seeing the world around us and finding the best explanations for life's big questions. Pointing out clues that have always been there but their perspective never allowed them to see through mutually appreciated beauty, wonder, art, and imagination. Our goal must be to lead them to acceptance before they see the reasons why they've been intellectually bound to accept all along. This is intuitional apologetics. Ask questions, show experiences, dig deeper to bring the main issues front and center. He gives six ways to go about the task.

Gavin MacFarland interview
The most compelling intellectual case for Christianity to Gavin MacFarland was the Kalam cosmological and moral arguments but there was a long time he was reluctant to accept it as true. He urges readers to focus on relationships before plunging into evangelism. Invest in people first and God's call for evangelistic opportunity will come and be more sincere and nature for everyone.

14 - Why We Should Love Questions More Than Answers
Matthew Anderson
Christianity has the best answers so our reflex is to give answers first. But we should "point the way home rather than shout from the balcony of our bedrooms about how good looking it is." It's about the journey more than the destination. After all if the journey is wrong, the destination is never reached. Jesus used questions and so should you. Questions tell us what they want to know and imply a point of view if we listen for it. Who wants all of their questions answered anyway? A little bit of mystery keeps us seeking answers. Be careful how you pass along the faith to others. Giving the impression that we require answers for every question may keep people locked in an eternal skepticism unwilling to step into a trusting relationship God wants them to have. Not all questions are the same. Some have strong rhetorical force with an answer in mind or to guide the conversation while some investigate seeking the answer. Either way, be sincere. Questions are the easiest most nature form of communicating and gaining information that the most novice among us can use immediately. Give it a try.

15 - Why More Women Should Study Apologetics
Mary Jo Sharp
Why not? Women are made as rational beings with doubts no less than men yet they represent a tiny portion of those outwardly interested in the topic. For Mary Jo and many others she's heard from, doubt is the culprit. Doubt fueled by experience of suffering or everyday distractions (various roles internally and outside influences from friends and media), and a life lived outside of fellowship with God keep doubts alive and separate women from their calling as daughters of the King. It's not so much the doubt that affects women as it's how they deal with it. Failing to study current challenges or seek answers to our doubts makes things worse and hurts everyone. Giving bad answers repels seekers and misguides our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sharp cautions that complacency in our intellectual life can enhance doubt and hampers our relationship with Jesus.

PART 3: New Issues

16 - A Political Christian Apologetic: What, Why, How?
Jennifer A. Marshall
We must understand more than what we learned in our 11th grade civics class. The goal of every policy is the incorporation of diverse interests into a society that flourishes. The Bible has lots to say about this. And how we go about the task is just as important. We're relational beings and as Christians we seek intimacy with God, ourselves, others, and the material world. Our first task began when God delegated us as the caretakers of his creation. He ordained the foundational institutions of family, church, and government to help us in this task. Combating poverty is an example of how these all work together. Above all else honoring God must remain our top cause even when living out the truth hurts us materially. Don't fall for the secular trap that's been silencing the church and individual Christian voices: that secularism is the only neutral view. No, every view has a set of fundamental assumptions about the world and policy positions always advance a moral position. Laws are nothing more and nothing less than mandating a certain ethic.

17 - An Assessment of the Present State of Historical Jesus Studies
Michael Licona
In flight, Licona met an unsuspecting debate partner. He guides us in our own future encounters. Three Jesi: 1) historical, 2) gospel, and 3) real. He expand how they are distinct, contradict, or overlap each other. 
Important factors when investigating the historical Jesus involves 1) the the setting (time, place, culture), criteria of authenticity (multiple, hostile, embarrassing, and eyewitness), and philosophical assumptions (postmodern vs realism). Jesus "mythers" cloud the debate with issues the scholarly field either long since abandoned or are founded on historically mistaken ground. Be mindful of the mission field we're in today. Many aren't looking for historical probability but have something else that hinders their quest. 

18 - How to Question the Bible in a Post-Christian Culture
Jonathan Morrow
The Bible has influenced culture in multiple ways but our tactic to defend it must change with the new times. "For many, the Bible is no longer the answer, it is the question." It's ok to question the Bible. In fact, it's a good thing to study it seriously enough to ask questions and sort through the tough pets. Faith can be stronger after it's dealt with some healthy resistance. Generally, there are two kinds of questions: seeking and separating. Only the questioner knows which he's asking. Common questions are that Christianity was invented and imposed by political winners or that the Bible is morally outdated and evil. Morrow swiftly answers both.

Hemant Mehta interview 
As an atheist, I've had positive experience with Christians who are surprised to find I'm nice and disarming. The main negative has been when apologists misrepresent my view and assume I don't have responses to their arguments. You can tell when they haven't engaged with a real atheist before. There are no good arguments (or else I'd be convinced). Bad arguments are based in science because they have been debunked. Arguments front the Bible to prove the Bible are bad too. 

19 - Entrepreneurs: An Economic Apologetic for the Faith
Jay W. Richards
Apologetics is more than theology. It carries over into every phase of life. If true, Christianity must work when it's applied to every field of knowledge. Economics touches everybody so an economic apologetic is relatable and should be studied more. As one example Richards describes the entrepreneur problem. Most economists ignore them because they don't fit the predictable scientific paradigm. The few who dare to try to explain this phenomenon, do so upon Darwinian biological assumptions. Richards suggests Christianity gives a better way. More than the age old nature vs nurture debate, there's the "free will" factor of the human person. Man made imago dei reflects the creative power of God himself and accounts for the unpredictability we see in entrepreneurship. It's not that entrepreneurs prove God, but belief in God makes more sense of it than the reductive alternative provided by Darwinists.

20 - Telling About Sex in a Broken Culture
John Stonestreet
The fear approach to sex education is bad. It's utilitarian which bases morality on consequences and contradictory when in marriage. Rally "purity pledges" don't correspond to keeping the promise and "princess Theology" isn't biblical, realistic, or even believable. Sex comes calling at earlier ages even when no one is seeking it. Tolerance and lack of moral judgment saturates the culture. Sex used to be private but now impacts entire cultures who share redefined ethics. So we must ground sexual ethics in scripture. Show how the biblical view of human sexuality gives it meaning in the first place. Far from being incompatible to sex, the gospel offers what sinners need most - forgiveness. It's not a new problem. Paul started off in waters perhaps deeper than ours in sexual depravity. It was as counter cultural and revolutionary then as now, maybe more. 

21 - Being Authentically Christian on the LGBT Issue
Glenn T. Stanton
Follow Christ's lead as the one "full of Grace and Truth (Jn 1:14). Make friends and visualize them with you whenever addressing this topic. LGBT is not about LGBT but about biblical reliability and authority of Jesus. Conversations can spiral in any direction but anything outside these two areas is irrelevant as far as the church is concerned . In order to understand this issue, we must begin with biblical anthropology (who is man?). The Bible is clear about the complimentary sexes and Jesus echoed it directly in Mat 19 and Mk 10. Do we need to apologize? How and when? It's unfounded to claim people with SSA were "born that way" but it's not fair to call it a choice either. Sexuality is complex. Man-Woman marriage isn't akin to racism. Gender matters and isn't a social convention. Our LGBT friends want something better. They may seem happy, but deep down they know something is missing. Perhaps we can help them find it in Jesus. 

22 - Transgender: Truth and Compassion
Alan Shlemon
Culture is buying the idea that gender is socially constructed and any disagreement isn't tolerated. Not only is the biblical view of gender challenged here, but Christians who hold biblical views are increasingly seen as bigoted. Scripture is silent on the transgender question but firm on the larger question of created order, gender roles, and sexual behavior. Science helps too. Reproductive process is the only function that requires another person for it to work. This requires that biology denotes gender. What is transgender? Conscious and subconscious perceived gender identity is different than biological sex. This causes distress and high suicide rates (41%) and attempts at changing biological sex to match perceived gender identity. What's clear is there's a mismatch. Identity has the potential to change while biological sex cannot. Intersex (hermaphrodites) are still genetically and biologically of a single sex that can't be changed. Many raised as the opposite sex later wished it hadn't been that way. Transgenders who undergo surgery also rarely feel cured. This suggests attempting to change the body rather than the mind is a mistake - an irreversible one at that. We must first understand this struggle before launching arguments. Empathizing with them in search for healing is the way of truth and compassion that Jesus practiced. The culture has lied to them so what can we do? Make friends. Without a relationship you may not have earned the right to talk about their life. How we address this depends if the conversation is inside or outside the church. Use apologetics after presenting the gospel to clarify issues that arise.

23 - An Apologetic for Religious Liberty
James Tonkowich
Religious liberty used to be a given until strides against it have been mounting progressively over the last 50 years. It's not, as the media would suggest, equal to religious tolerance nor is it merely freedom to worship. Rather, religious freedom is a birthright that every just society must respect. This applies to the religious or irreligious. It was enacted into the founding documents by Thomas Jefferson who echoed Tertullian's call for religious freedom in the second century. The 1st amendment prohibits government from hindering religious liberty but this is not what grants it. Religious liberty is our "inalienable birthright." Religious tolerance is something else altogether. As policy, it means the government is putting up with certain religious positions. This implies a change of policy could erase that. This isn't liberty at all. It ignores the birthright and becomes the arbitrary whim of whoever is in power as what what Jefferson did to protect the Danbury baptists.
Likewise, Freedom of worship isn't a right. It's a restrictive form of religious toleration where your ability to express your religion is confined to private places designated by those in charge (home, church, etc), but NOT in public. As the NM Supreme Court justice wrote in a case ruled against Christian photographers who declined to participate in a same sex wedding ceremony, setting aside religious beliefs in public is the "price of citizenship." Recognition of religious freedom by the state is paramount. Without out it, freedom is just a facade. To illustrate, Tonkowich asks us to imagine if the first amendment allowed free speech but not religion. You could speak about anything except what drives your life the most. That's fake freedom. Objections: religious freedom excuses any behavior, causes conflicts, or allows Christians to get their way. Most importantly, religious freedom is for the minorities not the majority. Christians have historically defended this principle and need to do so now.

John Njoroge interview
The Christian world has a bad taste for apologetics. the largest growing segment of Christianity - Pentecostal and Charismatics - are lacking thoughtful and caring apologists. The church doesn't see the need for apologetics and see them largely as people who want to win arguments more than people. Be cautious not to rely on knowledge while ignoring the power of the Holy Spirit. Many in Africa are skeptical of formal theological training but can relate to an appeal to scripture. Apologetics is a means to an end. It's important, but only in the bigger picture of being part of bringing people to know God.

24 - Advocating Intelligent Design with Integrity, Grace, and Effectiveness
Casey Luskin
The author points out the increasing tension between intelligent design (ID) and evolution advocates and presents a clear cut case for ID. He defines complex specified information (CSI) and suggests intelligence as the best explanation. A scientific inquiry sets the stage. 

observations:  intelligence produces CSI

Hypothesis: if something is designed, you'll find CSI

Conclusion: CSI infers design

It is empirically based, thus can't be written off as "religious" by any honest person. Objections fail to explain the source of this CSI. Don't be discouraged when under attack. Pray and seek God because the attacks will come. This should be a sign that you're on the right track. If you were wrong, you should hear good arguments instead. The author clears away the brush of ID objections to remind the reader to stay focused on the heart of the issue and why it matters. Namely, skeptics are largely driven by their perceived lack of scientific evidence for God. He shows how ID is distinct from creationism and why the age of the earth and other similar questions distract for the big question of how we got here. ID isn't intended to answer every question. It doesn't escape the bounds of science. He introduces theistic evolution (TE) and how ID is a better way. TE proponents claim "all is intelligently designed" but maintain the evidence is hidden. This turns out to be a purely theological commitment without scientific support. So, it happens that TE is less scientific than theological in it's methodology. ID is science whereas TE is not. Further, Luskin points to Rom 1 where Paul says God is "clearly perceived" in nature. How then can TE advocates say it's hidden? The public is anxious to hear reasonable scientific explanations to the big questions of human origins and we should have the confidence to give it to them. 

25 - The Scientific Naturalist Juggernaut and What to Do About It
Scott Smith
Implications of naturalistic evolution (NE) are materialism, fact/value distinction, and the denial of the natural state of things (i.e. Marriage). Three methods for understanding NE: 1) verificationism is self-defeating, 2) volition undermines NE, 3) NE holds survival as ultimate and truth only as a means to survival.
NE took hold of our churches because we allowed science to be the ultimate knowledge bearer and absolute certainty as the standard of proof. We've been "naturalized" or "de-supernatural used" persuaded by our culture to accept the assumptions of NE which wrestles with our beliefs about the dual worlds of God's Kingdom. Left with just a "shell" of our faith, no wonder we don't appreciate the reality of God and deprive ourselves of the life of true intimacy with him like his early followers did. No wonder people are turned off in our churches when they see we're really no different inside as we are during the week and in our flesh. It comes off as hypocrisy and turns people off. We, like our founding fathers, have an innate distrust of subjective religious experience (LDS, Pentecostalism, spiritualism, etc), but we forget to value the emotional response to a real relationship. Realizing the faults of our forefathers allow us to correct the mistakes so they stop with us.

26 - Water that Satisfied the Muslim's Thirst
Abdu Murray 
Murray shows how Christianity can appeal to Muslims by describing a talk on Scripture he gave at a mosque. He explains how Islam speaks well of Jesus and the gospels, how it doesn't explicitly deny NT reliability and presents a third option out of a dilemma that may help us all guide truth seeking Muslims to God.

27 - What About Other Religions?
Tanya Walker 
Dr. Walker shares three obstacles to the cross 1) logic, 2) character, and 3) destination. These are matters that must be cleared in "pre-evangelism" for the gospel message to take root. Logic- some are so confused that their error must be pointed out. Character - some are offended when we do this and sometimes we are offensive. Destination - where is the destination and who is God? Commonly our questioner has opposing definitions that need to be corrected.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obama, the Open Seat, and Abortion

President Obama will have an open seat tonight during the State of the Union address to represent those victims who have lost their lives to gun violence. Roughly 11,000 homicides were committed with guns in the U.S. during 2014. Everyone agrees these lives are tragic loses due to senseless acts of violence.

That same year, over 1,000,000 unborn human beings lost their lives through abortion. If we have one open seat to represent every 11,000 lives lost, we would need 90 open seats at the State of the Union to represent the lives of the unborn killed during 2014 alone. We would need 5,182 open seats to represent the 57,000,000 human beings who have been killed since Roe v. Wade in 1973. Unfortunately there are only 446 seats in the House chambers where the State of the Union is given.

A White House official said the president told supporters the open seat was for “the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice—because they need the rest of us to speak for them” and the open seat should serve to “remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.”

What is sad and shameful is that the president condemns gun violence while supporting abortion violence. For it is just as true that open seats are needed for “the victims of abortion violence who no longer have a voice—because they need the rest of us to speak for them” and that these open seats should serve to “remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.”

The unborn need a voice. They need us to speak for them. True, our representatives do have a responsibility to do something. But these open seats for victims of abortion violence should not just remind every single one of our representatives. They should also remind you and me, because it is just as much our responsibility to do something about abortion.

So what can we do? We can graciously share the gospel, study more about abortion, pray, speak out on the issue, teach others, engage in conversation, vote, adopt, volunteer time at pregnancy centers, help pregnant women in need, start a student pro-life club on campus, offer healing and mercy to post-abortive women and men, and donate money to pro-life organizations.

We can all do something. Just do something.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pro-Life and Pro-Capital Punishment

There is an alleged inconsistency that is sometimes raised between being pro-life and also pro-capital punishment. Here’s the question: “Is it inconsistent to be pro-life when it comes to the issue of abortion and yet also support capital punishment in certain situations?”

Answer: No.

Here are some important points to remember (see Francis Beckwith and his book Defending Life, pages 126-127, on this topic):

First, the alleged inconsistency of pro-life apologists who support capital punishment is often introduced as a red herring to distract from the main issue that must be addressed. Even IF pro-lifers were inconsistent on this point, that’s all it would prove: an inconsistency. And what follows from that? Not much. It has nothing to do with the one question that must be answered in the abortion debate: “What is the unborn?” As Beckwith notes, “inconsistent people can draw good conclusions” (Defending Life, 126). 

Applying Lincoln's Logic to the Abortion Debate

On December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment to the U.S. constitution was ratified and with it came the formal abolishment of slavery in this country. It states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” This amendment was especially significant considering that just eight years prior in 1857 the Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sandford that blacks were property and non-persons.

Even earlier than this, on July 1, 1854, Lincoln wrote this small fragment to address some of the popular arguments but forward by pro-slavery choice advocates who argued that whites should have the right to enslave blacks based on color, intellect, or interest:
“You say A is white and B is black.  It is color, then: the lighter having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be a slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own. You do not mean color exactly?—You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and therefore, have the right to enslave them?  Take care again. By this rule, you are to be a slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own. But, say you, it is a question of interest; and, if you can make it your interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his interest, he has the right to enslave you.”
Read that again. The importance of Lincoln’s logic should not be overlooked. Lincoln realized that if you try to establish human rights or personhood by appealing to a set of arbitrary degreed properties which carry no moral weight or significance, properties such as color and intellect which none of us share equally, then you end up undermining human rights for everyone.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

So Gay Marriage Biblically Offends You? A Response to Whitney Kay Bacon, Part 1



In the weeks following the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex “marriage” across all 50 states of the U.S., a host of articles, blogs, and other media have been circulating the internet both defending and critiquing the judicial fiat which redefined marriage. Within the Christian community, the issue of whether or not homosexual behavior is consistent with biblical teaching has once again become a hot topic of conversation, though in recent years it has never been too far from the forefront. Indeed, American churches have been split over this issue and the Supreme Court decision promises to ensure this matter is not going to go away any time soon.

Amongst the flurry of articles and blogs addressing this topic, of most interest to me have been those which attempt to defend the compatibility of homosexual behavior with Biblical teaching. This should be of interest to all Christians considering that for nearly 2,000 years the historical and consistent position of the Church has been that homosexual behavior is sinful and prohibited by Scripture. And prior to Christianity, this was also the historical position of the Jewish people which they based on the teachings of the Old Testament.

There is a reason of course that both Jews and Christians have been in agreement on this point, and it is not because of bigotry, intolerance, or hatred. It is because the univocal teaching of Scripture on homosexuality leads to this conclusion, and one must try very hard to deny or twist numerous verses addressing this topic in order to avoid their force. Unfortunately this is exactly what you see within the “gay Christian” movement. Given the clear teaching of Scripture and the historic position of the Church, I was shocked and dismayed to see the number of self-professing Christians who supported and celebrated this landmark decision of the Court.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Human Depravity: A Lost Christian Doctrine



If the case be such indeed, that all mankind are by nature in a state of total ruin,…then, doubtless, the great salvation by Christ stands in direct relation to this ruin, as the remedy to the disease.”
—Jonathan Edwards—

Introduction

Author and conservative talk show host Dennis Prager stated, “No issue has a greater influence on determining your social and political views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not.”[1]

I think Prager is correct. But even more important and foundational than your social and political views, your view of human nature has important ramifications with regard to your theology. Perhaps second only to what you believe about God, no issue has greater influence on determining your theological views than whether you view human nature as basically good or not. It is no coincidence that theological liberals who deny doctrines such as original sin and human depravity also, more often than not, end up rejecting other scriptural teachings such as justification by grace through faith, the necessity and exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation, penal substitutionary atonement, the biblical doctrine of hell, or just simply scratch their head and wonder inquisitively when reading scriptural passages concerning God’s judgment on sin (e.g., the flood, destruction of the Canaanites, etc.). They ask themselves, “Why is God mad all the time?? I don’t get it!!

Much of modern secular sensibility seems attracted to the idea that human beings at their core are basically good. In his book What Americans Believe, George Barna of Barna Research Group found that 87% of non-Christians agreed with the statement “People are basically good.” But this belief in the inherent goodness of humankind isn’t peculiar to non-Christians. It has found its way into the Church as well. In that same study, Barna also found that 77% of self-described born-again Christians agreed with the statement. Perhaps most shocking, of those self-described born-again Christians who identify themselves as mainline Protestant, 90% agreed with the statement “People are basically good.”[2]

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Book Review: Cold-Case Christianity


Quick Facts:

Author: J. Warner Wallace
Publisher/Year: David C Cook, 2013
Pages: 288

Review:

In Cold-Case Christianity, J. Warner Wallace, a former atheist and seasoned cold-case homicide detective, takes his knowledge and expertise gleaned from years of law enforcement experience and applies important investigative principles in examining the historical reliability of the gospels. Wallace has been sharing his insights and wisdom for years through blogging, articles, and podcasts as creator of the PleaseConvinceMe.com website, and recently has joined with Stand to Reason as a speaker and contributor.

This book is not just another typical apologetic arguing for the trustworthiness of the New Testament. It is unique among its peers, tackling the subject from a perspective only a homicide cop could provide. Cold-case homicides are historical investigations, and it is his skill and perspective as an investigator that gives Wallace the essential talents and qualifications to examine the historical accuracy of the gospels:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Part 1: Introduction to CHIPS (second half)


This is the second part of the introduction to the CHIPS model of Christian case-making. Read the first part here.

All aspects of apologetics - every positive case and every objection -  essentially asks one or more of the following five questions: Is the Bible sufficiently…

1)      Comprehendible?  
“Is it something I can comprehend?”

2)      Historical?             
“Is it an accurate reflection of historical events?”

3)      Interpreted?           
“Is it a proper interpretation of what the author meant to say?”

4)      Preserved?             
“Is it an adequate preservation of the original composition?”

5)      Significant?            
“Is it significant for my own life?”

SO WHY FIVE?

How can we be so sure every case made in favor of Christianity and all challenges fall into these five categories? Could there be more? The way we can be confident in this is by familiarizing ourselves with the adventures of Christianity over the last 2,000 years. We know these five categories are sufficient because those are the only ones that have been raised. It’s certainly possible for a new critic to come up with a challenge never thought of before, but it’s not likely. As much as the “new atheists” trend gives it a fresh face, critics of Christianity are nothing new and neither are their arguments.