Friday, July 31, 2009

Is Postmodernism A Myth?

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

In the early 1990s interest in postmodernism exploded in the church. Books widely appeared as bestsellers and conferences featured seminars about doing ministry in a postmodern world. While people disagreed about exactly what was meant by “postmodernism”—and they still do!—there was considerable agreement that the world was leaving the modern era behind and wading into the unknown waters of the postmodern matrix.

In Postmodern Youth Ministry, for example, Tony Jones argues that postmodernity is the most important culture shift of the past 500 years, upending our theology, philosophy, epistemology (how we know things), and church practice. It is an “earthquake that has changed the landscape of academia and is currently rocking Western culture.” (p. 11). Thus, to be relevant in ministry today, according to Jones and other postmodernists, we must shed our modern tendencies and embrace the postmodern shift.

For the longest time I simply accepted that we inhabit a postmodern world and that we must completely transform our approach to ministry to be effective today. But that all changed when I had the opportunity of hearing philosopher William Lane Craig speak at an apologetics conference not too long ago. “This sort of [postmodern] thinking,” says Craig, “is guilty of a disastrous misdiagnosis of contemporary culture.” (“God is Not Dead Yet,” Christianity Today, July 2008, p. 26). He argues that the idea that we live in a postmodern world is a myth. This may strike you as awfully bold. How can he make such a claim?

For one thing, says Craig, postmodernism is unlivable and contradictory: “Nobody is a postmodernist when it comes to reading the labels on a medicine bottle versus a box of rat poison. If you’ve got a headache, you’d better believe that texts have objective meaning!” (Reasonable Faith, 2008, p. 18) Craig speaks to tens of thousands of (mostly non-Christian) college students around the world every year and his conclusion is that we live in a cultural milieu that is deeply modernist. Reason, logic, and evidence are as important today as ever (although he’s careful not to overstate their importance, too).

Postmodernism and Apologetics

But this is not all Craig has to say! In the introduction to Reasonable Faith, Craig provocatively claims, “Indeed, I think that getting people to believe that we live in a postmodern culture is one of the craftiest deceptions that Satan has yet devised” (p. 18). Accordingly, we ought to stop emphasizing argumentation and apologetics and just share our narrative. Craig develops this idea further:

And so Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us. If we adopt this suicidal course of action, the consequences for the church in the next generation will be catastrophic. Christianity will be reduced to but another voice in a cacophony of competing voices, each sharing its own narrative and none commending itself as the objective truth about reality, while scientific naturalism shapes our culture’s view of how the world really is (p. 18-19).

In a personal email, Craig relayed to me that he believes postmodernism is largely being propagated in our church by misguided youth pastors. While he meant the comment more to elicit a smile than to be taken as a stab in the back, I can’t help but wonder if he is right.

If our culture were so profoundly postmodernist, why have the “New Atheists,” as Wired magazine dubbed them, been so influential? Popular writers such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins have recently written bestselling books attacking the scientific, historic, and philosophical credibility of religion in general and Christianity in particular. Their writings have wreaked havoc on many unprepared Christians. If our culture were postmodern their challenges should have fallen on deaf ears.

Postmodern Youth

While studies show that youth are significantly relativistic when it comes to ethics, values, and religion (e.g., Soul Searching, by Christian Smith, Oxford Press, 2005), they are not relativistic about science, mathematics, and technology. When discussing morality and religion, I have heard many young people say things such as say, “That’s just your truth. I have a different truth.” But I have never heard a young person say this about a claim in the realm of science or math. Modernists believe that science is the sole purveyor of truth while religion and ethics belong in the private, subjective sphere. It seems to me that the thinking of young people is more influenced by modernism (and specifically naturalism) than postmodernism.

Nevertheless, there does seem to be some postmodern influences in our culture. There is a latent cynicism about knowing truth, a deep suspicion of authority, and an awareness that bias affects people more profoundly than we would like to admit. But ultimately I think Craig is right—the claim that we live in a postmodern culture has been greatly exaggerated and oversold to (and by) the church

Thursday, July 30, 2009

There Is No Truth?

(Stand to Reason) Greg Koukl

. . .but at least fifteen things have to be true before this statement can even be uttered in English. What are they?

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Recently, I was asked a question that I get asked a lot. It's a common challenge on the campus. It was offered as I spoke in the lecture hall at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. Though it was primarily a Christian group who came from the outside, this was the facility they used. The question is one that is asked all the time on campus.

I was reflecting on that question as I flew back this morning. I started jotting some notes down and was quite surprised at what I came up with in response to this question. They were things I'd been aware of before, but it was interesting the way it all fell together. The question was this, how to deal with somebody who says there is no truth.

Now this is very popular on campus, with deconstructionism and postmodernism, this radical skepticism that's swept the academy. It's this idea that you can't know anything for sure, nothing is set in concrete; everything is influenced by our culture, our upbringing and our suppositions, so it's impossible to get at any objective truth.

I flatly reject such a thing. I think there are a number of things we can count on as being true simply because the opposite is not possible. If we can even utter the sentence, "There is no truth"-- and, of course, we must at least utter the sentence to make the claim-- then several things must be objectively true.

First of all, if someone holds that there is no truth, then there's at least one thing that's true: the statement they just uttered that there is no truth. It's one of those awkward situations for a person making a claim, because there's no way their claim can be true. If it's true, it's false, and if it's false, it's false. Obviously, if the statement "There is no truth" is false, then it's false. But even if it's true that there is no truth, then it's also false, because that becomes a true statement, which nullifies it.

It's called a self-refuting statement. It's as if I said, "I can't speak a word of English." If I said it in English, of course that would be self-refuting. This is one of those statements. Even to utter the statement itself is a statement of truth, and so the statement that there is no truth can't stand. It defeats itself.

But there's more. In order to state the phrase "There is no truth," an individual must exist to ponder the truths of existence. Remember Descartes, sitting around in his oven back in the 18th Century, or thereabouts? He said, "I can doubt everything, but the one thing I can't doubt is the fact that I am doubting." He came up with a dictum: Cogito, ergo sum, or "I think, therefore I am." I must exist if I'm pondering my existence. Someone who states that there is no truth must exist, and so it's true that at least one individual, the one uttering the statement, must exist.

Time must also exist, by the way. Time must exist to express a sequence of words, the sequence being "There is no truth." The word "is" must come after the word "there," and the word "no" after both of them, and one can only come after the other if there's time, with present, past and future. So time must exist as an objectively true thing, because this statement was uttered with words in temporal sequence.

The statement itself is a proposition, so propositions must exist. That's a truth. It contains tokens, words that are tokens of ideas. The concept of truth, the concept of negation expressed in the word "no," must exist as ideas and be true as existants, things that exist.

There has to be the concept of unity, the idea that the four words work together in a sentence, and plurality, the distinction of the four different words. Space must exist to differentiate one word from another, separating the units.

If the statement itself that there is no truth is true, then its opposite must be false. If there is no truth, then it is not the case that there is truth. Therefore, the law of non-contradiction must exist and be true. That statement is also distinguished from all of its contradictions, so the law of identity must be true.

There's at least one sentence that exists, because the person just uttered it. That must be true. There are English words, and grammatical relationships between the words-- subject and predicate. That must be true.

The numbers one through four must exist because there are four different words. So addition must be true, because you add those units up and get the number four. The alphabet exists. Parts of speech exist, like nouns and verbs.

Do you see the point? In order to object by saying "There is no truth," there must be at least 14 things that are true before you can even make the statement. They must, in fact, be necessarily true, given the statement itself. When I say necessarily true, I mean there's no way they can be false, given the statement, "There is no truth," uttered in English. If there's such a statement uttered in English, then all these other things must be true. It's impossible for them not to be true.

That's why radical skepticism like this is not justified. As one thinker put it-- Dallas Willard, a Christian philosopher at U.S.C.-- "If we want to be intellectually honest skeptics, we must be as skeptical about our skepticism as we are about our knowledge." We should take the burden of proof to defend our skepticism instead of simply asserting our skepticism. Anyone can assert skepticism. Whether they can make sense out of their skepticism is a different thing.

That's why just uttering the statement "There is no truth," in itself establishes the truth of many different things. And if we can establish their truth just by uttering such a statement, then it seems to me there are a whole lot of other things we can determine to be true as well, and be certain about.

Therefore, radical skepticism is unjustified.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Post-Racial President?

(Townhall.com) Thomas Sowell

Many people hoped that the election of a black President of the United States would mark our entering a "post-racial" era, when we could finally put some ugly aspects of our history behind us.

That is quite understandable. But it takes two to tango. Those of us who want to see racism on its way out need to realize that others benefit greatly from crying racism. They benefit politically, financially, and socially.

Barack Obama has been allied with such people for decades. He found it expedient to appeal to a wider electorate as a post-racial candidate, just as he has found it expedient to say a lot of other popular things-- about campaign finance, about transparency in government, about not rushing legislation through Congress without having it first posted on the Internet long enough to be studied-- all of which turned to be the direct opposite of what he actually did after getting elected.

Those who were shocked at President Obama's cheap shot at the Cambridge police for being "stupid" in arresting Henry Louis Gates must have been among those who let their wishes prevail over the obvious implications of Obama's 20 years of association with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Anyone who can believe that Obama did not understand what the racist rants of Jeremiah Wright meant can believe anything.

With race-- as with campaign finance, transparency and the rest-- Barack Obama knows what the public wants to hear and that is what he has said. But his policies as president have been the opposite of his rhetoric, with race as with other issues.

As a state senator in Illinois, Obama pushed the "racial profiling" issue, so it is hardly surprising that he jumped to the conclusion that a policeman was racial profiling when in fact the cop was investigating a report received from a neighbor that someone seemed to be breaking into the house that Professor Gates was renting in Cambridge.

For those who are interested in facts-- and these obviously do not include President Obama-- there has been a serious study of racial profiling in a book titled "Are Cops Racist?" by Heather Mac Donald. Her analysis of the data shows how this issue has long been distorted beyond recognition by politics.

The racial profiling issue is a great vote-getter. And if it polarizes the society, that is a price that politicians are willing to pay in order to get votes. Academics who run black studies departments, as Professor Henry Louis Gates does, likewise have a vested interest in racial paranoia.

For "community organizers" as well, racial resentments are a stock in trade. President Obama's background as a community organizer has received far too little attention, though it should have been a high-alert warning that this was no post-racial figure.

What does a community organizer do? What he does not do is organize a community. What he organizes are the resentments and paranoia within a community, directing those feelings against other communities, from whom either benefits or revenge are to be gotten, using whatever rhetoric or tactics will accomplish that purpose.

To think that someone who has spent years promoting grievance and polarization was going to bring us all together as president is a triumph of wishful thinking over reality.

Not only Barack Obama's past, but his present, tell the same story. His appointment of an attorney general who called America "a nation of cowards" for not dialoguing about race was a foretaste of what to expect from Eric Holder.

The way Attorney General Holder has refused to prosecute young black thugs who gathered at a voting site with menacing clubs, in blatant violation of federal laws against intimidating voters, speaks louder than any words from him or his president.

President Obama's first nominee to the Supreme Court is, like Obama himself, someone with a background of years of affiliation with an organization dedicated to promoting racial resentments and a sense of racial entitlement.

An 18th century philosopher said, "When I speak I put on a mask. When I act I am forced to take it off." Barack Obama's mask slipped for a moment last week but he quickly recovered, with the help of the media. But we should never forget what we saw.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 7 of 7

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 2 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 3 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 4 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 5 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 6 of 7

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, our earliest Islamic sources depict the life of Muhammad as one filled with warfare, assassinations, and constant violence. While the majority of Muslims today are peaceful, the grounding for this attitude within Islam seems to be without authority. Muhammad was not a peaceful man instilling a peaceful religion. His life depicts the evolution of a man from a tolerant street-preacher to a power-hungry political and military leader willing to engage in atrocious acts for the cause of his religion. When we understand the revelations contained within the Qur’an, the law of abrogation, and the context set within his biography, we are presented with a man whose life example is not to be emulated but rather avoided and condemned by all. Until more Muslims are willing to come forward and denounce this “prophet” it is hard to take seriously the notion that Islam is a religion of peace.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Christian Apologetics Blog Directory

Our thanks and appreciation go out to Brian of Apologetics 315 for recently including our blog site in his Christian Apologetics Blog Directory. If you have not done so already, be sure and check out Apologetics 315 for great mp3 downloads, book reviews, and more.

Brian,

You are a gentleman and a scholar.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Is Calvin Still Relevant After 500 Years? It All Depends

(Monergism.com) Michael Horton

According to many Protestants-including some evangelical leaders-the Reformation may be over. In an age of rampant secularism, the threat of militant Islam, and moral relativism, surely the issues that unite us are greater than our differences. It seems that a lot of today's heirs of the Reformation are weary of fighting age-old battles and most people in the pews cannot even identify the flash points. Something about the pope, and Mary and the saints, or something.

For that matter, surveys reveal that most evangelicals hold views about salvation that are, if anything, worse than the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. While it's undeniable that Calvin had a major impact on Western history, it is not clear at all whether his driving concerns are still regarded widely as relevant in contemporary Christianity.

I have to admit that I've been a little uneasy with this whole "Calvin 500" celebration. And I'm not sure that a rigorously God-centered minister like Calvin-who demanded to be buried in an unmarked grave, within a plain pine casket-would appreciate all the attention. I am even a little more confident that he would not approve of all the attempts to turn him into an important person for all the wrong reasons. This is where Calvin is brought out by some as the tyrant of Geneva and by others as the pioneer of modern liberties and all sorts of other concerns that were, at best, tangential to the Reformer's interests.

What was central to Calvin's interest also happens to make him more relevant than whatever he may have incidentally and inadvertently done to improve Western culture. Calvin's obsession, the nearest I can tell, was the tender mercy of the Father, shown toward sinners in the Son and through the Spirit. I agree with B. B. Warfield's assessment that Calvin was even more interested in God's fatherhood than his sovereignty. Calvin's robust doctrine of the Holy Spirit leaves its mark on every theological topic. And as for the "in Christ" part of it all, this is the nearest thing to a "central dogma" that I can think of for Calvin.
Is the Reformation Over?

...Click here to continue reading...

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 6 of 7

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 2 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 3 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 4 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 5 of 7

VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE, AND MORE VIOLENCE

Muhammad continued to lead successful campaigns and increased in power and financial resources. After the nullification of a peace treaty between Muhammad and the city of Mecca, the Prophet and an army of ten thousand men invaded Mecca in the year 630 A.D. Ibn Ishaq says that “The apostle had instructed his commanders when they entered Mecca only to fight those who resisted them, except a small number who were to be killed even if they were found beneath the curtains of the Ka’ba.”(1) Among those ordered to be killed was ʽAbdullah b. Saʽd because he had apostatized from the Muslim religion. However, ‘Abdullah was a foster brother of a close companion of Muhammad and was able to receive a hearing from the Prophet in order to request immunity. Muhammad remained silent for a long time until he reluctantly granted ‘Abdullah immunity. Afterwards Muhammad told his followers, “‘I kept silent so that one of you might get up and strike off his head!’ One of the Ansar said, ‘Then why didn’t you give me a sign, O apostle of God?’ He answered that a prophet does not kill by pointing."(2) Among the others ordered to be assassinated by Muhammad were those who had brought insults against him. Two of these were girls who “used to sing satirical songs about the apostle, so he ordered that they should be killed,” and another was a man “who used to insult him in Mecca.”(3)

As Muhammad continued his raids he was preparing to send one of his commanders on an expedition. He instructed ‘Abdu’l-Rahman b. ‘Auf to “Fight everyone in the way of God and kill those who disbelieve in God. Do not be deceitful with the spoil; do not be treacherous, nor mutilate, nor kill children. This is God’s ordinance and the practice (sira) of his prophet among you.”(4) Muhammad here gave his commander explicit instructions to fight and kill all non-Muslims who disbelieve in Allah. Notice also that Muhammad says this has been ordained and is the common practice that he himself follows. If Muslims then are expected to follow the path of Muhammad it is easy to see where they get there justification for violence and oppression.

Assassinations continued throughout the last years of Muhammad’s life. Abu Sufyan, Muhammad’s uncle, was the leader of the pagan opposition to the Prophet in Mecca. Muhammad ordered that he should be killed and sent two of his followers, one of them being ‘Amr b. Umayya. Upon arriving at Mecca, ‘Amr and his companion were recognized and pursued, leaving them unable to assassinate Abu Sufyan. While hiding in a cave ‘Amr recognized an enemy and “went out and stabbed him under the breast with the dagger.” Continuing back to Medina ‘Amr met a one-eyed shepherd who sang “I won’t be a Muslim as long as I live, Nor heed to their religion give.” ‘Amr recounts that as soon as the man was “asleep and snoring I got up and killed him in a more horrible way than any man has been killed. I put the end of my bow in his sound eye, then I bore down on it until I forced it out at the back of his neck.”(5) ‘Amr fled and came across two Meccans sent to spy on the apostle. He shot and killed one and took the other captive. When ‘Amr finally reached Medina with his captive he stated that Muhammad “asked my news and when I told him what had happened he blessed me.”(6)

Immediately after this we are told of a man named Abu ‘Afak. He had shown disaffection toward the killings of Muhammad and wrote a poem against him. Muhammad responded, “Who will deal with this rascal for me?”(7) Salim b. ‘Umayr rose to the challenge and went forth and killed Abu ‘Afak. After this assassination we are told of a woman named ‘Asma’ d. Marwan. She did not like that Abu ‘Afak had been killed so she composed a poem against Muhammad and his followers. When Muhammad found out he said, “Who will rid me of Marwan’s daughter?” Ibn Ishaq tells us that ‘Umayr “who was with him heard him, and that very night he went to her house and killed her. In the morning he came to the apostle and told him what he had done and he said, ‘You have helped God and his apostle, O ‘Umayr!’” ‘Umayr then asks if he would have to suffer any consequences for his actions to which Muhammad responds “Two goats won’t butt their heads about her.”(8) So ‘Umayr returned to his people.

CONSISTENT ISLAM IS VIOLENT ISLAM

These examples of Muhammad’s involvement in warfare and killing and his approval of assassinations and torture are but a small example. Does this seem to be the life of a man who has been appointed by God to be the moral example for all mankind? If this is the sunna that modern day Muslims are expected to follow it is no wonder that 28 of the 32 Muslim states worldwide were classified as “Terror States” in 1991.(9) Do Muslims really still believe that this example of Muhammad is applicable to today? It seems that many do. One translation of the Qur’an titled “The Noble Qur’an” is published at the King Fahd complex in Saudi Arabia. Notice how they translate Sura 8:60. It states, “And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know.” The words in parenthesis are obviously not in the original Arabic. They were added by the translators because they believe that the words of the Qur’an are just as applicable today as they were when they were written. The life example of Muhammad is to be followed today just as it was during the first 100 years after the death of Muhammad when Islam proceeded to conquer nation after nation. Historians have commented that if it were not for Charles Martel stopping the Muslim advancement at the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D. there is a good possibility we might all be speaking Arabic right now. It is no wonder that Westerners are often skeptical when Islam is touted as a religion of peace. These “radical” or “extreme” Muslims seem to be the true Muslims who are following true Islam and the life example of Muhammad. It is easy to see where their authority comes from.
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(1) Ibn Ishaq, 550.

(2) Ibid., 550.

(3) Ibid., 551.

(4) Ibid., 672.

(5) Ibid., 674.

(6) Ibid., 675.

(7) Ibid., 675.

(8) Ibid., 676.

(9) Lingel, Course Pack.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Capitalism and the Free Market

Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue - 1979

It seems things have not changed much. The same economic fallacies and misunderstandings articulated here by Donahue are repeated time and time again by democrats and liberals today.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Limited Atonement?

The five points of Calvinism represent the major tenets of Calvinistic thinking. They can be easily remembered by memorizing the acrostic TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints.

Many Christians take issue with the idea of a "limited atonement." Why would anyone say that the work of Christ is limited? This confusion may stem from the meaning of the term itself.

As Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out, the idea of a limited atonement should not be an issue. The atonement has to be limited in some sense, otherwise universalism (the idea that everyone will be saved) is true. How is that? Because Jesus accomplished something on the cross. He paid the penalty for sin. But if Jesus paid the penalty for sin, why isn't everyone saved? Why isn't universalism true?

Well for one, the Bible clearly does not teach universalism. Not everyone is going to heaven. So the question is this: How is the atonement limited?

A Calvinist would say that the atonement is limited in its scope. In other words, Christ did not die for every man, woman, and child. He gave His life up for the Church. He secured their redemption at the cross. This is why Christ could say, "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10:15). This view could more accurately be labeled "particular redemption" or "definite atonement." On this view, the death of Christ was sufficient for all but only efficient for some.

If you do not limit the atonement in its scope then it would seem you must limit it in its effect or nature. In other words, Christ did die for every man, woman, and child, but his atonement and sacrificial death did not actually secure anyone's redemption. It merely made salvation possible. Now it is up to the individual to place their trust in Christ in order to have the effects of the atonement applied to them.

Again, regardless of where you stand on this issue, one thing is for sure: the atonement must be limited in some sense. Greg Koukl explains in further detail:

Limited Atonement: Part 1 of 2

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Limited Atonement: Part 2 of 2

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Free Will and Calvinism

In honor of the 500th year anniversary of John Calvin's birthday this last week I thought it would be appropriate to examine Calvinism and some related topics more in depth.

The reason for this is twofold:

First, John Calvin has been one of the most influential theologians in the history of the Christian church. This alone makes his life and teachings worthy of study.

Second, there are far too many critics of Calvinism who really know nothing about Calvinism itself. While there are brilliant people on both sides of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, it seems to me that if you are going to disagree with Calvin you first need to know what Calvin taught and believed. I have run across far too many dissenters of Calvin who cannot accurately describe what they are dissenting from. They end up attacking a straw man, a "John Calvin" who never really existed. This is unfortunate.

We begin then with the topic of free will and Calvinism. Free will is certainly a complicated topic, not as simple as some would make it seem, or even like it to be. Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason does an excellent job of explaining the topic of free will from a Calvinist perspective. Regardless of whether you agree with Greg or not, everyone can profit from his insights and the logic of his position.

Free Will and Calvinism: Part 1 of 3

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Free Will and Calvinism: Part 2 of 3

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Free Will and Calvinism: Part 3 of 3

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy 500th Birthday John Calvin!


(Biola.edu) Fred Sanders

July 10, 2009 is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin. Celebrations and commemorative publications abound to mark this milestone, from a huge conference in Geneva to new biographies and new editions of some of his writings.

John Calvin occupies a place of honor among theologians, as one of the greatest teachers in the history of the Christian church. His legacy is well worth celebrating.

Yet “Calvinism” has become a curse word in the vocabulary of many people, and the name of John Calvin carries unpleasant baggage. Far from being inclined to celebrate his quincentennial, people are inclined to hate John Calvin without ever having read his books or learned anything about him. Marilynne Robinson, author of the Pulitzer-winning novel Gilead, lamented this rough treatment of Calvin in an essay she published in her 1998 bookThe Death of Adam. In her essay, Robinson referred to the reformer by his French name, “Jean Cauvin,” just to “free the discussion of the almost comically negative associations of ‘John Calvin,’ which anglicizes the Latin name under which he wrote, Ioannes Calvinus.” She calls him Cauvin because “the name Calvin …is so burdened that I choose to depart from custom.”

“People know to disapprove of him,” Robinson laments, “though not precisely why they should, and they know he afflicted us with certain traits the world might well wish we were in fact afflicted with, like asceticism and an excess of ethical rigor.” In her final bid to rehabilitate his reputation and win a fair hearing for him, Robinson mocks the popular misunderstanding of Calvin:

Many of us know that Calvinism was a very important tradition among us. Yet all we know about John Calvin was that he was an eighteenth-century Scotsman, a prude and obscurantist with a buckle on his hat, possibly a burner of witches, certainly the very spirit of capitalism. Our ignorant parody of history affirms our ignorant parody of religious or “traditional” values. This matters, because history is precedent and permission, and in this important instance, as in many others, we have lost plain accuracy, not to speak of complexity, substance, and human inflection. We want to return to the past, and we have made our past a demonology and not a human narrative.
These are words worth hearing from one of our greatest living novelists. Marilynne Robinson is an artist whose imagination has been honed and polished by her Reformed theology. But Calvin does not belong only to the Calvinists; his contribution to all thoughtful Christians is too great to belong only to those who confess themselves to be Reformed. Speaking for myself, I am a Wesleyan theologian, and I dissent from the theology of Calvin at three or four (or maybe five) crucial points. But I have learned more from John Calvin than from any other theologian, especially about the great, central doctrines of the Christian faith.

Calvin's greatest contributions to the whole Christian world are: (1.) His Institutes of the Christian Religion, a classic, comprehensive text of Christian theology, (2.) His massive commentaries, a 22-volume exploration of the Bible, and (3.) His theology itself, centered on the glory of God.

Calvin’s coat of arms had the image of two hands hold up a burning heart, with the motto Cor meum tibi offero, Domine, prompte et sincere. “My heart I offer to you, O Lord, promptly and sincerely.” That is the legacy of John Calvin, and the reason he continues to be a teacher of the entire church, 500 years after his birth.

Read more on Calvin and his contributions to the Christian world.

Written by Fred Sanders, Associate Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University.

The opinion and viewpoint expressed in this article is that of the author. As a diverse community and within the context of our own theological convictions and community standards, Biola University encourages freedom of thought and expression by its faculty as first responders to relevant news and events.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 5 of 7

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 2 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 3 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 4 of 7

ASSASSINATIONS GALORE

Muhammad not only participated in raiding campaigns but ordered a number of assassinations as well. The first in a series was the murder of an old Jewish man named Ibnu’l-Ashraf who had composed insulting poetry about Muslim women. Muhammad said, “Who will rid me of Ibnu’l-Ashraf?” One of his followers answered, “I will deal with him for you, O apostle of god, I will kill him.” Muhammad responded by saying, “Do so if you can.”(1) Muhammad then gave his followers permission to lie and use trickery if need be to get the job done. His followers venture to the house of Ibnu’l-Ashraf in the middle of the night and deceive him in order to coax him out of his house. Ibn Ishaq tells us they cried, “Smite the enemy of God!” and Muhammad’s follower recounts, “I remembered my dagger when I saw that our swords were useless, and I seized it. Meanwhile the enemy of God had made such a noise that every fort around us was showing a light. I thrust it into the lower part of his body, then I bore down upon it until I reached his genitals, and the enemy of God fell to the ground.” He concludes by saying, “Our attack upon God’s enemy cast terror among the Jews, and there was no Jew in Medina who did not fear for his life."(2) Immediately after this Muhammad states, “Kill any Jew that falls into your power.” Upon hearing this, a follower of Muhammad named Muhayyisa b. Mas’ūd killed a Jewish merchant. Muhayyisa’s older brother Huwayyisa objected to the killing at which point Muhayyisa says, “Had the one who ordered me to kill him ordered me to kill you I would have cut your head off.” Huwayyisa was astonished. We are told, “He exclaimed, ‘By God, a religion which can bring you to this is marvelous!’ and he became a Muslim.”(3) Not only does the Prophet of Islam command Jews to be killed but apparently this was seen as evidence of a grand religion.

One of the most horrific and violent acts in the life of Muhammad was performed after the battle of the ditch.(4) According to this account, the Meccans sought to crush Muhammad once and for all by advancing against Medina with an army of 10,000 led by Muhammad’s uncle, Abu Sufyan. Muhammad and his followers were able to withstand a two-week siege through various tactics including digging a trench around the city of Medina, after which the Meccans gave up and withdrew. Proclaiming victory, Muhammad proceeded to attack the last Jewish tribe in Medina, Banu Qurayzah. Ibn Ishaq tells us that after the tribe surrendered, Muhammad confined them in Medina and “went out to the market of Medina…and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches…This went on until the apostle made an end of them."(5) Ibn Ishaq tells us the number of men killed that day by Muhammad was between six hundred and nine hundred. The biography goes on to say that Muhammad “divided the property, wives, and children of B. Qurayza among the Muslims, and he made known on that day the shares of horse and men, and took out the fifth."(6) Muhammad even chose one of the captured women for himself. At this time Allah sent down a revelation to Muhammad found in the Qur’an: Sura 33. Sura 33:26 reads, “And those of the people of the Book who aided them—Allah did take them down from their strongholds and cast terror into their hearts, (so that) some ye slew, and some ye made prisoners.” The fact that Ibn Ishaq makes known that Sura 33 is revealed at this time is very significant because it allows the context of the sura to be established. Here in the holy book of Islam and the biography of Muhammad we have reference to the assassination of hundreds of men by the Prophet along with the explicit approval of Allah. It goes on to say that Allah showed great pleasure toward Muhammad for this and addressed the believers saying, “In God’s apostle you have a fine example for one who hopes for Allah and the last day.”(7)

Another incident described by Ibn Ishaq is the torture and killing of Kināna b. al-Rabīʽ. Kināna had custody of the treasure of B. al-Nadīr and was questioned about it by Muhammad. Kināna denied knowing where the treasure was located. Muhammad responded, “Do you know that if we find you have it I shall kill you?” The Prophet was told of a certain ruin where Kināna would go every morning and when the ruin was searched part of the treasure was found. Muhammad questioned Kināna as to the location of the rest of the treasure but he refused to cooperate. We are then told that, “the apostle gave orders to al-Zubar b. al-ʽAwwām, ‘Torture him until you extract what he has,’ so he kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head.”(8)
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(1) Ibn Ishaq, 367.

(2) Ibid., 368.

(3) Ibid., 369.

(4) Ibid., 450.

(5) Ibid., 464.

(6) Ibid., 466.

(7) Ibid., 467.

(8) Ibid., 515.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Faith of Our Fathers

(Stand to Reason) Greg Koukl

There's been a lot of rustle in the press lately--and in many Christian publications--about the faith of the Founding Fathers and the status of the United States as a "Christian nation." Home schooling texts abound with references to our religious heritage, and entire organizations are dedicated to returning America to its spiritual roots. On the other side, secularists cry "foul" and parade their own list of notables among our country's patriarchs. They rally around the cry of "separation of church and state." Which side is right? Oddly both, after a fashion.

Who Were the Founding Fathers?

Historical proof-texts can be raised on both sides. Certainly there were godless men among the early leadership of our nation, though some of those cited as examples of Founding Fathers turn out to be insignificant players. For example, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen may have been hostile to evangelical Christianity, but they were firebrands of the Revolution, not intellectual architects of the Constitution. Paine didn't arrive in this country until 1774 and only stayed a short time.

As for others--George Washington, Samuel Adams, James Madison, John Witherspoon, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, John Adams, Patrick Henry, and even Thomas Jefferson--their personal correspondence, biographies, and public statements are replete with quotations showing that these thinkers had political philosophies deeply influenced by Christianity.

The Constitutional Convention


It's not necessary to dig through the diaries, however, to determine which faith was the Founder's guiding light. There's an easier way to settle the issue.

The phrase "Founding Fathers" is a proper noun. It refers to a specific group of men, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention. There were other important players not in attendance, like Jefferson, whose thinking deeply influenced the shaping of our nation. These 55 Founding Fathers, though, made up the core.

The denominational affiliations of these men were a matter of public record. Among the delegates were 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics, 1 unknown, and only 3 deists--Williamson, Wilson, and Franklin--this at a time when church membership entailed a sworn public confession of biblical faith.

This is a revealing tally. It shows that the members of the Constitutional Convention, the most influential group of men shaping the political foundations of our nation, were almost all Christians, 51 of 55--a full 93%. Indeed, 70% were Calvinists (the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and the Dutch Reformed), considered by some to be the most extreme and dogmatic form of Christianity.

Benjamin Franklin

Even Franklin the deist is equivocal. He was raised in a Puritan family and later adopted then abandoned deism. Though not an orthodox Christian, it was 81-year-old Franklin's emotional call to humble prayer on June 28, 1787, that was the turning point for a hopelessly stalled Convention. James Madison recorded the event in his collection of notes and debates from the Federal Convention. Franklin's appeal contained no less than four direct references to Scripture.

And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this and I also believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.

Three of the four cornerstones of the Constitution--Franklin, Washington, and Madison--were firmly rooted in Christianity. But what about Thomas Jefferson? His signature cannot be found at the end of the Constitution, but his voice permeates the entire document.

Thomas Jefferson

Though deeply committed to a belief in natural rights, including the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, Jefferson was individualistic when it came to religion; he sifted through the New Testament to find the facts that pleased him.

Sometimes he sounded like a staunch churchman. The Declaration of Independence contains at least four references to God. In his Second Inaugural Address he asked for prayers to Israel's God on his behalf. Other times Jefferson seemed to go out of his way to be irreverent and disrespectful of organized Christianity, especially Calvinism.

It's clear that Thomas Jefferson was no evangelical, but neither was he an Enlightenment deist. He was more Unitarian than either deist or Christian.

This analysis, though, misses the point. The most important factor regarding the faith of Thomas Jefferson--or any of our Founding Fathers--isn't whether or not he had a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The debate over the religious heritage of this country is not about who is ultimately going to heaven, but rather about what the dominant convictions were that dictated the structure of this nation.

Even today there are legions of born-again Christians who have absolutely no skill at integrating their beliefs about Christ with the details of their daily life, especially their views of government. They may be "saved," but they are completely ineffectual as salt and light.

By contrast, some of the Fathers may not have been believers in the narrowest sense of the term, yet in the broader sense--the sense that influences culture--their thinking was thoroughly Christian. Unlike many evangelicals who live lives of practical atheism, these men had political ideals that were deeply informed by a robust Christian world view. They didn't always believe biblically, having a faith leading to salvation, but almost all thought biblically, resulting in a particular type of government.

Thomas Jefferson was this kind of man. In Defending the Declaration, legal historian Gary Amos observes, "Jefferson is a notable example of how a man can be influenced by biblical ideas and Christian principles even though he never confessed Jesus Christ as Lord in the evangelical sense."

What Did the Founding Fathers Believe and Value?

When you study the documents of the Revolutionary period, a precise picture comes into focus. Here it is:

  • Virtually all those involved in the founding enterprise were God-fearing men in the Christian sense; most were Calvinistic Protestants.
  • The Founders were deeply influenced by a biblical view of man and government. With a sober understanding of the fallenness of man, they devised a system of limited authority and checks and balances.
  • The Founders understood that fear of God, moral leadership, and a righteous citizenry were necessary for their great experiment to succeed.
  • Therefore, they structured a political climate that was encouraging to Christianity and accommodating to religion, rather than hostile to it.
  • Protestant Christianity was the prevailing religious view for the first 150 years of our history.

However...

  • The Fathers sought to set up a just society, not a Christian theocracy.
  • They specifically prohibited the establishment of Christianity--or any other faith--as the religion of our nation.

A Two-Sided Coin


We can safely draw two conclusions from these facts, which serve to inform our understanding of the relationship between religion and government in the United States.

First, Christianity was the prevailing moral and intellectual influence shaping the nation from its outset. The Christian influence pervaded all aspects of life, from education to politics. Therefore, the present concept of a rigid wall of separation hardly seems historically justified.

Virtually every one of the Founders saw a vital link between civil religion and civil government. George Washington's admonitions in his Farewell Speech, September 19, 1796, were characteristic of the general sentiment:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports....And let us indulge with caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.

Second, the Founders stopped short of giving their Christian religion a position of legal privilege. In the tradition of the early church, believers were to be salt and light. The First Amendment insured the liberty needed for Christianity to be a preserving influence and a moral beacon, but it also insured Christianity would never be the law of the land.

This ought to call into serious question a common tactic of the so-called Religious Right. "We were here first," their apologists proclaim. "Our country was stolen from us, and we demand it back." Author John Seel calls this "priority as entitlement."

The sad fact of the matter is that cultural authority was not stolen from us; we surrendered it through neglect. Os Guinness pointed out that Christians have not been out-thought. Rather, they have not been around when the thinking was being done.

Choosing cultural monasticism rather than hard-thinking advocacy, Christians abandoned the public square to the secularists. When the disciples of Jesus Christ retreated, the disciples of Dewey, Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, Skinner, and a host of others replaced them.

Seel warns of the liability of an "appeal to history as a basis of Christian grounds to authority." Playing the victim will not restore our influence, nor will political strong-arm tactics. Shouldn't our appeal rather be on the basis of truth rather than on the patterns of the past?

The faith of our Founding Fathers was Christianity, not deism. In this regard, many secularists--and even some Christians--have been wrong in their assessment of our history. On the other hand, many Christians have also been mistaken in their application of the past to the present.

Christians have no special privileges simply because Christianity was America's first faith. "If America ever was or ever will be a 'Christian nation,'" Seel observes, "it is not by conscious design or written law, but by free conviction."

Success for the Christian cannot be measured in numbers or political muscle, but only in faithfulness. Our most important weapon is not our voting power, but the power of the truth freely spoken and freely heard.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Biblical Faith: Trusting

I spoke again on Sunday wrapping up a two-week series on what the Bible says about faith. You can listen to the audio by clicking on this link through the Mount of Olives website next to the Jesus mug titled "Live Your Faith." I finished up by showing how simply believing just doesn't quite cut it. As James said in his letter from the New Testament, "You say you believe in the one true God, well good for you. Even the demons believe and shudder." Go ahead, take a listen and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 4 of 7

Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 1 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 2 of 7
Islam: Religion of Peace? Part 3 of 7

THE SUNNA OF MUHAMMAD

Nevertheless, perhaps these violent verses are simply taken out of context. We need only look to Muhammad to find out since the most telling indication of how these verses are to be interpreted comes from examining the sunna of the Prophet himself. If anyone knows the proper context of these verses and how they should be applied it is Muhammad. After all, Muhammad is the receiver of these revelations and the restorer of true monotheism by the commissioning of Allah. He is the final and greatest prophet to mankind and the example which one and a half billion Muslims seek to emulate in their everyday life. He is held by Muslims to be beyond sin and the perfect moral example for humankind. Kamal ud Din ad Damiri states, “Mohammed is the most favored of mankind, the most honored of all apostles, the prophet of mercy…He is the best of prophets, and his nation is the best of nations;…He was perfect in intellect, and was of noble origin. He had an absolutely graceful form, complete generosity, perfect bravery, excessive humility, useful knowledge…perfect fear of God and sublime piety. He was the most eloquent and the most perfect of mankind in every variety of perfection.”(1) In order to find out if this is really the case we need to turn to our primary text on the matter, the Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq. It is important to remember that this biography is not some foreign text written by a disenchanted, anti-Islamic apologist in an attempt to discredit the Prophet. It is a very open, honest, and early look into the life of the prophet Muhammad written by one of his own followers. In reading this account the question must be asked, “Is this the life of a man beyond sin who sets the moral example which we are to emulate?”

THE SIRAT RASUL ALLAH: VIOLENCE PERSONIFIED

The Sirat Rasul Allah by Ibn Ishaq is a biography filled with violence, assassinations, and constant warfare. It is nearly 700 pages in length and yet the majority of the text, nearly 500 pages, focuses exclusively on the last ten years of Muhammad’s life in the city of Medina. It is during this Medinian period that numerous examples of violence and Jihad can be found. Therefore, because this Medinian period is the heart of the biography it should also be the focal point in examining the sunna of Muhammad. This period establishes the context in which the violent verses in the Qur’an were revealed and gives insight into the life of the Prophet himself.

Medina was a city filled with numerous indigenous Arab clans. Conflict in the city arose between the Jewish settlers and Arab immigrants of the tribes of al-Aws and al-Khazraj. Prior to Muhammad’s coming these quarrels had resulted in bloodshed and instability. Muhammad was seen as a wise and just outsider who could arbitrate and establish order.(2) He wrote the constitution of Medina(3) which regulated relations between the Arab clans and Muhammad’s followers. It states, “A believer shall not slay a believer…Believers are friends one to the other to the exclusion of outsiders…The believers must avenge the blood of one another shed in the way of God.”(4) It was during this period that Muhammad began his raiding campaigns that would continue in the following years. Ibn Ishaq tells us, “Then the apostle prepared for war in pursuance of God’s command to fight his enemies and to fight those polytheists who were near at hand whom God commanded him to fight.”(5) In approximately 623 A.D., Muhammad and his men began their raids of Meccan caravans with divine approval. However, the Prophet and his followers were unsuccessful in their first three raids. It was not until early 624 A.D. when they had their first success in raiding a caravan near Mecca, killing one man and taking two prisoners. The success of this raid was due in large part to the fact that it took place during the holy month of Ramadan and was not expected. Bloodshed during this month was to be avoided and Muhammad immediately began to receive criticism. Fortunately for Muhammad, he received a revelation from Allah justifying his raid. Sura 2:217 reads, “They ask thee concerning fighting in the Prohibited Month. Say: ‘Fighting therein is a grave (offence); but graver is it in the sight of Allah to prevent access to the path of Allah, to deny Him, to prevent access to the Sacred Mosque and drive out its members.’ Tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter.” Muhammad continued receiving these convenient revelations, suitable to the needs of the moment, which allowed him to establish political, legal, and military power and authority.
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(1) As quoted in Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 174.

(2) Trifkovic, 35.

(3) Ibn Ishaq, 231.

(4) Ibid., 232.

(5) Ibid., 280.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Sharia Law Comes to Michigan

(www.answeringmuslims.com) David Wood

Watch this Video!

video

A Detailed Explanation of the Video

On June 21st, I moderated a peaceful public debate between Mary Jo Sharp and Ehteshaam Gulam. After the debate, Nabeel, Mary Jo, and I went to the Dearborn Arab Festival, which had already become an open celebration of persecution against Christians. The festival organizers had declared that Christians could not distribute materials on the public sidewalks or street, and, when the matter was brought before the courts, the judge agreed that Christians could not freely distribute information during the festival. (Note: This decision has been defended in the media by claiming that the “no-distributing-materials” rule applied to everyone, and therefore wasn’t unfair to Christians. However, anyone who was at the festival knows that this is not true. People were walking up and down the sidewalks distributing pamphlets and brochures, right in front of security. The rule was only enforced against Christians, and therefore only the rights of Christians were violated.)

Muslim security guards (one of whom had “Hezbollah” tattooed down his forearm) took things a step further and wouldn’t even allow Christians to talk about their beliefs openly. Security guards also repeatedly entrapped Christians in an attempt to get us to violate the court order.

This even happened to me, despite the fact that I wasn’t talking to anyone about Christianity or Islam. I had a pamphlet in my front pocket, and one of the Muslim security guards walked up to me and said, “That looks like a really interesting pamphlet. Could I have it?” She even had her walkie-talkie in hand! Fortunately, I had already heard about this woman and other Muslim security guards doing this repeatedly at the festival, so I didn’t fall for it. That’s when Nabeel and Mary Jo entered the tent in an attempt to question a group of Muslims about a horribly inaccurate pamphlet they were distributing. What happened next may be outlined as follows:

  • We see a booth that is specifically for answering questions people have about Islam.
  • Nabeel walks up to the booth and attempts to ask a question.
  • When the Muslims don’t want to talk on camera, Nabeel begins walking away.
  • One of the Muslims (a former member of Tupac’s crew!) then invites Nabeel back for a dialogue.
  • Security grabs our camera and forces MJ to turn it off. Security then breaks up the discussion, despite the fact that the Muslims at the booth agreed that we could record the conversation.
  • We leave the tent and ask a police officer if we are free to record; he responds that we are in a public area and can record all we want. He also says that it is illegal for anyone to touch our cameras or force us to turn them off.
  • We walk up to some non-Muslim security guards and ask if we can record a dialogue; they reply in the affirmative.
  • Nabeel attempts to reestablish the discussion, but this time the Muslims at the booth don’t want to talk on camera.
  • We leave the booth, and I see the woman who had grabbed the camera and forced MJ to turn it off. I begin recording the woman (in case we need to identify her later), at which point she gets on her walkie-talkie and informs her fellow Muslim security guards that we are harassing her.
  • Following their pattern of entrapping Christians at the festival, the Muslim security guards convince two teenagers to strike up a conversation with Nabeel and snatch a pamphlet from his hand.
  • While one of the teens distracts Nabeel with a conversation, the other snatches the pamphlet from Nabeel's hands.
  • Within seconds we’re surrounded by a mob of Muslim security guards.
  • The Muslim security force slaps our cameras, threatens us, shouts profanity at us, openly proclaims that our rights as Americans are meaningless, pushes us, kicks and tries to trip Nabeel, and lies to the police.
  • The head of security then informs the police that we must be removed from the festival.
Fortunately, we got most of this on tape! See the video at the top.

Now think about this. We insisted on our Constitutional rights to (i) ask a question at a booth, and (ii) record in a public place. This was enough to get us banned from a public sidewalk in Dearborn, Michigan (the city with the highest percentage of Muslims in the U.S.). By comparison, the Muslim security guards openly harassed, intimidated, bullied, threatened, entrapped, and assaulted Christians; they openly proclaimed that they don’t care about our rights as American citizens; they used profanity as they insulted us; they lied to police. This behavior was perfectly welcome in Dearborn, even at a family festival! (There were other examples of open hatred as well.)

I have contacted the Arab Chamber of Commerce (the organization responsible for planning the festival, selecting the security team, and deciding that Christians are no longer free to distribute information in public places). I have asked for an apology and for their thoughts on how such horrendous treatment of Christians will be avoided in the future. They have not responded.

Going back to the time of Muhammad, whenever the population of Muslims becomes significant, followers of other religions are suppressed, and the proclamation of non-Muslim beliefs is forbidden. This second-class status for non-Muslims is prescribed by Sharia, and the victims are called "dhimmis." Welcome to Sharia in the United States, my friends.