Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Doing Unto My Political Other: 7 Suggestions for Christians in the Public Square

(Scriptoriumdaily.com) written by John Mark Reynolds

Rhetoric detached from morality harms people and societies.

Political talk has had an ugly side, but things are getting worse. Hateful talk is no longer underground, but practiced openly and shamelessly. Mainstream politicians are more willing to tolerate association with fringe rhetoric.

Why is this so?


Is There a Breakdown in Shared Ethics?


It is hard to talk to someone when you have nothing in common.

Some research suggests that Americans share many common values, but this research obscures differences in how we prioritize values when goods come into conflict. For example, most American value personal liberty, but when it comes to health care many Americans place a lower priority on this than on a strong social safety net. Those that make the opposite choice, valuing liberty over services, seem cruel to the other camp.

They agree on the values, but have fundamental differences on how to apply them.

Persistent and pervasive ethical differences can begin to strain the republic’s politics by discouraging compromise. When the gap between our assumptions and our opponents grows too large, our opponents become not just wrong, but perverse or wicked. Nobody hastens to compromise with the immoral!

The results are bad when pressed to an extreme. Some Americans will not even listen to a fair exposition of moral views with which they disagree, even if the majority of the nation believes them.

American Christians should not behave this way. Jesus called us to love our enemies in a nation ruled by cruel Caesars. Any religion that can love Tiberius can surely find room to love Obama or Gingrich.


Seven Suggestions for Political Discourse


Living in a republic means making political decisions. From Socrates to Reagan, wise political heads have given good advice on how to conduct oneself in public life. I don’t always live up to their wisdom, but these ideas are worthy goals.

Be slow to speak.


The new media environment lends itself to haste. We size up a candidate or a policy in the blink of an eye and few encourage us to reevaluate the situation. “Blinking” may sometimes be necessary in a crisis, but it is a horrific way to form our general principles and opinions.

Strong opinions encourage authentic dialogue.


One bad reaction to a toxic political environment is to develop mushy and “inoffensive” public opinions, but it is hard to talk to people who will not say what they really think. We should argue hard for our ideas in the public square and see how things turn out.

Arguing forcefully helps minority opinions get a hearing. If we relegate ourselves to safe discourse, the tendency is to repeat what the present cultural power brokers accept with small variations.

Attacking ideas is different than attacking people.


Ideas have no feelings, but people do. Hurtful talk about actual people, and the President and Glenn Beck are real people, ought to be merited by their actual behavior. We must weigh harm done to their persons against harm they are doing. While it ought to be legal to call the President the “Antichrist,” nobody should do it without overwhelming proof.

An actual Hitler or Stalin (in the modern context one thinks North Korea’s Dear Leader) is a worthy target for pointed personal barbs, but the local zoning board member rarely is. American politicians are often wrong, but it is hard to think of any that merit comparison to the Taliban or to the present Chinese oligarchs.

Those are real bad guys.

Authenticity is useful, but posturing is not.


Few things are more irritating than reading a piece that seems written to get the writer “good-guy” points with the establishment in his or her own group. This happens on both the left and right and is a temptation for all of us. Instead of saying what we think, we write to curry favor with our betters in hopes of praise or reward.

Anti-intellectualism prevents discussion.


The United States is not a pure democracy for the very good reason that a majority of the people can be and often are wrong. Democracy killed Socrates and mob rule in France killed liberty during the French Revolution.

Experts are not always right, but they usually are. Christians have always understood that a calling to leadership most often requires intense training and hard work. We are people of the Book and thus long for literate leaders as well. An excellent model was an Englishman whose work helped shape American culture: John Wesley.

The great evangelist and shaper of English culture John Wesley was at home in the pulpits of Oxford and on the streets. He was well educated and could argue well, but also knew how to move men’s hearts. There is no anti-intellectualism to be found in Wesley and he was no blind admirer of popular trends.

The recent trend to worship the whims of the mob, even the Christian mob, smacks more of Robespierre than Wesley.

Intellectualism prevents authentic discussion.


Just as bad is the posture that feigns intellectual interest, but never really listens to opponents.

President Obama has done a good job talking about finding common ground, but he has sometimes communicated a sneering attitude towards those who persist in disagreeing with him. He is not alone in this attitude as many in the cultural elite confuse their own jargon with knowledge and professional skills with wisdom.

It is easy to confuse the trappings of intellectuals with being an intellectual. Mainstream media often is more interested in someone sounding “smart” than in his or her actual accomplishments. Especially if accent or ethnicity does not fit stereotypes of intellectual achievement the candidate will face a higher barrier to acceptance. Having the “right opinions” also allows for a greater pass from the media in this area. A medical doctor like Tom Coburn is not given the same presumption of intellectual acumen as people with “better” opinions.

Sometimes commentators confuse intellectual achievements with wisdom. University or college education is valuable, but it is not the only way to learn important truths. In particular there is no evidence that most American college education by itself is making us wiser. Wisdom can exist in many different types of people and can be gained from many different kinds of experience.

Resentment of this intellectualism breeds more anti-intellectualism that in turn breeds more intellectualism. Real dialogue vanishes.

Be charitable in your assumptions about your opponent.


This last really sums up all the rest. It can be summed up in the wisdom of Jesus Christ that we should do to others what we wish they would do to us. Never was this advice more important for American Christians who are involved in politics.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

10 Arguments Thoughtful Atheists Won't Use

"Through countless discussions surrounding atheism, it has become apparent that someone must be feeding bad advice to atheists. Since the following errors are made repeatedly, this partial list has been populated to warn atheists of this underground movement in order for them to avoid these pitfalls. If you are an atheist and hear any of the following advice, realize that if used, it will be harmful to your cause." - Doug Eaton

video

Doug Eaton and the Apologetics.com staff dedicated an entire show to this issue.

Full MP3 audio here.

Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Where Have All the Christians Gone?

(FOXnews.com) Bruce Feiler

Christianity is plummeting in America, while the number of non-believers is skyrocketing.

A shocking new study of Americans’ religious beliefs shows the beginnings of a major realignment in Americans’ relationship with God. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reveals that Protestants now represent half of all Americans, down almost 20 percent in the last twenty years. In the coming months, America will become a minority Protestant nation for the first time since the pilgrims.

The number of people who claim no religious affiliation, meanwhile, has doubled since 1990 to fifteen percent, its highest point in history. Non-believers now represent the third-highest group of Americans, after Catholics and Baptists.

Other headlines:

1) The number of Christians has declined 12% since 1990, and is now 76%, the lowest percentage in American history.

2) The growth of non-believers has come largely from men. Twenty percent of men express no religious affiliation; 12% of women.

3) Young people are fleeing faith. Nearly a quarter of Americans in their 20’s profess no organized religion.

4) But these non-believers are not particularly atheist. That number hasn’t budged and stands at less than 1 percent. (Agnostics are similarly less than 1 percent.) Instead, these individuals have a belief in God but no interest in organized religion, or they believe in a personal God but not in a formal faith tradition.

The implications for American society are profound. Americans’ relationship with God, which drove many of the country’s great transformations from the pilgrims to the founding fathers, the Civil War to the civil rights movement, is still intact. Eighty-two percent of Americans believe in God or a higher power.

But at the same time, the study offers yet another wake-up call for religious institutions.

First, catering to older believers is a recipe for failure; younger Americans are tuning out.

Second, Americans are interested in God, but they don’t think existing institutions are helping them draw closer to God.

Finally, Americans’ interest in religion has not always been stable. It dipped following the Revolution and again following Civil War. In both cases it rebounded because religious institutions adapted and found new ways of relating to everyday Americans.

Today, the rise of disaffection is so powerful that different denominations needs to band together to find a shared language of God that can move beyond the fading divisions of the past and begin moving toward a partnership of different-but-equal traditions.

Or risk becoming Europe, where religion is fast becoming an afterthought.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Why Do the Heathen Rage? - International Blasphemy Day

(Albertmohler.com) written by Albert Mohler

Ready for a day to honor blasphemy? According to press reports, September 30 is set as the observance of the first-ever International Blasphemy Day. This could be interesting.

The choice of September 30 looks back to that date in the year 2005, when the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad's face sparked outcry and protests in the Muslim world and threats toward the West.

Now, as Religion News Service reports, the Center for Inquiry is planning a day of observances to mark the occasion. Ron Lindsay, a lawyer who serves as president of the Council for Inquiry International, said that the day was part of the group's effort to expose religious beliefs to investigation. In the words of the RNS report, the goal is "to expose all religious beliefs to the same level of inquiry, discussion and criticism to which other areas of intellectual interest are subjected."

Here is one feature of the day as planned by CFI:

You've never seen Jesus like this before: dripping red nail polish around the nails in his feet and hands, an irreverent riff on the crucifixion wounds. The provocative title of the painting: "Jesus Does His Nails." Blasphemous? Absolutely. Deliberately provocative? You bet.

Artist Dana Ellyn told RNS that she is an "agnostic atheist" whose purpose is to be provocative. "My point is not to offend, but I realize it can offend, because religion is such a polarizing topic," she said.

Among other things, CFI International also plans a "blasphemy contest," "in which participants are invited to submit phrases, poems, or statements that would be, or have been, considered blasphemous." Winners are to receive a t-shirt and mug.

Bet you can't wait to see those.

More seriously, participants are also to be encouraged to take up the "Blasphemy Challenge" in which individuals register their blasphemy in the face of Mark 3:29. In that verse, Jesus warns, "whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" [ESV]. Those who take up the "Blasphemy Challenge" record video submissions which must include the words, "I deny the Holy Spirit."

The Blasphemy Day events are certain to draw media attention, which is no doubt the whole point of the observance. That is how a group like CFI can gain publicity for itself and its cause.

How should Christians respond?

First, take no offense. Refuse to play into the game plan of those sponsoring International Blasphemy Day. The Lord Jesus Christ was and is despised and rejected of men. Our Lord bore the scorn heaped upon him by his enemies. Christianity is not an honor religion. Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are not commanded to defend his honor, but to be willing to share in the scorn directed to him. Is the servant greater than his master?

Islam is an honor religion, and the major forces in the world today seeking to criminalize blasphemy are Islamic. The riots on the streets of many nations in protest of the Danish cartoons do represent what faithful Muslims believe their religion requires them to do. Not so for Christianity. We must be those who take to the streets with the Gospel -- not with a defense of our honor or the honor of our Lord. When Christians forget this, we lose our Gospel witness. The history of the church includes far too many instances of this loss. We dare not add another.

Second, mourn the blasphemy. The warning of Jesus is clear -- blasphemy has eternal consequences. The worst form of blasphemy is the refusal to hear and believe the Gospel. For that sin there can be no forgiveness. We must mourn the blasphemy, not because honor is at stake, but because souls are at stake with eternal consequences. God will ultimately and perfectly defend his honor. On that day, there will be no escape for unrepentant blasphemers.

Third, see this observance for what it really is -- an unintended testimony to the existence of God and the foolishness of those who deny Him. The sheer foolishness of a blasphemy contest with t-shirts and mugs betrays the lunacy of it all. They can do no better than this? One testimony to the power of God is the fact that his self-declared enemies come off as so childish and manic. The heathen rage and God sees the foolish grasshoppers.

International Blasphemy Day will come and go. Take note, ponder its meaning . . . and skip the t-shirt.

Friday, September 25, 2009

10 Signs You May Have Just Entered...The Emergent Church Zone

Doug Eaton provides ten signs to watch for that may indicate the philosophy of postmodernism is creeping into your church...

Eight of these are self-refuting. See if you can spot them!

video

Who Wrote Hebrews According To An Infallible Magesterium?

(Aomin.org) written by James Swan

Recently, I came across a web page of a convert who appears to have been smitten by the popular Roman Catholic claim to canon certainty. How does one know who wrote particular books of the Bible without infallible Tradition? The answer must be: one couldn't know without an infallible church! Well, if the Roman Catholic Church has the power to declare biblical authorship, when they have sort of said who wrote what, I wonder if anyone takes such a declaration seriously. For instance, the Council of Trent stated,


"Of the New Testament: fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews."

Notice that last book and who they say wrote it? Eric Svendsen points out:


"Until the latter half of the fourth century the Western church almost unanimously resisted ascribing Pauline authorship to Hebrews [Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and the Muratorian Fragment all insist that Paul is not the author]. However, both Jerome and Augustine appealed to the Eastern Church's view that Paul wrote the epistle, and their view was eventually adopted at the Sixth Synod of Carthage in 419 A.D., and then reaffirmed at the Council of Trent. Yet, the number of New Testament scholars that would defend Pauline authorship today is practically nil." [Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers: A Critique of Current Roman Catholic Apologists (New York: Reformation Press, 1999), p.11].

I haven't found many Roman Catholics willing to defend the Pauline authorship of Hebrews. Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong distinguishes the author of Hebrews from Peter and Paul: "The author of Hebrews, like Peter and Paul...", and "St. Paul and the author of Hebrews." Similarly, a web search over on Catholic Answers will produce a myriad of hits referring to the "author of Hebrews," not Paul. Catholic Answers via This Rock states,

"Internal examination of [Hebrews] does show that it is in many ways different from the rest of Paul's writings. For example, it is more elegant, more eloquent, it does not carry the usual greeting and introduction, and it does not quote Scripture in the way Paul does. Its doctrine is Pauline but the way it is expounded makes it difficult to attribute its direct authorship to Paul."

When I've mentioned Trent's determination of Pauline authorship in the past, it was counter argued that such a statement from Trent is only infallible in the area of faith and morals. Well, who determines which is and which is not an element of faith or morals? Some Roman Catholics use canon arguments to prove the necessity of the Roman Church for any sort of certainty, hence they use it to argue for infallibility. So, the authorship of Hebrews would indeed then be a matter of faith and morals. This Rock answers the dilemma differently: "The letter's canonicity is not in doubt; it was included in the canon by the Council of Trent (8 April 1546) among the other writings of Paul, although the Council chose not to state categorically that it was written by Paul." What? When Trent says, "Of the New Testament: fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle" according to This Rock, this doesn't categorically state Paul wrote Hebrews. Once again, we see that infallible statements are open to interpretation. So much for the clarity of the Roman magisterium.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 3 of 3

A special thanks to Sean McDowell and Barb Sherrill of Harvest House Publishers for allowing us to re-post this series on Apologetic Junkie.

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

The following article is written by Alan Shlemon and is from Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell (Harvest House, 2009), used with permission.

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 1 of 3
Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 2 of 3


I recently taught on apologetics at a university. My goal was to show how to make our message persuasive, yet gracious. After the event, I stopped at a local coffee shop for a dose of caffeine before the long drive home.

The barista served up my coffee, then asked about my day. I told her I gave a talk about how Christians can share biblical truth in a more friendly, relational, and winsome manner. “Oh! You need to speak at my university,” she insisted. “We’re sick of ‘evangelistic alley.’ It’s a walkway in the center of campus where Christians hold signs and yell at students. Some of them shout that God is going to judge fags. There’s no discussion with them. They just want to be heard. You should teach them."

Though my heart sunk, I realized the barista was on to something. The Christians of “evangelistic alley” were settling for a short-term goal – declaring that homosexuality was sin that should be “repented” of – while squandering their long-term opportunities. Stopping sin can be worthwhile, but it isn’t the only goal. It certainly shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of making a more critical, long-term impact.

The long-term plan with homosexuals should be obvious – help them to know Christ. It’s the same strategy we have with any non-Christian regardless of their sin. But it’s not a quick process.[i] It rarely is with any non-Christian, but this is especially true with homosexuals. We often act, though, as if our most important goal is to change homosexual behavior in the short term rather than waiting patiently to make a more significant difference in the future.

God can give you opportunities to speak the truth with compassion anytime in a person’s life. Don’t try to make a moral statement today if it jeopardizes your chance of influencing them at a more opportune time tomorrow. Think long-term.[ii]

One time when I was teaching at a church on homosexuality, the parents of a 25-year-old gay man asked me for advice. “He wants to bring his boyfriend over for dinner,” they said, “but we told him that homosexuality is against God’s design. He can come over, but his boyfriend must wait somewhere else. They need to know where we stand.”

I’m sympathetic to their moral concern, but making a moral statement today might lessen their influence tomorrow. It’s also unnecessary. Their son already knows their view on homosexuality. Why hurt his feelings and alienate him? There may come a time when their son is disillusioned about his life and he’s more open to hearing the truth. If his parents have been careful not to judge and harass him unnecessarily,[iii] he’s more likely to turn to them for guidance. If, however, his parents have burned their bridges with him, he’s not likely to turn to them for advice.

Once, while teaching at a church on homosexuality, the parents of a lesbian woman approached me. They were pleasantly surprised by my emphasis on truth and compassion. As they told their story, however, it was clear to me they were living out this principle perfectly.

Their daughter lived at a substance-abuse group home with other gays and lesbians. Every weekend the parents invited their daughter and her gay friends to their home and treated them like family. Their daughter’s friends even called them mom and dad. Loving them was only the first step, though. These gays and lesbians needed both love and truth. So the parents invited them to church. After several months, the daughter and her friends accepted the offer because the parents showed them the kind of love and acceptance they’d expect from their own family. There wasn’t a misguided attempt to make a short-term statement, only the parents’ long-term plan to have an influence.

There may be times when you’re asked a direct question and you have no choice but to respond in a way that sounds offensive. Sometimes that’s unavoidable.[iv] But we don’t want to unnecessarily damage our relationship with gays and lesbians. Remember to focus on the influence you can have over the course of their life.


The Value of the New Approach

Homosexuality is here to stay. In fact, it’s becoming more a part of our culture every day. Each successive generation is more accepting of the gay lifestyle. Barna’s research found that, “People 35 and younger are…substantially more likely to consider homosexuality an acceptable lifestyle; and notably more likely to approve of clergy conducting or blessing gay marriages.” Barna concluded that, “Over the long term, we expect to see a growing acceptance of…homosexuality as Baby Busters and Mosaics, the youngest generation, become more influential in public policy and business policy."[v]

As a result, we need to know the truth and speak it with compassion more than ever.[vi] Our youth will be our future leaders. They’ll be our doctors, teachers, and lawyers. In 30 to 40 years, one of today’s youth will be leading our country as President. The minds of young people today carry ideas that will affect our world tomorrow. Although Barna’s findings paint a dim picture of our future, we can brighten our prospects by reaching out to young people in the right way. We’ll minimize the drastic changes that are expected in public policy as a result of the influence of pro-gay generations.

Young believers will also find this approach refreshing. Rather than being faced with the choice of keeping their faith or their gay friends, now they’ll keep both. Their lasting friendships will give them opportunities to graciously share their convictions – not only about homosexuality, but ultimately about Jesus.

The most important reason to use this new approach is this: We know it works. It’s been tried and tested. When we know the truth and speak it with compassion we see the difference it makes. We build lasting friendships with gay men and women. We improve our chances to communicate our convictions on homosexuality. Gays and lesbians reconsider their lifestyle. And people who thought Christians only hate homosexuals now know we care.

We still have a long way to go, but our journey now has more direction. Though we’re still locked and loaded, we’ve exchanged our bullets for truth and our clichés for compassion. Once ill-equipped to meet the challenge of homosexuality, now we’re ready to answer the gay community’s need for truth and healing. And though we forced Kyle back into the closet, our new approach will reach in to draw him out.

____________________________________________________

[i] Certainly some people turn to Jesus quickly, but this is the exception. It’s more common for people to take months or years before they follow Jesus.

[ii] If the opportunity arises when you can make a difference in the short-term, by all means take it. Don’t forsake the immediate opportunity just because you’re only thinking long-term.

[iii] Remember, you’re still likely to irritate people even if you make the right decision. Just don’t irritate them unnecessarily.

[iv] I’m not suggesting abandoning all your convictions to accommodate everything. You still have to stand for what is right and wrong. But take care not to needlessly alienate a gay or lesbian in your life just so things go your way. This will take discernment.

[v] “Born-Again Adults Remain Firm in Opposition to Abortion and Gay Marriage,” The Barna Group, July 23, 2001.

[vi] For more resources on how to live out this principle, see God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door: Reaching the Heart of the Gay Men and Women in Your World by Alan Chambers and 101 Frequently Asked Questions About Homosexuality by Mike Haley.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 2 of 3

A special thanks to Sean McDowell and Barb Sherrill of Harvest House Publishers for allowing us to re-post this series on Apologetic Junkie.

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

The following article is written by Alan Shlemon and is from Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell (Harvest House, 2009), used with permission.

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 1 of 3


Speak it with Compassion

There is one more critical element we need to add to temper our approach. If we know the truth and know how to help others see it, yet don’t communicate it in a way that shows we care, we’ll botch the whole thing. We need to exhibit empathy. It might be difficult for us to relate to having same-sex attractions, but we’ve all been in tough situations and struggled with things we knew were wrong. When we’re not compassionate, we come off as cold and harsh. We forget we’re talking to human beings who have feelings just like us.

The combination of truth and compassion works. It’s biblically consistent and cultivates healthy relationships with gays and lesbians. This is a delicate balance, though. If you come on too strong with your religious views, you’ll be labeled homophobic. If you get too friendly with the gay community, you’ll be tagged a compromiser by someone in the church. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can hold that homosexual behavior is wrong, but still have a Jesus-like influence on gays and lesbians by nurturing positive relationships with them.[i]

What does it look like to speak the truth with compassion? Three principles can help us live this out practically. One, treat homosexuals like you would anyone else. Two, don’t make the gospel more difficult than it is. And three, aim to make a long-term difference, not just a short-term statement.


Treat Homosexuals Like Anyone Else

This may seem like obvious advice, but the truth is many Christians act differently around homosexuals. They get uneasy. Their non-verbal communication, their behavior, and the direction of their conversation all change.

When gay men and women come to church, we create new rules. I remember teaching at a church that asked a lesbian to change seats because she was sitting next to another female. That’s strange. I doubt this church splits up people who gossip. It’s unlikely they ask unmarried couples living together to sit in different sections. Why treat a gay person any differently?

The simple answer is, we shouldn’t. We should treat homosexuals as we would any other person. Show them the same dignity, kindness, and respect you would show someone who isn’t gay. Here are two specific suggestions for doing this.

First, make friends with a gay man or woman. Get to know them personally, their dreams, their fears, and their challenges. Play tennis with them. Go to their social gatherings. Get to know their families and friends. Be vulnerable about your own struggles and failings. When you treat them like your other friends, they’re likely to reciprocate. They’ll be vulnerable too.

I know this may sound radical to some, but it’s very powerful. I remember one friendship I had with a gay man. Though he knew about my Christian beliefs, I was sensitive not to bring up homosexuality unless it came up naturally in conversation. I simply focused on our friendship, just the way I would with any other person.

Then one day he brought up his own doubts about the gay lifestyle. He asked me about his options. He asked me about Christianity. That’s when knowing the truth – and how to defend it – really helped. We talked for hours about his lifestyle, the truth of Jesus, and where his life was headed. That kind of vulnerability and honesty is what you can expect from a real friendship. When we treat gays and lesbians like anyone else, we build relationships that create healthy intimacy. This increases our ability to make a difference in their lives.

A friend of mine made great friendships with two gay men he worked with, even though he was outspoken about his Christian convictions. He never tried to change them, confront their behavior, or hammer them about their lifestyle. Instead, he treated them like his other friends and waited patiently for an opportunity.

One day his gay friends approached him. “You’re different from other Christians we know. Most harass us about being gay, but you treat us like your other friends. We appreciate that.” From that point on, his relationship with them turned a corner. There was a new level of honesty in their conversation that allowed my friend to share the truth about this faith with them.

Second, don’t expect homosexuals to change their lifestyle before they come to church. Several years ago, two gay men showed up to a church. They walked in, holding hands, and sat down. People next to them went ballistic. “That’s disgusting,” they snickered. I realize it’s difficult for some believers to tolerate homosexual affection, but they should be grateful those men even came to church. Besides, gay men and women don’t need to come to church after they’re gay, but because they’re gay. We’re all guilty; we all need transformation and forgiveness. Gays and lesbians are no less welcome than gossipers and gluttons.

By treating homosexuals like anyone else, you create opportunities to speak the truth. This first principle can be put another way: When it comes to homosexuals, our desire for them is not heterosexuality, but holiness. We’re not trying to make gays straight. We’re trying to lead them straight to Jesus, just like we would anyone else. Once they trust Him, He transforms their life from the inside out. So to know the truth isn’t merely about the truth of homosexuality – whether it’s right or wrong – but the truth of Jesus and His power to transform men and women.


Don’t Make the Gospel More Difficult than It Is

“The gospel is offensive enough,” Gregory Koukl of Stand to Reason says. “Don’t add any more offense to it.” The basic Gospel message is the bad news of sin and judgment before the good news of grace. We all need a pardon. That message doesn’t initially give people a warm, fuzzy feeling. In fact, it’s offensive to most people. That’s a big reason so many reject Jesus. We should never remove the offense that’s inherent to the Gospel, but there’s no need to make it more difficult than it already is.

Here are a few ways we can apply this principle. First, let’s stop saying we’re “anti-homosexual.” The Bible isn’t anti-homosexual; it’s anti-homosexual behavior. This is a critical difference. When asked, “Are you anti-homosexual?” it’s better to be precise. Answer that you have nothing against homosexuals[ii] – your concern is their behavior. Christians are not anti-drunks. We’re against drunkenness. We’re not anti-liars. We think lying is wrong. We’re not against the person who sins. Rather, we oppose the sinful behavior. Following Jesus’ example, we love and care for people regardless of their shortcomings. Saying we’re anti-homosexual confuses the issue and compounds an already difficult situation.

Second, let’s avoid offensive ways of presenting our arguments. A common tactic to respond to the since-homosexuality-is-natural-it-must-be-moral argument is to offer a counterexample. “Well, pedophilia is natural to some people, but that doesn’t make it moral.” Though this response might be technically sound, it is unnecessarily harsh and often misunderstood. People erroneously infer that you mean homosexuals are pedophiles. An alternative and less crass response might be to ask, “If lying to keep yourself out of trouble was natural, would that make it right?” This counterexample makes the same point, but without the offensive content.

Third, don’t treat homosexual behavior as the most detestable crime against God. When we make it the supreme evil, we add unnecessary offense. Gays will conclude that we think all sin is bad, but their sin is the worst. And if their sin is the worst, then they’ll conclude they are the worst. The Bible doesn’t teach, however, that homosexuality is the greatest evil. In fact, it’s listed right along side other “ordinary” sins like stealing, coveting, getting drunk, and lying.[iii]

Next, don’t call homosexuality a choice. It’s not. This is hard to swallow for many Christians. Although homosexual behavior is a choice, homosexual attraction is not. While I have no reason to think there’s a “gay gene,” I don’t believe people choose to be attracted to the same sex. Homosexual attraction is a condition that often begins to develop at a very young age – too early to be a product of choice.[iv]

When you say, “Homosexuality is a choice,” this is a tip-off that you don’t understand homosexuality or homosexuals. It becomes obvious you have no idea what gays and lesbians experience. “You think it’s a choice?” they ask. “Why would I ever choose to be gay? It’s too hard and painful to be gay in this world. I would never choose this for myself.” Not only are they offended, they’ll disqualify other things you say because you don’t understand them. You’ll lose your ability to be an influence.

Sometimes even saying homosexual behavior is a choice will not get you off the hook because it’s too easily misunderstood. The problem is the word “choice,” in this context, carries with it the idea of choosing one’s sexual orientation. My suggestion: Avoid the word “choice” all together when talking about homosexuality. It’s too confusing.

Finally, avoid the cliché, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” It rarely gives hope to gay men and women. One former gay man confessed that he could never process this statement when Christians said it.[v] Gays don’t see themselves as people who struggle with a homosexual problem. Being gay is who they are, not just what they do. Telling them that God hates their sin strikes at the core of who they perceive themselves to be. It’s unhelpful and produces the opposite effect you intend.

Now that we know what not to do, let’s talk about our strategy to move us forward.

________________________________________________

[i] As one who has worked hard to have a Jesus-like influence in the gay community, I can assure you I’ve been accused of being both homophobic and compromising at different times. One thing is for certain, you won’t be able to please everyone, nor should it be your goal. I’m not suggesting you disregard everyone’s feedback, but you will have to endure many unfair criticisms. Make it a priority to pray and ask for wisdom and discernment to determine how to handle each situation. You’ll also need to have a group of people who you can bounce ideas off of. I’d strongly recommend including people who are not only spiritually mature, but have significant knowledge or experience with this subject (i.e. former homosexuals, people committed to homosexual ministry, and friends/family of homosexuals). This will help you navigate difficult decisions you’ll undoubtedly have to make.

[ii] I don’t mean that homosexual thoughts, feelings, and attractions are normal or healthy. Like other thoughts and temptations, they can lead to sin. The distinction I’m making is important, though, because it helps us avoid the perception that we are against homosexual individuals.

[iii] 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

[iv] I’m not suggesting people are born with homosexuality, but that it’s developmental. The causes and influences happen before the child is making conscious decisions on such matters. To gain insight into factors that lead to homosexuality I’d recommend reading Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Santinover, You Don’t Have to Be Gay by Jeff Konrad and A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality by Joseph Nicolosi, or his more scholarly work, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach. See also NARTH’s website at www.narth.com.

[v] I owe this insight to Mike Haley, head of the Homosexuality and Gender Issues Department at Focus on the Family.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Homosexuality: Know the Truth, Speak it with Compassion Part 1 of 3

A special thanks to Sean McDowell and Barb Sherrill of Harvest House Publishers for allowing us to re-post this series on Apologetic Junkie.

(Conversantlife.com) Sean McDowell

The following article is written by Alan Shlemon and is from Apologetics for a New Generation, edited by Sean McDowell (Harvest House, 2009), used with permission.


It’s not surprising people think Christians hate homosexuals. They see how we often treat them.

Kyle’s sad story was one I’d heard before. After 25 years of deep immersion in the gay lifestyle, he wanted out. His choice to follow Jesus meant a day-to-day struggle to stay celibate because simply becoming a Christian didn’t change his same-sex desires. With God’s help though, he was winning the battle.

Kyle thought his church would be a safe harbor during the storm. When he “came out” to his pastor and a counselor, though, both told him to never speak of his plight again. His church forced him back into the closet.

Fifteen years of celibacy later, Kyle came out a second time. Surely things have changed, he thought. It must be safe now. After all, everyone has struggles and temptations. This time he hoped his new church would come alongside and pray for him. But he was mistaken. They turned a blind eye to his struggle, discouraged him from serving, and relegated him to attending and tithing.


Back into the Closet

Our formula for gays[i] is predictable: Condemn and convert. Rebuke their behavior, blast them with the Bible, and then try to win them over with a cliché.

“Sodomy is sin,” we proclaim. Then we quote our “clobber passage,” a verse that condemns homosexuals or even commands their execution.[ii] “But there’s hope,” we reassure them. “God hates the sin, but He loves the sinner.” That’s not what they hear, though. They hear, “God hates the sin and He hates the sinner.”

Armed with Bible verses for bullets, we’re locked and loaded, ready to fire at the first sign of a homosexual. But there’s no grace in a gunshot. Instead of offering hope and healing, we inflict more injury.

We shouldn’t be surprised when gays go back into the closet after they try to come out in the church. Worse, many go back into the lifestyle, sometimes through a “gay church” that shows them the love, grace, and respect they had hoped to get from us.[iii]

Predictably, younger people often perceive Christianity negatively. The Barna Group, a research organization that focuses on religious cultural trends, found that young people think Christians aren’t merely opposed to homosexuality, but show “excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians.” Ninety-one percent of young non-Christians and 80% of young church-goers perceive Christianity as “anti-homosexual.”[iv]

More tragically, Barna found that younger Christians complained their church failed to help them apply biblical principles to their friendships with gays. Young people lack arguments and tactics needed to maneuver in conversation and navigate moral dilemmas in a thoughtful, but loving way. Consequently, young people think they must choose between their faith and their friends who are gay. If their friendships mean more to them than their theology, they will choose their friends over their faith every time.

Something is wrong here. Clearly, we need a new approach. Our young people think they’re faced with a difficult moral dilemma. But they don’t have to abandon their gay friends just because homosexuality is wrong. There is a third option, but it’s something that’s rarely taught or modeled in church.


Know the Truth

Our new approach incorporates two key elements: truth and compassion. Truth speaks to the content of our message. Compassion addresses the manner in which it’s conveyed. It’s a winning combination based on principles found in 1 Peter 3:15 – defend the truth, yet with gentleness and respect.

Truth starts with a biblical understanding of homosexuality. Although there are six main passages on the subject,[v] for strategic reasons I recommend using Romans 1:26-27 as your primary text. Since it’s in the New Testament, you sidestep the challenge that the Old Testament verses don’t apply to us today.[vi] Romans also addresses both male and female homosexuality and outlines the real problem: rebellion against God and rejection of His created order. This makes it difficult to argue that the behavior condemned in the passage is something other than homosexuality.[vii]

Knowing the biblical truth about homosexuality is important because many people deny that God condemns homosexual behavior. Indeed, they go to great lengths to reinterpret those six passages.[viii]

Although they’re not successful, their claims sound appealing to people who don’t carefully interpret the Bible. If we learn and understand these verses, it’s easy to clear up this distortion.

Religious arguments, however, are often immediately dismissed by non-Christians. So knowing the truth doesn’t mean we learn only biblical arguments. An effective strategy also incorporates secular arguments. This includes appeals to natural law, the common good, and public health.[ix]

If you can base your views on evidence that make sense even to non-religious people, you’ll be able to speak with anyone. Getting them to consider your ideas can be difficult, though. That’s why it’s critical to present our views in a conversational manner. We’re not typically trained to do that. Too often we try to persuade by making statements instead of asking questions. This immediately raises defenses. Suppose you’re discussing whether homosexuality is genetic and say, “Even if being gay is genetic, it doesn’t mean that it’s right.” Your friend replies with, “Sure it does! I can’t deny how I’ve been created.” Now what? Another statement? Their defenses are up, and the conversation grinds to a halt.

Questions, on the other hand, are friendly and more engaging. They invite discussion. Rephrase your statement with a question: “I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Can you tell me why you think if something is genetic, then it must be right?” This is disarming. It doesn’t provoke the same knee-jerk reaction. Instead, there’s a give and take. People naturally respond to questions and the discussion moves along. Or, you can gently challenge their belief with a question like: “Do you think any behavior is morally appropriate simply because it has a genetic link?” Notice that even though you’re asking a question, you’re still making your point. Just because a behavior has a genetic component, that doesn’t make it right. Making your point with a question sounds friendlier.

Another way to incorporate questions into your conversation is to use the “burden of proof” rule. Applying this rule makes discussions about homosexuality less difficult and more engaging. The burden of proof is simply the responsibility to give proof – credible reasons – in favor of a point of view. The rule is simple: The person who offers an opinion bears the burden to give reasons for it. If they make a claim, it is their job to defend it, not yours to refute it. Too often Christians ignore this rule. Someone says something like, “Christianity is a homophobic religion,” and off we go defending ourselves. This is unnecessary. Why should we do all the work when they made the statement? Since they made the claim, it’s their job to defend it.

Simply ask, “How did you come to that conclusion?” or “What reasons do you have for thinking that’s true?” Then sit back and quietly listen. The question gently shifts the burden back where it belongs – on the person who made the claim. It asks them to give reasons for their view, which is a legitimate request. It also makes our job easier by taking the pressure off us to respond.

Questions allow us to make our points and advance the discussion in disarming ways. When we incorporate questions, our discussions about homosexuality become less intimidating. We can make our points without sounding like we are simply pushing our views on others. And we spend less time in the “hot seat” responding to claims we have no obligation to address.

___________________________________________________

[i] Although I use the terms “homosexual” and “gay” interchangeably in this chapter, I believe they have different meanings. “Homosexual” describes a person with predominately same-sex attractions. “Gay” is a social term to describe a homosexual who affirms the homosexual orientation as their identity. While all gays are homosexual, not all homosexuals are gay. Some homosexuals, although they have same-sex attractions, reject the gay identity.

[ii] Leviticus 20:13.

[iii] By love and grace, I don’t mean agreement with the gay lifestyle. Many people like Kyle don’t even get basic respect.

[iv] “A New Generation Expresses its Skepticism and Frustration with Christianity,” The Barna Update, The Barna Group, September 24, 2007.

[v] Genesis 19:4-8, Leviticus 18:22, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:8-11.

[vi] Some pro-gay theology advocates suggest that the Old Testament passages that condemn homosexual behavior do not apply to New Testament Christians. Regardless of the whether this argument is valid, the Romans passage sidesteps this objection.

[vii] The 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy passages merely name homosexuality as sin. Moreover, the Greek word translated homosexuality is a word coined by Paul and, according to pro-gay theology advocates, does not necessarily mean homosexuality (I disagree with this conclusion, however). Consequently, these New Testament passages are more prone to being reinterpreted as referring to some other sin. That’s why it may save you unnecessary debate by focusing on the Romans passage.

[viii] For a refutation of pro-gay theology, see The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible by Joe Dallas. Dallas is not only a former gay man, but was also involved in the pro-gay theology movement. His treatment is truthful and compassionate.

[ix] For an introduction in these arguments, I’d recommend Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth by Jeffrey Santinover, Homosexuality and American Public Life by Christopher Wolfe, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-sex Marriage and Parenting by Glenn T. Stanton and Bill Maier, and articles on Stand to Reason’s website www.str.org.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

John Calvin On Total Depravity

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.

Total Depravity: This doctrine teaches there is no part of our human nature which has not been affected by the taint of sin. Our intellect, emotions, will, and even physical bodies, have been corrupted by the Fall.

As a point of clarification, total depravity does not mean that humanity is as bad as possible or that no good in any sense can be done by unbelievers (though ultimately any good that does come about should be attributed to God's grace). Rather, it means that in the natural fallen state we are born into we are unable to do any spiritual good that will please God and we cannot come to God by our own strength. This is why some theologians refer to this point, perhaps more accurately, as total inability.

Scripture teaches that in our fallen state we are dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1-2) and slaves to sin (John 8:34). Unbelievers are said to be "darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart" (Eph. 4:18). Paul says that "those who are in the flesh cannot please God" (Rom. 8:8) and Isaiah states that "all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment" (Isa. 64:6). This is why Jesus said, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44). (1)

All quotes are from the Battles translation, edited by John T. McNeill. Enjoy!

John Calvin on Spiritual Warfare

JOHN CALVIN ON TOTAL DEPRAVITY

2.1.2 - Man by nature inclines to deluded self-admiration

Here, then, is what God's truth requires us to seek in examining ourselves: it requires the kind of knowledge that will strip us of all confidence in our own ability, deprive us of all occasion for boasting, and lead us to submission...There is, indeed, nothing that man's nature seeks more eagerly than to be flattered...For, since blind self-love is innate in all mortals, they are most freely persuaded that nothing inheres in themselves that deserves to be considered hateful.

Nothing pleases man more than the sort of alluring talk that tickles the pride that itches in his very marrow...But however great such commendation of human excellence is that teaches man to be satisfied with himself, it does nothing but delight in its own sweetness; indeed, it so deceives as to drive those who assent to it into utter ruin...Yet for those confident they can do anything by their own power, things cannot happen otherwise. Whoever, then, heeds such teachers as hold us back with thought only of our good traits will not advance in self-knowledge, but will be plunged into the worst ignorance.

2.1.3 - The two chief problems with self-knowledge

According to carnal judgment, man seems to know himself very well, when, confident in his understanding and uprightness, he becomes bold and urges himself to the duties of virtue, and, declaring war on vices, endeavors to exert himself with all his ardor toward the excellent and the honorable. But he who scrutinizes and examines himself according to the standard of divine judgment finds nothing to lift his heart to self-confidence. And the more deeply he examines himself, the more dejected he becomes, until, utterly deprived of all such assurance, he leaves nothing to himself with which to direct his life aright.

Yet God would not have us forget our original nobility, which he had bestowed upon our father Adam, and which ought truly to arouse in us a zeal for righteousness and goodness...so that sick of our miserable lot we groan, and in groaning we sigh for that lost worthiness. But when we say that man ought to see nothing in himself to cause elation, we mean that he has nothing to rely on to make him proud.

2.1.9 - Sin overturns the whole man

For this reason, I have said that all parts of the soul were possessed by sin after Adam deserted the fountain of righteousness. For not only did a lower appetite seduce him, but unspeakable impiety occupied the very citadel of his mind, and pride penetrated to the depths of his heart...Paul removes all doubt when he teaches that corruption subsists not in one part only, but that none of the soul remains pure or untouched by that mortal disease. For in his discussion of a corrupt nature Paul not only condemns the inordinate impulses of the appetites that are seen, but especially contends the mind is given over to blindness and the heart to depravity.

2.2.10 - The doctrine of free will is always in danger of robbing God of his honor

Nevertheless, what I mentioned at the beginning of this chapter I am compelled here to repeat once more: that whoever is utterly cast down and overwhelmed by the awareness of his calamity, poverty, nakedness, and disgrace has thus advanced farthest in knowledge of himself. For there is no danger of man's depriving himself of too much so long as he learns that in God must be recouped what he himself lacks...If it is the devil's word that exalts man in himself, let us give no place to it unless we want to take advice from our enemy...no one is permitted to receive God's blessings unless he is consumed with the awareness of his own poverty.

2.2.18 - The limits of our understanding

Human reason, therefore, neither approaches, nor strives toward, nor even takes a straight aim at, this truth: to understand who the true God is or what sort of God he wishes to be toward us.

2.2.19 - Man's spiritual blindness shown from John 1:4-5

But we are drunk with the false opinion of our own insight and are thus extremely reluctant to admit that it is utterly blind and stupid in divine matters...Because man's keenness of mind is mere blindness as far as the knowledge of God is concerned...Flesh is not capable of such lofty wisdom as to conceive God and what is God's, unless it be illumined by the Spirit of God.

2.2.20 - Man's knowledge of God is God's own work

This doubtless means man's mind can become spiritually wise only in so far as God illumines it.

Christ also confirmed this most clearly in his own words when he said: "No one can come to me unless it be granted by my Father" [John 6:44 p.]...But nothing is accomplished by preaching him if the Spirit, as our inner teacher, does not show our minds the way. Only those men, therefore, who have heard and have been taught by the Father come to him.

It therefore remains for us to understand that the way to the Kingdom of God is open only to him whose mind has been made new by the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Paul, however, having expressly entered this discussion, speaks more clearly than all [I Cor. 1:18 ff.]. After condemning the stupidity and vanity of all human wisdom and utterly reducing it to nothing [cf. I Cor. 1:13 ff.], he concludes: "The natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" [I Cor. 2:14]. Whom does he call "natural"? The man who depends upon the light of nature. He, I say, comprehends nothing of God's spiritual mysteries. Why is this? Is it because he neglects them out of laziness? No, even though he try, he can do nothing, for "they are spiritually discerned." What does this mean? Because these mysteries are deeply hidden from human insight, they are disclosed solely by the revelation of the Spirit. Hence, where the Spirit of God does not illumine them, they are considered folly.

2.2.21 - Without the light of the Spirit, all is darkness

If we confess that we lack what we seek of God, and he by promising it proves our lack of it, no one should now hesitate to confess that he is able to understand God's mysteries only in so far as he is illumined by God's grace. He who attributes any more understanding to himself is all the more blind because he does not recognize his own blindness.

2.2.26 - The natural instinct that treats the "good" and the "acceptable" alike has nothing to do with freedom

To sum up, much as a man desires to follow what is good, still he does not follow it. There is no man to whom eternal blessedness is not pleasing, yet no man aspires to it except by the impulsion of the Holy Spirit.

2.2.27 - Our will cannot long for the good without the Holy Spirit

We are all sinners by nature; therefore we are held under the yoke of sin.

Confess that you have all these things from God: whatever good you have is from him; whatever evil, from yourself...Nothing is ours but sin.

2.3.2 - Romans, ch. 3, as witness for man's corruption

Now his intention in this passage is not simply to rebuke men that they may repent, but rather to teach them that they have all been overwhelmed by an unavoidable calamity from which only God's mercy can deliver them.

Let this then be agreed: that men are as they are here described not merely by the defect of depraved custom, but also by depravity of nature. The reasoning of the apostle cannot otherwise stand: Except out of the Lord's mercy there is no salvation for man, for in himself he is lost and forsaken [Rom. 3:23 ff.]...it is futile to seek anything good in our nature.

2.3.5 - Man sins of necessity, but without compulsion

Because of the bondage of sin by which the will is held bound, it cannot move toward good, much less apply itself thereto; for a movement of this sort is the beginning of conversion to God, which in Scripture is ascribed entirely to God's grace...Therefore simply to will is of man; to will ill, of a corrupt nature; to will well, of grace.

2.3.6 - Men's inability to do good manifests itself above all in the work of redemption, which God does quite alone

God begins his good work in us, therefore, by arousing love and desire and zeal for righteousness in our hearts; or, to speak more correctly, by bending, forming, and directing, our hearts to righteousness. He completes his work, moreover, by confirming us to perseverance.

I also say that it is created anew; not meaning that the will now begins to exist, but that it is changed from an evil to a good will...everything good in the will is the work of grace alone.

2.3.8 - Scripture imputes to God all that is for our benefit

Surely there is ready and sufficient reason to believe that good takes its origin from God alone. And only in the elect does one find a will inclined to good.

But since the whole of Scripture proclaims that faith is a free gift of God, it follows that when we, who are by nature inclined to evil with our whole heart, begin to will good, we do so out of mere grace...For it always follows that nothing good can arise out of our will until it has been reformed; and after its reformation, in so far as it is good, it is so from God, not from ourselves.

2.3.10 - God's activity does not produce a possibility that we can exhaust, but an actuality to which we cannot aid

Men indeed ought to be taught that God's loving-kindness is set forth to all who seek it, without exception. But since it is those on whom heavenly grace has breathed who at length begin to seek after it, they should not claim for themselves the slightest part of his praise. It is obviously the privilege of the elect that, regenerated through the Spirit of God, they are moved and governed by his leading.

I have come, you say, of my own free choice; I have come of my own will. Why are you so puffed up? Do you wish to know that this also has been given you? Hear Him calling, "No one comes to me unless the Father draws him." [John 6:44 p.].
____________________________________________

(1) See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pgs. 497-498

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Government-Managed Capitalism: A Love Story

(Acton.org) Jonathan Witt

Memo to documentary filmmaker Michael Moore: Free markets didn’t cause the financial crisis. The biggest culprits were government planners meddling with the market. That’s the message of Acton’s newest video short.

video

So why on earth is Michael Moore (Capitalism: A Love Story, Sicko) so eager to route even more power and money through Washington? Centralized planning is economic poison. Doubling down isn’t the cure.

(Also, Acton’s resource page on the economic crisis is here.)

____________________________________________________


Personal Reflection: I think Glenn Beck's comment on Michael Moore's new movie is completely appropriate, not to mention revealing: "I really love it when people who despise capitalism try to convince you to spend money on their products. (Imagine if Stalin pimped his line of t-shirts on Facebook?) For instance, Michael Moore recently said that 'capitalism is evil,' but I bet he sure wouldn’t mind if you spent some cash to go see his new propaganda piece, 'Capitalism: A Love Story.'"

In other words, Moore's position is completely inconsistent. He proudly proclaims the "evils" of capitalism and yet at the same time uses the economic freedom capitalism provides in order to promote his new movie! How ironic!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why Christians Should Value Philosophy Part 3 of 3

(Reasons.org) Kenneth Samples

What is the number one reason that people give for not believing in God?

All of the sources that I have ever read over the last thirty years indicate that the answer is "the problem of evil, pain, and suffering."

In parts one and two of this series I presented two reasons why Christians should value philosophy. First, philosophy is the best discipline in terms of preparing a person to think critically. Second, many of Christianity's most important doctrines clearly have philosophical implications. In this final article, I offer one more reason.

The Importance of Philosophy for Christians


  1. Philosophy Promotes Critical Thinking
  2. Christian Doctrine Contains Philosophical Implications
  3. People Reject Christianity on Philosophical Grounds

If Christians hope to engage in evangelism and apologetics, then they will inevitably encounter people's objections to the faith. Many, if not most, of those objections involve direct philosophical connotations.

When it comes to philosophy of religion, questions about God's existence, his attributes, and the relationship between faith and reason immediately come to the fore. This area of study also focuses upon the issue of theodicy (the justification of God's goodness in light of evil in the world). Some of the very best Christian responses to the challenge that evil poses to the truth of the faith have come from philosophers (see the writings of such contemporary Christian thinkers as Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga listed below).

The philosophy of science is another area where Christians can benefit from possessing an understanding of philosophy. When my scientific colleagues Hugh Ross and Fuz Rana present RTB's creation model to secular scientists on college campuses they often receive an interesting response. According to Hugh, most of the objections are not scientific–but philosophical! For example, skeptics assert that religion and science are two separate spheres of inquiry that cannot be integrated. Or they claim that science by definition can only entertain purely naturalistic causes and explanations. Both of these issues are discussed specifically through the philosophy of science.

As the great medieval Christian philosophers recognized, good philosophy seeks to critically analyze life's most important questions. It can also serve as a useful handmaid to the study of theology and in the apologetics enterprise as well.

Recommended resources:

Philosophy and its benefits to the Christian: A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

God and the problem of evil: God, Freedom, and Evil by Alvin Plantinga and Is There A God? by Richard Swinburne.

Philosophy of religion: God and Reason by Ed L. Miller.

Philosophy of science: Science & Its Limits by Del Ratzsch.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Was the Early Church Communist?

In the book of Acts we are told the following about the early church in Jerusalem:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common....There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

So is communism the Christian ideal? Individuals who accept Marxist ideology or liberation theology may certainly argue this way, and use this passage as a proof text. But is the Bible really teaching communism as a normative and ideal way of life for Christians?

Jay Richards addresses this question in his book Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem.(1) He points out four important things to remember when examining this passage:

  • First, this passage mentions nothing of class warfare or the idea that private property is immoral, as does modern communism. Rather, Christians were sharing freely and spontaneously.
  • Second, neither does this passage mention anything about the state. The state is nowhere to be found. It is not the government that is confiscating property and collectivizing industry.
  • Third, later in Acts 5 when Peter condemns Ananias and Sapphira, he does not condemn them for keeping part of the proceeds but rather for lying about the amount they received. In fact, in verse 4 Peter explicitly states the property was rightfully theirs even after they sold it: "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal?"
  • Fourth, the Bible never makes the communal life of the early church in Jerusalem prescriptive for Christians. Furthermore, it doesn't even seem to be the norm for the Jerusalem church but was rather short lived.

On this last point, Walt Russell in his book Playing with Fire gives us two important criteria for determining whether or not a particular behavior of Christians in the book of Acts should be considered normative and prescriptive for us today (2):

  • First, is the behavior repeatedly emphasized or is it a recurring theme within the broader narrative of Acts?
  • Second, is this recurring pattern of behavior closely aligned with Luke's main emphasis on a universal, Law-free identity for God's people?

Examining the communal lifestyle of the early church in Jerusalem by these two criteria shows that it fails on both accounts. This behavior is nowhere mentioned again in the book of Acts or even in the entire rest of the New Testament. It also does not fit with Luke's main purpose for writing the book of Acts.

Therefore, given the context and indicators within the passage itself and the fact that this behavior is not to be considered normative or prescriptive, it certainly cannot be argued that communism is in anyway the Christian ideal or was even practiced by the early church. Marxists and liberation theologians will have to find their proof texts elsewhere.
______________________________________________

(1) See Money, Greed, and God, pgs. 22-24.

(2) See Playing with Fire, pgs. 218-223.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Zoolander Objection, Part 2 of 2


The Zoolander Objection Part 1 of 2

Extended Cosmological Argument

The interesting continuation of the cosmological argument for the existence of God moves from the establishment of an eternal first cause merely existing, to demonstrating how it must be a person, good, and extremely powerful.


1. PERSONHOOD

We know that inanimate objects cannot voluntarily move. They have to be caused by something else to do anything at all. So the eternal first cause established by the cosmological argument cannot be an inanimate thing. The only things that are not inanimate are things with minds.

Furthermore, this holds up under either position in the free will/determinism debate. Regardless of whether or not the created things with minds that proceeded from the eternal first cause have free will or not, it itself could not have been caused or determined by something else. It is all that existed prior to what it brought into existence. So if there’s nothing to cause it to move or act, then the eternal first cause itself must exercise volition in order to act and create. It makes itself act. Exercising volition is to unaffectedly choose to create, to think, and be innovative. This is indicative of nothing other than a mind.


2. GOODNESS

The world we find ourselves in, that has come from the eternal first cause, exists with such things as moral rightness and wrongness. There are disagreements on just what exactly is right or wrong on various issues, but that is not relevant here. The point is that we all recognize it is possible to deviate from what is right, whatever that may be. This is what we call doing something morally wrong. Being able to deviate from what is right indicates that there is a morally right way things should be for us to deviate from. A moral law, if you will. Because we recognize that it’s wrong to deviate, and right to not deviate, means that the moral law we deviate from is right and good.

Since this moral law is inherent in all that exists, we know that it was created by the personal eternal first cause. The moral law giver, if you will again. Now, we know that the eternal first cause chose to create what it wanted to. It chose to do this by its own reasoning, unaffected by anything else. So since the moral law is perfectly good, then the moral law giver, who voluntarily made this moral law to be inherent in all it created, has to be morally capable to do so. Therefore, it must be perfectly good itself.


3. POWER

Finally, this perfectly good person who is the first cause, has to have enough power to be capable of bringing into existence all that exists. This pretty much means it’s the most powerful thing imaginable.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Debunking Conspiracy Theories

During this time of the year I am always saddened in remembering the lives lost on September 11, 2001, and in hearing the stories of those who lost loved ones on that fateful day.

At the same time, I am always surprised to see the resurgence of conspiracy theories which say that 9/11 was the work of the government, the collapse of the twin towers was the result of a controlled demolition, and Elvis is alive and well in Tennessee.

My brother-in-law recently wrote me an e-mail asking me what I thought about some of these internet movies that thrive on the conspiracy theory motif. One of the best known is probably Zeitgeist, though there are others out there which focus more on 9/11.

As a side note, last week on the blog I re-posted an article by Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason entitled "Jesus, the Recycled Redeemer" in three parts, which you can read here if you are so inclined: part 1, part 2, part 3. The reason I mention this is because the first part of Zeitgeist makes the claim that Jesus was simply a mythical figure like other pagan gods with nothing unique about Him or His story.

However, the film also goes on to briefly cover the 9/11 attacks. It claims the government was involved and that the collapse of the twin towers was the result of a controlled demolition as opposed to the the airplanes crashing into them. Essentially, Bush lied and people died.

As I told my brother-in-law, I am skeptical about conspiracy theories for at least two reasons. Here's why.

I'M SKEPTICAL, HOW BOUT YOU?

Reason #1: The first reason to be skeptical about conspiracy theories is that they almost always turn out to be non-falsifiable. In other words, you can never prove them wrong! This does not necessarily mean that they are wrong simply because they are non-falsifiable, but it raises suspicion as to how much credence we should give them given the fact there is no way to know if they are mistaken.

This became abundantly clear to me in a conversation I had with a fellow co-worker who, incidentally, turned out to be a conspiracy theorist. After providing my friend with objections, arguments, and counter-evidence which devastated his theory, he simply replied, "Ah yes...but you see...that is what they want you to believe!"

Herein lies the rub: anytime someone proposes a conspiracy theory and you are able to provide evidence and arguments which shows they are actually wrong, the hard-core conspiracy theorist will always reply, "Ah yes...but you see...that is what they want you to believe!"

So in effect, the conspiracy theorist takes whatever evidence and arguments you provide and somehow twists them into evidence and arguments for his own position! It doesn't matter what you say because the facts will always somehow be worked into their conspiracy in order to fit their preconceived belief. Quite clever...and yet at the same time intellectually dishonest. This in turn makes it impossible to ever prove them wrong, making their theory non-falsifiable.

Reason #2: The second reason to be skeptical about conspiracy theories is that they just don't seem to work. Think about the Watergate cover-up during the Nixon Presidency. Here we had the most powerful men in the world and they could not keep a conspiracy together for more than two weeks after Nixon was informed by John Dean about what was really going on. Of course, if you mention this to a conspiracy theorist he will say that Watergate was supposed to be discovered because this was all part of the grander conspiracy. A little too convenient if you ask me.

Despite the example of Watergate, conspiracy theorists would have us believe that there are national and global conspiracies going on right under our noses. All the while nobody is talking and no information from reliable sources is made known publicly on a grand scale. Call me crazy, but I don't buy it. People like to believe conspiracy theories because they are fun to think about and the like, but at least for me personally I am going to need a bit more than that.

WAS SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, A GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY??

So what about 9/11? Was the collapse of the twin towers a result of the plane crashes or the work of a government controlled demolition?

First, just stop and think for a moment what would have to be true if the conspiracy theorists are right. What the conspiracy theorist must say is that thousands of pounds of explosives were somehow marched into the twin towers prior to 9/11 and put precisely in place for a controlled demolition. Of course, not a single eyewitness ever reported men in black suits carrying thousands of pounds of C-4 and attaching it to the structures. Do you know how long that would have taken? Do you know the amount of time it takes demolition crews to set up an intended demolition of a building and the amount of precision it takes? Yet apparently, according to conspiracy theorists, all of this took place without a single eyewitness reporting these strange events. This seems hard to believe considering the twin towers were already under close scrutiny because of prior attacks.

Again, we are to believe a giant conspiracy must have taken place right under everyone's noses with no eyewitnesses. These theories, sooner or later, become absurd. The burden of proof is clearly on the those making the claim to produce some evidence for their position.

Second, Larry Schweikart, author of the book 48 Liberal Lies About American History, has this to say regarding the collapse of the towers:

The editors of the blue-collar magazine Popular Mechanics joined the fray by reviewing some of the conspiracy books before publishing Debunking 9/11 Myths in 2006. The airplanes carried some ten thousand gallons of jet fuel each. Jet fuel burns at 1,100 to 1,200 degrees Celsius, and steel doesn't melt until it reaches 1,510 degrees. But it loses strength at 400 degrees Celsius, and at 980 degrees, it possesses less than 10 percent of its strength. Load-bearing columns and beams did not need to melt: they only had to be weakened and bent sufficiently. The National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) conducted a study of the buildings' collapse and found that the impact had stripped "fireproofing insulation from the trusses that supported 80,000 square feet of floor space." As floors began to sag, they put additional stress on the 90 percent weakened steel columns, pulling them inward and adding to the stress on surviving columns. None of this even begins to take into consideration the phenomenal impact stresses of a jetliner striking the buildings at over 150 miles per hour, or the "hollowing out" of the load-bearing elevator shafts by the fuel and fire that shot down them.(1)

Again, Larry Schweikart sums it up nicely:

The fact that some conspiracists actually hold respectable jobs or appear normal under other circumstances should not conceal the fact that they are on one side, and the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Fire Protection Association, Underwriters Laboratories, several prominent universities, the 9/11 Commission, plus virtually every agency within the government that has in any way examined the evidence, are on the other side.(2)

CONCLUSION

When dealing with conspiracy theories it is important to keep several things in mind:

First, check your information sources. Are they reliable? What are their credentials? Do they have authority to speak on the matter?

Second, look at both sides of the issue. Examine the arguments and weigh the evidence. Try to be as objective as possible.

Third, ask good questions. When conversing with a conspiracy theorist look for problems in the theory and ask questions that may expose these flaws.

Fourth, keep an open mind. You never know...I may just be part of the conspiracy.

MUAHAHAHAHA!
___________________________________________________

(1) Larry Schweikart, 48 Liberal Lies About American History, 58.

(2) Ibid., 60.