Thinking Out Loud

December 6, 2016

Where We Left Off Yesterday

post-truth


Post Truth: Part Two

post-truth-bannerSo as you remember from yesterday, I was starting to write a piece for C201 — it was really going to be more of a scripture medley — on the concept of truth which is timely right now since the Oxford Dictionary people proclaimed post-truth as their “Word of the Year.” Previous year Oxford winners, going back from 2016 include: emoji, vape, selfie, omnishambles, GIF and at Global Language Monitor (some randomly selected words): microaggression, fail, hashtag, Olympiad, drone, meme… You can find more words in this Wikipedia article.

So I got to the point where I was ready to post some scriptures from TopVerses.com; verses like:

“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:32

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:37

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. – John 16:13You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. – John 8:44

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. – John 1:8

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father – the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father – he will testify about me.” – John 15:26

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. – John 4:23

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – The Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. – John 14: 16,17

It gave me great joy to have some believers come and testify to your faithfulness to the truth, telling how you continue to walk in it. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. – 3 John 1:3,4

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. – John 1:17

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. – 2 John 1:4

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 1 John 1:6

…and that’s when I start to notice that most of the verses posted — I had a few more yesterday — are all sourcing from the writings of the Apostle John in his gospel and his three epistles.  At that point I felt I should acknowledge this detail:

This isn’t all the verses on the page which contain the word truth in the NIV. You can read the entire list at this link. However, it’s interesting to note the number of occurrences of this word in the writings of John. Many of the above texts are from his gospel and the word occurs in each of the three epistles we have in our Bibles.

Traditionally, John’s is the gospel given out for evangelism purposes. It is consider an apologetic argument for the divinity of Christ. In a post-modern — and now we can add post-truth — world, there is no objective truth. I have written elsewhere that if you want to reach post-moderns with the person of Jesus Christ, perhaps the synoptic gospels are a better way to go. Now I’m rethinking that. Perhaps we need to continue, as the Apostle John does, to wave the banner for truth.

Seriously, I was indeed leading the charge for Christian publishers to rethink the convention of making John’s gospel the only gospel sold separately as an individual scripture portion. (The exception being the American Bible Society and its worldwide associates.) If we’re going to reach the Millennials, it would seem that Mark, Matthew or Luke would be the better choices.

Now I’m not so sure.

Which of course led me to yet a second postscript in yesterday’s article at C201, namely the whole similarity between the post-modern mindset and the post-truth mindset. I don’t want to sound like that old preacher who shows up at the end of the summer while the pastor is taking a week off, but it does all sound like ‘the same old lies being recycled over and over again.’ (Maybe you actually have to be an old preacher to have witnessed a sort of life cycle of worldviews.) The lies that truth is subjective; that there is no objective truth to be found.

So I wrote:

I can never write on a topic like this without thinking of the song One Rule for You. I looked at that song 4½ years ago and typed out the full lyrics at this article at Thinking Out Loud.

But today, just for you, I’ll save you the need to click:

One of my all-time favorite songs is by 80’s UK mainstream band After The Fire (ATF) which also happens to be a Christian band.  Since we changed the rules here to allow video embeds, I realized it’s never been posted on the blog.  This song basically expresses the frustration that many of us feel when trying to give testimony to what Christ has done for us around people who grew up in a postmodern mindset.

“That’s good for you, and I’ll have to find something that works for me.”

But truth, if it is truth, has to be truth for all people. There cannot be a “truth for you” and a “truth for me.” The postmodern condition is, if anything, a quest to deny the existence of absolute truth. But if you’re flying from New York to London, you want a pilot who believes that 2+2=4, not one that believes that 2+2=5, or that there are many different answers.

That’s what this song is all about.

What kind of line is that when you say you don’t understand a single word
I tell you all these things, you turn around and make as if you never heard

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

Too many people try to tell me that I shouldn’t say the things I do
I know that you would only do the same if it meant as much too you

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

They say believe in what you like as long as you can keep it to yourself
I say if what I know is right, it’s wrong if I don’t tell somebody else

What kind of line is that you’re giving me
One Rule for you, one rule for me

written by Peter Banks & Andy Piercy

 

December 5, 2016

Living in a Post-Truth Era

Filed under: Christianity, bible, apologetics — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:04 am

This started out as word study on “truth” from the website TopVerses.com I was writing for C201 but ended up going in an entirely different direction.

post-truth-banner

If you follow media of any type, you’ve probably bumped up against the phrase “post-truth” in the last few weeks. Wikipedia defines it as, “a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored.” The Oxford dictionary online is much the same denoting “circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  

The same dictionary publisher group named it the “word of the year.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the first time the term post-truth was used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in the Nation magazine. Tesich, writing about the Iran-Contra scandal and the Persian Gulf war, said that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world”.

“There is evidence of the phrase post-truth being used before Tesich’s article, but apparently with the transparent meaning ‘after the truth was known’, and not with the new implication that truth itself has become irrelevant,” said Oxford Dictionaries. [italics added] [source]

Of course you see where we’re heading today. As Christians, we believe in objective truth, not subjective post-truth. We appeal to the scripture as our rock, our anchor, our source for knowledge. But it’s easy to fall into subjectivism.  We go back to Wikipedia for a definition of that term; “the philosophical tenet that ‘our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience’. In other words, subjectivism is the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth.” [italics in last clause added]

How do we become subjective? Perhaps it’s:

  • When we say the situation ethics of a given set of circumstances means violating a scriptural moral principle (see note below)
  • When we try to accommodate evolution into the first few chapters of Genesis (see note below)
  • When we make allowances for homosexuality which contradict what the church has historically taught on the subject (see note below)
  • When we ignore teaching on the judgement of God and say that a loving God would never send anyone to hell. (see note below)

Okay…I guess I need to stop typing “see note below” and just say it: While the statements above would seem to imply that I am coming from a very conservative, dogmatic perspective I am no longer entirely settled on some of these issues. What I would want to say here very clearly is that I hope that whatever Biblical worldview I have is formed from debates, forums and careful study of what the Bible actually does or does not say, and not from my subjective view, or personal perspective on how I wish things were.

Basically, I can’t allow my own feelings — the way I wish things were — on an issue to override God’s objective truth on any given matter the same way the Roman Catholic church allows The Catechism of the Catholic Church to override scripture.

God does have an opinion on these matters and though “we see in part” and “we see through a glass darkly” it’s our job to try to discern what it is; especially in the cases where it impacts our personal code of behavior or a factor in our current circumstances.

It’s complicated, yes?

December 2, 2016

Objections to the Christian Faith

I spent most of the morning working on this afternoon’s article for the other blog and the rest of the day is committed. So instead I bring you this article from 2012 which looks at ten common objections raised in opposition to embracing Christianity. 

Bob Ayton is a teacher and Science Department Chairman in Marion County, Florida who has been named as one of the top three science teachers in the state of Florida for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching – one of the most prestigious awards a science teacher can receive.  Before teaching, he had over 7 years of experience as both an Analytical Chemist and Laboratory Manager in the Pharmaceutical Industry for an industry leading pharmaceutical contract company.

You are encouraged to click the link in the title below to read this at source and then look around his blog, Engage.
 

The 10 Most Common Objections to Christianity

1) The Bible has mistakes

The Bible is in fact the most reliable and accurate book of antiquity.  It is textually accurate due to the number of manuscripts and the dating of those manuscripts.  There are over 5,000 complete Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, 10,000 Latin, and 9,300 other with some of the earliest copies dating to 120 AD.  Complete New Testaments could be compiled with even the direct quoting of early church fathers.  The archaeological evidence is simply overwhelming in that 29 ancient kings from the Old Testament have been found in chronological order with the exact same depiction of names on monuments excavated and written in their own time.  The internal evidence of consistency of 66 books from 40 authors written in 3 different languages in different genres over a span of 1500 years and there is one consistent message throughout the entire book.  Lastly, the prophetic evidence is profound in that the Messianic prophecies alone that came true in Jesus were about 300 in number.  To just fulfill 8 of these would be along the order of 1 in 10 to the 17th power or equal to filling the state of Texas 2 feet deep in coins, marking one black, stirring it up, and letting one blindfolded guy pick out the exact one.  Objection over-ruled.

2) What about all those different translations

Translations do not in fact make the Bible or Christianity inaccurate.  We have some of the most literal translations of the Bible in the English language that are consistent and accurate with regard to the original language through the New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the English Standard Version (ESV).  You would be correct in saying paraphrases like the Message and other liberal translations have swayed drastically from the original words of God, but literal translations are different ways to say the exact same thing.  Objection over-ruled.

3) Hell is just not reasonable

This objection has its roots in the over-estimation of man and the under-estimation of God.  It takes a philosophical worldview starting point that man is essentially good and God forgives everyone in not really upholding any justice at all.  The Bible states that man is not good, that man can do no good that would merit favor with God, and he is ultimately accountable for his thoughts, words, and deeds.  I am just about as excited about Hell and the next guy, but it is a reality according to the wretched sinner that I am.  It fits with justice that breaking the highest laws in the land deserves the highest judgement for which we are accountable.  The amazing thing is that God Himself, Jesus, lived a perfect life, took on God’s wrath for which we deserved, and offers us the free gift of salvation through repentance and faith in Him alone out of His mercy, love, and kindness.  Through faith in Him we get His life of righteousness and He takes on the payment for our sin so that grace is bestowed and justice is satisfied.  With the correct starting point and a proper view of man and God, Hell is definitely reasonable.  Objection over-ruled.

4) What about all those hypocrites in the church

This objection is actually true.  I totally agree with the unbeliever here that there are hypocrites in every church.  It is true that the church is full of hypocrites because we are sinners that are saved by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone for His glory alone.  We get no credit, we get no glory, we get no accolades.  Now there are true and false believers in every church and the true believer is growing in holiness and is a new creation with a new heart and new desires.  However, truth should never be ultimately determined by the actions of the presumed followers but the standard of truth itself – which is Jesus.  Jesus was the only non-hypocrite and He is the truth.  Therefore, test Him as the benchmark for sincerity.  Objection over-ruled.

5) Science and evolution has disproved God

I could go on forever on this one.  Evidential science proves there is a God.  It does not prove who God is but it does prove in the complexity and amazing nature of our Creator.  Macro-evolution is a falsehood which has not one shred of evidential scientific proof and is ultimately a religion in and of itself.  Just click on the categories of Evolution and Atheism and I make my case throughout this blog.  Objection emphatically over-ruled.

6) Only one way to God, what about all those other religions

The exclusivity of Christ is a tough thing to swallow for unbelievers in our “tolerance-driven” culture. That is, tolerate every view except the one view that says there is only One Way.  The logical conundrum that Biblical Christianity presents is that Jesus says, “I am the Way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  This is an exclusive statement that is either right or wrong.  However it cannot coexist with other religions.

If you really look at all the other religions in the world, they are man trying to work to become righteous enough to satisfy God.  Biblical Christianity is the only religion that says that you are not good and no good work can satisfy God.  All God should do is justly punish the sinner who is a lawbreaker.  But God, out of His loving-kindness and mercy, sacrificed His only Son to take the penalty that the sinner deserves.  He died in our place, He took on our iniquities, He bore our sin.  Buddha never died for anybody, Mohammed never died for anybody, only Christ died for us.

How then can we stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “God, You have not done enough.  One way of salvation is not enough.”  Objection over-ruled.

7) What about all those wars started by Christians

The key to this questions is again…do not base Christianity on the basis of the actions of some of the presumed followers of the faith that are acting contradictory to what the Bible states.  The Bible clearly states to love your enemy and this has been demonstrated in countless examples of martyrs through the ages.  I urge the person that promotes this complaint to buy and read Foxes Book of Martyrs.

The unbeliever has to look to causes of extreme horrors perpetrated by atheism that is completely justified and aligned with the worldview that there is no God that we are accountable to.  Stalin was responsible for 40-100 million people slaughtered, Hitler killed 20 million people for his evolutionary genocide, Mao Tse-Tung murdered between 40 and 80 million people, and Pol Pot killed 2 million of his own people.  Objection over-ruled.

8) Christianity was spread by the power-hungry people

Yes, the apostles who were all poor, made no money, had absolutely no power, were oppressed by Rome in the world and the religious elite in Israel, and all died martyrs deaths were all power-hungry people who spread Christianity throughout the known land.  Do you see the illogical nature of this objection?

Christianity was spread by God’s ordaining power throughout history by those who were weak, unpopular, uneducated, unimpressive people (see 1 Corinthians 1).  Christianity, time and time again, has been attempted to be eradicated by those in power, only to be unsuccessful.  Objection over-ruled.

9)  If God was really all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving, why is there pain and sickness and death?

This again shows a misunderstanding of God and an over-estimation of man.  It is our fault that there is pain and sickness and death.  It is our sin that has brought about these consequences, not God.  The consequence of our sin is death and God should justly bring about that death the instant we first sin.  He is right and just to do this in the same way we want a murderer or rapist to be guilty and have a consequence for their despicable crime.  Our sin are crimes against the highest law, which is God Himself.

However God is patient and merciful and kind and offers forgiveness through His Son.  Therefore, objection over-ruled and that leads us to the final objection.

10)  All objections in every form and facet

All objections are rooted in a person wanting to divert the issue away from the true source, which is themselves.  They are all smoke to cover up the sin and pride that the sinner loves.  The Bible says that a person must repent and put their trust in Jesus to be saved.  If you are that person who has brought about these objections before, focus on your own sin and understand that God offers to pay for that sin through His Son.  He offers to pay the price for your crimes and dismiss your case on the basis of all of the evidence being placed on His Son.  Then and only then can all objections to your condemnation be emphatically over-ruled.

November 8, 2016

Immunity to Christianity

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, evangelism, Jesus — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:08 am

immunityBecause of the various types of interactions I have with people, I have some things that I find myself constantly saying, some of which are analogies, to help clarify things spiritually. Every once in awhile I will discover that as much as these make up the core of the material that I use, some of them have never appeared on the blog.

I asked my wife what I should write about today, and she said, “Flu shots;” because minutes earlier we had just received ours for this season. It reminded me of what follows, and when I started searching here, I was amazed that this has never appeared because it fits the condition of so many different people, some of which are probably in your school, workplace, neighborhood, or even your extended family.

Did you get a flu shot? What was in it? Basically you got a small dose — albeit inactive — of the disease you want to avoid. You’re getting an artificial version of the illness to kick-start your immune system.

I don’t know who it was that first said this, but the substance (which you should see coming) is this:

When it comes to Christianity most people have been inoculated with just enough of the artificial that they are immune to the authentic.

Just enough Bible stories.
Just enough ritual.
Just enough preaching
Just enough Christian television
Just enough focus on works; doing good
Just enough emphasis on giving money
Just enough hypocrisy…
…Just enough religion.

Most people in the world at large — and I’m speaking here as someone part of what I consider a minority — have had just enough that now, the authentic elements of what it means to know Christ and follow him are rejected.

They’re immune now, and that no matter how passionate you are about your faith, they have a built-in resistance.

Maybe they haven’t really met Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

September 23, 2016

What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, Faith, guest writer — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:06 am

clarke-dixon-picClarke Dixon is a Canadian Baptist pastor whose posts at Sunday’s Shrunk Sermon end up at Christianity 201 on Wednesdays or Thursdays. The one this week was a little bit different, though; and I thought it would be a good fit here as well…

Guest post by Clarke Dixon

You may be wondering “what’s up with a sermon called ‘What’s Up With the Flying Spaghetti Monster?’” You can blame this one on one of my sons who over the summer said “hey Dad, you should preach a sermon on the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” If you have never heard of such a thing, be assured many others have, including, of course, my sons.

So what even is it? The Flying Spaghetti Monster is the god of a new religion called “Pastafarianism.” Now to be clear, most “Pastafarians” do not actually believe this religion per se, rather it is practiced as a parody of religion. When you hear that some Pastafarians get their ID pictures taken with colanders on their heads, you may think that it is a big joke. It kind of is, but at the heart of it are some important issues that the atheist community want people to think about. “Belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster all began in the United States with one man challenging a school board to reconsider whether Creationism should be taught alongside Evolution. He was reasoning that if time was given to the story of God creating the universe as found in Genesis, then equal time should be given to his god, “The Flying Spaghetti Monster.” His letter was put on the Internet and it has since become “a thing.”

There are two questions that the The Flying Spaghetti Monster should cause a Christian to grapple with:

  1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?
  2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

1. Should Creationism be taught alongside Evolution in schools?

My answer to this may be tainted by the fact that I am Canadian. If a school system is publicly funded, and is made available to all the public, then one particular religious viewpoint should not be privileged over the rest. Many a good Christian will be very disappointed with me right now, but if we Christians were in the minority, and Muslims in the majority, would we want Islamic precepts being taught in our public schools?

However, are we too quick to roll over and play dead? I fear we Canadian Christians often are. There is a field of study that looks at the origins of the universe from no particular religious viewpoint. It is commonly referred to as Intelligent Design (ID for short) and begins not with a religious text, like “In the beginning, God . . . ,” but with the study of our world and the universe. It looks at the apparent elements of design in the universe and infers that behind the design is a Designer. The illustration is sometimes used of flying an airplane over an island and finding the letters “SOS” written in sand. You know someone is, or has been, there based on three letters. Then go on to consider the amazing amount of information stored in DNA. Or how amazing it is that so many things have to be “just so” for life to be possible. Such evidence of design begs for a Designer.

Some think that the more we learn about the universe from science, the less we need any notion of a god to explain things. God has been moved to the margins it has been said. However, this would be like someone taking apart an iPhone and in figuring out how the parts and software work together, saying “there is and never has been a Steve Jobs or Johnny Ive. We don’t see them present with us making this thing work.” You see the misstep. As John Lennox has pointed out, God is not a “God-of-the-gaps” God, that is, the explanation of the things we cannot understand, but rather is the “God of the whole show.” If an iPhone is an incredible achievement in design and engineering, the universe is infinitely more so. As the Psalmist writes:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

Should ID be taught in schools alongside Evolution? After all, some would point out, perhaps correctly, that it is not science strictly speaking. It wanders into the realm of philosophy. Whatever it is, it is good, clear thinking. Schools should be places of good, clear thinking.

But does ID get you to Jesus? Or to the Flying Spaghetti Monster for that matter? This brings us to our second question.

fsm2. Is Christianity just a made-up fable like the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

This is an insinuation of those who practice Pastafarianism, namely that belief in Jesus, or in any god for that matter, is as ridiculous as believing in something like the Flying Spaghetti Monster. So is it?

Here we look to the where the evidence leads, particularly with respect to the origins of each religion. For example, if you were to investigate the origins of “belief” in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, the evidence would lead to knowing exactly when, where, and even why the whole thing started. You can easily account for the birth and development of Pastafarianism without needing the actual existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to account for it. It is clearly a people made religion. You can go on to apply this same inquiry of all religions, asking “how did they begin and develop, and can you account for such things without the existence of the god they point to?” This all works very well until you come to Christianity. I am only scratching the surface here, but birth and development of Christianity falls nicely into place if Jesus rose from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then it is hard to account for why the first Christians believed what they believed, did what they did, and wrote what they wrote. N.T. Wright is one of the best scholars to look up to learn more about this.

If you are looking for a more accessible read you could look up the writings of an expert in evidence by the name of J. Warner Wallace. He was a cold-case detective and an atheist, who upon reading the Gospels came to realize that what he was reading bore the marks of genuine eyewitness testimony. I am only scratching the surface, but he gives us pointers on handling the evidence, some of which are paraphrased poorly by me below, but told in better detail himself. Consider:

  • The variations between the Gospels are evidence of genuine witnesses being behind them. Detectives get suspicious of collusion when witnesses all end up saying the exact same things in the exact same way.
  • The case for the reality of Jesus and the truth for Christianity is a cumulative case, built upon many bits of evidence.
  • While there is no direct evidence for Jesus available to us today, circumstantial evidence is enough to establish truth. All convictions of cold cases are built on circumstantial evidence.
  • Evidence does not need to get you beyond every possible doubt for a conviction, but beyond every reasonable doubt. Some people hold the bar far too high when it comes to Jesus so that no amount of evidence would ever be enough.
  • Not every question that is raised in a case needs to be answered. Belief in Jesus as Lord is reasonable, even when questions linger.
  • Unbiased jurors make the best jurors. That is why there is a process of jury selection, to weed out those who would begin with prejudice and bias. Some people will never believe Jesus rose from the dead because they start with a bias against the possibility of any miracle.

The evidence points to the unreality of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the reality of Jesus. Evidence is spoken of in the Bible:

3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God;
there is also one mediator between God and humankind,
Christ Jesus, himself human,
6 who gave himself a ransom for all
this was attested at the right time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 (emphasis mine)

The word for “attested” is a word meaning “evidence, proof, testimony.” That there is one God, and that Jesus is how we can know God has been “attested to,” or “evidenced.” Jesus is the greatest proof of Who the Designer is, and the greatest evidence of His love for us. Which brings us to our conclusion.

The evidence points to what seems too good to be true. If the evidence pointed to atheism being true, that would be a depressing thing. If the evidence pointed to Islam being true, that could be a scary thing. If the evidence pointed to Eastern religions being true with their focus on karma, that would be an unfortunate thing. But the evidence points to the resurrection of Jesus, the reality of God, and the reality of God’s grace and love for the sinner. That is the best possible place for the evidence to lead. It seems too good to be true! Yet that is where the evidence points. So instead of asking “what’s up with the Flying Spaghetti Monster,” we should instead be asking “what’s up with God loving us so much?”

All scripture references are taken from the NRSV

 

January 10, 2016

The Jesus Footprint

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, Jesus — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:16 am

Today’s article is taken from the blog of Andy Bannister, who is the author of The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (or: The Terrible Consequences of Really Bad Arguments) and is also the Director and Lead Apologist of RZIM Canada (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries). Click the title below to read at source.

A Powerful Footprint

It would be hard to underestimate the significance of Jesus. No other person has had a greater historical impact. Even those who aren’t Christians acknowledge this: Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet. Hindus consider him a holy teacher. Even many atheists are very willing to say they admire Jesus; for example, the late atheist Christopher Hitchens once said he respected “the virtue of his teachings.”

Apologetics IconYet a common skeptical remark you hear is that we can’t really know anything about who Jesus actually was. He was probably a great guy, but the early Christians invented so many stories about him that we have no way of separating what’s true in the Bible from what’s false. Most skeptics don’t realize, however, that academic historians take Jesus very seriously. We’re talking historians, not theologians; not least, because we have so many historical sources for Jesus. Many people don’t realize the New Testament is a collection of books, for example, and represents multiple sources about Jesus. Many are very early; for example, Paul’s letters date to the 40s and 50s AD and some of the material he quotes is dated even earlier, to within months of Jesus’s death.

Literary studies of the gospels have also shown that their authors were intentionally setting out to write biography—not fiction or hagiography. Where we can test them against archaeology or other historians of the period, they’re shown to be reliable. Thus, historians take Jesus seriously. No credentialed academic historian in a university ancient history department would suggest that Jesus never existed, for instance. Throw out Jesus and you would have to throw out a wealth of other historical figures for whom lessevidence exists, such as Julius Caesar.

In recent decades, there has been a renewed interest in the study of the “historical Jesus,” by which we mean what we can say about Jesus using the methods and tools of the historian. There are a wide number of facts upon which historians agree. To list just a few, it is generally agreed that Jesus was raised in Nazareth. That he was baptized by John. That he had twelve disciples. That he had a reputation as a healer and miracle worker. That he taught in parables and stories. That he clashed with the religious authorities of his day. That he spent time with social outcasts. That he had an extremely high view of his own identity and his relationship to God. That at the end of his ministry he rode into Jerusalem, was hailed by many as the Messiah, performed some kind of prophetic action in the Temple and was subsequently arrested, tried, and executed.

It’s simply not the case, in other words, that Jesus’s life was invented decades after his death by well-meaning Christians. And that means we are forced to take the life of Jesus very seriously—at the very least, we need to read the Gospels as we would other ancient literature and weigh them accordingly.

And that brings us face to face with Jesus himself: a Jesus who made astonishing claims about himself. C S Lewis once famously said that Jesus left us only three options. Either he was mad—utterly insane. Or he was bad—a cynical liar. Or else Jesus was who he claimed to be. While this threefold choice may slightly oversimplify things, the broad thrust is right. Jesus forces all of us to answer the same question he asked Peter in the Gospels: “Who do you say I am?”1

One thing is certain: Jesus has left a powerful footprint on history, too great to ignore. “Who do you say that I am?” The answer each of us gives to that question matters profoundly.

January 2, 2016

It’s Not Just a Story – Part Two

"Jonah Leaving the Whale" by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it with Jack and the Beanstock?

“Jonah Leaving the Whale” by Jan Brueghel the Elder, 1600. Do our children treat the story as a record of a true event or do they mentally classify it as fable, along with Jack and the Beanstock?

I didn’t set out planning a second part to Friday’s post here, but Bruce Allen put so much thought into his comment, I decided we needed to share it more visibly. This is a response to part one, however, so if you haven’t read that, click this link. He lives in Nova Scotia and owns and operates Time Zone Media which does communications work for a variety of ministry organizations and businesses.

••• Guest post by Bruce Allen •••

In our English-language-world, words come and go and even reverse their meanings, such as “wicked” which meant “wonderful” for at least a few years. There is a long list of English words reversed meanings or held captive. People who blow themselves up in crimes against humanity are called martyrs by their fellow zealots and the news media picks it up and repeats the word until the general population accepts the new definition: Martyrs are cold-blooded killers rather than those murdered. Older English speaking Christians may sort out those “reversed meaning” words but what about a younger generation that stares blankly at their cell phones while texting and doing “selfies?” How should Bible translators deal with a language in flux? Is a “wicked” king now an “awesome” king rather than an evil king?

When the time arrived for Christian leaders to jettison words from earlier eras, there was a lot of brain-storming by Bible orality ministries to figure out what would replace “Bible story.” For my work with the words Bible and Bible stories, I came up with Bible chronicles.

Dictionary: Chronicle – noun, a chronological record of events; a history.

Wow! History, events, and accounts all sounded serious enough words to be Christian so I bought the Bible Chronicles web address and launched my Bible story word revolution with positive vibes.

After using Bible chronicles for several years, I discovered that fellow believers could never remember our web address: BibleChronicles.org . Whenever I felt duty-bound to tell church goers that “Bible story” didn’t cut it in today’s changing world, they fretted and worried. After tiring of explaining, I abandoned the revolution and returned to using Bible stories.

When a word like story is so embedded in a language, it is difficult to suddenly abandon it for other words, especially when the general population is unaware of the Christian world of words and their meanings. As far as teaching our own children, maybe we could begin with not telling them that Santa is real. If Santa knows that we are naughty or nice, who needs God? And what about the Easter bunny and a host of other fables? Do we set our kids up to think we never tell the truth?

Whatever we parents are, our kids become. It may not be so obvious during the teen years, but give it a decade and they become like mom and dad. If they come to understand that we parents truly love them and that we love Jesus and believe his words, we are on solid ground.

Of course we need to teach by the example of lived day to day. We also need to teach them from the Bible and about the Bible. If we see on TV that ISIS just took sledgehammers to Jonah’s tomb in Nineveh, that is a good historical lesson. Who would put a tomb there if there were no Jonah?

Christian kids need to be taught by parents that the world of Christians and Jews is rooted firmly in history – and with the war in Syria and Iraq, history is right in front of our biblical noses. Recently, tens of thousands of Christians have been driven from the city of Mosul and the Nineveh plain by the ISIS murderers. Why not find out about those ancient Christian churches and why they celebrate the Jonah fast? Why not tell the story of those Christians and then read the Biblical account to anyone who will listen – including our children? We have the best stories ever – they are in the Bible and they are true.

From Wikipedia:

Nineveh’s repentance and salvation from evil is noted in the Christian biblical canon’s Gospel of Matthew (12:41) and the Gospel of Luke (11:32). To this day, oriental churches of the Middle East commemorate the three days Jonah spent inside the fish during the Fast of Nineveh. The Christians observing this holiday fast by refraining from food and drinks. Churches encourage followers to refrain from meat, fish and dairy products.

Here is a video of ISIS smashing the tomb of Jonah. Scroll down the page to view it. 


Bruce Allen is a Christian communications consultant to ministries using solar audio Bibles to reach an estimated 3 billion people who cannot read God’s written Word. He is also a software developer who has created ToucanChat for ministries and businesses. A simple installation of Toucan Chat helps ministry workers connect with visitors on their website in real time. Bruce’s personal opinion in the “Bible story” article is his own and does not reflect the views of any particular ministry. 

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

Stephen Rue, Jonah in the Whale, oil on canvas, 26.25″x25″, 2006. Say what you will about Jonah, packing the waterproof matches was good foresight.

 

 

 

November 3, 2015

You Be the Editor: How Would You Refine This Presentation?

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I grew up megachurch. Our youth group didn’t bring in a band for music nights, we had our own. (This is long before youth worship teams, so this was a bit rare.) At least once every few months, when they weren’t on the road playing for other churches, we would have them play for us.

One night I remember with great clarity. The band members would take turns and “do a verbal” between songs, and one very quiet moment included something I am sure I remember word-for-word. One of the singers, a guy who was just a year or two older than me, turned to the audience and said three things. (He didn’t number these, but I wanted to be able to isolate the various parts. In the original form, this was one continuous spoken paragraph.)

  1. The Bible says Jesus is coming back.
  2. I believe he’s coming very soon.
  3. I don’t think I will ever die [because of Christ’s return; meaning was implied but clear]

So here’s the question. How would you refine this? I recognize these were kids in a youth outreach band, not trained theologians or paid evangelists. I also realize it’s easy to sit back and critique things when you’re not the person on the platform. I understand the compulsion some people have to nitpick over a particular choice of words.

But still…

I only ask because now, with the benefit of a decade or two, I see this very differently. I see some definite areas for improvement. Take two days to think it over, leave comments, and we’ll come back to this on Thursday.

September 28, 2015

Resolving the Four Different Versions of the Sign on The Cross

sign on Jesus' cross

A few weeks ago here I reviewed the new book by J. Warner Wallace God’s Crime Scene and back in 2013 we looked at his first book Cold Case Christianity. Of all the various possible approaches to Christian apologetics, the methodology used by this cold case detective is really resonating with reviewers and readers as the internet is abuzz with positive responses from the denominational spectrum.

Still there are times when I look back at my reviews — especially after a book really takes off — and wonder if I could have done more to whet my readers’ appetite for the author. So when I saw this excerpt sitting unattended in an unlit corner of the blogosphere, I figured, ‘Hey, Wallace is all about crime, let’s do some stealing.’ I think you’ll agree what follows is worth reading, and since my own detective work reveals you guys don’t always click through, the excerpt is here in full. (Click the title below to read at source.)


Why Are There Four Versions of the Sign on Jesus’ Cross?

It’s not uncommon for skeptics of Christianity to point to differences between the New Testament Gospel accounts as evidence of corruption or unreliability. I’ve discussed many of these alleged contradictions in my talks around the country, and I’ve written about many of them here at ColdCaseChristianity.com. One example sometimes offered by critics is the sign posted above the cross of Jesus. The simple, brief message of this sign is recorded by all four Gospel authors, yet none of them record precisely the same words. How could these four men fail to record the same sign, given the importance of the moment and the brevity of the message? Look at the variations offered by the Gospel authors:

“This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37)
“The King of the Jews” (Mark 15:26)
“This is the King of the Jews” (Luke 23:38)
“Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19)

In evaluating alleged “contradictions” of this nature, I think it’s important to remember a few overarching principles related to eyewitness testimony (I describe many of these principles in my first book, Cold-Case Christianity). Even though I accept and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, inerrancy is not required of reliable eyewitnesses. In fact, I’ve never had a completely inerrant eyewitness in all my years as a homicide detective. In addition, I’ve never had a case where two witnesses have ever agreed completely on the details of the crime. Eyewitness reliability isn’t dependent upon perfection, but is instead established on the basis of a four part template I’ve described repeatedly in my book and on my website. But beyond these generalities, much can be said specifically about the variations between descriptions of the sign over Jesus’ cross. I take the following approach when evaluating multiple eyewitness accounts, and the same methodology can be used to evaluate these signs:

• Identify the Common Details
When interviewing multiple eyewitnesses, I listen carefully for common features in their testimony. In every witness observation, some details are more important than others; some aspects of the event stick out in the mind of the observers more than others. In this case, one expression is repeated by all four authors: “the King of the Jews”. Why does this one aspect of the sign appear repeatedly without variation? These words describe the crime for which Jesus was executed. Jesus was crucified because He proclaimed Himself a King; He was executed for His alleged rebellion against Caesar. This is consistent with the trial accounts we have in the Gospels and also accurately reflects the actions taken by the Roman government against other popular rebels. While we, as Christians, now understand God’s plan related to the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authors of the Gospels are simply recording the one most prominent feature of the sign: the description of Jesus’ crime.

Cold Case Christianity• Recognize the Perspective of Each Eyewitness
Every witness offers a view of the event from his or her unique perspective. I’m not just talking about geographic or locational perspectives here, but I am also talking about the personal worldview, history and experience every witness brings to the crime. All witness testimony is colored by the personal interests, biases, aspirations, concerns and idiosyncrasies of the eyewitnesses. In this particular case, an important clue was recorded by John to help us understand why there might be variation between the accounts. John said, “Then many of the Jews read this title, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.” The sign was written in a variety of languages and we simply don’t know how much variation occurred between these translations. The perspective and life experience of each author now comes into play. Which translation was the author referencing? Even more importantly, what were the concerns of the author related to the event? Some witnesses are more likely to repeat a victim’s name than others (if, for example, they knew the victim personally). Others will focus on something about which the witness had firsthand knowledge. I’ve seen an incredible amount of variation between reliable accounts on the basis of nothing more than personal perspective.

• Consider the Conditions of the “Interview”
In working cold cases over the years, I’ve read my fair share of investigative supplemental reports containing eyewitness accounts. I’ve come to recognize the role interviewers have on the accounts given by eyewitnesses. Years later, when re-interviewing these same eyewitnesses, I’ve uncovered additional information simply because I asked questions neglected by the first interviewer. When evaluating an account from the past, it’s important to recognize the location, form and purpose of the interview. This will have a direct impact on the resulting account. Something similar must be considered when evaluating the description of the sign on Jesus’ cross. We simply don’t know precisely the purpose of each author or the conditions under which each author wrote his Gospel. Why, for example, is Mark’s version of the sign so brief? Why, for that matter, is Mark’s entire Gospel so brief? Was there something about Mark’s personality accounting for his brevity (there does seem to be some evidence of this given the short, emotionally charged nature of his account), or was something even simpler involved (like a shortage of papyrus)? We’ll never know for sure, but we simply cannot assume each author was writing under the exact same conditions. No two witnesses are interviewed in precisely the same way.

• Differentiate Between Complimentary and Conflicting Accounts
When comparing two eyewitness accounts, I am more concerned about unresolvable contradictions than complimentary details. In fact, I have come to expect some degree of resolvable variation in true, reliable eyewitness accounts. While there are clearly variations between the sign descriptions in the Gospels, these dissimilarities don’t amount to a true contradiction. Consider the following reasonable message on the sign:

“This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”

If this was the message of the sign, all four Gospel accounts have captured a complimentary, reliable summation of the sign, even though there is some expected variation between accounts. None of these accounts contain an unresolvable, troublesome claim like:

“This is Judas Iscariot, the King of the Jews”

If one of the accounts contained this information, we would truly have a conflict worthy of our attention. There’s a difference between complimentary variation and conflicting description.

• Assess the Opportunity for Collusion
Whenever I am called to a crime scene as a detective, the first request I make of the dispatcher is to separate the eyewitnesses before I get there. I request this so the witnesses won’t have the opportunity to talk to one another about what they’ve seen. Witnesses will sometimes try to resolve any variations before I get there. I don’t want them to do this; that’s my job, not theirs. Instead, I want the messy, sometimes confusing, apparently contradictory accounts offered by every group of witnesses in such a situation. There have been times, however, when witnesses have the opportunity to consult with one another for several hours before I arrive on scene. When this is the case, and their individual accounts still vary from one another, I usually have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. When people have the opportunity to align their statements, yet still refuse to do so, I know I am getting the nuanced observations I need to properly investigate the case. The Gospel authors (and the early Church) certainly had the opportunity to change the descriptions to make sure they matched, but they refused to do so. As a result, we can have even more confidence in the reliability of these accounts. They display the level of variation I would expect to see if they were true, reliable eyewitness descriptions.

If the four authors of the Gospels had written precisely the same words throughout their Gospel accounts, skeptics would be no more confident in their content. In fact, I suspect, critics of the New Testament would be even more vocal in their opposition. The Gospels are appropriately varied and nuanced, just like all multiple eyewitness accounts. The variations between the sign descriptions is further evidence of this expected variation. This level of dissimilarity should give us confidence in the accounts, rather than pause. Why are there four versions of the sign on Jesus’ cross? Because the accounts are written on the basis of eyewitness observations. They demonstrate the characteristics we would expect if they are reliable descriptions of a true event in history.

~J. Warner Wallace

Both Cold Case Christianity and God’s Crime Scene are available from David C. Cook Publishing where you buy quality Christian products.

March 24, 2015

To the Person With an Un-Churched Friend

img 032415Dear _________,

Your friend dropped by the Christian bookstore last week when I happened to be there. Every once in awhile, I get into a conversation with someone who really opens up; who really wants to share something, and this was one of those times.

Your friend has a lot going on inside her. There’s a battle raging between the more conservative values she was raised with, and her desire to be a more progressive, rational humanist, liberal wife and mom. She gets nothing out of church, but she goes to please her husband. She thinks it’s good that her kids are getting some type of faith focus in their Sunday School, but bristles at the absolute exclusivity of Christianity and worries that perhaps they are getting brainwashed.

And then, she has you.

You probably don’t see yourself as such, but you are her one spiritual anchor in a sea of confusion and questions. You are the person she talks about as a Christian influence in her life, more than her husband or any author or TV personality. You are the only Bible she reads.

And you are part of the problem.

First, you leave no room for her questions. Your faith and personal theology are so neatly wrapped up and tied with a bow that you seem to have trouble seeing life from her perspective. This is how it was, is, and ever more shall be would be a statement describing your intransigence. Don’t get me wrong, the scriptures are clear, God is unchanging, and if the buck is going to stop somewhere, solo scriptura is not a bad place to land the plane.

But you need to meet her in the middle if you’re going to bring her back to your starting place. You have to have the conversation. She wants to have the conversation with you. If you don’t have empathy for her situation, you need to at least pretend to have some sympathy for whatever has brought her to her present spiritual state.

She needs to see compassion. She needs to see that God is a God of grace, and that grace extends toward her.

Second, you need to embrace her in a spiritual sense. Instead, you regard her has some toxic influence in your life that should not be permitted. You shut her down when she starts saying things that you don’t approve of or using language you can’t condone in your house. At that point, all you offer her is your own self-righteousness.

You are afraid to listen. Your world is probably saturated with Christian books, Christian radio or podcasts, and Christian television. When your friend starts talking with you, her words are so totally foreign to your everyday experience that you are afraid of being polluted by them. You want to spend your entire Christian life at the conference; at the retreat; at the worship service.

Jesus got his hands dirty. He hung out with political zealots, tax collectors and prostitutes. There’s a lesson there, I think.

Third and finally, you need to invest in an intense study of Christian apologetics. You may be shutting her down at every turn because you have nothing to offer her. The idea of ‘always being ready to give a response’ is lost on you. It’s easier to put your hand in her face and tell her you don’t want to talk about it.

When the gang gets together for a social evening, you win every round of Bible Trivia, but when it comes to discussing your faith with seekers and skeptics, Atheists and Agnostics, you’ve got nothing.

You’ve preached to the choir for so long you haven’t noticed the audience behind your back.

Listen _________, your friend needs you. She needs you to be her link to a world of Christian belief that she is missing right now, but she needs your love and your time and your willingness to enter into her spiritual world.

The Bible can take her challenges. Our doctrine and theology can deflect her doubts. Christian resources can answer her questions.

But right now you are her contact point, and as a team, we’re all counting on you not to drive her away. Or you can continue to make a mess of it, and hopefully somebody else can pick up the pieces.

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