On a June day in 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood before the Brandenburg Gate and challenged the Soviet Union with words that still stir the soul of every freedom-loving person. “Tear Down This Wall!” he exclaimed. He was speaking of the Berlin Wall, a barrier between East and West during the Cold War that symbolized the dehumanizing policies of the corrupt communist regime. Many thought Reagan’s treatment of the Soviets was too extreme. After all, earlier he had labelled the Soviet Union the “evil empire.” But in the end, Reagan saw the fulfillment of his dream to help bring freedom to an oppressed people.
Today in America, atheists in increasing numbers stand before courts of law and utter a similar cry. Their targets are not evil empires suppressing the will of the majority, but rather symbols -yes, symbols – of Christianity. One particular effort – to tear down the cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego – has met with considerable success, as federal judges declare the cross on Mr. Soledad to be unconstitutional and opportunities to appeal these rulings dwindle.
I offer here no commentary on the wisdom or validity of the legal reasoning employed. Suffice it to say that the Founders would no doubt be surprised that the land they envisioned in which freedom to worship was to be scrupulously honored has become a land in which every vestige of public expression of faith must apparently be wiped away.
The removal of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of a new freedom for the people trapped behind it. Do atheists really believe that they are enhancing American freedom by pressing for the removal of all Christian symbols? What freedom is actually at play? The freedom to not see the symbols of a faith that one doesn’t share associated in any fashion with “government” land? But the Mt. Soledad cross wasn’t erected to “establish” Christianity as an official state religion. It was not meant to offend or to suppress contrary faiths, but instead to honor fallen soldiers, many (probably most) of whom were Christian. Its offense, however unintended, is that anyone viewing it would deem it a “government endorsement” of a particular faith. Really? In America today, can you find anyone so lacking in awareness of his surroundings and the culture in which he lives as to conclude that a Christian theocracy is actually running government? Or poised to make some move to take over?
The atheist tries to soften the rhetoric. For instance, according to one spokesperson for the ACLU, “We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country’s armed forces, but we should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”
The atheist reminds me of the child who, not liking the game that’s being played, takes his ball and goes home. We must play by his rules or no one will be allowed to play at all. The thought that perhaps he can erect his own symbol to honor fallen atheists is, understandably, not appealing. (What’s the point, after all, of honoring oblivion?) He must stop others from drawing solace from their beliefs, by forcing into the public square a false notion that there is no God, there is no law-giver, there is no transcendent source of truth and of values. Claiming to seek neutrality, they instead sterilize the landscape, using the force of government to insist – contrary to the beliefs of the vast majority who have ever walked the earth – that nature is all there is.
Ideas have consequences. The Founders understood this. They understood the importance of the government not establishing a particular sect or doctrine as the official federal religion. But they also understood that the morals and values necessary to viability of this experiment in self-government found their best expression in the Christian worldview. The many American soldiers who gave up their lives in World War II and in the later fight against Soviet communism pitted that faith system against one based on the absence of God. We see the striking differences in those competing worldviews when we consider America’s treatment of its vanquished enemies – not the plunder and enslavement which historically followed victorious military effort - but the outpouring of countless dollars to rebuild and to re-welcome into the brotherhood of humanity those against whom we had taken up arms. How different the world would look today had Americans of that era accepted the principles and premises that underlie an atheistic worldview.
Sadly, when atheists seek to prevent others from expressing in the public square their sense of devotion to those fallen in the service of their country, in the service of transcendent values and ideals which have elevated humanity in so many ways, he does great damage to the nation he claims to support. But more to the point, he betrays the emptiness of his own belief system.
Many committed Christians are no doubt angered at these developments. Might I suggest that pity is a better response? Christianity has weathered far greater challenges. This particular cross may be torn down, but the shadow of The Cross will always cover the Earth, and in the end, every knee will bend.
But seeing the pettiness that drives these efforts, a bit of sympathy may be our best first response.
Posted by Al Serratoatheism, Mr. Soledad cross, public expression of religion
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The problem of evil is perhaps the most common objection non-believers have to the existence of God. If God is allegedly all-powerful and all-loving, why does he allow the horrific evil we witness in history or in our daily lives? Is He too weak to stop evil, or simply unwilling? Does the existence of evil negate the reasonable existence of God? Like many short, rhetorically powerful objections to God’s existence, there are sound and adequate responses theists can offer, but few that can be articulated with brevity. Any attempt to answer the problem of evil is called a “theodicy” (from the Greek theos “god” and dike “justice”): “a vindication of God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil”. Like many of the criminal cases I work as a detective, the case for God’s existence (given the presence of evil) is a case made cumulatively.
All of my cold cases are circumstantial cases made by assembling a large variety of evidences pointing to the same conclusion. The cumulative nature of my cases requires jurors to consider the collective whole, rather than any isolated piece of evidence. In fact, no single piece of evidence in a cumulative circumstantial case may be all that convincing when considered on its own. But when it is added to the other evidences pointing to the same conclusion, the totality of the case becomes overwhelming. This is the difficult nature of circumstantial cases. They are time consuming, both in their development prior to trial and in their presentation before a jury.
In a similar way, the answer to the problem of evil is cumulative and often difficult to develop (and time-consuming to present). It requires us to consider a number of evidences pointing the same conclusion, and to prepare for the attack any one of these evidences is likely to experience when skeptics attempt to isolate them from the larger case. Any effort to defend the existence of God from the problem of evil must address and include the following cumulative set of truths:
The Relationship Between Moral Evil and Human Freedom
Our theodicy must articulate the nature of love and God’s desire to create a world in which love is possible. True love requires that humans have the ability to freely choose; love cannot be forced if it is to be heartfelt and real. Freedom of this nature is often costly. A world in which people have the freedom to love and perform great acts of kindness is also a world in which people have the freedom to hate and commit great acts of evil. You cannot have one without the other, and we understand this intuitively.
The Relationship Between Human Suffering and the Nature of God
Our theodicy must also articulate the nature and values of God and the temporary nature of our temporal lives. As difficult as it may seems in times of suffering, our response must at least address several important aspects of God. (1) A good God values character over comfort. Creature comforts are temporary, but character transcends time. (2) A transcendent God understands that ‘love’ is the perfect balance between mercy and justice. We, as humans, often hold a very temporal understanding of love; we think of love as that warm instantaneous feeling, that lustful desire, or that passionate season of romance. But God understands that true love transcends the moment and often requires discernment, discipline and judgment. (3) An eternal God provides humans with an existence beyond the grave. We usually want our desire for comfort, love, mercy and justice to be satisfied in this life (and immediately if at all possible!) But our pursuit of immediate gratification often leads us to do things that are ultimately harmful to ourselves and to others.
The Relationship Between Natural Evil and God’s Existence
Our theodicy must address the sometimes hidden or obscured causes of natural evil (like earthquakes, tsunamis or even birth defects. We must address a number of collective factors: (1) God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process that makes it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. (2) God may also tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of human free agency. (3) God may permit some natural evil because it challenges people to think about God for the first time. (4) God may permit some natural evil because it provides humans with the motivation and opportunity to develop Godly character.
The Relationship Between Immoral Christian Behavior and a Moral God
Our theodicy must be prepared to defend the existence of the Christian God, in light of the sometimes immoral behavior of “Christians”. While history may include examples of “Christian” groups committing evil upon those with whom they disagreed, a fair examination will also reveal they were not alone in this sort of behavior. Groups holding virtually every worldview, from theists to atheists, have been mutually guilty of evil behavior. The common denominator in these violent human groups was not worldview; it was the presence of humans. Regardless of worldview, humans will try to find a way to justify their evil actions. The question is not which group is more violent but which worldview most authorizes and accommodates this violence.
The Relationship Between Our Understanding and God’s Actions
Our theodicy must address the nature and actions of God through history, particularly when God has commanded the destruction of particular people groups. It’s easy for us to judge the words and actions of God as if He were just another human, subject to an objective standard transcending Him. But when we judge God’s actions in this way, we are ignoring His unique authority and power: (1) If there is a God, all of creation is His handiwork. He has the right to create and destroy what is His, even when this destruction may seem unfair to the artwork itself. (2) If there is a God, all of us are His patients. He has the wisdom and authority to treat us as He sees fit, even when we might not be able to understand the overarching danger we face if drastic action isn’t taken. (3) If there is a God, He is more concerned about saving us for eternity than He is about making our mortal lives safe.
The Relationship Between Evil and Eternity
Our theodicy must also address our limited view of reality. If the Christian worldview is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporal lives. Whatever we experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. Our eternal life with God will be a life without suffering, without pain and without evil. As our eternal life with God stretches beyond our temporal experience, whatever suffering or injustice we might have experienced here on earth will seem like it occurred in the blink of an eye.
The Nature of Objective Evil and the Existence of God
Finally, our theodicy must recognize the futility of any objection to evil unless we can first ground the definition of good and bad (right and wrong) in the existence of a transcendent source for such concepts. If evil is simply a matter of personal or cultural opinion, we could eliminate evil by simply changing our minds. If notions of evil transcend each of us personally and apply to all cultures regardless of location or time in history (like the claim, “it’s never OK to torture babies for the fun of it”), we’ve got to discover the transcendent source for our definitions. There can be no transcendently sufficient definition of evil unless there is a transcendent standard of righteousness. Evil, as a concept, ceases to have meaning unless it can be compared and measured against an objective standard of virtue. Those who complain about evil see it as more than personal opinion, but to do so, they must borrow their objective standard from a transcendent, theistic worldview.
Any adequate response to the problem of evil must robustly address the collective, cumulative case. Even in trying to briefly reconstruct the case, I’ve exceeded the word count I typically use for my daily blog. This is the problem with answering the problem of evil. While the objection can be stated in a sentence of two, the response cannot. This shouldn’t surprise us; when a defendant says simply, “I didn’t do it; I wasn’t there,” the necessary response from the prosecuting team will take weeks to articulate. But when we’re done, the cumulative case will be persuasive, even though any one small piece of this case may be less than convincing. This is the nature of cumulative cases, and this is the nature of our theodicy.
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I leaned over and said, “I think it may be true.” “What may be true?” asked Susie. “Christianity,” I responded. “The more I look at the Gospels, the more I think they look like real eyewitness accounts.” I spent months examining the claims of the Gospels, evaluating them with the template I typically apply to eyewitnesses in my criminal investigations. At the end of my examination, I was confident in their reliability. I believed the Gospels were telling me the truth about Jesus. But I wasn’t yet a Christian. I had what I often refer to as “belief that”. I examined what the Gospels had to say about Jesus, and after testing them rigorously, I came away with confidence in their accuracy, early dating, reliable transmission and lack of bias. But I still had a profoundly important question: “What is the cross all about? Why did Jesus have to die that way?” My wife, Susie, had been raised as a cultural Catholic, and although she was familiar with the language and doctrines of Catholicism, her answer was simply, “I don’t really know.” After months of investigation, I believed what the Gospels told me about Jesus, but I wasn’t yet ready to accept the Gospel of Salvation.
Yesterday, CBN posted the story of my journey from “belief that” to “belief in”. It’s really the first time I’ve told the story this completely, and I hope it will help you see the role evidence can play in moving someone from intellectual assent to volitional submission:
For me, the transition from “belief that” to “belief in” can be summarized simply. My investigation of Jesus brought me to a place of certainty and confidence. What I read about Jesus in the Gospels led me to “belief that”. But what I read about me in the Gospels led me to “belief in”. For months I had been focused on testing the reliability of the Gospels without really embracing the teachings of Jesus related to my own condition as a human. I can still remember where I was when I first read through the accounts from a new perspective, searching this time for what they said about my own human nature. It was convicting.
I was never someone who saw myself as a bad person. In fact, my role as a police officer only amplified my own pride and sense of “goodness”. I took bad guys to jail. I thought I understood the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. I was on one side of the bars; bad people were on the other. But the New Testament eroded my confidence in my own righteousness. As I saw myself on the pages of Scripture, I had to admit their accuracy. They described me perfectly. The more I read, the more I recognized my need for a Savior. Suddenly the Gospel made sense.
Every worldview asks and answers three questions: How did we get here, why is it so messed up, and how do we fix it? As I came to understand the answer to the second question, I was ready to embrace the answer to the third. Our problem is rebellion, the same kind of rebellion I had been demonstrating so vividly for thirty-five years as a non-believer. How can we fix it? The Gospel. When I first stepped into an evangelical church and heard the pastor describe Jesus, I wasn’t ready to accept the message of Salvation. I had to begin by examining the Gospel eyewitness accounts:
This investigation of the Gospels led me to a place of readiness. I was prepared, as a result of my investigation, to hear what Jesus had to say about me. Make no mistake about it, my old “belief that” was not a saving faith. But my present “belief in” would not have been nearly as robust and animated if not for the evidential confidence I gained from my initial investigation. “Belief in,” when informed by the evidence required for “belief that,” is far more likely to engage the world in a vigorous, confident manner. This is an often overlooked aspect of evidential Christian Case Making (apologetics). But, informed trust looks and feels different than blind faith. I can see the difference when I travel across the country. When our questions are answered and the evidences are clear, we begin to live differently. When we are confident the Gospels are an evidentially accurate description of human history, we are far more likely to share our trust in the Gospel of Salvation.700 Club, apologetics, Belief, CBN, Christian Case Making, faith, Gospel of salvation, New Testament Gospels, Salvation, trust in God
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I just spent an amazing weekend at Green Bay Community Church, teaching adults and students about the reliability of the New Testament Gospels and the nature of truth. Troy Murphy has done a wonderful job assembling a powerful staff at the city’s largest church. GBCC’s youth pastor, Evan Gratz, opened up his youth group to me on Sunday night. As usual, the best part of the time with students was answering questions at the end of the evening. The problem of evil was raised by a teenager who described her recent conversation with an atheist friend. As an atheist myself for most of my life, I resonated with the objection and offered a brief response: If what we believe as Christians is true, evil and suffering are only a problem for atheists. The problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.
Evil and suffering are typically experienced and understood within the context of one’s life. As an atheist, I hoped for (and expected) a life of approximately ninety years. In the context of this span of time, if I had developed cancer in my forties, I would have been angered by the amount of time stolen from me as I battled the disease. In fact, if I had been diagnosed with a terminal disease at that age, I would have been outraged by the fact it was going to deprive me of fifty percent of the life I expected. When your life is only ninety years long, anything cutting the time short is evil, and any prolonged suffering along the way is unjust and intolerable.
But what if we could live more than ninety short years? What if our lives had a beginning, but no end? How would we see (and respond to) evil, pain and suffering in the context of an eternal life? How many of you who can remember the painful vaccinations you received as a child? If you’re reading this article at the age of thirty, the small period of your life occupied by the pain you experienced during those vaccinations has been long outdistanced by the years you’ve lived since then. As time stretched on from the point of that experience, you were able to place the pain within the larger context of your life. You don’t even remember it now. If you have pierced ears, ask yourself a similar question. The pain you experienced at the point of the piercing is nearly forgotten, especially if it has been years since it occurred. Evil, pain and suffering are experienced and understood within the larger context of one’s life.
If the Christian worldview is true, we are eternal beings who will live forever. We get more than ninety years, we get all of eternity. Our experience and understanding of pain and evil must be contextualized within eternity, not within our temporal lives. Whatever we experience here in our earthly life, no matter how difficult or painful it may be, must be seen through the lens of forever. As our eternal life stretches out beyond our struggles in mortality, our temporal experiences will become an ever-shrinking percentage of our consciousness. The suffering we may have experienced on earth will be long outdistanced by the eternal life we’ve lived since then. Our life with God will be a life without suffering, without pain and without evil. “God will wipe away every tear from (our) eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). It will also be a life where justice is realized, “for the Lord loves justice; he will not forsake his saints,” (Psalm 37:27-28) and He “will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work” (Ecclesiastes 3:17). As our glorious eternal life with God stretches beyond our temporal experience, whatever suffering or injustice we might have experienced here on earth will seem like it occurred in the blink of an eye.
In the context of the Christian eternal life, pain, suffering and evil can be faced and endured with strength, hope and confidence unavailable in an atheistic worldview. What used to seem so unjust to me is now less egregious. What used to seem so unbearable can now be faced with hope. The problem of evil, from my new Christian perspective, isn’t the same kind of problem it was from my old atheistic perspective, because the problem of evil isn’t really a problem for Christianity.
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Atheists are quick to accuse believers of ignorance or superstition. They claim that Christian doctrines such as the Resurrection or the Virgin Birth are just foolish myths, meant to comfort people who don’t want to face reality. Follow reason, they exhort us.
But what reasons do the atheists have to support the conclusion that there is no God? Some may say that since they have never seen him, and have never been contacted by him, there is no reason to believe he is there. But it is not enough to rely on this purported lack of evidence – their claim is that they know that such a being does not exist. This requires some showing.
Proving a negative -here, the non-existence of God – is of course quite difficult. Logically, it would require some evidence that every corner of reality – whether the physical universe or any domain that transcends nature – has been examined, a task that is, simply put, impossible. Consequently, the atheist will often claim that he does not really have a burden to prove his case. He might instead rely upon an analogy, saying for instance that he does not believe there are leprechauns even though he has not scoured the universe to prove that none exist. Or he might use unicorns or goblins or some other fictitious creature to make his point. But doing this amounts to a category error, for there is in this universe nothing like God. He is in a category of his own.
Consider: In the case of leprechauns, we are talking about figures from Irish folklore that are characterized by their size and style of dress, and their supposed penchant for mending shoes, storing coins in a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and generally making mischief. Just describing them is the first step in intuitively realizing that they don’t really exist. God, on the other hand, is not a thing within creation. He is that Being, outside of and apart from this universe, from which all things derived; that Being a greater than which cannot possibly be conceived. He is the Uncaused Cause, the First Mover, the incomprehensibly intelligent and powerful source of all that exists.
Placing this image before our mind, we see that this conception of God is based not on fairy tale or folklore but on reason. Something must be there to explain what is here, to account for intelligence and consciousness, to make sense of the design inherent in nature, the laws that govern it, and the existence of morality and beauty. Even if all religious knowledge were suddenly erased, rational men and women would quickly grasp that such a Being is real – that He must exist.
To prove atheism, a person must do more than ignore all the evidence of design in the universe. He must do more than reject the testimony of those who witnessed Christ’s life, death and resurrection. He must be able to examine the entire universe, and everything that exists beyond the universe. In short, he must become omniscient, for only then could he know, with the certainty atheism claims, that there is no God.
Talk about chasing the pot of gold – ironically, the atheist would have to become God in order to prove that God does not exist.
Posted by Al Serratoatheism, First mover, leprechauns, uncaused cause
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From the earliest days of the Christian era, believers understood their responsibility as guardians of truth. The New Testament teaches specific objective truths about the attributes of God, the person of Jesus and the nature of Salvation. In spite of this, a number of teachers emerged over time, promoting claims and ideas contradicting the teaching of scripture. Much of this heretical activity was driven by the three motives commonly responsible for misbehavior. Leaders within Christianity were often driven by their own prideful desires. None of this came as any surprise to those who knew the Scripture, however, since the Bible predicted teachers such as these would arise, offering false ideas and distortions of God’s Word:
But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.
2 Peter 2:1-2
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
1 John 4:1
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 Timothy 1:18-20
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.
A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition reject.
The early Christians had been warned by Paul, Peter and John to be careful about truth. The Apostles embraced certain objective truths about God, Jesus and Salvation, and warned these truths were not simply a matter of choice. Their followers were diligent to heed these warnings. The Apostle John’s disciple, Polycarp, had a disciple of his own named Irenaeus. This disciple of Polycarp, just two generations removed from the eyewitnesses, took the apostolic admonition about truth very seriously. He confronted the Christian misinterpretations and lies of his day in a work he titled, “Contra Haereses” (Against Heresies). Irenaeus understood truth is exclusive and error (while it is often carefully disguised) must be confronted:
“Error, indeed is never set forth in its naked deformity, lest, being thus exposed, it should at once be detected. But it is craftily decked out in an attractive dress, so as, by its outward form, to make it appear to the inexperienced more true than truth itself.” (Against Heresies 1.2)
Irenaeus’ words transcend time. They are still important for us today. This week we’ve been looking at a series of historic heresies. Their descriptions should sound familiar; the same errant views related to God, Jesus, Salvation and man continue to reappear in our own time. But the Christian faith has always held truth in incredibly high regard. As Christians, we are called to seek and teach the objective truths of the Christian Worldview, while rejecting the obvious errors of false teaching. Irenaeus modeled this aspect of the Christian life brilliantly; his example should inspire us to do the same.
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Last night, as part of an apologetics series at Grace Fellowship Church, we examined the alternative explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus. One possible explanation suggests the disciples stole the body and conspired to lie about the resurrection appearances. As a skeptic, I believed this was perhaps the most reasonable explanation for the empty tomb, but the more I came to understand what motivates people to lie, murder (or commit any sin at all), the less reasonable this explanation became. As a homicide detective, “motive detection” became an important part of my work. When entering a murder scene, it’s tempting to become overwhelmed with the possibilities. Why did this happen? Who would do such a thing? What could have motivated this? When I was a young investigator, I was sometimes overcome by the possibilities. But as I worked case after case, however, I came to realize murders occur for only one of three reasons. As it turns out, these same three reasons lie at the heart of every other crime as well. In fact, every time you’ve ever done something wrong, you did it for one of these three reasons:
This is often the driving force behind the crimes I investigate. Some murders, for example, result from a botched robbery. Other murders take place simply because they give the suspect a financial advantage.
Sexual Lust (or Relational Desire)
I’ve also investigated a number of murders sexually (or relationally) motivated. Some sexual attackers murder their victims so they can’t testify later. Some murders occur simply because a jealous boyfriend couldn’t bear to see his girlfriend dating another man.
The Pursuit of Power
Finally, some people commit murders to achieve or maintain a position of power or authority. It might be a rivalry between two people who are trying to get the same promotion. Others have killed simply because the victim dishonored or “disrespected” them in front of a group of peers.
That’s it. Nothing more. When I enter a murder scene, I simply ask myself a question: Who would have benefited from the perspective of money, sex or power? My suspect will eventually fit into one of these three categories. When presenting this set of motives to groups across the nation, some have offered additional categories. What about jealousy, hatred, revenge or anger? “Motive detection” requires us to ask what is causing the jealousy, hatred, revenge or anger. When we seek the root causes, we end up back in the three simple categories I’ve already described. What about insanity; is this an additional category? No. The mentally insane are a group for which we can’t ask traditional questions of motive. Their actions are unpredictable and often inexplicable simply because of their mental instability.
Why are these three motives so important to us as Christians? “Motive detection” can help us spot heresy and confirm the reliability of the Gospels. Every heretical movement in history was driven by a leader who possessed one of these three simple motives. Joseph Smith (the founder of Mormonism) for example, possessed all three motives. He was repeatedly supported by his followers financially, took over 30 wives as the prophet of the church, and at one time commanded the largest standing militia in the North American continent (with the exception of the United States armed forces). While not everyone who possesses motive actually acts on their desire, I’ve yet to convict a defendant who didn’t have a motive to begin with. The fact Smith possessed sufficient motive does not necessarily make him a liar, but the foundational drives were certainly in place.
When we examine the 1st Century disciples of Jesus through the lens of motives and desires, we end up in a very different place, however. If the disciples stole the body of Jesus and lied about the resurrection, they did it for one of the same three reasons we’ve already discussed. Which motive could have driven them to do such a thing?
None of the disciples or apostles gained anything financially from their claims. In fact, it appears John and James left respectable employment with their family to enter into the financial hardship known to the apostles (as described in the Book of Acts and by Paul in his letters). No one got rich.
Sexual Lust (or Relational Desire)?
Given the repeated admonitions related to sexual purity in the New Testament, the apostles and disciples garnered a reputation for sexual reservation and modesty known to the world around them. No one got girlfriends.
The Pursuit of Power?
Paul was already a respected and established leader within the Jewish religious elite, given the responsibility of persecuting Christians. It’s unlikely the pursuit of power drove him to leave his success to start anew with the very group he formerly persecuted. The apostles became part of a hated class within the Roman Empire. There’s a big difference between seeking fame and enduring infamy. No one got powerful.
Once we understand what motivates us to do what we shouldn’t, it’s a lot easier to examine the history of Christianity (and all the heretical movements along the way). In the end, motives drive actions. As we learn more about motive, we can grow in our confidence related to the apostles, and better understand why heretical splinter movements have emerged over history.
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Many modern skeptics contend that faith and reason are precise opposites. Under their view, my “faith” in Jesus Christ is an act in opposition to reason. At best, it is a form of wishful thinking, a crutch for those who find reality too harsh. True, relying on one’s faith is comforting, but Christians contend that faith is not simply a crutch, because the evidence supports the belief that Jesus lived, died and rose again – just as he said he would. But with the preconception that faith is “just a crutch,” how can a believer ever get a fair hearing on the evidence? It would be like trying to sell someone the worst car on the lot by telling him that driving it will make him happy. Or trying to convince a jury that the defendant is guilty in spite of the lack of evidence because he’s not dressed for success. “Unreasonable” arguments don’t persuade people.
A skeptic friend put it this way: “faith” is accepting things you can’t understand or explain, and “reason” is the opposite – accepting only those things you can understand and explain. This is a good, succinct definition of the way many people view these concepts. But this view is mistaken. ”Faith” is the act of trusting in something that you cannot know with complete certainty. It contains an action part – trusting – and a standard of proof part, for lack of a better term – the degree of certainty you attach to your conclusion. The opposite of faith is not reason, it is disbelief. In other words, to lack faith in something is to believe that the opposite of it is probably true. I have no “faith” that Superman will save me, for instance, because I do not believe he exists. “Reason” is not opposed to trust – it does not stand against all acts of trusting. It is merely the process by which we derive conclusions based on evaluating evidence that we receive through our senses. It can be inductive or deductive; it can be sound or fallacious. But in the end, it is simply a tool that we have access to through the use of our minds, much like the tool of vision, hearing, or language acquisition. These things are simply available to any human being with a normally functioning mind. Seen in this light, it is apparent that the opposite of reason is not faith, it is irrationality. It is forming or holding views that are inconsisent with the way things actually are. It may well be that some acts of faith are indeed irrational, being held in spite of the evidence against it.
But it is a mistake to view reason and faith as opposites. Instead, they exist on a continuum, in which knowledge moves from things that are definitely known through observable evidence (trust with high certainty) to things that are not definitely known but highly likely to be true (trust with less certainty) to matters that are entirely speculative and can be taken only “on faith” (trust with little to support it – the way the skeptic views the term). So faith in God, like any other conclusion a person reaches, is always the product of reason, because reason is simply the only way anyone can arrive at a conclusion. What distinguishes sound faith from foolish faith is the strength of the evidence that supports the conclusion (for example, what evidence supports the resurrection?) and the validity of the reasoning process that was used (for example, I believe because the guy in the van down by the river told me it’s true).
Some examples may help to clarify the distinction I am trying to draw.
Knowing certain things about the way the world works, you are not surprised when you arrive home and find letters in your mailbox. Even though you do not see the mail carrier drop the items in the box, you have reason to conclude that he must have done so. Believing this, based on the evidence and despite not having witnessed it, is a form of faith, because by not seeing him actually deliver the mail, you may in fact be wrong about its source. Some possible sources – such as spontaneous generation of mail – are so absurd that you reject them out of hand, but others –maybe there is someone else who also goes door to door dropping off letters – are possibilities, and may become more probable if additional evidence is discovered (for example, that some of the mail is not postmarked). Based on what you do know, you move from knowledge of certain facts to trust, or faith, that things are operating the way you believe them to be.
This is a simple example, to which many would respond, “but we all know that mail carriers exist, so of course I can believe that he is the source of the mail.” But this not the point; the example is meant to show the process by which we form conclusions. Consider a different example instead, that of a wife assessing the fidelity of her husband. Because she cannot be with him all the time, she cannot know for certain whether he is cheating on her. But she is not totally without evidence, either. You would not say to her that she simply has “faith,” as if she has no reasons whatsoever for her beliefs. Instead, you would view that situation as a continuum of knowledge. In other words, her “faith” can be soundly based on available evidence – as in the situation where through long term-observation and knowledge of the character, belief system and conduct of her husband, she can be confident in placing her trust. Or her “faith” can be foolish – as in the situation where the husband claims to be true but has shown through prior behavior and through comments that he is not likely to withstand the temptation to stray. This example shows two things: one, like the mail carrier analogy, that faith is something we all use, even without necessarily thinking about it, because as limited beings we cannot know everything with certainty; and two, that the certitude of one’s faith depends on the facts and rationale that support the faith. In my example, the one rests her faith on logic and reason, while the other holds it in spite of logic and reason.
In my next post, I’ll examine why using this form of reasoning allows us to conclude that God – a person – must be there, and that placing our “faith” in him is an act of reason, based on evidence, and not contrary or opposed to reason. Yes, faith moves one beyond the evidence, and provides knowledge of things otherwise not seen, but the starting point is reason, not the absence of reason.
Posted by Al Serratoevidence and faith. apologetics, faith, reason, skepticism
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As an atheist, I used to challenge my Christian friends with a common objection heard across the Internet today. Although my formulation of the objection differed from time to time, it was a lot like the popular statement attributed to Stephen F. Roberts:
“I contend we are both atheists, I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
My point was simple: All of us are atheists to some degree if you really think about it; we just disagree about which gods we reject. Christians are atheistic in their attitude toward, Zeus, Poseidon, Lakshmi, Vishnu, Cheonjiwang, Na Tuk Kong, Achamán, Huixtocihuatl and thousands of other historic gods. When asked, Christians typically offer the same reasons for rejecting these other “deities” that I would have offered for rejecting the God of Christianity. So (as I often claimed), if my believing friends simply approached Yahweh in the same way they approached other mythologies, they would inevitably take the final step toward rationality and reject all false gods.
This objection is still popular. I hear it (or read it) frequently in my efforts to make the case for Christianity now that I’m a believer. While there are certainly several valid responses, I’d like to offer one from my experience as a detective and case maker. I think it provides a brief, but rhetorically powerful rejoinder to this misguided, iconic objection.
In every criminal trial, a jury is asked to evaluate the actions of one defendant related to a particular crime. While there are millions of other people in the world who could have committed the crime under consideration (and indeed, millions of these people were actually available to commit the crime), only one has been charged. If the jury becomes convinced this defendant is the perpetrator, they will convict him based on their beliefs. They will convict the accused even though they haven’t examined the actions (or nature) of millions of other potential suspects. They’ll render a verdict based on the evidence related to this defendant, in spite of the fact they may be ignorant of the history or actions of several million alternatives. If the evidence is persuasive, the jurors will become true believers in the guilt of this man or woman, even as they reject millions of other options.
As Christians, we are just like the jurors on that trial. We make a decision about Jesus on the basis of the evidence related to Jesus, not the fact there may be many alternative candidates offered by others. If the evidence is persuasive, we can reach our decision in good conscience, even if we are completely unfamiliar with other possibilities. Christianity makes claims of exclusivity; if Christianity is true, all other claims about God are false. If the evidence supporting Christianity is convincing to us as the jury, we need look no further. In the end, our decision will be based on the strength (or weakness) of the case for Christianity, just like the decisions made by jurors related to a particular defendant must be based on the strength (or weakness) of the evidence. At the end of a trail, juries are “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential suspect, because the evidence confirming the guilt of their particular defendant was sufficient. In a similar way, we can be confident “unbelievers” when it comes to every other potential god because the evidence for Christianity is more than sufficient.
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In today’s increasingly secular world, attempts to reach people with the good news of Christianity are often met with a yawn. Religion really isn’t very interesting, many think, and in fact it has brought more harm than good. But aren’t they afraid of what might await them once they die?
It’s not hard to find the skeptics’ answer, like this one I saw online:
“If something like a divine creator exists, why would an atheist fear that? Such a being would very likely not concern themselves with the details of my existence (the notion that such a being would be intimately concerned with the details of our lives seems like massive egocentric hubris). If it were, I have no fears of being judged. I cannot see how such a powerful being would fault a mere human for being logical and evidence-based. I don’t see why such a being would demand something as irrational as faith, and punish people for not being irrational.”
What jumps out from such a comment is the utter disdain that the writer has for religious belief. Without ever making the case, the writer concludes that God, if he does exist, would reward “reason” and view such things as “faith” as irrational and not worthy of “logical and evidence-based thinking.” “Reason,” of course, is what the skeptic thinks it is. In sum, the argument relies heavily on ridicule, as it belittles the believer as superstitious and irrational.
But this skeptic’s position doesn’t bear close scrutiny. He says he doesn’t fear being “judged” because a powerful creator would want human beings to be “logical.” The skeptic appears to be equating reason and logic with right or moral behavior. But where did get such an idea? Deciding to kill one’s competitor to advance one’s business prospects is a “logical” thought sequence. If doing so will likely go undetected and will, say, double his income, the decision could also be considered evidence-based. But this tells me nothing about the quality of the act, because logic does not provide us with rules of morality. Logic only helps us to apply or navigate them once they are known. Morality is a message to us about how we should act when we would rather act in a different – usually selfish – way. We use logic and reason to assess the message – the rules. Reason and logic cannot provide them.
The challenger may protest that everyone knows killing is wrong, so I’m stating the obvious. But a slight change in the example will highlight the point. Imagine an American abortion doctor migrates to a new land and sets up shop there. Determining that there are no abortion doctors in his area, he quickly corners the market, advertising his services to all in need. Because American law views this as the legitimate expression of a “privacy” right, he feels quite logical and evidence-based in deciding to provide his grisly product in his new home. But the host country uses a different set of laws. It sees no privacy right in the destruction of pre-born human beings; the law of that land finds the taking of innocent human life to be not only immoral but also illegal, and it doesn’t draw arbitrary lines regarding the age of the human life in question. The doctor may have based his decision on reason, but what he should have done was determine who set the laws in his new land and, more importantly, what that law provides. Then reason may have led him to a better conclusion.
The writer’s mention of “egocentric hubris” is quite apt, but it applies to his own view. What arrogance underlies the assumption that one has a corner on reason and logic? That one can simply do as he pleases without any concern about how the sovereign – the governing authority – might rule?
This mistake leads to his mistaken conclusion – that such a being would very likely not concern themselves with the details of my existence. Perhaps this would be true if – and this is an important if – the person in question is completely keeping the law. For the most part, the United States government does not involve itself in the details of the lives of its hundreds of millions of inhabitants. But the law of the land applies to all of the inhabitants, and if the governing authorities determine that any one individual has violated the law, it tends to turn its attention on that person – to become concerned about the details of his existence. Indeed, in America, we as a people are beginning to grow concerned about the level of government interest in us as the technology available increases.
But God is not merely a sovereign nation. He does not have limited resources that he must conserve and allot. He does not have difficulty “tracking” his creations. He is a perfect being, capable of perfect and complete knowledge. That means that it’s really no trouble for him to monitor the minutest details of every person’s life. And we’re not ants that happen to be occupying space with him, alive but largely irrelevant. We’re moral actors – imbued by him with free will – and we have used that free will to rebel against him, to engage in the very kind of willful defiance that brings wrongdoers to the attention of the police and the courts.
The skeptic hasn’t spent enough time considering what the attributes of a perfect Creator would include. If he did, he might realize that such a being would embody perfect justice. That’s a problem, even for “evidence based” and “reasonable” people, because the issue isn’t whether what they’re doing makes sense to them, but whether it violates his law. In short, he would have every right to communicate rules to us, rules that he actually expects us to follow. The good news of Christianity is that God also provides the solution to our problem – and that solution has little to do with “irrational faith” and a lot to do with placing our trust in him and assenting to the work he is prepared to do in us. Saying yes to that process is actually the most rational thing a person can choose, because so much hangs in the balance.
The skeptic’s final mistake is to conclude, without attempting to prove, that faith is irrational. I’ll address that error in my next post.
Posted by Al Serratofaith, fear of God, Gospel of salvation, moral law
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Whenever I begin training a group of Christians, I try to spend some time role playing as an atheist or asking the simple question, “Why are you a Christian?” When people in the audience provide the typical answers I often hear (i.e. “I prayed about it and God confirmed it was true,” “I have a relationship with God and I feel His presence,” “I had a strong experience that changed my life,” “I just know it is true,” “I was raised in the Church and I’ve never had a reason to question it; God has always been a part of my life,”), I simply ask them how their answers are any different than those of their Mormon friends or relatives. I then begin to push back a bit and challenge them with objections related to the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God and the problem of evil. I wish I could capture the expressions I sometimes see on the faces in my audience. It’s clear that for many of them, this is the first time they have ever been challenged in this way.
Objections and alternative atheist explanations are always most powerful when they are first offered and considered. If you’ve never been challenged, you are far more likely to stumble when you first hear (and try to process) an objection. In many of the places where I teach, Christians have been protected within their Christian community and culture. They’ve raised their kids, attended church, worked hard, and while they’ve certainly noticed the steady decline of Christian values in the world around them, they’ve yet to spend any time on atheist websites or reading atheist books. They’re unfamiliar with the objections being offered and (even more importantly) the tone and attitude with which these objections are being voiced. They need a wake-up call.
We shouldn’t be surprised to discover strong objections to theism or Christianity. The mere presence of these objections shouldn’t shake us. In every trial I’ve ever worked, even those in which the jury returned a guilty verdict in just a few hours, the defense team offered a robust and well-articulated argument, complete with its own set of evidences, witnesses and propositions. I expected them to do this, and I wasn’t surprised at their level of commitment to their position. But we prepared our juries in advance and always reminded them: a “possible” response is not necessarily a “plausible” refutation.
We’re usually very careful to anticipate the objections of the defense team so we can lay the evidential foundation establishing the weakness of their position. I want jurors to consider the options even as they are hearing our side of the story. If there is a critical issue in the case, I want them to hear it from the prosecution before they hear it from the defense. The last thing I want them to think is we were trying to hide something or were simply unaware of a weakness in our case. It’s better for us to show both the strengths and liabilities of our case before the other side tries to magnify the liabilities disproportionately.
In a similar way, when we train each other as Christian Case Makers to become the kind of Christian God has called us to be, we need to expose ourselves to the most robust objections the other side can offer. We need to deal with these claims here, in the context of our Church family, rather than encounter them for the first time out there, in the university setting, workplace, or on the Internet. When we examine the objections in advance and are aware of both the strengths and challenges inherent to our worldview, we will be far less likely to be shaken when we encounter objections, and we’ll be far more prepared to represent our King.
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My good friend Brett Kunkle and I have been working diligently to address a dilemma facing the Church: the departure of young Christians who walk away from Christianity in their college years. We’ve had great success with youth groups when we’ve been able to convince their leaders to stop teaching and start training. I’ve been writing recently about the model I employed with my own youth group using the acronym T.R.A.I.N. In response to a recent post, however, two commenters described this effort as nothing more than religious indoctrination:
“I wish more parents would teach both sides of the argument, like a good professor would, and let the children decide for themselves. If I’m not mistaken, you’re not recommending critical thinking; on the contrary, you’re recommending a more rigorous indoctrination strategy.”
“If Christianity is true then I can see how this would help to further its growth, but if it’s not true then doesn’t this look like indoctrination? …Why not give up trying to control them and start to empower them to make their own decisions? Give them all the opinions and options for religious belief and let them pick what they think is right from a young age.”
Is our effort to train our Christian students nothing more than a biased, aggressive form of religious indoctrination? As someone who was a non-believer for most of my life, I think it’s possible (and necessary) to train students how to think, rather than simply tell them what to think:
A Reasoned Conviction Is Different Than a Prior Bias
As a Christian, I have beliefs, just like all my non-Christian friends. The real question is whether my beliefs are justifiably true. I was inclined against Christianity for 35 years; I entered the investigation with a bias against the Christian worldview. At some point, however, I concluded the truth of the Christian claims were the most reasonable inference from the evidence. I arrived at a reasoned conviction. As I now share what I’ve learned with others, I’m not teaching from a bias (an unfair, unwarranted prejudice in favor of Christianity), but from a reasonable conviction in light of the evidence.
Everyone Teaches From Their Reasoned Convictions
Everyone has a set of personal beliefs they’ve adopted for one reason or another. Hopefully these beliefs are reasonably grounded in evidence. No one teaches without such beliefs. Do we really think professors in the university setting are providing students with “all the opinions and options for religious belief” and allowing students to “pick what they think is right”? Do we really think university professors are accurately or fairly characterizing Christianity to their students? Not likely. The burden to teach fairly from our reasoned convictions (rather than our unwarranted, personal biases) is a shared responsibility. All of us struggle in this area; Christians are not the only ones who bear this responsibility.
Reasonable Christian Convictions Can Withstand Scrutiny
When training young people, I never feel like I have to stack the deck in favor of Christianity. In fact, I typically start by role playing as the old, unbelieving Jim, challenging Christian students with all the objections I frequently offered when I was an atheist. My goal is to show students how unreasonable their defenses are when they aren’t rooted in evidence. I begin by providing the atheistic alternatives in a robust form, being careful not to mischaracterize my old claims or create straw men arguments. I’m very comfortable presenting the alternatives in their strongest formulations because I am confident the Christian worldview provides a more rational explanation in light of the evidence and our common experience as humans. We demonstrate this reality by applying the laws of logic (and examining their origin) to the claims of atheism as they are presented by the atheists themselves. I encourage young Christians to read the best-selling books, websites and blogs of popular atheists. When students learn how to think carefully and examine the foundations of theistic and atheistic claims, they can make decisions about which worldview best represents and accounts for the reality in which they live.
Christian training, as I’ve proposed it here at Cold Case Christianity, is not indoctrination. We don’t want students to accept the claims of Christianity uncritically without consideration of other ideas, opinions, and beliefs. In fact, I believe the comparison of ideas serves the Christian cause powerfully. The strength of theism is often recognized more readily when contrasted with the limits of atheism. While the approach we’ve taken with students has been wildly successful in preparing them and strengthening their Christian beliefs, not every student emerges from this process as a Christian (further evidence the approach we take is fair and non-coercive). Students walk away from Christianity for a number of reasons and many of these have nothing to do with a reasoned examination of Christianity’s truth claims. But those who take the investigation seriously emerge with incredible confidence. They are prepared for whatever they may face in the university setting.
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Last weekend I had the opportunity to speak to an engaging group of Christians in Elgin, Iowa at the First Baptist Church of Elgin. The congregation was a wonderful combination of young families and older members who understand the challenges facing the younger Christians in their midst. I shared the overwhelming statistics chronicling the growing number of young Christians leaving the church during their college years, but many in the audience had already seen the departure firsthand. The dilemma was personal, and they were ready (and eager) to examine the causes (and the possible solutions). Before I shared my T.R.A.I.N. paradigm, I took a minute to describe the causal factors leading to the departure of so many young Christians. This isn’t rocket science; three simple truths combine to create the situation we see today:
Our Christian Teenagers are Inarticulate and Uninformed
Unfortunately, most of the young Christians who graduate from our youth programs and enter college are surprisingly inarticulate about their Christian beliefs. Sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Denton did an excellent job of reporting the problem in Soul Searching: The Religious Lives of American Teenagers. They discovered Christian teens have the ability to be articulate about a number of issues, but are seldom articulate when it comes to their Christian beliefs. Most could not describe simple principles and claims of Christianity, and even those who could, struggled to provide simple responses to typical skeptical objections they will surely encounter in college. Our students have not been trained with the university battlefield in view.
University Campuses are Generally Hostile to Christianity
And make no mistake about it, the university setting will likely be a battlefield populated with people opposed to Christianity. Sociologists Neil Gross (Harvard University) and Solon Simmons (George Mason University) conducted a study in 2006 revealing 1 in 4 university professors are atheists or agnostics (nearly 5 times the ration in the general population. And according to an Institute for Jewish and Community Research survey of 1,200 college faculty members, only 6% of the professors say the Bible is “the actual word of God,” 51% say the Bible is “an ancient book of fables, legends, history & moral precepts,” and more than half of the professors surveyed have “unfavorable” feelings toward Evangelical Christians.
Young Men and Women Are Eager to Chase Their Desires with Liberty
Most of us, if we’re honest, understand the temptation facing young Christians, because we’ve also experienced such enticements. As fallen humans, we’ve all experienced the temptation of youth. For many of our Christian students, their college years are the first opportunity they’ve ever had to be free of their parent’s consistent oversight. It’s also a place filled with attractive young people, many of whom don’t share their Christian worldview. Consider the strength of the temptation and imagine the selfish value of an alternative worldview allowing young students to chase their passions and desires without restriction, inhibition or guilt. For many, atheistic naturalism, with its alternate creation story, moral code, materialistic values and goals, is an incredibly attractive alternative to Christianity. The fallen inclination to chase our selfish desire is common to all of us, but it’s a critical driving force for many young students.
It doesn’t take a researcher with a PhD to understand the forces at work here. In fact, the dilemma can be characterized with a simple equation:
Most of us ought to be able to predict the sum in this equation; it should be easy to anticipate the outcome. Take a closer look at all three “addends” being added in this equation. Which of these three additive realities can we, as parents, youth pastors and leaders, impact or change? We can’t change the hostile nature of the university campus or the human nature of our young Christians. If we want to alter this math equation, we’re going to have to get involved with the first addend. We’ve got to do whatever it takes to inform, equip and engage young Christians in a rational, evidential investigation of Christianity. It’ll be tough enough for our students to resist the temptation to abandon their Christian worldview when tempted by their own desires; especially given the nature of university life and the encouragement they will receive to pursue their passions. But, it will be even easier to walk away if our students aren’t even sure why Christianity is true in the first place. It’s time to align our churches and ministries to engage the most important demographic within the Church: young Christians. It’s time to get in the game, redirect our efforts and start training.
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Our fast-paced lives leave us little time to ponder the ultimate meaning and purpose of life. Many of us try to avoid the question entirely, sensing it only as an occasional faint stirring in the still of the night. It may be thrust upon us in moments of joy – upon seeing the birth of a child – or in moments of anguish, when we contemplate the loss of a loved one. I spoke to someone recently who was asking questions about the “point” of life on earth. He had just buried his father, who had lived a full and vibrant life, but the question of “what happens next” was something to which he had not given much thought.
From the earliest written words, history records the struggle of countless men and women who sought to make sense of this very question. As a result, a variety of religions and philosophies arose and developed, each seeking to provide an answer. Christianity’s answer may not seem, at first, to add much. It is simple and rather straight-forward – the point of life is to gain eternity with God, by coming to know him and by loving and serving him. But beneath this rather simple formulation lies the greatest story ever told – the story of man, his origins and his ultimate destination. The Bible presents first the bad news of the human condition – the account of man’s rebellion against his Creator and the dire consequences that ensued. Man’s actions created a rift between us, corrupted our natures so that walking with a perfect being was no longer possible. Death and corruption entered the world as we reaped the consequences of our actions. But the Bible also tells how God closes the gap, how he restores us to union with him. There is, however, a problem for us: having endowed us with free will, God does not force reconciliation with him upon us. Instead, he seeks our consent. The master of all creation actually leaves us the choice of what we will do with the gift of life he has given us. In short, though he has the power to control us, he will not override our rebellion. Instead, he uses life’s circumstances – relationships such as marriage and child-raising and at times hardship and grief – to call out to us, to help prepare us for the work of salvation he has in mind. This life, then, constitutes a period of separation from him during which we will essentially decide our eternal future, during which we will follow a path that will lead us to ultimate life… or to endless despair.
Not satisfied, my friend asked how this could make sense of the loss of babies and very young children. How can a toddler make the kind of choice that octogenarians may not yet fully grasp? Implicit in the question is the basis for the answer. There is an assumption at play that heaven possesses a “one size fits all” characteristic. But why should that be so? It is entirely possible that infants are in heaven but in a state in which they will never progress, for lack of a better word. They are happy and will never suffer, but they will also never experience a greater connection to God that is in store for those who have developed intellectually, who have sought to love God with their minds as well as their spirits. There is considerable support for this view in Jesus’ own teachings. He speaks many times about the kingdom of heaven. He promises great “treasure in heaven” for those who follow him and who “sell what you possess and give to the poor.” (Matt 19:21) The Beatitudes promise a variety of rewards in heaven, specifically tied to things people do here. (Luke 6). Jesus assures the disciples who left houses or family members or lands for his name’s sake that they will receive a hundredfold in heaven. (Matt 19:29) Many of the parables convey a similar message. The parable of the talents (Matt 25:14- 30), for example, contemplates rewards in heaven commensurate with “investment” here on Earth. There are, after all, many rooms in “my Father’s house” and “if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2-4) By contrast, the one who denies Jesus before men will be denied before the angels of God, again speaking of a connection between what occurs here and what results in the hereafter. It may well be that there is progression that occurs once there, based on what our state of development was before we died.
In sum, the person who reaches intellectual maturity faces a different challenge than the child who never reaches the age of reason. Having developed the capacity to freely and knowingly accept or reject God brings with it both a greater consequence, but also perhaps a greater reward.
For many today, alternative philosophies – such as reincarnation (we keep trying until we get it “right”) or pluralism (everyone eventually gets the same reward in heaven, regardless of belief) are considerably more appealing. But the right question isn’t what makes me feel better but rather what is true? It is worth noting that questions like this can never be “proven” in the traditional sense. We obviously cannot see or otherwise determine what lies beyond this life. This, then, is an example of something that must be taken on faith. The Apostle Paul tells us that all men are destined to live and die once, and then to face judgment.Simple, straight-forward … and final.
Because I believe that the Bible is true (for other reasons too lengthy to detail here), I accept that its teaching in this area is worthy of belief. Each of us faces the same question, however much we try to suppress or ignore it. And much hangs in the balance.afterlife, faith, meaning of life, reincarnation
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Sometimes it’s hard to stay calm. But composure is typically an external expression of internal confidence. I’ve worked with SWAT officers who were the epitome of calmness in even the most harrowing situations. They never flinched; they never panicked. They knew we were well trained and prepared to address whatever challenge we could face. I think of these officers often as I navigate conversations with people who don’t share my Christian worldview; even people who aggressively oppose something I’ve written or recorded. Those of us who make a public defense of Christianity are likely to encounter strong disagreement on occasion. Sometimes this opposition is pointed, personal, venomous or shrill. I’ve seen some Christian case makers respond in a similar manner, quickly escalating the toxicity of the interaction until both sides are engaged in a frightful slugfest. If our beliefs about Jesus and the worldview He espoused are true, however, there’s really no need for such a panicky response.
Most of us are familiar with the “fight or flight” syndrome we observe in nature. When animals are in a weakened position and facing an eminent danger, they typically fight or run away. They remain calm and unmoved, however, when they are in a superior position and feel unthreatened. When we, as Christians, respond to a challenge with inappropriate aggression or hostility, we expose our own concerns about the strength of our position. This sometimes happens because we haven’t done the important work of examining the evidence to know the truth of Christianity with justifiable certainty. We happen to believe something that’s true without really knowing why it’s true. As a result, minor challenges sometimes seem daunting. Doubt and fear become a factor in our interaction. Panic emerges, and with it, the kind of behavior we sometimes see in the comment sections of popular blogs.
If you’ve ever caught yourself responding in a harsh, angry or toxic manner, step back and take a deep breath. Ask a few simple questions: Why am I in “attack” or “panic mode” if I possess the truth? Do I still have some unexamined doubt? What does my attitude express about my confidence? What do I need to study or learn to be better prepared so my internal certainty will result in external confidence? I’ve come to recognize times of anxiety as indicators. If I sense a twinge of panic, I look for the place of weakness in my knowledge. Once I’ve identified it, I can begin training. If I apply myself, these areas will shrink in size and my confidence and calmness will begin to grow once again.
If you already see yourself as a Christian Case Maker, you’re probably familiar with 1 Peter 3:15. Most of us, however, are more focused on the first half of this verse than the second:
“… but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence”
Most exchanges we see online between Christians and non-believers are anything but “gentle” or “reverent”. Why is this true? I suspect it’s because we fail to see the connection between the first and second part of 1 Peter 3:15. The more you prepare yourself for battle, the calmer and more poised you will be in the height of the struggle. The more “ready” you are, the more “gentle” and “reverent” you will be. The Christian worldview is reasonable and evidential. As Christians, our external demeanor should reflect an internal certainty grounded in this evidence. If we have an informed faith, we’ll be prepared to proclaim passionately without panicking publicly.
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Yet, it seems Christians increasingly speak with a divided voice when it comes to issues such the use of force, whether it be in self defense, “just war” theory or in the application of the death penalty. Many Christians have limited their beliefs to the words spoken by Jesus during his earthly ministry; indeed, many have reduced the Bible to Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. To them, Jesus is a pacifist who speaks of forgiving and who accepts everyone just as they are. Since Jesus never gave assent to the death penalty or to war, they reason, they could never endorse it.
What this view leaves unconsidered, of course, are those other areas of Scripture that also deal with these topics. For example, the Apostle Paul weighs in on the proper role of government, including the use of capital punishment, in his letter to the Romans: “if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it [the government] does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.” Romans 13:3-4
Passages like this don’t sit well with the modern believer. Since the passages seem to be at odds with some of Jesus’ words, many nominal believers conclude they must choose between the “two views.” So, naturally, they opt for Jesus. But such a view is ultimately self defeating, because the Bible makes clear that Jesus endorses Paul’s view. Hence, they cannot be in conflict, and Paul’s views must be considered and reconciled, and not simply rejected.
Prior to his conversion, “Saul of Tarsus” was a major persecutor of Christ’s church. He participated in the execution of Stephen which began a great persecution in Jerusalem. Acts 8. “Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.” Acts 8:3. He breathed “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Acts 9:1 That is, of course, until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus and underwent his conversion. Acts 9:3-9. That Paul’s authority is confirmed by Jesus could not be made any clearer than does the Book of Acts: “he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16.
Of course, the followers of Jesus rightly suspected Paul: Paul “was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” Acts 9:26. But eventually they realized that Paul’s conversion was in fact genuine and they accepted him, because Jesus had commissioned him. See eg. Acts 11, 13, 21. Paul was embraced by the leaders of the infant church and began his missionary journeys.
As Christians, we affirm that all Scripture is divinely inspired and suitable for correction and training. 2 Tim 3;16. The Book of Acts is the continuation of Luke’s gospel and has been considered Scripture from the earliest days of the church. How much sense would it make for Jesus to use Paul for inspired purposes but to get the message wrong?
So next time you debate a Christian who rejects Paul message, or believes that a choice must be made between Paul and Jesus, remind them of the history of the early Church. Like much of Scripture, understanding this divinely inspired message is not easy. Indeed, fair-minded believers may disagree as to the meaning, the extent or the modern application of a particular passage. But the Bible was never meant to be an easy read. It was not meant to be a book of phrases that we could pick and choose from as the need arose. It was, and remains, the account of God’s interaction with his creation.
Jesus selected Paul for a very specific purpose, and Paul played a central role in the development of the Church and its teachings. It is important, therefore, that we approach his writings in that way.
Posted by Al Serrato
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While I was in Tempe last week for a Campus Crusade event as ASU, I carved some time from a very busy schedule to hang out with Matthew Mittelberg, the young son of Christian Case Maker, Mark Mittelberg. Matthew is leading an apologetics club on the campus of Grand Canyon University and is already a very gifted communicator. I’ll confess there are times when I feel like an old man in the company of young men and women like Matthew, but I love the passion and energy of young like-minded Christians, and I appreciate the opportunity to influence the culture through them.
Like my own sons, Matthew has a dramatic head start as a Christian thinker and communicator. I came to faith at the age of 35. I didn’t have a deep relationship with any Christians at the time, and I had no strong Christian influences in my life. Without a mentor or role model, I felt like I had to work through the evidence and claims of Christianity on my own. Many years later however, as I was preparing to write my own book and start a modest journey as a public Case Maker, members of the apologetics community surrounded me with support and encouragement. While I wasn’t much younger than any of them (and was, in fact, older than some), they recognized I was the “new kid” on the block and surprised me with their generosity, wisdom and assistance. I was humbled by the response, and began to look at my own sphere of influence, searching for young men and women I could encourage in a similar way.
Those of us who hope to influence the culture for Christ typically think of our own efforts to communicate and reach the world. What can I write today? What can I say? How can I effectively use the internet to promote and defend the Christian worldview? Like others, I’m guilty of viewing my influence through the narrow lens of my own efforts. As a guy who started this season in my 50’s however, I’ve come to realize the limits of my own impact and the role I can play as an encourager. My questions are starting to change: Who can I inspire as a young Christian Case Maker? What small piece of wisdom can I provide to someone who is a few steps behind me in this journey? How can I impact the younger generation of Christian Case Makers? I know I won’t be writing and speaking 30 years from now, but there are men and women out there who will be. What can I do to make them even more effective?
The young people in my life are far more likely to have a deep impact on the culture than I will. Think about the role young people play in shaping our society. Young people influence the culture through pop music, art, movies, video, and professional sports. In addition, young people are the demographic target of movie makers, media moguls, technology producers and culture shapers. Imagine if our young Christian men and women had the wisdom and experience of their older Christian brothers and sisters. I can’t help but wonder what God could have done with me if “I’d have known then what I know now”. I want to make sure guys like Matthew Mittelberg start off with more than I did.
If you’re interested in influencing the culture, start rethinking your approach to include young people. Train them. Encourage them. Mentor them. Young Christians are tested more than any other age group in the Church, but they have the potential to do more than anyone else to meet the challenges and direct the course of the culture. It’s up to us to give them the tools and encouragement they need to survive the trials and change the world.
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Many of today’s “new atheists” make a moral claim against the God of Christianity. Drawing largely from the Old Testament, they claim that he is cruel and petty, and generally not worthy of worship. Not long ago, I discussed this issue with an atheist I know. I told him that his argument was using moral terms – making moral noises – but that only a transcendent God – like the one he rejects – can provide the kind of grounding adequate to support the claim. Otherwise, I concluded, his beliefs about right and wrong behavior – including some of the rules or actions attributed to God in the Old Testament – are not laws that must be followed but simply opinions and preferences. There can be no moral absolutes.
“No,” came the response, “a transcendent God really isn’t necessary. There are plenty of rules that we can unambiguously show to be moral. I’ll come up with one right off the cuff - only that which enhances the well being of conscious creatures is moral; therefore, enslavement or domination of the weak by the strong is always wrong, because it does not enhance the well-being of conscious creatures. So, you see, such behavior is always immoral.”
No, I didn’t see. Indeed, on a bit of reflection, what I saw was that this approach is simply restating a definition. Enslavement and domination are not moral because they are not moral. Anyone can make up a rule, but you if want to have people actually be motivated to follow that rule, you have to attach a consequence to the violation of the rule. Imagine the chaos that would exist on the roadways if police were unable to stop or ticket drivers who violate the vehicle code’s provisions. Saying that people should drive safely because driving unsafely does not enhance the well being of drivers may sound enlightened, but it won’t have any impact. In the end, it is only the authority of the rule giver and the rule giver’s ability to actually attach a consequence that will provide grounding for the rule. The opinion about whether the driving in any particular circumstance was good or bad depends not on the opinion of the parties involved, but on the ability of the sovereign to delineate, and then enforce, its view of proper conduct.
The conversation quickly returned to the Old Testament. “The God of the Old Testament,” he argued, “discusses slavery without ever condemning it. Doesn’t that make the God of Abraham himself immoral? By his own definition?”
This was another interesting challenge, but again one that does not bear close scrutiny. What this challenger is assuming is that the Bible is a rule book written for the modern era. Slavery is obviously wrong, so any rule book for right behavior would list slavery as something to be prohibited. The only problem with this argument is that the Bible is not a rule book. It is an account of God’s interaction with us that contains rules, but much more than just rules. Now, the Bible does include, in the Old Testament, a set of very detailed rules, but these rules were part of a covenant with an ancient people, for a set period of time and for a particular purpose. They were not intended for all people and all times, though some of the underlying principles do continue to apply. At the time of the Old Testament, slavery did not always involve the barbarity of the human bondage practiced in early America, which the writer no doubt has in mind, but was a part of the then-existing primitive economic system. Sometimes such “slavery” took milder forms that involved a form of indentured servitude and sometimes it actually benefited the recipient, whose other alternative may have been even worse. (This, by the way, is not an argument in favor os such slavery; simply an observation of the way the world operated at the time.) Slavery flourished in all parts of the ancient world, and continues on to this day in many non-Western societies, and also illegally in Western ones. This raises the question as to why the Christian West outlawed slavery. The answer, as exemplified by the actions of William Wilberforce in England was that the message of Christianity – that we are all brothers and that we each bear the sacred image of God, which confers dignity upon us which no man can violate – was the driving force. In short, the Bible does “stand against” slavery, as it stands against any behavior that would dehumanize a fellow child of God.
He remained unpersuaded “There are many old books which state many things. Using them as your moral compass is silly. Especially when they stand neutral on slavery.”
Perhaps we agree on this much – using just any book as my moral compass would be silly. But no book, ancient or modern, can rival the Bible as both an historical document and a source of transcendent truth. This book, and the beliefs that it generated, changed for the better the course of human history. Many authors (such as Alvin Schmidt and Rodney Stark) have made the case for how Christianity transformed for the better Western society and the world. It’s worth spending a few minutes contemplating the case for the Christian worldview, something that a short blog post could never do.
For any compass to work, there must be a source of true north. So too with morality. To give it relevance beyond oneself – to make it more than simply one person’s opinion – that source must be strong enough to stop the needle from spinning and to point, clearly and steadily, the way home.
Posted by Al Serratoalvin schmidt, atheism, Christian worldview, moral compass, rodney stark, the case for Christianity
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The authorship of Mark’s Gospel is of great importance to those of us making a case for the reliability of the New Testament. Mark isn’t mentioned as an eyewitness in any of the Gospel accounts. How did Mark get his information about Jesus? Why should we consider his information to be reliable? There are several good reasons to believe Peter is the trustworthy source of information for Mark, beginning with the historical attributions of the early Church Fathers who affirm the relationship Mark and Peter had in the 1st Century. Beyond this, however, there are additional evidences within Mark’s text supporting the claim Peter (Mark’s mentor in Rome) is the source for Mark’s information. I’ve described the evidential case in much more detail in Cold-Case Christianity, but this brief summary may be helpful:
The Writing Style Is Consistent With Mark’s Background
The traditional view recognizes Mark as a Palestinian Jew who wrote his Gospel using Peter as his source. Most scholars believe the Gospel of Mark demonstrates a writing style and literary syntax exposing the author’s first language as something other than Greek. In fact, the writing style seems to indicate the author’s first language was probably a Semitic language such as Aramaic. This would be consistent with the idea Mark, a Palestinian Jew (who most likely spoke Aramaic) was the author of the Gospel. In addition to this, the Gospel of Mark includes a number of vivid and tangential details unnecessary to the narrative, but consistent with observations of an eyewitness to the events. This would indicate the author had access to an eyewitness such as Peter.
The Outline of the Gospel Is Consistent With Peter’s Outline
Papias maintained the Gospel of Mark was simply a collection of Peter’s discourses (or his preaching) as this information was received and recalled by Mark. If we examine the typical preaching style of Peter in the Book of Acts (1:21-22 and Acts 10:37-41 for example) we see Peter always limited his preaching to the public life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Mark’s Gospel omits the private birth narrative and other details of Jesus’ life described in the opening chapters of Luke and Matthew. Mark begins with the preaching of John the Baptist and ends with the resurrection and ascension, paralleling the public preaching of Peter as we see it summarized in the Book of Acts.
The Omissions of the Gospel Are Consistent With Peter’s Influence
There are many details in the Gospel of Mark consistent with Peter’s special input and influence, including omissions related to events involving Peter. How can Mark be a memoir of Peter if, in fact, the book contains so many omissions of events involving Peter specifically? It’s important to evaluate the entire catalogue of omissions pertaining to Peter to understand the answer here. The vast majority of these omissions involve incidents in which Peter did or said something rash or embarrassing. It’s not surprising these details were omitted by the author who wanted to protect Peter’s standing in the Christian community. Mark was quite discreet in his retelling of the narrative (other Gospel writers who were present at the time do, however, provide details of Peters ‘indiscretions’ in their own accounts). Here are some examples of Petrine Omissions grounded in an effort to minimize embarrassment to Peter (see Cold-Case Christianity for a more detailed explanation of the events summarized here):
Peter’s shame at the “Miraculous Catch”
(Mark 1:16-120 compared to Luke 5:1-11)
Peter’s foolish statement at the crowded healing
(Mark 5:21-34 compared to Luke 8:42-48)
Peter’s lack of understanding related to the parable
(Mark 7:14-19 compared to Matthew 15:10-18 and Acts 10:9-16)
Peter’s lack of faith on the lake
(Mark 6:45 compared to Matthew 14:22-33)
Peter’s rash statement to Jesus
(Mark 8:31-33 compared to Matthew 16:21-23)
Peter’s statement related to money
(Mark 10:23-31 compared to Matthew 19:23-30)
Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s denial
(Mark 14:27-31 compared to Luke 22:31-34 and John 13:34-38)
Peter’s behavior at the foot-washing
(Mark 14:22-26 compared to John 13:2-9)
Peter’s denial and Jesus’ direct stare
(Mark 14:66-72 compared to Luke 22:54-62)
There are a number of places in the Gospel of Mark where details related specifically to the words and actions of Peter have been omitted in what appears to be an effort to protect Peter from embarrassment. This doesn’t mean Peter failed to talk about these things. He may very well have included them in his sermons and teachings. But Mark, his scribe and close friend, simply chose to omit these details related to Peter, either at Peter’s request or on his own initiative.
The Inclusions of the Gospel Are Consistent With Peter’s Influence
In addition to the omissions we have cited, there are a number of details included in Mark’s Gospel demonstrating Peter’s involvement and connection to Mark. As we describe a few of them, notice these inclusions are relatively minor and don’t seem to add much to the narrative. Their incidental nature is an indicator the author lacked a motive other than to simply include Peter’s perspective in the account. Peter’s involvement appears to have been faithfully recorded by his scribe and assistant, Mark:
Peter’s search for Jesus
Peter’s house in Capernaum
(Mark 2:1-5 and 1:21, 29-31 compared to Matthew 4:13-16)
Peter’s identification of the fig tree
(Mark 11:20-21 compared to Matthew 21:18-19)
Peter’s identification of the disciples
(Mark 13:1-4 and Matthew 24:1-3)
Respecting the limits and brief nature of blog posts, I’ve restricted my description of these internal details (compared to how I’ve described them in the book), but the verse locations should help you discover them for yourself. There is a reasonable, cumulative, circumstantial case pointing to Peter as the source of information for Mark’s Gospel. Remember, circumstantial evidence can be every bit as determinative as direct evidence in a court of law. The strength of such a case is based on the depth, quantity and quality of the individual pieces:
A. Biblical Passages Confirm a Relationship Between Mark and Peter
B. External Sources From History Tell Us Mark Wrote Peter’s Memoir
C. Internal Indicators Reveal Peter’s Direct Influence on Mark’s Gospel
There is sufficient cumulative, circumstantial evidence to conclude Mark did, in fact, form his Gospel from the teaching and preaching of the Apostle Peter. If this is the case, Mark’s Gospel was written within the lifetime of Mark (and likely within the lifetime of Peter). If the Gospel of Mark was written this early, it would have undergone the scrutiny of those who were actually present and could have exposed Mark as a liar:
2 Peter 1:16
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty
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Last week I had the opportunity to train a group of high school students in preparation for an upcoming Berkeley Missions trip. These students will spend the next eight weeks learning about the evidence supporting the Christian worldview and examining many of the most popular objections to Christianity. Since we were very early in the process, I began by asking the students to tell me why they were Christians in the first place. I spent most of my life convinced theism was little more than a useful delusion, and I only became a believer after examining the evidence for the eyewitness reliability of the New Testament Gospels. As a result, when people ask me why I am a Christian today, I briefly outline the evidence I found persuasive. Last week, however, when I asked the students to tell me why they were Christians, I didn’t get a single evidential response. Most had difficulty answering the question at all, and those who did sounded like members of the Mormon Church.
I didn’t know a lot of Christians growing up; I was surrounded by atheists and Mormon family members. I have six fantastic half-brothers and sisters who were raised in the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church. Many are still committed to Mormonism and happy to share their faith. But if you ask them why they are believers, you’ll get many of the same answers I received with the high school students in the Berkeley training. “I prayed about it and God confirmed it was true,” “I have a relationship with God and I feel His presence,” “I had a strong experience that changed my life,” “I just know it is true,” “I was raised in the Church and I’ve never had a reason to question it; God has always been a part of my life,” “I know it’s true because my life is very different now.” These are all great responses and I want to be careful not to minimize the importance or validity of experiential evidence. But when I heard these kinds of answers offered as justification by the Christian students in our group, I asked them: “Do you believe Mormonism is true?” Many of these students had already been on the Utah Missions trip, so they understood the dramatic difference between the claims of Mormonism and the claims of Christianity. They all confirmed they did not believe Mormonism was true and immediately recognized the problem with their responses.
The manner in which they had been measuring and evaluating their beliefs about God was insufficient. None of them had ever examined the evidence for Christianity. They were what I refer to as “Accidental Christians,” holding the correct and true view of the world, without actually knowing why it was the correct and true view of the world. In all the years I’ve been in the midst of Mormon believers (both in my family and on the streets of Utah as a missionary) I’ve never once encountered a Mormon believer who told me he or she was a Mormon because of the evidence. It’s never happened. Mormonism cannot be supported by the historical evidence, especially when examined through the template I use for eyewitness reliability. Christianity, however, is supported by the historical facts and can hold up under fair scrutiny. When young believers are challenged in their university years, they will undoubtedly be questioned about their “epistemology” (their “theory of knowledge”). They’ll be asked not only about what they believe, but why and how they came to believe it. That’s why our answers have to be more than subjective; we must be prepared to make a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), using objective evidence, just as Jesus often did.
Clearly, the kinds of responses our Mormon friends and family members might offer are insufficient, because they ignore the objective evidence we, as Christians, would cite to demonstrate the falsity of Mormonism. Why then, would we, as Christian believers, take a similar approach to defending our own faith? We can offer so much more if we are only willing to familiarize ourselves with the evidence. Our responses, as Christians, need to be very different than the responses offered by Mormons if we hope to influence a skeptical world and have the confidence necessary to survive in an ever more hostile cultural environment. So next time someone asks you why you are a Christian, ask yourself an important question: Could the answer you’re about to give be offered by a Mormon believer? If so, you might want to rethink your epistemology and become a Christian Case Maker.
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