Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New blog and website

Alright. Last post here. Make sure you go over to my new website and follow the blog there if you haven't already. It's simple. Go to becauseitstrue.com and click on the blog tab. Then click on the RSS feed and subscribe. I am posting blogs but I have also started doing videos. So, all of the old stuff is there along with plenty of new stuff already and much more to come. Thanks for all of your support!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I am moving!

For the few who follow me here, I am happy to announce that I am moving to becauseitstrue.com. I will post all future blogs there. In addition, I am going to start posting videos, audio clips, and hopefully some dates for upcoming speaking engagements. I hope you will follow me there! Thanks.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Alice in Wonderland and The Problem of Evil

This year, Netflix added a bunch of Disney movies to the catalog. That has made it easy for me to introduce my son to many of the classic animated films from my childhood. We have had a lot of fun watching The Aristocats, The Rescuers, The Emperor's New Groove, and many others. Last week we watched Alice in Wonderland. I have probably seen the movie a dozen or more times in my life, but this time something new occurred to me. It came to me during the scene where Alice takes a bite from a mushroom and suddenly grows taller than all of the trees in the forest. Mind you, that was the result of only a tiny bite. What would have happened if she had eaten the whole mushroom? Presumably she would have become hundreds, if not thousands of feet tall. That is when the thought hit me. If a land like Wonderland existed in reality--a land where simply eating a naturally occurring food could increase a person's size, presumably indefinitely--we should expect that someone would  take the notion to conquer the land simply by becoming unstoppably huge. After all, what match would even the greatest army in the land be for someone who could crush each and everyone of them in a single footprint, or weild a redwood tree as a weapon? I know that someone reading this will probably get unnecessarily technical and say, "well, a person couldn't breathe above a certain altitude." Fair enough, but that assumes that the atmosphere of such a hypothetical world is exactly like our own. But lest this post degenerate into a debate over the makeup of hypothetical worlds (even though that is tempting for an uber-nerd like myself) it should suffice to say that the specifics are irrelevant to my broader point. You get the idea. So lets move on.

From there, I couldn't help but think of one of the most commonly raised objections to Christianity; the problem of evil. More specifically, the problem of seemingly gratuitous evil. Skeptics seem fairly satisfied with the coherence of the idea that God could exist, give his creatures moral freedom, and that moral freedom accounts for some evil in the world. At the same time however, a lot of skeptics maintain that if God exists, we should not expect to see such apparently gratuitous evil in the world. But I would argue that they have got it exactly backwards. Just like the situation in Wonderland, we should expect that people would push the boundaries afforded by their environment. If such a world existed where human being were given moral freedom, we should expect that someone would take the notion to do everything that moral freedom allows. For the purpose of this discussion, I am not entertaining the often raised objection that God could simply have created morally free creatures and made it so that none of them would have chosen to do evil. I am not convinced that it is even logically possible (and therefore not a question of God's omnipotence) for God to actualize a world in which morally free creatures are guaranteed to never do evil. And theorizing about all of the ways that he could have curtailed that freedom just seems unhelpful. Anyway, putting all of that aside, I maintain that it would be very strange indeed if a world with moral freedom existed and no one had even attempted something like murder. Interestingly enough, that is precisely what happens with the very first children in the Bible. Unlike in Wonderland, they didn't even make it one generation without pushing the boundaries and uncovering a horrific reality. They opened Pandora's box as it were. If murder is do-able, why should we be surprised that genocide is attempted? The same goes for all acts of moral evil--why should we be surprised that someone, somewhere will see how far they can take it? That is exactly what we should expect in the real world.*

I hate to end a post on such a disparaging note. So, let me say a couple of things in closing. One of the reasons that I am convinced Christianity is true is that it best explains reality. The problem of evil is a good example of this. Christianity doesn't sugarcoat the problem, deny it, or say that it doesn't matter. The Bible acknowledges that the heart of man is terribly wicked. Additionally, it does not paint God as aloof. It is only in Christianity that we find God offering a solution that stands up to the severity of problem. God took on flesh and endured all of the seemingly gratuitous evil that the world could muster--mocked, profaned, rejected, abandoned, tortured, and murdered. And it isn't that Christians are masochistic and that God is bloodthirsty. It was the judgement of the evil that Jesus carried to the cross that is of utmost importance. All of the physical agony pales in comparison to what he endured spiritually. Even so, the physical suffering of God in the person of Jesus--the part that we can actually relate to since we are well acquainted with pain and suffering--demonstrates beyond any question that he is not cold and distant. Even though we still agonize in our longing to know "why?", the cross definitively answers the question "does he even care?" And aren't those the two questions that we all want answered? If a child asks his parents "why?" and doesn't receive an answer, he will eventually want to know, "do you even care?" A believable answer to the latter question doesn't take away the pain associated with not knowing why, but it assures the child's heart that there must be a reason. Of course, the next thing the child wants to know, "are you going to do something about it?" The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that God is not impotent to solve the problem--he has done something about it. The resurrection is more than simply a man coming back from the dead; it is the inbreaking of the new creation--the firstfruits of a universe free from evil, defect, sorrow--paradise restored.

*I am not trying to suggest that we should cease to be shocked by horrendous acts of evil. As these are gross violations of the way things ought to be, they ought to disturb us greatly.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom: Q & A #2

Send questions to questionsforwisdom@gmail.com 

[I have heard Christians say] that “If Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God”, but if that is the argument being made, why are the other people mentioned in the Bible who rose from the dead not God?

That is an excellent question. The answer is in the context. However even before that, it is necessary to pin down out exactly what the claim is. It isn't that Jesus rose from the dead and that makes him God. Rather, the claim is that the resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that he is God. That is an important distinction because it frames the resurrection as the ultimate piece of evidence that validates his divinity claims.

Note: for the purposes of this particular question, I am not addressing the issue of the Bible's historical reliability. That is, I am not addressing the question, "how do we know Jesus actually said that?" For this question, I am only addressing the claim, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God," which is offered from a Christian perspective, and I will simply work within the Christian worldview to demonstrate that it is not contradictory or fallacious.

So, what is the context of Jesus' resurrection? He was a miracle worker who claimed authority, divinity, and autonomous power. He claimed the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2); when he spoke, he spoke with authority; instead of saying, "this is what the Lord says," he said simply, "I tell you" (Matt 7:29); He claimed to be the prophesied messiah (Luke 4); He took the divine name, "I am" on multiple occasions, all of which caused the Pharisees to rend their garments and take up stones to kill him for blasphemy--they knew exactly what he was claiming. There are other examples, but I am trying not to make this post unbearably long.

So, most relevant to your question: Jesus claimed authority to "lay his life down and take it up again" (John 10:18). He also made the bold claim that after his death, he would resurrect after 3 days (John 2:9). And consider what he told the Pharisees when they asked him for a sign to prove his authority. He said, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Jesus was convinced that he would be the source of his own resurrection and he even predicted the time (after 3 days) that it would happen. There can be no doubt that he was claiming divinity and pointing to the resurrection as the ultimate evidence to verify it.

What about the other biblical accounts of resurrection? None of the people who were resurrected in the Bible (other than Jesus) made any claims to be divine. Neither were their resurrections prophesied. Furthermore, these resurrections always involved some prophet/apostle who did not claim to possess autonomous power, but only to be a conduit for the power of God. Elijah and the widow's son (1 Kings 17); Elisha and the son of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4); the dead man who touched Elisha's bones (2 Kings 13); Peter and Tabitha (Acts 9); and Paul and Eutychus (Acts 20).

In short, the context makes it clear that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, the whole Christian faith is a sham. Paul says as much in 1 Cor 15. That is a pretty hefty and unnecessary burden of proof to take on if the whole thing were just made up. On the other hand, the statement, "if Jesus rose from the dead, then he was God" is true; not because resurrection makes Jesus God, but because it validates his claim to be God.

Is there a dependable, UNBIASED list out there for someone searching for a church... I checked out a local Methodist church and it was verrrrry liberal. I learned that the word Methodist is painting with a very wide brush. Then there is Presbyterian, but there is FPUSA which looks like it allows a certain degree or liberalism, yet you need to go to the church to see exactly where they are. Is there a "gay marriage", "abortion", "tithing", "premarital sex", etc.... (All the biggies) sort of list so that someone could weed out what they aren't interested in?

Yes and no. Yes, there are some churches that are "confessional." That is, they hold firmly to a specific confession of faith. You would be able to ascertain what they believe about the majority of important issues before you even walk through the doors. Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Presbyterian are among the most well-known churches in America that fall into that category. They tend to hold to some well-known confession and/or ascribe to a catechism (authoritative answers to a variety of doctrinal questions). However, you have rightly observed that even among confessional churches, there are often different groups. The Presbyterians have a more conservative branch (PCA) and a more liberal branch (PCUSA). The Lutherans have a conservative branch (WELS), a middle of the road branch (LCMS), and a more liberal branch (ELCA). Even so, within these particular distinctions, there is not much variation between individual congregations on what they believe about particular "hot button" issues. You can just do a quick search on the internet and get an idea what these groups believe (I quickly tested it with the PCA and PCUSA and found plenty of info) and the congregations in your area will almost certainly hold to these beliefs.

On the other hand, while Assemblies of God, Episcopal/Anglican, Baptists (other than Reformed Baptists) and Methodists have basic statements of beliefs, they tend to allow for some amount of individual church autonomy. So, one may be very liberal and another very conservative. And I am not just talking about what the pastors believe. Even if the pastor would candidly give conservative answers to the tough questions, his congregation might be largely unaware of his positions. These denominations will all basically affirm the main points of traditional Christianity reflected in the Nicene Creed and Apostles Creed; although some (like Baptists and AofG) will not usually appeal to the creeds. In any event, it will not always be possible to know ahead of time what they might believe about certain "hot button" issues.

With all of that said, I wouldn't say that a confessional church is objectively better than a non-confessional congregation or vice-versa. You may find that you enjoy the consistency and clear doctrinal teaching of a confessional church, but you might not agree with them across the board. As a layperson, that may not be an issue. However, if you were going to teach, preach, or represent that denomination in any way, it would be very important. On the other hand, you might find it frustrating to search for a non-confessional church that suits all of your particular theological leanings, but you might like the freedom that they allow in non-essential issues.

All of that lengthy exposition to basically say... it just depends on what you are looking for. Confessional churches will require less time, research, and awkwardness in order to find out what they believe on these issues. With non-confessional churches you will just have to figure it out on a case by case basis.

A question I have had for a while is the issue of Christian getting tattoos. I realize many things have changed since the Old Testament, but would the idea of a Christian getting a tattoo (even a Christian one) fall into the New Testament category of not blending in with the world?

The New Covenant follower of Christ is not bound to the letter of the Old Covenant Law, and as such, the apparent prohibition against tattoos is not applicable. I say "apparent," because I do not think that Moses could have conceived of the modern process of tattooing. What seems to be in mind in the Leviticus 19:28 is the process of mutilating the body as a sign of mourning--a pagan practice--not decorating it by adding pigment in particular patterns. For example, it seems clear that piercings were acceptable for women. Speaking of the redemption of Israel, (and by extension, of all true Israel), God says, "I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head." I think that is more comparable to the modern practice of tattooing than what was forbidden in the Law. Furthermore, I specifically say that we are not bound to the "letter" of the Law because we are still obligated to observe the principle of the Law--since they were given to reveal God's holiness and our desperate need for a Savior. You are right to point out that we should not be actively seeking the approval of the world. However, if a person is getting tattoos purely for the sake of popularity or gaining the approval of the world, the real problem is not in the his skin, but in his heart. The good news is that by Grace, the blood of Jesus purifies hearts and justifies them to God. And so, a person who has gotten tattoos, even for totally wrong reasons, has nothing to be ashamed of before God if they are in Christ.  

Even so, I will leave you with one additional thought. As someone who has 3 tattoos, I can say that I still do not think getting tattoos is the wisest decision. Consider my friends who, like me, wanted to get tattoos when we were younger and/or playing in the band, but unlike me, they never got a tattoo. I think they made the wiser decision. To a certain extent, getting the tattoos puts me "in a box." That is ironic, because everyone who gets tattoos thinks they are breaking out of the box (there is some deep spiritual gold to be mined in that). But, people will inevitably think certain things about me when they see me at the pool with my son or wearing a pair of shorts (which I cannot do at work). Does that mean that I regret getting them? No, not necessarily. They mean a lot to me (I have a Lion, Paschal lamb and a lamp post that says "Every New Day"). I didn't get them to impress people. Most people never see them. And one day, I may even get the last one that I originally planned on getting (to complete the theme I was going for), but have not been able to afford. But if you don't have any, I would suggest that it is a much wiser decision to stay tattoo-less (apologies to my friends who tattoo people for a living). The question is not whether or not it is acceptable for a Christian to get a tattoo. The real question should be: "is it wise for me to get one?" Hope those thoughts help out.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Servant Apologetics: Inner Circle Dwellers and Selfish Body Builders

In That Hideous Strength, the third installment of C. S. Lewis' grossly underappreciated space trilogy, Lewis addresses a subtle, yet pervasive human problem. He offers a version of the "grass is always greener" dilemma. Lewis says that human beings perpetually long to enter the "inner circle." Discontent with his current station, man inevitably longs to become part of some elite group. However, as soon as enters the inner circle that he has idolized, he realizes that there is yet another, more elite circle. Even powerful leaders of countries long to be in the inner circle constituted by those who have left great legacies. Until they can get into that elite group, they will feel unfulfilled. If they reach that level, they will long for something yet more exclusive.  The cycle is never ending. 

When I first began studying apologetics, the "inner circle" temptation was extremely strong. I saw an opportunity to reach a level of knowledge that very few Christians possess. That would put me in an elite group. I would be somebody special. I have a suspicion that my experience is not unusual, especially for young people getting into apologetics. There is a bent towards elitism, even amongst many who have been involved in the field for a long time. It is the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Today, there is a great gulf that exists between the average church and the apologetics community. That is due in part to the rise of anti-intellectualism in Western Christianity since the second great awakening. It is also largely due to an elitist/separatist mentality propagated by many apologists. It is not unlike the marriage where the husband is convinced that his arguments are logially sound and that his wife just needs to get with the program. Of course, she is equally convinced that he is heartless, cold, and unloving. The result is a strained relationship.

With the background painted, I would like to suggest that it is time for a trip to the motivational chiropractor. Those of us who love apologetics need to have our posture adjusted. It is time to for us to adopt the posture of a servant. For far too long we have carried ourselves in the corporate church world as superiors. Pontificating about the shallow and anti-intellectual shortcomings of the masses, we became separatists, (at least in our hearts) seeking to impress one another--creating smaller, yet more elite inner circles. We have been like the body builder who only works out to attract flaberghasted looks and win awards from body building organizations, but goes through life ignoring the needs of others that he could meet with his superhuman strength.

Instead of seeing the lack of zeal for apologetics in our churches, youth groups, and colleges as an obstacle, we need to start viewing it as an opportunity. We cannot approach our pastors/youth leaders/missionaries/campus ministers and say "You need less emotional back-patting and more apologetics!" or "this church is all fluff and no stuff!" While these statements may be true, that is exactly what they expect from us, and a lot of the reason we are stuck in a viscous cycle of resentment. Instead, we need to approach pastors, youth leaders, missionaries, and campus ministers by saying "God has given me a passion for apologetics and I want to make use my unique skills to serve in any way that I can." To be fair, some of you have tried that and found that you never got any feedback. But you cannot simply give up there. If the bodybuilder just approaches the church and says, "I can lift big things, let me know if you need me," he may not get a lot of calls. People will assume he is probably busy being huge and doesn't have the time. Or, they might just be intimidated by his massiveness. Whatever the case, we need to take it a step further. That means seeking out and even creating opportunities to serve. Maybe that means finding out what sermon series your church is doing over the next month or two and thinking of a way you could serve that  incorporates your love of apologetics. When you approach a pastor/Sunday school teacher/campus pastor and say "hey I heard you were planning X, could I help out by doing Y?" you will probably (no guarantees) be amazed how much more receptive they are. Rather than expecting others to change what they are doing to accomodate us, we need to get involved in what they are doing and offer our unique gifts. We need to adopt the posture of a servant rather than a superior.

For years evangelical pastors have been screaming for "revival!" "What the church, the country, the world needs is another great awakening," they say. I agree. I just want to suggest that the spark may come from somewhere that they (and we) have not been looking. By and large, people today are not searching for a "cooler" Jesus that they can hang out with. They are not interested in being patronized. They don't want more things to believe. They want reasons to believe what they have been told. I don't buy the claim that "Religion is just wishful thinking for people who won't face the facts." The truth is that people of faith are often the most skeptical of faith claims. The sinful nature desperately wants to convince us that there is no God, no objective morality; that I am my own master and can play by my own rules. People (including Christians) are searching for reasons to reject belief in God, the Bible, and Jesus, and the atheists are committed to offering compelling reasons. What is more, they are dedicated to packaging those reasons in an engaging format. All the while, the Church seems to be asleep at the wheel. If you are invovled in apologetics already, you are probably nodding your head as you read this. But the question remains: what is going to reverse the momentum? I will leave you with a few thoughts that I hope will help tie everything together.

The pastor cries "we just need revival!" and the apologist rolls his eyes. The apologist cries "we just need apologetics!" and the pastor scoffs; but their sentiments are not mutually exclusive. I believe that our churches need the support of apologists in order to spark a revival. And not only to reach the world, but also to heal and sustain the body (that is hemorraging members at an alarming rate). However, there is currently a stigma attached to apologetics/apologists in the vast majority of Christian churches. We are viewed as elitists, snobs, opponents of "true" faith. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, we have adopted the posture of "inner circle dwellers." The way to change the relationship is to change our posture.* We need to be servant apologists.

*I am not suggesting that one side bears all of the blame for the rift in the relationship. However, I am convinced that we have to be proactive in addressing the problem, rather than assuming the other side should act first.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Ask Mr. Wisdom Q&A #1

This is the first installment of what I hope will become a weekly exchange. If you have questions that you would like answered on the topics of the Bible, theology, apologetics, ethics, and religion, send them to questionsforwisdom@gmail.com.

Question 1:
How do we know we know the truth? Conversely, how do we know we are not in/under heretical and false doctrine? Muslims, JW's, Mormons, Buddhists are all convinced they are right.

First of all, you are right to say that other groups seem equally, if not more earnestly convinced that they possess the one true religion. If all we had to work with in dividing truth from fiction was sincerity of heart--if there were no evidence that could be examined--we would be in a pretty serious pickle. However, I am convinced there is overwhelming evidence that supports the truth of Christianity. I do not take this issue lightly. I have no interest in believing something that is not true.

When dealing with difficult questions like this, the rule that I teach my students is "Always start with Jesus." The reason is that if the Gospel evidence about Jesus is historically unreliable, then Christianity falls apart. On the contrary, if the Gospel evidence is historically reliable, then we can know a lot about Jesus.  Without going into great detail, there are gobs and gobs of scholarly works written on the reliability of the Gospels. Just glancing at my bookshelf, I would recommend Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace. Minus the supernatural elements of the Gospels, even most atheist scholars will affirm that they are historical bedrock. There are also excellent works on the historicity of the resurrection. Once again, from my own library, I would recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona. All of that is to say that if Jesus did what the Gospels say he did, and said what they claim he said, then we have very strong reasons to think that Christianity is the one true religion.

At the same time, I am convinced that the evidence for other worldviews is terribly weak. Mormonism, for example, is fraught with historical inaccuracies and problems of forged translations among other things. Jehovah's Witnesses are in a similar boat. They build their theological distinctives around very specific translations and interpretations that are contradict all scholarship outside of their own camp. As such, they advance an totally separate religion from Christianity, while attempting to smuggle in the parts that they like to prop up what would otherwise be a religion with no foundation. As for eastern religions, while they have many elements of truth, I have a hard time finding much connection to reality in the fundamental teachings--evil is illusory, millions of demi gods, that all is divine and the like. Then there is Islam which depends on the claim that the Bible has been corrupted and/or misinterpreted. But the evidence for the faithful transmission and preservation of the biblical manuscripts is outstanding. Furthermore, Islam rejects the death of Jesus by crucifixion (a fact agreed upon by practically all historians). Going back to what I said before about starting with Jesus, each of these religions has a different view of Jesus from what is portrayed in the Gospels. So, while interpretation (which is subjective) certainly plays a role, the law of non-contradiction (which is objective) tells us that while they could all be wrong, they cannot all be right. If the Gospels are historically reliable, preserved, and translated correctly, then they clearly point to the teachings of classical Christianity. Again, while I am having to move quickly here, this is not something that I take lightly. If I am wrong, I want to know.

Question 2:
My study group is missional based, and most of the books we read and work we do reaches out to our community and communities throughout the world. This to me, embodies christianity much more than sitting in a pew listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda. Do you think that this type of worship is a suitable replacement for traditional sunday worship? I do feel like i'm not getting to know the bible quite as I should, we only touch on it directly on occasion, but the books we read reference it often, i guess you could say i'm learning by proxy(but who's to say that the english translations of the bible aren't this sort of 'proxy' to the original text anyway).

While I understand, and often share your frustration; I think you may be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." In short, I wouldn't equate what you describe as "listening to preachers and deacons spew their agenda" to "traditional Sunday worship." You have to remember that there are 2000 years of church history behind us. I think that what you (and a lot of people, including me) have experienced is a rather recent phenomenon (last 150 years or so, and especially the last 40). I also think, (crossing my fingers), that a lot more people are seeing it for what it is and it is losing steam. Anyway, all of that is to say that I think small groups are great and it sounds like you are part of an awesome one, but I also think it is important to belong to a church body and sit under the teaching of a pastor who is teaching and leading effectively. That is really hard to come by, and again, I know the frustration. I know how tedious it can be to search for the right place, but trust me, it is worth it when you get there. Anyway, I would simply say that I don't think there is any "replacement" for being part of a healthy church family. Notice I said "healthy," not "perfect." Anyway, I suggest that you keep doing what you are doing, but I would also do some research and visit a few places. You will probably be surprised to find that there are a lot of congregations in your area comprised of people who feel the same way you do.

Question 3:
What do you think about the morality of doing wrong to do good? For instance, if you did something morally wrong to get money so that you give it to charity and do good with it. Can good come from intentional wrong doing? 

What you are suggesting is a form of consequentialism, or "ends justify the means" ethic. That is, what makes something moral is the ultimate result. However, on its face, it is incompatible with a biblical view of ethics. From a biblical perspective, moral duties are grounded in God's character and subsequent commands. He has revealed these through both general (we intrinsically know right from wrong) and special revelation (through the giving of Scripture and culminating in Christ). I think your example is actually pretty easy to deal with. You have the choice to either steal or not steal. Obviously, it is not justified to steal simply because you plan to do something good with the money. However, there are much more difficult examples to be offered. For example, what if you are faced with a situation like Corrie Ten Boom--you can lie to protect people or tell the truth and subject them to torture and death. Or if you are in charge of switching the train track and there is a boy trapped by the switching mechanism. You need to flip the switch or an oncoming train with hundreds of passengers will crash, but by flipping the switch, you ensure the boy's death. Both choices pose a serious moral dilemma. It is only in these types of circumstances that I think it is morally right to choose the "wrong." Unfortunately, this often gets called "the lesser of two evils." I don't like that name because the moral decision is necessarily not evil. Some biblical ethicists suggest that God will always provide a third option in these circumstances. While I think that is very often true, it to me seems that there are possible scenarios where there simply is not a third option. Furthermore, I think Scripture provides examples of this. One famous example comes from Exodus, where the Hebrew midwives are commended for disobeying and lying to Pharaoh. Likewise, Rahab lies about hiding the spies in Jericho. She is also commended, and even integrated into the Davidic/messianic family tree. Anyway...it is obviously a hotly debated and complicated issue, but these are my thoughts in brief.

Question 4: 
I have two questions to ask. One, how did you keep yourself most accountable while you were touring and still in Becoming The Archetype? Also, what advice would you give someone who wants to write songs and work within the Christian music industry?

I am going to go a different direction with my response than you probably expected. I presume that by "keep yourself accountable," you are referring to avoiding temptations--substance abuse, sexual impurity etc. I will simply say that those things were really not big struggles for me. And while they are for many other people, I think that there is a tendency to focus so heavily on these "big" issues that we totally overlook the "smaller" ones. Far too often, young Christians fall into the trap of equating spiritual development with a check list of big things to avoid. That is a terrible thermometer for gauging spiritual health. Let me give you an example of what I mean. While I didn't struggle with the "big" things, one of the strongest temptations that comes with being in a band (or being in any profession) is to become cynical--unnecessarily negative and pessimistic. I wish that I successfully avoided this temptation while on the road with the band, but I can't. While this is probably not the answer you were looking for, I feel like it represents an equally important lesson to learn.

With regard to getting into the music industry, my advice is three-fold. Develop your ability to the highest possible level, make a lot of friends, and keep yourself available. Don't be afraid to play second fiddle (pun intended) to anyone and everyone. The most successful musicians that I know are not people who made it big by starting a band from the ground up. Rather, they are people who got in playing guitar, bass, drums, violin, etc for someone else. Many of them have since moved on to very successful solo careers and/or bands of their own. But the way the industry is today, you are very unlikely to make a name for yourself simply by jamming with some buds and starting a facebook. There are just too many bands starting up every day. Lastly, keep yourself as available as possible. In a strange coincidence, a lot of young musicians are also convinced that they need to get married really early. Maybe it is their creative/romantic bent. But it will seriously limit your availability. And it will also limit your ability as a husband/father. Of course, some relationships work just fine within that framework, but I think that is the exception rather than the rule. Again, that probably isn't what you expected me to say, but I hope it helps. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Internet Conversations For Dummies

We have all witnessed internet conversations gone terribly wrong. Such interactions are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid. The phenomenon has caused many people to avoid/abandon social media altogether. Many others have simply started ignoring topics that they know are likely to spin out of control. That may seem like a wise decision, but I actually think it is a mistake. Let me explain.

I think the internet is actually an ideal training ground for developing your ability to talk about important issues. Having good conversations does not come naturally. We all need practice. The internet offers several unique opportunities for practicing good habits.* Here are my top 5.

1. You can screen your own thoughts. Lesson: You learn to be intentional.
Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to post everything that you type. Unlike face-to-face conversations, you can get your thoughts out, read over them, make edits, and then decide whether or not to post your comment. Also contrary to what you may think, it is absolutely not a waste of time to type out your thoughts and then simply elect not to post them. I do this A LOT. Sometimes you realize that you do not have anything indispensable to contribute to the conversation. Sometimes it just is not worth it. Even so, working out your thoughts will help to prepare you for future conversations. What is more, learning to screen your thoughts is vitally important for face-to-face interaction.

2. You can do your research.  Lesson: You learn to be informed.
The person that you are talking to on the internet might be really smart. OR, he might just be sitting in an office surrounded by books on the topic. That is one great benefit of digital communication. If you don't know what to say, you can stop, do some research and then come back. That is a luxury that you would not be afforded in a heated face-to-face discussion. Is it "cheating" to do research in between comments? Only if the point of the point of the discussion is to determine who knows more off the top of their head. I have never been part of such a conversation. And who would enforce that rule anyway? On the other hand, if the point is to have an intelligent discussion and work toward finding the truth (as it should be), then you are really doing a disservice to everyone by staying in the dark. What is more, getting in the habit of being informed will improve your face-to-face conversations as well.

3. You can choose public or private.  Lesson: You learn to be tactful and sensitive.
Suppose that your friend posts something controversial on Facebook. You notice it in your news feed. If you sense that you have something to contribute, but you do not want to jump into the fray; you can offer to take the conversation to email or private message. Maybe you just want to talk to your friend. Maybe there is an outspoken person hijacking the conversation. You can politely ask to speak to either of them privately. I almost always prefer this approach over having a knock down, drag out, public debate that will attract trolls and bandwagon jumpers alike. It is not always possible to "go private" with a face-to-face conversation, but it is always necessary to exercise tact and stay sensitive to the particular situation.

4. No one can see your face. Lesson: You learn to be calm.
Are you frustrated because some bonehead refuses to engage your arguments, and instead just keeps attacking your character? Of course you are. The good news is that no one can see the constipated look on your face. Don't blow it with a hasty response. Step back, take a deep breath, scream into a pillow, count to ten, say a prayer. Then, come back with a calm and collected response (if one is even warranted). People who are watching the conversation will be amazed at how well you handled yourself. They don't ever need to know that you punched yet another hole in the wall. As it applies to face-to-face conversations; this is a case of "fake it 'til you make it." Practice staying cool until it becomes natural. As a general rule, the man who loses his cool also loses the debate.

5.  Many opportunities to practice humility. Lesson: You learn to be humble.
I once heard a pastor say that it is dangerous to pray for patience. Within a few days of making this request to God, you will almost certainly find yourself in a situation that dramatically tries your patience. The same is true of internet conversations. Do you need to work on exercising humility? We all do. Well, just jump on social media and you will almost certainly find yourself in a situation that demands tremendous humility. I am not suggesting that you should deliberately put yourself into situations that you know you can't handle. However, if you intentionally enter into discussions with the intention of showing humility, you will develop a great habit for face-to-face conversations in the future.

*I am not suggesting that internet conversations are a substitute for face-to-face interaction. They are not.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Reanimautomaton (A Short Story)

"You can do what?" Jamie asked, choking back her tears.

"We could potentially bring your husband back," the surgeon replied.

            "How is that even possible?"

            "Through recent advances in brain mapping technology, we have developed an experimental new procedure that could theoretically allow us to re-animate your husband's brain."

            "Is it safe?"

            "Well, we have not tested it on a human subject, but we have had success with a variety of small animals. And frankly ma'am, you've nothing to lose. As you know, your husband has lost all brain function. His heart and lungs are still functioning via life support, but that's only a temporary solution."

            "What exactly would you do to him?"

            "By carefully inserting a series of tiny electrodes into his brain, we would be able to simulate normal brain function. At the very least, we should be able to open his eyes and have him speak."

            Jamie wiped her eyes and said, "I would love to look into his eyes and hear his voice again. Even if only to tell him how much I love him."

“Shall I schedule the procedure then?" replied the surgeon. "Time is of the essence in your husband's case."

Jamie took a belabored breath and nodded, "Yes."

            After twelve hours of intensive surgery, the surgeon returned to the waiting room. Jamie was positioned nervously on the edge of the couch, clutching a cup of cold coffee.

“Well?" she asked.

“The surgeon smiled. "The procedure was successful. Would you like to talk to your husband?" Jamie instantly broke into tears. She took the surgeon's arm and stood up.

            When Jamie entered the room, she could hardly believe what she saw. Her husband was sitting up in the bed, and for the first time in nearly three years, his eyes were open. In a hesitant sounding voice, he said, "Hi Jamie."

Jamie broke into a run and threw her arms around his neck. In between sobbing breaths, Jamie managed to say, "I love you so much."

"I love you too," her husband replied.

            Jamie sat on the edge of the bed and looked in astonishment at her husband. But after a few emotional moments, she began to grow disconcerted. His eyes seemed strangely distant -- locked in a vacant stare. Jamie placed her hands on her husband's face and asked, "Honey, can you see me?"

After an awkward moment of still silence, he hesitantly replied, "No, I cannot." 

            Jamie turned to the surgeon. "Why can't he see me?" she asked in a frustrated tone.

            "The nature of the process does not allow us to simulate vision yet. Because his brain is technically still dead, his eyes are not able to communicate with his brain."

            "What do you mean he is still brain-dead? He is here talking to me."

            "Well, yes, he is able to speak. But his ability to communicate depends on manual stimulation."

            Jamie looked at her husband, who sat silently on the bed. His eyes were still disconcertingly empty. 

“What does that even mean?" she asked increasingly irritated.

            "It means that your husband's ability to speak relies on information that we input through the electrodes in his brain. It is an amazing process really. But we are not yet able to simulate functions that depend upon stimuli external to the brain itself."

            Jamie asked in a terrified whisper: "You're controlling him?"

            "Only in a manner of speaking ma'am. It is still his brain, causing his mouth to move, and his vocal chords generating sound. We are simply helping his brain to do what it would normally have done on its own."

            "It's really me Jamie. I love you," said her husband. 

            Jamie let out a short scream, and simultaneously whirled around and slapped her husband across the face. As soon as she realized what she had done, she started caressing his face and apologizing profusely.

            "Don't worry ma'am. As I just explained, his brain cannot receive external stimulation. He didn't feel a thing," said the surgeon. 

            Jamie's hands were shaking. She stood up and walked toward the surgeon, wiping the tears from her eyes.

            "So you are telling me that he can't see, he can't feel, and, and… how are you controlling him?"

            "Not me ma'am. I simply performed the surgery. The impulses are actually controlled wirelessly. There is a technician in the next room entering the information."

            The surgeon gestured to his right. With that, Jamie stormed out into the hall. She began pounding her fists on the unmarked door.

“Open this door! Now!" she screamed frantically.

No response. Jamie fell to the floor in a heap, covering her face with her hands. The surgeon approached Jamie and tried to console her.

“Ma'am," he said, "I know that this is all very sudden and unusual."

            "That's not my husband!"

            "I assure that it is."

            "You said you could bring him back. You didn't say that you could turn him into a puppet."

            "I think you greatly misunderstand."

            "No, I think you misunderstand," she said quietly, feigning composure.

            Jamie picked herself up and walked back into her husband's room. She sat down on the bed and placed her ear against his chest. She could hear his heart beating.

“I'm sorry that I overreacted," Jamie said. "You are right. I am just emotional because this is all so new and surprising."

            The surgeon relaxed his posture, folding his arms over his clipboard.

Jamie asked, "Do you think I could be alone with him for just a minute?"

The surgeon nodded compassionately and said, "Certainly, ma'am." He quietly closed the door as he left the room.

            Jamie glanced around the bed and spotted the thick black cord coming out of the breathing machine. She reached for the cord with her leg, kissed her husband, and jerked the plug out of the wall.



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

William Lane Craig Doesn't Live In Your Neighborhood

One of the most important lessons that I learned from my time in a band, is that the primary ministry happens when the band is gone. Let me explain what I mean. There are Christian bands that jump on stage, rock a couple of songs, and then share the Gospel before launching into the rest of their set. The trouble is that the venue is rarely conducive to such a presentation. The sound system is not set up for a speech, but for music. People are cheering, milling around, crowded and sweaty. Of course, there are people in the crowd who would react negatively if the band chopped out this portion, but the truth is that it is rarely effective. Obviously, there are exceptions, but I am simply speaking generally. The other reason it is problematic is that after the band signs a few autographs and takes some pictures, they load up and leave town. Even if someone is genuinely moved by the Gospel presentation, the band is not there to do any follow up. It is the local impact of the people who buy the albums, memorize the words, and wear the t-shirts, that is really powerful. They are there to develop lasting relationships when the band is off doing a tour in Africa. In short, the real ministry happens after the band is gone.

How does this have anything to do with everyone's favorite suspender clad apologist, William Lane Craig? I would like to suggest that what happens with bands is analogous to what happens with Christian case makers. There are what J. Warner Wallace calls, "Million Dollar Apologists", and then there are the rest of us who aspire to contend for the faith. J. Warner calls us "One Dollar Apologists." The truth of the matter is that million dollar apologists rarely (if ever) approach seven figure salaries. I would actually suggest that most one dollar apologists have considerably more resources to invest in the cause of apologetics than their more recognizable counterparts. And that is where I want to draw the parallel. 

I would actually be willing to go even further than J. Warner's claim that we need more one dollar apologists. I would say that the real ministry happens when Dr. Craig is not around. He speaks in venues that are much more conducive to presenting the gospel, but often in front of even more hostile audiences. In any event, he does not live in your neighborhood, hang out with your co-workers, and eat pizza with your friends. And most of them will never read anything that Dr. Craig puts out or watch any of his videos. They don't know him and he doesn't know them. But they would probably read something that you wrote, watch a video that you made, or come to hear a presentation that you were giving at the local college apologetics group. The largest impact made by the Craig, Geisler, McDowell, and company is not in their physical appearances or even in the books that they write. The larger, more lasting impact comes from the people who buy the books, memorize the words, and wear the t-shirts (I am sure they exist somewhere. If not, there is a lot of money waiting to be made from William Lane Craig "suspender-defender" t-shirts. Just saying.)

Of course, we need people doing research, writing books, and doing speaking engagements. We can't survive with out them. It is a symbiotic relationship. The ministry of the one dollar apologists depends on the ministry million dollar apologists and the ministry of the million dollar guys depends on the ministry of the one dollar guys. It is admittedly presumptuous of me to say so, but I think most of the million dollar guys would probably agree that even if they were selling thousands and thousands of books to Christians; they would hang up their suspenders in a heartbeat if they knew that the readers would never pass along the information. They would retire their argyle sweaters; even if they were selling out stadiums to believers; if it was entirely certain that every person who attended would take a vow of silence immediately afterward.

I say all of this to encourage those of you who, like me, are deeply indebted to the big names out there. Find some way to start sharing what you have learned. Do not allow yourself to fall into the trap of thinking "I won't say anything new" or "I can't say it as well as Dr. Craig." Your friends probably haven't heard it before and they don't care how well someone else can say it. Do not stay on the sidelines because you think, "I don't know all of the answers." Wanna know the shocking truth? Neither does Dr. Craig! And even if he did, he does not live in your neighborhood.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Smartest Guy in The Room (A Short Story)

No matter where he was, Tim Callahan was always the smartest guy in the room. All through college and grad school, his professors doted on him for his outstanding academic contributions. No one in the sociology department -- including the teachers -- could hold a candle to Tim's knowledge on any given topic. He graduated at the top of his class with a PhD in sociology.

Tim's academic reputation practically guaranteed him a high profile career in the field of sociology. Within mere months of graduation, he had accepted a position as a research professor at a top tier university. He was only 24 years old and poised to revolutionize his field -- or so he thought. 

Tim struggled as a teacher from the very first day. He always presented the information clearly and thoroughly. He had PowerPoint presentations and handouts filled with excellent points. Even so, Tim could never seem to connect with the students. He might have noticed that he was having a problem when more than half of the students in his classes withdrew. He might have suspected something was amiss when many of the junior and senior level sociology students opted to change their majors and left the department altogether. But Tim did not notice. 

That is, until he received an email from the concerned parent of one of his most promising students.

Hello Dr. Callahan, 
   My son James is a senior sociology major. He really respects you. I can tell that he has learned a lot from your classes. Even so, I am becoming concerned. I have noticed a dramatic change in James' attitude since he began taking your classes two years ago. He has become cold, distant and frankly, rude. It is a side of him that I had never seen before. He was always such a considerate young man. I can hardly talk to him anymore, and when we do talk, it's like we don't even speak the same language. James has gotten so smart that trying to show him the error of his ways is actually sort of intimidating. He always has a complicated sociological response for everything that I try. He has learned so much from you, so please do not think that I am complaining. It is just that I know James considers you a mentor. If there is anything that you can do to encourage him, that would be greatly appreciated.
   Thank you, 
      Janet Peterson
The words of the email sounded eerily familiar. The situation reminded Tim of the tension plaguing his own family in recent years. His mother had used nearly all of the same adjectives: cold, distant, rude. For the first time since his own family struggles began, Tim suspected that he might be the problem. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

How Conveeeenient! The Church Lady Tactic

If you are older than 25, you probably remember Dana Carvey's "Church Lady" character from Saturday Night Live. For those who are not familiar, I will provide a brief (and totally unfunny) synopsis. The church lady interviews various celebrities for her "Church Chat" television program. Every interview begins in fairly mundane fashion. That is, until the church lady starts grilling her guests. She inevitably asks a question about some questionable behavior attributed to the guest. When the guest shows no sense of shame, the church lady smugly replies, "Well, isn't that special?" Then, the church lady rhetorically asks the audience, "Who do you think could be behind this bad behavior?" Without skipping a beat, she emphatically answers her own question, "Could it be; oh I don't know; Satan!?" At this point, the guest usually tries to offer some excuse for his behavior, but the church lady simply will not let him off the hook. She quickly rejects the excuse and employs another of her comical catchphrases; "How conveeeeenient!" she quips. The crowd erupts in laughter and applause. Sometimes, when the church lady is feeling especially triumphant, she does a little dance -- a magnificent sight.

Never mind the obvious irony in the title, but I have recently noticed many critics of Christianity utilizing what I would like to call, "The Church Lady Tactic." Here is how it generally looks. First, the critic calls into question some perceived Christian doctrine that he finds inconsistent, illogical, or immoral. Next, the Christian responds by explaining how the critic has grossly misrepresented and/or misunderstood the doctrine. Then, the critic simply dismisses the explanation by saying, "How convenient!" Much like the church lady, the critic feels victorious. Often times, he will even gloat over the perceived absurdity of his opponent's response.

It may sound counterintuitive, but I think the best strategy for answering the church lady tactic is to agree with the critic. You can say something like, "You're right, it is convenient, but what does that have to do with anything?" You might also ask, "What do you mean by convenient?" The obvious implication is that he thinks your explanation is contrived and unworthy of an intelligent response. Even so, you do not have to take the bait and get defensive. Simply ask him to explain his problems with your argument. If he is willing, great, then you are back on track to an intelligent conversation. However, if he is unwilling, then you simply have to move on.

The truth is that many critics resort to moves like the church lady tactic because they are afraid to face the explanation that you have provided. Dismissing it as "convenient" keeps them from having to deal with the implications. And that principle does not only apply to issues of religion, but also to friendships, marriages, families etc. When I am obviously and loudly convinced that I am right about something and my wife confronts me with clear evidence to the contrary, I naturally want to find a way to dismiss it. The more obvious my shortcomings, the more negatively I am inclined to react. What happens next is an even uglier secret. That is, if I react smugly to her comment and then she snaps back at me, I subconsciously feel like I have dodged the bullet. Now we are both upset and we are not even talking about the original issue anymore. It is a vicious cycle, all perpetuated by a form of the church lady tactic. I pray that you can learn from my embarrassing admission how to better maneuver in these circumstances, regardless of which side you find yourself on.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

No Such Thing As Faith Without Reason

 I have recently heard/read a lot of people claiming that faith and reason are opposed to one another. Sadly, the sentiment is not only advanced by non-believers but often by Christians as well. Recently, I have been considering whether this claim even makes logical sense. Are faith and reason polar opposites? That is, does faith necessarily decrease as reason increases and vice versa? Or, to put it another way, are faith and reason inversely proportional? That is the question I want to consider here.

I think the best way to handle the question (and many similar questions) is to "de-spiritualize" it. That will help to unload some of the religious baggage and see the core principles at work more clearly. To do this, I will use marriage as an analogy. I have faith that my wife loves me. That is to say, I trust that she loves me. Of course, I cannot know with complete certainty, but simply have to take it on faith. It is entirely possible that she is deceiving me. However, that seems incredibly unlikely. Why? The answer is because of reason. There is a great deal of evidence that gives me reason to trust (by faith) that she loves me. What is more, as reasons for thinking she loves me increase, so does my faith that she loves me.

Are there any counter evidences that might make me think she doesn't love me? Of course. Any (honest) married person will testify to this. I often struggle to understand why she reacted a certain way or said a certain thing, and if I only analyzed my emotional response to those particular moments, I might say "there is no way she loves me." But are these isolated incidents -- the highly subjective, emotionally charged moments of confusion -- enough to overthrow the wealth of evidence that points to her love for me? Absolutely not!

Now, let us consider how absurd it would be if I reassessed my marriage using the formula that faith and reason are inversely proportional. In order for my faith in my wife's love to grow, I would actually need less reasons for it. The less she showed her love and the more she voiced her contempt, the greater my faith that she loves me would become. Stepping back from the analogy for a moment, that would mean a person of faith would be in the awkward position of actually wanting his beliefs to be disproven in order that his faith might reach its greatest potential. That is totally ridiculous. 

At this point, I can imagine that someone accusing me of having grossly misrepresented the "faith vs reason" position. They would likely argue that the absence of reason simply makes more room for faith. That is, I do not have to express very much faith in my wife's love since there are abundant reasons for knowing it is true. In the absence of reasons, I would have to exercise a tremendous amount of faith in order to believe that she loved me. My question at that point would be: is faith the sort of thing that changes size to fill gaps? I do not think so. Faith can certainly increase or decrease, but I do not have any reason to think that the supply necessarily responds to the demand. It seems to me that when a  person has no apparent reasons for faith in something or someone, he usually has less obvious reasons that he finds just as, if not more compelling. These might be emotional or psychological reasons rather than emperical. Maybe the reasons come from experience. Or maybe they come from the perceived trustworthiness of an authority. These are all legitimate sources of reasons for faith. Granted, someone might say these are not good reasons. But they are still reasons! In the end, I would argue that no one expresses faith in the absence of reason. That idea is just false. There is no such thing as faith without reason.

Proponents of the Christian "faith vs reason" crowd generally want to argue that no reason is necessary beyond the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit. To that I would simply say that they need to re-phrase their position. They do not actually believe that faith is opposed to reason but simply that the testimony of the Spirit is reason enough for faith. In which case, they maintain my claim that no one believes without reason. I would even agree with them up to a certain point. I affirm that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is necessary for faith in Christ. However, I do not think that in any way logically precludes the possibility that faith can be increased by additional evidence. I also do not believe there are compelling reasons to think the testimony of the Holy Spirit cannot work through the presentation of evidence. In fact, I think there are biblical reasons to think he often does. If we want to be strict about our soteriology and argue that "no one is saved based on the presentation of evidence", then I think we have to say the same about the presentation of  the Gospel. Do we want to go there? I really hope not, but strictly speaking, people are not saved by the act of evangelism. I believe the same way the Holy Spirit uses the presentation of the Gospel as a tool, He also uses the presentation of evidence. Come to think of it, why should we assume that the testimony of the Holy Spirit is some kind of ethereal feeling completely detached from reason? I don't know of any biblical reason for thinking that. But I will leave that for now and address the other side of the "faith vs reason" coin.

I would argue that advocates of the atheistic "faith vs reason" crowd also need to re-phrase their objection. In my estimation, when they say, "faith is opposed to reason", what they really mean is, "people of faith lack any good reasons for belief." But that is a completely different argument and a highly subjective one. Who decides what constitutes good evidence? Are emotional and psychological evidence always misleading? Of course not. What about beliefs based on experience or the perceived trustworthiness of authority? Should these always be rejected? That would be ridiculous. In reality, the majority of beliefs held by human beings (regardless of their worldview) come from experience and authority.

More importantly, what really matters is not the goodness or badness of the reasons Christians have for their faith. What matters is whether or not what they believe is true. The question is not, "Does the random Christian on the street have any good reasons for his faith?" but, "Do any good reasons for the Christian faith exist?" After a lot of study and skepticism (contrary to popular belief, Christians are often the harshest skeptics of Christianity), I am absolutely convinced that they do. What is more, I am convinced that anyone who is genuinely seeking the answer to that question will find the same to be true.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

What about the "Good Kids"? Part II

It might concern some of you that in my first installment, I failed to address whether or not the "good kids" are all "saved", (born again, regenerate, redeemed etc). I did not bring that up because I really cannot say with anything approaching certainty. However, I think a safe answer to that question is -- some of them are. What is more, I did not bring up the question of their salvation because I think it is actually part of the problem. Before you begin the modern version of wailing, tearing your clothes and putting ashes on your head -- you know, posting about your disgust on Facebook -- let me explain. I simply mean that part of the reason the "good kids" are often overlooked is because church leaders simply assume that they are all regenerate followers of Christ. In their defense, there are plenty of other problems to deal with without having to go looking for them amongst the "good kids". As long as they show up every week, say the right things, act the part and participate, we assume that all is well (with their souls). All the while, their minds are roiling with doubts and confusion.

So what is the solution? While I cannot offer a comprehensive, sure-fire, step by step guide; I think there are at least three primary categories that any proposed strategy should address. They are: prevention, correction and regular maintenance. Think of it like owning a car or house. Prevention has to do with anticipating doubts and confusion and addressing them before they have a chance to become rooted and mature. Correction means combating full blown doubts and confusion with the truth. Finally, regular maintenance is about keeping the mind sharp so that it can more quickly discern truth from untruth without having to entertain doubts and confusion.

First of all,  let's talk about prevention. For two years, I have taught middle school Christian Studies at Bethlehem Christian Academy (I am doing High School this year). I keep a question box at the front of my room and encourage kids to ask whatever questions they have about God, life, the Bible etc. You might be shocked at some of the questions that I have gotten from kids as young as 11. Mind you, most of these kids have grown up in church and Christian school. Last year, a 6th grade boy asked, "How can we be certain that God exists and that our religion is the right one?" I will not go into the details of my answer. And to be honest, the answer itself is somewhat ancillary to the fact that I was willing to give an answer. He responded by saying, "Wow! No one has ever been willing to answer that for me before." What does that tell you? It tells me that kids start thinking about this stuff when they are in elementary school. It may be hard to answer these type of questions in a way that they can understand when they are only 9 or 10 years old -- but are we even trying? Or are we simply brushing off their questions with "you just have to believe"? That seems to have been the experience of this particular student. By the way, the 6th grade question box was always  full and the 8th grade question box rarely had anything in it. What does that tell you? It tells me that by the time they reach 8th or 9th grade, they would rather eat a light bulb than put off the impression that they do not know everything.

Prevention begins by acknowledging that everyone -- even the "good kids" -- struggles with doubts and confusion. We cannot just ignore that fact. We also cannot wait for them to bring it up. They feel like they already know what the Christian answer will be. As a result, the first time they really seek answers for their doubts it will probably be in an environment that they perceive as sympathetic to their doubts. We need to take the necessary steps to make our homes, classrooms, churches and small groups a place where people feel free to express their darkest doubts and ask their toughest questions. That will probably start with the leaders asking questions like, "How many of you have ever wondered why God allows evil to exist if He is loving?" You know that they have thought about it -- we all have -- but they are not likely to admit it until they know that it is okay. I think the problem is that many leaders are scared to bring these skeletons out of the closet because they have not dealt with it themselves. That is like the husband who thinks that as long as he can avoid confrontation -- even at the expense of communication -- there is not a problem. If you are the one feeling like you wouldn't know how to answer those questions if they were asked, let me encourage you. You may be in an even better position than the most well studied apologist. You have an opportunity to personally walk through the process of seeking answers with the person who is struggling. You might say, "To be honest, I have always struggled with that as well. Why don't we both do some research and get together to work it out." Just be available and transparent. I think you will be amazed by how much of an impact that can have. On the other hand, if you are the seasoned apologist, I would encourage you to make sure that you are serving your local body in some capacity. Very few churches have someone on staff that specializes in apologetics. You could be a huge asset to an entire group of local congregations. Ask the local pastors, (especially student pastors) if you can give a talk on the reliability of the Bible or historical evidence for the resurrection etc. There is a good chance that they could use a break for a service or two.

The second category, correction, is fairly self explanatory and should not require nearly as much explanation as the previous step. Correction is about dispelling doubts and confusion by demonstrating the truth. Understandably, correction is more intimidating to most people than prevention. It is the point at which we  often have to deal with people who have become antagonistic to the Church. As I described in my first installment, this is the place where many of the "good kids" live.  At this point, I will revisit  my original allegory from "Good Kids Part I".

RESUME ALLEGORY: The "good kids" moved all of their Christian furniture to the attic. But why?  Because the patterns and colors were boring and out of style. But there is something about that old furniture that they don't realize. The patterns and colors that turned them off are actually just removable slip covers. They aren't essential to the design or integrity of the furniture. Someone needs to take them up into the attic together and uncover the timelessly engaging and "in style" furniture that lies beneath. They need someone who can say, "I know how it looks to you, but let me show you something". END ALLEGORY.

 It is very tempting to unpack all of the particulars of the allegory above -- but that would totally defeat the purpose. So, I will resist the urge and move on to briefly examine the final category.

The third and final category that must be included in any plan to re-engage the "good kids" is regular maintenance. The reason I have included regular maintenance as a category is that the "good kid" problem can actually happen over and over again regardless of your level of maturity. So please do not think that I am suggesting that the solution is for everyone to run out and enroll in seminary to study apologetics. I would wager to say that some of the brightest apologists in the world are mired in boredom and are living like practical atheists. Regular maintenance may look different for them than others, but it is still necessary. 

I have been going to church for 30 years and have been paying attention for more than half of that time. I have been to dozens of churches spanning several different denominations -- from charismatic to Catholic and everything in between. But in all of that time, I cannot remember hearing much, if anything, about the evidence for the truth of Christianity. As a matter of fact, I was a Christian Studies minor during my undergrad studies and they did not even have a course in apologetics* until my senior year. Sure, I had leafed through "Mere Christianity" like most of the other "good kids". Oh wait! Did I forget to mention that I was one of the "good kids"? Oh yes. I argued with my friends about listening to secular music (sorry Jon), before some of you were even born. I wore the bracelets and t-shirts. Sometimes I still do. Anyway...I eventually got bored. I never stopped going through the motions, but it was not until a few years ago that I began to really examine the evidence for Christianity and uncovered the true nature of the "furniture" -- to re-engage. What changed? Oddly enough, after missing a couple weeks of church services, I had an inclination to listen to a sermon via podcast. I had heard someone say that Timothy Keller** was really smart. You see, the "good kids" are generally not impressed with dramatic displays of emotion in a sermon. Not because there is anything wrong with genuinely heartfelt preaching, but because they feel like they have already "been there" and "done that". But what they aren't used to is a pastor who presents Christ using reason, logic, good presentation skills alongside engaging stories. Anyway, I was interested enough to look Dr. Keller and download a couple of messages. In the particular messages that I downloaded, (Sorry, I can't remember the names) Keller took it upon himself to engage a series of "tough questions" that skeptics and critics raise against Christianity. I think you can still find them on iTunes. At any rate, I could not get enough of it. What was Tim Keller doing that I found so refreshing? He was working within that kind of environment I talked about in the prevention category. The sort of place where it is okay to ask questions and talk about doubts. He was not just presenting evidence for Christianity, he was examining the way we "do church" and approach faith. He was helping his congregation perform regular maintenance -- keeping their minds sharp. He knew that we have have the tendency to put "slip covers" back on the "furniture" over and over again. Why do we do that? Well, as it turns out, the real furniture underneath the "slip covers" is actually a lot bigger than it looks when the slip covers are on. In fact it is infinitely huge. It makes us feel tiny and we do not like that feeling. So we want to cover it back up and make it a size that we can manage. Regular maintenance is necessary because it helps us maintain the proper perspective.

If young people perceive Christian homes, churches, small groups and schools as hostile to doubts and questions, then they will just go where they feel like they welcome. If Christianity seems too frail to handle their toughest objections -- they may not totally abandon belief -- but they will put it in "the attic". As long as these issues are ignored, Christianity will contine to appear to them as something small, flimsy, limited and dismissible. However, by addressing these concerns early and often, we can help them to see that Christianity is huge, solid, limitless and essential to every part of life. To that end, any plan to reach the "good kids" should include, prevention, correction and regular maintenence.

*I am not suggesting that apologetics alone is the solution. However, I believe that the neglect of apologetics is a huge part of the problem. Even if you do not personally struggle with doubts or confusion -- you may say "I am convinced and don't need to know all that stuff" -- there are likely many people in your life that do.

*I am not suggesting that Timothy Keller does everything right or that his sermons will impact everyone the same way that they did me. Obviously, that is not true. My wife actually falls asleep when I listen to him in the car. I am simply sharing my experience.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

What About The "Good Kids"? Part I

All of the talk about "Why Millennials Are Leaving The Church" over the past couple of weeks has interesting to say the least. I think there were valuable insights to be gleaned from both sides of the debate that ensued. Even so, there has been more than enough written about Rachel Held Evans' now famous/infamous CNN article. For that reason, I will spare you my commentary. However, the discussion has prompted me to think about one particular group of young people that are prone to "leaving". This group rarely gets any attention from the groups who specialize in "reaching young people with the Gospel". This group does not t really stir up much theological controversy. But before I describe this group to you, let me say that I do not mean to suggest that reaching any one group is more vital than another. It is easy for us to think that because we have a passion for a particular group that everyone else should drop what they are doing and join us. That is not what I am saying. My goal is to hopefully inform some people about a group that they may not have considered. Furthermore, I hope to stir up people who share my passion for reaching this group. Alright; enough preface.

The group to which I am referring could be called the "good kids". These are people who grew up in children's church, Sunday school, VBS, church camp, Disciplenow, SuperWow, youth group, Bible study, small group, mission trips, street evangelism etc. They were in church every time the doors were open and extremely involved. They only listened to Christian music and read the entire Chronicles of Narnia. They had Christian t-shirts, bracelets, hats, bumper stickers, mugs, posters, etc. Some of them went to a Christian high school and most of them went to a Christian college (if they didn't become youth pastors or worship leaders straight out of HS). The "rebellious" ones got Hebrew character and Ichthus tattoos when they turned 18. You get the picture. These are the "good kids".

But when they became adults and the real world became their world, a lot of them just got bored with the whole "Christian thing". After all, what was left for them to do? They had heard every sermon, been in every group, studied every "interesting" part of the Bible and done every outreach. In short, they had done it all. At least, that is how they felt. The thought of waking up early, driving to church, singing a couple of songs, sitting through another predictable service, learning nothing, going out to eat and driving home began to look less and less appealing.  It wasn't that they stopped believing in God, the Bible and Jesus anymore. If you talk to them today, they still say they believe it and they know more about it than 99% of the people warming the pews. They had just "been there and done that" already. And so, they packed up their Christian "furniture" and put it in the attic.

By clearing all of the Christian furniture out of their house, they made room for things that they actually found interesting. But remember, these are the "good kids". They didn't drag a bunch of nasty old couches into their house. No, they got nice new furniture -- in most cases, a lot nicer looking than the old stuff. They still have the old stuff up in the attic, but after a while, they started to forget what it looked like. In fact, they started to come up with caricaturizations of it in their minds. And then, inevitably, they started to resent the color, size, shape, and patterns of the old furniture in the attic. They wouldn't dare to get rid of it -- they love what it represents -- but whenever they see furniture of a similar style in another person's house, they feel nauseous. They say, "I have that same couch, and I really do love it. But I just hate the color and the pattern." Or, worse yet, when a furniture salesmen comes to the door and tries to sell them a new piece of furniture with a similar style. They say, "No thank you. I already have more than enough of that." But the most frustrating thing is when people who still have think that kind of furniture is "in style" come over to visit and won't shut up about how great it is. But remember, these are the "good kids". They will just smile and wait to discuss how truly  ignorant their friends really are about that truly hideous furniture.

So what is the solution? How do we "reach" the good kids? After all, they know a lot more about Christianity than most of the people who would try to reach out to them. I will let you marinate on the allegory for a little bit. That will give me time to finish up Part II where I will try my darndest to give an answer.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Is the History Channel's "The Bible" Series Inaccurate?

NOTE: There are likely many other purported inaccuracies that might be cited. In the following space, I am simply responding to one particular (theoretically comprehensive) list to which I was provided a link. Thank you in advance for keeping any comments like "Well, but you left out the one where..."  to yourself. I am aware that I probably didn't cover everything. What is more, I am only addressing the purported explicit contradictions to Scripture. That does not include things being left out, skimmed over, or embellished. Those are the sort of things we ought to expect in any movie adaptation of a book. Thanks!

In response to: “Ten Inaccuracies in the Bible Miniseries” by Johnathan Merritt

Purported inaccuracies
IA = Inaccuracy R = Response V = Verdict

1.       IA: The miniseries begins with Noah telling the story of creation and the Fall. That is inaccurate because Moses, not Noah wrote the book of Genesis.

R: Do we really believe that no one until Moses knew the story of creation and the Fall? There was almost assuredly an oral tradition passed down through the generations. Moses wrote to solidify the tradition and remind the people of their heritage. Remember, they had been enslaved for 400 years in a pagan land and heard all sorts of other stories about creation, gods and humanity. Certainly, Noah would have known and shared with his family why God was judging the earth. That is all the miniseries assumed for dramatic effect – and with good reason. 

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

2.       IA: The Angels display martial arts fighting techniques. That is inaccurate because the Bible does not say they fought, and especially doesn’t say that they fought like Jet-Li.

R:  The Bible does speak of angels fighting. Are we 100% certain that they could not use martial arts like moves? Where in the Bible does it tell us that?  Is it reasonable to think that they might have been fighting in Sodom and Gommorah? It is at least possible since they sought refuge at Lot’s house. The miniseries does include the blinding of the men, but works on the assumption that might not have been the end of the struggle to escape. Is that a reasonable assumption? Only in the movies do people get punched one time or lose their eyesight and then simply fall down, never to fight again. In real life, we know that a mob could still put up a fight, even with their eyesight gone. Furthermore, the men who were blinded do not represent all of the people in the cities of Sodom and Gommorah. Could there have been an armed struggle? Sure. Could they have used supernatural fighting moves? Sure.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

3.       IA: After God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son, the animal that is caught in the thicket is a lamb. That is inaccurate because the Bible says it was a ram.

R:  What was the sacrifice supposed to represent? The answer is Christ. God does not allow Abraham to sacrifice his only son, but provides another sacrifice. This foreshadows when God would actually go through with the sacrifice of His own son – the ultimate and final sacrifice. What saves the people from the angel of death in Exodus – the blood of a lamb. What is Jesus called by John the Baptist on two occasions? Answer – The lamb of God. What is Jesus portrayed as in the book of Revelation – the lamb who was slain.  Granted, the Bible does say it was a ram. But it seems like the miniseries wanted to make sure people understood the symbolism and foreshadowing. Even with most people’s ignorance of ancient Jewish symbolism, most people have heard about Jesus called the lamb of God. It seems fair to assume that the producers of the miniseries wanted to make sure that no one missed the significance of the foreshadowing.

V: Technically contradicts the letter of Scripture but remains true to (and accentuates) the message of Scripture as a whole.

4.       IA: When David sneaks up on Saul in the cave, Saul was urinating.  This is inaccurate because the Hebrew word used for “relieved himself” clearly connotes defecation.

R: This has got to be the silliest one of the whole bunch. Saul was relieving himself. Does it really take away from the truth of the Bible that he is portrayed as going #1 instead of #2?

V: Does not contradict English translations of the Scripture. May contradict the letter of the original Hebrew Scripture but has absolutely no affect on the truth of the story in question or Scripture as a whole.

5.       IA: Jeremiah escapes from Jerusalem unscathed. Daniel and his friends are captured during the siege of Jerusalem. The first is inaccurate because the Bible clearly says that Jeremiah was captured and later released. The second is inaccurate because Daniel and his friends were not deported until a decade after the siege of Jerusalem.

R: The miniseries shows Jeremiah riding away from the ruined Jersualem on a donkey. Then the narrator says that he escaped alive. So what is the problem? Are we assuming that nothing happened in between the scene where the city was being destroyed and when he was overlooking the ruined city? Is that how movies work – perfectly linear with no time gaps or fast forwarding? Of course not. As for Daniel and friends, the exact time of their capture may be somewhat misleading, but it makes it clear that they were taking into Babylonian captivity. What should they have done instead? Cut away for a second and add the subtitle “10 years later” and then proceed with a scene of them being captured and taken away? That just seems superfluous. They were taken into Babylonian captivity.

V: Does contradict the exact time frame described in Scripture, but does not in any way compromise the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

6.       IA: Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den by Cyrus King of Persia. This is inaccurate because the Bible says that Darius was reigning at the time.

R: What we have in Daniel is a bit of a historical mystery at present. We know that Cyrus was already King of Persia when “Darius the Mede” or, the King of the Medes, comes on the scene. To date, there are no historical records of Darius the Mede that have been discovered. Some Bible scholars argue that Darius the Mede was simply a title that Cyrus himself adopted. In that case, Daniel 6:28 would be translated – “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus.” Other scholars believe that Darius was one of Cyrus’ generals. In any case, the miniseries seem to be working with what we can know for certain from the biblical text. That is, Cyrus was King when the Babylonians were overthrown in 539 BC. What is more, Cyrus was God’s instrument for ending the Jewish exile. The miniseries makes these points explicitly clear.

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

7.       IA: Mary rides a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only Joseph for company. That is inaccurate because the Bible never mentions a donkey and it could be assumed that their families traveled with them.

R: Really? The Bible doesn’t say there was a donkey, so there must not have been a donkey? That is really reaching for a contradiction. The Bible also does not say that they traveled in a caravan with their families. So why should we overthrow the image of Joseph and Mary traveling alone for an assumption that is also not in the Bible?

V: Does not explicitly contradict Scripture

8.       IA: The “Wise Men” arrive just after the birth of Jesus at the same time as the shepherds. This is inaccurate because it seems from a particular reading of Matthew 2 that they did not visit until Jesus was a little bit older – a “child” rather than an “infant”.

R:  Fair enough. But this really should not fall into the category of “contradictions in the Bible miniseries” as much as “contradictions in the portrayal of the Christmas story throughout history”.

V: Seems like a contradiction based on a particular reading of Matt 2.  If so, this has been a common error made throughout Christian history in portraying the Nativity. In any case, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.

9.       IA:  John the Baptist is executed because his preaching is causing trouble for Herod Antipas. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Herod does not have a problem with John’s preaching. He only arrests John for speaking out against his marriage. Even then, he is not executed. It is only at the request of Herod’s wife and step-daughter that John is eventually decapitated.

R: Granted, the miniseries takes the quick route to John’s execution and leaves out a great deal of the details. Even so, this is what we are used to seeing in movie adaptations of books. We do not get everything in real time or with every detail filled in. The miniseries implies but does not explicitly say that John was arrested and decapitated ONLY for his preaching. It does not rule out other possible reasons.

V: Does not explicitly contradict, but may implicitly contradict Scripture

10.   IA: Satan takes Jesus to the top of a cliff and tempts him to jump. This is inaccurate because in the Bible, Satan takes Jesus to the top of the Temple.

R:  Agreed. That is inaccurate.

V: Does contradict the letter of Scripture. However, it does not take away from the story or compromise the message of Scripture as a whole.