Monday, June 30, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 5:  Pantheism and Pain

We once again delve into Abud Murray's book Grand Central Question as chapter 5 begins Part Two of the book entitled Eastern and Western Spirituality or the Gospel:  Which Gives Real Answers to Suffering? Murray explains that even though pantheism has many different forms each form has the fundamental beliefs that follow:  This world is to some degree an illusion. The idea of an individual self is an illusion; we are truly divine. In fact, the divine is all there is. Succumbing to this illusion results in the pain and suffering we experience and we will cycle endlessly through life after life until we realize our full potential as one with the divine. This realization comes through our own merits via various paths depending on the system of belief (i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, New Spirituality, Scientology, etc.).

Murray also writes of the great influence pantheism has had in the West which is demonstrated by popular books by Deepak Chopra and Ekhart Tolle and by films such as Star Wars, The Matrix, and Avatar. An influence that leads him to conclude that “our neighbors, our coworkers and even our relatives may be at least a touch pantheistic” (page 125).  The reason for pantheism’s appeal is because we all experience pain and suffering and desire a better state of being. Pantheism emphasizes the Grand Central Question of how to escape the present state we find ourselves in and answers it by stating that we are living an illusion that must be overcome through our own efforts. But, Murray writes:

are pain and suffering more profound because they are real and not mere illusions? Does the reality of pain tell us something deeper about ourselves, God and the nature of true peace beyond the idea that we need to escape it? Is pantheism’s Grand Central Question answered in our efforts to rise above it by becoming God or in God’s initiative to deal with it on our behalf? (pages 134-135)     

In the next chapter, Murray examines these questions and determines how the gospel answers the question of our pain and suffering and also if that answer is satisfactory to both the heart and mind.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter One: The Cultures of Suffering

On page 13, Timothy Keller states, “Nothing is more important than to learn how to maintain a life of purpose in the midst of painful adversity.”

Western society seeks to avoid pain at all costs.  As medical patients, we have more comfort and are far less equipped to handle suffering and more traumatized by it.  Why?  Other cultures have provided answers to the purpose of life and suffering can be an important means of achieving such purpose.  But in Western secular culture, the purpose of life is the freedom to pursue the life that leads to the most happiness.  In this context, suffering can have no meaningful purpose except to completely interrupt happiness.  Therefore suffering should be avoided at all costs or minimized as much as possible.  The secular view does not have any resources to deal with pain and suffering.

The table below is an outline of how several worldviews understand the cause of suffering, how one should respond to suffering and the ultimate resolution for suffering.

Wrongdoing.  Failure to live rightly.  Everything must be paid for.
Do good
Eternal bliss
Unfulfilled desires from the illusion that we are individual selves.
Extinguish desire by detaching from transitory, material things and persons
Pagan cultures of northern Europe, Islam
High view of fate and destiny.  Life set by stars, supernatural forces, gods, or will of Allah.
Endurance.  Stand your ground honorably.  Surrender to God’s mysterious will.
Glory and honor
Ancient Persian Zoroastrianism, Marxist theories
Cosmic conflict.  Battleground between forces of darkness and light.
Purified faithfulness
The triumph of the light
Better society

The non-secular approaches share several similarities:
1. Suffering is not a surprise but it is a necessary part of human existence.
2. Suffering helps one move toward the purpose of life.
3. The key to rising and achieving in suffering is something one takes responsibility to do.

These other cultures see the world consisting of both matter and spirit.  In the west, the naturalistic view sees only material forces devoid of anything that could be considered purpose.  Richard Dawkins in River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life states, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice.  The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom, no design, no purpose, ne evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”  We struggle against suffering because we will not accept that it never has any purpose.  “[It] is hard for us to resist the ‘Why’ question…It is an almost universal delusion…” and “For Nature, heartless, witless Nature, will neither care nor know.  DNA neither knows nor cares.  DNA just is.  And we dance to its music.”  Suffering does not mean anything at all.

But without meaning, we die.  So Dawkins says, “The truly adult view…is that our life is as meaningful, as full and wonderful as we choose to make it.”  So whatever gives our life purpose would have to be some kind of material good which includes comfort, safety, and pleasure.  But suffering either destroys or seriously jeopardizes any such conditions.  It is because the meaning of life is the pursuit of pleasure and personal freedom in the secular west that suffering is so traumatic for us.

In the other world views, life’s meaning cannot be achieved in spite of suffering, but through it.  Suffering can actually accelerate the journey to your desired destination.  In the secular view, suffering can only interrupt your journey.  It cannot take you home.  It can only keep you from the things you want most.  Suffering always wins.  Suffering is of no possible “use.”  It must be avoided at all costs, and if unavoidable, managed and minimized as much as possible.

For other cultures, the responsibility belongs to the sufferers.  They needed to learn patience, wisdom, and faithfulness.  In the secular culture, suffering is not an opportunity or test – and certainly not a punishment.  Sufferers are victims of impersonal forces and must go to experts - whether medical, psychological, social or civil - whose job is the alleviation of the suffering by removing as many stressors as possible.  Through various scientific techniques, emphasizing the emotional pain and discontent, the experts attempt to lessen the pain, but do not address the life story.  There are two ways the experts do this:

1. Manage or lessen the pain.  Using the vocabulary of business, psychology, and medicine enables you to manage, reduce, and cope with stress, strain, or trauma by avoiding negative thoughts, buffering yourself with time off, exercise, and supportive relationships and focusing on controlling your responses.

2. Look for the cause of the pain and eliminate it.  Suffering has a material cause and can be “fixed”.

C.S. Lewis stated, “For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue.  For…[modernity] the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique…”

For westerners there is no internal adjustment, learning or growth required.  Moral responsibility is virtually never assigned and to even hint at it is to commit the heresy of “blaming the victim.”  It’s all up to us, we’re alone here.

The following table shows the contrast of the Christian response to suffering compared to those of several other worldviews.

The Christian Contrast
“Pay for it”
Suffering is unfair.  It is often unjust and disproportionate.  Life is simply not fair.  Christianity is centered on the paragon of the innocent man who freely receives suffering for others’ debts.  In light of the cross, suffering becomes purification, not punishment.
“Accept it”
Suffering is real, not illusion.  Pain is pain, it is misery; pleasure is pleasure, positive bliss, not mere ‘tranquility’.
“Heroically endure it”
Suffering is not overwhelming.  There is no self-praise of the sufferer.  The degree of suffering is not measured against his own power to which others bear witness.  Christians are permitted, even encouraged, to express grief with cries and questions.
The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.  The idea that suffering brings one nearer to God is more Greek and Neoplatonic than Christian.
“Avoid it or fix it”
Suffering is meaningful.  There is a purpose to it and if faced rightly can drive us deeper into the love of God and more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.

Grace.  Max Scheler states, “It is not the glowing prospect of a happy afterlife, but the experienced happiness of being in a state of grace of God…”  “The Christian doctrine of suffering asks for more than a patient tolerance of suffering…The pain and suffering of life fix our spiritual vision on the central, spiritual goods of…the redemption of Christ.”

All other approaches are too simple and reductionist.  They are half-truths.  The example and work of Jesus Christ incorporates all these into a coherent whole and yet transcends them.  Other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.

Next week Chapter Two: The Victory of Christianity.

Until then, have a little hope on me,


To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Friday, June 27, 2014

Article: 10 Things Every Christian Should Know about Islam by Zane Pratt

In this featured article, Zane Pratt of The Gospel Coalition shares 10 things he learned about Islam during his 20 years as a missionary in a Muslim-majority country.

They are as follows:

1. "Muslim" and "Arab" are not the same thing.
2. The word "Islam" means submission.
3. There are 2 major denominations of Muslims.
4. Islamic theology could be summarized as belief in one God, his prophets, his books, his angels, his decrees, and the final judgment.
5. Islam teaches that Jesus was a great prophet.
6. Islamic practice can be summarized by the Five Pillars of Islam.
7. The vase majority of Muslims are not terrorists.

8. Muslims can be some of the friendliest, most hospitable people on earth.
9. Muslims need salvation through Jesus Christ.
10. God loves Muslims-and so should we.  Even those few who are our enemies.

Pratt offers a bit of commentary about each point in the article.  You can check it out here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Apologetics315 Interview: Abdu Murray

As I have pointed out before, Brian Auten of Apologetics315 offers some of the best apologist interviews around.

In this featured interview, Brian interviews Abdu Murray of Embrace the Truth International, an apologetics-based ministry dedicated to offering the Truth of the Gospel to Muslims, Jews, cult members, and skeptics.

As Auten explains, in the interview, Murray "talks about his background and his conversion from Islam to Christianity, his view of God as a Christian, the issue of identity in Islam, the three most important elements in his conversion, the costs of changing beliefs, overcoming fear of interaction, his upcoming book Grand Central Question, the Josh McDowell Institute Conference 2013, and more. Abdu's resources are here."

You can listen to the full interview MP3 Audio here (44 min)

Further, for those interested, you can subscribe to the Apologetics 315 Interviews podcast here or in iTunes.

Also, follow Chase Deener's weekly book highlight of Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question on Truthbomb here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Video: Nabeel Qureshi- The Jesus of Islam vs The Jesus of Christianity

In this featured video, former Muslim Nabeel Qureshi contrasts the Jesus of Islam with the Jesus of Christianity.

You can also find an excellent review of Qureshi's new book here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Article: What is Islam, and What Do Muslims Believe?

Article from S. Michael Houdmann of

Question: "What is Islam, and what do Muslims believe?"

Islam is a religious system begun in the seventh century by Muhammad. Muslims follow the teachings of the Qur’an and strive to keep the Five Pillars.

The History of Islam

In the seventh century, Muhammad claimed the angel Gabriel visited him. During these angelic visitations, which continued for about 23 years until Muhammad's death, the angel purportedly revealed to Muhammad the words of Allah (the Arabic word for “God” used by Muslims). These dictated revelations compose the Qur'an, Islam's holy book. Islam means “submission,” deriving from a root word that means “peace.” The word
Muslimmeans “one who submits to Allah.”

The Doctrine of Islam

Muslims summarize their doctrine in six articles of faith:

1. Belief in one Allah: Muslims believe Allah is one, eternal, creator, and sovereign.

2. Belief in the angels
3. Belief in the prophets: The prophets include the biblical prophets but end with Muhammad as Allah’s final prophet.
4. Belief in the revelations of Allah: Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible, such as the Torah and the Gospels. They believe the Qur'an is the preexistent, perfect word of Allah.
5. Belief in the last day of judgment and the hereafter: Everyone will be resurrected for judgment into either paradise or hell.
6. Belief in predestination: Muslims believe Allah has decreed everything that will happen. Muslims testify to Allah’s sovereignty with their frequent phrase,inshallah, meaning, “if God wills.”

The Five Pillars of Islam

These five tenets compose the framework of obedience for Muslims:

1. The testimony of faith (
shahada): “la ilaha illa allah. Muhammad rasul Allah.” This means, “There is no deity but Allah. Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” A person can convert to Islam by stating this creed. The shahada shows that a Muslim believes in Allah alone as deity and believes that Muhammad reveals Allah.
2. Prayer (salat): Five ritual prayers must be performed every day.
3. Giving (zakat): This almsgiving is a certain percentage given once a year.
4. Fasting (sawm): Muslims fast during Ramadan in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. They must not eat or drink from dawn until sunset.
5. Pilgrimage (hajj): If physically and financially possible, a Muslim must make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once. Thehajjis performed in the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar.

A Muslim's entrance into paradise hinges on obedience to these Five Pillars. Still, Allah may reject them. Even Muhammad was not sure whether Allah would admit him to paradise (Surah 46:9; Hadith 5.266).

An Evaluation of Islam

Compared to Christianity, Islam has some similarities but significant differences. Like Christianity, Islam is monotheistic. However, Muslims reject the Trinity—that God has revealed Himself as one in three Persons: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Muslims claim that Jesus was a mere prophet—not God’s Son. Islam asserts that Jesus, though born of a virgin, was created like Adam. Many Muslims do not believe Jesus died on the cross. They do not understand why Allah would allow His prophet Isa (the Islamic word for "Jesus") to die a torturous death. Yet the Bible shows how the death of the perfect Son of God was essential to pay for the sins of believers (Isaiah 53:5-6;John 3:16;14:6;1 Peter 2:24).

Islam teaches that the Qur'an is the final authority and the last revelation of Allah. The Bible, however, was completed in the first century with the Book of Revelation. The Bible warns against anyone adding to or subtracting from God’s Word (Deuteronomy 4:2;Proverbs 30:6;Galatians 1:6-12;Revelation 22:18). The Qur’an, as a claimed addition to God’s Word, directly disobeys God’s command.

Muslims believe that paradise can be earned through keeping the Five Pillars. The Bible, in contrast, reveals that sinful man can never measure up to the holy God (Romans 3:23;6:23). Only by God’s grace may sinners be saved through repentant faith in Jesus (Acts 20:21;Ephesians 2:8-9).

Because of these essential differences and contradictions, Islam and Christianity cannot both be true. The Bible and Qur’an cannot both be God’s Word. The truth has eternal consequences.

“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. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world” (1 John 4:1-4; see alsoJohn 3:35-36).

For more articles on Islam from, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Monday, June 23, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 4:  Will the Real Humanism Please Stand Up?

Here we continue our highlighting of Abud Murray's book Grand Central Question. As Murray discusses in the previous chapter, under secular humanism humanity’s value and purpose is subjective. At the start of this chapter he points to the beginning of the universe (the beginning of all space, time, and matter) to infer God (a spaceless, timeless, immaterial entity) as its cause.  Additionally he points to the fine-tuning of the universe in its initial conditions which allow for life and to the complex specified information that is DNA to infer a designer.

From both of these positions, known as the kalam cosmological argument and the teleological argument, Murray contends that we can infer a God who created humanity for an objective purpose “not based on what we don’t know, but on what we do know. We know, from observations, that information specifically ordered to fit a given set of circumstances arises from intelligence, not from mindless chance” (page 94). He quotes physicist Paul Davies and biochemist Michael Denton to demonstrate the power of this inference:

Davies on the universe:  “If the world’s finest minds can unravel only with difficulty the deeper workings of nature, how could it be supposed that those workings are merely a mindless accident, a product of blind chance?” (page 95)     

Denton states that the complexity of DNA, “excels in every sense anything produced by the intelligence of man” (page 102).

So what is that objective purpose for which humanity was created?  Murray quotes the Westminster shorter Catechism to sum it up:  “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Our purpose is to be in relationship with the Divine. However, we rebelled; we chose our own way; we decided to be the authority and thus committed moral crimes against a holy God and ruined our purpose. The solution to restore our relationship with our Maker is found in the cross of Christ. And in this act we see the grounding of the value of humanity. Murray writes:

How can we know that we are intrinsically valuable, and not just means to one of God’s ends?  Because at the cross God paid an infinite price to show our infinite value. As a triune being, he does not need relationship with us to have relationship. He has it within himself in the eternal community of the Trinity. And so relationship with him does not benefit him or satisfy some need he has. He offers us relationship through the cross, not for his sake, but for our sake. And in that, we are an end in and of ourselves.

The gospel shows us that true humanism has a Christian foundation. To even speak of the value of persons is to borrow from Jesus’ impact on the world through his cross. Bentley Hart says that we use the word person with “a splendidly indiscriminate generosity, applying it without hesitation to everyone, regardless of social station, race, or sex” in modern times because Christianity changed the fact that, in Jesus’ time, only a Roman citizen was considered a true person.  The point is that what seems self-evident to us is only that way because the West – in fact, the world – has been utterly changed to such a profound degree by the gospel that human value is a given. We have the gospel to thank for that.

God came to Earth in Jesus, forsaking the majesty of heaven, exchanging the form of God for the form of a slave, to achieve salvation for us…It is a poetic picture of what humanity’s preciousness is and of how much God values it. Secular humanism tries to provide us with intrinsic value and objective purpose, but without God. Because that is impossible, secular humanism is a contradiction in terms. The only true humanism – a worldview that truly affirms human existence and dignity – is Christian humanism. Those who seek a foundation for our value and purpose can find it in the gospel – specifically at the cross. (pages 112-113)

Jesus suffered and died on the cross. He experienced the forsakenness of God the Father on the cross; a pain that will be infinitely felt within the Trinity. This is the price that was paid for my rebellion; for your rebellion; for the rebellion of all mankind. And this transaction cleared when Christ was raised from the dead. Trust in and acceptance of this transaction results in the restoration of our relationship with our Maker. The gospel of Jesus Christ does indeed provide an answer to the Grand Central Question of humanity’s purpose and value that satisfies the mind and the heart.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

How could a good God allow suffering?  It is the most common objection to belief in God.  Timothy Keller has written what I consider to be one of the most comprehensive tomes on this most confounding question.  Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is composed of three sections.  The first section, Understanding the Furnace, covers the philosophical issues and why secular society has no answer for the problem.  The next section, Facing the Furnace, deals with the unique answers Christianity provides.  The final section, Walking with God in the Furnace, explains the means and paths for facing suffering one inevitably encounters in life.

This week I will try to whet your appetite with a few comments from the Introduction: The Rumble of Panic Beneath Everything.

Timothy Keller reminds us that human life is fatally fragile, it is subject to powerful forces and it is ultimately tragic.  Death is irreducibly unpredictable, inexorable, random and . . . . . . it is absolutely coming.  Yet the Bible encourages, “Let the afflicted hear and be glad.”

When we experience affliction and suffering, what do we do?  Do we move away from God and say “the only excuse for God is that he doesn’t exist” or do we move toward God when we understand that we are not in control of our lives and we never were?  When one understands the Bible, one sees that the reality of suffering is one of the main themes throughout its pages.

It is a deeply philosophical, social, psychological and moral issue.  If you are in pain, you cannot treat is as a philosophical issue, yet you still cry out with the big philosophical questions that cannot be ignored while you just try to survive.  To speak to a sufferer in philosophical terms is actually quite cruel.

Suffering can be understood using the biblical metaphor of the furnace.  The fire of a furnace, used properly, can shape, refine, purify and even beautify.  Suffering can use evil against itself.  Do not think that you can run from it (avoid it), run through it (deny it) or lie down hopelessly (despair in it).

Next week we will explore Section One, Chapter One: The Cultures of Suffering.

Until then, have a little hope on me,

To learn more about Timothy Keller and his work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, you can check out his personal website, his Facebook page or the church homepage.

Keller, Timothy (2013), Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering. Penguin Group. ISBN 978-0-525-95245-9

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Joseph Smith, the Founder of Mormonism, in His Own Words

The following was compiled by Matt Slick of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministries:
Joseph Smith boasted that he did more than Jesus to keep a church together.
"God is in the still small voice. In all these affidavits, indictments, it is all of the devil--all corruption. Come on! ye prosecutors! ye false swearers! All hell, boil over! Ye burning mountains, roll down your lava! for I will come out on the top at last. I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet . . . " (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 408-409).Click here to see this quote in context.
Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon was more correct than the Bible.

"I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book,"  (History of the Church, vol. 4, p. 461).
Joseph Smith made a false prophecy (one of several). 

". . .I prophesy in the name of the Lord God of Israel, unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left . . . " (History of the Church, vol. 5, p. 394). Click here to see this quote in context.
Joseph Smith said mothers have babies in eternity, and some are on thrones. 

"A question may be asked, ‘Will mothers have their children in eternity?' Yes! Yes! Mothers, you shall have your children," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 10). "Eternity is full of thrones, upon which dwell thousands of children reigning on thrones of glory, with not one cubit added to their stature," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 10).
Joseph Smith said that God was not always God.

“We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp.345-346. Italics in original).
Joseph Smith said there are many gods. 

"Hence, the doctrine of a plurality of Gods is as prominent in the Bible as any other doctrine. It is all over the face of the Bible . . . Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many . . . but to us there is but one God--that is pertaining to us; and he is in all and through all," (History of the Church, vol. 6, p. 474). "In the beginning, the head of the Gods called a council of the Gods; and they came together and concocted a plan to create the world and people it," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 5).
Joseph Smith said the Trinity is three gods. 

"I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit: and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods," (Teachings of Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 370).
Joseph Smith said God was once a man. 

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens . . . I say, if you were to see him to-day, you would see him like a man in form--like yourselves, in all the person, image, and very form as a man . . . it is necessary that we should understand the character and being of God, and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity,  I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the veil, so that you may see . . . and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth the same as Jesus Christ himself did." (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 3).
Joseph Smith said our greatest responsibility is to seek after our dead. 

"The greatest responsibility in this world that God has laid upon us is to seek after our dead," (Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 7).
Joseph Smith said that there are men living on the moon who dress like Quakers and live to be nearly 1000 years old. 
Since he was wrong about the moon, is it safe to trust him regarding the way to Heaven? (The Young Woman's Journal, vol. 3, p. 263-264. See reprint in Mormonism--Shadow or Reality? by Jerald and Sandra Tanner, p. 4.)
Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is Mormonism Just Another Christian Denomination?

I was recently troubled to learn that on April 25, 2014 political commentator Glenn Beck, at Liberty University's convocation [1], claimed that Mormonism is simply a different Christian denomination.  Beck stated:

"I share your faith. I am from a different denomination, and a denomination quite honestly that I'm sure can make many people at Liberty feel uncomfortable. I am a Mormon, but I share your faith in the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ."

Is Beck right?  Is Mormonism just another Christian denomination?

Mormonism Research Ministry is a missionary/apologetics organization that was organized in 1979 to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to critically evaluate the differences between Mormonism and biblical Christianity.

This featured article includes part of the first chapter of Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson's book Answering Mormons' Questions: Ready Responses for Inquiring Latter-day Saints and explains why Mormonism is not the same as historic, biblical Christianity.  

You can check it out here.

For those interested in a shorter article on the same topic, check out this article by J. Warner Wallace.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. And by the way, what was Liberty University thinking?!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Thinking about Mormonism by Brett Kunkle

In this featured video, speaker and author Brett Kunkle of Stand to Reason teaches about Mormonism and offers thoughtful advice to followers of Christ about how to respond to them.  This talk is a great example of how the apologist should not only give answers, but also teach others how to think critically.  

I highly recommend Stand to Reason and all of their speakers.  If you are looking for an outstanding speaker to invite to your church, I know of none better.

Courage and Godspeed,

Monday, June 16, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 3:  Saying Nothing as Loud as We Can

We continue reading Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question and Murray begins chapter 3 by defining intrinsic and extrinsic value. “Something has extrinsic value – value outside of its very nature – if its purpose is to achieve a desired end that is more fundamentally valuable than the thing itself” (page 65). Tools or money are examples of things with this type of value. “Something has intrinsic value not because it is a means to an end, but because it is an end in and of itself” (ibid).

So we see that the type of value something has determines whether that thing’s purpose is subjective or objective. Things with extrinsic value have subjective purpose. The hammer is valuable to the carpenter for the purpose of making a living but not valuable to the software engineer for that same purpose. “But if something has intrinsic value, then its value is not a matter of opinion or circumstance. It is always just as valuable in every circumstance” (page 66). Thus it has objective purpose.

With these definitions in place, Murray goes on to demonstrate that the purpose of humanity that the secular humanist affirms is subjective.  Stephen Jay Gould, Lawrence Krauss, James Sire and others all proclaim that we are the arbiters of purpose. His quotation of Stephen Jay Gould reflecting on humanity’s objective purpose sums up this understanding well:

We may yearn for a “higher” answer – but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves – from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way (pages 63-64).

Thus it follows that if the purpose of humanity is subjective the value of humanity is subjective as well. Murray quotes Sam Harris’ acknowledgement of this in his book The Moral Landscape:

There seems no reason to suppose that we must occupy the highest peak on the moral landscape. If there are beings who stand in relation to us as we do to bacteria, it should be easy to admit that their interest must trump our own, and to a degree that we cannot possibly conceive (page 83).

Finally, Murray points out that secular humanism’s belief in humanity’s intrinsic value without a logical grounding leads to Stalin, Mao, Kim Jong Il, and ethicists like Peter Singer, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva arguing that newborns can be killed if they burden the parents or society. He writes:

Most bioethicists, including atheist bioethicists, disagree with Singer’s view. But without a transcendent Value Giver, how can they disagree logically? Can we see what has happened here? Singer has shown us that without God to give us intrinsic worth, we can simply choose to confer worth on whomever we choose, provided they can think or are otherwise useful. Humans are like tools. They serve our purposes. They have no intrinsic value (page 87).

To say that the secular humanist answer to the Grand Central Question of humanity’s purpose and value is lacking is understated. Perhaps the gospel of Jesus Christ provides an answer to this question that satisfies the mind and the heart. Murray undertakes this exploration in the next chapter.

Stand firm in Christ,

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Faith in the Past, Present, and Future

What is the nature of faith? Is faith simply assenting to rational content? Or is faith an irrational leap into the dark? So often our understanding of the nature of faith swings widely between these two extremes; either faith is solely an assent to certain beliefs or it is ultimately devoid of intellectual content and consists exclusively of feelings of total dependence.

The author of Hebrews grounds faith in the “assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.”(1) The early Christians who received this letter were undergoing tremendous suffering and persecution, and the author reminds them that faith is assurance even in the midst of trouble.

The “assurance of things hoped for” is not merely wishful thinking about a yet to be determined future. Rather, it is a description of what true faith already has: the possession in the present of what God has promised for the future. In other words, faith is the response to the trustworthiness of God for what God has already promised and has brought to pass. So faith is confidence in God’s saving work done in the past, and hence a hopeful assurance that God will act in the future. To illustrate this point, the author recounts those who by faith believed God in the past in order to encourage the beleaguered recipients of this letter. Just like those who walked in faith before, we too may not see every promise fulfilled. The content of faith is in remembering God’s faithfulness in the past, so that we might trust in God’s goodness for our present, and in a future that is yet to come.

The writer of Hebrews even chose a particular word to illustrate this point. The Greek word that is used for “assurance” is hypostasis. This is the same word that is used to describe how Christ is the hypostasis, “the very being” of God. In the same way, faith is the “very being” of things hoped for; it is the reality that God’s promises will be fulfilled ultimately, and they are being fulfilled already, in the present time! While we often focus on the bad things that are happening around us, faith directs our gaze to see God’s work going forward in the midst of crisis and chaos.

Ultimately, the “assurance of things hoped for” is an assurance that comes in Jesus Christ. For Jesus is the promise fulfilled and the very substance of faith. It is to Jesus Christ and to him alone that the writer of Hebrews directs us as we look for the content of faith. We have faith because we look to Jesus “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” We look to Jesus, who endured in faith on our behalf, so that we might not grow fainthearted.

Assurance doesn’t come in well-ordered circumstances or trouble-free living. Nor is assurance found in having a rational answer for every question. Assurance comes in relationship with a trustworthy God who fulfilled promises in the past and who will fulfill them in the future. Faith is grounded on God’s faithfulness demonstrated in Jesus Christ.

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington 

(1) Hebrews 11:1.

Published on June 12, 2014 in A Slice of Infinity.  “Our gift and invitation to you, that you might further examine your beliefs, your culture, and the unique message of Jesus Christ.”

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