Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hudson Taylor on Prayer

“Perhaps if we had more of that intense distress for souls that leads to tears, we should more frequently see the results we desire. Sometimes it may be that while we are complaining of the hardness of the hearts of those we are seeking to benefit, the hardness of our own hearts and our own feeble apprehension of the solemn reality of eternal things may be the true cause of our lack of success.” 

Courage and Godspeed,

1. From Hudson Taylor in Early Years: The Growth of a Soul, pp.178ff.

HT: Apologetics315

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Argument from Conscience

Here is an interesting argument I read in Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli's book Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics that I found thought-provoking:

Since moral subjectivism is very popular today, the following version of, or twist to, the moral argument should be effective since it does not presuppose moral objectivism.  Modern people often say they believe that there are no universally binding moral obligations, that we must all follow our own private conscience.  But that very admission is enough of a premise to prove the existence of God.

Isn't it remarkable that no one, even the most consistent subjectivist, believes that it is ever good for anyone to deliberately and knowingly disobey his or her own conscience?  Even if different people's consciences tell them to do or avoid totally different things, there remains one moral absolute [1] for everyone: never disobey your own conscience.

Now where did conscience get such an absolute authority-an authority admitted even by the moral subjectivist and relativist?  There are only four possibilities: (1) from something less than me (nature); (2) from me (individual); (3) from others equal to me (society); or (4) from something above me (God).  Let's consider each of these possibilities in order.

1. How can I be absolutely obligated by something less than me- for example, by animal instinct or practical need for material survival?

2. How can I obligate myself absolutely?  Am I absolute?  Do I have the right to demand absolute obedience from anyone, even myself?  And if I am the one who locked myself in this prison of obligation, I can also let myself out, thus destroying the absoluteness of the obligation which we admitted as our premise.

3. How can society obligate me?  What right do equals have to impose their values on me?  Does quantity make quality?  Do a million human beings make a relative into an absolute?  Is "society" God?

4. The only source of absolute moral obligation left is something superior to me.  This binds my will morally, with rightful demands from complete obedience.

Thus God, or something like God, is the only adequate source or ground for the absolute moral obligation we all feel to obey our conscience.  Conscience is thus explainable only as the voice of God in the soul. [2]

What do you think of the argument?

Courage and Godspeed,

1. The word "absolute" as it is used here is appropriate because the author's contend that "...that no one, even the most consistent subjectivist, believes that it is ever good for anyone to deliberately and knowingly disobey his or her own conscience..."  This is different from the argument and context I blogged about last week here.
2. Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics, p. 24-26.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 9:  God’s Triune Greatness

We now come to the above chapter in our journey through Abdu Murray’s book Grand Central Question in which we begin to see that a Trinitarian conception of God provides a superior answer to the Grand Central Question of Islam:  How is God great? 

Islam affirms that God is entirely different from us yet in the area of his nature and personhood he is exactly the same. Just as humans do, God has one nature and is one person under the Unitarian conception of him.  To Murray it seems that the doctrine of the Trinity is a better fit with Islamic theology.  He writes:

Given the Muslim view of God’s utter differentness, it is surprising that Islam makes God to exist in the same way we do. What would not be surprising is to find that God exists totally differently than we do. He is one in being, but three in personhood. He transcends our notions of existence, and because he is so much higher than us, this transcendence actually shows God to be great.1

But how does God existing with one nature and as three persons show him to be great? Aseity and selfless love. God is self-contained and depends on no one for anything. While the Muslim believes this; under their unitarian conception of God it is impossible for he would have to depend on created beings to be relational. And the Qur’an states the he is “full of loving kindness” in Sura 85:14. The Muslim response to this charge has been that God’s love of a creature is from eternity and that his love is different. Yet how can actual love exist without an actual object? It cannot.  Additionally, if God is the source of love how can humanity have a different kind? It cannot. Humanity merely expresses love differently.  As an eternal tri-personal being, God depends on no other being to be relational. He is love.

The God who is great expresses love perfectly, and perfect love is selfless. It is others-centered. But how can love be perfectly others-centered if God is an absolute singularity, having one nature and one personhood? How can God express relational aspects of who he is independent of the existence of creation if he exists in such a way? It is quite impossible to see how.

The Trinity makes it possible. For God to have no lack in relationship, to have no lack of love or the expression of it, he must exist, from eternity, as a being in community.2

In the next chapter, Murray writes of God’s greatest expression of his perfect love; the incarnation.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 200.
2. Page 208.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Sovereign Zone Argument

This argument is a justification for abortion that states that a woman has the right to do anything she wants with anything within the sovereign zone of  her body. It is distinct from the Right to Refuse Argument which is used as a justification for abortion by stating that a woman has the right to refuse to allow the unborn the use of her body.

Do you think this is a valid justification for an abortion?

See here for a response to this argument. Do you think this is an effective response to the argument?

Sound off in the comments section!

Stand firm in Christ,

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book Preview Video: The Case For Christianity Answer Book by Lee Strobel

In this brief video, author, speaker and apologist Lee Strobel discusses his new book The Case for Christianity Answer Book.

Learn more here.  You can purchase one here.  

For more from Lee Strobel, see here.  

Courage and Godspeed,

Thursday, July 24, 2014

B.B. Warfield on Catechism

"No doubt it requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the Shorter Catechism.  It requires some effort whether to teach or to learn the grounds of any department of knowledge.  Our children-some of them at least-groan over even primary arithmetic, and find sentence-analysis a burden.  Even the conquest of the art of reading has proved such a task that 'reading without tears' is deemed an achievement.  We think, nevertheless, that the acquisition of arithmetic, grammar, and reading is worth the pains it costs the teacher to teach, and the pain it costs the learner to learn them.  Do we not think the acquisition of the grounds of religion worth some effort, and even, if need be, some tears?" [1]

Not sure what "catechism" is?  See here.  [HT: Apologetics315]

My wife and I have found this catechism very helpful with our own children.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. As quoted by Voddie Baucham, Jr. in Family Shepherds.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Presenting the Moral Argument Clearly

The Moral Argument for God's existence is a powerful tool for the Christian Case Maker to have in his evangelism toolkit.  However, like any argument we present, it is important to be as clear as possible with our terms so that the argument can be rightly understood. [1]  

A popular version of the Moral Argument goes like this: [2]

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Premise 1 has been traditionally affirmed by many atheists as demonstrated here and it seems reasonable to conclude that in the absence of God, moral values are just the by-product of Darwinian evolution and social conditioning.  And if this is the case, as atheist Richard Dawkins says, "The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference." [3]  Thus, as Chad Williams explains, "...if someone wants to negate the affirmation of premise (1) the burden of proof will lay squarely on them. It will be their responsibility to erect a basis for objective moral values in the absence of God." [4]

Premise 2 can be demonstrated to the sincere seeker of truth by pointing to some very clear moral truths such as:

1. Torturing people for fun is wrong.
2. Raping someone is wrong.
3. Killing innocent people is wrong.
4. Abusing a child is wrong.

Most will admit that the above are not just socially unacceptable or "taboo," but really, really wrong. We know this from our moral experience. [5]  Again, as Craig states,"People who fail to see this are just handicapped, the moral equivalent of someone who is physically blind, and there's no reason to let their impairment call into question what we see clearly." [6]  For those interested in learning how to handle those "hardliners" that even push back against these very clear moral truths, please see my talk on the subject here.

Please notice that I am using the word "objective" rather than"absolute."  This is strategic, as Dr. William Lane Craig explains here:

So, when you present the moral argument for God's existence, using the word objective rather than absolute can help you avoid common misunderstandings regarding the nature of objective moral values and duties and make the argument more clear for your listener.

Courage and Godspeed,

1. The speakers at Stand to Reason are some of the most clear and concise I have heard.
2. For those curious about what makes a good argument, see here.
3.  Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden, p. 55.
4. Chad Williams, "What is the Moral Argument,"
5. For more on our moral experience, see here.
6. Ibid., p. 141.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Take a Stand on Biblical Inerrancy: Featuring Norman Geisler

In this interview with Richard Greene of Decision magazine, Dr. Geisler addresses the topic of Biblical Inerrancy.  This includes his response as to why the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was produced in 1978.

You can read the interview here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 8:  God’s Greatness and the Preservation of the Gospel

Continuing through Abdu Murray’s book Grand Central Question brings us to this chapter in which Murray takes a hard look at the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the Qur’an is perfect. It is not inspired in the sense in which Christians believe the Old Testament and New Testament was inspired. To the Christian, these Testaments are thought to have come to us by God using the unique personalities of the writers. However, to the Muslim, the Qur’an is a recitation. In fact that is was Qur’an means. Muhammad wrote down a word for word dictation from the God.

In light of this, the Qur’an affirms that the Taurat (Torah), the Zabur (Psalms of David) and the Injeel (Gospel) were God’s self revelation to man. Murray points to verses such as Sura 3:3, 5:44-47, and 2:76-78. Even the understanding of the earliest Islamic commentators was that these verses were speaking of Jews and Christians being mistaken in their interpretation of the Torah and the Gospel not that these biblical texts had been changed. Until the ninth century, when the Bible was translated into Arabic, Muslims assumed that there were no inconsistencies between the Qur’an and the Gospel. At this time Ibn Khazem articulated and advanced the argument that the Bible had been corrupted because if it had not been then the Qur’an was wrong about the historical facts regarding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. And it cannot be the case the Qur’an is wrong.

Murray writes where this argument leaves the Muslim:

The Muslim belief that the Bible is corrupt (to resolve the Bible’s contradiction of the Qur’an) creates a thorny theological problem. The Qur’an says that God revealed the Taurat, Zabur and Injeel. In other words, the Bible is God’s revealed word, his very self-revelation to humankind. But if the Bible was corrupted, then one of two consequences necessarily follows:  either (1) God was unable to preserve the Bible, or (2) God was unwilling to preserve the Bible. There is no third option.1

The first option is unacceptable to the Muslim because if God cannot preserve his self-revelation then he is not all-powerful. The second option leaves us wondering; if God was unwilling to preserve the Bible how can we trust that he will preserve the Qur’an? This also makes God responsible for millions, if not billions, entering eternal damnation due to shirk; belief in blasphemies such as the Trinity, the incarnation and the cross. In the chapters to come, Murray will contend that these doctrines actually manifest God’s greatness; eliminating the tension the Muslim faces.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 187.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter Four: The Problem of Evil

David Hume stated, “Epicurus’s old questions are yet unanswered. Is he willing to prevent evil but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”  But before suffering is a philosophical issue, it is a practical crisis.  Before we ask “why is this happening”, we ask “how can I survive this?”  We all have to have some kind of working theory about suffering, what it means and how we should respond.  No one can function without some set of beliefs.

It wasn’t until after the Enlightenment that the argument from evil gained broad appeal and attraction when Western thinkers came to see God as more remote and the world completely understandable through reason.  Because of this, modern discussions begin with an abstract idea of God.  He is all-loving and all-powerful, but there is no thought regarding His glory, majesty, wisdom, necessity and being the creator and sustainer of all things.  The assumption begins that if they cannot see any good reason for suffering, then neither can God have justification for it.  We must also realize that the culture stacks the deck as well.  While many atheists are quick to argue that religious belief is merely a product of family and culture, they must also be aware that their own beliefs are formed not only by argument and reason, but by social conditioning as well.  Therefore, in order to be thoughtful, balanced and unprejudiced is to be aware of your own cultural biases.  If our highest value is individual freedom and autonomy, then God becomes a barrier to that. 

So the argument states that if God is all-powerful and all-good, then he wants to stop evil and has the complete capacity to do so.  Therefore, this either logically proves there is no such God or evidentially demonstrates that there probably is no such God.  Alvin Plantinga, in God, Freedom, and Evil and The Nature of Necessity, both published in 1974, rigorously and effectively argued that the existence of evil and an all-powerful, all-good God are not incompatible.  The idea that the existence of evil disproves God “is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides to be completely bankrupt” wrote William Alston.  The evidential argument makes the weaker claim that evil is not proof against but evidence that God’s existence is less probable.  However, the atheist must understand that he bears the burden of proof for this demonstration and that that burden is just too heavy to bear.  Therefore, this argument is also no longer seen as compelling.

Gogttfried Leibniz, coined the term theodicy, a justification of God’s ways to human beings, to answer the big “Why?” questions by demonstrating reasons and purposes for God’s actions.  The first of these was “soul-making”.  The highest good is not our comfort or happiness, but that we become morally and spiritually great.  However, there is no appearance of suffering that seems to be distributed to any need for soul-making.  Also, it does not account for the suffering of infants and children or even what we perceive as suffering among animals.

The second and most prominent theodicy is free will.  We are not preprogrammed robots or animals of instinct, but rational creatures free to choose and therefore love.  But to choose good also entails the freedom to choose evil.  So the greater good of choosing to love is worth the risk of the possibility of evil that follows.  Along with this is the idea that evil is not a creation of God.  Evil is not something in itself, but the privation of that which is good.  God is not the author of evil, but allowed its possibility in order to achieve the greater good of human freedom and love.

There are however two problems with this.  First, it only explains moral evil, performed by human beings, it does not explain natural evil.  The second is if God is sovereign and free, yet cannot do evil, could He not create free agents of the same capability?  Also, the Bible teaches that we will eventually live in a world where suffering and death will be banished forever, we will be incapable of choosing evil, yet freely love.

Finally, the nature of freedom as taught in the Bible differs greatly with modern views.  Sin is described as slavery, never freedom.  We are free only to the extent that we do what God intended for us.  Therefore, the more evil we commit, the less free we are.  So how can the ability to commit sin be a form of freedom?  Another biblical concept also undermines the free will theodicy.  In many places the text states that God sovereignly directs our choices, yet our freedom is not violated and we are still responsible for our actions.

Ultimately, are the horrendous evils of history worth the freedom of choice that we have?  Can free will be the only reason God allows evil?  “If God has good reasons for allowing the pain and misery we see, the reasons must extend beyond the mere provision of freedom of choice.”  Other theodicies that attempt to solve the problem include natural order, plenitude and punishment theories.  Taken together, they provide plausible explanations for a great deal of the evil and suffering we observe but always fall short of explaining all suffering.  Alvin Plantinga wrote, “I must say that most attempts to explain why God permits evil – theodicies, as we may call them – strike me as tepid, shallow and ultimately frivolous.”

While a theodicy attempts to explain the full story of God’s purposes for allowing evil and suffering, a defense seeks to prove that the argument against God fails and it does not mean that God cannot or is unlikely to exist.  This shifts the burden of proof from the theist to the atheist to explain why.  The skeptic must therefore argue why an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil and suffering are actually contradictory.

Let us then examine the logical argument.  A short form of the argument goes like this:

1.  An all-good God would not want evil to exist
2.  An all-powerful God would not allow evil to exist.
3.  Evil exists.
4.  Therefore, an all-good, all-powerful God does not exist.

Behind this argument is another premise – God does not have any good reasons to allow evil to exist.  The skeptic therefore has to demonstrate that God cannot possibly have any such good reasons.  But that is quite difficult to prove.  We all allow suffering in other’s lives in order to bring about some greater good.  Having walked with my wife through surgery, radiation and chemotherapy for cancer I understand that many medical tests and procedures are quite painful and produce a great amount of suffering in order to provide some health benefit to the patient.  As a parent and teacher (and having been a child and student myself) I understand how discipline produces suffering in order to promote self-control and wisdom.  So we understand that it is not automatically contradictory to allow pain and suffering, or even to cause it ourselves.

Now the skeptic may agree that there can be good reasons for some suffering, but the magnitude and types of suffering we witness in the world are not warranted by such reasons.  This reveals a second hidden premise to the argument – you can’t see any good reasons God may have to allow evil to exist, therefore he cannot have any.  But we are talking about an infinitely knowledgeable and powerful God.  Why couldn’t he have any such reasons that you cannot think of?  To insist that such a God cannot have any such knowledge is itself a logical fallacy.  Alvin Plantinga states, “Given that God does have a reason for permitting these evils, why think we would be the first to know?....Given the he is omniscient and given our very substantial epistemic limitations, it isn’t at all surprising that his reasons…escape us.”  Ultimately, to believe that because you cannot think of some reason, therefore God cannot either is a mark of arrogance, pride and faith in your own intelligence.

Ok, so we can’t prove that it is logically impossible for all-good, all-powerful God to allow evil and suffering, but surely it is highly improbable that such a God exists.  But the evidential argument fails for the same reasons as the logical argument.  If we are in no position to prove that the existence of God and evil are contradictory, neither are we in any position to assess the probability that such a God cannot have any good reasons.  We, being finite beings, simply cannot assess the probabilities that an infinite God would not have any morally sufficient reasons.  We can consider the butterfly effect when assessing the complexities of directing a world of free creatures toward a certain goal.  It is often considered that if Hitler had been removed from history by some means, the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust would have been prevented.  Yet who knows who may have taken his place?  Perhaps someone equally malevolent yet with a slightly smaller ego would have ascended to power.  Maybe such an individual would have utilized Germany’s military capabilities with greater wisdom and would have successfully conquered the world and established a global reich.  We simply are in no position to judge even the seemingly pointless and unnecessary evils around us.

But do most people really object to evil and suffering for philosophical reasons?  Is that the argument we hear?  Or do we hear something more like this, “You can keep all your long chains of syllogistic reasoning.  I know the arguments.  I know the existence of this kind of cruelty does not technically disprove the existence of a personal God.  But it makes no sense that things like this are justified in any way.  This is just wrong – wrong.  I don’t want to believe in a God who would let this happen – whether he exists or not.”  This is the visceral argument.  It is not merely emotional or a passing feeling, it has a moral logic to it.  But this argument too has its own hidden assumptions.  Blaise Pascal wrote, “At first a thing pleases or shocks me without my knowing the reason and yet it shocks me for that reason which I only discover afterwards…The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”

There is a moral assumption in the argument, that God, if he exists, has failed and violated a moral standard, that he is complicit with the evil.  Yet to make such a statement assumes that a moral standard exists and can be used to measure what is right and what is wrong.  But what is the source of this measure?  Many will argue that our moral sense is the result of evolution.  But this can only account for our feelings and moral instincts, it does not and cannot explain moral obligation.  Feelings and instincts cannot be judged as true or false if another has differing feelings or instincts.  This becomes a conundrum for the basis of disbelief in God because evolution can provide no foundation for the certainty of evil or moral obligation.  If God does not exist, then there is no basis for objective moral values and duties.  In a sense, the argument against God assumes something that cannot exist without God, so it relies on God to argue against God.

C. S. Lewis came to understand this, that as an atheist, he could not use evil as an argument against God.  He understood that it was “precisely the ground which we cannot use” to object to God because “Unless we judge this waste and cruelty to be real evils we cannot…condemn the universe for exhibiting them…Unless we take our own standard to be something more than ours, to be in fact an objective principle to which we are responding, we cannot regard that standard as valid.”  If the world is just random and evil, then God does not exist, but then my definition of evil is only my own feeling.  Therefore, “unless we allow ultimate reality to be moral, we cannot morally condemn it.”

So what if evil and suffering actually make the existence of God more likely?  What if our awareness of evil is a clue that somehow, at some level, we truly know that God exists.  Atheist Andrea Palpant Dilley stated, “I think morals are totally subjective: therefore God is unnecessary.”  But she found herself considering, “if morals are totally subjective, then you can’t say Hitler was wrong.  You can’t say there’s anything unjust about letting babies starve.  And you can’t condemn evil.  How tenable is that? ...You have to consent to an objective moral standard, up here.”  Later, she concluded, “I couldn’t even talk about justice without standing inside of a theistic framework.  In a naturalistic worldview, a parentless orphan in the slums of Nairobi can only be explained in terms of survival of the fittest.  We’re all just animals slumming it in a godless world, fighting for space and resources.  The idea of justice doesn’t really mean anything.  To talk about justice, you have to talk about objective morality, and to talk about objective morality, you have to talk about God.”

If God does not exist, then why is there outrage and horror at unjust suffering?  Violence, suffering and death are all completely natural phenomenon.  There is no basis to say that cruelty is wrong.  Abandoning belief in God not only fails to solve the problem, it also removes many of the resources we need to face it.

Next week we will begin Part Two: Facing the Furnace, with Chapter Five: The Challenge of Faith.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and 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, July 17, 2014

Video: The Power of Oral Tradition in Oral Cultures

In this short video, Michael Licona, Craig Blomberg, and Craig Evans discuss the power of oral tradition in ancient cultures and its importance for the study of the historical Jesus and the Gospels.

For more, see here.

Courage and Godspeed,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What I've Learned from Blog Comments

It is hard to believe that Truthbomb Apologetics started 10 years ago. In those ten years I've had the pleasure (most of the time) to interact with both believers and unbelievers of all stripes and in that time I have learned a few things about blog comments and the different kinds of people that leave them.

The Good

1. The Sincere Questioner- I have received emails and comments from folks who sincerely desire answers to their questions and we are grateful to receive them.

2. The Encourager- These are the folks who leave comments such as, "Thank you for this!" or "Keep up the great work!"  This is always appreciated and I realize I need to do more of this myself.

3. The Sharpener- This is the person who challenges something you've written or points out a possible error you've made in a very respectful manner.  Further, they may share a tip on how to better communicate a point your trying to make.  This is much appreciated and a great example of Proverbs 27:17: "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."

The Bad

1. The Time Sucker- These are the folks who apparently have an endless amount of time to sit on their computer and argue with you, all the while not really wanting answers to their questions in the first place.  I recall once spending hours talking with a skeptic and I felt like I was offering some fairly sound arguments and he just wasn't dealing with them.  Finally I said, "I'm really sorry I haven't been able to help you remove the stumbling blocks that are keeping you from becoming a Christian, but I can offer you some great resources for further research."  I'll never forget his reply- "I have no desire to be a Christian."  Lesson learned.  If  he would have told me that in the beginning, he could have saved me much time!

2. The Assumer- This is the person who thinks they can diagnose everything about you and your entire worldview from a few sentences you've written or simply because you identify yourself as a Christian.

3. The Complainer- This person has no arguments of their own and doesn't even feel they need to offer any. They simply complain about the evidence for Christianity.

4. The Advertiser- These folks like to leave a very brief comment that may or may not have something to do with the post and then leave a link to their blog.

The Ugly

1. The Abuser- These are the folks who offer nothing but name-calling and ill will.  I recall one person telling me that I should just die!  Thankfully, these types of people have been few.

The most infamous in my memory was a guy who's blogger name was first "bobxxxx" and then he changed it to "Human Ape."  When I would do a feature relating to origins he would religiously comment and tell me how stupid I was and how I was "lying for Jeebus."  He would also routinely chastise me for moderating comments and tell me that it was because I was "a dumb Christian who was afraid of evolution," which is funny when one considers we have done numerous posts on evolution!  So, I began visiting his blog and challenging some of his assumptions and he began deleting my comments and now you can't even comment on his blog unless you are a member!  He still maintains that all Christians are "idiots" and that the world would be a better place if they all just died. [1]

Advice to Others Bloggers

Here are some tips that I have had to learn "on the job:"

1. Guard Your Time- Contend for the faith, but not so much that it takes you away from your God or your family.

2. Stay Patient- One blog comment is not going to destroy Christianity.  Take a few days to think about the comment and do your research before responding.

3. Don't Feed the Trolls- This is a tip given to me by a fellow blogger that has served me well.  By "troll," I mean someone who is merely commenting to complain or argue, but has no desire for real answers or dialogue.  Be clear, concise and brief with these types and be careful not to "throw your pearls before swine" [Matt. 7:6].

4. Pray- When you are involved in an exchange with someone, pray for them.

5. Provide Resources- There are so many questions out there that chances are you will be asked a question that you don't know the answer to.  In a case like this, it is completely acceptable to offer a resource or book that you know deals well with the topic in question.

Comment Publishing

We try to be very discerning about what comments get published and what comments do not.  Sure, we have a comment policy, but ultimately the blog authors have final say.  Our goal is to always be fair and when a comment doesn't get published, it is with good reason.

In conclusion, it has been a privilege to interact with folks from around the globe and I understand what I believe better because of it.

Courage and Godspeed,


1. I hesitate to share the name of this blog due to the fact that the language on it is deplorable.  Should you want to know what it is, please send me an email and I will gladly give you the link.  However, reader beware.  The blog is a prime example of quote mining, straw-manning and name-calling.   Update: This blog no longer exists.  The internet is better for it!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

5 Reasons Why You Should Check Out Christianity Craig Hazen

1. Because it is testable.  It is the only religion that you can check out, and if it doesn't match up with history, with the facts it claims, then you can discard it immediately.  (Roman history, resurrection...)

2. It is a concept of grace.  It is the only religion that offers salvation as a free gift, up-front.  So why not check it out first?

3. You get to lead a non-compartmentalized life.  Buddhism lives in 2 worlds...physical and spiritual...

4. Christianity has the best worldview fit...It has the best view on evil and suffering...neither a Buddhist nor a Wiccan priestess can explain the holocaust.

5. Jesus Christ.  All the major world religions have Jesus in their why not check out the one that has Jesus at the center? [1]

Courage and Godspeed,

1. From Dr. Craig Hazen, Talbot Lecture Series, 2000 as featured by Search Ministries in their Questions Study Guide.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 7:  From Whence Comes God’s Greatness?

We continue looking into Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question with chapter 7. This chapter begins Part Three entitled Islam or the Gospel:  Which Tells Us About God’s Greatness? How is God great? This is Islam’s Grand Central Question; for Islam is centered on the Takbir - the phrase “Allahu Akbar” which means God is greater. The Muslim, like the Christian, believes God is the Greatest Possible Being. Yet the Islamic version of monotheism diverts from other forms of monotheism in Tawhid or God’s oneness. Murray writes:

He is absolute unity, utterly without any differentiation within himself. To have any differentiation within God would be to diminish his greatness.1

In Islam, ascribing differentiation to God is called shirk; the greatest possible blasphemy.

The importance of Takbir can be understood in light of the historical context out of which Islam originated. Islam came out of a seventh-century pagan culture. Judaism and Christianity were also well established. In this, what Murray calls, “state of competition”, Islam was offering a God who was better than all the others. Murray quotes Winfried Corduan to describe what the result of this was:

Islam did not so much define itself internally as externally against the other existing options.2

This wholly other nature of God leaves him unknowable to the Muslim. He is a personal being yet personal interaction with him is impossible. Thus God is to be obeyed and served as a master. In light of this overwhelming conception of God, Murray recalls his struggle to answer the question, “How is God great?” while a Muslim:

I  wanted to express adoration to the personal Supreme Being, yet I could not help but believe that such a thing was beyond me. I so desired to tell of God’s infinite mercy, yet also wanted to proclaim his uncompromising justice.  The dilemmas that emerged from that struggle seemed inescapable from the Islamic perspective. So I was forced to retreat to escapist answers that really were no answers at all. To avoid the dilemma, I had to believe that attributes like justice, love and compassion are not remotely the same for God as they are for humanity. I hoped that this retreat would solve the issue for me. But it did not.

Chalking the dilemma up to a mystery was not enough for me, and from the writings I have read and the looks in the eyes of Muslims I have talked with, I know that it is not enough for them either. Like all who sincerely want to believe in one God, Muslims yearn to acknowledge God’s greatness. They do not pretend to fully understand it, nor should they expect to. But there is something about us, in our experience of personal relationships, that senses a tug for divine relationship.  Something within us knows that although we cannot fully comprehend God’s ways and how his mercy interacts with his justice, there must be a way to reconcile them if God is truly great.  We must be able to do so without sacrificing reason on the altar of mysterious reverence. Though God’s greatness might transcend our reason, it must not defy it.  On this Muslims and Christians can agree.3

Perhaps the answer to Islam’s Grand Central Question is found in the very worldview Islam rejected as lesser during its origin; the gospel? This question Murray will examine in the remaining chapters of Part Three.

Stand firm in Christ,

1. Page 166
2. Page 167
3. Pages 169 - 170

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

Chapter 3: The Challenge of the Secular

Newtown, Connecticut.  Every family held some kind of religious service – Catholic, Congregational, Methodist, Jewish, Mormon.  President Obama’s eulogy was essentially a sermon quoting 2 Corinthians 4 and 5.  Society turned visibly to faith and God to communally face tragedy.  Where were the humanists?  Some argue that religion offers loving, supportive relationships in community.  But it also provides theology, a larger life story that helps make sense of suffering and finding meaning in pain.  This is where secularism simply falls short.  It obviously cannot provide a theology, but it is hard to see how it can offer community as well.  Religious communities share worship, annual observances, relationship grounded in sacred text, rites of passage for birth, coming-of-age, marriage and death.  Secularism has to borrow these from religion.  But ultimately, community results from sharing something more important than one’s own interests.  When the individual is the final arbiter of meaning and determining right and wrong, community is eroded, if not impossible.

According to Susan Jacoby, the atheist is free of the questions about why an all-powerful, all-good God allows evil and suffering.  They do not have this burden and are thus freed to care for the victims and change things so it doesn’t happen again.  Quoting Robert Green Ingersoll, she notes that “death…is only perfect rest…The dead do not suffer.”  Therefore the rational position that there is no existence after death can be used to comfort the grieving.  But there are problems with this view.  First, it is an exaggeration to say that all people of faith must struggle with the problem. Second, to claim that atheists are freed to advocate for social causes is historically and philosophically naive.  Religion encourages social justice.  Most social movements were religious in nature.  How can atheism claim a better source for social justice when there is little historical evidence of atheistic influences on such causes.  Philosophically, religion provides a clear basis for definitions of justice, human flourishing, right and wrong.  These definitions are not self-evident.  Defining moral and just behavior is enormously difficult.  On what do you base your standards such that they are not purely arbitrary?  Even David Hume concluded that we cannot base morality on science and reason since they only tell us how things are, not how they ought to be.  Finally, to say that the dead do not suffer is simply too brutal to be honest.  Is it right to tell someone they are not to fear a state in which all love and meaning are gone?  Further to claim that the dead do not suffer, in contrast to the resurrection, is defended by claiming that resurrection simply isn’t true.  But the Christian can make the same claim of the secular belief.

Contemporary people think life is all about the pursuit of happiness.  We decide what will make us happy and work to achieve it.  But when suffering comes along, it takes away the conditions of our happiness which then destroys our reason for living.  “You can have meaning only when there is something in life more important than your own personal freedom and happiness, something for which you are glad to sacrifice your happiness.” 

When describing the shock and response of those who discover a new born child is not like them, the child is deaf, a dwarf or Down’s Syndrome most families find themselves grateful for the experience they would have done anything to avoid.

The secular view does not work for most in the face of suffering, why? 

1) The variety of forms of suffering and their causes.  Western culture oversimplifies and reduces it to “victimization as the dominant account.”  

2) Western culture is naively optimistic about humanity.  The forbidden truth, tacitly admitted by drug use, is that happiness is beyond the reach of most.  Life is hard and unhappy.  But for the secular, all meaning and happiness are only found in this life.  To have any hope, we must believe that sources of unhappiness can be eliminated.  But the causes of suffering are infinitely complex and impossible to eliminate.  

3) It reveals the thinness of the secular world story.  A world story must give us hope and enable society to cohere as a whole.  For American’s the big ideas were God, Nation and Self.  But in the nineteenth century democracy, expansion and prosperity began to replace God.  Now, instant gratification has replaced devotion to God and anything resembling patriotism.  There is no “collective vision” left.

Being the legislator of our own meaning and morality gives nothing to die for and nothing to live for when life takes away ones freedom.  With no ultimate goal beyond comfort or power and no meaning beyond personal happiness, suffering can quickly lead to suicide.

For modern culture there is no place for suffering in the pursuit of freedom and happiness.  But for the Christian, suffering is at the heart of the story.  While suffering results from our turning away from God it is the way through which God rescues us through Jesus Christ.  How we suffer becomes the means through which we become Christ-like, holy and happy and how we demonstrate the love and glory of Him.

The solution to suffering isn’t a change in public policy, expert psychology or therapy, or technology.  One of the great principles of Christianity is that very few grow into greatness or find God without pain and suffering waking us to the blindness of our lives and hearts.

Next week Chapter Four: The Problem of Evil.

Until then, don’t take my word for it, read the book – don’t wait for the movie,
and 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, July 11, 2014

Movie Trailer- Exodus: Gods and Kings

Here is the trailer for the upcoming [December] 20th Century Fox release "Exodus: Gods and Kings" starring Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton. What do you think?  Sound off below!

Courage and Godspeed,

Note to readers: This post is by no means an endorsement of the film.  

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Video: Loving God with All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland

Why does the body of Christ sometimes seem so intellectually disengaged and apathetic?  How did we get here?  Is there a way back?

This message by Dr. J.P. Moreland has had more impact on me than any other I have heard.  If you listen, prepare to be challenged.

If you want to learn more I highly recommend Dr. Moreland's book Loving God with All Your Mind.

Courage and Godspeed,

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

A Gentleman and His Cell Phone

I believe that part of being an effective ambassador for Jesus Christ is to live as good Christian gentlemen and ladies.  I picked up a small book titled How to be a Gentleman by Jerry Bridges and it includes advice for the man wanting to improve upon his gentlemanly behavior.

There is one section of the book that deals with cell phones and I thought it was worth sharing. Ladies, these apply to you as well!

A gentleman knows that it is appropriate for him to use his cell phone...

  • if he is alone
  • if he is certain that his conversation will not disturb or annoy others
  • if he is a doctor, receiving a call from his answering service or from his office
  • if he is a father, expecting a report from his children or from their babysitter
  • if he is at a raucous event such as a football game, where his shouting will only add to the general uproar
  • if it is truly necessary for him to bring another person into the conversation at a business meeting, at that very moment
  • if he truly believes there is a chance that an emergency is in the offing

A gentlemen does not use his cell phone...

  • when he is behind the wheel of a vehicle, of any type
  • in the midst of a church service or during a theater performance, a movie, or at a convert
  • at a table in a restaurant of any type-be it fast food or first class
  • in the waiting room, or in the examining room, at the doctor's office
  • when standing in line at the grocery store, the post office, a deli, or any other place where customers may find themselves trapped as unwilling witnesses to his conversation
  • in an elevator, unless he is alone, or in the company of only friends or coworkers
  • in the workout room at his gym
  • on the "quiet car" of a train
  • in the cabin of an airplane, unless some actual, dire emergency demands it
  • in any place where signage, or a public announcement, notifies him that the use of cell phones is not permitted
Courage and Godspeed,

Monday, July 07, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 6:  Escaping the Escapism

We continue to highlight Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question with chapter 6 which compares pantheism with the gospel. I will let Murray speak for himself as he sums up the chapter:

As a worldview, pantheism in all its forms tells us that we have to work to achieve our salvation – that we have to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. That is not exotic. We’ve heard it all before. Pantheism, especially its Western daughters, has just told us the same old things we’ve told ourselves for millennia, but in more mystical language.

But consider the gospel. It is the only worldview that tells us the sheer, stark truth that we are inherently sinful and that we need to be saved from ourselves. True spiritual transformation happens when our minds are renewed – perhaps even rescued – from the illusion that our works will save us and that we can be free from suffering if we just try hard enough.  God’s renewal of our minds into understanding that we need the unmerited grace of the cross is unique and fresh.

The Hindu philosopher Radhakrishnan says that a suffering God doesn’t satisfy the religious soul. But in a pantheistic view, there really is no satisfaction for the soul that looks for answers in the morally charged, love-ridden question of human suffering. If we are all part of the impersonal, absolute of the universe, the Brahman, then where is true morality?  Doing good things, working off our karma by helping others, isn’t done for their sake but for ours, so that we can attain godhood. It is a self-help system meant to help us achieve a state of unity with the divine, not to help the poor or unfortunate for their sake.

He goes on:

Our deeds portray only the illusion of altruism, but they are really the shadows of self-interest. And so the illusory prison of samsara (the endless cycle of death and rebirth) leads to the very real prison of selfishness, because one is not truly free to act in someone else’s best interests for that person’s sake.  That is ironic, because in Buddhism the only way to escape is to be free of desire. But the entire system is set up so that every action is done out of the desire to be free.  The lack of distinctions between God and self in Hinduism and the total denial of self in Buddhism are what imprison the self to an existence of self-centered conundrums. Strange, isn’t it, that pantheists try to escape the painful cycle of death and rebirth only to be sucked into the vicious cycle of a desire to be free from desire?

In the gospel, however, neither suffering nor good deeds are an illusion, because our minds are renewed to finally see the reality. We see that we are not God. We see that we need God to transform us. And we see that he dealt with suffering on Calvary’s hill. Because he has done so, we can be free to act toward others in gratitude and for their sakes. We do not do good to one another to escape endless suffering. God has already rescued believers in Christ from that eternal pain by embracing the pain of our penalty himself.  The gospel – which tells us that we give, not to get, but because we are grateful – is what can satisfy the religious soul.

It is true that suffering and death remain in this world. But our liberation from it is both “already” and “not yet.” Jesus has already freed us from the ultimate consequence of eternal pain and suffering through his self-sacrifice. We are not yet at the time when there are no more tears and no more death (Revelation 21:4). But that is the ultimate state for those who trust Jesus. The pain in our lives is real and may seem relentless, but the joys of knowing that it has an end and an answer make them bearable (pages 151 – 153).

Once again the gospel provides an answer to a fundamental life question that is satisfactory to the mind and heart.

Stand firm in Christ,