Midweek Apologetics Roundup

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Should Christians Practice Yoga?

I wrote an article about Christians and yoga for the CSB Apologetics Study Bible for Students. I understand that this a controversial subject for some Christians but this is my perspective. Here is my article.


If you were to do an internet search with the words “Yoga” and “Church,” you would discover a wide variety of results. You would find everything from churches offering yoga classes to claims that yoga is participation in the worship of false gods. How should Christians navigate these differences of opinion?

It is important to understand what yoga is and where it came from. Yoga is a program of exercises and controlled breathing that helps to relieve stress and other health concerns. However, yoga did not originate simply for the purposes of benefiting mental and physical health. Yoga emerged as a spiritual discipline within Hinduism. Any judgment of yoga must take these origins into account.

A connection to Hinduism does not necessarily make yoga wrong for Christians. Christians would not abandon charitable giving just because it is one of the five pillars of Islam. There must be something specifically against Christian beliefs for there to be a firm rejection.

However yoga began centuries ago within Hinduism, it must be acknowledged that popular versions of yoga take different forms. There are yoga classes that include Hindu and other spiritual teachings but there are others that focus on the exercises and breathing.

While the Bible does not discuss yoga, there are principles that can give Christians guidance. In 1 Corinthians 8, the Apostle Paul teaches on a comparable situation. Some of the Corinthians were eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. Paul tells the Corinthians that these false gods do not exist and so the meat is just meat and appropriate for Christians to eat. At the same time, Paul warns the Corinthians to not abuse their freedom by causing those who take the pagan gods seriously to stumble in their faith in Jesus. In the same letter (1 Corinthians 10:28), Paul also teaches that if an unbeliever informs a Christian that some food was sacrificed to an idol, then the Christian should refuse it. What is most important is the impact of one’s actions on others with little or no faith.

This has a direct application to Christian participation in yoga. There is nothing sinful about exercises, stretching and controlled breathing. Even though these particular exercises may have risen within Hinduism, it must be remembered that Hindu gods do not exist. The exercises are no more harmful than the meat that the Corinthian Christians were eating.

At the same time, Christians should be asking questions before practising yoga. What is the goal of the yoga instructor for the class? Will any of the other religious aspects of yoga be included along with the exercises? Will your participation in yoga cause other Christians to stumble?

Should Christians practice yoga? If a Christian feels it is wrong to be involved in yoga, they should definitely avoid it. If the instructor and the participant are clear that the goal is only for stress and health reasons and if it is not a stumbling block, it may be permissible.

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What to Do When Your Child Says They No Longer Believe

Of all the roles that I have, the one I feel the most pressure for is that of a parent, especially a Christian parent. I want my children to grow up to be good and emotionally healthy adults. But I also want them to become followers of Jesus.

The scary part of being a Christian parent is that there is a real possibility that one of our children will tell us that they no longer believe in God. What do we do then? Here are some thought I have on this subject.

What Not to Do

  • Don’t get mad at them for being honest. Better they tell you this than keeping it to themselves.
  • Don’t panic. Panicking is not going to help you or them.
  • Don’t try to scare them back to faith. Detailed descriptions of hell are not likely to bring them to faith.
  • Don’t assume they will be become a Richard Dawkins style atheist. You have no idea what this will look like or how long it will take.
  • Don’t lecture them. Sharing accurate information is important but they need more than a theology lecture.

What to Do

  • Listen. Don’t be quick to fix the problem. Let them explain what they are going through.
  • Seek out the reasons. Is it because of intellectual reasons? Prayers that were not answered? Bad experiences at the church? Peer pressure?
  • Be available. Have conversations with them as they are open. Don’t force it. And consider sharing your own faith struggles.
  • Pray for them. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Don’t leave it to just prayer but definitely include prayer.
  • Take time to learn. They may have questions and you should be prepared to answer. If you don’t know the answers, do the research and find out what you can.
  • Love unconditionally. The Bible says that God is love. When we love our children unconditionally, God is present. Their belief or unbelief should not be a factor in how much you love them.

The faith of my children is very important. That is why, among other things, I have written a short booklet called, Letters to My Children on Faith. You may find it helpful with your own conversations.

 

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The Foundation For Most Atheist Arguments

I have listened to many arguments from atheists, both as a participants and as an observer. I have noticed a common theme.

Much of what atheists say is not evidence for God’s non-existence or even real arguments against Christian claims of evidence for God. What I see as the core of most atheistic arguments is this:

If God actually existed, I completely disagree with how that God has done things.

When confronted with the cosmological argument, they respond by saying they wouldn’t have created such a large universe.

When confronted with the design argument, they respond by saying that God didn’t do a very good job (implying they could have done better).

Looking at the Bible, they will point out examples of acts of God that they disagree with.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have heard atheists say something like, “Even if there was a God…” or “If God really existed, why did he…?”.

None of this really weakens the evidence of God. It is very possible that there is a God and that God has chosen to do things very unlike the way we would.

This doesn’t mean that atheists are wrong but theists should be aware of this principle at work behind the conversation.

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Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist – Review

NietzscheOne of the most influential philosophers of the 19th century (although not during his lifetime) was Friedrich Nietzsche. I have read a number of his books, and while he has an interesting style, I struggled to get his full meaning.

What I have found helpful is reading Nietzsche: Philosopher, Antichrist by Walter Kaufmann. I felt like I finally had a sense of what Nietzsche was trying to say.

One of the problems with trying to understand Nietzsche was that near the end of his life, his sister took control over his publishing. She had her own agenda and was not gifted enough to understand what her brother was doing. Very often we read Nietzsche through the lens of his sister and this leads to all sorts of misunderstandings.

Kaufmann provides a helpful summary of Nietzsche’s life and thought. He breaks down the major themes and demonstrates what Nietzsche really believed. As a Christian, I especially appreciated the chapter on Christianity and Nietzsche’s complex attitude toward Jesus.

If you are interested in Nietzsche at all, I definitely recommend Nietzsche by Walter Kaufmann as your starting point.


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Thoughts on Ravi Zacharias and Credibility

I have been a defender of Ravi Zacharias in his recent troubles. I encourage you to check out my posts What We Can Learn From the Ravi Zacharias Credential Controversy and Ravi Zacharias, Credentials and Perspective.

I actually think the controversy about being called “Doctor” when only having an honorary doctorate is rather innocent. But other issues that have come up are more serious.

Ravi has long claimed to have studied at Cambridge and to have been a professor at Oxford. But this is not completely true. Watch the video below.

Please note that this video was compiled by an atheist but the video speaks for itself. I have heard and read Ravi make these claims. The truth is that Ravi audited courses at a college in Cambridge and had an honorary position at Oxford and was never on their payroll.

Is this just an atheist making false accusations? Ravi Zacharias has responded to these charges not with denial but with an “apology” and a clarification. You can read it here. Ravi has also updated his CV to reflect the more accurate version of his background. He has acknowledged that his previous CV was not accurate.

This is bad. Really bad. Don’t get me wrong. I like Ravi and I think he has done great things for the kingdom of God. I have enjoyed his books and lectures. But he made a big mistake by exaggerating his credentials.

Why should we care about this? The church has recently reacted strongly (rightly so) about about the sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels. Some might say that the things that Ravi has done are not near as serious as Hybels. But isn’t one of the foremost Christian apologist being dishonest about the facts a serious issue? Isn’t truth a core issue?

I’m not condemning Ravi for what he has done. I have no idea of his exact motivations for exaggerating. I suspect it began with innocent motives. But I also believe that evangelicals need to keep our own accountable. What Ravi has done will have serious ramifications.

I don’t think that Ravi Zacharias’s ministry is over. But I hope that he will offer a more sincere apology than he has so far. He needs to admit the seriousness of what has taken place. God has used him and will continue to use him. But damage has been done.

I encourage you to also read this interview on Randal Rauser’s blog. Don’t take Steve Baughman’s word for it but check out the facts yourself.

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How Apologetics Intersects With My Interest in Disabilities

Two of the areas that I write on the most are Christian apologetics and disabilities. This makes sense. My faith journey includes a period of atheism and I am a skeptic by nature. In addition, I have two children with autism and so disabilities are close to my heart.

But how do Christian apologetics and disabilities overlap, if they do at all?

I see two specific connections between Christian apologetics and disabilities.

Disabilities and the Problem of Suffering

One of the most popular arguments against Christianity is the problem of suffering. This can take many forms but one argument includes the problem of disabilities. If God is all-powerful and all-good, why do some people have disabilities?

A simplistic answer is that disabilities are a result of the fall. Without denying the effects of the fall, that answer assumes that the experience of disabilities is all about suffering.

There is a vibrant theology of disability that is being developed that reveals that there is much to celebrate in the experience of disability. Many people with disabilities have very full and happy lives and would be confused by those who think it is a living hell.

Theology of disability is helpful for understand how God is working in the lives of those with disabilities, demonstrating both his goodness and power. Listen to this podcast episode that discusses theology and disability.

Disability Ministry as a Christian Apologetic

In my discussions with skeptics, I frequently encounter objections concerning the nature of the church. The church is filled with hypocrites, people who are greedy and selfish. Of course as long as we allow humans into the church, we will have such problems.

But I see a church that welcomes and embraces families and individuals with disabilities as being a powerful Christian apologetic. It is a witness of God’s love working through and among followers of Jesus. When the church is doing this well, it is a beautiful picture of what the kingdom of God can be like.

I encourage you to watch this video.

I will continue to write on both Christian apologetics and on disabilities. They are not two completely separate topics but do indeed have much overlap.

Here are two books that I have written on both these topics:

How to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

Experiencing God Without Losing Your Mind

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Is Evidence That Demands a Verdict Fundamentalist Apologetics?

Two of the current apologists that I appreciate very much are Randal Rauser and Sean McDowell. So I was quite interested to read Randal Rauser’s review of Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell that was published in the Christian Post.

Evidence That Demands a VerdictWhile Randal Rauser has a different style than the McDowells, he doesn’t take the opportunity to totally slam them. When he appreciates something they have done in the book, he is willing to give them the credit. I appreciate that about Randal.

At the same time, Randal has some major concerns, not just about the book in particular, but what it represents. This is seen by the title of the review, “Fundamentalist Apologetics Comes of Age.”

This surprised me, as I have been able to get to know Sean a bit, even if only online. We have emailed back and forth and I have contributed to one of his projects. The last thing that comes to mind when I think of Sean is fundamentalist. I see him as representing the brightest and most respectful of young evangelicals.

It all comes down to what Randal means by fundamentalist. The term fundamentalist came from the summary of the fundamentals of the faith that were developed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. These included:

  • Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus

By this definition, Sean would probably accept the description of fundamentalist, as would I. But that is not what Randal means by fundamentalist, nor what most people mean in contemporary conversation.

I don’t want to get into the full discussion of the historical background, but I would like to point you to Roger E, Olsen’s article, What Distinguishes “Evangelical” from “Fundamentalist?”

Thankfully, Randal provides the definition that he uses for his purposes. Randal states, “These characteristics include biblicism, biblical literalism, rationalism, triumphalism, and binary oppositionalism.”

Having read carefully Evidence That Demands a Verdict, I think that while there are hints of these characteristics, Randal is stretching things for his own purposes. For example, in this book and elsewhere, the description of “biblical literalism” is an over-simplification of the hermeneutic used by Sean. Sean is a solid biblical scholar who understand very much the complexities of genre and rhetoric.

Really what Randal describes, and what he expresses concern over, is simply evangelicalism. The type of beliefs presented in Evidence is reflective of much of evangelicalism and not just the small segment that would self-identify as fundamentalist.

Randal knows very well what happens when he describes something as fundamentalist, even if he defines it precisely in the body of his article. “Fundamentalist” is a term that is used to identify something as dangerous, isolationist and irrational. We have been trained to be very concerned about anything described as fundamentalist.

For example, we would walk away with a much different impression if Randal had titled his article, “Evangelical Apologetics Comes of Age.” Despite “evangelical” beginning to receive negative reactions, it is still a much more positive term than fundamentalist.

By describing Evidence as “Fundamentalist Apologetics,” Randal has dismissed the value of the book with a label, aside from the specific concerns listed in the body of the article.

As I said in my introduction, I’m thankful for the work of both Randal and Sean and all they do to present a Christianity worth considering. But in this case, labeling Evidence as fundamentalist distracts us from what could have been helpful critiques of the book.


You can read my review of Evidence That Demands a Verdict here.

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

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Apologetics and Preaching

While I consider myself an apologist, my primary role is that of a pastor of a local church. But I don’t find these roles to be contradictory. I try to include apologetics in my pastoral ministry.

There are many ways to do this but one way is through preaching. Often in the summer I offer a “You Asked For It!” series where I allow the people in the congregation to choose the topics/passages.

I find that people often choose apologetics-related topics. This is interesting as the “experts” tell us that this culture is not interested in apologetics.

Here are a couple of sermons that I have preached recently that have been related to apologetics:

They were well received and confirmed my belief that people are still interested in topics related to apologetics. If you want to find more of my messages, you can find them here.

If you are a pastor, I encourage you to not shy away from apologetics-related topics/passages.

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The King James Bible – Review

King James BibleThis is not a review of the actual King James Bible but of the book, The King James Bible: Do You Know the King James Version? by Edward D. Andrews. I should note that I was given a copy of the book by the author for review purposes.

I went into this book assuming that it was about King James Onlyism, the belief that the King James Bible is not only the best translation, but the only appropriate English translation. This was a reasonable assumption, as “KING JAMES VERSION ONLYISM” appears at the top of the book cover. But that is not what the book is really about.

Edward Andrew’s book is really a history of the putting together of a critical Greek New Testament and the history of the English Bible. That is a worthwhile topic, as the Bible is the most important book ever written. Many people have no idea how the English Bible came about.

It is true that Andrews does deal with the Textus Receptus (the Greek New Testament used in the KJV) and the process by which the KJV was translated. He demonstrates how much the KJV relies, not just on the inaccurate TR, but also on the earlier English translations.

But if Andrews is critical of the KJV, he is just as critical of dynamic equivalence translations. In fact, Andrew appreciates the translation philosophy of the KJV more than that of the NIV or many other newer translations.

I do have some issues with this book. I feel like the title of the book is not a very honest description of the contents. I also have much more appreciation for dynamic equivalence translations than Andrews does.

One of the biggest problems is that the book comes across as a series of independent articles rather than as a systematic treatment of the subject. The same stories and the same quotes appear over and over again in each chapter. There is no chronological sequence, as Andrews goes back and forth along the timeline with no obvious logic.

Much of this book is just building the foundation for a different project that Edward Andrews is working on, a new translation called the Updated American Standard Version. There are numerous contributions by Leland Ryken, in which he argues for the English Standard Version as the best translation. Andrews then adds a comment of how much better the UASV is than even the ESV.

The King James Bible (the book, not the translation) has a number of issues. It is far from a perfect book. But you will find some helpful information about the English Bible. He hits all of the big events and most important concepts. You will learn something.

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Top Ten Apologetics Blogs – August 2018

I’m so thankful for the many individuals and organizations that are involved in apologetics blogging. From time to time, I compile a list of the top ten apologetics blogs. How do I determine this? I use the Alexa ranking to come up with my top ten based on this master list. This does not mean that blogs that did not make it are not good. They are all worth checking out.

Top Ten Apologetics Blogs – Single Author

  1. Cold-Case Christianity
  2. Hope’s Reason
  3. Wintery Knight
  4. Canon Fodder
  5. Sean McDowell
  6. Come Reason
  7. James Bishop
  8. Bellator Christi
  9. Truthbomb Apologetics
  10. Capturing Christianity

Top Ten Apologetics Blogs – Multi-Author

  1. Evolution News
  2. RZIM Global Blog
  3. Stand to Reason
  4. Cross Examined
  5. Premier Christianity
  6. Reasons to Believe
  7. Bethinking
  8. Reasons For Jesus
  9. The Poached Egg
  10. Apologetics 315
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The God of Tarzan

When one thinks of the great Christian apologists, it is likely that Edgar Rice Burroughs is not at the top of the list. In fact, Burroughs was not very religious in his private life. However, I came across an interesting story as I was reading Jungle Tales of Tarzan.

One of the chapters in this novel is called “The God of Tarzan.” Tarzan at this point had not connected with any other humans other than a tribal village in the jungle and he didn’t know their language. Tarzan, however, had discovered the hut of his deceased parents, including the books that belonged to them. Tarzan taught himself how to read (but not speak) English and he understood most concepts. But the idea of God was challenging.

The story covers his journey of discovering who and what God is. He goes in a few wrong directions, including the moon and a tribal witch doctor. Then he has a number of experiences that begin to fill in the idea of God.

The first experience was after confronting the witch doctor. The chief of the village attacked Tarzan and Tarzan prepared to kill him. Tarzan had killed many from this village and never had a problem with it. But for the first time, Tarzan felt pity.

Tarzan sought for an explanation of the strange power which had stayed his hand and prevented him from slaying Mbonga. It was as though someone greater than he had prevented him from slaying Mbonga.

While reflecting on this, Tarzan began to notice things about the world in which he was so familiar.

What made the flower open? What made it grow from a tiny bud to a full-blown bloom? Why was it at all? Why was he? Where did Numa, the lion, come from? Who planted the first tree? How did Goro (the moon) get way up into the darkness of the night sky to cast his welcome light upon the fearsome nocturnal jungle? And the sun! Did the sun merely happen there?

While admiring creation, one of Tarzan’s ape friends (Teeka) has her balu (child) taken by a giant snake. In order to save her offspring, Teeka voluntarily allowed the snake to take her, despite having a terrible fear of snakes.

He scarce could believe the testimony of his own eyes then, when they told him that she had voluntarily rushed into that deadly embrace.

Reflecting upon all these things, Tarzan came to an understanding of who God was. The story concludes with:

Yes, Tarzan had found God, and he spent the whole day in attributing to Him all the good and beautiful things of nature.

Is this an airtight argument for the existence of God? Of course not. Skeptics could respond in any number of ways. But I see in this echoes of how people encounter God. I think Edgar Rice Burroughs did a fantastic job of describing Tarzan’s faith journey.

Is this enough? Burroughs was actually a deist (see this article). No this is not enough, but it is a good beginning.

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2 Types of Sect Leaders

I just finished teaching a course on Contemporary Religious Movements at Tyndale University College. One of the things that I enjoyed about the course was seeing the connections between the different groups. We focused on groups that developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

What was interesting was that there were two basic types of leaders of the sects that developed during this period. I call them the Bible teacher and the prophet. There is some overlap between them, but most leaders fall primarily into one or the other.

For example, Joseph Smith, Jr. was definitely in the prophet category, not that I consider him to have been a real prophet. But the religious group that he created was based primarily on what he considered to be his personal revelations. No one could have sat down with just a Bible and come up with Mormonism. It is based on the ideas of their prophet.

On the other hand, John Thomas of the Christadelphians and Charles Taze Russell of the Jehovah’s Witnesses never claimed to be prophets. They sat down with their Bibles and attempted to discover the truth of Scripture outside of traditional interpretation. Even if we disagree with the teachings of Thomas and Russell, we can at least see where in the Bible they got their ideas. They were Bible teachers, even if orthodox Christians might argue that their interpretations were incorrect. (Check out my book, The Watchtower and the Word)

The Seventh-day Adventists are an interesting example (See my post Are Seventh-Day Adventists Christians?) William Miller, who had predicted that Jesus would come in 1844, was definitely in the Bible teacher category. His interpretation was not based on his own prophecy but on an interpretation of Daniel. Now the explanation by others about why Jesus didn’t return in 1844 was a blend of revelation/interpretation. And Ellen G. White, the founder of Seventh-day Adventism wrote her books in the style of a Bible teacher. But she was seen, during her lifetime, as a prophet by her followers.

Oneness Pentecostals are another interesting example (See my post How Did Oneness Pentecostalism Start?). Their understanding of the proper baptismal formula comparing Matthew and Acts was in the Bible teacher category (taught by Canadian R.E. McAlister). But the development of a Jesus only baptismal formula into a rejection of the Trinity was understood as revelation.

The categories of Bible teacher and prophet are not perfect, but they help us to understand the different types of sectarian leaders of this important time in history.

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The Hope’s Reason Podcast

PodcastI have been podcasting for quite a few years and I do enjoy it. Although my original podcast has been taken down by me, I am still active in podcasting.

I offer a podcast that is partner to my blogging activity at this site. It is called Hope’s Reason: A Podcast of Discipleship. This podcast was on hiatus for a while but is now active again.

I have changed the format of it and it is now primarily interviews. However, I do have some plans for other types of episodes. I have been able to interview some amazing thinkers from a wide variety of backgrounds. I talk to professors, pastors, authors and others that have valuable wisdom to share. I think you will enjoy our conversations.

You can find the podcast here and subscribe to it on iTunes here.

If you get caught up on these episodes, you can also check out my other podcasts:

 

 

 

 

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Are Seventh-Day Adventists Christians?

Seventh-day Adventists are a group that appeared in the 19th century, out of the same religious culture that produced the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There has long been a debate among evangelicals as to whether or not to consider Seventh-day Adventists to be a Christian denomination or to consider it a cult. People are still divided about this.

Where Did Seventh-day Adventists Come From?

William Miller

William Miller

The 19th century was a time of great religious fervour with two specific trends: expectations of the imminent return of Jesus and careful study of the Bible apart from denominational traditions. The Seventh-day Adventists were the product of both these forces.

In the first half of the 19th century, there was a man named William Miller. Miller had predicted, by calculations from the book of Daniel, that Jesus would return in 1844. Miller convinced thousands of people that his theory was true. But when the day that was predicted came and went, many people were confused as to what had happened. This was called the Great Disappointment. However, many were to ready to give up yet.

Ellen G White

Ellen G. White

Some were still convinced of Miller’s calculations. The problem must be in the interpretation. It was determined that Miller was correct that something important had happened on that day, but it was not the return of Jesus. Rather it was Jesus entering into the heavenly sanctuary to cleanse it in preparation for his eventual (and soon) return.

Certain leaders, including Ellen G. White, took these beliefs and combined them with a renewed conviction that worship was to take place on the Sabbath, and from this emerged Seventh-day Adventism.

What Do Seventh-day Adventists Believe?

Seventh-day Adventists believe most of what would be considered orthodox Christian doctrine. This would include belief in the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the death and resurrection of Jesus and salvation by faith. Unlike the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Seventh-day Adventists see themselves in the same line as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and other prominent church leaders.

Seventh-day Adventists do believe in some distinctive doctrines. This includes the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary in 1844. They also believe that it is important to worship on the Sabbath. While I see nothing wrong with Sabbath worship, I’m concerned by their identification of the mark of the beast as Sunday worship. To be fair, they don’t believe that Sunday worshipers today have the mark. Rather just before Jesus returns, the truth of Sabbath worship will be made clear and anyone who retains Sunday worship will receive the mark.

Seventh-day Adventists also believe in annihilationism or conditional immortality. This is something they share with Jehovah’s Witnesses. But is this enough to put them in the cult camp? The truth is that man orthodox Christians hold to conditional immortality. See my post Orthodox Christians and Conditional Immortality.

Are Seventh-day Adventists Christian?

Many years ago, Walter Martin caused a stir by classifying Seventh-day Adventists as a Christian denomination in his classic Kingdom of the Cults. That is not to say that Martin had no concerns. He did but argued that the weight of the evidence pushed them into the Christian side.

I have some concerns with Seventh-day Adventist theology. Their emphasis on following Old Testament rules can lead to a sense of legalism. This can be dangerous. Still, they do hold to salvation by faith and other Christian denominations also have expected standards.

The main concern is the role of Ellen White. I see two kind of religious leader in the 19th century: the Bible teacher and the prophet. Charles Taze Russel (Jehovah’s Witnesses) would be a Bible teacher and Joseph Smith, Jr. (Mormons) would be a prophet.

Ellen White seemed to see herself with a foot in both camps. I have read a number of her books and the emphasis was overwhelmingly as a Bible teacher, sharing interpretations from the Bible and church history. But many of her followers did and do consider her a prophetess. New Testament Christianity has a place for prophets, so this does not necessarily lead to heresy. The problem is when prophetic revelation is taken as an authority equal or superior to Scripture (as in Mormonism).

While some Seventh-day Adventists may have an overly exalted view of Ellen White, I would say, based on their official statements of faith, that they are a Christian denomination and not a cult. I would have no problem working with a Seventh-day Adventist pastor in ministry.

You might find this recent Twitter poll I did interesting.


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When Experience and Evidence Kiss

One of my favourite verses in the Bible is “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:10) I love the idea of righteousness and peace kissing each other.

If there are two other concepts in Christianity that kiss, it would be experience and evidence. I understand that many of my apologist friends get really nervous when Christians talk about experience. They immediately imagine someone praying after reading the Book of Mormon and experiencing the “burning in the bosom.” But I am not talking about solely relying on experience.

The book of Acts is an excellent example of the balance of experience and evidence. In Acts 2 we have the experience of Pentecost, followed by examining how it fits within the biblical worldview. The Apostle Paul shares his experience of meeting Jesus twice but also demonstrates in Acts 17 how to use evidence.

John Wesley is one of my heroes from church history. He was a brilliant man who could hold his own with the best. But he also emphasized experience. He understood that we didn’t have to choose one or the other.

I am not talking about a faith that is based on experience alone or evidence alone. A healthy faith that satisfies the mind and the heart includes both.

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Is Speaking in Tongues Still For Today?

I recently did a Twitter poll about speaking in tongues and to whom it is available. These were the results.

The results were pretty consistent for the whole duration of the poll. Two-thirds of the respondents stated that tongues were not available to any Christians today.

I spent a number of years in the Pentecostal church and it was taught that tongues was available for every Christian. There are some Pentecostal groups who claim that you need to speak in tongues to be truly saved.

I am now a Baptist. While there are some Baptists that are cessationists, that is not true of the Baptist group I belong to. Although we don’t believe it is a requirement for every Christian. It is one gift among many. See my post Baptists and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I was surprised that two-thirds of the people said that tongues was not for today. This surprises me because I don’t see any evidence that tongues would end with the apostles. Yes tongue would end, but not until the return of Jesus.

I suspect that the reason that some people are uncomfortable with it is that it comes across as a threat to Scripture. Tongues (and prophecy) present an alternative source of revelation and thus should be rejected. But even Pentecostals don’t accept tongues as providing additional revelation so much as highlighting or applying biblical truth to certain circumstances. It definitely is not something like the Mormon concept of prophecy that can contradict and supersede earlier Scripture.

Ironically, cessationist adopt a non-biblical doctrine (cessationism) to protect the Bible.

One of the comments that came up a lot was about the nature of speaking in tongues. Many people commented that speaking in tongues is simply speaking another earthly language. This is based on Acts 2. However, the tongues described in 1 Corinthians 12-14 seems to be about some sort of ecstatic speech. There is no sense that a person who just happens to be bilingual in the service could interpret, it requires a spiritual gift. Nor does the setting seem to be the mission field with the need for supernatural language learning. It is more about tongues/interpretation as another form of prophecy in a worship service.

I’m not trying to tell people what to believe or not to believe but I found the results of the poll interesting.

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Orthodox Christians and Conditional Immortality

I’m teaching a course on Contemporary Religious Movements at Tyndale University College. One of the common beliefs shared by a number of these groups is belief in annihilationism of conditional immortality. The question to be asked is, is belief in annihilation another sign of their heretical belief or is in the category of interest in biblical study and eschatology?

So I asked Chris Date of Rethinking Hell to put together a resource addressing this. The purpose of this video is not to prove that annihilation is true but to demonstrate that there is a place for this belief within orthodox Christianity.

I want to make it clear that I do not identify as an annihilationist, although I am sympathetic to it. I definitely believe that my annihilationist friends are not heretics. I recommend that you pick up Four Views on Hell.

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Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design – Review

Creation EvolutionOne of the most controversial theological topics is that of human origins and the age of the earth. Christians often hold very tightly to their position and are suspicious of different views. What was the means of creation? How do we understand evolution?

What is most important to know is that there is not one official Christian position on creation and evolution and this is reflected in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design. Each of the authors are devout Christians who are attempting to find the proper interpretations of both the Bible and scientific evidence.

The viewpoints represented are young earth creationism, old earth creationism, evolutionary creationism (theistic evolution) and intelligent design. In many ways, intelligent design is the odd man out as it overlaps with many of the other views. Intelligent design does not attempt to interpret Genesis 1-2 but looks for evidence of design within science. However, Stephen Meyer, who writes for ID, does share his views, without attempting to speak for all who hold to an ID position.

One of the greatest needs is for there to be healthy conversation across differing view points. That is part of the aim of the four/five views books and of this volume in particular. It is important to read outside of one’s belief system and to encounter different ideas.

I found this book to be very enjoyable. The one disappointment was Ken Ham’s chapter on young earth creationism and his responses to the other chapters. It was not his views or his evidence that was the problem but his tone. Ham stood out as being the most aggressive toward the other views. Unfortunately I have seen this numerous times among young earth creationists. Other views are seen not as different perspectives but as rejection of biblical truth and treated with contempt. I’m sure that there are young earth creationists that can discuss other views with respect but Ham is not one of them.

I strongly encourage people to read Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design no matter what position you currently hold.


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Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction – Review

MormonismI have read a number of books in the “A Very Short Introduction” and I always enjoy them. While there are limitations of how much you can get across in such a small format, they are great resources. Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Lyman Bushman is no exception.

Bushman is writing from a Mormon perspective, but this is what I liked about it. I actually found it to be a nice balance between Christian critiques of Mormonism and LDS-sponsored defences of Mormonism. While Bushman does attempt to portray Joseph Smith, Jr. and Mormonism is a positive light, he also doesn’t avoid the difficulties. Where there are problems, he identifies those problems.

I think that Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction could be helpful in having conversations with Mormons. It can’t be accused of being “anti-Mormon” and yet it is a bit more honest about the background and beliefs of Mormons than some of the official LDS publications.

If you are interested in learning more about Mormonism, I would encourage you to include Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction as a part of your research.

 

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Sharing the Good News With Mormons – Review

Sharing the Good News With MormonsI have long been interested in groups that are considered sects or cults, especially those with a connection to Christianity. One of those groups is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly called the Mormons.

I find Mormonism to be a bit of an enigma. On the one hand, I find their theology to be pretty unwieldy, especially when every president is able to add and subtract from previous beliefs. The original set of beliefs preached by Joseph Smith, Jr. when the Book of Mormon first came out was almost a different religion from the complex system preached by his immediate successor, Brigham Young. Add to that the absence of any archaeological evidence for the Book of Mormon and it is hard to understand why people follow Mormonism.

On the other hand, Mormonism is very successful. Not just in the days of Smith and Young but even today, the LDS are doing very well and hold considerable power and influence. Some very intelligent and successful people are devout LDS. How do we navigate through this?

A helpful resource is Sharing the Good News With Mormons: Practical Strategies For Getting the Conversation Started, edited by Eric Johnson and Sean McDowell.

As with any edited volume that includes chapters by many different authors, the quality varies from chapter to chapter. Much of this is based on style, especially on the chapters on evangelism. Some of the strategies came across as more attractive than others, but that says as much about me as it does the authors.

The value of this book is that it covers a wide range of topics surrounding the subject of Mormonism. Each author comes at it from a different perspective, even when they are dealing with the same topics. I appreciated this variety.

While it includes chapters by some scholars, this is not meant to be a scholarly treatment of Mormonism. It is more of a practical help for ordinary Christians to have effective faith conversations with Mormons.

If you are interested in Mormonism and are perhaps already having conversations with Mormons, I recommend Sharing the Good News with Mormons.

 

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Joseph Smith, Mormons and the Godhead

MormonsI always prefer hearing directly from people what they believe about God rather than just a summary by a critic. So, how do Mormons and Christians compare when it comes to an understanding of God? We both use the term “Godhead” but don’t necessarily use it in the same way.

Historical Christianity has understood the Godhead as a Trinity, one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

What did Joseph Smith, Jr. teach? This is from his Lectures on Faith:

Q. How many personages are there in the Godhead?

A. Two: the Father and the Son.

Q. How do you prove that there are two personages in the Godhead?

A. By the Scriptures: Genesis 1:27 (Inspired Version); “And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so.” …. (Lecture Five)

It should be clarified that the “Inspired Version,” also known as the Joseph Smith Translation, it is not really a Bible translation, not even like the Jehovah’s Witnesses’s New World Translation. The JST is more of a midrash, that is a paraphrase and interpretation and it is not based on translating Hebrew and Greek. Interestingly, the official translation of the Bible for Mormons is the King James Version and not the Joseph Smith Translation.

This is what Genesis 1:26-27 says in a recognized translation, “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the [a]sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”

Aside from differences in how the Father and Son relate to each other, Joseph Smith taught that only the Father and the Son were a part of the Godhead. However, in the same lecture, Smith claims that the mind that is shared by the Father and the Son is the Holy Spirit. He then says:

Q. Do the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the Godhead?

A. They do.

This seeming contradiction is because Smith saw the Godhead as comprising two persons (Father and Son) and their shared mind (Holy Spirit). This is far from historical Christianity that claims that Father, Son and Spirit are all person and comprise the same God.

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An Honest Confession of Where I Struggle in My Faith

You may think that because I am a pastor and that I have numerous theological degrees that I should never struggle with my faith. That’s not true. Every Christian struggles at some point or other. But my struggles may not be what you think.

I spend a lot of time interacting online with atheists, agnostics, people of other religions or sects and skeptics of many different stripes. I have heard so many attacks and criticisms on Christianity over the years. But none of them have had a negative effect on me.

My struggle is not with skeptics but with people who identify as Christians.

While I think social media in general is a good thing, some of the posts I read by Christians make me shudder. This is on numerous levels. Sometimes it is because people are sharing fake news because it suits their side of the culture war. Sometimes it is people who talk about Christianity without a hint of love or compassion. Sometimes it is because Christians reject the importance of helping the poor even though it was Jesus’ priority.

The scary thing is that it is not just one kind of Christian that discourages me. They may be liberal or conservative, progressive or fundamentalist. Often their strategy is the same and only the details are changed.

I will admit that I hear statements and see actions by Christians and I ask myself, “What do I belong to?” These are the moments that the whisper of doubt gets louder.

Thankfully, I understand that Christianity is true based on who Jesus and not how Christians act. That is what keeps me going.

I am also thankful that as I was making my transition from atheism that I didn’t have access to such a wide variety of Christian attitudes.

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Is the Internet Good or Bad For Christian Faith?

internetI have heard that the internet has been a challenge for Mormons. With the internet, Mormons and non-Mormons have had information about troubling topics such as Joseph Smith’s polygamy and Brigham Young’s radical theological speculation. But what about for the Christian faith?

Atheists and other critics of Christianity definitely take advantage of the internet. There are numerous internet apologists, some ex-Christians, who seek to spread their criticisms of Christianity, hoping for Christians to leave the faith. Some of the information they share is true, some is exaggerated and some just plain false.

Aside from those who are actively seeking to discredit Christianity, there is information about Christian history and Christian leaders that is troubling. The mistakes and stumbles of Christians throughout the century and especially those who are contemporary with us are available for all to see. This can be difficult for those who hold to the truth of Christianity.

So is the internet good or bad for Christianity?

Overall, I would say that the internet is good for the Christian faith. Yes there are people who have walked away from the church based on things they have read or watched on the internet. But looking at the big picture, I think the internet is positive.

It takes works to sort through the information that is true and that which is false. And learning new information can be stretching and even disturbing. It may adjustments in beliefs and interpretations. But all truth is God’s truth and nothing that is true should take away from Christianity.

We have a checkered history, including crusades, inquisitions, corrupt leaders and false teachers. That history needs to be learned and owned. None of that takes away from the truth of Christianity.

So take advantage of the internet, sift through the information, learn as much as you can and thrive in your Christian faith.

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5 Questions to Ask When Discussing the Problem of Suffering

For many people, the problem of suffering is one of the most difficult obstacles to faith. There are no easy answers to the problem suffering. But there is more to be done than just shrugging our shoulders and giving up.

Before looking for the right answers, we should be looking for the right questions. Here are five questions to ask when reflecting on the problem of suffering.

  1. Are we talking about moral evil or natural evil?
  2. In what way does human choice affect the extent of suffering?
  3. When we wish God would do something, what do we wish he would do?
  4. What would be the consequences of a world without suffering?
  5. What can we do to alleviate suffering in the world?


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Is Andy Stanley a Marcionite?

Andy Stanley has recently caused a stir by comments in a sermon about the Old Testament. Many people are concerned about his remarks. Some are even calling him a Marcionite.

What is a Marcionite? A Marcionite is a follower of Marcion. Isn’t that helpful?

Marcion was a second century Christian heretic. What made him a heretic? He taught that the God of the Old Testament was not the Father of Jesus Christ. The God of the Old Testament was an evil God and should be rejected by followers of Jesus. Marcion completely rejected the Old Testament. In fact he came up with his own New Testament canon that only included Luke’s Gospel and Paul’s letters. Even then he edited them to remove all the Old Testament references.

So what does this have to do with Andy Stanley? Stanley preached a message where he said that Christians should unhitch their faith from the Old Testament. Before accepting some critic’s summary of Stanley’s remarks, you should listen his message directly. Here it is.

The first thing that we need to remember is that Stanley is preaching specifically with non-Christians in mind. He is really an evangelist at heart. All that they do at his church is aimed at removing all obstacles to faith among seekers. You can disagree with this approach but we should interpret his comments within this context.

Some critics have drawn a parallel between Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament and Andy Stanley’s supposed rejection of the Old Testament. Are Marcion and Stanley trying to do the same thing?

The reason that Marcion rejected the Old Testament is that he thought it presented a different God. Marcion was teaching a proto-Gnosticism. Gnostics believed that matter was evil and if the God of the Old Testament created matter, he must have been evil. The problem came down all to the nature of God.

That is not what Stanley is trying to do. He is not saying that the Old Testament God is a different or evil God. Rather he has observed that the Old Testament has been an obstacle to some people in coming to faith. Stanley rightfully sees the key event to becoming a Christian as the resurrection of Jesus.

Now, I need to make it clear that I disagree with what Stanley says about the Old Testament. I don’t believe we need to reject the Old Testament to become followers of Jesus. But that doesn’t make Stanley a Marcionite. A Marcionite was much more than just rejecting the Old Testament. It was a complete reinterpretation of the nature of God and Stanley doesn’t do that.

Having said that, I have seen what I consider to be semi-Marcionitism among some pastors and theologians. Greg Boyd would be an example of this. Boyd sees Jesus as the full revelation of who God is. When we go to the Old Testament, we need to ask every passage that says something about God if we could see Jesus of Nazareth doing what that passage says God did. If the Jesus who preached the Sermon on the Mount couldn’t have done that, it was not God.

Unlike Stanley, who doesn’t reject Old Testament descriptions of God (he only rejects their usefulness in bringing people to Jesus), Greg Boyd rejects some Old Testament passages that seem to clearly describe the words and actions of God and he rejects them as accurately representing God.

That is still not Marcionitism. But it is getting much closer to what Andy Stanley is saying about the Old Testament.

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Christians and Alcohol

AlcoholAt a previous church, I had a visit with someone in my congregation. The first question was about my position on Christians and “social drinking.” Before I could comment, she informed me that there was no situation in which a Christian could consume any alcohol. I later learned that her first husband had been an alcoholic and her view was understandable considering her experience.

I have seen a number of blog posts with the title, “Should Christians Drink Alcohol?” I purposely didn’t title it that, even though it might get me more hits.

The reason is such a question demands a yes or no answer. Either Christians should drink alcohol or Christians shouldn’t drink alcohol. But it isn’t that simple. We can say that Christians should care for the poor and Christians shouldn’t commit adultery, but it is more complicated than that with alcohol.

A better question is, Can Christians drink alcohol? The answer from the Bible is yes. The Bible, Old and New Testaments, presupposes that most people are drinking alcohol, at least wine. There is no doubt that Jesus drank real wine and not grape juice, even though I understand why people wish it was otherwise.

At the same time, the Bible also makes it clear that drunkenness is wrong. Getting drunk never works out for the best in the Bible, as it is in our experience. The drinking of alcohol should always be done, if done at all, in moderation.

That doesn’t mean that drinking alcohol is always appropriate for Christians. A person who is an alcoholic cannot use verses that support drinking as an excuse to drink. Nor should we drink while in the presence of someone who has had a drinking problem or someone who has been abused by an alcoholic.

I will share my story to give you a sense where I’m at. I drank quite heavily from my mid-teens to early twenties. I did not have a healthy relationship with alcohol. As I was moving toward Christian faith, I knew that I couldn’t continue that way. I attempted to drink in moderation but I would still occasionally get drunk. I came to the conclusion that I needed to completely quit drinking.

That was a good decision for me that helped in my growth as a Christian. I stayed completely away from alcohol for ten years. Then I decided I would try a beer again. I found that I could enjoy the taste with no desire to get drunk. I was satisfied with one and only rarely would I have a second. I stopped after one, not out of a religious rule, but because I had no desire for more.

I still drink beer from time to time. I may have about a dozen beers per year. There were times in my past that I drank a dozen beers in a night.

None of this is to tell people that they should or shouldn’t drink. I am able to drink in moderation at this stage of my life and I not only enjoy it, I see the biblical support for it. However, it has been twenty-five years since I have been drunk and I never intend to get drunk again.

What is your personal conviction on alcohol?

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7 Steps to Become a Really Bad Apologist

Most people who are interested in Christian apologetics desire to be good apologists. For those of you who would prefer to be a bad apologist, here is my advice. Feel free to NOT follow it.

  1. Spend more time attacking other Christians than removing obstacles to non-Christians.
  2. Remind people who do apologetics a different way that they are heretics.
  3. Be more interested in winning the argument than winning the person.
  4. Remember that love is only for bleeding heart liberals.
  5. Tell yourself daily that there is only one valid interpretation and it is yours.
  6. Stop learning. You already know everything you need to know.
  7. See working on your relationship with God as a distraction from real apologetics.

Bonus advice: Whatever Jesus did, just do the opposite.

What would you add to the list?

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What is Hate Speech and How Should We Respond?

Hate SpeechI noticed the other day that Facebook had a feature where you could submit whether or not a post was considered hate speech. I was not surprised as hate speech is a real concern in our culture. While I am not in favour of hate speech, I do have some concerns about how it is dealt with.

Although there is plenty of emotion against hate speech, I’m not sure there has been enough reflection on the exact nature of hate speech. Is hate speech any communication that is critical of an identifiable group? Is hate speech anything that could possible offend an individual or a group?

Another question to be asked concerns the groups that can be the victims of hate speech. Many people would say that criticism of the LGBTQ community would be hate speech. Much fewer would consider criticism of fundamentalist Christians to be hate speech. I’m not suggesting that people should speak hateful things of LGBTQ (I don’t think they should) but I wonder who is it that determines which groups can be criticized and which cannot?

Then there is the nature of hate speech. At what point does a comment move from being acceptable criticism to becoming hate speech? In a previous generation, that line was speech that called for violence against a group. I would say that today, it would take much less to be considered hate speech.

I don’t have any easy answers to offer on this difficult topic. But I can offer some personal thoughts. I am a Christian. I often encounter people online who are hostile toward Christianity. Not just that they disagree with Christian beliefs but that Christianity is dangerous and should come to an end. I hear some claiming that religion in general is a form of mental illness. Richard Dawkins encourages his fellow atheists to mock religious believers.

How do I respond to this? I obviously disagree. But I also respect their right to express their beliefs, even if they speak disparagingly against my beliefs. I believe a world in which people have the right to publicly criticize my Christian faith is better than a world in which that freedom is suppressed.

This isn’t just about religion. I have two children on the severe end of the autism spectrum. They are both considered to be developmentally delayed. I hate it when I hear people use the terms “retard” or “retarded” to describe a person or an action that is stupid. I find it offensive. But I also believe that people have the right to speak that way. I would prefer that they chose not to use that language rather than being forced to use more appropriate language.

How do we as a society balance the freedom of expression and our desire to protect people from hate speech? I think we need more conversation in this area before we are quick to censor people we disagree with.

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The Golden Rule of Apologetics

What is the Golden Rule of apologetics? Are you ready? Here it is. The Golden Rule of apologetics is… The Gold Rule. Yes that Golden Rule.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

What does the Golden Rule have to do with apologetics? It has everything to do with apologetics. When you are having an apologetics conversation, have you ever asked how you would want someone else to talk to you about their beliefs?

We may want to do more talking than listening but how would we feel if that was done to us?

We may be comfortable belittling other beliefs but how would we feel if that was done to us?

We may try telling people what they believe instead of asking them but how would we feel if that was done to us?

The one thing that could transform our apologetics activity is applying the Golden Rule. Take time to imagine how you would want other people to talk to us about their beliefs. Perhaps even put yourself in that position, inviting a Muslim, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness to share their faith with you.

It could change everything you do.

 

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Two Stories of Everything – Review

Two Stories of EverythingThere is no lack of books comparing Christianity and Islam. While those books are useful, they tend to compare them as competing religions. It is true that both Christianity and Islam are religions, but they are more than that. They both provide a framework for seeing all of reality. This is called a metanarrative.

Duane Alexander Miller has provided a much needed resource with his book, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and ChristianityWhile he deals with subjects normally understood as religious, his focus is on how they see all of reality.

The subjects that Miller looks at include creation, anthropology, Israel, Jesus, Muhammad, community, mission and eschatology. Miller is able to provide a fair and balanced overview of how Christianity and Islam look at each of these topics. He acknowledges where they are similar but also demonstrates that there are some significant differences.

Islam is much more than just Christianity with a slightly different Jesus and an additional prophet. Islam actually has a completely different metanarrative. The story that it tells about reality is not the same as that of Christianity.

There are a number of things that I appreciated about Miller’s book. One is that it is both a good introduction to Islam and also a nice summary of the Christian metanarrative. I also liked Miller’s honest and humble perspective. In his conclusion, Miller says, “I hope that I am as critical of Christianity as I am of Islam, and I see the umma doing a number of things correctly that I don’t see the Church, by and large, doing correctly.” (p. 134) Two Stories of Everything is not a polemic against Islam, even though Miller is transparent about his own Christian faith. In addition, each chapter includes reflection questions and there is a handy glossary at the end of the book.

Two Stories of Everything is not a replacement for all other Christian studies of Islam but it is a much needed fresh examination that compares their metanarratives. I definitely recommend the book.


I have an extra copy of Two Stories of Everything that I would like to give away. Comment on this post by May 31, 2018 and I will pick a random person for a free paperback copy of this book. 

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Saving Truth – Review

Saving TruthBased on my own research, as well as conversations with others, I have seen the nature of truth as being one of the most pressing issues of our day. We live in a “post-truth” world that is full of “fake news.” It is because of this that I’m thankful for Abdu Murray’s latest book, Saving Truth.

I have had the opportunity to get to know Abdu a bit, both online and in person. I’m impressed with both his scholarship and his respectful tone. Saving Truth is no exception.

Abdu tackles the issue of truth with clarity and biblical perspective. Christianity is focused on Jesus, who identified himself with truth (John 14:6). If we get the truth wrong, we get everything wrong.

Abdu enters into our culture’s most challenging conversations, including human dignity, sexuality, science and other religions. He brings in both his knowledge of the Bible and his personal experience to expose where truth has gotten fuzzy and what needs to be done about it. Abdu’s past as a convert from Islam gives him a unique perspective.

There is always a danger to be controversial just for the sake of controversy. Abdu avoids this tendency and enters into the conversations with truth, but also love and respect. Every point is made with sincere compassion.

In a world where people no longer know what is true or even if there is truth, Abdu Murray’s Saving Truth is the message that we need.

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10 Steps to Become a Jesus Mythicist

Jesus MythJesus mythicism is growing despite being rejected by the majority of biblical scholars and historians. I have read a lot from Jesus mythicists and have heard their arguments.

From my observations, these are the ten steps to become a Jesus mythcists. They are in no particular order.

  1. Reject the normal way people do history.
  2. Rely not on pagan myths themselves but summaries by other mythicists.
  3. Use a different standard for examining the historicity of Jesus than used for other ancient figures.
  4. Reject inconvenient evidence as later interpolations.
  5. Doubt anything that was written by a Christian (ancient or modern).
  6. Don’t trust trained and recognized Egyptologists or Classicists.
  7. Label all miraculous births as virgin, even if conception is through intercourse.
  8. Never worry about chronology. Later texts cam be the inspiration for earlier texts.
  9. As long as the Bible is considered Scripture, reject it as historical evidence.
  10. When in doubt, blame Constantine.

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Is Satan in the Old Testament a Good Guy?

SatanThere is a common trend of contrasting the Old and New Testaments. Often it is comparing God as wrathful in the Old and loving in the New Testament. But there are also comparisons of different treatments of Satan. The comment that I have heard from many sources is that Satan in the Old Testament is not evil but rather is simply one of God’s angelic servants. Is this true?

The first thing we need to do is explain what “Satan” means. Satan is not a name but is a Hebrew word for adversary or accuser. In Job, the main Old Testament appearance of Satan, the Hebrew is actually ha-satan, meaning “the accuser.” The imagery is that of a prosecuting attorney.

And that is why some people see Satan in Job as simply fulfilling his role as an attorney in the heavenly court. Since he is doing what God as assigned him to, he cannot be evil and is world away from the New Testament Satan.

It would be helpful to quote the relevant passage.

Now the day came when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord—and Satan also arrived among them. The Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” And Satan answered the Lord, “From roving about on the earth, and from walking back and forth across it.” So the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a pure and upright man, one who fears God and turns away from evil.” Then Satan answered the Lord, “Is it for nothing that Job fears God? Have you not made a hedge around him and his household and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock have increased in the land. But extend your hand and strike everything he has, and he will no doubt curse you to your face!” So the Lord said to Satan, “All right then, everything he has is in your power. Only do not extend your hand against the man himself!” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)

One observation is that Satan requires God permission to afflict Job. This is part of the argument for Satan not being evil but acting according the will of God.

But notice how the subject of Job comes up. This is not a case of God being concerned about Job’s motives and assigning Satan to put forward his best case against him. The accusations against Job (remember the meaning of Satan) are initiated by Satan. Satan was aware of the godly reputation of Job and wanted to demonstrate that the reputation was unwarranted. Rather than being a sincere faith, Satan was determined to show that Job was faithful only so long as God prospered him.

In many ways this was an attack on both God and Job. It was an attack on Job as to the quality of his faith. but it is also an attack on God, in that Satan was suggesting that people would love him only if he paid them off with blessings.

From what I can see, Satan in Job is acting on his own initiation and is not just fulfilling a role assigned by God. Satan, in the Old Testament like the New Testament, seeks to accuse God’s people for his own evil purposes.

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20 Books Every Christian Should Read

BooksI enjoy reading posts that recommend books and I thought I would jump in. I read between two and four books per week and I have a sense of what books are worth reading.

Here is a list of twenty books that I would recommend. They are not in any particular order but they are all good.

  1. Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels by Craig A. Evans
  2. Confessions by Saint Augustine
  3. Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
  4. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart
  5. Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell
  6. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig
  7. Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
  8. The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  9. Miracles by C. S. Lewis
  10. City of God by Augustine of Hippo
  11. Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham
  12. When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family by Andy Stanley
  13. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  14. The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach by Michael R. Licona
  15. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright
  16. Leading Me: Eight Practices for a Christian Leader’s Most Important Assignment by Steve A Brown
  17. Introducing Paul: The Man, His Mission and His Message by Michael F. Bird
  18. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God by Gordon D. Fee
  19. A Basic Guide to Eschatology: Making Sense of the Millennium by Millard J. Erickson
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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week. Go and check them out.


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Questions About Petitionary Prayer

I recently heard an interesting episode about petitionary prayer on the Unbelievable? podcast. Some good questions about prayer were brought up. It is worth listening to.

One of the questions that came up was about whether God would provide peace to people without prayer. Of course God can do anything he wants and when he wants to do it.

So why should we pray for people and their needs? Well, the Bible clearly tells us to pray for others and even to pray for ourselves. But why should God take our prayers into account?

When we think about praying for people in a time of mourning, isn’t it immoral for God to wait for other people’s prayers?

I can’t pretend to fully understand prayer. There is so much that is beyond me. But perhaps this might help us to see another side of human involvement.

When we pray that God to provide food, how does he do it? Although he could miraculously send manna from heaven, he usually works through more “normal” channels. The answer to prayer comes through a neighbour sharing some groceries or a pastor bringing a gift card.

When we pray that God will provide money, how does he do it? I have never had my bank account just miraculously increase with no human involvement. But I have had exactly the right amount needed being provided through a cheque at the right time because of a project I was working on. I have had people email me money exactly when our family needed it.

God seems to make a habit of including people in the process of providing what others need. That is true of food and money, could it be true of other things? Is it possible that God offers peace and strength as a response to other people’s prayers?

That may seem unfair, but wouldn’t it be consistent with the other ways that God works? I won’t suggest that I have the final word here, but it is something to think about.

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31 Days to Become a Better Pastor: Include Apologetics in Your Ministry

ApologeticsSome people embrace Christian apologetics and some have no interest at all. I would suggest that pastors don’t have the right to reject apologetics. Even if we are not interested, apologetics is necessary for our congregation.

Even if we ignored Christian apologetics, that wouldn’t stop our people from encountering anti-Christian apologetics. There are plenty of people on the internet and elsewhere that are working hard to decrease confidence in Christianity.

This doesn’t mean that every pastor needs to become a professional apologist. But becoming aware of basic apologetics and having a sense of the available resources is important. We should at least have the knowledge to be able to point our people in the right direction.

Another way to include apologetics in our ministry is to offer a short series of sermons on apologetics-related subjects (we don’t need to use the word apologetics in the title). Offering a small group study on apologetics is another option. An apologetics speaker could be invited to speak at a special event. There are many options.

If you are interested in getting some basic-apologetics background, I recommend the Certificate in Christian Apologetics offered through Biola University, which can be done completely online.

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50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith – Review

As a pastor and Bible teacher, I see one of the most important needs as being greater knowledge of basic Christian theology. We have a small minority who devour theology books and a great majority who have never thought deeply about theology. Thankfully, Gregg Allison has written 50 Core Truths of the Christian Faith: A Guide for Understanding and Teaching Theology.

TheologyIf I had to describe this book in one sentence it would be that Allison has written an introductory systematic theology for laypeople. He hits all of the points a traditional systematic theology would but it can be understood by people who have never attended Bible college or seminary.

As a great of a resource as this for laypeople to read, it has an added value. It is put together in such a way that the material is easy to teach. In fact, each chapter includes not just suggestions for additional reading but also teaching outlines. This material could easily be used in a small group or Sunday school context.

One of the things that I appreciated about the book is that he is respectful toward diversity of interpretation. When there is a difference between Calvinist and Arminian views, he makes notes of it, but does not criticize or demean other perspectives. He is critical of beliefs that land outside of orthodox Christianity but he allows for a big tent within the Christian church.

This is a fantastic resource that I would encourage pastors to look into. I’m considering taking this and turning it into a year long Sunday school course.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.


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Jesus Mythicists Are Not Skeptical Enough

The Jesus Myth Theory basically has two components: 1) that Jesus of Nazareth didn’t exist and 2) the Jesus of the Gospels is based on pagan myths. They would argue that their skepticism leads them to the truth. I would say they are not being skeptical enough.

Jesus Mythicists look at the Gospels, Paul’s epistles and Josephus and through a skeptical lens, they reject them as historical sources. They are welcome to do that, even though the majority of historians accept them.

But when it comes to supposed parallels between the Gospels and myths, they accept connections based on the weakest arguments. If there is the slightest supernatural aspect to a birth, they will accept it as a virgin birth, even if it included sexual intercourse. They completely throw out the skepticism when it comes to pagan mythology.

I would have more respect for Jesus Mythicists if they were consistent with their skepticism. But instead they hold extremely (and unrealistic) standards to the evidence for Jesus and almost no critical standards to arguments for parallels.

My conclusion is that Jesus Mythicists are just not skeptical enough.

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Midweek Apologetics Blog

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week.


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5 Theological Positions I Have Changed Over the Years

Winston Churchill once said, “Those who never change their minds, never change anything.” A change of mind is not a sign of weakness but of strength. There have been a number of areas related to theology that I have experienced a change of mind.

Here are five areas where my beliefs have changed:

Belief in God

The biggest change for me was from moving from an atheist to a theist, from disbelieving in God to believing in God. This was not the result of Christians preaching to me. My skeptical nature did not allow me to believe that either the universe or life could come about by accident.

Age of the Earth

When I first became a Christian, I was told that the only option was to believe in a literal six-day creation and a young earth (and universe) of six to ten thousand years. I accepted that in the beginning (see what I did there?). But over time, I have come to believe that the universe and the earth are billions of years old.

Nature of the Bible

I still have a very high view of the Bible and I believe that it is fully trustworthy. But I no longer believe that the Bible has to satisfy twenty-first century standards of precision. I believe that the Bible needs to be interpreted in its historical and literary context. When read in the proper context, things make much more sense.

Nature of Salvation

This is not a move from salvation by faith to salvation by works. It is rather a move away from the idea of “the sinner’s prayer.” Not that there is anything wrong with the sinner’s prayer, as that played a part in my own experience. But I was taught that it was the necessary process by which a person is saved. This leaves out large numbers of Christians of traditions who don’t use such a prayer. The sinner’s prayer is a relatively recent innovation. There are many sincere and devout Christians who have never prayed such a prayer.

Speaking in Tongues

In my early twenties, I joined a Pentecostal church. I was taught that every Christian should experience a post-salvation baptism of the Spirit that would always be accompanied by speaking in tongues. If a Christian did not speak in tongues, they did not have the full measure of the Holy Spirit and were operating in less power. Their ministry could never be fully effective. While I don’t deny that speaking in tongues is experienced by some today, I do not believe that it is for every Christian. I also believe that the baptism of the Spirit takes place at conversion.

Rapture

Another theology that I once embraced was a strict pretribulational, premillennial eschatology. This meant that there would be a seven year tribulation that would begin by Jesus rapturing all true Christians off the earth. After seven years of reign by the antichrist, Jesus would come back with the transformed Christians and defeat the devil and initiating a thousand year reign. For a long time, I never thought to question this. But after careful study of the Bible, I came to conclude that all we can be sure of is that at some point Jesus will return and when he returns, all Christian (alive and dead) will be resurrected, receiving new glorified bodies.

What about you? In what ways has your theology changed over the years?

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week.


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5 Opportunities For Apologists

There has been a great increase in the number of Christians who are interested in apologetics. I think this is a good thing. I have encountered a number of new and extremely talented apologists over the past couple of years.

What does an apologist do? Well, apologetics of course. But what does that look like? What contexts are available? Here are five opportunities for apologists to practice their gifts.

1. Apologetics Speaker

You don’t need to begin by becoming the keynote speaker at a major apologetics conference. There are plenty of opportunities for someone just starting out. If you can’t find an opportunity, create one. Get as many small speaking engagements as possible and slowly work your way up to bigger events.

2. Professor

Many people interested in apologetics dream about teaching apologetics at the college or seminary level. That of course requires certain academic qualifications but it is a noble goal. I would suggest looking beyond just teaching apologetics. While I have taught apologetics, I more often teach biblical studies, but I include apologetics in those subjects.

3. Pastor

Unfortunately, many Christians often divide the pastoral role from that of apologetics. Sometimes that comes from pastors themselves. However, there is a role for apologetics in the work of the local church. Not every sermon should be based on apologetics but apologetics-related topics can be integrated into preaching and other pastoral roles. See my post Why Apologetics is Essential to Being a Pastor.

4. Blogger

There is still a need for good quality apologetics blogging. The opportunities provided by the internet have not been exhausted. If we don’t fill up the web with good answers to faith questions, then it will be filled with bad answers. You can start an apologetics blog with no cost to yourself but time and energy. See my post Is Apologetics Blogging Dead?

5. Author

This opportunity is related to the previous in that they both involve writing. But in this context, I’m talking about writing books, whether physical or eBooks. We have seen an explosion in apologetics-related books but there is still a need. The ultimate goal should be to find a reputable publisher, but there is nothing wrong with self-publishing. I have done both. I find a topic related to apologetics and start writing. There is someone waiting to hear what you have to say.

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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week.


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Top Ten Apologetics Blogs – Feb. 2018

There are some great apologetics blogs out there, both single and multi-author blogs. I have compiled a list of the top ten in each category. I use the Alexa ranking to determine who makes the list. I promise that I didn’t cheat to get my blog in the top ten! You can find my master list here. If you would like to see your blog rise in the ranks, consider blog coaching.

Single Author Apologetics Blogs

  1. Cold-Case Christianity
  2. Hope’s Reason
  3. James Bishop
  4. Canon Fodder
  5. Wintery Knight
  6. Apologetics 315
  7. Sean McDowell
  8. Come Reason’s Apologetics Notes
  9. The Tentative Apologist
  10. Thinking Christian

Multi-Author Apologetics Blogs

  1. RZIM Global Blog
  2. Evolution News
  3. Stand to Reason
  4. Cross Examined
  5. Bethinking
  6. Reasons to Believe
  7. Reasons for Jesus
  8. The Poached Egg
  9. Veritas Forum
  10. Christian Apologetics Alliance
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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts you might find interesting.


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Who is the Woman in Revelation 12?

Revelation is at the same time both one of the most interesting and most confusing books in the Bible. The confusion doesn’t mean that we should lose interest.

One of the questions that comes up is the identity of the woman in Revelation 12. Here is part of the chapter:

Then a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, and with the moon under her feet, and on her head was a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was screaming in labor pains, struggling to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven: a huge red dragon that had seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadem crowns. Now the dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. So the woman gave birth to a son, a male child, who is going to rule over all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was suddenly caught up to God and to his throne, and she fled into the wilderness where a place had been prepared for her by God, so she could be taken care of for 1,260 days. (Revelation 12:1-6, NET)

MaryLet’s start with what is clear. The dragon seems to be Satan. The child seems to be Jesus. Both of these are relatively clear. But who is the woman?

The woman is described as giving birth to Jesus. Who was the mother of Jesus? That’s easy, it was Mary. Case closed. In fact many representations of Mary by the Roman Catholic Church use imagery from this passage.

But let’s not be too hasty.

We can identify the child being caught up as the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. But what is the fleeing into the wilderness of the woman?

And then there is this passage later in the chapter:

Now when the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of a giant eagle so that she could fly out into the wilderness, to the place God prepared for her, where she is taken care of—away from the presence of the serpent—for a time, times, and half a time. Then the serpent spouted water like a river out of his mouth after the woman in an attempt to sweep her away by a flood, but the earth came to her rescue; the ground opened up and swallowed the river that the dragon had spewed from his mouth. So the dragon became enraged at the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep God’s commandments and hold to the testimony about Jesus. And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. (Revelation 12:13-18, NET)

Who are the other children of the woman? Was this James, Jude and the other brothers of Jesus? Yes, but not in the way you might think. The other children are the church, all the true followers of Jesus. But in what way is Mary the mother of the church?

I would suggest that the woman in Revelation 12 is not Mary. In as much as she was the mother of Jesus, so was Israel. By providing genealogies, both Matthew and Luke stress Jesus’ connection with what happened before, especially God’s work through Israel. The woman has a crown with twelve stars. Very often, including the twelve apostles, this number is linked to the twelve tribes of Israel. It was from Israel, as God’s chosen people, the Jesus came into the world.

In the same way, Israel is also the mother of the church. The earliest Christians were Jews. They worshiped in the temple and discussed the messiah in the synagogues. Christianity was initially seen as a sect within Judaism. There are numerous connections made between the the church and Israel in the New Testament.

So I would say that rather than Mary, we should see the woman of Revelation 12 as a symbol of Israel.


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Evidence That Demands a Verdict – Review

Evidence That Demands a VerdictOne of the first books on apologetics that I ever read was the original Evidence That Demands a Verdict. That book totally blew me away. I had come out of a number of years as an atheist and still had my skeptical nature. I had assumed that Christianity was only about a blind leap of faith, something I struggled to make. I had no idea that there was actual evidence for the truth of Christianity.

Now many years later, I’m in a different spot. I have had the opportunity spend years studying and researching the evidence. It is from that perspective that I read the new and expanded Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell. Josh McDowell has many years of speaking to the truth of Christianity, ministering on the front-lines. His son, Sean is one of the best new apologists on the scene. He is able to blend top notch scholarship with a respectful and humble manner.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this new version of Evidence That Demands a Verdict . It is definitely not like many other books on the market. It relies on extensive quotations more than is appropriate for most books. However, this book is in many ways an apologetics reader, presenting people with some of the best scholarship that is out there. The purpose of the book is not to offer radical new perspectives but to compile what is already out there and present it in an accessible form. In this, the book succeeds nicely.

One of my frustrations is that many apologists equate apologetics with philosophy. I come from more of a historical and biblical perspective than a philosophical one. While Evidence That Demands a Verdict does include some philosophical arguments, it is by far focused on presenting evidence for the reliability of the Bible. I was very pleased with this.

I appreciated that Josh and Dean were very fair in presenting other view points. Often, they would present multiple Christian arguments, just putting them out there for people to discover, without pushing one narrow interpretation. There was a humility to the arguments and acknowledgment that there are some things that we just don’t know.

I will confess that I have sometimes struggled with the title, Evidence That Demands a Verdict . My concern was that it could seem like they were suggesting that all you had to do was look at the evidence and you would have to become a Christian. It was just a matter of plugging in values into the formula and you got the desired outcome.

That is not what Josh and Sean are trying to do. They do not deny the role of the Holy Spirit or any other aspects of conversion and discipleship. The verdict that is demanded is not necessarily submission to Jesus as Lord. The verdict that is demanded is that the Bible should be taken seriously. Those who reject the Bible are challenged to look at the evidence and to put the Bible back on the table for discussion.

I’m thankful for Josh and Sean McDowell and their addition to modern apologetics with Evidence That Demands a Verdict. I pray that God will use this edition just as he did the original for so many years.

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Thoughts on Theistic Evolution

Theistic EvolutionOne of the most controversial topics among Christians is the role of evolution, if any, in the creation of humanity. I’m not referring to debates between Christians and non-Christians, but disagreements among people in the church. One of the issues is the concept of theistic evolution (also called evolutionary creationism).

I have read a lot in the area of evolution, theistic evolution, intelligent design and related topics. I must confess that I get frustrated with the conversation. Not only is there a lack of respect in the conversation, there is also a lack of clarity. What do we mean by evolution? What role did God have in it?

For example, those who hold to theistic evolution are strongly against intelligent design. Interestingly, they are more open to the argument from design on the cosmological level. This confuses me because if God used evolution to create humanity, why must that exclude any evidence of design?

This comes down to how we define evolution. For example, Michael Behe is a strong advocate for intelligent design. Behe believes in common ancestry, meaning that humans and other animals developed from other animals and animals that are much different now can trace their ancestors back to a common life form. That would seem to be a form of evolution since animals are, in Behe’s view, evolving from less developed animals.

But theistic evolutionists and intelligent design advocates would reject that as evolution. That is because evolution is much more than a belief in a tree of life that traces different species to a common ancestor. Evolution also includes the concept of random mutation. Behe, while holding to common ancestry, doesn’t believe the changes came about by random mutations. Behe believes that the changes are the results of God’s design.

What I would want to know from theistic evolutionists is what they see as God’s role. Is evolution something that can work all by itself, without any involvement from God? Is God necessary for human life to develop? In what way are we his creation? In what way is evolution theistic? Could it be possible for God to be active in the entire process of evolution, making sure things went the way he wanted?

This is not meant to be an attack on theistic evolution. I’m open to the idea that God could have used some form of evolution to create humanity. But so far, I’m not satisfied with the current form of the conversation.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across this week. Go and check them out.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that you should check out.


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Why I Continue to Hold to Inerrancy

James Bishop is a thoughtful blogger who frequently writes on issues touching on theology, apologetics and biblical studies, I frequently link to his posts in my Midweek Apologetics Roundups. James recently wrote a thought-proving post called Why I No Longer Hold to Inerrancy & The Need For A New Model of Inspiration.

James makes some very interesting observations about conservative views of inerrancy and inspiration. I would agree with a number of things that James says and I concur that there are some problems with some views of inerrancy.

And yet I am saying that I continue to hold to inerrancy.

James defines inerrancy in this way:

Biblical inerrancy is best described as the view that for the Bible to be the word of God it cannot err in any matters it touches on, including history, science, or philosophy. Simply, the Bible has no errors in it. The thrust of this argument is that if the Bible makes an error, no matter how insignificant that error might be, then it cannot be said to be God inspired for God is incapable of making errors or revealing error via revelation.

This is not the view of inerrancy that I hold to. Like James, I see this view as difficult to defend.

InerrancyIf I had to define inerrancy it be that the God made no errors in communicating through human authors the message that he wanted to convey concern the nature of God, the nature of humanity and the relationship between the two. I believe that God inspired the Bible, not as twenty-first century western texts but rather as ancient texts and they should be interpreted in that context.

So if ancient histories exaggerated numbers and God inspired Scripture in the form of ancient history, exaggerated numbers are not an error. They are consistent with the genre. The same is true of the Gospels as ancient biographies. There are differences in details between the Gospels. Instead of trying to harmonize the differences, we should see that ancient biographies allowed for significant differences in detail.

What many conservative Christians and atheists consider “errors” in the Bible, I see as normal and natural elements of ancient texts. God, in inspiring Scripture, was under no obligation to make it in the form acceptable to one specific culture and at one specific time.

Some inerrantists work overtime trying to harmonize passages and smooth away discrepancies. A classic example is the claim that Peter denied Jesus, not three times but six times. Some of these details bothered me once but that all changed once I started reading other contemporary and similar texts. Once the Bible is read in its proper historical and literary context, what once looked like a mistake becomes just the way people wrote at that time.

Let me say it once more. I don’t believe that God made any mistakes in inspiring the Bible. I believe the Bible is fully trustworthy when it comes to knowing God through Jesus Christ and what that means for our living our lives. That is a form of inerrancy that I can fully affirm.




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Lectures on the Synoptic Gospels

I’m thankful for the opportunities that I have to teach at Tyndale University College. My most recent course was on Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels. This one of my favourite courses to teach.

I recorded some of the lectures from this course and uploaded them to my podcast The History of Christianity. I didn’t include all the lectures but I did a good number. Here are the links to the various parts.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across and that are worth checking out.


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Being a Consistent Darwinist

CoexistThe other day I saw a car with two adornments. One was a Darwin fish, a poke at the Jesus fish by adding legs and including “Darwin” rather than “Jesus.” The other was a Coexist bumpersticker. I’m sure the driver felt this reflect his open-mindedness.

I don’t have a problem with a person publicly expressing their beliefs. But there is a bit of a problem with bringing these two messages together.

Darwin FishDarwinism is much more than just a belief that current creatures have evolved from less developed creatures. An essential part of Darwinism is survival of the fittest. This means that the strong must overcome the weak to move into the future.

How does this fit with the idea of “Coexist”?

Darwinism has nothing to do with coexisting. Darwinism is reflected in the exterminating of the Neanderthals by the Homo Sapiens. When it comes to worldviews, as represented in the Coexist bumpersticker, Darwinism calls for the stronger worldviews must overcome the weaker worldviews. Darwinism means anything but coexistence.

People are free to embrace Darwinism. People are also free to embrace the idea of coexistence. But a consistent Darwinist can’t do both.




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

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Views on Human Origins

I recently did a Twitter poll on people’s beliefs on human origins. Here are the results.

Obviously the numbers are not large enough to prove anything scientific. But the results are interesting nonetheless.

What do these results tell us? They tell us that there is diversity in views among sincere Christians. There are many instances when Christians have attacked each other over these issues. This should not be.

It is good for us to hold our views strongly that doesn’t mean that we should be intolerant of other opinions.

If you are interested in this, I would recommend this sermon that I preached on my church.




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Is Jesus Like God or is God Like Jesus?

JesusAlthough I agree that Jesus is God (John 1:1), I have something specific in mind when I ask if Jesus is like God or God like Jesus. Traditionally, people have looked at Jesus and identified divine attributes and used this as ways to demonstrated that Jesus is God.

But some theologians sees this as a backward process.

There is a growing trend to start with Jesus and to use him as the measure to determine what is truly God. I have seen this in the writings of Greg Boyd and have heard similar things by Scot McKnight and Brian Zahnd. I will admit that I have not read Boyd’s Crucifixion of the Warrior God, although I hope to in the near future. But I have read such statements in Boyd’s other books.

This is a convenient hermeneutic for Boyd and other (mostly Anabaptist) scholars. There are some troubling passages in the Old Testament where not only does God perform acts of violence, he also commands his people to use violence. This can be difficult for Christians who are committed to nonviolence.

What Boyd is able to do is to look to Jesus and then measure descriptions of God in the Old Testament by that standard. Anytime we read a description of God, we should ask, “Could we see Jesus doing that?”

So when God in the Old Testament command people to care for the poor, that is consistent with Jesus and so is an accurate description of God. But when God in the Old Testament calls people to attack and destroy a city, that is inconsistent with Jesus and so is an inaccurate description of God.

I have not read enough of Boyd to know how he explains those troubling passages. I would suspect he would say that the Israelites misunderstood what God wanted or tried to impose their own agenda with a theological foundation.

While I can see the attractiveness of this view, I have some serious concerns.

The first is that it makes interpretation of the Old Testament very difficult. Just because the Old Testament quotes God in saying something, doesn’t mean that God actually said it. The Old Testament is a mix of accurate and inaccurate accounts, some divine revelation mixed with mistaken ideas about God. This theory prevents us from reading the Old Testament in anything like a straightforward (I purposely avoid literal) manner.

The other problem is that I don’t think this theory takes seriously diversity within the Trinity. They look to passages like, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3) From this it is argued that since Jesus is exactly like God, God is exactly like Jesus.

However, I suspect that if you asked the author of Hebrews to summarize Israelite history, he would have include the warrior images of God and the God-ordained invasion of Canaan. Probably all of the apostles would have understood the Old Testament as accurately revealing the words and actions of God.

I believe the author of Hebrews was trying to describe Jesus in such a way the demonstrate he was far greater than the angels or Moses. I don’t think he was trying to redefine God as being more Christ-like.

I don’t see why belief in the Trinity requires the Father, Son and Spirit to act in exactly the same way. Each person of the Trinity had different roles and I don’t think the earthly ministry of Jesus revealed everything about the Godhead.

Here is an example from the New Testament. In Acts 5, we find the deaths of Annias and Sapphira. It seems to be the Holy Spirit who is responsible for their deaths. Do we find Jesus killing people during his earthly ministry? No. Does that mean that the deaths of Annias and Sapphira was not divine judgment? No again.

I agree that there are some troubling passages in the Bible and that we need to wrestle with them. But I am not convinced that using the earthly ministry of Jesus as the standard of what is really God is the way to go.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

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Love Thy Body – Review

What are the most controversial issues facing society today? In addition to long-time debates about abortion and casual sex, there is an increase in discussions about euthanasia, as well as an almost total reversal in attitudes toward homosexuality and transgenderism.

Is there anything that ties these issues together other than they get people really upset?

Love Thy BodyNancy Pearcey, in her new book Love Thy Body, brilliantly brings them together under a common idea of how people see the body. Using the work of Francis Schaeffer, Pearcey demonstrates that people have created a two-tiered conception that divides our being, allowing for a dismissal of the role of the body.

An example is that of transgenderism. Gender dysphoria is real and the pain should be addressed. But our society has bought in uncritically that the problem is with the body and not with the feelings. Similar things take place with numerous issues that regularly make our headlines.

This is important for the church to look at because we are partially responsible for where we have come. A form of gnosticism still infects the church, looking at the spirit as good and the body as bad, even the Bible teaches that both are important.

Nancy Pearcey is a remarkably clear thinker who, even if you disagree with her, should make you think. She is able to present the issues in such a way that makes the reader address their own preconceptions.

Although she hits all of the topics most likely to offend, she does not come at them seeking to enrage. In fact, I found that she regularly brought the questions back to real people and that she looks at people immersed in these situations with tremendous compassion. Pearcey not only thinks deeply about the issues, she enters into relationships with the people facing them.

Will Pearcey offend people with this book? Absolutely. But she addresses head on topics that the church needs to look at, no matter how unpopular. Aristotle, speaking of his mentor Plato, said this, “Plato is dear to me, but dearer still is truth.” In Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey demonstrates a dear love for truth.

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Jesus Mythicist Discovers His Own Nonexistence

Please note that the following article is satire.


Jesus Myth

Philipp Bullocks

While studying online articles about the Jesus Myth, Philipp Bullocks of Buffalo, NY, came to a startling conclusion.

The Jesus Myth (aka Christ Myth) claims that Jesus of Nazareth never existed and the Jesus of the Gospels was based on pagan myths. First considered in the nineteenth century, it has made a dramatic comeback through hundreds of skeptical websites.

Bullocks explains how he became interested in the theory, “Scholarly books and academic journals are completely biased. I knew if I was going to discover the truth about Jesus, I would have to find it on the internet.”

Although 99% of historians reject the Jesus Myth, people such as Bullocks, find mythicist claims very convincing. “No matter what evidence scholars offer for the existence of Jesus, I can imagine a way to doubt it,” argues Bullocks. “It is possible that every passage in the Bible that points to a real Jesus was actually a later addition.”

The nonexistence of Jesus was not the only conclusion that Bullocks came to.

“As I embraced skepticism and trained myself to look for parallels in fictional accounts, I encountered the shock of my life.”

Bullocks noticed that in addition to the lack of archaeological evidence for Jesus, there was also a suspicious lack of archaeological evidence for his own life. An exasperated Bullocks stated, “As hard as I looked, there were no coins, statues or engraved plaques attesting to my existence.”

Things became more desperate when Bullocks noticed parallels from his own experiences, especially his dating life, with day-time soap operas and romantic comedies. “The only explanation for these eery parallels is that someone took these existing accounts and developed them into what I thought were real experiences.”

Bullocks’s conclusion was that he did not really exist.

Initially terrified at his own nonexistence, Bullocks has come to terms with his new reality. “Jesus never existed either, so I’m in pretty good company.”

Bullocks has not let his lack of existence stop his quest for truth. “If I read enough blog posts, things will eventually make sense.”




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that I came across.


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Unimaginable – Review

UnimaginableWould our world be better off without Christianity? John Lennon, in his song Imagine, asks us to consider a world without religion and the peace and prosperity that would result. The New Atheism, in much harsher terms, argues that our world would be much better without religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Jeremiah J. Johnston calls us to truly consider what our world would be like without Christianity. Johnston, in addition to be a popular Christian speaker, is a New Testament scholar. In Unimaginable, he paints for us a picture of what the ancient world was like and what the impact of Christianity was. Christianity was a radical innovation when it came to views about poverty, race and gender. Many of the advances that we celebrate today found their origins in the teachings of Jesus.

Johnston moves beyond the ancient world and introduces us to the beginnings of atheism, including the most influential figures that helped shape the skeptical world we live in today. Far from being heroes of freedom, many of these men were deeply flawed and had disturbing beliefs and disappointing lives.

Johnston is able to blend a solid scholarly understanding of both the ancient and modern world with an engaging style that makes his ideas accessible to the average person. He argues persuasively that Christianity has had a positive impact on our world and that it continues to do so.

Criticisms of Christianity are often based more on internet memes than on actual study of the evidence. Jeremiah J. Johnston’s Unimaginable does a great job of addressing the questions in their historical and philosophical context.

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Richard Carrier is an Apologist

Richard Carrier has recently had an ongoing debate with New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado. I have not been following the debate because frankly I don’t care. Plus, I find that Carrier just gets nasty and his arguments become more emotional than rational.

But something he wrote caught my attention.

I came across his blog post The Difference Between a Historian and an Apologist. This interested me because I identify as both a historian and an apologist. Plus, I was recently accused in a comment on my podcast The History of Christianity, that I was doing apologetics and not history. So I wanted to know what Carrier had to say.

I need to confess that Carrier’s post is painful to read. It is dripping with sarcasm and ad hominem attacks on Larry Hurtado. It is difficult to get through all of Carrier’s rhetoric to find something of substance.

The basic argument is that Hurtado is doing apologetics and not history. This is the clearest that Carrier gets:

This is the difference between doing history, and doing apologetics. Apologetics invents any rationalization conceivable for rejecting an unacceptable conclusion, no matter how irrelevant or illogical. Historians, by contrast, don’t behave that way. They attend to the science of probabilities: what is the more probable. Even if it’s not what we thought or want to be probable.

I have not followed the discussion about Philo’s comments about the logos and so I won’t comment on the accuracy of either Carrier or Hurtado’s interpretation.

But I would like to discuss Carrier’s contrast between an apologist and a historian. According to Carrier, “Apologetics invents any rationalization conceivable for rejecting an unacceptable conclusion, no matter how irrelevant or illogical.” Who came up with that definition? That is a straw man argument if I have ever seen one.

What is apologetics? Apologetics is simply giving a reason for believing or preferring something specific. It is not limited to religion or philosophy. If a person can explain why they think Star Wars is better than Star Trek, they are doing apologetics.

What this means is that every time Richard Carrier argues for atheism or for the Jesus myth, he is doing apologetics. Carrier is an apologist as much as anyone.

What about this contrast with the work of historians? According to Carrier, historians “attend to the science of probabilities.” Carrier argues for something called the Jesus myth, specifically that Jesus never existed. If we put Richard Carrier in a room with one thousand of the top historians and they discussed the probability that Jesus existed, I wonder how many would agree with Carrier? I would be surprised if we could find even one.

I have never met Richard Carrier but I have met Larry Hurtado. I have taken a class with him during my doctoral studies. I’m familiar not just with his teaching of that class but his experience at teaching at top schools and publishing with respected publishers and journals. If you compare Hurtado’s academic reputation with Carrier’s, there is not much of a contest.

I’m not trying to criticize Carrier. He has done a good job of self-publishing and using his entrepreneurial spirit to make a name for himself. I don’t want to diminish those efforts at all. But when it comes to scholarly standing, he is not even in the same league as Larry Hurtado.

Carrier contrasts apologetics and history. The truth is that Carrier is a historian. A misguided historian (I’m not talking specifically about the Philo question) but still a historian. But even more than a historian, Carrier is an apologist. He began as an apologist for atheism and has developed his apologetics from arguing against God to arguing against Jesus.

Richard Carrier is an apologist.




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts that you should check out.


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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts I came across this week. Go and check them out.


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Ravi Zacharias, Credentials and Perspective

I have already blogged about the controversy over Ravi Zacharias and the exaggeration of his credentials.

To be honest, I think that RZIM was simply sloppy and careless about this and they should have known better. But there is something that we should consider, something I haven’t heard people talking about.

What kind of an apologist is Ravi Zacharias?

What I mean by that, is what other apologists would we compare him to? Would we compare Ravi Zacharias to apologists such as William Lane Craig and Alvin Plantinga or to apologists such as Tim Keller and Josh McDowell? I would suggest the latter.

I don’t think that anyone who has heard Ravi Zacharias speak or read his books would ever mistake him for one of the top Christian philosophers or scholars in the world.

This is not a criticism of Ravi at all. Ravi has had a huge impact on the world, both in intelligently proclaiming the gospel and organizing other apologists into an effective ministry. Thousands and thousands of people have been touched by his ministry and no controversy can take that away. I consider him to be the Billy Graham of apologetics and that is a high complement.

But the ministry that Ravi has had has not depended on advanced graduate degrees. He doesn’t need to have a PhD to do what he does. Ravi Zacharias is an apologetic-preacher and evangelist and he is sufficiently trained for that ministry.

I bring this up to argue that while RZIM may have gotten careless, Ravi has never presented himself as more than he is. It is unlikely that the use of “doctor” was meant as deliberate deception because he has never taken the role of someone who needed to be a doctor.

This is not meant to excuse any mistakes but we should really look at this controversy within its proper context.




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Midweek Apologetics Roundup

Here are some apologetics-related posts you might find interesting.


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