Sharp and Sharper

September 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Darth_Maul_lightsaber_reveal

“…the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.” (Proverbs 5:3-4)

The “forbidden woman” (or any present danger that can drag us down to moral ruin) is as sharp as a two-edged sword. Thank God, we have something sharper to answer temptation.

“…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Stay sharp and keep it close.

Get The Facts Straight: A Response to ‘Religious Constriction’, Part 2

June 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

Fact checkThis post is the second of a 2-part critique of the worldview revealed in Charles Blow’s recent New York Times opinion piece, Religious Constriction (June 8, 2014). The first highlighted his detached view of Biblical literalism, a detachment all too common in postmodern culture. This one centers on the latter half of Blow’s article, which reveals a gross misunderstanding of the concept of facts. He writes:

“What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist. Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some — like dinosaurs — became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.”

First, Blow reveals that he isn’t sure what a fact is. A scientific fact, the type of fact he lists above, is “any observation that has been repeatedly confirmed and accepted as true; any scientific observation that has not been refuted.” Do the facts he uses as examples fit this definition? Let’s check.

“Facts such as the idea…” (Hold on. Are ideas facts, or in fact just ideas?) “…that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved…” Blow is making assumptions, not recalling observations, about the past. And widely disputable assumptions at that. He was not there to observe primordial origins of the earth, or evolution, and he cannot test, let alone repeatedly confirm, either. He continues, “and some — like dinosaurs — became extinct.” We can observe the presence of dinosaurs in the fossil record, and their absence in the present day (something we can test and confirm) makes their extinction a fact. Christians do not refute the existence or extinction of dinosaurs, so I’m not sure why Blow included this at all.

More scientific facts from the author: “Facts like the proven warming of the world.” There is plenty of debate about this, but there is little proof of “warming”, assuming this means the earth overall is heating up due to our carelessness. What is proven is that there have been warming trends and there have been cooling trends in earth’s history. What is not proven fact is the idea that we are responsible for an impending natural global disaster. It’s summertime in the northern hemisphere, and the phenomenon he is referring to is known as weather. Lastly, “Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise” is a letdown. The term fact begs for a bit more certainty than a “very real possibility” that global warming “could” cause the oceans to overflow. Remember, we are talking about something that is confirmed through observation and repeated testing. Catastrophic climate change doesn’t fit the bill either.

What folks like Blow and Christians all have is evidence, not scientific facts, about the earth’s ancient history or climate change. We also all have a worldview bias. Everyone interprets the same evidence differently based on their worldview, what they already believe to be true. Everything is filtered through it, including the way we decide what is factual.

While theories like the Big Bang and Darwinian Evolution cannot by definition be scientific fact, Christians can’t truthfully call Creation, Noah’s Flood, or Jesus’ resurrection scientifically factual either, because we did not observe those events and cannot test them in the present scientifically. Christians rely on the account of God in His Word for an explanation of truth.

It’s important to note that there is some difference in the definitions of scientific fact, and fact, something that is based on truth that occurs whether or not we can observe or test it. The criteria for a fact is not as rigorous as that for a scientific fact. Both atheists and devoutly religious theists believe in certain basic presuppositions that we can’t empirically observe or prove, but we are convinced that they are facts, that they correspond with reality.

While personally I don’t think it’s helpful in apologetics to call a Christian’s most deeply held beliefs facts, we can reason that, when we by faith consider them to be factual, i.e. the Bible’s account of origins, they make sense of life, humanity, and the world that we can observe and repeatedly test. If we by faith believe that the Big Bang and Materialistic Evolution are factual, it doesn’t make sense of our reality. Instead we are left with more unanswered questions: Without an eternal God, what was nature’s first cause? Nature? How do the laws of logic and morality derive from undirected natural processes, from nothing but matter and motion? If we are to consider something we think happened in the past as a fact, it ought to at least make sense of the present.

By “some Americans [who] seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist,” Charles Blow means Christians who read the Bible literally, who assume that it means what it actually says. His straw man is the portrayal of Christianity and other religious “fundamentalism” in direct conflict with the facts. Blow desires that “Americans, particularly political leaders, who choose religious piety must also create an intellectual framework in which things of faith that exist without proof can make space for truths for which there is proof.” As we can see, Blow did not and cannot prove what he considers to be truth. Christianity is indeed in conflict with what Blow assumes by faith to be facts, but we are by no means opposed to facts that we can observe and test, that actually fit with our experience of ourselves and the universe.

Misrepresenting someone’s position makes it easier to attack. In his conclusion we see Charles Blow’s classic straw man repeated and wrapped in a kind of patriotic concern for the intellectual progress of our nation: “Religious fundamentalism at the expense of basic scientific facts threatens to obscure America’s beacon of light with a bank of fog.” This is a tired misrepresentation of Christianity but we’ll see it again from secular worldviews. With such a poor understanding of “facts” from Charles Blow and the liberalism of the media elites, it’s clear where the “bank of fog” hangs.

Related post: Literal Confusion: A Response to ‘Religious Constriction’, Part 1

Beware of Conviction!

April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

RDtweet

Atheist Richard Dawkins recently tweeted, “The only religious people I fear are the ones who take their religion seriously: the ones who really believe what they say they believe.” It was re-tweeted well over a thousand times.

It doesn’t mean much to be “religious.” Even atheists can be religious. Apparently the fear factor brings significance to religion. The goal of Jesus’s followers is not to instill fear in anyone. God does that through an awareness, sometimes through Christians, that we are all, including Christians, an impossibly long way from righteousness by ourselves. That fear serves to drive us to the righteousness of Christ.

But fear is often felt in the face of anything we oppose. Nothing opposes the apathy of atheism and post-modern belief in flavor-of-the-month philosophy more than a firm conviction of truth. Belief naturally scares unbelief. It is indeed something to fear when you aren’t sure what else to be afraid of.

There are a great many feared Christians in the public square some would like to see removed from the public square.

Current stories abound, particularly over the issue of gay rights, of fearsome individuals such as Pastor Louie Giglio, who was invited to pray at the last presidential inauguration, but was soon ousted out of fear that he may still believe what he did 20 years earlier when he preached a sermon on homosexuality. Or Pastor Greg Laurie, who now faces the same type of outlier status for holding to millenia-old Biblical teachings. ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Iowa Senator Dennis Guth, and Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Ben Carson have recently faced similar backlash for holding to the same unchanging truths.

Teaching the Biblical view of sex and abstinence is now a “hurtful” and “dehumanizing” dogma, and conservatives are often feared as extremists.

Teaching the Biblical view of Creation is nothing new, yet it is now a form of child abuse or Taliban-style indoctrination, according to physicist Lawrence Krauss.

Sadly, there is no shortage of professing Christians who are no threat at all, who proclaim His name in word when convenient and in deed when the coast is clear. They are safe choices for product endorsement, commencement speeches, and political candidacy, because they will bend like putty to the whims of secularism and bow to the new moral consensus. Their moral compass is more of a windsock, changing direction with the times as feelings “evolve“.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

If the world could hear you, would it fear you? Do you really believe what you say you believe? Will you still believe it 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Paul’s first century warning is realized. Morally compromised and doctrinally flexible teachers, preachers, presidents and CEOs are in high demand. We no longer want to be shocked, or have our feelings hurt, or have our ideas challenged by anyone who exhibits a consistent belief and unwavering stance on the Biblical truth that guided our predecessors.

God ultimately judges folly. Better to be firmly grounded in the truth and feared by some, than to preach on shifting sand and have God to fear when the foundation washes away.

The Danger of Being ‘Too Good’ at Apologetics

March 6, 2013 § 8 Comments

It’s the commission of every believer to “give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) Apologists exercise a particular desire to engage in rational debate in an effort to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor. 10:5) We of course feel obligated to be good at it, but that doesn’t guarantee the acceptance of Christianity by skeptics.

A good argument is often rationally ignored in a debate. Since Genesis 3, the fallen heart of man is bent toward self-deceit(1), and as Romans 1:25 says, is more than willing to trade the “truth for a lie.” Only the Holy Spirit can open eyes to the truth of Christianity and the Gospel and bring a soul to see past the obstacles.

Boxing080905_photoshopSometimes though, I think apologists can put forth a logically impenetrable defense and actually become one of the obstacles. An impregnable argument can be a complete turn-off, and that’s actually not what we want. We want to demolish arguments, but not the human spirit in the process. As the mantra goes, the Christian’s goal is to win souls, not arguments. In thinking about past debates (and I’m sure others have seen this) there are times when an argument really comes together, as the result of the Spirit’s guidance, and practice, and by the humble discovery of the validity of Christianity’s deepest foundations. But it comes together as such a solid, air-tight case that the unbelieving opponent simply checks out of the conversation. And still in unbelief. Many times I’ve experienced an online debate ending without an atheist’s response, just when it was getting really ‘good’. I somehow delivered a debate-ender. By having the last word I would feel accomplished in demolishing their arguments and faithfully defending Christianity—then perform a self-check for pride. But now I wonder if I demolished any spirit they had to continue to seek the truth from me, or any believer. Winning the debate can mean losing the debate when the opportunity to win someone for Christ is lost or shortened.

I suddenly feel the urge to re-write some previous posts and re-do some previous debates (Oops… too late for that last one).

Brick_wall_in_León,_Guanajuato,_2010-06-13So going forward, how do we keep such a wall from going up? Colossians 4:6 gives us an answer: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Show grace in your defense. Grace is, after all, what we preach, why and how we are in a position to preach, and the desired result of it all: Sinners coming to terms with God’s grace through Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:8,9). Do we show grace by intentionally presenting weak arguments to keep an unbeliever coming back? I don’t think so. I suppose it will take on different forms for different apologists, but we don’t want to compromise the truth just to make it taste better, but maybe our form. Here are three ways.

1. USE QUESTIONS

The Bible provides the only rational basis for objective truth, rooted in the nature of God, and no other worldview offers this.

Christians claim the Bible as the only rational basis for objective truth, rooted in the nature of God. Can you think of another worldview that does this?

7539d0d8b0751c7ab85ba408bc2b88c1.media.240x240The two propositions above are saying the same thing. Which one feels more open and friendly? The one ending in a question, doesn’t it? The objective truth of the Bible feels like it needs to be stated firmly as a stone wall. Could what you’re stating also be put in question form? Questions invite further dialog, as long as they are not snide or obviously rhetorical. Ask questions that should logically lead them to the same conclusion that you were planning to assert with a firm statement. Invite them to get there using their own cognitive abilities rather than forcing your conclusions on them. They need to know that you still want to discuss it.

2. USE GENTLENESS AND RESPECT

Screen Shot 2013-03-05 at 8.04.36 PMGrace comes in other forms too, from the admonition of 1 Peter 3:15 to give a defense “with gentleness and respect.” Concede good points made whenever they appear, and let your opponent know that you appreciate their time and that you’ve learned a lot from what they’ve offered (this is always true for me; I learn something about my opponent’s worldview at every encounter). At least in written correspondence, mood and temperament is often not clear, so clarify a gentle and respectful demeanor in debate forums with fewer ALL-CAPS and exclamation marks, and more happy emoticons. You may sacrifice professionalism there, between it’s a small sacrifice. Note the difference between PLEASE! and Please. 🙂

3. KEEP IT SIMPLE

Be brief, if you can. A lengthy post can be daunting and discourage response. Don’t launch every point in a single comment or post, unless you’re responding to series of points. I’ve found that the more stripped down my dialog is, the shorter the response, unless you’re met with a lot of extra rhetorical or emotional fluff—which you are free to ignore. Try to be succinct, yet thorough.

These approaches may seem like we are depending on and playing off of an opponent’s emotional responses to keep the discussion going. I’ve debated with many unbelievers who rely heavily on emotion to make their points, so the approach is fitting. When right reasoning is corrupt by sin, we resort to emotions. Those who challenge our faith are God’s human creation.

381px-Avocado_SeedlingUltimately we are only playing a part in leading others to Christ—God opens eyes and turns hearts. But God uses Christians and our apologetics, so the part we play shouldn’t drive seekers away, but keep them seeking. All debates must end, but may they not end because an opponent feels cornered and utterly beaten. If we are rejected, let it not be because skeptics don’t feel as though we want to listen and learn their position. Let skeptics reject the Gospel of salvation when it’s graciously presented in truth and love. Even if rejected, our apologia can be a seed that will, Lord willing, take root.

[Here is a debate of mine where I think grace was effectively applied: A Doubter Challenges Christianity.
And here is one where I think I lacked in it, effectively driving home the argument but shutting down the discussion, really before any clear presentation of the Gospel on my part: Evidence for God in the Laws of Logic.]

1) The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics, by Dr. Greg Bahnsen

Truth is a Troublemaker

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

Supreme_Court2-bodyMost of the time we get into trouble because we do stupid things. But sometimes we get into trouble because we do the right thing. Maybe we all can recall a time when we were maligned for putting our hope in the truth. In my daily reading I journeyed through Paul’s adventures in Acts, a classic example of a man in trouble for the truth.

In the presence of the Roman Governor Felix, a contingency of Jewish leaders and their lawyer brought this charge against the apostle in Acts 24: “For we have found this man to be a troublemaker, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” (vs.5)

The fear was that Paul would be politically dangerous. In his defense Paul denies the accusations of inciting a riot, but admits: “But I confess this to you, that I worship the God of our ancestors according to the Way (which they call a sect), believing everything that is according to the law and that is written in the prophets. I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous…(vs.14,15) “I am on trial before you today concerning the resurrection of the dead.” (vs.21)

Most Jews believed in a future resurrection, a raising and judgment of all mankind, something that Paul preached in connection with Christ’s resurrection (Acts 17:30-32, 1 Corinthians 15:15-58). The Sadducees (Acts 23:8) did not believe in any type of life after death, or miracles, or the supernatural. The Greeks believed in immortality, but not the imminent judgment of Christ. These slanted teachings started to infect the Church somewhat. And this was a cause of much of Paul’s trouble.

In the next two chapters, Paul finds himself in Jewish court before Israel’s King Agrippa. In his defense before the king in Acts 26, Paul testifies: “They know, because they have known me from time past, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors, a promise that our twelve tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve God night and day. Concerning this hope the Jews are accusing me, your Majesty!” (vs.5-7)

On trail for hope in God’s promises, Paul believed His promises to be true. To an extent, so did Paul’s accusers, who believed in the same Hebrew scriptures where hints of the future resurrection should have vindicated Paul. The charges of stirring up riots were unfounded. Instead, their main contention was that “they had several points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a man named Jesus who was dead, whom Paul claimed to be alive.” (Acts 25:19)

Among other things, Christians believe this: “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-18)

Jesus Himself promised us trouble (John 16:33), and when we merely do what Paul and others did, preaching God’s word and holding to His future promises, we may find ourselves on trial. We’ll dispute big issues with those who claim to follow God, even true Christians. Persistent hope in Christ has its cost, and it sometimes gets us in trouble. But we are promised that any present trouble cannot outweigh future glory, and that’s where our hope lives. “So we do not lose heart…” (2 Corinthinans 4:16-18)

A Conversation About the Nature of Truth

May 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

David

Question: Is what you believe, been told or taught what you observe?

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D. O.

People see what they want to see.

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David

Just a thought I had after reading something about Greek philosopher Epicurus… the art of rational living. He was one of the first to see behavior from the standpoint of observance instead of just thought.

I was just wondering how people now saw things as what they are told or led to see them, or as they actually observe them and come to their own conclusions.

Truth is ultimately up to the individual, but the myriad of influences creates infinite “truths”…

For the curious… http://philosophy.lander.edu/ethics/epicurus.html

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Marsha

I was trying to tell my daughter to question everything. She didn’t get it. She’s 10. Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean it’s true or real. I know my truth is different than most, but it’s true to me.

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Mike

Presuppositions are always part of our conclusions, but truth is true for everyone regardless of our perception of it.

Case in point, if we say truth is relative yet tell someone there is a certain way to view and handle truth, i.e. “truth is ultimately X” or “question everything”, we presuppose that truth is absolute and that it should apply to others as well as ourselves.

If a person questions everything, she must also question the idea that she should question everything. Maybe the 10 year old does get it. 🙂 The reason we question anything is because we assume there is an absolute answer somewhere.

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David

I assume no such absolute truths. Doesn’t mean that I don’t observe all possibilities.

Truth is a variable. It is what you choose to accept.

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Mike

How then can “truth is a variable” be true if others reject it? And if it isn’t assumed to be absolutely true by the presenter, then why present it?

Haven’t looked at the epicurus link yet, but I am epicurious…

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David

A variable the individual needs to pin down for themselves. The ‘others’ are the influence that is the problem.

Drivel is presented in perfectly plausible fashion every day and you can fool all of the people some of the time. Repeat something enough, build in a fear of not believing it, and develop a social network to fence them all in, an you got yourself a nice sustainable whatever. Global warming activists, ultra-conservatives, cults, the Amish, crack houses, whatever.

I prefer to stay out of that situation and choose my own vantage point.

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