Category Archives: Apologetics

20 Christian academics speak about God, faith, and science

Here’s an interesting video of 20 Christian academics answering questions related to science, reason, and faith. Along the way, they comment on miracles, free will, the problem of evil, foreknowledge, evolution, and son on. And, the academics run the gamut from evangelicals like J. P. Moreland and William Craig to thinkers who reject almost anything miraculous or supernatural in the world. So, it’s a good video for getting a feel for how a broad range of Christian intellectuals respond to these questions.

An Opportunity Lost: Why Geisler’s Critique Missed the Mark

[I originally posted this as a guest post over at Near Emmaus. So, if you’d like to discuss it, please head over there and offer your comments.]

In the beginning there was discussion. Then we fell. Now, as far as the ear can hear, there is only debate.

Okay, maybe that was a little hyperbolic, possibly even a tad melodramatic. But it sounded good when I wrote it. And, it does reflect a bit of the frustration I feel as I follow many “discussions” today. Words flow across my screen in never-ending sequence, but try as I might, I can’t seem to find the conversation. In my most jaded hours, I wonder if anyone is really listening. Or, are we all just trying to “win” one more argument so we can go to bed at night satisfied that we have vanquished another dragon, unmindful of the dragon’s anguish.

Most recently, I’ve been trying to follow Norm Geisler’s critique of Michael Licona. Geisler has argued in two, separate “open letters” (see Brian’s summary) that Licona’s understanding of Matthew 27:50-53 is wrong, unbiblical, and pagan, ultimately undermining our confidence in the resurrection, the authority of the Bible, the veracity of God, and, quite possibly, the very integrity of the space-time continuum itself. (Okay, I may have added that last one myself.)

Now, I don’t want to go into the specifics of Licona’s position. Indeed, I can’t, since I haven’t read the book. (Will they be making a movie version soon?) As I understand it, Licona’s basic argument is that Matthew used a variety of apocalyptic devices at the end of his Gospel to emphasize the cosmic significance of Christ’s death and resurrection. And, he views the resurrection of the righteous dead in 27:50-53 as a “poetic” (i.e. apocalyptic) image that serves that purpose. In other words, Matthew isn’t trying to say that the tombs actually opened and that dead people actually came out. Instead, he’s using a poetic image that people in his day would have understood to indicate an event of great significance.

So, that’s Licona’s position. But, it’s really Geisler’s critique that I’d like to comment on. Because in many ways, it’s a great example of what happens when debate triumphs over discussion.

This was a perfect opportunity for discussion. Geisler clearly thinks that Licona has erred in seeing this is an example of a poetic genre used inside of a largely historical narrative (which, by the way, people do all the time). And, he obviously thinks that Licona made a mistake by looking to the surrounding cultural context for explanations of how a genre-device like this would have been understood (which, by the way, is something good exegetes do all the time). These are two important points worth discussing further. I can picture a situation where two scholars could sit down and have a very lively conversation about these issues and how they impact our understanding of Matthew 27.

And, Geisler rightly raises the question of inerrancy here. I say “rightly” for two reasons. First, Geisler is committed to inerrancy, so it makes sense for him to wonder how this might impact that doctrine. And, more importantly, Licona himself holds to inerrancy. So, once again I can imagine a meaningful discussion between them on how matters of genre, hermeneutics, culture, text, and history all come together in the context of a theological reflection on the nature of Scripture as the Word of God. (I have a very good imagination.)

Sadly, none of this happened.

Here’s what we got instead:

  • The Logical Extension Argument: I put this one first, even though it’s not the first one Geisler uses, because it bugs me the most. I run into this one all the time. It goes something like this: (a) you claim to believe X; (b) you also believe Y; (c) I think X and Y are incompatible; therefore (d) you don’t really believe X (even though you continue to insist quite firmly that you do). In this case, it goes: (a) Licona claims to believe in inerrancy; (b) he has a “poetic” view of Mt. 27; (c) I think these two are incompatible; therefore (d) Licona doesn’t really believe in inerrancy. Can we please stop using this argument? It’s really annoying. At the very least, it suggests one of two things: (1) you’re an idiot and can’t tell that these two are contradictory, or (2) you’re dishonest since you know full well that you don’t really believe both. Implying that someone is either an idiot or dishonest is not conducive to good conversation. So, we really need to stop doing that.
  • The Guilt by Association Argument #1: Geisler leads out by connecting Licona’s argument with those who would deny the resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth because of their parallels with other Greco-Roman stories. And, that’s a fair question. But, unfortunately, Geisler seems to pose it more as a way of associating Licona with these as a way of proving that Licona is just another dehistoricizer. In other words, (a) they’re bad, (b) you look a lot like them, therefore (c) you must be bad too. (It’s the same logic that makes people cross the street at night to avoid people who dress a certain way.) 
  • The Guilt by Association Argument #2: Not satisfied with that, Geisler quickly moves to connect Licona to Robert Gundry and his resignation from ETS over similar issues. Having connected the two, Geisler seems to think that his work is basically done: (a) Gundry was guilty; (b) Licona is Gundry-resurrected; therefore, (c) Licona is guilty. It’s fascinating to me that he never considers the possibility that (a) the situations are actually different, or (b) the earlier decision was wrong. I’m not saying either of those is correct. But, they’re both worth exploring before throwing somebody under the bus. Aren’t they? 
  • The Implied Threat: Though Gundry doesn’t say so in the first letter, he clearly means to imply that Licona’s status in ETS is in jeopardy if he doesn’t change. After all, that’s what happened to Gundry. And, by the second letter, the implied threat has become much clearer. But, what’s interesting here is that Geisler is not a member of ETS. He resigned several years ago because the rest of ETS does not agree with him. Oddly, he doesn’t bring that up in either letter.  
  • The Guilt by Association Argument #3 (he really likes this kind of argument)Geisler paints Licona with the “pagan” brush. Apparently he thinks that if he can associate a position with the pagans, it must be wrong. (By the way, am I the only one who thinks of the movie Dragnet when people start talking about pagans?) Unfortunately, he never gets around to dealing with the reality that the biblical authors lived in Greco-Roman (i.e. “pagan”) context. One would think that this might have some significance for interpreting what they wrote. Just a thought. 
  • The Personal Affront: Geisler opens his second letter by making it sound like Licona has been dodging him. But, the simple fact is that Licona doesn’t owe Geisler any kind of response. To the extent that Licona chooses to engage, great. But, that’s his choice. (By the way, have you ever met someone at a party who insisted on carrying on a discussion/argument with you even though you clearly weren’t interested in talking? They bugged you, didn’t they?)

I may have missed a few, but those are the ones that stood out.

This isn’t discussion; it isn’t conversation; it isn’t helpful. This is debate. Pure and simple. It’s about winning and losing.

I should say, before concluding, that Geisler does ask some good questions. He wants to know whether we can really call these resurrections a poetic device without having to say the same about the resurrection of Jesus. And, he wants to know what methodology we’ll use to differentiate a “poetic device” from some problem text that we just don’t happen to like. And, finally, he wants to know what all of this entails for how we understanding the nature of Scripture. If we hold to Licona’s interpretation, and those like his, can we still meaningfully say that the Bible is inerrant? And, if so, what does that even mean?

These are good questions. And, they called for a good discussion. They deserved a good discussion. They didn’t get one.

They got a debate.

That’s sad.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you can effectively silence each other by your superior debating skills.

I bet they could make a song out of that.

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The Theology and God of Lady GaGa

She is one of the most interesting/disturbing pop culture figures today.  She is likened to other pop divas as Brittney Spears, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera, but has cut out a name for herself in her own right.  She wears dresses made of raw meat and has one of the most eclectic wardrobes of all time.  Every song she produces is a number one hit and I can guarantee that almost every person from the ages of 8-35 (respectively) knows of her or about her.

What you may not have known about Lady Gaga is that she is a theologian!  It may surprise some, but she has a view of God, informed by some type of sources, and she teaches a particular doctrine(s).  Her latest song, Born This Way, which has stood in the number one spot on iTunes since being released, is called the “Manifesto of Mother Monster,” making it a type of creed for people to live by.  The entire song has two goals: 1) To get people to love and accept themselves as they are, and 2) To get people to be love and accept others as they are.  The logical reasoning for this acceptance is found in the chorus:

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way
(Born this way)

Sounds like a decent message.  She brings God into the equation, and does make an appropriate and true statement about him, “God makes no mistakes.”  What Christian can argue with that message?  To argue anything other than that is to accuse God of making mistakes, being ignorant of what is going on in the world, and unable to govern his universe.  We know from Scripture, however, that God is infinite, wise, all-powerful, and accomplishes exactly what he wants.  He truly makes no mistakes.

She makes another partially true statement about “being born” the way you are.  If you’re white, black, brown, American, Chinese, or Lebanese God caused you to be born this way.  Again, true.  We know from Acts 17:26-27 that God established the boundaries of men, allotted them the periods of time they would live in, and what nationality they would be.  Who could argue that from the womb they got to plead a case for where they wanted to be born, or what nationality they wanted to be, or what language they wanted to speak.  No, God did that and according to Paul he did it in the hope that men would seek him.

Where Lady Gaga goes wrong is in saying that there is no distinction between nationality and sin.  If God makes no mistakes, and God is in control of your nationality and time of birth, then God also made you lesbian, gay, straight, or bisexual.  Our acceptance of one’s nationality or gender, should be no different from our acceptance of their sexuality.  What Lady Gaga fails to consider, however, is that although God makes no mistakes, man makes plenty of them and has been doing so since the Garden of Eden.  Is it a sin to be African American?  No.  Is it a sin to be a white male?  No.  Is it a sin to be a female from Argentina?  No.   Is it a sin to be lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, or a sexually immoral heterosexual?  Yes.  When it comes to nationality or gender, you have no choice.  When it comes to your sexuality you do, and the Bible is clear when it comes to this issue.

Why does a pop song matter?  It matters because everyone is a theologian.  And the question is not whether or not a person has a theological grid for understanding who God is.  The question is whether or not the Bible and the person and work of Jesus Christ inform that theological grid.  Lady Gaga is training/discipling/preaching to culture and the people in your church, especially students, to grid their view of God and others through a particular lens, one of love and acceptance.  And that grid is extremely popular in our day!  That’s not necessarily a bad thing to call people to.  Christians should be calling each other to love people.  However, the danger is that this grid does not take into account the justice of God, the reality of sin, the brokenness of man, the wrath of God against sin, or the desire of God to forgive sinners in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  She’s mixing truth with the cyanide of lie, and great hosts of people are drinking the juice.

If Lady Gaga is right, then it is not sinful for a man to be an alcoholic who beats his wife.  After all, God made me to love alcohol and hate women.  I was born this way.  It’s not a sin to molest little children.  After all someone’s sexual preference for small children would be no different from the lesbian, gay, or heterosexual persons.  Just ask the North American Man/Boy Association.  They were born that way.  And if you’re really going to buy into the god of Gaga, then not only do you simply need to love and accept yourself for being this way, but all of us who disagree with your lifestyle simply need to be more accepting.  If Lady Gaga would disagree with me, that in fact pedophilia and spousal abuse is evil (sin?), then it would be appropriate to ask her on what authority she stands, and why we should believe her?   At this point, please spare me the argument about genetic DNA that shows certain propensities towards certain actions.  All I have to say to that is, welcome to the human race.  We all have those, and it doesn’t make one’s particular actions any more right/good, or them any less responsible for their choices.

According to Scripture however, we learn that God makes no mistakes, he is sovereignly ruling his creation, and that sin has entered and corrupted what was good.  What the creation hates is that the Creator God gets to define what sin is.  Since a rebellious creation does not like his definition, it attempts to redefine and write its own.  The good thing is that God will not stand for his creation rebelling against him and destroying itself, so he intervenes.  He models what love really is by sending his own Son to make right what was made wrong and restore relationship.  In this God shows his love and acceptance towards sinners (really horrible ones as well, just ask Paul), and his absolute hatred of sin.  There is such a thing as sin, God gets to say what it is, it will be accounted for, and everyone will have to deal with Jesus.  We were “born this way.”  This way is broken and needs redemption.  Thank God that we have a redeemer.  It is the height of arrogance, rebellion, and stupidity to rejoice in a sin sick state, when the remedy has been provided.   Praise God that although we were “born this way,” we don’t have to stay in it.

Speak with conviction – a visual poem

Here’s a great visual poem from Taylor Mali on the importance of speaking with conviction. He challenges the modern notion that it’s a virtue to hold beliefs tentatively and speak with uncertainty. It’s like we want to say,

I have nothing personally invested in my own opinions, I’m just like inviting you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.

Instead, he calls for conviction. As he says toward the end:

So, I implore you, I entreat you, and I challenge you to speak with conviction, to say what you believe in a manner that bespeaks the determination with which you believe it.

Thanks to Brian Fulthorp for pointing this one out.

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Stephen Colbert on the theology of Bill O’Reilly – or, why the moon is God

Anyone interested in popular apologetics, (bad) arguments for the existence of God, or good reasons to mock Bill O’Reilly should watch this. In this clip, Stephen Colbert discusses the theology of Bill O’Reilly and does his usual outstanding job of discussing (i.e. making fun of) someone’s ideas.

“Like all great theologies, Bill’s can be boiled down to one sentence: There must be a god, because I don’t know how things work.”

And, he follows that up with the following irrefutable syllogism:

  1. The movement of the tides proves that there is a God (Bill O’Reilly)
  2. The moon controls the tides (astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson)
  3. Therefore, the moon is God (Stephen Colbert)

Who could possibly argue with logic like that?

An Age of Arrogant Gullibility

Ten years ago the warning trumpet for Post-Modernist thinking was being sounded almost daily for me.  Today, it is more like the annoying car alarm in Fred Meyer.  I hear it but don’t really pay much attention anymore.  This article was a slap back to reality for me.  Michael Novak is an American Catholic philosopher and writer.  Most of his life’s work has dealt with the philosophical and religious aspects of freedom.  In 1994 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion at Wesminster Abbey.   The following article is an adaptation of the address and is well worth the read.  In it, he speaks of four truths that man has learned from the twentieth century, which was the bloodiest in all of human history.

1. Truth Matters

2. Democracy is better than Dictatorship

3. Capitalism is better than Socialism

4. Vulgar Relativism Undermines All of These and Hastens the Collapse of Society

Although some may wish to quibble about the validity of his comments concerning Democracy and Capitalism (please read his article first) I thought his arguments for truth and vulgar relativism were very accurate.

One principle that today’s intellectuals most passionately disseminate is vulgar relativism, “nihilism with a happy face.” For them, it is certain that there is no truth, only opinion: my opinion, your opinion. They abandon the defense of intellect…Those who surrender the domain of intellect make straight the road of fascism. Totalitarianism… is the will-to-power, unchecked by any regard for truth. To surrender the claims of truth upon humans is to surrender Earth to thugs. It is to make a mockery of those who endured agonies for truth at the hands of torturers.  Vulgar relativism is an invisible gas, odorless, deadly, that is now polluting every free society on earth. It is a gas that attacks the central nervous system of moral striving. The most perilous threat to the free society today is, therefore, neither political nor economic. It is the poisonous, corrupting culture of relativism.

During the past hundred years, the question for those who loved liberty was whether, relying on the virtues of our peoples, we could survive powerful assaults from without (as, in the Battle of Britain, this city nobly did). During the next hundred years, the question for those who love liberty is whether we can survive the most insidious and duplicitous attacks from within, from those who undermine the virtues of our people, doing in advance the work of the Father of Lies. “There is no such thing as truth,” they teach even the little ones. “Truth is bondage. Believe what seems right to you. There are as many truths as there are individuals. Follow your feelings. Do as you please. Get in touch with yourself. Do what feels comfortable.” Those who speak in this way prepare the jails of the twenty-first century. They do the work of tyrants.

This warning to the church is a sobering reminder to guard itself from the kind of “vulgar relativism” that would seek to diminish its influence in the world.

Yes….Rap Can Help With Theology!

I’ve recently had some conversations with some students who are wrestling with all of the Christian terminology surrounding the atonement.  I believe this is a great teaching tool for Theology Professors, and would be worthy of having students memorize in order to get a better grasp on common terms and their definitions.  Although N.T. Wright would not agree with some of the definitions……I don’t think he visits our blog much and many still see them as correct.  If you don’t like rap, just mute and watch!

Mark Twain and Psalm 73 on the absurdity of injustice

Mark Twain has to be one of my favorite short story authors. Recently, I was struck by his The Story of the Bad Little Boy, in which Twain wrestles with the perennial question of “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Here’s how he describes Jim’s life.

Once there was a bad little boy whose name was Jim – though, if you will notice, you will find that bad little boys are nearly always called James in your Sunday-school books. It was strange, but still it was true that this one was called Jim….

Once this little bad boy stole the key of the pantry, and slipped in there and helped himself to some jam, and filled up the vessel with tar, so that his mother would never know the difference; but all at once a terrible feeling didn’t come over him, and something didn’t seem to whisper to him, “Is it right to disobey my mother? Isn’t it sinful to do this? Where do bad little boys go who gobble up their good kind mother’s jam?” and then he didn’t kneel down all alone and promise never to be wicked any more, and rise up with a light, happy heart, and go and tell his mother all about it, and beg her forgiveness, and be blessed by her with tears of pride and thankfulness in her eyes. No; that is the way with all other bad boys in the books; but it happened otherwise with this Jim, strangely enough. He ate that jam, and said it was bully, in his sinful, vulgar way; and he put in the tar, and said that was bully also, and laughed…. Everything about this boy was curious – everything turned out differently with him from the way it does to the bad James in the books.

Once he climbed up in Farmer Acorn’s apple-tree to steal apples, and the limb didn’t break, and he didn’t fall and break his arm, and get torn by the farmer’s great dog, and then languish on a sick bed for weeks, and repent and become good. Oh! no; he stole as many apples as he wanted and came down all right; and he was all ready for the dog too, and knocked him endways with a brick when he came to tear him….Nothing like it in any of the Sunday-school books….

But the strangest thing that ever happened to Jim was the time he went boating on Sunday, and didn’t get drowned, and that other time that he got caught out in the storm when he was fishing on Sunday, and didn’t get struck by lightning….How this Jim ever escaped is a mystery to me….

In many ways, it’s the same question that we find in Psalm 73.

Surely God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.

For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. (vv. 1-3)

If the world is governed by a good and just God, why are we surrounded by such injustice? Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer? The psalmist never offers a definitive answer. Instead, he simply turns his eyes toward heaven in worship.

When I tried to understand all this,
it was oppressive to me

till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. (vv. 16-17)

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever. (vv. 24-25)

Mark Twain takes a very different approach when he concludes his story.

And he grew up and married, and raised a large family, and brained them all with an axe one night, and got wealthy by all manner of cheating and rascality; and now he is the infernalist wickedest scoundrel in his native village, and is universally respected, and belongs to the Legislature.

Temporally speaking, I don’t think Mark Twain’s position is any different than that of the psalmist. Wicked people do in fact prosper and justice often reigns triumphant in the world. But, what Twain’s story lacks, and what the psalmist offers, is the brazen declaration of hope, the bold confidence in God’s ultimate sovereignty, the vision to gaze beyond the injustice and see the Kingdom of God beyond. Twain’s power as a writer lay in his ability to make us see the absurdities of the now, but seeing the now is not always the best training for seeing what will be. The psalmist shows us a different path – one that refuses to turn away from seeing the world in all of its devastating depravity, rejects facile and moralistic explanations of injustice, resists the ineluctable draw of nihilism, and reaches out to a greater, deeper, more glorious vision of then – ephemeral, elusive, exasperating…the eschaton.

Squirrel!

I finally got around to watching Up with my family. Good movie. I’ve decided that from now on, whenever one of my students asks me a question that I can’t answer, I’m going to yell “Squirrel!”, and, while they’re distracted, I’ll quickly change the subject. Should work for apologetics too.

Would the world be a better place if we weren’t on it?

Sometimes you almost hate to distinguish someone’s argument by commenting on it. And then you do it anyway. I think it has to do with a deep-seated need to punish ourselves for all the undiscovered misdeeds of our lives by repeatedly doing things that we know will only frustrate and anger us. Kind of like golf.

This is one of those times. Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, best known for his arguments in favor of animal liberation and ethics based on personal and group self-interest, raised the question in a NYT online piece yesterday of whether the world would be a better place if all the humans would agree that this will be the last generation of humans. We’ll stop reproducing and just agree to put an end to the human race when we’re done.  If nothing else, Singer has a penchant for asking provocative questions.

Singer’s argument actually runs along a couple of veins. First, he argues that our lives are generally less pleasant than we like to believe and that bringing a child into the world is almost certain to cause significant pain and suffering for that child. So, reproduction is far more likely to be harmful to future generations than beneficial. Therefore, we should stop hurting our children by not having them in the first place.

Second, he argues that this is actually in our own best interests. We waste a lot of time feeling guilty for the terrible things that will happen to later generations because of the mistakes that we’re making (e.g. climate change). So, if we agree not to have any future generations, we won’t feel anywhere near as guilty. (Of course, based on the same logic, shouldn’t I just go home and kill my daughters now so that I won’t feel bad about not being a good father?)

Singer is well known for taking the logic of an atheistic, utilitarian worldview and pressing it to see where it ends up. Interestingly, though, here he backs away from the logic of his own argument. Although in the essay he at least tacitly approves the idea that we should reject our “pollyannaism” (i.e. an overly optimistic view of reality), he concludes by arguing that we should not actually off the human race. Instead, he concludes:

I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now.

What? We’re basically torturing small children by bringing them into existence, but it’s okay to continue doing so on the off chance that somehow we’ll figure things out a few hundred years from now? That’s very comforting.

Apparently Singer finds the vacuousness of his own worldview unpalatable. I don’t blame him.

I’ll stick with my pollyannic conviction that God’s people in God’s creation to God’s glory is a good thing. It’s hard to see at times through the muck and the mire, but I’ll take my hope over Singer’s any day.