Blog Archives

Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Sidebar on 1 Corinthians

The first of today’s posts on DaGoodS’s (DGS) questions will come a bit later, as I wanted to examine a side issue that was raised. The discussion revolves around a specific interpretation of 1 Corinthians 1:20-21. DGS thinks it supports a rejection of all worldly wisdom. However, I believe that in its proper context, it is trying to argue something far different. Read the rest of this entry

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One of My Pet Peeves

I have a friend who read the title and thought of a great Taco Bell story immediately. One that involved a cellphone, a rude customer, and me expressing my anger in an unhealthy way. But that’s not what I’m here to discuss.

Rude cellphone use, when it interferes with one’s ability to properly interact with people physical present in one’s environment, is one of my pet peeves still today. But the pet peeve under discussion goes by a few names. I think the most common one is spin.

Spin is when you’re asked a fairly direct question and your answer to it fails to actually answer it. It’s commonly employed by politicians. People who use it generally come off as having something to hide.

An example of spin can be seen in this video. William Lane Craig asks Christopher Hitchens a simple question: “What variety of non-theist are you?” Hitchens won’t answer, because none of the choices are convenient for his argument.

Spin isn’t limited to unbelievers. Christians do it to, especially where soteriology is concerned. Religious pluralism is a fairly hot topic right now, and many Christians, fearing reprisal from the culture, don’t want to adopt the “wrong” view according to culture. Yet we want to adopt the right view according to God, not the view that is going to win us the most points in the culture.

Dr. Randal Rauser, in this article, has been asked a direct question about soteriology: “So… what is it one must believe or trust [to be saved]? And how does it lead to works?” But does he answer it? Nope. He spins. Read the rest of this entry

Arguing by Twitter

It’s quite common for atheists to argue by soundbite. They just assert something in a context where it’s difficult to reply at length. That way, they win, because you (the Christian) can’t adequately defend yourself.

Bible contradictions are usually handled this way. The Skeptics Annotated Bible, for example, just points out so-called contradictions and errors without explaining why those would be errors or contradictions. A more recent example is Twitter user @BibleAlsoSays, who tweeted this:

Let’s play which is correct Judges 1:19 or Joshua 17: 17-18 ? Which is correct Psalm 53:1 or Matthew 5:22 ?

I can’t find the original. I only got it as a retweet from @godispretend. I decided to play.

Judges 1:19: “And the LORD was with Judah, and he took possession of the hill country, but he could not drive out the inhabitants of the plain because they had chariots of iron.”

Joshua 17:17-18: “Then Joshua said to the house of Joseph, to Ephraim and Manasseh, “You are a numerous people and have great power. You shall not have one allotment only, but the hill country shall be yours, for though it is a forest, you shall clear it and possess it to its farthest borders. For you shall drive out the Canaanites, though they have chariots of iron, and though they are strong.”

Joshua was talking to the tribe of Joseph in the verses in Joshua. The events of the battle in Judges described things that the tribe of Judah did. If this was a prophecy (I’m not convinced that’s what was happening here–every general, front line supervisor, head coach, etc., tells his team “You will win! You will prevail!”), it applied to the tribe of Joseph, not to Judah. Joshua was, after all, talking to Joseph and not Judah.

Easy enough. Onward.

Psalm 53:1: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.”

Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

In other words, the Psalmist said that someone was a fool, but Jesus says this is forbidden. The Psalmist sinned! Scandalous. No one in the Old Testament did that, after all! The whole point of Psalm 53:1 is that no one obeys God; i.e. “there is none who does good.” So, if Jesus was giving a blanket prohibition on calling people fools (he wasn’t; keep reading), then the Psalmist sinned in the very song he was composing to say everyone sins, thus proving his own point quite eloquently!

But was Jesus actually giving a blanket prohibition on calling people fools? Look at the context of Jesus’ commands, he specifically says “whoever is angry with his brother,” and repeats “his brother” in the next pronouncement. Jesus is talking about relationships among believers. Many MSS read “whoever is angry with his brother without cause,” which draws some additional lines around the context of this verse. That’s a minority reading, but it appears enough to be worth a mention.

In practice, Jesus himself called many people “fools” and “foolish,” always referring to unbelievers or opponents of his ideology. Brethren, however, in Jesus’ thoughts, deserved more respect than that. Especially in personal, one-on-one exchanges. Public forums are different, which occasionally has to be explained when one Christian calls another out for bad theology (such as the recent James White vs. Ergun Caner situation).

There’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade, especially if it grabs the attention of your listener and forces him to see his error. J.P. Holding discusses when parody, sarcasm, or satire is appropriate to use when debating opponents right here. Verses like Matthew 5:22 are not commanding the Christian to become someone’s personal doormat.

Free Sermon Resources?

Today’s sermon was all about giving generously. At my church, “we don’t preach on tithing,” says my pastor. Today’s sermon was, in part, about tithing. But it went deeper than that.

A frequent argument I deal with from atheists and other detractors of Christianity is the ludicrous notion that Jesus wants Christians to give up all earthly possessions and live penniless. They aren’t approaching the text from the perspective of stewardship. All gifts come ultimately from God, and God wants us to wisely use these gifts for his glory. The ultimate summary is Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Or, as C.S. Lewis put it, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.”

The idea is to judiciously use what we have for the good of the kingdom, not to sell everything and live in abject poverty. The trick is that the more we have, the greater the obstacle to true intimacy with God. Or as Jesus famously put it, “For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Lk 18:25).

The Eye of the Needle was actually a place in those days. A camel could get through it, but it took a lot of effort and often wasn’t worth it. Jesus isn’t saying that is impossible for a rich person to enter heaven, just that it is going to take much more work than for a poor person. A rich person is expected to give more generously with both time and financial resources to further the cause of the kingdom. Obviously, a poor person doesn’t have as much to give and therefore as much won’t be required.

Bottom line: you can’t be sure of anything in this world except for God. So don’t put stock in material goods–moth and rust can eat and destroy them. Build up treasure in heaven, where nothing can get to it. Material wealth isn’t the same as true security, and we never really possess something we aren’t willing to give to God. Read the rest of this entry

How to Make Your Christian Writing Anything But, part I

The folks over at the Resurgence have a great article on how to turn Christian writing into anti-Christian writing. They’ve itemized twelve errors, some of which I’ve fallen into. Let’s take a look at the first six.

Downplay the law of God and his grace. Tell people God is not that angry about cosmic treason, and grace isn’t that amazing.

It’s nice that they’ve started off with something that I, too, have railed against. It’s fairly common among skeptics (and far too many Christians!) to get really bent out shape when we mention God’s Law. Most of the resistance comes when we talk about punishment (hell is discussed later in this list). But the revulsion is inevitably there.

We can’t let that deter us.

It’s really important that our hearers understand both law and grace. The Law exists, and we ignore it at our peril. Both Paul and Peter charge us to act like we’re called by God to do great things! Simultaneously, we have to understand that the great things we’re called to do do not add anything to our salvation. We do them because they are the moral thing to do, and acting in accordance with our new, heavenly nature brings glory to God.

Don’t mention God the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Assume that people already know enough about them.

I’ve probably fallen into this trap. I tend to mention “God” without actually defining that concept in a particularly trinitarian fashion. God isn’t a nebulous concept, but a personal being with whom we can have a real, dynamic, give-and-take relationship with. I should mention the relationship of the divine Persons more often so that readers get a better grasp on who’s who in the Trinity.

“The Little Engine That Could” should be the foundation of your theology.

Another one that I’ve railed against: you can’t possibly read the Bible and come away with the understanding that you can do it on your own, if you only think positively! The Bible wants us to depend more on God, and less on ourselves.

This is Word-Faith theology, or Name-It-and-Claim-It. If you believe enough in yourself, anything is possible! Makes a great self-help book, but it isn’t biblical Christianity by any stretch of the imagination.

Remember that God is passive, so you better be really active… or else.

Orthodoxy (right belief) is very important. Orthopraxy (right practice) is also very important. But a balance must exist. Only Jesus can save you.

If you think that God saves only those who remain faithful to the end of their days under their own power and who do their own good works, you have Pelagianism: salvation by works.

This is related to the next error, which leans on orthodoxy to save you.

Remember, no other Christians get it right except for your tribe, of which you should be chief.

Yeah, I’ve done this. A lot. I resisted Calvinism at first because I thought that Calvinists were intellectual snubs. Then I realized the biblical truth of Calvinism, and became a passionate Calvinist–and an intellectual snub!

The rub of it is that I should consider myself a Christian first, and a Calvinist second (if at all). I was saved from the moment that I professed faith in Jesus for my salvation, and renounced the use of my own faculties to obtain God’s favor. I didn’t become “more saved” the day I read Chosen by God and realized the Sproul was conveying the absolute biblical truth.

A Christian relies only on Jesus for salvation, and seeks a cooperative sanctification by God in order to become like Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.

If a person believes that only the Calvinist is saved because he properly understands predestination as an unconditional choosing of God’s people by God for God, then you have gnosticism: salvation by secret knowledge.

All denominations (including we Calvinists) seem to lean to far one way or the other. Orthodoxy is important. So is orthopraxy. But they are designed to compliment each other, not to compete with each other. Striking a balance is important to the life of the Christian.

Only use Scripture as a proof-text—don’t actually teach it.

Now this is an error that I fall into quite often. I tend to propose most of my own philosophies on this blog, and back them up by using relevant Scripture passages. Never do I exegete a passage from the text.

I’ve been considering for a while doing just that. From time to time, maybe each Sunday, selecting a passage of text from Scripture and actually run through it verse-by-verse and expound on the deep, spiritual meanings of it. Kind of like a written sermon.

I could even “preach through” an entire book, section by section, each Sunday. That would help me understand it better, and it would definitely give my unbelieving readers a more through understanding of Scripture.

So far, it looks like I commit as many errors as I rail against. So I’m coming out nearly 50-50 after six. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the remaining six, and I’m hoping that I do better!

Show #3: Tough Questions for Christians I

Well, after over two years of radio silence, I decided to throw my hat into the podcasting ring once again. Rather than start over again, I’ll start from where I left off, which makes this show #3. In keeping with the theme of my YouTube videos, I’ll be fielding tough questions for Christians from various atheists.

The show schedule I’ve cooked up is to post a show on the 15th and the 30th of each month. I plan to continue that at least to the end of the year. Then I’ll make the decision to continue podcasating in 2011. Unfortunately, I’m posting the first show (intended for Sept. 30) late. Hopefully, I can get my act together and post the next ones on time.

First on the block is an answer to Douglas Crews, who wrote nine questions many, many years ago. His website is some kind of prehistoric blog, back in the days before the term was coined or the software existed.

You can download part one of the program here. It ran long, so I’ll be posting part 2 tomorrow.

I gave some URLs on the program for reference. Here they are, nice and clickable, to make things easier on the person who wants to research further into what I’m covering on the show:

My podcasting plan is to do two shows per month, on the 15th and the 30th. The next show will be October 15th and will cover some more tough questions for Christians that were posted on ex-christian.net back in 2003. Nothing like staying current, right?

Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?

Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?

That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.

Am I missing something?

Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.

That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).

Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).

Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.

So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.

None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.

And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!

Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.

The Pragmatic Gospel

On a recent Dividing Line podcast, James White reviewed a Christian’s reply to an atheist from the Unbelievable radio program. The Christian told the atheist to earnestly pray to Jesus something to the effect of, “Jesus, I don’t believe in you, but I know that you’ll do something to change my mind.” He then told the atheist that Jesus would provide all the evidence needed to believe.

That may be the crappiest presentation of the gospel ever heard.

James White was, of course, outraged. But should he really be surprised that someone would speak this way of the gospel?

Commitment to Christ in the New Testament is repeatedly likened to marriage. Marriage isn’t viewed the same way now as it once was. The colloquialism “starter marriage,” a marriage that ends within five years before the couple has children, is now common parlance thanks to a book of the same name.

Given that marriage is a lifelong commitment, it should be entered with that in mind. It should entail a total change–or at least the willingness to change–in personality, behavior, and attitudes. It should be a willingness for both parties to leave themselves behind for the betterment of both. In other words, the two should become one flesh. But that isn’t how people enter marriage. They get married for a variety of weak reasons. They get married because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do. They get married because they want an extra income to move out of mom and dad’s house. They get married because they’ve been dating so long that it’s easier than breaking up.

Many atheists argue that marriage should only be viewed as a contract, demeaning its origin as a divine covenant. And why shouldn’t they feel that way? Look at all the celebrity divorces and cheating scandals. Adultery used to be viewed a serious issue, maybe even a crime in some jurisdictions; now it’s regarded a mere trivia. It’s socially acceptable to be divorced, and adultery isn’t a crime anymore.

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Cover via Amazon

The book I referenced earlier, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, concluded that the divorce of a starter marriage is actually a good thing. Which leads back to the question I just asked: Why shouldn’t a secularist argue that marriage has only the level and enforcability of a man-made contract?

Now let’s connect this discussion to the issue raised at the beginning of this post. Since marriage is marginalized, and marriage is the metaphor for embracing Jesus, why is that pragmatic approach to the gospel a surprise to James White? White, after all, has been blogging about attacks on traditional marriage for as long as I’ve been reading his blog. Culture has adopted a pragmatic approach to marriage, so why wouldn’t the gospel be next?

The issue is, as White correctly states on The Dividing Line, is that becoming a Christian requires a complete and utter surrender of self to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). If we can’t submit ourselves to a person that we can see and touch, there is no hope for us to submit to someone that we can’t see or touch.

Humongous Project Underway!

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to tackle a project of epic proportions. Of course, I still have the update to my God is Imaginary answers to work on, as well as the e-book refutation of John Loftus’s series on what must be the case if Christianity is true. I want to get to The Christian Delusion, as well.

That said, I want to tackle Shawn’s (YouTube user azsuperman01) video series, Tough Questions for Christians. He has 36 videos in the series, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me. But I think I should be able to knock 1-2 out per week. I may not be able to produce the videos at quite that rate, but we shall see.

So, my thoughts on how I’m going to have to do this is by crafting a rigorous writing schedule. I may have to devote only a specified time on blog reading and social networking each day (say, an hour), and devote the rest of the time to writing these responses.

This will test the mettle of my time management skill!

Great Quote from John Piper

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Cover via Amazon

Whenever a Christian converses with a non-Christian about the truth of the faith, every request of the non-Christian for the proof of Christianity should be met with an equally serious request for proof for the non-Christian’s philosophy of life. Otherwise we get the false impression that the Christian worldview is tentative and uncertain, while the more secular worldviews are secure and sure, standing above the need to give a philosophical and historical accounting of themselves. But that is not the case. Many people who demand that Christians produce proof of our claims do not make the same demand upon themselves….If the Christian must produce proof, so must others. (Desiring God [Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Books, 1996], pp. 273-274)

H/T to Jason Engwer of Triablogue.