Monday, October 28, 2013

Religious Freedom Under Attack

We have seen Arab Spring in the Middle East, and we are now witnessing Christian Winter in America. Traditional Christian and Biblical principles, once the keystone of our free society, are falling like leaves, dark harbingers of meaner days ahead.

While many Christians are rightfully alarmed over reports that 100 churches were attacked or burned to the ground in Egypt, and that fellow Christians are being killed and imprisoned around the world for openly displaying their faith, the slippery slope of religious persecution leading to an unknown but frightening future is taking place this very moment here in America.

The ability of Christians to exercise their Constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion is being challenged daily—at school board meetings, through federal court challenges, in hostile workplaces, and the public square. For example, secularists have recently launched a new effort to remove “one nation under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance in Massachusetts. The Faith from Freedom Foundation has challenged countless small town high schools to end prayer at sporting events. Our own military now finds itself increasingly accused of discrimination against Christian chaplains and military personnel who stand for traditional marriage. Most alarming, the chilling effect on free speech and religious freedom is coming from the Constitution’s only named, protected franchise—the free press.

Most recently in a classic case of extreme irony, a Charlotte, N.C. conference that I am heading to discuss religious liberties had its paid newspaper ads marketing the event censored by The Charlotte Observer, owned by McClatchy Company.

The conference, scheduled for Sept. 28-29, is billed as the 2013 “Truth For A New Generation.” It is an apologetics conference with nationally known speakers such as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Eric Metaxas, and more than 20 other speakers who will be discussing a host of important issues and questions related to religious freedom. Additionally, a panel of scholars will present a session entitled the “National Briefing on Religious Freedom,” moderated by Fox News correspondent Lauren Greene, and hosted in conjunction with the Chuck Colson Center for Worldview.

Attendees have registered from 30 states and internationally, yet a final marketing push for the event included plans to buy a series of ads in the local paper, The Charlotte Observer. The Truth For A New Generation (TNG) marketing team created an ad showing three of the top questions being asked today by people throughout America. They were chosen to encourage discourse, inquiry, and to result in a strong ad, to raise awareness about the conference:

“Is same sex marriage morally wrong?”
“Are Islam and Christianity the same?”
“Are godless people going to destroy America?”

As a broadcaster, author, educator—and as one who regularly stands before audiences to do open mic Q & A—these truly are questions people are asking.

Yet the marketing and editorial directors of the Charlotte Observer thought otherwise. Shockingly, The Observer said that our ad contained “leading questions” and that it “unfairly singled out certain groups,” and would “unduly influence people.”

What we went through in the purchasing of these ads was not only opposition to a Christian event and opposition to the Christian viewpoint, it was clear that we were “out of order” for merely raising the questions that we raised.

The religious discrimination we experienced was blatant. The Truth For A New Generation event is a ministry of a 501©3 non-profit religious organization. Yet after being quoted a price for the newspaper ads we wanted to place, providing the Observer our credit card number for payment, we were subsequently told that our ad wouldn’t run as written. We were informed that our ad amounted to “political advocacy” because of the questions it raised. (Bear in mind that this was an ad by a religious organization, promoting a religious event).

Much discussion with the Observer ensued. We were told that the asking of those three questions was unacceptable. Inflammatory. We had “unnecessarily singled out three groups” to malign. We countered by explaining that our ad copy merely asked three questions that millions of Americans are pondering these days. An Observer official said, “I am not going to run something that will almost certainly offend my homosexual, Muslim, and agnostic readers.”

The TNG staff and I spoke with The Observer’s editorial and advertising staff intermittently for several hours. As the day wore on, the battleground to run the ad began to shift. If we did not agree to change the copy, we would have to pay at the rate for “political or advocacy items,” totaling over $14,000, which was more than double the rate to which we had originally agreed. (A full-page ad, which was originally quoted at $12,000.00, would for our “advocacy” ad be $45,000.00).

They said our ad was “Intentionally designed to sway public opinion about these issues.” An Observer staff person said, “I’m not going to publish an ad obviously designed to sway public opinion.” I especially found that excuse to be curious: Aren’t all ads and articles are designed to influence public though?

As the discussions continued, and it became obvious that the two staff members from the Charlotte Observer were not going to honor the original agreement for the ads, we realized that the ad was being subjected to a punitive rate structure based on viewpoint discrimination. When asked how the ad was “an advocacy piece,” or how the asking of the three questions could be construed as “political” since no responses were given to the questions raised in the ad I was told that it was, “not hard to guess what your answers would be.” Was it because I am evangelical minister?

Perhaps realizing that they were treading on free speech issues, the battleground shifted yet again. Frank now told us that the ads could not run because they could “Subject the Observer to a lawsuit.” When asked what was in the ad that would be grounds for a lawsuit, no response was given. Eventually after much discussion and the forced changing of the wording in the ad by adding more “questions,” apparently so as to soften the impact of the questions dealing with homosexuality, Islam, and secularism, they agreed to sell us the ad space.

Only after changing the wording and in our opinion weakening the ad’s effectiveness was the original price structure honored. In the end, they honored the original rate that was quoted us. We were told, “We shouldn’t do this, but because there is a misunderstanding on your part about the nature of different types of ads, we will...” With only a week to go until the September 27-28 event—and because final marketing strategies were hanging in the balance, TNG staff agreed to the mandatory changes of wording. The first of four ads ran on Thursday, September 19.

I and the TNG staff firmly believe the fight over the ads and the inflated rate structure was an attempt by Observer staff to censor a viewpoint with which they disagreed, namely Christianity. This is an example of the media using its power to control how and what people think, and amounts to suppression of the exchange of ideas. That we were in a battle to exercise our religious liberties to express our biblical worldview using our freedom of speech is indisputable. To ignore suppression of free speech now will open the doors for greater risks to our freedoms tomorrow.

How ironic that in one nightly newscast it is possible to watch authoritarian regimes being toppled by rebels, supported by the US government and idolized by mainstream media, and a few minutes later watch Christians lose their rights under the coercive power of political correctness and media censorship. It is time for Christians to be vigilant.

Monday, October 21, 2013

True or False: God is Real, Part 2

Every Effect Has a Cause

We all learned in science class that every effect has a cause. An uncaused effect is an impossibility. Stated another way, you can’t have an outcome or consequence without having something to cause that result. Likewise, it’s hard to imagine the universe not having a source behind it. Even atheists believe the universe itself is a massive cause. Evolutionists believe that cause came from a big bang millions of years ago. Christians credit the source as Almighty God. Either way, both science and Scripture acknowledge that the universe had a beginning. Science has proven it through such means as the Hubble telescope or the Red Shift; Scripture simple states it as understood truth.

So the question up for debate isn’t whether the universe has an origin, it’s who—or what—prompted that beginning. Imagine you’re sitting in your living room, enjoying a peaceful afternoon while reading the paper. Suddenly, a baseball flies into the room, shattering your window. Obviously, your first question wouldn’t be, “How did that get here?” It would be, in a highly bothered tone, “Who did this?!” The baseball didn’t just smash through your window for no reason. Some agent acted upon it, causing a “disturbance in the force” that ruined your perfectly good afternoon.

The point is, the universe couldn’t have just “arrived” with no force behind it. And unlike the remote possibility that a pitching machine spat a baseball into your living room instead of an actual person, it’s virtually impossible that a universe was just spat out by an inanimate force. It took a Person, a Someone. Holding the Bible at its word, we Christians believe that to be God, the Great Cause.

2. Every Creation Has a Creator
In the same way, it’s impossible for something to be created void of a creator. Something that’s made has to have a maker. Both creationists and evolutionists agree that life didn’t just suddenly appear; it was made by something (a Big Bang) or someone (God). The universe is a creation, and the earth’s life cycle clearly proves that.

Going one step further, however, Genesis proves that God is responsible for creation. The first two chapters serve as “the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (2:4). Obviously, some people think of the biblical creation account as a fairy tale that lacks truthful substance. Yet if all creation serves as proof of a Creator, who—or what—else could be responsible?

3. Every Design Has a Designer
Watch a sunset. Stare at the waves of the ocean. Examine a leaf or a flower. Hold a newborn baby. Our eyes don’t have to travel far to find proof that the earth was intricately designed. The world around us is bursting with wonderful, breathtaking design. And following suit with the previous two “proofs,” this implies that behind the design is an ultimate designer.

But there’s more. The complexity of the earth’s designs—from the mesmerizing patterns of nature to the awesome uniqueness of a DNA strand—tells us that this designer is intelligent. The patterns of life are obviously not mindless happenstance.

Think of it another way: Cars go through a systemized process in their formation. They don’t just build themselves from iron and elements found in soil; they’re formed and fashioned in automobile factories. Likewise, concertos are birthed through composers, paintings come from painters and inventions come from inventors. Each product is uniquely created by the hands of a person. If we acknowledge that this world consists of incredible and intricate designs, how can we not point to the hands of a designer?

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” —Psalm 90:2

4. Communication Requires a Communicator
Scientists agree that the universe around us is constantly communicating with us. When we hear this, most of us imagine some half-crazed researcher spending decades listening to static noise from outer space, waiting for some abnormal yet distinct pattern or variance. The 1997 movie Contact, based on Sagan’s 1985 book, gave us a glamorized version of the legitimate search for extraterrestrial intelligence. In it, Ellie (played by Jodie Foster) is monitoring radio waves and signals from outer space, listening for some sort of ordered, encrypted sequence in the midst of static. She and other scientists eventually decipher a signal that is, as they describe it, “not local.” As a result, they surmise that a complex, ordered pattern “can only come from an intelligent source.”

Yet such communication can be found in our everyday existence. Consider the fact that the blueprint for who we are is intricately coded within the DNA molecules of each of our bodies. In other words, the DNA contained in every cell within your body contains information. It’s filled with “instructions”—complex, coded information. Obviously, information can’t be communicated unless there’s a communicator—and in this case, an intelligent communicator—delivering the information.

5. Every Law Has a Lawgiver
If you’ve ever studied sociology, you know that there are some things that people everywhere recognize—they’re universal. One of those is smiling, and another is the existence of moral law. No matter where you go in this world, people inherently recognize the difference between right and wrong. We are born with a conscience that gives us such a filter. Obviously, we don’t always do what’s right—but we know what’s right.

“Everyone knows certain principles. There is no land where murder is virtue and gratitude vice.” —educator and author J. Budziszewski

Imagine traveling to 10 separate islands out in the ocean. On the first island you visit, you discover an unspoken list of “dos” and “don’ts.” Even without an official government to rule over them and establish laws, you’ve noticed that the locals have established their own code of ethics that prohibits such things as murder, theft, adultery, molestation … it goes on. As long as everyone abides by these “rules,” everyone’s happy.

When you move on to Island #2, you’re amazed to find virtually the same moral code, despite the fact that none of these people have ever had any interaction with those on the previous island you visited. Again, certain boundaries have been naturally established.

Coincidentally, the third island you visit has virtually the same “laws” as Islands #1 and #2, even though these people again have been completely independent and secluded from the other two. This pattern continues for all 10 islands you visit. And though it’s amazing to think of the similarities, it raises several valid thoughts: If the people on all 10 of these islands have never had any interaction with each other, yet all 10 have a similar moral code, wouldn’t it be within reason to assume there’s a natural inclination aiding the establishment of these laws? Since those on all 10 islands have virtually the same idea of what is right and wrong, isn’t it logical to presume this idea came from a third party?

Don’t believe it? Think the scenario is a little too theoretical and idealistic? Believe me, it’s not that far-fetched. In C.S. Lewis’ The Abolition of Man, the author documents cultures throughout all history, presenting some of the common threads that bind every civilization. Among these commonalities are the notions that you shouldn’t murder, steal, sleep with your neighbor’s spouse, etc. On the flip side, all cultures esteemed telling the truth, being kind, acting selflessly, etc. In every case—from the Phoenicians to the Egyptians to the Greeks to the Romans to 21st Century civilization—humans shared a vehement reaction against injustice: theft, looting, rape, murder, pillaging, etc. Meanwhile, they all innately affirmed heroism, altruism, self-denial, etc.

Lewis’ study (and others by Christian apologists and sociologists) proved that different people groups and cultures, though having no contact with each other, nevertheless had similar moral codes and ethical structures by which they lived. That’s not to say that humans always do what is morally right; Lewis and others assert that all cultures intuitively know what is right.

“A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own, which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.” —C.S. Lewis

Since human knowledge of moral law appears to be ubiquitous, and since different cultures all seem to know moral truth—whether civilized or primitive, urban or rural—the source of moral knowledge must be absolute, rather than subjective. In other words, morality isn’t just a social mores (a “cultural accident,” as evolutionists would assert) but is intrinsic and from some outside source (i.e., God). There must be an outside lawgiver!

If, then, we’ve established that we all know the law but don’t always live it out to perfection, then that equates to breaking the law. And if we’re honest, we must admit that in breaking the laws, we’ve offended the lawgiver. The moral code, then, doesn’t just point us to the lawgiver, it also reveals our need for forgiveness and a Savior! (We’ll get to that later.)

There Must Be Something More
Say the name Friederich Nietzsche and you immediately think of a single phrase: “God is dead.” The outspoken atheist, who once called himself the Antichrist and labeled his brand of thought “philosophizing with a hammer,” coined the famous declaration as part of his adamant denial of God’s existence. For much of his life, Nietzsche argued that there was no God, no afterlife, and that existence amounted to nothing more than life in this world. But prior to his death, Nietzsche drifted toward insanity and longed for permanence beyond this life. Arguing for what he called “eternal return,” he attempted to retain a belief in naturalism yet hoped for a world continually being reformed and reborn.

Nearing his death, Nietzsche said, “The eternal hourglass of existence is turned over and over, and you with it, a grain of sand.” And in his final years, it seemed this tenacious and influential atheist could not come to grips with his own belief that his existence—and personhood—would one day be snuffed out. Even atheists long for what scholars call transcendence, something beyond this natural, mortal world.

It’s Time to Get Personal
After briefly delving into these five “proofs” (and obviously, there are more—those are just the most frequently addressed issues), let me say something that may rock your boat a little: Don’t get hung up on any of these as your proof that God exists. Because essentially, these can only get us so far in knowing the “who” behind the “what.” These evidences simply lead us to a fuzzy, nebulous supreme being responsible for all of life. In fact, we could have the god of Star Wars—the god of some mysterious “force”—based on what we’ve discussed so far.

Fortunately, there’s more. We’re not left hanging by an unknown God. Quite the opposite, in fact. If there’s one thing we can be sure of, as revealed through creation, history, Jesus Christ and the Bible, it’s that God is personal.

“But I’m still not sure I believe in Jesus or the Bible,” you say. That’s fine. We’ll get there. For now, let’s review some things we’ve already established to arrive at a new and fundamental point.

We concluded that both science and Scripture agree that the universe has a beginning. Was this beginning caused or uncaused? We know that an uncaused effect is impossible, it doesn’t exist—clocks don’t wind themselves, baseballs don’t throw themselves. So the universe was intentionally caused. If that’s the case, we can assume this “Causer” must be personal, since He created personal beings.

How so? Well, simply put, if God isn’t personal, then He’s less developed than we are. God must at least be personal because He created humans to be personal. You and I have a will; we have emotion, personality, volition, ambition. If God isn’t a personal God, then He’s not as sophisticated as us, and we (the effect) have eclipsed Him (the Cause). That’s not rational. And that also means it’s safe to say that because God is in fact the Causer/Creator/Intelligent Designer/Communicator/Lawgiver who, in each case, is above the effect/creation/design/communication/law, then He is indeed personal.

OK, Now That We’re on a Friendly Basis ...

What does this have to do with the price of eggs in China? Remember, the atheist says God doesn’t exist. We’ve already proven the flawed rationale behind that one. Meanwhile, the agnostic says that God may indeed exist, but that He can’t be known. We’ve talked about how that’s a contradiction; but now that we know God is a personal being, there’s more to add. And here’s where it gets good.

Not only does God reveal Himself as personal, He invites us to know all about the rest of Him. God is a revelatory God. How do we know He’s really out there, that He really wants to know us and isn’t just tricking us into being mindless robots that say and do whatever He wants? Simply put, because He’s already proven Himself. He’s shown us. He has—and still is—revealing Himself to the world.

How is He doing this? There are four significant ways He shows Himself. In a general way, He proves Himself through:

• Creation — the universe itself isn’t just proof of His existence, it’s a snapshot photo of who He is.
• Conscience — the basic moral code that’s innate in all of us shows us God’s standards, which reveals His character.

God has also proven Himself through more specific means:

• Scripture — virtually every page of the Bible paints an up-close and personal portrait of God.
• Savior — Jesus Christ came as God in flesh to show us firsthand who God is like nothing or no one else could.

Don’t worry if you’re not sold on these yet, specifically the Bible and Jesus parts. We’ll address those later in the book. For now, my point is simply to show you that God doesn’t have to be viewed as some out-there, far-off supreme being who can’t be described. He is personal, which means there’s more of Him that we can know, more about Him that we can discover. Not only can He be searched, He wants to be searched (and found)—specifically by you!

SUMMARY RESPONSE:
Reasons for the existence of God:
• A philosophical reason
• A moral reason
• A scientific reason
• A biblical reason
• A Christological reason
• A personal reason

Monday, October 14, 2013

True or False: God is Real, Part 1

Common Objection:

“I’m not sure about God’s existence, and I don’t think anybody could be!”

Several years ago I was speaking on a college campus, presenting the basics of apologetics to a young but eager crowd. Things seemed to be going well when a professor in the audience stood up, announced himself to be an atheist and began challenging me point by point.

“Words are mere sounds,” he said in what seemed to be more of a public announcement than a dialogue with me. “They don’t actually reflect reality. Christians use the word God, but they could just as easily say the word shoe. Words don’t mean things. We merely attach meanings to words. The word God is just a sound.”

I watched the audience as the skeptic’s rejoinder against me went on for nearly 10 minutes. They seemed to hang on his sophistry, with his reasoning appearing scholarly and solid. He continued ...

“In the quest for control of people, Christians—and all theists, really—have for centuries created and invoked images of God, Satan, heaven and hell, manipulating people with threats of punishment and promises of rewards.”

Allow me to pause here and examine his words, just in case you find yourself as impressed with his stance as the crowd was that day. Can you see the numerous implications that this skeptic was smuggling into the discussion?

• The motives of individuals (Christians just want to control people)
• The origin of beliefs (what we believe about God was subjectively “made up” rather than objectively revealed)
• The efficacy of words (language isn’t an adequate vehicle to convey truth)
• The nature of truth (truth is speculative rather than revelatory)
• The accessibility of truth (truth isn’t really knowable; the “rational” position is to suspend judgment)

Now let’s consider the subtle yet egregious flaws in his position. If words don’t mean things, why does he use them? Why should we believe what he is saying if words aren’t an adequate vehicle by which to communicate truth? If truth is not knowable, why should we believe the position he’s setting forth? If we should be skeptical about reality, and if it’s na├»ve to think you can be sure about “ultimate truth,” why is he so certain about his agnosticism? And what basis does this skeptic have for judging the hearts, minds and motives of others? His objection is—at least in part—a bias that says, “I haven’t experienced God, therefore no one else has either.”

It’s also making an absurd statement about truth in general. Basically, he’s saying “I know that I can’t know.” Put another way, he’s certain that he can’t be certain. Now I trust you (the reader) are a relatively smart person. I’m guessing your brain is fully operational and that you’re comprehending what you’re reading—you’ve reached this far. But tell me ... how in the world is this logical?!? And if words don’t have meaning, why was this skeptic using so many of them?

Actually, my point isn’t to rail on this guy (as much as I wanted to that day—though I did counter his argument with the same truths shared in this chapter). My point is simply this: Truth exists, and you can know it.

Spreading Like a Disease
Obviously, this guy isn’t alone in his warped thinking. Every day on American campuses, Christians are being put to the test and flat-out opposed by equilibrium-loving professors and administrators who champion “respect for diversity.” Under the guise of celebrating differences, they squelch any hint of a Christian slant, treating it like the bastard stepchild. But what is at stake on campuses isn’t just the fair representation of Christianity, it’s the question of whether or not truth exists at all. How many times have we all heard someone like the professor above piously say, “Nothing is absolutely true.”

Like him, university leaders across our nation carefully monitor the pH of the academic waters, lest any absolutist ideas dilute the mix. Under their influence, our culture has become certain that there is nothing to be certain about. And heaven—if there is one—help the backward soul who believes differently.

Several years ago, a prominent North Carolina-based university was in the news over its controversial decision to prohibit a chapter of Campus Crusade to be chartered at the school. Some students apparently objected to having the respected ministry at this particular college, and opposition from the faculty came even from school’s president and campus minister.

Despite this college’s Christian origins (it was organized and funded by the Baptist church), despite a wide variety of other groups welcoming this chapter, and despite a significant portion of the students favored the ministry’s presence at the school, Campus Crusade was denied access because of its distinctively evangelical beliefs. A representative from the school was asked to elaborate on her campus’ policy on tolerance and diversity. She responded by saying that if a certain ideology was offensive to even one person, that viewpoint or attitude should not be allowed on campus. (She failed to see that her cherished political correctness could not even pass its own test, for many students found it to be offensive.)

Aristotle, often called the “father of logic,” taught that there are certain things that all rational people can grasp intuitively. Indeed, God hard-wired us to instinctively recognize basic truths, things our Founding Fathers called “self-evident.” So if you sensed a red flag rising in the back of your mind as you read through both this woman’s comments and those of the professor mentioned earlier, it’s because God gave you the ability to recognize a contradiction.

As Christians, we should cultivate this ability to spot the contradictions that pervade much of the conventional wisdom of our day. Since it seems no one else will, we must be the ones to point out that the Emperor is actually naked; that in the act of arguing against truth, skeptics are inherently assuming that something can be true (namely, their statements against truth). Whether it’s on college campuses, at work or in church (God forbid), we must contend that truth not only exists, it is also knowable (both undeniable propositions). Beyond that, college leaders like those at the Baptist school in North Carolina need to be reminded that once you define what is or is not “acceptable” diversity, you have ceased to be diverse.

The truth-obstructing fallacies that underlie popular notions of tolerance must be exposed. Of course, explaining the gospel message and leading a person to trust Christ is another matter in itself. But at least by helping people see the undeniable existence of truth, we can help point the way to a relationship with the One who is truth.

Life Without God
That’s an especially difficult task when speaking with an atheist, since they often give off an air of intellectual superiority. But as smart and innovative as they can seem at times, the truth is, atheism has been around since the beginning of human history. Humans have always tried, starting in the Garden of Eden, to push God out of the picture and establish life apart from Him. In all our arrogance, we’ve spent thousands of years trying to rationalize the Creator out of Creation’s existence.

Every atheist carries with him a spiritual and emotional laundry bag full of reasons not to believe in God. Tragically, few of those reasons solely deal with God Himself. Instead, they’re based on the perception of God, which is usually determined by extraneous factors. Many atheists have been spiritually abused. After one too many hypocritical Christians did them wrong and judged before loving, they decided if following God looks like that, why be a part of it? Others have fatherhood issues based on being raised by a dead-beat or abusive dad. Whatever the issue, it’s common for atheists to project those problems onto their concept of God (or lack thereof), which simply reinforces their belief that He doesn’t exist.

Before we move on, let’s clear something up. It’s important to understand that disbelief in God can take one of two forms: atheism or agnosticism. Atheism says there is no God, while agnosticism believes you can’t know for sure if there’s a God or not. An atheist completely rules God out; an agnostic, perhaps intent on being more “open-minded,” only rules out the possibility of certain knowledge of God.

Both are wrong.

I know, I know. That’s not very PC of me. But in this day and age, it seems the ultimate truth is no longer politically correct. Let’s examine some of the fatal flaws found in both atheism and agnosticism.

Quote: “There are no infidels [atheists] anywhere but on earth. There are none in heaven, and there are none in hell. Atheism is a strange thing. Even the devils never fell into that vice, for ‘the devils also believe, and tremble’ (James 2:19). And there are some of the devil’s children that have gone beyond their father in sin. But when God’s foot crushes them, they will not be able to doubt His existence. When He tears them in pieces and there is none to deliver, then their empty logic and their bravados will be of no avail.”
—Charles H. Spurgeon

Mr. Know-It-All ... I Think Not!
Chief and foremost, atheism requires omniscience (complete knowledge of everything). Last time I checked, Guinness still hadn’t discovered a human with the world record for knowing it all. Obviously, it’s not possible. Yet the atheist says that nothing exists outside of the material world, placing them in a God-like position. I’m sure Columbus, Magellan, Descartes and any other explorer would chuckle at the arrogance of this notion. Even people during their time who thought the world was flat still believed there was something else out there.

Of course, atheists love to disguise this arrogance with intellectualism. In his best-selling book Cosmos, renowned evolutionist/atheist Carl Sagan proclaimed, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever will be.” Sagan believed humans should move beyond the age-old belief that life had been the special creation of a personal God. He spoke for multitudes of evolutionists in asserting that humans were simply an evolutionary accident, “a mote of dust in the morning sky.” Such admissions, Sagan wrote, were “not, I think, irreverent, although they may trouble whatever gods may be.” In other words, we’re just a speck of accidental evolutionary dust, but we’re free to put off the shackles of ancient superstition.

That superstition, obviously, includes the belief in a biblical God. But in following Sagan’s line of thought, consider what would be required for someone to know for certain that the natural world is all there is. To rule out even the possibility that God exists would require omniscience on the part of the person making that claim. If we ever discovered a person who knew everything and who, in that knowledge, could declare that God was nowhere to be found, then maybe the atheist’s claims against God’s existence might carry a little more weight. But that hasn’t happened in all of human history, and my hunch is that it will never occur.

Yet still atheists will argue till they’re blue in the face, staking their claim on the notion that blind faith is simply naivety, a more primitive system of thought, if you will. Their logical blind spots remind me of a line from the Will Smith movie I, Robot. The actor plays a cynical cop in the future who seems to be the only person on earth open to the slight possibility that a robot could develop beyond the scope of its creator’s design. Teamed up with a theory-driven, numbers-based scientist, Smith becomes exasperated by the woman’s refusal to accept anything outside her system of belief. After hitting an impasse one too many times, he yells at her, “You are the dumbest smart person I know!” With their adamant denial of a supreme being, truly many atheists are the dumbest smart people I know.

Can’t You See the Contradiction?!
Agnostics aren’t that different, as their beliefs are built on contradictory assertions. As we’ve just discussed, an atheist can’t truthfully say that God doesn’t exist since he doesn’t have all knowledge. An agnostic, on the other hand, claims that you can’t know for sure whether God exists or not. But think about it: By claiming that you can’t really know anything for sure about God, you’ve done the very thing! In making such a statement, you therefore know something—namely that He can’t be known. In other words, it’s a contradiction to say, “One thing I know about God: You can’t know anything about Him.” Yet that’s exactly what an agnostic says. Talk about being double-minded!

I’ve spoken on many college campuses throughout the years. And without a doubt, when presenting this side of the argument against agnosticism, I’ve had a couple of fervent students fire back, “OK, I’ll buy into the notion that God exists. But that’s all we can know about Him. It’s impossible to know anything specific beyond that.”

My usual response goes something like this: “Wait a minute! Listen to what you’re saying, because in your own words you’ve already established a couple of things here: one—He exists; and two—you know something about Him. In saying that you can’t know anything about God, you’re claiming to know at least one thing about Him.”

Quote: “One walking with me observed, with some emphasis, ‘I do not believe as you do, I am an agnostic.’ ‘Oh,’ I said to him, ‘that is a Greek word, is it not? The Latin word is ignoramus.’ He did not like it at all. Yet I only translated his language from Greek to Latin.” —Charles H. Spurgeon

Not Up for Debate
Don’t you find it interesting that the Bible never addresses the question of whether God exists? From the first words of Genesis through the last letters of Revelation, the existence of God is a given. “Well, sure—that’s a given,” some would argue. “It’s the Bible. Of course it wouldn’t argue against this since it’s the foundational document for those who believe God indeed exists.” That’s true. But those same believers also understand that God’s big enough to handle any question. He’s fully capable of dealing with the most extreme doubters who claim He’s nothing more than a human-concocted fairy tale.

So what does Scripture have to say about those doubters, the atheists and agnostics who claim God doesn’t exist and can’t be known? “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’“ (Ps. 14:1). Could it be any clearer? The Bible doesn’t even address the atheist’s flawed ideas, except to call them foolish!

God’s existence is both undeniable and necessary—and not just for Christians. In the following sections, we’ll deal with some of the “proofs” that demonstrate this truth. No, they’re not passionate, emotional appeals to believe in this unseen God; they’re simply logic-based reasons that appeal to our common sense. Because strangely enough, God created us with common sense. Though often we may be fooled by lies and delusions, as I stated earlier, humans are hard-wired with the ability to recognize contradictions. We’re prone to spot things that just don’t make sense.

Remember the story of Alice in Wonderland? One of the reasons people love the tale is because of its nonsensical nature. It’s full of contradictions that border on the absurd—yet that’s the very reason we enjoy this fanciful whirlwind of an adventure. We chuckle when the Mad Hatter makes such statements as, “Have some tea, there isn’t any” because we know this makes absolutely no sense. Throughout the book, author Lewis Carroll (who was an ordained minister and whose real name was Charles Lutwidge) is simply playing with the English language—and with our sense of reasoning—to make a point. He turns things upside down and backward to show the foolishness of illogical reasoning. No matter how passionate or “intellectual” we get in our arguments, some things just don’t add up.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Questions of Life, Part 2

The Rise of Apologetics

(Warning: The following section may include historically accurate information and could actually cause you to become smarter. While the names and dates may bore some, trust me, there’s a point to this brief history lesson that you won’t want to miss.)

It’s into this culture that apologetics has grown into a near-essential line of defense for every believer. Granted, defending our faith has been around for hundreds of years. The apologetics movement of today can be traced to leaders who emerged in defense of Christianity more than 100 years ago. Though liberalism and revisionism were—and still are—academically fashionable, those defending key points of Christian orthodoxy certainly made their voices heard. Charles Hodges defended Genesis and the biblical account of creation in his 1878 work, What Is Darwinism? As a professor at Princeton Seminary from 1887 until his death in 1921, Benjamin Warfield was a scholarly defender of the Bible and a vocal critic of liberalism.

In 1909, a project began that would ultimately become a major development for conservative theology and apologetics in America. Two Christian businessmen funded the research and writing of a series of essays designed to defend the “essentials” of Christian doctrine, which responded directly to liberalism (often called “modernism” back then). The articles were written by conservative scholars of the day and included well-known names such as Warfield, C.I. Scofield, G. Campbell Morgan and Scotland’s James Orr.

The resulting 90 articles and essays addressed many topics related to apologetics and Christian orthodoxy, including such issues as the inspiration and preservation of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Christ, and the reality of Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. This wasn’t just light Saturday morning reading but was accepted among scholars and theologians alike. Christian leader R.A. Torrey, who studied at Yale Divinity School and later became president of Moody Bible Institute, edited the articles into a four-volume set appropriately titled The Fundamentals. Three million free copies of The Fundamentals were printed and sent to ministers and Christians throughout America—a staggering number even by today’s standards.

Isn’t it strange how since then the term fundamentalist has been assigned such a negative connotation? Today we call screaming street preachers and Islamic terrorists “fundamentalists.” Obviously, the term has more than lost its original meaning, which, believe it or not, was a complimentary description of someone who affirmed the tenets of biblical orthodoxy.

During the 20th century, liberal theology, cultural trends and conservative Christianity clashed on numerous (and often well-publicized ) occasions. Most American history books highlight the battle between science and faith that escalated in the landmark 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, in which teacher John T. Scopes was prosecuted for teaching evolution in a public school. Despite the positive intellectual momentum gathered by Christians during the early 1900s, the Scopes trial marked the beginning of a period in which conservative Christianity in America was perceived as being “anti-intellectual.” Liberalism won back lost ground and gained momentum, while the influence and effectiveness of mainline evangelical churches waned.

Modernistic thought began to be seen as more applicable, relevant and intellectual. Christianity, on the other hand, was perceived as archaic. Despite the growth of mega-churches and a Christian subculture, the turn of the 21st century brought with it a postmodern mentality that prevailed in both homes and churches.

The So-What Factor

What does this have to do with answering tough questions? Everything. Because in order to meet people where they are, we have to recognize and understand where they are. In other words, to address the real questions behind the questions, it’s crucial to know why people are asking them in the first place. And a major (if not the biggest) factor stirring their queries is undoubtedly the culture that whispers the anti-God, anti-absolute untruth into their ears through every TV show, movie, radio song, news broadcast, blog posting, billboard ad, etc. By learning how our culture got to this point and how Christians have responded to the threats against their faith via the rise of apologetics, we can see more clearly the growing need to defend those beliefs.

So what are these daunting questions? Obviously, that’s what the rest of this book is about. But before we launch into each specific question, let me quickly explain what I believe are the three overarching ones—the ones every single human deals with on a basic, often subconscious level.

1) Does God exist?
It’s a timeless classic, up there with the “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Yet it remains a question that separates the souls and spirits of humans like no other can. At some point we all—both believers and nonbelievers—grapple with the question of how we came to exist, how life was begun. And that line of thought must always factor in a supreme being.

2) What kind of God exists?
Once we establish that, yes, God does exist, the follow-up question simply addresses who this God is. Is He all-knowing? Omnipresent? Does He have a form or is He simply spirit? Is He nice, vengeful, loving or resentful? What are His thoughts and feelings regarding humanity—and more specifically, what does He think about me?

3) How may I know this God who exists?
If we agree with the biblical depiction of who God is, it becomes clear that this God is interested in establishing a relationship with people. Since He exists, He must have been responsible for creating life. And since He created life, He must have an interest in what He has created. Not only does the Bible confirm this, it offers an open invitation to intimately know this Creator God.

Establishing a Common Ground

These questions are universal. They’re inherent in our inquisitive human nature. Because of that, Christians have an opportunity to establish common, logical ground with any person, from the most devout believer to the most stringent of atheists. Yet it’s upon these foundational questions—or more accurately, upon the answers to these foundational questions—that walls are erected to divide, protect and insulate. And in these strange times in which the truths of God are both welcomed and rejected more overtly than ever, these issues are hot-button topics.

As believers, we’ve each been given the assignment of not only presenting the gospel but also explaining and defending it. Fortunately, God didn’t leave us high and dry; we’re not lacking for answers. Our beliefs are founded on the fact that God loved us and sent His son—and this was proved by Jesus’ coming back to life after dying. The Bible confirms that the good news about Jesus isn’t just based on human opinion or someone’s personal preference. Second Peter 1:16 says we aren’t following fables, myths or “cleverly invented stories,” but that there were “eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Romans 1:4 declares that Jesus’ resurrection shows that He was the unique Son of God. (Think about it: How many other people in history have, under their own power, gone to “the other side” and come back? We’ll tackle this later.) And Acts 1:3 states that after His resurrection, Christ showed that he was alive by “many infallible proofs.”

I could go on and on—but that’s exactly what the rest of this book contains! The important thing is that we understand the severity God places upon us knowing how to back up our beliefs with reasons. Yes, we are to have childlike faith (Luke 10:21). But we are also to be sharp in the Word, “prepared in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). As we develop that precision both in spirit and intellect, we’ll discover there’s no need to walk away from every argument about spiritual matters feeling defeated and inadequate. Christians can have backbones ... and use logic too!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Questions of Life, Part 1

“In sepulchral black and red, the cover of Time magazine dated April 8, 1966—Good Friday—introduced millions of readers to existential anguish with the question Is God Dead? If he was, the likely culprit was science, whose triumph was deemed so complete that ‘what cannot be known [by scientific methods] seems uninteresting, unreal.’ Nobody would write such an article now, in an era of round-the-clock televangelism and official presidential displays of Christian piety. ... What was dying in 1966 was a well-meaning but arid theology born of rationalism: a wavering trumpet call for ethical behavior, a search for meaning in a letter to the editor in favor of civil rights. What would be born in its stead, in a cycle of renewal that has played itself out many times since the Temple of Solomon, was a passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God.” —journalist Jerry Adler

We live in an odd time. You know something doesn’t add up when a mere click of the television remote separates Pat Robertson, Howard Stern, SpongeBob SquarePants and South Park (now on network TV, of course). In our post-Nipplegate world, secular and non-secular critics alike note a decline in our nation’s morals, while conservative activist groups and concerned parents can be heard louder than ever. At the same time, Internet pornography continues to expand to a multi-billion dollar business, and audiences faithfully flock to the latest $100 million-earning sex comedy or horror flick.

Philosophers have dubbed our era a postmodern one in which relativism reigns supreme. Whatever works for you, man. Whatever floats your boat. (Which I guess explains the moral dichotomies in action.) To a degree, this seems hard to believe given the supposed rise in spiritualism or, as Jerry Adler calls it, the “era of round-the-clock televangelism.” Almost 80 percent of all Americans describe themselves as “spiritual.” The same number believes the universe was created by God. Two-thirds say they pray every day. Eighty-five percent consider themselves Christian.

Yet under the thin surface of religiosity lies a mess—at least when it comes to Christianity. Only 45 percent of those who profess to be Christian attend worship services weekly—only a percentage point different than in 1966, when God was declared dead. Almost 70 percent of evangelicals believe there is more than one way to salvation. The same percentage of incoming freshman at Christian colleges say there are no moral absolutes. And 84 percent of those collegians are unable to explain basic Christian beliefs.

Grabbing a Life Preserver

Clearly, something is wrong. Either we’re not grasping basic biblical truths or we’re redefining what it means to follow Jesus Christ. My hunch is that it’s a little bit of both. Capsized by the cultural wave that says there’s no such thing as absolutes and that ultimate truth is relative, we’re sprawling for anything to get us back on solid ground. The result is that we grab hold of whatever seems to work for the time being and, in the meantime, create a piecemeal version of true Christianity.

This book is an attempt to get you back to land. By answering 10 of the most frequently posed (and most challenging, mind you) objections concerning Christianity, my hope is that you’ll find yourself standing on the newfound, unshakeable ground of a truly biblical faith. But be warned: Doing so will always set you apart from the crowd. Today there is tremendous pressure to buy into the principle that all systems of belief may be true at the same time. It’s reminiscent of a fascinating but disturbing experiment conducted more than 50 years ago by psychologist Solomon Asch.

In the experiment, several people were shown a pair of cards with vertical lines on them. One card had a single line on it; the other had three lines of different lengths. While showing the cards, the experimenter asked each person around the table, one after another, to identify which of the three lines on the second card matched the length of the line on the first. Unknown to the participant who sat in the next-to-last seat, all the other participants were shills—they’d been instructed ahead of time to unanimously give the wrong answer. Each time the pair of cards was shown, they all picked the same wrong line.

Keep in mind, this wasn’t a difficult test. The correct answer was obvious. Yet 74 percent of the time the average subject (the lone real participant) went along with the group and answered incorrectly at least once. What’s more, even when they didn’t conform, subjects were noticeably anguished in their decision-making process. (Photos taken during the experiment document how hard it was to go against the group.)

Today, Christians are much like the subjects in Asch’s experiments. Academically, morally, socially and emotionally, we’re at odds with most of our peers. We know which line is right, but saying so means bucking the status quo. We may be challenged by others on a daily basis in the workplace, on a university campus, during a high school biology class or even while watching our kids play at the playground. And standing up against the societal tidal waves of immorality isn’t easy. In fact, claiming to believe in the absolute truths of God in today’s world is more challenging than anything Asch’s subjects faced. At least in his study the answer was always clear!

Scholar and apologist R.C. Sproul was once asked, “What is the difference between the Christian God and the gods of other religions?” In his simple yet profound answer, Sproul pointed out that the main difference is this: The God of Christianity exists.

A Fight for the Truth

The truth—with a capital T—calls us to contest. Your faith isn’t about being nice and obliging to whatever culture tells us is right. It’s about standing strong, holding fast to a bigger truth. But to do so requires something deeper than head knowledge or tradition. You don’t willingly stand in the face of an oncoming moral tsunami just because your parents said you should, or because it’s the “good” thing to do, or even because that’s what you’ve been taught your whole life. It takes believing in something whole-heartedly to risk that kind of confrontation and persecution. And ultimately, that requires knowing why you believe what you believe.

That’s what this book is all about. Discovering (or maybe just solidifying) the reason behind your faith.

One night not too long ago my wife, Angie, and I went to the opera. I’m not much of a fan of large ladies caked in makeup with wigs singing in a foreign language, but this was different. A friend of ours, Deborah Fields, is a mezzo-soprano from New York and had the lead role in a production called Suzannah. We were there to support her.

“Just settle down and enjoy this,” Angie said, knowing full well that I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming two hours of high-brow art. I nodded half-heartedly and slouched in my seat like a little kid. Who signed me up for this, anyway?

The truth is, I didn’t fall asleep. In fact, there was even a moment that caused me to sit straight up. Suzannah is the gripping story of a woman falsely accused of murder. Throughout the opera, she defends her innocence and pleads for justice. And as the story reaches a climax, an exasperated Suzannah cries out to the night sky, “The truth sure has to fight hard to get believed!”

That line alone made my trip worth it. I could relate to her exasperation, having attempted to uphold the truth on a daily basis for more than 15 years. The fact is, the truth does have to fight hard these days. It’s being attacked from all sides. It’s regularly assaulted from those claiming it to be mere “religious belief.” Think about it: How many times have you heard someone say, “Well that may be fine for you, but ...”

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. We are defenders of the ultimate truth. If we believe God is who He says He is, then His words are true. They are the truth, not some here-today, gone-tomorrow fad of thought. And that’s exactly why God asks us to be defenders of His Word, the eternal truth. He’s instructed us to be ready to defend our faith, to answer the questions of why we believe what we believe. In short, we’re called to apologetics.

Apolo-who?

Apologetics is just a fancy word to describe the reasons for what you believe. If you’ve ever witnessed to an unbeliever, you’ve undoubtedly used apologetics to explain your beliefs. Most likely, you’ve also heard a few objections to your message. Maybe one of your listeners argued that the Bible contains errors. Another person might have questioned how a loving God (if He even exists) could allow massive tragedies such as tsunamis, hurricanes or even human genocide to wipe out innocent people. All of these objections pave the way for an explanation of the Christian faith, which is essentially what apologetics is.

By definition, apologetics simply means “a defense.” The word is used several times in the New Testament, often when Paul was defending his beliefs before a challenging crowd. Like Paul, when we “do” apologetics, we are defending what we believe by showing that the content of the gospel is “backed up” by both evidence and sound reasoning.

I mentioned 1 Peter 3:15 before, the verse that encourages believers to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” The NIV translation uses the word answer in place of defense. In the original Greek language, these words, along with reason, imply an “analysis,” a “consideration of one’s position,” and the “defense of a conclusion.” In addition to being used in the context of Paul confronting his critics, the term is repeated in Jude 3 to encourage believers to earnestly “contend” (stand up for) the faith. Whether we’re simply answering someone or staunchly defending ourselves from an aggressive line of accusations, the point is that we’re to be prepared to “back up” our beliefs.

Is Apologetics Really in the Bible?
Apologetics isn’t just a term made up after the Bible was written. The original Greek word from which we get the English term apologetics can be found in the following New Testament verses:

• Acts 22:1; 25:16
• 1 Corinthians 9:3
• 2 Corinthians 7:11
• Philippians 1:7, 16-17
• 2 Timothy 4:16
• 1 Peter 3:15

An Opposing World

This isn’t always easy in a world that openly rejects God. The America of today isn’t the same as it was just a generation or two ago. Despite the so-called rise of “evangelical Christiandom,” we as a society have unmistakably moved away from our Judeo-Christian roots and into a world characterized by relativism and corruption. History says we’ve passed through our infatuation with romanticism and modernism, and since neither could provide solid answers to life’s bigger questions, we’ve turned to postmodernism. So how does postmodernism answer these questions? By simply concluding that no answers exist.

Don’t you wish we could use that line of logic for other things in life? “I wasn’t late to work, boss ... I just decided today that my job really didn’t exist—at least not until 10:30 A.M.” Keep that up and you’ll really find out whether your job exists or not.

According to postmodernists, claiming to have an absolute or right answer is both arrogant and intolerant. As a result, our Western society, which has bought postmodernism hook, line and sinker, is based on constantly shifting standards of right and wrong in which absolute truth is nonexistent. And as for those Christian freaks who have the nerve to say God is absolute and His ways are the ultimate truth? They’re just narrow-minded, intolerant and naive, now aren’t they?