Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Does the church do a good job of equipping Christians to talk to non-Christians?

Most churches these days are not doing a good job of helping Christians to understand how to explain and defend Christianity to non-Christians. They tend to be focused on providing comfort and entertainment, which is why so much of the focus is on compassion, singing and being “nice”. Logical arguments are out. Scientific evidence is out. Historical evidence is out. There is a terrible fear of disagreeing with anyone. Everyone is focused on being “nice” and being “liked” by non-Christians. Instead of teaching people what Christians think is true, we teach people how to recycle cans and how to color pictures of Jesus.

Church is typically a mishmash of mysticism, piety and emotivism. Pastors in particular are often opposed to connecting anything the Bible says to evidence outside the Bible, whether it be research or experiments or philosophical arguments. Even the very best preaching pastors just assert things and then expect people to accept it because “the Bible says so”. It’s almost as if it dirties up Christianity to test it against what we know from other disciplines like cosmology and ancient history. People who are regarded as Christian leaders seem to never get around to explaining why anyone should accept the Bible as true.Accepting the Bible is just left up to your feelings, or maybe whether you think the pastor is “nice”. That’s it.

Now how well does this simple, blind-faith be-nice approach work on a real non-Christian?

Mary sent me this article from the New Statesman that explains how it works.

Excerpt:

It’s 7.30pm on a Tuesday evening and I’m at a small church in East London. A man called Adam* hands me a name label, pours me a plastic cup of squash and says dinner won’t be long. I pull up a seat and introduce myself to ten strangers. It’s all rather awkward.

The reason I’m at church isn’t because I’m religious (I’m not) or because my fridge is empty (it is). It’s because I’ve signed up to Alpha, a weekly course run by churches all over the world in order to spread the Christian message. Although I’m an atheist, I don’t have a problem with people who subscribe to religion. I am, however, wary of brainwashing, I think most religious beliefs are kind of stupid and I strongly suspect that organised religion is a horrible thing.

[...]Adam, the course leader, is wearing a Superdry shirt. After dinner, he explains that it’s customary to sing. Rebecca plays the acoustic guitar and Adam mans the PowerPoint presentation, which would have got an A* if it was a piece of ICT GCSE coursework because the lyrics make noises when they appear on the screen.

Now, why on Earth would you make a non-Christian sing?? That makes no sense. If they don’t accept Christianity, why would they sing about it?

More:

After singing comes talking. Specifically, Adam talking. Over the next six weeks, his talks will cover: “Is there more to life than this?”; “Who is Jesus and why did he die?”; “How can we have faith?”; “How can we read the Bible?”; “Why and how do I pray”; and “What about the Church?”. After each talk, we’ll break off into groups and discuss what we’ve learnt.

The first couple of sessions are similar. They involve Adam handing out copies of the Bible and saying things like, “So let’s assume Jesus does exist and came to Earth to save us…” I’m genuinely the only person who is annoyed that Adam makes no attempt to prove Jesus’s existence.

The first questions to address are thing like “Does God Exist?” and “Did Jesus Rise From the Dead?” and “Why Should People Think the Bible is Historically Reliable?”. But those questions cannot be asked by Christians, because they are totally unaware, thanks to years and years of avoiding apologetics, that those questions come before praise hymns and Bible study and prayer. Christians are so unaware that they don’t even realize how to discuss Christianity with a non-Christian, using authorities like logic, science and history, which non-Christians accept.

More:

Adam’s big points in the first two weeks are that we should love Jesus because he loves us in spite of our tendency to sin and that we should try to emulate his behaviour, because it’s nice to have a role model.

Discussion time isn’t fruitful. Natalie asks me how I’m able to distinguish between moral and immoral behaviour if I don’t base my actions on Jesus’ example. I explain that I work out what makes my peers happy and try to do those things. Everyone laughs, which I find confusing because I’m not joking. I agree that having a role model can be helpful, but ask how they know Jesus is the best one. Anna and Will, who are married, tell me that it’s because the Bible said so. But how do they know the Bible is right? “No offence, Tabatha,” replies Louise, “but the Bible is quite far-fetched. I don’t get why someone would have made that stuff up if it weren’t true.” It sounds like I’m lying, but I’m not.

[...]This week, Adam’s main point is that Christianity isn’t about rules. Fine, but there’s still no attempt to prove God’s existence.

What is going on here? It’s that Christians are basically no different than cultists. We think that it’s our jobs to just tell people things without ever proving anything with science or history. We don’t know how to construct logical arguments. All we do is say what we believe and then hope that the person listening will accept it because “the Bible says so” or maybe because it makes the person feel like a nice person to accept it.

More:

Then we talk about which bits of the Bible we should take literally. Louise tells me I’ll work it out if I read the Bible. I tell her I’ve read it. She says I will never develop a full understanding because I’m not God so I can’t understand everything. This is becoming a recurring theme. These people have answers to some problems, but as soon as they hit a brick wall they settle for not understanding God and refuse to think through alternatives.

Wow, how do Christians handle questions that they don’t know the answer to? By going and finding the answer? NO! We think that it’s not our job to find answers to this skeptic’s questions, it’s the skeptic’s job to find answers. We hand the work to the skeptic to do, instead of doing the work for them. Finding answers is work, and if Christianity is about anything, it’s apparently about avoiding work. That’s what we learn in church, anyway.

More:

This week, Leslie, a priest from the church, speaks about evolution, which has to be our most interesting topic to date. “How do I know evolution isn’t true?” he begins, continuing: “Because God revealed himself to me through scripture.” This annoys me: these people keep saying really obscure things and not explaining them. Leslie explains that scripture is “God-breathed,” so when you read the Bible, God is speaking directly to you. I’m not an idiot but I have absolutely no conception of what that means.

This is pretty much the answer you’re going to get from most pastors and church people, even in a time where we have amazing arguments coming out of the intelligent design community about the origin of life and the Cambrian explosion. And even without talking about evolution, we could be talking about the Big Bang cosmology and the cosmic fine-tuning. But those things can’t be talked about because they are just too “real” and we want to keep religion in the realm of try-it-and-see-if-you-like-it bromides.

More:

Leslie goes on to offer practical Bible-reading advice: you should read it for 15 minutes a day and ask God questions by verbalising your thoughts. By this stage, I’m annoyed. I want to know why we should read the Bible, how they know it’s true, what God sounds like and how He chooses which prayers to listen to. Instead, Leslie says things like, “If we pray, we become trees. Trees grow fruit, so we will live fruitful lives.” This kind of obscure, metaphorical chat is driving me mad.

[...]In discussion time, it becomes clear that although these people are interested in religion, they’re uncritical of it. It’s really starting to bother me that this institution encourages blind faith at the expense of scientific enquiry.

Again, Christians are incapable of understanding that they have to prove claims using arguments and evidence. They just want to state their beliefs, like cultists do when they knock on your door. What exactly is the difference between us and the cults if it’s not that we are able to make a case for our views based on evidence, not feelings?

More:

Adam tells a story about his wedding ring. It’s a more elaborate version of this: Adam went to Costa. He left his wedding ring behind. He realised what he’d done. He said a quick prayer. He went back to Costa. He found his ring. He reckons God answered his prayer.

[...]Louise claims that God once answered her prayer to get her to the airport on time. Alasdair thinks God stopped a wave breaking on him when he went surfing as a teenager. Robin tells us that God warned him to wear a helmet when he snowboards.

[...]“Anyone feel unconvinced by the power of prayer?” Natalie asks. “YES,” I feel like shouting. “YOU’RE IDIOTS. ALL OF THOSE THINGS WERE PROBABLY COINCIDENCES THAT YOU’RE READING TOO MUCH INTO.”

Sigh. Well I hope that this is helpful so that everyone understands what non-Christians really need from us. I think we need to focus on studying apologetics, so that we can answer questions. Instead of focusing on telling people weird things, we should just focus on the basics: God’s existence, the minimal facts case for the resurrection, intelligent design in nature, the moral argument, the problems of evil and suffering. The basics. And stop trying to talk about our own lives or our own weird experiences, because you can’t prove anything by telling stories or mystical experiences or pious feelings. We really need to stop treating religion as something different from practical things. We don’t hire employees or pick stocks or buy medicine on the basis of how we feel about them. We study things carefully, we look at evidence, we use reason. Truth is the point of religion, not feelings, and when we focus on feelings when talking to non-Christians, we look like idiots. And rightly so.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why are progressives so blithe about pressuring Christians to act like non-Christians?

A great post from Dr. George Yancey explains the worldview behind so many things we hear in the news these days. Here he is responding to the story about the Houston mayor who subpoena’d all the sermons from the Christian pastors in order to chill dissent to her LGBT agenda.

He writes:

I am a sociologist studying anti-Christian attitudes in our society. This brings me to my take that I am qualified to talk about – whether this legal strategy is tied to Christianophobia. There are reasons to believe that this attempt to obtain sermons and other information is part of a larger strategy to stigmatize Christians. Thus, I do not discount the possibility that Christianophobia plays some role in these actions.

However, it is work of another book I wrote a couple of years ago which I think is more relevant. That book is named What Motivates Cultural Progressives. In that book, I documented that cultural progressive activists tend to consider their political opponents to be irrational, religious individuals trying to move our culture backwards. They have little respect for their political opponents. They often express concerns about the ability of religious individuals to have influence on our political system. With this sort of mindset, it is easy to perceive a motivation from Houston officials, if they are cultural progressive activists, to gather sermons and other material in an effort to “expose” the irrationality and intolerance of their political opponents. Whether the documents are relevant to the current court case may be less important to these officials than stopping the efforts of those who would take our culture backwards.

My suggestion is that it is not as much a fear of Christians as it is the fear of the socially conservative culture linked to Christians driving these subpoenas. The lack of respect cultural progressive activists have for their political opponents allow them to rationalize using the legal system to “dig up dirt” on them. In my sample, I found several individuals who did not believe that religious individuals had the right to fully participate in our political progress. A good number of respondents also articulated a belief that religious individuals are brainwashed and cultural conservative political movements have developed due to the manipulation of ignorant Christians by evil leaders. Thus the political claims in this movement are not legitimate claims by people seeking to serve their own social and material interests, but are the result of manipulation whereby they have been persuaded to vote against their own economic and social interest. When we recognize that many cultural progressive activists do not see cultural conservatives as legitimate political players in our governmental system, then the overreaching request make a great deal of sense.

So how should we respond to this?

Well, the answer is that Christians need to take seriously the need to speak and act intelligently when dealing with non-Christians. We need to study apologetics, yes. But we also need to be good at knowing other things – practical things, academic things. We should be able to earn a living and share with others. We should be able to demonstrate sobriety, discipline and chastity. We should be able to explain rationally and evidentially all the moral beliefs that non-Christians find the most objectionable. We should have an interest in current events, economics, law, politics and foreign policy. Etc. We have to be able to out-think our rivals, and win their respect the same way that Joseph won the respect of Pharaoh, and Daniel won the respect of Nebuchadnezzar.

I think it’s interesting that Dr. George Yancey himself is an excellent example of what I am talking about. He is a full professor at the University of North Texas, and has published books with Oxford University Press. If people want to know if it is possible to be a Christian and be intelligent, this is exactly who we need to show them – and who we need to be. We should be working on this! And raising our kids to counteract these perceptions that the secular leftists have of us. Often, the secular leftists are raised in Christian homes, see the anti-intellectualism in popular Christianity firsthand, then head off to university to train as a persecutor. We have to shape up and stop this from happening. We are train our own executioners, because of our laziness, ignorance and cowardice.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

Should you not teach your kids apologetics because “God is in control”?

I spotted this comment on Natasha Crain’s blog from someone who disagreed with her on training your kids to learn how to defend their faith.

The commenter “Hope” wrote this:

Because this is a blog you are no doubt restricted by trying to be concise and focused on one thought and, for the most part, in the midst of a dialogue with the people (like me) following your blogs…but in reading this out loud to others who are not following your blog, some things were pointed out that I might have noticed otherwise and thought I would mention.

First, thank you for the few tools in trying to help us with our children/grandchildren.

Here are some things we all must remember:

Everything hinges on God, who is the one ultimately in control. It does not hinge on our eloquence, finesse, or intellectual prowess. We can do everything right (or wrong) and still two identically raised children may go into extremely diverse directions.

Our children and grandchildren make their own personal choices.

The greatest tool we do have…even once the kids leave the nest, is PRAYER. Prayers is something sadly neglected by so many Christians. Being ill and many times unable to “do” much of anything, I have sadly in the past said “sorry, all I can do is pray”. I have learned to leave the word “all” out in that statement as I find it a privilege and honor to be able to pray. It is our right, our duty and an awesome responsibility.

I do enjoy your blogs and so look forward to your upcoming book, thank you so much and I will continue to pray for God’s guidance in all that you do and write!

I think her name is kind of ironic, since when it comes to her kids keeping their faith in college, “hope”, is all she has. I think this comment represents pretty well a very common attitude that Christian parents AND pastors AND church leaders have to the problem of children losing their faith. So let’s take a look at this.

What is the practical impact?

First thing to notice is that anyone who says this is basically clearing the way for themselves to not have to do any work. Apologetics is work.

To learn apologetics, I did things like this:

  • read books in subject areas I knew nothing about
  • order and listen to HUNDREDS of audio tapes from Veritas Forum, Access Research Network, Stand to Reason, Biola University, etc.
  • order and watch (many times) dozens of debates on VHS tapes and DVDs
  • order and watch (many times) dozens of lectures on VHS tapes and DVDs
  • attend conferences, debates and lectures locally, in other cities, and in other countries
  • reach out to non-crazy atheists in order to listen to their questions
  • form discussion groups with other apologists to find answers and discuss problems

This is what I had to do in order to answer the questions that people actually ask when deciding on theism and Christian theism, in particular.

Questions like these:

  • how do you know that God exists?
  • how do you know the Bible is reliable?
  • how do you know Jesus rose from the dead?
  • why does a good God allow suffering and evil?
  • why are there so many different religions?

Those are real questions, and they require real answers.

But Hope has a different way of answering those questions. She says:

  • I have no role in helping my children see why Christianity is true
  • Christianity is affirmed or denied by sheer act of will
  • Rational argument and evidence are irrelevant to knowing truths about God
  • Nothing I do can affect whether my children accept Christianity or not
  • All I can do is pray (which requires no spending of money, and no time commitment)

Practically speaking, I understand that this is what a person says when they want to rationalize not having to think, not having to read, not having to spend money, not having to acknowledge that some Christians know more than they do, not having to lift a finger to be a parent unless it feels good to them. They can be as self-centered and irresponsible as they want to be – which they would not be in any area that mattered to them – and then they can throw up their hands and say, “it’s not my fault”. You can easily imagine a case where a teacher told her students similar things – “I have no role in showing you what is true, you will have true beliefs about the material by sheer act of will, rational argument and evidence have nothing to do with this area of knowledge, I cannot control your beliefs about this subject, all I can do is pray for you to pass the tests”. Unless that teacher was unionized or tenured, she would be fired on the spot.

In fact, in NO OTHER AREA of life – not school, not work, not home-buying, not investing, not wedding-planning, not having the family over for the holidays, not planning a vacation, etc. – would this woman apply the method above, which is basically do nothing and pray. It’s very important to understand that. Hope will give her best effort in areas that matter to her, but when it comes to Christianity, she wants to DO NOTHING.

There is only one problem with this: it makes her feel bad when her children run off to follow Richard Dawkins. So when that happens, she has to explain why DOING NOTHING was actually the right thing to do. She has to justify herself to her religious peers when her children repudiate Christianity in the strongest possible way. And this is her justification – she is spiritually superior, and not to blame. She wants to put a pious whitewash on her laziness, ignorance and cowardice. And to make other people who are not lazy, not ignorant and not cowardly feel unspiritual, to boot. That’s the real reason why so many Christian parents and leaders say things like Hope.

The worst part of this is dealing with these parents and pastors is actually after the damage has already been done. Even when they are staring defeat in the face, they still resist any attempts to try to get them to engage by learning apologetics. They will continue to resist reading anything, watching anything, listening to anything – it’s very rare that you get one to “turn on” to apologetics and become passionate about it. It’s amazing to me. They are able to marshal all kinds of arguments about the things they care about. But not when their kids are at stake.

I think I am particularly bothered by men in church who follow sports more than apologetics. For them, Christianity is just about reading the Bible and showing up in church. But all the real effort goes into memorizing rosters, draft picks, fantasy leagues and other trivia.  It’s just depressing. Especially since men have the primary responsibility, either as parents or pastors. I really am not sure what to do about it, but it boils my blood to see the way these selfish grown-ups justify themselves with pious platitudes.

You can read Natasha’s much more civil blog post on Hope’s comment. She has a much more tolerant view, and more broad life experiences to draw on than I do. I am sure her feelings and approach would be much more tactful and effective than my angry response.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , , , , , , ,

Are atheists paying attention to the weightiest demands of the moral law?

J. Warner Wallace looks at what Jesus says the most important commandment is, and then asks whether atheists can be justified morally if Jesus is right.

He writes:

I was an atheist for the first thirty-five years of my life. While I was a committed (and often aggressive) non-believer, most people who knew me would probably have described me as a “nice guy”. My behavior wasn’t all that different than many of my Christian friends. I worked with many other atheist police officers. We were often suspicious of the Christians in our midst and the people we arrested who claimed to be Christians. Even as atheists we were familiar with Jesus’ directive to “love your neighbor as yourself.” My partner, Tim, used to say, “If there is a good God and a good Heaven, I think I will be there when it’s all over. I’m a good person. I try to ‘do the right thing’. I’m not a bad guy; I put bad people in jail. So I’m not worried about it.” Tim held a “works based” moral worldview and he was sure his good deeds would earn him a spot in Heaven if he was wrong about the existence of God. But Tim (and I) were unfamiliar with Jesus’ teaching in its full context, and now, years later as a Christian, I’ve come to understand why the first part of the “Greatest Command” is even more important than the second.

When approached by a skeptic, Jesus affirmed the greatest commandments of God in the following way:

Matthew 22:35-40
One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”

Most unbelievers recognize the value of the second half of this command (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) but deny the value of the first part (“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”) There’s a reason, however, why Jesus listed these two commands in this specific order. The first command (loving God) is the “great and foremost commandment” because it is required to achieve the second command (loving others). You can’t truly do the right thing unless you understand the relationship between these two commands:

Read the rest at Cold Case Christianity.

I’ve made the same point here many times, but I have never been an atheist and I don’t make the point in the same winsome way that Wallace does.

I think his post is worth sending along to any atheists you may know who think themselves justified. I think it is a mistake for people to derive their own version of morality based on the time and place where they are, and then think that picking and choosing the parts they like will justify them with God. Remember, a recent survey of atheists found that 97% of them favor abortion rights. I think this is consistent with the atheist view that there are no human rights, including a right to life. Moreover, in my experience, I have found that most atheists have no problem with the government stomping all over the consciences of Christians when it comes to things like gay rights. It’s important to show them that there is a standard independent of their personal opinions, justifications and rationalizations.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , ,

Richard Land discusses the National Apologetics Conference on the latest FRC podcast

Dr. Land is actually hosting the show. I like to pick on Christian leaders for ignoring apologetics, but I know Dr. Land is very supportive of apologetics, and thinks it is the key to evangelism.

Here are the details of the last Washington Watch Weekly podcast:

On this weekend edition of “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” Dr. Richard Land, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina, guest hosted the program for Tony. Bestselling author and attorney, David Limbaugh, joined Dr. Land to discuss his new book: Jesus on Trial, A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel, where he lays out the legal aspects of the gospel and gives hard evidence to support that belief. Fox News’ Todd Starnes was here to discuss the latest attack on religious liberty regarding a Lexington, Ky. t-shirt company under attack from the left for standing for Christian principles. Also, FRC’s Executive Vice President and founding member of the Army’s Delta Force, Lt. General (ret) Jerry Boykin joined Dr. Land to highlight the latest on the ISIS threat to America and former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta’s new book where he criticizes the President on his handling of foreign policy issues.

The MP3 file is here. (28 minutes)

This is one of my 5 favorites podcasts.

The five are:

  • Family Research Council – Washington Watch Weekly (current events, policy)
  • The Weekly Standard (current events, politics, elections)
  • Intelligent Design: The Future (science)
  • Reasonable Faith (apologetics)
  • Cold Case Christianity (apologetics)

There’s another podcast I listen to for current events, but because that person has been annoying Michael Licona, he can remain nameless.

Filed under: Podcasts, ,

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