Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

What happens to people who have never heard the gospel when they die?

One of the most difficult questions for Christians to answer, especially when posed by adherents of other religions, is the question of what happens to those who have never heard of Jesus? In this post, I will explain how progress in the field of philosophy of religion has given us a possible (and Biblical) solution to this thorny question.

First, Christianity teaches that humans are in a natural state of rebellion against God. We don’t want to know about him, and we don’t want him to have any say in what we are doing. We just want to appropriate all the gifts he’s given us, do whatever we want with them, and then have eternal bliss after we die. We want to do whatever we want and then be forgiven, later.

Along comes Jesus, who, through his sinless life and his death on the cross, heals that rift of rebellion between an all-good God and rebellious man. Now we have a real understanding of the fact that God is real, that he has power over death, and that he has very specific ideas on what we should be doing. If we accept Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and follow his teachings, we can avoid the penalty of our rebellion.

The only problem is that in order to appropriate that free gift of reconciliation, people need to actually know about Jesus. And there are some people in the world who have not even heard of him. Is it fair that these other people will be sent to eternal separation from God, just because they happened to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Enter William Lane Craig to save the day. His solution is that God orders the world in such a way that anyone who would freely choose to acknowledge Jesus and appropriate his teachings in their decision-making will be given eternal life. God knows in advance who would respond, and chooses their time and place of birth, and he supplies them with the amount of evidence they need.

And this agrees with what the Bible teaches. The apostle Paul says this in his apologetic on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-31:

22 So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.
23 “For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘ N D ‘ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands;
25 nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;
26 and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,
27 that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;

28 for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’
29 “Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.
30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent,
31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

In this research paper, Craig explains in detail how God foreknows how people will choose in every set of circumstances, and how God uses that knowledge to get everyone where they need to be without violating their free will. God wants the best for everybody, and has ordered to whole universe in order to give each of us our best opportunity for eternal life.

Here is a summary of the what is in his paper:

The conviction of the New Testament writers was that there is no salvation apart from Jesus. This orthodox doctrine is widely rejected today because God’s condemnation of persons in other world religions seems incompatible with various attributes of God.

Analysis reveals the real problem to involve certain counterfactuals of freedom, e.g., why did not God create a world in which all people would freely believe in Christ and be saved? Such questions presuppose that God possesses middle knowledge. But it can be shown that no inconsistency exists between God’s having middle knowledge and certain persons’ being damned; on the contrary, it can be positively shown that these two notions are compatible.

Go read this paper and equip yourself to answer this common question!

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Cosmos series promotes naturalism by distorting the history of science

Casey Luskin posted this in The Blaze. (H/T Nancy Pearcey tweet)

Excerpt:

The host is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson who believes “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.” Executive producers include comedian Seth MacFarlane, who expresses his desire to be “vocal about the advancement of knowledge over faith,” and Star Trek writer Brannon Braga, who says “religion sucks” and admits he “longs for” the day when “religion is vanquished.”

With Tyson himself admitting we must view “‘Cosmos’ not as a documentary about science,” the series barely hides its ambitions to bring Sagan’s materialistic views to a new generation.

[...]But have its creators pushed the agenda too far? “Cosmos” faced sharp criticism—from leading evolutionists—for inventing stories about religious persecution of scientists while whitewashing religion’s positive historical influence on science.

The first episode portrayed the 16th century scientist Giordano Bruno being burned at the stake by Catholic priests for teaching that the Earth orbits the Sun. The problem? Bruno wasn’t a scientist and he wasn’t persecuted for his heliocentric views. Of course Bruno’s persecution was tragic, but the church killed him for promoting the occult worship of Egyptian deities and other quirky theological beliefs.

Throughout the series, Tyson repeats this theme that religion opposes scientific advancement, whitewashing the chorus of historians who believe that religion had a positive influence on science.

As prominent historian Ronald Numbers argues, “[t]he greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict.” One scholar at the staunchly pro-evolution National Center for Science Education even blasted “Cosmos” for its “slipshod history of science” and “antireligious bias.”

Numbers is not a theist – he is secular, so that’s an interesting quote.

The story also notes that Barack Obama endorses the series,and that’s not surprising to me. As I’ve argued before, the man is an atheist. This series is defending his religion.

Filed under: Commentary, , , , , ,

Advice for Christian parents from a woman who left Christianity at university

This is from the Beyond Teachable Moments blog – a great blog for Christian parents who want to raise effective, influential children.

Intro:

I recently had the opportunity to meet an intelligent young Christian woman who is proactively learning how to discuss her faith in a secular society.

Why is she so dedicated to doing this?  Because her Christian upbringing had completely failed to prepare her for the challenges of secularism, religious pluralism and atheism at university.

This young woman grew up in close-knit, loving Christian home.  She faithfully attended church.  She was enrolled in a Christian school that taught subjects such as apologetics, hermeneutics, inductive Bible study and managing relationships.  Her parents cared about her spiritual formation.

And yet, this is how she describes her university experience:

“Although I was still living at home during the beginning of my freshman year, university was traumatic at best. I went from a class of 15 in a small Christian school, to 30,000 people at a public university.

The most troubling thing was the amount of differing beliefs and worldviews I encountered, from professors and other students. At the time I thought they had much better arguments than I did for the validity of their views.”

Added to her challenge was the fact that her faith was borrowed, not her own.

“I can honestly and sadly say that as I started my freshman year at age 19, my faith was very much borrowed. It was a set of rules to adhere too. Although I was well aware of the concept of a relationship with Jesus Christ, I did not have it. I was entrenched in the notion of conforming to what people wanted me to do in order to escape condemnation and judgment.”

“My faith at the university was non-existent. If you asked me what I believed I would say Christian, but I did not back that up with any action whatsoever.”

As a mom of two young boys, the top-of-mind question I had for her was: what did she wish she’d known before she went to university?

The rest of the post is her response, but I wanted to quote this part, because it reminds me of what Pastor Matt Rawlings posted about his own loss of faith a while back.

The mysterious Christian woman says this:

Don’t use me to make you look good in front of other people at church, I can see straight through that. It does not feel good and drives me far away. What matters is what is going on inside, not what is projected. Looking perfect and going through the motions does nothing. The very basis for Christianity is what is going on in the heart. Only by letting Jesus work in your heart can actions follow with true authenticity.

And here’s what Pastor Matt said:

Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel.  I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.”  I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight.  The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you.  I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.

I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian.  I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own.  I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me.  I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ.  I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow.  I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.

I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships.  I needed  knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable.  You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job.  All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this.  It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?

As J.P. Moreland has pointed out, your beliefs are not something that you form by sheer acts of will. You cannot will to believe things. Your beliefs form naturally through study, and then outward actions come from those beliefs. You cannot focus on the outward actions of your children – you have to focus on the beliefs inside. And know that those beliefs are not formed by habit, singing, church attendance or any other non-cognitive approaches. Beliefs form through a careful study of the evidence on BOTH SIDES. The first thing that Christian parents should be showing their kids is debates with both sides represented. That shows them that there is more to a worldview than just being bullied into it by raising your voice at them.

Christian parents, take note. Don’t be focused on making your child behave nicely on the outside and making it impossible for them to talk about temptations and doubts.  Christianity comes from the inside – from the mind. You need to be helping them form a worldview that has been tested and approved by them, before they ever set foot on a university campus. The Christian faith is not adopted by habit or tradition, it is adopted by transferring knowledge and discussing opposing views openly and honestly.

Don’t be like this mother who is only focused on externals – what family and friends think of her:

The good news is that atheism is not generally adopted because of logic or evidence. That means that a little bit evidence for God’s existence goes a long way against no evidence. A little bit evidence for the reliability of the Bible goes a long way against no evidence. A little bit of the minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus goes a long way against no evidence. It’s very important that when your children get to university that they find a conflict between some evidence and no evidence. At that point, it becomes their choice to decide what to do, and it could go either way. You don’t have to make them William Lane Craig before they get to university, for example. But they should have at least read his popular-level essays and books, heard his podcasts, and seen him debate.

Peer pressure on a secular university is powerful – but if you’ve taught your children to value truth over popularity, vanity, selfishness and immorality, then you’ve done your job. Lots of people fall away from Christianity in university because of the hostile environment. Some fall away because they want to be approved of by their peers, some because they just want to be seen as tolerant or smart, some because they want to get good grades from liberal professors, some because they want to have a good time, etc. That’s not your concern. Your concern is to demonstrate your love of truth, and communicate to them  a sober assessment of the evidence pro and con on ultimate issues. After that, it’s up to them.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Seven lessons for Christian parents from the Tim Lambesis story

Here’s an interesting post for Christian parents by Natasha Crain about that Christian musician who became an atheist.

Introduction:

A pretty shocking story has been making the rounds lately: Tim Lambesis, lead singer of Christian metal band As I Lay Dying, was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to murder his estranged wife and recently confessed he had become an atheist. He and other band members had continued to claim they were Christians so they could keep selling albums to Christian fans.

Lambesis recently did a fascinating tell-all interview with Alternative Press magazine, in which he described (amongst many other things) his journey from Christianity to atheism. He grew up in a Christian family, went to a Christian high school, attended a Christian college, sang in a Christian band, married a Christian woman and later adopted three children from Ethiopia.It wasn’t for lack of exposure to Christian ideas that he lost his faith.

The eye-opening details he offered about his experience can teach Christian parents a lot. Here are seven important take-aways from the interview.

She’s got 7 points.

Here’s point number one:

1. Kids need to understand the secular nature of the academic world before they get to college.

Lambesis: “I was a philosophy major in college. I thought it was something I’d enjoy that would help me grasp what people are thinking in order for me to help people better understand Christianity. I thought I would learn how to defend the faith. I was naïve.”

Freshman philosophy professors are notorious for starting the semester by announcing that there is no God. Lambesis went to a Christian college, so presumably the views would not be so skewed toward atheism, but clearly he wasn’t prepared for what he encountered even in that context. Academia is overwhelmingly hostile to Christianity and teenagers headed to college need to be prepared for where and how they’ll encounter that hostility before they get there. Sending kids to a Christian college is not a substitute for that preparation.’

The woman I am most focused on mentoring in apologetics lost her faith in college – she was not expecting the secularism, but also the pluralism, that she encountered on campus. She hadn’t been prepared for it.

And here’s point number four:

4. Popular atheist authors have a powerful influence that parents should be eager to discuss with their kids.

Lambesis: “I interpreted the evidence how I wanted and felt it was intellectually dishonest to consider myself a Christian. I felt at best I could consider myself agnostic, and at least I would consider myself an atheist. That was my original twist on the whole thing. I read a lot of stuff from the people who are now more popularly known as the “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse.”

The “Four Horsemen” of the atheist apocalypse refers to the popular atheist writers Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. Each of these authors has written best-selling books lambasting religion. I’m currently reading Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion.” It reads as a 400+ page survey of the most common atheist propaganda your kids will hear about Christianity. Like Lambesis, many young adults are swayed by these writers and their atheist evangelists. If I had teenagers, I would be reading this with them immediately as an unparalleled opportunity to tackle atheist arguments head-on. Don’t run from this literature…run to it and address it with your kids while you still can. (If your kids aren’t teens, start by reading it yourself!)

It’s been suggested to me that when mentoring Christians in apologetics that I use “The God Delusion” to show them what arguments for atheism are really like. What I did recently with the woman I am most focused on mentoring is show her the Dawkins-Lennox debate at the Oxford Museum of Natural History. It was good to hear Dawkins’ weak responses to the arguments on our side from his own mouth. She seemed to enjoy reading books on apologetics a lot more after seeing the arguments used in a real debate. We are supposed to be going through this stuff chapter by chapter, but she just keeps going way ahead of me!

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , ,

Apologist Blake Giunta takes on atheist Dan Barker on the nature of God

I found  their exchange (20 minutes) on the TreeSearch.org site. It used to be be in WAV format, but I asked for an MP3 and Blake made an MP3 instead.

Many so-called new atheists have latched on to an odd argument against God’s existence that looks like this:

  1. If you can’t tell me what God “Is” then God does not exist.
  2. You can’t tell me what God is.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

Of course, when you try to explain that God is an omniscient, omnipotent, all-good creator, they will say “no no no, you aren’t telling me what God IS, you’re just describing properties of God!”

In a recent conversational debate with apologist Blake Giunta, who runs the new apologetics debate web site treesearch.org, this seems to be the argument that atheist Dan Barker tried to use. Of course, the whole silly line of reasoning blew up wonderfully in his face. Blake pointed out that every worldview is going to have its fundamental entities, and these are just going to be such that they, trivially, cannot be reduced to some more fundamental entity which it “is” (otherwise it wouldn’t have been a fundamental entity). Blake pointed out that Dan believes in a fundamental entity, namely matter, and that if Dan used his own argument against himself, he would have to say matter does not exist. it was fun to watch Dan squirm so much about 8 minutes in!

I would have liked to see Blake offer one or two arguments against materialism, and offer one or two arguments for minds, but that might have meant getting the conversation off the path of getting Barker to admit his mistake.

I hope to see more Christians equipped to respond to this argument, because again, New Atheists have been pushing this a lot lately (notably Matt Dillahunty). Blake seems to have his finger on the pulse of what the new atheists are arguing.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , , , , , ,

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