Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

October 5th is Pulpit Freedom Sunday: is your church getting involved?

I listened to this podcast from the Alliance Defending Freedom  and this podcast from the Family Research Council on the weekend.  Both of them mentioned that something called Pulpit Freedom Sunday was happening this Sunday.

So I looked it up and found this online:

Pulpit Freedom Sunday is an event associated with the Pulpit Initiative, a legal effort designed to secure the free speech rights of pastors in the pulpit. Pulpit Freedom Sunday encourages pastors to exercise their constitutionally protected freedom to speak truth into every area of life from the pulpit. Alliance Defending Freedom also hopes to eventually go to court to have the Johnson Amendment struck down as unconstitutional for its regulation of sermons, which are protected by the First Amendment.

The web site is here. They are up to 3520 pastors now who are participating. My pastor did not participate last year. He is not very intelligent when it comes to apologetics and policy, so he probably doesn’t know what to say. Or maybe he just afraid, which I can understand more than not knowing what to say.

Not everyone is happy with this. The IRS is investigating churches (not Democrat-favoring churches, of course) for speaking about specific issues.

Here’s an article on that.

Excerpt:

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has agreed to investigate the political activity of churches after reaching a settlement with an atheist legal group. But a court has yet to decide whether or not to close the case.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) and the IRS jointly asked a Wisconsin federal court last week to dismiss a 2012 lawsuit, FFRF v. Koskinen. The FFRF had alleged that the IRS failed to have a policy in place for investigating political activity at tax-exempt churches and religious organizations, nor did the agency enforce its 501(c)(3) codes against electioneering.

Meanwhile, more than 1,600 churches have deliberately broken the existing law since 2008, endorsing political candidates from their pulpits during Pulpit Freedom Sunday events organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF). The next “showdown” will be October 5.

“This is a victory, and we’re pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions,” said FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in a press release.

However, the case has not yet been closed. Father Patrick Malone of Holy Cross Anglican Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had been granted permission to interveneon the side of the IRS, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty (which represents Malone) has asked the court to dismiss the case but “with prejudice.” In other words, Becket argues the FFRF should not be able to sue the IRS again on this particular issue, while the FFRF argues that it should be able to do so.

Regardless of the court’s final decision, the IRS won’t be free to investigate churches until a moratorium related to the agency’s controversial scrutiny of tea party organizations is lifted after a congressional investigation closes.

CT has noted how the six-year run of Pulpit Freedom Sunday has tried to provoke the IRS into (ironically) punishing pastors as a means to reexamine the rights of pastors to promote politicians from the pulpit. The initiative even gained an unexpected allylast year in Sen. Charles Grassley and the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations (CAPRO).

Meanwhile, LifeWay Research has found that only 10 percent of Protestant pastors believe pastors should endorse political candidates (while noting that is a different question from should the IRS ban the practice.)

The IRS has not released the language of the settlement, and ADF is concerned about how secretive the church investigations will be—if they indeed happen. ADF has issued a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in pursuit of the documents surrounding the settlement between the FFRF and the IRS.

“This is one of the major problems with the IRS,” said Erik Stanley, senior legal counsel with ADF. “They are secretive, which breeds mistrust and leads to problems in knowing just how they will enforce and interpret the law.”

Becket has also requested information on documents the FFRF and the IRS are not making available, including: “all documents relating to any investigation or determination by a high-ranking IRS official, in writing, of the acts and circumstances, including potential violations of the electioneering restrictions, that led to the high-ranking official to reasonably believe that a church or religious organization may have violated the requirements for tax exemption under 501(c)(3).”

Stanley says ADF’s strategy—helping churches realize how government is censoring what they say—will not change. If the IRS does monitor electioneering more closely, he hopes the issue will end in a lawsuit.

“The Johnson Amendment is unconstitutional,” said Stanley. “If the IRS begins enforcing it again against churches, Alliance Defending Freedom stands ready to defend a pastor’s right to speak freely from the pulpit.”

ADF has organized Pulpit Freedom Sunday for six years, with 1,621 church and religious leaders participating in 2012 (2013 dropped to nearly 1,100 participants). But until now, the IRS has all but ignored ADF’s attempts to bring the issue to a head. According to Stanley, the IRS does not want to challenge the Johnson Amendment—which bans tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates—in court.

I think it’s interesting that the FFRF is not so much interested in debating whether atheism is true as they in shutting down theists who seek to live consistently with their beliefs by using the power of big government. I think that’s pretty par for the course though, if you look through 20th century history. That’s what atheist regimes have done, so we should expect individual atheists to do that as well.

I don’t recommend to the atheists at FFRF that they intimidate Christians, though, as Jesus seems to think that limiting the practice and free expression of Christian convictions is a bad idea.

Read Matthew 18:1-7:

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,

3 and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

5 And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;

6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

7 “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

I think that we Christians need to take positions that are in accord with what God’s Word says, and we need to be ready to defend our positions in public using public arguments and public evidence – especially scientific research – that will be persuasive to non-Christians who do not accept the Bible. That’s the only way to stop the cultural decline caused by the secular left.

The best introductory book on the interface between Christianity and politics is “Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late“, co-authored by Jay Wesley Richards. The Kindle edition is $9.99. Richards’ Ph.D is from Princeton University.

The best comprehensive book is “Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture” by Wayne Grudem. The Kindle edition of that one is $4.99. Grudem’s is from Cambridge University. First-rate Christian scholarship on practical Christianity.

And you can listen to Grudem delivering Sunday school training at his church on every single chapter of that book right here. All free, and no ads. Be sure and scroll through all the previous years to get all the topics! Ethics, social policy, fiscal policy, foreign policy and more!

For more information on Pulpit Freedom Sunday, check out this web site.

If you want to hear about things like this, then subscribe to the FRC podcasts and the ADF podcast.

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Simon Brace on the nature of spiritual warfare and a plea to the Church

This passionate, challenging lecture has been getting shared a lot on Facebook, so I thought that I would do a summary of it.

First, you can grab the MP3 file here.

Note that this talk is given by a very conservative evangelical Christian who is speaking to Christians. So this is not intended for a non-Christian audience. However, non-Christians are free to tune in if you want to hear a really passionate, fire-breathing conservative evangelical go non-linear over the superficial turn that the evangelical church has taken. If you are familiar with J.P. Moreland’s view that spiritual warfare is really about disputing speculations and falsehoods using logic and evidence, then you’ll know the meaning of the term “spiritual warfare” he has in mind. When he says spiritual warfare, he means apologetics: knowledge and preparation.

I would really caution you not to listen to this if you are not passionate about defending God’s honor. It will overwhelm and upset you. Having said that, this lecture reflects my convictions about the churches need to drop anti-intellectualism and take up apologetics. And not pre-suppositional apologetics, which I think is ineffective, but evidential apologetics. Evidential apologetics is effective, which is why everyone in the Bible used it.

About the speaker:

Simon Brace is the Director of Evangelism of Southern Evangelical Seminary. Simon was born in Zimbabwe and grew up in South Africa. Simon has a construction background and has lived in a number of countries and travelled extensively. He has a MA in Apologetics and BA in Religious Studies and is currently working on an MA in Philosophy at SES. Simon leads TEAM which is the missions program of SES on local, national, and international trips. In addition, Simon has worked with Ratio Christi at SES, and has an extensive knowledge of Ratio Christi’s history and operation. Simon currently resides in North Carolina with his wife Nel and children, Eva and Olivia.

I liked the second part of the lecture more than the first part, so there is less summarizing of the first part.

Topics:

  • What does the New Testament say about spiritual warfare in Ephesians?
  • Christian slogans about spiritual warfare sound pious, but they are mistaken
  • Today, Christianity is focused on piety and zeal, not on study and knowledge
  • The result is that Christianity in the West is in a state of erosion and decline
  • What we are doing about spiritual warfare is not working to stop the decline
  • Preaching, publishing, programs, retreats, etc. are not very useful for spiritual warfare
  • Enthusiasm and passion without knowledge  are not very useful for spiritual warfare
  • The Church has a theoretical understanding of spiritual warfare, but no real capability
  • Doesn’t work: trying to make Christianity seem popular and cool
  • Doesn’t work: making Christian music and art that non-Christians will like
  • Doesn’t work: pastors trying to be relevant by having cool clothes and cool haircuts
  • Doesn’t work: fundamentalists getting angry about peripheral issues
  • Doesn’t work: not read things apart from the Bible and sound foolish when speaking in the public square
  • Doesn’t work: church leaders think that careful exegesis and expository preaching is a good answer to skeptics
  • What works: we need to train people who are prepared and willing to defend the truth of the Christian faith
  • Evangelicalism has a deep suspicion of reading things outside the Bible, so they are unable to refute anything
  • Evangelicals are hyper-spiritualized and hysterical, focusing on demons, prophecy and end-times, etc.
  • Evangelicals have a pagan view of using their minds to alter reality, which is irrational and superstitious
  • Evangelicals like conservative celebrity preachers who do nothing to correct anti-intellectualism in the church
  • Evangelicals are focused on their personal relationships with Jesus instead of their whole worldview
  • Evangelicals focus too much on homeschooling and not enough on how to impact the secular universities
  • Church programs for youth are about “strumming guitars and eating pizza once a week”, not apologetics
  • Evangelicals have an over-inflated view of the effectiveness of their (non-intellectual) evangelism methods
  • The primary focus and primary responsibility in spiritual warfare is not dealing with supernatural evil
  • The real focus and responsibility in spiritual warfare is specified in 2 Cor 10:3-5
  • What we ought to be doing is defeating speculations (false ideas), using logical arguments and evidence
  • Defending the faith is not memorizing Bible verses and throwing them out randomly
  • Defending the faith is not just preaching the gospel
  • Demolishing an argument requires understanding arguments: premises, conclusions, the laws of logic
  • We should exchange our pious Bible memorizing skills and the like for a class in critical thinking
  • The New Testament requires that elders be capable of refuting those who oppose sound doctrine (Titus 1:9)
  • It is not enough to preach a good sermon, elders have to be able to defend the Christian faith as well
  • People who run conservative seminaries do not mandate that M.Div graduates study apologetics
  • Famous pastors like Driscoll, Begg, etc. need to teach other pastors to emphasize apologetics in church
  • People in church won’t engage the culture unless they have reasons and evidence to believe Christianity is true
  • We need a balance of both piety and intellectual engagement
  • We need to make our evangelism rooted in the intellect in order to have an influence at the university
  • Mission organizations also have a responsibility to defend the faith and not merely preach (1 Peter 3:15)

And here is his closing quote from C.S. Lewis:

To be ignorant and simple now not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground would be to throw down our weapons and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.

I was really humbled by this, because I sort of knew that the church was anti-intellectual, but I didn’t really reflect on how everyone else in society thinks that we are anti-intellectual. It’s troubling. The quickest way to make Biblical Christianity respectable again is to hit the books and defeat all comers in intellectual disputations. Are we ready to make the sacrifices to do that?

UPDATE: A friend of mine who blogs at Think Apologetics has written a post on this same issue of anti-intellectualism in the church.

Filed under: Podcasts, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mike Licona lectures on historical methods and the New Testament

Here’s a quick overview of Michael Licona’s latest book on the resurrection, entitled “The Resurrection of Jesus“.

60 minutes of lecture, 20 minutes of Q&A.

Summary:

  • Dr. Licona’s background and education
  • The definition of history and philosophy of history
  • Postmodern approaches to history
  • Historical bedrock: facts that are historically demonstrable
  • Historical criterion 1: Explanatory scope
  • Historical criterion 2: Explanatory power
  • Historical criterion 3: Plausibility
  • Historical criterion 4: Ad Hoc / Speculation / non-evidenced assumptions
  • Inference to the best explanation
  • Investigating miracle claims: is it possible? How?
  • Objection of James D.G. Dunn
  • Objection of Bart Ehrman
  • New Testament sources: Gospels and Paul’s letters
  • The Gnostic gospels: are they good sources?
  • The minimal facts
  • The hallucination hypothesis
  • The best explanation

While watching this lecture, it struck what good preparation it was for understanding debates. This lecture is more about historical methods, but if you’re interested in Mike’s minimal facts case for the resurrection, here’s a video on that:

This is the case he uses in his debates with Richard Carrier, Dale Allison, Bart Ehrman, etc.

Mike Licona’s ministry is here: Risen Jesus but there is more to his work than just the resurrection. He co-edited a book on 50 evidences for God from many different areas with William Dembski. He likes evidence from every discipline you can think of, and then some.

If you are looking for a good book to read on the resurrection of Jesus, the best introductory book on the resurrection is “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” and the best comprehensive book is “The Resurrection of Jesus“.

Filed under: Videos, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

When were the gospels written?

A post from Jonathan McLatchie, writing on the Christian Apologetics Alliance blog.

Excerpt:

When were the gospel biographical accounts of Jesus written? One popular claim by skeptics is that the gospels were written so long after the events which they narrate that their historical and biographical value is suspect. While virtually all scholars maintain that all of the gospels were written in the first century, within liberal scholarship it is conventionally thought that all four gospels were written post-70AD. It is my own view, however, that this proposition is largely arbitrary, and based largely on a false presumption that a prediction, on the part of Jesus regarding the destruction of the temple in AD70, must have been composed after-the-fact. If, however, one takes seriously the proposition that prophecy by a divine figure is possible, then the justification for the post-70AD dating largely disappears.

I am going to propose something radical — namely, that all of the synoptic gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark and Luke) pre-date AD60 and perhaps even AD50, thus being removed from the passion events (33AD) by possibly less than 20 years, with the underlying source material behind the gospels dating back even further still. Further, I contend that John’s gospel likely pre-dates AD70. Moreover, I am going to argue that we possess at least two sources from the 30s AD, being removed from the passion events by only two or three years!

[...]So, what about the dating of the gospels? It is generally agreed among scholars that Mark was written first, and Matthew and Luke subsequently utilised Mark’s gospel as source material, and then John was written last (and independently). Luke is likely to have been the latest of the synoptics. But Luke is quoted elsewhere in the New Testament, by Paul. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:18, “For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’” This latter citation is from Luke 10:7. Clearly, then, Luke (or, at the very least, the source material upon which Luke is based) must pre-date the writing of 1 Timothy (we’ll come to the dating of 1 Timothy shortly). The appeal to the quoted text as coming from “Scripture” would also seem to militate against a possible objection that the quoted phrase was a popular cliche which was independently quoted by Luke and Paul.

Paul also quotes from Luke’s gospel, in connection with the Lord’s supper, in 1 Corinthians 11:

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

In addition, 1 Timothy 6 also makes reference to Pontius Pilate, suggesting that its author (in my view, Paul) was aware of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ trial. Paul is also evidently aware of the 12 disciples (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15).

So, what then can we conclude? If – as I maintain – the pastoral epistles are genuinely Pauline, then Luke’s gospel (or, at the very least, Luke’s source material) must predate AD60 by far enough to be regarded as Scripture at the time of the writing of 1 Timothy (probably the early 60s). Furthermore, I would argue, it is likely to also predate the writing of 1 Corinthians in the early 50’s.

This is also consistent with evidence from other areas. For example, the Acts of the Apostles (which post-dates Luke’s gospel) does not mention the destruction of the temple in AD 70, nor the death of Peter or Paul, nor for that matter the persecution of Christian martyrs under Nero in the 60s or the Great Fire of Rome from which it resulted. If such events had already taken place by the time Luke wrote Acts, one would expect to find a pertaining description. But, instead, Acts leaves us hanging, by ending after Paul has been placed under house-arrest.

So the three points to note here about dating the gospels are as follows. If one book Y cites another book X, then X is earlier than Y. Second point, a person who dies in the year X must have written before the year X. And third point, if a source doesn’t mention some cataclysmic historical event, then it predates that event. For example, a history of the United States that does not mention the 9/11 /01 attack was written before that date.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: 10 important questions for Jehovah’s witnesses

So there’s this group of people called Jehovah’s Witnesses that use Christian language to describe a religion that denies key parts of the Christian worldview. Since you may might them knocking on your door to tell you about their worldview, it might be worth it to read this post from J. Warner Wallace over in advance.

I’ll just post a snip of the first I use when they come to my door. It’s also the first on Wallace’s list:

If I am to accept the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witness religion, I am first going to have to trust the source of this teaching. But how can I trust someone who claims to speak for God when they have been wrong about prior predictions?

There are a number of false predictions made either by Charles Russell, subsequent leaders of the church or the Watchtower Organization itself, including this limited sampling:

1886 The Millennial Reign Has Already Begun “The outward evidences are that the marshalling of the hosts for the battle of the great day of God almighty, is in progress while the skirmishing is commencing.” (Watchtower reprints 1, page 817 January 1886)

1897 The Millennial Reign Began in 1874 “ Our Lord, the appointed King, is now present, since October 1874” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 4, page 621)

1899 The Times Described in Revelation 16 Have Begun “…the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ (Revelation 16:14), which will end in A.D. 1914 with the complete overthrow of earth’s present rulership, is already commenced.” (The Time Is at Hand, page 101 – 1908 edition)

1916 The Millennial Reign Began in 1873 “The Bible chronology herein presented shows that the six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th Day, the 1000 years of Christ’s Reign, began in 1873.” (The Time Is at Hand, page ii)

1917 Armageddon Has Begun “The present great war in Europe is the beginning of the Armageddon of the scriptures.” (Pastor Russell’s Sermons, 1917, page 676)

1918 The Saints Will Be Resurrected in 1925 “Therefore we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the faithful prophets of old, particularly those named by the Apostle in Hebrews 11, to the condition of human perfection.” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 89)

“1925 shall mark the resurrection of the faithful worthies…We are standing at the very portals of that blessed time!” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, page 105)

1922 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures than 1914.” (The Watchtower, September 1st, 1922, page 262)

1923 Jesus Will Return in 1925 “Our thought is that 1925 is definitely settled by the Scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge.” (The Watchtower, April 1st, 1923, page 106)

1925 Jesus May Return in 1925 “The year 1925 is here. With great expectation Christians have looked forward to this year. Many have confidently expected that all members of the body of Christ will be changed to heavenly glory during this year. This may be accomplished. It may not be. In his own due time God will accomplish his purposes concerning his people. Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year.” (The Watchtower, January 1st, 1925, page 3)

1940 Armageddon is Eminent Within the Year “The year 1940 is certain to be the most important year yet, because Armageddon is very near.” (Informant, May 1940)

1941 Jesus Will Return in Months “Receiving the gift, the marching children clasped it to them, not a toy or plaything for idle pleasure, but the Lord’s provided instrument for most effective work in the remaining months before Armageddon.” (The Watchtower, September 15th, 1941, page 288)

1946 Armageddon is “At the Door” “…the disaster of Armageddon, greater than that which befell Sodom and Gomorrah, is at the door.” (Let God be True, 1946, page 194)

1968 Jesus Will Return in 1975 “Why are you looking forward to 1975?” (The Watchtower, August 15th, 1968, page 494)

“Just think , brothers, there is only 90 months left before 6000 years of mans existence on earth is completed… the majority of people living today will probably be alive when Armageddon breaks out.” (Kingdom Mystery, March 1968, page 4)

This is the quickest way to see why you should not convert to their organization. In the Bible, it’s a serious crime to make a prediction about the future and then have it not come true. It’s actually a capital offense, and it’s something that “false prophets” do. But it happens all the time with JWs. Just remind them of this and say “I cannot be affiliated with any organization that fails to get their truth claims right over and over again, because it shows me clearly that they don’t speak for God”.

Wallace actually has the quote from the Bible in his point 3:

Deuteronomy 18:20-22:

20 But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’

21 You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’

22 When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

The other one I use is John 1:1, which Wallace’s first point under the “Biblical Questions” heading.

If you want a longer treatment of this topic, check out Michael Licona’s PDF document on Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Filed under: Polemics, , , , ,

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