Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

J. Warner Wallace: important differences between Christianity and Mormonism

Here’s a podcast featuring J. Warner Wallace. This is an after action report from Wallace’s recent missions trip to Utah to evangelize Mormons.

The MP3 file is here. (74 minutes)

Topics:

  • Mormons disagree with Christians about the nature of God, Jesus and salvation
  • The differences are so dramatic that the two religions are completely different views
  • Mormons try to portray themselves as a denomination of Christianity
  • The Utah missions trip: how Christians were trained to engage with Mormons
  • Mormonism is a works-based religion – you earn your way to eternal life by doing works
  • In Christianity, eternal life is a free gift from God to anyone who accepts Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • Mormons believe that doctrines can change from generation to generation (progressive revelation)
  • Mormons commonly make the case for a works-based theology by appealing to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
  • Mormons believe that you have to be perfect in order to get “exalted” eternal life
  • Christians are perfect because Jesus has paid the price of our rebellion against God
  • Christians: Jesus’ sacrifice pays for anything evil that we have done and could do
  • Christians are made perfect because Jesus’ perfection is applied to them
  • Christians are not practically perfect, but they are perfect by accepting that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross
  • God credits righteousness to Christians because Jesus has already died to pay off the punishment for their sins
  • The good works that Christians do are a voluntary response to this free gift of salvation
  • The good works do not secure a Christian’s salvation, they are the natural outworking of accepting the gift of salvation
  • The Mormon view of the afterlife is different from the Christian view
  • The best Mormon afterlife (“exaltation”) requires continued righteousness to the end of one’s natural life
  • This is not compatible with Christian teaching about salvation being by grace and not by doing good works (Gal 3:10-14)
  • Mormons can never know whether they are saved or not until the day they die
  • Christians can be sure of their salvation from the moment they accept Jesus as their leader and redeemer
  • The Bible is clear that we can know whether we are saved or not (John 5:9-14)
  • It is inconsistent for Mormons to claim to be Christians and then try to convert Christians to Mormonism
  • The reason why Mormons go door to door is because they think Christians are wrong
  • The Mormon view of Jesus is nothing like the Christian view of Christ (from the Bible)
  • Mormonism is polytheistic, whereas Christianity is monotheistic
  • Mormon “gods” are just beings who have a human nature who were “exalted” for doing good works
  • When debating Mormons, they will try to argue that Mormonism is true because it results in good works
  • The Biblical standard for a good prophet is to see whether his prophecies come true
  • The Mormon view is that Joseph Smith is reliable because he did good works
  • But good works are not a good way to test truth claims – a person could be “good” and still say false things
  • A good question to ask Mormons: is the Book of Mormon ancient? It claims to be ancient, but is it?
  • They may try to answer this question by appealing to fideism: praying for confirmation by burning bosom
  • But this is not a question that can be assessed by subjective feelings (just pray about it)
  • This is a question that needs to be assessed by historians using historical evidence
  • There is no historical or archaeological support for the claims in the Book of Mormon
  • In contrast, we have direct eyewitness testimony about the life of Jesus in the New Testament
  • We have fragments of NT manuscripts dating back to first century so we know that the New Testament is ancient

You can find lots more awesome J. Warner Wallace podcasts here. Also, I know a secret – his new book is coming along well, and he actually posted a picture of all the books he read preparing for it on Facebook. It’s a lot! The title is “God’s crime scene”.

Previously, I posted my refutation of Mormonism which used two evidential arguments. And J.W. Wartick has posted two philosophical arguments against Mormonism as well.

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

Matthew Vines and Michael Brown debate homosexuality and the Bible on Moody radio

The audio of the Matthew Vines vs Michael Brown debate is streamed here on the Moody site.

Details:

Can you be gay and Christian? Matthew Vines says you can and he’s created a viral video and best-selling book defending his view. This Saturday on Up for Debate, Vines joins host Julie Roys to debate author and leading evangelical apologist, Dr. Michael Brown. Is gay monogamy an option for Christians? Is it unloving to reject gay marriage? Listen and join the discussion this Saturday at 8 a.m. Central Time on Up for Debate!

Matthew Vines

Matthew Vines is an advocate for the acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people within Christian communities and in society at large. Living in Wichita, Kansas, Matthew attended Harvard University from 2008 to 2010. He then took a leave of absence in order to research the Bible and homosexuality and work toward LGBT inclusion in the church. In March 2012, Matthew delivered a speech at a church in his hometown about the Bible and homosexuality, calling for acceptance of gay Christians and their marriage relationships. Since then, the video of the speech has been seen more than 500,000 times on YouTube, and it was featured inThe New York Times and The Christian Post. In 2013, Matthew launched The Reformation Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to training LGBT Christians and their allies to reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. Matthew’s book,God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships, is in stores now.

Dr. Michael Brown

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. from New York University in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures and is the author of 25 books, most recently Can You Be Gay and Christian? He has served as a visiting or adjunct professor at seven leading seminaries, and contributed to numerous scholarly publications, including the Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion and the Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament. He hosts the nationally syndicated talk radio program The Line of Fire and the TV show Answering Your Toughest Questions, and he has been active in teaching, preaching, and debating since 1973, committed to seeing a Jesus-based moral and cultural revolution.

Summary key: Julie Roys (JR), Matthew Vines (MV), Michael Brown (MB)

Summary:

Opening speeches:

  • JR: Why should Christians be open to reinterpreting the Bible on homosexuality?
  • MV: Consider the lives and testimonies of gay Christians. Here is my personal story.
  • MV: According to the Bible, a person with same-sex attractions would have to embrace lifelong celibacy. I refuse to do that.
  • MV: There are 6 passages in the Bible that are relevant to the goodness of homosexuality. All are negative.
  • MV: None of these passages address gay relationships that are “long-term” and “faithful” that are based on “commitment” and “love”.
  • JR: You say that it is “damaging” for Christians to disagree with you views, is that true?
  • MV: Yes. One of my friends declared his homosexuality and he did not feel safe to come home. He felt pain because Christians disagreed with him.
  • MV: You cannot ask a person with same-sex attractions to be celibate, it causes too much harm to ask gays to abstain from sexual relationships.
  • JR: Respond to Matthew.
  • MB: The Bible only permits heterosexual sexuality and in every case condemns homosexual acts.
  • MB: Matthew is taking his sexual preferences and activities as given, and reinterpreting the Bible to fit it.
  • MB: Genesis talks about women being made to help men, and to fulfill God’s commandment to procreate and fill the Earth.
  • MB: The Bible speaks about the complementarity of the sexes when talking about how two become one in marriage.
  • MB: I am very sensitive to the stories of people who are gay who experience discrimination as “gay Christians”.
  • MB: You can feel sad for people who have two conflicting commitments, but that doesn’t mean we should redefine what the Bible says.
  • JR: Stop talking, we have a break.

JR takes a caller for the next topic:

  • Caller 1: I had same-sex attractions and I was able to change my sexuality.
  • JR: Matthew, respond to that.
  • MV: Alan Chambers of Exodus International says that 99.9% of people he worked with had not changed their gay orientation.
  • MV: Lifelong celibacy is not acceptable to gays, so the Bible must be reinterpreted to suit gays.
  • MB: Matthew thinks that God himself did not understand the concept of sexual orientation and inadvertently hurt gays because of his lack of knowledge.
  • MB: There is a solution in the Bible for people who cannot be celibate, and that solution is heterosexual marriage
  • MB: If a person is only attracted to pre-teen girls, do we then have to re-write the Bible to affirm that so they won’t be “harmed”?
  • MB: Alan Chambers was speaking for his own group, and his statement does not account for the fact that thousands of people DO change.
  • JR: What about the Jones/Yarhouse study that found that 38% of reparative therapy subjects were successful in changing or chastity?
  • MV: (no response to the question)
  • MV: (to Brown) do you accept that the Bible forces gays to live out lifelong celibacy

Another break, then Brown replies:

  • MB: Yes. But change is possible.
  • MV: Do you know of any Christian who acknowledged that this was the consequence of the Bible’s teaching for gays?
  • MB: Paul’s explanation that the options for ALL Christians are 1) celibacy or 2) heterosexual marriage. For 2000 years.
  • MV: Paul (in Romans 1) is talking about people who are not “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships.
  • MV: Paul was not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships at the time he wrote his prohibitions in Romans 1.
  • JR: How do you know that fixed sexual orientation is true? And that the Biblical authors would written different things if they knew?
  • JR: Are there any references in the first century to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships?
  • MB: Yes, in my book I quote prominent historian N. T. Wright who documents that those relationships were known.
  • MB: Matthew’s view requires that God did not know about sexual orientation when ordaining the Bible’s content.
  • MB: Leviticus 18 is for all people, for all time. This was not just for the Jews, this was for everyone.
  • MV: I am not saying that Paul was wrong because he was ignorant.
  • MV: Paul was writing in a context where “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships were unknown.
  • MV: NT Wright does not cite first century texts, he cites a problematic 4th century text.
  • MV: Absence of 1st-century references to “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships means that God did not intend to prohibit them.
  • MB: Whenever the Bible speaks about homosexuality, it is opposed to it – Old Testament and New Testament.

Another break, then the conclusion:

  • JR: Respond to the Leviticus prohibition, which prohibits homosexuality for everyone, for all time.
  • MV: It is a universal prohibition on male same-sex intercourse, but it does not apply to Christians.
  • MV: For example, Leviticus prohibits sex during a woman’s menstrual period. And Christians are not bound by that.
  • MV: What is the reason for this prohibition of male-male sex in Leviticus? It’s not affirm the complementarity of the sexual act.
  • MV: The Bible prohibits male-male sex because it is written for a patriarchal culture.
  • MV: In a patriarchal culture, women are viewed as inferior. That’s why the Bible prohibits a man from taking the woman’s role in sex.
  • MB: The prohibition in Leviticus is a universal prohibition against male-male sex, applicable in all times and places.
  • MB: Homosexual sex is a violation of the divine order.
  • MB: We can see already the consequences of normalizing this: gay marriage, and supports for polygamy and polyamory.
  • MV: So the earliest reference there is to a “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationship is a 4th century text.
  • MV: But that gay relationship is not like modern gay relationships.

I have a few comments about Vines’ points below.

My comments:

Even heterosexuals who have not married are called upon to embrace lifelong celibacy. I am in my 30s and am a virgin because I have not married. I wouldn’t seek to reinrepret the Bible to allow premarital sex just because what I am doing is difficult. I would rather just do what the Bible says than reinterpret it to suit me. And it’s just as hard for me to be chaste as it would be for him to be. In short, it’s a character issue. He takes his right to recreational sex as non-negotiable, and reinterprets the Bible to suit. I take the Bible as non-negotiable, and comply with it regardless of whether it seems to make me less happy. With respect to the purposes of God for me in this world, my happiness is expendable. If I don’t find someone to marry, I’m going to be “afflicted” with the lifelong celibacy that Vines seems to think is torture, but let me tell you – God is happy with the contributions I am making for him, and if I have to be chaste through my whole life, I am 100% fine with that. I serve the King. And not the reverse.

Notice that he talks about “long-term” but not permanent relationships, and “faithful” but not exclusive. This is important because the statistics show that gay relationships (depending on whether it is female-female or male-male) are prone to instability and/or infidelity. I just blogged on that recently, with reference to the published research on the subject. Vines is talking about a situation that does not obtain in the real world – according to the data. Gay relationships do not normally value permanence and exclusivity in the way that opposite-sex marriage relationships do, especially where the couple regularly attends church. The divorce rate and infidelity rate for religious couples is far below the rates for gay couples, depending on the sexes involved. Vines is committed to the idea that marriage is about feelings, e.g. – “love”, but that’s not the public purpose of marriage. Marriage is not about love, it’s about complementarity of the sexes and providing for the needs of children. We have published studies like this one showing that there are negative impacts to children who are raised by gay couples, which dovetails with studies showing that children need a mother and that children need a father. We should not normalize any relationship that exposes children to harm. We should prefer to inconvenience adults than to harm children.

Matthew Vines made an argument that Christians have to stop saying that homosexuality is wrong, because it makes gay people feel excluded. I wrote previously about the argument that gay activists use where they say “if you don’t agree with me and celebrate me and affirm me, then I’ll commit suicide”. In that post, I quoted a prominent gay activist who made exactly that argument. I don’t find the threats to self-destruction to be a convincing argument for the truth of the view that gay marriage being the same as heterosexual marriage. In fact, this is confirmed by a recent study which showed that features of gay relationships themselves, and not social disapproval, is to blame for high rates of suicide in the gay community.

Vines seems to want to argue that the context in which the Bible authors were writing did not allow them to address the problem of gays in “long-term”, “faithful” relationships. Well, we have already seen that statistically speaking, those relationships are in the minority. One British study mentioned in the post I linked to above found that only 25% of gay couples were intact after 8 years. The number is 82% for heterosexual marriages, and that doesn’t filter by couples who abstain from premarital sex and who attend church regularly. If you add those two criteria, the number is going to be well above 82% in my opinion. Studies show that premarital chastity and church attendance vastly improve the stability and quality of marriages.

In addition, Vines is trying to argue that 1) the Bible authors were not aware of “long-term”, “faithful” gay relationships and 2) their failure to explicitly disqualify these “long-term”, “stable” gay sexual relationships means that the Bible actually condones them. A friend of mine pointed out that this is a textbook case of the argument from silence, where someone asserts that because something is not explicitly condemned, then it must be OK. Carried through to its logical end, that would mean that things like identity theft are OK, because they are not mentioned explicitly. Brown asserted that there was a blanket prohibition on homosexual acts. He is arguing from what we know. Vines says that “long-term”, “faithful” homosexual relationships are not mentioned, and are therefore OK. He is arguing from what we don’t know. And he is trying to reverse the burden of proof so that he doesn’t have to show evidence for his view. Brown wouldn’t take the bait. The fact of the matter is that no one for the last 2000 years of church history have taken Vines’ view. Every single Christian before Vines, who were closer to Jesus’ teachings than Vines, understood the verses that Brown cited to be providing a blanket prohibition on homosexual sex acts. If Vines wants to claim that the Bible condones what he wants it to condone, he has to produce some positive evidence from the text or from church history or church fathers. He has nothing to support his case that could convince anyone that this is what Christians have believed, and ought to believe.

Finally, if you are looking for another debate, I blogged about a debate between Michael Brown and Eric Smaw. There’s a video and summaries of the opening speeches in that post.

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

Woman who claims to be a Christian denounces premarital chastity

Here’s the plan for this post. We’re going to take a look at a post by a woman who claims to be a Christian. In that post, she offers some reasons why premarital chastity is wrong. Then we’ll take a look at what the Bible says. Then we’ll take a look at what the research says. Then I explain what this trend among Christian women means for marriage-minded men.

First here is the post by “Joy”. Her reasons for disagreeing with premarital chastity are as follows:

  1. Chastity makes women who have had premarital sex feel ashamed
  2. It does no harm for a woman to have premarital sex before marriage
  3. God made people with a sexual drive, so God thinks that premarital sex is OK
  4. Most people are already having sex, so God thinks that premarital sex is OK
  5. Practicing sex with men you don’t intend to marry makes you better at marital sex

In another post, she is more clear about her views: (these are her actual words)

  • Choosing to not to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage is not shameful.
  • Your decision to abstain or not to abstain does not necessarily have any connection to the health of your future marriage.
  • Your decision to abstain or not to abstain does not necessarily have any connection to the health of your future sex life.

Now first off, she has no Biblical evidence for any of these assertions in the original post I linked to. She also has no evidence from outside the Bible for any of her assertions. Assertion #3 in the list of 5 above seems to me to justify adultery as easily as it justifies premarital sex. Now, you might expect a person who claims to be a Christian to look first to the Bible to see what is right and wrong, then to look to evidence to strengthen the argument when discussing it with others inside and outside the church. For Joy, feelings and peer-pressure are enough to make anything morally OK. Now let’s take a quick look at what the Bible says about chastity and premarital sex:

1 Cor. 7:8-9

8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to stay single as I am.

9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

The idea of “burning” here has to do with sexual desire. Here Paul tells all unmarried people that if they cannot control their sexual desires, they need to get married. Why? Because Paul assumes that one cannot fulfill this sexual desire outside of the marital bed. While Paul would love for them to remain single (1 Cor. 7:7), he believes that sex outside of marriage is a destructive sin and cannot be used as a gratifying release of our sexual passions.

Now what evidence outside the Bible is there to support that? Here’s some:

Now back to Joy, What I have found when dealing with women like Joy in the church is that the Bible has no authority over them. Not even the words of Jesus have authority to lead them. And obviously they are not impressed with evidence from science, history, etc. Their sole reason for acting the way they do is their own feelings. Whatever they do that seems right to them cannot be questioned or judged. If things don’t “work out”, then they are a helpless victim. God’s will for them is that they do whatever they feel like in order to be happy.

It’s very very important for men who are seeking marriage to understand that the typical woman they meet in the church does not understand that Christianity imposes any obligations on them. They don’t look at the Bible for moral guidance, but for comfort. And they don’t study outside the Bible to become persuaded (and persuasive) about what the Bible teaches. Their view of Christianity is that they are good where they are, and that there is nothing that they should be studying or planning for in order to achieve goals, like evangelism or marriage. Everything has to be easy and feel good.

Fortunately, there is a way to detect the women who are serious about Christianity, and it can be done by simply asking them questions to see if they have moved beyond the feelings/selfishness model of Christianity to the truth/ responsibility model of Christianity. All you have to do is ask them questions to see how much effort they’ve put into confirming what the Bible teaches by reading outside the Bible. Christians read the Bible to know what’s true, and they read outside the Bible to convince themselves to act on what they know is true, and to show to others what’s true in a persuasive way. But reading outside the Bible is at war with the feelings /victim/ don’t-judge-me view of Christianity pushed by people like Joy. That is because the more you read, the less room there is for doing what you feel like. When you study, what you learn constrains your actions.

I think men should avoid women who respond to the claims of Scripture and the evidence from research by sticking their fingers in their ears and saying “don’t judge me! don’t shame me!”. You can’t make a marriage with someone who is dismissive of moral obligations, and who acknowledges no higher authority than her own feelings and the approval of her secular, progressive peers. The Bible forbids “unequal yoking”, which is the marriage of a Christian to a non-Christian.

More about Joy and the women of A Deeper Story

A little more digging reveals that they are pro-gay marriage and claim that it is compatible with Christianity:

http://deeperstory.com/a-deeper-story-responds-to-doma-and-prop-8/

Joy Bennett – The Supreme Court’s ruling today to overturn DOMA is the right decision, and one that I welcome. It refers the definition of marriage and recognition of same-sex marriage back to states. It surprises me to hear conservatives, who ardently support states’ rights, bemoaning this ruling as “sin winning.” It is my personal position that any couple wishing to vow fidelity and faithfulness to one another ought to be encouraged in that endeavor. And any couple willing to make that kind of commitment and form a family ought to receive the civil and legal rights that naturally follow the formation of a family. I see the legal recognition of a marriage as a completely separate issue from the theological discussion of homosexuality. The Supreme Court did not change anything about so-called traditional marriage. The Supreme Court did not require churches or religious bodies to recognize same-sex marriage. It made a civil ruling. The theological question of whether homosexuality is a sin is completely separate from its legality, and it would behoove today’s American Christians to remember that fact.

The Sarah Bessey she links to is also in favor of same-sex marriage:
http://deeperstory.com/same-sex-marriage/

They are pro-premarital sex and claim that it is compatible with Christianity (in the post I linked to).

The two articles she linked to bashing the “purity culture” (chastity) contain no Bible verses, and no studies. No truth at all, really. Note that bashing chastity is compatible with their feminist egalitarian convictions.

One of the authors she linked to (Sarah Bessey) has a book that is endorsed by Rachel Held Evans and Brian MacLaren. That’s where these guys are coming from ideologically. They are bashing Biblical morality and judging anyone who dares to say that anything is morally wrong. They feel that that people should never be made to feel bad by what the Bible says. (And what studies confirm).

So these people are not Christian in any meaningful way, but more like Trojan horses, manufacturing “diversity” of opinions where there is none, IF you take the Bible seriously as a rule on moral issues. If you’re a man looking to marry, you need to be able to detect women like this – don’t just assume they are good Christian women because they go to church. Ask questions.

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

Can Al Mohler evangelize his way out of a wet paper bag?

I am basing my answer the question in the title on many months of listening to his excellent “The Briefing” podcast.

And what I’ve learned from all this listening is that he is very skilled at identifying interesting problems and threats to the Christian worldview, but he rarely or never brings in evidence from outside the Bible so I can discuss these things with non-Christians. Why not? In my experience of listening to him on his podcast, he is not capable of opposing any of the things that he wrings his hands about in any way other than blaming “The Fall” and reminding his listeners what the Bible says. His notion of a “Christian worldview” really just means reading the Bible, and never linking it to science, economics, history, etc. Maybe he is afraid that too much learning about these other areas will crowd out the Bible verses out of his memory. I don’t know.

I still think it’s good to listen to his podcast, but he’s of no value in fixing anything he complains about, unless you’re already a Christian.

Here’s what a conversation with Al Mohler and the liberal supreme court judges would be like:

  • Al Mohler: So, I heard you guys voted to overturn the Defense of Marriage Amendment.
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: That’s right.
  • Al Mohler: Would you like to hear what the Bible says about that?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Actually, no.
  • Al Mohler: Are you sure?
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: Pretty sure.
  • Al Mohler (turns to the choir): See? We live in a Genesis 3 world!
  • Liberal SCOTUS justice: What does that even mean?
  • Al Mohler: Oh! Oh! Oh! I know that one! It means -
  • Liberal SCOTUS: Is that from the Bible? Because if it is, I don’t want to hear it.
  • Al Mohler: Boooo!!!! Phooey!!!!

Al Mohler is a smart man, and very good to have around if you are evangelizing fundamentalist Christians. But with anyone else, he is not in a position to be convincing. The best he can do is wall Christianity off from non-Christianity, but in my opinion, he’s not able to persuasive to the part of culture that he just walled off. OK, that’s the end of my satire of Al Mohler.

Anyway, let’s take a look at this post from Think Apologetics blog, which explains more about this attitude. Note: Eric does not necessarily endorse my snarky satire of Al Mohler.

He quotes from this interview between two evangelical heavyweight New Testament critics:

[Ben] Witherington says:

You speak frequently about a change, even among the laity, in what I will call the mood of the culture when it comes to Christianity. What are the telltale signs in your mind? How do you see a book like this addressing that change, especially if we are now moving into a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America?

[Craig] Blomberg says:

When I was working on my various educational degrees in the 1970s, we were still reeling as a culture from Vietnam, Watergate, Woodstock and a generation of young adults who were often very disenchanted with traditional authority, including religious authority. Yet they were truly open-minded. They were interested in exploring religious options other than Christianity but they were also very open to exploring the evidence for Christianity, especially when it was combined with an authentic, relevant Christian lifestyle. So mixed among other kinds of hippies were a large number of “Jesus people,” many of whom had come out of alternative lifestyles.

If you organized an event on a secular college or university campus with a winsome, compelling speaker and did a reasonably good job at publicizing it, there was a good chance you would draw a large crowd and that a significant minority of the non-Christians in the audience would take significant steps closer to becoming followers of Jesus if not make the commitment on that very day. And those who didn’t at least had some general knowledge, even before they came to the event, of the worldview they were for the time being, at least, choosing to reject.

Today we see the children of that generation as young adults on the same campuses with the same Christian organizations, with even more compelling speakers and evidence on which to draw, and yet in many instances it is extremely difficult to get a good crowd, if you do you are lucky if even a few unbelievers come, and luckier still if any of them are drawn toward the faith. But it is not as if any new evidence has emerged that we didn’t know about a generation ago to make the case for faith weaker. Instead, people have grown up with less awareness of biblical claims, with more prejudice against Christianity, with an eagerness to embrace the most outlandish charges against the Bible without even wanting to research them at all, which really shows that they are looking for reasons not to believe rather than engaging in serious inquiry.

Then Eric says this:

Did you notice that both Witherington and Blomberg acknowledge we are living in  a post-Christian, post-Biblical era in America? I wish the rest of the Church would wake up and stop just giving Christians more Bible verses and Bible sermons. I love the Bible. But as I have said elsewhere:

If pastors keep assuming that the average person in the culture thinks the Bible is authoritative, they are living in denial. This is not the 1950’s! When we as Christians assume everyone outside the four walls accepts our starting point, then we are kidding ourselves. I would love to see more pastors spend at least one month or more a year teaching  their congregants on the reliability and authority of the Bible.

For example, let’s say we have thousands of seminary students who graduate who are very skilled at exegeting the text. However, the problems is that the majority of these people (and teachers) start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects. Here are our starting points:

1. God’s existence: God exists because the Bible says so.

2. Epistemology (the study of knowledge): God gives us knowledge of Himself by revelation. The Bible tells us this as well.

3.Miracles: Christianity is a revelatory religion. Without miracles (such as the resurrection) being both possible and actual, our faith is really not very unique. What about other miracle claims in other religions? There is an overall skepticism towards miracles in the West. How do we answer these issues?

4.History: Is history knowable? What historical method are we teaching our students? And as far as miracles, can history evaluate a miracle claim such as the resurrection?

5. Hermeneutics: Can we arrive at objective meaning in the text?

6. Ethics: Is the Bible a source of ethics for us? How would we explain this to the world around us.

If we continue to start with the Bible itself without Prolegomena, we will end up causing thousands of Christians to beg the question to those we minister to. To beg the question is to take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. My advice for seminaries is to make it mandatory for all students to take a class on Prolegomena.

I love the Bible too. But I also know how to have a conversation with a non-Christian about science, economics, politics, etc. I know how to talk about the findings of mainstream science and how they point to a Creator and Designer without dismissing it all as the Devil’s handiwork. I know how to make a case for the pro-life view or for chastity or traditional marriage or the free-market system without requiring that my audience assume that the Bible is the inerrant word of God (which I think it is). We need to get to the point where we can have conversations about things with people who don’t go as far as we do on inerrancy. I think that when they see that we actually know what we are talking about in these other areas, that will open the door for them to listen to us on spiritual things, too.

Filed under: Commentary, , , ,

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.

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