Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Pastor Matt: How apologetics saved my faith

Here’s a must-read post from Pastor Matt Rawlings whose reading list I wrote about before.

Excerpt:

I became a Christian at 24 after a cancer diagnosis.  I had been an atheist for 10 years but came to God in desperation.  I left Capitol Hill (and politics altogether) to learn about Christianity.  I attended what many believed was a conservative seminary but had slowly slipped into liberalism by the time I arrived in 1999.  I was sold on “higher criticism” (or a skeptical approach to the historicity and inerrency of Scripture) and joined the then growing “Emergent Church” movement.  Within a few years, I was where Rob Bell is now–a soft universalist with a condescending attitude toward conservatives.  Yet, I was also spiritually dead and was struggling with depression.  I was quickly headed back to the atheism I had thought I had left behind while praying for my life.

During this time of personal struggle, my wife and I were helping a small church in Charleston, West Virginia.  When an elder learned my wife had a degree in micro-biology and had helped overseen a science program at Cornell, he asked her to meet with the youth group and answer their questions about science and the faith.  In preparation, she picked up the book The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel (Zondervan 2005).  She devoured the book and went on and on about wonderful it was and how I had to read it.  I resisted as the cover struck me as “fundamentalist nonsense.”  Yet, she persisted and it became clear that either I was going to read the book or spend a few nights on the couch!

I opened the book with a bad attitude.  After all, my seminary professors had told me that “apologetics is dead!” and that “Generation-X and -Y desired experience not ‘answers.’”  I was even more resistant when I saw the first few chapters take on evolution.  I was convinced Genesis 1-11 was all myth, Darwin had been proven correct and that only nutters questioned it.  But after reading Strobel’s interaction with Dr. Jonathan Wells and Dr. Stephen C. Meyer of the Discovery Institute, I realized I had no real counter argument to intelligent design.

Read the rest.

The Case for a Creator is one of my favorite apologetics books. I have read it once, but I’ve listened to the audio version TEN TIMES. This book more than any other is the perfect introduction to science apologetics for beginners. I really recommend the audio book as a companion to the print version.

When I read this post by Pastor Matt, I felt that his faith was not just castles built in the sky. A lot of pastors basically start by assuming (without any evidence) that the Bible is correct in everything it says, and then they start lecturing everyone else about what the Bible says without ever having done a moment of investigation into the evidence for or against what they are preaching about. They’ve never read anyone who disagrees with them, and they don’t know how to explain what they believe to anyone outside the church walls. I have to tell you that this is one of the the most uncomfortable feelings to have when you are not yet a Christian. You are in a building filled with people who don’t know whether what they believe is true. You are being lectured by a man who typically has no idea how to show others that what he is talking about is true, except for appealing to feelings. I don’t know about you, but that really makes me uncomfortable. I trust people more when I know they are good at something practical, like mechanical engineering, medicine, automobile mechanics, weight-lifting, nutrition or cooking. When you read outside the Bible, it’s basically treating Christianity like it’s a real area of knowledge. That makes me interested, because it means we are talking about something real, not just a personal preference or a subjective experience or a community custom.

Pastor Matt is different. He’s read tons of stuff outside the Bible, and he’s not presupposing anything when he preaches about God and Jesus. He’s got informed beliefs about this stuff. He’s authentic. And you can see the strength of his convictions by looking at what he’s read. He talks about his faith like we might talk about our professions. We have convictions about what we do that creates value for others because we know how to do it. When a pastor reads a lot on logic, philosophy, history and science, then he is able to know whether what he says he believes is really true or not out there in the real world. When I listen to my pastor and look at our church book store, I get very disappointed. It makes me wonder why I can’t go to a church like Pastor Matt’s church. Wouldn’t that be great? I would really fly out of bed on Sunday morning if I thought “what is he going to teach on this morning, that I can use at work on Monday morning?” I am always interested in hearing what someone else knows. I am one of those people who is always asking the dentist, the doctor, the mechanic, and the food preparers “how did you do that?” I even got the recipe for the cilantro-lime rice that Chipotle makes by asking the woman who was making my burrito bowl. How did you do it? I want to know how you know.

I have a good friend of mine right now who is going through a tough time with her church. She keeps telling me that Sunday school is very emotional, and clearly designed to comfort people and make them feel “gooey” (her word). This is a woman who is on fire academically and is making tons of money in a summer job in her field. She just got a new scholarship, too. She keeps thinking that Sunday school is supposed to be the time to learn about difficult things and practical things. It’s causing her to really get bored with church and even to look for a new church. I think a lot of young people are tired of being entertained in church, and they would like to get their minds on some real knowledge about God and what he’s done in history and in nature. I’ll bet that Pastor Matt doesn’t have any problems packing his church with young people. Young people can tell when someone really knows what they are talking about, the same way that a dentist knows about teeth, or that a tax preparer knows about tax laws.

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

How Christian parents can teach their kids about atheism

A must-read post for parents from Christian super-mom Natasha Crain.

Intro:

In today’s post, I want to give you some very practical ideas for teaching your kids about atheism. The first seven are appropriate for kids of all ages, while the second seven are appropriate for middle school and older kids.

So I’ll choose one from the first seven, and one from the second seven.

4. Discuss Jesus’ miracles in the context of proving his identity.

When I was growing up, my sole understanding of miracles was that Jesus did a lot of cool stuff when He was on earth – stuff I had to color pictures about. It never occurred to me that there was a reason He did miracles until I was an adult. What a huge point I had missed: Jesus performed miracles in large part toprove He really was God’s Son.

The reason this point is so important to make with kids is that it solidifies an understanding that God never asked us to have a blind faith, where we just have to guess about His existence. Jesus didn’t walk around on earth merely claiming a heavenly authority. He demonstrated his power with visible evidence. When kids get a bit older, they will be ready to start learning the specifics of the evidence we have today (e.g., the cosmological argument, the design argument, the moral argument and historical evidence for the resurrection).

One of the most awesome things about the Christian faith is that the founder is constantly appealing to evidence in order to win over skeptics and enemies. He never says to people “just have faith” or “just be more moral” or “just believe me without evidence”. He’s all about the evidence. Jesus was an evidentialist.

And from the last seven, I chose this one:

11. [Older Kids] Challenge your kids with a role play.

Want to see how prepared your kids currently are to address challenges to their faith? Try a role play. You be the atheist. See how your kids respond. Here’s an example for you to say: “I don’t believe God exists. There’s no evidence! I believe in science. Why do you believe in a God you can’t prove exists?” This is the most basic of claims – see what your kids do with it. Keep pushing back on them after they respond. Use what happens as an opportunity to look for learning opportunities in the areas that come up.

12. [Older Kids] Watch debates between a Christian and an atheist.

There are many debates available to watch online (for free). Sit down as a family to watch one and encourage everyone to take notes on the points that were strongest and weakest for both sides. Use it as a springboard for discussion when the debate is done, and follow up with study on any new points. Here are a couple of examples to consider:

William Lane Craig vs. Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist?

Mike Licona vs. Bart Ehrman – Can Historians Prove Jesus Rose from the Dead? (I should note Ehrman is an agnostic, not an atheist.)

Yeah, I know that’s two. But they are both awesome.

I think the bigger point about this post is that parents ought to have a plan for raising Christian kids. So many kids who are raised in the church by “Christian” parents fall away as soon as they hit the university, but there is almost no concern about the university in most churches. Why is that? And can you really outsource the teaching of your kids to pastors who don’t prepare them for college? There is a definition of faith in conservative churches that is not Biblical. It seeks to make faith about emotions and spirituality. Confirming what the Bible says using logical arguments and evidence is frowned upon, even if the parents are smart enough to learn apologetics given their success in other areas (like their careers). In church, it’s seen as “more pious” to just believe what the Bible says without evidence, and try to make Christianity about love instead of truth. That’s what churches teach, but it’s not in the Bible. The Bible is all about presenting evidence to non-believers.

Filed under: News, , , , , , ,

Do pastors have a responsibility to know apologetics?

The latest episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast was all about a post done by Pastor Matt Rawlings. The post talked about how churches train children to become atheists.

Pastor Matt offered 6 points in his post:

  • Reason #1 – Churches seem overprotective.
  • Reason #2 – Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow.
  • Reason #3 – Churches come across as antagonistic to science.
  • Reason #4 – Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
  • Reason #5 – They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
  • Reason #6 – The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.

In his post Pastor Matt said this:

Too many churches do in fact present a shallow faith that skips doctrine and apologetics for “how to…” sermons that are little more than self-help talks with scripture sprinkled over them.  The refusal to learn theology and how to defend the faith as well as to spend the time thinking about how to present them in a clear and winsome manner is at the heart of all four of the valid objections by young people to the evangelical church.  Pastors must simply take this responsibility seriously and put in the time and effort.  There is no other answer.

[...]Det. J. Warner Wallace has argued that we have to T.R.A.I.N. Christian students rather than teach them but I think we need to train all of our fellow Christians (and he would agree).  Training is harder than teaching.  We need to remember that it takes at least seven times for the average person today to hear something before they retain it.  Also, most people do not truly understand something until they put it into practice.  Thus, pastors must be trained in order train congregations to truly be lay theologians and apologists.  The pastors must then challenge the congregation to use their skills reach out to the lost and help each other.  And all of those trained must all help to look after the young to insure they know their faith so well that they do not fall for the poor arguments for atheism.  This means pastors must implement rigorous programs for the people God has entrusted to them.

Pastor Matt lays the blame squarely on pastors for at least some of the problem. And I agree with him. But Dr. Craig asserted in his podcast that pastors should not be responsible to learn apologetics, because they were too busy with all the other duties that pastors have to do. He gave some examples, but they were things like weddings, counseling children about drugs and marriage counseling.

So what I wanted to say about this is that Pastor Matt is right and Dr. Craig is wrong. A pastor should have at least put in the time to learn apologetics so that he is able to inject it into his sermon, where appropriate, and point people to where they can find answers when asked. It seems to me that if you are going to get up there and preach about a bunch of things, then you’d better know at least a little about why those things are true. And it can’t just be “because the Bible says so” or because “that’s just how I was raised”. Respect for the truth claims of Christianity has to come from the top, even if the pastor leverages the skills of people in the church to address different issues in more detail.

Pastor Matt responded to Dr. Craig in this post.

Excerpt:

The biggest disagreement I have with Dr. Craig is that he argues pastors are too busy to be trained in apologetics.  As a pastor and the son of a pastor, I strongly differ!  Unfortunately, what I have witnessed (and heard from several seasoned pastors of very large churches) is that too many pastors are in fact lazy.  I have heard from half a dozen leaders of churches of more than 10,000 that they cannot find young seminary grads who will put in even 40 solid hours a week!  Those statements may ruffle a few feathers and certainly there are hard-working, if not overworked pastors out there but they are apparently few and far between.

Also, pastors often try to do things they shouldn’t do.  As a lawyer who used to defend churches, ministers often get into trouble for counseling those with serious issues that are beyond their training and experience.  A person with addiction issues needs something like Celebrate Recovery, a person with emotional problems needs a licensed professional counselor.  Ministers need to recognize their limits and engage in areas that they can and must address instead of those that are already well covered by other trained professionals.

But to be fair to Dr. Craig, I think he may have misunderstood what I mean by training.  I don’t mean a pastor has to earn a master’s degree or doctorate in apologetics or philosophy.  There are many short but effective training programs out there such as his own Defenders class, the distance certificate from BIOLA, Frank Turek’s short but intense CrossExamined program (that I am attending this week), etc.

I agree with Dr. Craig that we should train layman to create an apologetics team in our churches (see this post) but the pastor has to take the lead.  No pastor can expect his or her church to do what he or she is not willing to do.  If the pastor doesn’t evangelize, the church won’t.  If the pastor is not studying the Bible carefully, the church won’t.  Also, any pastor working in today’s post-Christian culture must know how to meet the challenges of said culture.  It is just part of the gig.  So, every minister should seek some type of solid apologetics training and commit to regular study on the subject as well as subscribe to certain podcasts such as Reasonable Faith.

I wanted to add that I didn’t agree with any of the other points where Dr. Craig disagreed with Pastor Matt. It was really surprising to me, but I think Pastor Matt is right across the board. Leadership starts from the top – how are you supposed to be able to assess different people’s requests to teach apologetics or bring in speakers if you are not comfortable discerning what is good and what isn’t yourself? If the pastor is going to be making those kinds of decisions, then he has to understand apologetics to some degree. Maybe not with formal training, but as much as a typical blogger like me would. Also, don’t you find it weird – the idea that a pastor can get up there and preach on things to people and not be able to show anyone some reasons why these things are true? Christians have to be ready to give an answer, and that answer cannot just be “because the Bible says so”.

Filed under: News, , ,

Are churchgoing people who accept same-sex marriage really Christians?

Here’s a bit of research from Mark Regnerus to shed some light on what else they believe. (H/T Chris)

Excerpt:

Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage are more likely to think pornography, cohabitation, hook-ups, adultery, polyamory, and abortion are acceptable. And it’s reasonable to expect continued change in more permissive directions.

As mainline Protestant denominations increasingly accept the ordination of gay clergy and publicly affirm same-sex unions, the sociologist in me wishes to understand what this development means for people in those denominations. I’m not talking about subtle linguistic shifts. While the difference between speaking of marriage as a “civil contract between a woman and a man” and as “a unique commitment between two people” is obvious to those who pay attention to church documents, the impact of such changes on congregants’ attitudes and internalized paradigms—their hearts, I suppose—is seldom considered.

What is the sexual and relational morality of Christians who accept the moral legitimacy of same-sex marriages? Some questions naturally arise. Does adultery mean the same thing for both same-sex and opposite-sex unions? Does it make sense to speak of premarital sex in such a context? Historically, the fear of pregnancy was enough to scare many love-struck Christians into taking things slow, but same-sex pregnancies are an accomplishment, not an accident, and most Christians use contraception now anyway.

Integrating homosexual relationships into Christian moral systems is not simple, and has ramifications for how heterosexual relationships are understood, too. What exactly do pro-same-sex-marriage Christians think about sex and relationships in general?

So he’s done some research on this, and here’s a snip:

To do this, I rely on the Relationships in America survey, a data collection project I oversaw that interviewed 15,738 Americans, ages 18-60, in early 2014. It’s a population-based sample, meaning that its results are nationally representative. The survey asked respondents to indicate their level of agreement or disagreement with these seven statements:

  1. Viewing pornographic material is OK.
  2. It is a good idea for couples considering marriage to live together in order to decide whether or not they get along well enough to be married to one another.
  3. It is OK for two people to get together for sex and not necessarily expect anything further.
  4. If a couple has children, they should stay married unless there is physical or emotional abuse.
  5. It is sometimes permissible for a married person to have sex with someone other than his/her spouse.
  6. It is OK for three or more consenting adults to live together in a sexual/romantic relationship.
  7. I support abortion rights.

There is more to sexual and relationship morality than just these seven items, to be sure, but they do offer us a glimpse into how people perceive various practices and relationships. In order to ensure this is not just an exercise in documenting the attitudes of Christians “in name only,” I’ve restricted the analysis to churchgoing Christians—here defined as those who report they attend religious services at least three times a month and who self-identified with some sort of Christian affiliation. And I’ve restricted the analysis to those who report a position either for or against same-sex marriage. (I’ve excluded the one-in-four who reported they are undecided.)

[...]The table above displays the share of each group who either “agree” or “strongly agree” with the seven statements listed above. At a glance, there is a pretty obvious fissure between Christians who do and do not oppose same-sex marriage. More than seven times as many of the latter think pornography is OK. Three times as many back cohabiting as a good idea, six times as many are OK with no-strings-attached sex, five times as many think adultery could be permissible, thirteen times as many have no issue with polyamorous relationships, and six times as many support abortion rights. The closest the two come together is over the wisdom of a married couple staying together at all costs (except in cases of abuse).

Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage look very much like the country as a whole—the population average (visible in the third column). That answers my original question. What would a pro-SSM Christian sexual morality look like? The national average—the norm—that’s what.

Click on through for the rest of it.

As a Christian man, my view is that all sex outside of marriage is wrong. When you hear a church-going person talk about changing the definition of marriage and turning a blind eye to cohabitation. divorce, etc. it’s important to understand that they are just flat out rejecting the no sex outside marriage view. We now have a view of sex in culture that “love makes it right”. And now even “marriage is for anyone who loves someone else”. It’s baloney. That’s not the Christian view, and these church-going people ought to know better.

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

The trouble with avoiding controversial topics

Lindsay blogs about it on her Lindsay’s logic blog.

Intro:

According to these definitions, a controversial topic is simply one on which many people disagree. In some cases, this may be due to the topic being merely opinion. If you are asking which ice cream flavor is the best or which sports car is the best or which season of the year is the best, these are all matters of opinion and there is no right answer. There is no absolute truth in these cases because the inherent question is about what people prefer. Different people prefer different things.

But in spite of the fact that there is a lot of disagreement on the best ice cream flavor (vanilla, in case anyone was wondering), we don’t usually try to shut people up when they express an opinion, even if it differs from ours. And we usually don’t call these opinions “controversial.” In fact, I have never heard anyone refer to ice cream flavors as a controversial issue. (What a conversation that would be. “I like vanilla best.” “Oh, don’t talk about ice cream flavors because they’re so controversial.”)

When people talk about something being “controversial” they usually do it when it’s not just a matter of opinion, but they want to believe it is. They want to use the disagreement out there to avoid taking a side on an important topic.

Sometimes they don’t want to take a side because it’s unpopular. If they take a side, the people on the other side might not like them.

Sometimes they don’t want to have to put the effort into studying the issue. Laziness makes them avoid finding out which position is the correct one.

Sometimes they don’t like the implications involved in taking a position. What if believing one way or the other means they have to change something about their life? Perhaps give up something they enjoy or do something they don’t like?

Sometimes they have the mistaken idea that a “controversial” topic doesn’t have a correct answer and thus neither side should be dogmatic.

Some see taking a side on something that evokes a lot of disagreement as somehow “divisive” or “polarizing” and therefore bad.

Whatever the reason, these people want to stay “neutral” and not take a side. And, often, they don’t want to hear anyone else’s position on the matter either.

And this is where I want to turn this topic to parenting. I have met people who fell away from their faith after being raised in a Christian home, and this is what I’ve noticed about them. The parents are usually uncomfortable with listening to the other side of “controversial” issues. Does God exist? Too controversial. Is there unjustified evil and suffering? Too controversial. Should abortion be legal? Too controversial. Are non-Christian religions false? Too controversial. Is premarital sex morally permissible? Too controversial. Nothing can be discussed, because we all have to feel happy – and be seen by the neighbors to BE happy. So shut it and keep smiling.

It reminds me of this post from Beyond Teachable Moments, where the author was interviewing a woman who lost her faith in college before returning to the faith.

Read this:

 Throughout the phases of my childhood, expose me to different types of social situations with people from all walks of life. I think having experience talking with a wide range of people with differing worldviews is so important. In other words, get me outside the safe Christian “bubble”, but do so with the support of parents and with an open discussion of why people think/believe differently and why we believe what we believe. Do not just tell me “believe this because I told you it is true or because I said so.”

Learn what is going on in popular culture within my peer group. What are kids my age thinking, watching, and listening to? Be involved; don’t view every outside influence as a threat, but help and encourage me to analyze situations and make decisions accordingly. Don’t try to shelter me from everything. I need to develop confidence and a foundation in the little things if you expect me to be able to take on the big things at university.

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.

If every topic is off limit in the home, then the child will very likely drop Christianity like a hot potato when she hits college. You do not teach a child how to debate controversial topics by shushing them in order to maintain your happiness – or to keep up appearances. It’s even worse when the shushing is done with screaming and arguments. Controversial topics must be discussed openly and respectfully. Work has to be done by parents to study these issues. Debates (like WLC debates) must be watched by the whole family. Both sides of issues must be represented properly. But how many times does this happen in Christian homes? And how many times does this happen in the Christian church? You can attend an evangelical church for from birth to death in America and never hear one iota of useful information related to controversial topics. The parents don’t know, the pastors don’t know, and that’s the way they like it.

Many Christian parents are happy for their kids to “be nice” and “look good” while they are home even if they go wild in college. It’s so “unexpected” they will say later. They did such a good job – took them to church every week, and they got their Bible memorization and praise hymn singing badges. Somehow, we have convinced ourselves that not knowing anything and not teaching anything about controversial issues is a great parenting technique. Parents and pastors are sure that it’s more “pious” to just believe things without evidence, and not discuss and debate alternate points of view. And easier, too – leaves more time to for “devotional” activities, which don’t require study. The more we spiritualize Christianity instead of debating it, the more likely our children will turn on God.

The most alarming thing is when I tell Christian parents and Christian pastors this, and they start to make excuses about how faith is beyond reason and evidence. How do you stop a problem like this when the parents and the pastors are more focused on looking good and feeling good than they are on knowing whether what they believe is true? You can’t. We have to recognize that this pious refusal to get down and dirty with the truth claims of Christianity is motivated by laziness. It’s not praiseworthy at all to chase Christianity into some mystical realm beyond the reach of logic and evidence. Yet this is the dominant view in Christian homes and churches.

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

Wintery Tweets

Click to see recent visitors

  Visitors Online Now

Page views since 1/30/09

  • 4,306,585 hits

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,021 other followers

Archives

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,021 other followers

%d bloggers like this: