Category: Apologetics

When sensitive and thoughtful people begin to doubt

Do you know someone who appeared to be a strong christian, and then began to doubt the truth of the whole thing? I’m guessing they were likely someone in their twenties, brought up as believers but suddenly facing questions they didn’t have answers for and issues they couldn’t easily resolve. And I’m guessing many of … Continue reading When sensitive and thoughtful people begin to doubt
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Is the Book of Acts Reliable?

(Note: We apologize that certain German vowels didn’t translate onto this site). Introduction The book of Acts is of critical importance in the contemporary debate about the historical Jesus. The reason for this is straightforward. Those who deny that the original, historical Jesus made divine claims for himself, performed miracles ...
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Wednesday Miscellany

A few unfinished scraps and fragments are cluttering up my “drafts” folder, so it’s time for another “Miscellany” post. There’s a common thread that runs through what follows—something like “the truth and how we tell it”—but nothing cohesive enough for a single post, evidently. 
***
Andrew Sullivan thinks it’s impossible for human beings not to have a religion, “even in our secularized husk of a society.” I happen to agree with him—both about humans being irreducibly religious and about our society being a “secularized husk.” What a great description of a society that claims not to have left religion behind but is morally zealous in ways that rival the most enthusiastic evangelists from days long past.
According to Sullivan, our religious impulses have not disappeared, they have simply migrated to other domains. In America, the right’s religious fervour is concentrated in the attaining and securing of power. Salvation comes via the levers of politics. The left embraces an activistic narrative of social and moral progress. Here, too, salvation often comes via politics. Both views function as religions for their adherents.
This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in this paragraph where Sullivan compares the “Great Awakening” with the “Great Awokening”:

And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke.

The article has me thinking that whatever else the old religions may or may not have going for them, at least they were explicit about what they were. Few things get as tiresome as politics and irreligion masquerading as religion.
***
Those I work with on the preaching schedule for our church regularly hear me say something like, “We need to have a guest speaker soon. I’m getting sick of hearing my own voice.” I usually say this with a bit of a grin on my face. Sometimes I’d just like a break from sermon prep. But there’s a deeper reason. I really do believe that people benefit from encountering Jesus through a different set of theological goggles than my own.
The other day, I heard a preacher I respect talk about a mid-life/mid-faith course correction he had undergone. He finally encountered the “unvarnished Jesus,” he said. I wonder about that. I know what he’s trying to say. He came to a truer, deeper understanding of Jesus, one more faithful to the gospels, one less encumbered by the trappings of his own culture and the theological biases in which he was raised. I get all that. But do we ever encounter an “unvarnished Jesus?”
I don’t think so. This is one of my worries as someone who preaches 40+ times a year—that my congregation gets a Jesus that is heavily refracted through what I think is important, through what I prefer to ignore, through my agenda for the church, through my constellation of existential anxieties. It’s not that I think my Jesus is wrong or deficient. But I’m just barely smart enough to know that he’s incomplete.
Thank God for other voices. And thank God that preaching is only one way that the risen Christ encounters people on the road.
***
One of the albums that’s been getting regular play in the headphones these days is Muse’s new one, “Simulation Theory.” I’m a sucker for anthemic rock full of grandiose lyrics, and Muse has always supplied both of these in abundance. Usually, after a few songs I’m just about ready to march out to protest something or stick it to the man. Just about.
There’s a song on their most recent album called “Thought Contagion” that takes direct aim at our post-truth, fake news times with megalomaniacal leaders spurred on by populist mobs.

You’ve been bitten by a true believer
You’ve been bitten by someone who’s hungrier than you
You’ve been bitten by a true believer
You’ve been bitten by someone’s false beliefs
Thought contagion
Thought contagion

It’s an understandable response to a truly odious cultural phenomenon. But the language is interesting, isn’t it? Nasty beliefs that we disagree with are described in the language of predation and disease. It’s “true believers” that are the problem. They spread their ugliness like a virus and if we’re lucky (or smart/virtuous) enough, we’ll stave off the infection. Our beliefs (i.e., right-thinking people’s beliefs) are the result of rational reflection and general decency. We are not “true believers” but “free thinkers.” At least so we are pleased to tell ourselves.
My skepticism of human nature and how we form/maintain our beliefs has a broader application than Muse’s, I think. “Thought contagions” seem to me come in all kinds of different strains, and we’re all more vulnerable to them that we might want to admit.
***
I was recently invited to speak on a panel next year about evolution and faith. One of my co-panelists evidently comes from an apologetics organization and wanted each of us to articulate our “positions” on evolution beforehand to aid in his preparation. I’ll confess that I groaned inwardly when the email came through.
There are two reasons for my groaning. First, the thought of going into battle in the Christian apologetics wars holds pretty much zero appeal to me. There was a time when this might have excited me, but that time has evidently passed. Haggling over the age of the earth and the one correct interpretation of a handful of bible passages isn’t something that exactly sets my pulse a-racing these days.
Second, I really dislike this assumption that we ought to be able to produce a “position” on an “issue” on demand. “Positions” on “issues” very often end up relegating more important things (like people) to the sidelines. I’d much rather talk about what’s going on behind the positions about issues. What views of God are operating? What existential hungers are being fed or starved?  What unspoken hopes and fears are lingering around the periphery? And so on.
I’ll likely lose the battle over the age of the earth. My “position” probably isn’t as well-fortified as it ought to be. But who knows, maybe an interesting conversation or two will materialize once the swords are set aside and truth is treated less as an artifact to protect than a puzzle to explore.

Syndicated from Rumblings

Podcast: Dear Greg: My Husband is Anti-Theist, What Should I Do?

A godly house with an unbelieving spouse. Greg discusses unbelieving partners.   Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com Twitter: @reKnewOrg http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0418.mp3 Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS Art: “First World War: A Ward in a Hospital Ship” by: Godfrey Jervis Gordan date: 1917
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The Point of the Book of Job

The point of the book of Job is to teach us that the mystery of evil is a mystery of a war-torn and unfathomably complex creation, not the mystery of God’s all-controlling will. Given how Christians are yet inclined to look for a divine reason behind catastrophes and personal tragedies, ...
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How a deep and growing divide is killing Protestant christianity – or maybe renewing it!

Right from the earliest days, there have always been disagreements within the christian community. Some are resolved, but some lead to major splits, new denominations or new doctrinal positions. I have the feeling that a major, and probably irreversible, divergence is brewing in the western Protestant church, between those we may label “evangelical” and those … Continue reading How a deep and growing divide is killing Protestant christianity – or maybe renewing it!
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Podcast: How Can We Be Confident in Christianity With SO Many Other Religions in the World?

Greg considers the abundant religious perspectives available to us, defends faith in Christ, and considers whether agnosticism is appropriate—all in less that 6 mind-bending minutes!

Send Questions To:
Dan: @thatdankent
Email: askgregboyd@gmail.com
Twitter: @reKnewOrg

http://traffic.libsyn.com/askgregboyd/Episode_0259.mp3

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7 Shocking Things Atheists Have Denied

Morality. Logic. Themselves. It seems like when some atheists try to deny the existence of God, they also need to deny the existence of some very fundamental things. In this video, I talk about the seven strangest denials I have heard from various atheists.

 

Filed under: Evangelism & Missions
Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

What is Atheism, and Why Do People Like It?

I think atheism is a mystery. The more I read about it, think about it and talk with others about it, it puzzles me. What drives people to become atheists?  Would they want there to be no God, no afterlife and no cosmic purpose? If not, why are so many of them dismissive of religion and, frankly, angry with the God they don’t believe exist?

One of the most weird thing one discovers when one studies atheism is that so many atheists are unwilling to call it a belief or even admit that atheism makes a positive claim about reality (the non-existence of gods). Rather, they like to define atheism as merely a lack of belief in gods. This psychological definition has made it into Wikipedia and some dictionaries, but obviously if that’s the only thing an atheist is defending they have no reason whatsoever to criticize other people’s conviction that God exist, or the validity of religion. When an atheist criticizes religion, they do it because they indeed have a positive belief in the falsehood of religion and non-existence of gods.

When atheists deny that atheism is a claim, they do it because they don’t want to present evidences for the claim that gods don’t exist. In fact, many of them will say that no such evidences exists – that you can’t prove a negative. This puts them in the same position as Andy Bannister’s hypothetical friend who denied Sweden’s existence:
“What do you mean, ‘You don’t believe in Sweden’?” I finally replied. “That’s insane. If Sweden doesn’t exist, how do you explain IKEA furniture, or the Swedish chef on The Muppet Show, or what glues Norway to Finland? That’s a staggering claim! What’s your evidence?”

“What do you mean ‘evidence’?” he asked.

“Evidence,” I said. “You must have more than just a hunch but some pretty impressive evidence for your belief. I know Sweden only has 9.5 million inhabitants, but you can’t simply deny outright that it exists!”

“Aha,” said my friend sagely, “I see your confusion. You think that my denial of Sweden is a belief. But it’s simply a non-belief and so I don’t need to give evidence for it.”
This is not the only strange thing with atheism. In the video above, I also talk about why on earth some would find atheism’s promise of mass extinction without resurrection appealing, and I discuss what I believe is the core difference between atheists and theists. Please have a watch and tell me what you think!

 

Filed under: Evangelism & Missions
Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

“The light given” – does it make sense?

My (internet) friend Nate has a blog, Finding Truth which I regularly read. We disagree profoundly because Nate is an atheist and former christian, while I still follow Jesus. So we cross swords occasionally, often disagreeing (amicably) with the approach the other takes to questions, evidence and arguments. He is gracious enough to welcome my … Continue reading “The light given” – does it make sense?
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Can Science Prove Miraculous Healing?

Previously published at Jesus Army.

Elijah Stephens is a former Vineyard pastor and spiritual coach belonging to Bethel Church in Redding, California. Since 2015, he has been working on a documentary about medically verified miracles. Micael Grenholm asked him a few questions.

WHAT is a medically verified miracle?

That is a good question. When it comes to miracles, we are talking about when God enters the world and does something. What makes something a miracle is God’s activity.

This is why you can’t study miracles scientifically, but what you can do is to find cases where people have prayed and there’s “before and after” medical evidence. For example, a person has a tumor, one day there is prayer, the next day the tumor disappears.

What you want to do is to corroborate miracles with medical evidence. So that’s what we’re attempting to do with the movie; finding cases where miracles have been corroborated by medical evidence.

It’s best, if you’re doing it from an apologetic standpoint, to find cases that are known impossibilities. There are things we know cannot occur. If you chop someone’s hand off, you know it’s not going to grow back on its own. So you want to look for cases, if you’re trying to help people that are sceptical but are looking for truth, by finding the more extreme cases.

We need to put forth the best case we can. But we also need to understand that God works in ways that often don’t leave much evidence, and we are still responsible to believe his activity in the world.

Elijah Stephens

How can you be sure that even if a person is cured after prayer, it wasn’t due to a natural process we simply don’t know about?

It all comes down to the nature of knowledge. One of the things that we as Westerners live under a delusion of is that most things fall into the category of 100 percent certainty. And a few things do; there’s mathematical truths like two plus two equals four; there’s moral truths like “torturing babies for fun is morally wrong”, there’s historical truths like “George Washington was the first president of the United States”.

But most of the things that we know fall somewhere on a continuum between zero percent and a hundred percent certainty. For example, I believe that my wife has never had an affair, I’m 99 % certain of that. But it could be the case that something’s happened that I don’t know about. Or when she says that she loves me, she could be a pathological liar or whatever. But knowledge is something you can have without a hundred percent certainty.

So when it comes to prayer, I can think of natural phenomenon for all of the cases that you hear of someone getting healed. You can create such scenarios in your mind. However, often, those scenarios are less likely than prayer itself working. There’s also the case of God using natural processes. When you look at miracles in the Bible, you see that when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea, a wind came up and blew the sea apart. Well, that’s God using some kind of natural process.

I don’t think it’s best to think of miracles in the terms of not using natural processes. Let’s say God speaks to you in a dream, well at some point that dream becomes a part of your brain chemistry. So what you’re asking is actually “Is God part of a particular natural phenomenon?”

One of the ways you can answer that question is by eliminating known natural phenomena that people often mistake for miracles: the placebo effect, misdiagnosis, con artists, the mind healing itself psychosomatically. When doing miracle research you want to eliminate those and look for things that are most likely known impossibilities.

Why do you think non-Western Christians seem to experience more miracles than Western ones?

I don’t think that’s the case. One of the things I found in my research was a Pew Survey of 35,000 people in the US, asking them how many had witnessed, or know someone who has experienced divine healing. Over 33 percent said that they had. In the States we have an anti-supernatural bias which means that the supernatural is not talked about very often.

If you think about it, when was the last time you asked a stranger or someone in your life that you didn’t go to church with, “Have you ever seen a miracle?” Has that conversation ever come up in your life? For most people in the West, that never occurs. So we simply never talk about this stuff.

Another issue that I think helps nations like China, Mozambique or Brazil where you’re seeing a lot of miracles is that it’s part of the culture to seek spiritual assistance, whether it’s from Christians or non-Christians. It’s not odd to offer prayer to a co-worker or family member who is sick. I think the more prayer people get, the more likely there are people getting healed by prayer.

What’s your advice to someone longing for a miracle?

People in pain are often desperate. Con artists know that and prey on people in pain. If anyone ever asks you for money to get prayer, stay away from that. Secondly, don’t feel guilty or ashamed of not getting healed. That’s not the heart of God.

Don’t blame yourself for not having enough faith or anything of that nature. I never see Jesus blaming people in the Scriptures. If you’re in need of a miracle, go to healthy, theologically solid people who have seen miracles and ask them to pray for you. A lot of times people want miracles, and they spend their whole lives getting a miracle for a specific area of their life.

Here at Bethel Church in the healing rooms, we have people in wheelchairs praying for the sick. I think that’s so powerful. Their focus is not getting a miracle, their focus is on knowing Jesus and living the calling he has for their lives. I personally have a hernia. Eric Johnson [the son of Bethel Church’s senior pastor Bill Johnson] has hearing aids. There are lots of people with sickness that say “Alright God, I’m going to get prayer for this, but if it never changes I will still serve you with my life.”

I’ve seen lots of miracles, but when I’m getting consumed with getting myself healed rather than consumed with Jesus and seeing his kingdom come with power, we miss out on going on an adventure with God. I can’t explain why my body hasn’t been healed, I know God heals people. But I’d rather be unhealed and follow Jesus, than spend my life desiring a miracle and that becoming my focus.

For more information on Elijah’s ministry and film, visit his website simplykingdom.com.

Filed under: Signs & Wonders
Syndicated from Holy Spirit Activism

Does archaeology show the Bible is true? Seven facts

I’m sure you will have read, and heard it said, that archaeology confirms the accuracy of the Bible. But you may also have heard from sceptics that the Bible isn’t historically accurate. So which is true? This is a complex matter with a wide variety of conclusions among the experts. I have tried to investigate … Continue reading Does archaeology show the Bible is true? Seven facts
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Book review: The Jesus Legend

Some books on Jesus and the New Testament are clearly apologetic in nature, seeking to argue or defend a certain viewpoint, whether it be sceptical or believing. Other books clearly aim at being academic, impartial, seeking to advance academic opinion. This book, which is almost a decade old, is kind of both.  … Continue reading Book review: The Jesus Legend
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