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Showing posts with the label #Apologetics

The odds of Jesus fulfilling prophecy.

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Round Christmastime you’ll hear all sorts of sermons about Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. I certainly have. Hear ’em every Christmas. Frequently way more than one sermon: I regularly go to the live nativities my city’s churches put together, and the Christians there are gonna preach about Jesus’s birth yet again, just in case anyone doesn’t already know the story. (Nevermind the fact live nativities keep getting elements of the story wrong, like magi at the stable.)The sermons are frequently from the Luke point of view, which has his actual birth in it. But occasionally preachers will bring up Matthew’s bit about the magi, because it specifically refers to the prophecy Messiah’s to be born in Bethlehem:Micah 5.2 KWLYou! Bethléhem-Efratá! Smallest of Judah’s thousands! Israel’s ruler comes from you, for my sake.They bring him forth—he who’s from the beginning, from days beyond counting.A previous Messiah, David ben Jesse, came from Bethlehem, 1Sa 17.12 and the great once-and-for-all Messi…

Relativism. (’Cause we aren’t all that absolute.)

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RELATIVISM'rɛl.ə.də.vɪ.zəmnoun. Belief that truth, knowledge, and morals are based on context, not absolutes.[Relative 'rɛl.ə.dɪvadjective, relativist 'rɛl.ə.də.vɪstnoun.]Relativism is a big, big deal to Christian apologists. I’ll get to why in a minute; bear with me as I introduce the concept.Some of us were raised by religious people, and were taught to believe in religious absolutes: God is real, Jesus is alive, sin causes death, love your neighbor. Others weren’t raised religious, but they grew up in a society which accepts and respects absolutes. Like scientific principles, logic, mathematics, or a rigid code of ethics.The rest—probably the majority—claim they believe in absolutes, but they’re willing to get all loosey-goosey whenever the absolutes get in their way. They might agree theft is bad… but it’s okay if they shoplift every once in a while. Murder is bad… but dropping bombs on civilians during wartime is acceptable. Lying is bad… but it’s okay to take an iffy…

When people believe Christianity is a myth.

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Christianity is an historical religion. It’s based on a man named Jesus of Nazareth, who lived and breathed and died in the first century of our era. He proclaimed God’s kingdom and described what it’s like, informed us no one could get round him to the Father, Jn 14.6 and despite being crucified by the Romans, physically came back from the dead and sent his followers to proclaim this kingdom on his behalf.If none of this stuff literally happened—if it’s pure mythology, a fiction based on cultural archetypes instead of true events, which reflects humanity’s fondest wishes, meant to teach greater truths and bigger ideas instead of being taken as fact—then we Christians have a huge problem. See, when we join God’s kingdom we’re kinda expected to change our entire lives based on its principles. We’re also promised Jesus is gonna come back to personally rule this kingdom. But if Christianity’s mythological, then Jesus won’t do any such thing, ’cause he’s dead.Oh, and if he’s dead, we Chri…

“The fool says there’s no God around.”

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Psalm 14.1, 53.1.The New Living Translation renders Psalm 14.1 and 53.1 exactly the same:Psalm 14.1, 53.1 NLTOnly fools say in their hearts,“There is no God.”They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;not one of them does good!It’s because Psalms 14 and 53 are actually the same psalm. David ben Jesse wrote it five centuries before Psalms got put together—and Psalms is actually made of five different psalters. The first book Ps 1-41 had it, and so did the second Ps 42-72 —so yep, it’s in there twice. For fun, you can compare the two psalms for the differences which slipped into the psalm over time. It’s kinda like different hymnals which have alternate verses to your favorite hymns. (“Amazing Grace,” fr’instance, is a bit different from the way John Newton originally wrote it.)Differences the NLT actually muted. ’Cause it translated two different words as “actions.” Psalm 14.1 has עֲלִילָ֗ה/alilá, “a doing,” and Psalm 53.1 has עָ֝֗וֶל/avél, “an immoral deed.” The NLT’s translators w…

Historical Jesus. (Who ain’t all that historical.)

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So here’s a little transcript of a discussion I once had with a skeptic. Slightly abridged.HE. “Jesus never said that.”ME. “Sure he did. In Mark 16.52 he clearly states….”HE. “No, that’s what the bible says he said. I’m talking about what he actually said. Not what some Roman Christian, centuries later, claims he said.”Where’d he get the idea the gospels aren’t historical?—that the Jesus we Christians believe in, is just ancient Christian fanfiction? This, true believers, is what we call the Historical Jesus hypothesis.When he wasn’t staying in the White House, Thomas Jefferson used to spend his evenings at home in Virginia with four bibles (two copies each, so he could get the text from either side of the page), scissors and paste, splicing together a private book he called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Nowadays we call it “the Jefferson Bible.” In Jefferson’s version of the story, Jesus does no miracles (except one or two, which Jefferson left in because he liked the les…

Lying so we can win the debate.

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Christians lie.No we’re not supposed to. There’s a whole teaching about this. (It’s actually not the “don’t bear false witness” command, Ex 20.16 which has to do with perjury. It’s the one about how Christians need to be rid of lying, and tell the truth to one another. Ep 4.25) But we lie just the same. Usually to get out of trouble. Sometimes to defraud.And sometimes when we debate with non-Christians, and wanna score points, we borrow a rather common tactic we see in politics: We ignore whether our “facts” are all that factual.Oh, we wish they were factual, ’cause they really help our case. We’ll psyche ourselves into believing they’re factual. We’re willing to dismiss any evidence which says otherwise. We’re totally willing to perpetuate fraud.Yeah, it’s fraud. There’s a command against that too. Mk 10.19But Christians dismiss this particular sin, ’cause we figure it’s so important to win these arguments, score victories for Jesus… and really stick it to those skeptics. Ends justif…

Are Mormons Christian?

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I’ve written more than once that we’re saved by God’s grace—which means we’re not saved by our orthodoxy. There are a lot of Evangelical Christians who’ve got it into our heads that we’re saved only once we have all the correct beliefs; a situation I call faith righteousness.Faith righteousness is easily disproven by the fact God saves new Christians. Does any newbie hold all the correct beliefs about God? Of course not; they don’t know anything yet! None of us did. (Some of us still don’t.) But we’re pursuing a relationship with God, and as we screw up time and again, God graciously forgives our deficiencies. Might be moral deficiencies; might be doctrinal deficiencies. Makes no difference. Grace covers all.Of course, when I teach this, people occasionally wanna know just how far they can push God’s grace. They wanna know just how egregiously they can sin before God finally says, “Nope; you’ve gone too far; you’re going to hell.” Not necessarily because they wanna sin (although let’s…

The flood story and theodicy.

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As I said yesterday, when skeptics ask me about the flood story, primarily what they wanna deal with is the idea of a global flood. Earth doesn’t have enough water to cover all the landmasses, and the young-earth creationist explanations for whence and whither the water, generally sound stupid to them. Pointing out how Genesis states the land was flooded, not the world, quickly sorts that out to their satisfaction.I have yet to run into a non-Christian skeptic whose problem with the flood story is that God flooded the world. I have met Christians who struggle with it though. Generally their problem comes from their Pelagianism.Y’see, Pelagius of Britain believed humans are inherently good. ’Cause we were created good, y’know. Ge 1.31 But sin bollixed all that, and now humanity is inherently selfish and corrupt—but Pelagians can‘t believe that. After all, they know lots of good people. And optimistically figure all most people need is a nudge in the right direction, provide us good inf…

The flood story.

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In Genesis there’s a story about a massive flood. Rain for a month and a half; waters which covered every hill in the area, and killed every living thing. It was, states the author of Genesis, God’s way of getting rid of the violence in the land—by getting rid of everybody but one righteous (well, righteous enough) family.Starts like this.Genesis 6.11-21 KWL11 To God’s face, the land was ruined. The land was full of violence.12 God saw the land. Look, ruin!—all flesh ruined its way in the land.13 God told Noah, “To my face, the end of all flesh is coming:They fill the land with violence before them. Look, the land is ruined!14Make yourself a box of cypress trees. Make living spaces in the box.Plaster it from the inside to the outside with asphalt.15This is how you’ll make it: A box 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide, 30 cubits high.16Make a window in the box, a cubit from the top. Make a doorway in the box’s side.Make bottom, second, and third floors.17Look at me: I bring the deluge of w…

The bible is a way different book.

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Christian apologists—especially when they kinda lean towards biblolatry—make a great big deal about how unique the bible is. To them, it’s a powerful argument why people ought not dismiss it as just another ancient book by dead white brown guys. The bible’s a distinctly, profoundly different book. It’s very unique. Only the most ignorant of skeptics would claim otherwise.And then they go listing all the ways it’s totally unique. I’ll list a few in this article. But the big pile of ways the bible’s different, is meant to really impress someone that the bible is important and valid.Which is a basic logical flaw: Unique doesn’t automatically mean important and valid.Fr’instance let’s say a space alien came to earth, and presented us with his book of the best recipes for blergsperken. What’s blergsperken? I dunno. And none of the ingredients match anything we know about; what on earth is “raw sperkburf?” For all we know, the alien could be its planet‘s very worst cook. But his cookbook is…

“The bible says…” and people who have their doubts about the bible.

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The written word is not authoritative.I realize that’s an ironic thing to write. S’true though. People don’t believe everything they read. There’s this myth they did once; centuries ago, when the only stuff committed to print was important stuff, and therefore everybody figured people should believe everything they read. But of course it’s not true, because writers back then felt entirely free to challenge, critique, or refute the written word. Always have.For the most part it’s non-readers, or people who only read their bibles, who think the written word has some sort of special value. The rest of us read the internet, and know full well there’s a lot of rubbish out there.And when it comes to sharing Jesus, Christian apologists will regularly make the mistake of forgetting: We consider the bible authoritative. Pagans do not. To them it’s another religious book among thousands. To them it’s another centuries-old book written by dead white men. (Certain liberals are slightly more impre…

Convincing people they’re not all that good.

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Ray Comfort likes this particular evangelism trickapologetics argument. He didn’t invent it though; I’ve heard it from lots of people. Whenever he’s talking Christianity with someone, he’ll ask them, “Do you consider yourself a good person?”In my experience, a number of people will actually answer no. Sometimes because they actually don’t consider themselves good people; their karmic balance leans way too far on the bad side of the scale. Sometimes because they’re just being contrary; they don’t know what’s coming next, but they anticipate you want ’em to say yes, so they’re preemptively throwing a monkey wrench into things. And sometimes they do know what‘s coming next, and definitely wanna sabotage it. But in order to keep this article moving, let’s say they answered yes.PAGAN. “Yeah, I’m a pretty good person.”APOLOGIST. [stifling that grin you get when they take the bait] “So if you stand before God on Judgment Day, he’ll be okay with you and let you in?”PAGAN. “Probably.”APOLOGIST…

The “recovering atheist”?

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Kirk Cameron, not keeping his eyes on the road in his new movie Connect.A friend invited me to watch Kirk Cameron’s documentary Connect, which is about how he was naïvely gonna get his kids smartphones until he found out there are predators on the internet. Duh; but I guess Cameron had no idea this was going on. So he made a film about it.This sort of documentary is basically what a lot of Christians watch instead of horror movies. It’s a bit like true-crime documentaries, except they get the thrill of being afraid of boogeymen. (Real boogeymen. Or at least they’re told they’re real boogeymen.) And unlike horror movies, the fear never, ever goes away. Isn’t meant to.I passed. ’Cause these documentaries invariably annoy me. And ’cause I’m not a Kirk Cameron fan.I’m not talking about his acting. I think it’s okay. Not award-winning good… but bear in mind he tends to take what he can get, or what he himself has produced. Which means he’s been hobbled by mediocre-to-terrible writers and d…

Let’s suppose Jesus is dead.

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Six years ago I was asked to write on “the resurrection hoax” for a synchroblog. The idea was this: Suppose Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Suppose the story was entirely fabricated by the apostles. Hence hundreds of people didn’t actually see Jesus alive. 1Co 15.6 Hence he hasn’t personally appeared to thousands of people in the present day; these are all delusions. Hence despite evidence to the contrary, 40 days after his death, thousands became Christian, Ac 2.41 thousands more in the years thereafter, Christianity spread all over the Roman Empire and beyond, and now a third of the planet is Christian. But it’s entirely based on mythology and wishful thinking.Well… for contrast, a billion people claim adherence to Islam, and we Christians figure Muhammed ibn Abdullah al-Mecca was wrong about God. But then again Muhammed didn’t claim any big miracles for himself. (His followers did, later.) He only claimed to hear from angels. I don’t have any problem with that idea; I just doubt t…

The “six days” of creation.

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Creationism is the belief God created the universe and life.Creationism is an orthodox Christian belief: It’s found in the creeds. “I believe in one God… maker of heaven and earth, of all things, visible and invisible.” God initially created everything. He didn’t necessarily create everything since—fr’instance, he didn’t create evil. But he created their creators.So yeah, technically all orthodox Christians are creationists. Problem is, the word “creationist” has been co-opted by the young-earth creationists (YEC for short), the folks who insist God created the universe only 6,000 years ago. Or if you wanna get specific, 6,021 years ago, in October. They’re the ones pushing the idea that if you’re a real Christian, if you’re truly orthodox, you gotta believe as they do.
A diorama from the Creation Museum of a primitive human and featherless dinosaurs. (Yeah, they’re a bit slow to keep up with the latest science. Be fair; so is Jurassic World.) Atlas ObscuraOf course young-earth creatio…

You realize other religions have their own apologetics, right?

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Their apologetics don’t evangelize you. Why should yours work on them?About two months ago on a Friday, I was walking to work when I was accosted by a street preacher. He wanted to say hi, strike up a conversation, find out a little about me… and invite me to synagogue that night.Yeah, synagogue. He’s Jewish; he stopped me as I was walking past his synagogue.He’s hardly the first evangelist from another religion I’ve encountered. I meet Mormons all the time, and expect I’ll meet a few more this spring. When I lived in Sacramento, the Muslims were mighty active in my neighborhood, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses came calling every Saturday morning. I had a Buddhist roommate for a few years, and picked his brain about Buddhism. (Then led him to Jesus, ’cause I do that.) I would’ve had a long interesting discussion with the Jew, but I hate to be late to work, so maybe some other time.I know: Certain Christians are gonna be outraged that I dared let work get in the way of an “opportunity” suc…

Has God predetermined everything in the universe? Evil too?

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DETERMINISMdi'tər.mən.ɪz.əmnoun. Belief every event is fixed in place by external causes other than human will.[Determinist di'tər.mən.ɪstnoun, deterministic di'tər.mən.ɪst.ɪkadjective.]I first bumped into the idea of determinism when I was a kid, ’cause my parents let me read Mark Twain. A lot of people assume, thanks to Tom Sawyer, that Twain was a children’s author. Not even close. And in his later years, after so many of his family members died and Twain became more and more cynical, some of the things he wrote were mighty disturbing. What are the chances I read that stuff? Yep, 100 percent.In Twain’s novella The Mysterious Stranger, some 16th-century German boys encounter a young angel named Satan (named for his uncle—yeah, that uncle) who takes them on adventures. At one point, young Satan introduces the boys to the concept of determinism.“Among you boys you have a game: you stand a row of bricks on end a few inches apart; you push a brick, it knocks its neighbor ove…

Some people don’t wanna argue. And they’re right not to.

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Apologetics isn’t about picking fights. Don’t use it that way.An acquaintance of mine just started an “apologetics ministry.” Currently it consists of his blog, his Twitter account, and a whole bunch of his spare time. You know, exactly like TXAB, except I don’t do apologetics.Except dude went out and created a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Got board members. Accepts donations. He’s seriously hoping to turn it into a full-time job. He got really irritated with me for calling it “getting paid to argue with strangers on the internet in his pajamas.”But that is what he’s up to. He’s doing it “for Jesus,” but still. He considers it a vital, necessary ministry—that there simply aren’t enough Christians out there, arguing with strangers on the internet, whether in their jammies or not. I’d beg to differ, but he claims they’re not good apologists—not as informed as he is.If you’re picking up the idea I’m not as jazzed as he is about his burgeoning “ministry,” you’d be so right. Yet he’s ha…

God’s existence. In case you don’t consider it a given.

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When apologists try to make God appear in a puff of logic.Properly speaking, God’s existence isn’t a theology subject. It’s an apologetics subject.Theology is the study of God, and it takes God’s existence for granted: Of course he exists. Duh. Otherwise we wouldn’t waste our time.But for the sake of apologists, a lot of theology textbooks start with an obligatory chapter on God’s existence. The better-written books point out the scriptures take God’s existence for granted: Genesis starts with “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,” Ge 1.1 KJV with no preliminary explanation: “See, a ‘god’ is an almighty cosmic being, and here’s how we know only one of ’em exists…” God’s just there, calling worlds into being.The better-written books also point how we know there’s a God: Special revelation. God talks to people, and performs the occasional miracle, so we know from personal experience he’s around. He may be invisible, but his presence among believing Christians is so bla…

General revelation: How to (wrongly) deduce God from nature.

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Problem is, the details vary widely. GENERAL REVELATION /'dʒɛn(.ə).rəl rɛv.ə'leɪ.ʃən/ n. The universal, natural knowledge about God and divine matters. (Also called universal revelation, or natural revelation.)2. What the universe, nature, or the human psyche reveal to us about God.A number of Christian apologists love, love, LOVE the idea of general revelation. And I always wind up on their bad side, because as a theologian I have to point out it’s a wholly unreliable form of revelation. It’s so useless it actually does pagans more good than Christians.This, they really don’t wanna hear. Because they’ve pinned so many hopes on it.Y’see, apologists deal with nontheists, people who don’t believe in God and are pretty sure he’s never interacted with them before. What apologists try to do is prove God has so interacted with them before. If the nontheist can’t remember any such events, the apologist will try to point to nature and claim, “See, that’s a way God interacted with you!…