Archive | February, 2014

How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist

In an article on Huffington Post (naturally) entitled How to Debate a Christian Apologist, atheist Victor Stenger explains why non-Christians usually do so badly in debates with Christians and then offers a cheat sheet of brief answers to Christian apologetic arguments. The reason why the Christians do so well, according to Stenger, is that they have had years to polish their arguments in their religion classes and churches. The atheists, apparently, don’t have comparable opportunities. This will come as a surprise to Christian students throughout the Western world who have sat under atheists and other skeptical professors routinely spouting off against Christianity even if it entails ignoring the subject matter of the course. Continue Reading →

Avoid Every Appearance of Evil

When Christian leaders talk about how to live a godly life, they eventually turn to the gray areas of those things that are right for some but wrong for others. You know the list: drinking, smoking, watching R rated movies, playing cards, dancing, using colorful language, listening to Country-Western music (OK that last one is not a gray area; it should be taboo for everyone), etc. That’s the short list. And the way instruction on such matters goes is all too often along these lines: First, our freedoms in Christ are articulated, clearly stated, appreciated. Next come the qualifiers: but don’t exercise your freedom in Christ, if it will make someone uncomfortable, cause someone to judge you, is not entirely loving, etc. The situation would be bad enough, if it just ended there. By the time all the qualifications are stated, the freedoms that we allegedly have are almost all stripped away. Paralysis begins to set in. But the coup de grace comes with a single verse from 1 Thessalonians, frequently utilized as a weapon against all those who enjoy their lives in Christ: But even if what you do is loving, makes no one uncomfortable, doesn’t cause anyone to judge you, remember that you are responsible to avoid every appearance of evil. So, when in doubt, don’t do it!

That’s how the verse reads in the KJV: Avoid every appearance of evil. It’s 1 Thess 5.22 and it puts a damper on everything. Wait a minute. Does it really mean this? Does it really mean that even if something looks like it’s evil to some, we can’t enjoy it? Hardly.

The Greek text really should be translated, abstain from every form of evil. There is a genuine correspondence between form and the state of being evil: that is, stay away from evil things. But the reason that form (or, in the KJV, appearance) was used is because Paul is speaking about false doctrine. This verse, in fact, was more often attributed to Jesus than to Paul in the early church, suggesting that Paul got this line from the Lord and that it was one of the sayings which for some reason didn’t make it into the gospels, but was nevertheless an authentic saying of Jesus. It was used with literal reference to coins. Thus, to abstain from every form of evil was to avoid counterfeit teaching. Further, in the context, it seems clear that Paul is speaking about false teaching. Verses 19-22 read as follows:

Do not quench the Spirit;
Do not despise prophecies;
But examine all things: cling to the good, abstain from every form of evil.

In context, Paul is saying that false teaching should be avoided, but true teaching should be what believers follow. They shouldn’t be duped, shouldn’t become gullible, but must test prophets and see whether they are from the Lord. They need to examine all these teachings and cling to the good and throw out the bad.

If we look at the broader context of the New Testament as a whole, we see that Paul was certainly not speaking about avoiding every appearance of evil in 1 Thessalonians 5. His own mission was governed by the mantra, I have become all things to all people, so that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9.22).

Further, consider the life of Jesus. The distinct impression one gets from the gospels is that Jesus simply did not have the same scruples about his associations that the religious leaders of the day had. They avoided the appearance of evil at all costs; Jesus seems to have had almost the opposite approach to life and ministry (see, e.g., Luke 7:39). Even his disciples had been oppressed by all the rules and traditions of men. However, Jesus freed them from such nonsense. In Matt. 15, the Pharisees were stunned that Jesus’ disciples did not perform the Jewish hand-washing ritual before they ate. They hammered on the disciples, and on Jesus, for not obeying the oral commandments. Jesus did not say, “Sorry, boys. I didn’t mean to cause offense. It won’t happen again.” Instead, he very boldly pointed out that these religious leaders had exchanged the laws of God for their own self-made rules. He called them hypocrites who had no heart for God. The most remarkable verse in this whole pericope is seen in verse 12: Jesus’ disciples came to their Master and said, “Did you know that the Pharisees were offended by what you just said?” Didn’t they know that offending the Pharisees was part of Jesus’ job description!

To wield 1 Thess 5.22 as a weapon to restrict a believer’s personal freedom is against the general tenor of the New Testament and of the Lord’s life in particular. Ironically, to avoid every appearance of evil is far more in keeping with the Pharisees’ model of righteousness than with Jesus’! I like John Piper’s notion of Christian hedonism for it falls in line with the Westminster Confession’s statement that our prime objective is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Gee, maybe that’s what the Christian faith is all about? What a novel concept!

My New Book is Now Available

Now-that-im-a-ChristianI am really excited to announce my new book Now that I’m a Christian published by Crossway. It has been released as of this week!

It is a book that one can (hopefully) hand out to new believers and use in discipleship circles and small groups. There are 10 chapters, 5 on orthodoxy (what every Christian believes) and 5 on orthopraxy (what every Christian does). I have tried to only include the essentials on each, that way any evangelically minded church can hand this out to their members and be confident that the main things have remained the main things.

Purchase from Amazon

Purchase from Crossway

Purchase from Credo House (this option does support Credo House the most)

If you could review this on Amazon ASAP (esp if you get the Kindle version), I would be so grateful (especially if it is a good review!).

Also, I would be in your debt if you would write a review about this on your blog (I think I can get a copy sent to you, just let me know) or shout it out through Twitter.

Pastors, buy in bulk (!) and hand out to your congregation.

Can I Reject an Eternal Hell and Still Be Saved?

I don’t really like this question. No, let me be stronger: I hate this question. Please forgive me. I understand the question and empathize with it on just about every level, no matter what it’s source may be (philosophical, biblical, or emotional). However, when you ask me this question you put me in a difficult position. I want to be as honest as possible, yet remain aware of the pastoral nature that addressing this subject requires. In other words, it is not an impossible question, and should never be seen as such.

This question, and others like it, are becoming more and more common today.

  • If I become a Christian, do I have to believe in Hell?
  • Do I have to believe that those who have never heard of Christ are going to hell?
  • Does God really elect some people to go to heaven and not others?
  • Do I have to believe in inerrancy, a six-day creation, the sinfulness of homosexuality, or the reality of a literal being named Satan? Really?

Don’t get me wrong, not all these questions have equal gravity. Some are more debatable than others. Moreover, there are many questions similar to these which leave me relatively unsure that I have the best answer. Therefore, it is not so much the questions themselves that are most important. The difficulty comes down to the fact that we are often tempted to give people a loophole to theological issues that may be, otherwise, too intellectually or emotionally unpalatable. Often, for the sake of peoples’ acceptance, we will reduce the tenets of Christianity down to a minimal set of truths that are the easiest to swallow.

In some ways, it is not unlike another question that I don’t like: “If I commit suicide, can I still go to heaven?” I was asked this by my sister in 2003. I was asked this by my very depressed sister in 2003. I did not want to answer. At least I did not want to answer honestly. I believed my answer would somehow give her permission to do something we all feared she was about to do.

Technically speaking, whether or not one believes in an eternal hell, a literal Satan, or whether or not God used evolution to create man, these issues, while important, are not cardinal issues of the Gospel. What I mean by this is, if you push my back against the wall, I would not say that someone who says they don’t believe in a literal Satan is not a Christian. Nor would I say that all the other questions, including the one concerning the existence of an eternal hell, is so doctrinally central that a denial of such is a damnable offense (or evidence of one’s retribution). This would include the question of suicide. Suicide is not an unforgivable sin, nor does it keep people outside the gates of heaven. (Though I would often rather this to remain a secret.)

So, if someone asks me these theological questions in a more academic or objective sense (which is almost never the case), I am comfortable—indeed obligated—to say that their respective positions regarding such beliefs do not evidence or determine their status as a child of God (as I was with my sister who, as some of you know, did commit suicide in 2004). But I am not a fan of making Christianity “palatable enough” for anyone to accept. In other words, my goal is not to win you to a Christ that is necessarily easy to believe or follow. And I am afraid that some of those who are attempting to be theologically astute wind up becoming academically agnostic. That is, they are agnostic enough to find every place where they don’t have to take a stand, which allows them to remain neutral for the sake of evangelism. Continue Reading →

The Forgiven by David Ramirez

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“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finances), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington D.C. (politics). It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made that reflect the values of our culture–the habits of heart and mind–that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, “Let me write the songs of a nation: I don’t care who writes its laws.” Tullian Tchividjian, Unfashionable, p. 95.

Based on quotes like Tullian’s above, I try to keep my ears open for songs speaking into our world. The Grammys, for instance, are an amazing time for Ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:29) to get a good view of our culture. I was moved today as I came across “The Forgiven” by Austin, Texas musician David Ramirez. He seems to do a good job in this song exegeting our culture.

The song is simple and insightful. I think it articulates an accurate view of many 21st century cultural leaders toward Christianity. The lyrics are below followed by the song. I’ve made bold the portions of the lyrics I found to be especially strong:

They love me for being honest
They love me for being myself
But the minute I mention Jesus
They want me to go to Hell

It’s hard to find the balance
When I don’t believe in one
When you mix art with business
You’re just shooting an empty gun

You’re just a songwriter, you ain’t a preacher
We came to mourn you, not to look in the mirror
Sing about those hard times, sing about those women
We love the broken, not the forgiven

These songs will only take me
As far as the people will go
If I can’t make them happy
Well then they won’t come to my shows

Maybe that’s what killed
All the great voices in the world
Always bleeding for every line
But no one was bleeding in return

You’re just a songwriter, you ain’t a preacher
We came to mourn you, not to look in the mirror
Sing about those hard times, sing about those women
We love the broken, not the forgiven

Listen to the song here:

What do you think?

More Young Foolish Leaders Please

AndrewBurkhartIs the pastor of your church a young foolish leader? Does that frustrate you? Maybe you are older. Maybe you are wiser. Does that make you secretly despise young foolish leaders? People who really think they can face any problem and keep advancing forward.

Martin Luther spoke into the “young foolish leader” phase as a 57 year old man. First, a little bit of back story to appreciate Luther.

Martin Luther was born in 1483. At the age of 34 he confidently nailed 95 theses to the castle doors in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther was outraged at the practices of the institutional church of his day. His greatest frustration culminated with the practice of indulgences.

Here’s how indulgences worked. Would you like to have your grandmother expedited through Purgatory? She’s been suffering in Purgatory for a little while but will probably be there for several thousand more years of purging before entering heaven. If you purchase an indulgence, however, your granny will stop gnashing her teeth and the church leadership will ensure her time is sped up.

Martin Luther despised indulgences. At the age of 34 he refused to remain silent. His 95 complaints were meant to be an internal discussion trying to reform the church of his day. Complaint #82 captures the essence of Luther’s angst:

Why does not the pope liberate everyone from purgatory for the sake of love (a most holy thing) and because of the supreme necessity of their souls? This would be morally the best of all reasons. Meanwhile he redeems innumerable souls for money, a most perishable thing, with which to build St. Peter’s church, a very minor purpose.

Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut. If the pope was powerful enough to free someone from Purgatory why does he need money? Out of love shouldn’t he just free everyone so they can worship God in heaven? Luther had visited Rome and he knew they were trying to raise $2 billion to build St. Peter’s Basilica. The money was raised for a building project. Yet heaven is forever, wouldn’t the pope choose the eternal over the temporary? Luther was too young and foolish to keep his mouth shut.

At the age of 57, 23 years later, Martin Luther was having dinner with his family and students. On this day in 1540 he reflected on those crazy years in his mid-30’s. He specifically reflected on his time at the Diet of Worms. Luther’s students loved hearing all the dinner table side stories. They would secretly go back home after dinner and write down all the funny, strange and profound things Luther mentioned at the dinner table. These have become known as “Table Talks.” Hundreds of them survive to this day.

Before I share Luther’s story over dinner in 1540 you need to have a little bit of background about the Diet of Worms. Luther’s writings were grabbed by friends and unknowingly the Printing Press spread his 95 theses all over the world. His ideas were a spark getting ready to light the whole world on fire. Luther, the German monk, was summoned to the town of Worms in Germany. The institutional church had expected to get this young monk to recant of all his writings.

Luther was brought into a room full of church officials looking over all his writings on a table. They simply asked Luther if these were his writings. He said yes. Now was the golden moment. The leaders would tell Luther to recant. He would recant under the pressure of his leaders. Word would quickly spread that Luther had recanted of all his writings. The uprising would be over and life would go back to normal. If Luther didn’t recant, however, he would simply be burned at the stake.

The Diet of Worms did not go as the leaders planned. Luther refused to recant of all his writings. His writings were full of quoted Scripture. He argued that he couldn’t just recant of all his writings carte blanche because he would inadvertently be recanting of all the Scripture mentioned in his writings. Luther required the leaders to show him all the areas he was wrong and then he would consider if he should recant of each individual idea. The leaders refused, they wanted him to recant of everything in his books. Luther, the young foolish punk leader, refused saying:
Continue Reading →

Theism, Atheism, and Rationality: Some Reflections

Alvin Plantinga was recently interviewed for an article that appeared in the New York Times on the question, “Is Atheism Irrational?”[1] The following Tuesday, a National Public Radio station in Los Angeles asked me to participate in a program (the next day), in which I would engage with an atheist on this topic and then address any questions from callers. I agreed and prepared some material to make the point in defending the plausibility of belief in God.

As is turns out, the person who had invited me to speak on the program informed me that her supervisor had also booked another Christian philosopher, but who happened to be in the Los Angeles area and so could possibly come to the studio. As it turns out, that theist was a fellow Christian philosopher and frequent collaborator, William Lane Craig. So I knew that theism would be very well-represented—and indeed it was![2]

Since I had typed out some notes, why not make use of them in some other way? So I thought I’d at least post some of my reflections on the topic of theism, atheism, and rationality.

1. Atheism makes a knowledge claim—“God does not exist”—and therefore stands in need of justification, as does as the theistic claim, “God exists.” The atheist is not off the hook. If the atheist claims that he simply does not believe in God, then he does not differ from an agnostic, who also doesn’t believe in God. The agnostic’s view is properly characterized as unbelief; the atheist’s is disbelief. Continue Reading →

Now Hiring a Full-Time Videographer at Credo House

Job Description:

Videographer – Credo Courses/Credo House

 

We are looking for someone to become a part of the team at the Credo House in Edmond, OK as we proclaim our Savior in an incredibly unique way. Please read this job description for more information.

Credo House, 501©3/Credo Courses, LLC is looking to hire a full-time Videographer/Creativity Director immediately. As a part of the team at Credo House, you will be in full-time ministry joining the growing staff, sipping some great coffee, and contributing significantly to the core of our ministry in the creation of theological discipleship materials for the whole world.

Primary Duties:

Filming, editing, producing, and distributing Credo Courses. The Credo Courses is a production company whose goal is to create, produce, and distribute the best theology, Bible, and ministry courses in the world. You will join our team and be responsible for the creation of these courses from beginning to end.  Our goal, eventually, is to eventually have 8-10 Credo Courses done a year (and we are well on the way!).

Secondary Duties:

Filming, editing, and producing materials associated with the ministry of the Credo House. This will include (but is not limited to) short clips of theological training called “Credo Clips,” commercials associated with the products Credo House offers, refilming The Theology Program, and our weekly theology study called “Coffee and Theology.”

Creative contributions in the area of Bible and theology which seeks to teach theological truths in a unique and impactful way.

Possible Duties:

  • Lead/teach studies at the Credo House.
  • Contribute to the Parchment and Pen Blog.

Education Requirements:

  • Bachelors’ degree
  • Certificate in The Theology Program (can attain during first year of employment)
  • Master Degree in Theology (preferred)

Skills:

Must be sufficiently skilled in these areas:

  • Filming and Editing
  • Graphic Design
  • Teaching (preferred)

Spiritual Requirements

Must be a Christian who agrees with the Credo House doctrinal statement. Must have a gentle spirit that is passionate yet able to teach. Must work well with others and be able to inspire and lead a team.

Location

Must live in the Edmond/Oklahoma City area or be willing to relocate (relocation allowance will be granted).

Pay: Will discuss

This job needs to be filled immediately. If you are interested, please send your resume to Michael at michaelp@credohouse dot org.