Archive | January, 2015

Theology Unplugged: The Tithe

the-tithe

Join Tim Kimberley, Michael Patton, J.J. Seid and Tim Kimberley as they discuss tithing.

Spending an Evening with Atheists

A number of years ago I received an email from Justin Bosch who was sponsoring a screening of the film, The God Who Wasn’t There at the historic Oriental Theater in Northwest Denver. Mr. Bosch screens films related to media reform and social ethics, but on this occasion, he was venturing into the religious deep. Since the film is very critical of Christianity—claiming that Jesus never existed and that Christians are dangerous simpletons—he wanted to give some response time to a Christian as well as to an atheist. So, at the last minute it was arranged that Will Providence, a local atheist of the Objectivist stripe (a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy), and I would make some brief comments after the film and then answer questions.

The God Who Wasn't There Movie Art

Although I seldom participate in highly-charged public forums with little notice, I was interested in doing this because, without me. there would have been no Christian response. Further, I was familiar with the basic arguments of the film and was able to mine quite a bit of material on it and the producer online prior to the event.

The event nearly filled the theater. The first half hour or so was taken up by an audio presentation of a comedian who recounted her loss of Catholic faith and her turn to atheism. It was the most uncharitable presentation of the teaching of the Bible I had ever heard in one sitting. The Old Testament is nothing more than a moral mess. Jesus isn’t as nice as she thought. After all, he was impatient with his disciples, and so on. The Catholic priest who taught her the Bible was a fideist who said she had to have faith and that he would pray she had faith. That was not good enough, and eventually, “God disappeared” for this poor soul.

A 62-Minute Affront to Honesty in Documentaries

The best thing about The God Who Wasn’t There is that it was mercifully short: sixty-two minutes. The film advances the solidly refuted claim that Christianity was started by Paul who invented a Jesus out of whole cloth—the cloth of mystery religions. There are so many inaccuracies that I don’t know where to begin, so I won’t. However, Mike Licona has written a long and thorough piece on the movie. Christians were presented as rapture-bedazzled nincompoops who wanted to take over America and persecute as many infidels as possible.

A Christian and Atheist Respond

After this torment was over, Will and I took the stage before about 125 people. I made an opening statement that focused on the films three basic arguments (if I can so dignify such propaganda):

  1. The claim that mystery religions influenced our understanding of Jesus
  2. The claim that Christianity leads to persecution
  3. The claim that Christianity is intrinsically irrational

Will spoke for just a few minutes on what atheism meant to him. It wasn’t much of an argument for a debate, however. He did not address the film at all. We then took questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. Most of the questions were aimed at me.

The audience was largely made up atheists, it seemed, although a few Christian friends attended. I infer this because when Will or a questioner made a point against Christianity or God, people tended to applaud.

I would sometimes interact directly with Will—a young and presentable Iranian man in law school—but he didn’t have much of substance to say except that he based his philosophy on reason and not faith. He also made positive allusions to Saint Ayn Rand.

The questions—or sometimes just accusations against Christianity—related to issues such as the concept of truth, the supposed sexism of the Bible, hell, and so on. They really started piling on about hell at the end. In some cases, people would yell things from the audience instead of going to the microphone. When I presented an egalitarian account of gender relations (with ample reference to Rebecca Merrill Groothuis’s books), someone yelled, “Read Paul!” I have, amazingly enough, and he was no sexist.

Presenting Christianity with Confidence

This was easily the most hostile group (of Atheists) I have ever addressed in thirty-six years of public speaking.

This was easily the most hostile group I have ever addressed in thirty-six years of public speaking. I spoke after an hour and half of anti-Christian propaganda and was on stage with an atheist before an audience of many atheists. Nevertheless, I think my opening comments refuted important claims in the film—I needed several hours to respond to all the errors, many of which were absolute howlers—and I attempted to fairly and calmly respond to all the questioners. I was not stumped by any of the questions or comments, but I always wanted to say more; I am a professor, after all. I tried to give Will ample time to respond, but he often wanted to move on to the next questioner. He seemed quite nervous. At several points, I was able to present the essential gospel message, once in response to a question on hell: Jesus came to save us from that fate.

I hope that people who attended this event will post comments. You are better judges of me than I am, and you may be able to add your own observations of the event as a whole.

Nevertheless, I offer a few reflections. I solicited widespread prayer for this, which is my custom (and was the apostle Paul’s custom as well). This makes a tremendous difference. Despite the antagonistic crowd, I did not feel threatened or panicked. Several questioners wanted to back me into a fideist corner, but I never said that Christianity was without reason or evidence. I provided arguments and no subjective testimony or “I just know that I know in my knower.” The caricature was applied because most Christians do not give reasons for their faith, even though they are commanded to do so in the Bible (1 Peter 3:15). A philosopher defending Christianity as rational probably blew some of their materialist circuits.

It was heartening to talk with several people afterward who seemed to be genuinely interested in Christianity. One of the co-owners of the theater was very enthusiastic about having me there and complimented me on my ability to respond reasonably to questions. He had probably never seen such a thing before. I hope to follow up with him. I also received an email from a man who is an agnostic who would like to interact with me.

A Call for Thoughtful Christian Engagement

My final blast is this (although I’ve said it a thousand times): We need more thoughtful and well-informed Christians in the marketplace of ideas, even in the hot spots. As Os Guinness has stated, most of American Christian evangelism is aimed at those who are already very interested in Christianity but don’t know how to become Christians. This leaves out a vast number of souls who are hostile to Christianity or have no interest in it at all. We are called by Jesus Christ to engage these people as well.

Many attending that night had never heard a thoughtful defense of Christianity. This is both sad and wrong. Christians should know what they believe and why they believe it. As they grow in their confidence that Christianity is amply supported by reason and evidence, they should likewise grow in their courage for the Christian witness. The stakes are too high to be ignorant or cowardly.

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on the Constructive Curmudgeon blog in March of 2006. Permission to reprint with a number of alternations has been provided by the author, Dr. Groothuis.

How Jesus Would Act in a Homosexual Bar? or “How to Evangelize Homosexuals”

Christian-Homosexual

This is one of the most commonly asked questions that I get lately: How do I evangelize homosexuals? It is such a sensitive issue as there are so many passions involved and a growing variety of opinions. The volatility could not be greater and I could not be dumber for writing on this! Nevertheless, I am going to do my best to answer here.

I have a family member who lives in an apartment that backs up to a homosexual bar. I can imagine that in the church, there are people who think this is wrong. It’s not that these would assume she might be a homosexual, but that why would she, being a Christian, even dare live in such proximity to such evil. I am sorry to say this, but its very sad—no, tragic—to say that the church is filled with such a mentality. Oh, they have their verses to justify it, but these are always based in unbiblical emotional passions that cannot ever be justified.

Hold on, it gets worse so hang with me.

I, personally, was pretty excited that she moved in there. Why? What a great place to live! It is filled with opportunity and excitement. It is filled with the possibility of having the power of the Holy Spirit work in a place that few in the church would dare to go.

Let me back up and ask the key question: How do we, as Christians, evangelize (give the Gospel to) homosexuals? Here we go . . .

If this family member were to ask me this question, this is what I would tell her:

First, what a great place you are living! What a great opportunity! But I think it would be best if we asked another question: what Jesus would have done in such a situation. Here are the steps I believe he would take:

First, he would go to the bar Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: The Doctrine of Hell

Hell

Join Tim Kimberley, Michael Patton, Sam Storms and J.J Seid as they discuss the doctrine of hell.

Theology Unplugged: Is God a Moral Monster?

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Join Tim Kimberley, J.J. Seid and Sam Storms as they discuss if God is guilty of morally reprehensible acts.

Theology Unplugged: Is the Cross Cosmic Child Abuse?

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Join Tim Kimberley, J.J. Seid and Sam Storms as they discuss whether or not the crucifixion can be seen as cosmic child abuse.

Intolerance is Bad. Inequality is Bad. But What About Intolerance Inequality?

Intolerance and Inequality are BadEquality is a defining concern of our age. If there’s one thing people today never tire of saying, it is that everyone should be treated equally, and not just in the old fashioned sense that people deserve equal courtesy and respect. Today’s demands include equalizing disparate incomes, and giving all couples (or “throuples” or whatever) equal legal status under marriage laws. Equality is a big deal.

Meanwhile, one of our culture’s cardinal sins is intolerance, which is loosely defined today as non-acceptance in some form or another. This definition is diluted in the way that popular culture specializes in watering things down.

The Meaning of Tolerance

The true meaning of tolerance is not agreement, personal acceptance, or celebration of a particular way of thinking or acting. It is merely putting up with it. It is letting it exist or continue despite my disagreement.

In the following paragraphs, to be consistent and avoid confusion, I will be using the word “tolerance” to refer to the relatively new and contemporary understanding of the word, which, again, means to agree with and/or affirm another’s view or behavior.

A Problem We Must Address

This brings us to a concern that cannot continue to be ignored. I am speaking of the problem of intolerance inequality. We know that intolerance is bad, and we know that we all do it sometimes. We all fail to agree with someone’s point of view; we all fall short of giving support and endorsement to certain of people’s choices; we all, at times, withhold our affirmation or celebration of the sexual or spiritual identities of those around us when they declare them.

In this way we are all equally human. After all, who can be tolerant 100% of the time? But, in the interest of full equality, all human beings deserve the dignity of being judged intolerant on those occasions. In other words, the circumstances of intolerance being the same, why should some—on the basis of nothing more than race, gender, or sexual preference—be denied equal treatment?

A Deeper Explanation of the Problem

The unequal treatment of people and groups, that our society must work to overcome, involves denying certain people or groups the opportunity to achieve certain labels, however negative they may be.

If we deem all persons fundamentally equal, then the same moral principles apply to all of us in equal measure. Expectations and punishments should be the same. To lower expectations or punishments on one group is to demean that group. By presuming that they “can’t help it” we’re implying that they’re unable to achieve the same standards or expectations as their peers. We’re holding them to a lower standard. It’s a patronizing insult to that group, a kind of “soft bigotry” as some have called it. On the basis of the fundamental equality of people, we should expect two adults of similar age and circumstances to be equally responsible and accountable to the same moral standards. This is completely irrespective of their ethnicity, gender or other distinguishing factors. Let intolerance be intolerance regardless.

Historical Examples of the Inequality of intolerance

The contemporary problem of intolerance inequality has parallels from history. Some slave-owners in the antebellum south had low expectations of their slaves. Thinking they were something like a race of neanderthals, they were not held to the same standard. If a slave killed a man, the slave-owner would not have seen the deed in the same moral light as if a white person killed a man. It was often the same with early Native Americans. Many considered them to be a primitive race of human beings, and thus easily prone to savagery. The ‘civilized’ people of European descent did not see the natives as equally morally accountable for their acts. How can they help it, after all, being what they are?

Before you are tempted to think that this is all in the past, come back now to the problem at hand. Listen to the way people address the murders committed by radical Muslims. I dare say you will hear echoes of the same way of thinking. We don’t expect any more of ‘those’ people. Why should we? There remains an idea that people are not equally accountable for their actions because they are not equal (or so it is implied) in some morally significant way.

Intolerance Inequality on Campus

Let’s look at a trend that exemplifies this problem. Recently, a lot of college and university campuses (like Tufts and Vanderbilt) have begun denying long-standing Christian organizations their status as organizations officially recognized by the university. This is because the organizations discriminate along lines of belief when it comes to their leadership. Intervarsity’s status was revoked from some two dozen campuses in the California State college system because they discriminate who their leaders are.

By today’s definition, they are being intolerant. However, the first question we must ask in this age of intolerance inequality is whether other groups are being treated equally. Does anyone believe that a campus Muslim organization would open any of its leadership positions to people who do not affirm that Mohammed was a prophet? Is there a Muslim student group on any campus in America open to a leadership candidate who agrees with gay marriage? So then, have all of the Muslim organizations had their charters revoked as well? Also, how would a campus LGBT organization feel about allowing a Westboro-style fundamentalist into its leadership? Will such groups be allowed the equal opportunity to be deemed intolerant? I find no stories about any other groups being denied their campus status.

We Can Change Things

By now stories like this should register very little surprise. We’ve all grown so used to intolerance inequality that we simply accept it. If a group of white kids were on camera beating up a black kid, this would easily be seen as racist in nature. But if it’s black kids beating up a white kid, our culture of inequality will deny those black kids equal treatment.

Unfortunately some are so tragically confused by this that they end up in a morass of silliness. Such was the case of the young person who replied to a recent question on debate.org. The question was whether Kanye West is racist. The first reply on the negative side was that he can’t be racist because he is black. This is intolerance inequality at its finest. Sorry, Kanye, it’s mostly a society of equal treatment and opportunity, but there are still a couple of labels that are very exclusive and simply not open to “your kind.”

Inequality rears its ugly head in strange ways today. Once upon a time a black citizen might have been told where he or she can’t sit. Now he or she can’t be racist. When it comes to joining the country club of the intolerant, the pc police have posted a big “Whites Only” sign.

And it’s not just a matter of race. Gays are on the outside looking in as well. A straight white man can earn his intolerance badge with such ease that it is almost like he’s cheating. By contrast, let a Hispanic lesbian try her hardest to earn that same badge and she will find herself slamming into an intolerance glass ceiling. The same people who preach tolerance the loudest, will stubbornly deny her equal treatment.

My fellow Americans, we’ve come too far for this kind of inequality to remain with us. Let us no longer privilege straight white males by giving them a free pass to intolerance. Make them earn the label like everyone else, and remove the barriers of bigotry that have kept certain minority groups from the equal right and opportunity that would allow their intolerance to earn the recognition that is due them.

Should We Trust People’s Near-Death Experiences?

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There is hardly a more popular genre of religious literature today than that of Near Death Experience (NDEs). I often tell people that if they want to become a millionaire, all they have to do is die, come back to life, and then write about what they saw (if Kiefer Sutherland and Julia Roberts could do it in Flatliners, why not?).

The fascination with this subject is certainly understandable.  After all, we are talking about people who assert that they have had first hand experience with the afterlife. Their testimony, were it to be true, could overturn atheism and give us the most insider information that we have had since the Apostle John (so long as they saw something). Who wouldn’t want such confirmation. After all, for most of us, our experience of God is filtered through so many events that are hard to interpret and, frequently, over-interpreted. How many of us haven’t asked God to do something for us personally that breaks through the often boring mundane, in order to show Himself and His will to us in a definite experiential way? I know I have.

In come NDEs (of others) to the rescue. From the claims of a  little  four-year-old boy’s meetings with John the Baptist and explanations of the Trinity to a neurosurgeon’s personal Journey to the Afterlife, we can’t miss a demographic here (although the first is not technically an NDE). We now even have anthologies of this stuff.

Many devoted Christians have begun to see the light (pardon the pun) as more and more of these stories surface. At the very least, we are left scratching our heads, slowly developing a love-hate relationship with NDEs. While most of the NDE stories come from either Christian, or atheists, who are encouraged to become Christian, we do have others joining the conversation. As of 2005, close to 95% of the cultures of the world have documented some sort of near-death experience (The Handbook of Near-Death Experiences [yes, they have a handbook on these things] pp. 1–16). But more significant than this (to me) are the conflicting testimonies of Christians and/or converts who describe the afterlife. While there are some common elements in their stories (discussed below), the details are more difficult to reconcile. Continue Reading →