A Way To Simplify The Big Picture

The Cumulative Case for Christianity

If you want to be able to train others — even if it’s just your own family — to be able to make the case for the truth of Christianity, you have to understand it yourself. There are plenty of resources out there that can help you do that. I will share the best ones I know of in the series of posts that follow. But before I start, I want to offer a “big picture” that you can always keep in the back of your mind as you think about the different categories of evidence. If you’re anything like me, pictures help do that. So, I have tried to simplify things in the diagram at right.

This is simply a way to organize the evidence in your mind’s eye.

Foundational Evidence For Theism

The brown categories at the bottom of the diagram offer us the basic evidence for the existence of some kind of a theistic God — a God who is real and interacts with the universe in which we live. I have boiled this down into three basic categories that give evidence for the type of God who is a personal, moral agent who must exist outside the physical universe, but is also able to act within it. The evidence contained in these three foundational categories is the only explanation for the following characteristics of our world:

  • It is a world in which we all recognize that real, moral truths exist and that they are constantly being violated
  • It is an actual, physical thing that came into existence sometime in the finite past
  • Whatever/whoever caused the beginning of the universe could not have been a part of the physical universe itself
  • It is designed to allow for, and sustain, the existence of living things
  • Some of those living things are beings who have moral, mental, and physical attributes

Obviously, there is a lot to each of these topics and I will provide resources to support each of them, but the takeaway is simply that our claim to believe that there is a God is not based on some kind of wishful thinking or irrational hope. It is based on evidence — concrete evidence about the way the world actually is.

Since we have evidence that there is a God and that this God’s attributes must be consistent with the evidence listed above, it follows and that one of the theistic religions must be true. In order to determine which of the theistic religions is true, we need more specific information.

Specific Evidence For Christianity

The blue categories at the top of the diagram are what allow us to differentiate Christianity from the other theistic religions. Here, we look at data from archaeology, history, and compare the manuscript evidence from those religions in order to identify which of them is true. This is where the strength of the case for Christianity shines. No other religion even comes close to having the amount of evidence to support:

  • The existence of its primary historical figure — Jesus of Nazareth
  • The archaeological relics that support its story from the very beginning
  • A world-changing event — the Resurrection — that is central to its claims
  • The number of manuscripts that verify its authenticity and reliability

That’s the case for Christian Theism in a nutshell.

This simple diagram gives us a way to categorize the reasons we have for believing the Christian story of reality — reasons that are based in factual evidence. We can be confident that our faith is justified, not because it makes us feel good about ourselves, or because it “works for us,” but because it is actually true!

Now for the hard part.

If you aren’t already familiar with the information above, it won’t seep into your brain through osmosis. You have to be dedicated to familiarizing yourself with it. In the posts that follow, I will give you resources — videos, articles, and books — to help fill in the details of each of these categories of evidence. But remember, you don’t have to become a biblical scholar and master every subject listed above in order to prepare yourself and those you love to use them. You simply have to understand the basics and be willing to go find answers. In the meantime, here are some fundamental things to understand about what this all means and how to use it:

  1. Knowing “facts” gives you confidence to engage with others but, in the cultural climate we live in, citing facts will rarely convince others to change their minds.
  2. Your attitude may go further than your evidence in compelling others to consider what you’re saying.
  3. Asking questions is almost always more effective than making statements.
  4. Telling your story is vastly more interesting than regurgitating another person’s data.

Finally, always remember that you are not meant to convince people to agree with you. You are not the one who leads them to the truth. You are not the one who saves them. You are responsible for “giving a reason for the hope you have” and letting the Holy Spirit do the rest. You are only meant to train those in your little corner of the world to be prepared to engage people in a winsome way.

That’s your “job.” And when you’ve done it, relax … and let God do His.

 

“That ‘Nones’ May Not Perish”

Click on the picture at left to listen to my interview with Melanie Cogdill of the Postmodern Realities Podcast about who the “nones” are and how we can think about trying to reach them.

Date: September 10, 2017
Appearance: “That ‘Nones’ May Not Perish”
Outlet: Postmodern Realities Podcast #49
Format: Podcast

The Cries That Bind

Why Doubt Puts Us In Good Company

Twenty years ago, on August 31, 1997, Princess Diana died in a tragic crash in Paris in a car with her boyfriend while her husband and two children waited for her in London. Five days later, Mother Teresa of Calcutta died due to complications that apparently developed after a decades-long battle with heart disease that worsened with her contracting malaria the year prior. Over the next three months Princess Diana graced the covers of the major news magazines Newsweek and others at least nine times. The world grieved. Her story led the evening news every night and her funeral was broadcast live to millions. Sir Elton John even re-wrote a song for her.

Meanwhile, Mother Teresa barely warranted mention in the news tsunami that left her swamped behind the flash and glitz of the princess. This said more about our cultural values than Mother Teresa ever could have said herself.

But this week that changed. Suddenly, Mother Teresa is newsworthy … the lead story no less … cover material. This week Mother Teresa has even supplanted the backwash tsunami of the ten-year remembrance of Diana’s death. But it is not the ten-year remembrance of Mother Teresa that the press has found so marketable. It is not even a belated appreciation for her 60 years of work with the poor and dying in India.

No, what is so tantalizingly important about her now is that she had a “crisis of faith” that has recently been revealed in letters which she had specifically requested not be made public, but rather destroyed. (Funny how the press’s commitment to its sources’ privacy changes from time to time — especially when they can scoop a story like this one). The hook, you see, is that Mother Teresa, a world-renown icon of religious commitment, sometimes questioned her faith. Time magazine reports that …

… one of the great human icons of the past 100 years, whose remarkable deeds seemed inextricably connected to her closeness to God and who was routinely observed in silent and seemingly peaceful prayer by her associates as well as the television camera, was living out a very different spiritual reality privately, an arid landscape from which the deity had disappeared.

That, to a secular press hell-bent on de-legitimizing faith or anyone who claims to have it, is too juicy to not be shouted from the rooftops. Mother Teresa has become a target for their secular wrath. And that is the only reason they have any interest in her now. In her crying out to God, militant atheists like Christopher Hitchens see nothing but an opportunity to exploit. Hitchens despises a:

… Church [that] should have had the elementary decency to let the earth lie lightly on this troubled and miserable lady, and not to invoke her long anguish to recruit the credulous to a blind faith in which she herself had long ceased to believe.

But just what was Mother Teresa’s “crisis”? At various points in her life, she questioned the existence of God because He seemed hidden and unreachable amid the squalor and misery of life that engulfed her. God’s hiddenness was painful to her, her longing for Him palpable:

For me, the silence and the emptiness is so great, that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear—the tongue moves but does not speak … Such deep longing for God—and … repulsed—empty—no faith—no love—no zeal.—[The saving of] Souls holds no attraction—Heaven means nothing … What do I labor for? If there be no God—there can be no soul—if there is no Soul then Jesus—You also are not true.

How is it that someone as smart as Christopher Hitchens; someone who claims his vast intellectual superiority will not allow him to accept the mindlessness of faith; someone whose presuppositions preclude any possibility that his own anti-theism may be wrong; someone who blithely rejects all possible evidence for the existence of God without consideration — someone, in other words, who blindly accepts his own atheism — How is it that someone like him can fault someone like Mother Teresa for succumbing to the false deception of a “blind faith” when he reads those words?

Read her words again and listen … Are these the thoughtless ruminations of someone who accepts her faith unquestioningly? How could anyone read those words and not see the intellectual wrestling match that is going on within Teresa’s tortured head? Call it doubtful, or despairing. But please don’t call her faith “blind.” The fact is that Mother Teresa, like any legitimately thoughtful seeker, struggled to see God in the misery of a fallen world — yet committed herself to demonstrating His presence to others anyway. And she did so while still being honest enough to ask herself the toughest questions of all.

Can any of the so-called “new atheists” claim such an honest pursuit of the truth for themselves?

Finally, those who are so quick to disparage both Mother Teresa and her religion on the basis of her questioning faith should know that Mother Teresa is not alone. Other fairly famous believers have shared the same sentiments:

  1. How long, O LORD, will I call for help, and You will not hear? Why do You make me see iniquity, and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises … Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up those more righteous than they?
  2. Why is life given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil.
  3. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent.
  4. “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”— “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

The first is Habakkuk. The second is Job. The third is David. The fourth is Jesus himself, speaking in agony from the cross in his human nature with the only words he could muster, in a call for his hearers to remember David’s similar cry.

I don’t make a habit of quoting the Bible here but in this case I will make an exception. I do so because this last quote of Jesus is a line commonly used to question not only his commitment to “the cause,” but His very divinity itself. Though his physical condition would only allow him to speak the first lines of this passage, those who knew and understood the Scripture to which he was referring would have instantaneously recognized that the rest of the Psalm 22 to which Jesus alludes is not only prophetic in its description of His actual circumstances on the cross, but ends in a radically different light:

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the praise of Israel.

4 In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.

5 They cried to you and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

7All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads
:

8“He trusts in the LORD;
let the LORD rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you
even at my mother’s breast.

10 From birth I was cast upon you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help
.

12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted away within me.

15My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.

16Dogs have surrounded me;
a band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet
.

17 I can count all my bones;
people stare and gloat over me
.

18They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing
.

19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver my life from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
in the congregation I will praise you.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24For he has not despised or disdained
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help
.

25From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows
.

26The poor will eat and be satisfied;
they who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!

27All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him
,

28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations
.

29All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive
.

30Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord
.

31They will proclaim his righteousness
to a people yet unborn—
for he has done it
.

The tone is completely different from the one we are led to believe Jesus held. These are not the words or thoughts of a skeptic. They are the clearly confident claims of a victor who holds to an overall eternal view of a temporarily hidden God.

It seems, in other words, that when considered more closely, Mother Teresa’s groaning for an absent God puts her in the company of faithful giants. Her pleading and doubt is far from an admission of a loss of faith. Instead, it is a demonstration of the inevitable result of the fallenness of rebellious creatures. Our yearning for a hidden God is an inevitable but temporary condition — the result of our separation from our only Source of hope. It is a recognition of the futility of life without Him that drives us to despair.

But that despair, it must be remembered, is self-inflicted. The hiddenness and separation in the relationship between God and humanity did not begin with God. We hid from Him first.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:7-8)

Our cries for God to reveal himself to us — to stop hiding from us — are the common lament that defines the human condition. From the most skeptical unbeliever to the most honored of the saints, those cries bind us together in the search to recapture meaning from an otherwise meaningless existence. From the labs of modern scientific laboratories, to the editors’ desks of the “new atheists”; from the Hollywood rehab clinics and the overcrowded jail cells, to the filth of the ghettos of Calcutta, the cry is always the same — and the answer to the cry is never far away and never hidden from our sight:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We’re Being Followed By A Moonshadow

On The Eerie Perfection of Our Moon

There are several elements to the “coincidence” of our ability to observe a “perfect” solar eclipse that Jay Richards points out in his newest post on the topic:

Jay Richards: – “Perfect Eclipses: Coincidence or Conspiracy?”

You can visit his post for yourself, but let me just offer a summary of the apologetically relevant topics. The requirements for life on any planet require hundreds of factors that have to be “just right” but among them are:

  • Liquid water
  • Uneven temperature variations that cause weather patterns and a water cycle
  • Tidal fluctuations that move and replace nutrients between land and sea
  • A stable planetary orbit in a “habitable zone” (not too close to the system’s star, and not too far away)
  • A star (like our Sun) that is of a certain size and maturity — not too early in its burn cycle and not too late

Though it’s not intuitively obvious, some of these factors — like the tidal variations and weather patterns — cannot exist on a planet that rotates on plane perfectly perfectly perpendicular to its plane of orbit. For a planet to sustain life, it must be tilted in reference to its plane of orbit around its star. That tilt leads to uneven heating and uneven heating creates air currents — and the weather required to move and cycle water.

In addition to that, the planet cannot “wobble” as it rotates. Planetary “wobble” would be physically destructive to the environment and not conducive to sustained life.

So what does all this have to do with an eclipse?

As it turns out, the Earth is tilted at 23.5 degrees from its plane of orbit. This angle varies slightly but it is held within a nearly perfect, life-allowing range and held there by a Moon that is inordinately large in relation to the planet it orbits. The size of the Moon in relation to the Earth, and it’s distance from the Earth, has an equally important impact of modulating the ocean tides within a narrow, life-allowing range.

So we have the uncanny “coincidences” that our Moon’s size is required to: 1) stabilize the Earth’s tilt and wobble, 2) modulate the Earth’s tides, and 3) allow for the Earth’s life-enhancing water cycle, while at the same time being the perfect size to eclipse the Sun and allow us to discover otherwise unknowable facts about the physics of the universe we live in. Listen to Jay explain it himself:

A PERFECT SOLAR ECLIPSE from The John 10:10 Project on Vimeo.

Maybe this is all just a coincidence … or maybe it is part of a divine conspiracy that not only explains our very existence but also allows us to discover that there is evidence for a Person who is behind it all — and able to offer us answers to life’s most important questions.

 

 

There Goes The Sun

Why The Solar Eclipse Matters

Way back in 2004, Jay Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez published The Privileged Planet: How Our Place In The Cosmos Is Designed For Discovery, a captivating book not only about the incredible design that is required in our universe to allow for the existence life itself, but also about how some of the same factors that allow for life are required for us to discover how unique our existence is. The book and accompanying DVD (linked below) are still among the best resources available about the anthropic principle — the idea that the more we learn about the universe, the more it seems to be designed with human beings in mind.

One of the most fascinating topics discussed in The Privileged Planet was the phenomenon of the Solar Eclipse. As it turns out, there is an uncanny coincidence about the relative size and distance of our Moon and Sun that make observing a solar eclipse from the Earth unique for any planet ever discovered. The fact that the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon, but also 400 times farther away, means that the Moon covers the Sun perfectly, and that “coincidence” has allowed astronomers and physicists to discover and verify some very significant facts about the nature of our universe — among them the first verification of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.

What I’m trying to say is that a solar eclipse is a big deal and, if you live in the United States, we’re about to experience the most significant such event in the past century. As a bonus, Jay Richards has begun to chronicle the event with a series of blog posts at The Stream. The first one is up here:

Jay Richards: Don’t Miss The Solar Eclipse!

I encourage readers to follow Jay’s commentary over the days leading up to the Eclipse on August 21st. I will be linking here, and on Facebook and Twitter, to each of Jay’s posts.

Enjoy!

_____________________________


Apologetic Resources For Kids

"Train A Child Up In The Way They Should Go ..."

For parents of younger children who may consider the task of preparing them to engage an antagonistic culture to be a daunting proposition, fear not! You are not alone. But don’t wait for others to fulfill your responsibilities as a parent. And please keep in mind several undeniable facts that are applicable to the statistics we have about number of young adults (currently around 65% – 75%) who leaving the church after they leave home for work or for college:

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Meet J. Warner Wallace

Christian Case-Maker

If you haven’t heard of J. Warner (Jim) Wallace, do yourself a favor and bookmark his website: Cold Case Christianity. It is a fantastic resource, and Jim is a fantastic apologist whose clarity and attitude should inspire us all to “bloom where we’re planted” as defenders of our Christian convictions. Jim is a retired cold-case detective from the Los Angeles police department who has been featured on several segments of NBC’s Dateline for solving murder cases many years after others gave up on them. Jim used to be a self-described “obstinate atheist” who looked at Christianity as a myth and Christian believers as intellectually weak fools.

Then he applied his cold-case detective skills to a study of the Christian faith. The result is that Jim has developed an engaging, unique approach to Christian apologetics.

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Taking Payne Stewart Seriously

A Salute To Fatherhood

Stewart and Mickelson – June 20, 1999

This month, one of the biggest stories in the sporting world is about something that one of the world’s most talented and successful athletes won’t do. Recently, golfer Phil Mickelson announced that he will not be playing in this year’s U.S. Open. To some, this comes as a shock. After all, at age 46, Mickelson is still one of the best players on the planet (currently ranked #23 in the world), and has never won a U. S. Open — even though he’s finished 2nd a record six times. With that kind of history, and being as competitive as he is, you would think Mickelson would want to take advantage of every opportunity to finally win the thing. Realistically, those opportunities are fading fast.

The thing is, Phil Mickelson really, really does want to win a U. S. Open. But he’s skipping this year’s event for only one reason — his oldest daughter, Amanda, is graduating from high school on the Thursday that the U.S. Open begins. Phil Mickelson is choosing to be at an important event in the life of his family and daughter over pursuing his own personal fulfillment. These days, that’s pretty admirable all by itself. But the background to the story also makes it a touching memorial to a man and an event that probably made Mickelson’s decision a very easy one to make.

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Thinking About The “New Atheists”

Engaging The Belief Police

[This is a re-post from several years ago that I think is still completely relevant today]

Two books on the NY Times Best Seller list share a common thesis — that religion in general, and Christianity specifically, is not just wrong, or off-base, or a subject worth debating — but that it is evil, deluded, dangerous, and the righteous target of the thinking man’s scorn. Sam Harris’, “Letter To A Christian Nation,” (# 31 on the list) and Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion,” (# 14 and on the list for 24 weeks) don’t just want to appeal to their atheistic brethren, but want to question the sanity of religious belief itself and suggest that we would all be more safe if religion were forcibly banished from the public square.

This view of religion is nothing new to Dawkins who, blasting the intolerance of Creationists in his 1986 book, “The Blind Watchmaker,” claimed that …

It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

With an incredibly ironic inability to see the intolerance of those two ideas existing in parallel, Dawkins denies any respect to those who happen to disagree with him — and instead offers them nothing but contempt. Disgusted by the proselytizing of religious folk, he engages in a little proselytizing of his own when, on the fifth page of his most recent book he claims that, “If this book works as I intend, religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”

For all the bluster these two claim about their own “healthy” and “vigorous” minds as compared to the mental midgets who oppose them, it is a little too convenient that they fail to even mention the significant input to science and philosophy that has been contributed by theists throughout history. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that most of the greatest scientific minds — Newton, Galileo, Pascal, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler — were all devout men who studied the physical universe because they believed it was ordered and a reflection of the mind of God. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the great philosophers throughout history — Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, C.S. Lewis — who were not only Christian theists, but that began as atheists and reasoned their way to faith. It is a little too convenient that they make no mention of the fact that the Bible itself challenges us to “test everything” and that the scientific revolution began with Christian scientists who did just that.

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