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Apologetics 101, Book Reviews, Teen non-fiction

Surviving Religion 101: Letters to a Christian Student on Keeping the Faith in College

by Michael J. Kruger 2021 / 262 pages. From time to time I search online for “ex-Can RC.” I’m curious as to why people would leave the Canadian Reformed Churches. What makes people walk away from the church and sometimes the faith in which they were raised? What can I learn from that as a pastor? Several individuals mention how they were told not to study philosophical or scientific questions, not to think too deeply about things, nor to read widely for themselves outside of the “approved CanRC authors.” Church leaders allegedly told them to check their brains at the door. Well, we all know what some people do when they’re told not to do something. They started reading and studying for themselves and soon discovered that they’d been brainwashed and hoodwinked by their church leaders. The exit came into view. If we presume these stories are even a little accurate, what might lead pastors or elders to give those kinds of warnings to their flock? Perhaps it’s fear. Maybe they’re afraid that the arguments of unbelievers will persuade their members. Connected with that, possibly it is the worry that we don’t readily have solid counter-arguments so “You just have to believe.” Truth has nothing to be afraid of That kind of approach is counter-productive. We should actually encourage our members to think more deeply, to read more widely, to engage with the big questions posed by unbelieving philosophy and science. Why? Because we ought to have confidence that the truth of God is more powerful than every lie. However, at the same time, we need to equip our people with tools to be able to see how, where, and why this is so. That’s where Michael Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 will be an invaluable resource. The author is not only a New Testament professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, but also a father to three children. While he’s written this for them, the book is particularly addressed to his oldest daughter Emma as she began studies at the University of North Carolina. It takes the form of 15 letters to her. Reformed answers to big questions Through these letters, Kruger addresses questions that Christian university students are likely to face in and out of the classroom. Some of those questions: My professors are really smart – isn’t it more likely that they’re right and I’m wrong? (chapter 2) I have gay friends who are kind, wonderful, and happy – are we sure that homosexuality is really wrong? (chapter 5) There is so much suffering in the world – how could a good God allow such evil? (chapter 7) My professor keeps pointing out contradictions in the gospels – can I still trust them? (chapter 11) Some parts of the Bible seem morally troubling – how can a book be from God if it advocates oppression or genocide? (chapter 14) Sometimes it feels like my faith is slipping away – how do I handle doubts about what I believe? (chapter 15) In answering all these questions, Kruger takes a Reformed approach. He presents the truth of what God’s Word says and then he also explains how the alternative position is untenable. A peak at what’s inside In chapter 3, Kruger deals with the question of whether it’s legitimate to claim that Christianity is the only right religion. One of the connected counter-claims is that all religions are actually the same. Here’s part of how Kruger answers that:

“…there are features about Christianity that make it genuinely distinct from the rest of the world’s religions. And the fundamental difference is this: Christianity is not just another religion about being a good person. Needless to say, this flies in the face of what most people think about religion. Just consider the very popular television show The Good Place, starring Kristen Bell. As strange as it sounds, the show is a comedy about heaven (the good place) and hell (the bad place). On the show, the good place is where good people go, regardless of their religious beliefs. Whether you’re Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslim, you go to the good place as long as your good deeds outweigh your bad.

“In contrast, Christianity says something stunning. Something counterintuitive. Something unique. It says that bad people go to the good place. Just let that sink in for a moment. Heaven is not for good people but for sinful people forgiven by grace…”

As you’ll note, Kruger isn’t writing here for scholars. He’s done his homework and he’s got the endnotes to prove it, but the book is written at a popular level. Conclusion So, even though it’s written for Christian college/university students, Surviving Religion 101 ought to be read far beyond that audience. Many Christian young people, university-bound or not, will find it accessible. In fact, starting this year, I’m going to make this the book our young people traditionally get when they make public profession of faith. And if it’s going to be manageable for them, it should also be for many adults too. Scripture says in 2 Corinthians 10:4, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” We can have that confidence in our Christian faith because the truth of it is established on God and therefore it’s objectively true. We have nothing to fear from the arguments of unbelievers. Books like Kruger’s Surviving Religion 101 help us see how Christianity isn’t only spiritually comforting, but also well-grounded and eminently reasonable. So, read widely. Read non-Christian authors. Read philosophy and science. But know that the tough questions they raise have been adequately answered by Christian scholars like Michael Kruger.

The author offers a video series on the same topics as the book, which you can access by signing up with your name and email address as this link. You can see the first introductory episode of the series below.

Apologetics 101

When Lewis says it brilliantly: 7 key quotes

C.S. Lewis wasn't always orthodox (as Dr. Bredenhof explains in his article "C.S. Lewis’s Apologetics: a Reformed assessment") but what he got right, he expressed brilliantly. What follows are 7 slices of Lewis at his very best. On the problem with Materialism “If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our present thoughts are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the thoughts of the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s.  “But if their thoughts – i.e. of materialism and astronomy – are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milkjug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.” – God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics Shucks, a stiff drink can make you happy… When asked “which of the religions of the world gives its followers the greatest happiness, Lewis gave an unexpected response.  “While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best. I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years, and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. From the moral point of view it is very difficult! I am not approaching the question from that angle. As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” – God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics Abiding happiness is only found with God “What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could ‘be like gods’ – could set up on their own as if they had created themselves – be their own masters – invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history – money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery – the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy. “The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” – Mere Christianity Homemaking as the pinnacle of all other work “I think I can understand that feeling about a housewife’s work being like that of Sisyphus (who was the stone rolling gentleman). But it is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, miners, cars, government etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? As Dr. Johnson said, “To be happy at home is the end of all human endeavour”. (1st to be happy to prepare for being happy in our own real home hereafter: 2nd in the meantime to be happy in our houses.) We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist…” – The Letters of C.S. Lewis Too earthly-minded to be of any heavenly use? There is an expression that “some folks are too heavenly-minded to be of any earthly use.” Lewis thought the problem was quite the opposite.  “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth "thrown in": aim at earth and you will get neither.”  – Mere Christianity  Being far too easily pleased “If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. “You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. “The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and to nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – The Weight of Glory On being and becoming humble "Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. "If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed." – Mere Christianity...

Apologetics 101

Not all T-shirts are created equal

Christian T-shirts and the trivialization of God  ***** Green is not my color, and I'm not a real fan of fedoras either so if someone wanted to get me the worst birthday present ever, it would be a green fedora. Of course, if I saw someone else wearing a green fedora, I wouldn't go up and tell him what I thought of it, because I know my opinion is just my opinion. Some people hate green fedoras, and hey, maybe there's someone out there who likes green fedoras. To each their own taste. But fashion is about more than just taste. As Christian we know there are some things we just can’t wear, and some things we should, for the sake of decency, always wear. We can wear red shirts, yellow shirts, and even green shirts, but no Cardi B t-shirts or see-thru clothing for us! It might not be something we think about all that often, but we’ve should be wearing our clothes to God’s glory! Lisa Klassen took the idea of wearing clothes to God’s glory to a new level. Some years ago, when she was an ardent 16-year old, she was suspended from school for wearing a sweatshirt which read, “ABORTION IS MEAN.” On the back the shirt read: “You will not silence my message. You will not mock my God. You will stop killing my generation.” At a school where fellow students walked around wearing shirts promoting sex, alcohol and nihilistic rock bands, only Klassen’s shirt was deemed offensive. Her actions, and subsequent suspension prompted almost 50 other students to wear similar shirts. Her bold, brazen fashion statement got the whole school in an uproar. What a gutsy gal! This type of enthusiasm should be encouraged, admired and imitated. Lisa Klassen is not embarrassed of her God. She proudly proclaims Him and His message. Many other young Christians are eager to emblazon Christian messages across their shirts as well. But while their enthusiasm should be praised and encouraged, their choice of shirts can benefit from a little outside input. Youthful enthusiasms must sometimes be tempered with the wisdom of the old (just as the wise old people must occasionally get their butts kicked with a dose of youthful enthusiasm – do not forget your first love of Christ!). Let’s proudly proclaim Christ, but let’s not forget that there are standards, so not all T-shirts, even Christian t-shirts, are created equal. God is not cutesy The flaw with many a Christian t-shirts is that they trivialize God. We sometimes imagine God as some sort of safe Entity. We focus on His love and forget about His wrath and the justice He demands. Instead of an awesome, holy, and yes, even frightening God (it is only through His Son that we can dare approach Him), we imagine a cute, harmless Deity. That is a serious error to make on a personal level, to have such a flawed idea of God in our minds. But it gets worse when we wear Christian T-shirts that proclaim this flawed idea of God to others. Let me give you some examples. There is a whole series of T-shirts and bumper stickers that talk about hell, salvation and God in the context of popular brand names. For instance, one shirt mimicks Coca-Cola’s well-known font and red background with the words “Enjoy Jesus Christ – thou shalt never thirst.” Pepsi too is transformed. Their blue and red color scheme is used to proclaim “Jesus Christ – He is my Saviour and my refreshment.” The new words are true, but from a distance the shirts still look like Coca-Cola and Pepsi shirts. It is only when you get nearer that the differences can be noticed, and the altered text can be read. Now imagine for a moment, that a non-Christian reads one of these shirts. “Oh wait a second!” he might say, “These shirts aren’t advertising cola, they’re advertising salvation." Is God’s grace, in this cola context, going to be considered seriously? There seems to be an endless variety of shirts with this brand name focus. Sneaker manufacturer Reebok’s “Life’s short, Play hard” slogan becomes “Reeborn – Life’s short, Pray hard.” The clothing chain GAP has their brand transformed into “God Answers Prayers.” Even CREST toothpaste is not spared. Their “Proven cavity protection” slogan was changed to “CHRIST – Proven Depravity Protection.” While these shirts are cutesy, they publicly "out" the wearer as a Christian which not every Christian is willing to do. So yes, we want to fix the message – God is holy, not comic relief – but we don't want to dampen that enthusiasm so let's praise what we can praise and congratulate them for their courage. Better choices But the best Christian t-shirts have a depth to them – they have a real weight to their message. They are often confrontational, and even offensive, just like the shirt Lisa Klassen wore. One good shirt I saw had a picture of 6 pallbearers carrying a casket. The caption below read, “Don’t wait for 6 strong men to take you to church.” There is humor here, but more too – it's a shirt that could get a man thinking. Other shirts ignore humor altogether and go for clarity. When I attended university several students wore shirts that said “Pro-life” in big and bold letters. They weren’t very thought provoking, but a lot of other students certainly found them offensive. In a hostile setting like university, standing out in the crowd is a powerful statement in itself. Another shirt read, “Stop Divorce – The basis of Marriage is Commitment, not just Romantic Love.” It didn’t rhyme, and there was nothing funny about it, but it contained some food for thought. One of the most daring shirts I ever saw simply read, “Ask me about God.” I want that shirt, and might have to make my own – I haven't found it online. But it would be an intimidating shirt to wear. What if people actually did ask me about God? Wouldn’t that be wonderful and terrifying? Maybe that’s the shirt we should all get after we do our profession of faith. Maybe that’s the shirt we should all have to wear, each and every day. Some of the other good ones I’ve seen include: Chapter and verse please! Preach the Gospel at all times. Always use words. Former fetus Make Orwell fiction again. Life starts at conception, no perception Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter – Charles Spurgeon RPNT & BLV Luther nailed it Do you even exegete bro? The chief end of man it to glorify GOD and enjoy HIM forever God is Good Love God. Hate sin. Be killing sin or it will be killing you – John Owen Abortion is bad medicine Die daily I Bet the Pro-Choicers Are Glad their Parents Weren't Abortion - The Leading Cause of Death in America He who dies with the most, still dies Evolution Says Nothing times Nobody Equals Everybody Know Jesus, Know Peace – No Jesus, No Peace Lotteries: A tax on people who are bad at math. Some places I've found good shirts include Abort73.com, Missional Wear, Reformed Gear, Wrath and Grace, and Sola Gratia. If you know of others, please use the website contact form to let us know. Conclusion I hope I haven't come off as being negative about Christian t-shirts; my hope is that Christians will take up the opportunity to profess their faith using the clothes that they wear. My point is that if we are going to do it, enthusiasm is not enough. We also have to put some thought into the thoughts we are going to emblazon across our T-shirts. At the same time, older, more thoughtful Christians should hesitate before they criticize a younger brother or sister for wearing “cute” Christian T-shirts. Even as there is a need to uphold God as holy, it would be a shame if the younger brother or sister’s enthusiasm was stifled over something inconsequential. The last thing we need is another quiet Christian. A version of this article first appeared in the February 2002 issue....

Apologetics 101

C.S. Lewis's Apologetics: a Reformed assessment

Many Christians admire C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and enjoy his writings. I was introduced to C.S. Lewis through my Grade 4 teacher who read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe out loud to us. I was hooked. Shortly thereafter I went out and bought my own set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia. That just got me started. I’ve long enjoyed his imagination and literary style and I’m by no means alone. But his influence goes further. He was a well-known and persuasive advocate for Christianity. Many people claim to have become Christians through the writings of Lewis. Books like Mere Christianity and Miracles are still widely-read and touted as powerful tracts promoting Christian truth. He was one of the most influential Christian apologists of the twentieth century. But what should a Reformed believer think about his method? Can we make use of his writings in Reformed apologetics? Some background Lewis was born in Ireland, but spent most of his life in England. He was a professor of English at Cambridge University. He wasn’t trained as a theologian, but did study and briefly teach philosophy. He’d been an unbeliever for much of his young adult life. He writes about this in his spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy: I was at this time living, like so many Atheists or Antitheists, in a whirl of contradictions. I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world.1 In the early 1930s, Lewis abandoned his atheism and professed to be a Christian. He became a member of the Church of England. Today many Christians believe C.S. Lewis to have been an orthodox, evangelical believer. However, it’s important to realize that Lewis had some serious theological problems. For example, he didn’t hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. In his book Reflections on the Psalms, he insists that the imprecatory psalms (like Psalm 137) are “devilish.” In Mere Christianity, he affirms some form of theistic evolution.2 In the same book, he writes about the possibility of Buddhists belonging to Christ without knowing it: “…A Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believe) the Buddhist teaching on other points.”3 There are more such issues. On the basis of some of his statements, one might even wonder to what extent C.S. Lewis really understood the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ. For myself, I’m not sure. One thing that is certain is that Lewis has had a huge influence. In the last few years, this is definitely because of the Chronicles of Narnia books being made into films. As mentioned earlier, there are many people who claim to have become Christians because they read a book by C.S. Lewis like Mere Christianity or Miracles. Let’s briefly look at those books and the method Lewis uses. Mere Christianity Mere Christianity was originally a series of radio talks. It was an attempt by Lewis to argue for a basic (‘mere’) form of the Christian faith. Early in the book, Lewis uses the moral argument for the existence of a deity. He says that because there is moral law, there must be a law-giver. That law-giver must be a deity. At that point, he wasn’t arguing for the Christian conception of God, but only a generic divine being. His method becomes clear in what he says here: We have not yet got as far as the God of any actual religion, still less the God of that particular religion called Christianity. We have only got as far as a Somebody or Something behind the Moral Law. We are not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches, we are trying to see what we can find out about this Somebody on our own steam.4 Lewis was thus trying to reason to God apart from any revelation from God. He was asking readers to independently judge the existence of God on the basis of the arguments presented. This method is found elsewhere in Mere Christianity as well. Lewis tries to build up his case bit by bit. Eventually he gets to the question of what should his readers think about Jesus and his claim to be God: I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.5 That’s a brilliant piece of writing, often quoted. You’ll sometimes hear it condensed down to the idea that people have to decide whether Jesus was Lord, liar, or lunatic. Yet note again that people are called to judge. You have to judge the claims of Jesus. C.S. Lewis wrote another book entitled God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. In that book he gets to the heart of the problem with his own approach in parts of Mere Christianity. He writes: The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the bench and God in the dock.6 That’s exactly what Lewis did in Mere Christianity. He allowed man to judge God. He flattered the unbeliever. Lewis gave him a position of authority over God. That method was and is not unique to C.S. Lewis. Many others before and after him have done exactly the same thing. I should also note that it can sometimes be persuasive. These types of arguments can work to get people thinking about the Christian faith, and maybe even convince them. However, just because they work doesn’t mean they’re right or pleasing to God. Miracles In his book Miracles, we do find Lewis using a different method at times.7 He discusses the philosophy of naturalism, the idea that nothing exists besides nature. Against naturalism is supernaturalism, which allows for the existence of other things outside of nature, and therefore also allows for the existence of miracles. Lewis starts off by rightly noting how the disagreement between the naturalist and the supernaturalist over miracles is not merely about facts. One needs to spend time considering the philosophy of facts held by each side. Lewis is saying that presuppositions matter. He writes, The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. The philosophical question must therefore come first.8 That could have been said by Reformed theologians like Herman Bavinck or Cornelius VanTil. Lewis recognizes that people have pre-existing philosophical commitments which must be exposed and discussed. So when it comes to naturalism, Lewis does exactly that. He does an internal critique of this philosophy and how it fails to account for logic, morality, and science. To illustrate, let’s just briefly look at what he says about naturalism and logic or reason. Lewis demonstrates that the naturalist cannot consistently hold to his position without undermining reason itself. His philosophy cannot account for reason and cannot support reason. Even though the naturalist tries to talk highly of reason, he actually destroys it. This is because our reasoning powers are not explainable with naturalism. Naturalism is materialistic – all that exists is matter. But what is reason? Is reason material or non-material? Because reason is non-material, naturalism cannot account for it, we have no way for knowing whether it’s true, and our reasoning has no legitimacy. Lewis writes: A theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid, would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory would, of course, be itself demolished. It would be destroyed by its own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no argument was sound…which is nonsense.9 Naturalism collapses under its own weight when it comes to reason. Later in the book, Lewis shows that naturalism also collapses when it comes to morality and science. Instead of naturalism, Lewis argues that supernaturalism can account for everything. While he doesn’t get to the point of affirming that only the Christian worldview’s supernaturalism can account for everything, he comes close. Elsewhere in his writings, he did reach that conclusion. There is this famous quote from his book The Weight of Glory: Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.10 That is very well said – completely in line with Psalm 36:9, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” Indeed, only Christianity can consistently account for everything. Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Lewis didn’t always consistently work with this method, but when he did, he used it to great effect At the end of the day, Lewis is worth reading, not only to see some wrong ways of doing apologetics, but also to learn to use some right ways -- and brilliantly. Moreover, if you have non-Christian friends, reading Lewis with them might be a great way to bring Christian truth to bear on their lives. If you do that, I’d recommend Miracles over Mere Christianity. Endnotes 1) C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy, New York: Walker and Company, 1955, 170. 2) C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, London: Fontana Books, 1952, 181ff. 3) Lewis, Mere Christianity, 173. 4) Lewis, Mere Christianity, 35. 5) Lewis, Mere Christianity, 52-53. 6) C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed. W. Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 244. 7) For this section on Miracles, I am indebted to an unpublished paper by Daniel R. Dodds, “Elements of Transcendental Presuppositionalism as Found in the Works of C.S. Lewis.” 8) C.S. Lewis, Miracles, New York: Fount Paperbacks, 1947, 8. 9) Lewis, Miracles, 18-19. 10) C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1980, 92 Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where this first appeared....

Apologetics 101

6 responses to 1 very angry atheist

British scientist Richard Dawkins may be the world’s most famous atheist. And he has garnered his fame from, and used his fame for attacks on God and his people. To that end he founded the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science in 2006 and, five years later, hired Sean Faircloth to be the Foundation’s Director of Strategy and Policy. Like his mentor, Faircloth is aggressively anti-Christian in his perspective. In 2012 he authored a book (with a foreword by Dawkins) called Attack of the Theocrats: How the Religious Right Harms Us All—and What We Can Do About It. The anti-Christian agenda Faircloth proposes is both monstrous and unsurprising. There is nothing original in the book, and that is why it is worth a closer examination – the vision Faircloth shares is one we have heard in bits and pieces for some time now. There are lessons to be learned from responding to his points. 1. Don’t assume the attack has any basis To lay some groundwork for his agenda, Faircloth tries to discredit the Bible by claiming it was written during a time in history “when guys could simply hit or rape any women who dared to talk back.” He then continues: “Don’t believe that was the case? The Bible tells us such acts are A-OK.” Of course, the Bible nowhere says it’s “A-OK” for men to rape and hit women. Faircloth just made that up. He then proceeds to attack Christians themselves, insisting that the Christian mindset leads its adherents to steal things, and to hurt other people. According to Faircloth, Christians are prone to anti-social behavior because their religion causes them to reason in the following manner: You can hurt others – and terribly so – and be forgiven for that sin simply by asking a supernatural being for forgiveness. With the “forgiven” card, it’s so much easier to say to oneself, “I will grab this food now. I will grab this money now. I will grab and grab and grab.” Concern yourself with long-term consequences later. You can always be forgiven—and then you live forever! A convenient belief system indeed. If you missed hearing that preached off the pulpit you aren’t alone. Notably, Faircloth does not cite any sources to support his claim that Christians think that way. It’s very important to remember that when a critic attacks the Bible we shouldn’t simply assume their attack has credibility. As Faircloth’s attack illustrates, sometimes the critic is so desperate to slam Christianity that he’s willing to make things up. 2. Turn the tables Faircloth claims that in recent years religion has acquired special legal privileges that are harmful to American society. Allowing churches and other religious organizations to hire people who share their beliefs and lifestyles is one of these special privileges that he wants to eliminate. When he argues this point he does so in a particularly twisted way. In his view, …religions enjoy legal privileges that corrode our most basic American values. In most states, religious groups can say in one of their child-care centers: “You’re a Jew? You’re fired.” Similarly, in one of their charitable organizations, they can say to the administrative assistant or janitor: “You’re gay? You’re fired” True, religious groups that run child-care centers or charitable organizations often only hire people from within their own group. It is a basic principle of freedom of association and freedom of religion that religious organizations select employees based on their own principles. Christian schools want to hire Christian teachers, for example. They don’t say, “You’re a Jew? You’re fired,” as Faircloth puts it. There are Jewish organizations that hire exclusively Jewish employees. Why would a Jewish school hire a Christian teacher? Should it be forced by the government to hire non-Jewish teachers? In Faircloth’s world there may be situations where it would. His solution is for the government to prohibit such “discrimination.” As a result, the employee qualifications for Christian organizations would be determined by the government. Allowing religious organizations to hire only people who share their beliefs is, in Faircloth’s words, a legal privilege that corrodes “our most basic American values.” But turnabout is fair play. If Faircloth thinks it discrimination to have a religious test for Christian schools, then what about his own employer, the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science? Surely, in the name of tolerance, they should then be required to hire their share of Christians and maybe a creationist or two? We don’t need to be mind readers to know how Faircloth would respond to our suggestion. He would find a reason of some sort, very quickly, to explain that discrimination isn’t wrong in every circumstance, and, in fact, is sometimes the only reasonable course. 3. Highlight the conflict Faircloth is also very upset that Christian pharmacists are not compelled by the government to provide abortifacient drugs for women who want them. As he puts it, in the US: ...fundamentalist pharmacists in several states get special permission from state legislatures to ignore their professional duties and to even deny rape victims emergency contraception. In his view, Christian pharmacists should be compelled, against their conscience, by the state to provide such “emergency contraception.” This is justified because “Pharmacists work in the health-care profession, not in a church.” While little could be said to change Faircloth’s mind, we can, with a few pointed questions, highlight the severity of what he proposes. Will he let Christians who won’t violate their conscience have jobs? He wants us out of pharmacology, but what of the many other businesses where Christians’ conscience claims run up against other’s wishes? Would he want us out of the bakery business, wedding catering and photography, and bed and breakfast inns? What of Christian doctors and nurses who don’t want to be involved in euthanasia? And printers and T-shirt makers who want to refuse some jobs? Should they all be shown the door? Would the country be better or worse off if Christians were run out of these positions? We may not be able to change someone like Faircloth’s mind, but we can at least highlight his hatred, making it plain for even the most clueless to see. 4. Use the science Faircloth is further outraged by the fact that US foreign aid given to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) cannot be used to provide abortions or to advocate for or counsel abortion. Faircloth calls this prohibition on counseling abortion a “gag rule” and says it prevents women from receiving needed medical advice. In his view: Neither Congress nor the president should deny women accurate medical information. To impose a gag rule is to mandate a particular religious bias and to promote religious propaganda based on the views of specially privileged religious groups – and to use tax dollars to do so. Faircloth says the US government’s position is being based on “religious propaganda” and in one sense it is. The only reason the US has this overseas pro-life position is because of Christian voter’s influence. But God’s truth isn’t limited to the Bible. When we examine life’s beginning then we find the science backing up the biblical position: we find that the only real beginning we can talk about is conception. That’s when a new human life – genetically distinct from both parents – is started. It is smaller life, and with fewer abilities than adults, yes, but no less valuable because, as even an angry atheist knows, we don’t measure people’s worth by their size or ability. 5. Turn the tables again Christian schools constitute another problem for Faircloth. He objects to the Biblical Christian view that males and females have somewhat different roles. He claims such a perspective makes women subservient, and then asks, Why should even one child be taught that women should be subservient? Children make no adult choice to attend a sexist school. It violates their human rights to impose such views on them. Here we can, once again, turn the tables on this attack. God does call on a woman to submit to her husband (though not men in general) but is that the same thing as being subservient? Faircloth has to submit to the decisions of his employer, Richard Dawkins – would he equate submission with subservience in his case too? Does his submission to his boss mean he is less than his boss? I think Faircloth would agree, submission is very different from subservience. But let’s take this further. Christians know that whether male and female, we are all made in God’s Image. We know why women are equal. But on what basis would an atheist make that case? In a Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest understanding, why would he view the generally weaker and smaller gender as being of equal worth? 6. Whence comes morality? Among other things, Faircloth is also against the corporal punishment of children in Christian schools. Interestingly, Faircloth acknowledges that all law is based on morality. As he puts it, You’ve heard the phrase “you can’t legislate morality.” In fact, the only thing you can legislate is morality. Legislative decisions embody the moral choices of a society. At last Faircloth gets something right. He understands that the policies he supports amount to an imposition of his morality on society through law. Yet he objects to Christian schools imposing their morality on students. But on what basis does an atheist speak of morality? Christians know that the moral code has its origins in the very character of God. Atheists dispute this but disputing is easy; coming up with a godless basis for an objective, applies-to-everyone moral code is difficult. Sometimes an appeal is made to consensus, as if morals are simply what we as a society agree is moral. But by that reasoning racism is only recently wrong, and a convincing PR campaign could make any evil good. When an atheist makes use of words such as “morality” and “right” and “wrong” we should demand from them the basis of their own supposedly superior moral code. Conclusion Sean Faircloth’s attacks on God’s people are unfair and unremarkable and far from unusual. We should expect to seem more like this in the years ahead. That’s why, for the glory of God and for the encouragement of his people, we should equip ourselves to offer a ready response....

Apologetics 101, Pro-life - Abortion

Pro-life shirts that spark, spur, and speak

“Hey, what’s with the shirt? What’s Abort73.com?” “I could tell you, but better yet, why don’t you go online and check it out?” **** Fifteen years ago, on campuses across the US, Canada, and even in England, students started showing up to class in t-shirts emblazoned with a distinctive “Abort73.com” logo. And the next day they'd be back, with a different shirt, in a different color, with a different style, but also emblazoned with “Abort73.com” across the chest and back. What'd it be like to sit behind someone who, day after day, was outfitted this way? Would you start getting a bit curious about this website? Would you want to know more? Speaking up without saying a word That’s the brilliance behind Abort73.com. Through repeated exposures, people who otherwise would never check out a pro-life website go to this one. Their curiosity compels them. Day after day, week after week, month after month, shirt after shirt, the same short web address – eventually curiosity has to get the best of them. These shirts are also an aid – and really an answer to prayer – to the many Christians who want to speak out against abortion but don’t feel equipped to do so. Perhaps you’re the type to get tongue-tied, or maybe you always think of just the right thing to say twenty minutes after the opportunity has passed you by. Maybe you’re worried that if you do speak up no one will pay attention. Or you’re more worried that everyone will listen. Whatever the case might be, these shirts can help you speak up without saying a word. A two-pronged approach Most pro-life t-shirts have been designed to make a statement all on their own with slogans like “Abortion is Murder” or “Choose life - Your mother did.” Originally Abort73.com shirts weren't like that. They were focussed entirely on getting folks to the website, because that's where they would have the room to really make the case for the humanity of the unborn in a way that no single t-shirt ever could. That's why their early shirts just had the website address, albeit in all sorts of fonts, colors, and styles. When people did visit the site, what they found was a well-organized summary of the medical, philosophical/logical, and pictorial arguments against abortion and for the humanity of the unborn. The one notable downside to their approach is that none of their "first layer" arguments – those you can find off of their front page – are Christian arguments. God's thoughts can only be found by digging deeper into the site. Nowadays Abort73 has expanded their approach in that they also sell shirts with slogans. I suspect that's because, even as it's better to get people to the website for the full presentation, they now recognize that speaking to the humanity of the unborn via even brief t-shirt slogans can be a way of stirring things up too. Especially on today's college campuses. The shirts are $20 US each but if you buy a half dozen you can get them for just $10 per, and that is pretty impressive. Why not check it out? So, is your curiosity piqued? Then why not go to www.Abort73.com and check it out? Or go directly to their store to order a shirt...or thirty? A version of this article was first February 2006 issue under the title “A shirt a day…the vision of the folks behind Abort73.com”...

Apologetics 101

The case for bumper-sticker and T-shirt Christianity

We found the handprinted note tucked beneath the windshield wiper, as we returned to our car in the mall parking lot. “May you not be judged as severely as you judge others,” it said. The note, printed by some shaky hand, was a reaction to our Mazda’s bumper sticker: “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope – Pope John Paul II.” Whoever left the note definitely “heard” our message. Signs of the effect it had on them were present. Without writing paper on hand, the person tore off a piece of some box to pass on their reaction to us. Shaky printing suggested that the writer was emotional and wanted to say as fast as possible what they had to say, and wrote it on the palm of their hand only, not bothering to look for a firmer support. (Or, I wondered, could this be the shaky hand of an older person? But no, the elderly don’t print, they use handwriting. Only the new generation never learned how to write, so they print). Furthermore, the writer, unable to attack the message, attacked the messenger – another sign of emotionalism. They must also have had some rudimentary knowledge of God and of his Word since they called for some higher judgment on us. Yes, the writer was definitely not left unmoved by our bumper sticker’s message. They heard it well. The same sticker got us a handshake in front of our cleaner’s shop. A man in his 30’s commended us for the sticker, and made some comments on the prevailing apathy of western Christians to the ongoing slaughter of the innocent. A bouncing gelatin wall I believe in bumper stickers, in stickers and in T-shirt messages. I know they work. And they work because they catch people before they are ready, in the moments when their hearts and minds are open and ready like a freshly plowed field to receive a seed. That seed, once planted, sends out a tiny root and eventually can give life to something good. Let me explain myself. Human minds and hearts are wonderfully able to hear what they want to hear, and to be deaf to what they don’t want to hear. For example, I was at one time convinced my son did not hear very well. But when I dragged him in for a hearing test it turned out he had perfect hearing. But also selective hearing. I’m sure you experience this yourself many times every day. When our spouses, teachers, preachers, parents, children or the media communicate something to us it takes us only 30 seconds to figure out if the coming address is going to be uncomfortable to us, or request something from us, or be hurtful to us. And if we sense such a message, instantly our defenses come up and we erect a powerful wall. This wall will not let anything from the outside penetrate us. Everything we don’t want to deal with just bounces off. It is a bouncing gelatin wall! With our defenses up, we hear selectively and pick up only the weakest points of the address to eventually use for a counterattack. But we are deaf to the main points, the facts of the address because of our mighty bouncing “gelatin wall.” I remember the communist indoctrination lessons I had to learn growing up behind the Iron Curtain. I remember clearly that when my beloved history professor started to praise the achievements of the communist ideology and tear down everything that was built before it, something always happened to me. I erected my own “bouncing wall.” I, too, did not hear. This wall allowed me to distance myself from the responsibility I had to stand up and say, “Comrade teacher, this is a lie! You know how bloody and unjust communism is!” The wall let me pretend I did not hear, so I did not have to comment. But in truth I knew that speaking would get me in trouble and perhaps put my father back in prison, so I did not act. After all, when I once approached this professor privately to talk about some great historical lie, he commanded me not to listen to my father, but to believe instead the communist history books. Before the wall goes up This mental “bouncing wall” is real, and everyone has one. Through this wall, we are not heard. So, ladies and gentlemen, we must get our message to people before this wall gets up! Speed is crucial. The reality is you have no more than 30 seconds to reach people before the bouncing wall goes up. You have only 30 seconds to get to them! Repeat this to yourself and adapt your strategies to it. Learn from the businessman who knows that advertising sells! Their 30-second commercials cost millions, but they make millions. They sell. Why? Because these short commercials get TV viewers unprepared in the midst of some other story, before their bouncing wall comes up. The message sneaks in and they say, “Hey, didn’t I always like this song?” And they rush to the computer and order the gadget, tool, book, or DVD that will soon make an appearance at their next garage sale. I know that people read bumper stickers. I read bumper stickers too. They get at us with their short messages while our walls are still down. That’s why they work, like TV ads. That’s why they get our message heard. Now. you and I don’t have the money to go on TV and say, “Dear Canadians, abortion kills people. Abortion is the cruel execution of the innocent…” Even if we had the millions of dollars needed to put this message on TV as an ad, the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) would not allow it on the air, because it is not politically correct. And if we tried a different approach and got permission to preach against abortion in the town square, nobody would come listen to it. The invisible bouncing wall would prevent all but the committed pro-lifers from coming and listening. In praise of red lights           But my bumper stickers? May our Lord be praised because of the one who invented them! My bumper sticker always catches the eyes of following drivers. They have to watch my bumper because that’s where the signal lights are. And while waiting for the green light with wandering eyes, bored by familiar scenery, they look eagerly for some distraction. My bumper sticker gives it to them – a definitely not common, nor boring, but rather clear message that sticks. They might get convicted and repent. They might get convicted and get angry. They might just process it as information and stay apathetic. Regardless, they are confronted with the truth and can never tell the Creator, “I did not know. Why did your servants, Christians, not tell me?” So when my dearest husband complains that he, “did not get even one green light today,” I say, “Thank-you Lord, for thou has created the yellow and red colors!” Those red lights mean that 16 people were confronted with the truth on the way to work. If we are lucky, 16 more will be confronted on the way home. Great! If we go to the city 3 times per week, we will reach 48 drivers (and some of their passengers). In one month that will add up to 200 people. Wow! In one year 2,400 people will read the $3 pro-life message on my bumper, a message we are not permitted to say aloud anywhere but in the street. I gave one of my most blatant pro-life bumper stickers to my brother. Soon somebody who worked at the hospital needed to borrow my brother’s car for one week. And it came to pass that the old red car was parked in the staff parking lot, standing in a predetermined strategic parking stall just next to the exit, where every car had to slow to stop and catch the message: “Abortion – the ultimate child abuse.” There it was, a witness to all the hospital staff, and I praised the Lord for it. I love small stickers too. I know that the message, “Abortion stops a beating heart” stuck just beneath the address on the envelope will be processed and read by 5-7 people. Its design is appealing and very interesting. With the 200–500 envelopes we mail every year I rejoice to reach large numbers of people who I would never have been able to speak to – especially members of the Canadian Postal Union, which donates lots of money for the advancement of the death culture in Canada! Now mind you, my local postal employees have read the sticker 2000 times already, but I still rejoice. After all, if Joseph Goebel’s idea – that a lie repeated often enough becomes the truth – worked in Nazi Germany, then the truth repeated 2000 times must work also. Try sticking a small “Abortion stops a beating heart” sticker on your mailbox. I bet you that when your paperboy or girl first hears the word “abortion” in one of their condom and banana sex education classes, the first thing jumping to their mind will be the words, “…stops a beating heart.” He or she might even speak it out loud and start a very interesting conversation in the class, or with their parents. Marvelous things can be done with one-liners like “Beware of Dog!” or “Stop!” or “Don’t drink and drive!” It is time for us to use that power. Backward T-shirts With T-shirts I have one problem – its effectiveness is best when it is backwards. I have found that any message is lost on me when it is printed on the front of a T-shirt. Our culture avoids eye contact; we do not stare, or prey on privacy. While we may read the logos on T-shirts while they are still in the store, and may love to wear some that enhance our stands or our personalities, we hardly ever read what others carry on their bellies or across their busts. It is invasive. C’est un faux pas. On the other hand, we feel free to read what people carry on their backs as we walk behind them. This does not force on us any contact or seem as invasive. So should you wish to print up some great T-shirt message, print it on the back of the shirt. Just imagine that you are strolling in the fresh air and in front of you walks a person with a message on her back that you now have all the time to read: “Polluted by sin? Hardly breathing? Fresh air will not do. I might know the remedy. Feel free to ask.” Our most beloved T-shirt was given to me by my daughter, a University of Alberta student then. It listed on the back the “Top Ten Reasons to be Pro-life.” Aimed at university students, it read: 10. Equal rights for unborn women too. 9. All the best babes are pro-life. 8. You were a fetus once. 7. Diapers are disposable, babies aren’t. 6. Pampers stocks are up 1/8 on the TSE. 5. Nine out of ten babies do not pee on your rug. 4. Babies don’t talk back. 3. You’ll need someone to support you when you’re old and want a home in Florida. 2. Babies don’t drive up the !@# Grade Point Average. 1. 1,336 unborn babies will be killed in Canada today. While this was not a short 30-second message, the first 30 seconds of it were so amusing for any reader, except the committed pro-abort, that people continue to read on about these cute, friendly creatures – babies. And then, when they were already sold by the cute message, they were hit with number 1! Everywhere they look? I understand from the latest statistics that close to 30 percent of Canadians regularly attend some Christian church. Wouldn’t it be great if our politicians, media people and academia found out, as they traveled to work one day, that 30 percent of the vehicles they saw had some sort of Christian or pro-life message on them? And that 30 percent of the T-shirts they saw, as people strolled down Main Street, had some message showing off adherence to God and Christian morals? Don’t you think they would act accordingly? Don’t you think businessmen would soon sell them in any mall? Or that the editor of the paper would not leave out the name of Jesus Christ from my Christmas story he recently published? I bet you many things would look very different. Priests for Life has said that now, when Christianity and the Pro-life message are almost completely pushed out of the press, TV, and culture generally, the street is our media! They are right. The last frontier left to us is the street. Let’s make the best of it. But will we? Does it make any sense to try and figure out how best to get our message heard if there are no takers for the positions of criers and watchmen? Does it make any sense when people are not even willing to use bumper stickers? Lame excuses People say it does not change anything. I have a sticker for them that reads, “Did you try it?” They respond, “No, but others did.” Like who? Here in Grande Prairie there are only 10 cars carrying a meaningful message. (But we have lots of cars running around with the latest “angst” bumper sticker which reads, “I am a bitch.”) Some Christians say that while the message is true, it offends people, especially those who have had an abortion. “Jesus was and is always a gentleman, so we must follow his example and not offend people. After all, how would you like it, if somebody tried to impose their set of beliefs on you?” I have a bumper sticker for these people that reads, “The truth will make you free.” And I ask them how they would bring the message to the world in a better, less offensive way. “We would wait to be asked,” is their reply. And so most of them are still waiting for their first customer to show up and ask. Others don’t want their employers to get mad at them. I have a sticker for them that reads, “If you are ashamed of me, I will be ashamed of you before my Father” (Luke 9:26). The most honest admit, “I don’t want to get my car vandalized.” I would recommend to such honest people to continue their honesty and not to sing, “All to Jesus I surrender, all to him freely I give.” All these and many, many other “reasons” are perpetuated in Christian circles, so the message does not get out simply because there are no messengers. But these are not real reasons, they are just excuses for our laziness, our cowardice and our lack of love for God and our fellow man. This is a point worth repeating – the three real reasons we do not get out message out are cowardice, laziness, and lack of love for God and our fellow man. The moment we repent and start to proclaim our God and His morality to the world (even if only by bumper stickers), that is the moment we start to obey God, and thus become courageous. In that moment we also return to our first love for God and we love our fellow men again. And at that moment we’ll get our message heard because there will finally be messengers to carry it, and no matter how it will be received it will be heard! I pray for that. Ladies and gentlemen, I now rest my case. You can find pro-life bumper stickers at Life Cycle Books Canadian store or American store. Pro-life t-shirts can be found at Abort73.com and other online retailers. A version of this article first appeared in the February 2002 issue. ...

Apologetics 101, Satire

The Triangle Curvature Inclusion Bill

A controversial bill to redefine triangles was presented in the British Parliament this past month. Debate was opened by the Culture Secretary, Valerie Brimble, who began by setting out the case for expanding what she sees as an oppressively restrictive definition. “Times change,” she began, “old customs and habits which may have served society well in the past need to be constantly reviewed. It is my contention that the traditional view of triangles, as having three straight sides, joining at three corners and forming three internal angles which aggregate to 180 degrees must urgently be reviewed. There is no reason why this configuration need remain, and a modern society ought not to be hidebound by antiquated customs.” Unusually for a Commons debate, she then whipped out a visual aid from under the dispatch box in order to demonstrate her proposals. Figure 1, she told a packed House, was an example of how triangles have been traditionally defined. FIG 1. She then went on to explain that this traditional definition of triangles could no longer be tolerated in a modern, diverse and inclusive society. “If we are to be a compassionate people, then we must include shapes that we’ve previously pushed to the margins.” She then sought to reassure some of her more traditionalist colleagues that what the government was proposing was merely a change to allow just one of the sides of the triangle to be redefined, to allow for the introduction of a wiggly line. Figure 2 was then presented to her fellow MPs, which depicted a “triangle” with this wiggly short side. FIG. 2 As she sat down after her opening remarks, Mrs. Brimble faced a barrage of criticism from opponents of the bill. It was pointed out to her that once you redefine triangles to include one wiggly line, it was only a matter of time until other self-interest groups demanded their right to add a second or even a third bendy line. Mrs. Brimble responded by reassuring the House that the government had no plans to allow any further redefinitions. “We are only, I repeat, only, legislating to allow either one of the two shorter lines to be redefined,” she said. “We are not, I repeat, we are not legislating for the redefinition of the hypotenuse.” However, this failed to satisfy her opponents who one by one got up to denounce the redefinition. One of the most vocal said this: “Can my Right Honourable friend tell the house this: once she has redefined the triangle to include a wiggly line, what reason can she give to those who then want to redefine it to include four straight lines, or multiple bendy lines, or even as many lines, bendy or otherwise, that they choose?” Not to be outdone by Mrs. Brimble, he then whipped out his own visual aid and showed the House what could well happen to the triangle if this legislation passes. FIG. 3 “Oh come off it,” scoffed a clearly exasperated Mrs. Brimble. “Don’t be ridiculous. They don’t look anything like triangles. Even a fool can see that.”...

Apologetics 101

One simple question: "What do you mean by that?"

In the May 17, 2016 Breakpoint Daily, John Stonestreet shared a few questions he uses when he finds himself in a tough conversation. The first and most helpful is: “What do you mean by that?" The battle of ideas is always the battle over the definition of words. Thus, it’s vital in any conversation to clarify the terms being used. For example, the most important thing to clarify in the ongoing gender discussions is the definition of "gender." So when the topic comes up, ask, “Hold on, before we go start talking about personal pronouns, puberty suppression, or surgeries, I want to ask, what do you mean by gender?” Often, when it comes to these crucial issues, both sides are using the same vocabulary, but not the same dictionary. So to present the antithesis – to speak God's Truth to a confused culture – we have to begin by defining our terms. Defining terms can also serve as a good defense when you're getting attacked, not with an argument, but simply with an insult. When someone tries to dismiss you by calling you a name, the best response is to question the insult. "You're just a homophobe!" “What do you mean by that?” “Um, I mean you hate gays.” “But I don’t hate gays. I do disagree with their lifestyle – I think it harms them by separating them from God. Is disagreeing the same thing as hating?” “Yeah, of course!” “But you’re disagreeing with me? Wouldn’t that mean you’re hateful?” "Well...um....but you deserve it!" As in this dialogue above, defining the terms might not win you the argument, but it can expose the vacuous nature of what the other side is saying. And even when you don't win over your debate partner, clarifying the terms is one way to help bystanders see through the name-calling. However, the most important reason to lead with this simple question – "What do you mean by that? – is because showing the anthesis, making plain what the two sides actually are, brings glory to our God. And who knows how He might use the seed we plant? ...

Apologetics 101, Pro-life - Abortion

Apologetics 101: Stay on message

Step 1. Figure out what you’re really trying to say Step 2. Don’t let anyone or anything distract you from saying it ***** Scott Klusendorf is a full-time pro-life apologist, which means he gets screamed at a lot. One of the more common squawks goes something like this: “You aren’t pro-life; you’re just pro-birth! You want to tell women what they can do with their bodies, and don’t give a rip what happens to the kid after it’s born!” How would you respond? God tells us that sometimes silence is the best response. He warns us that trying to be heard over a red-faced, spittle-spewing, murder-marketer’s screams will only make us look just as foolish (Prov. 26:4). But what about when the accuser really wants a response? What about when there is a listening audience gathered round? How should we answer then? We could point to the pro-lifers we know who donate to, or volunteer at, pregnancy centers. We could list everyone we know who’ve adopted or fostered children. And for good measure we might mention the way our churches care for the elderly and the sick, and the unemployed, and just generally show love for our born neighbors too. If we’re feeling feisty, we might even go on the offensive and ask, “How much time and money do you donate to care for others?” knowing that the typical critic is doing nothing or next to it. That’s an answer that might shut them up. But it’s not the answer Scott Klusendorf gives. He goes a different direction because he understands the abortion debate is largely one of truth versus, not simply lies, but evasion. The other side doesn’t want to debate whether the unborn are precious human beings like you and I; instead they sidetrack the discussion to any other topic. They’ll talk about how poor some mothers are, and how unwanted some babies are. They’ll attack men for daring to speak on the issue. In the latest pro-abortion stunt, groups of women will parade around in red dresses patterned after victims’ attire in a dystopian novel about political leaders who get away with ritual rape. The accusation that loving unborn babies is akin to rape is as bizarre as it is repugnant. But as much as insults hurt, they don’t do the same damage as suction machines. That’s why our focus has to be on the unborn, and sharing where their worth comes from. As much as abortion advocates want to sidetrack the issue, we can’t let them divert us from highlighting how our country’s smallest citizens are being murdered. How do we stay on message? By absorbing the insult. If they want to argue that pro-lifers don’t give a rip about children once they are born, we can grant their point and play a game of “what if…” Klusendorf’s response to attacks goes something like this: “What if I was the cold-hearted jerk you’re making me out to be? What if I was the worst human being in the world? How does me being a jerk have any impact on the humanity of the unborn?” When Kristan Hawkins, president of the Students for Life of America, was asked why pro-lifers weren’t offering solutions for the foster-care crisis she played the “what if” game too. What if the accusation was true? What if pro-lifers were only concerned with the unborn? She asked her accuser: “Are you upset that the American Diabetes Association doesn’t fight cancer?” She continued: “There is no other act of violence that kills more people every single day in America and across the world, than abortion. There’s nothing wrong with me fighting, and spending 100% of my time doing it. Just like there’s nothing wrong with the American Diabetes Association putting 100% of their money, their research and time behind curing Juvenile Diabetes…. The reality is, you don’t really care what I do. That I support children in third world countries. Or that I might be volunteering in a soup kitchen....  It’s just an argument to stop the actual discussion from happening, which is that abortion is a moral wrong and it should be stopped.” There’s an old joke about a pastor who, in his sermon’s margins, wrote: ”Point weak here; thump pulpit harder.” The world has no strong points, so they have to pound the podium till they bleed, shrieking their insults to try to drown out the Truth. They don’t want to have the debate. We can’t let them distract us from it. As the Westminster Shorter Catechism explains, we’re on Earth to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. When we make His glory our first concern, we won’t sweat it when someone attacks our name – that won’t stop us from talking about God’s Truth. When we’re enjoying His love we won’t worry about having the world’s approval – that can’t stop us from defending unborn children made in His image. And when we recognize the world only hates us because they hated Him first (John 15:18) we will rejoice in the good company we are keeping. ...

Apologetics 101

Atheists can’t explain evil

Given an atheistic or even an agnostic starting point, how can someone be outraged by evil? Without God, being outraged over the presence of evil is a subjective notion borrowed from the Christian worldview. “If God is nothing,” according to Russian novelist Feodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881), “everything is permitted; if God is nothing, everything is a matter of indifference.”1 Greg Bahnsen stated it this way: “The question, logically speaking, is how the unbeliever can make sense of taking evil seriously – not simply as something inconvenient, or unpleasant, or contrary to his desires…. On the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no good reason for saying that anything is evil in nature, but only by personal choice or feeling.”2 This type of thinking has trickled down to the law where legal positivism rules the courts. “Legal positivism holds that there is no necessary connection between law and morality and that the question of what is and is not law can be identified by reference to social facts and need not involve moral assumptions.”3 How could there be, given the operating premise that those standing before the court are animals whose origin is a chance one, and whose evolution is a violent struggle for survival? How can the world condemn even terrorists? The person who murdered 50 Muslims in New Zealand this past month was committed for the survival of his species. He’s made this point clear in his manifesto. In a sick but logical way he was attempting to justify his actions. What outside transcendental source of ethics can be used against his thinking and actions that hasn’t first been borrowed from a biblical view of morality but officially barred from consideration? Thomas H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” said as much in 1893, writing that “Cosmic evolution may teach us how the good and the evil tendencies of many have come about; but, in itself, it is incompetent to furnish any better reason why what we call good is preferable to what we call evil than we had before” Darwinism came on the scene. He goes to write that one day we may  “arrive at an understanding of the aesthetic faculty; but all that understanding in the world will neither increase nor diminish the forces of the intuition that this is beautiful and that is ugly.”4 If our ethics evolved, why would we have to listen to them? And little has changed since 1859 when Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. "If ethics is simply an adaptation that evolved over by natural selection, then we acquire another reason to think it has no compelling justification. Ethics had no being, no ontology beyond what whatever our genes and brains and environment generated to keep the social world functioning. Darwinian metaethics thus further weakened the case for an objective foundation for ethics."5 What philosophy of value or morality can the atheist offer which will render it meaningful to condemn some atrocity as objectively evil? If according to Feuerbach, “Man is man’s only God” – Homo homini Deus – then Hobbes’s dictum, “Man is a wolf to his fellow man” – Homo homini lupus – eventually becomes the law of a society. Who are we to object or be outraged when accidents of nature (what we call human beings) maim and kill other accidents of nature in a world governed (if such a word can be used) by chance?6 For example, although atheists are “morally outraged” by slavery, “If we are all biological accidents, why shouldn’t the white accidents own and sell the black accidents?”7 Sadly, the worst crimes are natural Sam Harris, writes in his Letter to a Christian Nation, the sequel to his bestseller The End of Faith: “While we do not have anything like a final, scientific understanding of human morality, it seems safe to say that raping and killing our neighbors is not one of its primary constituents.”8 Mr. Harris ought to take up his unsupported conclusion with Randy Thornhill’s and Craig T. Palmer’s thesis and their book A Natural History of Rape published by MIT Press (2000). He might also want to establish a dialog with David Buss, author of The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind is Designed to Kill (2005). Why object to the worldview of the man who murdered 50 Muslims in New Zealand, or to the worldview below of one of Charles Manson’s followers, if God does not exist? "Whatever is necessary, you do it. When somebody needs to be killed, there’s no wrong. You do it, and then you move on. And you pick up a child and you move him to the desert. You pick up as many children as you can and you kill whoever gets in your way. That is us."9 On what grounds can the unbeliever object? Only theists - and inconsistent atheists - can condemn evil Atheists must assume something of God’s moral character to make a case against God in light of the existence of evil. “The unbeliever,” Bahnsen writes, “must secretly rely upon the Christian worldview in order to make sense of his argument from the existence of evil which is urged against the Christian worldview!”10 In the end, the unbeliever uses stolen credentials (Christian presuppositions), establishes himself as the defense attorney, prosecutor, and judge, and then takes his seat in the jury box to render a verdict against God. None of this is designed to demean atheists who claim they are just as good as anyone else. That’s not the issue. It’s being able to account for goodness and evilness given certain underlying presuppositions. But we are justified in putting their arguments on trial since they’ve seen fit to put God’s existence on trial. In an interview, Vincent Bugliosi, author of the books Helter Skelter and Outrage, when he was asked whether he believed in God, stated, “If we were in court, I’d object on the ground that the question assumes a fact not in evidence.”11 The evidence is there, but Mr. Bugliosi has set the ground rules for what he will accept as evidence. If the evidence does not fit his operating presuppositions, then for him it is not evidence. John Frame answers such flirtations with wholesale autonomy in an unbending manner: "Unbelievers must surely not be allowed to take their own autonomy for granted in defining moral concepts. They must not be allowed to assume that they are the ultimate judges of what is right and wrong. Indeed, they should be warned that that sort of assumption rules out the biblical God from the outset and thus allows its character as a faith-presupposition. The unbeliever must know that we reject his presupposition altogether and insist upon subjecting our moral standards to God’s. And if the unbeliever insists on his autonomy, we may get nasty and require him to show how an autonomous self can come to moral conclusions in a godless universe."12 Mr. Bugliosi consistently criticized the prosecutors in the O. J. Simpson trial for not raising crucial points of evidence. One wonders why he nowhere deals with the argument that if there is no God then there is no morality or a call for outrage when personal sentiments (like his own) are offended. The world is in crisis. Presidents and Prime Ministers have long ago abandoned a biblical view of the world claiming that it’s archaic. As a result, its rejection has released the worldview of Cain (Gen. 4:8) on this world with no moral brake to rebuke it. This article first appeared on AmericanVision.org and is reprinted here with permission. Below you can see Dennis Prager, as a Jew, making a similar point.  Endnotes Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Devils (The Possessed), trans. David Magarshark (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1953), 126. Quoted in Vincent P. Miceli, The Gods of Atheism (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1971), 141. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Atlanta, GA: American Vision, 1996), 169–170. Jonathan Burnside, God, Justice, and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible(New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 68. Thomas H. Huxley, “Evolution and Ethics,” Evolution and Ethics and Other Essays(New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1899), 80. James Davidson Hunter and Paul Nedelisky, Science and the Good: The Tragic Quest for the Foundations of Morality (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2018), 78. See Barbara Reynolds, “If your kids go ape in school, you’ll know why,” USA Today(August 27, 1993), 11A. James Scott Bell, The Darwin Conspiracy (Gresham, OR: Vision House, 1995), 64. Sam Harris, Letter to a Christian Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 24. Sandra Good quoted in Vincent Bugliosi, with Curt Gentry, Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders (New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1974), 462. Bahnsen, Always Ready, 170. Quoted in Bugliosi, Outrage, 247. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 169. ...

Apologetics 101

The JFK assassination and apologetics: the facts don't speak for themselves

Movie director, Oliver Stone, unleashed a Pandora's Box at the box-office in 1991 with the release of his controversial film, JFK. The movie, which was a technological marvel and starred Kevin Costner along with a host of well-known actors, explored the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Warren Commission Report regarding the tragedy, and a complex conspiracy theory which sought to "get to the real truth" behind an alleged cover-up. The Stone movie provoked a phenomenal response. Some people were outraged at its ugly implications, or at its own distortion of testimony, or at its white-wash of questionable sources, or even at its amazing editing and weaving of soundbites, visual images, changing angles, flashbacks and anticipations, documentary coverage and interpretive re-creations. Other people are equally outraged at finding out how poorly the subsequent investigation into the assassination was handled, and how many disturbing pieces of evidence or testimony were squashed or ignored, and how outlandish the explanations of the single-assassin theory had to become, and how our own government agencies may have been entangled or willing to look the other way. Newsweek magazine was so egged on by the movie that it decided to throw rotten eggs in return, giving it prime attention on its front cover with the heading: "The Twisted Truth of 'JFK' - Why Oliver Stone's New Movie Can't Be Trusted" (Dec.23, 1991). On the other hand, the local bookstores have been doing a rousing business in selling books which are relevant to rebutting the Warren Commission conclusions and exploring theories which, despite their conspiratorial character, pay compelling attention to details. Among the most important are the two books by lawyer Mark Lane: Rush to Judgment (a 1966 cross-examination of the Warren Commission, both thorough and sober) and Plausible Denial (a more recent book purporting to show C.I.A. involvement to some degree in the assassination). The massive analysis of Jim Marris (who teaches a college course on the subject) runs over 600 pages in length, and is entitled Crossfire: The Plot That Killed Kennedy. Also worthy of mention is On the Trail of the Assassins, written by former New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, whose investigation and eventual trial of Clay Shaw for alleged participation in a scheme to kill the president was the organizing plot of the Oliver Stone movie. On the downside of credibility for the conspiracy theorists is the large number of such theories which have been advanced. Granted, some are more plausible and well-reasoned than others, but the fact that there are so many of them is disturbing, each offering somewhat convincing evidence. Who should be fingered for the crime? The C.I.A.? Military intelligence? The mafia? The F.B.I.? The Vice-President? Anti-Castro Cubans? Pro-Castro communists? Right-wing extremists? Pro-Soviet communists? All of the above? None of the above? For years the thesis that Lee Harvey Oswald was the man who shot President Kennedy, and that he acted alone, has seemed relatively easy to accept. The public was told that an eyewitness saw Oswald in the book depository building window. A rifle was discovered there which not only had Oswald's palm-print, but had been purchased by mail order under an assumed name, identification for which Oswald was carrying on him. His own wife said she believed he was the killer. The FBI found incriminating photos at Oswald's home, later published by Life magazine. The man had previously renounced the United States and lived in the Soviet Union! No, the case against Oswald was not hard to believe. Yet there always had been disturbing elements in the story. Why was Oswald deprived of legal counsel, and why was no record made of police interviews with him? How did a man (Jack Ruby) simply walk in off the street, stride right up to Oswald in the presence of dozens of officers, and shoot him point blank? What do we make of eyewitnesses who said they previously saw Oswald and Ruby together in Ruby's nightclub? Why did the people who were present in Deleay Plaza when Kennedy was shot run forward toward the fence on the grassy knoll, seeking the shooter, instead of running back toward the depository building? Fifty-one witnesses claim to have heard shots from the direction of the grassy knoll! Why did the medical doctors initially report an entry wound to Kennedy's throat, if he had been shot (only) from behind? Why do films show his head recoiling from a frontal (and from the right) shot? The Oswald theory would require that no more than three shots were fired – although ballistics experts were unable to replicate even that feat within the relevant time restraint (5.6 seconds) with a bolt-action rifle like Oswald's. However, acoustics evidence now proves there were at least four shots. On the Oswald hypothesis, one of the assassin's three bullets needed to inflict seven wounds in two bodies (Kennedy's and Governor Connally's) – some at nearly right angles – and emerge in almost pristine condition! Photographic experts have discredited the Life magazine pictures of Oswald as edited composites. Marina Oswald's opinion of her husband's involvement actually changed (following virtual house-arrest for weeks with the FBI) from an initial disputing of it. Paraffin tests performed on Oswald's cheeks the day of the assassination demonstrated that he had not fired a rifle that day. When the FBI turned over the alleged murder weapon, it reported that there were no prints (where the palm print later appeared). Initial autopsy reports on Kennedy were destroyed... The case against Oswald looked strong for a time (and still does for many people), but now that case begins to appear rather weak (if not being fully refuted according to some people).  So what? For our present purposes, it is not really relevant whether the Oswald-as-lone-assassin theory regarding Kennedy's assassination is accurate or not. It is not my intention to take sides on this troubled question here. Rather, it is the controversy itself that is raging over this question which should interest us, for this dispute provides a very fruitful education into the real character of what we sometimes call "factual investigation" and illustrates the nature of historical (and forensic) argumentation. Oddly enough, the controversy over the Kennedy assassination provides an opportunity for Christians to learn something valuable about apologetical method - the defense of their faith. Popular and widely published apologists for the Christian faith often tell us, for example, that the most persuasive way to practice the defense of the faith is simply to provide unbelievers with "the facts" of history (the raw evidence of eye-witness testimony) and challenge them that any "rational" man would have to conclude that this evidence "proves" with practical certainty that Jesus rose from the dead – as the most astounding miracle of history. This approach has always seemed more than a bit naive. And the controversy surrounding the Kennedy assassination makes that naiveté stand out all the more prominently. The facts don't speak for themselves Evangelical apologists who think that a presentation of "the fact" of history is enough to vindicate the truth of Christianity against the skeptical challenges of unbelievers overlook the way in which people reach – and critically maintain – their personal conclusions about fundamental and important issues. Those who think that unbelievers would become believers if only they were made aware of the observational "evidence" (the testimony of alleged eyewitnesses) do not fully grasp the key issues in the philosophical study of the theory of knowledge (epistemology). What they do not realize is that, contrary to a popular aphorism, the "facts" do not "speak for themselves." What people see (or hear) will be unavoidably interpreted according to their other beliefs, their personal expectations and values, and their governing presuppositions. "The facts" do not simply stand "out there" with their meaning inherent in them, waiting to be seen for what they are regardless of what the commitments and beliefs may be of those who find "the facts." What a person will take to be a "fact" and how that fact is interpreted and related to other beliefs is not determined alone by the perceptions or observations (or observation-reports) which a person has. His thinking will be guided by various assumptions or controlling presuppositions. There were plenty of eyewitnesses at the very scene of the crime when President Kennedy was assassinated. In our day we enjoy incredibly advanced techniques and technologies for investigation of evidence, physical and personal. Hundreds of people have been hard at work dealing with the relevant clues and testimony concerning the killing of JFK. Do "the facts speak for themselves"? Do they? The fact that advocates of the Warren Commission's theory debate ferociously with critics of the Commission tells you that much more is involved here than a simple look at "the facts and nothing but the facts" concerning a particular event which transpired in 1963. The fact that critics of the Warren Commission disagree widely with each other in proposing other theories about the assassination of Kennedy tells you that there is much more involved here than a simple amassing of "the facts." This is even more the case with respect to Christ's resurrection. Here we do not have an event which took place merely thirty years ago, but almost two thousand years ago. We do not have any hard physical evidence to investigate and no living witnesses to cross-examine. We do not have a great number of extant testimonies (although some we have do speak of others as well). The event in question was no ordinary natural event (as the mere shooting of a man is, although he was a politically important man), but rather an awesome and extraordinary resurrection from the dead – a miracle. If the dispute over Kennedy's assassination shows us that the facts do not speak for themselves – that the question is not settled simply over alleged evidences – how much more should Christian apologists realize that our debate with unbelievers over the resurrection of Christ (and other matters of Biblical truth) is not simply a matter of "evidences." It must eventually involve a challenge to the heart-commitment and intellectual presuppositions of the non-Christian. Jesus said it long ago: "If they will not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they believe if one should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31). This article was first published in the May 1992 issue of Penpoint (Vol. III:3) and is reprinted with permission of Covenant Media Foundation, which hosts and sells many other Dr. Greg Bahnsen resources on their website www.cmfnow.com....

Apologetics 101, News

Abortionist: “God performs way more abortions than I do…”

In a Dec. 29 tweet abortionist Leah Torres went viral by claiming: “God performs way more abortions than I do…” While pro-lifers were quick to respond, most failed to offer an effective reply. When we debate the world there can be a temptation to assume anything they say must not be true. That's what happened here, with many a Christian afraid to concede there was something to Torres’ claim, at least as far as it went. And because this uncomfortable truth was avoided, the rebuttals missed their target. The newsgroup LifeNews.com tweeted this reply: “But you believe in evolution. So it’s evolution’s fault, not God’s.” Maybe Torres does believe in unguided evolution, but the largely Catholic LifeNews presumably doesn’t. So why not offer a Catholic or Christian response, instead of this evasion? Faithwire.com thought another reply, a tweet by ToniMZ81, was worth sharing, but it also sidestepped the real issue. She wrote: “…most miscarriages are because of an issue with the pregnancy/ non viability & most abortions are viable pregnancies.” What this forgets is Who controls viability. There is a difference between an abortion and a miscarriage, but this tweet didn’t get to the heart of it. The difference is not that Torres takes life and God does not. The difference is that God is the Author of life and Torres is not. As the Source of life He has a right to take what He has given. Torres does not. This point was made by a few pro-lifers. Greg Schultz tweeted: There’s a difference… You Are Not God Taken to its logical end, Torres' argument justifies every sort of murder at any age because, after all, God has killed more people of that age, than any of us have. To highlight the incredible wickedness of this logic, Anthony Abides, in the most memorable tweet of them all, put Torres' self-justification in Hitler's mouth: “God killed more Jews than I do.”...

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