Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Excerpts from "What is a Biblical Christian?"

Just had a friend send me a few excerpts he drew from a work by Albert N. Martin which distinguishes Christianity from others. Worth the read.

1. According to the Bible, a Christian is a person who has faced realistically the problem of his own personal sin. One of the many things which distinguishes the Christian faith from the other religions of the world is that Christianity is essentially and fundamentally a sinner's religion.

2. A biblical Christian is one who has seriously considered the one divine remedy for sin.

A unique feature of the Christian faith is that it is not a religious self-help scheme where you patch yourself up with the aid of God. Just as surely as it is a unique tenet of the Christian faith that Christ is the only Savior for sinners, so it is also a unique tenet of the Christian faith that all of our true help comes down from above and meets us where we are. We cannot pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps; God in mercy breaks in upon the human situation and does something which we could never do for ourselves.

3. A biblical Christian is one who has wholeheartedly complied with the terms for obtaining God's provision for sin. The divine terms are two: repent and believe.
What is repentance? The definition of the Shorter Catechism is an excellent one:
"Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension (that is, laying hold) of the mercy of God in Christ, does, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience."

4. A biblical Christian is a person who manifests in his life that his claims to repentance and faith are real.

True faith makes you willing to be counted as a fool and crazy—willing to be considered outdated—because you believe that there are eternal, unchangeable moral and ethical standards.

Jesus I my cross have taken
All to leave and follow thee.

A true Christian follows Jesus. How many of us are true, biblical Christians? I leave you to answer in the deep chambers of your own mind and heart.

But remember, answer with an answer that you will be prepared to live with for eternity. Be content with no answer but one that will find you comfortable in death, and safe in the day of judgment.

For more, see What Is A Biblical Christian?

Will Faith or Politics Win the Day with Sharpton (Follow Up)

Oh My! Have you read what the
Salt Lake Tribune reported?

Did I sense this one coming or what? (See post below: Will Faith or Politics Win the Day with Sharpton?)

It's almost laughable to read "This visit was not about politics..."

Do Secular Humanists See the Same News I Do?

Have you ever noticed the Newspapers and News Agencies are never lacking news
... the kind that points both to the sinful nature of man and a direction for the world (from an earthly perspective) that progressively seems to be working its way toward the exact type of trials, tribulation, and war the Scripture prophesies?

I was just wondering with all the hype from Secular Humanists about establishing a Utopia ...

...that is possible (and that can come about through reason and humanistic principles), when they read the news just what they're thinking and when they intend to act, for it's clear to me every day that if they intend to bring about such a utopia, they've got a significant work that needs to be done, and given both the development and proliferation of new weapon systems especially in consideration of the race and relationships between the peoples and powers who are developing them ... given the progression of history, the willingness of man to use firepower, and the increasing effectiveness and footprint of firepower) their time may just be running out...

Quite the opposite of what some might suspect that I'm trying to be a doomsday prophet, and while secular humanists may argue that the world is the way it is because of religion, does not even history and the news serve as a powerful reminder and motivator on a daily basis (and now even 24/7) of the foolishness of thinking and looking to man for the ultimate solutions to our personal and corporate problems and for providing those things we all desire most.

While gloom and dispair is not the ultimate motivation for looking to the Christian faith, it does serve as a legitimate motivation. Let all those who struggle, who find themselves discouraged, and even those without but seeking answers, consider and turn to the one place answers may be found, the Scripture, which prophesied well before our time, the very things we witness in our time, providing solutions even of salvation that extend beyond our time.

The fool says in his heart there is no God. (Will it not one day be able to be said, could you not look at what was before you EVERY day?)

Yet peace, security and comfort come to all those who accept by faith those things revealed by God in his word.

The War on our Week

A quiet unassuming yet significant battle looms not just on the horizon but is making headway into American culture and life. To this point, it's only been a topic of incidental but passing conversation, even among Christian circles. It's a battle that's been fought before in other places (only to return to the Christian position), and a battle that will eventually come to the forefront in American life. Interesting enough, this battle deals with an issue that has already become a field of study (chronobiolgy / circaseptan rhythms: see here and here), but also one where the persuasion of the evidence points strongly to the side of Christian truth. The issue involves our cycle of work and rest. More and more, though quietly like the onslaught of a cancerous disease, there's an attack on the sanctity and observance of the Lord's Day.

This issue is one that deserves attention not only because it is relevant to the world in which we live, and because it will have tremendous effect on all of us, but because circaseptan rhythms (the weekly biological rhythms internal to man) provide interesting study and conversation as well as limited but real persuasaive evidence in the creation debate, and because the Sabbath provides such valuable benefits and testimony in keeping with the Christian witness.

The fact that the attack is real and increasing is undeniable. Traces of Corporate America have made it known they have begun scheduling conference and meetings on Sunday due to less schedule conflicts among their personnel, ease of travel into and out of airports, and availability of hotel accomodations. The proliferation of restaurants and stores being open and requiring employees to work on Sundays can be seen in any town, even within the Biblebelt. Recently, I've just learned of a doctor's office in my town now scheduling routine appointments on Sundays. This past week, I not only learned of car dealerships opening on Sunday, but of a teenager who "could not attend church" because her new job required her to open the doors on Sunday morning for parents to bring their children to the store for "build-a-bear" parties.

While at the present time, the effect is limited to local unrest experienced by those who once previously benefitted from a community which "shut down" completely on Sundays - something only those who've experienced the differece can attest to - and to the individuals, families and ministries affected by those who have volunatarily, or unvoluntarily (to whatever degree - by influence, limited options, or necessity) have chosen to either accept positions of employment requiring work on Sundays, or to go along with requirements of employment on Sundays.
.....Let Christians not be naive though, the continuance of this trend will not only mean more and more jobs will require it, but it will begin to affect more and more people, if not all of us, directly or indirectly, including our children who will one day enter the workplace, along with our society which slowly but surely will experience the significant and devastating impact that accompanies (and results from) a shift from sabbath observance.

When one considers not only the rhythm and order of nature, but the rhythm associated with (and largely defined as internal to) man, it's noteworthy that studies have suggested that in regard to man's circaseptan rhythm "biology, not culture, is probably at the source of the seven day week." It's interesting, though not surprising, and even noteworthy that this ordering is in overall agreement with the Scriptual revelation that God not only rested the seventh day himself, but set apart one day in seven as a Sabbath for man. It's also interesting that historical efforts to replace this pattern have failed... as well as the fact that if I remember correctly, some countries have conducted studies to figure out the best cycle of work and rest for man's productivity and arrived at the conclusion of a seven day cycle (six days of work and one day of rest). What's interesting in consideration of the creation debate is that if biology and not culture, not even cycles of the solar system are responsible for the seven day rhythm, then creationists (particularly those of the Christian persuasion) have not only another evidence of order pointint to design, but a very interesting (and potentially persuasive) piece of evidence aligning with the revelation of God's Word. (Note: this doesn't mean that if pressed, evolutionists won't attempt to find physical explanations, which may be found - though the ultimate cause remaining unknown to them; but in doing so, they will only be several thousand years behind both the revelation and ultimate explanation of this mystery!)

Why is this an important issue for Christians today?
1. God, in his infinite wisdom, both identified the need and provided for a pattern for creation (not just man) to receive rest. To differ from this pattern is to disturb and disrupt the normal order which will come with negative consequences (and ones that ultimately outweigh any that are positive).

2. God, though the sabbath, has provided a means even for believers to show humanitarian care and concern for others. Note, believers were to even provide rest for the "aliens within their gates" (or ensure and provide in order that even unbelievers had the opportunity to discover God and worship him - whether they chose to take advantage of the opportunity and do so or not). Efforts to take away the day of rest are unhumanitarian in their foundation.

3. God has set apart the Sabbath as a "sign" both for his people and the world. In Exodus 31:13 it is written "Say to the Israelites, 'You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so that you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy." Not only the wisdom associated with the rest, but the pattern that is in agreement with the natural order serves as a witness to the truth. Not only this, but the sabbath serving as a type for the ultimate rest found in Christ (that just as in the physical Sabbath man must put aside his own works to enjoy the Lord's rest, so spiritually man must put aside all his works to experience and appropriate the Lord's salvation and rest), serves as a means by which believers not only testify to their belief in the Lord and their trust for his provisions, but also when blessed through the keeping of the Sabbath, display the blessing associated with the keeping of the pattern, and thereby give testimony to the goodness of God.

4. God has set apart a corporate time for sacred assembly. In Leviticus 23:3, we read "There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of rest, a day of sacred assembly." While I will not take the time to argue the transition from the O.T. Sabbath to the Lord's Day, one does not have to think too hard to imagine the significant decline in thought, morality, and deeds that will occur with the passing from sabbath observance to other activities.

5. God takes special note and sets special importance upon Sabbath observance, even as seen in the fact that when he describes the Jews as having fallen ito extreme ungodliness, he points specifically to their abuse of the Sabbath (see Ezekiel 20:10ff).

Believers, sit up and take notice! There's a lot more at stake than just whether your son or daughter makes a few extra cents on the dollar by working on Sundays. That's why God says "REMEMBER" the sabbath day by keeping it holy. He wants his people not only to have a day to contemplate his mighty works throughout history (both creation and redemption) but also to enjoy the blessings that come by keeping the day in the way he has ordered it, for just as you and I have the right to choose how we can use our time or even the fruits of our labor the way we choose - but cannot do so without consequence... either positive or negative - so it is with the observance of keeping the day God had ordered and set apart as holy... one day in seven.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Coming up short

Over the last few weeks, we have seen and heard numerous bold attacks on Christianity. There can be little doubt that the angry wing of the atheist community has been emboldened by the loud and onbnoxious public entertainment efforts of vocal angry atheists like Hitchens, Harris and Dawkins. Unfortunately for the Itchy and Scratchy wing of the non-believers movement, repeating oft refuted and tired arguments by screaming louder and adding cuss words and finger-wagging does not make them valid.

We have honestly heard nothing new. The atheist scientists, who often claimed before that science cannot prove or disprove God, seem to have abandoned that position now by making liberal use of science to account for things that previously was in the religious or theological realm. Morals are especially popular, with memetic and societal evolution supposedly accounting for morals.

That argument represents a glaring ignorance of the issue, but it does sound nice and "scientific" though. But before one can even arrive at the logic of an argument, there is the small matter of the metaphysics of epistimology. To be consistent, the theory of how one can know the truth has to preceed any moral argument, since the moral argument rests on how how one "ought" and "should" behave, in reality (that which is the real world). Reality cannot be known without knowing that it is a true reality, and not a figment of the imagination or illusionary, for example.

Scientific methodology, while valuable for
discovering and describing God's creation and its practical applications to our lives, comes up short as a mechanism for determining truth. It falls on its own sword...if science is the only way to determine truth, how was that statement scientifically generated or proven?

Can the scientific argument for morals then be applied to the moral argument? While it offers a possible explanation for the origins and/or the hereditary characteristics of the mechanisms, it cannot comment on how one "ought" or "should" behave. Such an argument is a category error, kind of like saying the printing press is making the planets stay in their orbits by publishing books that describe the gravitational pull of the sun and other planets. Furthermore, once the atheo-scientists make the judgment call on the correctness or not of their moral evolution story, they have to account for the truth-generating capabilities of their methodology. And that is nothing more than a metaphysical commitment that is suicidal at best, as shown above.

A further obstacle raises its ugly head from the long grass in Eden. If evolutionary mechanisms are indeed responsible for propagating morals by hard-wiring it into our "memes" and folklore, why is it that some do not behave in the way they "ought" or "should"? Lions hunt, monkeys pick fruit, flies lay eggs in dung and man eats, sleeps, drinks and procreates, yet he does not behave in the way he should. The evolutionary mechanisms for survival are supposedly (albeit viciously circular), responsible and irrresistably so, for all of the above. Why not also for morals, if the mechanisms are the same, and memes and genes are analogous? The outcome of moral evolution should be the preservation of those who have morally adapted to the requirements of society, but murderers and rapists live to good old ages, and produce offspring by force (in the case of rapists). That is clearly not a desired moral outcome, but positive in light of evolutionary species progress (survival of the strongest).

Saying that memes have over time hardwired the requirements of society into humans is question-begging of the best order. It first assumes the existence of both memes and moral societies, and then tries to clumsily argue from the conclusion backwards. Memes would have no reason for existence apart from preserving societal norms (and the imagination of Richard Dawkins), but they cannot come into existence if a moral society does not exist. But moral societies, according to evolutionary folklore, exist because of the preservation characteristics of memes.

Furthermore, since our atheo-scientists insist on holding up science as the sword-bearer for truth, they must account for the very existence of memes. However, there is no direct scientific evidence for the existence of memes, and stand only as a rather far-fetched analogy with the gene. Furthermore, it seems to be a case of invention, necessary to prop up the metaphysical commitments of non-theists, rather than scientific or epistimological neccesity.

Clearly then, it is patently absurd to try and account for morals from an evolutionary framework. It is inherently inconsistent and weak. All of the bravado and posturing will not change the fact that to try and do so is a category error, is unprovable by scientific standards, is contradictory from an evolutionary framework perspective, cannot account for how man "ought" to behave and why he doesn't.

Ultimately, morality is a universal experience, and how man "ought" to behave is a universal moral requirement because it is a universal experience. That behaviour and requirements cannot stand without a universal standard of normative conduct. Universal normative conduct in reality can only be accounted for from a transcendental universally moral source. As a result, any attempts to account for normative universal conduct outside of the Christian God comes up short. (Atheism, deism, pantheism and other theistic explanations all suffer from fatal inherent inconsistencies, similar to the atheist failure we demonstrated here)

Where our human conduct does come up short, we are transgressing against God and His moral laws. That deserves punishment. However, through His Grace, His Son Jesus Christ was already punished on your behalf. He is the universal law-giver, and the one who saves those who transgress and seek Him.

You know how you "ought" to behave and yet you don't. That is not without consequences. For your own sake, do away with the consequences and get to know Jesus.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Reaching Out Without Selling Out

An Interview with Mark Driscoll

In February 2007, Michael Horton had the opportunity to interview Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church (Seattle, Washington) and author of The Radical Reformission: Reaching Out without Selling Out (Zondervan, 2004).

This interview was originally broadcast on March 11, 2007 on The White Horse Inn radio program. To hear the entire interview online, go to www.whitehoresinn.org, click "Previous Programs," then click "Broadcast Archives"at the top of the page.

Can you give us some background on your congregation? It's mostly a younger crowd, isn't it?
Well, it started that way. I'm in Seattle, one of the least-churched cities in America. There are more dogs than evangelicals in our town. I started here as a non-Christian, I became a Christian when I was 19, got married at 21, started a Bible study at age 25 that today is over 6,000 people. I think we're the fifteenth fastest growing church in America right now. So, it started off really young, but the age has spread. It's about half single, half married, about forty percent conversion growth as far as we can tell. So, it's been pretty busy.

Wow, and you're doing this with a good dose of Reformation theology, specifically Calvinism?
It's going well so far. We're enjoying it. I'm a Bible teacher, I have a high view of Scripture, we do Communion every week. So far God's using it to reach a lot of mainly younger people who are a little weary of pluralism and postmodernism and looking for some truth and some Bible and ultimately really intrigued by Jesus. So, I'm really glad for what he's done.

Now, wait a second. Teaching and Communion every week? We've been told that this generation isn't interested in teaching and they grew up in churches of their Boomer parents where teaching was pretty light and stage productions other than Communion were key. What's different about this generation or at least these people in your church?
Christianity Today did a story in September that was interesting. It was about the resurgence of Reformed theology among younger evangelicals...it was the cover story. What we are seeing is, the two hot theologies right now among the younger evangelicals are sort of a "new Reformed theology," which is basically just the older form rediscovered, and what is known as Emergent, or emerging theology, which is becoming the new left. So, we are seeing a return to Bible exposition...In our network, we've seen a hundred new churches planted in the U.S. just in the last few years, all led by basically expository Bible teachers who serve Communion every week and have a Reformed theology that includes male leadership in the church and are conservative evangelicals and it's going very well. There's a major upswing in that direction.

Now, you were involved on the ground floor of the emerging movement, sometimes called the Emergent Movement. How did that originate and what is your relationship to it now?
In the mid to late 90's, my friends-whom I love very much-in this organization called Leadership Network brought together a bunch of young pastors just to share ideas and network and see what the next generation of ministry might look like. That led to what was called the Young Leaders Network. I became involved in the early days of that. We did some speaking and traveling together, we talked about the future of where Christianity might be going in America.

And this is with Brian McLaren and others?
Brian McLaren was added about a year or two later to that team, and then it separated from Leadership Network and became, ultimately, the Emergent Village. And it was in that transition that I tried to part company on some theological issues. I still consider a lot of the leaders in that movement to be personal friends and people that I do love, but theologically I had to part ways, as it were, over some doctrinal issues.

What would you point out as the most critical areas of disagreement between the emphases of Reformation theology and Emergent theology?
The biggest issue is always the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, which for me are watershed issues that then lay the groundwork for the resolution of the other issues. Behind that comes penal substitution issues-Jesus' death on the cross in our place for our sins, such things as eternal torment in hell, things such as original sin-we are sinners both by nature and choice, things such as the exclusivity of Jesus-no salvation apart from the person and work of Jesus, and also gender roles, which includes male leadership in the church, male/female roles in the home, as well as sexual issues, like homosexuality, bisexuality, lesbianism-is there intentional creative design by God that's designated for gender? And those are kind of the big issues on the table. They're not new issues, but they've got a new interest.

As we look at this generation, is there sort of a realization among pastors in your network that we have over-stereotyped generations and turned churches into niche demographics?
I think that one of the sad things that has happened is that there is an assumption that there is a sameness, or commonality, among generations, and at least in what we're seeing in a world that is more pluralistic, that is more diverse, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-perspectival, you're really dealing with a lot of different tribes of people. They may be the same age, but they may have a completely different view of God, of the world, of truth, of life and death and sexuality, and so I think it's reductionistic to put millions of people in a bucket and say because they were born between certain years they're all the same. The result of that is you're told how to market to them, how to program for them as if one size does fit all and a franchise mentality would work for a whole generation, which isn't true.

So the real difference between, say, a Willow Creek and the Emergent Village is the difference between the mall and Starbucks.
In the seeker movement the ideology was to hold to evangelical theology but to take some of the rough edges off; some of the doctrines you do believe, like hell, you sort of tuck those away so that they're not out in plain sight. It's interesting among some young evangelicals who are more "emerging," for them the theological issues are really important and they are pressing the theological issues but they're coming to more liberal conclusions and they end up having much smaller congregations. You're looking at house churches, new monastic communities, alternative communities that are smaller and grass-roots in orientation, more theology-driven but more liberal in their orientation.

Remarkable. How much of this, Mark, is because they did grow up in churches that really downplayed the rough edges and didn't really engage in in-depth instruction from the Scriptures and had kind of "worship lite"? How much of this longing for some substance and yet, sometimes without a rudder, is due to that upbringing in the mega-church?
Well, I don't think it's just mega-church, or size of church. There are men like Spurgeon who had large churches. But I think it's more of an orientation of church where the people that you're seeking to attract are consumers and you're a producer of religious goods and services, so you pull your constituency and target your market. I think that led to a theological reduction, to a drive of pragmatism and best practices that walked away from a core theological conviction driving what it means to be the church. And I think a younger generation of evangelicals is wanting to get back to that theological core. One of my concerns is, they tend to be leaning into church history, they tend to be leaning into experience, and they tend not to have as high a view of Scripture as I would have hoped for. And I don't say that broad brush for everyone, but the area of concern I see is a low view of Scripture and the result is, when you're looking for firm foundations upon which to build and you don't end up at Scripture, you're going to find yourself in very serious trouble.

How much of this, too, is "channel surfing"? The younger generation, 40 years old and younger, are so used to surfing the Net and surfing the channels. How much of this is, "Yeah, there's a depth of interest in theology, but a kind of eclectic 'make-it-up-as-you-go-along'?"
The word that's used a lot is "mosaic," you know, pieces from many traditions and perspectives and ideologies that come together to formulate a whole-That's the language that is used. On the flip side, I think for those who weren't raised in the church and aren't the products of more soft-centered evangelicalism-those who are just not Christian-what we are seeing is that they have a strong interest in Bible and theology. Like I said, in our city, I can't believe it, Michael. We are going through the Book of Ruth and we grew by a thousand people this month-in one of the least churched cities in America. We're growing by non-Christians coming for Bible teaching. We're seeing that same thing throughout the country. I could point to most of the major cities across the country and show you young, Reformed-minded Bible teachers whose churches are growing very fast but it's primarily Bible, doctrinal, theological instruction. They have unbelievers who are coming for theological instruction to learn about the God of the Bible, which I find whole-heartedly encouraging. I'm thrilled by that.

So unlike the church growth emphases of the previous generation, where you kind of move people out of the churches they already belong to into larger churches, you're actually seeing (and a lot of your friends who are doing this faithful biblical exposition) non-Christians become Christians and the growth coming from actual evangelism?
Absolutely. But the evangelism is Jesus-centered Bible teaching where the text is open and Jesus is the hero of every page of Scripture, which is just classic, Reformed, biblical theology. So, yeah, that is in fact what we are seeing. The people have been marketed, they have been pitched, they have been sold, they have had their felt needs assuaged. What they haven't had is anyone get up and open the Bible, tell them who God is, what he has done and call them to repentance in a very clear, forthright way that respects their intelligence.

What does that look like in concrete terms on the ground?
That means that Christians need to be loving their neighbors as Jesus did, you know whether it's like Jesus with the woman at the well who was a social outcast and very sinful; there is a deep love for that person and a willingness to sit down and dialogue with them, not just preach at them... or whether it's a man like Zaccheus; it's actually having meals with such people and entering into a relationship with them so that the gospel can be explained and demonstrated and defended. I think the hard thing is that most people are for evangelism, but it is time-consuming. It does take energy and some people are very difficult and their understanding grows slowly and it's a commitment to walking with people in relationship, in community, in conversation, practicing hospitality, loving your neighbor...and I think we see that in the incarnation of Jesus, that God himself would spend time with some of the people that he spent time with, and people like me who he's still willing to spend time with is remarkable.

So your preaching, your Word-based ministry, it's not one thing over here and then you also have this outreach program over there, but your outreach is a ministry of the Word to your neighborhood.
We call it "air war" and "ground war." The preaching of Scripture is air war. It deals with multitudes and wide audiences, but then our people really do the ground war. They love their neighbor, they share the gospel with their friends, they open their home to family, friends, and coworkers...they're really doing the work of the ground war, and generally speaking, that's where most evangelism happens - on the ground war. The air war can help articulate the gospel, but then people are going to have questions, misunderstandings, misapplications, and somebody who loves God is going to need to help walk with them through those particulars.

A lot of us grew up in churches, Mark, where we were told, "You are a member of this church now, which means that you have to find your gift-teach such and such a grade in Sunday school, be a greeter, show up for various church events... are you going to join the clean-up ministry or the tract ministry..."-and you end up spending all of your time in church-related activities so that you couldn't actually spend time out in the world in your secular calling, investing in relationships with friends. You kind of scurry out there to make a buck, then scurry back into the church to be with your people. Do you think that that is a fundamental flaw in the way a lot of traditional churches approach the outside world?
Look at the way they look at their programming. Sometimes a church only considers formal ministry in the church, as opposed to informal ministry in their home. So, you know, we like to tell our people that informal ministry counts. If you're having your lost neighbors over for dinner to love them, that counts. And so, I think it's an understanding that church is not just a thing that people come to; it's also living the lifestyle created by the gospel, knowing that wherever we're at we're witnesses, we are missionaries, we do bring the gospel with us, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given opportunities. We should not overlook those in the name of formalized ministry but to see those informal opportunities as God's providential hand giving us wonderful opportunities out in the marketplace... We don't have any evangelism training, we don't have an evangelism department, we don't have altar calls, we don't do any advertising, we don't do any marketing. I tend to preach right through books of the Bible, occasionally I'll do a series. I did a twelve-week series on the cross, on penal substitutionary atonement, so the times I do something topical is usually theologically clarifying for people. And what we find is that in previous generations it was a fight between "Is Sunday to disciple the believers or to reach the lost?" My articulation is, Sunday is for the worship and the adoration and the exaltation of Jesus, and if everything is about Jesus, then it works for Christians and non-Christians. Everyone needs Jesus, and the gospel is for Christians, too. It's not just something you believe and then move on with the rest of your life. The gospel of conviction of sin and repentance and trusting in the finished work of Christ is something that every Christian practices every moment of every day, and I think it's a truncated view of the gospel if it's a few laws, or a sales pitch we give to someone, they pray the prayer, and then we've concluded our evangelistic endeavor. I think it's a very reductionistic view of the gospel.

The title of your book, Radical Reformission: Reaching Out Without Selling Out, is interesting. Why the title "Radical Reformission"? What's "reformission"?
It's a reforming of our understanding of missions. In previous generations, the idea has been that missionaries are people that we send overseas to bizaare foreign cultures and they are the highly trained professionals that go share the gospel. Well, what we're looking at is God has brought the nations, the United States of America, our cities and our areas are very tribal with different races, nations, groups, tribes, subcultures of people and that mission is something that happens across the street as well as across the world. And I think that's what Jesus was getting at when he said "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, ends of the earth." It's fine to send a missionary to China, but the number of evangelicals in China is statistically the same as the city of Seattle. So if we're going to send missionaries to China, I'm all for it, but we also need to send missionaries to Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City, to these major culture-making urban centers that create pop culture. That's where the television stations are, the record labels are, that's where the media is centered, politics are centered, money is centered, and if we don't have a faithful gospel witness there, then we're essentially just handing over the making of culture for the next generation to people who have no idea of the gospel. And, to me, the understanding of mission is not just going across the world; sometimes we're going across the street and that counts as well.

Mark, thank you so much for the time you've given us and for the insights you've passed on to us. We all have a lot to learn and areas to improve as we think about reaching out without losing "the reached."

Monday, May 21, 2007

Seven Practices of Effective Ministry Series from North Point Ministries

My pastor has introduced me to this methodology - I really think it is a powerful and cross-applicable system. I am enjoying the book and I just found their podcast series.

Practice #1 - Clarify The Win
Even the best team can't score if it can't find home plate. In this conversation, we'll discuss the importance of clearly defining wins at every level of your organization.

Practice #2 - Think Steps, Not Programs
Before you start anything, make sure it takes you where you want to go. In this conversation, we'll discuss the importance of a clear ministry strategy.

Practice #3 - Narrow The Focus
The longer a ministry operates, the more complex it becomes. In order to maintain a winning organization, we must continually face the challenge of narrowing its focus.

Practice #4 - Teach Less For More
People are bombarded by thousands of messages every week. If the local church is going to be effective, it must cut through the noise. It must learn to say only what needs to be said to the people who need to hear it.

Practice #5 - Listen To Outsiders
Why don’t the unchurched people in your area go to church? Could it be because you’re focusing on who you’re trying to keep instead of who you’re trying to reach?

Practice #6 - Replace Yourself
We are all replaced eventually. The wisest leaders will extend their influence by finding and mentoring their replacements.

Practice #7 - Work On It
All of us work in ministry every day, but is that enough? Working on your ministry requires time to evaluate your work and to celebrate your wins.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Will Faith or Politics Win the Day with Sharpton?

Why don't I have a good feeling about this one?

It is reported that Rev. Al Sharpton asks to meet Mormon church leaders after his controversial comment about Mitt Romney.

The question concerning the outcome is this: Will Sharpton cave in and come away professing Mormons to be true believers (though they are not) in order to maintain his political clout, or will he stand upon the truth even if it causes him to lose credibility and popularity in the eyes of the populace?

Sharpton's handling of his response to the issue (that he "wasn't saying that Mormons didn't believe in God" but that "we weren't going to have to rely on atheists to defeat Romney")is going to be both the battleground and the proof of the pudding.

.....Will he sidestep the issue of the Mormon beliefs (and will the Romney campaign, the Mormon Church, and the press allow him to do this) by continuing to cast his remarks in the sense that Mormons were not under consideration but only atheists (which is questionable since Mormonism rather than atheism was being discussed), or
.....will Sharpton state that his belief is that Mormons are not true believers (having to say this is either an additional declaration or detract his original statement of response), or
.....will Sharpton cut a deal with the Romney and Mormon camp so as to soften or backpeddle concerning the Mormon faith so as to help both the Romney campaign and Mormon religion as well as his political standing, or
.....will Sharpton completely cave and proclaim Mormons to be true believers?

Why does "Islam is a religion of peace" come to mind?

This much is true: If Sharpton, who is not new to politics, is not able to use his political maneuvering to avoid addressing issues of the Mormon faith, we'll see not only where his priorities lie, but what kind of a "Rev." he really is.

My concern in all this has nothing to do with the politics, but whether politics or the truth will win the day. Praise God that his truth and kingdom depends not on the outcome of this controversy or meeting, but on the surety of what he has done in providing for his people based fully on mercy and grace (and not at all upon our own merit or works) and in establishing his king on Zion.

I bet Sharpton now wishes he had listened to the words of Galatians 6:1 (Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.) Had he heeded this, he would not be in the situation he now faces.

As with others, Sharpton now needs the gospel and grace himself in order not to deny the truth, but to stand in the face of testing. His politics aside, both for his sake and the sake of the kingdom (including those who now belong to Mormonism but through all this may come to examine the issues and embrace Christ through the true gospel), I pray the Lord gives it to him. The last thing we need is another situation where a false religion is given national/international press and promotion because of pressure, the promotion of ideas which could be interpreted various ways (such as "Islam is a religion of peace") or the caving in of an individual during political standoff.

Not only I, but the nation will be watching to see how this story unfolds.

With Sharpton requesting the meeting, I just don't have a good feeling about this one. Perhaps, not only I, but we all will be pleasantly surprised!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Evaluation of Naturalistic Skeptical Reasoning

In this post, I will respond to the article written by Paul Kurtz entitled “Why I Am a Skeptic about Religious Claims” on the Council for Secular Humanism Website.

Paul takes the historic position of a skeptical atheist, as opposed to a dogmatic or critical atheist; concluding that “…the skeptical inquirer finds inconclusive evidence-and thus, insufficient reason to believe-that God exists, that God is a person, that all ethical principles must be derived from God, that faith in divinity will enable the soul to achieve eternal salvation, and that ethical conduct is impossible without belief in God. On the contrary, skepticism based on scientific inquiry leaves room for a naturalistic account of the universe. It can also recommend alternative secular and humanist forms of moral conduct. Accordingly, one can simply affirm, when asked if he or she believes in God, "No, I do not; I am a skeptic," and one may add, "I believe in doing good!"

I’ll examine his reasons and show why one should not hold to his conclusion.

PAUL’S FIRST REASON: “The skeptical inquirer does not find the traditional concept of God as "transcendent," "omnipotent," "omnipresent," or "omnibeneficent" to be coherent, intelligible, or meaningful.” Paul’s position is based on approximately seven lines of approach (1) that God is “unintelligible and lacks any clear referent”, (2) that there are problems with the popular arguments, (3) the problem of evil, (4) the problem with historic religions, and (5) the problem with human experience, (6) the problem with contradictions, and (7) the problem with personal claims. I’ll deal with them individually.

MY RESPONSE: I'll deal with Paul's arguments individually.

(1) That God is “Unintelligible and Lacks Any Clear Referent”

Paul writes “To postulate a transcendent being who is incomprehensible to the human mind (as theologians maintain) does not explain the world that we encounter. How can we say that such an indefinable being exists, if we do not know in what sense that being is said to exist? How are we to understand a God that exists outside space and time and that transcends our capacity to comprehend his essence? Theists have postulated an unknowable "X." But if his content is unfathomable, then he is little more than an empty, speculative abstraction. Thus, the skeptic in religion presents semantic objections to God language, charging that it is unintelligible and lacks any clear referent.”

Paul falsely suggests the historic understanding of God’s incomprehensible nature is incompatible with his ability to be known at all and thus to be known as an absolute requisite unto salvation. The Bible speaks to this issue when it says both “To whom then will ye liken God?” (speaking of God as incomprehensible) but at the same time Jesus states “And this is life eternal, that they should know thee, the only true God, and Him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” (Jn 17:3) The point being that while it is impossible for man to have knowledge of God that is exhaustive and perfect in every way, true and sufficient knowledge of God can be attained through his divine self revelation.

To illustrate this, who knows the mind of man except his own Spirit and those to whom he reveals himself… and yet at the same time can a man not be known to a degree necessary for both intimacy and fellowship when he reveals himself to others? Cannot the same be said of the One who reveals himself through the divine Logos, even one which took on human flesh and made his dwelling among men? That’s why John writes “”That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his son, Jesus Christ.”

Put another way, is it always necessary to know everything about someone to possess confidence and put one’s trust in, and receive help from someone else? The answer is no. We do it all the time. While God has revealed himself, not only through semen religionis, and general revelation (nature & providence), he has also provided that knowledge of him which is necessary unto salvation through his Word (special revelation) to all those he has chosen to reveal himself (both through the equipping of his Spirit and with his Word), all those who will receive him by faith.

The problem is that following the philosophies of the past and the philosophies of the age, Paul and others demand that God be brought down to the level of the world, while what is needed is rather that man be raised up to the knowledge of God.

(2) That “There are Problems with Popular Arguments”

While presuppositionalist arguments do not rest on the evidence or arguments of popular arguments (though they recognize the evidence), let me point out weakness in Paul’s reasoning concerning the arguments.

First Cause
Paul writes “’What is the cause of this first cause?’ To say that he is uncaused only pushes our ignorance back one step. To step outside the physical universe is to assume an answer by a leap of faith.” But to say this is to deny the very creator-creature distinction that Christianity professes. Any reasonable person understands the argument suggests that any “creation” involves a first cause, which is distinct from stating that all things must have a first cause. To fail to make this distinction in attempting to disprove the independence or self-existence of God is to commit the error of logic known as “sweeping generalization.”

Intelligent Design (ID)
Paul states “Nor does the claim that the universe manifests Intelligent Design (ID) explain the facts of conflict, the struggle for survival, and the inescapable tragedy, evil, pain, and suffering that is encountered in the world of sentient beings. Regularities and chaos do not necessarily indicate design. The argument from design is reminiscent of Aristotle's teleological argument that there are purposes or ends in nature. But we can find no evidence for purpose in nature. Even if we were to find what appears to be design in the universe, this does not imply a designer for whose existence there is insufficient evidence.”

Here, logically inconsistency again rules the day. If there is no purpose in nature or design in the universe, then upon what standard does one deem something as conflict, or tragedy, or evil? How can one define both the presence and distinctions between “regularity and chaos” apart from design? The very arguments beg the question.

Additionally, has it ever occurred to secular humanists why some find no purpose in nature? It’s like saying one finds no purpose in a piece of cloth, or in a computer, without looking outside the object itself.

How does it even make sense of Paul to suggest that skeptics can “do good” if with no purpose “good” cannot even be defined.

Paul states “The evolutionary hypothesis provides a more parsimonious explanation of the origins of species. The changes in species through time are better accounted for by chance mutations, differential reproduction, natural selection, and adaptation, rather than by design.” I’d love to see the proof for chance itself. Is it not true that scientists can prove that even the flip of a coin does not happen by chance, but according to the force exerted, the friction of the air, etc. Chance is no more than the unreasonableness of those who seek to deny the governance and providence of God. Does not even the word “natural” in regard to selection reveal this contradiction. Regardless, while it can be shown that the evolutionary hypothesis has gaping holes, the opinion that it provides “a more parsimonious explanation” is far from reason to arrive at and hold Paul’s conclusions.

Paul states “Moreover, vestigial features such as the human appendix, tailbone, and male breasts and nipples hardly suggest adequate design; the same is true for vestigial organs in other species. Thus, the doctrine of creation is hardly supported in empirical terms.” It’s interesting that Paul cannot even think of these things apart from design. Does failure to understand design at the present necessarily equate to no design? I have keys in a cup at home which I no longer know what they were for, but that does not mean they were not designed for a purpose. At the same time, are there not new uses being discovered daily for things which formerly were not understood. By making such scathing assertions as say these items “hardly suggest adequate design” is to falsely presume one possesses the foundation for making such determinations infallibly.

Paul also in speaking to the fine-tuning argument points out such things as species becoming extinct and human beings dying due to various causes. In no way does his discussion deal with the biblical priority and promise being placed on mankind versus individual or groups of men, or the entrance of sin and its consequences into the world, or the identity or likelihood of something other than God resulting in the evidence which does appear probability wise so fine tuned. Not only this, but by pointing out the shift in the plates does no more than point to the evidence, not the explanation behind the plates (or why the plates did what they did.)

(3) The Problem of Evil

Paul’s arguments are no different from the usual arguments, which fail to allow for the compatibility of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility and the consequences of man’s sin. The result is to assume either the impotence or lack of compassion of God. The problem lies not with God’s nature but with the skeptics faulty logic. It would be like suggesting that since the U.S. government is responsible for its jurisdiction (including its citizens, its justice, and its own interests and the interest of those it governs) that since a citizen within the bounds of the U.S. is killed by another, that either the U.S. government is impotent in that it could not prevent it from happening, or that it lacks compassion. The better logic and conclusion comes from realizing not only that more must be taken into account, but recognize (and allow) that multiple factors work simultaneously, and some within the bounds of the other.

(4) The Historic Religions

Paul argues that while the historic religions maintain that God has revealed himself in history, “…these revelations are not corroborated by independent, objective observers.” Is it not true that it was when Christ revealed not only himself but his truth along with the corrupt and sinful natures and desires of man, that he came under attack. Paul has missed the point of the gospel in that if Christ had been no different from the world, and spoke as one from the world, the world would not have been intent on crucifying him, but the point is he was different, and could not be out-reasoned or put in a corner, so man tried to put an end to him, the very act by which his glory and vindication was exalted the most. While Paul’s arguments here can be made of other religions, God has not left himself without a witness even among unbelievers, not only in Christ’s day, but in our own, as unbelievers not only reveal the truth of God in their nature and corruptions, but fulfill the very prophesies made concerning them.

(5) The Problem with Miracles

Paul states “To attribute inexplicable events to miracles performed by God, as declared in the so-called sacred literature, is often a substitute for finding their true causes scientifically. Scientific inquiry is generally able to explain alleged "miracles" by discovering natural causes.”

Paul fails to recognize that just because natural causes are involved or associated with miracles doesn’t deny the miracle (or that God acts/controls history). Just because a wind or storm or shift in the earths plates may occur doesn’t necessarily either deny or affirm the existence of God. One must rely on faith either that there is a natural cause (fate, or something man has not determined, that established, explains and accounts for the action) or that God has done it (be it something formerly observed and recorded or not). Here again, skeptics seek to use evidential apologetics, but without ultimate foundation or convincing argument.

(6) The Problem of Contradictions

Paul states “The Bible, Qur'an, and other classical documents are full of contradictions and factual errors. They were written by human beings in ancient civilizations, expressing the scientific and moral speculations of their day. They do not convey the eternal word of God, but rather the yearnings of ancient tribes based on oral legends and received doctrines; as such, they are hardly relevant to all cultures and times.”

In this section, we find a combination of opinion, poor scholarship or prejudice toward the evidence. For example, for one to assert that “none of the N.T. authors knew Jesus directly.”, one must deny either the Scripture itself or the testimony of the authors themselves, along with the vast wealth of extra-biblical testimony not only by the church fathers, but historians of antiquity, etc. This approach shows more antagonism to the truth than evidence denying what Christians proclaim as truth.

(7) The Problem with Personal Claims

Paul states skeptics have a legitimate basis for doubt concerning the personal claims of experience with God “unless or until such claims of interior experience can somehow be independently corroborated.” He goes on to state that subjective claims must have “external veracity.” While I do not deny the existence of false claims, and while Paul’s assertions might sound experientially sound and logical to some, the question again becomes not whether there is evidence but whether one will accept the evidence. For example, doesn’t the fact that so many across generations, cultural barriers, languages, etc., who speak to the same experience, meaningfulness, and benefit present itself as evidence. Regardless of whether there are others who present false testimonly, the question is not whether there is evidence, but how one interprets it and whether or not one accepts it. For example, those who have progress in sanctification show external differences. Will you attribute it to common to man, or as something which finds its source in God. Again, skeptics appeal to evidence, but fail to recognize the important role presuppositions and prejudices play in the determination.

PAUL’S SECOND REASON: Claims are uncorroborated by objective eyewitnesses.

MY RESPONSE: See (4) above.

PAUL’S THIRD REAON: The Source of Moral Values

MY RESPONSE: Nothing new with Paul’s arguments (culturally informed, no need for, Christian differences, superiority of naturalist’s ends, etc.)
Paul does not deal with: (1) The influence upon all cultures beginning with a common ancestor (who had the law!) (2) The contradiction that presents itself in that if there is not absolute law, the questions concerning the legitimacy, standard, and enforcement of laws, and (3) Whether human autonomy and freedom means anything and can result in any better end if there is no purpose and no moral or ethical standard.

PAUL’S FOURTH REASON: Confirmation of immortality and eternal salvation


To Paul’s objection that “the forms of salvation being offered are highly sectarian.”
1. Paul’s exegesis and conclusions concerning the recipients of biblical salvation leaves lots to be desired. The biblical distinction is based squarely on the issue of faith, not sectarian according to the qualifications Paul prescribes.
2. Paul’s claim against universality fails to distinguish between the offer and the acceptance of salvation.

To Paul’s objection that “there is insufficient scientific evidence for the claim that the "soul" can exist separate from the body and that it can survive death as a "discarnate" being, and much less for the claim that it can persist throughout eternity.”
1. Paul fails to distinguish between the brain as an organ (instrument) and the brain as the being (cause)
2. Paul fails to consider that seeds often go to a dormant state but come out of that state to “live again”.
3. Paul must reject the testimony of the Scripture which reveals that not just believers but unbelievers witnessed the resurrection of Lazarus.
4. Paul must reject the testimony of ALL who have “near death” visions/experiences.
5. Paul denies presupposition and prejudice when he states that near death experiences “can be explained in terms of natural, psychological, and physiological causes.”

PAUL’S FIFTH REASON: The righteousness (goodness) of man.

MY RESPONSE: Humanistic septicism doesn’t just imply the collapse of all values, but the legitimacy and relevance of all values, even the explanation or existence of values.

Paul states “Though ethical values and principles are relative to human interests and needs, that does not suggest that they are necessarily subjective. Instead, they are amenable to objective, critical evaluation and modification in the light of reason.” Too bad Paul fails to state who’s standard, why it is objective, who will be the critic, why their evaluation should be accepted/followed, etc. You can run around the merry-go-round all you want, but at some point, a basis for the answers must be provided, something which secular humanists cannot do.

Conclusion: While on the one hand, at face value and first read, some might think that Paul sounds quite intellectual and makes some good points, but in the end, when dissected and when discernment is applied, not only does he fall far short of providing reasons and justification for one not to believe in God and further to embrace humanistic thinking and arguments, by presenting arguments full of inconsistency and illogical reasoning to arrive at his conclusions, he encourages one toward the opposite. One should not be surprised with this, for the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, and apart from this, both foundations and the fables that arise from them will fail miserably and fall in the face of truth, which is found in no other than God, and received by faith.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Chinese Checkers

According to FoxNews, Reuters is reporting that some residents in Hong Kong are calling for an "indecent" label for the Bible, saying "the text contains passages that are too gory for young eyes." Apparently "At least 838 complaints had been registered Wednesday with the city's Television and Entertainment Licensing authority after an anonymous Web site, truthbible.net, said the Bible "made one tremble" with its sexual and violent content, including rape and incest, the news agency reports."

Take a guess: While the anonymous Website is written in Chinese, with a name like "truthBible.net", do you think the website host(s) and their followers are really concerned about "indecent" material, or concerned about an entirely different agenda altogether (... like that of trying to suppress the propagation of Biblical truth)?

What do you think is the probability they also are including ANY other books (i.e. history books, or even religious books) with common subject matter (be it similar records, stories, laws, etc.) in their suit? What is the likelihood they have EVER filed a suit related to indecency before?

I'm not a mathematician, but I suspect I could count all the fingers on one elbow and come up with the correct answer!

The Press, the People, and the Evening following the Death of Jerry Falwell

How would you respond if:

1. You had a neighbor who though he was a member of the PTA and the home run king for the men's softball team, was cheating on his wife and then told you that adulterers are good people, they are good citizens, and though they are different than you, they hope one day you will change your position on adultery and tell others you've been wrong?

2. You had a neighbor who though she is an accomplished musician and cook, sees nothing wrong with serving as a stripper (or perhaps a prostitute) to make extra income, then she comes to you and says that though your views are different, she hopes one day you won't be so closed minded, but tell other people you've been wrong in thinking the way you have?

3. You had a neighbor who though he paid his bills and was known for being bright, and popular and a gifted speaker, participated in child pornography, or trafficing in drugs, or cheating on his taxes, or "you name it", then came to you and said that people who partcipate in his particular immoral behavior and activity... make good citizens and offer much to society, and though your views are different, then one day perhaps if they befriend you, you will see the error of your ways, think differently, and tell others you were wrong in the position you had formerly taken?

...Well then, how should one respond, when the neighbor of Jerry Falwell,
...(a "Rev" no less), who having moved in beside Jerry Falwell, was plastered all over the media the evening his death was discovered, to say that as a homosexual, he hoped by moving in beside Jerry Falwell, that one day Jerry would come to see that homosexuals are good people, make good citizens, and that one day Jerry might tell the world he had been wrong concerning his position against homosexuality.

Cannot homosexuals (and the public, and the press, etc.)distinguish between homosexuality and other factors in a person's life, or must they always group them together so as to believe that by mixing apples and oranges one cannot distinguish between the apples and the oranges? WHERE is the discernment? Or, is there any?

Pork barrel spending comes under attack for a good reason, ... perhaps the same reason pork barrel illustrations and arguments should.

The Evolution of the Definition of Righteousness and Unrighteousness

Ever wondered both WHEN and WHY the change takes place…
If a five year old boy pulls the pigtails of a five year old girl, his teacher says he has done something (or is being) bad, but when Paris Hilton is sentenced to jail, commentators respond she is “not a bad girl, but a ‘good’ person”.

Is there a different set of standards for adults than for children?

Commentators are not alone. Does not the unbelieving world do the same thing every day when it comes to redefining sin? (... and denying both the nature and culpability for one's actions)

When does the standard and change take place? When one is age ten, or age twelve, or fifteen, … or when one’s agenda demands the standard no longer mean what it once did or be applied the way it once was?

Makes me grateful for all the kindergarten teachers whose wisdom often goes unnoticed.

Ever heard a person say “I really didn’t mean to yell at you”? Really, would it not be more genuine to tell the truth and say that one did mean to yell at the other person, but then deal with the heart and attitude leading to the action… than to deny the truth and cover up the heart?

Oh, how deceitful the heart and how numerous the ways man seeks to deny the truth. How good it is that there is one who has come not only to expose the world, but provide a real solution for sinners! It is only then that one can freely call it like it is and not have to hide behind a lie.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Presuppositional Argument/Debate

With all the interest in the recent debate, I thought some may be interested in reviewing "The Great Debate" between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein, for a taste of presuppositional argument.

Friday, May 11, 2007

ABC Face Off - Proving God

As the debate has come and gone, and my time for writing has been limited, let me make a few brief remarks about the debate as well as about a few of the arguments discussed during the debate. I'm sure more will come from my team members here at CS.

The debate itself, while a good idea and while it has received a great deal of publicity, offers little by way of apologetic stimulation and impression, and even less when it comes to pursuasive argument in either direction, though the gospel itself was presented, and the difference the gospel makes in a person was on one level displayed.

As with any debate, the initial defining of the topic, parameters, participants, etc. are all of significant importance, and weakness in any area (or more than one area)will be reflected in the debate that follows. I'm sad that this was true in several areas concerning this debate. This is not to take away from any of the participants (theists or non-theists)for they are each good at what they do, but not necessarily at what this debate sought to accomplish. While the initial question publicized "Does God Exist?" is a good one, the more specific plan and direction this debate followed was not the best for addressing this issue (as revealed in the number of times the debate naturally drifted from the beginning premise) and in the end we were left with little more than a surplus of unsupported assertions, a litany of common arguments left unanswered, and both sides claiming victory (or at least a positive interaction) to their own constituency.

Perhaps, in the future, the debate can be repeated, with a differet format (where each side speaks to the question "Does God Exist?" or "The Proof for God", or "Has God Revealed Himself?", etc., and respond back and forth to the other side's arguments), with different participants (who not only possess belief on their side of the argument but are educated specific areas of learning and skilled/experienced in apologetics)

Specific Remarks concerning the debate.
1. While the theists premise is true on one level (in that natural revelation is sufficient to leave man without excuse... and therefore does give sufficient evidence that God exists), their methodology failed not only to take into account that unbelievers deny that evidence, but also that unbelievers are eager and content to attempt to explain away the evidence, and find satisfaction in their false interpretation of the evidence.

(One could think of this in another way, that while the theist's points are true, and while they themselves in their ministry proclaim their arguments are primarily designed to "cirmcumvent the reason and deal primarily with the conscience", by using the framework and making the claims they did, they set their (good, valid & defensible) arguments in the context of reason alone, and in doing so not only detracted from the power and effect their presentation could have had on the conscience, but placed themselves in an area where though they provided "some" good responses, due to inexperience in the field of apologetics, failed to provide all the powerful and convincing arguments that could and should have been made.)

2. While the theists sought to accomodate the non-theists and deal with them on their own turf by limiting the debate to science (natural revelation), given the above truth, their position would have been better served in also including special revelation (which is on the same level but superior to interpretation of the evidence (as well as the presuppositions) offered by the non-theists.

3. The place where I believe the non-theists did themselves the most damage was in the hatred and animousity that was shown not only in the participants of the debate but by the participants watching the debate. While on one level at places it appeared they may have stumped the theists, though better apologists could have easily answered any of their questions, the place where many seekers are looking today, especially among the younger generation and "emergent" generation, is not as much the place of the intellect (though this is of critical importance), but in the person's character and the way they interact and respond to others, particularly whether they show love, care and respect for other people. In this area, especially in light of the humility and compassion shown by the theists, the non theists presented a damaging profile.

Specific remarks to the debate issues:
I. Is God a Projection of your Own Culture?

The assertion in the debate is that Christians just either accept the teaching common to the culture where they grow up, or project God according to their own thoughts which are influenced by the culture in which they live.

Several points can be made:
1. Christianity, while from an earthly perspective may be predominantly regionally located (i.e., a western religion, though it came from the Jews, and is found in many places where the predominant culture is opposed to Christianity), is MORE than that. It is a spiritual faith and community.
2. The Christian gospel is propagated through human witness and proclamation. It should not surprise one to find Christianity in greater measure where its proclamation has been greater.
3. Christians martyrs and those who have suffered and died and gone without and taken the more difficult path, etc., provide a strong witness that goes beyone cultural influence.
4. The testimony of every believer stands opposed to the "cultural assertion." My own testimony and experience reveals that while I grew up embracing the very cultural influence and traditionalism others speak of ... following others and calling myself a Christian, etc., even affirming and proclaiming Christian truth and principles, it was this very influence, religion, tradition, etc., that the gospel confronted in bringing me to see that Christ himself stood opposed even to the "cultural Christianity" that many embrace and serve, but through regeneration, justification and the transformation that comes with genuine conversion, one is enabled not only to see the difference but to the reject the former in light of the latter! The appeal of the "cultural" argument is a weak and misguided attempt by those who don't understand true Christianity.

II. Eternal Matter or Eternal God

The question was raised "Who created God?" This question failed to recognize the difference and presuppositions between creation and a creator. The fact that non theists think themselves victorious on this issue is almost laughable!

Regarding the claim that matter is eternal. Does science prove or even suggest in the least that matter (anything in matter) possesses or displays the ability to originate or bring from life, intelligence, beauty, etc.? Absolutely not! Life does not come from non-life.

Regarding the claim by non theists that "All science points to the fact that the universe has always existed", I'd like to see their support for this. They are clearly misinformed.

III. The Issue that "Just Because a Person Believes Something Does Not Make It True"

The opposite can also be stated: Just because a person believes something is not true, does not make it so.

In the same way that one may believe an invisible object is on his shoulder when it is not suggests that a person could believe there is a god when there is not, ... one could also assert that just because one may believe an invisible object is on his shoulder when it is not, does not mean that a person who believes he is wearing blue pants is wrong if indeed he is wearing blue pants. The logic of the non theists was laughable here as well. Too bad, the theists were primarily evangelists and not apologists. They could have had a cakewalk.

IV. The Issue that "Ray" has made up a God because ...."

This was a nice little argument that may have persuasion among the undiscerning, but when one sees it in light of the truth that Ray is not alone in his belief, but his belief has been shared by many from almost every tongue, and tribe and nation, those over all generations, from various continents, from a variety of languages and people groups, and from all walks of life - not only including children, but teachers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc., it's a shame that even such a slight should go unrefuted.

There's much more to be said. I'm sure it will. Christ's glory and truth shines in all that takes place.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

DIY: How to speak like Satan

We now turn our attention to the massively popular, number one bestseller, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I'm not going to review the book here because I've read a much finer review of it than I am capable of doing. What I wish to point out in this short entry is what I believe should be the obvious and yet it isn't to the majority of our culture.

One of the lesser temptations I have faced and resisted is the tendency of reading Satan's words from the Bible in a malevolent sounding voice. Especially when reading to c
hildren I am so careful to avoid the evil snarling interpretation of that old serpent. You know the one - the exaggerated 's' sounds, the harsh guttural growl, the cynical evil inflection. These are the characterizations that young people would expect from the prince of darkness and these expectations would probably be shared by adults as well.

For this reason I am always careful to read Satan's words as if he was the most winsome and delightful muse that a person could hope to encounter. Every word and syllable carefully delivered with such pleasantness and disarming congeniality. I include a smile in my eyes that let the hearers know that I care very much about their welfare. I am your dear grandfather, you favorite teacher, your puppy, Yoda.

So when I read “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” My tone say's, "I know God, he loves you soooooo much, he's all about love, he would not restrict anything good from you. I'm so glad I can clarify his words to you. He can be difficult to understand. Gosh you're sweet."

And when I read, "“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”
my inflection tells you "Please do not fill your heads with such negative thinking. Death? My, my, do you think God wants you to think about such nasty things. Let me teach you positive thinking, seed faith. Life is not that complicated. I'm going to let you in on a SECRET. G
od is being too nice to you. You can do what he's doing. You don't have to make him make all your decisions. I mean, you are SOMEBODY right? You can BE like HIM!"

"There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death."

Never was Proverbs 16:25 so dramatically demonstrated as in Satan's first approach to man. The Scriptures define things, they are a light to our path, they are a mirror of our souls, they are our guide, they describe patterns we ought to emulate and patterns we ought to avoid. When encountering the patterns of THIS world, when approaching anything we MUST perform three tasks
- discern, assess and engage, scripture is our tool for these three tasks.

We now tu
rn our attention to the massively popular, number one bestseller, The Secret by Rhonda Byrne. I'm not going to review the book here because I've read a much finer review of it than I am capable of doing. (Please go here to read Dr. Don Whitney's commentary on this book.) What I wish to point out in this short entry is what I believe should be the obvious and yet it isn't to the majority of our culture.

Oprah has spoken, the prophet of the age, and she has acknowledged
The Secret as the cause of her success. Furthermore, neighbors are reading and watching it, family members are following it's formulae and those who criticize it are dismissed as intolerant - the unforgivable sin of the post-modern world. To it's increasing shame, even the church is embracing this movement dedicating their Sunday School classes to studying The Secret.

Let me list two quotes here to give you a feel for the language and content of The Secret. From page 164:

You are God in a physical body. You are Spirit in the flesh. You are Eternal Life expressing itself as You. You are a cosmic being. You are all power. You are all wisdom. You are all intelligence. You are perfection. You are magnificence. You are the creator, and you are creating the creation of You on this planet.

From page 183:

The earth turns on its orbit for You. The oceans ebb and flow for You. The birds sing for You. The sun rises and it sets for You. The stars come out for You. Every beautiful thing you see, every wondrous thing you experience, is all there for You. Take a look around. None of it can exist, without You. No matter who you thought you were, now you know the Truth of Who You Really Are. You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life. And now you know The Secret.

I will not endorse The Secret for study by anyone except those who are already thoroughly knowledgeable of Bible history. You Bible history buffs will be able to see past the pleasantness, congeniality and disarming smile; you will not be fooled by the delightful winsomeness of the writer. What you WILL feel is a bit of excitement.... that after 6000 plus years the expanded text of Satan's appeal to Eve has been recorded, verbatim, by Rhonda Byrne in her new book (with a very old message) called The Secret. Please allow me to be straight forwardly blunt here, heed the message of The Secret and 'dying, you shall surely die', and now you know The Revealed Truth.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Victim Mentality and Homosexuality

How common it is now even among some Christians to hear people say "You know, people shouldn't pick on or condemn homosexuals, especially if they were born that way." It's clear that the homosexual agenda is having some effect and that their message is getting out to some degree, even if among the undiscerning.

But, has it ever occurred to you that some homosexuals are some of the greatest examples of "victim mentality" ever found?

Think about it ...

...when it comes to LIARS, do you ever hear anyone make the claim "I was born that way" in order to justify their actions and escape condemnation?

... when it comes to THIEVES, do you ever hear anyone make the claim "I was born that way" in order to justify their actions and escape condemnation?

... when it comes to MURDERERS, do you ever hear anyone make the claim "I was born that way" in order to justify their actions and escape condemnation?

... when it comes to ADULTERERS, do you ever hear anyone make the claim "I was born that way" in order to justify their actions and escape condemnation?

... the list could go on.

And while occasionally you might hear a person here or there make such a statement, no where do you find such a group of individuals coming together and presenting such an argument as grounds or basis for justifying immoral action.

Think about it, are not liars born with the capacity and even propensity to lie (given the commandment not to). Are not thieves born with the capacity and even propensity to steal (given the commandment, the right factors, opportunities, etc.); or is there a particular point where the individuals acquired a new nature which not only allows but leads to and condones such behavior? Is not the Scripture correct when it states that we are ALL born with a sinful nature. According to that nature we think all kinds of degenerate thoughts, we possess all kinds of degenerate feelings, and we commit all kinds of immoral and degenerate acts. But the question is, should we condone lieing just because someone was born with the propensity to lie? Should we condone theft because someone was born with the propensity to steal? If not, then should we condone homosexuality just because someone claims to have been born that way?

Does not the human nature and the fruits coming from it display all kinds of evil, unrighteousness, and worldly passion that we as humans must say "NO" to, and instead choose "to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:11-15)

What's interesting about this situation, is the inconsistency found among homosexuals when on the one hand as victims they seek forbearance because of the way they were born, but on the other hand they are proud and stand upon their supposed rights to live and to do what they choose and uphold as right.

Suppose a serial killer (as some have done) said "I don't know where my passions and desires came from, I only know I had them, I must have been born and destined to have them"... would you not only excuse his/her behavior but then constitutionally or legislatively protect (or provide) his/her right to continue not only to participate in their behavior but promote it as righteousness and agressively pursue an agenda to attract and enlist others to join in their delinquency as well?

Think about these things the next time someone tells you "Homosexuality isn't something someone can help, they were born that way... therefore you must feel sorry for them and enable them."

I suggest on one level this is victimhood of the highest level, in that while others may blame temporal factors such as their birth place, or birth parents, or the place where they grew up, etc., this argument goes back to the core of one's very being (the worst kind of "fate" for non-creationists).

While the fact that one is born sinful does not mean that we should not love the individual (by respecting them, by educating them, and helping them not only see the unrighteousness of their ways, but also by pointing them to Christ, in whom is found the answer to all our sin and sinful behavior and practices.)

The question is: will you continue to buy the lie, and support the it's advance, or will you be wise to the truth, and work to promote it's advance?

Bigotry and the Presidential Elections

Is it just a case of "Politics As Usual" or is it "Something More"?

In a CNN article this morning entitled "Sharpton accused of 'Bigotry' after remark on faith", it's stated that Sharpton made a statement during a debate about Rommney saying "As for the one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary situation,", to which Romney's spokesman Kevin Madden responded by saying "It is terribly disheartening and disappointing to hear Reverend Sharpton offer such appalling comments about a fellow American's faith," and "America is a nation of many faiths and common values, and bigotry toward anyone because of their beliefs is unacceptable." Romney is also quoted as saying "...That's a great thing about this country. We don't decide who's going to be in office based on what church they go to."

Here's my question, (Sharpton's reputation, antics, and methodology in making his point aside), is Sharpton's statement really bigotry? Put another way, does the freedom of religion and freedom for each person to express his or her religion mean that anyone who speaks against another's faith is necessarily a bigot?

While my observations are from an eccleisiastical rather than political point of interest, and while I have no interest in supporting one candidate over another or even to speak against a particular candidate, but rather simply to address three issues raised by a particular candidate and his his camp, particularly (1) Whether freedom of religion is the same as saying that anyone who speaks to the invalidity of a particular religion or to a particular person's views participates in bigotry, (2) Whether religion is to have NO PART in the consideration and/or selection of a particular political candidate; and (3) Whether being an American means that one must place nationality over religion; ... I make the following observations and comments:

I. Freedom of Religion and Bigotry (Illustrated in politics)

It's interesting to me that if a political candidate were to differ from another on ANY other issue than religion (i.e., their birthplace, their background, their experience, their financial status, their being a Washington bureaucrat vs. a local/state politician, their political views (such as their believing one way about the war vs. another, or believing and holding views on one position on global warming vs. another, etc.) then he/she is free to do so, even speaking to what they believe to be their opponent's false beliefs, and do so with the sharpest of words, and not be called a bigot; ...BUT, if one speaks what they believe not only to be the truth but also the political environment, especially when one speaks from a position that sides with Christianity against another faith, then one is labelled a BIGOT.

Is this just political maneuvering, or is it an example of bigotry (prejudice and intolerance) against anyone who espouses Christianity and makes positive assertions concerning the belief system of others? Just as Romney has the right to worship, hold and express his beliefs, is the same not true of those who espouse Christian beliefs? Could the response from Romney's spokesman not be considered bigotry against Christianity or Sharpton and his beliefs? Here's the point, is the possession of freedom of religion (the freedom to worship and express one's religion) the same as suggesting the freedom of one's religion from any consideration or evaluation from others, particularly when considered in other than the context of religion (and freedom of religion)?

Is one necessarily a bigot if they disagree with the views of another? Is one necessarily a bigot if they disagree with the faith of another? Is one necessarily a bigot if they affirm their belief concerning the invalidity of another's faith and does so respectfully (note - I don't disagree that Sharpton could have handled this matter more sensitively, etc.) Is one necessarily a bigot if one speaks to another's faith as a detriment given the present political climate? Or, is it that anytime a person speaking from a Christian perspective makes reference to the false nature of the beliefs and belief systems of others, they are labeled a bigot?" The fact of the matter is that in our society, Christians have accepted the lie of political correctness that suggests that freedom of religion demands that while at the same time we provide and defend the freedom of every individual to worship and express their beliefs that we also agree to never speak to or provide an evaluation of the beliefs of others in any context whether dealing with the subject of freedom of religion or not. The truth is that not all religions are the same, and while only the Holy Spirit is the Lord of the conscience and while each is to possess the right to choose their own religion, ... to fail to acknowledge that religions are different and that religions come with different beliefs, practices, persuasions, etc., is to fail not only to come to grips with a significant truth (one America is learning the hard way with some propenents of Islam), but to fail to live up to the Scriptural call to speak truth concerning all matters, to distinguish and exalt Christ in all of life, and to demolish false teaching and strongholds wherever they are found.

While one can speak openly concerning one's beliefs that another person is wrong and holds false beliefs, why is it that when it comes to religion, and particularly Christian vs. others, then one is immediately labelled a bigot if one holds to the Christian position or expresses their views concerning the false beliefs of a person who holds to a different religion. Note, this is not to say that each person should not be able to hold and express their own beliefs, nor is it to suggest that anyone should speak unrespectfully to or about a person concerning their beliefs (note: I did not hear Sharpton make his statement and do not know his tone), but at the same time, is it intolerance to suggest that the beliefs of another are false (if indeed they are) or is it intolerant to suggest that when one suggests or declares the views of another to be false that one is not entitled to their own beliefs (and expression thereof, especially if one is willing to assume the consequences of their statements). My point is this, anytime a person speaks Christian truth or from a Christian persuasion, society is quick to label them as being intolerant (but isn't it intolerant of others to do so?).

2. Religion ... and Selection of a Political Candidate

While it's true that one's religion is not the only factor one should consider when selecting a president, Romney's camp in stating that "... We don't decide who's going to be in office based on what church they go to", while true on one level, tends to suggest that what religion a person holds, what foundation they operate from, and what values they hold should not be a factor AT ALL in selection of a political candidate (president or otherwise).

Is this really the case? Would it not make a difference to the direction, policy, and leadership of our country if the person being selected for the presidency were a strong atheist, or a white supremacist, or Islamic extremist?

Note, I'm not suggesting that one's religious position is the only consideration, but to deny it even AS a consideration is something completely different! (Does freedom of religion mean the same thing as "All religions are the same and are to be considered on equal footing"? I don't think so. That's not to suggest than one's religion should qualify or disqualify a person from running for or holding office; however, that is different from suggesting that when considering a person for office, their religion and religious beliefs should not be taken into consideration (AT ALL). Does not the Scripture say that "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he."?

I also make the point that while we can simply set religion off on its side as a 'hands off' zone ... so as to deny religion as a factor (or ANY factor)in any public discouse, debate, or decisions, and in so doing play into the agenda of the secularists, and the hands of those who seek to remove any vestige of Christianity from the public life, the better solution is to acknowledge that while one possesses the freedom to worship and express their beliefs as they choose (within reasonable limits) that failure to acknowledge that religion plays any part in who a person is or the beliefs they hold or their qualification (at least as one factor among all the others as a matter of consideration) for office is to act unwisely and deny the truth, and that to buy into the lie that not only is one's belief not to be a central and significant issue (regardless of who the person is or what religion they hold to) but not to be a consideration AT ALL is to only invite trouble and problems down the road.

3. Patriotism and Faith

Are not the priorities suggestive when the spokesman asserts what Sharpton said concerning "another AMERICAN'S FAITH." Is it that one's being an American takes precedence and importance over one's faith, or is it ultimately the other way around? While I'm as patriotic as any American, the one whose nationality takes precedence over their faith has not much of a faith to speak of.