Tag Archives: Christianity

How Apologetics Builds a Tougher Faith

Question: would you rather find out the roof over your head was ready to collapse before it actually happened, or after? Afterward doesn’t really help, does it? Now, a question for the Christians out there: would you rather find out where your trust in God is weak before it gets put to the test, or afterward? Maybe for some of you, if you were honest, you might say, “I claim I trust that God is good, and that He is sovereign… but if I ever got cancer, or my child died, or something bad happened on a massive scale (like a tsunami), my trust in God would be destroyed.” Honesty is good; it’s hard to fix a problem if we ignore it or gloss over it. But would your sudden distrust in God, or even a change to disbelief in His very existence, change anything about Him? If He exists and is truly good, and omnipotent, and omniscient, and sovereign, would your changing belief about Him change anything about Him, or just about you? Just you, obviously. Someone can not believe I’m an engineer all they want, and it does nothing to my credentials or occupation. Likewise, God is independent of our changing views of Him. So the issue here isn’t really about God, but rather the frailty of our trust in Him. How do you toughen up a frail faith? Let’s work through that today.

I used to work as an engineer at a company that made steel roof joists – like what you see when you look up in any of the big box stores like Wal-Mart. One of the things we did was destructively test a sampling of our joists to make sure they behaved the way they were supposed to. The picture at the top of this post was one such test. You don’t want to design a roof for 30 pounds per square foot of snow load, and cut things so close that an extra inch of snow one year collapses the building. With that in mind, the Steel Joist Institute required us to have a factor of safety of 1.65: each joist needed to be able to handle an overload of 65% of its design capacity.  However, we didn’t want to be right at that minimum where everything had to go perfectly in production to meet it. Everyone involved in designing and building the joist are fallible, after all. So we liked to see tested joists not failing until loaded to twice what they were designed for. And those overload conditions did happen over the years. I remember a case where a roof drain got plugged on one building during a bad storm, and the roof collapsed under the weight of an unplanned rooftop swimming pool. Thankfully, it failed when nobody was in the building. As it turned out, that was several times what the roof was designed for, and even in failure, the joists performed amazingly well.

We began to look for ways to make our joists tougher – that is, able to handle more permanent deformation (i.e. overloading) without breaking. We found that highly-optimized open-web trusses tend to have common failure locations, like the 2nd web from each end that is noted in the picture. Under normal loading, that web has the highest compression load of any of the webs. Why does that matter? Have you ever stood on an empty soda can? If you stand on it carefully and evenly, you can put your full weight on the can without it flattening. But if you wiggle a little (adding some eccentricity to your compressive load), the can immediately crushes without any warning. That sudden buckling is what we wanted to avoid happening in our joists. Instead, we wanted the long, drawn-out failure mode of tensile yielding that gives lots of warning first (like how silly putty or the cheese on pizza stretches a long ways before it finally pulls apart). Getting back to our joists, since that second web will tend to fail first, strengthening that one member on each end can significantly increase the failure load, and the chance for people to evacuate an overloaded building. I personally got to repair a joist that had failed in testing at that web, and then watch the amazing performance as it was retested. Not only did it pass the test, it maxed out the test equipment! Such a small change for such dramatic results. That test convinced me of the value of thinking about how my designs react when taken outside their design envelope.

Now, what on earth does any of this have to do with Christianity or apologetics? The Bible tells us that we are in a spiritual war, whether we realize it or not. Chances are good that at some point in the Christian journey, your trust in God will be severely challenged – overloaded, so to speak. How will you react? Are there weak links in your life that look solid until they’re actually put to the test? I’ve seen too many tragic cases of people claiming to be Christians and leaving the church after exposure to some event or some unforeseen objection “destroyed their faith”. Maybe they grew up insulated from any objections, or worse, were told that asking questions was bad. Their trust in God was just a house of cards waiting to collapse the minute someone brought up some of the objections of atheists like Richard Dawkins or Dan Barker (as answerable as those are). Or maybe they grew up thinking that Christian faith was some kind of charm against bad things happening to them (in spite of the overwhelming testimony of almost every book of the Bible, many of the early church fathers, and the long bloody history of martyrdom of Christians the world over up to the present day). That’s called being set up for failure. But apologetics helps us in the following ways:

  • It strengthens those weak links by forcing us to examine ourselves [2 Cor 13:5] and reinforce our areas of distrust with true biblical knowledge, supporting evidence, and sound reasoning rather than just gloss over them. For some, that self-examination may even make them aware that their faith is just a charade and that there is no actual relationship with Jesus as Lord supporting their “Christian” life. That’s an important oversight to correct!
  • In seeking to give an answer to those who ask for the reason for the hope that we have [1Pe 3:15], apologetics forces us to look at our beliefs from an outside perspective, anticipate questions, and actively search for answers so that we might be prepared. Knowing why you believe what you believe will strengthen your trust in God even if nobody ever asks you about your beliefs.
  • Apologetics reminds us that we don’t have a “blind faith” but rather a very well-grounded faith in God. Even when we don’t know the answer to every question, we are reminded that we can trust God based on the positive answers we do have. That is the very opposite of the “blind faith” skeptics like to assume Christians rely on.

May you be ever-growing in the knowledge of the truth of God, knowing with certainty in whom you have believed, understanding more each day how trustworthy God is, never failing to persevere through the trials that must surely come. Grace to you 🙂

Before and After September 11th

By Robert on Flickr, via Wikimedia Commons

It’s been 16 years, but I still remember the shock of watching September 11, 2001 unfold as those of us out west awoke to two planes hitting the World Trade Center.  For Americans of my generation, it is “a day that will live in infamy,” just as December 7, 1941 was for my grandparents’ generation. It was a day that showed the depths of depravity and evil of which humans are capable in the attacks themselves, but also the virtuous heights of compassion, kindness, courage, integrity, and resilience we are capable of in the reactions to the attacks. For some, like Richard Dawkins, this attack by Islamic terrorists changed how they thought about religion. As he put it,

“Many of us saw religion as harmless nonsense. Beliefs might lack all supporting evidence but, we thought, if people needed a crutch for consolation, where’s the harm? September 11th changed all that. Revealed faith is not harmless nonsense, it can be lethally dangerous nonsense. Dangerous because it gives people unshakeable confidence in their own righteousness. Dangerous because it gives them false courage to kill themselves, which automatically removes normal barriers to killing others. Dangerous because it teaches enmity to others labelled only by a difference of inherited tradition. And dangerous because we have all bought into a weird respect, which uniquely protects religion from normal criticism.”[1]
— Richard Dawkins

Not that Richard didn’t have a low view of religion before September 11th, but afterwards, he was galvanized in his opposition, even if often misdirected. Now, for the record, some religions may do poorly in the area of evidence, and some may be taken up in desperation as a crutch, but  Richard has taken up an aggressive position against the existence of God in any conception, and in so doing has really overreached far beyond what his objections can support. In the case of my belief in the Christian religion, it is actually based on evidence and is definitely not a crutch for consolation. Though God has indeed comforted me in times of grief, I believe in His existence in general, and His revelation of Himself in the Bible specifically, not because of needing a crutch, but because I think it’s true. In fact, God makes for a rather frustrating “crutch” if that’s all one’s after, for crutches don’t normally convict you when you’re misbehaving. God is true, and oftentimes inconveniently so. But is Dawkins right about religion being dangerous?

For me, as a Christian, 9/11 didn’t change my worldview in the slightest. I know that humans are made in the image of God and are capable of truly great, beautiful things, like the heroism and selfless love displayed by first responders and ordinary civilians alike on that tragic day. But we are also corrupted, sin-enslaved creatures, fallen and capable of tremendous evil, like the meticulous planning, and carrying out, of a cowardly attack against unarmed, defenseless people. As Malcolm Muggeridge succinctly put it, “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.” And three centuries earlier, Blaise Pascal developed that idea in his Pensées  to show that only Christianity adequately explains this paradox of man’s goodness and wretchedness.

But there is another thing Dawkins overlooks in his rush to denigrate all religion: 9/11 didn’t change the fact that there are monumental differences between Christianity (what he really objects to) and Islam (the easier target). To lump them into the same class is to ignore the significant intrinsic differences in them (as well as the recorded effects of both religions, for good or bad, over the course of their respective histories, but that is another post). Why do some Islamic people choose to kill themselves and others in suicide attacks? Is it just that the “false courage to kill themselves” has removed a barrier to killing others like Dawkins suggests? No. The purpose is not primarily to kill themselves but to kill infidels. A Muslim who kills only himself in Jihad, and fails to kill any infidels, has utterly failed. It is the idea of physical war against unbelievers embedded in Islam, and the idea that you can gain Paradise at the expense of others that promotes these attacks. Islam is ultimately a works-based religion motivated from selfishness. And the idea that killing unbelievers will not just count in your favor, but will guarantee you entrance to Paradise when you die is powerful motivation, particularly if you’ve done a lot of stupid stuff to make up for. Now compare that to Christianity, where a supposed Christian who succeeded in murdering an unbeliever is the failure, for not only has he sinned against God in committing murder [Ex 20:13], and forfeited his own life per God’s command of capital punishment [Gen 9:6], but he has condemned that unbeliever to eternal hell when God says that He desires the wicked to repent and live [Ez 18:23,32]. Rather, Jesus confirmed that all of the Old Testament law is summed up in 2 commands: Love God, and love your neighbor (or fellow human) [Lk 10:26-28]. And just to make clear to the Jews to whom He was speaking that this really included anybody under the title of neighbor, He told them the story of the Good Samaritan, where the  hero of the story is a Samaritan, an ethnic group they despised [Lk 10:29-37]. Even more bluntly, He said to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us [Lk 6:27-36].  I don’t know that you can get any sharper contrast to the idea of Jihad.

Events often divide our lives into times of “before” and “after”. Maybe you’ve had this vague concept of “religion” that you felt was just bad, and events like 9/11 only solidified that feeling. But I’d ask you now to set a new dividing line in your life, where you say, “Eternity is too important to trust my feelings to. If there’s truth to be found in religion, I’m going to look at the evidence, and find the real deal amongst all the counterfeits.” Do that, and I assure you, it will lead you straight to Jesus Christ.


[1] “Has the World Changed?” The Guardian, October 11, 2001 (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2001/oct/11/afghanistan.terrorism2, accessed 2017-09-12).

Rejecting Counterfeits

A fake Rolex bought in NYC.

I was listening to an old Everclear album the other day at work, which had the song “Why I Don’t Believe in God” on it. Instead of skipping over it, I thought, “That’s a rather significant thesis to fit in under 5 minutes. Let’s hear his reasons.” After all, philosophical heavyweights like Bertrand Russell took a fair bit more than 5 minutes to make that case, and didn’t have a repeating chorus to fit in. So I listened, looked up the lyrics, and came across some interesting things.

The song [1] is about singer Art Alexakis’ mentally troubled mother hearing voices and having a nervous breakdown. But what I found most interesting was his mention in the song of “strange talk of Edgar Cayce”, a supposedly Christian mystic that his mother apparently was influenced by. This reminds me of James Hetfield of Metallica writing the song “The God that Failed” [2] about his mother, who was a follower of the “Christian Science” movement. Due to that cult’s disapproval of any medical aid, his mother would not pursue medical treatment and died of cancer in 1979 when James was 16. One can see, with that childhood experience, where he got the name for that song. But both these songwriters’ tragic childhood experiences with the religion of their mothers have something in common: they both rejected true Christianity after being exposed to a parody of it.

Consider this analogy: You are walking down the street and a man is selling watches at the corner.  The watches are quite impressive, and you recognize the luxury name immediately. You decide to buy one because this is just “too good of a deal to pass up.” Sadly, after a few days, the watch breaks. Angrily, you decide that these Rolex watches are nothing but overpriced  junk. You tell all of your friends about your bad experience with Rolex, and try to save them the same frustration. You even write a nasty review on Rolex’s website. But… then they respond and ask you for some more information about the defective product that is reflecting so poorly on them. You describe it and their representative dutifully informs you that your “Rollex” is not a genuine “Rolex”. The representative compassionately explains that you’ve been scammed, and while there’s only one true Rolex watchmaker, there are many, many counterfeits [3].  Embarrassed, you realize the deal really was too good to be true, and you’ve maligned a company for a bad product they didn’t even make. You’ve rejected the real thing based on a counterfeit.

Saying you reject Rolex watches and will never buy one because of your experience with a counterfeit is like rejecting God because of your experience with false gods. With Everclear’s Alexakis, his mother’s problems do indeed reflect poorly on Edgar Cayce, but only provided good reason to reject Cayce, not God! While Edgar Cayce may have sincerely thought he was being guided by angels, a review of his story [4] sounds more like fallen angels (i.e. demons) would be a better explanation of any supernatural influence there might have been.  Sadly, for Hetfield’s parents, they had fallen into one of several cults started in the 1800’s. But the Bible never discourages medical efforts. In fact, Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles, 2 books of the New Testament, was himself a physician. Our concept of hospitals was birthed in the 4th century by the Christian church decreeing at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 that any city with a cathedral should have a place set aside for caring for the sick and poor, as well as sheltering travelers [5]. Of course, caring for the sick was a prominent part of Christian service from the beginning, often at the cost of one’s own life from contagious diseases. But before the 4th century, it had to done more secretively due to the intense persecution of Christians. So, you see, the sadly mistaken beliefs of James Hetfield’s parents run contrary to the entire history of Christianity, and really aren’t a reason for rejecting God.

Alexakis thought describing his mother’s sad condition was equivalent to providing actual reasons for not believing in God. Yet, this never even touches on the many good reasons why, like it or not, God is necessary, and therefore, should be accepted as existing. Hetfield thought that God had failed because his mother didn’t seek out those who try to use their God-given gifts of compassion, mercy, medical knowledge, and surgical skill to heal those who are sick, like his mother. Don’t let good reasons for rejecting counterfeits become your bad reasons for rejecting your Creator.


[1] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/everclear/whyidontbelieveingod.html
[2] http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/metallica/thegodthatfailed.html
[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Counterfeit_watch
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Cayce
[5] Alvin J. Schmidt, Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), p.155.

More than a Label

A couple of weeks ago, my church hosted J. Warner Wallace for a weekend of great presentations on the objective nature of truth and the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. If you’re not familiar with Jim, he was a cold-case homicide detective in California who has racked up an impressive number of convictions in long-unsolved murder cases. In fact, you might even recognize him from the TV show “Dateline”, as they’ve documented several of his cases. He was also an ardent atheist until he decided to investigate a really old “cold-case” of a different type: the case of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth. To hear “the rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would say, check out his links below [1]. But now on to what he said that got me thinking. In his closing prayer, he said something to the effect of Christianity being “more than a label” for us.

We identify ourselves with lots of labels – political ones, religious ones, cultural ones – but does that self-identification actually make us those things? Not necessarily. Of course, political partisans will often talk about someone in their party being one “in name only”, such as a RINO, or Republican In Name Only, for example. The idea is that though this person calls themselves a fill-in-the-blank, they aren’t actually; they’re a poser. It is, in effect, a charge of hypocrisy, that the person is saying one thing and doing another. A similar thing happens in engineering, although with potentially more life-threatening consequences.

All of the states I’m licensed in as a professional engineer put out newsletters that include summaries of disciplinary actions taken against individuals. Most of these are against practicing engineers who did things like practicing after their license had expired, maybe because they forgot to renew it. Some aren’t so justifiable, and are serious ethics violations. But occasionally, action is taken against a person who pretended to be an engineer when they weren’t. They’ve claimed the title, or label, but have never done the hard work to acquire the book-learning and mentored training, pass the long arduous tests, and get the license. Some even have enough familiarity with engineering to keep up that charade for several years. But are they professional engineers even when they achieve similar results to engineers? No. They haven’t been granted that title by one having authority to grant it.

What about calling myself a Christian? Can I take that label for myself just because? No. My actions need to match the claim or I’m a hypocrite. I can’t go stealing and lying and murdering and call myself a Christian. But even if I don’t do those things, does acting the part make me a Christian? No, actually. I can be an incredibly nice person, and do lots of wonderful deeds, and call myself a Christian, but even that doesn’t make it so. Consider that Jesus said that the way leading to life was narrow, and that few found it, while the path to destruction was broad and crowded [Matt 7:13-14]. Moreover, many would come to Him saying that they had done all kinds of good things in His name, even working miracles. His response? “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” [Matt 7:21-23] That should be a sobering warning. The apostle John told his audience that  there were those that had gone out from them that had never been part of them [1 Jn 2:19]. They played the Christian game for a while, but eventually moved on. Jesus also talked about letting the wheat and the tares (i.e. saints and sinners) grow together until the harvest, when they would be separated out [Matt 13:24-30]. As Matthew Henry commented on this passage, “It is not possible for any man infallibly to distinguish between tares and wheat,” and, “The tares, if continued under the means of grace, may become good corn; therefore have patience with them.”[2]

So who is a Christian? The Christian is that one whom God has saved. How? They have called out to Jesus Christ, for there is salvation in no one else [Acts 4:12]. How? They have repented of their sins [Acts 3:19, 17:30, Rom 2:4], acknowledged that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believed that God raised Him from the dead [Rom 10:9-10]. That title of “Lord” entails obedience to Him, not just lip service. As Wayne Grudem says in his Systematic Theology, it is “contrary to the New Testament to speak about the possibility of someone accepting Christ ‘as Savior’ but not ‘as Lord,’ if that means simply depending on Him for salvation but not committing oneself to forsake sin and to be obedient to Christ from that point on.” [3] God doesn’t command us to get our lives “straightened out” before He will accept us, for we could never meet His perfect standard in our own strength. But He does command repentance: that godly grief over our sin and the decision to turn away from it and toward Him that leads to salvation [2 Cor7:9-10]. And when we turn to Him, we put our trust in Jesus Christ, the only one who could meet that perfect standard of righteousness [2 Cor 5:21]. A changed life then is the fruit of that repentance.

Being a Christian is not simply a label we claim, or a title we earn, or degree we obtain, but rather an eternal relationship with our Creator. If you are a follower of Christ, may “Christian” be so much more than a mere label for you. And if you’re not a disciple of Christ yet, may you not be deceived and turned away by those for whom it is just a label. Til next time, may God richly bless you in your search to find truth, and in so seeking, find Him. “Seek and ye shall find.”

S.D.G.


[1] Find more of Jim’s work at www.coldcasechristianity.com, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/j.warnerwallace, or Twitter at @jwarnerwallace. Or find his books on Amazon (3rd one drops May 1st).
[2] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary in One Volume (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1961), p.1272.
[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) p. 714.

What’s Your Datum?

Image Credit: www.readthe plaque.com

I was talking to the steel fabricator recently on a multi-story project where I was designing the stairs for them, and their detailer told me, “Hold off on the stair calcs; there’s gonna be some changes coming.” What were the changes? The architect had used the wrong datum, or elevation reference, to match up the floors of this 3 story  expansion with the existing 5 story building it would be attaching to. In so doing, each of the floors, as well as the total height of the expansion, would be over 1 foot short. Fortunately, it was caught before steel was fabricated and shipped to the site. And as far as errors go, it could’ve been worse, in that most of the framing wouldn’t change. The floor plans would stay the same, the heights between floors weren’t affected – just the total column heights and the distance from the foundation to the first elevated floor. For me, the stairs would get longer on the first 2 flights, but otherwise a minimal impact at that stage. But if they’d tried erecting the steel with everything fabricated based on the wrong datum, none of the connections to the existing building would’ve lined up.  One simple assumption in their Revit building model would’ve been an expensive fix at that point.

This got me thinking. What datum do we build our lives on? Are we making assumptions that will cost us dearly later? Will we recognize those errors before it’s too late? One “reference datum” of special importance in our lives is our assumption of God’s existence or non-existence. This has dramatic ramifications in all areas of our lives because it is a foundational assumption. However, sometimes we don’t see those effects without careful investigation. For instance, in the project I had, the floor to floor heights on the upper levels were unaffected. If they had managed to finish building with that error incorporated, you wouldn’t notice it out in the middle of the 2nd or 3rd floor. Likewise, atheists often feel that they don’t need God to live a “good” life. In their day to day lives, they may feel there’s no real difference. The problem is that their worldview is missing some support. What would happen if we went down to the ground level of atheism and inspected its foundation? Under western atheism, we’d find some Bibles stuck under their “columns” as shims! Yes, to be livable (in a civilized manner), atheism has to be shimmed up by blocks of Christianity (or at the very least theism, but more typically Christianity).[1] Yet these are the very foundation blocks atheists try to demolish. For instance, an atheist can choose to ignore the fact that truly fair, objective judgement between humans requires a 3rd party outside of humanity (i.e. God). But when they succeed in removing that idea from the culture around them, they unintentionally undercut their own life structure. Atheists can try to ground their treatment of others in concepts like “human flourishing”, but only the God of the Bible gives us a reason for why we should treat others with dignity: we are made in God’s image – His unique creation – and we have intrinsic worth because of that. So even if I flat-out hated somebody, even if they were absolutely cruel to me, they are still a living soul made in God’s image, whom He considered worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross on their behalf. Then, whether or not they deserve my kindness, whether or not humanity flourishes because of my kindness to them, and whether or not it improves the situation any, there are grounds for treating that person with kindness, respect, and love. I’m not saying atheists can’t behave well, and do wonderful things, but at some point, in your personal relationships, where general abstract philosophizing becomes very real and messy, you could care less whether humanity flourishes if it means suffering some wrong you deem “too far.” Like with Corrie ten Boom forgiving her Nazi concentration camp guard, only God can provide a foundation capable of bearing all things and enduring all things [1 Cor 13:4-7].

What are you assuming as a “given” in your life? Have you investigated that to confirm what you’re building your life on? I’ve used terms like “assumption” and “given” today to describe our different worldviews, because that is how many people arrive at them. But don’t be content to stay there, living an unexamined life. Just like with the datum on the project I was working on, you too can investigate and determine whether the datum of your life is correct or not. I’ve highlighted several lines of reasoning on this site in the past to help show how God fulfills critical requirements for any valid reference datum in life. The moral argument shows God is necessary for objective morality. The cosmological argument shows how God is necessary to provide the singular beginning of all space and time that science predicts. The argument from design shows show God is necessary to explain the intelligent and purposeful contingency we see in our universe. And the ontological argument shows how God is necessary based on the very nature of existence. Dig deep, investigate, don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and follow the evidence where it leads. In the end, you’ll find life makes a lot more sense with God as your absolute reference.


[1] Western atheists would do well to study the history of the USSR and communist China to see atheism carried closer to its conclusion, in grand scale, than perhaps anywhere else on earth. The tens of millions dead (some estimates say over 100 million) show that ideas like atheism can have very tragic and uncivilized consequences.

Mission Failure

Anybody else remember the 3rd Terminator movie where the T-850 (Schwarzenegger) has been programmed to go back in time to protect John Connor, the future leader of the Resistance, but the new evil Terminatrix has reprogrammed him to kill John? Schwarzenegger comes lumbering toward John warning him to stay away from him because he can’t control his actions anymore. As he has pinned John on the hood of a car choking him, John asks the T-850, “What is your mission?” He replies, “To secure the survival of John Connor and Catherine Brewster.” John then delivers the classic response, “You are about to fail that mission!”

Now what does this little bit of movie nostalgia have to do with anything? Well, some skeptics try to lay the blame for a lot of the injustice in the world at the feet of Christians. Christianity is supposedly to blame for wars throughout history, slavery, the repression and abuse of women, minorities, and a host of other categories of people, the hindrance of science and technological development, the holding back of society from advancing, and so on. There’s only one problem: a lot of the things blamed on Christianity, even if perpetrated by Christians, are not compatible with the mission of Christianity. Let’s look at some of the tenets Jesus Christ and His early followers passed on to us that the skeptic needs to take into account before blaming Christianity for societal ills.

  • Love even our enemies [Mt 5:43-47, Rm 12:14] and turn the other cheek (i.e. don’t seek revenge) [Mt 5:38-42, Rm 12:17-21]. This is the very opposite of hatred, jihad, starting wars, picking fights, bullying, or any other malevolent violence. Anyone who commits murder or terrorism in the name of Christ either is not a Christian to begin with, or is failing his mission badly.
  • “Bear one another’s burdens” [Ga 6:2]. It’s not all about me.
  • Care for widows, orphans, and family members [Jm 1:27, 1 Ti 5:8]. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world if everyone that couldn’t care for themselves were lovingly taken care of?
  • The thief who becomes a Christian should no longer steal, but rather work hard so that he might be able to give to others instead of taking from them [Ep 4:28]. Christianity doesn’t simply ask the thief to stop stealing, but to start giving!
  • God created humans in His image, both male and female. [Ge 1:26-27] Therefore, women are not inferior to men. In fact, all humans have intrinsic value by nature of being created in God’s image, regardless of sex or skin color. Discrimination because of sex, race, age, social status or nationality cannot exist where true Christianity is practiced [Ac 17:26-27, Ga 3:28, Co 3:11, Lv 19:32, Rm 12:16, Jm 2:1-4, Lv 19:33-34].
  • Us husbands should love our wives with a self-sacrificial love exemplified by how Christ loved the church and gave His life for her. Repression or abuse is the last thing a husband should perpetrate against his wife, for she is a “fellow heir of the grace of life”. Rather, he should care for her as he would his own body and show her honor [Ep 5:25-30, 1 Pe 3:7].
  • We Christians should never act such that we could be accused of evil. If we should be slandered for doing good, so be it; but we dishonor our Lord and Savior if allegations of evil conduct are ever warranted [1 Pe 4:14-15]. We are to be above reproach, avoiding even the appearance of evil [1 Th 5:22].
  • We Christians should exhibit love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law [Ga 5:22-23]. Indeed, what police chief wouldn’t love to see a community full of people exhibiting those traits?
  • Even in the slavery-ridden culture of the Roman Empire, Paul commanded slave owners to be fair to their slaves, knowing that they also had a Master in heaven [Co 4:1] and for slaves to work for their masters sincerely, as for the Lord [Co 3:22-24]. All jokes about slave-driving bosses aside, that kind of work relationship sets a good model for current employer/employee relations.
  • Except where civil governments order us to go against God’s commands, we are to be good citizens, obeying our civil leaders [Ac 4:18-20, 1 Pe 2:13-17, Rm 13].
  • As for the charge of hindering science and technology, see my series, Portraits of Christians (here), for a series of articles on some of the “fathers” of modern science who were Christians and who were scientists because of their Christianity. For you see, the Bible tells us that God is a God of order[1 Co 14:33], and if such a God created a world, it would likely exhibit order and rational systems of laws that could be discovered through observation and be reasonably expected to be consistent and repeatable [Ps 19:1-4a, Ac 17:27, Rm 1:19-20]. Without that basis, science is simply not possible.
  • Lastly, regarding the charge of Christianity holding back civilization, see Alvin J. Schmidt’s book Under the Influence: How Christianity Transformed Civilization for a very thorough historical survey in response to that claim.

You see, a true Christian will live a life in line with Christ’s teachings, for we are disciples, and a disciple emulates his master. We won’t do it perfectly, especially at first, but God gives us His Holy Spirit to indwell us. He works in us to mold us and conform our desires to match His. Think of it like getting on a diet – your appetites don’t match up with the new healthy diet at first, but you choose to conform your appetites to the diet because you know it’s better for you than your old way of living, and gradually, you learn to actually enjoy the new foods. Then, living on the diet is not a burden but a pleasure because your will now matches the diet plan. But spiritually, that realignment of will can only happen through the Holy Spirit’s regenerative work in us. But many who claim the title of Christian, aren’t. In fact, Jesus gave the sobering warning that there would be many at the last judgment expecting entrance to heaven, only to hear Him say, “I never knew you.” [Mt 7:21-23] We are known by our fruit – i.e. our actions. Talk is cheap, and, as they say, “actions speak louder than words.” And indeed, the Bible repeatedly affirms that the proof of our faith is not in mere words but in our character and the actions that flow from that [Jn 13:35, 1 Jn 4:20, Jm 2:14].

Maybe you’ve seen someone claiming Christ on Sunday and living like the devil the rest of the week, and thought that Christianity really is just a big show with a rotten core underneath, that religion really does “poison everything”. But we must remember that “abusus non tollit usum” – the misuse or abuse of something is no argument against its proper use (i.e. just because a person can use an axe to murder someone doesn’t mean that axes are inherently bad). Look at the fruit of true Christianity, the fruit of those truly on mission for Christ, and you will not find any viable source for the atrocities and horrors with which atheists try to saddle Christianity. It is only in counteracting the commands of God and failing His mission for us that those kinds of results are possible.

Club Church

club_churchIt’s been said that to succeed in business, you must find your niche and play to your strong suit, whether that’s low prices, high quality, large variety, customer service, etc. And if you offer a product or service that people want, but no one else is providing, you’ll be well on your way to market domination as long as you don’t sabotage yourself with bad choices. Does that apply to how churches “market” themselves?

The church is described in the Bible as the “body of Christ”, and like a human body, there are many functions performed by different parts of the body.[1] There should certainly be ministries to widows and orphans [2], teaching of sound doctrine [3], praising God,[4] fellowship with other believers,[5] and celebrating communion,[6] and more.[7] But where do you fit in building that new basketball gym? Is that a ministry to local kids “starving” for court-time? Or maybe “fellowship”? What if we actually try teaching our youth our creeds and statements of beliefs and why we believe those to be true? Will that cut into pizza and video game time at youth group? Will half the youth group stop attending if we stop babysitting them and start training them to face the battles they’re otherwise heading out to unprepared? What if the power went out, and our well-choreographed worship presentation didn’t have working microphones and amps, and the words to the songs weren’t conveniently displayed on large screens for us to lip-sync with minimal effort? Would we all just go home for lack of entertainment?

Now, before I get branded a crusty old curmudgeon, I understand that many times that basketball gym is keeping kids on the street from looking to gangs for their social structure and their role models; I understand that pizza is a fellowship meal just as much as other foods have been through the centuries; and I understand that kids have played games of one sort or another whenever they congregate, whether modern video games, or kick-the-can, or whatever made-up game could be invented on the spot, for as long as kids have been kids. I’m also not advocating that more contemporary churches burn their electric guitars and sound booth and switch to a Gregorian chant for their worship. But I am asking whether we’ve started majoring in the minors, so to speak – focusing on the details around the edges and forgetting the focal point of all history. When many of Jesus’ wannabe disciples had left Him to go find new entertainment, and Jesus asked the disciples if they too would leave Him, there are some things they didn’t say in response. They didn’t say they were staying because of His engaging style, His charisma, His warm personality, His concern for the causes they personally identified with, or a lot of other reasons people give for attending particular churches. Peter nailed it when he replied “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.“[8] That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? If we forget that, we are in danger of becoming just another passing social club.

However, the church makes a poor social club. The world will always be able to offer more enticing clubs. After all, clubs promise immediate gratification and don’t ask for lifelong commitments; they’ll stay conveniently compartmentalized in whatever area of your life you set aside for them; they don’t ask for your all; they certainly don’t ask you to be willing to endure suffering or even physical death for them. But that is precisely the commitment that Christ asks of each of us.[9] Yet there is one area where Christianity has a complete monopoly: only Jesus offers eternal life.[10] And with it comes the added bonus of all the fulfillment and joy that all the clubs in the world can’t provide.

Are your children being equipped as disciples of Christ, or just temporarily entertained while they grow to be “ex-Christians”? Is your worship about what feelings you get out of the experience or what you can offer to God? If people can attend your church, and all they come away with is that you have really good coffee and donuts (but little spiritual nourishment [11]), and the kids had fun (but weren’t getting “the wisdom that leads to salvation” [12]), and the preacher was pretty funny (but conveniently would never convict anyone of the danger they’re in living apart from God [13]), then I would suggest that your church has left the only “market niche” God ever intended for it to occupy.[14]


[1] 1 Corinthians 12, NASB.
[2] James 1:27, NASB.
[3] Most of 1st & 2nd Timothy
[4] Colossians 3:16, NASB.
[5] Acts 2:42, NASB.
[6] 1 Corinthians 11:23-34, NASB.
[7] 1 Corinthians 12:5, NASB.
[8] John 6:68, NET.
[9] Visit Open Doors or Voice of the Martyrs if you have any doubts.
[10] John 14:6, Acts 4:12, NASB.
[11] Matthew 4:4, NASB.
[12] 2 Timothy 3:14-15, NASB.
[13] 2 Timothy 2:23-26, NASB.
[14] Matthew 28:19-20, NASB.

Implications

dominosI surprised an atheist colleague a while back when I asked to borrow all the atheist books he had. I was attending Frank Turek’s Cross-Examined Instructor’s Academy in Charlotte, NC for 3 days of intensive training in Christian apologetics (i.e. giving a rational defense for our beliefs).[1] Part of the requirements for attendance was a long reading list of Christian apologists, as well as being familiar with the works of prominent atheists like Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, etc. This desire to delve in to opposing views surprised my friend. But as physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne says, “The question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality”.[2] That’s because of the far-reaching effects it has in our lives. Indeed, ideas have consequences, so let’s look at some consequences of Christian doctrine.

  • Work Ethic – I often hear the lament that people don’t want to work hard anymore, and I’ve seen plenty of examples myself. Work ethic seems to have suffered some major blows in our generation. But it’s good to remember that this trait used to be referred to as the “Puritan work ethic” or “Protestant work ethic”. Why? Because the Puritans brought to America the application of biblical principles that Protestant reformer Martin Luther had reminded Europe of the century before: that there can be honor in our work, regardless of what we do, because we do it for God. Other civilizations viewed physical work as demeaning and lowly, fit for slaves but not for citizens, and certainly not for nobility. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to do our work, whatever it is, as for God rather than men[3]; that masters should be fair to their slaves, for they too have a Master in heaven[4]; and slaves should not just work when their master is watching, but with integrity all the time; and that God had given Adam, the first man, work to do in the Garden of Eden before Adam sinned, and so work was not a curse to be avoided, but a way to serve and honor God.[5] While we may not live in a society with masters and slaves anymore, those exhortations to fair treatment of workers and doing one’s work with integrity apply equally well to our modern-day employer-employee relationships.
  • Ethics – That idea of fairness leads to another implication of Christianity. The Christian should not just work hard, but should also be ethical. The Bible tells us that false weights (i.e. for cheating in business transactions) are an abomination to the Lord.[6] And that he who formerly would steal should steal no more. [7] We are also told that it is better to be wronged than to do wrong. And that even when we do the right thing, it should be from pure motives and not from compulsion or fear of being caught.[8]
  • Stewardship – Under Christianity, all we have is given to us by God. He is the owner, and we are simply stewards. [9] This perspective naturally leads to a desire to care for and use wisely the resources we have. We do not value resources like the environment and animals above people, but we don’t want to neglect them or misuse them either.
  • Imago Dei – Speaking of the value of people, under Christianity, all people are created in the image of God, or “imago Dei” in Latin. Therefore, they each have intrinsic worth regardless of race, nationality, creed, gender, title, or any other differentiation.  In fact, the Bible tells us that there is really only one race – the human race – so racism simply must whither and die in the soil of Christianity.[10] Aside from our common origins, God has offered salvation and eternal life to all freely.[11] And if Jesus was willing to sacrifice Himself for people a little different from us, who are we to hate those whom He loved? Moreover, we recognize that “none are righteous,” and that apart from Jesus, we are no better than the lowest outcast or the most evil villain.[12] As the saying goes, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
  • Dealing with Suffering – Life can be tough. And yet, in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul describes the various trials he has gone through, then proceeds to say that “momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”[13] Paul was a man who had been imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead – and yet, he considered this difficult life to be “light” in comparison to the “heaviness” of eternity with Christ. In Paul’s view, no amount of earthly suffering could tip the scales. Christians have a bottomless reservoir of strength and hope in times of trial.

There are significant implications to belief in Christ. We can compartmentalize our beliefs, but only at the expense of our honesty. For if we are honest, our beliefs must express themselves throughout our lives. These are just a few of the ways those beliefs will surface. Can you think of others?


[1] In fact, this blog is the result of being challenged by J. Warner Wallace at that training class to become a “Christian casemaker”. 🙂
[2] John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist, Ch. 3.
[3] Colossians 3:23, 1 Corinthians 10:31.
[4] Colossians 4:1, Job 31:13-15, Ephesians 6:5-9.
[5] Genesis 2:15.
[6] Proverbs 11:1, 20:10,23, Micah 6:11, Leviticus 19:36, Deuteronomy 25:13 to name a few.
[7] Ephesians 4:28.
[8] 1 Corinthians 6:7, Proverbs 16:2, 2 Chronicles 19:9.
[9] Deuteronomy 8:1-20, Matthew 24:42-51, 25:14-28,
[10] Genesis 1:27, Acts 17:26, Galatians 3:26-29.
[11] Romans 6:23, 1 Peter 3:18.
[12] Romans 3:10-12, 23.
[13] 2 Corinthians 4:17.

Intellectual vs Willful Rejection

face-questions-1567164-639x373I watched a debate between Dan Barker, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and Dr. Justin Bass recently. A closing statement is generally that last recap of your critical points that you want the audience to remember. Barker’s closing statement gives an interesting insight into the atheist mindset:

“This whole idea of “Lord”, … that we need a “Lord” somehow to worship, is an ancient idea … is kind of a psychological question, it’s not really a question of the fact. Even if Jesus did exist, even if I agreed with Dr. Bass 100% – yep, he rose from the dead, yep, there’s a God, yep, I don’t deny any of that – that does not mean that he is my Lord. If he did exist, if he created this hell that I’m going to have to go to, then let him prove to me what a huge macho man he is and send me to hell. I will go happily to hell. It would be worse of a hell for me to bow down before a Lord who would create a place like hell…. Regardless of the legend and historicity issue…Even if I agreed 100%, I would still reject that Being as a Lord of my life because I’m better than that…based on what I read in the Bible and what I see in church history, I cannot accept Jesus as Lord… To me, I think that’s more important than all this historicity stuff, which, you heard me admit, is a matter of probabilities; I might be wrong…That still doesn’t mean that Jesus is Lord. He is NOT the Lord of my life…”

I just want to make a couple of observations about his rationale here. What saddens me about this is the willful arrogance and disregard for the facts that he espouses. This is not being a “freethinker”. This is not being rational. This is the purely emotional response of a petulant child screaming “I don’t care what Daddy says is best for me, I want it my way!” To say that he would still reject Jesus as sovereign even if he agreed with all of the evidence pointing to Jesus’s rightful claim to that title, and to justify that with the notion that he is “better than that” strikes me as an odd combination of deliberate blindness and arrogance.

I also found it interesting that he doesn’t consider “all this historicity stuff” that important. Really? Christianity makes an extraordinary amount of claims that can be falsified. That should be a rational thinker’s dream. This isn’t some mystical religion of warm fuzzy feelings with no hard truth claims and no way to prove them right or wrong. And so far, the historical claims of Christianity have been consistently proven correct. Is that maybe why Mr. Barker doesn’t consider them all that important? Would he not consider historical confirmation important in other areas? I don’t know if he cares much about Julius Caesar or Galileo or any other classic historic figures, but I would think, as much as his organization likes misusing Thomas Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” comment, that questions of whether Jefferson existed and actually wrote that famous phrase would surely be important to him. But then if the historicity of someone like Thomas Jefferson is important, why not the historicity of someone far more important?

The western world literally dates history around the birth of Jesus. And if what Jesus said and did was accurately recorded, then that emphasis on His birth as the pivot point of all history is legitimate. Yes, we need to look at the evidence honestly, and openly, and be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if that’s to Someone more powerful, more knowledgeable, and in all other ways, better, than us. In that event, we have to be willing to lay down our pride and admit when we’ve met our match. And when it turns out that our adversary is actually the One who loves us more dearly than we can understand, then the only reasonable response is to quit rejecting Him and instead follow Him.

Maybe you agree with Mr. Barker that that would be hell for you. Well, God won’t force you into heaven. But that also means that the hell you may resent Him for establishing is also the place you are voluntarily choosing to go, and the place that God isn’t keeping you from entering against your will. Look at your objections honestly and see if they are legitimate intellectual questions seeking answers, or just stubborn pride. You may be surprised.


Below is the link to the full 3 hour debate/Q&A. Mr. Barker’s closing statement starts around 2:44.