Apologetics Good and Bad

April 2013 seems to have been a big month for Christian Apologetics in the Dallas area. On April 5-6 was a conference on the question of was there a historical Adam, organized by the International Society for Christian Apologetics. I was not familiar with this organization but the conference was great! Not that big in attendance. A significant thing about it was that the speakers were people from different backgrounds and organizations. For instance, the Institute for Creation Research was there. But so was Dr. Rana from Reasons to Believe, the ministry of Hugh Ross. Norman Geisler was also one of the speakers, as well as Walter Kaiser, well known for his expertise on the Old Testament. Then April 12-13 was the Apologia Conference, which was on the theme, “Skeptics and the Savior: Did the Word Really Become Flesh?” I attended both of these conferences. Another conference happened that I did not attend, so I won’t comment. It was at Bent Tree Bible Fellowship church I believe.

These conferences were very informative. After these conferences I ran across a website with an interesting article called “8 Reasons Jesus Definitely Existed.” This sounds good from the title but it’s misleading and incorrect in some of it’s information. The conferences also brought up some things that raise questions I feel I need to know more about. For instance, I found out from a book on inerrancy that Norman Geisler has criticized Darrel Bock on inerrancy and the date of the writing of New Testament books. I have a lot of respect for both Geisler and Bock, so I am a not sure what to make of this. But there are sometimes clearly wrong apologetic arguments. As Christians this day and age we need to be aware of various sources and learn what some of the best sources of information are on various issues.

On the first conference about a historical Adam. I think the highlights to me were Norman Geisler and Walter Kaiser. They both made strong arguments for a historical Adam. Dr. Kaiser brought up Acts 17, where Paul was speaking in Athens and said that “from one man” God made all nations of men. Kaiser pointed out this does not seem consistent with the new ideas on the evolution of man from a population of several thousand individuals. Geisler listed a long list of Biblical reasons to believe in a literal Adam. He also pointed out there was an extremely ancient seal that depicts the story of Adam and Eve from Genesis. The seal is estimated to be from 3500 B.C. That’s pretty old (the date may be a bit inflated in fact). There are also legends of first man and woman stories. Though they are different from the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, they have a number of aspects very close to it. Christianity does not hang together logically in explaining mankind’s sin problem without a literal Adam and Eve. Also, evolution can never agree with the Genesis account of Adam and Eve’s miraculous origin. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Fazale Rana, a life scientist from Reasons to Believe pointed out he believed Adam was miraculously created from dust. He gave some interesting biochemical evidence for the uniqueness of humans as separate from apes. I do not usually agree with Hugh Ross but there were some good talks by other scientists from Ross’ organization at the conference. The final talk was from Mary Jo Sharp, a woman who speaks on apologetics. I was impressed by her story and the unique approach she has. She reaches people with apologetics that include the young and women. She made some wonderful points connecting personal struggles in people’s lives to apologetics issues. Personal struggles can lead people to ask “why believe” questions. So apologetics can have a lot of personal relevance. It is not just an intellectual exercise.

The Apologia conference was more centered around the New Testament and various ideas from skeptics and scholars who raise issues about where the ideas of Jesus as Messiah came from, the alleged problem of oral transmission of the gospels, and other issues. Some have argued that the Apostles and early Christians essentially added the concepts about Jesus being a returning King in the future and his deity, that these were not actually from Jesus’ ministry. There are a number of scholars who question the gospels but accept more the New Testament writings of the Apostle Paul. But there are scrolls of Jewish commentaries from around 100 B.C. that sound just like the gospels in telling about the Messiah and Melchizedeck. They argue that Melchizedek is divine and if you put the pieces together it clearly points to Jesus. But these writings were from Qumran and scholars say the New Testament writers would not have known about them. They show that the Messianic ideas were not really unheard of and did not come about as late embellishments of the New Testament.

I want to briefly get back to the web article I found, “8 Reasons Jesus Definitely Existed.” The first screen says that Paul’s New Testament books predate the writing of the four gospels by 50 years. This is way off. Some of Paul’s books were earlier but it was only around 10 years, maybe less. The later dates are often suggested by scholars who are trying to chip away at the inerrancy of the New Testament and lead people to question the gospels especially. The second screen in the article makes a statement that the gospels “kinda don’t agree on anything.” It also challenges historical accuracy of certain things in the gospels. This is off also. There are some mysteries about differences between the gospels. However, I do not think there are real contradictions between the gospels, just differences in how they are written. Over time there’s usually more and more confirmations of Scripture from historical evidence. I wrote an article on the historicity of the New Testament CLICK TO GOTO. The 8 Reasons article is really not very clever at all, but seems to show ignorance of basics from the gospels. It confuses Bethehem and Nazareth regarding where Jesus was from. Bethehem was where Jesus was born, not the place where his family raised him. There is some information in the 8 Reasons article that is probably ok, so it is not all so bad as the above. But it goes to show Christians need to keep their brain in gear even as they learn about apologetics. Some apologetic arguments are better than others.

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Jesus, Who Are You?

This passage (John 8:12-59) is one of my favorites about Jesus. If you haven’t read it lately, I’d recommend it. It has Jesus speaking at length to the Pharisees about who he is. You can’t say Jesus did not try to make them understand. I think Jesus’ deity is clear from this passage, especially taken together with the miracles he did. The Pharisees seemed to be mystified about who Jesus was. They just couldn’t understand what he was saying about himself. It brings up something it took me a long time to realize about people. As a former teacher this seems like a really important thing about human nature that you are not taught in education courses. One of the reasons people may not understand something is simply that they don’t believe it, because they don’t want to believe it. Or they may not believe the person who says it. Not believing the truth blocks the understanding. Or perhaps you could say that the rejection of the truth in the will can block the mind. This is especially true in spiritual things.

Jesus was not speaking of himself and God the way prophets of the past had. He was claiming more about himself. The Old Testament prophets might have said something like “God is the light of the world” or maybe “Israel is the light of the world.” But Jesus said HE was the light of the world. No Old Testament prophet would have dared say “I am the light of the world.” The Pharisees criticized Jesus for acting like his own witness (see vv 14-18). So they were treating him like he was on trial and that his testimony would not be admissible evidence because it required someone else speaking for him. Jesus, being God and being sinless, could not call any other human being to be his defense. No other human being was worthy to be a witness for him really. So he called God the Father as his witness. He also pointed out that even if he did speak for himself and judge, it would be right. Jesus was without sin, after all. So who was qualified to accuse him? No one.

Jesus then points out how lost and confused the Pharisees really were. They did not comprehend their own spiritual condition. They seemed unable to face their own sin problem. The first way Jesus tried to communicate their lostness was in speaking about God as his Father. Jesus emphasized that the Pharisees did not know his Father. They thought they did, they knew something of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth I suspect. They didn’t understand he was speaking of God as his Father. Then he told them that he would go away and that where he was going, they could not come. Jesus spoke plainly to them that if they did not believe in who he was, they would die in their sin (v 24). This is the same quandry people are in today. They don’t realize that their eternal destiny depends on who they believe Jesus is. I think Jesus, without saying it explicitly, was clearly implying that he was the Messiah that the Jews hoped for. But the Jewish religious leaders generally wouldn’t consider this. There are times when people who do not believe the truth actually do know it inside but they will not admit it or accept it. I suspect that is what Jesus referred to regarding his death, when he said that “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me (ESV).” Saying “lifted up” is likely a reference to crucifixion. But people are responsible for what they are able to know about God. Knowledge of God comes with responsibility, even if you reject it.

Then Jesus said the most wonderful thing that is a great encouragement to Christians! “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:31-32, ESV).” But his audience here was apparently primarily the Pharisees. The Pharisees had great knowledge of God’s word. Some of them may have been able to recite it at length. But that was not enough because they did not really accept and believe it. They did not really trust in the truth of God’s word, though they knew it. Their hearts and motives were not right and they had not really faced their own sin problem. They had not made it personal. The Pharisees failure to understand their sin problem is shown by their response to this statement from Jesus. They said (v 33) “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Then Jesus spelled out the sin problem everyone has so even the Pharisees should be able to understand. He told them “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Then he essentially told them He was able to change them from being a slave to being like a son in the Father’s house. The Son could set the slave free. That is what Jesus does for us.

Then Jesus goes on to tear down the thing they were trusting in to be right with God. They were children of Abraham. They were biological descendents of Abraham, but that was not enough. Jesus confronted them with their desire to kill him and pointed out that Abraham would not have done that. So even on the level of being Abraham’s “children” they fell short because they were guilty of something Abraham would not have done. At this point the Pharisees attempt to “escalate” the argument by attacking Jesus’ birth and parentage. This would be a scandalous thing in Jewish society to bring up. They claimed he was born of sexual immorality, probably assuming Mary was raped by a Roman soldier or something. They then go farther and claim God as their father. Jesus then points out that if God were their father they would love Him also, instead of wanting to kill him. Their hatred of Jesus speaks volumes. Jesus also escalates in response to them by saying that the Pharisees were of the devil and they were trying to do the will of the devil. Jesus goes on to say they were not of God. So they accused him of being demon possessed (a preposterous claim to make about Jesus). Then Jesus goes on to talk about Abraham being glad to see the day Jesus’ came. This reflects knowledge of the spirit realm apparently, something no one else could claim. Then Jesus makes the statement that made the Pharisees want to stone him, he said “Truly, Truly, before Abraham was, I am (v 58).” This statement implies Jesus existed before he was born as a baby, in eternity past. Furthermore, in this statement he uses the name God told Moses to refer to him with in speaking to the Israelites in Egypt, “I AM.” So in this Jesus is implying he is equal with God. Thus the Jewish leaders thought him guilty of blasphemy and worthy of death.

Jesus’ life and statements about himself do not make sense unless he was both fully God and fully man. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, you have to decide is Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. He didn’t act like a liar and he was too good and sensible to be a lunatic. I say he was and is Lord.

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Adam and Eve

Recently a movement in some Christian circles is saying that the Bible is not literally true regarding Adam and Eve. People are doubting 1) that Adam and Eve were the first man and woman, 2) that the Bible is literally accurate in what it says about Adam and Eve, and 3) that the whole human race descended from one couple. So there are various “alternatives” to believing Genesis that have been put forward.

One way is to take the early chapters of Genesis as mythological or allegorical. This is a very convenient copout because it means you can ignore the details of the text and take the meaning to be whatever symbolic concept seems convenient. From this kind of approach, different people may get different applications from the text and you would not expect there to be complete agreement between various Scripture passages about Adam and Eve, because none of them are taken as historical anyway. Indeed this is sometimes how scholars approach many things in the Old Testament since they have trouble believing the miracles and they question the historicity of much of the Old Testament. I think this whole approach is a serious mistake and that it mishandles God’s word. God revealed Truth to mankind using language and so we can do better than this sloppy approach.

The new challenge to believing in a real Adam and Eve comes from evolutionary genetics research. The idea goes something like this. Modern homo sapiens, according to evolution, did not all arrive at all our modern characteristics from one couple. It took a sizable population of maybe at least 10,000 so that some characteristics came from some and some from others. The evolutionists are hoping in chance, numbers, and time to provide the right combination of traits in our genome to make ape-man intermediates into humans. They do not allow for the possibility of God miraculously creating the first man and woman by design. With miraculous creation as Genesis 2 describes, there is no need for a sizable population at the start. Rather, the consequence of the Genesis record is that humans were created with an initially perfect genome, without mutations and with plenty of variability for what humans needed all built-in from the start. Then over the course of history, humans lost genetic information in the genome. With initially long life spans about 10 times that of us today, every married couple could have many kids with a variety of characteristics. Then there was a genetic bottleneck at the time of Noah’s Flood because the human population was reduced to 8 people. This is not just a story, according to Genesis, or even according to Jesus or the Apostle Paul. This is our history, our genesis, if you will. This does have implications for genetics and there is new evidence that this explains some aspects of human genetics beautifully.

So, another view that has been proposed on Adam and Eve is that long ago perhaps 2 million years ago there were some neolithic primative people who were farmers. God chose a pair of them to know him in a personal way. This pair of chosen primatives and their descendants have been called Homo Divinus. (You can laugh at this point if you want to.) These would have been anatomically modern humans but were very ignorant until God called them. So God developed a relationship with certain individuals as his chosen people among the many primatives. They learned and developed somehow with God’s help into more enlightened and capable people who had a faith similar to the ancient Jews. This may be a quaint idea but it will not make sense in a Christian world view.

I’d recommend reading the following blog entry commenting on this Homo Divinus idea by a well known evolutionary scientist, Jerry Coyne. CLICK TO GO TO Jerry Coyne is a well known scientist from the University of Chicago, from the department of Ecology and Evolution. Coyne has a number of very valid criticisms of this idea that I agree with. But there is another way of looking at the genetics that apparently Dr. Coyne does not know or accept. The evidence does not disprove the Bible. Scientists have learned wrong ways of approaching the problems. Science has to be rethought regarding origins and history. There is progress in this by young age creationists who have found they don’t have to turn to illogical ideas like the above to deal with the evidence. See this article by Robert Carter for a taste of this.
Dr. Coyne made an interesting point about the Homo Divinus idea above, “Of course there’s still a historical problem here: how did this pair of annointed farmers bring the curse of sin on humanity by contravening God’s will?” Dr. Coyne seems to reject Genesis altogether, but he raises a good point. Without a literal Adam and Eve, there is no explanation for what went wrong with the human race to make us need a savior!

Scripture is clear in teaching that Adam and Eve were real people. We cannot give up on the early chapters of Genesis about Adam & Eve, the Fall, and the Flood. First of all, if Adam was not a real person, why does Genesis 5 give his age? Also, who was Seth and Cain? 1 Chronicles 1 also lists Adam in the longest geneology in the Bible, thus implying he was a real person. Hosea 6:7 also mentions Adam. The New Testament mentions Adam even more than the Old Testament. In Luke 3:38 Adam is listed in Jesus’ geneology. In Romans 5:14 Adam is mentioned in the same sentence with Moses. Do we also question the existence of Moses? The Apostle Paul refers to Adam explicitly as the “first man” in 1 Corinthians 15 and in 1 Timothy 2:13 Paul says Adam was formed first, then Eve. So clearly the Apostle Paul accepted Genesis literally about Adam and Eve. Furthermore, there is no way you can make the creation of Adam and Eve from Genesis 2 agree with evolution.

We must resist Christian scholars or Christian scientists who confuse other Christians by questioning the early chapters of Genesis. The Bible hangs together logically and it is more certain and more authoritative than science. We can believe what it says, because God is able to do as He says.

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Science vs God Debate

Recently there was a debate in New York City between two men arguing from science against the existence of God and two who apparently who were arguing for God’s existence.  This is described in an article on Foxnews.com, “Science vs. God:  does progress trump faith?”  It’s interesting who was in this debate.  Lawrence Krauss is a well-known physicist from Arizona State University and Michael Shermer is a founding publisher of Skeptic magazine.  Krauss and Shermer argue against God’s existence.  On the “God side” was Dinesh D’Souza and Ian Hutchinson.  D’Souza is well known for the 2016 documentary movie and Ian Hutchinson is a professior of nuclear engineering at MIT.  D’Souza and Hutchinson argued for the compatibility of science and religion.  But they don’t particulary argue for Christianity specifically.  Their opponents picked up on this.  I have some simpathy for atheists in some issues because the arguments of Christian apologists sometimes leave me unsatisfied.  I didn’t actually see the debate, so I’m only going by the article on Foxnews.  Don’t get me wrong, D’Souza made good points.  There is much good being done by modern Christian apologists mostly because they are having success at being heard.

But, sometimes they don’t give adequate answers because they don’t go far enough in arguing specifically for Christianity and specifically for the truth of the Bible.  There are things that require the Biblical answers in order to have a complete answer.  Also, it is not adequate to treat all religions as sort of “equal.”  The atheists at the debate pointed out that both the men representing the “God” side were Christians, so that meant they rejected all the religions in the world except one.  The atheists said they were asking them to reject one more.  Obviously Christians can’t oblige on this.  The God of the Bible is unlike the gods of all other religions.

Science cannot disprove God and science cannot really prove anything about origins.  Science can prove things that can be reproduced by experiment today, but the origin of things is not like that.  Science studies origins to determine the plausibility of the various possibilities.  Many Christian apologists fail in not rejecting evolution and the Big Bang.  Christians are called to stand on all the truth, not just part of it.  We won’t get respect for giving a mixed or contradictory message.  This is the actual impression of Christians that skeptics and nonchristians very often have.  The skeptics have the right to criticize the contradictory incoherent messages that Christian’s sometimes have about what they believe and why they believe it.

The Foxnews article says that D’Souza made the statement, “The last good argument against God came out in the 1850s.”  D’Souza was referring to Charles Darwin’s book, Origin of Species.  But Darwin was wrong.  There has never been a good argument against the existence of God.  Often arguments against God’s existence are based on misunderstandings of Biblical concepts, or they are based on evolution.  In the debate, physicist Lawrence Krauss said, “500 years of science have demonstrated that God, that vague notion, is not likely.”  Perhaps for some God is a “vague notion,” but it should not be like that for any Christian.  Christians should know better than to allow God to be a vague notion.  The God who created the universe has spoken to mankind and given us the answers we need in the Bible.  We have in the Bible much more than vague notions!  We may not always have all the information to fully answer some scientific or archeological questions regarding things in Bible.  But that doesn’t disprove the Bible.  In the light of all the wonderful confirmations of the Bible from science and archeology, we should be glad for the answers we have.

Krauss was apparently thinking of the evidence from modern science supporting evolution and the Big Bang.  Many of Darwin’s conclusions were unwarranted from the actual evidence.  In fact, he didn’t even make very good observations in ways because he didn’t keep adequate records.  Since Darwin, scientists have been locked into a wrong way of thinking.  Creationists have pointed out a number of things that not only refute evolution but also argue specifically for the truth of the Bible.  If the Bible is really true, there must be historical and scientific evidence that supports it.  That does not mean the evidence proves the Bible.  It doesn’t actually have to technically “prove” it to give people plenty of reason to believe it.  Also, Christianity is not just borne out by objective things like scientific evidence.  It explains life better than other religions.  This part is not as obvious and many Christian apologists don’t address this aspect enough.

The most interesting thing perhaps in the Foxnews article is the polling of the audience at the debate, at the end of the article.  Krauss and Shermer increased their votes about who won the debate from 37% (before the debate) to 50% (after the debate).  But D’Souza and Hutchinson only increased their votes from 34% to 38%.  This implies we need to do a better job at engaging people.  But, it probably also implies it takes more than a debate or a lecture to change someone’s mind.

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Meaningless?

One of my favorite books in the Old Testament is Ecclesiastes, written by King Solomon of ancient Israel.  Solomon was well known in the ancient world for his wisdom and his riches.  But when his sons took over the kingdom after him, the kingdom of Israel split into two nations and went downhill dramatically.  Following are some of my thoughts on the book of Ecclesiastes.  If you haven’t read it, give it a read.  It is a book sometimes misunderstood I think.

How interesting that a book of the Bible should start out with the words, “Meaningless, meaningless, . . . everything is meaningless (Eccl. 1:2).”  The book of Ecclesiastes is a very thought-provoking book.  It is written I think from the perspective of Solomon, who, late in his life, was looking back with some regrets.  I suspect he was trying to write something to get through to people with a sort of secular mindset.  Late in the life of Solomon was a bad time in the history of Israel.  After Solomon’s sons grew up the kingdom split into Northern and Southern kingdoms under their leadership.  Solomon’s sons did not lead the nation to follow God.  I suspect Solomon looked with angst on what was happening to the nation and to the lives of his sons.  So, Solomon wrote something that you might think of as preevangelism, something intended to get the reader to think about the meaning of life.  Ecclesiastes makes you think about what you’re living for and what really makes life worth living.  It seems to me Solomon sort of switches perspectives sometimes throughout the book, sometimes writing from the “secular” or unbelieving mindset, and sometimes from the believing mindset.  Thus, Ecclesiastes makes its points in sometimes subtle ways.  If you don’t see what it is implying about God it can seem like a depressing read.  Especially the first two chapters.  But there is a good and encouraging message from Ecclesiastes.

Chapter 1 in verse 9 has the well known verse saying “there is nothing new under the sun.”  It mentions the various cycles of life in nature and the fact the man sort of goes through an endless repetitive routine in living his life.  When you view it on this level and consider only the material side of life, it can appear very empty and futile.  I think Ecclesiastes should be viewed similar to the Proverbs.  There are statements in Proverbs that should not be taken as absolutely true in all circumstances, but they are generally true in many cases.  It is making generalizations that are not intended as absolute statements that apply to all people everywhere all the time.  (Not everything in the Bible can be taken this way, but Proverbs and Ecclesiastes can be.)  Then there are other types of statements in Ecclesiastes that are expressions of feeling about how life seems, not meant to be taken as actual fact about the world.   Thus, in understanding Ecclesiastes we must understand it is making generalizations from a particular perspective.  Also, because it changes perspective, almost like changing worldviews, it looks at life in different ways in turn.

In the end of chapter 1 and on into chapter 2 Solomon comments about how even seeking wisdom and knowledge as well as seeking pleasure can seem meaningless.  In understanding the injustices of life and all the ways that life falls short of what it should be, there is sorrow.  This may be what Solomon implied in 1:18, “with much wisdom comes much sorrow.”  Yet seeking pleasure and having everything a man’s heart desires doesn’t satisfy either.  Chapter 2 verse 17 says Solomon hated life!  Solomon was fantastically rich and had owned everything and done everything a man could ask for.  In 2:2 Solomon says laughter is foolish and asks “what does pleasure accomplish?”  Even accomplishing great building projects did not satisfy.  The thing that is missing is a spiritual element that will be hinted at in later chapters of Ecclesiastes.  Solomon eventually comes to the conclusion that what makes life meaningful is to accept the good things given to us by God and live a life of obedience to Him (see Ecclesiastes 12:13-14).

In some sections of Ecclesiastes Solomon looks at things from a kind of cynical angle that is very centered on only this life, as if our Earthly existence is all there is.  And the way he describes life in those sections does not seem to acknowledge God but treats earthly life as if God doesn’t really have relevance.  But in other sections he acknowledges God and does treat life as if God is relevant and as if there is more to life than what we sense in this life.  Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes is like this.  3:1 starts out “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”  Who’s perspective is this?  Does this make sense from a human perspective?  I don’t think so.  Continuing on to verse 10 it describes the burden God has laid on men.  Then in v 11 it says He (God) has “made everything beautiful in its time.”  This is suggesting God’s providential purpose in events that seem mystifying to us.  So, when it refers to “a time for everything“, or “a time for . . . ” particular things, I think the real point is that there is a purpose in all kinds of things in life.  Both the good and the bad things that people do are wrapped into God’s providential purpose for history.  God has “set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done . . . .(Eccl. 3:11)”  Sometimes people have taken this list of “a time for ” this and that to be a sort of implication that everything is ok, as if there is no right and wrong.  But verses 2-8 do not deny right and wrong.  Man has a burden of responsibility to do what’s right even though all types of things will happen around us which God allows.  We have responsibiltiy, but God is still sovereign.  This chapter is I think Solomon presenting the wonder of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility in comparison and contrast.  Verses 15 and 17 also both mention accountability to God as the judge of men.  So Solomon says the best you can do in this life is to enjoy the work God has given you and live life acknowledging Him.  Why does God want men (3:18-19) to realize that they are like the animals, that they have the same material fate as the animals?  Verse 21 sounds like a statement that an agnostic would make.  (I was once an agnostic.)  It’s like saying “who knows what happens after you die?”  I think this is a way of saying God wants people to see beyond our material life and realize this life does matter.  That we are not just animals and there is something eternal that matters for us.

Chapter 5 seems to be about having a healthy attitude toward possessions, money, and government.  The pursuit of material possessions and riches is an empty thing.  The more you have the more you want, unless you learn to have contentment with what you have.  If you have more money, you spend more and so people have a tendancy to run out of money however much they make.  We must learn to stop the spiraling pursuit before it destroys us.  Who sleeps better, the one who engages in hard physical labor but only has enough to live or the rich person, who has all kinds of things they have dreamed of having?  It is often the poor laborer who sleeps better and has more peace.  When you have less you learn contentment better.  The answer to the emptiness of the material pursuit is to appreciate what you have as a gift from God.  Thus, Solomon says “when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart. (Eccl. 5:19) ”  Be content with what you have.  How long did it take Solomon to learn this?  A lifetime apparently.

Ecclesiastes is written to help people ask spiritual questions about what life is all about.

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Contending with Critics

September 29, 2012 I attended a great conference in Dallas called Contending with Christianity’s Critics.  It was at Watermark Community Church in Dallas (click for Watermark church website).  It was a great conference.  It makes me think about the fact that as Christians we have been given so much but the unbelieving world has no idea what they are lacking. Too often Christians have to pursue studying apologetics outside their own church because it is not taught inside the church.  Apologetics is thought of as answers to the challenges from nonchristian scholars and atheists.  But, usually the skeptics are not really looking for answers, the Christians are.  Christians are looking for answers because they’ve heard the skeptics and aren’t sure what to think about what they’ve heard.  Christians are sometimes a little rattled by challenging questions from nonchristian scholars.  Questions from friends or even kids can be just as challenging also.  It is a bit disturbing some of the ideas we hear from our culture today, often proposed deliberately to make people question Christianity.  The nonchristian skeptics do need the answers, but it seems to take a miracle to get them to look for the answers or be open enough to seriously consider them.  There aren’t many nonchristian skeptics who go to apologetics conferences, though there may be a few.  It is the Christians who go to them.  It was said that there were over 3,000 attenders at the Contending with Christianity’s Critics conference in Dallas.  It was great to see such a turn-out.  The email I got before the conference said they were sold out.  So, we Christians need to find ways to pass on reasons for our faith to nonchristians around us who do not go to where the answers are.

Today people have become so skeptical of there being any truth people can rely on.  But there seems to be a resurgence of interest in apologetics.  There is a whole new slate of individuals who are great speakers on apologetics.  At the Dallas conference here is a list of the speakers and their topics.

  • Todd Wagner, “The Importance of Apologetics for Every Believer and Every Church”
  • Greg Koukl, “Bad Arguments Against Religion”
  • Dan Wallace, “How Badly Did the Early Scribes Corrupt the New Testament?”
  • Frank Turek, “If God Exists, Why Does He Allow Evil?”
  • John Stonestreet, “Defense and Offense:  The Call to Care for Culture”
  • Ravi Zacharias, “The End of Reason: A Response to the New Atheists”
  • William Lane Craig, “Richard Dawkins on Arguments for God’s Existence”

I’ll just point out some highlights.  Todd Wagner, pastor of Watermark Church, was good in pointing out that love is more important than knowing answers.  It should lead back to the gospel and to what people really need.

Greg Koukl, from the ministry Stand to Reason , had a lot of good points that could be of practical help in talking to nonchristians.  I like the way he described how faith works.  Evidence gives us knowledge (such as knowledge about planes for instance).  Then based on the knowledge you act in trust (such as getting on a plane).  So Biblical faith is not a “blind” leap, but a step taken with knowledge of what you are doing.  Another good thing from Koukl was what if someone says “Christians are stupid.”  What do you say to that?  How about this?  “Ok, so let’s grant for the sake of the argument that Christians are indeed stupid (they certainly can be).”  Now, so what?  That doesn’t deal with anything.  The question is, is Christianity true?  The truth of Christianity does not really depend on how good or how smart Christians are.

Dan Wallace is an expert on textual criticism and New Testament manuscripts.  He showed some reasons why we can have confidence in the New Testament.  One thing I didn’t realize was about when the King James Bible was written compared to what we have today.  Some skeptics will try to claim that because of all the variant manuscripts and copying errors in the Greek New Testament, we can’t know what the original really said.  But consider this.  In 1611 the number of Greek manuscripts the translators had to go on was only seven manuscripts!  Today, we have over 5800!  So this means you can figure out where the copying mistakes were and know real well what the text should really say.  He also talked about the famous “number of the beast” in Revelation, about the antichrist.  Wallace says there are some Greek manuscripts that say the number is 616 instead of 666.  He said he has personally examined some of these manuscripts and he is not sure which number it should be.  He kind of left this as a mystery.  There are a few things like that about the New Testament manuscripts.  But they don’t create serious problems.

Frank Turek spoke about answering atheism.  He is from crossexamined.org and ImpactApologetics.com .  He dealt with a number of things but what I thought was especially good was about the question, “Why doesn’t God take away evil?”  If God took away all evil, that would mean humans would not have free will.  We’d be like robots, which God does not want.  So God gives people time to respond to him and then eventually he will put an end to all evil.  But our sin has to be dealt with first.

John Stonestreet is from the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.  See Breakpoint.org or colsoncenter.org.  I had not heard Stonestreet before.  He reminded me a lot of Chuck Colson and Francis Scheaffer.  He addressed the loss of values in our culture and how the truth is sort of drowned out by many other things.  I like something he said, “Christianity is a way of being human in God’s world.”

Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig were some of the “big guns” of the conference.  Both were top notch.  It was a privilege hearing Ravi Zacharias in person.  He described our society as without shame, without reason, and without meaning.  His talk was much deeper than just this but this stood out to me.  William Lane Craig did his presentation with an empty chair for atheist Richard Dawkins, similar to Clint Eastwood at the Republican National Convention.  Dawkins would not really have sound answers to the arguments for God’s existence.  Dr. Craig is very knowledgable about philosophers ideas on the subject of God’s existence.  No wonder Dawkins hasn’t debated Dr. Craig.

I’d recommend these speakers, though I would not agree completely with William Lane Craig about the Big Bang or Genesis.  Young age creationism is usually left out of apologetics conferences.  I think this should not be.  But I am glad these men are out there.  They are doing a lot of good.

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