As a lay apologist, often times I feel confronted by a lack of authority. What I mean is, I don't have a seminary degree. I have the privilege of learning from some of the brightest men and women in the apologetics community, but to others I'm just a regular guy and that's fine because it serves a greater purpose - that regular men and women can be good Christian case makers.
However, when leading an apologetics group, this can lead to some unique challenges. Participants may ask "what makes this guy so knowledgeable?" or "well, that's just his opinion". So when writing material for a class, I like to prevent what I call "apologetics in a vacuum." I never want to give the impression that what I am sharing is just something I've come up with. But I also want to develop the skill of creating my own material to better improve my grasp of apologetics. So how does one deal with this apparent conundrum?
What I have found helpful is to treat each talk like a jury trial with a list of expert witnesses. For example, I may be speaking on eyewitness reliability. I lay out the case of why the apostles are reliable, but then I show a quick clip of J. Warner Wallace speaking on how to test eyewitnesses to make sure you can trust their testimony. Or If I'm speaking on the KCA, I may show another clip of William Lane Craig explaining the KCA.
In this way, not only do I write my own presentation going over the subject material, but I have the benefit of providing expert witnesses to demonstrate that what I am presenting is a proper argument for the subject at hand. The participants also have the added benefit of learning of other more learned apologists whom they can further their studies with outside of the group.
But it should be noted not to rely too heavily on expert witnesses as the group needs to have the confidence that YOU understand the material you're presenting and can discuss any questions that may arise. In the end, I feel like this method is good for the lay apologist to prevent the belief that you only posses a myopic view of the subject but are instead a student of the apologists you are seeking to emulate.
I must confess something. As a Christian, I was embarrassed by the supernatural. What I mean is I discounted God's intervention in our everyday lives. It was reflected in my prayer life and my thought life. Now I believed God still performed miracles, but I assumed that when I prayed about an issue, that God would give me an answer that was the equivalent of gathering Manna while discounting how the Manna got there in the first place. I thought answers came in making the right decision or what amounted to God's providence. It never really entered my mind to pray earnestly for a Miracle.
Then, I got a copy of Lee Strobel's new book, The Case For Miracles. This is one of Lee's best books to date. This book challenged me in ways I never saw coming. Interviewing people from all belief spectrum's like skeptic Michael Shermer or theologian Craig Keener, Lee craftily takes you on a journey showing that not only are miracles possible, but they are happening all over the world and with more frequency than we every imagined. Lee tells a story about a pastor named Duane Miller. Duane had lost the use of his voice after a bout with the flu. But the flu had left his vocal cords so scarred, he could only speak with a rasp. He resigned his pastorate and then lost his new job due to his inability to testify in open court.
Duane's case was medically hopeless. Even a college of Swiss Doctor's saw no hope of recovery. One day, Duane's Sunday School class asked him to preach to them - even with his raspy voice. They always recorded their Sunday School lessons and this day was no different. After reading from the Psalms, Duane suddenly regained his voice! You can hear the sounds of joy and the weeping of Duane's wife as he struggled to grasp what had happened. I remember hearing this 20 years ago and this story still moved me. But Duane's miraculous story is but one of many Lee relates. Lee also speaks about what happens when miracles do not occur. The book does not shy away from objections to the miraculous and the supernatural, but takes them head on to see if they have merit.
This book is challenging to the modern, American Christian and will renew your awe and wonder of the awesome and mighty God we serve.
This book is a must read.
When I was a kid, I was a big fan of the Osmonds (yes, cool points subtracted). I watched the Donny and Marie show every Friday night. This was where I first heard about Mormons. Later, I saw commercials for the LDS church offering the Book of Mormon as a free gift. It was advertised as another testament of Jesus Christ.
Now, I was still a bit confused since I'd never heard before that Jesus visited the Americas after His resurrection which was one of the beliefs of the LDS church that was presented. It wasn't until a few years later I became familiar with the LDS church and knew Mormons personally. You've probably seen a few Mormon missionaries from time to time in your neighborhood and maybe even had a few knock on your door. We all wonder what to say to them as they claim to be Christians just like us, but have a very different set of beliefs. A new book by general editors Eric Johnson and Sean McDowell gives some strategies for sharing the Gospel with Mormons you may know or encounter.
Sharing the Good News with Mormons is a book featuring many different Christian speakers and pastors, from Matt Slick to Mark Mittelberg, who offer different strategies for sharing the Gospel with your Mormon neighbor, co-worker, or the missionary at your door. The approach the authors take is both relational as well as tactical. It is designed to help you not just share information, but to do so in a relational way so as to be winsome and persuasive to members of the LDS church. For example, did you know that Mormons do not like their church to be referred to as the "Mormon Church"? They prefer being called the LDS church or the longer Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. These tidbits of knowledge can help you navigate Mormon culture so as to not step on any landmines before you even get started.
With 22 chapters that are divided up into 6 sections, the book makes it easy for the reader to study those methods that appeal to him/her. There is even an appendix with definition of Mormon terms.
One chapter that speaks to my preferred tactic is by Cold Case Homicide Detective and apologist J. Warner Wallace.
Investigating Mormonism: The Case Making Approach
As a detective, Jim Wallace used his skills to investigate cold case homicides - cases where the original eyewitnesses were long deceased and there were no pieces of direct evidence. All he had to go by were the original case notes. As an atheist, Jim decided to apply this methodology to the New Testament. As his step siblings were all LDS members, he also investigated Mormonism and found it lacking evidentially, though he found that orthodox Christianity was both rich in evidence for its' claims and rational in its' descriptions. "What does the evidence suggest about Mormonism?"
Jim points out that criminal investigations focus on five key aspects of criminal activity:
Is there any evidence that Joseph Smith defrauded the public? Here are just a few pieces:
Taken with the other pieces of evidence, you are presented with a cumulative case against Mormonism. It is this same approach that presented Jim with the case for Christianity.
There are many other methodologies in the book which is what makes it such a great resource as we are able to use our gifts well by plugging into one or several methods that fit us.
This is fantastic book that I highly recommend and that I hope you will pick up to begin learning to share the Gospel with those of the LDS church with grace, knowledge, and wisdom.
In 1984, I was a 13 year old Martial Arts nut. So when The Karate Kid opened in theaters, naturally I attended. In my hometown, there were local karate dojos putting on demonstrations - attempting to garner new students after they watch the spectacular crane kick ending.
The movie premise was simple - kid moves to new city, meets girl, evokes the ire of the local bullies, meets a wise old sage and karate master and defeats the bullies and wins the girl. For years, this was the beloved story. But in recent years, fan theories have popped up claiming that it was in fact Daniel LaRusso who was the bully.
With the new YouTube series, Cobra Kai, we see a down on his luck Johnny Lawrence become a sympathetic character who reopens the Cobra Kai dojo and begins training a new crop of Cobras. As he and Daniel meet again, we hear how things weren't always so rosey for Johnny and how he saw Daniel as butting in on his attempts to win back his girl and sucker punching him in the process. You see, Johnny was only defending himself.
The character of Johnny Lawrence refuses to see his actions as evil. It's all about Johnny's point of view vs Daniel's. But we see that Johnny was in fact an abusive, controlling boyfriend who couldn't handle a breakup. His violent reaction to Alli [played by Elizabeth Shue in the original film] was something Daniel felt was wrong and he stepped in. Johnny became angry and pushed Daniel to the ground and a fight ensued.
The new series presents Johnny's actions as only wrong from a certain point of view. However, at the time when Sensei Kreese told Johnny in the now iconic line to "sweep the leg", Johnny's reaction is evidence that he knew his actions were wrong and now, he is attempting to make peace with his past by denying the truth of his actions.
Cobra Kai itself is a fun series full of nostalgia for Karate Kid fans young and old alike. But the mixed moral tones fail to show that Johnny's own choices led to his demise and the state of his life. The only way to keep from blaming himself was to create demons that had wronged him. How often do we do the same thing? Did we blame snapping at our spouse on stress? Do we blame other drivers on the road when we give them a one-fingered salute?
Ultimately, what this shows us is that no matter how we attempt to justify our actions, we know innately that there is an objective moral standard that we are all subject to. And if we deviate from that standard, we have committed evil.
God's word is clear that His moral laws are known even by unbelievers:
For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16
This is what is bugging Johnny throughout the new series. He knows the wrong he's done, he knows the good he needs to do, but he still seeks to justify himself. Bu what Johnny needs is salvation through Christ. This may seem like a Sunday school answer, but the truth is apart from Christ, Johnny can do nothing. He cannot find peace and forgiveness. He cannot start anew. And this reminds us as Christians we need live a life of repentance and not justify our crimes against a Holy God, but measure ourselves by his perfect moral character and be willing to admit when we don't measure up.
25 years ago, Greg Koukl and Melinda Penner began a journey to bring clear thinking to Christianity to help believers engage the culture for Christ. That journey was called Stand To Reason.
In that time, Greg and Melinda have trained thousands of Christians with Greg's weekly broadcasts as well as the many speaking appearances Greg has made over the years. In that time, Greg has also written three books:
I can only tell you the impact Greg's ministry has had on my own life. When I began studying Christian apologetics, there was an overload of information for me. I began quickly to see the overwhelming evidence for Christianity, but dealing with questions and objections became another issue entirely. Then, I discovered Tactics.
Greg taught me more than tactics, he taught me HOW to think. Going from the content to the conversation, as he says, was exactly what I needed to help me organize the evidence but also to think carefully and consider the questions being posed and to give a thoughtful, concise, and gentle answer. It is why I, with many others around the world, support this ministry.
Stand to Reason has also seen many speakers come and go from the fold. I had a chance to speak briefly with Alan Shlemon, a speaker at STR, about the many speakers who had come and gone over the years and he brought out that every speaker that had left Stand to Reason to venture out where God had called them are now the Presidents of their own organizations dedicated to the specific issues God placed in their hearts.
Greg continues to influence young and old alike for the kingdom as he trains everyone from housewives to attorneys in clear Christian thinking.
I have had the great privilege of learning from many apologists but I have learned the most from Greg and his cadre of speakers at Stand To Reason.
So happy anniversary to everyone at Stand To Reason and here's to the next 25 years.
I went to see the recent Faithlife film "Fragments of Truth" featuring Dr. Craig Evans of Houston Theological Seminary and narration by John-Rhys Davies. This film deals with Textual Criticism of the Bible manuscripts.
Overall, this is a great film and I think the first documentary film that deals with this particular subject. When talking about the reliability of scripture, one does this on two planes - transmission and content. This film deals with the transmission of the NT. Featuring experts such as Daniel B. Wallace, Peter Williams, and others, the film deals with the shear number of full manuscripts we have of the NT along with the fragments themselves. The film also deals with the idea of variances in the New Testament text.
One claim made by Dr. Evans is that the NT texts lasted and were used for hundreds of years. This is controversial as it does not comport with facts presented by Paleography since the manuscripts themselves were written on papyrus, not parchment and lasted throughout the centuries because of the environmental conditions in Egypt where the majority of NT manuscripts were found. Those details were not included and must be understood so that it is not applied in a general sense when speaking about NT manuscripts but rather a result of the conditions present in Egypt.
There were two issues I personally did have with the film. First, the film itself didn't deal with the vast difference between other ancient texts and the Bible when talking about the number of manuscripts we have and the time between the manuscript and the original autographs. When compared with the works of Plato or Homer, the Bible has vastly more complete manuscripts and they are much closer to the original in their dating. This should give credence to the accuracy of the NT we have today and that we can know that the Bible you have in your hands is the one that was written 2000 years ago.
The other issue was the Council of Nicaea. There was an argument in the film that stated Constantine "forced the hand" of the council to make a decision concerning the canon. But this does not appear to be accurate as the council already had a canon in hand and were comparing other documents that had been circulating to see if they met the criteria to be considered canon as well (for example, St. Jerome included what is known as the Apocrypha).
It is widely believed that Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, but this is false. Constantine had become a Christian, but he outlawed the persecution of Christians and thereby created a religious freedom throughout the empire that hadn't existed before.
Fragments of Truth is a great film to see by yourself or with a group and should garner more study on the subject.
For more information on the film, visit Faithlife at https://faithlife.com/fragments-of-truth
On Thursday, the CA Assembly passed Bill 2943, a bill that assemblyman Evan Low claims is directed at so-called conversion therapy - therapy designed to change the sexual orientation of those in the LGBTQ community.
Low states that this bill is not designed to infringe upon religious freedoms or the ability to talk about or sell books on the subject. That the bill instead is designed to prevent the advertisement of such therapies as services and that such therapy claims are fraudulent. The bill claims that contemporary science recognizes that being a part of the LGBTQ community is "part of the natural spectrum of human identity and is not a disease, disorder, or illness.", but offers no scientific data for this claim. The bill then outlines a series of studies on conversion therapy that show the dangers of such therapy. While the debate on conversion therapy is one that is needed - even within the church - there is another issue at play in the bill.
When reading what the bill considers to be Sexual Orientation Change Efforts, we are given the following:
Contrast this with what the bill says is NOT a Sexual Orientation Change Effort:
i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.
(2) “Sexual orientation change efforts” does not include psychotherapies that: (A) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (B) do not seek to change sexual orientation.
This is troubling as the bill clearly denotes a difference between "practices" and "psychotherapies" on Sexual Orientation Change efforts. This could be used to include communicative efforts in Christian sermons, publications, or even individual conversations between a pastor and a congregant. A group could sue a Christian college using this law on the grounds that courses there teach students how to change sexual orientation by means of counseling or even by the study of the Bible itself. If this seems unlikely, it should be pointed out that the Roe v Wade decision was based on the concept of a citizen's "right to privacy" that SCOTUS rules is inferred by the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 14th amendments though the language of these amendments do not even speak on abortion nor were they intended to. If the language of a law is left vague enough, those seeking lawsuits can interpret such vague wording to include their grievances. So it would not be so unbelievable that HB2943 could be used for such purposes.
While the Bible itself may come out unscathed by such a law, Christian books that speak on Gay or Transgenders and how God can change a person's life would line up under the broad spectrum in this final statement of the bill.
This bill still needs to be approved by the California senate before going to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. It is doubtful it will live very long without a legal challenge, but it is unknown if such a challenge would succeed in defeating the bill or if it would become California law. If it is allowed to stand, then state courts will not only begin to rule on the validity of LGBTQ orientations but would outlaw any attempts to argue against such orientations by circumventing the 1st amendment on the grounds such efforts would be fraudulent. Such a law could then be coming to a state near you.
There is now a popular argument against Christianity whereby a skeptic states that "I don't think the truth of Christianity follows if Jesus rose from the dead, it just shows a man rose from the dead".
There are a few issues with this argument, but the one glaringly obvious one is that as a rule, people do not rise from the dead. Popular shows like The Walking Dead tell stories of dead bodies becoming reanimated, but they are still in a sense dead. The Highlander tells the story of a man named Connor MacLeod who is an immortal - that is, when he is killed, he rises again (unless you cut off his head).
Both of these are not what the Bible means when they refer to resurrection. The resurrection was more than Christ coming back from dead. Christ had raised Lazarus during his ministry. But Lazarus died again. The dead who rose at the end of Matthew's Gospel died again. But Jesus is alive and does not die again. In fact, His body was changed to a glorified body - showing His wounds as evidence that He was the Christ and to glorify His sacrifice for sins. The proof text of this is in 1 Corinthians 15
"So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven."
But, there is also the fact that Jesus predicted His own death and resurrection and told this to the disciples. If Jesus really performed all of these miracles, proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God, predicted His death and resurrection from the dead and then in fact was crucified, died, and was buried and rose three days later as He predicted, there are no other reasonable explanations that explain this other than He in fact was the Son of God. It then naturally follows that what He said was true. This includes His teachings from the OT. It also follows that His disciples proclaimed His teachings and were willing to die for what they heard and saw.
This objection fails because it does not take into account what it means to be resurrected, Jesus life and ministry and the rarity of resurrection itself. The objection also does not give credible explanations that are backed by evidence. It's simply an alternate explanation. But, alternate explanations are not refutations as Greg Koukl of Stand To Reason so aptly states.
The Resurrection of Christ would be the most powerful piece of evidence for the truth of Christianity.
Several years ago, Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscipts revealed that a fragment of the Gospel of Mark had been found. Early investigations seemed to reveal that the manuscript may in fact be from the 1st Century AD. Many years have passed since that first announcement and many of us in the apologetics field have been waiting with baited breath on the results.
Recently, Dr. Gary Habermas of Liberty University revealed in a talk given at Purdue University that paleographical tests revealed that the fragment is believe to be dated from 80-110 AD. You can see Dr. Habermas' lecture below.
So what does this mean? If this date is correct, it means that we now have textual evidence that the Gospels we not written late (4th century) as many skeptics and popular novels have suggested and that they were most likely written within the lifetime of the eyewitnesses.
To give an idea, the apostle John was said to be a teenager during Jesus' ministry. Jesus was crucified between 29-33 AD. John was believed to have been exiled to Patmos around 90 AD. Mark is believed to have been written in Rome during the 50's AD and is believed to be one of the first Gospels written (Matthew being the other).
This would add to the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts as being true eyewitness accounts of the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It would also debunk critics who say this were all later inventions of the church.
Often, people may ask how to show that Buddhism is false or what’s a good argument against Hinduism or the New Age, etc. But in the end, one doesn’t necessarily have to argue against those worldviews as much as they need to give an argument for the Resurrection of Jesus.
The Resurrection is the central tenet of the Christian faith. The Apostle Paul stated that:
And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1 Cor 15:14-19
What this means is that the implications of the resurrection weigh greatly upon the Christian worldview.
So what does it mean if Christ was resurrected?
1. The New Testament is true
The New Testament is the account of the eyewitnesses to Christ's life, ministry, and resurrection as well as the history of the early church as it pertains to the actions of the Apostles in the years immediately after the resurrection. It also contains letters from the Apostles to the surrounding churches in the Greco-Roman world. If a man claiming to be God in the flesh stated He would be crucified and rise again after three days and did so, this would be the greatest evidence He was telling the truth. So, if the resurrection is true, then the NT can be trusted as factual accounts of that truth.
2. The Old Testament is true
Since Jesus referenced the Old Testament as being true, His resurrection from the dead that verifies His identity as God in the flesh would also verify the claims He made about the veracity of the OT. This means that the oldest stories in the OT - including Adam and Eve - would be factual.
3. God is real
Obviously, if one doesn't believe in God, a man claiming to be God and rising from the dead would seem to indicate that God does exist. However, Jesus has stated that even this wouldn't convince the hardest skeptic. But this does not diminish the strong evidential nature of the resurrection, it only describes the skeptic's state of mind.
3. Heaven and Hell are real
Jesus teaching on the reality of Heaven, Hell, and a coming judgement can also be trusted as He spoke of them as real places and future events. This means that each person must give an account for the lives they have lead and Jesus' teaching on salvation takes center stage. His death for our sins and His resurrection show God's love for us and a pardon for our crimes. Then the choice is clear, either Christ can pay for our crimes or we can.
4. All other worldviews are false
The law of non contradiction states that two opposing ideas cannot both be true at the same time and the same way. The statement "all religions are basically the same" or "all religions are equally true" are patently false. However, they could all be false, even Christianity. But, the resurrection would be evidence that the Christian worldview is true and all others would be false given the identity of Jesus being confirmed by the resurrection.
If you can show good, historically reliable evidence for the resurrection (and there is), then you have done most of the work in showing all other worldviews are false and have shown the truth of Christianity as Paul stated so long ago:
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Cor 15 20-28