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Think Christianly

Think Christianly: December 2010

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Naturalistic evolution leaves no room for souls, free-will, and consciousness

"The important point about the standard evolutionary story is that the human species and all of its features are the wholly physical outcome of a purely physical process .... If this is the correct account of our origins, then there seems neither need, nor room, to fit any nonphysical substances or properties into our theoretical account of ourselves. We are creatures of matter. And we should learn to live with that fact." - Paul Churchland

"For the naturalist, there is in principle no scientific explanation as to how evolution, a strictly physical process operating on physical materials, could give rise to something utterly non-physical. How can unconscious, purposeless, mindless particles give rise to unified immaterial selves with internal mental states by simply rearranging according to strict physical laws? The naturalist simply has no answer to this question. By contrast, the Christian theist has an excellent answer as to how mind could arise in the course of events that constitute the history of the universe. For the Christian, personhood and, in fact, a Specific Person, is more fundamental to reality than matter. So it is no problem to conceive of a personal God creating finite personal selves by an act of His will. But no amount of study of matter will make it at all conceivable that physical stuff, all by itself, could give rise to mind." - J.P. Moreland

Naturalism, Christianity, and the Human Person by JP Moreland

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Which Jesus did we just celebrate?

"Students of Jesus today are faced with a multitude of options, ranging from the traditional Jesus who was Savior, Lord, and founder of the church, to a Jesus who was considerably different—a Jesus who was a sage, a religious genius or social revolutionary. These latter three portraits though clearly drawing their energies from live wires in the Gospels, leave us with a Jesus who is not big enough to explain his crucifixion, his following, or development of the Church. If we today are going to be honest about Jesus, we have to choose a Jesus who satisfies all the evidence historians have observed and who will also explain why it is that so many people have found him to be so wonderful that they attend churches every week to worship him."—Scot McKnight

This one: "But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord." - Luke 2:10-11

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How should we engage those who don't believe in God? (Video)

How should we engage those who don't believe in God or may even be hostile to what we believe? What should our attitude and approach be? (1 Peter 3:15)

For more on engaging those who don't believe in God, see my new book with Sean McDowell:

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Just Preach the Simple Gospel?

Is apologetics, philosophy, and worldview training really necessary? After all, shouldn't we just preach the simple gospel and leave all that intellectual stuff to the academics? Nancey Pearcey offers good insight here that I agree with:
"The ultimate goal is to preach the gospel. But the gospel is not simple to those whose background prevents them from understanding it. Today's global secular culture has erected a maze of mental barriers against even considering the biblical message" (Saving Leonardo, 15).
That is why we must help people see that faith is reasonable and that belief in God is not religious wishful thinking (2 Cor. 10:3-5)

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Friday, December 17, 2010

New Research from the Barna Group on the Theological Literacy of the Church

Here is some of the Barna Group's summary on the theological depth and biblical understanding and fidelity of the Christian church:
"The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate. What used to be basic, universally-known truths about Christianity are now unknown mysteries to a large and growing share of Americans--especially young adults. For instance, Barna Group studies in 2010 showed that while most people regard Easter as a religious holiday, only a minority of adults associate Easter with the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other examples include the finding that few adults believe that their faith is meant to be the focal point of their life or to be integrated into every aspect of their existence. Further, a growing majority believe the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power, but not a living entity. As the two younger generations (Busters and Mosaics) ascend to numerical and positional supremacy in churches across the nation, the data suggest that biblical literacy is likely to decline significantly. The theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency."
We have a lot of work to do (Eph. 4:11-16). For the other 5 megathemes from Barna in 2010, click here.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Is the God of the Old Testament a Moral Monster? An Interview with Paul Copan

Here is an excerpt from an interview with Philosopher of Religion Paul Copan on navigating the strange and sometimes troubling world of the Old Testament:

How did you become interested in thinking and writing about Old Testament ethics? In a nutshell, what are you trying to accomplish with this book?

A lot of atheists say that Christians don’t read the whole Bible, and at least in North America (where even professing Christians are increasingly biblically illiterate), this often seems to be the case. In an era when pastors like to “go topical” in their sermons to try to make the Scriptures “practical,” what often gets lost is the equipping of Christians to think deeply about the whole of Scripture. So, many of them are ill-equipped to respond when skeptics challenge them to interpret some of the strange-sounding levitical laws or seemingly bizarre ancient Near Eastern themes. Again, pastors and Christian leaders contribute to the problem by avoiding such texts and preaching on the more straightforward or comfortable-sounding texts.

As I began (in high school) the habit of through the Bible starting in high school, I myself found a number of Old Testament passages that were difficult to understand. They seemed to present a somewhat baffling and even troubling worldview with its purity laws and taboos, its harshness, its “patriarchy”—let alone servitude (“slavery”) and warfare.

Over the years I have sought to better understand this slice of the ancient Near Eastern world and context out of which the Messiah would come. As I have spoken on university campuses, students have increasingly raised questions regarding troubling Old Testament passages, and I found that accessible resources for a lay audience on this theme were glaringly absent. As one trained in both philosophy and biblical and theological studies, I thought I had something to contribute to the discussion I started to write about these themes in books like That’s Just Your Interpretation, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? and When God Goes to Starbucks (all with Baker Books)—not to mention journal articles in Philosophia Christi. This eventually led to a full-blown treatment of key Old Testament themes in the book Is God a Moral Monster? Given the strong commendations from Old Testament scholars like Christopher Wright, Gordon Wenham, and Tremper Longman, I find my thinking confirmed that this book has a special niche to fill.

As I have indicated, I wanted to make the available scholarly research on difficult (or obscure or misunderstood) Old Testament ethical topics accessible to a lay audience. And I don’t want to shy away from the troubling passages that critics—especially New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens—routinely accuse Christians of doing. (More...)
I think everyone will find something helpful in his new book--Is God a Moral Monster?

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Birth of Freedom (DVD)

How has the judeo-Christian worldview impacted civilization over the past 2000 years? More than is commonly understood. I have greatly enjoyed this series. It is really well done; and has some great interviews (e.g., Rodney Stark). Christianity is good news for the world!


Based on the popular documentary The Birth of Freedom, this seven-session DVD study, designed for use with the Birth of Freedom Participants Guide, shows the biblical roots of the concept of freedom and debunks the notion that Christianity held back the development of Western civilization. You willl learn about the historical development of the concept of freedom and see how it grows out of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Secular elites have long dictated the terms of Western history. Along the way, they have convinced many that the West is free and prosperous in spite of our Christian heritage. The Birth of Freedom video curriculum provides you with an invaluable tool for countering this revision of history and better grounding your faith in the biblical vision of freedom.

Sessions include: 1. A Civilization without Slaves 2. The Quest for Political Freedom 3. The Myth of the Dark Ages 4. Pilgrims Progress 5. The Abolitionists 6. The Tale of Two Revolutions 7. Relativism vs. Religion

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Monday, December 13, 2010

The latest on Prop 8 challenge in California (Same-Sex Marriage Debate)

Recovering the Real Lost Gospel by Darrell Bock

The Gospel is Good News! In Darrell Bock's new book, he provides a rich Biblical and Theological discussion of the Good News. This is a clear, crisp, and deeply biblical discussion of the message our world needs to hear (and only 176 pages!).
"What is the GOSPEL? Perhaps that seems like a foolish question. But Dr. Darrell Bock believes that the modern day Church is confused about what the Gospel really is.

"The gospel represents the Jesus community's core email to the world. Yet when I hear some people preach the gospel today, I am not sure I hear its presentation as good news. Sometimes, I hear a therapeutic call - that God will make us feel better or prosper more. Other times, I hear so much about Jesus paying for sin that the gospel seems limited to transacting debt removal, a kind of spiritual root canal. Still other times, I hear a presentation that makes the gospel seem more about avoiding something from God versus experiencing something with Him. Other presentations make me think Jesus came to change politics in the world. Such political presentations make me wonder why God did not send Jesus to Rome rather than Jerusalem. None of these is the gospel I see in the Scripture, though some are closer than others." - Darrell Bock, Recovering the Lost Gospel"
Check out this brief video:

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

New "Narnia" Film Stirs Religious Controversy

C.S. Lewis' classic series, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, opens this friday. And it is getting some headlines. ABC has an interesting article: "Case in point is Liam Neeson, who voices Aslan, the resurrected lion in the upcoming film. The actor said at a news conference last week that his character doesn't necessarily represent Christ. That might be news to Lewis, though, who wrote the opposite before he died in 1963...."Aslan symbolizes a Christlike figure, but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries," Neeson said.


Ahh yes...the old "all religions basically teach the same thing" and "that may be true for you but not for me" slogans at work once again in pop-culture. But this is instructive--look at what Neeson says: "but he also symbolizes for me Mohammed..." He subjectivizes the claim. He is no longer talking about reality out there somewhere (objective reality) but rather his own preferences, feelings, and tastes (subjective). As a matter of historical record it would be hard to find two historical figures more different than Jesus (who forgave and died for his enemies) and Mohammed (who killed his enemies and died for no one). I don't say this because I am a Christian or because I want to belittle Islam--this is simply a fact of history. And, regardless of preferences, no one (not even celebrities with cool voices) has the ability or authority to redefine reality according to their own desires.

Read the rest of the article here.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

I came across a helpful article on this by Philosopher of Religion, Doug Groothuis:

Muslims and Christians both worship one God, and many would argue that they are the same God. Are they?

Muslims and Christians: How to Get Along?

They both believe in one personal and transcendent God who has sent his prophets into the world. They both believe in sacred writings that record the prophetic revelations. They both believe that Jesus was a prophet who was sinless and born of a virgin. And they both worship with these beliefs firmly in place. We are speaking of Muslims and Christians, whose members comprise the two largest monotheistic religions in the world.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have become fascinated with the beliefs and practices of Islam, which is thefastest growing religion in the world, with approximately 1.3 billion adherents. Increasingly, Muslims are immigrating to the West. In various American cities, it is not uncommon to find mosques — many of them newlybuilt — and to see women in the traditional Muslim dress mingling with American women dressed quite differently.

In light of this, many Westerners wonder what do Muslims believe and why. They also question the relationship between Islam and Christianity. Do Muslims and Christians worship the same God, but merely in different ways? Should Christians seek to present their beliefs to Muslims in the hope that the Muslim might forsake Islam and embrace Christianity? Or is this simply a waste of time at best or rude at worst?

Many instruct us to be "tolerant" and to refrain from "proselytizing" anyone. In the name of tolerance, some people say that Christians and Muslims should coexist without trying to convert (or otherwise challenge) each other because "Christians and Muslims worship the same God." This, many believe, should be good enough for Muslims and Christians. Many also believe this arrangement is good enough for the God they both worship as well. If both religions worship the same God, why should they worry about each other's spiritual state?

Religion, God and Truth

If indeed Muslims and Christians worship the same God, there would be little need for disagreement, dialogue, and debate between them. If I am satisfied to shop at one grocery store and you are satisfied to shop at another store, why should I try to convince you to shop at my store or vice versa? Do not both stores provide the food we need, even if each sells different brands? The analogy is tidy, but does it really fit? Deeper questions need to be raised if we are to settle the question of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. First, what are the essential teachings of Christianity and Islam? Second,what does each religion teach about worshipping its God? Third, what does each religion teach about the other religion? That is, do the core teachings of Islam and Christianity assure their adherents that members of the other religion are fine as they are because both religions "worship the same God"?

In When Religion Becomes Evil (Harper. San Francisco, 2002), Charles Kimball argues that Christians and Muslims do indeed worship the same God. Kimball rightly observes that truth claims are foundational for religion. But he claims that believers err when they hold their religious beliefs in a "rigid" or "absolute" manner. So, he argues, when some Christians criticize the Islamic view of God (Allah) as deficient, they reveal their ignorance and bigotry. Kimball asserts that "there is simply no ambiguity here. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity" (p. 50). This is because the Qur'an affirms that Allah inspired the Hebrew prophets and Jesus. Moreover, the Arabic word "Allah" means "God." Are Professor Kimball and so many others who echo similar themes correct? In search of a reasonable answer, we will briefly consider the three questions from the last paragraph.

Christianity and Islam: The Claims, the Logic, and the Differences

First, what are the teachings that each religion takes to be absolutely true? Although Islam and Christianity are both monotheistic, their views of God differ considerably. Islam denies (MORE)

For a great resource on understanding Islam, see The Ambassador's Guide to Islam by Alan Shlemon

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Monday, December 6, 2010

What Are the 'Lost' Gospels and Were They Left Out of the Bible?

In 1945, fifty two papyri were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Lower Egypt and some of these texts had the word ‘gospel’ in the title. Now Scholars have known about these and other 2nd - 4th century documents for a long time, but only recently has the general public been introduced to them. This has caused quite a bit of controversy and speculation. Why?

Our culture is generally skeptical of authority and enjoys a good conspiracy theory; sprinkle in some high definition documentaries around Easter and Christmas with titles like ‘Banned Books of the Bible’ and the recipe for confusion is complete. Was there a cover up by the Church? Were we lied to about Jesus?

These so called ‘lost gospels’ fall into two categories: (1) New Testament Apocrypha (2) Gnostic writings.

Apocrypha means ‘hidden things’. These writings tried to fill in the gaps about two periods of Jesus’ life—his childhood and the three days between his death and resurrection. The motivations for these works ranges from entertainment to the comprehensive redefinition of the Jesus revealed in the 1st century writings of the New Testament.

The first time I heard about these ‘lost gospels’, it honestly made me nervous…until I read them. The juiciest of the apocryphal writings is probably the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. Here are some things I discovered about Jesus’ childhood: he called a child an “unrighteous, irreverent idiot” (3:1-3). Another child bumped into Jesus, which aggravated him so much that Jesus struck him dead (4:1-2). Evidently those who provoked childhood Jesus fell dead a lot (14:3). No, I’m not making this up.

Then there are the Gnostic writings. Gnosticism can get kind of complicated, so here is a chart to help give you the basics of how different it was from the worldview of the New Testament (the Greek word gnosis means ‘knowledge’).

Orthodox Christianity


Only One God and Creator

Multiple Creators

The World, Body, Soul, and Spirit are Good

The World and Body are Evil. Only Spirit and Soul are Good

Jesus is Fully Human and Fully Divine

Jesus Only Appeared Human; He Was Only a Spirit Being

Jesus Came to Restore Relationships Broken by Sin

Ignorance, not Sin is the Ultimate Problem

Faith in Christ Brings Salvation (available to all)

“Special Knowledge” Brings Salvation (available to only a few)

The two most popular examples of Gnostic writings are the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Judas (yes, that Judas). Scholars are still debating Judas’s role in the betrayal of Jesus in this new gospel, but it is clear that he gets special access to some secret revelation from Jesus that the other disciples did not have.

The Gospel of Thomas wins the most scandalous passage award: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Saying 114). Again, not making this stuff up. Both of these documents were written long after the time of Jesus and his earliest followers.

The bottom line. These gospels were not lost to the early church; early Christians knew about them and rejected them for good reasons (cf. Irenaeus in A.D. 180). While historically interesting, these so called ‘lost gospels’ offer us nothing significant about the historical Jesus. The writings in the New Testament are still the earliest and most reliable witnesses to the words and works of Jesus.

For more on this and other issues exploring the truth of Christianity, see:

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Is Methodological Materialism Good For Science?

Here is a helpful post by Philosopher of Science, Angus Menuge:

Should science by governed by methodological materialism? That is, should scientists assume that only undirected causes can figure in their theories and explanations? If the answer to these questions is yes, then there can be no such thing as teleological science or intelligent design. But is methodological materialism a defensible approach to science, or might it prevent scientists from discovering important truths about the natural world? In my contribution to The Waning of Materialism (OUP, 2010), edited by Robert Koons and George Bealer, I consider twelve of the most common arguments in favor of methodological materialism and show that none of them is convincing.

Of these arguments, perhaps the most prevalent is the “God of the gaps” charge, according to which invoking something other than a material cause is an argument from ignorance which, like a bad script writer, cites a deus ex machina to save our account from difficulty. Not only materialists, but also many Christian thinkers, like Francis Collins, worry that appeal to intelligent design commits the God of the gaps fallacy.

As I argue, however, not only is an inference to an intelligent cause not the same as an inference to the supernatural, it is a mistake to assume that all gap arguments are bad, or that only theists make them. If a gap argument is based solely on ignorance of what might explain some phenomenon, then indeed it is a bad argument. But there are many good gap arguments which are made both by scientific materialists and proponents of intelligent design. For example, there is a gap between the fact of dinosaur extinction and processes known to be at work on earth at the time. Materialist scientists reasonably proposed that asteroid impact would bridge the gap, and went on to find independent confirmation of this hypothesis (shocked quartz in the Cretaceous boundary). Likewise, there may be a gap between a student’s musical ability and the CD he produces, leading one to conclude that he relied on the creative intelligence of other artists, something confirmed by further study of the tracks on the CD.

As Stephen Meyer has argued in his Signature in the Cell, intelligent design argues in just the same way, claiming not merely that the material categories of chance and necessity (singly or in combination) are unable to explain the complex specified information in DNA, but also that in our experience, intelligent agents are the only known causes of such information. The argument is based on what we know about causal powers, not on what we do not know about them.

Since the inference is based on known causal powers, we learn that the cause is intelligent, but only further assumptions or data can tell us whether that intelligence is immanent in nature or supernatural.It is a serious mistake to confuse intelligent design with theistic science, and the argument that since some proponents of design believe that the designer is God, that is what they are claiming can be inferred from the data, is a sophomoric intensional fallacy. By a similar argument (more...)

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Young Doubters Exit the Church

More than in previous generations, 20- and 30- somethings are abandoning the faith. Why? Drew Dyck offers some answers:

Some striking mile markers appear on the road through young adulthood: leaving for college, getting the first job and apartment, starting a career, getting married—and, for many people today, walking away from the Christian faith.

A few years ago, shortly after college, I was in my studio apartment with a friend and fellow pastor's kid. After some small talk over dinner, he announced, "I'm not a Christian anymore. I don't know what happened. I just left it."

An image flashed into my mind from the last time I had seen him. It was at a Promise Keepers rally. I remembered watching him worship, eyes pinched shut with one slender arm skyward.

How did his family react to his decision? I asked. His eyes turned to the ground. "Growing up I had an uncle who wasn't a Christian, and we prayed for him all the time," he said wistfully. "I'm sure they pray for me like that."

About that time, I began encountering many other "leavers": a basketball buddy, a soft-spoken young woman from my church's worship team, a friend from youth group. In addition to the more vocal ex-Christians were a slew of others who had simply drifted away. Now that I'm in my early 30s, the stories of apostasy have slowed, but only slightly. Recently I learned that a former colleague in Christian publishing started a blog to share his "post-faith musings."

These anecdotes may be part of a larger trend. Among young adults in the U.S., sociologists are seeing a major shift taking place away from Christianity. A faithful response requires that we examine the exodus and ask ourselves some honest questions about why.

Sons of 'None'

Recent studies have brought the trend to light. Among the findings released in 2009 from the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS), one stood out. The percentage of Americans claiming "no religion" almost doubled in about two decades, climbing from 8.1 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008. The trend wasn't confined to one region. Those marking "no religion," called the "Nones," made up the only group to have grown in every state, from the secular Northeast to the conservative Bible Belt. The Nones were most numerous among the young: a whopping 22 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds claimed no religion, up from 11 percent in 1990. The study also found that 73 percent of Nones came from religious homes; 66 percent were described by the study as "de-converts."

Other survey results have been grimmer. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book American Grace, released last month. They reported that "young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago)."

There has been a corresponding drop in church involvement. According to Rainer Research, approximately 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the age of 18 and 22. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be "disengaged" by the time they are 29. Barna Group president David Kinnaman described the reality in stark terms:

"Imagine a group photo of all the students who come to your church (or live within your community of believers) in a typical year. Take a big fat marker and cross out three out of every four faces. That's the probable toll of spiritual disengagement as students navigate through their faith during the next two decades." (Read the rest...)

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