Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Non-Sequitur of "Christian Music"

Disclaimer: I am a music snob. I admit it. I’m one of those people who “knows” that my own taste is intimately linked to some objective standard by which music ought to be evaluated. I often argue with some of my friends about whose aesthetic taste is more developed in this area. And of course, the answer is “mine.” I’m convinced of this. So much so that if at some point in my relationship with someone I find that that person is really into some band or musician that I deem “unworthy” of such devotion, it is often legitimately difficult for me to resist the temptation to then question this person’s position on matters totally unrelated to music. I realize this is not good. I’m working on it. Sort-of.

That said, there is something about the way evangelical Christians in our culture have approached this particular art for some time that strikes me as counter-productive and, frankly, a little offensive. Strong language, right? Hopefully what follows will show clearly what I mean.

The issue I have in mind has bothered myself and many other like-minded “snobs” for a long time, and it has created no end of tension within the evangelical community. Many otherwise level-headed members of this community—a community I proudly claim, mind you—have for years judged one another to varying degrees over this issue. Some call others “compromisers” for listening to music that is deemed too “secular,” while others label their brothers and sisters “legalists” for attempting to restrict the freedom of the believer. Rarely, however, have I seen anyone offer (much less defend) a clear explication of his or her reasons for holding such a position. My hope is that by taking both sides seriously, we might approach a perspective that is informed biblically and in keeping with the Spirit of Jesus.

I want to make the rather strong claim that the “Christian/secular” distinction in music is a false one, and further that the term “Christian music” is actually a non-sequitur. If you’re not familiar with the term, it is Latin for “does not follow.” It’s used to refer to ideas, arguments, etc., which begin with a set of assumptions and then derive from those a conclusion that does not follow logically. More generally, it refers to ideas which are paired together as though they belong that way, but which actually have nothing to do with one another. So what I’m saying is that the assumptions which lead to the Christian/secular divide do not in fact entail any such thing, and that the term “Christian music” is a pairing of mutually irrelevant ideas.

I was once at a concert and heard an artist generally thought of as being on the “Christian” side of the divide say something like this (paraphrasing): “I don’t make Christian music. There’s no such thing as Christian music. There’s good music and there’s bad music. I try to make good music.”

While I can’t speak for that artist’s intentions, what he said intrigued me and I’ve thought about it a lot since. What I suspect he meant is that what separates good and bad music is not whether it mentions Jesus. Rather, it is what virtually every non-Christian—and every Christian when they’re not wearing their religious hat—knows it is immediately: talent, originality, depth of feeling, honesty, soul, an ability to express what is common to humanity in a way that takes seriously our condition…in short, whether or not it’s art. Whether or not it talks about Jesus or even makes you feel good (for somehow, the latter has almost become sufficient for the label “Christian”) is just irrelevant.

It seems to me that we have taken the term “Christian,” redefined it, and then applied the new, watered-down version to our music. By “Christian,” we mean that the lyrics are “clean,” and that they speak of some aspect of a theistic worldview, though not much emphasis is placed on which aspect of this worldview—the basics generally suffice. By “clean,” we (apparently) mean that it avoids cussing and anything sexual, though some take it even further to mean that it must be in some sense “encouraging” or “uplifting.” In this way, even bands whose members in no way profess a Christian faith publicly, or who live lives any different from your average moderately successful musician, get radio play on “Christian” stations.

Conversely, any music which does not qualify for the new definition of Christian is labeled “secular,” which as far as I can tell is roughly synonymous with “immoral,” “wicked,” “carnal,” or even “liberal.” Whatever it means, it is strongly implied that the real Christian has no business listening to it, and that if they should be caught with Radiohead on their iPod, it’s reason to question their commitment.

I was once myself a victim of this misunderstanding. Like many others I know, I had the legalistic phase during which I got rid of the majority of my music library. My criteria for keeping something was roughly whether or not it was “Christian” in the above sense. Needless to say, I later regretted many of those decisions.

But of course, this definition has nothing to do with historic Christianity. There is nothing in the Christian message that is opposed to strong language or honest talk about sexuality and suffering. There’s also nothing that implies that the themes of our art must be limited to the specific revelations of our faith. Rather, the term “Christian,” as with so many things, actually refers to something much deeper, much less rigid, and much more profound. It refers to the rather astonishing claim that at the center of everything—our world, our values, our existence, our life, our death, our sex, our happiness, our pain, our meaning, the very universe itself—is the God-man Jesus Christ. And this is so whether or not we acknowledge or recognize His place there. Further, it is the claim that in creating us, God put into us something of Himself and His own creative capacity. It is His intention and His pleasure that we utilize this ability to its fullest extent. We are restricted only by the bounds of love itself, which is of course no restriction at all, but freedom.

Because we are made by Him to be like Him and in relationship with Him, when we encounter Him in our lives (whether or not we realize it’s Him), it resonates in us deeply. This is what happens when we experience true art, true creative expression. It literally feeds our soul, and speaks to us—if we will hear—of Him.

But what we have done in creating this Christian/secular distinction is limit the areas over which He has influence. We have, to quote another blog I read recently,1 made our music about the message rather than the art. But this is to misunderstand both the gospel itself and the nature of reality: the art is the message. Or at least part of it. To offer Jesus to the world wrapped in three chords, a hook, and a style borrowed from whatever “secular” musicians happen to be making money at the moment, is a bit like handing out tracts to hungry people. They’ll never grasp the message until they are fed. When we take the central truths of the Christian faith and dress them in cheap clich├ęs, overproduced pop music, and vague sentimentality, the result is anything but Christian. It’s just bad music.

In his essay “Christian Apologetics” in God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis says, “What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects--with their Christianity latent.” His point here is that the Christian apologist will make much more progress if she can get the non-believer to discover through the sciences and literature that God may in fact be at the center of everything, than she will by writing a book on apologetics. He continues, “…it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble [the materialist]. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian.” I think that the same goes for the arts. If the best music on the radio or iTunes is being made by committed Christians, then that will go a whole lot farther toward advancing the Kingdom than bad music that preaches.

But of course there’s a flip-side to all this as well. There is a great deal of music—even some that might qualify as art—that the follower of Jesus has no business listening to. Music that glorifies violence, substance abuse, or unhealthy sexual activity. Music that objectifies women, or reinforces their status as second-class citizens. Music that encourages harmful stereotypes or destructive behavior. In short, music that is not compatible with a life ruled by love. In this sense, there are several bands that I never regretted giving up during my ‘phase.’ But it’s important to note, I think, that this list should not only be off-limits to Christians. The thoughtful non-Christian has no business filling her mind with such junk either.2

And all this hints at a deeper problem within popular Christianity, which makes it especially relevant for me and for this blog. The attitude that many well-meaning Christians take to this issue typifies a more general attitude that I’m afraid still pervades much of the church. Put simply, it is a contentment with a shallow and largely impotent Christianity. One that replaces genuine transformation with pop psychology and pseudo-scholarship. The culture’s distinctions and definitions are accepted and Jesus is thrown into the mix. The result is a list of do’s and don’ts (mostly don’ts), with little room left for any real depth of spiritual fulfillment or the life of the mind.

So the next time you turn on your radio or buy a CD, be critical of what you hear. Ask yourself, not if it’s “clean” or “encouraging,” but if it’s in tune with the creative Voice at the base of all things. Does it feed your soul?

That should be your new standard. That is Christian music.

1 See this insightful post by one of the musicians that I take to be transcending this false dichotomy.

2 Though, she will have a very difficult time explaining why this is the case. For more on this, see my posts on the moral argument for God here.

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 7)

Note: see parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Finally, how does the Christian account stack up against the naturalistic explanations of the resurrection, when evaluated by the criteria for assessing historical explanation? We have reviewed what I take to be the four strongest naturalistic candidates and found them all wanting. But does the Christian claim fare any better?

Remember, the facts that are being explained are 1. the empty tomb, 2. the appearances of Jesus after His death, and 3. the belief of Jesus’ disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The Christian explanation of these facts is that God in fact raised Jesus from the dead, and that He subsequently appeared to many of his disciples.

Like all the rest, the Christian account easily satisfies the first criteria. Regarding the second, explanatory scope, we see easily that it is broad: it is intended as an explanation of all of our facts, and it applies easily to all of them. As for explanatory power (3), this hypothesis works rather well. It provides a simple and effective explanation of all three of our facts. The tomb was empty because Jesus actually left it; no body need be accounted for. The appearances of Jesus after His death are explained because they actually happened. No appeal to conspiracy or hallucination is needed. Finally, the disciples’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection is explained, because this is what their collective experience told them was the case. Indeed, nothing other than this could have put the idea of an individual, bodily, pre-eschatological, resurrection into their minds. What they experienced violated all of their former categories. So they made a new one.

Criteria (4), plausibility, is where this explanation has the most trouble. Here it must respond to the critiques of the miraculous by folks like Hume, who maintain that miracle (e.g. resurrection) is inherently implausible. In fact, given the sum of our experience, it is the most implausible sort of thing there is.

A full treatment of such a view is far outside the scope of this post, but I’ll just say here that in order for this to be an adequate critique, one must begin with the assumption that theism is false, which is of course to beg the question. For if theism is true, then it isn’t much of a step to assume that God could intervene in His creation in a very direct way if He wanted. Also, even if something is prima facie implausible, that does not mean that one is never warranted in believing it. If sufficient evidence were provided to tip the scales toward belief, then no matter how implausible it might seem on the face of it, one might very rationally accept the truth of such a proposition. Here, that evidence comes in the form of our minimal facts, coupled with the insurmountable failure of every non-miraculous explanation. So, unless one assumes from the get-go that the Christian claim can’t be plausible, we have no reason to assume that this explanation fails the fourth criteria.

The hypothesis is not ad hoc (5), since it begins by taking seriously the claims of the historical writers. Nothing outside of their own claim is added to explain our facts. Also, the hypothesis is not disconfirmed by any accepted beliefs (6), since nothing in our intellectual history since has shown conclusively the impossibility of resurrection. Science has not done this, nor has technology or accumulated experience. On the contrary, such an explanation is strongly suggested by our increased knowledge of first century Jewish categories of thought, our better grasp of human psychology, as well as by our improved understanding of medicine and the possibility of a human surviving what Jesus endured.

Finally, the Christian hypothesis fulfills criteria (1) through (6) far better than any of its naturalistic rivals. Therefore, it is only rational to conclude that it is far and away the most likely explanation of our facts.

Christians believe that Jesus rose from the dead and that that fact changes everything. And we have good reason.

* I owe much of the structure and content of this series to work by William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, N.T. Wright, and Greg Boyd, especially Craig's discussion in his Reasonable Faith.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 6)

Note: see parts one, two, three, four, and five.

So how do the two most likely naturalistic explanations of the facts surrounding the resurrection hold up under scrutiny? Remember, the facts we are considering—agreed to by nearly all historians, Christian or not—are 1. the empty tomb, 2. the appearances of Jesus after His death, and 3. the belief of Jesus’ disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead. And again, the criteria we are using to evaluate these explanations are listed in Part 2, linked above.

The Legend Hypothesis

The legend hypothesis says simply that there were no resurrection claims, at least not originally. Much like the childhood game “Telephone,” rumors of Messianic expectations grew rapidly until, before you know it, there were full-fledged resurrection claims, which were then promptly written down and preserved in the New Testament. This hypothesis obviously explains present data and so passes criterion (1), but what about the rest?

Its scope (2) is limited to the appearances of Jesus after His death and the disciples’ belief in the resurrection; it does nothing on its own to explain the empty tomb. Regarding how well it explains the first two (3), it must maintain that the disciples’ belief in resurrection was based on the rumored appearances, which were themselves either just mistaken or invented. However, given the extreme implausibility of the resurrection accounts being simply mistaken (they claim not just to have “heard,” but to know—some of them even claiming eyewitness status), the defender of the legend hypothesis is left claiming that they were invented. This hypothesis thus easily reduces to the conspiracy hypothesis (already discussed), and so suffers all the problems of that one as well.

The legend theory is also highly implausible (4) on its own. First, Jews were inherently resistant to legend, particularly about a divine man; 1st century Palestine would have been entirely the wrong environment for such a legend to grow. Second, there was simply not enough time for legend to grow. All the evidence suggests that from the very beginning, the disciples preached the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Our earliest accounts date back possibly to within 5 years (or even earlier) of the crucifixion itself, and even the very latest are still within the lifetime of eyewitnesses and those who knew them. Third, legends generally reinforce the values of the culture in which they are birthed. The resurrection “legend” did not do this, but rather created a brand new concept of resurrection, defying all Messianic expectations. Finally, legends tend to make heroes of their founders (think Muhammad or Joseph Smith). The five accounts that we have of the resurrection do not do this; they even rely on the testimony of women, which as we have seen, was virtually without value at the time.

The legend hypothesis avoids being overly ad hoc (5), unless of course it reduces to the conspiracy hypothesis, in which case it will need all the same assumptions to function. It is also disconfirmed (6) by our knowledge of Jewish culture and Messianic expectations.

The Hallucination Hypothesis

Interestingly, this hypothesis is probably the most common among non-Christian scholars. In that sense then, it represents the best explanation we have of the facts in question, other than the Christian claim.

As usual, this hypothesis meets the first criteria but then immediately has trouble. Its explanatory scope (2) is rather narrow, since it is really only useful as an explanation of one of our facts: the appearances of Jesus after His death. Neither the empty tomb nor the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection is explained, so this hypothesis would need to be paired with another for its full strength. But even considering the appearances of Jesus post-crucifixion—the fact the hallucination hypothesis is supposed to explain—many holes remain. For example, how can hallucination account for the variety of appearances that are claimed? Perhaps if only one or two of Jesus’ closest followers had ‘seen’ Him risen once, then some sort of psychological phenomenon might be sufficient. But the accounts we have are from multiple, independent sources, and take place in different locations at different times. It might be tempting to claim some sort of connection between the claims, so that only one actual hallucination is needed, and the rest of the disciples merely picked up the story. Such a theory, however, ignores the fact that some of the claims come from skeptics, namely Paul and James, and it also does nothing to account for the diversity within the reports themselves. So much for explanatory power (3).

Regarding plausibility (4), it must rely on either highly suspect psychological theories and read a great deal into the text, or it must again assume that what the disciples are describing are mere visions, a category of experience that we have already shown in the last post would be clearly distinct from a bodily resurrection to a 1st century Jew. Also, we know from years of case studies that hallucinations tend to reinforce expectations (however delusional); however, as we have seen, no Jew expected a resurrection of the sort described. So, as William Lane Craig puts it, “with respect both to its psychoanalysis of the witnesses and its reduction of the appearances to visionary experience, the Hallucination Hypothesis suffers from implausibility.” *

The hypothesis is also ad hoc (5), in that it must invent out of thin air complex psychological explanations of the disciples’ straightforward claims, in order to provide reasons for such powerful hallucinations. Given its reliance on outmoded theories, and its ignorance of the relevant cultural data, the hallucination hypothesis also fails criteria (6), disconfirmation by accepted beliefs.

For all these reasons, it is at best only slightly more plausible than any of the other naturalistic theories. And of course, we have not yet reviewed the Christian explanation.

* William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 386-7.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Women in Apologetics (Part 7): Having a Heart for the Mind

The following is Part 7 of the series on women in apologetics from Apologetics 315. See parts one, two, three, four, five, and six.

Apologetics and Women's Ministry: Having a Heart for the Mind - Sarah J. Flashing

Knowing what you believe and why should be a requirement for everyone, no matter their worldview. And as Christians, there is a direct correspondence to the gospel we proclaim and the components of the worldview we say we represent. So as a young mother over 13 years ago, struggling with all kinds of trials, I found myself no longer satisfied with the very sincere and genuine consolations that “God knows your struggles” or “Jesus loves you” or “I’m praying for you.” Of course, I appreciate such affirmations and continue to do so today, but these were statements that, when left unpacked, made a little impact in my spiritual growth. For instance, without or with little understanding of Christ’s substitutionary atonement, “Jesus loves you” offers little more solace than being told by a friend that she loves you.

As I began to probe deeper into the depths of the theological meaning of my faith, I began to ask other questions, like “why Christianity?” “What makes Christianity the superior worldview?” It was from this point of inquiry that I launched into the field of apologetics, the first year or so gathering information while investigating. This was a search for truth, not so that I could feel good about myself but so I could be confident about what I was claiming to know.

The struggles I faced in my life were not unique to me, nor were they the worst possible thing I could experience. But my relationship with God was seriously lacking substance, and over the years as I have learned to give an answer for the hope within, it has helped me in my ministry and friendships with other women. As a ministry leader, I offer no pretense of a “charmed life” and find myself shocked by very little these days...

Read the rest here.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Women in Apologetics (Part 6): An ApoloWhat?

The following is Part 6 of the series on women in apologetics from Apologetics 315. See parts one, two, three, four, and five.

An ApoloWhat? - Judy Salisbury

I think most of us will agree that men dominate the Christian apologetics ministries. I am perfectly comfortable with this fact, and I thank God for these wonderful gentlemen. They produce excellent materials so that many of us can stand on their shoulders in our attempt to lead people to Christ.

Yes, most apologetics ministries are predominantly male; so when a woman states that apologetics is the focus of her ministry, folks scratch their heads and ask, “How did you become an apologist?” I chuckle when people ask me this question since I never set out to become one. It happened by listening to one of the best apologists as he offered not simply an answer, but the answer to my greatest question and obstacle to conversion: Was Jesus truly God?

I must return to 1991 when I traveled as a salesperson and spent considerable time on the road. Driving and surfing through various radio stations one afternoon, the Lord used one radio broadcast in particular to pique my curiosity and settle that longstanding question. The answer became clear as I heard the late Dr. Walter Martin’s debate with a cultist. It was an embarrassing defeat for the cultist, but it was a big win for me as I finally heard evidence for the deity of Jesus Christ.

Back in my hotel room, I immediately reached for the Gideon Bible tucked in the nightstand drawer. It was late in the afternoon when the Lord – in His grace and mercy – led me to the book of 1 John and revealed my lost condition. At that very moment I fell to my knees and gave Him my life, my ambitions, my dreams, my sin—everything. By the time I got home, my husband had a brand new wife… and a year later, the Lord gave us both a brand new baby girl. Goodbye corporate world – hello full time, stay-at-home mom!

During that first year of my spiritual infancy, I devoured the Bible along with tapes and CD’s from learned apologists, Bible teachers, and other resources. What struck me the most was the fact that there were actually answers to the questions that plagued me. Nagging concerns were finally settled in my mind; questions that others were previously unable or unwilling to address were now answered. I rejoiced to know that when my daughter would eventually have spiritual questions of her own, I would be able to answer them. In fact, that was the main reason I became equipped: I did not want some neighborly cultist (or occultist) to beguile my little girl with a lie – promising her a good life that would actually lead to her spiritual death.

By April 1993, the Lord gave me an opportunity to share a talk with my local congregation during a Sunday evening service. My presentation was based on 1 Peter 3:15 and the basic evidences for Christianity. Yes, my first speaking opportunity as a Christian was as an apologist.

About a month after my apologetic talk, I went to our local Pregnancy Resource Center to donate baby clothes and to see if there was a way I could serve them. I met the director at the door with my bag of blessings and confessed, “Not long ago the Lord Jesus Christ saved me from my sins and from myself. Silver and gold have I not, but maybe you need someone to clean your toilets?” She gingerly informed me that they already had a person who handled that; then she suggested I attend an upcoming counselor training seminar. Through that training, I learned so much about those wonderful ministries – the women who serve in them and what they are up against. The Lord also showed me that I was not to become a PRC counselor; instead, I would train individuals who had a desire to educate their communities on matters of human life. My work would be to help impart skills that would equip them to communicate their message effectively, powerfully, and with love...

Read the rest here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Women in Apologetics (Part 5): Implementing Apologetics in Women's Ministry

The following is Part 5 of the series on women in apologetics from Apologetics 315. See parts one, two, three, and four.

Implementing Apologetics in Women's Ministry - Mary Jo Sharp*

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus replies to the question, “What is the greatest commandment?” His reply is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Though Jesus’ words here mean to love God with our whole being, he specifically emphasizes three aspects. The last aspect is to love God with all of our mind. Are we, as ministry leaders, providing opportunities for the women in our church to love the Lord with all their mind? Women need to be challenged in the area of growing in knowledge of the Lord.

When I speak at a women’s conference, I sometimes ask the audience to share with me how much time they spend in learning Biblical truths or in answering difficult questions about faith in God (through discussion, bible study, reading, but not including time spent at church). The average response amounts to 1% to 3% of a typical day spent thinking on and learning about truths from the Word of God. So, a majority of the day is wrapped up in secular activities. While there is nothing inherently wrong with many worldly activities, women need to keep in check the messages consumed as they go about their day. When a woman turns on the television, reads a newspaper or magazine, surfs the internet, listens to the radio, goes to the movies, goes to work, or even just goes shopping, she will most likely encounter untrue messages about the Christian faith. Some of these messages include that science is the only way we can know truth, religion is the root of all evil, and that religious people are not smart. How are we combating these false messages in our ministry to women?

It is vital to the spiritual growth of our women to address their doubts. If a woman doubts God’s existence or has never investigated her reasons for belief, she cannot reasonably be expected to grow in knowledge of God, find a study of the Word as a priority in life, or share what she believes is the truth about God with the world. However, if a woman has confidence in her belief in God, she can place her trust in God as a real being who can really affect her life.

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

It is especially important for women to have a safe, loving environment such as a women’s ministry in which to share their doubts and ask questions. In my experience, women are more hesitant to do this in an environment in which men are present. There could be many reasons for their hesitation, but I have found - in candid moments one-on-one - that some women generally do not want to come across as “dumb” in front of their Christian brothers. These ladies will not ask very many questions in the presence of men, if any at all.1 I have also found many women do not feel it is acceptable in the church to have doubts about God. An apologetics element in our women’s ministries would help alleviate these fears while combating untruths assaulting our women’s minds, enabling them to be emboldened in their faith in God.

Three Goals for pioneering this field in women’s ministry:

1) Establish the Need
2) Create an Environment
3) Find/Create a Study...

Read the rest here.

* See Mrs. Sharp's website, Confident Christianity, here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Women in Apologetics (Part 4): Women Called to the Front Lines of the Faith

The following is Part 4 of the series on women in apologetics from Apologetics 315. See parts one, two, and three.

Women Called to the Front Lines of the Faith - Tricia Scribner

I was a 20-year-old newly married woman when a Jehovah’s Witness boldly informed me that the word “Trinity” was nowhere in the Bible. Though I had been a believer in Jesus Christ since childhood, I stood mute with no response. This would not be the last time I would be caught off guard by those with other worldviews who seemed much better equipped than I to discuss the evidence for their faith.

Within my profession of nursing I learned that my Christian beliefs were at odds with the prevailing psychology that humans were essentially good and that I needed to be tolerant (accepting as also true) of other people’s beliefs. In anatomy and physiology classes the evolutionary model of the origin and development of complex life forms dominated, and the biblical account was criticized as immature and backward.

I’ve learned that my experience was not unusual. We as women are on the front lines spiritually in every facet of our lives. We weep to hear our college-aged children whom we raised to love the Lord spouting the views of professors who think Christians are weak-minded people who use faith as a crutch because they cannot bear the truth that this life is all there is. As Christian wives we experience divorce at about the same rate as non-Christians. At work we have shut down and shut up about our faith to avoid judgment. We save our faith for Sundays, compartmentalizing our thinking into the sacred and secular, and living spiritually schizophrenic lives.

How the Christian Community Has Not Helped

Churches often provide women’s conferences with sound biblical teaching, fellowship, and worship, but we sometimes fail to equip women to re-enter the battle zones they encounter the moment they return home. Imagine that Wanda returns home from a church conference to an agnostic husband who mocks her for wasting a day worshiping a God no one can be sure even exists. Zoe returns to the college dorm where her roommate Aja, a Muslim, shows where the Bible prophesies the prophet Muhammad is coming. Gina returns home to her 18 year-old who is headed to college where his professor of religion teaches the New Testament is a myth developed by second to third century church leaders. Will the memories of warm fellowship and a spiritually affirming worship experience be enough to strengthen them spiritually so they can stand and arm them with the truth they so desperately need?

What God Says About Women Doing Apologetics

God has commanded us as women not only to share that we believe in Jesus Christ but also the reasons why. Here are some evidences in scripture that God has called women to think, study, and share the reasons for believing in Christianity...

Read the rest here.

Women in Apologetics (Part 3): Argument and the Woman Apologist

The following is Part 3 of the series on women in apologetics from Apologetics 315. This one is particularly good. If you missed parts 1 and 2, see them here and here.

Argument and the Woman Apologist - Dr. Holly Ordway

Why are there so few Christian women apologists and intellectuals?

They do exist; I should know, I’m one of them. But it’s a small sisterhood. I see women’s ministry leaders, yes; writers of Christian fiction and devotionals, yes; but active apologists and scholars, not many.

Furthermore, in my own experience, I find that my most interesting and stimulating conversations about books and ideas are usually with men rather than women. Yet my female friends are just as intelligent and thoughtful as my male friends. What’s going on?

Of all the possible ways to approach this question, I am going to develop just one particular line of thought here.

I believe that there are different modes of intellectual engagement, and that we often fail to appreciate the way that these modes function. What we often take as a tension between the intellectual life and femininity may really be the product of a mismatch between an individual woman and the mode of argument in which she’s attempting to work.

If we can better understand the different modes of argument, we can better equip both men and women to be effective apologists – serving Our Lord with their unique gifts in the fullest capacity.

I will present these three modes in terms of images: argument as Fight, as Exploration, and as Dance.

Our first image is that of the Fight. In this mode, argument is structured as conflict. In the Fight mode, an argument has a clear winner and a clear loser. Debates are a classic form of Fight argument: the debate opponents have distinct, contrasting or conflicting views, and they take turns striking as hard and effectively as possible, and parrying the rhetorical blows of the opponent. Debates are scored and a winner or loser is declared; the success of a debater lies in his ability to take apart the opponent’s logic or rhetoric and make points that cannot be defended against...

Read the rest here.

Women in Apologetics (Part 2): Heads for Men and Hearts for Women?

Note: see Part 1.

Heads for Men and Hearts for Women? - Mary Decker

The trend

If you like to potter around apologetics blogs on the internet (my guess, if you’re reading this, is that you do), or if you attend apologetics events, you’ll notice that the ratio of men to women is skewed somewhat towards there being a lot more men involved in such things than women.

Now before anyone thinks this is going to be a feminist diatribe about glass ceilings and male domination, hear me out. I have no problem with there being plenty of men in apologetics. I want every Christian I can get to take an interest in apologetics – male or female. Moreover, I’m a pretty traditional Christian woman who believes in male leadership in the home and church, so a radical feminist agenda is most definitely not my aim. My aim is not to discourage men from taking part in apologetics, or to advocate for any artificially imposed gender balance, but to encourage more women to get involved in apologetics.

To do that, we need to consider why this imbalance exists to the degree that it does.

The demands of motherhood

Not all reasons for an apparent imbalance in this area are inherently bad. More specifically, there are good reasons why there probably should be more men involved on a full-time, paid basis in apologetics work. The sort of work done by William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl, or Mike Licona is a full-time job. Many women will very reasonably realize that the job of being a mom (yes, it is a job!) is a demanding one that doesn’t allow them to put in the same amount of formal apologetics work as their male counterparts. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I will elaborate as to why I think so later.

False dichotomies and misunderstandings

However, there are some reasons for this imbalance that are not healthy. In particular, there is a perception in some circles that apologetics is for men, but not for women. This perception ¬has its roots in a false dichotomy between head and heart, or reason and emotion, as well as a misunderstanding of the nature of men and women. It manifests in an association of head and reason with the male and heart and emotion with the female which does neither sex much good because it denies male emotions and female reason...

Read the rest here.

Women in Apologetics (Part 1): The International Society of Women in Apologetics

Brian Auten over at Apologetics 315 has kindly given me permission to re-post a series he is doing this week on women in apologetics, each written by a different woman apologist. I will post the first third or so of each post here and then provide the link to the rest. Or, you can simply follow the series from his site. As I am already two posts behind, the first two will be in rapid succession. I should also note that I am in no way endorsing any of the views represented in these posts, and it should not be assumed that I agree with everything each author is saying. In fact, I do not. However, women's rights is an issue that is near to my heart, and I believe that greater awareness of it at nearly any level is a good thing. I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to increase this awareness when it comes from my own field. That said, on to the first contribution:

The International Society of Women in Apologetics - Sarah Ankenman


Most often, while sitting at the ISWA table at Apologetics conferences, I get quite a few women who come up to me and ask me the same three questions. First, “why does there need to be something special just for women in the field of apologetics?” Second, “why apologetics at all?” which is usually followed by the statement, “all I need is the Word of God”. Finally, I get the million-dollar inquiry of, “can women even do apologetics? What about Paul saying that women need to keep silent in the church?” In the following paragraphs, I will attempt to answer those questions.

First, let me explain ISWA’s purpose. We are not inventing some new apologetic just for women. When you come to an ISWA event, or read an ISWA article, or watch a DVD of an ISWA member, you are getting the same apologetics any man would get at an apologetics conference. All of the women who teach or write for ISWA have all gleaned from, or have personally sat under, the teachings of great apologists like Dr. Norman Geisler, Dr. Gary Habermas, Greg Koukl, Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Ron Rhodes, Dr. Win Corduan, etc. I love apologetics and fortunately, God has called me into the very field I love, because through His grace He gave me one of the desires of my heart. However, I am also the mother of an energetic three-year-old. I realize that not every woman who enjoys going deeper in her studies, and loves apologetics, has the time to go to seminary. It’s difficult for even myself, and so somewhere along this journey, I realized that there needed to be something for today’s busy woman.

If you have done any apologetics at all, you have probably noticed that the conferences tend to last all day, if not a few days, and the average apologetics book is longer than the time you have to read it. Also, they tend to filled with ideas, theories, and words that are over the average person’s head, my own head included. I often refer to a dictionary or Google when I am doing research or reading, and I have been studying for nine years now. Also, even though I love theology and apologetics, if I have been up all night with my son, the last thing I want to do is sit down and read a book and try to comprehend Metaphysics. I realized that there needed to be something that teaches apologetics, but in an easy to understand manner and in smaller bites...

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

On Loving God with Your Mind

Perhaps some of you have wondered why the tagline of this blog is “loving God with your mind.” Well, here’s why. 1

In Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV)

Part of the greatest commandment, then, is to love God with “all our mind.” But what does this mean? To love is to sacrifice and to serve. It is to make a commitment to the beloved that is covenantal, not contractual (i.e. not circumstantial). It involves honesty and transparency. And it always leads to action on behalf of the beloved. Therefore, we should expect that loving God with our minds, whatever else it might be, will be an act of service and sacrifice, that it will be honest and transparent, and that it will lead to action of some kind. This means that we should expect it to be difficult. But like most difficult things, also meaningful.

When Jesus elucidated this command, it would have hit very close to home with His Jewish audience. This aspect of loving God was central to their cultural and national identity. A few posts ago, I pointed out that the word “Israel” means literally “to wrestle with God.” I even went so far as to suggest that it was this about the Jewish people that God so valued. I now suggest that, as He has not changed, He values it just as highly in us.

The writer of Hebrews says, “...though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. 2

Loving God with our minds, then, will include seeking “solid food.” It will mean moving beyond the basics of salvation and repentance to a deeper understanding of our faith and an ability to discern good from evil in all contexts, “by constant use” of the resources God has provided for us to learn. The writer was here appealing not to the hearts or souls of his readers, but to their thoroughly Jewish minds.

Similarly, in 1 Cor. 14:20, Paul says, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.” (ESV) The context of this verse is the necessity of letting even the gifts of the Holy Spirit be guided by mature thinking.

What, then, are the actions (mentioned above) that this sort of love leads to? Presumably, they would be methods of training the mind to perform the functions for which God designed it, as well as it possibly can. And since the principle function of that part of our being is to think, the action to which we ought to be motivated (if we really love God) is nothing more exalted than study.

I know it doesn’t sound very "spiritual," but alas, we are more than just spiritual beings, and God wants all of us.

For more on this, see my post on childlike faith.
2 Hebrews 5:12-14 (NIV)

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 5)

Note: see parts one, two, three, and four.

So how do the hypotheses used to explain the facts of Jesus’ life stack up against one another? Last time, we looked briefly at the five most prominent of these. Here, we’ll look a little more closely at the first two, using the criteria for testing historical hypotheses from part 2 of this series (linked above). I encourage you to take another look at those so that what follows will make more sense. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to keep both posts open for easy reference.

Again, the facts that are being explained are 1. the empty tomb, 2. the appearances of Jesus after His death, and 3. the belief of Jesus’ disciples that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

The Apparent Death Hypothesis

Criteria (1) and (2) are easily met. But that’s about all that can be said for this explanation. In terms of explanatory power (3) and plausibility (4), this hypothesis has trouble with all three facts: Empty tomb—Given what we now know about flogging and crucifixion in 1st century Rome, how could a man who recently endured these horrors and miraculously survived have had the strength left to remove the large stone from His own tomb and then escape a band of guards posted to ensure that this very thing (the removal of His body) did not happen? Appearances—Similarly, how did this very nearly dead man then visit His disciples and convince them that He was the long-anticipated Messiah, the Defeater of death, hell, and the grave? Resurrection claims—Related to this, from whence come the disciples’ early and consistent claims of resurrection, a novel concept within Judaism and one not at all disposed to be taken seriously? Surely the more likely conclusion is that Jesus just hadn’t died—not the much more complicated claim that He had been raised by God from the dead. Yet, this is precisely what they did claim.

This hypothesis is also pretty ad hoc (5), since any explanation given in response to the above problems will necessarily be an argument from silence. It’s also disconfirmed (6), as we saw, by modern medicine, since we know that no one could plausibly have survived what Jesus went through. Finally, it is even less likely than its naturalistic rivals (7), and so fails 5 of our 7 criteria.

The Conspiracy Hypothesis

This oldest of the naturalistic explanations (see Matthew 28:11-15) fares little better. It, too, satisfies criteria (1) and (2) but struggles with the rest, beginning with explanatory power (3): Empty tomb—If the disciples fabricated the story of Jesus’ resurrection, then why say that the tomb was found empty by women? Indeed, this is one of the worst things the disciples could have done if they wanted to be believed, since the testimony of women carried virtually no weight at the time. Appearances—The appearances of Jesus after the resurrection don’t fit with what one would expect a 1st century Jew to make up. It bears very little resemblance to the theophanies one finds in the Old Testament. More on this below. Resurrection claims—Here is the first nail in the proverbial coffin. If the disciples simply made up the story of Jesus’ resurrection, then why did they willingly and unanimously suffer torture and death, proclaiming to the end that it was true? People do not die for lies that they made up.

When we consider plausibility (4), we find the second nail in the coffin (as though another were needed). As N.T. Wright has argued in great detail, it just makes no historical sense to say that the disciples would have (or even could have) made up the sort of resurrection story we find in the New Testament, since this is not a concept that even existed before then. There would have been no reason whatsoever for a 1st century Jew to invent the idea of an individual, pre-eschatological, bodily resurrection in a story to other 1st century Jews. This is not only a project doomed to failure, but likely an impossible one, since such a thing would never have entered the mind of a Jew of this time. To assume that Christians could have invented the resurrection story is to read our 21st century context into the text of Scripture, rather than to let it speak from its own culture and time.

Like the Apparent Death Hypothesis, the Conspiracy Hypothesis is also ad hoc (5), in that it must meet objections with made-up stories regarding the disciples’ motives and methods for which we have no evidence. It is also disconfirmed (6) by our knowledge of 1st century Judaism and the highly dubious nature of elaborate conspiracy stories. It also fails criteria (7), since there are more likely options, including the Legend and Hallucination Hypotheses, which will be the subject of the next post in the series.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Letters From a Martyred Christian

My colleague and best friend in the world is about to release his latest book, Letters From a Martyred Christian. Like it sounds, it is a collection of letters from one Aulus Aurelius, martyred in Rome in AD 67. He has been tracking the progress of the church ever since, and has a few things to say.

I can personally attest to the integrity, ability, and theological soundness of the author, and to the creative, engaging, and practical nature of the book. I strongly encourage you to add it to your reading list and to encourage your friends to do the same. If you would like to contribute (even if it's just a buck or two) to the release of the book, and to pre-order your copy,  please go here and look through the many options available for you to do so. Every penny of profit goes to charity.

Also, the promo video for the book is featured under the "Featured Video" section of this blog, on the lower right side of the home page. It's only about 4 1/2 minutes and is well worth your time. It will remain there for the next 40 days or so, until the funding deadline for the project ends. Check it out.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Argument from Special Revelation: Jesus Christ (Part 4)

Note: see parts one, two, and three.

If you recall, last time we looked at the list of "minimal facts" regarding the life of Christ that nearly all critical historians accept. Now, we will turn to the most prominent explanations of these facts that have been offered.

In the interest of space, I’ll only consider those facts that are most relevant to Jesus’ resurrection, and that need the most explaining: the empty tomb, the appearances of Jesus after His death, and the belief of Jesus’ disciples (including former skeptics James and Paul) that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Also, I’ll only consider those explanations which have had the most traction with scholars over the years, and so are the most likely candidates.

They are, in ascending order of credibility (based roughly on the number of scholars willing to accept them, along with my own bias):

1. the Apparent Death Hypothesis (a.k.a. the ‘Swoon Theory’)
2. the Conspiracy Hypothesis
3. the Legend Hypothesis
4. the Hallucination Hypothesis
5. the Christian Account 1

1. The Apparent Death Hypothesis — Jesus was not dead when He was taken down from the cross, but revived some time later and escaped to make the appearances to His disciples.
2. The Conspiracy Hypothesis — Jesus’ disciples stole His body and started the rumor that He had been resurrected.
3. The Legend Hypothesis — Jesus’ disciples never claimed that Jesus had literally risen from the dead; this was a later embellishment that made it into the New Testament accounts.
4. The Hallucination Hypothesis — The disciples (and Paul) were under extraordinary psychological stress following Jesus’ crucifixion, and this somehow led to their seeing Him alive again, in much the same way a bereaved person might ‘see’ her lost loved one after death. On this view, the appearances of Jesus to His disciples after His death are interpreted as purely psychological phenomena on the part of the disciples, in the form of visions or hallucinations, or in some cases even some sort of Freudian suppressed guilt and/or complex cognitive dissonance.
5. The Christian Account — Jesus was raised bodily from the dead and appeared to His disciples.

It should be noted that there is no rule saying that only one hypothesis must be true; it is possible that several of them might be combined for a stronger case. Indeed, the ones listed above are employed differently depending on the ‘fact’ being explained. However, it is not always possible to combine them, as even the ‘naturalistic’ ones (i.e. those other than the Christian claim) sometimes conflict. For example, the Apparent Death Hypothesis and the Conspiracy Hypothesis cannot both be true. However, the Legend Hypothesis might be strengthened by considering it in conjunction with, say, the Pagan Myth Hypothesis (see footnote below). I’ll let the reader choose whatever combination seems most likely, and stack it up against the Christian claim.

Next time, we will begin testing these competing hypotheses using the criteria we listed in Part 2 of this series (linked above).

Some other fairly popular, but less plausible, ones include: 6. the Wrong Tomb Hypothesis, the claim that the disciples simply went to the wrong tomb on Easter morning; 7. the claim that the resurrection accounts in the New Testament are written in a non-historical literary style; 8. the claim that the disciples’ belief in the resurrection is explainable from Jewish influences; 9. the claim that the disciples’ belief in the resurrection is explainable from pagan or mythical influences; and 10. the claim that Jesus’ body was ‘displaced’ or stolen by someone other than His disciples. If you have questions about any of these (or if you can think of any others), leave a comment and I’ll be happy to go through them there.