Saturday, October 31, 2009

Evil, Human Flourishing, Internal Fizzing, and the Existence of God

There are lots of ways to try to explain away God. The problem is, once you explain away God you also have to explain away any standard of right and wrong. Morality is meaningless in a godless world.

Evidence for a standard of morality is everywhere: we see it in every culture, age group, and time in history. Even some of the most staunch moral relativists cannot deny the presence of a standard of morality--they openly criticize the evil we see in the sex trade, holocaust, slavery, child abuse, domestic violence and genocide that wreak havoc on our world.

The presence of this evil points to the existence of good; without good "evil" is a meaningless concept, just like the term "dark" only makes sense because we have experienced something we call "light". Now, if "good" and "evil" are meaningful ideas in our world then we must ask the question, who determines what is good and what is evil?

Obviously we can't attribute this standard of morality to past presidents, kings, or dictators who somehow convinced the entire world to jump on their moral bandwagon. Some people argue that morality has evolved over time to promote human flourishing. But one has to wonder, if the origin of morality is a desire for human flourishing, from where does our concept of human flourishing originate? Not only that, how do we explain values like justice, love, diligence and responsibility that transcend time and culture?

Others appeal to science to rationalize our knowledge of good and evil. The strict materialist tries to explain away moral convictions as the movement of particles or chemical reactions in the brain. With this explanation our moral sentiments and convictions are no more meaningful than the convictions a fizzy cup of vinegar and baking soda might have. Hence, the materialist reduces humans to nothing more than bodies full of internal "fizzing".

The problem with the scientist's explanation is it ultimately explains away “true” and “false” statements. Thus, the scientist explains away his own explanation, for even his explanation of morality must be nothing more than the movement of particles or the "fizzing" of chemicals in his brain.

That leaves us with the presence of widely recognized evil which points to good, and nothing to explain our understanding of good and evil--except God.

"Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:8

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is the Bible Historically Reliable?

The Bible is an irrelevant collection of religious propaganda, full of so many errors and deviations from the original text it can't be trusted.

Sound familiar? If you haven't thought it, you've probably heard it. The Bible has been under the scrutiny of laymen, scholars, the religious and irreligious for hundreds of years, and for good reason. It is chuck-full of history, has always been central to Christianity, and makes such bold and penetrating claims that some people hate it, some people swear by it, and some people are radically changed by it. There's got to be something to this book.

As a Christian I believe that you don't have to be a scholar or theologian to be affected by the Bible's message. I've seen firsthand that the Word of God is "living and penetrates even to diving soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12). Its message is powerful enough to invade any man's heart, and its truth can be known without the help of scholarship. But scholarship is still important, and the skeptic's objections to the Bible are valid, so let's briefly investigate the evidence for the historical reliability of scripture.

First let's take a look at the quantity and consistency of the biblical manuscript copies we have today:

We have over 5,600 Greek New Testament manuscripts, 10,000 Latin Vulgates (these are Latin translations of the Greek manuscripts) and at least 9,300 other manuscripts, totaling over 24,000 New Testament manuscripts! On top of that, Jews possess ancient Old Testament manuscripts called the Hebrew Massoretic texts that date back at least 1,000 years, and we have the Dead Sea Scrolls which contain portions of the Hebrew Old Testament and date back to the second century before Christ.

That's more source material than scholars have for any other work of antiquity! There are only 643 manuscripts for the work the Iliad, and only 49 manuscripts of Aristotle'sPoetics, and yet they are both considered authoritative and accurate texts among scholars. It only makes sense then, that scholars have evaluated the tens of thousands of biblical manuscripts and confirmed the historical authenticity (also called "historicity") of the Old and New Testaments we have today. In fact, we can use these manuscripts to reconstruct 97-99% of the New Testament we have today!

Usually at this point in a discussion about the historicity of the Bible someone brings up the hundreds of thousands of variants between biblical manuscripts. A variant is a difference in wording between texts, and anytime you have a lot of manuscripts there is an increase in variants. There are a lot of variants between biblical manuscripts, but they don't undermine the reliability of the Bible. Let me break down the different types of variants:
  • 75% are spelling differences.
  • The use of synonyms across manuscripts accounts for a large chunk of the variants (For example, using "Lord" and "He" interchangeably).
  • Only about 1% of the variants actually affects the meaning of the text.
We can further examine the credibility of the Bible by looking at the proximity of its authors to the events they recorded. Most of the New Testament authors were eyewitnesses to the events they recorded, and all of the New Testament books were written within the first century after Jesus' death and resurrection. This means that other eyewitnesses of the New Testament accounts were around when the manuscripts began circulating, including hostile eyewitnesses who were enemies of Christianity. It would have been really risky for the New Testament authors to begin circulating lies and distortions with so many other eyewitnesses hanging around!

Not only were the Gospel writers held accountable by eyewitnesses, but they recorded events that cast themselves into a rather unfavorable light--sometimes these guys were a bunch of arrogant, immature, faithless fools! If the Gospel authors were just making up religious propaganda, you would expect them to depict themselves in a more complimentary way.

If you're interesting in finding out more about the historicity of scripture, you may want to investigate the ways in which outside sources like Josephus, Papias the bishop of Hierapolos, and Irenaeus, the student of John’s disciple Polycarp confirm the New Testament accounts.

I think further study will only increase your confidence in the reliability and autheticity of scripture. And as the Bible's reliability unfolds, you may want to consider if, perhaps, Jesus Christ is really who he claimed to be.

More on that later!

I got my facts from Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a Carpenter,both by Josh McDowell; and Facing the Muslim Challenge, by John Gilchrist.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Is Allah Enough?

The trinity is an impossible thing to explain. There is the egg analogy (shell, white, and yolk=three substances in one egg) and the water analogy (water, steam, ice= same substance) that take a stab at making the trinity easier to understand, but they miss the mark.

I have to admit, I've used these crude analogies in my Bible lessons to third graders before, but I usually qualify them, explaining that regardless of how hard we try, we can't wrap our minds around the trinity. Then I try to emphasize how marvelous it is that the depths of our God are so vast the human mind cannot search them, and although we cannot comprehend all of God's nature, we can know him and be assured of his great love for us. That's what makes Christianity different from any other religion.

Muslims believe in the one-dimensional god, Allah. They praise his self-sufficiency, and worship him for his love, compassion and mercy. They exalt Allah's oneness over the three-dimensional nature of the God of the Bible, claiming that Christians are guilty of shirk, the sin of worshipping more than one god.

Allah's one-dimensional nature is certainly easy to comprehend, but it's got one major problem: it makes it impossible for us to trust in his love.

Love, by its nature, must have an object. I love my sister, my mom loves my dad, my students love recess, my best friend loves to sing--love always has an object. Without something to love, there is no love. So, imagine Allah (or any one-dimensional god for that matter) before the creation of anything. He is alone in a great black void with no one and nothing to love. Can he have love?

Allah has two options at this point: he can love himself or he can create something to love. If he loves himself, his love is self-serving and counterfeit--imagine a world where everyone's love is self-serving like that! If he creates something to love, then his ability to love is contingent on his creation, diminishing his character and making his love no more enduring or trustworthy than a fickle human's love.

The trinity, on the other hand, perfectly explains God's love: love originates from and is fully expressed within the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--everlasting love flows from God's character.

This perfect love compelled God to put on skin and live among us in order to show us how to love: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16).

This perfect love drove God to give us a helper and life-guide through the Holy Spirit who indwells all Christians. "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26).

The trinity is a daily reminder to me that God will continue to pursue humanity relentlessly because he loves us fiercely. His infinite grandeur didn't stop him from taking on bodily form so that he could live with us, and then die for us; his perfectly selfless love compels him to dwell within and equip all Christians with the riches of his glorious power through the Holy Spirit!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Come, Taste and See!

My Christian apologetics classes at Biola University are in full swing, and the rigorous studying is slowly corroding my writer's block. My mind is swimming with all sorts of Christian apologetics blogging material, so this post will kick off a series of apologetics-themed posts. But first, a few answers to a few common questions.

What in the world are Christian apologetics?

No, I'm not sorry I'm a Christian! The term "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "a defense or justification". Christian apologetics is the field that offers thoughtful answers to the tough questions people ask about the claims of Christianity.

Why do we even need apologetics? No one ever got argued into the kingdom of heaven.

It's remarkable, really, how often I encounter this objection to apologetics. You would think the New Testament book of Acts doesn't chronicle the successful apologetic work of the Apostle Paul as he travels from synagogue to synagogue, debating the Jews and giving them good reasons to place their faith in Christ! Aside from the Apostle Paul's example however, there are other compelling reasons to add apologetics to our evangelistic tool belt.

Apologists believe that reality is iconoclastic --reality in its clearest, truest form has the power to shatter idols. When we truly understand the reality of God's goodness and love for us, our idols begin to crumble.

The work of the apologist then, is not always confrontational--it is often a shoulder-to-shoulder activity. The Christian apologist steps alongside people and begins to strip away any doubts or misconceptions that distort their vision of the reality of God's love by giving good answers to tough questions. Apologists invite others to, "Come step into my joy! Taste and see that God is good!" It's pretty tough to worship false gods when you've tasted the goodness of the one true God.

My goal as a Christian apologist is to invite others to step into my joy in Christ. I want to give them thoughtful answers to their questions. I want to challenge them to explore the knock-your-socks-off kind of life that Christ offers. And I want to help other Christians do the same. Because I'm convinced that the Truth sets people free.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Truth Serum

An antidote to the poison of moral relativism*

Moral Relativism is...

Self Refuting: As soon as you say there is no absolute truth, you’ve just stated an absolute truth. It's no more sensible than describing a colorless red car, or a married bachelor.

Evil Enabling: Moral relativists can’t even say it’s absolutely wrong to torture babies for fun because relativists have no moral absolutes.

Racist Befriending: The relativists can’t say that it was absolutely wrong for the Nazis to murder the Jews or that American slavery was wrong.

Morally Stagnating: With relativism there is no room for moral improvement because there’s no moral standard to shoot for.

Mind Closing: Relativists declare "We're so open minded" but they are absolutely closed to anyone who believes in moral absolutes.

*Thanks to Clay Jones, Professor of Apologetics at Biola University, for introducing me to his Truth Serum.