Dec 7, 2006

Should the Qur'an be Used for an Oath of Office?

Recently elected Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is a Muslim, and he wants to use the Qur'an and not the Bible to take his oath of office. Take a look at the editorial posted on Doug Groothuis' blog responding to this issue which outlines the problems with Ellison's request and the potential cultural disaster that could result if it is granted. Groothuis' blog is found at:

Dec 1, 2006

Will Muslims Take Over the World?

I have been reading a facinating and troubling book entitled America Alone by Mark Steyn. The thesis of he book is that within a few decades at most America will be standing alone against a fascist Islamic empire that encompasses not only the Middle East and a lot of Asia, but most of Europe as well. This empire will not come about by military force. It will come about because Muslim immigrants will take over many European countries from the inside.

The possibility for this Islamic conquest has arisen because, while the Muslim birth rate in these European countries is high (and their populations growing), the birth rates of the native French, Italians, Germans, Spanish, etc., is in serious decline--in fact the birth rates in these countries is low enough to invite the possibility of the extinction of these European peoples.

Consider thre birth rate in the United States. Steyn reports that in the U.S., there are 2.1 births per woman--the level which demographers claim is barely sufficient for a stable population. In other words, Americans are having just enough children to replace those who die. If this rate of birth continues or increases a little, then America can escape an Islamic take-over from within. But, the birth rates among non-Muslims in these European nations is well below 2.1. They are in serious population decline. This also means that the native populations in Europe are getting "older"--there are more senior citizens compared to younger citizens. This forecasts economic disaster for these European welfare states before very long, with many of the younger Muslims (who will be in the majority soon) poised to seize control of the governments of these nations.

Charles Martel is turning over in his grave! What he did in 732 by defeating the Muslims at the Battle of Tours (preventing them from moving from Spain into central Europe), is being undone by the economic stupidity, political correctness, and self-indulgence of his descendants.

What can we do about this Muslim take-over of Europe and (possibly) the world? If Steyn is right, it is probably too late for Europe. "Eurabia" (as he calls it) is likely a foregone conclusion. And even if the Europeans could do something to prevent this disaster, they don't have the political guts to do it. As for America, we need to do two things. First, we need to educate people about this threat. We don't want to live in an Islamic theocracy. But that may lie down the road if we don't wake up. Second, we need to start having babies.

So, ladies and gentlemen, lisen up! Forget about that new house or new boat you want to buy. Forget about the dream vacations you can take when you're not saddled with children. Let go of your self-indulgent lifestyle! The common good is at stake here! Go home. Put on some romantic music. Turn the lights down low. Get into bed and start saving the world!

Oct 17, 2006

Skeptics Just Don't Get Moral Argument

In a recent edition of eskeptic (, Robert Eberle reviews Francis Collins's book The Language of God. Because Collins is a theistic evolutionist who believes in Darwinian evolution but believes that it is guided by God, Eberle has both praise and criticism of the book. He praises Collins for his defense of evolution, but goes on the attack when Collins offers arguments for God's existence, especially when he offers the moral agument for God's existence which contends that God is the best explanation for the existence of objective morality. Eberle writes,

To a large extent Collins relies on arguments from the works of C.S. Lewis for his justification that God must exist. He is particularly smitten by the idea of a universal Moral Law which, like Lewis, appears to him as being something that could only be divinely authored. It is obvious, Collins asserts, that something like the awareness of right and wrong has to have come from some higher power, else why would it exist across all cultures and be unique to the human species?
In fact, Collins asserts, beside this moralistic awareness, it is such things as “the development of language, awareness of self, and the ability to imagine the future” that are part of the enumeration of the specific characteristics of modern humans. The fact that language, for example, is the product of a reasoning mind that, over time, develops as a result of genetically derived mental improvements makes it difficult for the reader to accept the author’s declarations. If language is a uniquely human quality, and it has come about from genetically driven evolution, why no reasoning that provides the justification for the development of ethical behavior? To Collins, the very awareness of what is right and wrong can only be from some divine power, but his reasoning does not support it. Although elsewhere in the book he is highly critical of the “god of the gaps” argument employed by Intelligent Design creationists, who chase down the gaps in scientific knowledge to proclaim that this is where God intervenes, Collins’ deduction that evolution cannot account for the Moral Law is just another gap. He reviews some of the modern evolutionary explanations for the evolution of the moral sentiments, but he dismisses them as inadequate, and then draws his conclusion. This is the fallacy of personal incredulity — “I can’t think of how X can be explained naturally, ergo X must have a supernatural explanation.”

The basic idea behind Eberle's critique of Collins is this: Since Collins can see how evolution can provide an explantion for language and mind, he ought to be able to see how evolution can provide and explanation for morality, too. He ought, that is, to avoid the god-of-the-gaps with regard to morality just like he avoids hte god-of-the-gaps with regard to language and mind. Unfortunately, Eberle's critique of Collins is doubly defective.

First, Eberle and Collins both think that science in general and evolution in particular can and do provide an adequate explanation for the origin of human consciousness and it's capacities for language, reasoning, etc. But, it does nothing of the sort. There is no scientific theory on the table anywhere in the world that even comes close to providing a naturalistic account of the mind--and this is something that even atheist philosophers and neuro-scientists are aware of. No evolutionary "just-so" story cuts mustard here. Even Michael Shermer, editor of Skeptic and eskeptic admitted this fact in a recent debate with Doug Geivett at the Universtity of Alabama at Birmingham. Of course, this doesn't necessarily mean that a naturalistic account of mind is impossible, but the point is that Eberle and Collins ought to know better than to write and talk as if such an account is "in the bag". Not only is it not in the bag, nobody has the remotest clue as to how a naturalistic account of the mind might go. This is why it is disingenuous at best to accuse the intelligent design guys of the god-of-the-gaps.

Second, even if there were a naturalistic account of the mind and language, this would have no bearing on the question of morality. This is where I think Collins has got it right and Eberle has missed the boat. Eberle thinks that defenders of the moral argument simply commit his so-called fallacy of personal incredulity--we can't (yet) explain morality naturally, therefore, it must have a supernatural origin. Perhaps Collins' version of the moral argument for God commits this fallacy, but most philosophers who defend the argument do not. The problem for a naturalistic account of morality is not simply that it seems hard to explain it natually. Rather, it's that the existence of an objective morality seems postively inconsistent with naturalistic principles (as even failed naturalistic ethical theories seem to show). In fact, Eberle himself proves the point when he goes on to say. . .

Collins then compounds the problem with his arguments by asserting, without foundation, that altruism is unquestionably good, and that it can only be explained by the existence of the Moral Law. The fact that the goodness of altruism is a subjective judgment and open to considerable debate is ignored. Furthermore, he never addresses the studies that have shown that altruism is not unique to the human species, and he never explains why the altruistic behavior of a member of the group could not be something that evolved, initially, simply as a necessity for the survival of the group.

What Eberle says here is that Collins fails to realize that morality may not be objective. That is, moral properties and values may simply be subjective beliefs that we have adopted as a species in order to better survive--but, there is nothing objectively true or binding about morality. Here Eberle is echoing the sentiments of other evolutionary naturalists like Dawkins and Ruse who claim that morality is simply a social convention coughed up by evolution, but as such is jsut an illusion--there's nothing objectively good about altruism and nothing objectively bad about rape and murder. But, this is precisely why Eberle's critique of Collins' moral argument fails. Collins is trying to explain why a objective moral law exists. And naturalism just won't do as an explanatory hypothesis. Sure, if morality is a subjective illusion and there really isn't such a thing as right and wrong, then evolutionary naturalism provides a perfectly good expalanation for why we all mistakenly think that right and wrong exist. But, if an objective moral law really does exist, then naturalism is almost certainly false. And it would seem that even Eberle would have to agree in that case that no fallacy of personal incredulity has been committed.

Aug 31, 2006

What Must We Believe?

Are there things that I must believe if I can legitimately call myself a Christian? In our atheological age, it is always good to be reminded that there are indeed some essential doctrinal truths--truths that define the very essence or being of the Christian faith. Christians, of course, differ among themselves over many doctrinal issues. nevertheless, there at least seven doctrinal issues that Christians throughout the ages have considered essential. In what follows, I will describe these seven doctrines and provide a biblical justification for them. I invite readers to comment and ask questions.

1. The Deity and Humanity of Christ
It is essential to the Christian faith that Jesus of Nazareth is God incarnate. This means that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. As the Chalcedonian Definition puts is, Jesus is “truly God and truly man.” He has two distinct natures, human and divine, which are “unconfused, unchanged, indivisible, and inseparable.”

That Jesus is God is clearly taught in the Bible. John declares, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Paul wrote that Jesus was “in very nature God” (Phil. 2:6) and that in him “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9). The Lord Jesus himself, referring to Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush, declared, “Before Abraham was born, ‘I Am’”—for which the Jews took up stones to kill him for blasphemy.

Jesus’ full humanity is also set forth plainly in Scripture. He was “born of a woman” (Gal. 4:4); he grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52); he hungered and thirsted (Luke 4:2; John 19:19); he died (John 19:30). Both John and Paul underscore the dual nature of Christ by teaching that in Christ God became a man. John says that the divine Word “became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14), and Paul explains that though Jesus was in very nature God, he “emptied himself. . .being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).

2. The Trinity
Belief in the deity of Christ necessitates affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. Some people, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, mock the idea the Jesus is God by asking such questions as, “Well, if Jesus was God while on the earth and he died on the cross, then who was running the universe while he was in the grave?” and “If Jesus was God, then who was he praying to in the Garden of Gethsemene?” What those who ask such questions fail to realize is that the doctrine of the Trinity is designed (in part) to directly address those kinds of issues! Since the universe was obviously still under divine control while Jesus was in the grave, and since Jesus would not likely pray to himself, there must be more than one divine person! This logic finds confirmation in the Bible. When Jesus (who is God) was baptized, we are told that the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove and a voice spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Three distinct and divine persons are simultaneously present in this event: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean that Christians believe in three gods? Not at all. The doctrine of the Trinity is not the view that there are three gods. Neither is it the absurd view that there are three gods and one God at one time. Early church leaders explained that the Son and the Holy Spirit were of the same essence or substance with the Father, though they are nevertheless distinct personalities. Though containing an element of mystery that we may never fully understand, the doctrine of the Trinity asserts that there is one and only one God, who exists simultaneously in three personalities.

3. Original Sin
Having a right view of Jesus requires a right view of human beings. We believe that Jesus is our Savior. We believe that he died for our sins (see below). We in fact believe, as several biblical texts indicate, that Jesus had to die—his death is somehow necessary for our salvation (see Luke 24:26; Rom. 3:26). Moreover, as we will see, our salvation is secured not by any of our works, but by grace alone through faith alone. For all of this to make sense, human beings must all be in a certain condition. Theologians call this condition original sin. This means that every human being is born into a state of guilt and corruption inherited from our first parent, Adam. In other words, we are born sinners. We are born, that is, with a nature that is bent toward sin and rebellion and which is incapable of doing any good in the sight of God.

Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Worse, “there is none who does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12). Worse still, “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8). David explains why we are in such a terrible condition when he says of himself, “I was. . .sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Paul echoes this idea when he says that all of us are “by nature objects of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). We come into the world in a state of original sin because Adam, as the representative of the whole human race, sinned on our behalf: “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men. . . . through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:18, 19).

The implication of original sin is that we all naturally stand under the just condemnation of God with no hope that we can earn his favor and escape his wrath. This is where Jesus comes in.

4. The Substitutionary Atonement
Romans 5:8 announces the gracious news: “But God demonstrates his own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We cannot save ourselves. We cannot do anything to escape God’s just wrath. But God the Father, in love and mercy, sent God the Son to die for us. For Christ to die for us means that he died on our behalf, for our benefit. More than that, however, he died in our stead. The Apostle John states that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins. . .” (1 John 2:2). That big word “propitiation” has to do with the satisfaction of God’s wrath; with the appeasement of God’s just anger toward our sin. Paul makes this even clearer in Romans, when he writes,

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [ propitiation], through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

Notice that Paul not only uses the important word “propitiation” in this text, but he also clearly connects the death of Christ with God’s justice. Christ was presented as a sacrifice on the cross so that God might be seen as both “just and the one who justifies”—Just because he does not leave our sins unpunished, and the justifier because he punishes Christ in our place and imputes to us his perfect righteousness through faith (vv. 21-22).

All of this means that Christ’s death on the cross served as a substitutionary atonement. He died as our substitute to satisfy the demands of God’s holy justice regarding our sin. It is only because of the substitutionary death of Christ that those who believe are saved. This is why the substitutionary atonement is an essential doctrine of the Christian faith.

5. The Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian faith stands or falls on the truth of the resurrection of Jesus. Paul made it clear that “if Christ is not raised, then your faith is worthless” (1 Cor. 15:17). If Christ is not raised, then he is still dead and buried. If Christ is not raised, then we have no reason to believe his exalted claims about himself, namely, that he is the incarnate God who determines the eternal destinies of every human being. If Christ is not raised, then we have no hope that our sins have been forgiven—we would be, as Paul woefully laments, “still in [our] sins.” As the Apostle says elsewhere, Christ “was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:25). In other words, Jesus’ resurrection guarantees us that the Father accepted his death on the cross as payment for our sin. Without his resurrection, we would have a sure indication that his death on the cross accomplished nothing at all.

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead,” declares Paul (1 Cor. 15:20). He was seen alive again by Peter and the other apostles, as well as James and Paul, and even 500 people at one time (see 1 Cor. 15:3-8)![ii] So, those who believe may have assurance that their sins are forgiven, and that just as Christ was raised from the dead, so they will be, too.

6. Justification by Faith Alone
“Justification” is the act by which God declares sinners just or righteous in his sight. Every pseudo-Christian religion holds that faith on the part of the sinner plays a role in justification. Genuine Christianity, however, teaches that justification is by faith alone. Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, the Watchtower Society, the International Church of Christ, and other pseudo-Christian religions deny that justification is by faith alone. Rather, they teach that justification is by faith plus works. For example, though the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church are clear that God’s grace is necessary to put a person on the road to justification, and to give him strength to pursue holiness, they also declare that justification comes at the end of a process in which the sinner, through moral effort and good works, achieves true, inward righteousness. In other words, for the Catholic (and others) justification follows sanctification.

The biblical view, however, is that justification precedes sanctification. By grace alone through faith alone, God declares sinners justified. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, justified sinners enter into the pursuit of holiness. As Scripture says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). And how could it be any clearer than it is in Romans 4:5, where we are told: “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”

Salvation is an unmerited gift of God’s sovereign mercy. The doctrine of justification by faith alone is crucial to preserving this truth. If our good works play any role in acquiring justification, then salvation is not entirely by grace, and it would not be true (contrary to Eph. 2:9) that no one could boast.

7. The Second Advent of Christ
Though often left out of these types of discussions, it is another essential doctrine that Jesus Christ, who departed the earth shortly after his resurrection (Luke 24:50-5; Acts 1:9-11), will return bodily ot this planet. Jesus told his disciples before his crucifixion, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to myself" (John 14:3). After his ascension, the angels told the disciples, "This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same manner that you have seen him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11). This is why the Apostles' Creed declares that Christ "ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, from thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead."

One of the reasons why the Second Coming if Jesus is essential is that Christians believe (and the Bible teaches) that we are currently living in what Scipture calls "this age" (cf. Mark 10:29-30; Luke 20:34-36; 1 Tim. 6:17-19, etc.), and age characterized by corruption, imperfection, sin, death, and pain. Christian believe and hope that "this age" is not the final state, that it will give way to "the age to come" in which we will live in incorruptable resurrection bodies that are free of disease, pain, sin, and death. The demarcation between "this age" and "the age to come" is the return of Christ. This is why Paul reminds us of the importance of pursuing holiness in this life. The reason is hat we are not citizens of this world or age, but "our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:20).

Before I close this brief article, I want to head off a possible misunderstanding. I have called the six doctrines outlined above the essential doctrines of the Christian faith. By that I mean that these doctrines are of the esse of the Christian faith; that is, they constitute the very being of Christianity. Without these doctrines, there would be no Christianity. I have also said that these doctrines are necessary for a person to legitimately call himself a Christian.

Now does this mean that a person who does not believe all six of these doctrines is automatically lost and going to Hell? Does this mean that a person must understand and believe all six of these doctrines before he can be saved? The answer to both questions is “no.” I dare say that few people who are converted to faith in Christ have a full understanding of the Trinity, for example. Theologians have a hard time delineating exactly how much a person has to believe and understand before he can be converted, and so it is safe to not be dogmatic at this point.

However, this much can be said with confidence: any person who understands these doctrines and their significance for the Christian worldview, yet conscientiously denies any one of them—that person is not a Christian (or, at least, you and I have no reason to believe that he is a Christian). What this means is that a person may ignorantly espouse a heresy without being a heretic. But a person who knowingly embraces a heresy is a heretic whose eternal soul is in danger. This is why Christians must defend sound doctrine and reach out in love to those who are in error.

[Most of this article previously appeared in my "The Genuine Article: The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith," Areopagus Journal 2:3 (July 2002): 31-35.]

Aug 22, 2006

Church for Skeptics

A TV ministry program called Church for Skeptics hosted by Dan Arsenault is now available online. Myself and other members of the Apologetics Resource Center staff participate in several episodes. Check it out at:

Aug 8, 2006

A Time for War

King Solomon in his masterwork Ecclesiastes (actually God's masterwork) wrote, "For everything there is a season." Among the things for which there is a season, he continued, there is a "time for war and a time for peace" (Eccl 3:8). I have come to believe in recent days that now is a time for war. No, I'm not talking about spiritual warfare--I'm talking about real, guns and bombs warfare.

In the last month, tha nation of Israel has been engaged in a life-or-death struggle with the terrorist army "Hezbollah." They are doing what any sane nation would do if attacked by such thugs. They are waging war to defend themselves and to secure a lasting and just peace. Yet, the cry from every corner it seems is that Israel must restrain herself. The U.N. and others are calling for a ceasefire, acting as if the worst possible scenario is further fighting and bloodshed. They are wrong. A worse outcome is a "peace" that is not just and not permanent. And this pseudo-peace will be the inevitable result if Israel does anything less than wipe Hezbollah from the face of the earth.

The pacifists and those who believe that "one man's terrorist is just another man's freedom-fighter" refuse to come to grips with the fact that there are people, organizations, and nations who are bound and determined by fanatical religious conviction to eradicate not only Israel from the Earth, but the U.S. and every other free nation as well. They have ipso facto declared war on all of us. There is no negotiating with them. There is no ceasefire possible with radical Islam--a religion of hate and violence. Any so-called ceasefire would only be an opportunity for them to reorganize and rearm and plot and plan more destruction.

I believe that the right course of action is for our government, and every other free government that is courageous enough to do it, to declare war on radical Islam. To vow to destroy and bring regime change any organization or nation that has cried "death to America" or harbors or supports Islamist terrrorism in any way. This means Hezbollah. This mean Syria. This means Iran.

It is a time for war.

Jun 27, 2006

Two Books on the Best-sellers List

I was just browsing through the local newpaper and noticed what seemed to me to be an ironic juxtiposition of two books on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Under fiction, the number 4 ranked best seller is Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkin's The Rapture, the lastest installment in their "Left Behind" series (actually the new prequel series to Left Behind). Will their nonsense never stop??!--I guess not, not as long as Christians (and non-Christians, too!) keep wanting to buy this drivel.

What's very interesting to me, though, is that right alongside The Rapture, the number 1 best seller this week under non-fiction is Ann Coulter's Godless-- a book that exposes the religious nature of political liberalism. I have been reading Coulter's book myself with great delight. Though her satire is sometimes too biting for my taste, her analysis of liberal ideology seems to me to be right on the money.

But why do I find the juxtipostion of these two books so interesting? Both books are written by Christians, both books are no doubt being read by many conservative Christians (with approval of their respective theological messages, no doubt). And yet, the underlying theological themes of each book couldn't be more different! The Left Behind books teach a particular view of the relationship between Christianity and earthly culture that is patently pessimistic. The world is going to Hell in a handbasket, and all that poor persecuted Christians can do is hang on for the rapture. There is no call for cultural engagement, no need to be salt and light so as to transform human culture and make it better as we wait for Jesus' return.

Coulter, on the other hand, seems to care very much about cultural engagement (she's actually doing it!). She has written several books, including Godless, in which she challenges unbiblical thinking in the political realm; she is "destroying arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God." It seems to me that Coulter's approach to Christ and Culture is much closer to the Bible's view than LaHaye's and Jenkin's. Many Christians may not agree with her approach or with some of her political views, but she is nonetheless seeking to fulfill the Bible's cultural mandate.

The irony, though, is that Christian readers like both books and yet have no clue that their underlying presuppostions about the Christian's relation to culture are completely contradictory. Go figure.

Jun 22, 2006

Christian Philosophy in China!

Hi, folks! I'm sorry I haven't posted in a while, but I've been busy. I have been trying to make the transition to my new position as Associate Professor of Philosophy and Aplogetics at Southeastern Bible College. Moveover, I have just recently returned from a trip to China. Sponsored by the Society of Christian Philosophers, I was invited to give lectures on various aspects of Christian philosophy at Xiamen University in Xiamen, China. Can you believe it? It still amazes me that I could go to that country and give lectures that more or less defended Christianity at a secular Chinese university. I guess what amazes me even more is that such a thing is becoming almost impossible to do in the good ole USA!

For those who may be interested, here are the titles of the lectures gave. If there is any interest, I may give some details later on their actual content:

"Religion and Science: Are They Compatible?"
"Do We Have Religious Knowledge?"
"A Christian Ethical Theory"

After each lecture, there was oportunity for extended Q&A. There was a lot of good discussion, though I have to say that most of the questions the students asked had little to do with the content of my lectures. In fact, I found it quite humorous that the first question asked on the afternoon of my first lecture was, "What do you think of the Da Vinci Code?" American pop culture has very long arms!!!

May 19, 2006

Three Apologists Every Christian Should Know

The next issue of Areopagus Journal (due out in a week or two) will highlight the contribution of three 20th-century men to the field of apologetics (the rational defense of the Christian faith). These three men are C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Alvin Plantinga.

These men are significantly different in their aproaches to apologetics, as well as in their various intellectual skills. Yet, in their own way, they have made a huge impact on the Christian church and on our culture. Of course, there are many other contemporary apologists we could have highlighted in this journal issue. We did not select these three because we agree with everything they wrote. We don't. These were selected because, without doubt, they have had the greatest overall influence on the field--Lewis and Schaeffer primarily at the popular level, and Plantinga at the academic level.

I hope that you will order a copy of the journal and read about these giants of the faith. You can order Areopagus Journal at:

Apr 19, 2006

The Gospel of Judas: More Gnostic Nonsense

Last Sunday night I watched the National Geographic Special on “The Gospel of Judas.” As usual with other recent programs of this sort that deal with the topic of the historical Jesus, I came away somewhat frustrated, perhaps even angry—not because the program attacked my personal beliefs or challenged the truth of Christianity, but because (once again) shoddy historical research and politically motivated revisionist history were being passed on to a gullible, biblically illiterate public as indisputable fact.

The Gospel of Judas is a Gnostic gospel similar in many respects to other “lost” gospels that have become the subject of popular discussion in recent years due to the popularity of the best-seller, The Da Vinci Code—works such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. As The Gospel of Judas has it, Judas was not the villain that orthodox Christians have portrayed for 2000 years. Rather, he was Jesus’ most trusted disciple, and the only one who truly understood his mission. According to the story, Jesus actually gave Judas the task of “betraying” him so that Jesus could die on the cross and be freed from his physical body (Gnostics believe physical stuff to be evil). So, Jesus’ betrayal and death were apparently not evil acts in themselves, but spiritual necessities designed to release Jesus from a physical prison. Rather than an evil traitor, Judas was actually a hero and the recipient of the secret knowledge (gnosis) required for true salvation.

Now why is this a big deal? Why would we think this Gnostic gospel anything more than a harmless historical curiosity? It’s because the producers of the National Geographic special, inspired by the revisionist history of Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman (the two scholars given the bulk of the airtime on the show), are pushing the idea that the Gospel of Judas presents us with a picture of Jesus and of early Christianity that is just as authentic, and perhaps more authentic, than the portrait of Jesus and the church that we find in the four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Ehrman and Pagels have made a name for themselves in recent years by pushing the thesis that in early Christianity there was no “orthodoxy,” no single standard of belief about the identity and mission of Jesus. Instead, the early church manifested a great deal of doctrinal diversity with many different, even conflicting, views of Jesus. What is their proof for this idea?—the so-called Gnostic Gospels, many of which were contained in the Nag Hammadi library, a collection of Gnostic works discovered in Egypt in 1945. So, according to Pagels and Ehrman (and the National Geographic Society), there existed in the early church about 30 gospels, not just four, and these gospels show that early Christianity was a mosh-posh of theological traditions and it wasn’t until the third and fourth centuries that the camp we call “orthodox Christianity” one supremacy through political oppression of opposing version of Christianity.

It ought to be enough to respond to this theory with one word: hogwash! For that is exactly what it is. Unfortunately, many people (even church-going people) are being misled by the likes of Pagels and Ehrman. So, a more substantial response is called for. There is not time or space here to be thorough, but let me offer the following remarks in rebuttal:

1. The Gnostic Gospels cannot support the Pagels-Ehrman thesis about early church diversity for several reasons. First, because the Gnostic gospels (including the Gospel of Judas) did not exist in the early church. The manuscripts of the Nag Hammadi library were transcribed between A.D. 350-400. And there is no evidence whatsoever that any of these books were written before A.D. 150. Before that time, the Gnostic gospels were unknown—which is a strong indication that they were not written until after that time. Concerning the Gospel of Judas, we have a reference to it in the works of the church father Irenaeus in the year 180. So, we can know that this gospel existed at that time. However, there is no reason to think that it existed prior to that time. Second, we know that all four canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) were written in the first century, during the apostolic era. What is more, some time before Irenaeus, the canonical gospels became universally accepted throughout the church as authoritative and divinely inspired works. For instance, the Muratorian Canon (c. 170) lists the four gospels along with 16 other New Testament books as homologoumena (books accepted as authoritative by all the church). Though containing many differences, these four gospels nevertheless tell the same basic story about Jesus and identify him as fully human and fully divine (and they paint Judas as a traitorous villain). No other gospels as close to the life of Jesus as these four existed in the early church, least of all the Gnostic gospels.

2. There is ample evidence from early Christian documents that there was a single, orthodox Christian faith from the very beginning. First Corinthians was written by Paul about A.D. 55. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Paul speaks of the gospel message he “received” and “passed on” to others. That message included the account of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus (the latter is especially important since Gnostics do not believe in a bodily resurrection). The words of this text are written in a highly formulaic style indicative of a creedal statement. So, what Paul is saying is that he had earlier “received” this creed and had passed it on to the Corinthians. When did Paul receive this doctrinal tradition? No doubt, he received it on his visit to Jerusalem as recorded in Galatians 1:18-19). This means (as most critical scholars acknowledge) that this creed dates no later than A.D. 40, within ten years of Jesus’ death. This same Paul also says in Galatians (his earliest epistle, written about A.D. 49) that there is only one gospel message, and any teacher who deviates from that message is accursed—a clear indication of a standard of orthodoxy. Elsewhere, Paul states that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:5). Throughout the New Testament, in books known to be early first century documents, there are numerous exhortations to hold on to sound doctrine and warnings against false doctrine (Matt. 24:4-14; Col. 2:8-9, 16-23; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Heb. 13:9; 2 Pet. 2; 1 John 2:18-23; 4:2-3; Jude). All of this is a clear indication that there was a discernable Christian orthodoxy in the early, first-century church, long before the advent of Gnosticism and the writing of the Gnostic gospels.

3. Another point is worth mentioning. The earliest Christian canon was the Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament. These Scriptures taught that the world (and material things) was created by God and was inherently good. This fact explains very clearly why the Gnostic gospels could not possibly have been taken seriously by early Christians and could not possibly have been just one, competing “version” of Christianity. The Gnostics rejected the goodness of the created order and they rejected the authority of the Old Testament, believing that the God of the Old Testament was not really God, but an evil spirit who rebelled against the true God. The presence and authority of the Old Testament in the early church provides the reductio ad absurdum to the Pagels-Ehrman thesis that Gnosticism was an authentic expression of early Christianity.

Apr 6, 2006

Christianity vs. Immigration Reform?

Watching the news in recent days you would never guess that Christians are anything but anti-immigration reform and pro-illegal immigrants. Spokesmen for the church in the media (usually Catholic) seem, for the most part, to advocate preventing the government from stopping illegal immigration from Mexico. In particular, they oppose the government's doing anything to stop churches/Christians from aiding or even harboring illegal immigrants. Appeals are made to the ethics of Jesus, to his concern for the down-trodden and outcast, to his demand that his followers "give a drink of water" to the thirsty.

Well, I'm a Christian. A Bible-believing Christian. A Christian who takes the teachings of Jesus very seriously (as divinely inspired and inerrant, in fact). And I just don't get it. I don't see the connection between Christian faith and Jesus' teaching on the one hand, and the aversion to immigration reform on the other. In fact, as a Christian, I believe that it is morally wrong to abet, harbor, or employ an illegal alien. This does not mean that I think we shouldn't sympathize with the plight of the impoverished Latin Americans who are seeking a better life in this country. It doesn't mean that I think we shouldn't feed them if their hungry or clothe them if they're naked (we should, after all, obey the teachings of God rather than men).

However, I also believe that, as a Christian, when I hand the illegal alien a drink of water with one hand, I ought with the other hand to dial up the U.S. Border Patrol and turn them in for a quick deportation to their home country. God establishes human government in order to establish and maintain justice, and to secure the peace and safety of its citizens (Romans. 13:1-7). And I am called as a Christian to submit to the governing authorities and support them in their God-given task.

It seems evident to me that by not securing our border and allowing the constant flood of illegal immigrants to cross our borders the government is failing in its duty to protect our security. This is a national security issue! Any one of those illegals could be carrying a nuclear bomb! Moreover, to harbor the illegal aliens and not turn them over to the authorities is to disobey the government laws (just laws, by the way) without sufficient cause, and to encourage more people to break those laws.

No, there is nothing un-Christian about supporting immigration reform and the enforcement of immigration laws. Quite the contrary. It is a failure of Christian duty to do otherwise.

Mar 24, 2006

The Da Vinci Code: Coming Soon to a Theater Near You!

In just a few weeks, the movie adaptation of Dan Brown's bestseller The DaVinci Code will hit the silver screeen. How should Christians respond to this? Should we take notice? Should we see the movie? Should we protest? Should we rant and rave about one more attack on Christians in the culture war?

I suggest that we not rant and rave or protest per se. I do suggest that we see the movie, perhaps even read the book. For one thing, judged purely as a work of literature, it is a descent novel (and I trust an exciting movie). It is not Tolstoy or Hemingway, but it is a page-turner and a good piece of escapist fiction--I know, I've read the book and thoroughly enjoyed it--accept when the author made me mad with some of his absurd claims about church history. For another thing, if we are going to criticize something, we need to know what we're criticizing (and btw the book contains no gratuitous or explicit sex or violence). Finally, I think the release of this movie can allow Christians an opportunity to speak the truth in love to our neighbors, many of whom will be deceived and misled by the erroneous historical claims made by Brown.

So why not see the movie, read and study some of the Christian reviews and critiques of the book, and then deliberately set out to engage your friends and neighbors in a loving, but hopefully fruitful dialogue about the real Jesus who is God in the flesh, who died on the cross to save us from our sins.

Mar 2, 2006

Sovereignty and Free Will Revisited

Cedar of lebanon asked some good questions about an earlier blog post on the relationship between God's sovereignty and human freedom. His post and my response are somewhat lengthy, so I enter it here as a new post...

cedar of lebanon said...
I was having trouble with this argument and one of the problems I thought I saw was that the two options, Job A or Job B, did not seem to be a true moral choice where there is clearly right and wrong.

My first gut reaction at this point is to say that you may have missed the point of my argument. The whole point was that if a person makes a choice (a moral one or not) without a sufficient reason for that choice, then he is acting arbitrarily and irrationally-- a mark typically seen with people and actions which we deem non-morally culpable. The conclusion being that libertarianism suggests that agents are not morally responsible for their actions. Anyway, let's see where you go with this...

To promote thought regarding this I have re-written the discussion, but replaced the character and the choices with something more familiar.

Suppose there is a person named Joseph, who is trying to decide between two options. Let us label the first option "sleep with Potaphar’s wife" and the second option "run." And let us suppose that there are reasons in favor of Joseph choosing to sleep with her, and other reasons in favor of Joseph choosing to run. The former we will call RA and the latter RB. Now RA may include such factors as the desire for pleasure, a feeling of power and importance, and so on. But, other equally significant factors support running, so that RB includes the fact the God would be pleased if he ran, he would not betray Potiphar, and so on.

Now suppose that Joseph finally decides to accept the offer to sleep with her. We need to ask the question, then, "Why did Joseph choose this option?" The libertarian, being an indeterminist, cannot say that the reasons Joseph had for this option—RA—compelled or determined that Joseph choose that option. Joseph, being free, could have done otherwise. But, I want to suggest that if Joseph had free will when he choose to sleep with her, then his actions were random and arbitrary in such a way that he could not possibly be morally responsible for choosing to do this.The libertarian, of course, will cry foul at this point. "How can Joseph’s choice be arbitrary since he had some reasons—RA—for choosing it?"

Well, I can agree that RA can be meaningfully cited as reasons for why Joseph chose to sleep with her, but I submit that the libertarian has answered the wrong question. The salient question is not, "Why did Joseph choose to sleep with her?", but "Why did Joseph choose to sleep with her rather than run?" I do not think that the libertarian can answer this question satisfactorily.In fact, I believe that the libertarian indeterminist is caught on the horns of a dilemma: The question is, "Why did Joseph choose to sleep with her rather than run?" Either there is an answer to this question or there is not. If there is an answer, then Joseph's choice is determined (and indeterminism is false). If there is no answer, then Joseph's choice is made arbitrarily. So, if indeterminism is true, then Joseph's choice is a random choice, and his moral responsibility for that choice is vitiated. Let me present this dilemma a bit more formally:

(1) Either there is a causally sufficient reason why Joseph chose to sleep with her rather than run, or there is not.
(2) If there is a causally sufficient reason why, then Joseph's choice is determined.
(3) If there is no causally sufficient reason why, then Joseph's choice is arbitrary.

In defense of (3), let us imagine three different scenarios regarding the relative weight of the reasons Joseph may have with respect to the two options. First, suppose that Joseph's reasons for choosing either option are equally weighted. That is, let it be the case that RA provides no motivation to prefer sleeping with her to running, and vice versa. If so, then it seems that there is no reason why Joseph chose sleeping with her rather than running, even though he did have the considerations of RA in favor of sleeping with her. Would not his choice to sleep with her rather than run be just as arbitrary as if he had no reasons for choosing either option (i.e., if both RA and RB did not exist)? So it seems. So, how does adding equally weighted reasons for the respective options diminish the arbitrariness of the choice in such a way as to ground Joseph's moral responsibility?

The difficulty does not go away if we assume that RA and RB are not equally weighted. Suppose that RA makes the choice of sleeping with her more preferable, so preferable in fact that it would be clearly irrational to choose to run. The indeterminist/libertarian would still maintain that there is no causally sufficient reason why Joseph chooses to sleep with her (if in fact he does choose to sleep with her). Joseph is perfectly capable of choosing to run in this situation. But, the compatibilist can reply that moral responsibility would come down, on this view, to having the ability to make an irrational choice. And who would want such an ability?

But, what if RA is weightier than RB, but not by a great margin? That is, would our assessment of Joseph's moral responsibility be any different if he had some reason to prefer sleeping with her to runing, yet that reason was not so overwhelmingly preferable that running instead would seem obviously crazy? I don't think so. It would still turn out to be irrational to choose to run if Joseph could not say anything in explanation of his choice.

To see this, imagine two possible worlds, W1 and W2, that both contain our character Joseph. And let us assume that in both worlds he has some small preference for sleeping with Potaphar’s wife as opposed to running (but not a very strong preference). Now suppose also that in both worlds Joseph opts for running (the less preferable choice). Intuitively, is seems possible for such a choice to be made, and we would not, in ordinary situations, immediately charge someone who made such a choice with irrationality. Let us suppose, for example, that in W1 Joseph, if asked why he chose to run rather than sleep with her, would reply, "I just had a gut feeling about sleeping with her." We would be prone, I think, to accept this answer and not consider Joseph irrational because acting on a gut feeling is often the appropriate thing to do and does in fact constitute a reason for Joseph to really prefer running after all. It's the presence of this reason that explains why we are willing to give Joseph's rationality (in W1) the benefit of the doubt.

However, suppose that things are slightly different with respect to Joseph in W2. Suppose that he had no gut feelings about running that influenced him to choose it in spite of adultery’s apparent preferability. We ask, "So even though adultery seemed more preferable on purely rational grounds, you chose to run because it appealed to you in some unspecifiable way?" Joseph replies, "No, sleeping with her appealed to me more. I just picked running. No reason." It would be safe to conclude that Joseph is irrational. He quite arbitrarily chose to run rather than commit adultery against clear reasons for the latter, and he did so for absolutely no reason. Hence, it would seem that the indeterminist wants us to ground responsibility in the ability to act irrationally. But, I submit that there is no reason that we should go along with this. When people act irrationally and arbitrarily, we tend to think that they are defective in some way—in a way that causes us to mitigate their moral responsibility. So, it would seem that libertarian free will is actually inconsistent with moral responsibility.

What do I conclude from all this? When confronted with the apparent problem of reconciling God’s sovereignty and free will, there is no reason to follow the Arminian in opting for free will and rejecting divine sovereignty, nor is there any need to paradoxically hold these concepts in tension. Because the only motivation for holding on to free will—the need to preserve moral responsibility—has no force. Moral responsibility does not require free will, and thus there is no reason, no motive, to diminish God’s sovereignty.

+++ I believe there are difficulties with this argument. Please comment. Thank you. cs +++

Well, cs, after reading your revision of the argument, substituting the Joseph story for my Smith's job-offer story, I honestly can't see any relevant differences that would cause me to change my view or revise my assessment of the story's significance. If Joseph chooses the less preferable option (preferable from his own perspective, mind you) for absolutely no reason, then Joseph is acting irrationally--irrationally in such a way as to make us think that there is something wrong with him. He makes the less preferable choice as sort of a "glitch" in his will--a choice that is very hard to even describe as a real choice rather than as an accident, something that happens to him, rather than something he does. If I actually met this "Joseph" character, and he told me that he literally made the "choice" for no reason, I would have to conclude either (1) he is lying (perhaps to himself as well as me) and he really does have a reason for his choice after all, or (2) he is sick or mentally defective--in which case he is not morally responsible.

If you think my assessment is mistaken, I'd be glad to entertain any critical remarks you might have.

Feb 3, 2006

Alabama Churches Set Ablaze!

I awoke early this morning to the news that six churches in rural Alabama (Bibb and Chilton counties) had been damaged by fire during the night. At least two of the churches were burned to the ground. Though investigators have not yet said so, this is undoubtedly the work of arsonists.

Race does not appear to be a factor since the churches set ablaze represented both black and white congregations. This suggests that the motive of the arsonist(s) could have been religious or perhaps political. Of course, it could have simply been the misdeeds of some nihilistic teenage pranksters with too much time on their hands. But, in our cultural climate, with more and more antagonism being aimed at conservative Christians in the so-called "culture war," my money is on the hypothesis that the arsonist was someone with a chip on his shoulder, someone who has come to dispise evangelical Christians or "organized religion."

Whoever it was, let us pray that the police catch him (or them) soon, before they can do this again.

Jan 17, 2006

We Need Judge Alito Now!

Once again, an activist, liberal-leaning, life-hating Supreme Court has made the wrong ruling! Today, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Oregon law that permits physician-assisted suicide. Both Justices O'Conner and Kennedy, purported to be conservatives, sided with majority to perpetuate the culture of death that has prevailed in that state for several years now.

This decision, of course, is just part of the trend that Americans have had to live with for many years--the trend to move our society further and further away from commonsense moral values and a respect for the sanctity of human life. In 1973, they legalized abortion on demand. A couple of years ago, the court struck down all the nation's anti-sodomy laws, paving the way for the possibility of same-sex marriage down the road. A few months ago, they undermined one of our most basic liberties, the right to private property, by allowing cities to use the concept of public domain to take people's homes and sell them to private corporations to enhance the local economy. In many of the more recent cases, Justice O'Conner has been the deciding vote in very close 5-4 decisions by the court.

Fortunately, she is about to retire. And, Lord willing, Judge Samuel Alito will take her place and swing the balance of the court back in the direction of sanity. We need him and others like him on the Supreme Court now! He and Judge Roberts are long overdue!

The one good thing that came out of the court's decision today is that we all got to see Judge Robert's true colors--he joined Scalia and Thomas in desenting from the court's life-hating decision to allow Oregon doctors to continue killing human beings.

Jan 3, 2006

Do You Know How to Interpret the Bible?

Everyone has an opinion of what particular passages of Scripture mean. Too often I hear things like "That's just your interpretation" or "This text means to me. . ."--as if there is no right interpretation of biblical texts and as if any interpretation is as good as another.

However, nothing could be further from the truth. Any biblical text means what its original author intended it to mean, nothing more, nothing less. What's more, we can learn that meaning if we are willing to work hard at it. There is a science of interpreting books, including the Bible. That science is called "hermeneutics." Those who sudy biblical hermeneutics learn the appropriate rules and procedures for interpreting the Bible so that they can give intelligent, informed answers when people ask them about the meaning of a passage of Scripture.

The first 2006 issue of ARC's magazine Areopagus Journal will be about hermeneutics. If you care about "rightly dividing the Word of God", then I strongly encourage you to purchase that issue and get a crash course in biblical interpretation. You can order it at:

Debate on Intelligent Design

New Orleans Seminary is hosting a debate on Intelligent Design theory to be held in Marietta, Georgia at Johnson Ferry Road Baptist Church on Feb. 3-4, 2006.

The two main speakers are William Dembski, one of the premier defenders of ID, and Michael Ruse, a prominent critic of ID. Other participants include William Lane Craig, Frank Beckwith, Martin Hewlett, and Wesley Elsberry. Make plans to attend this important event.