Monthly Archives: June 2008

Don’t leave your brain at the church door!

My main pastor in life was Dr. Gene Scott (who I look forward to posting about at a later date).  One of his lines was always, “You don’t have to leave your brain at the church door.”  It was a theme I was raised with from early childhood.  I believe this idea applies equally to atheists/non-believers of every type, and to my fellow Christians as well.

As my verse of the day says today, “…Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” Luke 10:27  It very clearly includes your mind.  Now, I believe that different people come to a belief in Christ Jesus through any of those various means; for example, an emotional experience or appeal, a spiritual experience or realization, a logical argument or a logical internal conclusion, etc…  Any and every avenue is open and Christianity affirms each and also withstands scrutiny from any angle.

When one becomes a believer, meaning they have indeed placed their trust and faith on Christ, I have found that it comes to include all of the above.  Now, don’t misunderstand me in this post; I don’t believe every Christian has to be a stuffy intellectual, far from it, but the Lord gave us brains to think with, and we honor Him by using our brains.  For example, don’t just accept what your pastor, or another teacher is dishing out…dig into it on your own (with the help of the Holy Spirit), look up the verses and contexts, compare your KJV to your NASB, use a Strong’s and look up the Hebrew and Greek, kick it around, digest it.  Doc used to tell everyone that listened to him to check out what he was saying, not just nod along.  Philippians 2:12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. Thinking things through, asking respectful questions, digging into apologetics and scripture, learning a bit about logic and philosophy, are not bad things in the least, and helps us get into the “meat” of the Christian message.

Another point Doc always made, is if you are called to be a Christian Apologist, this doesn’t do your debate partner, or audience much good, “You ask me how I know He lives…He lives within my heart.”  You probably need to take it a step further and fill in the gaps, and answer some questions; How do you know He lives within your heart?  What does that mean, precisely?  Why should I want Him to live in my heart? Etc…. (For those of you who don’t recognize it, those words come from the wonderful hymn, He Lives.  It works very very well in a song, and to express what a lot of us feel, but for apologetics purposes, it needs a little detail added, and the metaphors made clear…)  Personal evidence is usually what has impacted us most on a very personal level, and can indeed impact others, but other evidence, or even just objective explanations are helpful too.  But, as always, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and how you feel compelled to either discuss, or not discuss issues with others, always trumps any general advice I’m talking about here, and no two Christians are going to present their thoughts in exactly the same way.

This idea also has implications for the non-believer; it isn’t a Christian’s responsibility to do the research on your behalf.  Not every Christian is interested in arguing over ever single point that people obsess over; not all of us are called to do that.  In fact, the main thing we are called to share is the gospel message.  When we are asked to give a reason for our hope, we are to give one (1 Peter 3:15); but you, as a non-believer, do not get to dictate what kind of reason it is.  An emotional reason can be just as valid as a logical reason, because we are not all expected or commanded to play formal logic games all day, nor is it our job to “convince” someone of the Truth of the gospel.  Also, non-believers, don’t leave your brains at the church door either.  I’ve seen evidence that there are indeed atheists, just for example, that do not believe, based upon emotion; they are mad at the way a hypocritical Christian (yes, they do exist) treated them, they are angry at something some church or another did, they are mad or scared because God isn’t the way they want Him to be, they are content with the way they currently are, etc… Don’t let emotion rule you either; Christianity can, and indeed should, be looked at through the lens of logic, and that’s why I say to everyone reading this, “don’t leave your brain at the church door!”

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I call straw…man!

Continuing on with the discussion of rhetorical devices learned of in philosophy of logic courses, the straw man fallacy is quite a common occurrence.  However, it is not quite so common as most people seem to think.  I have witnessed more arguments mislabeled “Strawman” arguments than correctly labelled “Strawman” arguments.  It’s one of those rhetorical devices that is very easy to claim, so easy that one would think there are Strawmen everywhere.

First a definition.  The hint is in the name, and that is what makes it relatively easy to remember.  What is easier to knock down, push over, or step past?  A real man, or a man made out of straw?  Of course the correct answer it the straw man.  In formal argumentation, a straw man occurs when a person misrepresents, distorts, or exaggerates another’s argument.  They do so in order to make the “argument” easier to knock down…I have found that they usually attempt this when there is an audience, either a group of listeners, or readers.  One of the ways to avoid twisting another person’s argument is, if possible, to simply ask them if you are understanding their argument correctly, and reiterate their points to double check.

I’ve seen people legitimately call “Strawman” in the area of Apologetics, I’ve also seen it misused.  One of the Logic textbooks I use actually has a fine example of a straw man used against Christians, though the interesting thing is, the authors of the textbook employ the straw man fallacy themselves. To paraphrase,  “You cannot refer back to the Bible in support of God; why do you believe in God, ‘because the Bible tells me He exists,’ and how do you know the Bible is true? ‘Because it is inspired by God…’  Well, that’s circular logic.”  Yes, and that is also a straw man fallacy.  First, I have to say that I have never personally heard, or read, a Christian employ that argument…is it possible that it has been used?  Yes.  But, the Christian position is not that we believe in God because the Bible tells us to, that is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation of our actual argument, and hence, a straw man fallacy.

What are some examples of the the real arguments that are often used that the author’s of the textbook characture?  One is that the Bible, a collection of ancient documents, has been shown to be a historically accurate, archaeologically accurate, inherently accurate, prophetically accurate, etc… therefore, they can be used as evidence, as premises, in support of God.  Now, if the atheist, or anyone who doubts these things wishes to question whether or not the Bible really is a valid source, that’s one thing (then, the Christian can direct them to the solid evidence that this is so).  However, to simply twist the Christian’s argument into a straw man is a fallacy.  For some odd reason many atheists insist that the Christian do not even bring relevant scripture into a conversation…it’s odd for several reasons, first, we hold the Bible to be inspired scripture (because it has been shown to be accurate in all of those previously mentioned areas, and more, so we hold that position based on evidence), of course we are going to employ it.  Second, we believe that scripture has the ability to make men think, and feel, and hear…or, to put it another way, one manner that The Holy Spirit convicts us, both believer, and non-believer, is through the scriptures.  We actually care about non-believers’ immortal souls, so we are going to do what we can, what we are instructed to do through scripture, to help; that includes introducing and clarifying scripture when appropriate.

So, learn what a straw man is, and be on the lookout for the straw man fallacy.  This is one rhetorical device that does come up in Apologetics; that way when someone labels something a “Strawman,” you’ll know what they are talking about and be able to judge for yourself, or, you’ll be in the position to proclaim, “I call straw…man!”

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Apologetics: The Messiah Prophecies…

One of the most fascinating and rewarding areas to research in Christianity is the many prophecies contained in the Bible, and their fulfillment, either in the past, or yet to come.  My previous blog post was all about Levitt Ministries.  They have been a significant source for me when studying the Old Testament prophecies, and they have done a lot of wonderful work on the Messiah Prophecies.  Here is a chart that they formulated that touches on several main prophecies about the Messiah, and their fulfillment found in Jesus (Yeshua), although there are many more. Notice how they come out of different books, showing how the historical documents that make up the Bible fit together like a puzzle.

Born in Bethlehem: Micah 5:2 fulfilled Matthew 2:1-5
The Son of God: Psalms 2:7 fulfilled John 3:16-17
Of the tribe of Judah: Gen. 49:10 fulfilled Heb. 7:14
Born of a virgin: Isa. 7:14 fulfilled Matt. 1:18-22
A prophet like Moses: Deut. 18:15 fulfilled John 7:15-17
The King of Israel: Zech. 9:9 fulfilled John 12:12-15
Rejected: Isa. 53:3 fulfilled John 1:11
Beaten: Mic. 5:1 fulfilled Mk. 15:19
Silent: Isa. 53:7 fulfilled Matt. 27:1-2
Betrayed: Psa. 41:9 fulfilled Mk. 14:17-20
Tried and Condemned: Isa. 53:8 fulfilled Matt. 27:1-2
Crucified: Psa. 22:18 fulfilled John 19:23-24
His garments divided: Psa. 22:18 fulfilled John 19:23-24
Given vinegar and gall: Psa. 69:21 fulfilled John 19:28-29
His bones not broken: Exo. 12:46 fulfilled John 19:31-36
He is our Sacrifice: Isa. 53:5-6 fulfilled Pet. 2:24-25
And raised from death! : Psa. 16:10 fulfilled Lk. 24:1-7, 47…

I like having them in order, and having the corresponding passages side by side. Again, this is something Zola Levitt used to teach on, and now Dr. Jeff Seif, who has taken over Levitt ministries after Zola’s death. They have several references for these prophecies and more over at: www.levitt.com One of the staff members at the ministry kindly gave me permission to post this chart online, please do not copy without permission of Levitt ministries.  In addition to different books on the prophecies, they also have this chart printed up on bookmarks with their ministry information on them.  I hope you check them out, and gain as much from them as I have.

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A look at Levitt Ministries…

One of my main purposes with this blog is to talk Apologetics.  There have been several ministries that have truly helped me in my faith, and learning the “meat” of the Christian message, which of course translates into better Apologetics.  Levitt Ministries is one of those.  Founded by Zola Levitt, a Jewish Christian, this ministry focuses on the Jewish roots of Christianity, and also on Israel; its history, current events, and role in Biblical prophecies.

After Zola passed away in 2006, Dr. Jeffrey Seif took over the teaching aspects of the ministry, and Sandra Levitt, Zola’s wife, stepped into the spotlight to help.  Their teachings on the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective bring scripture to life with deeper meanings that may not be so readily apparent to those of us not regularly exposed to Jewish teaching, and the Hebrew language.  The ministry has also raised my appreciation for Jesus’ (Yeshua’s) role as the prophesied Messiah, and has helped my understanding of many aspects and stories of the Old Testament.

If you are Jewish and are interested in getting a perspective on Christianity, their information; books, pamphlets, television shows, newsletter, etc… are an invaluable source.  If you are already a believer, and are looking to connect to others on the web that have the same interest, they have a lively forum where people can “gather” to pray for one another, fellowship, ask questions, keep up on the news out of the Mideast…

I’ve also had the privilege of seeing and hearing Sandra Levitt speak about Israel at a local church.  She is just as warm, vivacious, and passionate about these issues in person as she is on the television shows.  I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to Israel yet, but if I do, I hope to be able to go with Levitt ministries, as they offer various tours throughout the year.  They also have speakers available to come to your church to give talks about their ministry’s specialties.

One of the things I promised I would do when providing information about various ministries is let my readers know where I may differ with specific teachings.  When talking about Levitt Ministries, it is hard for me to come up with much; the only issues I have are slight variation of belief with certain details in prophecy (who will make up the 10 nation confederacy, for example) and with one of their longtime guests on the show; Dr. Gerald Schroeder.  Dr. Schroeder is a Jewish scientist that has an interesting theory about the Creation of the world.  He teaches how it is possible that Creation took both six literal days, and also millions of years, perhaps not a problem in itself, but it has implications for the series of events in Genesis, and the creation of man as well.  Having brought this up, I have to say that I do not judge a ministry based upon their guests, so I just mention it in passing; there is plenty of information on Dr. Schroeder’s theories out there on the web.

Levitt Ministries main website is: www.levitt.com If anyone has any questions about their ministry that I can answer, let me know, and I’ll do my best.  They are definitely worth checking out, and don’t forget to find out when their program airs on TV in your area, if you are interested (you can also watch certain programs online as well).  I will also add a post displaying a sample of one of their teachings.

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Oh, what a burden…

Doing Christian apologetics online can get really interesting, really serious, and also sometimes amusing.  I need to preface this post by explaining that I teach philosophy of logic at the college level, and there are two things that add to the context when reading this blog post; first, it is important to take a formal logic class if you are seriously going to debate anything online, or anywhere else for that matter, and second, taking one formal logic class is just enough to make a person dangerous…the danger being that one then tries to make everything into a formal argument, and one tends to see rhetorical devices lurking behind every sentence, which often leads to mislabelling, and can be annoying.

I’m going to focus on one problem area in this post; The Burden of Proof.  I don’t believe I’ve witnessed one specific area of logic argued over more between Christians and atheists.  The problem usually arises when a Christian who hasn’t had a formal logic course, or studied it on their own, or is not looking for a formal argument, runs into an atheist that has had a class, and is fit to bursting to show off their newly acquired vocabulary, unfortunately these meetings do not go well, and the only reason why is that there are crossed wires.  Inevitably, the conversation usually starts off with the atheist asking questions of the Christian, and the Christian giving their reasons for believing…the atheist doesn’t like what they hear, so the discussion escalates from there.  Then it happens, the Christian says, “fine, so prove to me that God doesn’t exist.”  Then the atheist pounces, and neglects to mention that they are now kicking into “formal” argument mode, instead of just a discussion.

“Oh, no,” says the atheist, “the burden of proving God exists falls on you.”  Here is where the misunderstanding comes in, and both sides are usually ignorant of what is happening.  When a Christian (who has not been warned that this has become an exercise in formal argumentation, instead of just a conversation) hears the words “the burden of proving,” they are not thinking about formal logic, they are thinking about moral responsibility.  So, they understandably hear, “Oh, no, the moral responsibility of proving God exists falls on you.”  And rightly, they flatly deny it.  The atheist assumes that the Christian doesn’t know logic, but that isn’t necessarily the case; their mindsets are just understandably different.  Christians are generally concerned with their moral responsibility, which actually ends at presenting the gospel truthfully and correctly, and includes providing a reason for their personal belief, if asked.  That’s it.  The rest we leave directly up to God and the atheist.

The discussion usually goes steeply downhill from there; the atheist insisting that the Christian has the burden and the Christian flatly denying it.  For the atheist’s part, they are referring to the formal logical concept of The Burden of Proof; who has the weight in arguing a certain issue to provide the majority of evidence to lend credence to their conclusion.  There are several ways of figuring out who has the logical burden; 1) If everyone involved agrees, you simply lay the ground rules for who has the burden (they do this formally in court proceedings, for example), 2) Whichever side has the least initial plausibility (meaning whichever side tends to run counter to things like common sense, and our background information) usually has the greater burden, and 3) Whichever side is stating a “positive” or “affirmative” position (there is life on mars, there is a problem with your battery, God does exist…) is normally held to the higher burden.

So, neither side is being intentionally thick, they are just using different definitions for “burden of proof.”  If you find yourself in a conversation like this, or just listening in, try to get each side to state what they mean by “burden of proof,” it should save a lot of misunderstanding.  As for me, the interesting question is, which side does indeed have the burden.  Well, it depends on which general rule you claim; if it is only a matter of the affirmative side, then yes, if I say, “God does exist,” and I am engaging in an argument, not just an explanation, then the burden would fall on me (not every statement is an argument, and not everyone is interested in “arguing”).  However, if we look at initial plausibility, I believe the burden shifts to the atheistic side, of course that is a debate in and of itself, which I’m not getting into in this post.  Also, the Christian is free to counter with, “you are claiming that nature itself, with no outside force or designer, is capable of bringing forth complex life, and that we are a result of macro-evolution; prove it.”  Oh, what a burden…

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You’re a sinner, I’m a sinner…

It’s basic Christian theology, right?  That was my immediate thought, and the way I’ve always been taught, both by pastors, family, the Bible, and yes, the Holy Spirit.  Apparently, though, there are many of my fellow Christians out there that mouth these words yet never take them to heart, and quite frankly it’s driving me a bit insane.  I don’t know if this is because pastors, teachers, and preachers out there are not teaching this, or if it has become such a pat phrase that we just nod right on by it.  Honestly, how many of my fellow believers out there read the title “You’re a sinner, I’m a sinner,” and nod right along without really stopping to think what that means?

Two dialogues this week brought this to my attention, and it is actually one of the main reasons I started this blog when I did.  The first conversation occurred on a Christian forum that I am a member of, in a thread discussing the death penalty from a Christian perspective.  Here is a paraphrase of one of the comments that appeared in the thread, “Well, I would hope that if I did anything that deserved the death penalty, that they would catch me, and carry out the sentence.”  I hate to break it to you, but we have all done things that deserve the death penalty according to the highest law in the land; God’s own law.  Has anyone really studied the stoneable offenses in the Old Testament (OT)?  There is a pretty big list including adultery, murder, not honoring your parents, etc… they earned the death penalty.  “Well,” you say, “I’ve never killed anyone, I’ve never cheated on my spouse!”  Any self-respecting Christian should have a ready comeback to that idea, straight from Christ’s own teachings, here’s a hint, see Matthew Chapter 5.  Not enough?  Many of my fellow Christians who like to push works, and even condemn others while trying to avoid condemnation themselves love the book of James, so let’s see what James tells us: James 2:10 For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. Well, now, that changes a few things, or at least it should.

The second discussion that brought this to my attention was an interview done with John Barrowman (of Torchwood fame, go Captain Jack!) on a BBC show that I watched via youtube.  One of the topics discussed was the fact that John is openly homosexual.  Also, he made mention on this show (and elsewhere in other interviews as well), that he believes in God, and was brought up in the church.  Now, this post isn’t to discuss homosexuality, but rather something more fundamental.  John made the point that it was wrong for Christians, (or “other” Christians, perhaps) to say to him that he is evil, bad, and wrong.  Not only that, but he then made the comment that he was a good man.  Two things came to mind the first was that I’m sure there’ve been some “lovely” Christians that have indeed spat on Homosexuals, called them names, and pronounced damnation on them, calling them evil, bad and wrong just because of their homosexuality, and that’s a true shame.  The second thing that came to mind, is “what theology has John, and all those condemning homosexuals for their sin without looking in a mirror been taught?”

The stance clearly presented in scripture, and by Jesus Himself, is that none of us are “good.”  None of us.  Yes, without Christ, John Barrowman is evil, bad, and wrong, and so am I, and so are you.  That’s the whole point. There is none good but God, our righteousness is as filthy rags, no there are none that doeth good… “Yup, yup, yup, you’re right, none good, yup!”  No! Don’t just agree with it, think about it.  We are all a bunch of sinners, who, according to scripture, if we break one law, we get charged with ’em all!  All of our hope, all of our faith rests solely on Christ; not on what sin we haven’t committed, because we’ve committed them all according to the word.  There’s not one mere human better than any other.

Is this post a hidden message against the death penalty, or one saying homosexual acts are fine?  By no means.  Is it a message that supports sinning so that grace may abound? I join Paul in saying, “God forbid!”  There is indeed right and wrong, and sin that we should actively try to avoid with the help and teaching of the scripture, and The Spirit.  I’m just hoping this will help even one person soak this idea in and really think about it; it is fundamental theology, and is meant to get everyone’s eyes firmly on Christ, because He is indeed the source of our only true Righteousness.  It is also meant to banish the foolish idea that any one of us is “better” or less deserving of death than any other human; our only means of escaping the death penalty in this life or the next is faith in Jesus Christ!

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