5/31/2008

Jay Smith vs. Islam

Christianity Today ran a great article for their June edition on an apologist named Jay Smith (The short internet version is here.). This article gives us a glimpse into the life a very direct, confrontational person who confronts Muslims with the grace of Jesus Christ. I don’t know much about Smith yet, but I will learn more. I appreciate direct communication. Not all aspects of the Christian message are positive.

Here’s a part of the CT online article.

Smith calls on Christians to match the passion of Muslims. "I was never commissioned to go and die," Smith says. "Most people ask me, 'Aren't you scared for your health? Aren't you scared you're going to be killed?'

"So what? Yes, probably I will be killed. I told my wife I'll probably die before
she does. If I were to die, there would be 10 or 20 people to take my place willingly."


Smith has several You Tube videos, and you can find a sample here.

5/30/2008

Christ Alone in England?

I always seem to come away from Al Mohler’s blog with a subject for intense prayer. The post excerpted below is no exception.

The Church of England faces yet another theological challenge as it prepares for the meeting of its General Synod in July. This time the issue is the Gospel itself and the specific question concerns the evangelization of Muslims. In the end, the outcome of this debate may, more than anything else, determine the future viability of the Church of England...

5/29/2008

Indiana Jones and Prince Caspian

I’ve seen several reviews of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. I saw the movies this week and last, and I wanted to put in my two cents.

Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was a good movie. It was actually my favorite of the Indiana Jones series. The main reason was the image of the hero and heroine. Indiana Jones is a grey-haired, glasses wearing main character who is past his physical prime. The heroine from the first movie in the series returns. She is a wrinkled, slightly overweight, but singularly passionate character. These two are refreshing in the days of Hollywood’s plastic-surgery-enhanced Barbie-doll-look-alikes. The action stretched believability at several points (see review here), but it didn’t take away from the characterization that made the movie stand out.

Prince Caspian let me down. There was nothing wrong with the movie, but many of the best scenes from the book were stripped of their distinctly Christian elements (see reviews here and here). The book, as the weakest in the Chronicles, needed a little fleshing out. That was done well, but it still suffered from the missing Christian overtones. (See a more favorable review here.)

Lastly, I liked Ironman better than I liked both of these shows. Marvel comics often, if not always, blends in a moral component similar to the Westerns of old. It seems better form to make the messages more subtle.

5/27/2008

Can Muslims become Christians?

I am trouble by the attitude that many members of my church have toward Muslims. Many have the notion that it is impossible to convert a Muslim to the Christian faith. I would like to share some links to converts who give the lie to that notion.

Here are some links to Christian converts from Islam. Note that some of them use false names because they fear for their lives.

Abdul Saleeb (See here, here, here and here.)

Sam Solomon (See his papers here and his story here and here.)

Ergun Caner (See here, here and here.)

Lastly, Christ converted me. He delivered me from trying to earn my own way into heaven, and He overwhelmed me with His wonderful grace. If he can save an America, nominal-Christian like me, He can save anyone.

5/23/2008

R. C. Sproul Comments on Anthony Flew’s Book

Reformation 21 has published a review by R. C. Sproul on Anthony Flew’s new book: There Is a God: How the World's Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. (HarperOne: New York, 2007).

Here’s an excerpt from Sproul’s review:

…There are those who argue that the laws of nature are merely convenient forms that human investigators impose on nature, that nature's facts are brute facts and mute facts, and have no inherent design. Design is something that is merely projected upon nature from the thinking of the scientist. In this case, Flew argues that the atheists accept the laws of nature simply by faith, and pursues the point that these laws are not something that are the result of cultural creation, but rather the discovery of something that exists within nature itself. Newton did not invent the law of gravity or impose a principle of gravity on the natural world; rather, he discovered it as an external reality.

Now, the very presence of laws in nature indicates that nature has intelligible order. The overarching presupposition of all scientific inquiry is that the inquiry can yield
intelligible information. If indeed the universe and everything in it is utter chaos, without order, then it would be equally unintelligible. The fact that science can proceed in an intelligible manner screams to Anthony Flew that there must be order in it. It is a short step or an easy argument to move from the presence of order to the presence of design. In a sense, the presence of order is virtually tautological to the question of design.

R. C. outlines several more of Flew’s arguments and gives a penetrating review. Flew has given forms of the teleological argument and the cosmological argument. Flew has a new parable, quite different from his famous one. He has new questions to answer.

Flew is a theist, but he has not embraced any revealed faith yet. I noticed when I read Flew’s book for myself that he seriously considers an argument for Christianity given by N. T. Wright. Wright composed an Appendix for Flew’s book that outlines a careful argument for the Christian faith (see a detailed argument from Wright in this book). Flew puts it like this, “I am very much impressed with Bishop Wright’s approach … It is absolutely wonderful, absolutely radical, and very powerful” (Aforementioned book, p 213).

I pray Flew would embrace the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

[12/15/10 Update: See Gary Habermas’ review here.]

5/22/2008

Summer Reading List, 2008

Breakpoint posts its Summer Reading list here. Some of the recommended books and my comments are below.

The Faith: Given Once, for All by Charles Colson with Harold Fickett

This short book is Colson’s best since The Body. He lays out a strong emotive and intellectual case for Christianity. He strives for unity in Christ’s church, and goes to far at some points, but his overall work is excellent. His accounts of his work in prisons are the best part.

UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons

I am not finished with this one yet, but I am impressed with the book’s straight-forward, non-nonsense approach to the difficulties the church finds herself in.

My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

This book was my devotional for three years while I was in college. While I have grown away from some of its tenants, I cannot deny its impact on my life. Chambers reveals his dependence on Spurgeon.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

This is one of my favorite books. Manning lays out the case for God’s love as only an AA member can.

I pray we all would take more time to read.

Honesty

There are few things worse than living a lie, yet this is the universal human experience. Sin has corrupted man's thinking in such a way that people lack the ability to understand the truth about themselves, God, and the world. - From What's So Great About the Doctrines of
Grace?
by Richard Phillips, p. 23.


Phillips has this one right. I am striving to become honest with others and myself but honesty is a real struggle. I am better than before, but not what God would have me be.
I have no chance unless God changes my heart. Then the blinders come off, and I am able to see.

Honesty is critical for the church. Personal honesty in our churches and small groups would no doubt lead to revival and renewal. If we could create places where people can be honest about their struggles and heartaches, God’s kingdom would be served.

We could learn a lot from Alcoholic Anonymous. AA meetings are safe places to share. Some of the literature reads, “There is an unwritten rule about AA meetings: "whatever you see here, hear here, or say here, stays here." That's the anonymity part of the AA program.” There is no fear that someone will gossip about you.

The members you find at meetings “are happy to offer help by sharing their experience, strength and hope in staying sober. One of the ways members stay sober is by helping other alcoholics to achieve sobriety” (see here). AA members are not perfect, but they are helpful. A good AA meeting is usually a safe place where the members try their best to help each other. Phone numbers are exchanged. Dinner engagements are kept. Accountability is encouraged. The spirit is one of love and common purpose.

What kind of impact would our churches have if this approach was taken?

5/20/2008

Free-will

To say that we always choose according to our strongest inclination at the moment is to say that we always choose what we want. At every point of choice we are free and self-determined. To be self-determined is not the same thing as determinism. Determinism means that we are forced or coerced to do things by eternal forces. Eternal forces can...severely limit our opinions, but they cannot destroy choice altogether. They cannot impose delight in things we hate. When that happens, when hatred turns to delight, it is a matter of persuasions, not coercion. I cannot be forced to do what I take delight in doing already. – R. C. Sproul in Chosen by God p. 59.

The way we make our choices has been a subject of inquiry for philosophers for a long time.
Sproul’s definition of free-will above seems to be the answer to many questions that have troubled me for some time.

We always choose according to our greatest inclination, our most powerful desire. Another way to say that is we always chose what we want to choose. This fits my experience. I can’t think of a single situation in my life when I chose something I didn’t want.

Sometimes my choices were limited. If all things were equal I would never have made the choice I did, but all things were not equal. I still chose the option that seemed best to me, according to my desires. The very definition of a mentally insane person is that he does not choose in this fashion; he chooses something he does not want because he is out of control.

This leaves me without excuse. Like many in our society, I would like to have someone to blame. Maybe my grandparents (it’s a genetic predisposition). Maybe my parents (it’s because they raised me that way). Maybe my friends (it’s because of the situation they put me in). Maybe the way our country is going (it’s because out society allows this to happen).

We are all responsible for our actions in each situation we find ourselves in. We have no excuse.

5/18/2008

Christ the Only Way

Thanks to New Attitude for a link to the UTube video here. It’s R. C. Sproul’s passionate answer to the objection that Christ should not be the only way to heaven.

Why should Christ be the only way? Why should there be any way at all? We certainly don’t deserve a way out.

5/17/2008

Strange Fire

Something strange happen to me this afternoon. I was faced with an opportunity to indulge in two particular forms of sin that I have felt a particular affinity for all of my life. I have truly been in bondage to those sins (see Romans 6:20).

Maybe this is what it feels like to be set free and to give myself as a slave to Christ. But I can’t help but wonder if this is the first time I have truly been set free (see all of Romans 6).

I am going to wait and see if my little victory this afternoon holds. I am going to find out if this is a new freedom, or if it is just a deepening of the freedom I have know in the past. Is this the first true repentance, or a state of greater repentance than I had before?

I wonder if anyone else out there has had an experience like this.

5/15/2008

Is it too late?

John Piper posts an encouraging note here. Here’s the intro.:

One of the greatest hope-killers is that you have tried for so long to change and have not succeeded. Now you look back and think: What’s the use? Even if I could experience a breakthrough, there would be so little time left to live in my new way it wouldn’t make much difference compared to so many decades of failure…

Al Mohler on Einstein

I have heard many discussions and seen many quotes concerning Albert Einstein’s religious views. Al Mohler has a very balanced and accurate post on this on this site. Here’s a part:

…Einstein was not an atheist in the sense that he wanted to deny any force beyond what science could explain. On the other hand, he was an atheist in the sense that he clearly rejected theism and belief in any personal God…

On a light note…

Steve Camp has posted a funny joke on Christian Denominations at CampOnThis. Go here for a laugh.

5/12/2008

Our Sins and Our Honesty

Great article by R. C. Sproul at Ligonier. Here’s the link. Here’s a quote:

If we were honest about our sins, we would not only admit to committing them, but we would recognize them for what they are, each and every one of them rebellion against the maker of heaven and earth, each and every one of them an attempt to topple Him from His throne. If we were honest about our sins, we would not cover them up, but cover our eyes, because to look at them is simply too painful. If we were honest about our sins, we would admit that what we are usually doing when "admitting" our sins is copping a plea. Maybe, we rationalize in the quiet of our hearts, if I admit to this, they won't see these other sins. If we were honest about our sins, we would admit that all our games fail us, that all our sins follow us.

5/10/2008

Ironman's Many Flaws

I finally had the chance to see Ironman this weekend. I really enjoyed this movie. The script interjected just enough humor, and the action shots were not overplayed. I began reading Ironman comics while in grade school, and I had high hopes that the movie would catapult the character back into fame. (I have many Ironman comics, and I’ll be headed to e-bay soon.)

There has been much discussion of whether Robert Downey, Jr. could pull off the character of Tony Stark. Downey is a person who has struggled with alcoholism, drug abuse and bipolar disorder; and many were apprehensive about his credibility as the armored Avenger.

Downey seems to have overcome his addictions and condition. I pray that is true, and that his new fame will not be a stumbling block. Either way, his recent recovery is commendable, and I think makes him the perfect choice for the character of Tony Stark, Ironman’s alter ego.

Stark has always been a thoroughly human character whose alcohol abuse, womanizing and general selfishness are evident in the comics series. His acts of heroism stand out even more against this miss-behavior; his triumphs are made even more heroic.

These two characters, Downey and Ironman, should give hope to those who struggle with their own hurts, hang-ups, and additions. There is hope. The one who struggles can still make a positive difference in this world. Never give up.

For the Christian, he should be able to identify with these characters. We all struggle with sin (Romans 7:7-25). There is no particular sin we are not capable of (1 Samuel 11-12). If we make a difference in this world, it will be as flawed people; flawed people who try desperately to improve. Flawed people who are saved by Christ’s sacrifice in spite of themselves (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

5/08/2008

Here’s a Scary One

The TimesOnline runs a story that surprises me. Here’s part:

Church attendance in Britain is declining so fast that the number of regular churchgoers will be fewer than those attending mosques within a generation, research published today suggests.

The fall - from the four million people who attend church at least once a month today - means that the Church of England, Catholicism and other denominations will become financially unviable. A lack of funds from the collection plate to support the Christian infrastructure, including church upkeep and ministers’ pay and pensions, will force church closures as ageing congregations die.

In contrast, the number of actively religious Muslims will have increased from about one million today to 1.96 million in 2035…

I wonder how Christianity would far in Britain if it were more conservative? See the full article here.

5/06/2008

Is the Koran of today the Koran of the past?

I don’t always keep up with the news, and I missed a big one here. Here’s a portion:

It has long been known that variant copies of the Koran exist, including some found in 1972 in a paper grave at Sa'na in Yemen, the subject of a cover story in the January 1999 Atlantic Monthly. Before the Yemeni authorities shut the
door to Western scholars, two German academics, Gerhard R Puin and H C Graf von
Bothmer, made 35,000 microfilm copies, which remain at the University of the Saarland. Many scholars believe that the German archive, which includes photocopies of manuscripts as old as 700 AD, will provide more evidence of variation in the Koran.

It’s interesting to see another article on the subject. For a summary of other issues with the Koran’s transmission, see here.

Toward an Epistemology

Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has a helpful post on how we recognize the truth when we hear it. Here’s a section from the article here:

...I outlined three basic ways we know things are true…Incidentally, this is what epistemology deals with…Epistemology deals with the field of knowledge. It answers the question: How do we know what we know? So when asked how we test religious truth claims, I give some epistemological tools. These tools are nothing fancy, nothing out of the ordinary. Basically, you respond to religious truth claims in the same general way you deal with any other claims…
Keith Mathison over at Ligonier has written a helpful review of the book Pierced for Our Transgressions. Here’s a section:

…If you are a believer, saved from the wrath of God, you are so only because of the atoning work of Christ. If you are a Christian, destined for eternal life, you are so only because Jesus died in your place bearing the penalty due to you. He was wounded for our transgressions, and He was crushed for our iniquities. It is by His stripes that we are healed. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement, then, is not another doctrinal football intended to be kicked around on the playground of ivory tower academics. It is a truly amazing and awe-inspiring thing to contemplate. Were we to grasp more fully everything that Jesus did for each of us on the cross, our prayer, our worship, our entire lives would be transformed forever.


You can find Mathison’s full article here. For more on the book, and some great quotes from the early church, try here and here.

5/02/2008

Can we learn everything from science?

I am a Master’s degreed industrial engineer. I make my living by using a problem-solving method called Six Sigma. In short, this is a detailed problem solving methodology based on statistical methods.

I spend my days looking at manufacturing and service processes and analyzing their performance with 2-sample t-tests, ANOVA tables, Chi-squared tables, Factoral Experiments, and many other scientific methods of designed experimentation. I have grown to see many things in life through the window of hypothesis testing, the most often used scientific research method. I have a supreme respect for the scientific method, but there are things that science cannot prove. It must assume certain foundational principles.

Science assumes an external world that is orderly. By orderly, I mean a world that is organized according to basis principles. This assumption cannot be proven by science because the only way that science can explain order is to find more order. The law or theory is explained by another law or theory, but science has no explanation for the order we find other than to promote it as a brute fact. Using order to prove order is a viciously circular form of argument.

Science assumes that we can have knowledge of the world, that is, we can know truth that corresponds to reality. This is an abstract concept that a concrete field like science cannot explain. How do we show this to be true by examining the things we find and applying deductive reasoning? We cannot prove that we can have knowledge of the world by appealing to knowledge of the world. That would also be viciously circular. We have to turn to philosophy for an explanation (see here).

Science fares no better when it comes to other abstract principles like the laws of logic or mathematics, or even morality. You simply cannot prove an abstract, nonmaterial principle by observing the material world. You have to assume that these principles are true before you can use them to analyze experiments.

Science must also assume the closely related issue of the basic reliability of our senses. We must trust that our senses of smell, touch, sight, and hearing give us useful information about the world. We must be able to gain true knowledge of the world by our senses to try to learn specific truths from general inquiry.

Science cannot affirm this idea because an evolutionary process of development would not necessarily lead to true knowledge of the world around us. Evolution is a process that yields senses that allow for us to survive certain situations, but we could have untrue beliefs that guaranteed our survival in some situations. It doesn’t matter whether we know a tiger can eat us or that we think tigers look better from a distance. As long as we run, we survive. (See Alvin Plantinga’s Warrant and Proper Function here or a link to some of the relevant material here.)

Science is not a method that can ‘stand on its own two feet.’ We must assume many foundational principles before science can give us any meaningful information at all whatsoever.

[Source for much of this argument: J. P. Moreland, “Christianity and The Nature of Science,” lectures for the Biola University Defending Your Faith Series, see here.]

5/01/2008

Why should you explore Christianity first?

Christianity has certain features that make it unique among the world’s major religions. I believe that these features make an excellent case for exploring the case for Christianity before exploring the other faith traditions. I am not trying to make a positive case for Christianity in this post. I have done that here. I am just trying to help those seeking truth to start with Christianity.


Christianity is dependent on the truth of certain historical facts concerning Jesus. These include His life, death, and resurrection. It is possible to test the truth of these claims. For example, did Christ’s resurrection actually take place? If it did not, then Christianity can be dismissed, and other options explored. If so, then you must take all of Christ’s teaching on matters of religion as authoritative.

It is difficult to start a religion on this basis. The easiest way is to develop a religion based almost entirely on feelings and experiences. It leaves other interesting questions about Christianity.

Why did anyone convert to this religion in the first place? Would it not be easy to turn your back on a religion whose founder had been disgraced by a public execution? If the religion you were formerly a member of considered crucifixion to be as sign of God’s curse on a person’s life as did Judaism why follow Jesus after his death? Definitive answers to these important questions should be sought out.

Christianity provides an explanation for our every day experiences. Christianity defines certain acts as evil. Many other religious options do not allow true evil to exist (i. e. Christian Science, pantheism, and, from a slightly different direction, materialistic atheism). In many of these views, evil either cannot be objectively defined, or it is seen as a form of illusion.

Almost every religion that has developed since the first century AD has made an attempt to include Jesus in its teaching as a good example. Muslims hold Christ as a prophet of God and a great healer. Eastern religions see him as a great guru. Mormonism sees him as a created being with exalted status. And many people who reject Christianity as a religion still hold Christ is high regard as a moral example and great leader. Why not start with the religion that gives Christ the highest place and the greatest focus?

Lastly, Christianity holds that we are sinners. But we as imperfect people can be saved because of what Christ did for us. We are not given eternal life and fellowship with God in this life based on our own performance, but based on Christ’s performance on our behalf. In Christianity, Christ’s work is credited to us when we simply trust Him. I know from several years of sharing my faith with others that, once this concept is properly understood, are immediately willing to commit to this faith and way of life. (See a fuller explanation of how to place your faith in Christ here.)

I see no compelling reason to begin a search for religious truth with any religion other than Christianity.

[Source for much of this argument: Hazen Craig, “Christianity Among the World Religions,” lectures for the Biola University Defending Your Faith Series, see here.]

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