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Reply to NonStampCollector’s Game Show

Atheist YouTuber NonStampCollector has proven himself a simplistic thinker, forcing false dichotomies and disallowing any middle ground as a plausible explanation to his badly drawn video animations. In a recent video, he depicts a game show in which the host asks a question about God or Christianity, and each contestant answers differently. The host tells them that they are both correct, and the “contradictory” verses showing that both contestants are correct appear in subtitles.

I wasn’t about to touch it. NSC is one of several atheists that I have vowed to ignore. P.Z. Myers and the production team behind Mr. Deity are other examples. J.P. Holding of Tekton Apologetics Ministry, however, started a YouTube channel recently and he has taken the video on, giving a pretty good answer (although, as per Holding, he pokes fun at NSC himself as well as the argument).

That video only scratches the surface of NSC’s claims. The rest Holding details in this article.

It’s worth looking at as a primer on how atheists view Bible contradictions, and a good defense of why the Bible is inerrant in a sense not typically espoused by atheists.

Show #3: Tough Questions for Christians I

Well, after over two years of radio silence, I decided to throw my hat into the podcasting ring once again. Rather than start over again, I’ll start from where I left off, which makes this show #3. In keeping with the theme of my YouTube videos, I’ll be fielding tough questions for Christians from various atheists.

The show schedule I’ve cooked up is to post a show on the 15th and the 30th of each month. I plan to continue that at least to the end of the year. Then I’ll make the decision to continue podcasating in 2011. Unfortunately, I’m posting the first show (intended for Sept. 30) late. Hopefully, I can get my act together and post the next ones on time.

First on the block is an answer to Douglas Crews, who wrote nine questions many, many years ago. His website is some kind of prehistoric blog, back in the days before the term was coined or the software existed.

You can download part one of the program here. It ran long, so I’ll be posting part 2 tomorrow.

I gave some URLs on the program for reference. Here they are, nice and clickable, to make things easier on the person who wants to research further into what I’m covering on the show:

My podcasting plan is to do two shows per month, on the 15th and the 30th. The next show will be October 15th and will cover some more tough questions for Christians that were posted on ex-christian.net back in 2003. Nothing like staying current, right?

Prayer: Provision of Wants Versus Needs

Jennifer Fulwiler

Jennifer Fulwiler has a great post on prayer on her blog, Conversion Diary. It’s nice to see someone reflect on what prayer should actually entail. Too often God is considered to be some kind of magic genie that grants our every wish.

Jennifer, on the other hand, has it right. In a theology of prayer, a balance has to be struck between specificity and generality. What do I mean?

Right now, I’m unemployed. It’s a long story. My wife’s income isn’t enough to sustain us, so something has to happen and quickly. If I pray, “God, please grant me a new job tomorrow morning,” what do you think is going to happen when I open my e-mail?

That’s right. No job offers. I doubt my cell phone is going to ring anytime soon either.

Am I missing something?

Yes, I am. Where in the Bible does God ever promise to give me everything I have ever wanted? Last I checked, Jesus called us to deny ourselves–our physical desires and perceived needs–and take up our crosses, and follow him. The Christian life isn’t one of ease, wealth, and good health-o’plenty (despite what Joel Osteen might tell you). A Christian life is one of sacrifice and (dare I say it?) persecution.

That message doesn’t sell well, especially in the United States. So hacks like Osteen spread their false prosperity gospel quite easily, even though there isn’t a shred of Scriptural evidence for what they’re saying. People buy it, hook, line, and sinker (see 2 Tim 4:3).

Why should the followers have it easy, living in the lap of luxury, when the master lived a pauper’s life and died a torturous, shameful death? The servant, Jesus wisely quips, isn’t greater than his master (Jn 15:20).

Jennifer suggests “zooming out” a bit. In other words, instead of thinking only of your health, wealth, prosperity–your perceived needs–try to think in terms of what you actually need.

So, I’m not going to get that magical job offer in my inbox tomorrow. Do I need a job? It could be argued that I do. But I think what I really need is a way to provide food for my children. We have food stamps forthcoming. And we already receive WIC benefits. God, perhaps, is working through these programs for the time being in order to provide for us.

None of us are starving. None of us will, it seems. Ah, God has promised that in his word, for we are more important to him than lesser animals, yet those do not starve.

And I have enough marketable skills that I won’t be without a job for too long. So God has provided a short term solution for us in the welfare benefits, but has also provided a long term solution in the form of the marketable skills I have gained over the years I have been employed. It’s not a clear, concise, detailed answer that magically dropped out of heaven, but it is an answer to prayer!

Next time, instead of focusing on minutely detailed answers magically provided as if from nowhere, “zoom out” a bit, as Jennifer put it. Look for the more underlying need and pray for its provision. And, as in everything, look for God’s will. Because, really, this life isn’t about you.

Missing the Point

When a person hates something so deeply, like religion and everything that it stands for, then said person can see something that paints the object of his hatred in a positive light and completely, totally, utterly miss it. Especially when this “something” seems to paint the object of hatred negatively at first.

This clip from the TV series Firefly seems to be painting religion (specifically, the Bible) in a very negative light:

River, always logical to a fault, is trying to “fix” the broken parts of the Bible. At least what she perceives to be broken. Shepherd Book, on the other hand, tries to explain something that uber-logical River probably isn’t equipped to understand: what it means to actually have faith in something intangible yet bigger than yourself.

I like what Book tells her: “You don’t fix faith. Faith fixes you.”

Book points to a deeper truth about faith: that it is meant to fix our broken human condition. We who have faith acknowledge that our condition is flawed and that it requires fixing. We also realize that we aren’t capable of doing that on our own: God is required to heal our souls. That’s where faith–that is, trust–comes in. We have to trust that God is capable of doing that, that God is willing to do that, and that God will do that (see Rom 8:29-30).

In the end, this clip gives an excellent definition of what it means to have faith in something larger than ourselves–faith in the divine. At first blush, this scene seems to be making a negative comment about the Bible itself, and religion in general. In reality, it is driving home what Christianity has always taught: that we are broken and in need of a Savior who accomplishes our salvation through faith. The faith we have fixes our broken human condition.

The real point of this clip is utterly lost on the atheists. If you don’t believe me, read the comments below the clip:

“faith fixes you” my a**. faith breaks you down and then makes you into an unthinking zombie, at least our current faiths act as such.

the only way to “fix” the bible is to burn it and p*** on the ashes. (edited for content, by “theeyeisblind” with four “thumbs up” from other users as of this writing)

Great Quote

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Cover via Amazon

“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.”

– Mortimer J. Adler

Mortimer J. Adler, “A Philosopher’s Religious Faith,” in Kelly James-Clark (ed.), Philosophers Who Believe: The Spiritual Journeys of Eleven Leading Thinkers (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), p. 207.

H/T to Apologetics 315.

The Pragmatic Gospel

On a recent Dividing Line podcast, James White reviewed a Christian’s reply to an atheist from the Unbelievable radio program. The Christian told the atheist to earnestly pray to Jesus something to the effect of, “Jesus, I don’t believe in you, but I know that you’ll do something to change my mind.” He then told the atheist that Jesus would provide all the evidence needed to believe.

That may be the crappiest presentation of the gospel ever heard.

James White was, of course, outraged. But should he really be surprised that someone would speak this way of the gospel?

Commitment to Christ in the New Testament is repeatedly likened to marriage. Marriage isn’t viewed the same way now as it once was. The colloquialism “starter marriage,” a marriage that ends within five years before the couple has children, is now common parlance thanks to a book of the same name.

Given that marriage is a lifelong commitment, it should be entered with that in mind. It should entail a total change–or at least the willingness to change–in personality, behavior, and attitudes. It should be a willingness for both parties to leave themselves behind for the betterment of both. In other words, the two should become one flesh. But that isn’t how people enter marriage. They get married for a variety of weak reasons. They get married because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do. They get married because they want an extra income to move out of mom and dad’s house. They get married because they’ve been dating so long that it’s easier than breaking up.

Many atheists argue that marriage should only be viewed as a contract, demeaning its origin as a divine covenant. And why shouldn’t they feel that way? Look at all the celebrity divorces and cheating scandals. Adultery used to be viewed a serious issue, maybe even a crime in some jurisdictions; now it’s regarded a mere trivia. It’s socially acceptable to be divorced, and adultery isn’t a crime anymore.

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Cover via Amazon

The book I referenced earlier, The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony, concluded that the divorce of a starter marriage is actually a good thing. Which leads back to the question I just asked: Why shouldn’t a secularist argue that marriage has only the level and enforcability of a man-made contract?

Now let’s connect this discussion to the issue raised at the beginning of this post. Since marriage is marginalized, and marriage is the metaphor for embracing Jesus, why is that pragmatic approach to the gospel a surprise to James White? White, after all, has been blogging about attacks on traditional marriage for as long as I’ve been reading his blog. Culture has adopted a pragmatic approach to marriage, so why wouldn’t the gospel be next?

The issue is, as White correctly states on The Dividing Line, is that becoming a Christian requires a complete and utter surrender of self to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The apostle John wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 Jn 4:20). If we can’t submit ourselves to a person that we can see and touch, there is no hope for us to submit to someone that we can’t see or touch.

Naked Archeologist Finds the Giants (Gen 6:4)

Our old friend Simcha Jacobovici is back. I’ve seen the listing for the show The Naked Archeologist several times, but I never bothered to watch. I had no idea that Jacobovici was the Naked Archeologist until I watched a show the other day on tracking down the giants mentioned in the Bible.

An obscure and usually ignored reference to giants comes in Genesis. Goliath is reputed as one; so is King Og. Here is the reference:

And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. And the LORD said, “My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years.” There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 KJV, emphasis added)

No skeletal remains from the ANE dating to Old Testament times or before has exceeded 6’5″. That’s not giant by anyone’s standard. So, why does the Bible contain a reference to a race of giants?

I could never understand the veneration of the King James version. Sure, it’s the most lyrical and poetic of the English translations. I won’t argue that. But, it has numerous documented mistranslations. This is one of them. Here’s the same passage, in my personal favorite Bible translation:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. (Gen 6:1-4 ESV, emphasis added)

The ESV uses the literal Hebrew word that had been translated “giant” since the Septuagint and Latin Vulgate editions of the Old Testament. The Hebrew word nephilim doesn’t mean “giant.” It means “fallen ones.”

Jacobovici talks to a Jewish scholar who says that, according to Jewish tradition, the “sons of God” were earthly beings that resembled humans but didn’t possess a soul. Jacobovici believes that this may refer to Neanderthals, who walked the earth with humans some 60,000 years ago.

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Cover of The Exodus Decoded (History Channel)

He said that humans and Neanderthals lived in peace for a time, and suggests that they may have intermarried, thus producing the Nephilim. The Nephilim were powerful beings: the Bible describes them as people of great renown. His hypothesis makes some sense–Neanderthals would have been closer to animals and therefore very cunning and strong. Add a human intellect to that mix and you have the recipe for a man of great strength, and thus great renown.

The problem is that Jacobivici is more concerned with ratings than with truth (reference the Jesus Family Tomb incident). I happened to watch Exodus Decoded a while back. The Wikipedia entry suggested the same sorts of misrepresentations and half-truths that drove the Jesus Family Tomb documentary. While his theory has some potential validity, it’s difficult to trust his reporting.

New Blog

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Image via Wikipedia

It has been a great honor for me: J.W. Wartick has invited me to be a contributor to his new blog, Christian Diversity–Mere Christians. On the blog, we will discuss the so-called non-critical issues of Christianity in a friendly manner.

The central issue of Christianity is following Christ. Salvation is attained by grace through faith, and nothing else can add to or take away from that. That’s a humbling thought, isn’t it? You really can’t do anything salvific apart from the drawing of the Father and the Atonement secured by the Son. Believe in that, and you’re a Christian. A Christian who is true of heart will also accomplish good works in the name of the Lord, but that’s only a natural follow-up to the actual salvation secured by God and not a necessary component of it. The good that we do is purely an act of love toward God and to our fellow humans, not an attempt to win (as one atheist put it) “magic Jesus points” for a better spot in heaven. Our spot was secured long ago.

Outside of the three ecumenical creeds (the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed), the contributors to this site vary wildly in background, belief, and theological acumen. It promises to be an interesting discussion. The first one is on original sin. Head over and join the discussion!

Humongous Project Underway!

It’s been a while since I’ve attempted to tackle a project of epic proportions. Of course, I still have the update to my God is Imaginary answers to work on, as well as the e-book refutation of John Loftus’s series on what must be the case if Christianity is true. I want to get to The Christian Delusion, as well.

That said, I want to tackle Shawn’s (YouTube user azsuperman01) video series, Tough Questions for Christians. He has 36 videos in the series, so I’m going to have my work cut out for me. But I think I should be able to knock 1-2 out per week. I may not be able to produce the videos at quite that rate, but we shall see.

So, my thoughts on how I’m going to have to do this is by crafting a rigorous writing schedule. I may have to devote only a specified time on blog reading and social networking each day (say, an hour), and devote the rest of the time to writing these responses.

This will test the mettle of my time management skill!

Danelle Ice on Total Depravity

John Calvin

Image via Wikipedia

Danelle Ice (Dangerous but Good) has a post on the “dangers” of Calvinism. I find her reasoning problematic for two reasons. First, she has an interesting philosophy behind what Christians can teach as truth:

We know that we can never teach something that isn’t scriptural.  So, even if I firmly believe something with all my heart (exaggerating example: that John the Baptist had 12 toes!)  I couldn’t teach it to my family or other Christians as truth if there is no scripture in the Bible to back it up.  I may think it makes sense, and I may really believe it, but as a minister and a Christian, the burden of proof from the scriptures is on ME before I open my mouth and talk about it.

I once knew a Christian (I’m not identifying this person by any designator other than “a Christian” because of how embarrassingly stupid this position is) who believed that Jesus never got sick, ate, or went to the bathroom because there is no Scripture that directly says he did any of those things.

What does Scripture say about the humanity of Christ? That Jesus shared our flesh (Rom 8:3) and was tempted the same as we were (Heb 4:15, referring to Mt 4:1-11). If Jesus essentially “emptied himself” of divinity to become a humble and obedient human servant (Phil 2:7-8)–and it is anathema to say otherwise (2 Jn 7)–it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that Jesus may have gotten sick, or had to eat, or used the bathroom at some point during his 33 (or so) years on earth. We don’t have Scripture that actually says Jesus ate, got sick, or went potty, but I think that we can take it for granted that he did.

Holy Trinity by Fridolin Leiber (1853–1912)

Image via Wikipedia

There is no Scripture (except for 1 Jn 5:7 in the KJV) that directly teaches the Trinity, either. I would assume that Danelle believes that implicitly despite the fact that the Bible never refers to God as a Trinity. If Danelle is going to be consistent, she has to reject the Trinity since we, as Christians, are only allowed to teach truth based on Scripture.

The apostle Paul, of course, didn’t limit truth to the Hebrew Scriptures of his day. Paul quoted pagan plays and poetry quite regularly. He told the Greeks that the “unknown god” to whom they built an altar is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Danelle’s point isn’t biblical, and the apostles certainly didn’t buy into it.

The second problem inherent in Danelle’s reasoning is that Danelle isn’t arguing against Calvinism proper; she is creating her own version of Calvinism and trying to beat that down. This becomes obvious when reading her definition of total depravity:

We will use the first point of Calvinism to  illustrate the point:  “Total depravity”, that people are not naturally inclined to love and serve God, but must be forced to.  We know this is not scriptural, because man was made in God’s image, and God is love.  Even though we fell into sin, sin can’t change the essence of what God designed and created us to be: loving, praising, worshiping beings.

First, it should be quite obvious that people are not naturally inclined to serve God. In the Bible, for example, you will see numerous prayers to incline one’s heart to serve God:

  • And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. (Num 15:39)
  • The LORD our God be with us, as he was with our fathers. May he not leave us or forsake us, that he may incline our hearts to him, to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments, his statutes, and his rules, which he commanded our fathers. (1 Kgs 8:57-58)
  • Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! (Ps 119:36)
  • Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! (Ps 141:4)

The fact that the people of the Bible are praying, both personally and corporately, for God to move them to obedience and faith indicates that they don’t believe that it is the natural tendency to have faith and be obedient to God. The natural tendency of man is opposition to the laws of God (see Rom 7:14-20, especially v. 18).

While Romans 7 sums up the spiritual battle quite well in verses 7-25, the most succinct teaching of total depravity is Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

We are dead in sin, according to this verse. Paul also says in Romans that we are unable to carry out the desire to do good (7:18). This adds up to a powerful biblical case for total depravity, despite what Danelle is trying to say.

Second, God doesn’t force anyone to love him. Some have accused Calvinism of teaching this, but that isn’t so. God, from the foundation of the world, chose certain individuals to whom he would reveal his full glory and who would fellowship with God in heaven. The choice of these individuals is inherent in God’s character and has nothing to do with the individual so elected.

A general call goes out with each preaching of the gospel, but an effectual call goes out only to God’s elect. Upon hearing this effectual call, the elect are quickened by the power of the Holy Spirit and are regenerated to life. The only logical response to this quickening is a free will choice to put faith in Christ, and in so doing love and serve God. This isn’t coerced at all, the effectual call simply doesn’t go to everyone in the entire world.

Third, it is no wonder that Danelle would think that man is generally good (Prv 16:2). Apart from the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, we humans generally lack the objective ability to see our own sin. Generally, non-Christians don’t see mankind (by extension, themselves) as inherently evil. They see mankind as inherently good. Some see mankind as misguided in some way, but many (especially atheists) don’t think that mankind is in any way broken or in need of repair.

The problem that Danelle isn’t seeing is that sin does change us–so completely, in fact, that a new birth is required in order to follow God (Jn 3:3). This new birth is a total 180-degree switch from what we once were:

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God (1 Pet 1:22-23; see also 2 Cor 5:17).

Danelle is correct in stating that we were made in the image of God, and she is also correct in thinking that we do retain something of that image. It is this that gives humans an inherent dignity above that of an animal (1 Cor 15:39); it is the reasoning behind the commandment to not murder; it is the reason that we have the free will to love at all (1 Jn 4:19).