Apologetics

Joshua and the Big Message of the Bible

Joshua Big Message

The Legacy Reading Plan is designed to read through the Bible once a year, every year, for the rest of your life. This reading calendar is naturally segmented into seasons, and seasons into months. So at the beginning of each year you will know that during the winter your focus will be on Pentateuch and poetry, and in the spring historical books, summer the prophets, and during the fall the New Testament. Each season is further broken down into months; therefore, every January your goal is to read through Genesis and Exodus, and every December to read through the Synoptic Gospels and Acts.

There are times when you will naturally ten chapters at a time, and others when you’ll read just one or two. More importantly, however, you’re going to read through the Bible, just as you read through other literature. For example, in reading through the Song of Solomon, sometimes called the Song of Songs, it’s the kind of book that you will read in one sitting. It’s a great book in so many ways. It’s a love story written to celebrate God’s gift of love and sexual expression within the bounds of marriage. As such it’s a frank expression of one of the greatest gifts God has given human kind, albeit one which must be responsibly enjoyed within the bounds of marriage.

The Book of Joshua is the book we start in springtime. It’s an incredibly exhilarating book. (If you don’t have the Legacy Reading Plan, you can download it here. For instructions on how to use the Legacy Reading Plan, click here.)

You have in the Bible this picture that’s so poignant and profound. Adam falls into a life of perpetual sin, and he’s banished from Paradise. He’s relegated to restlessness and wanderings. Separated from intimacy and fellowship with his Creator. Then the very chapter that references the fall records the divine plan for restoration and fellowship (Gen. 3:15). That plan takes on definition with God’s promise to make Abram a great nation through which all the peoples on earth will be blessed (Gen. 12:1-3). Abraham’s call, therefore, is the divine antidote to Adam’s fall. God’s promise that Abraham’s children would inherit the promise land was but a preliminary step in a progressive plan through which Abram and the heirs of Abram would inherit a better country, a heavenly country. That plan comes into sharp focus when we see Moses leading Abram’s descendants out of their four-hundred-year bondage in Egypt. For forty years of wilderness wandering God tabernacle with His people and He prepared them for the land of promise. Like Abram, however, Moses only saw that promise from afar.

When you start to read the Book of Joshua you will see God’s plan taking on tangible reality, as Joshua leads the children of Israel into Palestine. The wanderings of Adam, Abraham, and Moses finally give way to rest on every side. In Joshua you will read these words: “Not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed” (Josh. 23:14, NIV).

As Adam had fallen in Paradise, Abram’s descendants would fall in Palestine. Thus, Joshua’s words in his final farewell take on ominous reality: “Just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil he has threatened, until he has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. If you violate the covenant of the Lord your God…you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you” (Josh. 23:15-16, NIV). Although the land promises reached their zenith under Solomon, the land eventually vomited out the children of the promise, just as it vomited out the Canaanites before them. During the Assyrian and the Babylonian exiles the wanderings experienced by Adam were again experienced by the descendants of Abram.

God’s promises to Abraham, of course, were far from exhausted because Palestine was but a preliminary phase in a patriarchal promise. God would make Abram not just the father of a nation, but Abram would become Abraham the father of many nations. Abram would be heir of the world. The climax of the promise would not be Palestine regained, but something far greater. It would be Paradise restored. As God had promised Abraham real estate so too He had promised him a royal seed. Joshua led the children into the regions of Palestine, but Jesus the royal seed of Abraham will one day lead His children into the restoration of Paradise.

The point here is simply to say as you read through Joshua remember you are on a continuing journey through the Bible, which is God’s unfolding plan of redemption. It starts with Paradise and the loss of Paradise and it ends with Paradise restored. A New Jerusalem, not the old Jerusalem, but a New Jerusalem that Paul says, “is free and she is our mother” (Gal. 4:26, NIV). Paradise lost becomes Paradise restored, and that is what each and every one who loves Jesus Christ had to look forward too.

This is just a little incentive to get in the Word of God and get the Word of God into you, and start seeing that this is a congruent picture of everything we long and hope for.

Paradise Lost Becomes Paradise Restored.

—Hank Hanegraaff

This blog was adapted from What’s the Big Message of the Old Testament?

Apologetics

Cultural Change Acceleration Bringing About the Great Evangelical Recession

Dickerson, John-Cultural Change Acceleration

On April 21, 2016, Hank Hanegraaff invited John S. Dickerson onto the Bible Answer Man broadcast to discuss The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013). The following is a snapshot of their conversation:

Hank Hanegraaff:  In this book, The Great Evangelical Recession, John Dickerson underscores 6 factors about to crash the American church. It is a crash that Dickerson predicts is a s certain as the great recession that pressed millions of homeowners into foreclosure and pummeled some of the world’s largest financial institutions into bankruptcy. Here on the broadcast to talk about The Great Evangelical Recession John Dickerson. Welcome.

John Dickerson: Thank you so much for having me Hank.

Hank: This is an incredible book. You start out talking about the dramatic shrinkage of American evangelicals, and I suppose that has a great deal to say about the weight of evangelicals in the present election?

John:  It really does. We’re often surprised to see—those of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, which we often used the word “evangelical” to describe that, we believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and that the Bible’s God’s Word—very often lately, not only in this election cycle but in the last couple, many evangelicals have been surprised how little political influence we have. That is one of the, that is the result. The reason we’re having less political influence is the result of one of the trends in this book: that we’re actually a smaller movement than many of us have been led to believe. By the way, all these conclusions, what they are, they are an aggregation of the best research that’s out there from all sociologist, all universities, groups like the Pew Research Center, what I did as a journalist, my skill set is to take complex information and simplify it, get my arms around it. So there’re some good books out there about the status of the church, but I felt like there wasn’t anything that kind of got its arms around all the research. Sure enough that was the first thing that came out of the trend, multiple studies, is wow this movement—not Americans who just say “I’m a Christian,” that’s till about 70%, but Americans who actually believe the Bible, believe Jesus is God, He died on the cross for the sins of the world, salvation by grace through faith in Him alone—we’re actually much smaller, closer to about 10% of the population.

Hank: What I remember you saying in the book, if I’m correct, is you put it in international terms, when you say they’re slightly more evangelical in the U.S. then there are Muslims in the greater metro area of Cairo, Egypt.

John: Yeah. That is shocking. So when you—so there’s four separate researchers. Now there’s disagreement among sociologist about how many evangelicals are in in the U.S. and this is because we’re a difficult group to count. If you want to count the number of Catholics, or if you want to go with a cult like the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, they have very centralized offices. Evangelical Christianity is a much more grassroots organic…spiritual movement led by the Spirit of God and the work of God, so as a result, we got under the evangelical umbrella, we’ve got fundamentalist Baptists churches, there are charismatic churches, there are a whole lot of non-denominational independent Bible believing churches, as a result it’s a tough group to count. So sociologist disagree to the extent that there are some as low as 7%, saying were 7% of the U.S. population, there are still some as high as the low 20%, it’s like maybe 23% of the population. What I did is I wanted to look at all those and say, “Is there among these multiple sociologist, is there a common answer?” What I found was four separate researchers who used four separate methodologies and they all concluded independently of each other that we between 7% and 8.9% of the population. Yeah, out of about three-hundred-twenty-million people that puts us at twenty-some-million., and yes the greater Cairo area there are about nineteen-million Muslims. Now who’s to know how many of those are devout Muslims and how many are conveniently Muslims because they kind of have to be, but that does put it into context. Another way of saying it is this: If all of us who are sincere Bible believing Christians, if we all moved to the state of New York, and if we displaced the New Yorkers, there would not be a serious Bible believing Christian in the other forty-nine states. We’re about the population of New York State.

Hank: I want to focus in on another point that you make in the book, another factor that will crash the American church. This is the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian. I’m the father of twelve children, I have four children in universities at this point in time, and those kids, my kids, are telling me about the growing cultural hatred for anything Christian in terms that I have never heard before. I mean tell me, when I say, “Yeah, I know what you’re talking about,” they say, “No, you really don’t know what I’m talking about. You have to be there to believe it.”

John: It’s true. One of the, you know if you want to call it a tectonic plate, an underlying cause of these six trends of decline in American Christianity, one of those tectonic plates is the rate of cultural change is accelerating. That idea is not unique to me. A whole number of secular sociologists are saying the actual speed at which culture changes is accelerating, perhaps due to some technology innovations, like us all having smartphones and other things, but whatever the cause is, the actual rate of cultural change is accelerating. Sadly, for those of us who love Jesus and the church, it is not accelerating in the direction of loving God and His people.

If anything…we know there’s a supernatural component to it, but humanly there’s a great reaction, that the Christians were so powerful politically, and were such a force, and now there’s a generation being taught down through textbooks, really at every level now, being taught that essentially that Christians were bad, and now to fight for justice and equality we have to put the Christians back in their place. And so, you know if you’re listening, this book we’re talking about, The Great Evangelical Recession, if for no other reason, get a copy to read this chapter called “Hated.” And again, I’m an award winning journalist, when I was a journalist, I wrote for secular publications. I was a journalist who was a Christian, but not writing for Christian publications. I’m writing about a lot of my peers, and essentially what I deduced from a lot of research as well as really some anecdotes that are just undisputable, is that every key leading edge of cultural society in the United States right now—so we’re talking about mainstream media, higher education, the large costal metropolis cities, the capital of the nation, and of course our universities and higher education—every leading edge of cultural society right now is a place where Christians are no longer kind of smirked at, we talk about…there used to be an apathy toward us, like “Oh yeah, those weirdo Christians,” that apathy has given way to an outright antagonism. There is a hostility that when you actually encounter it, it will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck because it is a prejudging. It is a prejudice. It is a closed minded hatred towards those of us who name the Name of Jesus and take His word at all seriously, and so boy, you know what I really wrestle in this book.

The book is set up, the first half is all me writing as a journalist, and I’m not trying to weigh in with my opinion, it’s just here’s the facts of where we stand as the church, the bride of Christ, in the United States.

The second half of the book, I take off my journalist hat and I put on my pastor hat—I’ve been a pastor for about seven years now, started attending seminary working on my master’s degree, while I was still a journalist—and I look at the New Testament specifically through the lens of each of these trends. So in other words, this book in one chapter is going to understand the cultural change going on around us. Why is it that a Christian been in jail within the last year for not signing a marriage certificate? Why are these things? Well, when you understand the cultural trends there not as surprising. It doesn’t make it easier, but it helps to understand ok this is why it’s changing in the trajectory. Then in the other chapter, we look Scripture to say, how does God tell us to live when we are hated, persecuted, and misunderstood? How do we represent Christ in a culture that is pagan, and hypersexual, and anti-Jesus? Well, thankfully, a lot of the New Testament believers were in a culture like that and the Word of God kind of comes to life. My prayer in this book is to equip you in your mind, and give you skill and wisdom as you live, but then also at a heart level to say now do we really live for Jesus in these times, because we’re not here by accident, He ordained that we would be living at this moment in history.

Hank: John, you are not simply cursing the darkness in this book but you’re really teaching Christians how to build a lighthouse in the midst of the gathering storm.

John: That’s exactly right. You know there’re two—it’s a natural response when we experience that hatred first hand. There’s a, I mean I remember a time—this happened a couple of years ago—there was a Muslim gentleman who wrote a biography about Jesus. The book, essentially he was going around on mainstream media and multiple journalists, or at least television hosts and radio hosts, were calling him a religion scholar whose and expert in Jesus. Well, the reality is that he’s a creative writing professor and his PhD is in the sociology of Jihad, and this book is saying Jesus never claimed to be God, and a whole bunch of other heresies. So I wrote a piece for a mainstream news outlet saying it’s not fair, this guy’s misrepresenting his credentials, and as a journalist I’m saying to fellow news media persons be fair in expressing this guy’s credentials, because if the scenario was reverse, in other words, if a Christian whose PhD was in the history of Christianity, wrote a book about Muhammad that was blasphemous to Muslims, well NPR wouldn’t have him on for three days in a row. No and so I was just saying it’s not just what we’re doing and as a Christian I would beg to my fellow journalists can we be fair about this? I wrote the argument really thoughtfully and carefully, knowing I would get push back. But, I have to tell you, having written the book about how fast the culture is changing and how hated that we are, I was totally unprepared for the amount of just vitriolic hate mail, and actual professional journalist likening me to a Nazi. Just really horrific stuff, including this so-called religion scholar going on Twitter and just, I mean, every curse word that you can imagine in a completely unprofessional way musing about me, and I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up because I knew that there’s oppression for our view, but I had no idea just how frightening and outnumbered it can feel when we really stand up to the darkness. So all that to say as the culture around us is changing, we will all find ourselves in situations like that. It might be at a Thanksgiving table where you have a relative who comes out with a moral position that just shocks you, or it might be in your work place. It’s not a question of if we will face hostility, it’s a question of when. So that’s where I try as a pastor to really equip us.

You know it’s interesting. There’s this verse in 1 Peter. I think its chapter 2 verse 12. Where Peter says live such good lives among the pagans that even though they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven. I came across that verse as I was really praying: Ok God, I see these six trends these six problems in the church, what are your solutions. You know because I don’t want to give my solutions, I want to give God’s. So every one of these solutions is based on Scriptures like that one.

 

Listen to the full interview here: The Great Evangelical Recession with John Dickerson – Part 1

Get the Great Evangelical Recession. To order, click here.

Apologetics

The Abomination of Desolation of Past Futures

Abomination of Desolation of Futures Past

Are Jesus and Daniel talking about the same thing in Daniel 9:27 and Mark 13:14?

If you look at Matthew 24, you have Jesus actually saying, “When you standing in the holy place the ‘abomination that causes desolation’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel —let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains” (vv. 15-16, NIV) and so forth. (Matthew 24 is the equivalent of the Mark 13 passage). Jesus of course applies it to His own generation. He says, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (vv. 34-35, NIV).

The abomination of desolation spoken of by Jesus was prophesied six centuries earlier by Daniel. And Jesus now takes what happened in the second century under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, his desecration of the temple, and applies it to what is going to happen when the temple is not just going be desecrated but it is actually going to be destroyed. So in the fullness of time, what Jesus declared desolate, was desolated by Roman infidels, they destroyed the temple fortress, they ended the daily sacrifice, and this time, very much unlike the time of Antiochus, the blood that desecrated the sacred altar didn’t flow from the carcasses of unclean pigs but from the corpses of unbelieving Pharisees. This time the Holy of Holies was not only desecrated by the defiling statue of a pagan god, but it was destroyed by the greed of despoiling soldiers, and the temple would never be rebuilt again.

Jesus wasn’t talking about future desecrations?

Christ looked forward a generation and prophesied what would happen forty years hence. So He looked forty years into the future and said this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have been fulfilled. So it’s past to us, but it was future at the time Jesus spoke.

—Hank Hanegraaff

For further study:

Apocalypse When? Why Most End-time Teaching Is Dead Wrong (Hank Hanegraaff)

Response to National Liberty Journal Article on The Apocalypse Code (Hank Hanegraaff)

Did Daniel Prophesy a Seven-Year Great Tribulation? (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Perils of Newspaper Eschatology (Elliot Miller)

When the Truth Gets Left Behind (Gene Edward Veith reviews the Left Behind Series by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins)

Is “Coming on Clouds” a Reference to Christ’s Second Coming? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Which Generation is “This Generation”? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Recommended resources for your eschatology library:

The Apocalypse Code (B1026)
by Hank Hanegraaff

The Apocalypse Code – MP3 Audiobook (M407)
by Hank Hanegraaff

Has God Spoken (B1045)
by Hank Hanegraaff

Has God Spoken – MP3 Audiobook (M405)
by Hank Hanegraaff

Last Days According To Jesus (B512)
by R.C. Sproul

Is Jesus Coming Soon? (B940)
by Gary DeMar

The Last Disciple – paperback (B817)
by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer

The Last Sacrifice – paperback (B835)
by Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer

The Last Temple – paperback (B1058)
By Hank Hanegraaff and Sigmund Brouwer

This blog was adapted from the Ask Hank feature: Are Jesus and Daniel talking about the same thing in Daniel 9:27 and Mark 13:14?  

Apologetics

Storytelling As Subversive Apologetics: A New View from the Hill in Acts 17

Godawa, Brian-Storytelling as Subversive Apologetics

This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 2 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


SYNOPSIS

Acts 17 is the premiere New Testament model of a Christian apologetic encounter with a pagan culture. Every school of apologetics claims this chapter as its own. Rational argumentation may have been an aspect of Paul’s interaction with the Greek philosophers of Athens at the Areopagus (Greek: the ”Hill of Ares,” also known as Mars’ Hill) that day, but there is another ancient Jewish cultural aspect of Paul’s discourse that often is overlooked. He was not merely accommodating Christianity in rational philosophical terms; he was subverting the Stoic narrative with Judeo‐Christian storytelling.


Subversion is the strategy of engaging oneself in an opponent’s story, retelling the story through a new paradigm and, in the end, taking the opponent’s story captive. An analysis of Paul’s preaching on the Areopagus reveals deliberate similarities to the Stoic narrative that go beyond shallow reference to mere popular culture. The apostle’s oration structurally reflects specific Stoic narrative. Paul subverts Stoicism by retelling the Stoic story through a Christian worldview, thereby leading it captive to the gospel.

Areopagus in Athens. The Areopagus (from the Greek Areios pagos, meaning “Hill of Ares”) was named after the Greek god Ares; when the Roman god Mars was linked with Ares, the spot also became known as Mars’ Hill.1 Athens, especially this hill, was the primary location where the Greek and Roman poets, the cultural leaders of the ancient world, met to exchange ideas (v. 21). The poets would espouse philosophy through didactical tracts, oration, and poems and plays for the populace, just as the popular artists of today propagate pagan worldviews through music, television, and feature films.

Paul’s Areopagus discourse has been used to justify opposing theories of apologetics by Christian cross‐ cultural evangelists, theologians, and apologists alike. It has been interpreted as being a Hellenistic (i.e., culturally Greek) sermon (Martin Dibelius) as well as being entirely antithetical to Hellenism (Cornelius Van Til, F. F. Bruce). Dibelius concludes, “The point at issue is whether it is the Old Testament view of history or the philosophical—particularly the Stoic—view of the world that prevails in the speech on the Areopagus. The difference of opinion that we find among the commentators seems to offer little prospect of a definite solution.”2

One thing most differing viewpoints have in common is their emphasis on Paul’s discourse as rational debate or empirical proof. What they all seem to miss is the narrative structure of his presentation. Perhaps it is this narrative structure that contains the solution to Dibelius’ dilemma. An examination of that structure reveals that Paul does not so much engage in dialectic as he does retell the pagan story within a Christian framework.

First, our examination must put Paul’s presentation in context. He is brought to the Areopagus, which was not merely the name of a location, but also the name of the administrative and judicial body that met there, the highest court in Athens. The Areopagus formally examined and charged violators of the Roman law against “illicit” new religions.3 Though the context suggests an open public interaction and not a formal trial, Luke, the narrator, attempts to cast Paul in Athenian narrative metaphor to Socrates, someone with whom the Athenians would be both familiar and uncomfortable. It was Socrates who Xenophon said was condemned and executed for being “guilty of rejecting the gods acknowledged by the state and of bringing in new divinities.”4 Luke uses a similar phrase to describe Paul when he conveys the accusation from some of the philosophers against Paul in verse 18: “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities.”5 Luke depicts Paul from the start as a heroically defiant Socrates, a philosopher of truth against the mob.

EXPLORING PAUL’S STORY

Paul’s sermon clearly contains biblical truths that are found in both Old and New Testaments: God as transcendent creator and sustainer, His providential control of reality, Christ’s resurrection, and the final judgment. It is highly significant to note, however, that throughout the entire discourse Paul did not quote a single Scripture to these unbelievers. Paul certainly was not ashamed of the gospel and regularly quoted Scriptural references when he considered it appropriate (Acts 17:13; 21:17‐21; 23:5; 26:22‐23; 28:23‐28); therefore, his avoidance of Scripture in this instance is instructive of how to preach and defend the gospel to pagans. Quoting chapter and verse may work with those who are already disposed toward God or the Bible, but Paul appears to consider it inappropriate to do so with those who are hostile or opposed to the faith. Witherington adds, “Arguments are only persuasive if they work within the plausibility structure existing in the minds of the hearers.”6 Paul, rather than offending his hearers, addresses them using the narrative structure of Stoic philosophy.

Stoicism and Structure

Missions scholars Robert Gallagher and Paul Hertig explain that the facts of Paul’s speech mimic the major points of Stoic beliefs. They quote the ancient Roman academic Cicero who outlines these Stoic beliefs: “First, they prove that gods exist; next they explain their nature; then they show that the world is governed by them; and lastly that they care for the fortunes of mankind.”7 The correspondence of these themes with what Paul has to say about God shows that he approaches this topic in the standard way that would have been expected by his audience. He thus establishes his credibility as one who should claim their attention.

Paul enters into the discourse of his listeners; he plays according to the rules of the community he is trying to reach. An examination of each point he makes in his oration will reveal that the identification he is making with their culture is not merely with their structural procedures of argument, but with the content of the Stoic worldview. He is retelling the Stoic story through a Christian metanarrative.8

Verse 22

“Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects.”

Paul begins his address with the Athenian rhetorical convention, “Men of Athens,” noted by such luminary Greeks as Aristotle and Demosthenes.9 He then affirms their religiosity, which also had been acknowledged by the famous Athenian dramatist Sophocles: “Athens is held of states, the most devout”; and the Greek geographer Pausanias: “Athenians more than others venerate the gods.”10

Verse 23

“I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

This “Unknown God” inscription may have been the Athenian attempt to hedge their bets against any god they may have missed paying homage to out of ignorance.11 Paul quoted the ambiguous text as a point of departure for reflections on true worship, which was the same conventional technique Pseudo‐ Heraclitus used in his Fourth Epistle.12

Verse 24

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands”

The Greeks had many sacred temples throughout the ancient world as houses for their gods. The Stoics and other cultural critics, however, considered such attempts at housing the transcendent incorporeal nature of deity to be laughable. Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was known to have taught that “temples are not to be built to the gods.”13 Euripides, the celebrated Athenian tragedian, foreshadowed Paul’s own words with the rhetorical question, “What house fashioned by builders could contain the divine form within enclosed walls?”14 The Hebrew tradition also carried such repudiation of a physical dwelling place for God (1 Kings 8:27) but the context of Paul’s speech rings particularly sympathetic to the Stoics residing in the midst of the sacred hill of the Athenian Acropolis, populated by a multitude of temples such as the Parthenon, the Erechtheion, the Temple of Nike, and the Athenia Polias.

Verse 25

“nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things”

The idea that God does not need humankind, but that humankind needs God as its creator and sustainer is common enough in Hebrew thought (Ps. 50:9‐12), but as Dibelius points out:

The use of the word “serve” is, however, almost unknown in the Greek translation of the Bible, but quite familiar in original Greek (pagan) texts, and in the context with which we are acquainted. The deity is too great to need my “service,” we read in the famous chapter of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, which contains the teleological proof of God.15

Seneca wrote, “God seeks no servants; He himself serves mankind,” which is also reflected in Euripides’ claim that “God has need of nothing.”16 Paul is striking a familiar chord with the Athenian and Stoic narratives.

Verse 26a

“and He made from one every nation of mankind,”

Cicero noted that the “universal brotherhood of mankind”17 was a common theme in Stoicism—although when Stoics spoke of “man” they tended to exclude the barbarians surrounding them.18 Nevertheless, as Seneca observed, “Nature produced us related to one another, since she created us from the same source and to the same end.”19

What is striking in Paul’s dialogue is that he neglects to mention Adam as the “one” from which we are created, something he readily did when writing to the Romans (Rom. 5:12‐21). The Athenians would certainly not be thinking of the Hebrew Adam when they heard that reference to “one.” The “one” they would be thinking of would be the gods themselves. Seneca wrote, “All persons, if they are traced back to their origins, are descendants of the gods,” and Dio Chrysostom affirmed, “It is from the gods that the race of men is sprung.”20 Paul may have been deliberately ambiguous by not distinguishing his definition of “one” from theirs, in order to maintain consistency with the Stoic Greek narrative without revealing his hand. He is undermining Stoicism with the Christian worldview, which will be confirmed conclusively in a climactic plot twist at the end of his narrative.

Verse 26b

“to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times [seasons] and the boundaries of their habitation,”

Christians may read this and immediately consider it an expression of God’s providential sovereignty over history, as in Genesis 1, where God determines the times and seasons, or in Deuteronomy 32:8 where He separates the sons of men and establishes their “boundaries.” Paul’s Athenian audience, however, would refer to their own intellectual heritage on hearing these words. As Juhana Torkki points out, “The idea of God’s kinship to humans is unique in the New Testament writings but common in Stoicism. The Stoic [philosopher] Epictetus devoted a whole essay to the subject.”21 Epictetus writes, “How else could things happen so regularly, by God’s command as it were? When he tells plants to bloom, they bloom, when he tells them to bear fruit, they bear it…Is God [Zeus] then, not capable of overseeing everything and being present with everything and maintaining a certain distribution with everything?”22

Cicero, in one of his Tusculan Disputations, writes that seasons and zones of habitation are evidence of God’s existence.23 Paul continues, with every sentence Luke narrates, to engage Stoic thought by retelling its narrative.

Verse 27

“that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;”

This image, as one commentator explains, “carries the sense of ‘a blind person or the fumbling of a person in the darkness of night,’” as can be found in the writings of Aristophanes and Plato.24 Christian apologist Greg Bahnsen suggests that it may even be a Homeric literary allusion to the Cyclops blindly groping for Odysseus and his men.25 In any case, the image is not a positive one. F. F. Bruce affirms the Hellenistic affinities of this section by quoting the Stoic Dio Chrysostom, “primaeval men are described as ‘not settled separately by themselves far away from the divine being or outside him, but…sharing his nature.’”26 Seneca, true to Stoic form, wrote, “God is near you, He is with you, He is within you.”27

This idea of humanity blindly groping around for what is, in fact, very near it is also a part of scriptural themes (Deut. 28:29), but with a distinct difference. To the Stoics, God’s nearness was a pantheistic nearness. They believed everything was a part of God and God was a part of everything, something Paul would vehemently deny (Rom. 1) but, interestingly enough, does not at this point. He is still maintaining a surface connection with the Stoics by affirming the immanence of God without explicitly qualifying it.

Verse 28

“for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’”

Paul thus far implicitly has followed the Stoic narrative without qualifying the differences between it and his full narrative. He now, however, becomes more explicit in identifying with these pagans. He favorably quotes some of their own poets to affirm even more identity with them. “In Him we live and move and exist” is a line from Epimenides’s well‐known Cretica:

They fashioned a tomb for thee, ‘O holy and high one’
But thou art not dead; ‘thou livest and abidest for ever’,
For in thee we live and move and have our being (emphasis added).28

The second line that Paul quotes, “we also are His offspring,” is from Epimenides’s fellow‐countryman, Aratus, in his Phaenomena:

Let us begin with Zeus, Never, O men, let us leave him
Unmentioned. All the ways are full of Zeus,
And all the market‐places of human beings. The sea is full
Of him; so are the harbors. In every way we have all to do with Zeus,
For we are truly his offspring (emphasis added).29

Aratus was most likely rephrasing Cleanthe’s poem Hymn to Zeus, which not only refers to men as God’s children, but to Zeus as the sovereign controller of all—in whom men live and move:

Almighty Zeus, nature’s first Cause, governing all things by law.
It is the right of mortals to address thee,
For we who live and creep upon the earth are all thy children (emphasis added).30

These are the same elements of Paul’s discourse in Acts 17:24‐29.

The Stoics themselves had redefined Zeus to be the impersonal pantheistic force, also called the “logos,” as opposed to a personal deity in the pantheon of Greek gods. This logos was still not anything like the personal God of the Hebrew Scriptures. What is disturbing about this section is that Paul does not qualify the pagan quotations that originally were directed to Zeus. He doesn’t clarify by explaining that Zeus is not the God he is talking about. He simply quotes these hymns of praise to Zeus as if they are in agreement with the Christian gospel. The question arises, why does he not distinguish his gospel narrative from theirs?

The answer is found in the idea of subversion. Paul is subverting their concept of God by using common terms with a different definition that he does not reveal immediately, but that eventually undermines their entire narrative. He begins with their conventional understanding of God but steers them eventually to his own.

In quoting pagan references to Zeus, Paul was not affirming paganism but was referencing pagan imagery, poems, and plays to make a point of connection with them as fellow humans. The imago dei (image of God) in pagans reflects distorted truth, but a kind of truth nonetheless. Paul then recasts and transforms that connection with pagan immanence in support of Christian immanence through the doctrine of transcendence (17:24, 27), the resurrection, and final judgment (17:30‐31), but he saves that twist for the end of his sermon.

Verse 29

“we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man.”

Another belief of Stoicism was that the divine nature that permeated all things was not reducible to mere artifacts of humanity’s creation. As Epictetus argued, “You are a ‘fragment of God’; you have within you a part of Him…Do you suppose that I am speaking of some external God, made of silver or gold? It is within yourself that you bear Him.”31 Zeno taught, “Men shall neither build temples nor make idols.” Dio Chrysostom wrote, “The living can only be represented by something that is living.”32 Once again, Paul is not ignoring the biblical mocking of “idols of silver and gold” as in Psalm 115:4, but is certainly addressing the issue in a language his hearers would understand, the language of the Stoic narrative.

Verse 30

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance,”

For the Stoics, ignorance was an important doctrine. It represented the loss of knowledge that humanity formerly possessed, knowledge of their pantheistic unity with the logos. Dio Chrysostom asks in his Discourses, “How, then, could they have remained ignorant and conceived no inkling…[that] they were filled with the divine nature?”33 Epictetus echoes the same sentiment in one of his Discourses, which is quoted in part above: “You are a ‘fragment of God’; you have within you a part of Him. Why then are you ignorant of your own kinship?34 “Pauline “ignorance” was a willing, responsible ignorance, a hardness of heart that came from sinful violation of God’s commands (Eph. 4:17‐19)—but, yet again, Paul does not articulate this distinction. He instead makes an ambiguous reference to a generic “ignorance” that the Stoics most naturally would interpret in their own terms. As Talbert describes, “In all of this, he has sought the common ground. There is nothing he has said yet that would appear ridiculous to his philosophic audience.”35

Verses 30‐31

“God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Here is where the subversion of Paul’s storytelling rears its head, like the mind‐blowing twist of a movie thriller. Everything is not as it seems. Paul the storyteller gets his pagan audience to nod their heads in agreement, only to be thrown for a loop at the end. Repentance, judgment, and the resurrection, all antithetical to Stoic beliefs, form the conclusion of Paul’s narrative.

Witherington concludes of this Areopagus speech, “What has happened is that Greek notions have been taken up and given new meaning by placing them in a Jewish‐Christian monotheistic context. Apologetics by means of defense and attack is being done, using Greek thought to make monotheistic points. The call for repentance at the end shows where the argument has been going all along—it is not an exercise in diplomacy or compromise but ultimately a call for conversion.”36

The Stoics believed in a “great conflagration” of fire where the universe would end in the same kind of fire out of which it was created.37 This was not the fire of damnation, however, as in Christian doctrine. It was rather the cyclical recurrence of what scientific theorists today would call the “oscillating universe.” Everything would collapse into fire, and then be recreated again out of that fire and relive the same cycle and development of history over and over again. Paul’s call of final, linear, once‐for‐all judgment by a single man was certainly one of the factors, then, that caused some of these interested philosophers to scorn him (v. 32). Note again, however, that even here, Paul never gives the name of Jesus. He alludes to Him and implies His identity, which seems to maintain a sense of mystery about the narrative (something many modern evangelists would surely criticize) . Did everyone know that he was talking about Jesus? At times, silence can be louder than words, and implication can be more alluring than explication.

The other factor sure to provoke the ire of the cosmopolitan Athenian culture‐shapers was the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus. The poet and dramatist Aeschylus wrote what became a prominent Stoic slogan: “When the dust has soaked up a man’s blood, once he is dead there is no resurrection.”38 Paul’s explicit reference to the resurrection was certainly a part of the twist he used in his subversive storytelling to get the Athenians to listen to what they otherwise might ignore.

Secular Sources

A couple of important observations are in line regarding Paul’s reference to pagan poetry and non‐ Christian mythology. First, it points out that, as an orthodox Pharisee who stressed the separation of holiness, he did not consider it unholy to expose himself to the godless media and art forms (books, plays, and poetry) of his day. He did not merely familiarize himself with them, he studied them—well enough to be able to quote them and even utilize their narrative. Paul primarily quoted Scripture in his writings, but he also quoted sinners favorably when appropriate.

Second, this appropriation of pagan cultural images and thought forms by biblical writers reflects more than a mere quoting of popular sayings or shallow cultural reference. It illustrates a redemptive interaction with those thought forms, a certain amount of involvement in, and affirmation of, the prevailing culture, in service to the gospel. A simple comparison of Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 with Cleanthes’s Hymn to Zeus, a well‐known summary of Stoic doctrine, illustrates an almost point‐by‐point correspondence of ideas.39 Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 is not a shallow usage of mere phrases, but a deep structural identification with Stoic narrative and images that “align with” the gospel. The list of convergences can be summarized thus:

StoicNarrative-Acts 17Lastly, this incident is not the only place where subversion occurs in the Bible. The Dictionary of New Testament Background cites more than 100 New Testament passages that reflect “Examples of Convergence between Pagan and Early Christian Texts.” Citations, images and word pictures are quoted, adapted, or appropriated from such pagans as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plutarch, Tacitus, Xenophon, Aristotle, Seneca, and other Hellenistic cultural sources. The sheer volume of such biblical reference suggests an interactive intercourse of Scriptural writings with culture rather than absolute separation or shallow manipulation of that culture.40

SUBVERSION VS. SYNCRETISM

Some Christians may react with fear that this kind of redemptive interaction with culture is syncretism, an attempt to fuse two incompatible systems of thought. Subversion, however, is not syncretism. Subversion is what Paul engaged in.

In subversion, the narrative, images, and symbols of one system are discreetly redefined or altered in the new system. Paul quotes a poem to Zeus, but covertly intends a different deity. He superficially affirms the immanence of the Stoic “Universal Reason” that controls and determines all nature and men, yet he describes this universal all‐powerful deity as personal rather than as abstract law. He agrees with the Stoics that men are ignorant of God and His justice, but then affirms that God proved that He will judge the world through Christ by raising Christ from the dead—two doctrines the Stoics were vehemently against. He affirms the unity of humanity and the immanence of God in all things, but contradicts Stoic pantheism and redefines that immanence by affirming God’s transcendence and the Creator/creature distinction. Paul did not reveal these stark differences between the gospel and the Stoic narrative until the end of his talk. He was subverting paganism, not syncretizing Christianity with it.

Subversive Story Strategy

By casting his presentation of the gospel in terms that Stoics could identify with and by undermining their narrative with alterations, Paul is strategically subverting through story. Author Curtis Chang, in his book Engaging Unbelief, explains this rhetorical strategy as three‐fold: “1. Entering the challenger’s story, 2. Retelling the story, 3. Capturing that retold tale with the gospel metanarrative.”41 He explains that the claim that we observe evidence objectively and apply reason neutrally to prove our worldview is an artifact of Enlightenment mythology. The truth is that each epoch of thought in history, whether Medieval, Enlightenment, or Postmodern, is a contest in storytelling. “The one who can tell the best story, in a very real sense, wins the epoch.”42

Chang affirms the inescapability of story and image through history even in philosophical argumentation: “Strikingly, many of the classic philosophical arguments from different traditions seem to take the form of a story: from Plato’s scene of the man bound to the chair in the cave to Hobbes’s elaborate drama of the ‘state of nature,’ to John Rawls’s ‘choosing game.’”43 Stories may come in many different genres, but we cannot escape them.

Many Christian apologists and theologians have tended to focus on the doctrinal content of Paul’s Areopagus speech at the expense of the narrative structure that carries the message. There is certainly more proclamation in this passage than rational argument.

The progression of events from creation to fall to redemption that characterize Paul’s narrative reflects the beginning, middle, and end of linear Western storytelling. God is Lord, He created all things and created all people from one (creation), then determined the seasons and boundaries. People then became blind and were found groping in the darkness post‐Eden, ignorant of their very identity as His children (fall). Then God raised a man from the dead and will judge the world in the future through that same man. Through repentance, people can escape their ignorance and separation from God (redemption). Creation, fall, redemption; beginning, middle, end; Genesis, Covenant, Eschaton are elements of narrative that communicate worldview.

Does this retelling of stories simply reduce persuasion to a relativistic “stand‐off” between opposing stories with no criteria for discerning which is true? Scholar N. T. Wright suggests that the way to handle the clash of competing stories is to tell yet another story, one that encompasses and explains the stories of one’s opposition, yet contains an explanation for the anomalies or contradictions within those stories:

There is no such thing as “neutral” or “objective” proof; only the claim that the story we are now telling about the world as a whole makes more sense, in its outline and detail, than other potential or actual stories that may be on offer. Simplicity of outline, elegance in handling the details within it, the inclusion of all the parts of the story, and the ability of the story to make sense beyond its immediate subject‐matter: these are what count.44

While a significant number of Christian apologists would consider Wright’s claim as neglectful of Paul’s appeal to evidence elsewhere (v. 31), it is certainly instructive of the opposite neglect that many have had for the legitimate operations of story or narrative coherence in persuasion.

Paul tells the story of mankind in Acts 17, a story that encompasses and includes images and elements of the Stoic story, but solves the problems of that system within a more coherent and meaningful story that conveys Christianity. He studies and engages in the Stoic story, retells that story, and captures it with the gospel metanarrative. Paul subverts Stoic paganism with the Christian worldview.

Samplings of Subversion

In the first paragraph of this article, I mentioned the entertainment of Hollywood as a strong analogy of the influence of the Greek poets. I would like to conclude with an example of a Hollywood movie that uses subversive storytelling in a way similar to Paul on the Areopagus. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, written and directed by Scott Derrickson, uses the power of story to subvert the modernist mindset that believes all spiritual beliefs are superstitious misunderstandings of scientific phenomena. Emily Rose is based on an allegedly true story of a Roman Catholic priest on trial for criminal negligence in the death of a college girl named Emily Rose. Emily comes to the priest because she believes she is demon possessed. In the midst of a laborious exorcism ritual, she dies from self‐inflicted wounds, and the priest goes to trial. The setting of a court is strikingly reminiscent of Paul’s standing in the Areopagus, speaking to the “modernist” lawyers and rhetoricians of his day.

Erin Bruner, a female attorney, defends the priest by seeking to prove the “possibility” of demon possession in court. The prosecutor mocks her through the trial, referring to her spiritual arguments as superstition unworthy of legal procedure in a modern scientific world. He then seeks to prove that Emily had epilepsy, which required drugs, not “voodoo,” resulting in the priest’s blood guilt. The movie presents both sides of the argument in court so equally that legal or rational certainty is impossible. The privilege of seeing Emily’s experience of demon possession outside that court of law leaves the viewer with a strong sense that the empirical prejudice of modern science has been undermined. Supernatural evil, and by extension, supernatural good (God) is real. Derrickson uses the story to subvert the stranglehold of modernity on the Western mind, and the inadequacy of rationalism and the scientific method in discovering everything there is to know about truth.

Other examples of subversion in Hollywood movies are: The Island, which uses a science‐fiction action chase film to subvert the utilitarian murderous ethos of our “pro‐choice” culture; The Wicker Man, a subversion of Wicca and pagan earth worship; and Apocalypto, a subversion of the “noble savage” myth of the indigenous native Americans.

The traditional approach to Christian apologetics is the detailed accumulation of rational arguments and empirical evidence for the existence of God, the reliability of the Bible, and the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ. The conventional image of a Christian apologist is one who studies apologetics or philosophy at a university, one who wields logical arguments for the existence of God and manuscript evidence for the reliability of the Bible, or one who engages in debates about evolution or Islam. These remain valid and important endeavors, but in a postmodern world focused on narrative discourse we need also to take a lesson from the apostle Paul and expand our avenues for evangelism and defending the faith. We need more Christian apologists writing revisionist biographies of godless deities such as Darwin, Marx, and Freud; writing for and subverting pagan television sitcoms; bringing a Christian worldview interpretation to their journalism in secular magazines and news reporting; making horror films that undermine the idol of modernity as did The Exorcism of Emily Rose; writing, singing, and playing subversive industrial music, rock music, and rap music. We need to be actively, sacredly subverting the secular stories of the culture, and restoring their fragmented narratives for Christ. If it was good enough for the apostle Paul on top of Mars’ Hill then, it’s certainly good enough for those of us in the shade of the Hollywood hills now.45

Brian Godawa is the screenwriter for the award-winning feature film, To End All Wars. He is author of Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom and Discernment (InterVarsity Press, 2002).

 


NOTES

  1. See Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Areopagus,” the Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Areopagus. See also The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001–05), s.v. “Mars, in Roman Religion and Mythology,” and “Mars’ Hill,” http://www.bartleby.com/65/ma/Mars‐html, and http://www.bartleby.com/65/ma/MarsHill.html.
  2. Martin Dibelius and K. C. Hanson, The Book of Acts: Form, Style, and Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2004), 98.
  3. Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig, Mission in Acts: Ancient Narratives in Contemporary Context (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 224–25.
  4. Xenophon, Memorabilia, chap. 1. See also Plato, Apology 24B‐C; Euthyphro 1C; 2B; 3B.
  5. All Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible.
  6. Ben Witherington III, The Acts of the Apostles: A SocioRhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 530.
  7. Cicero, On The Nature of the Gods4, quoted in Gallagher and Hertig, 230.
  8. Although the text reveals that both Epicureans and Stoics were there (Acts 17:17–18), it appears that Paul chooses Stoicism to identify with, perhaps because of its closer affinity with the elements of his intended message.
  9. Aristotle, Or. 1, Demosthenes, Exordia 54, quoted in Witherington, 520.
  10. Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus, 260; Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.17.1, quoted in Charles H. Talbert, Reading Acts: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles (Macon, GA: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 2001), 153.
  11. Dibelius and Hanson, 103.
  12. Talbert, 153.
  13. Explained of Zeno by Plutarch in his Moralia, 1034B, quoted in Juhana Torkki, “The Dramatic Account of Paul’s Encounter with Philosophy: An Analysis of Acts 17:16–34 with Regard to Contemporary Philosophical Debates” (academic dissertation, Helsinki: Helsinki University Printing House, 2004), 105.
  14. Euripides, frag. 968, quoted in F. F. Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press Ltd., 2000), 240.
  15. Dibelius and Hanson, 105‐
  16. Seneca, Epistle47; Euripides, Hercules 1345–46, quoted in Talbert, 155.
  17. Cicero, On Duties, 3.6.28, quoted in Lee, 88.
  18. Bruce, 241.
  19. Seneca, Epistle52, quoted in Michelle V. Lee, Paul, the Stoics, and the Body of Christ (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 84.
  20. Seneca, Epistle1; Dio Chrysostom, Oration 30.26, quoted in Talbert, 156.
  21. Torkki, 87.
  22. Epictetus Discourse14, quoted in A. A. Long, Epictetus: A Stoic and Socratic Guide to Life (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2002), 25–26.
  23. Cicero Tusculan Disputations28.68–69, quoted in Talbert, 156.
  24. Aristophanes Ec. 315, Pax 691; Plato Phaedo 99b, quoted in Witherington, 528–29.
  25. Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, ed. Robert Booth (Atlanta: American Vision, 1996), 260–61.
  26. Dio Chrysostom Olympic Oration 12:28, quoted in F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts, New International Commentary on the New Testament, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 339.
  27. Seneca Epistle1–2, quoted in Talbert, 156.
  28. Bruce, The Book of the Acts 338–39.
  29. Loring Brace, Unknown God or Inspiration Among PreChristian Races (1890; repr., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 123.
  30. Epictetus, Discourses8.11–12, quoted in Gallagher, 232.
  31. Clement of Alexandria, Miscellanies76; Dio Chrysostom, Oration 12.83, quoted in Talbert, 156.
  32. Dio Chrysostom, Discourses27; cf. 12.12, 16, 21, quoted in Gallagher, 229.
  33. Epictetus, Discourses8.11–14, quoted in Gallagher, 229.
  34. Talbert, 156.
  35. Witherington, 524.
  36. , 526.
  37. Aeschylus, Eumenides 647, quoted in Bruce, Paul, Apostle of the Heart Set Free, 247.
  38. See Cleanthes, “Hymn to Zeus” (trans. M. A. C. Ellery, 1976), Department of Classics, Monmouth College, http://www.utexas.edu/courses/citylife/readings/cleanthes_hymn.html.
  39. D. Charles, “Examples of Convergence between Pagan and Early Christian Texts,” The Dictionary of New Testament Background (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, 2000). Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0.
  40. Curtis Chang, Engaging Unbelief: A Captivating Strategy from Augustine to Aquinas (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 26.
  41. , 29.
  42. , 30.
  43. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Press, 1992), 42.
  44. This article is excerpted and adapted from a manuscript the author plans to have published, tentatively titled, Word Pictures: Knowing God Through Story and Imagination.
Apologetics, Journal Topics, Reviews

Empty Villages of People Erased from Space and Consciousness

Burge, Gary-Ethnocracy not Sustainable

 

On the April 6, 2016 edition of the Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff invited Dr. Gary Burge onto the broadcast for an interview. Gary is a professor of New Testament at Wheaton. He holds a PhD in New Testament studies from Aberdeen University in Scotland. He’s the author of two incredible books; one is entitled Whose Land Whose Promise, and the other Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to Holy Land Theology.

Hank Hanegraaff: Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr. Gary Burge in the West Bank and I am delighted to have you on the broadcast.

Gary Burge: Thanks Hank. It’s really great to be with you again.

Hank: I want to quote from your book Whose Land Whose Promise and get your reaction. I saw this up close and personal once again a couple of weeks ago but the quote from Bethlehem pastor Mitri Raheb. He says,

I am a Palestinian [Christian] living under Israeli occupation. My captor daily seeks ways to make life harder for me. He encircles my people with barbed wire; he builds walls around us, and his army sets many boundaries around us. He succeeds in keeping thousands of us in camps and prisons. Yet despite all these efforts, he has not succeeded in taking my dreams from me. I have a dream that one day I will wake up and see two equal peoples living next to each other, coexisting in the land of Palestine, stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.

The reason I bring up this quote is I want to start by asking you whether this is simply a vain dream in light of the strong Zionist predilection to completely cleanse the land of everyone but those who can legitimately say they are Jews and that based on a theology, a theology called Christian Zionism.

Gary: Yeah, Hank, thanks for that, that is a marvelous quote from Mitri Raheb. Mitri Raheb is one of the most famous Palestinian pastors who reside in Bethlehem, of course, and your listeners may not know, but, he’s an amazing pastor and theologian, prolific writer as well. I don’t think it’s a vain dream at all. I think that what’s unfortunately happening today is that too much of the politics of both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side are conducted by sort of outspoken extreme voices, and moderate voices, like Mitri’s, and there are many moderate voices inside of Israel as well, understand that this land, this country between the Mediterranean and the Jordan intimately will have to be shared. This idea of building what we call an ethnocracy—rule by a race—is just simply not going to be sustainable. So, I mean today, for instance, 49% of the population of greater Israel between Mediterranean and the Jordan is Palestinian, and they have a really high birth rate. So everyone knows that in 50 or 60 years the population will be majority Palestinian. Minorities cannot rule majorities and have a sustainable future. It just doesn’t work that way. It didn’t work in South Africa, it won’t work here. So I tell my friends who really do love Israel, and I think we all should, you know, love both peoples in this conflict, it seems to me that the only future that Israel has is to become what I call a bi-national state, that is to say, two nations, two peoples, learning how to share this world together. Otherwise, if you simply have a policy of containment, like Mitri describes—right now Palestinians of the West Bank, over 2 ½ million of them, live behind a 30 foot wall, electrified fences, check points everywhere, regular shootings—this experience just makes a population explode., and I don’t believe there’s a future for that at all.

Hank: You contributed to the Christian Research Journal a Summary Critique Review, a review of the book Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. It’s a book by Noga Kadman. An important book in that the story of what happen to the Palestinians in the birth of modern Israel in 1948 is not well known to most Christian intellectuals in the West. I would say most Christians period.

Gary: No. Most Christians don’t know this part of the story. Actually I think, I’m really, really glad that the Journal had us review this book because most American listeners that I meet and speak to when I’m out on the road at conferences is they don’t realize that when Israel became a nation in 1948, the Jews were actually in a strong minority in the country. They did a British census in 1948; there were 1.3 million Palestinians and 600,000 Jews. So, therefore, the Israelis knew as they began their state, they had to do a couple things: they had to move out a huge population—we call it ethnic cleansing—and that they destroyed the villages that these people came from or they gave their homes and properties to incoming Jewish settlers.  But what Noga Kadman has done is she has written the definitive book telling about how this ethnic cleansing worked like, just like machines, it was just incredible. Then what she does is she quantifies exactly what happens in all these villages. So, she did case studies of how villages were cleansed, how populations were moved, and at the end of the book, she actually gives you a catalogue of all four hundred some odd villages, and what was there, what’s left today. If you go to Israel as a tourist, you’ll never be shown this stuff. This is the dark secret. I think of it as the dark hidden secret which is in Israel and every Israeli knows it but they can barely talk about it. To build the state they had to cleanse the land, they felt, and this led to enormous suffering for three quarter of a million people, about 750,000 people were essentially affected by this. So, yeah, Kadman’s book is really, really important indisputable evidence of the cleansing of the land.

Hank: You are a New Testament theologian, and ideas have consequences, you think about the Christian Zionist notion that the cleansing, the ethnic cleansing of the land is a divine command. For Zionists, secular Zionists, this is a defensible cruelty, but for Christians it’s a divine command. And this gets down to a hermeneutical issue doesn’t it?

Gary: Oh, it does. It really does, because, in fact Hank that’s exactly right, because what they do is they read the land promise to Abraham, say in Genesis 12, and what they do is they jump from that to the Book of Joshua, and see how Joshua then used military violence to cleanse the land of Canaanites,  and then they jump from there to the twentieth century, and they think that those models for land promise and land reclamation, these all ought to be in play today. What they have jumped over are the prophets of the Old Testament and they jumped right over the New Testament and that’s why I wrote that book Jesus and the Land because I think that as Christians we need to think theologically about land promise and what we believe as Christians about territory and God’s presence in the Holy Land.

Hank: A couple of weeks ago I was speaking in the West Bank and talking about the gospel in the face of religious extremism. Now I pointed out that two fault lines run through the Zionist landscape: one is the promises God made to Abraham were not fulfilled in the past, and, therefore, they must be fulfilled in the present or the future, and the second thing is that God has two distinct people; your comments.

Gary: Well, I think the issue here is that—I think in the Old Testament they understand that that promise of land was actually fulfilled in the arrival of Joshua, the establishment of the tribal lands under judges, and the establishment of the monarchy in the Old Testament. I think the important thing for us to remember is the New Testament is reconfiguring what it means to understand land in God’s providence. What the New Testament has done is it says, look even though Judaism is territorial, we as Christians do not embrace that territorialism. In other words, God’s interest, God’s project today is a different project that He had in the days of Joshua. God’s project today is the reclamation not of the Holy Land from one people, but it is the reclamation of the entire world for all people. So you have a kind of universalizing of the message, a universal embrace of all cultures and nations, and of all lands. That is why the church has always had a worldwide mission because we believe that God does love all cultures and places. So there is no hint inside of the New Testament of the construction of you might say an empire, a nation, a kingdom in the Holy Land, there is instead a charge to go out broadly into all lands. You can actually, Hank, I believe you can find that kind of Christian Zionist impulse right in the Book of Acts. In Acts 1:6 when Jesus arrives in His resurrected glory, the first question that the apostles have for Him is Lord are you now at last in all of your power going to restore Israel’s kingdom. It’s a political question they have. So they have fallen to that low point of thinking God’s interest is in the reconstruction of American political sort of kingdoms. And Jesus deflects the question entirely as, no you are supposed to go to the ends of the earth. So, in other words, the providence, sort of the location of God’s interest is not in the Holy Land; the location of God’s interest is in all lands and therefore go out.

Hank: I’m talking to Gary Burge, he is a professor of New Testament, contributor to the Christian Research Journal, and we’re talking about a review that Gary did on a book entitled Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948. One of the things you write in this review is that,

Both sides had witnessed terrible things but nothing can quite compare with the Palestinian losses of life, residence, and culture that we see…it is difficult to imagine the expulsion of 700,000…people, the demolition of their homes, and the many atrocities they suffered after 1948.

Gary: Right. I know. In fact that’s one of the parts of this whole story that I find the most frustrating personally because, Hank, as you and I know, as you travel in those areas and you do research on what actually happened, when we come back to the United States and we try to describe the Palestinian narrative of their experiences, so many of us either don’t understand it, or really find it hard to acknowledge it. To be sure, Palestinian violence against Israelis is indefensible, and it’s horrible, and it’s subject to condemnation. I understand that. But, what we don’t understand is that there’s violence that goes the other direction as well from Israel to Palestine. It is not always defensive and the number of Palestinians who have been killed is so out of proportion to the Israeli deaths. It’s just hard to believe. Really it’s the loss of hope. You know, you and I, Hank, we have hope because we believe that we have a future. We believe that we can, you know, have a safe home to live in, a career, we have a family, we have a lot of freedom here. The Palestinians have lost hope because they live in containment. It isn’t going to be long before some people are going to look at this and begin to describe it with that horrible word that was used in South Africa. At what point does this become kind of an apartheid situation? Everyone hates to use the word, I understand that, it’s an explosive word, but we have to give these people hope and freedom or else their containment becomes a situation just like that.

Hank: Gary Burge, you are a hero of the faith to me and I deeply appreciate your contribution to the Christian Research Journal.

Gary: Thanks Hank.


Get Jesus and the Land (B1059) by Gary Burge. To order, click here.

Get Gary’s review of Erased from Space and Consciousness: Israel and the Depopulated Palestinian Villages of 1948 (Indiana University Press, 2015) by Noga Kadman in vol. 39 b, 1 (2016) of the Christian Research Journal. To order, click here.

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Apologetics

Fat Chance: The Failure of Evolution to Account for the Miracle of Life

Hanegraaff, Hank-Eye

This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 21, number 1 (1998). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org 


SYNOPSIS

No rational person looking at Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper would suggest that this masterpiece came into being through blind chance. Incredibly, however, many blindly believe that chance operating through natural processes can account for the masterful precision and design of the universe in which we live. The eye, the egg, and the earth are but three examples of organized complexity that can not be accounted for apart from the existence of an omniscient designer. As the science of statistical probability demonstrates, forming even a protein molecule by random processes is not only improbable; it is indeed impossible.


One of the primary dilemmas of naturalistic evolutionary theory is that it forces scientists to conclude that the cosmos in all of its complexity was created by chance. As biologist Jacques Monod, a Nobel prize winner, puts it, “Chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, [is] at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution” (emphasis in original).2 Noted theologian R. C. Sproul explains, for the materialist chance is the “magic wand to make not only rabbits but entire universes appear out of nothing.”3 Sproul also warns that “if chance exists in any size, shape, or form, God cannot exist. The two are mutually exclusive. If chance existed, it would destroy God’s sovereignty. If God is not sovereign, he is not God. If he is not God, he simply is not. If chance is, God is not. If God is, chance is not” (emphasis in original).4

THE COMPLEXITY OF LIFE

Chance in this sense refers to that which happens without cause.5 Thus, chance implies the absence of both a design and a designer. Reflect for a moment on the absurdity of such a notion. Imagine suggesting that Christopher Wren had nothing whatsoever to do with the design of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Imagine asserting that the majestic Messiah composed itself apart from Handel. Or imagine claiming thatthe Last Supper painted itself without Leonardo da Vinci.

Now consider an even more egregious and absurd assertion — that an eye, an egg, and the earth, each in its vast complexity, are merely functions of random chance.6 Ironically, Darwin himself found it hard to accept the notion that the eye could be the product of blind evolutionary chance, conceding that the intricacies of the human eye gave him “cold shudders.”7

Eye

In his landmark publication, The Origin of Species, Darwin avowed, “To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree possible.”8 He called this dilemma the problem of “organs of extreme perfection and complication.”9

Consider for a moment the incredible complexity of the human eye. It consists of a ball with a lens on one side and a light sensitive retina made up of rods and cones inside the other. The lens itself has a sturdy protective covering called a cornea and sits over an iris designed to protect the eye from excessive light. The eye contains a fantastic watery substance that is replaced every four hours, while tear glands continuously flush the outside clean. In addition, an eyelid sweeps secretions over the cornea to keep it moist, and eyelashes protect it from dust.10

It is one thing to stretch credulity by suggesting that the complexities of the eye evolved by chance; it is quite another to surmise that the eye could have evolved in concert with myriad other coordinated functions. As a case in point, extraordinarily tuned muscles surround the eye for precision motility and shape the lens for the function of focus.11

Additionally, consider the fact that as you read this article, a vast number of impulses are traveling from your eyes through millions of nerve fibers that transmit information to a complex “computer center” in the brain called the visual cortex. Linking the visual information from the eyes to motor centers in the brain is crucial in coordinating a vast number of bodily and mental functions that are part and parcel to the very process of daily living. Without the coordinated development of the eye and the brain in a synergistic fashion the isolated developments themselves become meaningless and counterproductive.12

In Darwin’s Black Box, biochemist Michael Behe points out that what happens when a photon of light hits a human eye was beyond nineteenth‐century science. Thus, to Darwin, vision was an unopened black box.13 In the twentieth century, however, the black box of vision has been opened, and it is no longer enough to consider the anatomical structure of the eye. We now know that “each of the anatomical steps and structures that Darwin thought were so simple actually involves staggeringly complicated biochemical processes” that demand explanation.14

Behe goes on to demonstrate that one cannot explain the origin of vision without first accounting for the origin of the enormously complex system of molecular mechanisms that make it work.15 Phillip Johnson, author of Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, has aptly summarized Darwin’s dilemma regarding the eye: “Evolutionary biologists have been able to pretend to know how complex biological systems originated only because they treated them as black boxes. Now that biochemists have opened the black boxes and seen what is inside, they know the Darwinian theory is just a story, not a scientific explanation.”16

Egg

In Darwin’s Black Box, Behe further notes that there are black boxes within black boxes. As science advances, more and more of these black boxes are being opened, revealing an “unanticipated Lilliputian world” of enormous complexity that has pushed the theory of evolution beyond the breaking point.17

Evolution cannot account for the astonishingly complex synchronization process needed for, say, the shell of a developing egg to form from the calcium that is stored inside the bones of a bird’s body.18 This shell not only provides a protective covering for the egg but also provides a source of calcium for the developing embryo and a membrane through which it can breathe.19

Furthermore, evolution cannot account for the complex synchronization process needed to produce life from a single fertilized human egg. “The tapestry of life begins with a single thread.”20 Through a process of incredible precision, a microscopic egg in one human being is fertilized by a sperm cell from another. This process not only marks the beginning of a new life but also marks the genetic future of that life.21 A single fertilized egg (zygote), the size of a pinhead, contains chemical instructions that would fill more than 500,000 printed pages.22 The genetic information contained in this “encyclopedia” determines the potential physical aspect of the developing human from height to hair color. In time, the fertilized egg divides into the 30 trillion cells that make up the human body, including 12 billion brain cells, which form over 120 trillion connections.23

In Darwin’s day, a human egg was thought to be quite simple—for all practical purposes, little more than a microscopic blob of gelatin. Today we know that a fertilized egg is among the most organized, complex structures in the universe. In an age of scientific enlightenment, it is incredible to think that people are willing to maintain that something so vastly complex arose by chance. As Dr. James Coppedge, an expert on the science of statistical probability, puts it, “Chance requires ten billion tries on the average in order to count to ten.”24

In an experiment using 10 similar coins numbered one through 10, chance will succeed on the average only once in 10 billion attempts to get the number one followed in order by all the rest. Coppedge explains that if a person could draw and record one coin every five seconds day and night, it would still take over 1,500 years for chance, on average, to succeed just once in counting to 10.25 He goes on to demonstrate the difference intelligence makes by documenting that a child can do in minutes what chance would take a millennium to do. “Chance doesn’t have a chance when compared to the intelligent purpose of even a child.”26 Even more revealing is the fact that a child playing with the party game Scrabble can easily spell the phrase, “the theory of evolution,” while chance requires five million times the assumed age of the earth to accomplish the same feat.27

Earth

Like an egg or an eye, the earth is a masterpiece of precision and design that could not have come into existence by chance. Astronaut Guy Gardner, who has seen the earth from the perspective of the moon, points out that “the more we learn and see about our universe the more we come to realize that the most ideally suited place for life within the entire solar system is the planet we call home.”28 King David said it best:

The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world. (Ps. 19:1‐4)

Let’s take a few minutes to explore the miracles that demonstrate life on earth, which a benevolent Creator designed and which could not be directed by blind chance. First, consider plain old tap water. The solid state of most substances is denser than their liquid state, but the opposite is true for H20, which explains why ice floats rather than sinks. If water were like virtually any other liquid, it would freeze from the bottom up rather than from the top down, killing aquatic life, destroying the oxygen supply, and making earth uninhabitable.29 Furthermore, ocean tides, which are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon, play a crucial role in our survival. If the moon were significantly larger, thereby increasing its gravitational pull, devastating tidal waves would submerge large areas of land. If the moon were smaller, tidal motion would cease and the oceans would stagnate and die.30 Finally, consider the ideal temperatures on planet earth — not duplicated on any other known planet in the universe. If we were closer to the sun, we would fry. If we were farther away, we would freeze.31

From the tap water to the tides and temperatures that we so easily take for granted, the earth is an unparalleled planetary masterpiece. Like Handel’s Messiah or da Vinci’s Last Supper, it should never be carelessly devalued as the result of blind evolutionary processes. Yet, tragically, in an age of high technology and supposed scientific enlightenment, many are doing just that. Consider the following introduction to “The Miracle of Life,” an Emmy‐award‐winning PBS NOVA broadcast on evolution:

Four and a half billion years ago, the young planet Earth was a mass of cosmic dust and particles. It was almost completely engulfed by the shallow primordial seas. Powerful winds gathered random molecules from the atmosphere. Some were deposited in the seas. Tides and currents swept the molecules together.

And somewhere in this ancient ocean the miracle of life began….The first organized form of primitive life was a tiny protozoan [a one‐celled animal]. Millions of protozoa populated the ancient seas. These early organisms were completely self‐sufficient in their sea‐water world. They moved about their aquatic environment feeding on bacteria and other organisms….From these one‐celled organisms evolved all life on earth. (emphases added)32

CHANCE DOESN’T HAVE A CHANCE

The real miracle of life is how so many people could stand for such nonsense in the twentieth century. First, how could the protozoa be the first form of primitive life if there were already organisms such as bacteria in existence? Molecular biology has demonstrated empirically that bacteria are incredibly complex. In the words of Michael Denton, “Although the tiniest bacterial cells are incredibly small, weighing less than 10‐12 gms, each is in effect a veritable micro‐miniaturized factory containing thousands of exquisitely designed pieces of intricate molecular machinery, made up altogether of one hundred thousand million atoms, far more complicated than any machine built by man and absolutely without parallel in the nonliving world.”33

Furthermore, far from being primitive, the protozoa that were thought to be simple in Darwin’s day have been shown by science to be enormously complex. Molecular biology has demonstrated that there is no such thing as a “primitive” cell. To quote Denton again, “No living system can be thought of as being primitive or ancestral with respect to any other system, nor is there the slightest empirical hint of an evolutionary sequence among all the incredibly diverse cells on earth.”34 Finally, as Coppedge documents, giving evolutionists every possible concession, postulating a primordial sea with every single component necessary, and speeding up the rate of bonding a trillion times: “The probability of a single protein35 molecule being arranged by chance is 1 in 10161 using all atoms on earth and allowing all the time since the world began…..For a minimum set of the required 239 protein molecules for the smallest theoretical life, the probability is 1 in 10119,879. It would take 10119,841 years on the average to get a set of such proteins. That is 10119,831 times the assumed age of the earth and is a figure with 119, 831 zeroes.”+

To provide a perspective on how enormous a one followed by a hundred and sixty one zeros is, Coppedge uses the illustration of an amoeba (a microscopic one‐celled animal) that sets out to move the entire universe (including every person, the earth, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, millions of other galaxies, etc.) over the width of one universe, atom by atom, at the slowest possible speed. (The universe is 30 billion light‐years in diameter — to calculate the number of miles multiply 30 billion by 5.9 trillion.) The amoeba is going to move one angstrom unit (the width of a hydrogen atom — the smallest known atom) every 15 billion years (the supposed age of the universe). Obviously the amoeba would have to move zillions of times before the naked eye could detect that it had moved at all. At this rate the amoeba travels 30 billion light years and puts an atom down one universe over. It then travels back at the same rate of speed and takes another atom from your body and moves it one universe over. Once it has moved you over, it moves over the next person until it has moved over all five billion or so people on planet earth. It then moves over all the houses and cars, the solar system, the Milky Way galaxy, and the millions of other galaxies that exist in the known universe.

In the time that it took to do all that, we would not get remotely close to forming one protein molecule by random chance.37 If, however, a protein molecule is eventually formed by chance, forming the second one would be infinitely more difficult. As you can see, the science of statistical probability demonstrates conclusively that forming a protein molecule by random processes is not merely improbable but impossible. And forming a living cell is beyond illustration. As King David poignantly put it, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1).

Finally, it should be noted that philosophical naturalism—the world view undergirding evolutionism—can provide only three explanations for the existence of the universe in which we live. One: The universe is merely an illusion. This notion carries little weight in an age of scientific enlightenment. As has been aptly put, “Even the full‐blown solipsist looks both ways before crossing the street.” Two: The universe sprang from nothing. This proposition flies in the face of both the law of cause and effect and the law of energy conservation. It has been well said, there simply are no free lunches. The conditions that hold true in this  universe prevent any possibility of matter springing out of nothing.38 Three: The universe eternally existed. This hypothesis is devastated by the law of entropy that predicates that a universe which has eternally existed would have died an “eternity ago” of a heat‐loss death.39

There is, however, one other possibility. It is found in the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. In an age of empirical science, as in any age, nothing could be more certain, clear, or correct.

NOTES

  1. This article is taken from Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming book, The FACE (Word Publishing), which uses the acronym F‐A‐CE to reveal the farce of evolution (the “C” in FACE represents Chance).
  2. Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (New York: Vintage Books, 1972), 112–13, as quoted in John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Darwin’s Leap of Faith (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1998), 21.
  3. R. C. Sproul, Not a Chance: The Myth of Chance in Modern Science and Cosmology (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 9.
  4. Ibid., 3.
  5. Chance as an ontological entity does not exist. So, when it is appealed to as an agency of cause, it is utterly impotent and meaningless. This sense of chance as a causal agency is what one gropes for in order to assert that universes appear out of nothing. On the other hand, chance can quite usefully refer to formal mathematical probabilities, not at all signifying something that happens without a cause. In common parlance, when we say something has happened by chance, we don’t mean that the event had no cause, but that the actual cause is unknown to us. (See Sproul.)
  6. Perhaps we should be generous and give evolutionists the benefit of the doubt at this point by assuming that when they refer to chance they do not mean an ontological causal agency (referring to the illogical notion of uncaused effects). Instead, we can assume that chance is used as the formal term for mathematical probabilities. The evolutionist presupposes the existence of the material universe with its attending properties and suggests that atoms randomly bumping into one another produce (cause) living things. As we will see, life cannot be accounted for in this way either.
  7. James F. Coppedge, Evolution: Possible or Impossible? (Northridge, CA: Probability Research in Molecular Biology, 1993), 218.
  8. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, chap. 6, “Difficulties of the Theory,” sect. “Organs of Extreme Perfection and Complication,” in Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed., Great Books of the Western World, vol. 49, Darwin (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952), 85.
  9. Ibid. Of course, Darwin’s life work intended to show that all biological organisms, with their attending “organs of extreme perfection and complication,” were indeed formed through natural selection.
  10. Eye description adapted from Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Great Evolution Mystery (New York: Harper & Row, 1983), 101–2.
  11. See ibid., 98–103.
  12. See Coppedge, 218–20; Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, MD: Adler & Adler, 1985), 332–33.
  13. Michael J. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 18. “Black box” is Behe’s term for a device that accomplishes a purpose but whose inner workings remain mysterious. For the average person, computers are a good example of a black box (p. 6).
  14. Ibid., 22 (see 15–22).
  15. In ibid., 18–21, Behe describes the biochemistry of vision.
  16. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 77.
  17. Behe, 8–9.
  18. Coppedge, 216, citing T. G. Taylor, “How an Eggshell Is Made,” Scientific American, 19 March 1970, 89–94.
  19. Christopher Perrins, Birds: Their Life, Their Ways, Their World (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, 1979), 118–19.
  20. The Wonders of God’s Creation: Human Life, vol. 3 (Chicago: Moody Institute of Science, 1993); videotape.
  21. Ibid.
  22. A. E. Wilder‐Smith, The Natural Sciences Know Nothing of Evolution (Costa Mesa, CA: T. W. F. T. Publishers, 1981), 82.
  23. A. E. Wilder‐Smith, The Origin of Life, vol. 3 (Gilbert, AZ: Eden Communications, 1983); videotape.
  24. Coppedge, 50–51.
  25. Ibid., 51.
  26. Ibid., 53.
  27. Ibid., 52. Coppedge explains the problem of trying to produce such a phrase by chance. The phrase, “the theory of evolution,” contains 23 ordered letters and spaces. Thus, we need to randomly pick in an ordered sequence 23 specific objects out of a set of 26 letters of the alphabet and one “space.” That means for the first “t” in our phrase there is a one out of 27 chance of drawing it. The same holds for all the other letters in our phrase – each has a one in 27 chance of being drawn at any given time. But since we need the letters and spaces to come in a sequential order, we must multiply their separate probabilities. Since there are 23 letters and spaces to pick, and each has an individual probability of one out of 27, we must multiply 27 by itself 23 times (i.e., 2723), which means we would expect to succeed in spelling our phrase by chance only one time in over eight hundred million trillion trillion draws. Now, suppose we use a super computer to produce a billion draws per second. At this incredible rate we could expect to find only one successful spelling of our phrase in 26,000,000,000,000,000 years. This number of years is five million times as long as natural science estimates the earth to have existed. (Adapted from Coppedge, 52.) If chance is so unproductive at producing such a simple phrase as “the theory of evolution,” it is just inconceivable to think that chance could have produced something as organized and complex as a single cell, let alone the unfathomable, organized complexity of the human brain.
Apologetics

Father Themi on Seeing the Crucified Christ through Solidarity with the Beggar

Father Themi-Identify in Solidarity with the Beggar

Father Themistoclese Athony Adamopoulo, “Father Themi,” is a Greek Orthodox priest. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Australia, but was looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. At one point he was a neo-Marxist, at another stage a rock star, (founding member of the 1960s Australian rock-n-roll band The Flies), on another level an academic with a PhD from Brown University and a Master of Theology from Princeton Divinity School, but then he had a radical encounter with God. He had a Damascus road experience, and as a result of that he has given up everything to serve the poor.

Hank Hanegraaff invited Father Themi to be a guest on the March 14, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast. The following are some highlights of their conversation.

Hank Hanegraaff: In studio with Dr. Father Themi. He is an Orthodox priest who has given his life to reaching out to the poor in a tangible way. I think this is an example for all of us. It’s not our bank account in this world that ultimately matters, it is doing precisely what Jesus Christ said to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not corrupt, where thieves do not break in and steal, for where your treasure is there your heart will be also.

Thinking right now about the words of Paul in Corinthians, Father Themi, when he says there’s no foundation that you can build other than Jesus Christ, but on that foundation you can build, you can either build using gold, silver and costly stones, or wood, hay, and straw, and the day of the Lord is going to reveal the kind of material we were building with. If what we have built survives, we’re going to receive a reward. If it does not, we are going to suffer loss. Paul kind of gives us an image of people escaping burning buildings with little more than chard clothes on their backs. So the here and now is critical. People often talk about salvation; very seldom talk about the fact that there are degrees of reward in heaven. What we do now matters for all eternity. I want you to talk in this regard about what you have done. First of all, the culture shock. You’re in America sitting in a prosperous city that culture shock between where you are right now and when you go back to Sierra Leone. It is a different world. Even though you can transfer from one culture to another very quickly with an airplane, it’s a completely different world, but there’s a world there of hurting people that need to be reached, not only with the Gospel, but with material means as well.

Father Themi Adamopulo: You hit it on the head. We are living in two planets. We call it earth, but I call it two dimensional planet. There is the abundance, and the apparent wealth of nations such as yours, the United States, and Canada, Europe to some degree of course, and Australia and so forth.  These are the rich countries. They’re the countries of abundance and wealth. There is another world that is hidden and it seems to be neglected by our consciousness. It’s as if we don’t want to know about it. We only get to know about it in certain times that we allow ourselves to get involved, e.g. when there is an Ebola crisis. Ok, suddenly we’ve become aware of Africa, but even then, even then, only when it strikes us. When Ebola hit us in Sierra Leone last year, it was terrible. People were dying everywhere. Ok, even where we were, people dying in the streets, people’s bodies in the streets. Near us, it’s pandemonium, ok. Nobody lifted a finger in the international world. For months we were suffering. Months! Until, a gentleman from Liberia came to the United States, gave Ebola to a nurse in Texas, suddenly, Ebola exists in the consciousness of the Western world. But, until Ebola hit a White person there was no Ebola, and all the thousands of people that were dying in Africa—and I saw it myself, I’m a witness to that—nothing was done. Even the World Health Organization said in the beginning oh this is not a big deal, lets not worry about it. It was shameful, and disgusting, that such a statement could be made, and it was made. The rest of the world was completely immune to any cries. I repeat, it was only when Ebola hit Europe and the United States that suddenly the armies came, the doctors came, and the convoys came and blah, blah, blah came. Until then, nobody came. That’s an example of the hidden world. The world of suffering that we either consciously or subconsciously want to do away with from our consciousness. You see? That’s the world I live in. I call that the crucified Christ.

Where the average—I’m now speaking to the women in your audience, if I may—the average daily monetary allowance for the African woman by in large, sub-Sahara Africa, by in large is about two dollars a day, two dollars a day. I want your women listening, mothers, to tell me what can they do for two dollars a day? Now, I’m telling you, sixty-percent of the world’s population, Hank, sixty-percent, that’s six people out of ten, are living under two dollars a day, sixty percent. We are a small minority on this planet. We’re a small minority. Even when I go up to eighty percent it’s still under three dollars, again. If we are looking at the reality that is facing us, out of seven or eight billion people that live upon the earth, half of us, half of us are living under two or three dollars a day. The other half of us are enjoying the abundances and the luxuries that exists in the rich world and we are not even aware that we have them, and we’re not even aware because all the depressions and, you know, the so called anxieties, and all these things, and we are not aware of how much we have around us. You know? Because we’re not aware of it, we don’t appreciate it. But, if you get an African immigrant coming to the United States, they will appreciate everything. They will see everything. They will see the electric lightbulbs that work. They will see the toilet that works. They will see the water tap that runs water. They will see a button on the door there that switches on and off the light. They will see a beautiful table. They will see it. But, an American coming or a Westerner coming to your office, Hank, would take all this for granted.  That’s the difference. That’s one of the great differences.

Now, how many children are dying a day? Let’s get down to that. Twenty-two thousand children die every day in Africa, mostly in Africa. Twenty-two thousand children die every day. That’s unacceptable to my reality. That’s unacceptable.

I’m there firstly to what? To repent for all my sins as a rock star, as a Marxist. I’m repenting. And I’m living with them, and understanding them. We have beggars coming to us every day and you have to help. What we do, Hank, is this: First of all, we identify with them. We don’t try to lord it over them. The worst attitude is I am the White man who has come here to help you, you poor unfortunates, you the poor of the world. That would be so anti-gospel and yet it exists. You know fly by night missionaries who come I am the great missionary who come two or three days in Africa and then go away. I’m afraid that’s not the right attitude. You have to be—you identify in solidarity with the beggar. You do not talk down to him. You do not abuse him. You do not lose patience with him. You talk to him on an equal basis with a beggar, with the beggars of the bottom of the barrel of this world. Once you do that something extraordinary happens, Hank. You begin to see the crucified Christ. You begin to see in the desperation, in the cry.

“Where are you sleeping tonight?”

“I have nowhere to sleep father.”

“Have you ate today?”

“No, father.”

“Where are you sleeping?“

“I’m sleeping out on the porch, father.”

“Father, do me a favor. When I die, will you bury me?”

“Nobody will bury you?”

Now, if you understand that, then you understand the crucified Christ, the voice of the crucified Christ, the pathos of the pain of the destitute of the world. Where else can I be but with them. That is our mission.

Hank: The mission’s called Paradise for Kids.

Father Themi: Whoa, Paradise for Kids is our sponsor; the mission is the Orthodox Church. It’s the Orthodox Patriarch of Alexander and we are a branch of that. We are jurisdiction of the Orthodox Patriarchy, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy of Alexandria. That’s where we are.

Hank: You’re getting your hands dirty, talk to people, we only have a few minutes left, about getting their hands dirty.

Father Themi: Well, know that, I’m not requesting people to come to Africa. That’s not what I’m doing here. I am saying this: Be aware of what you have. Be aware of the riches that are around you, the material riches. Be aware of the comfort, no matter how little you have, you have far more. Just the hospitals you go to. Just the— I mean, when I get sick, I have to fly out of there to come all the way to New York just to be seen . You know I have some poor eye, I have to have eye surgery, I have to come all the way to New York in order just to get something simple like a cataract thing, replacement. Be aware of your medical service here. Be grateful to God for all the things you have. At the same time, you have an obligation to the poor. I mean the poor here, the poor in this country, the poor here, the destitute here. You have an obligation as a Christian. It’s not negotiable. I was hungry and you fed me. Matthew 25. I was naked and you clothed me. I was thirst and you gave me to drink. And you will hear the words, come ye who fed me, you who gave me to drink, come and enjoy the riches of the kingdom of heaven. May we become aware of that brothers and sisters, and Hank thank you for the invitation, God, bless you.

Apologetics

Reiki: With Minds Wide Open

Fish  Mooney, Sharon- Reiki

Article ID: JAR121 | By: Sharon Fish Mooney


 

This article first appeared in the Christian Research Journal, volume 29, number 6 (2006). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


SYNOPSIS

Alternative health practices have grown in popularity to the point where major medical centers have departments of “integrative” or “complementary” medicine. The general public frequently asks the question, do these practices work? Researchers ask that question too, but they also want to know why. For Christians, there are more important questions to be asked, especially of practices that claim to be based on concepts of energy exchange. Do any of the rituals in an alternative practice involve areas that Scripture forbids Christians to explore? Can any practice rooted in a worldview that is antithetical to Christianity be divorced from that worldview and rendered acceptable for Christians?

Reiki, one of the most popular alternative interventions, is in particular need of such examination. The literature on Reiki encourages skeptics to keep an open mind and to judge Reiki by its effects. The Bible, however, encourages Christians to examine more than just the outward appearance of such theories; they are to judge them by their overall fruit, which includes not only their possible dangerous side effects, but more importantly, how their message compares with Scripture’s message about God and the world. Reiki and its various contemporary branches have their origins in the worldview of Buddhism, which is antithetical to the Christian worldview. Their initiation rituals often involve the channeling of spirit guides, a spiritually dangerous practice that Scripture forbids. These beliefs and practices should lead one to conclude that Reiki is a healing practice that is neither neutral nor Christian, but instead is rooted and grounded in an occult belief system that is incompatible with a biblical worldview.

 


Covenant Health Systems is a Catholic health care provider that offers elder‐care services throughout New England. According to its Web site, Covenant Health Systems is committed to providing its nursing home residents with “positive, life affirming care at the end of life which addresses the issues of pain, suffering and loss of control” by offering interventions that range from “high‐tech to high touch.”1 In addition to more traditional interventions such as patient‐controlled analgesic pumps, its offerings include alternative therapies such as massage, acupuncture, and Reiki.2

Ohio’s Cleveland Clinic, which ranked third on the list of the nation’s best hospitals in the 2006 U.S. News and World Report survey,3 has a center for integrative medicine. The clinic’s research has shown that practices such as guided imagery, massage, and Reiki can help patients reduce their anxiety before surgery, cope better with postoperative pain, and maximize their recovery. Current research at the clinic includes pilot studies that investigate the effects of Reiki in patients who suffer from prostate cancer and in patients who are undergoing in vitro fertilization.4

An article in the United Church News described healing services at Christ the Healer United Church of Christ in Beaverton, Oregon. The Reverend Gabrielle Fackre Chavez indicated that the Japanese healing art of Reiki fits well inside Christian ethics and understanding, saying that it is “a form of praying with an open heart, opening your channel to God.”5 She also stated that people who received Reiki had “this incredible experience of being loved, of the burdens dropping off their shoulders….You can watch the face change from stress and wrinkles and pain to what I call the Reiki Face: the face of an angel!” The article noted that Chavez urges keeping “an open mind to something that isn’t as foreign as one may think” since it relates back to the healing ministry of Christ.6

The Reiki for Christians Web site includes articles7 and testimonials from nuns, priests, and ministers who practice Reiki.8 One of the testimonies is by Scott Wyman, M.Div.,9 who does Integrated Reiki Therapy, or Psychotherapeutic Reiki, combining “Reiki healing techniques with the more traditional ‘talk’ psychotherapy.”10 On his Web site he describes classes in Reiki Jin Kei Do (which means “Reiki with Compassion and Wisdom”) that are designed to facilitate one’s spiritual path and relationship to the Divine. According to Wyman, Reiki Jin Kei Do “emphasizes the practice of Reiki, Reiki symbols, and meditation for the purpose of Quieting one’s mind, Opening one’s heart, Raising one’s vibration, and Expanding one’s consciousness (QORE), coming ultimately into complete attunement with the vibration of the Universe as the One and Only Being”11 (emphases in original).

OPEN MIND, OPEN DOORS

The International Center for Reiki Training provides continuing education programs that are approved by the American Holistic Nurses Association.12 The center was founded in 1988 as the Center for Spiritual Development and provided spiritual development classes on topics such as past‐life regression, although the focus today is exclusively on Reiki training.13 One technique taught at the center is a healing attunement, described as a process that “opens a spiritual door through which powerful, higher‐frequency Reiki energies are able to flow and through which the Reiki [spirit] guides can work more effectively.”14 Articles on the center’s Web site include such titles as “Reiki and Past Lives,” “Was Jesus a Reiki Master?” “Reiki and Shamanic Healing,” “Reiki as a Spiritual Path,” “Organizing a (Reiki) Healing Service in Your Church,” and “Knowing Your Reiki Guides.”15

Reiki is one of the most popular of the techniques and formalized alternative‐healing systems that are based on the concept of a universal energy. It also, like the practices of Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch, is making significant in‐roads into health care facilities and places of worship.16

It may be difficult at first to understand why Christians might have reservations about Reiki, as it is frequently described as God’s gift to humanity. William Lee Rand, one of the more prolific Reiki authors and founder of the International Center for Reiki Training, speculates that Jesus might have traveled to the East sometime between the ages of 12 and 30 and been schooled in many of the mystical teachings and associated healing techniques of India, Tibet, and China. Rand also claims that early Christian healing was a function of Gnostic forms of Christianity, which were suppressed after the second century by an established “Official Christian Church” that strongly discouraged the practice of the laying on of hands by lay Christians.17

A Reiki intervention usually involves actual physical contact, unlike Therapeutic Touch and Healing Touch, in which the hands of a practitioner hover over the body of a recipient. A Reiki practitioner places hands in different positions on various parts of a recipient’s body and then supposedly acts as a channel of universal life energy into the human energy field. According to Libby Barnett, a medical social worker, and Maggie Chambers, a Reiki master and artist, who conduct classes in Reiki, the vital energy is “transmuted into a form that is usable at the cellular level.”18 They claim that this energy “recharges, realigns, and rebalances the subtle bodies, bringing harmony and wholeness to all the recipient’s systems.”19 Subtle bodies20 are believed to extend beyond one’s physical body and are said to be perceptible by physical and noncontact forms of touch for anyone trained in how to assess them in virtually all forms of healing based on the theory of energy exchange.

From the standpoint of efficacy, Reiki does appear to be a useful technique. Nervous patients obviously can benefit from drug‐free, stress‐reducing interventions that may lower preoperative blood pressure. What Christian congregants would not appreciate a health care modality that offers them not only physical but emotional and even spiritual healing and a greater sense of God at work in their lives? Reiki claims to offer all of this in abundance, and stories of healings abound in relation to people, pets, plants, and the planet as a whole. In a Christ the Healer United Church of Christ article, Chavez noted that there are many Christians who recognize the “Trinitarian essence of Reiki,” which apparently manifests itself in part as “the Holy Spirit or power of God moving through us as vessels.”21

Is Reiki, as Chavez and others claim, a gift from God and the type of healing Jesus performed, or is it, as still others have claimed (particularly when promoted in health care settings), a religiously neutral technique that anyone can practice or benefit from, whatever that person’s belief system happens to be? The literature on Reiki encourages skeptics to keep an open mind and to judge Reiki by its end results.

The Bible also encourages us to judge both people and their practices by their fruit (e.g., Matt. 7:15–20). In evaluating fruit, however, one must consider the nature of the tree, and the origins of Reiki and its various contemporary branches should lead one to conclude that Reiki is neither a Christian healing practice nor a neutral one, but instead fits the definition of an occult practice, rooted and grounded in a belief system incompatible with the Bible.

John Warwick Montgomery identified three basic elements of most phenomena that are regarded as occult: (1) the paranormal, (2) the supernatural, and (3) things that are secret or hidden.22 Reiki is associated specifically with rituals that involve opening one’s mind to the realm of the paranormal and supernatural in ways that are forbidden either explicitly or implicitly in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Deut. 18:9–14; Acts 16:16–18).

People who seek to become Reiki practitioners must be initiated into the practice by a Reiki master, who is said to be able to activate energy, to empower the trainee, and to raise the trainee’s energy level to higher vibratory levels in a special secret ceremony through attunement. Attunement energies, channeled into the student through the master teacher, are believed to increase psychic sensitivity. During or following an attunement session, it is not unusual for students to have experiences in which they claim to encounter angels or spirit guides. Much of the teaching on Reiki today includes information and experiential instruction on how to make contact with the spirit world and its inhabitants.23

EASTERN ORIGINS

The origins of Reiki can be traced to nineteenth‐century Japan and Mikao Usui (1865–1926), whose family belonged to the Tendai school of Buddhism, founded by Saichô (AKA Dengyo Daishi, AD 767–822). For his part, Saichô drew his teachings from the Tiantai school of Buddhism in China.24 The Tendai Buddhist Institute notes that central to Tendai thought “is the concept of Original Enlightenment (Hongaku shiso)—the idea that all beings are originally or inherently enlightened, and that liberation is immediately at hand if we can only awaken and cut through the delusions that keep us from seeing our true nature.”25

Usui, at age four, was sent to a Tendai monastery, where he received his early education that included training in the martial arts. Later in life, Usui studied and adopted practices from the Shingon school of Vajrayana Buddhism (one of the three major schools of Buddhism26).

The Shingon school was founded in Japan in AD 804 by a Buddhist monk named Kukai (AKA Kobo Daishi, AD 774–835). Kukai had studied Vajrayana or Esoteric Buddhism in China and developed Shingon as his own synthesis of esoteric doctrinal beliefs and practices for Japan.27 The Shingon school of Buddhism teaches that everything in the world, including persons, animals, and inanimate objects, are the body of the Buddha Mahavairocana, considered to be the chief deity. The ultimate goal of this school of thought is a state of awakening or a realization of one’s essential Buddhahood, a state of at‐one‐ness with the universal Buddha that can be realized within one’s present lifetime. The Shingon school placed less emphasis on doctrine than on various esoteric ritual practices. Rituals and practices that involve the mind, body, and speech are the primary means proposed to attain this enlightenment. This includes various forms of meditation, visualization of mandalas, initiatory rites, and the reciting of formulas or mantras.28

An overview of Reiki in the literature today indicates a wide variety of techniques with the focus on hands‐on healing for anyone who desires training. The original Reiki teachings as taught by Usui, however, were broken into three major divisions for (1) experienced practitioners and advanced meditators, (2) experienced practitioners who were also martial arts practitioners or adherents of the traditional Japanese religion Shinto, and (3) lay people, according to Bronwen and Frans Stiene, coauthors of The Reiki Sourcebook and founders of the International House of Reiki.29 Achievement of spiritual growth and enlightenment was the primary focus of Usui’s original teachings, with hands‐on healing believed to be an added benefit. Mantras, used to invoke vibrations, were given to students in order to access energy. By 1922, when teachings became formalized into a system known as Usui Reiki Ryôhô Gakkai, symbols were added to the mantra recitations to increase the Reiki power, and various hand positions were taught for the purpose of balancing energy, primarily around the head. Current practice includes hands placed on or hovering over many areas of the body.

The Stienes also note that the teaching of traditional Japanese Reiki connects both mantras and symbols to Japanese deities; this was true of Usui Reiki Ryôhô Gakkai.30 The actual word Reiki means spiritual energy (rei meaning spiritual or sacred and ki meaning energy) and may or may not have originated with Usui, whose teachings were originally called “Usui dô” or “the way of Usui” and his healings “Usui teate” or “Usui hands‐on healing.”31

MOVING WEST

There are two people who are associated with the early development of Reiki in the West. Chujiro Hayashi, a retired Japanese naval officer, received Reiki master initiation from Usui in 1925. He then opened a Reiki clinic in Tokyo and continued to develop Usui’s system of healing. One story says that Hawayo Takata, born to Japanese parents in Kauai, Hawaii, in 1900, traveled to Japan in the 1930s where she was hospitalized with the diagnosis of tumor, gallstones, and appendicitis. Takata claimed that while on the operating table awaiting surgery, she heard an incorporeal voice telling her that the operation was unnecessary. She eschewed the surgery, began treatments at Hayashi’s clinic, and within four months was completely healed, presumably through Reiki. She subsequently was trained in first and second degree Reiki by Hayashi and returned to Hawaii in 1937, followed by Hayashi and his daughter, who helped her establish Reiki in Hawaii and also initiated Takata as a Reiki master. Takata in turn initiated 22 other Reiki masters before she died in 1980, charging $10,000 for the initial attunement. 32 According to William Lee Rand there are more than 200,000 Reiki masters and as many as 2,000,000 Reiki practitioners throughout the world today, although, judging from the literature and Internet sources, these figures probably are underestimated.33

The Reiki Foundation acts as one primary repository of the dharma teachings of Shingon and Tendai. The term dharma refers to the teachings of the Buddha regarding the law or truth of life and the universe, with a focus on the means by which to attain enlightenment. The foundation indicates that many members, students, and affiliates “have come to the Dharma through the pathway of Reiki.”34 Dharma is considered to be the second truth or treasure of Buddhism, the first being the Buddha, and the third being sangha, or the community or assembly of beings aware of the harmony and interrelationship of all things. The term dharma also can refer to minute impulses of energy or elements of being.35

The Reiki Foundation’s curriculum is aimed at establishing trainees “in the active ‘practice’ of the Bodhisattva principles through the true understanding and use of Reiki, especially its placement within the Mandara/Mandala as an act of ultimate compassion.”36 A bodhisattva is a person who out of compassion postpones the ultimate state of Nirvana in order to serve others. Reiki is considered by its adherents to be a prime example of such compassionate service. Mandalas are ritual objects that take different forms, depending on the specific school of Buddhism with which they are associated. They contain depictions of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and various doctrinal beliefs (e.g., compassion) and are used as an aid to meditation and in the ritual practices of Reiki. In general they are viewed as the embodiment of enlightenment or truth.37 “The essence or purpose of the Mandala is concerned with the process of invocation, the calling in and realization of the spiritual force within the contemplator himself.”38 Reiki Foundation students are trained in the basic healing practice, but also are “guided upon the path of Buddhist teachings as they apply to the nature of spiritual life and practice.”39 This includes a variety of beliefs such as the study of karma (i.e., inner potentials that are affected by outward actions) and rebirth.

CONTEMPORARY BRANCHES

The late‐twentieth‐century interest in anything alternative, whether related to physical health or spirituality, has created a veritable hotbed for the proliferation of Reiki branches ranging from Ascension Reiki, supposedly channeled from the ascended masters, to Angelic RayKee, purportedly based on channeled teachings from Michael the archangel, to Reiki Plus and Wei Chi Tibetan Reiki. David Jarrell (1946–2002), founder of Reiki Plus, claimed that he received his spiritual initiation into the “mystical energy of Reiki” through a Tibetan master in 1981.40 He also claimed to be the 24th Reiki master in the lineage of Hawaya Takata and to have received a second initiation by Takata’s granddaughter. Students who complete the first and second degrees of Reiki Plus can apply for ordination as ministers in the Pyramids of Light Church.41 Second‐level students learn the more mystical aspects of Reiki and study distant healing techniques and Esoteric Anatomy and Physiology. The Pyramids of Light Church is based on the principle of a “Universal Living God, from which all creation is an equal part and to which judgmental differences shall not be appropriate” as well as “the principles of spiritual Christianity taught by Jesus, the Christ and Master Healer.”42

Wei Chi Tibetan Reiki is allegedly based on the teachings of Wei Chi, a 5,000‐year‐old Tibetan monk, trance channeled by Kevin Ross Emery in his bathtub one night in 1995 in the presence of his partner, Tommy Hensel. Both men use the designations Reverend and Doctor and claim to be ministers in the Universal Brotherhood Movement. Emery received his doctorate in divinity from Universal Brotherhood University and also promotes himself as a Full Body Trance Channeler of “discarnate entities” that include Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot.43 Emery and Hensel coproduced an audio tape titled The Channeled Teachings of Simon Peter and coauthored a book titled The Lost Steps of Reiki: The Channeled Teachings of Wei Chi.44

Lightarian Reiki is another branch of the technique, created in 1997 by Reiki and Karuna master Jeanine Marie Jelm, who claims to have channeled information from ascended master Buddha.45 The Lightarian Institute for Global Human Transformation in Sedona, Arizona, provides “celestially‐inspired” channeled attunements from the angelic realms and the ascended masters that are “designed to support the spiritual transformation that is taking place on Earth.”46 Energetic attunements, in the form of so‐called Lightarian Buddhic Boosts, are thought to provide people with acceleration of their personal healing and spiritual development.47

Helen Belôt founded a Reiki‐related branch called Sekhem, which she describes as an ancient Egyptian energy system. Belôt insisted that Sekhem was the original hands‐on healing system—something she would know, since she also claimed that she was a high priest in Egyptian temples for a number of lifetimes and was reincarnated to give Sekhem to the world.48 The name Sekhem comes from the Egyptian lion‐headed goddess Sekhmet (i.e., “she who is powerful”). In Egyptian mythology Sekhmet seems mainly associated with war and retribution. It is said that she used arrows of fire to pierce her enemies (who included almost everyone), such that the inscription on one of her statues reads ”Mistress of Dread.”49 Her “power to destroy things utterly” was, to her credit, invoked against “the invisible ‘demons’ of plague and disease,” though she also was known as the ”Lady of Pestilence” for having caused them in the first place.50

OPENING A CHANNEL

One of the most problematic aspects of Reiki for people who do not wish to become involved with the occult involves the initiation rites for practice. According to William Lee Rand, the process of Reiki is “guided by the Rei or God‐consciousness” and the attunement of the student is “attended by Reiki guides and other spiritual beings who help implement the process.”51 Rand notes that many practitioners also report having had “mystical experiences involving personal messages, healings, visions, and past‐life experiences” during these attunements.52

According to Bronwen and Frans Stiene, the concept of Reiki guides is an addition to Usui’s original teaching.53 Students who study with the Australian‐based International House learn Usui Reiki Royôhô, which, with a focus on developing personal spirituality, is more consistent with Japanese meditation techniques. The Stienes54 cite Rand and Diane Stein55 as Western popularizers of the concept of guides, but even a cursory review of books, articles, and Reiki Web sites indicates a virtual mainstreaming of the concept of guides in Reiki teaching and training today. Steve Murray, who promotes himself as a Usui Reiki master, Tibetan Karuna Reiki master, and an Essene healer, devotes a chapter in his book, Reiki: The Ultimate Guide, to explaining how to contact spirits and departed loved ones with Reiki, and he offers a step‐by‐step video program on the same subject. “Reiki,” Murray notes, “will enable the contact to manifest faster and clearer” and also will “make you more open and receptive to contact from the other side.”56

Murray’s teaching includes a prayer/meditation for clearing and opening up one’s “spiritual portal” to “only allow spirits for [one’s] highest good to come forth.”57 He suggests that in a prayer for making a spiritual connection, a person should request to be guided and protected during the spiritual contact and to have contact only with spirits he or she seeks for information and guidance.58 This suggests that there may be malevolent spirits lurking about who may give information and guidance that is not in one’s best interest, though that is the extent of Murray’s warning on the subject.

QUESTIONING THE PHILOSOPHY OF OPENNESS

The International Center for Reiki Training (India) has a number of points in philosophy to which many of the Reiki branches also adhere.59 Christians might readily agree with a few of these principles; for example, having honesty and clarity in one’s thinking and respecting the right of others to form their own values and beliefs. The following four principles, however, should be problematic for Christians: “trusting completely in the Higher Power regardless of the name one chooses to call it”; “basing the value of a theory or technique on the verifiable results it helps one achieve”; “placing greater value on learning from experience and inner guidance than on the teachings of an authority”; and making “the complete expression of Love…the highest goal.”60

The Higher Power in whom Christians believe has a name and He has made it quite clear that he does not receive or tolerate the worship of a Higher Power by any other name (Exod. 20:1–6) . The New Testament reminds us that if we are trusting in any other so‐called higher power, we really are trusting in Satan, who is the ruler of a whole host of spiritual forces (fallen angels) that work to keep the world under his deluding influence (see, e.g., Eph. 6:11–12; 1 Cor. 10:19–20; 1 John 5:19). In the Old Testament, false prophets apparently were successful at performing signs and wonders (which arguably could have included healing signs and wonders), but they also urged God’s people to go after and serve other gods (Deut. 13:1–4). God’s instructions were clear: His people were to put the false prophets to death, thus purging the evil from Israel’s midst (Deut. 13:5–11).

A theory or practice should be judged not only on results but also on the veracity of the claims on which it rests. To base the truthfulness of a theory or value of a technique solely on the verifiable results it might help one achieve, such as relaxation or pain relief, is not consistent with a biblical worldview; it is not even consistent with sound medicine. A practice may achieve results, but one must examine its effect on the whole person, not just on the presenting problem. The rash of recent lawsuits against drug companies is one reminder that any alternative healing practice, like any drug, can have dangerous and even fatal side effects that can cancel out any of its claims to efficacy. From a biblical standpoint, those side effects can be spiritual as well as physical.

The focus in the practice of alternative therapies such as Reiki is experiential in nature. Reiki literature abounds with advice that encourages trainees to follow their hearts and to be guided by their intuition so that the only valid authority is their inner authority and the only true guide is subjective and self-validating. For the Christian, however, all experience must be subject to the higher authority of the Scriptures (see, e.g., Isa. 8:20)

The complete expression of love appears, on the surface, to be a worthy ultimate goal for practitioners of Reiki. The question must be raised, however, whether there can be love at any level that is not based on truth. Jesus told the Jews who believed in Him, “If you continue in my word…you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:31 NASB). The road to freedom is not through rituals that require one to acknowledge and seek out angels or discarnate spirits of the dead for guidance (again see Isa. 8:20); that leads to bondage, rather, and is the very antithesis of love. True love reveals the truth, not possible deception, to the one who is loved.

“Some minds remain open long enough for the truth not only to enter but to pass on through by way of a ready exit without pausing anywhere along the route,” wrote Sister Elizabeth Kenny, a nurse who developed a method for treating polio using hot, moist applications followed by exercise to move and stretch joints.61 She may have been talking about the physicians of her day, since at that time her unorthodox treatment was quite controversial. Her method eventually gained acceptance, however, and paved the way for the development of the practice of physical therapy, not just because it worked, but because it was based on truth, that is, on sound principles of anatomy and physiology.

The Word of God provides the Christian with a true explanation of the world we inhabit and gives us sound principles that define the boundaries of our exploration of it. Reiki is an alternative theory that is not based on the biblical understanding of the world and its practices are well outside the biblical boundaries of exploration.

Sharon Fish Mooney, R.N., Ph.D. (University of Rochester, NY), teaches nursing research online for Regis University in Denver, Colorado and Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. She lectures on Christian and alternative healing and worldview issues. 


 

 

NOTES

  1. Covenant Health Systems, “What Makes Catholic Not‐for‐Profit Nursing Homes Unique?” Consumers: Catholic Health Care, Covenant Health Systems, http://www.covenanths.org/nonprofit.asp.
  2. Ibid.
  3. U.S. News and World Report, “Honor Roll,” Best Hospitals 2006, U.S. News and World Report Best Health, http://www.usnews.com/usnews/health/best‐hospitals/honorroll.htm.
  4. The Cleveland Clinic, “Research Into Integrative Medicine,” Cleveland Clinic, http://cms.clevelandclinic.org/body.cfm?id=495.
  5. Gabrielle Fackre Chavez, quoted in Carol L. Pavlik, ed., “Spiritual Nurturing Can Bring Healing of Mind, Body and Soul,” Across the UCC, United Church News (November 2001), United Church of Christ, http://www.ucc.org/ucnews/nov01/across.htm.
  6. Pavlik.
  7. See http://www.christianreiki.org/info/Articles/ChristianReikiArticles.htm.
  8. See http://www.christianreiki.org/info/NunsPriestsMinisters/nunshome.htm.
  9. Scott Wyman, “Christian Minister Uses Reiki,” Nuns, Priests and Ministers Who Practice Reiki, Reiki for Christians, http://www.christianreiki.org/info/NunsPriestsMinisters/ ChrisitanMinister.htm.
  10. Scott Wyman, “Individual Work,” The Center for Open‐Hearted Living, http:// web.mac.com/scottwyman/iWeb/Open‐Hearted%20Living/Individual%20Work.html. See also Scott Wyman, “Be a Follower of Love, and Forget All Distinction,” The Center for Open‐Hearted Living, http://web.mac.com/scottwyman/iWeb/Open‐Hearted% 20Living/Home.html.
  11. Scott Wyman, “Reiki Jin Kei Do, the Path of Compassion and Wisdom,” Reiki Jin Kei Do, Reiki Awakening, http://web.mac.com/scottwyman/iWeb/Reiki%20Awakening/ Reiki%20Jin%20Kei%20Do.html.
  12. The International Center for Reiki Training, “Continuing Education for Nurses,” Using Reiki for Healing, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/healing/ceu.html.
  13. The International Center for Reiki Training, “About the International Center for Reiki Training,” About the ICRT, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/AboutICRT/ AboutICRT.html.
  14. The International Center for Reiki Training, “Healing Attunement,” Healing Techniques Developed at The International Center for Reiki Training, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/AboutICRT/HealingAttunement.html.
  15. See Reiki News Articles, Reiki Articles, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/ reikinews.html.
  16. Sharon Fish, “Therapeutic Touch: Healing Science or Psychic Midwife?” Christian Research Journal, 18, 1 (1995): 28‐38 (http://www.equip.org/free/DN105.pdf) and Sharon Fish Mooney, “Healing Touch: Trouble with Angels,” Christian Research Journal, 18, 2 (2005): 22‐31 (http://www.equip.org/free/JAH026.pdf).
  17. William Lee Rand, “Similarities between the Healing of Jesus and Reiki,” Reiki News Articles, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/reikinews/reikin16.html.
  18. Libby Barnett and Maggie Chambers with Susan Davidson, Reiki Energy Medicine (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1996), 22.
  19. Ibid.
  20. Subtle bodies are thought to be interrelated layers or vehicles of consciousness in the human energy field; each body has its own characteristics and is capable of manifesting illness or disease and also of being healed through energy manipulation. They are written about in both Eastern and Western esoteric literature and may be called by different names.
  21. Gabrielle Chavez, “Reiki for Christians: What Is Reiki?” Christ the Healer United Church of Christ, Christ the Healer Gathering, http://www.cthgathering.org/news/pivot/ entry.php?id=14.
  22. John Warwick Montgomery, Principalities and Powers: A New Look at the World of the Occult, rev. ed. (Minneapolis: Dimension Books, 1975), 11.
  23. On Reiki initiation and attunement, see, e.g., Steve Murray, Reiki: The Ultimate Guide (Las Vegas: Body and Mind Productions, 2003), 253‐71, and William Lee Rand, “Developing Your Reiki Practice,” Develop Your Own Reiki Practice, Reiki.org, http://www.reiki.org/ ReikiPractice/PracticeHomepage.html.
  24. Bronwen Stiene and Frans Stiene, The Reiki Sourcebook (New York: O Books, 2003).
  25. Tendai‐shu New York Betsuin, “A Short History of Tendai Buddhism,” Tendai Buddhist Institute, http://www.tendai.org/i_tendai_buddhism/history.html.
  26. Vajrayana is also known as Esoteric or Tantric Buddhism. It is represented both by Tibetan and Shingon Buddhism. Vajrayana is itself an offshoot of the second major school of Buddhism, Mahayana. Chinese Tiantai Buddhism is a form of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the Buddhist scriptures, The Lotus Sutras. As Chinese Tiantai was transformed into Japanese Tendai by Saichô and his successors, new elements were added, including the esoteric practices of Shingon; thus Usui had already been exposed to elements of Shingon through his training in Tendai, prior to his direct study of Shingon.
  27. Seicho Asahi, “Shingon Teaching,” Northern California Kayosan Temple, http://www.koyasan.org/nckoyasan/introduction.html.
  28. “The Shingon School,” The Esoteric Buddhist Schools, Asunam—Reiki Master, http://www.asunam.com/buddhist_schools.htm.
  29. Stiene and Stiene, 189.
  30. Ibid., 89.
  31. Ibid., 3–6.
  32. William Lee Rand, Reiki: The Healing Touch, First and Second Degree Manual, rev. ed. (Southfield, MI: Vision Publications, 1995), 9.
  33. William Lee Rand, Reiki FAQ, What is the History of Reiki? http:/www.reiki.org.
  34. “The Reiki Foundation,” The Reiki Foundation™, Asunam—Reiki Master, http://www.asunam.com/reiki_foundation.htm.
  35. Rosemary Ellen Guiley, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 149; “The Reiki Foundation.”
  36. “The Reiki Foundation.”
  37. See, e.g., The Bodhisattva Reiki School of Healing Science, http:// http//www.bodhisattvasanctuary.com.
  38. Buddha Dharma Education Association, “Buddhist Art and Architecture: Symbolism of the Mandala,” http://www.buddhanet.net/mandalas.htm.
  39. “The Reiki Foundation.”
  40. Stiene and Stiene, 269‐70; Reiki Plus® Institute of Natural Healing, “David G. Jarrell,” Teaching Staff, The Reiki Plus Institute, http://www.reikiplus.com/staff.html.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Reiki Plus® Institute of Natural Healing, “A Church of Natural Healing,” Pyramids of Light, Inc., The Reiki Plus Institute, http://www.reikiplus.com/poli.html.
  43. “Channeling,” Dr. Kevin Ross Emery, http://www.kevinrossemery.com/channeling.htm.
  44. Stiene and Stiene, 282. See also Wei Chi Reiki™, Dr. Kevin Ross Emery, http://www.kevinrossemery.com/wei_chi_tibetan_reiki2.htm; Spiritual Catalyst, Dr. Kevin Ross Emery, http://www.kevinrossemery.com/index.htm; and Lost Steps of Reiki, Dr. Kevin Ross Emery, http://www.kevinrossemery.com/lost_steps_of_reiki.htm.
  45. Stiene and Stiene, 265.
  46. Welcome, Lightarian Institute for Global Human Transformation, http:// www.lightarian.com/.
  47. Ibid.
  48. Stiene and Stiene, 273. See also “The Helen Belôt Sekhem Association,” Sekhem, htttp://www.sekhem.org/association/association.htm.
  49. Caroline Seawright, “Sekhmet, Powerful One, Sun Goddess, Destructor,” Gods and Mythology of Ancient Egypt, Tour Egypt, http://touregypt.net/godsofegypt/ sekhmet2.htm.
  50. Names of Netjer, s.v. “Sekhmet” (by Tamara Siuda), The House of Netjer, http:// www.kemet.org/glossary/sekhmet.html (accessed September 14, 2006).
  51. Rand, Reiki: The Healing Touch, 22
  52. Ibid.
  53. The International House of Reiki, “Why Study with the International House of Reiki?” International House of Reiki, http://shop.reiki.net.au/about/study.html.
  54. Stiene and Stiene, 326.
  55. Diane Stein, Essential Reiki (Berkeley, CA: The Crossing Press, 1995).
  56. Murray, 253.
  57. Ibid., 262.
  58. Ibid.
  59. The International Center for Reiki Training (India), reikiindia.org, http:// www.reikiindia.org/aboutus.html.
  60. Ibid.
  61. “Sr. Elizabeth Kenny,” Nursing History, Inspirational Nursing Personalities, Nurses.info, http://www.nurses.info/personalities_srl_kenny.htm.
Apologetics

Father Themi’s Road to the Crucified Christ

Father Themi-Christianity No Expiration

Father Themistoclese Athony Adamopoulo, “Father Themi,” is a Greek Orthodox priest. He was born in Egypt, grew up in Australia, but was looking for fulfillment in all the wrong places. At one point he was a neo-Marxist, at another stage a rock star, (founding member of the 1960s Australian rock-n-roll band The Flies), on another level an academic with a PhD from Brown University and a Master of Theology from Princeton Divinity School, but then he had a radical encounter with God. He had a Damascus road experience, and as a result of that he has given up everything to serve the poor.

Hank Hanegraaff invited Father Themi to be a guest on the March 14, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast. The following are some highlights of their conversation.

Hank Hanegraaff: I continue my conversation with Father Themi. He is someone, as I said just before the break, who was not only talking theology, but he has taken his faith and put it into practice. He was once a rock star, but now he’s in Sierra Leone and this is what I am really interested in. I’m really interested, Father Themi, in a communication from you as to why Christians are losing the culture wars. We have a said faith often times not a real faith, or we give intellectual ascent to logical truth propositions, but were not living out the faith. The reality is Christ has not only saved us by His death, He has saved us into His life, so that we can give life to others.

Father Themi Adamopulo: I guess, Hank, I can only speak for myself. Unfortunately, that’s the reality. Having gone through all these other phases in the world, even as you mentioned before, rock star, you know we played on the same stage as the Rolling Stones, when they came to Australia. I went to a party with Mick Jagger. We did all the things that rock stars, I’m ashamed to say, do. So in a way I understand the secular world. I understand what is attractive to a young person of the secular world. But I want to tell your young listeners, those who are aspiring to become rock stars, those who are aspiring for fame, those who are aspiring for whatever it is that the latest fashion is, my friends, it’s empty! Beyond the glamour, beyond the glory, you know, beyond the fans that scream at you one day and the next day you’re forgotten. The very people who turned up and screamed their heads off and were going absolutely crazy over you one day, and you couldn’t, we couldn’t even reach the stage door before we were mobbed, just to get to the cars to get away, it was just an ordeal, you know, I would lose half my hair just being torn apart by fans, and then having fans outside your door camped all day just to get a glimpse of you, these things people dream of, I tell you now, I’ve been through that, it’s empty. Because after your expiration date, there’s a complimentary expiration date to fame, there’s an expiration date to rock stardom—except if you’re the Rolling Stones for some reason, its incomprehensible, though I think the time has almost come, I’m not sure, I’m not quite sure there—but there is an expiration date. I can mention rock groups that were huge—The Who, The Yardbirds, just so many groups that have come and gone, The Young Rascals, Chicago, so many groups that have come and gone—who has ever heard of them anymore? What happened to the fame? It’s gone. It’s all gone, right? So it is all ephemeral. It doesn’t last. This fame business, this success business in the world, doesn’t last forever. Even if you’re the greatest baseball player, or the greatest football player—by the way I can’t really call American football “football” but that’s another story. Nevertheless, even there, I think your expiration date is obvious. It’s obvious.

What I’ve discovered in Christianity is that that is not applicable anymore. There is no expiration date. You don’t expire after a certain period. If anything you go from glory to glory to glory until eventually we reach that kingdom of heaven. So it’s an amazing contradiction to all the propaganda that we’ve had heard in the secular world. Oh, in order to make it you’ve got to have a lot of money. In order to make it, you’ve got to get famous, and this and that. My friends, you know, those of us who’ve been through fame and stardom and so forth, behind the scenes you’re still the same human being, behind the scenes it’s still you, before you go on stage you going to face one-hundred-thousand people, it’s still you. You haven’t changed, it’s still you. So, you being alone, where are you at the moment of death? You see, you’re still the same person. That’s the comfort of Christianity. That’s the strength of Christianity that we have. We are not restricted. We are not restricted by time or period or phases. We keep going as long as we are faithful to the Lord.

Your question, Hank, was why is it, I guess you’re asking, forgive me if I got the wrong question, why is it that more people are trapped into the secular world than Christianity, is that what your question was?

Hank: Essentially what I want to talk about is you call from, not only you call to salvation, but your call from salvation to service.

Father Themi: A ha. Having been an academic, therefore, after conversion naturally there is a period of reorientation, where you find yourself. Who am I? I’m a Christian. Ok, what do I give up now? The Bible says he who wishes to be perfect come sell everything you have give it to the poor and come and follow me and I’ll will show you the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 19:16-26). That’s very difficult to do. It’s very difficult to do. I tried it, I sold my car, I sold my things, and so gave it to the poor kind of thing. Now what? Where do you go from here? You know? You allow the grace of God to come and work into your life. There was a period of some difficulty in the beginning, because I was discovering what Christianity meant. I was discovering for the first time the grace of God. I was discovering for the first time the forgiveness of God, the new avenues the new horizons that God was giving, but I was still the old man. I was still the old person. The old rock star. The old Marxist. The baggage’s you see. All that had to be knocked out. All that had to be cleansed clean, you see, and that took time, because yes we talk about conversion, but let us not imagine that one day you’ll become a brand new person. There’s still a lot of the old luggage, a lot of the old baggage, a lot of the old things you are carrying from the old life. These things have to be removed slowly and gradually. I guess my initial years were the removal of the old baggage, until, you know there is a period of catharsis, it’s sort of like a purgatory, going through purgatory.

Eventually, I started teaching schools but because of my need for repentance and for my past sins, I began to, you know everywhere I was I would talk about Jesus. If I was in the classroom I would tell the kids about Jesus. If I went on a bus, I would tell the conductor about Jesus. If I was sitting in a chair on the bus, I would tell my next door neighbor about Jesus, you see. Fine. That was great, but then I thought, you know, I need to systematize this, I need to make it more systematic, more effective, right?

The way I did it was I went back to academia. I went back to theology. I started theology in Australia, here in America, the Lord led me to Princeton, Harvard, Brown, some of the greatest schools that you have in this country, and I’m very honored to have gone to these schools. I have learned a lot. So, I went back and became an academic in my tradition in Australia.

But the call to serve the poor was irresistible. Here I was. I think one of the dramatic moments was this. I had prepared a lecture for one of the universities in Sydney, and the lecture was, are you ready, Hank, the Trimorphic Protennoia of the Nag Hammadi corpus, and the Johannine Prologue. Now if you understand what I’m saying, you’ve got problems.

Hank: [laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve got problems.

Father Themi: You do understand it? Oh my goodness. So, well you do understand. So, here I am three months working on this Coptic text, trying to see whether it was John’s Gospel that was impacted by it or it was the Coptic gospel that was impacting John, blah, blah, blah, and I was very happy with my work, and I went to deliver the lecture, and I was convinced that I was defending the priority of John’s Gospel as opposed to this Nag Hammadi Coptic Gnostic text, and there were four people in the lecture. You know, three months’ work, whatever, a published article, and there was like three or four people. I don’t want to lie to you, let say at minimum, right, and I’m thinking, is this what the Lord, you know, is this how I’m supposed to spend the rest of my life? You know, researching obscure Coptic texts and Syriac texts and so forth, or is there something else the Lord wanted?

When I saw the work of Mother Theresa, when I heard of the great work Mother Theresa was doing, and the impact that this eighty-year-old elderly senior woman was having on the lives of people around the world, particularly in India, Calcutta, of course, but also around the world, she would have an enormous impact on people, young and old, I thought, surely this is the model that you should be following, rather than the more pedantic, though necessary but pedantic academic way to the kingdom of heaven. In particular, trying to teach Hebrew to stubborn Greek Orthodox seminarians, didn’t help either. So, I decided to give it up. Give up academia, as it were, and to follow the road to the crucified Christ. The road to the poor. The road to serving among the poor. The poorest in the world. Not in Australia, but the poorest in the world.

I thought where are the poorest in the world? Automatically, of course, Africa came to mind, and because I was born in Africa, I was born in Alexandria, I mentioned before, North Africa, I thought this is what I should do. I have, of course, to get permission from my bishops, my archbishops. I think my archbishop was happy to get rid of me so he gave me his blessings. No, I’m just joking. You know, he was very kind and very, very understanding, and gave me his blessings to move on. In fact, I remember his words, you have the blessings of Abraham. That was it. I move to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Kenya, and in Kenya I learned about world poverty. I learned about the poor of this world.

Apologetics

Applying Biblical Principles to Social Issues

Anderson, Kerby-Social Issues

This article first appeared in the Viewpoint column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 30, number 1 (2007). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

Turn on the television or open a newspaper or tune in to talk radio. Within a few moments you will be confronted with ethical issues and topics. Daily we face ethical choices that are enshrouded in controversial moral complexity, including abortion, euthanasia, cloning, genetic engineering, race relations, drug abuse, homosexuality, gambling, pornography, and capital punishment. The rise of technology and the fall of ethical consensus have plunged our twenty‐first century society into a cauldron of moral debates and dilemmas.

Never has our society found itself in greater need of a biblical perspective with which to evaluate moral issues, and never have Christians been less equipped to address these topics. Two years ago, the Barna Research Group found that only nine percent of born‐again Christians base their life decisions on the biblical principles of a Christian worldview.

How do we begin to evaluate the complex social and political issues of our day from a biblical perspective? How do we keep from being carried away by the latest cultural trend that is blowing in the wind? Here are some key biblical principles to apply and faulty logic to avoid.

Biblical Principles. A key biblical principle that applies to the area of bioethics is the sanctity of human life. Such verses as Psalm 139:13–16 show that God’s care and concern extend to the womb. Other verses such as Jeremiah 1:5, Judges 13:7–8, Psalm 51:5, and Exodus 21:22–25, give framework and additional perspective to this principle. This can apply to issues ranging from abortion to stem cell research to infanticide.

A related biblical principle involves the equality of human beings. The Bible teaches that God has made “of one blood all nations of men” (Acts 17:26 KJV). The Bible also teaches that it is wrong for a Christian to have feelings of superiority (Phil. 2). Believers are told not to make class distinctions between various people (James 2). Paul teaches the spiritual equality of all people in Christ (Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). These teachings can apply to our views of racial relations and of government.

The third principle concerns the biblical perspective on marriage. Marriage is God’s plan and provides intimate companionship for life (Gen. 2:18). Marriage provides a context for the procreation and nurture of children (Eph. 6:1–2) and a godly outlet for sexual desire (1 Cor. 7:2). This principle can apply to such diverse issues as artificial reproduction (which often introduces a third party into the pregnancy) and cohabitation (unmarried couples living together).

The fourth biblical principle entails the boundaries of sexual behavior. The Bible teaches that sex is to be within the bounds of marriage, as a man and a woman become one flesh (Eph. 5:31). Paul admonishes us to “flee” (1 Cor. 6:18) and “avoid” (1 Thess. 4:3) sexual immorality and to control our own bodies in a way that is “holy and honorable” (1 Thess. 4:5 NIV). These values can apply to such issues as premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.

The fifth principle commands obedience to the authority of government and civic bodies. Government is ordained by God (Rom.13:1–7). We are to render service and obedience to the government (Matt. 22:21) and submit to civil authority (1 Pet. 2:13–17). There may be certain issues, however, that force us to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). This can apply to war, civil disobedience, politics, and government.

Biblical Discernment. Often it is difficult to determine what is true and what is false in a world that offers a puzzling array of solutions across a broad spectrum of belief systems, most of which contradict each other and, as such, underscore the crucial need for Christians to develop godly discernment. Discernment is a word that appears fairly often in the Bible (1 Sam. 25:32–33; 1 Kings 3:10–11; 4:29; Psalm 119:66; Prov. 2:3; Dan. 2:14; Phil. 1:9). Colossians 2:8, similarly, reads, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Because so many facts, claims, and opinions are being tossed about, Christians need to develop discernment to avoid being taken captive by false ideas. These often appear in the form of fallacies. A fallacy, by definition, is a mistaken idea, an error, or a flaw in reasoning. Here are a few of the more popular fallacies often encountered in the heat of debate:

The Fallacy of Equivocation: the use of vague terms. Someone can start off using language we think we understand and then veer off into a new meaning. Readers of the Christian Research Journal are well aware of the fact that religious cults are often guilty of this. A cult member might say that he believes in salvation by grace, but what he really means by that is that you have to join his cult and work your way toward salvation according to the dictates already established by the cult. It is helpful to ask a person to define whatever vague terms he or she is using so that you can avoid being caught by the fallacy of equivocation.

Equivocation is used frequently in bioethics issues. Proponents of stem cell research often will not acknowledge the distinction between adult stem cells and embryonic stem cells, and those trying to legalize cloning will refer to it as somatic cell nuclear transfer. Unless you have scientific background, you may not understand the difference in stem cells and the fact that cloning advocates are using complex terms to confuse you.

The Fallacy of Card Stacking: the selective use of evidence. Many advocates are guilty of listing all the points in favor of their position while ignoring the serious points against it. Don’t embrace or jump on the latest intellectual fad without checking the evidence.

The most common biology textbooks in high school and college never provide students with evidence against evolution. Jonathan Wells, in his book Icons of Evolution, shows that the examples used in most textbooks are either wrong or misleading. Some of the examples are known frauds (such as the Haeckel embryos) and continue to appear in textbooks decades after they were found fraudulent.

The Fallacy of the Appeal to Authority: reliance on authority to the exclusion of logic and evidence. Just because an expert says it, doesn’t necessarily make it true. We live in a culture that worships experts, but not all experts are right. Hiram’s Law says: “If you consult enough experts, you can confirm any opinion.”

People who argue that global warming is caused by human activity often say that “the debate in the scientific community is over,” but an Internet search of critics of the theories behind global warming will show that there are many scientists with credentials in climatology or meteorology who question aspects of the global warming scenario. It is not accurate to say that the debate is over when the debate is still taking place.

The Fallacy of Ad Hominem (Latin, “against the man”): an attack against a person rather than the person’s argument. People who use this fallacy attack the person instead of dealing with the validity of the person’s argument simply because the argument is a threat to them. Often, the more sound the argument, the more vitriolic the ad hominem rhetoric. If there is evidence for the validity of the position, proponents usually argue the merits of the position; when evidence is lacking, they attack the critics.

Examples of this fallacy abound. Citizens who want to define marriage as occurring between one man and one woman are called bigots. Scientists who criticize evolution are subjected to withering attacks on their character and scientific credentials. Scientists who question global warming are compared to holocaust deniers.

The Fallacy of the Straw Man: the mischaracterization of an opponent’s argument in such a way that it is easy to attack and knock down. Liberal commentators say that evangelical Christians want to implement a religious theocracy in America; even though this is rarely the case, the hyperbole works to marginalize Christian activists who believe they have a responsibility to speak to social and political issues.

The Fallacy of Sidestepping: the evasion or dodging of an issue by changing the subject. Politicians do this in press conferences when they do not answer the question a reporter actually asks, but instead answer a question they wish someone had asked. Professors sometimes do that when a student points out an inconsistency or a leap in logic.

Ask a proponent of abortion whether the fetus is human and you are likely to see this technique in action. He or she might start talking about a woman’s right to choose or the right of women to control their own bodies. Perhaps you will hear a discourse on the need to tolerate various viewpoints in a pluralistic society. You probably won’t get a straight answer to an important question, however.

The Fallacy of the Red Herring: the use of a tangent to distract an opponent from the issue in question (from the practice of luring hunting dogs off the trail with the scent of a herring fish). Proponents of embryonic stem cell research rarely discuss the morality of destroying human embryos; instead they will go off on a tangent (employing another oft‐used fallacy, that of the Emotional Appeal) and talk about the various diseases that could be treated and the thousands of people who could be helped with the research.

People may change the subject in debates because they want to argue their points on more familiar ground or they know they cannot win their argument on the specific issue at hand. Be on the alert when this happens.

A person with discernment will recognize these tactics and beware. We are called to develop discernment as we tear down the false arguments that people raise against the knowledge of God. By doing this we will learn to take every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5).

— Kerby Anderson

Kerby Anderson is National Director of Probe Ministries and host of the radio talk show Point of View. He holds a master’s degree in science from Yale University and a master’s degree in government from Georgetown University.