Apologetics

The Euthyphro Dilemma

Osteenification


This article first appeared in Christian Research Journal, volume 36, number 01 (2013). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/


In an article published in USA Today titled, “As Atheists Know, You Can Be Good without God,”1 Jerry Coyne, a biologist and outspoken atheist, is disturbed that many Americans, including some prominent scientists, believe that our instinctive sense of right and wrong is “strong evidence for [God’s] existence.” Though Coyne appears to have no formal training in moral philosophy and theology, he ventures into moral philosophy to explain why this is clearly mistaken. His article is useful in that it highlights some common mistakes contemporary atheist writers make in their attempts to ground a secular ethic.

DIVINE COMMAND THEORIES OF ETHICS

It is necessary to understand accurately the position Coyne is criticizing before we consider the merits of his critique. The argument that our instinctive sense of right and wrong “is strong evidence for [God’s] existence” found its most important formulation in a 1979 article by Robert Adams. In it, Adams noted that we instinctively grasp that certain actions, like torturing children for fun, are wrong; hence, he reasoned, we are intuitively aware of the existence of moral obligations. According to Adams, the best account of the nature of such obligations is that they are commands issued by a loving and just God. Identifying obligations with God’s commands can explain all the features of moral obligation better than any secular alternative. Consequently, the existence of moral obligations provides evidence for God’s existence.2

It is important to note what Adams did not claim. Central to Adams’s argument is the distinction between the idea that moral obligations are, in fact, divine commands and the claim that one cannot recognize what our moral obligations are unless one believes in divine commands or some form of divine revelation. Adams illustrates this distinction with the now standard example of H20 and water.

Contemporary chemistry tells us that the best account of the nature of water is that water is, in fact, H20 molecules. This means that water cannot exist unless H20 does. However, it does not mean that people who do not know about or believe in the existence of H20 cannot recognize water when they see it. For centuries people recognized, swam in, sailed on, and drank water before they knew anything about modern chemistry.

This distinction has important implications. The claim that moral obligations are, in fact, commands issued by God does not entail that people must believe that God exists in order to be able to recognize right and wrong. These are separate and logically distinct claims. Affirming one does not commit one logically to affirming the other.

Second, Adams offers an account of the nature of moral obligations, not an account of what it is generally good to do. Actions such as giving a kidney to save a needy stranger can be good without being obligatory. For an action to be obligatory, it must be more than praiseworthy or commendable. Obligatory actions are things we are required to do, or things another person can legitimately demand us to do. Not doing so without an adequate excuse renders us blameworthy, and others can justifiably censure us, rebuke us, and even punish us. Failure to comply makes us guilty and in need of forgiveness.

Failure to grasp these distinctions leads many critics of divine command theories astray, and although I will not argue it here, many lines of argument Coyne makes are unsound due to a failure to make these distinctions. Here, however, I will focus on one argument Coyne gives that does not depend on this confusion: the Euthyphro dilemma.

To read the rest of this article, please visit: http://www.equip.org/articles/euthyphro-dilemma/

Apologetics

Is Christianity Still in Crisis?

Osteenification


Hank Hanegraaff wrote in his book Christianity in Crisis that because of the influence of the Word of Faith movement, the true Christ and true faith of the Bible were being replaced by diseased substitutes. This movement has continued to grow rapidly in the years following the book’s release and several new teachers since have risen to prominence. Among them are Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Rod Parsley. Along with these new teachers, distortions of biblical truth have emerged. Word of Faith teachers have replaced the all-powerful God of the Bible with a god who has limited power, and have elevated humanity to the status of godhood, placing at its disposal seemingly unlimited power. These modern-day prophets of health and wealth believe that people can speak things into existence, thwart God’s plans, and purchase salvation; that money is the root of all happiness; that Christians are not sinners; and that Jesus did not come into the world as God. Rather than saying to Christ, “Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory,” today’s self-absorbed brand of Christianity insists that ours is the kingdom and that we have all the power and the glory. Another gospel clearly is being preached in many of today’s most prominent churches, and the prevention of its propagation demands our utmost attention.


To read this article in its entirety, please visit: http://www.equip.org/articles/christianity-still-in-crisis/

Journal Topics

On the Obligation of Blessing “Abraham’s Seed”

Abraham and Isaac


This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 05 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/


“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen. 12:1–3, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version.).

The entire remainder of the Bible after these verses can be viewed as an exposition of God’s fulfillment of the promises contained in this remarkable passage. On this point most Bible scholars agree. What is less unanimous among believers is precisely what those verses actually are predicting.

Promises, Promises. These verses enumerate certain promises made to Abram (a.k.a. Abraham), and comprise what is usually referred to as the “Abrahamic Covenant.” The promises pertain, primarily, to some unspecified “blessing” that would be received by Abram and distributed to all other families of the earth through him. Furthermore, there would be “blessings” on those who “bless” Abraham, and all the families of earth would be blessed “in” him. In many subsequent passages, we find a virtual repetition of these themes, often with the addition of new details—especially the important fact that these promises do not pertain so much to Abraham alone as to his “seed” (Gen. 12:7; 13:15f; 15:5, 18; 17:7ff; 21:12). Many newer translations, unhelpfully, paraphrase the word “seed” with the more interpretive “descendants.”

One popular viewpoint, of relatively modern origins, holds that the Abrahamic promises pertain to the Jewish race as the “seed” of Abraham, and that their ultimate fulfillment awaits the millennial kingdom, after the future return of Christ. Many who hold this view identify the “blessings” due to Abraham and his seed with temporal prosperity, political independence, and, eventually, exaltation to prominence above all the nations. Thus, they have interpreted Genesis 12:3, with its stated obligation to “bless” Abraham, so as to teach that Christians should recognize a special status of national/ethnic Israel, and “bless” them by giving them their unconditional political, economic, and moral support. Some even appear to believe that such an obligation to bless Israel defines one of the leading duties incumbent on Christians living in the last days (which would include the present time).

Who Gets Blessed? In seeking to understand the nature and fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant, we face a two-pronged challenge: we must (1) identify the “seed” of Abraham to whom the promises pertain and (2) identify the nature of the “blessing” promised.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit: http://www.equip.org/articles/obligation-blessing-abrahams-seed/

Journal Topics

A Thief in the Night

Hobbit


This article first appeared in Christian Research Journal, volume 35, number 06 (2012). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org


SYNOPSIS

The director Peter Jackson is making J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fairy tale, The Hobbit, into a film. Three films, to be precise. Tolkien’s son, Christopher, guardian of his father’s flame, objects to what he sees as the filmmaker’s “commercialization” of the story. If he is correct and Jackson is cashing in, allowing mercenary motives to override esthetic considerations, the situation could not be more ironic because The Hobbit is above all a story about greed and the overcoming of greed. The dragon Smaug, the avaricious dwarves, the addicted Gollum—they are all in thrall to gold. On the other hand, Gandalf and the eagles and Beorn the bear-man are free from its power, as is Bilbo Baggins, the appointed “burglar” of the story, a hobbit with a disarmingly innocent attitude to wealth. It is Bilbo who breaks the logjam caused by dwarvish cupidity and he does so in a surprisingly Christlike fashion. Tolkien’s tale shows us that the love of money, the root of all evil, can only be overcome by a “thief in the night.”


When the director Peter Jackson announced that his movie adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit would come in two parts, I suspect most people were surprised but basically approving. The Hobbit is sufficiently rich in invention to be able to survive a two-movie treatment, and the tale falls rather naturally into two sections in any case. The first part consists of Chapters 1 through 9 and tells of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins’s enrollment as official “burglar” to a party of thirteen dwarves who intend to recapture the gold stolen from them by the dragon Smaug, and of their early adventures escaping trolls, goblins, wolves, spiders, and elves; also of their meeting with the eagles and with the bear-man, Beorn, and of Bilbo’s discovery of a ring of invisibility. When the ninth chapter ends with the protagonists floating downriver in barrels, “but whether alive or dead still remains to be seen” (161),1 Tolkien is deliberately signaling the end of Act One and the beginning of Act Two. Of course, they are still alive, and the latter half of the story is entirely concerned with the adventures surrounding Smaug and the getting of the gold.

Moreover, as Tolkien’s friend C. S. Lewis noted, there is a distinct change in “tone and style”2 as the story progresses. Its flavor at the start is that of a fairy tale “dressed up as ‘for children’” with plenty of knowing asides about two-headed trolls, the origin of golf (a feature that Tolkien later regretted), and so on. By the end, the tone is almost that of a tribal bard chanting an ancient epic: “Ere long the vanguard swirled round the spur’s end…and already their cries and howls rent the air afar” (238).

Given that The Hobbit falls neatly into two parts, both in its action and in its tone, Peter Jackson’s initial decision to make a two-part film adaptation seemed not only excusable, but sensible.

To read this article in its entirety, please visit: http://www.equip.org/articles/thief-night-christian-ethic-heart-hobbit/

In the News

Concerning My Recent Travel to Iran…because Truth matters

In an age in which internet fabrications travel half-way around the world before truth has had a chance to put its boots on, the apostle Paul’s words ring through the centuries with added urgency: “Stand firm, then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:14). As the waist is the center of your body, so truth is central to the full armor of God. Without the belt of truth, the covering that protects you from the devil’s schemes simply crumbles to the ground and leaves you naked and vulnerable. Truth, like all other pieces of the armor of God, is in actuality an aspect of the very nature of God himself. Thus, to put on the belt of truth is to put on Christ—for Christ is “truth” (John 14:6). And Christians are called to be bearers of truth.

As Os Guinness has so wonderfully explained, Christianity is not true because it works (pragmatism); it is not true because it feels right (subjectivism). It is not true because it’s ‘my truth’ (relativism). It is true because it is anchored in the person of Christ. Thus, “The Christian faith is not true because it works; it works because it is true. It is not true because we experience it; we experience it—deeply and gloriously—because it is true. It is not simply ‘true for us’; it is true for any who seek in order to find, because truth is true even if nobody believes it, and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it.”

Unfortunately, I’ve recently encountered further personal examples of how the internet can be used as a means of propagating falsehood.  

FALSE ACCUSATION: Hank Hanegraaff joins Occupy Wall Street and Muslims in anti-Israel conference in Tehran, Iran.

TRUTH: First, I have never joined or, for that matter, endorsed Occupy Wall Street (OWS). I have simply defined it as spontaneous activism fueled by social media.  Instead of blaming the government for social ills, OWS is bent on blaming the prosperous. Instead of awakening the political right, as the Tea Party did, OWS appeals to the political left who want equal distribution of wealth. I communicated my doubts that the OWS movement would have staying power. Although the Tea Party’s message is codified in two words, “smaller government,” which is comprehensible and can serve to galvanize a following, by contrast OWS’s message seems unclear: Are the banks to blame? Is it Wall Street? Is it Failed bureaucracies? Is it Capitalism?  As former President Bill Clinton said when interviewed by Time magazine managing editor Richard Stengel, “They knew what they were against, but they didn’t quite know what they were for….They had a vision. They had no program and they had no organized political party. That’s the problem that the Occupy Wall Street people have.”

Furthermore, rather than joining Muslims at what is being characterized on the Internet as an anti-Israel conference, at both the University of Tehran and Allameh Tabatabai University I publicly opposed the radical socialist views of Imam Abdul Alim Musa of The Islamic Institute for Counter Zionist American Psychological Warfare.

Finally, I should also note that I engaged in spirited debate with Rabbi Weiss, whose calling card contains the moniker, “Pray for the speedy, peaceful dismantlement of the State of Israel.” From his perspective, the Jews were exiled for covenant unfaithfulness and therefore the notion of Zion prospering is reserved for the coming of a future messianic figure. While I strongly disagreed with the rabbi’s anti-Israel stance, I think he would readily agree that I engaged him with gentleness and with respect, in both public and private communications.

FALSE ACCUSATION: Hank Hanegraaff is a “Jew-hater.”

TRUTH: This is a patently false and slanderous accusation. I am against racism in any form. Far from facilitating race-based discrimination on the basis of eschatological presuppositions, Christians must be equipped to communicate that Christianity knows nothing of dividing people on the basis of race. Just as evangelicalism now universally repudiates the once-common appeal to Genesis 9:27 in support of slavery of blacks, we must thoroughly and finally put to rest any thought that the Bible supports the horrors of racial discrimination wherever and in whatever form we encounter it, whether within the borders of the United States or in the hallowed regions of the Middle East. Indeed, during WWII, my family was devoted heart and soul to the Dutch Resistance Movement, refusing to give in to either racial discrimination against Jews or the Nazification of the populous.

Furthermore, as delineated in my book The Apocalypse Code, I am anything but anti-Israel and consistently oppose anti-Semitism: “There is no precedent for supposing that God favors Jews over Palestinians or vice versa. At the end of the day, our heavenly Father is not pro-Jew—he is pro-justice; He is not pro-Palestinian, he is pro-peace. In fact, the priceless material with which our feet are fitted for readiness in battle ‘against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12) is nothing less than a gospel of peace that works inexorably toward justice and equity. Only a gospel of peace and justice through faith in Jesus Christ is potent enough to break the stranglehold of anti-Semitism and racism fueled in part by bad theology. This is made explicit through a vision to unclean food that Peter experienced in Joppa. Only after he encountered the gentile centurion Cornelius did Peter fully comprehend the import of the vision. ‘I now realize how true it is’ said Peter ‘that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all’ (Acts 10:34–35).” 

Finally, I am not anti-Israel; I am anti-Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism supposes that the Jews are going to be herded back in the Holy Land where two-thirds will be killed. Christian Zionism is not only anti-Semitic with respect to the Palestinians, it is detrimental in that the Jews are going to suffer for the sins of their fore-fathers.

As I pointed out in The Apocalypse Code,

The Dispensationalists’ theory of two peoples of God has had chilling consequences not only for Jews, but for Palestinian Arabs as well. Unlike early dispensationalists, who believed that the Jews would be regathered in Palestine because of belief in their Redeemer, Many contemporary Dispensationalists hold to the theory that Jews must initially be regathered in unbelief solely on the basis of race. Such unbiblical notions put Christian Zionists in the untenable position of condoning the displacement of Palestinian Christians from their homeland in order to facilitate an occupation based on unbelief and racial affiliation.

The tragic consequence is that Palestinians today form the largest displaced people group in the world. As Dr. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, explains, “Israeli historians now talk about the mass and planned expulsion of the Palestinians, an early form of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ The most troubling national confession has been the destruction of at least four hundred Palestinian villages, the ruin of dozens of Arab urban neighborhoods, and several massacres that would motivate the Arab population to flee.” If America required people of African descent to carry special ID cards or to leave the country to make way for people of European ancestry, we would be condemned as a nation that promoted racism and apartheid. Attempting to justify our actions on the basis of biblical proscriptions is even more unthinkable. Says Burge, “Any country that de facto excludes a segment of its society from its national benefits on the basis of race can hardly qualify as democratic.”

This is precisely why Zionism has been labeled a racist political philosophy. As Burge notes, “In 1998, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel accused the government of race-based discrimination and ‘creating a threatening atmosphere that makes violations of human rights more acceptable.’”

As a closing thought, may I simply say that while the lack of discernment and civility displayed on the internet is astonishing, it becomes all the more appalling when those who claim Christianity propagate that which is untrue in an unloving fashion.  

—Hank Hanegraaff

Reviews

The Hunger Games as a Resource for Apologists

The dystopian world of The Hunger Games, in which children kill other children for the amusement of a decadent elite, provides an ideal opportunity for Christians to engage with culture for apologetics and evangelism — but we have to be willing to challenge ourselves as well.

The Hunger Games has at heart an anti-war / anti-violence message, but author Suzanne Collins also critiques the way that consumers of media are complicit in the cycle of exploitation of violence for entertainment. In the books and the film, the violence of the Games is both a means of controlling the poorer Districts, and entertainment for the jaded, decadent people of the Capitol. Though the people of the Districts fear and hate the Games, they still watch the games on television. And we, the readers and viewers, are put in the position of being complicit in the violence and decadence we deplore.

Our emotions and our imagination cannot be extinguished; if they are ignored, or fed only junk, they will become unhealthy. Yet when the imagination is fed nourishing stories and images and cultivated properly, it flowers into part of a vibrant, full Christian life. The same root that can lead to voyeurism can become empathy; the root that could become violence can become a passion for justice and protecting the weak.

The Hunger Games is an atheist’s dream in some respects: the characters strive to live good lives in a world without any recognition of a transcendent God. The result is a bleak, meaningless world that exposes the bankruptcy of the atheist worldview. Yet if we try to offer Jesus as the solution too quickly, we may miss an important opportunity. The world of The Hunger Games allows Christians to enter into the worldview of those who are struggling to create their own meaning in a world that they perceive as hostile and meaningless. The questions and objections and fears that unbelievers have may not be what Christians expect.

  1. As Christian readers and viewers, how are we complicit in the distortions of media?
  2. How can we provide ways to guide and transform our culture toward the good?
  3. As Christians, are we willing to listen to atheists and seekers and answer their real questions?

Holly Ordway holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an M.A. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola University. She is the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith (Moody, 2010) and speaks and writes regularly on literature and literary apologetics. Holly will appear on the Bible Answer Man Broadcast in April (listen to the show live at 6PM ET at www.equip.org) to discuss her cover article on The Hunger Games in the new issue of the Christian Research Journal. To read the full article by Holly Ordway, please subscribe to the Journal (6 issues for $39.50).

In the News

A MONUMENTAL CONNECTION BETWEEN KIRK CAMERON AND CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTION?

March 27, 2012 marked the debut of actor Kirk Cameron’s latest movie Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure, which is a documentary on “the people, places, and principles that made America the freest, most prosperous and generous nation the world has ever known.” Julie Ingersoll, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, in an op-ed piece for Religious Dispatches believes viewers shall find “new, more extreme Cameron,” whose views have been influenced by Rousas John Rushdoony and David Barton. In essence she finds in Cameron a “shift from the larger premillennialist evangelical world that he depicted in Left Behind to the postmillennialist dominion theology of the Reconstructionists.” Cameron, however, has not made any formal statement on whether or not his eschatology changed. Nevertheless, Postmillennial Reconstruction is well within the pale of theological orthodoxy.

Postmillennialists anticipate that the advancement of the Gospel will bring forth a semi-golden age before the Second Coming of Christ. Christian Reconstruction is a movement within the postmillennial tradition, which holds to a particular view on the Old Testament Law called theonomy. Kenneth Gentry explains, “The theonomic postmillennialist sees the gradual return to biblical norms of civil justice as a consequence of widespread gospel success through preaching, evangelism, missions, and Christian education. The judicial–political outlook of Reconstructionism includes the application of those justice-defining directives contained in the Old Testament legislation, when properly interpreted, adapted to new covenant conditions, and relevantly applied” (italics in original). [1]

Postmillennialism in all its varieties stands in contrast to premillennialism, the belief that Jesus Christ shall return to establish a future Millennial Kingdom. The most popular form of premillennialism is of the dispensational variety, which affirms two peoples of God (i.e. the sharp distinction between Israel and the Church), and two phases of the Second Coming (i.e. a secret Rapture of the Church, a seven year Great Tribulation brought on by the Antichrist, and a visible return of Christ, which begins the 1000 year reign). Many within the dispensational tradition have become drunk with millennial madness, using newspaper eschatology to make false predictions concerning the time of the Rapture. Some but not all dispensationalists even advocate a type of Christian Zionism which has monumental socio-political implications on the sensitive relations between modern Israel, Palestine, and other nations in the Middle East. John Hagee is an influential teacher advocating Christian Zionism.

Postmillennialism also stands distinct from amillennialism, the belief that the millennium is a present reality for believers between the two advents of Jesus Christ.

Hank Hanegraaff, in The Apocalypse Code, briefly discusses the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 as a type of vindication language, wherein God vindicates those having suffered  for Christ during a short period (i.e. “ten days”) in that they reign with Christ forever (i.e. “a thousand years”). He writes, “though mistaken by many as a semi-golden age of Christian history—leading to much debate over whether the return of Christ will happen before (premillennialism) or after (postmillennialism) the millennium, or whether the millennium is symbolic of the period of time between Christ’s first and second advents (amillennialism)—the thousand years of Revelation are symbolic of the unique and ultimate vindication (qualitative) that awaits the martyrs who died under the first century persecution of the Beast.” [2] Moreover, Hank holds that the proper grammatical principle of biblical interpretation reveals that the great tribulation, spoken of by Jesus Christ in the Olivet Discourse and depicted in apocalyptic images by John in the Book of Revelation, concerns mainly the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70—albeit the Apocalypse also points forward towards the final future to the new heaven and new earth.

Hank and CRI also recognize that the millennium is a secondary issue of eschatology that Christians can debate but not divide over. Nevertheless, ideas have consequences, and what one believes about the end time, whether Left Behind eschatology or Christian Reconstruction, determines how they live, and these are more than just harmless theological concepts relegated to the mind. Moreover, we encourage Christians to study the various positions and, using sound principles of hermeneutics come to a conclusion deemed most biblical (See “Practical Hermeneutics: How To Interpret Your Bible Correctly Part 1,” and “Practical Hermeneutics: How To Interpret Your Bible Correctly Part 2”).

The Christian Research Journal has also addressed R.J. Rushdoony’s views on the Christian family and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.

Christians should think deeply about the most pressing social issues of the day. When one does examine the source of all the great innovations of the West (i.e. monogamy, women’s liberation, hospitals, public education, capitalism, etc.), one finds it was the result of minds deeply influenced by the Word of God. Whether or not one adopts all the tenets of Christian Reconstruction, all Christians still must come to grips with thinking christianly about every aspect of life.

— Warren Nozaki

We also recommend the following bookstore resources:

How Christianity Changed the World (B758)
by Alvin J/ Schmidt

Must the Sun Set on the West Audio CD Set (CD955)
by Vishal Mangalwadi

The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (B115)
edited by Robert G. Clouse

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (B580)
edited by Darrell Bock

Four Views on the Book of Revelation (B581)
edited by C. Marvin Pate

Revelation: Four Views : A Parallel Commentary (B793)
by Steve Gregg

Notes:

  1. Kenneth Gentry, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell Bock (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 19.
  2. Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 274-275, cf. also ibid, 256-257n.
Journal Topics

Dawkins’s Youth Ministry

Richard Dawkins has redefined himself again. Earlier, Dawkins transitioned from academic works of theoretical biology to his popular atheistic manifesto, The God Delusion. Now, Dawkins has moved on to the scientific education of youth. Combining lavish color illustrations by David McKean with his own supple and enthusiastic prose, Dawkins aims to inspire a new generation with the belief that naturalistic science is the only source both of knowledge and of true “magic”-the poetic wonder of discovery.

The book would not be much of a problem if it stuck to data and theories. But throughout the text, Dawkins inserts fatherly asides to caution the reader against supernatural, superstitious nonsense-the enemy of true science. The procedure is to offer sober science and an atheistic worldview as a package deal. C. S. Lewis discerned a similar danger in the “Green Book,” ostensibly a work of English grammar, whose actual effect was to inculcate moral relativism: “The very power of [the book] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy…who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory which they put into his head, but an assumption, which ten years hence…will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”1

Dawkins’s approach is to mold impressionable minds with the presumption that all that really exists is a closed physical universe of pitiless indifference (p. 235). Pursuing the logic of natural selection, he concludes that a living creature is simply “a survival machine for genes. Next time you look in the mirror, just think: that is what you are too” (74–75). This means that the “poetic wonder” of scientific discovery has no ultimate significance. There are no valuable truths to discover, nor valuable people to discover them: we are lumbering robots in a meaningless world. Like the Green Book criticized by Lewis, Dawkins’s book will likely produce more people “without a chest,” closed to the transcendent realms of God’s moral law and saving work.

Propaganda. Throughout Dawkins’s entertaining text, which explores biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, natural disasters, and alleged miracles, Dawkins seeks to discredit biblical revelation by citing its stories as myths alongside pagan myths and modern “urban legends.” Thus Genesis is presented with Norse mythology (34–35) and Dawkins repeats the old chestnut that since there are elements in common between the flood account in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood, the latter is cultural borrowing (140–43). Although there are some similarities, many of these would be expected in any flood account, and there are also marked differences. Most importantly, Dawkins does not seriously consider the possibility that both accounts arise from an actual historical event. Worse, when archaeologists do find evidence of the historicity of a biblical event, Dawkins attributes it all to purely natural causes anyway (208–9). And he relies heavily on David Hume’s famous critique of miracles (254–65), with no reference to John Earman’s devastating critique, Hume’s Abject Failure (Oxford, 2000).

Invincible Ignorance. Evidently, Dawkins has adopted a position that makes it impossible for him to contact transcendent realities. Dawkins tells us he would never accept a supernatural explanation regardless of the evidence, “Because anything ‘super natural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation” (23). But refusing to allow supernatural explanations does not show they are false. And Dawkins continues to complain that “none of the myths gives any explanation for how the creator of the universe himself…came into existence” (163), refusing to allow the idea of a necessary being that has no origin.

Interestingly, Dawkins never considers the possibility that theism might give a better explanation than materialism for the success of the science he prizes. Why does the world conform to orderly laws? Why should we expect our minds to be capable of discovering them? If he faced these questions without prejudice, Dawkins might begin to see that there is a deeper magic still.

–Angus Menuge

Angus Menuge, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin. His book review, “Dawkins’s Youth Ministry” appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special “Origins” issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL available by donation only.

NOTES:

1. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 16–17.

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To view this article in the PDF format, please click here. 

The article above is from the current, special origins issue of our award-winning magazine, the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | What Were the Origins of Life on Earth? This special issue is packed full of compelling articles by many of the biggest names in the Intelligent Design movement, relating to all aspects of the origins problem—scientific, theological, philosophical, hermeneutical, and apologetic (see the Table of Contents here). But not only so, this special issue also features a sneak peek at Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming Creation Answer Book!

Journal Topics

How the Gospel Frees Us from Psychological Oppression

The following article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | Homosexuality, Teens, and Bullying , Volume 34, Number 03 (2011).

Christianity is often pejoratively referred to as “dirty rotten sinner” religion. Our detractors will often say something like this: “Christians tend to be so guilt-ridden. They feel that they have to go through life degrading themselves in order to win God’s approval. I find that very depressing. Instead, I want a spirituality that’s positive, freeing, and one that will make me feel good about myself.”

This type of reaction is very understandable. We all want to be happy, and it might seem that the gospel is a one-way street into a medieval village where the Inquisition is diabolically entrenched, seeking to wipe away every smile. While it’s a hard sell merely to claim that the gospel will set us free from so many of life’s torments, a story might prove helpful.

For the first few years that I was teaching Bible and theology at the New York School of the Bible, I was assailed by such intense feelings of unworthiness, shame, and self-contempt that they co-opted my thought life. Driven by such powerful feelings, my self-doubts seemed to speak with unassailable authority: “You teach? What type of Christian are you anyway? You think you really have faith? Look how selfish and self-absorbed you are. How are you going to help anyone? What a charlatan, posing in the front of the class as some type of authority! What do you think their reaction would be if they really knew you?”

Devastated by these indictments, I wanted to disappear and to have the buildings of New York City implode over my head and swallow me up without a sign. Many times I thought of calling my school to say, “Find yourself someone else. I’m not your man.” But gradually, the gospel began to take root.

Good Christian. In my longstanding pre-Christian struggle to attain some sense of significance and value, I’d ward off the shame and self-contempt through positive affirmations: “I’m a good person; no, I’m a vastly superior person. I’m _____, _____, _____, and more. I’m a once-in-a-lifetime person!” There was no end to the superlatives. In fact, I was always inventing new ones—whatever I needed to tell myself to keep the shame at bay. However, these never sufficed, and so I always needed to up the superlatives in order to overcome the ubiquitous feelings of shame.

As a Christian, I learned that it was wrong to engage in such self-stroking. But I had to do something about the poisonous arrows of my own demons. I needed to prove myself, and now I had a new vehicle with which to do it. I would excel at spirituality! I would prove, at least to myself, that I was worthy of God’s grace.

I reassured myself that I was more deserving of salvation than others. I was more spiritual; I had chosen God because I wasn’t as carnal as most of the human race. I had the keenness of mind to recognize the surpassing value of the things of God, and I had a great destiny, not just in heaven, like all the other Christians, but I would also lead the way here.

God loves us too much, however, to allow us to continue in our delusions. He closed my hand to all my dreams of spiritual accomplishment. Even more difficult to endure, I began to see my own poverty of spirit, my utter unworthiness. My levees were overwhelmed, and the demons of shame and self-contempt came roaring back. I feverishly sought to rebuild the levees with good works—anything that would tell me, “You’re OK!”

However, in my torment, I began to read the Bible with new tear-filled eyes, hoping to find a God tucked within its pages who would be far more merciful than I had ever dared to hope for. Jesus told a parable about two men who entered the temple to pray. One was a self-assured Pharisee, the other a broken sinner who lacked the confidence even to look up to heaven (Luke 18:9–14). I had become that broken sinner, now defenseless against the internal raging. I had been stripped of confidence and any sense that there was something about me that would merit even a glance from a holy God.

Paradoxically, this was the beginning of psychological freedom. I had been stripped bare of all my defenses, and for the first time in my life, I gradually found that I didn’t need them. I could finally let go of my miserable fig leaves, because I was beginning to know a God who wanted to clothe me with His forgiveness, His righteousness, and His sanctification (1 Cor. 1:29–30). I was beginning to learn that I was complete in Him (Col. 2:9–10), not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

It took me a while to learn these lessons. The Bible was my thought life foundation, but it seemed to say such contradictory things. On the one hand, it assured me that salvation, along with everything else I needed, was absolutely free. But then I observed that other verses seemed to say that God’s “gifts” also required some labor on my part. These “contradictions” first needed to be resolved before I could decisively confront my demons.

However slowly, that day did come. Now, when demons accuse me of my failures and unworthiness, I’m ready for them: “Satan, you’re right! I am totally unworthy to serve God, let alone to teach. I don’t deserve the slightest thing from Him. But I have an incredible God who is everything to me—my righteousness, my sanctification, and whatever else I need. He loves me with an undying love and will never leave me. It is He who has given me the privilege to serve Him by teaching. I’m so glad that I’ve been reminded of my unworthiness, because this just prompts me to be grateful, and makes me want to sing His praises.”

Understanding the truths of Scripture becomes a wellspring of peace (Col. 2:1–4). I’m now rid of some baggage that had been too heavy to bear. As Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32 NKJV). The truth has set me free—free from the need to defend myself, free from struggling to prove myself, free from shame and self-contempt, and free from the fear of failure. Well, not absolutely free, but free enough.

This freedom would never have come without seeing the depths of my unworthiness. Had I not come to this crushing point, I would never have discovered true grace, and without receiving this incredible grace, I never would have found the confidence to lay aside all the inner struggles and finally to accept the fact that I’m an utter sinner saved by grace. Not everyone’s experience is as intense as mine was, but we all have a conscience that tells us things we don’t want to hear, and we all have attempted to beat it down one way or another (Rom. 1:18–21). We all yearn to prove ourselves and, to accomplish this, we resort to self-deception.

This isn’t merely a biblical point of view; this is the prevailing view of psychology. Shelley Taylor writes, “As we have seen, people are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal.”1

While for the successful and admired, these biases are easy to maintain, for the depressed, they require more effort than can be sustained. Ironically, the more successful we are at maintaining our comforting self-delusions, the more we sacrifice mental flexibility, freedom, and joy. As paradoxical as it might seem, the road to freedom compels us on a humbling journey through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4 NKJV), where our old armor and defenses are stripped away so that we can be reclothed in splendor. No wonder Jesus tells us, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NKJV).

Blessed Assurance. How then do we come to this place of assurance of God’s grace in the face of our spiritual brokenness? It’s not possible on our own. Jesus had taught emphatically against the idea of self-salvation (Matt. 19:26; John 3:3; 6:44). He made it equally clear, however, that spiritual growth is also impossible without His involvement (John 15:4–5). Knowing this, we have to trust Him to perform for us the humanly impossible and to cry out for His intervention.

Spiritual desperation is a lens that brings grace into focus. It’s this mourning that sharpens our eyes to the reality of grace (Matt. 5:3–4; Ps. 25:8–9; 14–15). But what if we don’t see our neediness? We have to embrace the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24 NIV).

Trust Him in this. He has promised to reveal to us our spiritual deficiencies as He also did for the churches of the book of Revelation (chaps. 2–3). As Paul proclaimed: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Phil. 3:14–16 NIV).

The more we grow into the assurance of the gift of His acceptance, the more we will grow into self-acceptance. With self-acceptance, we can begin to be transparent about our failures and inadequacies and even to laugh at ourselves. I used to think that in order to show Christ off to the world, I had to exhibit Christ-like perfection. Well, I’ve learned instead that I’m far from perfect, but I have a Savior who is perfect. I’m inadequate, but He is fully adequate. This has given me not only a freedom to be me, but also a lowliness and a confidence to draw other broken people to the One who can make all the difference.

—Daniel Mann

Daniel Mann has taught at the New York School of Bible since 1992. He is the author of Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God’s Way.

NOTES:

Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 46.

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In the News

On The Kony 2012 Campaign

Just a little over week ago the KONY 2012 video began airing on social media sites and since then has gone viral, having 75,150,482 hits on YouTube as of March 13, 2012. The movie was produced by Invisible Children, which is a non-profit organization setup in 2006 to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity.” The video is narrated by Jason Russell, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children. Since Kony’s atrocities are relatively unknown, particularly in the United States, KONY 2012 seeks to launch a grassroots campaign to inform each and every member of the global community and ultimately bring the warlord to justice by December 31, 2012. Part of the campaign includes appealing to 20 culture makers (celebrities, athletes, and billionaires) along with 12 policy makers to address the problem, and among other things a mass poster campaign set for April 20, 2012.

Criticisms that the KONY 2012 video oversimplifies a very complex situation have also been raised. For example, Michael Wilkerson, a freelance journalist who has lived and reported in Uganda, explains, “Well, the biggest issue that I’ve raised or perhaps the easiest to understand to begin with is that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, was actually forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan military in 2006. So I came to start paying attention to this ‘Kony 2012’ campaign because all of a sudden on all of the places that I monitor—things happening in Uganda—there were these hordes of people saying stop the war in northern Uganda. Let’s go to northern Uganda and get rid of Kony. And there is no war in northern Uganda anymore, not since 2006,” but qualifies, “The LRA is still what I like to call a regional wrecking ball. It’s still raiding and massacring and abducting in neighboring countries, but northern Uganda itself is peaceful.” Ishaan Tharoor, in an op ed piece entitled “Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012’ Video,” blogged that “the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda….Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends.”

There are also responses to the critics. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who also appears in Kony 2012, noted in a BBC interview that Invisible Children had “mobilised the world,” and that “they’re giving a voice to people who before no-one knew about and no-one cared about and I salute them.” Invisible Children has also posted responses to their critics.

CRI has been aware of the activities of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army for quite some time, and published the 2005 News Watch piece “Terrorizing the Innocents in Uganda: Religion Plays a Deadly Role in the Lord’s Resistance Army” by Steve Rabey. The article highlighted the cultic tactics used by Kony to indoctrinate children, turning them into brutal killers.

I believe Christians are to pray for the Lord to work through people and circumstances to bring Kony to justice and end the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They are to pray for what the Lord would have them do in response to this. Most of all, I believe Christians must prayerfully consider specific ways to strengthen the church in Uganda, so that the Gospel may continue to be proclaimed, for it is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Moreover, it is on account of hearts and minds transformed by the Word of God that one gains solid theological and spiritual foundations for effective social transformation. There is corruption in the world, but the Christian is the salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14).

— Warren Nozaki