Three Levels of Prayer, the Shadow of Death, and Being an Ambassador for Christ

O.S. Hawkins, author of The Joshua Code, is the president and chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was on a recent episode of Hank Unplugged. The following is a snapshot of Hank and O. S.’s conversation on the three levels of prayer, the shadow of death, and being an ambassador for Christ.

Hank Hanegraaff: There is so much in The Joshua Code. You talk about three levels of prayer. This caught my eye when I read the book — the presenting of a petition, the pressing of a petition, and the persisting in a petition. Cash that out.

O.S. Hawkins: Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).* These are three levels of prayer. When you know the will of God, you ask, and you receive. You know that God is not willing that we perish (1 Timothy 2:4). We ask Christ to save us, and we come in faith to Him. He will answer that prayer. If we know the will of God, we ask and we receive.

The second level of prayer is “seek and you will find.” If you do not know the will of God, you keep seeking in His Word, and you will find it. He does not want to veil His will to you.

Thirdly, if you do know the will of God but the door is closed, the verb tense says to keep on knocking; do not stop, just be persistent, keep on knocking and it will be open unto you. Most of us never get past that first level of just presenting a petition, but we need to move on to pressing it, and persisting in it.

Hank: Talk to me like you would talk to someone you are pastoring. I have an incurable disease from the human standpoint — it is mantel cell lymphoma. You can go into remission for long periods of time, but it is an incurable disease. There are lots of breakthroughs with the disease and so forth, so maybe that will change in the future, but right now, it is an incurable disease. Every single day, I do that, I persist in the petition. I ask the Lord to heal me in accordance with His will. Not my will but Thy will be done. But, every single day, I ask the Lord to heal me. It is as though I can picture myself touching the hem of His garment, and feel the healing virtue of Christ flow into my body. It is not as though, Pastor, — and I will call you Pastor because that is what you are in many ways to me and so many others — it is not that I fear death, or I feel like I have to grasp at life but I feel that there is so much more that I could be doing, and that urgency is continually pressed upon me. I pray this every single day. Give me some guidance.

O.S.: OK, Hank. I would pray exactly the same thing, understanding that even Paul prayed that. He talks about that physical infirmity that he had. Whether it was epilepsy or eye problems, what it was we do not know, but he had a thorn in his flesh. I believe it was a physical infirmity. He asked the Lord three times to take it from him, he kept persisting, asking God to heal him, but God did not do it. God came out on the other end and said that His grace was sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:1–10). It always is.

The Bible uses a word, as you know, Hank, mysterion; it is a mystery. It is a sacred secret. Paul left Trophimus at Meletus sick, the Bible says (2 Timothy 4:20). Why did not Paul heal him? This is all wrapped up in the mystery of God.

As it relates to death, I have a devotional in The Believer’s Code: 365 Devotions to Unlock the Blessings of God’s Word (Thomas Nelson, 2017). The unique thing about The Believer’s Code, a 365-day devotional, is that every day has a code word that we live by. For example, in one of the devotions on Psalm 23, the code word is shadow. We all know what a shadow is. We have all seen them. Well, this Psalmist said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4). No believer ever walks through the valley of death. Christ did, three days and three nights, and He came out victorious on the other end of the grave. He resurrected, and He held up some keys, John the Revelator says, and Jesus said, “I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). The believer does not walk through the valley of death; rather, he only walks through the valley of the shadow of death.

A shadow might frighten you. You come home at night, put your key in the front door, the porch light casts a shadow, and you jump back. The shadow might frighten you, but it cannot hurt you. You can walk right through it. That is what the psalmist says we do with the shadow of death. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Death is just a shadow. We use that code word shadow to think about during the day, to be reminded that the believer has no fear of death, that death has lost its sting, as Paul says for the believer in 1 Corinthians 15:55–57 because death is only a shadow.

Hank: Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

O.S.: Amen!

Hank: Talk about being an ambassador for Jesus Christ. This is something that has really been pressing on my heart as well, because we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, though most of us are secret agents who have never blown our cover before the unregenerate world. We are called to be ambassadors. If we are not ambassadors, the culture is continually going to corrupt and corrode. I oftentimes think that people put the focus on the pagan world and say, “Look what the pagan world’s doing!” And I think there is a place for that, but oftentimes I think they fail to recognize that pagans are going to do what pagans do. The real problem is Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do, and as a result of that, the salt has lost its savor.

O.S.: Exactly. You know Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (v. 20). We hear a lot about ambassadors being appointed today to Israel. We just appointed another one to Germany. To begin with the ambassadors, you have to look at their citizenship. It is obvious that an ambassador for the United States to a foreign nation has to be a citizen of America. No alien can ever represent our nation. A true ambassador of Christ is one, as Paul says in Philippians, whose “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

An ambassador has to be someone with character. Should an ambassador of the King of kings and Lord of lords be anyone else? A representative of Christ ought to have the highest moral standards, qualities, and values. A reputation that is spotless. Good conduct. Consistency. You know a good ambassador has to communicate. What good would it be to have an ambassador to another country that could not communicate and speak their language. The effective ambassadors for Christ need to have constant daily contact with headquarters — the Lord Jesus Christ. There is so much that is wrapped up in this, so many analogies and parallels to what Paul talked about being ambassadors for Christ.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

To order a copy of The Joshua Code, click here.

* New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) used throughout.


Understanding the Value of the Maker Thesis

Melissa Cain Travis is an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University and a PhD candidate at Faulkner University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God (Harvest House, 2018). Hank Hanegraaff recently dialogued with Melissa on the Hank Unplugged podcast — concerning “Women in Apologetics.” The following is adapted from the discussion on the “Maker Thesis.”

Hank Hanegraaff: I want to talk a little bit about your new book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, subtitled What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God. In that book, you have a moniker called the “Maker Thesis.” What does that explain?

Melissa Cain Travis: I write about the Maker Thesis in the article, which just came out in the Christian Research Journal, entitled, “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker.” The idea behind the Maker Thesis is that the enormous success of the scientific enterprise that we have watched unlock many of nature’s secrets strongly implies the existence of a Maker. Not only does it strongly imply the existence of a Maker but it implies one who desires to share some of His mind with His creatures. We would say that because we are made in His image. This is the reason we are able to share in His mind. From what we observe, it looks very much as if one of the main goals of this development of the natural world was the existence of rational beings who can investigate its deep structure. As we investigate the deep structure, we thereby understand something of the mind that seems to be behind it all.

Turns out that there are features of the universe in general, and features of planet Earth in particular, that make man’s home incredibly hospitable to the scientific enterprise.

To go along with that, we have the kind of minds that are suited to carry out that kind of investigation. This coincides very well with the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei — the idea that mankind is not just a creation but he is the crown of creation, made in the image of God. As such, we are endowed with these cognitive faculties that allow us to have not just moral awareness but also higher rationality.

I think using resonance as I do in the Journal article is perfect for describing this crazy situation we find ourselves in.

There was a fourth century Alexandrian bishop named Athanasius, Saint Athanasius, and he is one of my absolute favorite Christian saints. I have loved reading his works. He used the analogy that always comes to my mind when I am thinking about the cosmic resonance behind the Maker Thesis. He said,

Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony (Contra Gentiles 31.4).

I just love that. I think it is so appropriate to the thesis of my book. When we observe the world and we observe our own nature, we see this incredible resonance that leads us to understand that there is a Maker whose mind we are able to tap into just a little bit when we carry out the natural sciences.

Hank: I love that you quoted Athanasius. It reminds me of the power of one. If you think about Athanasius in the forth century. It was “Athanasius contra mundum” — Athanasius against the world. He was willing to stand against Arianism, and his arguments ended up winning the day. I also love the fact that he overtly said what many have said throughout the centuries, that God became man so that man might become God. Now, he did not mean that man can become as God by nature. We are gods by grace. We participate, as Peter said, in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), but he opened a door, which points out just how special we are. We are so special that God has invited us into fellowship within the Trinity. I mean it is incredible to think that the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence wants that kind of relationship with us, a relationship that brings us into the fellowship with the Triune God.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely! Many of the church fathers talked about this very same thing. They talked about how nature is like this grand book and because we are made in the image of God, we can read that book. We can discern some of His wisdom and power in the things that He has made.

Hank: We think about the Bible, rightly so, I have spent a lifetime memorizing the Bible. But, there also — as you just pointed out, Melissa — is the book of nature, and we can see God’s imprimatur, we can see His fingerprints on the universe that He has created.

Melissa: Yes! These arguments actually go pretty far back. They even predate the existence of Christianity. We see roots of these ideas in ancient Greek philosophy, most particularly Plato. And then by first century BC to first century AD Judaism, we see these ideas about a Creator having resonance with the mind of man absorbed into or, I guess a better word would be, inspiring the writings of Judaism such that the extrinsic platonic forms that in Greek philosophy just kind of exist out there somewhere are now placed in the mind of a creator God, as the pattern that God used to create the universe.

Then our early church fathers come along, and we see the appearance of this wonderful metaphor about the book of nature — the idea that the creation is this communication vehicle by which God reveals Himself to mankind. They saw creation as a natural revelation that can be used in tandem with the special revelation that we find in Scripture. They saw these two in complete harmony and actually synergy because they thought by observing the world we better understand Scripture, and by reading Scripture we better understand what we are seeing in the world.

Then, of course, we see these ideas communicated in both the Old and New Testaments. Psalm 19 is famous one where we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV) and they send a message to all the earth. Then in Romans 1:20, Saint Paul tells us that God’s power and wisdom are so clearly seen in what has been made that mankind is without excuse when it comes to knowing and worshiping the Creator of all things.

In the book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, what I have tried to do is weave together this glorious intellectual history with the most up-to-date findings of science and the most up-to-date progress in philosophy, and show how these very ancient arguments have not been debunked by the rise of modern science. They have in fact been truly vindicated by modern science.

To listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode, click here.

Read the article “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker” in volume 40, number 1 of the Christian Research Journal.

To subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, click here.

Check out other Christian Research Journal articles from Melissa Cain Travis:

What the Size of the Cosmos Doesn’t Say about Mankind

Motherhood and the Life of the Mind

To request a copy of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God by Melissa Cain Travis, click here.



Songs of Extravagant Grace and Radical Discipleship for Union with Christ

Rankin Wilbourne grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Mississippi and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is now the senior pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles. Rankin believes that “union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.” In fact, he says that “nothing is more basic or more central to the Christian life than union with Christ.” If the latter is true, then the former must be addressed.

On a recent edition of Hank Unplugged, Hank and Rankin discuss the Gold Medallion–winning book Union with Christ. We truly believe that this conversation could change your life, and we pray that it leads you closer to union with Christ. Here is a snippet of their discussion on the two songs of Extravagant Grace and Radical Discipleship.

Hank Hanegraaff: Something very interesting in your conversation on Union with Christ is this metaphor of songs. We have these songs that are playing in our minds. One of the songs is one of radical discipleship and the other of extravagant grace. But, these are half-truths. Explain how these two work together? If it is radical discipleship, on the one hand, you get burnt out just thinking about it, but if it is extravagant grace, you can get into the corridor of cheap grace; yet, union with Christ gives you the power to be a radical disciple or a radical disciple-maker or a reproducing disciple-maker.

If you think about the problem that you have in church, and you probably understand this better than most, the church is bleeding out. There was a book that came out called The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare by John S. Dickerson, and as I looked at this in macro terms, there is a bleeding out of the church in general. The millennial generation is walking away from the church by the time they go to college, and most of them, quite frankly, do not come back. You have this bleeding out of the church, and the church’s task is to make disciples, but when you think about making disciples, where does the energy come from for doing that very thing, unless you have union with the Vine?

Rankin Wilbourne: Exactly! Hank, you put your finger on why I got so interested in this idea, this biblical theme, twenty years ago. If you just stop and ask the big question: What is wrong? What do God’s people need to hear most today? Not just God’s people but what is the message that our culture most needs to hear today?

As a young seminarian, I started to see there were two different songs. One is what I call the song of extravagant grace. People really need to understand that the gospel is a gospel of grace. It is not about moralism. It is not about earning and working our way to God. It is not the good people are in and the bad people are out. It is the humble are in. The church really needs a message of grace. Brennan Manning and Henry Nouwen are wonderful expositors of this. Yes, that is true.

On the other hand, there are other writers just as pious and devout, who were putting the diagnosis in a different light. Dallas Willard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were really saying very similar things — what is ailing the church today is not that we do not understand grace; rather, it is we do not understand discipleship.

My little mind was trying to put those voices together. We know biblically both voices are important. We know biblically that neither should cancel the other out.

Yet, experientially we tend to hear one song or the other. We tend to hear one song louder than the other. Even with many churches — this is just a generalization — it is either an extravagant grace church or a radical discipleship church. It is hard to find both voices. It is hard to find.

I got interested in the question: Why is that? How can I hold both of these truths together without compromising either? I want to be very careful here, Hank. I do not think there is anything original in my book. I am just excavating an old forgotten treasure. This old forgotten treasure is that the gospel is union with Christ. The Good News is that we are united to Jesus. One of the old theologians put it: from Jesus flows a double grace, a double grace of the biblical words justification and sanctification. We are declared right with God, and we can pursue holiness as we have been declared holy. These are distinct, and yet like light and heat from the sun, they are inseparable.

When I read that, I thought, “That’s it!” The gospel is union with Christ. It is what allows us to hold these songs together. Union with Christ allows us to sing of a grace that asks nothing of us to love us — amazing grace — but at the same time, demands everything from us — “Love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.” Union with Christ holds those songs together.

Listen to the full interview here.

To request your copy of Rankin Wilbourne’s Union with Christ, click here.


Apologetics to People with Imagination, Narrative, Story, and Image

Holly Ordway went from being a militant atheist to a cultural Christian apologist and joins Hank to tell the tale of her journey as well as share her powerful perspective on the role of imagination in apologetics. Dr. Ordway is an accomplished author and professor in the Department of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

The following is adapted from Hank’s conversation with Holly during the Hank Unplugged episode From Atheist to Apologist with Holly Ordway.

Hank Hanegraaff: You are teaching the significance of imagination in Christian apologetics, and that is an often-overlooked aspect. I have a son-in-law teaching philosophy at the Airforce Academy, and he talks about emotion in apologetics. There are missing elements in much apologetics such that people approach the task like a hammer and a nail — if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. It becomes, therefore, all about rational argumentation at the exclusion of other significant aspects vital for transforming the person. I think I got this metaphor from your book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith.

Holly Ordway: Right. I think people typically have a very shallow and limited understanding of what the imagination is. They tend to think imagination equals imaginary things. They’ll say, “Oh, unicorns,” things like that, “well, how is that relevant?” But really, I am drawing on the work of, for instance, my colleague, Michael Ward, who does lots with imagination in apologetics and literature, and he has pointed out that it really is the imagination that constructs meaning. It is our reason that judges whether our meaning is true or false, but before we can have that judgment, we need to have it be meaningful.

For instance, often times we will have a discussion with a skeptic about the historicity of the Resurrection. We can go around and around in circles and get nowhere, putting all these great arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection forward, and the skeptic may even say, “Yeah, that’s convincing, but you know, no whatever, I’ll just go home and still not have my mind changed.” We might think that is because the skeptic’s heart is hardened, well maybe, but actually I think more often it is because the word “resurrection” is just jargon without actually having any real meaning or resonance. So, it is just an intellectual game, and we do not get anywhere until the words we are using, the concepts we are using, have real meaning. This is where the imagination is so critical. [See, for example, chapter on “Longing” in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, especially the discussion on pp. 140-142 regarding stories which end with a “eucatastrophe” i.e. “good catastrophe,” spoken about by J.R.R. Tolkien.]

Hank: You know this is part and parcel of the discipline of hermeneutics as well — learning to read the Bible in the sense in which it is intended. One of the things you point out in your literature is that when you approach a writing, you have to first determine the genre you are reading, which is critical for understanding the meaning of the words.

Holly: Absolutely! We do this all the time as we normally read things. If I pick up a book of short stories versus a newspaper, I will come to it with a different set of expectations. Now, I may find deep profound truth in a short story, and I may end up deciding that some stories in the newspaper are not actually very well reported and that they are untrue, but I bring to the reading an understanding of the genre, and I have certain expectations of how I am going to interpret those texts. This is just second nature. This is the point I made in my article for the Christian Research Journal, “‘Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet’: Metaphor and the Work of the Apologist,” from 46-6.

When we read children’s books to little kids, you might have a book about the first day of school, and it has got little bears and lions dressed up in clothes going to school. However, we do not think, “Oh no! We can’t read this book to our kids, they are going to be scared to go to kindergarten, thinking they will get eaten by a bear.” No! We realize that it is an anthropomorphic technique to make the story more engaging, and we get it. What is more, the child gets it, too! The child instinctively recognizes that this is a story world, and the expectations are different than for a realistic book about this is what your first day of school is going to be like.

We do that just naturally as readers of ordinary text. But, somehow, we turn to Holy Scripture and we kind of get freaked out. We think, “Oh no! It’s different.” And it is different, but it is still a literary text. God chose to inspire the human writers of Scripture to write in particular literary genres. He did not have to do that. He could have inspired all the writers to be uniform, but He did not. We, therefore, really have to approach the different parts of Scripture according to their genre.

Hank: Is it fair to say that kids are hardwired for grammar from birth?

Holly: I think so. I do not want to go into great detail on this because I am not a linguist, and I might say something that will make all the linguists listening to this just tear their hair out, but it certainly does seem to be the case. Kids have an intuitive understanding of grammar from the beginning, and an intuitive understanding of the way stories work. This comes up so early and so naturally that I really do think it has a lot to do with the imprint of the image of God in us.

If you think about it, God makes us in His image, He is a Creator, and He is also an Author and Artist, because again, He did not have to give His revelation to us through Holy Scripture; He could have done it in different ways. Ultimately, He gives His full self-revelation in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, He did not have to give us a written revelation too, yet He did, and He did it through narrative, poetry, and story, as well as through history and theology. If that is how God chooses to communicate with us, it must be pretty deeply ingrained. We are creatures of narrative, story, and image.

Listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode with Holly Ordway here.

More articles from Holly Ordway:

T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’ for the Apologist / What Has Poetry to do with Apologetics?

Once upon a Time: The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales

Confronting the Apologetics Challenges of a Secular Culture: Reflections on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Truth in Darkness: The Hunger Games as an Unexpected Resource for Apologists

Check out this bookstore resource:

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith


How God Transformed Lee Strobel to Make the Case for Christianity

Lee Strobel is a former investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune, and his best-selling books, such as The Case for Christ (now a major motion picture), have reached millions of people and have had an enormous impact on the body of Christ. He has been a longtime guest on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, and recently was on the Hank Unplugged podcast. The following snapshot of their discussion highlights the way God has used the Case for books along with The Case for Christ film to advance the gospel. Lee also shares about how God transformed his own life and used his journalistic talents to impact the lives of many everyday people.

Hank Hanegraaff: We can talk about so many things, but The Case for Christ is an incredible book — a book that started, if you will, a franchise of books that have really been revolutionary within Christianity all over the world.

Lee Strobel: Well, when you say it started that revolution, you are the one that started the revolution going, because that book actually came out in September of 1998 or 1997, but it was not doing anything. Nobody was buying it, nobody was talking about it, and it was kind of languishing. Then you got a hold of a copy, invited me to come to California to be on your radio show, the Bible Answer Man, and that is what really launched that book. Because you got behind it, let people know about it, and all of a sudden people said, “Maybe I will give it a read.” So, I really owe you a debt of gratitude for getting behind that in an early way and exposing people to a book that otherwise they may not have read.

Hank: If that is true, even in a small degree, I am very grateful to have had a small part in the launch of that book, because it has been a book that has had such an incredible impact in the kingdom. So many people have come to faith in Christ. I mean just think about that. I am sure off the top of your head you can think of people burned into your memory who came to faith in Christ, they found a copy of the book, and it became life transformational.

Lee: There are so many amazing stories. I am so grateful for how God has used that book. Just yesterday, I got a video from a guy who lost his leg in Afghanistan, somebody gave him The Case for Christ, he came to faith, and today is in ministry.

We have some funny stories, too. Right after the book came out, there was an atheist who was interested in astronomy; he went to a bookstore to buy an astronomy magazine, sat down to look at it on a bench at the bookstore, felt something underneath, pulled it out, and it was The Case for Christ. He flipped through it and thought, “Wait a minute, I’m an atheist! I do not believe this stuff.” He threw it down but then something like a voice inside told him to read the book. He said, “I picked up the book, I bought it, I read it, and I came to faith in Christ.” It’s funny because I got a letter from him again a couple of months ago. He is now living in Kentucky, part of a Baptist church, and still following Christ wholeheartedly. All kinds of stories like that.

There is one atheist from China. His son, who was a kind of a spiritual seeker, ordered the Case for Christ off of an online retailer. When the package came the next day, the father went to the door, thought it was for him, opened it, saw the book, and said, “The Case for Christ? What is this all about?” He reads it and he comes to faith.

There are so many wonderful stories. Evel Knievel, the great motorcycle daredevil rider; The Case for Christ played a key role in his conversion.

I am so thankful that God has been using this book because a book can be read in China while you are asleep in North America, and God can be using it in someone’s life all around the planet. Now it is in like thirty or forty different languages.

Now the movie of The Case for Christ has really opened a lot of people’s eyes to the story of my journey from atheism to faith but also pointed them toward the book where they can get deeper information.

Hank: You know what is funny about that film. Obviously, I love you, you are a great friend, I love the books, but I thought when that movie comes out, it is going to be another example of a cheesy Christian movie. I actually thought that. Then I saw the movie. We were in fact together in Orlando, I think it was, I saw that movie, and I was absolutely mesmerized by it. I thought, well, this how a Christian movie ought to be made.

Lee: Thanks. You know, I am so proud of the work that Pure Flicks did on that film. Brian Bird the screenwriter, Jon Gunn the director, great actors like Mike Vogel, who played me, is a strong Christian. God’s hand was on that. Leslie and I showed up on the set, we prayed every morning with the cast and crew, though many were not believers but they wanted to participate as well, and we were able to use the movie as an outreach to the movie industry to people who were participating in production who may not have been followers of Christ. The film just turned out so powerfully. I do not take credit for it, it was not something I did; it was really Pure Flicks and the team that put it together. They were very kind to us. They wanted to make sure the film was accurate, and it is. It is about 85 percent accurate, which is much more than most based-on-a-true-story movies. They have to do some time shifting and some composite characters just to fit it all in ninety minutes, but overall, it is quite an accurate depiction of what took place. It has been all around the world, South Africa, South Korea, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, which only have three movie screens, and we were on one of them, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. A church in Australia rented a movie theater, showed it to the community, and that night at the movie twenty-two people came to faith. We are just thrilled with how God has used that film.

Hank: When you were at the Chicago Tribune, you were an atheist, and you had quite a temper. I mean it is like a person I do not know, as depicted in the movie.

Lee: Yeah. You know, it is funny. I had a friend who watched the movie and said, “I did not know you were such a jerk.” It is a testament to God’s power to change lives.

Hank: I was not going to say that.

Lee:  Yeah. [laughs] But it is true! I was a narcissistic, drunken, profane, self-absorbed jerk. What people saw was me winning awards for investigative reporting, but they did not see the other side, which was me literally drunk and stoned in an ally on Saturday night. I was a skeptic, an atheist, hostile toward Christianity, and hostile toward believers. You can imagine when Leslie came to me and said that she had come to faith in Christ, the first word that went though my mind was divorce. I was going to walk out. But it was really a lot of positive changes in her character and values that encouraged me to check out the faith and try to find out whether there is any logical basis for it.

Hank: So many people use this tired, worn-out cliché “Behind every great man there is a great woman,” but in your case, it is absolutely true. I mean, Leslie is a saint.

Lee: She really is. That movie really shows it because the whole time she is a new believer and I am an ardent atheist, there was so much conflict in our marriage, mainly coming from me. It was disruptive. It was emotional. Lots of tears. But, you know, through it all, every single day, she got on her knees, and she prayed Ezekiel 36:26: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (NASB). She said, “God, Lee’s heart is like granite. I cannot crack it open, I do not know what to do. It is only by your Spirit that he is ever going to open his eyes to the truth of who You are.” She prayed that for me everyday for that whole two years I was on that investigative journey. If you asked me, “What was the turning point? Was it the evidence?” Well, yeah, I am sure that was very important, but I do not discount the power of a praying spouse in that whole process.

Hank: Absolutely. What I mentioned earlier about The Case for Christ that I think is true, you have created a franchise out of that, and I mean in a very positive sense, because you went on to many other Case for books: The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for Grace, and so on, and now The Case for Miracles. You have really used the method. The method that informs the book The Case for Christ as a way of communicating the truth claims of the historic Christian faith.

Lee: You know, I go back to this amazing God we have. In a sense, He said, “You know, you spent the first part of your life as a journalist in a secular world as an atheist, doing lots of harm in many ways with what you wrote, and hurting a lot of folks along the way. I am going to take those skills that you have as a journalist, which I have implanted in you, the skills of research, interviewing, so forth, and I am going to use them for my glory.” God’s taken those research and writing skills, and you know I do not have to be the expert in these books because my approach as a person trained in journalism is to seek out experts, to seek out scholars with PhDs from Cambridge, Brandeis, Yale, and other major universities, and ask them the tough questions that I had when I was a skeptic and see if they provide cogent answers, then let the reader decide the verdict. That technique of taking the reader along with me to investigate in going to these people, I think, is powerful because the kind of questions I asked are the kind of questions everyday people have. Interestingly, these scholars, who generally communicate with each other, you know, and they write in these scholarly journals that nobody else reads, God’s given me a ministry to take that reservoir of wisdom and communicate it to an everyday world where people like me can understand it.

I have had just some amazing interviews as a result. When I interviewed Charles Templeton (1915–2001) — the former pulpit partner of Billy Graham, for The Case for Faith, a guy who professed faith, became an evangelist with Graham, then later turned into an agnostic, if not an atheist, wrote an ugly book called Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith — in the middle of that interview, I asked him, “Who do you think Jesus is?” and he began to weep because he said, “I miss Him.” That was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I have got that on tape, and sometimes I will play it just to remind myself what it sounds like to hear someone long for Jesus the way Templeton did. By the way, I think there is evidence that he did come to faith before he died after that book was written.

In my new book, The Case for Miracles, I went to the most famous skeptic in America, a doubter, Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine, and I said, “Build a case against miracles.” And I let him spend three chapters in my book trying to build a case against the miraculous, then the rest of the book, showing that not only are there good answers to the kind of objections he raises but there is also a positive affirmative case that God is still involved divinely intervening in people’s lives today.

Listen to the full interview here.

Christian Research Journal articles by Lee Strobel:

Defending the New Testament Jesus

Experiencing Your Own Unexpected Adventures

Handling Christianity’s Toughest Challenges

Resources by Lee Strobel:

The Case for Christ film (DVD792)

The Case for Christ book movie edition (B2047)

The Case for Miracles (B2075)

Case for Christ/Case for Faith/Case for a Creator documentary film series 3 Pack (DVD953)

The Case for Faith (B583)

The Case for the Real Jesus (B973)

The Case for a Creator (B780)


What to Know about Urban Apologetics and Why It Matters

Black Hebrew Israelism is making significant inroads within America’s urban communities and is persistently one of the top five subjects visitors search on equip.org. Vocab Malone is one of a growing number of Christian apologists who seek to address many of the challenges faced by urban churches. His focus involves urban apologetics, worldview analysis, and pop culture. Vocab has done a number of debates and dialogues with Muslims, atheists, and Black Hebrew Israelites, and he has written for the Christian Research Journal. Hank Hanegraaff recently had a great discussion with Vocab Malone on the Hank Unplugged podcast. The following is a snapshot of that discussion.

Hank Hanegraaff: I have listened to some of the stuff you have done with Black Hebrew Israelism. This is a topic that is transcendently important, and we are going to cash that out, but I love the fact that you have a focus on urban apologetics. This is not apologetics proper; rather, this is a particular species of apologetics, and you have to get primed for this pump.

Vocab Malone: This is true. You know it has been around; Lemuel Haynes way back during the Revolutionary era was a Black pastor, actually, of a White congregation, which is substantial if you think about it back then in the United States, and he tackled universalism. He was doing apologetics in his context as a Black pastor. You’ve got guys who have come out with loud voices, like Tom Skinner, who have touched some of these issues, and Carl Ellis, Jr., who may not be a familiar name but should be to a lot of people. So, here I am just sort of on the train, but, here is the thing, a lot of these did not come to the forefront of other people’s attention outside of an urban context until the Internet, and now here we are in a new era. As far as specifically Hebrew Israelism within a context of urban apologetics, there has really been no Christian response, for the most part, for decades.

Hank: This is something that is really important. There is a whole segment of the American population that is being pulled into what I think you can rightly call a cult.

Vocab: I do. Let me tell you something real briefly, which I think you will find fascinating. One of the largest groups of this variety is called IUIC (Israel United in Christ), and they are the most successful organization out of all the camps — that’s what they call themselves, camps — they are starting to take a page from the playbook of the Church of Scientology. They won’t debate any of us. They won’t engage us on the streets for the most part. What they are doing though now is flagging YouTube videos and threatening legal action — sometimes veiled, other times not so much veiled — against the apologists who are starting to criticize their doctrine. I think you are going to see that type of behavior grow from some of the more successful camps. Basically, a lot of them play down and dirty, not all of them, but a lot of them do play that way.

Hank: This is not some kind of a fringe movement, either. I mean, if you think about the movement as a whole, there are some incredibly influential people who are involved, like Kendrick Lamar.

Vocab: Yes, Kendrick Lamar is a platinum rap artist. He is sort of the thinking millennial’s rapper. (You know, I’m a hip hop fan. I kind of cut my teeth listening to Christian hip hop.) There is an intellectual component to what Kendrick does, but he always had this kind of Christian glaze over it, which some people took as a hopeful sign, right? Well, he has taken a turn straight into the doctrine of Hebrew Israelism to the point where his last album title — which, again, we are talking a platinum album, right — this thing was titled DAMN. Its concept was that Black Americans are damned by God because they are not keeping the law, statutes, and commandments; therefore, they are suffering the curses according to Deuteronomy 28 because they are the true Israelites.

Hank: What I am really interested in, before we get into all of that, I’m interested in you. How did you get involved in the Christian faith? How did you get involved in urban apologetics? What spurred you on? What was the impetus for all this?

Vocab: Sorry, yeah, I jumped the gun.

Hank: No. Perfect. I do want to get back to this, but I think people really want to know who you are. You said you cut your teeth on hip hop, for example, I mean that was a passion for you?

Vocab: Yeah. When I was in the fourth grade, I got transferred to this different school. On the first day at the school, during show-and-tell, a kid stood up and did an acapella rap, and I was just floored. Ever since then, I was just floored, and the kids at school who were popular were not the athletes, believe it or not, it was the kids who could beatbox and rap.

Pretty early on, someone actually introduced me to Christian hip hop. Really, my main influences are actually Christian hip hop. I’ve got to tell you, you know, there is some silly stuff in it, but it was really saturated with the Word and a strong evangelistic impulse. So, of course, I had begun doing Christian hip hop myself (you know a very mediocre attempt) but what it led to were conversations in urban contexts, as I would be out and about rapping in different churches and on the block.

What does that lead to? Objections! These are not the objections that your average mainstream evangelical hears all the time. Because, all of a sudden, you hear, “Well, that is for White people.” “That’s a White people’s religion.” “Why do you have that picture of Jesus portrayed when He was not a White man?” “What do you say about the justification of slavery by Christians?” I got a slew of questions like that and even getting into the idea of Christianity is really a rip off of ancient African religion, which is an idea that is now resurgent. I was hearing all of this, and that led me to further study, because I did not want to just talk, I wanted to know. Believe it or not, the way I basically got into apologetics is by beginning off conversations rapping to people. It really began rapping to people, the conversations, to wanting to know what I was talking about, that is why I ended up in seminary, and now after being a retired rapper — I do not really do that anymore, except when the kids want to have some fun — now I am really trying to take all that and bring it to bear, realizing it is a huge field. My specialty is on one area of concern and need, out of many.

Hank: You know, I think this is one of the coolest things I have heard in a long time. You got into apologetics exactly how someone ought to get into apologetics. You got involved in rapping, rapping Christian stuff, then people hear the Christian stuff, as a result, they start asking questions, as a result of them asking questions, you start finding answers to the questions, and in the process, you become an apologist, an urban apologist at that!

Vocab: I never would have guessed when I was in the fourth grade and saw that kid stand up and do that acapella rap during show-and-tell that this was the journey that the Lord would lead me on, but here I am. The beauty of it is the Internet is bringing a lot of young Christian urban apologists together, and some of the churches are starting to wake up. There are starting to be conferences that specialize in urban apologetics. Now, it is still few and far between; by and large, the church is asleep to a lot this unfortunately, but they are starting to hemorrhage members. Yes, some of it is because of the secularization of the culture, but a lot of it has to do with these new alternative urban spiritualities that are populating the city landscape. I don’t really think the churches in those contexts by and large are paying attention. There are exceptions: Eric Mason in Philadelphia, and a number of other men I could name, and I do think it is increasing, but there is a bigger problem that is being recognized right now, because the millennials are extremely dissatisfied with the current state of the church and they are turning to these new alternative urban religions within a city context.

Hank: Yeah, I think this is really fantastic. I mean, you are hitting on a note that needs to be sung pretty loud and clear. It is a clarion call for the church. We are talking about the church being infiltrated, and in many ways, as you point out, people are leaving the church in droves, but the people in the church do not know what the heck is going on. They are whistling as they walk past the grave yard. There is a big attrition going on because we cannot answer the objections that have been raised. This is particularly significant in the urban church, and we know at the Christian Research Institute how significant it is because if you look at the interest in Black Hebrew Israelism, the interest is absolutely staggering. We are bombarded with requests for just one article that we wrote in the Christian Research Journal, and even that is just scratching the surface of a pandemic that is stripping the urban church of its Christian witness.

Vocab: This is correct. I mentioned IUIC earlier. They are what we in the field call a 1 West variety of Hebrew Israelism. That is a certain sect kind of along the lines of Salafi Islam (an ultra-conservative sect of Sunnis); however, there are also different mainstream varieties of Hebrew Israelism. There has actually been a number of churches (these would be traditional Black churches a lot of times, some small, others bigger) who are either grafting this theology into their ministry, and it is really changing the whole character and nature of their church, or there have even been a couple of cases, I thought it was a hoax at first, where pastors were actually handing over their keys to these camp leaders in these Hebrew Israelite cult groups and basically pledging allegiance to some of their leaders.

I will be very specific, one is called ISUPK (Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge). There is a video where the pastor hands over his keys and at the end of it, he stands in formation with the other “soldiers” and gives a salute to the commanding general Yahanna, who is the authority of ISUPK. Granted, that was a smaller church, but some of these bigger churches are sort of having a fusion of traditional Black church Christianity, evangelical theology, and Hebrew Israelism. The end result is not really Hebrew, Israelite, or Christian; rather, it is a mess. It is almost like some kind of modern mainstream version of the old-school Ebionite heresy. Some people may be listening and thinking, “Only a fool would get suckered into this based on what I know of it.” Don’t speak so quick, because the moral needs, the felt needs, is what I mean by that, and some of the existential crisis going on in the urban community are leading people to have open minds about ideas like Hebrew Israelism, and we’ve got to take that into account.

Hank: You mentioned this whole idea of someone falling back into the ranks of the soldiers. When you watch this on YouTube or on television, you can even listen to it on the radio, or if you are actually there in the urban communities hearing the rhetoric, this is very militant. This is martial stuff.

Vocab: Yes. The camps tend to be organized along those terms. If you noticed, I mentioned the leader of ISUPK, he calls himself General Yahanna. He is not an elder or pastor; he is a general. Then one of the main men under him is a man named Captain Tazaryach. They wear military black boots, cargo black pants, lots of times a black leather jacket, some kind of shirt with the Star of David all over it, then spikes and studs in gauntlets on their arms, and different types of headbands, which look like something from an old-school Bible movie or something. It looks wild, but it is a uniform to folks, and it is bringing order where people are seeing chaos, so people are gravitating toward it. They feel like it gives them meaning and purpose. Lots of people describe the process wherein they realize they are a “Hebrew Israelite,” and they call it waking up. That is the way they describe it.

Hank: Lots of people listening in are going to say, “What in the world is a Black Hebrew Israelite?” Give us some kind of an idea about the origins of this movement. It is obviously multifaceted, not monolithic, but share about some of the leaders like Frank Cherry and William S. Crowdy, along with how all this got started.

Vocab: Back in 1896, the first known for certain documented case of someone who would be called an African American saying that they are actually an Israelite was Crowdy. He was out chopping some wood, got this vision, and the vision said, “You know, you are actually an Israelite, and you are a descendent of Abraham.” He was scared, but basically, he went around the country preaching this, and his earliest followers were both Black and White. He did not have the exclusion aspect that some of the more modern groups have, where they not only say that African Americans are the true biblical Hebrew Israelites, and as a corollary, the Jews in Israel and whatnot, are all frauds, but lots of these modern groups say you can be saved only if your lineage can be found on their twelve tribes chart. So, the Chinese whom they call Moabites — I know it is ridiculous, I am just telling you what they say because they have their own table of nations chart — the Japanese whom they call Ammonites, White people or European descendants are Edomites, Arabs whom they call Ishmaelites, and Indians from India, all those folks are doomed to a lifelong eternal slavery when Yahawashi (that is what they call Jesus) returns. The only groups under this particular rubric of Hebrew Israelism who can be saved are Native Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanics. That is one particular brand. However, there are lots of other branches of Hebrew Israelites that believe you can be grafted in, but they still practice a form of ethnic hierarchy within their ecclesiastical structure. A great example of the more inclusive is Israel of God out of Chicago. They are probably one of the biggest churches of the Hebrew Israelite variety around; they have a 6,000-seat church, and they are moderate, believing that so-called Gentiles can be grafted in; however, they cannot teach Israelites, so there is still an ethnic hierarchy even among the nicer groups.

Listen to the full interview here.

For further related reading, please see:

The Origin and Insufficiency of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement (Jimmy Butts)

Christian Hip-Hop: A Generation’s Words (John K. Wells)

Christianity and Black Slavery (Jeffrey B. Russell)

Putting Race in Biblical Perspective (Jemar Tisby)

Is Christian Orthodoxy Strong in the Black Church? (Jerry Buckner)

What’s Wrong with Black Theology? (La Shawn Barber)



What makes the resurrection of Jesus so significant to Christianity?

Dr. Gary Habermas is one of the foremost defenders of the historical Jesus and the Resurrection, the crux of Christianity. He is the Distinguished Professor of Apologetics and Philosophy and chairman of the department of philosophy and theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He has authored or coauthored more than three dozen books and has been a visiting professor at more than a dozen graduate schools.

Dr. Habermas was recently a guest on two episodes of Hank Unplugged. The following dialogue is adapted from that discussion.

Hank Hanegraaff: Let’s look at comparative religions. There is just nothing on the landscape like Christianity. So often people have this idea that you are going to find facsimiles of the Resurrection in other religions; however, that is not the case. In fact, the more you look, the less there is for the historicity of the other religious figures in some cases, and in the main there is no good reason for believing that what people are giving their lives to, or what they have believed to be reality, has any validity at all.

Gary Habermas: That is right. In fact, my teaching assistant, who is a PhD candidate, and I just finished two articles. One of them is for the Christian Research Journal. The other for another publication. For both, I was asked to write an article on the uniqueness of Christianity vis-à-vis other religions. We list about six things that are really different, all of which surround the nature of the gospel. You are so right in that comment.

In fact, if I could expand it just a little bit. All religions have what you might call negative apologetics. They will say, “You are a loser,” “you are wrong,” “that is not correct;” however, no other faith, including Judaism, no other religion has what we would call positive evidences, wherein they could say, “My faith is true for these reasons,” and really give solid reasons. When I give a lecture on this subject, about what is true about religion and what is not, I give a list of about ten reasons, and four of them are simply true of religion in general. For example, intelligent design. You could say, “I’m a Buddhist, and I think the universe is designed also.” You can also talk about near-death experiences, and a person can say, “I’m a Hindu and my uncle had a near-death experience.” That is for religion in general. But, six of the ten evidences are evidences that indicate Christianity specifically is true. To my knowledge, other religions do not have this empirical, measurable data that says, “Our faith is true because of this, this, and so on.” You are exactly right. The Resurrection heads the list for Christianity.

Hank: Take me through the progression on how things have changed in the academy since the time of your PhD work to the present in terms of how the Resurrection is viewed.

Gary: Sure. You know what? That is a tricky question, because oftentimes when I do this general lecture on the Resurrection, which I have given something like two thousand times, I will talk about differences just like that. I tell them when I was in graduate school (you talk about our ages); I was finishing my PhD when I was still quite young. I finished my PhD when I was twenty-five years old. I was twenty-one years old in graduate school when I started my MA. If I were to say in my grad classes in those days, “Hey, you know what? I believe Jesus did miracles,” “I believe the tomb was empty,” or “I believe He appeared in bodily form to His followers,” if I were to say one of those three things (Jesus did miracles; tomb was empty; He appeared bodily), my classmates would probably judge, whether or not they said so in public, that they just heard from a guy that is either an evangelical or a conservative Catholic. This is, at least at our university. I have my master’s degree from a Catholic university. They might say, “Oh, yeah, he must be studying for the priesthood or something. Well, only conservatives believe those things.”

Today, I will give you a rundown on all three of them. Jesus is a miracle worker. Where is that? It has been said in books that 100 percent, though that is not quite true, but some of the research books today say that 100 percent of schools believe that Jesus did miracles, at least healing miracles and exorcisms. He either did the ones in the Gospels, or things just like them. In other words, maybe instead of feeding five-thousand, he fed three-thousand, but that thing happened. Miracles are “in” today.

Empty tomb. Where are we on that? Empty tomb is held by about 75 percent of scholars today, whereas when I was in school, it might have been 20 percent.

Lastly, what about the view that Jesus was raised in bodily form, not just some sort of wispy or ghostly sort of form? The majority view today is that Jesus appeared, and that He appeared bodily. A recent survey I did a few years ago, less than one in four critical scholars now come up with naturalistic theories to explain away the Resurrection. In my headcount, this was very unofficial, but in the little headcount I did, it was like 23 to 24 percent who come up with naturalistic theories. Naturalistic theories are kind of ignored today. This is kind of a day when the supernatural is “in.” Yet, so many say, “I’m Buddhist.” This is surely a popular thing, and you can be a Buddhist while not being really conservative, so people do not go, “Oh, really?” Rather, they just go, “Huh, yep, go right on.” But if you say, “I am a conservative Christian,” you will get screamed at.

The field is changing to answer your question. Belief in the supernatural is way up. Personal belief in miracles, personal belief in the afterlife, 70 percent, 80 percent, and sometimes 90 percent.

Hank: You alluded to this already, but I think it will be good for people listening in to get just an idea, a flavor, of why we are so passionately supporting the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You think about the quintessential text, 1 Corinthians 15, when Paul says,

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born (vv. 3-8 NIV).

The first thing that strikes me is that Paul is receiving something and passing it on. It turns out that he is passing along a creedal statement that can be traced all the way back to the Messiah’s murder. How significant is it that Paul is talking about something that has no time whatsoever for legendary corruption?

Gary: It is extremely important. Critics, even those who are Jesus Seminar members (that may not be a phrase a lot of your listeners know about, but the Jesus Seminar is the group that throw the beads in the hat, and if you count the so-called red-letter words of Jesus, based on how the colors of the beads are counted, they reject between 80-90 percent of Jesus’ red-letter words, the sayings. They say Jesus did not say those things), well, there are Jesus Seminar scholars, I am thinking of one right now whose is very prominent, he calls that, as many of them do, he calls that phrase (1 Corinthians 15:3–8) a pre-Pauline utterance.

Someone can say, “Well, of course it is pre-Pauline; Paul said he got it from somebody else.” But, I am saying something a little bit different. Paul is saying he got it from somebody else. Okay, yep, that is for sure; however, pre-Pauline means when Paul was on the way to Damascus and met the risen Jesus, that creed was already in existence. If you call it pre-Pauline, you mean it was there when Saul of Tarsus was a persecutor.

If Paul’s conversion is, as it is often dated, one to three years after the cross — if you date the cross at AD 30, some say AD 33, but if you date the cross at AD 30, Paul’s conversion is at AD 31–33 — that creed was already there between AD 30 and the date of the conversion. Some of the leading critics will put that creed back at about AD 30. James D. G. Dunn, who’s as influential as any historical Jesus scholar today, says that creed was already formalized within a few months of the cross.

The way I like to think of it is we’re pretty accurate. We [are not certain of the year] of the death of Jesus, but the Resurrection happened in spring of that year. If He was raised from the dead, let us say in March (this year it is April), if He was raised from the dead in March or April, and if Dunn is right, that creed was in existence within a few months. This means by the time that year ended, AD 30, the creed already existed. That is how early it was.

The fact that it came down through several people who were witnesses — three of the six groups there — three of the six appearances that Paul lists — they are groups. This is very important. Groups do not hallucinate. This one sentence is very, very early, and very, very significant. It is real history.

Listen to part 1 of the Hank Unplugged episode with Gary Habermas here.

Listen to part 2 of the Hank Unplugged episode with Gary Habermas here.

More articles from Gary Habermas:

When Religious Doubt Grows Agonizing

Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: HALLUCINATION the Recent Revival of Theories

Recent Perspectives on the Reliability of the Gospels

See also the following estore offers:

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (B8909) by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona

In Defense of Miracles: A Comprehensive Case for God’s Action in History (B1086) edited by Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas



Why Is It So Hard to Call Out Margaret Sanger on Eugenics?

Author and social critic Mary Eberstadt had a wonderful conversation with Hank Hanegraaff on the secularist religion birthed by the sexual revolution, and the real duplicity in the way it turned yesterday’s sinners into modern-day secular saints — Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger being a prime example. The following dialogue is adapted from their conversation.

Hank Hanegraaff: If you look at this whole idea of a secularist religion, there are high priestesses that come to mind, such as Gloria Steinem, Margaret Mead, and certainly Margaret Sanger. I want to single out Sanger for a moment because she was a person who was very much on the vanguard of the eugenics movement. Today, we have a new hypereugenics movement afoot. I was reading a couple months ago about what is going on in Iceland, where they are now declaring themselves to be almost 100 percent Down-syndrome-baby free. They’ve almost eradicated Down syndrome babies through abortion. They suppose this to be some great thing and laude it as a step forward. In fact, Richard Dawkins, probably the most influential materialist on the planet today, says that it is immoral to bring a Down syndrome child into the world. So, we have this new move toward a hypereugenics movement that eradicates those who are thought to be unfit in society; and in their place, we are looking toward designer babies.

Mary Eberstadt: Yes. There is an implicit cruelty, to say nothing of a lack of diversity in one’s outlook, that would wipe children like that from the face of the earth. I’m so glad you brought up Margaret Sanger. We live in a moment where there are upset, agitated groups who want to pull down statues of Confederates, and they are making their argument in the public square. I am glad that they are. They are not just making emotive appeals; they are making arguments about how things have changed, and how we have developed morally as a people. So, whatever you think of their case, it is astonishing to me that Margaret Sanger hasn’t been torn down from her podiums all over America.

As a matter of fact, consider this: Planned Parenthood, for years and years, gave annual awards (the last ones I think were in 2015) called the Maggies, and they were named for Margaret Sanger. They were given to journalists who had written pro-choice pieces, and to other figures who had somehow come into the pro-choice fold.

Alright, let us look at this for a minute. Margaret Sanger was unflinching in her insistence on the inferiority of certain other people. She wanted to keep down the numbers of certain other people. She believed very much that there were fit people and unfit people. But, guess what? Fit people looked like her, and unfit people looked like, well, fill in the blank. So, it is very hard to understand why she gets a pass in a moment of extra attention to racism and extra moral sensitivity to racism in America’s past, when she was the embodiment of this kind of eugenics thinking.

What we are seeing is that in any other context, besides defending the sexual revolution, nobody would be getting away with this; but Margaret Sanger is getting away with it because she is a paragon of the sexual revolution, and she is the equivalent of a secular saint. I think people who stand against what she stood for should be proud of themselves, and I think that those of us who do are on the right side.

Hank: You know what is really interesting about this? I have looked into this over the years. Eugenics has been a huge, huge issue in the United States of America. Talk about a really virulent evil in America, and there have been many, but this is at the top of the list. But, the odd thing about it is this: eugenics was considered progressive prior to World War II in universities such as Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard. This was considered very, very progressive. Pro-eugenics legislation was passed in blue states ranging from California to New York. You had prestigious people on this bandwagon — not just Margaret Sanger. They had bought into an ideology that said that the unfit were affecting the genepool such that the fit did not survive as well, and so the only thing that we can do is to make sure that we got rid of those that were unfit. Moreover, as you correctly said, the unfit were oftentimes people that did not look like the stereotypical American. They were Blacks. They were Jews. They were people who had some kind of a physical malady. But this was something that was orthodoxy within America, and it really did not see its demise, at least for a while, until it reached full bloom in the genocidal German death camps. Then it vanished into the night, and nobody wants to say that they had any association with this eugenics movement. We are quietly paying reparations for the harm that we did, particularly to the Black community, and we, for example, are doing that in North Carolina. But, most people do not want to own up to the fact that this was an ideology that was uncritically bought into that devastated lives, and we are now seeing history repeat itself in other places.

Mary: Yes, once again, Christianity should get some credit for being on the right side of that issue. It is Christianity, infused with Judaism, that taught humanity that all human beings are equal in the sight of God. That is a revolutionary idea. Christianity, correctly applied, should get some credit for that insight. Eugenics was not some kind of Christian thing. It was a progressive thing, as you correctly pointed out. When progressives today wonder why there are people who are “standing on the wrong side of history,” it is because we do not want to be standing wherever they are standing, certainly not in the case of eugenics.

Similarly, Hank, I think Christianity gets such a bad rap for being bad on women somehow, but it was Christianity that introduced the very idea that men and women were morally equal — so morally equal that consent was required for marriage. This is a very early Christian idea and it is revolutionary. Were there equal outcomes? No, of course not. Were there equal economic statuses throughout history? No. But the idea that a woman’s soul was just as important as a man’s and that it would be jeopardized if she could not freely consent to marriage, and the marriage would be invalid without both parties freely willing it, this is a fantastic liberating idea. It is among the most liberating ideas ever to appear in humanity, and that’s a Christian idea.

Part of what I am trying to say is this. I think, for reasons we all understand, a lot of traditional believers have been in a defensive crouch because they were not expecting how ferocious the winds against them would become; they were not expecting all these religious liberty cases suddenly proliferating across the land; and they were not expecting they would not be able to practice their faith without public ostracism. But the defensive crouch is not the answer when what you are in possession of are truths that other people are losing sight of that have been a boon to humanity. So be proud of standing on the right side of the eugenics discussion. Be proud of standing against what Margaret Sanger and all other people like her stood for. I think we can be emboldened — without patting ourselves on the back — to know some of the good that Christianity has done out there in the world.

This blog was adapted from “The Sexual Revolution with Mary Eberstadt,” which originally aired on episode 18 of Hank Unplugged. To listen to the full interview, click here.

For further related study, please access the following equip.org resources:

Margaret Sanger: “No Gods, No Masters” (Bob Perry)

How the West Really Lost God (Mary Eberstadt)

Sex, Lies, and Secularism (Nancy Pearcy)

Sex, Lies, and Christianity: Reclaiming Biblical Sexuality (Melanie Cogdill)

Mary Eberstadt is author of It’s Dangerous to Believe: Religious Freedom and Its Enemies. Her writing has appeared in TIME, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, National Review, First Things, and The Weekly Standard, and in March 2017, she was named Senior Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.


How to Have Hope in Spite of the Wilting Flower of Christianity in the West?


Earlier this year, Hank Hanegraaff had an illuminating conversation with best-selling author and social critic Os Guinness, which was released as an episode of the Hank Unplugged podcast. The following is a portion adapted from the conversation wherein they talked about remaining hopeful in spite of the reality of “wilting flower Christianity” in the West.

Hank Hanegraaff: In what many consider is your magnum opus, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, you talk about our age as quite simply the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus and the Apostles. There is a wide door that Saint Paul wrote about, and it has now been reopened for the gospel, yet that seems so counterintuitive. I think about the world today, and I say, “Wow, we are in desperate need of renaissance, but I do not see any signs of it.” You’re saying that the age in which we live is the most open door for the gospel ever.

Os Guinness: We are the first global faith in the world. Globalization, you could put it that way, is almost in the DNA of the Christian faith, going right back to the promise of the Lord to Abraham in Genesis 12. Today, we are the first truly global faith. We are not doing well in America, and in much of the West, but as we look toward the future with the unprecedented challenges of artificial intelligence, singularity, and things like that, only the Christian faith has answers to some of these titanic questions. I say this is the grand age of apologetics, and we need to get out there persuasively so that people can really hear the good news, and not in some simplistic way but in a way that genuinely answers the challenges that are being raised to humanity.

Hank: You talk about the power of creative persuasion in making a case for the gospel to people who seemingly couldn’t care less.

Os: Yes, you are right. In this country, we’ve got more bitter opposition and hostility than ever in American history, and of course many people are just apathetic. But I think it is a great moment because, as you know well, the alternative answers are visibly failing and many of them are profoundly dangerous. I am just in the middle of another book on the topic of freedom. If you think, “America is the land of the free,” Saint Augustine says you understand a nation by what it loves supremely, and it is no question that America’s supreme love is freedom. But how do you ground it? You cannot go to the Eastern religions. They talk about freedom, but it is a way of renouncing this world. When you look at atheism and agnosticism, they look at naturalistic science, whether it is B. F. Skinner, J. B. Watson, or Sam Harris; for them freedom is an illusion. The fact is, our atheist friends, who form a huge number of people in the intelligentsia in this country, cannot ground freedom, and you cannot apart from the Scriptures — the Jewish and Christian understanding.

Hank: It seems to me that we are at a tipping point. I was in Singapore a couple of times last year and I thought about Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singapore, who talked about how all civilization is essentially fragile. You have written about this in a number of your books: this tipping point in history where we think that we are invincible. But if we look back at the bleached bones of those who have gone before us, like the Roman Empire and many other civilizations, we recognize afresh that our civilization can fade if we do not ultimately become salt and light in this world. You pointed out that there are a number of threats. There is the threat of an illiberal liberalism, on the one hand; and you have the encroaching threat of Islam, on the other hand. But you think that there is a far greater threat, and perhaps that threat is that while pagans are exercising their job description, Christians are not.

Os: That is right. One way of putting it would be looking at this third threat as the scandal of the American church. The church is not strong anywhere in the West, except the United States and Poland are numerically strong. In most of the other countries, the church is a tiny minority. But the scandal of the American church is that we are a huge majority of the American people, and yet tiny groups like Jews or gays and lesbians — they are less than 2 percent of America — each of them has far more influence — they punch above their weight — than Christians do. The American church is simply not the salt and light. The simple fact is the American church is weak culturally because it is profoundly worldly. It has been effectively assimilated.

Hank: We are no longer cultural change agents; we have become conformed to the culture itself.

Os: Exactly, to put it mildly. This is a real tragedy, and that is why we need reformation and revival. Almost weekly you see sad examples of the ineffectual character of the church compared with other groups. As a culture at large, I call it a cut flower civilization.

If you look at many of the great features of our Western Civilization — human dignity, freedom, justice, equality, and all sorts of things like this — they are actually rooted, most of them, not in Greek ideas (some of them are), certainly not in Latin or Roman ideas, they are rooted in the gospel and the Scriptures at large. Yet, for two-hundred years since the Enlightenment, the West has decisively cut those roots, and now the flower is fast fading.

Hank: One of the reasons I love your books is that there is an optimism in them. On the one hand, you are very candid about the issues you just talked about: cut flower Christianity. That metaphor itself seems to indicate that Christianity in the West cannot last. Yet you do believe in the power of one. You do believe in the fact that twelve men changed the world. Therefore, Christianity not only can survive but thrive. But you also point out the problems in the Global South, which are very, very real. I have spent a lot of time in myriad places in the Global South, and there you see tumbleweed Christianity — Christianity without root. I think in one of your books you wrote about the fact that many people in the Global South are just one unanswered prayer away from reverting to animism, Buddhism, or ancestor worship and the like. When you look at the big scope of things, it seems like a problem that cannot be fixed. Yet, in all of your books, there is a resounding optimism.

Os: That is right. I hope that is so. You can put it two ways. The sort of way to put it in the public discussion is that while many of the generalizations about culture or about the church are rather negative and discouraging, it is the exceptions that are really inspiring. Generalizations are often rather gloomy, but thank God for individuals, and thank God for new initiatives. Something wonderful in the last twenty years is the International Justice Mission, one of the premiere human rights groups in the world today. It grew under Gary Haugen. Examples like this are magnificently encouraging.

On the theological and spiritual level, I believe that we should be as realistic as we can be. Look at the facts in the white of the eye and at the same time always respond with Christian hope, never with fear. Fear is the predominant world emotion. The whole globalized world is interconnected, nobody is really in charge, and people are very afraid, but the refrain of the gospel is Have no fear. With the Lord’s sovereignty, we should never be afraid and however dark the times, we move out with hope. I think this is an imperative for all Christians.

Listen to the full Hank Unplugged interview here (scroll through the list to “Living in a Post-Truth World with Os Guinness”).

Recommended books by Os Guinness:

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

Renaissance: The Power of the Gospel However Dark the Times (B2002)

Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance (B720)

Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror (B823)

The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life (B638)

Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (B2028)



Does Christianity Offer a Higher or Lower View of the Body?

Hank Hanegraaff: Paradigms allow us to see only what our paradigms allow us to see. We don’t think so much about our paradigms as we think with our paradigms. As Christians, we have unwittingly adopted bad paradigms. It is not just the culture that needs to be liberated; it is Christianity that needs to be liberated from its own cultural captivity.

Nancy Pearcey: That’s right. When we talk about these issues that I address in Love Thy Body, we’re looking at moral issues like abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, and transgenderism. In the book, I am very concerned to help people understand the secular paradigms because so many Christians are adopting or absorbing those paradigms without even knowing it. In particular, I talk about the view of the body, as you might guess from the title. I show that the secular view of the body is a very low view of the dignity, value, and purpose of the body; that Christians have absorbed that as well; and that it is not biblical.

The response I am getting from a lot of readers is, “I picked up this book because I thought I’d get some handy arguments against the secular view, and instead it’s transforming me and my understanding of the body and how it relates to these moral issues?” You’re right. It really hits both sides. It helps people be equipped to understand our secular culture and respond more effectively, but to do that it requires also a transformation of our own thinking.

HH: It is critical for Christians to learn to think Christianly and to develop a Christian worldview. Oftentimes, we embrace other worldviews without recognizing that we have embraced the very water in which we swim. The culture in which we love. Expand on that.

NP: Yes. Let’s take maybe the most hot button issue for Christians — homosexuality. Even conservative churches are dividing over this issue. Young people are having a hard time saying what’s wrong with it.

What I help people to see is that homosexuality assumes a very low view of the body. People say, “We should accept homosexuals because we want to be loving.” If you want to be loving, you want to help them to see that the view itself is very dehumanizing and very negative. For example, here is how I would unpack that: no one really denies that biologically, physiologically, anatomically, males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s just how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. What happens when you embrace a same-sex identity, then? Well, implicitly you’re contradicting that design. Implicitly you are saying, “Why should the structure of my body inform my identity? Why should my sexed body have any say in my moral choices?” Well, that’s a profoundly disrespectful view of the body. The implication is, what counts is, not whether I’m biologically male or female but just my feelings, my desires, my mind, that nonphysical part of me. As a result, it has a very fragmenting impact on a human personality. It’s self-alienating. It’s alienating people from their own bodies.

Those who defend a biblical view of sexuality are not relying on a few scattered Bible verses. What we are promoting is a teleological worldview. Teleology means it has a purpose. We are saying that the structure of your body has a purpose and that it reflects a divine purpose. As a result, it encourages people to live in harmony with their biological sex and leads to a holistic integration of personality.

This gives us a chance to prove the biblical ethic not simply in negative terms — “it’s a sin,” “don’t do it,” “thou shalt not” — which is true, but it is not complete. It gives us a chance to communicate in a positive way. We have a higher view of the body. We have a high view of the dignity and value of the body. We are encouraging people to have a much more positive view of their body instead of the negative one implied by the homosexual narrative.

HH: What is interesting about what you said is that, in reality, so many people in the secular culture presuppose Christianity itself has a low view of the body.

NP: Yes. In fact, I’m getting that pushback from some of my critics. They say, “Wait a minute, it’s Christianity that has a low view of the body that focuses on the next world.”

The problem is that many Christians are out of touch with their own heritage. If you look back to when Christianity started, the early church was surrounded by world-denying philosophies, like Platonism and Gnosticism. They treated the material world as a place of death, decay, and destruction. In fact, in Gnosticism, which taught that there were many levels of deities, the world was created by a very low-level deity, even an evil deity, because, after all, no self-respecting god would get his hands dirty mucking about with matter.

In this context, Christianity was revolutionary. It taught that, no, it was the highest God, the supreme deity, who created this material world, and — what’s more — He pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). An even greater scandal was the Incarnation. The very idea that God Himself would enter the material world and take on a human body that was totally rejected by Gnosticism. The incarnation is the ultimate affirmation of the dignity of the human body.

Finally, at the end of time, is God going to scrap the material world as if He made a mistake the first time? No! The Bible teaches He is going to renew and restore this world. He is going to create a new heaven and a new earth, which is why the Apostles’ Creed affirms the resurrection of the body. This is an astonishingly high view of the physical world. There’s nothing else like it in any other philosophy or religion.

Love Thy Body, my book, gives people the tools to go beyond the negative message and to deploy positive arguments, showing that a biblical ethic is more appealing, more attractive, and more compelling than any secular ethic.

This blog is adapted from the February 10, 2018, Bible Answer Man broadcast in which Hank Hanegraaff interviewed Nancy Pearcey. Listen to the entire interview on the Hank Unplugged podcast (scroll through the list of episodes to the title “Love Thy Body with Nancy Pearcey”).