Apologetics, In the News

The Fact and Fiction of Bruce Chilton’s Mary Magdalene

Last week for the Huffington Post, Bruce Chilton, Bernard Iddings Bell professor of religion at Bard College, offered a synopsis of his book Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday, 2006). Chilton explains that Mary was a common name, which is why the biblical character was associated with a place called Magdala, so that she would not be confused with the other women with the same name. He points out that Jesus’ statement about the tax collectors and prostitutes having a better chance at getting into heaven before the chief priest and elders (Matt. 21:27) has led some to conclude Mary Magdalene worked the oldest profession (albeit the idea stretches credulity beyond the breaking point).

Chilton also mentions legends about the biblical character, such as her sailing on a rudderless ship to France, levitating while she prayed, being Jesus’ concubine according to the Cathars, or having sexual relations with Jesus and conceiving a child, as depicted in faked parchments produced by Pierre Plantard after World War II, which became subject to the popular fiction The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Please seeMary Magdalene’s Modern Makeover and The Da Vinci Code: Revisiting a Cracked Conspiracy” by James Patrick Holding.

Chilton believes Mary Magdalene was the one whom the Lord exorcised demons out of, and identifies her with the women who anointed the Lord at the end of His ministry in Mark 14. There is nothing problematic with these assertions per se; however, red flags are raised with Chilton’s statements about Mary’s encounter with the resurrected Lord being merely a vision. “Mary Magdalene’s vision, precisely because it was a vision in the earliest account (Mark 16) and not the inspection of an empty tomb, placed Jesus in the realm of heaven,” writes Chilton.

The idea of Mary Magdalene having a visionary experience of the risen Lord does not really pan out, particularly in light of the many other eye witnesses to the resurrected Jesus. Paul Maire notes, “The ‘psychological’ or ‘hallucination’ theory would be attractive if only one person had claimed to see a vision of the risen Christ, perhaps Mary Magdalene, who formerly may have had psychological problems anyway. But the disciples were a hardheaded and hardly hallucinable group, especially Thomas. And, if sources have any validity, there would have to have collective hallucinations for different groups of up to five hundred in size, all of them seeing the same thing—a virtual impossibility in the case of a phenomenon that is usually extremely individualistic.”[1] (Please see, “Explaining Away Jesus’ Resurrection: HALLUCINATION The Recent Revival of Theories” by Gary Habermas.) Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study, please consider the following bookstore resources:

In The Fullness of Time
SB916/$23.00

Resurrection
B545/$14.00

The Resurrection of the Son of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God
B808/$31.99

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus
B890/$16.99

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ
B387/$12.99

Notes:

1. Paul L. Maier, In the Fullness of Time: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1997), 196.

Apologetics, In the News

Modern Medical Technologies, Abortion, and the Gendercide of Baby Girls

The Wall Street Journal bookshelf recently posted a review entitled “The War Against Girls,” wherein Jonathan V. Last offers chilling facts about the unequal ratio of aborted female babies over males worldwide, which is the general thesis of Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men (New York: Public Affairs, 2011) by Mara Hvistendahl. Whereas natural ratios in birth are 105 boys to 100 girls, with 104 to 106 being in the normal range, Hvistendahl observes certain countries fall out of the natural window. China, for example, has a ratio of 112 boys to 100 girls with some towns over the 150 mark; Azerbaijan is at 115, Georgia at 118, and Armenia at 120. Last notes, “Since the late 1970s, 163 million female babies have been aborted by parents seeking sons.”

Hvistendahl explains that the increased availability of new medical technologies (e.g. amniocentesis, MRI scanners, ultrasounds, etc.) has made it much easier for a person to know the sex of their child, and decide to abort on the basis of a preferred sex. Surprisingly, the decision to abort baby girls is made by women, either mothers or sometimes mothers-in-law. Socio-cultural-economic reasons also play into the decision—it is cheaper to pay for a sex test than a dowry. The unequal and unnatural ratio of more males to females, according to Hvistendahl, potentially leads to other social ills, such as increased crime, inflated dowry price, and even greater demands in the mail-order bride industry. Nevertheless, Hvistendahl remains pro-abortion, and fears unless the unnatural selection of female abortions is addressed the “worst nightmare” of feminism could come about—a ban on abortions on the basis of gendercide.

Why should Hvistendah see the ban on abortions the “worst nightmare”? If the ratios of aborted fetuses were more identical to what occurs naturally would that justify killing girls and boys inside the womb? Is not the pro-choice rhetoric resounding so vividly in the United States that abortion liberates women with full body autonomy the real farce? Is this really not a misunderstanding true human dignity? In this instance, medical technology and abortion become the means for people with a skewed sense of their own human dignity—namely the idea that it is more valuable to have a boy than a girl in this world—to essentially carryout the unnatural gendercide of baby girls. The real question is where can people rediscover their own human dignity? Is not the biblical teaching on the imago Dei (the image of God in humanity spoken of in Genesis 1:27) the foundation to the sanctity of human life, the equality of the sexes, and key to our understanding of human dignity?

— Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study, please access the following:

Annihilating Abortion Arguments

Suffer the Violinist: Why the Pro-Abortion Argument from Bodily Autonomy Fails

The Shifting Focus in the Abortion Debate: Does the Humanity of the Unborn Matter Anymore?

Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights (Part 1)

Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights (Part 2)

Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights (Part 3)

Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights (Part 4)

Also recommended is the following bookstore package:

Making Abortion Unthinkable: The Art of Pro-life Persuasion Audio CD Package
PK871/$29.95

Apologetics, Uncategorized

The Dangers of Tuning into Andrew Wommack

Andrew Wommack is a popular Bible teacher whose ministry is extended through radio, television, seminars, the Charis Bible College and various other extensions of the Andrew Wommack Ministries (AWM).[1] A close examination of Wommack’s teaching, however, clearly demonstrates he is doctrinally aberrant.[2]

The most controversial aspect of Wommack’s teaching is its incorporation of Word of Faith theology. As Word of Faith teachers twist Scripture to support the occult belief that faith is a force, words are containers of the force, and through faith-filled words we can speak things into reality, Wommack similarly takes Matthew 18:18 out of context as a proof text for his belief that “We can actually bind up the positive results of sowing and reaping in a godly person and loose the attacks of Satan against them by the words we speak (Prov. 18:21; Jas. 3:5-6, 9-10).”[3]

Just as Word of Faith teachers pitch various “give to get” cons as a means for devotees to obtain financial prosperity, Wommack likewise teaches, “Those who don’t give financially to the work of the gospel will not have God’s financial blessings in their personal lives. On the other hand, those who do give to the work of the Lord will have an abundant harvest of finances.”[4]

Word of Faith teachers tell us that all Christians must be in perfect health because healing is guaranteed in the atonement; likewise, Womack teaches, “It’s never God’s will for us to be sick; He wants every person healed every time (emphasis in original).[5] Moreover, he even makes radical statements like, “The Lord never told us to pray for the sick in the sense that we ask Him to heal them. He told us to heal the sick,” and “Jesus told us to heal the sick, not pray for the sick.”[6]

The binding and loosing mentioned in Matthew 18:18 is neither in reference to the power of words to create reality, nor the commanding of demons. Jesus’ point concerns church discipline. Here the “binding” and “loosening” terms “normally used for tying up or imprisoning versus freeing or releasing, provide a natural metaphor for condemning or acquitting in a court.”[7] Christ’s command is practically worked out when Christians demonstrate truth by condemning sin and confirming righteousness.

Although Christians are encouraged to financially support the ministries of the church they attend, there is nothing in Scripture that guarantees a financial return for our donations. Rather, the Bible sets forth the general principle that sowing seeds of unrighteousness will produce bad fruits, but sowing seeds of righteousness will produce good fruits (Gal. 6:7).

The Bible also teaches that sickness and death are the normal order of things in this life, but that those who have faith in Jesus Christ have the hope of being resurrected and glorified at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:42-58), and that believers will no longer experience sickness, suffering, and death (Rev. 21:1-4). Jesus never made any absurd prohibition against praying for the sick; however, James, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes, “Is anyone sick among you? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14, NASB).

Wommack’s view on private prayer languages is also controversial. Concerning 1 Corinthians 12:30, he writes, “Some people have used this verse to teach that speaking in tongues is not for every believer since the obvious answer to this question is no. However, this is speaking about the gift of speaking in tongues that operates in a church service. Not every believer will operate in that gift. But every believer (Mk. 16:17) who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit can speak in tongues in his own private prayer life.”[8]

There is good reason to believe in the perpetuity of spiritual gifts, and that the gift of tongues has not ceased with the closing of the canon; however, speaking in tongues is not normative. Scripture mentions a “prayer language,” which in a sense refers to speaking or praying in tongues (see 1 Cor. 14:14). Some identify this language with the Spirit’s “groanings” that the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 8:26 (NASB). It is unclear whether these “groanings” refer to words inexpressible in human language or to words unspoken, and Christians disagree whether tongues can be practiced privately as well as corporately. Those who believe that Scripture allows for the practice of tongues in private or personal devotion may refer to verses such as Romans 8:23, 26; 1 Cor. 14:4, 18-19, 28. Some believe that, based on 1 Corinthians 14:19, interpretations of tongues are unnecessary when spoken privately. Scripture, however, emphasizes that without an interpretation the “mind is unfruitful” (1 Cor. 14:13-14, NASB). It is also worth noting that Mark 16:17 is not found in earlier and more reliable New Testament manuscripts, so this passage is very shaky ground upon which to establish a teaching that all Christians speak in tongues. Moreover, the spectacular signs in Mark 16:17 were wonders associated with the Apostles but one need not presume they are to be normative for all believers (cf. Acts 1-28). Keep also in mind speaking in tongues is an issue Christians can debate but over which they must not divide.

Given Wommack’s blatant use of Word of Faith theology, we do not recommend his ministry.

For further study on related issues, we recommend accessing the following Web resources:

What’s Wrong with the “Word-Faith” Movement?

Christianity Still In Crisis: A Word of Faith Update

What’s Wrong With the Faith Movement (Part 1): E. W. Kenyon and the Twelve Apostles of Another Gospel

What’s Wrong With the Faith Movement (Part 2): The Teachings of Kenneth Copeland

Answering Questions about Televangelists

The Perpetuity of Spiritual Gifts

Scripture vs. the Spiritual Gifts?

We also recommend from our bookstore:

Christianity in Crisis 21st Century
B995/$22.99

Notes:

1. AWM, “About Us” (http://www.awmi.net/about_us), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

2. AWM., “Statement of Faith” (http://www.awmi.net/statement_of_faith), accessed Sept. 3, 2008. Cf. The Essentials of Christianity,” “CP0600 – Heresy and Aberration — What’s the Difference?” and “What Is a Cult?

3. AWM, “Matthew 18:18” (http://www.awmi.net/bible/mat_18_18), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

4. AWM, “Galatians 6:7” (http://www.awmi.net/bible/gal_06_07), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

5. AWM, “Faith For Healing Is Based On Knowledge” (http://www.awmi.net/extra/article/healing_knowledge), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

6. AWM, “Our Authority Releases God’s Power” (http://www.awmi.net/extra/article/authority_releases), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

7. Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 94.

8. AWM, “1 Corinthians 12:30” (http://www.awmi.net/bible/1co_12_30), accessed Sept. 3, 2008.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Engaging Skeptics

When is the last time you had a meaningful discussion with a skeptic? How many non-believers are you in conversation with on a regular basis?

It’s amazing to me how we often get so excited about learning apologetics that we forget to practice it! Pastor Dan Kimball wrote an article for my book Apologetics for a New Generation called, “A Different Kind of Apologist.” Dan describes how when he first became a Christian he became motivated to learn as much apologetics as possible. He went to apologetics conferences, studied books on defending the faith, and even started an apologetics club at his church.

As many people would put it today, Dan was “fired up” about his faith. But ironically, the more he learned apologetics the less he actually practiced it with non-believers. In other words, the more head knowledge he gained the less he actually used it. How ironic! Sadly, this happens all the time in the church, especially to apologists (of which I count myself).

We simply cannot let this happen. We need to step out of our comfort zones and engage a non-believing world. Recently I did just this. I actually invited myself to sit on the “hot seat” for a local freethinking group in southern California. I was definitely nervous, but it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I made some new friends, broke down some misconceptions, and had a chance to share my faith with 20 skeptics.

I was quite surprised at how eagerly they welcomed me. They were amazed that a Christian was willing to come to their group and they treated me with appreciation and respect. I can’t promise that it will always be like this. But we only know if we try. So, I leave with the question again—When is the last time you had a meaningful discussion with a skeptic? How many non-believers are you in conversation with on a regular basis?

Sean McDowell graduated summa cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary with a double Master’s degree in Philosophy and Theology. He teaches Bible at Capistrano Valley Christian Schools, is a nationally recognized speaker, and has authored many articles and books, including Is God Just and Human Invention, Apologetics for a New Generation, and Ethics: Being Bold in a Whatever World. This blog post is based on his article “What Skeptics Want Christians to Know” in the Volume 34, No. 3 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). To read the full article, please subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Sean McDowell joins host Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast on June 21, 2011 to discuss his article. Tune in at 6PM ET at our website, www.equip.org!

Apologetics, In the News

Can We Consider the Physician-Assisted Suicide of “Doctor Death” Jack Kevorkian a “Good Death”?

Jack KevorkianJack Kevorkian, who had been dubbed the moniker “Doctor Death” for his pro-euthanasia views and activism, died without assistance on June 3, 2011, at the age of 83. During the 1980s and 1990s, Kevorkian published articles on physician-assisted deaths; invented devices for suicide, such as the DIY Thanatron “death machine” and the Mercitron “mercy machine”; and even assisted 130 people to end their own lives. In 1998 he was tried and convicted for the “second-degree” murder of Thomas Youk, and imprisoned until his parole in 2007. In an article for Slate entitled, “Life after Kevorkian: He Fought for the Right to Assisted Suicide. Now What Should We do?” William Saletan praises Kevorkian as a person who “fought for the right to assisted suicide.” Yet not everyone would agree. Pointing out the dark side of Kervorkian’s career, in a blog for The Telegraph entitled, “Jack Kevorkian’s Horrible Career Offers a Warning Against Legalising Euthanasia,” Tim Stanley points to the facts that “some patients died in the back of Kevorkian’s van. The gassing procedure didn’t always go smoothly, leading to unnecessary suffering and panic. Dead bodies were left behind in motels, sometimes two at a time” and that “Kevorkian was not trained as a psychiatrist and made judgment calls about people’s mental state that were subjective.”

The issue of physician-assisted suicide is not dead. For example, euthanasia is explored in the popular television series House in an episode entitled “The Dig.” Dr. Remy Hadley “Thirteen” (Olivia Wilde), who suffers from Huntington’s chorea, shares about her own dark secret of euthanizing her own brother who had suffered from the same nerve-degenerating disease at a more advanced stage. Her greatest fear, however, is over the fact that when her time comes, there will be no one for her. After uncovering Thirteen’s secret, the brash nihilistic diagnostician Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) says that he would kill her when the time comes.

Is the idea of a “quality of life” a good way of determining whether or not a person can commit suicide? How does idea of “quality of life” square with the biblical teaching on the image of God in man, which implies humans have intrinsic worth and value in spite of their circumstances? How is the Christian to think about euthanasia?

Is euthanasia ever permissible?

Kevorkian: A Glimpse Into The Future Of Euthanasia?

The Euthanasia Debate (Part 1): Understanding the Issues

The Euthanasia Debate (Part 2): Assessing the Options

Did Early Christians “Lust After Death”? A New Wrinkle in the Doctor-Assisted Suicide Debate

— Warren Nozaki, Research

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Parenting and Apologetics

The recent brouhaha over Yale professor Amy Chua’s memoir regarding her “Tiger Mother” parenting approach has stirred the pot about the most effective parenting techniques like in this New York Time debate: Is Extreme Parenting Effective? The Christian community has also had its share of parenting debates: Scheduling infants? Or demand feeding?

Sometimes these differences come to our attention because there are theological concerns with parenting methods. Back in 1998 the Christian Research Journal published an article about a Christian parenting ministry called The Cultic Characteristics of Growing Families International. We also published a follow-up article response to that article. In 2003 we published another article concerned with extreme parenting methods called “Christian Families on the Edge: Authoritarianism and Isolationism Among Us.”

But CRI is also concerned with equipping parents to train their children to know what they believe. In 2009 author Chris Sherrod offered parents tips on why they needed to equip the next generation. Sherrod was correct when he stated: “First, we need a clear definition of what we’re looking for—do we want nice kids who don’t get in trouble, or passionate followers of Christ?”

–Melanie Cogdill, Managing Editor, Christian Research Journal

Apologetics, Journal Topics

The Gold Plates of Mormon

If there are two elements at the heart of Mormonism, they are Joseph Smith and the gold plates. The two are in many ways inseparable because Joseph Smith claimed he was told by an angelic visitor to retrieve this buried record at a specific time and to translate it. The result, of course, was the Book of Mormon, a record believed by Mormons to be an ancient scripture in which Joseph Smith claimed was the “most correct book on earth.” To many members of the LDS Church, the Book of Mormon validates Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet in these “latter days.” Yet it is this same book that has caused skeptics to draw the conclusion that Smith was nothing but a charlatan who merely took advantage of gullible followers.

While much of the critical emphasis is on the contents of the Book of Mormon, the lesser focus is on the plates that are allegedly the source of that book. If they actually existed, what were they made of, how heavy would they have been, and were they really seen by anyone? The problematic story as it has originally been told has led many Mormon historians and apologists to contrive explanations that are just as perplexing as the story itself. Do Mormon explanations solve the dilemma, or do they make the whole gold plates story even harder to believe?

Bill McKeever is the founder and president of Mormonism Research Ministry, a Christian ministry based in the Salt Lake City area of Utah. Bill is the author of four books, including In Their Own Words: A Collection of Mormon Quotations (Morris Publishing, 2010). His feature article, “Problems with the Gold Plates of the Book of Mormon” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). To read the full article, please subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

For Further Study CRI Recommends:

Book: Mormonism 101

CD Package: Mormonism’s Greatest Problems

Article: DNA Science Challenges LDS History

Article: Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine: Part One

Article: Pinning Down Mormon Doctrine: Part Two

Article: LDS Apologetics and the Battle for Mormon History

Apologetics, Journal Topics

The Historically Reliable Bible

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”—2 Timothy 3:16 NIV

To defend the Christian faith, we must be equipped to demonstrate that the Bible is divine rather than merely human in origin. When we can successfully accomplish this, we can answer a host of objections to the Christian faith by appealing to Scripture.

Toward that end, archaeology is a powerful witness to the accuracy of the Scriptures. Over and over, comprehensive archaeological field work since the mid-nineteenth century, coupled with careful biblical interpretation, affirm the reliability of the Bible down to minute details; and skeptics who challenge Scripture are silenced as myriad discoveries point to the accuracy of the biblical accounts. Take, for example, the skeptics’ claim that Jesus was not nailed to the cross but was tied according to the Roman custom. In 1999, archaeologists discovered the skeletal remains of a young man in his early 20s who was crucified in the first century. His remains attest to a death by crucifixion precisely as described in the Bible: his bones tell the story of open arms that had been nailed to a crossbar, and a large single nail had been driven through both heels. That nail was still lodged in the heel bone of one foot, though the executioners had removed the body from the cross after death. Moreover, the shin bones seemed to have been broken, corroborating what the Gospel of John suggests was normal practice in Roman crucifixions.

Here’s another example. The Old Testament references the Hittites as one of seven Canaanite nations. In fact, Uriah the Hittite is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:39 and is one of King David’s warriors (who is later killed in battle). Yet, prior to the early twentieth century, skeptics said the Hittites were pure mythology. Thus, many were surprised in 1906 when archaeologists unearthed the ruins of Hattutsas in Turkey, the chief city of the ancient Hittites, confirming the biblical references. Or consider the Assyrians who, like the Hittites, were also thought to be a mythological people group. In the nineteenth century, the capital city was unearthed on the plains of Northern Iraq, including the palace of Sargon, the Assyrian King mentioned in Isaiah 20:1. The list of archaeological discoveries that confirm the biblical record goes on and on.

Furthermore, the reliability of the Bible is affirmed repeatedly by the eyewitness testimony of its authors—or close associates of eyewitnesses—to the recorded events (see Luke 1:1-4; 1 Corinthians 15:3—8; 1 John 1:1-3). Additionally, ancient Jewish and secular historians, such as Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius, also confirm the many events, people, places, and customs chronicled in Scripture.

It is important to note, finally, that while archeological and historical evidences can remove doubts about the factual accuracy of the Bible, the spiritual message of our sin, humanity’s need for redemption, and a loving Creator who interacts in the affairs of humans, providing salvation, must be received by faith. Indeed, as the apostle Paul declared, “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9 NIV).

Hank Hanegraaff

Apologetics, Journal Topics

A Christian View of Human Nature

Consider the following situation. You meet someone: born on the wrong side of the tracks, raised in an abusive home, surrounded by cynical and unbelieving friends who scoff at the Christian faith. If God works miraculously and he comes to faith in Christ, how free is he to really progress in the Christian faith? Should occasions when he falls back into sin be seen as inevitable, given all the influences in his life, or actions for which he is fully responsible? Consider a contrasting situation. You meet someone who believes we are free to be whatever we want to be. Though born a male, this person wants to be female and decides to have a sex change operation as an expression of her freedom to be whatever she wants to be. Are there hard limits to the freedom we have? I will argue (in my article in the current issue of the Christian Research Journal) that a Christian view of human nature sees humans as neither completely free nor totally determined. We have enough freedom to be responsible for our actions, but our freedom is limited by or created nature, and we are influenced by the fallen, dysfunctional world in which we are born, raised, and live.

Which way is our culture heading? Do you see more emphasis on humans being free to become whatever they want to be, or the growth of ideologies claiming that our freedom is illusory and that we are determined by forces outside our control? What evidence could you cite to support your answer? How do we hold others responsible for their choices without overlooking the powerful influences family background, genetic inheritance, and environment exert upon us? What are the hard limits our created nature imposes on us? Is gender fixed at birth? Is physical mortality something we should aspire to?

John S. Hammett, Ph.D., has been a pastor, missionary, and professor of theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, since 1995. He is author of a number of books and articles, including “Human Nature,” in A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel Akin (Nashville: B and H Academic, 2007). His cover article in which this post is based appears in the Volume 34, No. 2 issue of the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). Or give a gift subscription. Tune-into the Bible Answer Man broadcast on April 19 when Hank discusses this article with its author.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Just War Theory

The recent U.S. military action in Libya brings the issue of a biblical view of war to the forefront again. In 1996 a Christian Research Journal feature considered Just War Theory and the necessity of warfare. What are the biblical principles of Just War Theory? How do we decide when military action is or is not warranted?

–Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor