Journal Topics

Seventh-day Adventists and the Sabbath

Think you’re ready to engage Seventh-day Adventists on the question of Sabbath observance? Be careful you don’t step into a minefield.

Before arguing about the Sabbath, Evangelicals should first clarify the nature of the Mosaic Law and its relationship to Christians today. At issue are fundamental questions about the scope of the law, its purpose in the new covenant, and whether we can distinguish between those aspects that are morally binding (eternal) and those that are not. Adventists have persuasive answers to these questions. Indeed, my own thesis is that evangelicals who contend for the continuity of the Mosaic Law in whole or in part and, at the same time, argue for the discontinuity of the Sabbath command, lack biblical support and face an almost intractable consistency problem. Conversely, evangelicals who argue for discontinuity—namely, that within the context of salvation history, the entire Mosaic Law is fulfilled in Christ and thus has no direct claim on the believer—provide a biblically sound foundation for addressing the Sabbath question.

If the Mosaic Law remains binding for New Testament believers, what pressing question must evangelicals face head-on? What view of the Mosaic Law gives evangelicals the best foundation for addressing the Sabbath question? Why?

Scott Klusendorf is president of Life Training Institute and holds an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola University. His feature 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.

Journal Topics, Reviews

The Adjustment Bureau

Adjustment BureauLast weekend I went to see the new Matt Damon and Emily Blunt film, a romantic thriller called The Adjustment Bureau (PG-13*). Loosely based on a 1954 short story by Philip K. Dick called the “Adjustment Team,” the film’s themes center around “God,” free will and determinism. The film causes viewers to wonder does God exist and if so, does He change His mind? Do human beings have free will? Is there a plan for human lives that has already been pre-determined by God before we were born? Do we have guardian angels watching over and affecting our lives? And can human choices change the mind of God?

Even though director and screenwriter George Nolfi had no intention of making a movie with explicitly religious or Christian themes, he nevertheless raises the age-old question of do we truly have free will?

In the upcoming Volume 34 No. 3 issue of the Christian Research Journal, contributing writer Brian Godawa will offer his take in a review of the film and its themes. You won’t want to miss Godawa’s analysis so please subscribe to the Christian Research Journal (a 6-issue subscription is $39.50). Or give a gift subscription.

Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor, Christian Research Journal

For further study we recommend:

Book: Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment

Review: God of the Possible

Article: Neotheism: The Dangers of Making God in Our Image

Book: God Under Fire

Book: Their God Is Too Small: Open Theism and the Undermining of Confidence in God

* Film contains strong language, an implied premarital sex scene, female lead in short skirt/plunging neckline dresses.

Apologetics, Journal Topics, Reviews

Review: On Guard by William Lane Craig

On Guard by William Lane CraigOn Guard is a fencing term. It’s also the title of a book written by Dr. William Lane Craig, with the subtitle of “Defending your Faith with Reason and Precision.” He attempts to show the skeptics/atheists that their position needs to be supported with evidence and not mere rhetoric.

I found this quote on page 41 to be very interesting: “If God does not exist, then life is objectively meaningless; but man cannot live consistently and happily knowing that life is meaningless; so in order to be happy he pretends life has meaning. But this is, of course, entirely inconsistent—for without God, man and the universe are without any real significance.” I agree with the statement. Yet many atheists I’ve encountered think they aren’t missing anything in life. In many ways, they think my life is a model for dullness and despair. I wonder, is there an effective approach that could best be utilized to illustrate how their lives are truly based on insignificance?

Eric Johnson is a researcher with Mormonism Research Ministry and coauthor of Mormonism 101(Baker, 2000). He is also an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (Holman, 2010).

His review of On Guard 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). Or give a gift subscription.

For Further Reading We Recommend:

On Guard

Apologetics, In the News, Journal Topics

Gay Groups and Evangelical Colleges

A recent online article from Christian Century reports that at some Evangelical Colleges, acceptance of gay groups is growing perhaps due to the efforts of the gay activist group Soulforce. In 2009, the Christian Research Journal published an in-depth article on Soulforce by Joe Dallas. As Dallas writes, “But an error Christians often make when dealing with homosexual activists is to overindulge their desire for us to hear their concerns, while offering none of our own.”

Do you think acceptance of gay groups on Evangelical college campuses is inevitable? How can Christians dialog with groups and maintain fidelity to biblical truth? Should we be in dialog with these groups?

—Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor

Recommended Resources on Homosexuality:

Desires in Conflict
The Gay Gospel?: How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread The Bible
The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible’s Message About Homosexuality

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Mormonism and Christianity

This week The Washington Post published two articles in its On Faith blog musing on Mormonism and Christianity and politics. Will Mormonism impact the 2012 presidential election? One post gives a Christian case for Mormon values. The other post gives a case of Mormons and Christians as political “blood brothers.” Even in our own CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, contributing writer, Francis J. Beckwith, wrote an op-ed in 2007 called, “Is It Permissible for a Christian to Vote for a Mormon?”

But is Mormonism Christian? The answer is a firm and resounding no. CRI has published in-depth research on Mormonism since the inception of our ministry 51 years ago. You can search this website for many free articles on Mormonism. In a succinct YouTube video, Elliot Miller, editor-in-chief, gives just two distinctions that demonstrate Mormonism is not Christian. As Elliot says, “Mormonism is Mormonism.”

Melanie M. Cogdill, Managing Editor

For more CRI resources on Mormonism we recommend:

Mormonism 101
Speaking the Truth in Love to Mormons
The Lost Book of Abraham

Journal Topics

Stephen Hawking on Science and God

Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, in their latest book The Grand Design, claim that science has now progressed to where it can explain everything, even including “The Big Bang” by which the universe was created.  Thus there is no longer need for a Creator God to explain the existence of the universe.  Even before the book was released this past September, these claims generated instant worldwide controversy and a rush to judgment.

My article, featured in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal, attempts to take a different approach.  Although I strongly believe in the Creator as the cause and reason behind the existence of the universe, I believe a book by someone of Hawking’s stature deserves careful study before forming judgments.

I find The Grand Design, as a book on the progression of scientific thought written by two eminent scientists, to be exceptionally informative and worthwhile reading.  It describes the progression of scientific thinking from Aristotle to quantum physics, and how it may eventually result in a unified theory explaining the behavior of everything from subatomic particles to celestial bodies.

But where the authors go too far, I believe, is in claiming that the origin of the universe was governed by principles of modern science.  They observe that in the first tiny slice of time in its existence, the universe was particle of subatomic size.  And since the behavior of subatomic particles is governed by quantum physics, it follows that the birth of the universe was governed by quantum physics.  Thus we no longer need a Creator to understand the universe’s origin.

In rebuttal, I contend that although the universe was a tiny particle for a tiny instant, the universe in that first tiny instant was actually in extremely rapid transition from absolute nothingness to something immeasurably huge, still expanding 13.7 billon years later.  Rather than being governed by laws of quantum physics, I think it is far more likely that the Big Bang was an utterly unique event, one not “governed” by any “laws” other than those known to the Supreme Maker.

What is YOUR view on “science versus religion”?  Will science eventually be able to explain everything?  Or is God the cause and reason behind the creation, and science a significant means by which we discover the mysteries He wrought?  If such questions intrigue you, I think you’ll find this article very worthwhile. 

A Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics, Stephen Howe retired from his career in Aeronautical Engineering in 2006, and has since been engaged in full-time independent studies and writing in Christian theology.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Making Sense of a gracious God within the Old Testament drama

Is God a Moral Monster?Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011)

The Old Testament (OT) at points can be extremely difficult to understand. Complicating matters are remarks made by popular Neo-Atheists like Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris criticizing the OT God as a jealous, angry deity who supports heinous acts like genocide, human sacrifice, ethnocentrism, chattel slavery, and misogyny. Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God offers a well-written lay level response to these criticisms, demonstrating how the redemptive movement of God in Israel’s history puts the proper perspective on difficult OT passages, such as those relating to ceremonial cleanliness, kosher foods, cruel punishment, misogyny, bride-price, polygamy, concubines, slavery, and Canaanite killings.

Copan observes that not only are social aspects of Ancient Near East life alien to moderns, but the ancient social structures were badly damaged by the fall. It is within this context God starts a covenant nation, gives the law, and forms a culture. The OT law, however, was not the permanent ideal for all times and places, but looked forward to “a new, enduring covenant” (59). God met His chosen people where they were at, showed them a higher ideal, but “didn’t impose legislation that Israel wasn’t ready for” but “moved incrementally” (61, italics in original). The Ancient Near East cultures permitted slavery and the brutal treatment of slaves. The OT law permitted slavery but limited the kinds of punishments used on slaves. The New Testament declared masters and slaves as equal, but the ultimate ideal is the “genuine realization of creation ideals in Genesis 1:26-27, in which God’s image-bearers live and work together and are fairly, graciously treated; they are viewed as full persons and equals; and genuine humanness is restored in Christ, the second Adam/the new man” (63).

Old Testament heroes were flawed. Abraham lied about Sarah, Moses murdered an Egyptian, and David power raped Bathsheba and murdered Uriah; however, Copan points out that one must avoid the “Is-Ought” fallacy, and “the way biblical characters happen to act isn’t necessarily an endorsement of their behavior.” The status placed on these OT heroes was not their moral perfection, but their uncompromising dedication to the cause of Yahweh, and trust in His promises (66-67).

Copan spends several chapters addressing the New Atheist criticism that the killing of the Canaanites is tantamount to genocide and ethnic cleansing. Militating against the charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing are the facts that God waited 430 years to judge the Canaanites as “the last resort” when their corrupting moral practices reached their lowest depths (159-160), that God’s command to destroy nations was never meant to be a “universally binding standard for all time and all cultures” (161), that Israel experienced divine judgment when she sinned (163), that Joshua’s use of Ancient Near East conventional warfare language, a form of exaggeration, precludes the literalness of statements about complete annihilation of a particular people group (170-173), that some Canaanites who responded positively to the God of Israel received mercy (175), that noncombatant Canaanites live outside cities like Jericho and Ai, which were government/military installations (176), and that Deuteronomy 20 indicates Canaanite cities could have made peace with Israel (180). The OT was not the ideal, but was part of a redemptive movement to the ideal, which is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Copan lastly points out that Neo-Atheists can recognize morals and to a certain extent live by a moral code; however, they have not the philosophical foundations to explain why they are rights-bearing, valuable individuals (210-211). People have dignity and intrinsic knowledge of morality because they are created in God’s image, which is a better explanation why moral absolutes exist.

Is Yahweh the moral monster the New Atheists paint him out to be? According to the evidence, nothing could be further from the truth! What are your thoughts?

Journal Topics

Making friends in Utah a different experience

I live in Utah. That’s not earth-shattering news for several million people who live in a state most known for its skiing and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of which 70% of all residents are members. Yet there are a number of cultural differences between living here and the other 49 states.

For one, they celebrate July 3 and October 30 when the actual holiday lands on a Sunday. It was unique to have a busy July 3rd this year, complete with a parade down our street, two picnics, and fireworks going off everywhere. July 4th was just a quiet Sunday, and unless you looked at the calendar, you would have never known this was the actual holiday.

Speaking of Sundays, many stores are closed. Great deals at restaurants and entertainment venues can be had around town on Monday nights because it’s typically the day Mormon families gather together for “Family Home Evening.” And instead of hearing cursing everywhere you go, “heck” is the typical four-letter word they use to show exclaim.

As far as our neighborhood, most neighbors have been very friendly, including my next door neighbor who has gone out of his way on a number of occasions. For example, when we realized that our swamp cooler wasn’t working, he took it upon himself to come to our rescue. Together he and I inspected the unit that is on top of our roof and discovered that a new motor and pads were in order. Three hours and two trips to Home Depot later, it was now possible to make our house cool. “No problem,” was his aw-shucks response. Lately, whenever there has been a heavy snow the previous night, he lets me borrow his snow blower. I feel that I could ask him for anything and he would oblige.

In December, he came over, excited to tell me about how his local LDS congregation was joining hands with a Methodist church to perform a Christmas musical program. Although I do not think it’s biblical to join together in worship services with Mormons, I could see that this event meant a lot to him. Besides, his wife was in the production. Afterwards, he told me how much he appreciated my effort to come.

The term “friendshipping” was coined by Mormons as an evangelistic tool. Show them by our love, is the idea, and perhaps the recipients of the friendly efforts may want to join “the Church.” I’m not saying that this is what my neighbor and his wife are officially doing. To the contrary, they honestly seem to want to be friendly for friendship’s sake and not because they see my family and me as a conversion project. Yet I know that friendshipping has been greatly encouraged by LDS leaders as a way to bring people into Mormonism—just watch the LDS-produced movie Mobsters and Mormons.

Which brings me to the question: Is this idea of “friendshipping” wrong? In other words, is the desire to want somebody to have a relationship with God allowed as part of a legitimate motive for pursuing a friendship? This is a tricky one, especially for those of us who believe evangelism is more than just being a good neighbor.

-Eric Johnson

Eric Johnson lives in Utah and works full-time with Mormonism Research Ministry. He also teaches college classes and is an associate editor for the Apologetics Study Bible for Students (Holman, 2010). He has written an in-depth article on Mormon Friendshipping for the current issue of the Christian Research Journal. Read his full article by subscribing at www.equip.org. Eric will also be on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in Jan. 2011 to discuss this topic with Hank.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Why Atheists Object to Killing the Canaanites

Killing the Canaanites: Was it Biblical?

Atheists grouse about God’s ordering of the destruction of the Canaanites calling it “divine genocide.” But, it wasn’t genocide, it was capital punishment, which I try to show in the latest issue of the Christian Research Journal. In Lev. 18 the Lord details Canaanite sin: incest, adultery, offering children to Molech, homosexuality, and bestiality; and, throughout the Old Testament, God made it clear that anyone who did any of these things should be put to death (of course, that’s a theocracy—now Christians fight in the realm of ideas and in prayer).
Shock-and-awe! The atheist is repulsed by this answer. Why? There are three major reasons. First, most of today’s “enlightened” thinkers, or “brights” (as some atheists like to be called), don’t regard anything as deserving capital punishment—usually, not even for murder. So, obviously, if capital punishment is itself always wrong, then surely God was wrong to order it.
Second, even if the atheist did think capital punishment appropriate for some crimes, it certainly wouldn’t be warranted for committing consensual sexual acts. After all, even if the atheist finds, say, sex with animals personally repugnant, that doesn’t mean that they don’t approve those so inclined. For example, atheist/ethicist Peter Singer wrote that sex with animals is not “an offence to our status and dignity as human beings.” And it’s not just Singer. Consider the 2008 movie Sleeping Dogs Lie where a woman tells her fiancé about once having sex with her dog only to have her fiancé break off the engagement. Peter Travers in Rolling Stone wrote that Sleeping Dogs Lie “possesses a quick wit and an endearing tenderness toward Amy as honesty wrecks her life. It’s sweet, doggone it.” Notice for Travers it wasn’t sex with a dog that ruined Amy’s life, but honesty.
Third, even if atheists were to think that some offenses did deserve capital punishment and even if the things enumerated in Lev. 18 did warrant that punishment, the atheist would still complain that some innocents must also have been killed. But how would the atheist know this? After all, if the God of the Bible really does exist then He does know everything which includes knowing who is guilty and who would or would not repent. This was exactly the point of Abraham’s lengthy dialog with the Lord in Genesis 18 regarding the coming destruction of two Canaanite cities—Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord said He would spare both cities if even ten righteous people were found. But not only could ten righteous not be found, the angels had to all but drag Lot and his family out of the city.
Still, atheists will intuit that what God ordered was all very wrong. And that’s all it is: atheist intuition. But the Christian’s task is to proclaim God’s truth and not be surprised that the atheist hates it. After all, Jesus said that the reason the world hated Him was because “I testify that what it does is evil.”
Clay Jones is an Assistant Professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University. You can read more about Clay by visiting www.clayjones.net.
Journal Topics

What is yoga?

Since Swami Vivekananda first introduced yoga to the West more than a hundred years ago, yoga has become as American as apple pie. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world. Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

As noted by New Age expert Elliot Miller, “Yoga is rapidly becoming integrated into such traditionally secular institutions as public education, health care, and the workplace. It has been widely embraced by Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, and over the past several years a Christian yoga movement has been thriving among evangelicals.”

-excerpted from Hank Hanegraaff’s Complete Bible Answer Book

While yoga has become increasingly popular even in the church, can it truly be compatible with Christianity? Rajiv Malhotra, the founder of the Infinity Foundation, says NO.