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.

Journal Topics

What are the dangers of virtual church?

I was on a program on the BBC about a year and a half ago where one of the founders of something called Saint Pixels was holding forth, and Saint Pixels is a virtual church. You take on a character called an avatar and you go into a virtual church space and worship, pray, sing etc. My point was how could you possibly do that when you’re not truly there? Moreover, how do we know people are being honest, when they’re taking on a character, they’re taking on a persona? And this person assured me that people were very authentic and very genuine and I said how could you ever really know that unless you knew the person outside of the virtual world? We believe that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. God believes in the goodness of matter. He created it. And the Word took on human form. We know that from John 1. He was full of grace and truth. And you think of the activities of the church in terms of things like the right hand of fellowship, or baptism, or passing the peace, and so on. These are embodied activities where we are with people and we don’t want to try to simulate that. Whatever that is, it’s not the same as real koinonia or real worship that we read about in the New Testament.

-Provided by Douglas Groothuis, professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary

Journal Topics

Injunction Funding for Stem Cell Research by Bob Perry

On Monday August 23, 2010, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. pronounced an injunction on the use of federal funding for embryo destructive stem cell research. The New York Times’ (for one example) reaction to the announcement was one of stunned indignation:

“The ruling came as a shock to scientists at the National Institutes of Health and at universities across the country, which had viewed the Obama administration’s new policy and the grants provided under it as settled law.”

What the Times failed to note in its story was that Judge Lamberth was not the first federal official to strike a legal blow against President Barack Obama’s stem cell policy and thereby block federal funding of embryo destructive stem cell research. The first such move actually occurred on March 11, 2009. That move was made by … President Barack Obama.

The fact is that Judge Lamberth’s ruling is perfectly consistent with the law. While the administration, with great public fanfare, claimed to have “lifted the ban” on ESCR with his March 9, 2009 Executive Order (EO), Mr. Obama quietly overrode his own EO just two days later when he re-signed (as has every president since 1996) the Dickey-Wicker Amendment to a federal appropriations bill. This amendment bans public funding of research that destroys human embryos. Mr. Obama signed it. He didn’t call a big press conference to herald the occasion because doing so would not fit the narrative he is trying to sell about his forward looking faith in comparison to the Luddites who oppose ESCR.

The dirty little secret here is that the stem cell research EO Mr. Obama and those in his administration have called “policy” and referred to as “settled law” is a hollow document that carries no legal force. His signing of the Dickey-Wicker Amendment into law is binding and the unquestionable basis on which Judge Lamberth rendered his decision.

The reality of that fact is something pro-lifers need to soak in. Though it is becoming a fading memory, it serves to remind us of another EO Mr. Obama issued during the health care debate. In exchange for the votes of so-called “pro-life Democrats,” Mr. Obama issued an EO proclaiming there would be no federal funding of abortion in the health care bill. They bought it. He signed it. And now we are left with an EO on abortion that contains the same amount of legal power we find in his EO on stem cell research.

None.

Journal Topics

Pixar and the Parables of Christ by Robert Velarde

What do Pixar movies and the parables of Christ have in common? Before answering the question, a little background information is in order. 

Pixar LogoPixar Animation Studios has produced eleven feature films to date, each one of them a tremendous success with fans, critics, and at the box office. Unless you’ve been living in a pop culture-free zone, you’re more than likely familiar with films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, and Up, to mention just some of Pixar’s movies. 

Not only are Pixar films amazing technical achievements, impressing viewers with high quality computer generated imagery, they also offer an almost countercultural hope that contrasts with many darker films. This doesn’t mean, though, that Pixar ignores the big issues and questions of life. Their most recent film, for instance, Toy Story 3 grapples with loyalty, dealing with change, courage, facing mortality, and more, while their 2009 film Up explores deep questions about life, death, and grief. 

As I state in my recent book The Wisdom of Pixar and my Christian Research Journal article on the same topic, Pixar films also offer insights into wisdom and virtue. Whether intentional or not, Pixar movies often include themes that resonate strongly with classic Christian virtues such as hope, love, justice, and courage. These virtues connect with us because they are woven within the very fabric of our God-given moral nature. 

But Pixar movies would not be successful if they did not contain great storytelling. That’s why Pixar spends a lot of time developing story, characters, and the worlds their films take place in. Although the public anticipates a new Pixar film nearly every year, these films have often been in development for as much as 4 or 5 years, with Pixar employees spending a good deal of time developing the story, characters, and setting. 

Now to the comparison with the parables of Christ. We sometimes forget that Jesus hadUp, from Pixar Animation Studios a powerful and effective way of communicating. He didn’t give dry lectures or preach ethics out of a textbook. Instead, he often turned to storytelling. We call these New Testament stories parables—relatively simple stories that communicate a moral message. These stories contain compelling characters who often find themselves in unique situations. We remember parables such as the ones featuring the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son because of the power of story that runs through them. Story, it seems, is one of God’s most powerful ways of reaching us, emotionally and intellectually. 

Pixar is not a church and it’s not preaching at us through its films, but that doesn’t mean we can’t glean some powerful insights from their stories. Like the parables of Christ, Pixar movies can leave vivid images and ideas with us, if we’ll take the time to ponder them and, more importantly, apply those virtuous insights practically to our lives.

Journal Topics

Welcome to the Christian Research Institute Blog!

Welcome to the new Christian Research Institute blog. This blog not only seeks to equip you but to start a conversation among CRI constituents, CRI staff members and all people interested in discussing why truth matters. We will be posting short pieces by President Hank Hanegraaff, CRI staff, Christian Research Journal contributors and others. We want to hear from you. What apologetics subjects would you like to see posts on or have discussions about? As always, we welcome your feedback.