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?

Reviews

Believe in the Evidence for God

Evidence for God

Today’s Christian students can be certain of enrolling in at least one course in college with an atheistic professor whose goal is for them to give up their faith by the semester’s end. They will be slammed with arguments against the existence of God, the historicity of Jesus, and the reliability of the Bible. They would be called to embrace the dogma of Darwinian Evolution, or be vilified as “bigots” or “fundamentalists.” Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible History, Philosophy, and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2010) is a resource for the Christian student to give an answer for their faith (1 Pet. 3:15).

What is helpful about Evidence for God is it offers responses that are concise and straight to the point. One does not have to wade through extended discussions but can easily get the essential core of the issue being discussed. Since the book is divided into four sections: The Question of philosophy, The Question of Science, The Question of Jesus, and The Question of the Bible, users can easily find information they seek.

David Wood in his chapter on the explanatory power of theism and atheism puts things into perspective in stating: “If atheists expect theists to take the denial of theism seriously, they must offer a hypothesis at least as powerful as theism. Yet atheism can’t explain even the most basic facts about the world” (46). Not only does Atheism fail to offer reason to abandon Christian belief in Christ and the reliability of the Bible, but it also is unable to offer explanations for the origin of the universe, the fine tuning earth for life, the origin, diversity, and complexity of life, human consciousness, and objective moral values.

One of the specific challenges for the Christian church is to have their students grounded and equipped to meet the spiritual challenges in colleges and universities. In many instances, Christian students entering into college are unprepared for this spiritual battle. In what ways can the body of Christ help equip students to stand for truth? What advice would you give to a student or a senior high school youth leader?

— CRI Research Staff

For more information about Evidence for God, click HERE.

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.

Reviews

Burning Down the Shack- Review by Warren Nozaki

Burning Down “The Shack:”
How the “Christian” Bestseller is Deceiving Millions
(NY: WordNetDaily, 2010)
James B. De Young

William Paul Young’s self-published novel The Shack (Newbury Park, CA: Windblown Media, 2007) grabbed the attention of the masses, and became a “#1 New York Times Bestseller.” The story’s about a fellow named Mackenzie Allen Philips (Mack), who comes to grips with his “great sadness” as the result of a peculiar meeting with God inside a shack located in the Oregon wilderness. The book narrative conveys Young’s theodicy on the tension between God’s goodness and the existence of evil. Many Christians were impressed with Young’s story. Eugene Peterson, for example, declared, “This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress did for his.” Other Christians rightly raised concerns about the book’s theology. One notable critique is Burning Down “The Shack” (NY: WorldNetDaily, 2010) by James B. De Young.

What sets Burning Down “The Shack” apart from the rest is the fact that James De Young and William Paul Young are well acquainted with one another. In fact, together they co-founded a Portland, Oregon based Christian think tank in 1997 called the M3 Forum (p. xiii). Burning Down “The Shack” thus offers an assessment from a capable Christian thinker with unique insights into the heart and mind of The Shack creator.

De Young’s book confirms the same theological problems others have observed. Namely, The Shack errs in personifying the Trinity as a Black female housekeeper, a big nosed Jewish man, and a mysterious Asian woman (13–22). It errs in depicting Papa (the first person of the Trinity) with crucifixion scars, implying the Father suffered on the cross (patripassianism), which is a way modalism distorts the distinctions of the persons in the Godhead (25–28). It errs again in suggesting the incarnate Christ never drew upon his divine nature to do anything (22–25). It errs, moreover, in its teaching on the salvation of sinners (135–139). It is on this last point that De Young’s close association with Young proves most valuable.

In April of 2004 Young presented the M3 Forum a 103-page single-spaced paper on his embracement of universal reconciliation, which is a form of universalism that holds all must come to God through Jesus Christ either before or after they die (xiv). Two years later, while still holding this heresy, he completed the manuscript for The Shack. Young’s friends saw potential in the story and encouraged him to have it published, but since they opposed the universalism embedded in it, they spent a little over a year trying to remove it. When the manuscript was rejected by mainline Christian publishers, Young started Windblown Media to distribute the book (xviii–xix). De Young notes, “in 2008, [Young] claimed that he has moved away from this position by stating that he does not want to be pinned down, that he is a person in flux, that he is not ‘a universalist,’” but maintains that “many of the beliefs of universal reconciliation remain in the novel” (xx).

De Young offers clarity to statements in The Shack suggesting universalism. For example, when the Jesus of The Shack says, “Those who love me come from every system that exists. They were Buddhists or Mormons, Baptists or Muslims…I have no desire to make them Christian, but I do want to join them in their transformation into sons and daughters of my Papa,” and “I’ll travel any road to find you,” Young can still honestly say The Shack does not teach universalism—that is, universalism in the form of religious pluralism, albeit not universal reconciliation. De Young observes, therefore, that these statements “may reflect universalism’s teaching that Jesus may even go a thousand times to hell to bring out the wicked who repent there” (139). When The Shack was written, Young did not believe all religions would lead to heaven (religious pluralism); rather, he believed Jesus Christ would eventually save everyone, even souls already in hell (universal reconciliation). Universal reconciliation, therefore, is another form of universalism.

Storytelling is a powerful medium of communication, and Young’s book capitalizes on this principle. So when The Shack portrays God as saying, “I am not who you think I am,” one must understand, “Young is seeking to have Mack (and all readers of The Shack) question his understanding of God, to ‘change the way we think about God forever’” (57). However, Young ultimately “skates along the edge of the precipice of heresy but denies that he is indulging in it” (145). Since there are many Christian readers who have read or plan to read The Shack, my challenge would be for readers of The Shack to also interact with Burning Down “The Shack, which offers helpful insights into the ideas being communicated.

— Warren Nozaki

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

Apologetics

What are some practical principles for using social media?

I think we need to be as reflective as possible. It’s easy to simply to jump into social media and become immersed in it and not really understand what’s going on. And my basic principle is every communications medium has strengths and has weaknesses. Basically the medium is the message. Every medium shapes the content, and it encourages some things and discourages other things. So, for example, something like Facebook encourages and facilitates rapid and widespread communication, which can certainly have its benefits. Let’s say you have an emergency prayer request and its something that is safe to put out there in that kind of a setting. You might have people all over the world praying for this particular situation and would be more difficult to get the word out otherwise. But, on the other hand, things like Facebook and Myspace, although that’s declining in influence, have dangers, and part of that is what your are saying, overexposure, not being careful, not exercising confidentiality, there’s the danger of gossip, rumors, and so on, and also the general tendency to simply be very superficial and very quick to speak. Scripture says not to be quick to speak, but to be quick to listen, and slow to judge. And the Book of Proverbs repeatedly says that a wise man or a wise woman holds his or her peace but a fool proclaims his folly, and its very easy for people to be foolish on Facebook and all of a sudden all of your friends know the foolish thing you’ve just put up there and it may not be glorifying God at all.

~Contributed by Douglas Groothuis, professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary

Uncategorized

Why Do We Need a Bible Answer Man or a Christian Research Institute Today?

Why do we need a Bible Answer Man broadcast or even a Christian Research Institute today? Can we not just be spiritual people without getting bogged down by religion? Well, does truth matter? Yes it does. Life’s ultimate quest is more than just some subjective feel good experience, or existential bliss. What we ultimately believe determines how we live. If what we believe corresponds to what is ultimately true, then we can live a robust life. If what we believe does not correspond to what is ultimately true but rather to some faulty idea of reality, the consequences can be devastating. The Bible Answer Man broadcast and the Christian Research Institute strive to equip Christians to know what they believe and why they believe it because Truth matters.

Each day this week on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, Hank will be discussing some of the most important issues related to Christian apologetics, including the orgins of life, the resurrection, the divine origin of the Bible, prayer, and spiritual warfare. Elliot Miller, who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal, will also be Hank’s guest at the end of the week.

The issues that will be discussed are befitting for times like these. Postmodern relativism with its denial of absolute truth, its all embracive acceptance of all belief systems, and vilification of anyone who makes a claim to absolute truth has become a stumbling block for many both outside and inside the walls of the church. Skepticism also continues to challenge the faith, like Stephen Hawking’s irrational notion of that “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” Popular culture also takes shots at Christianity, like Bill Maher who in his motion picture Religulous, writes off the account of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection as mythology—a mythological fairy tale copied from ancient pagan mystery religions concerning dying and rising gods. Blaise Pascal captures the spirit of the age in saying, “Truth is so obscure in our day and lies so well established that unless we love the truth we shall never recognize it.”

Christian apologetics is more than just a cerebral exercise of getting a bunch of cold data that can be labeled, categorized, and organized into a system of beliefs that has nothing substantial to offer for practical living. One of the points that Hank has stressed on the Bible Answer Man broadcast and in the resources offered through the Christian Research Institute is that the Bible has been the soul of Western society. All that the ancient world had gained from Greek philosophy was not enough to serve the common good. The world remained divided by race, slaves remained in shackles, and women were denied their dignity. It is only through the divine revelation of Holy Scripture and the transformative power of God’s Spirit that we have come to know the truth: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28, NIV). These words of Paul along with the rest of Scripture offered revolutionary ideas that shaped and benefited the Western world—such things as representative government, hospitals, public education, liberation of women, emancipation of slaves, and art and science. Should society embrace secularism, and reject the Bible as its divinely inspired source of truth, then it shall be severed from the very source of its greatness.

The Bible Answer Man along with a multitude of other apologetic resources offered through the Christian Research Institute, such as the Christian Research Journal, the Equip newsletter, podcasts, YouTube videos, the Web site, books, DVDs, free resources to prison inmates, articles, perspectives, fact sheets, and tracts come through our faithful friends who offer their prayers and support that allow us to continue equipping Christians with reasonable answers to the most pressing questions of our day. Please consider joining us in our battle for the truth.

— Warren Nozaki, Research

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.