The Hunger Games as a Resource for Apologists

The dystopian world of The Hunger Games, in which children kill other children for the amusement of a decadent elite, provides an ideal opportunity for Christians to engage with culture for apologetics and evangelism — but we have to be willing to challenge ourselves as well.

The Hunger Games has at heart an anti-war / anti-violence message, but author Suzanne Collins also critiques the way that consumers of media are complicit in the cycle of exploitation of violence for entertainment. In the books and the film, the violence of the Games is both a means of controlling the poorer Districts, and entertainment for the jaded, decadent people of the Capitol. Though the people of the Districts fear and hate the Games, they still watch the games on television. And we, the readers and viewers, are put in the position of being complicit in the violence and decadence we deplore.

Our emotions and our imagination cannot be extinguished; if they are ignored, or fed only junk, they will become unhealthy. Yet when the imagination is fed nourishing stories and images and cultivated properly, it flowers into part of a vibrant, full Christian life. The same root that can lead to voyeurism can become empathy; the root that could become violence can become a passion for justice and protecting the weak.

The Hunger Games is an atheist’s dream in some respects: the characters strive to live good lives in a world without any recognition of a transcendent God. The result is a bleak, meaningless world that exposes the bankruptcy of the atheist worldview. Yet if we try to offer Jesus as the solution too quickly, we may miss an important opportunity. The world of The Hunger Games allows Christians to enter into the worldview of those who are struggling to create their own meaning in a world that they perceive as hostile and meaningless. The questions and objections and fears that unbelievers have may not be what Christians expect.

  1. As Christian readers and viewers, how are we complicit in the distortions of media?
  2. How can we provide ways to guide and transform our culture toward the good?
  3. As Christians, are we willing to listen to atheists and seekers and answer their real questions?

Holly Ordway holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, an M.A. in English Literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and an M.A. in Christian apologetics from Biola University. She is the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith (Moody, 2010) and speaks and writes regularly on literature and literary apologetics. Holly will appear on the Bible Answer Man Broadcast in April (listen to the show live at 6PM ET at to discuss her cover article on The Hunger Games in the new issue of the Christian Research Journal. To read the full article by Holly Ordway, please subscribe to the Journal (6 issues for $39.50).

Journal Topics

Dawkins’s Youth Ministry

Richard Dawkins has redefined himself again. Earlier, Dawkins transitioned from academic works of theoretical biology to his popular atheistic manifesto, The God Delusion. Now, Dawkins has moved on to the scientific education of youth. Combining lavish color illustrations by David McKean with his own supple and enthusiastic prose, Dawkins aims to inspire a new generation with the belief that naturalistic science is the only source both of knowledge and of true “magic”-the poetic wonder of discovery.

The book would not be much of a problem if it stuck to data and theories. But throughout the text, Dawkins inserts fatherly asides to caution the reader against supernatural, superstitious nonsense-the enemy of true science. The procedure is to offer sober science and an atheistic worldview as a package deal. C. S. Lewis discerned a similar danger in the “Green Book,” ostensibly a work of English grammar, whose actual effect was to inculcate moral relativism: “The very power of [the book] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy…who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory which they put into his head, but an assumption, which ten years hence…will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”1

Dawkins’s approach is to mold impressionable minds with the presumption that all that really exists is a closed physical universe of pitiless indifference (p. 235). Pursuing the logic of natural selection, he concludes that a living creature is simply “a survival machine for genes. Next time you look in the mirror, just think: that is what you are too” (74–75). This means that the “poetic wonder” of scientific discovery has no ultimate significance. There are no valuable truths to discover, nor valuable people to discover them: we are lumbering robots in a meaningless world. Like the Green Book criticized by Lewis, Dawkins’s book will likely produce more people “without a chest,” closed to the transcendent realms of God’s moral law and saving work.

Propaganda. Throughout Dawkins’s entertaining text, which explores biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, natural disasters, and alleged miracles, Dawkins seeks to discredit biblical revelation by citing its stories as myths alongside pagan myths and modern “urban legends.” Thus Genesis is presented with Norse mythology (34–35) and Dawkins repeats the old chestnut that since there are elements in common between the flood account in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood, the latter is cultural borrowing (140–43). Although there are some similarities, many of these would be expected in any flood account, and there are also marked differences. Most importantly, Dawkins does not seriously consider the possibility that both accounts arise from an actual historical event. Worse, when archaeologists do find evidence of the historicity of a biblical event, Dawkins attributes it all to purely natural causes anyway (208–9). And he relies heavily on David Hume’s famous critique of miracles (254–65), with no reference to John Earman’s devastating critique, Hume’s Abject Failure (Oxford, 2000).

Invincible Ignorance. Evidently, Dawkins has adopted a position that makes it impossible for him to contact transcendent realities. Dawkins tells us he would never accept a supernatural explanation regardless of the evidence, “Because anything ‘super natural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation” (23). But refusing to allow supernatural explanations does not show they are false. And Dawkins continues to complain that “none of the myths gives any explanation for how the creator of the universe himself…came into existence” (163), refusing to allow the idea of a necessary being that has no origin.

Interestingly, Dawkins never considers the possibility that theism might give a better explanation than materialism for the success of the science he prizes. Why does the world conform to orderly laws? Why should we expect our minds to be capable of discovering them? If he faced these questions without prejudice, Dawkins might begin to see that there is a deeper magic still.

–Angus Menuge

Angus Menuge, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin. His book review, “Dawkins’s Youth Ministry” appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special “Origins” issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL available by donation only.


1. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 16–17.

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The article above is from the current, special origins issue of our award-winning magazine, the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | What Were the Origins of Life on Earth? This special issue is packed full of compelling articles by many of the biggest names in the Intelligent Design movement, relating to all aspects of the origins problem—scientific, theological, philosophical, hermeneutical, and apologetic (see the Table of Contents here). But not only so, this special issue also features a sneak peek at Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming Creation Answer Book!

Journal Topics

How the Gospel Frees Us from Psychological Oppression

The following article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | Homosexuality, Teens, and Bullying , Volume 34, Number 03 (2011).

Christianity is often pejoratively referred to as “dirty rotten sinner” religion. Our detractors will often say something like this: “Christians tend to be so guilt-ridden. They feel that they have to go through life degrading themselves in order to win God’s approval. I find that very depressing. Instead, I want a spirituality that’s positive, freeing, and one that will make me feel good about myself.”

This type of reaction is very understandable. We all want to be happy, and it might seem that the gospel is a one-way street into a medieval village where the Inquisition is diabolically entrenched, seeking to wipe away every smile. While it’s a hard sell merely to claim that the gospel will set us free from so many of life’s torments, a story might prove helpful.

For the first few years that I was teaching Bible and theology at the New York School of the Bible, I was assailed by such intense feelings of unworthiness, shame, and self-contempt that they co-opted my thought life. Driven by such powerful feelings, my self-doubts seemed to speak with unassailable authority: “You teach? What type of Christian are you anyway? You think you really have faith? Look how selfish and self-absorbed you are. How are you going to help anyone? What a charlatan, posing in the front of the class as some type of authority! What do you think their reaction would be if they really knew you?”

Devastated by these indictments, I wanted to disappear and to have the buildings of New York City implode over my head and swallow me up without a sign. Many times I thought of calling my school to say, “Find yourself someone else. I’m not your man.” But gradually, the gospel began to take root.

Good Christian. In my longstanding pre-Christian struggle to attain some sense of significance and value, I’d ward off the shame and self-contempt through positive affirmations: “I’m a good person; no, I’m a vastly superior person. I’m _____, _____, _____, and more. I’m a once-in-a-lifetime person!” There was no end to the superlatives. In fact, I was always inventing new ones—whatever I needed to tell myself to keep the shame at bay. However, these never sufficed, and so I always needed to up the superlatives in order to overcome the ubiquitous feelings of shame.

As a Christian, I learned that it was wrong to engage in such self-stroking. But I had to do something about the poisonous arrows of my own demons. I needed to prove myself, and now I had a new vehicle with which to do it. I would excel at spirituality! I would prove, at least to myself, that I was worthy of God’s grace.

I reassured myself that I was more deserving of salvation than others. I was more spiritual; I had chosen God because I wasn’t as carnal as most of the human race. I had the keenness of mind to recognize the surpassing value of the things of God, and I had a great destiny, not just in heaven, like all the other Christians, but I would also lead the way here.

God loves us too much, however, to allow us to continue in our delusions. He closed my hand to all my dreams of spiritual accomplishment. Even more difficult to endure, I began to see my own poverty of spirit, my utter unworthiness. My levees were overwhelmed, and the demons of shame and self-contempt came roaring back. I feverishly sought to rebuild the levees with good works—anything that would tell me, “You’re OK!”

However, in my torment, I began to read the Bible with new tear-filled eyes, hoping to find a God tucked within its pages who would be far more merciful than I had ever dared to hope for. Jesus told a parable about two men who entered the temple to pray. One was a self-assured Pharisee, the other a broken sinner who lacked the confidence even to look up to heaven (Luke 18:9–14). I had become that broken sinner, now defenseless against the internal raging. I had been stripped of confidence and any sense that there was something about me that would merit even a glance from a holy God.

Paradoxically, this was the beginning of psychological freedom. I had been stripped bare of all my defenses, and for the first time in my life, I gradually found that I didn’t need them. I could finally let go of my miserable fig leaves, because I was beginning to know a God who wanted to clothe me with His forgiveness, His righteousness, and His sanctification (1 Cor. 1:29–30). I was beginning to learn that I was complete in Him (Col. 2:9–10), not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

It took me a while to learn these lessons. The Bible was my thought life foundation, but it seemed to say such contradictory things. On the one hand, it assured me that salvation, along with everything else I needed, was absolutely free. But then I observed that other verses seemed to say that God’s “gifts” also required some labor on my part. These “contradictions” first needed to be resolved before I could decisively confront my demons.

However slowly, that day did come. Now, when demons accuse me of my failures and unworthiness, I’m ready for them: “Satan, you’re right! I am totally unworthy to serve God, let alone to teach. I don’t deserve the slightest thing from Him. But I have an incredible God who is everything to me—my righteousness, my sanctification, and whatever else I need. He loves me with an undying love and will never leave me. It is He who has given me the privilege to serve Him by teaching. I’m so glad that I’ve been reminded of my unworthiness, because this just prompts me to be grateful, and makes me want to sing His praises.”

Understanding the truths of Scripture becomes a wellspring of peace (Col. 2:1–4). I’m now rid of some baggage that had been too heavy to bear. As Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32 NKJV). The truth has set me free—free from the need to defend myself, free from struggling to prove myself, free from shame and self-contempt, and free from the fear of failure. Well, not absolutely free, but free enough.

This freedom would never have come without seeing the depths of my unworthiness. Had I not come to this crushing point, I would never have discovered true grace, and without receiving this incredible grace, I never would have found the confidence to lay aside all the inner struggles and finally to accept the fact that I’m an utter sinner saved by grace. Not everyone’s experience is as intense as mine was, but we all have a conscience that tells us things we don’t want to hear, and we all have attempted to beat it down one way or another (Rom. 1:18–21). We all yearn to prove ourselves and, to accomplish this, we resort to self-deception.

This isn’t merely a biblical point of view; this is the prevailing view of psychology. Shelley Taylor writes, “As we have seen, people are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal.”1

While for the successful and admired, these biases are easy to maintain, for the depressed, they require more effort than can be sustained. Ironically, the more successful we are at maintaining our comforting self-delusions, the more we sacrifice mental flexibility, freedom, and joy. As paradoxical as it might seem, the road to freedom compels us on a humbling journey through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4 NKJV), where our old armor and defenses are stripped away so that we can be reclothed in splendor. No wonder Jesus tells us, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NKJV).

Blessed Assurance. How then do we come to this place of assurance of God’s grace in the face of our spiritual brokenness? It’s not possible on our own. Jesus had taught emphatically against the idea of self-salvation (Matt. 19:26; John 3:3; 6:44). He made it equally clear, however, that spiritual growth is also impossible without His involvement (John 15:4–5). Knowing this, we have to trust Him to perform for us the humanly impossible and to cry out for His intervention.

Spiritual desperation is a lens that brings grace into focus. It’s this mourning that sharpens our eyes to the reality of grace (Matt. 5:3–4; Ps. 25:8–9; 14–15). But what if we don’t see our neediness? We have to embrace the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24 NIV).

Trust Him in this. He has promised to reveal to us our spiritual deficiencies as He also did for the churches of the book of Revelation (chaps. 2–3). As Paul proclaimed: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Phil. 3:14–16 NIV).

The more we grow into the assurance of the gift of His acceptance, the more we will grow into self-acceptance. With self-acceptance, we can begin to be transparent about our failures and inadequacies and even to laugh at ourselves. I used to think that in order to show Christ off to the world, I had to exhibit Christ-like perfection. Well, I’ve learned instead that I’m far from perfect, but I have a Savior who is perfect. I’m inadequate, but He is fully adequate. This has given me not only a freedom to be me, but also a lowliness and a confidence to draw other broken people to the One who can make all the difference.

—Daniel Mann

Daniel Mann has taught at the New York School of Bible since 1992. He is the author of Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God’s Way.


Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 46.

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In the News

On The Kony 2012 Campaign

Just a little over week ago the KONY 2012 video began airing on social media sites and since then has gone viral, having 75,150,482 hits on YouTube as of March 13, 2012. The movie was produced by Invisible Children, which is a non-profit organization setup in 2006 to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity.” The video is narrated by Jason Russell, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children. Since Kony’s atrocities are relatively unknown, particularly in the United States, KONY 2012 seeks to launch a grassroots campaign to inform each and every member of the global community and ultimately bring the warlord to justice by December 31, 2012. Part of the campaign includes appealing to 20 culture makers (celebrities, athletes, and billionaires) along with 12 policy makers to address the problem, and among other things a mass poster campaign set for April 20, 2012.

Criticisms that the KONY 2012 video oversimplifies a very complex situation have also been raised. For example, Michael Wilkerson, a freelance journalist who has lived and reported in Uganda, explains, “Well, the biggest issue that I’ve raised or perhaps the easiest to understand to begin with is that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, was actually forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan military in 2006. So I came to start paying attention to this ‘Kony 2012’ campaign because all of a sudden on all of the places that I monitor—things happening in Uganda—there were these hordes of people saying stop the war in northern Uganda. Let’s go to northern Uganda and get rid of Kony. And there is no war in northern Uganda anymore, not since 2006,” but qualifies, “The LRA is still what I like to call a regional wrecking ball. It’s still raiding and massacring and abducting in neighboring countries, but northern Uganda itself is peaceful.” Ishaan Tharoor, in an op ed piece entitled “Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012’ Video,” blogged that “the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda….Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends.”

There are also responses to the critics. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who also appears in Kony 2012, noted in a BBC interview that Invisible Children had “mobilised the world,” and that “they’re giving a voice to people who before no-one knew about and no-one cared about and I salute them.” Invisible Children has also posted responses to their critics.

CRI has been aware of the activities of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army for quite some time, and published the 2005 News Watch piece “Terrorizing the Innocents in Uganda: Religion Plays a Deadly Role in the Lord’s Resistance Army” by Steve Rabey. The article highlighted the cultic tactics used by Kony to indoctrinate children, turning them into brutal killers.

I believe Christians are to pray for the Lord to work through people and circumstances to bring Kony to justice and end the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They are to pray for what the Lord would have them do in response to this. Most of all, I believe Christians must prayerfully consider specific ways to strengthen the church in Uganda, so that the Gospel may continue to be proclaimed, for it is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Moreover, it is on account of hearts and minds transformed by the Word of God that one gains solid theological and spiritual foundations for effective social transformation. There is corruption in the world, but the Christian is the salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14).

— Warren Nozaki

In the News, Journal Topics

Mormon Leaders Want To Stop “Unauthorized” Baptisms for the Dead

Howard Berkes for National Public Radio reported that this coming Sunday (March 11, 2012), Mormon leaders are formally warning followers to stop controversial baptisms for the dead, particularly of “unauthorized groups” such as “celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims,” and a letter will be read in every congregation stating: “Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors…Those whose names are submitted for proxy [baptisms] should be related to the submitter.” There is also concern over non-Mormons being offended in finding out their deceased family members had been baptized into Mormonism.

The complete letter to be read has been published in The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints Newsroom article “First Presidency Issues Direction on Names Submitted for Temple Ordinances.” It is as follows:

We would like to reiterate the policies first stated in 1995 concerning the submission of names for proxy temple ordinances:

Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors. Those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter.

Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims. If members do so, they may forfeit their New FamilySearch privileges. Other corrective action may also be taken.

Members are encouraged to participate in FamilySearch indexing which is vital to family history and temple work.

Bishops are asked to post this letter on their meetinghouse bulletin boards. Church members may seek the assistance of the family history consultants in their area for additional information, if needed. Name submission policies are also clearly stated on

We appreciate the faithful adherence to these policies by all members of the Church.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas S. Monson

Henry B. Eyring

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The First Presidency

Baptism for the dead is one of several Mormon Temple Rituals vital for attaining godhood, which Hank Hanegraaff contends have no biblical sanction. Although just exactly what the apostle Paul meant in speaking of the “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 is a matter of some debate, the Mormon interpretation and practice is clearly not consistent with the teaching of Scripture. The Christian Research Journal has well-critiqued baptism by proxy and set forth viable interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in the articles “The Mormon Doctrine of Salvation for the Dead: An Examination of Its Claimed Biblical Basis” by Luke P. Wilson, and “Baptism for the Dead: Discerning Historical Precedent from Mere Prose” by Steve Bright.

—Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study on Mormonism, CRI recommends the following bookstore resources:

Memorable Keys to the M-O-R-M-O-N Mirage by Hank Hanegraaff

Mormonism 101 by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church by Richard Abanes

Mormonism’s Greatest Problems Package featuring Bill McKeever, Eric Johnson, and Sandra Tanner

Journal Topics

Were Early Christians Communist?

The following article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | Self Esteem from a Scalpel, Volume 33, Number 04 (2010).

When I graduated from college in 1989, it looked like socialism was dead. The Soviet Union—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—was in its death throes. In comparison, the American economy was booming, and countries around the world were beginning to liberalize their markets. After a sophomoric flirtation with socialism, I had concluded that capitalism was probably the most workable economic model. I had not resolved my lingering suspicions, however, that capitalism was immoral and that socialism was still the Christian ideal.

Part of that impression came from biblical passages that seem to suggest as much: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32–35 ESV).

Many who have read this passage have wondered if the early church was communist and the Christian ideal is communism. After all, this was the first church in Jerusalem. They were “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31 NIV). If they didn’t get it right, who did?

On the surface, this looks like communism, but that’s a misreading. The details and context here are everything.

First of all, modern communism is based on Marx’s theory of class warfare, in which the workers revolt against the capitalists—the owners of the means of production—and forcibly take control of private property. After a while, Marx predicted, the socialist state would wither away and you’d get a communist utopia in which everyone lived in peace, harmony, and preternatural freedom. There’s none of this class warfare stuff in the early church in Jerusalem, nor is private property treated as immoral. These Christians are selling their possessions and sharing freely and spontaneously.

Second, the state is nowhere in sight. No Roman centurions are showing up with soldiers. No government is confiscating property and collectivizing industry. No one is being coerced. The church in Jerusalem was just that—the church, not the state. The church doesn’t act like the modern communist state. As Ron Sider notes, “Sharing was voluntary, not compulsory.”1 In fact, sharing by definition is voluntary.

It’s easy to lose sight of this later in the text, though, when Peter condemns Ananias and Sapphira for keeping back some of the money they got from selling their land. If you don’t read it carefully, you might get the impression that he condemns them for failing to give everything to the collective: “Ananias.…why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the lands? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to men but to God!” (Acts 5:3–4 ESV). But look closely at the text; Peter condemns them not for keeping part of the proceeds of the sale, but for lying about it. In fact, he takes for granted that the property was rightfully theirs, even after it was sold. So Peter isn’t condemning private property.

Third, the communal life of the early church in Jerusalem is never made the norm for all Christians everywhere. In fact, it’s not even described as the norm for the Jerusalem church. What Acts is describing is an unusual moment in the life of the early church, when the church was still very small. Remember, this is the beginning of the church in Jerusalem. Thousands of new Christians probably had come from a long distance to worship in Jerusalem at Pentecost. They would have had to return home soon after their conversion if not for the extreme measures taken by the newborn church to allow these Christians to stay and be properly discipled. Given the alternatives, a mutual sharing of possessions seemed to be the best course of action.

Compared to modern nation states, the Jerusalem church was a small community banding together against an otherwise hostile culture. The circumstances were peculiar. For all we know, this communal stage lasted six months before the church got too large. It’s unlikely that all these new Christians, many denizens of the far-flung Jewish Diaspora, stayed in Jerusalem for the rest of their lives. Many probably returned home at some point, and brought their new faith with them.

We know from the New Testament that other churches in other cities had quite different arrangements. For instance, Paul sternly warned the Thessalonian Christians, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” and told them to “earn the bread they eat” (2 Thess. 3: 10, 12 NIV). Apparently some new Christians had begun to take advantage of the generosity of their new brothers in the faith. That’s not an especially surprising scenario, given the effects of the Fall. So it’s no surprise that the early communal life in Jerusalem was never held up as a model for how the entire church should order its life, let alone used to justify the state confiscating private property.

Communal living does have its place. Nuclear families live more or less communally. In functional families, however, someone is in charge, namely, the parents. So it’s not really a commune.

Many monasteries and religious orders are more or less communal to this day. These are highly disciplined, voluntary communities that are self-consciously separate from the ordinary life of family and commerce. Many of them survive for centuries—and in fact, the productivity of some early monasteries helped give rise to capitalism in medieval Europe.2

There have been other voluntary, nonmonastic groups that have tried to live communally. The American Amish and the Jesus People USA live in communal or semi-communal groups today. And there were lots of examples of Christian communes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The ones that survived very long were small, voluntary, and intensely disciplined.3

The Pilgrims and Communism.. In fact, even most private, voluntary communal experiments fail. American children hear the story of William Bradford at Thanksgiving. Bradford was the architect of the Mayflower Compact and the leader of a small band of separatists who founded the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. Most young students learn that the colony lost half its population during its first, harsh winter, but few know about the colony’s brief and tragic experiment with collective ownership. Because of an ill-conceived deal made with the investors who funded the expedition, the Pilgrims held their farmland communally rather than as private plots. They divided their food, work, and provisions evenly. This may sound nice, and the Pilgrims may have thought they were replicating the model of the early church in Jerusalem; but before long, conflicts arose among the colonists. Bradford reports in his journal what economists and common sense predict. In large groups, such an arrangement leads to perverse incentives, in which the lazier members “free ride,” taking advantage of the harder working. The other members grow more and more frustrated, and less and less productive. That’s just what happened in the early years of Plymouth Bay Colony.

To solve the problem, Bradford soon decided to divide the plots up to the individual families. Suddenly people had strong incentives to produce, and they did. Over the years, more and more of the land was privatized, and the colony eventually became a prosperous part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.4 If Bradford had not had the guts to divide the commune into private lots, our school children would not be making little cutouts of turkeys and Mayflowers every November, since there probably would have been few if any survivors.

The Early Christians Weren’t Communists—and We Shouldn’t Be, Either. The take-home lesson should be clear: neither the book of Acts nor historical experience commends communism. In fact, full-bodied communism is alien to the Christian worldview and had little to do with the arrangement of early Christians in Jerusalem. While there have been and still are small, atypical groups that manage to pull off some form of communal living, at least for a while, there’s no reason to think that communal living—let alone communism—ever has been the Christian ideal.

—Jay W. Richards

Jay W. Richards is the author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (Harper-One, 2009).


  1. Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1997), 78.
  2. See Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005).
  3. For a detailed history of communism/socialism, see Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003).
  4. Tom Bethell, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 37–45.

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Apologetics, Journal Topics

Thinking Clearly About God and Evolution

Christianity Today recently had a cover story reporting on Christians who claim that human beings could not all have descended from a single human couple. That story was a symptom of a current trend: more and more Christians, even self-identified evangelicals, claim that Christians must make their peace with evolutionary theory. In recent years, scientists such as Francis Collins, Karl Giberson, Ken Miller, Darrell Falk, and others have written books defending theistic evolution or evolutionary creationism.
            The historical reality of Adam and Eve is obviously central to historic Christianity; but it is just one of many issues that, as Christians, we must consider when exploring the broader debate over God and evolution. Unfortunately, the debate is often marred by confusion and ambiguity. Though we can’t discuss every related issue here, let’s see what we can do to think more clearly about the subject.


I am often asked questions such as, “Can you believe in God and evolution?” and “Isn’t evolution just God’s way of creating?” I always respond: “That depends. What do you mean by ‘God’ and what do you mean by ‘evolution’?” That might seem like a dodge, but everything hinges on the definitions.
            Presumably, a theistic evolutionist claims that both theism in some sense and evolution in some sense are true, that both God and evolution somehow work together in explaining the world. But of course, all the real interest is hidden behind the phrase “in some sense.” So we have to get more specific.


A theist believes that a transcendent God created the world and continues to conserve and interact in and with it. God can act directly in nature or indirectly through so-called secondary causes, such as physical laws or the actions of human beings. At all times, however, God oversees and providentially superintends His entire creation, even as He allows His creatures the freedom appropriate to their station. Nothing happens as the result of a purposeless process.
            This is a minimal definition of theism. If someone believes a transcendent God created the world but denies that God can and does act within nature, then at best, he’s a deist.


It’s a lot easier to define theism than to define evolution. It’s been called the ultimate weasel word. In an illuminating article called “The Meanings of Evolution,” Stephen Meyer and Michael Keas attempt to catch the weasel by distinguishing six different ways in which “evolution” is commonly used:

  1. Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
  2. Changes in the frequencies of alleles in the gene pool of a population.
  3. Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.
  4. The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification, chiefly natural selection acting on random variations or mutations.
  5. Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
  6. “Blind watchmaker” thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors solely through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; that the mechanisms of natural selection, random variation and mutation, and perhaps other similarly naturalistic mechanisms, are completely sufficient to account for the appearance of design in living organisms.1

The first meaning is uncontroversial-even trivial. The most convinced young earth creationist agrees that things change over time-that the universe has a history.2 Populations of animals wax and wane depending on changes in climate and the environment. At one time, certain flora and fauna prospered on the earth, but they later disappeared, leaving mere impressions in the rocks to mark their existence for future generations.
            There’s also cosmic “evolution,” the idea that the early universe started in a hot, dense state, and over billions of years, cooled off and spread out, formed stars, galaxies, planets, and so forth. This includes the idea of cosmic nucleosynthesis, which describes the production of heavy elements (everything heavier than helium) in the universe through a process of star birth, growth, and death. These events involve change over time, but they refer to the history of the inanimate physical universe rather than the history of life. Parts of this picture of cosmic evolution contradict young earth creationism, but the generic idea that one form of matter gives rise, under the influence of various natural laws and processes, to other forms of matter, does not contradict theism. Surely God could directly guide such a process in innumerable ways, could set up a series of secondary natural processes that could do the job, or could do some combination of both.
            In fact, to make a long story short, virtually no one denies the truth of “evolution” in senses 1, 2, or 3. And, pretty much everyone agrees that natural selection and mutations explain some things in biology (number 4).
            What about the fifth sense of evolution, universal common ancestry? This is the claim that all organisms on earth are descended from a single common ancestor that lived sometime in the distant past. Note that this is not the same as the mechanism of change. Universal common ancestry is compatible with all sorts of different mechanisms or sources for change, though the most popular mechanism is the broadly Darwinian one.
            It’s hard to square universal common descent with the biblical texts; nevertheless, it is logically compatible with theism. If God could turn dirt into a man, or a man’s rib into a woman, then presumably He could, if He so chose, turn a bacterium into a bonobo or a dinosaur into a deer. An unbroken evolutionary tree of life guided and intended by God, in which every organism descends from some original organism, sounds like a logical possibility.3
            Besides the six senses mentioned by Meyer and Keas, there is also the metaphorical sense of evolution, in which Darwinian theory is used as a template to explain things other than nature, like the rise and fall of civilizations or sports careers.
            Finally, there’s evolution in the sense of progress or growth. Natural evolution has often been understood in this way, so that cosmic history is interpreted as a purposeful movement toward greater perfection, complexity, mind, or spirit. A pre-Darwinian understanding of evolution was the idea of a slow unfolding of something that existed in nascent form from the beginning, like an acorn slowly becoming a great oak tree. If anything, this sense of evolution tends toward theism rather than away from it, since it suggests a purposive plan. That’s why Darwin didn’t even use the word in early editions of his Origin of Species. It’s also why many contemporary evolutionists (such as the late Stephen Jay Gould) go out of their way to deny that evolution is progressive, and argue instead that cosmic history is not going anywhere in particular.
            It should now be clear that theism is compatible with many senses of evolution. In fact, for most of the senses of evolution we’ve considered, there’s little hint of contradiction. Of course, this is a logical point. It doesn’t tell us what is true-only what could be true.


But there’s one clear exception-the blind watchmaker thesis. Of all the senses of evolution, this one seems to fit with theism like oil with water. According to the blind watchmaker thesis, all the apparent design in life is just that-apparent. It’s really the result of natural selection working on random genetic mutations. (Darwin proposed “variation.” Neo-Darwinism attributes new variations to genetic mutations.)
            The word “random” in the blind watchmaker thesis carries a lot of metaphysical baggage. In Neo-Darwinian theory, random doesn’t mean uncaused; it means that the changes aren’t directed-they don’t happen for any purpose. Moreover, they aren’t predictable, like gravity, and don’t occur for the benefit of individual organisms, species, or eco-systems, even if, under the guidance of natural selection, an occasional mutation might enhance a species’ odds of survival.
            The blind watchmaker thesis is more or less the same as Neo-Darwinism as its leading advocates understand it. It is usually wedded to some materialistic origin of life scenario, which isn’t about biological evolution per se. This so-called chemical evolution is often combined with biological evolution as two parts of a single narrative.
            Unfortunately, the blind watchmaker thesis isn’t an eccentric definition of the word evolution. It’s textbook orthodoxy.4 For instance, Harvard paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson explained evolution by saying, “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind.”5 Darwin himself understood his theory this way: “There seems to be no more design,” he wrote, “in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the winds blow.”6
            And here’s how the late Darwinist Ernst Mayr put it: “The real core of Darwinism, however, is the theory of natural selection. This theory is so important for the Darwinian because it permits the explanation of adaptation, the ‘design’ of the natural theologian, by natural means, instead of by divine intervention.”7
            Notice that Mayr says, “instead of.”
            These are representative quotes from the literature. From the time of Darwin to the present, Darwinists have always contrasted their idea with the claim that biological forms are designed or created. That’s the whole point of the theory.
            Theists claim that the world, including the biological world, exists for a purpose; that it is, in some sense, designed. The blind watchmaker thesis denies this. So anyone wanting to reconcile strict Darwinian evolution with theism has a Grade A dilemma on his hands.


One way out is to redefine the theistic part. For instance, one could defend deism, with God getting things started at the beginning but not knowing or superintending nature after that. Dissolving a dilemma, however, is not the same as resolving it. If the adjective theistic in theistic evolution is not to be a misnomer, it should include a theistic view of God.
            What about redefining it in the other direction? A theistic evolutionist could maintain that God sets up and guides nature so that it gives rise to everything from stars to starfish through a slowly developing process. Organisms perhaps share a common ancestor but reach their goal as intended by God. God works in nature, perhaps through cosmic initial conditions, physical laws, secondary processes, discrete acts, or some combination, to bring about His intended results, rather than creating everything from scratch. Whatever the details, on this view, the process of change and adaptation wouldn’t be random or purposeless. It would implement a plan, and would reflect God’s purposes. This would be a teleological version of evolution, and so would flatly reject the Darwinian blind watchmaker thesis.
            This was the view of some early theistic evolutionists such as Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the concept of natural selection. Here the word evolution is being used in the pre-Darwinian, even anti-Darwinian sense. History is the unfolding of a purposeful plan. This is a logically possible view; it is not, however, the view of many of today’s theistic evolutionists, such as Francis Collins and Kenneth Miller. They seek to reconcile Christian theism with Darwinian evolution. They may affirm design in some broad sense at the cosmic level, but not in biology.
            How should we respond? There’s not much use in looking for evidence for this brand of theistic evolution, for the simple reason that it can’t be true. It’s not logically possible. It makes no sense to talk about a purposeful process that is nevertheless purposeless, or to talk about God directing an undirected process. To the degree that a view is Darwinian (as Darwinists understand it), it will not be theistic. And to the degree that it is theistic, it will not be Darwinian.
            If you understand that basic point, you’ll be much better equipped to navigate the current debate over theistic evolution.

—Jay Richards

Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009). His article “Think Clearly about God and Evolution” appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special origins issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL. This special issue also includes a sneak peek at Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming The Creation Answer Book where he answers questions like: Did Adam and Eve really exist? Is animal suffering a consequence of Adam’s sin? Can the Big Bang be harmonized with Genesis? When was the universe created? This special origins issue available by donation only.


  1. In Darwinism, Design, and Public Education, ed. John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2004).
  2. See the explanation for the meaning of “evolution” from the BioLogos Foundation, which seeks to give a Christian defense of evolution. The explanation begins with “change over time,” then goes on to fill out the definition with common descent and the Darwinian mechanism. But it quickly slips from defining the term to presenting the details as if they were uncontested facts. At:
  3. I’m not saying this is true. I’m merely dealing with the logic of the ideas here. Since design is logically compatible with universal common descent, one could, strictly speaking, endorse both intelligent design and theistic evolution. Nevertheless, these days, ID and theistic evolution often describe people with different positions. See discussion of this point in the comments of Thomas Cudworth, “Olive Branch from Karl Giberson,” Uncommon Descent (April 15, 2010), at:
  4. For discussion, see Casey Luskin, “Smelling Blood in the Water: Why Theistic Evolution Won’t Appease the Atheists,” in God and Evolution, ed. Jay W. Richards (Seattle: Discovery Institute, 2010).
  5. G. G. Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution: A Study of the History of Life and of Its Significance for Man, rev. ed. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967), 345.
  6. Francis Darwin, Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 1 (New York: Appleton, 1887), 280, 283-84, 278-79.
  7. Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversy, with a foreword by Ernst Mayr (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982), xi-xii. Quoted in ibid.

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Apologetics, In the News

The Dalai Lama, Martin Sheen, and Beyond Religion

In a recent Reuters “Book Talk,” Bernard Vaughan interviewed actor Martin Sheen on his recent project as narrator for the audio book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World by the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) is the spiritual leader of Tibet and the purported fourteenth reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and patron saint of Tibet, within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He is also the author of The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus. The Dalai Lama undoubtedly has also a great influence upon many outside Buddhism.

Sheen, a professing Roman Catholic, shared that it took three days to record Beyond Religion, and “each day that I went back I was more nourished by what I was learning.” With respect to the general philosophy of the book, Sheen says, “It doesn’t say drop your religion; you can’t go this path and remain a Catholic or a Protestant or a Muslim or a Jew. On the contrary, it’s about your humanity. That’s where we’re all united. I think what he is trying to do is enlarge the circle. He’s trying to ensure people that they don’t have to give up anything that they believe in order to enlarge their possibilities.” In Beyond Religion, the Dalai Lama argues that “religion is not a necessity for pursuing a spiritual life. Rather he proposes a system of secular ethics grounded in a deep appreciation of our common humanity.”

The Dalai Lama, in a Huffington Post blog, explains, “In today’s secular world religion alone is no longer adequate as a basis for ethics. One reason for this is that many people in the world no longer follow any particular religion. Another reason is that, as the peoples of the world become ever more closely interconnected in an age of globalization and in multicultural societies, ethics based in any one religion would only appeal to some of us; it would not be meaningful for all.” The solution, in his opinion, is “secular ethics,” or “an approach to ethics which makes no recourse to religion and can be equally acceptable to those with faith and those without.”

The idea of secular ethics is certainly consistent with Buddhism for its philosophy for the most part is agnostic. As for the Dalai Lama, he dismisses the existence of a divine creator. When LifePositive inquired about why Buddha said nothing about God, the Dalai Lama replied, “Because he talked about the law of causality. Once you accept the law of cause and effect, the implication is that there is no ‘creator,’ ” and “Talking of God, who created God? There is no point arguing. Dharmakeerti and Shantideva [Buddhist scholars] debate the existence of God and reach the conclusion that if we believe in a benevolent creator, how do we explain suffering?”

A Christian can agree that in a world filled with diverse people with disparate beliefs there still exist common ground ethics for dialog in resolving conflicts. There are indeed moral absolutes that are true for all. Paul writes, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or defending them on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (Rom. 2:14–16). There is then a natural law written upon the heart’s of people, which allows for dialogue on ethics.

Christians can also agree to stand up against injustice, and rightly condemn evil done in the name of Christ. Moreover, Christianity, alone among the possible worldviews, has a satisfying explanation for why suffering and evil exist in the world (see, for example, “Addressing the Problem of Evil” by Douglas Groothuis,” and “How Should Christians Approach the Problem of Evil?” by E. Calvin Beisner and Chad Meister).

The idea of segregating faith from the public forum still poses a problem for the Christian. It is true that we possesses moral sensibilities; yet, we are much like blind men inside a room with an elephant, groping around, and trying to describe the creature, but only sensing bits and pieces of the whole. We are in need of someone who can see, and say, “You there, you are feeling only its leg, if you keep moving to your left, you will feel the belly, another leg, an ear, and its head, then you will have a better idea of what this animal is like.” Christianity holds that God revealed Himself to mankind through Moses and the prophets in the Old Testament then through Jesus Christ, the very incarnation of God, and the apostles in the New Testament. It is then through divine revelation that people get a better understanding of moral truths.

Is living in a diverse world of people with disparate beliefs reason for leaving faith out of conversations on ethics? No! Christ’s followers emerged out of Judaism but they also took their message to the ends of the earth. They went out to share Christ with a world influenced by Caesar cults, Greek philosophies, mystery religions, and magic. The reason is that Christians had a message that could transform people. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). Moreover, as the apostles also taught, “Salvation is found in no one else [than Jesus Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

It can also be pointed out that Christianity provides the world with spiritual resources for social transformation. People through deep reflection upon God’s Word came to understand their own dignity as persons created in the image of God both male and female (Gen. 1:26–27), and this was underscored in the reality of the gospel message of how God loved humanity such that He sent the Son to be incarnated—Jesus Christ—to die upon the cross on behalf of sinners so that those whosoever believes can have everlasting life (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). The Scriptures would also form the basis for values such as the sanctity of life, charity, women’s equality, and slave emancipation. They would also influence development and innovations in art, science, jurisprudence, and economics (for further study, please see The Book that Made Your World by Vishal Mangalwadi and How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin J. Schmidt).

— Warren Nozaki

Apologetics, Journal Topics

Extraterrestrials and Christianity

NASA’s highly successful planet-hunting Kepler mission is bringing back to the fore questions about life beyond Earth. Thanks to Kepler, we now know that Earth-size planets orbit other stars like the Sun. Does this mean that life beyond Earth is common? Are there other intelligent beings?

Even before Kepler was launched in 2009, it was already clear that our Solar System is not typical. Our familiar neighbors tend to have circular orbits, with the big planets located safely distant from the small ones. The Solar System is not the template for all planetary systems as astronomers once believed. Does this mean the Solar System unique in its habitability?

In 1996 NASA scientists claimed to have discovered evidence of ancient life in a Martian meteorite. While that evidence has not held up, scientists are still searching. Would discovery of life on Mars have implications for the way we view ourselves? How would it affect the Intelligent Design argument? What about the discovery of an extraterrestrial civilization? Would it render ridiculous the claims of Christianity? Some have claimed it would.

What do our prior Christian beliefs imply about the existence of extraterrestrials? Should Christians be more optimistic or less than atheists?

Guillermo Gonzalez, Ph.D., is an associate professor of astronomy and physics at Grove City College in western Pennsylvania. He is author of nearly eighty scientific papers and co-author with Jay W. Richards of The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery (Regnery, 2004). His feature article, “Would Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life Spell Doom for Christianity?” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special origins issue of the Christian Research Journal available by donation.

For future issues of the Christian Research Journal subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Guillermo Gonzalez will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in February to discuss the pivotal apologetic topic of origins! Tune in daily at 6PM ET at our website,! The Bible Answer Man can also be heard daily on Sirius-XM satellite radio on Family Talk channel 131.The Bible Answer Man can also be heard on local radio stations. Click here for stations and times.

Apologetics, Journal Topics

God & Evolution

For Christians, the question of “God and evolution” is becoming more acute. For decades, of course, liberal Christians have found ways of accommodating their theology to Darwin’s theory of evolution. But these days, otherwise conservative evangelicals and orthodox Catholics seem to be doing the same thing. For evangelicals, there seems to be a desire to overcome the “Scopes Monkey Trial” stereotype that has prevented reasonable discussions of the subject for over eighty years. Orthodox Catholics, for their part, seem intent to overcome the “Galileo stereotype” that says the Catholic Church is anti-science. So now we’re seeing all sorts of proposals for reconciling Christianity and Darwinism.

But surely any attempt to reconcile scientific claims with theological claims should determine (1) what those respective claims are, and (2) what is true. When it comes to Darwinian evolution, however, that’s easier said than done. That’s because the word “evolution” means all sorts of different things and it’s not easy to separate the evidence for Darwinian evolution from its marketing.

In God and Evolution, the contributors and I try to provide some much-needed clarity to the debate, so that disputants will not argue past each other. We decided not to weigh in on specific theological controversies such as the historicity of Adam and Eve (though that is a very important question).

Clarity requires asking the right questions. The most common question I am asked when dealing with this issue is something like: “Isn’t evolution just God’s way of creating?” Regrettably, that question begs all the good questions, such as: What is “evolution?” What evidence is there that natural selection and random genetic mutations can create new biological systems? And my personal favorite: Can God guide an unguided process?

— Jay W. Richards

Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is the author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (HarperOne, 2009). His feature article, “Think Clearly about God and Evolution” on which this post is based appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special origins issue of the Christian Research Journal available by donation.

For future issues of the Christian Research Journal subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

Jay Richards will join Hank Hanegraaff on the Bible Answer Man broadcast in February to discuss the pivotal apologetic topic of origins! Tune in daily at 6PM ET at our website,! The Bible Answer Man can also be heard daily on Sirius-XM satellite radio on Family Talk channel 131.The Bible Answer Man can also be heard on local radio stations. Click here for stations and times.