Category Archives: Apologetics

Life on Mission: A Review

Do you ever feel awkward or intimidated, when it comes to sharing your faith with others? The Lord knows, I do.

Life on Mission: Joining the Everyday Mission of God, by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe, is a companion book to a five-week DVD teaching series, used in churches like mine. Life on Mission is geared towards giving Christians a biblical foundation for doing evangelism, and practical helps on how to share your faith with your neighbor, coworker, family member or friend.

Many of us Christians think that the work of evangelism is to be done by professionals, like pastors, or even outdoor evangelists, standing on a soapbox. Others of us know we should be doing evangelism ourselves, but we do not know why we should be doing it. Many of us feel like we lack the training to share our faith: What should I say? How do I broach the topic of spiritual things? When should I just shut-up and listen?

Life on Mission addresses these and other stumbling blocks to sharing our faith with others. Dealing with these stumbling blocks could not have come at a more critical time. Our culture is changing rapidly, and the influence of evangelical Christianity in American is not what it once was. We simply can not depend on the “professionals,” whoever they are, or Christian media, to get the job done, when it comes to spreading the Gospel. We must all get involved.

One of the central messages learned from Life on Mission is that everyone is a missionary, whether you are a plumber, a school teacher, a doctor, a student, a retired person, or a stay-at-home mom or dad. But we are not to go about doing evangelism alone. We need one another as fellow Christians as partners in the work, inviting people to join together, as we worship God and care for one another. In other words, we need biblical community.

Furthermore, sharing the Gospel needs to come from the right motivation. Ultimately, evangelism flows out of a life that is focused on giving God the glory in all things, to honor God as truly worthy to be worshipped.

Life on Mission is realistic. Here is one of my favorite quotes, illustrating the fact that the Christian church is far from perfection: “I am sure 9 out of 10 people… have been hurt by someone in the church, and the 10th person is simply in denial.” There are pitfalls to be avoided, and Life on Mission honestly looks at how to address these pitfalls.

This graphic, from Life on Mission, is a useful tool for how Christians might be able to share their faith with they non-believing friends (click on the image to zoom in).

The work of sharing our faith with our neighbors need not be boxed into some particular formula or  “discipleship program.” Mainly, it is about building friendships, within our circle of influence, and inviting those friends to share in our spiritual journey. As we are learning things in the Bible, we can share those things with our neighbor and co-worker. As we share what we are learning from the Bible, we then allow God’s Holy Spirit to do the work, for the Word of God to penetrate the hearts and minds of our friends.

Life on Mission can be read on its own, or it could be used as part of a five-week DVD group study, using a Life on Mission Bible study guide. You do not necessarily need the Life on Mission book itself, as the DVD presentation, along with the five-week study guide, covers the same material. Consider Life on Mission, the book and/or the DVD sessions, with the Bible study guide, as a great tool to help you, and/or your small group think about how you can pursue God’s mission to share your life with Jesus with those around you.

For more information about Life on Mission, poke around on their website. Look here for information about Life on Mission classes at the Williamsburg Community Chapel.

 


Is “Heaven and Hell” Biblical?

Is “Heaven and Hell” Biblical?

The answer is surprisingly, “No.”

Are you skeptical about that claim? Please hear me out for a moment….

If you were to do a search, in your Bible, to try to find the words “heaven” and “hell,” used in the same verse together, you might be shocked to realize something: the number of occurrences would be ZERO (Try it for yourself here, online). However, if you look for the words “heaven” and “earth” paired together in the same verse, you might discover about 200 occurrences in the Bible (Try it here, online).

For example, according to the King James Version, when Jesus teaches the disciples, “the Lord’s prayer,” we have, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Despite popular opinion, the terminology of “heaven and hell” is not found together in Holy Scripture. But “heaven and earth” quite frequently is.

So, why is that?

Joshua Ryan Butler, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, has written a thoughtful book, The Skeleton’s in God’s Closet, where he addresses some of the thorniest questions people have about God and the Bible, that focus on three central issues: Hell, Judgment and Holy War.

Butler makes the case that Christians often toss around lingo like “heaven and hell,” without really thinking about how the Bible actually addresses these topics. According to Butler, “we get hell wrong because we get heaven and earth wrong.”

Typically, we think that the Bible is constantly contrasting “heaven” and “hell,” when in reality, the Bible’s primary concern is the disruption between “heaven” and “earth,” resulting from human sin, that breaks down God’s good creation into horribly dysfunctional patterns of relationships. We tend to think of “hell” as this vast, underground torture chamber, but we miss the point, as “earth” gets completely left out of the story.

You know what I mean. We have all heard it before.

We are here on earth. We die. And then we go to one of two places: heaven or hell. End of story.

But earth is totally left out of the picture, by the end of the story.

Mmmm….

Butler makes the case, in the one-time Patheos blog of Preston Sprinkle (another young theologian/pastor with a bright mind), that, “heaven and earth are destined for reconciliation. God wants to bring creation back together from the things that tear it apart. God is on a mission to get the hell out of earth: to redeem his world from the destructive power of sin, death and hell.”

Have you ever thought of that before?

I have had Joshua Ryan Butler’s book on my “too-be-read” list for way too long. But his message is so thought-changing, that I thought it better to let Butler tell the story of the Bible himself, regarding heaven, hell, and earth, in this 3-minute video below, and then if it interests you, to encourage you to get the book. I would love to interact with someone about the book, and figure out, how in the world, he ever combs his hair.

Butler’s book also addresses other thorny issues, that strike a nerve in today’s culture, such as the whole idea of God’s judgment (“I thought God was a loving God?“) and the concept of holy war in the Old Testament (“So what makes the warfare in the Old Testament any different than what ISIS has been doing in Syria, for the past several years?“). Butler argues that we often have a caricature about God in the Bible, that leads many people to believe that the God of the Bible really is not that good after all, nor worthy of our trust.

Okay….Do you want to dive in more? Well, this gives me an opportunity tell you about a video podcast that I sometimes turn to, by Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggie Tales. The Phil Vischer Podcast is funny, a bit goofy, and at times will step on some toes, but Vischer and friends interview some fascinating authors, like Joshua Ryan Butler (One of Vischer’s cohosts is another young, smart theologian and writer, Skye Jethani … check out Jethani’s video on, “Why You Are Sick of Church.”)

The Phil Vischer video podcast interview with Butler was done a year ago, in January, 2017 (are we already in 2018??). If you want to get the meat of the interview, fast forward the YouTube video to the 10-minute mark. It will reframe how you think about heaven, hell, and earth, and help you in your discussions with friends, coworkers, family members on these difficult topics….. And, now for the extended story, from Joshua Ryan Butler, on the Phil Vischer Podcast…..


Ravi Zacharias and Christian Integrity

Jesus Among Secular Gods, by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale. One of Ravi Zacharias’ wonderful books….(just, please, do not call him “Doctor”)

I have been an enthusiast for the apologetics ministry of Ravi Zacharias for several years. So, I feel compelled to respond to recent allegations of impropriety, as reported in ChristianityToday magazine.

Ravi Zacharias, his radio program Let My People Think, and his ministry, RZIM.org, have blessed the church with excellent materials in Christian apologetics. Our church was edified when Ravi came as a guest speaker several years ago, and I personally have taught several Adult Bible Classes, using Ravi’s material. Long-time Veracity readers will observe that we link to RZIM resources multiple times. I am still encouraged by the quality of Ravi’s work and ministry, for the sake of the Gospel.

I am therefore disappointed to learn of the recent allegations, that Ravi has misrepresented his academic credentials, over the years. I knew that Ravi had a Master of Divinity degree, but that he never has pursued an academic doctoral program, of any sort. However, he has received “Honorary Doctorates”. What I did not realize, is that this has led a number of Christians to mistakenly refer to Mr. Ravi Zacharias as “Dr.” Ravi Zacharias.

RZIM has responded that it has been customary, in certain cultures, where Ravi goes, that they refer to him as “Doctor,” out of a sign of respect for elders. This is evidently so. But it is inappropriate to go by the status of “Doctor,” in all cultural contexts. This may not be a big deal for some people, but I would disagree.

Truth matters, folks.

In an American context, calling someone “Doctor” gives the mistaken impression that the individual has earned an academic degree, when it was actually only an honorary degree. The two are not equivalent. If someone practicing medicine claims to be a “Doctor,” but has not an earned degree, this would be misleading. The same standard ought to apply to Christians who pursue academic work, to further a ministry. So, it is disturbing to learn that RZIM itself did not immediately and thoroughly self-correct this issue, when it was first raised two years ago, in 2015.

There are a few other issues, brought out below, in the video by the Steve Baugham, who describes himself as the “Friendly Banjo Atheist.” You can read RZIM.org’s response to some of the allegations (noted also in the Christianity Today article), Christian blogger Warren Throckmorton’s research, and Mr. Baugham’s video and other materials, and make your own assessments. As to the allegations with respect to the Canadian couple, there is just something weird going on there, that I can not fully grasp. I find there are several lessons to be learned from this most unfortunate situation:

  • First, Christian leaders should stop the continued practice of accepting the title of “Doctor,” when it is only honorary degrees that have been conferred, and not PhDs.  This practice is misleading, and Christian leaders should act in a manner that is above reproach. Politely demurring is good, but insufficient. Public, academic records should be set straight.
  • Secondly, as the Scriptures teach (Romans 3:23), all of us have failed at different points in our lives. Ravi Zacharias is no exception. Neither am I. Neither are you.
  • Thirdly, Christians should be on the forefront of telling the truth. Waiting for critics, like the “Friendly Banjo Atheist”, to point out our faults, is not good enough. Waiting two years before fully addressing problems with claims of misrepresentation and fact-checking issues, even if it was inadvertent, is not good enough. As apologist Randal Rauser writes, “When it comes to effective apologetics, it is important to have clear, concise, and logically valid arguments with plausible premises. It’s also important to have good rhetoric, a touch of humor, savvy cultural awareness, and a dollop of self-deprecation….While that is all important, the most important aspect of any effective apologetic is credibility. Credibility depends on demonstrable integrity. And integrity depends on conduct that is absolutely above reproach.”  An apologetics ministry, no matter how good it is, that raises questions regarding personal trust, actually undermines itself.
  • Fourthly, the whole business of admirers calling Ravi “Doctor,” has been completely unnecessary. The effectiveness of Ravi’s ministry stands on the quality of his arguments, reasoning, and rhetoric, not by misleading claims of holding certain academic credentials, that he never did. Ravi has his own issues, yes. But I find it disturbing that a radio listening and book reading Christian audience lacks the basic skills of spiritual discernment, that should insist on fact-checking sources and upholding standards of accountability.

I had the privilege of meeting Ravi Zacharias, when he visited Williamsburg, and our church, those few years ago. I found him to be a most gracious, genuine, and caring man. He is on the “front-lines” for the Gospel, so it comes as no surprise that he would have critics.

Steve Baugham may have an axe to grind, but nevertheless, the grist for the mill has at least some substance. The current crisis Ravi Zacharias is experiencing is surely painful, and those who have benefited from his work should earnestly pray for him, and the rest of the RZIM ministry team. This is not an unrecoverable situation. Contrary to Baugham’s conclusion, at the end of his video, I personally believe that this is an opportunity for RZIM to make something right out of this. Let us pray that Ravi, and those who work with him, will learn these painful lessons and do the right thing.

UPDATE: December 7, 2017. RZIM’s public statement on the federal lawsuit.

ANOTHER UPDATE: December 7, 2017

Also, if you check the Wayback machine, for June 26,2016, for the Oxford Centre, an Christian study center in Oxford, England, you will see that under endorsements, it lists “Dr. Ravi Zacharias” and  “Revd Professor Alister McGrath.” This is altogether strange, as Ravi has no PhD, and Alister McGrath has several. RZIM helped to start the Oxford Centre. Why would Ravi be listed as “Dr.,” but not Alister McGrath? Thankfully, the Oxford Centre has since fixed the issue. But it leaves open the question as to why the folks at RZIM, who probably were the ones who put up the website, let this error go unnoticed and uncorrected, for so long? Ah… this is frustrating!

A BETTER UPDATE: December 8, 2017

I made contact with someone at RZIM (Vince Vitale) to discuss the academic credential issue. I report on this really good conversation, as an addendum, to a related post, published earlier this year.


Genesis: Paradise Lost, the Big Bang, … and Dogs Who Eat Homework

Some Christian friends of mine are all abuzz about Genesis: Paradise Lost, a new movie being shown in select theaters across America, November 13 and 16, 2017. Should Christians go see this film? (SEE MY DISCLAIMER at the bottom of the post, updated AFTER I first published this post).

In a promotional video for the movie, Dr. Charles Jackson, a professor of Creation Science at Liberty University, explains that the Big Bang Theory, of how the universe expanded from a single point, some 13 billion years ago, is part of a secular mythology, at odds with the Bible. As Dr. Jackson goes onto say, “there are all of these ‘dog ate my homework’ stories” that “atheist evolution theory” proposes to explain how stars were formed, in the wake of the Big Bang. Jackson argues that such explanations are “impossible” and “can not happen.”

The conclusion? Christians should reject Big Bang cosmology. Instead, they should embrace a Young Earth proposal, that the universe was created only some 6,000 years ago, based on a particular interpretation of the Bible. The film’s primary concern is to help Christians have a greater confidence in their Bibles, and to win those who have doubts, to have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, which are critically important aims, that all believers can boldly affirm.  Genesis: Paradise Lost is endorsed by Answers in Genesis, the apologetics organization behind the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter, located in Kentucky. Just based on this brief presentation, without any further knowledge, Dr. Jackson’s argument might sound fairly compelling.

But is what Dr. Jackson saying true?

Does Big Bang cosmology really contradict the Bible? It seems like the modern scientific consensus agrees with the Big Bang. If the Bible is out of step with the Big Bang, what does that mean?

What if, indeed, the opposite were the case? What if the Bible, written a few thousand years before scientists in the 20th century confirmed the evidence, aligns with the Big Bang? What if the Bible, accurately describes the scientifically-observed expansion of the universe? What is the likelihood of ancient, pre-modern Israelite prophets, perfectly articulating the precise nature of the universe, in a manner that exactly coincides with what modern scientists, have only recently seen in nature?

As I blogged about several months ago, Dr. Hugh Ross, of the apologetics ministry, Reasons to Believe, makes this very case.  Dr. Ross goes onto explain that the Big Bang was actually a fine-tuned expansion of the universe, and not a chaotic explosion.

But here is the kicker.

Dr. Ross makes the stunning claim that the Bible anticipates the discovery of the Big Bang by several thousands of years. Here is a quick sample of some of these Bible verses: Job 9:8; Psalm 104:2; Isaiah 40:22; 42:5; 44:24; 45:12; 48:13; 51:13; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15; and Zechariah 12:1. Look them up at BibleGateway.com, where ancient Israelite prophets wrote about how God “stretched out the heavens,” a description consistent with modern Big Bang cosmology.

Is this merely a coincidence? Do Christians need to come up with other “dog ate my homework” stories, to explain features like this in the Bible, or are there better explanations that exist? Think about it.

Should a Christian go see Genesis: Paradise Lost? Sure, consider the evidence that the film presents, as Dr. Jackson does raise some good questions, and the film makers have a genuine, rightly-motivated interest, in presenting the Gospel message to non-believers. Amen to that! But do yourself a favor, and also consider a different viewpoint, from another Christian perspective.

Or better yet, read and study what the Bible itself says, and then come to your own conclusion.

As Proverbs 18:17 says, “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.”

Below is the Dr. Charles Jackson clip, from the Genesis: Paradise Lost film, being used to promote the movie, then followed by an 8-minute presentation by Jeff Zweerink, an astronomer with Reasons To Believe , explaining what the Bible has to say about the Big Bang. Zweerink is part of the scholar team, along with Hugh Ross, at Reasons to Believe. Genesis: Paradise Lost should not be confused with an earlier film this year, Is Genesis History?, by Del Tackett and Thomas Purifoy, Jr. The earlier film has pretty much the same message, but the outdoor cinematography in Is Genesis History?, is spectacular, whereas Genesis: Paradise Lost relies more on 3D computer-generated graphics.

UPDATE (November 11, 2017): Though I published the above post a few days ago, I just learned something about “Doctor” Charles Jackson. Yes, Charles Jackson does have a doctorate. This is true. However, it is not in any particular science field. Rather, he earned his doctorate in the field of education, from the University of Virginia (UVA). He is not a practicing scientist, but rather he is a grade school science educator. This type of sleight of hand is not outright deception, but it is not entirely truthful either. At least, Is Genesis History? featured credentialed PhD-level scientists, having done doctoral work in their specific scientific field. Genesis: Paradise Lost relies on experts, that lack the level of expertise, as comparatively found in Is Genesis History?.  Eric Hovind, the producer of the latest film, should be embarrassed. Let the viewer of the film beware!!

 


Humans Came From East Africa, Southeastern Europe, (or Somewhere Else)?

Hominin footprints, by the shore of an island, near Crete, discovered by a Polish researcher.

The common evolutionary story is that modern humans first arrived on the biological scene, roughly 200,000 years ago, in East Africa. However, a controversial new discovery challenges that narrative. Does this news have any impact on Christian faith?

Most of the fossil or footprint evidence for hominins; that is, creatures that are thought to be biological ancestors to modern humans, have been found in Chad, Ethiopia, and Kenya, dating back several million years. However, a new study published in August, 2017, offers evidence of human-like footprints that have been found on an island, off of the coast of Crete (Greece), that date back to 5.7 million years ago. The age and location of the discovery may cause scientists to rethink where modern humans actually came from.

New Scientist magazine suggests that this latest research implies that modern humans may have come from southeastern Europe, and not way down south, in East Africa. In my mind, it opens up the possibility that the first humans might have actually come from somewhere roughly in between, in the nearby Middle East, which fits in with some models of Old Earth Creationism, or Evolutionary Creationism, that postulate that the first human beings, Adam and Eve, lived in an area of the Middle East. Many Old Earth Creationists would nevertheless contend for a definite break in biological development between hominin creatures and modern humans, whereas Evolutionary Creationists would see biological continuity between hominins and humans.

The 5.7 million year old dating, of course, creates a problem for Young Earth Creationism, that insists that the earth is less than 6,000 to 10,000 years old. I have heard of possible explanations by Young Earth Creationists, that suggest that the dating is completely wrong, and that the footprints were made shortly after the global flood.  The footprints would have come from either (a) human beings, and not hominins at all, or (b) ape-like creatures, that became extinct after making these prints. I am not sure how this all works, considering the facts that the evidence does not seem to indicate that these footprints were made by modern humans, and that we have no evidence of such ape-like creatures going extinct within the past 10,000 years. Would a pair of these ape-like creatures been aboard the Ark?

No matter what becomes of this discovery, it in no way undermines the biblical teaching about the sinful nature of humanity. After the story was released to the public, vandals found the site, spray painted part of the area, and stole several of the footprints, destroying some of the data. Thankfully, the site was not completely destroyed, and so it will hopefully remain a place that might yield some future discoveries.

For a closer look at what the Bible might have to say about the existence of hominins (or “hominids,” as some say it), you can dig into Veracity here.


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