Tag Archives: Apologetics

Debate recap: Introduction.

On July 24th I had the pleasure of joining Jeremy Goff, a popular LDS lifestyle blogger, in a moderated public discussion of the question “Who is God?” Dr. Wallace Marshall moderated for us, which was a real treat, as his past debates have always been very interesting. We had a decent turn out, and I managed to get some video of the event, although technical difficulties prevented us from capturing the whole thing.

While I’ll be taking up a number of topics from the debate, I wanted to take this first post to reflect on how the debate went overall. Here we go.

We followed a pretty standard format with opening statements, rebuttals, cross-examination, closing statements, and then audience questions. I’ve uploaded a copy of my opening statement here if you want to read it. We had flipped a coin earlier in the week and God willed that I go first, so I kicked things off and we went from there.

I have to say, over all, I was satisfied with how things went. I certainly had a good time, and I think Jeremy did as well. We got some good questions from the audience at the end which showed they had been paying attention, and I had some interesting conversations with people after the event.

I wish Jeremy had engaged more with my opening statement, but he did come at it from essentially the angle I was expecting. My argument was, roughly, that if you believe Jesus is raised from the dead you should also trust the Scriptures, and that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity. He didn’t engage with my exegesis of John 1 at all, nor did he take up Isaiah 43:10. Instead he kept asserting that God is our literal Father and that the Bible had been tampered with by men.

For my own part, my first response should have spent less time pointing out how Dan Brown-esque Jeremy’s understanding of church history was and more time demonstrating why his points didn’t touch my initial argument. My feet got out from under me and I spent way too long talking about what Gnosticism does and doesn’t teach. I’ve got to be more concise in further engagements, and really tether myself to the topic.

The cross-ex was a lot of fun. Jeremy failed to produce sources for any of his claims there, which was unfortunate because that left him with just assertions. This really showed a lack of authority, from my perspective. Anyone can say “such and such happened,” but as the late Hitch was wont to say, “that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.” Since Jeremy provided no evidences for his claims, his earlier plausible sounding story really fell apart. I wish I’d pinned him down more on the nature of God, though, but he kept side-stepping questions.

All in all, it was quite interesting to hear “straight from the horses mouth” what a lay-LDS member believes about church history, philosophy, the Bible, and the rest. I had a really good time, and I think that for two first-time debaters the event went very well. I’d love to go at it again sometime!

Like I said, a number of interesting points came up during the debate. I’ll be exploring them over the next few weeks, hopefully with video clips from the debate to provide some context. I hope you keep reading! If you want updates you can get them via email/Wordpress (above right) or via my Facebook page.

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Filed under Apologetics, Mormonism Mondays, Theology

If it’s Saturday, it must be Arians [Trinity Misconceptions]

This is a post in a series about the Trinity. The introduction is here, and part two is here.

It’s a Saturday morning. Two well dressed guests knock on your door. They introduce themselves as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and ask if they can show you what the Bible really teaches. They deny that Christ is the second person of a Trinity, and say instead that He is the first of God’s creation, who created everything else.

Although the Jehovah’s Witnesses are a very recent development, the Preacher in Ecclesiastes got it right: There is nothing new under the sun. The teachings of the Witnesses about Jesus are an ancient heresy known as Arianism.

The History

Early in the history of the Christian Church, a young man named Arius was studying in Alexandria. From the work of earlier teachers (perhaps Paul of Samosata) he concluded that the Son was created; that is, there was a time when the Son, the Logos in John, did not exist. The teaching of Arius was very popular among the Alexandrian schools, and his theology spread fast.

Proponents of orthodoxy initially won out, led by Athanasius, the bishop of Alexandria. The Emperor Constantine, a catechumen in the church at the time, called a council at Nicaea in 324 A.D. and all but two of the bishops there agreed that the Scriptures taught that the Father, Son, and Spirit are “consubstantial” (i.e. they share the same substance, or essence, or being). They composed the Nicene Creed, to put into a succinct statement of faith what the Scriptures teach.

Many have criticized the political power with which Constantine upheld orthodoxy. Often there are myths such as “Constantine determined the canon of Scripture at Nicaea,” or other such silliness. Those improper understandings of the council aside, Constantine did use his power inappropriately (in my estimation) when he ordered the destruction of Arian documents and the death penalty for those who did not volunteer Arian documents in their possession.

Ironically, Constantine later exiled Athanasius, the hero of orthodoxy, in an attempt at conciliating Arian sympathizers. At any rate, when Constantine’s son, Constantius II, assumed power, he used it to spread Arian doctrine throughout the Roman Empire by force. The point being, political force was used inappropriately on both sides of this issue. What we must look at, then, is the doctrines themselves.

The Theology

For a good starting point in discussion with any Jehovah’s Witnesses you may meet, I don’t suggest John 1:1. In their New World Translation of Scripture, they twist this verse to read “and the Word was a god.” Unless you speak Greek fluently, and are able to teach them Greek fluently, it won’t be much use to tell them that their translation is wrong. They simply won’t believe you.

Rather, I’d suggest jumping over to John 1:3. Even in the NWT it reads “[a]ll things came into existence through him, and apart from him not even one thing came into existence.” When I read this with them, I’ll change the “all” to “some” and “not even one thing” to “almost nothing.” So I will (mis)read “some things came into existence through him, and apart from him almost nothing came into existence.”

When I misread it, they will usually correct me. When the answer comes from their own mind, instead of being supplied by someone with whom they disagree, it is much more effective at communicating the point.

That point is that, according to the grammar of John 1:3, Jesus cannot have come into existence. Why? Because all things that came into existence came through him. Can a man be his own father? His own cause of being (in other words, his own efficient cause)? Of course not. So also, if not even one thing came into existence apart from the Word (that’s Jesus, remember? see Jn. 1:14) then Jesus can’t have come into existence, because then at least one thing came into existence apart from Jesus.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you’ll appreciate this very helpful blog post by Greg Koukl. It is essentially no different to what I outlined here, but he has a visual aid that make the point very clear.

Like I mentioned before, I’ll only be posting on Thursdays for a while during my summer intensive at school. I hope to get back to a regular Monday post soon, but I may edit the schedule further to allow for all of my obligations. God’s blessings on your week!

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Does being pro-life mean supporting forced motherhood?

On August 22, 2015, the satanic temple of Detroit showed up at a peaceful pro-life protest of Planned Parenthood in order to engage in self-described political theater, shown in the video linked above. Overall their counter protest is relatively lackluster. Sure, the wasting of milk has some shock value. The wearing of clericals and carrying of a crucifix just shows the lack of creativity involved. I am underwhelmed.

Beyond the basic lack of creativity in their costuming department, they employed an argument that I find basically preposterous. Well, “employed” is probably strong language for what actually happened. They just held up a sign that said “America is not a theocracy. End forced motherhood!”

Yawn. Boring.  Continue reading

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Four ways evangelizing helps you grow.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the many benefits of evangelizing, and especially to members of groups like the Latter Day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the past few weeks God has given me many opportunities to converse with various members of both groups mentioned above, plus with many others who do not know Jesus. I’ve noticed a few things that seasons of intense evangelism has done in my personal life.

1. Evangelism helps you to know what you do, and do not, believe. 

The Church has historically been refined by fire. When the doctrine of the Divinity of Christ was under attack by Arius, the Church’s understanding was hammered out, guided by Scripture, so that we would be able to confess Christ as “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.” There is no longer ecclesiastical confusion about this doctrine because it was challenged.

Think of your life as a microcosm of this history of the Church for a moment. We come to know what we ought to believe when we are made to examine the Scriptures “to see if these things might be so” (Acts 17:11). In my experience, almost every time I share the good news with someone who doesn’t know Jesus, I come away with a question I haven’t heard before. Thus, by evangelizing others, God causes me to grow in faith toward Him by teaching me more about who He is through the questions of those who do not yet know Him. The Church continues to be refined by fire.

2. Evangelism ignites a serious prayer life.

When you are intentionally spending time face to face with people who reject Jesus and His saving work, you will often feel helpless. This is a good feeling for you to experience for, while unpleasant, it is a true feeling — that is, it is a feeling that accurately reflects reality. After all, God has told us that His children are borne of His will (John 1); it is not our will that saves others, nor is it their will that saves them, but it is the gracious will of God the Father who draws them to His Son (John 6).

As a result of this, spend time evangelizing and it will draw you closer to God in prayer. You will keep adding names to your list of people for whom you petition the Father, asking him to graciously grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2). You will begin to ask the Father for more opportunities to tell people about His Son. Even if you only pray for other people (despite our Heavenly Father’s desire that you share everything with Him) your prayer life will be kindled as you engage others with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

3. Evangelism will help make you grateful.

After walking away from conversations with Mormon’s or Jehovah’s Witnesses, I immediately pray “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” I listen eagerly to the Scripture readings on Sunday mornings, and to the sermon. I am drawn to the Lord’s Supper with great adoration for the gift of forgiveness given there by the God who rose bodily from the dead. Truly, God’s Word cannot return to Him void, for even if the ears you intend to share it with are deaf, it will always fall on your ears as well.

A lot of people think doctrine is boring and irrelevant, but every thing that I learn about God drives me to greater devotion to God and greater thankfulness for His Son. When I see how the promise of forgiveness that Christ gives us in Baptism is so much better than the fear that Jehovah’s Witnesses carry that they haven’t done enough to save themselves from God’s wrath, I’m necessarily captivated by the True God’s love. When I compare the promise that God will uphold His Word with the confusion of a “god” who changes his mind; when I see the God who is eternal, unchanging, and sinless triumph over the “god” who is created, volatile, and possibly a sinner; when I meet the God who came to save me, versus the god who demands I save myself, I cannot help but be transfixed by this God Almighty. I cannot fathom the greatness of God, but when I see the smallness of god in the eyes of unbelievers, I get a glimpse of how much better our God is. How could the knowledge of the God who saved you be irrelevant?

4. Evangelism works!

I have saved the most important point for last. The reason we evangelize is not because it serves us, but because God Himself has given the proclaimed Word as a means of Grace — God uses this Word to make new Christians by granting them repentance and faith. Sharing God’s Word means you may get to be a part of that! You can be a firsthand witness to the continuing work of God through His Word; what else could be said about that?

I hope this post has encouraged you. God’s blessings on all your efforts to share His word!

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Christ is Risen! Why I believe in something as crazy as Jesus’ physical resurrection.

Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen indeed! Happy Easter!

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the definitive apologetic for the Christian faith. If Jesus is not alive, St. Paul tells us, our faith is in vain. Alternatively, if Christ is raised from the dead, then all else must certainly be counted as vanity. After all, if the Christian faith is true, God offers us Christ’s victory over death as our own.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, put it this way: If, at the end of my life, I find out that, say, atheism was true instead of Christianity, it won’t matter. I’ll be dead, the universe will go on, and I’ll be none the wiser. But if someone who doesn’t believe in Christianity finds out it is true, then they lose everything. As Jesus said, even if they’ve gained the whole world that will not profit them if they lose their soul eternally. This isn’t an argument for Christianity, per se, but I hope you see why it’s important to think about things that have potentially eternal ramifications. And in an effort to help you think about these things, whether you’re a believer or an unbeliever or somewhere in between, I want to present you with several reasons you ought to believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

The empty tomb.

It seems a pretty basic argument: If the tomb isn’t empty, Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, right? I mean, if you have a body, you don’t have a resurrection. So why didn’t the earliest opponents of Christianity just produce the body and be done with it?

Well, the Christian response has always been that they can’t! The tomb is empty and they can’t find Jesus’ body because He’s ascended into heaven! Let’s look at a few lines of evidence for the empty tomb. A lot of people summarize them with the acronym JET: Jerusalem, Enemies, Testimony of Women. Let’s start with Jerusalem.

The Gospels and Acts tell us that the Apostles began preaching the Gospel in Jerusalem, where Jesus had just been crucified. Can you imagine how hard it would be to preach Peter’s Pentecost sermon about how the Lord of Glory had been crucified, and raised from the dead, if the Jews could produce a body and shut you down immediately? And yet that’s exactly what happens: Peter preaches a powerful message within walking distance of the tomb, saying “David’s tomb is still here, but God raised Jesus up!” If the tomb wasn’t empty, Christianity would never have gotten off the ground.

Now the point comes up again: Why didn’t the earliest enemies of Christianity just grab His body? If the tomb was still full then the Jewish leaders could have just strung up the body and paraded it through the streets. Instead they pay off the guards to say they fell asleep and the disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). This is precisely because the tomb was discovered empty that first Easter Sunday, and they couldn’t produce the body! It speaks volumes when your strongest opponents confirm your point; John Stott said the silence of Christ’s enemies is just as eloquent a proof of the resurrection as the apostles’ witness.

Finally, the fact that women discovered the tomb would have been an embarrassment to any self-respecting first century male. If the disciples were trying to start a religion, they wouldn’t have had women be the first people to discover Jesus had risen. The Talmud, a collection of Jewish teachings from the time, says “Sooner let the words of the Law be burnt than delivered to women” (Talmud, Sotah 19a). Many more quotes could be piled on to demonstrate the low view of women that first-century Judaism took, especially in regards to legal matters: “But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex…since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 4.8.15). So for the Gospels to record such a stark reality — that the male disciples are still cowering in fear and unbelief, while the female disciples go to see Jesus at the tomb — smacks of truth! If you’re going to start a religion in the first century, you don’t do it by painting yourself as a coward compared to a lowly woman.

So based on the nearness to Jerusalem, the silence of the Enemies, and Testimony of Women (JET), it certainly seems like the tomb was empty that Easter morning. And this is only a superficial exploration of the very rich collection of evidence. If this was the end of the case, there would still be compelling reason to consider the claims of Christ further. But there’s still much more.

The appearances of Christ

The Apostle Paul records that after He was raised Jesus “appeared first to Cephas, then to the twelve, then to more than five-hundred people at once, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep; then to James, then to all the apostles…” (1 Corinthians 15:5-7). We see Jesus appearing to individuals and groups, both friendly and hostile. This variety shows us that Christ did indeed appear to His church.

Often people object that the apostles probably had some grief hallucinations. Despite the fact that hallucinations would probably have fit preconceived notions of Jesus resting in Abraham’s Bosom (where faithful Jews awaited the general resurrection at the end of the world), and hallucinations generally don’t give rise to life-altering beliefs, people persist in this particular objection. But Jesus did not just appear to individuals alone; He appeared to groups of people, and groups of people do not have shared hallucinations. That’s why we pay attention when two or three eyewitnesses say they saw the same thing. Not only that, but it wasn’t just friendly sources who saw Jesus: Hostile sources like James (Jesus’ brother who had previously disbelieved his Brother’s claims to Godhood) and Paul (then called Saul, and a murderer of the Christian heretics) both saw Jesus raised from the dead!

The change in the apostles.

Read Luke 22:54-62, then read Acts 2:14-36. Both passages deal with Peter, both are by the same author, and yet the Peter who denies Jesus is very different to the Peter who stands up on the day of Pentecost and preaches a powerful sermon about Jesus’ authority and victory over death. What changed this coward into a bold preacher? He told you, if you read the Acts account: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Meeting the risen Jesus completely changed Peter — there’s just no other way to put it. And what could possibly change a man from being so fearful of death to preaching to those who could kill him? Again, he told us: Death has no power over Jesus (See verse 24). So Peter no longer feared death because he had met death’s match; he had met someone who walked straight into the belly of Death and punched a hole in it’s side. That’s why when Peter was faced with death, rather than recanting what he had said, he boldly confessed Christ and received martyrdom for it.

But it wasn’t just Peter or John or the close friends of Jesus who were changed. As I mentioned above, Jesus’s appearance changed people who had been hostile to the faith. James, Jesus’ brother, went from unbeliever to apostle when he met Jesus, even writing the letter bearing his name. And Saul of Tarsus, who was basically a hit man the Jewish leaders hired to kill Christians, said he met Jesus on the way to a murder-for-hire in Damascus. From then on Saul went by Paul, and went from one of the top persecutors of the church to one of it’s chief advocates, writing roughly half of the New Testament, being shipwrecked, stoned, and persecuted in various means as he tried to spread the Gospel. Paul, too, received death as a martyr, choosing to bear witness to what a great hope Christ’s resurrection had given him rather than to live. Becoming a Christian early on in the history of the church generally ended with your own blood being shed. Ask yourself, what would compel a man to leave a successful, stable, and relatively cushy life as a traveling persecutor of heretics, only to be persecuted himself, and ultimately die as a result? Doesn’t the conversion of Paul invite us to take a second look at this whole Easter thing?

So what?

I’m sure that as you’ve reached the end of this post you have questions, and perhaps objections. I’d love to hear them. But I think perhaps the most pressing question is “so what?” What does the fact of the resurrection mean for you? That depends on how you respond to it. If you respond in faith then the resurrection is fantastic news — and faith is not a blind and reasonless ignorance but a trust that is willing to step beyond the evidence, as one might trust that there is something casting a shadow though you cannot see anything but the shadow cast. If you trust that Jesus’ work on the cross, His death, and His resurrection were for you, then this whole Easter thing means so much: Peace with God, forgiveness of your deepest sins and guilt, the strength to fight against sin in your self, and so much more.

Responding in unbelief, however, and rejecting Jesus’ work means that you will have none of that. You will continue to be at odds with God and the universe, you will continue to deal with your guilt on your own, you will continue to be a slave to all of your sinful desires. C. S. Lewis put it nicely: “Some people say to God, ‘thy will be done,’ and there are some people to whom God says ‘thy will be done.'” In other words, if you continue to reject Jesus’ work, and God’s invitation back into right relationship with Him, He will, one day, say “depart from me, I never knew you.”

So this is what the resurrection means: Eternal life, joy everlasting, and freedom from sin, death, and the Devil. I hope you have found a few compelling reasons to believe that the resurrection did indeed happen: If the tomb wasn’t empty, how’d Christianity even get off the ground? If Jesus didn’t convert the Apostle Paul, why did he go from killing Christians to being killed as one? And if these things are true, then why do you delay? It was for your sins that Christ died: Repent of your sins, trust in Him, and His victory this day is also your victory. May God grant it.

Share this post via the links below! God’s blessings on your Easter! 

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A bit of Fry and theodicy.

Recently Stephen Fry responded to the question “What would you say to God if you met Him at the pearly gates” by saying, among other things:

I’ll say, bone cancer in children, what’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain.

[God] could easily have made a creation in which [insects that eat the eyes of children do not] exist. It’s unacceptable.

That’s what I would say.

Rowan Atkinson responded to Fry’s comments stating “it would be a very, very stupid and insensitive person who never felt that,” and he’s certainly right. The problem of evil, as it is coined, has been around as a challenge to the idea of God for a long time precisely because it strikes such a clear chord with us: Why, if God loves us, does He not prevent evil?

Tonight I asked our Lutheran youth — Youtherans, if you will — how they would respond; suppose Fry had asked them, and not God, about cancer in children? I would like to here sketch out three paths we might take in formulating a response to Mr. Fry’s objections.

First, we must recognize human responsibility for suffering. The Christian worldview must be seen in totality, rather than bits and pieces. In the Fall, when mankind first rebelled against God, we broke the whole world. All of creation now travails under the weight of our sins. Often people ask about earthquakes and disease — natural suffering not directly caused by humanity. In the Christian view, all natural suffering is unnatural; it is not the world as it ought to be, but the world broken by our sin.

G. K. Chesterton was once asked to write an essay on what was wrong with the world. He responded with a very brief letter: “Dear sirs, I am.” More pointedly, Jesus Himself said that when we hear about natural disasters like a tower collapse, we ought to repent (Luke 13). Evil doesn’t happen to people because they are particularly worse than the rest of us, it happens because the whole world is sold in slavery under sin. And when you consider the staggering course of human evil, the question might often be better “why do good things still happen to such wicked people?”

Second, in answer to Fry, we must ask “Why is human suffering evil?” Fry and I of course agree that suffering in children is awful. The problem for Fry is that his objection doesn’t carry much weight if God does not exist. After all, suppose that we cured these children: So what? Why is their dying now somehow worse than their dying later? They’ll die either way. And why is it bad that they die at all? After all, we all die, and the weak die out sooner. Isn’t it better that they die now and remove their weaker genes from the pool? This is, after all, the cold logic of natural selection by which the world runs.

Fry states that this suffering is unacceptable, but unacceptable to whom? Himself? And why should we all be beholden to such a man as Stephen Fry? It seems much more consistent with atheism for Fry to say he doesn’t like seeing children suffer. But then some people who are quite sick might very much enjoy seeing children suffer. So Fry must be appealing to something more than a preference here, if he wishes this objection to carry any weight. Fry is necessarily invoking a transcendent moral law which states that children suffering is bad. But where does this transcendent moral law come from?

C. S. Lewis put his answer to this objection in Mere Christianity thusly:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?…Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

Lastly, it might be prudent to take a bit more of an offensive stance, rather than merely a defensive one, when dealing with an objection like this. Let us grant him that his objection even makes sense, for the moment. What does his worldview have to offer that is better? Whether it happens in our youth or in our old age, all of us will die. Some of us will suffer early in life from bone cancer or leukemia; others will face terrifying mental disabilities and disorders like Alzheimers. Either way, we will all suffer and die in the end, alone and meaningless — our life is naught but a brief spark of consciousness between the voids. Even what legacy we may leave behind will eventually die out, whether that is in the next 10, 100, or 1,000 years, or at the heat death of the universe and the end of all things. There is nothing to hold on to; all of our hopes for immortality are nothing but vanity — it is all vanity. If life’s meaning is only what you make of it, then all meaning ceases with you.

On the other hand Christianity does offer something more than this. After all, it was Christian love and charity that gave rise to the conception of hospitals and universities that have fought back against the effects of sin, producing cures and treatments for horrible diseases. Christianity is working in the here and now to heal what we can in the world. As Rowan Atkinson pointed out in his statement, it ought to give someone pause that quite often it is people of faith who are at the bedside of suffering children. But Christianity does better than just temporal and temporary fixes: Christ has risen! I know, it’s quite a few weeks premature to Easter, but that is the message of Christianity! Christ has risen indeed! Christ is God’s answer to our pain and suffering, to our sin, and ultimately to our death.

Christ stepped down in the midst of all of our pain and suffering precisely because of His great love — it was for both the young and old that Christ died. And just as Adam’s sin struck the cosmos, so now Christ’s righteousness will heal it. He has been raised from the dead; the death He died was for the child with bone cancer, and the old man with Alzheimers, and everyone in between — and so His resurrection is the resurrection of all who are united with Him through faith. That means the little one who dies baptized will be raised to new life. They will not know pain anymore, or tears, or death, because God died on the Cross in their place. That is a hope that no one but Christ can offer to us, all of us, who are dying.

In the end, this objection to Christianity always falls just short. There is surely suffering, but to sit as judge over God requires an objective standard by which to judge God, and atheism cannot produce this standard. It seems to me that disbelieving in God because there is evil in the world is a bit like disbelieving in the sun because there are shadows. Certainly there is darkness, but that is only because something is getting in the way of the light.

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How I discovered the ultimate Bible code, and what it means for you!

Now I know a lot of ink has already been spilt, both digital and otherwise, on this topic. So many people have claimed to have cracked the Bible code, from William Tapley to Perry Stone, that another claim to have discovered a Biblical code is rightly viewed with some skepticism. But I have, in fact, discovered the ultimate Bible code: The grand key to unlocking all the wisdom of the Scriptures. This code will change your life. Continue reading

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The Boston Bombing: A Christian Response.

This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I lived through 9/11, but I was too young to write about it. I remember the tears on my art teacher’s face as the second building came down. I remember my mother grieving. I grieved, in my own naive way. And I prayed for justice. 

Now, older and at least marginally wiser, I pray for forgiveness.

I hear already the resounding human response to every tragedy: “Where was God in all this?” Never mind that it doesn’t make sense to appeal to how things “ought” to be without an objective moral standard. When nothing goes wrong, no one thanks Him; when anything goes wrong, everyone blames Him. And no thanks, either, for the drastically reduced death count from our last massive terror attack. How merciful that out of the 27,000 runners and who knows how many spectators, only 3 dead and around 130 wounded. Are these terrible things? Yes. My heart breaks for those families who lost loved ones, and everyone affected by this calamity. At the same time, I am grateful that God, in His great mercy, restrained what could have been a massively more horrific event.

In the news coverage of this event that is now spilled an indelible crimson across our national consciousness, there are going to be many religious voices vying for attention. Westboro Baptist Church, true to the spirit of antichrist that rules them, has already begun spewing their violent, hateful rhetoric. Some voices will be raised to champion human unity, love, charity, and the like. However, as laudable as those ideas may be, none of them has the power to lay an axe to the root of the Boston Bombing.

In Luke 13, Jesus responds to some current events in His day. Listen to what He says about tragedy:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

(Lk. 13:1-5, ESV).

See, contrary to the WBC, Jesus says that tragedy striking is not indicative of whether or not the people upon whom it falls are more or less guilty than others. In fact, Jesus turns to those listening and says it is not because they were worse sinners that they suffered!

Tragedy cuts the legs out from under those who would judge, because it reminds us of the real problem: We are all guilty before God. In an attempt to weasel out of our shame, we use these horrific times as an escape. “Look how displeased God must have been with them, to visit anguish like that on their city.” But Christ shows us that sin is the great equalizer: Everyone is equally guilty. No one is a greater or lesser offender.

And so the messages of unity, hope, and love are not enough to overcome the problem: Sin. Again, those things are commendable, but to think they can fix the problem is to think you can cover the stench of a pigsty with a few rose petals. We must address the problem at the root, or we will never kill the tree.

Christ has an answer for us here: Repent — repent or perish.

Let this call ring out to those who have the ears to hear: Let us all repent of all those times which we have failed to love God, or love others as ourselves. Let us seek the forgiveness of the One whom we have wronged. Let us repent that we may not perish. And if God is so merciful as to lavish His grace upon us, to forgive us of our sins, and to forbear a little longer with this nation that many more may come to repentant faith and trust in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins — if God be so merciful, should we not pray for those who visited this great horror on us?

Is this not still the God who does not delight in the death of the wicked? Is this not the same Christ who commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us? And if He has loved sinners by dying for them, and prayed that the Father forgive us for our ignorance, should we not pray the same for these depraved men? After all, we’re all equally guilty. Whatever judgement you want to heap on their head, you and I deserve as well. Don’t get me wrong: I pray that these terrorists are caught quickly and put on trial for their crimes. But in terms of eternal souls, mine sure didn’t deserve saving, so I have no footing to stand on to say that theirs does not as well.

This is why the Gospel answers these horrors so well: Any time that we see the effects of sin take their course, we know that God is not sitting idly by simply allowing these things to occur. No, He has stepped down into history and taken upon Himself the “punishment that brought us peace” (Isaiah 53). And now, He is making all things new. Everything is rushing toward its ultimate, glorious consummation and glorification, when Christ will bring all things, even this, into subjection under Himself. Until that day, let us live in daily repentance and faith, so that we may be forgiven of our sins.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

1 Corinthians 15:1-8

Only the Gospel offers this now and future hope. God bless you all. Pray for Boston — pray for forgiveness.

In Christ,

Jonathan Graham.

UPDATE: At 3 AM, when I originally posted this, I had not fully researched some of the various ways to support those affected by the Boston bombing. Now that i’ve had some time to do some research as to ways to help Boston, you can read about that here.

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That Christ Died. (or, an introduction to the resurrected Lord, part 2.)

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures[.]

— 1 Corinthians 15:3

It may seem an unnecessary point to begin a series on the resurrection on: Doesn’t almost everyone almost everywhere know that the man called Christ died on a Roman cross? Isn’t that a properly basic fact of history? Well…no, and yes, respectively.

You see, while there is overwhelming historical evidence that Jesus Christ was indeed put to death on a Roman cross, there are still those who deny that this happened. The Swoon theory of the resurrection accounts denies that Christ actually physically died. Rather, in an effort to deny the resurrection, proponents assert that He just passed out, and was buried alive. He revived, rather than resurrected, in the tomb.

Muslims also dismiss the historicity of the death of Jesus. Sura 4:157 says:

And [for] their saying, ‘Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .’ And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

In other words, Christ was not crucified, but someone else was made to look like Him, and was crucified in His place, while He was taken up into heaven. We’ll come back to refuting both of these notions. For now let us ask: What do we know about Jesus’ death?

An examination of hostile sources — both pagan and Jewish — will render us able to confidently state that Jesus was indeed put to death by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate. Cornelius Tacitus, the “great historian” of ancient Rome, records in his acclaimed work Annals, “Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out…” (XV). As F. F. Bruce famously pointed out, Tacitus ironically joined hands with the Creed, affirming that Christ “suffered…[under] Pontius Pilate.” The extreme penalty is synonymous with capital punishment, which was most often crucifixion. Lucian of Samosata twice references the crucified Christ whom we “misguided creatures” follow (The Death of Peregrine). And finally, the Babylonian Talmud records how Jesus was “hanged on the eve of Passover” (Sanhedrin 43a). “Hanged” is used throughout the Talmud to refer to crucifixion. All of these — and more, excluded for the sake of brevity — bear independent and hostile witness to the fact that Jesus of Nazareth died on a Roman cross — a very good start!

But for more detail, we must turn to the eyewitnesses of the life of Christ: His disciples. However, I’m sure that the objection will be raised “well of course they’re going to say He died and rose again. After all, they’re Christians!” Eyewitness bias is indeed to be taken into consideration. That’s one reason I appealed to hostile sources. No one can accuse Tacitus of Christian proselytizing! But consider this: The disciples were not previously Christians who wrote down what they saw; rather, they became Christians because of what they saw, and then wrote it down for others. In other words, the accusation of bias doesn’t make sense.

We will begin the night of Jesus’ betrayal. After the Last Supper, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus bowed to pray. Here, Luke records that Jesus, “in an agony,” began to sweat great drops of blood (Luke 22:44). This was, for a very long time, regarded as a legend that had accumulated into the Christian tradition. Sweating blood? Unbelievable! As medical science has advanced, however, we now know of hematidrosis: Sweating blood! This incredibly rare medical condition is most often precipitated by “[a]cute fear and intense mental contemplation” (1). The details of Luke’s account testify to the thoroughness of his research (Luke 1:1-4)! The rarity of this condition makes this an unlikely legendary accretion.

After His flesh had been sensitized by the hematidrosis, Christ was taken from the garden to the high priest’s home (Lk. 22: 54). Here those who had captured Him — or rather, those with whom He went willingly — blindfolded and beat Him (Lk. 22:63-65). From here, Jesus goes to see Pilate, and Pilate has Him scourged (Lk. 23:16; cf. Jn. 19:1).

Roman scourging was a terrible thing. From history we know that a Roman flagrum was a terrible tool of torture. It had multiple cords, with bits of glass, bone, and stone woven into it. Each cord was weighted at the end, causing the scourge to bite into the flesh; the woven teeth tore out huge chunks of the victim’s body. Eusebius records how “sometimes the scourges tore into [the] innermost veins and arteries, revealing [entrails] and organs” (Ecclesastical History, 4:15). Unlike the Jewish authorities, who only permitted 39 lashes, the Roman authorities had no such limit. In the case of capital punishment, it seems they encouraged lengthy whippings, so as to ensure a timely death. So Christ was stripped of His garments, tied to a post, and stripped of His skin. The damage inflicted by scourging alone was known to cause death.

Hypovolemic shock occurs when you lose %20 or more of the normal amount of blood in your body. At the end of His scourging, Christ was almost certainly undergoing hypovolemic shock. The kidneys shut down to save fluid; your heart starts to pound because your blood pressure drops. After a long night without sleep or food, Christ endures the agony of a Roman scourging, but just barely. Carrying His cross proved too much, so the Roman guards press-ganged Simon of Cyrene into carrying the cross for Him (Lk. 23:26; Mk. 15:20-21; Matt. 27:31-32). In Mark 15 we read that “they brought Him to the place called Golgotha” (22). The phrase “they brought Him” indicates that Christ had collapsed — they carried Him to His execution.

Although the method of crucifixion has come under fire, recent archaeological findings at Giv‘at ha-Mivtar have shown that perpetrators were indeed nailed to the cross through the hands and feet. The fact that this practice was known indicates that this was not a later Christian invention, but John faithfully recording what he saw.

Another interesting inference from the Giv‘at ha-Mivtar findings: Because wood was sparse in the Ancient Near East, it is likely that crucifixions were carried out with olive wood. Because olive trees are not very tall, this would mean that crucifixions would have taken place at or just above eye-level. With a crowd of people gathered around to see Christ’s punishment, those more cowardly disciples in the back row would have a different perspective than that of John the Beloved at the feet of his Lord. Thus the different perspectives in the Gospel narratives.

Crucifixion may kill in a number of ways. Because crucifixions were known to last for days, some victims passed of sepsis, dehydration, starvation, or any of a number of other horrific reasons. However, in the case of Christ, death was the combined result of asphyxiation and cardiac arrest caused by hypovolemic shock. This is evidenced by the record of “blood and water” flowing out of Christ’s spear wound (Jn. 19:34).

As previously mentioned, hypovolemic shock raises the heart rate. This constant pounding away at next to no blood wears the heart down rapidly. Fluid begins to collect around the heart and lungs; a pericardal and pleural effusion, respectively. As the heart fails, the blood slows through the veins and begins to clot. As the soldier’s spear pierced Christ’s side, this mixture of dark red semi-coagulated blood and watery clear serum would have been very obvious to the closer bystander John. His credibility as an eyewitness is increased by the fact that he would have not understood nor been able to explain the “blood and water” that he saw, and yet he recorded it. This phrase is definite evidence that Jesus Christ died on the cross.

In spite of all the demonstrative medical, historical, and archaeological evidence to the contrary, — in spite of the mental anguish, the multiple beatings with fists, the scourging, the crown of thorns, the long walk to Golgotha in His pitiful state, and the sufferings of crucifixion so great that they had to come up with a new word (excruciating, or “out of the cross”) to describe the horrors — some still insist that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross. To the Muslim we must ask, do you really believe that John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was confused about what or whom he saw? As he stood near the cross, did he suddenly forget what his rabbi of three and a half years looked like? How could he be so pinpoint accurate about a forensic detail he had no knowledge of, and yet so mistaken as to the identity of a man he had given his life to?

And let us indulge for a moment, against all odds, the strange notion that Christ did not, in fact, die on the cross. First, the idea that He could recover in the tomb unaided is absurd. Josephus had the emperor Titus remove three of his friends from their crosses and got them the best medical help available. Two of them died within a few days (Autobiography, ch. 76; Wars of the Jews, IV v.2). But suppose Jesus’ did all of this: Survived the scourging, the crown of thorns, the various beatings, and the cross itself, and awoke in the tomb. How did He, in His doubtlessly pitiful state, move the stone, pass the guard, walk whatever distance back to Jerusalem, and convince His disciples that they would one day have a resurrection body just like His, and that this was a thing worth dying for? No, the swoon hypothesis clearly falls apart as soon as it faces the facts of history; “that Christ died” is a sure and certain thing.

Stay tuned for part 3: For your sins. As of right now, this series is on hold. I will revive it eventually. Read part 1 here. Questions or comments are both welcome and expected in the form below! 

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3 reasons why the fetus is a human being.

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

It’s not an uncommon objection from the pro-abortion crowd: “You pro-lifers are so worried about killing a human being, but the fetus isn’t a human being!” If you’re dealing with the typical, well-meaning abortion apologist, they’re not willfully lying to you. They genuinely believe that the fetus is something less than human.  The problem with this is that they are wrong: The fetus is a genuine human being with all the rights of any other member of the human community.

Before we get to far, I want to point out that there are some more refined abortion advocates who would object to this as a straw-man. They would say something like “Well I agree that the fetus is a human being, but it’s not a human person, and only person’s have rights and membership in the human community.” To you, I must pose the question: At what point does a fetus become a human person and why? The burden of proof rests entirely with you to demonstrate this far less than obvious distinction. Rather than further straw-man your position, I’ll wait to hear from you. In this post, however, I will defend the proposition that the fetus is a human being and a full member of the human community. Here’s why:

#1) A fetus comes from human parents.

This might be a painfully obvious question, but if a fetus is not a human, then what is it? And how does something non-human come from human parents? Basic biology informs us that a species reproduces after its own kind (to borrow the Biblical phrase). Some may appeal to Ernst Haeckel and his idea that “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” — that the unborn fetus goes through it’s previous evolutionary stages as a fish, a salamander, a chicken, etc. — however they would ill-informed: Haeckel was a fraud, faking the data that drove his theory. It’s been completely debunked.

#2) There are no significant differences between other human beings and the fetus.

If you think about it, you can essentially reduce all the difference between the Johnny typing this sentence and pre-birth fetal Johnny to four different categories: Size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency. Now, do any of these categories disqualify the fetus as a human being? Is Yao Ming more human than I am? Will I become more human when my brain finally finishes developing? If I move, does my humanness vary in some degree? Is a dialysis patient less human than I am as a healthy young man? You see that none of these categories affect the nature of the fetus; the fetus is fully human from conception.

#3) Because science tells me so.

The following quotes are from embryology textbooks about the beginning of human life; all italicized emphasis in original, bold is my own:

Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being.
(Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2)

The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression ‘fertilized ovum’ refers to the zygote.
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

These are but a few of the facts supporting the pro-life position. I hope that this encourages you to dig deeper into what you believe about abortion. Whether or not you agree with me, I hope you will at least agree that this is an important discussion to have.

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