The Angry Atheists

When Jerry Falwell died on May 15, 2007, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper asked the caustic atheist Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) for his reaction. Cooper said, “I’m not sure if you believe in heaven, but, if you do, do you think Jerry Falwell is in it?” Hitchens held nothing back. He took a deep breath, smirked, and said, “No. And I think it’s a pity there isn’t a hell for him to go to.” Cooper was taken aback. “What is it about him that brings up such vitriol?” Hitchens said, “The empty life of this ugly little charlatan proves only one thing, that you can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and to truth in this country if you will just get yourself called reverend.” Hitchens told Cooper he thought Falwell was “…a bully and a fraud” who was essentially a Bible-thumping huckster.

I was introduced to Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza in my World Views class at Colorado Christian University. One of the weekly assignments included watching a debate between D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens. I was shocked at the amount of venomous, loaded, sarcastic language Hitchens kept throwing his opponent. Hitchens always came across as a bombastic bully better at delivering witty zingers than compelling arguments. D’Souza writes, “A group of prominent atheists—many of them evolutionary biologists—has launched a public attack on religion in general and Christianity in particular; they have no interest in being nice.” He notes a comment made by Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, displaying Dawkins’ anger at God:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infaticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

In a Christianity Today article dated March 13, 2008, Tony Snow writes, “There are two types of Christian apologetics. One makes the positive case for faith; the other responds to critics. Dinesh D’Souza’s delightful book, What’s So Great About Christianity, falls into the second category. It sets out to rebut recent exuberant atheist tracts, such as Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great and Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion.” Snow notes that these so-called militant atheists tend to combine argument with large doses of bitter biography. Hitchens has gone so far as to state, “…religion poisons everything.”

Dr. David Jeremiah, in his book I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, said, “When I write of the anger of the atheists, I am not primarily referring to the classic atheists such as Bertrand Russel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. The atheists I am writing about are the ‘New Atheists.’ The term ‘new atheism’ was first used by Wired magazine in November 2006 to describe the atheism espoused in books like Daniel Dennett’s Breaking the Spell, Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Lewis Wolpert’s Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Victor Stenger’s The Comprehensible Cosmos, Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, and Christopher Hitchens’s God is Not Great.

WHY ALL THIS ANGER?

How can people  be so angry with God if they do not even believe He exists? Moreover, why would those most indignant about God feel such compulsion to literally preach their anti-God religion with the type of zeal we typically see from evangelists? Do they consider atheism to be their religion? Today’s front line atheists have truly ramped up the volume of their objections. They once held private their personal opinion that God does not exist. Today, they find it necessary to go on talk shows and lecture circuits announcing their belief in loud, shrill, militant voices.

The Pew Research Center (2019) published an article indicating that in the United States the ages 14–17 are very influential in terms of an individual adopting atheism. Of those who do embrace unbelief in the United States, many do so in their high school years. The average age group when most people decide they do not believe in God is 18-29 (40%). Theodore Beale declared, “”…the age at which most people become atheists indicates that it is almost never an intellectual decision, but and emotional one.” The Christian apologist Ken Ammi concurs in his essay The Argument for Atheism from Immaturity and writes, “It is widely known that some atheists rejected God in their childhood, based on child-like reasons, have not matured beyond these childish notions and thus, maintain childish emotional reactions toward the idea of God.” It is likely some great trauma or loss has caused the young atheist to not only reject God but to be filled with anger and resentment.

Men such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are known for taking a look-back-in-anger, take-no-prisoners type of atheism. They, and most other active but not-so-famous atheists, reject the term “militant,” and refuse to explain their anger. Antony Flew, atheist-turned-believer and apologist, said, “What was significant about these [men’s] books was not their level of argument—which was modest, to put it mildly—but the level of visibility they received both as best sellers and as a ‘new’ story discovered by the media. The ‘story’ was helped even further by the fact that the authors were as voluble and colorful as their books were fiery.” Their delivery sounds a lot like hellfire-and-brimstone preachers warning us of dire retribution, even of apocalypse.

It’s obvious that atheists in the West today have become more outspoken and militant. The “average” atheist balks at the term militant, claiming it has no place in non-belief; only in radical, violent extremists like the Christians of the Crusades and Islamic terrorists. Fine. Let’s take a look at the meaning of militant: “combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause, and typically favoring extreme, violent, or confrontational methods.” No, these new atheists do not seem to be violent, but you don’t have to be violent to be militant. They are surely combative and aggressive, often using rude, brutish, insulting confrontation in lieu of substantive comebacks. Dinesh D’Souza says what we are witnessing in America is atheist backlash. The atheists thought they were winning—after all, Western civilization has adopted pluralism and moral relativism—but now they realize that, far from dying quietly, Christianity is on the upswing. This is precisely why the new atheists are striking back, using all the vitriol they can command.

For example, consider the title of some of the books the new atheists have written:

  • The God Delusion—Richard Dawkins
  • The End of Faith—Sam Harris
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis—Victor Stenger
  • God is Not Great—Christopher Hitchens

SOMETHING IS LACKING IN THIS NEW ATHEISM

Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and others refuse to engage the real issues involved in the question of whether God exists. None of them even address the central grounds for positing the reality of God. Flew notes Sam Harris makes absolutely no mention of whether it’s possible that God does exist. Moreover, these new atheists fail to address the pesky question Where did the matter come from that forms our universe? They don’t discuss rationality, consciousness, or conceptual thought. I’d love to know where they believe our intellectual capacity, as well as metacognition—thinking about thinking—and who we are and what life really means came from. Neither do they present a plausible  worldview that explains the existence of law-abiding, life-supporting, altruistic behavior. They have no plausible explanation for the development of ethics and truth.

Flew goes so far as to comment, “It would be fair to say that the ‘new atheism’ is nothing less than a regression to the logical positivist philosophy that was renounced by even its most ardent proponents. In fact, the ‘new atheists.” it might be said, do not even rise to logical positivism. Hold on. Let’s take a minute to look at positivism so we’re on the same page as Flew and his argument. Simply stated, it is a Western philosophy that confines itself to the data of experience and excludes a priori or metaphysical speculation. It has also been known as empiricism and, later in the 20th century, analytic philosophy.

WHAT THEY WANT

For the militant atheists, the solution is to weaken the power of faith and religion worldwide and to drive religion completely from the public sphere so that it can no longer have an impact on academia or public policy. In their view, they believe a secular world would be a safer and more peaceful world without the concept of religious faith. D’Souza writes, “Philosopher Richard Rorty proclaimed religious belief ‘politically dangerous’ and declared atheism the only practical basis for a ‘pluralistic, democratic society.’ These ideas resonate quite broadly in Western culture today.”

Isn’t it always a form of child abuse to label children as possessors of beliefs that they are too young to have thought about?—Richard Dawkins

Dinesh D’Souza writes, “It seems that atheists are not content with committing cultural suicidethey want to take your children with them. The atheist strategy can be described in this way: let the religious people breed them, and we will educate them to despise their parents’ beliefs.” In other words, militant atheists are more concerned with indoctrinating our young students against their parents’ religious influence through promoting an anti-religious agenda. It’s been said that Darwinism has enemies mostly because it is not compatible with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis.

Christopher Hitchens, who was an ardent Darwinist, wrote, “How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?” Hitchens accused religion of preying upon the uninformed and undefended minds of the young. He did not take kindly to Christian parochial schools. He boldly stated, “If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”  Sam Harris likened belief in Christianity to a form of slavery! Biologist E.O. Wilson recommended using science to eradicate religion by showing that the mind itself is a product of evolution and that free moral choice is an illusion.

Sam Harris goes further, saying atheism should be taught as a mere extension of science and logic. Harris says, “Atheism is not a philosophy. It is not even a view of the world. It is simply an admission of the obvious. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.” Dawkins believes faith is one of the world’s great evils, comparable to small pox virus but harder to eradicate. He writes in The God Delusion, “Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.” Sigmund Freud regarded religion as a illusion (rather than a delusion, which is a psychiatric term), but he was by no means militant, combatant or completely closed-minded on the subject. In fact, he often invited religious leaders to his home to discuss the merits of their faith. He at least seemed open-minded, albeit not convinced.

Philosopher Richard Rorty argued that secular professors in the universities are out to “arrange things so that students who enter as bigoted, homophobic religious fundamentalists will leave college with views more like our own.” It’s as if these atheist professors intend to discredit parents in the eyes of their children, trying to strip them of their fundamentalist beliefs, making such beliefs seem silly rather than worthy of discussion. D’Souza writes, “The conventions of academic life, almost universally, revolve around the assumption that religious belief is something that people grow out of as they become educated.”

CONCLUDING REMARKS

As children, we certainly spend a great amount of time in school. Basic psychology tells us early child development encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between birth and age 8. A continuum of care—from preconception through the formative years—is needed to safeguard and maximize children’s developmental outcomes. Indeed, the first five years of a child’s life effect who a child will turn out to be. The beliefs, emotions, and action-tendencies represent the accumulated experiences people have had while trying to get their needs met, which plays a key role in personality development. Accordingly, personality develops around our motivations (our needs and goals). Children of Christian parents who grow up in an environment that consistently presents and lives the Gospel enter public school with an understanding of Who and What God is. This is more pronounced if they attended a parochial school prior to entering college. Secular professors want to dismantle that belief system in the interest of empirical science and truth.

Militant atheists have come out of the shadows of private belief with the intention of attacking theism in general and Christianity in particular. They are no longer content with deciding for themselves that there is no God. They feel compelled to poison the minds of young college students, steering them away from their faith, by bombarding them with science, logical positivism, Darwinism, pluralism, and moral relativism and… well, whatever works. Just as long as they can convince the world that God is dead one college student at a time.

Praise God that He lives so that we may live.

References

Dawkins, R. (2006). The God Delusion. New York, NY: Bantam Press.

Jeremiah, D. (2011). I Never Thought I’d See the Day! New York, NY: FaithWords.

Pew Research Center. (2019). Age and Distribution Among Atheists. Retrieved from: http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/religious-family/atheist/

Snow, T. (March 13, 2008). “New Atheists are Not So Great.” Christianity Today. Retrieved from: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html

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Unveiling Islam and Muhammad

For nearly 95 percent of the world’s population, conversion to Christianity often means disowning, disinheritance, expulsion, arrest, and even death. At this moment, for the sake of the Great Commission (see Matthew 28:16-20), men and women are being whipped into submission, tortured, imprisoned, beaten, and banned from their families. Homes are being torched, entire families executed, so-called apostates stoned to death. This, of course, is nothing new. Christians have been persecuted and tortured since the first century because of their belief in Jesus. If you believe that these events are rare, or in the past, then you are sadly misinformed.

Despite the horrors of such persecution, Christianity cannot be snuffed out. Why? Because it is more than a religion. It is not merely a set of beliefs; a certain “sect” or denomination; it is not merely one of the many ways of “getting to God.” In this case, all roads do not lead to Rome! Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus as Lord and Savior. He is the only means by which mankind can be saved and restored to a relationship with God the Father. Biblical Christianity assumes the very essence of truth. Truth implies the existence of error, and mutually exclusive claims of truth cannot both be correct.

Such is the case with Islam and Christianity. They cannot both be correct.

THE BASIS OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH ALLAH

A Muslim’s devotion is not an act of love, but of fear. I’ve learned this from talking to those who have come out from the darkness of Islam into the light of Christianity, as well as a missionary stationed in Northern Africa. I see this in biographies of men and women who were once Muslims but are now Christians. Every Muslim fears the scales of justice, which weigh his or her good deeds against their bad deeds. There is no grace; no forgiveness; no unconditional love. Moreover, there is no freedom to reject Allah. According to Hadith 9.57, those who leave the faith are to be killed.

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To the devout Muslim, “God loves you” is the brash claim of Christianity. No such statement can be found in the Qur’an. Whereas the Bible teaches that God hates sin but loves the sinner, Islamic scripture affirms that Allah hates sinners. Allah thinks even less of apostates—those who have abandoned their faith. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV). The Qur’an says, “For Allah loves not transgressors” (Surah 2:190). Even if we take Islam at face value—as a religion that speaks of God—there is a major difference in the personal quality of Allah and God.

Islam teaches that Allah sent prophets and messengers to proclaim the truth. In Christianity, God the Father sent His Son to be Truth. Jesus came to teach the Good News, to die for our sins, and to reconcile men and women to God. In Islam, it is hoped that salvation is earned through one’s good works (Surah 3:31). One must love Allah in order for Allah to love that person in return. In Christianity, God loved us first (Romans 5:8).

Quran day of judgment

There is no security for the believer of Islam. The follower of Allah is left wondering if it’s Allah’s will that they make it to Paradise. Good works can only give the hope of heaven, but never the guarantee. The question will not be answered until the Day of Judgment. For the Christian, judgment was satisfied at the cross. Of course, this is an event rejected by Muhammad and Allah. In fact, Surah 14:4 paints quite a dismal picture: “We sent not a messenger except [to teach] in the language of his people, that he may enlighten them. Then Allah leads astray whom He wills and guides whom He wills. He is Almighty, All-Wise.” I’m shocked at the predetermination of this verse. Allah will decide who will enter Paradise. Faith has nothing to do with it.

In Islam, salvation is “awarded” by Allah arbitrarily to those he deems worthy. In fact, Muhammad questioned his own salvation, even though he was the greatest of prophets, supposedly appointed by Allah to “set the record straight.” According to Hadith 5.266, “Muhammad said: ‘By Allah, though I am the Apostle of Allah, yet I do not know what Allah will do to me.'” Allah will send to heaven whomever he pleases, and send to hell whomever he pleases.

Christian sects often argue over the validity and meaning of Romans 8:29-30: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (NIV). We’re told in Ephesians 1:4-5, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (NIV). In stark contrast to Allah, God had a plan for man’s salvation before He spoke the universe into existence. There are no works, special skills, incantations, indulgences, absolution, or actions to be undertaken in order to earn God’s love or to be forgiven and redeemed from our sins.

ISLAM AND POLITICS

Any religion built upon a foundation of salvation by personal righteousness—i.e., by works alone—is based on the individual loving and pleasing God before God will love them. Allah must be coaxed into loving the individual. In Chapter 4: The Daily Life of a Muslim Woman, it is stated, “Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be on him) was called on to furnish an example through following which mankind’s love for their Maker could find full expression and its highest fulfillment by enabling them to win the love of Allah” [Italics mine]. This is quite the opposite of unconditional love. It is, in fact, nothing resembling God’s agape love.

Here is the curious “other side of the coin” in this exchange of affection and devotion for Muslims. In return for showing love to Allah, Muslims expect reciprocity. Their obedience earns prosperity. Surah 24:54-56 says, “Allah has promised those who have believed among you and done righteous deeds that He will surely grant them succession [to authority] upon the earth just as He granted it to those before them, and that He will surely establish for them [therein] their religion which He has preferred for them and that He will surely substitute for them, after their fear, security, [for] they worship Me, not associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—then those are the defiantly disobedient.”

To the Muslim, the key is that prosperity is understood as integrating politics and religion. The Islamic theology of “prosperity for devotion to Allah” shows that religion and politics are inextricably connected. This is true solely for the purpose of hijrah. Islam intends to conquer and dominate all of mankind, thus forming a worldwide caliphate. How does this differ from the Great Commission of spreading the Gospel to all corners of the world? The most vital difference is Christianity does not intend to infiltrate politics in the same manner as Islam. Christianity is a religion that focuses on mankind’s relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Islam is a theocracy that intends to force everyone, everywhere, to believe and act in exactly the same manner. It’s akin to fascism; the individual does not matter. Only the state matters.

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY CAMPAIGN

Muhammad intended to conquer all of Northern Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Europe. He is known to have wiped out entire caravans of his own people in order to steal their gold, cash, and other property to fund his campaign. His prosperity depended upon the extent to which he and his fellow Muslims showed hatred toward the enemies of Allah. Interestingly, Muslims may not secretly or inwardly love the enemies of Allah even if they seemingly shun them or hate them outwardly. Surah 14:38 says, “Oh our Sustainer! Thou truly knowest all that we may hide [in our hearts] as well as all that we bring into the open: for nothing whatever, be it on earth or in heaven, remains hidden from God.”

Islam has insurmountable objections to Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular. This seems to be a fusion of their views of liberalism as the ultimate evil with medieval Islamic theories that divided the world into two hostile factions: the House of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the House of War (dar al-harb). The House of Islam included all territory under the rule of Islam, while the House of War was the rest of the world that refused to recognize the authority of Islam. The House of War is open to warfare or jihad. Thankfully, most Muslims today do not hold this view.

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This is why it upsets me to hear someone completely disparage and dismiss all Muslims in reaction to 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole, and many other violent and cowardly attacks of militant extremists. To do so is to decide to hate those we should instead want to reach with the love and grace of Jesus Christ. It amounts to choosing resentment of an entire culture of God’s children for the heinous acts of some. Remember, no one will go out of their way to help or witness to those they despise. It is only jihadis  who accept this dichotomous view of the world. They have a hatred (directed by Muhammad as outlined in the Qur’an) of anyone who is not Muslim. This hatred is the very cornerstone of their foreign policies.

For some jihadis it is not enough to assert that the conflict is a natural part of God’s order. To satisfy their reading of Islamic law, they must find some way to show that the current enemies of Islam are the aggressors. In fact, these jihadis claim it is the enemies of Islam—the infidels, specifically America and Israel—that started this war. They believe Christians and Jews are entirely responsible for the struggle between Islam and the unbelievers. In addition, these Islamic extremists identify leaders of the “liberal” West—men like George W. Bush, Tony Blair, or Donald Trump—as tyrants. The jihadis claim these men share the characteristics of the tyrants mentioned in the Qur’an. In an ironic twist, they accuse such leaders of wanting to take over the world.

Islamic extremists argue that the first representatives of unbelief were, of course, the Jews and the early Christians. They note that the Byzantine Empire took to the battlefield to destroy the Muslims, but they don’t admit that the Byzantines were merely attempting to stop Muhammad’s conquests. The Byzantine Army was not lying in wait, nor did they pursue the Arab Muslims.  Muhammad received intelligence that a Byzantine army was in North Saudi Arabia, so he called a jihad against the Byzantines. This was the first battle of Mu’tah in 629 A.D. The Islamic military then pushed in to Byzantine Syria and eventually destroyed the Empire. The Crusades were actually a plea for help from the Byzantine Emperor. Of course, the Islamic extremists see the Crusades as an attempt to wipe Islam off the face of the earth. In fact, they believe the Crusades never really ended. All interactions between European governments and America and the Muslim nations today are seen as a continuation of the “crusading spirit” of the Middle Ages.

Islam and Byzantine Empire Clashes

A CLOSER LOOK AT MUHAMMAD

Let’s take a close look at the life of Muhammad as recounted in Islamic tradition and as reflected in the Qur’an, with a focus on peace versus violence. Although there are many intractable problems that arise when studying Muhammad’s life, including questions about the historical reliability of the sources, discrepancies in archaeological findings, the reliability of the Qur’anic manuscripts, inconsistencies in geographic reports, foreign accounts of early Islam, and problematic merchant records, none of these detract from the aim to understand Muhammad according to Muslim tradition.

Prophet-Muhammad

Muhammad was born in 571 A.D. and experienced a very difficult childhood. His father died before he was born, and his grandfather passed away when he was young. In his young adulthood he became a merchant and was known for his integrity, wisdom, and skill. At the age of forty, Muhammad alleges to have received his call to become the prophet of Islam while meditating in a cave near Mecca. He said the angle Gabriel appeared to him in a revelation. Islam claims Allah sent his chief messenger, Muhammad, to guide people as the perfect exemplar. Unparalleled in wisdom, character, and spiritual devotion, Muhammad led the new Muslim community from ignorance, through oppression, and into glorious victory for the sake of Allah. These revelations resulted in the Qur’an. Muhammad claimed that he was not preaching a new religion, but simply the culmination of what God had revealed in the Hebrew prophets and in Jesus, whom Muhammad considered to be a great prophet, but not divine.

Although some traditional Muslims claim Islam has always existed, and was the first true religion—claiming as some of its prophets Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus—Muhammad introduced Islam in 610 A.D. His first thirteen years as the prophet of Islam were spent proclaiming these Qur’anic revelations to the polytheists of Mecca. The Islamic teachings proclaimed, “There is no god but God [Allah], and Muhammad is his Prophet.” The mercantile economy of Mecca was bolstered by a steady pilgrimage of polytheists to their city, which was home to 360 idols. These businessmen opposed the preaching of Muhammad, which insisted there was only one God. Muhammad essentially founded the first Muslim community, in which worship, as well as civil and political life, followed the guidelines set out by him. Muslims considered him to be flawless despite being human. Islamic theology has accorded him the title al-Insan al-Kamil, “the man who has attained perfection.”

Far from perfection, Ibn Hisham states in the introduction of his translation of Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, Sirat Rasul Allah, that he altered the story of Muhammad’s life. “Things which it is disgraceful to discuss, matters which would distress certain people, and such reports as [my teacher] told me he could not accept as trustworthy—all these things I have omitted.” You can read the biography at archive.org, but it is a tedious process given the site has photographed the book two pages at a time and posted it for our purview. Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, writes, “I do not doubt that Ibn Hisham had noble intentions, but it does not change the fact that he altered Muhammad’s story to make it more palatable…”

MUHAMMAD’S MILITARY AND POLITICAL CAMPAIGN

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Muhammad and his followers set out on a military and political campaign that eventually gave them control over Mecca. Part of his campaign included the destruction of all idols. Muhammad escaped Mecca on the night of an assassination attempt. Historians refer to these early years of Muhammad’s ministry as his Meccan years, and they are the only years Muhammad didn’t engage in raids or battles.

The next ten years were the last of Muhammad’s life. These were his emblematic years, often called the maghazi years by classical Muslim commentators. Maghazi means “raids,” which is an appropriate description. At the end of his first year in Medina, Muhammad started launching raids.  From the time Muhammad first obtained a following, he launched raids and battles every year until he died. 

The first successful raid that Muhammad ordered, the Nakhla raid, was controversial and remains so 1,400 years later. On Muhammad’s orders, raiders were sent to intercept a Meccan caravan quite some distance from the Muslim base of Medina. Whether by Muhammad’s intention or not, the interception occurred during the holy month of Ramadan, a time of truce between all Arabs. The Muslim raiders shaved their heads, making it appear that they were on a pilgrimage. Upon seeing that the Muslims were observing the holy month, the Meccans let down their guard and began setting up camp. That is when Muhammad’s men attacked, killing and capturing undefended Meccans during a sacred time of truce, a great sin in the eyes of most Arabs.

When news of this treacherous act reached Medina, even many Muslims were understandably indignant. But then came a rather “convenient” revelation from the Qur’an, defending Muhammad’s raiders against the inquiries of the dismayed: “They ask you about fighting in the holy months. Tell them, ‘Fighting in the holy months is a great sin, but a greater sin is to prevent mankind from following the way of Allah, to disbelieve in him’… [O]pression is worse than slaughter” (Surah 2:217). According to the Qur’an, the Meccan oppression of keeping people from Islam was worse than slaughtering them during a time of truce. This attack by the Muslims during Ramadan, not at all defensive but entirely offensive, was vindicated by the Qur’an.

hadith

While the primary source of Islamic doctrine is the Qur’an, the Qur’an is not biographical in nature, and it tells us practically nothing about Muhammad. Much of his life and sayings are contained in the Hadith. Muslims tend to focus solely on the good characteristics of their prophet, and to completely ignore less admirable qualities. We have already seen that Muhammad began robbing caravans after leaving Mecca. As a result, greed soon became one of the primary factors in people’s rapid conversion to Islam. Indeed, Muhammad deliberately used the spoils of war to lure people to Islam. When he was criticized for the way he distributed his newfound wealth, he replied, “Are you disturbed in mind because of the good things of this life by which I win over a people that they may become Muslims while I entrust you to your Islam?”

Although Muhammad patiently endured persecution in Mecca, his attitude quickly changed when his numbers grew in Medina. Soon he would tolerate no criticism whatsoever. According to our earliest biographical source, a man named Abu Afak—who was more than a hundred years old—wrote a poem criticizing people for converting to Islam. Muhammad demanded he be killed, and Abu Afak was murdered in his sleep.

Muhammad’s violence was directed toward groups as well. Muhammad once said to his followers, “I will expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula and will not leave any but Muslims.” The Jews of Qurayza resisted Muhammad and attempted to form an alliance against him. When the alliance faltered, Muhammad acted quickly. His armies surrounded them and besieged them for twenty-five nights until they were sore pressed and God cast terror into their hearts. Then they surrendered, and the apostle confined them in Medina. Muhammad had trenches dug near the market in Medina, then sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900. Every male who had reached puberty was killed. Muhammad divided the women, children, and property among his men, taking a fifth of the spoils for himself.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Muslims believe that Muhammad was morally perfect, and that an examination of his life proves he was a prophet. The evidence, however, shows that Muhammad was far from morally perfect, and that there’s no good reason to believe that he was sent by God. There is a world of difference between the Muhammad of history and the Muhammad of faith. In contrast, Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, who performed miracles, died on the cross, and rose from the dead. A careful historical investigation confirms all of these beliefs. Apologetics has done a fine job of linking incontrovertible evidence from theological and secular sources to the truth of Jesus. Thus, while Christians have absolutely nothing to fear from an examination of early historical sources, history is a huge problem for Islam.

Christians Under Attack: Persecution & Martyrdom Through the Centuries

FROM ITS ONSET THE Christian message impacted culture and society, and culture and society impacted Christianity. Sometimes culture—to include the governing authorities—pushed back with much force, often oppressive and violent in nature. Not surprisingly, Jewish religious leaders, having publicly rejected Christ and His message by betraying Him to the Roman Empire for torture and crucifixion, also pushed back violently against the early Christian church. In fact, the earliest persecution of Christians came from the Jews.

Other key factors impacted the early Christian church during the first three centuries. No sooner had the Gospel reached the Gentiles, it came under attack from individuals who wanted to alter, modify or nullify it. Simon Magus founded the Gnostics. Although this was essentially a separate belief system, it began to infiltrate the Christian church. Gnostics believed in a great god that is good and perfect, but impersonal and unknowable. They thought the creator of the universe was actually a lesser deity—a cheap knock-off of the “one true God”—who wanted to create a flawless material universe but botched the job. Instead of having a utopia, we ended up with a world infected with pain, misery, and intellectual and spiritual blindness. The Gnostics did not believe man’s dilemma was based on the Fall. Instead, when this lesser deity created man, he accidentally imbued humanity with a spark of the “true” God’s spirit, making man an inherently good soul trapped in the confines of an evil, material body.

EARLY PERSECUTION

The early Christians were initially persecuted at the hands of Jewish leaders. These principles saw Christianity not as a “new religion,” but a sect within Judaism—a new heresy going from town to town tempting good Jews to become heretics. Fearing these apostates could once more bring the wrath of God upon the nation of Israel, Jewish leaders began persecuting Christians on a regular basis. Frankly, the Sadducees became jealous of the apostles as they performed healings and other signs and wonders. People began believing that Jesus was the Messiah. The Sadducees arrested the apostles and threw them into jail where they were severely beaten and told never to preach in the name of Jesus again.

King Herod arrested many early Christians on behalf of the Jewish leaders. Roman authorities systematically persecuted and murdered Christians beginning in 64 A.D. Paul and Peter were martyred in 65 A.D. by Emperor Nero. Roman general Titus (later Emperor) destroyed the temple at Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Emperor Domitian (younger brother of Titus) waged a campaign of persecution against Jews and Christians from 81 to 96 A.D. Polycarp was martyred in 155 A.D. Christians suffered widespread persecution under various emperors through 303 A.D.

The first wave of mass persecution began under Nero in A.D. 67. Nero was the sixth emperor of Rome and is remembered as the one who set Rome aflame and then blamed the Christians for the deaths and destruction caused by the fire. He had Christians sewn up in skins of wild beasts and thrown to the dogs. Others were dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate the grounds. Remarkably, rather than diminish the spirit of Christianity, this persecution increased the devotion and commitment to Christianity.

A second wave of persecution occurred under Domitian circa A.D. 81. Any negative events that happened—famine, pestilence, earthquakes, drought—Domitian blamed on Christians and put them to death. A third outbreak of persecution occurred under Trajan in A.D. 108. During this wave, Christians were beaten, beheaded, and devoured by wild beasts. Nearly ten thousand were put to death. The fourth cycle of persecution took place under Marcus Aurelius Antoninas in A.D. 162, followed by a fifth wave credited to Severus in A.D. 192. Christians were burned at the stake, doused in hot tar, beheaded, placed in boiling water, and ravaged by wild beasts.

The sixth upsurge of persecution took place under Maximus in A.D. 235. At this time, numerous Christians were slain without trial and buried indiscriminately in heaps (mass graves), sometimes fifty or sixty cast into a pit together. The seventh surge of persecution happened under Decius in A.D. 249. At this time, the principle person martyred was Fabian, the bishop of Rome, who was beheaded on January 20, A.D. 250. The eighth wave of persecution occurred under Valerian in A.D. 257. The ninth wave of persecution occurred under Aurelian in A.D. 274 when Felix, bishop of Rome was martyred. A tenth flood of persecution took place under Diocletian in A.D. 303, commonly called the Era of the Martyr’s. The manner of persecutions included horrific methods such as racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poisons, and famine.

MARTYRDOM TIMELINE

Stephen was the first known martyr. He was stoned to death in 36 A.D. for preaching the Gospel. Stephen’s death sparked a rash of persecutions against all who professed belief in Christ as the Messiah.

The fate of the Apostles and close disciples followed in succession.

  • James the Great, the elder brother of John the Apostle, was beheaded in A.D. 44.
  • James the Lesser, the brother of Jesus, served the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James. He suffered martyrdom in 44 A.D. at the age of ninety-four by beheading and stoning at the hands of the Jews.
  • Philip, who served in Upper Asia, was scourged in Phrygia, thrown into prison and later crucified in A.D. 54.
  • Matthew the tax collector served the Lord in Parthia and Ethiopia where he was slain with an axe-like cutting blade in the city of Nadabah in A.D. 60.
  • Andrew, the brother of Peter, preached the gospel throughout Asia. He was crucified on a cross at Edessa in 60 A.D.
  • Peter was martyred by Nero in 64 A.D. He was crucified with his head down and his feet up, because he thought himself unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus Christ.
  • Simon the Zealot, who spread the Gospel throughout Africa and Britain, was crucified in 65 A.D.
  • Paul was subjected to persecution numerous times during his ministry, including scourging, stoning, and, finally, beheaded by Nero in 67 A.D.
  • Mark was martyred in 68 A.D. in Alexandria when his persecutors placed a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets until he was dead.
  • Jude, the brother of James, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa in A.D. 72.
  • Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and crucified in 100 A.D.
  • Thomas, who seems to have riled the pagan priests with his preaching, was martyred in 72 A.D. by having a spear thrust into his abdomen.
  • Matthias, the man who was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, was stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem in 80 A.D.
  • Luke was reported to have been hanged from an olive tree by the idolatrous priests of Greece in 84 A.D.

MODERN-DAY PERSECUTION

Persecution of Christians actually began at the dawn of Christianity and has persisted in various forms ever since. Stoning, burning at the stake, imprisonment, family estrangement, beheading, crucifixion, scourging, being dragged to the death, drowning, and more. History is stained with the blood of martyrs and is augmented by the testimony of those who’ve endured hardship for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Despite this being the 21st century, which should suggest we ought to be well beyond religious bigotry and cultural xenophobia, modern-day Christian persecution is still prevalent. The Bible says that Jesus has called believers out from among the world. We’re told in John 15:19, “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” When Jesus sent His disciples into the world to preach the Gospel, He knew they would be attacked and persecuted for witnessing and sharing Jesus. In Mathew 10:16, Jesus said, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

Anti-Christian discrimination occurs in a variety of contexts throughout our culture, from the public sector to the private sector, in mainstream media and in Hollywood, in the public education system and in our universities. Often discrimination comes from activist judges misinterpreting the law (the hostility toward Christian religious freedom infects our judiciary as much as other aspects of society); other times it comes from entities misapplying the law. It also comes from what today is referred to as political correctness. Discrimination against Christians mostly stems from a hostility toward Christianity itself, and from rampant misinformation about what the First Amendment actually means regarding so-called “separation of church and state.”

Unfortunately, anti-Christian discrimination in America is becoming more blatant and more widespread every day. The cultural assumptions of our society can actually cause adverse impact in how the law is applied; culture is moving against public expression of Christian beliefs. To complicate matters, secularism and moral relativism have driven a wedge between Christian belief and public expression. Forces are at work whose sole intent is to outlaw the voicing of Christian beliefs in any public forum.

Christian expression is treated as profanity and worse in many public schools and certain federal courts across the nation. According to an article by Michael Gryboski on Christianpost.com, dated October 12, 2018, a middle school in Virginia has banned songs mentioning Jesus from its annual Christmas concert as part of an effort to be more sensitive toward the increasingly diverse population of its student body. The critical language of the First Amendment relative to religion—”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”—has been misinterpreted and misquoted in recent years. It is now being argued by many that the First Amendment grants freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. More troublesome than that, it’s now being argued by liberals and atheists that American citizens have a First Amendment right to freedom from Christianity. All other religions are tolerated in the interest of pluralism and inclusion.

David Limbaugh, in his seminal book Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity, states the following:

Ideally, the schools should strive for neutrality on matters of religion—at least in expressing a preference for one over the other. But, in reality, our children are often being inculcated with values and attitudes that conflict with or are hostile to Christianity… There has been a systematic sweeping away of all things Christian from our public schools, combined with a sweeping in of secularism (p. 4).

THE MEDIA AND HOLLYWOOD

Mainstream media and Hollywood play very major roles in bias against Christians and Christianity in our modern culture. We’re told that it is unthinkable to ridicule (almost any) political, religious, cultural, or ethnic group, yet liberals routinely disparage Christians and anything related to Christianity.  This anti-Christian proclivity typically manifests itself in unflattering portrayals of Christians in Hollywood films and television shows. Additionally, liberal news outlets tend to demonize Christian conservatives. Christians are presented as bigoted, narrow-minded, unreasonable, old-fashioned, exclusionary, and elitist. Remarkably, while the media are usually very careful not to offend or slight other religions—lately, especially Islam—Christianity receives far less deference.

OPEN DOORS USA

Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world. While Christian persecution takes many forms, it is defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Unfortunately, Christian torture remains an issue for believers throughout the world, including the risk of imprisonment, loss of home and assets, physical torture, beheading, rape and even death as a result of their faith. Trends show that countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians. It would seem the most vulnerable are Christian women , who often face double persecution—based on faith and gender. Every day there are new reports of Christians who face threats, unjust imprisonment, harassment, beatings and even loss of family or life because of their profession of faith in Jesus Christ.

Some Alarming Statistics

Every month:

  • 255 Christians are killed
  • 104 are abducted
  • 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
  • 66 churches are attacked
  • 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned

Every year, Open Doors USA releases the World Watch List—a global indicator of countries where human and religious rights are being violated, and those countries most vulnerable to societal unrest and destabilization. This is the 26thyear of the Watch List and it remains the only annual in-depth survey to rank the 50 most difficult countries in which to be a Christian. Today, 215 million Christians experience high levels of persecution in the countries on the World Watch List—essentially one in twelve Christians worldwide. North Korea is ranked #1 for the 17th consecutive year as the most dangerous country for Christians. During the 2018 World Watch List reporting period 3,066 Christians were killed, 1,252 were abducted, 1,020 were raped or sexually harassed, and 793 churches were attacked. Islamic oppression fuels Christian persecution in 8 of the top 10 countries on the Watch List.

SOME THINGS TO CONSIDER

We have come to the point where the church sees liberalism and moral relativism for the threats they truly are. But where does that leave us? It seems that modern polarization into left and right—within both religion and politics—has been with us since after the period of the Enlightenment. It’s no secret that modernism and Protestant liberalism were shaken to their very foundation following the two world wars. The resulting postmodernism did nothing whatsoever to solve our dilemma. Christians wanted to share with the world their conviction that the Gospel was the answer to this quandary—that it was the absolute truth everyone had been looking for.

We are told in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (NKJV). The Word of Christ is not merely a matter of doctrine; it is a way of authenticating life; it is morally regenerative spiritual power obtained through belief in Christ as the Messiah. It is life itself. This is why apologetics is vital. We are to preach the Good News to all nations. First Peter 3:15 says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (NIV) [Italics mine].

Changing someone’s mind isn’t the only goal of apologetics. In fact, that’s unlikely to happen in the heat of the moment. Instead, we should think of any apologetic encounter as planting a seed that will come to fruition later. Or, even more, perhaps we’re simply helping prepare the soil so that someone else can do the planting. I don’t mean to imply that God cannot do big things when we practice apologetics. Just remember this: We often don’t get to see firsthand the unfolding of those big moments.

It’s easy for us to get caught up in the idea of apologetics—the concepts and arguments. Apologetics, however, is actually a means to an end. It is a tool for helping us defend the Gospel, but it is not about getting defensive. Sometimes, talking about morality and religion can really get some people going—even to the point where you find it tough to get a word in edgewise. But allowing your skeptical friend to share their ideas or experiences is a key part of effectively navigating spiritual conversations. Unfortunately, some of us can get rather defensive and feel pressured to take on the weight of explaining the entirety of the Christian worldview when confronted with one simple objection to the faith.

Love the people you come into contact with. Ask questions and genuinely listen. Be gentle and humble.

Be like Jesus.

References

Limbaugh, D. (2004). Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

OpenDoors USA. (n.d.) Christian Persecution. Retrieved from: https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

 

 

Mental Illness and the Christian

Most of us know someone who is in counseling, on medication, or who has even taken or attempted to take his or her own life as a result of mental illness. Among the many topics high on the list that trouble Christians today, mental health would most likely be at or near the top. Ed Stetzer wrote an article for Psychology Today (2018) in which he asks, “Why is it uniquely challenging for us to address issues often associated with mental illness?” girl gazing at sunset

It seems whenever the topic of mental illness or suicide comes up at church or among our Christian friends, we automatically wonder, Why? Aren’t we saved from these types of issues? Aren’t we healed and set free? Yet this is a conversation the church truly needs to have. Thankfully, my church does not shy away from topics like mental illness and addiction. Admittedly, suicide and addiction may be two of the most complex and demanding topics of all. Joyce Meyer and Max Lucado have written several good books on the issue of mental health. Meyer (1995) began with her seminal Battlefield of the Mind. Lucado (2017) recently published Anxious for Nothing.

Meyer notes that daily emotional ups and downs are one of the major struggles we have in life. Instead of riding the emotional roller coaster, it should be our goal to become stable, solid, steadfast, and determined. If we let our emotions rule over us, we’ll never be the person we were meant to be. Of course, we can never be completely free of our emotions, but we must learn to manage and control them rather than let them control us. Let’s be honest: Life is no fun when we’re ruled by our emotions.

It’s important to realize that emotions lie to us. They paint an inaccurate picture, typically convincing us that all is lost based on one bad day. Without any effort on our part, our brain takes in and evaluates information throughout the day. Our emotions are regulated automatically in the limbic system. The center of emotional processing and mediation of resulting behavior—defensive versus aggressive—is the amygdala. The limbic system is also responsible for memory. The amygdala has been the focus of study for decades. It’s been stated that emotional memory (how we respond to pleasant, unpleasant, fearful, and painful situations) occurs long before we develop language skills. I believe the formative years of 0 to 5 are critical relative to formation of our personality and to how we handle situations in the future that remind us of painful experiences from our past. This is, perhaps, the very basis for emotional baggage.

Anxious for Nothing

Lucado (2017) describes anxiety in a manner worth repeating here:

“It’s a low-grade fear. An edginess, a dread. A cold wind that won’t stop howling. It’s not so much a storm as the certainty that one is coming. Always… coming. Sunny days are just an interlude. You can’t relax. Can’t let your guard down. All peace is temporary, short-term. It’s not the sight of a grizzly but the suspicion of one or two or ten. Behind every tree. Beyond every turn. Inevitable. It’s just a matter of time until the grizzly leaps out of the shadows, bares its fangs, and gobbles you up, along with your family, your friends, your bank account, your pets, and your country.”

Lucado calls anxiety “a meteor shower of what-ifs.”

The word anxious defines itself. It comes from the Latin words angere (to choke) and anxius (worried, distressed). The earliest sense of anxious is from the 17th century, meaning “troubled” or “worried.” Lucado notes that fear screams, Get out! Anxiety ponders, What if? Fear results in the response of fight or flight, as it should. Fear is the pulse that pounds in your ears when you’re being followed by a hooded figure late at night just after you withdraw $300 from the ATM. Anxiety, on the other hand, creates a general sense of doom and gloom that you can’t quite figure out. Anxiety robs us of our sense of safety and security. It steals our energy. Our well-being.

Meyer (1995) says anxiety and worry are both attacks on the mind intended to distract us from serving the Lord. These are primary tools used by Satan to press our faith down so deep that it cannot rise to the occasion and aid us in our times of trouble. She says worry is definitely an attack from the devil upon the mind. She adds, “It is absolutely impossible to worry and live in peace at the same time.” She believes some people have such a problem with worry that they might be addicted to it. I’ve heard it said that a person will continue doing something as long as they get some type of benefit from it. So what might a person get from worrying?

To determine if you’re addicted to worrying, take the following quiz:

  • Do I worry about many things every day?
  • Is it difficult to stop watching anxiety-provoking news on TV or the Internet, though I try?
  • Do I experience separation anxiety when I can’t access my smartphone or computer?
  • Do I make problems larger, not smaller?
  • Do I worry about things that no one around me worries about?
  • When one anxiety is solved, do I immediately focus on another?

If you answered “yes” to all six questions, worry plays a very large, addictive role in your life. Four to five “yes” answers indicate a large role. Two to three “yes” answers indicate a moderate role. One “yes” indicates a low level. Zero “yes” answers suggest that you’re more warrior than worrier!

Meyer believes life is intended to be of such high quality that we enjoy it immensely. I’m not implying that bad things never happen to good people; that’s a topic for another day. Jesus was clear, however, in John 10:10 when he says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV). Eugene Peterson calls it “…more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (MSG). Worry is one of the many ways Satan steals the good life. Paul echoed this sentiment in Phillipians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (NIV).

God Heals

We can love God with our whole heart, follow His commands, even put Him first, yet still be struggling with anxiety or depression. We can find ourselves face-to-face with the grim reaper, a gun or a bottle of pills in hand, no longer wanting to be alive. Wondering, How did I get here? For me, it started with marijuana and beer. Once addiction took hold, I lost sight of God, His love and grace, and all hope. My uncle, in recovery now for decades, told me several times, “You’ve lost all hope. You can’t even see the horizon anymore.”

Theologians and philosophers call man a tripartite being. That is, we’re made up of a body, soul, and spirit. It’s in our spirit that we find meaning and purpose in life. It’s in our soul—that is, in our mind—that we suffer mental illness. Anxiety and depression begin there, but spread throughout the body and quickly affect the spirit. In fact, mental illness causes us to doubt God’s grace and healing power. It cuts us off from the sunlight of the Spirit. This is critical because it’s through the Spirit that we learn discernment and intuition. It is through the Spirit that we’re able to love one another. There’s an interchange involved: our spiritual health impacts our mental and physical health, and our mental and physical health impacts our spiritual health.

We are impacted—either good or bad—by how we handle the stress that life brings. If chronic stress is left unchecked, over a period of time it will take a toll. A strong faith can help us cope with the stress that we experience and enable the impact of that stress to be less significant. Without a strong personal faith, we’re left to our own devices. Often we attempt to cope with stress through addiction, sexual promiscuity, shopping, gambling, and other methods of escape. Such behavior can further exacerbate the effect of stress on our physical health. A strong personal faith can be a resource that helps manage stress before it manages us.

Matthew 9:35 says, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness” (NIV) (Italics added). Jesus had compassion and healed those besieged by mental illness, many of whom had been despised, rejected, persecuted, and feared by their community. Interestingly, the history of psychiatric treatment has its roots in the Christian church. The Quakers in Philadelphia opened the first inpatient psychiatric facility in 1752. John Wesley and the founders of The United Methodist Church practiced a faith grounded in the redemptive ministry of Jesus Christ, with a focus on healing the whole person: physical, spiritual, emotional and mental. 

All aspects of health—physical, mental, and spiritual—were of equal concern to Jesus whose healing touch reached out to mend broken bodies, minds, and spirits. His intention was to restore well-being and renew communion with God and neighbor. Interventions are needed to heal mental illness. If you or someone you know or love are struggling with mental illness, especially as a believer, do not hesitate to pray with them and to suggest meeting with a minister. Also, there are many faith-based counseling services available today. It is God’s intention that you are fully restored. Christ is the Great Physician. Jesus came that we might have life, and that we might have it abundantly. That includes being of sound mind, free of anxiety and depression.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

References

Lucado, M. (2017). Anxious for Nothing. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Meyer, J. (1995). Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind. New York, NY: Time Warner Books.

Has the Gospel Changed?

THE GOSPEL STORY ITSELF has not changed, but culture and society has. As a result, the Gospel is viewed against the backdrop of current culture. Culture typically evolves over time—changes in demographics, attitudes toward moral issues, drastic advancements in technology. Accordingly, the method by which we present the Gospel today needs to be such that we do not offend non-believers or appear to be holier-than-thou. Only then will people be willing to listen. It has been suggested by modern-day evangelists that when sharing the Gospel we start where and when God did—in the beginning.

ENGAGING AN EVER-CHANGING CULTURE

It is imperative that we refrain from being dragged along by culture. One of the greatest problems that has frustrated the church is the relation between knowledge and piety—between culture and Christianity. In other words, we don’t want to share a watered-down message. We must always be concerned with proclaiming the Gospel—the entire Gospel. Given the audacity of today’s militant atheists, we should expect increasing objection to the Gospel and challenges to the authenticity and inerrancy of the Bible. By using apologetics to give solid answers, we can help people listen and learn about the most important historical document of all—the whole Bible.

The Gospel should point us toward a time when we can see others—all others—truly as God sees us: as one blood, one flesh, as brothers and sisters. Remember that God truly is the Father of us all; that in Christ the division and the divisiveness between men and women, between different national groups, between different economic circumstances are done away with; that all are alike unto Him; and that even those who do not know Him are known and loved by Him.

CHRISTIANITY VERSUS CULTURE

It is common for believers and non-believers to see religion in Western society as Christianity versus culture—two opposing forces of influence. The church stands on one side of the line and culture on the other. Americans are taking notice that their country is becoming increasingly post-Christian, if not outright anti-Christian. They realize that their beliefs on certain theological and moral issues will increasingly be rejected and mocked by the political, cultural, and academic elite.

The bubble of legalism can’t keep sin out of the church, and it hides one of God’s most useful tools—us. 

If we take a literal us versus them stance, we risk turning the church into a “safe haven” where people seek refuge from the quagmire of unbelief and pluralism. Believers tend to unwittingly perpetuate this “sanctuary city” concept by trying to find the balance between immersing themselves in the world and isolating themselves in a sterile “bubble.” Christians who support this approach have good intentions—they want to preserve the church’s purity, recognizing that the church is under attack and that believers need to hold fast to their faith. They understand that a great battle is being waged (Ephesians 6:11-18); a battle that plays out both visibly in the cultural realm and invisibly in the spiritual realm.

Here’s the thing: Taking this standoffish approach tends to externalize godlessness and treats it as something that can be kept out by man-made walls. Godlessness, however, is a disease of the soul that can never be walled out. Godlessness causes rotting from within. It is troublesome to realize that this mindset tends toward legalism, and it tries to restrict interactions between believers and society. In the immortal words of Dana Carvey’s SNL character Church Lady, “Who could be responsible for this? Is it… Satan?” While it is true that the Christian life involves war against the powers of darkness, it wrongly tries to wage that war by withdrawing from the world.

You can certainly find biblical support for a view that pits the church against culture. Believers with this mentality are clinging to the biblical principle of waging war against that which is evil. They rightly recognize that we must put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:11), fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), resist the devil (James 4:7), and cast down anything that exalts itself against God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Be aware, however, that this mindset still falls short—it’s too easy to see ourselves fighting against people instead of sin. God uses the church in his plan to rescue people, not destroy them. This is only a small part of God’s plan for restoration. Our social and cultural contexts are full of unbelievers—but those unbelievers are not merely enemies of God; they are also drowning people in need of a lifeboat. The church is not only a base for soldiers, but also a hospital for the spiritually sick.

But consider this angle instead. It is actually culture that is beating people up. Left to their own devices without God, people will take blow after blow—perhaps without even realizing that it’s culture delivering the pain. False promises, questionable social norms, distorted morality, and unchecked sin present in cultures across the globe can all appear good to people without God.

CHRISTIANITY OF CULTURE

I must admit that cultural changes occurring outside the scope and influence of the church are not necessarily bad. God has enabled all people—believer and non-believer alike—to make good and valuable contributions to society. The abolition of slavery and the human rights movement brought about monumental positive changes. And a thorough and honest search of the records of history will show there were Christians on both sides of these issues. Some Christians sought to preserve the status quo of “free” labor from slaves, while others fought for complete emancipation of black slaves. It’s appropriate to state that Christians who took up arms against Lincoln and the Union in order to preserve slavery were morally wrong.

I don’t believe that culture alone can set the stage and lead us in the right direction. Granted, not all cultural tenets are wrong. But culture is not always right either. Today, in a postmodern world, especially in America, pluralism is the norm. Behavior is often analyzed through the lens of moral relativism. The relativist believes that moral or ethical propositions do not reflect objective or universal moral truths. Instead, such individuals make moral decisions relative to social, cultural, historical, or personal perspectives. Under this tenet, truth is subjective. Bottom line: moral relativists believe that moral or ethical judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (e.g., a specific cultural or historical setting), and that no worldview is uniquely privileged over all others. Not even Christianity.

The Body of Christ cannot simply mirror every decision reached at the cultural level in the hope of winning others to Christ. For example, without God in the picture, culture raises up idols in His place—professional sports stars, actors, politicians, the wealthy and powerful. We must ask, Can the church embrace culture without also embracing its idols? Much of Christian doctrine is black-and-white, whereas culture often speaks in “gray” terms. Believers who subscribe to the Christianity of culture mindset rightly recognize that God created and ordered the world in such a way that left room for mankind to make culture, and that said culture exhibits real aspects of truth, generosity, goodness, and beauty. However, this mentality is misguided because it fails to sufficiently see the way in which every culture, indeed every nuance of culture, is corrupted and distorted due to human sin.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “At an early age I came to believe that the life of culture (that is, of intellectual and aesthetic activity) was very good for its own sake, or even that it was the good for man… I was awakened from this confused state of mind by finding that the friends of culture seemed to me to be exaggerating. In my reaction against what seemed exaggerated I was driven to the other extreme, and began, in my own mind, to belittle the claims of culture.” Lewis added, “I naturally turned first to the New Testament. Here I found, in the first place, a demand that whatever is most highly valued on the natural level is to be held, as it were, merely on sufferance, and to be abandoned without mercy the moment it conflicts with the service of God.”

ANTI-CHRISTIAN BIAS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION

Solomon (1996) wrote, “At the close of the twentieth century American evangelicals find themselves in a diverse, pluralistic culture. Many ideas vie for attention and allegiance. These ideas, philosophies, or worldviews are the products of philosophical and cultural changes. Such changes have come to define our culture.” This begs the question, How is a Christian supposed to respond to such conditions?

According to the National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) standards, “[I]t is clear that the dominant social, economic, cultural and scientific trends that have defined the western world for five centuries are rapidly leading in new directions.” The dominant trends that defined Western civilization are of course the Judeo-Christian worldview. So what does this mean for social studies classes in public schools? The NCSS explains, “The United States and its democracy are constantly evolving and in continuous need of citizens who can adapt… to meet changing circumstances. Meeting that need is the mission of social studies.”

Can it be any clearer? Rather than teach America’s true history and founding principles for the preservation of American liberty and Western civilization, the new mission of social studies is to prepare our children to accept the transformation of America. In fact, the NCSS are missionaries of a new religion operating in the field of American education. Unlike Christians, these particular missionaries have government backing, free reign with captive children, and operate under the guise of “education.” This is pluralism at work. It is a systematic tearing down of the “old” in order to make room for the “new.” It is nothing less than indoctrination with one purpose—to convince our children to reject out-of-hand biblical Christianity and to adopt a secular worldview.

Fiorazo (2012) writes, “Christianity is not the thriving , influential power it once was in America. With a majority of people claiming the Christian tradition, why does our godless culture barely reflect the light of Jesus Christ.” We’re living in sad times when professing Christians know less about the Bible than ever before. We live in a country glutted with biblical material, Christian books, radio and television evangelism, but many Christians are not moving on to spiritual maturity. Additionally, there is a degree of biblical illiteracy in America today. Although surveys indicate that a majority of households report having a Bible, not even 50 percent of those who own Bibles read them regularly. Only 1 percent of young Christians read Scriptures on a daily basis.

There are many whose ultimate goal is to completely eliminate Christianity from public life in America. Militant atheists shout from their lecterns that Christian parents are brainwashing their children; teaching them the “so-called truth” of the Judeo-Christian doctrine. The late Christopher Hitchens said Christian parents are committing a form of child abuse by “indoctrinating” their children with biblical principles. He likened belief in the Virgin birth and the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ to believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. God’s Not Dead 2 tells the story of a teacher at a public school who comes under fire for answering a student’s question about Jesus. When the teacher refuses to apologize, the school board votes to suspend her and threatens to revoke her teaching certificate. Forced to stand trial to save her career, she hires a lawyer to defend her in court.

We’re faced with sentiment such as this:

“The battle for mankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as proselytizers of a new faith…. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism.” (John Dunphy, 1983)

CHRISTIANITY UNDER ATTACK

Traditional American Christians have long been on the losing end of culture-war contests—on school prayer, same-sex marriage and other issues. But recent events, including the Supreme Court decision overruling Texas’ restrictions on abortion clinics and the mandate that employers provide access to contraception, have added to the sense that religious expression is under attack. According to recent Pew Research reports, the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as religiously affiliated has shrunk while the percentage describing themselves as unaffiliated has grown from 2007 to 2014. The percentage who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists fell to 63% from 71% during the same time period.

A new vigorous secularism has catapulted mockery of Christianity and other forms of religious traditionalism into the mainstream and set a new low for what counts as civil criticism of people’s most-cherished beliefs. In some precincts, the “faith of our fathers” is controversial as never before. Some of the faithful have paid unexpected prices for their beliefs lately: the teacher in New Jersey suspended for giving a student a Bible; the football coach in Washington placed on leave for saying a prayer on the field at the end of a game; the fire chief in Atlanta fired for self-publishing a book defending Christian moral teaching; the Marine court-martialed for pasting a Bible verse above her desk; and other examples of the new intolerance. Anti-Christian activists hurl smears like “bigot” and “hater” at Americans who hold traditional beliefs about marriage and accuse anti-abortion Christians of waging a supposed “war on women.”

Ravi Zacharias said, “The Bible is a controversial book that invokes both devotion and derision. It has inspired some of the greatest thinkers this world has ever known and attracted the hostility of others. It takes a central role in any study of Western civilization and touches the most unlikely of souls.” The current challenges to the Bible are for the most part launched from the postmodern worldview. By its very nature the postmodern worldview is difficult to define. It is an eclectic movement, originating in aesthetics, architecture, and philosophy. A postmodern perspective is skeptical of any grounded theoretical perspectives. Ostensibly, a postmodern theorist believes there are no truly truthful truths. Postmodernism rejects most approaches to art, science, literature, philosophy, and religion. This worldview is about discontinuity, suspicion of motive, and an acceptance of logical incoherence. At the root of postmodernism is a strong denial of absolute authority. Ironically, the belief that there is no absolute truth cannot be true unless there is an absoluteness to the absence of absolute truth.

And we wonder why it’s so difficult to fight pluralism, moral relativism, and militant atheism.

References

Fiorazo, D. (2012). Eradicate: Blotting Out God in America. Abbotsford, WI: Life Sentence Publishing, Inc.

Lewis, C.S. (1940). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0040571X4004023702

Solomon, J. (1992). Christianity and Culture. Retrieved from: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/culture.html

 

 

It’s a Thing Most Wonderful

Jesus Crucifixion

Newsweek Special Issues recently published “100 People Who Shaped Our World,” featuring individuals who changed our world, for better or worse, through their actions, inventions, and (at times) their mistakes. With insight from historians in the fields of science, religion and pop culture, the 100-page issue explores the impact of the world’s most iconic leaders—from Jesus Christ to Mark Zuckerberg, Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Abraham Lincoln to Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the article did not show Jesus Christ in a good light. Interestingly, we are expected to be respectful in what we say about any other religion or revered religious leader—except Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, people feel free to malign, disfigure, and re-imagine Him as they choose.

The impact of Jesus of Nazareth, the itinerant preacher whose teachings became the basis of one of the world’s most practiced religions, is irrefutable. Today there are approximately 2.2 billion Christians in the world—this is nearly 31% of the total population. The nature of Christ has been debated time and time again as we view Him through the lenses of scholars. From a Christian perspective, the central contention set forth is that the Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. The Christian faith goes beyond simply declaring God exists—it claims that God became man in Christ Jesus, lived among us, and ultimately sacrificed His life in order to atone for our sins. Three days after His death, He would rise again, proving that He was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Savior of the world.

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Christianity is the only religion that places the entire weight of its credibility on a singular event, the resurrection. If Christ had not been raised, then Christianity would be completely discredited and unworthy of even a moment’s consideration. As the apostle Paul stated, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17, NIV). Conviction about the reality of the resurrection is the only foundation that can withstand the onslaught of skepticism and unbelief. It is this fact that points to other critical truths, such as the authority of Scripture and the unique role of Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

No one’s life or death in the history of the world has been studied, analyzed, debated, and heralded to the world as much as Jesus. It’s definitely a daunting task to respond to all the theories and claims made by critics. During my research and writing, I felt a great sense of drama and significance regarding what’s at stake when studying whether the story of Jesus is true—or, as skeptics assert, merely a collection of tales attempting to propagate the Christian faith.

Answering the Great Question

The collective task of proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ has been called the Great Commission, a term coined by Christian theologians to describe the charge that Jesus gave His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). In addition, the Great Commandment describes the premier commandment Jesus gave us to love one another (John 13:35). Jesus asked His disciples the Great Question, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)—without a doubt, history’s greatest question, the answer to which affects everything. If we focus so heavily on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment, shouldn’t we be giving equal attention to the Great Question?

defending the faith

Preparing believers to give the reasons for their faith—this is the very essence of apologetics—should be the highest priority of all the efforts of those engaged in Christian ministry (1 Peter 3:15). If the truth of the message is in doubt, the whole doctrine of Christianity is in jeopardy. Of all the human rights we should be fighting for, foremost should be the right of every living person to hear the Gospel and have the opportunity to know Jesus. While there is amazing work being done around the world by people of faith to help the needy and heal the hurting, we are falling dramatically short in preparing people to have faith that thrives in the media-saturated, anti-faith twenty-first century. People are flooded with messages suggesting faith in God is at best irrelevant.

The end result is a large number of Christians being dazed and confused about how crazy the world has become, and how their values and beliefs are not just out of touch with mainstream society but to some are framed as bigoted and ignorant. This helps explain why only 3 percent of churches in America are growing through evangelism.

Faith or History?

When it comes to Jesus Christ, there has definitely been a higher standard, unreasonably high at times, for establishing the facts surrounding His life, works, and words. The specific criteria used by many of today’s leading scholars to verify the authenticity of Jesus have been so demanding that if applied to ancient history most of what is currently accepted would dissolve into oblivion. Imagine asserting, as skeptics do for the biblical records, that we could only know about ancient Rome from what we learn from non-Roman sources. In contrast, scholars who use trusted approaches fairly and consistently recognize that Christian beliefs about Jesus are solidly grounded in historical fact.

Historians use reliable criteria to establish the probability that an event happened in the past. For instance, claims are more likely true if they are reported by multiple, independent sources. By this standard, our knowledge about Jesus is superior to that of virtually every other ancient historical figure. Scholars have discovered more literary sources for the historical Jesus within the first hundred years after His life than all of the primary literary sources for Socrates, which, incidentally, are in far less agreement with each other than the Gospels.

When the historical process is arbitrary and inconsistent, the past becomes something people with a hidden agenda or bias can manipulate. This type of mindset leads to disregarding the miraculous accounts given by Jesus’ followers in the Gospels. Those accounts are replaced with historical profiles of what someone living at the time of Jesus would have probably been like. Others go so far as claiming that the followers of Jesus merely borrowed from the mythology of the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. As for the miracles? Scoffers simply say they didn’t happen because everyone knows there’s no such thing as miracles.

The roots of this culture of skepticism can be traced back to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This period—known as the “Enlightenment”—could better be described as the age of skepticism. The mindset of this era is best summed up by René Descartes. He said, “In order to seek truth, it is necessary once in the course of our life, to doubt, as far as possible, of all things.” For Descartes, the foundation of reality is our own thoughts (albeit doubts) about the fact of our existence. The seeds that Descartes planted grew over the next century into the Enlightenment era, which promoted the concept that “reason replaced revelation” in terms of the source of the culture’s epistemology.

The Resurrection Changes Everything

The claim that Jesus was resurrected three days after His death is not just an article of faith, but a statement that can be examined historically. Of course, if Jesus was not really raised from the dead, then the resurrection of Jesus has no meaning. Christianity is based on this central claim and is thus open to critical historical inquiry. In the same way that Charles Darwin in his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection sought to establish the past history of living things through what he called inference to the best explanation, we can look at this event using the same process. In fact, the apostle Paul wrote that if Christ was not raised from the dead then the Christian faith would be false (1 Corinthians 15:14). Critics have long maintained that religious claims are simply statements of faith that have no basis in fact. Claims of science, they say, are more credible because they can be proven false. Yet this is exactly what Christianity declares. No other religion bases the entire weight of its credibility on a single event or miracle.

It was the belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead that prompted the dedication and sacrifice of His followers. At the top of the list was Jesus’ command to love our enemies. It is highly unlikely that His followers would have remained faithful had Jesus’ life ended permanently at the cross with no resurrection. In fact, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out that none of the many self-proclaimed messiahs of the ancient world continued to have a following or influence once they died. It begs the question, What happened to make Jesus’ followers, from the very start, articulate such a claim and work out its implications? For us today, the desperate need is to recover the same conviction of the truth of the resurrection that the early disciples possessed.

Concluding Remarks

When it comes to the central issues of the Christian faith, the biggest dispute is not with the facts of history but with the presuppositions and worldviews of those who interpret those facts. As you hear and weigh the evidence, you will be able to know with confidence that He is the Son of God. There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus was truly a man of history, who was crucified, died, and was buried, and then rose from the dead. The Gospels are reliable historical accounts of Jesus’ life, ministry, and teaching.

Up until the last few years, the verdict of historians has been virtually unanimous that Jesus was a person of history. The rise of atheism in the last decade has seen the upsurge of prominent skeptics who simply assert their “doubts” that Jesus really existed without providing any credible evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, a prominent atheist and author of The God Delusion, is noted for saying, “Jesus, if He even existed…” It’s important to note that these men are not historians and simply assert this contention in apparent hopes that no one will challenge them because they are scientists. Dawkins, for example, is an evolutionary biologist. Incidentally, Dawkins has recanted and admits Jesus existed.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ gives authenticity to the Christian faith. Jesus remains the only figure in history who died and rose from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a revolutionary event in human history. It is what sets humanity free from sin; it is what gives humanity daily victory over Satan to live above struggles of life and achieve their destinies and goals; it is what will finally usher humanity into heaven to live forever with Jesus in that glorious kingdom awaiting those who believe, despite “critics” of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, then is our preaching in vain, and your faith is also in vain. And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain, ye are yet in your sins. If in this life only, we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” 1 Cor. 15:13-19.

 

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Four)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

Born Again

What is Conversion?

The word conversion when used in a cultural sense typically means buying into acceptance of a religious dogma or belief system. The fundamental biblical meaning of conversion is “to turn” toward God. The key question always is Am I born again? Exactly when did I get converted? It is typical for new believers to assume conversion is an instantaneous event. Someone gave me a suggestion when they learned I was addressing conversion in my series on apologetics. They said, “Read all four Gospels and try to determine when Peter was converted. Was it when he was following Jesus? When he realized Jesus was the Messiah? When he was sent out to preach and heal? When Jesus forgave him for denying him?” Apparently, it’s just not that clear-cut.

Of course conversion is not simply a shift in our relationship with God. Justification is required before conversion can occur. Romans 1:17 reminds us that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. It is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Conversion, however, is a much larger reality in which our restored relationship with God begins to touch and change every area of our lives. Justification is not something visible. It is purely a work of the heart. The New Testament speaks of conversion as metanoia, which is literally a change of mind, but is not merely altering your opinion about God. Instead, it is a redirection of your fundamental outlook—what we might call mind-set or worldview. Because it involves a change in affection and will, the very core of self, it is not simply a matter of opinion.

The Bible tells us, “You must be born again” (John 3:7, NIV). Colossians 1:13 states, “For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves” (NIV).  Christian theology speaks of regeneration, which is the fundamental work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the repentant sinner. This “in or out” language finally appears also in the terminology of contemporary sociology of conversion. But the complexity of this phraseology—of conversion, yes, but also of alteration, transference, renewal, affiliation, adhesion, and other terms for religious moves one might make—points to biblical and theological counterparts indicating there is more to conversion than just “getting it.”

What Are We Converted From and Transformed To?

The apostle Peter taught that one needs to “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NKJV). Many believe conversion is just accepting Jesus into your heart or professing Jesus with your mouth. It is true that many today are testifying to religious experiences in which they met true reality. At first glance, the Christian sounds like everyone else because he is also claiming to have experienced ultimate truth. The unbeliever or casual observer needs more than a mere testimony of subjective experience as a criterion to judge who, if anyone, is right.

Christian conversion is linked inextricably to the person of Jesus Christ. It is rooted in fact, not wishful thinking. Of course, this statement is at the very heart of apologetics. Jesus demonstrated that He had the credentials to be called the Son of God. He challenged men and women to put their faith in Him. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). When a person puts his faith in Jesus Christ, he enters into a personal relationship with God Almighty, which leads to changes taking place in his life.

It is not a matter of self-improvement or cultural conditioning. Besides the fact that Christian conversion is based upon something objective—the resurrection of Christ—there is also a universality of Christian conversion. Since the date of his death and resurrection, people from every conceivable background, culture, philosophy, and intellectual stance have been converted by the person of Jesus Christ. Some of the vilest individuals who ever walked the face of the Earth have become some of the most remarkable saints after trusting Jesus Christ. This must be considered. Because of the diversity of the people, it cannot be explained away by simple cultural conditioning. Christian experience is universal regardless of culture.

Concluding Remarks

God looks on the heart, the attitude, the intent. As long as one, in his heart, has a real desire to walk in God’s will—is deeply sorrowful for past sins and repents when he commits the occasional sin—and seeks to overcome sin and make God’s way his way, he will be forgiven. But if, following conversion, he is diligent in his Christian life, his occasional sinning will become less and less. He will make solid progress, maturing, overcoming, growing spiritually and in righteous godly character.

The experience of a new Christian —not just knowledge but experience—of who he is and what has happened to him, is profoundly determined by what he knows about the miracle of conversion. That knowledge is based upon Scripture. God ordained that the miracle of the Christian life be powered by his sovereign grace in the soul, but guided and shaped by His Word in the Bible. It important to note that God does not give the joys of conversion through the conversion alone. The fullness of conversion takes place when the new life within intersects with the old word from without.

On a final note, to “convert” is to repent or “turn away from” one thing and toward something new. When one becomes a Christian, he is given the power to essentially do a 180 and go an entirely different way. Conversion is based solely on faith or belief. Christianity is not a religion; rather, it is a relationship with Christ. Christianity is God offering salvation to anyone who believes and trusts the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Conversion is accepting the gift that God offers and beginning a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that results in the forgiveness of sins and eternity in heaven after death.

 

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part Three)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

APOLOGETICS_3

One True Religion?

Many Americans believe, “All religions are good, so let us all just get along!” The problem is that neither Christianity, Judaism, nor Islam teach such inclusive ideas. Each claim to be the one true religion. The COEXIST symbol is merely portraying yet another religious view: All religions are equally valid. But is it logically possible for all religions to be true? Or is there only one true religion?

Do all religions lead to God? Think about the logic of this. Can I pick up my cell phone and dial any phone number and get home? No, there’s only one number that’ll get me home. This reminds me of a comedian (I cannot remember his name) who said, “Don’t you hate it when you can’t remember the phone number of a friend or relative? You get close, but no cigar! I think if you get every number right but one you should at least get someone who knows the person you’re trying to reach!” Regarding religion, the truth is all roads don’t lead to Rome, and all religions don’t lead to God.

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The road to heaven is clear. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I’m betting my life and my salvation on the fact that He was right. I believe Jesus Christ was God incarnate, and I don’t think He would lie about the road to paradise. Jesus told Nicodemus, a Pharisee, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again” (NIV). The most unique attribute of God is His holiness and justice. His holiness is demonstrated by His being “set apart” from all of creation. “With whom then will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?” (Isaiah 40:18, NIV). God is pure and undefiled, separate from sinners. He is unable to fellowship or dwell with the wicked. Psalm 5:4-5 says, “For You are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, wicked people are not welcome” (NIV).

When we try to figure out, explain, or define God by our own reasoning, we come dangerously close to creating an image or idol—an image of God that satisfies us from our innately limited point of view.  If God exists—and I believe He does—we certainly did not create Him. Today’s vocal atheists—some prefer to be called anti-theists—proclaim that those who believe in God have simply created Him in their mind. Any attempt on our part to define or explain God will be just that. An attempt.

I’ve heard it said, “No religion is the TRUE RELIGION because humans are behind each doctrine or belief. Religions only serve to divide people who might otherwise get along just fine. Instead, in the name of a god or supreme being, people judge, exclude, or persecute others based upon their religious beliefs.”

Militant Atheists

Most so-called “open-minded” people today tout the belief that no one religion can have a monopoly on truth. Atheists, of course, insist no religion is true because God does not exist. I have been studying apologetics for about a year, and have watched debates between the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens, or Bill Nye and Ken Ham. It is not unusual to see visceral, nasty attacks on Christians. Many of these anti-theists say believers are narrow-minded, exclusionary, bigoted, elitist, deluded, or just plain stupid.

militant-atheism dawkins

Many of the more visible atheists today are rather militant, showing hostility toward religion, who are bent on propagating atheism among the masses rather than just quietly, privately, refusing to believe in God. Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens propose that religion is harmful. Both have gone so far as stating that parents who force their faith on their unsuspecting children are pounding religion into their young minds, consequently giving them little-to-no chance of making their own decision about religion. Hitchens actually believes this is a form of child abuse. These militant atheists tend to form their comments from a base of emotions, subjectivity, and a cavalier treatment of subject matter better discussed with depth of thinking and an open mind.

These non-believers are fond of letting the sins of individuals who claim to be Christians discount or discolor the very image of God. Richard Dawkins is known for this tactic, blaming Christians for violent persecution and prosthelytizing during the Crusades. They typically exaggerate the number of people killed while ignoring the terrible murder, persecution, torture, and genocide of countless despotic leaders like Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Josef Stalin, Hirohito, Vladimir Lenin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Kim Il Sung, Muammar Gaddafi, Edi Anim, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

What About The Presence of Evil?

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Lawrence Krauss, and others typically argue that the presence of evil and tragedy in the world is proof that God does not exist. They malign the Christian God by saying either God is omnipotent and able to stop evil but chooses not to— making him cold and callous—or He is unable to stop evil, indicating He lacks the power to stop evil. Of course, this is the most troubling accusation for a believer to answer. The best way to examine this issue is to look at God’s nature and His desire for mankind. God loves us and wants us to love Him back.

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But He gave us free will. We can choose to love Him in return, or we can turn our backs on His grace and goodness. Love is a choice. Martin Luther examined free will in his treatise The Bondage of the Will. Luther is actually responding to Erasmus who took issue with the necessity of free will. The following are passages from Luther’s response.

Section. 5. BUT this is still more intolerable, your enumerating this subject of “free-will” among those things that are “useless, and not necessary;” and drawing up for us, instead of it, a “form” of those things which you consider “necessary unto Christian piety.”
Section. 6. THE “form” of Christianity set forth by you, among other things, has this, “That we should strive with all our powers, have recourse to the remedy of repentance, and in all ways try to gain the mercy of God; without which, neither human will, nor endeavour, is effectual.” —Martin Luther

If love is a choice, evil actions are also a choice made by mankind and not Almighty God. If you have a choice, you have to be able to choose not to love, which is in itself the nature of evil. Evil is choosing not to love. So when God gave us the freedom to choose, he gave us not only our greatest blessing, but he also gave us our greatest curse, because we can choose to do right or choose to do wrong.

THEREFORE, it is not irreligious, curious, or superfluous, but essentially wholesome and necessary, for a Christian to know, whether or not the will does any thing in those things which pertain unto Salvation. Nay, let me tell you, this is the very hinge upon which our discussion turns. It is the very heart of our subject. For our object is this: to inquire what “free-will” can do, in what it is passive, and how it stands with reference to the grace of God. If we know nothing of these things, we shall know nothing whatever of Christian matters, and shall be far behind all People upon the earth. —Martin Luther

The reason there’s evil in the world is not because of God, but because God gave us the freedom to choose. The potential for love outweighs the existence of evil, because you see, evil is only going to exist for a short time, but love is going to go on forever. And all of the suffering and all of the death that we see in the world today are the result of man making wrong choices. God could have taken our freedom, but He didn’t.

Concluding Remarks

The Apostle Paul, a skillful debater who was happy to wrangle with rabbis and philosophers alike, recognized the perils of linking faith improperly with clever argument. Of course, this is exactly the approach taken by today’s militant atheists. Their rhetoric is steeped in emotions and conjecture. When engaging in apologetics, we must remain humble and respectful. We engage in apologetics because we are commanded to. We all have minds that need convincing and satisfying. Christianity meets all our needs. We need to communicate this fact to non-believers. If God has commissioned us to work with Him in testifying to the virtues of the Gospel, then we must do so with vigor and enthusiasm.

As a Christian, I do believe that God has given us the privilege of hearing and embracing the Good News, of receiving adoption into His family, and of joining the Body of Christ as a vital cog in the wheel of salvation. We do believe that we know some things that others do not know, but we do not know all there is to know. What human mind can fully grasp the reality of God Almighty? Above all, I know I have met Jesus Christ on my own road to Damascus. On the basis of what we know—indeed, what we have been shown—we offer to our neighbors through apologetics the truth, the goodness, and the beauty of Jesus Christ, our precious Lord and Savior.

What’s Next?

Next week, in Part Four, I will present the truth and the nature of conversion, including the definition of being “born again,” and how one comes to a decision regarding religion. I look forward to presenting the Christian doctrine to you.

Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Part One)

“But sanctify the LORD God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).

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CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS SEEKS TO build bridges to unbelievers by presenting reasons and evidence that Christianity is true, rational and worthy of belief. Oxford theologian Alister E. McGrath said, “…Christian apologetics represents the serious and sustained engagement with ‘ultimate questions’ raised by a culture, people, group or individual aiming to show how the Christian faith is able to provide meaningful answers to such questions. Where is God in the suffering of the world? Is faith in God reasonable?” Agnostics and atheists are quick to conclude that either God is all-loving but not powerful enough to stop the evil that exists in the world, or He is all-powerful, but not willing to wipe out evil.

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Apologetics in a Post-Modern World

If everyone already belonged to one religion, apologetics might still be necessary as a way to provide believers with the best possible grounds for their faith. But clearly that is not the culture we live in. Modernism, which became popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is rather difficult to pinpoint because it encompasses a variety of specific artistic and philosophic movements including symbolism, futurism, surrealism, dadaism, and others. Its basic tenet involves rejection of all religious and moral principles as the sole means of cultural progress. Consequently, it includes an extreme break with tradition. Specifically, modernism developed out of Romanticism’s revolt against the effects of the Industrial Revolution and bourgeois values.

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When modernism failed to cure the ills of society—war, famine, disease, exploitation, global environmental crises—postmodernism came on the scene. Postmodernists believe there is no such thing as absolute truth; rather, truth is a contrived illusion, misused by people in power to control others. Truth and error are synonymous. Facts are too limiting, changing erratically and often. Traditional logic and objectivity are spurned by postmodernists. Traditional authority is considered to be false and corrupt. Postmodernists wage intellectual battle against traditional truth and reality. They despise the unfulfilled promises of science, technology, government, and religion.

We presently live in a deeply diverse world characterized by pluralism. Pluralism is a word we encounter all the time, but few truly understand what it implies. It has at least three primary definitions. Thoroughly exploring what we mean by pluralism will help us clarify a lot of what we encounter in contemporary society. And getting the definition clear is necessary for any apologist who wants to understand and address his or her audience accurately.

Pluralism as Mere Plurality.

The basic definition of pluralism means the state of being more than one. A rudimentary example would be choices of breakfast cereal in the grocery store. Sociologists suggest that such proliferation of choices in modern society—the characteristic of various goods, services, and ideologies—is a process they call pluralization. Although discussions about pluralism are not new, all the relevant questions need to be carefully considered. What is God like? Is God a personal being or an impersonal force of energy? If Christianity is true, does it necessarily follow that all other religions are wrong? Can so many be wrong, or are all religions at least partially or equally valid? The fact of a pluralistic world has required theologians to adopt positions regarding believers in other religions.

Today’s militant atheists are no longer satisfied with simply choosing to not believe in God. They’ve taken on the “mission” of attacking Christianity and its ardent followers as religious bigots who are elitist, narrow-minded, deluded, and exclusionary in their approach to God and heaven. Granted, worldviews are mutually exclusive of all other beliefs, but it does not mean holding a belief in one true God makes the believer an elitist. Christians do not think they are morally better than people in other religions. Because Christianity does not teach salvation through works but salvation by grace through faith, all boasting is excluded (see Romans 3:27).

Pluralism as Preference.

This second definition goes beyond mere recognition that there is more than one; rather, it affirms that it is good that there is more than one. Here pluralism moves from sociological description to ideological description. Rather than “what is,” there is “what ought to be.” Pluralism can be expressed even about ultimate questions of life and death. Someone might prefer there to be more than one philosophy, more than one ideology, more than one religion in a society because the presence of competing alternatives prevents any individual or any group from asserting unchallenged claims to truth, justice and power. Such pluralism, on this understanding, also can lead to mutual and complementary instruction from each particular point of view.

In this regard, we are all pluralists. But preferring plurality in some instances does not, of course, commit one to preferring it in all instances. Consider that some individuals prefer matrimonial pluralism (polygamy) over monogamy. Someone else might support private ownership of property while others might believe in communal ownership, or the rule of law to anarchy, and so on. We must resist the illusion that pluralism means everyone is right and no one is wrong. Pluralism is often touted on the campuses of our liberal colleges as the only way to believe. In reality, most of us are pluralistic in only some matters and definitely not pluralistic in others.

Pluralism as Relativism.

Someone might recognize a situation as pluralism: “There is more than one.” Someone else might actually prefer a situation to be pluralistic: “It’s good that there is more than one.” But this level of pluralism goes further, declaring that no single option among the available varieties in a pluralistic situation can be judged superior to the others. For example, consider the claim everything is beautiful. To hold the attitude that everything is beautiful is to see every option as good. But is this truly accurate? Even on the basic level of vanilla versus chocolate, we’re talking subjective preference not objective judgment. When it comes to flavors of ice cream, all have their merits and all should be affirmed.

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This is clearly not applicable to the bewildering variety of religions. Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Native religion, Islam, Wicca—all are belief systems considered “good” by their adherents. All can be labeled as “spiritual paths.” This becomes a rather sticky situation, however, when lifelong believers of these various religions are convinced that his or her belief is in fact the best of all. Interestingly, many young college students, when pressed, tend to confess that they feel they shouldn’t think that way. Atheists such as Richard Dawkins believe parents should not be allowed to force-feed their doctrine on their children. In fact, he sees this as a form of child abuse, indicating it takes away the child’s freedom to think for himself or herself.

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Allan Bloom, in The Closing of the American Mind, complains that most college students today believe that everything is relative. Some are religious, some are atheist; some are to the Left, some to the Right; some intend to be scientists, some humanists or professionals or businessmen; some are poor, some rich. They are unified only in their relativism, and they take comfort in that unity. They believe relativism is vital to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, to which all primary and secondary education in America has dedicated itself for more than fifty years. Therefore, openness is the great insight of modern times. The true believer is the real danger. Interestingly, the obsession that one is right no matter what has led to persecution, slavery, xenophobia, racism, chauvinism, and exploitation—not openness. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right. Instead, it is said that to think you’re right in the first place is wrong. This is precisely what has led to the modern-day concept that there is no way to tell good from evil!

It’s Not About Saying You’re Sorry!

Apologetics has little to do with how we understand the word apology today. Rather, it is derived from the Greek word apologia, which means to make a reasoned defense. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance describes apologetics as “a speech in defense” or “intelligent reasoning.” Etymology indicates apologetics was originally the term for making a legal defense in ancient courts. Accordingly, as used in 1 Peter 3:15, it means “to make a defense to everyone” or “to give an answer to every man.” It is vital that we not ignore the second part of the verse, which admonishes us to defend the faith with gentleness and respect (NIV).

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The question is  How can believers both defend and commend their religion without needlessly offending their neighbors and exacerbating the tensions of their community? After all, apologetics can bless and apologetics can curse. When engaging in defense of the Christian faith, we must always look for the most loving approach. Peterson (2006) says in his translation The Message, “If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all His mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, ‘Jump!’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing… no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-2, 7). It is vital that we show the ability to critique a position or argument without lambasting the other person.

Effective Apologists are Good Listeners!

Be prepared to actively listen to people with whom you are having a discussion. Seek to understand where they are coming from. Never presume to know their “character” simply because of what they’ve said or written about their religion or cultural beliefs. Let them have their say whenever they wish to speak. It is important to be wary of steamrollers, but be careful of not being one yourself. It’s better to allow them to speak too much than too little or you’ll be accused of cutting them off at the knees. Respond to what they actually said, not what you think they should have said. Try to keep them on point, however, which is not always easy.

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If you’re debating them about Scripture, ask them to stay within one passage and reach a conclusion with you on that passage before moving on to another. You might not realize it, but just because you disagree with someone does not mean there’s nothing you can learn from them! Every individual has unique experiences and ideas, and you never know when their thoughts might compliment yours. Remain teachable, even from those with whom you vehemently disagree. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. When someone points out an error or mistake on your part, do not try to cover it up. Admit to it, noting it was an honest mistake. If someone insists you’ve made a mistake when you are well-grounded in what you’ve stated, promise to check your sources and get back to them on it. It takes grace and humility to admit when you’re wrong, but people will respect you for it.

Don’t be baited by personal insults. Ad hominem attacks, which are by nature leveled against an individual rather than an argument, have unfortunately become quite common when discussing sensitive subjects such as religion. We should never repay insult with insult. Remember, Christ never retaliated against or mocked those who mocked Him. 

What’s Next?

Next Monday I will present a detailed look at the classical approach to Christian apologetics. What exactly does Christianity believe? Can truth be objectively known? What are the three main arguments for the existence of God? Are miracles possible in a physical universe? Is the New Testament historically accurate? Did Jesus actually rise from the dead? We’ll also look at the hypocrisy of intolerant tolerance. For example, when our public schools shifted their policy from decidedly Christian to “neutral,” it did not take long for them to go from neutral to intolerance. Public schools have become “Christian-free zones” in the name of so-called separation of church and state. We’ve allowed our government leaders to interpret and enforce the First Amendment as freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion.

Please join me next week for Part Two of Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today.

 

Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward Question #14- Why Do Some Christians Call God Allah?

answering jihad

 

This is the fourteenth in a 17-week series from Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward by Nabeel Qureshi, author of Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus. Weeks one through sixteen will cover sixteen questions people most commonly ask Qureshi about jihad and Islam. These questions explore the origins of jihad, the nature of jihad today, and the phenomenon of jihad in Judeo-Christian context. After answering these questions, Qureshi will conclude by proposing a response to jihad, in his view the best way forward. His concluding remarks will be presented in week seventeen.

You can order the book from Amazon by clicking here.

QUESTION # 14 – WHY DO SOME CHRISTIANS CALL GOD ALLAH?

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IN JUNE OF 2014, hundreds of Malaysian Muslims rejoiced as their supreme court confirmed the illegality of Christians using the word Allah to refer to the Christian God. The Catholic Church had challenged the ban many times on the grounds that Malay Bibles had used the word Allah for centuries. Authorities argued in response that a Christian use of the term could cause confusion and entice Muslims to convert, a criminal act in twelve of its thirteen states.

For a time, the Church had succeeded in convincing the Malaysian government to lift the ban, but in response Muslims began firebombing churches, ultimately leading to a reinstatement of the ban in October 2013. Three months later, Muslim authorities confiscated hundreds of Bibles from Christians on the basis that they used the word Allah, and in June a seven-judge panel confirmed this hard line stance against Christians. Political pundits saw the ruling as a “vote-winner” for the government, appealing to Malay public with sentiments that are increasingly Islamic.

ALLAHU AKBAR

When the decision was announced, Muslims around the court started chanting “Allahu Akbar.” The phrase is called the takbir, and the Malaysians may have been reciting it simply in thanks to God and to give him praise. The slogan is versatile; it is used in daily prayers, upon hearing good news, during ceremonies, as an incantation before engaging in a difficult endeavor, or even in moments of general excitement. It is not primarily a war cry, as some believe.

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So the Malaysian Muslims around the courthouse may have been chanting the phrase in celebration as many Muslims do. But if they knew the literal meaning of the phrase, they may have meant something more. For example, many people think that Allahu Akbar means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” As a non-Arab Muslim, that is what Qureshi was taught the words meant. But the word akbar is actually in the comparative form, and the phrase ought to be translated “Allah is greater.” It implies that Allah is greater than something in particular. Some have speculated that the phrase was originally used to intimidate the enemies of Muslims in battle, by saying that Allah was a greater God than their alleged god. In his earliest biography, we find Muhammad reciting the phrase before attacking the Jews at Khybar. This etymology is not certain, though, as there is not enough evidence to support it.

What is clear is that many Malaysians see Allah as a proper name for the Islamic God, so when they started chanting “Allahu Akbar,” they could have meant that the Islamic God is greater than the Christian God. If they did, they might have been hearkening back to the original meaning of the term.

ALLAH: PROPER NAME OR GENERIC TERM?

Allah can indeed be used as the proper name for the God of Islam, but is also functions in most majority Muslim languages as the generic term for God. It is commonly believed that Christians used the term Allah to describe Yahweh even before the advent of Islam. Allah functions as a contraction of al-ilah, “the god.” So language and context matter when discussing the word Allah. When speaking in Urdu or Arabic, Qureshi tended to use Allah as a generic term, as do most speakers of those languages, but when speaking in English, he tended to use it as a proper name referring to the Islamic conception of God, as do most speakers in English. Qureshi said, “When it comes to suggestions for how others should use the term, I would simply enjoin them not to be quick to criticize.” The term can be used in multiple ways, and conversation is far better served by focusing on meaningful matters rather than proper use of a term that can be legitimately used in many ways.

CONCLUSION

Some Christians call God Allah because it is often the generic word for God in Muslim-majority languages. Qureshi sees some benefit to adopting this word or other Arabic terminology if it helps clarify matters or build bridges of discussion, so long as it is not perceived as deceptive or confusing. Language is a fluid tool designed to help people communicate, and we should not be overly critical when others do not use terms the way we do.

Thanks for reading.

Please join me next Friday for Qureshi’s Question #15 – How Does Jihad Compare With Old Testament Warfare? It is important for me to state that I do not support the religion of Islam ideologically or theologically. I am a Christian, who is a novice scholar of comparative religious study and an apologist. Indeed, Nabeel Qureshi is no longer a Muslim, having converted to Christianity after his exhausting study on the question of violence and jihad in Islam.