Thursday, May 31, 2018

New book, edited by Joel Furches

The Mentionables Project: 5 Christian Apologists Answer 40 Atheist Questions

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Save the Egg: an Interview with the Editor of 'The Poached Egg'

Recently, a flurry of articles and news interest have arisen in reaction to polls which indicate that Christianity is losing numbers in the Western World while anti-religious worldviews – like atheism and agnosticism – are on the rise. 
Further analysis into these polls has shown what amounts to a polarization: people with no strong religious opinions used to identify as Christian because of family or social pressure. As social pressures have shifted, so have their loyalties. 
With this polarization, and with the more overt hostility toward Christian belief on the rise, Christians have blown the dust off a long-neglected field of study, and it is increasingly on the lips of the most ground-level believer: Christian Apologetics. 
Christian Apologetics defends Christianity using evidence - like science, scholarship, and philosophy - to show that it is true, and not just blind, baseless faith. 
Websites offering Apologetics materials are helpful to the Christian and Skeptic alike, because they allow either side to form and support their arguments; however most Apologetics websites draw from a limit pool of resources written by the staff members of that organization. 
One website which wrecks the curve and offers a staggering catalogue of articles and information drawn from all over the internet is “The Poached Egg." Formerly part of the larger Ratio Christi ministry, The Egg has never failed to offer top quality articles and resources to the community, touching the lives of many. However, The Egg has recently broken free of Ratio Christi, and is in danger of becoming breakfast for good. This writer recently had the opportunity to interview the editor of The Egg, Greg West. This is that interview:
What is your background, and how did you become involved in the field of Christian Apologetics? 
I was raised in a solid committed Christian home but once I got out in the real world away from the Christian ghetto, for many different reasons, I began to wonder if Christianity was really the “one true religion”. Instead of digging deeper and investigating, I used doubt as an excuse to reject Christianity and by the time I reached my mid-twenties I was a professing agnostic. After years of apathy towards Christianity and religion in general, worldview issues and questions began weighing heavily on my heart and mind. 
I didn’t want Christianity to be true because I wasn’t thrilled about being accountable to anything or anyone but myself, but as I began to see that the Christian worldview was the only way everything made sense and fell into place, I began to realize that if Christianity was true, I wanted to be a follower of Jesus because without him, life had no real meaning and it was everyman for himself. I wanted to be someone who accepted and stood up for the truth for what is was and not just what I wanted it to be. I recommitted my life to Christ and in a short time was burdened with a desire to really dig into the truth claims of Christianity. 
I started studying apologetics without even knowing what it was at the time. While browsing a local Christian bookstore I ran across Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. Intrigued, I bought it and read it straight through almost nonstop. I was blown away that this kind of stuff was not taught in church. Next I devoured Lee’s follow-up book, The Case for Faith, and was even more blown away, because it addressed many issues I had struggled with. Those two books were my introduction to apologetics and I’ve been studying apologetics ever since. 
So describe what is the purpose of The Poached Egg? What is the need that it fills in the world of Christian Apologetics? 
The Poached Egg (TPE) serves several purposes. First and foremost is to help Christians learn apologetics for their own edification and for evangelism, and to raise the awareness of its need in the church, especially in today’s cultural climate. Second is to provide a huge amount of resources for seekers and to answer skeptics and critics of Christianity. Third, it brings many different apologists and apologetics ministries all together in one place. It gives some of the more established apologists and apologetics ministries more exposure to what they’re doing by helping to expand their audience and it also gives those just starting out an already established audience that it might normally take them many months or even years of work to achieve. A substantial boost in website traffic from an article we feature can be very encouraging to someone just getting their feet wet. 
How did you choose the title “The Poached Egg”? 
I get asked this one all the time and I never get tired of answering it. It’s a hat tip to CS Lewis’ lunatic-liar-or-Lord argument from Mere Christianity, or what has become known as the “trilemma” argument. He wrote, 
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 
What it all comes down to is what are we to make of the person of Jesus Christ. If Jesus is God, then to put it mildly, that carries with it some serious implications for our lives. 
What is the most significant thing TPE has accomplished in the five years you have been doing this? 
The most exciting thing for me is hearing from people who are getting involved in apologetics for the first time or even apologetics ministry because they discovered apologetics via TPE. The New Chapters Formation Director at Ratio Christi (our parent organization) has told me that a significant number of new chapter directors have come on board by way of TPE. Many pastors and youth pastors are also starting apologetics ministries in their church after they started following TPE on one or more social networks. A favorite example is from about a year ago when I had a pastor in South Africa of what we would call a “mega-church” contact me via Twitter asking if I could help him get apologetics ministry into his church. I did a Skype session with him and some of his staff and gave them what advice I could. Last I heard he was enrolled in the Apologetics Certificate Program offered by BIOLA and is working directly with Ratio Christi staff that are in South Africa. That’s the kind of stuff that puts me in “happy dance” mode! 
What is one of the worst Apologetics arguments you’ve happened across in all your reading? 
I’ve run across some to be sure, but what stands out in my mind the most is the worst objection to Christianity I ran across. It was from a hyper-skeptic who used to frequently comment on many of the articles featured on the blog- this one happened to be a defense of the resurrection of Jesus. I’m paraphrasing him here, but he said that even if Jesus did rise from the dead, then it didn’t necessarily follow that he was divine. I’ll give him that one there, but he followed that by saying that if he did rise from the dead, then someday science will figure out how and why and we’ll then be able to raise other people from the dead. If I didn’t know better from reading some of his previous comments I would have thought he was poking fun, but I’m pretty sure he was serious. 
What is one of the most intriguing Apologetics articles that you’ve read in recent memory? 
Well, here’s something I’ve read from a couple of different sources, I think first from New Testament scholar Michael Kruger, and it’s something that should have occurred to someone long ago- maybe it did and I just never heard of it- but in a nutshell it’s the idea that when it comes to an argument such as we can never really know what the NT writers originally said because all we have are copies of copies of copies is really not a very good one because today we have manuscripts and manuscript fragments dating back to the second century- so we’re talking ancient writings more than 1500 years old that still survive today- so isn’t it reasonable to assume that the original manuscripts could have existed for a least a few centuries before becoming unusable? I find that idea very compelling. 
Do you see any expansion or new ventures in the future of TPE? 
Definitely. Of course one thing holding us back is the lack of financial support, but I’m trusting God to provide for that and am not letting that hold me back from taking advantage of opportunities that I’m being blessed with. I’m meeting personally with more pastors and am seeing more opportunities for speaking and teaching, which I’m so thankful for. As far as expanding the reach of TPE itself goes, I’m in desperate need for a promotional budget and the financial resources to be able to hire at least one additional full-time staff member. We need a lot more people to step up and partner with us financially to help make that happen.  
You can find more on The Poached Egg at the following locations: 

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Re: Will Biology, Astronomy, Physics Rule Out the Existence of Deity

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Who Qualifies as a Christian Minister?

In 2007, renowned church leader Andy Stanley was interviewed by Christianity Today about the ministry model he had established for his church. In that interview, Stanley stated:
“I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership. One of the criticisms I get is ‘Your church is so corporate.’ I read blogs all the time. Bloggers complain, ‘The pastor's like a CEO.’ And I say, ‘OK, you're right. Now, why is that a bad model?’ A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.”
Pirate Christian Radio speaker Chris Rosebrough is quoted as saying:
“Peter Drucker, who is the ideological mind behind the Seeker Driven Church Movement, along with the Fascists of the 20th century, bought into Rousseau’s philosophical worldview which denied the existence of the individual in time.
“Rousseau’s ideas about a single leader mystically embodying the collective will of the community were adopted by and further developed by fascist theorists, and then later put into practice by the fascist governments of the 20th century.”
It is Rosebrough’s assertion here that modern church leaders are interpreting their position as something akin to fascistic “fuhrer” rather than to that of a shepherd.
In Matthew 23, Jesus said this:
"But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant."
The Greek word that Christ uses for “instructors” in this passage could be literally translated “leaders,” exactly the word that the Seeker Driven Church movement has latched on to when describing the role of their pastors.
In Matthew 23:8-11, Christ not only places God as the sole authority to which all others were subservient, but establishes the core principle of his church. In contrast to the Jewish leadership, which was essentially a totalitarian system in which the parishioner was obligated to follow the commands of the religious leader or risk excommunication, Jesus was establishing a system wherein the “greatest
among you shall be your servant.”
In his critique of the fascist-style leadership being adopted more and more by the Seeker-driven Church movement, Rosbrough describes it as a top-down authoritarian model. That is to say the leader, or “fuhrer” has all of the authority, while all of the responsibility is placed on those under him to carry out his will. This as opposed to a Republic wherein the people have the authority and the governing official has the responsibility to carry out the will of the people.
The system Christ describes in this command is neither top-down or bottom-up. If anything, it is a lateral
system. The authority and responsibility are placed entirely with God. It is the duty of the Church to serve one another equally, and to make disciples of those outside the Church; acts which can only be done in the power of the Spirit. This is illustrated by Christ when he says:
"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
God is described here as "The Lord of the Harvest," taking responsibility for the harvest as well as being the one ascribed the authority to send out the laborers; just as it was Christ who recruited those he chose to be his ministers:
“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”
This verse speaks to the commission of the minister to "make disciples of all nations," that is, to preach the Gospel to non-believers. As for the responsibility of the minsters within the Church, Christ best summed it up in his request of Peter:
"Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”"
It is interesting to note here that Peter’s motivation for “feeding the sheep” is his love of Christ. He is neither bribed by rewards nor goaded by fear of punishment; rather, he is doing so out of gratitude toward God and love of Christ.
But as with the rabbi in Jerusalem, who turned their commission to teach the law and the prophets to the Nation of Israel into an opportunity to put words in God’s mouth and lord power over their charges, the Church fell to the same abuses.
As the governing structure of the church came to be understood as a separation between clergy and laity, a gap began to form between the individual in the church and God. The individual could only approach God through the agency of priests, bishops, popes, and saints, and were powerless to go to God on their own.
History, it seems, repeats itself. The Seeker-Driven Church of modern times has reverted to a structure they call “vision-casting.” In this model the pastor or leader claims to receive a vision directly from God.
This “vision” often looks similar to a corporate “mission statement.” The pastor then presents the vision to the church body, and it becomes their responsibility to fulfill this mission for the pastor. Any disagreement with the vision on the part of a parishioner results in immediate excommunication. The pastor has the authority to interpret the vision in any way he or she sees fit, allowing them essentially limitless power over the church body through a mission given them (they claim) directly from God.
This shift between Peter’s commission to “feed my sheep” to the Seeker-Driven model of “vision casting” is possibly best illustrated in this quote from a sermon by Prosperity Gospel advocate Creflo Dollar:
“You know you people say ‘Well why do you go to that Church? So I can be fed.’ You don’t come here so you can be fed! You come here to help me to fulfill His vision! That is, if God called you here. You haven’t been called so you can be fed the Word. Now if you get fed in the midst of it, that’s good. But you’ve been called to find your part in bringing this vision to pass in the earth!”
It is not difficult to understand the motivation for these kinds of ecclesiastical power-grabs. The Bible and History books are replete with examples of opportunists abusing politics and religion for personal power. But, as Christ said, call no man rabbi, father, or master.
It is not just that Christians are not obligated to submit to those claiming religious power over them; it is that Christians are obligated not to submit. To do so is to place allegiance in some human agency rather than God, a violation of the first commandment and of the greatest commandment.
How, then is one to understand the structure of the Church?
In the book of Hebrews, the author makes this criticism of his audience:
“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Jesus had commanded his Apostles to “make disciples of all nations,” and the author of Hebrews tells his readers that “by this time you ought to be teachers.”
The natural trajectory of the Christian is to mature in their faith, to preach the gospel to the unbeliever and to encourage and instruct the new believer. There is no one single person or council of people outside of Christ singled out for the task of holding power over the Church.
The Apostle Paul best summarized Church Structure this way:
“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
In this sense every Christian is a minister, that is, a servant, first to God and then to His Church. The Gospel - the good news that believers are commissioned to preach - is that every person is free to approach God by the grace purchased through Christ’s sacrifice. But this fails to be good news if, once converted, the believer is obligated to appeal to a structure of priests, bishops, popes, saints, and church leaders in the hopes of possibly reaching God.
If a person has been washed of sin, and has been given the freedom to approach God directly, that person, through love, has become a minister of God:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you
may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dr Leland Ryken on ancient Biblical manuscripts and English readers

This writer recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Leland Ryken of Wheaton College regarding the process of Biblical Interpretation for the modern reader. Dr. Ryken is a Professor of English, and as such, has an intimate scholarly understanding of how the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are rendered into the English Language, and the difficulties associated with this process.  
According to Ryken, there are several difficulties that arise in the translation process. These essentially divide into two problems. The first is determining what the original authors meant to communicate to the reader taking into account culture, context, idiom and so forth. The second is to then find the best way of communicating this meaning to the modern English reader.  
There are two schools of thought as to how to complete this process. The first is known as verbal equivalence. Dr. Ryken explains: 
“The goal of Bible translation is to take readers as close as possible to the actual words that the biblical authors wrote. The translation process that this viewpoint produces is called verbal equivalence, which means that every word in the original Hebrew or Greek text is rendered by an equivalent or corresponding English word or phrase. The goal of Bible translation is be transparent to the original text—to see as clearly as possible what the biblical authors actually wrote.” 
The second school of thought in rendering an English translation is known as dynamic equivalence. Says Dr. Ryken: 
“Dynamic equivalent translators feel no obligation to find an English equivalent for every word in the original Hebrew and Greek texts; if the text says "he anoints my head with oil," a dynamic equivalent translation might read "he treats me as an honored guest." Paraphrases often bear little resemblance to what the biblical authors wrote (for example, the statement in Psalm 19 that God's law is "sweeter than honey" becomes "you'll like it better than strawberries in spring" (The Message).” Dr. Ryken is critical of the dynamic equivalence school of Bible translation, saying: “Here are the liberties that dynamic equivalent translators regularly take: 
  1. replace what the original authors wrote with something else (e.g., where the text says "establish the work of our hands," dynamic equivalent translations substitute "let all go well for us");  
  2. change figurative statements into direct statements (again a substitution); 
  3. add interpretive commentary to what the biblical authors wrote, so readers do not know what was in the original and what was added; 
  4. make the style of the English Bible contemporary and colloquial; 
  5. reduce the vocabulary level of the original text; 
  6. bring masculine gender references into line with modern feminist preferences.
In all these ways, dynamic equivalent translations give the public a substitute Bible. I would also assert that the original authors of the Bible had the resources to state their content the way dynamic equivalent translators state it, but instead they stated it as we find in the original texts of the Bible. Dynamic equivalent translators take a condescending view toward the authors of the Bible, treating them like inept writers who couldn't state things accurately and therefore need correction.” 

Dr. Ryken places the responsibility for Biblical understanding with the reader, saying: 
“Readers should aspire to what is excellent. They should refuse to read a substitute Bible. They should want a Bible that calls them to their higher selves—or to something higher than their current level of attainment.  “Some of the blame can be laid at the feet of easy-reading translations. When I read these translations and (even more) hear them read in public, I feel a great letdown and say to myself that such a Bible does not capture my heart and allegiance. A translation that reads like the chatter at the corner coffee shop is given the type of credibility that the chatter is given. But quite apart from that, we need to acknowledge the damage done by the proliferation of Bible translations. With so many contradictory renditions of the biblical text, the public has lost confidence that we can actually know what the Bible says. It is an easy step from this skepticism to an indifference about what the Bible says.” 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Was the Bible Doctored by the Church?

Was the Bible doctored by the Church? 
There is a wide-spread belief amidst both professional scholars and laymen that the Bible now used by Christians is significantly altered from the historical documents upon which it was based. This, they say, is because of the Church’s agenda to make Jesus a divine figure. Understandably, the claim that God came to earth in the form of a man is a tough pill to swallow. So it could also be argued that those scholars who work so hard to discredit the authenticity of scripture are pursuing an agenda as well. The question becomes, which claim has the better support? 
Much of the current controversy over the accuracy of the Bible can be linked to the recent popularity of Dan Brown’s novel, The Da Vinci Code. 
Brown is not the only person discrediting the authenticity of the Bible, however. In his book Misquoting Jesusauthor and Bible scholar Bart Ehrman makes the claim that the scribes that copied the Bible for 1,500 years altered the text to fit an agenda. 
Ehrman, however also wrote a book entitled The Da Vinci Code: Fact and FictionIn an interview on the book, Ehrman makes the statement 
“The problem I have with the Da Vinci Code is that it gets so much of its information about these matters wrong.” 
Clearly Ehrman is no believer in biblical accuracy, but even he cannot embrace the outlandish claims Dan Brown makes in his fictional novel. 
Church Historian Dr. John Hannah, in his book Our Legacy gives a detailed look at the history and development of scriptural authority within the church. In brief, Hannah divides the church age up into stages: “The Apostolic Period,” in the first century A.D. during which the New Testament was written; and the second century, “The Church Fathers Period,” is detailed by writings of the direct successors to the Apostles.  
Hannah says that during the “Church Father” period there was general agreement on doctrines. While they cited as many as 19 out of the 27 currently accepted New Testament books, they lived in an age of vast illiteracy, and so the oral tradition was held as equally authoritative to scripture.  
The next period of the Church that Hannah describes he calls the age of “The Apologists.” During this time overt hostility toward Christianity from the culture and governing powers was on the rise. Worse, disagreements and challenges were coming from within the Church itself.  
These challenges forced the Church leaders of the time to have to define what their source of authority was so that they could address the many conflicting opinions regarding doctrine and beliefs. In defining their authority, the oral tradition became marginalized largely because the Gnostic sect was claiming a different oral tradition to support their views. Church Fathers began to look to the writings of the Apostles as alone being authoritative and the idea of a cannon of scripture began to emerge.  
The cannons of the day varied. The entire Old Testament, and all 27 books of the currently accepted New Testament were held as sacred in one or another of the churches, but few if any had access to all of them. 
Even if all of the books that were disputed at the time were removed, the core doctrines of the current Church are still affirmed by the remaining books including the Gospels and the epistles of Paul. This, then cannot be regarded as a change made to scriptures in order to advance an agenda. 
The books of the current Bible were canonized officially in 397 AD. But the current cannon of scripture was unofficially recognized long before that.  
Of the claim made by Bart Ehrman that scribes changed the Bible as they copied it, Wheaton College New Testament professor, Gary M. Burge writes: 
"What Ehrman fails to tell us is that most of the scribal errors he likes to list are incidental. And when they do have substance, the thousands of Greek manuscripts we possess permit us to reconstruct the original by making minute comparisons of their discrepancies …but none of these variants jeopardizes a single major teaching of the New Testament." 
As Burge points out, by comparing the thousands upon thousands of sources, Bible Scholars can spot minor textual errors and have a very accurate idea about what the originals said. 
There is more evidence supporting the authenticity of scripture than there is against it. The real issue becomes, not the documents themselves, but rather the claims that they make. Agendas are not always conspiracies to support lies. If the Church has the “agenda” of supporting the claim that Jesus was God, it might be because that claim is true.