Category Archives: Top Ten Posts of 2010

Are There Things that Really Bother You about Christianity? – #1 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Does it bother you that the Bible is composed of 66 different books instead of one single tome?

What about the fact that there were errors made in copying some of the Bible manuscripts over the last few thousand years?

Does it cause you to doubt Christianity because there are some difficult passages in the Bible?

Do you wish Jesus didn’t say some of the harsh things he said?

Do you find it strange that the biblical authors come from vastly different backgrounds (e.g., shepherds, kings, fishermen)?  Or that they composed poetry, historical narrative, allegory, and apocalyptic letters instead of a theological/moral textbook with each point being carefully outlined (e.g., “see section 11.3.4.7 for why murder is wrong”).

Does it irritate you that Jesus only ministered for a few years and covered a limited range of topics?

Are you worried about the way the canon of Scripture developed over time in the church instead of God sending Scripture to earth in a black obelisk, like  in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey?

Do you wish Jesus and the apostles had addressed more social ills than they did?

Listen carefully: If these kinds of things really eat at you, you have either rejected Christianity or you have erected barriers around your faith so that you can shut off your brain and not think any more.

You see, what you fail to realize is that God has chosen to use flawed and fallible human beings in the framework of human history to accomplish his purposes.  We are included in his plans and he allows us to be important actors in the drama he has written, but there is a catch with this approach: Christianity turns out to be messier than some of us would like.

Jesus is both divine and human; the Bible is both divine and human.  Both of these are tenets of Christianity, so why do so many of us want to drop the human part of the Bible and the human part of Jesus?

Jesus, as the God-man, was sinless during his life in earth, but that doesn’t mean he was some kind of emotionless Spock with no feelings and no passion.  The Bible, because it is divinely inspired, is inerrant in what it teaches, but that doesn’t mean that God had to compose the Bible as a dry textbook that dropped from the sky one day, avoiding all human interference.

Learn to appreciate the fact that God has included humanity in his plans.  The sooner you do, the better you’ll understand Christianity.

Top Ten Myths about Homosexuality – #2 Post of 2010

Gender symbols, sexual orientation: heterosexu...
Image via Wikipedia

Post Author: Bill Pratt

I have written previously on why the state should not endorse gay marriage. I received numerous comments on that post and if you bother to read through all of them, you will find that they quickly move toward the question of whether the gay lifestyle is good for those in it and whether those in it should be raising children.

As a continuation of that discussion, I want to point my readers to a pamphlet written by the Family Research Council called “The Top Ten Myths About Homosexuality.” The pamphlet is well written and seems to be well researched, with copious citations of scientific papers.

Below are the ten myths which are expanded upon in the article.

Myth No. 1: People are born gay.

Fact: The research does not show that anyone is “born gay,” and suggests instead that homosexuality results from a complex mix of developmental factors.

Myth No. 2: Sexual orientation can never change.

Fact: Thousands of men and women have testified to experiencing a change in their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Research confirms that such change does occur—sometimes spontaneously, and sometimes as a result of therapeutic interventions.

Myth No. 3: Efforts to change someone’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual are harmful and unethical.

Fact: There is no scientific evidence that change efforts create greater harm than the homosexual lifestyle itself. The real ethical violation is when clients are denied the opportunity to set their own goals for therapy.

Myth No. 4: Ten percent of the population is gay.

Fact: Less than three percent of American adults identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

Myth No. 5: Homosexuals do not experience a higher level of psychological disorders than heterosexuals.

Fact: Homosexuals experience considerably higher levels of mental illness and substance abuse than heterosexuals. A detailed review of the research has shown that “no other group of comparable size in society experiences such intense and widespread pathology.”

Myth No. 6: Homosexual conduct is not harmful to one’s physical health.

Fact: Both because of high-risk behavior patterns, such as sexual promiscuity, and because of the harm to the body from specific sexual acts, homosexuals are at greater risk than heterosexuals for sexually transmitted diseases and other forms of illness and injury.

Myth No. 7: Children raised by homosexuals are no different from children raised by heterosexuals, nor do they suffer harm.

Fact: An overwhelming body of social science research shows that children do best when raised by their own biological mother and father who are committed to one another in a lifelong marriage. Research specifically on children of homosexuals has major methodological problems, but does show specific differences.

Myth No. 8: Homosexuals are no more likely to molest children than heterosexuals.

Fact: Sexual abuse of boys by adult men is many times more common than consensual sex between adult men, and most of those engaging in such molestation identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual.

Myth No. 9: Homosexuals are seriously disadvantaged by discrimination.

Fact: Research shows that homosexuals actually have significantly higher levels of educational attainment than the general public, while the findings on homosexual incomes are, at worst, mixed.

Myth No. 10: Homosexual relationships are just the same as heterosexual ones, except for the gender of the partners.

Fact: Homosexuals are less likely to enter into a committed relationship, less likely to be sexually faithful to a partner, even if they have one, and are less likely to remain committed for a lifetime, than are heterosexuals. They also experience higher rates of domestic violence than heterosexual married couples.

I ask you to go read the entire article to get the details behind these claims; they are backed up by research citations. The bottom line is this: science shows that the gay lifestyle is generally destructive of those in it and we should not, as a society, be promoting it.

Does this mean that every gay person experiences the problems cited in the research? Obviously not. We’re dealing with statistics and probabilities, so there are absolutely gay people who are exceptions to the research findings. However, the gay marriage movement is asking for a state endorsement of their lifestyle, and the only way we can approach this issue is to look statistically at those who practice the lifestyle.

Can God Be in the Presence of Sin? – #3 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Bible clearly teaches that God is morally perfect and holy, that he hates sin.  Habakkuk 1:13 says that God is too pure to look on evil.  Christians often say that God cannot allow any sin in his presence.

But, this is not the whole story.  There are also several instances in the Bible where Satan and other demons are said to be in God’s presence (e.g., Job 1:6; 2 Chron. 18:18-21; Rev. 12:10).  In addition, the prophet Isaiah, himself a sinful man, was in the presence of God, as recorded  in Isaiah 6.

We also know that God is omnipresent, which means he is present everywhere.  “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away?  Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the Lord.  ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord” (Jer. 23:23-24).  If he is present everywhere then he cannot but be in the presence of sinful creatures.

So what are we to make of all this?  I think the simple answer is that Habakkuk 1:13 is a commentary on God’s moral perfection and holiness.  It is not meant to be a statement about his physical presence.  In fact, the full rendering is, “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil.”  But we know God does not literally have eyes!  God is spirit (John 4:24) and does not have a physical presence.

The Bible teaches that God is opposed to sin and evil, that he is holy and righteous.  We know that eventually he will quarantine evil from good when he creates the New Heaven and Earth (Rev. 21).  At that time, God will physically separate those who love him from those who don’t.  Those who love him will no longer be in the presence of sin from that point forward.

Until then, God tolerates the presence of sin in order to accomplish his purposes with mankind.  Thank goodness, because if God truly could not be in the presence of sin, none of us would be here!

Did Ancient Non-Christians Write about Jesus? Part 1 – #4 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I was in a discussion with a skeptic of Christianity, a man who had been Roman Catholic for 55 years, and then decided that he couldn’t believe Christianity any longer.  During our conversation, he asked what historical evidence I could provide that Christianity was true, so I immediately went into the material in the New Testament.  After listening to me for a few minutes, he told me that all of that material was mythical and legendary, and he wanted to know if I had anything outside of the New Testament.

Now, this is like saying, “Aside from your multiple eyewitnesses, do you have any good evidence?”  But nonetheless, I started to provide non-Christian sources that mention Jesus, only to be stopped cold.  He claimed that there was no extra-biblical, non-Christian evidence of Jesus’ existence in the first two centuries, and that he, in fact, doubted that Jesus ever existed.

I’ve spoken to many skeptics over the years and I have heard a few of them take this position, but it is rare.  From what I know, there are virtually no reputable historians who deny the existence of Jesus.  According to historian Edwin Yamauchi, the idea that Jesus never existed is indeed extreme.  “From time to time some people have tried to deny the existence of Jesus, but this is really a lost cause.  There is overwhelming evidence that Jesus did exist.”  But rather than just make that assertion, what is some of that evidence?

During my conversation, I mentioned the Jewish historian Josephus as one important example of non-Christian evidence, but my skeptical friend confidently told me that Josephus never mentioned Jesus.  Let’s take a look.

Josephus was a very important Jewish historian, born in A.D. 37, who wrote most of his four works toward the end of the first century.  Yamauchi explains, “His most ambitious work was called The Antiquities, which was a history of the Jewish people from creation until his time.  He completed it in about A.D. 93.”   Josephus writes about James, the brother of Jesus, and Jesus himself in The Antiquities.

In the first mention, Josephus recounts how a high priest, Ananias, takes advantage of the death of the Roman governor, Festus (also mentioned in the New Testament), to have James, the brother of Jesus killed.  With the previous governor dead, and the new one not yet arrived, Ananias could take the law into his own hands.

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them a man whose name was James, the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.

Here we have Josephus mentioning Jesus, James, and Festus, all New Testament characters.  We also have corroboration that some people were referring to Jesus as the Christ, which means Messiah, in the first century.  Yamauchi claims that no scholar “has successfully disputed this passage.”  Bottom line: my skeptical friend was mistaken.

There is more from Josephus, plus other ancient sources, and we’ll continue to deal with them in subsequent posts.  Make sure you come back!

 

Who Wrote the Gospel of Matthew? – #5 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Although the author did not record his name within the text itself (a common practice in the ancient world), the first book found in the New Testament (NT) has historically been attributed to the writing of Matthew, a tax collector and one of the twelve disciples of Jesus.  Although some NT scholars doubt the authorship of Matthew, there are good reasons to believe that he was, indeed, the author of the first gospel.

There are at least two lines of evidence that can be rallied to the defense of Matthew: (1) the superscription of the ancient manuscripts and (2) the patristic witness.

A superscription is text added to an ancient manuscript by a scribe for purposes of identification; it acts as a title.  According to NT scholar D. Edmond Hiebert, the first gospel’s “identifying superscription, ‘The Gospel According to Matthew,’ is the oldest known witness concerning its authorship.”   Scholars believe the superscription was added as early as A.D. 125 and the “superscription is found on all known manuscripts of this gospel.”   This fact is a powerful testimony to the uniformity of evidence with regard to the authorship of Matthew.

The second line of evidence is the patristic witness.  The early church fathers were unanimous in crediting the gospel to Matthew.  Hiebert claims, “The earliest is the testimony of Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, dating to the first half of the second century.”

Following Papias is Irenaeus “who wrote his famous Against Heresies around A.D. 185.”

The next church father to attribute authorship to Matthew is Origen, who wrote in the early third century.  He is quoted by Eusebius, who wrote in the early fourth century.

Finally, Eusebius himself, in the early fourth century, documents that Matthew wrote the first gospel.

There is an unbroken witness to Matthew as the author of the first gospel going back to at least the middle of the second century, and there is no contradictory witness found in any of the church fathers.

Due to the fragmentary nature of documentary evidence in the ancient world, our ability to trace back authorship to within 100 years of the original writing of the first Gospel is exceptional.  Surely this presents a persuasive case for Matthean authorship.

What Were the Reformers’ Views on Infant Baptism? – #6 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to church historian John Hannah, there were four major Protestant streams that developed during the Reformation in the 16th century: Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, and Anabaptism.  Each of these streams placed great stress on the idea of salvation by faith alone, yet they did not all agree on what infant baptism means or whether it should even be done.

To my knowledge, all the reformers rejected baptism as the cause of a believer’s salvation; again, salvation is by faith.  An infant obviously cannot believe on her own, so if baptism is only a sign of the faith a person possesses, then why are infants baptized?

First, let’s look briefly at Calvinism.  According to Hannah, “Calvin defended the baptism of infants, believing that children of the godly are born members of the church by virtue of the hereditary nature of the Abrahamic covenant, circumcision having been replaced in the New Covenant with baptism as a sign.”

For Calvin, since infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant, infants should be baptized under the New Covenant.  Infant baptism does not cause regeneration, but it ensures that the child will be taught what she needs to know about Christ when she gets older, so that she can then exercise her own faith.  If she dies before she can exercise her own faith, Calvin believed that God could still save her, as He is not limited to save only those who exercise faith (although that is the normal way).

The Anglicans closely followed Calvin on the issue of infant baptism.

Luther also held very similar views to Calvin.  He believed that infants, who cannot exercise faith, should be baptized because of the faith of their parents and church family.  The faith of the church family could not directly save the infant, but their faith would later help the child to grow in knowledge and receive her own faith from God.  Again, infant baptism signifies the entrance of the child into the church where she can be instructed.

The last group, the Anabaptists, differ greatly from the other three streams.  The Anabaptists believed that a sign should always follow the thing it signifies, not anticipate it.  Hannah explains further Anabaptist views: “People are born into the world lost and need to be regenerated.  One does not enter the church as a citizen as one enters the state.  In the latter one is naturally born into it; in the former one is spiritually born into it.  The state is not the church; the church is not the state.”

The earliest confession of the Anabaptists states: “Baptism shall be given to all those who have learned repentance and amendment of life, and to all those who walk in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and wish to be buried with him in death. . . . This excludes all infant baptism . . . .”

So what do you think?  Should infants be baptized?  Please vote in the poll below.

Is Intelligent Design Creationism? – #7 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Many journalists confuse the Intelligent Design (ID) movement with young earth creationism.  Some of this confusion is nothing more than intellectual laziness, but some of it is caused by ID opponents repeating the assertion over and over again as a rhetorical strategy.

Here is an interview excerpt from Thomas Lessl, a professor at the University of Georgia and an expert on rhetoric (see the entire interview here):

One consistent pattern in the scientific mainstream’s response to ID has been to try to identify it with scientific creationism, to paint it with the same brush so to speak.  Such allegations are still frequently made – that ID is merely “creationism dressed up in a cheap tuxedo”.   This is what movement scholars call a strategy of “evasion”, an institutional effort to slow the momentum of a movement by pretending that it doesn’t exist – or in this case by pretending that it is made up of merely radical fundamentalists of no account.  This strategy is still being plied in the mass media, for public audiences that remain largely ignorant about the differences between these two movements.

Let’s look again at what the actual proponents of ID say about this issue.  Answering the question as to whether ID and creationism are the same, the Discovery Institute says:

No. The theory of intelligent design is simply an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature acknowledged by virtually all biologists is genuine design (the product of an intelligent cause) or is simply the product of an undirected process such as natural selection acting on random variations. Creationism typically starts with a religious text and tries to see how the findings of science can be reconciled to it. Intelligent design starts with the empirical evidence of nature and seeks to ascertain what inferences can be drawn from that evidence. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design does not claim that modern biology can identify whether the intelligent cause detected through science is supernatural.

Maybe you still aren’t convinced, though.  Well, let’s also look at what one of the largest young earth creationist organizations in the world says about whether ID is the same as creationism.  Below is an audio podcast from Ken Ham, the president of Answers in Genesis.

There you have it.  Creationists claim that ID is not creationism and ID proponents claim that ID is not creationism.  For anyone that has studied these two different movements, the differences are obvious.  The only reason why the two are confused is due to ignorance or a rhetorical strategy used to confuse the public and marginalize ID without having to confront its ideas.  I think it’s time for the rhetorical strategy to be put to rest – let’s focus on the actual arguments.

A Summary of the Craig vs. Tooley Debate at UNCC – #8 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

On March 24, 2010, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig debated agnostic philosopher Michael Tooley about whether God exists.  I attended the debate and thought I would share a summary with you.

Craig opened with 5 well-known arguments for the existence of God (some of which we’ve presented on TQA in the past – follow the hyperlinks):

  1. cosmological
  2. teleological
  3. moral
  4. resurrection of Jesus
  5. religious experience

Tooley opened with one argument for the improbability of God’s existence: the argument from evil.

Let’s look at this argument more closely.  Tooley defined God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect being.  What he wanted to show is that the existence of this kind of God is improbable because of the existence of evil.

He first catalogued all sorts of evils – the list was quite thorough and even poignant.  Following this shop of horrors, he argued that there are certain kinds of evil where the unknown good properties of that evil (granting that God can bring good out of evil) are outweighed by the bad properties that we know come from evil.  Put another way, he admitted that an all-powerful and all-knowing God could have good reasons for evil, but that we can inductively show that these good reasons cannot outweigh the “bad” from these evils.

His conclusion: since it is improbable that an all-good God could have sufficient good reasons for evil that outweigh the bad associated with evil, then it is is improbable that this all-good God exists.

How did Craig respond?  Craig responded by pointing out that you cannot assign probabilities to the existence of unknown good reasons for evil.  It’s like someone holding a giant bag of marbles and asking you: “What is the probability that, if you reached in, you would pull out a red marble?”  You could not assign a probability because you don’t know if there are any red marbles in there at all!  Tooley, likewise, is somehow claiming to assign probabilities to whether God could have unknown (his word) good reasons for evil.  This is clearly impossible to do with an all-knowing and all-powerful being.

How did Tooley respond to Craig’s arguments for God’s existence?  Well, he didn’t really address the cosmological and teleological arguments, content to let them stand.  He did address the moral argument by claiming that you can have objective moral values without the existence of God – he pointed to several philosophers who have tried to argue this way.

He addressed the argument from the resurrection by saying that all this proves is that the God of the Old Testament exists, and that this God is demonstrably not perfectly moral – he quoted many passages from the OT that seem to indicate an immoral God.

He addressed the argument from religious experience by saying that people from all sorts of religions have religious experiences, so this cannot establish the God of Christianity.

There were, of course, rebuttals given by Craig to Tooley’s critiques, but I won’t go into all of that today.  In the end, here is how they closed.

Tooley claimed that his argument from evil demonstrated that an all-good God is unlikely to exist.

Craig claimed that since Tooley had not addressed the cosmological or teleological arguments, that Tooley was, in effect, admitting that an intelligent, powerful, personal, non-spatial, timeless, creator of the universe exists; he just disputed that this creator was perfectly good.  The fact that Tooley conceded so much in the debate was not lost on the audience.  It was strange that he focused solely on the morality of God.

One final point to mention is the debating style of Michael Tooley.  Tooley is obviously an accomplished and brilliant scholar, but his presentation was extremely difficult to follow.  He presented a host of PowerPoint slides that he read from in rapid-fire fashion.  Since his argument from inductive logic was quite complex (he said as much), I would wager that a very small percentage of the audience could follow it.  That was unfortunate because none of us are served well by failing to understand all sides of a debate.  I have studied these kinds of arguments for many years, and I was barely able to follow his argument; he was just moving way too fast.

In addition, Tooley prepared slides for his rebuttals ahead of the debate and so found himself prepared to refute Craig on points that Craig never introduced.  He relied almost 100% on these prepared slides, again reading from them, line by line.  It was as if he did not want to respond real-time to Craig, and this came across poorly, since Craig did respond real-time to Tooley’s arguments.

Much more could be said about the debate.  If anyone else attended, tell us about what you thought.  We’d love to hear from you.

Is the Qur’an Wrong about Jesus? – #9 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

It may surprise some Christians that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, speaks about Jesus.  In fact, the Qur’an speaks of Jesus as a great prophet of God and records some of the miracles that Jesus performed.

However, the Qur’an denies one important event in the life of Jesus, his crucifixion.  According to the Qur’an, Jesus was never crucified by the Romans.  He was taken straight to heaven without being executed.

Herein lies a couple of significant problems, it seems, for Islam.  First, virtually every professional historian who has studied the events of Jesus’ life agrees that he was killed by crucifixion.  This fact is just not debated by any reputable scholars, as far as I am aware.

Second, we have another problem, what Jesus scholar Mike Licona calls the “Islamic catch-22.”  You see, Jesus predicted that he would die a violent death, predicted it several times.  According to Licona, “We find this reported in Mark, which is the earliest Gospel, and it’s multiply attested in different literary forms, which is really strong evidence in the eyes of historians.”

So what?  How is that a problem for Muslims?  Licona explains:

If Jesus did not die a violent and imminent death, then that makes him a false prophet.  But the Qur’an says that he’s a great prophet, and so the Qur’an would be wrong and thus discredited.  On the other hand, if Jesus did die a violent and imminent death as he predicted, then he is indeed a great prophet – but this would contradict the Qur’an, which says he didn’t die on the cross.  So either way, the Qur’an is discredited.

If the Qur’an, which Muslims claim is perfect, contains an error as egregious as denying the crucifixion of Jesus, it simply cannot be trusted to be a reliable historical document.

Did the Early Church Believe in a Literal Thousand-Year Reign of Christ on Earth? – #10 Post of 2010

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Book of Revelation, according to some Christians, teaches a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth after his second coming (see Rev. 20).  This will then be followed by the creation of a new heaven and new earth. This view is known today as premillenialism.

But there are other Christians, in fact, the majority, who interpret the thousand years in Rev. 20 as a spiritual reign of the church which started at Christ’s first coming and ends at his second coming.  This view is known today as amillenialism.

The proponents of both of these views have an array of arguments to support their positions, but what was the view of the early church?

It seems that up until the third century, the early church was primarily premillenialist.  Writers like Irenaeus, Justin Martyr, and Tertullian all thought the second advent of Christ was imminent and that he would inaugurate his thousand-year reign on earth.

The tide, however, started to turn with the writings of Origen in the early third century, who adopted an allegorical method of interpreting Revelation.  Origen believed that the thousand years represented a spiritual reign of the church.  His disciple, Dionysius of Alexandria, continued the attack against premillenialism and turned the eastern church away from it.

In the western church, Augustine, in the late fourth century, began to teach amillenialism, siding with the Alexandrians in the east.  His views of eschatology (the end times) were detailed in his most famous work, The City of God.

From the time of Augustine until the Reformation in the sixteenth century (~1,100 years), amillenialism was the dominant view in the church.

The story obviously doesn’t end there, but you now have a brief introduction of what happened in the first fifteen hundred years of Christianity with respect to the millennium scribed in Rev. 20.

What about you?  Which view do you think is more likely correct?  Do you think there will be a literal thousand-year reign of Christ on earth (i.e., premillenialism) or do you think the thousand years mentioned in Rev. 20 is a spiritual reign of the church which ends at Christ’s second coming (i.e., amillenialism)?