The Fear In "Happy Holidays"

Every year during December, someone says to me “Happy Holidays” and I cringe inside, knowing that this person has bought into a climate of fear.

We know that 80% of Americans are Christian and we know an even higher 95% of Americans celebrate Christmas. If the dominant American holiday during the month of December is Christmas, and the traditional way to wish someone well during this time of year is to say “Merry Christmas,” then why not say that? What are we afraid of? Worst case, 1 out of 20 people will take offense. It’s actually a much smaller number than that because the vast majority of the remaining 5% will not mind someone saying “Merry Christmas” if they know the person is just ignorant of their particular beliefs.

We’re wishing each other well, after all. We’re not hurling insults at someone by saying “Merry Christmas” but that’s the way many of us act. In a meeting the other day, I suggested that we adorn our company website with pictures of outdoor Christmas trees and snow for the month of December, and you would have thought I was advocating genocide! Three people almost immediately jumped on the idea as offensive to some employees. This is a climate of fear and hypersensitivity.

If you know someone doesn’t celebrate Christmas, then wish them well in the way they prefer, but please stop cowering in fear by wishing everyone “Happy Holidays.” It degrades everyone’s beliefs.

A Former Mormon's View of The Bible – Part 1

 The 8th Article of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints states “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God”.  Notice the caveat for the Bible of “so far as it is translated correctly”.  I remember many times as a Mormon I would tell people about this article of faith and explain to them how many “plain and precious truths” have been removed from the Bible… how the Bible has been mistranslated throughout history, does not contain the fullness of the Gospel, and cannot be trusted.  I would tell them how we need The Book Of Mormon and modern day prophecy to clear up the confusion caused by the mistranslations in the Bible.  However, when I started questioning the truthfulness of the LDS church, I began to research the history of the Bible, how we got it and how it has been transmitted to us throughout history.  I wanted to find out for myself whether or not the Mormon claim that the Bible is “mistranslated” is true. What I found out amazed me. 

Historiography is the the study of ancient documents.  It is used to determine the authenticity and validity of documents of antiquity.  One of the tests used in Historiography is called the Bibliographical test.  One principle of the Bibliographical test is to look at the number of surviving manuscripts of any document of antiquity.  Obviously, the more copies we have the easier it is to determine errors in copying and determine what the original text said.  So, the question is, how many copies do we have of the New Testament?

For the New Testament alone we currently have 24,970 surviving manuscripts!  This makes The New Testament the #1 document in all of antiquity in manuscript authority!  Despite being Number 1 in manuscript authority it’s accuracy is questioned more than any other document of antiquity.  You don’t hear many college professors questioning the reliability of Caesar’s Gallic Wars… yet we only have 10 surviving manuscripts for it!!

What is really amazing is the gap between The New Testament and the #2 document in manuscript authority, Homer’s Iliad.  There are only 643 surviving manuscripts for it!!.  The New Testament has 24,970 and # 2 HAS ONLY 643. What a gap!!  God is good!!   

In part 2 I will discuss the 2nd principle used in the Bibliographical Test and how these principles lead one to a reasoned conclusion that the New Testament we hold in our hands today is an accurate transmission of what was originally written down.

Jesus' Resurrection an Early Belief

There is an interesting post detailing historical evidence for an early belief in Jesus’ resurrection.  Why is this important?  Critical scholars have often held that belief in Jesus’ resurrection was a later development after legends grew about Jesus’ life decades and even centuries later.  Evidence of early belief helps defeat this claim and show that the resurrection was a real historical event.

What is Molinism?

My young friend, Tyler, asked me recently about Molinism.  Molinism is a doctrine developed by a 16th century theologian, Luis de Molina, that attempted to reconcile the sovereignty of God with man’s free will.

Molina posited the idea that God possesses a special kind of knowledge, known as middle knowledge (scientia media), that effectively lets him know what free creatures would do given different circumstances.  In effect, God’s middle knowledge allowed him to “try out” many possible worlds to see what his free creatures would do.  He then picked one world based on this knowledge.  That is the world we are living in today.

Molinism is an orthodox Christian doctrine (not heretical) and, indeed, still has adherents today.  Some evangelical Christians, such as William Lane Craig, are proponents of this doctrine, or a form of it.

The Southern Baptist Convention, of which I am a member, takes no position on Molinism.  The Baptist Faith and Message states that

Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.

It also states:

God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures.

In other words, Baptists are OK with any doctrine that affirms both God’s sovereignty and man’s free will.  This encompasses a wide range of doctrines from Calvinism to Arminianism and everything in between (including Molinism).

Does Being a Christian Guarantee the Good Life?

I hear some Christians complain that God hasn’t blessed them even though they are praying and reading the Bible every day.  By blessing, they mean good health, financial success, job success, good relationships, and so forth.  However, when you read the entire Bible, it does not promise that your life is going to be easy if you will just do what God says.  In fact, there are numerous counter-examples.

What about Job?  He was righteous and yet God allowed Satan to virtually destroy his life.

What about Paul?  Are you more dedicated to God than Paul?  He was beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and ultimately beheaded for his obedience to God.

Virtually all the Old Testament prophets were mocked and ridiculed, and many of them killed for following God’s lead.  Just read Jeremiah to see if he was living the easy life.

The truth is that God only guarantees that we will live with Him in paradise after this life.  This world is riddled with sin and evil, and God is not going to place a protective bubble around you for your whole life.  You will face hardship.

Now, if we are obedient to God in this life, then generally speaking, our lives will be better.  No doubt about that.  God keeps us from sin and sin will make our lives miserable.  So if you don’t sin, then you will generally avoid many of life’s pitfalls.  And many of us will be materially blessed, but not all of us.

There is not a direct correlation between your material blessings and your obedience to God.  I saw a TV special the other day about one high-ranking Nazi officer at Auschwitz who lived to a ripe old age before dying peacefully in the year 2000.

Good people sometimes suffer and bad people sometimes prosper.  That is not going to change until we are in heaven.

What we are called to do in this life is to trust God and obey Him in every situation.  That is the essence of loving God in this life.

Favorite C. S. Lewis Quote

I am a big fan of C. S. Lewis because he had a way of explaining complex issues in simple ways.  This quote from Mere Christianity below is probably my favorite because it really addresses people who want to re-define the historical Jesus of the Bible.  Enjoy!

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 a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  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.

Great Modern Apologetics Books

There have been many good apologetics books written, but there are a few that I find myself going back to over and over to do additional research.  You can’t go wrong consulting these volumes:

Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics

I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

Scaling the Secular City

Handbook of Christian Apologetics

Again, I realize that there are many other good ones, but you will be well-served by these.

Simple Explanation of Intelligent Design Theory

The theory of Intelligent Design, as promoted by organizations such as the Discovery Institute, is one of the most misunderstood and mischaracterized theories in the mass media you will ever see.  A typical newspaper or TV reporter will say something like this: “Intelligent Design is the theory that biological organisms are really complex, and so God must have created them.”  Perhaps you’ve seen it reported this way.  I know that I have many, many times.

Well, if that’s not the true definition, then what is it?  I believe it can be defined in two simple statements:

  1. Intelligent agents sometimes leave behind detectable empirical evidence of their activity.
  2. There exists, in biological life, detectable empirical evidence of intelligent agency.

Statement 1 is hardly controversial.  Many scientific fields detect signs of intelligence: cryptography, archaeology, forensic pathology, just name a few.  In our every day lives, we routinely detect signs of intelligence.  When we see “I love Coke!” written in the sky, we don’t assume that it’s an unusual cloud formation.  We assume that an intelligent agent, namely a sky-writing pilot, left the message.  When we look at Mount Rushmore, we don’t think the faces got there from wind and erosion.  We know that somebody sculpted those faces – an intelligent being.

Intelligent Design theory just uses the exact same techniques that are used in other scientific fields that detect intelligence, and applies it to biological organisms.  When we look at biological organisms, we detect signs of intelligent agency.  There are numerous examples of these signs, but one of them is the existence of DNA.  DNA is composed of a four-letter biological alphabet and is mathematically equivalent to any other kind of language.  One human cell contains DNA that is the equivalent of 5 million pages of information, and your body has trillions of cells!

Take a look at these two photos side by side.  The one on the left is the view of a stained glass window in a cathedral and the one on the right is the view down the axis of a DNA double helix.  If that doesn’t give you a little pause, I can’t help you…

window-double-helix1

What's the Big Deal About Cursing?

Every thing that God prohibits in the Bible reflects his nature and therefore has some good reason behind it.  But using bad language, or cursing, is one of those prohibitions that most of us completely ignore.  Almost everyone curses.

We swear when we’re angry.

We swear when we’re really happy.

We swear when we tell jokes.

We swear when we’re trying to really emphasize a point we want to make.

We swear when we want to hurt someone’s feelings.

We swear when we talk about someone we really don’t like.

The list goes on and on.  So what is the big deal?  Cursing seems like one of those sins that is nit picky.  After all, we humans decide which words are bad and which are good.  It’s just a conventional language thing.  Every language has curse words in it.  Even the biblical languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) had curse words.

Some of the most vile curse words refer to “private parts,” sexual acts, eliminating bodily waste, and other ethnic groups.  Now, all of these things were given to us by God – bodies, sex, and different races – and God only gives good things.  Yet, in each case, we rename these things with curse words.

It turns out that naming, and indeed language itself, is one of the most powerful and beautiful gifts that God bequeathed mankind.  One of the first things God asked Adam to do was name the animals.  However, as with all gifts, language can be used for good or for evil.  Language can be used to teach, to heal, to point toward truth, to worship God, to express beauty, and to express love toward others.  God felt so strongly about using His name properly, that it made the top ten (Ex. 20:7).

It can be used for evil.  As with virtually every other good gift, humans took language and perverted it.  When you misuse language (that’s what cursing is, the misuse of language), you pervert a good gift from God.

Clearly, some cursing is worse than others.  Yelling out when you hit your thumb with a hammer is not in the same league as yelling a racial epithet at someone.  God always judges the heart of a man, so the more hurtful you intend your language to be, the the more harshly you will be judged, but why not avoid it altogether?

Think of the words that come out of your mouth (and the words in your thoughts) as a beautiful self-portrait hanging in the front entrance of your home (a la Dorian Gray).  Every person that enters your home sees this portrait immediately.  Every time you curse, your face in the portrait deforms in a subtle way.  Over time, the deformities build up so that your portrait becomes horribly disfigured.  What started out as a wonderful painting becomes more like a portrait of a monster.  On the other hand, every time you use language to teach truth, express love, or heal, the portrait reverts back to the original stunning masterpiece.  That masterpiece is what God intended for you.

Christian Thinkers

One of the best things I can do for those seeking to learn more about Christianity is point them to some of the scholars who have taught and influenced me during my life.

Norman Geisler is the greatest living Christian apologist, period.

J. P. Moreland, John Ankerberg, Ravi Zacharias, Greg Koukl, R. C. Sproul, Hugh Ross – all of these folks are well worth reading and hearing.

A Christian Apologetics Blog

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