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Antony Flew Under Attack by Atheists

This has been the case for awhile, now, but atheists all over are not giving Flew his due.  This site has a great list of taunts.

  • He’s losing/lost his mind.
  • He’s in it for the money.
  • He’s afraid of death.
  • Etc.

If this is not ad hominem, I don’t know what is.  If the challenge is that Flew hasn’t well defended himself, I could almost see it… thus the book… which hasn’t come out yet…. which, therefore, they can’t evaluate…. which means that at this point, they’re just being presumptive.  We have yet to see if his book provides good argumentation, but to act as though he is off his rocker before you’ve even allowed him to speak for himself, that’s just not right.  Desperate interviews by Richard Carrier don’t count as allowing Flew to speak for himself.  So let’s just wait, shall we?

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Ramzi Yousef a Christian?

That is the claim in this article, though it is doubted.

I’ve been paying attention to Ramzi Yousef after I discovered his Iraqi connections.  Yousef was the master mind behind the first WTC bombing and a relative of KSM who planned the second one.  (You see the import of the Iraq connection, now, I suppose.)   I am skeptical of this but would obviously be very happy to hear it.  He risks much if it is genuine.  He will be targeted for death by many a Muslim.  I will feel much more confident that this is a genuine conversion if he spills his guts on everything.  I hope he does, for his own sake.

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On a more masculine heaven

C.S. Lewis wrote,

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of   heaven   ridiculous by saying they do not want   to spend eternity playing harps.     The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.   All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolic attempt to express the inexpressible.   Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggests ecstasy and infinity.   Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendour and power and joy.   Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it.   People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.  (Mere Christianity)

There is much scorn for Christian conceptions of heaven in the secular community.  Much of it is, I’m afraid, people talking about things that they don’t understand.  Very often this is the fault of the skeptic, but very often we can blame it on the Church, too.

I was watching the television show “House” the other night where Dr. House tells a person who is near death but refusing a procedure that there is no afterlife and mocks the man for wanting to escape his shell of a body.  A comrade of Dr. House’s points out that Dr. House had never been to the afterlife, so how would he know with such certainty?  House apparently sees the logic in this because later he electrocutes himself.  While he is unconscious, his patient dies.  Going to look at the body later on, we have Dr. House saying to the corpse, “See, I told you so.”  Never mind the obvious fact that Dr. House did not die, or that given his character as we know it he’d be an unlikely candidate for ‘heaven.’  Instead I want to think about the expectations common about the afterlife.

I said that we can blame much misconception on the church itself.  We can start with the word ‘heaven.’  You will have much difficulty finding any passages that talk about us dying  and going to heaven. Jesus says that he goes to prepare a place for us, but does not say it is ‘heaven.’ We are told there will be a resurrection, for both the saved and the unsaved. The closest we read of anything heavenly is referenced in the CS Lewis quote, but in fact it is not heaven, but the New Earth in Revelation 21.  And just what happens in a new earth?

Do we eat?  Do we drink?  Do we play?  When it says there are no tears, does that mean there are no tears of joy, as well?  No pain?  But I argue along with many that a certain amount and kind of pain is helpful and theologically good.  For example, when you put your hand too close to the fire, you want to feel some pain so that you withdraw the hand before you are burned.  So, no pain?  What about the pain you get from a good work out?  What about values like ‘courage’?  I among others argue that courage without genuine danger and risk is not courage at all.  If there is no genuine danger and risk in ‘heaven’ how can there be courage?  If ‘courage’ is an eternal value, but there can be no danger in ‘heaven,’ does going to ‘heaven’ actually diminish certain values, or even make them impossible to experience?

We could think of a number of scenarios along those lines, and I think the problem goes back to failing to recognize that there is symbolism involved in discussions of ‘heaven’ and ‘heaven’ itself is a symbol standing in for whatever fantastic reality awaits some of us.  But the problem is that ‘heaven’ as portrayed in many circles is just not very interesting to many people.  For the purposes of this entry, I suggest that it is not very interesting for men.

Dr. House was under the impression that the afterlife was a release from the body.  In the Christian conception, the reality is that the body is transformed, in the twinkling of an eye.  The body is not diminished, it is changed.  The body is not weakened, it is strengthened.  (1 Cor 15 is your friend here).  In other words,  the noble values that we perceive on earth are gutted shadows of their realities.   The willingness to die for someone so that they might live is something we all consider to be noble, but such accounts are rare.  For most of us, we’ll settle for seeing such things in the movies, but I dare say that many if not most men wishes that they would be willing to do just that.

But if that is a noble value we perceive in our weakened and fallen bodies it is all the more one we’d perceive as resurrected and transformed entities.  But where can we find a conception of ‘heaven’ where such sacrifice can happen and the doing of it considered valiant?  In our popular accounts of ‘heaven’ I fear that ‘heaven’ sounds more like Dr. House’s morphine then it does a New Earth- valuing everything we value on the old earth but even more.

Men seem to be unimpressed by a ‘heaven’ that is a mere release from this day’s agonies.  Some skeptics I’ve read foolishly see little difference between heaven and hell:  sitting all day in church and singing songs about God is pretty hellish from their point of view.  They say that not really understanding ‘hell’ either, or else they wouldn’t speak that way, but the point is worth dwelling on.  If you were to try to frame the ‘inexpressible in the expressible,’ are you really moved by the notion of spending eternity on a church pew, singing?

I think the time has passed where we can rely on the traditional symbols, if only because the level of ignorance in interpreting them is immense.  Men thrive on competition, danger, courage, etc, and even if we factor in that some of this represents inflamed values, it still holds that there are kernels within them that are timeless values.  Perhaps more men would be willing to investigate Christianity if they didn’t think that if it were true, it would emasculate them, either this side of the veil, or the other.    We need a more robust understanding of what life is like in the New Earth, and it is our job as Christians to develop it.

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Some Press Related to the Sunday Morning Apologetics Bulletin Inserts

http://www.earnedmedia.org/suz1008.htm

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Apologetics Bulletin Inserts for Churches Concept

 Sample of Week 1

The idea to produce bulletin inserts with apologetic content goes back several years with me.  I had to set the idea aside because of pressing financial concerns.   My beloved wife has always insisted that it is one of my better ideas, so she prompted me to re-consider.  Some friends ratified her view.  Also, increasing the awareness within the Christian church of the facts beneath the faith has become an important part of my vision of late.  The more I interact with atheists and seekers and Christians on the ropes, the more I realize that most objections could have been handled pretty early on.  By the time I present information, it is often too late:  a bad attitude has set in.

In other words, let’s keep people from leaving the faith in the first place.  These bulletin inserts make use of the readings in the Church year and are geared towards this coming Advent season (December 2007).  They play upon the texts and give examples of archeological corroboration of the Christian Scriptures, insights from the Greek and Hebrew, and also commentary by the Church fathers, like Augustine and Justin the Martyr.

Fully implemented, the Apologetic bulletin insert idea would be expanded so that each week of the three year church calender (quick math:  156 separate inserts) would have their own insert.  A congregation that implemented such a program would slowly educate their members on all sorts of matters.  Perhaps it doesn’t seem apparent how a reading from Justin the Martyr could possibly be relevant to today’s challenges.  Here is where a certain trust in my experience as an apologist kicks in.

The passage in question argues against Trypho the Jew’s allegations that Christianity is a borrowed pagan myth.  Only a brief time on the Internet will show how that could be relevant.  Seeing how such challenges are not even new in the slightest but addressed not much more than a century after Christianity’s conception can go a long way to help people see that even if they themselves are not knowledgeable, there are Christians that are, and modern ‘objections’ were defeated by our ancients forbears.

The content in the insert is necessarily brief.  It may sometimes be over people’s heads.  However, my goal is to slowly build up people’s knowledge.  If they don’t understand something this time around, three years from now when Year A in the church calendar comes, hopefully they’ll see the relevance and understand the significance much better.

Please check out the page describing this more and tell all of your friends.

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A Refutation of Antony Flew’s “Gardener Parable.”

With the upcoming release of Antony Flew’s book documenting his abandonment of atheism and explanation of where he currently stands, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind, I thought it would be fun to trot out some of my own material responding to Antony Flew’s arguments when he was yet in the atheistic camp. Obviously, I don’t know if arguments such as the ones I have were what helped him, but I have strong suspicions that when we read his book we’ll see that something like them did the trick. Below is an essay I modified from a forum version located here.

Antony Flew argues essentially that theists have the burden of proof whereas atheists have no obligation of their own, with the implication then that atheism is a negative position, a denial of a position and not a position in itself, rather than a positive one.

It goes without saying, but as this aims to be brief, you’ll need to read the links below in order to adequately follow the arguments in the essay.

http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/flew_falsification.html

http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/flew01.htm

—————–

The Flew-Wisdom “Gardner Parable” emerged in Flew’s famous work, “Theology and Falsification.” The idea is that one can invent all sorts of entities that cannot in principle be detected, and God is not much different than any of them. This is why we have illustrations like ‘Invisible Pink Unicorn,” the “Dragon in the Garage” and Dawkins’s current favorite, the “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” all put forward by ‘free-thinkers’ guided in their thinking by the concepts in Flew’s parable.

The Flew-Wisdom “Gardener Parable” not only presents the ‘presumption of atheism’ argument in a potent form but also provides the argument’s Achilles Heel.

In the Wisdom-Flew Gardener Parable two men, a believer and a skeptic happen upon a clearing where there was “growing many flowers and many weeds.” The believer posits a gardener, the skeptic disagrees. Through various contrivances the believer’s gardener, if it is to exist, must exist in such a qualified form as to be indistinguishable from no gardener at all. But what this parable illustrates in crystalline form is that it is not the definition of the gardener that we begin with at all, but rather a clearing “growing many flowers and many weeds.”

One supposes from the parable that there is something about this particular clearing that gives us the impression that this clearing is, in fact, a garden. In other words, what meets both men’s senses is that they are in the presence of a garden, with the intuition that where there is a garden, there is a gardener. Our believer need not go any further then he is portrayed as going. He could simply point to the ‘garden’ as prima facie evidence of a ‘gardener.’

Our skeptic has an obligation to show how whatever peculiarities gave rise to the suspicion that it was a garden in the first place are better explained via processes that don’t intuitively call for an intelligent agent. Unless, of course, our supposition is wrong and there is nothing in the clearing to suggest a gardener from the beginning.

Consider the difference in the argument if the scene that you arrived at was this one:

manicured-garden

or if it was this one:

grassy-field

Which ‘clearing’ did our two explorers stumble upon?

Our parable does not say, and therefore we do not know whether or not there are suitable reasons for describing this clearing as a garden in the first place. Surely if the clearing is the first one above, it is the atheist that has a ‘burden’ to show that the prima facie inference is wrong. If it is the second, it is the theist. And if it is the second, and the theist meets his burden by invoking ad hoc explanations, clearly the theist’s arguments are tenuous at best. But we must first know which ‘garden’ we’re looking at.

Because of this fact, I think it is reasonable to say that Flew’s argument, so far as it goes, is valid. But it is based on some assumptions about the ‘clearing in the jungle’ that his parable is silent on. Perhaps the reason why Flew has abandoned atheism is not because he has found his argument to be logically flawed, but rather logically fulfilled. That is, he may have determined that the nature of the ‘clearing’ in front of his eyes really is best explained by invoking a ‘gardener’ and no longer finds such a conclusion as groundless.

We shall have to see, but I think it is safe to say that this is exactly the case for most theists therefore their position does not fall into the ‘jurisdiction’ of Flew’s argument.

Does the argument really reduce to a simple disagreement about whether or not the universe does or does not bear prima facie marks of a ‘designer’? Not quite, but that is not a fact that speaks well of atheism. For example, some atheists might allow that there are such prima facie marks but choose to interpret them in naturalistic terms under the very spurious assumption that they must do so (here they will invoke things like ‘Occam’s Razor’). Or, they might say- again allowing that the marks of the gardener might really exist- suggest that there is no difference between and no way to distinguish between a transcendent gardener and a super-powerful and technologically advanced alien.

Arguments like these show the real difference between atheists. Some are atheists because they simply choose to prefer naturalistic interpretations. Some are atheists that ‘follow the evidence, wherever it leads.’ Flew is in the latter category. Can it really be so that it is the theists who derive their views on evidences while the atheists generate theirs by presupposition?

Yes, it really can.

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A review of my book, “Fidelis” by Jean Heimann at Catholic Fire

Jean Heimann at her Catholic Fire blog posted a review of my book, Fidelis, and I have to say that I think she did a good job. Ok, maybe I’d say that anyone who likes my book and writes a favorable review did a good job. But who could possibly dislike my book? 😉 To read the review, click the title of it: Book Review: The Harry Potter Alternative.
I have also posted some comments about her review on my book series site (www.birthpangs.com) on the blog there. Click here to read those comments.

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A review of the Chronicles of Narnia Movie

Faithful, Faithful, Faithful.

‘Faithful’ sums up my review of the Narnia Movie.
There have been many reviews of the movie already, by wiser heads. I’ve read only one of them, myself, so what follows is primarily from my own reflection. I should note that while I’ve read the Chronicles of Narnia, and TLWW a dozen or more times, I’ve only seen the movie once. I suspect this review would be more robust if I’d see the movie a couple more times. With that said, let’s get on with it.NarniaBox

The first thing that told me I was in for a satisfying experience was when I saw that Douglas Gresham, Lewis’ stepson, was the co-producer. This information was provided before the movie really got started, and I knew that Mr. Gresham would not have allowed Hollywood to stray too far. I hoped that he’d be able to do more than merely restrain, but also dictate. I think that seems to be the case. There are two ways we can contemplate the movie’s faithfulness to the book- which nearly all desire. One is accuracy of detail, and the other is accuracy of message. We will examine each, briefly, in turn.

On ‘accuracy of detail’ let me submit just two examples that I think well describe the faithfulness of the movie to the book. The first has to do with the opening scene. I can imagine thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of viewers saw the scene unfold into a fleet of German bombers over England with some surprise. “I thought this was some sort of children’s fantasy book?” you might hear them think. I can imagine even children would have been initially perplexed. But the book is clear that the reason why the children went out to the country in the first place was because of ‘the war,’ but because of the sorry state of education these days, we could well doubt any of them would know what war was meant or even what is meant by war. The idea of the world of Narnia being related to our own world- not our fantasy world, but our real, live, brutal, beautiful, tragic ‘real’ world- is a critical component of the Narnia books and its appeal. The inclusion of this scene was necessary, in my opinion, on a number of levels. Nonetheless, I thought in my own head that they would simply have started with the children out in the country, with simply a verbal exchange between the children about why they were there. That was my expectation, and I’m glad it was dashed.

The second thing that I would submit on ‘accuracy of detail’ is incredibly minor. It is because it is so minor that I mention it at all! The depths to which the movie makers went to be faithful to the book is illustrated by this example. If anyone is disappointed in other areas where the film makers had to deviate, I think that this example is evidence to show that if the film makers could have been more accurate on a particular item (but weren’t), they certainly would have, and probably have good reasons why they weren’t. The example concerns the discovery of the Wardrobe Room for the first time.

The book says that the room was empty, except for ‘a dead blue-bottle on the window sill.’ I had never noticed this before, but noticed it while reading the LWW one more time prior to going to the movie. I pondered the significance, if any, of this ‘blue bottle,’ in the Wardrobe Room, and looked forward to seeing if the movie called any attention to it. At that point in the movie, the only thing to be seen in the Wardrobe Room was the wardrobe itself, and a silly blue fly that fluttered in the window and fell dead as Lucy watched. The reader probably sees my ignorance about species of flies right off: a ‘blue-bottle’ is a type of fly. A dead fly on a window sill seems to me to be a pretty minor detail, but the movie makers not only included it, but took steps to make sure that the viewer saw a fly that was dead. With such attention to detail evident, I think we can be generous as more and more little things surface that are not so exact.

I should point out, though, that I thought that these two examples are representative. The movie was faithful to the book all over the place. I only wanted to show just how faithful it really was.

Now, we turn to the question of ‘accuracy of message.’

It’s on a matter like this where we have seen movie makers get a little arrogant. Obviously, it can be difficult from the start to translate a narrative of any kind into a film. It’s even worse when the book is so famous, popular, and loved. Film makers often decide to try to convey the ‘message,’ as they understand it, in a way that they hope (so they say) that they will be faithful to the author’s intent and message, but comes out of the mind of the directors. It’s like thinking that the ‘message’ is a destination to be reached on a map, and the author had laid out one way to get to that place, but the directors can see another way to get to that very same place. Let’s imagine that it really is the same destination, indeed.

The problem is, keeping the analogy, if the author provides you directions to the destination that is more scenic, or otherwise filled with certain adventures, your arrival to the destination will find you in a certain frame of mind. A certain attitude will be constructed in your head. A certain ‘mental fatigue’ from your journey. It would be the difference between coming upon a beautiful city at sunset, with the amber light spread out over it, and emerging from a canyon in order to first see it. Your whole being is orientated towards the destination far differently then, say, if the movie director had you merely fly into the city during the noon day hour. You’ve arrived at the same place, but you haven’t really arrived at the ‘same’ place. Given the obvious Christian narrative that permeated the book, it was important to me that the movie really take people to the same ‘destination’ that Lewis brought people. As well as can be expected, that was the case.

Any deviances from that ‘destination’ are understandable, and in that sense, I approve of these new ‘places’ the movie had us traverse in order to arrive where Lewis had wanted, or at anyrate, achieved.

To illustrate this, allow me two more examples. These, again, are representative. I choose two that I think make the best case. In the first place, when Lucy finds her brothers and sister unbelieving about her first trip into Narnia, I wondered if we might see, as we did in the book, a discussion between the children and the Professor, about Lucy’s honesty. Is Lucy normally a liar? the professor wants to know. Is Lucy crazy, as far as they know? he wonders. Peter and Susan know that she is not normally a liar and really a person of good sense, normally. The professor concludes for them that she’s probably telling the truth. This is the famous Lewis ‘Trilemma,’ which of course he got from someone else, about Jesus and his claims to be God and Christ. It’s in Mere Christianity: Jesus was either Liar, Lunatic, or Lord.

This was an important area of faithfulness that the movie had. Another area of faithfulness is, ironically, a deviation from the book! After Aslan has risen from the dead, and the White Witch defeated by him, Aslan declares “It is finished.” This is not in the book as far as I recall. Obviously, this is what Jesus said on the cross, indicating his defeat of death, and presumably, the devil. For those learned secularists who began, with alarm, to suspect that this whole tale was some sort of Christian allegory, “It is finished” would have helped them really come to their conclusion that they’d been had: They’d had a taste of the Christian myth, and darn it, they liked it!

Of course, there were other indications that Lewis had some specific designs in mind in his portrayal of Aslan and the events in LWW which would have been clear enough without this statement. Given the mass audience, including not only hardened learned secularists, but even children who may not have yet thought about these things, the statement ‘It is finished’ will be heard again by them likely the next time they go to church- Easter- and they will find it familiar. Hopefully they will find it welcome.

There were other aspects of the movie that were faithful to the message of the books that are not so implicitly or explicitly concerning its Christian overtones. Some of the grand philosophy buried into the entirety of the Chronicles of Narnia were also expressed in the movie. A good example of this comes at the very end of the movie, when the Professor says something to the effect of, ‘You won’t be able to go back that way, again…’ For the most part, then, the movie does a pretty good job of being accurate to the message of Narnia- both in abstraction as well as mode.

In conclusion, I have hopes that movies are made after the other books as well, provided that they are done with the same quality and attention to both detail and message that was given to LWW. I’m not quite sure how they can pull that off with “The Horse and His Boy” but I hope they find a way. I also hope that Hollywood begins to get the message that the mass of the American public aches for content that does not offend their sensibilities. I feel compelled to point out to them- I trust even THEY can follow conclusions derived from the bottom line, though- that there was no gratuitous sex scene in the LWW.

Nor was there any in the Harry Potter books, or movies. Or Star Wars. Or ET. Or Mel Gibson’s ‘Passion,’ the all time grossing rated ‘R’ movie. There were few ‘F’ bombs (that one goes out to you, Mr. Tarantino) in these movies, as well. Violence there certainly is: but it is of a different sort, isn’t it? An exploration of what makes it different in these cases (a similar case: ‘Saving Private Ryan’) may help Hollywood make heads and tail of the true nature of the human condition. Such a realization would mean good money for them, so its obviously in their best interest to do so. We long for Good Food and Good Drink in our media, and are often disappointed. It’s sad that, in general, our media choices for so long have really been nothing but Fast Food. Is that changing? I think it is.

Aslan is on the move.

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A Review of Anne Rice’s “Out of Egypt”

Also read my extensive review of Rice’s “Road to Cana.”


Long time atheist Anne Rice (author of “Interview with a Vampire”) became a Christian a few years back and got it into her head that she wanted to write about Jesus’ life from a 1st person perspective… uh… Jesus’ perspective. Pretty brave, if you think about it. Anyway, the first installment is “Out of Egypt” and details Jesus’ life from Jesus’ perspective from his time in Egypt as he moved back to Nazareth in Galilee.

In the back of the book she has some notes which were very informative. Here is a brief excerpt that I completely endorse:

Having started with the skeptical critics, those who take their cue from the earliest skeptical New Testament scholars of the Enlightenment, I expected to discover that their arguments would be frighteningly strong, and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud. I’d have to end up compartmentalizing my mind with faith in one part of it, and truth in another. And what would I write about my Jesus? I had no idea. But the prospects were interesting. Surely he was a liberal, married, had children, was a homosexual, and who knew what? But I must do my research before I wrote one word.

These skeptical scholars seemed so very sure of themselves. They built their books on certain assertions without even examining these assertions. How could they be wrong?”

What gradually came clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments- arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance, or written too late to be eyewitness accounts- lacked coherence. They were not elegant. Arguments about Jesus himself were full of conjecture. Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions. Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.

In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horriefied by it if he knew about it- that whole picture which had floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years- that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I’d ever read.

Amen, sister.

When I first heard about her conversion, I was a little worried, though. I heard it was to Catholicism, and while many Catholics are very devout, their scholarship is based on many liberal premises. I was delighted to read these words of hers, but more importantly, find it evident in her book. By way of contrast, Mel Gibson, also a devout Catholic, sought to direct his “Passion” as ‘authentically’ as possible, and for some bizarre reason decided to film the whole thing in Aramaic…. oops….

Anne Rice handles this issue of Jesus’ language very well. There are dozens of reasons to acknowledge that Jesus would have been, like most other Jews at the time, tri-lingual. He would have known Aramaic, sure, and Hebrew, indeed, but Greek definately. Ms. Rice handles that fact admirably. Since this book only covers Jesus life from his time in Egypt to his time in Nazareth (age 12ish), it remains to be seen whether she will follow through with her solid historical perspective and have Jesus primarily preaching and teaching in Greek, as well. We’ll see.

There are dozens of other historical details that she gets right, too. Perhaps most importantly, she accurately and adequately sets the stage that Jesus is moving against. The break-up of palestine into four tetrarchies after the death of a certain King Herod is a critical historical backdrop for understanding the circumstances that Jesus finally emerged on the scene from.

Another critical element that she admirably emphasizes is Jesus’ Jewishness. Now, in the modern day there certainly are Jews who distance themselves from the Jews of yesteryear who were in the temple-sacrifice system, but Jesus would have very much been immersed in it, as well as the other Jews of that day. This fact comes out loud and clear, and various insights arise that leave many modern readers, even some well-educated conservative Christians, in the dust.

For example, the ritual cleansing with “living water” that was required in order to be clean is included. What constituted “living water” essentially meant water that was moving, ie, it wasn’t stagnant. The health benefits are clearly seen compared to modern advice to wash using ‘running water.’ In fact, ‘running water’ is the same idea. (google mikveh). At anyrate, Jesus’ statements to the Samaratin woman in John 4 where he says “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” would have conjured mikveh-like concepts. Separated from the knowledge of Jesus’ intrinsic Jewishness, even I thought something completely different about what Jesus meant by ‘living water’ in this passage (eg, maybe something to do with baptism, see John 3).

Anne Rice gets Jesus’ Jewishness right.

While I think that if I would have had the kahoonas to put myself in the place of Jesus to write from his perspective, 1st person like, I would have done it differently, Anne Rice did a superb job in the way she did it and any objections that I might have are mere quibbles. They aren’t even worth mentioning.

For any person seeking to understand the historical setting that Jesus emerged from as established by the historical data itself (devoid of the skeptical/liberal material which dismisses the data, usually), they will find this book very insightful.

I recommend it to all. Even if you are a skeptical/liberal sort, you will benefit from seeing how the conservative school of thought conceptualizes Jesus called the Christ.

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Will Antony Flew Become a Christian? Will He come to Christ?

Cover of There is a GodComing in November will be Antony Flew’s final treatment on where he stands and hopefully how he got there. In case you’re wondering, Antony Flew was for years considered one of the foremost atheists of the century (sorry Dawkins, you don’t even come close, although no one surpasses your rabidity). After a time, he began to warm up to Christianity- or at least, to theism, finally adopting a position that sounded a lot like deism. I was among many in wanting to hear more. We were told that his new edition of God & Philosophy would have a new introduction that clarified where he stood. It didn’t, though it offered some hints.

Over the summer of 2006, I learned that Flew was not entirely pleased with how God & Philosophy turned out. More tantalized then ever, I decided to try to establish a correspondence with Dr. Flew to ask him if he would clarify where he stood before he died as, and I quote, “you are no spring chicken.” With the news of the release of his book out in the open, it is now safe to say that I had the pleasure of receiving a reply from Dr. Flew. In that reply, he indicated that he was well ahead of me: the book I wanted to see was forthcoming. That book is now here: There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind.

And I think I have settled once and for all that Richard Carrier does not have special access to Antony Flew. Flew is a kind man who will reply to anyone. The contents of my correspondence are not earth shattering by any means, though the news about the book could have been construed as such, but I will choose to keep that correspondence private.

I think it is worthwhile to note that a whole generation of ‘free-thinkers’ borrowed arguments from Flew and now those who continue to use those arguments will have to explain why we should think the arguments sound when their originator now finds them rationally unsatisfying, or… satisfyingly met. (See for example Flew’s Gardner Parable). Of course, as the skeptic will be quick to point out, the logic of the argument stands or falls apart from the author of the argument, and I’m not denying that. Still, we expect the inventor of the object to know the object better than most of us. And besides, one of my points in raising this is that without such men to invent new arguments for them, where are the free-thinkers going to come up with new ones? Right. Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens. Theism is safe intellectually, but may yet be undermined by good propoganda.

The real issue to watch here concerns Flew’s own spirituality. Here, of course, we leave aside the skeptics who think such things are nonsense, but for we Christians the question of whether or not Flew goes all the way and embraces Christ is of paramount importance. Surrounded by people like Habermas and NT Wright, I have to think that the right people are in place to help lead him to the final surrender, and therefore, the Final Victory. But as it stands now, he has not yet crossed that threshold, and will not reveal it as crossed in this book. Our duty, then, is to pray.

I will update this blog as events unfold.

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Literacy and the Rule of Law

Today the Supreme Court opened their session and I began reflecting a little on the function that this court provides for our country. As I am in constant contention with non-Christians, secular humanists and atheists in particular, I was also thinking a little about arguments that I am often engaged in with them in relation to the Constitution. Politically, I would consider myself a ‘Constitutionalist-Libertarian’ which basically means that I don’t think the government should have much power over the private individual and that the power they do have should be precisely laid out and constrained by the Constitution. In other words, if you want to limit someone’s individual rights, change the law, and if the Constitution won’t allow that, change the Constitution.

I think there are lots of folks who agree with me on that though they may not adopt my label. I raise this all here to introduce what I believe is a core difference in the way people view the world. Let me give two examples to try to make my premise plain. Consider, first of all, the Supreme Court case Roe vs. Wade. In this decision, building on a couple of precedents, the justices somehow found a constitutional right to privacy and managed to extend this right to include abortion. But does the Constitution really contain language that would support this? No, it doesn’t.

Now, consider the misguided but successful efforts of those who brought about the 18th Amendment in 1919: Prohibition. Previously, there had been no language in the Constitution to restrict alcohol in the way the 18th Amendment called for. These folks went through the extraordinary effort to pass an amendment and change that.

This is illustrative of the difference between attitudes about the rule of law. Those who passed the 18th Amendment actually cared for the rule of law. Those who pushed through Roe vs Wade did not. If it had been secular humanists that had wanted to outlaw alcohol, they wouldn’t have bothered to build popular support for the measure and then craft language that deals with it explicitly, they would instead have manipulated precedent and used the courts- bypassing popular support altogether- to get their way.

It is probably not surprising that the approach to the Constitution as a ‘living document’ followed the trend to dismiss the Christian Scriptures and argue that “anything can be proved from the Bible.” This objection to the Scriptures appears all over the place but the truth seems to be these days that anything can be proved from the Constitution, too. The rejection of the Scriptures, I contend, is only representative of a general disdain for the notion that one might really be constrained by the meaning of words on a page. Probably, post-modernism is itself born from the same root.

The difference between the approaches can be seen again when one looks at how the amendment was finally countered. Insanely, using a method that would never be considered now, our forefathers passed another amendment (the 21st) to repeal the former one. Again, if they had wanted to act as moderns do, they would have instead tried to have the amendment thrown out as ‘unconstitutional.’

But of course, if you institute policies as ‘constitutional’ based on judicial declaration and find them ‘unconstitutional’ later on again by judicial declaration- when in fact nothing within the language of the Constitution ever changed, all you’ve succeeded in doing is reducing interpretation to a subjective operation performed by this justice or that one. The language hardly matters at all. This is precisely why skeptics today can say that you can make the Bible say anything: because skeptics don’t constrain themselves to the written language. If they did, one could easily see that on an issue like slavery (for example), it is not the case that the Bible supports it but rather people wanted to act that way but the language couldn’t support it, and eventually plain reason won out.

The danger here is immense. If you depend on the Supreme Court to institute your policies you disenfranchise yourself to a high degree. The extent of your ability on an individual level to enact or de-enact ‘the law of the land’ is restricted to your vote in the Presidential election, since it is the President who appoints new justices when there are openings. If you have a lot of money, you can of course, pour a bunch of it into a special interest group who will push a carefully chosen trial up to the Supreme Court level, so in this way you can ‘effect’ change. I think its safe to say that for most of us, we are effectively dis-enfranchised.

What makes this so ironic is hearing secularists try to argue from the language of the constitution or from ‘polls’… they are deeply afraid that the Supreme Court could end up being much more conservative: As they should, since if the Supreme Court is their sole means of changing policy, a conservative court could single-handedly change everything they’d ‘worked’ for. On top of that irony comes another irony: a conservative court is actually more likely to stick to the words on the page, which means that the people again have a stronger position to create change since now electing their representatives and senators becomes important. But of course, that is no help for them, since the whole reason why they went down the road to judicial fiat in the first place was because they didn’t have any hope in actualizing their views legislatively.

There is nothing that makes me smile more than having an argument about the language of the Constitution with a secular humanist who would treat it as a ‘living document,’ anyway. But the implications for our society are serious. Because of this approach, the question of abortion was decided by 9 men instead of the hundreds of millions of people living in the country that were affected by the decision and had their own views. On this, the secular humanists are pleased, because of course they support the policy. But what happens when the court decides something that they don’t approve of? They will find themselves harmed by their own precedence.

And as a Christian trying to reason with them from the Scriptures, one can’t help but think that this attitude stands in the way of their salvation, too, for the simple reason that the meaning of passages in the Christian Scriptures are so subjective to them that they feel they could never understand them, let alone hope to trust them.

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Henneman And Perspective.

Mrs. Henneman (not her real name) was my first grade teacher. She was awesome. Naturally, my memories faded a long time ago. My best source these days is my mother who assures me that I thought the world of Mrs. Henneman and the reason for this appears to be that Mrs. Henneman thought the world of me.

It is interesting what things we remember. I had some vague recollection as I coursed through elementary and middle school that Mrs. Henneman no longer worked at the school, but it wasn’t actually until high school that I made the connection that she had left just one year after I had her to fight cancer. This was a fight that she lost. I am not sure when it dawned on me that this fabulous teacher that cared so much about me had actually died but I do remember the loss. That’s silly if you think about it. She died young and I’m sure the loss was much more potent to others then it was to me, merely one of her young students who couldn’t even remember what she looked like after a couple of years.

But it is funny the things we remember and don’t remember, the things we think about and the things we don’t. Another crazy memory I have is of going with a friend to a college campus as a High School senior to check it out. The friend had been annoying me quite a bit as it was. I don’t know what it was but he couldn’t stand my younger siblings. He was an only child himself but I have trouble thinking that was the issue. Anyway, he was a general pessimist but he had been my friend for a few years up to that point, and it was he and I checking out this college.

I remember being less then impressed by the college. The grounds were dirty and muddy and the place seemed to be completely vacant. Like, there weren’t any students at all. Initially, we had both talked about going to this place but then the coup d’grace was our sitting with the chief financial advisor. My friend had been making scoffing noises for hours by that point and after the financial counselor informed us both that he couldn’t offer us any kind of grants based on the information he had, my friend turned it up. He turned it up right there in the office with this guy. The thing is, I didn’t really stop him. I sort of smiled and egged it on.

Finally, it was time to go. He gave us each a card and as I looked at the card I saw… “David Henneman.”

My eyes found the picture of a happy couple. Yes, somebody had felt the loss of Mrs. Henneman more than I did. As we walked out my friend began even to attack the man’s appearance and I gave him a not so subtle ‘shutthehellup’ and he gave me a ‘whatthehellisyourproblem’ rejoinder. I would have been more then willing just a short time earlier to share in the derision we were heaping on the man but now something seemed different. How could I think such things about a man whom Mrs. Henneman had thought the world of? Knowing that the man had been the object of affection of a woman of impeccable character, I realized with sudden certainty that I owed him more than the benefit of the doubt.

I did end up going to a different college. I discovered that there were perfectly good reasons for the campus at this college to have been sparse and unkempt. We had visited over spring break, right after the winter thaw. Students were gone. Dirt, when wet, turns to mud. And of course Mr. Henneman couldn’t offer us any financial aid yet- we both had yet to turn in our financial aid forms. How quickly I had seen the worst in a situation without having knowledge… and perhaps in large part because of whom I was associating with.

How many people have I snapped at in the last 20 years were loved ones of people I myself cared about? What if the person I’m debating with online turns out to be the nice guy who delivers my mail? You can drive yourself mad thinking about such things. It was 15 years after having Mrs. Henneman as my teacher and meeting her husband in a college financial aid office. Who knows what interactions will come back to haunt me, or bless me, in the decades to follow? And just because I’ve forgotten them that doesn’t mean they’ll have forgotten me. Because it’s funny what we remember.

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The Humility of Age

I had some interesting experiences in college. I went to college intending to become a pastor and practically became an atheist after just a few months. I emerged from this much stronger. I remember well how deeply I threw myself into studying all sorts of things. Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, Christianity, science, quantum physics, evolution, philosophy, and more. Most of what I learned I learned apart from the classroom. I became very knowledgeable about the Bible and I thought I was doing a good job living by its precepts. I considered myself pretty patient and selfless. And spiritual. Let’s not forget spiritual.

More than ten years later I have a different view of myself. I no longer believe I am a patient person. I thought I was selfless, but this version of myself was destroyed within the first year of marriage. Now that I have four kids I can safely say that I am the most impatient and selfish person I have ever met. What I failed to recognize while in college was that I was operating in a setting that made it pretty easy to be a Christian. How you are in that kind of setting is not indicative of how you will be in another setting.

I will sometimes have people come by my Christian discussion forum who will then email me and say that I was not nice to someone. I used to take those comments more personally until I realized that I have a community consisting of members who have been around for years and years, discoursing and debating with each other. When you live with someone it is hard to always be ‘nice’ (even harder, I’ve discovered, if you’re tired). Some of these people I have ‘lived’ with day in and day out for a long time. This person complaining to me… is he speaking from a context of insulated safety or are they the same saint when banging around people 24/7?

Unfortunately for me, of course, the snippy exchange that I had with my wife this morning will soon be forgotten between us and there won’t be a record of it left anywhere except in the Mind of God. My forum posts, however, will last so long as Google lasts, and will appear- out of the context of the years in which the postings occurred- as a mere snapshot.

The older I get the more I see that we are quick to give ourselves a pass and quicker still to stick it to the other guy. The older I get, the more I see that the reasons for my doing the right thing often had to do with the fact that I was not tired, I was not hungry, I did not have four children screaming in my ear, I didn’t have bills to pay, I didn’t just lose a loved one, and so on and so forth. It has also showed me the importance of doing what I can to create a setting around myself that will be more conducive to carrying out the behaviors I approve of.

And with this humility of age, I can look back in history and see that even though some deeds were inexcusable, one cannot simply assert- “If I was there, I would have done other.” Those people were often hungry, or oppressed, or afraid, or exhausted, or tired. I hope that I will do better if I am ever in such circumstances, but I realize now that if I do, it will only be because I have been working on it now. It is no credit to me that I am patient with the stranger in the store whom I will never see again. If I am kind to my wife after we’ve both had a hard day’s work, that is a different story. It is easy to be kind to the person I will never see again. It is much more difficult when you have no hope for escape from your circumstances.

Let us treat the ones we love better then we treat the strangers and so prepare us for the day (if it comes) when our circumstances are so radically shaken, we will have trained ourselves to still behave honorably no matter what life throws at us.

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A Review of Lee Strobel’s Soon to be Released ‘The Case for The Real Jesus.’

Buy the Book, “The Case for the Real Jesus”

Strobel’s newest book was released September 10th, of 2007 and I was pleased to be offered a chance to review it prior to its release. I completely agree with Strobel on the need for such a book. It covers a lot of issues that I deal with on a daily basis in my own apologetics ministries. There is far too much information in the book to expect a comprehensive treatment, and like his other books, he doesn’t pretend to do so. Each chapter has a number of resources that readers can check into to get more information. I give the book nine stars out of ten and recommend it to skeptics and young believers alike who need a primer on the issues. I doubt the more hard core skeptics will be persuaded by anything in it. This is not likely to be Strobel’s fault, but for skeptics like that you may want to suggest some of the more sophisticated references that Strobel provides.

While personally satisfied with much of the argumentation and evidences, I had a more serious objection having to do with his elevation of scholars and his marginalization of ‘popular’ authors. This is ironic since his own book is an admitted popularization, but my concerns go far deeper. However, they are not appropriate for this review, so please go here for elaboration on that point.

Strobel aims to cover six basic challenges facing the traditional and orthodox portrayal of Jesus. These are, in order:

Scholars are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents Just as Credible as the Four Gospels.
The Bible’s Portrait of Jesus can’t be Trusted Because the Church Tampered with the Text.
New Explanations Have Refuted Jesus’ Resurrection.
Christianity’s Beliefs about Jesus Were Copied from Pagan Religions.
Jesus Was an Imposter Who Failed to Fulfill the Messianic Prophecies.
People Should be Free to Pick and Choose What to Believe about Jesus.

Each chapter concludes with additional resources for the reader, and the book itself concludes with one appendix summarizing the Case for Christ and another offering helpful websites.

I found that each of these ‘challenges’ covers pertinent issues that relate to today’s apologetical challenges. Strobel’s approach is to take on the role of the journalist and search out credible scholars to answer his questions about those challenges. Each chapter does a good job of summarizing some of the basic objections and offering solid representations of Christian responses. In my view, this book is better then his previous books like this. It more directly confronts the objections that I actually hear (but of course, experiences may vary).

Every high school Christian religion teacher should put this book in the hands of their students, preferably as early as possible. Ninth grade would not be too early. Students need to be immunized to some of the things that they hear and this book will provide a decent basis to build on for later research. Yet, this book cannot be considered as ultimately sufficient. Strobel himself would probably agree with that. Teachers should take advantage of the sources Strobel gives and expose their students to this material. Once they get to college the students will almost certainly hear the other side- 100% undiluted.

In my view, Strobel should have started with his sixth challenge. Challenges 1-5 contain a reasonably thorough explanation for why the traditional description of Jesus is supported by solid historical methodologies. However, in my experience (more than ten years now), a historical ‘truth’ carries very little weight with people these days, anyway. In other words, skeptics and seekers alike would view a ‘scientific truth’ as made of gold, and even if they thought that something was ‘historically true’ they would never consider something established on historical methodologies to be as persuasive as what they believe is established on scientific methodologies. Issues like this pop up every now and then in Strobel’s book but it gets the fullest treatment in the sixth challenge. Even then, I don’t think this particular reality of our current situation is addressed head on, but the book certainly covers some of the issues related to the matter. Since so much of the previous portion of the book insists on the superiority of the Christian view of the historical record, dealing with objections that dismiss ‘historical facts’ as of very little weight in the first place would have been a good strategy.

Another quick look at the sixth challenge suggests to me that the Christian teacher could probably start with this part of the book and then go back to the first challenge because I think it was written in such a way that you wouldn’t need the earlier parts of the book to address the concerns in his sixth challenge.

One of the most pertinent ‘challenges’ covered was challenge #4, ‘Christianity’s Beliefs about Jesus Were Copied from Pagan Religions.’ The Internet is filled with assertions that Christianity was completely borrowed from such ‘gods’ like Mithra, Apollonius, etc. Some of the key objections to this notion are refuted. For example, in the case of Mithra, the so-called similarities are found in the historical record after the first century, AD. I.e., after the rise of the Christian religion. It would make more sense to claim that Mithra borrowed from Christianity. Or so one would think, but this is a good example of the hardened skepticism of some in regards to the historical method. The observed fact of these parallels existing after the rise of Christianity is not enough to remove the objection in many people’s minds. Where there is smoke, there is fire.

Still, there are people with some sense of reason, and if you get this book into their hands when they are young enough, I think that the argumentation in this section will do a lot of good. It is certainly better to explore this matter before it is heard spouted from a college professor. Kids will think they’ve been lied to. For people first stretching their legs on these matters, they will be confronted with whether or not they’re going to trust the historical method or not. That is a good thing for them to think about before they have the gall to then criticize the historical evidences.

One argument that I wish I would have heard in this chapter was C.S. Lewis’s assertions that certain pagan stories do not pose a threat at all, but rather are predicted by the Christian worldview. The basic idea is that if Christianity is something completely new on the face of the planet, it would actually undermine the Christian account, which holds that all people are created in God’s image and therefore will resonate with common themes. Strobel appears prepared to accept such reasoning, as he allows Paul Copan, in challenge #6, to say, “I believe there are some truths in other religions,’[Copan] quickly replied. As Scottish writer George MacDonald said, “Truth is truth, whether from the lips of Jesus or Balaam.’ We need to affirm truth where we see it, but we need to remember there are entailments that come with certain beliefs [italics his, pg 240].”

George MacDonald was one of C.S. Lewis’s spiritual fathers, so Lewis’s thoughts on paganism would not only have been appropriate, but apparently acceptable to Strobel. Oh well, you can’t hit everything in a book like this, can you? Maybe I’ll just use this review to guide people into Lewis on this matter (Lewis’s ‘God in the Dock’ collection of essays contains a couple of essays to get you started).

One of the best aspects of the book is his treatment of Messianic prophecies. You will hear skeptics arguing that even if you granted that Jesus performed miracles this would still not be good enough evidence that Jesus was who he says he is, God. Perhaps, they might say, he’s just a very powerfully advanced alien being who is, nonetheless, a finite being. (See this thread at my forum for an example of exactly this.) What the fulfilled prophecies provide, however, is evidence of foreknowledge of future events. If it is the case that there were prophesies thousands and hundreds of years prior to Jesus’ arrival, and he fulfilled them, the plaintive hope that Jesus could ‘possibly’ have just been a finite magician begins to wane. Who left these tantalizing clues in the Jewish documents? Another finite super powerful alien? Can we expect such creatures even to know the future? At what point does our ‘super powerful alien’ match in every respect, God?

Apart from such considerations, which I personally find to be wild-eyed groping speculation, being able to trace Christ and his ministry back to the Old Testament is a significant aspect of Christianity that young Christians and old should be aware of. Many do not understand the point made by Evans in challenge #1 about just how Jewish Jesus was, nor the fact that the first Christians were Jews. Understanding this context is extremely helpful in understanding some New Testament passages which may be confusing but also has the potential to be an extremely powerful apologetic. This is illustrated by the recent conversion to Christianity by Anne Rice, who addresses this issue in her book ‘Out of Egypt.’ She goes so far as to credit this realization as helpful in bringing about her conversion (pages 310-311). So I think it was a really good idea to include this chapter and again, I hope Christian religion teachers will follow up to more firmly flesh out such issues.

In conclusion, taking into consideration the fact that such a treatment would have to be brief on many points and only a survey, I can think of no more helpful book for establishing some of the parameters of the discussion. I would encourage putting the book into students’ hands as early as possible, but please, please, please be prepared to deepen their knowledge beyond the outlines in this book. The book can only be a good start, and if it is not treated as such, might prove to re-create the depressing scenario I sometimes hear: “Yea, I read Strobel’s book as a senior in high school, so I think I know what I’m talking about. What? What’s that? No, I didn’t see the point of going deeper. My college professors easily answered those objections. I mean I also went to Sunday School and VBS, you know.”

copyright Sept. 2007, Sntjohnny

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