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A kick in the shins of Christian ‘Internet Bloggers’ too

As I referenced in my review (located here) of Strobel’s book ‘The Case for the Real Jesus” I found it ironic that Internet writers and popular audience writers would be speared in a book written by a journalist and written for a popular audience. I assume that since Strobel is specifically seeking out scholars that he feels that the book is in a different class even if it was written for a popular audience. That is probably a valid point.

There are a couple of issues I need to raise here. From the perspective of a Christian apologist that depends on using reasonable argument, I can’t help but think that many skeptics will read in this book constant ‘arguments from authority.’ Now, as a logical fallacy, arguing from authority is really only a fallacy when the authority can’t be considered to be a credible spokesperson on the matter. One presumes that well credentialed scholars would meet such a standard. But look at the title of the first challenge: “Scholars are Uncovering a Radically Different Jesus in Ancient Documents Just as Credible as the Four Gospels.”

Thus, the first chapter of the book is actually a hard look at what scholars themselves are perpetrating on the Historical Jesus. The Jesus Seminar is mentioned of course, and then of course some scholars by name, like Karen L. King (pg 25), “Award-winning scholar Morton Smith of Columbia University” (italics mine, pg 26). Elaine Pagels is mentioned, and, of course, Bart Ehrman and Dominic Crossan (pages 27-28). In other words, when Craig Evans- who certainly is a well-credentialed scholar- begins to express his exasperation with his fellow scholars, saying, in response to an inquiry by Strobel as to where these scholars begin to get it wrong,

“Here’s the rub,” [Evans] says, “These scholars can read the Greek in which the New Testament is written, but Jesus didn’t speak Greek, except perhaps occasionally. Most of his teaching was in Aramaic, and his scriptures were in Hebrew or Aramaic paraphrases. Jesus and his world were very Semitic, yet most New Testament scholars lack adequate training in the very languages that reflect his world (pg 30).”

I certainly agree that you need to understand that Jesus and his world were very Semitic, but the astute skeptic might say that a key word here would be ‘most’ as in “Most New Testament scholars.” The skeptic might say, “Well then, I’m sure I can find a scholar who knows their Aramaic who will still entertain the same notions dismissed by Evans.” And the skeptic is probably right. It would basically boil down to a “My scholar can beat up your scholar” scenario.

Strobel’s whole book (indeed, his other books on the same pattern, too) depends on the reader who is not a scholar being able to decide for themselves which scholar is being reasonable or not. But it is just this sort of capability that the scholars in Strobel’s book seem to think does not exist.

For example, if Evans says we need to know Hebrew and Aramaic, does he also think we all need to know Hebrew and Aramaic to reflect on his arguments? I could give a couple of more examples from Evans, but how about the attitude expressed by some of the other scholars?

In chapter three, when Michael Licona is interviewed, Michael Baigent’s credibility is not-so-subtly attacked, and Richard Carrier is described as having two master’s degrees from Columbia University-and we’re left wondering if that is a point in his favor or not. Shortly after, Licona takes aim at arguments made by Jeffrey Jay Lowder. Lowder and Carrier are bigwigs at Infidels.org. Fortunately, Licona does address the substance of these arguments, but then we are confronted with a statement regarding an argument by James Tabor:

“Second, Tabor gets his information from a sixteenth-century Jewish mystic, [Licona] said, his eyebrows raising. “Think about that! If Christians based their theory on what a sixteenth-century Christian reported, we would laugh at that person- and justifiably so. Now believe me, I’m not laughing at Tabor- he’s certainly a credentialed scholar. But you can’t blame people for rejecting his theory.” (pg 147)

Well, actually I think we should be laughing at Tabor. The fact that he’s a credentialed scholar doesn’t make his argument any less stupid, and I don’t think one needs to wait for another scholar to identify it as stupid before one reaches the same conclusion. One does not want to read into the text, but this bone he throws to Tabor seems to be made in the context of insinuating that Carrier and Lowder, on the other hand, could be laughed at.

Given how many of the claims forcefully mocked by Strobel’s selected scholars were first made or argued by other scholars, one wonders how confident we can be that if we hear an argument by a ‘credentialed scholar’ that we are actually hearing something worthy of consideration. One can easily see how this sort of attitude can be used by skeptics against Strobel’s selected scholars. And if such matters can only be comprehended and evaluated by another scholar, should we suppose our only solution is to defer mindlessly to other scholars until we ourselves are scholars? Skeptics will rightly point out that they have ‘credentialed scholars’ on their side. How do we handle this situation?

Though I could pull from other examples illustrating this issue, a very vivid example occurs on page 161 where we again have Licona being provided an opportunity to speak to the substance of skeptical claims, in this instance the claims that Jesus’ resurrection has the same credibility as other so called ‘pagan stories of dying and rising gods.’ Licona cites T.N.D. Mettinger, adding that Mettinger is a ‘senior Swedish scholar, professor at Lund University, and member of the Royal Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities of Stockholm.” Licona recaps Mettinger’s argument, and then Strobel continues on.

Mettinger concludes that ‘there is no evidence for the death of the dying and rising gods s vicarious suffering for sins.” [Licona said]

I [Strobel] later obtained Mettinger’s book to double-check Licona’s account of his research. Sure enough, Mettinger caps his study with this stunning statement: “There is, as far as I am aware, no prima facie evidence that the death and resurrection of Jesus is a mythological construct, drawing on the myths and rites of the dying and rising gods of the surrounding world.” (italics his)

In short, this leading scholar’s analysis is a sharp rebuke to popular-level authors and Internet bloggers who make grand claims about the pagan origins of Jesus’ return from the dead.” (page 161)

Now, there is no doubt that such claims are being made by (here unnamed-I wonder who they might be?) Internet bloggers, but Strobel presented this argument by pointing out that it was initiated by scholars themselves! Named are Tom Harpur, Timothy Freke, Peter Gandy, and Hugh J. Schonfield! Who exactly is ‘this leading scholar’s analysis’ a sharp rebuke to exactly? It looks to me like the context should suggest Strobel here call out other scholars, but instead he singles out “popular-level authors and Internet bloggers.” Granted, some of these authors were popular level, but these all have some credentials. But what Internet bloggers were referenced exactly? It wouldn’t be-Carrier and Lowder, would it?

Now, I have no great love for Richard Carrier or Jeffrey Jay Lowder. I’ve never found their arguments to be compelling, but having read some of their essays I can see why people find them persuasive. And I certainly don’t have a problem giving scholars their due weight. They’ve worked hard, and it is true, I don’t know Aramaic. I don’t have access in most cases to primary sources. I depend on them to bring me the data. It does not follow though, that I depend on them to interpret the data. No, my real concern here is that the attitude expressed in my quotes (and a handful of others) does two things: 1. It undercuts thoughtful and hard-working Christians striving on the Internet to further the cause of Christ and 2. It does not appreciate the fact that the democratization of the Internet is an asset for us, and even if we preferred that people defer to sober scholars (that we agree with) the fact is that people are going to turn first to sources on the Internet, and only later will they possibly consult some of these more scholarly works.

Now, I personally believe I am such a person undercut in #1. I do not have the credentials, that’s true, but I have been an apologist for more than ten years. I do have a bachelor’s degree at least. In fact, I am currently pursuing my Masters in Philosophy and Apologetics. But I did not need a scholar to tell me that Mithraism post-dates Christianity, nor did I need a scholar to explain to me the significance of that fact. I have thousands of hours of reading, research, and writing behind me. Aware of the problems associated with the “My scholar can beat up your scholar” issue, I have constantly tried to cut through to primary sources whenever possible. And I certainly can thank the scholars in many cases for making those sources available. But why should this be about me?

Let’s take an example right from the book. Near the end, Strobel highlights a number of recommended websites and mentions Tektonics.org. Well, what is interesting about this is that Tektonics, though a very successful apologetics site (Alexa Rank: 280,000-Lee Strobel’s site’s Alexa Rank: 344,000), is maintained by a gentlemen who ‘only’ has a Masters-and the Masters is in Library Science.

What do subtle shots at ‘Internet Bloggers’ and what can be found on the Internet do to JP Holding’s credibility? What is to keep the skeptic from reading this book, getting the distinct impression that only the views of credible scholars should be considered- and by credible is it really meant ‘they agree with me’?- and seeing Holding’s site referenced, from learning Holding’s credentials and applying the very same attitude to Holding as Strobel’s book holds against other ‘Internet Bloggers’?

One doesn’t have to be a credentialed scholar to see that these comments are a kick in the shins of folks like Holding who have been investing tons of time and resources into their ministries and are doing a good job. The fact is that the scholars are doing important work but you are going to need competent Christians on the Internet who, despite not being credentialed in the same sense as the scholars, apply the findings of the scholars to the individualized circumstances that arise when you sit down and converse with the average skeptic. We need these people, and Strobel and his scholars generally concede the need for a more well-informed population (of Christians, too). But don’t pull the rug out from underneath them at the same time.

Now, my second point was that people are going to the Internet for information long before they consult the works of scholars. This is just a fact of life, and it isn’t going to change. Kids start getting interested in these issues as early as 16, 17, and 18. They aren’t going to drop $40.00 for a copy of Metzger’s “The Canon of the New Testament: Its Origin, Development, and Significance” or “The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration.” It just isn’t going to happen. So, besides the need for having individuals who have made the investment (I’m looking right at my copy of the Canon of the New Testament as we speak) to apply that material for seekers entering the Internet Highway, we need a general change in our tactics and strategies in our modern setting, and simply dismissing what is found on the Internet isn’t going to cut it.

In the first place, while I know this is a problem to the bottom line, one thing I would suggest is that scholars put more of their own work right on the net. Take all of the innards of all the journals and just spill them for all to see. If you don’t like the quality of what is on the Internet, work to improve the quality of what is on the Internet. Another thing that scholars can do is to personally engage skeptics and seekers on the Internet. I know how much time is involved and I know they have a lot on their plate. But look at a person like Peter Kreeft who has awesome material, some of which is even online already, but who posts on the site that he just can’t respond to emails. No doubt, he can’t keep up-perhaps we could better structure how we go about our business so that he can.

I have put these concerns in an article separate from my review of Strobel’s book because I didn’t want the review to become clouded.  Strobel has produced a fine book and it will make a great primer and resource for those exploring these issues. Nonetheless, I think we need to better address the changes in how people are getting their truth. We can’t just personally express that we don’t like how they are getting their truth and hope that folks will turn to our own methods.

We shouldn’t forget that it is scholars themselves that have initiated and instigated all of the crazy claims that we hear on the Internet. The Internet, after all, has only been around for less than 20 years and all of the issues addressed in Strobel’s book existed- in the mouths of scholars themselves- long before the Internet came about. What we need to do is equip the Christian population so that they can effectively filter what they hear and pass on these tools to our youngsters. We should also realize that while we should respect what scholars can give us, they can also deceive us, and if we are unable to figure out for ourselves when we are being deceived, God help us.

In conclusion, we must remember that what makes one a credible and credentialed scholar can vary widely on the subject. For example, Michael Licona (chapters 3-4) is described as being mentored by Gary Habermas, the head of Liberty University’s apologetics department. But what did Richard Dawkins say about Liberty University? In his journal recounting a presentation he did attended by a number of such students, he said, “I said that my advice to all Liberty students was to resign immediately and apply to a proper university instead.” Source.

Dawkins does not apparently think very highly of the credentials of those associated with Liberty U, which would include Licona and Habermas, referenced by Strobel. What’s a gent to do? Where can we go to find credentials that will matter to everyone, or will assure us that we can be quite certain that the person is not stating something ‘laughable’? The answer obviously is nowhere. Wherever the solution to this problem lies, it isn’t simply to knock those without credentials or give undue weight to those with them. All sides of this debate believe that there are scholars on the other side that are nuts. In light of this fact, I propose that focusing on credentials will get us to exactly the same place we’re already at.

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But… but… but… how would you know that?

I am always fascinated how similar themes emerge all at once from different places. Both on my forum and in two separate email correspondences I am dealing with a similar issue. Essentially it is this: just because you have the proposition that there is a supernatural entity, how do you think you know anything about it; and, couldn’t you be mistaken about what you do know and not have anyway to independently verify that knowledge? I cannot share my email correspondence, but you can see here two places on my forum, here and here, where the conversation is bounding on this issue. My contention in many respects is that the things to be known must be learned by the self-revelation of the entity and because of the definition of God (two items in particular, his transcendence and immanence) there is no other way. One can see how this question would arise.

What is interesting in these instances is that the argument emerges even if it seems that God has revealed himself, by miracles or whatever, this is not enough to compel them to Christian theism. In fact, in one email correspondence, it is explicitly agreed in the argument that the miracles really did happen as the Bible described. Now, I’m one who tends to think that people can have legitimate questions about God and his nature, but when faced with individuals who are even willing to concede that Jesus walked on the water, rose from the dead, etc, and yet still think they are rational in withholding their assent to Christianity, one begins to suspect that there is something else going on.

The fact is that the question of how to independently verify God’s self-revelation to be good (or any other aspect of his nature) if he is himself the full sum of all that is real is an entirely different issue then whether or not the historical evidence affirms Jesus and his deeds. What the honest searcher should notice in such approaches is that the truth is that for many mainstream atheists, the evidence is completely irrelevant. One wouldn’t get that impression given how much arguing happens about that evidence, but when skeptics are willing to admit the evidence but still deny the Christian’s conclusion, that should tell you something.

I said that the two issues are different, and one big reason why they are different is because the fact that we are limited in our ability to independently verify God’s claims belongs to a class of concerns that exists whether we are talking about God or not. For example, it is always conceivable that our senses themselves mislead us. How can we verify what our senses generate for us if we are restricted to using our senses to perform the verification? At the universal level, it is always possible that our perception of matter and energy is skewed, ala the Matrix and Men in Black.

You could only know if you were in the Matrix if you could get out of the Matrix, and if you got out of the Matrix you could still wonder if you were in another Matrix, so on and so forth. So you see, these problems do not disappear just because you posit that God is the final regress of the issue. If not God, the universe itself becomes your final regress, and ultimately you can say that your own perception of reality is the final regress. If we cannot solve these problems apart from considerations of God, we certainly can’t hold it against Christian theism that it poses some of the same dilemmas.

And how do we escape from these dilemmas? Well, solipsism is certainly possible but it is possible no matter what. As a common denominator, we just have to allow it to cancel out and take our senses and reason as we find them, more or less posit the existence of an objective world out there and accept that we perceive it, even if sometimes in a hazy fashion. Based on these assumptions, we then begin gathering evidences for what the real nature of that objective world really is. One of the questions we invariably arrive at is whether or not there is more to the world than our senses and reason can perceive, not subjectively but objectively, not naturally, but supernaturally.

For this, the only thing you can do is try to examine the evidence the best you can without assuming in advance that the supernatural is not real, and, perhaps more importantly, crafting the structure of your inquiry so that you tailor your expectations of the evidence to be appropriate to the claim… ie, one does not hope to use the scientific method, bound as it is to methodological naturalism, to directly detect God, who is by Christian definition the sustainer of the natural system we are in, immanent within it but transcendent as well.

If in the course of this investigation the evidence appears to point towards the existence of such an entity and some of its attributes you are led to the same regress where it is yet conceivable that you are being deceived, you have only arrived at the problem that you had to set aside before you launched your exploration of reality in the first place.

Thus, the divide between skeptics and Christians begins to become clear. Christians root their entire basis for faith in evidence of the world as best as it can be sorted, and pin their hope on the resurrection of a man who claimed to be God and did something to prove it that by all available measures is impossible for a mortal. (1 Cor 15) In the final analysis, it is the Christian that cares for evidence, not the skeptic. If you talk to a skeptic long enough or talk to enough skeptics, you learn that in many cases the evidence is completely irrelevant. We who believe, like Antony Flew, that one must follow the evidence wherever it leads, need not be overly concerned with the objections of those who wouldn’t be pleased even if they had their evidence in hand.

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Why would God have Israel kill the women and children of Canaan? Where is the mercy? The Justice? Dawkins and others ask

I receive an email asking me to address the issue of the Israelite purge of Canaan, in particular the command to cut down the women and children as well. The correspondent indicated that this is something he as a Christian struggles with and points out that Richard Dawkins raises the issue as well. I asked for his permission to post my answer, which he gave me, and it follows below:

—————–

Dear Correspondent

I think your question ranks up there among some of the hardest questions to deal with. Let me first assure you that doubts are perfectly normal for any thinking person, and if you handle them properly, they can be good opportunities for strengthening your relationship with God. But again, this is a difficult question.

One reason why it is difficult is because to really treat it means writing a whole heck of a lot, so please forgive me if I’m forced to abbreviate. Also, realize that hard questions often have hard answers, and my points will be best be used as a starting point that you will have to continue to think about.
Start first by thinking about why you believe God is merciful and what that means. Mercy means not punishing someone who deserves to be punished. In what sense do these women and children deserve to be punished? What is their crime? Why wasn’t mercy extended to them?

The problem with these questions is that we don’t have enough information to truly handle them. So, you take your reasons for believing that God is merciful and hopefully have some good ones, and you say in this case “I have good reasons for thinking God is just and merciful, so even though I don’t know what their ‘crime’ was, I understand that God knew, and acts appropriately.”

Now, that type of argument is hard to swallow unless we start looking at some examples, and even then it will be hard to swallow. But remember the story of David escorting the Ark of the Covenant and the man slipping, touching the Ark, and having God strike the man down. It is recorded that David is very angry with God here. He is so angry that he refuses to bring the Ark to Jerusalem. (2 Sam 6). This is David we’re talking about, the one of whom it was written that David was a man after God’s own heart. So, Richard Dawkins is not the first to struggle with apparently arbitrary judgments by God. The great man of faith, David, struggled with it as it happened before his very eyes.

So, one would expect that before a judgment like the one inflicted on Canaan is delivered, some opportunity for repentance would have been given, otherwise it’s hard to believe that God is acting justly. What kind of evidence do we have? Well, we do have a couple of similar types of scenarios, but let me focus on just one. The story of Jonah.

In the story of Jonah, God sends Jonah to Assyria, the sworn enemies of the Israelites. Jonah actually disobeys God because, he says, “I knew that you are a gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:1). When God does not destroy the Assyrians, Jonah is very angry with God, and God delivers this message to Jonah:

“…Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who can not tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (Jonah 4:11).

Now, the crimes of Assyria are described in detail in a great many places in the Old Testament, so in their case we have some very clear ideas about what they need to be repenting of. But even though they are the enemies of the Israelites, we see that God provides a mechanism for repentance.

Well, what about the Canaanites? The fact is, we don’t really know what ‘mechanism’ he provided to the Canaanites, but by using the example of the Assyrians, we can draw the reasonable inference that he must have done something, even though we don’t know what it is. Do we have any information at all? Yes, we do have some.

Turn in your Bible to Genesis 15. In this chapter, God promises to deliver that area over to Abraham’s descendants. Have you ever wondered why he didn’t just give it to him right there on the spot? Was God unable to do such a thing? There is an important clue in this chapter that helps us consider it at least plausible that God did offer a way for this people to repent. It comes in 15:16….

“In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

Now it is true that the passage does not indicate to us whether or not God allowed the people in Canaan to repent, but one thing seems reasonable enough- he can’t justly give Abraham this land right now, because it would be unjust at that point to take the land from them, whereas in the fourth generation, it would be. This is consistent with Jonah’s claim that God is slow to anger. Four generations to get their act together, right?

Pharoah was given 10 plagues to prompt his repentance, the Assyrians got Jonah, the Babylonians got Daniel and his friends, and of course the Israelites themselves had prophet after prophet after prophet. We can document a pattern of patience by God.

Now, what about their crimes? There is less material in the OT about their crimes then the Assyrians, but we can learn quite a bit by examining God’s constant insistences that the Israelites not follow the behavior of ‘other gods.’ (For example, Deut 29:18). Dawkins sees this as blatant jealousy, but I guess he doesn’t know what worship of other gods actually meant in this region. For example, it was believed by the Canaanites that rain was Baal’s sperm and when it rained, he and Asherah were getting it on. (For a site I grabbed to quickly substantiate this, check out http://ww2.netnitco.net/users/legend01/bull.htm. It’s about bull gods in general, of which Baal is an example, and though it only cites some god from India as being understood this way, you get the picture). This is why there was temple prostitution. The people would go to the temple to try to… ahem… get Baal in the mood. Parents would send their children to the temple to be prostitutes, or slaves were used. This is hardly something to be proud of, and under normal circumstances, we’d want God to intervene.

If temple prostitution didn’t work, there was always human sacrifice. This is better documented in the Scriptures. For example, in Jeremiah 32:35, God is condemning the Israelites for doing what the Baal worshipers did: “they built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molech, though I never commanded, nor did it enter my mind, that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.”

Clearly, God is not happy with human sacrifice, and this was something that the Israelites had gotten directly from the Baal worshipers in Canaan. So, when we talk about the nation of Canaan, it is quite plausible that they really did have it coming. They sold people into temple prostitution and they sacrificed their own children. Dawkins does not appear to be aware of such behavior, but I suppose he would join us in agreeing that a culture that resorts to killing their own children in order to inspire the Bull god to ejaculate on the earth is probably a culture that we’d want God to punish.
The only real link in the chain that we’re missing is the part where we know that God actually tried to bring them to repentance. We know that God delayed the punishment until ‘their sin had reached full measure’ and we know that their sin involved temple prostitution and human sacrifice (not even sacrificing slaves, their own children, for goodness sake), and it probably involved other things, too. We can’t be certain at all that this was an ‘innocent nation.’ It seems to be the opposite.

Now, here you might say, “Ok, but the children? And what about the cattle? What did the cattle do?” The question gets harder and harder, but these are still not the hardest of all. But the underlying principle is that A. He gave them time to repent. B. The nation was involved in some nasty stuff, and C., given God’s conduct towards the Egyptians, the Assyrians, etc, it is reasonable to think that God had probably given them the opportunity to repent… and they didn’t.

The only ‘leap of faith’ here is C, but I think it is reasonable, again citing the pattern of how God dealt with other enemies of Israel, and even Israel itself.

Well, I think this will get you started. No doubt, it is still a difficult pill to swallow. But hopefully this gives you a broader perspective to engage the issue with.

If you don’t mind, can I post your question and my answer on my blog? I put a lot of time into typing it and I think others could use it too.

Feel free to let me know if you have additional questions,
In Christ,
Anthony Horvath
aka Sntjohnny

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Austin Cline reacts to the church producing atheists

While I have glimpsed in a few places atheistic reactions to my assertion that the church itself is producing atheists, I had yet to see any real formal comment on it until today, when a member of my forum pointed me to Austin Cline’s entry on it located here. It so happens that I know of Mr. Cline and have had a little interaction, but for the record I don’t believe he understands that ‘Anthony Horvath’ is also ‘sntjohnny.’ That interaction has a little in common with his entry here. In word, I think he is again being quite presumptuous, and I’m going to take this opportunity to respond even though he’ll never likely see it.

He cites the Christian Post article which is all well and good, but he seems to be unaware of how such stories are pieced together in the first place. The reporter poses questions and I answer those questions. But those questions are not in the article, and my answers are sometimes given as quotes but in some respects are paraphrased. That means that a newspaper article should be taken with a grain of salt, and if someone really wants to take someone to task- by name- they probably should make the effort to dig a little deeper. I would have been willing to cut a little slack, as the article unfortunately does not mention my screen name nor does it list my website. But it is not hard to figure out via simple google and I made it easy by posting my web page twice in the comment section of the article he cited. Maybe I should get used to this now that I’m such a public figure. (read as self-mockery).

So for the record, let it be known that Mr. Cline did not contact me and he has not, to my knowledge, made any efforts to go beyond the Christian Post article. I was not asked “Do you stand by this” or “Would you clarify this?” etc. Nor am I going to do the same for him. Hypocrisy? Perhaps. But he has one thing going for him that I didn’t- he picked and chose every word and paragraph with full control, whereas my views came through a filter. Now that we have my chief complaint and criticism fully aired, let me turn my attention to some of his statements.

Let’s take this one to start with: “Are we to sincerely believe that Christian churches and organizations are not engaging in apologetics?”

In point of fact, Christian churches are not engaging in apologetics. Probably, by ‘churches,’ Mr. Cline is thinking in narrow terms. I was speaking about the broad picture, referencing whole denominations and how they invest their energy, and he ignores a clarification that does actually make it into the article:

“I am talking about apologetics at a much broader scale then normally understood,” said Horvath. “It should not be left to professors or specialists, such as C.S. Lewis. It needs to be incorporated into everything we do as the Church from cradle to grave.”

In other words, I am not, as Mr. Cline so snidely dismisses as ‘ridiculous’ insinuating that I am the first person to engage in apologetics. In the article itself I am hinting that I mean something different then normally understood. Hence the phrase, “then normally understood.” Mr. Cline did not ask me to elaborate on this, and point of fact, neither did the reporter for the Christian Post.

If at some point Mr. Cline would like to discover my point for himself (assuming he doesn’t just ask me), he can count up how many paid Christian apologetics positions there are across as many denominations as he likes, include, if he desires professors at universities, and compare that number with how many pastoral positions, youth ministry positions, and worship and music positions there are. Then, he can check into the curriculum being produced by the various denominations to ascertain what kind of attention is explicitly paid to common apologetics issues, and what age levels that material is geared towards.

Naturally, as I am merely a man who attended Christian elementary, middle, and high schools, who has a four year bachelors degree in pastoral ministry, has been interacting with the Christian culture from the inside for more than ten years, four of which were actually as a religion teacher for 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, and 12th grades, two years of teaching at a Bible college, and then three years working on staff at a church as a director of education, expressly tasked with evaluating curriculum for Sunday School, VBS, etc, it is quite obvious that Mr. Cline will have a much better grasp then I will on exactly how apologetics is implemented by various denominations. Naturally.

Moving on.

“Now, if Anthony Horvath had argued that Christian churches are doing a poor job at explaining why they believe what they do and must improve their apologetics, that might be plausible.”

Hmmmm. That is exactly what I am arguing. Again, this is something that the Christian Post article does pick up on:

“Churches are producing atheists by not answering the questions of young people and explaining why they believe in the Bible,” and “As a solution, Horvath recommends apologetics – the defense of the Christian faith. He points to 1 Peter 3:15 which teaches believers to be ready to give the reasons for what they believe.”

Understandably, the first quote was easy to miss as it was the first sentence of the article. However, since he cites both of these quotes in his summary of the article, I fail to understand how he did not perceive that I was advocating for exactly what he suggested might be plausible, and it was actually expressed in the article.

Not content with that, he wishes to go further: “If he had argued that the questions being asked by young people today need different sorts of answers than what apologetics geared towards previous generations can provide, that might also be plausible. Those are more cautious and careful arguments that could be taken more seriously.”

Different sorts of answers? What, pray tell, would these quotes be referring to:

Horvath, who has taught religion to middle school and high school students explained that some of the recurring questions young adults struggle with but churches often fail to address include the formation and development of the Bible, the presence of evil and suffering in the world, and the question of inspiration and inerrancy.

“In large part, it happens when the church leadership is completely unaware that their members – and not necessarily just the young members – have questions at all,” explained Horvath to The Christian Post. “And [they] continue merrily along thinking that to retain the youth they just need to be entertained.”

That sounds an awful lot like proposing an implementation of apologetics that is different then previous generations were satisfied with. I understand it takes a tad bit of reading between the lines. One has to make the connection that the ‘church leadership’ and ‘the young members’ are likely going to be members of different generations, and certainly I could elaborate further (if only prompted), but I think there is enough in the article to suspect that this is exactly what I’m proposing. Instead I have to now hear the second strawman accusation:

“As it is, Anthony Horvath is making claims that aren’t even remotely plausible. People don’t become atheists because Christians aren’t engaging in any apologetics; instead, people become atheists because Christian apologetics isn’t working so well.”

Note here the equivocation. My challenge was to the church, not at individual Christians. Certainly there are Christian engaging in apologetics. This was not the point. Again, that first sentence was easy to skip, but the Christian Post gets it in there: “Churches are producing atheists…” This equivocation leads Mr. Cline to infer a position that is no where supported by the Christian Post article. Indeed, I am arguing that Christian apologetics isn’t working so well, though Mr. Cline and I will disagree for the reasons. So we see, he has appropriated for himself two positions that were actually mine and called them ‘plausible’ and foisted on me a position that isn’t mine at all. That’s annoying.

Moving along.

“Books like The God Delusion and The Da Vinci Code don’t require a society that doesn’t understand Christianity in order to be popular, just a society which no longer accepts traditional, orthodox Christianity like it used to.”

The two ideas are not mutually exclusive. The problem here is that Mr. Cline does not bother to ask me precisely what connection I’m drawing between their popularity and Christianity. The Christian Post accurately posts my statement, but observe how it does not provide in the articles any of my reasons for making the statement:

“He further noted, “Books like Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ do not become best sellers in a society that understands what Christianity is all about.”

If Mr. Cline were to ever contact me, I suggest this as one of the first points of clarification to seek with me. In his defense, in some of the other atheistic responses I’ve seen, similar leaps to judgment have been made. Certainly, at some point it would be reasonable for me to more clearly provide a ‘why.’ But Mr. Cline takes issue with my ‘why’ even though I do not actually have a ‘why’ recorded in the article. What then, is his source? It doesn’t seem to be me. That leaves few options. And so it goes…

“The only explanation that comes to mind for Anthony Horvath making these statements is the assumption that to understand Christianity is to accept and believe it.”

More nonsense. Here I would like to point out that a little investigation would have done wonders. For example, both here on this blog and on my forum I advocate adopting a definition of ‘Christianity’ that is propositional in nature. Take this thread as an example. What that expressly means is that in principle, anyone should be able to understand Christianity, whether they agree with it or not. As I am apparently uneducated pond scum when held up against Mr. Cline, let me support this view briefly using a Christian apologist that he has no doubt read, and in this way preserving me from accusations that I’m just pulling these ideas out of my rear. That apologist is not CS Lewis, as the reader might have instinctively assumed, but rather Dorothy Sayers, and I am going to quote out of her “The Mind of the Maker” which I found to be quite formative.

Allow me to quote extensively from her introduction, as I think what she says here speaks to my own position on a number of points. If anyone actually cares about what my own position is, of course. Here it goes, copy and pasted from here, thankfully sparing me five minutes of typing:

This book is not an apology for Christianity, nor is it an expression of personal religious belief. It is a commentary, in the light of specialised knowledge, on a particular set of statements made in the Christian creeds and their claim to be statements of fact.

It is necessary to issue this caution, for the popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling. Some time ago, the present writer, pardonably irritated by a very prevalent ignorance concerning the essentials of Christian doctrine, published a brief article in which those essentials were plainly set down in words that a child could understand. Every clause was preceded by some such phrase as: “the Church maintains”, “the Church teaches”, “if the Church is right”, and so forth. The only personal opinion expressed was that, though the doctrine might be false, it could not very well be called dull.

Every newspaper that reviewed this article accepted it without question as a profession of faith-some (Heaven knows why) called it “a courageous profession of faith”, as though professing Christians in this country were liable to instant persecution. One review, syndicated throughout the Empire, called it “a personal confession of faith by a woman who feels sure she is right”.

Now, what the writer believes or does not believe is of little importance one way or the other. What is of great and disastrous importance is the proved inability of supposedly educated persons to read. So far from expressing any personal belief or any claim to personal infallibility, the writer had simply offered a flat recapitulation of official doctrine, adding that nobody was obliged to believe it. There was not a single word or sentence from which a personal opinion could legitimately be deduced, and for all the article contained it might perfectly well have been written by a well-informed Zoroastrian.

I certainly recommend reading the rest of the preface, and also the essay she is referencing, “The Dogma is the Drama” which can be found in her collection of essays, “The Whimsical Christian.” Excellent, excellent stuff. All this to say that my own approach completely agrees with the sentiment expressed by “it might perfectly well have been written by a well-informed Zoroastrian.” So, no, it is not the case that the only explanation driving my arguments is that I think you have to be a practicing Christian in order to understand Christianity.

I think that Mr. Cline inadvertently let’s the cat out of the bag… “…the only explanation that comes to mind…” … but by ‘to mind’ I am sure he means his own mind. Perhaps a quick email to the Johnnymeister could have alerted to him to other possible explanations. Given my alignment here with Ms. Sayers, unless I’m an irrational freakazoid (you decide), I probably have some other explanations in mind. Only the inquisitive mind would find out.

Moving on.

We now move into his concluding paragraph which thankfully no longer explicitly mocks and ridicules me by name, but I am inclined to think that he still has me in mind. He says,

“I see this attitude often from both Christian and Muslim apologists who assume that because I’m an atheist, I must never have learned anything about their religion, read their holy books, read their arguments, etc.”

Well, I don’t make that assumption about Mr. Cline. Or any atheist, for that matter. You have to take these things on a case by case basis. While I have met atheists who fit into the category he described above, I’ve met many that don’t, as well. And I don’t feel that my generalization about the state of affairs is out of line, though I would grant that further substantiation should be forthcoming (remembering that I wasn’t really given the opportunity to give it). If one wanted to get a good idea, check out the nearly 1,000 reviews of Dawkins’s Delusion, nearly all positives by ‘free thinkers’ parroting and hyping the arguments of their mentor. And yet, I have yet to meet an educated Christian that views Dawkins’s book as possessing any kind of accurate representation of Christianity at all, and the book itself is riddled with all kinds of errors, some of which I document here. (note, I have since acquired the book Dawkins quoted from, and verified that he at least got his fellow right.)

Naturally, it is very important to atheists to think that they are rejecting Christianity’s actual positions. But Dawkins’s success illustrates how many don’t understand Christianity’s actual positions, believing Dawkins to have actually attacked them. (I’m starting to throw Cline some freebies, here, elaborating on questions he ought to have asked, but didn’t). So, here is a smattering of educated Christians taking issue with Dawkins’s grasp of Christianity, and if almost 1,000 parrots on Amazon.com aren’t enough to begin to substantiate what was admittedly a generalization, nothing is.

Here are some reviews, or references to reviews, and you will see that all of them take Dawkins to task for not grasping basic Christian theology. Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here. And here. The sad reality is how many atheists applaud Dawkins. You could find their reviews fast enough. But surely after enough people have pleaded that they are being misrepresented it’s worth taking seriously? Isn’t it just possible, after persistent assertions that you aren’t listening that maybe you aren’t listening? It is at least worthy of a little introspection. But my accusation was not that the atheists aren’t listening, which if it was, that certainly can be perceived as insult. No doubt if that had been my accusation he would have been highly offended.

But my accusation was that the church itself has poorly communicated some of its most basic doctrines. How is it that by shouldering some of the blame for ourselves, Mr. Cline is still so offended? Is this a case where the Christian is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t? It’s an insult if its the atheist’s fault and it’s an insult if it’s the theist’s fault? Is that about right. There’s just no pleasing some people. That he was so grossly offended is clear, as he says,

“It is, in my opinion, the most extreme sort of arrogance and egotism that I ever encounter.”

Boy, am I glad he hasn’t singled me out in this paragraph or I’d really be annoyed at this point. 🙂

Granted, Christian arguments may simply be unconvincing, and certainly there are atheists that actually comprehend those arguments and know the core doctrines, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t atheists that aren’t. If Mr. Cline believes that this is not the case and that we apologists don’t also have our own collection of anecdotes to fall back upon supporting our views- thus insinuating that all atheists are perfectly informed while their theistic counter-parts are blathering and ‘ridiculous’ entertaining claims that are not ‘remotely plausible,’ I believe the charge of ‘extreme arrogance and egotism’ is probably misapplied.

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Mother Teresa had moments of doubt?

This blog inspired by this article at Time. I consequently wrote this short story called “Mother Teresa Goes to Heaven.”

I will admit that I didn’t follow the life and times of Mother Teresa. What I know comes from news reports and things of that sort. That said, I think this article really illustrates a common misconception about being a Christian, and to be honest, it is one more thing we can lay at the feet of Christians themselves. The article expresses pure shock that Mother Teresa could do what she did while simultaneously feeling distant from God. I will grant that it covers the ‘dark night of the soul,’ so it isn’t completely remiss on the issue of Christians feeling that way. But the idea that is out there is that Christians ‘in good standing’ with God will just be peachy, all the time.

That idea is just nonsense. Every thoughtful Christian I know endures moments of ‘distance.’ For myself, I can think of just a handful of times where I have ever ‘felt’ God’s presence. But I don’t do the things I do for the bells and whistles. I’m not in it for the euphoria. I’m in it because I think its true, and I understand that as such, it is a battle, and in battles, people get hurt, and usually the stakes are quite high. Christians themselves have promoted this notion, making it particularly hard on Christians themselves who see their ‘drought’ as a sign that they’ve offended God somehow. It really is not the case that a person walking by faith will be blessed with good fortune where ever they go.

The thing that strikes me as truly funny about this article is they felt the need to mention the atheists, in particular, Hitchens. Of course, there are Christians who very vocally tout their thriving emotionally intimate relationship with God, but this is dismissed by the atheists as wishful thinking or an evolutionary defect (ala Dawkins), so whether Christians ‘feel’ it or they don’t, you’re not going to please the atheistic community.

The message for the rest of us is again to have a robust understanding of the Christian Scriptures. When we do that, we will see that in the New Testament, when people were undergoing hard times, and especially when they were persecuted, they thanked God for believing them to be worthy of the ordeal. By some modern Christian views, the mere fact that you went through an ordeal means you did something naughty. You really can’t have it both ways.

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An Open Letter to Christian Muggles…

As an author that is a Christian, I have followed the discussion about Harry Potter’s relationship to Christianity with interest but have generally stayed out of it. I have long believed that there were Christian themes percolating in the books, a belief that led me to accurately predict the fates of Snape and Malfoy (apparently unredeemable characters in the books). How intentional and deliberate Rowling was when exploring these themes I won’t speculate upon because that is something that she herself is in the best position to answer. However, her explicit inclusion of two Scriptures “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (#7, pgs 326 and 328, Matt. 6:21 and 1 Cor 15:26) suggests to me that anti-Harry Potter Christians would do well to re-consider their opposition and re-think their position.

The numerous nods to Christian themes in Rowling’s books are explored by many others so I won’t dig into them here beyond what I’ve already said, but I want to make clear that I am not trying to minimize our duty as Christians to abhor genuine ‘sorcery.’ On that front, my response is simple: The Harry Potter books, whatever they are, aren’t genuine sorcery. No, my aim is to tackle a handful of related issues that are raised by all of the fuss about the series.

In the first place, let us consider what a ‘muggle’ is in the Harry Potter series. A muggle is a person who not only does not have magical abilities, but is clueless that there is any ‘magic’ at all, and frankly likes it that way. In what sense do I include Christians in this definition? A Christian muggle does not perceive the true nature of the power of epic narratives and when confronted with its effects fears its implications. It is my contention that attitudes like this contribute to the defeat that Christianity is slowly enduring in the United States.

The objecting Christian fears that the young reader will read Harry Potter, be enchanted, be drawn towards paganism, and ultimately into witchcraft. Despite the fact that values that Christians would otherwise applaud permeate the series, like self-sacrifice, faith, loyalty, courage, etc, the references to ‘witches’ and ‘magic’ nullify what we’d otherwise consider laudable. As I recall, C.S. Lewis was once asked if he feared that Britain was turning to Paganism and responded “If only she were.” I might say the same about America.

You see, ‘pagans’ actually believe in something beyond the materialistic world, but it is philosophical naturalism winning today, not paganism. If paganism were the threat du jour, that would actually be an improvement.

But we have to ask ourselves “Just how bad are the church’s educational methods” if we really have to fear hordes of Christian youth flocking towards witchcraft just by reading and enjoying Harry Potter. I personally won’t join in the insult to their intelligence implied in that, though I do agree that our educational program is generally lacking. Young people are pliable, that is true, but apart from isolating them until they die from competing worldviews, we’ll have to content ourselves with equipping them so they can apply principles of discernment on their own. In other words, as in all things, we should be standing by our young people and helping them to navigate these treacherous seas, because a time will come when they’ll have to navigate them on their own. I am here speaking of Christian young people. What about non-Christian young people?

Well, in the case of non-Christians, we have in the Harry Potter series an opportunity. As I already mentioned, within Harry Potter there are a lot of values that we can really approve of. If young non-Christians find themselves attracted to the world of Harry Potter, that is a good indication that all is not lost: young people will resonate with heroic tales where good takes on evil, and despite the terror that evil is, good wins out. In a land practically drowning in pornographic smut, it is hard to imagine that just because the backdrop of these noble themes is ‘magical’ that some Christians cannot find away to lead young people enchanted by Harry Potter to the true source of their enchantment and would rather have absolutely nothing to do with it.

This attitude harms the Christian cause. It gives people the impression that Christianity cannot stand up against its competitors except by ignoring them. Also, as Christianity is supposed to be the best account for all of reality, we also ought to offer the best account for the power of narrative rather than shunning it.

People also begin to get the impression that what we care about as Christians is some idealized notion about a ‘holy nation,’ as though if no one drank alcohol, no one murdered, no one read Harry Potter, etc, we’d really have a nation that was closer to God. We wouldn’t. We’d have the most legalistic society that ever existed, and a hoard of people that positively loathed their Christian oppressors, but Grace would still be far off.

We need to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. The Christian church in America is fighting a losing battle. This is the very worst time to be shooting potential allies in the head just because they don’t speak perfect Christianese. If people reading Harry Potter wish that they can go to Hogwarts, let us realize that what they want is adventure, passion, loyalty, fidelity- they want to be on the side of good in the classic clash between good and evil. That is a good sign for our times. They know that Hogwarts is a myth, but they wish it weren’t. They cannot have Hogwarts, but they can have Heaven. We know the Way.

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Another Batch.

http://www.sermonaudio.com/new_details.asp?ID=24100

http://www.crossing-currents.com/

http://www.fotfforums.org/fusetalk/forum/messageview.cfm?catid=54&threadid=5683 

http://www.xanga.com/nwdys

http://journal.biblicalrecorder.org/br/alongtheway/entry/a_lesson_from_atheists

http://jesusisnowhere.com/2007/08/is-church-producing-atheists.html

http://sheepcrib.blogspot.com/2007/07/apologetics-like-leaving-kids-in-car-on.html

http://familyactionorganization.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/christian-apologist-says-church-is-producing-atheists/

http://melvinrivera.com/2007/08/05/estan-las-iglesias-produciendo-ateos/ [and here, translated]

http://artzar.wordpress.com/2007/08/02/bisericile-produc-ateisti/

http://www.refdag.nl/artikel/1311290/

A translation of an Italian blog’s comment pages where my article turned up. 

So far, the only atheist that I know of that has picked it up.  That’s the best they can do?

A nice discussion on Yahoo Forums.

http://anglicancontinuum.blogspot.com/2007/08/worthy-thought-from-barking-toad.html

http://barkingtoad.blogspot.com/2007/08/religion-in-public-arena-and-failed.html

I’m a bit surprised that these keep turning up.

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And still more! Glad to have kick-started a conversation

http://imitatiochristi.blogs.com/imitatio_christi/2007/07/causes-of-athei.html

http://www.woundedheart.org/wounded/WH_James100.htm 

http://theseriouschristian.org/2007.08.01_arch.html#1186389291927 

 http://kevinbussey.wordpress.com/2007/08/07/religious-trends/

http://clipmarks.com/clipmark/9E179688-4F56-4A58-994A-E828E02E51B8/ 

http://iedereen.gelooft-in-jezus.nl/index.php?post=1191 If anyone can translate this for me, I’d appreciate it.

http://straightnotnarrow.blogspot.com/2007/08/is-church-producing-athiests.html

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More people are talking

Seriously, I’m amazed at the response my little charge is getting.  I’m on vacation, but I still found some people blogging on it.  The topic is worthy of at least discussion, and I’m glad it is generating that.  Check the latests finds out:

Captain’s Blog, The Continuum, The Barking Toad, and we’ll post more when we find them.

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Found yet another site….

http://almaloneonline.com/Seasons/?p=80

The nice thing about this one opposed to some of the blog entries I’ve seen is that he takes the time to think about the matter.  I like his points about there not being a good venue for a good apologetics educational regime.  He’s dead on, and that’s a real problem.  We’ve got everything structured in our churches as though all is well in the world, when it’s not.  Unless the Christian church re-structures, it will have re-structuring forced upon it, and I think it will be most unpleasant.

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Found another site mentioning the Christian post article

http://theexpositor.wordpress.com/2007/08/01/church-is-producing-atheists/

I really wish the Christian post had put in a link to my website. The article is generating a fair amount of interest and reaction, but without a direct way to get in touch with me, a fuller explanation on my solution to the mess will be hard to find.

And here is another, this one with at least some comments:

http://haloscan.com/tb/jagillmartin/4319995358628249569

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Saving the Christian church from ‘near defeat’…

I recently asserted that the Christian church is ‘near defeat.’

What would ‘near defeat’ look like? God will always preserve a remnant, but a look at Europe gives a good idea. There is quite a bit of Christian heritage in Europe, but at present it is completely de-fanged. Or, we can look at China and Japan, both areas where there was a time in history when the Church was growing but then was faced with violent oppression and nearly wiped out. I think the ‘Europe’ route is more likely then the ‘Asian’ route, but the results are near the same. I say this so that it is understood that in the course of time, what I’m claiming can actually take place, even here in the United States.

What is to be done about it? This is the critical question.

1. Establish a group of concerned individuals in your local congregation. Evaluate weaknesses and strengths and brainstorm ways to deal with the weaknesses and ways to play to your strengths where apologetics is concerned.

2. Build a library of apologetics materials. Don’t just include Christian material, but also anti-Christian material. The point is to prepare oneself and one’s youth for the threats that are really out there. Take the time to have people master this material.

3. Bring in outside speakers on apologetic topics. Don’t focus so much on whether they are ‘entertaining.’ You don’t want motivational speakers, here. You want people who know their stuff.

4. Re-prioritize the use of money. I’m sorry, but many of the things churches spend their money don’t even begin to reflect the nature of the situation we’re really in. Pay for member’s classes at local colleges. Buy books of substance for young people and give them away freely. That’s right, don’t even make them pay for it or perform a million fund raisers for it. Spend time thinking about how priorities are reflected in the spending of money. A church may say that they are interested in apologetics as a high priority, but if they only spend $100 on it when they pay $10,000 for a new organ, one really knows where the priorities are.

5. Add staff positions. Again, you put money where your heart is. Apologetics is such a large area that it is not plausible for any one person to master it all, and even though I encourage pastors to bone up on their apologetics, too, aren’t pastors already doing too much as it is? The staff would work in a complementary fashion to existing youth directors and education directors.
Secular humanism has practically declared war on the Christian church. It’s about time we realized that and acted accordingly.

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Responses to my Assertions are Starting

I recently made the claim that it is the Christian church itself producing atheists. I thought this guy did a good job of nailing the high points:

http://cuanas.blogspot.com/2007/07/is-christian-church-producing-atheists.html

He also mentions the situation in Europe, which I think is a foreshadowing of what America may look like in a few decades if we’re not acting urgently.

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Not just any time. The right time.

When I was a religion teacher I was often asked why God didn’t perform miracles today as often as he did in the Christian Scriptures. The question is a natural one. As one starts from Genesis and proceeds through Revelation, there are a litany of miraculous events happening one after the other. However, it is easy to forget that the Scriptures aren’t a history of the entire human race. They skip around- after the miraculous events surrounding Daniel there was a 400 year silence before Jesus was born. And even in a single book, there could be dozens and hundreds of years spanned, even though only a few passages have gone by. If we were to chart out when and where God revealed himself, it wouldn’t seem as often as we perceive.

This is where atheists often pick up the question, wondering why he doesn’t reveal himself specifically to them, because after all, that would remove all doubt. Right? I don’t actually believe that. I know an atheist who confided in me that he had an experience which seemed awfully supernatural to him at the time but after a few months and the years went by he found it easier to dismiss. One could only detect a miracle against the backdrop of regularities which we call the ‘natural order’ and that means that in order for God to perform the miraculous in a way for us to know that it is him, his interventions have got to be rare.

This raises an interesting set of questions. Continue reading

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