Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ambassador Challenge #9: Why Are God's People Such A Problem?

There is a growing question in our culture: why do God’s people do so many bad things in his name?  Christopher Hitchens wrote the book that captured the overall sentiment ( God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything), but plenty of other voices have chimed in. How do we respond in a way that is both truthful and kind?

First, we need to own up to the fact that Christians are capable of hurtful, mean, hypocritical and even evil actions. Scott Smith calls this The Problem of People.

We see them on the news constantly: Westboro Baptist picketers, TV preachers who make thoughtless comments, pastors who preach purity while carrying on affairs, churches that cover up scandals. It may even be the Christian neighbor who talks about controversial social issues without compassion. It may be us. No matter the situation, it's a problem that must be acknowledged humbly.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ambassador Challenge #8: Why Does God Allow So Much Pain?


Two Arguments against the existence of God


#1. The Logical Problem of Evil


The LPE claims that the existence of both God and evil are logically incompatible. If God were all the things Christians claimed, there is no way he would allow the world that we have. If God is all-knowing, this wouldn’t have happened. If he is all-powerful, he could prevent it. And if he is all-loving, nothing would keep him from doing so. Therefore, God (at least as Christians understand God) does not exist.

In response, Christians typically talk about free will. The Free Will defender argues that it was good for God to create people who had genuine choices. Humans were created to be able to make ethical choices in a morally significant way, and this ability makes this world more valuable than a world that does not contain free action.

Much of the suffering in this life is our own making, either directly or indirectly, and the only way God could prevent us or our ancestors from disrupting the order he created would be to take away our free will. We have a dilemma. Which is more important: risky freedom or coerced happiness? A world in which nothing we do matters because there are no consequences, or a world in which everything we do matters, sometimes to the extreme, precisely because there are consequences?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ambassador Challenge #7: Do Miracles Happen?

Miracles matter a lot to followers of Christ.

The heart of our faith is the Resurrection. That miracle must have occurred in order for our faith to be valid. For a Resurrection we need an Incarnation – and that’s a miracle. For the world in which the Incarnation occurs, we need a Creation – and that’s a miracle. For the new life the Christ offers to all of us – we need yet another miracle.

Christians embrace the supernatural as an explanation for many events throughout the history of the world. Skeptics often see this as a giving up too easily in a search for knowledge, or trying to find places for God to fit in a world where science makes God unnecessary. So how do we respond to those who are skeptical of miraculous claims?

As always, it will be important to define terms accurately. Merriam-Webster defines a miracle as "an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention in human affairs." David Hume used a more pejorative definition: they are "a violation of the laws of nature." Christian theologians have phrased the definition in a number of ways, but the overall opinion is that a miracle is a supernatural interaction with the world in which an event that would not have otherwise occurred does occur.

There are at least three classic objections that have been raised in response to miracles.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Ambassador Challenge #6: Is God A Monster?


"God’s actions as seen in the Bible are incompatible with his character as described in the Bible (with genocidal wars, etc). Either he doesn’t exist, the Bible is hopelessly muddled, or God is a monster.”


Richard Dawkins famously wrote: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

That kind of accusation makes sense coming from someone who wants to discredit Gd and the Bible. However, it's not just the atheists who struggle with the Old Testament. I was raised in a pacifist Mennonite community, and there were just large sections of the Old Testament that nobody talked about in polite company. We read the story about David and Goliath with as much detachment and inner condemnation as we could. We wondered how much we should cheer for David’s mighty men, who were the elite forces of their day. We cheered when Sampson brought the temple down, but with some guilt.  So what do you think we did with all the God-ordained wars in the Old Testament?

Nothing.

We loved Jesus when he said “love your enemy” and “turn the other cheek,” but God? God in the Old Testament was sometimes treated like the crazy uncle who shows up at family reunions. Nobody really knows how to interact with him or explain him to others.

From a Christian apologetics standpoint, this issue is important. I think many Christians remain as confused as I was. But this is an crucial topic to address because those outside the faith aren’t letting this one slide – and rightly so. How could God be “good” if he commanded so much evil? This is the question we must be prepared to answer.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ambassador Challenge #5: Was Jesus Just A Myth?

I love the Facebook page “Did Abe Lincoln Really Exist?”  It’s a satirical page that takes the same arguments people use to claim  Jesus was a myth and applies them to the life and record of Abraham Lincoln. It’s funny, but it highlights a serious topic: Did Jesus exist?  Movies like Zeitgeist, The Da Vinci Code  and  Religious have really pushed the idea that Jesus either didn’t exist or was just another mythical god. In order to respond well to this question, there are at least three key claims that deserve a clear answer.

CLAIM #1: Jesus Never Existed


Even though atheists like Bertrand Russell and Richard Dawkins seems very excited about this claim, this idea is simply not taken seriously. Rather than cite a host of Christian scholars who obviously take issue with them, I will let Bart Ehrman respond. Ehrman is a  biblical scholar who is also an outspoken Scriptural critic. He does not believe Jesus was God, and he is highly skeptical about the reliability of Scripture, but on this issue he wrote:
“With respect to Jesus, we have numerous, independent accounts of his life in the sources lying behind the Gospels (and the writings of Paul) -- sources that originated in Jesus' native tongue Aramaic and that can be dated to within just a year or two of his life… Historical sources like that are is pretty astounding for an ancient figure of any kind 

Moreover, we have relatively extensive writings from one first-century author, Paul, who acquired his information within a couple of years of Jesus' life and who actually knew, first hand, Jesus' closest disciple Peter and his own brother James. If Jesus did not exist, you would think his brother would know it…  
Moreover, aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah. But prior to Christianity, there were no Jews at all, of any kind whatsoever, who thought that there would be a future crucified messiah. 

The messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a messiah would make him like that. Why did the Christians not do so? Because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified. The Christians did not invent Jesus…”
Ehrman does not conclude that Jesus was the Messiah, but he clearly makes the case for his existence. In an entry called “Christ Myth Theory,” even Wikipedia (which has received a lot of criticism for having a somewhat hostile view toward Christianity) notes:
“The hypothesis that a historical Jesus figure never existed is supported only by a very small minority of modern scholars… biblical scholars and classical historians now regard theories of non-existence of Jesus as effectively refuted.”