Apologetics as a Spiritual Discipline

http://pastormattblog.com/2014/06/02/apologetics-as-a-spiritual-discipline/

What I Needed to Hear When I Was An Atheist (and How I Needed to Heart It)

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There is an overlooked movie from the 1990’s entitled The Big Kahuna.  The film stars Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito and Peter Facinelli as salesmen at a convention attempting to score a productive meeting with an industrialist that they call “The Big Kahuna.”  Facinelli, a young Baptist, inadvertently scores a meeting with The Big Kahuna.  Spacey and Devito press Facinelli to set up a meeting to hear their pitch.  Facinelli shares the Gospel with the industrialist but fails to set the sales meeting.  Spacey becomes incensed but Facinelli insists that it would have cheapened his testimony to spin a Gospel presentation into a marketing presentation.  Devito then asks Facinelli what are the names of the Big Kahuna’s wife and children? He can’t answer.  Devito insists that Facinelli is also nothing but a salesman because he doesn’t really care about the industrialist as a person.

The movie reminds me of my time as an atheist.  When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard.  He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation.  He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church.  But he never asked a single question about me personally.  I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.

I left Hollywood in 1991 and by 1992 I was knee-deep in national politics, (which is just Hollywood for ugly people). Because I worked in politics, I ran to the phone whenever it rang because you never knew when you were needed on the campaign trail.  But these were the dark days before caller ID, so I never knew who was calling.

One of the people who would often call me was a godly and very talkative elderly Alabama transplant from my father’s church who we called “Miss Francis.”  I was often disappointed when I heard her deep southern drawl say “Hello there, honey.” But even though I would rather have been talking to a congressional candidate, I never doubted how much this older Christian lady loved me and she always asked if I was going to be at church that next Sunday.

She wasn’t the only one who asked.  There was a retired police officer I had always called, “Mr. Shaffer.”  He would call and gruffly ask me if I would be at church as well.  He oversaw communion at the church and always wanted me to help but I also knew that he cared about me too.  He would sometimes bark in my ear, “What in the #$% are you doing with your life, anyway?”

So, even though I was an atheist, I would often attend church just to make these two elderly people (and my mother) happy.  These two godly people didn’t know apologetics but if they had I would have listened to them because I knew they cared about me as a person.

Relationships matter.

As I stated yesterday, I knew a few arguments for the faith that haunted me. I knew there is good historical evidence that Jesus’ disciples died rather than deny the resurrection of their master. I knew that materialists had no explanation for the beginning of the universe.  I knew that most skeptics believed in objective morality but couldn’t explain why.

Yet, I dismissed these challenges to my unbelief largely because I wanted to do what I wanted to without having to justify it and also because no one made the case to me that I felt cared about me as a person.  If someone showed me both genuine concern and delivered sound arguments, I may not have been an atheist for ten years.

Also, I may not have become an atheist in the first place if I had truly understood the Christian faith.  Looking back, I had a very fuzzy understanding of the Gospel.  I (and I think many people who call themselves Christians) are what theologians call “semi-Pelagians.”  I believed anyone could come to the altar but if they wanted to continue to be welcomed in the pews, they had to clean up their act and do so almost overnight.  The culture of Christianity at large appeared to me to be that if you came to faith and continued to struggle with lust, a foul mouth or whatnot then there was just something wrong with you.  I felt the church was more about behavior modification than grace.

I needed someone who I knew loved me to sit down with me long before all of these problems arose, look me in the eye and tell me how easy and how difficult it is to be a Christian.  I needed someone cared for me to unpack 2 Corinthians 5:21 and point out that by being “in Christ” I would be judged by Christ’s perfect life instead of my own.  I needed to know that the faith is not about “keeping the rules” but about doing things and not doing certain things to show my love and gratitude to God for what He did for me.  I needed to be able to read the Bible, especially the Old Testament, in a way that always pointed to Jesus Christ.  I needed to understand that God has graciously given us the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, serving the poor, worship, etc. to help me grow.  I needed to hear that all Christians struggle with sin and will, to a certain degree, until they go to be with the Lord or He returns to be with us.

I needed good theology, good spiritual practices, good apologetics and good relationships.  I needed  knowledge and it needed to come from someone who I knew loved me even though I was thoroughly unlovable.  You can’t just leave this to the church staff because they do not have to time to meet with everyone and people with a chip on their shoulder about the church (like I had) feel like they are just doing it as part of their job.  All young people in the church, especially the “troubled kids” need this.  It is a lot of work but anyone’s eternity is worth it, isn’t it?

Comment: http://pastormattblog.com/2014/04/08/what-i-needed-to-hear-when-i-was-an-atheist-and-how-i-needed-to-heart-it/

How Churches Train Kids To Be Atheists

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I am a preacher’s kid who left the faith, declared myself to be an atheist, returned to the faith after a cancer scare, nearly lost my faith again and was saved by evangelical theology and apologetics.  So, I am passionate about helping others avoid the decade of destructive sin and despair I spent wandering through the atheist wilderness.

A few years ago I was intrigued by David Kinnaman’s book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith (Baker 2011).  Kinnaman argued that there are at least six reasons why men and women between 18-30 leave the faith behind.  He posted a summary of the six reasons on the Barna website and they were:

http://pastormattblog.com/2014/05/06/how-churches-train-kids-to-be-atheists-2/

Dear Sam Harris: Yes, There Is Evidence for Christianity

from Pastor Matt

Evidence:”the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.” (Oxford English Dictionary)

I’ve been reading through the works of Sam Harris, (who is a New York Times Best Selling author and leading atheist apostle) and one of his constant refrains is that no one is justified in being religious for faith is belief without evidence.  But is this true?

Christianity claims to be based in history.  So it is to historical evidence that we must turn to evaluate its truth or falsity. Harris states that all evidence are logical or sensory in nature.  Yet, he seems to really believe that only that which can be brought into a lab and subjected to the scientific method truly produces evidence (this is despite the fact that the scientific method cannot be used to prove the scientific method itself!). If, however, he truly thinks the scientific method is the appropriate method then he is committing the logical fallacy known as a categorical mistake.  It is like saying there is no such thing as beauty because I can’t measure it.

Let’s be charitable to Sam and assume he simply overlooked this fact.  How do we evaluate a historical question? There are a number of factors such as evaluating the source/s (here it would be the New Testament); evaluating the witnesses who produced the source by asking such questions as whether they had anything to gain by fabricating their testimony and evaluating the documents and testimony against what we know about the culture at the time as well.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, easily passes all of these tests.  For example, we have thousands of copies of ancient New Testament manuscripts that agree more than 99% of time (that’s amazing considering they were hand copied).  While the Gospel writers have different theological agendas (much like different sermons preached on different Sundays) they agree on the general outline of the life, teachings, actions, death and resurrection of Jesus.  This is despite the fact that they were written years apart.

Continue at: http://pastormattblog.com/2014/01/23/dear-sam-harris-yes-there-is-evidence-for-christianity/

Apologetics as Loving One’s Neighbor

from Pastor Matt

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“One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

-Mark 12:28-31

In his classic commentary on the Gospel of Mark, the late, great scholar William Lane wrote of the above verses, “A distinction between lighter and weightier, smaller and greater commandments was an inevitable feature of Palestinian piety, since it was traditional to speak of the 613 individual statutes of the Law. The basis of distinguishing between small and great commandments was generally the nature of the demand (in the case of commandments)…Jesus’ response goes much deeper than the distinction between small and great commandments and shows that he understood the question to concern the principle of Law. The attempt to summarize the whole Law in a single utterance was remembered in anecdotes concerning some of the early scribal teachers. When challenged by a Gentile, Hillel the Elder (ca. 40 B.C.-A.D. 10) replied: “What you yourself hate, do not do to your neighbor: this is the whole Law, the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.” For Jesus the whole Law is summarized in the will of God which calls for the love which is a whole-hearted response to God and to the neighbor.”

He went on to write, “A whole-hearted love for God necessarily finds its expression in a selfless concern for another man which decides and acts in a manner consistent with itself.”  So, what does all this have to do with apologetics? In my opinion, everything.

Typically, the church has defined loving one’s neighbor as in line with Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and Christ’s teaching in passages such as Matthew 25:31-46, in which we are commanded to love the imprisoned, the homeless, the hungry, etc. as if they were Jesus himself. Of course all believers should do so whether by volunteering at a soup kitchen or donating money to ministries like World Help.

But there is more to loving one’s neighbor these days than caring for the poor, as important as that is.  Those of us who live in a first world western country now dwell in a post-Christian society.  Our neighbors are inundated with naturalism masquerading as good science and sound philosophy.  Non-Christians believe the faith is intellectually vacuous.

It shocks many people when those trained in apologetics point out that atheists cannot answer questions like, “How did the universe come into existence?” “Why is our planet so finely tuned for life despite all the odds against it?” “How did life begin?” “Why do humans have consciousness?” “How is there truth or right and wrong without God?” “Why did the disciples die horrible deaths as impoverished traveling peasants rather than deny the resurrection of Jesus?”, etc.

If we are to help bring our neighbors to saving faith, we must first destroy their false ideas of what Christianity is and is not.  That means we must preach the Gospel (2 Cor. 5:21), knock down specious views of the faith and present the truth of what we believe.

Apologetics is not just an intellectual exercise for nerds like me or a debate to be won on college campuses but an increasing tool in loving our neighbors.  For if they do not understand the faith, they will likely not come to faith and that is what the God we love wants and how we must show love to our neighbors.  So, let’s study not just to win arguments but to love others.

How do you begin to learn apologetics? Natasha Crain penned this fine post for Ratio Christi and it is a great place to start.

The Need for Psychological Apologetics

from Pastor Matt

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A while back I offered to answer questions from my blog readers that I entitled “Ask Pastor Matt.”  Most of the questions I receive are apologetic in tone but a significant minority of the inquiries I get are somewhat psychological in nature. So many ask if Christianity is true, why do so many believers suffer from emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, etc.

I have read certain defenders of the faith who have called for the need for “psychological apologetics.” I have come to agree wholeheartedly.

I previously posted a few thoughts in the wake of the tragic suicide by Robin Williams on why so many Christians suffer from depression.  Several believers responded to my post on various Facebook groups.  I’m sure that these folks were well-meaning, faithful disciples of Christ but they generally commented with short slogans like “depressed Christians aren’t real Christians”, “these people don’t trust the Lord!”, “they don’t pray enough”, etc. I understand where they are coming from but as a pastor for more than 15 years (and the son of a pastor), I strongly disagree. I believe these views are not only based in inexperience but are unbiblical.  After all, many scholars believe David, Elijah and Paul suffered from depression.

Read on at: http://pastormattblog.com/2014/09/02/the-need-for-psychological-apologetics/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+pastormattblog+%28Pastor+Matt%29

Dear Atheists, William Lane Craig Doesn’t Win Debates through “tricks.”

from Pastor Matt

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I had an unfortunately futile back and forth with an atheist over the last few days.  He took the Sam Harris’ view that objective morality can be established by scientifically establishing “human flourishing.”  When I pointed him to the debate Harris lost to William Lane Craig over this topic and linked to the debate, he responded that, while Craig is brilliant, he wins these exchanges with atheists through “debate tricks.”

I have heard this several times before and I find it fascinating.  After all, a person wins a debate by clearly and succinctly stating his or her argument.  A person loses if they cannot present a compelling argument and/or effectively respond to his or her opponent’s case.  This is not in any way shape or form a trick but is simply effective argumentation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a person can “win” a court case or make an opponent look silly by resorting to clever insults or witty, albeit irrelevant, lines or emotional appeals.  The very first trial I participated in as a “second chair” attorney (i.e., gopher) was a disaster.  I helped represent a client who was being sued for a crash involving my client’s truck and the plaintiff’s “four-wheeler” ATV.  The plaintiff was on a public road, driving without a helmet and had his young son sitting on the handlebars (also without a helmet)!

We were able to demonstrate in court that the plaintiff was driving too fast in the wrong lane and had been cited for such.  We also demonstrated that our client had been driving no more than 3-5 miles per hour over the speed limit.  Yet, the jury found for the plaintiff in only four hours.  It was such a shock to the judge that he sent the verdict back to the jury to ask if they were sure!

Why did the jury find for a man who was driving a four-wheeler in the wrong lane with his young son on the handlebars without a helmet? The young son was sitting in the courtroom in a wheelchair with pins in his leg and it broke the jurors’ hearts.  They justified it by telling themselves the money was only coming from an insurance company.

But is this what is happening in academic debates between William Lane Craig and atheists? Actually, after watching nearly all of the recent debates online it is the skeptics who go for emotion or engages in flippant comments (like Lawrence Krauss attempted) rather than stick to the issues at hand.

For example, when Dr. Craig challenged Sam Harris on how his argument for objective morality absent the existence of God is in any way truly objective he states the following:

How is this a “trick” or an appeal to emotion or an empty comedic line? It isn’t.  It is a cogent argument that Sam Harris does not (and cannot) answer.

This is how William Lane Craig debates–he presents clear and concise arguments. Atheists often respond with statements like, “Well, maybe it could be…” or “One day science will prove…” What is odd is that these statements often follow the argument that faith in anything without proof is irrational.  Yet, the atheist clearly is making a statement of faith, which, by his own argument, is irrational! Yet, they still maintain that Dr. Craig is only winning by “debate tricks”? When will atheists truly commit themselves to the rigorous, objective academic standards they claim to uphold and admit they are simply at a loss.

In the meantime, thank God for William Lane Craig.  He has strengthened my faith tenfold.

Now read or add to the comments at: http://pastormattblog.com/2014/02/28/dear-atheists-william-lane-craig-doesnt-win-debates-through-tricks/

Ask Pastor Matt: “If Christianity is True, Why Are So Many Christians Depressed?”

from Pastor Matt

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Every week I field great questions from my readers and every week I try to answer at least one of them.  Last week, a commenter asked why so many Christians suffer with depression.  This is a great question.

Let me state up front that I am not a professional counselor.  I have been a pastor for more than fifteen years but I believe too many pastors attempt to counsel those with serious emotional issues when they should be referring them to pros.  I understand that most pastors are people pleasers and that some folks refuse to see a professional counselor because they believe there is a stigma attached to such treatment.  I disagree but I digress.

As a pastor, I can only offer a few observations I have gleaned over the years from experience and reading.  For example, David Switzer, a former professor at SMU, argues that depression is often “swallowed anger.”  Switzer writes, “Usually depression is hostility turned inward because the individual is afraid to express it openly toward the original target of the anger.” (see The Minister as Crisis Counselor (Abingdon 1986).

Too often Christians have been taught expressly or implicitly that anger is a sin.  This is simply not true.  Anger may rise from a sinful, selfish attitude of entitlement.  But the roots of anger may also be found in indignation at true injustice.  I have seen Christians who have truly been abused and betrayed feel as though they are sinning for being angry at such situations.  This is, to use a good Appalachian phrase, “hogwash.”

Jesus became angry at the money changers (Matthew 21:12-13) and the Pharisees (Mark 3:5).  People too often confuse anger at poor treatment with forgiveness.  One may be angry and still forgive.  True forgiveness, however, may take time and closure.  A rush to “forgive and forget” without allowing the wronged person to express their anger can be destructive. An individual may need to vent and know that he (or she) has truly been heard.  If not, the injured party will usually hold on to the anger.  This can lead the innocent person to be a slave to the damaging power of injustice.

I have also seen Christians become depressed because of poor theology.  Many Christians have come to a faith that is more “fire insurance” than a true love of God.  They do not see a clear future with God or do not see it as a true joy.

Too many preachers paint a picture of heaven as a boring place where we sit on clouds in diapers with harps and halos.  That’s not Biblical; that’s a Tom & Jerry cartoon! Heck, me in a diaper for eternity? Sounds more like hell than heaven!

The Bible teaches that all true believers will live in a new heavens and a new earth (Revelation 21:1).  We will have physical bodies like Jesus had after his resurrection (1 Cor. 15:49; Phil. 3:21 and 1 John 3:2).  After his resurrection, Jesus ate (Luke 24:37-43) and could be touched (John 20:27).  So, it follows, that we too will eat and talk with each other and play sports and make art or whatever! (For more see, Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright (HarperOne 2008) or Heaven by Randy Alcorn (Tyndale 2004).

Why is this a possible key to depression?

Counselor Andrew Lester argues in his book Hope in Pastoral Care and Counseling (Westminster John Knox 1995) that people naturally think in stories. They see their past as the beginning and they see the future as either a happy ending or more toil and trouble.  If they do not have a clear future hope, the person can become depressed.

Pastors, apologists and all Christian leaders need to show our fellow believers that there is a truly bright tomorrow awaiting all of us.  It will not be boring but an eternity of worship and love in real physical bodies here on earth.

I don’t often agree with liberal German theologian Jurgen Moltmann but I do think he was right when he argued that hope isn’t just a vision of the future but power in the present.  A robust Biblical view of the new heavens and new earth can provide real hope for all of us as we face the inevitable sufferings of life and serving our Lord.

For transparency sake, I want to admit that I have struggled on and off with depression for decades. I have swallowed anger in order to be a “good little Christian” as well as having been just plain selfish.  Don’t get me wrong, there are other legitimate reasons for depression, some possibly chemical in nature.  New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham has argued that the Apostle Paul occasionally showed signs of depression.  This side of paradise is a struggle but if we fight to get closer to God we can find joy even in the darkest times but it is simply inhuman to expect total happiness.

I hope this answers the question. Until next time, grace and peace.

Comment? Do it at http://pastormattblog.com/2014/08/25/ask-pastor-matt-if-christianity-is-true-why-are-so-many-christians-depressed/

The Three Things You Need to Read this Week (08/15/14)

from Pastor Matt

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While all of us were mourning the loss of a true genius to suicide, I was compiling the Three Things You Need to Read this Week:

1. William Lane Craig and the fine folks at Reasonable Faith were gracious enough to discuss one of my blog posts.  WLC disagreed with me to an extent.  The great and mysterious Wintery Knight graciously defended my position here and Eric Chabot also mentioned it here. Thanks, gents!

2. I was finally blessed to meet Det. J. Warner Wallace this week at CrossExamined.  Here is a fine recent post on What A Church Looks Like When It’s Committed to Christian Case Making.  By the way, congrats to Det. Wallace for cracking a 35-year old homicide cold case.

3. Finally, Nick Peters at Deeper Waters on The Death of Robin Williams.

That’s it for now.  Please come back regularly.  I’ll be starting a series soon on what apologists can learn from studying preaching. Be sure to check out the great links to the right, especially The Poached Egg, which is The Drudge Report of Christian apologetics and worldview.

Until then, grace and peace.

What I Needed to Hear When I Was An Atheist (and How I Needed to Heart It)

from Pastor Matt

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There is an overlooked movie from the 1990′s entitled The Big Kahuna.  The film stars Kevin Spacey, Danny Devito and Peter Facinelli as salesmen at a convention attempting to score a productive meeting with an industrialist that they call “The Big Kahuna.”  Facinelli, a young Baptist, inadvertently scores a meeting with The Big Kahuna.  Spacey and Devito press Facinelli to set up a meeting to hear their pitch.  Facinelli shares the Gospel with the industrialist but fails to set the sales meeting.  Spacey becomes incensed but Facinelli insists that it would have cheapened his testimony to spin a Gospel presentation into a marketing presentation.  Devito then asks Facinelli what are the names of the Big Kahuna’s wife and children? He can’t answer.  Devito insists that Facinelli is also nothing but a salesman because he doesn’t really care about the industrialist as a person.

The movie reminds me of my time as an atheist.  When I was attending North Hollywood High in the fall of 1990, there was a kid in one of my classes who often followed me on my walk home to my apartment off of Magnolia Boulevard.  He did the Four Spiritual Laws and Roman Road presentation.  He spoke about he and his family’s faith in Jesus and wanted to know if I would come with them to church.  But he never asked a single question about me personally.  I always declined his invitations and eventually he moved on to someone else.

The rest is at http://pastormattblog.com/2014/04/08/what-i-needed-to-hear-when-i-was-an-atheist-and-how-i-needed-to-heart-it/