Sunday, September 6, 2009

Theodicy: the Question of Evil

There is an argument floating around out in the world that goes something like this: "If God is good, and God created everything, and God is omnipotent, why is there evil? God must have created evil, therefore God is not good. Or God is not omnipotent and cannot stop evil." This type of irrational thinking has led many people to deny God or deny the Christian concept of God.

"Irrational"? Why do I call that line of reasoning "irrational"? Basically, because it starts from a false premise: God created evil. Merriam-Webster defines "evil" as "the fact of suffering, misfortune, and wrongdoing" or "something that brings sorrow, distress, or calamity". In short, "evil" is merely the absence of good; evil is not a thing, and therefore not a created thing. [Another definition is "a cosmic evil force", but this falls under the line of reasoning that evil is an entity, and is therefore irrational. Strangely, Merriam-Webster violates a basic precept for this one and uses the very word inside its own definition.]

Let me explain with some examples. Is a hammer good or evil? A hammer is neither good nor evil. A hammer is a tool. I can use that hammer to drive a nail while building a house (good) or I can use it to assault somebody (evil). There are two created entities involved here: the hammer and me. The hammer merely exists, it has no will. I, however, have free will. God granted all human beings free will. I choose how to use the hammer.

OK, so God gave us free will. What does that prove? Couldn't God just eliminate evil by denying free will?

Yes, He could. But what good would that do? For most of us, the greatest possible "good" is "love". Without free will, there is no love. You will find many ways of defining love, but one thing that is important to bear in mind is that love is not an emotion. Love is a choice. Without the ability to choose, we cannot love. I am reminded of the movie, Clash of the Titans, which portrayed the Greek pantheon up on Mount Olympus moving people around as if they were chess pieces. What meaning would life have if we were mere pawns or automatons?

One more example: not all suffering is "evil". Think from the perspective of a parent. Do we not knowingly, intentionally allow our children to suffer in order that they gain a greater good? When an infant receives a vaccine shot, all the infant knows is that it hurts. The parent knows they are protecting their child from future illnesses.

Evil didn't come from God. Evil comes from those who disobey God. Everyone is guilty, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, NASB). Satan didn't crash planes into the Twin Towers and kill 2,993 people, 19 human beings did. Some "cosmic evil force" didn't reach inside a womb and kill a baby, a misguided human physician did. Little red demons with pointy tails didn't come pour excessive amounts of alcohol down my gullet for 20 years, I did it of my own free will.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What About the "Office" of "Pastor", Part II

For the most part, this blog is for the purpose of providing Christians with the tools to defend the faith when speaking to non-Christians. In this particular case, however, I am going to deviate a little in order to feed you some information you need to defend the faith from within Christianity, as there are some rather "unusual" ideas out there about how to "do church".

I recently read a claim that the word "pastor" only occurs in the Bible once, in Ephesians 4:11. This is a rather ingenious misapplication of research and language. This statement is true in that, in the English Bible, "pastor" only occurs once. However, the Bible wasn't written in English. The Bible was written primarily in Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), with some bits of Aramaic thrown in here and there.

The Greek word "poimēn", translated into English as "shepherd" (16 times) or "pastor" (once), is scattered throughout the New Testament. It is found in all four Gospels, the letter to the Ephesians, the letter to the Hebrews, and Peter's first letter. (You can see for yourself. Go to Search "Eph 4:11". Click on the "C" to get the Greek lexicon. Click on the Strong's number G4166. [Yes, I could have just given you the direct link, but I want you to see how to do it for yourself - God's Word is for all, not just the elect])

Now, the argument being made is that the "office of pastor" is unbiblical because the word "pastor" only occurs the one time in a context explaining a calling (as if God has to repeat Himself over and over for us to take it as His Word). This is also rather presumptuous. Jesus Himself created the first "pastor" when he directed Peter to feed His lambs and take care of His sheep (John 21:15-19). Later, in Acts 20:28, Paul tells the elders in Ephesus to "shepherd" (verb poimainō) the church. Peter also exhorts the elders of churches at large to shepherd (poimainō again) the flock of God.

I pray this helps explain this troublesome situation. I found all of this information using a hardcopy "Strong's Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible", a "Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old Testament and New Testament Words", and Blue Letter Bible. These tools are available to the public at large, and are not written at the Ph.D. level for scholars alone. I encourage you all to "test the spirits" (I John 4:1) by going straight to the Word of God. Use whatever reference material available to get there, but don't simply trust a commentary. Reading books about the Bible is great, as is reading books about Christian living, but it is no substitute for standing on the Word.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Everybody Get in the Truck, We're Going Up to the Big House

There is a movement afoot called Universalism. Merriam-Webster tells us this word means "a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved". We see it applied at one level or another by many people who call themselves "Christian".

A common combination of Universalism and works-salvation philosophy goes something like this: "Well, he doesn't go to church, but he's a good person, so I'm sure he will go to Heaven." Another pseudo-theology that you might hear is "Ultimately, all religions are praying to the same god, so it doesn't matter if you're Christian or Buddhist or Hindu, just as long as you are faithful and are good to other people."

(Yes, I realize these are not strict Universalist doctrines, but they are individual philosophies that are influenced by the concepts that were injected into society by Universalism.)

Since these philosophies hold all points of view to be equally valid (see my older post on relativism), they hold Christianity to be just as valid as any other worldview. There is a logical fallacy in this, however. If we hold Jesus' words to be true, and He said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NASB), then we have a conflict. To put it in modern parlance, "What part of 'The Way' don't you understand?"

"The" is a definite article. This means "designating an identified or immediately identifiable person or thing" (Merriam-Webster). In plain language, "the" indicates "the one and only". When "the" is used, there is only one. In this case, "the way" means there is only one way, and Jesus says that He is this "way". (Side note: prior to adopting the term "Christianity", the Jesus' disciples said they followed The Way. See Acts 9:2)

While some might argue ancient Greek semantics about definite articles and conjugations, Jesus does not only claim to be "the way, and the truth, and the life"(as if this were a small thing), but He follows the statement, in a case of classic Jewish parallel speech, "no one comes to the Father but through Me". There are no arguments about the meaning of "no one" (Greek: oudeis).

The only logical way to dismiss the unique, singular nature of "the way" is to claim the Bible is not accurate. Since this post is about Universalism, I think I'll leave the proofs of the veracity of our Scriptures for another day.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Are You Intolerant?

One things Christians are often accused of is intolerance. Though there are some intolerant people who claim to be Christians, most Christians are not intolerant. The basic problem lies in what the world has begun teaching as the definition of tolerance.

"Intolerant" means "unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression especially in religious matters" or "unwilling to grant or share social, political, or professional rights" (Merriam-Webster). So when you see somebody proposing legislation that restricts what pastors can say from the pulpit (e.g., ENDA), or regulations that prohibit students bringing Bibles to school or wearing faith-based T-shirts, you are seeing intolerant behavior.

Why, then, do we keep hearing that saying "homosexual behavior is sinful" or "promiscuity is a sin" is a form of intolerance? It is because they are trying to convince us to become indulgent. "Indulge" means "to treat with excessive leniency, generosity, or consideration" (Merriam-Webster), with the key word here being "excessive". Another word that describes how the world wants us to walk is "licentious" ("lacking legal or moral restraints ; especially: disregarding sexual restraints" or "marked by disregard for strict rules of correctness", Merriam-Webster).

Without delving into Scripture, we know that sexually promiscuous behavior leads to depression, diseases, and unplanned pregnancies. Paul warns us in his epistle to the church in Galatia against "sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19b-21a, ESV). I will not take up too much space here by giving a laundry list of how each of these things is bad in a strictly secular sense, but I'm sure you can imagine on your own. Do you think it is "intolerant" to warn other people that these types of behaviors are dangerous?

Remember, intolerance tries to keep you from expressing your faith and warning others about the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). Just be nice about it and let them know about the free gift, too.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Logos Bible Software Giveaway

I have been using Logos Bible Software since I got it for Christmas. I am very happy with this product. We use it on Monday nights for the teenage small group we host in our home.

Logos Bible Software is celebrating the launch of their new 72 ultra-premium print Bibles at a rate of 12 per month for six months. The Bible giveaway is being held at and you can get up to five different entries each month! After you enter, be sure to check out Logos and see how it can revolutionize your Bible study.

Why Won't They Believe?

In spite of the vast preponderance of evidence that the Bible is accurate, that Jesus is a real person, and that the Resurrection is factual, some people just won't believe. Why would anybody, when faced with the facts, deny them? It is rather frustrating to those who have a scientific nature or a intellectual bent. Logically, if I teach somebody something that can save their life, they will modify their behavior in such a fashion so as to preserve their existence. In practice, people do not do that which is in their own best interest. Why?

I recently read a book called, "The Sixty-Second Motivator." In it, physical therapist Jim Johnson did research to learn how to motivate his patients to reach the goals their physicians had set. Participation is critical to recovery, but some folks just wouldn't do what the doctor ordered. Johnson felt that if a doctor declared something to be important, that should make it important to the patient, but in practice certain personalities do not respond that way. Johnson learned that the goal must be made important to people in their own minds.

Mr. Johnson came up with two basic principles which he called "secrets". "Secret #1" is to "increase importance...Increasing the importance of changing a behavior creates more motivation. More motivation helps you move faster through the stages of change." C. S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and Lee Strobel all felt it was very, very important to disprove Christianity. They all were initially atheists or agnostics. Mr. Strobel was dismayed when his wife became a Christian, and set out to prove Christians wrong and rescue her from the "dangerous cult." As you know, by the time they finished their investigations to discredit Jesus, they ended up as followers of Jesus and set themselves to sharing the Gospel. If an atheist or an agnostic claims Christianity is false, they should consider it important enough to disprove and do some research. Let them come to their own conclusions.

But what good are goals if people don't think they can reach them? "Secret #2" is to "Increase confidence...Increasing your confidence that you can change a behavior creates more motivation." Some people do not believe they have the intellectual capacity for research. In that case, I suggest reading something short like C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity," Josh McDowell's "More Than a Carpenter," or Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ." Any of these books will give a starting place and get them to thinking. It will also show them how "average Joes" can wrap their heads around difficult concepts.

But back to the basic of why some people simply choose to disbelieve. When I was stationed in Turkey in the early 1990's, I read an article citing an interesting study of people who advocate gun control. It turns out they are motivated by fear. Those who do not trust themselves with firearms feel that, since they cannot be trusted, nobody can be trusted. Fear of God is what motivates the atheist and the agnostic as well, but not in the biblical sense. When confronted with the possibility that they are wrong, they would rather turn a blind eye than recognize the fact that they will be held accountable for their actions, as they have earned punishment.

Biblical fear of God is borne of respect, like respect for authority, not a timorous fear, like the fear of an armed rapist. Read the Gospels. God is not going to "smite" you. You can be forgiven. You are loved. It's safe to believe.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Did They Just Make It All Up?

There is such a preponderance of extra biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth that no rational non-Christian or anti-Christian denies his existence. Yet, they still continue to deny His existence. (Note the capitalization) This time, let's take a little time to explore the rationale behind the evidence for the deity of Jesus.

One of the most common claims is that Jesus was a great man, but that He was not God: Jesus was a really, really smart teacher (rabbi, rabboni), but not divine. Therefore, according to the doubters, there weren't any real miracles. They claim that like the legends of King Arthur, the legends of Jesus as Christ and miracle worker grew after His death.

In my eyes, the most compelling piece of proof lies in the reactions and behaviors of the Apostles and the other disciples. Did you know that all the surviving Apostles (remember that Judas hanged himself, and his rotten corpse fell down and burst) were killed for their faith, except for John? Were they killed in wars? Droughts or famines? Fires? Earthquakes? No, they were all martyred for their faith in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.

"Martyr" is an interesting word. It comes from a Greek word which originally meant "witness", but now means someone who was killed for their faith (Merriam-Webster). Why did this word transform? During the first several years after the execution of Jesus, the Apostles (except John) and many of the disciples were killed by the Jewish religious leaders. They were killed for refusing to recant their stories of the Resurrection. They were killed for claiming Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself made man. These things were heresy to the ancient Jews, and the punishment for heresy was death.

So, how does this prove that Jesus is divine? Well, would you die for a lie? While there have been several cases of people falsely confessing to infamous crimes just to get attention, and actually being executed, these are pretty rare. In the question of Jesus, dozens of people refused to recant. What could be so powerful and compelling, except being witnesses ("martyrs") to the miraculous events documented in the books and letters now known as the Bible?

One or two people might be fooled or duped, and die for a lie, but the history of the use of torture in military applications shows that the vast majority of captives will say whatever the tormentor wants to hear in order to escape pain or death. The Apostles and other disciples simply would not have all stood their ground had they not solid, irrefutable evidence that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of the everlasting God. And, manifestly, the Jewish religious leaders of the day would not have needed to execute so many people if their teachings were not credible. When so many hundreds and thousands of people heard the proof from the mouths of the disciples, they believed and turned away from the old, misguided ways.

Are you following old, misguided ways? It is never too late to turn away, and turn to Christ. If you don't believe my words, believe the transformation that took place in my own life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What About the "Office" of "Pastor"

I'm going to break a little with my essay format and replicate a fascinating conversation from Facebook. I hope this gets you thinking. (Names have been changed to protect the identities of the well-meaning.)

POSTER1: Eph 4:11 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers"Did you know this is the only verse in the entire NT where the word pastor is used?? It's amazing that the Protestant faith has hung an entire system of paid pastors on one lonely verse. Since it is used in a plural form, it is safe to say that these giftings were meant to be present in the "church" but NOT in a singular form (only one pastor as a "head" of the body) Do you also realize that the gifting of pastor does not have any authority whatsoever over anyone?? Why? Because it was never meant to be that way, Scripturally speaking. We have filled the word "pastor" with our Western Christianity concept of what we think it should be, not what God meant for it to actually be....according to His Word. Also, pastors were never meant to "lead" a body. They were a gifting (like ALL the other giftings) to help complete the body of Christ and function in the community of Christ to edify and encourage each other and glorify God. Also, we pay our pastors a salary. To pay a "gifting" a regular salary is completely, totally against what God intended....Explain to me why we do not pay a regular salary to prophets, evangelists and well as those who have the giftings of encouragement, exhortation, the church?? A study was done in the U.S. on Protestant pastors of churches and the following was discovered: 1)94% feel pressured to have an ideal family, 2)90% work more than 46 hrs a week, 3)81% say they have insufficient time with their spouses, 4)80% believe that the pastoral ministry affects their family negatively, 4)70% do not have someone they consider a close friend, 5)70% have lower self-esteem than when they entered the ministry, 6)50% feel unable to meet the demans of the job, 7)80% are discouraged or deal with depression, 8)More than 40% report that they are suffereing from burnout, frantic schedules and unrealistic expectations, 9)33% consider pastoral ministry an outright HAZARD to the family, 10) 33 % have seriously considered leaving their position in the past year and finally 40% of pastoral resignations are due to burnout. The reason?Christ never intended any one person to wear all those hats or one person to bear such a great load. It is clear in His Word that the body of Christ would contain many giftings in each local body...more than one of several, more than likely. NT body of Christ was a community that had Christ in common and bore the load of that community together...never, ever expecting anyone to go it alone.....We have more than a few friends who were former paid pastors (one for over 30 years) of IC's.....God, in His Word, and through much prayer, showed them the hamster wheel they were on were of man's design....These precious couples are serving God with a passion that was hampered and eaten away by stress in the IC...and now they are free to be in a community that they don't have to "lead"...they can just be themselves with the giftings God gave them...where the whole community, together, functions the way God always intended. I wonder how many churches are built upon a pastor and not on Christ?? Interesting to think about.......Peace....

ALFREDO OLONA: "Pastor" means "shepherd". That is a leadership position with authority over a flock. Shepherds also do not work for free.

Teaching is a spritual gift too, but teachers get paid. Same with exhortation (motivational speakers), healing (physicians, nurses), tongues (translators, interpreters), wisdom (counselors).

I could go on, but I do now wish to belabor the point. God bless!

POSTER2: No believer has any Biblical right to have authority over another. Up until the second century the church had no official leadership. That it had leaders is w/o dispute. But leadership was unofficial in the sense that there were no religious "offices" or sociological slots to fill. The clergy system in place today is extra-biblical. It was borrowed from the Roman style of leadership, which is top-down and hierarchical. "The term 'laity' is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from the Christian converstaion." Karl Barth, 20th Century Theologian

ALFREDO: "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." (NASB) This is just one quick, easy-to-find example of authority of a believer over another.

Of which of the dozens of "clergy systems" do you speak? There are as many "systems" as denominations.

P2: [Alfredo], You're going to make me work a little :) (below is a partial response I used in another note)

The Greek word for "authority is exousia. You won't find this word exousia (authority) in the context where one believer in Christ has exousia (authority) over another believer. Jesus said, "The rulers of the Gentiles (Romans) lord it over those who are under them, exercising authority over them." The Greek word for "exercise authority" is katexousiazo. Kata means above or over. Exousiazo means to exercise authority over another. So kataexousiazo means top-down authority. It refers to hierarchical leadership and Jesus is condemning it.

The clergy system I'm referiing to is within Christiandom as a whole - Cath and Prot. They all have their own structure, but they're all extraBiblical.

P1: Within the Body of Christ, there is no Biblical support to pay a "gifting" a salary from the money of other believers whose giftings are just as legitimate and important to God...and the Body of Christ...separating "pastor" and paying it a salary is a division not found in Scripture....Just because that's the way it has been and how it's done does not make it accurate. Peace...

"Shepherd is a leadership position over a flock...." cannot be supported except by opinion. In the NT, you can find ONE verse dealing with the gift of pastor..that 's it. To say it is one who has authority over a flock (body of Christ) is completely inaccurate and cannot be supported Biblically. This subject is a great example of Tradition - Bible = The IC of today. Dig into the Word without your preconceived ideas and traditional is a treasure trove of amazing jewels....Peace....

ALFREDO: There is a growing movement in Christendom, particularly in non-denominational churches, to have "bi-vocational" pastors. They have full-time jobs that provide their primary income. They receive a small stipend (if any at all) from the congregation.

I suppose the real answer to the question of whether pastors should be compensated with full-time salaries depends entirely on what they are asked to do. If they are "just" pastors, only preaching on Sundays, then the compensation should be commensurate. If they are asked to act as on-call counselors, therapists, teachers, life coaches, managers, or anything beyond "pulpit preaching", then I suppose they should be compensated for those things, too.

I guess every worker is due their just wages according to the work they do.

P2: [Alfredo], The real question is, is the office of "pastor," biblical? If the answer is no, as suggested above, then it would make all conjecture about their official duties a moot point. But, it would also turn the church on it's head wouldn't it? :)

Great feedback, keep it coming!

P1: In the NT, in the Body of Christ (in it's purest form and fashion), it would be absolutely appalling to conceive of "getting paid" for excercising your gifting (in the Body). Using your opinions above as a guide (Alfredo), how would the Body "compensate" each other?? Wouldn't that be incredibly selfish and take away from what God truly intended?? I just cannot wrap my mind around that.....Peace. Again, agreeing with Dan, those are all moot points because the very core of the of where this all started (pastor as a paid "office") cannot be supported whatsoever Biblically....

ALFREDO: I do not wish to sound inflamatory, but this is beginning to sound a little like "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

I don't think the office of firefighter can be supported biblically, either.When Jesus sent out the 12 (Luke 9:1-6), and again when he sent out the 72 (Luke 10:1-12), he tells them not to provide for themselves, but to accept that which is given to them. Effecitively, whatever human language label one chooses (cleric, deacon, divine, dominie, ecclesiastic, father, minister, padre, parson, preacher, priest, reverend, evangelist, missionary, dean, pastor, rector, vicar, or chaplain, to name a few), Jesus Himself established the concept that they should not provide for themselves separately from that which is given to them by those with whom they share the Good News.

Thank you for making me research, think, and pray. You bless me!

COMMENTER2: I know this is down a different bunny trail than just paying pastors for their job, but where should our tithes and offerings be going to if not partially to pay the pastor?

ALFREDO: [Commenter2], it's not a bunny trail at all. I believe it is exactly the point. Should "pastor" be a paid position or a volunteer position? Here is a short list of some spritual gifts that have corresponding compensation:

Teaching - teachers & professors
Wisdom - judges
Knowledge - scientists
Leadership - military officers
Helps - charity staff

I could go on, but I think this makes the point without belaboring it like I did with the list of "clergyman" synonyms.

P2: [Alfredo], The issue is not about pay or not it's about there being a position of "pastor." There is a a spiritual (not secular like your list above) gift of shepherd, but no static position to be filled in the church - that's extra-Biblical. It's understandable why you think this way however, it's our Westernized form of Christianity, but that doesn't make it Bibilical. You might want to check out the couple of "notes" I wrote on home page for more. Might make your head hurt a little, but your might enjoy it.

[Commenter2], The position of "pastor" is un-Biblical or extra-Biblical. Paying clergy wasn't even thought of until 300+ of years after Christ by a guy named Cyprian of Carthage. But, it wasn't until 900 years after Christ that it became a widespread practice. Again, the practice is not in the Bible and the NT church knew nothing of it. The Christians in the early church gave to help other believers as well as to support apostolic workers, enabling them to travel and plant churches.

Lastly, with the death of Jesus, all ceremonial codes that belonged to the Jews were nailed to Christ's cross and buried, never to be used again to condemn us. For this reason we don't see tithing in the NT or sacrificing goats and bulls to cover our sins. The tithe that gets preached is from the OT (Mal 3 namely), but a close study of tithing in the OT reveals that the total tithe was 23.3% annually, not 10% like we hear. Only 3% of US Christians tithe - is everyone in sin for not tithing? No.

ALFREDO: I read your notes, and found them to be fascinating. I only recently started reading Christianity Today, so I did not read the article that is the basis for your posts. If you still have a copy of it, or can post a link to it, I would be most grateful. It seems to explain why so many people are moving to non-denominational churches.

Separation of "spritual" from "secular" is what created the concept of "laity". "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31, NASB, emphasis mine) I do not view any "office" as being particularly sacred. I belive in living a sacred life and I try to behave outside the walls of a congregational building the same as I do inside those walls.

I serve the whole body of Christ, not just the parts that congregate at a certain spot at a certain time. I do not see my position in the US Air Force as less "holy" than my positions with FamilyLife or Overcomers Outreach.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Have It Your Way"

I have discovered a new treat: the Orange Dream ICEE®. A few days ago, my Wonderful Wifeepooh passed by a Burger King®, which has recently added said treat to it's lineup. I was blessed with a tasty surprise.

While preparing to consume my Orange Dream ICEE®, I noticed that the straw from Burger King® was much larger than usual - over 1cm in diameter! Being an observant and curious fellow, I read the straw wrapper. I was facing the "BK Pipe (TM)", further described as "Have It Your Way® Technology". I was struck by their choice of terminology and actually showed the paper wrapper to several people.

What I call a fat straw, they called a pipe. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary says a "straw" is "a tube (as of paper, plastic, or glass) for sucking up a beverage", and a "pipe" is "a long tube or hollow body for conducting a liquid, gas, or finely divided solid or for structural purposes ". This appears to be a clever marketing ploy to evoke images of pipelines carrying vast quantities to important destinations. (To me, it seemed like an effective conveyance to expedite "brain freeze".) But why this need to redefine perfectly good words? In advertising, the goal is to create a perceived need. It is considered successful when that perception becomes reality, and the prospective consumer purchases the product.

In our society, we have a problem called "relativism", which means "a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing" or "a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them" (Merriam-Webster). You will see evidence of this sort of thinking in statements like "Well, that may be your truth, but it's not my truth," and "That's not what that word means to me." Notwithstanding the theory of parallel universes (with which we cannot interact except in science fiction), there is only one reality in which we live, and therefore only one possible set of truths, facts, and natural laws that govern it. Even those who choose to ignore the evidence for God cannot logically reject the singular nature of reality.

There are several sects and cults that practice relativism in one form or another. New-agers, Satanists, Buddhists, Taoists, goddess worshipers, Wiccans, neo-pagans, and others all have some sort of philosophy revolving around the concept that perception is reality. [Please note that by "Satanists", I mean the followers of the teachings of Anton Szandor LaVey, et al, NOT the self-styled devil-worshippers who steal and sacrifice neighborhood pets.] These ideas have begun to creep into our society, beginning in the late 1800's, then popularized with the influences of the Eastern Mysticism movements started in the 1960's. (Ron Rhodes, "New Age Movement", Zondervan Publishing House)

Relativism is one of Satan's simplest temptations. If we are dissatisfied with our lives, or dislike the rules, or don't wish to obey authority, we can simply escape into defining things based upon our personal feelings rather than upon observable, testable facts. Taken to extremes, this even leads to a denial of all objective reality. When her daughter's acting teacher was burned to death in a head-on collision, Shirley MacLaine remarked, "Why did she choose to die that way?" (Shirley MacLaine, "It's All in the Playing", Bantam Books) If we elect to fall into the trap of relativism, we will find ourselves unable to hold anybody accountable for their actions, no matter how negligent or heinous.

Campus Crusade for Christ has a great way of looking at this. It is the "fact-faith-feeling" train (I highly recommend you check out this link). Just as a caboose cannot pull a train, our feelings cannot guide reality. Consequently, we must let our faith be let by the facts, and our feelings will follow. If we put our feelings first, we'll get a train wreck.

Let me put it another way. If I am walking across a street, and a large motor vehicle designed to carry passengers is travelling at high velocity on a vector intersecting mine, I will be no less dead if I choose to believe "there is no bus" (Schrödinger's cat would tell me that the bus neither exists nor doesn't exist until I choose to observe it). For a while, you can "have it your way", but God's reality will at some point catch up. Ultimately, we all will have it His way.

For your own safety, I suggest you choose to believe in the bus.

Friday, May 15, 2009

What a "random" thing to say!

I was seriously considering talking about moral relativism, then I realized we need to set some foundation stones. Before we talk about those who redefine the universe according to their own personal, fleeting feelings, I want to talk about a strange and possibly dangerous trend.

Have you noticed how a lot of folks, especially teenagers and young adults, are saying things like, "Wow! That was a really random thing to say." or "I was on my way home and just randomly went to McDonald's."? I'm rather disturbed by this, and I think you should be, too.

Let's start with our basic definitions. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines "random" as "a haphazard course". This of course led me to look up "haphazard", which was defined as "chance". After finding "chance", we really get to the meat of the issue. This is what Merriam-Webster has to say about "chance": "something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause", "the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings : luck", and "the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence : contingency". You will note several elements here.

First, I see it says "without ... human intention or ... cause". If a human says or does anything at all, it is, by definition, not random. Next, we see that it is "impersonal", which would preclude the actions of a person. If somebody is a somebody, they are hardly not a person. Lastly, it is "incalculable". Anybody who is gregarious can be calculated to speak soon. One who is hungry, or perchance lacking impulse control, can be calculated to stop for food. These are straightforward, simple facts.

So why would people say "random" about their actions or the actions of others? Well, basically, it is an excuse. I have coined the term, "exculpification" (based on the Latin culpa, meaning guilt), to describe these behaviors. People want to feel that it "just happened". (It is quite reminiscent of the oft-heard unplanned pregnancy discussion. Q: "How did you get pregnant?" A: "Well, it just happened." As if the voluntary act of sexual congress had nothing to do with the current condition.)

I am convinced, by observation, that people mean "spontaneous" ("arising from a momentary impulse", Merriam-Webster), but do not want to assume responsibility. We all make choices, and many of our choices are poorly made. If we say that we did something "randomly", we are taking our decision-making authority away from ourselves. In short, we are lowering ourselves to a near-animal state, claiming that we cannot control what we do and just bumble around by instinct.

Help me to stamp out the use of "random", unless we are talking about random number generation software, or possible statistical sampling methodology. Don't use it on people.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Defending Easter

Pagans are claiming, and some Christians are believing, that "Easter" comes from ancient pagan rites honoring an Anglo-Saxon goddess, Ēostre. Some have even gone so far as to attempt to link Ēostre with the Babylonian goddess, Ishtar. Here, I present a defense.

Please note that the connection between the word "Easter" and the word "Ishtar" (or "Ēastre" or "Ēostre" or any of the others which may or may not be possibly somehow related) is spurious at best. If you believe the one and only ancient reference claiming such a connection (the 8th century monk St. Bede), then yes, there may be a very, very distant connection.

If instead you believe authoritative and scholarly sources, then you will learn that our "Easter" was named after the month in which it fell, "Eostur-monath" (now known as April), which meant simply 'the month of opening' or 'the month of beginnings' (see Ronald Hutton, "The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain", Oxford University Press, p. 180). Plus, "Ēostre" literally means "east" or "dawn", so the goddess was named for the direction. Shall we no longer say "East" because a commonly derived word was used to name a false god? Shall we rename July and August as well?

In Latin-derived languages, "Easter" is not the word for Resurrection Day. The word is derived from "Pascha" (which refers to Passover), such as in Spanish, "Pascua", in Italian, "Pasqua", French, "Pâques", and so forth. In any language, "Ēostre" and "Pascha" deriviatives refer to the season, not to a specific day. To be precise, in English we should be saying "Eastertide" and "Resurrection Sunday", but we usually speak of "Lent" and "Holy Week" and "Easter". (Oddly enough, the more liturgical sects, like the Roman Catholics, do a much better job of keeping the names straight.)

Many people also say "the fourth of July" when they mean "Independence Day", which minimizes the importance of the celebration. People also say "random" when they mean "spontaneous", which deflects blame from their own thoughtless behaviors. Most people do not even understand the true meaning of "apology", thinking it has something to do with regret. I do not dispute the fact that people change the language through laziness and ignorance. But I do not believe they do it out of irreverence. Some well-meaning people even claim that "X-mas" is somehow irreverent, because they have so little understanding of etymology, orthography, and hermeneutics. That doesn't make them bad Christians, just ignorant ones.

Yes, the Easter Bunny represents fertility. It is not Christian. And the brightly painted eggs represent both rebirth and the sunlight of Spring. While these symbols are not Christian, they are not anti-Christian either. There is nothing wrong with sunlight or fertility. "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. " (Galatians 5:1, NASB)

One of the fascinating things about neo-pagans is the way they desperately claw for any possiblity of continuity to some ancient religion. They will try to claim they are getting back to the root of the "original religion". Neo-paganism was effectively invented single-handedly by Gerald Gardner in the 1940's in Great Britain (see Craig S. Hawkins, "Goddess Worship, Witchcraft and Neo-Paganism", Zondervan Publishing House, p. 23). It has no connection to anything ancient, so they claim everything. Check out most neo-pagan or Wicca websites, and you will see the great disparity in their claims, because there is no actual history.

One of the greatest dangers of neo-paganism, Wicca, and such, is that they will discount your claims of the truth because they practice moral relativism. That is to say, they say that "truth" is personal and relative, not absolute and objective. To combat this logic, I suggest you read

Don't let the neo-pagans steal Easter.

Monday, April 13, 2009

My first blog ever

I am brand new to blogging, so please be patient with me. I will be using this space for the purpose of Christian Apologetics.

Let me start by defining apologetics: (1) systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine) or (2) a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity. ("apologetics." Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 2009. Merriam-Webster Online. 13 April 2009 <>, hereafter "Merriam-Webster")

So, you can count on me to use this forum to discuss matters relating to the logical support for Christianity. Naturally, this will also mean refutation of conflicting belief systems. I do not intent to offend anybody, but I'm sure some feelings will get hurt.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29 to "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear." (New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA : The Lockman Foundation, 1995, S. Eph 4:29, hereafter abbreviated "NASB") To "edify" is literally to build up, and therefore is used to mean "to instruct and improve especially in moral and religious knowledge" (Merriam-Webster).

So let's examine what "building" is. We can consider parenting and primary education to be new construction, and just about everything else is remodeling. When one remodels, one is attempting to make improvements on the existing. Sometimes, insufficient structures are found hiding underneath the wall coverings. This may be surface problems with the paint, or deep problems with the wood or metal that give support to the whole. The rotten must be removed, but if the wall is load-bearing, a structure must be put in place before the old is removed.

Therefore, I intend this site to give structure to support a person in their walk, but it will also necessarily be tearing out the old. Please be careful and kind when using the Bible, or any other factual information, to support your position. You may be knocking down somebody's walls.