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Talking to Mormons

Talking To Mormons

 Several weeks ago I was painting at my daughter and son-in-law’s house.  I was going to go outside.  When I opened the front door there were two Mormon young men at the door.  You know, two Mormon missionaries.  Although I have forgotten their names, they were both very polite, well spoken and they even offered to help me paint.  
  In the past, I have not always had positive encounters with Mormons.  Sometimes they have gotten angry with me due to me turning the tables on them with me raising questions about their beliefs.  The two men at my daughter’s house were both quite respectful and I hoped to have a positive experience with them.  And that is what we had.
  The Mormon missionaries began telling me about their faith and I listened for a few minutes.  I then decided to seize the conversation and I began asking them questions.  I decided that the best tack to take would be to center on Christ.  I asked them what they believed about Jesus Christ, who he was, and his relation to the Father.  I focused on the fact that Mormons believe that Jesus was born as a result of a physical union with Heavenly Father and Mary.  I raised the question about whether they believed that Jesus was eternal or if he had a beginning.  They believed that Jesus had a beginning.  Of course this contradicts the Bible.  I then pointed out that with our different views about Jesus, both views could not be true.  They could both be false but they could not both be true.  I then pointed out how recent genetic research has disproven the Mormon claims that the South American Indians were not related to the Jews (as Mormon doctrine teaches).  I raised questions about the gold plates that Joseph Smith purportedly discovered that contained the Book of Mormon.  There were several other issues I raised too. 
  The whole time I was interacting with the two missionaries, our conversation was respectful and engaging.  My purpose in our discussion was to sow some seeds of doubt in their minds about what they believe.  I know the Mormon missionaries are well trained, but several times during our talk, when I asked them questions about their faith, they would reply, “we are young and do not know all the answers.”  I appreciated their honesty.  At the end of our discussion, I challenged them to be seekers after truth.  I told them if they truly searched for truth, God would help them find the truth.  I then asked them If they would let me pray for them, and surprisingly, they said yes.  So I did pray, asking God to open their eyes to see the truth about Jesus so that one day they would be in heaven. 
  Are you prepared to interact with Mormons, or Jehovah’s witnesses. or a skeptic and share your faith while challenging their beliefs?  Remember, Peter challenges us in 1 Peter 3:15 “in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect . . . .”  This verse is explains the purpose of Reasons Ministries.  I would love to come to your church and spend a weekend of ministry aimed at equipping your congregation to “always be prepared to given and answer to everyone who asks . . . .”

     In his recent book, Love Wins, Rob Bell, a Michigan pastor, has created a firestorm of controversy due to his assertion that in the end, God’s love will make hell irrelevant . . .at least for the vast majority of people.  While he denies being a universalist (the belief that all will be saved regardless of their knowledge or decision for Christ), Bell certainly proposes something close to universalism saying that many, if not most people,  will respond to God’s love, even after they die because God’s love is more powerful. In other words, Hebrews 9:27 (man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,) is wrong, as is Jude 1:7; and Jesus, of course in, Matthew 18:8 and 25:41, 25:46 and others.
     There are several problems with what Rob Bell is teaching beside it being false.  First, if what Rob Bell says is true, there is no free will.  Why?  Because in the end, if we willfully reject Christ in this life, we will be saved against our will in the next life.  This makes our decision for Christ in this life essentially meaningless.  Second, if all will be saved, then there will never be any real justice for a person like a Stalin or Hitler.  Why not live anyway you want in this life, if in the next life we will be saved anyway.  Third, Jesus clearly taught the reality of an eternal hell.  If Rob Bell is right, then Jesus is wrong.  If Jesus is wrong, then he cannot be the Son of God.  In Matthew 25:31 Jesus indicates that the punishment meted out by God will be eternal. In verse 26 Jesus contrasts the destiny of the cursed with the destiny of the righteous where the cursed will be in eternal punishment and the righteous in eternal life.  In the story of Lazarus and the rich man the two are separated by an impassable gulf between them (Luke 16:26).  Jesus states clearly that neither is able to cross the gulf between them.  So who is right, Jesus or Rob Bell?  There are many other verses which tell us hell is eternal.  Revelation 20 makes it clear that hell is eternal for all those whose names are not found in the book of life.  
     The Bible teaches that God gives us this life to decide to either accept or reject his offer of eternal life through his Son. Hebrews 9:27 tells us that all will face judgement after they die.  In this life we actualize our eternity by what we do with Christ.  But if all will be saved in the end, or even most will be saved in the end then what possible motivation would we have for evangelism or for those we evangelize to receive Christ.  This is the danger of Rob Bell’s teaching.  His teaching is not only wrong, but it’s logical out-workings would render the Great Commission the “Why Bother Now, Why Not Wait Till After We Die Suggestion.”  Human nature would seize upon universalism as the best of both worlds.  We get to do whatever we want now, and still have the blessings of heaven sometime after we die.  In addition, we lose all urgency to win as many to Christ as possible in this life.  This is why Rob Bell’s theology is both dangerous and deadly.
It is vital that we hold on to the clear teaching of Scripture concerning the eternality of hell and reject Rob Bell’s false teaching.  Why?  Because the eternal destiny of people depends on it.

Tis The Season To Refute Skeptics Fa la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

Christmas 2010

Tis The Season To Refute Skeptics
Fa la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

Dear Friend of Reasons Ministries,
 
This time of year most of us are enjoying the decorations, the festivities, the traditions and the message of Christmas.  Unfortunately though, there are grinches about.  Perhaps you have seen on TV or on the Internet the campaigns by several atheist groups to counter the message of Christmas with a message that the story of Jesus told in Matthew and Luke is simply a myth, a fable, a nice fairy-tale.  One billboard at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan says:  “You KNOW it’s a Myth. This Season, Celebrate REASON.”

The common objections to the traditional Christmas story include:  you cannot trust the Gospels because they are simply fabrications and not actual history,  the timeline of the census and Herod’s death do not match up, there is no mention of Herod’s massacre of baby boys in Bethlehem outside of Matthew’s Gospel, the genealogies of Jesus as found in Matthew and Luke contradict each other and there is no record outside of the Gospels of a star of the nature described in the Gospels.  

Did you know that these objections are nothing new and they have all been answered successfully?  While space does not allow for an exhaustive treatment of each of these objections, I want to touch on a few.

The Gospels As Historical

For instance, the frequent objection brought by the new atheists is the Gospels were biased fabrications and are not reliable history, but rather are mythological.  This objection is false on several grounds.  First, although the Gospels share some common material (Matthew includes most of Mark’s Gospel and Luke includes about half of Mark’s Gospel while John is mostly independent of the other three Gospels) they were written by different authors at different times with different purposes (Matthew wrote to demonstrate to the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah and John wrote long after the other Gospels were in circulation to fill in the gaps that they left out which explains his unique material).  All of the Gospels were written in the first century (this is well attested today, even by most liberal scholars) with two being written by eyewitnesses; Matthew and John.  Mark’s main source was Peter, who was an eyewitness and we know that Luke states he researched his Gospel carefully, utilizing eyewitnesses.  We have to remember the first century authors were not 21st century Americans who value exactness.  Rather, it was quite common for ancient authors to be less exacting, yet still be accurate.  Secondly, consider Luke.  We know that Luke was educated due to being a doctor.  His second work called Acts, has been well attested for its accuracy and reliability by historians and archaeologists.  Would an author be so exacting in one book yet careless and indeed, inventive, in his other work?  So when the skeptics discount Herod’s killing of the boys two years of age and under in Bethlehem because it was not recorded in any historical record, they totally discount the fact that Matthew records it and links it to an Old Testament prophecy.  Isn’t Matthew a historical book?  In addition, since Bethlehem was a very small town, experts estimate that the number of boys under two would have been a dozen or so.  This was no less tragic due to the small number, but such a small number killed in such a small town off the beaten path would probably not be noticed or noted.  By the way, from where might Matthew get his information?  How about Mary, the mother of Jesus?

Genealogies

Another common objection to the credibility of the Gospels’ account of the first Christmas are the differences between the genealogies of Matthew and Luke.  If, however, the genealogies were exactly the same, don’t you think the skeptics would be shouting collusion?  In addition, if the Gospels are fabrications, don’t you think the authors would have done a better job of making sure they had all the details, like a genealogy, in agreement?  So why are the two genealogies different?  There are several possibilities. First, we know that ancient genealogies commonly had gaps in them due to the purpose of the genealogy and sometimes to leave out ancestors who were less than desireable.  “. . .  just as there are different emphases in the genealogies, so too there are different explanations for the dissimilarities between them. Matthew traces his genealogy through David’s son Solomon, while Luke traces his genealogy through David’s son Nathan. It may be that Matthew’s purpose is to provide the legal lineage from Solomon through Joseph, while Luke’s purpose is to provide the natural lineage from Nathan through Mary. It could also be that Matthew and Luke are both tracing Joseph’s genealogy— Matthew, the legal line, and Luke, the natural line. As such, the legal line diverges from the natural in that Levirate Law stipulated if a man died without an heir his genealogy could legally continue through his brother (Deuteronomy 25:5–6)” (Christian Research Institute, www.equip.org).  Matthew, a Jew, was showing Jesus to be the promised descendent of David while Luke was showing Jesus to be human by ending his genealogy with Adam.  The fact that there are very good explanations for the genealogical differences tells us that the objection based on the seeming contradiction of the Gospel geneaologies does not hold water.  Once again the skeptic is forcing 21st. century, western standards on first century writings.  

The Star

What about the star the Magi saw?  While there are many possible explanations they break down along two main lines of argument, a natural or supernatural phenomenon.  The natural explanation seeks to find either the merger of planets, a comet, a supernova, or some other celestial possibility as the explanation of the star.  I must admit that I am often uncomfortable when I hear evangelical scholars attempt to explain biblical miracles with a natural rationale.  Yes, God created the natural world and he can use it as he pleases. But to explain the crossing of the Red Sea, for instance, via a tsunami or unusual tidal phenomenon seems to discount God constantly reminding the Israelites of his direct intervention on their behalf.  While some naturalistic explanations may have merit, it seems to me that, if indeed, Jesus was the eternal Son of God who was incarnated as a human in the womb of a virgin (both miracles), why wouldn’t God use a supernatural event to lead the Magi to Bethlehem?  Luke points out that the “star” guided the Magi to Jerusalem and then to the very house where Jesus and his parents lived.  How could a natural phenomenon do that?  It makes much more sense to credit a miraculous act of God.  Since atheists reject God, the supernatural and the miraculous, they cannot allow for such an explanation, even though it may be the best explanation.  But it seems quite credible to me.  It makes sense that the miracle of the incarnation be announced with a miracle of a bright light coming from heaven (not unprecedented, remember the light that Saul saw on the road to Damascus?).

December 25th

Finally, perhaps the most common objection brought by the skeptics about Christmas is that the church simply stole the winter soltace celebrations from the pagans and Christianized it due to needing a date for the birth of a mythological figure.  While it is true that we do not know the exact day or year of Jesus’ birth, the overall consensus of historians is that Jesus was born between 6-4 B.C. most likely in the Spring (due to the Shepherds being typically in the fields with their flocks, when the ewes were giving birth).  Moreover, the Bible does not instruct us to celebrate Christmas or even Easter for that matter.  It is certainly not wrong to do so, but we are not instructed to either.  We celebrate those two occasions to celebrate God’s incredible grace and love toward us by sending his Son to become one of us and then to later die for us and be raised victoriously over sin, death and Satan!  

So why did the church choose December 25th?  Why not March 18th or April 21st.?  Hank Hanegraaff points out, “We don’t know the exact day of the year Jesus was born.  We do know, however, that the December 25 date was advocated as early as about A.D. 220.  The church may have chosen to celebrate on December 25 as a triumph of Christianity over paganism because it came right after the Roman holiday of Saturnalia, one of the popular pagan winter solstice holidays (December 17-24)” (Christian Research Institute, STATEMENT DC336).  The point was not to Christianize a pagan holiday but to replace it!  How many today worship the Roman god Saturnalia versus worshiping Christ?  It looks like Christmas won.  Even if Christianity borrowed certain symbols or rituals from other cultures or religions, the origin of something does not negate its current meaning.

Getting back to the claim of the skeptics that Christmas is a myth.  Even from this brief treatment of their common objections, we can see that there are very good answers to the atheists’ points. In addition, there is every reason why we should have great confidence in the historical accuracy and reliability of the Gospels’ account of God’s Son being born of a virgin in the city of Bethlehem.  If the skeptics will apply reason as they encourage believers to do so, they will end up at a totally different conclusuion.  Yes, as John points out, “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”  What a tremendous reason for celebration!  May all of you have a very merry Christmas!

In Christ,

David

P.S.: I thought I would mention on more common objection to the Christmas story:  The Census Given by Quirinius

What about the census that Luke describes?  Two objections brought up by skeptics in Luke concerns his mentioning of the Roman census during the rule of Quirinius in Syria.  The skeptics maintain that neither are correct.  Quirinius was not governor in Syria and, perhaps, never was.  Secondly there is no record of a Roman census when Luke says there was, instead, there was one that Quirinius officiated at in A.D. 6 or 7.  So is Luke incorrect?  And if he is what else is he incorrect about and, even worse, maybe he is making it all up!  How do we answer this objection?  First of all, the technical word for governor is not used by Luke.  Rather it is a word that can mean a special assistant to Caesar.  Luke points out that this was the first census under Quirinius.  We know that Quirinius did oversee a census in A.D. 6 or 7.  We also know that the Romans would census their empire about every 14 years.  That would mean a census around 6 B.C.,  is well within the time frame of Christ’s birth (6-4 B.C.) and could be the “first” census that Luke talks about.  In addition, without the modern technology we have today, a census in ancient times could take a few years to complete.  We also know that before 5 B.C. Rome had decided that their censuses would be empire wide (source:  Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp.365-366).  All of these points together make Luke’s record credible.  What skeptics are really saying, it seems to me, by this and other objections is that any time the Bible, particularly the Gospels, records a historical incident that other contemporary sources do not, the Gospels are automatically wrong.  All this does is demonstrate their bias against the Bible.  Time after time the Bible has proven to be  accurate historically and archaeology.  When examined fairly and in context, Luke’s record seems thoroughly plausible and true.  

For further study:
 
In the Fullness of Time, by, Paul Maier.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

If All Roads Lead To Rome, What About Heaven?

If All Roads Lead To Rome,

What About Heaven?

Dear Friend of Reasons Ministries,
 
Will he or won’t he. He didn't.  Who am I talking about?  The pastor in Gainesville, FL who was threatening to burn a Koran.  Had Islam been around in the first century, can you imagine Jesus or Paul burning the Koran?  Koran burning is probably not a very effective ploy for evangelizing Muslims.   

I was listening to an afternoon radio talk show a few months ago which was discussing the possible burning of the Koran.  A caller, a 14 year old girl, made the following comment, “Don’t the Muslims and the Christians know that they worship the same God?”  The girl identified herself as a Catholic.  

 So, was the young girl right?  In 2007, President George Bush made the following comment, “Well, first of all, I believe in an Almighty God, and I believe that all the world, whether they be    Muslim, Christian, or any other religion, prays to the same God. That's what I believe.”  Was President Bush correct?  “In a book co-authored by Muhammad Ali, . . . entitled Healing: A Journal of Tolerance and Understanding . . . Muhammad Ali writes, ‘If you're a good Muslim, if you're a good Christian, if you're a good Jew: it doesn't matter what religion you are, if you're a good person, you'll receive God's blessing.’ (p. 3) ‘The great monotheistic religions of the world all worship the same God. They just call him by different names.’ (p. 9) ‘All people serve the same God. We just serve Him in different ways.’ (p. 32)”  (NewsWithViews.com, 10-23-07).  Is Muhammad Ali correct?  Do all, or at least, most roads lead to heaven?

According to LifeWay Research, of 1,000 protestant pastors surveyed, 69% said that Christians and Muslims do not pray to the same God.  My question is, what about the other 31%?  A Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey of 35,000 adults in 2007 found that 70% of those who belong to a religious tradition believe there are many ways to heaven (you may remember that 57% of evangelicals agreed).  

Are there many ways to heaven or only one way to heaven?  It seems our society leans toward the many ways.  The only problem is, all the major religions each claim to be the only true faith.  Of course, we know that is not possible because each of the world’s religions contradict each other.  Islam rejects the triunity of God and denies that Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected.  Buddhism rejects the existence of a personal God.  Hinduism believes everything is divine.  Each of these could not possibly be true, unless God is very confused and contradictory.  So why do so many Americans and 57% of evangelicals hold to universalism in a predominately Christian country?  

I was talking with a former parishioner last week about why so many Christian youth were leaving the church in their late teens and twenties.  Part of the problem, we both agreed, was the church’s failure to teach apologetics to the children and youth and yes, even to the adults.  In this apologetic vacuum, Christian youth and even adults are succumbing to the indoctrination of tolerance and multiculturalism.

What if, instead, our youth (and their parents) were taught a few of the key arguments for the existence of God like the cosmological, the argument from design (both the fine tuning of the universe and the irreducible complexity of biological life), and the moral argument.  What if, in our churches, we equipped believers to know the evidences for the resurrection of Christ, the very linchpin of our faith?  What if we taught older elementary children and youth how to counter NeoDarwinistic dogma with much stronger arguments for Intelligent Design?  And, what if we taught them why Jesus is the only way, and therefore, why there cannot be many ways to heaven?

Due to cultural context within which we exist in today, and the lack of the church’s preparedness to confront the lies of our culture with truth; I believe apologetics must be an indispensable part of every church’s teaching and equipping ministry from the children’s ministries all the way up to adult ministries. Reasons Ministries exists to equip believers to know what and why they believe so they can stand firm in the Christian faith, be effective tools in God’s hand for reaching those that do not yet know Christ and to be able to apply practical apologetics to everyday life.

In Christ,

David

Are There Worse Things Than An Oil Spill? Try Biblical Illiteracy!

Are There Worse Things Than An Oil Spill?  Try Biblical Illiteracy!
 
       Words like oil spill, BP, the Gulf, tar balls, etc. have all been in the news over the last many weeks.  Since April 20, million gallons of oil have polluted the Gulf of Mexico since the oil rig, Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and sank. The oil spill in the gulf is a disaster.  The cost for cleanup will be in the billions. And we do not know yet what the spill’s impact will be on oil and food prices, tourism and the broader U. S. economy!

       Clearly the oil spill is poisoning the Gulf waters.  You would think that when you compare the size of the Gulf (660 quadrillion gallons of water), with the amount of crude oil that has leaked into the Gulf (80-150 million gallons), you might mistakenly think that it is merely a drop in the proverbial bucket.  The residents of the Gulf states have found out that it does not take much oil to mess things up. As bad as the Gulf oil spill has been and will be, we all know there are far worse things.

      The same could be said for the impact of biblical illiteracy (i.e. biblical ignorance)  and its impact on the church and society.  It does not take much illiteracy to render the church ineffective and society more secularized.  The
less we know, the more dangerous it is for the purity and spreading ofthe gospel. As biblical illiteracy spreads, our culture suffers as it drifts further and further from its Judeo-Christian roots which have provided a moral anchor for centuries. Just like oil on the water, biblical illiteracy in the church and culture is disastrous.  

              Over ten years ago, Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, asserted that biblical illiteracy was at a crisis level not just in our culture in general but in America’s churches.  “Burge points to research at Wheaton College in which the biblical and theological literacy of incoming freshmen have been monitored. This research . . .  has produced some surprising results:  One-third of incoming students could not put the following in order: Abraham, the Old Testament prophets, the death of Christ, and Pentecost.  Half could not sequence the following: Moses in Egypt, Isaac’s birth, Saul’s death, and Judah’s exile. One-third could not identify Matthew as an apostle from a list of New Testament names.   When asked to locate the biblical book supplying a given story, one-third could not find Paul’s travels in Acts, half did not know that the Christmas story was in Matthew, half did not know that the Passover story was in Exodus.

The Gallup organization in 1999 in reviewing the results of several of their polls on America’s knowledge of the Bible concluded, “These findings point to a "knowledge gap" in Americans' religious condition—the gap between Americans' state of faith and their lack of the most basic knowledge about that faith. Surveys show that many Americans do not know what they believe or why. Furthermore, despite the growing level of formal education in the U.S., biblical illiteracy remains.”

Due to this rampant biblical illiteracy, Christians in the U.S. are susceptible to all kinds of aberrant teachings.  If you do not know the truth you cannot spot error.  If you do not know the truth, you cannot share the truth, will not share the truth and you will fall for anything.  The result is a weak, ineffective and confused church that will continue to lose ground in the battle for souls.

Consider this fictional account:  The new pastor decided to visit the children’s Sunday school. The teacher introduced him and said, “Pastor, this morning we’re studying Joshua.”  “That's wonderful,” said the new pastor. “Let’s see what you’re learning. Who tore down the walls of Jericho?” he asked.  Little Johnny shyly raised his hand and offered, “Pastor, I didn’t do it.”  Taken aback the Pastor asked, “Come on, now, who tore down the walls of Jericho?” The teacher, interrupting, said, “Pastor, Little Johnny’s a good boy. If he says he didn't do it, I believe him!”  Frustrated, the pastor went to the Sunday school director and related the story to him. The director, looking worried, explained, “Well, sir, we’ve had some problems with Johnny before. Let me talk to him and see what we can do.”  Really bothered now, by the answers of the teacher and director, the new pastor approached the deacons and related the whole story.  A white-haired gentleman thoughtfully stoked his chin and said, “Well, Pastor, I move that we just take the money from the general fund to pay for the walls that Johnny tore down and leave it at that.”

Sad, isn’t it!  With today's biblical illiteracy, the above fictional story could conceivably be true!

Since 2001 I have taught in a local Christian university. The adult students do not have to be believers to attend, and many are not.  Of those who are professed believers and those who are not, I see little difference in Bible knowledge; even though they are hungry to learn.  I count it a privilege to share Christ in such a context.  Many students who have been churchgoers have told me they have learned far more in my classes than they have learned from church.  This, in part, is why Reasons Ministries was birthed.  In fact, a student wrote the following in a paper for a recent New Testament class:  "I have gained more knowledge about faith and God from this class then I have from any church." 

How well prepared are you to “give an answer to every one who asks them to give the reason for the hope that they have?”

Reasons Ministries exists to equip believers to know and communicate biblical truth so we can stand firm in the Christian faith, be effective tools in God’s hand for reaching those that do not yet know Christ and to be able to apply practical apologetics to everyday life.  I want to team with you in helping to equip and train believers to be able to defend the Christian faith to anyone the Holy Spirit brings across their path.  I want to help equip believers to be able to give three or four arguments for the existence of God, explain why a good and all powerful God can allow evil in the world, defend the resurrection of Christ with four or five basic arguments or cite why the New Testament is trustworthy, reliable and true. 

Please pray for me as I continue to study apologetics and prepare for ministry in churches, as I contact churches about the possibility of serving them and as I seek to expand the ministry of RM.  If the Lord so leads, I would welcome your financial support.  Building and expanding a ministry takes much time.  Your support enables me to spend less time painting and more time equipping believers to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks.

Was Pat Robertson Right About Haiti? (February 2010 Newsletter)

Was Pat Robertson Right About Haiti?
(Or, the Problem of Evil and the Earthquake In Haiti)

The problem of evil is one of the toughest questions a Christian can be asked by a skeptic.  It is also one of the toughest issues that we struggle with in our hearts.  Life is incredibly unfair.  Where is God?  Why does he not do something? Is God not good?  Is God not all powerful?  Does God not care?

Perhaps you thought this in regard to Haiti. “Why didn’t God stop the earthquake and after shocks from destroying Haiti?  It was already the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, why didn’t God stop it?” 

In most of the books by the so called, New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Richard Carrier, Christopher Hitches, Bart Ehrman, etc.), the problem of evil is usually used as a battering ram as they argue against the existence of God and the validity of Christianity. 
In a world where terrorism, Darfur, AIDS, cancer, and natural disasters occur, do we have an answer to the problem of evil?

While this newsletter cannot possibly tackle the problem of evil in a few paragraphs I would like to make a few observations.  First, while the atheist loves to make evil the sole province of the Christian, evil is even a much more challenging problem for him.  Why?  For the atheist, evil is meaningless, has no redemptive purpose and can never be defeated.  Evil just is.  And without any kind of objective moral grid, the atheist cannot really say that Hitler was evil and Mother Theresa was good.  Who says so?  By whose criteria? Without an objective moral standard evil is simply subjective, up to the human mind to define.

Second, there are two main categories of evil, moral evil and natural evil.  Moral evil is the evil perpetrated by moral agents, us.  Natural evil is the evil resulting from natural disasters. Third, for the Christian, we know that both kinds of evil had a beginning. Evil began when Adam and Eve made a free, but rebellious choice to disobey God. We know that evil has an end; Christ’s final victory as depicted in Revelation.  We know that the potential for evil was necessary for us to have a free will otherwise we would be robots.  We know that we actualized evil by choosing freely to disobey God (Genesis 3).  We know that the human race and all of creation has been impacted by sin (Romans 1, 2, 8) and so we live in a fallen world.  We know that Christ came to deliver us from sin, death, evil and Satan by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.  We know all this because God has defined morality objectively in natural law and in Scripture.  Finally, there are two main responses to evil: a philosophical response and an emotional response.  We need to differentiate the two. We may be able to answer the problem of evil philosophically while still bothered by the problem of evil on an emotional response.  A struggle with the latter does not invalidate the argument for the former.  Could God have sufficient moral reasons to allow suffering in this world (suffering brings people to himself, he has created a world where natural laws operate in which he seldom intervenes, the existence of evil demonstrates how more glorious God’s righteousness is, etc.).

In Luke 13:1-5 Jesus deals with the problem of evil.  He was asked about some Galileans who were killed by Pilate.  Jesus asked rhetorically whether these Galileans were more sinful than those not murdered?  His answer?  No.  He then mentions 18 people in Jerusalem who were killed when a tower fell on them.  Jesus again asks, were they more sinful than the others who lived in Jerusalem?  Again he answers no.  Just as the rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:43-48,), so evil befalls the good and the bad.  Jesus concludes his point by warning his hearers of the most important issue.  Unless they repent, they too will (eventually) perish.  In fact, Jesus is saying, repent now while you can before some calamity takes your life and then it is too late to repent. Note, Jesus does not give a why for the calamities in Galilee or Jerusalem, instead he gives a general principle (evil is no respecter of persons) and he gives a warning (repent now!).

So what about Haiti?  Did the earthquake and the death of over 200,000 happen due to a “pact with the Devil” that Haiti made over 200 years ago as Pat Robertson suggested?    If we go back to Jesus’ words, in Luke 13, we would have to say no.  Why does not God destroy New York City or San Francisco or anywhere sinners are found (Remember the condemnation of New Orleans’ destruction after the hurricane as God’s judgment?)?  Undoubtedly, Haiti’s culture, religion (like VooDoo) and failed dictatorial governments have contributed significantly to their problems.  But are they worse sinners than others?

The catastrophe in Haiti was the result of both natural and moral evil.  Due to natural laws operating in a fallen world earthquakes happen and people usually die as a consequence.  And due to the failure of humans to build structures according to accepted building codes in earthquake prone areas due, in part, to the perpetual impoverishment of Haiti, a natural disaster was made disastrously worse.  God does not usually prevent the consequences of human error and sin from occurring. 

So what are the lessons from Haiti?  First, while we may never know the exact “why” for most of the evils in our world we do know that we live in a fallen world where bad things happen.  Second, we know that God is with us no matter what we may face.  Paul was absolutely convinced that nothing in all creation could separate him from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8). Third, our message must be to repent now or something worse may happen.  Fourth, we must be the hands of Christ.  He has called us to meet the needs of those who hurt.  The response of the church to the needs of the suffering Haitians is a tangible expression that God cares. 

While there is much more that can be said, the principles discussed provide us with a good starting point. The problem of evil is real and demands an answer.  We have answers in Scripture.  Let’s use those answers to comfort, encourage and meet the needs of those who suffer. 

How To Fight Faith Erosion January 2010 Newsletter

Fighting Faith Erosion

Growing up in Florida meant dealing with tropical storms and hurricanes.  Whenever these storms would make their way up the coast, beach erosion would often result.  Once the sand eroded away, it was extremely hard and costly to replace it.  Often dredging would be used to pump sand from the floor of the Gulf to replace the sand that had eroded from the shore.   Years later when we lived in Southern New York State beach erosion was a major concern whenever the winter nor’easters would chug up the Atlantic seaboard.  The fact is, wherever it happens, erosion is never good. 

There is another erosion going on that is of far greater consequence than the erosion of sand from a beach.  It is the erosion of faith among young adults.

According to a recent survey (6-29-2009) by the Pew Research Center, “Today’s young adults are more likely than previous generations of young adults to have no religious affiliation. This has resulted in a particularly wide gap between young and old in terms of their religiosity.  Fully 25% of those under age 30 describe themselves as atheist, agnostic or nonreligious. While over half (54%) of those ages 30-49 say religion is very important in their lives. Only 44% of those under 30 say the same.”  The number of younger adults who attend worship services is also the lowest among different age groups.

George Barna found, in surveying young adults, “that a majority of twenty-somethings - 61% of today’s young adults - had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).”  Barna has also found that “ . . . one pattern emerged loud and clear: young adults rarely possess a biblical worldview. The current study found that less than one-half of one percent (.5%) of adults in the Mosaic generation – i.e., those born from 1984-2002 (also known as Millennials and Generation Next)– have a biblical worldview, compared to about one out of every nine older adults.”

In a recent Harris Interactive poll (12-17-2009) 59% of U.S. adults are absolutely certain that God exists.  Adults aged 25-29 are the least likely to be certain of God’s existence (43%).  Education seems to be a factor in what a person believes about God.  Only 51% of college graduates and 48% of those with a post graduate degree are absolutely certain there is a God compared to 61% with only a high school or less education.

To some degree, the above numbers should not be surprising as we observe the continuing secularization of our culture.  What should concern us is the phrase, “Today’s young adults are more likely than previous generations of young adults . . . .”  The absence of faith, is much more common among young adults and the college educated.  This should concern us greatly.  We are losing the intellectual battle for the faith. 

The Pew survey did not give us the reasons why the above numbers are what they are.  Perhaps, the pull of the world through the media is so strong and so effective that it is negating the influence of Christian homes and churches.  Or, maybe this downward slide is the result of inadequate grounding and training in the Christian faith.  Regardless of the cause, it is vital that we see the current situation as unacceptable.  Indeed, the future health of the church is at stake.  We cannot afford to lose most of a generation and those with a college education.  The cost to the church and its work will be incalculable.

What can be done?  Much of the Bible teaching that goes on in the home and the church consists of telling Bible stories with a huge emphasis on application.  While Bible stories and their application are important, children and youth need far more.  They need to be taught apologetics.  By apologetics I mean, children need to be taught the core truths of the faith.  They need to be taught why what they believe is defensible, rational and true.  To do this parents and teachers need to be taught apologetics.  They cannot impart what they do not have.  

Reasons Ministries exists to equip believers (parents and teachers of children and youth) to know what and why they believe so they can stand firm in the Christian faith, be effective tools in God’s hand for reaching those that do not yet know Christ and to be able to apply practical apologetics to everyday life.  What do I have to offer?  I am available to come to your church and serve in the way you think best.  I can provide pulpit fill or I can provide a full weekend of seminars on topics like: 

    What is a worldview and why is a Christian worldview so important? 
    How did we get our Bible? 
    Science has disproved God, right?
    How can a good and all powerful God allow pain and suffering?
    The New Testament has been tampered with and has so many mistakes we
    cannot know whether it is really true or not!     Isn’t Jesus just one of many
    ways to heaven, I mean, isn’t it all about being   
    tolerant of other religions?    Evidences of God’s existence.     How did we get 
    here and why is it important? 

There are many other possibilities as well, depending on your church’s needs.  Call me and let’s talk! I would love to come to your church and minister this year.

Sincerely In Christ,

David Holdcraft


P.S.  Check out this recent sermon by William Lane Craig that addresses this issue.
http://www.rfmedia.org/RF_audio_video/Other_clips/JFBC/index.php
 

Why Reasons Ministries?

Why should you bring Reasons Ministries to your church?  I will answer this question in this e-letter.  One of the things I realized from the outset of this ministry was the need to give a rationale for this ministry. Is there a legitimate need for an apologetics/equipping ministry for the local church?  Why should a pastor make time on his church's busy calender for a weekend of ministry with me?  What is the value to the local church of a ministry like Reasons Ministries?

One pastor wrote to me recently and stated that he felt that what is offered in this ministry was not particularly unique. It was simply a duplication of his role as a pastor.  I felt this was a good challenge and so I responded.  Indeed, if this ministry is merely a duplication of what pastors do already then I do not have a valid reason for the existence of Reasons Ministries.

Here is, in part, my response:  First, if you, as a pastor, are providing instruction and equipping in apologetics, great!  It is still, however, beneficial to bring in someone like me that will reinforce what you have been teaching. Due to the “familiarity principle” (you know, "familiarity breeds contempt") another voice reinforcing what the pastor has been saying can be quite beneficial.

Secondly, If you look at the current statistics from George Barna, the church is in great trouble when it comes to what the average believer believes about very basic questions:  is there more than one way to heaven, are the devil and the Holy Spirit real beings, how do we live according to a biblical worldview, etc.?  Recent research by Barna indicates that among the Mosaics, postmodernism has become the dominant worldview.  It seems that we are losing ground in evangelical Chrstianity. 

In addition, It is common for my students attending one of the Bible courses I teach at Indiana Wesleyan University to say something like, "I have been attending church for many years, but my pastor has never taught me the things you have taught, how come I have not heard any of this at church? Our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity, and it seems that Christians are less and less able to "give a reason for the hope that is within them . . ."  The statistics clearly reveal this sad reality.

Why are some pastors not providing the apologetic training and equipping that is so needed?  I think there are several reasons.  First, most pastors are so busy putting out fires and dealing with issues like managing personalities, serving real needs in their congregants, trying to facilitate change and transformation in their church, etc.  that they do not have time to do specialized work in the area of apologetics.  Second, apologetics is a specialized field that includes philosophy, ethics, logic and theology.  Many pastors do not have a particular interest nor training in these fields. Someone like me can come to your church and provide specialized training in these areas to your congregation.  I am passionate about apologetics and the church's dire need for training and equipping in this vital area.  Third, the reasons we have parachurch organizations is to help fill in the gaps in the local church.  The average pastor, today, has so much on their plate that they can benefit from “specialists” who, like what Aaron and Joshua did for Moses, hold up the hands of the pastor. I believe God has called me to this role.

We live in a time when training in apologetics should be a critical part of a church's evangelistic strategy.  We no longer live in a society with basic Christian assumptions.  Instead, we live at a time where our starting point in evangelism is not the four spiritual laws, but arguments for the existence of God.

What do I have to offer?  I am available to come to your church and serve
in the way you think best.  I can provide pulpit fill or I can provide a full weekend of seminars on topics like: 

    *   What is a worldview and why is a Christian worldview so important?
    *   Science has disproved God, right?
    *   How can a good and all powerful God allow pain and suffering?
    *   The New Testament has been tampered with and has so many                       mistakes we cannot know whether it is really true or not!  How did
         we get our Bible anyway?
   *   Isn’t Jesus just one of many ways to heaven, I mean, isn’t it all about              being tolerant of other religions?
    *   What are the evidences of God’s existence.
    *   How did we get here (our origins) and why is it important?  Are we                  simply the result of time plus chance plus natural selection and random         mutation? 

There are other possibilities as well, depending on your church’s needs.  Call me and let’s talk!  I've got openings this fall.

Several weeks ago we were disappointed again by the behavior of some of our elected officials.  Nevada Senator John Ensign and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford have both admitted having extramarital affairs.  Both politicians were considered possible contenders for the Republican Presidential race in 2012.  While what these two men have done is not new nor out of the ordinary for public officials, you have to wonder, why?  Both men are married and seem to have wonderful families.  While we may not know why these men chose to break their marriage vows, Ecclesiastes has a warning for us all. 

In Ecclesiastes 7: 1-4, 8 we read,
“1. A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume. In the same way, the day you die is better than the day you are born.  2. It is better to spend your time at funerals than at festivals. For you are going to die, and you should think about it while there is still time.  3. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us.  4. A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now. 8. Finishing is better than starting.”

Solomon, who knew something about moral failure, is reflecting on his life and others he has observed.  His warnings given three thousand years ago have not faded in their import or their relevance.

Regardless of the stated reasons for the moral failure of the men, they both made a choice to pursue pleasure as an end in itself.  We call this hedonism.  Hedonism is the belief that the highest good is the pursuit and experiencing of pleasure.  Hedonism is intensely narcissistic, shortsighted and empty ultimately. 

If we were to assess our culture through the eyes of the media the dominant worldview expressed is a caustic mix of moral relativism (morality is defined by the individual and is situational), and existentialism (living only for the moment) resulting in hedonism.  We have lost the ability to square our choices with moral absolutes and see the long term consequences or our decisions.  Instead, in TV shows like “Two And A Half Men” hedonism is glorified and pictured as satisfying and laudatory.

Now God is not anti-pleasure.  The follower of Christ is not sentenced to a life of misery.  For the Christian, pleasure is not the goal, but rather the byproduct of an obedient life.  Joy is what accompanies our walk with Christ.  As the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  This is real pleasure, real happiness.

Getting back to Ecclesiastes, Solomon, who himself chose hedonism,  points out that having a good reputation is priceless.  Just as a bottle of expensive perfume can be dropped, broken and ruined in a careless moment, so can a reputation be destroyed by one careless choice.  If we would stop and consider the long term implications of our choices, before we act, we would see that indeed, “finishing is better than starting” (Prov. 7:8).

Why does Solomon go on to talk about the day we die and spending time at funerals?  In verse four he points out, “ A wise person thinks much about death, while the fool thinks only about having a good time now.”  Death is a sobering reality.  All of us will die one day.  When we do our reputation is set.  We will be remembered for how we lived, the choices we made and in what we invested our lives.  One author, after observing many of the leaders written about in the Bible found that a majority did not finish well (Solomon included). 

What is the antidote to hedonism?  We need both a short term and long term perspective.  In the short term we must safeguard our reputation by doing the hard work of choosing obedience to God’s truth right now, today, day after day.  Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-33, “So don't worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. Why be like the pagans who are so deeply concerned about these things? Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern.”  In the long term we need to think of the day we die and ask, how do I want people to remember me?  Are a few moments of pleasure worth the cost of a shattered reputation?
 

What does the word “apologetics” mean?


The word apologetics means to give a reply or an answer or to make a defense.  It is a word used to describe a field in theology that seeks to answer questions about Christianity, defend the faith against those that seek to argue against it and equip believers with what they need to have confidence in their faith so they will, in turn, share their faith.  Apologetics, additionally, evaluates different teachings within the church to test the teaching’s biblical accuracy; and tests the teachings of groups outside the church seeking to identify which groups are distorting biblical Christianity and should be identified as a cult or movement outside the mainstream of the historic Christian faith.

Even though the word, apologetics, sounds quite academic, it is actually very practical.  How?  What if you are sharing your faith with a co-worker or a friend and they say, “There are many ways to God, all we have to do is be sincere and do our best to be good.”  Or, someone says, “Why does God, if he is all powerful and good, allow evil things to happen to good people?”  Or, maybe you are watching Oprah, or another talk show and the guest is talking about the spiritual benefits of yoga and how everyone, for good health, should participate in yoga.  How would you respond to the above issues? 

Apologetics provides us with solid answers to the questions and issues that people ask about our faith.  For instance, if you look at John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except by me,”  This statement is either entirely true or entirely false.  An important rule of logic called the law of noncontradiction says that Jesus’ words can mean only one thing.  In other words, Jesus’ word are either entirely true or entirely false.  There is no middle ground.  So either Jesus is the only way to heaven or he is a liar.  When you examine what other religions teach about salvation, you soon see that none agree on this issue.  How could there be many ways to God if none agree on this most important topic.  Is God confused?  Did Christ die in vain (indeed he did if there are many ways to God)?  What did Jesus do to back up his claim?  He rose again!  Did Buddha?  What about Muhammad or Krishna?  No, only Jesus rose from the dead and thereby proved that he is who he said he is and that he is, indeed, the only way to heaven! 

Reasons Ministries is all about equipping Christians to be able to defend the faith and have the assurance that what they believe has been tested and found true!  Because truth matters.
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