25 November 2011

Book Review: Unfashionable

It is no secret that I like Tullian Tchvidjian. He is probably one of my top 3 current writers. I picked up Unfashionable: Making a difference in the world by being different (2009) at a recent conference. Tchvidjian issues a call to people to return to some of the basics of the faith that we have lost by the wayside. For example, he strongly encourages involvement with the church, not just the building, but the body of believers. He expounds upon the importance of relationships for believers by closely examining the book of Ephesians in the later parts of the book. He also makes the case for Christians to rebuild society rather than wait expectantly for a heavenly society. Although I can see his point, I am not sure he builds his case well biblically. Interestingly, I went back and read Tim Challies review of this book afterward and see that he shared a similar concern to mine, though expressed much eloquently, which is no surprise. Now, onto Jesus + Nothing Equals Everything. 3 stars.

24 November 2011

Book Review: Come Let Us Reason

Come let us reason: An introduction to logical thinking by Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks (1990) was more detailed than the book I read earlier in the week, Being Logical. I appreciated the additional depth, though Being Logical will be a great go to resource. With that said, the first several chapters of Come let us reason were difficult to understand. The complex notation of categorical syllogisms were challenging for me to grasp. As he began to flesh these thoughts out in the later chapters, however, I really found the initial information to be an important foundation. I will probably need to read through this book a few times to understand logic and be able to spot it in daily life. All in all, the authors not only establish the importance of logic for the Christian but the inherent logic of the Bible. 3.5 stars.

22 November 2011

Are You Worried You're Too Bad for God?

Often when I am getting down on myself for my own sinfulness or talking with others about their self-perceived depravity, I am reminded of Hebrews 11. This chapter chronicles several heroes of the faith.  Let's consider them each individually.

We don't know much about Abel except that he was a shepherd and was faithful to God. Enoch walked with God. Hebrews 11 says that he "pleased" God. So far, we read of two righteous men commended for their faith. But, if you are a sinner like I am, you will draw encouragement from some of the others. They were sinners, like us (to be clear, so were Abel and Enoch. We just don't have enough info about them).

Noah was a guy who found favor, but we don't necessarily know why, though he was described as blameless in his generation. After he got off the ark, however, he planted a vineyard, made wine, and passed out naked and drunk in his tent.

Next up is Abraham, the father of nations. Abraham was scared of getting killed by the Egyptians, so he pretended his wife Sarah was his sister. It says in Genesis 12:15 that "she was taken in to Pharaoh's house."  To be clear, she did not go there for tea--you will need to read between the lines here a bit. Lest you think this was a one time thing, Abraham does it again in Genesis 20. He lies to Abimelech, king of Gerar saying that Sarah was his sister. Abimelech also takes her into his harem, but God keeps him from touching her. Abraham has given his wife away--twice--because he is scared. Oh yeah, he also slept with his wife's handmaiden, Hagar, because Sarah told him to.

Which brings us to Sarah, Abraham's wife. She seemed to lead when Abraham didn't want to. She told him to sleep with her servant, so he did. She became bitterly jealous of her servant and sent her away. Abraham didn't prevent her saying, "your servant is in your power. Do as you please."

Isaac, the son of Abraham and Sarah, loved one of his sons more than the other. But catch this...he and his wife Rebekah settled in Gehar, the same place Abraham and Sarah were. Isaac tells the same lie to Abimelech about Rebekah (that she was his sister) that Abraham told about Sarah.

Isaac's son Jacob is next. He regularly lied to his father and deceived his brother Esau, often at the request of his mother, once to steal the rightful birthright of his brother. He then becomes a bigamist, marrying two sisters.

Joseph is next in line. He had dreams about his brothers bowing to him. His brothers saw him as arrogant. He later lied to his brothers in their time of deepest need.

Moses was a murderer. And he hid the body. He was also a coward who didn't believe God even when he was talking to him face to face. He asked God to send someone else so he didn't have to do what God asked of him. He actually questioned God a lot.

Rahab was a prostitute.

Gideon, one of the judges, had a 70 sons because he had "many" wives. So, he was a polygamist. He also doubted God and put him to the test--twice--because he didn't believe God's miraculous sign the first time.

Barak, another one of the judges, appears to have been a pretty good warrior. But he only would go to war if Deborah promised to go with him.

Samson, remembered for his hair and his strength was another judge of Israel. He was disobedient to his parents, marrying against their express wishes. His wife was then given to his best man and he became mad, so he burned their city. He then hooked up with a prostitute before meeting Delilah. He lied to her several times about the source of his strength. He was excessively proud. If you want to take it that far, he was also cruel to animals.

Jepthah was the son of a prostitute. He made his virgin daughter as a burnt offering because of the tragic vow he made to God.

David, the man after God's own heart, was at least an adulterer and perhaps even a rapist. In any case, he appeared to use his position of power to seduce Bathsheba. He then covered it up by having her husband killed.

Samuel, the final one mentioned does not seem to have the egregious sins mentioned with some of the others either.

The list of sins in these heroes of the faith is profound. We read of murder, cover-up, drunkenness, lust, adultery, cowardice, bitterness, lying, jealousy, favoritism, prostitution, polygamy and a host of other things.

To me, this list of people reminds me that God loves those who are faithful to him, even though we sin egregiously..  He counts our faith as righteousness, as we read in Romans 4.  Hebrews 11:1 reads, "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."  Our only hope is faith in the One who does not sin, who does not falter, and who does not leave us or forsake us.

If you are a sinner, find comfort in this passage. The Bible is full of stories of God forgiving murderers and rapists and adulterers and sinners of every stripe. He will forgive you too if you have the faith to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9)

21 November 2011

Book Review: Being Logical

I decided about a week ago that I wanted to study the field of logic more directly than I have. As someone interested in apologetics and philosophy of religion, logic is a necessary field of study. The first book I picked up is a basic primer, Being logical: A guide to good thinking, by D.Q. McInerny (2005). This book is a mere 130 pages. It is written clearly and concisely, the author deliberately seeking to write after the fashion of Strunk and White (which you should also read, if you have not).

McInerny lays out the basic building blocks of logic, quite simply. He dedicates a few pages to each basic argument, a useful form to expose the reader to logic, but lacking the depth of coverage if you really want to dig in deeply.

The author suggests that logic is a basic educational component missing from nearly all of our schools in modern society. I think he is right on. Given that, this book would be good for Logic 101. 4 stars.

Brief Reflection on Psalm 8:5 use of Elohiym

Yesterday, one of our pastors shared an extended reflection on Psalm 8. I really enjoy walking through a passage in this way as it can really deepen our learning of Scripture. We came upon verse 5, and I was left with some questions.  In the ESV, the first part of Psalm 8:5 reads, "Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings."  Heavenly beings is from the Hebrew word Elohiym. Here's where the rub comes in, however. Although NIV sides with ESV in interpreting this as "heavenly beings", NASB (traditionally the most literal interpretation) and NLT translate this word as "God." KJV renders it as "angels", which is closer to the ESV/NIV.

In the Old Testament, the word Elohiym is nearly always translated as "God", though there is precedence for other renderings as well, including "heavenly beings." I have two reasons, one scriptural and one philosophical, to favor interpreting this as "heavenly beings" or "angels" rather than "God."

First, with regard to Scripture, Psalm 8 is cited in Hebrews 2 and the writer of Hebrews interprets this as "angels" (ἀγγέλους). The interpreters of the NLT and NASB also render this "angels". Furthermore, in the Greek Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, Elohiym is translated as "angels" (also ἀγγέλους).  So it would seem that the precedent, even for the inspired biblical author of Hebrews, was to interpret this as "angels."

Second, with regard to philosophy. It is a clear and consistent teaching of the Christian church that God is infinite in a number of divine attributes. A complete understanding of infinity would suggest that one cannot be made a "little lower than" something infinite. Because there is no point at which God becomes limited, it is meaningless to say we were made a little lower than Him.

For these reasons, I favor the interpretations made by ESV, KJV, and NIV.

20 November 2011

A Thankful Husband

Today, I have been contemplating my wife's character, which regularly astounds me. Her deepening character has been observable to everyone who knows her, though her growth has been particularly true since she had cancer, two years ago. As her husband, I have been deeply encouraged by the way people are drawn to her. Younger women regularly seek her counsel or comfort and she is gracious with her time. She finds a way to balance the demands of motherhood with meetings. She loves widely and deeply.  She is peaceful and gracious.

I have been working on a certificate in biblical counseling, which is largely focused on personal discipleship. As I study, I see my wife living out the lessons I am learning with practical wisdom. She teaches me a lot and I am thankful to call her my wife.

Heather, I love you.

12 November 2011

Book Review--Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air

I just finished reading Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air by Beckwith and Koukl (1998). Written 13 years ago, this book was at the height of post-modern relativism. Although the clay feet of relativism are becoming increasingly evident, it's tendrils continue to influence many people today. Relativism is the idea that truth and morality are relative to the person--in other words, subjective. The basic idea is that whatever feels right to me is what is true and correct, if they acknowledge truthfulness at all. However, relativism cannot live consistently within its own system.

In the center of the book, the authors point out seven fatal flaws of relativism:

  • relativists cannot accuse others of wrongdoing.
  • relativists cannot complain about the problem of evil.
  • relativists cannot place blame or accept praise.
  • relativists cannot make charges of unfairness or injustice.
  • relativists cannot improve their morality.
  • relativists cannot hold meaningful moral discourse. 
  • relativists cannot promote the obligation of tolerance.
The authors rightly point out that if relativism is true, if morality is truly self-governed, the hero of the viewpoint is a sociopath who has no regard for absolute morality or moral oughtness.  As you talk with people who claim this viewpoint, it's flaws are easily revealed by attacking their hot-button issue through a process of "taking the roof off."

All in all it was a good book. Some chapters were better than others, but if you are looking for a book to better understand the problems with relative morality, this is a good place to start. 4 stars.

08 November 2011

Eyes Toward Home

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her-Ephesians 5:25

Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking about starting another master's degree program. I have been enamored with the Master of Arts in Science and Religion program at Biola University. Admittedly, I already have several degrees. I am also currently completing master's level work toward a certificate in biblical counseling. All this is to say that the challenges of academia are a siren song to me. I enjoy pushing myself to learn, though a darker part of me also must admit to the draw of the recognition that comes with the degree. I prefer not to acknowledge that part, but it is there. My wife has been faithfully at my side every step of the way.

When I asked my wife a few days ago to begin praying about this possibility, her response lacked enthusiasm. She sounded tired, as if she wanted to say, "not again." Thankfully, we had the opportunity to talk about it last night. It turns out that while I am peering off into the distance seeking to conquer the next big thing, she plods along at home, managing the household and educating our children. She often feels alone in this task and I suppose that in many ways, she is.

As I laid in bed last night thinking about what she said, I realized that my gaze is too often on the horizon. I think about the possibilities "out there", but my calling is to home. Deuteronomy 6:6-9 calls fathers to their homes: "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." God's word is to be consistently before my family and in our home and I am to take the lead in teaching them about Him. I cannot lead well when my focus is often directed elsewhere.

So, for now, Biola will be moved to the back burner. If I profess to love my wife and my children and if I claim to trust God's word for my life, I need to do a better job of turning my eyes toward home. My family does not care if I earn another master's degree, they want papa at home and engaged.

Now, a brief note to the men (of which I hope I am still included): there are so many things that mess with our priorities and we are great at justifying them. We cover our hobbies, jobs, and other activities with a false veneer of righteousness. We tell ourselves that working every evening, burying our noses in a book, or spending time away from home with other believers is ministry. Sometimes it is, but I would argue that often it is not. If we are not defending our homes, if we are not actively and consistently pouring ourselves into our kids, we are missing the mark. God calls us to "give ourselves up" for our wives.  That means spending time at home and getting to know our wives and kids and what is going on in their lives. I know more about current apologetics arguments than I do about what my kids are doing in math.  Other men know football stats, or deer movement patterns, or stock market fluctuations better than they know about their children's friendships.  Men, our primary ministry is to our families. Other activities are not inherently bad, but we must ask ourselves "where are we planting our flags? Where are we directing our gaze?" I have a good friend who is fond of saying, "men, we are in a fight." Let's make sure we know what we are fighting for. 

05 November 2011

Book Review: When Skeptics Ask

I read When Skeptics Ask as a part of an apologetics course that I am taking through Biola University. It is a good overall introduction to apologetics and reasons for the faith. It covers several different areas such as morality, questions about Jesus, questions about evolution and so forth.  Geisler is a good communicator.  Other books are better suited for specific questions, but as a general overview, this is a good start. 3.5 stars.

03 November 2011

Apologetics Program Reviews: A summary

I must first say that there I have been blessed to take advantage of many fine apologetics training programs.  They vary in cost, they vary in content, but all are quality in their own way.  The Biola program is the Cadillac program, but certainly the most costly with regard to money and time.  Keller's Reason for God DVD perhaps should not even be classified as an apologetics training set, but it serves it's own niche in showing how conversations could go with non-believers.  The Foundations of Apologetics Course from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries is different from the others, I suspect due to the European background of the presenters, which certainly carries with it advantages in broadening our understanding of apologetic issues, particularly as the US begins to mirror Europe's post-Christian mores.  Dr Sproul's Defending the Faith Series is both philosophical and theological, a worthwhile resource.  My personal favorite, all factors considered, is Greg Koukl's Ambassador Basic Curriculum.  Though they are all good, I think that for most people, this series will be the most useful, educational, and enjoyable.

Down the line, there are other programs I would like to pursue.  Ligonier Ministries offers an advanced level certificate in apologetics that takes several years to complete.  This program clearly is not for the faint of heart.  There are also master's programs at Biola and Southern Evangelical Seminary that I would I would really enjoy tackling if I ever have the time and money.

1 Peter 3:15 tells us, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect".  Apologetics may not be for everyone, but we are called to defend the faith.  These programs will all provide you with increased confidence when you talk with others about the hope that is within you.

02 November 2011

Biola University Certificate in Apologetics

I am currently working my way through the Biola University certificate program in Christian apologetics.  Biola university is a hub for Christian apologetics with such well known faculty members as JP Moreland, Gary Habermas, Kenneth Samples, and William Lane Craig as well as many others.  Their master's degree in Christian apologetics is probably the finest program in the nation.  For us regular folk, they have developed a certificate training program, which I am currently about 1/3 of the way through.  The certificate is comprised of 24 lectures, each about 2 hours in length, covering a broad range of topics.
  1. The Case for Faith: A Personal Exploration
  2. The Absurdity of Life Without God
  3. Arguments for the Existence of God
  4. Solving the Problem of Evil
  5. Defending the Gospel Accounts of Jesus
  6. Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ
  7. Christianity and the Problem of Popular Culture
  8. Responding to Relativism
  9. Christianity and the Nature of Science
  10. The Historical Jesus
  11. Contending for the Christian Worldview
  12. Reading Scripture with All Your Mind
  13. Responding to the Cults
  14. What About Those Who Have Never Heard?
  15. Christianity Among the World Religions
  16. Miracles and the Modern Mind
  17. In Defense of the Soul
  18. The Case for Moral Absolutes
  19. Answers to Bioethical Challenges
  20. Darwinism in Crisis
  21. Key Issues in New Testament Textual Criticism
  22. Jesus: The Smartest Man Who Ever Lived?
  23. Successful Tactics in the Defense of the Faith
  24. Apologetics and the Spiritual Life
Lecturing faculty include: Francis J. Beckwith, John A. Bloom, John Coe, William Lane Craig, Garrett DeWeese, Alan Gomes, Gary Habermas,Craig Hawkins, Craig J. Hazen, David Horner, Phillip E. Johnson, Clay B. Jones, Greg Koukl, Kevin Lewis, JP Moreland, Scott Rae, John Mark Reynolds, Ron Rhodes, Walt Russell, Os Guinness, Hugh Hewitt, Alvin Plantinga, Lee Strobel, and Dallas Willard. This is a veritable who's who of apologetics.  The lectures thus far have been top-notch.  I am learning things now that I have not encountered in any of the previous courses I have taken.  I cannot speak highly enough about this program.  I had emailed Greg Koukl about this program and he simply responded, "it's excellent."  I could not agree more heartily.

In addition to the audio lectures, there is also supplemental reading.  For this first module, I am reading When Skeptics Ask by Norman Geisler and Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air by Francis Beckwith and Gregory Koukl.  At the end of each module, there is also a quiz, again to demonstrate learning.

Summary: If you are not as concerned about cost, this is definitely the way to go. This program is amazing in its depth and breadth.

Here is the beginning of the Dr Craig's lecture, "The Absurdity of Life Without God."

01 November 2011

Review: Defending Your Faith-RC Sproul

As a reminder, I have been reviewing apologetics training courses over the past several days.  Today, I want to review the lecture series, Defending the Faith, put out by RC Sproul, one of the elder statesmen of Reformed theology and the head of Ligonier Ministries. Dr Sproul is well trained as a philosopher and theologian and is a wonderful apologist.  I picked up this series on a $5 Fridays deal about a year ago.  It was well worth that price.  There are 32 lectures, as follows:
  1. Introduction
  2. Why Apologetics
  3. Pre-Evangelism
  4. Four Steps Backward
  5. Law of Contradiction
  6. Law of Causality
  7. Reliability of Sense Perception
  8. Analogical Language (2 lectures)
  9. Contradiction and Paradox
  10. Mystery
  11. Natural Theology (2 lectures)
  12. Aquinas vs. Kant
  13. The Case for God
  14. Four Possibilities
  15. The Illusion of Descartes
  16. Self-Creation (2 lectures)
  17. Self-Existence
  18. Necessary Being
  19. God of the Bible vs God of Philosophy
  20. Kant's Moral Argument
  21. Vanity of Vanity
  22. The Psychology of Atheism
  23. The Bible and Apologetics (5 parts)
  24. The Deity of Christ
  25. Questions and Answers 
 Sproul's philosophical training is evident in his selection of topics and his logical presentation of the material.  However, it is also evident that he is first and foremonst a biblically committed pastor-theologian.  His wisdom and knowledge is enhanced by his wonderful sense of humor.  This series has the advantage that you can also watch or listen, depending on your preference.  I listened to it as I drove to work and will probably work through it again when I am done with the Biola Course (watch for it tomorrow).

Summary:  Sproul is an excellent teacher.  This is a fairly comprehensive, though philosophically slanted, approach to apologetics training.  It is worth the money, especially if you get it for 5 bucks.  

You can watch the first lecture for free: