Is the Bible Intolerant?

Is it Sexist, Oppressive, Homophobic, Outdated or Irrelevant?

Author: Orr-Ewing, Amy (1977 – ) EMEA Director for RZIM, and Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics (OCCA).

Amy is a passionate exponent of a rational Christian response to many of the pressing cultural issues of the day, bringing her formidable theological knowledge to bear on a wide variety of subjects. She gained a first-class degree in Theology at Christ Church, Oxford University, before receiving a Master’s in Theology from King’s College London. She is currently working on her Doctoral Thesis at Oxford University looking at the work of Dorothy L Sayers. (From the author’s bio page on the website of RZIM Ministries, Zacharias Trust on 3/24/17 http://www.rzim.eu/bios/amy-orr-ewing)

Published: Downers Grove, IL. Varsity Press c 2005

Type of book: Non-fiction, Religious, Christian, Apologetic

Purpose: We’ve all been confronted with tough questions about our faith in general and tough questions about the Bible from both skeptic and believer alike. The author has taken the top 10 most frequently asked questions in her experience and endeavored, not only to give an answer, but to offer a thoughtful response to these questions in order evoke discussion and inspire the inquirer to give the Bible another look.

Argument: The author has found that a conviction that the Bible must be wrong is held by most those at the highest levels of academics and has also been embraced at the popular level by many people who have barely given the Bible a glance. Many of the questions asked our author during her speaking engagements all over the globe are less about the facts and truth and more about ethics and interpretation.

The top 10 questions regarding the Bible, the answers to which form the core of this work are as follows:

  1. Isn’t it all a matter of interpretation?
  2. Can we know anything about history?
  3. Are the biblical manuscripts reliable?
  4. Is the content of the manuscripts reliable?
  5. What about the canon?
  6. What about the other holy books?
  7. Isn’t the Bible Sexist?
  8. What about all the wars?
  9. Isn’t the Bible out of date on sex?
  10. How can I know?

From the back cover:
Of all the books in the world, the Bible sticks out like a sore thumb:

For some, it’s uniquely and divinely inspired, and thus the only authoritative source of truth.

For others, it’s a quaint relic from a bygone era that offers personal comfort to some but little more to anyone else.

For still others, the Bible is a tool of sexist oppression, or a reactionary account of a violent God, or an arrogant detractor of other holy books, or even an indecipherable mess.

But the Bible has withstood such criticism over the centuries, and as our author shows, it bares surprising relevance to this generation.

For a closer examination of the answers given to these and other tough question regarding our Faith, click on the chapter names to be taken to blog posts in an apologetic series in which tough questions are given thoughtful answers.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Case for a Creator

A Journalist Investigates Scientific Evidence that Points Toward God

Author: Strobel, Lee (1952 – ) An American award-winning investigative journalist and Christian apologetic author (Wikipedia).

Published: Grand Rapids, MI. Zondervan. C. 2004

Type of book: Non-fiction, Religious, Christian, Apologetic

Purpose: To advance the idea that there is an enormous amount of evidence to conclude that the universe is the product of an intelligent designer. This is done against a back-drop of an investigative reporter’s personal mission to investigate the plausibility of creation.

Argument: The author argues for the intelligent design of the universe, not from a biblical point of reference, but from the sciences and he does so in a very unique fashion. In The Case for a Creator, the author organizes his arguments in the form of interviews with noted advocates of intelligent design who are, themselves, experts in the particular fields of study being examined.

Chapters in the book take the form of these individual interviews. Here are examples of them:

Doubts About Darwin are presented in the form of an interview with Discovery Institute Center for Science and Culture (CSC) fellow Jonathan Wells.

Where Science Meets Faith is a discussion about the relationship between science and religion, the origin of life, and the unlikely prospect of life spontaneously evolving without the assistance of a creator. This is accomplished in an interview with a noted philosopher of science, Stephen C. Meyer.

In this chapter, The Evidence of Cosmology is examined in a discussion about the big bang and argues for a creator as first cause, using the Kalam cosmological argument. The interview is with philosopher of religion William Lane Craig.

An interview with International Society for Complexity, Information and Design fellow and philosopher Robin Collins constitutes the chapter on The Evidence of Physics in which the anthropic principle is discussed as an argument that the universe must be designed by a creator.

The Evidence of Astronomy: in an interview with Astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez and theologian Jay Wesley Richards, a case for the Rare Earth hypothesis supports intelligent design.

More of The Evidence of Astronomy: Galaxies and the strategic placement of the earth in ours, according to an interview with Dr. Guillermo Gonzales, point to intelligent design.

Biochemist Michael Behe is interviewed in the chapter on The Evidence of Biochemistry and discusses irreducible complexity in biology as an argument for a creator.

Philosopher and theologian J.P. Moreland examines the supposed existence of consciousness separate from the brain as an argument for a creator in the chapter The Evidence of Consciousness.

The Evidence of Biological Information is presented in a second interview with Stephen C. Meyer and is centered on the implausibility that organized information contained in human DNA spontaneously evolved.

The unique format and the author’s ability to make the book an easy read despite it’s technical and scientific nature make The Case for Creation a must read for anyone, believer and nonbeliever alike, interested in examining the science behind intelligent design. This is a compelling presentation of intelligent design of the universe as the most plausible explanation of the origins of life.

For a closer examination of the discussions outlined above, click on the chapter names to be taken to blog posts in an apologetic series in which I present intelligent design leaning heavily on Mr. Strobel’s work.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

It’s Arrogant to Say that Christianity is the Only True Religion

CHRISTIAN EXCLUSIVITY

Part of a Series: 7 Biggest Objections Millennials have to the Christian Faith

Presented by Vin Sparks

This argument says that, once we come to realize that there are many intelligent, good and thoughtful people around the world that do not believe as we do, to continue to attempt to change their mind is arrogant.

Timothy Keller, in his book, The Reason for God, shares the fact that non-Western cultures have no problem thinking their religion, belief structure and world view are true and correct. The idea that it is wrong to do so is purely a Western idea. It’s rooted in our embrace of individualism and independence – once again, the “I’m okay, you’re okay” mindset.

The contradiction: To believe that our Western idea of individual thought is superior to that of all those thoughtful people in the world who believe that their faith is the true religion would, itself, be arrogant, would it not? This objection to Christian thought fails it’s own test.

Other arguments in this same vein include:

All Major Religions are Equally Valid

This view says that the differences between the teachings of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are insignificant and superficial. All believe, for instance, in the same God – a universal loving Spirit. It insists that doctrine is not important.

First of all, it’s just not so. None of these major traditions of the world believe and teach the same thing on the very basic and most important tenet of any religion – the person, essence and being of God.

Only Christianity, Judaism and Islam serve a personal God who requires accountability but none of those agree on who He is – Jesus, Jehovah or Allah. This axiom collapses under the weight of the facts.

What is more, insisting that the teaching of major religions are insignificant and don’t matter is, in itself, a teaching. This is a doctrinal stand made by a group of believers in an impersonal God or in no God at all. They believe that their view of things is superior – that they have “the truth”.

Those who hold this view do the same thing they criticize other religions for doing.

Each Religion Sees Part of the Truth but No One Religion has all of “The Truth”

One of the ways this idea has traditionally been illustrated is through the old story about the four blind men describing an elephant from different vantage points. The man at its side says it’s like a wall while the man in front holding the elephant’s trunk says it’s like a large hose. The man holding the elephant’s tail says it’s like a rope and the man with his arms around a leg describes it as a large tree.

An interesting question regarding this illustration is, “Who is telling the story?” It has to be coming from an individual with perfect sight in a position that would allow a clear vision of all four men around the elephant. Those who take this point of view, that no one religion can have all “the truth”, must position themselves as the only one in the story that can see and they put themselves in a lofty place as the only ones that can discern what is truth and what is not.

That’s pretty arrogant is it not? Not only that, there is a healthy dose of hypocrisy as well. How can one know that no religion has all the truth unless that one puts themselves in a place of knowing all the truth? This argument fails under the weight of it’s own demands.

Religious Belief is too Culturally and Historically Conditioned to be “Truth”

The social conditioning of our belief is a fact, but that doesn’t mean that the religious faith of hundreds of millions of people can just be brushed aside as irrelevant and in error. To argue against all religious truth on the grounds that it is culturally influenced is an example of not thinking an argument through to a logical and obvious conclusion.

If someone argues that no belief can be held as universally true for everyone because our faith is the product of our social and historical conditioning, then the arguer must exempt his own argument from this universal “law”. His argument is the product of social conditions as well, – so it cannot be true. It fails under the weigh of it’s own demands.

Four attempts to argue against Christian exclusivity fail under the weight of the facts and the demands of their own argument.

I relied heavily on Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, New York, Penguin Group, 2007

Posted in Apologetics, Objections to Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Bible is Culturally Obsolete and Irrelevant

IRRELEVANT

Part of a Series: The 7 Biggest Objections Millennials have to the Christian Faith

Presented by Vin Sparks

This argument says that, much of the Bible’s social teaching (i.e. about women) is socially regressive. So, it is impossible to accept the Bible as the complete authority Christians think it is.

The response to this objection can be seen from three vantage points:

1.  The passage(s) that are bothersome may not be teaching what is thought they are.

So, what might a closer examination of scripture reveal about gender roles, for instance. As we get into this, please remember the context in which the New Testament narrative is set. Cultural attitudes prevailed among the Jews of Judea as well as throughout the Roman Empire which gave men the upper hand. This does not mean that the Bible is sexist.

WOMEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

The following was taken from a book entitled Is the Bible Intolerant? by Amy Orr-Ewing)¹

Jesus had female disciples:

At first glance this might not sound significant, but given the prevalent culture at the time, the idea of women being thought worthy of receiving theological instruction from a rabbi was outside the boundaries of the cultural norm of the day.  It’s important to realize that being counted among the disciples of a teacher meant that you were being groomed to carry the message of that teacher. Jesus is defying convention here.

Add to that the fact that a number of the many female disciples of the Lord supported the ministry financially (Luke 8:1-3) – a purely male privilege. It put these women on more equal footing with their male counterparts.

Jesus not only taught women, but He strategically revealed profound theological truths to women before He did to their male colleagues:

Martha’s sister Mary is considered worthy of the rabbi’s instruction when we are told that she “sat at the feet of” Jesus (Luke 10:39) and engaged the Lord in theological study. This is the same terminology used by Paul to describe his tutelage at the feet of the great Jewish teacher, Gamaliel (Acts 22:3).

It is to Mary that Jesus reveals His divinity in a very special way. After she agrees that she’ll see her dead brother again in the resurrection. Jesus responds by saying, “I AM the resurrection.” He then raised Lazarus from the dead.

The first person to whom Jesus revealed His true identity was the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:25-26) when He told her that He was the Messiah. To see the prevailing attitude of the day, all you have to do is read about the discussion Jesus had with this woman. The disciples were surprised, no amazed, that Jesus would stop to talk to a woman.

Jesus portrays God in parables and in illustrative imagery in feminine form – as a woman searching for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-9)and as a mother hen describing how often He would have taken the children of Israel under His wing.

Women were instructors in theology, leaders in the New Testament church and prophets:

Pricilla and Aquilla (Acts 18:24-26), a husband and wife teaching team, taught the scripture “more perfectly” to Apollos, a famous and eloquent preacher. The interesting fact here is that when named in the Bible, Pricilla is mentioned first as if to punctuate the fact that she had a very real and integral role in the ministry of her and her husband.

Paul introduces Phoebe as “a” or possibly “the” deacon of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1-2). She is described as being prostatis over many – a word that, in Greek literature, means leader, ruler, protector or president.

Phillip had four daughters that were prophets in the church (Acts 21:9). A prophet is a very visible and important part of the ministry of the local church who is called upon, either by sermon or by unction, to deliver instruction, encouragement or correction to the congregation.

A woman may have been an Apostle of the early church. Apostles and prophets form the very foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20) and they were the core of it’s leadership. The Apostle Paul includes a bunch of personal greetings while closing his letter to the church in Rome. One of these greetings is to two people he says are, “outstanding among the apostles” – Andronicus and Junias. (Romans 16:7) There is strong evidence that Junias was a woman.

This merely scratches the surface of the subject at hand, but I hope it can be seen that the Bible, contrary to being sexist, paints us a picture of women sharing a vibrant role in the ministry of Jesus Christ and beyond into the establishment of the New Testament church.

2.  The problem some may have with troublesome texts may be based upon an unexamined belief in the superiority of our historical moment in time.

Can we legitimately universalize our time in history? Think about the implications of using the term “regressive” in reference to biblical teaching. To reject the Bible as regressive is to assume that we have now arrived at the ultimate moment in history from which all that is regressive and progressive can be discerned. That belief is surely as narrow and exclusive as the views in the Bible that are regarded as offensive.

Sometimes we think of people and cultures of the past as primitive in their social views. Many of the beliefs of our grandparents and great-grandparents seem silly to us now. That process is not stopping here with us. Someday, our grandchildren will find many of our beliefs outmoded as well.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if we threw away the Bible over a belief that will soon look pretty weak or wrong?

To stay away from Christianity because part of the Bible’s teaching is offensive assumes that, if there is a God, He wouldn’t have any views that upset us. Does that belief make sense?

3.  It is important to distinguish between the major themes and message of the Bible and it’s less primary teaching.

The Bible teaches us about the central role played by Christ in our salvation – His life, death, burial and His resurrection. We also learn from scripture how widows are to be treated in the church. The secondary teachings are mute unless we first embrace the foundational message of the gospel.

Doesn’t it make sense to consider these teachings in their proper order?

If we don’t trust the Bible enough to allow it to challenge our thinking and correct us, how can we ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict us. If, for instance, a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they will not have an intimate relationship.

What happens if we eliminate anything from the Bible that offends us or crosses what we want to do? If we pick and choose what we want to believe and reject the rest, how will we ever have a God who can contradict us? We won’t! How then will we ever develop an intimate relationship with Him? We won’t.

I relied heavily on: Keller, Timothy J. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, New York, Penguin Group, 2007 and Orr-Ewing, Amy, Is the Bible Intolerant?, Downers Grove, IL. InterVarsity Press, c 2005

Posted in Apologetics, Objections to Christianity | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

To My Agnostic Friends

An Open Letter by Vin Sparks

First, let me make sure we’re all on the same page because someone may be agnostic but don’t know it – and that’s okay. Very few know the philosophical terminology of every belief system – least of all me.

Agnostic – a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

Some modern agnostics will go as far as to acknowledge that a force of some kind may exist or have existed and was the catalyst for the creation of the universe, but will stop Cosmologyshort of accepting the idea that this creator is a god in any sense of the word spoken of today.

This belief system leans more toward the concept of an impersonal universal power of some kind that may or may not be sentient. If this power is self-aware, an agnostic may say that it created the universe and sent it spinning off and has not interacted with it in any way since.

The main premise of the agnostic belief is that we just do not and cannot know.

Is This You?

If you think you are or may be agnostic, you may appreciate, as many agnostics do, a good discussion. I’d like to submit a supposition for your consideration.

It seems to me that sometimes, in world view debates (…err, ehem,) discussions about creation and the existence of God, overlooked are the more abstract aspects of the subject at hand.

The question of why comes to mind. For instance, why is there something rather than nothing? The agnostic has it right when he/she says we cannot know how the universe came into existence. A big bang seems to be the consensus between atheists, agnostics and theists of all stripes. We don’t know the how, but I am asking the why? Why should there be anything at all?

Something else that comes to mind (haha) is consciousness. Why are we self-aware? Why are we aware of our surroundings? Not the how, we discussed that in the Intelligent Design series of posts. I’m wondering why? As Darwinist Philosopher Michael Rose once asked,

“Why should a bunch of atoms have thinking ability? Why should I, even as I write now, be able to reflect on what I’m doing and why should you, even as you read now, be able to ponder my points…? “

Character is another mind bender. Not the question of societal acceptance of our character traits, but why a human being exhibits character at all. Why can we be empathetic, compassionate and forgiving? Of course, a more foreboding question, too, is why can we be callous, cruel and hold a grudge?

The fact that we can create is fascinating to me. How that we can have a vision of something that doesn’t exist, formulate it and work it into being is nothing short of astonishing…but why? We are a 10-45% mix of chemicals that, piled up, would be worth about $160. Why should we possess the capacity to create our surroundings?

Beauty! Think about beauty for a moment. Why do we become awe-struck at the magnificence of the Northern Lights? Why do we stand, take pause and gaze at the stars at midnight far from the city lights? What do you see in your mind’s eye when asked what is beautiful? Is it a waterfall hidden in a South American wilderness or the phosphorous glow of a Maldives beach? My question is – why? Why can a human being appreciate beauty?

And then, there is love. We can’t even describe what love is or where it comes from. We lovetalk about coming from the heart, but we don’t know what or where that is. We do know it exists. Love drives us to create, to provide, to sacrifice, to build, to give. Why? We are a bag of tissue, skeletal material, membranes and hair. Why do we have the capacity to love?

The question of “why”, would be dogging me if I were an agnostic? The atheist seems too militant to wonder “why” – completely engaged in the effort to prove there is no evidence for the existence of God. But, the agnostic seems content with religion or none, at peace with uncertainty and open to any possibility.

The Christian, on the other hand, has an answer to the question of why. I am not going to stand here and tell you that I’ve absolutely nailed it, but I do know that much of the story can be read in the five “why” questions above.

It makes sense to me that there must be a creator. That’s the beginning of the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing. After all, the something we’re talking about isn’t a rock.

The something we are talking about is a human being – a race of beings who are aware of themselves and their surroundings, have the ability to and choose to care about one another, possess the capacity to create and then appreciate the beauty of what they’ve created and what’s been created for them. Finally, they can love and realize that love is the very center of their lives.

The creator of all this had to possess the same, to create it in the first place.

Love was at the very beginning. Think about it. A creator must possess the capacity to love to create a being that has the capacity to love, appreciate beauty to create a being that appreciates beauty. Our maker must be empathetic, compassionate and forgiving. Because He would understand that to be otherwise is destructive to what had been created in love.

God created us to be like Himself. I believe it was because…He was lonely.

Posted in Apologetics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Natural Laws of a Different Nature

By Vin Sparks

We wrote about the natural design that exists in the universe – how precise it is, how balanced, perfectly ordered for human existence. Right here, on this planet, we are positioned strategically in this solar system and galaxy. Earth is in a quiet neighborhood, protected from the hazards of the galaxies all around us.

Our sun is the perfect star, our moon plays an amazing role in our existence, the size, gravitational pull and atmosphere of the earth – yep, you guessed it – all perfect!
I could go on because we discussed the tiny machines of molecular biology, the organized information contained in our DNA and the fact that we are all conscious, self-aware and can analyze what’s going on around us.

These are all the results of the order of things, the natural laws of the universe – physics, biology, biochemistry, cosmology, etc. We’ve barely scratched the surface of the wonders of design that are found throughout the universe. We and where we live have been ordered perfectly.

So, Here We Are – What now?

Unless you are an existentialist and think you are only being led to believe you exist, you’re here and I am sure that you’ve noticed another set of laws that govern our lives – maybe we could call them metaphysical laws.

Webster defines metaphysics as the division of philosophy that is concerned with themetaphysics fundamental nature of reality and being.

There are approximately 7.4 billion people on earth – how do we function? Sometimes I think we don’t very well, but to an astonishing degree, we do function quite nicely at that. It’s because of these sets of laws.

Take discretion as an example: if someone talks too much and is not a very discrete individual, there are some very natural things that are going to happen. People will avoid him/her, conversations with this person will be superficial at best and no one will ever confide in him/her.

Think about that. If you cannot be trusted to confide in, you can never really be a counselling help to anyone, you will never be taken seriously and your relationships will be shallow. Your standing as an individual is compromised.

This all happens very naturally. We all know a few like this, but for the most part, people understand the value of discretion.

There are a whole set of these “laws” in place to govern our interpersonal actions. There is the school of thought that says these are societal virtues that have socially evolved over time, but I don’t know that I agree. There has never been a society where indiscretion was a virtue to be sought after and developed.

Could it be that there is a transcendent moral order outside of ourselves that runs naturally through the very fiber of the universe? Could it be that wisdom is being in a place where you have learned how to live within the confines of this moral order – that the wise have learned and developed such virtues as humility, compassion, courage, discretion and loyalty?

Can you imagine a society in which theft is accepted as a normal part of life? Anything you see, want or need is not off limits. It is your right to acquire what you want in any way that you can get it.

Such a society could not function for very long. The energy and resources that would be invested in locking down and protecting what you possess would dwarf what is done today. There would be no concept of ownership, no ability to advance or build anything because there could be no assurance that the resources in your possession will be there tomorrow.

The way we were designed, both individually and collectively as a society, assumes the ownership of property, at least at some level, and prohibits theft. This axiom is vital, therefore, to a thriving culture – so, it was written, “Thou shalt not steal.”

We were left to discover the laws of the cosmos on our own, but regarding metaphysical laws, intelligent design included direction.

Posted in Apologetics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Reason for God

Belief in an Age of Skepticism

Author: Timothy Keller, Born September 23, 1950, founded and serves as Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Pastor Keller has learned to connect with young urbanites successfully enough to have built a church that hosts more than five thousand every Sunday. His ministry has also helped to plant 50 gospel-based churches in New York and another 50 in urban areas from San Francisco to London.

Purpose: To take a second look at doubt. He urges believers and non-believers alike to look at doubt in a radically new way. Pastor Keller has distilled the many conversations he’s had with doubters over the years into a book that points to a spiritual third way.

Part 1 – The Leap of Doubt
Here Pastor Keller takes on the hard questions that young urbanites have about the Christian Church and what it has become. There is honest chastisement of the church along with answers that reveal the lack of reason behind the questions being asked. These direct but respectful answers seem to resonate with a young New Yorker in such a way as to keep them coming back for more.

Doubts addressed in Part 1:

  1. There Can’t be Just One True Religionreasons
  2. How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  3. Christianity is a Straightjacket
  4. The Church is Responsible for so much Injustice
  5. How can a Loving God Send People to Hell?
  6. Science Has Disproved Christianity
  7. You Can’t Take the Bible Literally

After addressing doubt, it is logical to offer faith. Pastor Keller, once again, does so in such a way that draws these young thinkers to a decision for Christ.

Reasons for Faith addressed in Part 2:

  1. The Clues of God
  2. The Knowledge of God
  3. The Problem of Sin
  4. Religion and the Gospel
  5. The (True) Story of the Cross
  6. The Reality of the Resurrection
  7. The Dance of God

As you can see from the titles of some of these chapters, Redeemer Presbyterian Church preaches a traditional version of the gospel and yet has made a mark for Christ right in the heart of one of the largest urban areas in the world.

I have relied heavily on this book in posting to this blog and will continue to do so. In a series of addressing some of the biggest objections millennials have with Christianity I have freely drawn from Pastor Keller’s work here. For a closer examination of how I have done so, follow the chapter links above.

Posted in Book Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment