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Archive for the ‘Apologetics’ Category

Last week I caught a snippet of a Ben Stein interview on R.C. Sproul’s radio program. Audio is up at Ligonier.org, but it turns out that video is available as well. Ben and R.C. cover a lot of ground fairly rapidly, and I don’t think anyone would be worse off for having listened. Here’s part one, with part 2 and part 3 also available.

It appears that the argument in Expelled falls more along theist/atheist lines generally and deals with academia specifically, but it’s not hard to see how understanding the particulars of that debate can be useful in our presentations of the Gospel of Christ. I really couldn’t tell you how long its been since I was in a movie theater, but Lord willing, I’ll spend the time an money to see this documentary.

***

Another video supportive of Expelled emerged on the internet this week as well, and it was really quite humorous to see the internet’s atheist crowd embrace it as supportive of their “side.” “BEST THING SINCE LIFE OF BRIAN!!!” exclaimed one, and “All the best teachers get this sort of treatment form each new generation of students” another confidently asserted.

But doubt slowly crept in, “Hmm, that Expelled logo does seem very prominent, and I think the lyrics go on too much about how clever he [Dawkins] is…What’s throwing me is how well made it is.” (Remember, they think that we creationists are “IDiots.”)

Eventually, a consensus decision was reached. Atheist were in fact the butt of this joke (something everyone else saw straight away). With pride damaged and vanity stained, all that was left to do was snap back with: “If your humor has to be explained to pretty bright people, you have failed. You have missed the target.”

From the Ministry of Science Propaganda (which is only the first clue):

“He’s smarter than you, he’s got a science degree!”

I once heard a sermon recording from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in which he chided the “intellectual atheist” who said that he could not believe that God exists “because he had this enormous brain.” Lloyd-Jones said that such a one might have a point, if it could be demonstrated that no one of equal or greater intelligence had ever accepted the proposition that God exists as true.

As I watched the banter about the above video unfold, a corrective saying from an old Drill Instructor kept jumping to the front of my mind; “Way to go Brainchild.”

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My reading appetite has gone woefully underfed this semester. I haven’t had time for much of anything that isn’t labeled multivariable calculus, physics, or engineering statics. But a steady stream of thought provoking and edifying audio has helped offset the lack of reading. This weekend, as I try to overcome a small mountain of homework, I’m enjoying the audio from the Building Bridges conference put on by Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and Founders Ministries.

I’ve only heard about 40% of the audio thus far, and with one exception, I’ve found it both challenging and edifying. And from the brief blog reviews that I’ve skimmed over, the rest of the conference looks like it will follow suit.

About that one exception. I have a few bones to pick with Malcolm Yarnell’s presentation. But let me preface them by stating the obvious. Dr. Yarnell is an Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Assistant Dean for Theology Studies, Director of the Oxford Study Program, and Director of the Center for Theological Research. I’m a tall, skinny nobody. Dr. Yarnell is my elder brother in the Faith. I’m just a babe in Christ. Dr. Yarnell stood before an audience that, I assume, was largely comprised of individuals who would have substantial theological differences with him and delivered a passionate message. I’m sitting on my duff in front of a computer. Believe me, the magnitude of the differences here are not lost on me. And it’s entirely possible that my beefs with Dr. Yarnell’s presentation are simply due to the fact that he had a lot to say and a limited amount of time to say it. Clarity is often lost in such situations. Nevertheless, a few shortcomings in his presentation need to be pointed out.

The first is the use of the stick labeled “Calvin Burned Servetus”. It’s the same stick that atheists use against Protestants when they tire of swinging the stick labeled “Spanish Inquisition” against Catholics. The historical record is clear enough for those who can approach it without looking for a club to swing. Calvin warned Servetus through an intermediary that he could not guarantee Servetus’ safety if he came to Geneva. Yet, Servetus came anyway. Calvin sought advice from several churches throughout Europe after Servetus’ imprisonment. All responded alike – let Servetus burn; and he had already been condemned to death by the Catholics. Calvin pleaded with the city counsel that Servetus’ death be by some other means than burning. But proving that Calvin was not “Geneva’s Dictator”, the counsel did not listen to him.

Calvin was only granted bourgeois status at Geneva in his old age; he never became a citizen of the city. He could not stand for office and, until Dec. 1559, could not even vote in the city elections; nor did he have privileged access to, or direct influence over, the city council at any point during his career.

Calvin could and did urge, cajole and plead; he could not, however, command.

~ Alister McGrath, A Life of John Calvin (p.109, 125)

Now that Dr. Yarnell has used the “Calvin Burned Servetus” stick, atheists will forever be able to point to a conservative Southern Baptist’s use of it to justify their own (trust me, it won’t matter to these people that Dr. Yarnell didn’t say the words “Calvin Burned Servetus”). And even more lamentable is the “guilt by association” implicit in Dr. Yarnell’s usage. The tactic is as identifiable as it is reprehensible. Sully a view of soteriology that, by convention, bears the name of an ancillary character to a horrific historical event by pointing out the proximity of said character to said event. All this when the event in question sheds no light on the soteriological view in question whatsoever.

My second beef is more of a lead in to the third, but common in the Calvinist/Non-Calvinist SBC debate. I agree that it is helpful to define terms in a debate. But I found Dr. Yarnell’s definitions to be very unhelpful. The gist of his definition of Classical (sometimes Dortian) Calvinism seemed to be — a five pointer + something else. But what that something else was I cannot say as Dr. Yarnell wasn’t very clear. Is it holding to one degree or other the Regulative Principal of Worship? Holding a particular view of eschatology? Or do we have to jump all the way to paedobaptism to define the Dread Classical (or Dortian) Calvinist? This becomes important later.

Regarding Dr. Yarnell’s definition of a Calvinist Baptist, it seemed that he defined it as — a four (or less) pointer. He didn’t say that, but that’s what I took from this section of his message. This also becomes important later.

Dr. Yarnell did very little as far as defining Hyper-Calvinism, but a litmus test was offered. If you have theological problems with the “Sacrament of the Invitation” (my term), according to Dr. Yarnell, your a Hyper-Calvinist. It’s too bad, because a workable definition that anyone can understand isn’t really hard to come up with. Namely, Hyper-Calvinism is rooted in the belief that man’s inability negates man’s responsibility. It’s a 180 degree turn from the Arminian belief that man’s responsibility negates God’s Sovereignty. And both Hyper-Calvinism and Arminianism are 90 degrees out of phase with the truth that man is responsible and God is Sovereign.

Finally, the third bone of contention. Based on the definitions given by Dr. Yarnell, when he says that Classical (or Dortian) Calvinist are unwelcome in the SBC, I hear “5-pointers are unwelcome in the SBC.” And I have a feeling that I’m not the only one. I may well be wrong, but cannot conclude that I am wrong based on anything Dr. Yarnell said. And here’s what I’m getting at; if it’s true that Calvinism is indeed on the rise in the SBC, and that near 30% of recent graduates from Southern Baptist Seminaries identify themselves as Calvinist, then putting out a sign reading “5-pointers are not welcome” is the functional equivalent of leaving unwanted children out to exposure. Some may well stay and endure the hostility but many may well be taken in joyfully by other denominations. It’s unreasonable to expect these graduates to stay where they are not wanted and then stand by and say that we are shocked – Shocked! – when these men, reared in Southern Baptist Churches and Seminaries, seek a home elsewhere. The same can be said about those of us sitting in Southern Baptist pews.

In closing I have to say that I’m glad Dr. Yarnell spoke at the conference. He could have very easily blown off the opportunity. But if bridges between Calvinists and Non-Calvinists are to be built within the SBC, then men like Dr. Yarnell are needed on the bridge building teams. Else, we’ll be building bridges to nowhere.

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A story is told about an atheist friend of Sir Isaac Newton. This man dropped by one day and found in Newton’s residence a working mechanical model of the solar system. He was fascinated by it and asked Newton who had built it. Newton turned to his friend and answered “No one.” The friend understood Newton’s point. He saw this amazing model and knew that it didn’t make itself, but when he looked at the amazing world around him he couldn’t see any need of its having a creator. Newton, on the other hand, couldn’t conceive of our universes existence without a creator.

Among the scientific ranks today, there are undoubtedly more who would agree with Newton’s friend than Newton. And according to those who would fall into the former category, the latter doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, exist among modern scientists (as an aside, Ben Stein is making a documentary about how scientists who dissent from the scientific party line are treated by those who hold that line). But it strikes me that those who insist that there is no room for God in science conflate two very different ideas, scientific fact and scientific theory.

The the composition of gases that makes up the air that we breath is known as a scientific fact. “The Big Bang” is just a theory. The magnitude of acceleration for falling bodies near the surface of planet Earth is known as a scientific fact. “Evolution” is just a theory. The speed of light is known, at least approximately, as a scientific fact. “Anthropogenic” global warming is just a theory.

I have no problem with scientific fact, I wouldn’t be studying engineering if I did. And I don’t have a problem with scientific theory, unless that theory is held up as a fact that must be dogmatically accepted as true. This is a problem because theory (or hypothesis) is the first step in the scientific method, not the last. But the biggest problem with this type of thinking is that it sets up a belief system that is in opposition to both scientific fact and ultimate Truth.

Atheists won’t typically acknowledge that their beliefs regarding topics like evolution are nothing more than, well, beliefs. In fact, the language they typically use is designed to leave the impression that evolution, or any other such theory, is an absolute and undeniable fact. But evidence that many scientific theories are nothing more than belief systems often rise to the surface. One of the more glaring examples I’ve come across came in the form of my former “Logic” professors textbook. The first line of his text reads:

One of the fundamental beliefs of the science of Archaeology is that the history of the human species, at least the history of our kind of humans, stretches back some one hundred and fifty thousand years.

The first line of the second paragraph reads:

All the same, before we can accept even this relatively recent date for the origin of modern human beings we must be willing to admit that Archaeology is reliable.

and later:

[W]e cannot accept the story that Archaeology tells us about our origin unless we are willing to admit that science in general can produce dependable results.

I appreciate the professors wording in his opening as it states his position truthfully. That is that modern archaeology has a set of fundamental beliefs that make up a story describing how some believe humans came to be what we are today. The problem comes in when he argues that this story must be accepted because science in general is reliable. It’s odd that a “logic” professor would make a category error (~ also called a distributive fallacy) such as this, but for me, it further demonstrates that those who impugn the the Christian faith are capable of the very same poor thinking that they attribute to Christian thought. I can, however, agree with him when he states the following:

[I]f the methods that archaeologists employ in order to support their theories are not reliable, then nothing that archaeologists tell us will be of value.

This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s at this point where scientific fact and scientific belief must be strictly distinguished from one another, and healthy doses of scientific skepticism judiciously employed. For instance, we are told that the age of a bone is known because of the rock in which it was found. We are then told that that rocks age is known because of the bones found in it. And carbon dating is almost always wrong when relatively new items are tested, but always assumed to be correct when old items are tested. So hypothesis is submitted as evidence in support of hypothesis. The theory grows, scientific fact gradually leaves the scene with speculation gradually taking over. Speculation is then held up as inviolable truth and defended with a religious fever. Then, when scientific belief becomes more predominant than scientific fact, we are asked to believe ridiculous notions like no one + nothing = everything, and considered scientific heretics if we don’t.

But scientific theories are shifting sand and always will be. If there is any area of our existence where evolution occurs, it’s scientific theory. What is true one day is false the next. Albert Einstein initially denied that the universe had a beginning, not because the evidence pointed that way, but because that would indicate the existence of a creator, a personal God. Today a beginning is largely assumed, even by atheists. Modern physicists like Michio Kaku and Stephen Hawking have embraced the theory of alternate universes, a theory they once shunned and thought ridiculous. But that was before shortcomings in string theory arose. Only ten or so years ago string theory was heralded as the long sought after “theory of everything.” And I have no doubt that in ten or so years alternate universes will be out of style as well.

So why are Christians asked to exchange our Savior – who is the same yesterday and today and forever – for constantly changing theories which violate reason? The best answer I can give would be that these theories represent belief systems in search of converts, complete with Ph. D’d high priests.

For a more compelling look at what scientific fact points to check out John MacArthur’s message from Ligonier’s 2007 national conference. It’s titled “The Challenge of Science”. The video is available for viewing online at Ligonier.org.

**I haven’t had a chance to view them yet, but a couple of semi related messages from the same conference by John Piper are there as well. They are titled “Faith and Reason” and “The Challenge of Relativism.”

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    Well, mostly of alcohol and the Bible, but hopefully I’ll be allowed to keep my Baptist Card™ after writing this post. For the record, I do not disapprove of alcohol consumption in moderation, though many, if not most, in my denomination (SBC) do.

    As a Reformed Baptist, I hold to the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura – that Scripture is the sole source of written divine revelation, which alone can bind the conscience and is the standard by which all Christian behavior must be measured. So, I am correct in my understanding only to the extent that that understanding corresponds to Scripture. Likewise, those who would disagree are correct only to the extent that that disagreement corresponds to Scripture. I hope that makes sense.

    On to the point (which won’t be made by me, I just agree that it’s correct). A couple of months ago, through the miracle of the internet, I ran across a link to a Sunday evening bible study at Omaha Bible Church that I enjoyed listening to (Free Will: Fact or Fiction). Recently, while looking for new material for my iPod, I went back and found this series – Wine or Welch’s? It’s an examination of alcohol in the Bible with a sermon on Romans 14 between its two parts. I’ll share my notes from the series here and recommend the audio to all interested parties.

Notes:

  1. Wine in the Bible is alcoholic: Gen 9:21, Num 6:3, Eph 5:18, Is 28:7
  2. Wine in the Bible is seen as good: Gen 27:28-29, Deut 28:39, Matt 9:17, 21:33
  3. Wine in the Bible is likened to marital sex: Song 1:2, 4:10, 5;1, 7:2, 8:2
  4. Wine in the Bible is seen as a blessing from God: Deut 7:13, 15:14, 33:28-29, II Chr 31:4-10, Prov 3:9-10, Eccl 9:7, Is 24:7-11, Zech 9:15, 17 (some of these show God taking away this blessing)
  5. Logical insertion: The possibility of abuse does not make the thing abused bad. Alcohol, sex, and food can all be abused, but no one (for the most part) would ban all food or marital sex. (The fact that abuse means to use improperly implies that the thing used wrongly actually has a proper use. That may be one of the reasons why some prohibitionists leap to the position that alcohol is in and of itself evil, so as to bypass the question of proper use.)
  6. Wine in the Bible is given as a sacrifice that is pleasing to God: Ex 29:40, Lev 23:13, Num 15:5-10, 18:12, 28:14, I Chr 9:29
  7. Wine in the Bible is enjoyed by Jesus and his followers: Matt 11:19, 26:26-29
  8. Logical insertion: If one claims to be a prohibitionist because they live by a “higher standard,” think on this: Do you mean higher than Jesus? The implications of an affirmative answer are quite frightening.
  9. Wine in the Bible is used for the Lords Supper: Matt 26:26-29
  10. Historical insertion: Dr. Welch, a pietistic methodist, believed that no Christian should drink alcohol, and thus, developed an “unfermented sacramental wine” in 1869 (which is good – the juice, not the belief).
  11. Wine in the Bible is to be enjoyed with Jesus in the Kingdom: Matt 26:29, Is 25:6
  12. Wine in the Bible is made by Jesus: John 2:1-11
  13. Wine in the Bible is given by God for gladdening hearts: Ps 104, I Chr 12:40, Prov 31:6
  14. Wine in the Bible is a hindrance to success if loved: Prov 21:17
  15. Wine in the Bible is not for drunkenness: Prov 20:1, 23:29-35, Is 5:11, Rom 13:13-14, I Cor 6:9-10, Gal 5:19-21, Eph 5:18, Is 28:7
  16. Wine in the Bible is forbidden categorically by those who have fallen away from the faith and are promoting demonic doctrine: I Tim 4:1-5 (There may be room for disagreement here, but I agree that wine would fall under foods and that the prohibitionist position is, at the very least, advocating a type of righteousness other than the kind we need, which is the righteousness of Christ.)
  17. Wine in the Bible is forbidden in unique instances and while preforming certain functions: Lev 10:9, Ezk 44:22, Num 6:3, Prov 31:4-5, Eccl 10:16-17, Is 28:1-7
  18. Humorous insertion: Daniel didn’t drink the kings wine…but he didn’t eat the kings food either.
  19. Wine in the Bible can be enjoyed by church leaders in moderation (just like everyone else): I Tim 3:1-8, Titus 1:7-9, 2:3
  20. Wine in the Bible is not the only form of alcohol allowed in the Bible: Deut 14:24-26
  21. Wine in the Bible is to be enjoyed thoughtfully: Romans 14

    That’s the meat of Pastor Abendroth’s presentation (with a few comments from me), and it’s far more thoughtful and exhaustive than anything I could put together. I’m hard pressed to find any serious disagreement with his presentation or citations. And so it is that when I look at this subject in the light of the whole of Scripture, I cannot help but conclude that alcohol is a gift from God, given with His wisely placed boundaries, and meant to be enjoyed within those boundaries by His people.

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Primarily, [the opponents of Christianity] use our own scriptures as the greatest tool to the destruction of the faith of the saints.
~ Dr. James White

    Back in March James White put on a bibliology class at Bethlehem Bible Church in West Boylston Massachusetts. CD’s in mp3 format are available for $10 from the church. It’s not a highly produced affair, it’s just a recording of what went down during the class. It’s also more apologetic than technical. As an example, after listening to the 12+ hours of audio I still couldn’t tell you the difference between the UBS and NA27 critical texts, but the information presented is probably more useful to a layman than such tidbits.

    Slides from the course (PDF format) and the first two of the eight audio files are available for free from their website. The heart of the class can be gotten from the slides alone, so if your not interested spending 10 bucks you can still pick up a lot of information free of charge. Topics covered include:

Transmission
Translation
Canonization
Sola Scriptura
Apocrypha
King James Only-ism
Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah’s Whitenesses)

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    James White went through Romans 9 yesterday on his internet radio program. Its exegetical and apologetic in nature. Definitely worth a listen, both for those who agree with the Monergist/Calvinist/Reformed position and those who would disagree. Listen to the full program here (~70 min), or the discussion of Romans 9 only here (~45 min).

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