A Preliminary Response to Arizona’s Legislation of Same-Sex Marriage

This past Friday the Attorney General for the state of Arizona announced that our state would begin to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples effective immediately. At the same time the Mayor of the city of Houston, TX has begun to violate the constitution by subpoenaing pastors to turn in their sermons or any other statement that address homosexuality. Our church refuses to be silent (or to be silenced) about what God has said marriage is and how human sexuality is to be expressed. We will faithfully speak what the Bible speaks and we will address both heterosexual and homosexual sinful behavior and we will call all people to repent and follow God’s will for their sexuality and for their entire life, by trusting and obeying Christ as Lord and Savior. Here is an initial statement from pastor Joel Ellis which reflects the official position of the teaching pastors at Community Christian Church where I serve as the pastor for discipleship and apologetics.

What is the Relationship of Faith and Reason and How Does this Relate to Salvation through Faith?

In our last post we discussed what the nature of faith is and whether or not the concept of faith (as it is used in the Bible) is rational. In short we determined that the popular concept of what faith means is not how the Bible uses that terminology. Faith, in the Bible at least, is really the idea of trust or having confidence in something or someone. We then determined that whether or not faith in an object is rational depends on the circumstance and reasoning that one has for placing their faith in that object. Furthermore we determined that faith without an object is inherently irrational whereas faith in something or someone is not inherently irrational and that faith in the God of the Bible is demonstrably rational.

With all of that established there now comes another question, what is the relationship of faith and reason/evidence as it relates to obtaining salvation? Now, in our last post, we killed the idea that faith and reason are opposites. This would only be true if faith were defined as believing against or contrary to reason and evidence or if it were defined as something that is above reason and not comprehensible by it. But because the Bible uses faith so as to communicate the idea of having confidence or trust in God, these definitions of faith are irrelevant as it relates to biblical Christianity. So then faith is not something that is inherently opposed to reasons and evidence, rather, it is something that can exist apart from it or strengthened by it. Let me demonstrate what I mean when I say faith can be something apart from reasons and evidence, but can also be strengthened when it has reason and evidence.

Imagine a frozen pond before you. Is it safe to walk on? The answer is ‘C’ not enough information, right? But let’s say you decide to walk on it anyway, you think you’ll be okay if you do. Essentially you’ve place your faith/trust in the strength of that ice to hold your weight. Will you be okay? It just depends on the reality of the situation. If it has been cold enough for a long enough period of time so as to allow the water to freeze and the ice to thicken to a dense enough state then, yes, you’ll be fine. But if it hasn’t then, no, you’ll fall through and you may just drown.

Now if you say to yourself, “I have all the faith in the world that this ice will hold me!” Does this affect the density of the ice? Not at all, but your belief may determine your willingness to walk on the ice. In the same way, perhaps you say to yourself “I’m scared to death that this ice won’t hold my weight but I am willing to take my chances and trust it.” Does your meager faith affect the density of the ice? No again. So what is the crucial issue? Is it the amount of faith one has in the ice or is it the whether the ice itself is sufficient to bear your weight? Obviously it is the latter.

This illustration of the frozen lake will serve us well to demonstrate the relationship of faith, reason and how they relate to salvation. Imagine that the frozen lake represents a religion, philosophy or worldview. You might look at the frozen lake and call it Buddhism, Islam, Atheism, or Christianity, etc. People all around the world have chosen to place their trust in a certain worldview (frozen lake) and many, if not most, have done so without sufficient reason or evidence to be certain that the metaphorical ice will hold their weight. In other words the majority of people in this world are skating on ice that they don’t know for sure will hold them. They may believe very strongly that it will hold them; they may have unwavering confidence that it will hold them but they don’t have sufficient reasons or evidence to support their faith in the ice they are. In these cases then I would agree with the idea that they have a faith that is irrational. It does not follow, however, that all faith is necessarily irrational just because many people don’t believe for rational reasons.

Now if we take the metaphor of the frozen lakes to be that only one of them is actually capable of bearing the weight of people walking upon it which correlated to only one religion is actually true and able to offer people salvation and eternal life, then a lot of people are in very real danger of falling through the ice right now because they are believing without sufficient reason that they are on the right ice. All people, in fact, are in danger except those who happen to be walking on the right frozen lake. As we have established already the level of one’s confidence that the frozen lake will bear their weight doesn’t strengthen or weaken the integrity of the ice. So what is the primary issue for that person’s safety? The issue is that they are on the right frozen lake which has thick enough ice to support them.

This is also true of religion. A person can fully believe that Islam is true, or Buddhism, etc., but because it is indeed false they will eventually fall through the ice. But because Christianity is true (which I will not here defend but for the sake of this article we are taking for granted) then people on this frozen lake are safe even if they had only the weakest faith but just enough to put their lot with Jesus. The degree of faith/trust/confidence is not what brings about salvation, rather, it is picking the right belief system that will actually save you.

In this way there are many Christians who believe in Jesus for salvation for just as insufficient of reasons that the Muslim believe in Allah and the Qur’an, however, the Christian will fare much better at the judgment because they have just so happened to trust in the one frozen lake that will bear their weight. It is in this way that faith can exist apart from reason and evidence and if a person happens to have put their faith in the right object that they will still have salvation whereas others who have just as much faith but chose the wrong object will not have salvation. So faith can be irrational, even faith in the right object (Jesus) can be irrational but the issue of whether or not that faith saves a person leans wholly upon whether they chose the right object of faith. So saving faith can exist apart from reason and evidence but it is a dangerous game of Russian Roulette and not one that I recommend people play. So then, a person ought to have a faith/trust informed by reason and evidence because this is what can lead them towards safety and away from danger, show them that they need to get off the thin ice they are on or that they happen to be standing on thick ice.

Imagine once again that you are standing before a frozen lake and pondering walking across it. You can decide to blindly place your confidence in it and hope you are going to be okay, or you can do some research. You can pull out your smart phone and look up the weather report for the last month or two and see how cold it has been. You could then find out how long it takes ice to form under certain temperatures and you could try to figure an approximate volume of the lake, you could even take a heavy rock and hurl it onto the ice and see whether the ice cracks. There are lots of things you could do to try and determine the strength of the ice before blindly walking on to it. You could then determine with some level of confidence whether or not this frozen lake is safe to walk on. And the level of your confidence in the ice should be proportional to the evidence and reasoning that you’ve established.

So the relationship of faith and reason are not polar opposite so that if you have one you cannot have the other but nor does faith necessarily entail reasons and evidence because a person can believe without them (have irrational faith). But the wise person will investigate what they are considering believing/trusting in before they step out onto the ice so that they may know if it will support their weight. As a Christian, given that our religion is actually true, reason and evidence will serve to support and strengthen your confidence that you are on strong ice whereas for other religions it will hopefully encourage them to get off the thin ice before they fall through.

While faith can be irrational, and if you’re lucky it may even save you from your sins if you’ve haphazardly ended up on strong ice, this is not the kind of faith the Bible would commend us to. If we as Christians blindly believe then we are no different from the sincere Muslim, Mormon, Buddhist, etc., who blindly believes other than being luckily on the right lake. So inform your faith, look into it and see how solid the ice is beneath your feet. If you’re a Christian you’ll find you’re in luck and standing on solid ice, but if you’re not I think you’ll find you have reason to be less confident about where you’re standing.

Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Also “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The intensity of your belief doesn’t make this true or false, rather, the fact that Jesus actually lived, was crucified and died and then rose back to life in history makes it true. How much better to not just believe in Jesus but to actually be able to say “I have good reasons to believe that Christianity is true!”? Christians your irrational faith may save you but you are much better off with having reason and evidence to support why you believe you’re in a safe place with Christ. Let’s put aside irrational faith and trade it in for reasonable faith.

 

What is Faith & is the Christian Faith Rational?

Some recent discussions I have been involved with have led to a critical question about the nature of Christian faith. Is faith irrational? Is it super-rational? Or is faith perfectly rational? If faith is irrational then it is for those who want embrace the absurd and implicit, if not explicit, contradictions in concepts. If this is right then we are asked to believe in spite of good reasons not to. If faith is super-rational, meaning that it is above our ability to reason with, although not necessarily contradictory and irrational, then it is of a blind nature where one is asked to believe apart from sufficient reason. But if faith is rational, meaning that it is logically coherent and corresponds to reality, then we are asked to believe in something or someone for good reasons.

Admittedly, Christians of different stripes throughout the history of Christianity have contended for all of these different ideas of what faith is. But to simply point out that there have been significant disagreements about the nature of faith should hardly lead us to the conclusion that there is no right view and that all of the views are equally valid or invalid. Although some Christians have embraced the idea that we should believe against reason and that evidence and reason are actually the opposite of faith (indeed they are mortal enemies according to some) I would contend that this is not even close to how the Bible asks us to believe in Christ nor anything else.

When the Scripture says “believe in the Lord Jesus”, what is it saying? The most natural understanding of this command is that we are to “trust” in the Lord Jesus. Or to put it another way, we are to have “confidence” in the Lord Jesus. When Jesus said “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” what did he mean? The Bible is explicitly clear what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean to believe in Jesus in the sense that we are merely to give mental ascent to the proposition that Jesus was a real person. James 2 tells us that even demons believe factually accurate statements about God, but this has no salvific effect for them nor does it mean that they have endearing feeling towards God. Rather the most obvious sense in which Jesus communicates that we should “believe” in him for eternal life is in the sense that we should trust him, rely on him, have confidence in his ability to save us.

So let’s take all of the mystery away from the concept of “faith” as though it is a thing in itself that has existence. Faith is by necessity tied to an object. When people use faith in our culture today as some sort of mystical word by saying “I just have faith that everything will work out” but that faith has not object to which it is attached, this is admittedly absurd! But this is not how the Bible uses faith. Faith is always attached to an object in the Bible, indeed more than an object, a person…God.

Take Abraham as an example (indeed we ought to because the apostle Paul in Romans 4 makes him the archetype example of salvific faith). In Genesis 15 God promised Abraham that he would give him a son through whom he would give Abraham many decedents and make a great and powerful nation. The Scripture tells us that Abraham believed God and it was counted to Abraham as righteousness. Paul expounds on this in Romans 4 saying that Abraham was made right with God by his faith in this instance. Now was Abraham irrational in his faith in God? Some would say yes because he was believing something that seemed impossible since his wife was barren and well beyond child bearing age. Abraham would indeed have been irrational if he had simply believed that he would have a son apart from that belief being tied to anything but just shot in the dark optimism. But this is not what Abraham did, no, Abraham believed/trusted/ had confidence in God that he would have a son. This wasn’t a blind leap this was trusting in the character of a capable person who was able to bring about the promise that he had made. So likewise when we trust in Jesus, we are not believing in pure optimism that everything is going to be okay, we are trusting a person, a divine one at that, who is able to save us just as he says. This is not a non-evidenced trust, but a trust built on a reputation that God has shown himself to be faithful and worthy of our confidence.

So faith, as the Bible uses the concept, is not inherently irrational because it is tied to an object. Were faith used in a subjective sense without any external attachment then it would be irrational to begin with but, again, this is not a biblical usage of the term although it may be used this way in popular culture and even by Christians at times. Since biblical faith carries the concept of trust or confidence in a person (God or Christ) then it is not inherently irrational. The question then turns to whether ones reasons for faith in God are rational or irrational. Someone could approach you and tell you that there is a tree in their yard that is the source of all life on earth and it is truly a deity and they might invite you to come and worship the tree with them. If you were to then sell all your possessions and buy the highest grade fertilizers to bring as an offering to this tree and devote yourself to worshiping the tree and making new disciples for the tree, then I would argue you have made an irrational decision to place you faith/trust/confidence in this tree in your neighbor’s yard. Why? Because there does not seem to be any evidence that supports your neighbors claim that this tree is anything more than a normal tree and now you have attached you faith to this object for no good reason whatsoever.

But is this picture similar to that of your neighbor inviting you to have a relationship with God through faith in Jesus of Nazareth? To the person hearing the message of Jesus for the very first time it might seem so, but under investigation of the claims of the Christian worldview (such as God exists and made the universe, made mankind in his image, our rebellion hurled the world into sin and chaos, we have lost our relationship with God, God still loves us and made a way back to him through Jesus his son, and by faith/trust in Jesus we can be restored to a right relationship with God) it would seem like there might be some good reasons to believe this is so. When one considers the solid arguments in favor of God’s existence from the origins of the universe, the existence of objective morality, and design in the universe and biological things, as well as, the unique nature of the Bible and its preservation and historical reliability, to the evidence that suggests Jesus really did rise from the dead, deciding to trust in Jesus is not irrational at all.

Now I will grant you that some will not find the evidence and reasoning in favor of the Christian worldview to be compelling enough for them to go ahead and believe it is true and place their faith in Jesus, but to call it irrational (apart from or in contradiction to reason) is really not accurate at all. In fact, even if Christianity turned out to be wrong that still would not mean that Christians were irrational for having believed it. How many things have rational people throughout history believed for good reasons just to later be shown that they lacked sufficient information to have formulated a correct belief? It would hardly be fair to have called a person irrational for believing the sun rotated around the earth before we had sufficient technology to determine otherwise. At the time, given the information they had, this was a rational inference.

So as a Christian, perhaps I am wrong but I am not irrational. But as an atheist, perhaps you are wrong. I am not going to call your position irrational. I do think that that the evidence is in our favor that our beliefs are the correct ones about the way things really are in the world, but if you can put one logical foot in front of the other and present a respectable case for your point of view I will not stoop to calling your position irrational, I will just continue to offer counterpoints and hope that by God’s grace you will come to see things as I believe they really are.

For our next post we will continue this discussion into a different nuance and interact with the question “What is the relationship of faith and reason and how does this relate to salvation through faith?

Why The World Craves Superheroes

I am about to reveal, to those of you who were not already painfully aware, that I am a nerd. Even so I thought in light of all of the super hero movies that have been coming out over the past decade, and with the great success of the Avengers movie and all of the individual super hero movies surrounding it, I would take some time to wax eloquent upon the notion of super heroes. In this post it is my intention to discuss two matters in particular. 1. What is the difference between a “hero” and a “super hero” and 2. Why does the world crave them? The first question is purely for fun and something of a matter of controversy among us nerds who care and it will be dealt with on a philosophical level. The second will take on a theological tone and is something that is genuinely worth considering even if you’re not a hardcore comic super hero fanatic.

  1. What is the difference between a hero and a super hero?

This question may seem silly to some right off the bat but it is actually not so easily answered. Take for instance Batman as opposed to Superman. Batman has no super powers, he can’t fly, see through walls, shoot laser beams from his eyes, nor could he withstand a bullet to the head. So is Batman not a super hero whereas Superman is? Is it “super human” abilities that makes one a super hero? Is that the sole condition?

If Batman is not a super hero because he does not have “super powers” then is he a hero on the same level as a local police officer or firefighter? Yet it would seem that there is a difference between Batman and officer Dave, right? If Batman isn’t a super hero then neither is Iron Man, after all, he is just a man in a really cool suit but he has no super powers either. That of course also knocks out Hawkeye and Black Widow, etc. So there you go, 3 of the 6 Avengers in the movie that just came out are not super heroes by this line of thinking. But, gosh, that just doesn’t set well with me.

I am not personally convinced that “super human powers” are what makes a super hero as opposed to just an average hero. I think there is more to it than that. For one, I would counter the notion that a super hero needs super powers in the sense that it has to be “super human” to the point of almost “super natural”. For instance I think that while the ability to fly or wield lightning certainly counts as a super power, I would argue that extreme intellect or skill of some kind might count also. A super hero needs some sort of almost untouchable quality or ability such as genius intellect, incredible fighting skill, or phenomenal use of a bow and arrow, etc. So whether it is an almost paranormal ability or just such a high level of skill or intelligence that no more than a handful in the world might be able to match, this is one necessary component of a super hero.

So a super hero needs what we might call “extraordinary ability” and may be, but need not be, possessing powers that exceed actual human potential. But this is not the sole component of being a super hero is it? I think not. After all one with “extraordinary ability” could just as easily be a super villain! So it would seem that another feature of a super hero is a strong sense of, and belief in, the need for justice in the world. This need for justice drives all true super heroes. It is what turned a billionaire playboy like Tony Stark into Iron Man, it is what drives Batman and Spider-Man who experienced the loss of loved ones at the hands of evil and injustice. Superman, Thor, Green Lantern, etc., are all equally committed to doing what’s right and protecting the innocent. So then it would seem that this is a necessary component of what is necessary to be a super hero as well.

So we have 1. extraordinary ability and 2. a compelling sense of justice but I think we are still missing one key element in the making of a true super hero, namely, a persona. Super heroes are separated from regular heroes by adopting a persona that strikes fear in the hearts of those who are evil and that brings hope and courage to those looking for someone to fill the gap. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Black Widow, Captain America, etc., etc. They all have a name and an image that says something to those who would oppose what is good, a message of fear, a message of assurance that their days are numbered. They stand as symbols of freedom, safety, and hope to the people they protect who desperately need a hero like them to do what the police and even the military can’t accomplish without them.

So I offer you these three points that I believe make for a super hero.

  1. Extraordinary ability.
  2. A compelling sense of justice.
  3. A powerful persona.

This is, I think, a working definition of a super hero and, although it is not perhaps the final word on the matter, I think it has merit. I would genuinely welcome your thoughts as to what qualities are essential to and/or separate hero from super hero. That is if you’re willing to out yourself as a nerd like me.

  1. Why do we love super heroes?

I, like so many other young boys (and I’ll bet a not a few young girls), grew up enthralled by the notion of super heroes. I remember excitedly reading through my comic books, watching Marvel’s X-Men on Saturday mornings, collecting trading cards and doing my best to draw pictures of my favorite heroes like The Amazing Spider-Man. I have always loved super heroes, I still do, and I am certain I always will.

I know I am not alone either because they keep cranking out more and more Marvel Comics movies. Not only that but the movie The Avengers was one of the highest grossing movies of all time and has become the highest-grossing movie in Walt Disney Studios history.

So why is it that this film and many of the other super hero films have been so wildly popular? I think I know. I think it is because the world needs and longs for a hero and deep down within the soul of every person there is a longing for perfect justice which is an ideal that seems completely beyond our grasp. We want someone to stand in the gap and answer the injustice we see in this world day after day.

How many times have we seen or heard about something that has happened which demands that goodness prevail over it and that justice be served and yet it goes completely unanswered? When we see the poor and the weak oppressed and preyed upon by the vultures of this world, or the man who raped and murdered a woman but who gets released because of a mishandling of the chain of evidence, we want justice and yet our imperfect system of law and the endless bureaucracy keeps perfect justice from being fulfilled.

We long for a savior figure who is above reproach, who is perfectly just and perfectly capable of executing justice. We want someone who isn’t tied down by the imperfect system, we want someone above the law but who keeps the spirit of the law, someone who does what’s right no matter what the personal sacrifice might be.

I think we love super heroes because built into our soul is a longing for our creator-God who is perfect justice. We are longing for the kind of justice that can only be met in the cross of Jesus Christ and will finally culminate at the judgment throne of God. One day Christ will return and every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and on that day all the wrong that has been done from the beginning until that day will judged and perfect justice will be dealt out. Those in Christ who have had their sins paid by the death of Christ will enter into a new world of perfect justice, free of pain and suffering where no more tyrants will exist. Those apart from Christ will see the justice in their condemnation for their rebellion and all that they have done in rejecting God’s sovereignty and they will enter eternity in hell.

Our longing for a super hero is our longing for God. Our longing for justice is prophetic of a future day of perfect justice. Our super hero, Jesus, has intervened in our trouble and gave his life to save us from our sin and he overcame death itself. All who trust in Christ will one day see perfect justice and will know what it is to be in the presence of a real live super hero.

Objection: If God is Real Then Why Are There No Miracles Today?

Some have challenged Christianity’s validity on the basis that miracles simply don’t happen. The objection is usually formed in a statement like “If miracles are real then why have I never seen one?” Some have even boasted “If God would do a miracle right now in front of me I would believe He was real!” Somehow I doubt that would be true for many of them as committed to naturalism as they are. You could raise their 30 years dead grandmother from the grave right in front of them and they would be looking for a naturalistic explanation.

Even so, it is not an altogether unfair question to ask “Where are all the miracles today?” A cursory reading through the Bible would might give a person the impression that from the time of Adam and Eve until the death of the apostles that miracles were an almost daily occurrence (or at least monthly, right?). So why is it that God, if He is really real, just stopped performing miracles? Doesn’t this point to the reality that the Bible is little more than a bunch of mythical tales full of legends gone wild?

Well, if there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that you need to take a closer look and be very careful before you come to snap conclusions. So here is a key question in this discussion that I would ask an objector “Is it really true that miracles in the Bible are as common as you think?”

Actually if you take the number of miracles talked about in the Bible, around 350 give or take (depending on how you define miracles this list can fluctuate some) and divide them across the time span of the writing of the Bible (about 1,500 years) then you end up with 0.2333 miracles a year or one miracle about every 4 years. So miracles were not happening every day apparently, but there is even more that ought to be said here. The miracles in the bible, as it turns out, are not evenly spaced throughout the biblical timeline.

In fact, the majority of miracles occur surrounding figures like Moses, Elijah, Jesus, Peter and Paul. In other words, large bulks of these miracles happen around a specific people and at a specific period of time. A relevant question to ask would now be “Why is this the case?” Well I am glad you asked! The answer is because God has often used miracles as a way to validate the message or ministry of a certain individual. When Moses claimed in the Exodus account to be Yahweh’s chosen leader of His chosen people how did he prove this was so? God did miracles all around him to validate that Moses really was God’s servant (e.g. staff turned into a snake, 10 plagues, parting of the Red Sea, water from stones, etc.). And God did this with Elijah and Jesus and the apostles too.

So, in reality, most people throughout biblical history never saw miracles either! There were long periods of time where God (as far as we know) performed no miracles among his people. That such events more often than not surrounded certain figures at certain times and in certain places guarantees that the majority of people throughout history are much like you and I and have not seen one of these acts of God first hand. This is not to discount their validity in any way though for there are good reasons to believe that miracles have occurred and still can.

In fact the eye-witness accounts of Jesus found in the Gospels and even earlier in Paul’s epistles weigh in as strong evidence that Jesus really died and rose from the dead. A great book for considering this is The Case for the Resurrection by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona. The historical evidence surrounding Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are staggering. Furthermore, the fact that we have not personally seen something doesn’t negate its possibility. I have never personally seen many things in this world that I believe to really exist and the same goes for you I am sure.

So then arguing that miracles don’t happen or that God doesn’t exist because you haven’t seen a miracle happen isn’t all that strong of a case. The Bible gives a logical reason for the sparsity of miracles, and there are plenty of things that are real that you and I may never see but don’t doubt. Ask yourself this also, if miracles happened every day, would they still be considered miracles? If a miracle occurred in front of you on a daily basis you would probably draw the conclusion that miracles are like gravity, a part of the natural order of things! It is the rarity of miracles that in part makes them so powerful for affirming God’s plan in this world. If they were common place then you could raise someone’s 30 years dead grandma from the grave and they would simply exclaim “Big deal! Happens all the time.”

Is There A Difference Between a “Human Being” and A “Human Person”?

It is noteworthy that the abortion debate is starting to take a major shift in terminology. The popular argument has gone from “The unborn is not a baby” or “The unborn is just a mass of tissue” or “The unborn is simply part of the mother’s body” to “The unborn is a human being, but not a person!” The reason for this shift is largely due to the fact that medical technology and science have progressed to the point that our knowledge about what the developing entity in the womb actually is has made it clear that it is not just a thing, rather, it’s an individual and unique human being.

The developing child has its own heartbeat from two weeks into the development process forward, it has its own unique DNA from the moment of conception when sperm and egg meet. The fact of the matter is, an unborn developing child in the womb is from the very beginning distinct from the mother’s body, a living organism, a human being. That the developing child is dependent upon the mother for survival is without question, but the last time I checked my two-year old is still dependent upon my wife and I for survival as well, so that hardly negates a developing child’s humanity.

The advancements in ultrasound technology (such as the 3D ultrasound picture seen in this post) have made the humanness of the developing child in the womb so much clearer to the eyes of so many. In fact, women who see an ultrasound picture of their baby prior to having an abortion are significantly more likely to choose  to keep their baby than those who never do.

In fact with every step science has made towards better understanding the process of development in the womb it has become ever more clear that from conception a new distinctly human and distinctly separate human being has come into existence. As such, pro-abortion advocates have started to use language wherein the unborn are now recognized for what they are, human beings! Surely this settles the matter, right? Wrong.

It is now in vogue to try to make a distinction between being a human being and a human person. That is to say some (and the numbers who would argue this way are growing) are now arguing that the developing embryo, fetus, etc., is undeniably biologically human, but to be biologically human (they would argue) is not the same as being a person.

So then, the obvious question is what is it that makes the distinction between being biologically human and being a human person? Well every explanation that has been offered up by those who argue this position points towards functionality. In other words the dividing line between these two categories is the ability to achieve a certain level of (or perhaps number of) function. Suggestions have been put forth such as a human becomes a person when they are able to live outside the womb, breathe on their own, have self-awareness, consciousness, walk, talk, communicate or respond a certain way in specific set of circumstances, etc.

It would seem that no two lists of functions that supposedly gap the bridge between human being and human person tend to agree. In fact, this argument used by pro-abortion advocates is being used by some to go beyond justifying abortion and even advocating infanticide, killing those with mental disabilities and euthanizing the elderly whose functionality has slipped below a certain level.

The primary problem with this argument that divides humanity from personhood is that it is completely subjective and arbitrary. After all, whose list of functions is the right one? When exactly does personhood begin? Why should your list be the correct standard of personhood and mine the wrong one? If consciousness is an essential attribute of persons, is a human not a person when they are sleeping? What about if they are in a coma for a week, a month or a year? If I kill your baby before it meets a minimal amount of functions should I be charged for murder or for killing your pet?

It would seem that we are not able to ground the beginning of personhood in anything objective at all once we separate it and make it non-essential to human existence. This reasoning is what has allowed for the genocide of various people groups, slavery and of course abortion. If being human doesn’t mean being a person and it is okay to kill non-persons then we can justify any kind of murder we desire if we can simply label them a non-person. Whether they be Jews, black people, unborn babies, the elderly, the mentally handicapped, the slippery slope just never stops.

From the moment of conception there is a human person in continual development who in the very essence of their existence is filled with potential. Our responsibility as fellow human persons is to respect that developing life from conception to natural death. Regardless of whether that person realizes its full potential or not, by merit of being a human being it is to be afforded the respect of being a human person. There is no argument that reasonable gives us a basis to separate the two.

Humanity and Personhood, these two terms are a difference without a distinction. To be human is to be a person. Functionality doesn’t determine personhood and the day we allow that argument to take root in our country we have lost the ability to defend innocent life in so many categories and we open ourselves up to a new kind of Holocaust where you or someone you love may one day find yourself a victim of this horrid and unfounded philosophy.

Objection: You Are Only A Christian Because of How and Where You Were Raised!

This objection is all too common. When Christians share their faith and insist that Jesus is the one and only way to God and that Christianity is the truth, people of all sorts often respond with “You’re only a Christian because of how and where you were raised! If you’d been raised in the Middle East you’d be a Muslim, or if you were raised in Asia you might be a Buddhist. You’re only Christian because your parents are or that’s what is so common in your culture!” So how might we respond to this?

At first encounter with this objection it may seem like it has some tread on it and that maybe there is some truth to it. And indeed, there is “some” truth to it. After all, if you look at religions geographically it is undeniable that Christianity is big in Western culture, Europe and America, whereas Islam is predominant in the Middle East and Buddhism and Hinduism, aren’t called “Eastern Religions” for no reason, right? So is this objection valid? Not entirely.

Certainly where and how we are raised is a major factor in our life decisions. Our culture and our parents affect all of us in ways that we are often not even conscious of. These are indeed major influences in our lives and it follows that, as such, we are in some ways very much a product of our culture and our parents. But, even so, should we look at parents and cultures in such deterministic terms so as to say that you or I couldn’t be anything other than what we are? It doesn’t take long to think of some examples that seem to stop this objection dead in its tracks.

For instance, consider China which is steeped in thousands of years eastern philosophy, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and even Islam, not to mention a whole host of other small religions full of ancestral worship. Even though today the government is officially communist these religions persist. And Christianity, which is hotly persecuted, is booming there now. Even in places like Iran where conversion to Christianity may mean losing your life, people are still placing their faith in Christ! Could we say to an Iranian Christian ”You’re only a Christian because your parents and culture are!” Not in most cases we couldn’t!

It doesn’t follow that just because our parents and culture strongly lean one direction that we are therefore determined by them and cannot choose another way. Certainly there are those who go with the flow and never have thought deeply about their faith in Christ or are simply nominally Christian or Muslim, etc. But there are enough counter examples to suggest that this objection isn’t all that strong when one thinks about it.

After all, we could respond to the one making this objection in kind and say, “You’re just an Atheist or (Fill in the blank) because of how and where you were raised!” And if that’s true then whatever they believe is just as invalid as what we believe. Perhaps it’s more reasonable to realize that many people of all stripes haven’t thought deeply about what they believe and why, but that some have. Indeed some have changed their beliefs under threat of death and persecution. Atheists have become Christians, Muslims have become Christians, Hindu’s have become Christians and all of this despite their culture and parents. Some of us believe what we do because we have thought through it. Have you thought through what you believe?

Should Abortion be Legal to Keep Women Safe?

One of the popular arguments against making abortion illegal is that doing so will force women into having to take dangerous measures to get an abortion. These so-called “back-alley abortions” or “rusty coat hanger abortions” are actually irrelevant and misleading to the discussion of the legality and morality of abortion.

First, there have been many claims about countless women dying or sustaining serious injuries from unsafe illegal abortions prior to the legalization of abortion in the United States, however, there is serious debate about the statistics that have been thrown around in regard to how many illegal abortions occurred and the percentage of women who died from them. After all, compiling reliable data about off-the-record and illegal abortions is next to impossible. How can we have a realistic figure as to how many of these occurred given that the vast majority would never have beeb reported at all? So we should not be quick to believe Planned Parenthood or other pro-abortion groups who throw around such statistics in the first place.

Second, abortion isn’t always “safe” even when it is done legally by a licensed clinic and a real doctor. There have been numerous cases of healthy women dying in a real clinic with a real doctor performing the “operation.” Just recently a woman who was having a late term abortion, 33 weeks into her pregnancy, died under the hand of an abortion doctor.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there is a much bigger issue that is being ignored when this argument about “women’s safety if abortion is made illegal” is used. The issue is that which is central to the entire abortion debate, namely, is the unborn baby a person? If the answer is yes, then it is obvious that abortion should be illegal. If abortion should be made illegal because the unborn are human persons, then the fact that obtaining illegal abortions is unsafe is not a good reason to allow abortion to be legal.

Consider this, if an unborn baby is a person, then abortion is the termination of an innocent life. If abortion is the termination of an innocent life, then abortion is indeed murder. So the argument in regard to the danger of unsafe abortions is tantamount to a murderer complaining that if his/her right to murder an innocent person under federal law is revoked then it will be much less safe for him/her to murder without the proper safety conditions currently provided by the law! But clearly this is absurd, and yet it is indeed the actual case that we are dealing with.

There is only one matter to be settled in the abortion debate, is the life that begins at conception a human person from the very beginning? If the answer is “yes” then abortion is never permissible because it is the murder of an innocent person (with, perhaps, the exception of tubular pregnancies or other conditions which insure the death of both mother and child if the pregnancy is not terminated). If the answer is “no” then clearly abortion is permissible up to the point a zygote, embryo, fetus, newborn, etc., becomes a person (and who gets to decide when that happens?).

There is no other issue that matters in this debate. If at conception a human person comes into being then abortion is never justified and arguments like how dangerous illegal abortions are become totally irrelevant. Those who would seek out such dangerous operations would be doing so in violation of the law and with the intent of murder and should have no special considerations afforded them.

This is a red herring in the abortion debate, now you know why.

Why Are There Four Gospels?

Have you ever wondered why God inspired four different gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, earthly ministry, death and resurrection? As a young Christian I remember thinking to myself “Isn’t this kind of repetitive?” Especially the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) which are so very similar to each other. What’s the point? Well it may interest you to know (and hopefully you were already aware) that God is smarter than you and I and He had great purpose in the writing and preservation of the four gospels in our Bible.

Do you like court room dramas? Whether it be a TV show or movies we have all seen them. We have seen the lawyer call up their next witness and they give their take upon the events in question. One witness is good, but multiple witnesses are better. The more witnesses we have of an event the more evidence we can collect as to what really happened. However, multiple witnesses alone doesn’t equal an airtight case because sometimes not all witnesses are honest.

Let’s say for example that you have four witnesses in a murder trial. The prosecuting attorney calls one up and he gives his testimony about what happened: “I saw the defendant shoot that woman, he was wearing a green Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirt, he had blue eyes, dark hair, the gun was a Glock 45, and he had this creepy smile on his face, with a mole on his right cheek, it was that man sitting right there, I saw him with my own eyes.” Then the next witness is called up and she says the exact same thing that the first witness did, word for word, verbatim. Then the third takes the stand and says the exact same thing, verbatim, and the fourth witness does likewise. Does this make for a solid case against the defendant?

Actually, no, it doesn’t. Because the four witnesses said the exact same thing, as if they had the exact same vantage point and the exact same knowledge of what kind of gun it was, etc., it sounds like they collaborated together to get their stories straight so that they would all say the exact same thing. So four absolutely identical accounts would be worthless because they would obviously be little more than a copy of one person’s testimony or a collaboration to make up a story.

What are some other problems that you have seen those lawyers have with witnesses on stand? How about if one witness takes the stand, gives their testimony and says “I saw the murderer, it was a white man about 6’3” with blonde hair, and a muscular build” but then the next witness gets up on stand and says that they also saw the murderer with their own eyes but they describe the murderer as “a black woman about 5’4” and heavy-set”, then something is wrong here. The law of non-contradiction tells us that it is impossible for both of these witnesses to be right and therefore one of them (or both of them) is lying. So these kind of witnesses are not reliable either (unless other evidence confirms one is telling the truth and the liar is exposed).

So what is the best kind of witnesses a prosecuting attorney can hope for in his case against the defendant? Let’s say you have four witnesses and this time it goes something like this:

Witness 1: “I saw the man shoot the woman, but I was kind of far away and only saw him from the back side. I do know that he had brown hair and was wearing a green shirt. I would say he was somewhere around 6 feet tall. The gun appeared to be a revolver. The man sitting right there looks like he could be the man I saw.”

Witness 2: “I saw that man, sitting right there, carrying a gun into the mall, I didn’t see him shoot anyone, but when I saw the gun I ran because I was scared. It was a silver revolver with a pearl grip and he was wearing a green polo.”

Witness 3: “I was with my friend, Tina, when he shot her. I saw him do it, he shot her at point-blank. He was her old boyfriend and he was jealous because she dumped him for someone else. He bought that stupid revolver last year at a gun show. I know him personally and I saw him do this.”

Witness 4: “I am a police officer who often patrols the mall. We’ve had a number of incidents lately and so the chief has assigned me and another officer to the task of walking the mall now and then. I heard the gun shots but got there too late. I was only in time to see the man running away but I was able to determine that he was wearing a green shirt and had dark brown hair and was about 6’2”. I know that because as he ran out the door it had one of those height charts on it. He was carrying a silver revolver and the bullets we recovered were 45 caliber slugs and a match to the gun we found in the suspects house.”

Now these four testimonies equal to an airtight case against the defendant. The details and perspectives vary, some give more specific information than others (green shirt/green polo, revolver/45 caliber revolver/pearl grip revolver, approximate height of 6 foot/about 6’2”, etc.) but all of the information, although varied, is actually complimentary and not contradictory. These testimonies are solid, they reflect reality and the experience that various people had as they encountered the situation.

The gospels are very much like this last example. They are four different re-tellings from four different perspectives. Now, granted there are some differences. For instance we might liken the account of Matthew and John to eye-witness accounts whereas Mark was the second-hand telling of the story (there is strong indication that Mark probably wrote his gospel based off of the teaching of Peter) and Luke would perhaps be better likened to a reporter who interviewed numerous people who had witnessed the crime and then compiled the data to give an accurate account. But the point remains the same, we have four testimonies that supply information about the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. They provide varied details, much commonality, they never contradict and they stand as very reliable set of witnesses to the person of Jesus.

In God’s wisdom he inspired four gospels to be written by men with different vantage points and with knowledge of specific information that sometimes varied so that when the life of Jesus would be put on trial, as it so often is these days, we could show just how strong these testimonies really are about Jesus of Nazareth.

Cultural Relativism, Homosexuality and the Bible

I’ve heard it said more than once “If Paul had taught in our day he wouldn’t have opposed homosexuality!”  Maybe you have heard this claim or others like it as well. But, the question is, is there any truth to these kind of claims that argue the Bible wouldn’t say the same kind of things if it had been written today?

The problem with claims such as these (which are often made by both Christians and non-Christians) is that they assume cultural relativism is true. In other words, people who hold this view would say that when Paul wrote:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

He did so as a product of his culture in that day which was not accepting of homosexuality. However, since today’s culture is ever so much more enlightened, we know that homosexuality is normal and okay. Therefore if Paul were alive today to write his letters of instruction he would be tolerant of homosexuality.

But is this really true? Does the current whim of culture really dictate what is morally permissible? To even argue that the majority of our culture sees homosexuality as “normal” I think is still a stretch, but the normalizing of homosexuality has certainly made major headway in our country over the past few decades. Regardless of how the present culture views homosexuality, is that the determining factor of morality? Even more, is that the determining factor as to what the Scriptures teach or ought to teach today?

Consider with me the logic of this argument.

Premise 1: Whatever the culture presently accepts as moral, is moral.

Premise 2: Our culture accepts homosexuality as morally permissble.

Conclusion: Homosexuality is presently morally permissible.

Now let’s think this through for a moment. If Premise 1 and Premise 2 (Here forward shortened as “P1″ and “P2″) are true, then it is necessary that the conclusion is also true. This 3 point argument in philosophy is called a syllogism, it has a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. If P1 and P2 relate to one another properly and the conclusion follows from the premises then the form of the argument is “valid.” If an argument is valid then it’s conclusion is true if, and only if, both of P1 and P2 are factually true.

Here is one example of an invalid syllogism:

P1: Penguins are black and white.

P2: Some old T.V. shows are black and white.

C: Some penguins are old T.V. shows.

The reason that this syllogism is invalid is not because P1 and P2 are factually untrue. We do know that penguins (at least certain kinds) are black and white and we know that some old T.V. shows are black and white. The issue is what do Penguins and old T.V. shows have in common which make the conclusion warranted? P1 and P2 are factually true, but they do not properly correspond in a way that warrants the conclusion that is produced.

Now, back to our argument about morality being culturally relative. I will restate the argument and then deal with the issue.

P1: Whatever the culture presently accepts as moral, is moral.

P2: Our culture accepts homosexuality as morally permissible.

C: Homosexuality is presently morally permissible.

I would argue that the form of this argument is indeed “valid” because P1 and P2 are properly related to one another in such a way that if they are factually true then the conclusion “C”, which does follow from the premises, is necessarily true. So, in order to defeat this argument, what I want to do is show why P1 is false. I also think one could make a good case for why P2 should be considered false, but it will not be necessary to defeat both premises in order to show that this syllogism, although valid in form, is necessarily false.

If P1 is true then the only thing that is necessary for something to be moral is widespread cultural acceptance. What seems unclear is what the standard of widespread acceptance is? One can only assume that we must argue for a certain percentage of acceptance in order to conclude that a culture “accepts” something as moral. What is the necessary percentage of people needed to qualify a certain issue as “moral?” Is it 100%? Surely not. No culture has 100% agreement about every moral issue. Perhaps it is simply a majority that is needed? That seems fair, we shall go with that.

Of course a majority is simply 51% percent (or even 50.1% versus 49.9%) but let’s just say “a majority” is what is needed to qualify an issue as moral or immoral. Furthermore, let’s say that the majority of Americans (which is where P2 comes in and is arguable) hold that homosexuality is morally permissible. Under this line of thinking, culture has made homosexuality moral because the majority of people feel that it is.

Question 1: What if the population was so divided on this issue that the majority constantly fluxed back and forth between seeing homosexuality as morally permissible vs. morally reprehensible? Would cultural relativist think that we ought to praise homosexuality one day and deplore it the next?

Question 2: What if the vast majority of Americans actually believed that homosexuality is wrong? Should it then be seen as reprehensible?

Question 3: What if our country sees homosexuality as morally permissible but in Mexico the vast majority of people believe homosexuals should be hunted down and burned? If we are basing moral principles upon nothing more than cultural whims, can we judge the people of Mexico for their practices which have been deemed as moral?

Question 4: If we hold the view that morality is decided on the basis of culture, are we willing to admit that in the first century in the culture which Paul wrote, that homosexuality was indeed immoral at the time?

Questions like these seem to raise some real difficulties when it comes to cultural relativism. We can express these problems in other scenarios that have actually played out in history as well. For instance:

If cultural relativism is true, and the majority of Germans in the 1930’s and 1940’s believed that Jewish people were sub-human and ought to be destroyed, should we as Americans (from a different culture) force the Germans to accept our morality?

In Great Britain’s history slavery was an established and widely accepted practice. William Wilberforce, who fought to see slavery abolished in England (and who eventually won), was in the minority opinion to begin with. Over time Wilberforce was able to sway the majority of people into believing that slavery was immoral and that it ought to be abolished. Was Wilberforce immoral because he rejected the majority view on an issue of morality? Should such “moral reformers” be condemned? Was slavery truly morally permissible as long as the majority believed it to be so?

It would seem obvious at this point to most thinking people that morality is not merely a consensus issue. The majority vote doesn’t always equal what is morally right. When injustice drones on and the crowds follow along agreeably, it takes courageous people to do what is morally right when it is unpopular to do so.

In fact it seems that even if everyone were in favor of killing Jews because of their faith, or enslaving black people because of their skin color, that it would still be morally and objectively wrong! So then, what a society deems as “moral” or “immoral” doesn’t make it so. There must be a standard outside of human society and government that determines morality, because to ground morality in humanity is to say that there is no final morality.

So I therefore I argue that P1: “Whatever the culture presently accepts as moral, is moral” is demonstrably false.

So then, when the Bible condemns homosexuality as immoral and, dare I say it, “sin,” it does not do so on the basis of the lack of cultural acceptance. In fact one might ask why Paul had to condemn it if it was not fairly prevalent. Truth be told, homosexuality was seen as acceptable in the Greek culture of the New Testament world. So when Paul and other biblical writers spoke against homosexuality they spoke a counter-cultural message even in their day.

The ground for rejecting homosexuality in the Bible was not cultural consensus, rather, the ground was God and his revealed plan for human beings. God intended sex for a heterosexual relationship within the confines of the marriage covenant. One man and one woman joined together for mutual encouragement, love, support, sexual pleasure, and procreation until death parts them. This was meant to be a means of glorifying God as the marriage relationship functioned properly. Any detraction from that original plan, whether it be homosexuality or heterosexual sex outside of marriage, is a rejection of God’s will and is therefore sin and immorality.

The Bible certainly addressed issues related to the culture of the day in which it was written, but the basis for its precepts is not grounded in that culture, rather, it was grounded in the revealed will of God. The created order that God set up was the basis for normative human sexuality when Paul wrote and it still is today.