April 2006

Christianity Today wrote a piece on 04-25-06 entitled “The Other ID Opponents.” The article focuses on the squabble some Biblical creationists have with the Intelligent Design (ID) movement. The article spent an inordinate amount of time discussing Ken Ham’s ministry, Answers in Genesis (a young earth creationist organization), and his beef with ID. I read a lot of things that get my blood boiling, but it’s not too often I will write the author to express my concerns. This time, however, I did just that. I was quite astonished that CT would write such a one-sided story that misrepresented ID and did not let ID proponents speak for themselves. They labeled as “enemy” a genuine friend of Christianity: ID. Read the article at the link above and then the following response I sent to CT:

I am a Pentecostal Christian who has studied both creationism and ID. I was quite shocked at the presentation of the issue in this article. In my opinion it was incredibly one-sided (Ken Ham was referenced or quoted 11 times without a single quote from an ID advocate in response), and I would argue it misconstrued the nature of ID and its relationship to creationism (mainly through the words of Ham).

The theory of ID is not facing off with creationism or Genesis as if the two are at odds. Creationism simply picks up where ID leaves off. ID uses scientific means to identify hallmarks of intelligence in the physical and biological worlds, demonstrating that certain aspects of the world could not have been formed by unintelligent processes such as those put forth by neo-Darwinism. But because of the constraints of science the nature/identity of this designing intelligence (natural or supernatural) cannot be identified, nor can the designer’s methods of design/creation be detailed. That’s where philosophy and religion come in; that’s where Biblical creationism comes in. Biblical creation puts a face on the designer “discovered” through the scientific disciple of design detection.

While some Christians may wish ID spoke to more, it is constrained by the empirical and epistemological limits of the scientific method. It only seeks to demonstrate that undirected material causes alone are not sufficient to explain the specified complexity found in our world. A designing intelligence is needed, and ID has identified positive empirical evidence for the existence of such a designer.

Just because ID is not a do-it-all package that takes one from materialism to theism does not mean ID is not an ally to Biblical creationism. Ken Ham and others seem to argue that since ID doesn’t tackle everything creationists think should be tackled that it is a danger to creationism. That’s like arguing a cancer institute is dangerous to health improvement because it doesn’t tackle AIDS, Leukemia, and the like. While creationism may be the home run of Christian truth, ID is a base hit. We should not try to eject them from the game simply because they don’t slam the ball out of the park. We’re on the same team, and we’re all playing against the Darwinists and their mascot of materialism. We are both united in our opposition to Darwinism’s insistence on blind, undirected natural causes as an explanation for the present state of the cosmos. We are both united in our affirmation that an intelligent designer was responsible for creating. As Nancy Pearcey wrote, “Thus the heart of the battle is whether the universe is the result of Intelligent Agency or of blind, noncognitive forces—and that’s where we must direct our energies.” (Total Truth, 174)

I hope you will write another piece that looks at the issue a little more objectively and allows ID to speak for, and defend itself.

NASB (New American Standard Bible)

Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, 3:9 but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 3:10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. 3:11 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 3:12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. 3:13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 3:8-13)

NET Bible

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not two-faced, not given to excessive drinking, not greedy for gain, 3:9 holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 3:10 And these also must be tested first and then let them serve as deacons if they are found blameless. 3:11 Likewise also their wives must be dignified, not slanderous, temperate, faithful in every respect. 3:12 Deacons must be husbands of one wife and good managers of their children and their own households. 3:13 For those who have served well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (I Timothy 3:8-13)

Notice the difference in the two translations (the bold-faced words in particular)? The underlying Greek word behind these two different renderings is gunaikas. The word can be translated as “women” or “wives” depending on the context. There is considerable scholarly debate over which choice is the proper translation in this particular context. Most translations translate it as does the NET Bible: wives. Some, however, translate it as “women.” Many translations note that it could be translated either way.

Why does this matter? It is important to the doctrine of ecclesiology. If gunaikas refers to “women” in general this is positive proof that the office of deacon can be held by women as well as men. If “wives” is the correct translation, however, it is not.

New Testament scholar Andreas Kostenberger argues that the proper translation is “women” and thus Paul is referring to women deaconesses. You can read his arguments here.

The NET Bible offers the following footnote that summarizes some of the same arguments presented by Kostenberger et al, but argues for the superiority of translating gunaikas as “wives”:

Or “also deaconesses.” The Greek word here is γυνακας (gunaikas) which literally means “women” or “wives.” It is possible that this refers to women who serve as deacons, “deaconesses.” The evidence is as follows: (1) The immediate context refers to deacons; (2) the author mentions nothing about wives in his section on elder qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-7); (3) it would seem strange to have requirements placed on deacons’ wives without corresponding requirements placed on elders’ wives; and (4) elsewhere in the NT, there seems to be room for seeing women in this role (cf. Rom 16:1 and the comments there).

The translation “wives” – referring to the wives of the deacons – is probably to be preferred, though, for the following reasons: (1) It would be strange for the author to discuss women deacons right in the middle of the qualifications for male deacons; more naturally they would be addressed by themselves. (2) The author seems to indicate clearly in the next verse that women are not deacons: “Deacons must be husbands of one wife.” (3) Most of the qualifications given for deacons elsewhere do not appear here. Either the author has truncated the requirements for women deacons, or he is not actually referring to women deacons; the latter seems to be the more natural understanding. (4) The principle given in 1 Tim 2:12 appears to be an overarching principle for church life which seems implicitly to limit the role of deacon to men. Nevertheless, a decision in this matter is difficult, and our conclusions must be regarded as tentative.

While this is only an introduction to the debate, I think these two sources present some of the most compelling arguments in behalf of each view. You be the judge as to which is correct.

Jonah Goldberg over at National Review Online wrote the following concerning the proposed bill in Spain:

Lord how [I] hate it when people do those DNA comparisons. I’m all for being nice to monkeys and gorillas, but please. We share a lot of the same DNA with dogs and, if memory serves, a big chunk of our DNA matches up nicely with some fruits and vegetables. What, exactly, should that tell us? We share 100% of our DNA with fetuses — as Ramesh would likely note — and yet that never seems to argue much in their favor among the crowd that wants animals to have rights.

This is a powerful argument to make when dealing with PETA people who are typically pro-animal rights and pro abortion rights.

I would add to Goldberg’s list that mice are said to 97.5% genetically similar to humans.Will the Socialist Party in Spain include them in the bill?Of course not.Clearly it’s not all in the DNA.

Turning to the evolutionary aspect of this discussion, the amount of genetic similarity between man and chimps is not surprising given the amount of morphological similarity between chimps and man (By the way, the article claims the two are 98.4% similar.Actually, it’s more like 95.2%).It’s important to understand that the genetic similarity does not mean the genes function in the same way.It is similar to the way in which authors use most of the same words and yet write radically different stories. As William Dembski wrote:

It’s like going through the works of William Shakespeare and John Milton, and finding that almost all the words and short phrases they used are identical. Such a similarity would not be surprising since what separates Shakespeare from Milton is not so much their vocabulary but how they used their vocabulary to express their thoughts. Different authors might use nearly identical sets of words. The crucial difference is in how those words are utilized in their respective contexts. The overall meaning only emerges from the way the words are put together. Likewise, two organisms might have nearly identical sets of genes, and even situate those genes in roughly the same order; and yet they can utilize those genes so differently as to produce markedly different organisms.

While the genetic alphabet of man and chimp may be the same, the way in which those letters are put together create vast differences.Consider the following to sentences:

Charles Darwin was a scientific god.

Charles Darwin was a scientific dog.

Both sentences contain the same number of letters, and in almost identical order.The slight difference, however, makes their meaning very different.The same goes for living things.The gene sequence diversion between humans and chimpanzees has been “found to have significant effects both on the amino-acid sequences of proteins and on the ways those proteins are regulated.”[1]About 20% of proteins are different between the two species.An examination of chimp and human brain cells reveals that humans have accumulated 5.5 times the changes as chimps over the same period of time.The human brains produce 31% more proteins than chimps.

Evolutionists tend to overemphasize the similarities between chimps and humans and underemphasize the differences, but the challenge of evolutionists is to explain their differences.

Physical Differences between Humans and Chimpanzees[2]

(1) The feet of chimpanzees are prehensile, in other words, their feet can grab anything their hands can. Not so for humans.

(2) Humans have a chin, apes do not.

(3) Human females experience menopause; no other primates do (the only known mammal besides humans to experience menopause is the pilot whale).

(4) Humans have a fatty inner layer of skin as do aquatic mammals like whales and hippopotamuses; apes do not.

(5) Humans are the only primate whose breasts are apparent when not nursing.

(6) Apes have a bone in their penis called a baculum (10 millimeters in chimpanzees); humans do not.

(7) Humans have a protruding nose.

(8) Humans sweat; apes do not.

(9) Humans can consciously hold their breath; apes cannot.

(10) Humans are the only primates that weep.

For humans to have come from chimps (actually it is said to be a hominid ancestor common to both man and chimps) we have to explain how 600 million base pairs in the DNA sequence were changed over a period of only 6 million years.There are only about 600,000 generations during this expanse of time, and given mutation rates we end up with a mere .6% change in DNA (and this assumes that every mutation is inheritable).This is 7x short the 4.8% genetic difference we find between man and chimps.The math simply does not add up even in optimal circumstances.

[1]William Dembski, “Reflections on Human Origins”; available from http://www.iscid.org/papers/Dembski_HumanOrigins_062204.pdf; Internet; accessed 11 January 2005.

[2]Taken from Geoffrey Simmons, What Darwin Didn’t Know (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2004), 274-278, as found in William Dembski, “Reflections on Human Origins”; available from http://www.iscid.org/papers/Dembski_HumanOrigins_062204.pdf; Internet; accessed 11 January 2005.

One day in Spain a Spaniard might be able to sue a gorilla, or better yet, be sued by a gorilla. The Socialist Party in Spain will introduce a bill to the Congress of Deputies to give simians (chimpanzees, gorillas, and apes) the same moral and legal protections given to human beings. Why? Because our DNA is so similar! This is where evolutionary, reductionistic thinking leads: the obliteration of the doctrine of human exceptionalism (the idea that humans are qualitatively different from all other animals. These people reason that if humans are valuable, and simians are genetically comparable to humans, simians must be just as valuable as humans. They fail to realize that our value is not rooted in our DNA, but in the One who created us. We are valuable because we are created in the image of God. But what else should we expect from materialists? In a materialistic worldview DNA and functionality are the only contenders for value-defining properties. There can be no such thing as transcendent value beyond the material realm. Check out the news release for yourself.

In Stand to Reason’s February newsletter, Moments of Truth, Greg Koukl addressed the issue of unbelievers who dismiss the Bible as “only written by men.” How do we respond to this? As an apologetics organization you would expect the newsletter to detail the many reasons we can be confident that the Scriptures are divinely inspired, and encourage believers to whip out those evidences for an unbeliever when the first opportunity arises. Greg took another route. He talked about how it is that he—and most other Christians—come to believe the Bible is the Word of God. Interestingly, it did not begin with evidentiary lines of argumentation. I will quote Greg at length:

For years I have taught six of these reasons in a talk called, “The Bible: Has God Spoken?” If you’ve heard the talk and are able to recall the points and explain them, you may get someone thinking. It’s a way of putting a stone in their shoe, so to speak. But this approach is much more effective after something else has happened first. Before I tell you what that is, I have a confession to make. Though I give this talk often, these are not really the reasons I believe the Bible is God’s Word. They are sound evidences and they have their place…, but they are not how I came to believe in the Bible’s authority in the first place. I suspect they’re not the reasons you believe, either, even if you’ve heard the talk and thought it compelling.

I came to believe the Bible was God’s Word the same way the Thessalonians did, the same way you probably did. They encountered the truth firsthand and were moved by it. Without really being able to explain why, they knew they were hearing the words of God and not just the words of a man named Paul. I think I understand better now what happened then. Now I know there is a powerful role the Spirit plays that is very hard for us to describe. This is not something we’re able to explain very well to others.

For one, it is personal, subjective. Two, it’s non-rational. In a sense, we were not persuaded, as such. We were wooed and won over, and that’s very different from weighing reasons and coming to conclusions. Note, I didn’t say it was ir-rational, but non-rational. God used a different avenue to change our minds about the Bible.

Even so, the reasons I give in the talk are still vital. Here’s why: The objective reasons are important to show that our subjective confidence has not been misplaced, that what we’ve believed with our hearts can be confirmed with our minds. The ancients called this, “Faith seeking understanding.” … When you start giving people reasons to change their minds—to believe in the Bible, for instance—their first instinct is to resist, to keep on believing what they’ve always believed. It’s human nature. Don’t get me wrong. I think offering good reasons is a fine approach. I do it all the time. In this case, though, they’ll find reasons for the Bible more compelling if something else happens first. First they must listen.

When soldiers were sent to arrest Jesus, they returned empty handed. Why had they disobeyed orders? They had listened. “Never has a man spoken the way this man speaks,” they said (John 7:46). Jesus didn’t start with reasons why they should believe His words. Instead, he let the words do the work themselves. And this they did because they were the very words of God.

If you want people to believe in the Bible, the best way to succeed is not simply by giving them reasons. First, try to get them to listen to the Word. … Talk about the biblical view of the world. Encourage him to simply listen to Jesus for a while, then draw his own conclusions. Most people respect Jesus. They’ve just never listened closely to what He’s said. They’ve never allowed the words to have their impact.

Don’t get into a tug-o-war with skeptics about inspiration. Instead, invite others to engage the ideas first, then let God do the heavy lifting for you. The truth you’re defending has a life of it’s [sic] own because the Spirit is in the words. Once your friend has listened a bit, any further reasons you give for biblical authority will have the soil they need to take root in. (emphasis mine)

I find this important for three reasons. First, it demonstrates how powerful the Word of God is. If we let it speak for itself it will speak volumes. Secondly, it emphasizes the importance of presenting information in the right order: first the Word of God, then the evidence. Thirdly, it explains why evidentiary apologetics is so important for those who already believe the Bible is the Word of God. It demonstrates to the believer that what he believes is intellectually credible, and rationally justified. It increases his confidence in what he believes. Christianity is not something we believe just because, but rather because.

In its bare essence faith is simple trust. We trust in God rather than in ourselves, or something else. But more specifically faith is a persuasion based on reasonable evidence. Those who initially come to faith in Christ have reasons for placing their trust in Him, even if the reasons for such trust are minimal, not well thought out, or rationally justified. But where faith is really seen to be “a persuasion based on reasonable evidence” the most is in the growth of the believer. While they already possess some level of justification for their decision to trust Christ, they grow in that trust as they discover more and more reasons that their trust is properly grounded in reality; i.e. based on reasonable evidence. Evidence is a vital component of faith. The author of Hebrews made this clear when he said faith is the assurance of things hoped for, and that this assurance comes from the evidence of things unseen. A mature faith is trust based on evidence—trusting in things you have reason to believe are true. As we grow in knowledge we will also grow in faith.

Blaise Pascal is most famous for his “Wager.” He wrote, “If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having, neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is. [So] you must wager. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then without hesitation that he is.”

Many Christians—including myself—have found Pascal’s Wager helpful when talking with unbelievers. But Pascal’s Wager is not without its critics. A while back Steve Ares sent me a list of quotes by, or about atheists that included two criticisms of Pascal’s wager. For example, Alan Dershowitz wrote, “I have always considered ‘Pascal’s Wager’ a questionable bet to place. Any God worth ‘believing in’ would surely prefer an honest agnostic to a calculating hypocrite.” Dershowitz’s complaint implicitly critiques Pascal’s assumptions about God’s identity. Pascal’s Wager assumes the identity of God to be that of the Christian God; a God who is concerned that people believe in and follow Him. If the God who exists is not the Christian God, however, then He or They may prefer an honest agnostic like Dershowitz said. Of course Dershowitz himself is betting on that, and I don’t think it’s a very safe bet! He hopes God doesn’t care simply because he doesn’t care.

In Pascal’s defense his Wager is found in his Pensees, which was aimed at the happy agnostic who did not consider the question of God’s existence worth considering, and was not convinced by traditional proofs for God’s existence. It was a pragmatic argument for belief in God. Pascal argued that belief in God is pragmatically justified because we have everything to gain and nothing to lose for holding such a belief. He reasoned that if we believe God exists and He does, then we will experience infinite gain minus finite loss. If we believe God exists and He does not, we will experience finite loss. If, on the other hand, we do not believe God exists and yet He does, we will experience finite gain minus infinite loss. If we believe God does not exist and He in fact does not exist we will experience finite gain.

Dave Matson is the bearer of Pascal’s second criticism. He wrote, “ ‘Belief’ is not something you can turn on and off like a spigot. No person can truly ‘believe in God’ unless the evidence convinces his or her mind. If you don’t believe me, try believing that the stars are holes punched into a heavenly dome, with the light of heaven shining through. Pascal’s recommendation is inherently impractical.”

What do we make of this? In Pascal’s favor I think the logic of his Wager is unassailable. Belief in the existence of God is clearly the safer of the two bets. In favor of his detractor, however, an unbeliever who is persuaded by this logic will be little better for it. He may be persuaded that placing his bet on the existence of God is the safer of the two bets, but he will be unable to do anything about it. As Matson pointed out, beliefs are not something we have power to change at will. While one may be persuaded by Pascal’s argument, belief in God will not follow. I can no more give up my belief in God than I can my belief that the person I call my mother actually gave birth to me. Likewise, an atheist who sees no reason to believe in God cannot generate that belief just because he is convinced that it is the safer thing to believe. In Pascal’s defense, however, his Wager was not an argument for the existence of God, but for belief in God. The reasons for which one should believe in God are a separate question.

Contra Matson I would argue that the knowledge of God is evident to all on some level, even in the absence of any rational evidence. This is what Paul was talking about in Romans 1 and 2. He argued that all men know God exists through the witness of creation and conscience (general revelation), and even have some basic knowledge about what this God is like. While this knowledge is available to all men, and known by all men to one degree or another, we purposely suppress it, or we are fooled into believing it is false. This leads me to my next point.

While the universal experience of the witness of creation, conscience, and/or the Holy Spirit is often rejected because one’s will is simply bent toward rebellion against God, sometimes it is rejected because an individual has been given intellectual defeaters to those witnesses, and those defeaters stand in the way so that the witnesses are not taken seriously, preventing the individual from being open to the working of the Spirit in their lives. If we can remove those defeaters an individual may be willing to accept the message of those witnesses. This is what apologetics do: remove those defeaters by overcoming the intellectual objections with truth, thereby facilitating the path towards faith. Apologetics do not cause belief in God, but merely remove the barriers that have been erected in the face of that knowledge. As J. Budziszewski wrote, “The knowledge of God belongs to us already; these arguments are not its source, but only responses to objections.” Indeed, one does not need to hear rational arguments in order to know there is a God—that knowledge belongs to them already. But rational arguments may help clear the smoke of deception, showing how the reasons they have been given (or have given themselves) for denying the existence of God are faulty and ill-founded.

The famed Christian philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, makes the case that belief in God is justified apart from any rational justification. He writes:

It is less plausible, however, to suggest that I would or could be going contrary to my intellectual duties in believing, without evidence, that there is such a person as God. For first, my beliefs are not, for the most part, within my control. If, for example, you offer me $1,000,000 to cease believing that Mars is smaller than Venus, there is no way I can collect. But the same holds for my belief in God: even if I wanted to, I couldn’t-short of heroic measures like coma inducing drugs-just divest myself of it. … Clearly I am not under an obligation to have evidence for everything I believe; that would not be possible. But why, then, suppose that I have an obligation to accept belief in God only if I accept other propositions which serve as evidence for it?[1]

And again:

As I say, he [Daniel Dennett] seems to think one could be a sensible believer in God only on the basis of some argument, something like one of the traditional theistic arguments. But why think a thing like that? Why think you need an argument to be rational in believing in God? There are plenty of other things we rationally accept without argument–that there has been a past, for example, or that there are other people, or an external world, or that our cognitive faculties are reasonably reliable. Moreover, one lesson to be learned from the history of modern philosophy from Descartes to Hume and Reid is that there probably aren’t any good arguments for these things–but we are still perfectly rational in accepting them. Couldn’t the same be true for belief in God?

Here Dennett seems to assume that if you can’t show by reason that a given proposed source of truth is in fact reliable, then it is improper to accept the deliverances of that source. This assumption goes back to the Lockean, Enlightenment claim that, while there could indeed be such a thing as divine revelation, it would be irrational to accept any belief as divinely revealed unless we could give a good argument from reason that it was. But again, why think a thing like that? Take other sources of knowledge: rational intuition, memory, and perception, for example. Can we show by the first two that the third is in fact reliable–that is, without relying in anyway on the deliverances of the third? No, we can’t; nor can we show by the first and third that memory is reliable, nor (of course) by perception and memory that rational intuition is. Nor can we give a decent, non-question-begging rational argument that reason itself is indeed reliable. Does it follow that there is something irrational in trusting these alleged sources, in accepting their deliverances? Certainly not. So why insist that it is irrational to accept, say, the Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit unless we can give a rationally conclusive argument for the conclusion that there is indeed such a thing, and that what it delivers is the truth? Why treat these alleged sources differently? Is there anything but arbitrariness in insisting that any alleged source of truth must justify itself at the bar of rational intuition, perception and memory? Perhaps God has given us several different sources of knowledge about the world, and none of them can be shown to be reliable using only the resources of the others.[2]

I do not agree with everything Plantinga says here[3], but he has elucidated a point that all those involved in the defense of the Gospel must keep in mind: most people come to believe in God apart from any rational justification for those beliefs (more will be said about this in a later post). Contra Matson, then, rational people can believe in God in the absence of rational evidence. This does not make evidentiary apologetics unnecessary; rather it explains their proper role in bringing unbelievers to faith. Apologetics do not generate belief in God, but they can facilitate it.

I think Dershowitz and Matson are being a little hard on Pascal, because Pascal did not leave people to contemplate his Wager without offering any reasons to believe in God. He was persuaded that belief in God was rational, and even offered arguments in favor of faith. But this should serve as a lesson for us. Reciting Pascal’s wager without his evidentiary support will do little to help some unbelievers. We need for them to see both the wisdom of the God-bet as well as the evidentiary basis for making the decision to place their bet on God.

[1]Alvin Plantinga, “Theism, Atheism, and Rationality”; available from http://www.leaderu.com/truth/3truth02.html; Internet; accessed 29 March 2005.

[2]Alvin Plantinga, “Darwin, Mind, and Meaning”; available from http://id-www.ucsb.edu/fscf/library/plantinga/dennett.html; Internet; accessed 23 March 2005.

[3]Particularly, Plantinga seems to argue that belief in the existence of the past, and belief in the external world are epistemologically equivalent to belief in the existence of God. I disagree. While the knowledge of God’s existence is self-evident, it is not self-evident in the same way that belief in the past is self-evident. We have no good reason to doubt the existence of the past and a world external to our minds, but there are formidable reasons for doubting the existence of God. While belief in God is self-evident, arguably belief in the past and the external world are properly basic.

On Tuesday April 18th Senators Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid co-wrote a piece for the Times Union regarding abortion and contraception. Here is an excerpt:

We believe that it is necessary for all Americans to join together and embrace policies that will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, decrease abortions and improve access to women’s health care.

There is no question that the rate of unintended pregnancy is too high in the United States. Half of the 6 million pregnancies each year in this country are unintended, and nearly half of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion. It doesn’t have to be this way. Most of these unintended pregnancies — and the resulting abortions — can be prevented if we eliminate the barriers that prevent women from having access to affordable and effective contraception.

Only senators could say so much wrong in so little space!

First, I find it schizophrenic that abortion-choice advocates like Clinton will champion abortion rights on the one hand, and yet want to reduce the number of abortions on the other. If abortion does not take the life of an innocent human being we should no more want to reduce the number of abortions than we want to reduce the number of tooth extractions. The reason some abortion-choicers want to reduce the number of abortions is because deep down they know abortion is morally wrong. At the end of the day the only sure way to reduce the number of abortions is by making it illegal.

Can you think of any other Constitutional right where even advocates of the right want to reduce the number of times it is exercised? As Jivin Jehoshaphat once wrote, “It obviously doesn’t work for many of the rights we consider foundational. Imagine someone being a champion for the right to free speech yet saying that we should work to reduce the number of nonviolent protests. Or a champion of voting rights working to reduce the number of votes that are cast in a given election. Both situations are absurd.”

Secondly, what barriers to receiving affordable and effective contraception are Clinton and Reid talking about? How hard is it to buy a condom from the local drug store or Wal-Mart? Getting the Pill is as easy as walking in to a Planned Parenthood clinic. People choose not to use contraception.

Thirdly, both senators are perpetrating the myth that there is a tandem between increased access to contraception and a decrease in abortion. It sounds logical, but is not necessarily supported by statistical data.

The Alan Guttmacher Institute recently released a report on contraception in America. They ranked each state according to its efforts to help women obtain and properly use contraception. The three categories against which each state was measured were service availability, public funding, and laws/policies. California was ranked first in the nation for their superior contraceptive services, and New York was ranked fifth. What’s so ironic about this is that these two states also have among the highest percentages of abortion per pregnancy in the nation (NY = 2nd highest with 31%; CA = 6th highest with 26%). If greater access to contraceptives is the key to significantly reducing the number of abortions, why is it that the states with the greatest access to contraception are also the nation’s greatest abortion mills?

First Timothy 3:1-7

This saying is trustworthy: “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” 3:2 The overseer then must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, 3:3 not a drunkard, not violent, but gentle, not contentious, free from the love of money. 3:4 He must manage his own household well and keep his children in control without losing his dignity. 3:5 But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God? 3:6 He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. 3:7 And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.

Several weeks back I was having a conversation with a fellow believer. This individual made a remark about her pastor that spoke volumes, demonstrating how Biblically uninformed our culture’s view of a pastor has become. She said, “My pastor is very knowledgeable about the Bible, and is a really good teacher, but he’s not a very good pastor.” Why? Because he was not a very good counselor.

My mind immediately harkened back to the passage quoted above. Have you ever stopped to compare this qualification list against our modern-day conception of what a pastor should be? Paul lists 15 criterion by which we can judge a man’s fitness for the pastoral office: 10 positive, 5 negative. Among those named all but one pertains to the individual’s character and lifestyle. That one criterion is a skill requirement: he must be an able teacher. (The list in Titus 1:6-9 is similar. There Paul wrote, “He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.”)

While a pastor will surely be involved in counseling the saints of his congregation to one extent or another, counseling is not a required skill-set for pastors. In fact, many of the skills we often associate with pastors in our church culture (administration, relationship expert, etc.) are not found in Scripture. A pastor who happens to be skilled in those areas will be an added asset to his congregation, but those skills are not necessary to being a good pastor. The only skill a pastor needs to be a good pastor in the Biblical sense is the skill of teaching the Word of God.

Interestingly, the one skill required of pastors is often the one skill they lack. It has been my experience that few pastors do much teaching. Wednesday night Bible studies often differ little from Sunday evangelistic services. They all follow the same basic pattern: read a Bible verse, close the Bible, tell several stories, yell loudly, and then at the end of the message refer back to the Bible verse, taking it out of its context to make it applicable to the point they want to convey. That may be a cynical and generalized depiction, but most of you have been in a church like this so you know the truth of what I’m saying.

It’s a sad reality that most Pentecostal pastors are uneducated in the Scripture. What little they do know rarely comes out in their sermons. They tend to emote rather than instruct. They lack theological content and categories. Their theology consists of catchy phrases and one-liners. Their idea of a good sermon is coming up with a new twist on an oft-read passage of Scripture. They lack the ability to instruct their congregations on meaty doctrinal issues such as justification by faith, the relationship between sanctification and justification, how Jesus can be divine and human simultaneously, the relationship of faith and science, etc. Neither could they intelligently address important cultural and moral issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, cloning, stem cell research, etc. This ought not be. This is not to dismiss the many good things they can do, but all of those good things combined cannot make up for their lack in the one area required of them: teaching.

In light of my recent thoughts on this topic I was more than happy to see that Al Mohler will be doing a three part series on this very topic this week: “The Pastor As Theologian. The first part of the series was released yesterday. The other two parts will be released on Wednesday and Friday. They can be accessed by clicking on the above link as well. I think you will enjoy what Mohler has to say on this topic.

Have you ever noticed that when you are witnessing to a non-Christian, and it comes out that you believe they will go to hell if they do not trust in Christ to pay for their sins, that they often get angry, say how offended they are, or some other negative response?Have you ever wondered why that is?

One reason for the negative response could be the way in which the information was communicated.If the believer presented the information in a contentious or angry manner, it should be no surprise when the negative emotions are reciprocated.But what if the information was presented in a gracious manner?

For the most part people do not get upset over fantasies and fairytales.If we were to tell the same non-Christian that Santa Clause was not going to give him any presents this year because Santa checked his list and found him to be naughty rather than nice, would he be upset with us?No, because he knows it is not true.At worst he might laugh us to scorn for believing such silly things.

So why the negative emotional response to the message of Christianity?If Christianity is not true, and there is no such thing as hell (or at least the Christian version of it), why get so upset?Do they usually get upset at fairy tales?Maybe the reason for their negative response is because deep down inside they know it is true, but do not want to accept the truth.The emotional response is a reaction of their spirit struggling against the truth they don’t want to believe.Just maybe….


That is the dreaded question we all face from time to time.How do we respond to it?Greg Koukl has offered some helpful insights.

First, we should point out that Christianity does not teach that people go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus.The reason people go to hell is because they are guilty of wrong behavior, not wrong belief.They are condemned already.Belief is the only thing that will prevent them from experiencing the natural consequences of their behavior.Sin is like a terminal disease: if it is not treated it will eventually kill you.Those who die of an untreated disease do not die because they haven’t visited the doctor, but because they have a disease.Likewise, people do not die of sin because they have not visited Dr. Jesus, but because they have a spiritual disease.Jesus is the one who holds the cure for their disease.By not accepting the cure, they choose to die in their sinful disease.

How can we communicate this to unbelievers?First, we should be sure to avoid giving a simple “yes” or “no” answer to this question.The reason for this is tactical, not rhetorical.A simple “yes” answer makes the Christian look like a judgmental bigot, and all too often the non-Christian will immediately pounce on you for your response, allowing you little chance to explain your answer.So it’s best to give an explanation as your answer.Here’s how this approach might look in action:

Non-believer: “So do you believe I’m going to hell?”

Believer: “Do you think people who commit moral crimes ought to be punished?Justice demands that people who are guilty of wrongdoing be punished for their crimes.The message of Christianity is that those guilty of moral crimes ought to be punished for those crimes unless they have been pardoned.God has provided such a pardon in Jesus Christ.He is the only answer to our sin problem because He—and only He—paid the penalty for our crimes.We can either take that pardon and go free, or refuse it and stand alone before God to pay for our own crimes such as they are.We will be judged fairly, but justice will prevail.

“The pertinent question, then, is whether or not you have committed any moral crimes.All of us have.That’s the bad news.The good news is that we can be pardoned for those crimes by putting our trust in Jesus, and accepting what He did on our behalf.Are you willing to accept His pardon?”

I hope this tactical approach proves helpful in your own evangelistic efforts.Not only will it take the edge off of an uncomfortable question, but it will also explain the essence of the Gospel in the process.

Everyone knows the Great Commission involves the proclamation of the Gospel. What we often fail to realize is that the Bible also enjoins us to defend the Gospel. In Philippians 1:17 Paul said he was placed here “for the defense of the Gospel.” To be bearers of the Good News involves more than just its proclamation. Proclamation is where it begins, but it is not always where it ends. Often it involves a defense of what was proclaimed as well.


Just a few verses earlier (v. 7) Paul said he was engaged in the “defense and confirmation of the Gospel.” Not only did Paul defend the Gospel against those who opposed it, but he also argued for its truth. His approach was both offensive and defensive.


The defense and confirmation of the Gospel is an important part of the church’s evangelistic efforts. That is why Paul said we should know how to answer the questions/objections of non-Christians (Col 4:5-6). That is also why Paul instructed Timothy to be both meek and informed, correcting his opponents with gentle instruction so that they might know the truth (II Tim 2:25). The field of apologetics specializes in the defense and confirmation of the Gospel. It equips believers with the relevant knowledge to defend the message of the Gospel against its detractors who level arguments against it, and it equips believers with the relevant knowledge to demonstrate the truth of the Gospel’s claims.
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If you have never studied the field of apologetics I would invite you to do so. It will help equip you with the knowledge you need to proclaim, defend, and confirm the Gospel.

“A hallmark of spiritual abuse is treating the person who dares to point out a problem as the problem.”

—Roger Olson, “Pentecostalism’s Dark Side” http://www.christiancentury.org/article.lasso?id=1871

The late philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler, had something really good to say about the pain of learning and the dumbing down of education. Read the following quote from his 1941 essay, “Invitation to the Pain of Learning”, published in the Journal of Educational Sociology:

One of the reasons why the education given by our schools is so frothy and vapid is that the American people generally—the parent even more than the teacher—wish childhood to be unspoiled by pain. Childhood must be a period of delight, of gay indulgence in impulses. It must be given every avenue for unimpeded expression, which of course is pleasant; and it must not be made to suffer the impositions of discipline or the exactions of duty, which of course are painful. Childhood must be filled with as much play and as little work as possible. What cannot be accomplished educationally through elaborate schemes devised to make learning an exciting game must, of necessity, be forgone. Heaven forbid that learning should ever take on the character of a serious occupation—just as serious as earning money, and perhaps, much more laborious and painful . . .

Not only must we honestly announce that pain and work are the irremovable and irreducible accompaniments of genuine learning, not only must we leave entertainment to the entertainers and make education a task and not a game, but we must have no fears about what is “over the public’s head.” Whoever passes by what is over his head condemns his head to its present low altitude; for nothing can elevate a mind except what is over its head; and that elevation is not accomplished by capillary attraction, but only by the hard work of climbing up ropes, with sore hands and aching muscles. The school system which caters to the median child, or worse, to the lower half of the class; the lecturer before adults—and they are legion—who talks down to his audience; the radio or television program which tries to hit the lowest common denominator of popular receptivity—all these defeat the prime purpose of education by taking people as they are and leaving them just there.

If this were true in 1941, how much more today?!


While Adler was speaking specifically to public education, I would like to extend this to religious education in the church as well. I am concerned that the church is often guilty of routinely and consistently dumbing down Christianity to the lowest common intellectual denominator. That may be a good strategy for presenting the salvation message to the masses, but it is not a good strategy for building disciples of Jesus Christ. And that is what pastors are meant to do: make disciples (not just converts) by teaching the saints, instructing them in the whole counsel of God.


I recognize that the church consists of a variety of educational backgrounds. We have everyone from the skid-row convert to the Ph.D. It’s impossible to deliver a message that will satisfy the intellect of every person present every service (which is why I think separate classes are a good idea). But too often we keep the intellectual level of conversation at its lowest point so that the message will not go over anyone’s head. Not only are we doing the intellectually-minded people on our pews a disservice, but we are doing the not-so-intellectually-minded people a disservice as well because they are never challenged to grow intellectually in the Lord. Yes, we must meet people where they are, but no, we can’t leave them there. At times we need to teach slightly above their head to help them see there are greater levels of knowledge and understanding to aspire to. As J.P. Moreland wrote in Love Your God With All Your Mind:


From time to time a minister should intentionally pitch a message to the upper one-third of the congregation, intellectually speaking. This may leave some people feeling a bit left out and confused during the sermon, which is unfortunate, but the alternative (which we follow almost all the time) is to dumb down our sermons so often that the upper one-third get bored and have to look elsewhere for spiritual and intellectual food. The intellectual level of our messages ought to be varied to provide more of a balance for all of the congregation. Furthermore, such an approach may motivate those in the lower two-thirds to work to catch up!


Babies need milk. That is their source of nourishment. It is simple, but effective at that stage of human development. But when is the last time you saw a 10 year old whose diet consisted only of milk? You don’t. As we get older and mature we need solid food. Milk, by itself, simply won’t do anymore. The same is true spiritually. People who have been in church for years need to progress beyond the milk and ABCs of Christianity, and yet too often churches teach the ABCs service after service for fear that anything else in the alphabet will not be understood by everyone in the congregation (or because the preacher doesn’t know much beyond ABC himself).


The church needs to be challenged intellectually. It is necessary for proper discipleship and spiritual growth in the Lord. We cannot settle for intellectual mediocrity. This is not just a pastoral responsibility, but an individual responsibility as well. All of us need to spend time doing the hard work of study that is required of disciples. Christianity is both a head and a heart religion. Christian faith is depends on knowledge, and the level of faith often correlates with one’s level of knowledge/understanding. We are transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are commanded to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. There is so much more beyond Search for Truth and Acts 2:38. People are starving for meaty teaching, and they can handle much more than we give them credit for…even if the dinner we serve them goes over some people’s head from time to time.



HT to Justin Taylor over at Between Two Worlds for the quote

Check out this really good piece on the evolution exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in New York. It is a scanned copy of an article appearing in Crisis Magazine. It is a fairly quick read that shows why more and more scientists doubt the Darwinian orthodoxy, and even quotes them on it. Excellent read.

Check out this story over at the Discovery Institute. Eric Pianka, recipient of the 2006 Distinguished Texas Scientist award (awarded by the Texas Academy of Science), gave a 45 minute lecture at the ceremony in which he advocated for the extermination of 90% of the world’s population by airborne Ebola. Why? Because humans are “no better than bacteria” and we’re depleting the Earth’s resources. What’s most shocking is the enthusiastic applause he received from the audience following the lecture. Unbelievable, and unbelievably scary!


My mind goes back to the Holocaust. Contrary to popular thought, the Holocaust was not the work of one man. The medical doctors and scientists were enthusiastically involved and willing participants in Hitler’s vision. The German intelligencia bought into the vision before Hitler ever came to power. The scientists and doctors who participated in the experimentation and murder of millions saw their deeds as therapeutic. They were cleansing the world of an infectious disease: the handicapped, the elderly, and the Jews.


Whenever science and medicine begin to see death as a good thing we are in trouble! That’s exactly where we are heading in America. Doctors have long been involved in killing the unborn. We even have doctors involved in the killing of the terminally ill and the severely handicapped. We’re told it is merciful. Scientists want to create human embryos for purposes of experimentation—experimentation that requires the killing of the embryo. And now we have a distinguished scientist who is advocating the death of 90% of the world’s population, and he gets a resounding applause from the scientists in attendance??!?!!?!!! These are scary times we’re living in!

Melinda Penner of Stand to Reason had some interesting things to say regarding illegal immigration on Monday’s blog:


One of the prominent justifications for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the U.S. really troubles me for human rights and justice reasons.


That argument is that Americans won’t do the jobs illegal immigrants fill. But that’s an incomplete sentence: People with legal status in the U.S. won’t do these jobs, for the most part, at the wages that illegal immigrants do them. Illegal immigrants fill these jobs at below-market wages precisely because of their illegal status in the U.S., usually working outside of the labor laws. Like it or not, illegal immigrants fill an economic need to keep our overall costs to consumers down because higher costs could hurt our economy.


So essentially the justification is that we will import a permanent underclass to fill an economic us, coexisting in our society without ever fully assimilating with little or no hope of upward mobility because they are not legal. This justification seems less about immigration that means participation in the U.S. and more about a bottom-level working-poor class to serve an economic utility.


This justification is very different from the history of immigrants in our country who filled low-skill labor jobs, but who participated fully in the U.S., assimilated, and improved their socio-economic position. They not only filled an economic utility, but were primarily participants in the country because they were legal. Low-scale jobs provided a jumping off point for their advancement in our society; but illegal status prevents that kind of progress and hope that immigration has always represented in the U.S.

This sounds like it boils down to using a group of people for economic gain. I think it’s a despicable justification. In addition to the legal and security problems of illegal immigration, there is a serious moral problem of allowing a permanent underclass of human being for their economic utility. American immigration should not be about using people; it should be about welcoming them to fully participate legally in our country.


Greg Koukl at Stand to Reason has a great article on prayer and science at http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5190 you might want to check out as well.

There have been several studies in the last decade focused on evaluating the efficacy of prayer from a scientific standpoint (see here and here for two examples). The studies I am familiar with were conducted in conjunction with medical facilities to evaluate the efficacy of prayer for the sick. The results of these studies vary. Some show a slight improvement in the control group, some show no difference, while others show a decline in health. Apart from the inconclusive nature of the results, I think such studies are misguided in principle, and tell us little, if anything about God and prayer. To understand why we need to consider the scope of science.

There are two types of causes in the world: event causes (impersonal), agent causes (personal). A series of dominoes falling would be an example of an event-cause. Why did domino Z fall? Because domino Y fell (event) onto domino Z. Why did domino Y fall? Because domino X fell on domino Y. The series of event-causes and effects goes on indefinitely. Each effect is caused by a prior physical event, which in turn was the effect of a previous physical event ad infinitum. No event in the chain can do anything other that what it does because event-causes do not decide; they merely react. Event-causes passively receive their action from a prior event, and then pass that action down a causal chain in a mechanistic, deterministic fashion.

While event-causes are instrumental-movers who passively receive and transfer action, agent-causes are first-movers who act as the absolute source of their own actions. In an agent-cause there are no necessary preconditions that necessitate any particular effect. Agents are prime movers who simply decide to cause a particular state of affairs and then act to do so. The effects produced by agents are not determined by prior events, but are freely chosen by acting on their own volition. The person who chose to knock over the first domino in the example above would be an example of an agent-cause.

Science is properly equipped to evaluate event-causes in the physical world, not agent-causes. Science can recognize the past effects of an agent-cause, but it cannot predict when or how a free-will agent will act in the future. While science is good for telling us the conditions under which water will boil, science is powerless to tell us what someone else will eat for dinner tonight, or how they will react to these words. In short, event-causes are, and agent-causes are not predictable. The efficacy of prayer is simply beyond scientific predictability. Science measures the effects of natural, law-like causes. When it comes to rational and free agents there are no materialistic, law-like causes and effects to measure with precision. In the same way science cannot predict what requests little Johnny’s mom will respond affirmatively to and which one’s she will not (because she is a personal and rational agent whose choices do not operate according to physical laws), science cannot predict which prayers a personal God will respond affirmatively to and which ones He won’t.

All attempts to make a scientific analysis of prayer are doomed to failure because prayer is not a mechanistic type of thing like physics. Prayer does not operate on a series of fixed laws. You don’t say two of this and two of that and voila…out comes X. Prayer involves an interaction between two personal agents, each possessing his own volition. For a prayer to be answered God must freely exercise His volition in such a way that He decides to act to answer our prayer. God may choose to answer the prayer, or He may choose not to answer; in the same way a teacher may choose to grant a student’s request for an extension on her paper, or choose not to.

Prayer studies err in that they treat prayer as if it were a law-like mechanism or magical incantation rather than a willing interaction between free agents. If God chooses not to respond to the prayers of those participating in the study it is concluded that prayer is not efficacious for healing. This conclusion, however, is non-sequitur. When dealing with personal agents there are a wide variety of reasons they choose to act or refrain from acting. Maybe the prayers were not answered because God did not want to heal the individuals being prayed for. Maybe the prayers were not answered because the people praying for them were praying to a false god, and the real God knew if He answered their prayers it would wrongly convince them that the god they prayed to was the true God. Maybe God did not answer the prayers because He does not like being put to the test. There are a host of possibilities, all of which preclude scientists from making any definitive judgments regarding the efficacy of prayer.

This is not to say empirical science is unable to shed any light on the issue. If no prayer ever prayed was ever answered that would be good reason to conclude that God is not concerned with our requests, we are making the wrong kind of requests, God is not powerful enough to answer our requests, or there is no God to hear such requests. If even some prayers are answered, however, and there is no natural explanation for the effect in question, that is good reason to be open to the existence of God and the efficacy of prayer. Granted, there would have to be some standards for testing these experiences to make sure they were of divine origin (were the results likely to have occurred without divine intervention, were the results statistically likely or naturally possible, etc.?) but they could be tested.

Personally, my experience has convinced me that God exists and He answers prayer. While He has chosen to answer only a small portion of my prayers, it is clear to me from those examples that God is willing to answer some prayers, including prayers for healing. Not everyone we pray for is healed, but there are those who are. I don’t need science to tell me that!

Back in September 2005 CA enacted legislation that will ban pop (soda for all of you in the West) in CA schools beginning in July 2006. Margo Wootan, the nutritional policy director for the DC-based Center for Science in the Public Interest commented on this legislation saying, “The money from soda contracts comes out of children’s and parents’ pockets. Coke, Pepsi, and other junk-food marketers enjoy being in schools because they know it is one of the only places they can target kids without parental interference.”


Serge over at Life Training Institute picked up on the issue of parental control Ms. Wootan capitalized on. While a child cannot choose what to drink in school because such a choice may circumvent parental control, that same child can choose to leave the school campus to have an abortion without parental notification and that is acceptable. So much for choice! It’s ok to hide an abortion from your parents, but not a Coke!


To show the stupidity of these policies Serge created a mock conversation between a student and her school counselor:


14 year old Student: My boyfriend and I have been having sex and I’m late for my period. Do you know where I can get a pregnancy test?


Counselor: Here is the location if the nearest Planned Parenthood. Although I would never dare comment on your personal decision to engage in sex, they can help you with your options.


14 year old Student: I’m not sure when I can get to the clinic.


Counselor: That won’t be a problem. In fact you can go during the time you would otherwise be in class.


14 year old Student: If I am pregnant, can I get an abortion?


Counselor: Sure, you can even have it done during the school day.


Student: Is there any way my parents can find out?


Counselor: Not from us – we cannot tell them where you are even if they call when you are at the clinic.


Student: Wow. I’m so nervous talking about this that my throat is dry. Is there anywhere that I can buy a Coke for the trip to the clinic?


Counselor: A Coke! Don’t you know what kind of effect drinking a Coke can have on your health and future well being! You are just a child and clearly not responsible enough to make that decision! In fact, because your parents cannot control what you drink while you are here we have banned the sale of all pop from the school campus. You should be more careful with your behavior and what you choose to drink!