Book Plunge: Why God?

What do I think of Rodney Stark’s book published by Templeton Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Religion has been told it’s on its last legs. Atheists today are predicting its demise and many are getting set to celebrate a world without religion. Could it be that their cries of triumph are a bit early? Could it be that despite the best efforts of atheists, religion is not on its way out?

Rodney Stark has written this book recently to analyze religion, what it is, and why it is that it stays with us. The book is loaded with propositions and definitions put forward. It does not argue for the truth or falsity of any religious position whatsoever, including theism. It just tries to state the facts about religion, what it is, and why it seems to endure, and what difference it makes to its followers.

There is plenty of helpful information and food for thought in here. I think the first chapter is one of the best with defining what religion is and especially helpful is the differentiation between many religious practices and magic. Stark describes as well in the book how people approach God and the way that religious growth takes place in a society.

On the other hand, sometimes I thought things weren’t given the time they needed. 87 definitions can be understood, but in a book with 236 pages, 192 propositions about religion means that many of these propositions will not be given the attention that they deserve. Some of them will seem to be thrown out without as much backing as one would like.

I also wondered how much of this relies on modern sociology. We could look at how new religious movements start today, but would it have been the same in the past? Has Stark compared how a religion grows in an honor-shame context as opposed to our more Western guilt-innocence context? How would that affect religions like Christianity? How does it change the dynamics for Islam when one realizes that Islam spread by the sword?

What about people coming to a religion because they think that it is true? While Stark is not wanting to defend the truth of any one religion, it seems hard to avoid the notion that many people come to a religion not just for sociological reasons, but also because they think the religion is true. No doubt, many do join because their friends and family have joined the religion, but not all of them do. How do these people affect our study of religion?

There is also information about how for many young people, their friends today are not necessarily part of their same religious heritage. Perhaps what is needed the most for today is a study on religion in the age of the internet. How does something like Facebook affect the way that a religion is spread? Today, we can even hear people talking about the church of Facebook. Are internet debates changing the way we view religion?

Stark’s book is worth reading, but at the end, while I got some helpful definitions and such, I couldn’t help but think that I was given a quick tour. I would have liked to have seen the question of truth raised more often. That doesn’t mean I expect Stark to defend or attack any one religion, but deal with the idea please about people who come to a belief because they think it’s true. Still, those wanting to understand religion should try to understand this book.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 3

Does the idea of the devil make sense? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The next chapter in Zuersher’s book is on the devil. The first question Zuersher asks is why would an omnipotent God need helpers? Again, this falls into the category of “God does something I don’t understand. Therefore, He doesn’t exist.” It also assumes that everything that is done is done out of need. Why should I think that?

The interesting thing about an atheist giving theological objections like this is you want to ask how it is they did their theology. What criteria did they use? Did they go out and study the best works they could find, or did they just sit down one day and think about things and see what they thought was a hole and ran with it?

He also says angels don’t fit into monotheism. How? Your guess is as good as mine. This is a mistake even Rodney Stark makes in his latest book Why God? It’s thought that Jews, Christians, and Muslims aren’t true monotheists because we believe in beings like angels, but monotheism means belief in one God. It doesn’t exclude other spiritual beings.

Zuersher also says God could have created angels with a nature more like His own. Who is to say He didn’t? He couldn’t create them with a nature exactly like His because a created being will always have limitations, such as dependence on another for their existence. Creating a being doesn’t mean that God necessitates how that being will behave. That’s part of free-will.

He also says that the snake being the devil creates problems, such as why punish snakes? The answer is simply that the language spoken of the devil in this passage is that of shaming. It’s not making a categorical statement about snakes for all time.

Ironically, he does get something right. He does point out that the word for devil does mean adversary. This means many times what the Old Testament translates as satan could best be read as the adversary. It’s sad that the paragraph after this, he ignores the very suggestion he made in order to get at a contradiction he sees.

This is the account of the census in 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles. In 1 Chronicles, satan is said to be responsible while in 2 Samuel, God is. Who is responsible? My solution is to say that satan refers to an adversary that God allowed to be raised up. David decides this is a good time to count his fighting men in response. Had Zuersher followed the rule in the very prior paragraph, he could have found a solution to what he considers an embarrassing contradiction and passages that are generally avoided.

The same would apply to Balaam’s donkey. The term used to describe the angel is a term that is translated as lesatan. Again, this can refer to an adversary. If you read it like this, the problem vanishes. Balaam is on his way and he encounters someone who opposes him.

So how did the devil enter into the system to begin with? Zuersher says that during the exile, Jews came into contact with Zoroastrianism and got the devil from them. We would really like to see the hard evidence of this. For someone who doesn’t accept oral tradition easily, why accept the claims of what Zoroaster taught when those really come to us from the time AFTER Christianity?

Finally, some people might want to say who are Chrisitans that the devil is behind works like Zuersher. I would say if so, the devil could find much better argumentation to use. Too many Christians have a tendency to blame the devil for everything and make him quite often on par with YHWH. Unfortunately, such fixation on the devil gives people like Zuersher more ammunition.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/6/2017: M. James Sawyer

What’s coming up this Saturday? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

The Trinity. It’s one of our core central doctrines as Christians and yet one of the most misunderstood. Many of our church members are confessing Trinitarians and yet practicing Arians. When it comes to their discussion of the Trinity, they top it off by becoming modalists for the time.

Does the Trinity really matter? Is it just this esoteric doctrine for the theologians to debate back and forth but makes no difference to us? Do we only need to think about it when Jehovah’s Witnesses show up so we can show them that they’re wrong on a doctrine that we don’t understand the point of ourselves?

My guest this Saturday says no. The Trinity is a gift to us and it is a doctrine we all need to understand. In many Eastern churches, the Trinity is essential to them and their practice. If the Trinity was wrong, everything would be changed. If you can abandon the Trinity in your Christianity and nothing or little changes, then that shows you how much the Trinity really means to you. My guest is coming on to hopefully help us all appreciate it more. His name is M. James Sawyer.

So who is he?

M. James Sawyer got his B.A. from Biola in 1973. He got a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in New Testament in 1978 and went on to get a Ph.D. from there in 1987 in Historical Theology. He has published numerous books and articles and contributed to them as well and is the author of the book Resurrecting The Trinity.

This Saturday, we’ll be talking about that last book. M. James Sawyer wants the church to wake up to the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not something that just needs to be brought out when Jehovah’s Witnesses come by. We need to really study the Trinity and learn what a difference it makes in our faith and practice. I have long been an advocate of the idea that our churches are sadly way too shallow. Part of that is that we don’t really do theology much anymore. It’s all application. Part of that theology includes the doctrine of the Trinity.

We’ll be discussing defending the Trinity, the history of the Trinity, and we will also get into personal application. There is nothing wrong with personal application after all, but there is something wrong if that is all that you have. We will have a show on not only about how the Trinity is true, but also what difference it makes. Hopefully in the end, you will have your eyes greatly awakened to the truth of the doctrine of the Trinity and know why it matters.

I hope you’ll be listening to the next episode of the Deeper Waters Podcast. I also hope that you’ll go on ITunes and leave a positive review. It lets me know that you appreciate the show and it makes it easier I understand for others to find it so please consider doing that.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 2

What are we to think of the Fall and Original Sin? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m almost done reading this book in the entirety. This is another book that I have to say that each page is better than the next. Zuersher follows in the great tradition of atheists writing books where they do not do sufficient research on a topic and stick to only their side for information.

Chapter two is about the Fall. After giving the account of what happens in a paragraph, Zuersher switches to the problems with it. First off, he says that there is no reason to believe the story is historically accurate. Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way! Just imagine all the time we could have wasted reading Old Testament scholarship. You could actually read such scholars who believe in a historical Adam and Eve and find out why they could but, nah, it’s easier to just make the assertion. Color me unconvinced.

Zuersher’s biggest difficulties are moral difficulties with the story. The first for him is why would a creator withhold knowledge of good and evil from humans? Isn’t this the basis of morality? Unfortuantely, Zuersher doesn’t recognzie that this is a Hebrew merism. This would be like saying North and South, East and West, Heaven and Earth. One lists two contrasting things in order to show all things in between them. This is not about knowledge so much as it is about wisdom.

There also is no problem with humans having wisdom. The question was “On whose terms were they going to have that wisdom?” The act of violating the covenant is a way of trying to usurp the giver and take His place.

So why place this tree in the garden? Zuersher says all manner of animals would eat this fruit. Would they gain the knowledge but humans wouldn’t? Of course, this assumes that the covenant was the same for animals and such a fruit would act the same way. No doubt, this is what he thinks since Zuersher refers to this as a magical fruit. (It’s really cute how atheists use the term magic over and over as if sticking that label on something automatically denigrates it. It’s like the word “magic” is magical for them.)

Zuersher also says that if the story is accurate, since Adam and Eve did not have knowledge of good and evil, they would not know that eating the fruit was wrong. This again is Zuersher not understanding the merism. Adam and Eve would have had basic knowledge of right and wrong.

He then asks why they were endowed with a nature incapable of meeting His standards. Who says they were? Adam and Eve did not have the fruit forced down their throats. They willingly chose. Zuersher strikes me as someone who says something like “There’s something I don’t understand about this” or “I wouldn’t have done it this way” and then concludes the whole thing is false. Unfortunately, in any worldview, there are going to be areas that are not fully understood and questions. One has to look at the major themes at the center. Raising a question alone is not a defeater.

We move on to original sin. Now I have no hard line on this one. Normally when people present Adam and Eve as a problem for Jesus, it doesn’t mean a thing to me. We’re told that if there was no Adam and Eve, there was no original sin and then Jesus didn’t have to die for sin. I just tell people to turn on the evening news. Even if original sin is false, there’s still plenty of sin to die for.

Zuersher says it is indispensable, but I would just say sin is what is necessary, and I don’t think anyone would deny in some sense what Christians call sin. It would be the rare soul around us who says no human being ever does anything that is morally wrong. Again, turn on the evening news or even better, look in the mirror and try to tell yourself you’re a perfect person.

Zuersher also says the Old Testament God doesn’t know about original sin. After all, he flooded the world, but Noah was a sinner too and would still have sin. What we could say the flood is God hitting a reset button at a certain point He thought sin had got so bad.

Zuersher also thinks a convincing argument is that God thinks humans are capable of living morally since He gives them the Law. How this is a problem is a mystery. It is not as if the doctrine means that no human being is capable of doing good things.

He thinks that when Jesus came, there was a problem. Why would the divine Son die? Then original sin had to be made up. Of course, this is fascinating since one would think that would be the big emphasis in the New Testament, but the emphasis is more on the Kingdom of God.

He also goes on to say the only real evidence of original sin is human nature itself. Even if I grant that, that would seem to be sufficient. Chesterton said years ago that if you see boys skinning a cat for fun, then you can either deny original sin or you can deny the objectivity of good and evil. Of course, he also added that some modern theologians have considered it a rational objection to deny the cat.

In conclusion here, I find Zuersher’s arguments unconvincing and again, he interacts with no serious theologians writing today on the topic. Zuersher is another person who seems to think “I have an opinion on the matter. Who needs to read contrary thought?” If one does not read the contrary, it’s no wonder what side they will wind up on.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Happy Fourth of July

What are we going to celebrate today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Today, many of us are going to go to celebrations and barbecues and watch fireworks go off. For us, we’ll be going to see my in-laws today. We could be watching a movie with them on Netflix or something like that as well. Normally, it’s a war movie. I don’t really care for those as much, so I usually have my DS with me.

Anyway, it’s easy to live and celebrate today and be unaware of how we got to this point. This is something I usually have a problem with many of my fellow Christians about. We go to church and talk about the suffering we face today often blissfully unaware of the suffering the early church went through and we think that it’s all about us.

Today, you have freedom in America, and that freedom does not come from the government as we so often think. Government does not give you rights. If you have anything that is yours by virtue of being a human being, then that is a right. No government can truly take it away, although they can surely try to get in its way.

Enjoying those rights is where freedom comes in. You came to be able to enjoy those rights because over 200 years ago, some people were willing to sacrifice themselves so that you could. They were willing to engage in an experiment never before tried in the history of the world. They took the ultimate risk standing against a powerful force of their day.

The sad reality for many of us today is that if it happened before our time, we don’t really see the point of it. There was a Facebook status I saw once, not on my feed but elsewhere, of a girl complaining about why we had to have the Civil War. It was just another thing to study. Absent to her apparently was that there was something worth fighting for in that war.

We have a great danger then that we will take freedom for granted today. Why shouldn’t we? We take so many other good things for granted. Right now in America, we have the freedom to worship together. How much longer? Look at the people in your life. Look at your spouse, your children, your family, and your friends. Take the time to appreciate them today. Many people risked and even gave their lives so you could get to do that today.

Of course, enjoy today. No one is saying to do otherwise. Others died so we could be free, but they wouldn’t want us to not enjoy that freedom. If you can shoot off fireworks and have a barbecue and be with loved ones, then that is a freedom that you have. Perhaps you might also want to even get out a copy of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and read through them some today. Take some time to remember what it is that makes this nation great.

Happy Fourth of July!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: Of Games and God

What do I think of Kevin Schut’s book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Dr. Schut’s book is an excellent one that I can easily say that when I got to the end, I was rather surprised. I hadn’t been keeping that much track. This is the kind of book I wish I had had when I was in high school and dealing with issues of doubt and such. I have seen enough damage done by people who are critical of the medium of video games but have not engaged with it.

For my part, I am going to turn 37 later this year and yet I still consider myself a gamer. My favorite kinds of games are RPGs. I am still bothered that I have not got to play Breath of the WildFinal Fantasy is another favorite series of mine and it’s my wife’s hope that somehow we can save up enough money or find someone generous so that we can get a Nintendo Switch so she can play the new Pokemon games.

Like me, Schut is also a gamer. He has seriously wrestled with the arguments on both sides. His favorite games seem to be ones like Red Dead Redemption and Civilization. He also does not deny at all that he is thoroughly committed to Jesus. So what does he say about the games?

Schut does say we need to listen to criticisms. Take time to pay attention to what is being said. At the same time, we should be hoping for critical evaluation and not self-righteous evaluation.

Also, we are living in an age where games are more and more common, including games on our IPhones and Kindles and such. Many people who would likely never play a video game have no problem playing something like Words With Friends for instance. There’s also games that are popular such as Candy Crush which has now become a gameshow, and Angry Birds, which has had its own movie.

He also speaks out against our attempts to Christianize everything. Something is not automatically Christian because it mentions Jesus. Many of us would say the Chronicles of Narnia are Christian, which indeed they are, but you will not find Jesus explicitly mentioned anywhere in them. Our Christian material is usually preachy and we’re very good at reaching ourselves, but not everyone else.

We also have to pay attention to what kind of medium a video game is. One noted difference is that it is interactive. No matter how many times you read The Lord of the Rings nothing new will happen. The story will be the same. No matter how many times you watch the movie, nothing new will happen. Every time you play the game, something different will happen. Of course, there can often be some overriding parameters set for you by the designers of the game, but you have great freedom and influence on the story. No two playings will be the same.

He also does get into the topic of a demonic scare. I was pleased to hear like me, he had a great interest in Dungeons and Dragons as well as Magic: The Gathering. For me, in high school, my friends and I didn’t care for the school lunch at all, so rather than have lunch, we’d go to the library and play Magic all afternoon together.

Unfortunately, too many people have brought into scare stories about such things. Consider the Pulling Report for instance. People who latch onto this do a disservice to those who play the games. Most people who are playing these games are for the most part the same as any other interest. It’s sadly the few that no doubt have other issues going on beforehand that are emphasized.

This naturally gets us into the question of violence in video games. Schut doesn’t shy away from this one, though he does say each person needs to evaluate this for themselves as well. It could be that part of our world is we live in a fallen world and sometimes violence could be what needs to be done. One aspect of this I was considering is that if I’m playing a game like Final Fantasy, one could consider reasoning with a human being, but if a hungry carnivorous creature is coming after me, reason will not work.

Another issue is game addiction. Games do have a tendency to draw us in, reward our achievements, and make us want to do more. There will be a little bit more on this later, but let’s discuss how it relates to addiction. Can some people get addicted? Yes. Still, there is no proven condition like this. Many people do learn to manage their time well. The question is not what do you do, but what do you not do? He also says a temporary obsession is okay. When Breath of the Wild came out, many of my friends were indeed engrossed in that for awhile. (And I hate them for it in a loving Christian way.)

What about sexuality in video games? It is only in the world of video games that a woman can go into battle wearing pretty much a bikini and count that as armor. Video games are usually a world dominated by men, but there are plenty of female gamers. (My wife is playing Pokemon as I write.) The representation on the other hand can be quite different. Women are usually eye candy. There are some exceptions, such as Samus Aran, but we only need think of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider and the obsession with some people on finding a nude code for her.

Now to what I said there would be more on later when talking about addiction. What about education? Video games could be a great source of education. For instance, when I studied Greek in Bible College, we used a program called Parson’s Greek Tutor. I would like very much to get my hands on this again as the interactive format made it much easier for me to learn the material and at the time, I was moving ahead of the class even. Every round was a game and I wanted to get perfect and would settle for nothing less which made sure I learned the material very well. As one working on learning the language now, I look back and wish I still had that.

Video games can be used in such a way for us today. There is something real in the concept of edutainment. Ask a gamer about the information they need in a game and many times they will know it because they have to know it to play well. It is practical knowledge for them.

But what about concerns about the digital age killing our minds? To some extent, this is true. To another extent, the digital age is here to stay and we have to do the most with it that we can. Every new medium brings with it changes. The print medium brought changes as does the internet medium and the video game medium. It’s easy to strike at the medium instead of the human sinful tendency.

Schut also has a section on Christians in the video game industry. Many of these are dedicated people and want to do the best they can. They see their work as an act of service to God in trying to make the best game possible. There are few explicitly Christian video games, and this could be a good thing as sadly, many of those are just awful and only reach those of us who are already Christians. Abandoning the industry will only do for that what it does for Hollywood. We need Christians in every field being salt and light.

No discussion would be complete without the social aspects. I remember years ago getting together with my brother-in-law and some of his friends. No doubt, I was the youngest one there, but we spent all of one afternoon playing Goldeneye together. In Charlotte, I would get together with some friends every Sunday night. After some time playing Super Smash Brothers Brawl we would go bowling. When it came time for my bachelor party, all we did was bring the Wii over to a guy’s apartment complex who had a big screen and played Smash Brothers all night long together.

Games have had a way of bringing people together and uniting them. Gaming conventions are places where people can very often be themselves and form friendships easily. It could be that the gamer today is no longer the single guy sitting in his mother’s basement.

If you’re a gamer, you owe it to yourself to read Schut’s book. It is a gripping looking at a neglected medium and one that we need more of. I appreciate that he sent me a copy for review purposes and I look very much forward to interviewing him on my podcast about this.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Deeper Waters Podcast 7/1/2017: Ted Cabal

What’s coming up on the Deeper Waters Podcast? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Christians have never been without controversy. Many of the Pauline letters were written to deal with controversies. We can be sure that once one controversy gets answered, we will move on to a whole new one. Nowadays, a great controversy of the ages for Christians is the, well, controversy of the ages.

How old is the Earth? How did God create? To be sure, this is an issue that we should debate and we should debate heartily, but we should not divide over it. When we do, we have a whole lot more heat than light. Sadly, this sort of division has often occurred.

My guest this week is the co-author of the book Controversy of the Ages. He has written not to settle the debate, but to encourage us in how we frame the debate. How is it that a Christian approaches questions of faith and science? If we believe that the two can never contradict, what happens when it looks like they do? How can each side learn to listen to the other to have better dialogues than we are often having right now?

So who is this co-author? He’s Dr. Ted Cabal. Who is he?

According to his bio:

Theodore James Cabal has taught philosophy and apologetics at Dallas Baptist University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and for the last 20 years at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters, he is the general editor of The Apologetics Study Bible (2nd ed. summer 2017) and co-author with Peter Rasor of The Controversy of the Ages: Why Christians Should not Divide over the Age of the Earth (2017).

We’ll be looking at the relationship between Christianity and science in the past. What was going on when the Galileo affair took place? Was it really a tension between faith and science or was something else going on there? How does it parallel to today? Are we in danger of the same mistake today?

We’ll be discussing the three main camps when it comes to the age of the Earth. You have the young-earth creationists who think the Earth is 6-10,000 years old. You have Old-earth creationists who have an Earth about 4.5 billion years old yet don’t accept evolution, and you have the theistic evolutionists who have an old Earth and think that God did use evolution to create.

What divides these camps in such a heated way so often? How do each of these camps view science? What can each of these camps learn from one another? We’ll be looking at this question and hopefully this interview will shed more light than heat on this important topic.

I hope you’ll be listening for this next episode and I hope regardless of which stance you take, you’ll learn something about your side and something about how you can learn to view your opponents in a better light. Please also leave a positive review of the Deeper Waters Podcast. It’s always a joy to hear that you like the show!

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 1

 

What do I think of Bill Zuersher’s book published by Xlibris US? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

So while browsing Facebook, I’d regularly see this book offered on the side. I first went to the library site here and didn’t find it, but then I looked again one day to see if it was there for Kindle. $3.99? That’s not too bad. I decided that since this book was being advertised, maybe others were getting it so I’d better read it.

Whoever is behind advertising for this book either needs to learn about what is worth advertising, or else they’re a Christian and want to advertise how bad a book arguing against Christianity is.

I’m going through it still and it’s a labor of love to do this. There are so many things wrong with this book that one entry will not be sufficient. Therefore, I’m going to go through piece by piece. The book starts with the beliefs Christians hold to and then the second part looks at the evidence.

The first belief is about the world being created by a good and loving God. That is accurate. We believe that. Then it immediately leaps into the problem of evil. Now don’t get me wrong here. The problem of evil is something that really should be addressed. There is a problem in looking at it when you only look at the problem and don’t look at the counter-arguments.

Yesterday was a fun day for our cat. It was his time for his yearly check-up at the vet. So what happens? We take our cat sleeping peacefully on our bed, pick him up and force him in a carrier and lock it up, take him across town to a strange place where people will hold him and look at his ears and teeth and put needles in him and cut his nails.

If our cat were a philosopher, he would have been looking at this and saying that this is an example of great evil. If these people really loved me, they would not be doing this. They would realize it is better for me to be sleeping on the bed. How can people who really love me do this?

In fact, if you didn’t know about our culture and how we treat our cats and heard that we had done this, you would likely think we were abusive pet owners. Most of us know better. Most of us know we did this for little Shiro because we do love him immensely and want him to be healthy.

That’s one thing that has to be said about evil. We come from a limited perspective by definition. Even if you’re an atheist, your perspective is limited because you don’t know the whole story. I’m happy to admit there are things I don’t know. The problem with the problem of evil is that I have to act like I know things I don’t know for it. For instance, I have to know that any evil that takes place is pointless and meaningless. This is something that cannot be known.

The solution also doesn’t make sense. Get rid of God. Okay. The evil is still there. The problem is still right there. If anything, all that has been eliminated is the only hope of ever truly resolving the problem, unless atheists think they can re-engineer the planet so that lions no longer eat gazelles and plants no longer have to die. Good luck with that one.

Another problem is that if Zuersher wants to argue the logical problem of evil, well even a number of atheist philosophers admit that that has been answered. As Mackie says in The Miracle of Theism.

Since this defense is formally [that is, logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another. But whether this offers a real solution of the problem is another question. (Mackie 1982, p. 154)

Note that last part. This is a possible solution. It does not mean that it is the true solution. The point is that if there is a way the two can exist together, then it is not a contradiction. Mackie is not alone in this. What is usually argued more is the emotional problem of evil.

Zuersher also says that we would expect a human being to mitigate evil whenever he could and if he had superpowers, we would expect success. Why don’t we see it when we have a God even greater than a superhero? It’s worth noting that his source for this argument is the prominent polyamorous internet blogger Richard Carrier.

Again, the problem is how does Zuersher know which suffering is pointless and which isn’t? Most of us know that if you try to remove all suffering from someone’s life, that that person will not lead a good life really. Most of our greatest lessons we have learned in life have come through suffering.

Zuersher also says about the free will defense that if a deity can make a world where people will have free will and not do wrong, why not make that world? He is of course talking about the Christian concept of the afterdeath. I really don’t understand this argument because it seems so simple. Who is it that’s going to enjoy the loving presence of God then? It’s those who chose it. No one is forced to be in that place. Everyone who is there will be there BECAUSE of free-will.

The final defense he speaks of is the retreat to the possible with not knowing the reasons. It must be admitted though that if we’re dealing with a deity, then no, we don’t know the reasons. We don’t know the end from the beginning. Zuersher can say that we don’t know it so it doesn’t work, but the problem is the shoe is on the other foot. For Zuersher’s case to work he has to know that there is no good reason. It is his claim. It is his argument. If he cannot back that argument, then it fails. If it doesn’t work for the defense to say there is possibly a good reason, then it doesn’t work for the offense to say there is possibly no good reason. You can’t say possibles don’t make arguments and then use one yourself.

He also says animals do not participate in the next life, but this is an open question. In fact, Dan Story has recently written a great book arguing that indeed animals will be in the afterdeath. This isn’t a hill I’m willing to die on, but it’s an important question anyway.

Finally, the great fault of this is that Zuersher only looks at one side of the story. (We’ll see this throughout the book. He regularly cites critics of Christianity but hardly ever cites the opposite side all the while telling us constantly what apologists argue.) I on my side have a number of positive arguments for theism. Do I need to answer evil? Yes. Just as much Zuersher needs to answer the Thomistic arguments that I use. He never bothers. No theistic arguments are mentioned whatsoever. It is what I call the sound of one-hand clapping.

Evil is a big subject and that’s the first chapter and a very brief one. Zuersher will regularly give just a picture and a paragraph. Hopefully next time we’ll be able to cover more than one chapter.

Skepticism Is Not An Argument

Do you need a reason for your doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Many times I get caught up in debates on miracles and that leads to an automatic skepticism by many people. After all, we live in an age of science and in this age of science, we know things the ancients didn’t know. Therefore, we know that miracles don’t happen.

I like to point out to these people that they even knew back then that dead people stay dead, people don’t walk on water, food doesn’t instantly multiply to feed 5,000+ people, it’s not expected for blind people to see and paralyzed people to walk, and of course, virgins don’t give birth. (Although I do affirm the virgin birth.) If people insist at this point, I ask when it was that science made these great discoveries that they didn’t know about. It’s also helpful to ask which branch of science has disproven miracles.

The problem that often comes up is that someone will just say I’m a skeptic but without giving any basis for their own position. If we as Christians are often obligated to give a reason for the hope that lies within us, why should our intellectual opponents not give a reason for the doubt that lies within them. Please note that I am not saying all doubt is wrong. I am suggesting instead that we talk about a reasonable doubt.

For instance, let’s suppose you say that you will not believe in miracles because you have never experienced one. Of course, if you did experience one and you knew it, you would likely believe in miracles, but if you haven’t, do you really want to say the only way you will believe in a miracle is if you yourself witness one? If that’s the case, then no amount of arguing and persuasion is going to work with you. You’ve already decided at the outset a miracle can’t happen because you’ve never experienced it. (It’s also interesting that other people’s experience in the case of miracles is invalid, but your experience of not having one is completely allowable!)

It also won’t help then if it’s automatically decided that any story that you hear is just someone being gullible or mistaken or lying. No doubt, people are often mistaken about miracles, but the argument against miracles depends on every single case being an error in some way. Chesterton told us years ago that the theist believes in the miracle, rightly or wrongly, because of the evidence. The skeptic disbelieves, rightly or wrongly, because he has a dogma against them.

So let’s take a work like Craig Keener’s massive two volumes on miracles documenting miracles done all over the world. For the skeptic, every single miracle in there has to be false. For myself, all of them could be false and I could still have a case for miracles because I have arguments for theism and I have arguments for the resurrection.

So when pressed, what needs to be asked is why is someone being skeptical? What is behind the skepticism? Note also this can go both ways. Christians can be unreasonable in their skepticism of positions that disagree with them. I do not encourage Christians to say you will only disbelieve in the resurrection if you see the bones of Jesus. If Jesus did not rise, his bones are likely long gone and even if they aren’t, you really don’t have much way of identifying them. Set the bar reasonable. I just ask for a better explanation for the rise of the early church than the one the church itself gave that better explains the data.

Skepticism can be good. We should not be gullible and credulous, but at the same time, we need to be reasonable even in skepticism. If we demand our own personal experience, we’re not really entering into the discussion fairly and saying that intellectual arguments won’t convince us. That’s hardly being reasonable.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Book Plunge: The Scarlet Virgins

What do I think of Rebecca Lemke’s book published by Anatole Publishing? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Let’s set aside some things we can agree on as Christians right at the start.

Purity is a good thing. We should all strive to be pure. Sex is a sacred thing. It should be saved for marriage. It is a beautiful gift of God. We should all wants to be pure and to save sex for marriage as God designed it.

Okay. That’s good. So what’s the problem?

Because Jesus would have agreed with the Pharisees that keeping the Law is a good thing, but He would not agree with how they saw the Law. He would not have agreed to added on rules. The Law was not meant to be a burden to the people.

Sometimes purity can become that.

Note that this is not saying purity is a burden in the sense of “I have to wait until marriage to have sex?!” This is instead saying that we are going to put a bunch of other rules around ourselves to make sure we are staying pure. To an extent, this is fine. It would be foolish to throw caution to the wind and say “I’m going to do whatever I want around the opposite sex because I am committed to purity.” We should be aware of temptation and our weakness to it. As a married man, I recently told a female neighbor that I could not take her to the gym because I would not drive alone with a woman who was not my wife or a close family member.

Lemke grew up in the Purity Culture. I can’t say that I did. Part of that could be that I grew up a man and was not aware of the way that women had to live their lives. Too many women are told that men are visual and they must not be stumbling blocks to men. This much is of course true. There is nothing wrong with dressing modestly. The problem is when it becomes such a rule as if “This skirt must go this high.” Sometimes a bra strap might be seen coming out on a girl’s top or she could show some cleavage. We could think of the way the Muslim culture treats women. We really don’t want to be seen that way.

There’s also the idea of how you need to avoid physical affection of any kind and heck, even having a crush can be a problem because you’re giving your heart to someone else. As a man nearly married for seven years, I had a number of crushes before I met my Allie and now my heart is for her and her alone. She’s not getting less of me because there was supposedly something left behind with another just because of a crush.

If you remember the book I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, this book is largely a response to that. I never did read it, but I saw a number of people who either loved it or hated it. Interestingly, recently the author has realized he spoke without knowledge and is even breaking from ministry to go to seminary, something he didn’t think too highly of.

In all of this, the number one goal is that we must avoid sex before marriage. Now, of course, we should, but we don’t want to be extreme. It’s not the case that just because a girl and a boy are talking in the parking lot together, that they’re going to immediately jump into his car and drive to his place for an afternoon of hot passionate sex. On a TV show, you can see a man and a woman meeting together and it’s automatically “Yep. We know what’s going to happen.” The man and the woman are both automatically fully in the mood every time. Often the message is that men are just great big walking hormones and the woman must learn how to protect herself around them and how to not arouse the beast because he can’t control himself.

I spoke about physical affection earlier. This is something that’s often seen as the first kiss at the altar movement. One can see why it is a touching thought, but I do not think it works well. This is a whole time of dating and engagement where you’re told physical affection is a big no-no, and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to pass from a kiss to full sex.

There are a number of women who have a hard time with this switch. (Many times, the guys don’t. We learn very quickly that this is something we can enjoy.) A woman has had her sexuality treated as something dirty and then when she is with her husband for the first time on her wedding night, it magically becomes pure and pristine and all her thinking switches instantly.

Sorry. Doesn’t happen, and there are many marriages that have struggled because of this and some have even apostasized.

Part of it is also we give a very negative message about sex with lip service paid to the joy of sex. I remember being in Bible College and hearing a sermon at my church during a Silver Ring Thing ceremony. The associate pastor got up to tell the teenagers about the importance of waiting until marriage. He said that if you have sex before marriage, it will be for selfish reasons. Okay. I can agree with that. He then went on to why they shouldn’t.

“Think of the shame and guilt you’ll feel. Think about what you’ll have to tell your spouse on your wedding night. You could get an STD. You could get pregnant.”

And I was thinking “Pastor. Maybe it’s just me, but those sound like selfish reasons too.”

There was never anything about why this is wrong. It was all about how you’d feel. No worldview of sex. No talk about the role of sex. There was I think one sentence dedicated to the joy of sex. That was it. As I was sitting back there listening, I was getting bored, and as I’ve said before, if you can talk about sex and a college guy is in the audience and getting bored, you’re doing it wrong.

Lemke’s book is one big on grace and forgiveness, and yet there’s no real hostility towards the Purity Culture movement. She understands these people mean well, and she applauds that. One can think of zeal but not in accordance with knowledge.

Lemke also deals with the idea of damaged goods and such. This is common in our culture where if a woman has sex before marriage, it is as if her value is automatically lowered. This can be especially hard if it is the result of abuse the woman had no control over. A woman who has sinned by having sex before marriage even if her fault is not irredeemable. She can work and still have a good and godly marriage.

If there were some things I’d like to change, she does talk about having a husband and why the wedding night was so hard. I found myself wondering how it is growing up in the culture she eventually came to have a husband. That would have been good to have explained.

She did write about the joy of sex in the end, but I would have liked to have seen more. We should have it in our culture that instead of secular TV shows having some supposed idea of sex that lures people in, they need to be looking at Christian marriages and know there is great sex going on behind the scenes and wanting to have that one day. One of the greatest honors I have had in my life was a friend getting married and getting in touch with me and saying that he wanted what I had and seeking my advice. Doing marriage well takes work and it’s good when others recognize it is being done.

Lemke’s book is an easy and quick read. It is one that I can recommend. We need purity, but we don’t need to be so extreme we make our own existence a burden.

In Christ,
Nick Peters