Talking About God at MCCC

 

I am teaching two philosophy classes at MCCC this fall. They are: Introduction to Logic, and Philosophy of Religion.

Logic is about evaluating arguments. This is different than being argumentative. An “argument,” in philosophy, is one or more statements that lead to a conclusion. If, from the statements to the conclusion, there is what is called a “claim of inference,” then it’s “logical.” With a little bit of logic under one’s belt one is then prepared to consider the big philosophical discussions that present arguments either for or against the existence of God.

When I turned from a form of indifferent agnosticism to belief in God many years ago, I was an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University. I became part of a campus ministry called Campus Crusade for Christ. Two of my leaders were great scholars who both went on to get Ph.Ds in philosophy. They introduced me to a verse in the Bible that has stayed with me all my life: 1 Peter 3:15 – “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

Even as I type that verse right now I am thinking, what a great piece of the Bible that is! I break it down three ways.

#1 – “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” The word “set apart” literally means, “be holy.” “Holiness,” literally, is “set-apartness.” Which means, for me, this: at the age of 21 I made a decision to live my life entirely for Jesus. Jesus became my “Lord.” So, in all I do I look to him for direction. And my hope, the basket I am putting all the eggs of my life into, is about knowing Jesus and making Jesus known to others.

#2 – “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” OK – I have this hope. But does it have any rationale to it? Personally, while I know a lot of very good Jesus-followers who “just believe” in Jesus, this has never been enough for me. I worked as a pastor at Michigan State University for 11 years, and most of the students I met felt this way too. In fact, most of the students in my classes at MCCC who are either wondering about God and if he really exists or are already God-believers want to know that there’s some kind of logical basis for either their belief, unbelief, or agnosticism.

Here is where Logic and the Philosophy of Religion come in. Because one of the main thing philosophers talk about is God, God is a main part of my MCCC courses. In Philosophy of Religion I teach: a) the major arguments for the existence of God; b) the major atheistic arguments against there being a God; c) and what the major world religions say about “God” or “gods”; plus a few other things along the way. (The textbook I use is right here.) I find that most of not all really get into these discussions and the learning that goes along with it. In fact, I believe this: today’s university students are looking for people to talk with about this without the discussions becoming one-sided and imperialistic. That, for me, is where the third point comes in.

#3 – “But do this with gentleness and respect.” I love this. I have seen a lot of un-gentleness and disrespect poured out of the mouths of “Christians” over the years. Mostly I think it is not only ineffective but really turns people away from the Real Jesus. Getting really angry and controlling quickly turns a potential dialogue about God into a one-sided preachy monologue. If you are reading this and you are a passionate believer in God and Jesus, the good news is that you can chill out when talking to others about the hope that is within you and trust God to do a work that you cannot do yourself and were not meant to do. And, FYI, I’ve had some atheistic students who behave more like Jesus than some so-called Christians.

I find that at MCCC, and in Monroe as elsewhere, people are greatly interested in God-talk, whether they believe or don’t believe. If in my classes I can legitimize that discussion and provide a safe place to engage in it then I am very grateful for the opportunity.

(The picture is of the La-Z-Boy Center at MCCC’s campus.)

Has Michael Vick Really Found Jesus?

 

Yesterday Michael Vick publicly announced that he’s turning to God and giving his life over to Jesus. Here is Vick’s statement: “”Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it. I’m upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that’s the right thing to do as of right now.”

What can we make of this? I am glad Vick said these words, for his own sake. I can’t judge if they are real, but here is why they could be.

1) Every person has a need for inner cleansing. The basic Christian teaching is that, inside of us, things are not as they should be. I think most people, indeed nearly all, feel this way.

Why? In the biblical book of Romans, ch. 2, we are told that God has placed within each person a sense of moral rightness and wrongness. This is so central to Christianity that C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, called it the “key to the meaning of the universe.”

I have met many persons over the years who have come to me inwardly agitated by the inner moral law. Once, when I worked at MSU, a member of MSU’s football team gave me a call. This football player was a pre-season All-American candidate, After he graduated he went on to play pro football. He came and sat in my office and shared with me some things that he had done, and asked what he could do about them. He had made some bad choices, and felt responsible for them. He felt the burden of being a role model to kids who were idolizing him. Inside, he had what Thomas Merton would call “seeds of destruction.” How could he ever make up for things he had done, especially to other people?

My answer was to tell him that he could never rewind his life to go back and do it again. And, there was nothing he could do to “make up” for the destructive consequences of his self-centered choices. In theological language, self-atonement is impossible. He needed to, as Michael Vick stated, “find Jesus.”

2) Even the atheist Freud acknowledged that there is something evil inside human beings, and that is why we need “civilization”; viz., to keep us from destroying ourselves. For a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist, the answer for how to get cleansed of one’s evil and destructive choices is to keep a set of rules and do enough good deeds so they will outweigh the bad deeds. When C.S. Lewis was asked, “What makes Christianity different from these other religions?” he responded, “That’s easy. It’s grace.”

3) “Grace,” according to Jesus, is getting something that we have not earned and therefore do not deserve. “Mercy,” according to Jesus, is not getting what we deserve. These things are so central to Real Christianity that at one point the book of James announces that, ultimately, mercy will triumph over judgment. “Forgiveness,” Jesus-style, is having a debt cancelled. In other words, our evil and destructive choices bring pain either to God, others, or our own selves. When this happens, we feel we “owe” something, and need to “make it up” to either God, others, or ourselves. But this is impossible. How, then, can we find freedom from our dark choices? The Jesus-answer is: forgiveness is extended to us. This means: a) we receive something we do not deserve (“grace”); and b) we don’t get the punishment we deserve (“mercy”).

4) Are persons basically good? Not according to Jesus, nor according to Freud. And, if you doubt this, look inside your own heart if you can. In this regard Jesus tells people not to “cast stones” at other human failures. This calls for a heart of compassion. We “feel with” other moral failures precisely because we have come to understand our own violence within. To look with horror on Michael Vick is to betray one’s own deluded self-righteousness.

Should Michael Vick pay for what he has done with jail time and money? Of course. Should he have to pay for what he has done all his life by being labeled an especially horrific being? No. Not according to my Christian understanding. I am quite sure I am no better than him in the sense of being more deserving of God’s love.

Has Michael Vick really found Jesus? I don’t know, but I do hope so. The real thing, the Real Jesus, is after Vick’s heart. I have seen, many times, the real conversion of a heart of darkness set free to walk in the light. Let’s pray for the freedom of Michael Vick.

(The picture is of an ultralight that was flying over the Jazz Festival a few weeks ago.)

Is Jesus the Only Way to God?

This Sunday evening I’ll be doing one more seminar in my Basic Apologetics series: How Can We Say That Jesus Is the Only Way to God When There are Other World Religions?

7 PM

Redeemer Fellowship Church, Monroe, MI

734-242-5277

This is a picture of the Hagia Sofia that I took when we were in Istanbul a year and a half ago.

The Urban Legend of the Non-Existent Jesus Comes to Monroe

At monroenews.com’s “Your Talk” one of the threads is “Ask an Atheist.” I made some posts there and dialogued with a young man who says he is an atheist.
 

At one point he said this: “I do not believe Jesus was a real person. I believe the Jesus of the Bible is a mish-mash of previous “Sons of God” or “Sun Gods” such as Osirus, Mithras or Dionysus, all were born of virgins, all were martyred. All were resurrected. It’s just a re-telling of the old tales into a new tale. Take Saul (Paul). When he was talking about Jesus, he didn’t even know if a physical Jesus existed. He was talking about the spiritual entity.”

Now this is false. Here’s why. [Note: In this presentation I am presenting work done by a number of scholars, but especially Greg Boyd and N.T. Wright.]

1. If you examine these parallels in detail, you find that most of the commonalities are superficial. For example, there is a legend of a man named Appolonius who is said to have risen from the dead. This is written by Philostratus, who’s writing 150 years after Appolonius lived. The supposed resurrection comes down to this. There’s a lady who had a dream. Appolonius appeared to her in a dream. But… that’s not a resurrection. It’s, maybe, a post-mortem vision. It has nothing in common with the Gospel stories, which has Jesus hanging out with people for 40 days. Jesus has breakfast with his disciples. He lets someone put a hand on his side.
 

2. The stories about others having a virgin birth, like Plato having a virgin birth, all happen after Christianity has spread into the world. People saw Christians claiming that Jesus had a virgin birth, so they begin to claim that their “hero” had a virgin birth so they could compete with Christianity.
 

3. Legends usually take a lot of time to develop. The story gets told and told and retold, like a fish story that grows over time. That’s what is typical of legends. They take decades and even centuries to evolve, even a millennium. The legends about Buddha are all more than 500 years after his life. The same with Plato, Alexander the Great, and others. But when it comes to Jesus you don’t have a millennium, you don’t have centuries, you don’t even have decades. You don’t have enough time for a legend to develop.
 

The first person to write about Jesus is the apostle Paul. Paul is writing two decades after Jesus lived. He is writing when people still are alive and who remember Jesus. There are real, historical figures involved, like Caiaphas the high priest and Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. These are people who lived and were contemporary with people who were still alive when Paul wrote. How could you have a legend evolve about a man who is just a normal carpenter and then, in just 10-15 years, he’s now the “Son of God?” How do you explain that when his brother James is still alive? In fact, how do you explain it when you have people laying down their lives for this story? The legend hypothesis does not work. You don’t have enough time. (See Boyd’s book cited below. In my points 1-4 I am largely quoting from a sermon given by Greg at his church on Easter Sunday 2007. Go here, click on “Woodland Hills Church,” and access the sermon.)
 

4. You also have the wrong culture. Not all cultures are equal when it comes to being receptive to legends. Our culture, on the whole, is quite resistant to legends. [Except, e.g., the legend of the legendary Jesus.] Most people don’t believe most of the legends that go around. Other cultures are more receptive.
 

First-century Judaism was resistant to legends. They had the Torah. It was the pagans who told the stories and the legends.
 

Usually when legends evolve there’s a sociological need that’s being met. Legends evolve to support traditional beliefs. The legend reinforces what they already believe. The story of Jesus doesn’t fit any of the cultural beliefs very well. In fact, Jesus flies in the face of established beliefs in first-century Judaism. For example, the Jews believed God was God and humans were humans and never the twain shall meet. The idea that God would become man is off-the-charts blasphemous. The point is: The Jesus-story is not the stuff of “legends.” Legends confirm traditional beliefs, they do not confront traditional beliefs.
 

C.S. Lewis wrote about this. Lewis’s area of real scholarship at Oxford was mythology. Lewis said: I know mythology. If there’s one thing the 4 Gospels are not, it’s mythology.
 

So, the legendary hypothesis does not work for a number of reasons.
 

5. The idea that, e.g., Osiris, Mithras, and Dionysus et. al. were [mythically] resurrected is false because a misunderstanding of the meaning of “resurrection.” In the 4 Gospels “resurrection” does not equal “resuscitation.” The word “resurrection” has to do with coming back to life with a different, transformed, immortal body. People in the ancient world in which Judeo-Christianity was situated  did not believe that such a thing as “’resurrection’ was an option. For example, the two figures looming in the background as the paradigm-shapers of the Greco-Roman world were Plato and Homer. Plato was an anti-materialist. He denigrated the human body. So, the idea that a person would come back to life in a body was reprehensible. And Homer just did not believe people came back to life. (See Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus: God and Man)
 

6. The Osiris et. al myths were associated with pagan fertility rites. These gods “died and rose” every year. N.T. Wright says: “When the early Christians spoke of Jesus being raised from the dead, the natural meaning of that statement, throughout the ancient world, was the claim that something had happened to Jesus which had happened to nobody else. A great many things supposedly happened to the dead, but resurrection did not.”
 

Wright says: “The new life they might thereby experience was not a return to the life of the present world.” Nobody actually expected the mummies to get up, walk about and resume normal living: nobody in that world would have wanted such a thing, either… When the Christians spoke of the resurrection of Jesus they did not suppose it was something that happened every year, with the sowing of seed and the harvesting of crops. They could use the image of sowing and harvesting to talk about it; they could celebrate Jesus’ death by breaking bread; but to confuse this with the world of the dying and rising gods would be a serious mistake… When Paul preached in Athens, nobody said, ‘Ah, yes, a new version of Osiris and such like. The Homeric assumption remained in force. Whatever the gods – or the crops – might do, humans did not rise again from the dead.”
 

This is just an introduction to debunking the false idea that the story of Jesus co-opted pre-existing legends of “dying and rising gods.” If you want to study this more see especially:
 

          Greg Boyd and George Eddy, The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition
          N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God: (Christian Origins and the Question of God) – See especially Chapter 2, which brilliantly analyzes the so-called resurrection myths in other cultures.
 

A Seminar: Is Jesus God the Son?

I’ll be doing a seminar at my church this Sunday evening, 7 PM – Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe. I’ll answer the question “Can we believe that Jesus is God the Son?

In my doctoral program at Northwestern U. one of my comprehensive exams was in an area called Christology, or the doctrine of Christ. My personal Christological studies continue to thyis very day. In my church I began, in September 2005, teaching on Sunday mornings about the Real Jesus. My personal passion is to know the Real Jesus and make him known to others.

I’ll probably post my seminar notes next week.

If you’re interested in my first two August seminars contact our church office and we’ll give you a free tape. (734-242-5277)

Session 1 – “Why It Is Rational to Believe God Exists.”

Session 2 – “How Can God Be All-Loving and All-Powerful Yet Evil Exists?”

And, here’s a picture I took of downtown Monroe a few weeks ago.

Korn – A Meth/Porn Addict Breaks Free

I just read Brian Welch’s book Save Me From Myself. Brian was lead guitarist for the band Korn.

I was, to my surprise, deeply moved by this book. Welch’s description of his drug-and-sex saturated life on tour with Korn is straightforward and non-demeaning. The simplicity with which Welch writes, even though the language is rough and real, is compelling. Anyone who reads it will conclude that such a totally addicted ego-centric prisonhouse of existence is truly empty.

Welch doesn’t write as a victim but as one who finally takes personal responsibility for his own life choices. He doesn’t blame his parents or his friends or anyone for the hell he found himself in. This is important, because a “victim mentality” is part of the prison. When the prison chains are finally broken off Welch’s heart the result is moving and believable. From being a full-meth-addict, a money addict, and a porn addict, Welch now walks in freedom from all of these and more.

By 2004, Welch was deeply depressed and suicidal, and thought about taking his life as a way of relieving his phenomenal inner pain. “My life was crumbling. I needed to get off drugs. I tried a couple of rehabs, but that didn’t work.”

One day a Christian friend sent Welch an e-mail suggesting he read Matthew 11:28, where Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This touched Welch so much that, later, he got the verse tattooed on the back of his neck.

The subtitle of Welch’s book is called How I found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs, and Lived to Tell My Story. He writes: “I had been filled with anger, confusion, hate, selfishness, greed, you name it. When God revealed himself to me, it was a supernatural peace and love that was so far higher and beyond anything you can experience on earth,” he said. “I knew it was God. I knew it was him revealing heaven to me, eternal life. He poured out his love into my heart, and I was instantly changed in that moment. I mean God became so real to me. He’s irresistible.”

Save Me From Myself is currently #18 on the New York Times best-seller list. Warning: it’s R-rated for some language and description of Welch’s before-Jesus days.

Brian’s web site is here. You cann access his interview with Paula Zahn there.

Sunset at Warren Dunes State Park

 

Linda and I are celebrating our 34th anniversary at Warren Dunes State Park. One thing we love to do together is sit on the beach, read, and talk.

We linked up with our good friends Jeff and Julie Jaskowiak and their kids from Joliet, Illinois.

Here are a few pictures of last evening’s sunset. The little boy is Jeff and Julie’s son James.

Our 34th Anniversary!

 

This Saturday, August 11, Linda and I celebrate 34 years of marriage together. Linda is simply the most beautiful person I have ever met. Here’s a picture of us back around the time we were married, in the 70s. To me Linda hasn’t changed very much, but when I look in the mirror I sure have. One Sunday morning I showed this picture to our church family. Immediately, they recognized Linda, but many of them couldn’t believe the guy she was with was me.

About my clothes. If you lived in the early 70s you’d have loved the pants I am wearing and would have died for them. Back then pants like this were tight, cool, sick.

About my hair. That’s how real men wore their hair. I wish I had this hair now.

The flower on my shirt? That was another manly thing back in the early 70s, kind of like William Wallace going to battle in a skirt.

Linda and I met as undergraduates at Northern Illinois University. We got married at the end of our junior years. We had no money, one picture hanging on the white wall of our apartment, a Pontiac Bonneville that I bought for a hundred bucks that got 7-8 miles per gallon on the highway, and we had Jesus and each other and a lot of great friends.

We’re going to spend part of our anniversary day at the Jazz Festival in Monroe.

Why Evil & Suffering if God is All-Good and All-Powerful?

When I was in New York City in June I visited Ground Zero. There is an area next to where the twin towers stood that has memorials and pictures. Here is a picture of a car that was caught in the chaos of that evil day. Where was God?

 

If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how can there be evil and suffering in this world? I’m going to answer this question in a seminar at my church (Redeemer Fellowship in Monroe) this Sunday evening, 7 PM.

I’ll post my outline and maybe some additional explanatory comments next week.

For more information e-mail me or call 242-5277.

 

Notes From My Seminar on the Existence of God

 

 

Last night I gave a seminar at my church called “Why It Is Rational to Believe There Is a God.” Here’s a summary of my notes for all who came and any others who might be interested. And, we made a tape of my presentation. If you are interested call our church office and we’ll give you one for free – 734-242-5277.

There’s currently, in Europe and America, an attack against persons who believe in God. There are “evangelistic atheists” who are working to convert God-believers into one of them. They are: Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett. Dawkins and Hitchens are especially irrational in their presentations, so much so that the atheist Michael Ruse said, in response to Dawkins’s book The God Delusion, “it makes me embarrassed to be an atheist.”

By saying that a belief is “rational” we mean one of two things.

    1. It is “logical.” There are two kinds of logical arguments: i.      Deductive;  ii.      Inductive
    2. It is “foundational” – i. E.g., “I think, therefore I am.” (Descartes); ii.      E.g., “1+1=2”

I presented a Moral Argument for the Existence of God, that goes like this:

    1. If there is no God, then objective moral values do not exist.
    2. Objective moral values do exist
    3. Therefore, God exists
    4. For a scholarly presentation of this argument go here.

I presented the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God:

    1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
    2. The universe began to exist. – i.Physicists tday affirm that our universe began to exist; ii. There can be no such thing as an actual infinite, therefore the universe cannot have always existed.
    3. Therefore the universe had a cause
    4. But why should we call this cause “God?” The reasoning goes as follows: i. The Principle of Sufficient reason says that, for every effect, there must be a sufficient reason for its coming into existence. ii. Since with the origin of the universe we have the origin of time, space, and matter, the cause of the universe must be non-temporal, non-spatial, and immaterial. iii. Whatever caused the universe to be must have been very powerful. iv. And, the cause of the universe must be personal (some sort of being; a personal causal agent). Why? Because if the cause of the universe were impersonal and timeless, then the existence of the universe would be eternal; the effect would be coexistence with the cause.
    5. For a scholarly presentation of this argument go here.

I presented what is called the Argument from Reason. See Victor Reppert’s book C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea for a representative of this argument.

    1. Reason exists.
    2. If there is no God, then the origins of human reason are fundamentally non-rational.
    3. Therefore there is no reason to trust our reason.
    4. Only a theistic worldview makes sense of the existence of reason.

I presented Alvin Plantinga’s defense of belief in God on the basis of properly basic beliefs.

    1. There are things we believe are true, not on the basis of logical arguments, such as “I exist,” “1+1=2,” or “I ate breakfast this morning.”
    2. If the Christian worldview is true (and Plantinga believes it is) and we have been created in the image of God, then it is rational to believe that God has placed within us an awareness of his existence. Like these flowers on my deck stretch towards the sun, we find within ourselves a longing and desire to know God, our Creator.
    3. But If naturalism is true, then it is not likely that our belief-forming mechanisms are reliable, since they are not aimed at truth but are merely selected for survival.  (“Naturalism” is the belief that “nature” is all there is, and nothing more exists.)

Next Sunday night I’ll give a seminar on this subject: “How Can God Be All-Loving and All-Powerful Yet Evil Exists?”