Friday, August 24, 2007

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


The picture is one I took of the Hagia Sofia when we visited Istanbul a year and a half ago.

Mother Teresa and the Absence of God

This week's Time magazine features an essay on a forthcoming book called
Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. It contains her personal correspondences to her personal spiritual advisors. The letters reveal a profound sense of the absence of God in the midst of her phenomenal ministry to the poor and needy.

The book's editors see Teresa's lack of God-encounter as real and moving within her faith experience, whereas atheists like Christopher Hitchens will find Teresa's words as evidence for the non-existence of God. Hitchens writes:
"She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself." Psychologists will likely analyze Teresa's inner emptiness in relation to her upbringing and/or neurophysiology. Teresa appears, emotionally, melancholic.

The sense of the absence of God is part of the Judeo-Christian experience, so much so that Jesus, dying on the cross, quotes Psalm 22:1 - "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

In my own spiritual journals I have written many things about my own sense of the presence of God impinging on me, as well as "Where are you now, God?" moments. "Doubt" is part of the human condition, and few if any are immune to it. Even atheists doubt (if they are honest). For example, C.S. Lewis describes feeling doubts about his atheism that came upon him and caused him to think "There must be a God." The existence of doubt can increase the more a person believes. The doubtable object of belief can be anything, to include a scientific theory, a relationship with another person, one's own decisions, and so on. If you wonder what kind of things are candidates for doubt re-read Descartes' Meditations.

The essay states: "Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine's Confessions and Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. [James] Martin of America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book "a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life," and says, "It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone.""

The publishing of these letters raises ethical issues. Mother Teresa did not want these letters to be seen by anyone. "The letters, many of them preserved against her wishes (she had requested that they be destroyed but was overruled by her church)." What can we make of this? I've functioned as a spiritual counselor for 500 pastors and Christian leaders over the past 30 years. They have sent me their spiritual journals, and I've read them and corresponded with them. These journals contain deep personal thoughts. To me it is a great privilege to read them, and a window into real, honest faith. The journals always contain questions about a variety of things. My role is to discern what I hear God saying and communicate that to the person. After I'm done with a journal I destroy the copy I have been entrusted with. It would be a violation of that person's rights and wishes to save them for later publication.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

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

Here's a picture of the city of Monroe, a sleepy theological place where radical ideas make a very slow entrance.

At our local news paper's website,, there's a chat place called "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:

- 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.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

On Anonymous Comments

I've decided not to allow anonymous comments on my blog any more unless I have reason to make an exception. I like open dialogue, and to me "open" means coming out in the open.

If you have made comments here and are seeking after real, open dialogue then I suggest you find someone to talk with about your concerns that you trust and feel comfortable sharing name-to-name or face-to-face with.

I wish you the very best and God's richest blessings!

Friday, August 17, 2007

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?”

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My Seminar on the Problem of Evil

On Sunday night I gave a seminar The Problem of Evil and the Existence of God in my apologetics series at my church.

My talk went, briefly, like this.

I shared my own experience and encounter with evil. I explained that "evil," in the philosophical dialogue, usually means gratuitous suffering.

I presented J.L. Mackie's logical argument from evil, and how Mackie believed that it is simply illogical to affirm the following three statements at once: 1) God is all-loving; 2) God is all-powerful; and 3) Evil exists.

I then shared Alvin Plantinga's refutation of Mackie. Plantinga adds a 4th statement that affirms (1) and (2), and logically implies (3). That statement is: (4) God made a world in which there are free creatures who produce some moral goodness; and, all possible persons suffer from “transworld depravity.” Plantinga has shown that Mackie's logical argument against God's existence fails.

I then presented William Rowe's evidential argument from evil. Which is:

Premise 1 - There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Premise 2 - An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Conclusion - There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

I then shared a response that attackcs Premise 1 (Stephen Wyckstra) and a respisnbe nthat attacks Premise 2 (Greg Boyd).

Wyckstra's argument:
1. God’s wisdom and knowledge is considerably greater than that of humans.
2. If (1), then it is likely that the evil generated by cases of intense suffering that appear to be gratuitous are outweighed by some greater good.
3. If it is likely that the evil generated by cases of intense suffering that appear to be gratuitous are outweighed by some greater good, then it is likely that we would not have epistemic access to the reason for such suffering given our significantly limited cognitive perspective relative to God.
4. If it is likely that we would not have epistemic access to the reason for such suffering given our significantly limited cognitive perspective relative to God, then it is not likely that there exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
5. Therefore, it is not likely that there exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Boyd's theodicy can be found in his book Satan and the Prblem of Evil. It argues that there is, on Christian theism, gratuitous or pointless evil, thus its existence does not threaten the theistic viewpoint.

The best philosophical discussion of this issue is found in Daniel Howard-Snyder's collection The Evidential Argument from Evil.

See also Yale philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams's Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

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 Church in Monroe, MI) 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 734-242-5277.

Monday, August 06, 2007

My Outline - Why It Is Rational To Believe God Exists

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.
A. It is “logical.” There are two kinds of logical arguments: i. Deductive; ii. Inductive
B. 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:
Premise 1 - If there is no God, then objective moral values do not exist.
Premise 2 - Objective moral values do exist
Conclusion - Therefore, God exists
For a scholarly presentation of this argument go here.
I presented the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the Existence of God:
Premise 1 - Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
Premise 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.)
Conclusion - Therefore the universe had a cause
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.
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.
- Reason exists.
- If there is no God, then the origins of human reason are fundamentally non-rational.
- Therefore there is no reason to trust our reason.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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?”

Thursday, August 02, 2007

A Seminar on the Rationality of Belief in God

I think it is rational to believe that God exists. I and certain other philosophers believe that atheism is fundamentally non-rational. (E.g., Robert Adams, Alvin Plantinga, Victor Reppert, Nicholas Wolterstorff, J.P. Moreland.)

I will be giving a seminar, this Sunday evening, on “Why It Is Rational To Believe There Is A God.” I love talking about this subject, and began studying it 36 years ago when I converted from being a quasi-deist to a theist. My Ph.D studies at Northwestern University were in this area, and I teach Logic and Philosophy of Religion at MCCC (this is, I think, my 7th or 8th year of teaching there. I’ll teach these two courses in the coming fall semester).

Details of my seminar:

Sunday, August 5, 7-8:30 PM
Redeemer Fellowship Church, 5305 Evergreen, Monroe, Michigan

It will be a lecture/dialogue format with room for questions.