The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?

Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."
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The Euthyphro Dilemma: God is Not Good or God is Not Sovereign

Over at the STR Place blog, we've been posting skeptical challenges to Christianity every Tuesday. This week, we posted the following challenge: 

Why does God say something is good? There are only two possibilities. First, it could be that a thing (or an action) is good just because God says it is. In other words, He declares something to be good, and therefore it’s good, and we should do it. He could have just as easily declared it to be bad, and then it wouldn’t be “right” for us to do it. But if it’s arbitrary, it’s not really good, is it?

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The World's Biggest Coffeehouse Video

Here is the final video of the World's Biggest Coffeehouse, streamed live on February 23. Josh McDowell and I took questions from a global audience and interacted on the most important questions of faith and doctrine. Hope you enjoy it!

The Effectiveness of Imperfect Evangelism

In a world of “experts” and “expert opinions” do you ever shrink back in your evangelistic efforts because you do not perceive yourself an “expert” in Christianity?  Do we need to be?  Today we have experts at Best Buy for your new television.  At Apple computer stores there might be a computer expert to fix your problems.  There is an expert salesperson for your car, expert lawyers, politicians, doctors, food critics, psychologists, sports radio or television experts, mechanics, and an array of financial advisors.  In fact we are so used to living in the company of experts, we’ll sometimes say after our point is made, “But I’m no expert, so what do I know?”

There are two examples I would like to share where God’s strength was made perfect in weakness.   The first is the conversion story of Frank Pastore, and the second is the evangelistic efforts of Moody Bible Institute professor Dr. Michael Rydelnik.

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Is Jesus the Only Way?

 “Jesus is the only way to God” may be the most controversial claim of Christianity, so we had better have good reason for it.  And I think we do.

What does Jesus say?  Let’s start with Jesus.  We certainly don’t want to claim something for him that he wouldn’t claim for himself.  If the Gospels are historically reliable (and we have overwhelming evidence they are), then we have Jesus’ own words and we discover he claims to be the only way to God.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus doesn’t leave much room for debate.  Indeed, Jesus says whoever rejects him “rejects the One who sent [him]” (Luke 10:16).  So according to Jesus, there’s no other path to God.  If you think highly of Jesus, eventually you have to grapple with his claims about himself.  

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What is Apologetics?

I Peter 3:15 says to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”  Simply put, that’s apologetics.  But in this short description, we discover three important details.  

First, doing apologetics means playing defense.  The Greek word for “defense” is apologia, from which we get the word “apologetics.”  Think about a football game.  At any time during the game, one team is trying to score (the offense) while the other is trying to stop them (the defense).  If your team has a really bad defense, you’ll get blown away.  Similarly, maybe you’ve been roughed up by some really tough objections to Christianity.  You’ve heard the challenges before.  “How can a good God allow suffering?” “The Bible is full of errors.”  “Jesus can’t be the only way to God.”  Apologetics helps us defend Christianity against tough questions.   

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Trusting in That Which is True

“I like to go hear my dad speak.  It makes me feel safe.”  

“What do you mean?” my wife Erin replied to this surprising comment from our nine-year-old son, Micah.  Erin had been discussing with a friend the connection between our knowledge of God and our experience of Him, when Micah cut in.  

Micah continued, “At night when I’m afraid, I think about the things Dad says about God and who He is.  It makes me feel safe.”  With that, Micah simply affirmed what the adults were discussing.  Micah has heard a lot of apologetics in his short nine years of life.  My kids attend a number of my events each year, and apologetics, theology, and philosophy are woven into our everyday conversations.  Micah is growing in his knowledge of the truth.  

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Knowledge, Wisdom AND Character

“An atheist from Berkeley is here.”  The youth pastor’s statement caught me off guard.  I was sitting in a church lobby, reviewing notes for a talk I was about to give.  My first thought was, “What atheist in their right mind would drive from Berkeley to attend a youth apologetics conference in the Inland Empire?”  

Seeing my puzzled look the youth pastor offered more.  “His name is Tim.  He’s right over there.”  I glanced in the direction he pointed and recognized Tim immediately.  I had met Tim, a recent graduate from U.C. Berkeley, two years ago on one of our mission trips.  He had participated in a couple of our joint events with Berkeley’s atheist student club, S.A.N.E. (Students for A Non-religious Ethos), over the last few years.  I hadn’t seen Tim for more than a year and now here he was, attending an apologetics conference where I was speaking.  

At the break, Tim made his way to my resource table.  “Tim!” I exclaimed.  Tim smiled and appeared genuinely happy to see me.  Indeed, as he approached I grabbed his hand for a firm shake but additionally, he leaned in for a hug.  I was glad to embrace him, realizing this hug was no small gesture.  Often, when we imagine interactions between atheists and Christians we envision warfare, not friendship.  But despite our opposing views about Christianity, Tim is made in God’s image.  Tim is an intrinsically valuable human being deserving dignity and respect, not an enemy to be vanquished.

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Six Kinds of Ex-Christians

Over the past year I’ve had the opportunity to interview dozens of ex-Christians for my book, Generation Ex-Christian. No two people walk away from the faith for exactly the same reasons. However, I witnessed some patterns emerge. The following list introduces six different kinds of “leavers.” I’ve assigned them names based on the primary factors that led them away from the faith.

These groupings are not scientifically precise; they are tools meant to help us determine why people abandon the faith, and enable us to address their specific concerns. Factors that lead people away often serve as the barriers that prevent their return. As you read this list, think of young people you know who have walked away. Do any of these descriptions sound familiar?

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Surprising Signs of Life

For the last year, I’ve been swimming in a sea of doubt. Not my own doubt—I’ve been immersed in the doubt of others.

I suppose the experience became unavoidable the moment I set out to write a book about the disturbing numbers of young adults exiting the Christian faith. Of course understanding the trend meant reading up on the relevant scholarship. Yet the literature on deconversion—which is shockingly sparse—only takes you so far. Its surreal, detached tone is an odd fit for such an intimate issue. Scholars describe young people leaving the faith as if observing caribou migrate across the Alaskan tundra.

On the ground the phenomenon of deconversion is heartbreakingly human—a torrent of emotional pain, broken relationships, and identity crises. I knew I had to talk with real “leavers.” But after dozens of interviews, it seemed almost more than I could handle. It wasn’t a test of my faith, but it did tax my resolve. The interviews were heart-numbing.

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