How to Be a "One Dollar Apologist" (What I Learned This Year at CIA)

I returned yesterday from Frank Turek’s CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy (CIA) in North Carolina. CIA is an intense three-day program that teaches students how to present I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, a four part apologetics presentation based on Frank’s iconic book of the same title. Students spend three days on the campus of Southern Evangelical Seminary learning how to present the case for truth, God, miracles and the New Testament. They make their own presentations as well and learn how to answer questions about these topics in a hostile environment. I participated as an instructor this year, along with Frank, Ted Wright, Greg Koukl, Richard Howe, Brett Kunkle and Larry Blythe. It was a powerful (and busy) three days, and I highly commend the experience to anyone who is serving the Christian community as a Case Maker and wants to become better at their craft.
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Why Would a Good God Behave So Badly?

I have many unbelieving friends who laugh when I claim the God of the Bible is both all-powerful and all-loving. As they read through the Old Testament, they point to a variety of passages and episodes where God seems to be anything but loving. They cite passages, for example, where God seems to command the pillaging and killing of Israel’s enemies with great brutality. How can a God who would command the brutal destruction of Israel’s enemies be called moral or loving? It’s easy for us to judge the words and actions of God as if He were just another human, subject to an objective standard transcending Him. But when we judge God’s actions in this way, we are ignoring His unique authority and power. While great work has been done by Paul Copan (Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God), describing the proper context of these passages in the Old Testament, and by Clay Jones (Killing the Canaanites: A Response to the New Atheism’s “Divine Genocide” Claims), describing the view God held toward the sin of Israel’s neighbors, I would like to add the following observations about the nature of God as we consider His actions in the Old Testament:
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Confusing Moral Utility With Moral Creation

Are moral laws simply a product of cultural utility and sociocultural evolution? As a skeptic, I used to think so. I believed moral laws evolved along with the species. Humans who accepted certain moral behaviors and principles were far more likely to survive, and that’s exactly what happened; those who were more inclined to accept certain principles emerged through the process of Natural Selection. As a result, modern humans acknowledge a set of moral values essential to survival, and the first of these morally inclined beings documented their commonly accepted standards in ancient codes like Buddhism’s Five Precepts and Noble Eightfold Path, ancient Egypt’s Ma'at, Hinduism’s Yamas or Judaism’s Ten Commandments. There are, after all, many common features in these ancient codes. The Golden Rule, for example, appears to be a foundational moral concept acknowledged and utilized by nearly every ancient group. While I did not believe moral truths were an expression of our genetic coding, I did believe we evolved as a species to embrace and use certain moral principles because they benefited our survival.

The problem, of course, is this claim fails to account for the source of these moral concepts; it confuses moral utility with moral creation. Let me give you a comparative example. Imagine an ancient people group who, following a lightning storm, come upon a burning tree branch. Appreciating the heat generated from the small fire, they learn to control and maintain the flames for future use. As a result, they increase their survivability dramatically. They can now cook their food, increasing the variety and availability of certain nutrients. They can stay warm in cold weather and live comfortably in cold climates. They can keep nocturnal predators at bay. As other groups learn from their example, the controlled use of fire becomes a common feature of humanity. Can we accurately say fire emerged through a process of sociocultural evolution? No. At best we can simply say that humans discovered fire and learned to apply its benefits to their specific situation. The common recognition and use of fire does nothing to account for its transcendent nature and existence. There is an objective, transcendent chemistry related to fire (commonly called the “fire tetrahedron”), and while humans can discover this chemical relationship (and even apply what they discover), they are not the “source” of it. In fact, the objective reality of fire is human-independent; there would still be fires, even if there wasn’t a single human being on the planet.

So, even if I accepted the idea that humans evolved over time and embraced certain moral principles beneficial to their survival, I’d still be looking for the transcendent source of these moral concepts. Transcendent, objective moral truths (like “It’s never OK to torture babies for the fun of it”) were true even before humans were able to comprehend or acknowledge them. Ancient groups may have discovered and employed rules to aid their survival, but they didn’t create them. Moral laws such as these didn’t come from ancient human law givers, they pre-existed ancient law users (as fire pre-existed ancient fire users). The overarching nature of the moral law transcends the finite nature of humans; transcendent, objective moral laws require a Transcendent Moral Law Giver.

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Two Signs From Your Opposition Your Argument Is Sound

Those of us who acknowledge the self-evident existence of transcendent, moral truth claims (i.e. “It’s never OK to torture babies for fun”) need to be prepared for opposition from unbelievers who anticipate and reject the implications. If objective, transcendent moral laws exist, the need for an adequate source (a transcendent Moral Law Giver) becomes apparent (more on that in future posts). In order to avoid the need for a transcendent Moral Law Giver, some will do their best to deny the existence of objective laws in the first place. In doing so, they often employ the same tactics used by defense attorneys in criminal trials; tactics that typically signal smart jurors the prosecution’s case is sound. I’ve written an entire chapter about this in my book, but I recently saw two of these tactics used in response to the “baby torturing” claim.

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Are Objective Moral Truths Merely a Matter of Cultural Agreement?

Many atheists I know will readily acknowledge the existence of transcendent, objective moral laws. In my last post, I described several of these objective moral absolutes by simply adding the short expression, “for the fun of it” to any list of moral actions:

It’s never OK to steal “for the fun of it”
It’s never OK to lie “for the fun of it”
It’s never OK to kill “for the fun of it”
etc., etc.

Every human culture throughout history has acknowledged these universal moral truths, even as some have attempted to defend (sometimes sickeningly) their own justifications for these behaviors. While you and I may not agree on what justifies homicide in one culture or another over the course of human history, we both must recognize that historic cultural exceptions were not simply “the fun of it”. But couldn’t objective moral principles simply be cultural “conventions”? Are objective moral truths simply a matter of “shared morality”? If this is the case, all moral truths are defined by the group who “shares” them, and herein lies the problem.

If societies are the source of objective moral truths, what are we to do when two cultures disagree about these truths? How do we adjudicate between two competing views of a particular moral claim? To whom do we appeal? If objective moral truths are simply a matter of “shared morality”, the societal majority rules; “might makes right”. In a world like this, anyone (or any group) holding the minority position in a particular moral argument is, by definition, immoral. As my ministry partner, Greg Koukl, rightly observes in Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, there can be no moral activism if objective moral truths are simply a matter of majority opinion. When a society defines an objective moral truth and the vast majority of its members agree, on what basis can a lone reformer make a call for change? Anyone who advocates for a position that disagrees with the majority is, by definition, morally mistaken. A moral reformer, like Martin Luther King Jr., simply could not have argued for moral truth from a minority moral position if objective truths are defined by the majority. King Jr. would, by definition, have been considered immoral; his views were contrary to those held (and therefore defined) by the majority. The civil rights movement was successful because it appealed to an authority greater than the majority. The movement recognized transcendent moral truths are discovered (rather than created).

In fact, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson made this clear in his early career as a prosecutor at the Nuremburg trials following World War II. When the German soldiers who committed atrocities in the Jewish prison camps were brought to trial to face criminal charges, the issue of moral relativity was tested directly. The lawyers for the German officers argued that these men should not be judged for actions that were actually morally acceptable in the nation of Germany at the time of the war. They argued their supervisors and culture encouraged this behavior; in fact, to do otherwise would defy the culture and ideology in which they lived. In their moral environment, this behavior was part of the “shared morality”. Jackson argued against such a view of moral relativism and said, “There is a law above the law.” The officers were convicted and executed.

Jackson was referring, of course, to the moral law that transcends all of us, regardless of location on the planet or time in history. This moral law cannot simply be a matter of “shared morality” or “social convention;” it transcends and pre-dates every culture. As we think carefully and identify the transcendent moral laws that govern our world, it might also be useful to think carefully about the transcendent author of these laws.

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Book Review: Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace

Let me put my cards on the table.  J. Warner Wallace (Jim to those who know him personally) is one of my best friends.  For almost 10 years, we’ve been invested in each other’s life.  We’ve done ministry together.  We’ve served in the local church together.  We’ve led student mission trips together.  Our families have spent time together (my teenage daughter regularly crashes at his house and gets spoiled by Jim’s wonderful wife, Susie).  And now we’re speaking together, as colleagues at Stand to Reason.  Jim is a close friend, partner, and ally.  

So yes, as I offer a review of Jim’s book, Cold Case Christianity (CCC), you could argue that I’m biased.  However, if you dismiss my book review as unreliable on the sole basis of bias, then you need to read Jim’s book!  In chapter 14, he deals with a similar charge of bias against the disciples.  And had you read it already, you’d know bias does not preclude one from being reliable, as Jim’s “Mark Hillian” illustration demonstrates (see page 246).  So, don't dismiss this review before you consider the reasons why I think you need to read Jim’s book. 

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Yet Another Student Survey Confirming the Need for Case Making

It’s been about a month since Larry Taunton of Fixed Point Foundation posted an article for the Atlantic entitled Listening to Young Atheists: Lessons for a Stronger Christianity. Taunton’s organization has been interviewing members of atheist college groups (the Secular Student Alliance and Freethought Societies). “These college groups are the atheist equivalents to Campus Crusade: They meet regularly for fellowship, encourage one another in their (un)belief, and even proselytize. They are people who are not merely irreligious; they are actively, determinedly irreligious.” His findings once again confirm what studies have been telling us for many years now: young people (high school and college aged) are leaving the church. More than this, however, Taunton’s research provides us with the reasons why young people are leaving, and, if we respond accordingly, a strategy for addressing the problem.

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Jumping Over the Evangelism Wall

I occasionally have the opportunity to equip and prepare groups to share the Gospel. Training of this nature is most effective when it is connected to a real life application. When we teach toward a tangible, upcoming challenge, the teaching becomes training. For this reason, the best evangelism training is connected to immediate opportunities to put the training into practice. We spend time in the classroom and then we get out on the streets and apply what we’ve learned. My approach in this context is really quite simple; I prepare Christians to take three simple steps to share the Good News:

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Did Jesus Work Miracles as a Child?

Ever wonder if Jesus performed miracles as a young boy? There is an Islamic tradition related to the childhood of Jesus that seems to confirm Jesus’ miraculous display of power, even at a very young age. The Quran describes Jesus as a miracle working boy who was able to create birds from clay and raise the dead to life:

Then will Allah say: "O Jesus the son of Mary! Recount My favour to thee and to thy mother. Behold! I strengthened thee with the holy spirit, so that thou didst speak to the people in childhood and in maturity. Behold! I taught thee the Book and Wisdom, the Law and the Gospel and behold! thou makest out of clay, as it were, the figure of a bird, by My leave, and thou breathest into it and it becometh a bird by My leave, and thou healest those born blind, and the lepers, by My leave. And behold! thou bringest forth the dead by My leave. And behold! I did restrain the Children of Israel from (violence to) thee when thou didst show them the clear Signs, and the unbelievers among them said: 'This is nothing but evident magic.' (Qur'an, Surah 005.110)

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The Frustrating Fallacy of Friendship Evangelism

It’s been said that most people are introduced to Christianity through a friend, and this was, in fact, how I eventually came to visit a church. I had a friend named Bill who invited me for many years before my wife and I finally took him up on the offer. As I was training students at a recent evangelism camp, we talked about the fear that many of us have related to sharing our faith with strangers. If most people are introduced to Christianity through a friend, shouldn’t we focus our efforts on reaching our friends rather than people we don’t know? This approach to evangelism is sometimes called “friendship evangelism,” and it sure sounds like it would be a lot less intimidating than approaching strangers with the message of Salvation.
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