The Art of Apologetics: Rules of communication – ASK, don’t tell.

You know those phrases that just bother the crap out of you?

 

I don’t know which ones they are for you…to each their own, but I have a couple that get on my nerves…even if it’s not really the other person’s fault. One is any sentence that starts with the words “You need to…” I’m okay with these words if they have an “if” clause, but other than that, it assumes (the key word of this blog post) that the recipient values the same things, or that the speaker really knows what’s best.

 

But another little phrase makes me cringe every time I hear it. Is it like nails on a chalkboard? Dude, I would put nails on a chalkboard on my iPod (actually, my wife’s iPod, that I steal all the time) and turn it up if it would stop me from hearing this phrase:

“And you wonder why…(insert whatever here).”

You know what I mean? “And you wonder why you don’t get good scores…” “And you wonder why I get frustrated with you…” “And you wonder why you don’t make as much money…” and so on and so forth.

Why do I cringe? Because I believe that assuming to know what other people are thinking is quite possibly the height of arrogance.

End rant. Segue into blog post.

 

The rules of communication – ASK! Don’t tell.

Let’s take those silly little Calvinists/Armenian debates for example.

“If you’re a Calvinist, then you believe that we’re already predestined for Heaven or for Hell and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

“If you’re an Armenian, then you believe that God doesn’t send anyone to Hell but that He lets us choose. Like God’s passively just ‘wishing and waiting’ for us to come to faith in Him.”

 

I have found that Calvinist/Armenian debates typically involve two people who actually really do believe the same thing, but use different words and emphasize different points. Who can deny that I have free will to make my own decisions? Who (what Christian) will deny that God is sovereign and all-knowing, seeing the future as if it were today? (Or is tomorrow already today to Him? And how do we know that? Oh, the questions!)

 

For this reason…whenever I am in a talk or a debate, I hope to make it a habit to ASK more than I tell. I do not say “Well, since you are a Mormon, then you believe this.” I am not a Mormon, and therefore, I am really not an authority on what they believe. Therefore, what would be wiser than ASKING what they believe?

For example…you will never (well, maybe by accident) hear me say “I disagree with Roman Catholics” because actually, some Roman Catholics agree with me. You WILL hear me say “I disagree with traditional Roman Catholic doctrine” because I know what traditional Roman Catholic doctrine says.

You see, because I don’t like it when someone tells me what I believe (“You’re a Christian? So that means that you believe that cussing is wrong…” Actually, I could hardly care less about cussing. I care a lot more about a bunch of other words and attitudes that come out of Christian’s mouths), I would like to return the favor.

I mean, seriously. How dumb do common Christians sound when they talk about what Muslims believe? If we are going to talk about what they believe, as least let us point out where in the Qur’an it says whatever we are bringing up. “Muslims want to kill all Americans, and all Christians.” Yes, some do. Many others will tell you that the terrorists are not true Muslims.

 

REASON NUMBER 2 to ask, not tell, is in order that the other person may feel understood, even if we disagree. I learned this rule of thumb from teenagers. No matter what advice is being given, teenagers are more likely to accept advice if they feel like you either a) understand, or b) are trying to understand. It could be great advice…but if they don’t feel like you understand, they will reject it.

So back to apologetics: Even if we disagree, allowing the other person to express their beliefs, rather than you telling them what they believe, furthers the discussion because it makes them feel more understood. I cannot imagine anything bad coming from this, only good. And if we truly are passionate about the message, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then let us take every effort and every courtesy to try and help ears and hearts stay open by making sure the other person feels understood.

 

ONE MORE NOTE before we close out this whole series and move on to what’s next…the concept of asking and not telling should be applied to words and definitions of words as well. For example…

Bad: “You said that you loved her. But what love ACTUALLY means is a decision of the will to work towards this person’s well being…

Good: “You said that you loved her. When you say the word love…what do you mean by that?”
Don’t tell them that they’re using the word wrong…they aren’t. Just remember the rules of communication…sender, receiver, agreed upon meaning. You can say whatever you two want as long as you agree upon what the word means. And if you aren’t sure, then ASK, don’t tell.

 

Coming up next: A post or two about a problem that Christians have when talking about sex, and then we begin another series…”Freedom from Freedom.” Stay tuned.

Don’t get too excited, now.

The Art of Apologetics: The three (or four) questions every worldview tries to answer

This post is a short one, and a simple one. But it is an interesting phenomenon that seems to hold true with every different worldview.

Every worldview gives answers to these three questions:

(Except for agnosticism, since the word “agnostic” simply means “not knowing”)

  1. Creation: How did the world, and we, come into being?
  2. Fall: What is wrong with the world? How did that happen?
  3. Redemption: What would fix it?

Actually, there is a fourth question that is answered, but it is not answered by every worldview…rather, it is answered by almost every worldview. And that fourth question is…

  1. Destiny: What is going to happen? Where do we go from here?

(Destiny is not answered by every worldview because in order to go that direction, you must have either “prophesy” or “prediction”.)

So as a Protestant Christian, I believe this:

  1. Creation: God created the heavens and the earth.
  2. Fall: The first woman and man disobeyed God. They, their descendants, and the earth are now under a curse.
  3. Redemption: Jesus’s death and resurrection. His death paid the price for our sins. His resurrection means that a) He wasn’t lying, nor was He crazy, but rather He actually was endorsed by God, and b) that He is alive, therefore He can help us have power over sin (because dead people commonly aren’t very helpful).
  4. Destiny: The “second coming.” Jesus will come to establish His kingdom/rulership on earth. In short, the curse created by the fall will be lifted.

However, radical atheism (you know, the “Richard Dawkins” flavor) might approach it this way…

  1. Creation: The world wasn’t created…it came to being with no guidance. Life came to be because of evolution, while the cosmos came to be via the big bang.
  2. Fall: Religion. Dogmatic beliefs in spirituality and the afterlife have suppressed natural desires and have caused numerous divisions and death. They have also stunted intellectual growth and slowed/prevented intellectual progress.
  3. Redemption: One might say tolerance, while another more militant atheist might say eradication of religion. If these happened, everything would be better.
  4. Destiny: Either a hot death or a cold death. Everything in the universe would be the same temperature. Which might not be the most comfortable temperature for us.

Or let’s look at traditional Roman Catholicism…

  1. Creation: Same as Protestant Christianity
  2. Fall: Same as Protestant Christianity
  3. Redemption: Faith in Jesus’s death and resurrection, as well as participating in the sacraments. God’s grace is sufficient, however, the sacraments are the vehicle, a channel, the way the grace gets to the recipients.
  4. Destiny: Same as Protestant Christianity

Or let’s look at Mormonism, as I understand it (If I am wrong, I need a Mormon to send me a message and correct me! I don’t want to misrepresent anyone)…

  1. Creation: Concerning the cosmos…same as Protestant Christianity. Concerning us, Mormon’s believe that we were not created at birth, but since we are children of God, we are immortal, eternal beings, and have been there from the beginning.
  2. Fall: Wasn’t an accident. God wanted us all to choose Him by faith, and it’s hard to have faith if you’re standing right next to Him. So He planned a period of testing for each person where their memory would be wiped and they would live a mortal life on Earth. The test was this…will you choose good over evil, even if you don’t remember God?
  3. Redemption: Jesus’s atonement, plus ordinances. Ordinances required for salvation. Quite similar to Catholicism, actually.
  4. Destiny: The whole endgoal of this test is to be like God. Those who succeed will become like God. (There is a big misunderstanding between most Mormons and most Protestants here…when Protestants say “be like God,” they mean to emulate God’s character and values. When Mormons say “be like God,” they mean to become a god, with the character and values, but also the power, authority, omniscience, etc.)

Or let’s go out to left field and examine Scientology…

  1. Creation: We (who are all gods who tricked ourselves into thinking that we are mortal humans) created this universe. It continues to exist because the majority of us think it does.
  2. Fall: We “began to identify ourselves with our creation, rather than identifying ourselves as creators.” Or, as I once read, we got so bored of being all powerful that we played a game in which we pretended we weren’t all powerful. And then we stayed there.
  3. Redemption: Our redemption is found when we remove the “engrams” that we put there to make us forget that we were gods. Bored gods.
  4. Destiny: Unknown. I don’t think Scientology makes any predictions on where all of this is going, but I could be missing something.

One could begin (operative word right there) to analyze Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Islam, or traditional Judaism, or any other religion in this way.

We could go on for a while, but I believe that asking these three (or four) questions of any worldview is a good idea, because a) they provide a good starting point for evaluating the worldview and b) I don’t think it’s obtrusive…every worldview WANTS to answer these questions!

But since I have talked about religions/worldviews that are not my own, I think my next post (which gets us quite close to wrapping this up!) is even more important.

Whenever talking to a person who holds a different worldview ABOUT their worldview, we should be doing more asking and less telling.

The Art of Apologetics: Does God Give Proof? (Part 4 – Is the Bible the Word of God?)

Last post, I explained my EXACT position on the Bible (I believe that the Bible was inspired and inerrant when it was written, and that the copyists have done an incredibly good job, although not inerrant). This view is often attacked in one of two ways…

  1.       Inaccuracy or change: “The Bible has changed over the years” or “the church leaders changed what it actually said and edited out what they didn’t like.” Et cetera, et cetera.
  2.       Non-supernatural: “Sure, Paul wrote a lot of the New Testament books, but how do we know that Paul didn’t just say whatever he wanted to say, and then just tell us that this was God’s word?”

My explanation of my exact position last post automatically would lead me to argue against the inaccuracy or change…so if you are interested in that, scroll down and click the last post arrow. Other than that, it’s time to move on to the next objection/question: Why do we believe that the Bible is supernatural? And does God give proof in that regard?

Not-so-convincing reasons

Here are some arguments that Christians make that I find totally insufficient.

  1.       “The Bible is the Word of God because the Bible SAYS that it’s the Word of God.” When it comes to apologetics, I have an important rule: I do not put forth any argument that I would not accept from the other side. The Quran says that it is divine revelation. So does the book of Mormon. I do not accept those arguments as convincing from them, so I do not put forth that argument myself. It’s not convincing.
  2.       “As you read it, you can tell that the words simply sound divine.” (Divine meaning “from God”) This is a matter of opinion of what “sounds divine” or not. Islam argues this for the Quran, which is an incredibly poetic book.

So what reasons do I call on to defend my point? Two things…true prophecies and apostolic authority, authority bestowed by Jesus himself. But let’s expand on those two, shall we?

Prophecies coming true:

As I mentioned in previous posts, God doesn’t ask us for blind faith…He asks us for faith, and He gives as much evidence as He chooses to give. So one of the ways that God proves that the Bible is His word is by showing it’s “supernatural-ness” by predicting the future.

Now, let me back up for a second and define “prophecy.” Prophecy by EXACT definition simply means a message from God…however, our culture’s usage of the word “prophecy” tends to mean “prediction of the future.” For this post, I am using the latter definition.

The Bible made predictions that came true. The Bible made these predictions BEFORE they came true. This is one of the reasons I believe the book to be supernatural.

OBJECTION: “Yeah, right. The Bible predicts future events because somebody added those parts AFTER they happened. I might as well write a letter that says ‘World War 2 will end in 1945’ and date the letter for 1910. Would you believe that as prophecy?”

REBUTTAL:

  1. Our presuppositions color our interpretations. A lot of people do believe that these were added later. But we must remember this rule, and this rule is found in everything. Our presuppositions color our interpretations. Liberal scholars (those who believe that the Bible is not supernatural) date certain books as written for AFTER certain dates based upon the belief that the supernatural doesn’t happen. Other than that…is there any other evidence that they base it on?

Here’s a simple example: Jewish exile to Babylon prophesied by different Old Testament prophets. Other Old Testament prophets predict that exile will only last 70 years.

Anti-supernaturalists: “This must have been written after 538 BC, because there is no way that they could’ve known the future.” (Do they have any reasons to date it for this time, other than that?)

Supernaturalists: “It must have been written before these events…because this was prophecy!” (Again, presupposing that the Bible is the Word of God colors the interpretation of the evidence.)

As you know, I do believe that the Bible is the Word of God. However, I have to watch myself, too. My interpretations are also colored by my presuppositions.

2.For the New Testament: Adding the prophecy afterwards would have taken too much work.

Remember that the letters were distributed rather quickly. In order to add words after certain things happened, somebody would’ve had to follow the copies of Scripture to 1000 different cities at once.

One of the New Testament prophecies that happened: Jesus predicted that Jerusalem would be destroyed. His hyperbole was that “not one stone would be left on top of another.” Sure enough, Titus Antioches sacked and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70.

If Jesus didn’t really say this, then they would’ve had to change all the copies of Mark’s written gospel and added this portion after 70 AD. Mark’s gospel had already been copied and distributed to many cities. There would be no way to change all the copies. It was not available in Word format. It was not backed up on Google Drive. Sure enough…Jesus predicted it, and it happened. The idea that it was added after the fact is simply too hard to back up.

Modern example: The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Isaiah Scroll

Back in 1947, Bedouin goat-herders (Bedouin’s are like, nomadic, wandering dudes in the Middle East) found a cave somewhat close to Jerusalem. They found a bunch of scrolls in a cave. Then, they found more caves. Then they found more scrolls in those caves. So on and so forth. These scrolls came to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls was an entire, intact, complete scroll of Isaiah. It was dated to be from about 100 BC, whereas at the time the oldest copy of Isaiah that we had (the Codex Leningrad) was dated at 1000 AD.

So, the two were compared. In Isaiah 53, there were about 17 differences found. But these differences were simply letters being added or omitted. It would be the equivalent of saying “Our current copy says ‘isn’t,’ but this ancient text says ‘is not.’” The meaning did not change. Thus, we found further evidence from the Isaiah Scroll that the Codex Leningrad was accurate.

Why is this significant? Observe. Here is Isaiah 53 in its entirety:

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 (NIV)

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? 2 He grew up before him like a tender shoot,and like a root out of dry ground.He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men,a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,yet we considered him stricken by God,smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,he was crushed for our iniquities;the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,each of us has turned to his own way;and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

7 He was oppressed and afflicted,yet he did not open his mouth;he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,and as a sheep before her shearers is silent,so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.And who can speak of his descendants?For he was cut off from the land of the living;for the transgression of my people he was stricken.   9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,and with the rich in his death,though he had done no violence,nor was any deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,he will see his offspring and prolong his days,and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul,he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied;by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,and he will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death,and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many,and made intercession for the transgressors.

It seems pretty blatantly obvious that this passage, this passage in which we have a copy that modern science dates at 100 BC, is talking about Jesus. It is talking about Jesus 130 years before this all even happened. It was written sometime around 700 BC.

God wanted evidence to be available, that we may know that the Bible is His Word, because the Bible is supernatural.

The second reason: Apostolic Authority

OBJECTION: “So people wrote the Bible after Jesus ascended, right? Who is to say that they didn’t just say whatever they wanted to say, and then simply claim it was the Word of God?”

REBUTTAL: Remember this tendency: When God puts something NEW in play, He tends to use miracles to back up His point.

Follow me through this line of thought for a moment.

  1. Jesus came with a message. To verify that this message actually was from God and that Jesus wasn’t insane, God used miracles to show His stamp of approval.
  2. Jesus gave His closest disciples authority (apostolic authority), saying that whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven, and that whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven. In other words, Jesus actually trusted them and basically said that He would back their decisions. They could make decisions for the future of the church. (If they would’ve said “circumcision is required!!!” then it would be required. But they didn’t, saying in Acts, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose no burden upon you other than this…keep away from sexual immorality, and don’t eat meat sacrificed to idols.”
  3. God did miracles through the Apostles, showing that they had God’s stamp of approval.
  4. Apostles (those with decision making authority) wrote the New Testament.

This is important because as we answer the question: “Is the Bible the Word of God?” Let me say it like this…God’s Spirit was in these people as they wrote it. However, they weren’t mindless robots as they wrote. The Spirit of God led their hearts a certain direction…however, they were allowed to make some decisions in what they required of the churches or what they didn’t require. And since Jesus said that whatever they bound/loosed on earth would be bound/loosed in heaven, then the words of Scripture stand backed by Jesus Christ, being “His” words while at the same time being “Paul’s/Peter’s/John’s” words, etc.

Scripture was not just made up by guys who were just “really convincing” and inspired a following. Scripture was written by people who, by the power of God, busted out some miracles. God didn’t just ask us to “guess.” God gave evidence.

So why do I have faith that the Bible is the Word of God? Because that faith is reasonable. Faith and reason have never been opposites.

Next time…the three questions that EVERY SINGLE WORLDVIEW tries to answer.