Richard Reads: The Case for Christ – Introduction

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Picture courtesy of Amazon.com

I am going to write this review as I read it.  So, if I make a point or raise an objection that is covered in a later chapter I will correct it at that time.  Let’s start with some preliminary information about the book.

The Case for Christ has 271 pages.  It is divided into three parts: Part 1 “Examining the Record”, Part 2 “Analyzing Jesus”, and Part 3 “Researching the Resurrection”.  There are 14 chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. It is authored by Lee Strobel.

Overview

Now let’s get started with the introduction. Strobel begins with a story about an incident in which a police officer was shot. The details of the incident are not relevant to the review. Basically, all the evidence pointed to the guilt of the defendant. After the conclusion of the trial Strobel gets a call from one of his informants who gives him a different theory of the incident which pointed to the innocence of the defendant.

Strobel looks at the evidence again in light of the new theory. This eventually led to an overturned conviction.

Strobel relates this reexamination of evidence to his “spiritual journey” (pg 13). Then he tells about how he was a skeptic and an atheist. This began to change after his wife converts to Christianity. It is her conversion that leads Strobel to reexamine the evidence surrounding Christ.

Finally Strobel asks the reader to put him/ her self in the position of a juror. On page 15 Strobel is discussing the requirements of a juror and in that context he writes:

“You would be urged to thoughtfully consider the credibility of the witnesses, carefully sift the testimony, and rigorously subject the evidence to your common sense and logic. I’m asking you to do the same thing while reading this book.”

I completely agree with Strobel’s quote and that’s what I intend to do with these reviews.

Analysis

I must say that Strobel is very good at telling a story. I wish I had his writing ability.

Strobel gives a couple of lessons that this case taught him. On page 12 he writes:

“One of the most obvious lessons was that evidence can be aligned to point in more than one direction.”

I actually agree with him on this point. That is why the scientific method is so powerful. The scientific method isn’t powerful because you have to prove your hypothesis, but your hypothesis must withstand falsification.

That is what occurred in this case. The prosecution provided evidence to support their hypothesis of the defendant’s guilt. Then new evidence and a different hypothesis was presented which falsified the original hypothesis.

Can the claims of Christianity withstand falsification? Will Christians consider other hypotheses?

On pages 12-13 Strobel writes:

“Looking through those lenses, all the original evidence seemed to fall neatly into place. Where there had been inconsistencies or gaps, I naively glossed them over. When police told me the case was airtight, I took them at their word and didn’t delve much further.

But when I changed those lenses–trading my biases for an attempt at objectivity–I saw the case in a whole new light. Finally I allowed the evidence to lead me to the truth, regardless of whether it fit my original presuppositions.”

I can completely relate to this “changing of lenses”! Yet my new lenses led me to atheism while Strobel’s led him to Christianity. The world makes more sense to me without wearing my” God-glasses”.

Strobel talks about his life before becoming a Christian. On page 13 he writes:

“Sure, I could see some gaps and inconsistencies, but I had a strong motivation to ignore them: a self-serving and immoral lifestyle that I would be compelled to abandon if I were ever to change my views and become a follower of Jesus.”

I know Strobel is referring to himself in this quote yet I think he throws a cheap shot here. It seems he insinuates that atheists are immoral. It is a common misconception among Christians that atheists really know God exists, but they suppress this knowledge because they want to continue living their immoral lifestyles. This is not the case! Despite what apologists like Strobel will tell you, being a Christian doesn’t make you moral and being an atheist doesn’t make you immoral.

Anyway, the introduction seems fair enough. Let’s see how the rest of the book holds up!

New Series called Richard Reads

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If there’s anyone who actually reads this blog, I apologize for the long time between posts.  I am going to strive to make posts more regularly.  One way I want to do this is with shorter posts and a new series.

I have entitled the series: “Richard Reads”.  I plan to give a basic review of books I am reading.  I am a skeptic, free thinker, atheist, and former fundamentalist Christian preacher.  I do not have a PhD or other credentials. I am a simple man giving my thoughts. So I do not consider these to be wholesale refutations of the subject matter.

During my years in Christianity I only read Christian books which reaffirmed my faith.  I don’t want to be the same way as a free thinker.  I want to challenge myself against the toughest arguments presented by Christian apologists. I will present my thoughts on each chapter as I read the book. I will not read other reviews and will only do research on subjects as necessary to understand the book.

The first book I plan to review isThe Case for Christ by Lee Strobel . I hope you will enjoy it and comment along the way. I want to hear feedback and suggestions from readers.

Thoughts On the Nye/Ham Debate

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If you haven’t heard already there was a debate last night (02/04/2014) between Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  Here is a link to the two and a half hour debate.  The topic was “Is Creation a Viable Model of Origins in the Modern Era?” It was held at the Creation Museum in Kentucky.

I think the debate was good. Although it could have been shorter. The thirty minute main arguments were too long. Too much was presented which could not be addressed by the opponent. Both speakers stayed on target and seemed prepared. While I enjoyed the debate, I do not think anybody’s mind was changed. I found it interesting because I used to be on the Ham side of the issue and now I am on the Nye side.

There are a lot of people more qualified than I to comment and give in depth analysis of the arguments. I just want to point out a few things which stood out to me about Ham ‘s position.

Appeals to Authority

Ham spent a lot of time showing videos of PhD professors who were also young earth creationists. I know that a person with a relevant degree from a reputable university gives them credibility. Yet smart people with big degrees can be wrong. The professors shown mentioned they believed in a young earth, but offered no evidence.

Despite what Mr. Ham says, the Bible does not count as an authority. The Bible gets many things wrong in scientific accuracy.

A Contradiction

Ham argued that Nye was relying on a Christian worldview when he practices science. According to Ham, Nye is assuming the continuity of nature. It is the assumption that the laws of nature are constant. Science does rely on this assumption. Scientists work thinking the laws of physics will be the same tomorrow as they are today. This continuity is supposed to be evidence for God.

The contradiction was Ham’s argument about “historical science”. He argued that the age of the earth could not be proven because we weren’t there. Then when Nye brought up dating methods Ham said Nye was assuming, falsely, that nature was acted the same in the past as it does now. Wait a minute… Isn’t the “continuity of nature” a Christian Worldview? Ham never offered evidence for why we should think nature behaved differently in the past.

Messianic Manic has a great short video about the debate.

The Fine Print of the Gospel: All people are Sinners

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First we must realize the entire “Plan of Salvation” is based on the Bible. More specifically the presupposition that the Bible is God’s Word and it is authoritative upon all humankind.

The IFB soul-winner will start by inviting you to church. Then they quickly move on to say something like,
“Even more important than church… Are you 100% sure if you died today you would go to heaven?”

If you say, “No.” They will continue, “You can know. Do you mind if I show you some Bible verses about how to know you are on your way to heaven?”

Then they start into the four point “Romans Road” I mentioned in the introductory post to this series.

You must admit you are a sinner.

Romans 3:10
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

Romans 3:23
For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

I do not know anybody that would say they are perfect. We all make mistakes and do things we regret. IFB soul-winners play on this to get you to admit you have “sinned”.

The fact that people do wrong seems intuitive. We see evils all around us and read about it in the headlines daily. So, most people will concede this point and agree that all humanity are sinners. It is implied that you should feel remorse for being a sinner.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into this point and check out the fine print.

The soul-winner does not want you to question this point too much. The entire rest of their argument hinges on this first premise.

Why are all people sinners?

The IFB believes we are born sinners. We enter the world depraved because we inherit a sin nature from our parents. Supposedly this goes all the way back to Adam (Romans 5:12), the first human.

If something is a part of our nature, it is something we are born with. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t choose to be conceived or born. I did not have a choice in my race, gender, hair color, or eye color. These things are a part of my nature.

I do not feel guilt or remorse for any of the previously mentioned aspects of my nature. I had no control over these qualities. So I accept them. According to Christian theology, I was also born with a sin nature. I am not a sinner because I sin, but I sin because I was born a sinner. And I am supposed to feel guilty and repent for being born with this nature. Notice Jesus’ words:

Luke 5:32
I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

So, essentially I am guilty for simply being born. How does this make sense? You may argue that we cannot not choose our nature, but we do willingly choose to commit sin. Dogs bark because it’s their nature. Birds chirp, ducks quack, cats meow because it’s in their nature. Is it wrong for these creatures to act in accordance with their nature?

Could I hit the mark if I wanted to?

In Romans 3:23b (cited earlier) it states “and come short of the glory of God.” Allegedly the coming short means “to miss the mark”. I have to wonder though… Could I even hit the mark? I am condemned because I was born with the wrong nature which prevented me from hitting a mark that I was incapable of hitting anyway! Yeah, that makes sense.

The Christian God requires us to live up to a standard (perfection) that it is impossible for us to live up to. As Christopher Hitchens has aptly said, “We are born sick and commanded to be well.” And if we don’t meet this standard we will have to suffer eternal torment. Which leads to the next post. Stay tuned…

The Fine Print of the Gospel

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I grew up as a preacher boy in an Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) church. My church was of the Jack Hyles/ First Baptist Church of Hammond stripe.

This particular sect of fundamentalism is notorious for what is called “soul-winning”. Soul-winning is the act of going from house to house attempting to win (convert) these souls (people) to Christianity. Below is a video demonstration:

IFBers feel this is their responsibility to fulfill the “Great Commission”. They believe Jesus gave them this mission after his resurrection. This is derived from verses such as the following:

Mark 16:15
And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

I have heard many a sermons about going “into the highways and hedges” to win souls. Many IFB churches offer seminars on how to go from house to house and present the gospel. The tactics taught are basic sales techniques. They are selling eternal life. As with most door to door salespeople, it seems too good to be true.

I plan to write a future post about the gimmicks they use to persuade people to convert. However in the next few posts I want to focus on what they’re selling. Like with any insurance policy you purchase, the message these soul-winners are offering comes with fine print. Fine print that is not supposed to be read. Soul-winners are taught to deflect any questions regarding the fine print. Like telemarketers, Soul-winners have a script and want to stay on point. I want to challenge what they are selling. I want to examine some of the fine print.

Soul-winners will lead you down the “Romans Road” (because the Bible verses used are found in Romans) . This road is supposed to lead you to eternal life in heaven and “saved” from an eternity in hell. Below is a sample salvation formula given by IFB Soul-winners:

1. You must admit you are a sinner.

2. There is a payment for sin. This payment is hell.

3. Jesus (God’s Son) died and resurrected to make that payment for your sin.

4. If you believe all the above, pray for Jesus to forgive your sins, and accept his payment then you are forgiven. You are “saved”.

I will deal with each point in separate blog posts. Stay tuned for more…

**Note: There are a wide variety of ways to get saved throughout Christianity. I cannot deal with all of them. Some add to the list, but the majority accept these points.**

The IFB House upon the Sand

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According to Matthew chapter 7 verses 23-27, Jesus compares a wise man to someone who builds his house on a rock.  Then he compares a foolish man to someone who builds his house upon the sand.  In the account he mentions the rain falling and wind blowing (a storm).  The wise man’s house survives while the foolish man’s did not.

It will probably not surprise anybody reading this blog that the leaders of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement fall into the foolish category!  As such they have built their house upon the sand. The storms have come and now the IFB house is crumbling. In this blog post I want to discuss some of the blocks that make up the IFB’s shaky foundation and the storms that are tearing the house down. The following may not be applicable to all IFB churches, but I think it represents the majority.

Fundamental Building Blocks

I. Saturday Soulwinning

Drive by most IFB churches on a Saturday morning and there will be cars in the driveway. Members pile in dressed semi-casual. Just dressy enough to be deemed professional, but not dressy enough to come off as “preachy”.

After a few refreshments and a short devotion, they hit the streets. They go two by two with pockets padded with gospel tracts and a pocket New Testament. Door by door they invite people to church and offer them eternal salvation. At 100 Anywhere St, they encounter John Doe (referred to as John hereafter). “Are you 100% sure you would go to heaven if you died?” is a question they inevitably ask. John says “No.”, but is willing to listen. They begin their one, two, three repeat after me routine. John says a prayer. The soulwinner declares John saved forever from the fiery torments of hell.

The soulwinner is happy! This is another number he or she can anounce to the church. And numbers are what the IFB is all about!

II. Friendly Folks

After this prayer, the soulwinner convinces John that he needs to be baptized. The soulwinner suggests he come to church the next day to enjoy some promotion happening that Sunday. When he gets to church he is greeted by friendly smiling folks. They shake his hand, and offer to sit with him. The people seem genuinely happy to see him. The members make John feel really special. The church members introduce him to the pastor. While this is the first time they met, he knew already knew the pastor’s name because it was on the tract he received, the church sign, the church bus, and bulletin.

III. A Pure Passionate Pastor

The pastor is dressed in a dark suit with a nice white shirt, plain tie, and parted short hair. Let’s call him Pastor Joe. After the singing concludes, Pastor Joe goes to the pulpit to preach. He opens his Bible and reads one verse. Then he prays and tells everyone to close their Bibles and look at him. He never goes back to the Bible verse again. Pastor Joe preaches with intensity and conviction. The sermon is ended with an altar call. Then John gets baptized and joins the church.

IV. Bible Believers

John begins attending services regularly. Every service Pastor Joe puts a big emphasis on the Bible. He preaches what he does because that is what the Bible says not his opinion. The Bible he preaches from is not just any Bible, it is the King James Version. Pastor Joe makes a point to remind the congregation of the evils of all other translations. John feels as though he has found the truth. Who can argue with the Bible, right?

V. Strict Separation

John enquires from the other members as to why all the women wear skirts. John is given an Old Testament verse and then a New Testament verse about being separate from the world. Pastor Joe gives a long list of things that are not permitted. John gets a haircut and fresh shave. John begins to distance himself from family members that are deemed worldly by the church.

John is completely won over to the pastor, church, and it’s work. Everything is great. John works on a bus route, sings in the choir, and takes up the offering. He tells everyone he encounters about his church and pastor. This lasts for a while. It may even last years. Then things begin to change. The IFBer’s will say it is the work of the devil.

The truth of what’s happening is a storm is coming. The winds and rain begin to expose the cracks in the IFB’s weak foundation. Soon, John will realize that the truth of the IFB house.

The following are the storms that will knock the IFB house down.

1. Sales Strategies

John goes to Saturday Soulwinning. He even takes a class offered by the church to teach him how to “win a soul” to Christ. It does not take John long to realize that this “soulwinning” is nothing more than a sales pitch. Overcome objections as quickly as possible, give a few verses, and get down to the praying. The church needs numbers to post! It has nothing to do with conviction, repentance, or salvation. It’s about saying a prayer to be able to add a number to the chart. John sees the shallowness of the whole charade. They are no different than any other door to door salesman.

2. Fake Folks

As John gets closer and more acquainted with the members, he sees that they don’t live the way they portray. They say “Amen!” to preachering about wrong music. Then they listen to that music in their cars. The friendliness of the folks depends on his willingness to comply. There’s no room for individuality. The church demands John to give them all. Of course they disguise this as giving Jesus all. Family must be neglected for the ministry. John’s eyes are slowly starting to open.

3. Corruption and Cover Up

Another member of the church tells John that he suspects the pastor of embezzling money from the church funds. John rejects this out right. “My pastor could never do that.”, he thinks. This allegation does make John more inquisitive about the church finances. John notices inconsistencies in the financial spread sheets. John confronts the pastor. Pastor Joe is outraged at the mere mention of his immoral behavior. Joe throws John out of the office and claims the devil is just trying to hurt the ministry. “You cannot question the man of God!”, he shouts.

John convinces himself that the allegations are false even though more evidence of guilt is discovered. He observed the leaders of the church demonize the ones making the allegations and cover up the truth.

John searches the internet and finds that the IFB movement is known for the immorality of it’s leaders. He reads about Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Bob Gray from Jacksonville, FL.

John continues to attend the church although he has become more disillusioned with the IFB house he once loved.

4. Differing Doctrines

John believes that the IFB house has some problems. Even so, he feels they are the closest to the Bible. Then John runs into various people from many different denominations. Each one claims to follow the Bible exclusively. “How could this be so?” he wonders. He begins to study for himself.

John sees that even the IFB disagrees with itself. For instance…he studies the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. “Were the KJV translators inspired or just the original writers? Is the KJV the best translation or word for word perfect? What about other languages? Can a person be “saved” using another translation? If not, what about everyone before 1611?”. He is confronted with these issues and many more. He finds IFB pastors on both sides of the question.

John decides to ask Pastor Joe about some of the issues. Pastor Joe gives him his explanation. When John disagrees or asks more questions, he is met with resistance. John is called “divisive” and told just to believe Pastor Joe.

5. Silly Standards

Often John hears preaching about separation. As he starts to question more, he sees the hypocrisy of the standards and the logic used to support. Members tell him it is wrong to go to the movies. When asked, “Why?”. They respond, “God tells us to abstain from all appearance of evil. You go to the movies to see a family movie. Yet, there is an ‘R’ rated movie playing too. If someone sees you go in, they may assume you are going to the bad movie. As such you have not abstained from an appearance of evil.” John discovers that this same member has no problem going to a video store or owning a television. John thinks if the same logic is applied, these would also be an appearance of evil.

John encounters other IFB people that argue about whether or not men can have facial hair, the length of a man’s hair, whether preachers should wear colored dress shirts, and the list goes on. John realizes the silliness of all these debates. John wonders, “Doesn’t the world have bigger problems?”.

A short time later, the whole IFB house he was brought in to cane crashing down all around him. John survives, leaves the IFB, and lives happily ever after.

While this is just an example of one person and one church. I think it represents the IFB movement as a whole. The house is falling down and the IFB leadership can’t stand it. Let us all huff and puff until we blow the house all the way down!

Failures of the Free Will Defense

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“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things.”
- Isaiah 45:7

This post is a followup to my last post “Evil in Eden”.  In that post I attempted to use an example of evil to raise some challenging questions to Christian theists.  Nobody has answered the questions.  I was essentially presenting what’s known as the “Problem of Evil”. I did this to bring out the theist’s double moral standard.
     The “Problem of Evil” is a philosophical proposition used to point out the contradiction of the existence of evil and the Christian concept of God.  There are several variations of the argument, but I will give the basic argument below:

Premise 1: God exists.
Premise 2: God is omnipotent (all-   powerful)
Premise 3: God is omniscient (all-knowing)
Premise 4: God is omnibenevolent (all-good)

Conclusion: Evil should not exist.

     Let me explain it. If God is omniscient, he knows that evil will occur before it occurs.  If God is omnipotent, he has the power to prevent the evil.  If God is omnibenevolent, he should want evil to be prevented.  Therefore, evil should not occur. I define evil as causing unnecessary suffering or pain.  I find this argument to be valid.  If any one of the premeses is dropped, the argument fails.  This argument causes a dilemma for most Christians.  To eliminate any of the premeses is to destroy their concept of God, but they cannot deny that evil exists. 
    
The purpose of this post is not to argue the “Problem of Evil”, but to examine a common defense given for it. One of the most common responses to the “Problem of Evil” is the Free Will Defense (FWD).

The FWD responds by arguing that it is possible for a God (as described above) and evil to coexist if you take mankind’s free will into account. Free will is generally defined as the ability to choose. More specifically the FWD says in order to be truly free to commit moral good, you must also be free to commit moral evil. Thus God does not violate mankind’s free will and is not responsible for the moral evil of mankind.

There are usually a couple of reasons given by theists as to why God would create the world in this way. One reason is that we would not be able to experience love if we did not have free will. According to this argument, love is not genuine if hate is not an option also. Here is this argument given by Cold Case Christianity. Another line of thought says that God did not want us to be robots because we would not be able to experience happiness. He wants us to be free to choose him.

While the FWD sounds good on the surface (I used to believe it myself), it creates other problems for the theist. I want to note these failures or problems below:

I. The Problem of Heaven
If the FWD holds true, theists who believe in heaven encounter problems. Heaven is supposed to be the ultimate paradise. It is a place of perfect love and happiness completely free of evil. My question is…Will there be free will in heaven? If you answer “Yes” then how can it be that heaven is free of evil? If you answer “No”, then by your own argument, love and happiness cannot exist there. You may say, “We will have free will in heaven, but we will only be able able to choose moral good.”. How does this differ from not having free will? If it is possible for God to create heaven, free of evil, possessing only the possibility to choose good, and the ability to experience perfect love and happiness, why not create the earth in this manner? So, this all-knowing God could have created earth that way, but chose to create it in such a way that evil would exist. This makes him responsible for evil.

II. The Problem of Natural Disasters
Every year there are many natural disasters. These include tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes. Thousands of people die from these events. Homes are destroyed, businesses are ruined. Millions of dollars in damage plus hundreds of hours of clean up. These disasters cause tremendous amounts of pain and suffering. This cannot be attributed to mankind’s free will. You would think that a God as described above would want to prevent such things. Yet, they occur. How do you explain this?

III. The Problem of God’s Free Will
God, as the most supreme being, should possess the highest degree of free will. So, let’s apply the FWD’s logic to God’s free will and some Scriptures.

1 John 4:8
“He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”
Here it is said that God is love. So, if God has free will and experiences love then by the logic of the FWD, he has to be able to experience hate as well.

James 1:13
“Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:”
The FWD says that an action cannot be considered morally good without the potential to do moral evil. If this is true and “God cannot be tempted with evil” how can he be considered morally good?

In conclusion the FWD may seem to answer the Problem of Evil, but it creates other problems which need resolution. If you think I have misrepresented the FWD or you have a counter-argument, please comment below.

P.S. This is a short YouTube video presenting the FWD as given by philosopher Alvin Plantinga.