Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Science and Religion Aren’t Friends?

One of my habits every morning is to read through USA Today among some of the other newspapers that I peruse, and this morning I read the Forum in USA Today, and quite frankly did so before I had breakfast. I think that if I was eating breakfast at the time I would have had indigestion. I read the forum portion which was authored this time by Jerry Coyne, a professor of evolution at the University of Chicago, and I might be dealing with this article all week, there’s a lot to chew on here. The title is “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends.”[i] He says one relies on truth whereas the other relies on hope and obfuscation. Trying to equate the two or giving religion undue authority, does the world no good. I think the article would be better rendered “Naturalism and Religion Aren’t Friends.”

I want to read just the opening of this article, and make a couple of comments. Coyne says,

Religion in America is on the defensive.

Atheist books such as The God Delusion and The End of Faith have, by exposing the dangers of faith and the lack of evidence for the God of Abraham, become best-sellers. Science nibbles at religion from the other end, relentlessly consuming divine explanations and replacing them with material ones. Evolution took a huge bite a while back, and recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head. We now know that the universe did not require a creator. Science is even studying the origin of morality. So religious claims retreat into the ever-shrinking gaps not yet filled by science. And, although to be an atheist in America is still to be an outcast, America's fastest-growing brand of belief is non-belief.

But faith will not go gentle. For each book by a "New Atheist," there are many others attacking the "movement" and demonizing atheists as arrogant, theologically ignorant, and strident. The biggest area of religious push-back involves science. Rather than being enemies, or even competitors, the argument goes, science and religion are completely compatible friends, each devoted to finding its own species of truth while yearning for a mutually improving dialogue.

As a scientist and a former believer, I see this as bunk…[ii]
Now the article goes on, but I can’t get into the rest of it right now, I’ll leave that for tomorrow, and perhaps the next day, I want to point out that here again you have a supposed scientist making a dogmatic assertion rather than a defensible argument over and over and over again throughout the article, failing to recognize that science was invented in Christian universities, and it came out of the notion that reason devoid of revelation always ends up in the blind ditch of ignorance.

So Coyne says, “Recent work on the brain has shown no evidence for souls, spirits, or any part of our personality or behavior distinct from the lump of jelly in our head.”[iii] Kind of reminds me of nineteenth century science, in which a fertilized human egg was though of a microscopic blob of gelatin. We now know it’s among the most ordered complex structures in the entire known universe. But as so often happens in science reporting, the interpretation of the empirical facts is confused by Jerry Coyne with the facts themselves. Although he says recent research on the brain and human cognition proves that there is no material or I should say immaterial soul or spirit, he confuses his interpretation of the facts with the facts themselves. In truth, the recent work in brain research is quite compatible with anthropological dualism or body/soul dualism—it’s the idea that we have a soul or a mind distinct from the brain.

I’m not sure that Jerry Coyne has really thought out the implications of his paradigm from the perspective of logic or legal ramifications or even libertarian freedom. Because, from the perspective of logic we can demonstrate that the mind is not identical to the brain. We can do that by proving that the mind and brain have different properties. The subjective texture of our conscious mental experiences, like the awareness of color, is different from anything that is simply physical. If the world were only made up of matter the subjective aspects of consciousness simply would not exists. I think if Jerry Coyne would reflect for just a moment he would be convinced that the experience of color involves more than a mere wavelength of light.

From a legal perspective, if human beings were merely material they couldn’t be held accountable this year for a crime committed last year, simply because physical identity changes over time. So from a purely material perspective the self who did the crime in the past is literally not the same self who in the present is going to be punished. Legally and intuitively, of course, we recognize a sameness of soul that establishes personal identity over time.

If we were merely material beings, as Jerry Coyne supposes, then libertarian freedom or freedom of the will simply does not exists. Instead, we would be fatalistically relegated into a world in which everything is determined by mechanistic material processes. If I’m merely material, my choices are merely a function of genetic makeup or brain chemistry.

The implications of this worldview chronicled in the Forum in USA Today are profound. In a worldview that embraces fatalistic determinism, I can’t be held morally accountable for my actions. Why? Because reward and punishment make sense only if we have freedom of the will, and in a solely material world, reason itself is reduced to the status, well of conditioned reflexes. Even the very concept of love would be rendered meaningless.

I’ll tell you, I’ve said this many times right here on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, ideas have consequences. When Coyne says that “science is even studying the origin of morality,” he ought to think twice about what he’s talking about. There are all kinds of people buying into his worldview. Everything is a function of blind mechanistic material processes. What then grounds a moral position? There are people, like Ted Bundy, who confess to over thirty murders, who had a conversation with his victim, a girl that he was about ready to murder and rape, and he wants to take this idea, that idea that comes out of nothing producing everything—which is absurd notion—to its logical conclusion. Here’s what Bundy said—again he’s taking about a victim, in fact he’s specifically addressing a victim, think about your daughter, about to be raped and murdered—this is what Ted Bundy said, “I learned that all moral judgments…” in other words he was brought up the school of evolution. He learned that,

All moral judgments are value judgments, that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either right or wrong…I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable value judgment that I was bound to respect the rights of others…

Now as I’m recapitulating the words of Ted Bundy, recognize how eloquent they are, how precise they are, how erudite they are. He’s taking something that he’s learned, he’s no dummy, and he’s drawing it to its logical conclusion. He goes on to say,

I asked myself, who were these others? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you—

He says to this girl that he’s about ready to rape,

—than a hog's life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely, you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as moral or good and others as immoral or bad? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me, after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self.

So on what moral grounds can someone like Jerry Coyne provide a response to Ted Bundy? In a materialistic world, how can you say that it was ok to speak out against slavery in Great Britain in the seventeenth century, after all it was completely culturally acceptable? My point here is simply to say ideas have consequences and the horrendous consequences of what people are buying into glibly when they read USA Today like this morning’s “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends,” are dramatic for how we view our world, but more than that what we do in our world. Jerry Coyne the evolutionist is simply wrong; in fact dead wrong; devastatingly wrong.


[i] Jerry Coyne, “Science and Religion Aren’t Friends,” USA Today,

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Snowflake Number 94

I have long said right here on the Bible Answer Man broadcast that it is an established scientific fact that human life begins at conception, that an embryo has a distinct human genetic code, that an embryo exhibits metabolism, development, the ability to react to stimuli, and that an embryo demonstrates cell reproduction; therefore, discarding embryos or destroying them through experimentation is the moral equivalent of killing innocent human beings. When you extract a stem cell from an embryo, you are killing a human being. I’ve always understood that intellectually, this weekend I began to understand that in a real life experience.

I met a little girl named Alysse. She is 4 ½ years old. She was a frozen embryo for two years. That embryo was thawed, implanted in the uterine wall of her mother, and she today is a beautiful, bright, bubbly little girl that I held in my arms, and I was able to read Bible stories to. If I ever had an experience of ideas having consequences, it was this weekend holding that little girl, and seeing that that embryo could have been discarded, except that her parents recognized the reality that life begins at conception. So they got involved in a snowflake embryo adoption program, and little Alysse, 4 ½ years old, is snowflake number 94. I met her, and I told her, “You know what my favorite number is? It’s 94.” And she smiled knowingly.

What an incredible thing to see, a child that came out of a frozen embryo. What a warning to us that we should not in a cavalier fashion discard embryos as though they’re simply microscopic blobs of Jell-O. No. They’re among the most ordered complex structures in the entire known universe. David said it well,

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
When I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
Were written in your book
Before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:14-16, NIV)

This is a warning to Christians, really quite frankly, that we need to know what we believe and why we believe it, because it has real practical implications. It’s not about ivory tower theories. No. What we believe has real practical dynamic and life giving reality associated with it. Know what you believe and why you believe it, particularly when it comes to the sanctity of human life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Who Was Melchizedek?

We start the broadcast today with a Facebook question from Richard who writes, “I would love help understanding what Hebrews 7:3 is communicating?” Of course that is the very enigmatic passage that you find concerning Melchizedek. He is described as “king of righteousness, and “king of Salem,” which means king of peace” (Heb. 7:2). He is also said to be “without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually” (Heb. 7:3, NIV).

We should note immediately that the Bible not only designates Melchizedek as “king of righteousness,” and “king of peace,” but overtly tells us that he is without father or mother, he is without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, and that like the Son of God he remains a priest forever. So though he did not trace his descent from Levi, yet the Bible tells us that Melchizedek collected a tenth from Abraham, and then blessed Abraham who had the promises (Heb. 7:2, 4). And then the text tells us without a doubt the lesser person—Abraham—is blessed by the greater person—Melchizedek. In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die and in the other case by him who is declared to be the living, so note that in contrast to men, who die, Melchizedek is declared to be the living (Heb. 7:5-10).

Despite of all the evidence, of course, over the years one word caused me to question Melchizedek as a Christophany or a preincarnate appearance of Christ. That word is the word “like.” I thought that this might have been an analogy for Christ or a type of Christ. But at looking at this more clearly, I discovered that “like” is hardly a game changer. That particular Greek word, by the way, is only used once in the entirety of the New Testament. (I’m not saying “like” in English, but the Greek Word that was translated “like” in this particular context.) Therefore, I think it is unwise to be dogmatic about the definition of that word as translated into the English language.

If “like” is properly translated it doesn’t negate the notion of Melchizedek as a Christophany. All you have to do is look at the words of Daniel, where Daniel says, “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence” (Dan. 7:13, NIV). And then contemplate the reality that despite the word “like” in that passage, Jesus combined this very passage with Psalm 110, which is that great coronation psalm, in evidence of the fact that He was in fact divine. And He used that argument before Caiaphas and the court that is condemning Him to death. So, again, the fact that the word “like” is there, shouldn’t cloud our understanding of the passage.

There’s little doubt in my mind in reading Hebrews 7 the great coronation Psalm 110 in which Melchizedek is also mentioned, and then the Genesis passage where Melchizedek appears to Abraham that this is a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. It’s a Christophany very much like the Angel of the Lord appearing in the Old Testament.

What eventually changed my mind was looking at the biblical text. What initiated the looking at the biblical text was the Dead Sea Scrolls, quite frankly. The Melchizedek Scroll is a classic case in point where you find Melchizedek and the Almighty as words that are interchanged by the Essenes. So as they studied the Old Testament, they saw Melchizedek very clearly as the Almighty. Now the Dead Sea Scrolls are not the acid test, it is the Word of God that is the acid test, but it did cause me to look more closely at the biblical text.

Interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture, I think that it is very clear that Melchizedek is in fact a Christophany. He is in fact a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Should We Control the Number of Children We Have?

Let me answer a Facebook question from Alison, who writes, “Should we ever try to control the number of children we have? More specifically, should a woman ever have her tubes tied, or should a man get a vasectomy?”

I don’t know why people ask me these questions. I have twelve children, nine natural children and three adopted children, so this is probably not a question for me. But with respect to birth control methods that should be avoided at any cost are those methods that destroy or prevent the implantation of an embryo, because an embryo is a living growing human being from the moment of conception.

Openness to children is as well an built in protection against the abuse of sex for mere self-gratification, and it is absolute imperative that as Christians we view children as a blessing not as a blithe. Our attitude of seeing our children as a blessing is something that pleases our Heavenly Father.

I think it’s also significant to recognize what’s going on when you have a fertilized human egg. That’s the beginning for the tapestry of life unfolding with a single thread and then through a process of incredible precision a microscopic egg in one human being is fertilized by a sperm cell from another and that marks not only the beginning of a brand new life, but it also marks the genetic future that life will have. Think about this: A single fertilized human egg, a zygote, the size of a pinhead, contains chemical instructions that would fill more than five hundred thousand printed pages. And the genetic information contained in that encyclopedia determines the potential physical aspect of the developing human being from height to hair color. Of course in time, the fertilized egg divides into thirty-trillion cells that make up the human body. You’re fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). This includes twelve-billion brain cells, which form more than a hundred-twenty-trillion synapses or connections.

If you lived in Darwin’s day, you would think a human egg to be nothing more, for all practical purposes, than a microscopic blob of gelatin. But today we know in an age of scientific enlightenment that a fertilized egg is among the most organized complex structures in the universe. In an age of scientific enlightenment it is incredible to think that there are people who would snuff out that human life in an early stage of existence. And that is precisely what we’re talking about with birth control methods that actually abort a conceptus. So we need to be very careful to guard against that. As long as you’re using a birth control method that does not involve that it becomes a matter of prayer between you and your spouse recognizing the biblical principles that I outlined.

But I’ll tell you as a 60 year old man now with a lot of kids knowing my predisposition early on which was with all the ministry that I wanted to do I didn’t want to have a huge family but my wife did. I am so happy that I listened to the wisdom of my wife because I cannot imagine life without my kids today. So kids are a blessing, and you can’t presume on the future, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, a lot of people who think they can’t afford kids fail to recognize that it’s not about the arm of flesh; it’s about the arm of God. God will give you, what you need. Not always your greed, but certainly He will provide for your needs.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Does God Harden Hearts?

On Facebook where we regularly post articles, discussion topics, and ministry announcements, Chris has this two part question: If God wants all people to come to Him, why does He in both the Old and the New Testaments harden their hearts? Or, as 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says blind the minds of unbelievers and veil the Gospel to those who are perishing? So in essence Chris is asking: Why does God blind people’s hearts? Why does He veil the Gospel? Why does He harden people’s hearts, after all He wants people to come to Him, why would He do that?

Well, first of all, hardening—the first part of the question—is interesting in that if you read the Word of God, you will see that mercy from God becomes the occasion for hardening. The quintessential case in point is Pharaoh. Every time God showed mercy to Pharaoh, Pharaoh responded by hardening his heart (Exod. 3-15). So God’s mercy is the occasion for hardening, but as the text explicitly tells us, Pharaoh also hardens his own heart (cf. Exod. 8:15).

With respect to the second part of Chris’ question: context, context, context! 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 does not say that God hardens the hearts of people or veils their hearts or blinds them; rather, this passage says, “the god of this world” does those things (cf. v. 4a). For example, Paul says the Gospel is not veiled but the Gospel is set forth plainly in the very verses that precede the passage that is noted by Chris (cf. 3:12-4:2). So the Gospel is not veiled, it’s plainly revealed. That’s what the text says. And then the text goes on to say that even if it is veiled, it is not veiled because God is veiling it, but it is veiled because “the god of this world,” or Satan is veiling it. It is he who blinds the minds of unbelievers. And then, says Paul, Satan becomes the de facto ruler who all who willingly subject themselves to his masterful deceit.

If we don’t belong to God, the God of the ages, then we belong to the god of this age. If we don’t belong to the Sovereign of the universe, we belong to Satan. There are only two kinds of people in the world—those who love darkness and those who love light. Jesus said to Nichodemus, “Light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). In other words, they want darkness, they don’t want light.

Good question by Chris, but once again, it is not God who veils the Gospel, it is not God who blinds the mind, it is the god of this age, which is precisely what Satan is called.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

I want to address an issue brought up on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, which is an issue I did not have the time to deal with completely. A caller named Patricia asked about the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Christ says,

The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.

He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”

“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.

He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”

When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.”

The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.”

But he answered one of them, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
—Matthew 20:1–16, NIV

Patricia was asking for the meaning of this parable. The parable of the workers in the vineyard is interesting in that those who worked all day long were actually envious of those who worked a fraction of the time. Why? Because they did not understand the concept of grace. They got what they bargained for. In other words, they got justice, though they accused the landowner of injustice. Those who do not understand grace and condemn the Grace Giver are not going to inherit the kingdom; for those who condemn grace, no grace will be given.

I remember reading R.C.H. Lenski, an expositor who once said, “The pearls of grace are never thrown before the wicked and self-righteous swine.”1 To accuse and condemn grace is the surest way to lose grace. Therefore, Jesus said, “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” No matter how good one believes that they are, grace is lost when grace is rejected.


1. RCH Lenski, Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943), 779.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Seeing the Unseen God

I am just back from Orlando, Florida, which is one of my favorite trips of the year as I participate in Student Leadership University. I did a series on worldview issues as well as answered questions for students, and one of the questions asked was “If you can’t see God, how can you really know that God exists?”

It is not uncommon for skeptics to suppose that we as Christians are irrational for believing in a God that we simply cannot see. In reality, it’s irrational for skeptics to presuppose that what cannot be seen doesn’t exist! The fact that something that cannot be seen does not presuppose that something doesn’t exist. We know black holes, electrons, the laws of logic, and the law of gravity all exist despite the fact we can’t see them! Indeed even a full blown empiricist holds fast to the law of gravity if he is standing on top of the Eiffel Tower.

Not only that, but as King David exudes, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1). Or in the words of the apostle Paul, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). If you want to put it another way, the order and complexity of the visible, physical, universe eloquently testify to the existence of an uncaused first cause.

One final point, God can be seen through the person and work of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul explains that “in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). Indeed, it is the incarnation of Jesus Christ that is the supreme act of God’s self-revelation. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we experience the power and the presence of God in a way that is more fundamentally real than even our perceptions of the physical world in which we dwell. Now we see but a poor reflection, just like in a mirror; but then one day in heaven we’re going to see face to face. Now we know in part, then we’ll know fully just as we too are fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Redefining Tolerance

From a recent front page article in USA Today, we learn that evangelical Christians are leaving evangelical Christianity en masse, particularly children—70% of them leaving the Christian faith, no longer believing that the Bible is the infallible repository of redemptive revelation or that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.

Today, tolerance is being redefined to mean that all views are equally valid and all lifestyles equally appropriate. As such, the notion that Jesus is the only way is vilified as the epitome of intolerance.

Rather than capitulating to the culture, however, Christians must be equipped to expose the flaws of today’s tolerance, while simultaneously exemplifying true tolerance. To say all views are equally valid sounds tolerant but in reality is a contradiction in terms. If indeed all views are equally valid, then the Christian view must be valid. The Christian view, however, holds that not all views are equally valid. Thus, the redefinition of tolerance is a self-refuting proposition.

We do not tolerate people with whom we agree. We tolerate people with whom we disagree. If all views were equally valid, there would be no need for tolerance.

Today’s redefinition of tolerance leaves no room for objective moral judgments. A modern terrorist could be deemed as virtuous as a “Mother Teresa.” With no enduring reference point, societal norms reduce to mere matters of preference; and, as such, the moral basis for resolving international disputes and for condemning such intuitively evil practices as genocide, oppression of women, and child prostitution is seriously compromised.

In light of its philosophically fatal features, Christians must reject today’s tolerance, and revive true tolerance. True tolerance entails that, despite our differences, we treat every person we meet with dignity and respect due them as those created in the image of God. True tolerance does not preclude proclaiming truth, but it does mandate that we do so with gentleness and respect.

In a world that is increasingly intolerant of Christianity, Christians must exemplify tolerance without sacrificing truth. Indeed, tolerance when it comes to personal relationships is a virtue, but tolerance when it comes to truth is a travesty. As Jude puts it, “Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh” (vv. 22–23).

We should not be microcosms of the world—but change-agents within the world…because Truth matters.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Questioning the Question

In Proverbs 26 Solomon tells us that we are not to answer a fool according to his folly, or we’ll make fools of ourselves. On the other hand, Solomon continues, answer a fool according to his folly, or the fool will think he is wise in his own eyes (vv.4–5)—he’ll think he has uncovered some wisdom. We often find this sort of thing with questions that are raised in order to denigrate the notion of an eternal Being, an Intelligent Designer, or an uncaused first Cause.

One of those questions is “Can God create a rock so heavy that he can’t move it?” That question is a classic straw man that has most Christians looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. At best, the question challenges God’s omnipotence; at worst, it undermines His existence.

At the very outset, however, we should recognize a problem with the premise of the question. While it is true that God can do anything that is consistent with His nature, it’s absurd to suggest that He can do just anything. God can’t lie (Hebrews 6:18). God can’t be tempted (James 1:13). God can’t cease to exist (Psalm 102:25–27).

Furthermore, just as it is impossible to make a one-sided triangle, so it is impossible to make rocks too heavy to be moved. What an all powerful God can create, He can obviously move. Put another way, not even an omnipotent God can do the logically impossible.

A wide variety of similar questions are raised to undermine the Christian view of God. Therefore, it’s crucial that we learn to question the question, rather than simply assume that a question is valid

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Myth of the “Dark Ages of Christianity” is No Laughing Matter

Most of you can remember exactly where you were when you first heard the tale of Christopher Columbus and his raw courage in the face of mutinous sailors who were in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. Who among us is not familiar with the term “Dark Ages”?

Sociologist Rodney Stark points out in his book The Victory of Reason that what we’re largely unfamiliar with is the reality that far from being “benighted fanatics clinging to Scriptural claims that the earth was flat” for the “first fifteen centuries of the Christian epic, nearly unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherical.” Likewise, only in the revisionist history of skeptics like John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the “Dark Ages” dark and the Renaissance enlightened.

What really happened is a matter of history and evidence. The millennium that encompassed Greek and Roman history is more correctly characterized by irrational superstition than rational supposition. Greco-Roman thought was shackled to the illogical presupposition of an eternal universe that was ministered by moody gods. Little wonder that almost a thousand years after Aristotle, Roman aristocrats, spoon-fed at the table of Greek enlightenment, dwelt in drafty domains and never dreamed of a coming Christian epic in which the invention of chimneys, clocks, and capitalism would revolutionize Western Civilization.

In place of a rational God who orders the universe according to knowable principles, Greek sages and their Roman counterparts fixated on the capriciousness of the gods. As such, Socrates would render astronomical observations a “waste of time,” and Plato persuaded devotees to “leave the starry heavens alone.” They obsessed on astrology, but left astronomy an unexplored domain. They mastered the magic of alchemy, and remained blithely ignorant of the majesty inherent in chemistry.

Even more shamefully, “enlightened” Greco-Roman civilization had scant regard for human equality. As a slave master, Plato reasoned that “nature creates a slavish people lacking the mental capacity for virtue or culture, and fit only to serve.” And Aristotle famously remarked, “some are marked out for subjugation, others for rule.” Of course, women fared no better, for in Rome female babies routinely expired in the shadow of Nero’s image—their tragic cries a testimony to the terrors of sexual inequality.

Here’s my point: The notion that the enlightenment of the Greco-Roman world was separated from enlightenment in the modern world by the Dark Ages of Christianity is nothing more than useful propaganda. It was Christianity and Christianity alone that shattered the superstitions of the Greco-Roman world. An unbiased reading of history demonstrates conclusively that the rise of Western Civilization is inextricably linked to the DNA of a biblical worldview.

Well, today, that biblical worldview is mocked by culturally corrosive comedy, and our children are at stake, because for every five-hundred hours they spend in church, a 17 year old has spent more than fifty-thousand interacting with the mass media.

For more on culturally corrosive comedy, listen to my interview with Ted Baehr, co-author (with Tom Snyder) of “Culturally Corrosive Comedy: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report,” Christian Research Journal 33, 2 (2010).

Listen to the show

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Book of Mormon: NOT Another Testament

Open the Book of Mormon and the very first words that you will encounter are the following:

“The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.”

The Book of Mormon goes on to say that it is the record of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 BC, whom afterwards separated into two nations known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other great civilization is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principle ancestors of the American Indians.

The last survivor of the war between the Nephites and the Lamanites was a military commander named Moroni. Following his death and resurrection, Moroni appeared to the prophet Joseph Smith and instructed him relative to the ancient record and its destined translation into the English language. That very day, September 21, 1823, Moroni told Joseph Smith the location of golden plates that were inscribed in “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics. He had abridged these plates allegedly with the help of his father Mormon.

Smith not only secured the golden plates, but along with the plates, a pair of magical eyeglasses. And with the eyeglasses, he translated the “fullness of the everlasting gospel.” Upon the culmination of this, the most miraculous a feat, Smith said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.”

Here’s the problem, there is no archeological evidence for a language such as “reformed Egyptian” hieroglyphics. There is no archeological evidence for lands such as the land of Moron, which is described in Ether 7:6 of the Book of Mormon. There is no archeological evidence to buttress the notion that the Jaredites, Nephites, and Lamanites migrated from Israel to the Americas. Indeed, archeology and anthropology demonstrate conclusively that the people, places, and particulars chronicled in the Book of Mormon are little more than the product of Joseph Smith’s fertile imagination.

What about the Bible? What if through anthropology and archeology there was demonstrable, conclusive evidence that the Bible is not the Word of God, that like the Book of Mormon it is replete with mythology? If that were to happen it would be an absolute game changer, because, like Mormonism, Christianity would lose all its credibility. But exactly the opposite has happened. With virtually every turn of the archeologist’s spade, there is more and more evidence that the particulars, the people, the places, the details, the descriptions found in the Bible are in fact painstakingly accurate, meticulous, and true.

In an age in which the Mormon Church is attempting to pass itself off as mainstream, Christians must learn to recognize the counterfeit gospel of Mormonism by recognizing the Mormon mirage for just that. It is crucial that Christians are equipped to scale the Mormon language barrier and use Mormon doctrinal deviations to effectively communicate the everlasting Gospel of the historic Christian faith. And we say it’s “historic” because it’s rooted in history and evidence. Mormons need to know the truth.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Seeing Old Testament the Shadows of Temples, Sacrifices, and Diets Fulfilled in the Light of Christ

Over the last couple of days, so many people have been calling in and vociferously communicating that we need to continue adhering to the civil and ceremonial laws we find in the Old Testament. I’m surprised at how popular that sentiment is in modern evangelical Christianity.

I was in fact discussing with one man just the other day Jesus Christ’s words, “Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from the outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?” (Mark 7:18-19a). Jesus Christ in saying this meant it is not shellfish that makes you unclean; rather, it is those things that proceed from the heart. Mark, of course, parenthetically adds in saying this, Jesus “declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:9b). Well, the man’s response was that’s a parenthetical remark and therefore it holds no weight whatsoever. But that is a most egregious error. We should never revert back to Old Testament types and shadows, which have been gloriously fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In Christ the Old Covenant order, including temple sacrifices are obsolete. They disappeared in the light of Jesus Christ. The type and shadow of the first and second temples, they don’t find their substance in some kind of Tribulation temple followed by another temple—a Millennial temple. They find their substance in a church built of living stones comprised of both Jew and Gentile with Jesus Christ Himself the capstone. Jesus made this typological relation to the temple when He said “one greater than the temple is here.” All Old Covenant types and shadows, including the Holy Land, the Holy City, and the Holy Temple have been fulfilled in the Holy Christ. There is no need or use for a rebuilt temple with reinstituted temple sacrifices. There is no need to go back to type and shadow.

The teaching that the temple must be rebuilt and that temple sacrifices must be reinstituted not only stands in direct opposition to the Book of Hebrews but it undermines the central hope of the Christian faith, which of course is the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for all sins—past, present, and future. If our evangelical death march towards the endgame of Armageddon is to be subverted it will be because believers recommit themselves to faithful exegesis to mining what the Holy Spirit has breathed into the text as opposed to superimposing our models onto the text.

My prayer, of course, is that the Holy Spirit gives us clear minds and open hearts as we plug into the power of Scriptural synergy daily by interpreting Scripture in light of Scripture. At the end of the day we must always ask ourselves the question: “Are we willing to sacrifice our treasured traditions on the altar of biblical fidelity, or has tradition become our god?” Perish the thought.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rediscover the Word

If you’re in the Legacy Reading Plan, we’re right in the middle of spring, and during the month of May, we read through 1–2 Kings and 1–2 Chronicles. I just finished the book of Kings.

It is quite stunning to read about how in 2 Kings 22-23 that Josiah finds the Book of the Law in the Temple, and tears his royal robes because he is undone by the fact that from the time of the judges the kings did not celebrate Passover. Israel is called to be a light to the nations and through types and shadows demonstrate to the world that God had provided a plan of redemption through a coming Christ. Yet, the very ones who are called to bring this light to the nations had forgotten the Book of the Law.

So you read in 2 Kings 23 that Josiah gave the order to all the people to “Celebrate the Passover to the Lord Your God as it is written in this Book of the Covenant. Not since the days of the judges who led Israel, nor throughout the days of the kings of Israel and the kings of Judah, had any such Passover been observed. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah, this Passover was celebrated to the Lord in Jerusalem” (2 Kings 23:21–23, NIV).

Of course, we know the rest of the story, just as the Northern Kingdom had gone into captivity, so the Southern Kingdom would soon forget the Book of the Law again, and go into exile in Babylonia.

Think about today. The biggest problem we face is the problem of biblical illiteracy. It is not a problem, it is the problem. If we forget the Book of the Law—if we forget the Law that God has in fact inscribed upon the very tablet of our consciousness—we are guilty before the Lord. We are those whom God has revealed Himself to, and we are called to be priests to the people around us. It is no longer necessary to have a priest, we are the priesthood of all believers, and therefore we are called to be witnesses for Christ to a lost and searching world, which of course is the mission of the Christian Research Institute—equipping God’s people so that, first and foremost, they become so familiar with truth that when counterfeits loom on the horizon, they know it instantaneously, and to equip God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ might be built up and strengthened.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Legacy Altar

This month in the Legacy Reading Plan we’re in the book of Joshua, which is such an exhilarating book. We so often talk about the time the Israelites left Egyptian captivity, and crossed over the Red Sea with God parting the waters to make way for them upon dry ground (Exodus); yet, so often we forget that after they left exile and crossed the Red Sea, they likewise entered Paradise, or the land of Palestine, by way of crossing the Jordan River, and God performed the same miracle! He parted the waters of the Jordan which were in flood stage. The Jordan in flood stage during the harvest was very wide, and impassible; yet, as soon as the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant reached the Jordan, and their feet touched the water’s edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing, and the water flowing down to the sea—the Salt Sea—was completely cut off, and the people of Israel went through on dry ground into the Promised Land (Joshua 3:1ff).

What I find fascinating is this: if you keep reading through Joshua, not long after the time God allows them to enter into the Promised Land, we see Joshua lying facedown, and crying out to the Lord, questioning why He led them to the land, saying, “Why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7, NIV).

Joshua had come into a difficult situation and immediately was thinking about how wonderful it once was in the desert, just as the desert Israelites were thinking how wonderful it was back in Egyptian exile. They essentially forgot that God had provided a way for them, and they longed for what was before.

God, however, commands the people to build an altar—to signify a way of remembering His salvation (Joshua 8:30–35). It’s similar to what I call a “legacy altar,” where you set aside a record of the significant moments in which God sovereignly provides for you, where His grace is bountiful, where His mercy is overflowing, and His love has been most clearly demonstrated in your life.

Like Joshua, you too must remember the faithfulness of the Lord in your situation, because so often we forget—and I can tell you that that’s true of me, just as it’s true of you—and, therefore, it’s so good to record the faithfulness of God, so you can go back to that altar as a memorial, a remembrance, of God’s faithful provision.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Our Father in Heaven…”

To the disciples, the first words of the Prayer of Jesus must have been nothing short of scandalous. Of all the things they had ever learned about prayer, this was certainly not one of them. They were not even permitted to say the name of God aloud, let alone refer to him as “our Father.” Yet, that is precisely how Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

There was, however, a catch. As John explains, only those who received Jesus and believed in his name have the right to refer to God as “our Father” (see John 1:12) In fact, Jesus made it clear that there are only two kinds of people in this world: Those who should refer to Satan as “our father” and those who may refer to God as “our Father” (John 8:44-47). There are no other options.

In one sense, Jesus is the only one who can legitimately address God as Father, for he is the unique Son of God and has been so throughout eternity. However, as Paul explains in Romans 8, those who are led by the Spirit of God are no longer illegitimate children. Instead, they too are sons and daughters by adoption in faith in Jesus. Thus, they can legitimately refer to God as “our Father.”

Jesus continues the pattern by teaching his disciples to qualify the phrase “our Father” with the words “in heaven.” In doing so, he is teaching us that God transcends time and space. We can address him with intimacy but never with impudence. He is the sovereign Creator and we are but sinful creatures. Addressing God as “our Father” makes us ever mindful of our relationship with God. It also underscores the fact that I do not come before him in isolation, rather, I come as part of the community of faith. Thus, adding the phrase “in heaven” reminds us of the reverence due his name.

[Excerpt from Hank Hanegraaff’s The Prayer of Jesus pp. 36-38.]

Monday, April 12, 2010

Writing the Word on the Tablet of Your Heart

If there is one thing preserved in the text of Scripture, it is the injunction to record God’s words upon the tablet of your heart.

One of the best things that happened to me as a new believer was being told that all Christians memorize Scripture. By the time I found out that not all of them do, I was already hooked. Now, as I look back, I can truthfully say that nothing compares with the excitement of memorizing Scripture. Charles Swindoll summed up my sentiments in this regard when he wrote:

I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. That’s right. No other single discipline is more useful and rewarding than this. No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your counseling will be in demand. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified. (Charles R. Swindoll, Seasons of Life [Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1983], 53, emphasis in original)

Despite such marvelous benefits, far too few Christians have made Scripture memorization a lifestyle. For the most part, it is not because they don’t want to, but because they have never been taught how to. While they may think they have bad memories, the reality is they simply have untrained memories.

I am convinced that anyone, regardless of age or acumen, can memorize Scripture. God has called us to write His Word upon the tablet of our hearts (Proverbs 7:1-3; cf. Deuteronomy 6:6), and with the call He has also provided the ability to do so. Your mind is like a muscle. If you exercise it, you will increase its capacity to remember and recall information. If you don’t, it will atrophy. Here are a few practical tips to get you started:

• Set goals. He who aims at nothing invariably hits it.

• Make goals attainable. If your goals are unrealistic, you will undoubtedly become discouraged and give up.

• Memorize with a family member or friend. One of my treasured experiences was swinging back and forth on a hammock, memorizing Proverbs 2 with one of my children. Memorizing with someone else is enjoyable and will also make you accountable.

• Use normally unproductive time to review what you have memorized, such as while waiting in lines, or falling asleep. Remember, there’s no time like the present to get started! A good place to begin is Psalm 119. In fact, committing verse 11 of that passage—”I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”—to memory may well encourage you to make Scripture memorization part of your lifestyle.

While you’re at it, you may also wish to consider memorizing Joshua 1:8. These wonderful words remind us that memorization facilitates meditation: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” If you want the formula for genuine prosperity, there it is!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Meditating on God’s Word and Effective Prayer

Hard as it is to believe, we are already in the spring of the second decade of the 21st century! If you are with me following the Legacy Reading Plan, you are already reading the Book of Joshua. This is a fascinating book. It is the first of the twelve historical books—Joshua through Esther—that forges a link between the Five books of Moses and the remainder of Israel’s history.

God’s plan for redemption becomes a tangible reality in the Book of Joshua. We see that Joshua is chosen by the Lord to lead the children of Israel into the land of promise. The wanderings of Adam, Abraham, and Moses finally give way to rest on every side.

The intrigue this month that will become palpable before spring gives way to summer is that we will encounter the people of the promise living in servitude inside the Persian Empire. Why? How could God’s promises, which reach their zenith under Solomon, have ended in exile and humiliation? Well, the answer is that they forgot the Word of God: They began to do what is right in their own eyes. This of course is precisely why I have purposed to tackle the problem of biblical illiteracy during our jubilee year—our fiftieth year of ministry—for without the Word, we too will surely lose our way, and without the Word, we have no road map for the journey of life.

The Word of God is not only a light to our path; I believe that meditating on the Word of God is the missing link between the intake of Scripture and an effective prayer life. As I have sought the Lord’s face in prayer, I have become absolutely convinced that we need to see the connection between prayer and reading the Bible. Our devotion to the Word of God drives us into the presence of God through the practice of earnest meditative prayer.

If you’re like me, you probably pray backwards. You hurry into God’s presence with a laundry list of prayer requests, and before your knees ever touch the ground, you’re already thinking about getting back into your frenzied lifestyle. Often we treat God no better than we treat our families. We want relationship but without the discipline of investing quality time. So the first step toward intimacy with God is to make prayer a priority.

Intimacy: That is precisely what prayer is. Once we grasp the significance of a dialogue with God, prayer will no longer be a mere duty or discipline, it will become a delight. For prayer is the very means of bringing us into the presence of the one who saved us by His grace.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What gives life meaning to you?

Right now I am reading through Ecclesiastes, and it’s riveting! The author examines the utter futility and folly of living for oneself and hoarding riches. What’s the point in chasing after that which is but for a short time? Naked we came into the world and naked we will leave.
The key word in Ecclesiastes is vanity, which is defined as “the futile emptiness of trying to be happy apart from God.” The author looks at life “under the sun,” and from the human perspective declares it to be empty. Power, popularity, prestige, pleasure—nothing can fill the God-shaped void in human life except God himself, the author of all life!
A word of caution here: you absolutely must read this book in light of the future judgment and eternal life in Christ, and you should read it in one sitting. To read this short book in bits or apart from our assurance in Christ may leave you in despair, for it contains passages written solely from a human point of view, such as, “Man’s fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless” (3:19).
You need to keep reading to find out that once God enters a believer’s life, everything you do “under the sun” takes on meaning and purpose, from work, to relationships to play to worship. And when that happens, skepticism and despair melt away.
Listen to the author’s conclusion: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Monday, March 8, 2010

Why Must We Participate in Church?

To gather with God’s people in united adoration of the Father is as necessary to the Christian life as prayer.
-Martin Luther

Will you show up for an Easter worship service this year out of guilt, childhood habit, or is it your weekly routine? I am often asked on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, “Why should I attend church services?” More to the point: “Why join a church?” Today, I want to explain the importance of committing to and joining with a local church.

Let me clarify: joining a church should not be approached as an obligation or duty, such as registering to vote, supporting the public library, or taking the trash out. No, joining a local church should be considered a great joy and sacred privilege.

Let’s consider why.

First, throughout the Bible, we see that the believer’s life is to be lived within the context of a family of faith (Ephesians 3:4–15; Acts 2). Indeed the Bible knows nothing about lone-ranger or “closet” Christians! Far from being born again as rugged individuals, we are born into a body of believers of which Christ is the head. A friend of mine aptly remarked, “When we are born again, we are born into a ‘forever family.’”

Furthermore, spiritual growth is impossible apart from membership and participation in a healthy, well-balanced church. It is in the church that we weekly receive the Word and sacraments as means of grace. Recall the early Christians who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Moreover, belonging to a body of believers also allows for accountability. The Bible requires that believers respectfully call attention to patterns of persistent, sinful behavior on the part of a member (Matthew 18:15–17).

Finally, while it is in the church that we enter into worship, experience the fellowship of believers, and become equipped to witness, church membership itself does not save us. No, we are rescued from God’s wrath, forgiven of all our sins, and declared positionally righteous before God solely by grace, through faith, on account of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:17; 3:21–4:8; Ephesians 2:8–9).

Monday, March 1, 2010

Triumph out of Tragedy

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth!—Job 19:25

Are you with me in the Legacy Reading Plan? We wrap up the “Winter” Season by reading three books in March: Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. We’ll return to Joshua at the edge of the Promised Land in April!

Read this familiar verse again with me: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth!” In the midst of great personal pain and suffering, Job cried out with astonishing words of hope. Would you or I be able to do the same?

In brief, the book of Job tells the story of a man who loses everything—his precious family, his great wealth, and even his health are compromised. Through these many trials, Job wrestles with the question, “Why?” Or more accurately, “Why me?”

Job’s story opens with a heavenly debate between God and Satan, in which God grants Satan limited access to affect Job’s life and then moves through three cycles of earthly debates between Job and his friends. While Job’s friends and comforters actually accuse him of sin, and though Job himself finds himself doubting God, he maintains his faith through his ordeals. And at the conclusion of the story, Job humbly acknowledges God’s sovereignty over all of life.

The lesson here for us is profound, for the solution to our disappointments in this life is not found in asking the question, “Why?” It is found in trusting God in the midst of our whys. In other words, God does not protect us from difficulties, but He promises to see us through them, providing the needed strength as we rest and trust in Him.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Numbers of What?

What comes to your mind when I tell you that I am reading through the Biblical book entitled Numbers? Do you think of the Old Testament (it’s the fourth book)? Did you know that it was written by Moses? You may tell me that the book opens with a census or a numbering of the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

You may then tell me that you don’t see any application for your life by reading about several clans of disgruntled Israelites as they wander through the desert with a complaining and rebellious spirit. But I promise you, there is beauty in the tapestry of every word of Scripture. With time and effort, you can see magnificence in these pages. In fact, the book of Numbers offers significant lessons with direct application for us today.

In brief, Numbers relates the story of Israel’s rebellion and God’s perfect judgment. You may know the saga: the Israelites have been freed from bondage and are now headed for the Promised Land. Yet, according to Numbers, these people who had direct contact with the living God, rebel against Him: they grumble about everything from the food God provided to the leadership of Moses. In fact, they fail to keep covenant with God and, as a result, end up wandering the Sinai desert for 40 years.

Read this carefully: an eleven day journey turned into a 40-year saga of wilderness wanderings. Thus, due to their rebellion, God punished that generation severely. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, not one of that generation entered the Promised Land.

Here’s the gist of the story: when put to the test, Israel’s faith failed.

Don’t let this story be yours!

Numbers is a tragic reminder and a warning to future generations—God will be honored by his people or they will not live to see the Promised Land. And the Promised Land for Christians today is nothing less than heaven itself.

As you read through Numbers this month, examine your own life: are you living in rebellion against God and wandering through desert territory?

Know that in Christ God has liberated you from bondage. You don’t have to waste your life in the wilderness—move on and learn to live with our Most Holy God. A God who loves you—loves you so much he died for you.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”—Ephesians 2:8–10

Monday, February 15, 2010

The power and majesty of God unleashed

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19: 1-2

I am traveling by plane this week, so I was naturally riveted to the national weather reports. Fortunately, my flights have not yet been interrupted by the powerful storms that have crippled the Mid-Atlantic states and I’ve been able to carry on with my own schedule and plans.

Yet thousands of people have had their plans dramatically interrupted. Washington and the surrounding communities came to a virtual halt with unprecedented amounts of snow that have effectively crippled the region.

As I listened to the news reports of federal government closings, I could not help but be reminded of who is really in charge…It’s easy for us to rely on our own strength or might, and fail to see God’s hand in all things.

And God does interrupt our plans. Look at Scripture. Story after story of interrupted plans: Abraham was asked to leave his homeland; Noah told to build an arc; Job’s family killed, business destroyed, and health tested; Mary’s dreams of marriage altered; and Paul stopped on the Damascus Road. The list could go on and on…could this list include you?

Has the snow or anything else interrupted your plans this week? I urge you to take this time to examine your perspectives on power and control and submit yourself to the Lover of your soul, God Almighty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How is the book of Leviticus Relevant today?

You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.—Leviticus 20:27

I have been urging listeners to the Bible Answer Man broadcast to stick with their January resolution to read through the Bible in 2010. According to my Legacy Reading Plan, you should be somewhere between Leviticus and Numbers.

And these books are not for the faint of heart. Frankly, this is where many well-intentioned readers either get bogged down or give up completely. So, here’s my heartfelt word of encouragement: keep reading, press on…the rewards are of eternal significance.

With the Legacy Reading Plan, I have stressed the importance of reading Scripture in whole books and not by small bites. And living in a sound bite culture driven by a sound bite generation, this is indeed hard! But hear me out: you cannot take the teachings of ancient Israel and reduce them to sound bites and then expect to fully grasp what God is teaching! It just is not possible.

For example: at first blush, Leviticus reads as a seemingly exhaustive list of detailed rituals, sacrifices, and regulations that have little to do with modern living. We don’t participate in animal sacrifices, follow elaborate dietary laws, or practice ceremonial cleanness. But reading Leviticus in context, you realize that Leviticus offers the ancient Israelites patterns of living so that they could live with an altogether Holy God. Recognizing this reality, Leviticus becomes gripping reading! You see, an Almighty, all- powerful God entered the lives of a small and insignificant people who then had to restructure their lives in order to tabernacle with God. And while we don’t live in the world of Leviticus, we too have to restructure our lives so that God can dwell with us.

Taking this principle one step further, Leviticus teaches God’s people to watch their lives carefully—to follow his rules so they can dwell with him. And while the people of Israel focused on outward laws (eating, washing, and the like), Christians today must be alert to maintain purity from within (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” [Matthew 22:37]).

If you want to hear more contextual information on how to read Leviticus, listen to my opening monologue on the Bible Answer Man broadcasts for January 29, February 1, February 2, and February 8, 2010.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Memorize God’s Word

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
—Psalm 119:11

On the Bible Answer Man broadcast this week, I emphasized the significance of reading and meditating on God’s Word. Indeed, this year it is our intention at the Christian Research Institute to get you into the Word of God, and to get the Word of God into you.

I would like to challenge you, moreover, to take the next step beyond reading and meditating on God’s word and to memorize Scripture. Your memory is a dynamic and powerful muscle that will strengthen with use. As with any form of bodily exercise, the more you use a muscle, the stronger it becomes. And by memorizing God’s word, you’ll discover that God has fitted each one of us with the ability to remember quickly and with great retention.

As I have exhorted you to read the Bible not in bits but by Books, so I also want to encourage you to memorize not just a verse or two, but whole passages. Knowing whole portions of the Bible helps you meditate on them and thereby better comprehend the essence of the Scripture. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is Revelation 21, which I memorized in full years ago and find myself quoting often. Find a passage that holds great meaning for you and set your memory goals!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Down Dog for Upward Bliss? Thoughts on Yoga Day USA, January 23, 2010

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?” (1 Corinthians 6:14–18 NIV)

Since Swami Vivekananda first introduced yoga to the West more than a hundred years ago, yoga has steadily gained in popularity, becoming as American as apple pie. In fact, you can find classes at the local gym as well as the local church! And according to the Columbia Journalism Review,

Everybody loves yoga; sixteen and a half million Americans practice it regularly, and twenty-five million more say they will try it this year. If you’ve been awake and breathing air in the twenty-first century, you already know that this Hindu practice of health and spirituality has long ago moved on from the toe-ring set. Yoga is American; it has graced the cover of Time twice, acquired the approval of A-list celebrities like Madonna, Sting, and Jennifer Aniston, and is still the go-to trend story for editors and reporters, who produce an average of eight yoga stories a day in the English-speaking world.….Consumers drop $3 billion every year on yoga classes, books, videos, CDs, DVDs, mats, clothing, and other necessities.

With the growing attraction of yoga and its “rock-star status,” I have put much thought into the appropriate Christian response. In short, believers need to “think Christianly” about yoga; to facilitate this understanding, I have created the acronym Y-O-G-A.

Y” reminds believers that the word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit word “yogah,” which means “to yoke or to unite.” Indeed, the goal of yoga is to uncouple oneself from the material world and to unite oneself with the God of Hinduism, commonly understood to be Brahman, the impersonal cosmic consciousness of the universe. Put another way, yoga is the means by which the user’s mind is merged into the universal mind.

O” represents the Hindu mantra “Om”—a sacred Sanskrit syllable cherished by Hindu yogis as the spoken quintessence of the universe. Repeating such mantras as Om over and over is a principal means by which participants work their way into altered states of consciousness with the objective of dulling the critical thinking process. As noted by the late Indian guru Bhawan Shree Rajneesh, the mind is an obstacle to enlightenment.

Shockingly, what was once relegated to the kingdom of the cults is now being replicated in churches. In the ashrams of the cults there is no pretense. Despite such dangers as possession or insanity, Hindu gurus openly encourage trance states through which devotees tap into realms of the demonic and discover their “higher selves.” Whether experiencing involuntary movements or encountering illusory monsters, all is written off as progress on the road to enlightenment.

G” recalls the gurus who developed and disseminated yoga for the express purpose of achieving oneness with the impersonal God of Hinduism. Most noteworthy among the Guru’s is Patanjali—the Hindu sage who founded Yoga around the second century B.C. Of particular significance in the West is the aforementioned guru, Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the self-proclaimed “god-man” Sri Ramakrishna. In 1893 Vivekananda used the Parliament of World Religions to skillfully sow the seeds for a new global spirituality. Second only to Vivekananda in the Westernization of yoga was Yogananda—proudly hailed as “Father of Yoga in the West.” In 1920 he founded the L.A. based Self-Realization Fellowship, a principal means of disseminating Yoga to multiplied millions of Americans. Finally, of special note is Swami Muktananda, popularizer of kundalini yoga, a method by which divine energy thought to reside as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine is aroused; ascends through six chakras; and aims for union with the Hindu deity Shiva in a seventh center allegedly located in the crown of the head.

Finally, the “A” in Y-O-G-A brings to mind the Hindu word asana. As repetition of the word “Om” is used to work devotees into altered states of consciousness, so too a regiment of asanas—or body postures—are used to achieve a feeling of oneness with the cosmic energy flow of the universe. Coupled with breathing exercises and meditation practices, asana positions are considered to be the pathway to serenity and spirituality. According to the Yoga Journal, “asanas are their own type of meditation; to perform difficult postures you have to focus on your body and breath and relax into the pose.” While multitudes are being seduced into believing that asanas are spiritually neutral, nothing could be farther from the truth.

In sum, while an alarming number of American Christians suppose they can harmlessly achieve physical and spiritual well-being through a form of yoga divorced from its Eastern worldview, in reality attempts to Christianize Hinduism only Hinduize Christianity.

If you want to read more on the subject, see Elliot Miller’s three-part article series, “The Yoga Boom: A Call for Christian Discernment,” which was published in Christian Research Journal, Volume 21 / Numbers 2, 3, and 4; available on-line through Christian Research Institute at

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Not a formula for Prayer, but a Guide

Many Christians have structured their prayers around the acronym A-C-T-S, which stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. The Psalms are filled with whole chapters that can assist believers.

Prayer without adoration is like a body without a soul. It is not only incomplete, it just doesn’t work. Through adoration we express our genuine, heartfelt love and longing for God. The Psalms, in particular, can be transformed into passionate prayers of adoration.

Read Psalm 95:6:
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

Not only do the Psalms abound with illustrations of adoration, but they are replete with exclamations of confession as well. Those who are redeemed by the person and work of Jesus are positively declared righteous before God. In practical terms, however, we are still sinners who sin everyday. While unconfessed sin will not break our union with God, it will break our communion with God. Thus confession is a crucial aspect of daily prayer. Go to Psalm 51, a beautiful example of a confessional prayer of David:

Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies.
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin. (verses 1-2)

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more basic to prayer than thanksgiving. Psalm 100:4 teaches us to “enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” Frankly, failure to do so is the stuff of pagan babblings and carnal Christianity. Pagans, says Paul, know about God, but they “neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).
Carnal Christians likewise fail to thank God regularly for his many blessings. They suffer from what might best be described as selective memories and live by their feelings rather than by faith. They are prone to forget the blessings of yesterday as they thanklessly barrage the throne of grace with new request each day.
And thankfulness flows from the sure knowledge that our heavenly Father knows exactly what we need and will supply it.

I will bless the Lord at all times;
His praise shall continually be on my lips.
My soul shall make its boast in the Lord;
The humble shall hear of it and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
And let us exalt His name together. (Psalms 34:1-3)


In the context of having regular communication with God, our heavenly Father desires that his children will bring their requests before his throne of grace with praise and thanksgiving. After all, it was his Son Jesus who taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
And as we do so we must be ever mindful of the fact that the purpose of supplication is not to pressure God into providing us with provisions and pleasures, but rather to conform us to his eternal purposes.

Psalm 37
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him,
And He shall bring it to pass. (Psalms 4-5)


Indeed, as I have experienced firsthand, prayer is a beautiful foretaste of something we will experience for all eternity. Let the Psalms guide you daily into communication and communion with our loving Father!

Friday, January 15, 2010

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and his righteousness…

“The earthquake in Haiti is a tragedy of such gargantuan proportion that it's natural to wonder how -- or why -- any God, if there is a God, could allow it.”

I read the above headline from an ABC news story on what may surely be the worst earthquake to have hit the impoverished nation of Haiti. And over the years, I have been asked many times a similar question with some variation: If God is good, why does He allow bad things to happen?
We must first remember that while God the Creator made natural and moral evil possible by granting us freedom of choice, it was humanity that actualized evil. We can't put this on the Master's table. We have to realize that the fingers point back at us. In our Genesis reading, recall that Eve, while tempted by Satan, chose to partake of the fruit that God specifically forbid. “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6). As a result, humans fell into lives of perpetual sin terminated by death.While it may be popular to refer to the earthquake as "unthinkable," the history of humanity graphically demonstrates that there is virtually no limit to the possibilities of disease, natural disasters, and, ultimately, death.
This disaster painfully reminds us that the world is groaning in travail, but the gospel points us to the fact that creation will yet be liberated. As the apostle Paul put it "one day creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay." This liberation begins with the conquest of the cross and will be completed at Christ's second coming. As Christ's conquest ensures our bodily resurrection so too his conquest ensures the resurrection of this cosmos.
Here is what I want you to think about: the worst thing that can happen to any person is not to tragically die in a devastating earthquake. The worst thing that can happen is to live a long, robust life and then to forever be separated from the love and grace of the one that knit you together in your mother's womb. Ultimately, when we see things like an earthquake, we cannot cope with them unless we have an eternal perspective.
It is my hope and prayer that the images of devastation emanating from Haiti will arouse us from our lethargy and engage us to give water and food to those in need and to use the testimony of our love and our lives as an ultimate witness which will lead us to give them the bread and the water of life so that they may truly never hunger and thirst again.
As I write these words, my thoughts run to the old hymn written in 1834 by Edward Mote:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

The Purpose of Prayer

A lot of callers to the Bible Answer Man ask me questions about prayer such as: Why pray? Does God really hear our prayers? If God knows what we need, why ask?
For Bible-believing Christians, prayer should be thought of not as a magic formula to get things from God, but instead as an opportunity to communicate and commune with God. In other words, prayer is not about presenting our requests as it is a means of pursuing a relationship with our heavenly Father.
If I want to have a relationship with my wife, Kathy, I have to spend time with her and talk with her. It‘s no different with our Heavenly Father who longs to hear the voice of his children—clear and strong, without the static of everyday cares and concerns.
As Philip Graham Ryken explains in his book, When you Pray, “Prayer does not simply maintain the Christian life; it is the Christian life, reduced to its barest essence. Can there be any greater joy—in this world or the next—then to commune in the secret place with the living God?”
In my next blog post, I will discuss ways to structure our prayers so that they are pleasing to our Heavenly Father.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Prayer & the Psalms: Be still and know that I am God

Yesterday, I asked one of my kids to upload new music to my ipod as I prepared for a cross country plan flight. Looking forward to the diversion, I relaxed back in my seat, and once in the air, turned my music on…and was blasted with a bunch of static!
I reflected that my in-flight ipod experience is a lot like prayer. We can send and receive either noise or static to our Heavenly Father with our ungrateful complaints and arrogant requests or we can offer melodious songs of praise and thanks.
Today, let’s ponder awhile on this question: what sort of music do we make when we pray? And another equally important question: are we quiet enough to hear our Heavenly father when he speaks to us through prayer? We can tune him out, allowing the static of the day to crowd out that still small voice that says, “Be still and know that I am God”(Psalms 46:10).
The Psalms are an important part of our Legacy Bible reading plan—be sure to incorporate at least three Psalms per week. Many of the Psalms were written in the land of Israel and were used in temple worship, accompanied by stringed instruments.
The psalms are a wonderful way to give focus to your prayer life. A beautiful, uplifting and soul-strengthening Psalm is Psalm 46. Why not read the whole song now?

Friday, January 8, 2010

In the beginning...

Are you as excited as I am reading through the account of how God created the heavens and the earth ex nihilo or out of nothing? How He established day and night, divided water from dry land, and created every living thing—from every kind of plant to every kind of animal. And God saw that “it was good.”

And then God created his finest work: He made man in His own image.

Astounding! And every word reliable! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Popular TV personality Bill Maher has made a cottage industry out of ridiculing Christianity. In fact, he has gone so far as to dogmatically pontificate that the Bible was “written in parables. It’s the idiots today who take it literally.”

Even a cursory reading of the Bible reveals that Scripture is indeed a treasury replete with a wide variety of literary styles that range from poetry, proverbs, and psalms to historical narratives, didactic epistles, and apocalyptic revelations. To dogmatically assert that the Bible was “written in parables” as Maher asserts and that those who read it literally must be “idiots” is at best an idiosyncratic form of fundamentalism and at worst a serious misunderstanding of the literal principle of biblical interpretation.

In order to read the Bible for all it’s worth, it is crucial that we interpret it just as we would other forms of communication—in its most obvious and natural sense. Hence, as you read through your Bible, pay special attention to what is known as form or genre.

In other words, to interpret the Bible as literature, it is crucial to consider the kind of literature we are interpreting. Just as a legal brief differs in form from a prophetic oracle, so too there is a difference in genre between the historical accounts set forth in Genesis—the first book of the Old Testament—and the prophetic visions given to John set forth in Revelation—the last book of the New Testament.

The Book of Genesis is largely a historical narrative interlaced with symbolism and repetitive poetic structure. More specifically, the first eleven chapters are Hebrew historical narrative with poetic elements; Chapter 12 to the end are Hebrew historical narrative. Keep in mind that while the historical books of the Bible consist of accurate records of historical events and personalities, they, like all other ancient historical narratives, involve intentional selection and structure of the events recorded.

Getting back to Maher, if the events recorded in Genesis were merely reduced to “parables” for “idiots,” devoid of any correlation with actual events in history, the very foundation of Christianity would be destroyed. Taking this a step further, if the historical Adam and Eve did not eat the forbidden fruit and descend into a life of habitual sin resulting in death, there is no need for redemption.

Finally, keep in mind that while the Scriptures must indeed be read as literature, you and I must ever be mindful that the Bible is not merely literature. Instead, the Scriptures are uniquely inspired by the Spirit. As Peter put it, “No prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21). We must therefore fervently pray that the Spirit, who inspired the Scriptures, illumines our minds to what is in the text.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

“Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
— Joshua 1:8

Have you set any New Year’s Resolutions? It seems to be a very American thing to do — lose those few extra pounds, sleep more, eat less, take up a new hobby, or XYZ.

Have you set any spiritual resolutions? I have. In fact, I have encouraged the staff at CRI to join me in reading through the Bible in 2010.

Sounds challenging, doesn’t it? I assure you it is quite doable.

In the time of the prophet Jeremiah, discovery of the Book of the Law was the catalyst for spiritual renewal. And I am utterly convinced that what happened in Jeremiah’s day can surely happen again.

Thus, the Christian Research Institute has purposed to tackle the issue of biblical illiteracy head on during the year of our 50th anniversary celebration by setting the goal of reading through the Bible in 2010.

I urge you to join me in the adventure of a lifetime!

In January, we begin in the Book of Genesis. As you read through the first book of the Bible, remember that genesis is from a Greek word meaning “origin” or “beginning.” In the beginning, God created the world and saw that it was good. Adam and Eve, however, fell into lives of sin resulting in death and are banished from Paradise. They are relegated to restlessness and wandering, separated from intimacy and fellowship with their Creator. Yet, the very chapter that references the fall also records the divine plan for the restoration of fellowship (Genesis 3:15). The plan takes on definition with God’s promise to make Abram a great nation through which “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). As such, Abram’s call constitutes the divine antidote to Adam’s fall.

You will see God’s plan for redemption begin to unfold — because you are reading the WHOLE book.

Do you know why most diet or exercise plans fail? We set goals that are unrealistic. When we fail to meet our high expectations, we tend to give up.

With my Bible reading plan for 2010, I encourage you to be flexible with yourself! There will be times that you may read ten chapters in one sitting and others when you may read one or two. There may be a day that you don’t have the time to read at all. Don’t fret or give up; keep the end goal in mind: to read through the Bible as you would read other literature — in books rather than in bits.

—Hank Hanegraaff