Monthly Archives: December 2013

On Careless Memeing: Radical Jesus

I recently wrote a response to a meme that was posted by my dear friends and a member of my family, and was ‘liked’ by many others whom I count as dear friends. I admit to being hurt by the uncritical enthusiasm for this meme and the use it was put to by my dear ones. Had they but asked, we could have talked in earnest about what the historic Christian faith has said on these matters. We may have forged alliances and committed to growth.

My reply was unvarnished, and contained awkward sentences, typos, and a mis-citation. What I have done is edit and expand (slightly) for the sake of clarity. I must say also that I did not expect the resonating response from Christians, and utter silence by the friends that I was addressing. Seeing that it seemed to encourage and bless people, I resolved to provide a version less hastily composed.

Here is the URL for the meme.

Radical Jesus Meme

This is one of the /worst/, most biased, anachronistic, agenda driven meme’s I’ve seen in a long time!

Either the assertions are oversimplifications, anachronisms, or just plain wrong.

“Radical” 

This depends on what you mean. But this is a meme so I don’t expect definitions.

“Nonviolent”:

Jesus was not a pacifist. If you mean that he just didn’t resist when they let him to the cross, that’s another matter. A balanced and honest view would acknowledge the instructions not to return evil for evil, and turn the other cheek, while accepting His use of force, and the overall respect for the old testament laws requiring violent response from government.

“And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” John 2:15

That’s pretty violent by today’s standards (can you imagine it at your local public gathering?). But, he also didn’t tell soldiers to stop their employment, nor kings not to exercise their power of the sword, but instead, assumed it would be the case that some violence is necessary.

He said he came to bring a sword, which is symbolic of truth and division (one passage says sword, the parallel says division). This is not a declaration of pacifism, nor of tolerance (as currently conceived), but that the truth divides.

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Evolution vs. God: A Movie Review

Screen shot 2013-12-29 at 23.16.56

Published a movie review on Ray Comfort’s Evolution vs. God in The Journal for Trinitarian Studies

Book Review: Kiss The Son

(Originally published 29 November 2012)

Book Review:

“Kiss the Son: A Christological Apology in Response to David K. Bernard’s The Oneness of God” by Michael R. Burgos Jr.

Reviewed by Lindsay Brooks

Burgos, Michael R., Jr. Kiss the Son: A Christological Apology in Response to David K. Bernard’s The Oneness of God. [Winsted]: CreateSpace Independent Platform, 2012. PDF. 150 pages.

$14.99 Paperback/$9.99 eBook

Interest in the Trinity and the identity of Jesus Christ was piqued earlier this year by the now infamous ‘Elephant Room 2’ controversy centering around Oneness teacher and evangelist, pastor TD Jakes, showing the need for, among other things, an easy to understand work of reference to the Christological passages in the Bible (those passages that talk about the identity and nature of Christ). All the better if it includes exegetical notes, not only for anyone who talks with Oneness Pentecostals, but also to anyone with the moxie to invite the Saturday morning door-knockers (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, etc.) in for coffee. This is precisely what Michael Burgos, an associate of Christian Apologetics Research Ministries (carm.org), has provided in ‘Kiss The Son,’ a response book to David K. Bernard’s Oneness of God, volume 1 in Bernard’s series on Pentecostal theology. Bernard is the general superintendent of the United Pentecostal Church International, and author of 30 books, including ‘The Oneness of God’.

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On Excellence in Apologetics

How do you become an excellent apologist? How do you get good at it? Is it better to go get a master’s degree, or should we just go out and argue until improvement comes? And how long should it take? In every field of endeavor where I have ever made any headway, I went through long, dry periods. The landscape was marked by lengthy plateaus of scant improvement. As a musician, I found those periods torturous. I labored, sometimes for months, toward some measurable improvement—and some days I seemed to go backward.

 

As most folk in that position do, whether formally or informally, I sought out lessons. I found people who embodied the kind of skill level I wanted to attain and I sat at their feet. I let the things they knew enter me gradually over many weeks of being regularly in their presence. It wasn’t the diagrams or notation. It was only partly the things they told me. The things I needed from them were beyond those. It wasn’t a process or method that I needed; it was extremely complex interlocking facts, like grains of sand in a sand castle. There was a mystery to be learned about how a master is with his instrument. Displace an element and the whole performance becomes a mere recitation that any computer could perform, lacking the transcendent elements that can’t be merely recited, but are part of who the musician is.

 

Apologetics is like that. In the same way that a Mohawk-festooned, teenage, dilettante guitarist in his parents garage finds that a certain brand of loud, aggressive music is easy to get good at, we discover that we can find some good arguments on the internet that will humble the modern, all-roads-lead-nowhere, semi-agnostic whose lack of religion is chosen the same way children choose a favorite crayon color.

 

Thus we proceed to the reign of terror.

 

The neophyte apologist throws his weight around on blog comments and Facebook pages and feels successful the way the captain of a high school basketball team might feel successful dunking on 5th graders. Generally the 5th graders just get frustrated and angry and proceed to name-calling. The fact that apologetics is not an end in itself, but serves the spread of the Gospel and the comfort of the saints, is lost among the supercilious head-shaking at how dumb “people” can be about the most fundamental questions to humanity. The task of making disciples is about real individual persons with names and struggles. Once that fact is obscured the new apologist revels in his newfound role as the bully-king of the schoolyard.

 

With any luck, after a while a crisis point is reached since no one really likes discovering that they are no longer invited to parties. The cost of being excluded from polite society is weighed against the pleasure of winning arguments and the way of the intellectual ninja gives way to a resolution to adopt a more sage and circumspect approach. Now the problem is: how do we learn this?

 

The unpracticed apologist, on his own, is unable to see beyond his own immaturity toward a fully formed model of himself because what must be known is more than what can be told: it must be gained tacitly, at the elbow of one who already embodies greater maturity. On the other hand, it cannot be merely imagined and then imitated as an actor might play a role, because you can never imagine a better apologist than you already are–you can’t pretend to have knowledge you don’t or thinking patterns you lack. Certainly, God does give wisdom to whoever asks without reproach, but the normal means is through another human being. The analogies can be multiplied–chess, kung fu, soldiering–but to avoid the triteness of martial imagery, it’s like learning to cook. A cookbook can tell you some of what you need to know, but a chef can fill in what is lacking in the person and make you a certain kind of person who does what he does. You can learn from your fellows by trial and error in an apophatic way what maturity is not. But without an exemplar maturity can only be vaguely approximated, resulting in malformed apologists.

 

The solution, we may imagine, is to seek to apprentice oneself under the patient, the imperturbable, the deep in Scripture and history, the philosophically shrewd, the prayerful, the consistent, the one with insight into the human heart, the repentant, the profoundly kind, the self-sacrificial, the valiant, the one who faces battle grimly, and gravely, not delighting in it, but not shrinking from doing what is necessary, the one who goes joyously to the privilege of worship. Where can this be found?

 

Perhaps it’s better to look for an advisory panel of mentors, rather than trying to seek all of the above in one person. Nevertheless, this is part of the teaching function of the Church. It is within the Bride of Christ as she upholds the Truth she received that we find what we’re looking for in this regard. Even our seminaries and universities must be subject to her tutelage lest they end up defending some ground other than our faith. Lone wolf apologists will lack in accountability to Church discipline. We are the Body of Christ and heirs to a faith that has been giving reason for the hope in it for more than 80 generations (and the list of new arguments is short indeed), making disciples out of unbelieving nations and strengthening the faithful. The abiding benefits have been for the Church, but also to the good of society in general, building it up as the fruit of the good works Christians are called to.

 

Therefore, there is no escaping the matter of time. You simply cannot telescope the process of maturity any more than you could when you were a kid wishing you were taller and stretching yourself on the monkey bars. 

What I’m suggesting is that, while we download every debate we can get our hands on, and read books, old and new, on apologetic argumentation and tactics, and master the history and philosophy necessary, all of that knowledge must be wielded by a particular kind of person. Becoming that kind of person simply can’t be rushed.

A Defense of Contemporary Worship Songs

Lindsay answers critics of contemporary song form worship music using Psalm 27 by Donnie McClurkin.

Includes a brief harmonic and rhythmic analysis and explores how the form serves the lyric:

Psalm 27

by Donnie McClurkin

One thing that I desire from the Lord

That one thing will I seek for

That I may dwell within His house
And inquire in His temple
And behold the beauty of the Lord

Beautiful Savior
Beautiful Savior

I’m not worried and I’m not dismayed
I never will run away
I won’t fear the enemy
When they come at me they’re gonna fall
For Your power will conquer all
There’s just one place I wanna be

That place is….

One thing that I desire from the Lord
That one thing will I seek for
That I may dwell within His house
And inquire in His temple
And behold the beauty of the Lord

Fairest Lord Jesus
Ruler of creation
Thou art God and Thou art man and so beautiful

Thee will I cherish, Lord
Thee will I honor, Lord
You’re my soul’s glory, joy and crown
Oh, my God

Beautiful Savior
Beautiful Savior
God of all creation
How I love and adore You
For You’re beautiful beyond all description

Beautiful Savior, yeah (x3)
Wonderful Jesus

Burdens We Were Never Fit To Carry

(Originally published 05 February 2009)

“The weight of evidence for an extraordinary claim must be proportioned to its strangeness.” ~ Pierre-Simon Marquis de Laplace

“Theists have not yet grasped the concept of the burden of proof, apparently. It’s really simple, so I find it astounding that it is so easily dismissed-the one who makes the positive claim (ie-god exists) is the one who has to prove that claim, not the person who is in the default position of suspension of belief due to lack of evidence (ie-as far as we know, god does not exist).” ~ How to Respond to a Supercilious Christian, Kelly O’Connor,

This burden of proof question is one that has always bothered me. Atheism has positioned itself as being stated in the negative. For this reason, in formal debate, atheism claims never to have the burden of proof because the rules state that that burden belongs to the positive position.

Formally, I understand the burden of proof rule with regard to other kinds of subjects. A universal negative is difficult if not impossible to prove. Take the negative statement; “There are no two snowflakes exactly alike.” That statement cannot be proved without exhaustively searching the universe in all places simultaneously to prove that twin snowflakes do not exist. Conversely, the positive is easy; just show a single example of twin snowflakes.

The atheist claim isn’t anything like that though. It’s a positive claim in disguise. No atheist is claiming simply that there is no evidence for God, rhetorical posturing to the contrary notwithstanding. If that were the case then we could just unpack our evidence and that claim would no longer stand. The Atheist claim is that God is not a necessary hypothesis to explain life, the universe and everything as per Ockham’s Razor.

Effectively, the atheist claim is that life can come from the universe spontaneously, a positive claim. Or that complex systems happen by simple systems gradually becoming more complex over time, contrary to the second law of thermodynamics, another positive claim. Or that complexity=life. Or that matter is eternal. Or that right and wrong has a biological basis. Or any myriad of other kinds of claims that are positive in nature.

Greg Bahnsen dealt with this problem head on in his debate with Gordon Stein, calling it “the pretended neutrality fallacy.” He explained:

“In advance, you see, Dr. Stein is committed to disallowing any theistic interpretation of nature, history or experience. What he seems to overlook is that this is just as much begging the question on his own part as it is on the part of the theists who appeal to such evidence. He has not at all proven by empirical observation and logic his pre-commitment to Naturalism. He has assumed it in advance, accepting and rejecting all further factual claims in terms of that controlling and unproved assumption.”

So in a formal debate scenario, where the question is, “Is there a God?” the more jejune Atheist says “no” without definition or dealing with the implications of their response, hoping to then sit back and wait for the Christian apologist to fail or succeed. And failure is foreordained, because the naysayer can simply say, “I’m not convinced.”

That simply doesn’t work. This is a totally different kind of question than the garden-variety claim of something’s non-existence. Saying, “there is no God” carries with it a host of implication that saying, “there is no Santa Claus” does not carry. Santa Claus’ existence has no impact on our worldview’s ability to account for logic, morals, design, right tuning of our senses to the universe, the mind/body distinction or any of many questions like it. Saying there is no God, on the other hand, demands positive claims in each of those areas. It amounts to a variation on the complex question fallacy.

There are some apologists who are pleased to bear the burden of proof solely on the Christian side and build a probabilistic kind of argument for God’s existence. The difficulty here is in determining when that burden has been met. If it has only been met when Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, et al agree that there is a God, I think we have set an impossible standard. Not all people who understand an argument find it cogent.

That smart people disagree is not a defeater for any proposition. There are many reasons that even intelligent people who understand the arguments have for not finding something particularly compelling. Those reasons aren’t always given when they disagree with a position “on its merits.” Smart people convert, and not usually because they suddenly get some piece of information they never had before that puts the puzzle together for them. Often it is because some pre-commitment loses its force for them personally.

So what about the day-in-day-out apologetics of our everyday life? Surely the rules of academic debate don’t encroach here. It’s just friends and family members gathered around the questions that unite us all, right? Yet even here we find that an unhelpful attitude about burden of proof stymies real dialog.

The fact is, when two people come together to discuss God, they BOTH have a burden. Neither one has an option to simply shrug and say, “I’m not convinced by your Kalam Cosmological Argument, so I win.” They must account for their worldview just as you must account for yours. Lacking that, all they’ve done is bamboozle you with the Flying Spaghetti Monster argument and lived to bamboozle another day.

So what of the two quotes that started this article? Is Laplace correct in claiming that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence? Let’s test this idea.

If I claim to be able to ride a bicycle, what proof is required? My riding of the bicycle. This is an ordinary claim and the corresponding ordinary evidence.

If I claim to be able to operate that same bicycle without a rider by the power of my mind, what proof is required? My operation of the bicycle with the power of my mind. This is an extraordinary claim, but the evidence is the normal kind; the demonstration of the claim.

I do not deny that we go about providing evidence in different ways for different things (Bahnsen’s “crackers in the pantry” fallacy). I am merely pointing out that there are not separate standards of evidence in evaluating worldviews. Each worldview is subject to the same standard of evidence.

The result of adopting Laplace’s notion is that it is absolutely arbitrary. The strangeness of a claim is a predilection of the one receiving the claim. Furthermore, what level of evidence is required is also arbitrary and usually results in the bar being set to “whatever convinces me.”

What of Kelly O’Connor’s spirited quips? Does she have the default position as she claims? On what ground does this claim rest? It rests on her arbitrary and unproven presumption of Naturalism.

An evidential apologist may claim that something like a mind must have preceded the universe, and continues to support it and its law-like functioning. O’Connor may claim that nothing like a mind was necessary.

The evidential claim is philosophical. It must stand to philosophical rigor. But so must O’Connor’s claim. She may object that she’s agnostic on the question of cosmic origins; she simply doesn’t know and so carries no burden. This is simple obfuscation. An Atheist saying there is no God is saying that universes begin themselves spontaneously or has some other cause. She may come up with a strong reasoning that underlies this positive assertion, but it is a positive assertion that must be supported. O’Connor’s claim of having the “default” position is without merit.

We don’t come to a discussion to win for winning’s sake. We come together to talk about these questions so that all might know the truth. Stacking the deck with an unfair burden of proof is anathema to this end.

Go Forth And Shut Up About The Gospel!

(Originally published 01 September 2008)

I love the very shape of the Christian life.

Consider the way we start our days in prayer: how it puts us in our place in the universe and in relationship to a holy God; how it readies us for a day of loving our neighbors as ourselves. It prioritizes our works, helping us to attend the weightier matters of life and not get confused about what is heavy and what is light. Family takes its place at the epicenter of the practical exercise of our faith, and thus becomes a rich ground where other relationships can take root and grow because of the forgiveness that is the central imperative in all our dealings with others.

After appreciating the warp and woof of how we nurture our Christianity and it nurtures us, I’m prompted to consider the place of apologetics in this Christian life. How does our defense and explanation of the notion that we have peace with God, afforded us by a foreign righteousness imputed to us, figure in all this? Can’t we just do as the quote oft attributed to St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words?”1

As charming as that notion seems, our answer has to be “no.” God has ordained an end, the calling of a peculiar people to Himself, and also ordained the means, the preached word. This is a preaching of propositional sentences regarding the nature of man, of God and of the only means of reconciliation between God and man—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary. These are truths that cannot be conveyed by simply living well and waiting for someone to notice and ask, “Hey, what’s the reason for the hope that is in you?”

But affirmations beget denials, and more so with the subject of religion than any other. The Bible says that man is fallen. Yet many believe the famous quote from the inspirational book The Diary of Anne Frank, “In spite of everything I still believe that people are basically good at heart.”2 Either we’re talking about two different things or one of us is wrong. This is certainly not the kind of question that is answered by simply living life as a nice person. It must be met with discourse while we remain nice people.

Christianity is filled with propositions like this that must be explained and defended. Let’s take the central truth of the Christian faith: the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. In the face of Dan Brown novels, Jesus Seminar Scholars and others claiming that Jesus married Magdalene and moved to France or was buried in a community grave and eaten by dogs, one simply cannot answer the contradiction without opening one’s mouth to preach the Gospel using words.

What of those of us who sin (e.g., all of us)? What if we do the wrong thing? Being a radio apologist I am forced to consider carefully what I do. I am convicted by the occasional helpful criticism that I might be failing sometimes. What do we do with our pseudo-Franciscan epigram then? With such facility the critics of the faith bandy about the word “hypocrite”, and how simple is the step of illogic, which says, “Look, he failed, Christianity is false.”

We recognize, of course, that sin does not render Christianity false, but affirms the Christian anthropology. So we are confronted again with the notion that it is almost always necessary to use words in the proclamation of the Gospel.

Certainly there is value to the aesthetic ‘form’ of the Christian life, but to what extent is a beautiful life evidence of the Gospel? Do not all religious people everywhere pray for their children and strive to live out the moral tenets they have received? Don’t atheists hope for good for those they meet and try to be “good people,” whatever that means, themselves? Of course they do!

The beautiful Christian life is what James calls ‘justification’ of our faith. He says in chapter 2 of his pithy epistle, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works,” (all quotes NET unless indicated)3 and my favorite ‘misunderstood’ quote in the Bible, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”4 All of the things that James prescribes in the moral arena in his epistle are evidences of a faith rooted in propositions that the works themselves cannot articulate. They must be proclaimed by the spoken/written word.

In summary, my friends, we must tell everyone we can about the Gospel and also give evidence to everyone of the truth of these things by our love for one another. And when challenged about it (as we have been, are and ever will be) we must “always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. Yet do it with courtesy and respect.” (1 Peter 3:15b-16a)

The pseudo-Franciscan epigram is false for the Christian who has an explicit mandate from Jesus Christ to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,” (Matt. 28:19) even if its imperative to live a beautiful Christian life is true and is itself a kind of apologetic for the Christian faith. There is simply no substitute for opening your mouth to speak the words God gave us to speak, and we are not living the beautiful Christian life until we do.


1 It is doubtful St. Francis of Assisi actually said this. The nearest one finds to this quote in his writings is in chapter 17 of his “First Rule” which states: “Let no Brother preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Church, nor without the leave of his Superior. And let the Superior take care that he does not grant this leave indiscreetly. Nevertheless, let all the Brethren preach by their works.” (Francis, of Assisi Saint Francis,Works Of The Seraphic Father St. Francis of Assisi, Translated by A Religious of the Order, (London: R. Washbourne, 1882), 42.

http://books.google.com/books?id=HU3CJ2bRk2gC

2 Frank, Anne, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Translated by BM Mooyaart, (New York: Bantam Books, 1993)

3 The NET Bible® is freely available at www.bible.org/

4 Note the NLT reading of this verse, “So you see, we are made right with God by what we do, not by faith alone,” seems to miss the context of showing our faith by our works, a concept that does not contradict or deny that we are “justified,” in the sense of being “made right with God,” by faith and not by works. So the phrase “made right with God,” corresponding to the first lexical meaning of dikaioutai (present, passive, indicative ofdikaioo: to render righteous or such he ought to be) doesn’t fit here. Rather the second lexical meaning (to show, exhibit, evince, one to be righteous, such as he is and wishes himself to be considered) is the one that makes sense in context.