The Great Victory Over Darkness

June 5, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, Thoughts

light-in-darknessJesus of Nazareth has been hanging on the cross for approximately three hours. Ever since he was nailed to the rough wood at around 9:00 am he has been suffering pain of the most intense kind. Aside from the actual nail wounds in his hands and feet, the seven-inch spikes have crushed the main nerves in his wrists and ankles. This is causing stabbing, burning pain to shoot up his limbs. The two criminals crucified with him are also writhing in agony, increasing the stress and chaos of the scene.

Before Jesus had even reached the cross, Roman soldiers had flogged him with a metal tipped whip until his back was laid open and oozing with blood. The soldiers had mocked him as they forced a crown of thorns onto his head, causing deep puncture wounds. Jesus had then been forced to carry the heavy crossbeam of the crucifix through the twisting streets of Jerusalem. Part of the way to the place of execution he stumbled, unable to carry the load any further. No doubt, he was in the advanced stages of what is medically called hypovolemic shock. The blood loss was robbing him of most of his strength, causing him raging thirst and the swelling of his tongue.

Now on the cross, Jesus’ most pressing problem was not the pain, the thirst, or the exhaustion, but the inability to breathe. In order to exhale or to speak, he would be forced to push himself up with his legs, causing an even greater degree of pain. Soon he would run out of strength in his legs and sag down until stopped by the spikes holding his wrists.

However, to this point, Jesus had suffered no more than many thousands of others whom the Romans had executed in this manner. Crucifixion was an unimaginably horrible way to die. The Romans knew this and used it as an object lesson for any who might wish to defy their rule. Then, about noon (what the New Testament calls the sixth hour of the day), what Jesus had dreaded in the Garden of Gethsemane came upon him. The real suffering took place in this three hour period from noon to 3:00, during which God the Father somehow put our sins upon him and judged him in the full fury of divine wrath.

Matthew, Mark and Luke record that a deep and eerie darkness spread over the land during this second three hour period. This event was much noted in the ancient world and was evidently discussed in various writings for years afterward. A Greek author named Phlegon, writing around 137 AD reports that in the 202nd Olympiad (that is, 33 AD) there was “….the greatest eclipse of the sun (ever recorded). It became night in the sixth hour of the day, so that the stars even appeared in the sky.” He further states that there was a great earthquake, felt as far north as the Black Sea coast of what is now Turkey.

A writer named Thallus, whose original work (around 52 AD) is now lost, was quoted by a later author named Julius Africanus, who wrote in AD 221. In reference to this unusual darkness of 33 AD, he says, “Thallus in the third book of his histories explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun—unreasonably as it seems to me.” The early church leader Tertullian (215 AD) says that this darkness was widely observed in such cities as Rome and Athens, and calls it “a cosmic event”.

What was the significance of these three hours of darkness, with its accompanying earthquake? Let me suggest several things:

It was the time of God’s judgment on the world’s sin. In essence, God the Father identified his Son Jesus with our sins, turned his back on him and caused him to suffer our judgment. The Bible has many references to God being full of light. If the presence of God the Father was removed from Jesus, it would explain the darkness.

It was the time of Satan’s short-lived triumph. Satan is described as the Prince of Darkness in the Scriptures. For three hours Satan could abuse and torture Jesus spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically as he gloated over the apparent failure of God’s Kingdom. The concentration of evil into that focal point also explains the darkness.

The earthquake is explained in Matthew 27:51, where it tells us that along with the violent shaking of the earth, the curtain in the Jewish Temple (which separated the holy presence of God from sinners) was torn in two from top to bottom. Clearly the New Testament is teaching that complete and final atonement for sin had been made. To put it simply, that earthquake tore the curtain separating us from God. Now the way to God’s presence is open for any who come through faith in Christ’s atonement.

At 3:00 pm, just before the earthquake, Jesus raised himself on his mangled legs one final time to proclaim, “It is finished. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” As the dust from the quake settled and the darkness dispersed, Jesus’ friends took his body from the cross and put it in a tomb donated by a wealthy follower. There it lay as night came. A day and another night came and went.

Then, at dawn on Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead in victory over sin and death. Light from the rising sun supplemented light from the heavenly messengers in confirmation that atonement was complete. The rule of darkness was broken. The Kingdom of light and peace and joy was assured.

“So what?” you ask. Here’s the point. It is your choice whether to remain in the darkness or come into the light. John 3:19 speaks of those who refuse Christ’s light, preferring the darkness because their deeds are evil. Colossians 1:13 describes those who have put their faith in Jesus as being transferred from darkness into light. Jesus has paid for your sins and made eternal life available. Now the choice is yours: to go your own way, or to follow him!

Michael Bogart

How to Share Your Personal Faith-Story

heart-and-cross1An important part of sharing the Good News of Jesus with people is your own account of how Jesus has changed your life. This is often referred to as your personal testimony. As we touch people’s lives with the gospel, they often want to know more than the basic Bible verses and gospel information. They are curious about what made you decide to follow Jesus and the difference it has made since then.

Composing Your Testimony

  • Think through the circumstances that brought you to faith in Jesus. Were you raised in a Christian home, or did you find Christ from another type of environment? How has following Jesus made you different from what you might have been otherwise?
  • Write out your story, aiming for no more than a page or two. If you have a brief passage of scripture to share, which will highlight some aspect of your testimony, that can be included. It is helpful to organize your story according to the following segments:

What life was like before I found Jesus. Relate your thinking, attitudes and lifestyle before Jesus had any meaningful place in your life. Were you sad, selfish, bored or just plain oblivious to the issues of life? If you came from a Christian home, was that helpful in finding Jesus?

How I found Jesus. What were the long-term, and short-term circumstances which brought you to personal faith in Jesus? Was it a friend’s attractive life? A Christian meeting of some sort? Your parents’ prayers? Etc.

My life since faith in Christ. Honestly describe the difference knowing Jesus has made. Have your thinking, attitudes or actions changed in any meaningful way? Has there been any power to change habits or resist sin? Have people noticed these changes?

  • Refine your testimony.  Make sure that the words you use to describe your experience communicate clearly to people who don’t understand Christian terminology.  Make sure you are absolutely truthful in telling your story. Pray for clarity of mind and words as well as openness in people’s hearts.
  • Watch out for these mistakes: A preachy or superior attitude; Negative remarks about specific types of churches or individuals; Christian slang words; Apologizing for what you believe are your poor speaking skills; Taking too much time and becoming a bore.

Remember, you are pointing people to Jesus, not to yourself. People need to see how great and merciful he is, not how amazing your story is.

Presenting Your Testimony
You will probably have many opportunities to share your faith-story over the course of your life. You may be asked to share in a service or meeting of some kind, or maybe the subject will be appropriate as you are talking with friends. It is best to have at least the basic outline of your testimony memorized so that you can make the most of these opportunities.

When asked to speak before a sizeable group you will want to carefully plan and rehearse what you have to say. Review your written work, perhaps even reading it out loud several times and then saying it without the aid of your manuscript. Aim for several minutes. Be respectful of whatever time limits your hosts may give you. Speak clearly and don’t rush through your presentation. Smile and show enthusiasm (if Jesus has changed your life for the better, it ought to show in a positive way). Pray that God will use you to bring blessing into the life of each person present.

Remember that this is your own unique story. There is no need for you to be like anyone else. Never be ashamed of how the Lord has led you through your life so far. His ways are always best. You can be an encouragement to others who relate to your story so that they may also find God’s plan and presence in their lives!

Michael Bogart

The Bible Answers Universal Questions

May 30, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Bible, Defending the Faith

bible-pic1The last book of the Bible was written just over 1,900 years ago. Empires have risen and fallen in that time: Rome is gone; Charlemagne’s empire has vanished; horrendous wars have been fought; new philosophies have come into vogue and declined; technology has improved. In light of all this, the Bible seems like a quaint, but archaic book, good only for gathering dust on the shelf. What could it possibly have to say that would be relevant to us and our particular needs in the Twenty-first Century?

Surprisingly, it has a lot to say, partly because basic human needs haven’t changed at all in 2,000 years and partly because God speaks to every age. I never cease to be amazed at how the Bible answers the fundamental questions people are asking. For example:

Is there a God, and if so, what is He like? See Psalm 14:1, Romans 1:19-20, John 3:16, etc.

How did the universe come into being? See Hebrews 11:3, Genesis chapters 1 and 2, etc.

What is the cause of the human tendency to do wrong? Is there some basic flaw in us? See Genesis chapter 3, Romans 3:9-18, etc.

Is there some way to correct this flaw and have acceptance with God? See Romans 3:22-23 and Galatians 5:24.

Is there any basis for real brotherhood among people? Genesis 1:27-28, 10:32, Romans 10:12, etc.

Does life have any meaning or purpose? John 10:10, John 17:3.

Is there life after death? Revelation 20:11-15, Luke 23:40-43, John 14:2, Revelation 7:9.

These questions and many more are answered in the book of books.

Michael Bogart

Why I am Not Ashamed to be a Christian

May 30, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, Thoughts

ikthus2In the last several decades it seems as though there has been an effort on the part of some in our society to discredit Christianity. Followers of Jesus Christ are sometimes portrayed as bigoted, narrow-minded and hypocritical. It is insinuated that sincere believers are either willful relics of the Dark Ages or simply ignorant folks who have yet to get with the more enlightened modern times.

To be fair, there are cases in which the shoe does fit. No doubt, the isolated instances of hypocrisy or ignorance have been exploited to the maximum by Christianity’s detractors. It is absurd to suggest, however, that this ridiculous caricature of Christianity represents reality. I should know: I once believed it myself. It was a major turning point in my life to realize how twisted that picture often is.

So, I refuse to be ashamed of being a Christian. In these times when believers are often sneered at, there is a great temptation to take a low key approach to one’s faith. I refuse to be intimidated by this scorn. Here’s why:

I am a follower of Jesus Christ, the noblest person who ever lived. The Bible says that he is God the Son made into a human being. It also says that someday Jesus will return as judge of the earth, and that all authority both on earth and in heaven has been given to him even now. How could I be ashamed of being identified with him?

The Bible is God’s communication to us through various chosen servants. Through the years it has been vindicated against its critics many times. This is true archeologically, prophetically, textually and, not the least, in the powerful way it diagnoses human need and changes lives through its good news.

Christians are often wonderful people to associate with. Yes, there are hypocrites, backward folks and even phonies, but many, many believers are just quality people. Studies have shown that serious Christians are, in general, hard working, honest, less self-centered and more likely to have a strong family life. I have personally experienced true friendship as well as constructive criticism among those who identify themselves with Christ’s name.

Christianity has stood the test of time. The pages of history are littered with the wrecks of fads, trends and movements. The Christian Church in its various forms has proven amazingly adaptable to the ravages of the past 2,000 years and singularly difficult to suppress over time.

Finally, I am a better person for having committed my life to Christ many years ago. Following him has made me wiser, more realistic about myself, and able to survive the inevitable ups and downs of life in much better shape than I might have otherwise.

What about you? Are you a bit shy of being labeled a “religious fanatic” because of your association with Christ? Or perhaps it is this very type of fear that has deterred you from even investigating Jesus at all. Don’t be intimidated. There is no better way of spending your life than to follow him.

Michael Bogart

Jesus is the Real Issue

May 26, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

jesus-christ“Ladies and gentlemen! The President of the United States!” This is the introduction given by a person at the entrance to the Floor of the House of Representatives just before the President gives his State of the Union Address. This official’s job is to announce clearly that the person the assembled dignitaries have come to hear has arrived and is about to ascend to the podium.

It is possible, though highly improbable, that this person could make their announcement in a drunken state, or in tattered clothes, or that he or she could hog the limelight in such a way that the president might be overshadowed. But one thing is for certain, if that sort of thing happened, the announcer would not hold their job for very long. The announcer’s only function at that point is to introduce the President and let him speak.

From time to time, it seems that there are some “announcers” in Christian circles who have done this very thing. I am talking about men and women in Christian ministry who have grabbed attention for themselves, sought to represent the Kingdom of God and somehow have forgotten that the whole issue is not them at all. In so doing these folks have reflected badly on the one they should have been drawing people’s attention to.

As a preacher and Christian leader myself, I understand how tempting it might be to hog the limelight. Though I have never achieved celebrity status, I can imagine that when such a person finds himself (or herself) with power, popularity and access to wealth, it must be tempting to believe that they are somehow a cut above others and that the attention they are receiving is deserved. If they dwell on that sort of thing long enough, it is not difficult to see how they might begin to feel that they are above the standards that everyone else must keep. Perhaps some of these “announcers” may have begun with the best of intentions; others may never have had pure motives or even really understood the gospel from the beginning. God alone knows.

Be that as it may, I think we need to be reminded of something very important: no matter how shabby or disreputable the announcer may be, it is Jesus Christ that we need to hear. I am not excusing Christian people who bring shame on Christianity. To dishonor Christ’s name is very nearly inexcusable. But even if all those who proclaim Christ were dishonest, Christ would still be as good and true and powerful as ever because he is perfect.

So I am calling us all to remember that it is Jesus who died for sin; who offers forgiveness and new life through faith; who claims lordship of our lives. It is Jesus Christ who will judge the heart of each person. In other words, Christ is the all-important issue.

I for one am glad when a man or woman of God announces Christ clearly and reflects his image brightly. When they do not I mourn, not only because it reflects so poorly on the rest of us announcers, but mainly because it discourages people from seeing Jesus in all his truth and grace and glory.

So I urge us all to remember: announcers have their job to do. If they do it well, be glad; if they do it poorly you may have a right to be disgusted. But either way, don’t focus on them. It is Jesus who is the real attraction. Whatever you do—hear Him!

Michael Bogart

Modernity and Religion: A Clash of Worldviews

May 25, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

arm-wrestlingThe clash between modernist thought and Judeo-Christianity has produced more than a century of accusation, rebuttal and counter-accusation, with religion forced into a mostly defensive position. Modernity has asserted that religious belief is irrelevant because it is based on an outmoded and unscientific worldview. Rudolph Bultmann (1884-1976) the famed critic and de-mythologizer of the Bible put it this way, “It is impossible to use electric (devices) and take advantage of modern medical discoveries, and at the same time believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.” This modern worldview spoken of by Bultmann and others has been responsible for a significant decline in religious belief in Western culture. Modernity’s claim that religious faith (specifically Judeo-Christianity) is no longer relevant is based on the following arguments:

1. Religion is invalid because of the vastness of the Cosmos. In other words, if a Creator exists, why would he be concerned about such an insignificant place such as earth? It is unrealistic to think that a Being of such immensity would pour so much of himself into this tiny speck in the hugeness of the universe. Modernity would say that if religion has any value, it is in its expression of the human aspiration for meaning and belonging in the larger scheme of Cosmic reality.

2. Science has demonstrated that religion is an inadequate explanation for the reality of nature. Natural phenomena, which less advanced people explained in a religious way are now known to be caused by natural forces. For example, thunder was seen by primitive people as God expressing his displeasure or showing his power, but the scientific method shows that it is caused by complex electrical processes in the atmosphere. So science and technology have replaced the need for supernatural explanations, making religion a much less necessary part of human life.

3. Human beings ought to be allowed the freedom to search for whatever personal fulfillment each may find to his or her sensibility. Religion has often been a hindrance to the quest for personal fulfillment, and should be abolished or modified so that it no longer obstructs that freedom. Karl Marx (1818-1883) believed that religion was simply a tool of oppression used by the upper classes to maintain their control. He once called religion “the opiate of the people.”

4. Religion is simply a protective framework constructed to deal with the fear and uncertainty which naturally result from an unpredictable and dangerous universe. In his book, The Future of an Illusion, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) argued that religion could be explained as a psychological response to the human inability to control nature. Because they feel helpless and frustrated, people need a sense of security provided by a theoretical Protector. In other words, Freud saw religion as a form of neurosis. Freud did see belief in God as providing some social and psychological benefits, but he felt that the downside of religion was to leave people in an infantile state. Mature people, freed from neurosis, would have no need for God.

5. The best that can be said for religion is that it is a useful social “glue”. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) saw religion as a necessary institution which enabled society to function harmoniously. In the West, Judeo-Christianity has provided a certain stability by teaching and enforcing a definite moral code, which, over time, became formalized into law. It has also validated authority structures and discouraged anti-social behavior.

Let us think through each of these main objections to religious belief posed by Modernity. Do modernistic explanations really disprove religious belief?

Response 1: If a Creator exists, it would seem rather rash for human beings to attempt to predict what the Supreme Being would be likely to do. As a part of God’s creation ourselves, it would be foolish to say dogmatically that he would have little or no interest in one particular planet in his universe or about human life on that planet. So, simply because the universe is a very large place, doesn’t disprove the Judeo-Christian assertion that the Creator is profoundly interested in us.

Response 2: It is the function of science to provide technically correct explanations for natural phenomena. What may seem like mythological views of God’s activities and character in the Bible may be understood as complementary to science rather than in contradiction of it. A careful study of the Bible as ancient literature shows that biblical descriptions of God are not so much mythological as they are poetic. When God is spoken of as riding on thunder clouds, it is a picture of God’s majesty and power, rather than a technical description of the hydrological cycle. In other words, religion offers valid explanations of realities which lie beyond the physical properties of natural phenomena. Science can describe and (sometimes) predict the way in which nature is structured. It cannot evaluate the origins of nature, nor is it always in a position to answer questions about why it functions as it does. Furthermore, science cannot predict whether the laws of nature may be temporarily set aside should the Creator think fit to do so.

Response 3: Probably no informed person would want to argue the point that religion has often been used to prevent people from pursuing certain avenues of self-expression. Certainly people have used the Bible and religious tradition to deter people from all sorts of activities. Most people who have been involved in a religious community have either personally experienced or at least witnessed the harmful and manipulative use of power by religiously motivated people. For many, one such experience is more than enough to convince them that all religious warnings and moral statements are simply a type of power-play.

The true question is whether religion is serving its proper function when it attempts to use various forms of persuasion to affect people’s thinking and behavior. To answer this, we must discuss the issue of assumptions. Either God exists as Judeo-Christianity depicts him or he does not. If the Judeo-Christian view of God is not accurate, then the argument might be made that religious moralizing is an improper hindrance to human self-expression. However, even assuming that God does not exist, religion might still serve a useful function in deterring people from behaviors and activities which generations of human experience have shown to be either harmful or unproductive. On the other hand, if Judeo-Christianity gives an essentially accurate picture of God’s character and will, then a major task of religion would be to help people understand and conform to those ideals.

Response 4: It is undeniable that religion meets some very basic psychological needs. Like most other religions, Judeo-Christianity deals with fear of the future and offers a sense of peace amid life’s calamities. The fact that it does so is no argument against its validity. The truth is that if Judeo-Christianity did nothing to address those very common human experiences, it would argue strongly against its validity. Simply because religion effectively addresses deep-seated human fears and insecurities, does not mean that this is its sole function. Nor does it mean that religion is somehow false because fearful people find refuge it its assurances.

Response 5: It is also true that religion performs the function of binding people together in community. Communities teach social values, enforce a minimum standard of adherence to those values and demand respect for approved leadership. The result is a fairly stable social structure. In doing all of these things, religion plays a crucial role in society. Perhaps in non-Western cultures religion plays such a dominating role in people’s lives that its value as a social glue is outweighed by its oppressive effects. For the most part, Western societies are in no imminent danger of that scenario. Given the fragmentation of Western culture, religion’s stabilizing effects may prove of even greater value in the future (provided we don’t fall into religious conflict). Once again, the fact that religion plays such a role, is no argument against its validity.

Conclusion: While making major inroads into the influence of religion in society, Modernity has failed to convince a significant portion of Westerners to abandon religious belief and practice and its arguments have fallen short of proving religion to be either false or unnecessary. To the contrary, Judeo-Christianity has benefited from the modernist critique in that it has been forced to re-evaluate its premises and function, resulting in a renewed confidence and in a needed overhaul of its approach to society.

Michael Bogart

Core Teachings of Historic Christianity

May 21, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith, Ministry Helps

cross-of-nails2There are many differences between the three main branches of Christianity (Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and the various types of Protestants). However, as streams within the overall Christian tradition, they are akin in certain basic beliefs. These primary tenets of faith include:

The Bible is inspired and authoritative.

God exists as the eternal Trinity.

Creation: The Cosmos was created in a state of completion, but is now fallen into a state of futility due to sin.

Human Nature: People are specially made in God’s image, but are fallen through sin into separation from God and the degeneration caused by sin.

Jesus Christ is the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. He is the Second Person of the eternal Trinity. Jesus is both fully God and fully man.

The Atonement: Jesus’ death paid the penalty for human sin and opened the way to restore people to God. His resurrection validates the Father’s acceptance of his atonement.

Human Response: Faith toward God (specifically in Jesus) is what God requires for people to receive forgiveness and new life. Faith is a deep level of trusting, which results in actions which show its reality.

The Church: All who have faith in Christ are part of the Body of Christ, which is manifested in local bodies of believers, known as churches.

Holy Living: Faith shows itself in new desires which, honor God accompanied by a new power for living. The old sinful desires and tendencies can still operate, but no longer have complete control.

Death and Eternity: Death is the natural result of being separated from the Living God. Eternity follows physical death and seals a person in a state of faith or unbelief. Eternal life or eternal condemnation await everyone.

The Future: The present age will end with a catastrophic clash between the Kingdom of God and the world-system. Jesus will return to rule. The Cosmos will be remade to exclude evil.

Michael Bogart

Why Questioning the Bible Is Fashionable

May 15, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

old-bibleBackground of and Reaction to Higher Criticism.

The philosophical movements of the Enlightenment (roughly the 1700s) focused on a fundamental questioning of the certainties of the Middle Ages and a reaction to the clashes over truth during the Protestant Reformation. Traditional views of religion and culture came under severe inquiry and even open attack.

For example, Rene Descartes began his philosophic inquiry by questioning everything, except his own existence. He then built the philosophy of Rationalism from one presupposition. “Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am).

Enlightenment thinkers reasoned that unless something made rational sense (Rationalism) or could be tested and proved to the senses (Empiricism), it should not be accepted. The Cosmos was seen as merely “the product of cause and effect in a closed system.” Enlightenment thinking obviously had a dramatic impact on religion, excluding the supernatural as a factor in real human experience. Religious dogma and doctrine were questioned and discarded, not only by those of marginal religious commitment, but by some within Judeo-Christianity.

In the early 1800s the philosophy of George Hegel took the next logical step. Hegel began by asking certain basic questions: If the supernatural is not a factor in the routine workings of the Cosmos, how did things arrive at their present state? Are things moving in the direction of progress? If so, what mechanism causes things to progress?

Hegel’s answer was his Dialectic Process, which stated that the Cosmos is a closed system of cause and effect, driven by the conflict of the principles of thesis with its opposite, antithesis.  In other words, the Universe is propelled in the direction of progress by a clash of opposing forces or ideas. The interaction of these opposite forces produces a blending of the two, which Hegel called synthesis. Hegel saw this process as a manifestation of Absolute Mind, which was the term he used for the source of reality (similar to the concept of Brahman in Hinduism).

This dialectical philosophy quickly became the dominant theory in Western intellectual and academic circles. Variations of the Hegelian dialectic were quickly adapted to other disciplines by those eager for an explanation of reality which did not need a Creator. For example:

Biological diversity and environmental suitability were explained by Charles Darwin as the survival of the fittest. The clash of species and the resulting adaptations and genetic mutations used Hegel’s dialectic in the Theory of Evolution (Origin of Species, 1858).

Politics was seen by Karl Marx as a violent conflict between social classes, ultimately resulting in a redistribution of wealth and a communist utopia (The Communist Manifesto, 1848).

Bible scholarship also took a page from Hegel in the Higher Critical Movement, which began in the late 1700s, and became academically dominant in the second half of the 1800s. The Bible was seen as merely a collection of folklore, religious codes of behavior, political propaganda and even downright forgery edited late in biblical history.

Higher Criticism. The Higher Critics were led by German scholars such as K.H. Graf and Julius Wellhausen, who studied the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) using a theory called the Documentary Hypothesis. The premise of the Documentary Hypothesis was that the Pentateuch couldn’t possibly have been written in the form in which we now know it. Therefore, the documents must have “evolved” over time through a process similar to Hegel’s dialectic, from primitive religious ideas and practices, ancient oral stories, legends and early written fragments of questionable historical value.

These sources were then woven together over time by various editors, who blended and changed them into distinct religious documentary traditions within Israelite tribal groups (Jahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist and Priestly). Finally, these four documents were further edited and combined into their current form in the Pentateuch. The Documentary Hypothesis opened the door to other critical approaches to studying and understanding the biblical documents of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.

The basic flaw of the Critical Approach is in making certain arbitrary assumptions:

1. History and religion should be understood as fundamentally naturalistic. True to its Enlightenment roots the Critical View explains reality in purely naturalistic terms, dismissing the possibility of the supernatural. Miraculous accounts in the Bible are seen as embellishments made to gain credibility by certain groups and individuals, or merely as legends perpetuated by simple tribal people.

2. Critical methodology is always assumed to be superior to other approaches. Wellhausen and other early critics took almost no notice of archeological discoveries in their day, which sometimes disproved their assertions. Since then, the basic gist of Higher Criticism has never been revised despite a wealth of new information and findings, many of which have tended to support the accuracy of the biblical accounts.

3. The ancient Israelite peoples were ignorant nomads. For instance, the early Critics asserted that writing was extremely rare in ancient times and unknown to ancient Israelites. Yet ancient writing and documents are routinely uncovered by archeologists. Egypt, Sumer, Indus Valley, Mesopotamia and Meso-America all had writing early in their histories. It was expedient for the Critics, however, to take the position that ancient Hebrews had little or no access to writing so that they could argue that, if figures like Moses and the other greats of the scriptures existed at all, they couldn’t possibly have written a document of the stature of the Pentateuch.

4. The Patriarchs are essentially legendary figures. Critics see Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the others as Paul Bunyan-like heroes developed by people who needed to see their founding fathers as larger-than-life. Critics believe that the biblical stories of the Patriarchs actually tell us nothing about the Patriarchs themselves. All that can be learned from the biblical accounts is what the times may have been like when the stories were first told, and what the composers of those stories thought life may have been like in earlier times.

Traditionalist Reactions to Higher Criticism. Traditionalists were initially caught unprepared by the critical onslaught of the late 1800s. At first, those loyal to the inspiration of scripture simply responded with vehement opposition to Higher Critical views and with indignant denouncements of these new theories. This initial emotional reaction was followed in the mid and late Twentieth Century by more thoughtful scholarship, factual defense of the Bible and interaction with the views of critically-oriented academia.

Jewish Reaction. The more conservative groups within Judaism either defended the divine origins of scripture or took the approach that the origins of Scripture were irrelevant because the traditions have become a time-tested glue holding Jews together. The more liberal elements of Judaism have been influenced to large degree by Critical thought. Hence, they are freer to redefine traditional observance of the Torah (Moses’ Law) and blend with the society around them.

Roman Catholic / Eastern Orthodox Reactions. The Vatican and the various Eastern Orthodox bodies have maintained their longstanding positions on the divine inspiration of scripture, though there is much internal debate on unofficial levels. The issue has not been quite as major among Roman Catholics or Orthodox as for Protestants, because both of these groups have other sources of divine authority besides the Bible. For example, both groups also accept the decisions of various ecumenical church councils on a par with the teachings of the Bible. Roman Catholics further accept the pronouncements of popes as binding.

Protestant Reactions. Protestant Christianity has been deeply divided on the issues raised by Higher Criticism and related movements of modernist theology. Fundamentalist groups have flatly denied the arguments of the Critics, refusing to become involved in academic debate and increasingly retreating into cultural isolation. Evangelicals have been more willing to dialog with the larger culture. They have attempted to defend scriptural inspiration and reliability based on the disciplines of textual criticism and manuscript study. Since the mid Twentieth Century, Evangelicals have entered the debate over the reliability of scripture with growing confidence. However, the ascendancy of Post-modern thought in the years just prior to the dawn of the Twenty-first Century has changed the focus of the debate away from the factually-based defense Evangelicals have labored so hard to assemble, toward a larger debate over the nature and meaning of reality itself.

Modernist Protestants have attempted to accommodate Christian faith and doctrine to the viewpoints of academia and of the larger society. In doing so, they have become culturally mainstream, but have arguably tended to lose much of their Christian distinctiveness. This trend is attested to by their dramatic losses in church membership, as people have either ceased to think of themselves are particularly Christian, or have migrated to churches which emphasize distinctive Christian teachings.

Michael Bogart

Classic Arguments for the Existence of God

May 15, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

the-thinkerOver time, certain tried and true arguments have been used to “prove” the existence of God. These can be seen primarily as arguments for monotheism, but they can be adapted somewhat to certain other theistic views as well.

The Ontological Argument. Credit: Anselm of Canterbury, circa 1033-1109 CE. “The fool hath said in his heart there is no God.” (Psalm 14:1). To even deny God’s existence, a person must grasp the concept of a supreme deity. A supreme deity is the greatest possible being; nothing greater can be conceived. Logical points:

Premise 1: God is the greatest possible being.

Premise 2: At the very least, God exists in the minds of people.

Premise 3: A being who exists only in the mind is not as great as one who exists both in the mind and in reality.

Premise 4: If God exists only in the mind, he is not the greatest possible being.

Initial Conclusion: Therefore, since he can be conceived in the mind, God must exist in both the mind and in reality.

Possible Refutation: To conceive of God only tells us what he would be like if he existed, not whether he exists.

Overall Conclusion: Though not a completely convincing proof, the Ontological Argument may show that belief in God is at least reasonable.

The Cosmological Argument infers the existence of God from the existence of the Cosmos (either as a whole or from specific objects). It has also been called the First Cause Argument. Credit: Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle; In the medieval era Thomas Aquinas 1225-74 CE used this argument in his Summa Theologica. In brief, the Cosmological Argument argues that the Cosmos appears to be contingent. That is, it exists, but could have just as easily not existed. Since it requires something outside itself to bring it into existence, it appears to have been caused by something that is self-existent.

Premise 1: Certain contingent beings and objects exist (the Cosmos).

Premise 2: If any contingent things exist, then a self-existent thing (First Cause) must exist.

Initial Conclusion: Therefore a self-existent thing (or Being) must exist. (If we call this thing “God”, then the argument is successful.)

Possible Refutation 1: Perhaps the Cosmos itself is eternal. Reply: If that is true, it is still contingent and would require a First Cause.

Possible Refutation 2: Perhaps the Cosmos is not contingent. The French existentialist author Albert Camus believed the Cosmos to be absurd. That is, it exists as a necessary cause but with no apparent explanation as to how or why. Reply: If this is true, then, by definition, the Cosmos is itself the First Cause, which does not appear to fit the discoveries of science.

Possible Refutation 3: Perhaps the Cosmos is infinitely contingent. Reply: An infinite series of contingent things is an incomplete series.

Overall Conclusion: This argument seems compelling to many. It does not necessarily require a Monotheistic God as First Cause, but could also allow for Deism and even Pantheism.

The Teleological Argument. This point of view is related to the Cosmological Argument, but focuses on the Cosmos as an orderly system. It is also called the Argument from Design. Credit: Various Greek philosophers; Aquinas.

Premise 1: The Cosmos contains many instances of design. For example, the order of heavenly bodies, chemistry, physics and the biological world.

Premise 2: Evidence of design implies a Designer.

Initial Conclusion: The Cosmos is the result of a Designer.

Possible Refutation: Order and progress may happen by pure chance. This is essentially the reasoning behind the theory of Materialistic Evolution (given the existence of raw matter, huge lengths of time and random chance, order and benefit can be produced). Reply: Even Evolution requires some sort of constructive force driving the process.

Overall Conclusion: The Teleological and Cosmological arguments are probably are complementary. Their defects are each cancelled out by the other. The Cosmological Argument argues for a First Cause, the Teleological for that cause being personal, intelligent and beneficial.

The Moral Argument has also been called the Argument from Conscience. Credit: Plato talked about “the form of the good”. Immanuel Kant said that the idea of moral order makes the postulation of God necessary. C.S. Lewis discusses the Moral Argument at length in his book, Mere Christianity. This argument is not popular among most contemporary philosophers, but is often used by average people.

Premise 1: Basic concepts such as love and justice are universally understood in world cultures.  In other words, the concept of a set of universally binding moral values seems to exist and be accepted in every culture.

Premise 2: Without a God, there cannot be absolute (universally binding) moral values. Teodor Dostoevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamozov, “..if there is no God, then everything is permitted..”

Premise 3: Since Absolute Values can only come from a source outside the human race, there mkust be a source for these things either hard-wired into the Cosmos or outside it altogether.

Initial Conclusion: Therefore, as the source of a universal morality, God exists.

Possible Refutation 1: Could not universal morality originate from some cause besides God? Perhaps moral obligations are grounded in self interest or natural instinct. Reply: People seem to conceive of moral absolutes even when they do not appear to involve self-interest or natural instinct. For instance, the case of a soldier falling on a hand grenade to save his comrades.

Possible Refutation 2: Right and wrong are not universally binding, but are products of human culture. Reply: The variance in human morality is exaggerated. There seems to be a basic trans-cultural understanding of morality with only the details and circumstances in question. Also, just because cultural variance in morality exists, it does not logically follow that no absolute morality exists. It is entirely possible that some cultures may be mistaken in their understanding of moral details. For example, Adolph Hitler’s extermination of the Jews was largely condemned by the world and the Nazis held responsible for atrocities regardless of their own logic supporting their actions.

Overall Conclusion: The existence of concept of universal moral obligations makes more sense in a Cosmos designed by a moral being than it does in a Cosmos where moral beings are a product of impersonal and amoral forces. Together with the Cosmological and Teleological Arguments, the Moral Argument adds the dimension of holiness to a personal Creator.

Summary: These arguments depend on the individual accepting or rejecting each of the premises as true. All of the premises seem to be true to some, but not absolutely proven to everyone. The best that can be said is that, taken together, these avenues of logic make a very plausible case for the existence of God to many rational people.  M. Bogart

Various Types of Theism

May 15, 2009 by admin  
Filed under Defending the Faith

Theism simply signifies a belief in a deity.  It is usually used in a very non-specific manner, for instance as opposed to atheism (God does not exist) or agnosticism (the truth about the existence of God cannot be known).  However, theism can be broken down into several distinct types as follows:

Deism believes there is one God or source of reality, but this deity is detached and only semi-personal.  He is not intimately involved in the affairs of his creation.

 Monotheism teaches that there is only one true God, who is personal and intimately involved in his creation.

Polytheism practices belief in and worship of a plurality of personal deities.  Many pagan and tribal religions (both ancient and modern) practice this type of theism.

Henotheism is also a belief in multiple deities, but practices supreme allegiance to only one. 

Pantheism is a belief in a non-personal source of reality, which is in some sense identified with the entire Cosmos. Therefore Nature is God.

Pan-entheism is similar to pantheism, except that God is in some sense bigger than just the Cosmos, while including it within himself.

Absolute Monism is similar to pantheism, except that the cosmos is illusory.  In this type of theirm, God is the Great Unity which manifests itself in the less-than-real world.       

Dualism teaches that there are two opposite and equal deities in perpetual conflict.  The clash of good versus evil deities drives the Cosmos forward.

M. Bogart

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