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Questions Over Breakfast #4: Do You Ever Reach What You’re Aiming For?

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 08/04/2015 - 12:00

The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:

Michael: Do you remember last week—one of the final things you said to me was, “I hope that you’re able to take hold of the life that the Lord has planned for you”? I think I responded with an “I hope so, too.” I’ve been thinking about this all week and I have another question I want to talk about. This one’s really nagging me.

Jim: Shoot.

Michael: Don’t start that again!

Jim: OK.

Michael: Do we ever actually get what we’re seeking? We’re told many times in the Bible that we’re supposed to seek the Lord. Is the Christian life all seeking, or is there any finding involved? ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

What Is the Church's Priority?

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 12:00

One might think that church leaders would naturally agree on the priority of mission.  However, this is not the case.  Debate continues today between those who say the priority of mission is to do well in whatever form it takes, while others contend that our priority is to preach the gospel of salvation.  Building on the salvation motif found in the Gospel of Luke, this article suggests that the priority of the church is to preach the gospel of salvation.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Professing Themselves to Be Wise: The Foolishness of Baphomet and the Satanic Temple

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 08/03/2015 - 10:53

The Satanic Temple of Detroit made the news recently with their unveiling of a Baphomet statue, a goat-headed idol the Knights of the Templar were accused of worshiping. Though they refer to themselves as a Satanic Temple, the members of the temple do not believe in an actual, supernatural Satan. Rather, as their website states, they believe “Satan is symbolic of the Eternal Rebel in opposition to arbitrary authority, forever defending personal sovereignty even in the face of insurmountable odds.”

Their promotional materials advertised the unveiling as “a night of chaos, noise, and debauchery…, a hedonistic celebration introducing the controversial Baphomet monument accompanied by provocative performances and installations.” The unveiling is part of a larger effort to have the statue displayed at the state capitol in either Arkansas or Oklahoma alongside a monument of the Ten Commandments.

Why do they want to display this statue? As they note, the statue is controversial, and that is the reason they want to unveil it. They know that it is offensive to traditional religious believers, especially Christians. Their desire is to offend Christians and encourage them to keep their religious beliefs out of the public square. If Christians refuse, then the Satanic Temple will work to get their own offensive material on the same level as Christian beliefs, as evidenced by their distribution of Satanic children’s coloring books in the public schools in Florida last year.

So what is it that the Satanic Temple wants to promote? They want to “participate in public affairs where the issues might benefit from rational, Satanic insights…and encourage critical thinking.” In other words, unlike those dumb people in traditional (i.e., supernatural) religions, the members of the Satanic Temple are intelligent, critical, and rational. As I’ve noted before, atheists like those in the Satanic Temple love to trumpet their supposedly superior intellects. Yet with their incredible critical thinking skills they fail to see the irony of their actions.

They want to display the statue in order to promote chaos—which is the opposite of promoting rational thinking. They also want to display the statue in order to offend other people. It’s the equivalent of a ten year old boy repeatedly poking his sister for the sole purpose of annoying her and getting a rise out of her. And we all know that ten year old boys who poke their sisters are renowned for their “rational…insights” and “critical thinking.”

In reality, the Satanic Temple provides the perfect picture of those who deny God: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (Rom 1:22-23). These supposedly enlightened individuals believe it is better to celebrate a grotesque figure and work to anger other people than it is to serve a loving, benevolent, all-wise Creator and lay down their lives for the good of others. Why? Not because it matches with rational thinking but because it matches with their sinful desires. They do do not want to recognize the true Sovereign because the are defending “personal sovereignty.” Serving the true God would require repentance. It would mean no longer living for themselves but living for God and others. And they would rather act like fools than release their claim to be their own gods. Repentance is their real issue with Christianity—not reason.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Lessons from Time and Creation

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 07/31/2015 - 12:00

Dear Dr. Craig

I am Samuel, I am 20 years old, and I am currently studying for a science degree in Biology and Chemistry at the university of Malta.

An argument which was brought up by my Atheist friend, which is currently studying physics and Chemistry, regarding the origins of the universe. My friend argued that because there was no time prior to the big bang, therefore there was no causal relation involved, because causes require time in order to occur. My response was that this thus implies a cause which transcends time, and I brought up an analogy to help explain it. I said that when a writer writes a story, the cause of the story goes beyond the reality of story timeline. But that does not mean that the story timeline lacks a cause because the cause didn't happen within the parameters of the story's reality. Anyway, my friend was not convinced, so I wanted to see how you would respond to such an argument.

Does the universe have a cause, even when time didn't even exist prior the big bang? ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Questions Over Breakfast #3: Let Go and Let God? Or Trust God and Try Hard?

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 07/30/2015 - 12:00

The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:

Jim: Haven’t you noticed that some preachers concentrate on themes of forsaking all to follow Christ, personal discipline, faithfulness in prayer, radical discipleship, the lordship of Christ, and the like, while others exhort us to let go of our self-reliance and learn about the inner joys of the life that God offers?

Michael: I’ve never really though of it that way, but you’re right.

Jim: Which should they be preaching?

Michael: I’m not sure.

Jim: I’ve got a theory ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The dangerous calling of Christian missions

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 22:13

America’s evangelical Christians are facing a critical time of testing in the 21st century. Among the most important of the tests we now face is the future of missions and our faithfulness to the Great Commission. At a time of unprecedented opportunity, will our zeal for world missions slacken?

Just as doors of opportunity are opening around the world, the church seems to be losing its voice. A virtual re-paganization of Western culture is occurring around us at a velocity unprecedented in human history. At the same time, we are also witnessing the rise of militant Islam. One need only consider the rise of extremist groups such as ISIS to see just how dangerous the missionary enterprise has become.

Christians therefore live in the midst of two competing worldviews, both of which are hostile to the claims of Christ. Yet, we also offer the only meaningful alternative to rampant secularism on the one hand and militant Islam on the other. In other words, America’s secular elites do not have a compelling response to the theological claims of Islam. This fact highlights that one of the fundamental problems among Western elites is that they cannot understand a theological worldview — particularly the theological worldview of Islam. Being basically rational and secular in their own worldview, Western elites find it almost impossible to understand the radical actions of Islamic terrorists.

For example, Islamic teaching distinguishes the house of Islam (Dar al-Islam) — that part of the world which is under submission to the Quran and Shariah law — from the house of war (Dar al-Harb) — that portion of the world that is not yet brought under Shariah rule. That logic is simply something that the modern secular mind really cannot understand and the American government seems almost resolutely determined to ignore or even to deny.

Even a cursory glance at the headlines shows the danger Christians now face with the threat of ISIS and other militant groups within Islam. These organizations have undertaken several major attempts to exterminate Christians in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Furthermore, the Pew Research Center recently reported that the majority of Christians will soon be living in the so-called “Global South” including sub-Saharan Africa. This means that the church of the future is a church more likely to find itself in places of persecution and hostility.

With the moral revolution advancing at breakneck speed and the rise of militant Islam, we are living in a world growing more dangerous by the day. That world — the real world — is one of clashing ideologies and conflicting worldviews. The real world is also a world in which theology always matters, and a world in which an empty secular worldview is no match for an Islamic theology set on conquest and driven by revenge.

In the wake of these potential threats to Christianity, we must remember what Jesus told his own disciples in John 15:18-21: 

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

So while international organizations and governments try to determine the root cause of terrorism against Christians, we must remember that Jesus offers us a distinctly theological answer, “But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me” (John 15:21).

Jesus’ reasoning is clear: those who hate Christ extend their hostility to his followers. Seen in that light, the persecution of Christians around the world — the persecution experienced by Christians throughout the history of the Christian church — is something that has deeper theological significance than even the secular world can understand. The secular world sees oppression, martyrdom, and terrorism. Christians, looking through the lens of Scripture, see a theological issue that cries out for a theological response. We come to understand that the reason why this kind of opposition to the church takes place cannot be adequately explained by politics, economics, or sociology. Jesus told his 12 disciples these things even as he himself was headed for the cross.

One of the most lamentable symptoms of today’s emotionalist Christianity is its tendency to inaction and aversion to risk. We can trace this symptom to any number of causes, and most of them are theological. Many Christians suffer from warped understandings of the will of God, the nature of true discipleship, and the character of the Christian life.

Being a Christian, however, has always been a dangerous enterprise. In fact, Christian discipleship is inherently dangerous. Jesus himself told his disciples that he sends them as sheep in the midst of wolves (Matt 10:16). These dangers are not only physical but spiritual as well. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).

The call to suffering is inherent in Jesus’ command, “Follow me.” Indeed, if we are listening, we recognize these truths even in the songs we sing in Sunday morning worship. In “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” Luther wrote, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, his kingdom is forever.” Even in John Newton’s classic “Amazing Grace,” we sing about the “many dangers, toils, and snares” that accompany our life in Christ.

Further, the Apostle Paul, so often a model for Christian faithfulness in the pages of the New Testament, serves as an example for us here as well. Consider these words from 2 Corinthians 11:23-28: 

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one — I am talking like a madman — with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

In the life of Paul, we find that following Christ means being exposed to dangers. Also like Paul, we must not shirk or avoid these dangers — we must embrace them. We embrace them because we know that gaining the world but losing our soul is a futile transaction. We embrace them because we know whatever dangers and trials we may face, Christ is worth them all. We embrace them because we have a resurrection hope which places our hopes for comfort, security, and peace not in this life but in the life to come.

This world is indeed a dangerous place — Jesus told us that it would be so. With the rise of both militant Islam and the velocity of secularization in the West, Christians cannot afford to remain silent and cease proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. In times like this we must follow the example of men and women like William Carey, John Paton, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon, and Hudson Taylor. We must remember the words of Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

This is, as the late Carl F.H. Henry advised, a time for evangelical demonstration. Our words of support for the missionary cause are meaningless if we do not produce a new generation of bold, courageous, and committed Christian missionaries. Let us make our convictions clear and commitments firm, even in the face of hostility and danger. Evangelical Christians must take our stand for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has made atonement for our sins. In a day of hostility and danger, we must point to the only gospel that offers salvation. We must learn again to define the true gospel in terms of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the sum and substance of the genuine gospel — and the true gospel is always a missionary gospel — and a gospel that is active even in the world’s most dangerous contexts.

R. Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Arnold Lunn (1888-1974) – Skiing Expert, Agnostic, and Christian Apologist

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 07/29/2015 - 12:00

Arnold Lunn was born to a Methodist minister, but he was himself agnostic and a critic of Christianity—until he was 45 years old, when he converted to the faith. Lunn died on June 2, 1974.

Lunn was a professional skier and full-time enthusiast. He founded the Alpine Ski Club and the Kandahar Ski Club. He brought slalom skiing to the racing world, and he’s the namesake for a double black diamond ski trail at Taos Ski Valley.

Lunn credited his agnosticism to the wholly unconvincing cause of Anglicanism. He looked in vain for persuasive arguments for the existence of God and the truth of Christianity. Later he would say that “an odd hour or two at the end of a boy’s school life might not be unprofitably spend in armouring him against the half-baked dupes of ill informed secularists” (The Third Day, xvii). He wrote in criticism of the faith and debated Christianity’s prominent defenders ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

The funeral I most dreaded

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 14:23

This morning I will preach my father-in-law’s funeral.

For 32 years of our marriage, I dreaded this terrible task because he was not a believer. He wanted no part of Christ or his gospel. We prayed for him, witnessed to him, sent others to talk to him, and five years ago even took him to Manaus, Brazil to go fishing for tucunaré (peacock bass), but with the real intention of sharing Christ on the entire trip. We colluded, cooperated and conspired for his soul.

While in Manaus we attended the Nova Igreja Batista, where our close friends David and Pennie Hatcher serve and we stayed in their home. They and all the members of Nova became co-conspirators in our redemptive plot.

I will never forget sitting on the front row of their massive sanctuary surrounded by thousands of bouncing Brazilians worshiping and praising their Savior, smiles beaming from their brown faces. Gene could only recognize one word that they sang over and over–Jesus. He looked at Tanya and said, “These people really believe what they are singing.” She took the opportunity to drive home the point that He had changed their lives and that is why they sang so fervently.

When we got back to Kentucky, our niece met us at the airport and drove her grandfather home. She later told us that he did not stop talking—about the church and about David and Pennie. The three days of fishing the Rio Uatumã or seeing freshwater dolphins, caiman, howler monkeys or any of the things that he went to Brazil to see did not even merit a mention. Instead he was fixated on the obvious deep, meaningful belief in the gospel now so evident to him in so many people.

A few months later his body failed him. One night his legs refused to work for him anymore and he never walked again. Too big and with too many medical needs for any of us to care for at home, the man whose life was as big as the great outdoors suddenly found himself limited to the four walls of a single room and flat on his back in a nursing home.

For the first four or five days we had to go through red tape to get him a television and, coupled with his near deafness, he had nothing to watch or hear when we weren’t there. The strange providence of God had twisted and brought him into the last place on earth he wanted to be but precisely where he needed to be and there, in the silence of that room, God brought to his mind all the times someone had shared the gospel with him, the simple message that Jesus saves by grace through faith. The effect in the lives of his children and grandchildren and his deceased wife and so many others that he knew was undeniable.

The next day Tanya and I came to see him and were amazed by his attitude. Frankly, we had anticipated that he would hate the nursing home and might be terribly uncooperative. Instead he was positive, focused, and met this challenge with the same spirit that helped him survive World War II. We were, to be candid, stunned.

As we got up to leave, Gene put out his hand and said something strange to me. “Preach to me, Hershey.” He had never said that before. I thought he was confused or that asking me to pray for him was so unusual that he just didn’t know how to do it. In 32 years, until this episode, he had never asked me to pray for him or with him about anything. A few days earlier he had held out his hand and said, “Say some good words for me,” and I had taken that to mean pray for him and I had. Now I was trying to interpret, “Preach to me” and thought surely he meant for me to pray.

So Tanya took one hand and I the other, and I prayed. I asked God to strengthen and heal him according to His will, but then I prayed for God to save him. I begged God to help him see that Jesus was the only way. I told God that Gene had had his way for far too long, and I pleaded with him to overwhelm him with His love and to overrule his stubborn heart and grant him repentance and faith in Christ alone.

When I said, “Amen,” Gene patted my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “I’ve done that.” Tanya and I shot each other a skeptical and confused glance, both of us worried that he might say such a thing too lightly–though he certainly never had before. “What?” I asked. “I’ve done that!” “You’re telling me that you have repented of your sins and you are trusting in Christ alone for eternal life?” “Yes,” he answered. “I have.” “Now, Gene,” I pleaded, “I really need to be sure about this because more than anything I want to spend eternity with you.” “Well you will,” he said, “because I have done that.”

I wish I could tell you how sweet these last three years of his life have been, even in difficult circumstances none of us would ever choose. We saw God’s grace at work in his life even as it had a profound effect on us as well. So today, I am not preaching the funeral I dreaded. I am preaching the funeral that I could preach for a Rahab, or a Ruth, or the thief on the cross. It’s the story of redemption, of God’s love extended to one whom many thought beyond His reach. It’s the story of the five o’clock worker who gets the same reward as the one who’s labored since dawn. It’s the story of grace. It’s the story of Jesus.

Hershael W. York serves as Victor and Louise Lester Professor of Christian Preaching at Southern Seminary. He is also pastoring at Buckrun Baptist Church. This post originally appeared on July 28, 2015. 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Questions Over Breakfast #2: Is it Easy or Hard to be a Christian?

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 07/28/2015 - 12:00

The dialogue between Michael and Jim continues:

Michael: But isn’t there any way that I can have the joy and peace of the Christian life without the necessity of suffering, pain and personal discipline?

Jim: You want to have your cake and eat it too?

Michael: That’s not what I mean.

Jim: What do you mean?

Michael: What about all those people who talk about the peace and joy they experience as Christians? Their lives don’t seem to be all that difficult. Perhaps I should aim at that type of life ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

“Teaching Naked” in the Church, Idea #2

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 12:00

This is the third in a series of four blogs on José Bowen’s book, Teaching Naked: How Moving Technology Out of Your College Classroom Will Improve Student Learning (Jossey-Bass, 2012). I shared in my first blog that his main thrust was for teachers to use technology to deliver content outside of class sessions and shift the use of class time to processing that information, promoting critical thinking and the application of knowledge to real life situations. There are three ideas from Bowen’s work that I think have the potential of deepening the impact of our teaching in the church. In my second blog, I put the focus on his first idea, finding ways to use technology to provide content to group members, preparing them for active learning in your Bible study group. In this blog, I want to focus on how to use your class time to help students in processing and applying the content of the Scripture you are studying together.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Abortion: Is This Really a New Problem?

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 07/27/2015 - 08:20

Recently released videos by The Center for Medical Progress have brought to light some of the more egregious atrocities committed by Planned Parenthood in the name of women’s health and medical research. Anyone with a functioning conscience who has watched these videos has been sickened by the depth to which our culture has sunk in allowing this kind of activity to take place unchecked. Apparently there are more videos to come, but in time the news cycle will run its course and both journalists and politicians will move on to other issues. Hopefully, in response to public outcry Planned Parenthood will be called to account for its actions and meaningful steps will be taken to reduce the number of abortions performed in America, but at this point that remains to be seen. I’m not holding my breath.

Reading the news, one could get the impression that abortion is a fairly recent issue, perhaps something that has only been common since 1973 or so. But unfortunately, such is not the case. Abortion has been around for thousands of years.

One of the earliest references to abortion is found in an Egyptian papyrus that was written well over a thousand years before the time of Christ. Dated about 1550 b.c., the Ebers Papyrus is a medical document that describes ancient remedies for a wide variety of ailments. It contains advice on how to cure everything from asthma to tape worms. Among such remedies, the document includes several herbal recipes for causing the abortion of an unwanted child. Writing a bit closer to the time of Christ, both Plato and Aristotle recommended abortion under certain circumstances for the “good” of society (Republic 5 [460], Politics 7.16 [1335b]). And in the first century, Pliny the Elder (a.d. 23–79) listed various substances which were commonly used in his day as abortifacients (Natural History, passim).

So abortion is not a new issue. It wasn’t even particularly novel in the first century. Various methods of causing an abortion had been in use for a long time before Christ walked the earth. But what did the earliest Christians think of such practices? Were they ambivalent or did they express definite opinions about the morality of abortion?

A number of early Christian documents specifically mention the practice of abortion. Two of the earliest such documents are usually classed among the Apostolic Fathers. Dated fairly close to a.d. 100 and sometimes referred to as The Teaching of the Twelve, the Didache claims to preserve both oral and written teachings of the twelve apostles. The Didache begins with the following statement: “There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways” (1.1). The text then goes on to give instructions about how to live in the “way of life”. After exhorting readers with the dual command to love both God and neighbor, the document gives some specific instructions about the implications of loving one’s neighbor. Among these instructions, we find the following command:

“You shall not murder…you shall not abort a child or commit infanticide” (2.2).

In this context, the Didache places abortion alongside infanticide and seemingly views these actions as belonging to the same category. More importantly, it commands God’s people not to engage in such activities. Just a few paragraphs later, the text describes the way of death as being followed by those who are “murderers of children” (5.2). The Didache speaks rather clearly to the moral status of abortion.

The Epistle of Barnabas was almost certainly not written by Paul’s companion. Nevertheless, internal evidence suggests that it was produced around the beginning of the second century. Like the Didache, it provides another example of early Christian teaching about the Two Ways. In his description of the way of light, Barnabas speaks about the practice of abortion. He writes,

“You shall not abort a child nor, again, commit infanticide” (19.5).

Again, abortion is place alongside infanticide and is described as something that is wicked. In place of such behavior the author exhorts his readers to fulfill their responsibilities to care for their children and to bring them up in the way of the Lord (19.5; cf. Didache 4.9).

In addition to these statements from early Christians, numerous biblical passages give principles that lead modern-day Christians to view abortion as the sinful taking of an innocent human life (e.g., Job 31:15; Psalm 22:9–10; Psalm 139:13–16; Luke 1:15). As seen above, the Didache and the Epistle of Barnabas reveal a very early Christian conviction that abortion is morally wrong and is essentially equivalent to infanticide. Such documents demonstrate that Christians strongly opposed the practice of abortion many centuries before the development of modern political parties or the advent of YouTube videos.

Abortion is not a partisan football to be tossed around for the sake of political points. It is first and foremost a moral issue. But because abortion is an important moral issue about which God has spoken clearly, it should impact the way Christians exercise their civil responsibilities and their legal opportunities to speak up against evil. To see such wickedness and say nothing is itself evil.

Relevant Resources:
O. M. Bakke, When Children Became People: The Birth of Childhood in Early Christianity 
Michael Gorman, Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish, & Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World 
Michael Holmes, trans. and ed., The Apostolic Fathers in English 
John Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance 
John Riddle, Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West 

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why Christianity Is Necessary for Tolerance

Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 15:36

I’ve recently noted our society’s increasing loss of true tolerance, as well as the dangers of the current orthodoxy working to suppress other ideas. But what I have not yet considered is whether tolerance is even a good thing. To simplify things, let’s simply focus on tolerance of different religious beliefs.

Most people in the West simply assume that tolerance is good, but in many parts of the world and at many times in history religious tolerance was viewed negatively. So why should people be tolerant? In An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion by Michael Murray and Michael Rea (New York: Cambridge, 2008), the authors offer two common arguments for religious tolerance.

The first is a pragmatic argument: the state and religions have different interests, so it is best to allow them to pursue their different interests independently of each other (unless the state has a compelling interest). Further, if the state were to not allow religious tolerance, it would require some means of coercive force to either compel people to adopt a particular religion or keep them from adopting any religion (which would seem counter to the idea that religious beliefs should be genuine and from the heart).

The second kind of argument put forward is epistemological: we have greater certainty that it is good to allow religious tolerance than we do that a particular religion should be forced on people, and we can never have the level of certainty for any particular religion that would be necessary to override religious tolerance.

The above arguments may seem more or less compelling to you, but they are certainly not compelling to many in the world who do not already believe in religious tolerance. If you tried to use these arguments on the leaders of ISIS you would probably not get very far: they believe the interest of the state is dictated by their religion, which should be imposed on people. And they have the certainty of supposed commands from God and the example of their prophet. Thus, Murray and Rea conclude: “The available arguments for toleration all seem to rest on principles that defenders of intolerance are unlikely to accept.” (257)

So, why does the idea of tolerance (if not the actual practice) seem so obviously good to people in the West? As with many parts of western culture, our appreciation of tolerance flows from the Christian beliefs that helped shape our societies. We think tolerance is good because we agree with at least some Christian teaching. Our appreciation of tolerance is borrowed from Christianity. Christianity provides several truths that serve as the soil out of which tolerance grows.

Existence of Truth

For many in our day, tolerance is valued because they believe there is no truth. But if there is no truth, there is no reason for tolerance. The phrase “tolerance is good” would have the same value as “Mawiki is kiddle” or even “intolerance is good.” But the Bible is clear that truth exists and it can be known. That then allows us to even consider the value of tolerance.

Separation of Church and State

In this period of God’s dealings with man, there is a distinction between the church and the state. Christ made this truth clear in His statement: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Thus, some things belong to God directly—including our worship—while other things are given to the state (under God’s general rule)—like taxes. The church is not to exercise corporal punishment, while the state has that duty (Rom 13:1-7). However, it is wrong for the state to punish people for holding wrong beliefs. While the church does have a duty to oppose false religious belief, her options are limited to personal/corporate verbal confrontation and excommunication. The Christian teaching on the separation of church and state paved the way for religious liberty.

Discovering Truth by Means of Persuasion

Ultimately, the best means of discovering truth is through special revelation. But some things in the Bible are not as clear as others. Further, God has also revealed truth through general revelation. When dealing with truths that are not as clear in special revelation or truths from general revelation, the best way to move forward is humble, thoughtful consideration of various views. God has given minds to people and encouraged them to use them to arrive at truth (Is 1:18; Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4). The only way to be able to thoughtfully consider different viewpoints is to allow them to be presented. Thus, in order to best work toward truth at least some false ideas have to be tolerated.

Inherent Value of People Made in God’s Image

One of the main reasons to tolerate people is because it is wrong to oppress, harm, and murder people. Tolerance flows from a belief in human rights, and human rights are practically impossible to defend apart from a recognition that people are made in God’s image. If humans have no value, why not stamp out everyone who stands in the way of getting what you want? But if the person standing in front of you is made in God’s image, then it would be wrong to harm him for holding a view that you do not support.

Reality of Forgiveness

One reason people struggle to tolerate others is their own pride. They view themselves as better the person they do not want to tolerate—this person with such backward ideas and values. But Christianity emphasizes the universality of sin and the importance of forgiveness. When we recognize how sinful we are, and that we live only by God’s grace, we are much more willing to offer forgiveness to others. We allow love to cover a multitude of sins rather than keeping a record of wrongs (1 Pet 4:8; 1 Cor 13:5).

Reality of Judgment

At first the reality of judgment might seem to discourage tolerance. If Christianity teaches that God is going to punish all wrong, wouldn’t that make us more oppressive? Only if we fail to understand what the Bible actually teaches. One reason we can tolerate wrongs now is because we know that one day God will make them right. That’s why we can even return good for evil. (Rom 12:14-21). We don’t have to right all wrongs now, because we can trust that God will! We tolerate evil now, because we know that eventually God will tolerate no evil. Without that belief, calls for tolerance will not be able to be sustained.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Supreme Court’s Re-definition of Marriage

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 07/24/2015 - 12:00

Hello Dr. Craig,

With the recent Supreme court decision regarding same sex marriage I reread some of your Q/A response regarding homosexuality. In a question regarding the connection between interracial marriage and same sex marriage you said "Once we start down that route, anything goes: a man and two women, a man and a child, two men and a goat, etc. I see no reason at all to start down that road." with regards to same sex marriage. My question is does this statement constitute a slippery slope fallacy? My concern is that non believers would easily dismiss it ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Questions Over Breakfast #1: Is a Relationship with God really like my Relationship with You?

Talbot School of Theology - Thu, 07/23/2015 - 12:00

Two men in their in their late 20’s walk into a coffee shop around 7:00 a.m. In college they had been good friends, but over the past few years had gotten out of touch. Having lived in the same dormitory for three of their four years at City Christian College, they still had many fond—and a few not-so-fond memories—of their time together in college. Just by accident (or so Michael thought) they had run into each other in a hardware store about three weeks before, and had set up a time to talk over breakfast. Jim thought of their accidental meeting as a divine appointment. He considered any accidental meeting to be a divine appointment ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

W. H. Griffith Thomas (1861-1924) – How We Got Our Bible

Talbot School of Theology - Wed, 07/22/2015 - 12:00

Born in 1861, W. H. Griffith Thomas died on June 2, 1924. His greatest and most sophisticated work is his book The Principles of Theology, a commentary on the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church. But one short and reader-friendly book that should interest students of Christian apologetics is How We Got Our Bible ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Religious Liberty in Counseling

Southwestern Seminary - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 16:21

There is no doubt religious liberty is facing many strains in modern America. The religious convictions of Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, in Lakewood, CO, were questioned when he was directed to change his store policies and require his staff to attend sexual preference sensitivity training. Fox News contributor, Todd Starnes said we should, “Think of [the training] as reverse conversion therapy (or straight man’s rehab) so that the state can mandate diversity through conformity.” Due to the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, business owners, such as those who operate Hobby Lobby, are also confronted with yielding their Christian consciences regarding personhood. These issues are representative of a plethora of identifiable cases where freedom of religion has been challenged. While inconspicuous to many, the practice of counseling has remained veiled as a threat to religious freedom.

Recent legislation regarding the definition of marriage, with a clear affinity toward homosexual orientation, poses a threat to any who would counsel a contrary position. In 2012 and 2013, California and New Jersey, respectively, adopted a redefinition of marriage that included provisions for civil unions, but also prevented counselors from attempting any forms of sexual orientation change efforts in youth. President Barack Obama’s recent statements recommending a ban on conversion therapy combined with the Supreme Court’s decision regarding same sex marriage sets the stage for a rapid spread of regulations, in other states, similar to those in California and New Jersey. If states are able to limit counseling practices that attempt to address moral, religious, and spiritual issues such as sexual orientation, then government is demarcating boundaries of religious freedom.

In addition to the state’s clear jurisdictional breach of personal religious convictions, another problem arises in the fact that many Christians are voluntarily submitting themselves to the state’s counterfeit authority by seeking to obtain professional counseling licensure. While there is no question as to whether states have authority concerning civil governance, they exceed their God-ordained jurisdictional responsibility regarding the care of men’s souls. The state is most certainly encroaching upon the religious liberties of evangelicals in this country. The fidelity of believers, in the case of professional counseling licensure, is transferred to the state in order to accomplish a task that was originally given by God to His church. In brief the problem is two-fold: First, the state is meddling in matters not intended by God. Second, a Christian Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is submitting to an erroneous authority regarding matters of soul care.

The regulation placed upon LPC’s recently in California and New Jersey regarding conversion therapy demonstrated the fusion of responsibility and authority between church and state, rather than promoting proper distinction. In relation to sexual orientation, therapeutic measures derived from Christian convictions would be restricted for those who practice under such regulations. For instance, an LPC would be prohibited from attempting any form of sexual orientation change efforts for minors, even with parental consent. The same regulations, however, do not apply to non-licensed religious providers. The questions then arise, are the states at fault for their regulations, or are Christians at fault for submitting to an improper authority in the matter of soul care?

The government has not been granted the responsibility to care for the souls of men. Neither has the state been given the authority to correct those with soulish maladies. Through scientific fervor, the state has attempted to deluge dominion delegated to the church, and the church has obliged by relegating their duty. As the state protrudes into the jurisdiction of the church, it begins to operate in a pseudo-ecclesiastical role, dutifully branding problems of human nature and devising solutions accordingly. If the church yields to this type of activity by the state, then the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the church will tend toward compromise.

For those who believe a counselor may integrate psychological theory with theological doctrine should be cautioned at this point. For example, state licensed practitioners who hold conservative Christian convictions regarding homosexuality will be held to the state’s standard without consideration of a person’s religious persuasion. Christian mental health practitioners who hold a license are bound by the legislation of the state, rather than the convictions of the church; therefore, integration of psychological theory and theological doctrine would not be allowed.

The task of soul care is the responsibility of the church and not the state. The church has been granted authority from God to wield the Sword of the Spirit, His Word, to fight against the wiles of the souls of men; however, the God-ordained sword of the state will not suffice for this task. Any action sanctioned by the government may reform a man, but it cannot transform his soul. The precedent being set would inevitably lead to several potential problems. First, the government’s control in the arena of soul care will coax the church to compromise orthodox beliefs, which are founded in Scripture alone, in order to defer to the state’s mandate in such matters.  Second, the church will become subservient to society’s value system, rather than being able to rely upon Scripture alone as the standard of morality and spiritual wisdom. Third, the church will be challenged to compromise orthopraxy, since the parameters of practice in this case would be set by the values of government adopted from society, rather than on the conviction of Scripture. Pragmatism has already influenced the church to compromise its practices in favor of, “what works,” rather than aiming for God’s ends by God’s means.

As the culture shifts its center toward a modernistic quasi-religious individualism, the state is not conducive to the evangelical or broader religious mores of the past, especially regarding soul care. If the Christian counselor chooses to practice, as licensed by the state, he may be faced with the inevitable decision to compromise his belief system. In cases like this, should it be considered a matter of civil disobedience for the Christian, since they are consciously submitting to an improper authority for soul care? If evangelicals simply want the state to allow the freedom to counsel without regulation, then there is no necessity for state licensure in the first place, especially since the church is the sufficient authority in matters of soul care. Those who practice soul care outside of the church undoubtedly possess the necessary gifts, but they neglect the resources of the body of Christ. This will be a pattern that continues to diminish the vitality and ministry of the church in the days that follow.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Advances in the Study of Greek

Talbot School of Theology - Tue, 07/21/2015 - 12:00

This weekend I had the privilege of reading Constantine Campbell’s brand new book, Advances in the Study of Greek: New Insights for Reading the New Testament. I had fun reading this book. It’s possible that this says more about me than it does about the book(!), but I must honestly acknowledge that for me it was a truly enjoyable experience to read this new volume. Advances in the Study of Greek is a good way for people who already have some training in Greek to get up-to-speed on inside discussions happening between Greek Geeks…that is, umm, Greek linguists and grammarians. Here is a short run-down on its contents ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Taqiyya, Imam Madhi, and the Iran deal

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 12:54

Following news of the nuclear deal with the United States, Iranians celebrated in the streets over what they viewed as a national victory. The victory’s significance was especially heightened as it took place during the most holy Muslim month of Ramadan. The celebration was marked by the relief they felt from three decades of isolation due to U.S. sanctions which began in 1987, followed by those of the U.N. and European Union which started in 2006. This deal would strengthen Iran’s economy and surely support them as a Shiite power in their long-known combat with their surrounding Sunni counterparts.

Beyond Iran, the world is divided: some rejoice, some have concerns, and others are absolutely horrified. Saudi Arabia, the famous Sunni nation, welcomed the deal “cautiously,” which reflects the unease between the two Muslim major powers in the region. While the U.S. and its five allies approached the 18-day negotiation primarily with strategic political concerns, the Islamic Republic of Iran came not only with its political aims but also with goals embedded in its Shiite ideology. While American leaders are convinced that this deal is their country’s “best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon,” I as a Middle Eastern observer view this nuclear deal with Iran as a misstep, as it does not account for a very important dimension of the Iranian perspective. The deal naively ignores serious ideological Muslim Shiite beliefs. Here are only two such undercurrents which have likely played an important role in these talks.

First, in Shiite Islam, the official religion in Iran, there is an Islamic principle known as taqiyya. This term refers to the concealment of beliefs, or pretending what opposes the inner thoughts or convictions. Taqiyya is a form of religious and lawful tactical deception, or a form of a legitimate ideological lie. According to the Quran (16:106) and its various Shiite interpretations, taqiyya is an acceptable religious tenet that encourages hiding or suppressing the truth, or what one really believes, to escape dangerous situations and avoid consequences of severe risk or great pressure. Appealing to taqiyya, a Shiite Muslim man can even deny his faith or claim various blasphemies to escape religious or political persecution. This religious conviction emerged and was highly supported during the time when the Shiite Muslims lived under the hostile Sunni majority. Since the Iranian regime has intertwined its political and religious power, there is no legal or religious reason to believe that taqiyya could not be applied today. Taqiyya is a principle of survival among the Shiite — a man must keep his beliefs secret, and pretend to agree with his rivals and their views, to avoid undesired results.

For Iran, this deal is not about being a “good citizen of the world” or a desire to participate in international society — it is a matter of survival, power consolidation, and economic and militaristic strategic advancement of Allah’s people. To that end, what would prevent Iran from cheating? They can even apply a legitimate religious principle to justify it as they aim to avoid hardships and afflictions. In their own ideological perspective, they are not cheating — they are actually advancing the Islamic cause. Certainly, the majority would not expect any international deal to actually take into account or mention taqiyya; considering it, however, when you are dealing with a rival that uses and wholeheartedly believes in it would definitely change the terms of your deal.

President Barack Obama acknowledges that we cannot trust Iran and emphasizes the ability to “verify” their compliance, reassuring Sunni Muslims like Saudi Arabia that there are still “deep disagreements” with Iran. However, the deal leaves room for the kind of concealment from one’s rival permissible under the taqiyya Shiite principle. For instance, this deal obliges the international community to request Iran’s permission to inspect its nuclear activities. It requires stringent inspection permission to see a presumably “peaceful” program. Moreover, it allows Iran two complete weeks to grant or dismiss this permission. If it is not granted, the other party has 10 days to respond. This grants the Islamic nation more than three weeks to rearrange the house. While some experts affirm that even a month would not be enough for Iran to conceal the pieces of evidence of any illegal activity, this does not seem to be the rigorous “verification” one would like to see when dealing with another party who views concealment the truth and deceiving enemies as a sacred virtue.

Some Americans may view this deal as a step towards “preventing the most serious threat of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon.” But this step is seriously undermined if we consider the Iranian dream for power and its political interest in the region, in addition to the significant religious layer of taqiyya that could allow the largest Shiite nation to conceal truth to accomplish their, and in their perspective Allah’s, crucial interests.

Second, while Sunnis tend to look back to the golden days of Muhammad, his companions and the Rightly Guided Caliphs, Shiite Muslims look forward to the future, to the days when the hidden Imam Mahdi (the Shiite Messiah) will appear as the savior of Islam, and “will gain victory over the whole east and west of the world.” He will rule for a debated number of years, wage war against the infidels, and then the end will come. Most Shiites today believe that Imam Mahdi is already alive, as he was born in the middle of the third century of Islam in the city of Samarra, and has been alive since then but is currently hidden through the so-called “second heavenly concealment.” His reappearance is linked with strong resurgence of Shiite Islam and victorious Muslim community.

If taqiyya relates to present days, the advent of the Imam Mahdi is a religious conviction that is eschatological and apocalyptic. Taqiyya is a principle that comforts the lives of many “oppressed Shiites” as they await the victory that is sure to come with the advent of the new reign of Imam Mahdi. For him to appear, Iranians believe they must be prepared. A significant part of this preparation is building a strong country. His advent is not a simple naive myth among many Iranians; it is real and vivid. They are willing and ready to use every chance to end the persecuting sanctions that pulverized their country, and to be ready for the reappearance of the hidden Imam. They approach this nuclear deal, as a part of a broader scene, with a crucial ideological layer that equally drives their political terms. To that end, Iran can affirm whatever the U.S. and its five allies want to hear, supported by its ideological beliefs and eschatological expectations. When an opportunity arises to break the treaty to Iran’s advantage, deal or no deal, every option is still on the Iranian table.

Ayman Ibrahim is assistant professor of Islamic studies and senior fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Understanding of Islam at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A native of Cairo, Egypt, Ibrahim earned his Ph.D. with an emphasis in Islamic studies from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Learning from Jesus’ Example About Our Emotions and a Way to Resolve Conflict

Talbot School of Theology - Mon, 07/20/2015 - 12:00

One early evening at six, my wife Beth’s brief comment—"Remember, I'll be needing the car at seven tonight"—suddenly stirred up my inner parts and brought about an energized outburst. I yelled, "You didn't bring this up when we were coordinating our schedules last Saturday!" Where is all that unexpected display of energy and irritation coming from? Why would I react so strongly to that comment? Various factors contributed to this surprising flare-up. I would have to rearrange my schedule and thus not make progress on an important project I was working on. Coupled with a few other similar setbacks earlier in the week unrelated to Beth's involvement, this schedule change had finally set me off ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

Questions on Time and the Origin of the Universe

Talbot School of Theology - Fri, 07/17/2015 - 12:00

Dr. Craig,

My name is Tejas and I'm 13 years old. I admire you and have watched many of your debates. I sincerely request you to answer this question, and thank you for taking your time to read this.

My question regards the Kalam Cosmological Argument, that I have seen you present in some debates. The first part is, is the initial premise on causation refuted if the zero-energy universe hypothesis is true, and what would be the flaws if the universe were a vacuum fluctuation? And regarding the second premise, could you please tell me why you think the presentism ontology of time is true? ...

Categories: Seminary Blog

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