Book Reviews 2023

Book Reviews 2023

Reading Time: 11 minutes

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

I have read less than I would have liked this year due to the hours I have been putting in. Nevertheless, I wanted to review four of the titles I found time to read in 2023 that you might enjoy. 

Analog Christian – by Jay Kim (41 notes, 178 pages)

Atheism on Trial – by Mark Lanier (55 notes, 202 pages)

Confronting Christianity – by Rebecca Mclaughlin (76 notes, 226 pages) 

Irreversible Damage – by Abigail Shrier (60 notes, 231 pages)

Son of Hamas – by Mosab Hassan Yousef (Audible)

Devotion – by Adam Makos (Audible)

The reference to notes is my note-taking system when I read a book. The more notes I made, the more impactful, relevant, apologetic, or valuable I found the contents. Of course, the size of the book would also make a difference, so I have listed the number of pages. I enjoyed the two Audible books and would recommend them both. 

Analog Christian

This was published in 2022 by Jay Kim, a pastor in Silicon Valley. 

Kim wrestles with the dangers most Christians are unaware of concerning the technology we are surrounded by daily. Engineered to keep us swiping, social media is all-consuming. Inherent in the algorithms are pitfalls that often outweigh the benefits. 

Frances Haugen, a Facebook insider who became a whistleblower, wrote concerning the algorithm, its “engagement-based formula helps sensational content, such as posts that feature rage, hate or misinformation, travel far and wide.”((Kim, Jay. “Kindness and Goodness Instead of Hostility.” Analog Christian, IVP, 2022, pg. 85)) Kim explains comparison and contempt are tools used by the enemy and are inherent in social media.

Before my divorce, I would celebrate the joy and love I felt for my wife on social media. On more than one anniversary, I’ve posted pictures of my wife and how many years we have attained. Bragging rights. After the divorce, social media became a punch in the gut. Every anniversary others posted celebrating their 20th, 25th, 30th, etc., would pour salt in the wound. It never occurred to me my posts would/could have done the same to someone else. 

Of course, we should celebrate successful marriages, but the inherent poison of comparison on Social Media is destructive and can be malignant. Kim writes about a time when he and his wife struggled with infertility, “Every pregnancy announcement, be it from a friend or acquaintance, felt like a punch in the stomach. I was unable to genuinely celebrate anything with anyone. All I could do was compare their good fortune to our anguish.”1

Temperature of Hate

Psychologists talk about hot-hate and cool-hate. Hot hate is something we are all familiar with. We have all experienced moments where someone does something blatantly rude, and our tempers flair. Crimes of passion and road rage, not brought under control, are examples of hot-hate.

But another kind of hate, cool-hate, is common in social media and circles of gossip among friends. Based on contempt and disgust, Kim explains people use sarcasm, dismissal, and mockery. It can be, and often is, more damaging than hot-hate. Just ask the family whose child committed suicide because of bullying. 

Kim writes, “The apps we use are actually using us. We are not so much the customers as the products. Each search and click provides valuable dates to companies constantly searching for ways to effectively commodify our attention and, more slyly, our addiction. A never-ending loop of comparison, which eventually breeds contempt.”((Kim, Jay. “Kindness and Goodness Instead of Hostility.” Analog Christian, IVP, 2022, pg. 8)) Philippians 4:7

I highly recommend Analog Christian to any family concerned about social media, screen time, and how much time their still-at-home teens their phones.

Atheism On Trial

This was published in 2022 by Mark Lanier, a successful trial lawyer in Houston, Texas, and featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and American Lawyer. 

Lanier looks at the rationality of atheism and its coherence in the world as we understand it. He writes, “I am compelled to find answers to big questions that harmonize. I expect consistency. Consistency is the bedrock of logic, science, and sound thinking. I must have consistency.”2

A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a woman who did not believe in God. She reasoned the complexity and immensity of the universe was beyond what any ‘god’ could create, but manage in any sense of the word. 

Of course, she had put God in a box; her mind, and arguably this is true for all of us, cannot truly fathom who God is and what He is capable of. 

Richard Dawkins has the same line of thinking in his best-selling book, The God Delusion. Lanier writes, “With all due respect to Richard Dawkins’s brain power, that is not proof there is not God. If the average human brain is a full three pounds of grey matter, and I give Dawkins a brain and a half, still even four and a half pounds of neural and glial cells surely cannot be the standard for determining the makeup of the mind of God.”3

Can an insect, or even a dog or horse, conceive of man building the Golden Gate Bridge or flying from LA to New York? 1 Corinthians 2:9 Romans 11:34

Justice and Fairness

Steven Fry, a graduate of Cambridge and an outspoken atheist, was asked what he would say if he came face to face with God. Fry replied, “I’d say, ‘Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?’ That’s what I would say.”4

What Fry and others need to recognize or accept is the hardwired concept of fairness, justice, and morality. How did this idea come about from natural selection? It didn’t. Lanier asks the same thing, “So where do the concepts come from? If there is a Judeo-Christian God, the answer is easy. If there isn’t, one is hard-pressed to find a source beyond the fascinating electrical synapses of human sacks of chemicals.”5

Lanier points out that the notion of justice and fairness is essential to Fry, but “Consider how this came to be. Should one believe that people have developed a keen sense of justice and fairness through natural selection? That somehow individuals benefit from fair treatment, and that humanity found it comes only if we ensure fairness to society? Perhaps, but that’s a stretch of post hoc analysis.”4 

He explains humans don’t want fairness; people want what they want, not what is best for their neighbors. The world doesn’t have a society where the redistribution of wealth comes from the heart of the people, and it never will. Jeremiah 17:9

Confronting Christianity

This was published in 2019 and written by Rebecca Mclaughlin, who holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance literature from Cambridge and a theology degree from Oak Hill College. She is also a former vice president of content at the Veritas Forum. 

When it comes to apologetics I have read William Lane Craig, Nancy Pearcey, Doug Powell, Hugh Ross, Kenneth Samples, Frank Turek, John Lennox, R.C. Sproul, Johnathan Morrow, Abdu Murray, J.P. Moreland, Greg Koukl, Tim Keller, C.S. Lewis, Josh and Sean McDowell, Ravi Zacharias, Nabeel Qureshi, Paul Copan and a dozen others who would be considered the heavy hitters in Christian apologetics. All of their books, lectures, and debates have bolstered my faith, but none of their books would I describe as beautifully written. Rebecca Mclaughlin has done just that. Weaving personal experience and exposing vulnerable struggles within herself, she is empathetic to the battles many have. 

At the same time, she addresses many of the hard questions Christians may face when having discussions with unbelievers. She gracefully acknowledges the shortcomings of Christians in the past and the harm they have done in the name of Jesus. Mclaughlin then removes the layers of counterarguments without using hyperbole and other inflammatory language, and lays the facts on the table for all to see. 

Violent Buddhists?

Concerning religion and violence, she acknowledges the Crusades, as has William Lane Craig and other Christian apologists, though liberal historians have greatly exaggerated the numbers. And few have any doubt about the violence and blood on the hands of martyrs in the name of Islam. However, are there other examples? 

In 2018, the New York Times ran an op-ed titled, “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” Mclaughlin explains, “The article cites Sri Lanka’s civil war…fueled by ‘specifically Buddhist nationalism’; violence in modern Thailand; violence within the Dalai Lam’s own sect; and a growing body of scholarly literature on the martial complicity of Buddhist institutions in World War II era with Japanese nationalism.”((Mclaughlin, Rebecca. “Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?” Crossway, 2019, pg. 80)) Mclaughlin explains it is not that Buddhism is inherently violent, but as a religion, it is not free of blood-stained hands; no religion is. 

Some of you may have seen the 2016 Martin Scorsese film Silence. Tens of thousands of Christians in the 1700s were executed in horrific ways at the hands of the Shinto-Buddhist government. When we think of the Shinto Shrine, pictures of serene monks meditating, incense softly trailing in the air, and lush green foliage come to mind. 

Yet, Christianity and Islam seem to be the center of the target and the examples the media draws attention to. 

Rohingya Muslims in Buddhist majority Myanmar have experienced terrible violence at the hands of Buddhist soldiers. Nicholas Kristof writes, “‘Ethnic cleansing’ and even ‘genocide’ are antiseptic and abstract terms. What they mean in the flesh is a soldier grabbing a crying baby girl named Suhaifa by the leg and flinging her into a bonfire.”((Kristof, Nicholas. “Is This Genocide?” New York Times, 15 December 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/sunday/genocide-myanmar-rohingya-bangladesh.html 6 Dec. 2023))

Religion is a Tool

Mao Tse-tung said, “Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.” Religion has been and will continue to be used as a tool to further the agenda of politicians/dictators whose goal is control and power. 

Nazis changed scripture and published bibles to make Jesus a blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan. Hitler announced, “I can imagine Christ as nothing other than blond and blue eyes, the devil however only with a Jewish grimace.”((Mclaughlin, Rebecca. “Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?” Crossway, 2019, pg. 83)) 

Mclaughlin rightly points out human goodness is not innate, and the Bible makes that clear from Genesis to Revelation. “We are not naturally good people who behave badly only if we have been deprived of the proper upbringing, education, or circumstances. Rather, we are innately sinful, veering toward selfishness like a car with a misaligned steering wheel.”((Mclaughlin, Rebecca. “Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?” Crossway, 2019, pg. 92)) 

“Staked at the heart of Christianity is a symbol of extreme violence – the brutal, torturous, state-sponsored execution of an innocent man. Christians believe that this execution was orchestrated by God himself. Some argue from this that Christianity glorifies violence. But the meaning of the cross is precisely the opposite. Violence is the use of power by the strong to hurt the weak. At the cross, the most powerful man who ever lived submitted to the most brutal death ever died, to save the powerless. Christianity does not glorify violence. It humiliates it.”((Mclaughlin, Rebecca. “Doesn’t Religion Cause Violence?” Crossway, 2019, pg. 93)) 

Irreversible Damage

Abigail Shrier writes, “This is a story Americans need to hear. Whether or not you have an adolescent daughter, whether or not your child has fallen for this transgender craze, America has become fertile ground for this mass enthusiasm for reasons that have everything to do with our cultural frailty: parents are undermined; experts are over-relied upon; dissenters in science and medicine are intimidated; free speech truckles under renewed attack… and the desire to escape a dominant identity encourages individuals to take cover in victim groups.((Shrier, Abigail. “Introduction.” Irreversible Damage-The transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery, 2020, pg xxix))

Having raised three daughters and entering the phase of life where I am inclined to mention the joys of grandchildren to strangers, this book hits a home run for those who have serious concerns about the transgender storm and gender-affirming contagion that has overwhelmed our culture. 

Girls Becoming Boys

There is no doubt a generation of youth has drunk the Kool-aid and been taught and bullied into believing double mastectomies and puberty blockers are steps girls can take to become men. 

Parents and grandparents should be aware and informed about what is being taught at their child’s school. “The ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and GLSEN (formally the “Gay and Lesbian Independent School Teachers Network”) supply curriculum materials. Their members are routinely brought into schools to lecture students on sexual orientation and gender.”((Shrier, Abigail. “Introduction.” Irreversible Damage-The transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery, 2020, pg 64))

If you attend school in a progressive urban city, LA, San Francisco, or New York come to mind. All you need to view is the school district calendar. Pride month? No, it is now a pride year parade, and you better get in line, or you can expect to be ostracized by staff and peers. 

The LGBTQ Calendar

October begins with “Coming Out Day,” followed by “International Pronouns Day,” and “LGBTQ History Month”. In November, we find “Transgender Awareness Week” and “Transgender Day of Remembrance,” March is “Transgender Visibility Month,” and April adds “Day of Silence/Day of Action.” May is “Harvey Milk Day,” and June is “Pride Month.”((Shrier, Abigail. “Introduction.” Irreversible Damage-The transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery, 2020, pg 69))

Any educator worth their weight in salt should proactively address any form of bullying. This includes students who identify as LGBTQ or transgender, but the pendulum has swung far and wide of any sensibility or reasonableness. 

A better remedy would be to teach all classmates kindness, understanding, compassion, and decency, regardless of their skin color, sexual orientation, political beliefs, or religion. What is a shame is that many students lack those kinds of characteristics, something generally taught at home, but now educators have to spend time reinforcing those virtuous behaviors.

After 25 years of teaching and dealing with parents, the old saying “the apple does not fall far from the tree” holds true. Some never get it; tragically, their children seem to be one train wreck after another, yet it is the teacher’s fault. 

The States Solution

Parents are blind to the fact they have acquiesced the raising of their children to the current culture. What is streaming on the big screen? What do they follow on Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter/X? They have unhindered access to smartphones, which suck away their time and bleach their brains. 

And the state’s solution? Affirm everything the child feels. Can you imagine a school board mandating everyone wear a pagri (Hindu head wrap), or a panung sash across their torso? Then, they affirm their religion is true and accurate because some Hindu students were teased. 

Shrier points out that ‘bullying’ is used as an excuse to indoctrinate youth on gender ideology, and those who are questioning their gender or adopt one of the nearly one hundred labels on the new gender spectrum must be affirmed. The National Education Association (NEA) warns, “The consequences of not affirming a child’s gender identity can be severe, and it can interfere with their ability to develop and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.”((Shrier, Abigail. “Introduction.” Irreversible Damage-The transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery, 2020, pg 71))

Obviously, many parents disagree with this conclusion and are standing up and speaking out to teachers, principals, and school boards. Unfortunately, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) considers it a violation of students’ rights if parents interfere with a student’s gender choices. If a student changes their pronouns from his to hers, the parents have no say, nor are they informed. 

Shrier ends her book with some advice for parents. 

Don’t get your kid a smartphone.((Nearly every novel problem teenagers face traces itself back to 2007 and the introduction of Steve Jobs’s iPhone. In fact, the explosion in self-harm can be so precisely pinpointed to the introduction of this one device that researchers have little doubt that it is the cause. Shrier, Abigail. “Introduction.” Irreversible Damage-The transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, Regnery, 2020, pg 212))
Don’t relinquish your authority as the parent.
Don’t support gender ideology in your child’s education.
Reintroduce privacy into the home.
Consider big steps to separate your daughter from harm.
Stop pathologizing girlhood.
Don’t be afraid to admit: It’s wonderful to be a girl.

There are three types of books you can learn from: books that encourage you, books that inform you, and books that challenge you. If you don’t read books challenging your status quo, you are simply building a room without doors and windows. 

It is easier to perceive error than to find truth, for the former lies on the surface and is easily seen, while the latter lies in the depth, where few are willing to search for it. – Johann von Goethe

Book Reviews 2023 by James Glazier is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

  1. Kim, Jay. “Kindness and Goodness Instead of Hostility.” Analog Christian, IVP, 2022, pg. 33 []
  2. Lanier, Mark, W. “Opening Statment.” Atheism On Trial, IVP 2022, pg.12 []
  3. Lanier, Mark, W. “Opening Statment.” Atheism On Trial, IVP 2022, pg.29 []
  4. Lanier, Mark, W. “Opening Statment.” Atheism On Trial, IVP 2022, pg.85 [] []
  5. Lanier, Mark, W. “Opening Statment.” Atheism On Trial, IVP 2022, pg.87 []
Your Best Life Now – Part III

Your Best Life Now – Part III

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Part I   Part II

In his best-selling book, ‘Your Best Life Now,’ Joel Osteen addressed the necessity of faith to prosper. He shared that one fellow told him that God will bless who He wants to bless. Osteen wrote, “Unfortunately, that’s just the opposite of how God operates. God works by faith. You must believe first, then you’ll receive. Maybe you’ve been waiting on God to make a move, but God is waiting on you to stretch your faith. Make room in your own thinking, and then you’ll start to experience some of His supernatural increase.”((Osteen, Joel. “God Has More Instore” Your Best Life Now, Warner Faith, 2004, p33)) In the context of needing faith to prosper, I have some scripture to consider. Remember when Jesus told Peter to go fishing to get the temple tax? Did Peter need faith for that? Matthew 17:24-27 Or the man lowered through the roof by his friends. There was no mention of his faith healing him. Luke 5:17-26 One more example is the man healed by the pool of Bethesda, and he did not even know who Jesus was. John 5:1-15

The prosperity gospel is a theodicy. What is a theodicy? It is an explanation for the problem of evil. Why are a few wildly wealthy, and the rest are poor or drone through life in a middle-income bracket? Because the rest don’t give enough, trusting in God. Why are some stuck working at McDonald’s and not C.O.’s at large cooperations making a six-figure income? Because they lack obedience. Why do some have infants die in their cribs, and others seem to lead blessed lives without a loss, struggle, or illness in their family? They don’t express a Godly joy in all circumstances or have hidden sin that hinders healing in their family.

The prosperity gospel takes a snapshot of the world and draws lines to the hardships, illnesses, deaths, tragedies, and losses we experience. Connecting on the other end of those lines is lack of faith, greed, disobedience, and lack of joy. Those lacks are on our backs; they are our fault because an all-loving God would not want any to suffer. We don’t have because we don’t do; that’s what the prosperity gospel teaches. For example, verses like Mark 11:24 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (NIV) at face value seem to support prosperity teaching. But John makes it clear, 1John 5:14-15 if we ask according to His will, He will hear us. According to His will, not ours.

We don’t dictate to God how he is to manage His creation. In Prosperity Theology, the created become the creators. They create health, wealth, and prosperity according to their desires with no thought to God’s sovereign will. Paul recognized this, 2 Corinthians 12:7-9. Nevertheless, these preachers pluck scripture out of context and manipulate others to become rich or influential. 

Theologians and biblical scholars practice exegesis, which means drawing meaning from the text. Scholars look at the context, who it is written to, and the author’s intent. On the other hand, prosperity gospel preachers perform eisegesis; they don’t draw out meaning but draw in meaning using their own subjective sense completely unsupported by the text.

The Word of Faith, Health and Wealth, Name It and Claim It, Prosperity Gospel preachers all promise God’s generosity benevolence and here and now. They say God does not want us to be broke, ill, or experience suffering. John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” is another verse they will use to support their teachings. But if you read John 10 Jesus is talking about being a gate, a good shepherd, and laying down his life so his followers will have everlasting life. It is not about gaining wealth here on earth. One blogger wrote, “Jesus did say, ‘I came so that they may have life and have it in abundance’ John 10:10. In context, though, Jesus is contrasting himself with false teachers who are like a thief who ‘comes only to steal and to kill and destroy.’ If we take this literally, Jesus is saying that instead of taking from our homes and treasuries, he will fill them with abundance. However, should we read this verse literally? Is it possible Jesus is using figurative language to communicate spiritual truth?” It should be obvious Jesus is not talking about prosperity here and now.((Tamfu, Dieudonne. “The Gods of the Prosperity Gospel.” Desiring God, desiringgod.org, 4 Feb. 2020, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-gods-of-the-prosperity-gospel))

James 4:2 is a common verse used by the Name It and Claim It crowd. “You do not have because you do not ask God.” (NIV) Of course, they leave out the first half of the verse, “You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” What I have NEVER heard any word of faith believer is the next verse, James 4:3. The very next verse places a condition on what we ask for. “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Jeremiah 29:11 is probably the most misapplied verse I hear Christians toss out to those struggling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Well-meaning Christians use it to encourage, promise that good news is around the corner and that everything will work out. Just a little exegesis and you will see that this was a letter to the exiles in Babylon, and it would be another 70 years before they would return home to Israel.

Malachi 3:10 “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Whoot! What a promise! Again, read that in context. Who was the author, who was he writing or speaking to, and why? This historical situation had to do with the Israelites not giving enough to the national storehouses, which were used to feed the priests of Israel. Because the priests were lacking, they had to take up farming instead of performing their priestly duties. Nehemia 13:10-13 So God was encouraging the Israelites to test Him by giving.

In a TIME poll, nearly 20% of Christians consider themselves part of the prosperity gospel movement. Over 60% believe that God wants you to be wealthy. And sadly, almost 1/3 of Christians polled believe if you give your money to God, He will bless you with more money.((Van Biema, David. Chu, Jeff. “Does God Want You To Be Rich?” Time Magazine, content.time.com, Sept. 10, 2006, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1533448-2,00.html)) As John Piper put it, the prosperity gospel “elevates the gifts above the Giver.” He went on to say, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him, in the midst of loss, not prosperity.”((Piper, John. MatthiasLot, “John Piper and the Prosperity Gospel” Online video clip. Youtube, 5 Dec. 2007. Web. 16. Oct. 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTc_FoELt8s))

Did Paul ever name it and claim it? Show me one, just one verse that Paul tells us to use to become wealthy or change our circumstances. What Paul did was pray and ask for prayer. Paul asked every single church he planted for prayer. He suffered physically throughout his ministry and was imprisoned multiple times, 2 Corinthians 11:22-28, yet he recognized the value of what he was doing reached beyond any earthy material gain or wealth. Philippians 3:4-8 As my pastor Mike Torok said one Sunday morning, “God does not just open us up and pour in spiritual maturity. Rather He works it in, like molding clay.”

In fact, Paul did not want to be identified as someone who did not work for his own provision. He provided for his own needs and did not expect others to provide for them. 2 Thessalonians 3:8-9

The prosperity gospel is not something Christians can just disagree on; it would not fall into an ‘in-house debate.’ Instead, the prosperity gospel undermines and compromises the Gospel, which is the reason Jesus came, to let us know He has a rescue plan. He did not come to make us happy and healthy, to remove all the burdens and tragedies of the life we experience here on earth; he came to save us because we are incapable of saving ourselves.

I see the prosperity gospel as cancer or a virus, and the preachers who promote it are super spreaders. People want to believe it’s true because it is a convenient formula. Or they find themselves in desperate situations and give their money away to these impostors who pose as men of God who hear from God regularly in dreams, visions, or the Holy Spirit moves them to speak.

I think of the Hindu beliefs of reincarnation. Suppose you were born into a poor family with no hope to rise out of your desperate circumstances; Hindus believe it’s because you were a horrible person in your previous life. The prosperity gospel has a similar theme but removes the boundary of various lives in the Hindu religion. If you are poor or suffering, it is because, right now, you don’t have enough faith, obedience, trust, or joy. Your misery is on you because you are not doing what these pastors tell you to do.

In the final chapter of Hebrews, the author sums up his council, Hebrews 13:5-6 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'” (NIV) It is crystal clear wealth is not inherently evil unless you pursue it and make it a priority. In Matthew 6:24, He explains, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (NIV)

Finally, in Mark 10:17-25, Jesus speaks with a rich young ruler who desires eternal life. Jesus lists the commandments and the man proudly announces he has kept them all since he was young. Jesus recognized what was hindering this young ruler and called him out. “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'” The young man walked away disheartened because of his love of money. How many prosperity gospel teachers would walk away from Jesus as this young man did?

God will never owe us because we fill our heavenly bank accounts with faith. Unfortunately, the prosperity gospel leads many Christians to a spiritual entitlement mentality. Our gratitude, joy, and thankfulness should be grounded in the person of Christ and what He has done for us, not in a change of circumstances we dictate to God.

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Your Best Life Now – Part III by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

God’s Not Dead

God’s Not Dead

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Above image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Did you see the movie God’s Not Dead? I watched God’s Not Dead several years ago when it first came out. I returned a few days later to watch it a second time with my son and several of his friends. This time I took notes, as well as anyone can take notes in a dark theater.

If you have watched this movie or plan on watching it, then take a moment and read this. It will help explain some of the arguments used by both the atheist, Professor Radisson, and the Christian student, Josh Wheaton. This review (if you can call it that) is far from exhaustive in covering the logical fallacies and apologetic arguments, but it may be useful for the layman.

The Most Intelligent People are Atheists

The first argument Professor Radisson used when he walked into his philosophy class was to point to a list of famous, intelligent, if not brilliant, people who were all atheists. This is a logical fallacy called an appeal to authority. If you come up with a list of famous, educated, or influential people who support your cause, your cause must be essential and intellectually just.

Every year in politics, you see candidates endorsed by famous actors or actresses. They do this because the Hollywood spotlight holds a position of influence over us. If a famous actor or actress supports someone, more people will vote for that individual. Both the Republicans and the Democrats use a Hollywood face or well-known sports figure to promote their campaign. The fact that both sides take part in this should tell you something. It works.

Christians could also come up with a list of brilliant minds that believed in God or the Christian worldview. In popular culture, we have Tyler Perry, Ryan Gosling, Patricia Heaton, Chris Pratt, Denzel Washington, Mel Gibson, Martin Sheen, Angela Bassett, to name a few in the Hollywood circles. They all believe in God or profess to be Christians. We could also list those famous for their towering intellect. Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Newton, and Mendel, to name a few.

Appealing to authority can be persuasive, but it does not make something true. Even if everyone I listed above thought that the world was flat, it would not be true. And when Professor Radisson shows off a list of brilliant and famous people that were, or are, atheists, it does not make atheism true any more than the lists I offered make Christianity true.

The prompting is that only intelligent people are atheists, but you can see that is not the case. The suggestion is that science trumps faith, and that science and faith are at odds. Or more specifically, that knowledge and faith are on opposite ends of each other. Many atheists and even some Christians believe the less knowledge you have, the more faith you need. Please give it some thought. This is obviously not true; the opposite of faith is unbelief, not knowledge, and the opposite of knowledge is not faith, but ignorance. Throughout history and today, brilliant minds have excellent reasons and evidence for their faith.

Atheists do not have the market on knowledge, reason, and science. In my readings on apologetics, I have found tremendous support for my faith in Christ. As my knowledge has increased, so has my faith/confidence. As Josh researched the Christian worldview, no doubt his faith also increased.

I want to address two apologetic arguments Josh Wheaton used in the movie. This will help those watching the film for the first time understand the philosophy behind them. It is also important for every Christian to be familiar with them because they commonly come up when talking to skeptics or atheists.

The First Cause

The first argument Josh brought up was the Big Bang Theory.

In 1929, Edwin Hubble noticed what he called a ‘red shift’ in the color of very distant galaxies. This turned out to mean that the galaxies were moving away; in other words, the universe was expanding. Why is this significant? If we dial back time a thousand years, the universe would be smaller than it is today. If we were to go back a million years, it would be smaller still. So we could go back to the beginning and find the universe compressed into a single point that science calls a singularity. What caused this singularity? We call that God. As Greg Koukl puts it, to have a Big Bang, you must have a Big Banger.

Just a few years later, Albert Einstein came to peer through the telescope at the Wilson Observatory to confirm, at least in his own mind, the findings of Hubble. Since then, science has continued to confirm this, and the Big Bang Theory is widely accepted in the scientific community. 

I know many Christians that have been uncomfortable with this, but it plays into the hand of those who believe in God. Simply put, if the universe had a beginning, it must have been created. For centuries, scientists believed that the universe had always existed, but Genesis says, “In the beginning God created…”

One form of the cosmological argument is called the Kalam Cosmological Argument, and essentially it states the following premises and conclusion:

1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.

2. The universe began to exist.

3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Someone might ask, “Then who caused God?” but God is an uncaused, eternal being. He stands outside of his creation, much like the author of a book stands outside of his novel. Time is inexorably tied to our universe, and God stands outside it. He is not bound by his creation any more than Thomas Kinkade is bound to live in one of his idyllic country cottage paintings.

Professor Hugh Ross, who has written several books on cosmology and lectured at over 300 campuses, wrote, “Consider the way parents prepare their children to explore and relate to the world and the rest of humanity. Step-by-step, as the little one matures, father and mother allow the world of exploration and relationships to expand. Likewise, according to the Bible, God will allow his children to move beyond their smallish playground (planet earth) into the expansive realm (the new creation) he always intended for them to experience and enjoy.”((Ross, Hugh. “Why Such a Lonely Universe.” Why The Universe Is The Way It Is, Baker Books, 2008, p.78))

Problem of Evil

Another argument Josh addressed is the problem of evil. The argument goes something like this: how can an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing God allow evil? David Hume put it this way, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Let me ask you, what is your purpose in life? If you hold a Christian worldview, you must understand that your purpose in life is not your happiness but to commune with God. This life does not end with our last breath but spills over and opens up a door to an eternal ocean of God’s presence and love.

The old woman in the nursing home toward the end of God’s Not Dead spells it out nicely when she says to her son, “Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble, because he doesn’t want them turning to God.”1 Some of you may have the same experience I do when I say the times I have been the most active in prayer are when I have been going through difficulty. No doubt many of you have experienced the same thing. How many have cried out to God when encountering a sudden life-threatening experience? In times of difficulty, most everyone recognizes we turn toward God, but sometimes the answer is no, and we suffer great pain or loss. For many of us, this brings us closer to God, and a greater understanding of the purpose to our life.

Timothy Keller wrote, “For many years, after each of the morning and evening Sunday services, I remained in the auditorium for another hour to field questions. Hundreds of people stayed for the give-and-take discussions. One of the most frequent statements I heard was, ‘Every person has the right to define right and wrong for himself or herself.’ I always responded to the speakers by asking, ‘Is there anyone in the world right now doing things you believe they should stop doing no matter what they personally believe about the correctness of their behavior?’ They would invariably say, ‘Yes, of course.'”2

We are all free to do good, and we are all free to do evil. The same freedom allows us to do one or the other, but we could not measure evil without good. Without God, evil is just a behavior that some don’t enjoy, and it becomes a subjective feeling. 

Timothy Keller pointed out that without a grounding objective morality we get from God, then evil is just a point of view. If we each decide what is right and wrong, then evil is just a matter of opinion. 

Volumes have been written on the problem of evil, and it is one Christians should be familiar with because it can be one of the most challenging questions to answer when the suffering does not offer any rhyme or reason. 

See God’s Not Dead if you have not seen it. I would have enjoyed more classroom debate and apologetic arguments in greater detail, more character development. Still, it has raised awareness in Christians who might otherwise never have considered intellectual and philosophical arguments for their belief in Christ. 

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God’s Not Dead by James W Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. God’s Not Dead. Dir. Harold Cronk, Perf. Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper. Pure Flix Entertainment, 2014. Film []
  2. Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York: Penguin Group, 2008. Print. []

Why Do We Suffer?

Reading Time: 6 minutes


Another title for this piece could be ‘How not to respond to the problem of Evil’.

I recently heard someone briefly share the story of Joe Bayly who lost three of his children, (all young), and from this series of tragedies he wrote the book The View from a Hearse. Joe was in the hospital room with his young boy who was dying from leukemia. One friend came in and prayed with Joe, prayed for healing, for strength, understanding and then left. Joe felt nothing from those prayers, they seemed hollow and empty. Not faulting his friend or questioning his sincerity, it just was not comforting. But then another friend came in and just sat with Joe. Held Joe and wept with Joe. This friend left without a word, and it was this that moved Joe, that touched his spirit and brought comfort.

Having said that, let me say that our efforts in prayer do not require ‘feelings’. If feelings, (love, compassion, concern, kindness to name a few), are necessary for a successful prayer life then I would say that many of my prayers for my marriage, my children, my family and friends are unsuccessful. Thankfully, the Lord does not look for us to have feelings, but simply obedience toward His will. John 14:15, Luke 6:46 and Christ was our example for that. Philippians 2:8

Sometimes, when a friend or loved one is going through difficult times it is best not to attempt to answer the question about why the suffering is taking place, but to simply be with them and mourn with them, (assuming your presence is wanted). Dependent on circumstances, silence can be preferable to answers.

If the question about why suffering is raised, the following are three things you should not say.

1. God does not bring evil into peoples lives, but He may allow it.
2. We must have evil in order to have good.
3. Quote Romans 8:28

So let’s work backwards on this short list of three. Garrett DeWeese, a Christian philosopher and apologist, in a lecture at Biola University points out if we run to Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. The verse is true, but it does not say all things are good, but that all things work for the good of those that love Him. It is a subtle but significant difference that many well meaning Christians miss. 1

When discussing the misleading idea that we must have evil in order to be good, DeWeese points out that good is an absolute property. As Christians we must be committed to this idea. Before creation there was the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and in them no evil could be found. So good is the absence of evil. Evil is not required for there to be good. Just as light is an absolute property, so is good. Darkness is the absence of light; you do not have to have darkness for there to be absolute light. Evil is not an absolute property, it is a relational property. 2

My wife is reading a book titled, When Skeptics Ask, by Norman Geisler and Ronald Brooks. They define evil this way, “It is a lack in things. When good that should be there is missing from something, that is evil. After all, if I am missing a wart on my nose, that is not evil because the wart should not have been there in the first place. However, if a man lacks the ability to see, that is evil. Likewise, if a person lacks the kindness in his heart and respect for human life that should be there, then he may commit murder. Evil is, in reality, a parasite that cannot exist except as a hole in something that should be solid.”3

Does God allow evil in the lives of those He loves? Go to the book of Job. It is clear that God will allow evil to touch our lives. Satan was before God and God pointed out what a great servant Job was. Satan said it was because God blesses him. The bet was on. God allowed Satan to do as he pleased, but he could not take the life of Job.

Job lost everything and his friends told him to curse God and die. They tried to get Job to confess to some hidden sin, but there was none for Job to confess. His friends viewed God as a cosmic cop or judge. If you sin, you get punished. If you do good, you are blessed, but Job had done nothing. Then his friend Elihu said it was not because of sin in Job’s life, but that God was trying to teach Job something. Elihu was partly correct – it was not because of sin in Job’s life.4

Did you realize that Job never learned why he suffered so? Do you think the answer would have helped him? Sometimes if we know why, that information would not help, but only looking at who is what matters.

DeWeese pointed out in his lecture that the real question in the book of Job is not why, but who. Maybe this illustration will help. When my daughter Sarah was very young, she had to receive a shot. The doctor gave it to her and she wailed and reached out to me. What was important in that moment? Did she care about the why, (the reason for the shot), or was it the who, (her daddy), that was ultimately significant to her?

There is no doubt that God can teach us through pain, but if we hang on, and reach out, God will be there. Did my arms and comfort remove the pain of the shot for Sarah? No, but she understood who I was, and that was what she desired above all, to be in the arms of her father. When we suffer, understanding why is not always possible, but Job teaches us it is more important to understand Who than why.

In a series I watched recently by John Bevere, he addressed growth and tied it in to suffering. He looked at physical growth, intellectual growth, and finally spiritual growth.

Bevere pointed out that physical growth is a function of time. We all see that in children as they grow older, first learning to crawl, walk, and then run. This kind of growth needs time to take place. Granted, some may mature physically sooner than others, but everyone needs time for the visible changes to take place.

Is intellectual growth a function of time? No, intellectual growth is a function of learning. That is why we have some graduate from college at the age of 12 and others who at the age of 50 finally earn their high school diploma. Some learn faster then others, but it is the amount of learning that determines intellectual growth.

Finally, what is spiritual growth tied to? Is spiritual growth a function of time? No, that is why we have some Christians who have been believers for 20 years or more are still sucking their thumb and drinking mother’s milk. After 20 years, their spiritual immaturity is obvious to the mature believers surrounding them. 1 Corinthians 3:2  Is spiritual growth tied to learning? No, the Pharisees proved that; they memorized large portions of scripture and could quote it chapter and verse, but they could not recognize the Son of God standing before them. John 10:19 So what is spiritual growth tied to? John Bevere said it is tied to suffering. Hebrews 5:7-9 Anyone who has traveled along difficult roads comes away with a greater maturity and healthier perspective on what is important in life. Christians often focus on what matters, the eternal. 5

When we suffer, we are left with two choices, the trial will make us better or bitter. DeWeese leaves with a list of what the book of Job teaches.

1. Get an accurate vision of God.
2. Understand that God is talking you through deep waters.
3. Know that God is with you.
4. Understand that the God who is allowing your suffering also suffered.
5. Remember that He had a son who suffered and died.
6. The larger our understanding of God, the more resources we will have to get through the evil we face.
7. Philosophy can help answer the skeptic or atheist.
8. Theology helps answer our hearts and our friends.6

Sources:
1. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.
2. Ibid.
3. Geisler, Norman. Brooks, Ronald. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1990. Print.
4. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.
5. The Bait of Satan. Writ. John Bevere. Messenger International. 2014. DVD
6. DeWeese, Garrett. “Solving The Problem of Evil.” Certificate Program in Christian Apologetics. Biola University, La Mirada. N.D. Lecture.

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Why Do We Suffer? by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

He could clean things up

Reading Time: 5 minutesMatt Dominick and I were heading back to his house after we had driven up to Twain Harte to help my daughter get out of some snow where she was stuck. Actually, she was not stuck, but just in a place that was downhill, steep and icy. Could not blame her for not wanting to try it.

After getting her out, Matt and I headed back to his house. Near Twain Heart proper were two guys with several bags of groceries standing on the side of the road with their thumbs out. One of them, (the older of the two), was also waving a five dollar bill to entice the passing motorists. I was not surprised when Matt pulled over and told them to get in. Not because they were waving money in the air, but because Matt has a heart for helping those in need.

They piled in the back, along with their bags from the local food closet. First one in was young, late teens or early twenties. The other fellow was probably in his late forties or fifties; he did the talking. First thing out of his mouth was thanking us for the ride because he had to get to Sonora because his son was in jail. Matt pulled away and started driving. They told Matt where they wanted to go, which was only about 10 minutes away.

I asked their names and introduced myself and Matt. Turning toward the back seat, I began to ask questions about where they lived and how long. As I said before, the older fellow was doing most of the talking, sharing his opinions on a variety of topics. Most of it was on the various food closets he frequents. He held the one in Columbia in high regard, due in part to the hot showers they offer to the homeless. He was easy to talk to because he was more than happy to share his opinion.

The conversation changed to places they had lived before. The younger man shared he lived in Mexico for a couple years, and then a year in San Diego. The older fellow named several locations, but he was not happy about being back in Twain Harte. I asked if he returned to Twain Harte because of family. He said all of his family was dead, long gone. So I asked him where they went. He paused for a moment, looking at me and repeated they were all dead and had been for a long time. I asked him again, pointedly, where they went. He thought for a moment and said, “Heaven I guess.” I asked him why he thought that.

He really did not have an answer, but he was bold in sharing he did not believe in Jesus and God. He did believe in some kind of ‘force’ or mystical power that we would all end up going to, or being part of. It sounded very New Age or Hinduistic as he attempted to describe his belief. I had several openings to choose from and opted to share my thoughts on God.

I asked them if they had heard of the Big Bang. They had, and I explained that if we had a Big Bang, you need a Big Banger. I shared in greater detail that time must have had a beginning, because time can’t go back infinitely. I then shared a story I have used before in my blog that helps explain the concept of time going back forever, and why it is not possible.  

I described a scene where if we were walking along a parkway and as we approached a man sitting on a park bench, we heard him counting up from negative numbers, “…negative four, negative three, negative two, negative one, zero!” When the man reached zero, he leaped up from the bench and began jumping up and down yelling, “I did it! I did it!”

Of course we would ask, “Did what?”

The man grinning, triumphantly replied, “It took me a long time, but I finally counted up from negative infinity to zero!” 1

When I finished the example, I asked the two passengers, “What would you think?” The older fellow said nothing, but I was looking the younger man. He was engaged and listening to me. He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. I replied for him, “You would think he is crazy.” He immediately smiled and nodded in agreement. “So would I” I said. I explained you can’t count to infinity, and you can’t count up from infinity. Every time someone said they reached infinity, (where you would start), you could just add another zero.

The younger man was taking it in, I could tell the gears were turning and he was considering something he never heard before, or if he had, at least was giving it some thought for the first time.

I went on to explain that we also have scientific evidence that also suggests our universe, and time, had a beginning. I asked them if they heard of the 2nd law of thermodynamics? They nodded and I went on explaining that our universe is moving toward equilibrium. Heat, pressure, density are in the process of breaking down. For example, our sun is burning up hydrogen, but it has not been doing so forever. Same holds for other suns in other solar systems, and other suns in other galaxies. Someone lit the match, but the match can’t keep burning; it will use up its energy. All of it, including time, had a beginning.

When I was done, the younger fellow seemed reflective, but the older man was dismissive. He asked if there was a God, then who made God? I told him that was a good question, and explained we could ask who made the God that made God. I pointed out it was an infinite regression. Just like time can’t go backwards forever, we can’t keep asking who made God.

The older man changed his tact, giving up on proving there is no God. “Well, if there is a God” he said, “he did a poor job, and better clean up this f***ing mess!” He went on to give examples of the evil in the world and how screwed up everything is.

I agreed; there is a lot of evil in the world, and asked the older man, “Could He start with you?” He replied with more examples of evil in the world – he missed my point. I asked him again if God could start with him, cleaning up the evil in the world. He hesitated and answered my question by saying that Ozzy Osbourne should be put in charge, laughing he said, “He could clean things up!”

More to the point, he could clean things up to the satisfaction of the older man. He could continue to live life the way he wanted. No hindering rules, no responsibility, no accountability, no justice, or at least justice according to his play book.

The young man looked confused for a moment and asked, “Who is Ozzy Osbourne?” The old man replied, “It does not matter.” He was right about that. No one could clean things up to the satisfaction of the older man, unless it was someone who would see every sin, every shortcoming, every fault as he did. Of course we can’t find anyone who would agree with us on every matter within our own world view. Even Christians don’t agree on issues such as the death penalty, abortion, gun control, and same sex marriage.

We had arrived at their destination and they piled out with their groceries and thanked Matt for the ride. Possibly I gave them something to think about, maybe not. But it was a good example of what you can do with apologetics in a conversation, and point unbelievers, or skeptics, toward God.

 

Sources:
1. Keller, Timothy. The Reason for God. New York, Riverhead Books, 2008. Print.

 
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He could clean things up by James Glazier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.dev.christianapologetics.blog.

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