Foetus in the womb

The Ethics of Abortion: A Pro-life Perspective (Pt 1)

In 2015, 13,155 abortions were performed in New Zealand[i]. Those figures account for 18 percent of pregnancies during that year, and, depending on one’s stance on abortion, represent either women’s rights to reproductive choice or a tragic loss of valuable human life. As a Christian, I’ve always adhered to the pro-life position, but it wasn’t until I was recently challenged in a discussion that I began to look into the philosophical and scientific facts regarding abortion. I was somewhat surprised to discover that, contrary to the impression given by the media, the pro-life case is strong, appealing to the best knowledge we have regarding embryology, and undergirded by sound philosophical reasoning. As such, I’ve taken it upon myself to present what I believe to be a sound case against abortion by appealing to science and philosophy. Of course, one could offer a theological case, but since many people don’t believe in Scripture, it seems evident that the pro-life cause will be better served by appealing to facts that are held in common by both religious and non-religious persons. I’ll present the case over several posts, so be sure to check in regularly for more content.


Simplifying the Debate:

The first step towards productive discussions about abortion is to simplify the debate. Much public dispute stems from abortion’s apparent complexity. Often in conversations concerning abortion one or more parties will exclaim, “well, it’s a complicated issue”. On one hand, it’s easy to understand why this attitude prevails when one considers the plethora of issues that confront both pro-choice and pro-life advocates. For those unfamiliar with abortion terminology, “pro-choice” typically refers to those who are in favour of abortion, while “pro-life” refers to those who stand against it. A keyword search on stuff.co.nz reveals recent articles dealing with protests, demonstrations, parental consent, teen abortions, counselling and advice, secret abortion clinics and clandestine procedures, not to mention abortion laws and women’s rights. Taking all of this into account seems like an insurmountable task, and even if one could, making the opposing parties to see eye to eye seems equally if not more difficult. However, appearances can be deceiving. Although there are numerous issues surrounding abortion that warrant consideration, the moral issue rests predominantly on one question: what is the unborn?

Greg Koukl offers a helpful illustration to clarify this point[ii]. Imagine you are standing at your sink, scraping the remains of dinner from a stack of dirty plates and preparing to wash the dishes. Your 5-year old son enters the kitchen while your back is turned, and asks “Mum (or Dad), can I kill this?”. What’s the first thing you’ll say in response? “Sure, have at it”, or “No, leave it alone”? No—before you can answer the question directly, it’s necessary to determine what the thing in question is. If it’s a cockroach or spider, perhaps you’ll say yes. If it’s a cat or a dog, obviously not. If it’s a sibling or friend, definitely and unequivocally not.

Similarly, when we ask the question “can we abort the unborn?” we must first determine what the unborn is. If it is merely a clump of cells, then killing and removing said cells from the mother’s body is morally unproblematic. Just as one might remove a tumour or appendix without moral quandary, so one may expel the unborn. However, if the unborn is a human being who possesses a fundamental right to life, then abortion becomes, at face value, an egregious moral evil. As Christopher Kaczor writes, “If… [the unborn] is an innocent person, a being with a right to life, then having an abortion would seem to be wrong, for the right to life of one person entails the duty of others not to intentionally kill him or her”[iii]. To put it simply, if the unborn are human persons, abortion is most likely wrong. However, if they are not, abortion is morally unproblematic.


Begging the Question:

When approached from this angle, it becomes clear that some pro-choice arguments implicitly beg the question. In philosophy, to “beg the question” means to assume what one is meant to be proving. In this instance, the following arguments assume that the unborn are not human persons rather than proving it. I’ll deal with these in more detail in future posts, but consider the following examples:

  1. It’s okay to oppose abortion personally, but we shouldn’t force our views on others.
  2. If abortion is made illegal, women will be forced to get dangerous illegal abortions.

Regarding the first argument, no one would defend the view that although they’re personally against killing toddlers, they don’t want to force their views on others. If killing toddlers is truly wrong, then no one should be allowed to do so, even if they don’t think that it’s wrong. In the same way, if aborting unborn human persons is truly wrong, then no one should be allowed to do so (except perhaps in exceptional circumstances). So why is this argument sometimes offered in defence of killing the unborn? Because it is assumed that there is a fundamental difference between the unborn and the toddler, namely, that the unborn is not a human person. However, this is the very question that must be answered before drawing conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of abortion.

As for the second objection, it also assumes that the unborn are not human. Otherwise, as Scott Klusendorf aptly discerns, the advocate of abortion would be claiming that “because some people will die attempting to kill others, the state should make it safe and legal for them to do so”[iv]. Such moral reasoning is clearly absurd. If, however, we assume that the unborn are not human, then the objection merely claims that because some people will die attempting to rid themselves of a non-human entity known as a foetus, the state should make it safe and legal to do so. This makes far more sense, but is based on a very contentious assumption. These two examples of question-begging arguments underscore the importance of determining what the unborn is before deciding whether or not it can be killed.


Note that so far no case has been offered to show that the unborn actually are human beings with a right to life. In this post, my aim has been only to sharpen our focus and tease out the underlying question that should play a significant role in determining one’s stance on this issue; namely, what is the unborn? Perhaps the unborn are not, in fact, human beings, and can therefore be killed without wrongdoing. We’ll take up that question in future posts.

 


 

Citations:

[i] Abortion statistics: Year ended December 2015. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/health/abortion/AbortionStatistics_HOTPYeDec15.aspx

[ii] Koukl, G., Klusendorf, S. (2006). Making abortion unthinkable. [MP3]. California, CA: Stand to Reason.

[iii] Kaczor, C. (2015). The ethics of abortion: Women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

[iv] Klusendorf, S. (2009). The case for life: Equipping Christians to engage the culture, p. 23. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway.

Homosexuality and the Christian

Review: Homosexuality and the Christian

Homosexuality is undoubtedly one of the most controversial issues that the modern church faces, and contention exists on several planes for the twenty-first century Christian. Theologically, an increasing number of believers are questioning the stance that the church has historically taken, namely that homosexual behaviour is outside the bounds of what God intended for human sexuality. Socially, there is increasing pressure on believers to reject that stance, while practically, many Christians are uncertain how to respond to friends and family who reveal same-sex attractions. Mark Yarhouse’s Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends, sets out to address a number of questions regarding homosexuality, drawing upon the author’s experience as a psychologist, counsellor, and Christian to offer a wealth of wisdom.

The primary purposes of the book are, firstly, to honestly answer difficult questions regarding homosexuality, and, secondly, to stimulate conversation among Christians and suggest new ways of thinking, with the intent of better supporting same-sex attracted Christians. The book is predominantly targeted at Christians who either experience same-sex attraction, or are unsure of how to support others who do. However, a non-believer seeking to better understand the traditional Christian perspective on homosexuality would certainly benefit by reading and reflecting on the content.

It’s important to note that Yarhouse’s suggested changes in thinking don’t constitute an alternative morality that stands in opposition to biblical sexuality. Rather, what he suggests is a shift of emphasis from questions of causation and orientation-change to those of sexual and religious identity. Much of what Yarhouse suggests is based on his exposition of sexual identity, which I’ll unpack in the paragraphs below.

Homosexuality and the Christian is divided into three parts. Part One: The Big Picture, addresses questions such as “What does God think about homosexuality?”, “What causes homosexuality?” and “Is it possible to change sexual orientation?”. To answer such questions, Yarhouse draws from scripture, church tradition, and science and reason. Summarising and critiquing a number of major academic studies, he distils an immense quantity of information in such a way that it is easy to understand, even for those with no familiarity with the topic. He then brings together the threads of those studies to draw modest, reasonable conclusions.

In Part One Yarhouse also underlines the role and significance of sexual identity. Sexual identity, he writes, is how an individual labels themselves regarding their sexual preferences. A number of factors contribute to the shaping of a person’s sexual identity, including one’s sexual attractions and the beliefs and values that one holds regarding sexual attractions and behaviours. What he suggests is that, rather than focussing on the causes of sexuality and whether sexual orientation can change, Christians should consider the role that sexual identity plays in a person’s experience of same-sex attraction. Instead of crafting their identity around their sexual attractions, we should encourage believers to found their identity in Christ. This principle holds not just for Christians who experience same-sex attraction, but Christians in general.

Part Two: Honest Answers to Questions Facing Families, offers practical advice to families in which a member has revealed same-sex attraction. Yarhouse deals specifically with situations when a teen, adult child, and spouse announce same-sex attractions or orientations. His tone is gentle and compassionate throughout, and he emphasises the reality and significance of these situations by sharing stories of families and individuals he has counselled. Those stories underscore the fact that real people are dealing with these issues, and they should be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness, regardless of what conclusions they ultimately reach.

Part Three: Questions for the Church, challenges the church to adjust its thinking and to treat same-sex attracted individuals with respect and compassion. Yarhouse contends that this can be accomplished while also remaining faithful to the traditional view of sexuality. He also makes suggestions as to how the church can better respond to people who struggle with same-sex attraction over a long period of time. Part Three had the most impact on my own thinking; in particular, chapter eight, titled “Whose People Are We Talking About?”.

In chapter eight, Yarhouse speaks of how the Church, for the most part, does not treat believers who experience same-sex attraction as our people. He writes:

I don’t think Christians who are sexual minorities feel like they are part of “us”… [that is,] part of the Christian community. They often play the same tape over and over in their heads: they don’t belong; they aren’t good enough; people would reject them if they knew what was really going on… Few churches reach out to the Christian who is a sexual minority. (p. 158)

As a solution, he suggests that we emphasise that their first and primary obligation is to God, just like every other believer. This ties in with his emphasis on identity, and how we should form our identity around Christ:

What the Christian community can offer the Christian sexual minority is a vision for what it means to be Christlike. That vision places the Christian sexual minority squarely in the middle of the Christian community. They become us. We are all supposed to be working toward… Christlikeness. (p. 165)

When we think of Christian sexual minorities in this way, we include them in a process that all Christians, regardless of sexuality and attractions, are a part of. By making the focus Christ-likeness, rather than a change of orientation, abstinence, or whatever else it might be, we can recognise that all Christians are aiming for the same goal.

In conclusion, Homosexuality and the Christian is a book well worth reading, both for Christians and non-believers who wish to better understand homosexuality and the appropriate Christian response. If you recall, Yarhouse’s purpose in the book is twofold, firstly to answer difficult questions that many people have about homosexuality, and, secondly, to stimulate conversation among Christians and suggest new ways of thinking. The book fulfils both purposes, all while treating the topic with sensitivity and candour. Those who are searching for a theological tome that delves into exegesis and analysis of scripture will need to look elsewhere. But, for those who simply want candid answers, practical advice, and stimulus for thought with straightforward practical application, look no further than this book.

Old Antique Book

Foundations for interpretation

bible-08Some of mankind’s most enduring questions have been those surrounding the topic of epistemology, or the study of knowledge. What is true knowledge? Where does it come from and how do we obtain it? Are some forms of knowledge more authoritative than others? 

Throughout history, man has sought to understand reality (ontology) and how we can know this is so (epistemology). From the pre-Socratics to their namesake, from Plato to his infamous student, Aristotle, from Kant to Nietzsche – a major part of Western philosophy has been the question of, “How can we know what there is to know?” As we will see below, Christianity is no different.

A  primer in Christian epistemology

A distinctly Christian epistemology is grounded in revelation – God stopping down to our level to communicate truth to us. While modern philosophy believes that man possesses all that he needs (his autonomous reason) to scale the summit of reality, Christianity is a little more pessimistic about man’s ability to reason their way to Knowledge. Due to the noetic effects of sin, we are prone to bias and hubris in our philosophical pursuits. At risk of oversimplifying – we need a helping hand in our epistemology.

In Christian theology, there is a distinction between God’s two books –  general and special revelation. General revelation is the truth of God as revealed in creation and providence – his existence, wisdom, power, goodness, and righteousness perceived through the things around us (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p41). All man has access to this level of truth through a logical and scientific interpretation of the world. What we choose to do with these truths – suppress or embrace – is an entirely different matter.

Special revelation, or God’s second book, is his authoritative written Word as found in the Bible. This provides particular knowledge about God, salvation and the human condition that we attain through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, correcting our systematic distortion of general revelation at the same time (Horton, Pilgrim Theology, p40).

An important question then arises – how do we, as fallible human beings, faithfully interpret what God is communicating to us through his Word? If God’s general revelation can in some ways be interpreted through reason and the scientific method, how should Christians approach his covenantal Word? To our detriment, various philosophical trends have attempted to answer this question for us and we may not have even noticed.

Philosophy check

The development of postmodern thought in the 20th century has lead to a form of linguistic reductionism where words are removed from their context and given an entirely different meaning from that of the original author. Rather than the locus of meaning being found in the author’s intent, it is now found in the interpretation of the reader. “What does this text mean to you?” becomes an all-to-frequent question at Bible studies.

Christians are naturally affronted by this turn of events and seek to reclaim the meaning of the author for interpreting texts. The reaction to this postmodern hermeneutic is often not balanced – instead of reclaiming ground via a convincing interpretive framework, the reaction to this textual twisting is to force texts through a grid of literalism that the Bible does not require. Passages containing clear figurative language are interpreted literally and much confusion abounds.

Think about your own experience – we use turns of phrase and figures of speech constantly. Do we ever interpret these with the same degree of literalism that we enforce on Scripture?. A few examples will suffice:

  • “Are you getting cold feet?”
  • “I’ve been kept in the dark on that one”
  • “Speak of the devil”
  • “She has a bubbly personality”
  • “You got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning”
  • “He let the cat out of the bag”

Why would we demand a literal interpretation of all biblical texts, regardless of form, if we don’t do this in our everyday use of language?

A more holistic approach is required – one that takes into consideration the original languages, literary features, historical context, redemptive-historical context, and theological truths to name a few. The Bible is definitely more than a text to be critically interpreted, but it is no less than this and so we should seek to interpret faithfully and in a way that does honour to author and Author alike.

The Future of Western Values

The Foundation of Western Values with Dr Ravi Zacharias

You can view a recording of the event here:

The Foundation of Western Values

Examining Christian Values in the Public Square

with international speaker Dr Ravi Zacharias

A cultural revolution is underway across the western world – and our shared meanings and values are being shaken apart with titanic force. Yet God in His wisdom has set foundations on which our lives are to be built, shaping both our public and private values. In this presentation Ravi examines and responds to the challenges facing these foundations within modern culture.


Ravi ZachariasRavi Zacharias has spoken for 44 years in universities and in public forums all over the world – from the opening of the United Nations General Assembly to the White House, and has spoken to the seats of government in England, Canada and the U.S.  He has authored or edited over twenty books and his weekly radio program airs on 2337 outlets worldwide.

For a full bio – including a list of his books – visit RZIM here.


Mark Powell The evening will be introduced with a TED-style talk by Mark Powell, who will speak on The impact of Faith on Business and Leadership.  He will unpack how we all have a faith from which we get our values – and how such faith links to modern business and leadership in more ways than you might think.

A popular New Zealand business leader with more than 30 years executive experience, Mark is best known for his role as CEO of the Warehouse Group, an iconic New Zealand retailer.


John Peachy The evening will be MC’ed by popular Christian radio talk-back personality, motivational speaker and leadership coach John Peachy.

 

 

 

 

Ravi is a dynamic and fascinating speaker who Thinking Matters is hosting for this once-only Auckland event you won’t want to miss.  Please let others know!

WHEN: Friday 3rd March 2017
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:30pm
WHERE: Harbourside Church, 48 Esmonde Road, Takapuna
COST: $5 Individual – $10 Family (cash at door)
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: We have very limited seating for this event.  Please see details here.

SIDE NOTE: Ravi will also be conducting a series of events in Dunedin from Sunday 26th February until Thursday 2nd March. You can check out details of his Dunedin events here.

Translation – Part 1


Today’s guest post comes to us from Luke Williamson.

*****

Translation is Impossible!!!!! (Or is it?)

In a scene of Studio Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart, Shizuku laments her slide into cynicism. The difference in her monologue in the dub and in the subtitles is subtle, and both touch the same notes. However, the Shizuku of the subs closely pairs her cynicism with a self-condemnation, and she speaks less in terms of grades and vocation. She has a slightly heavier and more internal sense of guilt.

English-speaking anime viewers hotly debate dubs and subs. Clearly, most fans believe that at least some translations are good. Our experience of anime largely depends on translation.

Christianity, too, assumes that translation can work. Most of us do not know Hebrew or Greek. Nobody today is a native speaker of the ancient Hebrew or Koine Greek of the Bible. Why do we think translation can work? Should we?

Translation is like many tasks. Experience shows that it can be done, but if you list the difficulties, it seems impossible. In fact, not only translating the Bible from ancient Hebrew, but everyday translation in our world today would seem unworkable under a sceptical gaze. Let me explain, using examples from English and Chinese, my burgeoning second language.

To start with, a few vocabulary difficulties:

  • The English please is often translated qing (?).
  • Qing is often translated ask.
  • Ask is often translated wen (?).
  • Wen often forms half the word for essay.

So it is not a matter of substituting words; the vast vocabularies of each language are different systems. The translator cannot use the vocabulary system of the original sentence; he must fit the idea within his audience’s vocabulary system – they are the audience, after all! He must also change the grammar, for the same reason. And I have not even mentioned culture yet. Not only is the translator leaving behind the original systems of vocabulary, grammar, and culture, but the interactions between those systems. How can any message survive such radical linguistic surgery?! And all that is just a very simplified explanation of what translators must do!

Yet we see translation work all the time. Translating in your head is integral to learning a new language. Infants learning multiple languages translate in their heads without even realising they are achieving an intellectual feat. Adult language learners go through a more arduous and conscious process, but also manage to achieve it.

In New Zealand, many professionals learnt English as a second language. Their performance in an English-saturated society testifies to the human capacity to learn language – and, therefore, to translate. Sure, these professionals may make some mistakes, as everybody does, but all the time houses are sold, disputes settled, and medicines prescribed using English by people who would not know it unless they had been successful translators. They have performed translation exercises in language classrooms, they have paused and figured out how to ask for what they need in their multiple languages, they have made rapid half-conscious translations in their heads to keep up with the breakneck pace of native-speaker conversation. I do all these things in my continuing effort to learn Chinese, and I can tell when I converse in Chinese that it is working, slowly but surely. The social, as well as the professional sphere, shows translation in action.

Translation, then, works in spite of seemingly overwhelming difficulty. It is easy to to compose doomy rants about why It Can’t Be Done, yet is obviously being done all around us. This does not prove that any given translation is good. For example, it does not prove that the English Bible is translated well. However, it does give us a good reason to question those doomy rants in general.

In future posts, I will zero in on the translation of the Bible. As we will see, this task comes with special difficulties, but also with special advantages.

Cup of coffee and notepad

2016 – The Year in Review

Thinking Matters 2016 – The Year in Review

Hello everyone, the year just gone has been an amazing year for Thinking Matters up and down the country and God has blessed us abundantly. To remember all that has happened, here is a brief summary of 2016 for Thinking Matters.

February

  • Thinking Matters Team-talk – Auckland

We started the year with a Thinking Matters team building and strategy weekend where the team members from around the country each shared their perspective on the future of Thinking Matters in New Zealand. It was a real encouragement knowing that there are other people around the country all pulling in the same direction.

12633579_10207327129189324_2621039258756363361_o

  • University Challenge – Auckland

Zachary Ardern, a PHD student from the University of Auckland delivered a Seminar on the 21st on being a Christian at University hosted by Reasons For Faith at Windsor Park Baptist, an apologetics ministry partner. The event was well attended by many young adults.

 

 


March

  • Are We Alone in the Universe? God and Planet Earth – Auckland

    god-and-planet-earth

In March, Jeff Zweerink of Reasons To Believe delivered a talk on the subject of whether life only exists on planet earth. Jeff was stopping over in New Zealand on his way home after a series of conferences in Australia. He delivered two public talks, one at Windsor Park Baptist, and one at the University of Auckland, and also spoke on radio Rhema.

 

 


April

  • The Missional Church Conference – Auckland

We had a resource desk and briefly spoke at this conference organised by Multiple – a multi-denominational church planing network.

  • NZ Association for Christian Schools – Leadership Conference – Queenstown

Thinking Matters had a resource desk at this bi-annual gathering of principals and leaders from all the Christian schools in New Zealand.  Rodney Lake was one of the keynote speakers where he spoke on the importance of apologetics in Christian Education.


May

  • The Power of a Question – Alan Shlemon speaking tour

Alan Shlemon, a speaker with Stand To Reason (www.str.org), kicked off his two-week New Zealand tour by speaking at Hamilton South Baptist Church on the 28th of April on how to have conversations about God without losing friends. He also delivered this talk at both Confident Christianity Conferences and also at various churches around NZ.  During his 13 day whirl-wind tour of New Zealand, Alan spoke 42 times.

  • Confident Christianity Conference 2016 – Auckland and ChristchurchConfident Christianity Conference 2016

Building on a successful conference last year, the Confident Christianity Conference series 2016 was a resounding success with conferences in both Auckland from the 29th to the 30th and Christchurch from the 6th to the 7th of May. A free session on Friday was followed by an all-day series of sessions and workshops on Saturday with subjects as wide and varied as the History of Christianity in Victorian England to how to share the Gospel with Muslims. Alan Shlemon was the keynote speaker at these events.

  • Truth and Tolerance in a Whatever World workshop – By Alan Shlemon – Auckland, Tauranga, Christchurch

    Truth and Tolerance in a Whatever World DVD Set

Alan led a workshop for Parents, Pastors, and Christian educators on how to prepare Christian children for an increasingly hostile culture. He addressed the importance of Apologetics, how to have meaningful conversations, the importance of Truth, and thoughts on how to address the subject of Homosexuality. He trained over 550 Christian teachers at these events.

  • Apologetics Workshop University of Waikato – Hamilton

Thinking Matters University of Waikato organized an all-day apologetics workshop on the 22nd of April for the students covering how to talk to Atheists, how to have God conversations, and the necessity of God for the existence of an objective Moral standard.

debate-poster

  • Debate: Morality Does Not Need God – Hamilton

In partnership with StudentLife, TSCF, and the University of Waikato chaplaincy, Thinking Matters organized a debate between Drs Ron Smith and Matthew Flannagan about God and Morality on the May 11th, moderated by Professor Frank Scrimgeour. The event was well attended, with over 150 people present and had lively audience participation.

 

 

 


June

  • Mining For Truth – Hamilton

During the Month of June, Thinking Matters Hamilton launched a Monthly Apologetics group which hosted several guest speakers and also worked through some Towards Belief episodes each month until the end of the year.  They meet on the second Saturday of each month at the Lady Goodfellow Chapel at the University of Waikato from 6:30pm to 9:00pm. For more information on how to get involved, don’t hesitate to contact us.

  • Faith Bible College – Tauranga

Rodney Lake delivered an undergraduate “Introduction to Apologetics” course throughout a week at Faith Bible College.

  • Impact Youth Camp – Rotorua

Rodney gave several youth talks to a group of teenagers at a youth camp in Rotorua.

 


August

  • Unshaken Youth Conference – TaurangaUnshaken Conference

The second annual Youth Conference, Unshaken 2016 on August 12th, was a success, with a high number of high-schoolers and school leavers. Topics covered included Homosexuality, Abortion, Evolution, and the Exclusivity of Jesus.

  • Apologetics Workshop University of Waikato – Hamilton

Thinking Matters University of Waikato organized a workshop on August the 22nd for students covering topics like the New Age, and evidences for the existence of God.


September

  • Jesus the Game Changer TV screening on Shine TV

Jesus the Game Changer

Beginning the second week in September, Thinking Matters in partnership with Olive Tree Media and Shine TV sponsored a weekly screening of the documentary series Jesus The Game Changer, produced by Olive Tree Media. This provided Thinking Matters with a unique opportunity to reach more people through television using the TV episode to point people to an online article discussing the video episode.

  • Science and Christianity – Friends or Foes? – Tauranga

Beginning September 11th and running till October 2nd, TM Tauranga in conjunction with St Enoch’s Presbyterian, organized a lectures series on Science and Christianity. Speakers were Professor Jeff Talon, Dr Shawn Means, and Professor George Seber presenting talks on Astrophysics, Evolution, and Mathematics.

  • Engage Evangelism Conference – Tauranga

Thinking Matters hosted the apologetics track and had a resource desk at this evangelism conference – where both Rodney Lake and John Norsworthly spoke.

 

 


 

November

  • Jesus the Game Changer Tour

In partnership with Olive Tree Media, Thinking Matters hosted Karl Fasse to tour NZ and promote his new Series Jesus the Game Changer. From the 6th to the 13th of November, Karl spoke in Auckland, Tauranga, Matamata, Christchurch, Rotorua, Taupo, Hamilton, Porirua, Palmerston, and Wellington.

  • Evangelical Philosophical Society – Annual Apologetics Conference – USA

Our own Rodney Lake and Dr Matthew Flanagan traveled to the US where they were guest speakers at the EPS Annual Apologetics Conference (Rodney) and the EPS Annual Meeting (Matthew) in San Antonio, Texas.  The EPS Annual Meeting is one of the largest annual Christian philosophy conferences in the world – with over 200 speakers and roughly 5,000 in attendance.

 


2016 Closes and 2017 Begins

As you can see 2016 has been a groundbreaking year with public events happening almost every month. The future is looking even brighter with many more opportunities and events in the pipeline. We invite you to partner with us in prayer, and in addition, if you are moved to give, to assist us financially. Thinking Matters is a volunteer organization, but there are some things that require funding. Join with and stand along side us as we reach New Zealand with the good news of the gospel and encourage Christians to know what they believe and why. The world is changing in incredible ways with political, technological, economical, and social pressures all coming to bear on culture, providing us with a unique opportunity to proclaim the Gospel. Yet in the midst of all the change, remember, God is with us, the great I AM who does not change and who is Holy and perfectly good; we have confidence knowing that God knows and has declared the end from the beginning and will accomplish his purposes, Isaiah 46:8-11. Stand with us as we seek to spread the message of the gospel over this new year of 2017.

May God bless you and yours this year,

Faith

No Such Faith (Part 3)

Previously, in parts 1 and 2 of this series, we’ve examined Exodus 3-14 and Acts 16 in order to better understand how the Bible defines faith. Today we turn to the gospel of Mark to see how Jesus’ teaching reinforces the idea of faith as active trust based on knowledge and evidence.


 A Lame Man Walks:

Our final example is found in Mark 2:1-12, where we observe Jesus establishing the same model of faith that is evident in Exodus and Acts. In this passage, Jesus had recently returned to the seaside village of Capernaum after ministering throughout Galilee. Before long he was preaching to an overflowing room of curious listeners. During his teaching, a paralysed man, being carried on a mat, was bought to see him. Regrettably, there was no way for the cripple to gain access due to the number of people surrounding Jesus. This didn’t dishearten those carrying him, however, and they soon climbed onto the roof, created an opening, and lowered the paralytic down. When Jesus observed their faith, he spoke to the crippled man: “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Several Jewish scribes were present, and they questioned Jesus in their minds, thinking him blasphemous. Since God alone has the right to forgive sins, the scribes were understandably aghast at Jesus’ claim. Knowing their thoughts, Jesus addressed them: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’?”. Jesus was aware that by forgiving the paralytic’s sins he was making an unfalsifiable claim. Who’s to say he couldn’t forgive sins? How could anyone present possibly prove him wrong? On the other hand, healing a man meant acting in the physical realm where the witnesses could verify his claim—or know him to be a liar if he failed. Jesus continued: “But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—and he turned to the paralytic, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Immediately the man stood up and walked.

Jesus’ response to the scribes is deeply significant in what it teaches about faith. He knew that no one could disprove his ability to forgive sins, but he didn’t tell the audience to simply “take it on faith”. He didn’t respond, “Look, you just have to believe”. Instead, he demonstrated his power in the physical realm by healing the paralytic, thereby lending credence to his claim to authority in the spiritual realm. Because of the evidence of his authority in the physical world, those present knew he also held authority over spiritual matters, and were able to place their trust in him. Once again, it is evident that knowledge, evidence and reason are integral to biblical faith, and are not contrary to it.

In summary, we’ve seen that Exodus 3-14, Acts 16, and Mark 2 do not describe blind belief but are instances of active trust based on evidence and knowledge. When God asked Moses to lead the Israelites from captivity in Egypt, He gave Moses the power to perform miraculous signs in order to demonstrate that He was truly at work. In the New Testament, the Philippian jailer’s conversion took place against the backdrop of the apostolic witness in Philippi and the miraculous occurrences of the evening. With these in place as evidence, the jailer had good reason to believe what Paul and Silas told with him, and thus to place his faith in Jesus. Finally, Jesus’ own behaviour towards the lame man, the scribes, and the onlookers in Mark 2 implies a model of faith that incorporates and includes knowledge and reason. These are but three examples of scripture affirming the compatibility of faith and reason, and I’d encourage you to examine other passages to see for yourself whether they also demonstrate this model of faith. With this in mind, it seems that we can agree at least in part with A. C. Grayling’s polemic as quoted in part 1. Although as bible-believing Christians we should reject Grayling’s definition of faith, we can agree that people who subscribe to such “faith” and affirm the truth of a belief against all reason are somewhat ignorant and irresponsible. As C. S. Lewis puts it: “if… [a sane man] thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid”[i]. Fortunately, Christianity requires no such faith.


Citations:

[i] Lewis, C. S. (2001). Mere Christianity, p. 138. New York: HarperCollins.

Faith

No Such Faith (Part 2)

On Monday we examined Exodus 3-14 in order find out how the Bible portrays faith. We saw that, contrary to accusations of many critics, the Old Testament presents faith as active trust in God based on knowledge and evidence. Now we continue our study by turning to the book of Acts.


 Prison Break:

One of the central messages of the New Testament is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and be saved”, which is to say that when one places their faith in Christ, His work on the cross brings salvation. Must such a step of faith be groundless and unreasonable? Acts 16, which details Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi and the subsequent conversion of their jailer, suggests not.

Let’s take a look at the context in which the events of Acts 16:25-34 occur. The apostle Paul and his colleague Silas have recently arrived in the Roman colony of Philippi, with the intent of preaching the gospel to the Macedonians. They do so, and are eventually jailed for casting a spirit from a fortune-telling slave girl who was a source of income to her owners. After being unjustly beaten and bloodied, the apostles are placed in prison with their feet fastened in stocks. Incredibly, rather than becoming distraught and downcast at their predicament, Paul and Silas joyfully pray and sings hymns of praise to God. During the night a severe earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison, and the doors swing open as the prisoners’ bonds come undone. Upon seeing the prison cells open, the jailer concludes that the prisoners have escaped, and prepares to take his own life. Fortuitously, Paul cries out “Don’t harm yourself, we’re still here!”, and the jailer rushes in and falls at the apostles’ knees, asking “What must I do to be saved?”. Paul responds “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and all your household” (v. 31). They then share the gospel with the jailer and those in his home, who place their faith in Jesus and accept salvation.

What does this passage tell us about the jailer’s faith, and by extension about faith in general? The immediate context and the jailer’s response to the events suggests that his belief wasn’t a blind leap, but was founded on knowledge. It’s crucial to keep in mind that Paul and Silas’ exhortation to believe in Christ and the jailer’s subsequent step of faith did not occur in a vacuum. The jailer had at least three reasons to believe the apostles’ testimony. Firstly, Paul and Silas were jailed for casting out a spirit of divination. This act fit within the framework of the gospel they preached, and demonstrated the power they held through Jesus. The entire city was in an uproar because of this, and it’s likely that the jailer would have been aware of it. Secondly, Paul and Silas’ behaviour was hardly standard prison conduct; their attitudes undoubtedly lent support to the truth of what they preached. It seems unlikely that they would sing praises in such a circumstance if their belief was insincere, so at the very least the jailer would have known that they genuinely believed the gospel. Thirdly, the earthquake and the freeing of the prisoners from their bonds further validated the fact that Paul and Silas were servants of God, and not just any god, but the risen Christ, who exists in space and time and who answers the prayers of His followers. These three reasons cumulatively laid the foundation for the jailer’s conversion. It’s also worth noting that Paul and Silas spent time speaking with the jailer and his household and explaining the gospel before they believed. According to Francis Schaeffer, this passage shows that “true Christian faith rests on content. It is not a vague thing which takes the place of real understanding”[i].

Once again, a model of faith involving evidence, knowledge, and trust is evident. The apostles’ conduct and the miraculous events at the prison served as evidence of the truth of their teaching. The jailer came to a knowledge of the truth through witnessing the events and through conversation with Paul and Silas, and consequently placed his trust in Jesus as his saviour. Evidence, knowledge, and active trust—the three hallmarks of biblical faith.

On Friday we’ll finish with a passage from Mark which further reinforces this conception of faith.


Citations:

[i] Schaeffer, F. (1990). Trilogy, p. 146. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

 

Faith

No Such Faith (Part 1)

“Faith is a commitment to belief contrary to evidence and reason… to believe something in the face of evidence and against reason – to believe something by faith – is ignoble, irresponsible and ignorant, and merits the opposite of respect” – A C Grayling[i]

Many people perceive religious faith as foolish and unreasonable; a form of wishful thinking for gullible or thoughtless dreamers. Such faith is thought to be the ultimate form of irrationality, in which a person trusts without any evidence or against all evidence. For example, Richard Dawkins, the outspoken atheist biologist, equates religious faith with “belief in something for which there is no evidence”[ii], while an article in the British Spectator pits faith against rationality when it asks, “does not all religion place faith above reason?”[iii] Sadly, even among some Christians this perspective prevails, betraying itself in statements such as “if you have evidence for what you believe, that detracts from real faith”, or “God is entirely beyond our comprehension, you just have to believe”. This sort of thinking, though widespread, exposes a deep misunderstanding of biblical, Christian faith. Examination of scripture reveals that the biblical conception of faith involves reason, evidence, and knowledge. Far from being contrary to genuine faith, these elements undergird faith in both the Old and New Testaments. This is evident upon examination of the Israelites’ escape from Egypt in Exodus 3-14, as well as the account of the Philippian jailer’s conversion in Acts 16. Furthermore, Mark 2 provides good grounds for thinking that Jesus’ own conception of faith included knowledge and evidence. These passages will be examined over the course of three blog posts, by the end of which it should be clear that biblical faith is not opposed to reason, evidence, and knowledge, but actually encompasses them.


Escape from Egypt:

Let’s take a look at our first example, namely the account of the Israelites’ escape from captivity in Egypt (Exodus 3-14). At the beginning of this passage, Moses encounters a burning bush in the wilderness, which God uses to speak to him. Having seen the Israelites’ afflictions, God instructs Moses to approach Pharaoh and command him to free the Israelites, that they might know and serve their Lord. Doubtful of his ability to lead, Moses objects that the captive Israelites will neither believe nor follow him, but instead will deny that he’d heard from God. In response, God asks:

“What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you. (Exodus 4:2-5)

Here Moses is given the power to perform a miraculous feat in order to prove that he’d heard from God. Why is this significant? Well, note that God didn’t expect the Israelites to take a blind leap of faith and just “believe”. He didn’t instruct Moses to chastise them if they asked for some form of evidence. He didn’t want blind, irrational faith. Rather, He offered the Israelites several miraculous signs, of which this was the first, thereby vindicating Moses’ claim to have heard Him, and providing a foundation for rational, knowledge-based faith.

Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason points out a recurring pattern that emerges upon examination of faith in this and other Biblical narratives[iv]. Firstly, God gives evidence. This leads to knowledge, which then serves as the foundation for active trust or faith. In this case, God enabled Moses to perform miraculous signs to serve as evidence that he’d heard from God and was following His commands. Upon witnessing these signs, the Israelites knew Moses was speaking the truth, enabling them to place their active trust in him as their leader and God as their liberator. Furthermore, this pattern is also reinforced in Moses’ interaction with Pharaoh. When Pharaoh ignored Moses’ pleas for the freedom of his people and dismissed warnings of the calamities that would befall the Egyptians as a result of his obduracy, God plagued the land of Egypt, thereby demonstrating His power and providing an opportunity for the Egyptians to know that He is Lord. Unfortunately, rather than placing his faith in God, Pharaoh retreated deeper into stubbornness and obstinacy, resulting in the death of his firstborn son and the decimation of the Egyptian army. The outcome of this was that “Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exodus 14:31).

Both of these circumstances indicate that Biblical faith is based on knowledge. God didn’t ask the Israelites to trust Him without any evidence, nor did he require the Egyptians to free the Israelites without a demonstration of the truth of Moses’ claims. By offering evidence of His power, God enabled the Israelites and Egyptians to know him and to place their trust in Him. On this view, evidence and knowledge are far from antithetical to genuine faith—they are part and parcel of active trust in the living God.

Be sure to check in again on Wednesday for part 2, in which we’ll discuss faith as presented in Acts 16.


Citations:

[i] Grayling, A. C. (2007). Against all gods, pp. 15-16. London: Oberon Books.

[ii] Big think (2011, June 2). Richard Dawkins: faith [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sm220Q5wks4

[iii] Hobson, T. (2013). Richard Dawkins has lost: meet the new new atheists. The Spectator. Retrieved from http://www.spectator.co.uk/2013/04/after-the-new-atheism/

[iv] Koukl, G. (2009). Faith is not wishing. Retrieved from https://www.str.org/publications/i-take-it-on-faith#.V9X-EJjJvIU

 

Cold Case Christianty Bundle with Free Delivery

Cold Case Christianty for Kids – Christmas bundle special

We are excited to have just taken delivery of the following new-release for kids and tweens – just in time for Christmas!

Cold Case Christianity for KidsBetween the ages of 8 and 12, kids often start to wonder if Christianity is true. In Cold-Case Christianity young readers are drawn into the thrill of high-stakes investigation and taught “how to think, not just what to think”.

This is a children’s version of the bestselling book Cold-Case Christianity where detective Jim Wallace gets kids excited about testing witnesses, examining the evidence, and investigating the case for Christianity. Includes author illustrations and links to a website (coldcasechristianityforkids.com) where kids can download activities, fill in case notes, and earn a certificate of merit.

Cold-Case Christianity for Kids follows the same chapter sequence as the adult version of the same book, so parents and children can discuss and explore the evidence together, chapter by chapter.

As of today there are 54 reviews for this new release on Amazon.com – with an average of 4.8 out of 5 stars – that’s quite impressive!

Cold Case Christianty Bundle with Free DeliveryWe would love to see these getting into Christmas stockings across New Zealand – so we have put together a special bundle deal of BOTH the adult version of this book (which is an easy ready also suitable for teens) AND the kids version for just $39 FREIGHT FREE if you order before Christmas!